A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Body

We have two bodies as such. The physical body and our spiritual body. The Spirit is an important part of both. Giving our hearts to Christ brings that spiritual body into balance and therefore, helps us understand the ups and downs of the physical body – even accept them when others cannot.

The Virtue of Advent

Advent is a journey—the voyage toward celebrating virtue and the only one who was ever fully virtuous.

Advent is inspired by hope that lifts our eyes and beckons our steps. It is reassured by peace that claims communion and restoration along the way. It is rewarded with joy that springs from the vulnerability of living good and bad days. Beneath it all, Advent is love, the source of all virtue.

Both virtue and vice have a starting line. For vice that place is pride. The mother whose influence lives in all other sin. Envy, wrath, greed, sloth, lust, and gluttony are all born out of self-worship. They perpetuate and encourage self-love.

John says God is love (1 John 4), which is why love is considered the opposite of pride. Love engulfs us along with all else and in the process truly magnifies our souls, as it did Mary’s. It gives birth and new life and is the Creator’s masterpiece.

At its core, love cries out for existence. Love affirms being. It sounds simple but saying, “I’m glad you are here,” pretty much covers the spectrum. If I’m glad you are here and I affirm your existence, then you do not exist for me. I cannot pour wrath on you, envy you, lust over you, or take from you. Love says, “I celebrate your life!” 

In creation God said, “I want you to be!” In creation God said, “I love you!” Our own limitations separated us from returning the gesture. So God built a bridge. He came to us in the birth of a child who was fully virtuous. Advent means God existed—among us and within us, so that we can be.

Let your soul magnify the Lord this Advent season.

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Glory Beyond the Ashes

God can change even the worst things into beauty.

When I visited Iceland, my tour guide drove the group by the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010. He explained the hardships the farmers endured trying to salvage their crops, which were covered by ash. The sheep usually roamed the hills, but had to remain indoors so they wouldn’t inhale the smoke. Iceland had suffered during the economic crisis in 2008 and hadn’t recovered by 2010. The immediate repercussions seemed insurmountable.

For those who survived the initial turmoil, the volcano brought good in the long run. By blanketing the ground, the ash made it fertile. Also, the locals believe the volcano put Iceland on the map. Tourism skyrocketed.

God turned something as tragic as a volcanic eruption into something good for Iceland. Those ashes were recreated into beauty.

God does the same in our lives. Sometimes our dreams seem to go up in smoke as we struggle. We suffer loss we don’t understand. But God doesn’t waste our pain. He transforms it into something more glorious than its original state. He builds spiritual endurance in us during the dark times that He can use for His purposes in the good times. Often, no other way exists to obtain that strength other than by going through the fire.

If you have had your dreams explode and your life turned into ashes, ask God how He wants to use these times for His glory. He has plans to use the darkness as a backdrop to better display the light of His kingdom’s work.

Ask the Lord to bring beauty from the ashes of your life.

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Searching the Scriptures

Years ago, I met a lady who challenged my beliefs.

I became a Christian when I was nine years old and read my Bible daily, but I read the Bible through the glasses of what I believed at the time. When I looked up Scriptures this lady quoted in a way that seemed foreign to me, I noticed she was right. Confused about the Scriptures I could quote, I searched them for what the Bible said.

Soon, I noticed that some things I had been taught were not what God taught. I began reading my Bible in a new way. I looked for what the Bible actually said about certain subjects. I read to find out if what I had believed and had been taught were true.

I also stopped reading chapters and started looking at how things fit together from Genesis to Revelation. I found out Scripture interprets Scripture. Some seem to contradict each other, but if we search with an open heart and mind, we will soon find what God’s Word is teaching throughout the Bible about any given subject.

Every religion and every denomination thinks they have it right, so how do we know what we believe is right? We do what the Bereans did. We search the Scriptures to see if the things are so. When we search with the intent to find out what God’s Word truly teaches—and if our beliefs line up from Genesis to Revelation—we will learn.

Because I am convinced that no one believes everything exactly the way God’s Word teaches, we all have something to learn. It is not just about reading the Bible, but about searching for what God says, thinks, and feels about all subjects that affect our lives.

Search the Scriptures to see if the things you have believed and have been taught are true.

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Forgiving the Robber

I knew what the authorities wanted me to do, but I also knew what God wanted.

During Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims, Palestinian families get together to share a meal in a different home each evening. As a single woman, I was adopted by at least three families, so I never lacked for a place to break the fast. I fasted with my Muslim friends and also spent much time praying for them.

One evening after iftar (the meal breaking the fast), I returned to my apartment to discover my laptop and printer had been stolen. I went upstairs to my landlord’s family and told them about the missing items. Their younger son said he had seen a blue car and a young man—who was the son of one of my good friends—leaving our building with a big package.

My landlord insisted we go to the police station and file a report. He told the police officers our suspicions. They questioned the young man about what he had witnessed and wrote a report. It didn’t take them long to locate the thief. He confessed he had stolen money from me, in addition to the computer and printer.

About midnight, my doorbell rang. At my door was the young man’s mother and one of her cousins. Crying loudly in great anguish, she begged me not to press charges. She and her cousin promised to return everything the next morning.

Even though I felt betrayed, I knew Christ’s words about forgiveness applied to me. The authorities wanted me to press charges, but I knew what God would do. Forgiveness was the best choice.

Never forget that God has given you the grace to forgive.

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Eyes That Do Not Fail

I threw my hands up in frustration, in near tears, as I sat at the eye doctor’s office trying to put contact lenses on my eyeballs for the first time.

For more than thirty minutes, his assistant worked with me without any success. After reading that storytellers and speakers should avoid wearing glasses so that any communication done with the eyes can be clearly seen, I was determined to get contacts.

I left the doctor’s office embarrassed by both my tears and my failure. I was given a set of trial lenses to bring home to practice getting in and out of my eyes. After a month of attempts, I was no closer to succeeding. Occasionally, I’d get one contact in and then have to call my husband to get it out. Eight-year-olds can put in contacts. Why couldn’t I? I succumbed to the idea that it must be true—you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The optometrist told me contacts aren’t for everyone. He was right. As much as I tried … as much as I wanted them … I learned they weren’t for me. Surrendering, I got pretty purple glasses instead.

Accepting that we’re becoming an old dog is difficult. None of us like getting older. We all want to maintain the energy, strength, abilities, and looks of our prime years. But the truth remains: we are getting older.

The apostle Paul tells us not to lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. No matter how old we get or how frail our bodies may become, God provides us with spiritual eyes that will never fail. They are found in the heart of believers.

If you want to see Jesus, open the eyes of your heart.

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The Valley of Death

My first trick-or-treat experience was with my cousins.

My cousins chose to go to a haunted house, because my uncle knew the people putting it on. When we entered the house, it was dark. I could hear sounds of screaming in the background. Every way I looked, evil, demon-looking creatures stretched out their hands towards me. I screamed bloody murder and tears filled my eyes. I was terrified.

My Uncle Robert reached down, picked me up, and carried me out, telling those creatures to back off. He was getting me out of there. In Uncle Robert’s arms I felt safe, because when he said to move, those creatures backed off and moved out of his way. He carried me safely through and nothing bothered me.

We all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and it does not have to be physical death. It can be any overwhelming circumstance causing us deep pain where the presence of evil is reaching out its hand to destroy us.

However, we have a heavenly Father who can reach down and carry us through the shadow of death. We don’t have to fear because our Father is with us. When He tells the demons and darkness to get out of His way, they will always obey His voice.

If you are walking in the valley of death today—and you fear because of the things your eyes see, your ears hear, and your heart feels—remember your heavenly Father walks with you. He will lead you through every situation.

When you see the shadows, trust that your Father will keep you safe.

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Beauty and Duty

The handle is normally what catches a buyer’s eye. 

As an amateur knife maker, I know a lot of time is spent on finding, fitting, and finishing the material that will become the handle of a hand-crafted knife. Although the handle may be what gets noticed first, if the blade is missing or is dulled down, the knife cannot properly perform its intended purpose. 

Among the thousands of gold and silver items that were taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, twenty-nine knives were listed. These knives must have had beautiful handles—probably made of gold and silver. These knives were not meant to be admired for their beauty only; they were used in the sacrificial offerings made by the priests—the offerings that foreshadowed the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sins.

Many verses in the Bible speak about love, peace, and unity—which are loved by most people. These verses could be thought of as the handle on those knives. They catch the eye and are pleasing to us as we swoon at their beauty and praise the Lord for them. 

Other verses resemble the blade. They tell us of sinful things we face. They tell how it looks and sounds to be holy as God is holy. These verses tell us what God’s everlasting righteousness looks like, no matter what the age or culture we live in may say.

When God says something is sinful, it will always be considered sinful in His eyes—even though such talk cuts at people and is often rejected as old-fashioned, out of style, and hurtful.

Beautiful … and not so beautiful … verses never go out of style. Nor do the ones that call us to rid our lives of sin.

The beauty of a knife’s handle and the sharpness of the blade work hand-in-hand. The same is true concerning the divinely inspired words of our loving God and Savior.

Adore the beauty of God’s Word, but never forget your duty to obey.

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

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Flowers, Berries, and Tadpoles

I joined a social networking site, kicking and screaming all the way.

Okay, perhaps not that extreme, but I dragged my feet for months while others urged me to join their cyber world. I doubted I could spare another minute. Plus, I had enough security questions to keep a help desk tied up for weeks.

International university students we informally adopted finally wore me down. I have to admit I love reconnecting with family, friends, and former students. A cousin whose family visited us every summer when we were children chose a flower bloom for her profile picture. I asked if she recalled the hours we spent picking flowers and blackberries. She added her memories of catching tadpoles in puddles.

Our selective memories temporarily deleted thorns on the berry vines, snakes in the weeds and water, and some of history’s worst cases of poison ivy. Nor did we mention family illnesses, disappointments, and death.

The inevitable difficulties of life surround us. They always have and always will in this world. Yet God promises better days ahead for those who follow Him.

In God’s new creation, time won’t matter. Concerns about schedules and whether we can squeeze in another activity will disappear. We will rest securely in the care of our all-knowing God. Issues of privacy will become irrelevant, as God will abolish all threats. Everyone in heaven will be our friend and on the same page with the same purpose. The fallout from differences of opinion—gone. Uncertainty if we measure up—gone. Attempts at one-upmanship—gone. Worries over what’s mine and what’s theirs—gone. Ethnic, racial, and other social differences—banished forever.

No thorns, no briers, no weeds, and no poison ivy. None of this life’s irritations will raise their ugly heads again. We will walk in perpetual peace with God and will have no concerns about what lies ahead or what has happened in the past. We will never face another virus, medical or virtual. Illnesses, disappointments, and death will never again mar the landscape of our lives.

We may not know the when and how of God’s new creation, but that’s okay. God does. Dare to rest in the assurance of God’s eternal promises.

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



The Postcard

It was only a postcard, but to me it was a treasure.

The yellowed envelope said Nora on the outside, but the inside is what fascinated me the most. On the front of the postcard was a small pocket made of thin fabric with a blue cross and flowers embroidered on it. Folded neatly into the pocket was a tiny lace handkerchief. On the back was a message written to my grandmother from a soldier named Mack who had sent it from Paris during WWI in 1917.

I displayed the postcard on a shelf in a guest room, along with other antiques my grandmother gave me. It was my favorite room in the house because it held cherished items. Then my guest room became a bedroom and a nursery to my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson while they built their new home.

One day while rocking my grandson, I noticed the postcard was gone. I figured it had fallen to the floor and was under the changing table, but I didn’t bother to look. A few days later, I decided to retrieve the postcard and return it to its rightful place. I looked under the changing table. No postcard. I panicked and looked everywhere. After an exhaustive search, I concluded it had fallen into the trash and had been thrown away.

My heart sank. I wanted to cry. I could never replace that postcard. It was a lost piece of history. I whispered a tearful prayer to God, “Oh God, it’s gone. Help me to respond in an honoring way. I’m so disappointed.” Then God reminded me of my eternal treasures. My faith in Christ has afforded me a new nature, freedom from sin, forgiveness, and a future in heaven. The list goes on and on.

Paul knew all the endless treasures we receive in Christ and understood the importance of focusing on them.

Forgetting what we have in Christ and letting this life become our focus is easy. We often don’t think about our eternal treasures. But we need to.

Don’t forget to be grateful for what the gospel grants you: true treasures that will never be lost or thrown away.

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A Refreshing Pause

A feathered family captured our hearts and altered our reactions.

Driving out of town, we stopped on a busy road to let a family of geese have the right of way. I don't know how this pause affected those in the cars behind us, but it became a welcome interruption for us.

My initial reaction was "oh, no"—calculating the delay. But the little family waddling across the road soon mesmerized me. Mother goose moved her stragglers along with her beak, as if she were conscious they were holding up traffic. Stately papa goose stood ready to do whatever was needed to help his family arrive safely on the other side. We worried as one gosling struggled at the road’s edge and two others battled the curb. Papa goose went to the rescue and lifted them with his beak. These parents were not about to leave any family member behind but waited until everyone made it over the curb and onto the grass on the other side.

The psalmist invites us to be still and know that God is God. Embedded in God's creation is an inherent need to love and care for others. We are often overloaded with personal attacks, disrespect, and disregard for others, but the little goose family reminded us how it should be. We should do everything we can to help people we know and love get safely to where they need to be. Even a goose knows that.

They also made us pay attention to what was happening at the moment. We are plagued with distractions that steal our focus. A great deal has been written on mindfulness—focusing on what is happening in the present moment. Whether watching a sunset, taking in a majestic thunderstorm, or talking with a spouse, daughter, son, friend, or grandchild, life is enriched by focusing on that moment. Not wanting to run over nine geese forced me to see what was happening in front of me. I was blessed as I watched that little family swagger across the busy road, but I was also reminded to be attentive to others.

Pausing offers an opportunity to inhale grace and exhale gratitude. It impacts our experiences with God too.

Ask God to help you respond often to His invitation to pause.

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Hiding from God

As soon as the counting began, he ran into the next room and plastered himself face down on the floor, in full view of anyone entering the room.

My nephew loved to play Hide-n-Seek when he was three years old. To his young mind, he was well-hidden while lying on the floor. Because he could not see his seeker, he thought his seeker could not see him.

The psalmist David relished the idea of an omniscient Lord. He praised God for knowing his every move and thought. He welcomed the familiarity of a close relationship.

My nephew’s childlike view reflects our own attempts to avoid a close relationship with God. Like Adam and Eve when they sinned against God, we often rationalize our actions and believe God cannot find us or see our indiscretions. We struggle alone with seemingly impossible situations when God offers us unlimited possibilities.

Like Jonah, when God calls us to complete a task, we often run in the opposite direction, hide beneath a sea of distractions, or give excuses for our insubordination. We think we are well-hidden.

Rather than fleeing, we should find comfort in knowing God is always near. He understands our comings and goings, even when our paths steer us away from Him. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, if we stop “wrestling” and start “nestling,” we will find rest in the nearness of God.

My nephew, a few years older now, still enjoys playing Hide-n-Seek with his younger cousins. Because he has grown in wisdom and faith, he now has a more mature understanding of both God and himself.

As you grow in your relationship with Christ, focus on His nearness and His understanding of you as His child. Walk daily knowing He is by your side.

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My Satisfaction

“I want it!”

Late one night in Walmart, a high-pitched scream filled the air. Loud wailing ensued, and I came face-to-face with a small child languishing on the floor and two exasperated parents trying to regain control of the situation.

My heart went out to them as they tried to console an overly-tired child. I know how it feels to lose control. To want your children to behave when they have other thoughts in mind. To try to make things at work go a certain way and then watch as they go every other way but the way you wanted. Facing health issues we have no control over is also difficult. Control is something we rarely have.

But I also understand the child’s desire for something he wants. Sometimes I want another piece of chocolate cake, a new car, or even someone to love me. My wants can be strong. To the Lord, my whining and complaining may mimic the small child’s temper tantrum.

God has all the riches in the world, so why doesn’t He just give me what I want?

Because He is much wiser than I am.

God gives me what I need, and He protects me from things I want that may not be good for me. I want a piece of chocolate cake, but He gives me strength to resist temptation. I want to control my life, but He teaches me to trust Him. He fills me with His Holy Spirit and shows me He can be a greater satisfaction than anything here on earth. And when I learn to trust Him for what I need, He will surprise me and bless me with things I want. It’s all about priorities.

Make the Lord your priority, and He will meet every need you have.

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If Mercy Ended

I dreamed I was in heaven, and it was a most dreadful day.

God’s mercy had come to an end. He changed His mind regarding the sins I had committed against Him. His anger flared, and His patience wore thin. He reconsidered and decided that He should have punished me instead of pardoning me.

After years of indescribable bliss in heaven, God remembered all the bad I had done and how I had once treated Him when I lived on earth. He decided I had had enough joy. It was time for me to be punished with the rest. After all, He punished the rebellious angels and cast them out of heaven—and they were once perfect. My heart sank with great dread.

Then I remembered His mercy endures forever, and His forgiveness starts and ends with His cross. He doesn’t change. I remembered He is eternal. The payment for my sins was forever. God will never change His mind. He told me my sins are removed as far as the east is from the west.

God will never cast us away. His mercy lasts forever, because He punished His Son in our place. God’s justice has been satisfied forever.

Once you’ve been accepted by God, don’t fear that His mercy will end.

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

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Recognize the Voice

When I go to the front door and yell, “Girls, come in. Supper is ready,” my two girls are the only ones who come.

Many neighborhood girls gather in my yard to play with my two daughters. I love every girl and have cleaned up their scrapes and cuts. I have taken them water on hot summer days.

But when I call my girls in for supper, the other girls keep playing. Or when I go to the door and tell my girls to come do their homework or take a bath, mine are the only ones who walk through the door. Also, if I walk outside and say, “Girls, get into the car. We are going to the store,” my girls are the only two who get into my car.

Although many girls are in the yard—and although I never mention any names—my daughters know my voice and follow me. They know mom is calling.

In the same way, when God calls with instructions, His children hear and follow. If we don’t get up and follow, we are probably not His children. Children are under the authority of their parents, and they submit to their voices. The girls that do not submit to my calls are not my children.

While all of God’s children disobey sometimes, we don’t make a habit of disobeying. My girls don’t always want to come in when I call and have kept playing. Then I have to go outside after them. After correcting them, they come in the next time I call.

Examine and be honest with yourself. Follow God’s voice when He calls. If you’re not following, repent of your sin and begin following Him today.

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Divine Help

I stood along the sidewalk with those holding signs and shouting words of encouragement.

I once had the opportunity to be in New York City during the New York City Marathon. Bystanders watched as someone they knew ran by. Their words of encouragement were helpful and appreciated, but that’s as far as their assistance could go.

As we run the race of life, we have a supporter who is able and willing to help us in whatever way we need it. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.The verse’s progression is beautiful and comforting.

Sometimes, we may only need encouragement, and God sends the right verse to our minds. At other times, we may need a helping hand, and God brings things or people into or out of our situation according to His wisdom. At still other times, we are at the end of all other helps. God comes and takes hold of us, supporting us as we put the entirety of our weight and burden on Him.

Whatever the breadth or depth of help we need, we don’t have to fear. Our heavenly Father knows the exact spot to meet us. He also has the perfect degree of assistance we need.

God–the Highest and the Holiest—knows exactly where you are and what you need. Rather than fear, trust Him.  

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Lessons from Eggs and Eggshells

Eggshells and scrambled eggs are a horrible combination.

While making breakfast, I cracked three eggs and poured their contents into the frying pan. As I tossed the final eggshell into the trash, an interesting thought struck me. Before cracking the shell and spilling the actual egg white and yoke, the shell is a valuable and inseparable part of the egg. It safeguards and delivers the egg. Without it, the egg becomes a slimy mess, probably unsafe for eating. However, after cracked, the shell becomes disposable. When its purpose is accomplished, separation becomes necessary.

In life, everything serves a purpose. The box delivering a gift. Our bodies upon release of our spirits. Even friends along the journey, while joined in purpose, are indispensable. But once their purpose is accomplished, God may move them to separate journeys. Some friends help us through struggles while others cause them. Some friends stick by us through thick and thin while others sever relationships over petty arguments or disagreements.

Aside from questioning motives, faithfulness, and character, understanding how God sovereignly uses every instance of life for His ultimate purpose is vital. He lifts one up while putting another down. He brings people into our lives and removes others. Sometimes, He forcefully loosens our grasp on those things and people He knows no longer serve His purpose—or our long-term good. But if we approach such scenarios with an egg and eggshell mentality, we soon realize keeping an empty eggshell is pointless. It has served its purpose. Time to let go and move on.

This should not encourage a frivolous or callous approach toward friendships or a devaluation of the people in our lives. Letting go reinforces a recognition of God's sovereign control. He allows eggs and eggshells to coexist until such time as the egg moves on while the eggshell does not. He calls some people to journeys with forks of separation in the road.

Crunching an overlooked piece of eggshell in my scrambled eggs emphasizes the need for clean separation when necessary. However, such separation should occur with discernment and without discord, dissension, or disrespect.

Thank God for the eggs in your life, but have courage to discard the eggshells.

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Squash the Gnats

He felt like my friend, buzzing next to me as I sauntered along the two-and-a-half mile loop around my neighborhood.

When I started my morning prayer walk, a tiny gnat followed me. About halfway through my walk, ten new gnat friends joined him. They were slightly distracting while I tried to talk to God but nothing I couldn’t handle. By the last half mile, hundreds of gnats surrounded me. I tried swatting at them and walking through low-hanging tree branches to divert them. I sniffed myself. Defeated, I finally ran home like a crazy person with my eyes only half open while flailing my arms in the air.

As I crashed on my couch, relieved to be out of the chaos, God convicted me. The gnats were like the small distractions in my life. One gnat didn’t seem so bad—even like my buddy. A few gnats were annoying but nothing I couldn’t push through. A whole swarm of gnats, though, drove me insane.

Since I was also surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to the faith, I knew it was time to take a good look at my life and decide what insignificant things I needed to cut out. Things that robbed me of my time and detoured me from God’s plan.

The list was long: binge-watching new television shows, excessive use of social media, worry over the future, anxiety about the past, and ministries I had not been called to but took on anyway.

God wants us to stop focusing on the gnats and letting them control our life. He wants us to return our gaze to His priorities. Though miniscule, gnats are joy and peace killers.

Decide on some things you can rid yourself of that cause chaos and stress. Run the race God has chosen specifically for you. Squash the gnats, and let God take you on a wild adventure.

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Desperate

Suddenly, he scampered up the taller, stronger trunk in the center … and jumped.

Easter morning dawned more in sad reflection than in a glorious celebration. Lately there have been too many “why” questions … too many reasons to give up. How painless it would be to surrender to the crushes in life.

My tears mingled with the bubbles in the sink as the words of Michael W. Smith’s “Breathe” hung in the atmosphere. I longed for more of God’s life and breath in me. I had allowed recent heartbreak to steal the joy of His promises. These words jolted me into examining my desperation level.

A desperate squirrel raced up a small tree near my kitchen window. His idea was to jump to the bird feeder about six feet from the tree, exactly as he had done the day before. He didn't know the feeder had been moved two feet to prevent that possibility from happening again.

This feisty tree climber recognized something different, and I could sense his nervous calculations. I counted the times he scaled the tree, observed the distance, scampered down and then up, and switched to another limb. He prayed. (You’ve watched a spiritual squirrel stand with folded paws as if praying.) More than a dozen times, he made this trip—up and down, more frantic each time.

Then, “splash!” He landed hard on the ground, missing his goal by twelve inches. But that didn’t stop him. For an hour he repeated his obsessive climbs and jumps, each time falling short. I had to abandon this scene for church, but now more encouraged. If a squirrel can try such an impossible feat over and over, surely I can walk through my trial.

David encourages us at a time when he feared for his life. Hiding in a cave from Saul, David was not ashamed to cry out to the Lord for mercy, for refuge. I cry too. Before the Lord. Trusting it "is He who knows my way, when my spirit grows faint within me."

Dark, muddled life circumstances can blind us momentarily—blocking the sunshine, hiding the reality of God's promises, sending us to a cave prison. Our hearts may be breaking, but, like the determined squirrel, we should continually seek God through the pain.

With God’s help, keep jumping.

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Intercession

I tired of feeling sympathy for the people around me who were going through difficult moments.

Incapable of offering a solution, I usually told them how sorry I was and left them with comforting words. Days passed, and I forgot about the issue until I saw them again. However, I knew something was wrong with the way I reacted to their situations.

If only there was a way I could offer more help, I would be glad. The Holy Spirit reminded me of times when I asked for assistance from other capable persons when I needed help. I could do the same thing for people around me. Even though I didn’t personally know of any person who could help them, I knew someone powerful enough to deal with any problem. I decided to go before God persistently to ask for help on their behalf.

I finally understood what intercession meant: coming regularly before the only One who is capable, powerful, and willing to help me help those who need my assistance. I know the Lord delights in intercession because His word urges us to intercede.

Interceding for people is a way of sharing in the challenges they face beyond offering comforting words. Jesus taught this principle of prayer by telling about a man who asked for bread from a neighbour who wanted to feed his guest (Luke 11: 5-8).

We should relate to God the burdens others carry and ask Him in faith to intervene in their situation. We shouldn't forget to also go before Him to thank and praise Him when He comes to the aid of our family and friends.

Intercede regularly for others.

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Mirror Image

I once enrolled in an online iPhone photography course. Besides receiving instructions from experienced iPhone photographers on how to capture and edit remarkable photos, students were invited to join a Facebook community of their peers and participate in constructive critiques.

While on vacation last summer, I captured a crystal-clear image of a yellow house reflected in the canal. When I edited the photo, I cropped the majority of the land portion of the house to emphasize the outstanding reflection. I received favorable comments whenever I posted my photo online, but I also received comments stating I should have included the source of the reflection in the photo—the house itself. One comment especially resonated with me. “The reflection is the hero, but without the source, it’s not as powerful.”

Many houses reflected in the canal that evening, but the element that made this one outstanding was the angle of the sun. I snapped the photo during the golden hour—the last hour before sunset—the hour when the sun’s rays bring ordinary objects to life with a golden glow. The water mirrored the house above it, but without its remarkable light source, the photo would’ve lost its impact.

God created us in His image, but we were born into a fallen world and possess a sinful nature. If we confess our sin and invite Jesus to be our Savior, He forgives us. From that moment forward, as we devote time to Bible study and prayer, our lives take on the characteristics of Christ. The more time we invest, the more we grow spiritually—and the more accurate the reflection of Christ in us becomes.

The mirrored image of the yellow house caught my attention that evening, but when my eyes moved upward, I saw the actual house. This made me think about how others respond when they see the image of Christ in me. Do their eyes travel upward to the origin of the reflection—the light of Jesus Christ?

We either mirror the characteristics of our heavenly Father or those of a fallen world. The image we reflect may be the hero, but without Christ as our light source, it loses its power.

Ask God to let the likeness of Christ in you inspire others to look heavenward and see your Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Unclean

Leprosy. The word makes me cringe. The medical community considers leprosy contagious, but only mildly so.

Recently, our pastor spoke on this passage: Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. Although familiar to me, the Scripture rekindled my curiosity. What more do we know about this man? Someone had to know his name, where he came from, whether or not he was married and had children, what he’d done for a living, how old he was when stricken by the disease, and whether he had friends or was totally abandoned.

Luke, a follower of Christ and a physician, records a graphic piece of information: the man was covered or full of leprosy. End-stage leprosy in today’s terms. With his obvious decomposing body, death was imminent.

Jesus performed approximately six miracles prior to encountering this leper. Possibly, a friend told the man Jesus was nearby. More than likely, he overheard conversations between those passing by on the other side of the road. Lepers could not come within six feet of other humans, and no one went near a leper. But Jesus did.

After extensive research, I found no other information on this man. Not a word, not a peep. Nothing. I read again the four-verse exchange between a diseased and dying man and his healer. What had I missed? There wasn’t one new piece of information about this leper before or after his encounter with Jesus.

Jesus touched the leper. He became ceremonially unclean in the eyes of the law so this leper could become clean—and so you and I can be clean. My focus was wrong. I missed the relevant information.

Just as He did then, Jesus walks among us now. If we ask, He will touch and cleanse us just as He did the leper. As He stretched out His hands on the cross, Jesus provided cleaning for us, once and for all.

If you haven’t done so already, ask Jesus to cleanse you.

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Restraint Is Not a Weakness

Journalism has long been regarded as an important force in government, so vital to the functioning of a democracy that it has been portrayed as an integral component.

Democracy requires informed citizens. No governing body can expect to operate well without knowledge of the issues on which it rules—and rule by the people means they should be informed.

The cries and yelling of the media have little or no desired fruitage. Most of us hope for good government. We vote, we serve, and we speak out for causes we believe are fair and just. But political solutions remain powerless to change the condition of our hearts.

Many of Jesus’ followers anticipated a Messiah who would bring a vigorous political response to Rome and its heavy-handed oppression. Peter was no exception. When Roman soldiers came to arrest Christ, Peter drew his sword and took a swing at the head of the high priest’s servant, lopping off his ear in the process.

Jesus halted Peter’s one-man war, saying, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Hours later, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36).

The Lord’s restraint, as His life hung in the balance, is astonishing when we ponder the scope of His mission. On a future day, He will lead the armies of heaven into battle. John wrote, “With justice he judges and wages war” (Revelation 19:11).

As Jesus endured the ordeal of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, He kept His Father’s will in view. By embracing death on the cross, He set in motion a chain of events that transforms hearts. And in the process, our Strong Conqueror defeated death itself.

When needed, be willing to exercise restraint and follow the voice of truth—God’s words in the Bible—even when it contradicts your personal preferences.

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God’s Signal

We only use ten percent of our brain.

Myths like these we’ve heard since we were old enough to understand we weren’t as smart as others. The implication is we could be smarter if we’d only dig deeper into our brain cells. Science has pretty much destroyed this concept by its use of scans to show virtually every part of the brain functions most of the time, with the exception of when we sleep.

If we learn how the brain sends signals to wiggle our toes, change the direction of our steps, or re-wire when we suffer a brain injury, we’ll find out there is no hard-wiring. The nerves transmitting the signals are not one continuous strand, like what we think of as wire. Nerves are short sections of cells with gaps called synapses. These contain neurotransmitters, which are the real reason neurons communicate brain instructions to our body parts.

As you read this devotion, your brain gathers the info and then sends a bunch of signals through your mind, all without a single solid nerve “wire.” Somewhat like a series of radio towers bouncing info across the land.

Paul wrote Romans to encourage Christians to continually refresh their minds—especially by reviewing and living the instructions given to them. He knows there’s a gap between God in heaven and saints on earth. That gap can short circuit and cause us to return to our old ways. Yet there’s a connection impossible to understand until we accept the miracle of the Creator. God not only established our physical brain and nervous system, He also gave the spiritual design of the Holy Spirit, our helper.

Like the synapses with their neurotransmitters, the Holy Spirit resides within us to make the connection to God. We simply must follow the edification by Paul to renew our mind by reading the Scriptures and letting God into the depths of our brain. He’s already established the higher order of humans in the world’s realm of intelligence. He’s waiting for us to believe it, and Him.

Ask God to help you pay attention to His signals.

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Building Lasting Treasure

The sun bore down on us, but we dug deep into the sand.

My niece, nephew, and I filled our buckets, dumping them into a bigger pile. When the pile grew large enough, we used special molds and shovels to shape the sand—creating watch towers for soldiers to stand guard, filling a moat with fictitious alligators, and building a drawbridge, all things needed to keep us safe. When finished, we stood back and admired how strong and safe our castle looked. No enemy would dare try to conquer it.

Later that night, our family walked across the cool sand toward our sandcastle. As we neared it, we noticed it was halfway under water. The tide—the one element of attack we forgot to prepare for—had destroyed the towers, moat, and drawbridge.  

Jesus said the same would happen to treasures stored on earth. We often spend time building our financial portfolios, sustaining our spiritual life, and training our children to walk in the ways of the Lord. Then the one thing we didn’t prepare for comes like an enemy threatening to steal in an instant everything we’ve built: a medical crisis, a hurtful action, an addiction.  

Don’t build sandcastles that crumble once difficulties hit. Store your treasures in heaven by building relationships, forgiving others, and loving the unlovable. Invest in treasures that the tides of life won’t sweep away.

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The Right Foundation

The girl’s tee shirt read, Jesus is coming … Look busy …

Many of us do. We attend church, teach Sunday school, work in children’s church, go on mission trips, and visit the sick or those in prison. We send money to feed the homeless, misplaced veterans, persecuted Christians, or maybe the blind. And every one of these things is needful and good.

But sometimes I try to work my way into God’s forgiveness and grace, forgetting His forgiveness can’t be earned or His grace bought. I try to work my way into God’s grace and into heaven by being good and keeping busy doing good things. God says my righteousness is like filthy rags.

Only one way exists to claim God’s forgiveness and receive His grace: Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father but by Him.  

No matter how hard I work—or how many good deeds I do—these things will not work. Only by asking for forgiveness of my sins and accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior can I be saved, forgiven, and filled with God’s holy grace. Faith without works is dead. Only by making sure I have allowed Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy into my heart can I be certain I am serving Jesus and not trying to buy my way into heaven.

God knows our hearts. If we accept His wondrous grace and forgiveness, we will spend eternity with Jesus. Serving Him with forgiveness in our hearts, we will be able to sing of His wondrous love, grace, and glory.

Make sure you have laid the right foundation.

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Unexpected Rain Showers

The sky turned ominously dark. Shades of blue and purple spread across the horizon, transforming a beautiful summer day into an unexpected storm.  

Such is life in the Carolinas during the summer. Storms can either be welcomed when they squelch the heat or cursed when they ruin summer fun. I appreciated this storm and watched with curiosity as creatures big and small scurried for shelter.

To my surprise, a tiny female hummingbird perched in front of me. The rain poured, but the little bird just sat—unaffected by the fierce storm raging around her. After a few moments, she raised her beak high into the air, puffed out her chest, spread her wings and flapped them in rapid bursts, enjoying a rain-induced bath.

As I watched the little bird relishing each raindrop, a thought struck me. All the other creatures had hidden from the storm, but the little hummer saw it as an opportunity. 

We tend to view life's trials and troubles like storms. We see them brewing on the horizon and immediately run and hide, doing our best to weather the storm and praying it doesn't do lasting damage. We wish for sunny days and see storms as a hindrance.

Instead, we should view storms as the hummingbird did, seeing them as beneficial and as opportunities for cleansing and renewal. Sometimes, God sends storms to test us, train us, cleanse us, and empower us. God can even use storms of our own making—or storms that come because we live in a broken world—for our benefit. 

Storms bring power, cleansing, and rebirth if we perceive them correctly, recognize their source, and trust the One who controls them. God already knows the storm, and He already knows His plans for you. Like the hummingbird, you can appreciate the storm with joy and thanksgiving.

When was the last time you played in a rainstorm? Let God use one to cleanse and renew you.

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Know God More

Imagine a co-worker saying her best friend lives just down the street.

“What is she like?” you ask.

“I don’t know, I never talk to her.”

You are perplexed. “But I thought you said she was your best friend in the world? How can she be your best friend if you never talk to her?”

“We talked once three years ago. I decided she would be my best friend, and I haven’t forgotten her. We had a great time that day.” She chuckles and then walks away.

Inconceivable, yet we can do the same thing with the Lord if we make a profession of faith but never talk to Him.  

Moses talked to God. God was fed up with the whiney, idol-worshiping Israelites. He told Moses to accompany those stiff-necked people without Him. You would think the man who didn’t want to speak for God to the Egyptian Pharaoh would have obeyed. But Moses told God he didn’t want to go without Him. He even made another request: “Now show me your glory.”

These last years have been hard years. Years when I have strayed. Doubted. Disobeyed. But recently, I’ve experienced renewed fellowship, faith, and obedience. I’ve copied Moses’ prayer. I have asked to know God, for Him to go with me, and for Him to show me His glory.

Prayer is talking with God and getting to know Him. Moses spoke face-to-face with God as a friend. And seeing God’s glory? I see it in how He answers—above and beyond anything I could ask or even comprehend. This is because He knows all, controls all, and works all things for my good and His glory.

So take the plunge. Tell God you want to know Him more, to experience His presence, and to see His glory. Begin and end each day with prayer—and be amazed.

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Legacy

Tonight is the wedding of her son to a sweet, Texas gal.

The mother of the groom pulls a black velvet box from her dresser. With misty eyes, she opens the lid and fingers her family heirloom. Her dad bought the exquisite aquamarine in South America for her mom decades earlier. A dozen diamonds encircle the sparkling jewel. This fourteen-karat gold ring dazzles anyone’s eye.

To her, though, the ring is more than a glittering piece of adornment. It is a legacy passed to her from her parents. As she slips the teal blue gem onto her fourth finger, she treasures the tapestry of memories of her parents. They are a part of this memorable night. They role-modeled for forty-seven years the beauty of love, the strength of faithfulness, and the power of commitment. Wearing her family ring reminds this matriarch of her parent’s invaluable gift of godly character and strong integrity—a legacy surpassing any real estate or financial package. 

Psalm 78:4 commands us to tell the next generation about the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and His wonders. When we share our faith with our loved ones, they will put their trust in God. The remaining sixty-four verses describe the results of people who did not trust in the Lord. They became stubborn and rebellious. God became angry with them, His fire broke out, and His wrath arose. 

As a grandparent, I desire to pass on a godly inheritance to my descendents. Everyone leaves a legacy, but the question is what kind? Families live in a turbulent world full of terrorism, materialism, and faithlessness. Grandparents have a high calling from God to pass a life-changing legacy of faith in God to our grandchildren. 

A distant voice calls, reminding the mother it is time for the wedding. Squaring her shoulders, she walks out of the room and into the night. Shining from her hand is the brilliant reminder of her family legacy, both received and ready to pass.

Leave a godly legacy for those who follow you.    

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Addicted to Worry

It was the last situation on my mind as I drifted off to sleep and the first one that filled my consciousness when I awoke.

Worry. The ultimate thief.

The Bible tells us not to be anxious about anything. Seriously? Nothing? Most of us find that next to impossible.

One writer says most Christians step out of bed and immediately reach for their backpack filled with anxiety. Then they walk around, loaded down with the weight of the world, unaware of the many harmful effects.

Worry is a terrible habit that doesn’t solve a single problem. It drains our energy and leaves us in a state of unrest, stealing our peace, joy, and hope. Worry leads to fear and can affect our health and our relationships.

Some people even become anxious when they have nothing to worry about. It can become an addiction.

I heard the statment recently that worry is illegal in the kingdom of God. So, what’s the answer? These are the things that have worked in my life:

  • Staying in constant communication with God.
  • Praising and being thankful instead of complaining and constantly rehashing the problems.
  • Speaking God’s promises instead of my own negative thoughts.
  • Keeping my focus on Him rather than my problems.
  • Trusting Him no matter what, knowing He is working all things together for my good.
  • Letting go of every situation I can’t fix or control.
  • Casting all my care on Him, and then walking in the peace that surpasses human comprehension.

Worrying less means praying more. But it’s a choice. God doesn’t want us to stop caring, He just wants us to trust Him for the outcome.

Are you willing to trust God and stop worrying?

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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Make Much of Him

Prevalent in our culture is the need for notoriety.

