A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Heart

Where your heart is, there is where your treasure lays. Our hearts guide our emotion and decisions. Unless God is the center of the heart, things are askew. Allowing the Spirit into the matters of the heart promises the faithfulness of Jesus in our lives.

Prince of Peace

Among other beautiful names the prophets gave Jesus was Prince of Peace.

Throughout the Bible, the words perfect and perfection are used to refer to God and Jesus Christ: God is perfect, His work is perfect, His way is perfect, and God’s law is perfect. Living in a world of imperfection, why wouldn’t we trust in a God of perfection?

After Jesus was crucified and before He ascended into heaven, He promised to leave the people a peace that surpassed all understanding. Further in the Scripture, Isaiah says God will keep us in perfect peace if we trust Him and if our mind stays on Him.

Some call the Bible God’s rule book. If so, we can be assured the things He sets out in His Word are for our good. Scripture says God will give us peace if we believe in Him and obey Him.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peace as “a quiet and calm state of mind; harmony in personal relations; freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions; a state of tranquility or quiet.” The dictionary gives the following words as synonyms and ones related to peace: calmness, heartsease, peacefulness, placidity, sereneness, serenity, content, contentment, ease, comfort, consolation, relief, solace, quietude, and repose.

My favorite is heartsease—peace of mind. We use the term heartbroken and say our heart is heavy and troubled. To have burdens lifted from our heart and gain peace of mind is no small miracle. Peace can be ours if we trust in God.

This season, when we commemorate Jesus’ birth, is an appropriate time to affirm or reaffirm our trust in God and claim His perfect peace.

Thank God for the perfect peace that comes from trusting in Him.

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Word for the Year

Several years ago, a good friend introduced me to the concept of choosing a “word for the year”—a word to live by. Sometimes it is a goal, a challenge, or even a one word mantra.

The idea sounded great to me. I prayed and asked God for my word for the year, and I clearly heard him say, “jump.” That’s a fun first word. Since I am a producer, I am constantly planning, and spontaneous is an ugly word to me. I interpreted jump to be the antithesis of planning. I vowed to say yes to as many offers as I was extended that year, to experience things I had never experienced, to jump at opportunities. What followed was one of the most memorable years of my life.

The next year, I heard the word risk and fervently prayed God would change it to peace. He did not, and it was one of my most challenging years professionally and personally. Being the good Father He is, reward followed on year three. In my year of reward, I found a church home after many years of searching, as well as many other blessings.

Year four brought the word fly. I was confused as to the meaning of this and prayed for confirmation that fly was my word for the year. As I opened my eyes after the prayer, a bird flew by the window. Coincidence I thought. I continued to pray for weeks, always hearing the same word. Then a couple days into the new year, I stood in line at a craft store, and when I looked down at the counter, a little stone with the word fly on it stared back at me. I settled that fly was my word. It took almost the entire year to decipher the code, but, in the end, I realized that was a year where God brought people by my side who lifted me up and helped carry my burdens.

In each year since, some words came clearly and others more difficult, but God has always supplied a word for me, and the word has always been right.

In the next weeks, ask God for your word for the year, and watch something truly beautiful unfold.

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Exhausted, But Still in Pursuit

I’m exhausted. Or, as we say in the South, worn slap out.

When life hurtles along just outside the parameters of our capacity, we can feel that way. When we try our best to prioritize life events, create an orderly schedule, and strategically organize our days—life can still be too much.

Trying to fit Christian service or ministry opportunities around full-time employment, household responsibilities, weekend chores, and expected family and social interactions can be overwhelming. Things start to slip or we become uncharacteristically cranky, and then guilt sets in as we internalize how we mismanaged our time or do not have time to serve God. Yet, we persist, wearily trying to juggle everything, hoping to find relief soon.

Gideon knows exactly how we feel. After God reduced his army from 32,000 to 300, Gideon faced the formidable task of battling an enemy numbering 125,000. Obviously, fighting with the initial army would have made things much easier—and certainly less stressful for each warrior. Yet the entire burden fell to the remaining 300.

God orchestrated the battle to deliver His promised victory. However, after an overnight raid with pitchers and torches, along with chasing the enemy from the primary battlefield just south of Nazareth all the way to the Jordan River, Gideon and his men were exhausted. And when they stopped for food, they were refused—twice. But they continued and eventually eliminated the enemy. Exhausted, but still in pursuit. Worn out, but not giving up.

When life becomes too hectic, here’s some reminders:

  • The overall battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47).
  • Don’t give up. You will reap in due time (Galatians 6:9).
  • Be still and watch how God sovereignly orchestrates His victory (2 Chronicles 20:17).
  • Don’t run ahead or lag behind—simply follow and wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14).
  • Take the necessary time to rest (Mark 6:31).
  • Rejoice always and pray unceasingly (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Remember, your service is for God, not for men (Romans 12:1).

This life can be tiring, nerve wracking, and frustrating. Though exhausted, stick to the fight and continue the pursuit. God’s high calling and ultimate approval await: “Well done, faithful servant. Enter into My rest.”

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Yesterday

Just yesterday, they were in the land of the living, but someone took them all away.

As the years pass and the end of our journey draws near, we recall those dreams of yesterday. If we could capture them, we would keep them forever.

We knew many people who walked this earth once, and it seems like yesterday they were here with us. Now, they’re gone—the great and the small, the kings and the poorest of people.  

Life is like a puff of smoke or a mist that vanishes quickly. We wish we could stop time, but it’s not possible, no matter how hard we try. I wish I could tell you about yesterday, but you probably wouldn’t listen. We live like we will be forever in this place, but we will cast a glance at our life and grasp it ever tightly as it slips away.

Then a day we thought was still far away comes. Someone comes for us too. And we will only be remembered until yesterday is gone—when even those with memories of us are taken away too.

God cries for us to hear His voice … to remember the path He has shown us. He wants us to seek the narrow gate and not rebel against Him. He wants to show us what is true. We don’t really pass away, but are in a moment taken away.

The day my eyes grow dim and my breathing ends, be assured that Someone came and took me away. It was the King of Kings who left His throne to suffer and die in my place, and it seems like just yesterday that He said He would come back for me.

Are you ready for God to come and take you away?

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Shark Sheets

November is National Adoption Month, and many churches celebrate Orphan Sunday. Orphan Sunday or Stand Sunday is a day to focus on foster care and adoption throughout the world.

This month has become even more important to me since adopting my son from foster care a little over three years ago. Since becoming his father, I have learned more about how my heavenly Father loves me than I ever understood before.

We who accept Jesus are all adopted sons and daughters. It is through Jesus that we become children of God.

God will go to the greatest lengths to make you His child. He is a Rescuer. He will fight the Devil for your very soul, not because of what you can do, what you look like, or how much money you have, but because you are His.

I had to fight for my son too. When I applied to be his dad, I was rejected. Boone’s last two placements before me were single men, and both adoption plans failed. My son’s social workers rejected me because they didn’t want this to happen a third time. But in my heart I knew he was mine.

I asked my social worker if I could write a letter pleading my case. Though she had never heard of that being done before, she allowed it and sent the letter by email. In the email, I explained my plans for this child’s future and how I would not allow him to grow up believing all the ugly things that had been said about him by the world. I ended with the line, “I already have his shark sheets waiting.” His profile had listed how much he loved sharks.

I was called in for an interview the next day and told, “No one has fought for this child his entire life, and you are fighting for him without even meeting him.” He arrived in our home two days later and is forever my son.

You belong to God, and He will do anything for you. Lift your eyes to Him. He already has your shark sheets waiting.

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The Gathering

The annual gathering happened two days before Thanksgiving.

Each year, the churches in the small town where I pastored gathered for a community Thanksgiving service. Different churches hosted the event, and pastors rotated preaching. A time of fellowship and food followed. But then we went home, often not seeing one another again until we had our annual community Easter celebration.

In spite of the brevity of the event—and the fact that we wouldn’t see one another for months—I eagerly awaited this gathering each year. Thanksgiving tops the list of my favorite holidays, and spending a few moments of it with people from different races, nationalities, and social levels makes it more enjoyable.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. I don’t know in what season of the year Paul wrote this command, but he knew nothing about a Thanksgiving holiday. He didn’t need one. He had learned contentment … thankfulness … in all circumstances. And God’s will is for every believer to realize the same.

When I experience these community events at Thanksgiving and Easter, I imagine they mirror heaven. A place where race, nationality, wealth, mistakes, emotional states, and age will no longer separate God’s people. A day when the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., will finally come true: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

But the gathering is about more than the mixture and the breaking down of barriers. The lives of all gathered are peppered by a myriad of conditions. Regardless, we lift our voices to the God who controls our circumstances and to the One whom we believe involves Himself in all of our situations. Our voices blend as we praise Him through song. They sync as we say “Amen” to the truths heard from His Word.

The Thanksgiving season gives us the opportunity to remember God’s plan is always best—regardless of the path we must follow to realize it. God doesn’t expect us to be happy about tragedy and heartache, but we can have contentment in trying situations when we remember He’s in control, has our best interests at heart, and controls the intensity and time of our travels.

Celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering with others and thanking God collectively.

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Unbound

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

When reading these verses, some may flash to an old-time monster movie where the mummy lunges forward with their arms held out and their gait awkward because of the wrappings.

Like a mummy, we often stumble after God has set us free—from eternal death, from sin, from old habits, from mistakes. But sometimes we let the trappings of the old still wrap around us when we have been made new.

Our second, third, or sixtieth chance fails because we don’t take off the bindings of our sin. We feel fresh in our hearts, our eyes are bright, and we trod off like a toddler just learning to walk.

Jesus unbinds us, but when we return to the pigpen, we get dirty again. We tire of battling the same sinful behavior we have carried for years—or maybe decades. Jesus wants this done once and for all. His death made it possible; now we just have to give it over.

Examine what leads to sin in your life: people, places, things, the past. Excise them before you step into your new and improved future.

Getting rid of a sin can be like unwrapping a healed wound. It takes more than one step. Make a list of your sins. Call upon the blood of Jesus to cleanse you as you pray them aloud, blow them away, and breathe in new life.

One by one, hand your sins to Christ and break what binds you.

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God's Purpose Prevails

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” - Winnie the Pooh. 

Children have no idea how profound these words are, yet I inscribed them in a goodbye letter to a little boy who forever changed my heart. I adopted my first son from foster care, and when a second little boy arrived 18 months later, I knew I would adopt him too. Because of his situation, I didn’t have to worry about him returning to his birth parents, and I had promised God a child would never enter my home that I didn’t commit to for the rest of my life. Yet, I didn’t know I would only be his daddy for 14 months.

The year he was with us was brutal. Such unbelievable trauma to work through. So many layers of every kind of abuse. I aged, and every day I tried to teach him everything he had missed. Then at the same time his adoption papers were being readied, he walked over to my chair and said, “Daddy, I don’t want you to cry, but I think I am supposed to have a mommy and a daddy.” Those words revealed the Creator’s grander plan.

We often harbor the unknown until a flash makes it crystal clear. I prayed for a larger confirmation than I had ever prayed for in my life—a dream, writing on the wall, a burning bush. That night, I dreamed my little boy went to live with someone else, and peace claimed my heart.

If we knew what tomorrow held, I don’t think any of us could handle it. God blesses us with breadcrumbs that lead the way until our eyes adjust to the light of His path.

Had I known the outcome, I would have lived those 14 months differently. God knew that child needed me to treat him as if he would be my son forever. I could not have done so with future knowledge. Even as I wailed, clinging to my prayer bench, I knew this had always been the perfect plan.

As you mourn and wish things could be different, believe each moment is exactly as the Lord requires.

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Blowing Bubbles with Jesus

Bubbles. That’s just what we need here.

I was on a tight schedule. A friend’s husband and daughter were over to pick up our dining room set before another family delivered the set they were giving us. They were expected; three-year-old Alianna was not. When she was introduced to me, she pirouetted, revealing the flair of both her skirt and her personality—definitely a bubbles kind of girl.

I retrieved two bottles of bubbles from our front closet. While her mom and grandfather wrestled the furniture into their van, my new friend and I blew bubbles, laughing as they danced on a soft breeze and popped on the grass, bushes, and our outstretched hands.

But one didn’t pop. “Look, Alianna,” I exclaimed, “that bubble is going to Jesus.”

As Alianna tracked the rising bubble with widening eyes, she made a joyful little bounce and rose up on her tippy-toes as if she might float to heaven with it. “Goin’ ta Jesus!” she echoed. Together, we watched that bubble float out of sight.

Jesus loves children, so He must love bubbles, I thought. Then I got an image of Jesus blowing bubbles down on us from His throne above—with His own pink, plastic wand. Seeing Jesus’ smile and bright eyes, I felt in my heart His delight in joining our fun.  

One day, Jesus’ disciples asked Him to identify who was the greatest in His kingdom. Jesus drew a little child into their midst to teach them that greatness in the kingdom of God is more about delight than achievement. When Jesus unexpectedly placed little Alianna into my day, my spirit rose along with the bubbles … and our laughter above my worries and agenda.

Let Jesus interrupt your agenda and exchange importance for delight. Have some fun together. Maybe even blow bubbles. Let the child He draws into His arms be you.

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Ruby

Ruby lived on a hill, tended her flowers, and was my grandmother. She couldn’t drive a car, and she never wrote a poem, but the pages of her Bible were worn thin from constant use.

I was barely a month from my sixteenth birthday, and Mamaw and I had plans to burn rubber. I think we both had waited for years for the freedom to go and do as we would like, together. Then on December 7, the doctors pronounced that her life would end in six months. Cancer.

I wallowed in the stages of grief for the first few months. Then one day after school, I sat at her kitchen table and screamed, “You’re going to die, and you’re acting like nothing is wrong!”

Mamaw clicked the stove button, led me into the living room, and reclined on the couch. The smell of dinner carried through her little home as she told me why I had never seen her cry about her death sentence. I thought in all our years together I knew every story about this woman, but she was saving the best for last.

Almost forty years ago, a different set of doctors told a young mother of four that pancreatic cancer would take her life in less than a year. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t cry back then either. She marched home and looked up the story of Hezekiah. This simple woman pointed to the then firm pages of 2 Kings and asked for the same gift as Hezekiah had. King Hezekiah was mortally ill, but he petitioned the Lord for more time. And the Lord granted him fifteen more years.

Ruby asked the Lord to prolong her life until her children were old enough to take care of themselves. And like Hezekiah, God heard her prayer. Not only did she get another fifteen years, she also got decades more until she met her grandchildren. And as my bitter tears blurred the sight of her, my grandmother said, “How could I cry a single tear when He has given me more than I asked for?”

As you mourn your loved one, concentrate on the parts of them that live on in you. Don’t allow the wisdom of their life to be robbed by the temporary grave. Hold tightly to their stories of bravery, love, and obedience, and know they are still with you.

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Shatter Point

The week was tough, and the night found me clinging to a big ottoman in my living room floor, sobbing. 

I was having one of those days where the past rears its ugly head and reminds you how thin the time is between yesterday and today. Bronchitis, a sinus infection, a new career. Stress about finances and friends not showing up when you need them. Not being the father I strive to be and having a hard time comparing myself to the Father I have in Jesus. I was breaking down.

I felt God’s Almighty hands twist and ring me to the point of damp dry. I pictured Him molding the clay with more pressure than I have ever felt. I saw broken shards of glass splinter in new formation. That’s when I understood. With a new dimension of the refiner’s fire and more water smoothing the rough stones, I was being pressed on every side. Almost breaking.

God knows my shatter point, and He takes me to the exact degree before I break. The place where I become something new. And He specializes in all things new.

God uses our rough times to sharpen us, define us, and make us who He longs for us to be. Only a Master’s hands know my breaking point and understand where my submission is imminent. Through my re-Creator’s expertise, I become a new creation.

And when God has reworked me for a time, thanksgiving rolls over me like the warm winds of a summer storm right before the rain. He washes over me, and I hear His whispers. “This is what I have been working on. If you want to dream new dreams and fly to heights, you must let Me turn that coal into a diamond.”

I’m stronger now—better than I was. The wounds miraculously healed, but God had to knead the dough. He had to take me to the point right before I gave up. He took me to the place where I gave in. But further down the road. Closer to the prize. I arose from my sobbing, prostrate position and breathed fresh air.

God knows the road He asks us to walk. He never promised it would be easy, but He promised He would always be there. And He is. Again and again. Welcome His artistry.

Let God make you new.

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The Cross

Some sing about it, others tattoo it on their bodies, and still others wear it as a fashion statement. Our graveyards are adorned with them, as are mountains, hilltops, churches, and homes. Our culture has a fascination with displaying them in all their forms.  

The Cross. During Roman rule, it served as a symbol of derision and guilt—a form of capital punishment where the guilty met their fate. How ironic that the very thing the enemy used to instill fear in the hearts of everyone now stands as a symbol of hope for a hurting world.

From the perspective of those who followed Christ to the cross, that moment must have seemed like an unmitigated disaster. Any hope they had for a restored kingdom vanished. They didn’t know Christ’s death would make them righteous and whole. They didn’t understand that the events unfolding before them were God’s doing. That Christ’s death would ensure His message of hope, and everlasting life would reach Judaea, the entire Roman Empire, and ultimately, the world.

Christ purchased eternal life for us. He bore the weight of our sin so we wouldn’t have to. As I reflect on all the cross represents, I am overwhelmed and humbled. Because He suffered in our stead, we have healing and peace. Our hearts, once stained with sin, have been washed of guilt and shame. We serve a wonderful Savior, a mighty God.

What the enemy intended for evil, God uses for good. I am thankful to God for the gift of salvation and for redeeming us from the curse of the law. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV).

The next time you see a cross, remember that the peace and salvation you now experience came at a great price. Then, humbly worship Christ.

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Experience God’s Peace

We are embarking on another journey.

After closing our home to foster care after our fourth adoption, we decided to reopen our home once again to foster children, offering them a safe place of love during the tumultuous time in their lives. We have agreed to welcome children from infancy to two years old and are excited about where God will take us.

But I’m nervous too. I worry about the logistics of adding a fifth child to our already rambunctious crew. I worry about the logistics of scheduling, work, and appointments—the things I can’t prepare for beforehand … the things I have to trust will work out when the time comes.

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Paul’s words remind me not to worry … about anything. Instead, I need to pray about everything, telling God what I need and thanking Him for all He has done. Then I’ll experience His peace.

In theory, the verses seem to say we’re to tell God what we need and then not worry. But theory doesn’t always translate well into reality. We tend to tell God what we need, but then hold on to it, clinging with worry instead of releasing it with faith.

When we allow God to take on our worries, we experience His peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. The feeling of knowing we’re taken care of, and the thoughts that come with believing everything will be okay, is just a portion of the peace we receive through God.

God listens to our pleas and praises and aches to fill us with His peace. When your heart turns to worry, turn your mind to God.

Lift up your worries, and let them go as you tell God what you need, reveling in the perfect peace that comes with His promise to take care of you.

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Weighing Motives

Giving with our hand but not our heart is possible.

We can feel pretty good about the things we do, but we often do not understand why we do what we do. 

In my job, we often share workloads. When one person’s caseload is down, others are often asked to share their cases to keep that person working. Once, I was asked and gave away several cases. I did not want to lose them, but for the good of the project, I knew this was what I should do.

Once, I had medical bills and extra financial expenses that wiped out the funds I had put away for a rainy day. At the same time, the bottom dropped out of my workload. I was told there were some cases available for me to work, but then they were given to someone else.

I felt sorry for myself. I had given up my cases, but when I had a need, nothing was there for me.  If I had not given up my cases, I might not have been in this dilemma. I was on a downward spiral.

Until one morning when this verse hit me between the eyes. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives. God weighed my motives and found them wanting. What I had given with my hand, I now took back in my heart.

The universe does not revolve around me. God’s sovereign choices include my needs, but are not exclusive to them. Someone may have needed the cases more than me. Or God in His infinite wisdom assigned the work without regard to my need.

God has the right to choose as He pleases. God forgave me, but I thought and concluded before I saw it from His perspective. Purity of motive may only come when we first have the humility to admit we do not have it.

Develop a habit of weighing your motives.

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Fingerprints

Where did they come from? Did someone get up in the night? I wondered.

Whew! With the kitchen finally clean—I don't like waking up to a dirty kitchen—I flopped into bed, tired from a busy day of working outside.

Waking up the next morning to the aroma of coffee wafting into my room, I got up, walked to the kitchen, headed to the coffee pot, and glanced at the kitchen counter. Imagine my surprise when a stream of sunshine, beaming across my kitchen counter, revealed several smudges and finger prints on the counter.

Grumbling under my breath as I poured coffee into my favorite mug, I wondered how many times I thought I had cleaned up  the messes of my life, only to discover I didn't do such a good job. I left smudges and fingerprints on my heart that only the Holy Spirit's light could illuminate.

The psalmist asked God to create a clean heart in him. We, too, may act as if everything is okay on the outside, but God looks on the heart. When He nudges me about something—forgiving someone, revealing the truth, or apologizing to a spouse, roommate, or child—I need to do as He says, not as I think. When I don't, the smudges remain.

Such as the time when I said something harsh to my husband and the Lord convicted me. I apologized to the Lord during my prayer time but did not apologize to my husband. One day, the Lord nudged me to forgive my husband. By obeying, I erased the smudge on my heart.

Every time I see sunlight shining on my counters, I remember the fingerprint lesson and the importance of keeping my heart clean.

When God shines His light on the fingerprints or smudges in your life, ask Him to do what the psalmist did: Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.

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Who is Your Moral Support?

“Sometimes I feel like my prayers stop at the ceiling, but that’s enough about my situation. What about you?”

The ache in my friend’s words dug deeply into my heart. We pray together, and I wanted to be her support system. Still, God held the reins tightly and forced her to wait on His timing. Waiting is sometimes as gruesome as fighting the battle.

Despite our love for Christ, we often find ourselves feeling God is not in tune with us. Prayer after prayer rises from the depths of our hearts, and it seems to no avail. Does He even hear our pleas? It’s easy to blame God or accuse Him of turning His back on us when the truth is He never does. If we were truly honest, we’d admit when God doesn’t answer within the time frame we deem fit, then it’s easier to accuse Him of ignoring us. This just gives Satan the toehold he needs to instill discouragement and frustration, even hurt and anger. Yet, God is faithful despite our weaknesses and worry.

Nehemiah stepped into the unknown when he asked the king to allow him to rebuild the city of his ancestors. It was enough to approach the king, but trusting God’s faithfulness was difficult as well. With the king’s blessing, Nehemiah began the daunting task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. They met their share of conflict, so his men divided. Half worked while the remainder stood guard with weapons strapped on their sides. For Nehemiah’s workers, those who stood guard were the support system. The prayers. The protectors.

I certainly don’t have all the answers for my friend as she wades through the daily muck searching for needed guidance and answers, but I can be the half who stands guard over her, faithfully praying, offering encouragement, and supporting her. My faithfulness as her support gives her hope and encouragement. It strengthens her. Everyone needs that unwavering support from God and our friends.

Seek after those who need your prayer support. Tell those people you’ll be faithful to guard over them. You may very well be rebuilding a broken wall. When you prayerfully defend those who struggle, you too will feel the joys of God’s answers as well.

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Father Knows Best

Rarely have I valued the hard times more than the enjoyable times.

It was somewhat of a shock when I learned about the potential of the Father’s chastening (or child training) during the last year while going through what my attending physician described as “a reprieve to a death sentence.” Then he told me to enjoy it. I must confess, this is a commentary on my lack of spiritual maturity.

Many Christians can testify that the best times in their lives have not been the most pleasurable times, but rather the times they walked one painful step at a time holding Jesus’ loving hand. In His presence, they found more than they imagined possible.

Difficult times are proof that believers are loved: “The Lord chastens those that He loves” (Hebrews 12:6).

Contrary to human reasoning, Spirit-controlled believers often feel blessed and thankful for the refining pain of earthly tragedies. They have learned their Lord’s love and presence are often easier to experience when the things of this world grow dim. Knowing it is because of His love that they are being taught, they cling to Jesus.

I have learned the hard way that our Father knows best. Our faith must be tested, our pain is partially in our hands, and our peace comes from our relationship with Jesus.

Don’t shy away from the sorrow and pain of the hard times of life. Put your trust and love in Jesus, and you will be blessed.

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The Heart of It

My parents always sliced a watermelon when I was young. 

We kids would grab a slice, sit on the porch together, and begin a seed-spitting competition. Definitely a happy childhood memory. At some point, when I became an adult and paid for my own watermelons, I decided scooping watermelon into a dish was my preferred way to eat it. Slices were too messy.

Once, while we were staying with my in-laws, I bought a watermelon and helped myself to some in my usual way. Later that evening, my father-in-law took the foil off the partially eaten watermelon sitting in the fridge and with great shock asked, "Who took the heart right out of the watermelon?"

I said, "Umm … me." I realized too late he was old-school and thought scooping the heart out of a watermelon was the wrong way to eat it. He might be right.

The heart—the pure heart—is the best part. When it's gone, the rest of the watermelon is not quite the same. It's still good, but it gets more distasteful the further you get from the heart and the closer you get to the bitter rind. What's left gets thrown out.

Sometimes, we do the same in life. We take the best part and leave the rest. I guess it's human nature. We give of ourselves until we have nothing left—taking care of our homes, families, spouses, and jobs. Then we walk around feeling empty because the heart is gone. That's a tough place to be. Empty, numb, and sometimes bitter.

When we get so far from the heart of things, we just want to get the sweetness of life back—to get back to the heart of it all. If asked, God will create a new spirit in us. He gives the best part instead of taking it.

When we have nothing left, and it seems all the good parts have been scooped out, God fills us up again—to overflowing.

God never fails. Trust Him.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Where True Beauty Lies

“I was just trying to get pretty for you.”

My wife is a beautiful brunette, but for the past several years she has been highlighting her brunette hair with blonde streaks. The last time she had her hair colored, something happened. Since we didn’t have the funds for her to get her hair colored and highlighted, she chose to have it colored … blonde.  

As the beautician applied the chemical, my wife felt a burning sensation. When she got home, she looked in the mirror and saw that her scalp in the back was red. Things got worse. She developed headaches, then a tender scalp, and finally puss pockets.  

A week after the coloring, she took a picture and sent it to our daughter-in-law, who’s a nurse. The verdict? Infection. So my wife paid a visit to the local urgent care center where the doctor prescribed an antibiotic.

When my wife called to tell me the verdict, I said, “The next time you want to get pretty for me, just stay the way you are.”

Peter told first-century women not to go overboard with outward beauty, but to care for their inner beauty. Still good advice—for men too.

I’m glad folks don’t face the world looking as they do when they first get out of bed—myself included. We wouldn’t look as we normally do, nor would we smell the same—at least not our breath. Outward grooming and good hygiene are important, but they are just that, outward.

What we do to dress up our outsides might impress others for a while—the boss, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the wife or husband, the best friend—but it won’t last. Eventually, those we try to impress with our outward looks will see the inside through our actions and attitudes.

I’ve known some people who were gorgeous or handsome on the outside, but ugly on the inside. Their words or actions made them that way. We can’t hide forever what’s on the inside. It will color our lifestyle.

While tending to the outside is important, caring for the inside is more so. When we are in a right relationship with God, our inner beauty will shine through, and this is the light God wants others to see more than our outward appearance.

Make sure your inner beauty is the true beauty others see.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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He Will Not Let You Slip

The steps were skinny. Skinny as in . . . not even the length of your foot. I can’t tell you the times I’ve fallen because the steps were so thin. Even the dog’s feet flew out from under him. If it weren’t so bad, I’d say it was funny. That is, until . . . my son, Cameron, took a horrible fall.

It was terrible. My husband was at the top of the stairs, grabbing at him and missing. I was at the bottom, trying to catch him. Yet nothing we did could prevent his socked feet from sailing waist high into the air, his flipping twice, or his temple slamming against the banister before he hit the floor.

My heart stopped as I looked at my ten-year-old son, lying lifeless at my feet. I dialed the doctor, who immediately told me swelling could be internal. “Rouse him and get to the hospital now.”

The writer of the Psalms reminds us God is faithful. As a shepherd, he needed sure footing to prevent slips and tumbles as he cared for his sheep. Deeper yet, David understood how the Father never spiritually let him slip. Rather, He watched over him–never sleeping.

And that, friends, is comforting. Just knowing God has us. He’s always there to catch us. His presence doesn’t prevent life from happening, but it does mean, despite the trials, God never lets us slip away from Him.

No matter how my husband and I tried, we couldn’t keep Cameron’s feet from slipping. The fear we faced as he lay in the hospital was terrifying. After hours at the ER and tons of prayer, we were finally able to take our son home. He had a nasty headache, but he came out fine. We began the search for someone who could rebuild our staircase so no one else would fall–a task in and of itself.

Sometimes we can’t prevent a fall, but when we face those slip ups, it’s nice to know our Savior stands firmly beneath us to break our fall. When you feel your feet sliding, dig your heels into trust and know God is with you. He will not let you fall.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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S.H.I.F.T.

As a second-grade teacher, I teach about the four seasons. My students discuss the seasonal activities and the characteristics of each, such as warmer weather, snow, or changing leaf color. In each one, transformations occur.

In biblical terms, season is an appointed time. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (3:1). The seasons may change, but God's promises to us do not.

Sometimes we may be discouraged or in a dry season. However, the seasons of our life will change every time we use our faith. Galatians 6:9 says, Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Seasons involve a shift, and each time there's a shift in the atmosphere, we have to activate our faith.

I thought of an acronym for season: S.H.I.F.T., which stands for Surrender to Him in Faith Today.  We can surrender to God because our times and life affairs are in His hands. In our verse, the word times means seasons, causes, affairs, and events of our life.

God of my life is one of the names for God that focuses on His relationships with His people. He is the God of our life. We can be at peace and know He controls our future. All we have to do is activate our faith and surrender to Him in faith. 

Make the following confession: My times and my future are in God’s hands. He is the God of my life. I choose to surrender to Him in faith today. The seasons may change, but God’s promises to me will not.

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New Glasses

The eye doctor clicked the machine. “Better or worse?” Another click, another line of blurry letters. “Better or worse?” We agreed on the best option, and he wrote a prescription.

When my new glasses arrived, I looked like a bobble-head doll as I adapted to progressive bifocals. The lenses darkened outdoors—another new feature. They helped on bright days, but indoor rooms took on a dim and somber note until the glasses readjusted.

These new bells and whistles are useful, but my vision still isn't perfect. Spiritually speaking, it's often poor. I squint to understand a friend's situation, but it's clear to God's 20/20 vision. My soul's myopia blurs perspective in my own life, but God sees the complete picture.

As a child, I imagined what Father God looked like. My mental picture didn't show Him wearing glasses, but my adult imagination added them. Of course, His vision is perfect with or without glasses. The lenses are clear, not darkened. They have one feature: they're tinted red at great cost.

Paul says we see dimly now, but the moment we accept Christ's gift of salvation, our heavenly Father sees us through rose-colored glasses. That idiom for a positive viewpoint reminds me our Father is eternally optimistic about us—our future, no matter how dimly we see it, and our past, no matter how flecked with dirt. All because we said yes to Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” John 8:12 (ESV).

Our eyes may need corrective lenses and our spiritual vision might squint at darkened glass, but when you can't see life clearly, focus on the good news proclaimed throughout Scripture. We're seen through the lens of everlasting love. Our future's so bright we need shades.

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God Is Patient

While struggling with infertility, I was anything but patient.

I wanted a baby. I did not understand why it was not happening—or why God placed such a desire in my heart yet wasn’t making my dream come true. I was frustrated and embedded in my selfish ambitions. My eyes were not turned to God, and I did not listen to His quiet voice trying to guide me. He simply wasn’t moving quickly enough.

Peter reminds us the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.

God was not moving too slowly for me; He was waiting for me to listen to His calling and set my selfish desires aside. And He would have continued to wait for me.

We are often derailed by the need for instant gratification and by Satan probing us to immediate response. We dwell in our selfish ambitions and allow Satan to nurture our discontent when we really need to pull the weeds, clean the garden, and prepare our hearts for our waiting Father.

God will continue to wait as we find our way because He is a patient Father. His desires for us are beyond our imagination, and we are the ones who lose when we leave Him waiting. When impatience pierces our heart and we feel as if God is moving too slowly, we should remember He is not slow in keeping His promises, but is patiently waiting for us.    

If you find yourself thinking God is too slow, take a step back and examine your heart, your desires, and your path. As you are waiting on Him, He is waiting for you.

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Mending the Bond

In a favorite movie, the princess hates the things her mother tells her she must do to become a real princess.

Her mother insists she act, eat, behave, and listen as a princess. But the princess wants to go her own way and do her own thing. She wishes her mother would listen. Finally, a witch casts a spell on her mom that the princess hopes will allow her freedom. After feeding her mother the cake with the spell, her mother becomes a bear.

Never is any of this the princess’s fault, but the witch’s. Wanting her mother to return to herself, the princess and her mother consult the witch. The witch informs the princess she must mend the bond between herself and her mother or her mother will become a real bear inside and out.

Desperately trying to save her mother, the princess finally admits, “This is all my fault. I’m so sorry. I love you.”  Her tearful confession saves her mother.

God wants to mend the bond between Him and me. He doesn’t ask me to walk my own way or do my own thing. Some of what I could do would not be good for me. He knows that sometimes I want my own way even if it leads in the wrong direction. Like the princess’s mother, God wants the best for me and wants me to act like His child and follow His lead.

God asks me to listen, read His word, and tell others about His wondrous love. He asks me to help others find a place for Jesus in their hearts. Then like the princess—who saw the error of her ways, mended the bond with her mother, asked for forgiveness, and lived happily ever after—we can live cheerfully forever with our God.

There is no time like the present to mend the bond between you and God.

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Loving the Enemy

She was a nursing home resident who was only visited by loved ones on the first and fifteenth of each month.

Her niece came at noon and her grandson at three in the afternoon. They’d speak to her—one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet—with hateful aggression, which made her cry more times than not. After every visit, she’d give them a tight hug, whisper “I love you,” and place money in their back pockets. I don’t remember her name, but their actions angered me. Such a giving person emptying unmerited kindness without being refilled. I saw the resident as a victim. I was wrong.

We all know people who only come around when they need a favor. The ones you hear from when their car is low on gas or they need a babysitter on Friday night. The ones who stop by when they need a shoulder to cry on or who want words of encouragement because their marriage is being tested.

Luke says God gives generously without regret or in spite of our failures and inability to repay. He commands us to do the same.  

We are created in God’s image and are servants, not victims. To say, “I don’t want to be needed,” equals to, “I don’t want to serve.” God’s purpose is for us to lean on each other. He wants us to rethink what it means to be used and try to look at servanthood from His perspective. In His eyes, we are more than conquerors.

Worrying about someone taking advantage of our kindness isn’t important. Our Father makes sure ill-willed intentions are revealed in due season. Our talents, gifts, achievements, and strengths were not given exclusively to us but for us to get them to the people who need them. The same goes for our weaknesses and failures. He made us so we would need each other.

Rejoice when others are doing well, but help them when they’re not—regardless of who they are.

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Remembering Vicky

“You’re the last person the customer will see before they leave the store. You need to make a good impression,” the grocery store manager said. His words rang true twenty years later.

I met Vicky on a train. She was a sixty-year-old Philippine woman with a lot of stress, both at work and at home. Her husband had dementia. What started the conversation were questions I had asked about a book she was reading. At first, my conversation wasn’t spiritual, but I later brought Jesus into our discussion.

I gave Vicky a few tracts that pertained to her situation and one which contained the Gospel of John. Every day I got on the train, she was reading the tracts. In August, a friend of hers told me Vicky had lost her job. Several months later, I asked her how Vicky was doing. She told me she had passed away.

The day I found out she was fired, the Christian radio station played two salvation-themed songs in a row. I felt as if the Lord told me, “Good job, Ken.” I may have been the last person to share the gospel with Vicky.

Talking about Jesus can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Because Jesus wants other followers, we need to do what this verse says: So go and make followers of all people in the world.  I can only hope because of my chat with Vicky that she asked Jesus into her heart, that she became a Christian, and that I’ll see her in heaven.

Don’t be afraid to tell others about Jesus. You could be the last person to share with them before they die.

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Speak Up

She allowed the boys to go play with the sendoff, “Let’s just play nicely together!”

A friend’s six-year-old daughter was at an indoor play park when she came across a little girl who was upset. In comforting her, she learned some boys had called her the “dummy girl.” Not one to leave a situation unresolved, she called the boys over and asked them to have a seat. She then told them their actions hurt, and, since she was the oldest in the situation, they must listen to her,

My friend’s daughter has embraced a valuable lesson detailed in Proverbs 31: speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, as well as for the rights of the destitute. Also, to speak up and judge fairly and to defend the rights of the poor and needy. Although the other child at the park was not poor and needy, she was in need.

As Christians, our responsibility is to stand up for others who are unable to speak for themselves and to embrace those in need, cloaking them in the love and grace Jesus gives us.

My friend’s daughter did not resort to anger or fists, which is the first line of defense we often use. Instead, she spoke calmly and judged fairly. She provided grace, love, and forgiveness and was a beacon of God’s love and design for relationships.

As we traverse life, we will encounter many situations that need our voice. Situations of people in need where we may be the single person who speaks up on their behalf.

Speak up, judge fairly, and be a living example of God’s grace.

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Quiet!

Have you ever been so tired you yelled for everyone to be quiet?

Maybe you’ve banged on the wall and bellowed for the party animal next door to keep it down or hollered at noisy roommates so you could study. If you’re a parent, and you’re honest, you’ve probably raised your voice a time or two, calling for quiet. 

Yelling at people is not a good idea, but when we’re tired, Jesus gets it. In His human nature, He needed silence—and rest—just like we do. Once He fell asleep in a boat, and when a storm came up that scared His friends into thinking they were about to die, He woke up and yelled at the wind and waves to knock it off.  

Jesus wasn’t afraid of the wind and waves. He created them and had authority over them. In this particular instance, He calmed a storm. At other times, He calms us during the storm. He knows our fears, cares about us, and has the power to calm the anxious thoughts of our heart and mind.

If you’re going through a rough time, look up. Ask the One who calmed the sea to intervene on your behalf and say “Quiet! Be still!” to the raging circumstances surrounding your life. He’s right there with you in the rocky boat. He’s not asleep, and He won’t let you sink.

Ask God to give you the physical, mental, and emotional peace you need during difficult times.

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Trusting in Desperate Times

On May 11, 2014, a mother jumped three stories from a burning building to save her infant son.

The mother was bold, uncompromising. She had no consciousness of height, depth, or self. She didn’t care how her clothes and hair looked, or who was watching. On a normal day, fire is hot and consuming. The jump alone could have killed them. However, this fire and height were just obstacles separating this mother and child from life.

Jesus encountered a desperate woman. One who had tried everything, but nothing worked. So she went to Jesus.

What is it about desperation? We ride high on Monday but low on Tuesday. When riding high, there are things we wouldn’t say or do. People who aren’t desperate are sophisticated, safe, and self-satisfied. Yet in desperate times when we are riding low, we go the distance. We will ask for anything or go anywhere. Who has time to be classy when the building is burning?

In desperation, we empty our bank accounts, seek advice from everyone, and get worse. When we’re desperate, we’ll do anything to alleviate extreme need. Desperation kills foolish pride, cockiness, and shame. In times of desperation, no one cares about gossip. Rather, we find a sense of urgency and look for any small reason to hope. We find the characteristics God intended for us to have in the first place: the willingness to cry out and trust Him. Maybe these moments sprout up to birth such urgency.

We should always expect and be ready for affliction. Whether we are distressed or in peace, we need to live with a desperate attitude. Desperation will defy isolation, consequences, complacency, and self-centeredness. It transforms hardened hearts.

Neither should we wait for desperate times before we display a heart hungry for the Lord. Be desperate for God’s love regardless of whether you ride high or low. Seek daily and desperately the everlasting grace of the Lord.

Live every day persevering to be filled with God’s calmness, courage, and confidence.

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When God's Not Looking

When we’re looking, she’s a perfect little angel, but when we’re not…

Our six-month-old Chihuahua mix was kennel trained when we got her, so when we left the house—and at night—we put her in what she was accustomed to. She didn’t yelp, and we didn’t have to worry about her getting into trouble.

But I hate putting a dog in a kennel or on a chain, so after she reached nine months of age—and had shown herself capable of behaving when we were gone—my wife and I began leaving her out while we went on various outings. She did well. Until she turned one year old. Suddenly, her well-behaved nature while we absent from the house changed.

