A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Mind

Focusing our minds on Christ. . .studying His word, drawing tight into a relationship that is unbreakable. This is when His Spirit lives in our minds helping us keep our eyes focused only on Him.

The Shaping of a Life

The clay vase was a wedding gift in 1983—thirty-five years ago—but I enjoy it as much today as I did then. Every time I gaze at it, I am reminded of this verse in Isaiah. But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. God is our potter, and we are clay in His hands.

Sometimes we don’t think about it this way, but our lives are continually shaped in the hands of a perfect and holy God. When I stop and consider it, I realize there is no better place to be than in God’s hands and in His will. We can trust Him with what He is building out of our lives. We can trust the direction He takes us—even when it isn’t always clear where we are headed. He carefully and intricately molds us into His image, and day by day we grow to look more like Him.

Making the choice to submit ourselves into the hands of the Potter and let Him work in us the plan and purpose He has ordained for our lives is important. If we resist His leading and working, we obstruct and prolong what He knows is best.

God wants us to embrace His work in us. Doing so gives us the privilege of being vessels of honor for Him. The purpose He has for us is for His purpose in the world. As He shapes our lives into the destiny uniquely designed for us, we can rest assured His goal for us is part of His master plan.

The Potter knows precisely what He is doing. Trust Him to shape something beautiful out of your life.

(Photo courtesy of the author.)

(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



The Most Beautiful Pear

The most beautiful pear I had ever seen lay on top of a bushel basket at the market. No blemishes marred its blushed pink and yellow skin.

When I got the fruit home and bit into it, the rotten core collapsed under my teeth. Mealy and blackened, it smelled and tasted like sour wine inside. Part of it dropped to the pavement with a splat. I wondered how something so beautiful could be so nasty inside.

God made us wonderfully and fearfully, beautiful in our own ways. But a person’s beautiful outsides do not necessarily mean they are of solid character, as Peter reminded his readers.

Some are too full of pride to praise God. Others are full of hatred and sin and have hard-boiled shells, causing them to deny the existence of God. Still others think they are God Himself.

Jesus and His disciples warned about false prophets and false teachers. The Bible tells us of the many times Jesus wrangled with the Pharisees in His day. We need to only read current events to see religious groups who misinterpret God’s Word. False teachers are still here.

Ask God for the wisdom to discern His true teachings from the false ones.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



The Most Beautiful Pear

The most beautiful pear I had ever seen lay on top of a bushel basket at the market. No blemishes marred its blushed pink and yellow skin.

When I got the fruit home and bit into it, the rotten core collapsed under my teeth. Mealy and blackened, it smelled and tasted like sour wine inside. Part of it dropped to the pavement with a splat. I wondered how something so beautiful could be so nasty inside.

God made us wonderfully and fearfully, beautiful in our own ways. But a person’s beautiful outsides do not necessarily mean they are of solid character, as Peter reminded his readers.

Some are too full of pride to praise God. Others are full of hatred and sin and have hard-boiled shells, causing them to deny the existence of God. Still others think they are God Himself.

Jesus and His disciples warned about false prophets and false teachers. The Bible tells us of the many times Jesus wrangled with the Pharisees in His day. We need to only read current events to see religious groups who misinterpret God’s Word. False teachers are still here.

Ask God for the wisdom to discern His true teachings from the false ones.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Obey the Law

Oh, no! Flashing lights coming up fast from behind! That couldn’t be good.

Carol had been grocery shopping and was returning home on a lightly-traveled road. She was only three miles from her small town when she found herself behind a slow moving farm vehicle.

Carol followed the driver for a while because they were in a no-passing zone. Ordinarily, she followed slow-moving vehicles, sometimes for several miles, until she could legally pass. But she could see several miles ahead and the road was completely clear of other vehicles, so she cautiously passed the machinery.

As she pulled back into her lane, she glanced in the rear-view mirror, saw flashing lights, and quickly pulled over to the side of the road. Evidently, the unmarked police car had been following her for quite a while. She handed the policeman her registration and driver’s license and waited while he checked them.

When he returned, he told her he was only giving her a warning but for her to remember not to pass on a double-yellow line—no matter how slowly the vehicle in front was moving.

Probably, there had been other drivers who zipped around the farm machinery and didn’t suffer the consequence, but Carol was caught in the act of disobeying the law.

She had never passed in a no-passing zone, and she vowed never to do so again. It was a hard lesson to learn, but she learned it well. How do I know the details so clearly? Because the story is mine. Carol is my middle name.

Today’s Scripture tells us that everyone must obey the laws of the land. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Even more important to Christians is obeying God’s commands. If we do this, then we will obey the laws of our government, unless they contradict God’s law. Take it from one who knows from experience. It’s best to obey the law.

Be willing to let God’s Holy Spirit guide you to make the right decisions.

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God Sees Beauty, Not Clothes

“Hmm … let’s see … what shall I wear today?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve spoken those words while peering into the closet at hangers stuffed with clothes. I often spend several minutes each morning trying to decide what to wear.

I had never considered the time spent on the process. Deciding what to wear is only one part of it. There is also shopping for clothes, trying on clothes, and buying clothes. Sometimes this can consume a whole afternoon.

So, what drives us to stuff our closet with clothes? And what’s the big deal anyway?

The world of advertising influences our shopping habits and places a huge emphasis on our appearance. Millions of dollars are spent each year on fashion—all revolving around our looking good. But is this important to God?

Jesus speaks to the crowds about this topic in Matthew’s gospel when He draws their attention to the lilies of the field. The lily’s natural beauty far outshines even King Solomon in all his splendor.

Not long ago, a pastor friend of mine started me thinking about the whole clothes dilemma when he wrote, If I am serious about overcoming the world in the area of fashion, I will stop trying to receive pleasure from my clothing purchases and begin to see them instead as performing a necessary function.

This issue comes down to a matter of mindset. If I change my view of clothes and see them as a functionality instead of a status symbol, I’ll spend less time getting dressed and shopping, which frees up more time for me to spend with God.

God desires time spent with Him. He doesn’t care about our outward appearance but looks at our inner beauty instead. In God’s eyes, we are beautifully dressed no matter what we wear.

Let the fashionista in you decide it's time to revamp your closet.

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Be Angry!

If you’re angry, you’re in good company.

Millions Worldwide Trapped in Human Trafficking. 

Armed Teenager Takes Lives of Nine Classmates. 

Opioid Crisis Plunges Thousands of Families into Poverty

Headlines like these leave us shocked and sad. They also make us angry.

In Mark 11, Jesus did what Paul later wrote. Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and let His reaction to how people dishonored that holy place demonstrate anger without sin. Although the text doesn’t include the word angry, we can infer by Jesus’ reaction that He was. When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace (Mark 11:15-16 NLT).

When we see corruption, injustice, or destruction, anger can propel us into action. In 1980, a California mom who’d lost her daughter because of a drunk driver launched a national movement: MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Horror and anger over human trafficking led me to research the topic. I connected with a wonderful Christian anti-human-trafficking organization called A21.  

Anger about a loved one’s health crisis might prompt you to connect with a ministry that has powerful teaching on healing or with an organization that funds medical research. Outrage over domestic violence could lead you to become involved with a local women’s shelter. Or maybe you’re particularly passionate about the plight of refugees or orphans.

Be attuned to anger-inducing moments. They may well be part of your God-given assignment.

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The Master Repairer

“Broken is beautiful,” a friend reassured our small group Bible study.

She then explained the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which uses gold to repair broken pottery. By dusting the cracked pieces with powdered gold, this art form draws attention to its brokenness. The highlighted cracks and flaws become the focal points of the pottery.

“Thus, the brokenness creates the beauty,” she concluded.

The psalmist reminds us of God’s protection even when we are flawed, troubled, or crushed in spirit. His healing hands can pick us up, dust us off, and put us back together again—even better than we were before. We just need to trust in His saving power.

Like the crack in the Liberty Bell, the lean in the Tower of Pisa, the horns on Michelangelo’s “Moses,” our flaws give us character.

The Master Designer maintains complete control of His artwork. He is always ready to fill our cracks, remold us, remake us, and improve our value. Even as wounded vessels, He can deliver us from evil, protect our bodies, and beautify our souls.

Broken artwork repaired by the Kintsugi method results in vessels even more beautiful than a piece of flawless ceramic. A broken person repaired by the gift of God’s goodness and grace results in a beautiful and unbreakable masterpiece.

Allow God to bind up your wounds and repair your cracks. Embrace your brokenness so that others can see God’s beauty within you.

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Follow Directions

“Well, you told me to call if we got lost.”

My mom and stepdad were the recipients of a free time-share week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Their friend, who owned the time share, was in the hospital and couldn’t use it, so she offered it to them for free. Not having been anywhere recently, they jumped at the offer.

But my mom and stepdad had been having problems each time they go out of town: they get lost. I sent her step-by-step directions. She printed them. My wife sent her turn-by-turn directions from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. She printed them. We thought we had the bases covered. Surely, they wouldn’t get lost.

When she called, they were going in the wrong direction on Interstate 40. When they got to Cherokee, they got lost again. My wife stayed on the phone with my stepdad until she got them on the road to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They finally arrived—one hour past check-in time—which meant they had to find yet another place to pick up the key.

My parents listened to the directions we gave, but somehow something was lost in the translation when it came to doing what we said. First-century Christians must have had the same issue. James warned them not to merely hear God’s Word but to obey and do it.

God’s directions have purpose. He didn’t give them to make our lives miserable, but enjoyable. Knowing what’s best for us—whether we think so or not—God instructs us to follow His directions. I don’t always do a good job at that, but every time I go awry, unfavorable consequences follow.

Although God doesn’t enjoy disciplining His children—as a parent doesn’t enjoy disciplining theirs—He will when He knows it’s in our best interest. His disciplinary measures are designed to get us back on the right road—the road we’ve veered from.

As my wife and I were willing to help when Mom called, so God is eager to help us get back on the right road when we’ve taken a wrong one. All we have to do is ask. He’s never too busy to answer our cries for help.

Don’t risk traveling the wrong road in life. Turn to God for directions.

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Neighborly Advice

I’ll never forget her words: “God brings good things out of bad situations.”

As a confused, lonely teenager dealing with my mom’s alcoholism and suicide, I roamed the streets and sometimes stopped at Betty‘s house. She was a committed Christian who ran the Sunday school program at her church.

Betty’s instruction about God bringing good out of bad came to pass when my dad remarried and I gained two stepsisters and a stepbrother—as well as a stepmom who helped me deal with my problems.

Betty’s profound words came true again when I made a mistake at a grocery store where I worked and lost my job. That same day, I was promoted to a full-time job at a cable company.

And there was the time my landlord wanted to raise my rent by two hundred dollars, and I had to find a new place to live. A Christian neighbor helped me find a new place that was only fifty dollars more than I was paying. The move enabled me to cut some of my expenses, which also helped.

Today, I remember how God showed up in my times of need. No crisis, trial, or circumstance is unfixable by the Lord. When Jesus was on earth, He healed the sick and the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead.

When bad things happen to you, God knows what He is doing. He will work it out for your good. Just trust Him. 

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As High as the Heavens

Our minds cannot understand the vastness of our world.

Scientists once believed there were more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth’s beaches. They now believe there are ten times more stars in our night skies than grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts of the earth. And that only applies to the stars we view through a telescope. There are infinitely more stars in the universe than we can know about.

Our solar system is so vast we cannot see everything in it with the naked eye. Billions of stars reside in our small solar system. And ours is only one of billions of other solar systems, each holding its billions of stars.

Yet, as high as the heavens are above the earth, that’s how immense God’s love is for each one of us who fear (or have a reverent awe) of Him. Even more, He does not love us silently, but reaches out and shows us His love. He speaks to our hearts through a song on the radio or the words of a book. He touches us in simple things like a sunset or encouraging words from a stranger.

We have such busy lives with many distractions. God is waiting for us to stop, look heavenward, and experience His great love for us.

Make time today to look up.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Boarding the Right Ships

Many words in the English language end with the suffix ship.

I don't know why this is, but I like comparing these words to the many ships we can choose to ride. And we can ride more than one at the same time, figuratively speaking of course.  

Some figurative ships are friendship, courtship, sportsmanship, and worship. Many gospel songs speak of our Christian journey from earth to heaven as riding a ship.

Paul tells Timothy to let no man despise his youth, but for him to ride the example ship for other believers. We should all do this, no matter our age. 

I once read a news story about two high school boys who played baseball on two opposing teams. The boy on one team, who struck out the other boy, went over and hugged him—an act of good sportsmanship. The news report said the hug was a social media sensation.

The boy who won and hugged his friend on the losing team was reared by godly parents who set an example before him. He knew what he did was the right thing to do.

Those of us who are older should set godly examples for youth so they'll want to set godly examples before others. We're all leading someone whether we know it or not, and we should strive to be a good influence. This is leadership.

Our leadership begins with fellowship with Christ at salvation. And this is the most important ship for us to board.

Make sure you board the right ships in life.   

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Grace 101

I decided it was time to give them a practical lesson in grace.

My wife and I used a Bible-based curriculum to homeschool our children, which meant they learned something of the nature and character of God in every lesson.

One day, I prepared tests that would be impossible for them to pass. A few minutes after handing them out, I got feedback: a.k.a. whining about the difficulty of the questions. I told them to try their best and even allowed them to work for the answers by using their textbook. A quick show of hands at the end of class revealed that part 1 of my lesson had been successful. They knew they had failed.

I gave the tests back for review on Monday. Their fears were confirmed when they saw that each had received a failing grade. After a brief discussion, I told them I loved them very much, marked out the with a red pen, and wrote 100 A+ on each test. I asked if it was their effort that had gotten them the 100. They answered, "No." Then I revealed that this test wasn’t about the lesson from their textbook but rather about a lesson from God's Book—specifically about God’s grace for salvation.

We then read Ephesians 2 and Romans 3 to conclude the lesson. We can never do enough to earn salvation. Thankfully, God put a plan in place to redeem us, not through our efforts but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world.

We must put aside our attempts to reach God through works and instead lay hold of His grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. If your sins have been marked out and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, you have been freely given a perfect score, which is the righteousness of Christ marked down in place of your failure.

Thank God daily for His amazing grace.

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When the Plan Changes

Life gets rough sometimes. Everything seems great, and then before we know it, life falls apart.

I think that’s how Moses felt as he took a long trip through the desert. He was prince of Egypt, living in comfort and luxury—not a shepherd living in tents. Not only was it a different environment, it was also a life he wasn’t prepared for. He had no shepherding skills.

We sometimes find ourselves in such situations, and it’s difficult to handle it. We either complain about having to be a shepherd or give the excuse that we don’t have what it takes. Our attitude, though difficult, should be to work at whatever God places before us, all the while trusting in His wisdom. God always has a plan.

The only way Moses could know God was for him to leave Egypt. And though life seemed to have ended, the Lord had something greater planned.

We need to trust the Lord and walk that confusing path with our gaze on Jesus. He will propel us to greater heights when we’re faithful with everything He has handed us—however difficult. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts. But they are always better that our ways and thoughts.

When God changes your plans, follow them faithfully.

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A Tender Heart

“I tried to make him happy.”

My son-in-law left with two of their kids for ball practice, which gave my daughter some one-on-one time with their youngest, Luke. As the two ate dinner, Luke shared his day at daycare. At first he was filled with laughter and smiles. Then he paused, grew quiet, and began to cry. Alarmed, my daughter asked what was wrong. He related how his friend, Brody, had been sad that afternoon.  

“I found his favorite toy and played with him. And the other day at school, a boy was sad because no one shared the ball with him at recess. So the next time I caught the ball, I threw it to him.”

“Luke, you did the right thing. You found a way to make the boys feel as if they had a friend. Sometimes you’ll see sadness in people, and you may not be able to fix it. That’s okay, but you can always pray for those who are sad.”

When my daughter tucked her youngest into bed that night, she listened to his bedtime prayer. Luke asked God to help those two boys not be sad anymore and to help sad people everywhere. My daughter added her own prayer that God would help Luke remain aware of those around him, tender to their needs, and willing to intervene as he is able.

Christ lived a life that demonstrated not only His holiness but also His love and concern for humanity’s needs. Paul taught Timothy the importance of prayer for others and also left a reminder for us.

Take a moment and examine your life. Ask God to help you stay alert to those around you. Pray for people to see God, help them when you can, and be thankful for any opportunities God gives you.

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To Take Up Space

I remember “journaling time” in school.

My first grade teacher gave us students a thin piece of paper with pink and blue lines and a chunky pencil and told us to write something. In fifteen minutes, she would review it. We were allowed to write about anything—a new toy, something that made us sad, what we wanted to be when we grew up. Most days, I loved it. But some days, no good thoughts entered my head. Still, I had to fill that piece of paper. On more than one occasion, my work looked something like the following: I am writing to take up space.
I have to use all the lines, so I am writing these words to take up space on the paper. I can’t think of anything to write about except that I have nothing to write about.


I thought it was a clever way to solve my problem, but I don't think Mrs. Collins agreed.

Sometimes, I still feel that way about writing. I need to write a blog because it’s been a while, yet I don't want to write words just for the sake of writing words. I want them to be meaningful. Now, I pray for guidance and trust that the right words will be there at the "write" time.

I think about those writing assignments often, because it reminds me how I don't want to live. I don't want to live the way I wrote when the inspiration wouldn't come. I don't want to live just to take up space. I want to be more than a consumer of oxygen on this earth. I want to produce something meaningful and beautiful with the resources God has given me.

Just as a finite amount of lines decorate a page and just as pencils eventually become nubs, so our lives are but a mist that is here one moment and gone the next. We must be mindful to make the writing assignment of life more than vain words.

Write a good story. Fill the lines on the page well. Don't live just to take up space between the margins of birth and death. One day, the Teacher will review our work. With His help, may we want Him to discover our best effort.

Knowing life is short, give God your best each day.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Be Not Anxious

A sudden and unexpected lightning strike to a major power source put the residents of the Big Apple in twenty hours of darkness.

The New York Blackout of 1977 surged with anarchy as rioting spread like a wildfire. Others remained indoors, paralyzed by fear and confusion. Historian David E. Nye believed civilization breaks down, rules are cast out, and orderliness tumbles in the course of an abrupt reality alteration like a black out. I call the alteration a force to adapt to—and no one likes force.

People endure real mental and emotional effects when they experience power outages. These expressions are defined as panic responses. Studies show that during such events many lose the ability to communicate. We imagine horrible things, and some of us get so worked up we even commit horrendous acts of violence due to the resounding stress. When things go black, health and refuge become debatable.

We all face challenges in life that reflect power outages. We experience panic responses, and begin to doubt. Things seem so dark when the lights are suddenly turned off. However, within a second or two, our eyes adjust and things don’t appear so dark after all.

When calamity raids my home, I immediately try to fix it—turn the lights back on. There’s no time to ask questions or point fingers, although most lasting solutions come from understanding the root cause.

The question is whether we want a Band-Aid or a cure? Hurrying to fix problems is greatly associated with aggravating the problem—as in trying to walk in a dark room before our eyes adjust.

God is our refuge and strength. We shouldn’t be anxious to remedy changes, troubles, or tragedies. Neither should we be anxious for anything because the lack of sight produces regrettable moments most of us spend the rest of our lives apologizing for.

Unless Divine intervention says, “Move,” be still and wait for clarity. Waiting may seem hard, but waiting is not impossible. Trust that things will gets better. God is in control, and all things are working on your behalf.

Stand still and know that God created and controls all things.

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God Is My Midwife

God is my midwife.

The Bible depicts God as a fatherly figure, steeped in compassion and power and one who disciplines those He loves. Our creator is a part of everything in the universe.

Soon-to-be fathers have expectancy and determination to be the best they can be when they meet their buddle of joy. But nothing compares to a mother’s love. She understands the pain of going through nine months of pregnancy: morning sickness, sensitive smells, a more holistic diet. A mother is with her baby every step of the way because she has to be. God does the same.

Since God created both male and female, I believe He empathizes with both as the writer of Hebrews implies and is everyone’s mid-wife. God is love, so He is here to help us through every pain we go through.

Everyone is about to experience some blessngs God has promised to deliver on. They are about to give birth to their hopes and dreams. God wants to help us through the struggles we experience when we feel like giving up. Many women, while giving birth, say, “I can’t do this.” But a loved one or a doctor coaches them to continue pushing. God does the same. We aren’t alone. God holds our hand through every sharp pain.

Experience God taking you through the tough seasons so you can feel the blessings of the Lord on the other side.

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Where the Grass is Greener

Traveling down the rural road to my subdivision, I passed a cow pasture sectioned with a barbed wire fence.

Seeing a cow stretching their head through the fence to eat the grass on the other side is common. I chuckle and wonder, Is the grass really greener on the other side? Recently, a calf got through the fence in the quest for something greener, only to realize he wanted back in the pasture. He stood, looking back to where he came from, longing to rejoin the herd.

Luke tells of a man who wanted to follow Jesus. He knew Jesus could provide eternal life and wanted to know how to have it. He had kept many of the commandments, yet Jesus knew something kept the man from giving his heart fully to Him. Jesus tried to tell the man of a place where the grass was greener. It wasn’t found by accumulating material things or by being successful.

As humans, we often yearn for something better or bigger. The material quest entices us to want the newer car, larger house, or higher status. There have been times when I thought true happiness would occur if I could achieve a certain goal, obtain a desired possession, or experience an anticipated event. But when I reached the goal or got the possession, I didn’t have the satisfaction I had hoped for.

Jesus can supply all our needs. Our worth is not measured by what we have or how hard we work. Jesus sees past what many deem valuable and looks straight into our hearts. He knows if we are yearning for the things of heaven or the attractions of the world.

Let the pastures of contentment fill your heart, knowing God will provide everything you need.

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In the Midst

Being together brought joy.

Our brother’s family was home from Germany, where Thomas served in ministry to the military. Dorthy was home from her teaching job at a Christian college in California, and Mom was still with us.

Two things were prominent in the Qualls family. One was that we played table games. Mom was the most competitive. She grabbed the green marbles first when we played the homemade game of Dirty Board (like Aggravation). She thought those were her lucky marbles. She would often roll the dice before the previous person had a chance to move their marbles, and we accused her of cheating.

The second was that our family conversations centered mainly on the Lord. What a joy to share with each other what the Lord was doing in each of our families. When we were all together, we often sensed His presence among us. We wanted our children to know the Lord held a vital place in our family.

Two men walked with Jesus on the Emmaus Road, sharing the recent happenings in Jerusalem. As they talked, Jesus joined them and made Himself known to them. Later, they met with several of Jesus’ disciples and followers in Jerusalem. These two recounted for the others their encounter with the Lord. While they were still talking, Jesus appeared in their midst.  

In times when we feel alone—times of sorrow when we cannot see Jesus—we can know when two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). He is there in the middle.

Sharing our God experiences with other members of our family brings God close. As we speak about Jesus or pray in His name, His presence is present. Share your own testimony of God’s favor and blessings with your family and with others. There will be a time when they remember, and that memory may be just what they need to encourage or strengthen their faith.

Even though Jesus left this earth two thousand years ago, His Word promises He will show up when we come together in His name.

Be ready to feel God’s presence when you gather in His name.

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Devouring Fire

“Do not let the enemy silence you because you’re not perfect.”

I have let the enemy do more than silence me. He has blinded me from seeing a gift from the Holy Spirit. I have struggled with a speech problem since childhood, stumbling over simple words such as chicken and school. I still recall the fear of turning fifteen because I couldn’t say fifteen. I have fallen into the enemy’s trap of believing I couldn’t speak for God. Now I know that isn’t true.

When deleting old computer notes, I ran across the results of a spiritual gift assessment I once took. I scored high in intercessory prayer and faith. At the time of the test, I dismissed the result by believing the results were wrong. My self-talk confirmed I wasn’t qualified. I convinced myself the words I stumbled over as a child still controlled me. So I questioned the minister. He agreed intercessory prayer was my gift. Again, I denied the assessment’s accuracy. I avoided praying aloud.

Sixteen years later, I am a prayer warrior, waking in the middle of the early morning and praying over concerns of strangers, friends, and family. I have prayed in silence for others since I was a child. If I heard an ambulance, I prayed.

The enemy no longer devours me. I take my stand against the devil who prowls around telling me lies that I am not worthy to be called by God. The devil may prowl around, but I focus on the writer in Deuteronomy’s description: “the Lord your God is the one who goes ahead of you like a devouring fire.” 

Stay alert and keep your focus on God. The devil roams, but God goes ahead of you and devours.

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Changing Vision May Require a New Prescription

Seeing clearly gives a different perspective.

I have enjoyed perfect eyesight my entire life. As a child, when on long trips, my family played a game to see who could read the farthest traffic sign—which I most often won. Around my fortieth birthday, I started squinting when reading. Things looked fuzzy up close, so I held them farther away. I could still see clearly miles down the road—but up close and personal, not so much. For an avid reader, this was problematic.

Having super-sensitive eyes, I opted for a cheap pair of reading glasses instead of contacts or Lasik surgery (God forbid!). For whatever reason, even talking about tears made my eyes water. I even struggle with putting drops in my eyes. I bought several pair of reading glasses to strategically position throughout the house. When I forgot where I placed the pair I had been wearing, another was quickly available.

Recently, I reached for the nearest pair of glasses during my quiet time. Oh my. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The words jumped off the page. I had not seen this clearly since I was a child reading my dad’s large print edition of the Bible. Little did I know, one of the pairs of “similar” reading glasses had some sort of weird magnifiers. I do not wear them all the time, but they come in handy with small print.

Paul assures us there is coming a day when the imperfect, puzzling, cloudy, fuzzy things of life will come into perfect focus. Darkness will flee from the dawning of that bright and glorious day. Negative circumstances, trials, and adversity will reveal their transforming power. Confusing situations and questions will be answered—seemingly conflicting dogma resolved. What caused us to stumble in this life will not exist in the next.

Until that glorious day, we stumble around on earth. However, as Jesus told the disciples at the well with the Samaritan women, we lift up our eyes. Get a different perspective. See things with His spiritual insight. We might be amazed at what we see.

Ask God to help you see the world through His eyes.

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The Tornado

“Lord, what are You doing? Do You care about me?”

Frustrated, I screamed the question one day as I drove from my work as a courier to my Belleville, Illinois, home. I did not move from Minnesota to drive around the St Louis area like a chicken with my head cut off. My career job didn’t work out, and I felt as if the Lord took away my ability. 
 
When I got home, a storm rolled in. I watched the weather on television and sprinted to the door to see what was happening outside. At one point, it was so windy I thought a hurricane had struck.
 
An hour later, a neighbor came home and said, “Look what happened!” He pointed to the missing roof of an apartment building. Remembering my rant a few hours earlier, I felt as if the Lord reminded me that but for His grace that could have been my house.
 
King Saul chased David, and David probably felt as if God didn’t care about him. Just as I thought God didn‘t care about me. But it wasn’t true in either case.
 
I discovered later that a tornado had struck the apartment building. I thought the Lord went deaf, but I guess He protected me, remaining faithful even when my faith was weak.
 
Trust in Jesus no matter what happens. He’ll keep you safe.

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Family Defined

Who is my family?

If I consider biology alone, my family consists of my mother, father, and sister. When I include legal relationships, I add my adopted brother and my husband. Reflecting on emotional ties, my family embraces international students who’ve stayed in our home, plus tried and true friends. Anytime I need extra support in a difficult situation, I immediately turn to my church family. I also recall my Christian brothers and sisters who served as co-laborers on mission trips in various parts of the world.

Many individuals, if honest, admit they have stronger emotional ties with fellow Christians or faithful friends than with their biological family. Birth into the same household does not guarantee mutual love and support. Those blessed with strong, positive relationships on all fronts bask in those multiple ongoing benefits.

A surface reading of Jesus’ statements about His mother and brothers sounds harsh and uncaring. Digging deeper reveals a more profound truth. When Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother,” He wasn’t renouncing His biological family. Rather, He was declaring the greater connection available to all who become a part of His faith-based family. Discipleship surpasses, but does not necessarily replace, kinship.

In addition, if family seeks to lead us away from God’s service, we must give God priority. Granted, that can be difficult. Yet by demonstrating unconditional love and respect for these individuals, even if we reject their behavior, we may eventually love them into God’s growing family. Then how sweet our relationship will grow.

When we accept and act on God’s will, we become a part of His family and share joy with this kaleidoscope of kin.

Thank God for the privilege of being His child.

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Pennies and Manna

“Pennies from Heaven,” a popular song in the 1930s, describes the gratitude of sunshine and flowers following rain.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had different rain and pennies: manna. After God parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites from Egypt, He fed them in an unusual way through heaven-sent food, an unfamiliar small round seed. His provision included trust for the unfamiliar as well as gathering only what they needed for one day and twice what they needed for the Sabbath. When the Israelites saw it, they were puzzled and asked what it was. The translation of their question is “manna.”

We don’t have pennies or manna falling from heaven today, but God does send provision in our storms. In grief, we receive comfort through His Word and from people who come alongside us. God sends grace as we plough through rough spots and think we can’t take one more step. During difficult financial times, He provides for our needs, not necessarily our wants. When we have doubts and questions, He gives wisdom if we ask. If we are anxious, He reminds us to pray, and God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. Like the Israelites who gathered twice as much on the sixth day, we can trust God to provide our heaven-sent food.

If you need comfort, wisdom, peace, or a specific need met, look to heaven for the small round seed of His personally designed manna. When you do, you will see sunshine and flowers after the rain because you have seen His hand in your life at just the right time.

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It's Not My Battle

I’ll never forget it. The day Dad first opened up about his stint in the Pacific theatre. He never talked about his days in the Army. Ever. Instead, he suffered in silence.

Nightmares, fear, worry. I feel sure all were signs of PTSD. World War II was brutal, and Dad was in the thick of hand-to-hand combat. The recipient of not one, but two, purple hearts, Dad paid a severe price for his country.

Before Dad’s death, we found his medals and framed them. He smiled, hung them on the wall, and never paid them another ounce of attention. Although Dad was proud to serve his country, he could have cared less about the accolades. “Medals don’t mean nothing. I did what I did because I chose to.”

Years after Dad’s death, we found his dress greens perfectly preserved. But perhaps the most impactful find was a 3 x 4 Bible with a metal cover—the corner bent and torn from a sniper’s bullet that tore through Dad’s chest … and the only thing that prevented the bullet from hitting his heart. We listened as Dad described the horrible day, and how he and his men simply prayed God would save them. And He did.

God sent a prophet to tell King Jehoshaphat the battle he would lead his men into was not his battle, but God’s. Better yet—it was already won. When the Israelites arrived to fight, the enemy was dead. They’d fought one another.

Even today, God leads His mighty armies into a spiritual battle in the heavenly realm. Daily, He claims the battles as His own and wins them on our behalf. What a God of protection. What a loving Father.

Our world is a mess, yet daily men and women take the battle in hand for us. They fight on our behalf. Without a second of hesitation, these soldiers step up to the plate protecting a sometimes very ungrateful nation of people.

We are free because of the efforts of those who fight the battle for us. Just as Christ sacrificed Himself for our sin, these men and women sacrifice their lives to be sure our nation remains free.

Today we celebrate our independence. Thank those who willingly serve, and then praise God for the battle He won over death—for you.

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I Will Follow

I was not prepared to be a wife.

For my entire adult life, I had been a career-driven single. Working with mission agencies and churches was my passion. But I also desired to be married and to share the rest of my life with one special person.

Getting married a few months before my fortieth birthday answered my prayer. I was so excited. But nothing could have prepared me for the conversation I had with my new husband on the way home from our honeymoon.

“God has not released me,” he said.  

After losing his job in California during our engagement, he had visited the Carolinas a couple of months before our marriage to test the job market. He was overwhelmed with interviews, but no job offer.

“But we had a deal,” I said.

During our engagement, we agreed that unless he received a job offer we both would return to California where I had a steady full-time job with a large multi-campus church. Returning to North Carolina meant being closer to my family, but quitting the one job between us was not something I wanted to do. No income. No insurance. No security. Part of me longed to dig my heels into the ground and scream, “No.”

I realized I knew nothing about being a wife. One week before our wedding ceremony, our pastor integrated Ruth’s promise into our vows. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. What kind of wife would I be if I turned my back on those words just one week after I promised them?

“But, Lord, I’m scared, very scared.”

Trust me.

The words came softly to my spirit, and I knew the Lord had spoken. Did I really trust Him enough to take this leap of faith? I took some deep, heavy breaths. This was not what I had in mind, but I knew what I had to do. That night, I sat down with my husband and agreed to follow him as he followed God. One step of faith at a time. One day at a time. And God was true to His promise.

Taking a step of faith is often difficult when we are unsure of what lies ahead. Fear often grips us. This is where faith comes in. Faith to trust God at His Word. Faith to believe He won’t leave us. Faith to take one simple step.

God will prove true to His promises to you.

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Prayer as Incense

People in my church call me a prayer warrior.

Their term makes me a little uncomfortable, since it implies engaging in battle. Those in our armed forces fight hard to keep us free. When people apply the term to me, I feel as if they’re misusing it.

But I know what they mean. I fight against the power of Satan when I lift up the needs of others: church members requesting prayer for a lady with cancer or a man who lost his job. Friends asking prayer for their marriages. With strangers, I simply lift their names to God. He already knows their needs.

I also pray for God to keep my immediate and extended family safe, and that He will help them honest. I pray He will protect them from drugs, alcohol, and sexual sin. I also pray for our President, his family, state and federal representatives and senators, as well as world leaders. I pray for their salvation and that God will use them in accordance with His will.

The psalmist describes prayer rising to God as incense—a beautiful image of a pleasant fragrance rising to God’s throne room. I envision Him sitting on an enormous throne with Jesus at His right hand, listening to the prayers of millions of Christians.

God hears each individual’s prayer in whatever language it is offered and then responds in the best way. I believe He answers prayer with one of three words: yes, no, or wait.

I don’t always know the outcome of my intercessory prayers. Sometimes I’ll learn the woman with cancer is in remission, and I praise God. Other times, I’ll learn the man is still looking for work, so I continue lifting him to the Lord. Some marriages heal; others end in divorce. The results are left to God.

Prayer doesn’t need to be complicated or verbose, but heartfelt. Direct your prayers to God in faith, believing He hears and answers.

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The Master Gardener

“Oh, no! Watch out roses. Gene has a shovel.”

My husband enjoys growing rose bushes, but he is an impatient gardener. When the bushes don’t leaf out in spring as soon as he believes they should, he replaces them. One spring was no different. He dug up two bushes and tossed them aside. Upon examining them, I discovered tiny green spots on both bushes and replanted them in a different area.

Through the following weeks, I watched as more areas of the bushes turned green and sprouted tiny leaves. Soon, the bushes would bloom, and I would be rewarded with colorful, fragrant roses.

Sometimes we treat people as my husband does rose bushes. We look at those struggling with addictions or other problems and consider them to be of little worth. “They’ll never amount to anything. Why waste time on them?” we say.

Jesus had a different viewpoint. He told a parable about an impatient owner of a vineyard (Luke 13:6-9). The man waited three years for a fig tree to bear fruit, but it failed to do so. He told the gardener to cut it down, but the overseer pleaded with the owner for more time. The gardener wasn’t ready to give up on the tree. 

Jesus knows the potential deep within the person we might be ready to dismiss as unworthy. He knows if they surrender their lives to Him, they will become vibrantly alive and bloom for the rest of their life. After all, He is the Master Gardener.

Perhaps I need to ask if I’m as concerned about people who have been “thrown away” by society as I was about the rose bushes tossed aside by my husband. What about you?

Help others find the abundant life Jesus offers.

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Jump in with Both Feet

My bare feet climbed the ladder, mortified to back out now.

A jump from the high diving board. Could I pull it off with this secret fear of heights? A public embarrassment to turn around and go the same way I’d arrived—down the ladder. To walk past the people waiting in line as pool-siders gawked behind sunglasses.

My twin sister and I went to a public swimming pool every summer. In middle school, I conjured up enough courage to make oodles of jumps off the low-dive. But now in high school, I desired to brave the high-dive.

Mind you, I didn’t plan a crowd-pleasing-eyebrow-raising dive or backwards flip. Olympian blood never ran through my veins. So why all the fretting and heart thumping? Because it was a first. A new experience. A defining moment in life.

At the bottom of the ladder, my twin and I had engaged in a going first tug-of-war. I reluctantly agreed to go first. And this high-diving-board story ends with an inside celebration to remain impressively cool. Hurray, I did it! Again. And again. We both jumped multiple times.

Honestly, I’ve always preferred the low-dive. I’m a low-dive, low-altitude kind of girl. Yet I accomplished something that day. I moved ahead into new territory and overcame a fear.

There’s another who went first—again and again. Someone we never have to implore to go first.  He’s where going first started. Jesus went first in love, forgiveness, death, and life. He’s our example to love as He first loved us. To make peace by forgiving others as He forgave us first. And to die to our desires as we carry a cross because He died unselfishly bearing His cross.

As Jesus lived, we live—sold-out for our heavenly Father, accomplishing His will on earth. And since Jesus went first, He provides the power for us to face our fears and new adventures.

So, jump in with both feet. Come in from the sidelines, low-diving board, or high-diving board. Ease in from the pool-side ladder, or make your way slip-sliding down the slide. But, by all means, get into the water.

Live life to the fullest. Make a big splash for the One who went first.

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Letting Go of Fear

Fear often leaves us feeling crippled and helpless.

When our boys Brandon and Taylor were young, I remember how excited they’d get when we went to the “big pool.” The big pool meant no more swimming with the babies. Of course, it also meant they would have to get over their fear of swimming in deep water. We watched as they stood at the edge of the pool—little toes squeezed tight to the pebbled concrete—daring to jump in. They feared the unknown.

Kids do not know how deep or cold water is, they just know parents will catch them and keep them safe when they decide to jump. Often, we stand at the edge of life’s pool. We see what lies ahead, and if we can’t reach it or control it we begin to fear. If we give in to fear, it is the same as giving up. We become paralyzed and controlled by it.

We have all been afraid of something: flying in an airplane, swimming in deep waters, speaking in public, or committing to something. We can’t predict what the outcome will be when we participate in these ventures, and we assume the worst will happen before we even begin. You may have passed up a promising career or an important leadership role because you feared failure.

God knew we would be fearful people, but we do not have to be bound by it. He is our way of escape. We settle in life and become complacent by not stepping out and trusting Him for what He wants to accomplish in our life.

After the death of Moses, Joshua had a task set before him. He had all the talents and abilities he needed to accomplish what God called him to do. God told Joshua to be strong and courageous and not to fear. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want us to settle or give in to fear. He is there with outstretched arms, ready to catch us. All we have to do is trust Him and take a leap of faith.   

Name your fears, and ask God to help you conquer them.