Many have come to believe bigger is better . . . that personality and gifting trump the virtues God esteems. But Jesus says whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Ouch. I don’t know of many who want to play second fiddle, let alone be least.

John the Baptist understood his role was to pave the road for Christ, not to create a name for himself or a following for his ministry. He said he was unworthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. Jesus stated that John the Baptist was the greatest man born to a woman. It seems John had a right estimation of himself and understood what it meant to decrease.

When we think less of ourselves and make much of Christ, He increases. When we become intentional about proclaiming His greatness and purpose, God is exalted. And when He is lifted up, He draws others to Himself.

Scripture is replete with the theme of exalting God and His purposes above our own. And it’s interesting to see what happens when we do.

In 2 Chronicles chapter one, Solomon was installed as king over Israel. God then asked what He could give him. Solomon asked for wisdom and understanding so he could govern God’s people rightly—not for riches, fame, or wealth. In return, God not only granted him the wisdom and knowledge he requested but also blessed him with riches, wealth, and honor. Solomon sought God’s glory, not his own.

We are placed on earth to know God and make Him known. When we become intimate with God and taste of His goodness, we should tell others to “taste and see that the Lord is good” also.

Make it your goal to make much of God and to seek His glory above your own. When you do, only the fragrance of Jesus will remain, even if your name is never remembered.

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Rewards of Faith in Action

Rags are not worth much. Cut into pieces, they can polish silver or clean up messes. Their end, however, is the trash.

The rags in this story had a unique use: comfort. They helped save a prophet’s life.

Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” mourned because of his country’s behavior. He proclaimed dire consequences for those disobeying God’s commandments and practicing idolatry. Jeremiah predicted “Jerusalem will fall, and Judah will be captured by a foreign land.” People hated his messages, but his words were God’s words.

The first deportation to Babylon had already occurred. King Zedekiah disliked Jeremiah’s news that he would go into captivity also. He confined the prophet to his palace court prison. However, this king was not an effective ruler. Evil princes did a daring capture of Jeremiah, taking him from the palace to the dungeon of a scribe’s house. These men abused Jeremiah. The king commanded the princes to release Jeremiah, but he was powerless over the wicked men. They cast Jeremiah into another dungeon void of drinking water, and he sank into the mire—a certain death.

An Ethiopian eunuch from the king’s household named Ebedmelech ran to the Benjamin gate where he sat and begged the king to save the emaciated, dehydrated prophet. He had an escape plan: “Take thirty of my servants to rescue Jeremiah.”

After telling Jeremiah to put old clothes and rags under his armpits before placing the ropes around him, the line of servants took deep breaths and pulled hard on the ropes until Jeremiah was free.

Thinking about my own suffering and recent prayers to my heavenly Father, I was touched by God’s intervention for Jeremiah. Every person’s life has struggles or things that frighten them. Encouraging words comfort, but a friend who shares the burden is better. Doing kind deeds can lighten suffering.

Love should drive our faith into action through recognizing the struggles of others. I observe, investigate the facts, pray for direction, and then intervene by doing what God puts on my mind and heart.

Find ways to put your faith into action. When you bless others, God will bless you.

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Goodwill Donations and Forgiveness

“You look like you’re only twenty five!”

Startled, I gasped, “Excuse me?”

The attendant shot back as he inched closer to the open car window, “You look twenty five.”

“That’s kind of you. Thank you,” I replied.

My daily beauty routine floated through my mind like a soft-flowing feather. Focused on my mission, I looked ahead to survey the big truck in front of me.

A Goodwill donation tax receipt coming towards me through the car window interrupted my thoughts. “This is for your taxes.”

Moving my little car up to the large donation truck, the next greeter quipped, “You look twenty five!”

Then, out of nowhere, I heard, “What’s your secret?”

Prompted by the inquiry, the words, “Forgiveness means we’re filled with peace and our strength increases,” tumbled out of my mouth.

Forgiveness is the best anti-aging formula available. It has amazing powers and can reverse the signs of grievances. Forgiveness smooths out the fine lines of bitterness and depression. The formula is made up of relinquishing any right for revenge, and includes the finest grades of peace, joy, and immeasurable strength. It is available to all who wish to continue on their merry way and fulfill their purpose for living. Forgiveness is not recommended for those who have extensive demands of retribution in exchange for intentional harm, as it only works when applied with a primer of grace. 

After continued use of this miraculous anti-aging formula, the consumer can expect radical results. A commonplace remark in consumer reviews, for those who have consistently applied this product to their hearts, is their ongoing physical and spiritual rejuvenation. Consumers give this product five stars. The formula boosts their understanding of God’s love and mercy. Furthermore, scientific testing of the product on both controlled and experimental groups validates the extreme increase of peace in the consumer’s life. Please note that these results vary based on the measure of grace the consumer uses. I recommend the kind of grace that incorporates suspended judgment and underserved lovingkindness as the premier primer for this product.

Forgiveness—available yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Don’t wait. Consider applying your own endless supply today. Your heart will thank you.

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When Life's not Good

“Life is good.”

We hear people say it. The phrase appears on retail items like t-shirts or framed quotes. And the words roll off our tongues and scatter across our devices. It takes the spotlight when our online friend or family member has a new boyfriend, pet, car, or house.

Perhaps the words are in order when we land the ideal job, get a promotion, win a contest, receive good news on medical tests, or get anything that makes us feel on top of the world. But what about when life’s not good? I’ve never been a fan of the phrase and here’s why. Merriam-Webster’s definition of good is “The pleasant things that happen to people.”

I want pleasant things to happen to me. I’m betting you do too. Some days those things come my way, and I’m on cloud nine. On other days, life’s pleasant things stay far away. Maybe they go on vacation or visit my neighbor. Or the good things in life happen to all those friends on social media but not to me.

As Christians, our hope for good lies in God’s identity and character. He’s a good Father with a never-changing nature. The Lord overflows with love, goodness, mercy, hope, peace, joy, compassion, patience, and kindness. The things that matter and set levels above “pleasant.”

When life’s not good, I shift my focus from “Life is good” to “God is good.” Good is who God is. Life changes. God and His goodness never do.

God has plans for our good, brings good from all things, and offers hope for good in our future. When we say, hear, or see the phrase, Life is good, we should remember life can’t be counted on. Sometimes life turns out not so good. When it does, we can still count on good from God—goodness not of this world.

Root your expectations in God, not in things of this life.

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Pleasant Surprise

Patience is a virtue that escapes me on most days.

I've struggled with impatience since childhood. I went through a phase where I couldn't wait to open gifts, especially on Christmas day. Like a budding art theft, I crafted a plan to uncover the contents of a gift the moment one with my name on it materialized.

Timing was crucial, and—with just the right touch—I learned to delicately unwrap the colorful ribbon and paper to reveal the treasure inside. I was so good at it that I could unveil a gift, wrap it back with the same wrapping and tape, and no one was the wiser. Mission accomplished, but surprise ruined!

It only took a few times to realize I was stealing my own joy and that my impatience wasn't a good idea after all. Who wants to open gifts that you already know the contents of and pretend to be surprised?  

Waiting is hard and often doesn't make sense, but the Bible says God is good to those who do. He is a perfect Father and gives the best gifts. We miss His blessings and His best when we are impatient and allow our “me-first-now mentality” to get in the way.

Some things in life are worth the wait: blessings and gifts that should be opened at just the right time and not rushed.

There are no shortages of opportunities to wait. Waiting for good news, waiting for the weekend, waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right, waiting for a promotion, waiting for a pregnancy, and waiting for things to change and get better.

If we realize the true source of goodness in our lives and begin to practice patience, then it will start growing naturally as a response to our acceptance that God is in control. He can be trusted, and His timing is always perfect.   

Waiting won’t be so difficult when we stop and consider the source and then believe God may be working to select and wrap the most perfect gift for us—one that took serious time and energy to create.  

Wait patiently for God. He always gives the best gifts. Don't ruin the surprise.

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Craving God

My dog craved being outside and active more than anything else.

I woke up one Saturday morning feeling tired and lazy. I knew I would enjoy a nice run if I went outside, but I had a hard time making myself go out the door. My dog, on the other hand, stood at the door, begging me to take him. As I drank coffee, trying to summon my desire to leave, he looked at me with those puppy dog eyes, attempting to hurry me out the door.

My life is often a series of craving the wrong things. I have had seasons where I have craved money, recognition, and approval more than the things of God. I have used food, exercise, other people, and material things to feed my inner pains instead of turning to Him. It’s okay to want to do things and have things, but we should only crave God.

I should crave God and His word the way my dog craves going for a run. I need to focus on Him, letting Him dominate my thoughts and actions. I need to be passionate about His word and read and meditate on it. His presence inside of me filters my words and actions. 

God gave us the ability to crave so we would crave Him. When we crave money, food, recognition, other people, drugs and alcohol, entertainment, sex, or anything else more than we crave Him, we will never have peace, joy, or happiness. I enjoy running, spending time with those I love, working, shopping, and eating, but I was made to crave only God.

Ask God to help you crave Him more than you do anything else. 

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When Faith Doesn't Move the Mountain

It definitely wasn’t the image I wanted to portray.

I sent my husband Tom to pick up the cakes I’d pre-ordered for the book launch party for the book I’d just written, The Immanuel Quilt. When he returned, I noticed the bakery had made a mistake. Instead of the cakes having photos of the book, they displayed images of my business card. It’s what every girl wants, right? A cake covered in whipped cream advertising her name and number.  

I expected two-hundred people to celebrate with me. Only forty did. What made me think so many would come? At one point, I’d even thought the venue was too small. I believed because I’d seen God’s works and come to expect the miraculous.

Jesus never once said, “Oh, ye of too much faith,” but He offered several warnings about too little faith.

Perhaps there’s been a time when you expected a miracle from God. A time when you showed mighty faith and believed your fervent prayers could move the mountain—only to learn they wouldn’t. You had faith a better job was coming, your marriage would be restored, or even your loved one would be healed. But it didn’t happen.

Disappointments are golden opportunities—a gift from God—to get to know Him better. We either believe He is over all things or that He’s not. He can allow the miraculous or withhold it. We have to accept His authority.

We should always want our words and actions to display the image of God we hope to portray—one of Christ living within us.

The next time faith doesn’t move your mountain and disappointments arise, keep trusting God and letting His image shine through. 

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Get Understanding

Alcoholism death rates are at an all-time high.

Knowing that drinking is accompanied by a risk of organ damage and death, many drinkers admit alcohol is their favorite device to help them deal with stress, grief, worries, relaxation, and pressure. They refuse to sacrifice it for a sober lifestyle.

We all have our favorite things in life: foods, vacation spots, TV shows, and people. The thought of giving up one of these can be unimaginable. Being asked to walk away from a treasure we hold dear to our hearts could make us say a few choice words unspoken for years. How dare anyone ask us to give up a favorite entrée or habit, a sentimental relationship, or a favorite pastime? If they cared about us they would not ask.

How could it please God to sacrifice what He loves so much: His only begotten Son? When I was fourteen, the Lord told me, “Anything you love, learn to let it go.” I now realize certain requirements have to be met to do this. It is impossible to give up anything . . . to sacrifice . . . without understanding the love of God.  

According to Christ’s example, we should be pleased to sacrifice our only. Like our Father, we should give up the now and focus on the later, which cannot be done from a selfish outlook, but is greatly rewarding. Once we understand Jesus equips us with more fulfillment than this world—and once we understand the significance of the cross—we can sacrifice anything.  

It pleased God to sacrifice His one and only. If His Son, why not your ____? People find many reasons for not sacrificing: fear, confusion, self-worth, competence, tradition, and trust. Understanding and believing what God has done communicates to us the strength we need to alter these beliefs. This helps us sacrifice our only coat, our only meal, our only five minutes, our only hearts.

In all your getting, get understanding.

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God Blesses Us

“How are you today, Pauline?” my co-worker asked as we passed each other by the copy machine.

“Better than I deserve,” I shot back.

Some think I am weird. Others build up my self-image with phrases like, You deserve good, Pauline. You’re a good person.

But I know better. I understand God found me, Christ died for me, and I live my life in His strength. So when I read of God’s blessings in His Word, I take notice.

In Psalm 67, the writer names how God blesses us: His face shines upon us, He judges uprightly, He guides the nations, and He causes the earth to yield its produce.

If you have ever witnessed the face of a new grandmother staring at her grandchild, you can picture that as God’s face shining on you and me. He guides the nations and is sovereign over the world. Even though it doesn’t seem that way to me, I trust God’s Word and trust Him to guide the nations. And produce? I live on a farm and have tasted the best tomatoes ever. It all comes from His hand. Those are some pretty heavy blessings.

God blesses us to make His way known, so people will praise Him, and so that all the earth may fear Him.

But I wonder if I’m making God’s way known to others, or if I’m too busy with this world and more excited about football than sharing the gospel? Or if I’m living a life of grateful thanksgiving and praise or being like Miriam in the Old Testament who was inflicted with leprosy because she grumbled. I can share the gospel by being clear that we are all sinners and need a savior, or sugarcoat it.

Answering my co-workers in the way I do reminds me of my blessings and my opportunity to bless others.

Make a resolution to meditate on God’s blessings and share them with others. You just might make hanging out at the copy machine more interesting. 

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Help Me Be Willing

During a meeting at church, an elderly member expressed the need for transportation to a doctor’s appointment. Although she spoke for an extended time about her problem, no one volunteered to take her, including me.

This woman had a notorious reputation for being a nonstop talker. Those attending the meeting were well aware of this. During the time she spoke, the quiet voice of God’s Spirit nudged me to volunteer. But along with the others, I remained silent. After I went home from the meeting, I continued to feel conviction.

Every morning I pray that I may be a helper, a blessing, and an encourager to others. I had been given an opportunity, but failed to take advantage of it. Now God reminded me of my prayers.

I determined to contact the woman the next day and offer to take her to her appointment. After making that decision, I felt God’s peace. God wanted to see if I was willing to help others as I asked to in my prayers or if I was simply repeating words.

When we pray about meeting the needs of others, we must also ask God to help us be willing. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says God loves a cheerful giver. This not only applies to the gift of material possessions, but also to the gift of our time, energies, and abilities.

When you feel the probing finger of God touching your heart as He did mine, don’t respond with a “No!” Ask Him to help you become more willing to reach out to others.

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20/20 Vision

One day without warning, my vision was normal and the next, something was wrong . . . very wrong.

At first, I thought the flashes of light came from a passing school bus in the early dawn, but before long I realized the flashes originated from within my right eye, along with a few floaters. Before I could find my way into the ophthalmologist's chair, my vision diminished.

Apprehension darkened my outlook. I had to see well . . . to write, to drive, to work, to help my daughters, to maintain my independence. Fear gnawed at the edges of my trust in the faithful God whom I love.

For the first time, I could empathize with my late husband's concerns about failing vision after a TBI left him with serious eye issues. Not that I didn't sympathize, but now I understood. I wished I could tell him so.

Hagar was a servant girl lost in the wilderness centuries ago. Yet she drew confidence from the God who saw her.   

Despite my jumbled thoughts and emotions, I thanked God I could see today . . . the brightening brilliance of a sunrise and the soft glow of sunset, crimson and golden leaves against a sapphire sky, sparkly snow gracing every branch and bush, greedy sparrows at my feeders, and photos of my daughters and grandsons. The ordinary became extra-ordinary!

I also became acutely aware of the "sight" words we use every day. Words like look, see, view, watch, and focus. Tears slipped down my cheeks at church when we sang "Be Thou My Vision.” Passages of Scripture leaped off the page. Stories of Jesus healing the blind, verses urging us to look to Jesus as our example, and promises that we will someday see Him face to face.   

After five weeks, my eye became stable. Using a protocol to strengthen my vision and support eye health, I'm guardedly optimistic . . . and still more grateful than ever.

What we have trouble seeing in our present circumstances may have little to do with our physical vision. Our way often seems cloudy and uncertain, but God’s vision is always 20/20. He sees with clarity and understanding, both near and far.

Trust God’s vision even when yours is blurry. 

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Keeping Our Neighborhoods Safe

I awakened with New York City weighing heavily on my spirit.

I walk almost every day, and although I don’t live in a metropolitan area, geography and socio-economic status don’t limit evil. A rash of recent car break-ins have troubled my neighborhood. Many residents have installed special lighting, and one neighbor organized a Crime Watch meeting at a nearby church.

Car break-ins are only a nuisance compared to the carnage New York City experienced recently. On a crisp autumn day, an evil man in a truck mowed down innocent people out for a walk, a run, or a bike ride. Both incidents prove we need greater security.  

When fearful thoughts trouble my spirit, I take them to God. So that’s what I did. As I walked the streets of my neighborhood early one morning, I prayed, and God spoke. He brought to mind a Bible verse I’d studied that week.

In Psalm 122:6, God calls His people to pray for the peace of their holy city. While no one’s ever called Lexington, South Carolina, a holy city, the principle still applies. Praying regularly for our city’s peace, and, on a smaller scale, the neighborhoods in which we live, is biblical. God uses our prayers to spread His protective covering over our homes and our streets.

On this morning, as I walked the two streets and seven cul-de-sacs of my neighborhood, I prayed and asked God to keep our neighborhood safe from anyone who would harm us. I prayed a blessing over each family, inviting God to make Himself real to them and to meet their needs. I petitioned Him to strengthen the faith of the believers who live here and embolden them to share their faith with others. And I asked Him to bless and use us to minister in His name.

Today, as you drive or walk through the streets of your neighborhood—instead of listening to music or mindlessly daydreaming—spend a few minutes praying. Doing so could make all the difference.

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Don't Leave Them Waiting

“Can I have fifty cents?” asked my daughter.

“What for?” I said.

She pointed out the living room window to three sweaty children from our neighborhood who sat at their lemonade stand waiting for customers.

“They must be very hot out there,” I said. 

“That’s why I want to buy some lemonade right away. I remember waiting for people to buy it from me,” she said, smiling.

I handed her two quarters, and she skipped out the door. Her simple gesture reminded me of Jesus’ words, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Opportunities abound every day to love people. If I think about the way I want to be treated and ask God for direction as I consider others’ needs, I will find plenty of people to love.  

Think of someone in your family, your work place, or your community who could benefit from your kindness. Whether it is a relative, a co-worker, or a neighbor, don’t leave them waiting.

Ask God to show you someone in need, and share His love with them today.  

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The Foolishness of Faith

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of looking foolish.

When we live for the approval of others—instead of God—it makes us hesitate when He asks us to step outside our comfort zone to do something we’ve never done before. Why? Because we fear ridicule and rejection. People can be unforgiving and even cruel—especially when we mess up.

But the Scriptures give us many examples of people who were willing to obey God, no matter how foolish it looked in the eyes of men.

Think about Noah. He spent 120 years building the first boat when no one had ever seen or even heard of rain.

Sarah was promised a child at the age of ninety. Can you imagine all the snickering going on behind her back?

David boldly confronted Goliath—a giant that none of the mighty warriors were willing to face—with only a slingshot and a few stones.

And what about Joshua? He led an army around the mighty walls of Jericho and then had them shout and blow trumpets to destroy the city. Can’t you just hear the laughs and sneers coming from inside those walls … at least until they began to crumble?

The Bible tells us God uses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame those who are wise and strong in their own eyes. We’re also told it is impossible to please Him without faith. When God wants to work through us and asks us to step out into unknown territory, our response should be complete and absolute obedience.

But what if no one agrees or understands? What if we look foolish? Look at the outcome for Noah, Sarah, David, and Joshua. Through their faith and obedience—and their willingness to look foolish in the eyes of men—God accomplished His divine plan and purpose.

He can and will do the same through you and me. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV).

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Holding on . . . But to What?

I remember the moment my car died—and I had no way of making extra money to pay bills.

I used my car as a transport service for people, which provided a significant amount of supplemental income. But in a moment, it was taken away. I was furious. I hoped the battery was dead—or possibly another cheaper part I could replace myself. I tried to start the car, but to no avail.  

I had the car towed to a mechanic who told me the news I dreaded: “Yeah, you need the engine rebuilt.” At the moment, I was furious with God. I remember sitting in my wife’s car and screaming, “God, how can you do this? I can barely afford to pay my bills, and now You take away a huge part of my income?”

James says, “… be happy for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.” Easier said than done.

Maybe you’ve asked God the same thing I did. Perhaps it wasn’t your car dying. Maybe you did not get the promotion or raise you expected, or maybe you were fired from your job.

We all go through times when the ground is removed from under our feet. We can respond in one of two ways: yell and curse God or do what James said. To do as James instructs, we must have a mindset change.

After I finished cursing God for taking my car, He let me know my heart was far from Him. I was more obsessed with material things than I was with Him. Sometimes, God takes away those things we hold so that we will hold Him dearer.

Instead of cursing God, try thanking Him. Be happy He took things from you so He could bring you closer to Him.

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Straightening out a Messy Life

Regardless of how much you take on a trip, you have a choice about how to pack it. 

I have a friend who over-packs for every trip. She’s not sure what she needs, so she takes it all. I, on the other hand, pack as little as possible. I choose versatile pieces of clothing and solid colors that go with anything. Khaki, black, and brown are the staple colors of my traveling wardrobe. My friend, however, has been known to pack three pairs of flip-flops for one trip. When we meet up at the same location, I’m amazed at her enormous suitcase, and she’s astounded at my little duffle bag.

If you fold everything neatly, you won’t get as much into your bag. But if you’re willing to roll and squish your clothing, you can get more in the same amount of space. It’s messy—and things could wrinkle—but you’ve got more stuff.

Our relationship with God is similar. If I want my life filled with God, it might look messy. When I’m crammed full of Jesus, the choices I make sometimes don’t make sense to others. I can control my life and make everything look neat and tidy, or I can let God overflow and let go of my desire to impress others and to look like I have everything together.

God’s paths might be confusing or might cause others to look askance at me. And I’d rather have my life in orderly stacks I can understand and control. But having more of God is more important than having a life that looks pretty to others.

Make an effort today to let go of control—even if the result looks messier than you’d like—so you can be filled with the power, justice, and might of the Holy Spirit.

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Sharing the Gospel

During court proceedings, witnesses are more important than onlookers or spectators. They are active participants who help determine a case’s outcome.

Witnesses play an important part in the legal process. In a criminal case, what a person says and how they say it can keep an innocent person from going to jail or ensure that a guilty person is not freed to commit new crimes. In a civil lawsuit, a person’s testimony will not usually send anyone to jail, but it can significantly affect fundamental legal rights.

The same is true of our witness for Christ. Like John, we are active participants in a matter of absolute importance: the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

When John the Baptist told people about Jesus, the light of the world, he declared his knowledge of Jesus. And John the disciple, who recorded the events, testified about his experience with Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul elaborated on this idea when he told young Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Christians have been summoned before the courtroom of the world. We are not spectators but active participants. We testify to the truth about Jesus’s death and resurrection. John the Baptist was a voice calling in the desert. Our voices can be heard in our workplace, neighborhood, and church, and among family and friends. We are active witnesses telling others about the reality of Jesus in our lives.

Think of some creative ways you can share the gospel.

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Only God Knows

For six long years, one storm after another hit me. I was strong spiritually, but my mental state reached a climax. I wondered when the storms would let up . . . when I would see the beautiful colors of the fall season change in my life.

When I thought I was going to have a breakdown, I learned about God’s faithfulness. God’s Spirit led me to a quote by Charles Stanley: “Often God demonstrates His faithfulness in adversity by providing for us what we need to survive. He does not change our painful circumstances. He sustains us through them.” That’s when I learned God is faithful in all the seasons we go through by providing us with everything we need.

The phrase microwave society has some truth to it. We want it right now, but when we put our own efforts into trying to make something happen that’s out of God’s divine timing, the result can be loss of spiritual benefits.

God has made everything appropriate in its time—including the natural changing of the seasons and the spiritual seasons in our lives. He doesn’t move like a tortoise or drag His feet like us, but He is faithful in His own divine timing.

Life’s many circumstances that God has purposed are always appropriate seasons. They give us the opportunity to grow spiritually and allow His faithfulness to shine.

No matter what appointed season you’re in, know it has a purpose. God will not allow you to be consumed while you are in the season of testing. His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, and His faithfulness is great.

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Solving the Unsolvable

My faith and health-conscious habits were not enough to shield me from surgery.

I knew the Lord would be with me during the surgery and after, but when a complication arose that pushed my hospital recovery into the seventh day, hope waned. Even my surgeon seemed at a loss to know what to do to help me.

When a candy striper walked into my hospital room, he called her to my bedside, explained my situation briefly, and then asked, “What would you prescribe if she were your patient?” I thought he was joking. I couldn’t believe he would take the advice of a teenage non-medical volunteer. But within the hour, and twice more that day, I found myself relaxing in a tub of hot water, just as she had suggested. The first two times in the tub truly relaxed me and lifted my spirits, but when I stepped into the hot water bath for the third time late that evening, the presence and peace of the Holy Spirit filled the room, immediately flooding my body, mind, and spirit with God’s nearly tangible healing rays.

I’ve always believed God uses only the most talented, educated, and highly esteemed people in this world to usher in His will and plan. Yet on this day, he touched me through a teenage girl who was totally unaware she was being used of the Lord to bring healing to my body, mind, and spirit.

By God’s Word, He has not changed. He is sovereign and is not a respecter of persons. He who ordains strength out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants can use anyone to accomplish His work, even babes and nursing infants. The One who filled the young shepherd David with strength to slay Goliath and chose a young virgin girl to birth the Son of God often brings His will to pass through unsuspecting individuals.

If you have a seemingly unsolvable problem, call out to Jesus. He’ll make a way where there seems to be no way. If you want to be used of God to draw others to Him, call out His name and give your everyday life and words to Him. He’ll use them to bring encouragement and hope to the hopeless.

Let God use you to help solve what appears unsolvable. 

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Are We There Yet?

I want to be successful in my ministry without effort or discomfort, to be a giant of faith without a fight. I struggle against circumstances, self, and external enemies. I totter on the brink of obedience while yearning for heaven. Like a small child in the backseat, I whine, “Are we there yet?”

Death seemed imminent, yet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to give their lives rather than worship—or even pretend to worship—something other than the One true God. The heat from the fiery furnace was so fierce it killed the men who threw them into the fire. Even so, God protected and saved them without burns or even the smell of smoke.

We cheer this one test of faith but forget Scripture hints at a myriad of experiences they endured. The three boys had been ripped from their homeland. Their rich, privileged, influential families were murdered. They were neutered, probably sexually abused, and forced to serve the conquerors who had done this to them. Even after the fiery furnace, they had daily choices to make about how they felt, served, forgave, trusted, and obeyed.

Salvation in Christ is not a free pass out of situations that seem too hot: chronic pain, loss of loved ones, traumatic experiences, and unjust circumstances. Your fiery furnaces and fears may be different than mine, but to all who demand we serve them you can say, “God is able to save us out of the fire of our problems. If He doesn’t, He will walk us through. Even if we die, we will serve nothing except our God.”

Ask God to strengthen you with His Holy Spirit so you can endure and be bold. 

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Our Heart's Content

Finding contentment in life is a battle we've all fought.

The natural tendency of our heart is to seek and find rest. But how do we know where to find that rest? Suppose a love for money motivates our heart's contentment. Or a pursuit of power, fame, or lust dictates the peace in our life. 

Judas Iscariot—one of the original disciples of Christ—loved money, and doing so left his heart empty. After he betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for thirty silver coins, he was left with a guilty and restless soul. His subsequent suicide reveals his heart’s content—or lack thereof. 

Hebrews 13:5 tells us where to find our heart's content: in the Lord. We shouldn’t be greedy, but be content with what we have. And we can because of an eternal promise. God has proclaimed, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

The desires of our heart are temporal and fleeting—here one day and gone the next. Put your hope in God’s eternal promise. True contentment will be experienced when our heart's desires rest in the Lord. 

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God Remembered Noah

I felt lost in murkiness and could not unearth God. I listened closely to His guidance and followed Him obediently. Yet that path had surprisingly and abruptly come to a halt. I was shocked and numbed. God seemed silent.

Noah must have experienced these sensations as he, his family, and the animals tossed about on titanic waves. With his sea legs, he performed his daily chores in this tipsy box. But where was God? When he was building the ark, God’s instructions were frequent and precise. Now, God had been silent for 150 days as the boat rocked on the waters. Where were His gentle instructions, soft whispers, and reassuring comfort?

God was there, observing Noah inside the ark. He had made a covenant with Noah and would keep it. He remembered Noah and relationally gravitated toward him in a loving and tactile way. Not only did God remember Noah, but He also remembered those surrounding Noah: the animals. He saw Noah obediently feeding the animals, caring for his family, and possibly questioning his future after the flood. God acted upon his observance of Noah and the flood and funneled a wind so the floodwaters would dwindle.

God was also present in my mute world at the end of my crisis. He observed me in my day-to-day activities, and—as He remembered Noah—He remembered me. Gradually, His gentle breeze of comfort and peace surrounded me.

When we feel alone and forgotten, God’s silence can be deafening. Nevertheless, He is there as He was with Noah. He knows our perplexing circumstances, so He hovers, shelters, and eternally remembers us. In His perfect timing, He will direct a merciful wind to calm and satisfy our needs.

Believe God remembers you, regardless of your storm.

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Waiting on the Perfect Gift

My youngest granddaughter tore into the colorful paper and ripped it to shreds to see what was inside.

This four-year-old was expecting the special doll she had requested. It almost broke my heart to watch her eyes narrow and her shoulders slump in disappointment when she saw the clothes inside the box. She didn’t say a word, but she didn’t have to. Her countenance and body language said it all. She simply looked around the room at each face, then dropped her little head to hide the tears.

Before her emotions escalated out of control, I placed another box in her hand. She raised her head and gazed at me expectantly, her hope restored. This time she slowly pulled the paper away as if afraid to be let down again. When her eyes rested on the doll she had specifically asked for, she jumped up, danced around, and squealed in delight.

Watching her reaction on this particular Christmas day made me wonder how many times God has given me a gift and watched as my countenance fell because of my disappointment. Maybe the gift wasn’t spcifically what I had asked for or wanted. Did I break His heart with my reaction?

What I’ve learned over a lifetime of serving God is that He always knows what’s best for us and exactly what we need. The good news is He also promises to give us the desires of our heart when we delight in Him. But sometimes we must wait. He is the giver of all good gifts, and His gifts are always delivered right on time—His time. And they are most definitely worth waiting for.

During this Christmas season, step away from the busyness of the holiday, and spend some time with Jesus—the greatest gift of all time. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NIV).

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Jesus, the Best Counselor

Some time had passed since I heard from Sarah, a friend I pray for often.

Then I watched a movie I thought Sarah might find interesting. I sent her the information through Messenger. A few minutes later, she called and told me she was feeling miserable. The man she had been dating for years cheated on her. She felt betrayed, angry, and frustrated. She had seen a Christian counselor twice but could not fall asleep at night.

“How did the counselor help you?” I asked.

“He asked me to write down what my left brain told me so my logical sense could persuade my emotion on my right brain to forget about this lousy man. But I’m not in the mood to write it now.” She sighed.

“I may not be a licensed counselor, but I believe God, your Creator, knows your heart more than any human. Would you like me to pray for you and ask Jesus to help you?” I wanted to point Sarah to Jesus, her ultimate comforter.

“Why does this happen to me?” Sarah asked.

“Only God knows. But one thing Jesus wants to assure you is that God loves you,” I replied.

The child Jesus was sent by His heavenly Father to carry our sin debt to the cross. He is the ruler of the kingdom of God. And He is the best counselor because He understands our suffering through bearing our burdens daily.

Jesus proves Himself to be the mighty One who can calm the storm in your heart with His gift of peace.

If you’re struggling, instead of trying to grab any plank to let yourself float above the roaring ocean of trouble, cry out to God for help.

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A Fishy Tale

The fish disappeared again.

My husband’s youngest son and wife are raising three young boys and a baby daughter. To supplement their income, Kevin nurtures a vegetable garden. He has also developed a hydroponic system of fish tanks which produce run-off water for fertilizer.

One morning, he checked on the fish and found them on the bottom of their tank—bloated, dead, and useless. Discovering a reason for the mishap took a while. His sons, wanting to help their Dad, had taken some bread and fed the fish.

Hearing this part of the fishy tale, I reflected on how often I have tried to help Father God with His business, only to bring trouble upon myself and others. Then I remembered the Israelites as they came out of Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years. God rained down manna for them to eat, but they were not satisfied. They wanted more—just like the greedy fish.

But the story has a sequel. One morning, Kevin saw only two of the large number of fish he had purchased to replace the lost ones. He knew the boys weren’t at fault. He had explained the habits of fish to overeat so the previous disaster wouldn’t repeat itself.

Not knowing the mystery of the disappearing fish, he purchased more to supplement the second loss. Later, as he cleaned out the overflow tanks, he discovered the second lot of fish alive. They had squeezed through the connecting pipes and escaped.

Once again, I thought of the Israelites. They wanted to return to Egypt and complained about the way Moses was leading them—just like the fish that escaped the confines of their tank. They crawled through narrow pipes to another world where they could have died without the proper food.

The fishy tale and the Israelites behaviour mirror our own lives. Learning not to complain and accepting what God provides is a lifetime lesson. God knows what He is doing, and He has the best in store for us when we trust and wait upon Him.

Trust God to give you what you need. 

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Staying Afloat

I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, I could mark off one item: my first hot air balloon ride.

My previous plans to ride a hot air balloon fell through due to stormy weather, but taking the ride was worth the wait. Not only did I experience the thrill, I also helped hold the balloon in place while the burner filled the envelope with hot air. I also assisted in folding the envelope and placing it in the basket once the ride was over.

Although most of us identify hot air balloons by their colorful fabric envelopes and baskets, the balloon won’t work without the burner—the force behind the hot air. As we soared over trees, fields, and people, the balloon owner fired the burner from time to time—keeping us airborne and stable.

The ride, combined with the activities before and after, reinforced the truth of Jesus’ lesson on love in Matthew 22:34-40. In contrast to the Pharisees’ focus on appearances, legal wrangling (sometimes to their own advantage), and status quo, Jesus directed their attention to love. Everything we do as Jesus’ followers revolves around the force of love.

Like the Pharisees, we can be in the right place and project the right look, but we get nowhere without love. Love for God and one another fires our spiritual lives, gets us going, and keeps us going. It unfolds God’s power and directs our attitudes, speech, and actions. After our life’s ride ends, the love that filled us continues to soar through the lives we touched on our journey.

Allow God to fill you with the power of His love today and every day. Only then can you know and share true love—a love that keeps you afloat on picture-perfect days and in the worst of storms.

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

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In This Moment

I say, “We are in this moment,” numerous times each day.

As a planner, I appreciate my daughter’s desire to know what’s going to happen next, but her incessant questioning depletes my reservoir of patience. From the moment her eyes open, she desires to know the reasons for our every move and proceeds to repeat and verify them throughout the day.

I imagine I had similar tendencies as a child, allowing my worry to dictate my thoughts.But as a parent, it’s my goal to ease the anxieties by encouraging focus on the current moment. More importantly, it is my desire to instill the knowledge that God will care for us and provide all we need.

Jesus tells us to examine the birds of the sky and the grass of the field. Our heavenly Father cares for them. Aren’t we more valuable? His Word reminds us our Father knows our needs. If we seek His kingdom and righteousness first, He will give these things to us.

Each day brings enough trouble of its own, so don’t worry about tomorrow. Satan endorses your worries and capitalizes on your doubt, distracting you from the beauty and blessings surrounding you.

When your mind wanders towards worry, remind yourself to live in the moment and let tomorrow worry about itself. 

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Steady On!

“The truck came in hot, hit the gravel, and jack-knifed to a stop.” 

Those were the words of a professional truck driver describing his use of a runaway truck ramp. Like big rigs rolling fast on long, steep hills—managing the pressure of loads so heavy their brakes glow red in the night—we can feel equally pressured managing life’s demands. Add the unpredicted pressures of job loss, health issues, children in trouble, or a week—like the one I had—with a string of household appliances and technical equipment going out one after the other, and  you can end up longing for a runaway truck ramp.

According to James, every good thing God wants to infuse into our lives comes through growing our ability to remain steadfast under pressure. But the greater the pressure, the more I long for a way out from under it. I want to run . . . to quit . . . to throw in the towel and bail. Feeling that way is normal. We’re allowed to scream and cry, but we are rarely allowed to give up.

It’s been said the worst decisions you’ll ever make in life are quitter decisions. God has given us the ability to remain, as my British friends say, steady on through really tough times and growing through them. Our best decisions will be the ones God enables us to make—the ones where we stay bolted in place when the trials are pressing down the hardest but we refuse to walk away.

Nothing is ever out of control when God is in control. Keep trusting Him and quit longing for runaway truck ramps. Nothing can jack-knife you to a stop. Steady on!

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In the Shadow of The Cross

“There should be no super heroes in the pulpit, but each one should stand behind the cross,” the pastor said.

In anything we do in the Lord’s name, we should stand in the shadow of the cross. To rise up in our own beauty, talent, or knowledge takes honor from our Lord.

When we sing, preach, play music, or do anything else in a church service, it should enhance God’s kingdom, bring souls to Him, and encourage our listeners. We give our best, but it isn’t a performance; it’s done to lead the congregation to honor and worship Him. The attention belongs to Christ alone.

When we do everything according to biblical standards—in the work place, on the athletic field, or in our homes—the Scripture says to do it in Christ’s name. We can do everything on our jobs to get the next promotion, but getting ahead shouldn’t be more important than revealing Christ to our co-workers.

It feels good when others notice and applaud our upright deeds or achievements for God. But when I take their praise unto myself and into my heart, I choose to stand in the limelight instead of standing in the shadow of Jesus and all He has done.

Allowing our deeds to draw people closer to God shines the glory on Him. Others will know love comes from God through us to them. We are not the source of the gospel’s light. We reflect the light of Christ. We are not setting ourselves up on a pedestal in spirituality, goodness, or ability. Christ is the One who paid the price for the salvation of all. Any honor should be His alone.

When I hear someone sing a solo or preach a message, I want to see Jesus. I desire to feel His Spirit flowing through them to me.

Jesus is worthy to be lifted up by leaders and followers alike. Stand in the shadow of the cross.

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The Aroma of Christ

Surfing the Internet, I came across a story about someone's experiences as a visitor in a small village in Dover, England.

“Sitting outside a café one afternoon enjoying a cup of tea, she became aware of a beautiful scent. Rita asked a waiter where it was coming from and was told it was the people she could see passing by. Most of the villagers were employed at a nearby perfume factory. As they walked home, they carried the fragrance that permeated their clothes out into the street.”

What a beautiful image of the Christian life. The story gave flesh and blood to Paul’s words: But thank God! He . . . uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Believers are the aroma of Christ, spreading His fragrance everywhere. Paul uses the image of a king returning from battle—his soldiers and captives in tow—wafting the smell of celebratory incense in the air while declaring the king’s greatness.

We spread the aroma of Christ in two ways: through our words—by telling others about the One who is beautiful and loving—and through our lives—by doing deeds of Christlike sacrifice (Ephesians. 5:1-2). While not everyone will appreciate our divine fragrance, it brings life to many.

Rita, the main character in the story, caught a scent and was driven to seek its source. As we follow Jesus, we too become permeated with His fragrance and then carry His aroma to the streets through our words and deeds.