Her favorite misbehavior involved digging through the trash can. We put it up. Then she chewed up my wife’s box of Milk Duds. That almost equaled a federal offense. Finally, she pulled my basketful of pens and highlighters from the table beside my chair. In doing so, she broke the final straw. Back in the kennel when we left the house.

Soft heart that I am, I gave her one final chance after punishing her. We left for a short trip to Mom’s. When we returned, she had pulled trash from our large garbage can. She had exhausted her chances. She had to learn to behave whether we were looking or not.

Jonah must have thought as our dog did. When God told him to preach to people he hated, he ran, thinking God wouldn’t see his act of disobedience once he left the land of Israel. He discovered his error when God sent a large fish to swallow him. 

Our dog waits until we’re not looking to misbehave, but God is always looking. Jonah discovered leaving his homeland didn’t leave God. God is everywhere. Though the Bible doesn’t use the word, it does evidence the concept of omnipresence.

Although God always sees our behavior, He’s not sitting in heaven waiting for us to misbehave so He can squash us. He has principles, commands, and expectations, but His nature is love. He disciplines when we go astray, but that is exactly why He disciplines. His love demands He keep us on the right track so we can enjoy the best life He has to offer.

Remember, God watches over you constantly—because He loves you.

(Photo courtesy of author.)

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Running to Win

My failure was on display for everyone to see.

When I was in elementary school, we had to run in physical education class. I always hated those days, because I was so slow and because we had to run in front of the class.

When we moved to Florida and I changed schools, it was even worse. We didn’t have a gym, so P.E. was outside—which meant running was there too. If you’ve never lived in Florida, I will tell you why this was bad. Sand. Running on a wooden floor was hard enough, but running in sand was more difficult.

I’ve never considered myself a runner, so when Paul mentions running in a race, I cringe a little. He says only one receives the prize. I’m thinking that wouldn’t be me. But Paul says to run in such a way that we may obtain it.

Life and our walk with God is like a race. If we plan to obtain the prize, we must run in such a way that we win. Paul knows we’re not all athletes, so he’s not telling us to run a literal race. What he is saying is that we need to live our lives in such a way that we can obtain the prize at the end.

Although our salvation isn’t based on works, we do have a responsibility to live according to the Word’s principles. The race of life may be a one-hundred-meter dash for some and a marathon for others. Regardless of which one it is, we should want to live in such a way that God will say to us in the end, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Lay aside the sin that weighs you down and run hard after God. A part of the prize is walking with Him and being close to Him. Nothing can take that from you.

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The Power of the Word

A number of years ago in Palo Alto, California, this verse was put to the test when Pastor Ray Stedman used it to change his community.

The zoning board held a hearing on a proposal to add a liquor store to a strip mall located between a church and a high school. Citizens expressed their outrage, citing the need to protect the city’s youth from such a store’s temptation. The owner of the store testified that if the students wanted alcohol they would get it, even if his store was located further away.   

Pastor Stedman remained quiet during the testimony, but the crowd wanted to know his opinion. He walked up to address the zoning board and opened his Bible to Luke 17:1-2.

As he read the words aloud, a hush fell over the crowd. “He said to His disciples, ‘It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.’”

Without comment, Pastor Stedman walked back to his seat. After a few moments of silence, the liquor store owner stood up and withdrew his application.

On that day, the Word was living, active, and sharper than the arguments of man. It was powerful enough to strike at the heart of those at the meeting.

All too often we forget to look at the Word of God as more than just a Good Book. It is a sword in the hands of the righteous.

The next time you are faced with a conflict, pray and ask God to equip you with the raw power of His Word.

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Help My Unbelief

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I believed God could and would heal me from stage four Lymphoma.

The cancer eventually spread to my brain and thyroid. Even if God didn’t heal me, I knew I belonged to Him and that He was my Savior and Lord. After thyroid surgery, I spent months taking strong chemo and enduring weeks of whole brain radiation.

Often I thought of the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. An evil spirit possessed the boy. The man had asked the disciples to heal him, but they couldn’t. When the evil spirit seized the boy again, the father asked Jesus for help. Jesus told him anything was possible if he believed. That’s when he told Jesus he believed, but needed help with unbelief.

Like the boy’s father, I’ve said, “Lord, I’m like that little boy’s dad. I believe You have all power, and I believe You can heal me. If there is any unbelief in me, please help my unbelief.”

In November 2013, my doctor said, “You have no cancer in your body.” God has healed me—not because of anything I have or have not done—but because He chose to bring healing. I am now committed to telling others what God has done.

One day I will breathe my last breath and be ushered into the presence of God, because Jesus is my Savior and Lord. That will be my ultimate healing. I will spend eternity with Jesus in my heavenly home.

We can have abundant joy even during difficult days if we depend on God. The things we try to avoid and fight against—tribulation, sickness, and suffering—are the very things that produce abundant joy in us. During these times, we must depend on the Lord more than usual.

Ask Jesus to help you with your unbelief.

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Miss Fix-It

It’s always been an issue. Maybe it comes from being a recovering perfectionist.

As soon as a problem arises, my brain goes into fix-it mode. My tendency is to turn the situation upside down and inside out, then analyze it from every possible angle and play out every conceivable scenario. I mentally go down the checklist of what ifs. My grandmother used to say, “You’re worrying that problem to death. Leave it alone.”

It’s exhausting. But the worst part is—most of the time—I’m unable to fix anything.

One day during my morning devotions, I read these words in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young: “Problems are part of life. They are inescapable, woven into the very fabric of this fallen world. You tend to go into problem-solving mode all too readily, acting as if you have the capacity to fix everything. This is a habitual response, so automatic that it bypasses your conscious thinking. Not only does this habit frustrate you, it also distances you from Me.” ~Jesus

Ouch! If you’re like me, the last thing you want is distance between you and the Lord. For us fixers, the answer lies in realizing our limitations and not allowing ourselves to get weighed down with situations and circumstances we’re not responsible for and not equipped to handle.

God is the ultimate fixer—the great problem solver. He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. He sees the bigger picture, is aware of and concerned about whatever concerns us, and is always working all things together for our good. In other words, He can handle it.

Got a problem? Give it to Him.

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

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Ask and You Shall Receive

I often find myself confronting a red-faced child, wondering what in the world I did to cause such upset. Their outburst concludes with a desperate plea for something I had no idea they wanted. Wasted time and energy spent being upset because they never asked.

Whether it be fear, trepidation, or pride, we have all found ourselves in a situation where we hesitated to ask for what we want or need. Being told no is often harder on our egos than not knowing at all. We are our own worst enemies, and we effectively place roadblocks in the path of God’s blessings.

Jesus reminds us of how we sell God short when we don’t ask for what we want and need. If we ask, it will be given to us. If we seek, we will find. And if we knock, the door will be opened. Our heavenly Father will give even better gifts than a parent.

Just as a parent takes joy in giving to their children, our heavenly Father does the same. We need simply to ask. The Devil fills our head and hearts with lies as he manipulates our waiting time to feel like wasted time. Satan encourages our doubts in asking and exacerbates our disappointment when we don’t receive exactly what we asked for.

Satan enjoys building roadblocks. Send him on a detour! Remind yourself God’s Word promises good gifts. If that gift is not what you’re expecting, know God has something far better in store than what you could possibly imagine.

The next time you are hesitant to ask God to fulfill a need or want, fall to your knees and do so with confidence. God promises to deliver good gifts. Be a gracious receiver clothed in trust and faithfulness. 

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The Semi's Low Tire

Reuniting with a former student brightened my day.

A semi-tractor trailer stopped as I returned from feeding cattle. The driver had been in my classroom during his third-grade year. He provided an update on his family and his tight schedule of hauling soybeans harvested from our rural area. We chatted about one low tire on the trailer. No big deal—even though it was fully loaded. He told me he knew the other tires could carry the load.

That semi-tractor trailer bore a strong comparison with the church. Frequently, I have heard a person tell how her friends lifted her family up in prayer during a difficult time. Another person related how food was brought to their family’s home by fellow church members during a time of need. Several individuals expressed how a note of encouragement arrived exactly on the day it was most needed.

Scripture refers to the church as a body. When a body part suffers injury, the rest of the body seems to respond to ensure the body’s functions continue as normal as possible. A body remains sturdy and stalwart only as each individual part is strong and supports the other weaker body parts.

With compassionate actions, Christians should support those in their flock who are hurting. When we sense a sister or brother in Christ is struggling, they should know we are praying for them. Fellow believers should be uplifted by our sharing of Scripture and words of hope. Those who are mourning must feel the comfort of the Lord flowing from His heart through us.

Ask God to use you to raise up those who feel flattened by the circumstances of life. 

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Poor Stewardship

People come in two categories in the mountains of New York: those who embrace the cold and snow and those who don’t. Those who don’t tend to stay inside.

Negative numbers on the outside thermometer encourage people to turn the inside thermostat up. When they turn the dial, the heating oil company loves them more. At the same time, some people can’t afford a median-priced home, let alone a fuel bill.

Facts printed indicate ninety percent of all goods created in the world end up in the hands of Americans, who make up ten per cent of the world population. Things like skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles, and high-tech winter clothing make up a significant part of those statistics around New York. But some children still wear sneakers and a light jacket in the cold weather. Plenty of poor people still remain in the United States.

One church in New York runs a clothing giveaway and another deals with groceries. Whether it’s within our borders or anywhere around the world, Americans give—if they’re able to.

Jesus tells us we will always have the poor with us. It is up to us to determine when and how to assist them. Perhaps the American’s Christian foundation supplies the grace for us not only to know who the poor are but also to show them mercy. On the other hand, God’s grace may be missing in this age.

When the occasion arises, fill the need rather than perusing the checkbook first. Jesus says, “…whenever you wish…” but if your funds aren’t in order, wishing won’t get it done.

Place your assets under better stewardship so you can have the ability to help “whenever you wish.”

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From His Hand

My husband and I drove to a buffet restaurant in town. Our two children in tow, we were led to our table where the waitress informed us we could “help ourselves.” As parents, we did our best to teach our children manners, but since restaurants were not a usual part of our family meal experiences, we were not prepared for our children’s actions once they realized they could take a plate and “help themselves.”

They ran greedily past the salad bar, past the servings of vegetables, past the meat-carving station, and straight to the dessert buffet. Before I could reach them, their little hands had touched dozens of cookies, cakes, and cream puffs. Their plates were piled high before I could intervene. My little daughter looked up at me with wide eyes and offered her explanation, “But I was hungry!”

I don’t remember all I told her, but I do know we helped ourselves to another plate of nourishing food before touching those desserts. I struggled to explain why things that might not always taste as delightful as a cream puff could be good for them. My children longed only for the sugary goodness meant to be partaken of sparingly only after ingesting the nutrition their growing bodies desperately needed.

Like my children with desserts, I have yearned for good from God—but not trouble. I have run toward comfort, not holiness. I would bypass the hard days that would make me strong and grow me up in the Lord. I gripe and complain at the slightest hint of a trial, questioning God when faced with pain or adversity.

God has already proven He will care for us. All that touches our lives is carefully measured and poured out from His sovereign but loving hand. We don’t have to doubt Him when the spoonful we swallow tastes strange or bitter on our tongue. His purpose and will for our lives is perfect. And at the end of our faithfully-run journey, a spread of sweet blessing awaits us.

Gladly receive whatever God sends your way. 

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Broken and Repurposed

We don’t have to look far to see people’s brokenness, often in our own homes.   

I had an antique stained-glass window broken during flood cleanup. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out, so I put it away until I was ready to deal with it. At this moment, someone has cut off the sharp edges, it has been mounted on a board to protect from further damage, and an artist is writing the names of my grandchildren on it for display in the same spot it hung as a decorative window.

If you have ever cleaned up broken glass, you understand it is a hazardous task. In most cases, a person would carefully discard it, but not all shattered glass is meant to be thrown out.

Some broken things are precious to us, just as broken and shattered people are precious to God—as He showed to Jeremiah through his visit to the potter’s house.

Most broken people know they are broken—and often believe they have been so spoiled that they are of no use to God. What’s the point of even trying? We don’t have to throw them away. Condemnation has already done that and keeps them from rising up and trying again (Proverbs 24:16).

But God sees usefulness in each of us, and the gifts and purposes He gives are irrevocable. Broken or not, He will repurpose us for His glory.

An unbroken glass is beautiful and reflects light clearly, but one that is broken and repurposed reflects light in entirely different ways. The cracks and edges divert light into dissimilar places just as rocks in a stream deter water.

Perhaps you know a broken soul. Maybe it’s you. God is not finished with you. In fact, now that you are in pieces, you can become that vessel for His special purpose.

Don’t let brokenness spoil your work for God. 

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In Prayer

Sometimes we simply need to seek peace.

It has been one year since my first brain surgery. One year ago, when I couldn’t walk a straight line or hear over the internal sounds of my heartbeat, blood pumping, and footsteps. My world was so noisy, and I longed for peace and quiet.

Drilling into my head wasn’t the answer I sought. After all, God can just snap His fingers and fix things, but that wasn’t His plan. He needed me to walk a different path. He wanted to groom me for something that, well . . . is truly yet to be seen.

My prayer became pleas for protection, healing, and … peace. I wanted quiet. And if God needed me to hear that still small voice, it was impossible through all the noise.

Jesus secluded Himself at times. He felt and longed for quiet. In the thick of His ministry, thousands swamped Him, pleading for a touch of His healing. Physically and mentally, He grew weary and retreated alone to spend time in prayer with His Father. We don’t know the prayers Jesus offered up during those times. Perhaps for His compassion to remain intact, for physical strength, or for peace and quiet. But we know He needed to renew and recharge from the cries of the afflicted.

When Jesus took time to teach us prayer, the simplicity of His words were etched in our hearts. His prayer became our prayer–the one we go to when we cannot find the words. I’ve spoken that prayer hundreds of times, but this time I brought a healing and weary body to the feet of Christ. He’d protected, healed much—not all, but much—and as I sought out the peace and quiet I longed for, my prayer was,

Give me this day, Lord, my portion of bread. Please, in your mercy, forgive my sins and guide me to forgive others–even when it’s hard. Protect me from Satan and the things he entices me toward. For You, O mighty God . . . You are holy. May I be teachable and acceptant of your will in my life, especially when I do not understand the path You have me on. For, Lord God, this is YOUR kingdom from now into eternity. Amen. And Amen. (Reworded)

Take time to re-read the prayer Jesus taught, and then rewrite it to fit the cry of your own heart. He will hear and answer.

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Talk to Me

On a beautiful, sun-filled Arizona morning, I walked into my backyard, which was surrounded by palm trees. My peace of mind over their safety had been robbed.

I read that morning how voracious beetles were eating the famous palm trees of Pasadena California. I feared they might be planning a trip over the mountains to the northern Phoenix valley in Arizona. If they determined to make the trip, I knew the farms and agriculture surrounding our house would not stop their invasion.

Strangely, I heard, “Talk to Me.” Since I have had three life-threatening medical experiences during the last year—including a massive stroke—I wondered if I had more damage than I was aware of. I remembered these verses, Whatsoever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it, and realized what I was hearing might be the Lord trying to get my attention.

These verses set me free by saying “whatsoever,” so I talked to Jesus about the palm trees. Feeling much better, I realized I often don’t talk to my Lord Jesus about everyday life as I would to a good friend. I was afraid to bother Him with small things. He is so important and deals with such significant things. I didn’t want to impose.

Then I realized He loves me and wants to hear what is bothering me in everyday life, even if it is only beetles. Talking to Jesus about life’s small things, instead of going first to my own thoughts and solutions, turns my life into a Psalm 23 life.

I learned if God’s children will freely and spontaneously talk to Jesus as to a good friend—and leave with Him what tightens them up—they will learn what prayer really is. “Stop talking to yourself so much and talk to Jesus about everyday life” came to mind. If you follow that simple prescription, you will find a recipe for satisfaction.

Talk to the Lord as to a loving friend. He wants to hear your needs and what’s going on in your life.

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Acting as Diotrephes

Gabbie was in a tough situation.

Della asked Gabbie not to entertain, speak, or act kindly to Ryan. He had hurt her by ignoring her and using harsh words when she confronted him. Gabbie was not only asked to act rude to show her disapproval for what Ryan had done to Della but also not to forgive him. Gabbie wasn’t happy about how Ryan had acted, but she wasn’t ready to react in an ungodly way. Torn between pleasing her best friend and God, she decided not to imitate Della—even though it might threaten their friendship.

Diotrephes was a man who did not always agree with John’s words and did his best to stand against him. He wasn’t enthused about receiving other Christians who travelled across different countries to share the gospel. Nor did he keep this view to himself. He ensured other people treated them likewise.

We often act similarly. Acting out of frustration or anger, as Della did, or imitating her actions if we are in Gabbie’s shoes is easy. Either way, we should consider our actions and ensure they are in accordance with God’s expectations.

Our reactions towards unpleasant situations shouldn’t involve encouraging others to disobey God. Instead of getting others to act in ungodly ways, we should act out of love. We should also be careful to please God by imitating Jesus, not the ungodly actions of people around us—even if doing so is more convenient.

Imitate Christ, and encourage others to do so as well. 

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A Climb Without a View

It was the fourth hour of the hike that did me in.

The final quarter-mile to the summit stretched upward, paved with skewed boulders on an endless incline. Sides cramping, heels tingling with the continuous scrape of broken skin, I trudged up the mountainside.

My heart thudded as I climbed the final steps toward the looming fire tower. The treetops thinned and the air cooled. Panting for breath, I turned to take in the infamous view that boasted a vantage of four states. Nothing was there but chalky clouds.

Scaling the tower steps, I peered through the open windows. Gauzy tendrils of clouds flitted past me. I couldn’t see anything. I stomped down the stairs and surveyed the descent before me. What was the point of all that work and all that pain to see nothing but haze? Even worse, it wasn’t over. Six miles down the mountain awaited me.

James urges us in James 1:4, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I certainly wasn’t being mature as I pouted my way down the mountainside, but when I reached the bottom, something happened.

I looked back and saw the mountain I had climbed. My legs were stiff and burning, an aching reminder of the labor my body had just performed.  No, I hadn’t been rewarded for my efforts, but muscles had ripped so they could grow. I was strengthened by the exercise as I persevered.

I now see how much this resembles life. We travel rocky terrain at different points, and it can be difficult to understand the purpose without a tangible resolution.

When God lets us face trials in life, He is doing something inside us that is mostly invisible. We are being changed—strengthened through adversity. We are being built up in Him so we can be better tools for His kingdom work. The tangible evidence comes with time as we face new challenges and are better able to persevere.

Trust God in the adversity. When He is done with you, you will lack nothing. 

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Suffering's Lessons

Never had I been sick for so long.

Sickness stuck to me this winter. Sinusitis hit the day after school dismissed for Christmas vacation. I persevered through the holidays, feeling horrible. When nothing worked, I made a doctor’s appointment. He gave the antibiotic, and I was better within one week.

Two weeks later, the same sickness returned. Between sick people at church and sick kids at school, I stood no change. Lysol, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes seemed unable to kill the monster.

Thinking my doctor might give me a second round of antibiotics since I had recently been ill, I returned. No such luck. “You probably had the flu,” he remarked, “but you’re past the seventy-two-hour window where medicine will help. Tough it out.”

Fortunately, my wife discovered a round of steroids the doctor had previously prescribed for her back. “Take these,” said Dr. Michelle. I did, and within two days, I felt better. (Men should always listen to their wives.)

Spring can’t come quickly enough. Suffering has worn me down—in body and in spirit. Paul had something to say about physical suffering, the kind that comes from standing up for Christ. It produces patience, character, and hope.

Physical suffering, whether from illness or from my stand for Christ, helps me identify with others. Because I have been sick so much this winter, I sympathize with others I know who have dealt with seasonal illnesses.  

Suffering grows faith and trust. Doctors prescribe medicines, which hopefully will heal. But trusting in the ultimate healer gives me peace and comfort. If He wants, He can do instantly what medicine takes days or weeks to accomplish. As I wait on Him, my faith and trust increase.

Times of suffering also help us appreciate the times of health and peace. The times when our bodies are well and no one is persecuting us for our faith, whether physically or emotionally.

Paul and many first-century Christians suffered for the just cause: their faith in Christ. Still they rejoiced. When we suffer for a similar reason, we should rejoice too. Jesus said we should.

When you suffer in your body, either from physical illnesses or because you stand for Christ, don’t waste the opportunity to learn from it.

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Right-Lane Driving

Knuckles white, veins throbbing in my forehead, tension headache mounting, I merge onto the highway.

Driving in Dallas—or any metro area—offers constant challenges. Drivers rarely give the courtesy of a turn signal or allow others room to change lanes. So, who could blame me for taking every advantage of the HOV lane?

The High Occupancy Vehicle (or carpool) lane permits vehicles with two or more occupants to travel separated from the rest of the highway’s traffic. While many use the lane to drive faster—due to less congestion—the lane offers me the solace of not dealing with other drivers. Since I’m a stay-at-home dad and constantly have my three-year-old with me, I’m allowed to use this lane for all my highway driving. But too quickly I came to believe I was special because I could use this lane. My sin was privilege (pride).

Driving in the HOV lane might not be your source of pride, but we all suffer from this sin in some way. For some, it’s pride over material wealth, intelligence, attractiveness, or humility. For others, it’s pride in traits we believe make us better than the rest of humanity—or at least the people we know.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addresses the sin of pride, reminding us that while we might think more of ourselves than we think of others, we all share the same identity in Christ. He encourages his readers to look to him, as they do to Christ, for their role model of behavior. Although he specifically addressed rivalries within the church, we can apply this same truth in our dealings with other people.

I’ve taken to driving only in the most frustrating lane: the right lane. This is my attempt at growing in Christ’s sanctification of me and dealing with pride. Through this, God teaches me patience, perseverance, and love for my fellow person.

Think of some steps you can take to deal with pride.

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Holding on--until You Can’t

I kept my eyes glued on Jake as his dad retrieved him from the water. 

As my daughter and son-in-law started the pontoon to take my ten-year-old grandson, Jake, tubing, I leaned back in the seat, soaking up the warm sunshine. Matt drove, Hayley watched for other boats, and I watched Jake. We started from a calm inlet. Jake was on his knees and not holding on. When we entered the larger lake section, the waves picked up, causing Jake to grab the handles.

Soon, waves from several boats caused the tube to bump hard. Jake laid on his stomach. The next wave hit so hard that his feet flew higher than his head. Still, he hung on tightly, laughing as the bumpy ride sprayed him with water.

We all cheered. Then Matt turned the boat, and a large wave caused the tube to go air born. Jake was tossed into the lake. 

As I watched, Hayley asked, ‘Is he okay?” 

“He’s great.”  I answered. 

Jake bobbed in the lake—not anxious but relaxed in his life jacket and waiting for his father to rescue him.

Like Jake, the psalmist knew he could rely on God, his heavenly Father, to watch out for him. If things got bumpy, He would spot what was going on. And if real trouble came, He would rescue him.

Life carries us through bumpy waters—sometimes knocking us off our feet. But we have a spotter who watches and comes to our aid.

When uncertainties come or difficult decisions have to be made, hanging on to our faith is difficult. We want to grab hold of worry and fear, but doing so isn’t what God wants. He wants us to approach Him in prayer and rest in comfort as He comes to our aid.

Hold on to God for your safety and protection.

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A Lesson from Carl Lee

Some people would describe me as an animal lover. I live in the country, and, through the years, people have abandoned dogs and cats in front of my house. Several of those animals became permanent residents. All have been given loving care, but a few became special. They have not only been my four-legged friends, but they have also been my teachers.

Twice a day I give my dogs treats, which they look forward to with eagerness. One day as I handed them the treats, I wanted Carl Lee—one of my favorites—to look at me as I talked to him.

“Carl Lee, would you please look at me? Look at my face, not what’s in my hand.”

But his thoughts were focused only on the treats and his anticipation in receiving them. 

That’s how I am with God at times. He blesses me with so many good things, and often that’s where my focus lies. Like Carl Lee, my eyes are on God’s hands and what He’s holding out to give me. I don’t place my attention on God Himself and praise Him for who He is.

I love Carl Lee and wish he would show more love to me because of who I am, not because of the gifts I give. Even though that may never happen, I’ll continue giving him loving care—just as God will continue loving me even when I look to what He holds in His hands instead of what He offers from his heart.

God gives gifts willingly and freely because He loves us. Don’t be like Carl Lee, looking to see what He holds. Rather, look into His face and see His eyes of love.

(As told to Normal Mezoe by Ruth Q.)

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The Unshakable Shepherd Boy

Giants aren’t prone to surrender, they are not typically passive, and they often seem impossible to defeat. 

But one giant met his match. Many of us remember the account of David and Goliath. The young boy defeated Goliath, and the enemies of Israel fled. Against all odds, the little shepherd slew a battle-hardened warrior. David had faith God would give him victory over the Philistine who mocked the armies of Israel. We read this account and marvel at David’s amazing faith. He trusted the Lord so much that a miracle followed. 

David’s faith was more potent than we have figured. Israel’s outlook was bleak. Goliath had taunted Israel for over a month. None of Saul’s men would face him down. Their hopes rested on the shoulders of a ruddy shepherd boy.

The Philistines laughed when David began to march toward them. Goliath, in all his pride, was insulted. David received no respect from his enemy. But the armies of Israel did not believe in David either. He had no moral support from his own people. King Saul told him he could never win. Goliath had been killing longer than David had been living. But David ran toward him anyway. David trusted God, even though the enemy ridiculed him. He trusted God, even when his own people doubted him.

David had the kind of mountain-moving, giant-slaying faith we should walk in daily—the kind of faith that sees us through any storm. We must trust and obey God in the face of adversity. And we must trust and obey Him even when our own people don’t believe in us.

Ask God to give you unshakable faith.    

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The Big Switch

He soared to the top of music recording charts, but one incident changed his life.

Tony Fontane was a popular American recording artist during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Born in Michigan, he was the son of a railroad worker who had converted to Christianity and moved his family to North Dakota where he operated a mission and lived in poverty. Living in poverty to do God’s work led Tony to hate religion. But he loved singing. Eventually, his passion for music led to him flourishing in the business. He even celebrated his notoriety by appearing on several television shows.

Life for Fontane changed on September 3, 1957. After finishing a television rehearsal, he headed for his California home, but never made it. Another driver ran a red light and plowed into his sports car. Rescue workers labored for several hours to extricate him. They rushed him to a hospital where he remained in a coma for thirty days.

Fontane later wrote that it was while he was in this coma that God appeared to him in a vision and gave him one more chance. And he took it. He made a big switch by turning from his atheism to Christianity and beginning a career in gospel music—refusing to sing anything else. Because William Morris Agency brought a lawsuit against him for breach of contract, Fontane lost everything. But he actually gained it all when he made the switch.

Anyone who chooses Christ gains everything as well—at least spiritually. My old things passed away at nine years of age—not totally in practice, but completely in God’s sight when He clothed me with His Son’s righteousness. He gave me a new nature with fresh wants, desires, and ambitions. Although I still face trials and temptations, I am no longer after what the world offers: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. I simply hunger to be obedient to Him . . . completely . . . even if it costs me everything.

A healthy relationship with Jesus Christ is the best way to begin a New Year. One where we love Him with our entire heart and show it through our actions, attitudes, and words. One where we involve Him in every detail of our life’s journey.

If you haven’t made the big switch, now is the best time.

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Jesus in a Coffee Shop

Stilted parts of their conversations drifted my way: Guess what? Really? She didn’t! I can only pray for you.

I was sitting in a coffee shop sipping my favorite Chai brew. While waiting on a friend to join me, I observed couples and small groups seated on high stools, conversing in happy, friendly voices.

But wait. I just heard someone offering to pray for another person. And in a coffee shop. As I glanced their way, I saw a man talking unabashedly to another. I wasn’t privy to the rest of their conversation, and I didn’t know why the one needed prayer. I only knew a child of God was praying over coffee with someone else. Knowing I had just become a guest, I watched as they bowed their heads. Then I let my silent prayer join in.

God wants us to pray for one another because we are all His children. When we do, it binds us together in a supernatural way. It also invites Jesus to join us, to guide us, and to heal us. Prayer keeps us humble. Confessing our sins to each other reminds us of our humanity and imperfections. 

I love family reunions because they are a break from the stress of life. A time to hug on, laugh with, listen to, and lift up each other. Prayer is a family reunion with other Christian believers. Through it, we rejoice in the good, feel compassion in the not-so-good, and are cleansed from our sins by the forgiving power of Christ.

Prayer doesn’t require anything special besides a concern for one another. No appointment is needed. No costly bill for you to pay. No bad-tasting medicine to force down. Just a willing heart. 

As you travel through your day, be alert and keep your eyes open. Someone needs your prayers—at work, at a ball game, at home, or even in a coffee shop.

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All Things New

It was only yesterday when I strained to keep my eyes open just to watch that ball drop in New York City. Now here I am, 11:55 p.m.–waiting for the same thing again.

When I was a child, time dragged. January 1 came and the count down for Christmas began with carefully scoping out the newest toys. Things like Slinkys, bicycles, and Easy Bake Ovens. It seemed like time went into slow motion as we scoured the Sears catalog.

Time slowed a lot as a kid. Like when my feet were cold and I longed for spring. Or when the end of the school year was only a month away. Even when the sun took its time warming the creek so we could bear diving our fingers into the icy waters in search of crawdads. Then it grew slower when November rolled around and Christmas approached.

It sped up after I passed fifty, when the harsh realization my children are really grown happened. Now January comes, and, by Christmas day, I’m still feeling like it was months prior.

I suppose it’s the season of life I’m in. Maybe it was season of life Paul was in as well. From Saul to Paul, he realized just what it meant to have life in Christ. After all, no one had made a bigger change in their life than Paul. He understood what it meant to have the “old” taken and the “new” arrive. Paul went from murderer to holy peace maker.

Being new in Christ comes slowly for us humans. We like to hang on to the past and dwell there, never loosening our grip on what once was. The truth is, when we take on a Christian life, “new” washes over us like a tidal wave, and, if we are faithful, it continues to wash over us daily–hard, fast, and fresh.

In Christ the new has arrived and the old . . . well . . . it’s history. And this is how it should be.

When you enter into the New Year, don’t let time drag you down. Grasp hold of the new Christ has given you and say goodbye to the old. Look forward to each new day, each new opportunity, each new breath. This is how it should be.

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He Never Fails

Utter chaos. That was all I saw on television.

My stomach twisted as the special news report spit out images of screaming people, gunfire, and destruction. Yet another terrorist attack on innocent people.

I pulled a blanket tightly around my face and peered over the edge. I just wanted this to all stop. My eyes shifted to our newly erected Christmas tree. The lights twinkled as the tree rotated, bringing into view precious ornaments—each with a story. Each with a memory. Why can’t things be like they used to be? No one should have to suffer at Christmas.

Mary must have thought the same as her life shifted with the news of a pregnancy that could get her killed. Her forthcoming marriage now in danger … and what about Joseph? What if he said no, rejected her? She’d been chosen by the Almighty as the vessel to bring the Savior into the world. Who in their right mind would believe that?

The angel who delivered this miraculous news to young Mary reassured her even the impossible would be possible. She need not be afraid. So Mary gave up her fear and turned her trust to the Father. She sang His praises, even though she knew her life would be shear chaos. Mary found peace in the promise from the angel … unfailing words.

Imagine the joy and the fear Mary must have felt. Chosen by God to bring His son into the world. The long awaited Messiah being born to a peasant. Even in her limited knowledge, this was certainly not what Israel expected. A simple birth to a simpler servant.

Mary never seemed to find rest as she reared the Son of God. Threats on His life, the oddity of His childhood faithfulness, the determination to teach in a world that refused to believe. His sacrifice. Yet in the promise that God’s Word would never fail, Christ came, died, and rose again.

The chaos the world faces today isn’t much different than when Jesus walked the dusty paths of Judea. Sin still wreaks havoc. Death and destruction still take front and center. Yet, in the wake of it all, God’s words never fail. His hand still covers us. God still cares for His people. He is the unchanging, unmovable, unstoppable King.

As you enjoy Christmas today, don’t think of the mess in the world. Be like Mary. Redirect your faith to the One who promises His Word will never fail. There is where you will find peace on earth.

From the staff and writers of ChristianDevotions.us and Christian Devotions Ministries,

may God shower you with His love, gift you with His faithfulness,

and cover you with His peace. Merry Christmas.

Eddie Jones and Cindy Sproles, cofounders of Christian Devotions Ministries

Martin Wiles, editor, and Andrea Merrell, associate editor

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Bleating Sheep

God uses various ways to communicate.

He’ll use a still, small voice, dreams, an angel, or a prophet to speak in our language. Many times we ignore His message, but He continues to love us. He’d like us to listen and obey, and He is pleased when we respond. 

In the American Patriot Bible, the word bleating shows up one time. Samuel went to King Saul to deliver a message from God: “You’re fired!”

Within the context, Saul states he has done as the Lord directed in destroying the Amalekites—but he brings back their king. He makes excuses for why his followers gathered the best sheep and goats and oxen from a battle where they were commanded to destroy an entire people, their goods, and their chattel. Samuel wasn’t impressed. The bleating sheep told a tale of guilt.

God expected Saul to do everything as commanded. Samuel spoke clearly to Saul. Regardless of the intent, the bleating sheep made the rebellious act clear.

In the course of life, we receive many messages and a few telegrams detailing God’s plans. If our ears are not attuned—or if our fingers plug our ears or denial stops the spiritual communication—the will of God will lie dormant around us.

Our part may be small, so God gives us other opportunities to show our sensitivity to Him. Sometimes we give the appearance of doing His will, but the baggage we bring back tells a different tale. We not only miss the blessing but also stand in danger of losing our position in the kingdom.

When we fail to do what God commands, the evidence drowns out the voice of God. Israel would have seen great wonders if Saul had listened.

Listen to God for specific direction, not the bleating-sheep-speaking guilt. Refocus your mind on God. He’ll bless you far beyond what the sheep represent.

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Three Digs Ya'll

“Three digs, y’all! Big water ahead!”   

Our family of seven positioned ourselves in the yellow inflatable raft, paddles in hand. Listening to our guide, Mitch, we practiced paddling in the calm waters near the landing. I was confident we’d spend a beautiful day on the Upper Pigeon River. 

But as we approached the first rapids, I wasn’t so sure. The twists and turns around the protruding rocks created doubt about our family bonding experience. I prayed for safety and still waters.

Perched in the back, Mitch’s voice carried above the raging waves. He spoke boldly and without hesitation. He knew the lay of the land and could read the conditions of the rapids and make choices to steer our craft safely. My confidence in his ability grew, as did my trust.  

Four more obstacles loomed in the big water ahead. The swirls of white water rushed across the treacherous rocks. We held our breath and paddled “three hard digs” upon Mitch’s command. Again and again, he shouted instructions on when and how to paddle. We knew his voice from our practice.

We laughed as we glided safely past the last rock. By trusting Mitch’s knowledge and acting upon his commands, we lifted our paddles together in an overhead “high-five” to celebrate.  

In life, rising tides and crashing waves interrupt our calm seas. Seeking God in the still moments equips us to hear Him during life’s obstacles. Even when God’s voice seems muffled, He communicates through His Word. Our all-knowing Guide always provides direction. We paddle by listening to His voice, obeying His commands, and lifting our high-fives of praise.

God knows what lies ahead and how to navigate your situation. With the Holy Spirit as your Guide, “Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”   

Whether you’re facing still or stormy waters, tune in to God’s voice.

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Crazy for the Lord

Crazy has many definitions.

Rational people define crazy as someone who is mentally deranged and uses means that are apart from the normal way of reasoning.

However, one definition of crazy that stood out to me was “extremely enthusiastic.” The word fan is short for fanatic. I am a big sports fan and have been extremely enthusiastic about my team and the outcome of a game. My wife might label me crazy, but I’ve never considered myself an intense fan who borders on mental derangement due to a game’s outcome.

Perceptions about life and the Lord vary from one person to the next. We value different things and have diverse moral compasses about values. But one common ground we all have is Jesus Christ. Christians are all saved by His blood and given redemption through the cross. This is something I’m crazy about.

Because I have been set free from sin and death, I am extremely enthusiastic about telling people how much the Lord loves them. The outcome of a game will not affect my life, but the outcome of the cross touches our lives in a great way.

You have the ability to be excited about this great gift, because it never grows old or fades away.  This gift never loses its value or breaks your heart. It’s a free gift, wrapped in Jesus Christ and given in extreme love. Jesus is passionate about you. A person does not die for something they aren’t crazy about.

If the Lord is thrilled about us, we can be impassioned about Him. Don’t be afraid to be crazy for the Lord. He is crazy about you. 

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Conforming to Christ

“You’ve changed.”

Her tone held an accusatory bite—perhaps meant to justify the growing distance between us. Or maybe to put the blame on me. Regardless, I was devastated.

At first, the thought made me remorseful. After all, it was costing me a twenty-five-year friendship, a friendship that had survived marriages, children, and multiple moves. As I thought about it, God reminded me change is a good thing—a godly thing.

If we do what has God called us to do—imitate Christ, renew our minds, put the old self to death, and walk forward in our new life—we will change. And the people around us will notice, especially those who don’t follow Christ.

I didn't intentionally offend my friend. I quietly and respectfully lived out my faith in front of her--answering her questions and showing her a loving Savior. She walked forward without Christ; I continued with Him. When things fell apart, I tried to find out what went wrong and make amends. It didn’t work. At some point, as God changed me, my faith became her stumbling block, and she walked away.

Following Christ comes at a temporal cost, but the eternal rewards are far greater. That’s what motivated Paul to say, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NASB).

Faith won’t always ruin a friendship and is often the inroad to bring a friend to faith. However, the time may come when we must choose between compromising to preserve a friendship and pursuing Christ at all costs.

Ask God for the strength to faithfully follow Him. Then watch as He slowly conforms you to the image of Christ.

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Peace in Life's Storms

Another unexpected hospital admission. I had to decide whether to stay or go on a planned retreat. The decision was tough, but I felt the nudge to go.

I stood on the beach on a nice chilly January morning, reflecting on this current storm and all the other storms my family had experienced during the last two years. I needed time alone to rest without family—time to pray and seek God’s help for my loved one’s health.  

As I watched the wind blow and the waves rise and fall, I thought about the disciples who found themselves in a storm carrying waves that threatened to sink their boat. They were terrified. Jesus was in the boat with them, but He was sleeping. The disciples woke Him and asked if He cared that they would drown.

Jesus spoke to the wind: “Quiet! Be still!” Immediately, the wind died down and the sea calmed. Then Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?” When they saw what Jesus did, they asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” 

This story brought a new sense of comfort that Jesus was in this storm with my family. I was not sure how this health storm would be resolved, but standing on the beach I felt a renewed calm and peace. I whispered a silent prayer, “Lord, open my eyes to see your armies of deliverance.”

Not long after I returned home, my loved one was discharged from the hospital. The Lord stilled another storm. In the presence of Jehovah, the waves of trouble collapse and storms subside as we trust in Him.

The storms will come and go, but God is omnipresent. He is the Prince of peace in the storms of life. Trust Him with your storm.

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Jesus, Our Comfort

I remember one day when my husband distressed me. He had dementia, which made him aggressive and troublesome. Everything seemed to go wrong. My patience failed. To top things off, I forgot to turn the bathtub off, and water flooded the room.  

I settled down and prayed, “Thank you, Lord, that you are with me in all this turmoil. You are my strength and comfort.” Peace entered my spirit. I got a mop and sopped up the water. I felt the Lord helping me. The circumstances were the same, but joy flooded my soul.

Jesus knows and understands our burdens, anxieties, and weaknesses. He, too, faced all kinds of trials when He walked on earth. He wants us to turn to Him when we are overwhelmed with everyday concerns and need His peace and comfort. His presence is always near, and He is ready to help. Just saying His name pleases Him.

The next time you need the Lord’s comfort, call on Him and thank Him for all He allows in your life circumstances. 

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Is it Evident?

Bad company corrupts good character, but the opposite is also true: good company promotes good character.

After healing a lame man, Peter and John were questioned by the Sanhedrin who wanted to understand by what power they were operating. After all, these were ordinary men, not men of noble pedigree or influence. The fact that they spoke with such authority and were able to heal, confounded the religious elite.

But these men had been with Jesus, the One who possessed all wisdom and power. For three years, they witnessed His miracles, His mercies, and His compassion. Keeping company with Jesus had quite an influence on their lives.

What the religious leaders did not understand was that these men had been commissioned and empowered by Jesus. There was nothing they could do or say that would stand in the way of God’s calling. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus instructed His disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit and told them they would be clothed with power from on high. This is what the religious leaders noticed. These men had been filled with God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit transformed them from ordinary individuals to people of courage and power.