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Restoring the Broken

In backyards, garages, and unused barns, treasure hides under old tarps—unseen by everyone except those with a special kind of eyesight.

To a classic car restorer, the moment an owner pulls off a tarp or raises a garage door is exciting. When he finds the remains of a classic car, his eyes light up. His touch becomes gentle. “This must have been one sweet ride. How much do you want for it?” The price is low because the seller sees only a broken-down wreck. The buyer sees hidden beauty and wonderful potential.

After the owner tows the old car back to the shop, a professional team assesses everything wrong: “Transmission’s shot. She’ll need a new engine. Right fender looks good. Have to buff out this rust, though.”

Restoring a ruined car takes time, skill, hard work, and a clear assessment of the damage. But these dreamers are realists. Our Savior is too. When Jesus becomes our owner, He sees all the brokenness and sin in our life clearly—and His eyes light up. He loves restoring us from our empty way of life.

Redemption takes something ruined and restores it to full beauty, function, and purpose. Our Savior is also our Redeemer. Jesus buys us back from Satan’s junkyard. Then like the classic car enthusiast, He gets to work. First comes the honest assessment: “Damaged self-esteem.The mouth leaks gossip.Temper keeps misfiring.” Jesus sees all our faults and sins plainly, yet knows how to heal what’s broken.

Unlike the classic car restorer, Jesus doesn’t work on corroded engines. He works in our heart—but refuses to do any restoration work without our permission. No Christian has ever been healed or set free against their will. The choice is ours.

Sometimes restoration hurts, but the end result is a healed, transformed inner life and a deeper walk with the One who loves us enough to redeem us. 

Let Jesus restore what’s broken in you.

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Soft and Comfy

I was an object at rest—and wanted to remain that way.

Legs stretched out and feet propped up, I parked in front of the television on a warm summer evening, channel-flipping impulsively. Naturally, I purposefully placed a tall glass of ice tea and a bowl of nuts within easy reach.

But this particular evening was unlike previous nights. An uneasiness piqued my curiosity—a sensation strong enough to distract my stare away from the television screen. 

I attributed the uneasiness to the tailwinds of the Holy Spirit’s nudging again. It was suggestive of the winds that rushed through the upper room at Pentecost, penetrating the hearts of the disciples … after which they boldly proclaimed the gospel.

This prompting reminded me my life had become too soft and comfy. I claimed to be a Christian, but I wondered if I’d honestly answered Christ’s call to be a true disciple through my commitment to Him. Something hindered me. I feared the cost associated with being a disciple.

I loved my wife, children, gadgets, and channel-flicking. Yes, I loved my own life and the many extras—more than God. The thought of losing the life I had put together for myself and my family threatened me.

Being a true disciple necessitates some self-denial. For the devoted disciple, the path to union with Christ calls for the cross—the cross that comes from following Him daily and faithfully. Only when we deny our life for Christ’s will do we discover the abundant life in Christ.

God calls us to love Him more than others, including our family and friends. But this doesn’t means we must diminish the love we have for the people in our lives. On the contrary, the grace we’ve received from each act of self-denial for Him, whether big or small, makes it possible to live more fully for God and to love others even more.

Do something for God that makes you uncomfortable.

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Rest

One of my favorite things to do is to walk at night and look up at the moon.

I always thank God for the beauty of the moon when the sky is clear and the moon is full. A less than full moon reveals the stars in the night sky as a reminder of how awesome God is. If you live where there are few lights, the number of stars you see are beautiful. The moon and the stars are still there when the sky is cloudy.

The creation account may be a section of Scripture we don’t think about much. In six days, God created the lights, the waters, the land, the plants, the trees, the animals, and the stars.

God made everything in nature for us to enjoy: plants, flowers, birds, and animals. He then rested from His creation on the seventh day (Genesis 2:3). He decided this day would be holy and set apart from the other days. In the future, He would call this day the Sabbath. This day would have its own commandment: Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8).

We need to plan rest time into our schedule . . . to put a big R on a few future calendar dates so we are home on that day or evening.

Resting can include walking in the park, reading a book, going to a movie with a friend, taking a nap, reading the Bible, or spending quiet time in prayer. Give yourself some rest and follow God’s example.

During this coming week, put a little rest time into your schedule.

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What Does Your Heart Say?

Some people are great talkers; some are great walkers. Many people talk a good game but have never stepped onto the field of play. A talker boasts great exploits; a walker’s actions speak for themselves. Talkers are usually unpredictable, erratic, superficial, and short-term while walkers are consistent, steady, deep, and long-term. Talkers avoid or resist the storms of life. Walkers embrace their storms as God’s refining transformation.

Before committing or trusting yourself to another person—whether it is dating, marriage, business, or any other relationship—get to know their heart. Talkers can bluff their way through for a while, but walkers are consistently honest from day one. A leopard cannot change its spots (Jeremiah 13:23) no matter how loudly it roars.

The heart is different than a perception or projection. A person’s heart is their lifestyle—habits, mannerisms, passions, characteristics, haunts, vices, standards, morals, priorities, preferences, convictions.

To truly know someone’s heart requires a significant time investment. It involves listening to what is said and unsaid as well as observing their lifestyle. When assessing (not judging) the person as a whole, keep in mind that the fruit confirms the tree (Matthew 7:20).

We can apply the same principles to God. To truly know His heart requires quality, quiet time with Him—reading His Word and listening for His gentle whisper. Absorb and apply what He says but avoid and disregard what He does not say. Over time, you will see His heart even while not fully understanding what He is doing. Seeing and sensing His heart encourages us to trust Him.

Make sure your heart aligns with what you want people to believe about you.

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He Restores My Soul

Early in the morning, the first thing the shepherd in biblical times did was to look into the sky for buzzards. When he saw one or more circling in the air, he feared one of his sheep was in trouble.

When a sheep stumbles and loses balance, it often cannot get up again. It is then called a cast sheep. If the shepherd doesn’t get to it in time, it may die. When the shepherd finally finds the cast sheep, he picks it up and rubs the legs to restore circulation. Then it can rejoin the flock. This is called restoration.

In Psalm 23, David wrote about what he experienced so often in his young life: restoring sheep.

In our Christian living, we too often stumble and fall. Sometimes it is almost impossible to regain our strength and balance. We may feel devastated. Yet Jesus Himself assures us He is our Good Shepherd who watches over His own. He will be our help in trouble. Realizing He is there to restore us brings comfort.

When you feel helpless, when thoughts trouble your mind, or when you feel cast down, ask God to restore your soul. Then thank Him for being your Good Shepherd.

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The Volume Button for a Noisy World

I wear a title in my family, AKA “noise manager.” So, I send out memos, audible and text, to my people requesting they make adjustments to the loudness. Turn down the television. Please lower your voice. Your music’s too loud.

But sometimes I misplace my own remote control in life. When I find myself smack dab in the middle of the world’s noise—among the clamor and racket—I search for an escape. I even want to run away. But where do I go? How can I rise above the noise?

There’s so much noise tugging at my heart these days, twirling in my head. The loudness of it all suffocates the quiet. A gazillion shouting voices. And the words spill out on social media. Rhetoric screams on every street corner suggesting solutions, answers, and opinions.

Like the thump of concert speakers, the world’s rhythm is loud. A rumbling echo replaces the noiseless calm. It spins me into a restless state. And I want to send a memo out to the world. Wishing to do a little shouting of my own from the sidelines. Enough already! Be quiet!

It causes me to search for a volume button to the world . . . to life. If I could just find it and turn the decimals down to nothing—no sound, only hush. Maybe the quiet and calm would come. A stillness my spirit desperately needs. Silence, I want to feel it in my bones.

Christ relayed the importance of a quiet place to His closest followers. After Christ sent the apostles out for ministry work, they came back with a mission report. Still, the crowds pressed in, never leaving them alone. Then Jesus suggested they go off by themselves to a quiet place.

The demands of life often rob us of quiet and soul-restoring time with Jesus Christ. Whether it’s the hustle and bustle of our work day; home life with kids, family, and ministry; or socializing online, Christ calls us to “rest awhile.”

Spend time alone with Christ. It’s the volume button to turn down a noisy world.

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Be You

We don’t cheer for an apple tree that bears apples. It’s an apple tree; that’s what it does.

Some apples have worms in them, and others spoil because they are left on the tree too long. That doesn’t make the apple tree a failure. The apple tree doesn’t worry about what happens to the fruit it produces. It just keeps producing fruit.

I once dreamed of standing on a big stage in front of crowds of women and sharing the truths of God’s Word. I thought I would be successful and feel good about myself. And God would be impressed with what I was doing for Him.

I didn’t understand what Paul taught. My worth isn’t based on what I do, but who I am. God created each of us in His image—unique and one of a kind. One day, we will stand in the light of His presence. I imagine the room will be so bright, but not the kind of light that makes us squint or gives us a headache. More like a summer sun that fills us with the realization of how God sees us: valuable and precious.

When we give our actions to the world to judge, we set ourselves up for heartache. Crowds turn and fame flees. People’s opinions are just that ... opinions. We don’t need to give them the power to judge our worth based on what we do.

Beauty doesn’t have to be recognized for it to be beautiful. Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent van Gogh both died as failures in their own eyes and the eyes of their peers, but they weren’t. We can release our gifts to the world like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind and be content with wherever the wind takes them.  

I don’t need crowds to make me feel worthy. My Father loves me. My value and worth aren’t dependent on what I do, but rather on being fearfully and wonderfully handmade by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

You were created to do what no one else on this earth can do. Be who you were made to be.

Don’t give others the power to define your success. 

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God: Giver, Taker, or Both?

God gives bountiful blessings and favor; yet, He also removes.

When a child disobeys or throws a tantrum, they may end up in time out. Should the behavior or attentiveness not improve, the parents may remove some privileges or favors (toy, television, electronic games). Is their response uncaring, mean, or abusive? Of course not. They are lovingly molding the child’s character toward acceptable behavior.

Job lost everything in one day but then remarked, “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away.” Far from a nonchalant, flippant comment, the words reflect strength of character and trust in God’s sovereign control while enduring adverse and painful circumstances.

Aside from unexplained events that occur according to God’s sovereign time and plan, we also know He casts away the desire of the wicked (Proverbs 10:3) but grants the desire of the righteous (Proverbs 10:24). He removes mirth, gladness, and the merriment of weddings (Jeremiah 16:9). He removes and grants favor in response to our disobedience or obedience to His moral standard and life instruction.

However, God is also intimately involved in peeling away not only His favor and benefits but also every crutch, every reliance, every sense of normalcy, and everything that keeps us from obeying and following Him. When I insist on rebelling against or ignoring His moral standard, He begins removing the needs, comforts, and pleasures to which I have grown accustomed. Just as He did in Jeremiah’s time.

In Isaiah 3:1-2, God warned that the result of continued wickedness and rebellion against Him would result in the removal of reserves (stored supplies), provisions (food and water), safety, defense, justice, spiritual insight, future prosperity, wisdom, counsel, experience, integrity, and entertainment.

God also lovingly transforms us to call us to Himself and make us more like Him. When we follow and obey, He grants favor. Should we choose to thumb our nose at Him, He begins a loving removal process to motivate a behavioral and mindset change. With our full attention and genuine desire to follow, His blessings flow anew.

Learn to enjoy God’s giving and taking. He has your best at heart.

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Our Only Sanctuary

We all have places, things, and people who are like sanctuaries to us. 

My friend and I decided to walk a nature trail at our local state park, a place of beauty and peace. We had not gone too far before we found the trail roped off. Refusing to be deterred, we went under the rope and continued, expecting to find a couple of broken boards or small trees down from the recent hurricane.

As we ventured further on the trail, we found it much harder to travel than we expected. The bridge was out in places, large trees were down, and so much debris covered the trail that we couldn’t even tell where the trail was. We got scraped, constantly had to watch our feet for debris and hidden snakes, and even heard a loud, unexplained noise. Our usual sanctuary turned into a place of great fear. 

We are supposed to feel safe with our families and friends. We should feel relaxed in our homes, jobs, and churches. But what happens when we don’t? The people we love the most can turn their backs on us. Homes, jobs, and churches can turn into places of deception and fear. Sanctuaries can become places of dread.

The only true sanctuary we have is in God. He is unchanging. We should never place our value on what other people think or the world’s standards. Our true identity is being a child of the King.

Even in the darkest places in our lives, we do not have to worry that God will turn us away. He tells us He will be with us even as we pass through waters or through the fire. We will not be swept away or burned.

When your sanctuary feels violated—and your friends seem more like foes—remember God is always there. It may seem dark, but it’s just because He’s passing by. Eventually, when the storm is over, you will be able to see He was there all the time.

Don’t try to find your sanctuary in the world.  

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Nip on the Ankles

The stubborn cow would not budge and refused to move through the race when prodded. We finally sent in the trained cattle dog who nipped her ankles just enough to jolt her out of her fear.

The cattle were yarded the previous day for drafting. It was time to wean last year’s calves and separate the steers for fattening. The draft race was narrow. One person stood on the rails at the drafting gate. As the owner made the selection and the cattle moved through, the gate swung either left or right. The breeding cows went straight.

Once the holding yards on both sides filled, the cattle moved into larger yards, finally being driven to their designated paddocks. Later in the year, another draft would select those steers fattened for market.

Working with cattle reflects the seasons in our lives. We each have a purpose. Fresh freedom in God awaits us, but we are often reluctant to move onto our next stage in life. If we obey God’s voice rather than hesitate, things will go well. If we do not obey and walk in our own way, we will go backwards.

Our new season may require leaving the safety of what we have known: parents, locations, church families, ministries, or jobs. We may need to build new relationships or make new alignments for new assignments. Just as calves wean from their mother’s milk and security, we must be willing to obey God’s voice.

God may cause a nip on our ankles by removing a crutch to prod us into our next phase. He does not want us to get stuck in fear. He wants us to go forward.

Choose this day to go forward, accepting the direction of God’s Holy Spirit.

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A Mirror Image

Her harsh words horrified me.

My friend speaks her mind with abandon. Her emotions are raw and ready when things don't work her way. I assume anyone this sensitive is equally sensitive to others, but her need for justice is self-focused. In the moment, the who or why of a circumstance doesn't matter.

In the midst of preparation for an event, my friend burst into the room I had worked tirelessly on to organize details so others could enjoy themselves. But as I finished, in stormed my friend. She screamed about my failure to label the entrance, forcing her to walk farther than she planned on sore feet. Literally in my face, her spit assaulted me with every word.

For me, it was the breaking point to an exhausting day. I burst into tears. But despite my shock, I apologized. With her injustice corrected, she made an innocent remark: "You're obviously having a bad day too. Has something gone wrong?" She didn't connect her screaming to my tears—or recognize her need for a humble response.

Our point of view, when centered on our needs alone, can cause us to miss the bigger picture. We fail to notice the hardships of people or learn from how they endure. My feelings were hurt, and her approach was awful, but I understood a greater lesson. I had to excuse her behavior. She in fact was in pain, and I should have prepared better by putting out a sign. 

Months later, she needed a friend and came to my house in tears. She had endured the wrath of her in-laws yet again. As she wept, I kept silent, and God did an amazing thing. He held up a mirror. She saw how she treated other people and experienced the demoralizing effect. God humbled her.

God empowers us for special moments. She remembered screaming at me and was surprised I didn't snap back. Her behavior reminded me to exercise patience and humility when I'm inconvenienced. The sting of harsh words directed at her, caused her to think twice about how she speaks to others. What lessons we learn when we wait on God.

The next time conflict arises, show grace. Understand people who lash out are hurting themselves. Your restraint allows God to work in His time.

Be patient in the midst of your next trial and see how the Lord works. 

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Hustle for That Muscle

Laziness is the habit of resting before we get tired.

No one is better than me at resting before they get tired. I see the buff athletes on television and think I could look like that if I wanted to. But it wouldn’t be fair to look like them and be handsome at the same time. (At least this is what I tell myself.)

We lift weights and train to build our muscles, but Paul wonders why we neglect our spiritual muscles. Working out takes repetition and consistency. When we hit the plateau, we choose heavier weights.

I like to work smart, not hard. If I want to know the easiest way to do something, I ask a lazy person. If my problem is lying, I’m not spending enough time working on the telling-the-truth muscle. If I spend money indiscriminately and can’t figure out how to stop, I’m not working on the saving muscle. And if I can’t stop thinking lustful thoughts, I need to work on the purity muscle.

When we don’t work our good muscles often enough, they become weak. Working our muscles makes them stronger, but I must choose which muscle I want to work out.

Ask the heavenly Father to remove anything from you that is not of Him and to replace it with everything He holds dear. Lift something heavier. Give more. Serve in a new area. Spend more time with your spouse or your kids.

Work out the good muscles in your spiritual life so you can be stronger for Christ.

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God's Word Promises Results

Living for many years in a Muslim society, I sometimes experienced feelings of hopelessness and disappointment because of so little response to the gospel. During such times, I refocused on what was important in God’s eyes: faithfulness in teaching His Word and in obedience.

I heard about a promise God gave to a colleague in another city. Before she retired, a thousand would come to know Him from her teaching. I prayed, “Lord, let it happen here also.”

The greatest blessing of my career was leading a Bible study for eight to twelve Muslim students and friends. After reading a portion of Scripture, I asked factual questions to ensure they understood the passage. Then I asked them thought-provoking questions. Two of them continued through all four gospels. I was also encouraged when one of the participants, who immigrated to Australia, sent us a message telling how he missed the Bible study and was seeking a similar group.

Although no one openly decided to follow Jesus, some said they were there to think and evaluate. Others declared they were seeking and wanted to know what Christians believe from a Christian. I clung to God’s promise that His Word would not return void but would accomplish what He sent it to do.

Sometimes when we point the way to Jesus to a friend or loved one, we don’t see a response. God wants us to be an obedient and faithful teacher, even when results are not visible. God promises He will bring results in His timing.

Don’t despair. Nothing you do for God is ever wasted.

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I Needed to Be by Myself

I had been given a divine reprieve to a death sentence. “Enjoy it. It’s a miracle,” the doctors said.

My loving wife said, “Honey, you are cutting yourself off from the Holy Spirit’s comfort and healing hands. Our friends at church miss you and want to hug you and share their love with you.”

I thought, Look at me, I should be by myself.

Tears came to my eyes because I was different. But my gentle wife still looked at me through eyes of love. I had been home from the hospital for a few weeks after a two-month sequence that included blood spitting pneumonia, a massive stroke, and extensive pulmonary embolisms in both lungs.  

I wasn’t doing much at enjoying myself as the physicians suggested. I felt more like a damaged vegetable and something you wouldn’t take home from the market. My wife felt I was isolating myself too much, but I felt better being alone and passively watching television.

My angel—having watched me for several weeks after I came home from the hospital—wouldn’t give up. She laid my head on her lap, and I felt Jesus’ warm presence as I had in the Valley of Death. He said, “It is all right my son; I cried too.” As my wife kissed my face, His love filled my broken heart with peace and gratitude.

God’s injured children need different degrees of isolation as a part of recovering from trauma. Whether divorce, death, or disease, time to heal is necessary. But isolation that cuts a person off from the Lord’s healing hands is a scheme of the Devil.

Jesus tells His sheep to “Come unto Me you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We also need the Holy Spirit’s healing love that flows through the touch and prayers of God’s children. And we can’t get our strength back without the words found in the Bread of Life.

Bring your broken and lonely heart to Jesus and His children. Allow them to touch you. You will find the love and confidence you have lost. Proactive love imparts the cure when you don’t seek isolation or your own desire.

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Without Their Love

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket.” My dad walked to the television and switched the channel. “All the news wants to show you is the body count. They forget about the love laying on the battleground.”

The thick of the Vietnam War news coverage forced Dad to relive his own WWII hand-to-hand combat experiences. “Nobody looks at the sacrifice of love those boys made.” Tears filled his eyes. “Without their love, this country would be nothing.”

Paul nailed the definition of what love is and what it isn’t. Be it the love for a spouse, a child, or a friend . . . or the massive love of laying down your life for those you love. He made it clear that regardless of the talents, gifts, or possessions we have, we are nothing without love.

In other words, love is the basis of everything. God gave His son to die for us. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. He could have left us to our sin and eternity without Him, but God wants us all in eternity. In that knowledge, He gave us Jesus, because without love, we are nothing. I give my gratitude and praise for His sacrifice.

February 14 seems to focus on the love for our spouses or significant others. Children give paper valentines with little understanding of what it means to “give love.” Help them understand what it means to freely give love.

Dad was right. We forget the love that lies dead on the battlefield.

Jesus told us there is no greater love than that of one who lays down his life for a friend. This Valentine’s Day, by all means, show love to your spouse, children, and friends. But I encourage you to send a love letter to the family of a fallen soldier. Without that kind of love, this country would be nothing.

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Dealing with Change

Change in life is inevitable; it must come.

Change is said to be the only thing in this world that is constant. It is usually not easy to accept or adapt to, and we can experience change in different aspects of our life. We may change our name, our location, our business, or our mindset. Change can also mean repenting from our sins and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us by renewing our mind.

We learn to deal with any change in life because our parents experienced change, dealt with it, and succeeded.

Abraham’s name was changed from Abram to Abraham (father of many nations) even when he had no child. God instructed him to leave his father’s house, and he did. He wasn’t afraid of the unknown.

To deal with change, we have to encourage ourselves with the Word of God and trust Him because He is faithful, just, and upright. We can plan our course, but God determines our steps. Change is not easy to accept but when it comes, face it head on and don’t depend on addictive substances to help you cope.

Do not to be afraid in the face of change. God is with you, and He will cause you to prosper. Deal with change; don’t let it deal with you.

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The Danger of Isolation

Six months ago, I began recovering from a massive stroke.

The attending physician said my recovery was a miracle, due to the severity of the massive clot he removed from my groin. One physician called my survival “a divine reprieve to a death sentence.” Another said, “Bob, you have experienced a miracle. I fill out death certificates all the time for each of the traumas you have experienced, and you had them all in sequence.” He referred to a month of pneumonia that had turned into “blood-spitting pneumonia,” the stroke, and then the invasive pulmonary embolisms in both lungs.

Things are quiet when your heart, lungs, and hearing stop. I experienced Psalm 23’s valley of death. Reading this psalm is quite different from experiencing the words. Mine was a wonderful, peaceful quiet I didn’t want to come back from. But Jesus had other plans—one of which was for me to testify about what is waiting for each of His sheep. Death is nothing to be afraid of. Jesus has conquered death and has gone to prepare a place for us.

If Jesus takes us through a tragedy—whether divorce, death of a loved one, or medical trauma—isolation is part of the recovery from the tragedy. But we can’t stay there. We must live with a new reality, one which must be survived with a pro-active acceptance. Otherwise, we will live grieving from the point of the tragedy in the past and not the present. Our time of recovery must be spent in the arms of Jesus.

Stepping out in faith with Jesus by coming to His open loving arms is assisted by quoting over and over what He has promised: “Come to me you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we cry with hopelessness and pain, we feel Him say, “It is alright my son, I cried too.”

If you isolate yourself in the land of suffering, you accept one of the devil’s schemes. Bring your broken heart to Jesus’ loving arms, and you will find the love and confidence you have lost.

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Give Willingly

“But Lord, it’s all I have!”

I didn’t say it aloud, but God clearly heard my objection. I was thirty, single, and living frugally. I knew without a doubt God wanted me to put my last ten dollars in the offering plate. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had—and payday was still a week away.

As the music played and the ushers neared, the Holy Spirit’s prompting grew stronger. With an, “Okay, Lord, I’m trusting you,” I let go of the money.

One day, Jesus and His disciples watched a poor widow drop two small coins in the treasury. Though others had given more, Jesus commended her.  

God may never ask us to give our last penny, but whatever He asks, giving it cheerfully invites His blessings. The gift’s size is immaterial. He asks us to give out of obedience and faith. Then He asks us to trust Him to provide our needs—especially when giving defies all financial reason.

Two days after I gave all I had, God unexpectedly sent me three times as much—far more than I needed.

The return on our gifts won’t always be immediate or tangible, but Jesus makes this promise: “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).

Give willingly. Give faithfully. Trust God to supply all your needs according to His riches in glory. 

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Before The Fall

The towering spruce reached the sky and decorated my lawn for more than eight years.

One day, I noticed a slight bend in the tree’s stance. Weeks later, the spruce no longer filled the sky but exposed its roots. I begged the tree man, “Can’t you do anything to save the tree?” His reply, “Too far gone. The roots aren’t grounded anymore. It’s dying from the inside out.” For an agreed price, my beautiful tree became firewood. Perhaps I could have acted quicker to save my tree.

The experience pushed me to question my Christian walk. Do I ignore my Christian brother or sister as they begin to lean? Or even my own tilting? I knew dealing with the tree would cost me—so I ignored it.

Evaluating choices is a daily battle. Watching an inappropriate movie or laughing at an off-colored joke. Bad decisions weaken my stance and push me further from my Christian foundation. Sometimes I’m afraid of confronting a friend or family member by saying, “Hey, you are leaning.” But there are consequences of not acting quicker. I must also accept the message of others if they tell me I’m leaning. Nourishing our souls with God’s written Word is the only way we can survive the winds of life.

Value God’s approval more than you do the world’s approval.

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Valuing God's Instructions

Mama asked me to be particular about the older people around me. I was instructed to always offer my seat to an older person and never stand idle when they needed help. Like the Rechabites, I have obeyed that instruction for many years.

Generations upon generations of Rechabites had learned about the instructions of their forefather and pledged to live by them. They lived only in tents and did not plant seeds, have vineyards, or drink wine. They did not ask questions or argue that doing so wouldn’t be feasible. They just obeyed.

Although the Rechabites saw everyone around them owning land and acquiring wealth, they overcame the temptation to disobey their father’s instructions. They didn’t obey his directions to gain attention, and God saw the quality of their obedience. His children, the Israelites, on the other hand, did the exact opposite.

Obeying the rules of men and the norms of the world comes easy. Obeying God’s instructions, however, is a struggle either because we don’t trust Him and feel it’s too difficult or because we have held on to them as truth.

We can learn from the Rechabites’ example and give God Almighty our devotion and total submission. During our time of fellowship with Him, we must consciously and cautiously view the word of God as instructions, not suggestions. His directives were given out of love and lead us to the truth which always sets us free.

Test every instruction by God’s Word, and be ready to nullify them when necessary.

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Smelling the Roses

Legendary sportscaster, Vince Scully, once said, “God gave us memories so we could have roses in December.”

Life is about thorns and roses—the bad and good things we experience. We live in a fallen world. People are not perfect. Even the elect of Christ are not faultless, so we can’t be too judgmental on each other.

In any relationship, good and not so good things happen. Memories are about our life experiences. We do not have control over what happens to us, but we do have influence—at least in part—in what we remember. We can choose to forgive and move on or hold on to the negative. Jesus did not wait for us to become good. He died for us even while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Seeking God’s forgiveness and yet refusing to forgive others reveals how little we understand the extent of our forgiveness.

Remembering the cross of Christ puts everything in perspective in our Christian experience. We need the roses and the thorns. That beautiful flower grows out of a stem that has barbs. Our journey to spiritual maturity—to the mountain of delights—often goes through the valley of despair. Even Jesus himself learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

When others mistreat you—and your life feels dark and bleak like the weather in December—think about what Christ did for you on that tree. Then wake-up and smell the roses. 

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Traveling Light

Packing luggage and traveling by plane is an art.

My brother, who travels for a living, can take a trip to Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, or anywhere else for a week with one carry-on bag and his brief case—thanks to his experience and knowledge. This allows him to travel without the hassle of waiting in long lines at check in or baggage claims. He’s learned he doesn’t need a lot of extra clothing and personal belongings because they weigh him down and keep him from moving with ease through airports and hotels.

We should do the same in life. Travel light. But many of us don’t, due to the extra baggage we carry. I’m sure my brother had to go through a process of deciding which items he needed the most when packing that one carry-on bag. And we need to do the same.

We can carry jealousy, anger, and worry on our shoulders. Or we can carry grudges towards others, compare ourselves to others, or compete with others. And let’s not forget how shame and worry can ease their way in like that favorite shirt you know you won’t need on your trip but still want to take for comfort.

Sometimes the things we carry become a badge of honor we think we deserve. Why it wasn’t our fault we were hurt, misunderstood, or overlooked. We adopt a victim mentality, thinking we deserve to feel the way we do, so we walk around carrying more than God ever intended.

Maybe it’s time to decide what we need today and leave the heavy burdens behind. Just as my brother is able to move through airports and hotels with ease by traveling light, we can move through our days with the same ease.

Do with your burdens what the psalmist said: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

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O Come Let Us Adore Him

The Christmas season is soon approaching. Amid the activity, getting caught up with preparations and festivities is easy. So is going to great lengths to find just the right gift to demonstrate our love.

The wise men made a diligent search to find the long-awaited Messiah. Upon seeing the star which rested over the place where Jesus lived, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” What superlatives. They experienced sheer joy in the presence of the Savior. When the Magi came to the place where Jesus was staying with Mary and Joseph, “they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.”

I wonder what that moment was like. The star shining in the night sky … wise men traveling a great distance bearing gifts. What a sight it must have been. They took great pains to find Jesus, because they wanted to present tokens of their love.

The birth of the Savior should stir in us a holy pause. God sent His one and only Son into the world to rescue us. That thought should fill us with unspeakable joy and cause us to fall prostrate in worship of Christ our King.

Jesus Christ is worthy of our worship. The Magi understood His worth—evidenced by the gifts they gave Him. In the bustle of this Christmas season, take time to demonstrate your love to Christ and to ponder His majesty.

Bow down in worship. Kneel before the LORD your Maker.

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Give Thanks

During the month of November, I scrolled through Facebook and was inundated with “I am thankful” posts. They were beautiful, encouraging—but short-lived. So far in December, they are few and far between, and by January they will probably be extinct.

The fact that it’s difficult to acknowledge and appreciate blessings on a regular basis throughout the year is disappointing. But I’m as much a culprit as anyone else.

As the holidays come and then leave, I will understand the pressure that comes with paying the Christmas bills. When the school year begins, continues, and then ends, I understand the pressure of keeping children on task. I understand the frustration of homework, projects, and parent-teacher conferences. After summer ebbs on, I understand the guilt of not having a family vacation.

Giving thanks amidst the piles of bills, the worry of success, and the guilt of being good enough is difficult. Life overwhelms us. We spend our days trying to keep our heads above water, but we are still directed to give thanks in all circumstances. Doing so is God’s will.

Giving thanks is not just for November—or when it is easy. God’s wants our thanks when times are good and when they aren’t. He is present in both cases.

As we examine our positions in life, let’s hone in on the blessings and give thanks for even the smallest portions. Satan thrives on misconception and enjoys obscuring the positive and exaggerating the negative so that we believe we have nothing to be thankful for.

Regardless of what season you find yourself in, give thanks to the One who carries you through your days and lays your path. Give thanks in all circumstances, especially when it’s difficult. 

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We Need God's Forgiveness

The English teacher reneged on the agreement to take the first general class, and I was called upon to teach the course.

The call was unexpected. Ordinarily, subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, and agriculture are my area of interest. Thankfully, my experience as a journalist paid off. The manager of the establishment upheld my teaching after the lecture. The students did as well, but not verbally. I read it on their faces. A drama played out in the middle of the period.

After giving out my techniques for making As in the subject, we touched on past university entrance exam questions. As the whole quizzical class cascaded, I gave a good account of myself without generating ripples—until we got to a question dealing with stress pattern. The answer to the question was hotly debated, which warranted a student to check my answer in her dictionary.

Minutes later, a voice reverberated, “Tutor!” The student carried a copy of the dictionary towards me, pointing to how the word was transcribed. “Mistakes are made,” I said in defense. I looked regretful, yet I kept blame at arm’s length and couldn't admit I had personally failed.

Some mistakes are just mistakes, driving us in the wrong direction. Mistakes such as forgetting to set a timer and burning dinner or miscalculating a checkbook balance. But then there are the deliberate deeds that go far beyond. God calls those sins.

Aaron avoided personal responsibility when the people—while in the desert—built a golden calf to worship. He might as well have muttered, “Mistakes are made.”

Blaming someone else rather than admitting our own failings is easier. Equally dangerous is trying to minimize our sin by calling it a mistake instead of acknowledging its true nature.

When we take responsibility by acknowledging and confessing our sin, the One who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Take God up on His offer of forgiveness. 

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Help, Lord!

I had completed ten each of body-strengthening exercises on the fitness equipment near the high school track, but couldn’t figure out how to get up.

My Healthy Hearts women’s group were there together, but we were not high schoolers.

And there I was, lying on a bench with two hydraulic levers above me that I had been pushing up and pulling down. After an hour of sweaty exercise, I was ready to get up—but couldn’t.

The bench was narrow with no room for me to push up with my arms. I tried pulling down on the levers, but when my shoulders reached their level my legs wiggled all over the place. I collapsed on the skinny bench. I tried again. Same results.

Our trainer, Cailin—affectionately known as "TL" for Torture Leader—had gone to the track to pick up her cooler of water and was unaware of my dilemma. The other ladies had gathered at the far end of the fitness area. My only solution was to cry for help. I used that one helpful word: "Help!" I didn't need to explain my dilemma; I just needed to cry out.

My cry worked. Ladies spun around in alarm and rushed toward me. Sweet Anna was the first to arrive. She bent forward, stuck out her two hands, and grasped mine—pulling me up to a seated position. We all laughed as my muddle became evident and my rescue was accomplished. 

Our vigilant heavenly Father is on the ready to grasp our hands and pull us up, too. We only need to recognize our helplessness, know His nearness, and use that one helpful word: "Help!" He knows our dilemma. He will bend down, extend His everlasting arms, and pull us up.

Cry out to God. He’s always ready to help.

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No Need for the Address

An ambulance’s siren pierced the quiet of our rural community.

I later visited with Pete—our newest neighbor—to find out about his father-in-law’s condition following the emergency transport. Joe—our rural community’s volunteer fire chief—told Pete the EMTs called him as they drove the twelve miles to our community. He told them, “Don’t give me an address. Just give me the name.” Joe knows every person living in our small area. He led the ambulance driver right to the door of Pete’s father-in-law.

I told Peter how Joe’s personal knowledge of those living in our farming community had made a difference for my family. A few years ago, Joe pulled up, parked on the crest of our hill, and let his emergency lights illuminate the night sky. Minutes later, the emergency vehicle pulled in to transport my father. What a comfort Joe’s appearance on a scary scene was to me.

God knows those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus. Their names are familiar. No emergency arises but what He knows exactly where we are and how to help us. His knowledge about us gives us security during the tumultuous moments in our lives. We have no need to fear.

We have the confidence of God’s presence after we become His children—no matter how terrifying or serious the situation. As our volunteer fire chief’s arrival brought a sense of support and encouragement, we can be assured the One who rescued us from our sins by His Son’s sacrifice will be by our side no matter how dire the condition.

Rest in the fact that God knows your name, where you are, and what you need. 

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Perfect Timing

Unbeknownst to me, a perfect part-time job was on the way.

As I crunched the numbers in my checkbook once more, I looked at the balance as if it would magically be much larger than it was two seconds earlier. It wasn’t.

“No worries,” I said to myself. The idea of supplementing my husband's income through a part-time job seemed like the best course of action.

In the meantime, my husband and I applied for a mortgage loan modification which would significantly lower our payments. As we clutched hope, we resolved to believe God regardless of our dubious feelings. Often, we felt like cliff-hangers who refused to acknowledge precarious attempts at climbing a mountain. We spoke only about the faithfulness of God, knowing He would make a way for us.

In January 2014, I began working part-time as a hospice social worker. In May 2015, our mortgage was reduced to almost half of the original payment. During this period, believing God without doubting and verbalizing our thankfulness for His continued faithfulness opened the door for God to answer our prayers. Faith became the anchor we held onto as we waited for God to work out the details.

When the challenges of life overwhelm us, only faith lifts us up and away from fear and worry. Our faith-filled words foster the demonstration of who God is: faithful. Believers trust God and then ignite their faith in Him by the words they speak.

Speak words of faith and watch what God does. 

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Keeping Our Minds on Track

I still remember when I first let a curse word fly out of my mouth. I called a little girl a bad word right to her face, and I still regret it. I couldn’t explain to my parents then why I did it, but I have since realized it was because I was thinking those bad words long before I said them.

Filtering our thoughts through the truth of God’s Word is important. Keeping our minds filled with positive things is a biblical mandate. Paul tells us to be transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

According to the writer of Proverbs, words begin with thoughts. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21 KJV). Everything in our lives can be traced back to our thoughts. Thoughts lead to beliefs, then to actions, then to habits, and finally to a lifestyle.  

The Greek word for “think” in Philippians 4:8 means “to reckon, consider, or ponder.” Doing so is to reason deeply—to ponder a long time about these good things, not to do a quick soundbite. This thinking is taking time to meditate and mull them over—something lost in modern Christianity.

We should constantly evaluate what we’re allowing to take up residence in our minds. Ask yourself if what you’re watching, listening to, reading, or meditating on is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy, and worthy to be repeated.  If not, get rid of it. 

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The Misunderstanding

The doctor’s words came in a panic over the long distance phone call, “You have hepatitis.”

When I received an invitation to speak and minister in East Africa, my preparation included vaccinations. I had visited the doctor on another matter, and he wanted blood tests taken. He was a specialist from Sydney, 600 kilometres away. When I heard his voice on the phone, it startled me. The blood test results caused quite a stir in the laboratory.

As I gathered my thoughts. I remembered the typhoid and hepatitis injection I had taken several weeks before. When I told him, his sigh of relief was audible over the phone.

In Acts 17:11, we read the reason why the Bereans understood more than the people of Thessalonica. They examined the Scriptures daily. The people from Thessalonica were not following what the Word said and caused strife.

Without the right information, we can misunderstand situations. This is why God has given us a life manual: His Word. It provides the right information so we are able to make good choices. By reading the Word daily, we are able to hear God’s voice and His instructions. When situations we don’t understand come across our path, we can rely on His Word to lead us to the truth.

Once I was able to explain why hepatitis showed up in the blood test, the doctor was set free from any concerns for my health. In the same way, once we consult the Word, we gain knowledge and understanding—producing God’s wisdom in us so we are able to make right choices and live holy lives.

Make time to examine the Scriptures daily. Devotionals are one way to keep you on track with God’s truth. Share what you learn from them with others.

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The Spark of Life

Sitting in my backyard having breakfast, I watched the mountain breeze stir my palm trees.

The diversity of life was amazing. Hummingbirds scaring their competition away from the feeding jars, and a large tropical blackbird taking his morning spa in the bird bath. Then, honey bees appeared and took morning sips from the cascading fountain next to our breakfast table. Both the birds and the bees had the spark of life.

Hardly able to continue eating my pancakes and bacon, I paused—trying to understand this discovery. Humans are one breath away from death. Our physical spark of life will immediately disappear when we take the last breath. All of what is physically living is here, then it is not.