Ask God to make you a carrier and communicator of His beauty to the people in your home, office, and neighborhood.

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Made Right

The tantrums of a six-year-old have interesting dynamics.

Sometimes, the tantrum is over something ridiculous—like the wrong color sock in the basket. At other times, one is left trying to insert logic into an overly emotional situation. Without fail, they leave us breathless, exhausted, and, on occasion, flabbergasted.

Such was one of my daughter’s recent tantrums. I was nothing short of stunned when she screamed, “Jesus didn’t make me the right kid.” In that moment, my heart broke for what she had not yet realized: she was perfectly and wonderfully made.

The Bible reminds us that God knows us. From our every thought to the words unspoken on our tongue, He knows. God created our innermost being and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by His wonderful works. 

When things aren’t going our way, the Devil loves to encourage our insecurities. He takes pride in planting doubt and fostering the “I’m not made right” attitude. Don’t allow the Devil to capitalize on your tantrum. Seek confirmation from the One who knows the depth of your soul.

Thank God for making you a beautiful, perfect child of the King. Even in times of turmoil, highlight the beauty of your uniqueness and your flaws. Spend your days knowing you are “made right.”

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No Condemnation

The lady whirled around and yelled at my son.

I was at the movie theatre with my kids. My son was kicking the back of her seat. She was loud. I sat a few rows back and heard her—as did the rest of the people in the theater. If her life was anything like mine, I’ll bet she was looking forward to a couple of peaceful hours in a movie theater instead of being cooped up at home with her kids. When she got to the theater and got everyone situated, I’m sure the last thing she wanted was to deal with some kid kicking her chair.

At first, I was angry. Who does she think she is, yelling at my kid? Simultaneously, I was embarrassed. My son was annoying someone, but she had just screamed at him in a theater full of people.

Honestly, that ugly feeling of shame and condemnation washed over me too. Would all those people in the theater think I was a terrible mom because my son was kicking the back of someone’s seat? 

Moms beating up on themselves when one of their children misbehaves is common. Going down the road of self-condemnation is easy. In times like this, I need to pretend as if I’m not me and tell myself what I would tell someone else in the same situation: Everyone’s kid misbehaves at one time or another. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.

I might even quote Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and remind the person Jesus died so we no longer have to live under a cloud of condemnation and shame.

If I believe that for other people, I have to believe it for myself. God doesn’t want us living under a cloud of shame. He loves us and wants us to bring our failings and embarrassing moments to Him so He can provide comfort and peace. 

Don’t live a life of shame. Give it to God. 

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Grace, Grace, God's Grace

Such grace as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost can give. The light of the One. Life in Him.

When reading the passage inside the pages of John, I came across a desperate individual. A woman who chose to step away from decency—not only from the Pharisees laws but also from Elohim, the great and mighty authority over Israel.

We don’t know what lured her away from the coveted acceptance that the boundaries of law and tradition provided—and it really doesn’t matter. We all slip up when we think, say, and behave in ways that offend the God of grace.

Observing the men who dragged this woman from the center of her sin, to expose her with such harsh and deadly intent, catches my breath. Makes me pause with what? Fear of such extreme authority?

They made several mistakes. Some of which were groomed inside them for years, from example, and from expectations from others and themselves. They’d not shown grace because that would have challenged their traditions. Graciousness, an unknown face among their powerful connections. They’d manipulated people’s opinions and expectations for years. This is what they knew. Now, when they came before Jesus, they tested and tried to trip Him up.

But the test backfired. All because Jesus emulated grace and love that was strange to this people—though they were the barriers of His message. His love was genuine, heartfelt, and full of authority. He wrote in the dirt, and the Pharisees still peppered Him with questions. I believe their attention stuck on their anger and motivation to stir Him.

Jesus stood and said those profound words that even some modern day sinners may recall, “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” I believe He did so to draw their attention to what He would write next. Even one stone was too great a burden for them to heft and toss in light of the truth Jesus wrote before them.

Though they walked away, probably angry and feeling like failures, He touched them with grace that provided the choice to leave—this woman, their sin, and their horrific tradition that had always been necessary. Until He who embodied grace and life walked among them. Their eyes were muddied with traditions and power-seeking, so they saw a problem and not their solution, their grace=bearing Lord. 

Be like Christ. Choose grace.

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Dissolving Insecurity

I felt secure as a child because God blessed me with a loving, supportive family, but I’ve struggled with insecurity since I was a teenager.

When I was in junior high, I was promoted to a class filled with overachieving, critical teens. One girl seemed to revel in chipping away at my self-esteem. In hindsight, I think she was jealous of me—but the damage remains.

God has given me success. He blessed me with the talent to play the trumpet. In marching, concert, and jazz bands, I was a soloist from tenth through twelfth grade. People still tell me I play well in my church’s praise band. He anoints my lips to play the trumpet and honor Him with music.

God also opened the door to the Christian writing world and compels me to write. He hounds me until I get to work—then writes through me. I unlock my heart, submit my work, and let God handle the results.

Regardless of how much encouragement I receive, I still don’t believe in myself. Nor do I see myself as a gifted writer or trumpet player. I simply do what God tells me to do. God, in turn, blesses me with a sense of quiet trust when I use my talents to do the good works to which He has called me.

Daunting though it may be, approaching life without self-confidence is what God inspires me to do. He wants me to feel secure in His will—not mine—and rewards me with a deep sense of peace when I obey Him.

Obedience dissolves insecurity. The Holy Spirit takes over when we submit to God’s will for our lives. Believing I’m obeying the Holy Spirit—rather than writing and playing music to bolster my self-confidence—is essential for me.

We don’t have to believe in ourselves. We can simply trust that God is ministering through us and will use the talents He gives us to touch and encourage others who yearn for what God alone can provide: security. 

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God Has No Grandchildren

“My granny is a saint,” the young man said as we chatted. I had just met him and was somewhat uncomfortable in his presence.

My granddaughter met me at Dairy Queen for our Blizzard; Jonah tagged along. “A good friend. He’s always showing up,” Amanda said. I told my husband later that I felt something wasn’t right about him following her. He called her his Bella.

Little did we know that in a few weeks he would be arrested for murder. The detective informed Amanda’s parents he had stalked her, but she was naive and didn’t realize it. The detective said the young man had many pictures of Amanda from childhood until recently on his social media page.

The night of the shooting, a small group of young people were hanging out at Jonah’s home. Someone passed around a gun. Amanda’s stalker grabbed the gun and pointed it at her. She threw up her hand and said, “Get that away from me.” He pointed it at another young man and pulled the trigger. They all saw it happen.

We didn’t know if this high school stalker really was a Christian or not.  He had a praying grandmother, but that didn’t mean he had a personal relationship with God. It doesn’t work that way.

If you had a praying grandmother you are blessed. Both Timothy’s mother and grandmother had faith in Christ. The Apostle Paul believed Timothy was a believer too. He was following in his family’s faith.

My own grandmother prayed for her seven children and no doubt for her numerous grandchildren. After she moved out of the Tennessee hollows, she didn’t miss many opportunities to be at church services. 

Though she and my mother prayed for me, I had to make a personal decision to follow Christ. Each generation, each individual, must personally come to his own commitment.

I can teach my grandchildren about God, live a godly life before them, and urge them to accept Christ as their Savior, but they don’t become Christians because Mamaw is one.

God has no grandchildren. He only has children. Even though we inherit ideas and values from our parents and grandparents, we are each responsible for our own faith in Jesus Christ. Choose to be God’s child. 

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Quit Choking On Conflict

If you’re a people pleaser like me, you’d probably rather eat bugs than employ confrontation as a healthy means to resolve a conflict. But sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. 

Several things help me “cowboy up” and face a confrontation when there’s no other way out. One, I remember I’m not equipped to live in a minefield. I’m a pretty skilled dancer when it comes to tippy-toeing around difficult situations. But when I find myself feeling the pain of too many hours “en pointe,” I know it’s time to untie the laces, put on the shoes God’s issued with my full set of armor, and speak the truth in love.

Unresolved conflict casts a long shadow. It touches every area of my life. Until I confront the situation or person, I’m held prisoner by its looming presence. God never meant for me to live that way. Facing the conflict may be scary, but He has promised to be with me, strengthen me, and see me through to accomplish what He has called me to do.

Second, I remember confronting conflict is worth the risk. It’s true I need to pick my battles.  Confronting someone over an annoying habit–like popping Juicy Fruit gum—isn’t worth risking a friendship over. But a conversation about something that vexes my spirit—like the constant badmouthing of another person or the spreading of gossip—makes the risk of confrontation worthwhile.

The apostle Paul once asked, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). That’s a hard question, but one true friendship can endure and bounce back from.

Third, I confront conflict immediately. If I wait too long after I’ve been upset or hurt by someone to confront the issue, I have a tendency to stuff the emotions, to forget the incident, and to hope the other person wasn’t really as upset and ugly as I remember them being. The problem is, the problem won’t be any easier to deal with later.

Don’t bottle the anger, frustration, hurt, and disappointment of conflict—letting it ferment like a bottle of champagne. We all know what happens when the cork finally pops. Instead, count to ten, take a deep breath, straighten your glasses, and, as calmly and unemotionally as possible, say what needs to be said right then and there.

Don’t choke on conflict. Confront it and clear the air. 

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Lunch with a Friend

My friend moved away, and we lost track of each other.

When my friend moved back, she moved to the other side of town. After many delays, we met for lunch at a halfway point so that each of us only had to drive forty minutes. After we were seated and sipping our iced tea, I asked, “How are you doing?” Her “fine” didn’t sound fine at all.

My friend’s voice trembled, and tears welled up in her eyes. I knew something was wrong. As she began to spell out a difficult situation in their family, she also shared how she hadn’t told anyone. She was afraid of what others would think.

She admitted that holding her situation in made the stress harder to bear, but finally realized she needed to open up and talk. “When we don’t share our burdens, we end up adding burden to burden,” she said.

Not sharing our burdens with others because we think it is too much for them to handle adds a new burden to our existing burden. God made His family to come alongside hurting people and help them through the hard times.

A part of God’s plan is to carry us through the difficult times and out of the valley. Our friends help us carry life’s burdens so we don’t have to face them alone.

My friend thanked me for being a safe place to unload her burden, and I said it was the least I could do. I assured her I would pray for her family. She relaxed and began eating and enjoying our time together. Her burden felt lighter since she had shared it with a friend.

Be willing to listen to those who need to share a burden. 

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Lessons from Driving

My husband gasped. “Get back in your lane!”

I was twenty-four when I received my driver’s license. Not long after, I was driving on a two-lane road as my husband sat beside me. The car in front of me moved slowly, so I decided to pass. A car started around me at the same time I attempted to pass the car in front of me. I didn’t realize I needed to look in the rearview mirror before passing.

The first driving lesson I learned was that a driver needs to check that mirror frequently to drive safely. But in our spiritual growth, spending too much time looking back at mistakes and things we cannot change can be injurious. Jesus said so.  

Another lesson I learned was to stay on the right road. While driving one day, I was tired and looking forward to getting home—but not fully concentrating on my driving. The semi in front of my car slowed and began pulling off the highway.

Like playing “follow the leader,” I pulled off the road too but soon realized he was pulling into a truck stop. Embarrassed, I pulled back onto the right road.  Jesus warned about leaving the right road to travel on roads leading to destruction. 

My driving has improved with experience. The same can be said of my years of living. I have learned to avoid looking backward and living in the past. I’ve also learned not to take detours when doing so will lead to the wrong road.

Perhaps you have spent too much time looking backward, thinking about what might have been. Maybe you’ve taken a wrong road that led to nowhere. Or you may know someone who has left the narrow road of Christian living to travel on a detour that leads to a dead end marked “Road closed.”

With Jesus Christ, there is always an invitation to get on the right road and experience a personal relationship with Him. Take the right road. 

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The Death of Unbelief

He was eighty-five years old and still had not received his promised inheritance.

Caleb asked for the land that belonged to the descendants of Anak. They were giants who had put fear and unbelief into the hearts of Israel—except for Joshua and Caleb. The fulfillment of God’s promise would not be complete if Caleb did not conquer this part of the land. Unbelief would also remain in Israel.

The hill country was the place that led the ten spies to give a bad report. All the spies, except Joshua and Caleb, said, “We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought too” (Numbers 13:33 NLT). Unbelief made them small in their own eyes.

Joshua had captured the city of Hebron, except for the mountainous areas. These were considered unconquerable—too fortified for any man to take—but not for God. Caleb could have taken the lowland and lived securely off the fruits of someone else’s conquests, but he said, “Give me the hill country” (v. 12). 

If Caleb could not take what God wanted to give him, he would take nothing. It was all about the integrity of God’s promises. Caleb knew that what God had promised He would do. If God said it was his, then that settled it—whether he was forty or eighty-five years old.

Repeatedly, God said He was giving His people the land, but they had to fight for it. We like to think about receiving our land, but not about having to fight for it. In taking our inheritance, the battle is between faith and unbelief. And the battleground is mainly in your mind.

If God has spoken to you, take the inheritance He is giving you and put to death unbelief. 

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The Power of Prayer

Our team focused on one of the poorest areas in Costa Rica: Tirrasses.

Trash littered the streets. Stray dogs with sunken stomachs wandered around, showcasing their rib cages. The park didn't boast playground equipment. Instead, the park was a hill that was once a city dump but was now covered with dirt and grass, leaving the children a grassy paradise. The children collected cardboard boxes from nearby dumpsters and slid down the hill. Homes were constructed of cinder block with rusty tin roofs.

In the midst of this, Horacio and his wife believed there was room for Jesus in the form of a Bible school. Attached to the side of the building was a drug house. Any supplies left would be stolen by morning. Our first task was to secure the Bible school.

As we worked, we couldn't help but notice the hustle and bustle next door. Around a hundred people visited the house in a single day to get their next fix. Some were quick and discreet. Others weren’t. With sunken, blood-shot eyes, they sauntered and swayed down the middle of the street and hollered at the house. Our group prayed fervently for the drug house to disband or move elsewhere.

Progression continued. We painted cheerful colors on the outside of the building, played with the kids, and showed as much love as we could. In turn, the proprietors of the business next door decided to relocate down the street. We were elated.

After we departed, disappointing news came. The drug dealers had returned. Horacio was unshaken though and focused on the growth of the Bible school.

June came and our youth mission group headed to Costa Rica. They went to the same Bible school and witnessed the same activity next door. During their work, chaos erupted. The police swarmed the house and busted the dealers inside. Our group was terrified. Horacio calmly gathered them and told them not to fear. God was answering the prayers the adult mission group had prayed for months prior.

Tears stung my eyes and goose bumps popped up as I listened to the youth missionaries tell the story. God had a time for everything. He had heard our prayers and answered them in His perfect timing.

Let God teach you to trust His perfect timing. 

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Finding Strength and Peace in God's Grace

I had done it again. My overachieving personality caused me to push my schedule to the brink of my sanity and capability.

Stressed and overwhelmed, I snapped at my family and spun my wheels rather than completing the items on my to-do list. As I worked to tweak, change, and reschedule my plans, I asked myself if there was a better way to manage my time. God brought this Scripture to mind: But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

God’s grace is more than enough to handle any problem. His unmerited favor is beautiful, life-changing, and sufficient. Trying to go through life on our own and resorting to our own solutions rather than seeking God’s power is tempting, but God’s grace is sufficient for all our needs.

I blinked back tears as I reflected on the last few days, recalling how I had tried to handle them without seeking God’s help. We have a piece of sacred art in our home that shows the beauty of the cross. As I began to pray, I looked to the wall where it hangs and thanked God for His grace. My attitude changed as I shifted my thoughts from what I could accomplish to what God could do through me.

What God can do through us is what truly matters. On my own, I can check items off my to-do list, but only through God’s power can I accomplish anything of eternal significance. His power shines in my weakness, giving me strength to see it through.

When you are struggling with something that should be turned over to God in prayer, or when you need the joy that comes from resting in the grace He freely gives, take a moment to write or memorize 2 Corinthians 12:9 as a reminder of God’s sufficient grace. Our loving Father is equipped to handle our needs while refining us in a way that draws us closer to Him.

Find your rest and strength in God’s amazing grace.

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Lost in the Mountains

I hopped in the car and set out for a breezy mountain drive.

With all my friends at work and boredom setting in, the snow-covered peaks beckoned me. As I meandered through twisting passes and hugged each curve, I sang along with the radio. But soon every mountain looked alike. I hadn’t noticed the sun dipping in the sky.

This spontaneous adventure pre-dated GPS and cell phones, so my location remained a mystery. Since my lemon of a car leaked oil, I feared the oil would drain completely, causing the car to seize. Being stranded somewhere in the Colorado Rockies at night—vulnerable to a bobcat attack—did not sound fun.

I pulled over, opened the hood, and checked the oil dipstick. Since only a speck of oil showed on the stick, I hoped the next town was near. As panic welled up inside me, I sent up a quick prayer and rounded a bend.

Twenty minutes later, the road led to a town with a gas station and a Sonic fast-food restaurant. I breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed a soggy hamburger, dumped a few quarts of oil into my car, and begged the cashier for directions back to Denver. When I arrived home after dark, I flopped onto my cozy bed and thanked God for safety.

Generally, I like to know my whereabouts and where to go next. I enjoy comfort and ease. But sometimes I feel lost in the mountains. On stressful days, I perceive the oil draining out of me.

Job reassures us that God sees our every move. He never wonders about where we wander to. He allows our directional challenges and car troubles to refine us. Just as fire melts gold in order to drain off impurities, God allows trials to skim off our sin. While not fun, the resulting “gold” in our lives shines.

Rest assured that even when we have gone astray, God pinpoints our location. Our struggles do not surprise Him.

The next time you feel lost or drained, remember this: God uses your challenges to turn you into gold. 

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Taming Life's Lions

The lion tamer—by using his intellect—controls a bigger, stronger, faster, and more aggressive animal.

A commencement speaker stressed the value of a good education—a common topic for graduates. He also spoke about lions and their tamers. Not so common. Then he tied his thoughts together with a question: “Who holds more power, the lion or the man? The lion is bigger, stronger, runs faster, and wins more fights. But, who has the other jumping through hoops?”

Like the lion tamer, we can use and develop the resources at our disposal, we can reach for the higher functioning of God’s best, or we can allow our baser instincts—our lions—to control us. Our choices affect us and those we influence.

We can disregard other’s needs and desires, or we can demonstrate respect for family, friends, and acquaintances—acknowledging their God-given worth. We can lie, cheat, and steal—continually looking out for number one, or we can choose the high road—living with integrity and accepting only what rightfully belongs to us.

We can destroy others with actions and words, or we can avoid gossip, slander, and any potential harm. We can spend our lives accumulating wealth, titles, and power that end at our death or possibly sooner, or we can invest in a life of service to God and others that pays dividends long after we leave this world.

We can follow the party crowd—indulging in every whim and eventually paying the price of addictions, ruined relationships, health issues, and lost potential, or we can take care of the one and only self God gave us.

We can ignore God’s offer of love, forgiveness, and holy living—enjoying a brief stint of self-centered fun followed by an eternity separated from our only source of joy—or we can honor God by giving our all to the One who gave Himself for us. By doing so, we gain a joy-filled life now, regardless of circumstances, followed by an eternity of unimaginable blessings.

Remain alert and vigilant to Satan’s temptations. Tame your lions and spread the word. God calls you to be your best.

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Battlefield Attire

Although the alarm clock continually buzzed for what seemed like forever, I could not wake up on that rainy Monday.

My right foot slowly pushed back the covers to test the severity of the chilly room temperature. Brrr, I thought, while continuing to roll over for a quick and final snooze. The alarm clock was set to my regular talk radio show that was now blaring with news reports which immediately got my attention.

Domestic and international terrorism, continued and declining recession, and dangerous road rage causing gridlock traffic were media headlines flooding the airwaves with negative vibes. Just as the morning had gotten off to a bad start, the phone rang incessantly. Friends and relatives were blaming and complaining about everything.

I finally managed to stand and walk around my house. But by the time I left the bathroom to get dressed, I felt beaten and worn down. “Why would anyone call me to argue in the morning?” I murmured to myself. The answer to that question was lodged in my short-term memory from the previous night’s Bible study lesson. The answer was from God’s instruction to Joshua.

When the ruckus of the day began, I remember feeling confused and overloaded—but not discouraged. Taking the advice of the apostle Paul given to the saints at Ephesus, I chose a second layer of battlefield attire to accompany my standard business work clothes. Rather than selecting a particular outfit or wearing my favorite Anne Klein shoes, I put on the whole armor of God.

By the time I finished dressing, I felt clad with the breastplate of righteousness. My feet were shod with the gospel of peace. My upper body was covered by the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. And my entire body, mind, and soul were protected by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   

Several years have passed since that harrowing, rainy morning with its chock-filled sleepiness and unwanted distractions. Fortunately, it was an awakening experience to the power sources available, but often underutilized, through a relationship with Christ. Through His indwelling Spirit, I was able to stand in an uncertain world where I was faced with negativity.   

Life’s challenges can be conquered when you are clothed in Christ.

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Even if You Don't

At times, pain and suffering feel as if they take over our minds, bodies, and spirits.

A popular Christian song contains the phrase, “even if You don’t.” When faced with trials and tribulations, we cry out to our Father in heaven to rescue us from the things we’re experiencing. None of us want to go through problems.

Scripture says God will never leave or forsake us. He walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us when circumstances are overwhelming.

Despite reading verses that say God is with us, understanding why we’re experiencing illness, job loss, divorce, estrangement from our children, and death of loved ones is difficult. Sometimes, it’s almost all we can do to face another day – even another moment.

God’s love and mercy hold us during the moments when we cannot lift our heads. He promises His faithfulness when we doubt, His lovingkindness when we struggle, His grace when we’re angry, and His forgiveness when we seek our own paths.

Even when God permits painful trials and tribulations to enter our lives, our hope is in Yeshua, the Messiah, the Son of God. Our hope is for eternal life in heaven with Him who sits at the right hand of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of the one who created us.

When you cannot stand, let God’s arms cradle you close to His heart. When life is more than you can handle, hang on to Yeshua. He will get you through what you could not survive on your own. 

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Don't Know Much about Electricity

I appeared to have aced all sections on electricity and its applications, but I didn't have a working knowledge of electricity.

My neighbor and my brother-in-law both expressed concern about a low-hanging electrical wire above the back porch of my mother's farm house. The task to contact the electrician for scheduling the repair fell to me. From middle school through college, I earned high marks in science courses. Even though much of my coursework was rigorous and demanding, I found myself saying to my brother-in-law, "Write me a script on what to say about this wire."

Often, this is true in our lives. We know about God. We may even have the jargon of the rituals down, but we don’t have a relationship with the God of the universe through His Son Jesus. Jesus’ heart, spirit, and Word don’t affect our decisions, affections, and purpose for living.

Job knew God intimately, but God allowed Satan to use adversity to try to turn Job away from his Redeemer. Job questioned the lack of response from God when immense adversity befell him—even though he had served God faithfully. Finally, Job admitted his initial reaction was like my understanding of electricity. He had heard of God, but in the end Job received first-hand experience of God’s power.

Being a believer means embracing Jesus as the only way of having our sins forgiven and being made right with God. As a forgiven child of God, a continual prayerful study of God's Word can counteract the tendency to do religion by rote. Instead, a daily study of the Scriptures provides the backdrop for an ongoing understanding of who God is and how He desires to work in our lives.

Maybe I can muddle by on my lack of knowledge about electricity, but, like Job, I need an intimate understanding of Jesus to permeate my daily life.

Don’t only search the Bible for knowledge but also to see the clear way to come to Jesus in faith. Then obey Him in every aspect of your existence.

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No Part of Our Lives Is Hidden

A properly positioned surveillance camera projected our dealings to the CEO. 

The experiences during my Students' Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) are filled with mixed feelings. I was often monitored by someone who, from the comfort of his swivel chair, called the office in the event of any shenanigan. I felt caged and unfree. I questioned why someone should not have their privacy.

My eyebrows were further raised when I heard the startling news that an international research company discovered 245 million surveillance cameras were installed worldwide and that the number was growing by fifteen percent annually. Millions of people with smartphones also capture daily images, ranging from birthday parties to bank robberies. Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks help take the need for snapshots to skyrocketing heights.

Whether we applaud the increased security or denounce the diminished privacy, we live in a global, cameras-everywhere society.

The author of Hebrews says that in our relationship with God we experience a far greater level of exposure and accountability than anything surveillance cameras might see. His Word—like a sharp, two-edged sword—penetrates to the deepest level of our being where it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Because Jesus our Savior experienced our weaknesses and temptations but did not sin, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (vv. 15-16).

Don’t fear God. You will find grace when you come to Him.

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A Rolling Stop

A young engaged couple tried to beat the train with their car. They were both killed.

We live on the edge of a town facing mountains across a railway line. Railroad crossings are to the left and right of our street. Growing up, the train was our major mode of transportation. Old restored stations fascinate me, so I cherish God’s wisdom in helping us choose our home.

When we bought the place, friends said they would never live near the tracks. The noise of trains would bother them. In our rural area, passenger trains pass through once daily, but freight trains pass several times, carrying grain or coal.

There is something comforting about the train’s movements. When I am able, I take walks towards the mountains. To do so, I have to pass over one of the crossings. Both are marked with warning signs. One even has a large red stop sign.

Rarely do I witness a vehicle come to a full stop and the driver look and listen, checking both ways. Most drivers do a rolling stop. Knowing how irregularly the freight trains move through, I want to shout a warning. Then I realize if all the signs and road markings don’t stop a driver, one word from me would have little effect.

Human life is precious to our heavenly Father, whether we know Him or not. He loved everyone enough to allow His Son Jesus to die for all. Sometimes, we are in a risk-it hurry mode and prefer to make a rolling stop through life rather than heed God’s Word. The stop signs in the Word are for our benefit. The word listen appears over and over. Gods knows us to the core.

Impatience might drive us to take a rolling stop, but in the process we may lose our life. Take the time and heed God's words of warning. Stop, look, and listen.

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Faith and the Basement

Who would have thought faith could be formed in a basement.

The house where my children grew up had a finished basement. My husband’s workshop was housed there for nearly thirty-five years. The basement became the place where anything needing repair went. Whether a broken lamp, a bookcase, or a toy, my engineer husband took it downstairs. When it came back upstairs, it was whole again.

One day, while having a conversation with my six-year-old son about the things his dad took to the basement to repair, he said, “If I broke my arm, Daddy could take me to the basement and fix it.” The innocence and faith of children. They are trusting and have faith in their parents.

This is the kind of faith God wants Christians to have—total trust in Jesus. Luke chapter eighteen says we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God. Just as my son trusted in his earthly father, we must trust our heavenly Father with everything.

Regardless of our age, we should maintain childlike faith in God, which comes from putting our trust in Him.

Pray for God to help you focus on Him in a childlike way, realizing your dependence on Him for everything.

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A Text from Jesus

I became lonely as I walked in the La Push rain forest in Washington State.

The stillness of a rain forest, when a person is deep inside, is like a blanket wrapped around the shoulders. Looking up, I saw brown squirrels walking quietly on moss-covered limbs. On the branches, tiny droplets hung and then dropped on my upturned face.

Being alone in a vast forest wrapped in suffocating silence does things to people. They shrink into themselves, feeling afraid and small. Or they grow as they open up to the immensity around them. A bit timidly, I watched a Steller Jay fly from branch to branch above my head. He was at home in the forest—not lonely.

Opening up my heart and mind to the immensity around me, I received a text from Jesus. He said, “Come to Me.” It was nice to hear from Him.

Recently, our daughter-in-law came to visit us in Surprise, Arizona, and I remembered my walking in the rain forests of Washington State. She taught me a valuable lesson about the immensity of Almighty God.

As we were having dinner, I mentioned my experience at La Push. Our daughter had chosen to spend her birthday with us. She needed a break from the rain of Seattle. Our son had graciously offered her a break from the kids and weather. She had done the same for him when he wanted to get away from building homes in the rain and fly to Hawaii with a couple of his friends.

At dinner, I mentioned how I had felt so small in the rain forest and how I had started to draw into myself. She replied, “I feel that is a natural reaction. As a C.P.A., when I was in training at the university, I often drew into math when I felt overwhelmed by immensity. I felt I could always find the answer there if I tried hard enough.”

She continued, “People are like horses with blinders on to keep them from being frightened and overwhelmed by the immensity of Almighty God.” Her statement is powerful and so true.

My daughter is right—as I was in answering the text from Jesus. He was the answer to my loneliness when I was in the rain forest. He will be the answer to any problem you face as well.

When Jesus texts, answer. 

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The Fountain of Youth

Since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, aging has been a plague, and mankind has sought the secret of youth.

Many historical figures explored waters thought to have healing and restoring properties. Alexander the Great was said to have found a “river of paradise” in the fourth century B.C. Some Europeans believed the mythical King Prester John had a kingdom with a fountain of youth and river of gold. The most famous of the youth seekers was Juan Ponce de Leon who, according to legend, found a fountain of youth close to St. Augustine, Florida.

Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s. A cemetery and Spanish mission dating back to 1565 have been discovered near the park’s site. How ironic that a cemetery would be placed near a fountain flowing with youthful, life-giving water. If only the legend were true, bones wouldn’t be lying nearby.

During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus proclaimed if anyone wanted living water they should come to Him. After centuries of law weighing heavily on the Jew’s souls, the significance of the sacrifice during the feast was lost to many. It had merely become a ritual instead of a shadow of what was to come. The promises of the Messiah would take away their burdens, yet when He stood before them they didn’t recognize Him.

When Jesus offered living water to the woman at the well, her soul was refreshed. She knew a miracle had taken place in her life, and she ran to tell the news. After being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers watched living water pour out of them on the Day of Pentecost. A flood of salvations birthed the church.

Many still seek youthfulness in the wrong place, hoping a new technology or miracle drug will reverse the aging process. But only the living water from the true fountain of youth will give us eternal life.

The invitation is open for you to come and drink.

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Vessels of Clay

Imagine yourself in a desperate situation deprived from the life-giving element of water.

You desperately seek to quench your thirst by finding a vessel full of water. The splendor of the vessel is meaningless because you are seeking to quench your thirst by the water the vessel holds. The vessel is simply the medium to quench your desperate situation.

We are vessels used by the Lord to impart the living water of the Lord to desperate people around us. We can get so consumed with our outward presentation that we don’t seek to be filled with the Lord ourselves.

The fullness of the Lord is what people are seeking in our testimonies. The vessel apart from the water is of no use to anyone. But a vessel full of water is a life-giving element used to save many. By the same token, the water without the vessel falls to the ground. The vessel and water work hand in hand as a tool to those who thirst. The vessel is not greater than the life-giving water, but the vessel is a part of the relationship.

We are joint heirs with Christ, and apart from Him we are of little use to the world around us. In the relationship with the Lord, we are a vital part of the call to the Great Commission. We are united in Him for great things, and we have been refurbished to receive and give His love. We can get so caught up on the outward that we fail to see the importance of the transformation going on inside of us.

When we are full of Christ, we can pour out His unconditional love and purpose to those who are dying from sin. You will never feel perfect or ever achieve perfection in the body on earth, but the Lord is filling the cracks in your vessel and creating depth within your soul for great things. The pain and discomfort is only a temporary feeling compared to the glory that will be revealed in your testimony. 

You are saved by God’s mighty grace and have been perfected by His love. You are a beautiful vessel ready to be used by the Lord to affect the world around you. 

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Front Yard or Back?

Now that the danger of frost has past, I’m thinking about the care of my front and back yards and debating between pine straw and mulch.

I was thinking about using less expensive pine straw in the back and mulch in the front, but the man who would help with my project discouraged me. “It’s not going to look as nice in your yard for the money you’d save,” he cautioned. So I arranged to have mulch in both places. The yard’s appearance improved, but called for color.

As I walked through a plant nursery, I evaluated the types and colors of flowers. I calculated the expense of purchasing the right flowers and the right amount. I’m the only person who sees my backyard from my office, screened porch, and sunroom, I thought. Other people see the front yard, not my fenced-in back yard. 

So, I decided to forego the expense and settled on a brilliant fuchsia impatiens planter for my front porch and three containers of petunias to use in parts of the front yard. Meanwhile, my back yard was devoid of color.

I pondered today’s Scripture as I thought about my decision and related it to my heart: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. We often take great effort to maintain our “front yards.” That image—what people see—looks attractive. But my backyard? Well, it doesn’t always resemble the front yard. I sometimes try to hide what’s there.

How we maintain our front and back yards takes caution. We can go through the motions of service because we’re pressured to participate. Our personal motives may not be genuine. We can wear a smile, pretending all is well, while our hearts hurt. We can give the right answers, but still have doubts about faith.

Maintaining our personal yards can be costly. Wise counsel often leads us to make hard decisions that will benefit us and others. It takes time to search the Scriptures, pray, and see what the Lord wants us to become and do. Changes may be uncomfortable and perhaps costly.

Living genuinely and maintaining front and back yards is only possible when we care for our hearts. It’s worth the time and investment and the color will be vibrant. And I went back to the nursery and bought colorful flowers for my backyard too.

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Unexpected Joy

The look on Andrew’s face was priceless.

When Andrew spotted the cardboard hamburger box in my hand, a smile erupted from ear to ear. “Thank you so much!” he exclaimed.

As I handed him the box, he lifted his right hand and slapped me a high five. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s amazing what a cheeseburger with just ketchup will do for a person.

Earlier that week while at work, a customer called with a problem. They were in a jam because they hadn’t ordered enough material for their contractor. They needed additional material quickly so the contractor could complete his job. Our typical turnaround time for what they needed was two days. 

Since I knew they were in a bind, I called Andrew—the floor supervisor. Even though the prognosis looked grim, he asked a couple of questions and started on the order while I entered it into the computer. Then Andrew worked his magic. In less than one hour, he personally delivered the completed order to shipping in time to freight out the same day.

When Andrew called to tell me the order was on its way, he jokingly chided, “I’ll take a cheeseburger with just ketchup.”

I laughed. What a small request for such a monumental undertaking. 

Actions like these set people apart. The supervisor could have complained, but he didn’t. He knew timing was critical, so he went the extra mile to help the customer.

Jesus commands us to go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). It should be our way of life. Instead of balking, we should treat others with kindness—even our enemies. My co-worker’s actions exemplified Jesus’ teachings. When I showed up a couple days later with his just-ketchup cheeseburger, the surprise and unexpected joy was apparent in the smile that exploded across his face.

If we live our life in accordance with Jesus’ teaching, God will bless us with unexpected joys that make doing so worthwhile. Decide today to go the extra mile. Find joy in living a life of obedience.

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Love May Grow

I’m ready to come out of the closet.

I am an unabashed, album-carrying member of the Karen Carpenter fan club, and I have been since the mid 1970s. There, I said it. Every time Karen opened her mouth, it was like honey poured onto a hot biscuit. The music she produced during her short life lives on in those who will never forget her rich voice. Sadly, Karen never experienced the love she sang about.

Love is a difficult creature to find, much less to trap. Tracking this elusive prey is challenging. Hollywood’s version of love is a grand illusion built upon a house of cards. Emotions are the caboose on the train, not its engine. There is a source more reliable than feelings, emotions, and moods.

In Proverbs, love is described as a fountain—but only after three other sources of water are mentioned. A cistern is nothing more than a hole in the ground for the purpose of collecting rainwater. Wells must be dug (notice the hard work involved). Springs bubble out of the earth.

The writer pronounces the blessedness of the fountain. A man should rejoice in the wife of his youth. He is older now. The varying depths of each water source and the sequential order involved in the building of a love relationship are important facts. Love never begins with a fountain relationship, but with a rudimentary hole in the ground called a cistern.

Karen and I have been married thirty six years. Although we have gotten to the point where we are enjoying a fountain-like experience, there are still days when I find myself digging in the dirt to collect rainwater.

As a couple, stay in the fight. You are sharing life together, and it gets messy. Keep your sense of humor and enjoy the mess together. Get your shovel out and dig for water. Love will grow. 

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Sunny Side Up

Something caught my eye, and I stopped to stare.

I was sitting in a medical clinic waiting room, flipping through a gardening magazine. There on a full-page spread was the image of a magnificent Australian gordonia tree.  I was familiar with gardenias, but this was spelled gordonia.

A carpet of flowers lay beneath the deep green foliage of the five meter dome-shaped canopy. The single white flowers displayed a cluster of yellow stamens in the center of each bloom. The flowers all lay sunny side up. The journalist had made a point of this phenomena. Even after vigorous breezes, they always land facing sunny side up. The colloquial term used was the “fried egg tree.”

Allowing my mind to drift back to my first visit to the USA, I had ordered breakfast in a Californian restaurant. The waitress asked if I wanted my eggs sunny side up. Being an Australian, I had never heard the expression. Upon inquiring, the girl explained it meant the yellow yolks would face up on the plate.

The words the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians crept through my musing. At first I could not discern the correlation. Then the doctor called me into his office. As I rose from the seat, I realized how much calmer I was than when I first entered the waiting room. 

My heart was full of wonder. The comfort of the Holy Spirit was assuring me I would land sunny side up from this current physical trial. It was as if He were saying if the flowers and eggs could land sunny side up after such shaking and baking, then I could too.

Being open to the voice of God throughout our day can bring surprising light and life into any situation. Take a moment to listen today.

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If Teacups Could Talk

Teacups are like women.

I have a collection of teacups in my dining room that has spilled over into my kitchen and bedrooms. Most of the cups are beautiful, dainty, gold trimmed, and fine porcelain china. But I rarely use them. While I rarely notice the cups, one day they reminded me of women.

I have a friend who posts everything about her perfect life, and I slither to the floor as I recall my not-so-perfect life. This rare teacup sits in all her glory, a beauty to behold. Its worth hasn’t been tested by fire, or maybe her flaws are hidden.

Next, there's the hardworking girl whom everyone likes. She's not ashamed of who she is. She’s beautiful in her own way, and she’s smart and simple. The girl-next-door kind of quality. Her beauty comes because she knows her purpose, like transferware cups. They are sturdy and dependable and have character, if you look closely at their detail. Most people don't take time to look past the simplicity of this cup—or this girl—but she's worth a second look.

The last cup in my collection is beautiful and fragile. She's been through the fire and survived. Chips and cracks on her frame reveal years of use, yet she still has purpose. She was created to hold hot liquid, to be held in the hands of another. Her flowers, though faded, still bear the mark of her creator. If she could talk, she would tell stories of love and loss, of little girl’s tea parties and weddings, and of late night worries over sick babies.

There is also One who is faithful to go through the fire with us. I like to think I have come from sturdy stock, but sometimes I'm so fragile the only things holding me together are the flowers imprinted on the cup. During those times, my Savior gently picks up the cup and says, "This one's mine. I'll hold her today."

You may be as fragile as the last cup, but don't give up. You've come through the fire and you have purpose. God wants to add you to His collection. He'll handle you with care.

Let God fill your cup. It will always be full and running over.

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Come to a Place of Peace

Although God’s grace is transforming me, I’m not great at communicating.

I don't like talking about things—especially problems or obstacles I face. I once had a "can do it alone" mentality. Maybe that's why when I faced a problem that even seemed above me I believed I could handle it myself. The truth was I could never handle it all by myself—but I tried because I believed I could. 