As we spend time in God’s presence, Christ transforms our nature, replacing it with His own. When we ask, He fills us with His power, making us more gentle, loving, and compassionate.

Let it be evident in your interaction with others that you have been with Jesus. 

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The Marauding Herd and Mundane Tasks

As I stood on the highest hill in the pasture, I saw our cattle herd grazing in our neighbor’s pasture.

With a heavy heart, I drove the old pickup toward Mother’s farm house. As I maneuvered the paths in the pasture, I prayed, telling God I was trusting Him. Our neighbor was “brokering” the fence building and told me not to worry. But much to my dismay, our cattle had stepped over the broken fence between our pastures. The errant bovines foraged where they weren’t supposed to. Even if I could call them back on Mother’s side of the fence, what would prevent them from going back?

I had hauled off old fence posts that morning. Stopping at the area that would soon be mowed for hay, I loaded pruned limbs that had to be taken off. It seemed a misuse of time to haul off discarded branches when our cows were in the wrong place, consuming the neighbor’s grass.

Often, we get in a holding pattern, waiting for something of great consequence to be resolved, yet feeling powerless to impact the situation. Internally, we realize we have necessary obligations with our family, work, and daily living.

Believing a few facts is essential for our peace and uninterrupted worship of our Lord. God is engineering His plan behind the scenes of our situation. Nothing is out of His control. His timing remains impeccable, and He is working all things for our good.

One of the greatest signs of our resting in God’s plan and His working is to do the seemingly commonplace tasks without wringing our hands and worrying. We focus on our Savior, conscientiously and cheerfully doing the repetitive but required routine and leaving what we can’t do to Him.

Do the mundane things of life with the joy of the Lord. 

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God Knows

God knew me in my mother’s room before I was born.

As a child, I wondered how I could be in my mother’s room without her knowing I was there. Until, ta-da, I arrived as my parents’ daughter. I remember looking under mom’s bed, pushing things aside in her closet, trying to locate the place I was hidden until God delivered me. I never found it. But I did find dust bunnies, a sock without a match, and a rumpled sunhat with a wilted bow. I heard things like, “What are you doing in there?” and “Get out from under that bed!”

After I grew up, I realized the word was womb, not room. The God who created everything knew me before I was a twinkle in my mama’s eye. God knew whom I would become throughout my lifetime: daughter, sister, friend, nurse, caregiver. He knew the paths I would walk: valleys, plateaus, mountaintops.

God knew when I would follow His path and when I would decide to travel my own trails, when I’d curl up in His arms and when I’d push Him away because things weren’t going my way. He knew when I would stand, when I would fall, when I would crawl on bloodied hands and knees, and when I would lie face down in the dirt and cry. God knew when I would hold my arms up and be ready for Him to rescue me and when I would have fire in my soul to reach out to those who needed to hear of His phenomenal love and gift of eternal life.

God knows us in our mother’s wombs before we are born. We will never be a secret to Him. He knows our thoughts before we think them. He meets our needs the way He thinks best. We are intimately known and eternally loved beyond measure by our Father in heaven.

Thank God for loving you just the way you are. 

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Why Should God Wake You?

I often wonder why God should give me another day.

Every evening, I pray to God. Before ending my prayer, I ask God to preserve my life and grant me long life. I expect to wake up in the morning. I use the word expect, because my day is usually planned before it’s here. But then I wonder why I want God to wake me up.

I believe Paul thought through this because he knew and talked about what each choice meant to him and why he would prefer one or the other.

We know to live is Christ, but understanding what that means is challenging. Possible answers are so we can live in love and obedience to God one more day, so people can see God through our lives one more time, so we can glorify God through our planned activities for the day, or so we can tell one more person about Christ and love the people around us.

Less worthy options for waking up are so we can live our dreams, pursue our goals, enjoy the pleasures of the earth, and show the world how intelligent, famous, and wealthy we are. Deep within our hearts, we know our desire to have one more day often has little to do with living for God. We want to wake up so we can live for ourselves with a pinch of God here and there.

We are created to worship and bring pleasure to God and should wake up each morning with the intention of living as Christ would live. Our loving God desires to give us another day so we can understand His truths and experience more of Him. When we do this, we will renew our minds, appreciate God for His kindness, and live everyday more meaningfully.

Let Christ be the reason you live for each new day. 

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Acting on Impulse

As my wife checked out with our groceries and staples, I peered at a price tag and contemplated a decision.

I’ve always been an impatient type. Extra money stirs an itch. On this occasion, I wanted a new computer and one that was more compact. Sam’s wholesale company had one on sale. 

I ambled up to my wife with a long face. “They have one for less than two hundred dollars.”

“Well, buy it,” she replied.

I had her approval, but I hesitated. I’d never owned a Chromebook before. But impatience and desire took over. I made the purchase. Soon after, I discovered I’d acted on impulse without doing the necessary investigation. Most of what I do at school and church and with my writing requires Microsoft Word. Chromebook didn’t support it. 

Two weeks after acting on impulse, I bought another computer that suited my needs. I advertised my Chromebook on Facebook. Fortunately, it sold it quickly—and without losing money.

Esau acted on impulse too. He enjoyed hunting and had just returned from a hunting trip when he smelled the luscious stew his momma-boy brother was cooking. In haste, he traded his rights as the oldest child for a bowl of stew. Later, he hated his brother for stealing his birthright, yet he couldn’t do anything about his loss—but stew.

When I want something badly enough, rationalization comes easily—convincing myself I need this particular thing … persuading myself spending money I don’t have is acceptable. Sometimes the pressure to buy isn’t internal, but external. Other people have what I want, and they encourage me to get it also.  

I failed to do the most important thing before making my purchase: consult God. I didn’t have to get on my knees—or even close my eyes—but I could have prayed at the sales counter and asked His opinion. He can check my spirit and prick it one way or the other. Though I didn’t pray, I felt the prick—and ignored it.

Making purchases based on biblical principles is also essential. Am I spending money I don’t need to spend? Does owning this thing conflict with my testimony as a believer? Is making the purchase going to lead me into unnecessary debt?

God is more than able to give us wisdom for every purchase we make. Consult Him so you won’t act on impulse—and later regret it.

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Hiding Among the Baggage

I have had times in my ministry when I should have spoken out, but didn’t. Someone else could do it better than I. Thinking silence is golden justified my quietness. But the color was a little more yellow than gold. 

At other times, God prompted me to do acts of service, but others were better able to do the task. I decided I would serve in the background and help them. Honorable in some cases, but it was not real service or humility in other cases. It was an inverted form of pride. I focused on what I could or could not do instead of what God could do through me.

Samuel was going to anoint Saul as King of Israel. Saul was “head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land,” yet he hid among the baggage. Perhaps, he felt small in his own eyes—as I have.

Samuel explained God’s plans to Saul. Saul then tested his anointing and prophesied among the prophets. His friends said, “What has happened to the son of Kish?” But upon Saul’s public revealing, they found him hiding among the baggage. 

If God says you can do it, saying you can’t is never humility, but timidity and stupidity.  Contradicting God is never smart.

If you feel small in your own eyes, remember you’re often not what you think you are—or what others think you are. You are always what God says you are. If God has called you to do something and says you can do it, don’t hide among the baggage.

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And Stuff

“We already know Jesus loves us and stuff,” my daughter shouted from the back seat.

We were on our way home from a birthday party where she had a small taste of a bounce house and was eager to get back on it. I thwarted her plans by reminding her we would be going to church the next morning rather than heading outside to bounce.

She didn’t feel church was necessary since Jesus loved her . . . and stuff. Her innocent proclamation was actually very powerful. We often allow the “and stuff” of our relationship with God to become a second thought. Although Jesus does love us, He also wants a relationship with us. He desires that we sink into His Word and fully explore the dimensions of a relationship with Him. 

While God’s love covers us, it’s the “and stuff” that carries us through the troubles of our days. His unending grace, constant presence, and perfect plans are all part of the “and stuff” that my daughter has yet to fully grasp.

As you revel over how much Jesus loves you, dive into His Word and discover just how much other stuff there is.

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Encouragement for the Lonely

After investing in the life of a younger believer for almost a decade, I was hurt when she decided to turn away from the Lord and also reject my friendship.

Our journey had taken us over many hills and through numerous valleys. I was sure we’d walk through life as friends and fellow seekers of Christ. Her decision to abandon her faith and turn from our friendship was heartbreaking. I questioned whether the years of investing in her life had been a waste. The pain of losing the friendship was deep.

Most of us—like the psalmist—have experienced the desolation of a friend’s hurt. We have wrestled with the sense of feeling alone in the world. A friend turns away in betrayal, a marriage falls apart, a child leaves with no promise of returning. We find ourselves alone and misunderstood. The emptiness is devastating, and the pain of unwarranted scorn leaves us isolated and hurt.

Jesus never promised life for believers would be easy. In fact, He promised trouble for all who walk through this broken world. But there is good news. He promised He would never turn away or abandon us. He also reminded us that He had overcome the world.

Though we find ourselves alone and hurting, God never leaves us. He is the ultimate comforter, keeper, and companion. Whenever you’re feeling misunderstood, left out, or lonely, take heart. God sees your pain. He understands, and He is your defender and advocate. He will never leave you. 

Lean into God’s love. Trust Him to guide you and shine light on the path in front of you.

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Mercy and Grace

Imagine our world if we showed mercy and grace.

As a noun, mercy mean compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone when it is within our power to punish or harm.

God showed mercy by sending His Son when He could have used His power to punish a nation of people who had turned their backs on Him—and would have been justified in doing so. But out of love, He chose a different route—a route of mercy.

Grace as a noun is God’s free and unmerited favor manifested in saving sinners and bestowing blessings on them.

Grace is when God—out of mercy—sent His only Son . . . the one perfect human . . . a man full of goodness and love to suffer on a cross and die an unimaginable death for those who deserved punishment. The most beautiful example of grace was Jesus sacrificing His perfect life for our imperfect lives so we could experience freedom and salvation.

Jesus showed mercy to Judas by allowing him to spend the last supper in His presence, even though Judas' heart had already changed to betray him. Jesus had the right and the power to send him away and separate Himself from this traitor. Grace was Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in the final hours before His death.

For those who have chosen to follow Christ, mercy is a wife choosing to forgive her husband after he betrays her trust and seeks love outside their home. She decides to stay with him and give him another chance. Grace is that same wife surprising her husband with a vow-renewal ceremony to show she is willing to recommit to him and her marriage, regardless of his mistakes.

Mercy is when parents forgive their unreachable teenage child for their bad attitude and for the unclean room. Grace is cleaning their child’s room and leaving him a note that lets their child know how deep and unconditional their love for him is—just like Jesus’ love for them.

Think of ways you can channel the grace and mercy Jesus has shown you. 

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When the Battle Rages

“It’s a battle. I’m being attacked and I can’t find the strength to stand.”

Bea leaned against the car window and sighed. She was tired. Lost. Spent. And I was at a loss for the right words.

“What do you do when you’re trying to be obedient, but it’s like God has forgotten you? I study my Bible, pray . . . I worship. Where is God in this?”

It’s a question we’ve all asked, especially when we know we are doing our best to be the individual God wants us to be. There’s no denial we’re all sinners. No excuses. When trying spiritual times fall over us, we cry out—“What more Lord?”

Jehoshaphat faced the wrath of three kingdoms, and he wondered what on earth had caused this. What would he do? He did all he knew to do. He called the people together and they prayed. And prayed. And prayed. Until God sent Jahaziel, to reassure them . . . this was not their battle. It was God’s and God had already won.

Facing spiritual hardship is hard. It’s harder to understand why—when we are doing our best to be obedient—we must suffer through battles. The spiritual battle roars in the heavens, but it’s God’s battle and He never loses. When the war slips through the cracks and falls on us, our faith and trust in Him are vital. Just as Jehoshaphat called the people of Israel together to pray—so should we. Pray and remember the battle is not ours. It belongs to God. Stand firm. Steadfast. Faithful. And God will keep His promises.

It’s cliché to say hardships build our character—both earthly and spiritually—but it’s true. In our despair, we lash out to God and ask why? WHY? Still, His ways are greater than ours. When we do the only thing we know to do—go to our knees and remain there—then God can do what He does best: win the battle.

When you are spent from the battle that rages around you, kneel and pray. God has already fought and won.

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Batteries

Hearing loss occurs for many reasons, loud noises chief among them.

In the 1960s, Vox manufactured the Super Beatle Amplifier. This device produced huge volume, and the Beatles used multiple units of them when they performed at Yankee Stadium. Back then, dancing in front of these amplifiers at local school gyms injured many adolescents’ ears.

Because of the anatomy of the inner ear, hearing does not return once you suffer loud noise damage. In older life, communication with children who have high-pitched voices becomes impossible. With a fan or refrigeration unit running in the background, listening is difficult at best.

Hearing aids assist in overcoming some of these woes, but not all of them. The aids require batteries to operate and batteries die at inopportune moments. They must be replaced to restore communication.

Faith also suffers without hearing. Preachers speak words undecipherable to the hearing impaired, whether it’s because of physical limitations or spiritual ones. Communicating with God requires good hearing. Since He speaks in a small voice, any worldly distraction—like noises generated by Satan’s work—eliminates the ability to hear God.

Our faith suffers if we continue to listen to the noise. Things like secular comedy TV shows, gossip at the water fountain, pornography on the computer, and the simple lack of reading Scripture contribute to disrupted communication with God.

Unlike hearing aids that only offer some restoration of the sense, God’s forgiveness restores our ability to hear Him. Regenerate your faith and obtain the advantage of hearing God’s voice by going back to the Bible.

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Praying with Daisies

Little drops of sunshine. That’s what they are.

I’ve loved daisies since I was a little girl snuggling inside the giant crevice of an elm tree–my secret place. The place I chose to create imaginary friends and wonderful adventures.

At the base of the big elm grew a pod of beautiful daisies. Keeping bugs away and water near their roots was a chore, but I managed. When they bloomed, I could have sworn the sun glistened off their yellow centers.

I learned to pray hidden away in the big elm. Basically an only child (my brother, twelve years older and grown), I found the friendship of God early on.

“How do I pray? I’m just a kid.”

Just talk to Me and watch the daisies. Each day you pray, you’ll see them grow. When they bloom, so will your heart.

“My heart will bloom?

You’ll be tempted to pick the buds before they bloom. You’ll want to take them home and put them in water. But if you are strong and wait, joy will come.

Daily, I cared for the daisies and talked to God. He was right. When I saw the buds emerge, I wanted to pick them. The temptation to pluck the buds was strong. I wanted to take the flowers home, but I heard the whisper in my heart. Wait. Let them bloom.

When Jesus returned to His disciples after praying in Gethsemane, He found them sleeping. All He’d ask them to do was stay awake—watch with Him—but they gave in to the desires of the flesh and slept. He warned them if they would only watch and pray, they would not fall into temptation.

Our intentions are good. We mean to do what’s asked by God, but we fail miserably. Temptation wins. I learned a valuable lesson watching the daisies bloom. Watching taught me to pray and wait for His will. 

All my prayers haven’t been answered the way I’d hoped, and then, there’s those times I’ve fallen into temptation. But for the times I’ve waited for the daisies to bloom, amazing things have come. 

Stand firm in your prayer life even when it’s hard. Wait until the daisies bloom. Your reward is strength and joy in Christ.

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Waiting for Perfect

I'm afraid of growing old alone.

As my single friends shared their fears and dating frustrations with me, I often wondered if I would grow old alone.  

The difference was . . . I did not date. I was a bit shy but had done everything right by Christian standards. All I had to do was wait for the perfect man to walk into my life. He never did, but God had other plans.

One by one, my friends married. I became restless. God, what is wrong with me? Since I was a little girl, I had dreamed of a future with a husband and children. The fear of growing old without that haunted me more every day.

Then God asked the unthinkable: If you never married, would I be enough for you?

The question disturbed me. Not marry? Live alone? Is God really enough? After months of struggling with the answer, I knelt before God. As I prayed, a part of myself died: “Yes, God, if I never marry, you alone are enough.”

My surrender was all God needed. He wanted my deepest hopes and desires, my dreams for a future, my everything. Although I had lived according to God’s Word, I had not aligned my deepest desires with God’s heart.

The key to being a living sacrifice is to become empty—to place everything at God’s feet. Only then can He fill your life with His hope, His plans, and His future. My fear separated me from a key part of God. Once I allowed Him to take everything, I felt safe and secure. God held my future in His hands.

Within a few months, I met a man who was not perfect. A divorced father of two grown children, he was broken but determined to serve God and help others who were broken. Two years later, he became my husband.

Turn every area of your life over to God. He is waiting patiently for you to give yourself wholly and completely to Him so He can transform you from the inside out. 

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Hope and the Future

Life is hard, confusing, and tragic. It hurts. I often feel overwhelmed—as if I’m shoveling snow in a blizzard. As hard as I try, I can’t get a handle on it. 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." This is my verse. The verse I cling to when life doesn’t make sense. I need this verse. I need to know God has a plan for my life—a good plan as He did for the nation of Israel. I need to know I have hope and a future. I need to know God has more for me.

When I’m in the middle of the unknown and awful, all I can do is hold on and hope for something better, something more, such as healing, restoration, hope, and a future.

Making sense of circumstances can be difficult. Knowing what to say to the mother whose three-year-old has cancer. Or the parents whose child is missing. Knowing how to comfort those who watch their children starve to death in corners of the world we rarely see. I search the horizon and I can’t see their hope or future.

Our fallen, broken world has trouble. This side of eternity there is illness, poverty, broken bridges, and death. Our hope frequently lies in the unseen—what waits beyond the horizon. Often, my faith—or lack thereof—boils down to believing God has plans for me as well as answering a simple question: “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

When trouble comes and life goes sideways, I must believe God’s promises. I must trust and believe He is who He says He is. Sometimes I question and doubt. Sometimes I get mad and think God is asleep at the wheel. At other times, my doubt and unbelief leave me alone, and I wander in a painfully dry and dusty desert.

But God loves me still. When I lay down my burdens and trust Him, I get what I need—hope for my future. It’s not easy or magic. Sometimes it’s moment by painful moment.

God, your loving Father, will never leave you hopeless. His love never fails. He can restore what the locusts have eaten.

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Falsely Accused

I walked into a small room filled with angry people, thinking I was there to support a friend. The next thing I knew, a finger was pointed at my face, and an accuser shouted, “Just who do you think you are?”

My hands flew up in front of me, and my response was “Whoa, whoa, whoa … what in the world are you talking about?”

From that point on, the meeting hit a downward spiral. Lies bounced around the room like rubber balls with a life of their own. At one point, my accuser tried to hit me. Thankfully, someone stepped between us as I silently begged God to come to my rescue.

Being falsely accused is no picnic. But what should we do when it happens?

Every time Jesus faced the religious firing squad, He remained silent. He didn’t get angry or emotional, try to dispute the accusations, or explain His words and actions. He had been about His Father’s business and knew He had done no wrong. When the Devil challenged Him, He replied each time with, “It is written ...”

Remaining calm and confident when fingers are pointed in your face and hateful words are hurled at you from every direction—especially from people you thought were your friends—is difficult. Our flesh demands reaction while our spirit whispers peace. Our carnal nature cries out for us to stand our ground and fight back, while the Holy Spirit within us says, “I’ve got this.”

My experience—which I affectionately refer to as “the bashing”—happened many years ago, and the memories fade a little more with each passing decade. God was with me that day, just as He’s been with me since—and always will be. He fought the battle for me, and like the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace, I came out without even the smell of smoke.

I learned a lot from that experience—especially about forgiveness, trust, self-control, and preserving my integrity in the midst of an angry mob.

When people come against you, call on the Lord. He will give you the words to speak and fill you with His peace.

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Culling Cuckaburrows

Pulling cuckaburrows was a new experience for me in farm life.

Visiting my maternal grandparents on the farm was always enjoyable. Every day was a new adventure, doing things I never experienced in the city. Along with my cousin, we’d pile into my grandfather’s blue Chevy truck and head to the farm.

As my grandfather rode down the dirt roads dividing the fields of cotton, he pointed out cuckaburrows. Like many other words my grandparents used, this one isn’t in the dictionary. These invaders were thorny weeds that often grew alongside the cotton. They were easy to spot as they matured. And when my grandfather did, he’d send my grandmother, my cousin, and me into the fields to pull them up. 

“Be careful not to pull up the cotton,” he’d caution. Sometimes this was precarious because they grew so closely together.

Jesus once said something similar when asked if weeds should be pulled from the wheat field. Unlike my grandfather, He said to leave them until the harvest time. Then they would be separated into their respective places.

Like the tares of Jesus’ day, these weeds represented things that shouldn’t be in the cotton field. If left alone, they would take over, preventing the cotton plant from growing and producing as my grandfather intended.

My cuckaburrows represent things that shouldn’t be in my life. Left there, they will stunt my spiritual growth or even keep me from Christ initially. Sinful choices and sinful relationships invite thorns into my life. Some aren’t sinful; they merely interfere with my service to Christ. Like my grandfather, Christ tells me to pull them up.

Ridding my life of prickly invaders takes intentional effort. I could have looked at them in the cotton field all day long, but they would never have gone away. I had to leave the truck, walk into the field, and remove them. Cuckaburrows interfere with my being the salt and light Jesus wants me to be in this world. Spiritual disciplines spread poison on them.

Ask God to show you your cuckaburrows. Then pull them up so you can be successful in your work for Him.

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Fear-of-God Living

Forest Gump’s mama said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

I tend to think of life as like a trophy case. A trophy case in which I place all the important things: family, career, hobbies, and God. I love my family and do what I must to provide for them. I’ve worked hard at various jobs. When I have free time, hobbies restore my physical and mental health. And then there’s God who gets the first-fruits of my time and energy.

Up before my family and making their breakfast, my day as a stay-at-home dad starts early. Struggling with the kids at bedtime, my day ends late. In between breakfast and bedtime, I spend three to four hours in the parade of minivans and SUVs picking up and dropping off my son at school, caring for my three-year-old daughter, and trying to accomplish some of the never-ending duties: washing dishes, doing laundry, and picking up toys. Things that make it difficult to focus on the eternal picture rather than the minutia of daily life.

Proverb 31 defines the characteristics of a good wife. The proverb is filled with enculturated, gendered statements such as “She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places.” But a set of virtues sits behind the proverb. Virtues like trustworthiness, generosity, organization, beauty, and charm. All of which apply equally to men and women.

The writer touts the traits as desirable, yet shows the fleeting nature of beauty and charm in opposition to the more desirable virtue: living in the fear of God. Beauty and charm, which are representative of the entire list of human traits—including those not listed—are placed in their proper relative position as supportive roles.

Fear-of-God living entails honoring God. Our behaviors can either honor God or be exercised in our own vanities. Thoughtfully navigating our days is important. In the moment, when we are disciplining kids or having a disagreement with loved ones, we need to focus on doing all we do in ways that honor our Savior. We need to ensure all our trophies point to the one that reads “1st Place Servant of Christ.”

Make fear-of-God living your daily goal. 

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The Promotion of Love

The love of the Lord is a promotion from death to life and from bondage to freedom. 

The greatest gift to humanity was the perfect love of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus expressed the love of the Father by His obedience to pain and death for our promotion to eternal life. We were promoted by God’s love to a place we could not attain because of our propensity for error.

God’s perfect love removes all fear from our consciences and removes all penalty of wrong doing. Perfect love never takes anything from us because it only seeks to add to our self-worth, which allows us to walk freely from the imperfect love of this world.

We all have been tainted by imperfect love, but God’s love is sweet to the lips and edifying to the soul. We were promoted to a place of satisfaction and peace by the singular act of perfect love by Jesus Christ on the cross.

The great thing about God’s love is that we can now express this perfection of the soul to our neighbors. Kindness is a great act, but love coupled with kindness is a taste of perfection from the Lord. It is giving someone a promotion in their self-worth by simply expressing the unconditional love you have felt from the Lord in your own experiences.

The Lord created us to be vessels of the gospel. The purpose of the vessel is to serve a need in someone else. An empty vessel does no good, but a full vessel quenches the thirst of many. The love of the Lord overwhelms us with His grace, so that we can fill others with the same grace we have experienced.

To love your neighbor as yourself is to wish the same blessings on someone else that God has given you. When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, He was saying we would have more love from Him than we could ever contain for ourselves.

The next time you see someone down in their lives, love them as you love yourself, and you will promote them to a place where they can see Christ’s reflection of perfection staring at them through your actions. 

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Free Indeed

Darkness was quietly tiptoeing in as I sat on the swing in my back yard.  Across the street, miniature booms and loud pops filled the air as youngsters celebrated on the eve of Independence Day. Colorful sparkles of shimmering light exploded in the air and then disappeared into the darkness.

Once again, Americans were visibly and audibly celebrating their freedom. We are bountifully blessed to live in this beautiful land of the free. We have much to celebrate.

Christians, living in America, are doubly blessed. Not only do we live in this great country, but we are also endowed with the true freedom that knowing Jesus Christ as Savior brings. In Christ, we are free to grow and to become all that His love encourages us to be.

As we pause to thank God for our country’s freedom, let us remember to praise Him for His freedom that can never be taken from us.

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Are You Hungry?

I was enjoying breakfast when God showed up.

Halfway through my store-brand yogurt mixed with fresh blueberries, God floated a question across my mind: Are you hungry? 

I replied, “Of course I’m hungry. That’s why I’m having breakfast.”

He then floored me with, No, are you truly hungry or are you just eating? That’s when our discussion morphed into a monologue, and I tried to keep up.

When we’re not really hungry, we approach food as optional. We develop a choosy, disinterested mindset. If we do find something to eat, we pick at it and often leave leftovers behind.

A hungry or starving person has no doubt about his hunger. He has to eat. Hunger pangs make him intentional. When he finds a food source, he devours it. He may even eat things that normally aren’t at the top of his menu selections—and eat them at places he never thought he’d go. Only food satisfies a truly hungry person. Real hunger makes us behave in strange, yet passionate and intentional ways.

Now back to my conversation with God. Jesus said those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness would be filled. But the secret is hungering for it—not picking and choosing as we aimlessly wander up and down God’s spiritual buffet. Nothing else quenches our craving. Our appetite is only for Him and His delicacies.

When I hunger for God and His righteousness, my attitude and actions change. I prioritize specific time with Him. I crave His insight, conviction, and direction. I devour those things He offers that I normally wouldn’t accept. Like David, my heart pants for Him. Like Mary, I want to sit in His presence. Like Paul, I set my affections on things above. And like Jesus, I invite others to God’ feast.

Ask God to help you never settle for the unhealthy fast food of the world and its alluring distractions.

God, give us spiritual hunger pangs that drive us to the banquet hall of Your Word. Grant us the intentional desire to feast in Your presence. Quench our insatiable hunger with only Yourself.

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Love like God

Love is a verb. It requires choice and action.

The Bible tells us to love as God has loved us. God is love, love comes from God, and those who are loving and kind show they belong to God. If a person isn't loving and kind, it shows they don’t know God or belong to Him.

But it isn’t only about our love for God. It’s also about His love for us. God's love sent Jesus into this wicked world to make a way for us to have eternal life through His death, burial, and resurrection. Since God loved us that much, we ought to love each other.

God is the source of our love, not us. Those who accept Jesus have access to His love through the power of His Holy Spirit living in them.

The Spirit helps us bite our tongue and speak the truth in love instead of lashing out against others. He helps us be patient with those who irritate us, seek justice instead of our own personal glory, and see others as worthy of love and respect. He also keeps us from being jealous, boastful, proud, rude, irritable, self-seeking, mean-spirited, hateful, retaliatory, short-tempered, and plain obnoxious.

Choose to love others, and let them see God’s love through you. 

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Lee's New Hearts

My daughter, Cathy, and her husband, Lee, had been married for less than five years when Lee began to have serious heart problems.  

While Lee was in the hospital, I felt the Holy Spirit silently speaking and telling me to talk to him about salvation. I prayed for the right words to share. Lee seemed close to making a decision, but it was time to leave. I held his hands and prayed with him. Later, my minister visited Lee and led him to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior. 

Lee was excited to be a Christian. When he was able to leave the hospital, he and Cathy attended our church where he planned to publicly announce his decision. However, toward the end of the service, he had an attack and stopped breathing for a while. An ambulance was called and Lee was rushed to the hospital. As our family followed the ambulance, our church members prayed. It was an anxious time as we waited for a diagnosis.

Eventually, Lee was admitted to a large hospital in a distant city and put on a list for a heart transplant. Meanwhile, doctors surgically implanted a mechanical heart to keep his heart beating.

Finally, a donor heart became available. Late one night, Lee was prepared for surgery. As our family sat in the waiting room throughout the night and early morning, we prayed. After many hours of waiting, we were told the surgery was a success and Lee’s donor heart was beating normally.

Philippians 4:6 tells us to pray in everything. We had done that through the months. Now it was time to offer our thanksgiving. Our family gathered in a circle and praised God for the miracle. Not only did Lee have a new spiritual heart, he also had a new physical heart and the possibility of renewed life.

Our prayers are not always answered with yes, but even when we receive a no or a wait a while, we can still offer God our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Learn to thank God in all circumstances. 

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Choosing to Love Others

I don’t want to go on the Ferris wheel of crazy with unhealthy people and patterns.   

Over the years, I’ve worked hard to become emotionally healthier and to learn what hurts cause hang ups and why I do some of the things I do. In the process of allowing God to heal me, I now desire healthy people and relationships. I used to embrace the crazy because I understood it. It felt familiar. But the down side of crazy is drama, disappointment, and hurt. So I stay away from people and situations which aren’t good for me.

Recently, God reminded me of a Scripture that caused me to rethink my avoidance policy. He showed me that by shutting certain people out, I was loving those who love me and greeting only “my own people.”  The challenge Jesus gives is to love the unlovable, the difficult, and those who challenge me personally. 

I don’t think it’s biblical to continue relationships that harm us or which are seriously unhealthy and toxic. I’m talking about relationships with those who aren’t nice, who leave me out, or who talk behind my back. Such people I avoid. To love or not to love is my choice, and God lets me choose.

One day, I chose to be loving when I didn’t feel like it, when I didn’t want to. I felt like a hypocrite. I told the Lord, “I wish this was genuine. I wish I was doing this loving thing because I actually felt loving toward this person. I wish You would change me and make me more loving.”

The Lord impressed on me that this was how I become more loving. It starts with a choice. In choosing to be loving when I don’t feel like it, He uses that to change me. It didn’t matter that my feelings didn’t match my actions. What mattered was me giving up me (avoiding the person altogether) and choosing God and His way. I felt better. As if I had made progress. 

Making the choice to love others is what transformation is all about. While the transformation may sometimes be instant, most of the time it isn’t. Usually, it’s a step-by-step process where I trade my ways for God’s ways, making each choice one day at a time.

Choose to love someone who is unlovable. 

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Lest We Forget

Forgetting can be a horrible thing … especially if it’s something I need to remember.

While teaching at a local Christian school, I annually chaperoned the eighth-grade trip to Washington, DC. Memorials were high on the list of things to visit since they were constructed to help future generations remember a person or event.

The Korean War Memorial fascinated me. The artist focused on the number thirty-eight. Thirty eight was the number of the parallel dividing North and South Korea and also the number of months the war dragged on. But trying to place thirty-eight life-size soldiers on a plot of land that would only accommodate nineteen was a problem.

The solution was a reflective wall. When looking at the wall, thirty-eight soldiers are seen trudging through terrain representative of Korea instead of the actual nineteen present. Problem solved. Statement made.

Memorial Day is the day when Americans remember military personnel who have died while serving their country. The holiday originated as Decoration Day and was established by a group of Union veterans. Eventually, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions were merged into one and celebrated together.

God also likes memorials and warns His people repeatedly not to forget Him or the things He has done for them. In Israel’s history, delivering them from four hundred years of Egyptian slavery needed remembering. For Christians, the big unforgettable deliverance came through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

For years I’ve worn Christian paraphernalia—mainly crosses. Since I got in on the tail end of the hippie movement, wearing jewelry came naturally. From necklaces with crosses to watches, bracelets, key rings, and shirts with the same, I’ve worn it all.

Although jewelry and other clothing articles with Christian symbols can make good witnessing and conversation starters—as well as good memorials—my lifestyle is a better memorial to the difference Christ has made in me. Symbols mean little without actions, attitudes, and words to back them up. Just as America’s war memorials would mean nothing if we cast aside our love for freedom and our appreciation for those who bought it.

Americans remember their military dead with a holiday. Let your life be a Christian memorial that shows others what Christ has done for you.

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My Back Yard

Seeing my family through God's eyes and not just my own is a beautiful sight.

My husband and I are different. They say opposites attract, but I wouldn't say our differences are attractive. I am full speed ahead while my husband goes his own speed. I am a morning person; he is a mid-morning person. I eat in a hurry while he savors his food. As small as these differences seem, they drive us crazy sometimes.

How we treat others compared to how we treat each other is different too. A friendship could never have the same value as a marriage. Yet a friend’s differences from my own are endearing. The traits I don’t adore, I work hard to accept. Instead of retaliating, if a friend does something to aggravate me, I work hard to show them love by turning the other cheek or being slow to anger. I want to be an example of Christ.

Yet when my husband aggravates me, I snap at him, reviewing his mistakes and pointing out exactly where he went astray. I rarely turn the other cheek. Instead, he has learned I can hold a grudge.

Then it hit me. I was not setting an example I wanted my family or others to follow. I was not only impatient with my husband but also impatient with my children. In some ways, I was the least Christlike with the people I loved the most. I wanted my girls to grow up and know without a doubt Christ's love for them. I wanted my husband's relationship with Christ to deepen and strengthen. I realized my actions could either help or hinder that process.

I still get frustrated when my husband wakes up mid-morning, and I can get frazzled with the everyday demands that come with being a mom. But I have made a conscious decision to love my family the way God loves me, and I have seen significant changes at home: extended patience, an accepting and forgiving heart, and, most importantly, a whole lot of love.

Some of the most important witnessing we do can be in our own back yard. Showing Christ's love in our actions and in our responses to challenges that arise in our marriages and families can be instrumental in the relationship our families build with God.

Show God’s love in your own backyard. 

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God's Law Is Love

Rules are rules. When we do not follow the rules or when we break the law, punitive and painful consequences follow.

Personal experience has taught me this lesson in the times when I have received a ticket for speeding. Fortunately, these experiences have only hurt my pocketbook and my pride.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Holy Night.” Though the writer speaks of God’s law as love and His gospel as peace, I’ve never focused on the phrase or on the idea of love being God’s law.

Love appears 558 times in the New International Version of the Bible. It is significant, and God says love is His command. Loving others isn’t always easy. The prickly neighbor who has only complaints, the family member who insists on having his or her way, or the co-worker who takes advantage of your kindness by leaving the office early, knowing you will take care of things. Only a few examples of love being challenging.

Paul tells how important love is when he writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV). And Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

If God had limited His love to only those who were worthy, no one would qualify. He expects us to show this same love to each other. It is not about being easy or deserved. Love is important because it originated with God.

Love everyone. Doing so is God’s command.

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A New Purpose

A biochemist now into journalism? How strange.

That has been the response of some who hear about my current job as a pressman. I doused their amazement with the excuse that the job is temporary, pending the completion of my graduate internship program. They also questioned my initial decision to study science since I love writing. "You would have made a good student in arts," they suggest. Life can be dynamic.

Simon and his friends were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Fishing was a major industry with a connected attractive social status. Jealously holding on to such a craft required wisdom.

Then Jesus arrived and called them to follow Him. He gave them a new purpose. No longer would they fish for fish. They would now fish for people.

With this new purpose, they were taught and trained by Jesus. After His ascension, they would be used by God to capture the hearts of people with the message of the cross and the resurrection.

Today, we follow in their steps as we share the good news of Christ’s love and salvation. This doesn’t mean everyone has to become a full-time minister. Nor do we have to leave our jobs, children, spouses, and loved ones to carry a Bible and rally around a city in search of souls. While being a wandering preacher isn’t out of the options, innumerable "fish" abound in the classroom, workplace, and on the playground.

We are challenged to resist the temptation to make our work the defining element of who we are. Instead, we can see it as a benchmark to reach neighboring souls with God's love. 

Let your life declare and exhibit God’s love which can change the lives, purposes, and eternal destinies of others.

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The Beauty on the Cross

Ordinary people don’t win beauty contests.

Each year many beauty pageants are conducted with hopeful contestants vying for a prized crown. From the cradle to college, girls groom themselves, work on talent competitions, and perfect their platforms with aspirations of being declared the most beautiful of them all.

Jesus came to earth in appearance as an ordinary man. He was not the Mr. Universe of His day.  The population thought of Him as the son of Joseph. He grew up with other Jewish children, attended synagogue with the men, and worked with tools in the carpenter shop. To all in Nazareth, He was as ordinary as they were—until the day He walked into the Jordan River and asked John to baptize Him. He had always been the perfect Son of God, but until the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, He had blended in with the population.

This ordinary man became the extraordinary prophet, Messiah, and deliverer of Israel. Without anyone’s awareness, God had been grooming Him from the cradle to the college of the wilderness for the pageant of the universe. This one wasn’t judged by physical beauty, but by the act of human sacrifice. Humility, love, and righteousness were the qualifications, and His platform was redemption for all mankind.

The runway He walked was the Via Dolorosa. The crown was made of thorns, not diamonds, and His scepter was a reed. A robe of purple was draped around His bloody shoulders by soldiers who mocked Him. The garment adhered to the tender flesh of His scourged back.

No newspapers broadcast His winning smile to admirers. Instead, He received slaps and spittle upon His face. The mutilated body of this ordinary man won the beauty contest of the universe because He wasn’t ordinary. Despite His appearance, the glory within burst forth and the ugliness of sin was conquered.

Our ordinary life becomes extraordinary because the Beauty on the cross became too ugly to behold.

Share in the prize by surrendering your life to Christ. 

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Hunting Ghosts

Finding ghost crabs on the beach at night requires a powerful flashlight.

By day, North Carolina’s sandy shores are filled with people enjoying the sunshine and the ocean’s waves. At night, everything’s dark and quiet. The true beach-dwellers slip out of their holes and scuttle toward the water. Hit with a powerful light, the ghost crabs flee—either toward the surf or back into their burrows. On most nights, you see only a few, but our Creator sees each one. Just as He sees each one of us.

In Genesis 16, an Egyptian slave named Hagar fled from her mistress. Pregnant and friendless, she walked through a wilderness filled with pain. Grieving for her lost comfortable life, Hagar felt isolated and unloved—until God called her by name.

Even a slave girl’s tears matter to the Lord. Encountering the angel changed Hagar forever. He spoke words of life and hope into her aching heart. I love the name Hagar gives to the Almighty: “You are the God who sees me.”

God is the One who cares. He is the One who loves me when I feel defeated, crushed, and broken. He is the One who walks with me in my darkest hours.

We live in a society where people aren’t highly valued. Old folks languish in nursing homes—lonely and unloved and with few visitors. Unwanted babies are aborted. Spouses are kicked to the curb and replaced with someone new. Rampant cyber-bullying makes teenagers feel despised by their peers. Even pre-teens battle depression and suicidal thoughts.

Life in the world has gotten incredibly tough lately. But let me give you a word of encouragement. Jesus our Redeemer sees you and He knows you by name. You may be an “insignificant little crab” to anyone else, but not to Him.

Like Hagar, rejoice and be comforted because you serve the One who sees you.

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Watch and Pray

The house has quieted after a busy day, and you’ve finally set aside time to pray. Suddenly, the phone rings, disrupting the quiet. You find yourself back in your car and out the door again. It seems every time you purpose to pray, a need arises. Duty calls.

Then He said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." In this account, we see the humanity of Christ on full display. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to the Father in His hour of greatest need. He was deeply sorrowful—to the point of death, and rightfully so. He was preparing to bear the iniquity of us all.

Jesus asks His disciples to keep watch with Him. It seems like a relatively simple request, yet they could not. Upon returning, He discovers them fast asleep.

It’s stunning that Christ—the perfect Lamb of God without sin to confess—would sense His need for communion with the Father. If there were anyone who might be able to discharge His duty without prayer, surely it would have been Jesus. Yet He prayed.

Our own lives are often overtaken with other matters. Prayer is neglected because we’re prone to fill our days with lesser things—neglecting the one thing our Lord emphasized the most: our need to commune with the Father. The reasons for our neglect are often legitimate. Our days are rife with activity from sunrise to sundown.