My heart craved to know what the spark of life was, where it came from, and what happens to it. The Bibles’ clarity says Jesus has provided and maintains the spark of life: “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing has been made that has been made. In Him was life” (John 1:3-4, 14). Jesus also sustains life: “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the expressed image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power . . .” (Hebrews 1:3).

John 3:16 reveals that Almighty God’s eternal loving life gives an everlasting spark of life to those who believe in what Jesus did on the cross. Confession of our sins and turning away from them allows Jesus to step in with His Word and Spirit. His coming gives unending life to our immaterial spirit. What a joy to be given life abundantly at our second-birth birthday party.

Our hearts are a bonfire where the living sparks of the Spirit lay dormant, waiting for the Father’s breath. Ask Him daily to blow on your spark of life so you can experience and share the Holy Spirit’s fire.   

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Power in Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

What a lie! The words we speak for better or worse will come to pass. Words elevate or destroy. Almost everything in life is contingent on words. Words are as useful as an oasis in the middle of a desert when used properly. 

If a friend loses a loved one, our words may be the only consolation for their broken spirit. The lonely elderly man who doesn’t have any loved ones would give the world to hear loving words. Words can instill hope, encouragement, and order in ways that otherwise would be impossible.

Solomon frequently sought out “good and acceptable” words (Ecclesiastes 12:10).

Words can also destroy if misused. Belittling, gossip, slander, lying, and complaining are ways death is produced by words. When we use our words in these ways, we not only hurt people’s feelings, we also speak those horrible words into existence.

The creation is an example of how powerful words are. The detailed seven-day account explains how God created a different aspect of life on a daily basis through the power of His words.

Through words the contents of the heart are revealed. “A good person brings forth out of his mouth that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil” (Luke 6:45).

Many will deny the Lord and be doomed to an eternity in hell over words. “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mathew 12:36). This includes fussing, cussing, gossip, lies, false accusations, complaining, and every other useless word.

There is power in words. Use yours for good, not evil. 

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But Afterwards

When on vacation, charging things to your room is an easy, stress-free luxury. No need to carry cash, credit cards, or even your wallet. Simply say, “Please charge this to my room.”

But afterward …

My wife and I recently enjoyed vacationing on one of Hawaii’s beautiful islands. Our resort offered extravagant amenities along with the pampering expected in such a setting. One such amenity was charging everything to our room–dining, shopping, tours, and excursions. Whatever we bought on the resort property could be charged to our room.

The carefree ability to charge things to the room clouded the “but afterward” of getting the bill when we checked out. Fortunately, we are financially responsible, and our final bill was what we anticipated. However, I’ve heard horror stories of giddy spending sprees ending abruptly when faced with a staggering, unexpected bill.

With a career in banking, I understand the benefits and consequences associated with easy access to charging—especially using credit cards. If managed responsibly, the convenience comes in handy. If not, the consequences can be damaging for years to come. Prudent foresight removes the regret of hindsight.

One of Steven Covey’s mantras is, “Begin with the end in mind.” Jesus encouraged first counting the cost before starting an endeavor.

Living life with a long-term “but afterward” approach seems more prudent than a carefree, spendthrift, short-term orientation. Willfully choosing to touch a hot stove brings pain and possibly a scar. Our God-given freedom to choose doesn’t save us from the results. All the more reason to make wise, unregrettable choices.

Even when we think we know how something will end or believe we will get our desired outcome, Solomon warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).

Align your desires and choices with God’s moral standards so you won’t be left staring at a “but afterward” bill too high to pay.

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The Joy of Living in Jesus' Love

Careless driving, rising tempers, and foul language are a source of traffic fights among some taxi and minibus drivers in our city of Benin, Nigeria.

One traffic incident I witnessed took a different turn. A bus was almost hit by a careless taxi driver. I expected the bus driver to get angry and yell at the other driver, but he didn’t. The bus driver relaxed his stern face and smiled broadly at the guilty-looking taxi driver. And the smile worked wonders. With a raised hand, the taxi driver apologized, smiled back, and moved away—the tension diffused.

A smile has a fascinating effect on our brain chemistry. As a biochemistry graduate, I understand smiling releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which have a relaxing physiological effect. Not only can a smile diffuse a tense situation, but it can also diffuse tension within us. Our emotions affect us as well as others.

The Bible teaches us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

When anger, tension, or bitterness threaten our relationship with the Lord and with others, remember that “a cheerful heart is good medicine”—good medicine for our own joy and well-being.

Remember how you feel when you are angry or have an argument with someone. Then imagine how next time you could wield cheerfulness instead. 

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Growth When Transplanted

One week had passed since I transplanted the tender tomato plants.

Every day I checked on them, eager to see them thicken and shoot up tall and strong. To my disappointment, their tender stalks leaned as though they were too tired to stand. Their thin green leaves curled and sagged. They looked pitiful and ruined.

Despite appearances, growth was happening. Growth at the roots . . . beyond sight. The young plants had been uprooted and placed in new soil. The change set their growth back, but only temporarily. Their work was intense and critical and had to do with roots, not leaves or fruit. 

We often struggle with setbacks when we leave one soil and are planted in another. When we change jobs, become parents, are struck with illness, lose a loved one to death, leave a ministry, retire, or any number of life-changing circumstances.  

When we find ourselves in new and challenging circumstances, we want to learn, adapt, and flourish. Instead, every day feels new, uncomfortable. We’re completely out of our element, and this is scary. We feel like we won’t make it.

When I think of those tomato plants and their struggle, I’m encouraged. It’s okay to struggle and not have fully grown fruit in my life. It’s okay not to know what to do or how to feel when my mom has cancer or when my friend dies or when relationships fall apart.

Confusion, fear, and doubt will come. My leaves will curl and my stem weaken. I’ll need to rest. In that exhaustion, my roots will find their strength and life in Jesus who revives my soul. He is the one who restores, refreshes, and renews. Whatever soil I’m in, as long as my roots are reaching for Him, I will thrive where I’m planted and fruit will come.

If you’ve been transplanted to new soil, give yourself grace for the transition. Trust that God is still working in you and in your circumstance. Let your roots grow deep in Him.

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Moses Was Shocked

What or whom we are controlled by will determine how we live and what people think of us.

The story of a burning bush that would not be consumed is one of the most striking word pictures painted by God’s Spirit. It graphically reveals that Almighty God can burn and yet not consume, if He so wishes. The bush is also a graphic picture representing both God and His children. Believers have the Holy Spirit and God’s inspired Word living within them. Jeremiah said, “His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it in, and I could not” (20:9).

Failing to release the divine living in our soul allows the body to ignite fleshly lusts. The smoldering fleshly cinders that are always at war with the Holy Spirit will gain control. We will either release the Spirit’s fire or release our lustful nature sparks. If you’ve ever exploded in wrath or had temptation take control, you are your own best example of the war between the Spirit and the flesh.

But the heat from the Spirit’s fire will quickly overcome its restraints, leaving only the ashes of disappointment. God’s children must allow the Spirit’s holiness to control their lustful fleshly tendencies and the Word of God to master their lives.

I learned later in life that Christians should constantly share love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control or they will experience lives that ooze the foul odors of their flesh.

As believers, we have God’s divine fire living in the core of our personalities. If we fail to share God’s holy love with those around us, we will break into imitation love—which is self-centered and lustful. When we don’t release the fire of God, we release the lusts of the flesh—which are non-discriminate, over-reactive, and self-centered. With the Spirit and the flesh, it is an either/or situation.

Release the fruit of the Spirit in your life, and you will be shocked at what God will do through you. 

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You Have My Attention, Lord

God has a sense of humor when it comes to getting my attention.

On my way to church one Sunday, a song on the radio spoke of being free and without chains. The guest speaker that morning read from John 8:31-36 about how the truth makes us free and breaks the chains. When the service was over and I got back into my car, there was another song on the radio about . . . you guessed it . . . being set free.

Free. That was my word from God for the day, but I wondered what it meant specifically.

That afternoon, my husband and I got into a heated discussion about a certain person and situation. He said, “You’re carrying an offense.”

His conclusion was the last thing I wanted to hear.  I disagreed—loudly—telling him he was wrong. I assured him my offense had been dealt with and put behind me.

Then why did I get so angry? I asked myself. Why did I lash out at the person who loves me and was only trying to help me? I wrestled with these questions the rest of the day.

The next morning when I opened my devotional book, the title of the devotion was “God Wants to Set You Free.”

Okay, God, I get it. It’s obvious we have work to do.

Taking on an offense can be so subtle we hardly realize it. Even when we think we’ve forgiven someone, it’s easy to ignore the root of bitterness embedding itself in our heart. That bitterness taunts us, raising its ugly head every time the offending person’s name is mentioned.

The Bible says Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.

Seriously? Nothing? That’s a tall order, but I’ve learned God never instructs us to do anything He doesn’t give us the power to accomplish.

As I spent time in God’s presence, He revealed negative attitudes that needed to be dealt with. As I confessed my sin, He once again forgave me, cleansed my heart, and renewed my spirit and soul. He washed me clean and set me free from the unseen chains holding me down. I gained a different perspective—a godly perspective.

Freedom is a wonderful gift. Allow God to set you free today.

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A Rose among Thorns

Thorns hurt, but roses heal relationships; aid in physical, mental, and emotional health; and beautify boring barren lawns.

Walking among rose bushes before they bloom, we see leaves, but our eyes often drift to the thorns. But once the plants bud and blossom, the flowers capture our attention. Although outnumbered by thorns, the beauty of the flowers stands out, prominently displayed for all to see, smell, and enjoy. We use rose petals for decoration, food, tea, salves, and nutritional supplements.

Jesus, the perfect example of one who stood out from the crowd—a rose among thorns—valued others more than Himself. He endured mental, emotional, and physical thorns for our sake. And He offers to replace our ugliness with beauty, our hate with love, our guilt with forgiveness, and our sin with cleansing.

Like roses and Jesus, God wants us to stand out in the crowd, to heal rather than hurt, and to focus on the clothing of God’s Spirit rather than the latest designer labels. We can reflect God in both speech and behavior and allow others to see the confidence possible through a personal relationship with God. We can value people more than possessions.

Believers are different. We wear the sweet fragrance of God’s love and have accepted the challenge to share God’s life-changing message. Standing out involves making alternate plans when invited to questionable activities, feeding on God’s Word rather than the world’s garbage, and choosing materials, movies, music, and Internet sources that display and encourage godly thoughts and motives.

Refusing to put people down by mocking and spreading rumors also helps us stand out. Instead, we can encourage others by standing up for them, complimenting them, and refusing to say anything negative about them. Like the beauty of a rose, we can bring out the best in others. When peers look like they’ve lost their last friend, we can offer friendship. When they obviously need help, we can interrupt our personal plans to lend a hand. If they don’t know Jesus, we can introduce them to Him.

Let’s choose to follow Jesus’ example and live as roses among thorns.

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Not the Boss of Me

Dosed with excitement because a friend had a Fitbit, I bought one—thrilled to get my 10,000 steps and track my sleep. At first, it served me well. I increased my activity, walked more, went to bed earlier, and hoped for a healthier self.

Quickly, however, this servant became the boss of me. I left family on Thanksgiving to walk alone in the chilly darkness to get my 10,000 steps. I ran in place just to eek out those last 300 steps, missing the mark by just a few as the clock struck midnight. I became obsessed. 

Things worsened when I found there was a community I could compete with. I spent my days keeping track of the top person. The day I realized it was no longer serving me, but had become my master, was life-giving. It wasn't about my Fitbit, but my heart. I recalled a quote by John Seymour, "Emotions are excellent servants, but tyrannical masters."  

Anger, fear, sadness, and happiness are good servants. Anger allows us to act for justice and right wrongs. Fear warns of impending trouble. Sadness processes our heartache. Happiness invites celebration of blessings. But each is a terrible master. Rage causes harm, anxiety cripples, depression paralyzes, and the pursuit of happiness can destroy.

Most things make wonderful servants, but horrible masters. And I know they aren’t limited to emotions or Fitbits. Food, money, shopping, social media, power, medicine, exercise, just to name a few, can do the same.

I am not opposed to my Fitbit. It sits proudly on my wrist and some days still manages to be my boss. The problem doesn't lie in the technology, but in me.

When I sense the "take over," I consider who’s my boss. Is the thing or emotion my servant or am I the one in chains? Who is serving whom? My heart quickly reminds me of the great and loving Master who never makes me a slave, but calls me a friend and a daughter.

If something that started as a wonderful servant has become your tyrannical master, talk to God or share your struggle with a trusted friend. 

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The Reward of Desperation

Desperation cannot be silenced.

When we are desperate, no situation or person can stop us from seeking relief. Not a crowd, like the one that tried to crowd out the woman who had an issue of blood and was trying to get to Jesus (Mark 5). Not a priest, like the one who accused Hannah of being drunk when she was praying for God to give her a child (1 Samuel 1).

Desperate means “sad, having deep despair, having little or no hope; done with all your strength with little hope of succeeding on our own.” Realizing we cannot do something on our own is what leads us to the reward of desperation.

To be desperate for God is to be in a place of little or no personal strength so that we come to rely on God’s strength. Paul said when he was weak that God was strong. We have the tendency to deal with stuff on our own as long as we can without asking for help, thinking “we got this.” But we don’t. We are dropping it all because of our stubborn need to be self-sufficient. 

Despite those who told him not to bother Jesus, Bartimaeus cried out to Him. David, one of the strongest warriors, cried out desperately to God. He understood his deliverance came from God. Desperation caused Hannah to give her child back to the Lord, the child she was desperate for. Jesus found complete surrender in His desperate plea, “not My will but Yours.”

Desperation causes us to be persistent and relentless in our pursuit of relief. But surrender comes when we finally understand we are created to need God. Surrendering to God’s will—regardless of the price—brings the relief we are looking for—and that surrender brings the Father’s heart running to our rescue.

No one experiences the reward of desperation until the cry of desperation creates a place of total surrender, bringing the reward of the Lord’s pleasure.

If you’re desperate, you are in good company. Cry out to God in complete surrender. 

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Are We There Yet?

The job of every child under the age of ten who is traveling on vacation is to ask the question, “Are we there yet?” No training required. The question comes naturally.

When riding with my young grandchildren on long trips, they repeatedly ask, “Are we there yet?” I enjoy teasing them by saying, “Yes, we are there. We just forgot to tell you.” Of course, they groan at my answer, recognizing it is just a silly response to their silly question.

Adults may not ask such obvious questions on road trips, but as children of God traveling through life we do ask “Why does sickness, war, and evil exist?” Expecting near perfect conditions in this world is like children asking if they have arrived yet. Just as it takes time to get from here to there on road trips, it is only reasonable to expect less than perfect conditions on the way to heaven. We are not there yet.

Scripture is clear about our earthly journey. We will endure trials of all kinds, and life will eventually end in physical death. It is part of the human experience. Navigating road trips has been enhanced by GPS systems. If we follow the suggested course, it sends back information that helps us reach our destination with confidence.

As Christians—because of Jesus Christ—we have been given His GPS—God’s Holy Spirit—to help us navigate our way through this world. One day, with patience and perseverance we will reach heaven. God has guaranteed it.

Follow God’s Spirit, and arrive at God’s intended destination for you. 

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Living God's Dreams

No career excited me as much as the prospect of writing novels for a living.

God placed the dream of becoming a writer in my heart when I was fourteen. And He wanted me to be a Christian writer, not a famous secular novelist. During those years, I learned God’s dreams were different from mine. Much different, as it turned out.

While working on my bachelor’s degree, I convinced myself I was born to be an English professor. I decided I didn’t want children—they’d force me to put myself second.

Within six years of graduating from college, I had two children. God wanted me to be a momma. I learned the hard way God didn’t want me to be a professor either. Graduate school was a colossal disappointment.

Sometimes I resent God asking me to let my dreams die in order to live His dreams. It’s hard to silence the voice that says there’s no higher goal than making myself happy. But one of the many reasons I love God is because He doesn’t strike me down when I’m angry. He lets me vent and then gently reminds me He knows best. I’m certain obeying God holds greater blessings than chasing my own ambition.

I know God’s dreams and thoughts for me are higher than my own. The God who imagined the universe is fully capable of directing me toward my place in it.

In the end, obedience is what counts. When I stand before Jesus, I want Him to be pleased with how I used my time on earth.

Live God’s dream, not your own. 

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Breakout Fish

It felt good.

Finally, I had some time to look through my computer and do a thorough clean up. Items that were no longer needed went to the recycle bin, then off into cyberspace.

Looking through my saved photos and images, I was arrested by an image of a fishbowl full of little fish. Next to it was a larger bowl with only clear water. One fish was leaping from the crowded bowl into the clear fresh water of the larger bowl.

Many thoughts flashed through my mind. Thoughts of time to break out from the crowd. Time to look for bigger opportunities. Time to seek clear fresh water of the Holy Spirit. Time to be brave and trust God to lead me to the right place.

Sometimes we are so engrossed in where we are, we become locked in place, filling up valuable space where others might grow. We become inactive, surrounded by the influence that has grown cold towards the things of God.

Recognizing the challenge to take action, I moved when God said move—taking a leap towards a brighter future and trusting God all the way. God did not come with a safety net, scoop me up, and lift me into the new role. I had to take a step of faith. Now, I’m swimming free in a new situation.

Perhaps the place you have been has become so comfortable that you can no longer move. Maybe it’s been a long time since you took a leap of faith to new horizons. Change whatever God is asking you to change so you can move where He is calling you to go. 

Step forward in faith and trust God.

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Holding My Father's Hands

Beth, Belinda, Susan and I sang some of Daddy’s favorite hymns and songs in four-part harmony. He trained his girls to perform just as his mother had taught him and his sister to perform for Vaudeville. He played the piano and we sang even before our eyes were level with the ivory keys.

No longer able to join in with his eloquent tenor, Daddy gazed up at me from his bed, a hint of a smile on his lips. Trembling, he reached for me, and with a raspy voice whispered, "Hold my hand."

I enfolded his boney cool hand in mine. He gripped my fingers, staring at me through fear-filled, glazed eyes. I wondered what terrors flooded his heart and mind. I smiled at him and stroked the thin, pale hand that once danced across the ivory keys of the piano.

Our heavenly Father is the I Am. We can trust Him. He says we don’t need to fear or be dismayed because He is with us. He promises never to leave us. He is all-powerful and able and willing to strengthen us and hold us up.

I knew my heavenly Father could bring peace and comfort to Daddy. I drew comfort and strength in knowing God cradled Daddy in His warm embrace.

Finding assurance in another of Dad’s favorite hymns, I crooned to him as my sisters softly joined me. The words of truth blanketed Daddy, his eyes closed, and his grip loosened on my fingers. The Father’s loving presence replaced Daddy’s fears with peace. Holding God’s hand, Daddy’s spirit left his frail body and flew away to a new home on the celestial shore.

Regardless of what you’re going through, God is with you and will strengthen and help you. Place your trust in His love and faithfulness, and you will live and rest in His peace. The I Am is with you.

Allow God to hold you up with His righteous right hand and bring you peace.

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Routines: Help or Hindrance?

I giggled as I visualized what motorists saw as they passed my parents’ house.

I sat atop my parents’ riding lawn mower while my dad tried his best to direct me in the “way I should go.” His arm motions went one way, my steering the other. I looked like a new pilot trying to park a jet. After many stops to ask Dad for directions, I finally finished. Dad and I both smiled. It was an adventurous afternoon to say the least.

What popped into my mind while pondering my mowing escapade was the word routine. Routines are a daily part of our lives whether we realize it or not. My dad, after years of mowing his lawn, had his routine down pat. He’d learned how to mow in the shortest amount of time and maximize the best use of fuel. He’d tightened the turns, cut the gaps, and knew where he wanted to go next.

Daniel had a routine for praying. I also have routines. One is my morning quiet time with God. I read from two or three devotionals (usually in the same order), and then I go to my reading plan on my phone. Finally, I turn the computer on and read a couple of online devotions. If I’m participating in a Bible study, that lesson comes at the end. 

Yet while doing my routine reading about God and Jesus, I must be careful my mind doesn’t flip to autopilot. There are many mornings my thoughts wander aimlessly and need a little coaxing to get back on track. Re-engaging my thoughts usually means re-reading the last couple of paragraphs. If I can’t refocus my direction, then my routine has become a hindrance.

Changing up the order of my morning study routine helps, but I still must be cautious of falling back into complacency and becoming comfortable with the routine.

When challenged with routine complacency, ask God to help you stay focused and engaged with Him during your study time. This will keep your routine from becoming a hindrance.

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Take God at His Word

Though strict, the orthodontist’s guidelines would spare my daughter trouble, time, and expense.

To avoid broken wires and extra treatment time, the orthodontist listed foods my daughter shouldn’t eat. She willingly accepted his instructions. She avoided gum, popcorn, and sticky candy. But as she talked with friends, they told her, “You can chew gum and eat popcorn. I do and nothing has happened to my braces.”

The more she spoke with others, the more she felt like the only one following the rules.  Eventually, the doubters wore her down, and she announced, “I’ve decided to chew gum.”

I couldn’t blame her. I, too, struggle to consistently carry out instructions. I read God’s Word and resolve to follow His guidelines for living. But within a short time, the media, friends, and fellow believers influence my thinking. Before I know it, I’m questioning the truth I believed when I read the Bible.

The serpent’s first action was to make Eve question what God had said. He made her feel he knew what was best for her. Even though Eve knew what God had said, she was unprepared for questioning.

Knowing this can help us be ready for questions, beginning with, “Did God really say . . .?”  When we hear them, we can respond with a gentle but firm, “Yes.” 

God has our best interests in mind and gives us rules not only to glorify Him but also to help us lead fulfilling, peaceful lives. Staying true to His guidelines spares us pain and costly consequences.

Read God’s Word and resolve to follow it. When you hear someone challenge it, don’t be surprised. Instead, repeat the Scripture kindly, remember God is completely trustworthy, and stand strong in your faith. 

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Knowledge Without Wisdom

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Wisdom is the loving use of what we know, but it’s possible to say right things in the wrong way or to speak true sayings at an improper time or place.   

Job’s friends lacked the understanding of how to apply truth to his suffering. They may have been more concerned about being right than helping their friend. Many of the things his counselors said were true but did not apply to Job.

The Devil knows the Word of God and is not shy about using it on us out of context. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it’s right to say.

Elihu and his friends made the mistake we often make. They assumed life is a mere cause and effect relationship. Since Job was suffering, he was being punished for his wrongdoings. The book of Job teaches us life is not that simple. Bad things happen to good people. In Job's case, he suffered for his righteousness.

Elihu claims he only tells the truth and has great knowledge. Anytime we think we have a corner on the truth, it shows our ignorance. If we think we’re wise, we’re probably not. The smartest thing Elihu could have done would have been to talk less and listen more. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought to be a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

There is a sign hanging on many public school walls that reads, “Knowledge is Power.”  While true, it’s also true that knowledge alone is dangerous. Before knowledge, we need virtue (2 Peter 1:5). 

If we speak to people with our heads instead of our hearts, it is like pouring vinegar on a wound. Knowledge without wisdom, like truth without grace, never heals the hurting. 

Lovingly apply your knowledge to those in pain.

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Forgiving Boo Boo

I opened the back door and stopped in my tracks.

“What on earth?” came from my mouth at a rather high decibel level. It looked as if an F5 tornado had swept through our house, leaving it in shambles. Tiny pieces of paper, branches, leaves, DVD boxes, and shoes littered three rooms. Standing still and surveying the damage, I saw my ninety-pound Newfoundland, Boo Boo, sitting pretty and proud. I wanted to scream, “Look what you did!” but I couldn’t.

My heart melted, a smile crept across my face, and she ran toward me. As I stooped down to pet her, I realized how much I loved her. We had left her out of her crate to test her maturity level and discovered it was not what we had hoped for. Left on her own, she made unwise choices. This did not lessen my love for her or cause me to decide she was not worth keeping. I knew she needed more training. We would try again.

Our heavenly Father does the same with us. He is full of mercy and compassion. He may not be happy with our decisions, but He loves us enough to let us grow, make our own decisions, and hopefully learn from them.

If you, like Boo, have done something the world feels is deserving of punishment, turn it over to God and experience the grace and mercy of your heavenly Father.

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Let It Ache

Anguish. I know the feeling well. Since I was betrayed, it has been my constant companion for months. I ache for what I lost.

Betrayal hurts worse than anything else. It aches in my spirit and body, throbbing when I wake up and just before I fall asleep. The ache almost has an identity as it moans for attention and healing. My only source of strength comes from the Holy Spirit.

I am completely powerless to heal the ache. It exists and will not extinguish without supernatural intercession. Sometimes, I obsess over how to snuff the smoldering coals that fuel the ache. Some of the embers are self-inflected … anger fuels the fire.

I am in the process of forgiving this person. God convicted me that anger is wrong and urged me to let Him give me relief from anger. He will help me, even if I can’t perceive it or have any idea when the ache will stop throbbing—as the psalmist didn’t.

Searing aches can be transformed from darkness to radiance by God’s power. He is able to make something glorious from suffering, which draws me into deeper understanding of His will. He fills the anguish with healing and love. That has to sustain me for now. Suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4 NIV), so I am letting the ache burn rather than try to suppress it.

Painful times draw me into God’s presence far more often than happy ones. God is always present, even in anguish and desperation, and understands how deep my wounds are. He urges me to depend on His Holy Spirit to lead me moment by moment.

Turn to God in your pain. He will suffer beside you when you ache.

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It Gets Better

“Are you sure you want to clean toilets?”

My wife’s voice reverberated in my ears as I sprayed the toilet bowl cleaner into the urinal at my job. This wasn’t the place I envisioned for myself as I walked across the graduation stage at Thomas Road Baptist Church on the campus of Liberty University. Yet there I stood in the middle of the men’s room, holding a toilet bowl cleaner in one hand and a terry cloth in the other—miserable over the way life was playing out. I wondered where God’s favor was and where His promises of abundance were.

We’ve all felt our life is at a standstill at one time or another. God has called you to run your own business, but you wake up every day and ride a bus to a maintenance job where you clean windows, pull trash, and scrub toilets—barely earning enough money to pay the bills. God has deposited a seed of distinction in you, but that promise of eminence can seem far away.

Sometimes we forget God is the reason we have what we have. We forget about the blessings that come from above and focus on the things we don’t have or on the things we want because others have them. Our joy can wane when we focus on things that don’t concern God.

The enemy deceives us by making us think the place we are today is the place we’ll always be. Through prayer, I’ve discovered becoming disgruntled with the ugly days of life does no good. God is faithful to fulfill His promises. He knows the places He wants us to go, and He designates pit stops designed to improve and strengthen our character.

This season of life may feel arduous and may not be going according to plans. But God will not allow suffering needlessly. Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. My heart wasn’t into cleaning toilets, but that day standing in the men’s room I knew God’s plan was still being put into motion for my life.

Stay with the Lord. Put forth the fruit of faith, increase in the knowledge of God, and work in accordance with His glorious might. Christ is your example, and God rewards His faithful children for diligently working for Him.  

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The Right Frequency

A click of a switch. “Come in, base one.”  No answer. Several more times I repeated this with the same result. I could feel myself getting testy inside.

We were driving across the paddock following the rutted wheel tracks, the constant static from the two-way radio coming from between the front seats. We were out looking for stray cows which had not made the branding roundup. The scrub was thick. Hills and rocks stood in our way. We stopped to check in with the homestead base.

Then my passenger said, “Are you on the right frequency?” After checking, I switched to another setting and made contact.

We were able to get directions from base. The overhead spotters had found the errant cattle in a slight ravine on the other side of the hills. We wove our four-by-four vehicle through bushland to locate them. From there we were able to move them in the right direction. Then the riders on horseback picked them up to drive them towards home base for branding.

If we’re honest with ourselves and God, we’re sometimes disappointed in Him. A sense of false rejection, feeling unloved and unacceptable to God. We believe He has let us down for not giving us what we want in the time we expected. We become testy when our way forward becomes impeded.

Sometimes, we misunderstand His Word and His promises—believing we will never be good enough for Him. The acid of hurt and disappointment builds up and develops into anger. The pain from these misplaced feelings has to surface so we can restore our relationship with Him.

How we deal with disappointments will depend upon how secure we are in God’s love in our heart. When these negative emotions surface, we are relying on our own emotions in our soul. 

Instead, we need to listen to the voice of God in our spirit and in our heart. We need to tune into God through the right frequency. Then the way becomes clear to hear God’s voice and follow His directions for our life. 

If you’re lost or heading in the wrong direction, change frequencies so you can hear God’s voice.

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The Promise for Your Affliction

Staring out the window—sick child in my arms—I count the days.

Twenty two days have passed since illness struck our home and relentlessly unleashed its fury on each member of our household. And twenty two days have passed since we lived free from fevers and antibiotics. It seems this virus won’t let go.

My head throbs with the ache of countless nights without sleep, and my body aches with the remnants of the fever that refuses to break. Through it all, I’ve done my best to be the rock of stability and comfort my family’s needs. Watching layers of altostratus clouds linger like a blanket over the goldenrod field outside the window, I cry for God to bring the comfort I desperately desire.

My deepest desire is for healing from this sickness. I find myself searching the heart of God for a promise to embrace in the midst of this suffering. But which promise do I claim when the provision is slow in coming? Or when the healing doesn’t come?

Three geese pass, flying low outside the window. They cut through the clouds like a beacon sent to remind me of my three-in-one God. They remind me that the God of the Trinity is a God of relationship. When He seems slow in fulfilling His promises, when healing doesn’t come, or when provision lingers, He gives a better promise.

The better promise is the promise to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). This is the promise to which I cling in my affliction. Though the suffering may last, God promises to stick with me through it. His presence is the greatest comfort of all.

If there is a place in your life where it seems God isn’t showing up, or if you’re waiting on Him to provide, protect, heal, or redeem, a day is coming when He will fulfill each of those desires.  Until then, He promises to stick with you.

Let God’s presence be enough for you.

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The Forbidden Delectable

I vowed not to miss church.

Vacationing with my family in Hong Kong, I made it my goal not to miss Sunday church service. I checked with the locals, and they suggested a church that wasn’t too far from the place I was staying.

I strolled onto the main thoroughfare Sunday morning. The mass of locals who were in search of their morning cup of tea swept me along. It was only seven-thirty, but I was already withering from the simmering heat and drenching humidity. The clatter of woks and savory aromas of freshly prepared wonton soup and pan-fried noodles shifted my taste buds into overdrive.

A tea house with the caption “Air Conditioning” grabbed my attention. I slipped inside and plopped down at one of the dining tables to bathe in the coolness. What a mistake. The Dim Sum peddlers in their shimmering aluminum food carts swarmed me—parading steaming shark fin soup, assorted dumplings, and elaborately decorated desserts around me like a well-choreographed musical.

Before long, my taste buds were screaming for a dumpling. I said to myself I would attend church later. Later never came, and God was nowhere to be found. I knew sitting down for Dim Sum wasn’t bad in itself, but I was allowing worldly temptations to distract me from God.

Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, I gave in to what I wanted to do. I took whatever I saw and allowed my body to have whatever it wanted—which was to taste the forbidden dumpling. I wasn’t seeking God first.

This was a sobering reminder of my weakness. If I continued down this road, allowing self-centered wants to govern my actions, God would soon become nothing more than a faint memory. The only way back was to make God first and trust He would provide everything that was good for me.

As I moved from me-first to God-first, I discovered an abundance of God’s grace that supplied the power to resist the temptations crossing my path. I was no longer an easy prey to the “tea houses” of my life that beckoned me to abandon God for whatever I unwisely wanted.

Don’t let the forbidden delectables keep you from putting God first. 

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That's Why There's Chocolate and Vanilla

One of my husband’s favorite sayings is, "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla."

We're all different. We don't like the same things, whether it’s ice cream, clothes, or worship styles. I realized how true that is the last time I shopped for clothes. As I flipped through hangers on the racks, I thought some of the items were really cute, but not for me. There were other items about which I thought, Really? And then there were the clothes that were just what I was looking for. Sort of like Goldilocks and the three bears.

Thinking about the variety of clothing caused me to consider the variety of worship styles in churches. Some aren't for me; some are. Just as others’ clothing styles are not my concern, someone else’s worship style should not be my concern either.

Jesus told the woman at the well that the time and place of worship wasn’t important. Whether someone raises their hands or not during worship is not for me to decide. Nor is whether they kneel or stand when they pray or how they position their head, hands, or eyes. Neither should I decide the songs sung or the music played. What I should decide is to make sure I worship God with my whole heart and please Him alone.

There are some things we should consider when it comes to worshiping God. Such as if our worship glorifies God, if it honors Him above all others, and if we are coming before Him with humble hearts and acknowledging Him as the author of our salvation.

What are things you believe should be considered when worshiping God?

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Staying Positive in a Negative World

We’ve all seen them—those people who smile through the worst storm, encourage others when life kicks them in the teeth, and always respond, “Great,” when asked, “How are you?”

First, let’s clarify one issue. Remaining positive does not mean we never have a bad day or that we never question God. Listen to Job: I cry out to You, God, but You do not answer; I stand up, but You merely look at me (Job 30:20). Job was definitely having a bad day. In fact, a string of bad days. We can expect those too.

During his miserable moments, Job took his concerns directly to God. Let’s be honest in our prayers. If we’re angry, we should tell God. If we’re depressed, let’s say so. God already knows anyway. This step frees us of pent-up emotions and creates an open flow of communication. We hear God better when we’re not trying to mask our feelings.

Job waited for God’s answer—easier said than done. As believers, we can say with Job, I will wait for my renewal to come (Job 14:14). Whether considering tomorrow or eternity, God has us covered.

Job listened to God’s answer once he received it—a simple task that’s easy to fail in. Imagine God saying to Job in chapter 38 and following “Just who do you think you are?” Why do we moan and groan for answers, yet ignore them when they come? Job responds to God in chapter 42, verse 3, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  Let’s join in that declaration.

Job also embraced God’s love and promises. When everyone deserts us, God remains. When everything fails, God succeeds. When life gets us down, God picks us up. When we lose all hope, God offers hope. When conflict surrounds us, God grants us peace. We may not receive all our answers during this life, but we can rest securely knowing that God reigns now and eternally.    

Remember God’s faithfulness, and remain positive in a negative world.

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The Proof of Love

One loving action can change an individual’s course for the better. 

The search for love is seen in every aspect of society. We encounter people searching for love and acceptance. People crave affection and approval in a world they are desperately trying to understand.

We all seek love, but especially the perfect love John describes. We are proof God exists as well as living proof of His powerful love. When we take the time to help a person in need, God works through us to help another person.

The proof of God’s perfect love is hidden in the hearts of the righteous and revealed in their selfless actions. We all have the ability to do good or bad in our everyday actions. When we choose the righteous actions of the Father, we choose to display His love to the world. Immorality holds love captive. When we choose to display love as the Father does, we break the cycle of impurity swirling around us like a bad storm.

When the Lord loves us, He changes our whole being and transforms our lives. We are set free from sin and death in our new lives, become heirs of the promise, and become rich in love and kindness. When the Lord’s perfect love invades our space, our thoughts and actions become more like His.

A simple display of God’s love to a neighbor can transform that person’s life. One kind act can derail hate and violence. We alone cannot solve the world problems, but we who are in Christ have the power of change within our hearts.

Ponder what it would feel like to be hungry, cold, scared, desperate, depressed, lonely, suicidal, or lost. You might stop the cycle of self-destruction in one person’s life and prove to them that God does exist. The simplest gesture is the most powerful in God’s eyes.

The next time you see a person with a need, think about the opportunity before you.  

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The Grace of Pain

I never understood Paul’s statement about a thorn in the flesh until February 26, 2014. As my family grieved over losing my granddaughter, I learned lessons about grace through the journey of pain. 

Most don’t consider pain an act of God’s grace but rather a curse. As with everything else, it is about perspective. If we are teachable, the most painful circumstances can be the grace of God at work on our behalf. Being conformed to the image of Christ involves suffering. If we want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, we must participate in His suffering. 

Paul outlines three valuable lessons about grace and pain in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. First, pain keeps us dependent on God’s grace. Second, pain makes us aware of our weakness so God’s strength can be seen in us. Finally, pain keeps us from becoming filled with pride. 

The grace of pain comes in many forms. For some, physical pain and suffering are chronic. For others, pain is a broken marriage, a wayward child, the loss of a loved one, or the struggle with depression and anxiety.

Regardless of pain’s avenue, there should be only one destination: the foot of the cross. This is where we decide God will be glorified. With the decision to trust God, pain becomes an act of His grace.

Pain teaches us dependency, perseverance, and blind trust in God. Pain causes our roots to go deeper than before, making us stronger. It establishes our belief that God is trustworthy with His plans and callings for us. Pain makes us like a mighty oak planted by streams of living water.

As peculiar as it may seem, there is something sweet about the grace of pain. When the seasons end, we almost miss them. Maybe not the pain itself but the immeasurable grace poured out through the unfathomable love and intimacy of God.

Let your focus become God’s grace and the pain His purpose. Then arise with a quiet confidence in His strength. No person or situation can remove the grace of pain.

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Cosmic Bullying

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Ask the parents of a cyberbullying victim if that’s true. No doubt you’ve seen news accounts of this troubling trend that has become commonplace among pre-teens and teenagers. What used to take place in the cafeteria and playground has now spread to the digital world as cyber bullies use the internet and smart phones to harass and humiliate their victims. Cyberbullying can be so vicious that some youngsters are driven to suicide.

As horrible as cyberbullying is, “cosmic bullying” is even more dangerous. This happens when Satan taunts and attacks God’s children. He does it through the everyday annoyances, conflicts, and temptations of life, but he and his demons seem to amplify their efforts when we step out to serve God. But we have victory through Jesus Christ.

Satan often makes it appear that people are the problem, but God’s Word tells us otherwise: For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

Earlier this year, a few ladies from my church and I prepared to lead a women’s Bible study. The topic was spiritual warfare and how to effectively use the armor of God. Not surprisingly, the enemy went to work. Shortly after our first planning meeting, one of the ladies was rushed to the hospital with a painful bout of kidney stones. Another had a flare-up of stomach problems. One of the others was struck with a cough, fever, and chills. So predictable.

Satan’s bullying did not catch us by surprise, nor did it catch God by surprise. The Lord enabled us to proceed with the Bible study classes. They were well received, and we were blessed with a powerful object lesson on prayer and persevering in the midst of spiritual warfare.

The Word of God tells us to be alert, because the enemy is on the prowl like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Use the weapons God has given you and claim the victory that is yours in Christ.

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Warfare with Words

When thinking of warfare, guns, tanks, bombs, grenades, and missiles normally come to mind.