With a huge burden on my shoulders and a stubborn attitude, I would refuse to talk to anybody about it. Slowly but surely, the burden began to magnify, causing me sleepless nights and at times a changing disposition. I had no peace.

Jesus’ words came like a cold drink of water to a thirsty soul—a soul crying out for help. I believe Jesus is saying when we are faced with a burden—one we may not feel like discussing with those around us, that we have a Father who is saying "Come." He is ready to listen.

Not only does God listen, He also replaces. He replaces the burden with something much lighter and easier to bear. We do not have to be crushed any longer by our burdens. In Him, we have the peace we have been searching for. 

When things in life weigh you down and cause you sleepless nights, respond to Jesus' invitation to “Come.” Receive the peace He is offering freely. 

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River of God

I love a majestic flowing river with cascading waterfalls and misting showers as it powers its way downstream. But as much as I enjoy their thrilling power and soothing beauty, earthly rivers cannot compare to the river of God.

The psalmist David said the river of God is full of water. It is never dry, can never be dammed up or diverted, and is not affected by drought. God’s river flows at His discretion and according to His purpose. In it is fullness, abundance, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Each day, I swim in its reservoir of grace, plunge in its waves of forgiveness, float on its currents of love, bathe in its ripples of mercy, rest in its chilling peace, and drink from its refreshing flow.

Jesus said He is the Living Water that becomes a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life in whomever believes on Him. He also said the Holy Spirit would flow out of every believers’ heart like rivers of living water.

As I drink freely and fully from God’s river, it not only infuses me with its refreshing, everlasting life, but it also becomes a conduit of His likeness flowing in and through me. At my best, I share His river with others, but at my worst I can’t dam or divert it. I am only parched, withered, and weary when I refuse its moisture or wander from its oasis.

John saw a pure river of water of life—as clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The heavenly throne is the fountain head of God’s magnificent, life-giving river. It flows from Him to us, never from us to Him. We are encouraged to drink from this heavenly wellspring.

When our spirits wither from the dry, scorching winds of life’s adversity, spiritual oppression, and sin’s wilderness, God’s river is our refreshing restoration. God promises to pour water on him who is thirsty. Only His river can quench our deepest and driest thirst; only His water can heal and restore.

If you are thirsty, or if your life is barren and dry, the invitation stands: “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

God’s abundant, ever-flowing river awaits your refreshing plunge.

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In Love with Jesus

My email read, "It's a wonderful thing to be in love with Jesus and to know you are loved by Jesus."

Last night, I shared an email with some friends. Afterwards, the Holy Spirit quickened me to look again at the words I had written. Sounded simple enough.

I think that was the first time I've ever said I was "in love" with Jesus. It took me by surprise. I knew the Holy Spirit wanted to say something more to me through what I had written.

When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus said to love Him with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.

Many people love Jesus as a friend, provider, healer, king, and Savior. But being "in love" with Jesus as our Bridegroom, to whom we have given our whole heart and soul, is a different story. I have found that’s a deeper and more intimate level. 

On this level, we can't get enough of Jesus, can’t spend enough time with Him, can’t talk enough with Him, and can’t learn enough about Him. We want to know more about Jesus, His character, His ways, and His thinking—just as we do with anybody we’re in love with.

Fall more and more in love with Jesus—your Bridegroom—every day. Delight in Him and in His presence. 

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Relationships Are like Gardens

A pastor’s wife with destroyed eyes came into my practice. She felt her husband didn’t love her anymore. They were strangers living together. They had lost all ability to be intimate.

My heart went out to her as she told her story. I wondered how things had gotten to this point. One thing I noticed from the start was her tone of voice. She sounded like chalk being scraped across a blackboard. Sitting on my hands to keep from putting my fingers into my ears, I tried to look concerned. She felt love was forever, no matter what. She was correct that God’s love is eternal but didn’t understand man’s love is limited by frailty.

Many of God’s children lack a sense of responsivity that grows from not understanding relationships are like gardens—and we are their keepers. A guaranteed way to lose a marriage and other relationships is found in this verse: See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. Roots of bitterness can spring up overnight.

Weed control is a major part of any lasting and successful relationship. Bitter seeds grow plants with bitter—and sometimes fatal—fruit. Faces that eat bitter fruit are sour and unhappy. Going to sleep angry or resentful can result in a snappy remark or demanding expectation the next morning. Smiles and happiness that come from being friends are replaced by energy from competitors expressing their frustrations.

If Satan could speak through Peter’s mouth (Matthew 16:23), he can speak through ours. The emotions seen in our eyes will often determine how our words and behavior are taken. Hurt eyes can minimize the sting of harsh words on an understanding heart. Burning, cold, or cruel eyes make these words seem true.

After helping this pastor’s wife watch her tongue and listen to the tone she used, her husband came in one day and told me something I’ve never forgotten: “You’ve fixed her, doctor.”

Pay attention to weed control in your gardens. You will be glad you did. 

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Man in the Mirror

An intense drama was played out on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at Comerica Park in Detroit when the Detroit Tigers met the Cleveland Indians.

Armando Galarraga almost became the twenty-first pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. But his bid for that game ended one out short when first base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled that Indians’ batter Jason Donald reached first base safely. Joyce admitted he erred on what would have been the final out in Detroit, apologizing to Galarraga and hugging him after the Tiger’s win. He then took to the field the next day in tears.

In a classy gesture—meant to show the world the Tigers had moved on from the Wednesday night before—Manager Jim Leyland had Galarraga take the line-up card to Joyce at home-plate. Joyce was emotional. After a brief exchange of line-up cards, he patted Galarraga’s shoulder.

In another classy gesture, Galarraga’s said, “Nobody’s perfect … I have a lot of respect for the man. It takes a lot to say you’re sorry.”

Paul speaks of integrity in his work—a ministry empowered by God and the Holy Spirit’s presence—even though calamities, imprisonments, physical sufferings, and slander followed him.

It’s safe to assume none of us will ever endure what the apostle endured. Yet, in spite of human weakness, his ministry reflected God’s power—illuminating the gospel by his response to suffering and opposition.

The only way we can truly represent Christ with honor and integrity in our words and actions is by reliance on God’s power, through study of the Scriptures, and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Believers must consider whether actions hinder or honor our Abba Father. What God says about our representation of Him matters.

We have a daunting, sacred trust, but we can access the same power available to Paul. God’s grace can enable us to extend that same grace to others. We all stand for something, and we should want our stand for Christ to be beautiful, not grimy. It costs to be salt and light.

Rely on the Word—with the Holy Spirit’s guidance—so you can honor being made in the image of God. The world is watching.

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Standing Still, Reaching Out

“So, what did you think?” I heard a voice say.  

I turned around and looked up at a tall, middle-aged gentleman who had friendly eyes and a warm smile. He, other movie-goers, and I were making our way from the theater to the lobby after seeing a riveting film.

“It was excellent!” I said. Then I remarked on how well the director and producers had adapted the original Broadway production for the film version.

“Would you like to have a cup of coffee?” he asked.

There were several café tables in the theater lobby that were a perfect place for a quick coffee and an impromptu movie review. But I had already planned to take advantage of the unseasonably mild winter day and walk a few laps at a nearby park. So, I politely declined his invitation. We chatted a few seconds more and then went our separate ways.

Days later, I wondered if that might have been a “divine interruption” – an opportunity from God to reach out to someone who was in need of a little encouragement and conversation. I may never know.

A blind beggar named Bartimaeus interrupted Jesus as He, His disciples, and a large crowd departed Jericho. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem – and, ultimately, to the cross – yet He “stood still” and met the need of this persistent, faith-filled man.

The frenetic pace of life and our dependence on digital communications and social media can blind us to the people around us who long for face-to-face interaction, even if it’s only a fifteen-minute coffee chat after a movie, before work, or following a church service.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to be sensitive to the people He sends across our paths and to be willing to interrupt our plans, stand still, and find out how we can bless them.

I hope the next time something like the movie theater episode occurs I’ll offer up a quick prayer and ask, “What do You want me to do here, Lord?” instead of focusing on my schedule.

Don’t let the busyness of life keep you from standing still and reaching out. 

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A Plate of Locust and Wild Honey Dip

After reading through the book of Matthew and about John the Baptist’s diet, I decided I’d try a plate of locust and wild honey dip daily.

I hear people talk about eating healthy, changing their diets, and having a diet regime. Doing those things sounded cool and made a lot of sense because they were deliberate actions to move into a healthier lifestyle. Then I thought about the locust and wild honey dip. I didn’t think it was such a good idea in the beginning. Surely there was another choice. How would it taste, and how could I bring myself to eat it?

I put a hold on that thought and began to think through how John managed to eat it. I believe he was fed with all the delicious foods available to his parents as he grew up. He had tasted and eaten foods such as bread, chicken, beef, and milk. I wondered how he could change his diet, forgoing those foods for locust and wild honey.

John had to decide to change his diet and stick to it. He, like everyone else, fasted from all other foods, focused on the benefits he would derive from his choice, and resisted every temptation until locust and wild honey was all he desired. I’m sure most people didn’t understand why he chose to eat those foods, and he was probably viewed as a weird and ignorant person.

Choosing a life of purity and holiness is like deciding to stick to a diet of locust and wild honey. People may see me differently or make fun of me, but I look to the One I serve and to the eternal benefit awaiting me when I stick to this choice. Eating it didn’t taste so pleasant before, but God is graciously bringing me to the point where it’s all I desire.

Despite the temptation to go along with the demands of the world, choose what will lead to holiness and purity. 

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Rise!

The things I encounter benefit others as well as myself. 

I have seen dry seasons and abundant seasons in my ministry.  I have lived in many different areas of the country, but every place had the same variables for success and failure. In the most desperate situations I have encountered, my actions determined the outcome. The Lord is capable of all things, but we must choose to see through the eyes of faith or the eyes of fear.

God took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones to show him a dry and dead season. Then He asked Ezekiel if the bones could live. The bones represented the condition of Israel, but the dry bones are anything in our lives that feels dry and dead. God wanted Ezekiel to take action in the dead and dry condition of the situation and told him, Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”

God knew the dry bones would live again, but He wanted to use a vessel to bring them back to life. The Lord wants to use you to speak life back into your situation. He also wants you to determine your future by His Word. You have the power of change within your heart, and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth echoes.

The Word of God is a tool against the circumstances in our lives. God did not touch the bones, but He used Ezekiel to speak the Word of life to them. In some of the hardest situations of my ministry, the Word of God was my comfort and defense. When every voice around me spoke defeat, His Word was my constant support. Your confidence in God will determine your action.

God’s Word fills our heart with faith, but faith without action is not faith at all. His Word gives you every tool you need. Every victory has been articulated in His Word. His Word is your strength and victory.

Rise today in your confidence in God, and go take your mountain in faith. Become an example of God’s faithfulness.

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Under the Oceans with the Storms of Life

“The pains of life are inescapable, but the virtues of love are more powerful.” The emotional, tear-jerking film, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, portrays a character who had to go through many hardships before reaching happiness and is a familiar portrait of what this life paints.

Given time to recollect our memories through our past pain, we would notice the details of worry the conscious mind delivers. Most people have heard, “the pursuit of happiness,” but who wants to hear, “the pursuit of pain.” 

The psalmist expresses clearly that our days should be preserved by taking each one into consideration. In so doing, we gain wisdom to apply all we learn. Our days are preserved by the memories we obtain through the passing of time. It is not only the best seasons of life that we should hold dear but also the painful moments. No one enjoys recalling painful experiences, but through them we learn from our mistakes so that the next day we live can be numbered with more purposeful intention than the day before.

Human pain can be emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual. The moments of our pain can seem like an eternity. What God sees as short-lived, the human mind sees as long-term. But those who are bought by the precious blood of the Lamb have no reason to fret. We have the greatest artist who will project the virtues of His love in these painful moments. 

God’s indescribable glory is often hidden in the storms of life which seem to drown us beneath the waters of no escape. His glory may seem like an enigma at times, but pain sheds light on it. Through pain, we understand that we seldom have control over circumstances. There is more intimacy involved in holding God’s hand during those moments. 

If God intervened miraculously every time we had pain, we wouldn’t benefit from His love. We would also miss the enlightenment of His proverbial wisdom.

Let God teach you to commune deeply with Him, even if takes pain to take you to another level of intimacy.

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Mile Nineteen

The marathon race was my most accomplished physical feat. It was also my most challenging—26.2 miles from start to finish.

As a runner, I experienced the exhilaration of pushing through the desire to stop and give up and the joy of how it felt to finish the race. But the nineteenth mile was where I had to decide to finish the race or throw in the towel. I was depleted of energy, both physically and mentally. My only hope for continuing was to stay focused on the finish line. Nothing else mattered. Not the car that almost hit me or the pulled muscle that happened at mile twelve or the loneliness. Feelings of discouragement and despair threatened to overtake me.

Hoping I had not veered off course, I rounded the corner and saw the masses gathered to cheer on the runners as they crossed the finish line. The sound of silence I had experienced for miles was broken with shouts of encouragement, whistles, and clapping. At that moment, renewed strength poured over me in a way I had never experienced. I would have crawled across that beautiful finish line. 

Today, I am running another race called life. While I know it is a gift from God to journey through this world, the natural elements associated with being here can challenge the fittest among us. Sickness, broken relationships, and financial downturns are but a few of the possible potholes we might encounter along the way.

With the majority of years of living behind me, it feels like “mile nineteen”—having experienced the farewell to my life-mate of forty-six years, along with several other losses and challenges in both body and heart.

God doesn’t promise a carefree existence. Rather, He tells us we will experience trials and suffering along the way. He also says that in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have “overcome the world” (1 John 5:4-5 NIV).

Don’t be fooled by the silence that suggests you are alone or lost without hope. The victory has been won by Jesus. If you feel as if you cannot take another step, trust and know He will carry you over the finish line.

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Design Measurements

Reading the measurements of a structure suddenly became overwhelming as my fingers flipped the pages.

God’s desire for perfection and holiness haven’t changed. If the God of the Israelites is the God of Christians—unchanging in manner and desires—we must not miss this.

As I read these verses in Ezekiel, I realized how these measurements are related to our lives. Out of the lips of God came detailed temple measurements and positions—instructions obeyed completely in putting up God’s dwelling place.

The life embedded in our bodies has been pledged to God and ceases to be molded clay and breath forming the core of our existence. It is a dwelling place for God. Since God never changes, His desire for perfection hasn’t changed. He still requires us to follow detailed measurements in this new temple. These measurements are no more in cubits but in deeds, words, motives, desires, and thoughts.

The law of the temple has and will always be holiness. The core building materials of our temple are faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. The temple gate should be made of love and peace along with chambers of mercy, forgiveness, and kindness. The roofing should be made of truth with blocks of humility, perseverance, and prayer. In this temple, anger is measured as highly as murder and lust as heavy as adultery.

Thinking through this, I realized God had given us these “measurements” in the Bible. I began to see how beautiful a temple He wants us to be—not by our might but by His grace. I began to have a yearning to live by His measurements, not mine or the world’s, never trying to reduce the specification to suit myself.

I wondered how this was going to be possible as I knelt before my bed with my eyes closed and uttered the words, “How can I, Lord?” But in the quietness, whispering into my heart were the words, “You have Me. Let Me build you into My desired temple one day at a time.”

Let God build you into a holy temple that will please Him. 

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The Beautiful Conclusion

Hidden deep within the secrets of nature, our Creator reveals the keys to life.

A leaf’s life cycle reflects our own lives as the leaf breaks forth from its bud and artistically displays its beauty. The leaf is not birthed to take from the tree but to give back life to the tree that gave it its existence.  

The tree supports the leaf with nourishment so the leaf can proudly display its design to the world around it. As the season changes, the tree cuts its nourishment to the leaf—which then begins the process of death. The leaf displays the beauty of color as it fades into its conclusion of life. We begin to see a different dimension to the leaf—a beauty that captures the eye and paints the landscapes of our beautiful country.

Our life cycle follows a similar path. We are born into a loving family and live our lives giving and receiving from their support. We experience different moments which define our paths and cultivate our outward image to the world. We, too, experience death, but there is a beauty to our conclusion in this life. 

As we fade into eternity, we display a beauty hidden deep within our souls. When we die, the beauty of our lives is revealed in the ones we loved the most. The memories of past experiences come back to life, and the seeds of wisdom we planted in the people around us finally come into harvest. Words and memories that seemed empty in the moment of conception now bring forth a wonderful reflection of the life lost. 

The beauty of death for the redeemed is that we leave behind seeds of hope. Life is a cycle of memories and emotions. The most beautiful part of a leaf is its death. The most beautiful part of our lives is the memories we leave behind for our loved ones.

Nature reveals the hidden thoughts of God, exposes the beauty of our lives, and is designed by its Creator to give life and consume death. Life and death exist in the same space in nature. Death is the beautiful conclusion that gives birth to a new beginning.

Let your life be a beautiful display of God’s love as you fade into the eternal love of the Lord.  

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A Time for Everything

Those dogs of mine! They’re at it again, barking like crazy and racing along the backyard fence.

Every so often, another dog escapes from his yard and runs back and forth in the alley behind our five-foot-high wooden fence, tempting my dogs, Uber and Bear, to “Come and get me if you can.” After repeated calls, my dogs return—exhausted and limping.

“You guys are too old to run so much,” I say. (They are in their middle-teen dog years. This makes them about equal to my senior citizen age.)

But I understand. Aging hits and you can’t do what you once did. It happened to me the other night when we seniors rode the church van to attend the Brass Band concert in Silverton, Colorado. Our drive took one and a half hours between mountain heights and canyon depths. God’s creation filled me with awe, but the crumbly edges by the white lines next to the drop off into the canyon left me breathless.

The drive was worth every minute though. The rousing music of the concert became an exclamation point, matching the mountain grandeur. A stop for ice cream on the way home put a period to a super day.

By 10 p.m., I yawned and headed for bed. I woke up shivering at 3:30 a.m. I couldn’t stop shaking. After a miserable hour, I staggered to the bathroom and put on my flannel winter robe, then slept until 10 a.m. and dozed the rest of the day.

Face it, my body said. You can’t do and go as you once did. Hereafter I may have to listen to CDs from former concerts. Looks like a full day of activity may be too much for a 92-year-old lady.

So does God want me to sit around and do nothing? Well, maybe I will sit more, but if so, I’ll sit at the computer and write. Devotions, articles, and prayers can still be a part of my life. After all, God has given me these extra years, and what better way than to fill them for Him.

Don’t let age hinder your work for God.  

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Following God's Guidance

"Can you write the word sand for me, please?"

I looked at the result, somewhat puzzled. Connor wrote bench.

"Can you read to me what you've just written?"

Slowly moving his finger from one letter to the next, he said each sound out loud, “B-e-n-c h.”

"Okay, now say the word.”

“Sand,” Connor said, smiling at me and looking proud of himself.

As Connor’s teacher, the incident nearly gave me a heart attack. It had an aura of innocence and purity about it. Connor desperately wanted to make me happy.

Not so with adults. When the Holy Spirit whispers something in our ear, we go deaf if we don't like the message. We continue to write our own autobiography that's full of "us" and has little from God in it.

Paul challenges weak discipleship. He wants to see a change in Christ-followers—in their way of life, attitude, and character.

Christ's disciples develop a new character that resists the craving for power and pleasure, one that involves a pure mind guided by truth. This comes naturally when one puts off the worldly self and puts on Christ's identity.

Just keep listening. God wants us to hear and respond to His every word. 

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Not My Kind of Response

I’m sure I wouldn’t have reacted to the situation in the same way.

Had I been in Daniel’s situation, I would have had a pity party or tried to figure out all the different ways to show how upset I was. His country had been destroyed. As a son of Judah, he was taken to serve in the kingdom of the one who caused all his pain. And God allowed it.

Yet amid this tragedy, Daniel’s reaction was amazing. He was willing to please God despite his situation. The situation did not cause him to shift or redefine his focus from God. I am sure I would have had my focus on God, but it would have been on questioning Him rather than pleasing Him. That shouldn't be the case, however tough the situation.

God always has a purpose and a plan, no matter how bad the situation might be. His plans are to glorify Himself, and the fact that I am involved means I am part of the plan. God will glorify Himself through people who are willing to stand for and trust Him. It is better to walk into the unknown with the One who knows all things and into the worst situation with the One who has the power to turn things around—bringing the best out of the worst.

God is also faithful, and He will grant the strength to go through every situation. He will never leave us. Situations shouldn’t change our identity with God but rather open us up for God to make our identity known through the situation. He wants the best for us more than we want the best for ourselves.

You are where God needs you to be, whether you want to be or not. Everything is going to fall into place while you watch your struggles turn into giggles.

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Supper Satisfaction

I sized up the smaller portions on my plate. I wanted to grumble about what I couldn’t have, but the verses I’d read wouldn’t let me.

I stared at the plate of food in front of me: a single chicken leg, a baked potato, and a forest of broccoli. I normally ate twice that amount and often returned for seconds, but there would be no seconds today. I needed to lose weight for my health, but was finding it difficult to buckle down and make the changes. I’d spent an hour scouring the Bible for diet encouragement, but no one in the Bible was trying to lose weight. Passages that mentioned food were usually about God providing it and people being grateful for it.

Although there was less food on my plate, my plate was full. There was also plenty of food in the refrigerator and in the pantry—so much food that I had been able to eat and eat until my extra-large pants had grown uncomfortably tight.

I set aside my groaning, thanked God for His provision, and took a bite. Delicious. I ate slowly, savoring the textures and flavors and thanking God for taste buds and spices. I felt more satisfied at the end of that meal than I normally did with a plate heaped high.

Focusing on what I can’t or don’t have leaves me feeling empty and discontent. When I focus on what I do have and thank God for it, my outlook on life changes. Gratitude breeds satisfaction. I think that’s why we’re told repeatedly to thank the Lord. God provides for our needs, but He knows we’ll never be content with His provision unless we take time to thank Him.

If you’re dissatisfied with an area of your life, take a few minutes to thank God for what He’s provided—even if it doesn’t feel like enough. Gratitude makes a small portion look plentiful. 

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Renewing the Mind

If we don't renew our minds, sadness, sorrow, worry, anxiety, and anger will invade our thoughts.

I'm on chemotherapy for the third time, hoping it will restore my hearing to what it was before. After more than four years of treatment for brain tumors due to NF2, I lose more of my hearing and balance with each episode. When I had my hearing tested a few months ago, I was shocked to see how much loss I’d had in one year. If I lose that same amount in the future, I will be deaf—a fact that discourages me.

Time and again, I need reminding that renewing my mind is something I should do continuously. If I don't, I’ll start to believe the Devil's lies. Lies that tell me God doesn't love me or I wouldn't be going through this situation … that I’m alone in my struggles … that I should accept my situation because it's not going to get better.

The more I dwell on the negative—on how helpless I am or how bad the world is—the more negative I become. Before I know it, I've lost the peace and joy that is my spiritual birthright.

It's up to us to not listen to those lies and to keep our focus on how good God is, how much He loves us, and how He has a good plan for us no matter what our circumstances are. But how do I renew my mind?

By reading and studying God's Word. Of course, there are other things such as going to church, praying, being thankful, and praising God. But reading, studying, and believing God's Word are surely the best ways.

Renewing our mind will also keep us in a good place spiritually, but it does more than that. As we renew our minds, we will know God's will for us.

Time spent in God’s Word is never wasted. Make it a daily practice to renew your mind. 

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Are You Searching for Presents or Presence?

Exhaustion had hit, replacing the joy of Christmas with anxiety.

It was the Saturday before Christmas. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded with mountains of presents still to wrap—not to mention the long list of to-dos still waiting to be done. I knew it was my job to make sure my family had a memorable Christmas—focused on Jesus—but I just couldn’t see how to make that happen.

Somewhere along the path from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I’d lost my focus. Everywhere I looked, the season seemed shallow and meaningless. If I couldn’t find God in the season, how was I going to make sure my three boys found Him?

All I could do was pray. It wasn’t even a good prayer—more just a cry for help. Almost before I said amen, our oldest son—an energetic seven-year-old, knocked on my door. “Can we all go Christmas light looking tonight, please?”

I mentally groaned. Something else to do. Not exactly an answer to prayer. I slipped out of my room, making sure I kept him from seeing the presents. “I don’t think so. I have too much to do.”

“Please?” He drew the word out, and his two little brothers joined in chorus, bringing their dad in from the living room.

I didn’t want to disappoint them, and maybe if they were out of the house I could play catch up. “Maybe your dad can take you without me?” I turned pleading eyes to my husband.

“No, we want all of us to go!” The boys weren’t buying into the idea.

My husband put a comforting arm around me and leaned to whisper into my ear. “I’ll help you later. This is important.” He turned to the boys. “I think it’s a wonderful idea, and we’ll all go, even your mom.”

We did go that night, the five of us crowded into our ancient mini van. As we drove around, I listened to the excited exclamations of my boys and realized God had answered my prayer. He’d shown me that what needed to get done would get done, but the true meaning of Christmas wasn’t found in presents, but in presence.

Let the presence of God and others bring you joy this Christmas. 

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March of the Talking Goodies

From November to New Year’s Day, we face an onslaught of delectable goodies. By the first week of January, many of us are bloated, lethargic, and several pounds heavier.

About the same time every year, calorie-laden holiday treats talk to us. “Have another slice,” calls the pumpkin pie. “Go for some more,” beckons the chestnut stuffing. “Pour it on,” urges the gravy boat.

Food plays such a central role in our lives because God made it that way. Even the fall of mankind resulted from disobedience over food. The first request in The Lord’s Prayer is for “our daily bread.” One of Jesus’ most famous miracles involved multiplying a little boy’s lunch to provide a feast for thousands. And the Book of Revelation talks about a glorious banquet: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

No doubt about it, food is a gift from God. But when we misuse this gift, it can create problems. Many Christians struggle with preventable diseases that hinder them from fulfilling their God-given purposes: enjoying their families, fully participating in Christian fellowship, and pursuing their hobbies and interests.

One of my friends has type two diabetes and recently began a health and fitness regimen that is producing great results. She has lost weight and inches and looks radiant. She has a heart for serving God and people and is determined to improve her health so she can fulfill God’s calling on her life.

This year, let’s use the excessive feasting during the holidays as a wakeup call. Instead of indulging in every decadent temptation that calls our name, let’s choose to enjoy them moderately while loading up on the healthy options.

Our bodies—and how we treat them—matter to God. Rather than going for the second piece of pecan pie, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

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You Just Gotta Have It

The Christmas season makes its appearance earlier each year.

During the Christmas season, we’re inundated with email bargains and glossy newspaper circulars informing us of the “lowest prices of the season.” Photos with bold print shout “You just gotta have it.” Some of the gadgets and gifts look fun. Others are items we never knew about or thought we wanted. Some are super expensive and would crack any reasonable budget. And somewhere in the ad is a “must have” item for any gift list. Now an idea has been planted in our minds.

The characters in the Christmas story had their “must haves.” With an idea planted in his mind, King Herod wanted to know where the King of the Jews had been born and sent the magi to find out. The wise men began their search and knew they “must have” the One who offered hope. Once they saw the star, they were overjoyed. They had to have Jesus. Something special had happened. The newborn stranger in the stable was the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets. Their response to His greatness was worship.

We’re distracted and follow many things during the holidays: shopping, festivities, stress, difficult relationships. Make a list of what you “must have.” Choose activities that give real joy. Let your list point out how to reduce stress and establish new priorities. This year, have a renewed focus. Look at the star that points to the Savior, and follow to worship Him.

This Christmas season, be overjoyed with the good news that came from a Bethlehem stable—a Savior who came to save you from your sins.  

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Living Our Christmas Joy

Jessica sat at the back of the church.

Christmas Eve had arrived, and the place was rockin’. The organ bellowed the familiar “Joy to the World” to pews packed with smiling folks singing their loudest. But when the service was over and the crowd filed out—anxious to begin their celebrations, Jessica didn’t move.

Pastor Tom sat next to her in the empty sanctuary and listened. “Just believe in Jesus. Isaiah told us the Messiah was coming, and here He is. We can prove it to the world. Just believe.” 

“But I’m not filled with joy, so what good does believing do?” Jessica’s sobs echoed on the dark, wooden walls.

“It seems Paul thinks there’s something else involved,” said the pastor. “He tells us to follow God’s will, pray continually, give thanks for everything, and decide to be joyful. Our prayers, studies, and devotional time with Him are where we feel His joy.”

Our hearts control our whole being by pumping life blood throughout our bodies—even into our brains so we can make decisions. We can decide to believe. What’s in our hearts is who we are. When we align our hearts with the heart of our Lord Jesus, something new pumps through our bodies. Something pure and clean—good perfect blood. That good blood shapes us to be who we are for God.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord in a manger, be ready for a joyous life-changing Christmas transfusion. Without the manger and the cross, we can’t believe. Without the manger and the cross, we cannot be cleansed to love and forgive others. We can’t even know our God.

Let Christmas change you. Believe and pray a bit more. Let your heart swell with the heart of Jesus in you. Let others see someone different because of the manger.

Give Jesus your heart. Then let others see Him in you so they can know you believe. 

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Laundry Room Lessons

Everything looked perfect and sparkling after a day of cleaning.

With a flip of the switch, the gas logs in the fireplace added a touch of warmth. As I stood back and made a mental check to be sure everything was in place for my small group meeting, my eyes shifted to the closed door. If they only knew what that room looked like, I chuckled. I had stuffed a step ladder in the laundry room near some bins of Christmas decorations. A basket overflowed with laundry, stacks of magazines were on the dryer, and a large picture frame lay across the washer. Stuffed, stacked, and messy—all hidden from my guests.

David was in a messy place. Stuffed with memories of his haunting sin with Bathsheba, he became stacked with grief over his transgression. But he confessed and pleaded with the Lord for forgiveness. He was a man after God’s own heart, and God was gracious and merciful to forgive. David knew what God could do for him, and he earnestly prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

My laundry room was an object lesson of messy things. I asked God to reveal my shortcomings, slips, and weaknesses—maybe even characteristics I justify but behaviors and attitudes He calls sin. Like the flip of the switch that illuminated my room, I asked the Holy Spirit to illumine my attitudes and behaviors that weren’t pleasing to Him.

God’s promise holds: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). We can walk today with a fresh start and leave the door open with nothing to hide.

Ask the Lord to illuminate your mind and heart to the things in your life that have been stuffed and stacked and might be a little messy.

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Priorities - Finding Number One

No more school.

I had alphabet soup after my name, and I thought I had closed the book on formal education. Yet I wanted to pursue a Bible certificate. Great opportunities abounded, but my life felt limited. I needed to know the best way to prioritize.

I found the answer in the story of Martha and Mary, two sisters from Bethany who invited Jesus to their home. When He arrived in town with His disciples, Jesus was welcomed by Martha into her home. She immediately started on her number one priority: preparing a big meal. Mary sat down at the feet of Jesus and listened to His every word. 

Martha became so disturbed at the injustice of her sister not helping that she interrupted Jesus to get His opinion about the matter. She wanted Jesus to agree with her and tell Mary to get up and help.

With His response to Martha, Jesus chiseled a timeless truth into the bedrock of His gospel.  Although Martha was doing something good, Jesus helped her realize there was something more important.

Learning priorities is a difficult task. Every day, we choose to fill our time with chores, daily routines, and great opportunities—many of which we believe are good works of service to God. But if we focus more on activities than on the God we serve, we may miss the treasure He wants us to have—friendship with Him.    

Studying for a Bible degree or other great opportunities may not be the best choices in God’s eyes—and may even be distractions from the better plans He has for us. He alone knows our tomorrows.

Take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn what’s most important to Him. 

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The Least Among Us

The church is not a social organization with all sorts of cliques and a pecking order mentality; it is just the opposite

God has designed the Body of Christ so that those we might regard as less honorable receive extra care and honor—a place where the first shall be last and the last first. The parts of the body that appear weakest and unimportant are the most necessary.

The church often values people by their function, not their intrinsic value. People are not valuable because of what they can do but because they are made in God’s image and bought with a price—God’s only Son.

Honoring the least among us is crucial because they are the most important. Though sometimes unnoticed or unrecognized, they are needed to keep the body functioning as designed. Doing so is also the way God promotes unity.

When all members care for each other equally, harmony in God's family occurs. Affirming all God’s people happens when we realize there are no big or little people in the Body of Christ—just sinners in need of grace. The land is level at the foot of the cross.

Jesus spent more time with three of His followers than with His other disciples. The time given to them did not indicate heightened value. It was about function, training them as future leaders in the kingdom. In any church, ministry, or Christian organization, our love for the least among us is a measurement of how much we love Christ. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40 NLT).

Follow Jesus’ example; honor the least among you.

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Stop, Drop, and Roll

“Stop, drop, and roll” are basic safety instructions taught to emergency service providers when encountering a victim who is on fire.

When someone has caught on fire, halting movement is imperative since it restricts fanning the flames. Dropping to the ground allows the body to roll against another surface to suffocate and extinguish the flames.

Sometimes we can feel as if we’re symbolically ablaze. The same process—stop, drop, and role—can be implemented in our spiritual life, whether seeking God or engaging in warfare with Satan.

Stop what you’re doing and see what the Bible says. The Bible does not address every problem encountered, but it is filled with godly values and principles that are revealed by the Almighty. Proverbs in the Old Testament or James in the New Testament are good places to begin. Each book is filled with wisdom.

Drop to your knees in prayer, asking God for guidance. While there is no requirement to pray from a kneeling position, I find myself praying in this manner when I feel pitiful or praiseworthy. Doing so demonstrates humility, while petitioning God for answers and direction.

Roll your thoughts by a mentor or wise counselor. Seeking wisdom from a mature follower of Christ is modeled throughout Scripture. Moses mentored Joshua. Nathan mentored David. Elijah mentored Elisha. Jesus mentored all the apostles—but with greater intensity focused on Peter, James, and John. Barnabas mentored Paul who in turn mentored Silas, Timothy, Titus, and many others. Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Barnabas also mentored John Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. Without Barnabas, the New Testament would look different.  

As you absorb biblical truth, open yourself to God’s direction. Having it reinforced by mature followers of Christ brings things into sharper focus. The circumstances might not get easier, but the outcome will likely be aligned with God’s will.

There is no better way to dwell in God’s shelter or abide in His shadow than to stop, drop, and roll. 

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God's Hugs

I called 911 and then stood by the door and listened to the fireman say, “He’s been gone for a long time.” He can’t be dead, I thought.

After the initial shock at my husband’s death, I returned to my work as an elementary school principal to stave off my grief. My morning quiet time became more important as each Bible passage encouraged me to keep moving forward.

As I read Romans 8:15 one morning—“You have received a spirit of adoption, as sons, by which we cry Abba! Father”— I felt the need for a hug. I wasn’t expecting a hand from the air. I just needed reassurance God saw me. I prayed, “Lord, since I know Winston is not coming back, I need a hug from You.”  

As I prepared to take my morning shower, the thought came, “Look for God’s hugs today.” While doing my morning duties, I heard a page, “Mrs. Newton, please report immediately to the bus zone.” Usually not a good sign. It’s too early for trouble. School hasn’t even geared up for the day, I mused

The bus monitor pointed me to the last bus. When I reached the bus, the driver bounded off to greet me. Encircling me in her arms, she gave me a long bear hug. I hadn’t seen this former church member in several years. She was substituting on this bus run.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I told her how I had asked God for a hug. “You brought me a hug by special delivery,” I said. Then I learned that at 6 a.m. Marsha decided to pick this route so she could see me. The time she picked her route was almost the precise time I told God I needed a hug.

It is reassuring to know God hears us and answers our prayers when we call on Him.

If you need a hug, ask God, He’ll be glad to provide one. 

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Bursting with Flavor

A brisk walk can be more refreshing than a nap.

Feeling drained of energy, I decided on an afternoon jaunt to wake up my brain. Starting with great intentions, I broke away from the car, only to end up on the nearest park bench. The weather stimulated all my senses. I wondered how such a beautiful day could follow the night's violent storm. The sky was brilliant, and the air was clean—filled with activity and sound. I squinted up to catch the birds in song. What I beheld was the beauty of the tree.

A Weeping Cherry was in full bloom, bringing loveliness to the area. In the beauty of this tree, I noticed a gap—a void where a branch should have been. I looked around and spotted a severed limb, drying on the ground. It still had flowers and green showed at the break. But eventually it would dry up and die, separated from its source of life.

I pondered how our fragile lives are similar. We have a natural void within our souls—a yearning from the core, for connection. When our relationship with Christ is not right, we can't walk in the fullness of the life He offers. Sometimes the break is subtle, beginning with a small crack and increasing until finally it snaps. As we wander from the truth, we become desensitized to the things of Christ and can't produce the fruit that makes us lovely.

John 15:5 offers a lifestyle leading to fullness we all can experience. He is the vine—the main lifeline on which we thrive. Growing up, our neighbor had a grapevine. It was thick and strong enough to bear the weight of every hanging cluster. Connected, those clusters developed from scrawny limbs and became branches bearing plump grapes that would burst with flavor and nourishment. Other branches broke off the main, leaving the cluster to rot and smell.

We must purpose to remain in Christ through prayer, study, and church involvement. In this way, we grow to maturity as part of His cluster. When we take our eyes off the vine, we disconnect from the Branch who gives us life. Circumstances can easily draw us away.

Live your life in abundance with Christ as the root. Apart from Him, you can do nothing.

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Keep God First

Considered the wisest man who ever lived, he failed to take his own advice and failed.  

King Solomon’s life had great beginnings. The young king of Israel was humble, and his heart was devoted and surrendered to God. One night, he had a dream.

God said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon replied, “Give me wisdom and an understanding heart to judge the people.”

Pleased with Solomon’s request, God not only gave him wisdom and understanding but riches and honor as well.

King Solomon was wealthier and wiser than any other king. During his forty-year reign, Israel reached the pinnacle of power and wealth. He built the first temple in Jerusalem and overlaid the interior with pure gold. He built cities, ships, and a magnificent royal palace. He was a superb statesman who expanded commercial trade with the surrounding nations.

But beneath the glory and splendor of Solomon’s reign, serious problems surfaced. He loved many foreign women. God had warned him not to intermarry with them, but he disobeyed. His heart was divided, and he didn’t follow God fully as his father David had. When he was old, he allowed his wives to turn his heart away from God and toward false gods.  

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon reflected on his life. His earthly pursuits left him unfulfilled, and his life had no meaning. After gaining everything he wanted, he declared it all meaningless. He concluded that what matters in life is fearing God and keeping His commandments.  

Almost 3,000 years have passed since King Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, yet his practical wisdom is still applicable today. His life sends a powerful message. We must guard our hearts and keep God first. We were created to know God, and the things of this world cannot fill that space in our hearts.

Find your lasting peace and fulfillment in Christ alone. 

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Fighting with Gravity

Thank God for gravity. Without it, we’d all be floating in the air like helium-filled balloons.

Lately, I’m having my own personal battle with gravity. It seems to be taking over my body from my eyelids to the skin that is supposed to cover my knees … and everything in between. Maybe that’s why people in certain countries have a daily practice of standing on their head for a certain period of time. Perhaps that little exercise shifts everything back into proper position.

In America, there are creams, wraps, injections, and even surgery to take care of these sagging body parts. Sometimes these procedures help, other times not so much. I had a full body wrap several years ago that promised to tighten my skin and take off the pounds. The pounds stayed firmly in place, and my skin was more wrinkled than ever.