But we need to give careful consideration to Jesus’ words. God hasn’t changed. He is still looking for those who will watch and pray. Christ instructed us to ask, seek, and knock. Not to watch us perform some exercise in futility but because He fully intends to answer.

Quiet yourself and carve out time to pray. When you do, you’ll experience oneness with the Father.

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The Impossible

Your back is against the wall. Every possible solution has been calculated, and there seems to be no way out. Then, like a candle in the darkness, God’s light illuminates the path. It was there all along. The human effort had blocked the brilliance through which the light could shine.

A close friend once asked me to do something publicly that I knew would conflict with my Christian values. By refusing, I knew there was the danger of appearing sanctimonious to those who do not share the same values. I tried everything I could—including stalling—but my friend kept pressing.

Crawling into bed late one night, I asked the Lord to show me how He would resolve the dilemma. Opening my eyes the next morning, I knew the answer as if were written on the wall of my mind. Nothing had ever been so clear. God not only supplied what I needed, but He also provided a way for my friend to feel completely affirmed. As Jesus promised, God gave me the words to say and the wisdom to respond.

Watching God in action is nothing short of a miracle. This is not to say everything on our wish list will be granted in the process, but our heavenly Father loves knocking our proverbial socks off when it comes to doing what we perceive as the impossible. We recognize His handiwork when nothing else makes sense.

If you find yourself in the valley of no-way-out, stop struggling and start praying. Our Father knows all of the exits, and, for His glory, He will show them to you.

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God's Chosen Servants

God uses ordinary people with hearts inclined toward Him.

One Sunday, I was asked to speak at a small church near my home in Virginia. I was greeted by a man who let me into the building. In small churches, you often have a pastor who does the preaching and the teaching and then an elder or deacon who does everything else. As I sat at the back of the church reviewing my sermon notes, the man went about making the coffee and setting out the snacks. Then he took a small broom and a dustpan and swept between the chairs.

As I watched this man, I wondered who was more valuable, him or me. The answer was neither. We had equal value, just a different function. Then I asked the Lord who was most pleasing to Him. The answer to the second question came quicker than the first. The one who does their part of the service with the greatest amount of love in their heart for God.  

We all want to be significant, and we’re all important in our Creator’s eyes. The problem is that we often seek our worth through man’s eyes. Sometimes we confuse value and function. We do not get value from what we do; we bring value to our work. Each individual has intrinsic value before God. 

Billy Graham and Pat Roberson have a greater function in the body of Christ than I do. In some areas, they have greater privilege. Jesus gave Peter, James, and John greater access to Himself, not because He valued them more but because they would have a more significant role in the Kingdom of God. He loved all His disciples equally. Our love for Christ is what impresses the Father.

The next time you walk past someone setting up chairs in your church, take notice. You may have missed an opportunity to interact with one of God’s chosen servants.

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Standing Out

Social media has proven that having a public platform is popular for the vast majority of people.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram keep even those in the most remote places in touch. Sometimes the exposure is invasive and undesired. For many, however, being front and center in the public arena is not only desirable but sought after. Addiction is not an overstatement when expressing how some view the importance of staying connected. It would also appear that brazenness has replaced good manners, and speaking aloud every thought has replaced good judgment, respect, and civility.

In writing to Timothy, Paul instructs his young protégé to be courageous when speaking to and teaching other Christians—regardless of age, theirs or his. Like the social media of his day, Paul lists the various opportunities where Timothy can make an impact on those around him. He instructs him to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

We set an example for those around us. We may not participate in the current media choices, but we still have a platform. Unless I am a hermit, wherever I go and whatever I do, others watch and listen.

But do not confuse brazenness with courage. The first is to be careless while the second is to be bold when speaking truth. As a wise person once told me, “Don’t do or say anything you would regret reading on the front page of the morning newspaper.” Let’s take it a step further. Say and do nothing except what is pleasing and edifying to God. He is present with us always.

Let your faith cause you to stand out in the crowd. 

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Hearts Like Ice

Ice cubes are a wonderful invention. Until, that is, they rebelliously band together into a solid, rock-hard block.

At work, our icemaker empties the ice cubes into a freezer bin. Occasionally, the cubes melt slightly and then refreeze into a hard, abstract ice sculpture. Chipping at fused ice cubes—trying to break off two or three for your drink—requires an ice pick, a strong arm, and lots of patience. It’s easier to dump the block of ice in the sink and wait for the icemaker to start dropping new cubes. So that’s what I do.

But there’s an easier way to break up this rock-hard, ice sculpture. Simply turn on the tap. Cold water drills holes in the ice. Brute force is unnecessary. The running water melts the toughest ice block away in minutes.

The Bible speaks of hearts hardened by sin. Sometimes we get discouraged when we pray for a loved one’s salvation or for a Christian whose heart is hard in a certain area. Our emotions tell us, “They’re never going to change. What’s the use of praying?” Despair drains us, washing away our hope. We don’t have the energy to keep praying.

I once prayed for a Christian friend’s hard heart. Suddenly, I stopped. I realized I didn’t believe my own prayers. My faith tank was empty. Stunned, I cried out to God for help, “Lord, I don’t have any faith for this.” Immediately, I saw a mental image of tap water melting ice in a sink. New faith flowed into me as I pictured the hardness in my friend’s heart being melted.  

I have faith the Holy Spirit can melt an ice-encased heart—a heart that’s cold and indifferent to God. The Lord changes people’s hearts all the time. God’s work on earth—redemption, salvation, repentance—is all about changing hearts. It’s His specialty.

So don’t despair if nothing seems to happen when you pray. You can’t see it, but as you pray, the Holy Spirit’s life-giving water is flowing. The ice is cracking and starting to melt. The Lord is thawing and softening that person’s heart.

Pray for someone you know who has a hard heart. Then watch as God’s Spirit melts their hard heart. 

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Faith Moves Forward

I was afraid to submit. Not to my husband, but to a publisher!

Since my children were grown and more independent—giving me more freedom to pursue my passion—I wanted to get back into freelance writing. But the thought of submitting anything scared me. I didn’t know if my article, blog, or devotion would be accepted and published. I feared rejection. In my sinfulness, I wanted a guarantee first.

Unfortunately, I was walking by “sight,” wanting confirmation before I stepped out and did what God was calling me to do. Faith doesn’t work that way. In its purest form, faith is the simple act of moving forward—one step at a time, with no guarantees. It is stepping out without knowing if the thing you’re being called to do will be done.

I can only imagine how Abraham felt when God called him to leave Ur for a foreign land that was hundreds of miles away. Or how Noah felt when God called him to build a magnificent boat and gather a menagerie of animals. Or how Rahab felt when she took a giant risk and hid two Israelite spies.

None of them were given any guarantees that the thing they did would come out right in the end. Yet each one moved forward, trusted God, and walked by faith.

God does not always give His children guarantees beforehand. He wants us to trust Him explicitly. And in stepping out, He blesses us. Because He is faithful, He brings about the thing which He promised.

Trust your heavenly Father. Move forward in faith without any guarantees. And watch in amazement as He blesses you beyond what you could ever ask or imagine.

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Putting Problems in God's Hands

Once there was a sick king who realized his only remedy was to eat a porridge prepared with Lopet.

Lopet was a unique bird found in the Labyrinth. So the king summoned his detectives, Jerry and John, and promised a reward of marrying the princess if they found the animal.

John was more clever and shrewd than Jerry. He knew about a great labyrinth of tunnels under the forest. On entering, he saw Mr. Mole, but John was very shy and private. He said nothing to Mole about why he was there and kept looking for the prized Lopet.

Jerry was also a great detective. Before long, he too arrived at the labyrinth. He was not a bit shy, and the first thing he did was ask Mole—a hunter in the tunnel—if he knew where the Lopet was. Mole was pleased to lead Jerry to the bird. Hunting for Lopet and getting acquainted with his hideout had been Mole’s profession for years.

Jerry found the Lopet, took him to the king, and collected his reward. John, who had been watching all this, learned a lot. From then on, he never allowed shyness to undo his good work. This approach soon made him the best detective in the court.

Sometimes, the toughest thing about feelings and problems is sharing them with others. Sharing our feelings helps us when our feelings are good and when they aren't so good. Sharing also helps us get closer to people we care about and who care about us. God knows where our feelings and problems hide out and wants us to share them with Him and others.

Let God teach you how to share your feelings and problems with others as well as listen when others share with you. 

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Let the Redeemed Say So

He says so:

New Year’s Eve exploded into a full-scale riot in my sixty-man jail pod. 

I’m not sure how it started, but suddenly there was fighting. Shanks (homemade knives) came out. People were sliced and cut. Blood was everywhere. I climbed to my upper bunk and put my back against the corner, holding tight to my own uniquely crafted weapon. I eyed my opened cell door and prayed.

I couldn’t remember how long I had been in jail. After my arrest, I shut down—withdrew into myself, communicating only when necessary. I ate sporadically. I quit shaving. From the top of my head to the bottom of my beard, I was physically a mess. It was summer and hot when I was arrested, but then it’s always hot in Florida.

Christmas was pretty much a non-event in jail. Alone on my bunk, I had read the Christmas story in Luke from a little New Testament that fit in the palm of my hand. The story I had read since childhood rang familiar, but some of the elements seemed to strike a chord beyond the words.

For the first time, I was actually reading, pondering, and considering the words. They touched my heart in ways more significant than ever before. I began to realize the stories I had heard since my early years in Sunday school—and Jesus’ words, Come to me all you who are weary—were things I had never contemplated enough. Again and again, Jesus tells us to “come” to Him. I read through the four gospels several times until the life of Jesus simply stuck in my mind and heart.

The madness raged outside my cell. I cried to the Lord, pleading for Jesus to “come to me.” And He did. My body tensed at the sound erupting near my doorway. Startled by the loud noise of a grinding metal door closing me in, my soul was covered by relief. The correction officers had responded to the riot and were storming the pod.

Safe for the moment, I pulled a blanket over my head to hide the tears. God's love delivered me once again from my distress. His peace flowed through me. The words I had spent the last week planting in my heart suddenly sprouted. I belong to Him. Redeemed.

May all of us who have been redeemed of the Lord say so.

~ Kevin Spencer

_______________________________

She says so:

“End this God. Bring me peace.”

I quietly spoke those words as light filtered through a beautiful stained glass window above my head. I had sat alone in churches before, but this December afternoon was different. In the silence of that sanctuary, I had a rare moment of clarity. Life, as I was living it, could not continue.

I didn't know Jesus back then, but I did talk to God sometimes. As I prayed, I somehow knew He understood I needed the craziness in my life to end. But I didn’t know how difficult that “end” would be.

A few weeks later, I was in jail in solitary confinement. As I eased onto the edge of a metal cot, I remembered that previous afternoon. “God! What on earth were you thinking? This is not peace.” In the days leading up to my arrest, anger became an acid burning through my veins. I was numb to all pain and unconcerned about the consequences of my actions. I was falling hard and unaware God had already sent the Prince of Peace to catch me. 

I came to realize we serve a most unusual God, and sometimes He answers our prayers in a most unusual way. God knew I needed to stop running. He knew what it would take and how long. And He knew who to send.

I was locked away for a month before I finally agreed to allow a woman to minister to me. The guards opened a small tray slot, located on the lower half of my cell door, so we could talk. I wasn’t ready to hear about Jesus. But as I kneeled down to peer through the small hole, I realized how ready I was to have a conversation with another human being—no matter what it was about.  

Months later, I fell to my knees again on that same concrete floor and asked Jesus Christ to be the leader of my life. It changed everything. The freedom I had fought for suddenly became less important to me. For the first time in my life, I knew a different kind of freedom. I knew I was a redeemed child of God. 

For the rest of our lives, may we continue to say so.

~ Patricia Lefler

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Measuring Our Worth

Kidnapping is a lucrative business.

I come from a region of Africa where kidnapping entails stealing a person and keeping them in a secret place, along with demanding a ransom for their release. The volume of ransom is determined by the caliber of the detainee. While a commoner might only bring one hundred thousand dollars, the rich and affluent could bring more than one hundred million.

Kidnapping took a deeper dimension with the abduction of schoolgirls. As many as two hundred girls were abducted from their boarding school by heavily armed Islamists who arrived in trucks, vans, and buses. The group wanted to institute an Islamic caliphate in the country and was opposed to western-style modern education—which they claim lures people away from the teachings of Islam.

The sect began to target schools, killing myriads of students. They broke into schools, pretending to be guards and telling the girls to get out and come with them. In their innocence and with their impressionable mindset, the students—who were in their final year of secondary school—obliged and were kidnapped.

The scale of rescue efforts was unprecedented. Nationwide prayers and fasting were made. The kidnappings sparked an international outcry, with global protests held against the perceived slow response of the government. The federal government spent more than $1.2 million on the case.

But God went to a greater extent than the federal government to redeem humankind. His efforts shock me. Through the death of His only Son on the cross, the Father paid the price to rescue us from our sin.

God loved us so much He gave His Son to die on the cross. He then raised Him from the dead to ransom and rescue us. That is what you are worth to Him.

When you want to measure your worth, measure it by what God did for you through Jesus Christ. 

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Keep an Eternal Perspective

Wet socks. That’s the reason I cried.

I’d been backpacking for three days in the rain on an adventure course, and was awakened while it was still dark to put on yesterday’s cold, wet clothes. I couldn’t help but cry from the misery of my present circumstances. Even worse, I didn’t know when our trip would end or when the rain would stop.

No matter what difficult circumstances we’re facing or how unordinary and just plain boring our lives may seem, we can rejoice knowing these are only temporary situations. Heaven has no pain or boredom, and our earthly lives are but a speck in the scheme of eternity.

Perhaps an even greater comfort than knowing our troubles are temporary is knowing we can benefit from them. God uses every trial—no matter how seemingly insignificant or mundane—to produce for us a greater eternal glory.

God uses our hard times to sanctify us. That means the Spirit of God is working in us to make us more like Jesus Christ. We should greatly rejoice that the power of God Himself is at work within the depths of our soul, creating meaningful beauty from our ugly ashes.

With this great knowledge, we can place our attention on the unseen. Instead of focusing on our financial troubles, we can focus on the trust in God they are producing in us. With our difficult co-workers and classmates, we can focus on the patience and forgiveness we are learning.

Each suffering and every difficulty is creating an even greater unseen work within us. Look beyond your circumstances, and find contentment in Christ. He holds eternity in His hands.

Let’s take our gaze off our circumstances, and stay fixed on the One who can create purpose from our pain.

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Thanks for Everything

“Thank you for the world so sweet;
Thank you for the food we eat;
Thank you for the birds that sing;
Thank you, God, for everything. ”

I prayed Edith Rutter-Leatham’s, “A Child’s Grace,” many times when I was small. Only recently did I pay close attention to the last five words: “Thank you, God, for everything.” Everything.

Thanking God when I’m hurt, when I’m disappointed, when someone I love faces illness or death, when I face them myself, and when God says “No” or “Later” is difficult.

Often, I don’t thank God. Looking back, I see how those hurts left physical or emotional scars. Yet they also increased my awareness of suffering around me and how God can minister through me. Disappointments helped me distinguish between selfish desires and legitimate needs. Illness and other life storms heightened my appreciation for every moment and for the support of family, friends, and a Savior who died for me.

Paul experienced the extremes of life. Sometimes he lived with more than enough. At other times, he lived in great want. He knew good health, and he knew the ravages of illness. He lived through times of safety, and he lived through shipwrecks, persecution, and beatings. He enjoyed freedom of movement, and he endured life in chains. Whatever his circumstances, Paul praised God and shared God’s message of salvation.

We can do the same. God walks with us and carries us through our ups and downs. Because of God’s never-failing presence, we can—like Paul with a genuinely grateful heart—Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Ask God to help you give thanks in all circumstances. 

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What You Do Is Important

I struggle sometimes with feeling as if I’m not doing anything important—or that what I do doesn’t matter.

When reading these verses from Isaiah, "But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose,”  I think: Me too. That’s how I feel. I wonder what my work amounts to and question my purpose. I see the accomplishments of other women, and it leads to feelings of discouragement … even wanting to give up.

Comparing myself to someone else, I lose sight of what I have to do—what God has called me to do. In my sight, it seems insignificant, like so much less than what someone else is doing—so small. But in God’s sight, no task is small. I have to remind myself that what He calls me to is important—no matter the size or outcome.

Whether you’re parenting one child or a dozen, writing for one reader or 100, ministering to one person or a roomful, it is important. Even when we feel we have nothing left to give, God has all we need, and He will work through us for His purpose and His Kingdom. Where we see no purpose, God sees great purpose.

Isaiah’s time and strength were not wasted. God knew the work Isaiah was doing, and Isaiah trusted God with the results. He did the work God called him to and left the outcome in God’s hands.

The same is true for us. Our time and energy are not wasted, even if we can’t see the effects of our labor. Like Isaiah, we can do the work and trust the rest is in God’s hands.

You may never know if someone was touched by something you said or did, but God knows. And that’s all that matters.

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The Song of a Faithful Man

The house looked as if it were willing to give itself over to the constant urging of gravity. 

Not far from my childhood home of Onekama, Michigan, was a lonely snow-covered road which passed by a dilapidated farmhouse. In this home lived a remarkable man who left a permanent dent in my heart.

Bill Brown was married to an unappreciative woman and had a disrespectful son. They owned no vehicle and lived on Social Security. He often trudged several miles to the store in the snow to purchase a meager number of rations. His clothing never seemed to change.

I met Bill because my family picked him up every Sunday morning and evening for church. My dad owned a 1976 Jeep CJ-7, which wasn’t the best vehicle for hitchhikers. But Bill voluntarily squeezed into the backseat. This uneducated, smelly old man with few teeth left in his constant smile would then sing the only song he cared to know: “The Lily of the Valley.”

For two years, Bill endured hunger, bitter cold, spousal contempt for his beliefs, and disrespect from his son. Yet he sang on. I was only seven years old but could see there was something special about him.

As a young child, I shared something in common with Bill. We both loved Jesus and referred to Him as our Savior. Whenever I hear this beautiful song, I choke up. But my greatest memory isn't Bill’s inability to carry a tune; it’s the living fire in his eyes. He showed me how to be content in the love of Jesus, no matter my lot in life.

I sometimes catch myself feeling sorry for myself and complaining about how things don't seem fair. Then embarrassment sets in, and I remember Bill—a man who truly understood the promise of Jesus to never leave or forsake us. He may have been hungry, cold, and unloved by mankind, yet he thrived on all he needed from his first love: Jesus.

We moved away after two years, and I never learned what became of Bill Brown. But I look forward to arriving in heaven and having him meet me. I want to tell him what an impact he had on a young boy.

Tell someone today how much they impact you. 

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Standing Firm

Standing is easier when we are on the peaks.

Your son forgets to tell you he has band practice, and you’ve raced home from a meeting to pick him up from school. Your boss is difficult, and the deadline on the project is looming overhead. Beyond that, your finances are a mess—putting stress on your marriage of more than twenty years.

A variation of these scenarios plays out in many lives. For some, the circumstances are more difficult—an ailing parent, a child that has spun out of control.

The Christian life is marked with peaks and valleys. The valley is challenging because we don’t have a proper vantage point. Things seem obscure. However, the true test of our character is brought forth when we continue to stand in the valley. But the challenge is knowing how to maintain our patience in the midst of trying circumstances.

Being patient means being able to remain calm when waiting for a long period of time or when dealing with difficulty. Although the meaning is not hard to comprehend, the application requires more than mere mental understanding. I often tell my children, it’s not what we know, but what we do with what we know.

God’s Word tells us to be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near. If you’re anything like me, you often lose sight of this truth, especially when you’re hard pressed and threatened by troubles.  We’re called to do two things when facing difficulty: be patient and stand firm.

Standing firm is defined as being in an upright position with all of your weight on your feet. As we place our full weight on the Word of God, He causes us to stand firm beneath the weight of our struggles. And while we’re standing, it’s critical to remind ourselves that the Lord’s coming is near. This truth should compel us to stand because He will return to take us home.

We can stand because God stands beside us, providing strength when we feel like we cannot stand a moment longer. There is no power that can withstand Him who is the Lord of Hosts.

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God's Immeasurable Goodness

At 9:30 one summer morning, I tugged open the kitchen window blinds hoping to see sunshine.

Mist lingered in the atmosphere as it had for most of the past two weeks. Disappointed, I pointed my chin toward heaven and prayed, “Father, cheer me up today and let the sun shine brightly this morning—if only for ten minutes. I thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Thirty minutes later, I sauntered to the kitchen and poured myself another cup of tea. As I sipped my tea, I crossed to the kitchen window, tugged open the blinds, and witnessed a thrilling view. The mist had vanished and the sun commanded the sky. “Thank you, Father,” I whispered. Even more astounding was that the sun beamed for three hours until the rain fell again.

We often pray for less than we desire because we think our circumstances are too impossible to achieve all we want. In his closing prayer to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul exhorts us not to set boundaries on God’s goodness. He is powerful and has unlimited resources to go beyond what we ask or imagine.

Our Lord waits for us to come to Him (Isaiah 30:18) and see His splendor and power. When we experience them, we grow in faith and draw closer to Him. We ask in faith and expect God to grant it—even if it seems impossible. We ask for healing for our feeble bodies, for protection from our enemies, and for resources to start or grow our ministries. When we set our expectations high, we glorify God.

God is greater than our problems and can bring sunshine into our dark, impossible situations. He is willing to give us good things when we ask and is faithful to do what He says. His immeasurable goodness flows when we ask within His will.

Experience the fullness of God’s infinite goodness. Instead of asking for ten minutes of sunshine, ask for the entire day.

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Childlike Faith

My grandson once asked me the “T” question: “Granddad, what is the trinity?” 

Noah’s inquiry taught me a lot about childlike faith. When he was younger, I often kept him while his mother worked. He loved to put together jigsaw puzzles. While completing these puzzles, I talked to him about God. I must have used the “T” word in one conversation.

Noah’s inquisitive little mind went into action, and he asked that dreaded question. I took a deep breath and started to explain the essence of God. After I finished my explanation, he said, “So you are saying God is one person, but that He is also three persons.”

I said, “Yes.”

He paused to ponder and said, “OK.” Then he proceeded to put the next piece in the puzzle.

Noah’s demeanor said the question was answered … no need to talk further … let’s get on with the puzzle.

What made it easy for Noah to accept this truth was that he didn’t believe his granddad would lie to him. He did not understand how what I told him could be true, but he trusted the one who told him.

The integrity of the one making a promise validates its legitimacy. God’s character is the basis of every word spoken in the Bible. He is good, kind, just, trustworthy, and does not lie.

Many desire to enter the Kingdom of God, but the door into this realm is and has always been through childlike faith. Great minds have sought to understand the unsearchable riches of Christ, but without this simple faith, their intellect has proven a hindrance.

A little child taught me what Jesus meant when He said, “For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”

Don’t try to understand everything about God; just have childlike faith. 

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Zinnias of Conviction

Morning coffee, a rocking chair at the window with a view of the kaleidoscope of colors, and all is forgiven—all is well.

The fifty-foot line of zinnias shouted, “Repent!” A shameful joy to behold. Pride said, “These are lowly common flowers. Their stalks and leaves are rough and scratchy, their flowers have no smell, and they are just papery—not exquisite or exotic.” But they are cutting flowers and can be easily dried. Yet still, they are not the magazine elites—although I once saw a feature with them in front of a white picket fence, and it was impressive.

When sweet memories of my Aunt Rena came floating through, I saw her flowers and her with the garden hose, watering a beautiful, colorful mass of zinnias in her flower bed. How I loved her pretty flowers.  

Repentance was brought on by memories of my aunt, and I bought zinnia seeds, bricked a fifty-foot water break, plowed up a twelve-inch strip along it, and planted my seeds. Some white picket edging pieces on the back side of the flower bed topped off the vision. I watered and watched, I worried and repented again for my snobby attitude, I apologized to the seedlings, and they grew. They bloomed and brought butterflies, they brought a great splash of color, and I hoped Aunt Rena was pleased.  

The Lord’s mercies are new each day, and forgiveness always awaits our repentance. He gives a clean heart and clear eyes to see His beauty and inhale its peace when we lay down our prideful attitudes.

Let the zinnias of conviction in your life give you a fresh look.

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What's Your Christmas Mind-Set?

Mary was an ordinary teenager living in a nondescript village when the angel Gabriel arrived on her doorstep with an extraordinary message: “You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son … the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:30-31).

Mary’s initial reaction to her angelic visitor and his message was fear. Luke 1:29 says she was “greatly troubled.” Gabriel sensed that fear and said, “Do not be afraid” (v. 30). In other words, “Don’t worry, Mary. God’s got this.”

Perhaps God delivered Mary from her fear immediately—before she told her parents, Joseph, or her friends about Gabriel’s stunning announcement. In her prayer of praise that Luke records in verses 46-55, Mary expressed no fear.

In that prayer, Mary says her spirit was full of joy: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me” (vv. 46, 49). She could’ve been drowning in shame and depression. Although Gabriel said the Holy Spirit had come upon Mary, many people probably didn’t believe that—before or after Jesus’ birth. (Consider John 8:41.) Rumors may have spread throughout Nazareth when people learned Mary was pregnant. Insults may have been hurled her way as she walked down the street.

People may have thrown shame on Mary, but her prayer confirms her unshakeable trust in God. She chose to magnify Him and celebrate His goodness regardless of what circumstances indicated or people said.

To magnify is to praise someone so highly that others honor that individual with greater esteem. Think of the times you’ve praised the services of a doctor, a mechanic, or a plumber when someone has asked you for a reference. That was Mary’s desire—to motivate others to esteem and praise the merciful, powerful, attentive God who had honored His promise to send a deliverer.

You may not feel like celebrating Christmas this year because fear or shame has ensnared you. Maybe a loved one has died, a job has been ripped from your grasp, or false accusations have destroyed your reputation. Perhaps you simply dread spending another holiday season alone.

Learn from Mary. Refuse to focus on what is wrong and what could go wrong. Wait confidently for God to extend His mercy and perform mighty deeds on your behalf. His hand of blessing is upon you, and He can deliver you. Choose to magnify the Lord.

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The Wedding Band Challenge

Music mirrors life.

On Labor Day afternoon, I broke out the sunscreen, inserted the earbuds, and listened to  iTunes as I enjoyed the poolside.

A well-known theme quickly developed in the music. Men sing about finding love with their eyes—enjoying bikini tops, tan legs, and cotton dresses. Women find love through the heart—singing about roses, candles, and letters.

Eventually, love leads to the altar. The music continues as newlyweds become unalterable, making each less attractive as the eyes and heart become discontent. The wedding rings slip from the fingers and find their way to a bathroom drawer.

I've been married to the same woman for thirty-three years. We experienced four good years, followed by six trying ones—due to sin in my life--and now a twenty-three-year winning streak. As a result of our public story, we've provided a lot of counseling.

I've discovered wedding rings are easily removed when things get routine or frosty. I've heard every imaginable reason, but I have seen ring fingers remain bare even when the band was removed for a legitimate reason.

A ring not only symbolizes wedding vows but also offers non-verbal communication—such as "I'm happily married," or "I'm unavailable." 

When the ring is permanently removed, it shouts a disheartening message to the spouse that commitment is contingent or sidelined altogether. It tells onlookers you’re a free agent if the price is right.

I live near Austin, home of the Texas Longhorns. After an opening season defeat of Notre Dame, university paraphernalia came out en-masse. I saw more UT shirts, shorts, and hats after the victory than during the previous losing season. Pride was restored. “Hook ‘em horns” was the celebration chant.

People tend to wait for a feeling to re-engage—a feeling that may or may not appear. Men and women of virtue remain emotionally connected despite their feelings. Positive actions are a good way to help feelings of affection resurface so victories are won.

If you’re married, value your vows and respect the symbolism found in the ring. If you need to remove it for a legitimate reason, make it temporary. Take the “Wedding Band Challenge.”

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The Scent of Sin

While Papa completed his chores, Kaleb played in the dust and muck where cattle roam.

Our five-year-old grandson was “helping” his grandfather work in the barn and cattle lot. He prowled. He sat. He dug. He threw dirt into the air. He immersed himself in the filth and fun of living on a farm.

Later, Kaleb’s great-grandma invited him to visit. Papa said he could go but warned her Kaleb might need to clean up first. She failed to heed his warning.

After a great time of playing, hugging, and snacking in the house, Kaleb returned to Papa, and great-grandma lay down for a nap. As soon as her eyes closed, her nose began to twitch. What is that smell? she wondered. Looking around and sniffing again, she realized her little stinker had left some of his barnyard aroma behind.

Great-grandma did not prowl in the barnyard. She did not sit or dig in it. She did not throw dirt in the air or play in the dust or muck in any way. Yet Kaleb’s odor clung to her. By brushing against his dirt and acquiring a bit of his residue, his smell became hers.

We can do the same with sin. We may not immerse ourselves in evil, but we brush up against it occasionally. We try just a little, thinking no one will notice and no harm will be done. But our moral lapses leave us with sin’s foul odor.

Adults tell children to be careful where they go and what they do. We need to heed our own warning and ask our heavenly Father to cleanse us completely and to guard us against anything that deters us from accomplishing His perfect will.

Avoid every scent of sin. Let your life be a sweet smelling offering to God. 

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Hearing Voices

When I was a teenager, I heard voices.

“Let’s get drunk,” said the first voice. The 1970s were in full force. Drinking seemed to be a way of life, so I agreed. And since this voice represented acceptance by my peers, I justified my listening.

“Let’s do some dope.” I listened again—though I was a little frightened this time. I agreed to the Mary Jane, but nothing more.

“Do you want a smoke?” the voice continued. I did, and for the next ten years I kept listening to that voice.

Listening to the wrong voices hindered my walk with the Lord and kept me in chains when I could have been free. David was the anointed king and needed a central location for his capital. His sights were on Jerusalem. Trouble was, the Jebusites weren’t interested in giving it up. When he approached the walled city, they told him he’d never get in. But he did because he listened to a more powerful voice.

Training my ears to listen to the right voices is essential for good spiritual health. Many voices vie for my attention—most of them attempting to lead me down paths taking me further from God.

God’s voice comes through the inner presence of His Spirit and will always agree with what is taught in the Bible. Being familiar with the teachings therein is vital if I’m to hear the right voice. Listening takes a power I don’t have in myself, but a power God gives so I don’t succumb to the wrong voice. When Eve listened to Satan, she questioned God’s directive, launching her into a fall where she never recovered.

Voices of discouragement are rife—as they were in David’s day. Finding friends and acquaintances who will encourage me is important if I’m to make respectable spiritual decisions. I can find them through social media outlets, at churches, in small groups, and through good authors. These voices remind me who I am in Christ: a new creation, a masterpiece in the
making, a child of God who has worth and has been accepted into His family, an overcomer of unhealthy habits, addictions, and social mores. These voices will encourage me to seek God’s guidance in every decision I make.

Hearing voices is acceptable; just make sure you listen to the appropriate ones.

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Rejoice Always

It wasn’t necessarily the words that were offensive, but the timing.   

You notice the oddest things during suffering. Physical touch or a simple hug are like a balm to your soul. Exuberant joys and deep pains come in waves. You crave the sounds and sights of nature. And sometimes things you never noticed before get on your nerves like the beeping of an empty IV bag … ot the lack of grace from a stranger.

During my chemo rounds, something bothered me that hadn’t before: the phrase, “Praise the Lord!” Everyone (myself included) would say it every time we got news we wanted to hear. We said it when the doctors said there were no more signs of cancer. Yet when my friends’ scans came back with a different result, there was silence.

David, a man after God’s own heart, understood this. His baby became ill. David fasted in sackcloth for days. Despite what he wanted—despite what he fasted and longed for, he did not withhold his praise when God’s answer was “No.” He did a “Praise the Lord” when he received news of the child’s death. He did not let bad news thwart the praise God deserved but gave it even in his storm.

God’s hand isn’t less able to save when we get news we weren’t desiring. Silence can be a reflection of our shock or a pout because God is not giving us what we want.

My family started a new tradition. When we get good news we say, “Praise the Lord!” But when we get bad news, we say the same. Doing so has had surprising results. Those three little words remind us God is God and we are not. Things may not be going the way we would like, but everything is going to be okay because God is still on the throne. This is not all there is.

All good and perfect gifts come from God. Praise Him in the good and in the bad.

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Don't Quit!

If you plant tomatoes, you don’t harvest habanero peppers.

The law of the harvest never fails. You always reap what you sow. That can be a good thing and a not so good thing—depending on the seeds you’ve sown. 

Right now it’s a good thing since it’s the end of the harvest. Nearly all of the tomatoes are gone from the garden, and the number of peaches at our roadside stand gets fewer each day. It’s my last chance to put summer in jars.

As I peel, pit, cut, and preserve, I’m thankful I didn’t quit gardening in the heat of July when I was weary of weeding and watering. Now I will be rewarded with summer tomatoes in February’s chili. 

The same law applies in my spiritual life. In due season, the good seed of God’s Word and the prayers I’ve sown in the lives of others will reap a bountiful harvest and fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But sometimes the season between sowing and reaping seems long and hard. As we pray through the season of heated rebellion in the lives of our loved ones, we can grow weary and be tempted to give up.

If that is how you’re feeling, take heart and don’t quit. You’re not alone. God hears your prayers, counts your tears, and—though you may not be able to see it right now—is on the move.

Buy a jar of garden fresh tomatoes, put it in the pantry as a reminder not to quit, and keep on believing a harvest of good is coming.    

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Turning on the Light

I was ready for bed after traveling all day to visit my family.

Unable to find the flashlight in my parents’ basement, I turned off the overhead light and headed back to the pullout couch. Darkness surrounded me, engulfing me so tightly I lost my way. I stopped. The basement was furnished with several tables and chairs and had two cement support poles, but no nightlight. Like a blindfolded child playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I shuffled slowly toward what I hoped would be the couch wondering how I could have become this disoriented in just a few seconds.

I felt the table, but knew one cement pole was nearby. My arm stretched in front of me, reaching for anything solid. I missed the pole. Taking one more step, my body straddled the pole. I laughed as I rubbed my head. The experience taught me an important lesson: I need to turn on the light to find my way. 

Too many times, we underestimate our need for the light of God’s Word. We hurry into the day, trying to see the way, only to find we are engulfed in darkness. Psalm 119 reminds us God’s Word is the light we need. He will help us find our way no matter how dark it is.

Resist the urge to rush ahead without turning on the light. Flip on the switch of your heart by reading His Word, and trust Him to light your way. 

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A Moment in Time

He stopped and knelt beside the little girl, took her hand in his, and spoke softly.

Several years ago, my seven-year-old granddaughter, Ashley, and our family went to see a live performance of the life of Christ. During intermission, the man playing Jesus walked up and down the narrow aisles and spoke to different ones as he passed. He stopped by Ashley and looked directly into her eyes. Ashley's eyes were glued to his as a look of love and complete acceptance covered her face.

We watched him continue down the aisle, touching many and talking with others. I turned to my granddaughter, took her into my arms, and said in a quiet voice. "Ashley, Jesus talked to you honey."

"Oh, no," she replied with eyes full of complete reverence. "That was God, Gramma." 

My heart skipped a beat and the lump in my throat was as big as a fist. She was right. Jesus is God incarnate. God took on flesh and came to earth as a human being to die on a cross of disgrace to give us grace and life eternal.

Ashley had no doubt she and the man in the linen robes and dusty sandals were the only two in that crowded room where more a thousand people had come to witness something so few understand.

Jesus still walks among us today and speaks to us daily. Listen to what He has to say.

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Choosing a Side

We have become tolerant of so much in our society.

People are suffering through homelessness, mental illness, abuse, and other injustices. God hates these things. Standing by and watching them go on around us without action is unacceptable. Nor should we ignore them or become desensitized to them. We need to pray about these situations and step in to stop them. 

When David says he hates what God hates, he is taking a stand against those who are against God. He is choosing what side he is on—God’s side, and he is pledging his devotion to Him. I want my heart to break for the things that break God’s heart, and I want to hate the things God hates. I want to see things of this world as God sees them, so I can trust Him to guide me in what is right.

As believers, we should not ignore the things going on around us that displease God—even if they are considered common. We should serve, pray, and follow God’s lead on how to stand up against the things He hates. We are on His side, and He is on ours.

Ask God to help you see things as He sees them. Then ask Him to guide you in the proper way to stand up against what is wrong. 

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Be an Encourager

The need for encouragement and a true sense of self-worth is one of the greatest threats facing the world.

Typically, I would not have given much thought to the value of being encouraged by someone or the liberating power a kind word can bring, but this week has been an epiphany. I’ve had many close friends come to me with various heartaches and struggles—some so traumatic I was left without words to soothe them. All I could do was listen and try to empathize with their situation.

Since I’m a chatter box, I rarely run out of words to say to someone who is in pain or dealing with a life circumstance, but this week was different. Telling someone who has a life-threating illness to be positive because life works itself out is difficult. As is telling someone who is losing everything they own because of a job loss to trust there are plenty of jobs on the market. Encouraging someone in need goes deeper than positive affirmation along with a call to be strong and endure the ride.

God wants me to help those in need and encourage those who are broken. Walking out that call begins with this dynamic Scripture: This is my command; be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. All believers have the God of the universe walking with them through every trial and dark place. There is no need to fear.

Instead of trying to fix your friends, family, or loved ones with positive statements or false claims of hope, encourage them by reminding them about God’s love and how He will never leave or forsake them. Be the example of God’s love and encouragement by walking hand in hand with others through their pain. You can become a walking encourager by showing others God’s unwavering love and commitment to them by your actions.

Ask the Lord to show you how to encourage someone who may be shattered by life. Then watch as the Lord uses you to heal and lift up those who have lost hope. 

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The God Package

There was truth in my typo.

I work part-time as an assistant to an insurance agent. Not only do I help clients with their insurance needs, but I also create marketing pieces to help generate more business. This is a fun aspect of my job because it taps into my creative side.

Our agency offers two packages to help electricians with their business insurance needs: The Gold Package and The Platinum Package. Each offers different coverages.

As I proofread one of my marketing creations, I noticed a typo. Instead of typing The Gold Package, I had typed “The God Package—which offers 30-plus upgrades in coverages, at no additional cost.” My boss and I had a good laugh. After correcting the typo and putting the finishing touches on the piece, I mailed it out.

But the typo contained truth. God does offer salvation as a gift. His gift of salvation is a “package” of His unfailing forgiveness, everlasting love, and never-ending mercy and grace. This package also comes with unlimited coverage.

There are no limits to the provisions and protection God provides. His children are fully covered. And the best part is that it comes with no additional cost. It’s free to anyone who will appropriate it through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Accept God’s Package, and experience His forgiveness and unlimited goodness.

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Make it Your Ambition to Be Small

When God leads us to a season of success in any area, we must be cautious.

Long before man was created, Lucifer was one of the heavenly archangels who had the responsibility of leading the angels to worship God. But Lucifer (or Satan) became enamored with his beauty. He attributed his gifting and calling to himself and no longer gave glory to the One who rightfully deserved it. Then he was corrupted and fell to the earth, where he now roams.

We can fall into the same insidious and evil sin Satan embraced: pride. If we’re not careful, we will attribute our ability to stand in victory to our own doing—a dangerous thing. Pride comes before a fall, so taking heed lest we plummet to the ground from our high place without a safety net is important.

When we remain humble, the Lord’s grace abounds in our lives. He gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud. We are to clothe ourselves with humility—a highly attractive attribute to God. Jesus Himself was meek and lowly of heart, so we should make it our ambition to be small in our own estimation and give all the glory to the Lord. 

Taking inventory of our lives and asking the Lord to show us any area where pride may have taken a foothold is crucial. Humbling ourselves before the Lord allows us to be secure in our hearts as we depend upon Jesus. Humility puts us in the place where the Lord will lift us up in His timing and in His way.

When God showers us with His grace, let's remember to give Him all the glory. Such an attitude pleases our Father. If we embrace humility, we will find that God's grace surrounds us like a strong summer breeze. 

God will enable us to stand when we kneel before our Master in meekness and humility.   

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Rings of Love

Before saying “Hello” to the flight attendants, I lay my hand on the plane and ask God for protection.

Occasionally when boarding a plane, I linger at the entrance a few seconds and wonder if anyone notices my routine. On my last trip home, I stared out the window while thoughts of God’s love consumed my mind. As we soared through the sky, I noticed a shadow of our 747 jet in the clouds. What awed me was our plane had a large rainbow ring around it. For me, this was God saying, “Don’t worry, I heard you.” I smiled and thanked Him for His protection.