But David, the young shepherd, faced the giant Goliath with only a sling and five smooth stones. Nine-feet tall and clad in heavy armor, Goliath must have been a scary sight. When Goliath saw David approaching unarmed, he assumed the victory was his. What the giant didn’t know was that David had a secret weapon: the name of the Lord. Only one stone was required for David to kill Goliath with a shot to the forehead.

As the psalmist believed God trained his hands for war and his fingers for battle, so writers have powerful weapons of warfare most people don’t think of: five fingers on each hand. Ten times the one slingshot David had. And with the Lord at our side, we too can fight giant battles.

Many desperate people need to hear the salvation message of why Jesus came. But they won’t hear if we don’t tell them.

By continually filling our minds and hearts with God’s Word, we have the perfect ammunition needed for our fingers to compose a variety of powerful messages with which we can share the gospel repeatedly.

Keep your fingers in warfare mode by writing often. If just one person is touched by your words, your time has been well spent. Try some different methods this year with your God-given weapons of warfare. Submit one of your messages to a publication you have never sent to before.  Post an article or poem on Facebook or Twitter. Send a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

Your words can make a difference.

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The Struggle for Acceptance

Investments in the body can only bring little profit because it is perishing every day.   

Our society struggles for acceptance. We compare ourselves to those around us and struggle to emulate the celebrities we see paraded on television as a symbol of perfection. This comparison makes us want to improve our outward appearance, but the Bible has something to say about superficial appearances.

Physical exercise only has a slight benefit, but the pursuit of the Lord profits all things in our lives. The world weighs value in the outward appearance and the pursuit of such things. The Lord weighs our value in Christ and the understanding of Him in all aspects of our life.

Our value is not weighed in how many times we go to the gym or our ability to develop a six pack. The value of who we are is rooted in the immeasurable love of the Lord. Bodily exercise can only bring temporary satisfaction, but the hunger of the soul cries for more than what the body can offer.

Our soul hungers for the understanding of the Lord and the vigorous pursuit of Him. We must build our acceptance of the value of the Lord and pursue Him before we seek anything else.  Being healthy is a righteous pursuit, but to rely on our own strength to get us through life is foolishness in God’s eyes.

The Lord sees us in the measurement of weight not stature. Goliath was a giant while David was a small young man. In the natural realm, Goliath’s strength would have been envied by those around him, but God weighed David differently. God had invested in David’s soul. Even though his outward appearance was weak compared to the giant, David was the stronger one in the battle.

The Lord uses our weaknesses for His ultimate glory. Our outward appearance has nothing to do with our destiny or our inner strength. People will judge our outward appearance, but God has already granted us righteousness in our soul. Our investment must be in the soul first because the soul is the only thing in us that will live forever.

You are righteous, holy, redeemed, qualified, satisfied, and perfectly loved by the Lord. Pursue God and find out for yourself.  

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How to Change the World

I was half-asleep and not expecting a late-night discussion on the probabilities of life in outer space. 

My son surprised me by asking if there was life on other planets. Things do lie beyond the limits of our knowledge, and I have wondered if outer space runs out. The world is a big place, and our tiny planet in our little solar system seems insignificant when compared to the incredible vastness surrounding it.

We may sometimes feel that way about our longing to make a difference in the world. The world is a big place, and we can feel insignificant in it too. But we are God’s handiwork. 

The microcosm in which we live is our world. It consists of the places we inhabit and the people we encounter. Wherever on this planet that may be, God placed us here on purpose. Choosing to make a difference right here and now is a choice to embrace that purpose. Doing so is high-impact living.

And God has paved the road. All we need to do is step onto it and start walking. Two simple steps will help begin the journey.

First, choose a high-impact life—here and now. Fully embrace the place and season where you are. Learn to love the people God has placed around you—especially the difficult ones. God will help you do it.

Second, increase your impact by investing in missions. Giving removes the borders from our lives and allows us to touch people on the other side of the globe while we are learning to live intentionally where we are.

Once we get started, there will be no stopping us. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

So go ahead. Be swept off your feet. God has plans for the beautiful journey of your life. They may involve struggle, pain, and cost, but they will bring joy, fulfillment, and great reward.

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Show Your Weakness

Admitting weakness leaves us vulnerable and uncomfortable—a place we generally don’t like to be.

In 1984, there was a popular phrase from the Dry Idea deodorant commercials: “Never let them see you sweat.” The message was that we should never let our nerves, insecurities, or weaknesses show. We should always act strong and in control, even if we don’t feel it.

I was reminded of this commercial as I read Paul’s words to the Corinthians. He advises that we show our weaknesses—the opposite of what society says.

While it might not be advisable with everyone we meet, confessing our weakness to God is the best thing we can do. Being vulnerable with Him is a safe place to be. In that helpless, defenseless open place, we let our guard down and accept His help.

“Never let them see you sweat” thinking keeps us dependent on our own limited strength, but admitting weakness allows us to look past ourselves. When we get out of our own way, then we can better see God’s strength. And His strength has no limits.

Relying on my own strength and trying not to show weakness keeps me self-focused and pulls me away from God, but admitting where I am weak draws me closer to Him. When I’m closest to Him, I can draw from His unlimited strength.

Pause and examine who you’re listening to: society or Paul. God’s strength is limitless. He offers it to us, but we can’t draw from it without admitting our weakness.

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Unseen Wind

I couldn’t see the wind, but I could feel its effect.

I frequently pass a giant sycamore tree when walking. There is a unique music to the rustling of its leaves, whether a light breeze or a strong wind is blowing. As I recently approached the corner where I begin to hear its song, it seemed I was hearing the rush of creek water. Paying more attention to the sound, I realized it was the wind blowing through the leaves of the large sycamore tree.

The mysterious line between visible and invisible revealed the evidence of the unseen wind. My hair whipping around my face felt the effect as the wind grew stronger.

Our invisible God is a greater invisible mystery. I can’t see Him, but I feel His effects. His life and His Spirit have been breathed into me. He has changed me. His invisible work in my life is like the wind I can’t see but that I know is there.

Yes, I believe in a God I can’t see. I believe in the salvation that is mine because I have accepted His free gift of salvation and eternal life by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. I believe in the invisible regenerating work He did that made me a new creation.

There are many unseen factors in the Christian walk, all evidence of an unseen God who is lived out in my life every day. The effects of God in my life are just as real as the wind blowing through my hair and through the leaves of the giant sycamore tree. This is the life of faith.

Let the unseen God change your life. 

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He Overcame for You

I’m a worrier … a chicken.

Folks who know me will tell you I err on the side of caution because I worry. I’m not sure why. As a child, I was always fearful. My fears were unwarranted. Still, I was afraid. Being brave was hard.

It doesn’t surprise me that through the years God has allowed me to be placed in situations where I was forced to overcome my fear and simply trust. That’s God. He does this so He can grow us.

From the fears of a little child, to watching my adult children go through life issues I didn’t think they—or I—could survive, there was always fear. So when the MRI tech latched my head and chest tightly to a table and slid me into the machine’s chamber, I knew fear would push me to the brink.

The tech peered through the eye slot. “You okay?” He patted my shoulder and assured me I’d be fine. The machine started. I closed my eyes and remembered, Be strong and of good courage for I am with you. Take heart, I’ve overcome the world for you.

God knows this child all too well, and He’d been preparing me long in advance for this moment. Through a Bible study, I’d gleaned Scriptures and promises that fit my situation perfectly. He wanted me to have peace through this ordeal.

Jesus knew the trouble, pain, and anxiety He was about to face. He tried to gently forewarn His disciples that trouble would come. They would grieve for Him, but they couldn’t get their heads around what Jesus was preparing them for. He’d said these things repeatedly, but it wasn’t until this last time that the disciples finally understood. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace … I have overcome the world.

The world makes every effort to strike fear into us. It uses our vulnerabilities to bring us down to its level. But we have the advantage. We have the truth that Jesus overcame the world. There is no need for us to fear.

When fear grasps hold—attempting to choke the hope out of you—remember the promise. Remember what Jesus has already done. He overcame the world … for you.

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How Soon We Forget

What hard heads. What idiots. They forgot God’s promises, floundered around in the wilderness for forty years, and most never made it to the land flowing with milk and honey.

The children of Israel forgot how God delivered them from bondage, rained manna from heaven, and kept them healthy and safe during their long journey. He showed them the glory of His provision, protection, and presence. But fear got the best of them, and they tried to take matters into their own hands.

It didn’t work. I wonder what they were thinking.

The truth is we can tsk, tsk, tsk all day thinking shame on them, but we often repeat their behavior. It’s certainly true in my case. Sometimes spiritual amnesia gets the best of me.

When I look back on the ways God has blessed me and all the promises He has faithfully fulfilled, there are too many to name. Counting my blessings one by one, as the song says, would take me from now throughout eternity.

Still, I often struggle in the midst of a storm or trial that life throws my way, easily forgetting God’s love and faithfulness. I think the reason—just like with the Israelites—is fear.

The Bible says fear involves torment. If you’ve ever dealt with fear, you know it robs us of peace. It steals our joy, shakes our foundation, tells us God doesn’t care, and prompts us to fix our problem. Fear causes us to panic and grasp for control instead of keeping our minds and hearts fixed on the One who has the power and all the answers we need.

The antidote for fear is love—God’s perfect love—where there is the absence of fear, doubt, anxiety, dread, and worry.

The next time fear comes knocking, allow God’s perfect love to drive it away. And never forget all the wonderful things He has done for you. Betcha can’t count them all.

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5 Steps to Productive Labor

The process of childbirth is called labor for good reason: it is hard and painful work. 

As a young soon-to-be mom, I was terrified of needles so close to my spine so I chose natural childbirth. Going into labor through the natural process unprepared will lead a woman to tense, scream, close her eyes, and fight against her body. But the prepared mom goes into labor working with her body.

The spiritual labor process also has an unprepared and a prepared way. If we are unprepared, we will fight against God’s will, but if we’re prepared we will work with God’s will.

There are things we can do to ensure productive spiritual labor.

Preparation. Good nutrition, rest, water, and practice are a must for effective labor.  When laboring spiritually, we must nourish ourselves daily in God’s Word and be refreshed by His Spirit.

Fasting. Fasting is a good way to create an “emptiness” on the inside to make room for the work of God within us.

Strategy. We must have a birth plan. We cannot wait until the middle of labor to learn how to do something. Labor rarely goes as we plan. Like breathing patterns, prayer ruts are easy to fall into. Prayer has many facets. We can step out of the norm and pray a different way—with thanking, declaring God’s promises, asking, or crying out. Changing positions in labor speeds the process. Sometimes, we must change our prayer position too.

Focal Point. In the labor process, the worst thing is to focus on the pain, which only increases it. A focal point—a place “outside the body,” works to pull us out of ourselves.  Vision is our spiritual focal point, keeps us focused on the end of the process, and renews our hope. At the point of pushing, it is easy to hold our breath and close our eyes instead of looking for a sign of the baby’s appearing.

Labor Coach. A labor coach keeps mom on track, reminding her time is short and encouraging her. We should never go through spiritual labor alone. We need friends to hold up our arms during the process.

Think of a few things you can do that will lead to productive spiritual labor. 

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The Pages of Life

Electronic books make having lots of reading material available with the touch of a finger.

While the owner of an eBook can carry volumes in the weight of a few ounces, nothing replaces the feel of a hard cover or paperback in the hand. I enjoy the texture of the pages as they are turned and the smell of the ink on the paper as a story comes to life.

Books can last for years and be read over and over by different people. As the book is passed down in libraries or borrowed from individuals, a little of the reader stays with that book. Names, phone numbers, and addresses mingle with the story when the stroke of a pen takes ownership of the prized possession. Sometimes little notes that give a glimpse of the personality of the book’s owner are inscribed inside the publication.

As the parchment ages, the distinctive smell of an old book can’t be erased. The tome has absorbed from those who have held the volume in their hands, and maybe some of the dust collected on the top when in a dormant stage has added to the character. Colors can fade and scratches and dings can mar the cover, but those are all things that make each book individual and valuable.

Humans are stories on the earth. As we age, our pages crinkle and yellow. Sometimes we are in a dormant season of life, but we still have a place and purpose on the shelf. We may have the smell of an old book—but only because the years have left some scars and dents.  

As a child of God, our place is in the library of heaven. When we are taken off the shelf of our present existence, we will have new leafs and covers. The fragrance of eternity will replace the smell of age.

Don’t despair because of the worn surfaces of your soul. Rejoice because those pages are valuable and tell your story like no one else can.

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The Handler

The lead ewe stood stock still, occasionally stamping one foot on the ground. The Border collie did not flinch. 

I knew who would win this stare down. I had seen it many times in the paddock or in the stock yards. The Border collie was well trained. The ewe was all bluff.

Once the game was over, the ewe led the flock of sheep through the open gate, the dog trailing quietly behind, gently nudging the stragglers until all were through and the gate secure. Then she trotted over, sat at her handler’s feet, and waited patiently for her pat and praise.

Even when I was distracted and forgot to acknowledge a job well done, I could still rely on her to fulfil her role. She was faithful and trustworthy, eager to obey and quick to respond to commands. She knew she was loved, and pleasing her master seemed praise enough.

So often, we try to be like the lead ewe. God directs us in the way we should go, but we play a bluff game. We try to be boss for a while, stamp our feet, and stare down God’s directive. Then we finally give in when we realize God has the Holy Spirit, like a dog handler, lovingly watching our every move—ready to redirect or discipline if necessary.

Good sheep dogs take time to develop and mature and so do fully committed disciples of Jesus. God wants us to be well trained by His Word in the things of life. This takes time. Time spent with Him, reading and meditating, practicing what His Word tells us to do until we are obedient, disciplined, and useful in His service. Maturity is simply knowing we have pleased the Master.

Being a trustworthy servant will lead to being a friend of God, and that is something to cherish. Imagine the look of pleasure and love on Father God’s face when He looks at you and affirms a job well done. 

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Shielded

Never had a game evoked such fear in me.

As a middle schooler, I was weak, shy, and non-athletic. I dreaded physical education class—mainly because of one game: dodgeball.

I was always the last one picked when the team captains made their choices. Skinny, freckled-faced, glasses. Nothing that would make them want me on their team. I made sure to stand behind everyone else when the balls started whizzing by, but eventually I was exposed. It was then I began using my shield.

Getting hit on the torso or below the waist was bearable, but a hit in the head could be tragic. Mom had strictly instructed me to guard my glasses with my life. She and Dad could not afford to replace them. As the balls made their aim at me, I shielded my head with my arms and hands. 

As a teenager, I tortured my two younger brothers with the same game by lining them up on the edge of our open carport and throwing balls at them. They, too, used their arms and hands as shields, but doing so didn’t stop them from cascading from the ledge to the ground below when they were hit.

David was a warrior and very familiar with a shield. While he didn’t use one against Goliath—the giant he fought—he did in many battles after that as he protected his nation against their enemies.

Thousands of years into the future, the apostle Paul would say faith is the believer’s shield. As my hands shielded me from slams by the dodgeballs, so my faith shields me from the darts of my soul’s enemy. When I believed in and accepted Christ as my Savior, God gave me the righteousness of Christ. Though I take many hits in life, that body armor of righteousness—along with my shield of faith—keeps me from being defeated.

Faith helps me move forward, even when I can’t see the way. Faith prompts me to obey God’s plan, even when it appears illogical. Faith keeps me determined in my walk with the Lord, even when I sometimes want to give up. Faith shields me from persistent and uncontrollable doubt, anger, frustration, anxiety, worry, depression, and fear.

God gives all His children a shield. Take yours, so you can fight life’s battle with a guarantee of success.

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Fisher of Men

Peter was a fisher of men—but not initially.   

The apostle tops my list of outstanding Bible characters. God transformed this ordinary fisherman into a dynamic leader of the early church. The folly and humanness in his early life make him a saint that’s relatable and one we can learn from.

Peter was a man of contradictions. He was impulsive and strong-willed, yet capable of great love and loyalty. He left everything he had to follow Jesus. When something needed to be said, he said it—but was quick to blurt out words before thinking. A man of faith, he was both courageous and fearful.

Once, Peter left a boat and walked on water to go to Jesus. When he saw the wind, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. He cried out for help, and Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. Christ rebuked him gently for doubting. 

Peter was the first disciple to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). He boasted he would never forsake Jesus, but in an hour of crisis after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied even knowing Him. When Peter realized what he had done, he wept bitterly.

Yet Peter’s story doesn’t end in failure. Jesus loved him, forgave him, and restored him. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached boldly, and 3,000 people were converted. The simple fisherman became a mighty fisher of men. Persecution followed, but Peter rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake.

If you have experienced failure, remember God can use it for your good by bringing you to a deeper trust in Him. There may be consequences to face, but failure can be a stepping stone to future success.  

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Storing up Treasures

Going through the belongings of a loved one who has gone to be with Jesus can be uncomfortable.

When I married my husband, I became part of his family. We lived next door to his parents and grandmother, Olivia, who lived with them. Olivia had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and could no longer live alone. She had a small room at my in-laws with a few pieces of her own furniture and belongings.

Her home sat empty until she died. Then it was necessary to sell the home. As we loaded up boxes and sorted through her belongings, an overwhelming sense of sadness flooded me. This lady and her husband had worked years to pay for this house and provide a home for their family. Most of her belongings would be sold or packed away in an attic. No one wanted them. Someone else would be using Olivia’s things, and someone else would be living in this home she had worked to pay for and to make comfortable for her family. I felt such grief.

I realized what was bothering me. I was putting myself in Olivia’s place. The same could happen when I got old. God allowed me to wallow for a little while on these thoughts. Then He brought a Scripture to my mind that gave me perspective.

Passing down memories to your children in the form of earthly treasures isn’t sinful. The sin comes in leading a life devoted to this while neglecting storing up treasures in heaven. I had the wrong perspective. The same thing will happen any time we take our eyes off of Jesus.

I am happy someone is making use of the things that meant something to Olivia. She was a godly woman. I have no doubt she is in heaven enjoying God’s riches, and I don’t believe she misses her china. Her legacy was the example she set for her family and the obedience she gave to God.

Leave a legacy for your family that provides an example of storing treasures in heaven. 

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Our Expectations of God

There are moments when I expect God to act, but He doesn’t.

Sometimes I’ve wanted God to take revenge on a bully I faced. At other times, I’ve wanted Him to give me power like Moses so those around me can respect me. None of that came to pass. I experienced the opposite.

Once, I needed God to meet a financial project. I called people I knew. Most of them promised to help, and I was thrilled God was at work. The disappointment arrived when none of them followed through. I was devastated because God did not work through my expectations. Just when I was about to give up, God met my need through an anonymous means. That’s when I realized God’s ways aren’t my ways.

We want God to take care of our mess while we are on the verge of making another one. We want God to make life easy for us so we won't have to worry about anything, but we are still in a fallen world. Some of us want God to answer those who hurt us with immeasurable pain, but God is love.

I must understand God limits our activities on earth. While we think about growing old and having millions of dollars, God thinks about helping us win millions of souls. Our thoughts will always go contrary to God's thoughts. He thinks about eternal things, but we think about earthly things.

Aligning our expectation with God's is important. To know what God expects from us, we need to spend time in prayer, read the Word, and gather with other believers. God will not work according to our time and season. We must align our time and thoughts with His.

Submit your expectations to God, and allow Him to be your focus.

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The Fish in the Sky

Spectacular sunbeams, like delicate strands of golden silk, showered my sister’s neighborhood.

I was headed to my first Bible study. I quickly dismissed the possibility it was a sign from God. Immediately a thought instructed me, “Look at the hole.” I followed the golden strands upward into the clouds. The hole was a perfect cutout of the Jesus fish. God had plucked out a crisp fish-shaped hole in a billowing cloud as white as the purest cotton.

It was a sign. There was no mistaking the fish in the sky for a random cloud formation. God was pleased that I was going to study the Bible. 

God is delighted when we study His Word. Through study, we can be sanctified and set apart as holy by His truth. The Holy Spirit uses truth to teach, reminding us Jesus is the same today as He was when He walked the earth. He is still capable of all kinds of signs and wonders. God longs to show us the magnitude of His love, and He uses Scripture to speak to us and draw us into an intimate relationship with Him.

In our study, we find God’s truth transforms the way we think—a key to setting us apart from the world. When we begin to think differently, we want to act differently—allowing God to take control. We have access to His help.  

Devotions are great, but the power that transforms awaits us through Bible study. Take time to study His Word. Spend time developing your relationship with a God who longs for your presence with Him.

Fill yourself with God’s truth and watch the amazing transformation begin.   

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A Penny's Worth of Love

I was feeling emotions I’d not felt in years, sad and painful memories that wrapped me in a cocoon of sorrow. 

I had just finished reading a book about a little girl who was abused by a neighbor. It brought back memories I thought I’d put to rest. Funny how a few words on a page can cause thoughts of abandon to take you where you were many years before—with the shame and sorrow it contained.

In the book, the little girl found a wheat penny embedded in the blacktop of a parking lot.  She dug it out, held it in her hand, and then imagined herself in the palm of God’s hand—safe and warm as the penny was in hers. 

Getting groceries was next on my list, and I drove foggy-headed to the little market in our small country town. As I paid, I looked into the bowl of pennies sitting by the cash register for people who might be a few cents short. My breath caught in my throat and an unexpected smile covered my face. A wheat penny sat on top. I picked it up and held it in my hand. It felt warm.

On the way home, I held the penny because I knew God had put it there so I would know how much He loves me. He wanted me to realize I was safe in His hand—far away from the painful memories of the past.

Today the penny sits on my windowsill above the sink so I’ll never forget God’s kindness. No matter how far into shame and pain I find myself, He’s there showing His mighty love in little ways.

Notice the tiny things God does for you every day.

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Are You Ready?

It never fails. I hear the same question every year: “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Seems like a simple question. Maybe it’s the same as a friendly “How are you?” to which we dutifully answer, “I’m fine, how are you?” It’s just something we do.

Last year I paid closer attention to how many times the question came up. It started right after Thanksgiving and kept repeating itself until right before Christmas Eve. I began to analyze the words and tried to figure out what the asker was really trying to find out. Perhaps they were asking if my shopping was finished or if I had put up my Christmas tree and decorations. Maybe they were wondering if I had nailed down family plans, Christmas dinner, or holiday travel.

After all my analyzing, I wondered if I truly was ready. Had I made a place in the busyness for the Christ of Christmas? Was I quick to let others know that He is the real reason for the season? Was I was prepared to kneel before the babe in the manger, acknowledging Him as Savior and Lord?

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines ready as “being prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action—to plan in advance, work out the details, and get into a proper state of mind.”

Maybe that’s the ultimate answer: a proper state of mind. I love the song that talks about needing more Christmas all year long. It’s a wonderful, magical time of year, but the real magic—the real Spirit of Christmas—is the supernatural, life-giving presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Once we invite Him in, He promises to be with us always—24/7, 365 days of the year, and then for all eternity. We can celebrate Him every single day and not have to wait until the calendar says it’s time to pull out all the stops.

I love Christmas—the sights, sounds, and smells. But I especially love the One whose birthday we celebrate … the One who gave His all so we might gain everything. “Are you ready?” has taken on new meaning for me.

The next time someone asks if you’re ready for Christmas, say confidently, “Yes, I’m always ready. Are you?”

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Never Too Young and Never Too Old

As an empty nester experiencing the realities of the aging process, I am encouraged by a lesson I learned from the Christmas story.

Details I love about the Christmas story concern the young virgin girl, Mary, and an elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zachariah—who have never had children because Elizabeth is barren. Mary is too young to possess the special kind of qualities that would merit God’s glorious favor.  Much older Elizabeth was at the point in life where she had no expectation that God would do something powerful and life-changing.

Yet God miraculously blessed Mary with the birth of Jesus, and He blessed Elizabeth and Zachariah with the birth of John the Baptist.

What spoke to me from these stories in Luke 1 is that our age does not matter. We are never too young or too old to experience God’s work in our lives. I have heard people say they are too young or too old for God to use them. I have even heard some older people say, “Maybe God is finished with me.”

Age is not a qualifier, and it does not disqualify us. Age also does not excuse us. Regardless of our age and circumstances, we should be open to what God is doing. If we are breathing, we are a vessel God can use. What an honor that God wants to work in and through us.

God’s desire is for us to surrender our whole life to Him—every aspect and every stage of life. When He calls us to a work He wants to do in our lives, we should answer “Yes,” as Mary did. “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).

God is not looking for someone who is the “right age.” He is looking for someone whose heart has the right answer to His call. 

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Pray for Your Pastor

The typo caught my attention and tickled my funny bone. It described the Old Testament prophet Enoch as “a holy and uptight man.”

After I stopped chuckling, I nodded my head. Yup, how true of a man of God. I’d been a pastor’s wife for thirty-four years. Not only did I know my husband’s heart and mind well, but I also had known many pastors and missionaries. The description could be said of most of them. They were indeed holy and uptight.

While these lovely servants have many blessings from the Lord and from those they serve, they also receive a good bit of criticism from people who have hidden agendas and unnamed expectations.

My husband was often teased about his one-day-a-week job. One day a week, my eye. His responsibilities had no end, and he took them seriously. Every morning, he had to pick and choose from a list of meetings, home and hospital visits, and counseling appointments—as well as find time for study and prayer. Then he had to carve out time with his family and for himself—which he did by walking in the woods or grubbing in the garden.

I remember one troubled church we served where I was critical of the elders. One day during my devotion, I was reminded by the Spirit that I spent more time putting them down than I did praying for them. They immediately went on my prayer list. My attitude began to change as I consistently brought them before the Father by name.

Our godly leaders need our prayers, support, and encouragement. Take time to send your pastor, his wife, or a missionary family a note to let them know you are thinking of and praying for them. If you hear someone criticize them, speak a word of support or choose to step out of the conversation.

Pray today for your holy and uptight leaders. They will be blessed—and so will you.

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Passport Dilemma

The money cupboard was bare. 

Finances were available in my home bank, but I couldn’t access them from the missionary base overseas. My passport was expiring. Even though my duration to stay was confirmed, my financial situation looked dismally uncooperative.

Many short-term missionaries slept around me, and it was a challenge to remain silent about my dilemma. It was time to trust God to come through. By an act of faith, I had made an appointment with the consulate to renew my passport the next day. Surprisingly, I fell asleep and experienced total peace. God usually knows something I don’t.

Awakening fresh and ready to go—and after a quick prayer—I swung my legs over the side of the bed. As I did, my hand touched the small bedside table. I felt something that wasn’t there the night before: a stack of money.

Underneath the money, I found a small hastily written card. It read, “As we were leaving for our flight home early this morning, Father God told us to gather all our note money and give it to you. We did not know if you have a need but He does.”

Even though believers supplied the finance, the gift came from the Father in heaven. This is why the apostle Paul said, My God will meet all your needs. Then when he said, according to his glorious riches, Paul was stating God had an abundant supply and was more than able to provide.

Often in life, we don’t know what to do, and there seems no solution in sight. But God knows. He is looking out for our needs, wanting us to trust Him to be there for us—to bring an answer. He is never late, seldom early, but always on time.

If you’re struggling with a financial situation beyond your control, don’t be anxious and worried. And don’t try to solve the dilemma yourself. Trust Father God instead.

Lean on God’s provision. He is more than capable to meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

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Thanks to God

The Pilgrims who survived the first year in Plymouth were grateful for their neighbors.

Without the help of the Wampanoag Tribe, the Pilgrims would not have lived through their first winter. English speaking Squanto befriended the weary travelers and the next spring taught them vital gardening skills. Chief Massasoit allied with the Pilgrims and provided the extra food the colony needed for the first few years.

Fast forward with me. On my way to indulge in a manicure, the red warning light on the gas gauge lit up. I swerved into the station to fill up and drove past a man standing beside his van. He held a cardboard sign that read, “Out of work. Need food.” A woman leaned from the passenger seat while two little girls sat in the back.

From the other side of the gas pump, a man called to the sign holder, “Hey, buddy, come over here and I’ll fill your tank.” This gentleman’s influence prompted me to help. Then another truck pulled alongside the van. Before the family left, they had cash, a full tank, and bags of groceries.

When Jesus sat with Peter and asked him to feed his lambs, there were no qualifiers. Jesus didn’t say feed the lambs if they prove they’re needy … or as long as you feel safe. He said, “Feed my lambs.”

Squanto, Massasoit, and the Wampanoag Tribe helped a group of strangers—teaching and supplementing their food until they were independent. A stranger passed through my territory, and God presented an opportunity for me.

Opportunities to give to faceless causes come every day through mail, phone calls, and television. Pray you’ll recognize the opportunities God has planned for you.

Experience the joy and contentment that come from giving.

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A Personal Sacrifice

Jesus knew my name as He hung on the cross.

My eyes burned as tears filled my eyes. I struggled to focus on the road, daydreaming as I traveled a road I’d driven hundreds of times before. The truth that Jesus knew my name washed over me like the warmth of the sun’s rays breaking from behind a cloud. I had come face-to-face with my Lord. The fact of Jesus’ love was no longer a religious teaching, but an inescapable truth that He was my personal Savior. I could imagine Christ, the gatekeeper, calling my name—His voice traveling thousands of years to reach my ears.

Jesus, fully man yet fully God, knew each of our names as He hung on the cross. He calls us by name and longs for us to follow Him. His desire is for us to know Him intimately so we are hope-filled and moved to teach others about His love.

Just like daydreaming while driving a familiar route, fight to stay alert and focused while on this journey. Read Scripture with the Holy Spirit’s help to renew your mind. Your faith doesn’t have to become mundane. God’s Word is alive and active. Allow it to refresh you. Let the truth that Jesus knows you and calls you by name shake you free from your autopilot faith.

Hear Christ call your name and follow Him daily by saying, Here am I Lord. May your unfailing love cover me. Remind me, Lord, to seek your guidance, and give me a longing to do your will.

Let God protect you from the wolves of routine, familiarity, and boredom.

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Trust God's Plans

I rested on the exam table, held my husband’s hand, and waited for the results.

The ultrasound technician squirted warm gel on my stomach and began moving the wand. My husband and I waited to hear whether our next baby would be a boy or a girl.

“Dad, sit down!” she said “Do multiples run in your family?”

“Twins?” my husband answered.

“No, not twins. I believe there are three babies,” she answered.

“Triplets?” my husband and I both said in unison.

Our family would grow from three to six children. We laughed, cried, panicked, and prayed over the next several days as the news sank in. God had a plan for our family, and it was far different than we had imagined. We had no choice but to move forward and trust He would equip us for the journey.

Jesus revealed God’s plan to His closest friends prior to His following through with it. The news that He would be rejected, suffer, die, and rise again after three days was difficult for the disciples to accept and understand. But the suffering and pain He went through were planned since creation by His Father in heaven. Jesus accepted this plan so we could have eternal life with Him in heaven.

We have time and the Bible to help us understand Jesus’s sacrifice today, but this was a new and scary concept for the disciples. When Jesus reveals his plans to us, we can respond with denial, reluctance, fear, and arguments, like the disciples. Or we can trust and obey, knowing our trustworthy God has a plan for us. We don’t always understand what Jesus reveals, but we know He sees the big picture.

Rest assured the God who made such a great sacrifice knows what’s best for you. 

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Building with Green Wood

Growing up in a carpenter union president’s home, I heard many interesting stories about building construction. The one about green wood is my favorite. 

Some of Dad’s chief enemies were non-union builders who used materials a union builder would never use. In one large tract of houses, he found a carpenter’s horror story. When the builder framed the more than 200 houses, he used green (not dried) two by fours. The sheetrock was nailed on the cheaper green studs, and the houses were then nailed up and completed.

Summer in Fresno came with its usual 100 degree plus temperatures and dried out the green wood. All of the initial good-looking houses—which people now lived in—had interior walls that looked like the wavy mirrors at a side-show. Dad was somewhat glad for the free publicity for buying union homes, but since the Lord had recently changed his heart, he also felt sorry for the people.

Growing up in my father and grandfather’s world of construction—and becoming a carpenter myself for three years—I didn’t know much except the construction approach to life. Then I started reading the Bible and was attracted to the fact that Jesus was a carpenter. I read about the master carpenter, Noah, and also about the building of the Tower of Babel—as well as many other accounts.

One of my favorite construction pieces was about building a house on sand—something no experienced carpenter would do—and about the predictable results. Only a dummy would build a house without a proper foundation.

Jesus is the rock I want to build my life on every day, I thought. My house will be secure as I watch this confused world try to live on a slippery slope. I often think the devil is also a builder—one who specializes in deceiving buyers into purchasing buildings that look good on the outside but have black mold hiding in the walls.

As you build your life, don’t pay the consequences of not using proper building materials.

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Grasping after the Wind

It’s much better to dwell on what you have rather than on what you don’t have. Doing otherwise can lead to a life-long journey of trying to grasp something you can never obtain.

The famous commentator Matthew Henry once said, “People who are always content even if they have very little are much happier than people who are always craving more even if they have much.”

Dreams can be powerful things. God often gives them to people—and they’re strong motivators, but we must make sure they’re from God and not from our own imagination. 

Dwelling on what we don’t have is a recipe for frustration and discontentment. God often gives us more, but it’s usually never enough when fixated on what we lack. A wealthy man once replied, “Just a little more,” when asked how much money was enough.

Taking a vow of poverty isn’t the solution either. We usually exchange one craving for other, giving up earthly pleasures but replacing them with striving after personal piety. This substitutes one fleshly pursuit for another.

Finding fulfillment in anything but God is like pursuing a mirage. It looks good from a distance, but when you get there, it’s gone—and you find yourself grasping after the wind.

Find satisfaction in what you have—not in the fantasy of what you don’t possess.

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Does the Sign or Shepherd Matter?

I waited for a sign from God about my calling for a long time.

I joke that God would need to use neon lights or drop my calling into my lap. Unless it was obvious, I’d probably miss it. So I spent three years praying the same prayer repeatedly, wondering if God heard me and thinking if I was in deep connection with Him, the calling should be pronounced.

I tried to see only what I wanted to see, thinking I knew best—wanting to know the whole plan instead of being obedient in the small things He sent my way. I thought if it was His will for me, it would be easy and have minimal risk.

How I respond to the sign—rather than the sign itself, is the bigger deal. My calling isn’t about me, but God. He is more concerned about my growth and dependence on Him than on my comfort. His purpose matters more than my plan.

When I think I need a sign, following certain tips aligns me with God’s will. I spend daily devotional time with Him, slowing down so I can accept the small steps He sends my way. When I get frustrated, I accept that I need more growing rather than thinking it’s not my calling.

Meeting with God keeps me from making mistakes and having mishaps. I know He has me right where He wants me. It might not be where I think I should be, but He is Jehovah Rohi. God is my Shepherd and knows what is best for me—along with the calling that fits me to a “T.”

Press on, press through, and focus on the Shepherd.

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A Sprinkle of Salt

Salt on an ice cream cone is not on my list of Top Ten Favorite Foods.

My sister-in-law, Chris, and I walked across the hot plaza parking lot to a McDonald’s. She had an ice cream cone in mind. The clerk was sullen and gave us no eye contact when we ordered. But I noticed the unusual name on her tag—something like Denisethia.

I tried to pronounce her name and asked if I was correct. I received a mere nod. Then I commented on how pretty it was and received a hint of a smile. Still no eye contact.

I laughed and asked, “Do people have a hard time spelling your name?” She was more verbal but still sullen.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “I gave up a long time ago on anyone getting it right.”

I told her we had named our daughter Ann Elyse and, as a youth, she had kept a plastic box with strips of paper, recording the different ways people had spelled it.

Finally the clerk was engaged. Standing at the ice cream dispenser, she looked over her shoulder at me and said, “That’s a pretty name. How do you spell it?”

When I told her, she said, “No hyphen?”

“No hyphen,” I replied.

“Pretty name. Where did you get it?”

Now she was at the counter, handing Chris her cone and looking right at us.

“We got it from a movie that God used to turn us around to Him,” I replied as I circled my finger 360 degrees. Her face lit up and we got a big smile. Salt sprinkled … demeanor changed … 360 degrees.

She said a friendly “Good-bye” as we left the shop.

I smiled, thinking, “Good-bye means ‘God be with you.’” And I prayed, “God be with you, Denisethia.”

Paul tells us to sprinkle our conversation with salt. Sometimes that seasoning may fall in an unanticipated spot. But the results of this seasoning are left to the work of the gentle Holy Chef.

Sprinkle some salt today.

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Grace Happens

Busted! I knew he was coming after me as soon as I saw him turn on the flashing lights and pull up behind my car.

Although the cruise control had kept me close to the speed limit for most of the trip, I somehow managed to fly by the state trooper, traveling fifteen miles over the speed limit.

“Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going? May I see your driver’s license and registration?”

It’s interesting how simple questions can cause a near heart attack. We both knew I was guilty. Waiting in my car for the officer to write the ticket, I prayed, cried, and almost vomited. I was without excuse. The longer he delayed, the lower my spirits sank.

When he finally returned, I could hardly believe my ears. “I’m going to cut you a break and give you a warning. Drive carefully now.”

I didn’t deserve the grace the officer gave me that day. I should have gotten a hefty fine. But his words didn’t go unheeded. The safest driver on Interstate 80 that afternoon was me. When the cruise control kicked off and the speedometer creeped up, I slowed down. I had no desire to get stopped again, and wanted to be safe. But what motivated me was the state trooper giving me a second chance. Even though he would never know, I wanted to “live out” my gratitude.

Grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness. Laws are necessary, but the law can’t change us. It keeps us in line and protects us. Grace, however, moves from the inside out. It’s fueled by gratefulness. We don’t want to let down the One who “cut us a break.” Not if we know how guilty we are. Tim Keller says grace becomes electrifying as we see the true depths of our flaws.

Thank God none of us are receiving what we deserve.

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Pushing Red Buttons

I stood in front of the public showers at the state campground waiting for my nine-year-old son.

When West finally stepped out twenty minutes later, I asked him what had taken so long.

“I didn’t know how to get the shower started,” he replied.

“You just push the red button,” I told him.

“I know, Mom. Somebody finally showed me what to do, but I didn’t want to push it. Bad things always happen when you push the red button.”

After regaining my composure, I considered my son’s dilemma. West feared pushing the red button would cause disaster, but doing so was necessary to get a fresh, clean body that would be ready for a day of adventure.

Fear can keep us from taking steps. Even when God’s leading is clear, we are often immobilized by fear of the unknown and a certainty we know better than He does. We spend more time considering possible catastrophes lurking around corners than moving forward in faith—counting on God’s grace to bless and even pick us up when we fall.

Perhaps your unknown is something big, like accepting a new job opportunity or saying yes to a ministry that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Maybe your anxiety involves a smaller challenge, such as following God’s nudging to invite a new neighbor over for coffee or joining a Zumba class to move toward a healthier lifestyle.

Whatever the unknown, our tendency toward fear and self protection does not come from God. He instructs us not to fear, but to move forward in boldness while counting on His help.

