A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Trust

Trust is hard. It’s easy to say there is trust but actually taking the step – making the leap into mid-air without a visible net is the most difficult thing man can do. But with the Spirit of God our leap lands us safe in His palm.

The Phone Call

She had collapsed the previous night.

My 92-year-old mother was sick. Temperature elevation and chills caused her to shake terribly. I had lived with her on her farm for several years. The 24-hour change in her health jolted me. My sister and brother-in-law arrived, and I welcomed my brother-in-law’s medical expertise. We saw some improvement, but her sickness drained my emotional strength.

Then the phone rang. I recognized the voice of a dear college friend. We exchanged Christmas cards, but seldom saw each other or spoke on the phone. She was thinking of me and decided to call. Her brief conversation and prayer for Mother and the rest of the family brought peace and reassurance of God’s care. He moved my friend to extend His loving care and grace.

Obedience is preeminent when walking with Jesus. Just as Mary told the servants at the wedding in Cana to do whatever He told them to do, so must we. When the Holy Spirit stirred my friend’s heart, she obeyed. Her obedience accomplished God’s will by ministering to my needy soul. Inevitably, she experienced God’s presence as she obeyed. Jesus said He would make His home with the obedient (John 14:23).

Immediate responses when God’s Spirit beckons are important. After we have obeyed, we can rest in the peace and confidence we did what He said. Our daily prayer should be for an attentive ear and heart so we can do His will on earth just as it is done in heaven. Then we will rejoice in seeing His purposes accomplished in our lives and the lives of others.

Do whatever God tells you to do. 

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Waiting

Traffic in my part of town is unbearable.

Unprecedented huge subdivisions have appeared almost overnight and with them road congestion and new traffic lights.

Quick trips to local stores now take most of the morning. Quiet drives to work are occasions for quick reflexes, increased pulse and blood pressure, and survival instincts. The charming borderline rural part of my world has disintegrated with the bustling suburban sprawl.

While driving to work on two consecutive days, I discovered something interesting. On the first day, instead of sitting in a long line of traffic at a busy intersection, I took a roundabout shortcut through an adjoining neighborhood. Although I circumvented one traffic signal, I found myself pressing to get through subsequent traffic lights that were yellow. Exasperation led to some ugly thoughts about the Department of Transportation planners and their lack of synchronization.

On the second morning, I stayed in the long line of traffic and waited my turn. The ensuing traffic lights were all green. The slight delay, although not enjoyable, resulted in a more coordinated and less stressful trip.

My two-day experience could have been a mere coincidence which depended on the volume of traffic on one specific day. But God used it to reiterate one of His principles found throughout Scripture: God may allow a delay today to coordinate smooth sailing tomorrow.

God’s Word overflows with verses that advocate waiting on His timing, His synchronization, and His overall plan. He asks us to trust His timing and rely on His sovereign purpose, leaving the details to Him as we walk according to His Word and follow Him obediently.

Impatience and looking for shortcuts to our desired destinations—maybe even God’s destinations—push His timing, take us ahead of His plan, and lead to a stressful journey with regrettable decisions.

Respect God’s delays. Wait for His sovereign orchestration of events and details which will lead to His blessing and fulfillment.

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Changing Courses

Seven months ago, I changed courses.

After teaching for seventeen years, I decided to pursue a dream I’d had since college. I imagined all the offers for employment that would alight on my doorstep. Like the Arthur knights of old seeking grand quests, magic, mystery, and victory, I would travel the world and witness new and awe-inspiring sites. Yes, there would be battles, but I would easily win them. I would fight dragons, slaying them with one swift stroke. Cyclops? I would drown him without the aid of my shield. I would be a strong, valiant warrior on this new adventure.

I turned in my notice and began the adventure. No more would I live by the wishes of others. No more would my life be without passion . . . without purpose. Seven months later, my passions and excitement were usurped by anxiety and doubt, and obscured by reality. Nothing was on the horizon. No income. No dream job. As I sat in my stupor of disappointment on the verge of depression, God’s whisper broke the silence and reminded me what I had left behind: my relationship with Him and His plans for me.

The number one reason for my existence is a relationship with my Creator. I was created to display His glory, but to display that glory and spread the good news, I must have a relationship with Him—a relationship that seeps into every area of my life, especially the planning of a lifelong dream.