God wants us to know He will always protect us from hurt and harm. We just need to have faith He hears our prayers. The enemy will try to put fear in our minds, but that’s when we go to God’s Word to defeat anything he throws our way. The second part of the verse reminds me of the beautiful rings around the plane. God reassured me He heard my prayer and was watching over my life.

Now, more than ever, it is important that we ask God for constant covering over our lives and families. Even if you’re traveling to a store five minutes away, ask God for protection. Then believe it is done.

God hears your prayers for protection, and He will give you peace beyond understanding.

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Stop Wishing for Something Better

If you’re grumbling, you’re probably not thankful for your job.

My husband and I own a business and have several employees. Most of them are hard workers and are grateful for their jobs. We’re always willing to reward them with bonuses and pay raises.

However, we do have some employees who periodically complain about their jobs, hoping a better one will come along. This can become a burden to us as owners. We aren’t enticed to give nice raises and bonuses to employees who grumble while working for us.

Many employees seem to grumble about their jobs daily, wishing something better would come along. Putting our efforts into tending the job we have and protecting our employer's interest with joy and thankfulness helps us see fruitful rewards where we are.

Work like the company belongs to you. When you do, God promises you will be rewarded. We are better off working vigorously at the job we have instead of grumbling about it and wishing for something better.

Work hard and protect your job. Then watch as God rewards you where you are.

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Confront Doubt

Never turn away in the darkness from what God has revealed to you in the light. A pastor shared this twenty-five years ago, and I still depend on its truth.

We all struggle with doubt. It arises from circumstances, people, and Satan. While natural to doubt, it's dangerous to allow doubts to encroach on productivity, cloud judgment, or thwart our spiritual journey. Unexamined doubt distracts us from our course. Even worse, it can spread its poison to others.

God has an important job for us that involves the people He has placed in our path. Our influence can help someone who’s on a road of doubt. A hub sends spokes out to steady a bike wheel, and God can send direct lines from us to others.

Asaph models how to handle doubts in Psalm 73. He confronts God about why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people. The arrogant seem to get ahead. It's enough to make a wise man doubt. As verse 9 states, “Their mouths are set against Heaven and their tongues strut the earth.” But God does notice.

Our understanding comes as Asaph's did when we enter God’s sanctuary. He recognized he was acting in ignorance and doubt. The NIV translation uses the term brute beast and conveys the idea of an unintelligent animal caring only about his comfort and physical needs. We are capable of far more. 

When we are embittered or tempted to doubt, we can entrust it to God. He guides us with good counsel and reassures us of His presence and strength. This life will hold its share of defeats—and even devoted persons may doubt God in times of crises. But retaining unhealthy attitudes can lead to dangerous thinking while confronting our doubts will make us stronger.

Open up and be honest with God about your doubts. Remember He is in control of all things. 

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Labor in God

I shed a few momma tears today. It's difficult when you have a child with a disability … hard on the heart.

Our son has worked hard to be the best he can be. He's worked twenty years at a local grocery store, rarely missing a day. Recently, they mentioned a possible new position for him in an upcoming expansion. He was thrilled they asked, but it dealt with money, and he knows numbers and counting are both something he cannot manage.

"Mom, I thanked them for the opportunity. I was honored they asked, but I can't count so good. So I passed,” he said.

I told him how proud I was of him. First, that he'd thought through the invitation and weighed the pros and cons. Second, that he realized the sum of a disability does not equal the sum of who he is. And finally, that he was so darned polite about it.

He smiled real big and said, "It's good, Mom. I'm happy."

It was all I could do to keep clear eyes until he crawled out of the car. But when the door shut, my momma heart began to bleed. I cried all the way to work, hurting for my boy. He works so hard. Every effort is deliberate and determined, but there are things his disability simply will not allow.

Paul worked diligently to spread the Word of God. Sometimes his efforts were accepted, and at others times they got him tossed into prison. Still, his efforts to do his best for the kingdom never ceased. He knew God would never let his work be in vain. Even when it seemed that way.

Disabilities aren't fair. They're dealt to us without invitation, but it's how we manage them that sets the bar. Our son is a shining example of God’s love. He takes his work as a bagger seriously. If you know him, you'll find such nobility. Yeah … that's the word. Nobility. Our disabled child is a child of the King, born of nobility. Gifted from above. He doesn't fit the mold of the world, but you wait until heaven. He'll be counting every head entering the gates and letting God know right up front if a lamb is missing.

Our son’s diligent work does not go unnoticed by his employer or the customers he loves so much. And God blesses him.

Put your best work forward for the Kingdom, and God will never let it be in vain.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Sell Them on eBay

As the worn-out proverb goes, when life gives you lemons, sell them on eBay.

In 1886 Dr. John S. Pemberton created a “brain tonic” to cure headaches and hangovers. Unfortunately, the Atlanta pharmacist’s concoction of cocaine, cocoa leaves, kola nuts, and fruit syrup didn’t sell well. According to tradition, Dr. Pemberton discovered some stock boys had added club soda to the brain tonic for a refreshing—and apparently, recreational—drink. However, Asa D. Chandler is credited with carbonating Pemberton’s unsuccessful elixir in 1892 to create what is now known as Coca-Cola … which, incidentally, no longer contains cocaine.

In 1968 Dr. Spence Silver, a research scientist, searched for new ways to improve the adhesive that 3M used for its many kinds of tape, including Scotch Tape. By accident, he discovered an adhesive that formed itself into tiny spheres the diameter of a paper fiber. Because they made only partial contact, they didn’t stick very strongly when coated onto tape backings. The company dubbed it a failure. Five years later, Art Fry, a new-product development researcher, heard Silver talking about his adhesive. Fry had always been frustrated with scrap paper bookmarks that kept falling out of his church choir hymnal and realized that Silver’s adhesive could make a wonderfully reliable bookmark. Soon 3M was producing paper tapes and labels which became known as the ubiquitous Post-it Notes.

In 1980 I had a dream job—working in my denomination’s youth department with some of the smartest and funniest people I have ever known. I looked forward to going to work each day to edit a teen magazine called Wind. Six months into the job, the general board cut the department’s budget in half, and half of us lost our jobs. The night of the announcement, my wife and I had planned to go out to dinner and a concert. I called Lois and told her about the devastating news, but also said, “Let’s still go out to dinner and the concert to celebrate. This looks absolutely horrible, but I’ve got to believe that someday we’ll look back on this as a great career move.” It did turn out to be a great career move. I started freelancing for other departments at the denominational headquarters.

But there are far worse things than losing a job. Heather Gemmen suffered through what is arguably the worst thing that can happen to a woman. At home, with her two small children sleeping in the next room, she was brutally raped by a knife-wielding stranger. She spent the next year being tested for possible AIDS. And seemingly worse, discovered she was carrying her attacker’s child. But through the pregnancy, the “all clear” on her AIDS tests, her husband leaving her, and raising the girl, Heather has been instrumental in bringing hope to other rape survivors. Her honest yet hopeful book, Startling Beauty, offers comfort to millions of women on national talk and news shows.

So how can I profit from this truckload of lemons on my front porch? It’s probably not financial gain, although Dr. Pemberton’s failed brain tonic has sold quite well as a soft drink. I’m still up to my neck in lemons, but I believe I’m seeing perseverance, character, and hope emerging from the fruit market of my life.

When you’re facing lemons, think of a possible benefit that can grow out of your situation. Let hope help you persevere, and perhaps consider how much you can get for this lemon on eBay.

(Used by permission of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.)

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.)

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Knock, Knock - Who's There?

I refused to open the door to Jesus.

For years, I not only heard knocks on the door of my heart but also felt them. I misinterpreted those thumps, believing they were school studies, a career, and community work. Those activities became my focus, and I dismissed any need for a spiritual life. But the knocks continued.

The painting, The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, is a beautiful illustration of Revelation 3:20. Jesus is knocking on a door that’s overgrown with weeds. The house has been neglected. It is dark and uninviting. Jesus’ lantern offers the only light. Despite the house’s unwelcome appearance, Jesus knocks on the door, prays, and waits for the heart-owner to open the door.

Mr. Hunt captures the truth—that Jesus can enter your heart, but only after you open the door and invite Him in. Jesus won’t force His way into your life. He can’t.  Like the house in Hunt’s painting, your heart doesn’t have an external doorknob.

During my life before Jesus, my heart was choking with vines and weeds. But Jesus’ reaction was to knock and pray without ceasing. His knocks were polite but firm. He didn’t beg or shout. Despite His promises and prayers, I couldn’t let Him in. What would He think about my sinfulness? I knew He would be mad at me and would list my wrongs in chronological order.

After years of peeking through the window and wishing He would go away, I finally opened the door. Joy filled my heart that day. Jesus wasn’t mad at me. He didn’t recite an inventory of my mistakes. Rather, He sat down and said, “I love you.” The peace that overcame me was a delicate whisper which passed over my heart and evaporated years of frustration, confusion, and anxiety.

When Jesus knocks on your heart’s door, He prays you will open the door and invite Him into your life. He offers love, not criticism. So go ahead and open the door.

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We're All Like Barnabas

“Come quick, Tom, Barnabas has eaten another chicken!”

We flew down the front porch steps as our rescue dog hunkered away. For the present, our dwindling number of teenage chicks are parked outside our front porch for their protection. But our dog keeps eating them.

We wonder what would have happened had we ignored the four-pound stray puppy with a twisted leg. I know we’d be richer. We would have also gotten more done last summer if we wouldn’t have had to chase him and our standard poodle, Sam, all over the county.

Finally, we invested in a wireless fence. Sam didn’t go off the porch for a week after he got zapped, but Barnabas seemed to ignore it. Soon, he began to disappear with the other country dogs. At first it was just a few hours, but then hours stretched into days and then a week. It left an empty space in our home and hearts. Bring Barnabas home, Lord, I prayed one night.

“Pauline, Barnabas is back, but he’s in bad shape.” We threw our puppy in the shower which ran red with blood and filled with loose fur. He looked as if something had chewed him to death.

Barnabas lost his fur, was sliced to the bone in several places, and had lost several pounds. Yet he lived. And now he’s eating our chicks. On days I’m fed up with him, I think about me.

I wandered for several years. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. After I stopped running, I hunkered back to the Lord. He didn’t scold me or discipline me. He patched my wounds and spoke soothing words to me about His faithful love.

After all of His care, I still wander. Other pastures look better, and the grass is greener somewhere else. Sin is exciting—for a time. And then it beats you up. At least it does me. But then there is God’s grace. Supernatural. Sustaining. Enormous.

When I was little, my daddy and I sang the song about the wandering sheep and how the Great Shepherd would go looking for the one who ran away. I’m glad.

If you’re wandering, go home. It’s better there. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Power in Life's Storms

When we have no power source—or the wrong source, we suffer.

Under the weight of one particular ice storm, tree limbs, fences, and utility lines fell. Thousands lost heat, water, lights, and access to outside communication. Debris blocked driveways and roads. A fortunate few escaped, and some had power restored within hours. Others waited days or weeks. A small number lost their lives from hypothermia, traffic accidents, fires, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Failing to connect with God’s power brings greater loss. When life snows us under with the burdens of daily living, God walks with us, offering peace, comfort, and joy. When those burdens multiply with unexpected tragedies—disease, relationship issues, job losses, layoffs, addictions, and more—God provides solace for the moment and hope for the future.

God responds when we need someone to listen and when no one else seems to care. He sees, hears, and abides with unfailing compassion. The clutter of commitments can block progress in any direction, and we wonder how to dig our way out. God guides with words from the Bible and His indwelling Holy Spirit, reminding us about what matters most and what needs to go.

And after our physical strength wanes and we look death in the face, we can claim victory through the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of His return. Everyone encounters storms and interruptions of life, but no one has to face them alone.

Depend on God’s never-failing power when you face the storms of life. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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The Bible Tells Me So

“Who is this Jesus, anyway? Why do you bother with Him?”

I looked the asker in the eye and answered, “Life is so short, my friend. With Jesus, my life has no end.” 

In disbelief, he laughed, “Oh, really? How can you know that?”

Quoting a childhood song, I smiled and answered, “The Bible tells me so!”                                                                                                       

I’m not just a Christian because I was raised in church, attended Sunday school, or went to church on Christmas and Easter. I’m a Christian because I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Jesus is God, so when Jesus speaks, God speaks. And Jesus said, The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work (John 14:10). Jesus’ promise is God’s promise.

When God speaks, I want to hear what He says. I want to hear Him tell me how to love that annoying co-worker, how to forgive that loved one who has pierced my heart, which path to take, and for whom to pray. When I gave my life to Jesus and accepted His forgiveness, I had to make commitments in my thinking. The main one was that the Bible is God’s Word.

The Bible is a compass directing our lives. We have the answers to the mysteries of life through our faith. God has something to say every day, whether through a devotion, a verse in the Bible we read, or during a quiet time with Him. He is anxious to hear from us. 

I find a new fullness and clarity in my day when I check in with God before I do anything else. Feeling the affirmation of His love through devotions and fellowship with other Christian women puts a peace and confidence in my heart.

When others ask you how you can know you’re a Christian, tell them because the Bible tells you so. 

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Am I Not Still There?

Closing my eyes, expressions of praise and thanksgiving spilled from my mouth to my Creator.

Unable to sleep, I crawled out of bed early one morning and tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen. As I walked past the breakfast nook window, I stopped to view a beautiful sight. The full moon shone like a marquee—puffs of big white clouds highlighting its beauty. Mountains in the background completed the picture.  

God truly is an artist. His morning strokes of beauty remind me of His eternal presence and give me a special gift to start my day. This particular picture shouted love. But when I opened my eyes, shock stole my peaceful thoughts. The moon was gone. During my moments of praise, fog had enveloped the scene.

In that moment, I heard a whisper, “Is it not still there?”

The question, like an invasion of privacy, begged a response. “Yes,” I said to myself, “the moon is still there. I just can’t see it anymore.” 

God reminded me how often my walk with Him resembles that scene. When His presence resonates within me and directs me, I enjoy shining moments. At other times, I cry, “Where are you? I need You to show me the way. I can’t do this alone.”

When I go through struggles and see no visible answers to my prayers, I’m reminded of that morning scene and the soft whisper, “Am I not still there?” and of my reply, “Yes, You are still near me.”

Leave your concerns in God’s capable hands. He is always near. 

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If Trees Could Talk

Supermarket produce can’t compare to the taste of freshly picked fruit.

My dad grew fruit trees for years. Every spring, in order to grow the best and biggest fruit, he pruned the trees, removing branches that needed to go. Had those trees been able to talk, they might have said, “No, not again! It hurts too much. Can’t you leave us the way we are? Please, not that limb. That’s my favorite.” Nevertheless, Dad proceeded with the task.

After pruning each tree, Dad inspected his work. Regardless of how drastic his actions, he usually found more limbs that needed pruning. Some years I thought he would kill a tree or two with those finishing touches. They looked so bare, stripped of all but a basic outline of their former selves.

Yet each tree soon filled out again—more beautiful than ever. Blooms appeared everywhere. Rather than scarce, knotty fruit, he harvested large, tasty apples, pears, peaches, and cherries.

Left to themselves, the fruit trees’ harvest would have been minimal and of poor quality. But my dad knew what they needed. He forced them to produce a bumper crop of the biggest and best fruit year after year.

Imagine the trees’ subsequent expressions of gratitude: “Thank you. The pain was worth it. We’re glad you didn’t leave us like we were. Look what we produced because of the tough choices you made.”

When God prunes our dead spiritual weight, we often kick and scream. It hurts, and we don’t like it. He also trims the less productive, making room for untapped abilities to emerge. While we’d rather hang on to the comfortable ways of our past, God knows the familiar—like a worn out pair of gardening shoes—needs to be replaced.

Much good comes from our pain. Years from now, the seeds from our fruit will continue to multiply through harvests of their own—just as the master gardener planned.

Learn to enjoy God’s work so you can grow stronger, blossom, and bear fruit like never before.

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Pressing On

Trying to stumble through the mundaneness of the winter months, I became aware of my need for motivation.

Life can be routines mixed with pleasurable moments but also has the tendency to be fleeting. Recently, I discovered beauty in the dullness of this season in my life. My family transitioned churches and communities and moved into our new home on New Year’s Eve. We ushered in the New Year by searching through clutter, hoping to find bedding so we could enjoy a restful conclusion to our busy day.

While unpacking, I found myself searching for meaning. Though I was candidating and unanimously voted into the church and was feeling great about the situation, relocating is always hard. You worry about your children acclimating to a new school and wonder how you will fit into this new opportunity. The celebration was over and I was feeling underwhelmed—lost.

My routine was gone and friendships were now referred to in the past tense. Though I had no desire to move forward, I had to find strength in a season where everything was in hibernation.

The term “press on” came to mind.  Paul talked about pressing towards the goal in his life. I realized I was on a journey too, but my spot was a transition that did not indicate the journey. Journeys aren’t defined by one moment or experience. They are defined by the total experiences of the steps we take in life.

We have to press towards our goals and aspirations. While there will be seasons of mundaneness mixed with extraordinary pleasures, the totality of these experiences make the journey. If you feel stuck in a similar position, remember winter gives way to spring just as night gives way to morning. 

Keep going; you will find your purpose in this journey. 

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Prepare to Defend

“We are flying on an overbooked flight. If you are willing to give up your 8 a.m. seat for a later flight, please see us at the desk.” The announcement rang through the airport P.A. No one in the waiting area raised a brow.

Again, the flight supervisor made an announcement. “As you can see, we have 22 new Naval Academy graduates with us today. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your service. Again, if anyone is willing to give up their 8 a.m. seat for a later flight, please see us at the desk.”

The waiting area at the gate erupted in cheers and applause for the 22 graduates, but not one person offered to give up their 8 a.m. seat.

I stood and gazed down the line of new recruits. “Excuse me, are all these recruits needing seats?”

The woman at the desk nodded. “They’ve been called up immediately. We have to get them to Charleston by evening.”

“I’m in no hurry. I’m happy to hand over my seat.” The attendant at the counter thanked me and asked me to wait.

“I’m not sure we can shuffle this many seats,” she whispered to her associate. It sounded like an odd situation. I’ve flown from Chicago numerous times when boot camp has ended and soldiers get their orders. I’ve never known them to be required to travel as a group. The attendant made a third announcement. Still no response.

I found my seat in the waiting area next to a young recruit and, after chatting with him, learned the recruits were heading to officer’s school. During this high alert time, the government wanted them traveling as a group for their safety.

Their safety? It suddenly occurred to me what a serious state our nation was in when our new officer trainees had to be protected themselves.

“What made you join the military?” I asked.

“I wanted to be someone who made a difference, ma’am. I want to prepare to defend this country. I had a mind to go to college, but the Lord impressed on me this need.”

“Thank you for protecting me and my family.”  I jotted down a promise from Psalms and handed it to him. “You keep this close.” He smiled, stuffing my business card with the Scripture into his wallet.

David gave us such hope in his writings. Throughout the Psalms, he reminds us of the promises of a faithful and loving God. He held tight to his personal experiences, knowing God protected him and kept him from harm—watched over him. The hope found in this promise gave David a little extra boost. For us, it’s hope.

The flight miraculously had enough seating. I’m not sure how. No one else stepped forward to give up a seat, but God is God. Seating has never been an issue for Him. As we deplaned in Atlanta, the officer trainee stopped next to me. He smiled, patted his wallet, and walked away.

I’ll never see that young man again, but the opportunity to offer him a promise went into his wallet that day. I’m grateful for his service and for the service of the thousands of men and women who sacrifice for “one nation under God …”

Pray for our military, for their safety, and for this nation. Be grateful for our freedom, and be prepared to defend it.

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Wants and Needs

Focusing on what we don’t have can make being thankful for what we have more difficult.

When my daughter was two years old, we went grocery shopping. As we went up and down each aisle, she reached out for a toy or pretty package. “I want that,” she said. After telling her no several times, I finally pointed to one particular item and said, “You may want that, but you don’t need that.” On the next aisle, she reached out for yet another enticing article. “I need that,” she said.

When we ask our heavenly Father to meet our needs, it may seem we’re hearing no more than yes. Of course, it might be because we have trouble understanding the difference between our wants and needs.

Having a roof over our head, enough food to eat, a secure job, money in the bank, and a working car are all good. So is being healthy and having a family and friends who love and care about us. If we can claim these among our blessings, praise God.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking those things are needed. What we need is God’s love and forgiveness, love for others, and growth in our understanding of who God is and what He wants us to do with our life. We need to take our eyes off our wants and remember to thank and praise God for all the good things He has done for us.

Many years have passed since my daughter got her first lesson about the difference between wants and needs, and she still struggles with the concept. So do I.

Stop what you’re doing every day and “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2 NIV).

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Be Diligent and Courageous

John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddlin’ up anyway.”

Many have stood in the face of challenges that have been brought on by the economy. Some have felt as if they had the wherewithal to face down a charging horse, stand in an arena with an agitated bull, and pick themselves up after getting thrown to the ground from atop a saddle. But some of life’s challenges can cause us to lose our cool and fail in relationships too.

Jack Sorenson, the western artist and cowboy greeting card artist for Leanin’ Tree, put it this way, “I didn’t have the guts to become an artist; I just had the ignorance … I figured, God gave me this talent, and I was afraid of facing Him one day if I didn’t use it.”

Courage comes at a time when we must press on despite the circumstances. Diligence is the unwavering effort to accomplish the task at hand. Luke 16:10 tells us if we are faithful with little, we will be faithful with much. For the Lord to work in our lives, we must allow Him to take control. The thought is scary, and many never trust in anything besides their abilities.

God gave His Son so we could communicate with our Creator. To stand in the presence of a Holy God requires confidence that we have a way to approach Him. Allowing Christ to have first place in our life lets us approach Him and be near to Him at all times.

God wants to know us. Let Him know what scares you, what makes you happy, and what your dreams and goals are. If there are obstacles that prevent us from entering His presence (sin), we need to confess and ask for forgiveness.

Be a hero of the faith, and have the courage to stand for Christ in spite of political beliefs or world opinion.

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V-I-C-T-O-R-Y

We live in a world where defeat is lurking around the corner, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.  

As a cheerleader in high school, it was my job to spur on the players and spectators by yelling and encouraging everyone to get excited about emerging from the competition as victors. As with most competitive sports, however, victory didn’t always pan out, and the bus ride back home was a long one.

Although we begin each morning with a blank slate of possibilities, we are not always in control of the events we encounter because we share time and space with others. While glorious when I can put my head on the pillow at the end of the day feeling victorious, many times I end the day feeling defeated because of my choices and attitudes.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. This verse is filled with encouraging truth. The writer tells us to hold on unswervingly. When challenges come—and they will—we are to hold on to the hope we profess. Like a boxer in the ring, we should be steady and focused. Our motivation to endure the inevitable blows of hardship is in the assurance, For he who promised is faithful.  God has already won the victory through Jesus Christ on the cross and at the open tomb. Nothing is too difficult for Him.

Now for my favorite part as a cheerleader. I pray until Jesus returns that we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Make your bus ride home joyful, knowing your God is faithful.

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Night Chorus

The pungent smell of wet earth greeted me when I opened the door.

As I stepped from my car onto the wet pavement, I glanced down, being careful not to squash the long, bulging, brown creatures inching their way toward the edge. The saturated ground had flooded their holes with muddy water and coaxed them out in droves.

Down the street, the neighbor’s dog barked at the sound of the car door closing. In the distance, the faint sound of a coyote's howl drifted through the damp night air. An owl's melancholy "hoot hoot" occasionally punctuated the evening serenade.

Winter's snow had melted early, filling ponds to overflowing. The milder temperatures warmed the water, enticing millions of frogs to gather and chirp their spring song repertoire throughout the night and into the early morning hours before finally closing their eyes in slumber. Their cacophony of voices brought back childhood memories of summer evenings lying in bed with the windows open, listening to the sounds of twilight.

God's creation sings constantly. If you still yourself long enough, you can hear its song—especially at night after the hurried world of people clocks out and goes home. Why not join me in seeking out these tranquil sounds?

Spend some time appreciating nature's chorus.

Dear God, You delight our senses with the melody of creation. May we take pleasure in those sounds and rest long enough to hear them. Amen.

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Lest We Forget

Forgetting what one needs or wants terribly to remember is a horrible thing.

I once chaperoned an eighth grade trip to Washington, DC. Memorials are always high on the list of things to visit because they are constructed to help future generations remember a particular person or event.

While not the most popular, the most interesting memorial for me was the Korean War Memorial. The artist majored on the number thirty-eight. Thirty eight was the number of the parallel that divided North and South Korea. It was also the number of months affected by the war. A problem arose, however, when trying to place thirty-eight life-size soldiers on the designated plot of land which had only enough room for nineteen. The artist decided to design a reflective wall. When looking at the wall, thirty-eight soldiers are seen trudging through terrain representative of Korea instead of the actual nineteen there. Problem solved. Statement made.

Memorial Day is the day when Americans remember military personnel who have died while serving their country. The holiday originated as Decoration Day and was established by a group of Union veterans. Eventually, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions were merged into one and celebrated together.

God also likes memorials and warns His people repeatedly not to forget Him or the things He has done for them. In Israel’s history, delivering them from 400 years of Egyptian slavery needed remembering. For Christians, the big unforgettable deliverance is Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

For years, I’ve worn paraphernalia with Christian symbols on them—mainly the cross. Since I got in on the tail end of the hippie movement, wearing jewelry came naturally. From necklaces with crosses to watches, bracelets, key rings, and shirts with the same, I’ve worn it all—with the exception of earrings. Needles never attracted me.

While jewelry and other clothing articles with Christian symbols can make good witnessing and conversation starters, my actual lifestyle is a better memorial to the difference Christ has made in me. Symbols mean little without actions, attitudes, and words to back them up. Just as America’s war memorials would mean nothing if we cast aside our love for freedom and our appreciation for those who bought it.

Americans remember their military dead with a holiday. Build something that will help others remember what Christ has done for you.

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Freezing Time

Wouldn’t it be nice if time could be frozen?

Kathy called her daughter and complained, “Someone stole my alarm clock.”

Her daughter laughed loudly.“Mom, that alarm clock is so old no one would steal it. You’ve simply misplaced it.” 

“Okay, fine, I’ll look for it.”

Kathy searched for it most of the morning. Finally, when her stomach growled, she decided it was time for lunch. Making her way into the kitchen, she opened the fridge where her eyes locked on a familiar object. On the bottom shelf sat her alarm clock. She didn’t remember putting the clock in the fridge, but she knew only she could have done it.

When she told me, we laughed. Some other friends asked if she was trying to freeze time. Their remarks made me wonder how many times I’ve wished I could have frozen time.

I thought of times when I should have frozen my words and never let them escape. Or when I’ve cringed while watching others struggle with growing older.

As my children grow and mature, I find myself wanting to freeze them back in time. I want more time to laugh with them and teach them about God’s wondrous love. I want to freeze them again as children when it was easy for them to believe and trust God. When they didn’t wonder if God had forgotten or abandoned them.

I would also like to freeze my life in the moments when I can feel God so near that His love overflows my heart. And when trials come, I’d like to freeze time and return to the moments when I could feel God carrying me.

While it’s impossible to freeze time, I can know God has walked with me in the past and will in the future. In my heart, I feel His love cover me, freezing me in time as He holds me in His everlasting embrace.

Let God hold you in His arms. There you can face your fears, shortcomings, and future—whatever it might hold. 

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Shedding the Justice Chip

I have what I affectionately refer to as a large “justice chip.”

My justice chip is sensitive to wrong-doing and can flare up at a moment’s notice. While there are times when this chip has been warranted and even beneficial, most of the time it is nothing more than judgment and jealousy in disguise. A moment of selfishness where I lose sight of empathy and compassion and instead focus on the ways I am right or have been wronged. A bitter seed that flourishes with every minor injustice. Ultimately, this self-righteous justice chip keeps me from fully loving others.

According to Peter, I must love before I can fully obey. The words, “Now that,” are present focused and allude to an action which occurs after something else. Peter is speaking to believers, and there is an assumption that they are already living out God’s word—a supposition that they are obeying God’s commands and are free to have true love for others.

Love cannot come before obedience. Like those early believers, I need to obey God’s truth first. Obedience will help purify my soul and shed sinful habits. Then I can love in the way God intended.

When I feel tempted to polish off and righteously don my justice chip, I say a prayer to help me submit every thought to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). My thoughts can take me into valleys and negative places where the enemy is waiting to pounce. Eventually, my thoughts will become actions if I don’t lean on God to tame them. And actions fueled by jealousy, judgment, or blame are never beneficial.

I also need to make sure I do nothing from selfish ambition, while considering others better than myself (Philippians 2:3). When I do this, my natural instincts to feed my justice chip with jealousy and judgment slowly slip away.

Accept the Spirit’s power to fill you with empathy, compassion, and love.

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Dissolving Doubt

“Stop! You’re not going to make it.”

“It’s okay,” my husband said as he struggled to push the refrigerator through the door.”

“But the rug is buckled. There’s no way you can get over it,” I argued, watching as the rug buckled more with each push. In my mind, there was no possible way to get the large appliance past the obstacle.

To my “It’s not going to work,” he said patiently, “Step back. I know what I’m doing.”

How many times have I—in so many words—said the same thing to God? “Stop! This is not working. I’m not going to make it. Let’s try Plan B.”

The good news is that whenever my doubt takes over, the Lord patiently whispers, “Step back. I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing.”

When things look impossible in the natural realm, that’s when God does His best work. He steps in and supernaturally takes care of the problem. He’s the God of all power (omnipotent), all knowledge (omniscient), and unlimited creativity. He always makes a way when there seems to be no way. He takes the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. He also says, For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.

When I finally listened to my husband and stepped back, he methodically brought the refrigerator through the door without a hitch. He knew exactly what he was doing, even when I could not see or understand.

In the same way, when I step back and allow God to take control, He shows me He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when I don’t get it. He dissolves my doubts. That’s what faith and trust is all about.

Are you dealing with doubt? Take a step back and let God go to work.

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Try Looking Up

I have a voyeur squirrel that loves to plaster himself against my skylight.

Almost every morning, I hear little paws scurrying up the shingles of my roof as soon as I turn my bathroom light on. Then I look up to see a squirrel peering down into my private life. I don’t understand the attraction. This crazy squirrel should be off somewhere gathering nuts and minding his own business instead of wasting his time watching me go about mine.

I also don’t understand why we often focus on the problems of others instead of working to repair our own. Yet we seem eager—even thirsty—to view the sensational lives of the latest celebrity or reality show hero.

Busying ourselves with productive things is better than spending too much time scrolling through media posts, watching reality shows, crushing candy, or engaging in other mindless activities. Gazing upward toward spiritual things is also better than focusing our attention downward on life’s iniquities.

Songwriter Helen Lemmel, in her song “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” encourages us to turn to Jesus when we are weary and troubled. Doing this is better than adding to our misery by focusing on and finding pleasure from the troubles of others.

Happiness doesn’t have to be elusive. By turning our eyes toward God and our hearts toward others, we’ll discover lives that are fuller, richer, and happier. Help, strength, and peace come from God.

I still don’t know what my crazy squirrel is thinking when he’s looking down into my skylight. Is he staking his claim or just avoiding the realities of his own life by peering into mine? Either way, I think he and the rest of us should try looking up instead.

Turn your eyes up to the Lord and find the help you need.

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A Time To Let Go

If only real life was like the movies where someone’s bad behavior is turned around by another person who just won’t give up on them.

When I was dealing with my former husband’s alcoholic behavior, I went to Al-Anon meetings—a place for families to recover from the effects of living with alcoholism. There, I began to understand it is impossible to “fix” other people or make them change. I accepted that I am powerless to control others or stop them from doing destructive things should they choose to continue doing them.

We all strive to fulfill the ideal of biblical love that “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” But if we are hanging on to a toxic relationship that habitually damages our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, it may be time to look closely at what is driving our choice to stay connected.

Sometimes we hold on to what's not working out of fear. If we let go, we will lose control, the other person will fail, and we will be blamed. At other times, we stay close because it’s what other people expect us to do. Or it may be that we keep coming back for more because we fear the unknown. What would life really be like without our troublemaker in the mix? 

In time, I discovered the freedom of detachment with love. Detachment—letting go—means caring enough about someone to allow them to learn from their mistakes. As I refused to continue taking responsibility for my husband’s choices and stopped covering up for him by lying and making excuses, he was positioned to face and deal with the natural consequences of his behavior.

I wasn’t giving up; I was stepping aside so God could work in his life. From a distance, I continued praying, never lost faith, and remained hopeful for a bounce-back and a change of heart that only God could bring about. Letting go was hard, but it was the best thing to do. There is a time to hold on and another to let go.

When God prompts you to let go, let go.  

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Pre-approved

The process of purchasing a first home can be daunting.

All three of my children are interested in purchasing their first home. There are so many things to consider. How many bedrooms will they need? How much are the property taxes in the school district?  

Before they can select the home they would like to buy, there’s a little matter of arranging the financing. Of course, it’s not a little matter at all. There are hoops to jump through. Every aspect of your personal financial life is picked apart: timely bill payments, income, credit scores, and debt verses income ratio.

All of the above issues must be addressed before you hear the magic word, “approved.” The responsibility of being able to qualify for approval rests on us. We are the ones who have to do all the right things and avoid making mistakes. Poor choices can cause the past to haunt you for years.

I have made plenty of poor choices during my lifetime. I’ve done the wrong thing, said the wrong thing, or focused on the wrong thing. And some of those actions had long-lasting repercussions. Some of the repercussions were the result of personal sin. I have owed God a great debt for the sin that has crept into my life.

But the amazing thing is that the forgiveness for my sin has already been pre-approved. God has no hoops for me to jump through to be accepted into His family. Jesus Christ has paid all my debts by His death on the cross for the ungodly. We are pre-approved because of His love. All we have to do is recognize our need for His gift and accept the forgiveness He offers.

Through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we have been pre-approved for acceptance by God.  

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Confronting the Jericho Walls

Jericho walls can show up in various shapes and sizes.

When the Promised Land’s kings heard about God's miracles, their hearts “melted in fear” as the Israelites advanced toward their land. The residents of Jericho decided to lock themselves in and the Israelites out.

I've encountered a few Jerichos, and you probably have too. Perhaps your workplace is a Jericho walled with personal agendas, power plays, and turf wars. Maybe you've seen the walls at church. Faced with a godly challenge, frightened Christians may forget they don't own the church. Up go the walls, and the gates slam shut. Perhaps it's closer to home in a relationship. Someone's heart—melting in fear, shuts you out. Or your fearful heart could be shutting out that someone. Either way, walls enclose hearts and bar gates.

According to Jesus, the truth sets believers free. One truth is that wall-building, gate-slamming fear is a lie. It whispers the Lord isn't trustworthy, and that He can't heal our broken hearts or redeem our personal agendas. Centuries ago, God miraculously delivered those former slaves and led them to freedom. It took the Israelites two generations to release their distrust and fear. We can do it today. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Ask God for marching orders around your Jericho wall. Whatever you wall is, it's a squatter on the Promised Land, and it will crumble when the real owner shows up.

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The Making of a Country Song

“Sadie is howling, whining, and acting like a crazy female.”

Autumn colors reflected in a fishing pond beside the quaint cabin. A family getaway for four in the mountains of Tennessee. In the trip planning, paw marks indicated a pet-friendly rental cabin. The foursome included me and my husband along with Sadie, a female dachshund and Big-T, a male pug.

Sadie does not like new adventures or riding in a vehicle. She is a homebody (home-dog). She relentlessly paced in the backseat, whining with displeasure. After arriving, she anxiously refused to eat for hours.

Each night we put the dogs in their own crates with cozy bedding. Sleeping quarters we call “your house” brought from home. Surely, the familiar would calm.

Sadie’s howling started the first night. Big-T (the pug) would eventually join in with whimpering, “What’s wrong with her? Maybe I don’t like it here either.” We took turns getting up, scolding her, tapping the crate, and saying, “No! Go to sleep Sadie!” Each time, the tapping became more forceful with sleep deprivation.

It brought back memories of getting up with our children as infants. No scolding or forceful tapping. Only feeding, holding, and rocking with lullabies. And sleep deprivation.

We never allow the dogs to sleep on our bed at home, so unless we became desperate, it was not an option. We did not want to start a habit away from home that would be hard to break later.

Our daughter checked in with me by phone text. As I typed the message about howling, whining, and acting like a crazy female, I thought the words were fitting lyrics for a country song. Some country songs are about dogs and crazy females. We have friends who are country artists, although we never pitched the idea.

As Christians, earth is our temporary home. One day we will travel to a heavenly home where we will spend eternity. This fallen world and unfamiliar surroundings can make us anxious, nervous, crazy, and whiny.

Christ speaks words of peace to us. Never scolding, but softly tapping on our hearts, gently whispering, “Hush child and rest in me.” God is living among us; let His love calm all your fears.

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Looking to the Future, Remembering the Past

As I examined the struggling African violet, it suddenly slipped from my hands, sending dirt in all directions. 

Although I had been a Christian for many years, my growth—like the violet, was stunted until I experienced a crisis. As with the little plant, my roots were torn from their safe surroundings, my world was changed overnight, and my life was broken into many pieces.

Just as I cleaned all the bits of dirt from my kitchen and placed them back into the flower pot, so God has placed each of my pieces lovingly and perfectly back into their proper place and molded me into a fresh and new vessel. Now I have begun to grow and bloom as never before.

Occasionally, we need to have our roots shaken and branches pruned so God can perform the miracle of spiritual growth in our lives. My crisis was having a husband of twenty-seven years leave me for another woman. The months and years since then have been times of spiritual growth, intermingled with dealing with other crises which included financial needs and health concerns.

When my faith weakens and anxieties threaten to tear at my peace and shred my joy, I remember my past. While living in the past or dwelling on what might have been isn’t wise, it is helpful to reflect on our pasts and remember the way God walked with us through the heartaches, cares, and concerns of life.

Recalling how God met my needs—sometimes in unexpected ways, is encouraging. He didn’t always take away my problems, but He walked with me through them. As I live my life, I have confidence that God will walk with me today and in the future as He has in the past.

Even when your roots are shaken, know they are firmly rooted in the soil of God’s love.

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Don't Cry

I ran into Judy in a corridor at church one Sunday morning and was giving her a hug when a friend interrupted our conversation and said, “I’m praying for you, Judy.”

Judy had been widowed three months earlier. We talked about how she was doing and the mounds of paperwork she was sorting through.

“Thank you, I need prayer,” Judy responded, as her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, don’t cry. Let’s not have tears,” her friend said as she patted Judy’s shoulder.

I’m not sure if I kept a straight face or looked appalled, but I wanted to cheer for Judy as she answered, “No, I need to cry.”

Clearly uncomfortable, the woman walked away and said, “Well, I’m praying for you.”

I turned to Judy and said, “Cry all you need.”

I appreciated Judy’s boldness to set the record straight. Grief tears are necessary and normal. Tears of grief are different from tears we shed when we peel an onion or are exposed to irritants. They contain healing chemicals.

Jesus wept at the news of his friend Lazarus’ death. Jesus is also referred to in Scripture as a Man of Sorrows. Our tears are so important to God that He stores them in a bottle and records every one. He knows we need to cry and expects that we will. He designed us to cry as a part of our healing.

Watching your friend cry may be awkward, but can you step away from your discomfort and affirm their need to shed tears?

Crying is a part of grief journeys. View your tears as God’s gracious provision. 

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Trust His Timing

When prayers are delayed, anxiety and worry can follow quickly.

Most Christians have something they are praying about and are eagerly awaiting God’s answer for. When time passes and the requests remain unanswered, faith and patience are put to the test.

It is easy to identify with the prophet Habakkuk, who grew weary in waiting for God to answer his prayers.

God hears our prayers and answers them according to His sovereign will and timing. Though we may not understand why the answers are sometimes delayed, we must trust that God loves us and will give what is best. God wants to bless His children and glorify Himself through them.

God possesses infinite wisdom and knowledge and knows what we need and when we need it. We can trust His perfect timing. Apparent delays can change suddenly in our favor and for His glory, but He is in control and will bring His perfect will to pass.

God is good to those who wait and is faithful in keeping His promises. Our time is put to good use when He exercises our faith, increases our endurance, and brings us to a new level of strength and confidence in Him.

The way we wait is a significant factor. We can fret and be unhappy, or we can place our trust in Jesus and enjoy life while we wait. Drawing close to Jesus through prayer, praise, and thanksgiving will keep our hearts filled with joy while we wait.

Waiting on God is never a waste of time. Make the choice to lay your burdens at the cross and trust God’s timing.

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Lord, Am I Thankful?

Sometimes, enough is never enough.