Don’t avoid the red buttons or waste years considering every possible scenario. Ask God to hold your hand and help you push them.

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Moving On

For the good of her baby, she moved on with her life.

My friend, Joan, chose to move on after a heartbreaking period in her life. She had become pregnant while single, and the baby’s father had deserted her. Unable to provide a home and necessities for her baby, she made the difficult decision to put her son up for adoption. He was adopted by a financially comfortable couple.

Jacob was married to sisters, Leah and Rachel. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, and he favored her over Leah. As Rachel gave birth to her second son, she died in the birthing process. Jacob was left to grieve for the woman he had loved.

After a time of mourning, Jacob moved on by leaving the place where Rachel’s life had ended and moving to another land. After Jacob chose to move on, God continued to guide him throughout his life. He became the father of twelve sons and was blessed with a long life. 

You may have been forced to move on when your spouse died, leaving you alone after many years of marriage. Or perhaps the comfortable home where your children were born and grew up became too large. Silence echoed through each empty room, and you made the hard decision to move to a smaller home or an assisted-living apartment.

Several years after Joan surrendered her son for adoption, she became a Christian. Today, she is a senior citizen and a vibrant Christian.

When we must make difficult decisions to move on, God will guide us in our life’s adjustments if we surrender our will to Him and allow Him to guide us. Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to give you hope and a future.”

Trust God’s leading in all of your moving-on times.  

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Get a Grip

Self-control was the last thing I wanted to exercise. My hackles were up, and my mouth was ready to spill all the toxic contents in my heart—something that’s happened more times than I care to remember.

Self-control and patience are probably the least favorite and least talked about fruits of the Spirit. We want the rest—love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness—but we fail to acknowledge our need for the two that hold all the others together, causing them to work according to God’s plan. They’re like bookends that keep the rest firmly in place.

The problem comes when we want to live our life without parameters, doing things our way instead of God’s way. This generally produces a life ruled by emotions. I’ve heard it said that the mark of true spiritual maturity is a life characterized by discipline—not impulse.

The Greek word for self-control (egkrateia) means to have command or mastery over one’s own behavior. One author says it comes from another word that means “to grip.”

I’ve learned the hard way that we have to get a grip on spending habits, overeating, and any unhealthy addictions. We need to get a grip on our thought life, the words that come out of our mouth, and our attitude toward others. Whatever causes us to stumble and keeps us from pleasing the Lord needs reining in. This happens by seeking the Lord, saturating ourselves with His Word, and exercising patience and self-control … and it all begins with a decision.

Getting a grip sounds like a difficult task, but it’s doable because God gives us the tools we need for victory in our daily Christian walk.

If you’re tired of living a life ruled by impulse and emotion, maybe it’s time to get a grip.

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Unexpected Calling

I never planned on being a mother.

Though I now have F-O-U-R children, I remember asking my husband before our marriage ceremony, “Are you SUUUUURE you’re okay with not having children?” Five years later, God showed us He had other plans. Of all people to choose to be a mother, I was sure there was some mistake. God must have been confused.

Gideon probably thought the same thing. While threshing wheat in a winepress, an angel of the Lord told Gideon he would “strike down all the Midianites.” He even saluted him as “mighty warrior.” But Gideon was a farmer. Oops. Gideon may have laughed, but God was sincere. Gideon felt the need to remind God, “But my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least of my family.” The lowest of the low in terms of athletic feats and expectations. The underdog.   

But God was not confused.  He told Gideon he would be successful, not because of his traits or abilities but because “I will be with you.” I’m sure Gideon felt overwhelmed and confused. He had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. But in God’s time and in God’s fashion, He supplied Gideon’s needs.

Like Gideon, I asked the Lord many times if there was a mixup. “Why me?” I wasn’t organized, and I didn’t feel I was a nurturing person. I didn’t desire the calling being prepared before me.

Sometimes the task God has before us seems daunting—a weird fit—one we might never choose. But God doesn’t see how man sees. He sees a king in a shepherd, a queen in an orphan, a mighty warrior in a lowly farmer, and a mother in an independent woman.  The calling God has for us might look nothing like our current role or situation, but it is still His call.

When doubts arise, look no further than God’s promise to be with you. 

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Come Out of the Closet

She’d been in the closet for five years. Now she was coming out.

Collecting old picture frames with photos of unknown dead people is a hobby my wife doesn’t particularly appreciate. She does love the old frames with the ornate handiwork and will gladly replace the dead person with a modern piece of art.

This particular closet dweller hung on my office wall for three years, eyes following everyone who looked at her regardless of where they stood. Then we moved to our current residence, and my wife said, “No dead people hanging on our walls—except in your office.” But my dead girl with the roving eyes wasn’t even allowed there. I convinced my wife not to sell her. Instead, she stuck her in a closet.

One day when I came home from work, I found my girl leaning against a bookshelf. My wife had cleaned the closet in my study.

“Why is my dead girl picture out of the closet?” I asked.

“I have a place on the wall you can hang her.” And she did. Now as I walk in every morning, her wandering eyes greet me. I’m glad she got to come out of the closet.

Jesus doesn’t like closet dwellers either. He wants our lights—our good deeds, to shine brightly before others. Putting a light under a cover or shielding it only dims the light or extinguishes it altogether.

The light I have as a believer is my testimony of what Christ has done in my life, as well as how I act out daily the difference He has made. I don’t have to preach a sermon to tell others what He has done. Because of the snippet-world technology has created, I need to shorten my testimony to the bare essentials so I can share it in a minute or two.

But what I say isn’t nearly as important as what others see. Words mean little without actions to back them. God gives me numerous opportunities to act out my faith in practical ways. And I’ll see them if I ask Him to give me a gentle nudge when He sends them my way.

Don’t hide your faith. Come out of the closet.

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Acceptance and Love

Rejection is painful.

Rejection from someone is common: a parent, friend, sibling, coworker, or significant other. The experience can create feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and even anger.

But God promises nothing can come between us and Him. 

Imagine the worst thing you have done—the thing you are most ashamed of. Not even our deepest, most humiliating secrets can cause a loving God to reject us. We have security in knowing that no matter what, He will always accept us.

Now, imagine a time when you felt secure, comfortable, and worry free. You felt you could rest peacefully and know everything would be fine. The safest place we can imagine on earth does not compare to the acceptance and love we can feel from our Father in heaven.

We have the confidence that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not our bad choices, other people, or anything in all creation. He will never reject, but always accept. He will never walk away, but always walk beside. He gives us security and safety. All He asks is that we trust and accept Him.

Let go of the rejections you have felt in this life, and put your trust in God’s promise of acceptance and love.

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Discipleship Looks Different for Everyone

Spiritual mentoring looks different for everyone.

My younger brother surrendered his life to the Lord a year ago. God ignited a spiritual awakening in him after he suffered a personal catastrophic event. Since then, he has been growing in Christ.

Periodically, he calls me from Indiana with questions from the Bible. These conversations are exciting, especially since I’ve been the sole believer in my immediate family for thirty years. At the same time, his questions challenge me. Some I can answer, but others I can’t because I still don’t understand some things in the Bible myself.

After one of our iron-sharpening-iron conversations, it dawned on me that I was discipling my brother over the phone. I was discipled by a pastor’s wife. For me, discipleship entailed weekly meetings where a structured Bible study taught me the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Jesus charged His followers to make disciples of all nations. Jesus’ original followers were to find anyone who would listen and then share His love, forgiveness, grace, and truth. They were also to teach the new converts how to obey His commands.

Jesus left the logistics of “discipling” open to interpretation. While discipling in ancient Israel involved meeting with a Rabbi for structured teaching times, discipling today can involve formal and informal teaching. A structured time of Bible study or a casual conversation over a cup of coffee—or over the phone.

We are discipling when we teach others about Jesus Christ, help them learn His ways, point them in the direction of true righteousness and holiness, and encourage them to walk worthy of the gospel.

Experience the joy of discipling others—however you choose to do it.

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Above the Clouds

An overnight storm left its overcast, gloomy skies, making my drive to the airport rainy and messy.

Upon arriving at the airport, I waited for an eternity trying to get through security. Missing my flight would be the icing on the cake for this “beautiful” day. The gloomy weather, coupled with my long wait, put me in an awful mood. I was still grumpy when I finally boarded the plane. The seat was by the window, and I could see the ground crew waving their orange cones as the plane was pushed from the gate.

After taxiing in the rain, the pilot finally announced we were next in line for takeoff. The engine’s thrust hurtled us down the runway and pushed me back into my seat. Since it amazes me how something so earthbound can take such a heavenly flight, I strained my neck to look out the window. I saw the dark clouds blanketing everything. Raindrops streamed across the window obscuring my view.

Then the plane broke through the clouds, and brilliant sunlight reflecting on the dazzling white clouds almost blinded me. These were the same clouds that looked menacing and depressing from below.

Life’s storms can roll in, bringing gloomy skies that surround us. From our earthbound perspective, hope seems lost. We become discouraged, depressed, and sometimes grumpy. But above the clouds awaits a fresh, bright outlook. The sun is shining.

My experience was a divine reminder. No matter how large my problems seem, no matter how insurmountable the task, no matter how bleak the future appears, I'm only seeing the bottom half of the clouds.

When Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes,” He was telling us to get a different perspective. He wants us to view things as He sees them and to trust Him with our cares and troubles. From His viewpoint, though the storms rage in your life, the sun is still shining. He is still in control, and the clouds will pass.

Learn to see things from God’s perspective: above the clouds where things look differently.

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Star Numbers

Believing random chance is responsible for life on earth is beyond the amount of faith I possess.

Reading a book on the origin of human intelligence by James Rollins, I discovered some mathematical and biological information that caused a brief dip into my graduate statistic courses I took while earning my PH.D. Rollins made these items so practical and interesting that I wondered whether or not random chance was a fantasy.

The numbers 37 and 73 are “mirrored prime numbers.” They were called “star numbers” by mathematician Kircher. He used “gematria” (a Babylonian numerology system adopted by the Hebrews) when interpreting numbers used in the Bible and decided 37 was fundamental to understanding the Scriptures. He found if you convert the Hebrew word for “wisdom” into its cabalistic equivalent, you get the numerical value of 37.

If you take Genesis’ first line and convert it to cabalistic numbers you get 2,701 which are the mirrored primes multiplied together (2701=37 times 73). These are “Star numbers.” Such a discovery seems beyond pure statistical chance.

Nearly all life on earth uses DNA as its coding material, but there is a code within that code—one beyond mutation. It’s the complex rules that govern how DNA produces proteins. Recently, a set of symmetries was discovered buried in that code—a pattern based on the multiples of 37. Also, the atomic mass of the 20 amino acids that make up our bodies is a multiple of 37. The odds of that pattern emerging by random chance have been calculated as one out of a decillion—1 followed by 33 zeros. Another interesting fact is that the human body’s normal temperature is 37 degrees Celsius.

Further, during a total solar eclipse of the Moon, the Moon fits exactly over the surface of the Sun. This happens because the Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun while sitting 1/400th of the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The current Big Whack Theory can’t explain these precise figures.

Intelligent design seems to be a logical conclusion for the existence of life on earth and is the reality behind any invention people can evidence.

Let God’s Word teach you where life came from and what’s its purpose is. 

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Drifting

I drift. Up at six a.m. to pray, I acknowledge the Lord and thank Him for the day. But as I begin to lay concerns at His feet, I find my mind on events that happened yesterday, ten years ago, or on things I have to do today. “Focus!” I warn myself, pulling my mind back from the drift.

The Drifters topped the musical listening chart in the 1960s. With the Drifters, I drifted “Under the Boardwalk” or “Up on the Roof.” I liked the few mental minutes of checking out of the important things to a sandy beach away from the crowds and close to the clouds.

The Drifters planted in me a desire to put the world and its issues behind and drift off. That tendency spilled over into my spiritual life. The drift took over my daily activities too. My list of “must-dos” for the day is honed and intentional: read my Bible, call someone I’ve been avoiding, clean the front closet, spend more than ten minutes with the Lord, mind my mouth, write a few pages of that book I’ve been meaning to write. But my living drifts from what I want or should do.

Then I read about God, the ultimate antithesis of drifting. He has had a plan since the beginning of time. He is unmoved by circumstances and concentrates on those He created and loves. Every bit of God wants every bit of us. His plan hinges on the death of His Son, Jesus, and He never driftes. God focuses on loving, forgiving, dying, and conquering death through His Son’s resurrection.

God’s eyes, ears, and attention are toward you. Don’t drift from Him. 

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Hiding in Plain Sight

“Ready or not, here I come!” yelled my granddaughter as she uncovered her eyes and set out to find her two brothers and me. Silently, I squatted behind the Barbie playhouse.

Seconds earlier, her three-year-old brother ran to the same play area behind the couch. Spotting the Fisher Price kitchen set, he opened the oven door on the left and started to crawl in. Realizing he was not going to fit, he twisted his body sideways and attempted to squeeze through the stove into the side below the sink. With a couple of seconds to spare, he opened the door and peered out from under the sink; his legs and bottom sticking out the opposite side. 

I muffled a soft giggle. My grandson looked up and saw me watching. His face lit up and a smile emerged just as his sister finished counting and announced she was on her way to find us. He stood quietly, grinning at me, eyes sparkling, thinking because part of him was hidden inside the stove that the rest of him would not be seen. As his sister bounded onto the couch and looked over the edge, she spotted her brother. “I found you!” she squealed, eliciting a shriek of laughter from her brother.

As I considered the scene, I laughed at its absurdity. I’m just like my grandson when I attempt to hide myself or my actions, thinking no one will see me. Yet all the while, God is watching and knows what I’m doing all the time.

The choices I make not only affect me but may also affect others and my relationship with God. My actions and choices should honor God, not make Him sad. He is a loving Father and wants what’s best for me.

Make sure you’re ready when God announces, “Ready or not, here I come!” 

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In Case of Fire

Fire Prevention! Caution! Danger! Each word signals a warning about the peril of fire.

Natural fires have claimed the lives of countless individuals and caused great loss, changing some lives permanently. Fire can be a harmful, evil, and destructive enemy.

When the Bible speaks of fire, it does so for spiritual purposes. God used fire to lead Moses and the children of Israel during the night as they traveled through the wilderness. Peter spoke of fiery trials that test our character: hardships, death, and illnesses.

Fire is also a purifying method God uses to make us more like Jesus. The biblical analogy refers to a blacksmith who first hammers steel and then melts it to liquid gold. A process that requires scrapping off the dross which rises to the top. God also sends His fire through situations and the conviction of the Holy Spirit to cleanse and purify our hearts and minds.

As we experience the heat of God’s fire, we should not worry or fret. It’s simply God’s precautionary measure to make us more like Jesus. He’s burning up those things that aren’t like Him. Actions and mindsets ingrained from our sinful nature. Useless things which bear no fruit.  God’s fire does a great work for His glory. 

Don’t be afraid to ask God to send His fire in your life.

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Have a Plan and Finish It

Today it’s called multi-tasking. Recently, the media coined a phrase, “super-tasking.” Usually, that means you’re a high achiever—able to begin and do many tasks at once. Sounds like too many cowboys in the corral to me.

Many obstacles frame our path every day. Being busy is one thing, but being busy without a goal to achieve is another. Many days, I’ve sat and wondered about my situation and my family’s future. But only when I rise up and take hold of the job at hand, do I ever accomplish my goal. There is a saying I learned a long time ago, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” Over the years, I have seen that statement in action. Many people may say to you, “I’ll help,” but they never show up when it is actually time to work.

To a cowboy, multi-tasking is ridin’ and ropin.’ Christ’s work was finished on the cross. Death was defeated, and sin no longer rules our lives. The price was paid whether you accept it or not. The job for you to finish is to take His gift of salvation and put it to work in your life daily. As you finish this dance called life, you will be greeted by your heavenly Father who will say, “Your work is finished. Well done my good and faithful partner. Enter into my house and receive your rest.”

Find out what God’s plan is for you, and then finish it. 

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Taking God at His Word

Three months into my new job, I was overwhelmed.

The fast pace demanded by my new job, as well as the long hours, took its toll on me. More than I could live with. I considered leaving but didn’t have another source of income—nor the energy to look for another job. So I prayed, asking God to show me whether He wanted me to stay or go. And if He wanted me to go, I needed to know where.

He told me to leave work and move near my family. They lived across the country. Really God?  You want me to move? I asked. I kept praying but heard no answer from Him. I called my family and told them what He’d said. Their reaction confirmed I should go. I’d have a place to stay.

With no job, friends, or church in South Carolina, I didn’t know what would happen, but I stepped out on faith. Less than a year later, I’d discover why God moved me. I needed my family’s support and care when medical problems arose that changed my life forever. God knew that would happen. He put the details in place so that when I needed them, we could weather the storm together.  

If you think God is calling you to do something—even if you’re nervous, trust Him and step out on faith. God knows your future, and He’ll show you His plan as you walk with Him one step at a time. 

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Water Bottle Lesson

Could I really learn a lesson from a landfill?

We live in the Adirondack Mountains in the midst of beautiful pine and birch trees, and in a quaint town with little traffic. We have everything we need in our town: a drugstore, clinic, library, grocery store, and the best hairdresser I’ve ever had. But we have to fend for ourselves in some areas. Like collecting our trash and recyclables and taking them to the town landfill.

Since moving here two years ago, I’ve followed the list of rules given to us when we first arrived. Different items go in different bags. Glass jars need to be washed out, and plastic bottles need to be rinsed and have the labels removed. I don’t mind the rinsing, but getting the labels off is a pain. I must have taken five hundred labels off our water and Diet Coke bottles (not to mention my husband’s Mountain Dew bottles).

Then one day my husband came home from the landfill and said, “Shar, you don’t have to take the labels off the bottles.”

“What?” I asked. “Who said?”

“Tom. He laughed when I told him how frustrated you get with those labels. He said they take them off. It’s part of their job, I guess.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, not quite believing this good news. “The list says I’m supposed to do it.”

“That’s what Tom said—and he’s the boss.”

At first I felt guilty, throwing the bottles into the recycle bin without removing the labels. After all, I had to earn my right to the landfill, didn’t I? But after a while, I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to earn it. It was like an unexpected, unreciprocated gift.

Having someone else remove the labels made me think of the gift God gave us—but not nearly reaching its magnitude. He gave His Son and exchanged our sins for His righteousness—the gift of being whiter than snow, even though we didn’t have to do a thing to deserve it. Our faith in receiving the gift was all that was needed.

Receive God’s free gift and get a wonderful, freeing feeling.

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Walking with the Supernatural

While our lives aren’t always fairy tales with happy endings, we can believe the supernatural is working all around us.

Fairy tales and fantasy. In both, the main characters face an overwhelming task or obstacle, one that would seemingly lead to their demise. But just when it appears all is lost, a supernatural event occurs. The straw is spun into gold, the magical kiss awakens the sleeping beauty, or the goose lays a golden egg.

Instead of viewing conflicts and pitfalls as paths to our ultimate ruin, we can embrace them as opportunities for God to step in and save. In 2 Peter 2:5-8, we read about two supernatural acts God performed: the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Peter is quick to remind us that in the midst of terror, God miraculously delivered His people.

God instructed Noah to build the ark, and He allowed Lot to escape Sodom and Gomorrah. In other Scriptures, we read that He closed lions’ mouths, parted the Red Sea, saved believers from the flames, caused the blind to see, and raised people from the dead. The supernatural was alive then and still is today.

When we walk with God, we acknowledge He holds the power to save us from the storms of life. We can have faith that the trials we are facing are not the end. Where our limits end, God begins. The same God who provided miraculous plot twists in the Bible is longing for us to hand over our stories for Him to write.

Hand God the pen, and let him author the next chapter of your life. Who knows where His plot will take you.

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Living with Riches

Should my wife and I jump in our car and speed away from luxury?

Recently my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in Mexico. We were staying at the Mayan Palace Resort in Rocky Point, Mexico, but had been blessed to receive an unexpected upgrade to the Grand Mayan section of this luxurious resort. We were happy campers.

Standing on the balcony of our fourth floor suite looking over the valley the resort owns, I also looked down on their several-mile-long private beach. I was thankful but also concerned about what I had read in my red-letter edition Bible the night before. Jesus had said it was possible for the comforts a person receives during this life to be their portion of comforts.

I began to calm down a bit when I remembered that any verse taken out of context is a pretext. Thinking over the context of Luke 6—and perusing other verses in God’s Word about blessings—made me feel better.

I knew the path to salvation was found in John 3:16, so the issue wasn’t being saved by being a flagellant. (They beat themselves to gain God’s favor.) However, Jesus did say we needed to guard against greed because even when we have abundance, our life does not consist in our possessions. Yet all good gifts come from God, and thankfulness should rule in our hearts and minds.

Feeling better as I began to experience balance, I told my wife about my thoughts as we walked on the beach and picked up shells that are normally only found in shell shops. We understood that good gifts are a natural thing from our heavenly Father. He is love, and love gives naturally.

Perhaps the key word in the issue of prosperity—or the lack of—is contentment. Paul learned to be content in whatever condition he found himself. Abiding in our relationship with Jesus and knowing our Father knows best, answers the question of prosperity.

Chose humble thankfulness, and cancel pride, jealousy, and materialism.

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Recipe for Living in Love

Of all the recipes available, one stands out among the rest.

Since June is the month of marriages—according to Hallmark and your local florist—it’s a good time to turn to God’s Word for guidance for living in love the way He intends. Whether we are newly in love or experiencing fifty years of love as I am, we all need to learn to love the way God taught us.

Second only to writing about Jesus’ love, cooking is my passion.  For those of you who need a specific recipe to follow, God knew your need. 

Add two heaping cups of Patience

Two hearts full of Kindness

Two hands Rejoicing in the Truth, (not delighting in Evil)

Two cups of Generosity, (without any Envy, Boasting, or Rudeness)

One large dish of Unselfishness, (not easily Angered, keeping no Records).

Always mix in several quarts of Protection, Trust, Hope, Perseverance.

Spread over your entire lifetime.

Bake in the Joy of our Lord.

Serve to everyone you meet.

If we need direction in a love relationship, God is ready to give it. If the road is rocky after the honeymoon is over, God wants to travel it with you. There are no storms in our love relationships too big for God to calm, soothe, and enrich if we turn to Him. He wrote you a love letter…your Bible…a personal message from Him to you.

Follow God’s recipe for love, and bask in the wonders of living.

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Out-smarted by a Donkey

When God speaks through someone who appears ill-prepared or uneducated, take note.

Balaam was intent on following his own path. God had already told him that he should not go to Balak to curse Israel. Although he responded properly at first, Balak’s messengers persisted. The enemy does not always take our first refusal as final. Balaam continued to ask the Lord if he should go with Balak. The Lord finally agreed, but just because God permits us to do something doesn’t mean He sanctions it. Sometimes He says, “If you want to make a fool of yourself, go ahead.”

God demonstrated His displeasure over Balaam’s actions by sending an angel to block his path. Though Balaam was a great seer of God, he could not see what his donkey could. Ambition and greed always blind us to spiritual realities. The donkey resisted passing the sword-wielding angel, which only made Balaam angry. Often our hindrances are God’s way of protecting us.

Balaam’s anger was a sign of pride and independence. He boasted that he was a man whose eyes had been opened, but God used an animal notorious for its stupidity to speak to him. Of course, God delights in using the foolish things to confuse the wise. God can send His message through whatever type of messenger He chooses, but arrogance always diminishes our spiritual perception.

God often uses unusual things to speak to people. He may be trying to teach you through a donkey.

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Identity Theft

“Congratulations on turning sixty-five!”

I stared in disbelief at the letter I had just received from a life insurance company. Sixty-five? That’s decades away. I laughed, tossing it in the trash. A few weeks later, an invitation to an informational dinner hosted by an assisted living community arrived. Then a letter regarding my alleged upcoming sixty-fifth birthday. Each was from a different source. I began to wonder, Has someone stolen my identity?

I looked closely at the intended recipient. It was addressed to me, but with my maiden name. Memories flooded back. Fifteen years ago, when I was single, my identity was stolen. Months passed before I unraveled the mess and cleared my name. Could this senior citizen mistake be somehow related?

Protecting one’s identity is of great importance, and mine was in question. A similar crisis exists in the spiritual realm for every believer. Our enemy, called “the accuser,” is constantly telling us lies about our identity. He wants us to believe we aren’t really that different from our old selves apart from Christ. He loves to remind us of past sins and present sin struggles. His web of deception can easily entangle us if we believe his lies.

Just as I am neither sixty-five nor single, I am also not the same person I was without Jesus. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a believer, He breathes life into a formerly dead spirit. He breaks the chains of addictive sin, adopts us into His family, and calls us beloved. He forgives every sin and begins a transforming work that He is faithful to complete.

God alone defines our identity. Just as identity theft damages its victims, so believing Satan’s lies about our identity causes us to miss the riches of God’s work in us. Victorious Christian living and intimacy with Christ hinge upon knowing and believing the truth. When we know this truth, astounding freedom is our reality.

What lies are you believing about your identity? Read God’s Word and take note of how He defines you. 

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Thirst for Truth

When truth is defined as what the largest number of people believe and who can outshout others and repeat lies to control the message, the result is distrust of leadership.

God’s character and words are unchanging. Long ago, God chose Israel, delivering them from bondage in Egypt and living among them for forty years in the wilderness. He supplied them with food and water and kept His promises to them, but they wanted to associate with neighboring heathens. Their actions brought God’s judgment. For seventy years, Babylonian kings held them captive until God moved a Persian king named Cyrus to let a remnant return to Jerusalem.

When the exiles arrived in the Promised Land, they saw their city burned and dusty. Ezra, one of their leaders, wanted to rebuild the temple and reinstate sacrificial worship. Nehemiah arrived fifty to sixty years later and rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah led great revivals. The people gathered in the street before the Water Gate where Ezra stood on a pulpit and read the Law of Moses. When he opened the scroll, the people stood and blessed the Lord. Ezra brought understanding to their minds, and God’s truth came down like rain on parched soil.

Ezra’s hearers hadn’t been able to practice their religion in a foreign land and had thirsty souls. The returning exiles were from different generations. The elderly missed Solomon’s magnificent temple. Perhaps the young had heard stories of Israel’s past, but they never saw Jerusalem’s glory days.

God is the “fountain of living waters.” The truth of His Law satisfies thirsty souls. Truth touched the exiles’ hearts and washed them. Fasting brought confession of sin. They wept and worshipped the true God, and then kept the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days.

God is gracious, merciful, and the source of all truth. Come and drink of the water of life.

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He Heals the Broken Hearted

Rejection is the greatest emotional pain we can experience.

We fear that the ones we love the most will face rejection, but what happens when we are the ones who are thrown to the side and discarded. The emotional trauma that comes from losing approval or being betrayed is a pain we all fear. But how does God view rejection and hurt in our lives?

As a pastor, I have experienced betrayal and hurt in my ministry—sometimes from those closest to me. People fill a void of loneliness in our lives, so we allow them to see us in our most vulnerable state—without the charade of perfection we normally put on. We allow them into our thoughts and ideas. Then without warning, the hurt of judgment and rejection comes and leaves a gaping hole.   

To be discarded is to experience a similar suffering as Jesus. The Lord, however, gives restoration and peace. He was crucified by His own people and doubted by His own family. Rejection from family and friends was a pain the Lord felt before us. Only He can restore our hearts and rehabilitate us with His perfect love.

Whenever I’ve been hurt, God has restored my ability to love and trust people. The only requirement is giving Him our hurts in exchange for His love. People often hurt us because they have unhealed wounds of rejection themselves. Stopping the cycle involves giving our hurts to God and seeing beyond the person’s actions. 

We are special to the Lord, and He wants us emotionally and spiritually secure. Hurt will find us all, but the hurt doesn’t have to leave a permanent imprint on our souls.

Allow the Lord to restore your heart today by giving Him your hurt in exchange for His love.  

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A Community of Love

Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. I can still hear the lazy gate of horses’ hooves clicking evenly against the worn pavement just beyond the door of the one-room school house where I taught.

Although it has been over fifteen years, on a warm spring afternoon, my mind can be transported back in an instant to the quiet classroom at the end of a school day. Curtains flutter around open windows, tickled by a soft breeze as it enters the room. Beams of sunlight splash across wooden desks lined up in rows. The pungent smell of surrounding farms permeates the air. Children’s laughter beckons as they play in their yards among colorful gardens and clotheslines. Peace and contentment reside in my heart.

Several years ago, I had the unique experience of teaching in an Amish school even though I was not Amish. In looking back, I believe God purposely placed me in this position among these foreign people to teach me about His love. He knew I would go through a divorce and face some of the most painful and difficult times in my life. During those heart-wrenching days, the Amish led by example and showed me God’s love repeatedly. Even though I was an outsider in their community, they treated me kindly and loved me just the same.

Through those years, I learned that sometimes we don’t always know what lies ahead. And, sometimes, we don’t always know what is going on in someone else’s life. Yet God calls us to love others as ourselves and treat others with kindness. He calls us to accept those who are not like us and to be His hands and feet to them. God calls us to a life of servanthood. 

Whatever your circumstance, be God’s example. Radiate His love to everyone you meet. You never know. You may be the glimpse of God that makes a difference in someone’s life.

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Uniquely You

Both boys are filled with a bundle of potential, but they will never be cookie-cutter images of each another.

One eleven-year-old relative plans, organizes, and sticks with his agenda. Everything has a place, and everything should stay in its place. His father used to rearrange his toys just to catch his reaction. On the other hand, his eight-year-old brother sees no problem with a bit of disorder. As long as he has a good time, who cares? Thus, their parents encourage each to excel in his particular way.

When Jesus called Peter and John to follow Him, their personalities also fell at opposite extremes. Jesus transformed the impulsive, rough-around-the-edges Peter, who denied Him three times, into a powerful evangelist. Peter boldly proclaimed the gospel and gave his life for it. The more introspective and humble John became a writer who exposed false teachers and provided hope to persecuted believers while exiled for his faith.

As Jesus prepared Peter for future ministry and martyrdom, Peter asked about John’s future. Jesus politely, but firmly, told Peter to mind his own business. Jesus would take care of John.

That message remains equally relevant today. Rather than trying to run someone else’s life or imitate their ministry, we need to focus on God’s purpose for our individual lives. To each of us, Jesus says, “You must follow me.” We do so in our own way, according to our God-given talents, abilities, and personalities.

Our challenge is to respect and support one another, work with one another, acknowledge God’s control in our lives and the lives of others, and allow God to mold us into the unique individuals we were created to be.

Be your unique self and allow others to do so as well.

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You Wrecked My Whole Day

When something bad happens, it can take over and hold us hostage.

My daughter, Mickey, was in second grade when some kids in her class were mean to her. She developed an attitude, and if anything slightly irritating happened she would say, “Ah, now you wrecked my whole day.” From then on, she convinced herself that nothing good would happen that day. Every morning she woke up with a beautiful smile and positive attitude, but her attitude could turn upside down because we were out of a certain cereal or because she couldn’t find her favorite tee shirt. Getting her back to seeing the positive parts of the day was difficult.

Unpleasant circumstances can make it hard to concentrate as well as affect our mood, our interactions with others, and our reactions to whatever is going on around us. We can go into self-destruct mode. We worry, want to give up, eat the wrong things, argue or fight, and might turn to medications or alcohol to ease the hurt. None of these reactions are positive. Neither is the wreck-your-whole-day attitude.

What can we do when something upsets our peace? First, don’t let it get to you by internalizing the problem with worry and anger.

Second, remember bad things happen. Deal with the negatives. When someone hit my car, I had to get it fixed, but I was grateful I had insurance to cover it. When trouble comes, be aware of negative reactions that don’t resolve the situation, and remember that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

Finally, don’t give up. Take action and move forward—even if you have to take baby steps. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you will make progress and turn the challenge into a lesson. Make a conscious choice not to let that negative thing take over. Instead, focus on dealing with the issue and move on.

No matter what happens, be sure to remain aware of the blessings and positive things in your life. Remember that nothing is impossible with God. Control your responses and don’t let anything steal your joy. 

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Road Rage

Fists, feet, keys, and knives were frequently used to retaliate against the perceived violator.

As a new police detective many years ago, my first assignment was to handle crimes related to road rage. I was amazed by how many people became indignant following minor traffic faux pas.

My older brother pastors a large church and once had a minor blunder with another motorist who gave him the full bird salute—middle finger extended with the others bowing in prayer hoping to avoid a fight. When the antagonized driver realized he had “flipped off” his pastor, he took his sinful self to another house of worship and was never seen again.

I thought of this incident recently while on a long-distance bicycle ride. Most drivers are very courteous, even fearful of getting too close lest I become a hood ornament. But while crossing an intersection, a man in a hurry cut me off. As I hit my brakes to avoid the collision, he waved his hands apologetically. I returned the wave and smiled, trying to communicate a phrase from the late Los Angeles Lakers basketball broadcaster, Chick Hearn, “No harm, no foul.”

While courtesy on the road differs from hospitality in the home, the principle is the same. I have no reason to doubt a literal interpretation of this verse. If that is the case, how many times have I demonstrated kindness—or mean spiritedness, to one of God’s cherubs?

If we claim to be followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—should prevail. It will consistently triumph when we water our soul with the Word and fertilize our faith with the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Ask God to help you till your heart’s soil so you can be light in a dark world—even during moments of road rage.

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Understanding Anxiety and Depression

Telling a depressed person to stop being depressed is like telling someone who is shot to stop bleeding. 

I suffer from bi-polar depression, but hesitate to admit it because of the stigma associated with mental illness and because Christians often misunderstand it. Depression and other illnesses are not the same as character defects or spiritual disorders. Nor do they result from a lack of faith.

Like the thorn that afflicted the apostle Paul, depression is a common tormenting illness. In a congregation of 500, 140 may suffer from anxiety or depression. Numerous biblical characters experienced it—among them Elijah, Jeremiah, and Jonah.

Depression is usually caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Magnetic resonance imaging can show the differences in the mood centers of the brain of depressed patients. 

Symptoms of depression often include: persistent sad feelings, feeling of hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, difficulty concentrating and remembering details, making decisions, insomnia or over-sleeping, overeating or appetite loss, suicidal thoughts, and aches, pains, headaches, or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment.

People who suffer from a number of these symptoms over a two-week period should visit a medical doctor. As a patient, I’ve found visiting my doctor for a physical check-up to be helpful. Sometimes viruses or thyroid issues can produce depressive symptoms. Rule these issues out.

If you are diagnosed with clinical depression, medications may help.  My medications have generally taken a few weeks to reach a therapeutic level. If one medication does not work, others can be taken. Don’t give up. I have also found psychotherapy effective. One type, “cognitive behavior therapy,” is often used in managing symptoms. Medication and psychotherapy give depression a “one-two” punch, and for many the depression will go into remission.

With God’s grace and peace, your anxiety and depression can be managed. 

Prayer: Whatever our weaknesses, gracious heavenly Father, may they be used for your glory.

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Pruning Grapes

Recently, I visited a beautiful estate garden and learned how workers trim their grapevines.

Pruning grapevines requires tiny sharp manicure scissors. A plaque detailed the intricate process. Cutting off the branches that bore no fruit wasn’t enough. The workers went further and delicately pruned each cluster of grapes. When the grapes were still small and green, they measured the ideal spacing between each of the tiny orbs. Then they used the scissors to carefully cut away individual grapes in each cluster so the remaining fruit could grow large and luscious.

The owner of the vineyard was wealthier than most of us could imagine. Such exacting work required extravagant wealth.  

I then noticed how the workers 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 richer than a wealthy tycoon. He owns all of creation. 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 about cutting away the clearly bad fruit and dead weight. But sometimes, even things like health and security—things that appear good to me—are tenderly trimmed by the Master’s perfect, 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 lovingly preparing you for the feast to come. 

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Sammy's Skateboard

He wanted a Hobie—the Cadillac of skateboards in its day.

Sammy rode down the hill on his skateboard, hair blowing in the wind—a huge smile on his face. I encountered Sammy’s family when I lived in Hawaii in the 1970s. A family who taught me the value of giving God thanks in all things.

Sammy’s mother was a single mom with three children. She struggled financially to make ends meet, so there was little money to buy Sammy a skateboard. This didn’t keep Sammy from dreaming. He wanted a skateboard of his own, and not just any skateboard.

One day, a church family gave Sammy a skateboard. It was old, a bit worn, and not a Hobie. But a skateboard nonetheless. Sammy was grateful. One afternoon, Sammy rode his skateboard down the hill by his house but managed to get separated from his skateboard. The board traveled down the hill without him—straight into a storm sewer. Sammy was horrified. The skateboard wasn’t new, but it was all he had. With no way to get to the skateboard, he came home, forcing back tears. How could God could give him a skateboard and then take it away?

His mom called the city utilities department and explained her dilemma. “Can you send someone to retrieve the skateboard?”

A worker soon arrived, removed the manhole cover, and descended into the drain sewer on his ladder. Within minutes, he returned, holding the skateboard. Sammy and his mom were delighted. They watched as the worker descended into the sewer a second time, only to return grasping a virtually brand-new skateboard—a Hobie.  

“Until someone else claims it, I guess it's yours.”  The utility worker smiled and handed Sammy the skateboard.

God provides for us in the most unique ways. For you, it may not be a new skateboard, but when you place your needs before Him—when you pray believing, God will supply your need. Our problem lies in thanksgiving. Rarely do we take time to offer thanks to our Father who so sweetly notices even the smallest things.

Paul commands us to give thanks—and rightfully so. When God provides, remember His blessings and give thanks.

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Calming the Storm

Spending winters on the gorgeous island of Sanibel, off Florida’s gulf coast, is one of our blessings that brings peace and refreshment.

I watch as the angry sea throws its violent waves at the shore—circling, churning, screaming in rage. Each thrust digs deeper into the ocean floor, dislodging and pitching sea inhabitants far from their nests. Far from their peaceful environment, they are tangled by shredded sea fauna. 

The waters today are much different than yesterday when gentle breezes kissed our cheeks. But we are fortunate to have shelter…to be protected from the storm’s natural wrath…to be living in the shadow of the Most High God. 

Life is similar to the sea—quiet and serene one moment but then suddenly churning, disrupting, and thrashing. We live in a fallen world where evil lets its waters roar and flood us with fear and uncertainty. Where can we go when the storms rage and our hearts bleed? 

According to the psalmist, whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. God is the believer’s refuge and shelter. He is the One who saves us from the fowler’s snare and deadly pestilence. Jesus demonstrated God’s power by calming the stormy seas when His disciples thought the end was near.

Bask in the warmth and breeze on life’s beach, reading God’s Word. Be confident that when those waves crest and roll, God is only a page or a prayer away. Let Jesus quiet your heart. 