In laying out my life's new blueprint, I overlooked God and His adventure. He wanted to be the one to slay the dragon of distrust and the cyclops of doubt. His grand quest contained the magic of peace during the crossing of the tepid seas and the mystery of boundless strength while fighting a throng of disappointments. His undertaking centered on our relationship. Mine did not. I neglected to seek Him first—to lay my plans at His feet. I paraded the pathway pursuing neither His counsel nor His guidance. This adventure may have been spurred by His spirit, but the path wasn’t followed in fellowship with Him.

My circumstances haven’t changed, but my focus has. The relationship with my God is the adventure that matters. The other details and circumstances He’ll take care.

Pursue God's plans, not your own.

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Spiritual Wind

Completing my first book, The Unbreakable Cord—the story of how a drunk driver and a stuffed dog strengthened my faith—was a difficult journey. Writing it meant reliving the near death of my daughter and the death of my oldest brother. I learned the only way to move through the pain was to unclench my fist and surrender my anger and grief to God.

The nudging to step out of my comfort zone grew stronger. I knew I needed to obey . . . to trust God to carry my insecurities. As I child I struggled with certain words: chicken, school bus, and fifteen. My parents thought I was tongue-tied, but the doctor confirmed it was only nerves. I would outgrow it. I did learn to say chicken, school bus, and fifteen, but some words still won’t roll off my tongue.

With God holding my hand, I stood before a women’s group and shared my testimony and my book—even though the lady who introduced me called my book The Unbreakable Lord. A few weeks earlier, I had received an email from an Amazon reader saying she was going through a tough time and that my book was an encouragement.

I had also told a good friend how her blog post made me think of the old song, “The Solid Rock.” She replied, “Reminds me that everything has already been written, and we just switch words around.”

With God, nothing is new under the sun. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” We have the promise of God’s presence and protection as we walk through the valley of death. Believers have the promise that Jesus will never leave or forsake us—whether the word is cord or Lord. As Christ followers, we must continue our voyage of sharing our stories.

When doors open, be brave. Walk through them, and share what Jesus has done for you. You never know who might need a second spiritual wind.

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What Are You Missing?

“Mason! Look out the window!”

While running errands with my daughter and her three-year-old son, I spotted a stretch limo. “On my side.” I pointed, knowing it would soon be out of view.

Unfortunately, we passed the intersection and the limo was behind us. I turned to the backseat. “I’m sorry. We passed it. Maybe another time.”

Mason wasn’t concerned. He continued looking at traffic, trees, and whatever else was in his view.

I chuckled and told my daughter, “He’s fine. He doesn’t know what he missed.”

I wonder how much we miss that we don’t know about. After all, if you don’t know, you’re not disappointed. That might work for a three-year-old and a white stretch limo, but when it comes to more important life experiences, there are consequences.

If I don’t read instructions on medication, there could be harmful results. If I don’t follow a cake recipe, omitting ingredients could yield a tasteless dessert. If I don’t read instructions when assembling a product, I’m frustrated when I have to disassemble and start over. And if I don’t read the Bible, I miss words of wisdom, direction, and hope.

God’s Word is a lamp for the step I’m on—giving just enough light to know what to do next. Maybe there are principles helping me decide if I should make a particular purchase. Guidelines that prompt me to write a note or make a call to encourage someone, resolve a conflict, or meet a need. Or a passage about communication might affect my interaction later that day.

The Bible also offers light for my path—the longer stretch with bigger decisions such as changing jobs or entering a relationship. Decisions with long-term effects. Telling me to do something specific—like buying a new car—isn’t found in Scripture, but God’s Word gives light for discernment as well as principles to live wisely.

Missing the sight of a stretch limo didn’t have consequences, but ignoring regular reading of wise words in Scripture will. Don’t miss out. Read it daily. 

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Can You Hear Your Alarm?

I awoke unusually refreshed, and the daylight seemed brighter than normal. I stretched comfortably, enjoying my sheet’s softness and warmth. Then panic set in as I realized I had overslept—on a workday.