Mother Nature, Father Time—and gravity—always seem to have the upper hand. Even though there are areas I would like to “fix” if I could, I have a feeling there would always be something else I’d want to change.

The problem is my self-consciousness, especially about what I can’t correct. I will never be taller than 5’2,” and my hair will always be naturally curly—with an attitude. I won’t go into the other problem areas I’d like to change; I’ll just say I’ve learned the only way to become less self-conscious is to become more God-conscious.

Christ in me is the hope of glory. Christ in me—the One who gave His life and loves me unconditionally … just as I am. In fact, I was His idea. He created me … just as I am. He has a wonderful plan and purpose for my life that no one else can fulfill. And He is preparing an eternal home … just for me.

When I look at this life from God’s perspective, I realize it’s time to stop fighting “what is” and look forward to the day when gravity loses its hold and I rise to meet the Lord.

Are you ready for the day when the law of gravity will be broken?

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Silence

Silence is golden—except on an elevator.

There must be an unwritten rule somewhere that prohibits talking in elevators. An uneasy, awkward silence laughs its haunting cry as each rider stares straight ahead at his or her reflection in the elevator doors or as they absentmindedly gaze at the floor. There is also the silly dance where each person nervously shifts from one foot to the other.

Aside from the awkward elevator rides, silence can be a beautiful thing. It can be restorative—a time of quiet introspection to meditate on God’s Word, gather our thoughts, or refresh our minds. Such silence can bring God’s peace as He promises us His perfect peace if our minds remain on Him.

But silence can also be a spiritual battlefield. When we quiet ourselves from the distractions of our daily routine and responsibilities, instead of a quiet moment of peace, the mind can be a place of intense scrutiny and torment. Regrets, reliving past failures, remembering past hurts, accusing voices, and mind games can all clamor for our attention. Satan usually assails our quiet times, thinking his voice is then the loudest.

Part of God’s righteousness is His peace. The effect of His peace is quietness and confidence forever. When we shelter ourselves in His righteousness, we have peace with God. Everyone makes mistakes, experiences failure, or lapses in moral judgment. This is why true peace does not come from our righteousness. It comes from the righteousness of God, appropriated through Jesus Christ.

As we remind ourselves that Christ’s righteousness lets us stand in His presence, we are comforted with His peace. When the past rears its ugly head or regrets yell their nasty reminders, quiet them with His forgiveness and righteousness.

Rest your mind in God’s righteousness today. Allow His quietness and confidence to renew your mind. Let His Spirit whisper softly to your heart as He calms, comforts, and transforms you.

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Trust When in Exile

“Oh Lord,” I prayed, “Please, please. How long will you allow these things to continue?”  

Because of an injury, my husband Bill lost his job, medical insurance, and his ability to work. Becoming permanently disabled at forty-five years of age was a blow from which he struggled to recover. We heard good people declare, “Just hang in there. God won’t let you suffer long.”

The next few years dragged by like a cold, hard winter. We shivered at the things people said: “How are you Bill?” and “Just have faith; everything will be okay.” They weren’t living where we lived. We wanted things to change. We wanted deliverance from our exile and a steady paycheck.

After five years, my tears dried and my prayers changed. I still asked God to heal my husband, but when your heart focuses on God, prayer is more about seeking Him than answers. My prayers were more about learning about Him than thinking we knew what He should do for us.         

I prayed, “God, whatever You do with us, we will accept it. Wherever You lead us, we will follow. All we want is to please You. If we have to stay in this difficulty, we will trust You in it.”

God told the exiled Israelites to settle into their land of captivity, plant crops, and plan to stay awhile in their difficulties. He had some things to teach them. Even in captivity, God promised His people He would be near them and never forsake them.

We want God to deliver us quickly, but He knows we will grow in ways during our hardest trials that we won’t during good times. When He leads us through trouble, He allows it with purpose. Even if our trial stays awhile, God is at work, fulfilling His plan and making it work for good on our behalf.

Through our difficulties, Bill and I found a deeper degree of trusting God than we’d ever known. In God’s perfect plan and timing, He brought us into a place of security where we settled down to build a new future.

Instead of looking for an escape plan, trust God to make you strong enough to walk through the difficulties.

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Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

God takes no delight in judgment. When He finds a person willing to assume full responsibility for their transgressions, the Lord can be quick to extend mercy.

David sinned by ordering a census taken of Israel. As a result, he had to choose between seven years of famine, three months of war, or three days of plague. He chose the last option—the most severe but the shortest, lasting only until the evening sacrifice of the first day. The outbreak started in the morning and claimed the lives of 70,000 men.

The plague was short because God is gracious and looks for a way to be merciful. The Lord also found a man who took full blame for his offense. David asked the Lord to chasten him, but not the people. God saw a man with a repentant heart and relented of the full extent of His chastisement.

The purpose of discipline is to bring a change of heart. When that has transpired, there is no further need for the pain of punishment. Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve.

When we embrace God’s righteousness by accepting the consequences of our sin, the Lord can be swift to extend mercy. Never justify your wrong choices or blame-shift them away. Doing so delays the grace of God.

A contrite heart always leads to mercy triumphing over judgment.

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Need Super-Hero Power?

It was one of those gut-wrenching moments, the kind that occurs when you come face-to-face with true courage.

For my last public speaking class of the semester, I assigned a graded impromptu speech. Students listed three potential topics on a sheet of paper, folded the paper, and turned in their lists. From the combined folded lists, they picked one and chose their speech topic from the three listed. They had ten minutes to prepare.

One of my students was in a wheelchair and had limited control over his arms and hands, so I helped by writing down his thoughts. Only one of the topics suited him: What power would you choose if you were a superhero? His first thought was that he would be able to walk. But as he began to construct his speech, he realized the enormity of the task. He had trained his mind to accept the fact that he would never walk. Struggling to come up with the benefits, he finally told the class he really didn’t need superhero power at all. He had God, and God was all the power he needed.

This young man had learned to accept his limitations and work within them. During the semester, I never saw a trace of self-pity. He occasionally made jokes about his chair, knowing it could not keep God’s purposes from being fulfilled in his life.

We all have limitations. Sometimes God removes them through a miraculous healing—physical or emotional. Money to pay those outstanding bills appears “out of the blue.” But when our constraints are not taken away, we need a mindset like my friend, Kyle.

Nothing can keep God from completing His plan for us if we’ll trust Him.

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Feelin' Kinda Grinchy

“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, and bags.” Ahh, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. He finally got it. He realized why the Whos were so happy. They had love and a circle of friends.

It was Christmas time—a blur of excitement and planning. The happiest time of the year. But not for everyone. For many, times were tough. Maybe there was no money to shop, let alone bake. No home to decorate or family to visit. A loved one had died, and feelings of loneliness were rising. We may not all be in the same boat at the same time, but we’re all rowing, and storms are bound to come.

That’s the wonderful thing about God’s family. He brings us together, restores us, and loves us even when things look “Grinchy.” With the simplest of whispers to the Father, He hears and heals. When fierce winds and furious waves overwhelm you, God is there. He may not change your circumstances, but He can change your attitude.

God is the only source of lasting joy—not things—and He does hold us through everything. Sometimes, He even uses a friend to show us His physical arms, His smile of encouragement, or His voice of truth. As when Mary ran to Elizabeth for comfort in her time of distress, when David had Jonathan for companionship, and when Nathan the prophet told David hard things but offered encouragement. Our Father always knows our needs, even when our pain isn’t visible to others.

If you’re feelin’ kinda Grinchy, thank God for His indescribable gift of salvation, and let Jesus be your best friend. Gain a new perspective, like the Grinch. At first, he had a tiny heart, but when he was “enlightened,” it grew three sizes and almost burst. Love knocked him off his feet, and his newfound joy gave him strength to do the impossible.

God is love. Absorb this truth until it fills your heart. Then, go share His love with someone. Remember, compassion blesses both parties—and it’s free. 

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Listen

I heard the Holy Spirit but out of fear didn’t listen. Now I was in trouble.

God told me some time ago He wanted me to lay hands on people, but specifically said, “Only when I tell you.” I was in the middle of worship at my church when the pastor stopped the music and had everyone pray for what seemed like thirty minutes to usher in the anointing.

I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Go lay hands on your friend.” Though I heard Him clearly, I was frozen in my position. He persistently said it three times, and I began making excuses. “Worship is about to end. What if she doesn’t want me to lay hands on her?”

That’s when I saw my husband reach for my friend’s hand and pray. I messed up, I said to myself and walked over to join them. The Spirit moved like never before, and we knew that’s what she needed at that moment. Upon returning to my chair—crying and still complexly filled with the Spirit, I heard God say, “When I tell you to do something, do it, or I will use someone else.”

God wants to give us power to do His work, but if we don’t pay attention to His promptings, He will use someone else to reach the world’s hurting people. Many times, we think it is our conscience speaking, so we don’t listen out of fear of mistakes or doing something God has not told us to do. But the more we read the Word and fill our lives with the anointing, the more we will hear God’s promptings and know it is Him speaking.

The time has come when God is going to do the supernatural through His children. All He wants is for us to listen for His voice.

Ask God to allow you to hear Him and fill your mind and heart with His Word. Then move on His behalf. It is a wonderful experience.

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On the Wings of Eagles

Being on the back of a motorcycle gave me a great view of a majestic bird.

A large bird flew in front of us as we approached it on the road. It didn't try to outrun us on the ground or stand still and hope we didn't see it but took off into the sky without any effort. The wind was the feathered creature’s chariot, the sky her domain, and the rising sun her guidance. It flew over us and left us behind without any concern. The wingspan filled the sky as it circled overhead—its white tail shining like a beacon in the morning sky. My eyes followed the flight path as far as I could until the feathers disappeared.

I couldn't believe I had just viewed a bald eagle. The only place I had ever seen one was in a zoo or aviary. This experience stayed with me for days because it was beautiful and incredible.

When we wait on the Lord and put our lives into His hands, we can rest assured He will care for us. We can soar on wings like an eagle and look down upon life’s circumstances. When our self-effort is taken away, we can run without becoming weary and walk and not faint when life becomes difficult.

Waiting on God doesn't mean we do nothing. Waiting means we do not worry and fret until our answer comes. It means releasing our requests to the Lord and leaving them with Him. Like the eagle, our ability to mount up with wings is because we now have nothing holding us down. We are stress free and flying in joy because we are riding on His wings.

Waiting on the Lord means trusting Him. He will raise us to soar with His limitless power.

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Ready at Heart

I was at the park on a Saturday evening, spending time with my family, when I looked to my right and saw a man eating on a picnic bench. Then I felt God’s Spirit say, "Go over and talk to him. Invite him to church."

"Not now, God," my heart replied. “I'm tired. I’ve had a hard day of overtime in the hot sun on my day off. I'm with my family at the park, relaxing.”

"Go talk to him and invite him to church."

“Okay, God.”

I went to my van for a church flyer I use as ice breakers to initiate conversations about God. I tore the van apart, kicking myself because I usually have the flyers. But then I remembered they were in my truck.

Maybe my wife has one in her purse, I thought. But she didn’t. Mentioning that I probably had one as a bookmark in the book I brought to read, she handed me the book. She was right. I may have been unprepared, but God never is.

I approached the man, handed him the flyer, and invited him to church. We began chatting. He told me God had been speaking to his heart about getting back in church and that he had been searching for a church. I also discovered he was first saved in a sister church I was affiliated with. He was excited. To him, I wasn't a guy giving him an invitation at a park. God was reaching out His arms to a prodigal son and calling him home.

The Bible says to be ready to preach the Word in and out of season. I wasn’t prepared. Not because I didn’t have any church flyers but because my heart wasn’t prepared. My first response to God was “I don’t feel like it because I’m busy with my family.”

For Christians, there is no out of season. We are always on call and should always be ready for the leading of the Holy Spirit.

God’s divine appointments await us around every corner. Be ready to answer them.  

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The Best for Last

As a child, I loved going to holiday parades.

At parades, my brother and I would sit on the edge of the sidewalk and watch with excitement as different groups marched by. Military and school bands, dressed in a variety of uniforms, kept in step as they serenaded the crowd. Local scout troops marched behind their leaders, and decorated floats added a special touch to the festivities. Fire engines and police cars passed by, polished to perfection. Vendors sold candy, ice cream, and soda—a refreshing treat in the hot sun. The parade lasted three hours and ended with a spectacular float display. The committee saved the best for last.

On Good Friday, people lined the streets as Jesus walked the road to Calvary. But unlike the happy crowd at a parade, many were mourning and lamenting. Others shouted obscenities. Instead of a precision march, Jesus struggled beneath the weight of the cross. He had no fancy uniform, just tattered clothes covering His bloody, whip-stained body. 

Instead of a victory celebration at the end, Jesus’ executioners brutally nailed Him to the cross. Instead of a cool drink to quench His thirst, they offered Him vinegar. Rather than applauding, as parade watchers do, the crowd cast lots for His garments and sneered at Him, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Little did they know they were fulfilling God’s plan. 

Like my childhood parade that lasted three hours and ended with a special attraction, the crucifixion also lasted three hours. But the finale did not occur immediately. Three days later, the most spectacular event of all time took place—the resurrection. Like the parade committee, God saved the best for last.

Think of ways to tell others about the gospel so that none will be lost.

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Reflections

I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person staring back at me.

A gray-haired woman had taken over my body. It didn’t feel as though so much time had passed, but it was me. I had become the reflection in the mirror.

Life had happened, and each day I stared at the mirror without realizing this would be the last time I would see that reflection. Tomorrow would be a new reflection and a new chance to do the things I had put off yesterday. I wondered if I had lived up to the potential in the old me.

Each day, we are given a chance to complete the task we started. Often, I sell myself short or forget what I set out to do, forgetting the possibilities that slip through my fingers.

God gives us the ability to become the person He knows we are inside. We don’t have to make excuses for who we are or forget who we are as soon we turn away from the mirror.

Look at yourself through God’s eyes. He sees a person who is wonderfully made and full of promise. Though forgetting is easier, God will help you be the person He wants.

Look in the mirror and remember the hope God offers—the hope He will be with you each step of the way.

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Cutting Out the Empty Calories

Although I didn't need to lose as much weight as the woman I heard about, her story intrigued me.

The news report was about a woman who lost a large amount of weight in a short period of time. She limited her caloric intake to 500 every other day and didn't go overboard but kept her calorie count moderate the other days. If you've ever looked on the back of a box of cookies or chips, you understand 500 calories isn’t much. Cutting out the empty calories means choosing wisely what goes into our bodies.

After years of daily exercise with the scale bouncing back and forth between the same dismal numbers, I decided to try this diet. And it worked. The 500 calorie days were tough, but I stuck to it. Once the numbers on the scale started to go down—and stay down, I told myself cutting out the candy, chips, and soft drinks three times a week was worth it.

As I limited my caloric intake and got rid of the empty calories, I considered what happens when I gorge myself on the meaningless junk I take into my mind through what I read, watch, and listen to.

If we stuff ourselves with worthless things that have little or no value, we leave little room for valuable things. Things that are noble, right, pure … things Paul says to think about.

Limiting the empty calorie items is difficult but possible. Start small. Try the 500 calorie three times a day diet. Set a limit on how much time you spend watching TV, surfing the web, or hanging out on social media. It might surprise you how good you will feel.

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Talking to God

I’m an introvert who tends to listen more than I talk.

When I go out with friends, I sit quietly, listening to the banter, laughing at the jokes, interjecting a comment here and there. I don’t mind others doing the talking. There are times, however, when I would like to talk. I have things to say. But my friends are so accustomed to my silence that they forget to listen. Sometimes this bothers me.

I’m glad I know Someone who will listen to me anytime and anywhere: my heavenly Father. His ears are always attentive when His children talk—whether it’s through formal or informal prayer, singing, crying out, or just a burst of spontaneous conversation.

As with Moses, God desires to speak with us, “as one who speaks to a friend.” While He spoke audibly with Moses—and others like Joshua, Samuel, Job, Jeremiah, and Philip—He does not do so today. Yet He still longs to connect with us in conversation and to build one-on-one community. He wants to listen to our joys, sorrows, slipups, heartaches, dreams, prayers, and praises.

Nothing is too trivial to bring to God’s attention. He wants to hear it all, and He will listen patiently.

Don’t be shy. Pour out your heart and soul to the One who cares for you. While others may not listen, He always will.

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God Makes You Stronger

Life is full of surprises, and we often have to make important decisions that can change its course.

As a Christian, I wanted to live in God’s will, but I was struggling with doubt and didn’t feel peace. Frightened I was going the wrong way, I knew I needed to do something. I felt like a leaf swinging on a tree. I heard one preacher say, “’One shouldn’t  act when one is hesitant,” so I went from one preacher to another, asking what I should do.

After a year, I realized I should discover myself. I did this through prayer and the help of other trusted Christians. God showed me that often my decisions depended on the occasion, not on me. I was scared to take responsibility. I was ready to listen to others but not to trust myself. I understood it was time to make my own decisions. God would respect that because He gave me freedom of choice.

According to James, I shouldn’t doubt when I ask God anything. He will take care of me when I‘m weak and need His help. He will show me the right way. God can strengthen my steps and always be relied on.

In every situation, we have a choice. Because of our free will, we can choose sin or obedience. When we choose sin, we choose death. Sometimes God is merciful and doesn’t allow us to make big mistakes. God will give us wisdom to recognize what we can and can’t change.

Trust God with every decision you make. 

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Unconditional Love

My heart pounded as I voiced, “You won! You won the scholarship.”

I spoke those words to my daughter following the notification phone call. I was so proud and elated that Abby won a summer scholarship to a local university basketball program. This was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her and definitely a proud mommy moment for me.

Over the years, my children have been honored with many awards for academics and character achievements. Their rooms are decorated with blue ribbons, certificates, and shiny trophies. It makes me bubble up with joy when they are recognized for their hard work and determination. 

I wonder if my parents were disappointed in my lack of earned awards? Growing up, I was ordinary. Not too smart, too pretty, or too adorned with many special talents. I was just common.  Of course, deep in my heart, I knew my parents were proud of me and loved me unconditionally.  I didn’t have to win awards for my parents to love me, and neither do my children.

God’s love for His children is the same.  If you look up the words Paul uses to describe love in the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus, they all point to one common word: accept. He accepts us with His love. No matter the awards that line our shelves, God accepts us. Regardless of how many good deeds we do, God accepts us. His love is everlasting and cannot be earned or exhausted.  We don’t need any special qualifications to be lavished with His gift. Knowing that awards and trophies may give us temporary feelings of importance, I choose to take comfort in knowing God loves me despite my mediocrity.

What ways does God communicate His unconditional love to you? Find an area in your life where you need to practice a more accepting love toward others.

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The Paradox of Pride

I love a good roller coaster ride.

The uphill climb of a roller coaster grips me with anxiety as I anticipate that moment at the summit when the trajectory is about to change. Then comes the thrill of the descent, screaming and hands held high in the air. There is a false sense of victory as it slows to the finish—false because I did nothing but sit. The architects who designed the coaster did the rest. I merely chose to ride.

My husband says I’m a wood coaster rider since he thinks the real thrill can be found on steel coasters. They reach higher heights, have faster drops, and have upside-down loops. No thank you. When I see a wood coaster, I make the assumption it will meet my comfort level. Yet, my fear of steel brings the opposite of victory. When I stand waiting for the brave ones to pull into the gate, their faces lite with unabashed joy, it stabs my pride with a false sense of defeat.

Life holds a roller coaster of highs and lows—victories and defeats separate from amusement park rides. It also involves the process of comparison, and it can be found in every aspect of life. My job is better than hers. Pride. I meet someone whose position dwarfs mine. Defeat. I show up with my new-to-me SUV. Pride. My neighbor rolls in with a brand new luxury car. Defeat. My son receives a scholarship to a great school. Pride. Her son went to an Ivy League school. Defeat.

We have this tendency to evaluate ourselves, our lives, and our families using the measuring stick of others around us. Getting off life’s roller coaster of comparison is difficult. But that’s not God’s way. In his distinguished book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said of pride, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

Find joy and contentment not by excelling in earthly things, but by looking up to God’s face. He will look back on you with love.

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Seeds of Hope

First from the pulpit and then from a prisoner, the truth about the lack of hope in the lives of hurting and wounded people pierced my heart.

I have always believed when God repeats a truth, I should pay attention. I was challenged to connect with these needy ones by acts of compassion and caring ... to do what Paul said: Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us (Ephesians 5:2).

As I meditated upon this truth, God placed an exciting picture in my spirit. I envisioned hidden joys being revealed and finding expression upon the lives of weary and wounded earth wanderers who had lost their way. These providential encapsulated seeds of hope will rain down on a dry and thirsty land, penetrating the soil of unyielding hearts everywhere.

If these hearts will yield to the seeds, God in His perfect timing will open them to reveal their true content and eventually their reward. This will enable the sower to encourage and bless the receiver of such unmerited favor.

In time, those who sowed will gather and share fruit that is pleasing to eat, bringing wholeness and health to their body and soul. They will gather flowers to bring into their homes and give away to others. Flowers named Peace, Joy, Hope, Creativity, Beauty, Harmony, and Purpose. There will be many other flowers with equally wonderful names for them to enjoy. Their beauty will never fade, nor will their sweet fragrance ever lose its power. As long as we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to open, seeds will continue to fall.

Open your hands and fling wide the door to your heart so you can receive the life-giving seeds and nourishing rain sent from heaven with unconditional love. 

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Seeking the Lost

I treasured the ring because it was a birthday gift from my children, but one day I discovered the pearl was missing.

The same day I discovered my pearl was gone, I stopped for a soft drink and opened my billfold for the money to pay with. Imagine my surprise and rejoicing when I saw the pearl lying inside my billfold.

Perhaps my reaction was similar to that of the woman searching for her lost coin. Although she had nine other coins, she was upset because one was missing. When she found it, she rejoiced.

This parable is one of three in Luke 15. Perhaps the best known of the three is about the prodigal son. Because the son wanted to live life his way, he went to a far country where he rejected his father’s lifestyle and squandered his inheritance on worldly living. It wasn’t until his money was gone and he was starving, that he decided to return to his Father’s home.

One day, as he had done many times before, the father looked down the road. He saw a thin disheveled young man approaching. As the figure drew nearer, the father recognized his son. Running down the lane, he threw his arms around the prodigal.

The son may still have had the filth of the pig sty on him. The odor of his environment may have clung to the rags wrapped around his body. But his father loved the prodigal so much that he looked past his appearance and into his son’s heart. The parable concludes with the father explaining to his older son why they had to celebrate: But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

God is a loving and forgiving Father. He continues seeking the lost and rejoicing when each one returns home.

If you have left God for someone or something else, He invites you to return home. 

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He's Been With Jesus

The reality is that I don’t want to be identified as a “regular guy.”

I enjoy riding motorcycles, exercising, and playing sports. But is the normalcy of these events discounted because of my faith?

Two things people avoid discussing in mixed company include religion and politics. Since I routinely proclaim the gospel of Christ to the law enforcement community and beyond, I wonder if I’m viewed as a regular guy—bold and strong—or a religious nut—weak and foolish.

Disciples John and Peter were fishermen by trade, yet once Jesus transformed their lives, they were anything but normal. In Acts 4, they were taken before the rulers and elders and questioned about their encounter with a crippled man, which eventually led to a healing. After sharing their story, the rulers realized the Galilean fishermen “had been with Jesus.” They were not regular guys.

I don’t want to be regular either. God is busy working on me, and I hope others benefit from some of the lessons I’ve learned that I’ve put in written form. To the surprise of some, I declare that I do not endorse ritualistic religion. According to the prophet Isaiah, my righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). The NKJV refers to them as “filthy rags.”

Rather, I believe in a relationship with Jesus—one that saves my soul and causes good works as a fruit of my faith. So whether I’m a religious nut or regular guy, the greatest compliment I can receive is this: “He’s been with Jesus.”

Live in such a way that others will know you have a relationship with Jesus. 

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Listen to What Jesus Says

Feeling barren inside one day as I wrote another article, I searched for relief.

Walking over to a sitting room that had big stuffed chairs—needing any other chair than my office chair—I sat and allowed plump cushions to comfort me. Starting to feel a bit better but still weak and burdened, I bowed my head and prayed to the Lord. All I wanted to hear was what He had to say. After a period of resting in His arms, I realized I needed a red-letter edition of the Bible.

The last fifty years have been a search for the context world for me. I had been taught that a Bible verse taken out of context was a pretext. Doing this and not searching to see how the rest of the Bible comments on a verse has led to cults and atrocities. Yet I had become addicted to searching for contexts to the exclusion of nurturing my relationship with Jesus. A sad state of affairs, my congested mind and heart sighed in unison.

Then I found what I had when I was a frightened seventeen-year-old boy who went away to a Christian college that was far from home. I held on to Jesus and what He had said when He promised to provide everything I needed if I would first seek the kingdom of God. That red-letter verse has been a life verse for me, and I still claim its truth as an old man.

Professional accuracy had gotten in the way of my first love. Searching the context to see if a biblical interpretation was accurate had become primary. I had missed yielding to the Spirit and abiding in the Vine so I could bear fruit secondary.

Red-letter edition Bible reading is providing what I need. This verse speaks to me as if I’m one of the privileged few who walked with Jesus on the dusty trails of the Holy Land. I hear His voice and feel His love as a fresh breeze stirs my heart and clears my congested mind.

Read the words of Jesus, and listen to what He says.

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God's Pruning

I have a philodendron in my living room.

Since philodendrons are easy to grow, needing little direct sunlight, I can grow them well. Mine was given to me by a friend who I helped move. It sits by a window with the blinds cracked where it can receive partial sunshine. I’ve learned I must prune dead leaves off occasionally. Most have been blocked from the sun by other leaves.

I’m reminded of the time when Jesus says God is like a gardener who prunes useless branches from a vine. He further explains that God prunes to make the vine more fruitful. Jesus personalizes His point when He tells us we are the branches God is pruning.

God knows our stubborn habits. Our selfish tendencies aren’t hidden from Him. He’s trying to remove the useless things holding us back from becoming more like Jesus. He’ll be more persistent than all those thorns we often lash out at Him with when He messes with our will for our life.

Pruning hurts. I know it all too well. But I want to be the best I can be in the work of building God’s kingdom. God is never closer than when He’s pruning us. The pain it brings is necessary. The love involved is real. The fruitfulness it brings is amazing.

Let God do His work of pruning you.

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Transformed

At the age of eighty-six, my grandmother is homebound and deals with chronic body aches and pains.

I have many wonderful memories of my grandmother as a child. She was very active and loved to cook, spend time outdoors, and work in her yard. Many times she would take me camping or on bike rides. She loved to take me into her lush backyard and teach me about trees and plants.

Her mind is not as sharp as it was. She no longer enjoys reading, cooking, or camping. I find myself grieving for someone who is still with me but unable to do things she once enjoyed.

In a recent conversation, she told me she was ready to go. It made me sad that she no longer wanted to try. Then she gently reminded me of the promise that awaits us in heaven where our earthly bodies will be transformed. There we will no longer experience the aches and pains of this life.

While I hope I have many more years on this earth, this promise gives me hope and assurance of what is to come—even if it means saying good-bye to someone I love. There is joy in this promise.

Take in the promises of God, and know that you, too, will someday be transformed.

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Unexpected Journey

It was a beautiful spring day until I found myself meeting the concrete, hands splaying to break my fall, knees making harsh contact, and the mail in my hands scattering in all directions.

Once inside and seated with ice on my knees, I chastised myself for reading the mail while walking. Yet in that deep place inside of me, I knew it was more. This was my fourth fall in a matter of months.

I tried to still one of my hands and legs from their growing tendency to shake—a shaking that started with minuscule movements I attributed to stress. I had known people like that. You share a bench at your son's baseball game and want to grab their knee and say "Stop!" But that was never me, until now. I could no longer deny it, and the neurologist confirmed it. Parkinson’s was the adversary.

Parkinson’s is somewhat like a garden hose resting in concentric circles. Someone turns the spigot on until it reaches full pressure. The pressure builds until the hose wiggles, thrashes, and moves in eccentric patterns. With Parkinson's, the pressure intensifies until there’s no option but to move. My determined arm and impulsive leg have their own stubborn will.

Yet God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. He keeps my eyes focused on the blessings and helps me choose joy over despair. A piano teacher once reminded me that a mistake during a performance doesn’t ruin the beauty of the piece. I’m God’s creation, so I must be a masterpiece—with or without this disease. Short of a miracle, I will have Parkinson's when I die, but it will not visit heaven with me. I will hold steady hands high in praise.

Whatever your journey, keep your eyes fixed on God—the ever present help in times of trouble. He will help you choose joy. 

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What is Beneficial

I looked down at the empty package and shook my head. Surely I had not polished off another box of those creamy Peanut Butter Patties.® But I had!  

Those cookies, along with many others, have led me to many regrets since I was a Girl Scout. If only I would just follow the wisdom in Corinthians. Just because we have the right or ability to do something doesn’t mean we should. Often, it’s not beneficial. Most of us are able to eat as much sugar or drink as much wine as we want, but this can lead to problems such as weight gain, illness, drunkenness, and other troubles. 

Discernment isn’t only limited to our eating habits but can include such things as our jobs, careers, relationships, and hobbies. Just because we have the right to work sixty or more hours per week for a sizeable income doesn’t mean it’s beneficial to our life, health, or family. We also have the right to date and marry whomever we want, but that doesn’t mean they’re advantageous for us. 

Sometimes the things we enjoy control our lives. Binge drinking to deal with stress, social anxieties, or other negative emotions can lead to alcoholism. A job that demands both time and energy may cause us to feel our only worth is found in position. We may begin to sacrifice time with family, time with God, exercise, and other things.  

Make a list of things or habits that need eliminating from your life. Don’t let things that aren’t helpful control you.  

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Stepping Out of the Boat

Life is risky … when it’s time to step out of the boat.

The storm was fierce. Even Jesus’ disciples—all experienced sailors—were scared.  Storms on Galilee come quickly. That night the sea was at its worst. The disciples’ boat was tossed like a toy. While they bailed and prayed, Jesus came in on the storm, strolling in the rain, walking on the water.

Peter wanted to join Jesus. “Come on in, the water’s fine,” Jesus essentially said. Peter did, but the others stayed in the boat, preferring their comfort zone. While eleven stayed put, one took a risk of faith. 

I wonder if I’m often like the eleven. Trusting enough to step out of the boat is frightening. We worry others will think we’re foolish to step out into the storm. They’ll judge us at any leap of faith: going back to school at an older age, beginning a new business in a hard-pressed economy, following our dreams.

Sometimes we settle for the storms we know rather than trust the new thing God wants to do. At other times, our routines and habits make us feel secure. In the comfort zone, we do what is simple and effortless. We never take a chance. We never run a risk.

Don’t be afraid of stepping out of the boat. When Jesus invites you to join what He is doing, trust instead of hesitate. Make the leap of faith.

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When We Blow It Again

Just when I think I am making progress in an area, I turn around and blow it again.

After listening to someone share how they blew it by losing their patience over a very small matter when their sincere intention was to keep calm in a disagreeable situation, I was reminded of how a similar thing had happened to me.

I wasn’t looking to lose my control and say things I didn’t mean to say. And yet a simple conversation and small disagreement with my husband spiraled into heated words, and I blew it again with my tongue.

When it was over, I was madder at myself than my husband was mad at me. For him, it blew over quickly, but I continued to punish myself with a question: “Why did I do it? I didn’t want to do it. But I did it. It was so trivial and stupid.”

I am prone to sin. The apostle Paul was too. He wrote, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do Romans 7:15 NIV.

The battles that rage inside us often ring with condemnation: Why can’t I do a better job of reigning myself in? Why did I do something I didn’t even want to do?

The answer lies in Jesus Christ. There is now no condemnation for those who keep blowing it when we are in Christ Jesus. He took care of that for us. It is part of my inheritance as a born again believer and child of God. Will I blow it again? Probably. Do I want to? No. Will God’s grace cover me when I do? Yes.  

Accept God’s beautiful gift of no condemnation.

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Callouses

It’s been there for years. Actually, it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I’ve done everything humanly possible to get rid of it, but it won’t go away.

I’m talking about the callous on my big toe. It’s annoying, looks terrible, and is sometimes painful. One day, it made an appearance and it’s been giving me grief ever since.

It seems once a callous is present, it’s there to stay. You can keep it under control, but it’s a lifetime effort. I’ve used exfoliators, pumice stones, and a variety of gadgets that promise to make them magically go away, leaving your skin baby soft. Even regular pedicures don’t do the trick. Having a callous is something I have to be aware of and work on consistently. Left unattended, it gets totally out of control.

God often shows me practical life lessons through unseemly sources—like feet—and this has been no exception. This particular lesson has to do with the heart and how callouses grow when we refuse to forgive, hold grudges, and maintain a bad (inappropriate and ungodly) attitude toward someone. The more we let those things go unnoticed, the harder they are to deal with.

Sometimes forgiving is easy. At other times it takes an immense effort on our part to let go of the hurt when someone has disappointed, offended, or betrayed us. When we ignore or try to justify our feelings, that callous begins to grow around our heart. The Bible calls it a root of bitterness—a poison that seeps into our soul, defiling us and everyone in our path.

Unfortunately, I’ve been fertile ground a few times in my life for a root of bitterness and, trust me, it’s no fun. This is why we’re instructed throughout God’s Word to guard our hearts, esteem others more highly than ourselves, and to walk in love and forgiveness. We have to be alert daily to the signals that warn us when we’re headed for dangerous territory.

The good news? God is quick to forgive—and forget. When we realize we’re harboring bad attitudes of resentment, all we have to do is confess our sin and receive His forgiveness and cleansing. He will take supernatural tweezers and pluck out everything ungodly that has taken root and then restore us to a right relationship with Him.

By the way, I received a new gadget this past Christmas that is doing quite well keeping my callous under control. All I have to do is remind myself to use it regularly, just like I need to remember to daily confess my sin and receive God’s pardon.

If you have the makings of a callous, better get it under control.

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I Don't Like This Manna

Have you ever “comprayed”? You know, made complaints wrapped in prayers: Lord, this car is so old. Please bless me with a new one.

My day at work had been particularly rough. Frustrated, I comprayed to God all the way home. Why was it taking so long for me to receive the new job I believed He had for me? I’ve been waiting for years, Lord. Please, help me.              

I arrived home and silently moaned about how the front door of my condo building was in need of a new paint job. Why can’t this property management company get its act together and take care of the grounds as well as the previous company did?

I walked inside my condo and comprayed some more. It sure would be nice to come home to a kind and loving husband, Lord. Being single has its advantages, but how long do I have to wait?

After dinner, I grabbed the laptop and scanned through my emails. One of the devotions immobilized me. It was about the children of Israel during the exodus from Egypt and their frequent bouts of complaining and ingratitude. Their bad attitude kept them in the wilderness for forty years and prevented most of them from entering the Promised Land.

Asking God for a new job, a loving spouse, or a new home isn’t wrong. In fact, Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock. But until I can be content and grateful with the provision God has already given me, why should I ask Him to pour out new blessings? Philippians 4:6 spotlights an essential ingredient for presenting our requests to God: being thankful.

Thank the Lord for what He has already provided—your manna—and for what you believe He will provide in the future in answer to your prayers.

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Turning from the Night to the Morning

A New Year gives the feeling of a clean slate, a fresh start, and a time to restart.

I’m an OTJ (Old Testament Junkie). The break of the day was a time when enemies loved to attack. Our enemy loves to come in those hours before we awake to bring thoughts and dreams of stress, anger, pain, and destruction. God, however, brings salvation, healing, joy, and deliverance.

Break of day literally means “at the turning of the morning.” God turns us from a place of darkness, an ending, a long-standing situation, or a threatening circumstance. In this turn, He sets us in a place of peace and joy and gives us the ability to see Him moving in our favor. The turning from a time of darkness to a time of morning might not be instantaneous, but the turning will occur.

The “her” is the “city of God,” the place where the Most High dwells. According to Jesus, believers are a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14). Paul says they are “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God … who are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

If we take the word “her” and make it personal, we can rest knowing we will not fall. Slipping and sliding will occur during our life journeys, but a complete falling where God drops us won’t happen. God chooses to be within us—to make His dwelling in our temples. The God who lives inside our temple body promises that joy will come in the morning—not just any joy but God’s heavenly joy.

Child of God, know that He is always with you and will turn your darkness into light and your mourning into joy.

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Reality Check

I’m a whiner. My mother said she could hear my sharp voice above all the others on the playground. When I was a little older and whined about homework, she would shake her finger at me and remind me that everyone else in my class had the same work to do. Then I would buckle down and do it without another complaint. I knew what the shaking finger implied.

Jesus was not a whiner. In the situation recorded in Mark 7, it is interesting that what Jesus wanted and what happened were two different things. It would seem His wants would either be in accord with God’s will or His wants would even determine God’s will. But not the case here. They are actually in opposition to one another. Jesus wanted something other than what really happened.

Was that a sin? No. We know Jesus lived a sinless life. So it was not wrong for Jesus to want something to happen (in this case, some quiet private time) that did not happen (“He could not escape notice”).

But holding on to His want by pouting, showing anger, or refusing to embrace the real opportunity before Him would have been wrong. Or to have accepted it grudgingly.

Jesus was flexible. He was able to lay aside His want and trust God that the reality was His will, and He would provide the inner strength for Jesus to face the needs of the moment.

So, too, I must lay aside my wants and accept the reality of my situation when they don’t match, trusting God for His timing and provision.

How about you? Is it time for a reality check?

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The Carpenter's Trade

While in my twenties, I spent a week re-shingling a roof in Tennessee. The Mountain T.O.P. ministry staff formed us into five teams, with each team containing people at different skill levels. My level?  Clueless, but willing.

My team leader’s first lesson was how to hammer a nail effectively. My second lesson was how to get on a roof with ease. All week long, I learned new skills: ripping up old shingles and tar paper, carrying things up a ladder, getting safely off the roof, and nailing down new shingles. A professional roofer traveled between the five houses, laying down chalk lines, inspecting the work, and making sure the repairs were done right.

On the third day, my team leader handed me a hammer and a chisel. Pointing at the chimney, he told me to chisel off the ancient, hardened tar around it. My mind immediately foresaw disaster. What if my chisel slipped? I could damage the chimney or put a hole in the roof. I looked to my team leader and said, “You can fix anything I break, right?” Calmly and confident, he replied, “Yes, I can.” So I hammered on that chimney until all the tar was gone.

After a week, my amateur roofing career ended. But Jesus labored as a carpenter for years. In biblical times, carpenters built everything, from chests and doors and tables, to wooden beams for houses and yokes for farmers. Jesus also would have repaired broken doors and chair legs. Today, restoring people is His specialty.

On that rooftop in Tennessee, God placed a new truth in my heart: The Lord can fix anything I break. Sometimes I can be distracted, thoughtless, impatient, and self-centered—wounding people I love and damaging key relationships. Fortunately, I know who can fix my damage. Through prayer, my Redeemer starts working in my heart and theirs, building a bridge between us. Someone—usually me—sends a God-prompted e-mail or makes a phone call. Then Jesus fixes what I broke.

Pray and place your messes in God’s hands. Let the Master Carpenter work.

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A Song to be Sung

Sunday morning. I stood before our congregation—nervous and weak-kneed.