I sat in the tax office, holding my breath. My first time filing as single instead of head of household. My fourth year as a small business owner where I had more expenses than income.

Two hours earlier, I had told God I would be thankful regardless of what happened. Thankful for the roof over my head, the car I recently paid off, and the means to visit my daughter—whom I’d only seen twice in the past year, since she had married and moved out of state.

Yes, God. I trust You. As long as I don’t have to pay any taxes, I initially told Him. Then I boldly changed it: As long as the filing fees are paid for. I could trust God to take care of filing, couldn’t I? I could trust Him with anything, right?

When I realized both of my prayers were answered, I took it a step further. Enough to pay some bills. Put food on the table. Gas in the car. Surely God will bless these selfless needs, won’t He?

The answer came. I was getting a refund. Enough to pay myself back for the plane ticket. And also enough to pay the car registration, renew my business license, and fix a lock at the house.

He’d answered my prayers and then some. But it wasn’t enough. I selfishly wanted more. I got in my car and drove away, feeling ashamed.

I remembered the Bible verse about the man who believed Christ could heal his son and who asked Jesus to remove his doubt. I changed the words believe and unbelief to thankful and thanklessness and repeated them continually. God, I am so thankful. You hear me. You help me. Thank you.  

Professing to God that you trust Him—along with asking Him to help you with that trust—is easy and possible. God will hear us, help us, and honor our attempts.

What obstacles keep you from moving closer to God? Give them to Him, and ask Him to close the gap. Then be ready to claim His blessings when He does.

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When God Gives Extra Time

What could I do with an extra day?

Almost every four years, an extra day is added to February. More than 2,000 years ago, Roman general Julius Caesar introduced Leap Year into the Roman world, which at that time used the Julian calendar. Every year that was divisible by four was classified a Leap Year. This practice produced too many Leap Years but wasn’t corrected until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

Leap Years are necessary to sync the Gregorian calendar with the earth’s revolutions around the sun. The earth requires 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to make one revolution. Since the Gregorian calendar year only has 365 days, failing to add one day every four years would mean losing six hours annually and a total of 24 days over 100 years.

Joshua needed some extra time—a Leap Year. Daylight was waning, and he hadn’t finished defeating God’s enemies. He decided to pray and ask God for more time. God answered by allowing the sun to stand still.

I’ve often wished for more than an extra day. A few more hours in every day would do nicely.

Joshua’s reason for needing extra time was admirable; mine doesn’t always fall into the same category. I suppose when God gives extra time, I need to reflect on why I have it. Is it because I’m lazy? Are there things I should do? Does God have plans I’m not following? Does He want me to rest?

Of course, the opposite may also be true. God might withhold extra time because I’m not using His allotted time judiciously. Jesus tells several parables demonstrating the necessity of using wisely what God has given, along with warning about what can happen when I don’t.

Leap Year gives me an extra day for meditation—and perhaps action. A day that won’t surface for another four years. A day to meditate on some crucial questions: “What have I done with Jesus?” and “What am I doing for Him?” A day to contemplate His goodness in spite of my badness as well as His undeserved unconditional love and forgiveness, even when I don’t meet His expectations.

Leap Year re-aligns the calendar with the earth’s rotation, preventing the loss of time. Taking advantage of the extra time God gives can re-align priorities, decisions, relationships, and life in general.

Use Leap Year’s extra day to take a leap of faith.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and quicksandala.)

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Don't You Understand

Six years ago, the Lord directed my husband to take a job transfer. This required a move with only four weeks’ notice – precious little time to prep our home of eleven years. However, without hesitation, we rented a home in the new location while continuing to pay the mortgage. We acted in faith, and the Lord provided. Our home sold in three months in spite of the economy taking a downward spiral.

When my husband neared retirement, the Lord impressed on our hearts to move to our childhood city to be near family. Once again, we found ourselves paying a mortgage on an empty home while paying rent in a new location. As before, the economy plummeted. Over the past six months, we’ve had two failed contracts. Recently, we entered a new contract, yet three times we received requests to extend the closing date for various reasons. I admit—I have questioned our Lord like the disciples did.

The disciples traveled the countryside with the Messiah. Twice they witnessed the miracle of Jesus multiplying a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish to feed thousands. Later, when traveling on a boat, they realized that they had just one loaf of bread left.

Hearing the disciple’s conversation, Jesus warned them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.

The disciples asked, “Is it because we have no bread?”

I can imagine Jesus releasing a sigh when He asked, “And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

“Twelve.”

“Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

The disciples responded, “Seven.”

How quickly the disciples forgot what Jesus was capable of doing. Didn’t they understand that if Jesus could feed thousands He was able to feed those few with Him on the boat?

Why have I been fretting? Just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, He is in my current house transaction. I must remember that the Lord sold our home the first time; therefore, He will do it again.

Don’t you understand?

Recall the miracles the Lord has done for you. Write them down. Then recognize that He has met your needs before and will do it again.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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He Heals the Brokenhearted

The greatest fear a parent has for their child is them being rejected.

We fear rejection for the ones we love the most, but what happens when we are the ones who are thrown to the side and discarded. The greatest emotional pain we can experience is rejection. The emotional trauma from losing approval and being betrayed is a pain we all fear in our lives. But how does God view rejection and hurt in our lives?

As a pastor, I have experienced betrayal and hurt in my ministry. Sometimes the greatest hurt can come from the people closest to our hearts. We let people in to fill the loneliness in our lives, allowing them to see us at our most valuable state. Our guards are lowered, and we allow others to see us without the charade of perfection we put on for most people. We get connected and we allow them into our thoughts and ideas. Then without warning, the hurt of judgement and rejection comes into our heart and leaves a deep and gaping hole. This is an emotional trauma we all experience at one point in our individual development.

The Lord is one of restoration and of peace. To be discarded is to experience a similar suffering as Jesus suffered in His life. He was crucified by His own people and even doubted by His own family. Rejection from family or friends is a pain the Lord felt before you. The restoration of your heart is in Him, and your rehabilitation is in His perfect love.

I have been tremendously hurt in my life and my restoration came from God’s love. He restored my ability to love and trust people. He will heal your broken heart and bandage your wounds. The only requirement is giving Him your hurt in exchange for His love. People will hurt us because they have unhealed wounds of rejection themselves. Stopping the cycle requires giving your hurt to God and seeing beyond the person’s actions. 

You are very special to the Lord, and He wants you emotionally and spiritually secure. Hurt finds us all, but the hurt doesn’t have to leave permanent imprints on our souls. Allow the Lord to restore your heart today by giving Him your hurt in exchange for His love. 

Look beyond the rejection and see your value safely secured in God’s passion for you. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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We Are Each Unique

I wish I would have known God had a special purpose for my life when I was growing up. I had a good personality and made friends easily, but I had low self-esteem and spent too much time comparing myself to others. I didn’t know I was special in God’s eyes and that loving myself was a command from God. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others.

It’s a shame that we don’t hear more often that in God’s eyes each one of us is special. We are unique—one of a kind. We’re not meant to be like anyone else.

Our looks, talents, and abilities are gifts from God and designed for a specific purpose. The problem is that many of us make our own plans without consulting God. When we do that, we miss out on discovering the path God has specifically designed for us and we often burn out.

Once we make a decision to seek God first for direction and align ourselves with Him, He will guide and equip us as He did for the people in the Bible.

When God approached Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others with jobs for them to do, they often made excuses for why they couldn’t accomplish what God asked. Some felt unqualified, others thought the job was too big, and some felt they were too old. They pictured obstacles. God saw potential. When they stepped out in faith and did as God asked, He used them in mighty ways.

God wants us to take risks and with faith conquer feelings of self doubt. Past experiences should not stop us from moving ahead. The world equates success with high-powered jobs, large sums of money, big homes, and fancy vacations. God equates success with walking in His footsteps—doing  things that have eternal merit.

We can’t take anything with us when we leave this world, but we can be sure of where we’re going if we invite Jesus into our lives.

Take an inventory of your schedule. How much time did you invest this past month on temporary goals and how much on eternal goals? Positions and possessions play a large part in life, but a relationship with God and connections with people are the best investment.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Adityaram.)

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Unless the Lord Builds

I recently had a day on my job that was an exercise in futility. I executed a change in my work schedule I thought would be productive. I worked longer and harder than usual but accomplished even less than I did on most days. When God is not working with us we actually labor in vain.

The next morning part of my daily reading was Psalm 127. God is always right on time. Reading this passage I realized why my efforts the previous day were so futile. I tried to build the house without His help.  Sometimes there's a very fine line between diligence and striving. God wants His people to be diligent. But God exhorts us not to strive. He tells us to stop striving, believe, and know He is God.

The pertinent point is how to distinguish between hard work and nervous effort? It’s simply the one accompanied by peace. That particular day God tried to give me a sign: restlessness in my spirit. Peace is referred to as the barometer of the soul. It’s the indicator of how well our efforts are aligning with God's will. It is not the absence of struggle but the presence of calm or tranquilly in our daily battles. Our Heavenly Father is concerned about His children's daily life, and peace is the compass that guides us.

The pivotal question is whether we believe God wants to take care of us in the mundane aspects of our lives. The Bible says,  “Faith without works is dead.” But some of us practice that as work without faith. Maybe I should have taken a few moments alone with God and asked Him why I was so restless that day. 

When we feel that compulsion to work longer days, sometimes we should just shorten our workday and retire early. This may be the most diligent, obedient, and productive thing to do. For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep (Psalm 127:2c).

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New Beginnings

My very first experience in ministry was starting a little church called “New Beginnings” in my hometown. The impact of that first church plant has impacted my life and ministry throughout the years—the significance revealed in little ways as I pursued greater things. Reflecting back, I know the fruit of wisdom comes from the new beginning birthed from that experience.

I was twenty-seven years old when I started this chapter in my life. My wife and I had two young children. The church was a sacrifice from the beginning. We were living entirely off the income from the church, which was very new. Our income was up and down the first year. I was excited to begin this new chapter, but I began to think I had made a mistake in my decision.

New beginnings are not always the rosy picture we paint in our minds. I often compare this experience to child birth.  The process is painful, full of fear and excitement. Oftentimes it harbors ugly, unexpected conditions. The end result is a new mother holding her child while forgetting the pain it took to bring that life into the world. Our new beginnings can be painful processes that produce great upheaval in our lives. They bring uncertainty and fears to the surface, but God has a plan through the process.

I was scared to fail—afraid the church would fold under my leadership. It was very young and fragile, just like a new born baby. I grew in strength and confidence through that first year just as a mother grows in confidence and strength through her first year of motherhood. Just as a child grows up, so fear and insecurity will eventually fade as we grow through our fears.

The Lord will not simply take away our fears without faith. He wants to create stability in us. New beginnings are not always what we picture. God sees beyond our fleshly desires for short-term pleasure. When we call to the Lord for help in our distress, He cradles our fears with His perfect love—the perfect love that overcomes fear. Still we must first face the fear in His love to see beyond our mental block.

I overcame my insecurity in that first year of ministry. The church is strong today and a permanent reminder of God’s love and faithfulness. New beginnings are not neat and free from obstacles. New chapters release us into a great future, but we must first overcome the fear of the unknown. We must push through the pain while putting our destiny in God’s arms.

Stand strong in this New Year and expect great things for the future. Remember, your future is always guaranteed in the Lord and in His faithfulness!   

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and singhajay.)

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Purified!

When my friend Joy shared that she and her husband were expecting their second child, I celebrated with her.  However, early in her pregnancy, Joy began to experience complications, and her doctor discovered the baby had “water in the brain.” They contemplated draining the fluid but reconsidered because it would put both the baby and the mother in danger. All Joy could do was pray for a miracle. 

Many joined with Joy and spent the next several months praying and pleading with God for mercy. But at eight months, her precious baby stopped breathing. It was emotionally devastating. Two days later, we buried baby Zion in a casket the size of a shoebox. We cried as we bid Zion farewell. Joy wailed and refused to be comforted because Zion was no more.

The next several months were marked with emotional turmoil. I tried to support Joy. I sat with her but felt helpless to comfort her. I tried to help her nurse her body as she recovered from childbirth, a birth to a child she could neither see nor hold.

Seasons have come and gone, but I still think of Joy’s season of life like it happened yesterday. God has carried Joy and her family through their season of loss and grief, and while they will never forget the sadness of this season, they have continued to trust and hold onto God. 

Psalm 66 reminds us there are seasons when our faith will be tested. My friend Joy now tells me her affliction made her stronger. Just as a good refiner never leaves the crucible—closely monitoring the heat from the fire—as he cleans and purifies the precious silver metal, God too never leaves our side as we go through the sorrows of life. Our faith is refined and strengthened under His watchful eye. When we reflect on our season of testing in this light, we then see God’s power and love. 

You may be going through a testing season and feel it is too great to bear. God will carry you through your pain and sorrow. I pray that, like Joy, you will see how He purified you like silver and showed you the depth of His power and love.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and erdenebayar.)

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The Sacker Saved the Eggs

I was chatting with the checker and sacker at the local grocery store in our small town. The sacker, a new employee, carefully placed my groceries in the bags. I said, “Oh, I can carry the eggs and bread since I want to put them in the passenger’s seat for their safety.”

I initiated the transfer, only to experience the sensation of the bag falling from my hand. Much to my relief, the diligent sacker was still holding tightly to the sack that held the eggs and bread.

Circumstances or relationships seem to shove us, reeling and clutching unsuccessfully at the particles in the air to regain our stability. Yet, as God’s children, we feel the undergirding of His strength and grace. We have His Word as a basis for His presence continually being with us.

Do we recognize His rescuing intervention in our lives or do we focus on the falling sensation during those heart-wrenching situations? Or the oxygen-sapping blows that hit us some days, knocking us off balance in our emotional and spiritual walk? If we focus on our calamity or difficulty, then we miss the comforting awareness of realizing we are safe in His gentle care, no matter how hard the force of Satan’s attack.

Just as I realized how the sacker preserved the eggs, I know by faith, God will not let me fall. Trust what His Word states when Jude wrote He is “able to keep you from falling.”

Look for the reassuring, cradling catch of your Heavenly Father when you feel the terrifying sense of falling. He will be there for you, and you will see His powerful intervention if you use your eyes of faith to see Him. Then make the choice to rest in the arms of your loving Lord.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and erdenebayar.)

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Pruning Grapes

I recently visited a beautiful estate garden and learned how they trimmed their grapevines. They used manicure scissors. Tiny, sharp, manicure scissors.

I love how this Scripture describes the pruning God does in our lives: This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. I wanted to learn why these gardeners did it so precisely.

There was a plaque that detailed the intricate process. It wasn’t enough for them to simply cut off the branches that bore no fruit. They went beyond that to delicately prune each single cluster of grapes. When the grapes were still small and green, the workers precisely measured the ideal spacing between each of those tiny orbs. Then they used those tiny manicure scissors to carefully cut away individual grapes in each cluster so the remaining fruit could grow large and luscious.

The first thing I realized was the extravagant wealth that could afford such exacting work. The owner of those grapevines was wealthier than most of us can even imagine.

The second thing I realized was that they carefully protected each tiny morsel that would eventually be displayed at the master’s feast. There was nothing inherently wrong with the grapes that were cut away, but they were a hindrance to the best.

Our Father in heaven is far greater than a wealthy tycoon. He owns all of creation; His wealth is beyond measure. He loves us passionately and knows every intimate detail of our lives. He knows exactly what we need to fulfill His purposes, and we can trust Him completely. We are safe under His watchful care.

Usually, I think of God’s pruning work in my life as only being about cutting away the clearly bad fruit and dead weight. But sometimes, even things like health and security that appear good to me are tenderly trimmed away by the Master’s perfect and loving hand.

God wants us to trust Him even when it hurts to let go of what we think is “good enough.” Allow God to remove the good for what is best, and rejoice that He is preparing us in love for the feast that is yet to come! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and auttiedot.)

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A Lesson from Mary

“Beth, I think you need to call 9-1-1, and do it now!”

We had only been home for about thirty minutes from my husband’s outpatient neck/spine surgery when he realized his chest pains were not going away. After a ride in an ambulance, x-rays, lab work, a heart cath, quadruple by-pass surgery, and ten days in the hospital, my mind was in overdrive. It wasn’t until it was all over that I was able to ponder all that had happened.

The Scriptures say that after the shepherds visited the stable where Mary gave birth to Jesus, she treasured all the things she had been through and pondered them in her heart. The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists a few definitions for the word ponder, but the definition that seems to best suit what Mary was doing at that time is “to think or consider, especially quietly, soberly, and deeply.”

She had a lot to think about and consider quietly, soberly, and deeply. In my mind’s eye, I can see her nestling in the hay, holding the Savior of the world, and thinking about all the events that had taken place:

The unexpected visit from an angel.
The fear that Joseph wouldn’t want to marry her because she was pregnant.
The news of an upcoming trip to Bethlehem.
The timing of the trip.
The disappointment that there wasn’t a place for her to stay and deliver her baby.
Having her first child away from home.
The surprise visit from the shepherds.
The story the shepherds told about the angels appearing to them.

Mary had a lot to ponder, but those memories that were tucked away in her heart must have helped her over the years, even when her son Jesus, God’s Son, was dying on the cross for the sins of the world.

Have you ever had something happen in your life, good or bad, that kept you so consumed and busy that it wasn’t until after things settled that you had time to process what had taken place? May we all learn a lesson from Mary and take time to stop and place special things in our hearts to be treasured and pondered. Why? To remind us of how much God loves us and that He’s always with us, no matter what we go through. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and octaviolopez.)

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Christmas Treat

My Pomeranian, Rigel, always jumps up the minute I go to my office and set my cup of coffee on the side table. He sits close to me with front arms and paws on the windowsill and looks out while I read aloud from the Bible and devotional book and pray.

This Christmas morning, as I sat on the big overstuffed chair, my tabby cat, Sabby, jumped up into my lap, closer than usual to Rigel. Fortunately, my rescue dog is well-trained and “stays” when I say so. Just as we three were settled and I had begun reading the Bible, the phone rang. Suspecting who it was, I rose to go to the bedroom for the phone. The cat jumped to the floor. The dog followed on my heels.

As my daughter, her husband, and their thirteen-year-old son began singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I held the phone between the two animals. They moved away in opposite directions. I laughed, enjoying the frivolity.

After “Merry Christmas” and “I love you” from each side, I settled in again on the chair, my heart cheerful. I thought about the plans for the day. On Christmas Eve, some of my family had gone to a worship service at church. This afternoon, some of the family would come and we would have finger foods and watch the movie, Star of Bethlehem. Later, other family members would come and we’d have the turkey I’d cook and all the trimmings they’d bring. We would laugh and fight over Dirty Santa, play our Alphabet Gift game, and exchange presents.

I thought of what I’d taught my children when they were growing up: that we show our love to each other by giving—whether it’s an expensive gift or a handmade card—because God showed His love to us by giving.

I looked at my pets who had returned to sit with me as I continued with my devotions for the day, which included the Bible’s Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. I thought about Rigel and Sabby and how I believe they love me, but so often I feel they just try to please me to get a treat.

That led me to think about how my actions appear to God. Am I always asking Him for treats? He’s given me the greatest treat—Jesus coming, living, dying, and resurrecting for my sins so I can have inner peace on earth and an eternal home in heaven.

So this Christmas morning, I decided to do what my daughter and her family had done for me. They had wished me a Merry Christmas and told me they loved me. So during my prayer time, I did not ask for anything nor tell God what treats I wanted. Instead, I thanked Him for what He has already given, wished God and Jesus a Merry Christmas, and told Jesus I hoped He had a Happy Birthday celebration.

What better present could we have than what God has already given? The gift is here. We just need to accept it. What a Christmas (and forever) treat!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotdogcoolcat.)

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Mary Did We Know?

We don’t know what Mary was thinking when the angel announced an outrageous proposition. Perhaps . . .

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

The teenaged girl recoiled from the voice that seemed to speak out from nowhere. Trembling fingers steadied the newly-filled water jug atop her head as her heart raced and her body stiffened. She squinted into the shaded alley of adobe buildings of Nazareth.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”

Troubled thoughts whirled, but any words were pasted to her now dry mouth. Who is this man that he should speak to me? And how does he know my name?

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary felt her knees weaken as she took another step backward and stationed the water jug as a guard between herself and the stranger. She had been taught since a young girl that respectable men do not speak to women in public. And now this man was speaking of things that should not be spoken of at all. She tried to collect her thoughts. I must defend my honor against this rude and disrespectful man!

“How will this be,” she managed to utter, “since I am a virgin?” She had kept herself pure for her future husband, and now she was betrothed to Joseph, the craftsman. They would be married within the year, and it was of most importance to remain a virgin until her wedding night.

But rather than be rebuffed, the stranger continued. “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

She fought to reason through these troubling words. Surely this prophecy could not be of God. The long-promised Messiah is to be born of royalty—in Bethlehem. And who would believe a woman could have a child without being with a man. This would bring unholy shame upon my family. It could cause my betrothed to have me put away or, worse, to order me stoned to death. And my child would be despised and rejected by all men.

But, surprisingly, she found herself considering this outrageous proposition. Perhaps, if this could wait until Joseph and I are married, then the child would have the protection of marriage—and he would not bear the scorn and condemnation of the world.

The stranger said nothing; his silence only emphasizing his troubling words: “For no word from God will ever fail.”

The silence seemed to stretch into eternity. Mary closed her eyes and found herself speaking as if hearing the words herself for the first time. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

When she opened her eyes, the stranger was gone. And she pondered these things in her heart.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.)

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More, Better, Newer

The signs of the season begin beckoning in October: “pre-holiday sale,” “30% off on flat screen TVs,” “buy one toy, get another half off.” By early November, the Christmas shopping season is in full throttle. I confess I can get caught up in the commercialism. I love buying gifts for my family and friends while strolling glittery aisles and humming Christmas tunes. But along the way, I’ll try on a cute pair of shoes or check out a cool gadget. By the end of December, I’ve bought myself a bunch of new stuff I really didn’t need.

The lure of “more” swirls around us all year, but it intensifies during the Christmas season. Jesus spoke often about keeping our focus on matters of eternal value rather than on temporary things. It’s ironic we seem to ignore that command more easily during the season in which we celebrate His birth.

How often does maintaining and acquiring possessions tie us down to a job that’s slowly eating away at the soul, or to a work schedule that encroaches on our time with God and our loved ones? What deeply meaningful service could we give to God’s kingdom if we had fewer monetary obligations? And what beautiful dreams might we be able to pursue?

Time for a change in the coming new year. Lord, help us to downsize our lifestyles so You can supersize our lives.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Why, Lord?

“Lord, I just don’t understand.”

I’ve found myself making this statement a lot lately. I don’t understand this crazy weather or the ridiculous dreams that invade my sleep. I don’t understand why people are so cruel and vindictive, or the reason such a young man died so tragically. And I really don’t understand why my friend keeps going back to her abusive husband.

Why? Why? Why?

Questions bombard us from every angle, especially if we’re in tune with the national news. What I’ve learned is that we can either worry and fret or go to the one infallible source of truth—God’s Word. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . .

The problem with trusting is that we’ve been let down and disappointed so many times, it’s hard to place our faith in someone—sometimes even God.

And lean not on your own understanding . . .

We spend far too much time depending on our own understanding. We try to analyze and rationalize everything to death. If we can’t figure it out—and fix it—we get frustrated. If we’re not careful, worry sets in and we lose hope.

Trust in the Lord is a tall order, especially when we’re instructed to do it with our whole heart—no questions asked—no matter what the circumstances might be. God tells us His ways are not our ways. They are so much higher and greater than anything we can see, feel, or comprehend. In other words, He sees the big picture. He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. He is the One who brings order to chaos, makes beauty out of ashes, and has a time and purpose for everything under heaven.

He is the One I can turn to when nothing makes sense. I don’t have to understand. All I have to do is trust.

How about you?

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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Stay Focused on the Example

Rarely do I mow my lawn without being reminded of a hard lesson I learned years ago. I was hired by a local farmer to plow his field because I knew how to drive a tractor. I had driven a tractor like his, but never to work a field.

The farmer came to check my work when I was less than halfway finished plowing his field. He nearly blew a gasket. My rows undulated across the ground instead of being straight lines. I had tried hard to make them straight, but I could not make it happen. I felt beat up and embarrassed. When I plowed my undulated rows, the work I had done was useless. Part of the soil did not get turned; part was turned more than once. This created uneven ground and soil not ready for the next step of preparation.

Once the man calmed down, he told me the secret to keeping the lines straight: focus on an object on the opposite side of the field. Don’t take your eyes off of it, and drive straight for it. I was amazed how it worked and how easy it was.

I still use that technique as I mow my lawn. When I am aware of what I am doing, I remember that lesson from years ago. I am also reminded of Jesus’ word to His disciples that no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the kingdom. Our walk with Christ is much like plowing our field. Without keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and walking straight for Him, our walk will begin to swing left and right—not breaking up the fallow ground in our hearts, and not accomplishing the work He plans for us. Sometimes we can become so far off course that it’s hard to get back in line.

Rather than beating yourself up over it, thank Jesus for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Then use it all as a reminder to keep your eyes fixed on Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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God's in Tune

Growing up, my radios were quite different than they are today. The digital world—not to mention satellites—changed everything. Now, I simply punch the scan button, and the radio automatically advances to the next available station.

For many years, I had to manually tune a radio to a particular station. Stations would advertise their call numbers. Finding it required turning a knob and advancing to those numbers. Though the numbers were displayed on the dial, they were in separated increments. I knew when I was close, but I could never know I had arrived until I heard a station. Even then, I couldn’t be sure it was the right one until I heard the announcer broadcast the call numbers. Delicately turning the knob was necessary to arrive at just the right station.

Digital numbers make it easy to know I’ve tuned in to the correct station. Knowing I’m tuned into God’s plan is nice as well. Gideon needed to know he was. He was sure God had instructed him to defeat Israel’s enemies, the Midianites. When God instructed him to do it with only 300 warriors, he was concerned he might have tuned in to the wrong station. Traipsing into the enemy’s camp one night and hearing a dream about a loaf of bread, convinced him he had the right station. God was dialed in to his dilemma.

Knowing God is dialed in to our concerns makes life easier and more peaceful, and peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit God says should hang from our life trees. But it’s not a peace only experienced when circumstances are in our favor. This peace hangs around when things are going our way—or not. Gideon uncovered it in a dream.

We can live with confidence and peace when we remember God is tuned in to our needs. Nothing escapes Him, and He often gives us little clues—as He did Gideon, that He’s aware of our circumstances.

Tune your heart directly to God where you’ll hear loud and clear that He knows your plight and is ready to speak peace and wisdom into your situations. 

(Photo courtesy of mandmwiles.)

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Lessons from the Wizard of Oz

People of all ages are familiar with the characters of the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz and can name each gift the four friends desired as they sought the one who dwelled in the Emerald City. But the Wizard couldn’t give the group what they asked for. Why? Because the gifts they wanted already existed inside them.

The Scarecrow wanted a brain, but every time a problem arose, he was the one who figured out the solution.

Tin Man thought he was missing a heart, yet his compassion flowed when someone was hurting. He was the comforter and shed tears which caused the oilcan to come out when he got rusty.

Cowardly Lion shook with fear when confronting the Wizard, but he went into the witch’s castle to rescue Dorothy.

The tokens the wizard presented were merely instruments to remind the group of what they already possessed.

Dorothy had been wearing the ruby slippers while walking the yellow-brick road, but the power of the shoes had to be revealed to her before she could benefit from them. Dorothy’s desire was granted when she tapped her heels together and repeated, “There’s no place like home.”

Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit and goes on to say our flesh has been crucified. When God’s Spirit came to live inside us, the seed of His fruit was placed in us. When we ask God for more peace, joy, or love, we are asking Him for something He has already given us.

If we need peace: You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you (Isaiah 26:3). When we pray for more joy, the Word tells us: The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). When we want to love others better: My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (I John 3:18).

We don’t have to pray for something we already have. We only need to let our fruit grow as we live and walk in the Spirit.

Trust in the gifts He has instilled in your heart. As you tap into the Word, you will discover your gifts.

(Photo courtesy of mandmwiles.)

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Hearing Snowflakes Fall

Have you ever heard a snowflake fall?

As a young boy growing up on a farm in northwestern Washington state, I remember the harsh winter weather quite vividly. During the spring and summer months, it rained often. In the winter, that same precipitation brought significant snowfall.

I would stand in front of the large front room window watching the beautiful, large, fluffy snowflakes drift through the air. Unlike the “snow storms” in the Southeast, it usually accumulated quickly and deeply. I couldn’t wait to play in it.

The persistent kid in me forced me to stay outdoors until my clothes were soaked and my mittens were frozen gauntlets. My hands would get so cold my mother would run warm water over them to help thaw them. That painful, tingling sensation as the numbness thawed and feeling restored served as an excruciating reminder of all the day’s “fun.”

I remember making my way through the snow and sitting on a tree stump in the pasture. There was no wind, no traffic, no one else around. The deafening quietness roared in my head. I realized then I could actually hear the snow fall. It was a gentle, velvety, muffled pitter-patter as each flake completed its heavenly flight downward, softly kissing the earth.

Contrast that with the noise and busyness of today’s life. We live in a very noisy society with very little quiet time to ourselves. Yet, Scripture encourages us to be still and know God is in control, to walk beside still waters, and to step aside for a while to rest.

To be quiet is to enable hearing God. He doesn’t yell; He whispers. He whispered to Samuel in the middle of the night. He came to Elijah in a still small voice. Often, we find His interactions are in quiet settings with those who are listening and expecting to hear from Him. In that quietness we find strength.

Spend some time alone with God, whether in the quiet morning hours or as you settle in for the evening. No children, no television, no smart phone or Internet. Just you alone with God and His Word in silent expectation to hear His unique whisper meant only for you. You’ll be amazed at what you finally hear. Maybe even snowflakes.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mconnors.)

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God, the Ultimate Satisfaction

Zacchaeus desired fulfillment. He had tried and acquired all any man could desire: power, wealth, and position. Yet his soul was still pained. He was in desperate search for satisfaction.

When he heard about Jesus, he thought perhaps his desperate need for inner joy and love might come to an end. The moment Jesus saw Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree, He called him by name. At that instant—even before speaking—Zaccchaeus felt inner joy never experienced before. Immediately he knew his search for love and satisfaction was over.

When it’s your time for God's visitation, no one can stop it. It doesn't matter whether you’ve been the most hated individual or the reject of all rejects. God came to seek and to save that which was lost. Zacchaeus was not an exception; neither are you. You can still experience genuine love and joy the moment you look up to Him. Without speaking, He will fill your longing before you know it.

People tend to see you from your past, but when God appears and changes you, your personal lifestyle and character will speak for themselves. No amount of money, position, or power could have bought the joy Zacchaeus experienced. It was paid up at Calvary so that anyone who believes might not perish but have eternal life.

Find your true joy and satisfaction by responding to the call. God is stretching out His hands and calling us by name. We can come to Him as we are. Despised or not, His love knows no bounds. He will come and dine with us and bring the deliverance we so desire.

Jesus stands at the door knocking. Whoever hears His voice and opens the door, He invites to come and fellowship. Embrace Him today. Like Zacchaeus, God will bless your inner longing and desires by His will.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DMedina.)

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Busting Rocks

They were all doing the same thing, but their perspectives were different.

He lumbered through what appeared to be a construction site. As he came upon one who was busting rocks, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The worker replied, “I’m busting rocks.”

He asked another. “I’m working for my family.”

Then a third, “Sir, what are you doing?”

“I’m building a church,” he replied.

In fact, they were all busting rocks—the results of which would be used to build a magnificent cathedral. But only one grasped that perspective. For the others, it was just work to pass the day or support a family.

On God’s construction site, I should never say, “I’m merely busting rocks,” or “I don’t know why I’m here. God wasted His time creating me.”

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift. Among them are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, discerning of spirits, and mercy.

How many gifts we have or get may in part be determined by what we do with the one God gives us. God removes what we don’t use but gives more when we’re faithful. Nor does He expect us to use them all the same way. My opportunities are unique. Even when we have the same opportunities, we use them differently because our personalities vary.

The gifts we have aren’t nearly as important as what we do with them. Christians aren’t in competition. We are busting rocks for a greater purpose—to advance God’s Kingdom. If we lose sight of that, we’ll lose our excitement in doing His work. Focusing on the end result—the salvation and growth of souls, helps us maintain our perspective.

Most of us won’t live to see the end result of our work for God. Many of the construction workers died before the cathedral was completed. While wonderful to witness someone being saved or deciding to get serious in their walk with God, we will only see the entire impact of our work when we reach eternity. But we have the confidence that nothing we do in God’s name with the right motive will go unnoticed by Him.

Are you merely “busting rocks?” If so, let God change your perspective.

Prayer: Father, remind us that whatever we do in Your name is important and will not go unnoticed. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greenfinger.)

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Positive Reinforcement

“Good boy!  Thatta girl!”  

When I see my indoor cats using the scratching posts, I praise them in an effort to encourage the “good” behavior. Because I have not had their nails trimmed, the alternative is scratching on the furniture—which could be much worse—so I have several scratching posts placed around our home to discourage this behavior. When a dog is house-trained, taught to sit or shake hands, the owner is instructed to bestow abundant praise to encourage the repeating of that behavior. Often, this includes giving the dog a treat as reinforcement.

The Christians of Thessalonica faced persecution and discouragement. Paul encouraged the people to build each other up. He realized encouragement keeps us plugging along in our faith in spite of persecution and lack of support.

I love to receive compliments, whether it is for work I have done as part of a paid job or a task for which I have volunteered my time. I find, when complimented, I work harder at that task the next time. I feel it is more worth the time I invest. It gives me a spring in my step, and I think more positively about what I am doing. I look forward to repeating that behavior again, just as a dog or cat.

Many times we find people are what we label as “burned out” when they have possibly just not received adequate recognition for a job done well. It is such a small thing we can do that has the potential to make a huge impact in someone’s life. A positive word spoken to a person has the power to transform them.

We are all capable of recognizing something good in another person. Perhaps it will take practice for you. Genuine, heartfelt compliments are like gold nuggets—small with the potential to be powerful.

Encourage others. It makes such a difference.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Wallflower or Wildflower

“Why am I not more like her?” You’ve thought it before, haven’t you?  She is beautiful and poised and confident. Everybody loves her. If only you could be like that.

Then you step in front of a mirror and you see your mousey brown hair, your freckled face, or the body shape that’s always left you feeling insecure—and your initial thoughts are reinforced. God obviously has big plans for the one who looks so composed, but I was born to hide in the shadows.

You don’t let yourself think about the possibility of big things. Instead, you settle into your wallflower mentality, believing this is what you were made for. You were created to be the one who just hangs with the crowd … never stirring the waters but never making your mark either.

It’s a lie. We often find ourselves so entranced by the world’s deception that we not only believe the lie, but we also think it’s good. We think it’s right.

But what if we choose to think differently and believe the truth even when the voices in our heads try to convince us otherwise? So you may not look like the next top supermodel, and your presence may not command the attention of everyone in the room. But God did not put you on this earth to blend into your surroundings until the day He returns. He has blessed you with talents and purpose. The beauty of what God created you to be will become increasingly evident as you trust Him to use the gifts He’s placed in your very being.

You don’t have to be a wallflower. You can be like a wildflower. Once wildflower seed is tossed on the ground, it grows and spreads, covering vast areas of land with brilliant colors.

So go ahead. Throw your seed on the ground. Ignore the loud, ugly voices and listen to the quiet one beneath all the rest. The one that never changes but often gets drowned out. The one that whispers, “You are loved. You are worth it. I have blessed you with a good and perfect gift. Toss the seed, and I will make it grow.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jyxana.)

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Forest Through the Trees

It’s hard to see the forest through the trees. How true is that in our lives? We get so caught up in our personal strife that the trees seem as if they are all there is. Sometimes these trees are a sudden illness or a financial struggle, which appear like huge redwood trees in the middle of the road. But they are still not the forest all around us.

Our Christian faith speaks of the forest around us—a reality far richer, more beautiful, stranger, and more mysterious than we can imagine or give it credit for. Encompassing this greater reality is the love of Jesus, who hung upon a tree to give us God’s love and hope in the midst of our own life trees.

Ephesians chapter one reminds us of this: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Reading this is like getting on a helicopter and flying above the landscape for a few hours while catching a glimpse of the greater picture of our lives. From that bird’s eye view, we see it is God’s love in Jesus that is the greater story we live in and the one that gives everything else meaning.

Encouraged by this new perspective, we can go back into the trees, not only seeing them in front of us but now with a greater view on how the love of God in Jesus is guiding us the way we should go.

When you read this passage and others from the Bible, be reminded of the greater reality of God’s love in Jesus ... even in the midst of the trees in your own life. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and AngelaSJ.)

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Use Your Own Armor

If you recall the story of David the shepherd boy when he went up against Goliath the giant, King Saul offered David his armor and sword for the battle. David put on the king's equipment, tried to walk around in it, but then decided it was useless.

It wasn't a good fit. It wasn't his style. He'd never worn such things before, and right before battle was not the best time to break them in. He stuck with his own tools—a sling and five stones. Tools he knew were more than sufficient for the task at hand.

Each of us has been given our own armor—abilities. If we try to put on the armor of someone else, it won't fit. We won't be a bit of good using it. We'll trip over our feet and fail miserably.

But we do that sometimes, don't we? We think someone else has a better sword. We try to wield it, but it's too heavy. We get exhausted in the process and aren't very successful.

Not all of us are singers or poets. Not all of us are orators or evangelists. Not all of us can grow vegetables or paint pictures. Some of us are technology whizzes. Some master craftsmen. Some are the architects; others are the builders. Some create the things others sell. Some like to work in groups. Others prefer solitude.

Not everyone feels comfortable teaching children or feeding the homeless. Taking care of the sick may make us squeamish. Walking behind the locked doors of a jail to witness to inmates is definitely not for everyone ... and that's okay.

What say we be like David and put on the armor God gave us, take up the individual skills and abilities He put inside us, and stop trying to put on what belongs to someone else? How about we just be the us God created us to be?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Broken

When I was in elementary school, I went to my grandparents’ house for the weekend. I made my way to the bedroom and started playing with one of my grandma’s porcelain piggy banks. It was beautiful. Light blue and pink. So delicate. A little too delicate for someone my age because I dropped it and watched as it shattered into hundreds of little pieces.

Frantic, I rushed to my grandpa. He could fix anything, and he tried to clean up my mess. He used superglue and took each little piece and put it back together. Unfortunately, my grandma was more observant than anyone bargained for. She poked at the fixed piggy bank, and that’s when the superglue failed grandpa and me. The beautiful porcelain bank shattered once again.

As humans, our souls are like the most delicate knickknacks on our grandparents’ shelves. One hurtful word can shatter us. When that happens, people say we’re nothing but damaged goods. No one can help us now. That’s when we take the tiny pieces to the person who can fix anything.

We go to God’s throne and give Him this handful of shards. It’s all that’s left of us, and we’re hoping He has enough superglue. He takes the pieces and, one by one, places them exactly where they used to be. He glues them together with His love, grace, and mercy, and then sends us back into the world that broke us.

This world will destroy us a second time and a third, and it’ll keep breaking us. We’ll find ourselves back at God’s throne time after time. That’s the trouble with being human. On this earth, we will always be damaged goods. We will always be broken.

The Psalms remind us the Lord is near to the broken. No matter how many times we come to Him, pieces in hand, His superglue will never fail us. And, one day, we’ll be far away from this fractured world.

In heaven, there isn’t a single crack in your piggybank. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mconnors.)

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Wake Up and Love

My mind fought to preserve its state of oblivion. I resisted waking to face the day.

My to-do list included answering an email from a fellow believer. But my trust was broken. I dreaded the battle of choosing the right words, wanting instead to let them spew. I turned over, vowing to let sleep take me.

Somewhere in my morning stupor, a question came to mind. Did Jesus dread getting up in the morning? My eyes opened. I puzzled over an answer, but more questions came.

Did Jesus know in the groggy morning darkness that religious leaders would disrespect Him that day? Demand a sign? Did He know before He opened His eyes a rich young man would turn away? That nine lepers would forget to say “thank you”? That people would follow Him in case He served free lunch again?

As I smelled the coffee brewing, my thoughts turned to prayer. Lord, what made you get out of bed? His answer was “love.” I wished I could delete 1 Corinthians 13 from my mind, but I rose to read it. After morning rituals, including prayer, I sat at my computer and opened my email.

Love perseveres. A tough assignment. Sleep doesn’t necessarily prepare us. Only prayer, surrender to the Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit give us the grace.