Snatching my phone—that also serves as my alarm—I wondered if the battery had died or if I had forgotten to set the alarm. But the battery was fine, and the alarm reflected properly. Why didn’t I hear it? Then I remembered turning my phone’s volume down the day before while watching a video online. Although the alarm was working, I couldn’t hear it because the low volume wasn’t enough to awaken me.

As I rushed through an abbreviated morning routine, God reminded me how I similarly treat His Spirit’s conviction. His alarm works just fine. Unfortunately, the sound gets diminished as I desensitize myself to His call. His influence remains constantly available, but my daily choices, activities, and lifestyle often numb me to His purifying and renewing work.

Some ways of quenching the Spirit’s convicting influence include:

  • Reading trendy magazines with provocative, suggestive articles or ads
  • Listening to popular songs containing raunchy, illicit lyrics
  • Watching movies with immoral plots that promote promiscuity or today's degenerate culture
  • Excusing when people use the Lord's name in vain
  • Joke-flirting with a coworker as just "harmless fun"
  • Sidestepping the opportunity to witness to a friend in need
  • Misusing God-given talents and gifts

Although it’s easy to minimize or justify each of the above, slow erosion still occurs. Step by step, the condoning, excusing, and avoiding turns down the volume knob of the Spirit's voice and quenches His influence to purify, edify, equip, and mature.

God still speaks, but the self-serving and noisy environments created by our choices make Him difficult to hear. Then panic sets in when we spiritually oversleep and find ourselves in our self-made moral quagmires.

But what a sweet sound when tuned in to the Spirit’s call. He guides our direction, aligns our hearts with the Father, protects us from what hinders or harms, comforts and renews us when we’re distressed or discouraged, teaches us His unchanging truth, and promotes our spiritual growth.

Tune in and turn up the volume.

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One of a Kind

One of a kind. That’s Kaitlyn. She entered the room, and her smile shone like the sun. “Hi Kaitlyn.” Her eyes tenderly met mine and she blushed just a bit. I stretched my arm around her and gently hugged. She nuzzled tightly under my arm, and there was such a warm, sweet embrace.

She is . . . one of a kind.

Though words elude her, joy enraptures her. She is captivated by your presence and rejoices in your attention. Yes, she is one of a kind.

Kaitlyn is special. Her needs unique. Born with a one-of-a-kind chromosomal disorder, there’s no one else at this time entered into medical data bases who share her disability.

My own son, also born with a chromosomal disorder, doesn’t match Kaitlyn either, but what they share in common is nothing short of envious. Their worlds are not perfect according to man’s standards. Some look at them and pity these amazing childlike adults, while others grasp hold of the specialty of their uniqueness and find the blessing they hold.

The writer of Psalms probably had no idea about disabilities, but he obviously understood feeling as though he couldn’t meet the standards. When he reassured himself of his place in the love of God, he found comfort. He found he was fearfully and wonderfully made.

God’s works are never failures. They never require pity or sadness because in His infinite wisdom, His plan for every individual is wonderful. It’s us who set standards others can’t attain. It’s us who judge the worth of those who in our eyes . . . are different. We fail to see they are fearfully and wonderfully made–perfect in the eyes of the Creator. Perfect in His plan.

When others look at our kids with sadness and pity, we show them their joy. When folks look beyond the physical imperfections of Kaitlyn and Chase and peer into their souls, they are overwhelmed with contentment, joy, peace, and wonder.

Kaitlyn is one of a kind, but her place in the heart of the Father is greater than anything I can achieve. Don’t let fear stop you from knowing the heart of one who may be physically different. Be welcomed into their heart. Once you are there, you will see the wonder of God’s plan.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



All Things Are Possible

The room looks like the typical little boy’s room—except for the IV pole by the bed and the green bottles of oxygen lined up like soldiers. Plastic syringes and cotton gauze crowd a shelf and signal this is not the room of an ordinary toddler.

The room is cheerful with its yellow, blue, and green walls. Stuffed toys cluster the top of the toy chest. A red dinosaur grins at me and Elmo smiles from the corner. A monkey, with doleful brown eyes, sits in the center, surrounded by bears and horses. Tractors and trucks are parked on the shelf, and a big red ball sits in the middle of the floor, begging to be bounced.