When the Lord gave me the gift of writing songs, I felt blessed.  When I became aware He wanted me to sing them, I argued, "Please send someone else."             

As I sang, my voice echoed back through the hushed sanctuary. I don't sound as bad as I thought I would. I hope everyone is impressed. My confidence grew. I could pull this off. You might say I grew a little cocky.

Then it happened. As I praised myself for performing beautifully, a breeze blew through an open church window, taking the words to my song up into the air and out the stained glass window. My heart sank. I gave my accompanist a sick grin and we started over.            

This time I kept my mind on the words and off my voice. But the damage was done. Never would I put myself through that humiliation again.

After church, I jumped in my car and headed for home to avoid further embarrassment. I was angry…disappointed. Through a flood of tears, I confronted God: How could You do this to me?  You gave me this gift of song. It was Your idea, that I sing them. You put me center stage. How will I ever be able to face my friends again?

God spoke back: “What are you doing center stage anyhow?”

God was right. I was ashamed. But God is good. He helped me understand my haughtiness and quickly replaced the shame with a valuable lesson: humility—a far greater gift than writing. I praise the Father in Heaven for loving me enough to teach me that. He showed me the songs were for His glory, not mine.

When my eyes shift to myself instead of God, I lose sight of what’s important. Taking credit for my gifts and being sucked into selfishness are easy. John reminds us no one is greater than Almighty God. Gifts come from the Father, not ourselves, and the glory is His, not ours. I survived embarrassment—and learned a lesson to boot.

When you find yourself looking at the Father and taking credit for what comes from Him, remember to give Him the glory. 

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Asking for Wisdom

The first month I was pleased over my weight loss with the new food plan. However, now I'm stalled out, yo-yoing up and down the same few pounds. It's frustrating, especially since I'm exercising more, not less.

Nevertheless, I've hit a wall or the dreaded plateau, as dieters call it.

I finally prayed about my dilemma, and the Lord graciously gave me a spiritual picture. Simply put, I was standing close to a large, seamless wall in the middle of the road.  I was trying to find a way around it, poking around the edges for soft spots, nervously noting the height of the wall—all the while fretting and pacing. The longer I stared at the wall, the more anxiety mounted.   

This wall represents the insurmountable obstacle in my mind. It's the plateau I'm currently on with my diet and exercise plan. It's the last part of the weight I need to lose, and I don't know what else to do. Gradually, the fear that I can't do it—that I'll regain what I've lost—overtakes me to the point of defeat. It has happened every time so far.

But I've been given a tremendous gift. I have a visual of how I was emotionally handling this obstacle. I haven't ever been able to see it before; I was too close. So I asked the Lord, “What do I do about the wall?”   

Whenever we ask for wisdom, God promises never to fuss. His delight is to bestow it freely and as often as we have need. In essence, He spoke to my spirit and said, "This is when you kneel and pray. I'll show you what to do next."

Do you have a wall—an insurmountable obstacle you can't seem to get around? We have a God who is happy to show us how to knock our walls down. With His help, we can look forward to the day the walls disappear.

Be patient with the process. The walls will fall and you will have victory—especially in that one area of life where you never thought it could happen. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and TrisMarie.)

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Advantages of Aging

Aging has advantages.

A police car pulled in front of Grandma Bessie's house, and Grandpa Morris got out. The polite policeman explained that this elderly gentleman said he was lost in the park and couldn't find his way home. 

"Oh, Morris," said Grandma, "You've been going to that park for over thirty years! How could you get lost?" 

Leaning close to Grandma so the policeman couldn't hear, Morris whispered, "I wasn't lost. I was just too tired to walk home."

What are some of the advantages of aging?

Grandkids are one. When else could a “seasoned” gentleman get to do “Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtle” kicks without feeling foolish? And throw his back out at the same time.

Precious are the memories of grandparents as they relive the days when the kids thought it was great fun to lock mom out of the house. Funny for grandpas, not so much for dads. Proverbs teaches us our grandchildren are our crown.

Wisdom is an advantage. By the time you have made a lot of mistakes, you know a lot. You’ve learned things like:  “I started with nothing and still have most of it,” or “By the time you get your head together, your body starts to fall apart,” or “When you are holding most of the cards, why does everyone else decide to play chess?” 

Wisdom, even in humor, cannot be bought. It is earned one day at a time in conjuntion with failures, successes, and their consequences. Woven together is a lifetime of wisdom to share.

Scripture shares that a man is happy when he gains wisdom and understanding.

Humility comes with seasons of life. We begin thinking we control many things. In time, we will learn that we actually control very little and what we have is a gift from God. All we control is our response to circumstances.  

Maya Angelou said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”  

Seek wisdom and righteousness from the Lord. Aging is the icing on the cake.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and reim11.)

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Avoiding the Damage of Contention

It was a second marriage. She found fault in most things he did. He let her sleep-in each morning since he was the only one that needed to get to a job. She complained about how noisy he was as he prepared for the day. He even poured his cereal the night before because she grumbled that the pinging sounds of the dry cereal on the bowl disturbed her sleep. After her death, people around him remarked how his countenance lifted and joy became apparent in his life again.

Contention is the opposite of peacemaking. A contentious person finds fault with others’ actions, words, and decisions. Harsh criticism often accompanies contention. Nagging goes hand in hand with contention. No wonder the writer of Proverbs indicates the victim of contention would rather be "roughing it" in adverse conditions than in comfortable surroundings with a miserable, harassing contender.

Do we frequently find fault or disagree with those in our families? We should ask, "Will my comment improve the situation or am I just being picky?" Another question to curb contention is "Would I want one of my family members to make a similar statement to me?" If we would not want that statement directed at us, then we need to avoid saying it to our loved one.

Affirmation and praise—sprinkled sparingly with constructive criticism—lays the foundation for a more harmonious place to live. Trusting, strong relationships flourish in a contention-reduced environment.

Lord, cleanse me of faultfinding. When I am tempted to speak contentious words and Your spirit reminds me to hold my tongue, help me obey. I realize if I choose to obey Your prompting, I am taking a step to provide a home that is an inviting, safe place for those I hold dear. Make me aware of the lasting power of godly words of encouragement in my home.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and milza.)

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Out of Darkness Light

Days shorten here in the Atlantic states as winter approaches the Northeastern United States. Subtle changes a minute a day seem to engulf people in darkness of late afternoon. It is comparable to driving through a dark mountain tunnel on a sunny day.

“Is it night, Mom? Can we go out to play after supper?

Getting the same children to wake up and hop out of bed in the dark is another struggle. “It’s too dark to go to school.”

Mom turns on the light—the soft glow of a bedside lamp. Mom hustles the children toward the bathroom. “Be glad you are not the bus driver. He has to clean away snow and warm the engine. Hurry!” The school bus will arrive at school in winter at the edge of light.

Long ago, the sun was going down when Abram fell into a deep sleep: “A horror of great darkness fell on him.” Total darkness is scary. But a dark sky with tiny stars on the night of a full moon is a beautiful, welcome sight. Light makes the difference.

Think of the time when the earth was without form or void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. Who made the difference? The Spirit of God moved upon the waters. In the beginning, God made a new creation. God said, “Let there be light and there was light, separated from the darkness. The light was good—the amazing work of God.

Their disobedience thrust Adam and Eve and their descendants into spiritual darkness. But God sent His Son to be the Light of the world. God makes a new creation of each one who asks for forgiveness and believes in Jesus. Old things of darkness are gone, and all things are new in the light.

Perhaps you are looking into the dark tunnel of another year. Why is the world in conflict? There is an answer, and we can find peace. Know God through the Bible. Make it “a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.” Walk in light. In Him, there is no darkness at all.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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A Double Remote Command

Last Christmas, a curious event took place as I was enjoying some Christmas music. When the CD finished, I had a choice to make. I could enjoy the quiet or play more music. I decided to listen to the same disk.

Since I was working on something in the kitchen, I pointed the remote control at the stereo and pressed play. Not only did the stereo obey the command but so did my space heater. I guess it wanted to play, too.

I live in Texas. It was over 70 degrees outside. I didn’t need a heater pumping out heat while running up my electric bill. So I walked over and poked the off button on Mr. Heater.

My attempt to save effort turned into more work in the long run. Now I make sure the heater is behind me whenever I use the remote control. That way it won’t serve two units at the same time when I only want one working.

In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against tryingto serve two masters at the same time.

We try. Don’t we? We long to be the exception to that statement. “If I can make enough money to fund an orphanage, then all this work will be worth it.” Or something to that effect.

The problem arises when we need to compromise to reach that next rung on the ladder we’re climbing in an attempt to build our kingdom of wealth. This will be worth the trade off we tell ourselves. All the while, that orphanage is lost in the shuffle. Before long priorities shift to making even more money for the purpose of making more money, not helping orphans. 

Jesus said if we concentrate on building His kingdom, things will fall into place. That orphanage will be funded with a group effort better than an individual one.

Set your priorities on God’s kingdom. Let Him be your master.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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Marching for the King

For an army to be effective, each soldier must be disciplined. Each must follow the orders of their commander, and collectively they can march on to victory over the enemy. Strong soldiers and armies are to be loyal to the one in command over them; they are to conduct themselves in an orderly manner.

The Scriptures reveal that living for Christ on this earth is similar to being in a war. God wants us to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit's control, and He desires that we resist the enemy. In Galatians 5:25, it says we are to keep in step with the Spirit. The words “keep in step” have an interesting meaning in the Greek. According to the Strong's Concordance, the phrase literally means to march in military rank and to conform to virtue and piety. If we live by the Spirit or have a relationship with the Lord, we must march in military rank with our fellow believers. We must learn to obey the Scriptures and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Then we will experience the victory.

Of course, we serve a merciful God. At times we may fall, but when we do we can always rise again. Jesus the Victor will forgive us and place us back in the ranks with our fellow soldiers. Let's ask God the Father to enable us to conform to the word of God and to embrace the battle. Good news has been given to us. According to the Book of Revelation, we have already won the war.

Take time to thank God for fighting our battles in advance, and then trust He will always lead the way.

Please pray this prayer with me:

Dear Mighty King of Kings,

I submit to your Lordship afresh and anew. Help me follow Your word. Help me to resist my spiritual enemy the Devil.  Speak to my heart and let me know my part in the battle. I choose to follow You and march with other believers to see Your kingdom come. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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What's on Your Bucket List?

Brvvvvv. 5:04 PM. I glanced at my cell phone. BETTY flashed upon the screen. “Sorry, I need to take this call,” I said to the co-worker chatting with me. “This is my mom.”

Mom called to inform me she had landed safely in Jacksonville and was on her way to my brother’s home. At age 79, Mom wanted to visit my brother in Florida while she was physically able. She had always wanted to see the house he designed and built. “It’s on my bucket list,” Mom once told me. 

After the call ended, I thought about Mom being able to cross the visit off her list. When people talk about their bucket list, it usually contains a list of experiences they want to accomplish during their lifetime. Some are exhilarating adventures that bring a sense of wonder or excitement. Others are visits like my mom’s. At no time, however, have I heard people say their bucket list contains experiences like serving in a soup kitchen or making weekly visits to a nursing home. I wondered why. Perhaps, these endeavors aren’t grand enough. People tend to pursue gratification.   Bucket lists seem to be “me” centered. What “I” take away from the experience.

Then I thought about Jesus. What might His bucket list look like? Water to wine. Feeding 5000. Rising from the dead. In all of His experiences and achievements, His focus was not on himself. It was on others.

Hmmm. So, where does that leave me? If I take my example from Jesus, my bucket list will change dramatically. It will require a different way of thinking. My focus will turn outward on others instead of inward on me. I must be willing to make that change. Take hold of your bucket list and change.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jdurham.)

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No Emergency Meetings in Heaven

Heaven doesn’t have emergency meetings.

I glanced at the clock in the hospital’s surgical waiting room. My heart was racing faster than the second hand ticking away the time. My five-year-old daughter was having a cyst removed from her leg.

The procedure was scheduled at the hospital after a failed attempt in the surgeon’s medical office. What were they thinking? A young child was going to lay on her stomach while they numbed and performed the incision, removal, and stitching? Really?

We could hear her crying and screaming down the hallway. The doctor advised we were moving to plan B—under anesthesia at the hospital. “She’s not going to cooperate for us to do it here at our offices.”

Well doc, I could have told you that. Yet, I didn’t want deep sedation either. I’d wished there was another option. But the cyst had grown and spread into her calf’s muscle tissue. It would be tested for cancer. I was worried.

I’m a floor pacer, panicking in body and spirit. Especially when my children and family are involved. Sweet relief came when the surgery was over and the lab results were normal.

A few years later, my husband accepted a youth pastor position, and we moved to a new town. Our lead pastor was David Landrith. I’ll forever remember a thought he shared from his seminary professor in a sermon, “There’s never been an emergency meeting in heaven.”

I’ve often relayed the sentiment to others and kept the words close to my heart during troubled times. God never wrings His hands or paces heaven’s floor. He is seated on His throne. He is in control. Even when plan A and plan B are different than what we had in mind.

Last year, David lost his battle with cancer. Until the end, he continued to place his trust in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. I imagine him in God’s presence looking down at us saying, “I told you.”

Heaven doesn’t have emergency meetings—ever. Let the words resonate deep in your soul. The Lord is large and in charge—always. In the unknown and heartaches of life, that assurance brings hope. Today and every day.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mconnors.)

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Water Me Lord

My well is shallow. Every August when temperatures hit the 90s and the rain quits for several weeks, my well begins to go dry. The faucet water turns murky, and we stop drinking it. Running the dishwasher, washing machine, and shower in one day leaves the pipes sputtering air and banging. We minimize flushing the toilet and forget watering the lawn or the garden. It’s a dry and parched land when there is no water.

The Israelites had a similar problem—only worse. The book of Joel reiterates, “ … the ground is dried up … the vine is dried up … all the trees of the field are dried up … the grain has dried up … the streams of water have dried up” (Joel 1:1, 10,12,17,20, NIV). They had turned from God, walked their own way, sought their own counsel, and worshiped idols. The result: fruitlessness, emptiness, dryness, a people without water.

And this is life without God.

The Bible equates a self-consumed and proud life—a life that leaves no room for Him and denies Him—with a dry and thirsty land. Have you felt empty, fruitless, purposeless, and parched? Your soul is screaming for the only water that satisfies … Jesus. He said when we drink the water He gives us we will never thirst. The water He gives will be like a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Jesus is the well that won’t run dry in the Augusts of life. His lavish, unconditional love and abundant grace can water the driest soul and bring fruit to a barren life. Joel reminds us God has given the autumn rains because He is faithful to us. Draw from His well daily and watch the dried up and withered bloom and flourish.

Water me, Lord, from your bottomless well. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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Great Treasurers

About three weeks before Christmas, Belinda stepped in the bank door, her hair splayed across her head like hay blowing in the wind. Wild and impulsive in her younger days, drugs, alcohol, and parties had sustained her. Her hand shook as she held the check she wanted cashed. Her lips pursed as she approached.  “Hi,” she spoke quietly. “Did you know that Jesus loves you?”

I lifted my eyes to hers and smiled. “Yes, I do. Thanks for reminding me.”

As I counted her money onto the counter, I could see she held a candy dish with white laced patterned ceramic and heart-shaped holes evenly spaced around the lid in the other hand. Lovely red ceramic poinsettia’s crowned the top.

She handed the candy dish to me. “It has some cookies and things inside. I hope you like them,” Belinda stuttered. “I guess the dish isn’t perfect because on the top, one of the poinsettia’s leaves is broken. I hope that’s okay. I kind of like it because it reminds me all of us are slightly broken in some way. But when we offer ourselves to God, He makes us completely perfect in spite of our imperfections.” A smile swept across her face.

Overwhelmed, I shook my head and thanked her.  After Christmas, no one else wanted or needed Belinda’s candy dish, so I took it home. There it sits where I can see it and remember.

Joseph and Mary must have felt this way when the wisemen brought them such expensive gifts. Gifts like that are hard to find and more precious than jewels. Imagine my astonishment when I found I’d been given one too.

Lord God, for those expensive precious gifts offered with love by those broken and redeemed but made whole by your grace and given new lives filled with your love, I give You thanks.

(Photo coutesy of morguefile and Kymme.)

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A Gift Worth Giving

Does it surprise you that the gift the angels highlighted was peace, not love? We talk a lot about the love of God at Christmas and rightly so. Jesus’ birth was a profound demonstration of God’s eternal, unconditional love for humanity. But the gift of God the angels proclaimed to the shepherds was peace.

Most people in Jesus’ day misunderstood God’s gift of peace. The Jewish zealots wanted political peace—freedom from Roman rule. Many who followed Jesus wanted physical peace—healing of ailments, deliverance from demons, or the simple pleasure of a full stomach. Others wanted Jesus to solve family squabbles or remedy cultural inequalities.

We make the same mistake the people of Jesus’ day made. We assume God’s peace means the end of conflict with whatever or whoever is causing difficulty in our lives. We pray, “God, if You’ll just give me that job, then life will be peaceful.” Or we say, “God, if You’ll just set that person straight, then my life will be peaceful.”

But that’s not what the angels were talking about in Luke 2. They were proclaiming the peace with God that Jesus’ death and resurrection would accomplish. God loved us so much He wanted to restore the fellowship that had existed in the Garden of Eden. God knew not a single human being could ever restore that fellowship by following the standards set down in the Mosaic Law. No matter how hard anyone tried, no one would be able to gain access to God’s presence by fulfilling His entrance requirements.

Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection made fellowship possible again. So the peace God promises us is permanent access to His presence. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so we can be clothed in His righteousness and enter God’s presence. That peace so excited God that He sent a host of angels to sing about it to a group of lowly shepherds.

What are you excited about this Christmas? Does permanent access to the presence of God make you want to sing? Give glory to God by sharing that song with someone soon. 

(Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of morguefile and Maryhere.)

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Jesus Joy

It happened a zillion years ago on a sunny day. Five friends and I took our umbrellas, opened them, and held them over our heads as we walked a busy street in Chicago. Like a troop of solemn soldiers, we marched straight ahead, single file. No talking. No laughing.

At every street corner we stopped, swung our umbrellas to the side, and as a group, stared upward. We bit our lips to stay sober as people passed by and stared. Someone smirked. Another person giggled. The dam burst and our laughter poured like a flood onto the street. We doubled over, held our stomachs, and gasped with our silly, ill-gotten mirth.

Perhaps we, like some of today’s youth—those with tattoos, purple and orange spiked hair, and numerous body piercings—were stating, “Hey, look at us. We’re special whether you know it or not.” The fun of the moment made our day. I blush to think how stupid we were.

Yes stupid because I’ve found another kind of happiness as I’ve grown older and wiser. It’s called Jesus Joy. These days I don’t have to act silly, color my hair in shocking colors, or wear a diamond in my tongue to attract attention. I already have Jesus’ full attention. He knows me and tells me I am special. He loves me and He loves you too. What better joy can we find?

God sent His Son to earth as a child . . a man. How could I not be joyful? Because of this sweet gift of love, I am blessed to be saved . . . to know the kind of happiness that lies ahead.

The “fun” we had as youths cannot compare to the full measure of the Christmas joy we receive when we take the presence of Jesus into our lives. I’m so glad I said, “Yes, Jesus. I believe you. I want to be part of your family. I want Jesus Joy in my life.”

Accept the Christmas gift sent from God. Enjoy the Jesus Joy.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and holyh2o.)

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Finding Room

When I was a youngster, my family went to Florida for vacation every year. The uniqueness of our vacations, when compared to today’s trips, is my parents never made reservations. When we’d arrive at our destination, sometimes as evening approached, my parents searched for a place to stay. All motels had something you don’t often see today: neon signs at their entrance that flashed “Vacancy” or “No Vacancy.”

Mother always wanted to stay at a motel on the side of the road adjacent to the beach. Which side of the road we stayed on didn’t bother Daddy. He got cranky when Mother nixed places to stay and asked him to continue the search for a room.

By then, both my parents were tired, upset, and wilted from eight hours of summer heat in a car without air conditioning. We had arrived at our destination, but still could not end our traveling to gain rest.

When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, the equivalent of “No Vacancy” signs greeted them. They were weary and drooped from the heat. And to make matters worse, Mary was very pregnant and perhaps ready for her son to be born so she could return to her normal lifestyle.

The later days of pregnancy are uncomfortable in the best of circumstances, much less those that Mary endured on their trip. She and Joseph probably craved a drink of cool water and someplace to stretch out and relax. But they found no vacant room.

One innkeeper showed compassion for the couple. He had a stable for his animals and offered it to Joseph and Mary, so they could rest and relax. And there the Holy Child would be born that night.

That innkeeper had probably seen travelers all day who wanted a room. He had filled all the lodging spaces he had. He had a full house that would gain him monetary means. He didn’t need to bother with Joseph and Mary. But he did, and the culmination of a miracle happened that night with the birth of Jesus in the innkeeper’s stable.

How many times has Jesus come to your heart’s door? Do you always answer His knock? Or is your day already full of other things calling for your attention? We could very well miss a miracle if we don’t find room for Jesus.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and barterville.)

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Unwrapped Gifts

The love and embrace of a child is the singular greatest feeling a person can experience on earth. The warmth of a hug and the power of a kiss from your child is empowering in ways that cannot be articulated by words. The anticipation of a child is powerful and emotional.

As you wait for your blessing from the Lord, your heart grows to contain all the love you will give to your new child. The first time you hold your blessing, it brings love mixed with fear all at the same time. You love this little piece of you with all your heart, and you fear at the same time the life you wish to provide for this buddle of joy given to you by the Lord.

There are times when the blessing of the Lord is never felt or touched. The child you wish to love is never seen, and the experience is never obtained. To the mothers and fathers of unwrapped blessings, the Lord has something special in store for you. As you watch others hold their bundles of joy here on earth, your child is being held by the Lord. As you see other children learn to walk; your child is being taught to walk by angles.

As children grow to love and learn right from wrong in this life, the author of perfect love is loving your child. As parents protect their children from danger and put their needs secondary to their children’s needs in this life, just know there is no pain in Heaven. The Father has opened His own Kingdom for your child.

The day will come when every parent will see their child walk down an aisle for graduation and marriage. The parents’ hearts will be full of love and pain as they see their precious baby turn into an adult. However, for you who never got to hold your blessing from the Lord, something better is in store for you.

One day you will leave this life and enter into eternal life to spend with the Lord. On that day, a beautiful unwrapped blessing will emerge from the light, and in that moment every empty moment will give way to pure, splendorous, unspeakable joy.

This image of hope is dedicated to all who never got to hold their child and to those who have lost their special blessing too soon. You will have a special blessing waiting for you in Heaven. Until the day you leave this world for the next, the Father Himself has adopted your precious child. Your child waits with anticipation for you, and will love you more than you can truly understand.

This message of hope and love is also dedicated to my special wife who never got to hold our third child. Our arms are empty, but our hearts are full of love and anticipation for that glorious day of reunion. Until that precious moment of reunion, keep loving and living this life in the strength of the Lord because there are many living around you whom you will embrace and hold in perfect love. 

The Lord forgets no life. I wait with great anticipation to unwrap with all my love my blessing from God. Praise God. He comforts us in our troubles.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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Reflection of Jesus

The new lenses on my eyeglasses are designed to eliminate glare. They work well. They are also purple. The color doesn't bother me. In fact, I don't even notice it until I look in a mirror or notice the quizzical look of the person staring at me.

The first time I became aware my lenses were noticeable to others was when a young twenty-something stared, smiled, and said, "Cool glasses." I felt obliged to tell her it was due to a special anti-glare coating. The next time was when the cashier taking my fast food order tilted her head, leaned forward, leaned back, and then told me she loved my glasses. Again, I explained about the coating. The latest time was when the waitress taking my order kept moving her head from side to side and squinted her eyes. She didn't need to say anything. I knew my lenses were reflecting purple.

How many times, I wonder, do people look at us and see something different? Do they tilt their heads with curiosity? Are they intrigued? Do they move in closer because they want to know more?

As Christians, we are supposed to be in the world not of it. Just like my purple lenses, we are to be different. Our reflection should make people wonder what it is about us that is different. Not odd, mind you, but different. Different because we reflect the glory of Jesus.

Our choice of words should reflect an attitude like Christ. And so should the things we choose to occupy our time. If someone observed us for a 24-hour period, taking note of how we treat others, would they want to know more about the Lord we serve?

Live your life in a way that continually reflects Jesus. Let it become an automatic response. And when someone notices, you can eagerly explain, “It is because His special coating covers me.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and vilhelm.)

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When the Well Is Dry

I have entered a dry season. At first, I ignored it and focused on the things I had. A husband who loves me. Two children who look up to me. And a mother and father who tell the world of their pride in me. I have much to be thankful for and I know it.

Yet the cracks began to show. My thirst grew unquenched. The unemployment season for my husband stretched before us. My lagging book sales tugged at my heart. The declining health of my mother weighed upon me. The chronic illness my son battles broke my heart.  Before I knew it, I went to draw water and the well was dry.

So what do we do when our well is dry? The Lord tells us if we drink of the water He gives, we will never thirst again. I had to remember that in the midst of my dry season. I had to take my eyes off my situations and turn them over to my Heavenly Father, the One who can quench my thirst. He reminded me I did not need to thirst. He would provide for my family during my husband’s unemployment season. And He did. For all intents and purposes, we should be in the red, but God has provided.

He reminded me if my book touches one heart, I have become successful. He reminded me He alone knows the number of days for my mother and to never fear. He reminded me that when I feel weary I need to seek Him, and He’ll give me rest. At every turn, when the dry season tried to sap me of my strength, God filled me up.

If you’re in a dry season, remember His promises to you. Go to Him in prayer and rest—not even opening your mouth but simply basking in His presence. Then you’ll see your dry places become watered by the living Word of God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and AmyFisherLittle.)

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Balance

Balance is one of those things we don’t know the importance of until it’s gone. Unfortunately, I know. I was diagnosed with bilateral brain tumors in 2012. Fortunately, they are benign, meaning non-cancerous. But they certainly aren’t benign, meaning harmless.

One of the things the tumors have affected is my balance. And because of that, I’ve discovered just how important balance is. It affects every part of my day—from walking, exercising, driving, standing up, and sitting down. You name it and balance probably affects it.

Spiritual balance is just as important as physical balance. The sisters Mary and Martha were blessed with a visit from Jesus. Martha bustled around the house being a wonderful hostess while her sister sat at Jesus’s feet wanting only to be with him. When Martha complains, Jesus makes it clear that Mary made the right choice.

This is a perfect word picture of our Christian life. Sometimes we get so busy working for God that we forget to spend time with God. Jesus makes it plain that spending time with God is more important than working for Him.

We should, of course, do both. And that’s where balance comes into the picture. 

So what about you? Is your life out of balance? 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and trestletech.)

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The Gluten Free Bread

Being gluten intolerant definitely has its challenges. Fortunately, there is a larger variety of tasty options these days than when I was first diagnosed. That is a huge Thank you, Jesus in my book.

The thing I missed most at the beginning was bread. Especially crispy, thin pizza dough. Because I do not have Celiac Disease, cross contamination is not a serious problem, and I am able to take the toppings off a slice of pizza, leaving the crust on my plate with no problem. But eating only part of the pizza isn't all that satisfying to my way of thinking.

The best gluten-free pizza I have found is Against the Grain. The crust is delicious! No longer limited to toppings only, I savor every morsel of the pizza top to bottom.

The Bible tells us Jesus is the Bread of Life and Living Water. We are to hunger and thirst after him. We are to fill ourselves with knowledge of who He is and what that means to us by applying it to how we live.

It is through taking the knowledge of who Jesus is into the innermost recesses of our being we are sustained and strengthened. We aren't meant to only scratch the surface and eat the toppings. We are meant to devour the entire pizza. crust and all.

The Bread of Life is gluten-free. There are no allergic restrictions with Jesus. He is for all, no matter where they live, where they work, what they've done, the color of their skin, or their country of origin. Yet, some of us act as if we are allergic to Jesus and pick and choose what we'll digest and what we’ll leave to the side of our plate.

Sure, we can choose to limit our understanding of who Jesus is and how that applies to our life by refusing to dig deep into what the Bible tells us, but why would we? That kind of thinking won't fill us up and leave us satisfied. It would be like limiting ourselves to eating only the toppings when we can have the whole pizza. Crust and all.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and xandert.)

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Is That Our Baby?

“Crystal’s in the hospital. They have to take the baby.”

“Both were in respiratory distress. A helicopter took Kaleb to Lexington.”

“Something’s wrong with Crystal’s heart. Without immediate surgery, she won’t live.”

Two days sped by in a blur of rapidly worsening circumstances, phone calls, and medical jargon. My nephew’s wife struggled for her life following an emergency Caesarean section one night and open heart surgery the next. A heart pump kept her alive.

Their son, born seven weeks early, lay in a neonatal intensive care unit eighty miles away. With his little arms thrown to each side, he appeared almost lifeless. If Kaleb survived, lack of oxygen before birth could cause significant physical and mental problems. Realizing the gravity of the situation, friends and family around the world prayed.

My nephew and his in-laws stayed with Crystal. Kaleb’s grandmother and I poured out our hearts for Crystal’s future, the baby, and the weight on Trevor’s shoulders. We prayed “Lord, make this baby a fighter. Help him cry and work his little lungs. Let him get mad and throw those arms and legs around.”

The next morning when we entered the neonatal ICU, we were totally confused. I double-checked the nametag over Kaleb’s bed. My sister actually asked a nurse, “Is that our baby?”

The incubator and respirator were gone. Kaleb was waving his arms and legs and wailing like a siren. He had the most beautiful little temper tantrum we had ever witnessed. Tears streamed as Gail fed him, sang to him, and told him how much his mommy and daddy loved him.

He left the hospital in only ten days. His parents joined him after a month, minus the heart pump. Miracle followed miracle, but that first one left us with no doubt that God hears the specific desires of our hearts when we cast our cares to Him.

Give your burdens to God. Whatever the outcome, He promises His never-failing presence and love. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GaborfromHungary.)

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Dealing with Disappointment

Dealing with disappointment? Me too!

I was diagnosed with bilateral brain tumors in 2012 and had my last treatment more than a year ago. My MRI in October showed everything was stable. I could get on with my life.

To celebrate, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe in May. And by plan, I mean putting down deposits, buying airline tickets, getting organized and prepared. And then ...

I woke up one morning and couldn’t hear—yet again. To clarify, I actually could hear some sound, but everything was distorted to the point of not being able to understand what anyone was saying!

I’m back on treatment and that means NO trip to Europe. Talk about being disappointed—I was and I still am. My husband and I were really excited about the trip.

I probably should be more worried about my health and my hearing, but I put those in God’s hands a long time ago. He’s given me a supernatural peace about them. It was a really good deal for me. But now I’m dealing with the disappointment of our canceled trip.

I know God loves me and that He will work all things out for the good of those who love Him. He promises that. And I believe Him. Since I believe that, I also know my disappointment is temporary.

We all have disappointments in life. Each time we face one, we have a choice how to react. It would be easy to be angry, upset, and frustrated, but what good would that do?

I still have to have the treatment, have to deal with the side effects of the treatment, and can’t go to Europe. The only thing I would accomplish by focusing on the negative emotions is to create even more negative emotions.

At the moment, I’m sad and disappointed. To pretend I’m not doesn’t seem like a healthy option either. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting stuck in the quicksand of those negative emotions. I know God loves me, and He will work this out for my good. When you are disappointed, trust harder and know God loves you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Hotblack.)

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A Cup of Cold Water

For two years, my family had successfully cared for my father following a stroke. He was walking at least 1,000 steps daily with his walker, getting out on the front porch, praying at each meal, and singing with my mother and me each evening. Then he had a second stroke.

Suddenly, I found myself persuading—with all the power I could muster—just to get tiny sips of water into his mouth for successful swallowing without choking. The constant concern with choking—as well as the painstakingly, slow process of spooning miniscule amounts of water into his mouth—drained him and me. Dad was exhausted, so we took a break.

I had begun trying to hydrate him as soon as he opened his eyes that morning so had foregone my normal time for reading my Bible and praying. As Dad rested, I thumbed through to locate my Bible reading for that day, when it flipped open to Mark. Countless times, God’s Word had spoken strongly to me, but never more than that day.

I had given Dad water all day because I loved him, recognized his great need, and continued to honor him as my father. When I retired two years earlier, I felt with certainty I was doing God’s will for my life, but the day following the second stroke was so stressful and seemingly fruitless. I needed reassurance from the Lord that I was still fulfilling His plan. God was faithful in providing specific encouragement from His word at my weakest moment.

Are you experiencing discouragement or a defeated feeling when, with all your heart, you are trying to serve God? Go to His Word and seek encouragement before going to other sources. The circumstances may not immediately change, but you will be uplifted and strengthened to continue whatever God called you to do. Let His Word strengthen your heart.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Robb.)

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Help Me, I Cry

Feet rise like dead weights and muscles grimace while leaning on a walker from the rear lift to the driver’s seat of my minivan. Arms and hands lift ragdoll legs when transferring to and from my wheelchair a multitude of times daily. What is the secret to euphoria as we beg mercy in our agony?  “Father, help me.”

I find solutions for everything, conserving energy by adapting alternate ways of functioning to minimize undue stress on ouchy or overworked body parts. Washing with the water of the Word flushes my toxins out to sea. Mindfulness every moment, every breath, and every step alleviates the strain allowing liberation from oppression in my fleshly mobile home.

Exercise and the Holy Spirit’s breath send oxygen to my cells, giving sustenance for mobility. A gulp of air and a Scripture are my daily bread—a cool glass of ice water on a stifling day. Opening my wings fully like a seabird in flight when transferring from my wheelchair allows the possibility to stand and soar in movement. God covers me in my walk out to freedom when I stay cool, calm, and collected. “Hold me up Lord,” I now cry.

Every moment remains an opportunity to paint the picture of reality by the choices we make and our thoughts, words, and actions. Eyes and ears are avenues of inspiration—senses awakened by smelling roses, hearing symphonies, viewing artwork, or reading prose.

God’s power and our intention can work as a team. Answers become apparent when we stop and listen. No matter how much suffering we may have to endure in these days, God’s glory will be revealed to us with what is on the way. All things are possible to those who have faith and believe. Have faith. Believe.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Zabmo.)

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Finding the Joy

My heart was heavy. As the elevator doors opened and I saw my brother standing in the hospital hallway, I knew she was gone. The nurses had called at 1:50 a.m. telling me to come quickly, but I arrived at the hospital just minutes after my mother had passed away.

I drew near to her bedside—running the back of my fingers over her cheek—still warm to the touch. We spoke in hushed tones, out of a sense of reverence I suppose. Part of me wanted to cry, but as I stood there looking at my mother’s face, I began to smile.

I couldn’t help but share in the joy she must have been feeling in that very moment. I envisioned the sweet reunion she was having with my dad who had died some 23 years earlier. She was probably filled with motherly love and happiness at being able to see once again the face of my older brother, John, whom we had lost to leukemia nearly 10 years ago. And to see her beloved parents and sister must have been absolutely wonderful.

Oh, the joy…of knowing she was standing face to face with Jesus. I took comfort and shared in the pure joy she was in the presence of our Lord and Savior. There was no room in my heart for sorrow just then. Although the physical evidence of death was present, the heavenly hope and the joy of eternity with God was just as genuine. God had called mom home and I’m sure she ran into His arms.

Jesus reminded Martha if she believed she would see God’s glory. He then gave the people of Bethany a glimpse into His divinity and mighty power when He called Lazarus back to life with a gentle command. What an amazing day. Imagine the rejoicing. Although there were tears that day, even from our Lord, the day ended in joy because of the power of God calling Lazarus to come to Him.

There were tears when we lost my mom, but the greatest comfort was knowing she was a child of the King. It was His voice calling her home. That brought joy.

Accept His gift of love and salvation. Be a part of the everlasting joy.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Where Are You God?

It's always darkest before the dawn. It’s pretty dark at 3:30 AM too — especially at the end of a week of sleepless nights with our young child. We had just received his diagnosis of autism and were still getting a grasp of what that would mean to our family.

My wife and I drove our son around the block for the umpteenth time, hoping to get him settled down. We were also trying not to make eye contact. Both of us were on edge — stress and lack of sleep do that.

When you are weakest, the doubts really hit.

God, have you forgotten us? Are you there? Are we going through this all alone? Do you care?

Since receiving the diagnosis of autism, we were becoming increasingly isolated. We started getting out less as a family because we didn't know how Madison would act or what he would come in contact with. We were having more doctor visits, but fewer answers.

“Honey, we're going to get through this,” I told my wife. I hoped that my voice gave more confidence than my heart felt.

“Yes, even if we do it alone.”

And that was the problem.

The next day, we were just getting started when the phone rang. It was Shelia, a friend in our Sunday school class.

“Hello, Tim? The class has been thinking about ya’ll and we wondered if we could bring your family some meals. We want you to know we love you guys.”

You hear people talk about God’s timing. God picked this time to remind us that He cares, He always has. Five families provided us meals and showed us that we mattered to them. They will never know how much we needed to know that at that moment.

Never take for granted when God leads you to do something for someone else. You may not know what they are going through or what God is doing. God uses us to encourage and demonstrate His love to each other.

God let us know that day He was, and is, with us. He is listening, even at 3:30 in the morning.

Choose to be an encouragement to someone today. God can work through the least of us.

 

(Photo courtesy www.morguefile.com & MarcoMaru)



Connect the Dots

“Is it broken?” I asked my husband as he stared helplessly at the spinning eye on our computer.

“I don’t know. I’ve tried to reboot it, but it keeps shutting down.”

“Oh no, what now?” We had so many pictures and documents on this computer, and we hadn’t been able to backup our folders for a while. Tech support told us our computer had crashed, and it would cost $13000 to retrieve all our documents and pictures. This was not what we wanted to hear, but God was in charge and we put our trust in Him.

Instead, we thanked God the library wasn’t far away and forgot about our crashing computer. Later that week, I was sharing with a close friend what happened. I found out his specialty was computers. “Drop it by and I’ll fix it – no charge.”

Romans reminds us in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. God wants us to connect with others in the kingdom and to encourage and help them. Through these connections, we can complete what He has set before us. The devil will try to place road blocks in front of you to stop you from your mission, but if you trust God and stay in the body of Christ, He will divinely connect you with people to help you get to the next level.

For us, this was no doubt a divine appointment with my friend. My husband and I are blessed and thankful to be connected with wonderful friends in the body.

Are you connected in the body of Christ? Don’t let the hiccups of your journey get you down. Recognize the enemy is trying to delay you. Ask God to send you a divine appointment to get you back on track to your purpose. Ask Him to connect you with friends who will help you in your journey and who you can help in theirs. There are many blessings along the way … even before you get your breakthrough.  

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Sharing the Vision

Contact lenses. That was the first thing I bought myself when I was old enough to earn a little money. All my life I had worn thick, heavy magnifying glasses to compensate for poor vision. On the day the doctor moistened my first pair of contact lenses and placed them on my eyes, it was a moment as miraculous as the day Jesus moistened the earth with His saliva and healed a man born blind.

As a child, I was unmercifully teased about my glasses. Huge eyes magnified beneath pale-blue frames earned me the title of “blonde beast from outer space.” When that lost its shock value, a campaign to belittle me over the name Penny began with taunts of “One cent, one cent, nothing but a one cent.”