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Hold On for the Ride

With his big strong arms and long strides, he’d lean forward, pulling me up the gravel driveway in a wagon piled high with toys. “Hold on! Here we go,” he’d warn.

As a child, I loved to pile my favorite dolls and stuffed animals into my little red wagon, plop myself in the middle of them, and charm my father into pulling me. It was more fun than pushing or pulling someone myself.

The ride was bumpy, but it only added to the adventure. When he turned at the end of the driveway, I’d squeal, “Faster, Daddy, faster!” Then, with the breeze brushing my face, I’d open my mouth wide and say, “Ahh—,” just so I could hear the vibration of my voice as the wagon bounced over the gravel.

The fun always ended too soon―much faster than when I was the one doing the pushing or pulling.

When was the last time you were simply along for the ride? There are times when God requires us to participate in our circumstances, asking us to draw upon His strength as we push or pull through. At other times, He tells us to relax in the process and wait on His timing.

Positioning myself in the presence of my Father through journaling helps me discern my role as I travel through rocky situations. As I write out my concerns and lift them up to God, He reminds me of His love and of how my trials pale in comparison to His unmatched ability to carry my load and pull me through.

Curl up in the middle of God’s presence, pile your troubles on His broad shoulders, and wait for the Holy Spirit’s gentle tug on your heart. Then—hold on. Your Father’s making the turn.

“Faster, Daddy, Faster!”

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Vying for Position

The trees had not finished undressing when my part of the world turned upside down and shook like a giant snow globe. Snowflakes floated everywhere, gliding to the earth and frosting it like a cake—chocolate with thick, white icing. Colorful leaves dropped atop the snow like decorative candy sprinkles. The sun peered over the horizon sending forth her first rays to illuminate the trees. Covered in ice, they glistened like sparkling chandeliers in the early morning sun.

All day long, the seasons vied for position. Fall struggled to stand its ground while winter marched forth with a vengeance. Within a few days, the air would warm, and winter would retreat for a little while longer before fall gave way, completely surrendering to winter’s command. But for this day, winter remained ruthless, not giving fall an inch.

Watching the struggle unfold, I wondered: What is vying for position in my life? Is it earthly matters or spiritual? Am I focused on something I cannot change, or praying about something I can? Do I fill the hours God has given me with thoughts and activities that are pleasing to Him? Or do I allow demons to creep in and camp, taking up residence in my mind? How much time do I spend with God compared to daily activities? 

For me, these questions are sobering. I mean well, but in my humanness, I get pulled in the opposite direction from where I truly want to go. Satan knows me intricately and is proficient at sending distractions, pulling me quickly off course. Despite my good intentions, I never seem able to take control and find my way back.

It is comforting to know the apostle Paul, a great leader in the early church, struggled with the same tug-of-war. In Romans, Paul says the answer is that Jesus Christ can and does set the contradictions of my life right. Paul assures us Jesus understands our humanness and came to make things right.

So the next time something vies for position in your life, stop. Take a deep breath and regroup. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Let Him lead the way. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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False Alarms

A few months ago, I received a letter from a government agency stating that I owed more than $3,000. I was flabbergasted. But in the face of the shock, God wrapped me in His peace. Then He led me to take action: gather all the documents related to what the agency said had caused the presumed shortfall and respond.

Several weeks later, I received two letters from the agency. The first stated they had received my reply and supporting documentation, and that they would contact me within sixty days. The second letter—dated a week after the first—reported “We’re pleased to tell you that the information you provided resolved the issue in question, and our inquiry is now closed.” Above that sentence was written “Amount due: $0.00.”

I dropped to my knees and thanked God, realizing He had a lesson for me in the situation. How many people receive erroneous bills each year and simply pay them because they want to make the situation go away? Similarly, how often do we hide in fear or crumble under the devil’s attacks against us instead of turning to the Lord and wielding our God-given armor?

The psalmist’s lament in Psalm 10 about a physical enemy aptly describes our spiritual adversary’s attacks against us. He threatens, lies, and terrorizes. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when he strikes. But instead of being a pushover, I’m asking God to help me push back—not in my strength but in Christ’s.

When apparent threats and difficulties around you swirl, remember many are merely false alarms—deception from the one God calls the father of lies. Live boldly and confidently in Christ, knowing that He is greater than those who are in the world. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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Jelly-filled Doughnuts

Although running out of powdered-sugar-covered jelly-filled doughnuts may not rank at the top of the list of importance for most, for my 7th grade homeroom, it certainly did.

Our lunch period was the last of three, and while there was plenty of food available in the cafeteria when we arrived, they were always out of what we wanted most: powdered-sugar-covered jelly-filled doughnuts.

It was after our Student Council representative gave her weekly report one day that the cry went up, "We want more jelly doughnuts!"

At first, it was rather humorous. To actually believe we bottom-of-the-rung 7th graders would have our complaints heard and addressed because we wanted more doughnuts? Seriously?

In meeting after meeting, Gabby presented our request for more jelly doughnuts to the Student Council, until finally ... we had more doughnuts. The cafeteria didn't purchase extra. They just took what they had and set aside one third for first lunch, one third for second, and one third for third—us.

Thinking about these doughnuts made me think about a story in the Bible. Jesus and His disciples were in the Tyre and Sidon region when a Canaanite woman approached them. She cried out for Jesus to have mercy on her because her daughter was demon-possessed.

Christ's rather startling response was that He came only to the lost sheep of Israel. Taking the children's bread and tosssing it to their puppies wasn’t right. The woman agreed, but added that even puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table. Jesus commended the woman for her great faith and granted her request.

Now back to the jelly-filled doughnuts. At the beginning of that school year, the cafeteria ladies placed all the doughnuts out before first lunch began. When the doughnuts were gone, they were gone. Leaving none for our third lunch group.

Gabby presented our requests to the powers that be, asking that they include us in the doughnut distribution. Her persistence—and that of the boys in our homeroom who kept requesting, guaranteed we would share in the children's bread.

Jesus came to seek and to save all who are lost—not merely the first ones to the table. What are we doing to make sure everyone has enough jelly filled donuts?

Share His word.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Ministers Have Problems Too

A minister and his wife were plodding through a heartbreaking period, trying to cope with a rebellious daughter. Her history: running away from home and associating with addicts. 

The problem was affecting the other children in the family, and at times frustrations threatened to overwhelm the parents. They kept the concern to themselves, fearing what people would think. One evening during a prayer meeting, the minister decided he’d share his heartache with those present. He began by saying that ministers sometimes have troubles they can’t handle. When a member of the congregation heard this, he replied, “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t like to think ministers have problems. It destroys their image.”

The minister changed the direction of the conversation and locked his anguish into a closet in his heart. In a group where he should have been able to share what he and his wife were going through, he only heard a door slamming shut.

Most ministers do not want to be placed upon a pedestal. They know they have faults and realize they need to allow the Lord to work in their lives. They want to be treated as friends, not as someone who is unreachable and out of touch with reality.

How do we react to our minister? Do we allow him or her to be human, to share problems if they choose, and to have the freedom to share their needs as other members of the congregation enjoy?

Galatians teaches us to carry each other’s burdens. Christian leaders need our prayers, our help, and our willingness to listen. After all, ministers have problems too. Let your church leadership know you are supporting them. Lend an ear, and share the compassion of Christ.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and and dr._evil.)

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Finding Relationship Radar

When I sit in my work chair—laptop in place, at least one cat insists on sitting on my knees. Any time I move my hand toward the handle that tilts the chair down, she immediately jumps to the ground before the chair even moves. She knows that move means I am getting up, so she must go down—voluntarily or not.

The cats, in fact, are attuned to many of my small motions and habits. Walking into the living room in the morning means they'll get food. An outstretched finger means, “Don't scratch that!” and a hand on their paw means “Put those claws in now.” One knows with uncanny accuracy what motions precede me walking out or in the door—since he hopes to make an escape outdoors during those seconds of time.

Pets study us. They follow our motions, and watch and listen to every nuance of their beloved “parent.” Pets align themselves so closely to our lives they know as soon as we make the slightest move where we are going or what we will be doing. They have relationship radar. That helps me understand what Paul is getting at when he suggests we will know the will of God.

Is there some Magic 8 Ball method we can employ to know God's will? People seem to want that. It would make decisions-making so easy. Paul offers a more difficult but much more rewarding method. Get close to God. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Know Him so well you can anticipate where He's going and follow along. Recognize the slightest hint that the Holy Spirit wind is blowing in a particular direction.

Knowing God’s will comes not from fortune telling games but from consistent scripture reading and passionate prayer. It involves renewing one's mind and offering oneself in service every single day. It takes a long period of companionship, not a hurried prayer of, “God, I really need to know Your will for me in this situation.”

If you sit in God's lap long enough, you learn to know when He's going to move.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cheriedurbin.)

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The Round Table

In 1971, during a sociology class on a military base in Spain, my professor asked, “What is the one thing that all Spaniards have in their home?” The answer was a round dining room table. It seems the Spanish are a very social people. If you sit at anything other than a round table, there will be those you cannot see or speak with. The professor also mentioned that children were encouraged to participate in conversation. It’s how they learn to be sociable.

All these years later, I find myself looking at where the pastor stands in our church to give his sermons. It’s behind and encircling a round table that is about forty inches in diameter and stands about four feet high. There is also a chair of appropriate height so he may sit if he so desires.

Matthew’s twenty-sixth chapter takes place at the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Christ instituted the communion by breaking bread and drinking from a common vessel with the disciples. He gathered eleven friends and one enemy in a place where they spoke to each other and celebrated a feast together. He started this procedure so that, generations later, we still stop and consider what it means to remember what Christ did for us.

Today I found a new relationship between God and me. For the first time, I saw Jesus sitting in that chair at the round table. He invites everyone—man, woman, or child—to come to the table and remember that He sees each of them and desires to commune without reservation. Your pastor may stand behind a podium or walk the floor in front of the congregation, but the inference is the same. We’re invited to the table Jesus sets before us. We should gladly take, eat, and drink what is offered to us every Sunday, not just during communion.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Penywise.)

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The Exact Same

Recently, a young man lived with us. He bought his own non-stick skillet for cooking because he didn't like my skillet. Not that there wasn't good reason. My skillet was promoted as non-stick, but it lied. We frequently scraped food off our "non-stick" skillet.

Once his skillet made its appearance, mine disappeared into the bottom drawer. His shiny red skillet was the one that lived on the stove top for easy access.

Then he left and took his shiny red pan with him, leaving us to our bigger but definitely not better pan. After scraping food off my own "non-stick" skillet, I headed to the store and purchased a skillet exactly like his. I was not tempted to choose a cheaper version, though there were several perky red ones on the shelf. Experience made me not trust what pretty packaging promoted. After cooking with his shiny red winner, I only wanted an exact representation.

Have you ever experienced that in a deeper sense or had higher expectations for a relationship than the other party involved?  When that happens, it's natural to be skeptical with the whole trust issue. 

When our spiritual trust meter takes a disappointing hit, we have a hard time believing in or trusting God. "Yeah, right!" we say. "This happened and now I'm supposed to trust someone I can't even see?" Perhaps hurt prevents you from drawing close to God. But if we open our hearts to know God, what we experience will be like the real, shiny red pan. When He manifests Himself to us, we will never desire a substitute again.

Maybe you've known God for a long time or maybe the idea of God and Jesus Christ being the same person is a revelation. If you read the gospels with an open heart, you will discover who Jesus is. Then you will know the exact truth about who God is and what He's done for you.

He's far more important to your life than a shiny red pan. Open up His book and read.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and shebaduhkitty.)

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I Owe You

A friend sent me a text recently, asking me to do her a favor. And with a busy schedule (as we all have), I simply replied to her in my head. Forgetting to actually send her a reply, I was face-to-face with her a few days later. The moment I saw her, it instantly triggered the thought of my shortcoming. I was reminded I owed her a reply and a favor. I did what any self-respecting friend would do: I hid and acted busy at church to avoid a sticky situation. Silly, I know, but it seemed logical at the time.

Have you ever owed anyone anything? It seems that once you owe someone something, all you can do is think of your debt whenever you see them.

Sometimes this is what we do in our attitude toward God. But that is not His best for us. Instead of always being reminded of our sin when we think of God, we can remember He wishes for us to see His mercy and grace. I cannot have a healthy relationship with my heavenly Father if I do not understand I owe Him a debt I could never repay. It’s important to grasp the fact Jesus was my absurd overpayment for that debt. . . all of my debts. And any time I feel guilt for something I did wrong, I can bring that to Jesus and thank Him for making me clean.

Hebrews 10 gives us a clearer understanding of this concept when we realize it was God’s will for the sacrifice of Jesus to make us holy. . .and holy forever. Now that is good news.

I challenge you to change how you perceive your debt to God. He already knows your inadequacies, and we can never really “surprise” God with our actions. So start seeing Him as your loving father.

Thank you, Jesus, for taking the debt of my sin and paying what I could never repay. Amen.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Are You Broken This Christmas?

Money was tight that first Christmas.

So tight that when we bought an artificial tree for $30 and it went on sale the following week, we stuffed it back in the box and returned it. By the time we’d made our way to the garden center, the sales clerk had hauled back the tree we’d just returned, and we bought it again—for $10 less. We bought three bags of red and white satin ornaments with the difference. Unfortunately, even though the tree wasn’t very big, the bags of cheap balls didn’t go very far.

The next day we were grocery shopping when a bin of ornaments caught my eye. The sign read Four for $1, which sounded too good to be true. As I examined each bagged wooden ornament, I saw why they were so cheap—they were all broken. A little girl on skis lacked a pole, a mouse dressed to look like a Wise Man was missing the red ball on his nose, and a bear on a rocking horse needed a wheel.

“They’re all broken,” I said, dismissing them and moving on.

“But all the parts are there,” my husband replied, looking closer, “I think I can fix them.”

“That’s too much work. They’re not worth it.”

“I’d like to try. I think I love them.”

And fix them he did. With painstaking care and incredible patience, he glued each broken part, even creatively improvising when the pieces were too damaged to be restored. When the glue was dry, he hung them on the tree among the satin balls.

“See,” he said with a smile, “I told you I could fix them.”

Since that first Christmas, we’ve added many ornaments to our tree. We replaced the satin balls long ago, but every year we continue to hang the little wooden ornaments. They remind us of how far we’ve come, how blessed we are, and what God did for us on the very first Christmas.

Like the ornaments in the bin, we were practically worthless. Broken and discarded, we weren’t much to look at, but God took pity on us.

“I think I can fix them,” He said. “I’d like to try. I love them.”

And with painstaking care and incredible patience, He applied the blood of Jesus to every broken part, even creatively improvising when parts of us were too damaged to be restored. And then He added us to His family tree and smiled.

“See,” He said, “I told you I could fix them.”

What’s your story this Christmas? Has God repaired what was broken and placed you in His family tree? Do you know Him as your Savior? If you do, rejoice. If you don’t, invite Him into your heart today.

You’ve lived broken long enough. It’s time to let God make you whole.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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Christmas' Perfect Gift

Her perfect Christmas gifts became an anticipated tradition.

As a middle-schooler, my daughter began making handspun Christmas gifts for me. One year a converted cassette tape holder with childhood memorabilia. Another year, a frame with two pictures of us along with the poem, “My Daddy’s Hand.” Then a shadow box housing a picture from our trek on the Appalachian Trail, a small rock, and a Bible verse that read; The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold II Samuel 22:2-3. Perhaps my favorite was the homemade booklet made of construction paper and entitled, “What Hiking Means to Me.”  During college, when her life grew busy, the gifts stopped, but as her life settled, the gifts resumed.

Perhaps what the wise men brought to the boy child Jesus didn’t appear to be perfect gifts, but for a future king they were appropriate. Gold suited kings and would certainly help a poor family finance future trips to Egypt and Nazareth. Frankincense was fit for deity, which Jesus was. Myrrh was a spice appropriate for a person who was going to die. He would in a few brief years.

I look forward to my daughter’s perfect Christmas gifts each year. More importantly, I must consider what should be my perfect gift to the Savior who has given His life for me. My gifts should not only be presented at Christmas but offered throughout the year. The gifts He craves from me are undivided loyalty and love that I extend to others from my heart, soul, and mind. I may not have metals and spices, but I can give a cup of cold water in His name.

What gift can you give Jesus this Christmas season?

(Photo courtesy of mandmwiles.)

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5 Successes of Failure

The chain clanked against the plate glass as I snapped the padlock in place. The doors were locked. The church was closed.

As Chair of the Leadership Team, it happened on my watch. I didn’t single-handedly sink the ship, but even so it hurt. I’d failed.

Failure is a bully, always trying to make you less than you are. But God makes us more than we should ever be. With God, failure becomes success.

Below are a few of the successes I gained through my failure. Perhaps they will help you when the time comes.

 

Loyalty

If you don’t know your true friends going into a crisis, you will by the time you come out. Their support will prove you wrong when you know you can’t go any further. They never count the cost of being counted with you. (Proverbs 18:24)

Opportunity

Failure isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. You are now free. You can start again (only smarter) or start something brand new that’s even more awesome. Welcome to “Your Dream, Version 2.0.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

Perseverance

You’ll want to quit. Don’t. The will to walk through the flames of tomorrow is forged in the furnace of today.  (James 1:2-4)

Focus

Sometimes we need to be reminded it’s not about us. It’s about our mission. The only failure in life that matters is failure to keep on Mission. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Courage

You’ve stood toe to toe with the bully and survived. Now you know failure’s secret—it isn’t as tough as it wants you to believe. You don’t have to be afraid of it. The only fear you now have is the fear of not trying. Congratulations, you’re a world changer.  (John 14:27)

Yes, I failed—thank God. Now I’m ready for what He wants me to do next. When Christ came as a baby, it was a success. God incarnate came to earth. His death might be considered a failure, but when He rose again, what a success! This Christmas season, rejoice in the failure. From failure comes great success.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and lyns.)

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Christmas Grace

Christmas is the season for anxiety. Credit cards are maxed out, checking accounts are drained into the red, and all in the name of spreading joy and cheer.

Stores proudly display signs adorned with sparkly letters and the word Believe. Are we supposed to believe that the money tree will finally sprout in our backyard? Or maybe we’re supposed to believe in the power of expensive Christmas gifts. The truth of the matter is, in the midst of the season’s hustle and bustle, many of us have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. We’ve forgotten what we should really believe in.

Christmas is a time to believe in the power of God’s amazing grace—a baby born in a stable on Christmas day so you and I may have eternal life. That’s far more valuable than any overpriced sweater or pair of shoes. That’s a gift that keeps giving all year round, and it doesn’t cost us a dime.

That gift. That joy. That baby in the manger is what Christmas is all about. That’s the cheer we should be spreading.

As you wait in line for your festive peppermint mocha, tell someone about the reason for the season. As you swipe your credit card for what seems like the hundredth time, remember the physical gifts only mean so much. As you watch your kids, your spouse, and your family unwrap their presents on Christmas morning, remember paper scattered on the floor will only last for the day. But the baby who was born to save you? That’s something to be excited about. He is someone you can believe in.

But the best part is that Jesus isn’t just a Christmas gift. His love is something you can believe in 365 days of the year. He gave you eternal life for free. And that’s a gift worth celebrating.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and orchid.)

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God Speaks Your Language

My husband walked a narrow, sand road in the African bush, our enormous Great Dane frolicking beside him. As they turned to go home, Carl noticed a small girl heading toward them. Panic showed through her huge brown eyes, turning her into a little pillar of fear unable to move or speak.

The child stared at the towering man and his lion-sized dog. They were so large and unfamiliar. So unlike her, the small and scared one. Was it safe to approach them?

Carl spoke gently to the frightened child. The terror in her eyes changed to joyful wonder, and she started walking again, moving closer rather than running away.

The difference? Carl spoke her language. In words she understood, he kindly told the little darling, “All is well. You are safe.”

Shepherds in the fields that first Christmas night were also frozen by fear. They didn’t expect to be surrounded by the towering glory of God, and they weren’t at all comfortable with a sky full of angels. The messenger of God spoke kindly to them, in their own language—the language of stables, feeding troughs, babies, and a long-promised Savior. Things they understood. The message was good news that turned their fear to wonder. Off they hurried to find the divine infant, God they could approach.

Sometimes I fear God’s bigness and righteousness. Unlike me—the small, scarred and scared one, He is greater and bigger. Do I dare approach Him? Yes. God speaks to me kindly and in a language I understand. He speaks through the person of Jesus who came to earth small but overcame death. The one who still carries scars and gives songs. My fear turns to wonder, and I move closer to Him.

To the Magi, God spoke of a King. To the shepherds of a barn and a baby. To me, of scars and songs. He speaks your language too, whatever it may be. Listen and approach in wonder.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Keep It Moving

Procrastination is one of the Devil’s favorite habits. Here I am with this great idea, but not knowing how to execute it has caused a delay. Once I put it off, I feel as if the enemy is trying to fill my head with negativity and doubt. But once I start moving and learning more about what I need to accomplish, positivity kicks in and I can see the vision more clearly.

I’ve learned that in order to keep the Devil from filling my head with doubt, I need to bury myself in the Word, memorize His Word, and quote those Scriptures. Then I do something every day that propels me forward into my project until its completion.

Proverbs 13 reminds us a lazy person’s appetite is never filled. But when we are diligent,  we are fully satisfied. The Devil knows the Word very well. If he can fill our heads with fear and doubt, he knows we will grow tired. That distracts us from our goal.

A great keyword here is diligent. Even though the enemy may whisper doubt in our minds, we must continue to keep moving forward if we want to reach what God has for us.

Do you have a goal you want to reach but procrastination is holding you back? Defeat the enemy’s tactics by digging into God’s Word. Quote Scriptures out loud to drive away fear and doubt. Let him know you know the Word too and its power against him. He has no choice but to flee. Keep working daily to reach your mark, and you will accomplish your goals. Remember, we can trust in the Lord because His word says, “The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jerjones.)

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Master of the House

I am the master of two beautiful, black German Shepherds. I have raised and trained them from pups, showered them with love and affection, and watched out for their best interests. I feed them what they need, not what they can wildly devour. I bathe and groom them for their health and welfare.

Mako and Maya have inside privileges at my house. Because of this, they tend to follow me everywhere. Regardless of my location, they are nearby, ready to serve and play as I command.

When I see them recline at my feet and then jump to follow as I move, I often think, What a picture of servitude. Then I wonder, Do I follow my Master with the same loyalty and devotion?

“No one can serve two masters,” proclaimed Jesus, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Different translations use the word mammon or wealth in lieu of the word money. In essence, love of possessions can hinder your relationship with Christ.

Is it possible that most of the American Christian culture is in denial? We denounce the belief that we have an unhealthy devotion to something, yet remove it from our lives and we’re lost or crushed.

There is a surefire test that can determine the real master in your life. Examine where you spend your disposable time and income. I know this can be revealing and painful. I’ve been there.

Disposable time? Income? What is that? When your heart is aligned with God’s, He can help you discern between fruitful activity verses mind-numbing entertainment. Start with the TV and time surfing the web. More often than not, the time is present if we manage the events with a critical eye for productive usefulness.

Be brave. Take this test. It will help you analyze and reconnect with the One who desires to be the Master of your house. It’s a freewill choice that God has given us.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and whereverIam.)

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Why Worry

“Why worry when we can pray?”

Those were the last words Marian Woosley said to every visitor. Although she spent her final years in a nursing home, she never lost her sparkle. Regardless of the day’s difficulties or the topic discussed, she always smiled as she reminded us of worry’s dead end and prayer’s promises.

She suffered numerous health issues, lost her husband twenty years before, and could no longer remain home. Yet she radiated peace and joy. The reflection of Jesus’ love in her life was like a magnet that drew all ages to her. She loved playing her keyboard while others sang along. The seventh and eighth-grade girls’ Bible study class I teach visited her occasionally. One Christmas we gave her a large-print hymn book, as the small print grew increasingly difficult for her to read. She gave us far more by loving us and showing us how to live well regardless of our circumstances.

Mrs. Woosley’s friends and family repeated her favorite words to one another as we celebrated her ninety-plus years of life and entry into the presence of her Lord. A choir member recalled her asking him to sing “The Rainbow Song, Chuck Milhuff’s The Brush.”  She loved its message and wanted others to hear it too. So he sang that when we give the paintbrush of our lives to Jesus, He takes our messes, dips them in a rainbow, and signs our price has been paid. Mrs. Woosley gave her paintbrush to Jesus a long time ago and took everything to Him in prayer.

The pastor’s message of comfort revolved around Mrs. Woosley’s philosophy of prayer over worry. A grandson concluded the service with Psalm 121, their family’s psalm before any journey. The impact of her legacy of faith grew more evident through that powerful farewell prayer by those who knew her best and loved her most.

What burdens do you carry today? Follow Mrs. Woosley’s example: prayer over worry.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Not Fair

As a high school teacher, I quickly became deaf to the oh-so-common complaint, "It's not fair!"  I did my best to be fair, but it simply wasn't possible to accomplish fairness in every situation. My mantra became "life is not fair, but what matters most is not the unfairness, but what we do after that." They never liked that answer.

I don't like it either, especially the older I get. I don't like it that my metabolism has slowed, making it harder than ever for weight to come off.  I don't like it that it takes more exercise, not less, to stay in shape. I really don't like it that my face is sprouting all sorts of annoying black hair in places I can't easily see.  It's not fair.

When I catch myself having this reaction—and it happens regularly—I am reminded of what I used to tell my students. No, it's not fair, but now what do I do?

It's like the student who didn't want to do an assignment because it was hard, so he told his teacher he had dyslexia. She gently replied, "Okay,. I get it. You have a learning disability. But the assignment is still there and needs to be done, so what do you do now?"   

What do we do when it's not fair? It's easy to quit and employ whatever excuse applies to the moment. But that's the easy way out, the path of least resistance. We will never reach the goal or attain our dreams if we allow the obstacle of  "not fair" to stop us. 

Whether it's a mountain or an anthill, we have to move beyond it—even if we can't see ahead, even if it feels all wrong, and especially if everybody else says it's not fair. We must persevere because it's the path to our dreams.

Do you have a big "not fair" standing in your way? Only our perfect Lord is fair. However, He is willing to give us the strength we need to work through any situation with grace.   

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

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The Nailmaker

One spring morning, two thousand years ago, an orange sun peeked over my neighbor’s buildings as Dionysius, Captain of the Roman guard, entered my shop. He stood before me, breathing heavily from his long hike. His body odor and breath stunk.

“I need three strong, extra-long spikes,” he snarled. “A man who calls himself the Son of God will hang from your nails this Friday on Golgotha Hill. We don’t want him to fall off––do we?” he said with a grin that exposed missing teeth and hateful bloodshot eyes. His bald head glistened with sweat.

I am what you call today, a blacksmith. With Jehovah as my guide, I use my gift of metalworking daily. Nails are a specialty of mine. When you handle one of my spikes, you sense quality. As I labored, my fire would not go out or the nails would crumble.

When the captain came Friday morning and I could not deliver, he placed his helmet on my wooden table and beat me bloody.

“I’m sorry,” I said through swollen lips. “I can’t make the nails that will pierce Jesus.”

“I’ll get someone else.” Dionysius glowered. He turned and stepped out the door of my shop, smacking his head on the lentil.

Thank you, Father, for the gift of work and also for the failure to produce the nails that would hold Jesus to a cross.

I’ll never forget that Friday. The sky turned black from the sixth to the ninth hour. My tools shook on the walls as thunder and lightning struck.

But Sunday exploded with a rush of sunlight. Mary Magdalene burst through the shop entrance. Peter and John dashed by. Mary raved, “Come, see the tomb where they laid the Son of God! It’s empty! It’s true we serve a risen Lord. I saw Him!”

The day He passed by my shop, I asked Him to touch my wounded head and face. Look, no more cuts or bruises.

Christ took on our sin. All of it … that we might be saved. Fall before Him and accept His gift.

(Photo courtes of morguefile and jclomek.)

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Outside the Crate

Patches had been a breeder dog for four years when we rescued her. For weeks, she sat in her crate, shrinking into its corners whenever we tried to coax her out. Food, toys, soft words—nothing could convince our little sheltie her new home was not a continuation of the terrors she had known.

It took time and patience, but Patches eventually learned that those all-powerful creatures outside her safe crate wanted only to love and care for her, not harm her. She came out of her crate and entered our lives.

When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, he planted the first seeds of doubt in that God—the Creator with whom they walked—who wanted only the best for them. He craftily manipulated them to think—maybe God is trying to keep something from me. Maybe I shouldn't trust Him to know what I need.

We are heirs to this distrust. Like Patches, I cringe at risks and unknowns when I have no certainty of a safe path. Too often, I react with dread and fear if I feel God reaching into my safe crate and wanting to pull me toward life with Him. I don't know what's out there, and I do know it might hurt.

We can't predict what may happen to us “out there.” We do know, however, the word of the One who calls us out. We know it's an offer of life more amazing and full than we can fantasize about. It's an offer of the very thing we lost in the Garden—life in its fullest and a relationship with the One who knows every detail of each person he formed.

What did our new dog know outside of her plastic walls? Nothing. Once outside, anyone could see the sillyness of believing that 6-foot-square space was more fulfilling than the entire house and yard at her disposal.

God offers no promises we will remain safe. Quite the opposite—He promises the world out here is rough and difficult. He also promises life to anyone who takes His hand and crawls out.

What illusion of safety and satisfaction do you cling to today? God waits—holding a hand toward our cage and peering in with eyes of love, until we decide to abandon our boxes and enter life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hamia.)

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Rest Awhile

The smell of applewood bacon met me at the door.

The automatic glass doors of the beach hideaway slid open, and I inhaled deeply. The aroma of that morning’s buffet breakfast still permeated the air. My stomach growled even though I had just eaten. Between the comforting smell, the relaxed atmosphere, and the memories of past stays, it felt like home.

I checked into my room and collapsed on the bed. The sound of waves crashing ashore slowly faded as sleep wrapped me in her warm embrace.

Early the following morning, I hurried downstairs for breakfast. The dining area faced the ocean through wall-to-floor windows. I started the day watching God raise the sun from its nightly slumber while I feasted on scrambled eggs, bacon, and southern fried potatoes.

My solo vacation getaway was long overdue. The frustrations of life and weariness of daily struggles had caught up with me. I was exhausted and needed time away to rest, regroup, and renew my focus.

Jesus knew the demands of a busy schedule. As He and His disciples mingled with people in that hot, dry Middle Eastern climate, it took its toll on them spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. That’s why He called them aside to a quiet place for a much-needed rest. Away from the clamoring crowds seeking loaves and fishes. Away from the sick needing healing. Away from the hurting who longed for His compassion. Away from the important to focus on the critical.

It is tempting to view ourselves as hardened soldiers in the fight. After all, we are told to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” So we plod wearily on, not realizing we’re losing our competitive advantage. Spiritual battles cannot be fought well with wearied minds, souls, and bodies. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey reminds us to “sharpen the saw.”  Meaning, we must take time to regain our edge to be effective in our work.

So, take some time for you—away from the important demands of your life. Schedule time away where you can be alone with God to watch His wonder and hear His whispers. It will be time well spent.

For now, pass the bacon and scoot over—you’re blocking my view of the sunrise.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jamierodriguez37.)

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Focus

“I’m sorry, God,” I whispered as I nursed my baby to a slumber sleep. “I admit, lately I have not focused on you as much as I should.” 

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of current events. I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, so the events really hit home. I prayed for comfort for families who lost loved ones, but I forgot to pray for my mind. The impact of the Scripture hit. “God does not give the spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

I knew I had to break this Scripture apart to really understand. If God does not give the spirit of fear, then it is the devil putting thoughts of worry and anxiety in my head. God gives me power, love, and a sound mind. Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do: rebuke the devil with this Scripture, and he would flee my mind. Immediately, I felt better.

God has given us power through His son Jesus Christ to cast down all negative imaginations that cause us worry or anxiety. He wants our minds to be free so we can focus on His purpose for our lives. He’s given us His agape love that endures all. He wants this type of love to beam through us for all the world to see.

Unconditional love is attractive. It’s a love that can draw an unbeliever to salvation. Love conquers hate, and as the world saw in Charleston, love endures. For all these pieces to come together, God gave us a sound mind. If we renew our minds with prayer and Scripture, focusing our attention on God, He will give us peace that surpasses all understanding.

Have you unconsciously forgotten to pray for your mind? It is very important to pray for what is going on in the world today, but if we don’t cover our minds from the enemy, we will not be fully effective. Don’t sit back and let the devil put worry and anxiety in your head. Cast him out with 2 Timothy 1:7 so you can help grow our Father’s kingdom.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Ardanea.)

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Don't Say That Word

When a grandchild gives instruction, I listen.

Our youngest grandchild celebrated his second birthday this year. Though he was slow beginning to talk, he has caught up nicely. Over the last few weeks, he has begun talking in sentences—which has made his grandparents’ job a little more difficult as we try to understand what he’s saying. From the beginning, we taught him not to say shut upHush was a better word choice in our opinion.

Enter our mouthy Chihuahua who needs to be told to hush numerous times each day. As I issued those instructions one day, my grandson politely said, “No, you don’t say dat word.” 

“What should I say?” I asked.

“You say, ‘Be quiet.’”

Where he learns some of the things he says, we’re not quite sure, and saying comical things just seems to be a way of life for him.

One Bible translation uses the word unwholesome instead of foul or abusive. At first glance, I might associate this with the third commandment not to misuse the name of the Lord. In other words, don’t curse. But the instruction goes much further than four-letter words, so avoiding cursing won’t let me off the hook. And while I think more about bad actions grieving God’s Spirit, unwholesome language will also do the trick .

Speaking words that reflect bitterness toward another person is unwholesome. Gossiping will accomplish the same thing, whether what I say is true or not. Some things are just better left unsaid. Processing anger in unwholesome ways is also a part of the mix—as is having a bad attitude and letting my words reflect it so everyone else can see it plainly. 

Asking whether what I’m about to say is necessary, true, and uplifting is a good place to start, but I can’t stop there. Examining the root source my words are arising from and considering the words I’m acting out in pictures, are important too. If I don’t get to the source, I’ll keep saying “dat word.”

What are your words saying about you to others? Think before you speak and honor God with your words.

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Spiritual Food

Imagine driving your car down a peaceful country road on a beautiful spring day. The sun is shining, warming the air, and the breeze coming through the open windows feels refreshing against your skin. Your muscles relax and your mind begins to clear. As you look around, brilliant shades of green converge with pinks and yellows, forming a colorful blanket of new life coming up from the earth.

After a few minutes, you notice a small orchard of apple trees ahead. As you pass the orchard, you notice that while most of the trees are blooming with crisp leaves and tiny apples, there is one tree that is not blooming. Its branches are bare, and its bark is dry and unhealthy. You wonder why this tree is failing to grow and produce fruit while all the other trees surrounding it flourish.

While we may not know why that tree is not thriving, we can recognize this same scenario in our own lives. We may find ourselves failing to thrive, having lost our passion for life, burned out, or thirsty for relief from our burdens. We become like the malnourished tree: failing to thrive and empty.

It’s easy to become disconnected from Jesus, our vine of life. Our lives are like the branches of this vine clinging close to Him in order to remain spiritually nourished. We are nourished by spiritual “food.”  Activities such as prayer, reading the Bible, worship, and participating in a small group help to nourish our need. Just as physical food is a daily necessity for our bodies, so spiritual food is necessary for the soul. When we’re well nourished, our lives thrive and bear great fruit.

Spend some time today assessing your spiritual life. Do you feel empty and hungry?  If so, eat some spiritual food. Delve into the Word. Pray about how you can spend time growing closer to God. He is waiting to feed you. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Orb.)

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Part of the Problem

Water bottles. As much as I hate to admit it, I use them even though I know they pollute the earth. Of course, to make myself feel better I use them and reuse them. And I tell myself that everybody uses them so what difference does it make if I use them too?

This doesn’t make it any more right. Galatians 6:5 tells us we are each responsible for our own conduct. We all know pollution is bad, but what about spiritual pollution? We rarely think about it. More times than not, we just go with the flow not wanting to make a fuss. After all, we don’t want our friends to think we’re one of those Christians who doesn’t have a sense of humor or is just too uptight to enjoy life.

The NLT version translates the above verse this way: If the godly give in to the wicked, it's like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring. So think about that. Every time we give into wickedness, we are polluting the world a bit more. That’s not a pleasant thought, is it?

Now is the time to act. Take an active and responsible step to change the pollution of your life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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Trouble in a Terrible Storm

The beautiful morning scene gave no indication of the weather warning late in the afternoon. 

Montrose Christian Writers Conference is located in the endless mountains of Northern Pennsylvania. This village is the picture of a by-gone era. Large Victorian mansions grace the streets, a tribute to their owners’ careful attention. Spreading green lawns and gardens complete the scene. Attendees enjoy blessings of instruction, fellowship, and refreshment. Bible-based lessons and music restore body, soul, and spirit.

The calm of one sunny day changed suddenly to expose destructive fury in a summer storm. Forecasters predicted the possibility of a tornado that threatened the greater Montrose area. “People should take shelter from high winds and drenching rain in a basement room. Commuters might want to leave early.” I decided to attend the last afternoon class.

I prayed for God’s protection before driving away. Down the winding road, I noticed ominous, black clouds gathering. Winds began to blow. I set the goal to reach the state highway ten miles away before it rained. I prayed.

Winds increased. Trees thrashed back and forth, blowing leaves and sticks across the road and onto my car. I was a mile from the highway when rain smacked the windshield hard. I was in the middle of a terrible storm. I could scarcely see because of driving rain and the dark sky. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed. I turned right onto the highway, but conditions worsened. Creek waters ran down the hills, quickly covering the lane I traveled. I asked for God’s protective presence.

Faint headlights followed my car. We crawled along for several miles. I was comforted by imagining God drove the car behind mine. It never attempted to pass but kept up the steady pace I had set. I understood—even when I feared, God is my refuge.  No other cars traveled on this highway. Lights ahead revealed a police blockade due to a fallen tree. The angry storm had blown away.

Rain continued, but the sky grew brighter. When I arrived safely home, I sat still in the car, remembering God’s ever-present help.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and gracey.)

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Bugs, Mowing, Sweat & A Clean

I'm not an outdoors type of girl. I'm not crazy about summer heat, bugs, sweating, mowing ... The list could go on and on. I'm more of a winter person where I can stay snug and warm inside while watching the snow gently fall, blanketing the earth.

It was the middle of summer and the lawn needed mowing. Again. My husband suffers from bad allergies, so mowing isn't his favorite thing to do. Since our boys are grown and gone, it falls on either him or me to perform the task.

I didn't want to be the one to do it. I returned home from a conference and was tired. My hand was still sore from hand surgery a couple months prior. I could come up with any number of excuses why I shouldn't be the one to perform the dreaded job.