I see my grandson’s little shoes sitting atop the dresser. Sadness overwhelms me when I think that the feet in those shoes have never touched the floor. My grandson has a severe form of cerebral palsy and cannot sit, walk, stand, or talk. Some days it seems like an impossible task simply to care for him.

My eyes are drawn to the verse in flowing script on the wall above his bed: With God all things are possible. The verse comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I say the verse aloud and then try saying it with the emphasis on different words. WITH God all things are possible. With GOD all things are possible. With God ALL things are possible. With God all THINGS are possible. With God all things are POSSIBLE.

Faced with the impossibilities of this life, I realize I have no choice but to go to the throne of a God who makes all things possible.

When you are faced with impossible situations, go to the all-powerful God who can make all things possible. 

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Go with the Flow

The plane was tossed like a cork in a cyclone. 

I was on the last of the four flights required to reach my destination in Kenya. This teaching and speaking trip had been arranged over a period of months, but the invitation had come as a surprise. I had had no communication with this group previously, so I didn’t know what to expect. The strength the Lord gave me to stand and teach, preach and minister, and travel with three African brothers astounded even my companions.

Assessing and reviewing the fruit of this adventure to Kenya and Uganda showed me why it was so successful. We were mature enough to humble ourselves and submit to each another. Without any fuss, we went with the flow. When the itinery changed, we adapted. When one was not well, we made allowances. If we did not agree, we discussed, accepted differences of opinion, and decided the subject was closed.

Having never experienced such harmonious loving as this, I now see it was the love of God at work. Being united commands a blessing (Psalm 133:1). We all benefited from the way we treated each other.

No human love will suffice or accomplish what God’s love accomplished on this trip. His love moved border guards, police at check points, and airport officials to show us favour.

Blessings come when we choose to go with the flow and believe God is in control, not us. Loving one another is only accomplished when we allow God’s Spirit to give us God’s pure unconditional love for other believers.

Spiritual growth comes when the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in tandem with the Word. Perhaps it is time to grow up in the things of God as the time draws near for Jesus’ return.

Let God teach you how to go with the flow.  

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Living by Divine Provision

When God becomes your supplier, you become the consumer.

Divine provision is God supplying our needs. His supplies come with addition, adding more to the blessings than we request. Divine methods and instructions will always work if we depend on them. They will also keep us from loss and disappointment.

God never failed to supply manna and quail for the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness. He gave them fresh food, new miracles, and new testimonies. God is a specialist in supplying these things. Since the King of kings is the supplier, we can experience seasons of surplus, blessing, and favor.

When God takes over, He restores good things for us. His supply is more than we ask for or think about: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20). God is also the creator. As supplier and creator, He lacks nothing.

The storehouses of God are for you, and the treasures in His storehouses are for your honor and celebration. When the enemy discourages you, stand firm on the promises of God, and your discouragement will turn into praise.

Having God as your Father and knowing you are His child is a great privilege. Today is the day for your divine supply. Make your order from His storehouses.

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In Contrast

“Your life, your choice.” Sounds simple enough. However, if we follow Jesus with our actions and words, our choices will collide with the world’s norm.    

It’s a dog-eat-dog world! Look out for number one. What can you do for me? “What do you want me to do for you” (Matthew 20:32)?

Straighten up! What’s done is done. Nobody can do anything about it. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

Fight for the top spot! Show them who’s boss. Don’t let anyone stand in your way. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

I’ve worked hard for what I have. I deserve a little fun. Why should I help others? “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Ephesians 6:7).

Say anything and then do what you want. Do as I say, not as I do. Whatever. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

You’ve got to be kidding. That task is beneath me. I won’t do it! “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

It’s my life. I’ll do as I please. Nobody’s going to tell me what to do. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

He’ll never amount to anything. Look at all he gave up—and for what? “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21).

Your life, your choice. Choose well so you won’t have to endure the consequences. 

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Forever Faithful

We sat in our home office staring at each other.

My husband and I would soon deliver our little boy. We were emotional, not sure how we were going to make it financially. We had been in this place before and saw God provide, but our human nature kicked in, and we were feeling discouraged.

I cried out to God for help, knowing He already knew our needs. As I sat in silence, I could feel an overwhelming sense of peace rush over me. The Holy Spirit surrounded me with His stillness. My husband came home with tears in his eyes a few hours later and laid a twenty-dollar bill on my desk. God provided not only a divine appointment but also a little glimpse of His faithfulness to our family. 