The agony ended when my grandfather discovered me crying on my way home from school. Through a flood of tears, I spilled my story.

“Well, you know, sweetheart, they’re right. You are One Cent,” he said.

I could not believe my ears. How could this be? My grandpa was agreeing with my tormentors. “You are one sent from heaven, and you’re my special angel. Remember that each time they call you One Cent and smile ... because you know it’s true.”

Surgical implants will soon end my wearing contact lenses altogether. My natural concern over the implants’ success diminished when I saw a bowl filled with glasses discarded by patients who no longer needed them. The doctor’s receptionist explained, “We call it, ‘sharing the vision’. The glasses are donated to the Lion’s Club Recycle for Sight Program that enables millions of people to see.”

As followers of Christ, we have a similar opportunity to “Share the Vision” of the gospel with a world where minds have been blinded by the god of this world—the devil—also known as the prince of darkness.

Ask God to open your eyes to the truths He has for you and then for opportunities—in His perfect way and timing—to share the vision with others.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Kakisky.)

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With Prayer We Can't Fail

“Chaplain, sit for a moment. I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.” George S. Patton stood by the window watching the steady rain. For days, the Third Army had been bogged down due to the weather.

“Chaplain,” asked Patton, “how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” The Chaplain admitted that lately, not much.

“Chaplain, I am a strong believer in prayer. There are three ways men get what they want: by planning, by working, and by praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out; that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. Up to now, God has been very good to us.

We have never retreated. We have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy, simply because people prayed. But we have to pray for ourselves too. We must ask God to stop these rains. This Army needs the assurance and the faith that God is with us. With prayer, we cannot fail.”

But what if we are forbidden to pray for the protection of our nation, the wisdom of our leaders, and the freedoms of our people? On August 29, 2011, a three-judge panel of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled officials could not pray before public meetings. The ruling, in the case of Joyner vs Forsyth County, admonished public officials to refrain from invoking the name of Jesus.

To pray is to call upon God and to invite Him into conversation. The Greek word enteuxis is often translated “intercession.” In the New Testament, the word is used to describe a petition presented to a king on the behalf of another. A petition is not an unspoken request but a bold supplication that carries with it the signatures of those who dared to come before the ruling authorities. God listens to our silent prayers, but He also longs to hear our voices raised to the heavens, demanding justice for the oppressed and assistance for the wounded and hurting.

Between December 12 and December 14, 1944, two hundred and fifty thousand copies of General Patton’s Prayer Cards were distributed to the troops. On December 20, the rains ceased. For almost a week, American warplanes bombarded the German army that had been advancing under the cloak of fog. General Patton prayed for fair weather and God sent it.

Perhaps it’s time to gather in our homes, churches, public squares, and courtrooms and ask God to have mercy on us and forgive our sins. Each year the United States recognizes a national day of prayer. What our country needs is a group of citizens who will pray without ceasing.

Will we embrace that challenge?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ensignmedia.)

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Intimidation

Many of us who were practicing several years ago in the mental health field had to deal with a mindset prompted by a then popular book, Winning by Intimidation. The book attempted to develop a scheme for winning based on an emotional attitude of aggressiveness. This me-first approach had to be applied very deceptively at times and, at other times, very directly and in a threatening manner. The goal was consistently controlling the interactions of others for the purpose of causing that person to do what you wanted.

This approach reminded me of the biblical verse that says the devil walks around as a roaring lion, and that he has schemes which are not for the good of God’s people.

One of my deceased patients lived his life winning by intimidation. He attempted to intimidate his family, business associates, and everyone else. He told me one day he could do anything to anybody and get away with it by appearing to be their friend afterwards. He smiled, acted sorry (which he wasn’t), and stressed the past is the past. His complete life was a study in meanness and self-centeredness, which ruined his marriage, his children, and his health.

Psalm 37 is a full and encouraging discussion about the end of a person who can bring us so much pain that we may feel we can’t bear it. Our Father, by means of inspiration, gives His children the answer we so desperately need when bedeviled. He tells us: Rest in Me. Give Me your fear and pain. Let them reap what they are sowing. The day will come that intimidation will have passed away.

Experience the joy of resting in the Lord. He will give your heart strength to go through the tribulation. However, you may find resting in the Lord can have a sober tone and include tears. Still, when we are held in His arms and are comforted, we find the greatest relief a child of God can know during this lifetime.

Fretting becomes a thing of the past when we are held by the Comforter in the arms of Jesus.   

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Defeating Discouragement

Discouragement is a nagging, strength-sapping, faith-challenging weapon of our spiritual enemy.

Any discouraged person realizes its toxic toll. I’m not talking about mere disappointment – I’m referring to the lethal combination of deep-seeded despair, hopelessness, and loss of trust.

The Israelites became discouraged after years of aimless wandering in a hot, barren desert. No food or water. Living in tents. Sand creeping into places it was never intended to be. No sight of the Promised Land. And in that discouraged, weakened state, they got mad at God. They asked, “Why?” They became so angry they even complained about God’s daily provision of manna.

Similarly, discouragement can overwhelm us with recurring waves of dire circumstances, bad news, and negative life events. I recently experienced this. A medical doctor hinted at a potentially bad biopsy. Work layoffs were discussed behind closed doors, and a close friend betrayed my trust and falsely accused me. I couldn’t remember specifically when that knot in my stomach arrived, but I knew it was there.

Like the Israelites, it’s easy to question everything. God, why is this happening? Discouragement builds with each unanswered question. It gnaws at my belief that God is in control, hears my prayers, or even cares about my individual situation. It erodes my faith in friendship and my willingness to ever trust again.

When discouragement assails me, my natural response is to withdraw and internalize the pain and confusion. But that is exactly what my spiritual adversary wants. Doubt. Loss of faith. Anger.

When I allow discouragement, I overlook God’s supreme sovereignty and man’s inherent sinfulness. Nothing surprises God – not even futile desert wanderings. Though the desert trek wasn’t pleasant for the Israelites, God was right there beside them, implementing His sovereign plan. With the exercise of free will, humans occasionally betray and hurt each other. Understanding this helps offset the frustration, anger, and pain discouragement promotes.

If you’re discouraged, work to overcome its harmful mindset. Praise God in spite of your circumstances. Praise Him for His infinite goodness, love, and mercy. Trust His sovereignty. Ask Him to restore to you the joy of His salvation. Keep praising Him until His joy shines through.  

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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The Walk of Victory

Why can’t I just say no? 

I was a slave, bound by my own desires and cravings. Food was my master and I regularly did its bidding. Hungry or not, it didn’t matter. Delicious food or mediocre, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop myself. I hated living this way, but I felt powerless to change.

I knew the right answers, like: Christ in me is greater than sin. I can do all things by Christ’s power, and I am more than a conqueror through the God who loves me. But that’s where it stopped—in my head. New resolutions, shaming myself, dieting … none of it worked.

But then I learned to think differently. After literally crying out to God for deliverance, He began retraining my mind. I had been trying to fight this battle with “fleshly weapons,” giving myself rules to follow (diets), heaping up shame and self-condemnation, trying harder. All those things are fleshly weapons because they center on self and on human effort.

We, as God’s children, have divinely powerful weapons that enable us to experience consistent victory. As we walk with Him in faith, He trains us to use those weapons. And that is what Christianity all boils down to—walking with Him.

The word stronghold can mean “anything on which one relies.” I had relied on food. When I was bored, it entertained me. When I was sad, it comforted me. When I wanted something pleasant, it tasted good. But God began teaching me to rely on Him and to seek Him for fulfillment.

Victory is not about following rules. It’s about staying connected to Jesus and letting Him live His life through us. I learned to recognize His voice as He said, “You’re full; stop eating now” or “That food will help your body; choose it instead.” My heart thrilled at the ability to say no and to choose, rather than being controlled by desire. This newfound freedom spilled over into other areas of life, and I experienced deeper intimacy with God than I had ever known before.

What strongholds are you relying on for fulfillment? Will you tell your Lord you want Him more than anything else?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anatheme.)

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The Bridge

Christian recording artist Fred Hammond sings it spot on: “He’s a bridge, so let Him take you over.”  As I listened to these lyrics, my eyes focused on a carving on the wall in my house I hadn’t noticed until that moment.

It was a faint carving of a cross that blended perfectly into the wall. Nevertheless, God allowed me to notice and focus on it. What I saw in this carving of the cross were people. Not just a few, but millions upon millions of people coming from each end of the cross to the center. I saw people coming from north, south, east, and west. I believe they were coming to the center of the cross because that’s where the heart of Jesus drew them.

Jesus said, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. The cross is our bridge that takes us over to God. Without it, we would have all been condemned to pay the price for our sins, which, unfortunately, the road of destruction leads to. But Jesus paid the price so we could confidently walk over the bridge to be with God. The gate and the road may be narrow, but the road is a smooth flowing highway with no traffic jams, and it is available for everyone to walk across. The gate is narrow because there is only one way to enter the kingdom of God and that is through Jesus Christ.

Are you walking on the bridge of the cross to the Kingdom? If Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, then rejoice because you know He is the only way, the truth, and the life. If you do not know if you are on this narrow road, then ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your life. He already died for your sins and paid your price “so let Him take you over” to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and scotsann.)

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Leave a Legacy

“Joy, I didn’t think it would happen this soon.” I heard shock and sadness in my life-long friend’s voice. As Edith held my hand, I didn’t have any words to comfort her. She had been valiantly fighting cancer for many years. In the midst of her fight, she continued to seek God—to minister to others.  

The highlight of our visit that day was when my mom and I prayed with her. Edith held our hands and prayed fervently for us and our family. We continued to pray that the Lord would either heal her or take her to her heavenly home.  

A few weeks later, Edith went to be with her Savior. At her funeral, I saw the pain on her family’s face, and I cried for them and for myself. The pastor talked about the godly legacy Edith had left. She was an adult Sunday school teacher and a mentor to so many. Though she and her husband never had children, Edith had many spiritual children. I was blessed to be one of them. 

Paul challenged his followers to encourage, pray for, and love each other. He had special instructions for Timothy, whom he loved as a son. Paul advised Timothy to persevere in faith and continue to preach the Word. He was near death at this point, and he wanted Timothy to remember and practice what he had learned.   

What legacy will you leave? Ask God to show you how to be sensitive to other’s needs. Maybe God wants you to babysit for a busy mom or pray with someone who is discouraged. Perhaps you can lead a Bible study, make a meal for a caregiver, or write to someone who is lonely. 

God has created you for a purpose. Spend time with Him, and He will reveal what His good plan is for you in this short life. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Dead Man Walking

Dead people don’t move … or do they? I’ve also heard dead people don’t tell tales. But maybe they do.

Because of my profession and upbringing, I’ve seen more than my share of dead people. My father performed numerous funerals as a pastor. When I followed in his footsteps, I did as well. The elderly lady sitting in her recliner and enjoying life when death overtook her. Or the small child who was killed because his mother wrecked while driving drunk. The ninety-nine-year-old woman who had the privilege of seeing some of the first airplanes and cars. And my own father who stopped breathing in an Atlanta hospital. None of these moved after they breathed their last. They never got up from the bed or chair. They were dead. As badly as I wanted to talk to them again, their lips never moved, and their voices remained silent.

I’m also familiar with another type of death. These dead people do walk and tell tales. I see and hear them every day. I’ve worked with them, attended church with them, and belonged to community organizations with them. I even have some of them in my family. In fact, I’m one myself. We are the walking dead … the talking dead.

Physical death and spiritual death are both realities. Physical death ends my earthly existence, but I can live for many years while spiritually dead. What kills me spiritually is my disobedience to God, and the reason I disobey is because of my sin nature. I’m born with it and unless I allow God to give me a new one, I’ll live and die with it. If I die with it, I’ll miss an eternity with God.

The good news is I don’t have to be a dead man walking. New natures are available. Natures God has breathed life into. I can be a live man walking. Alive to spiritual things. Alive to God and His plan for my life. Alive to the abundance He offers. All He requires is that I ask. Jesus died physically to give me life spiritually.

Don’t walk around dead in your sins when you can enjoy the freedom of forgiveness.

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Just Do It!

I don’t feel like running today. My legs hurt, my arms hurt, and my mind hurts. These are excuses that can keep me in bed and from my workout. I like the benefits I get out of running. So I ask myself, Should I run? My flesh says no, but my spirit says yes.

There are healthy benefits I get from running. I get stronger. Strong enough to play, fit in my pre-pregnant pants, and just be plain healthy. After pondering the benefits, I motivated myself and quoted Nike, “Just Do It!”

Some days you don’t feel like praying, worshiping, or reading your Bible, but there are benefits you receive from having an everyday relationship with God. The Psalms remind us to praise the Lord, never forgetting His benefits.

There are days when the trials in our life get to us, but when we praise the Lord, we put our problems aside and concentrate on worshiping Him. In return, this allows us to receive the benefits of restoration and peace in our lives. Just when you start concentrating on reading His word and praising Him, you realize God has taken care of the situation. He works quietly when we notice Him and not the problem. 

Are there days you don’t feel like praying or worshiping? When the excuses try to keep you down, think of the wonderful benefits God has for you when you stay in close communication with Him. Like Nike … Just Do It.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and PercyPants.)

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Freedom Is More

I didn’t think I could catch my breath. The day our child faced judgement, we had no option but to trust God to strengthen us. He would have to do something, for my knees were weak. Our son stood before his adversaries – alone.

“Lord, give us the strength for this battle. Humble his adversaries. Fight the battle before him.” God granted him victory.

The Psalms have often been my go-to when I face difficulty. David’s laments before the Lord seemed always to say what I could never articulate. His words were like links in a chain. Links I held tight to, believing the other was attached snuggly to God Almighty Himself.

Through the centuries, God has gone to battle in countless ways. He protected his people while they struggled through bondage in Egypt. When Moses led them out, God stood firm, miraculously saving them.

Wars have come and gone and those who have died have not just been our own. Every man and woman who donned a uniform was the someone’s child. Despite the opposition, those soldiers were loved by their families. War takes the lives of the innocent. It twists truth and blinds righteousness. The throes of battle are not always military. Satan strives to wreak havoc and chaos from within, and we have maimed, broken, and killed our own. Then the snake wins. Just look at the news today.

The promise of God stands faithful. He has armed us with strength against our adversaries, but we must be girded in our spiritual armor and be ready to stand and fight.

Jesus paid a tremendous price for our salvation, and He did it without regret. Through His death – death’s battle is over. He has given us all we need. We only have to call on it.

Freedom is more than waving a flag. . .bought and paid with lives freely given in our behalf. It’s means standing shoulder-to-shoulder against the lies of the enemy and holding our ground even when the world says we are wrong.

Our child was victorious but only through the strength of God.

Freedom seems to be an oxymoron – it’s not free at all. When you see a solider, show them your gratitude for their service. Thank them for protecting you. And when you kneel to pray. . . praise God for the battle He fights in our behalf for we are armed by His strength. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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From Brokenness to Glory

I wanted to go back. To restore the days when I had purpose—when I had a title and my life mattered—where I felt the glory and approval of my Father God.

Before me loomed a mountain. Oh, it will be a short trip. Things will suddenly shift.  Life will return to its normal rhythm. I have interceded, fasted, stood against every demon in hell. Oh yes, it will be a short trip … has to be. Just let me teach again. To fill this void and pain in my heart. To feel worth and value again. To see lives touched once more.

But every door slammed in my face. My heart was bloodied in seeking my own way of restoration to a former glory. Father was taking me where I didn’t want to go so He could bring me to a place of His design—a place of greater glory. My lovely Shepherd was leading me the through the valley of the shadow in preparation for a sparkling new land—a land of milk and honey. He was guiding me to a land where I would eat food without scarcity and be blessed with a never-ceasing flow of oil.

Did I know this? No, for my feet dragged and my soul resisted every sharp turn in the road. I could have taken a shortcut, but His grace prevented such foolishness. Father knew. Father saw and many a day was spent on my face before Him. I was in a chrysalis. Father was hiding me in His quiver and creating me into a polished stone. He was making me His.

And so, beloved, do not focus on your journey though it be harsh and full of thorns. The Shepherd is leading you through the brambles and over Jordan into your promised land. He’s making you His. He’s calling your name. He sees the storm, but He’s not asleep. The shore is just around the bend. Only cling to the lover of your heart. And though the vision tarry, surely it will come to pass. Father is not restoring you to your past but bringing you forward to double honor and blessing. Be encouraged today, dearly beloved.

Our sweet Margie went home to be with the Savior she so adored earlier this month. We will miss her thought-provoking and spirit-filled devotions. Without a doubt, she is dancing around the feet of Jesus. Thank you, Margie, for years of faithful service. May your mansion be filled with joy. – The staff of Christian Devotions Ministries

(Photo courtesy of butkovicdub.)

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Oxygen Mask

Suddenly the airplane cabin loses half its air. Everyone starts to gasp, struggling to breathe. In response, the little yellow cups and bags drop down at eye level as the pilot swiftly executes a controlled dive to get the people to a lower breathable altitude.

Would anyone refuse to put on the yellow mask, and then complain they weren’t getting any oxygen? Some Christians might. We do it all the time. We ask God to change us or our circumstances. Soon the Holy Spirit starts nudging us to obey in some new area. The two are connected. The oxygen mask is offered, but we can refuse to obey the stewardess’s instructions. If we won’t put on the mask, we won’t receive any extra oxygen. Simple—yet we miss it.

The Lord promised the Israelites that if they obeyed Him, they wouldn’t suffer any Egyptian diseases. His new laws instructed the people to abstain from certain foods and observe ritual cleansing, centuries before the discovery of microscopic germs, God’s divine laws protected His chosen people from disease—as long as they obeyed.

Obeying Jesus’ call to forgive our enemies contains hidden blessings too. During WWII, Corrie ten Boom aided the Jews and ended up in a German concentration camp. After the war, God prompted this amazing Christian woman to offer healing to people brutalized by the Nazis. She discovered those who forgave their enemies healed. Those who refused to forgive, remained emotional wrecks—life-long prisoners of their trauma.

Don’t refuse the oxygen mask when you struggle. If the Holy Spirit is convicting you, then maybe it’s God’s call to new levels of obedience. You will never lose if you obey. Put on your oxygen mask and breathe deeply.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and typexnick.)

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Be Still

Thank God for mothers. After my recent C-section, my mother came to help me recover until I was feeling better.  Anyone who knows me knows I cannot stay off my feet. I always have to be doing something. Because of my constant need to move around, I was up and trying to help out with things in the house shortly after I came home from the hospital.

 “You need to be still!” my mother said.

She was right. How was I supposed to heal if I was constantly running around and not resting?

 God wants us to be still in times of need or trouble so we can hear what He has to say about our circumstances. He didn’t intend for us to be in a constant work mode to solve our own problems. Jesus died on the cross so we could rest in our salvation in Him and He could be exalted in our lives. He wants to be the One to heal our situations in a way that we never knew or could ever accomplish.

Are you resting in your circumstances? Maybe it’s time to be still and let God work it out. He knows what you are going through, and He is waiting so he can fight for you and manifest Himself in your time of need. Hear what the Lord has to say to you today. Be Still.

(Photo courtesy of pedrojperez.)

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Blessed Be the Name

The snow blew sideways and deepened as we drove the interstate back to my son’s college. Ray’s eyes were fixed on the road, as if by careful watching he could help navigate. With one hand on my cell phone, the other on the steering wheel, I called to advise someone on the other end we’d be late. The car began to fishtail. I dropped the phone as our car slammed into the side of the truck next to us. “Lord Jesus!” I cried as I took my hands off the wheel and closed my eyes.

Spinning around, the car bounced onto rough ground and rolled to a stop. We ended up in the ditch between the east and west-bound lanes of traffic, uninjured. Ray stared wide-eyed at me. I dialed 9-1-1 and reported our emergency. “I’m sorry, Buddy. Thank God you’re okay,” I murmured.

I can’t think about that day without thankfulness flooding my heart and tears filling my eyes. The strong tower of Jesus’ name is the only safe place when life spins out of control. Psalms teaches us that some people trust in the things of this earth, but our trust should be in the name of the Lord. Instead of running to call a friend or opening the refrigerator . . . call on the Lord. Rather than waiting until our spouse gets home . . . talk to God—now.

When you face a difficult decision or life has taken an unexpected turn, go to God in prayer. He hears, cares, and answers. We may call on the powerful name of the Lord Jesus Christ and find refuge no matter what we face. Then sing this testimony with the congregation: “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and click.)

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No Useful Moves Detected

I love playing Solitaire on my phone, mostly.

There are times when I have a long wait and no book to read. Solitaire keeps my mind occupied and passes the time. And I don’t have to look awkwardly around the waiting room, wondering what germs are being spread while my tires get rotated or my doctor finishes up with other patients. When I get stuck and can’t find a move, there’s a Hint button to lead the way. Then I can keep playing, building those piles of suits until I win the game. Many times, I click on the Hint button only to get the message, No Useful Moves Detected. No matter how many cards I have lined up ready to complete the game, there’s no way to win. I have to give up. And I didn’t see it coming.

In his epistle, James warns us this life doesn’t go on forever. He compares it to a vapor, like steam when you’re cooking noodles. You see it and then it evaporates before you can grab it or save it in a container. He’s telling us this life is shorter than we think, so maybe we need to revise our life plans.

When my husband Bryan was diagnosed with cancer, we realized there were a lot of things we had planned to do “someday.” We started making a bucket list of things to do and places to go after his cancer went into remission. Unfortunately, we never saw the remission or crossed anything off his bucket list.

Now, when there’s something I’d like to do, I put it on my list and try to figure out a way to get it done. This year, not just “someday,” I’ll be visiting Branson, Missouri, and going to preseason baseball with some friends. Plus, I’m writing another book and asking a friend to dinner, not really a date, but maybe the start of a new relationship.

What has been in the back of your mind, urging you to step out and do? Is God nudging you in a direction you haven’t been before? Maybe it’s time to write your own bucket list, then see how many items you can cross off. After all, we don’t know when our vapor will evaporate.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Marco Maru.)

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Stop Picking at the Scabs

Years ago, an article I wrote was published in a widely circulated Christian magazine. In the article, I spoke of the way God had lovingly fitted together the pieces of my broken life to form a Norma more responsive to his will. I also detailed the blessings that followed. 

Soon, I began receiving phone calls and letters from people with heartbreaking problems. These were fellow travelers reaching out to someone who had also walked along the road of despair. 

One person wrote of the breakup of a relationship which she had thought would culminate in marriage.  She struggled unsuccessfully coping with her pain. In succeeding letters, she spoke of the failure to let go of her burden and allow God to share the load. I had shared Scripture and articles about the necessity of doing this, but still she was not letting go. Then I thought of a simple illustration I hoped would help her.

When I was a child with a scabby knee, I found it hard to leave the scab alone. Time and time again, I picked at the crusty growth until it began to bleed. Then once again, the healing process had to begin anew.

All too often we repeat something similar in our lives. An emotional pain leaves us with a wound that needs healing. Ever so slowly, the process of healing begins. But then we begin picking at the hurt – perhaps by thinking of what might have been or what we should have done differently. Soon tears begin flooding over the heart that has just begun to heal and the scab is torn loose from the wound.

God stands waiting to heal our pain and our aching hearts, but He can’t if we’re constantly picking at the wound. If we will keep our hands off, His love and peace will cover our wounded spirit and healing will be complete. Psalms 147 reminds us God heals the brokenhearted, and that in His love for us, He binds up the wounds.

We need only to release our burdens completely into the Great Physician’s healing hands. Quit picking at the scabs and let God do His healing.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and shebaduhkitty.)

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Dwelling in His Hand

In college, I watched my ornithology professor capture live birds by stretching a flexible net across a clearing. Birds blindly flew into the fine mesh. He gently untangled each sparrow or finch, clasped the bird firmly, jotted down some notes, and attached a leg band. After a few minutes, the professor’s hand opened and let the small captive escape.

Held immobile and trembling, it was obvious no captured bird felt safe. Yet, the sparrows and finches couldn’t possibly understand one thing: the best place to be was in the professor’s hand. His presence protected them. Foxes, snakes, and hawks—no predator dared come near.

Scripture proclaims we dwell in Jesus’ hand. We are never outside His tender care. Like the netted bird, God’s plans for us are unknown, but they don’t include skipping over life’s pain, confusion, and heartbreak.

Two years ago, my brother Chris committed suicide. For four days, I sat by his badly damaged body in the ICU. During that dark horror, Jesus held me tenderly in His hand. I arrived in Michigan, praying to “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” The Holy Spirit answered by opening my eyes. I always get lost in Detroit—I had no GPS—but easily found the hospital. Enterprise slashed their car rental rates. A friend spoke healing truth to me. “Maureen, Chris chose to do this!” My cousin—who always makes me laugh—was visiting at her daughter’s new house, twenty minutes from the hospital. The ICU staff understood they had two trauma patients to treat, not one.

After my brother died, the Lord continued to provide His loving practical help. As Christians, we don’t avoid life’s pain. Jesus doesn’t wrap His followers in saran wrap and place us on a shelf. But He knows first-hand about human suffering and darkness. Are you heartsick today? Do you feel abandoned by God? Your Savior is beside you—you dwell in His nail-scarred hand.

In our deepest despair, we aren’t alone. God is actively working, even if we don’t notice. Like the captured sparrows, Jesus untangles us from the net, tends us in our pain, and holds us tenderly in His hand. When you feel helpless and caught, remember you are safe in His palm.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and AJenyon.)

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Balance

You don’t know how important it is until it’s gone. That’s what balance is. We don’t know how important it is until it’s gone. Unfortunately, I know. I was diagnosed with bilateral brain tumors in 2012. Fortunately, they are benign, meaning non-cancerous. But they certainly aren’t benign, meaning harmless.

One of the things the tumors has affected is my balance. And because of that, I’ve discovered just how important balance is. It affects every part of my day—walking, exercising, driving, standing up, and sitting down. You name it and balance probably affects it.

Spiritual balance is just as important as physical balance. Mary and Martha were blessed with a visit from Jesus. Martha bustled around the house being a wonderful hostess while her sister sat at Jesus’s feet wanting only to be with Him. When Martha complains, Jesus makes it clear that Mary made the right choice.

This is a perfect word picture of our Christian life. Sometimes we get so busy working for God that we forget to spend time with God. Jesus makes it plain spending time with God is more important than working for Him. We should, of course, do both. And that’s where balance comes into the picture.

Is your life out of balance? Let Christ level the scales.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Order My Steps

In 1997 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My symptoms now had a name, and I could concentrate on my healing. Traditional measures were only a crutch. Years of injections, IV treatments, and pills brought some relief, but not a cure. Long term, my future looked formidable and daunting. Always, the struggle was a daily issue.

Then, menopause arrived. Hot flashes drove me to the point of insanity. Would I survive this onslaught? Could I? Was I strong enough? Ten years of this insanity was just too much. Constant prayers were uplifted that God would help me. But did I really believe He would? I struggled to overcome the adversary of remission and, perhaps, disbelief. I began to speak my healing, believing God had healed me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.

One Saturday, my daughter and I headed out the T.D. Center for a trade show, my fan strategically placed in my purse for quick retrieval. Continual use of this aid was essential for my survival. As we meandered through the center, a female hocking her wares caught my attention. Her wares, however, weren’t items, but simply information on wholeness and healing. She spoke with me in depth and then invited me to her clinic. Later, she would provide measures based on biblical principles and holistic healing. At this point, I was willing to try anything.

Weeks later my life improved and continues to improve. I decided to retrace my steps.

Step 1: I began speaking and believing I was already healed. “…by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Step 2: I accepted needed information at the T.D. Center.

Step 3: I applied what I learned and my lifestyle changed.

Step 4: Testimony: God ordered my steps and I followed His lead.

Believe. Retrace your steps to healing, and realize God ordered them.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Catch Me

One sunny afternoon, I pushed my three-year-old granddaughter Mallory on her swing. Soon tired of swinging, she hopped off the swing and scampered up the ladder to the slide.

Mallory soon discovered she had a problem: the slide was too hot from the sunshine for her to rest her bare legs against the metal so she could slide down. Compounding her dilemma, she lacked the necessary coordination to retrace her climb back down the ladder.

I walked toward the slide, thinking she would ask me to lift her off. But without warning, Mallory leaped through the air toward me. I wrapped my arms around her just as she latched onto me. She had chosen me as an escape from her perch atop the slide.

“You catched me!” Mallory shouted. “Momma Jo, I love you,” she said.

I remembered a time I made a leap of faith into God’s arms. Thirteen years earlier, I watched meningitis suck precious life from the still form of Paige, my college-age daughter. Lying curled in a fetal position in her hospital bed, my daughter moved only her eyes. She looked up at me and whispered, “Mother, this may be my time to die.”

 “Darling, it may be.” I held her limp hand in mine and leaned closer. No panic or fear registered in her words or in her fevered eyes. She shared a labored smile and slowly closed her swollen eyes. I didn’t curse God or offer Him any arguments. Nor did I attempt to bargain with Him to spare Paige’s life. Just as Mallory had felt secure in my catching her, I trusted God for His comfort and everlasting strength to catch me.

By the next day, Paige’s health had made an unbelievable change for the better, and two days later she was released from her doctor’s care. God had rescued my daughter. I breathed, “God, I love You!”

God promises to be with us always at our exact moment of need. If we accept His promises with the innocence and trust of a little child, we can know the security of the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”

Trust in Him.

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Start Nit-Picking

“Nit-picking.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, it’s the act of “paying too much attention to petty details.” I have always assumed this action to be undesirable until recently.

For awhile now, I’ve been nit-picking—for real. I’m waging a war against lice—tiny white eggs that I can barely find. White, oval nits with microscopic legs and tiny black oblong bugs that look like specks of dirt until they start scurrying across my son’s head and biting him. How could this happen? We’re too clean to get lice.

Since we’ve used the shampoo, we should all be nit-free now, right? Turns out, each louse mass-produces 100 eggs at a time. They crawl into our pillows, sheets, blankets, coats, chairs, and rugs. These little buggers play to win. If I want to get these pesky little bugs out of my house before they take over, I’ll have to root them out, one nit at a time.

After about the third week of combing and washing, I had a spiritual revelation. These little white nits hiding in my hair are like the seeds of sin—they are my shady thoughts, my hushed fantasies, my unspoken jealousies, and my private greed. These sins are so small and seemingly insignificant I can barely see them. In fact, if I catch one, I will likely assume it’s something else.

James explained our sin like this: “Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

My secret sins are no less dangerous or aggressive than my lice. Sins are born to populate. They hide from casual view, but they intend to take over my life. It will take close inspection and realistic analysis to identify the small but deadly sins in my life. Reading Scripture, praying, and listening to the Holy Spirit will guide me into an understanding of my sin and how to replace it with godly actions.

So I will inspect and analyze the evidence. I will nit-pick until it’s gone.

Will you?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Dealing with Disappointment

Dealing with disappointment? Me too!

I was diagnosed with bilateral brain tumors in 2012 and had my last treatment more than a year ago. My MRI in October showed everything was stable, and I could get on with my life. To celebrate, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe in May. And by planned, I mean putting down deposits, buying airline tickets, getting organized and prepared. And then ...

I woke up one morning and couldn’t hear—yet again. I actually could hear some sound, but everything was distorted to the point of not being able to understand what anyone was saying! To make a long story short, I’m back on treatment, and that means NO trip to Europe. Talk about being disappointed—I was and still am. My husband and I were really excited about the trip.

I probably should be more worried about my health and my hearing, but I put those in God’s hand a long time ago. He’s given me a supernatural peace about them. It was a really good deal for me. Now I’m dealing with the disappointment of our canceled trip.

I know God loves me, and that He will work all things out for the good of those who love Him. He promises that. And I believe Him. Since I believe that, I also know my disappointment is temporary. We all have disappointments in life. Each time we face one, we have a choice about how we’ll react. It would be easy to be angry, upset, and frustrated, but what good would that do?

I still have to have the treatment. Still have to deal with the side effects of the treatment. Still can’t go to Europe. The only thing I would accomplish by focusing on the negative emotions is to create more negative emotions. At the moment, I’m sad and disappointed. To pretend I’m not doesn’t seem like a healthy option either. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting stuck in the quicksand of those negative emotions. I know God loves me, and He will work this out for my good.

When you are disappointed, put your faith in the One who never changes. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Sunny Side Up

I rolled out of bed, shuffled to the kitchen, and took two eggs from the refrigerator. Determined to start my day sunny-side up, I tapped one egg on the side of the cast-iron skillet and watched its contents slip into the sizzling pan. Wow! A double yolk. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen an egg with two yolks.

As any appreciative twenty-first-century recipient of such good fortune would do, I first chronicled this rare occurrence with my camera and then googled the significance of a double yolk. Wikipedia informed me that the superstitious say a double yolk means double good luck—the recipient will get double their good expectations.

This eggspert view of life is amusing, but basing our expectations on false hope is a slippery slide into discouragement. The hard-shell reality is that regardless of our sunny disposition, at some point we’re going to end up in a frying pan full of hot grease.

I view life from the upside. I attribute a great portion of my optimism to the unrealistic portrayal of family on television in the late fifties. Although I viewed the lives of the Cleavers and the Nelsons on our small black-and-white TV, I projected my future in wide-screen living color. Of course, my life would be nothing less than perfect.

I never envisioned my future to include a child with Down Syndrome. In fact, at age twenty-seven, I’d never even heard of Down Syndrome. Nevertheless, thirty-nine years this side of our daughter’s birth, I can’t imagine our journey taking any other course. Like many others who travel this road, we are blessed to accompany a child who experiences life at a slower pace and marches to the beat of her own drummer.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve collided with a future you don’t recognize as your own and found yourself in a procession you didn’t sign up for. I pray you know Christ. I can’t imagine walking this road (or any road) without Him.

Regardless of your challenge, Christ will always lead you to victory. He waits for opportunities to reveal Himself along the way. In the meantime, your task is to keep in step and walk on the sunny side, for with Christ we always have a reason to hope. Walk on. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jfelias.)

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Your Answer

A bad decision made by my brother Billy in 1987 caused him severe brain damage. For over twenty-seven years, loved ones bathed him and cared for all his needs. We prayed for his salvation. Each time we approached him with the good news of Jesus, he belted a few choice words then turned away.

He had many trips to the emergency room and many life-threatening incidents, but the July 29th visit was different. One question changed my brother’s future. My pastor stood beside him and asked, “Billy do you know Jesus loves you?” He didn’t turn away, and his usual four-letter response wasn’t spoken. Billy listened as the pastor continued. “Billy, do you accept Jesus as your Savior?”

Billy answered, “Yes, Jesus.” He turned away with a tear in his eye.

My brother went home to be with the Lord September 4th, and I know he is in heaven with his new body. The words Jesus spoke, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life,” is how I know Billy’s past didn’t matter. All that mattered was how he answered the question, “Do you know Jesus loves you, and do you accept Jesus as your Savior?”

Are you struggling with answering the most important question of your life? Remind yourself Jesus loves you. No matter your past or how many times you’ve turned away, the only thing that counts is your answer.

Accept Jesus as your Savior.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pedrojperez.)

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Carry the Load

I lay awake in the middle of the night, worrying. The next morning, my troubles were still at the forefront of my mind.

God promises if we pray when we’re anxious then we will experience peace. So I was eager to begin my usual morning routine and get to the track for exercise and prayer.

I leapt out of bed, pulled on my T-shirt and shorts, gulped down a mug of tea, and tied the laces of my sneakers. Just before I walked out the door, I decided to check my email. A message caught my eye. The subject read: PRAYER.

While I’d tossed and turned in the darkness, a friend in England tapped heart-rending words into her computer. As a little girl, my friend’s father walked out on his family. This was the last time she had seen or spoken to him. Now, thirty years later, he had gotten in touch. With one week to live, he asked to see his daughter before he died.

My problems paled in the light of my friend’s distress. Please pray for me, she pleaded. I knew I should bring her troubles and not my own before God that morning.

Praying for others is how we share their burdens and put into practice Jesus’ teaching: to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Jesus also modeled burden-sharing for us. He stood by the woman accused of adultery instead of saying she deserved punishment. Jesus let the sinful woman cry on his feet without being disgusted by her immorality. He defended her actions while others chose to criticize. Jesus bore the crushing weight of our wrongdoing so we can be free from sin.

Listen to a grieving friend, no matter how busy your day. Share her troubles. Hug a family member instead of saying “I told you so.” Show them love. Invite a newly divorced friend for the holidays and model Jesus’ ways. What priorities do you need to change today to help carry someone’s load? 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Just Be

“Just be.” She told me to take some time for myself and “just be.”

I had known her for twenty years. She was one of the very first people I met when I moved to this area. We met at work. She was so nice to me, and she made me feel welcome ... like I mattered. Like I was important, and what I said was interesting. Five days from her fiftieth  birthday, my dearest friend passed away without warning. Her death rocked the world of all who knew her. I was in a state of shock. She was a mentor, advisor, therapist, and confidant, but most importantly, she was a dear friend who loved me.

It always seems to take something like this to make us realize how fragile the world we live in really is. I’ll do it when I have more time. Tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. None of us live in the here and now anymore. Our lives … my life, moves at breakneck speed. My sweet friend reminded me I needed to stop, breathe,  and just be. I worried about things in my life where I had no control and the lack of control made me anxious.

God makes every day special. He carefully weaves threads of joy, purpose, and excitement into each one. All He asks of me is to rejoice and be glad in it. Marcie, let the worries be mine and the joys be yours.

There's a lot in this world to worry about, but I've decided to make more of an effort to just be. I’ve decided to rejoice in what comes before me when the sun rises and to be glad. I’ve also decided to trust those worries to the One who can do something about them.

I went to the store and, on a whim, bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers. They were colorful flowers and, for some reason, they made me smile. Normally, I would have talked myself out of such a purchase. But I thought of my friend and how her life was cut way too short way too soon. Then I decided maybe she was right … we all need to just be a little more often.

When you have those very long and very sad days, remember who is in control ... and just be

Photo courtesy Morguefile.com & anitapeppers

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Promise of Nourishment

“Call 9-1-1,” my son shouted.

My brother’s feeding tube had come out. His health had been failing the past few months, and the doctors suggested Hospice Care and the reduction of his feedings. My heart tightened at the thought of withholding someone’s nourishment. As I saw the feeding tube lying disconnected, I thought God was making the decision for me. So I didn’t need to call 9-1-1. Instead, I would call Hospice and start the process. My brother’s body began jumping. He needed his seizure medicine. The feeding tube was the only source to deliver the needed medication. I calmly called 9-1-1.

While the surgeon replaced the feeding tube, a nurse stood bedside stroking my brother’s head and reassuring him. Her soft strokes spoke compassion. I shared with her the decision that hung heavy on my heart. With tear-filled eyes she responded, “I made that decision two weeks ago for my father.” Her goodbye hug revealed she knew my pain.

My brother wasn’t the only one who needed nourishment Sunday morning. I wanted to claim the promise God made to Joshua. The words God spoke to him replayed quickly in my mind, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

That promise is still God’s commitment to believers and can be claimed by each of us. I know God was there in the midst of my brother’s illness. Share your tough decisions with God and He promises His abiding presence will be with you. He
never withholds His nourishment. My brother is now dancing in heaven with his new body. 

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Lesson Learned

My wife was getting desperate. It had been two weeks since I had worked out at our club, and since I either work out there or sit around the house and mildew, I was becoming a downer who didn’t even shave. I was sleeping more and very happy to do so.