But because I love my husband, I chose to mow. In no time, sweat poured down my face and back. Did I mention I don't like to sweat? When I mowed under the pine tree, I felt something in my hair—a caterpillar. I ripped it off and threw the bug to the ground. By the time I’d worked my way to the apple tree, I was insect bait for some other creature.

As I continued to battle the bugs and sweat, I couldn't help but look back at the lawn I'd already trimmed. Somehow, it gave me a sense of accomplishment … even though I knew it wouldn't last long before it grew again. While I worked, God brought this verse to mind: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Just as the grass continues to grow and need mowing, I also need to go to God and ask Him to clean my heart. It's not a once and done type of thing, but a continual process like mowing the lawn. When I’m not paying attention, “bugs” crop up and “weeds” prevent me from having a clear view of my Savior.

It's only when I ask God to do the tending that I end up with a clean, groomed, beautiful heart. I don't know about you, but I'll never look at mowing the lawn the same way again. God and I will be tending hearts this summer ... and cutting grass. Let God tend to your needs too. He is faithful with His love and care.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and FidlerJan.)

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God Makes a Way

I notice the house right away as I drive by. It is hard not to notice a yard filled with a wide gamut of clutter. Car parts, tools, furniture, toys, and even trash litter the untidy yard. From what I see in my brief investigation of the front porch, the house isn’t in much better shape. However, amidst all the mess, I notice a small handmade sign staked in the yard that reads God makes a way. In the depth of all this clutter and disarray, I completely focus on this one item: the sign.

My heart is touched as I think about what the words on the sign truly mean. My life often gets jumbled with a hectic schedule, relationship demands, my to-do list, and even sin. However, God makes a way for me and directs my steps. The Lord tells us in Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” 

These scriptures are a reminder not to dwell on things and circumstances of our past. Also, having faith God will help us make it through the everyday mundane tasks as well as the huge trials of life. Sometimes we neglect gaining focus on what needs to be eliminated from of our lives; the jumbled chaos is just too overwhelming. We lose our compass for direction and wonder where we should go from here? 

Find comfort in knowing that no matter how hopeless your situation seems, God is there to create for you a path of guidance through the mess. Pray for renewed trust in God to navigate through your cluttered life and help you find refuge in His love and direction. Keep your mind’s eye focused on the yard sign that reads God makes a way.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Sgarton.)

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The Voice of Encouragement

In eighth grade English class, our teacher assigned a paper in which we were to describe and discuss our life dreams. I wrote about attending Harvard, becoming an emergency room doctor, and writing a best-selling novel. Seems perfectly reasonable, right?

After she graded the papers, she pulled me aside and expressed her concern for one of my goals. Which one do you think she was worried about? I’d say the Harvard attendance. That’s pretty wild, but not the one. She was concerned about me writing a best-selling novel. Harvard was attainable. Being an ER doctor was encouraged. Writing a best-seller? Forget it.

She asked me why I thought I could be successful. Millions of people write, few get published, and even fewer sell enough copies to make the list. Why was I going to be one of the few? At the end of the conversation, she handed me the paper with a familiar smile. “Maybe you should set smaller goals so you’re not disappointed when you don’t achieve them.” She acted like she was doing me a favor.

At the time, I didn’t realize what she’d done to my spirit. I brushed it off, told myself she didn’t know what she was talking about. But when I started writing my novel, a little voice popped up, and I felt paralyzed. I wasn’t talented enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I would never be good enough. That little voice almost destroyed me.

In Psalm 138:3, it says when you cry out to the Lord, He’ll answer you, and He’ll make you bold. As the voice got louder, that’s exactly what I did. The voice is still there. It will always be there. But God took what little strength I had within my soul and made me bold.

I don’t know what adversity you face, but I know we all have at least one voice gnawing away at us. If you cry out to God, He’ll answer you. The adversity isn’t going to disappear, but God has the power to make you bold enough to overcome.

When someone tries to squelch the voice of encouragement, remember God can make you strong enough to turn down the volume.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Just Add Water

I sit on my deck and dream. It’s spring and the air is crisp and refreshing. I’ve carefully placed tender flowers of pink, white, yellow, and brilliant magenta in freshly-potted soil. I picture entertaining friends encircled by flowers during summer evenings. At least, that’s what I plan in May.

By the end of June, the flowers are struggling to withstand the scorching sun and oppressive humidity. Determined, I try to remember to lug my watering can from pot to pot. Water, the life-preserver. As the days grow longer and hotter, I water more, pluck the spent blooms and mix in fertilizer to rebuild their strength. “You can do it, little flowers. Just a few more months. Hang on.”

Confession: by mid-July, my care-tending has grown tiresome. I sit inside enjoying the air-conditioning and gaze at the heat waves floating up from the deck surface. “It’s so hot!” I whine. The flowers are left to fend for themselves. Before long they’ll gasp and wither into crispy twigs. So much for my role as the Queen of Flora.

Do I neglect my soul like I do my flowers? When the days feel long or oppressive, do I take the lazy way and pamper myself with the air-conditioning of pleasure? I will, at times, entertain my mind with distractions like television or social media. When the sun sets on that oppressive day, I wonder if I am richer in soul.

What is my life-preserver? Jesus. He gives me the water that keeps me going. He’s the fertilizer that strengthens and grows. So, when I need him most—when life feels parched and needy—I run to the Scriptures that bring life. But, that takes training my heart to respond. When I’m not looking, I tend to grab any flashy life-preserver tossed in my direction. Even though I know better

I’m learning that it depends on me. Me turning to Him. He will supply all of my needs and unlike my flowers, it’s up to me to add what I need. Just like mixing fertilizer, my faith needs some additives to grow strong and healthy. Maybe it’s time to pull out the watering can.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and octaviolopez.)

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Nature Proclaims

“You’re joking, right?”

My husband had just asked me if I would consider going on a backpacking trip with him.

Corey loves the outdoors. Give him a mountain to climb or a river to canoe down, and he is in his element. His need to be immersed in the wilderness left me perplexed for years. I prefer my memory foam mattress to the ground and my flush toilet to a latrine in the trees. Though I was on board with him taking off a couple times a year for a trip with the guys, removing his buddies and adding me to the equation was not in my plans.

But my man is persistent, and somehow he convinced me to give it a go. Carrying fifteen pounds on my back (he mercifully gave me a light pack) and wearing my weight in mosquito repellant, I fell in step behind the man I love on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed backpacking. I not only found delight in the great outdoors, but my love was renewed for the One who created it. When we were walking through a secluded valley among colossal evergreens, I was overwhelmed that God could create such awesomeness and still desire a relationship with me. And as we gazed at the night sky void of all light pollution, the stars seemed to shout out his majesty and his love.

God communicates with us through nature. Scripture says the heavens declare the glory of God. If we are unable to see it, it may just be we are too engrossed in our comforts of home.

So go ahead. Take a walk through the wilderness, and see what God reveals about Himself to you. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and aconant.)

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What God Thinks About

First love. Remember?

I’ll never forget my first major crush—Freddy. He had blue eyes, a sprinkle of freckles across his nose, and curly blonde hair. The fact that he had a really sweet ride didn’t hurt either. Because we lived in the same apartment complex and attended the same school, we saw each other every day. It wasn’t long before we were an item. Freddy and Lori sittin’ in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G. I woke up thinking of him and went to sleep thinking of him. I even dreamed about him. Everyone knew we’d get married one day, and I knew it was serious when he let me drive his Big Wheel.

Our relationship ended when I moved away in third grade. I cried for weeks. I thought about Freddy today when I read Psalm 40. A psalm of David, this beautiful, poetic psalm describes God’s glorious redemption of sinful man. It was the fifth verse, however, that caught  my eye and sparked a trip down memory lane.

If you’ve ever wondered what God thinks about, here’s your answer—He thinks about US! Not only thinks about us, but thinks about us all the time. Like a schoolgirl crush on a cute boy, God is enamored with us, besotted with us, and captivated by us. Thoughts of us fill his days and crowd his nights. He studies us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and eagerly desires to spend time with us. He loves bestowing gifts on us and thinking of ways to bless us. But he will never move away in third grade. He is committed to us FOREVER.

How does it make you feel when you realize that the almighty God of the universe thinks about you 24/7? For me, it’s a very humbling thought. As my former pastor often says of God’s love, “I can’t earn it. I don’t deserve it, but I am humbly grateful.” And gratitude is the appropriate response.

Why not take a few minutes today and express your thanks to God for his great love toward you? And then choose to live in such a way as to make him smile.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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Tuna-Fish Talent

I sat in my cubicle, wrestling with a design for my client's poster. In the next cubicle, a designer whipped out another brochure. Two more colleagues juggled projects in their offices. I was the department's new kid, and my job was an answered prayer. This opportunity with a Christian resource center even trained me with new graphic design tools. So why'd I feel so inadequate?

I'd once taught middle-school art and survived those young teens. I could handle this. Yet I'd shelved my art experience when we started a family. Now I was rusty. That's when my morning's Bible verses promptly humbled me. A boy naively offered his modest lunch, since the 5,000-plus crowd was hungry. Jesus gladly accepted the child's offer, asked his father's blessing on it, and passed the food out. And passed it, and passed it, until everyone had eaten their fill.

That story's application clicked to me. If I'd been a youngster with a tuna-fish sandwich, I'd never have offered it to Jesus. No, it would have to be grilled yellowfin tuna on fancy bread or nothing. Only the best was worthy of the King.

I think I heard a heavenly chuckle and laughed at my own absurd pride. Jesus could feed a crowd with nobody's help. I thought about that anonymous boy who'd shared his lunch that day. He'd not only been fed, but Jesus let him take part in a miracle.

So, did the One through whom all was created need my creativity today? He'd manage quite well without me. Instead, Jesus offered me, as he did that boy, a part in his work. Like a child, I only needed to offer what I had—my ordinary tuna-fish talent. Whether your gifts are ordinary or extraordinary, He delights to use them. More than that, He's inviting you to be part of a miracle. Don’t wait. Offer Him your gifts.

(Photo coutesy of morguefile and sideshowmom.)

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My Anchor

Anchors have always fascinated me. My dad, an avid fisherman, owned  a twelve-foot aluminum boat, a tiny two-horsepower motor, and a homemade anchor. He would take my tousled-headed sister and I fishing. We resigned ourselves to donning those neon life jackets and would climb into that snub-nosed boat with those orange “boas” around our necks and seat ourselves on one of three benches. Daddy would pull on that lawn-mower-styled starter rope, and away we would go, “putt-putt-putt” across the lake.

When we arrived at “the spot,” our job was not to swab the deck or watch for penguins but to lower the anchor quietly into the waters of our little community lake. Daddy used that anchor because he did not want to drift into the fishing area of someone else who might have arrived before we did. The anchor also held us over the “perfect spot” while we used all the worms we had dug that afternoon and tried all the bait in the tackle box. Because a wind might sneak up late in the afternoon, we would drift ever so slightly but never far from the spot where our anchor sat hunched, shamelessly grasping the bottom of the lake. We might encounter a little wave action from passing boats, but that anchor held us fast to an arc.

Those memories sweetened my whole life. Although Daddy’s anchor did not have the ancient crosspiece resembling Christ’s cross, I learned its lessons. I realized Jesus could be my anchor. He reached out to me like those bent arms of the anchor reached out to grab the rocks. No matter how murky life’s waters become, although unseen, Jesus can see. He promises me calm in the middle of life’s storms. He never cuts me loose to drift. While holding me, He touches people and circumstances in the arc of my influence. He knows the perfect spot to drop anchor so I can bring others to Him. The same way the anchor’s rope flexes, I am learning to give in and take what He gives me. Like the happy little duck that keeps paddling through all kinds of weather, I continue onward with Life’s Best Anchor as my own. 

Anchor yourself in Him. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and quicksandala.)

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Am I Lukewarm?

I listened to my pastor teach on a familiar passage about the cost of being Jesus’ disciple. The message got me thinking about my own commitment to Jesus. Am I willing to lay aside comfort, convenience, and connections in order to live fully for His purposes?

As the pastor continued his message, he observed that the more prosperous we are the harder it becomes to commit to Jesus the way He expects. And compared to much of the world, Christians in the United States are prosperous indeed.

I was reminded of the wealthy but lukewarm Laodicean church Jesus rebuked for their indifference and self-sufficient attitude. I felt convicted. Was I lukewarm?  I asked the Lord to help me deepen my commitment to Him and loosen my hold on self.

In Luke 9, Jesus encounters three men and illustrates what it means to follow Him. To the first man, He makes it clear there could be the sacrifice of material comforts. He tells the second one that following Him means responding when called, not later. And the third man learns a commitment to the Lord takes precedence even over family relationships.

Jesus doesn’t give up on us when we drift into a state of self-sufficiency. Instead, He extends loving correction and an invitation for a more intimate relationship with Him. He tells us that those He loves, He cares for and disciplines. Not only that but Jesus also stands at the door knocking, waiting on us to answer.

Open the door when He knocks. Don’t be a lukewarm servant. Instead, rise to meet Him. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and rikihi.)

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Cleansing Water and Refining Fire

Water purifies by cleansing; fire purifies by refining.

Different purification methods are needed based on the stubbornness of the impurity. Stains on clothing are easily removed with washing, while impurities in gold require an intense refining fire.

In my daily prayer time, the Holy Spirit convicts me of those areas in my life where I fall short. I am quick to surrender the “easy” impurities, e.g., gossip, evil thoughts, or anger. But I find myself rationalizing my pride and resentment, or the sin that so easily ensnares me.

When I surrender these bad habits, God’s forgiveness and cleansing freely cover me. This is when God purifies me with the water of His Word and Spirit. However, when I stubbornly hold on to judgmental attitudes or a prolonged sinful lifestyle, a deeper purification method is needed—God’s refining fire. This fire may come as His providential interference where He sovereignly brings disciplinary events into my life. Or it may also come by way of natural consequences that result from my sinful, unrepentant actions.

Either way, God’s loving discipline is aimed at purifying me more and more each day. In His love, mercy, and grace, He softens my heart and burns away those things I don’t need and He doesn’t want. My loving Father’s goal is to transform me into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. He seeks to purify, but never to consume.

As a result of the Israelites’ victory over the Midianites, they brought home the spoils of war. To remain ceremonially clean, God told them to purify everything—some items by water, but most by fire. What couldn’t survive the fire was to be purified with the water of purification.

As you experience God’s purifying process, surrender to the work He is doing. Willingly and readily yield the impurities in your life to His cleansing. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.com.)

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Namesake

Very early I could sense a rivalry for highest esteem between the Huffs and my grandma Huff’s family, the Williams’. When Grandpa Huff died, the Williams’ side became the clear winner. Every August my aunts and uncles came home for the Williams’ Family Reunion. Unable to make the trip twice in a summer, they never came for the Huff reunion. Grandpa’s sisters did what they could to bolster the importance of the Huffs, but Grandma was successful in keeping her kids coming home on her weekend. They wouldn’t dare disappoint Grandma.

That rivalry instilled family pride. We could not point to any special accomplishments of our ancestors, but we had a pride of who we were. A threat of doom to any who besmirched the family name hovered over us all, though unstated. With it, we had an inner desire both to maintain the good name we had in the community and to do what we could to elevate it more.

Guarding the family namesake can be a very strong motivator—perhaps stronger than teachings and convictions. We can become more concerned with our reputations than with God’s. This leads me to wonder how much our behavior would change if we changed our last name after becoming a Christian. Would we weigh what impact our actions might have on Jesus’ family namesake before worrying about ourselves? Would we be cautious not to besmirch his family name? Would signing my name as Charles Huff-Christ be a constant reminder of who I am and what my life’s drive and focus has become?

Imagine (your surname)–Christ, on everything you put your name to, whether signing a check, stating a position in an argument, or endorsing an action. Do you feel stronger in your action, or do you have second thoughts? Either one reveals a growing desire to guard your namesake, and that is good.

Let the name of Christ change you.

(Photo couirtesy of morguefile and imelenchon.)

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A recent dream got me thinking about granite, reminding me of a trip to the majestic Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Whether small in stature (just a few thousand feet high) or looming giants exceeding 10,000 feet, mountains have a way of putting life into perspective.

In that dream, I was given a new office with a desk that had a grey granite surface. This dream motivated me to research what this hard substance symbolized. I discovered the deep granite layer within a mountain is called gneiss which was formed thousands of years ago as a result of earthquakes or fault-shifting.

It fascinated me to learn that the striations we see in granite are actually minerals merged into the rock by intense heat and pressure. Like granite, we become rock solid in our convictions, beliefs, and faith by the intense heat and pressure of trying circumstances.

No one enjoys going through trying, testing times. But to realize the heat is producing precious minerals of wisdom inside us we can use to nourish others, puts experiencing the heat of a trial into a whole new perspective. We can allow the heat to crack and destroy us or form minerals inside our spirit.

God is indeed a granite safe house for His children. He will hide me in the cleft of the rock, the rock that is higher than I. The next time you are experiencing pressure and heat, think of the mountain and remember gneiss is nice.

Share your testimony when God was a shelter for you during a fierce storm. Let God work through your heat and pressure experiences to change others.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ToymanRon.)

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The Color of Snow

Our new car was white. Make that dazzling white. I checked the sales brochure for the color name, and they nailed it: Pure White.

We were proud. Other so-called white cars and trucks looked gray when we parked beside them, and we weren’t the only ones who noticed. In fact, so many people commented on our vehicle’s extraordinary whiteness that our chins rose a little too high.

Then it snowed. Not a scant dusting. Inches of it. Enough snow to expose the true color of our car. And it wasn’t pure white. Not even close. Blanketed by heaven’s sample of whiteness, our VW was undeniably gray.

Not unlike me. I am proud. Sometimes I behave as if  I’m so good or wise or right that the persons around me can’t measure up. They look gray. Other folks notice it too. Obviously. Of course, my chin rises a little too high. Sometimes far too high.

Then it snows. Not a scant dusting. Depths of it. God’s holiness. I see Jesus, the image of the Father Himself. The only one who is purely good and wise and righteous. My true color is exposed. And it isn’t pretty. Not even close. Beside heaven’s standard of perfection, I am the color of sin.

But there is grace in the holiness of God. Falling on and all around me, it comes not to condemn, but to transform. I cannot make myself the color of perfection any more than I can make my car the color of snow. But God can. And He does. Because I trust Christ’s sacrifice instead of my striving, God sees me as He sees Jesus. Beloved. Holy. Perfect. He said so Himself.

And what does He say about the color of my sins? He says this: “I will make them as white as snow.”

Snow. I’m as pure and clean as heaven’s pristine snow—God’s grace that’s falling on and all around me. I breathe again. And laugh. And love. And dance for joy with Him.

Maybe your chin, like mine, is a bit too high sometimes. Or perhaps it’s far too low because you hate yourself and the color of your sins. Either way, look to Jesus. It’s snowing holy grace. And He invites you to breathe again. So laugh, and love, and dance for joy with Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ImBooToo.)

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Summer Mist

It came out of nowhere. A fog-like mist appeared and hung suspended above the distant fields. Captivated by its beauty, I watched as it silently drifted toward me, creeping across the top of the waist-high corn field edging the back yard. The temperature dropped. I wrapped my arms tightly around my waist and shivered.

Within seconds, the wind picked up, gusting through the emerald stalks of corn. They danced in rhythmic waves. Their leaves chattered loudly, tickling the belly of the approaching mist. The thick damp air smelled of impending rain and humidity.

It is times like this I know God exists. To hear creation’s song murmur its enchanting melody carried by the wind brings a sense of awe and wonder that permeates my soul. Mesmerized by the color palette of nature and the pungent smell of earth, I am humbled and unworthy to call its creator Father.

Yet, God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, loves me enough to call me His child. He created me in His image.  He calls me His own. And for this I am thankful. For this I am blessed.

Pay attention to the creation of God. Listen for His voice. See Him in the mist.

O Mighty Creator, thank You for the majestic canvas You display before my eyes.  May I always see Your beauty in the creation that surrounds me.  Remind me every day, when I see such splendor, that You created me too, and I am just as beautiful.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Koan.)

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My Other GPS

I admit it. I am directionally challenged, depending on my GPS most of the time. I have more confidence in it than in my memory.

Past experience tells me I’ve made repeated wrong turns when on my own. I rely on my GPS to make adjustments by re-routing when satellites indicate traffic delays and alternate routes for detours. The GPS knows what it’s doing. On my own, I get frustrated, lost, and lose time.

Life hands us turns too – changes in a path we thought was marked out and challenges in relationships. In our attempt to cope or fix, our memory is often impaired as we attempt previous solutions that failed. We think we have a better way or know what we’re doing, but the results take us down the wrong route. We’re frustrated and agree with Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

As I think about changes, delays, and detours, I appreciate my other GPS—my Grace Provision System. James McDonald says the original Greek translates 2 Corinthians 9:8 as “Sufficient for you is the grace of Me.”  

We bear consequences for poor decisions, but God gives grace as we work through them. Perhaps we live with the consequences for a lifetime, but grace is our companion. When we face challenges and unfamiliar opportunities, grace meets us with strength to persevere. We deal with sandpaper people, and His grace provides us with dignity and courage. 

His grace repositions me. It gives me focus and reminds me that in my weakness I am strong. As I travel and meet the alternate routes, His grace accompanies me.   

Remember, you have a trustworthy Grace Provision System. It will reliably accompany you on your route every time.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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Resisting the Power Source

The air conditioning was on full blast, but we were still burning up.

Our party hostess was exasperated. Over thirty people crowded into her living room, dining room, and hallway. The air was hot and muggy as everyone visited with old friends and met new ones. I felt and looked gross with my dress shirt sticking to me.

After two hours of this friendly discomfort, one of the guests noticed the air conditioning vents were all closed. As most of us have probably done, the downstairs air vents were shut so the air would flow more efficiently upstairs – where the homeowner spent most of her time. Having gotten so used to being comfortable upstairs, and seldom being downstairs, she forgot to open the vents for the party. Within fifteen minutes after opening them, the temperature dropped. Oh, the difference it made when the vent restrictions were removed and the air was allowed to flow.

I find myself desperately trying to measure up to a godly lifestyle, but quite often I restrict the very power that enables me to do so. I wonder why I sometimes feel spiritually inadequate or defeated.

Jesus compared the Christian life to grape vines attached to Him as the main branch. Imagine if a vine became entangled with another vine or grew pressed against the grape trellis so the nutrients from the main branch couldn’t flow freely and fully. That withered vine and its fruit would more resemble raisins than grapes. Just as no cool air flows through closed vents, there is no strength or fruit when the main source of nutrition is restricted.

How can we ensure our spiritual vents are open so God’s refreshing breeze can blow through our lives? Abide in Him – maintain a free-flowing and intimate level of communication with God. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives – don’t resist what He is doing. Listen to, learn, and apply what God reveals to you – keep your spiritual temperature aligned with God’s thermostat.

God, please keep my spiritual vents open and my temperature tied to Your power source. Help me to abide in You, to remain open to Your Spirit’s leading, and to be a conduit for your refreshing wind so it may cool the stressed and overheated souls around me.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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Two Little Lights

After seeing a heartrending presentation about Compassion International at a conference, my husband and I decided to sponsor a child. Looking through the children’s pictures online, I was drawn to one little girl in Burkina Faso. She had been on the list to receive a sponsor for more than a year. Wearing a faded Angry Birds t-shirt, ragged denim shorts, and white flip flops, she stood in front of a tree and scowled at the camera. I fell in love.

Helene’s birthday was just two days before our granddaughter’s. They were both four years old, another reason we connected with her. After we committed to sponsoring this child, I looked up the meaning of her name and cried when I learned that it meant the same as our granddaughter’s—light. Now we had two little lights in our lives.

God created light, commanding it to “shine out of darkness.” But to overcome sin, he sent the Light of the World, Jesus. There is no corner too far and no heart so dark that His light cannot penetrate and purify. His salvation is free to all who call him Lord and Master. In turn, He wants us to spread His message to the uttermost parts of the world. In today’s era of high-speed communication, we can share His light with others whom we will never meet in this life.

My daily prayer is that Helene will see God’s love shine through our sponsorship, our letters, and our encouragement and that she will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior. She may be only one child in an impoverished country, but she can have an impact on her family, her village, and beyond.

Two little lights—and we thank God for both of them. Many more children wait for sponsors. They lack adequate food, clean water, medical care, and education. But what they need most is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” Can you send the message of Jesus to dispel the darkness in just one little life?

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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The Tale of Super Woman

Receiving the plan for the day, Super Woman donned her cape, flung three children ages six to eight months into the car, and zoomed to save another life from certain destruction. Upon arriving at the place of emergency, the three little ones, so calm, reserved, and mannerly, took their places on the living room couch while their undaunted mother spent the next three hours ministering.

Oh, she was a busy soul. Thus her day began and thus her day ended while her home remained in impeccable order, her children mild and meek, and her home-cooked meals seasoned to perfection. Her husband, a picture of spiritual maturity, yearned for evenings alone with Super Woman and savored the moments of listening to her countless feats and all the dreams she had for enlarging her borders.

And this Super Woman is—the epitome of accomplishment, the champion of our dreams. Now you may already get it. I am certain you do. Everyone knows Super Woman doesn’t exist, and if she does, she has no time to be our friend. Too busy, too important, too much in demand for higher purposes.

So this morning when I showed the Lord my list, He wasn’t upset with my duties and my concern with being timely. He didn’t say, “Oh, my, I see your perplexity. This is so much … even for Me, and I‘m God!”  He really did not say that. I tell the truth. He doesn’t want you to be Super Woman. He … wants to be your Super Man.

It is never the Lord’s will for you to be driven. Your Shepherd leads with peace, helping and giving you ideas to get the job done. Because His name is Jehovah Shammah, the God who is there, you can call upon Him. The task becomes easy while the two of you chatter the whole time—and Father loves it. He is there.

Hear Father’s wisdom: Don’t look at the whole list. Take one thing at a time and completely lean on me. I am your help, not just for big things but little things too. Everything is easy for me. You become overwhelmed because you lean on yourself. But I am here. I love to help. I love you. You are my darling!

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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A Hole in the Bucket

As children, we sang about a man named Henry. His bucket had a hole. Clueless as to how to fix it, he inquired of his wife, Liza. Her solutions landed him back to the original problem – the hole in the bucket. Poor Henry never found a solution to his dilemma.

Spiritually speaking, I’ve been a Henry. There was once a hole in my heart. I tried to plug it with material possessions, unrequited love, the pursuit of knowledge, and a host of other devices. Each turned up ill-founded. Desperate searches led me to dead ends, until the day I met my Savior. Like the woman at the well, I found the Man who knew everything about me. He loved me anyway. He went out of His way to find me. My bucket was full of holes. This man, Jesus, promised to be the Living Water which would never leave me dry and thirsty. He gave me a new bucket and assured me His fountain flowed 24/7 and would never run dry.

While His fountain has never run dry, I have. I’ve been remiss to fill my bucket. It dried up and cracked – another hole, another meaningless search, another set of problems. Lapses in judgment landed me in wrong places looking for help. In His great love, He’s led me back to the place of wholeness – in Him. A popular song reminds me, “All my fountains are in Him, His love doesn’t run dry, and His stream is everlasting!”

When you have a hole in your heart, allow Jesus to patch it with His amazing grace, love, and mercy.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jdurham.)

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Blessings of Spring

Although it was spring, the weather wasn’t cooperating. A chill hung in the air. I donned my stocking cap and jacket and settled onto the seat of the riding lawn mower. My EarPods in place, I pulled up the playlist on my iPhone. Today it would be Bebo Norman serenading me as I mowed round and round the yard behind our barn.

A few years back, my husband decided it was safe to put me atop the zero-turn mower and let me go. I wondered what I would do during the hours the mower held me captive. I soon discovered it was a perfect time to sing, pray, and worship. As I bounced along today, lost in the strum of Bebo’s acoustical guitar and his raspy mellow voice, I remembered why I enjoy mowing so much.

I love being out in nature, especially when spring awakens. The sounds, smells, and colors heighten my senses to God’s creation. New life emerges, bursting forth in splendor. Today I glimpsed the vibrant feathers of a bluebird as it swooped by and disappeared into the woods. Bumblebees hovered over wildflowers. When the mower approached, they shot upward in an angry dance, darting all around me. A bunny hopped about nibbling on fresh green grass blades. Robins flitted to and fro above the ground searching for worms.

Along the wood’s edge, damp air smelled of musty trees. Tiny wildflowers dotted the vast lawn. It appeared as if God had grabbed a handful of seed and scattered it across the grass before the land snuggled in for its winter nap. When spring arrived, miniature flowers bloomed everywhere. This year was the first I remembered seeing so many colorful flowerets. Pink. Purple. White.

As I mowed, I gazed upon God’s creation and thanked Him for His amazing display of artistry. I understood how the psalmist could lift his voice in such praise. He, too, marveled at the brilliant color pallet and vast array of earthy aromas God so loving provided.

Everywhere I looked, God’s breathtaking majesty beckoned me. And when the final strip was cut and the mower turned off, I sat in wonder. Awestruck, I considered the depth of His handiwork and counted my blessings.

Take time to enjoy God’s creation. Spend a moment today. Soak it in. Discover the wonders of nature and the blessings God so freely gives. 

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From a Tangled Mess

The copy machine in my office jams at the most inopportune time. One day my mind flashed back to my childhood as I worked to fix the machine. As a youth, I spent hours untangling messes, especially fishing line from a destroyed reel. This sparked a wild vision of opening a shop where I would detangle messes for people – fishing line, yarn, Christmas lights, etc. Dollar bills danced in my head as I dreamed about the throngs of people outside the shop doors who all needed my expertise to detangle their household issues. I spent hours drawing pictures and working on a store name and sign.

I thought the idea was brilliant but, fortunately, the reclaimed tangles shop epiphany stayed dormant. I had forgotten about the faulty entrepreneurial insight until I began to fix the broken copy machine. My brain clicked in rapid-fire succession from the copier to the fishing line as I equated both tasks to the messes and tangles of life.

We live in a broken world, which lends itself to messes and entanglements that our sin nature pulls us toward. There is someone who came to this earth to draw us to Himself and away from sin. He came to reclaim and repair lives that are messed up, tangled, or broken.

Throughout Scripture we are given examples of salvaged lives and the transformation that occurs through Christ’s love and forgiveness.

  •  The woman at the well
  •  The thief on the cross
  •  Saul who was renamed Paul
  •  Healing of the sick, lame, deaf, blind, mute, and dead (spiritually and physically)

Jesus met every one of these people right in the middle of their mess, and offered them hope, healing, restoration, and salvation.

If you are in the middle of a tangled life and don’t know where to turn, Jesus is waiting for you to come to Him and surrender every messed up, wrecked, or broken part. Don’t hesitate. Go to Him today. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Can You Dress Yourself?

I am fifty-six years old and I still cannot dress myself. I call myself “color ignorant” because, while I can see different colors, I have no concept of what will match as compared to what will clash. I need my wife’s assistance in selecting the proper clothes when leaving the house.

The idea of clothing ourselves is to make a specific decision to put something on, to wrap ourselves in something which people will see when they look at us. But the emphasis is not articles of clothing so much as character qualities. Instead of being in or out of style, will people see in you the type of qualities that transcend fashion? Regardless of fashion changes, spiritual clothing in the form of character qualities can be worn at all times to reflect God’s working in our lives.

The world looks at the outside person and sometimes does not look any further. We cannot change what other people do, but we can change our emphasis from that of the world. We can focus on the inner spiritual qualities only God can provide.

As God’s children, we have these qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience available to us through God’s Spirit. However, it is our choice to either put them on for others to see or leave them in the closet—seldom or never used. Make it your continual decision to clothe yourself with qualities that honor and please God, displaying His good nature for the world to see.

Just as I cannot dress myself properly when selecting matching clothes, we can have difficulty putting on the right character qualities only God can provide. Seek God’s help in clothing yourself in godly attributes each and every day. Make it your goal for the world to see Christ in you. Each morning as you dress yourself, either with or without assistance, endeavor to put on the attributes of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You’ll see just how God dresses you up. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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A Heart That Longs to Abide in Christ

When I drop my wife off at the airport for a trip, my heart always has an empty feeling. It’s as if part of me is flying away. I drive down the freeway in somewhat of a disassociated fog for most of the way home, but it helps if I start thinking about breakfast. Sitting at my favorite breakfast spot, I feel better with each bite. Still I feel alone.

When I apply my attention to the day’s news, I’m drawn back into the trivial pursuit of modern life, and it helps. By the time I’m back home, I’m feeling a bit better and thinking that not having to compromise for a few days is a good thing. But I still miss her warmth and laugh.

Loving someone is an interesting condition. It causes desires and reactions that are sometimes surprising. When we love someone, we desire to touch them, and we smile when they come into view. We step toward each other with anticipation in our hearts and find comfort in each other’s presence. We not only find comfort in loving arms, but we also find confirmation of our worth.

Warm hearts are not a part of barren religious duty—neither is missing Jesus.

A child of God can judge their true spiritual condition by how much they desire to abide (or remain) in the relationship they have been given as a branch on the Vine. Unfortunately, many come to Jesus but fail to remain resting in His sufficiency. They dry up emotionally and must be pruned—sometimes back to the branch’s bud of life given to them when they were born again. Only a painful pruning can teach some of God’s children how much they need Jesus.

After these thoughts, I remembered if I didn’t kiss the Son, He would be angry (Psalm 2:12). My soul then began a mournful lament that wondered whether I truly loved Jesus. Or did I only miss Him when the Father had to prune my soul?

Abide in Jesus and you will find tender love that doesn’t fly away. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Dzz.)

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Friends

It’s hard to know who your friends are. Jesus fortunately could see all things, so He knew Peter would turn out to be a very good friend. We don’t always see that with our friends. Sometimes all we can see is how they let us down when we need them the most.

Recently, I called a friend I hadn’t spoken to in almost nineteen years. I had purposely lost contact because I felt as if this friend didn’t measure up to my expectations of a good friend. She had been my maid of honor and was even with me the moment I met my husband. We were very close and had gone through a lot together. Looking at my wedding photos, I realized I had not stayed in contact with any of my closest friends. I could have blamed my loss of friendships on so many things, but in my heart it was because I was harboring unforgiveness. The crazy thing is I didn’t even see my feelings as unforgiveness; I simply saw people who weren’t good friends. The problem really wasn’t them; it was me.

The Lord knew Peter, one of His closest friends, would deny even knowing Him three times in one night. Talk about painful ... With all they had been through together, that had to hurt Jesus to the core. But Jesus knew Peter’s heart. He understood sometimes our friends can’t come through for us because of where they are personally. If we don’t open the door of love for them to come through by forgiving them, we can be hung in a place where we never move forward. In
the case of Peter, he went back to his previous occupation as a fisherman. He didn’t see himself as worthy to do what Jesus had called him to do. It wasn’t until Jesus met with him on the beach that Peter could move forward in his call—knowing Jesus had forgiven him and still called him friend.

Love your friends. Sift them through the grace and forgiveness which Christ extended to you through the cross. As you reflect on past and present relationships, make sure you have done all you can to enable them to know His love and grace through you. Now grow and move forward. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Held Captive

I awoke to the realities of everyday life. Going to a job that I dreaded, taking the kids to school, planning a dinner menu, all while trying to remember if I turned off the lights in the bedroom before I rushed out the door. That was my morning.

My commute usually consisted of prayer with my son before he climbed out of the car, grabbing a cup of coffee from BP, and flipping between the TJMS and the CDs in my disc changer. Today was no different, except it was cloudy and I didn't feel like getting out of bed, let alone going to work. Fifteen minutes into my commute, my mind drifted back to a daily confession I'd posted on my bathroom wall. It read: I am content and emotionally stable! I will not live my life dictated by my feelings! After all, what did I have to feel bad about? God was moving in my life in mighty ways. He’d answered prayers and changed my life, so what in the world did I have to feel down about?

At that moment, I realized my thoughts were being held captive. I wasn't going to allow the enemy’s tricks to sidetrack my focus from an all-loving, all-powerful God and place them onto myself. Regardless of the trials the day might bring, I was suddenly confident whatever God brought me to, He would bring me through. God says when I hope in Him, my strength will be renewed. My heart will soar, and I’ll be strong.

Choose to run toward your destiny. Trust in God and you will not grow weary when faced with challenges or opposition. Press your way through, and God will exalt you in due time. Allow God to renew your strength. Take every negative thought captive and continue to believe Him. Look for the wonder and glory of God all around you and choose to see the sun even when clouds fill the sky. I pray you see the beauty in all things your heavenly Father has created just for you. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Pass the Baton

Eliza, one of my father’s older cousins, was the piano player at a small church in the mountains of Western North Carolina. But most folks called her Lizzer. I knew her as Cousin Lizzer. Still, I never really knew her—only from a distance.

As a small child sitting on a wooden pew in the middle of the church, she was very visual. She was lean and tall. Her salt-and-pepper hair, long and scraggly, framed her face—the very epitome of a mountain woman. Yet, her heart was pure. And she was a worshiper. When the Holy Spirit touched her, she would worship—yet continue to play the piano. Her hands would lift off the keys and high into the air. When they again descended, however, her fingers always hit the keys in just the right place—never missing a note. She was a character, but she was also anointed.

As a teenager, I was invited to this same church. Eliza was now old and unable to attend. Members, however, had been praying for a new pianist. When I walked through the door, that prayer was answered—a testimony to the persistence of prayer. That morning I came forward and gave my life to Christ. After church, I was handed a songbook with a list of hymns to practice. That same evening I was at the piano in Eliza’s place—playing music for the first time in a church setting. It was an anointed calling that I now cherish.

I don’t believe Eliza ever had one piano lesson. Her ability did not require written note. It came from an anointing to “play by ear.” I also have that talent. I wish I’d known this distant cousin named Lizzer. Still, I appreciate her creativity and the talents I inherited through this same bloodline. I’m grateful to have witnessed her in action.

As a teenager, I was handed Eliza’s baton just as Elisha was handed Elijah’s baton in days of old. That same anointing will also keep me until my time comes to pass the baton to someone else. If you desire to pass your baton, learn to live in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. And when your baton is passed, that same anointing will continue far into the next generation.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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The Amazing Backward

"Welcome to your new home, Calie!”

My sister-in-law, Dawn, sat on the floor next to their three-month-old Maltese puppy. Her husband joined her. “Look Calie, here’s your food bowl.” Calie backed away. "Come here, Calie,” they encouraged her gently. But she continued her backwards shuffle.

"Use this," Dawn said, handing Adam a peanut-butter-filled treat Calie's owner had given them.

"Here, Calie, come get the treat."

No matter what they tried, for the first twenty-four hours of owning their puppy, Calie only walked backwards. They were increasingly concerned that their dog was somehow defective. 