Why do we dread getting up some mornings? We tell ourselves we need more sleep. Maybe we need more love. I’m asking Jesus to train me to say love perseveres when I awaken. Join the training.

Take a few minutes to think about the people you will interact with today. Ask the Savior for power to wake up and love them.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and WorthyOfElegance.)

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Deception

My backyard is a beautiful sight. Mountains encircle the valley and acres display God's awesome creation: wildlife, plant life, raptors gliding and swooping. It's a treat for my eyes and a boost to my spirit as I soak in the beauty. A landscape developed by God, the Master Creator.

Creative people spend lots of time alone, thinking, shaping, and being still. Regular breaks are essential for refreshment. Physical and visual stimulation go a long way to carbonate your senses and get you back to work.

On one of these breaks, my attention was drawn to the deck. There lay the tiniest squirrel I've ever seen. From his furry tail to the top of his head, I could make out his entire form as he lay still, lifeless. I looked at the branch hanging over the deck to see if the momma was looking down, with nuts in her cheeks and sadness in her eyes. There was nothing.

I thought of my boys, love welling in my heart, and wondered why Momma squirrel wasn't around. Perhaps this happened in the night and her vigil was over. As a squirrel, she could get on with the work of her day, but here I was dwelling on the problem.

I attempted to refocus on the bigger landscape, but my gaze kept revisiting the baby squirrel. So, I decided to dispose of him. With shovel in hand, I went to the squirrel and stared in disbelief. I went back to my original post and studied it, then went out again to the squirrel ... back to the post and back to the squirrel.

Too often, we're distracted by the need of the moment. Interruptions can easily rob our time as we begin to problem-solve with limited knowledge. We may not initially see things as God does, leaving our wise assessments to categories like vain imaginations. We try to bring clarity to a circumstance without all the facts, without prayer, without truth. The Bible warns us not to be wise in our own eyes. Our thoughts can earnestly deceive us.

My dead squirrel turned out to be a well-formed leaf. A closer walk revealed the truth. Our relationship with God is much the same. Next time you encounter distractions, instead of building them up in your mind, why not get closer to God and discover the truth.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Koan.)

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He Said She Said

Stinky Feet — He Said

I was married in Saint Marks Church at the age of five. The pastor’s son performed the ceremony in the basement of the sanctuary. I didn’t ask the bride’s father for permission, but he didn’t seem upset by the news that his only daughter was getting married. I think he was just happy she was finally potty trained.

Our wedding rings were large and ornate things cut from a brown grocery bag. We were trying to make a social statement and that statement was, “The pre-school class wants more craft projects and fewer Scripture memorization lessons!”

We concluded the ceremony by doing what most couples do on their wedding night. We got naked—at least from the knees down. I helped Peggy out of her shoes and socks and then kicked off my sneakers. Next, we sat on the floor and smelled each other’s feet. We were Methodist. Baptists would never think of doing such a thing. I’m pretty sure they forbid the touching of toes too.

The marriage didn’t last, though. I forget why. It may have had something to do with different nap times. But for a few hours at least, we threw caution, not to mention our shoes, to the wind. That’s how kids are. They do crazy things like believe in Cinderella stories and Piggy Toes, and that new crayons are cool and adults aren’t.

I think that’s one reason Christ said, "Let the little children come to me." He was tired of eating with the adults. He wanted to sit with the girls and boys and throw cake, pop balloons, and laugh until His sides hurt.

It’s a scary thing to think the Kingdom of God belongs to kids, but that’s what He said. Perhaps what He really meant was the Kingdom of God belongs to those who seek adventure, love smelly feet, and long to run through the halls of the King's castle.

What dour duty keeps you from sharing in your Master’s joy? God desires our love, not our duty. Isn't it time you cast off your shoes, ran barefoot through the grass, and played footsie with your Lord?

Safe in His Hands — She Said

We stood staring at the credit union computer. A picture of our son, standing in front of an ATM, filled the bank executive’s monitor.

“Do you know this man?” he asked, tapping the screen.

My husband’s shoulders shook as the color drained from his face. With his knuckles resting on the desk, Tim nodded. Then he stepped back and leaned against the wall. I thought, Thank God. At least the boy had the good sense to steal from his brother’s checking account and not from a stranger.

A prodigal child isn't that unusual. The more I talk to others, the more I find most every family has one. Still, that day it felt like we were the only ones in the world with a child who’d gone awry. This boy, the youngest of four, had drifted down a dangerous path, and it seemed as if there was nothing we could do to stop it.

I’m not sure anyone can imagine the dull ache that lingers when a child rejects what is right and chooses the wrong path. “Tough love, that’s what he needs,” well-meaning friends said. “Press charges. Kick him out. It’s for his own good.”

We didn’t. Two years passed. He never came back. Then last winter, as I stood by my mother-in-law’s casket, I caught a glimpse of a tall, slender man with shoulder-length hair and a beard. Whispers filled the chapel as those in the receiving line asked, “Is that him? The grandson that went missing?” My husband ran to our son and wrapped his arms around him.

Christ said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Prison bars hinder. Addictions hinder. Pride and shame hinder kids from returning home.

Jesus called the children to His side. He healed, taught, and touched them. When His disciples tried to push the children away, Jesus pulled them close.

Our prodigal son wandered off after his grandmother’s funeral for who knows where. But we rest in the assurance he’s safe in the hands of Christ. We have hope in that promise. And we pray and trust that someday God will lead him back to the arms of a loving Savior who is ready to forgive and restore.

If you see our son wandering the streets, do not judge him by the way he looks or for what he’s done. Just send him home, please.

(Photos courtesy of morguefile, KellyP42, and BBoomerindenial.)

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Letting Your Light Shine

When Janet was ten, a girl in the neighborhood invited her to an informal party her Bible study group was having. Janet didn’t attend a church, but she was excited about going to the party. It would be her first.

The church bus was picking up the kids who would attend, and Janet was told to wait outside her house for the bus.  As she stood waiting eagerly, she watched as the bus passed by. Eventually, the bus returned and stopped at her house.  The driver stepped from the bus and approached Janet: “You can’t come to the party because you aren’t a Christian and neither are your parents.” 

Janet began to cry and headed toward her house. The man stopped her and said, “You can come this one time, but not again.” Janet got on the bus where she sat alone. While the other kids laughed and sang together, Janet sat sobbing all the way to the party and during the time she was there.

It was many years before Janet ventured to a church again. The incident had made her feel unwanted. When she was in her thirties, Janet became a Christian. With her salvation came healing of the sad memories from her childhood. Today, Janet is a vibrant joy-filled woman with many friends. She knows with a certainty she is wanted. God is using her in a variety of ways to share his love with others.

As Christians, we have a responsibility and a privilege to share God’s love. Our Lord reminds us to let our light shine so all can see our good deeds and how we praise God.  

Remember to let your lives shine before others. The early contact Janet had with an unloving Christian made her feel unwanted and unworthy until she met Christians who showed her the love of Jesus Christ. Welcome all with open arms, and let the love of Christ do the rest.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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God at a Distance

Sitting silently, it waited to be picked up to talk to people who were far away.

Telephones have changed drastically during my lifetime. The first phone I remember was solid black with only a receiver and perched on my grandmother’s buffet in her dining room. To make a call, I picked up the receiver and, if no one was talking, waited for the operator’s assistance. This was called a party line.

The next phone looked similar but had a dial so I could place my call without the operator’s help. Then the push-button phone arrived. The cordless phone followed. Now I wasn’t bound by a cord and could move about while talking. Finally, cellular phones revolutionized communication. I could talk while traveling. Presently, I can carry my phone (computer) with me anywhere I go. Distance is no longer an issue.

While distance was once a problem when placing calls, it never has been for God. A certain Roman officer knew this long before the idea of communicating by phone ever entered an inventor’s mind. His servant was paralyzed and needed healing. He approached Jesus, who offered to come to his house and heal the servant. The officer suggested Jesus do it long distance. Jesus was amazed at his faith. 

Sometimes I forget distance isn’t a problem for God. I imagine when praying, my prayers drift up to heaven and then vie for God’s attention—among the millions of others being offered at the exact moment. God has to schedule when He’ll take care of mine. And I wait.

God is Spirit and omnipresent. He’s not bound by the clock or calendar and is everywhere at the same time. He can hear my prayers and millions more at the exact same moment. He isn’t confined by chronos time but operates in kairos time. While He can answer my prayer from a distance, from God’s perspective distance is never what I perceive it to be. He is as close as the breath I breathe to utter my request.

God is never too busy or far away to answer your prayers and supplications. Go to Him often, believing He will answer any prayer made in faith. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and efi21.)

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Lazy Rafting

Mark Twain beckons to the Huckleberry Finn in each of us who desire to throw off the shoes and starched collars in our lives. We imagine experiencing a bit of life free from watching eyes and expectations of others. His romantic description of lying on a raft, lazily watching the landscape drift by while the current carries us along, gives rise to a sigh of “if only” within us.

Sometimes we experience battle fatigue. We try to be good Christians, wishing for times to get from under the scrutiny of doubters who want to see us fail. We want to let-our-hair-down for a little while. Trying to be perfect can be exhausting. We want to lie down, relax, and watch the scenery pass. Being spiritually adrift happens easily and unnoticeably. When life directs us into a hidden snag or catapults us into boiling rapids of life, we realize the importance of remaining alert and keeping a firm grip on our rudder.

Notice that the writer didn’t say to give greater attention to the things we have heard to do. Nothing in the verses before or immediately after refer to any effort on our part except remembering and acting on what we have heard. The message he speaks of is the completed redemption given to us through Jesus dying on the cross and rising to sit on his throne beside the Father. In fact, later in the book he challenges us to enter into this rest.

In the midst of hard circumstances, you can find rest in knowing how much the Father loves you. In the turmoil of damaged relationships, remember God’s heart for reconciliation and peace. In those times when things are going smoothly in your life and you feel like you can drift, shake off the haze forming in your mind. Remember with greater clarity what you have heard, expand your image of how great your God is, and grow in your confidence.

No more lazy rafting. Have faith, your Redeemer lives.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mzacha.)

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Perspective from the Mountain

Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Height also has the potential to change perspective.

I sat on the jagged summit of Tray Mountain in northern Georgia, United States. Three-hundred-sixty-degree views are normally enjoyed from this peak … but weren’t on this day. Cool winds of winter had settled in, along with clouds from a stubborn cold front. What should have afforded me panoramic views beyond description now only delivered clouds, wind, and a brief view of what might have been.

Height usually delivers a distinctive angle. It did for Moses. As long as he stood on the mountain with his arms held high, the Israelites won the battle against their enemies. When his arms grew tired and threatened to languish at his side, his brother and a close friend held them up. From his vantage point, Moses witnessed a victory.

Normally, God’s perspective varies from mine. He’s like a Moses on the mountain while I’m more akin to a Joshua fighting in the valley. I suppose as Joshua and the Israelite army fought the long hard battle, they looked up to the mountain and saw Moses’ raised arms and gained hope for victory. When I take on the mind of Christ by purposefully aligning my plans and goals with His, I, too, can count on victory. Mountain perspective takes into account the valleys but isn’t destroyed emotionally by them.

Perspective affects my actions and emotions. The Israelites could have given up or fought unskillfully. Seeing Moses spurred them on. Knowing that God sees the sunshine above the clouds I may be currently viewing, brings happiness, contentment, and a measure of peace. These, in turn, prompt me to keep on keeping on.

Viewing life from God’s perspective rather than my own gives me hope. God’s guidance is trustworthy because His love is unconditional. There will be times when it appears I might be losing. In those periods, I look to the mountain and remember no weapon formed against me shall prosper.

What perspective do you have on life?

Prayer: God of power, we look to You for the correct perspective on our lives. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Rest

A buzzing blur zoomed toward the hummingbird feeder outside our kitchen window. Wings beating about fifty-two times per second, the rubythroat hovered near the food site, snatching only short sips of the sweetened water.

Hover and sip … hover … hover and sip … hover ...

Repeat … repeat … repeat ...

Not once did the little wings stop. Not once did the wee jewel settle on the perch. I grew tired just watching.

“Oh, please find the perch!”

Another rubythroat zoomed in, hovered, and sipped. Once, twice, three times.

Then something wonderful happened. The bird realized it could pause. It could put its full weight on the perch my husband had lovingly added to the feeder. It could rest. I watched the hummingbird fold its wings and take leisurely drinks of life-sustaining sweetness. Sometimes it looked around. Sometimes it chose to simply be. Ah, rest. I could almost hear it sigh with delight. 

“Dear child,” the Holy Spirit asked me, “what can you learn from the birds?”

Much. I am too busy. Too hurried. Too much darting. Too worried. Too hasty at the Fountain of Life. Quick sips of Scripture. Small snatches of prayer. I miss the perch … unmindful it’s there. I waste energy striving when I could be resting. 

Resting. Drinking long and deep from Living Waters. Resting. Taking in the beauties of His realms both seen and unseen. Resting. Simply being in His life-giving presence. Ah, sweet rest. And then we fly, together.

Are you weary and exhausted? Too scheduled to breathe? Jesus bids you come and drink. Come learn from Him. Come be refreshed. And don’t forget the perch. The Spirit of God will easily bear your full weight. Just rest a while with Him. Then fly.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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Raise the Bar

I love a story about an underdog becoming the hero. The movie “Stand and Deliver” is one of those. It tells the story of an educator in Los Angeles, California, Jaime Escalante, who accepted the assignment of teaching the losers’ class. He was told to try his best to keep them corralled. The rest of the teachers and school administrators had written off these students as unteachable.

Escalante convinced his class he believed in them more than they believed in themselves. They laughed at what he said they could do, but he proved to them they could. He succeeded in raising the bar of expectations. With their new beliefs about themselves, they finished the year beating final test scores of most of the full student body.

Solomon succinctly stated the ruling principle thousands of years earlier. Google “never told him he couldn’t,” and you will find stories of people who did things by overcoming all odds. The difference between their achievement and our thoughts about it comes to the person’s belief system. They envisioned a goal and believed strongly it was within their reach. They didn’t listen to any words of discouragement and went on to do what was in their heart.

Imagine how different we Christians would be if we truly believed what the Bible says about us. When we have feelings of inadequacies, Romans reminds us we are more than conquerors. If we have disabilities, Psalms boasts we are fearfully and wonderfully made. When we allow feelings of insignificance to affect us, 1 Corinthians reminds us God chose the lesser to raise them up and show the world their importance in Him.

When we put our lives into the hands of Jesus Christ, we become new creatures. If you have not done this before, take the time—as you are reading the Word—to write down anything it says you are now as His disciple. Start to believe you can be all God wants you to be, for what you think in your heart is what you are. Raise the bar and be God’s best.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and krosseel.)

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The Real Problem

Late one evening, I let our two dogs out one last time before locking the doors. Unbeknown to me, a skunk had found its way into our backyard. Chaos erupted within seconds. My husband was yelling, the back door was wide open, and our dogs were barking. As I rushed to see what was going on, one dog ran inside. My husband hustled inside and slammed the door. While our second brave little dog defended his territory, the skunk trotted—seemingly unconcerned—toward our back porch. I hurried to ring the front doorbell, hoping the dog would hear and come to investigate.  Eventually, our pint-sized keeper of the castle entered the house with a guilty expression, hoping he wasn't in trouble.

Gradually, I noticed a pervasive stink inside the house. We realized the dog who came inside first had been sprayed, but not before she laid on the bedroom carpet, a small rug, her dog bed, and the couch. Who could blame her? She only wanted to escape the smell.

We bathed both dogs, and I washed a load of towels and a dog bed. As I lay down to sleep, my eyes stung because of skunk odor. The next day, we opened windows and turned on fans, trying to get rid of the smell. I attended a meeting, hoping I didn't smell like Pepe Le Pew.

As I considered how the events unfolded, what revealed itself is a common strategy of our adversary, the devil. Between the sound and fury of a skunk in close proximity and a dog on high alert, the real problem slipped in unnoticed. That’s what happens in our daily lives. We grow focused on what seems to be the issue in our lives, but the bigger, more devastating issue slips in when our attention is elsewhere.

Peter warns us to be on the watch. Be alert because Satan seeks after us like prey. Are you alert to distractions from the enemy? The world provides an ever-changing kaleidoscope of misdirection.  

Focus on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him and you will stay on course in this life. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ks42day.)

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Wait, Again

The host fumbled with the paper. Shesh. I’m dying here. Just make the announcement.

She straightened the papers and glanced at the award plaques on the table. It was only seconds, but it felt like hours. I’d waited a month to find out if I’d won.

Actually, I’d waited longer than that. There was the seven months it took to craft the novel. Three years to shop and sell it. Another year after the contract was signed for the publication and now, a month since the announcement of being a finalist. Without a doubt – a lot of waiting.

From the day I began the novel, I prayed two things. Help me keep my eyes focused on you. Let this work be to your glory not mine.

Of course, I’d thought about what I prayed. . .but not deeply enough. I had made a concerted effort to give God the glory for the success of this novel, and when it finaled for a major award, I tried my best to keep those thoughts in mind. Well, I managed on the outside to keep those thoughts in the forefront. Internally, next to my heart, I longed to win just once.

So when the host tinkered with her papers holding the winners name, I just wanted her to get on with it. The wait was killing me.

“Lord, let this be a glory to you.” That was my prayer sitting at the table, wringing my hands. Waiting.

The host moved closer to the microphone and announced the winner. Uh…not me. Instantly, my heart sank. A forced smile surfaced as I clapped for the winner.

David prayed a number of times to be strong and wait. Wait. His words of encouragement attest to the fact that he himself had to learn to be strong and wait in whatever task he worked or desired. God trained him in the fields not in the throne room, and there was an art to being strong while he waited. Patience, anticipation, hope and success – all in God’s timing.

I was ashamed of myself. Disappointed, but ashamed. I’d prayed fervently from the inception of the novel that God would use it to His glory, not mine. A final gave God the glory – a win would have given me the glory. God knew where my heart was at the moment, and though I’m sure He understood my disappointment, He taught me a valuable lesson. Learning to wait on His timing is better.

When the desires of your heart grow strong. . .learn to wait on God. His wisdom and power are well worth the wait.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Darnok.)

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A Fragrant Ministry

I lifted the vase of beautiful flowers—red roses, yellow iris, purple larkspur, various fillers—and reflected on the fragrant blessings from God. Earlier years left little time for my favorite hobby, but with a home office, I sandwiched work with breaks of meandering through my gardens.

I enjoyed giving away plants and cut flowers. My husband—and delivery service—shared my passion. He took bouquets to nearby neighbors or delivered to distant friends. When our neighbor’s husband died, I asked how I could help. She said, “Would you make a bouquet? Bob would not want us to buy a lot of flowers, but he would be pleased with yours.” My roses were the single arrangement at his memorial.

Our church’s floral committee occasionally requested flowers to fashion into exquisite arrangements. A nearby small congregation we frequently visited used artificial arrangements on their altar. They had no budget for flowers. A long-time member and friend asked me to prepare centerpieces for their church’s Thanksgiving banquet. I agreed, and the member’s unexpected praise showed their appreciation for fresh flowers and my efforts.

Soon, bouquets of roses mixed with my unusual bird-of-paradise graced their sanctuary. Often the pastor of twenty-five-plus years, as well as numerous people in the congregation, personally thanked me for the arrangements. I received calls, notes, and comments from people I hardly knew expressing their enjoyment of my flowers.

The pastor’s wife, with the daunting task of decorating the altar each week, loved to tour my gardens. When we went out of town, I left the garage door opener accessible for her to retrieve flowers from my garage refrigerator and invited her to roam the gardens for more. What had started as a hobby had become a ministry.

While I had served in various church positions, a flower ministry never entered my mind. The Apostle Paul pointed out that there are different ministries, but we all serve the same Lord. We serve with what we are given to His glory, and He blesses others through us.

God gives each of us different talents and abilities. What a joy to serve through the fragrance of a flower ministry. Share your simple gifts. They don’t have to be elaborate, just given with love.

What unusual ways will you find to serve? 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GedC.)

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Let Go!

A man was having serious problems. His wife had left him, leaving their three children in his care. He was in the army and his responsibilities were many. Not only was he doing his work, but he was also the sole caregiver to his children.

He talked with his chaplain, who tried to encourage the man to allow God to work in his problems. “I can’t do all that is needed. I give up.” 

So the chaplain decided to try a show-and-tell lesson. “Here, hold my briefcase. It’s heavy and the load is too much on my arm,” the chaplain said.  

The man looked at him rather strangely, but he reached out to take the case. When he did so, the chaplain pulled it back. “Please,” the chaplain again asked, “Take this heavy briefcase. It’s such a heavy burden.” Again the man reached for the briefcase only to have the chaplain pull it back.

“I can’t help you carry the briefcase if you won’t give it to me,” said the man. 

Then the chaplain made his point: God wouldn’t take the soldier’s burdens if he wouldn’t hand them over.

Are we ever guilty of doing the same thing? When our burdens are heavy, do we ask God to help us with them but then pull them back and take them up once again?

Scripture tells us to cast our care on the Lord and He will hold us up – sustain us. He promised never to let us fall. We aren’t promised that God will take our problems away, but we are promised He will uphold us and keep our problems from defeating us. We simply have to be willing to let go before God can relieve our burden.

Trust God to be your refuge. Give your burdens to Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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Carried Along

When our son was not quite old enough to walk, he loved for us to rock him as he sat in our laps. Sometimes, if we just sat still, he would begin to rock himself back and forth until we caught on. Once we began he would discontinue rocking himself. He then knew all he had to do was lean back and rest in our arms to enjoy the comfort his parents provided. 

Our heavenly Father not only comforts us, He also spurs us into action to accomplish a work for His purpose. Through His Holy Spirit, He gives us what we need to go in the direction we should go. What God gives us through the Holy Spirit is already perfected. 

A young lady was moved to write a detailed account of her personal testimony. Although it seemed she was putting her life out there for all to see, she obeyed. Many lives were touched by some aspect of her testimony. Months later, she received thank-you notes and phone calls. Many approached her tearfully, needing prayer or a hug.

In those times when God is spurring us into action we, like the baby, must learn to lean on God and allow the Holy Spirit to carry us through. 

Follow the movement and direction of God, being careful not to redirect, add to, or subtract from what God is doing in your life.

(Photo courtesy of mandmantiques.)

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Lord Help My Unbelief

Funerals are never easy, but that’s especially true when it’s a young person who has passed away. While my son was in Iraq, a buddy of his was killed in a car accident. I knew Jimmy would have wanted to attend, so I decided to go in his stead.

I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. The moment I caught sight of that grieving mother, her pain became mine. The imagined scenarios engulfed my mind. What if I had to plan my son’s funeral? Suddenly, the danger of where he was and what could happen engulfed me.

As I spiraled deeper into that place of what if, the service continued. I refused to let myself leave until the service was over, but every second I stayed I fought to keep the panic at bay. As soon as I could slip away, I fled to the safety of my home and locked myself in my bedroom and cried.

As I sobbed, I poured out my heart to God, begging him to keep my son safe. I knew God loved him even more than I did—at least my head knew that—but my heart was unconvinced. Lying there, I quoted this verse in Mark over and over, trying to regain a measure of peace: Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! Finally, when I couldn’t cry anymore, the truth of this verse began to steal over me.

I was divided, overwhelmed with doubt and fear. I tackled my doubt first. Could God keep my son safe? In my mind, I took an inventory of everything I knew about God. Peace began to settle over me as certainty took hold. God could keep Jimmy safe. Now the deeper question. Would God keep him safe?

That one I couldn’t answer. There were no concrete assurances. Just like the boy’s father in the Bible, I had to accept it on faith and believe that no matter what happened during deployment, God could be trusted. That was the day I accepted God loves each of us more than any human can. He can be trusted with the lives of those who mean the most to each of us.

This Memorial Day, honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for our country by remembering to pray for the families they’ve left behind.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Dancing with Abandon

My son David was under five when we attended my nephew’s reception. When the music started, he busted a move and kept up his jubilant dancing. His joyful abandon was contagious. The adults loved seeing his enthusiasm. Those shy about dancing got inspired to join in.  A few years later, another nephew married. This time David refused to dance at the reception. He embraced shame and fear rather than joy.

My son’s joy was robbed. He changed his focus from his love of dancing to how others might perceive his skill. Before he realized there were specific steps required, he’d let the music lead his actions. He inspired others.

King David danced with all his might when the Ark of the Covenant was being carried back into Jerusalem. His expression of love for God flowed from his dance. King David was unashamed and not bothered by what others thought. God was the center focus, and he enjoyed being in His presence.

I wonder how often we enjoy our God while not caring what the world thinks. We bust a move of praise when we are in his presence. We raise our hands in worship. Prayer flows freely from our lips—honest and personal. Our joy in his presence is visible to others. We are focused on letting his love embrace us.

Then we morph. We let anxiety over what others may think of our response to the Father’s love overtake us. After all, there are rules for proper prayer, proper worship, and proper sharing of one’s faith. We listen to others’ testimonies and feel inadequate for the task. They might laugh or give us strange looks, especially if our expressions result in awkward moves, rambling words, and flat notes.

Like King David, dance before the Lord with abandon. It doesn’t matter if our Christian dance isn’t exactly textbook. Determine in your heart that the joy of the Lord’s presence deserves your boldest efforts. Let’s speak his name freely. Let your heart, like King David’s, be full of gratitude to the One who has done so much for you. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Do Not Settle

“Do not settle. Not for anything. Not for your semi-best, not for the guy you like right now but isn't … for you. Not for anything. God has a great plan for your future, so don't settle for your own mediocre plans.”

Those words, posted by my friend Brandi on a social networking site, speak volumes about her sense of worth and commitment to the One who created her. She recognizes God made her for a purpose, and that purpose surpasses anything she or anyone else might envision. Only when she allows God to work through her can she be her best self.

Brandi values relationships with family and friends but recognizes her relationship with God exceeds all those. She knows when she loves God completely, she can love others better. Brandi doesn’t stop at seeking God’s will for her own life. She shares her faith with others — not with a heavy hand, but gently and persistently. She wants everyone, whether family, friends, acquaintances, or perfect strangers, to know the peace and joy she experiences daily. Above all, she wants them to become a part of God’s family and share an eternal home in heaven with her.

God’s best or less than the best? That’s a no-brainer for my friend. God’s plans for us are amazing, and His promise to prosper us comes in so many unique ways. He offers us hope and a future far beyond what we can imagine.

Recognize and accept God’s purpose for your life. Don’t settle for less than the best. If you know God personally, share His love, hope, peace, and joy with the people you encounter. Invite them to join you as a part of God’s eternal, never-failing family. Help others seek the best.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Taste and See

Getting a baby to try new food is sometimes difficult and even hazardous. The mama doing the feeding may come away with more food on herself than the child has in his tummy. To watch the strange antics of parents as they mimic dive-bomber noises while trying to get their child to eat veggies is entertaining to say the least. Their baby may not accept the food they offer the first time, but after repeated exposure―lots of repeated exposure―they usually give in.

Do you readily accept what you are given to eat, or are you a picky eater? In order to acquire an appetite for something, we first have to ingest it, and ingest it repeatedly.  An appetite is a God-given gift and a powerful force. A hearty appetite is vital for good health, but sometimes our appetites lead us toward things that are harmful. As believers, we need to develop an appetite for foods that are beneficial―foods that will sustain us.

The world spreads a tempting smorgasbord before us. At every turn, we are enticed to partake of things high in calories but low in content. Why is it so hard for us to push away from a table laden with scrumptious food and yet so difficult for us to scoot up to a table that offers the Bread of Life? Like babies, we often have to be trained to like what is good for us. We forget food is not given to entertain; its purpose is to sustain. Without it, we would die.

God’s Word is Life. It gives vitality to our spiritual bodies as physical food gives energy to our mortal bodies. We are invited to pull our chairs up to the Lord’s table―to taste and see that the Lord is good. Give God your appetite. The table He spreads before you is healthy and laden with the richest of fare―food high in content but low in calories. Now that’s a meal we should super-size! Overeating at the Lord’s table is impossible.

Set a good example. Eat plenty of life-giving food. Wolf it down with enjoyment. Eat it in front of others. Make dive-bomber noises if you must. They may just copy you. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Race Runner

“Running is addictive.” Several friends have uttered those words to me. I always smile and nod in agreement although I totally don’t get it. I love to run. I adore the cute shoes and sporty running outfits. I want to feel carefree trotting down the road with the wind blowing my hair. The 5K and marathon-themed races look so fun and exciting. Most of all, I crave the strength and endurance that encompasses running.   

I tried sprinting with friends in the past; have even taken running classes. Now, my daughter has volunteered to be my running partner. We jog together on our road, and she is pushing me to increase my endurance and test my limits. My heart races and my breathing labors. I sweat profusely, and my leg muscles ache. Running is hard work; it does not come naturally to me at all.  But I keep trying because I know eventually I will get the desired results.

My running career reminds me of a verse from Hebrews, Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. God tells us the race of life will not be easy. It involves strenuous work. There will be obstacles or sin that cause us to stumble along the way. But He also gives us encouragement to keep going with perseverance. 

Keep focused on the task of doing God’s will as it is laid out before you. Be inspired to do your very best today in the race you are participating in. Maybe God is calling you to turn over sin in your life to Him. Let Him carry the burden so that excess weight doesn’t prohibit your performance. 

For now, I’m running the race on my street and the race of life God has set before me.  Both are difficult at times, but both are also greatly rewarding. I am still waiting for running to become an addiction.Who knows? Anything is possible with God.  

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There's Room for More

“Whew!” My husband and I sighed in relief as we took our seats on the boat to transport us from Universal Studios-Orlando to our hotel. It had been a hectic day, battling crowds and long lines, and we were ready to get back to the tranquility of our hotel room.

After seeing the long line for the boat, we suspected we would have to wait without our coats for the next one in the chilly November weather. So we were pleasantly surprised to make it onboard. Yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people who were cut off at the gate.

Once everyone was seated, I noticed a significant number of empty seats, and I was happy to hear a few fellow-sympathizers yell out to the captain, “Hey, wait … there’s more room! We can fit more people on.” However, the maximum capacity had evidently been reached because no one else was allowed to board.

What a shame. I thought. So many more could’ve made it. Being a Christian, I couldn’t help but notice the biblical parallel. The Bible tells us the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. In other words, there aren’t enough “fishers of men” to bring in the abundance of people who could come to know Jesus Christ.

Heaven has no maximum capacity. God desires for all people to be saved. You have been given the precious gift of salvation. Do not be content or complacent with so many empty seats on the Heaven-bound boat. Instead, strive to fulfill our Master’s Great Commission to spread the gospel to as many as possible.

Pray the body of Christ will rise to the occasion and be the workers needed in His harvest field, bringing in an abundant harvest of Christ-followers. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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The Nose Snubbing Club

If we would conduct surprise inspections—on our own barracks—we could measure ourselves against the standard of Scripture instead of gauging by comparison.

It wasn’t a military barrack inspected by a drill sergeant, but winning the cabin inspection at camp was an honor.

I like things neat. According to my standard. I am not at peace when beds are unmade, clothes and shoes are scattered, and the kitchen is messy. I have snubbed my nose at a few unkempt houses. Even my own.

Since I never want anyone to see my mess, hiring a maid service is not an option. God help me if they noticed rotten food in the refrigerator or the sticky residue from a sugary drink spill. The prideful shame of a dirty, rotten mess. Never letting go of appearances for appearance sake. A maid service improves appearances with the measuring system of passing the white-glove inspection. The finger swipe across clean surfaces will not leave a dirty smudge behind.

Sometimes we toss misplaced items in a drawer, closet, or spare room. Appearances, at first glance, may not be what they seem. Like our hearts and minds. Messy drawers of unlovely thoughts. The dirty laundry pile of gossip. Shelves holding dust collecting accolades of earth, leaving no room for the heavenly ones. Cobwebs of dirt and grit—spun by self-deception—in the closets of our hearts.

In Christ, we have a spiritual housekeeper. The Holy Spirit cleanses us according to God’s standard where we fare better in the Spirit’s white-glove test. Smudges of dirt become less noticeable when the cleansing power of God’s Word is changing us into holy men and women of God. A God-help-me process.

During a nose-snubbing season of my life, I applied for membership to an upscale, private community, The Holier-Than-Thou Country Club. They only accept un-messy members. I was blackballed by secret ballot. Another nose-snubber perhaps? I belong to a more open membership club, The Messy Life Club. Members are encouraged to use our noses for our own prideful shame of a dirty rotten mess. 

Don’t look at your neighbor’s mess. We have a housekeeper. The Holy Spirit will cleanse us for holiness. Give him the inspection go-ahead. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and seemann.)

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Praise between the Chaos

Worshipping God is an uplifting experience – but it does not necessarily mean everything in life is perfect. Sometimes it’s simply a willful act of praising God in spite of my present circumstances.

The early Sunday morning sunlight cast a heavenly glow through the windows of my church sanctuary. Our voices blended in the sweetest harmony as we praised Almighty God with the chorus, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens…” Peaceful smiles gradually erased the cares reflected on faces; hands that hung aimlessly, slowly raised heavenward. We all enjoyed the celestial moment as our hearts joined in divine worship.

I fondly recalled that worship experience during this morning’s devotional reading in Psalm 57. Verse five brought back the pleasant memories and a quiet sense of peace swept over me. Then I noticed verses six and seven.

“I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. They spread a net for my feet—I was bowed down in distress.” How about these frightening bookends for your praise?

David wrote this Psalm while running for his life from King Saul. The harsh wilderness was his home. He was a wanted man hiding in a deep, dark, damp cave. Traitorous, unstable, lying men threatened his life. The answers to his prayers did not come. Yet in the midst of it all, David paused to give his praise to God. I cannot help but believe it strengthened him for the struggles that lay ahead.

Life can be overwhelming. Fear grips our souls. Sadness and disappointment etch their marks on our hearts. Confusion and doubt ravage our minds while weariness and illness drain our bodies. But when we stop the chaotic circus long enough to lift our heartfelt praise to God, we express our gratefulness and reliance on Him while also allowing a little bit of heaven to shine into our lives.

If you are struggling today in a sea of overwhelming circumstances and your prayers for relief seem to bounce unanswered off heaven’s door, pause for a moment of praise. The words or songs of praise may initially get caught in your throat, but force them out. Recall God’s blessings in your life and all of the promises in His Word.

Sing with me, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens…” 

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It Must Not Suffer Loss

Today I am saddened because a brother has fallen from grace. I am grieved because He once walked in the majesty and splendor of the triumphant Christ.

I am equally sorrowed and puzzled because he knew God’s Word—understood sin. Yet he has not awakened to the harsh reality of his departure from the truth, for He flaunts his sin with seeming ease and joy. He greets as usual, those with whom he has always associated. He smiles, hugs, and shakes hands while wearing clothing glittered with Christian symbols. And in this brazen behavior, he puts to shame the cross of Christ. And for me—that is the greatest pain of all. 

I wonder … is this a picture of the bride of Christ—spotless and untainted? Is this man’s sin a representation of too many who call Jesus Christ Lord of all? Have we lost our zeal for the Almighty who instructs us to “Come out from among them and be separate?”

“Holy Spirit, have I done the same? Have I caused you pain by my careless ways, hastily spoken words, or by a sloppy approach to God’s throne? Have I lost reverence by texting during worship or by gossiping and complaining about those who work so tirelessly to bring Christ to all the nations? And does the enemy stand by laughing, ‘Haha, so much for making the name of Jesus famous. And where’s the glorious church without spot or wrinkle? Why God’s people look just like mine!’”

My tears run freely as I write these things. Such mocking of my Savior, who ransomed me, brings deep distress.

Do you hear His plea today—His grief? We are His people set apart above all people to be a display of His splendor. Stand up for Jesus. Lift high His royal banner—His blood-stained cross. It must not suffer loss. 

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Poco a Poco

Poco a poco. That’s Spanish for, “little by little.” And that’s the phrase my Spanish-speaking friends often use when cheering me on in my endeavor to learn Spanish.

As I write this, I am in Puerto Rico on a mission trip, and I’m rather frustrated as I stutter and fumble for the words to communicate with my new Spanish-speaking friends. After studying Spanish in high school and college, participating in an emersion program in Panama, and diligently listening to tutorial CDs, I thought I would be fluent by now. But I’m not.

I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. It’s going to take much more time, practice, and patience. But being patient is hard. I’m tempted to just throw in the towel and give up on becoming fluent rather than putting forth the time and effort it will take to reach my goal.

Our have-it-your-way-now society is opposed to the little by little philosophy. Even though we know the tortoise was victorious over the hare—by going slow and steady—we seem to think we should be able to bypass the baby steps and skip straight to the finish line.

Many people think along these same lines about their Christian walk, assuming once saved we should have it all together. We are hard on ourselves when we stumble or become sidetracked. Instead of our progress, we focus on the distance left, halting our progress even further.

I pray in the midst of our failures, we are reminded God does not expect us to be perfect. He sent His Son to redeem us. God wants us to repent of our shortcomings, learn and grow from our mistakes, and then move forward. We must not give up on what He has called us to do.

When you falter, get up and try again and again. Fix your eyes on Christ and you will persevere. Run your race with patience and endurance … poco a poco

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Ignoring the Alarm

I leapt from my bed at the deafening alarm and strobe light flashing in my room. My first night of rest on a self-imposed writing retreat for hubby and me found us throwing on our clothes and scurrying down the hall. We raced to sit in our snow-covered car to wait out the all-clear. Strange how only one other person joined us outside.

A sign on all the exit doors issued an apology. Extended-stay hotels have kitchens. Cooking often sets the fire alarm off in the entire hotel. The next night the alarm went off again. After looking out the window and down the hall to see no one fleeing the building, we opted to stay in as well. Our ears rang, but we were warm and comfortable in our room. On the third night, we covered our ears with our pillows and stayed put.

This daily scenario caused me to stop a moment and consider. The first evening we did exactly what we knew to do. After that, we’d been influenced by all the other guests and staff. The consequences of our actions nil. After all, there was no fire.

Daily choices of righteousness are our fire-drill time for the big emergency. When evil begins to encroach around our lives, we either put into action what we have practiced daily on a smaller scale, or we react based on little compromises. We ignore the warning signs because no one else appears to be affected by them. We allow ourselves to get comfortable in disobedience.

Do I treat God the same way? My circumstance influencing my action, disregarding biblical cautions and those gentle nudges He whispers to me in prayer? What am I doing with the warnings God whispers in my ear? Am I filtering them through circumstances, or acting as He commands?

God may not send us a command with an annoying siren or flashing lights, but He will speak specifically to our hearts. The Bible contains no false alarms. Practice confidently its warnings. God knows the dangers ahead and He will protect you. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jdurham.)

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A Pleasure to Please

Many of us enjoy pleasing people. We please them through various acts of kindness, giving words of encouragement, or taking the time to listen to them. Our concern for them draws them closer to us and allows us to help them through the hard times.

We also please others when we believe in them and are active in helping them reach their goals. Some of us have a servant’s heart and a giving spirit while others have the ability to encourage or believe. It takes little effort on our part to please and uplift others. It comes naturally. Our motives are pure. There are no hidden agendas. We gain personal satisfaction knowing we have done or said something that pleased someone else.

I enjoy pleasing others in my family, on my job, and in my church. I don’t mind going the extra mile for someone and sacrificially giving of myself. Those who know me will attest to this. However, regardless of how much you or I enjoy pleasing others, our concern should be more about pleasing God the Father.

God states the way to please Him is by faith. There is no other way. The entire Christian belief is predicated on faith. Our walk with Him is based on faith—faith in God and Jesus’ sacrificial death and finished work of the cross. We must have faith in God’s Word. It is 100 percent truth, written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Our faith means believing God is Who He says He is and can do what He says He’ll do. It takes faith to stand and rely on His countless promises written in His Word.

If we wholeheartedly believe this and act accordingly, God will smile upon us. 

Now my child, you are pleasing me—for without faith it’s impossible to do so. Have faith.

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What Kinds of Choco

As I handed a box full of chocolates to my bright-eyed, red-headed daughter she asked, “What kind’s in here?”

“The inside cover tells you.”

She sighed and smiled, knowing she had complete control of what was inside the dark sweets with no shocking bites of “yuck.”

Life would be sweet if we were able to handpick the chocolates for our box of life. It might be a big cashew of cash, creamed-filled, healthy relationships, chocolate-covered health, a truffle of job security, and a chocolate star of lavished love. We would toss out the sorrow-filled stars and painful cream patties. Who in their right mind would pick those? Yet, we know that is not how life works. The Psalms tell us God knew each of our days long before we were formed. He set a plan in motion. Yet, do we trust Him with the chocolate pieces we detest?