She was right, so I made myself pick up my car keys and head toward the gym. “See ya later.” As I kissed her, I heard a sigh of relief. On my fifteen-minute drive to the club, I felt life was jaded and dull. Tiring of feeling puny, I decided to thank the Lord no matter how I felt. I remembered He had told me to always rejoice and be thankful regardless of how I felt. I began filling my mind with what He had told me to do, repeating over and over, “Thank you, Lord, for my family and all You give me every day.” Even though I didn’t feel thankful at first. I praised the Lord and thanked Him. I admit I wasn’t up to rejoicing yet. Still, I started feeling better.

I began my workout. Halfway through my power walk, I felt the tension leave my muscles. But my mind refused to take a nap and began to think about that morning. Here’s what it told me (I’ve learned to just listen as it is going to tell me anyway): Christians look for relief but often don’t use the free ticket given at the new birth window that lifts above depression and boredom. Exercise relieves muscular pressures. Food satisfies many physical and emotional needs. Sexual attraction brings a sense of stimulation. Buying new items makes a person feel successful. These areas help, but a person who doesn’t know Jesus uses these things to feel better. And so do Christians, often before thankfulness and praising the Lord. My insistent mind reminded me this must be a matter of priorities and choices. 

Praise is an airplane that flies upward through the darkest clouds into the sunshine that is always waiting. Take time to review your blessings and praise God through every moment. 

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Give Me Your Heart

“Give Me thy heart, says the Father above; no gift so precious to Him as our love.” I will never forget it. It was the one hymn that, without fail, brought tears to my eyes.

It started when I was a child. Who knows why, but when this hymn would float through the sanctuary, I cried. It was my calling as a little girl. The one moment when I felt the finger of God touch my heart. I have plans for you. Give me your heart. 

In the beginning it frightened me to think God might be asking me to do His work. All I saw were missionaries from Africa, and it horrified me to think I might be asked to go so far away. . .to a place that, when I was a child, seemed so desolate and forgotten. Still, the words of the hymn haunted me: “Softly He whispers wherever thou art. Gratefully trust
Me and give Me thy heart.”

It wasn’t until I was thirty-eight years old that I really realized God would use me where I was best suited. He’d gifted me with unique talents—talents others did not possess. Things He could use through me. So sitting in the quiet of an empty sanctuary on Valentine’s Day, I plucked out the familiar tune on the piano and freely gave Him my heart.

God blesses us long before we’re a twinkle in our parents’ eyes. He’s already chosen our attributes, designed our gifts, and set His timing in motion. He knows exactly where our abilities and service will be best utilized, and His desire is to delight in us as we delight in His ways. He whispers, “Give me thine heart. . .” then He waits for our answer.

Valentine’s Day has always been special to me. I love to share a sweet card with the earthly love of my life, but more so I’m reminded of the heart I gave to Christ. The one that still cries every time I hear that hymn. The heart that loves a God so special and unique, I could never measure up.

Give Him your heart. He whispers for you to come to Him. Say yes, and you’ll never see Valentine’s Day in the same light again. 

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Refine Possible

Spencer West achieved what is impossible for most. He scaled the tallest mountain in Africa: Mt Kilimanjaro at 19,300 ft. While even elite climbers find the mountain extraordinarily difficult to climb, West had an even greater challenge. He was making the climb with no legs. He had a spinal disorder which required both legs to be amputated as a child. He climbed this mountain to raise money for a Kenyan Charity. In other words, he did the impossible for love.

When we are called by a cause greater than ourselves, there are no limits to what God can do in and through us. The greatest cause of all is the call of Christ. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her what was to come, the young girl had questions, but Gabriel told her that she needed to look beyond herself. Nothing is impossible with God. God called her to do the impossible and then empowered her through the Holy Spirit to walk it out.

If God has called you to do something, He will empower you, provide for you, plan it out for you, and guide you in splendid ways as He gets the glory for doing what man could never do on his own.

When God calls you out it may be so great it scares you away. But don’t worry. Just lean into the power that created the universe, and allow Him to redefine possible for you. 

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Lost

“We’re lost, aren’t we?” my partner Nancy asked as we looked around the New Mexico desert.

To complete our geology majors, we were participating in a required mapping course, and for the first few days our professor had escorted our class around the area, explaining how to note geologic features on a topographic map. This morning he had sent us out on our own, and the camp’s cook had dropped us off on the way to town. Unknowingly, we had selected a spot not even on our map. Inwardly I fussed; if I couldn’t even read a map, how could I ever create one? And if this wasn’t the occupation God had selected for me, why had I felt His spirit nudging me to major in geology?

“Yes. We tramped all day outside of our mapping area.”

“The sun’s going to set soon. We haven’t run across anyone out here,” she said.

Our water was almost gone. We had no food, matches, or jackets to protect us from cold, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. Oh Lord, get us out of this mess, I prayed as we trudged along a track heading east. Shadows crept from the mountains. No beam of light illuminated the correct route. No voice from heaven told us what to do. Forty-five minutes slid away. Suddenly, from behind us, tires crunched gravel. We turned and waved our arms at a white pickup traveling toward us. A Latino man stopped and rolled down his window.

“We’re lost. Please help us. We need to find the Camp Fire Girl Camp,” I said. 

He shook his head.

Speak in Spanish, the Holy Spirit whispered. I dredged up a few words from my high school days.

Necesitamos ir a la Camp Fire Girl Camp. Por favor, ayuda.” 

He frowned, probably wondering about two crazy women hiking in the middle of a desert.

Por favor,” I pleaded.

Sighing, he nodded, and we quickly jumped into the pickup. He drove us to the base of the mountains and pointed at a thin path heading north. “Va aqui. No va en las montanas.” 

No va. We won’t go into the mountains,” I replied. “Muchas gracias.”

Twenty minutes later we stumbled into camp and found our classmates enjoying a bonfire. Back in our room, Nancy crumpled on her cot and wept. I sank onto mine and thanked God for a truck out of nowhere.

God reminded Isaiah that before His people would call on Him, He would answer. He’s like that. A God of direction, allowing us to forge our way along, but keeping a watchful eye over us. And if we trust. . .if we believe. . .He will answer before the words leave our lips.

Although my desire is to follow God’s will and avoid getting lost in the messiness of life, on other occasions I have also wandered off His map. Thankfully, each time, He has sent a passage of Scripture or someone—or both—to guide me back onto the proper path.

And one day, when my young son held up a pebble and asked me what type of rock it was, I explained that it was a piece of granite, and realized  my college studies had prepared me to homeschool my kids.

Keep your eyes on Him and He will hear, guide, and answer. 

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Just a Voice

I recently attended a “Celebration of Life” service for a dear brother who passed away after a lengthy illness. Nearly 600 people filled the church for the memorial service of the former music director. Had everyone been allowed three minutes to say a few words about him, the service would have taken over thirty hours to complete.

We knew how outgoing James was, but the magnitude of his ministry unfolded the day of the service. James reached out to almost everyone he encountered. The words shared at the service about him were remarkable. James was not just a music director, he was a man who took advantage of opportunities to meet, pray, serve, and better acquaint himself with those around him. Family, friends, acquaintances, business owners, white-collar, blue-collar, retired, unemployed … all whose lives he touched, were present. I never attended a memorial service like that before. It was inspiring to witness how God gave a great calling to someone so humble.

John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for Jesus by preaching repentance, forgiveness, and salvation to the people. John, when questioned, truthfully told the leaders he was not the Messiah. He did not embellish the importance of his position or make up some fancy title. Instead, he remained humble. He referred to himself as “a voice” in the wilderness, and then he redirected the focus back to Jesus. He remained the servant and gave the glory to the one who
deserved the praise.

We all have a calling from God. It may be behind the scenes—less than noticeable—but it is of great importance to God. If you sense God is leading you to do something small like speak to someone who is alone, or to call a friend and pray with them, do it. Your actions may have a far-reaching impact. Be a servant. Take the step to action and then allow the glory to shine on God. 

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Determined Mother

What a beautiful story of a determined mother fighting for her demon-possessed daughter. We don’t know specifics about how they came to their circumstances, yet we see a mother who recognized she needed help and would stop at nothing to get it. By her persistence, her daughter’s life would be forever changed.

Her mother came with a firm conviction within her heart that she must find Jesus at all costs, no matter what people might think or say about her. There were no quiet whispers or faint pleas. She didn’t come to bargain her way for help. Read her story in Matthew 15. She cried out with a loud voice.

Even when the disciples became annoyed with her because she continued shouting out to Jesus—and they wanted Him to send her away—this mother never lost focus of why she was there. She never gave in to ridicule or doubt. She knew she was in the presence of the One who could help her and heal her daughter. Her faith dropped her to her knees, she proclaimed that faith to Jesus, and He healed her child.

Their story ends with a great blessing. O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish. Jesus did just as she had pleaded. May those same words be said of all of us, that our faith is great. Regardless of the circumstance or demons we face, my prayer is that we be like this mother. She relentlessly pursued Jesus, was confident in who He was, and was assured of His healing power.

Remember, He didn’t leave us in our demon-possessed state: our lusts, greed, anger, and self-destructive nature. He gave up everything that we might be healed and set free. Call out to Jesus in faith. He will answer your prayers. 

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In the Midst

I’ve been “in the midst” for a long time now. Let’s just take a look at this timeline:

December 2010 – My first traditional book contract.
February 2012 – My position at school eliminated, i.e. no job.
May 2012 – Diagnosed with bilateral brain tumors.
August 2012 – First Gamma Knife treatment.
December 2012 – September 2013 -- Side effects and complications (so sick).
October 2013 – Second Gamma Knife treatment.
December 2013 – NOW – Side effects and complications (sick—but not as sick as the first time).

As you can see, I really have been “in the midst” for a long time. It’s been a tough few years. This week, I had some time to reflect, and after doing so, my conclusion was this: God is so amazing. That’s right—you heard me. Amazing!

During my reflection, I had this vision of the major events in my life set out on a timeline. Suddenly, I could see God in each step as He worked the bad out for my good, just as He promises. At first glance, it may not seem as if God was keeping His promise, but let’s take a second look.

The first event on the timeline was my first traditional book contract after more than fifteen years of writing. Awesome and exciting, but I had no idea how my life would be changing or how important getting that contract would be.

Second, I lost my position as a speech pathologist. I had retired from my full-time position several years earlier and was only working part-time. I loved the school, the students, and the extra money. Chances are I wouldn’t have quit any time soon, but God knew best.

Had I still had my job, I would have tried to fulfill my obligations. In retrospect, I know I wouldn’t have been able to with the immense levels of stress. Having my school job eliminated meant I could focus on my health stress-free. God knew best.

Being able to write gave me a reason to get up every morning when I was so sick I could barely move. I don’t know how I would have managed my illness if I’d never received that first book contract. I now have seven and an eighth in the works.

Having my school job eliminated meant I could be a full-time writer. Those books would never have happened if I were still working—even part-time. God knew best. Like I said, God is good. He is so amazing. God keeps His promises. It can be so hard for us to see His hand supporting us, guiding us, and working all things out for our good as He promises while we are in the midst of our trials and tribulations.

But if, like me, you take some time to reflect back, you’ll see Him standing beside you, loving you. Trust His plan. When you love God, it all works out. 

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Word of Comfort

Exasperated with the counter-girl’s oblivion to my need for speed, I took a seat and waited as she flirted with a trucker and dilly-dallied while preparing my salad to go.

Someone standing to my right spoke. “Today is the two-year anniversary of my little girl’s death.”

Astonished, I turned to see a young woman looking down at me with eyes so deeply filled with pain I had to momentarily look away. She continued in a near monotone and said, “She drowned in the pool. Mom forgot to lock the gate.”

What do you do in a moment like that? What do you say when you don’t know what to say? All I could think to do was stand and hug this total stranger. In the awkward moment of silence that followed, I offered the perfunctory, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

The woman looked over my shoulder and out the window to the parking lot and said, “She was such a beautiful baby. Your salad is ready.”

For years after the miscarriage of my first baby, I harbored the secret fear that my miscarriage was punishment for past misconduct, and wondered if my baby, who was never baptized, was being punished too. Praise God for the truths and comfort of His Word.

All children are precious in God’s sight. He loves the infant. He loves the preborn. And there is nothing that can disqualify mothers or their babies from His divine compassion. There is no sin you can imagine that is greater than God’s love. He is a loving, gracious, compassionate God. When we humbly confess and repent of our sins, He is a God of countless second chances, faithful to forgive and cleanse us.

King David proclaimed after the death of his ill-conceived son with Bathsheba, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” Through King David’s words I am comforted, knowing that by embracing the forgiving, cleansing, life-transforming power of the crucified Lord, I too will one day “go to” and be reunited with my unborn child for all eternity.

There is healing in Christ. Take hold and heal. 

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Season of Surprise

 

Some years ago, when my wife, two children, and I were living far from our extended family, we looked forward to returning home at Christmas—to family, friends, familiar places (most of which had to do with my healthy appetite). On Christmas Eve, we were celebrating a family member’s birthday at a restaurant when I started to feel queasy. Soon after the birthday cake was served, I asked my father-in-law to drive me home so my wife and children could stay at the party. I could tell by the rumble in my gut, staying at the party would not be a pretty picture.

We climbed into the car, and there I balanced a leftover-boxed birthday cake on my lap. About halfway home, I felt certain everything I had eaten in the previous eight or nine years was determined to be uneaten. But when you’re traveling 60 mph on the highway, there’s little time to pull over. There was only one place for it to go … inside the birthday cake box. Though I can’t speak for my father-in-law, a few minutes later I felt better. I spent that Christmas Day largely unconscious in bed. My only memory of the day is of my nephew Josh’s plaintive cry from half-a-house away: “Uncle Bob threw up in the birthday cake?”

From the very beginning, a good rule of thumb for the Christmas season has been: Be ready for anything. We don’t know if Joseph and Mary anticipated a housing crisis on the first Christmas morning. We’re unsure if they’d brought along the bassinet, or if the registration process dragged like the lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. But it is fitting that the first Christmas set the stage for every Christmas since, because the Christmas season is a season of surprises. In fact, the holidays are surprising only if there are no surprises.Obviously, we all want the right kind of surprises—according to our hopes and plans. But Mary and Joseph probably had no idea how important—and beautiful—it was for the infant King to be cradled in a crude manger … just as we never know what surprises or sidetracks will lead to blessings.

Don’t try to achieve perfection during the holidays. Be open to the unexpected, and prepare a room for surprise this Christmas season. 

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A Gift of Bread

It was the third annual Christmas Breakfast. The women of Community Church were buzzing with excitement. Festive background music played. Tables were dressed with red linen, flickering golden candles, satin ribbons, beautiful ornaments, and fine China. The committee donated door prizes. Throughout the morning, a ticket number was picked. Whoever had the matching number would choose a gift from the giant basket. Oohs and ahhs came from the audience as each gift was revealed. 

Just before taking the podium, the guest speaker handed a gift bag to the hostess. With delight, the hostess announced, “The winner of this very special gift bag is ...” Martha, a committee member, popped up from her chair, smiling, and swiftly made her way to the stage. As she reached inside the bag, her countenance changed. The audience almost gasped as Martha held a loaf of bread in her hands. While the mouths of the women were still wide open, the guest speaker instructed Martha to read the card.

One loaf of bread I give to you with love, 
A reminder of the gift God gave to us from Heaven above. 
This earthly bread must be eaten fast, 
It simply was not made to last. 
Jesus said, “I am the Bread” giving life to every believer – 
One that’s sure and filled with hope, I am your redeemer. 
Partake of me and you will hunger and thirst no more, 
I will raise you on the last day to live forevermore! 

Jesus caused uproar among a crowd telling them He was the true bread from Heaven. Jesus was actually offering them something that would sustain and satisfy far beyond anything they could physically need or want. When God gave His Son Jesus to the world, He gave us light, salvation, forgiveness, healing, life, peace, fulfillment, joy, happiness, strength, hope, and comfort. 

At this Christmas season, take some time to think outside of the manger and ponder the powerful gift God gave to us in Jesus Christ our Savior. 

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I Love You

“I love you,” were the final words I had to say. 

Twice in the last six months, I have had to say goodbye to women very special to me. Both of these women were in their early nineties and had lived a long, productive life. This did not make saying goodbye any easier. In both cases I only had seconds to say my final good-bye.

There were numerous things I could have said by sharing precious memories together or telling each woman how much she meant to me. In searching for the proper words to say, none of these came. In short, three simple words came to me: “I love you.” These words summed up everything in my heart. With these three words, I felt nothing was left unsaid. I was thankful for the opportunity to say good-bye, and the reassurance of one day seeing these ladies again. 

God’s love is fully shown through the gift of His son. The work God sent Him into the earthly realm to complete was difficult. His life was not easy, yet Jesus changed the world. God’s gift to us came down to three words: “I love you.” With those words to the world, God left nothing unsaid. He showed it through the birth and death of His Son. I sing a song which sums this up beautifully. In the chorus it says, “I love you, I love you, that’s what Calvary said. I love you, I love you, written in red.” 

From the humility of the stable to the cruelty of the cross, this Child did nothing but love us. He didn’t have to say the words. His actions proved it all. 

Who in your life needs to know about the Christ child and His love? Don’t leave anything unsaid.

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Where Is the Merry In Christmas

Rehab center, jail, and illness greet my waking mind. I throw off the covers, put my feet on the floor, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. I trudge into the living room where a Christmas tree, gifts, and stockings meet my eyes. I can’t wrap my mind around the extremes of Merry Christmas and the despondency I feel in my heart. 

An epidemic of anxiety, fear, and grief has spread through my family. My litany of sorrows is mind-numbing – my daughter in rehab, my eight-year-old granddaughter wondering why Mommy won’t be home for Christmas, my brother in jail, my sister’s brush with death from an unknown illness that lingers still. Each of these maladies alone could paralyze a family, and each of these situations is so foreign that my family never dreamed of experiencing any of them. Where is the hope, the peace, and the joy of the season? 

I pour a cup of coffee, sit down on the couch, and my eyes lock on the Advent wreath adorning my coffee table. The words of the prophet Isaiah, later spoken by Jesus, come to mind, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free… I gaze at the Advent candles representing hope, love, peace and joy, and feel Christ’s peace gently infuse my spirit. 

I know Who the Hope is. I know He is Love. I’ve experienced His Peace. When I focus on Him instead of my circumstances, I feel the constant joy He gives me, even in difficult circumstances. I’ve found the Merry in Christmas, even this year. The Merry in Christmas is Christ. I hope you have Christ in your heart this season – no matter how difficult your life circumstances may be. 

Father in Heaven, I pray for my family and for all families who have heavy hearts this Christmas. I pray that You will comfort us and grace us with your peace. Thank You for the gift of Your Son. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

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Also Known As

“There is going to be a twenty-five-year class reunion,” Karen said glancing at Margo. 

“I definitely want to go!” Margo beamed with excitement.

It was rare to see a former classmate around town. Many of them had passed away over the years. Margo always tried to say something positive and encouraging when she did see one. But Margo had not always felt this way about her former classmates. Fifteen years ago she received news of the ten-year class reunion. She had just moved out of her parents’ home and into her very first apartment. Upon opening her invitation, mixed emotions flooded her mind. For one brief moment she was interested, but the next moment clouds of anxiety shadowed her. 

She recalled the rejection she had often felt during those four years of school . . . being excluded from the mainstream. Margo always felt others viewed her as a loser. Like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon, Margo longed to break free from the stigma that confined her. Instead, she opted out of the class reunion festivities that year. 

In Simon’s time, leprosy was a very serious skin disease. People believed the affliction was a direct punishment from God. Lepers were isolated from the community and were required to live outside the camp or city gates. Although Jesus healed Simon of Bethany, he was still referred to as the leper. This did not stop Simon from showing hospitality in his home to Jesus and others. People may have a tendency to associate a person with their past. Jesus values and sees us for who we are and what we will be. When we encounter Jesus and experience His love, we cannot be the same. 

As Margo studied the Word of God, she found hope and her purpose in the Lord who loved her and demonstrated His presence in her life. Her identity was no longer found in how she felt. Thank God for giving us restoration, worth, and purpose. 

Do you know someone who is struggling with isolation? Pray for them and ask God if there is anything specific you can do for them. 

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Restoration

I doubled over in pain while loading the dishwasher. My breathing grew shallow as the discomfort in my shoulders and chest worsened. I crawled upstairs to bed. The next day agony nearly immobilized me, and my husband drove me to the emergency room. 

All of the examinations, tests, and x-rays unnerved me. Trembling from head to toe, I waited in a wheelchair for results. My husband stroked my quivering hand. What is wrong with me? I wondered.

The answer came when my doctor entered the waiting room. “Mrs. Crawford, there are clots in your lungs. We need to hospitalize you for about ten days.” 

I stared at my husband as tears blurred my vision and trekked down my cheeks. His soothing words of comfort got lost within my jumbled thoughts. Fear of the unknown tied my stomach in knots while the facts made me mad. Hospitals were for sick people and I dreaded becoming one of them. 

I certainly didn’t have ten days to spare. Plans for my daughter’s birthday party were already underway, and the invitations sent out. I didn’t want to disappoint her. Now I had no choice in the matter. Within an hour, I stared at the whitewashed walls of my hospital room and cried out to God. 

Two days later, the phone rang. One of my husband’s coworkers called to offer support and speak words from Scripture. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord. God’s peace began to saturate my anxious thoughts and thankful words poured from my lips. A day later, an older woman from church called and shared the exact same Bible verse with me. Immediately, I knew God’s hand protected me, and I gave Him praise. 

Fear has the potential to make you doubt God’s power. You can miss His favor when you focus on fear. Put aside those menacing worries. Glorify God with gladness and prepare to receive your Healer’s blessings. 

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An Adventure in Prayer

The progression of my son's tummy ache sent us to our doctor, and quickly thereafter, to the hospital. This was a new experience for me. I had to face a big problem without my husband's wisdom. He was out of town, and I always leaned on him for guidance. He seemed like the rock in our family. 

Scotty was prepared for surgery, and I watched teary-eyed as he was rolled down the hallway. Though the waiting room was comforting, it was the magazine rack that looked most interesting. 
 
A booklet caught my attention, Adventures in Prayer. That's what I needed, but in reality it was a lovely lady on the cover who looked interesting. I learned she was Catherine Marshall, the author of many books about prayer and growing in the fullness of the Christian life. The very first story helped me to see that I needed more in my life. Mrs. Marshall wrote about her conversations with a living Lord. I had heard that name when I joined the church as a child, attended a Christian college, and now as a minister's wife. 
 
As I read about her experiences, I realized I had never spoken to Jesus the way Mrs. Marshall suggested. To think I could talk to Him about anything was an exciting revelation. I felt as if I were in a spiritual daze. I had no relationship with a living God. Jesus Christ was my Savior, but not the Lord of my life. My prayers were read from books, and the Bible was only a textbook. The man named Jesus was a glorious, but historical, truth of the years He walked the earth. 
 
From deep within my searching heart I quietly told God about my burden. “I do not know you. Please help me. Amen."

I now believe those simple words were the most eloquent I had ever prayed. Jesus took time to teach the people to pray. But in doing so, He understood it would take time for them to understand and learn. It would take time for them to grow in a relationship with Him. Just like for me, time and practice taught me much. 
 
Scotty’s surgery was a success and the doctor’s report assured us he’d have a full recovery and freedom from pain. God's report, for me, was that I was on my way to freedom from just a form of religion. My new and exciting relationship began to grow as I said, "Lord, teach me to pray.”

Start your relationship with Him right now. Pray. He is ready to listen. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

(For more devotions, visit www.christiaindevotions.us.)



Let Go and Let God

My dear friend’s daughter had gone through rough times with her health. So when she discovered she was pregnant, everyone celebrated.

After nine months of eager anticipation, the blessed event occurred. I was shocked when my friend tearfully told me the baby had Downs Syndrome. Needless to say, she was devastated. Her daughter cried all night, refusing to see the baby, and her son-in-law threatened to sue the doctors for not discovering this “defect” sooner through routine testing. If they had known, then they could have “taken measures.” No way could they support a baby who would never reach full potential. Not after all they’d been through.

However, the baby was here so the only recourse was to put her up for adoption. Family members debated whether they should care for the child, but no one made a firm commitment. The devastated young couple took the baby home, informing the hospital that the subject was far from closed. But God does work in mysterious ways.

After less than a month, little Madison solved the dilemma. Her bright blue eyes, filled with wonder and delight whenever a relative picked her up or sang to her, spoke truths the young couple hadn’t understood. Now, four years later, the mother and father are head-over-heels in love with their daughter and exclaim, “Our Maddy is truly a gift from God.” Joyful, smart, and loving, the child brightens any room she is in.

Yes, God is compassionate. We mortals keep forgetting that He knows exactly what He’s doing.  After all, things work out for the good. Right?

It is scary to let go and let God. But He really does know what is going on. He really does have our best interests at heart. I am convinced that if this fragile family had known beforehand their baby would be “challenged,” they would have made a most grievous decision. Because they didn’t know and were not able to take “necessary precautions,” they have a delightful little girl who not only has won their hearts, but just possibly has saved their souls.

Our Father is gracious and righteous in His ways. He knows far in advance of our short-sightedness what is best. And it is through His compassion we find that way.

Trust Him. Let go and let God. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

(For more devotions, visit www.christiandevotions.us.)



Voice Lessons

I couldn’t sign the consent forms. Even after three ultrasounds confirmed a medical problem, and after I committed my will to God, my hand couldn’t write my signature. My mind drifted back to weeks before, when three benign growths were discovered during a routine exam. As I discussed all the options with my doctor, the subject of surgery came up. “You know your body,” he told me. 

I sure did. And I knew my body didn’t want to go near his scalpel. Surgery scared me. What would recovery be like? Would there be a lot of pain? But I had to admit that waiting would only make things worse and those growths would not magically disappear. Deciding they would be better out of my body than in, I returned to the doctor’s office days later and, in faith, signed my consent. 

I read God’s promises in the Bible, and peace flooded me—but not for long. When they heard my decision, well-meaning friends spun their stories of surgeries past, and their words unnerved me. “I wasn’t at all prepared for what came after,” one told me. “I was depressed for weeks.” Another: “My doctor said you should never have this kind of surgery.” 

This wasn’t an operation anymore, I concluded, but a slow march to the death camps. Through this experience, I discovered a problem most of us have—with my hearing. We often listen to the wrong voice when we’re trying to make decisions. In our quiet times we hear Peace, be still … I am with you always … Let not your heart be troubled—the voice of the Shepherd. He knows just what His sheep need: hope and assurance, not doom and despair. 

When Jesus lived on earth, demons fled, storms ceased, and the dead came back to life because they recognized His voice. Sheep have a tougher time. We get distracted by what others say and wander off to pastures of panic. 

If you find yourself in such a place, train yourself to listen closely. The Shepherd’s voice will redirect you to peaceful paths. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

(For more devotions, visit www.christiandevotions.us.)



Looking Beyond What You See

Our hearts sank as the doctor approached us with a perplexed look in his eyes. Suddenly there was the sound of a mighty marching band’s percussion section which turned out to be the beating of our hearts. “I am sorry, but your daughter has contracted a rare infection that we are having a hard time identifying.”

In the hospital bed lay our limp and lethargic six-year-old daughter with a fever of 105 degrees. Within forty-eight hours we were told she might lose the ability to walk if the infection continued to spread.

Each passing hour seemed like an eternity as we awaited the results of the next set of spinal taps and blood tests. Our family was experiencing the most debilitating anxiety we had ever collectively experienced. For six days we watched and prayed. What we saw with our natural eyes was much different than what we were willing to accept in our hearts. It was extremely difficult to see beyond the helpless face of our daughter. But our faith demanded that we do just that.

I couldn’t help but think this situation must certainly be an optical illusion. Surely my child was not ill to the point of losing the ability to walk. There were many times my mind entertained thoughts of defeat. Then I heard the Lord whisper to my heart, “Change your angle. What you see is not actually the way things are. Reposition yourself so that you can see this clearly.”

It was at that moment I realized what I was attempting to label as “faith” was battered with negativity. I made the conscious choice to change my view. No longer did I see us as victims traveling the road of despair. I saw my daughter as full of energy and life again as my heart began to fill with thanksgiving.

“Father, thank you that you have found us worthy to navigate this turmoil,” I cried. After a six-day stay in the hospital our daughter was completely healed. Her pediatricians were astounded.

The finish line of that faith marathon was crossed. Triumphant faith results in spiritual growth when we successfully endure our testing. God’s primary objective for His children is that we endure this life exemplifying great faith. Faith keeps us in expectation of things we believe in our hearts that we may clearly see their manifestation.

When you find yourself in grueling situations, repositioning may be the key to clarity. A proper perspective is the correct combination code to unlock the vault of true reality. Look with a heart overflowing with faith. Believe in God and His ability to deliver you again. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

( For more devotions visit us at www.christiandevotions.us )



Just in Case

The one-hour car journey turned into one memorable event in an ambulance. It was Mother’s Day and we’d looked forward to our family’s get together.

My husband and I were hit by a pickup truck that lost it’s traction on a snowy highway, spun out of control, slammed into us, and sent us plummeting thirty feet down a mountain. Our vehicle came to an abrupt halt on a dirt road. My pain and labored breathing told me something was wrong. 

“You were fortunate,” the first responders said. “That telephone pole kept you from rolling over and over. And, so it did. A perfectly placed (providential?) telephone pole shifted our vehicle enough that as we went off the edge, instead of rolling over and over, we traveled nose-down, bouncing over the boulders. 

“This would have been a much different story if you had rolled.” The firemen freed us from the vehicle. Their reassurance was encouraging, allowing me to try and focus on something other than the pain. Nicole, the lead EMT, started a line in my arm for fluids. 

“Why are you placing a second line in my hand.” I asked. 

“That’s just in case.” 

“Just in case what?” 

“Just in case you have a problem.” 

I’ve had lots of those just-in-case-moments and didn’t recognize them as “self” trying to protect me. It is good to make plans, but not without first having extended times of intimacy with Jesus. We make plans for our financial security, futures for our children, long-term care for elderly parents, and vacations, but we forget to ask God what His plans are or what He would like us to do with our plans. Idolatry takes place ... subtly. 

Ezra had the opportunity to accept the king’s escort “just in case,” but he was ashamed to since he had already declared to the king, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him …” 

Placing everything before Him in prayer becomes the inner connection with the Holy Spirit. It releases the inner peace that comes from relying on Him. All too often we allow the cares of the world to become our main focus instead of giving them back to God. Do you make plans “just in case,” or is your “just in case” Jesus? 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Stand in His Strength

The night before my grandfather’s funeral, my grandmother told me about his final moments. Pa-Pa had been very sick for several days and went to the hospital. “His vital signs are rapidly dropping,” the doctor told my grandmother and aunt. 

Her legs caved from the news. “God, please help me,” Mom-ee prayed. My grandfather was weak and couldn’t talk, but my aunt patted his head and continued to repeat, “Daddy, we love you.” His time was near and the nurse encouraged my grandmother to offer him permission to pass. 

“Marion, I have loved you for fifty-eight years. Now you are about to go to heaven to see Jesus. You have talked about heaven many times. Now you are going, and then I’m coming. So you go on.” 

Pa-Pa moved his throat as if to say something. He closed his eyes and was immediately in heaven. My grandmother shared this story without shedding a tear. Proud of herself for having the strength to stand upright and speak clearly to her husband in his last moments, she knew God was her helper. 

When you face challenging moments, God is present. Your hurdle may be a difficult exam at school or a financial obstacle, but God promises His presence in every situation – even the ones that cause fear and stress. 

Ask Him daily for the strength to face your obstacles head-on. Then move forward, standing in His strength one moment at a time. God will strengthen you and help you as you trust Him.

Prayer: God, you are our helper, even when life is difficult. Strengthen us to face every new challenge today. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

( For more devotions visit us at www.christiandevotions.us )



Standing Firm Against Pride

“I can’t believe I did it again.” The middle-aged, blonde-haired woman shared her story of relapsing from alcohol just three days short of nine years of sobriety. Her hands trembled and her voice shook. 

It took courage to stand before others and share her failure, yet this woman did. And when she brushed aside pride for humility, room opened for healing. 

When I find myself taking matters into my own hands, it’s a sure sign of self-sufficiency and thinking I know better than God. My job as a Christian is to lay my concerns at the cross with thanksgiving and praise instead of the delusional thinking that I can manage the world. When I swallow my pride, repent, and submit to His promises, I am amazed at the blessings He places before me. I notice that situations turn out far better than expected, apart from my control. 

It’s easy to come before the Lord when our requests are many and our victories are few, but we often neglect to delight in Him when life is good. Though we all have days where time is short, we must be aware, or rather beware, that consistent time away from God in the form of business, in mind, or in action, may be a sign of pride. And pride comes before the fall. 

Each day is a chance to grow closer or farther away from God. Neutrality or stagnation is a detriment in any relationship but this can be overcome by standing firm. Standing firm is the most productive action in a Christian’s life when we repent, pray, and humble 
ourselves before the Lord daily, regardless of our circumstances. It doesn’t matter how many years of sobriety, weight lost, or habits broken, we all have one day at a time to praise and thank God, and to humble ourselves before the Almighty One. 

Enjoy moments of refreshing from the Lord and remember to always stand firm. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Tracks of My Tears

Mysterious marks are sprinkled throughout the pages of my Bible. Smooth circles that fan into patterns much like rays of sunshine radiating from the sun. What made these permanent imprints on the well-worn pages?

Kneeling, I lean forward, hovering over the exquisite words of Psalm 18. Tears spill over as watermarks on paper and then disappear. The perfectly symmetrical circles pucker, making patterns that radiate outward. My tears leave a lasting impression on the pages where they have long since evaporated.

When we cry for help, God hears from his Holy temple. Our prayers are mysteriously transported to His receptive ear, leaving a lasting impression long after they are uttered. I am thankful every time this wave of truth washes over my parched soul. Though we cannot see His face, we have the comforting assurance He hears the cry of our hearts.

Spend some time today calling to the One who hears and answers prayer.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



The Renewing of my Mind

"You’re not good enough."

His voice entered my mind like a sledgehammer.  Instead of challenging the words, I accepted them. They had taken a permanent residence in my thinking. I knew of nothing different, and dwelled in the fiction. I hated his lies and hated myself, but day after day, year after year, the cycle continued.

I longed for more in this one life of mine. I desired peace and hope . . . desired to be alive, to breathe in the air of harmony, and to know that good enough was obtainable. I craved to be whole and complete in Christ. So I prayed for the renewal of my mind, which resulted in a mind-blowing discovery.

God created me to be myself.

The words sounded simple and as I reflected on my epiphany,  freedom swam through my veins. Why was I fighting the obvious?

The answer delivered a simple message. My struggles were a sad and frail attempt to conform myself to the pattern of this world. And I failed. I never amounted to the standards and rules set for me. My standards dictated a worldly and fleeting viewpoint. My only hope existed in a complete mind renewal.

The first step in the renewal of my mind seemed easy. Accepting the problem with my thinking and acknowledging my need for help started the process. The changing of years and decades of negative thoughts and behaviors did not happen over night. A daily process of shifting through the negative and choosing to believe the positive chiseled through my mind’s layers piece by piece. Catching negative comments in my butterfly net to dissect their origin taught me to embody reality instead of lies.

Paul encouraged the Romans to stand firm in Christ and not conform to the world around them, but to transform spiritually and internally by renewing their minds and taking hold of the Father.

My husband and close friends held me accountable in my quest of discovery. Who was I and who had God created me to be? My days of listening to the world or taking advice from negative influences became less and less. Instead, I chose to listen to my inner self and trust in the sovereignty of God.

The peace and acceptance that had once felt unobtainable now rested within my grasp. I committed to living life’s fullest potential. I committed to being satisfied. I committed to finding happiness.

I became who God created me to be. Myself. Choose God and see what He has created you to be.

 

(Photo courtesy of www.beckyturner.com)

 



Choose Wisely

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Philippians 4:8 NIV

We’re all doomed. Turn on the radio or TV. Pick up a magazine or newspaper and I guarantee you will hear or read the latest report of something else that’s bad for us. Sugar promotes tooth decay leading to obesity, but artificial sweeteners can potentially cause cancer and trigger Alzheimer’s disease. There’s the debate between regular and decaffeinated coffee. Too much caffeine can cause irritability, insomnia, and stomach acidity. Decaf can be harmful because of chemical solvents used in the decaffeinating process. It can raise LDL cholesterol levels and may irritate rheumatoid arthritis. And don’t even get me started on the margarine vs. butter vs. buttery spreads controversy.

How is anyone supposed to know what the best things are to put in our bodies? We have to be so careful with our choices just to make sure we are not harming our own health and that of our family. Shopping has become an exercise of wisdom and discernment.

The same concept applies to what we expose to our minds — television, books, and conversations. The average television program or movie can be laced with all sorts of unhealthy additives. Sex, foul language, abusive behaviors, and the glamorization of drugs and alcohol are tossed in like seasoning on a pot roast. A little sex scene here, a few cusswords there, added to make the viewing experience a bit more savory. But is absorbing all of these additives a healthy choice for the mind and soul?

It’s great to enjoy a chat with friends and family, but when the conversation turns to gossip or making jokes at the expense of others, it’s not beneficial or healthy.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he spelled out clearly what they should focus on. Noble things, pure things, admirable things. With these things, they were to fill their minds.

We need to be careful with what we put in our bodies. We also need to choose wisely when it comes to what we put in our minds because those things become a part of who we are. Be an informed consumer. Make wise choices when you go to the grocery store, by all means, but be just as concerned about what you are feeding the mind and soul. After all, our body is a temple.



Wrestling With Father

When my children were young, wrestling with Daddy was a favorite pastime. I started it when they were quite little, but as they grew older they would initiate the tussle. Laughing, red-faced, and sweaty little children, intent on besting Daddy.

I held back, of course, using just enough strength to make it interesting. I didn’t make it impossible for them; it was winnable, but I made them work for it. When a child was more shy or docile, preferring to withdraw and pout rather than strive for their objective, I pulled them back in, persisting until the child responded, exerted the effort, and achieved their goal. They had a grand time, but it also built character and strengthened determination.

Jacob respected the God of his fathers, but his character was weak and flawed. God came to him at his time of crisis. Alone in the night with Jacob, God took the form of a man and began to wrestle with him. Jacob must have been terrified, but probably soon realized he was wrestling with God, and that the Lord didn’t intend to harm him. His fear subsided and his resolve grew. Even when the Lord touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, giving him a painful and disabling injury, Jacob refused to quit and wrestled on. The Lord said, Let me go, for the day breaketh, but Jacob replied, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

Some say Jacob’s determination seemed audacious, but God didn’t think so. He wanted to bless Jacob, but He waited until Jacob’s desire for more of His blessing grew so strong that he felt he could not live without it—that he must have it or die. It was then God changed his name to Israel—“he who prevails with God”— and He blessed him.

When you desire more of God’s blessing and power on your life than ever before—and if you are serious—God will grant it. Know there will be a struggle, and it may cost you something. It cost Jacob; for the rest of his life he walked with a limp, a reminder of that night. But God desires for you to have it. He is only waiting for you to decide you’ll settle for nothing less in this world than more of Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and jade.)