This is one of many stories of God’s faithfulness in our lives. The Lord has taught me so much since then. He has taught me to depend on Him alone rather than things of this world. He knows our needs before we realize them. God has worked ahead and knows where and when to place people in our path to fulfill a need.

God gave me a promise one day: “Be faithful to Me and I will be faithful to you!” All God desires is a personal and intimate relationship with us. He wants our time and attention. He wants us to come to Him with our needs, our victories, our concerns, and our praises. He wants us to read His Word, pray, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and grow in our walk with Him.

Whatever you’re worrying over or whatever life issue is gripping your heart and causing you anxiety, give it to the One who has all the answers and is waiting for you to lay it at His feet. Don’t let fear cripple your faith.

Move forward with a victorious life, knowing the Lord is always faithful to complete the work He has started in you. 

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The Peace Owl

We all have trying days. Days when it feels we might break under pressure or sorrow. 

Mine was when I woke up and didn’t feel well. I felt as if a spring cold was building in my body, brought on by merciless allergies. It was also going to be a day of mourning. I had to speak at the funeral of a dear lady from our church. The day was heavy. 

Evening provided no relief. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders but then came home to disheartening personal news. I was overwhelmed . . . angry. I needed to vent. For an hour, my wife listened to me complain.

When the lull in my complaining finally came, I sat in my easy chair. During a moment of silence, there was a soothing noise outside the window, a hoot owl. Since childhood, owls hooting have calmed my nerves. Somewhat ironic since many cultures view the owl as a bad omen. But I have always loved them.

My complaining was over. I felt peace I couldn't explain. I suppose the owl could have borne a message from God. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Either way, the peace I felt was from God. 

If we open ourselves up to God's peace, it will miraculously ease our anxieties. We may not understand it, but we feel it.

Let God’s peace soothe your anxieties. 

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The Loving Touch of Pruning

When I prune a tree or bush I don’t care about, I quickly use the hedge clippers to cut it back without a second thought. When it comes to a special tree, my pruning is more strategic and careful.

A recent weekend found me hedging numerous bushes in my yard. When I planted them on the barren landscape, I didn’t envision the care necessary to keep them looking good: clipping, cutting, pruning, weeding, and mulching. (What was I thinking?) As I trimmed, God used my hot, humid yardwork as His canvas to sketch a small portrait of His deep, abiding, and sovereign love.

I have a bulky, prickly, holly bush that came with the house when I bought it. I wouldn’t care if the holly died. I’d gladly replace it with something more appealing. So, my pruning is quick and uncaring as I slice it into shape with my electric hedge trimmers.

I also have a prized Japanese maple in my back yard. It is the third one I have purposefully bought, planted, and nurtured. The previous two died, so I take great care with this third tree. I followed instructions about specific ground conditions, fertilizer, and other tips so I would have a healthy, burgundy-leafed tree.

When it came time to prune the Japanese maple, I was hesitant to cut away the bottom branches—even though doing so would help the tree grow taller and fuller. I sized up the tree from a distance, as well as up close and personal. Then I envisioned the future tall, shady, fantastic tree it could become. Only then did I begin cutting away the branches that would hinder future growth.

Knowing God loves us and wants us to become the best we can be, I suspect He prunes us with a Japanese maple approach—never a holly. Removing whatever is hindering our growth may be painful, but He envisions us as the strong, healthy, effective people He created us to be. His pruning is not hurried, thoughtless, or uncaring but loving, strategic, and helpful.

Whatever or whomever God prunes from your life, trust that He is working all things for your good according to His purposes.

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Not Forgotten

I have been in nursing homes before, but this one stood out from the rest.

I held a small evening service for those who lived there. As I gazed into the eyes of these elderly people, I realized if I lived a long life I could be in a similar position—staring back at a young pastor speaking to me.

As a young man with a growing family, my life is a whirlwind of responsibilities and experiences that all come together. I share this space with my wife and children. I also share my experiences with the ones I love the most. 

In what seems like a quick moment, my kids have grown to a place where they can function on their own. Soon, they will be heading in their own direction. My thoughts began to take me to a place I never thought I would be. I began to see beyond my current situation to where my life could be in the future. What would be God’s plans if I was sitting in a nursing home?