Rick Warren states in The Purpose Driven Life, “We don’t know all the tests God will give you, but we can predict some of them, based on the Bible. You will be tested by major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticism, and even senseless tragedies.”

I have had multiple painful cream patties and sorrow-filled stars. Years of unanswered prayers, years of infertility, a painful marriage that ended shattered, and two unexpected family deaths, to name just a few. I would have preferred none of these patties or stars, but my Creator allowed it. I chose to cling to Truth as each chocolate piece landed in my box of life. Each has brought much growth. They soften, teach, tenderize, mold, shape and prune if I allow them. Plus, they fill my box of life with several pieces of chocolate-filled compassion.

Trust Him with the chocolates that are in your box of life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and FidlerJan.)

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It's About Time

I’m glad there aren’t more hours in a day.

We all get 1,440 minutes daily, or sixty minutes an hour every twenty-four hours, and I don’t want any more than that. At the end of each day, there’s always more to be done, so having more time would probably mean I’d work longer. Not something I want. Some minutes are preplanned, like time to sleep, work, and eat meals. But how we spend the rest of the time is up to us. We decide what to do, when, and where. Does that mean we’re in charge? Not in the least.

Nearing his death, King David wrote a psalm thanking God for being in charge and planning every day of his life. Even when David did something wrong, God was still there with a plan that was best for him and his family.

We can make all the plans in the world—for this day, this year, or this life—but God leads us one step at a time. And with each step, we may find ourselves further and further from what we thought were our goals. My life plans were skewed when an engagement ended abruptly. Another change came when my parents couldn’t afford to pay for college and my money ran out. Then my first marriage fell apart. Add to that, children with legal troubles, major car accidents, my second husband’s cancer diagnosis and death, and I ended up far from my “happily ever after.”

But it’s not all bad. God knew what I would face and graciously didn’t tell me ahead of time. He prepared me for what would come but didn’t warn me so I couldn’t try to interfere. He had it all planned, including the unavoidable potholes and speed bumps on the road of life.

Except for the pain, loneliness, and bad decisions I’ve made, I wouldn’t change much about my life. God knew what was best each day, even though I tried to tell him otherwise—often. He knew where I would be today and what life lessons I needed to learn to get here. He also knew whose lives I could touch and how I’d grow.

God’s plan on His schedule is best for us. We just need to let Him be in charge. Take your time, but not too long. You only have 1,440 minutes today. 

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Joy

Years ago, when life just seemed overwhelming and would probably not  turn out like I thought, waves of depression would wash over me. Then I heard, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” I knew I felt no joy, and that explained why I felt so weak. Hopeless to do anything about my life, I knew things had to change, but how to go about it was something I did not know how to accomplish. I just knew one thing: “The joy of the Lord was my strength.”

So I went about trying to figure out how to find joy. Since I knew I was saved and forgiven of all my sins, why didn’t I feel joy? Didn’t it come with salvation? In my search to discover the answer, I realized how little I really knew God. I was reading His Word and going to church. I participated in Bible studies and conferences, taking notes and listening, but somehow for all my efforts, I wasn’t seeing a lot of change in how I felt.

Many times we can walk through the motions of what we know to be Christian without really knowing the Lord. I was saved and submissive, but didn’t have a relationship. No wonder there was no joy. For all I knew about Him, I really didn’t know Him intimately. You can know a lot about celebrities and not have a relationship with them. And that was exactly what I had going on with my Heavenly Father.

I thought having the joy of the Lord as my strength meant I needed His joy to be strong. Now I know that it’s the joy I receive from knowing Him that gives me strength. He knows how much we need a relationship with Him, and He patiently waits as we grow and understand Who He is and who we are in Him. When I reflect on what I know about Him, I immediately feel joy begin to rise in my spirit, giving me strength to overcome anything that wants to rob me of my joy.

Are you lacking joy in your life? Seek Him and you will find your joy and strength. 

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Tingly Legs

My three-year-old grandson hopped down from the table and walked gingerly to me. “Mimi,” he said, “my legs are tumbling.” It took me a minute to understand that he was trying to tell me his legs had fallen asleep.

“Oh, your legs are tingly because you were kneeling at the table,” I said.

“Oh yeah, right, they are tingly. Ouch, they hurt me.” He sat next to me, rubbing his toes.

I stretched his legs straight and gave them a rub. “The tingly feeling will go in a few minutes.” I kissed his knees and went back to the care of his sister. Soon, I heard his small voice,

“Jesus, please heal my legs. Jesus, You are my Lord. Jesus, make them stop being tingly. Amen.” He went on to talk to Jesus about his tingly legs until there was no more tingle. My grandson prayed because he was taught how. It brought joy to my heart to hear his faith spoken. It also allowed me to witness the fruit of a faith-filled family who seeks to pass their faith down to the next generation, as God has instructed in His Word.

The Israelites saw God move in tremendously powerful ways as He led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. God had instructed them to pass the memories down. Unfortunately, that didn’t always happen and when the people of that day died, their children didn’t know the Lord or all He’d done for Israel. God was unknown to one generation because the older generation failed to share their stories of what He had done for them. Just imagine … no one was left who could share the stories of how God rescues, heals, and saves. No one spoke life into this generation, and because of it this generation sinned against God by worshipping other gods and turning away from the Lord.

How can we protect the future generations from forsaking the Lord and following after other gods? Repeat the love of God to the children. Teach them. Keep the stories of faith alive for the next generation to tell. 

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First Things First

If you’re a coffee drinker, you know there’s nothing better than that first sip in the morning. Maybe for you, it’s that first blast of a hot shower. Both are refreshing, eye-opening, and set the tone for the day.

There’s just something special about firsts: First kiss. First grandchild. First A on a test. First blossoms in spring. First rays of sunshine after a long, dark, and difficult night. Your first paycheck. The first plunge into the pool on a hot summer day. Being the first one picked for the team. Your first glimpse of the ocean. The first time you hear, “I love you.”

Maybe that’s why God makes such a big deal of firsts. He told the church at Ephesus He was holding something against them—the fact that they had left their first love. He said the first and greatest commandment is for us to love Him with everything we have and then carry that same love over to others. He even says the first portion of our income belongs to Him.

Why does He insist on being first? Is it because He’s self-centered and insecure? Certainly not. With God, there is a reason, a purpose, and an order to everything He does. Within the framework and parameters of His Kingdom, when we have our priorities in order (God, spouse, family, work, church, everything else), we give Him something to work with and His hand of protection and blessing will be upon our lives.

God is asking you today to stop and think about the first time you said “yes” to Him and invited Him into your heart. He wants you to remember when you first fell in love with Him, and the wonder and joy you experienced.

If you’ve never had that first experience with God—never known His love, peace, strength, forgiveness, and gift of eternal life—you can have it today. Just ask. If you do know Him, fall in love with Him again. Put first things first. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. How will you spend it? 

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Alone but not Forgotten

I got out of my car after dropping the kids off at school and headed to my favorite coffee shop. The place was packed. I was surrounded by people hanging out in twos. There were plenty of moms gabbing over coffee about their kids and more women and men laughing over who-knows-what. I got my coffee, stirred in the cream, and stuffed away feelings of isolation. I moved on to my next chore: grocery shopping.

That started out well. Until I saw two ladies shopping together with two baskets, a couple checking out with their groceries, and even some kids playing together in the toy aisle. Of course, there were other single people there. But today I couldn’t see that. Honestly, I’m not alone very much. I have kids and a husband and many friends. I know I don’t need to be with someone all the time, and yet that day felt lonely. It was all I noticed. I wanted company. I needed comfort in companionship.

I loaded my trunk, slid into the front seat, and put my keys into the ignition … but didn’t start the car. I knew I wasn’t really alone. God is always with me wherever I go. Problem that day was, I felt my relationship wasn’t a two-way conversation like “real” people had. “Lord,” I whispered, “I’m feeling alone, but I know you’re here too. Help me.”

Reading the gospels reminds me that Jesus was alone. In deeds, thinking, attitude, and philosophy, He was alone incessantly and, yet, was never alone. Truth was, He sought alone time, even yearned for solace. He didn’t run from it but went to it, searching for the truth in the quiet, which ultimately was God Himself.

Now, when I’m lonely, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I try to do what Jesus did: seek God. It’s the best use of my time. It keeps me focused on what really matters, and if I listen long enough, I will hear Him speak.

That day, I started my car with a song in my heart, knowing Jesus and I had a lot in common: we were not alone.

When you feel alone, seek after Jesus. 

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Aligning with My Father's Dreams

Sorting through my father’s belonging following his death, I discovered a box of notes, newspaper clippings, and audio-recorded interviews. The items were part of his research for a book he had written fifteen years prior … a story about a popular and colorful hometown hero.

Dad’s multiple attempts to publish the biography were all met with rejection letters. Despite a successful career as a small West-Texas newspaper sports writer and editor, he carried the disappointment of his unpublished book to his death. Returning those items to the box that day, I decided with a few revisions I might be able to fulfill my father’s dream of getting the book published.

Since that chilly winter day, a decade passed and the only time I touched the box and unpublished manuscript was when packing during three subsequent moves. Each encounter resulted in feelings of guilt and sadness for not fulfilling my father’s dream. While having a litany of excuses extending from work and family demands, community responsibilities, to returning to school for another degree, I realized it was time to let this go. I am certain this unfinished task would have made no difference for my father’s love toward me.

Still, lugging that box and guilt around for all these years would have never been Dad’s plan for me. Similarly, there are many burdens in life we chose to shackle ourselves with that our Heavenly Father never expects us to carry. Holding on to regrets and guilt over what never was—and often was never in God’s perfect plan for us—stunts our growth and prohibits us from fully glorifying Him and living rich, full lives. After throwing away all but a couple of notes of my father’s distinctive scrawl, I actually felt lighter. It’s a feeling you can experience once you finally let go of the disappointments and unattainable dreams and choose instead to rejoice.

Your Heavenly Father continually loves and cherishes you just as you are. Knowing this helps you clear away distractions and clutter from your life. Once the burden is gone, there is room to learn and grow. Listen closely to His sweet, soft voice as you pursue the dreams and desires He truly has placed in your heart. 

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Buy the Correct Clothes

They’re paranoid. . .delusional. Often, anyone who claims to have a personal relationship with God is considered so.

Much of my training in professional psychology either implied or right-out stated this bias. Those who do not have a personal relationship with God normally think their opinion is the only logical or realistic one. Explaining the personal love of God to an unsaved person is often much like trying to explain a beautiful sunrise to a person who has been blind from birth. Or, it is like trying to explain love to someone who has never been loved.

God has been speaking to individuals since the Garden of Eden. Once He said to Adam, “Where are you?”

Adam said, “I heard the sound of Thee and I was afraid because I was naked.” 

“Who told you that you were naked?” asked God.

If this is not a personal conversation, then there has never been a personal conversation.

Today’s verse is an example of God Almighty having a personal conversation. Jeremiah was told what clothes to buy. He was told to buy a linen waistband and then told by the One he was speaking to that it would shrink if he put it in water.

God personally speaks to mankind through the Bible. The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with warmth and teaching about our dear Lord Jesus. Prayer is a personal conversation with our Lord in which He can even tell us what clothes to buy if we’ll listen—hard as that may be to believe.

Listen when God speaks. He loves to whisper in your ear. 

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Smoke & Mirrors

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is—an old cliché that has kept me out of trouble on many occasions.

With today’s technology, television and movie producers can make almost anything appear real. If you’re a sci-fi buff like me, you are very familiar with films such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. It’s easy to get lost in the fantasy and adventure, almost falling for the reality these films portray. Even skilled illusionists can make us believe the unbelievable. Just watch the Carbonaro Effect on TV.

The truth is: it’s all smoke and mirrors. 

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and Toto embark on a journey down the yellow brick road to find the great and powerful wizard. Along the way, Dorothy hooks up with Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion. They all make the trip together, seeking the one person who can supposedly answer all their questions and solve all their problems. When they finally get an audience with the great wizard, he turns out to be a phony—a fraud—a wimp. For too long, he has deceived the people of Oz with smoke and mirrors, promoting himself as all-knowing and all-powerful. It was one big lie.

In the same way, our enemy, Satan, promotes himself as something he is not. He deceives us with his lies. In fact, he is called “the father of lies.” He disguises himself as the good guy, yet we are warned to beware because he comes to us as an angel of light—a sheep in wolves’ clothing—bogus! The devil roars at us, boasting of his power, yet the Bible calls him a toothless lion.

It’s fun to get lost in the fantasy—at least temporarily—but it’s important to distinguish truth and reality from that which is false. We must know God’s Word, be discerning, and follow the Holy Spirit’s lead. To identify something that is counterfeit, you study the real thing, not the fake. As believers, the more we know about God and how He operates in the earth and in our lives, the more we will be able to hear His voice and follow His leading.

Draw close to Him today, and don’t be taken in by that which is false. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and JamesJButler.)

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Christmas Hush

“Does anyone know the song ‘Away in a Manger’?”

The little hands that had been waving in the air only moments before when asked about the songs “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” were no longer waving. Everyone sat still until one little boy raised his hand and said, “I do.”

“Would you like to sing it with me?”

As this sweet boy looked around at the other children, I knew he was going to decline the offer, but then I heard a confident, “Yes.”

The choir director, who was leading these rambunctious children in Christmas songs at our church’s annual Children’s Christmas Party, had her duet partner sit beside her. As they sang, she began to fade out, leaving the boy to sing alone. Sitting on the edge of the stage with his legs dangling, he sang about a baby who was born in a manger. The circle of children sitting at his feet on the floor, as well as adults in the room, strained to hear the story of “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” There, in the midst of excited laughter, silly songs about red noses, celebration and fun, the story of Jesus—and the real meaning of Christmas—broke through. It was at that moment it arrived without any warning, a Christmas Hush.

Webster’s defines a hush as “a time of silence; stillness; of calm, especially after noise.” Yes, a hush fell over the room while this young child sang about our Lord Jesus.

As we move through the busy time of the Christmas season, what we call the Christmas Rush—full of excited laughter, celebration and fun—may we keep our hearts open for those special moments when the real meaning of Christmas breaks through in a … Christmas Hush. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Display of Lights

Lights. We love lights, most especially Christmas lights. We hang strands of them up and over our porches. We decorate our mantles and drape our tree with more lights than the fire marshal allows. We drive miles to see the most decorated houses in town or out of town. 

We deck halls, streets, race tracks, and parks. Our friends in Anderson, South Carolina, hang 2.5 million lights in Darwin Wright Park. Six people work for three months to hang 3.5 million lights in Clifton Mills, Ohio. Buford, Georgia, celebrates the season with 7 miles of shimmering lights. “The more lights, the better” is a worldwide obsession. In 2011, an Australian couple strung 97,211 feet and won the Guinness Record for the most residential Christmas lights.

What is it about lights? We seek light because we’re created in the image of God. The Bible tells us God is light; there is 
no darkness in Him. In fact, God’s light is brilliant—so brilliant there’s no need of a sun where He lives. His eyes flame like fire and His feet gleam like burnished bronze.

Sometimes I wonder how I’m going to live without my Christmas lights all year, but the end of the Christmas season doesn’t mean the end of light. This year when it’s time to disassemble the tree, pull down the lights, and box everything away, don’t feel gloomy. We don’t have to live without light. The life-changing, everlasting light from our mighty God will shine through us. How do we focus on the light? We begin by trusting God and sticking with Him, even when we can’t see what lies ahead. 

Will you trust the Light of the World?

Further Reading: 1 John 1:5, Revelation 1:12-15, Revelation 21:23, Genesis 1:27, Isaiah 9: 6-7

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Overwhelmed or Overjoyed

Most of the news we hear on TV or read in the newspapers causes us to feel overwhelmed.  Wars, murders, abuse, and stories of people doing evil fill our hearts with dread. “Doesn’t anything good ever happen?” we ask. I imagine the shepherds may have felt that way prior to hearing this special birth announcement.

Shepherds lived a hard life. Their work was dangerous. They were poor and weren’t welcomed in most social situations of that culture. Yet, it’s in this setting the first public announcement was made of the Messiah’s birth. The angel of the Lord told them not to be afraid; he was bringing them good news of great joy. Initially overwhelmed by what happened, the shepherds’ fear soon turned to great joy. 

Forgetting all about the prejudices against them, the shepherds’ joy was so great they went running to find the newborn baby. They were the ones spreading the news throughout the village to those who usually shunned them. Their joy gave them great courage. In fact, they were so filled with joy, they even returned to their mundane job as shepherds, still rejoicing over all they had seen and heard.

Often burdened by financial woes, rejection, and the dangers of evil in our world, we, too, can wonder if there is any good news. While we may not experience an angelic announcement, God speaks to us through His Word, our prayers, and the Christians around us. He sent a Savior so that we might all be filled with joy. 

Friends, family, and people we don’t even know, are waiting to hear the real story of Christmas. The joyous news of our Savior’s birth is for “all the people,” and it is our privilege to take that news out into a hurting world.

Are you willing to share it?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and seemann.)

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Christmas Bill

My peaceful walk through the forest was disturbed by sounds of distress. It was a goose wildly shaking his bill, caught in some type of barbed wire. As I cautiously approached, I could see it was scared. My help would only panic him more. I called Animal Control, who amazingly came right over. They sedated the bird to prevent further damage from his thrashing about. Task complete, I began to walk away. 

"Wait, ma'am, we need some information." 

"Well, I don't know what more I can add," I said. 

"We need a contact number for the bird," the officer replied. 

"I don't think he has a phone." 
 
The officer was hardly amused. "The fact is that someone has to take responsibility for a vet to get involved." 

"You mean they won't just treat and release him? I said. 

"It's a goose; they're not the most loved birds. And vets can't afford to treat every case." 

"So they need someone to pay for the visit, is that it? 

"That's it. And if you can't, we should just put him down right here." 

Wow, not worthy of being saved. How sad. 

I thought about Christmas; it was right around the corner. The gifts and food, the travel and clothes ... the bills were adding up. I must confess, a Christmas goose dinner crossed my mind. One less expense. But as I looked around, I spied a slightly smaller goose hiding in the brush. My eyes teared as I realized it was his mate, waiting to see the fate of her partner. He was important to her. Human partnerships can be as fleeting as the wind. One out of every two marriages in the US ends in divorce, yet geese will mate for life. Though I doubt love is the driving force to their fidelity, love was definitely the driving force for my decision. I reflected on the love God has for me. For each of His sheep. Not willing for even one to go astray. So I gave my information. I would pay this Christmas bill. 

The detestable reputation of the goose reminded me how quickly we can discount people we deem undesirable. Yet, God deems us all worthy. His love and compassion are free gifts He offers to everyone. May we see others as He sees us. 

As for the geese … I fed the female so she would stick around until her mate was returned, then quietly watched as she swam to his side.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and snowbear.)

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Christmas in a Strange Place

 

We were in a strange place and had no plans to spend our first Christmas there. Eight years had passed since I graduated high school, but now I felt God’s call into full-time ministry. Obeying the call would require furthering my education. I would have to attend college. 

I was married and had a ten-month-old daughter. Pulling up stakes and leaving everything and everyone behind was scary. So we left our home in South Carolina and headed for unknown territory—Graceville, Florida, a small town whose appearance and climate varied little from what we were accustomed to. 

August found me back in a classroom, longing for December when we could return home for a week to celebrate Christmas with our family. My first semester breezed by. Before I realized it, we were loading the car for our drive to South Carolina. Eight hours later, we pulled into my parents’ driveway. 

Mom had been busy. Gifts bulged beneath the tree onto the living room floor. We received so many presents we had to purchase a car-top carrier to store our luggage. When the week ended, we reluctantly packed our car, stuffed ourselves in between the gifts, and made our trek back to Florida. 

We could have stayed in Florida and celebrated with our small family and a few friends, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to spend Christmas in a strange place … a place that was only our temporary residence. A tax census forced Mary and Joseph to a strange place. They had to experience what I hesitated to do. 

Over the course of my life, I’ve spent Christmas in a number of strange places … places that weren’t my real home …temporary places.  And I’ve discovered Christmas isn’t tied to a place but, rather, a person. When Jesus abides in my heart, it’s Christmas all year long and anywhere I happen to reside. I’ll never celebrate Christmas in a strange place when I remember the true meaning of the season. 

Welcome Christ into your life so you’ll never have to celebrate Christmas in a strange place. 

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Patience, Love, and Persistence

She had a barker. While reading the book Mollie’s Tail – To Mollie with Love, written by a friend of mine, Ellen Gilman, I was surprised to learn that my friend owned Mollie fifteen months before she ever barked. 

My friend and her family became the owners of Mollie after she had been abused for four years. The story tells of the challenges and victories as the dog transforms from a scared animal into a loving pet. The victory that amazed me most, however, was the length of time it took for the dog to bark. Fifteen months. I can’t imagine not talking for fifteen months. Yet, it took this long for Mollie to learn to trust my friend and her family, to become comfortable enough to speak. 
 
When something has been happening for a long time, like Mollie’s abuse over her first four years of life, we can’t expect things to get better overnight. We must be patient and loving as we wait for trust to emerge. Sometimes in the process of waiting, we give up too soon. A number of times I have attempted to help someone. When I didn’t see the progress I thought I should see, I gave up and moved on, not allowing enough time for the one I was helping to learn to trust me. 
 
Thankfully, God’s patience with us is not like that. He waits until we’re ready to come to Him. Bruised. Tattered. Betrayed. We all come with scars that keep us from trusting others. Somewhere along the way, our ability to trust has been violated. As we venture forth in life, learning to trust (or trust again) is a major accomplishment. Yet, God believes in us. He patiently and persistently loves us. His love and patience is never ending. He has no time limit. He will wait until we are ready. And while He waits, He will caress, woo, encourage, coax, and praise us. 

Like my friend with her dog Mollie, God never gives up on us. If God has it His way, our lives will become lives of hope, love, and transformation. What an awesome Savior we have! 

Are you struggling with trust today? Look to God for help. God is patient. God is kind. He will never leave your side. His love for you goes beyond the boundaries of time. 

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In the Face of Joy

I spent some time in El Salvador at an orphanage. The cement block housing surrounded by high fences topped in barbed wire looks more like an institutional compound than a home. A pastor and his wife parent this family of thirty-four children of various ages, including three boys in wheel chairs with MS. 

One of the boys, Jose, is tutored at the orphanage because school is too dangerous. With his feet, he quietly scoots his wheelchair about the room but cannot leave without being lifted by one of the older boys. The girls see to his physical needs. His hands, crippled by disease, cannot grasp. He works diligently to simply lift a playing card. It all seems so bleak, but this young man has more joy in the Lord than anyone I have ever met. 

Joy is often misunderstood. It is not the delight we feel when things are going the way we want. Joy is the blessing God gives us every day through trials or happy days. Joy is knowing our heavenly Father never deserts us. It is contentment for our souls. Joy is Jose’s face lit with a heavenly glow. His sweet voice raised in holy praise. His soft hand clasped in mine. In the midst of his daily struggle, God has given Jose a purpose to bring joy to those around him. God blessed me by allowing me to meet this young man. 

When you are in the middle of the mess of life, remember you can chose to live life in the presence of God’s joy. Look around you. See the simple gifts God gives every day. Know He has a plan. As a Christ follower, live in the very presence of God. Rejoice in it. 

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Too Good to Talk About

A hush fell over the room. The only sound to be heard was the scraping of metal meeting ceramic. We were surrounded by other people, all sharing a similar mission, but no one said a word. What had been a conversation-filled gathering just minutes before had become a time of nearly reverent silence. 

It was not some great meeting of the minds or courtroom-like experience. It was dinner. A casual get-together of neighborhood friends that usually includes a meal, got distinctly quiet when a particularly delicious dish was placed before us.  With silverware on the move and mouths busy receiving and chewing the main course, the chatter stilled and the room became silent. As each of us enjoyed our personal epicurean bliss, the phrase “too good to talk about” came to several of us.

I’m afraid there are times we enjoy our Christianity in the same way. We gather together at church for worship or Bible study. We fellowship together, praising God while being fed. And when the spiritual meal is over and we venture back out into the world, our community, we keep it to ourselves.   

Keeping quiet during a really good meal usually happens because our mouths are full. Keeping the joy and excitement of drawing close to the Lord through worship and praise happens because we are afraid. Afraid of rejection or judgment from those who don’t attend church or have a relationship with the God we are excited about. Afraid we may be asked to explain or defend why we believe what we do. Fearful to broach the subject of God or church or salvation to a non-believer because we’re afraid they may be offended. Aren’t these the ones we need to be talking to the most? Shouldn’t we be more fearful of the consequences of keeping silent?

When we are intimidated by the thought of sharing the gospel or relating the joy of a truly meaningful worship experience, we need to remember that it is the power of God working in and through us that gives the confidence to speak with boldness and assurance. If we are not ashamed, God will supply the power we need to share the Word that leads to salvation. 

Jesus should never be too good to talk about … so talk.

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Comfortable Routine

I love comfy things. It might be a ragged pair of shoes or sweat pants with stains and holes – but they just fit so well and feel so comfortable. 

I slipped into my favorite pair of faded, torn jeans and slid on a pair of loafers that should have been thrown away months ago. After all, comfort is one of the perks of working from home. I was feeling all snuggly and comfy – until I remembered my work meeting uptown.

My comfy attire was unacceptable in a professional setting. Though I would definitely feel comfortable, my boss and coworkers surely would not. My comfort would be a setback to my credibility and presentation. If I were to show up like this repeatedly, I’d stunt my promotional potential, my integrity would be questioned, and my ongoing employment may even be at risk. 

God chose my ill-timed desire for comfort to speak truth to me. There is an inherent danger in growing comfortable with things in my life that hold me back from God’s greater good. Whether it is a comfortable (though unhealthy) habit, a monotonous daily routine that doesn’t allow for God’s spontaneous blessings and insight, or simply apathy in my Christian walk. Just because something feels good, doesn’t necessarily mean it is best. 

Peter encourages us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growing involves expanding, getting stronger, becoming different – but better. In essence, growth involves change. And therein lies the challenge, does it not? As creatures of habit, we resist change even though it may be the very best thing for us. As an example, most babies holler and cry when they have their diapers changed; however, that very change is what parents know is best for the child. 

God has changes in mind for you. Those comfortable faded jeans or worn out shoes He is encouraging you to leave behind will help you grow into the stronger, better person He wants you to become. Yes, such a change may be painful for the moment. But when you look back, you will find it was necessary for your growth and development. Embrace change. 

For now, please excuse me – I need to go change my clothes. 

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An Everyday Miracle

Relocating from Seattle to Georgia was tough. Missing our mountains, we bought thirteen acres in the North Georgia Mountains and were elated when our elderly father from Seattle planned a visit. Our property, next to land managed by Georgia Power, shared a gravel road, but no one expected a locked gate. The last time my brother-in-law visited the property, the gate had been wide open. 

The joy of showing Dad the beauty we’d discovered in our new state, died. Miles from the nearest town—no cell phones could pick up a signal—there was nothing to do but head for home. When a battered sedan appeared from around the bend and rolled to a stop, we were speechless. 

An elderly man, dressed in baggy cords and an old mackinaw, climbed out. His companion, a woman with a cap of gray curls, remained in the passenger seat, smiling. After a dozen words with my brother-in-law, the old man thrust a gnarled hand deep into a pocket and came out with a set of keys. With two flicks of his wrist, he unlocked the gate and shoved it open. Without saying 
another word, he climbed back into his car, managed to turn around in the narrow space, and then headed back the way he’d come. In minutes his car disappeared and the forest was silent once more. Needless to say, we remained frozen in a tableau of incredulity for several heartbeats. Then, in tandem, we climbed into the car and drove through the now-open gate. 

Later, my brother-in-law confronted Georgia Power about the mystery man—a man who happened to drive up a mountain road in the middle of nowhere at sunset, and who happened to have a key that fit the lock of a gate we needed opened. Nobody could offer an explanation. To this day, we are convinced the old man was an angel. 

Why is it so hard for us to trust that our Heavenly Father cares? Over and over, He demonstrates this amazing love. 

Remember, we have a Father who delights in doing the impossible. Even breaking through barriers we think are impenetrable. As He commands, we must simply believe. 

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Divine Discovery

 

I was caught. Generally speaking, getting caught is normally thought of as something derogatory. Some wrong action exposed. Some secret discovered. Something in one’s present or past that caused them to now be viewed in a different light.

However, there are positives associated with being caught and life-changing experiences in being discovered. 

I’ve had several discoveries in my life. I have discovered and experienced the joys of parenthood, family, and lasting friendships, as well as the joy of childhood memories. There’s one particular memory that remains fresh in my mind. It’s the game of Hide and Seek.

Many of us played and loved this game. Perhaps today our own children and grandchildren play this game that has thrilled children for ages past. We’d laugh, squeal, and quickly hurry off to locate the best hiding place where we were least likely be discovered. The object of the game is to hide and wait for someone to seek you. 

With God, it’s the reverse. If we seek Him, we will find Him and then He will hide us. . .under the shadow of His wings. He’ll keep us safely protected like a mother hen’s strong wings protect her young. He will uphold us as we endure life’s most overwhelming and trying circumstances. This is His promise in Psalms. 

I was caught by God. . .arrested by His love. I continually experience divine discoveries as I learn more of Him and watch His mighty power and faithfulness unfold.

Seek Him today. His promises are guaranteed. If you allow your heart to do the seeking, He’ll do the hiding. 

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Betrayal

 

“I know,”she said. 

Imagine my surprise when I went to tell a friend of a decision I had made and was told she already knew. While this betrayal is of little consequence when compared with the grand scheme of things and the devastating betrayals others have suffered, it is a betrayal nonetheless. A betrayal that is especially irritating given the fact I specifically asked the one with the loose lips not to mention my decision to anyone, so I could deliver the message in my own timing. 

What should we do, then, when someone betrays us? The Bible tells us not to hold grudges. It says we are to forgive. I’m finding those two things difficult to do right now. So I pray. 

I pray for God to soften my heart towards the other person. I pray for the other person. And I keep praying, because I know I haven’t reached the place where I need to be yet. While I pray about my situation, I think about Jesus. I think about Judas and the grace and forgiveness Jesus extended to his betrayer. I think about the grace and forgiveness Jesus daily extends to each of us. 

As I pray, God whispers, This too shall pass. The pain won’t last forever. You’ll survive. Trust me.

With God’s help, we are able to get over the betrayals in our lives. He helps us survive the hurt and pain. If we let him, God can bring us to a place of victory and peace through the gift of His forgiveness and grace. 

I’m discovering that in working through our situations of broken trust and betrayal, we have a choice. We can move on in grace, or we can stay stuck in unforgiveness. We're called to be like Him. We're called to be gentle and ready to extend forgiveness and grace because we have been forgiven. To let go. Especially when we don't feel like it. 

Let go and let God. 

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Call Upon His Name

A camel is sure-footed and can see in the dark even though I cannot, That’s what I kept telling myself. 

We were told to “kill our flashlights” or risk blinding the enormous beasts we rode. Our caravan navigated up a rocky path that wound its way along the edge of Mt. Sinai. By sunrise, we hoped to reach the summit where a young minister among our group would deliver a message about God’s protection. 

Not long into our trip, my husband, riding the camel behind me, yelled, “Don’t look down! Don’t!” Thankfully, I took his advice. Otherwise, I probably would have panicked at the thought of sailing from my perch into a rocky ravine, to a certain death. Instead, I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and looked up. 

The expansive, star-filled sky glimmered like buckets of rhinestones poured across black velvet. I relaxed and swayed to the stepping-rhythm of this animal who had made this same trek many times before without mishap. As we continued to climb, one of our Arab guides broke into song, his voice deep and mellow. 

I could not understand his words, yet a peace filled my heart and I worshipped the Lord, Creator of the universe. 

Think of a time when you were afraid and on the verge of panic. We have all experienced those moments. Ask God to calm your fears, concerns, or anxieties you may have this day, or those you have long harbored in your heart. Be assured of God’s presence and protection. 

Praise Him continuously, even when you are doing the most ordinary things: washing dishes, mowing the yard, doing another load of laundry, or riding a camel. Those are the times our minds can drift into the abyss of worry or fear before we realize what has 
happened.

Stay alert. You don’t want to miss being in His presence. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

 

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Come

The best running advice I ever received was given to me before I became a runner. For years, I secretly dreamed of being a runner, wanting to be one of those people who could jog down the street while simultaneously talking to a friend. Movies and TV made it look easy. Fun. Meanwhile, I had trouble holding a conversation just walking up a flight of stairs.

I had friends who were runners. Sometimes I even tried to follow their advice. Still, I failed. Until the day I received the ultimate running advice. “I’m starting a new training program,” one of my running friends said. “You should come.” Her invitation was all it took. For the first time, someone was not telling me to “Go, try this.” They were telling me “Come, let me show you.”

I joined a community of runners who, like me, had never run before. Week after week, we ran next to each other. We encouraged one another. We listened to our mentors who pushed us a little farther each time. We laughed in amazement that we were doing it – we were becoming runners. Until that moment, I had been doing it all wrong, trying to go it alone, when what I needed most was to come alongside someone else.

That’s exactly what Jesus tells us. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… Jesus calls us to Himself so we may learn from Him. He wants us to yoke ourselves to Him and try to match Him, stride for stride, as we navigate this life He’s given us.

God also brings us into fellowship with other believers so we may encourage one another. Physical training requires community, and so does spiritual training. Regardless of where we are on our Christian journey, we should not go alone. Look around. Who can you come alongside and learn from? Who can you tap on the shoulder and teach?

God invites each one of us, and we should in turn extend his invitation to others: “Come … learn from me.”

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Dress for Him

I had lost all hope. My baby was sick and not getting better. I cried and prayed to the Lord and felt as if He didn’t hear me.

The Lord had moved my family from Tennessee to Ohio to help plant a church. It was here, in Ohio, that the Lord began to really stretch my faith, and one of the trials He allowed was the sickness of my second daughter.

I wish I could say that I was a picture of faith and hope, but quite the opposite was true. I was a mess. If God wouldn’t listen and answer my prayers, I’d just completely turn my back him. And when I did, I ran head first into sin that I regret to this day. Yet the Lord did not leave me in that place of self-pity, selfishness, and hopelessness. Not only did He reach down and rescue me from myself, He eventually healed my daughter as well.

A breastplate and a helmet are both objects of protection against enemy attacks. He tells me to put on a breastplate of faith to protect my heart from fear ... the fear that He isn’t there, that He cannot hear me, and does not understand. He tells me to put on the hope of salvation from the troubles in this life to protect my mind from wandering down the path of discouragement, despair, and depression. I have to put on His armor. Christ is there waiting to help me, but I have to make the choice to trust and then put my trust into action.

I am thankful to serve a God who knows, sees, understands, and is always in the business of drawing me back to Him.

Dress for Him. Wear His armor and trust He will care for you. He will.

(Photo courtesy of www.morguefile.com and boqueron.)



Missed The Mark

 A hush falls over the crowd. The silence, deafening. An amateur archer pulls her bow string back. She squints, lining the target in the center of the string. Her finger twitches as she takes a deep breath, holds it, and shoots. The arrow misses the target. She did her best, but did not hit the mark.

Everyone fails at times; everyone makes mistakes.

In our modern culture, most assume their sin is caused from doing something wrong, making a mistake. But few understand that unless we’re being willful, God only sees it as missing a mark of the righteous standard He has established.

God has a plan for us, a mark to shoot at and hit. Without His Word, guidance, patience, and a love that issues second chances – look where we’d be. The Father set a mark for us to aim for, and without it, how would we know we missed?

If you’ve missed the mark, take comfort. God sees no sin as worse than any other. He equally forgives all our sins. Through the death of Jesus, the penalty was paid for all mankind. Forgiveness comes with the acknowledgement of sin. Own it, confess it, and then make a conscious decision to turn from it. It isn’t easy, but it’s the goal we strive toward. Aim for the mark and let God guide your direction.



The Grumpy Roommate

I braced myself and entered the room at the nursing home. I wanted to visit my friend, but the grumpy woman in the other bed cranked the TV full volume. Hoping to at least block the noise from the hallway, I closed the door to the room. Grumpy roommate bolted from the bed, threw open the door, and scowled at me as she jerked the privacy curtain between the beds.

When I arrived for my next visit, the grumpy woman tripped and fell in the hall. Her arm was hurt and a red knot swelled on her forehead. While the staff tended to her, I went to see my friend. For the first time, I paid attention to the pictures on the roommate’s wall.

God helped me see this woman with fresh eyes. Long ago her mother nestled her in a soft baby blanket while her proud father announced her name. As a teenager she caught the eye of a young man, married, and had children. She watched her kids leave home and bring back grandchildren. I realized I never saw anyone visit this woman. Maybe her family lived far away. Perhaps they lived in the area but rarely came by. No wonder she acted grumpy.

I couldn’t change her situation or her behavior, but I could change my attitude. I could learn her name and speak to her when I visited. I could ask if she’d like me to bring her a magazine or a book. In the future, I could ask permission before I closed the door. Being kind and respectful didn’t change her, but it did change me.

When a relationship is thorny, ask Jesus for the grace to look beyond the external to the internal. The Lord will help you see the other person as He does.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and gracey.)



Rise from the Ashes

Seven years. Gone. Site Not found. Data unattainable. Error 7707.

I was sick as my ministry partner, Eddie, broke the news. “The sites are corrupt. Unrecoverable. We’re working. But this isn’t good. We need a plan to move ahead.”

So began a two-week effort to put a band-aid on the bleeding. The ministry websites were gone and all I could mull over was seven years and two thousand devotions . . . gone.

Eddie and I talked numerous times over the next few days discussing how to proceed when it occurred to me, this is the ministry’s seventh year. Seven. God’s favorite number . . . the one that signifies completion and recognizes rebirth. It is, by all due rights, our year of Jubilee.

I don’t know about you, but Jubilee symbolizes joy and celebration. Not loss. There was little to celebrate in the loss of seven years of ministry. That’s when we agreed – this was our year of rest. We’d been praying God would take this ministry to a higher level. It appeared He was just doing His job. The same job He did after creation and one to which He commanded the children of Israel to adhere.

“Maybe it has to crash and burn before we turn loose enough for God to rebuild,” Eddie said. “The seventh year is the year of forgiveness of debt. The let-it-go year.”

Eddie was right. I’d even mentioned this was our blessed year. Seven!

There’s a method behind God’s seemingly odd madness. His people had worked hard for six years. Their fields were prosperous and the nation thrived. At the end of the year they cleaned the fields, set fire to the rubbish, then spread the ashes. They were instructed to forgive debts, set men free . . . let go and move ahead. Just as God completed His creation on the seventh day, and rested, He demanded it of His children. Time to rest. Time for renewal. And through this time of rest, celebration ensued for the provisions of previous years. The next year, the fields were tilled and planted. Through the ashes, rose new and stronger crops.

It was time to buckle down and let go. Not quit! But let go. So we did. We released the old, crawled from our face to our knees and began to pray. We let go. Forgave the debts that anyone might owe (i.e. promised devotions or help), and we moved ahead. In three days (look at the significance there), God provided the funds for a new and better site. And like a phoenix, this work is rising through the ashes. Rejuvenated.

When God commands you to rest. Do it. Trust Him. After all, He better than anyone knows what can rise after three days. Let go and be renewed.



Sunlight and Sin

I was vacuuming at my parents’ home. As I vacuumed I noticed how the brilliant morning sun poured through the open front door. It illumined the entryway cluttered with grass clippings. That area obviously needed a good cleaning. I rapidly closed the door to vacuum in that corner of the room.

What a change. No longer were the grass clippings so glaring, instead they were barely perceptible in the now-shadowy area. As I swept behind the door to thoroughly clean the entryway, I realized I had just witnessed a spiritual lesson in a rather mundane household chore.

How like that messy entryway our lives are. They are littered with the tiny sins of gossip, complaining, and ungratefulness . . . just to mention a few sins humans consider of the lesser nature. The daily illumination of God’s Word clearly points out these areas not surrendered in obedience to Him. What a disaster we precipitate in our lives by failing to daily read God’s Word and obey it. The Lord has ordained His Scriptures as the primary source of imparting His desires and will for us.

If you find yourself guilty of shutting out the light, don’t shun reading your Bible. This is the Holy Spirit's way to illuminate your life. It’s just like my closing the door and preventing the sunlight from brightening the entryway. Open up and let God shine through.

Father, continue to remind us that Your Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. May we never shy away from sin you are revealing to us through Your Scriptures. Give us courage to allow Your searchlight to examine our lives and consent to that sin’s eradication from our lives by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us.