In Ephesians, Paul says those of us who were once far away are brought near by the blood of Christ Jesus. Without Christ, we are far away. Just like Calie, we are walking backwards, away from the One Who is trying to save us. We are by ourselves, with only our own piddly power to rely on. But there's good news. Christ's sacrificial death brings us back into a right relationship with God. He died so we might be brought near.

Adam and Dawn still cared for Calie while she walked backwards. But their relationship was not how it was meant to be between an owner and their dog until she decided to walk forward. Now, they can go on walks and play fetch.

Take some time today to thank God for bridging the gap between you and Him in order to bring you near, even when you were walking away from Him.

Lord, I love You. I am sorry for my many years of walking away from You, even though You are the only true love worth pursuing. Please help me stay by Your side so we can walk through life together for the rest of my life.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Expect the Unexpected

Fun in the sun. Beach fun. What a wonderful time to spend with family and friends—a time used to rest, relax, and unwind. A time to temporarily escape from the norm, the beach offers relief from everyday responsibilities and the pressures of life.

Some of us anxiously await the summer season. We long for the beach once again, often expecting similar experiences. However, unexpected things can happen at the beach. God can show up.

I stared out into the horizon sitting high on a bridge above the beach in Wildwood, NJ. I was awestruck looking at the Atlantic and the greatness and vastness of Almighty God. I lingered there for over an hour. My eyes couldn’t take in enough of His creative wonders. My thirsty soul was quenched by His presence.

I looked along the beach and observed people walking, jogging, and some walking their dogs. My eyes fixed on a particular man and his dog as the animal quickly ran from him. The man called out and the dog, recognizing his voice, obeyed. He responded to his master’s voice. The dog’s response to listen and obey his master caused me to realize just how much more we should listen and obey when God (our Master) commands or calls us. Whether He commands us to simply witness to the lost or calls us to a specific ministry assignment, we should readily listen and obey.

Beach experiences can be quite pleasurable. They can give new and unexpected perspectives about our God. Regardless of where He shows up, once we hear Him speak to our heart, our task is to readily obey. If so, the benefits and rewards will bring blessings beyond compare.

Listen for His voice and obey. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Unexpected Answers

The last time I filled the hummingbird feeder, I grumped. Ants crawled all over the feeder, inside and out. Why did those ants have to mess up MY feeder? The ants didn’t seem to bother the hummingbirds, but they sure bothered me.

After I rinsed out the feeder and blasted those ants with the jet setting of the hose nozzle, I put in a fresh batch of sugar water and went back inside. Later that day, I looked out the window and noticed a green lizard lying along the ledge of the hummingbird feeder. Of all the places that lizard could sleep, it chose the feeder.

As I began to resent the lizard’s existence, it only took mere seconds before it hit me. Of course. Thank you, Jesus. Jesus heard me grump over the ants at the feeder and sent a solution … the lizard. He solved the problem of the ants and fed the lizard at the same time. Yea, God. 

Who says God isn’t interested in the little things of our lives? If ants aren’t one of those little things, I don’t know what is. Like one of my girlfriends says, “It’s all small to God.” Amen?

How many times do we go before God with a problem and hand Him the solution to said problem at the same time? He knows our needs before we ask, and yet He waits for us to do just that. His solutions may not be what we have in mind, but His ways are always better.

We have our own idea as to how God should solve our dilemma. Our own agenda and time frame. But when we let go of our problem and allow God to handle it as only He can, we see His ways and thoughts are not like ours. They are much, much better.

The next time ants overtake your hummingbird feeder, whatever those ants and that feeder may be, remember God’s ways are not our ways. And thank Him for that fact. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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The Bridge Is Out

The only reason our great time was possible is because you can take spirituality with you wherever you go. We recently returned from Las Vegas where my wife and I spent a delightful weekend with her oldest brother and his wife. Between laughing, we talked about family, work, life in general, and how wonderful it is to know Jesus. (Both my brother-in-law and his wife have recently been born again at the ages of sixty and seventy.) The big master mechanic from Detroit now has the joy and love he was always searching for, often in the wrong places.

All of this happened in the context of buses going by, advertising in four-foot posters that we could rent a girl if we wanted to (prostitution is legal in Nevada). They even provided a number to call. From the selection of pictures that were provided, we decided they must have a catalog for the pickier shoppers. I doubt we will visit Vegas again soon in spite of seeing The Jersey Boys and loving the show.

Hoover Dam and Red Rock helped to put things in perspective. Putting together Hoover Dam and the bus posters, I drew a conclusion. Morally, our society is on a slippery slope ... sliding into a toxic sea, in spite of America’s natural beauty and engineering marvels.

Whosoever is born of God does not sin. How is that possible?  It’s possible because today’s verse uses a present active indicative in the Greek. This means a born-again Christian—one who has had the Holy Spirit come to live on the inside the first moment of regeneration (or, his seed—sperma—remains in him)—cannot continue living in sin indefinitely.

Sin? We certainly can. Continue living in sin? We certainly can’t, or we will be turned over to Satan that the body might be destroyed but the spirit saved. My heart says hallelujah at this point as I relax and find comfort in our Lord’s rod and staff, which are used in love first and last. Putting your faith in that which stands firm can let God shower you with mercy when sin attacks. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and SDRandCo.)

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The Begatitudes

There they stood … all forty-three of them. Some tall, some short. Some Jewish, others Gentile. The young, old, righteous, and unrighteous. Some were bright; some not. But one thing in particular united them all. They are all chronicled in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

How can that be? One is from Moab. That is true. One of them is an adulterer and a murderer. Yes, he is in there too. Wait, what about that Caananite prostitute? Yes, her too. So, what does all this tell us? It teaches us that God can use anyone in His creation to accomplish His perfect will. He can do anything He wants with anything He chooses.

This powerful truth tells me I do not have to be tall to be useful to God. I do not have to be strong or attractive to be chosen for work in God’s kingdom. I don’t even have to be real smart, but I do have to be obedient. When I trust in the Lord, He can do anything through me. No personal limitation or obstacle is too great for God to make use of us as long as we are obedient.

I do not want to meet Jesus at the end of a life of defeat because I did not think I measured up. I do not want to stand before Jesus after a life of timidity because I was not tall, handsome, smart, and strong.

Strive to live a life of obedience, so the legacy of your life will say, “My God can do anything through any faithful believer because my God is great!”

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Let Us Go - Let's Shine

Light always prevails. Light reveals and discloses what’s hidden. Light illuminates, intensifies, magnifies, and penetrates. Light can lead and guide our pathway. It is very powerful and can be all-consuming.

Imagine a city-wide blackout or a community-wide electrical power outage caused by torrential rains, a tornado, or a hurricane. Such an experience can cause high levels of fear, anxiety, and sheer pandemonium. Everyone would be of the same mindset—simply longing for the light to return. Flashlights and home generators would be in full operation. Once the light was restored, it could break through any dark area. Even a flicker of light from a single candle shining in the blackness of those surroundings, would become visible and recognizable. The light would penetrate the darkness.

In a similar manner, Jesus calls us to be that light in a dark and dying world. He desires that we be His representatives here on earth. His light bearers. He wants His character to shine in us, through us, and all around us. He wants the light of His love to reach those who don’t know Him. When this happens, others will see it and will be drawn to the light residing in us and, ultimately, be drawn to Him.

Our walk with God may begin as a small flicker of light, but as the Holy Spirit fills us more and more, that light will shine brighter and brighter. The penetrating, revealing, and all-consuming light of Christ in us will dispel the darkness in others. Souls will come into the Kingdom of God, and lives will be changed forever. Jesus, the light of the world, will be glorified. Let His enabling power cause you to shine on and on. 

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Power Source

Thirty minutes into my five-hour drive home, I remembered what I’d forgotten. I grabbed my phone and called my husband. “I left my computer and phone chargers at Mom’s house. What should I do?” We weighed my choices—burden my elderly mom to mail the chargers or return to retrieve them. Resolving the issue, I took a deep breath, turned around, and turned up my music. I needed my power sources. What’s one more hour added to my trip—ugh!

Electronics generate dependence on power. Instead of the little black phone book or a notepad and pen, we use cell phones and computers to store all our memory. This modern age tethers us to a power source to utilize our gadgets. When electricity malfunctions or devices crash, our world temporarily folds. With no source of power to run my machines, helplessness seems to overpower me.

Our spiritual lives work similarly—plug into power or lackluster living. Jesus humbly came to earth to usher in the kingdom of God by demonstrating a godly life based on His righteousness. He lived to exemplify faith and trust in God; He died to save us from our sins. After His resurrection, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to live God’s way by following His example. Jesus yearns for relationship with His people, not religious posturing. When we choose to believe and imitate Jesus Christ’s lifestyle instead of only talking about it, He equips us with Holy Spirit power.

When I check my quiet time with God off my to-do list, I’m uninspired. When I offer lip service to Him while holding onto worry and fear, my devotion means nothing. If I fail to prioritize His righteous way for my day, my power quickly drains and I’m unproductive. My refusal to “plug in” to His Spirit renders me inefficient and powerless.

Take time to recharge your life with a relational God. Allow His kingdom to enter your heart with Holy Spirit power. You’ll discover Jesus as the never-failing power source. Now tether up and plug in! 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Christmas Presence

“We’ve scheduled your husband’s heart procedure for tomorrow. As soon as we complete his discharge papers, the ambulance will take him to Louisville. If all goes as planned, he should be transferred to the rehabilitation hospital the following day.”

Although Christmas was only four days away, I embraced that incredible news. Our family had gone from the doctor saying, “We can’t ever say there’s no hope, but it doesn’t look good,” on December 10, 2009, to witnessing unbelievable recovery in the days that followed. A heart attack, stroke, fall resulting in a severe brain injury, and lack of oxygen from an extended period with no heart or lung function—any one of which can result in death. All together … death is almost guaranteed. Almost.

As soon as EMS loaded him for the hospital transfer, I made a beeline home to pack essentials for the next few weeks. I also grabbed a small crocheted Christmas tree and a miniature nativity scene. The next day’s surgery went well, so we prepared for our final transfer. Since the rehabilitation hospital had extra bed space during the holidays, they agreed for me to stay in the room with my husband.

Visitors came and went, but we also had several hours of solitude. During that time, I found myself gazing at our tiny tree and nativity scene and contemplating anew the significance of Christmas. I gained a greater appreciation for Mary and Joseph’s predicament that first Christmas night as well. Far from home, they faced their medical dilemma and unknown future alone—in a shelter intended for livestock. Sure, they had visitors after Jesus’ birth, but those men were strangers, not the people they knew and loved. And I could not imagine how intimidated they must have felt with the unparalleled task that lay before them and their newborn son.

So I gave thanks. Thanks that we were together. Thanks that we had abundant medical and emotional support. Thanks for a warm, comfortable place to stay until we could return home. Greater still, thanks that because of God’s Presence to earth that night so long ago we would never have to face the future alone.

Regardless of the season or circumstances, embrace the promise of God’s Christmas Presence. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and click.)

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Year Round Celebration

“Dad, if I wasn’t here with you, would you still put out the Christmas decorations?” my daughter asked as we began to put up the Christmas tree.

We started about a month earlier than usual so we could enjoy the tree, lights, and decorations longer than previous years. It’s our favorite pastime to turn off the house lights and sit in the darkened room watching the rhythmic pulse of the tree lights. It can be quite peaceful, if not a little hypnotic. Add the roaring fireplace casting its dancing brilliance on the light show and . . . ahh, one of the beautiful moments of the Christmas season.

Recently God used my daughter’s question to speak to my heart. Why do I wait for the majority of the year to get into the holiday spirit? You know the one I’m talking about. We slow down a bit from our hectic schedules and become more nostalgic. We remember the good times of past holiday gatherings with the extended family. We reach out to friends with whom we’ve lost contact over the year. There’s an expectant excitement in the air. Fresh baked pies, bread, and cookies create that inviting smell of “home.” Life seems to take on a softer hue as the Christmas season approaches.

Again the question: Why do I wait until the holiday season to express my feelings to loved ones, to appreciate my friends, to be grateful for God’s multiplied blessings in my life? If my daughter wasn’t home, would I even bother to go through the trouble of hauling out all the decorations only to take it all down, box it up, and put it back in storage?

God is God all year round, and He sent us Christ, bundled in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. To most folks, He seemed ordinary, but He was far from ordinary. Christ was the most beautiful and indescribable gift God could have given us. His perfect son. His perfect love. So instead of saving that “special feeling” for the end of the year, celebrate God all year long!

God, thank You for who You are and for Your countless blessings! Awaken in us today a sense of Your constant presence and a mesmerizing wonder of your continuing goodness! 

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A Royal Baby

The queue wrapped around the palace. Young and old, people stood all day for news of the royal baby. Prince William and his bride, Kate, had just given birth to the next heir to the British throne, and the throngs were breathless as they waited to welcome the new prince to London. 

I was in London that week and saw the crowds fight for a chance to photograph the announcement. Not the baby, mind you. Just the announcement. A slip of paper in a gold frame announcing his arrival. At the airport en route to the UK, I heard stories of people who flew to London in anticipation of the birth. Thousands of dollars in airplane tickets and hotel rooms just to catch a glimpse of the child who may be king one day. 

The whole world eagerly welcomed young Prince George, the third in line to the throne. This little boy will grow up with every form of privilege. He’ll be surrounded by royalty, celebrities, and servants. His training will be Oxford or Cambridge. He’ll never lack for attention, and his every need will be met—needs that he won’t even know exist. 
 
How different from another royal baby born over two thousand years ago. This other baby came into the world, and no one welcomed Him. Only His mother and father. The baby announcement didn’t draw throngs of eager visitors. Instead, His announcement was heralded by angels to a few common shepherds. No palace. No queues of eager onlookers. This royal baby would grow up apprenticing to a carpenter, a lowly tradesman. He would befriend fishermen and tax collectors. 

A royal baby born in London the summer of 2013 captured the world’s attention. But the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, born more than 2000 years earlier is ignored by many. 

Will you turn away from Him or will you value Him today? 

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Because He Came

“Perfect! My Mary is going to love this place. Just a few more furnishings to carve … a table, two chairs …” 

Joseph surveyed his labor of love for his betrothed. “Mary’s so easy to please, but I want her to live like a queen. What a prize Yaweh has given me. She’s such a sweet, unassuming girl … not the giddy, frivolous type, not vain and empty.” 

But as of late, heads were turning and whispers exchanged. Joseph was baffled—he was the last to know. When the gossip reached all the way to where he was, Joseph knew hurt … too much to believe. But it was true. Mary was pregnant, not with his child, but some other man’s. This was his Mary. 

Anger raged within. “Forgive her—after being played the fool?” Tongues were wagging. All eyes were watching. He knew what was expected of him. He knew the rule. Would he take a stand? Would he be a man? But Joseph knew a God of mercy—a God who rejoiced at mercy’s seat.

“That’s it. I’ll do this privately. I’ll not embarrass her. I must protect her. I’ll extend forgiveness and then walk away … with my pain.” 

But Joseph awakened that night to angel glow and heavenly visions, causing his heavy heart to sing with joy. Before cock crow, Joseph knocked softly on Mary’s door and with glistening eyes he cried, “I know!”

Forgiveness—wasn’t it a God who so loved the world that He kissed His Son goodbye to hang on a dirty cross of sin and shame? Forgiveness—wasn’t it wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in an animal’s crude feeding trough? Forgiveness—isn’t it the heart of Christmas morning? And isn’t this our message to a dying world … our message to the loved one standing in the rain … our message to the one who crossed us and made us cry? 

Last night my heart was grieved as the sting of my petty ways was shown to me through the heart of our Savior, so pure. I bowed my head and cried aloud, “Oh, Lord, my life I lay down. Please forgive my childish, trifling ways. Give me a song that sings forgiveness—forgiveness without questions, forgiveness without a reason or reward, and forgiveness because You came!” 

Are you ready to lay down your life and forgive?

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A Holiday Witness

“Wow! What a big box. What on earth is Aunt Helene sending us?”

My husband and I, married just six years, examined the massive package the postman had just delivered. Opening it with anticipation, we found, snuggled in clouds of tissue, a resting cow, the Wise Men’s camel, Mary’s donkey, the Magi with their gifts, the shepherds and their sheep, an angel, Joseph, Mary, the manger, and Baby Jesus – a complete and imposing ceramic crèche. Aunt Helene had lovingly painted each piece a soft ivory. 

What a striking witness to our Christian faith amid our more traditional Christmas décor! Even more thrilling, it furnished unique props as we retold the Christmas story to our young children. The Wise Men and their camel were placed far away “in the east.” The shepherd and their sheep were “in the hills,” nearer, but not at the stable. Mary, Joseph, and the donkey were at a distance too. The manger, of course, was empty. 

Each day throughout Advent, Mary and Joseph moved a bit closer and finally arrived at the stable on Christmas Eve when the Baby Jesus appeared. The angel visited the shepherds, who then made their way to the manger, stayed awhile, and returned to the hills. About this time, the Wise Men started their trek, arriving on January 6, Epiphany. 

For forty-five years, in five different homes, this beautiful nativity set has remained a major part of our Christmas decorations, a testimony to the true story of Christmas. Centuries ago, when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan into the Promised Land, he had them build a monument of twelve stones as a witness to the mighty acts of God in their behalf. Today, our striking nativity scene witnesses to the mighty act of God in our behalf, the arrival of our Savior so many years ago. 

What stones do you have to mark the true meaning of Christmas? With all the commercialism of the holidays these days, be sure to witness in some way to the real Christmas story. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Little or Much

I don’t have much. Last night as I lay in bed, I talked with Jesus and thanked him for the blessings He has given me. At that moment, God reminded me about the donation I made to a church for world hunger. It gave me such a sense of happiness that I had released a small blessing for the first time to a starving child. 

Then God spoke to me. “Will you give when you have much?” 

My eyes flew open as I thought about the other times in my life when I had the opportunity to give but did not. In those days, I thought about it but didn’t do it. Now, in a major transition in my life, my funds don’t look the way they did when I had a career. Still, I was able to give freely to this ministry with gratefulness. 

What was the missing ingredient? For me it was easier to give when I had little. Maybe I had to lose everything to gain more in my life. Jesus reminds us that greed makes it difficult for us to let go. His example of how it was easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a wealthy man to enter heaven taught that wealth is not bad. Allowing greed, however, can cause devastation. 

That was the missing ingredient. It was hard for me to let go and obey the Holy Spirit when prompted, but when financial tribulation hit, I was able to humble myself and learn from God. I was able to unload my camel to enter through the eye of the needle into God’s kingdom and receive what He had for me on the other side. 

So the question arises, “Will I give when I have much?” My answer is “Yes, Lord.” God has given me an opportunity to learn who I am and, more importantly, who He is. He has taken that bondage of greed and guilt away and replaced it with peace and willingness to give and help others 

Is this your opportunity to help others? Don’t miss the main ingredient God has put in your life. 

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Yet

Definition of the word yet? Webster’s defines it as: in addition; besides; up to now; continuously up to the present or a specified time; at a future time; eventually.

Think of the times you've remarked—with a hint of cynicism—that an unmet desire hasn’t happened yet. With cynicism as a companion, yet means highly unlikely. Every unmet expectation becomes another brick added to the wall of unbelief. Yet holds out little or no hope. It gives up on someone, something, and maybe even God. Yet may be the idol of unbelief. 

Now, recall the times of stating your object of desire hasn’t transpired yet, but with a gleam of hope in your eye and an ounce of faith in your heart, you are waiting for the future time—the eventually of your dreams. Yet doesn’t construct a brick wall here, it destructs the concrete blocks of negativity. Yet sets its eyes like a racehorse with blinders to keep the goal of the finish line in plain view. The finish line is there, no matter how far away it may seem. You may expire before you reach it, but you will die reaching and believing for the goal. 

Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Those who come to Him must believe that He is. He is what? He is a God of your yet … my yet. He rewards those who believe He is a yet-kind-of-God, faithful even when we are faithless. He reaches down when we can barely look up. Yet looks up instead of around, forges ahead when others stay in the box, throws away the odds, eliminates the statistics, and keeps a distance from the naysayers in life. Yet hears the cheers of those on the sidelines rooting, believing, and praying. 

Your yet may be today, tomorrow, next week, next year, or off in the distant future. Choose your companions wisely. They will either keep you from your desired finish line, or cross it walking hand in hand with you! 

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Shark Food

My son David entered his room to change after work. As he went through drawers pulling out clothes, he had an overwhelming feeling of being watched. Turning around, he grasped his chest, then laughed. Lined up in a neat row, staring at him from their aquarium home, were his four freshwater sharks. They were waiting for David to feed them. 

A few days earlier, he had placed goldfish in the tank in an attempt to wean the predators from the frozen bloodworms he had been providing as living food. The goldfish were more economical. Besides, sharks are supposed to hunt for their own food. Even as hunger must have gripped them, they rejected the goldfish and waited for David to feed them. Months later, they still rely on him for their daily food.

As Christians, we can become like these sharks. Rather than spending time in The Word ourselves, we rely on pastors and Bible teachers to feed us. 

Paul’s challenge to believers is to “eat meat.” Otherwise, we remain immature and only comprehend the milk of the Word. We limit our growth and underestimate our abilities. Just as God created the shark to hunt for its food, so God has created His children to seek after Him. My son wanted his aquarium friends to eat the goldfish because they were more economical, and with his hectic schedule he wasn’t always available at the same time every day to feed them.

Jesus wants us to feed on his Word daily because it provides us greater strength and a more intimate relationship. Begin your day hungry and feast on God’s Word. 

(Photo courtesey of morguefile and jade)

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Getting the Job Done

“Come with me right now!”

She grabbed me by the hand and we ran down the hallway. Where were we going? Was I in some kind of trouble? Was she? Lynn seemed pretty desperate for me to follow, no questions asked, so I followed. She was my best friend and she needed me. That’s all I knew and all I needed to know. We ran directly to the home ec room. Once securely inside, she shut the door, hurried behind a partition and dropped her pants. 

“What the heck are you doing?” I asked. 

She tossed her pants at me from behind the makeshift wall and desperately replied, “My zipper broke. Go into that big drawer full of zippers, find one that will fit and fix my pants. Please.” 

This was going to be a challenge. I’d never replaced a zipper in a pair of jeans in my life. We’d taken two years of home ec together, but I excelled in cooking. She was the better seamstress. And the next class period was a mere twenty-five  minutes away. But there was a job to be done, so I geared myself up to give it my best shot. She gave me words of encouragement from behind the screen and talked me through a few of the tricky spots. 

Twenty-six minutes later, she wiggled back into her jeans and we ran to our next class. My handiwork may not have been absolute perfection, but her pants and dignity were both now intact. Although I had little confidence in my ability to master a six-inch zipper and some rather thick denim, Lynn knew I could do it. 

I may not have been qualified for the job, but I was willing. I was called to do something and was able to do it with the help of the one who took me by the hand and lead me where I needed to go to do the work. My friend gave me confidence and direction, not to achieve perfection, but to be effective. 

Doesn’t this sound like the loving support we get from our Lord when He calls us to do something for Him? When you are willing to trust Him and run toward the task, no questions asked, He will give you what you need to complete the job. Let Him lead you to your next mission today. 

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Outside the Box

With coffee mug in hand and knit blanket draped across my lap, I sat in my favorite recliner quietly contemplating. My mind reeled with thoughts swirling round and round. I attempted to sort and organize them, but to no avail. I became frustrated, and I wasn’t sure why. After pondering for several minutes, I determined the reason for my frustration. The spinning thoughts did not fit neatly into the boxes inside my head. 
 
Being a very detailed and organized individual, things are either white or black. I don’t do gray. So, when a couple of my closest friends challenged me with some writing ideas that fell outside of my organized thought process, I had no place to put them. A whirlpool of ideas, words, and thoughts began to swirl endlessly with no place to land. I did not possess a “writing box” to place them in. 

The new ideas challenged me. I liked that. For me, it is through challenges I grow. I welcome new ideas because they coax me to think outside the box. It forces me beyond my comfort zone. The rose-colored glasses come off, and I open up to a world of possibilities. 

God does that to us too. Because He has big plans for us, He challenges us to take risks. He encourages us to leave our comfort zone and expand our horizons. Sometimes He uses people close to us such as He did with my friends. It is through the consideration of new ideas that our minds process an endless array of possibilities. 
 
Gloria Gaither once said, “With each new experience of letting God be in control, we gain courage and reinforcement for daring to do it again and again.”  So, what’s on your horizon? Is God challenging you? Trust God to guide your journey. If it is His plan, He will not let you fail. As for me? Eventually, my whirlpool of thoughts settled. The surface calmed. And although a “writing box” never magically appeared, I trusted God to guide the way. 

Start thinking outside the box and let God guide you today.

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Living in a War Zone

Recently, I wrote these words in my prayer journal with the firm intent of living them out in all I did and said within the walls of my house. The Spirit had convicted me that too many of my thoughts and too much of my speech contained bitterness, unforgiveness, 
spite, anger, brooding, and a host of other negative emotions. 

Instead of exhibiting the positive fruit of the Spirit, I had failed to give compliments, acted with suspicion, nursed my wounds, and planned retaliation. My inner life resembled a war zone. I had an enemy for sure, but it wasn’t my immediate family, friends, or neighbors. It was the one who persistently seeks whomever he can devour. He was winning the war as I battled, using worldly weapons of offense. 
 
Then I read Psalm 101:2. I’d often heard that I was the only person on earth I had full responsibility for and control over. The Spirit convicted me to start fighting the enemy within instead of the one “without.” 
 
Long story short, I learned that when I approached others with the intent of seeing life through their eyes, being short on judgment and long on compassion, and asking if my contemplated words or actions were going to enhance or deter my goals—relationships 
started to improve. Not overnight. Not in a month. But noticeably over time. 
 
Now I’m so busy strategizing against pride, self-righteousness, impatience, and my need for control, I hardly have time to battle with anyone else. Pardon me, but I’ve got to get back to the war zone—right smack dab inside my heart. Let God help you strategize. 

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Subway Angel

 

Standing in the cement chamber of the Washington DC rail system, John and I pondered the buttons on the machine that sold tickets. Sounds of rolling wheels echoed off the walls. “We should be able to figure this out.” I tried to feed a five dollar bill into a slot, but the machine refused to accept it. “What am I doing wrong?”

Before we had flown away from our farm in Michigan, I had reassured my husband we could manage to purchase tickets for the correct train and take the subway to visit friends who lived in Maryland. “Be adventurous,” I lectured. Now, I watched as a young, well-dressed couple punched buttons for a different train and grabbed their tickets. Even when I mimicked their actions, no slips of paper emerged. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a short, gray-haired lady dressed in a polyester pantsuit with two full shopping bags. Panting, she set them down by us.

“Are you farmers from Lancaster, Pennsylvania?” she asked. “I visited there a couple of years ago. Need some help?”

“We’re from a farm in Michigan. Could you please show us how to use these machines? We’ve never ridden a subway.” I handed her the bills. “We need tickets for the Red Line.”

“Sure.” Her wrinkled hands paused. “Would you mind buying my ticket too?”

“Sure thing.” I gave her more money.

She slipped the bills into a slot I hadn’t observed and handed me our tickets before purchasing another.

“You’ll need to stand over here for the Red Line. I’ll be taking the Green Line.”

Our new friend chatted with us until her train arrived. “Don’t move from here. The Red Line should arrive in a few minutes.” Hoisting her bags, she lumbered up the train’s steps.

Finally, we climbed into our train car and rattled off towards Silver Springs, grateful for the woman’s assistance. It would be too simple to judge the young couple who wouldn’t take time to help two sojourners and laud the bag lady.

How often have I turned away from the plea to teach Sunday school, or to sponsor a child in Honduras, or to pause and visit with an 
elderly friend? Like so many others, I rush about focused on accomplishing numerous tasks when I should imitate Jesus, who stopped when a woman touched the hem of His cloak. He didn’t hesitate to reach out and help her. 

Be like Jesus. Take time to extend a hand. 

Lord, please help me grow a heart that will stop and do good. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

( For more devotions visit us at www.christiandevotions.us )



Sincerely

Letters of correspondence are usually ended with the word sincerely, in a desire for communication to end with a tone of cordiality and authenticity. 

What does the Bible mean when it talks about a sincere faith? There might be a bit of a surprise when we examine the biblical meaning of the word sincere

I once heard Dr. David Jeremiah do a word study on this passage. The word sincere comes from two Greek words, sine and cera, which together mean “without wax.” A stone sculpturer of that day, who might not be honest, would accidently crack a statue and fill in the crack with bee’s wax. He would carefully paint over the repaired fracture and sell it with the flaw unbeknownst to the buyer. People who knew of this practice would ask if the statue was sincere, meaning without wax and with no defects. 

How does this meaning of a sincere faith relate to our lives today as Christians? The issue is not really about us being perfect. We are all marred creations. But are we covering up our imperfections? Jesus, though not condoning their sin, did not condemn the prostitutes and tax collectors who were pretty flawed people. The Pharisees, on the other hand, took some harsh criticism from the Lord. These religious leaders were always putting wax on their cracks. Outwardly, they appeared righteous but, inwardly, their hearts were evil. They were not sincere people. 

Don’t mask over who you really are with religious expertise. This only portrays your own righteousness, which the Bible calls “filthy rags.” Be open and honest about your inadequacies and trust God for His mercy and grace to change. The latter will cause the righteousness of Christ to shine forth from your life. 

Chose a life sincerely about Christ. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

( For more devotions visit us at www.christiandevotions.us )



He's Got Your Back

“He begged me to fire you.” Those were hard words to process as I listened to my boss share the details of a disgruntled employee’s quest to get rid of me.

Betrayal hurts, especially when it comes at the hand of someone you thought was a trusted friend—someone you love and who, on the surface, loves you in return. 

After it was over, I looked back over the past couple of years and saw a pattern. My trust had been placed in the wrong person. Fortunately, I could also see how God had helped me stand strong in the face of adversity when I wanted to tuck-my-tail-and-run like a wounded puppy. 

That scenario brought back other memories of how God has brought me through similar situations unscathed, much wiser, and with my integrity intact. There were many times my flesh wanted to retaliate and my mouth wanted to scream, “Unfair!” Thankfully, I listened to the still, small voice inside and took my problem to Him. 

God says the battle is His. Whenever I’m temped to pick up a stone and throw it, He tells me to use only the sword of the Spirit—His Word. When I trust Him in the crisis, He sends His angels before me and covers me with the precious, shed blood of Jesus. His glory closes the gap and becomes my rear-guard. In other words, He’s got my back. 

The Bible gives numerous accounts of battles won by anything other than natural means. Moses had to keep his hands raised to heaven in order to win the battle. Gideon had to send all of his soldiers home except for a handful. Joshua led his army on a hike and then instructed them to shout until the walls of Jericho fell. 

The truth is God’s hands are not tied by our limited thinking, and He is never caught off guard by our problems. He is faithful, all-powerful, and has boundless resources and creativity. The best part is that He has promised to never leave or turn away from His children. 

In other words … He’s got your back. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



The Love of God

I was sitting alone with the TV on when I felt God wanted to say something to me. I was trying to get settled into a sermon, but the strong and steady tug wouldn't go away. I switched off the television, resting back into the quiet of the room.

The still quiet voice of God spoke to my heart. "Get a pen and paper." I flipped on the lamp and grabbed a pen and paper.

The gentle voice of God filled me.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love -- a peaceful love. When I call, you have answered. You are my child with whom I am well pleased. Take heart in your devotion of me. I have planted a deep love for me within you. I call you by name and invite you to partake of me. I am your God, the one true God, and I create what is best for you.

You have seen hard days and lived a hard life. I have seen your struggle -- been in your shoes. I know pain. I was beaten, tortured, and crucified for the wrongdoing of others. Forsaken so my Father’s name was glorified. He raised me from the dead. I have new life.

You are risen every day that you choose me over the world. Your old self is crucified daily so you may live life to the fullest. The Spirit is in you, guiding you. You are never alone. I am with you. I have plans to give you a hope and future. Though you have experienced much pain and suffering, your experiences will lead to bearing good fruit in my name. You are not forgotten. When you were powerless and weakened by the world, I gave you a new song to sing. Enjoy the life I have provided."

These special words come in the stillness of a moment. No matter what is going in our lives, His quiet yet firm voice reassures us He is near. These beautiful moments come right when we need them. We all experience troubles in this life, but Jesus is with us every step of the way. He has told us so and His promises are eternal.

Sit quietly. Listen for the still small voice of God and let His presence fill you.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Labeled

Whatever I was, I no longer am, in Christ.

One by one, the youth of our church paraded before a troubled teenager and hung unwelcome signs around her neck as the congregation listened to the contemporary Christian song, "Beauty from Pain." Abuse, lust, alcohol, drugs, debt, suicide. These and other temptations furiously circled her until our youth leader—portraying Christ— stepped in and drove them away. He removed the signs one by one and replaced them with a single sign—saved. The troubled teen may have become all of what the signs portrayed, but she didn’t have to materialize into any of them. Even if she had been one of them at some point in her life, she wasn’t any longer since Christ had stepped in.

Labels are deadly: Sex offender, pervert, alcoholic, addict, mentally unstable, emotionally volatile, dishonest. These are all labels that can easily attach themselves to our reputation. Feelings and experiences of depression, fear, shame, low self-esteem, broken relationships, loneliness, rejection, confusion, and doubt can manufacture more labels than we care to wear.

My label, however, was birthed in the past through Jesus’ death on the cross. Many sacrifices had been made previously, but His was radically different. He was the sinless Son of God who provided a perfect sacrifice. He not only covered my sins, He actually became sin for me.

My label bears fruit in the present. I’m termed a saint and considered God’s friend, child, and a joint heir with Jesus. These labels give me motivation to live out in my actions and attitudes, the person God genuinely sees me as being. In the future, my label will be wholly realized. In heaven, I’ll be all I can’t possibly be here because of sin’s presence.

What label are you wearing? Let Jesus free you.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Supporting Roles

Jesus is the lead role. We play supporting roles.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Batman and Robin. Lucy and Ethel. Famous television duos with a lead role and supporting character.

In Mrs. White's third grade class, I won the Peter Piper tongue twister performance. Lead role? Supportive role? Maybe you landed the lead role in a theater production, a school play, a more prestigious screenplay or film. Perhaps supporting roles are your forte.

While the supporting role is vital to the story line and supports the lead character, supporting roles remain below that of the lead. Supporting roles like Tonto, Barney Rubble, Robin, and Ethel all play an important part of the dynamic duo they represent, but never upstage the lead role.

As believers, we play an important supporting role. During Jesus' earthy ministry, the twelve disciples were called to be supportive to His role and cause—His Father’s work being fulfilled. As Jesus' disciples, we play supporting roles. We come alongside the cause of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The gospel message. Never upstaging the role of Christ who is the total representation of God and His glory. It's not about us. It's about Jesus—His fame and renown. Not proclaiming ourselves, but proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord.

Jesus is the leading role. Never before has there been such a powerful leading role in history or film. Jesus Christ. The lead role of all time.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Waiting Is No Game

I hate to wait. What’s even worse is when I hurry up and wait. In the hustle and bustle of life, I speed up and slow down, then speed up again until I drop at the end of the day. This is certainly not the way God intended me to live.

Waiting is something we must learn to do, and God uses the example of an eagle to teach us. Eagles have been observed and timed sitting on a rock early in the morning for as much as twenty minutes. They have big tears rolling down and wetting their feathers while looking up to heaven. Then the eagle will wait on the wind, spread its wings, and soar into the air.

What an awesome example of sitting in God’s presence. That’s being face-to-face and heart-to-heart with the Creator of the universe. We pour out our love, thanksgiving, and praise to Him, then listen to what He has to say. God gives us instructions for the day. He adjusts our attitudes and gives us a right spirit. That sets the stage for miracles and interventions as we walk step-by-step through the seasons of our lives.

Waiting doesn’t mean sitting around in our recliner expecting God to bodily grab us out of the chair and sling us into a pile of money, or sit us in the front seat of a new sports car. God could do that, but He probably won’t. We have to do something ourselves.

Isaiah says those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint. One minister said “wait” means, “Those who persistently pursue God’s purpose and those who patiently endure God’s dealing.”

The Bible says, Faith without works is dead, so it’s a must for us to spend time with God and His Word daily. Then we can enjoy the destiny He has for us. An awesome future is ahead for the committed believer who truly learns to wait on the Lord.

You have an appointment with the King. He’s waiting.



Faith Multiplied

I feared math as a child. But as an adult . . . I'm learning to love the way God uses numbers to increase my faith.

A few years ago, I started a blog where I enjoy expressing my testimony as a believer in Christ and the lessons I'm learning through Him. My readership slowly grew, and I sometimes wondered if my messages of God's hope were making a difference.

Did my words matter?

Though my stats seemed stagnant, I felt God's reassurance by the unexpected ways my stories were carried from person to person. First, I got an email from a friend saying she would take my post to a monthly meeting at her church. An aunt shared one of my entries with her Bible study. Then, to my surprise, a friend from work told me she'd read my blog and called two of her friends to make sure they read it too. Finally, a stranger copied my link to her page as an illustration of a point she wanted to convey.

God was growing a ministry in me beyond my comprehension. And He was doing one short article at a time. I wrote the devotions. He amplified the messages. I offered my testimony. He supplied the hearts and minds to receive it.

In a quiet place near the Sea of Galilee, a little boy sat unnoticed until a few thousand people got hungry. I'm sure he never dreamed he'd be sharing his two fish and five loaves of bread with a large crowd that day. He gave what he had, and it was enough.

Since God gives us our abilities, He can be trusted to direct us on how to use the skills He blesses us with. The outcome is His privilege. He is the great multiplier of faith.

Depend on Him to add hope and subtract doubt when you embrace opportunities to glorify Him with the work He gives you to do.

(Photo courtesy www.morgefile.com & querubinacelestina)



Cleansing Worship

I couldn’t shake that icky feeling. The conversation had turned to things of the occult.

I escaped this way of life years ago, but sadly, the family members sitting with me were still involved. Any attempt I made at speaking truth was dismissed, and the conversation continued. When I got home, the only way I could describe how I felt was. . .ick.

I turned on some worship music and let the sound of praise wash over me. After singing along for a while, I felt the presence of the Lord wash away that icky feeling. I asked forgiveness for staying in that situation as long as I did, and asked the Lord to cover me with his peace. Worship seemed to cleanse my soul that day.

While we live on this earth we will run into filthy things like that conversation, but we have a way to come into God’s presence, be refreshed and filled with His goodness. The Lord has given us worship, not only as a comfort, but also as a weapon. We can worship while we get ready in the morning, on the way to work in our car, or as we sit quietly while music plays softly in the background. Spend some time this week worshiping the Lord.

Ask him to refresh you and cleanse you of any "ick" you might feel.

Lord I pray for each person who reads this, that you would meet them as they worship you. Refresh their hearts and minds as they come into your presence. Let them feel your peace, comfort and guidance when they seek your presence. In Jesus name, Amen.