The Scriptures give us the answer. What the Lord begins in us, He will bring to completion. He does not forget any individual in their journey with Him.

We cannot predict the future any more than we can control the future. My desire is to live to the fullest for Christ, but the outcome is out of my hands. My prayer for my kids is for their fulfillment in Christ also. The Bible tells us not to worry about our lives because God knows what we need in every phase. You will never be without or be in desperation with God in your life.

My message to those individuals was that the Lord would not forget them even if they were forgotten by the world around them. The Lord will care for us when we cannot care for ourselves, and He will love us in every phase of life. We will never be forgotten by the One who loves us perfectly.

What God starts in you, He will complete. He will bring your earthly life to a beautiful conclusion as you enter eternal life with Him hand in hand. Don’t ever think He has forgotten you. 

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Speaking Their Language

The photographer and I repeated the same dialogue several times daily.

Me: “No comprendo.”

Federico: “I don’t understand.”

I was in Madrid for a business conference. One of my responsibilities was to manage onsite communications with a three-person local production team. The videographer, Carlos, was fairly fluent in English, but Federico knew little. Although I had studied Spanish in high school and college—and had brushed up on the language before my trip—my Spanish was basic at best.

Fortunately, the third member of the team, Marisa, spoke excellent English. She spent a lot of time translating my instructions for Federico and Carlos. But sometimes she was focused on other tasks, so Federico and I had to communicate without a translator’s assistance.

Often, Federico would grab his phone, access an online Spanish-English dictionary, and translate what he wanted to say to me. The last day of the conference, Federico apologized for not knowing more English. He also spoke about the importance of communication. He said not being able to understand each other made it feel as if there were a wall between us. He was right.

The apostle Paul tried to find common ground when interacting with unbelievers as a way to lead them to Christ. We, too, can discover the language of the nonbelievers we interact with–insecurity, loneliness, fear, anger, rejection–and then look for common ground. Doing so helps avoid building walls and builds bridges instead.

I wonder how often in our faith discussions with nonbelievers that they feel as if an invisible wall separates us. When we use Christian colloquialisms, doctrinal terms, and Scripture references to engage them, sometimes not much gets through. While there’s a time and a place for that level of discussion, it’s better to start with simple, clear expressions of compassion and concern for what’s happening in their lives.

Brush up on the language those you encounter speak.  

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Dealing with Shame

A documentary on the BP oil spill and the subsequent spraying of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico showed shocking images of wildlife covered in oil. 

Fisherman compared healthy shrimp caught before the spill with those caught afterwards. The affected shrimp had overgrown heads, were missing eyes, and had strange growths on their bodies. The poisonous oil spewing into the ocean from below and the dispersants sprayed onto the ocean from above had not only covered the creatures but had also absorbed into their beings.

Shame can operate the same way by sticking to us like tar or by going into our beings and becoming part of who we are—especially if we experience it during our formative years. I absorbed the perceptions of an emotionally abusive stepparent into myself, as if they were true. But Jesus is transforming me by reshaping my perception of myself through His eyes.

We can feel shame for making mistakes that aren’t moral failures, for things said or done to us, and for other aspects of ourselves we have no control over—such as where we come from or what we look like.

Shame can leave victims of abuse with the feeling they are somehow bad. A misshapen identity can negatively affect the way a person interacts with others and operates in the world. It can also affect what they attempt in life. 

The salvation Jesus offers not only removes our sin debt and enables us to be in a right relationship with God but also removes our shame—whatever the source.

If the source of our shame is sin, forgiveness takes care of it. If it is some sin committed against us, forgiveness can take care of that too. Allowing our identity to be reshaped into what God Himself says is true about us can erase shame, no matter the source.

Whether shame has stuck to you like tar, or gone deep in your DNA, Jesus can remove it. We are new creations. We are the righteousness of God in Christ, and God is not ashamed to be called our God.

If God is not ashamed of you, don’t be ashamed of yourself. 

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Amazing Encounters

Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Jesus.

I find that a true blessing, but I wondered what made her so special to have this amazing encounter. She was the woman who had demons in her body. How did a woman in that state have this privilege while the holier-than-thou Pharisees—who had no demons, knew the law, and tried to obey it—were left out of this privilege.

Possessing special kinds of qualities or what we did or didn’t do in our past isn’t what life’s about. It’s about who Jesus is and how much we believe in Him. Jesus was known and within the reach of many people—even the Pharisees. Some chose to ignore Him while others held on to Him. By acknowledging and accepting Jesus into our lives, we open up ourselves to many wonderful experiences in this life, just like Mary.

As Christians, we claim we have given our lives to Christ, but we must make sure we’ve given it all. There may be certain areas in our lives where we act just like the Pharisees—ignoring Christ because we think we know how to handle everything.

Only by giving Christ our all, will we experience the presence, glory, and splendor of Christ in unimaginable ways. Jesus walked out of the tomb to take precedence in your life—every aspect of it.

Open all your life doors and let Christ walk in. When you do, you will have true and amazing encounters with the living Christ.

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Prayer, a Cure for Anxiety

Anxiety. We’ve all been plagued with it.

If you’re a student, the cause of your anxiety may be a difficult teacher or exam. If you’re a parent, it might be a wayward child, the sudden illness of a loved one, or your finances. The primary cause of our distress is due to the uncertainties of life. Will I pass this course? Will God answer my prayer for my child? My finances?

God’s Word instructs us to pray so that this robber of peace does not overtake us. With a determination of our will, we can make a decision to bring every situation to God in prayer. When we do, we are promised peace that surmounts our ability to comprehend and quiets our anxious hearts. God wants us to bring our petitions with thanksgiving, but often we come with a heart weighed down with cares. No thanksgiving. Just cries and petitions.

Thanksgiving is an important aspect of our prayer life. When we approach God thanking Him for past mercies, for mercies new every morning, for His compassion which never fails, for His love which endures forever, and for the sacrifice of Christ His Son, something miraculous happens. Our hearts lighten. Choosing to thank God in spite of our difficulties pleases Him and demonstrates our trust in Him. And that honors God.

I know how it feels when life throws a curve ball. It feels as if the world is falling apart at the seams. But I have also experienced the peace that comes in offering up thanksgiving, along with cries and petitions—as Paul and Silas did when they had been beaten and imprisoned. In spite of their chains, they worshiped God. And in turn, God shook the foundations of the prison and set them free.

God can’t resist answering when we pray these types of prayers. When we offer thanksgiving, our hearts are set free from the chains of anxiety.

When you find yourself giving in to despair, remember you have a God who beckons you to come to Him in prayer. In exchange, He will give you incomprehensible peace.

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Loving Much

An immoral woman can teach us a lot about the Kingdom of God.

The recognition of our need is the first step toward our entrance into heaven. If we perceive we need to be forgiven little, we will love little.

A Pharisee invited Jesus to his house for dinner. A woman of ill repute entered and began washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Then she anointed them with expensive perfume. The Pharisee was upset that Jesus would let such a sinful woman touch him. In response to his objection, Jesus told him a story.

A man lent two men money: five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty to another. When they couldn’t repay him, he forgave them. Jesus asked, “So which of them will love him more?” The Pharisee answered, “I suppose the one who he forgave more.” Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly.” The woman saw her sin and was broken. The Pharisee only saw the woman’s sin, not his own.

If we never grasp the depth of our sinful nature, we will never understand the enormity of God’s forgiving grace. Whoever sees no need for the cross of Christ will never embrace it. Recognition of our need for forgiveness is evidence of a repentant heart.

By his attitude, the Pharisee was trying to maintain his right standing with God through self-righteousness. Pride blinded him to his sin. The woman’s actions indicated she realized only Jesus could save her. Her response to this revelation was to love Him.

The woman was closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than the Pharisee with all his religious regalia. In this tale, Jesus honed in on authentic faith rather than the external trappings of religion. He painted a word picture of the contrast between a legalistic religious pursuit and a love relationship with the Savior. One of the players was motivated by love of self but the other by love of God.

Fulfilling the law of love through faith saved the woman. The Pharisee met the letter of the law but was far from righteousness. When we are tempted to judge someone without first looking at our sin, we should remember that but for the grace of God we would be in the same predicament. 

Whoever has been forgiven much, loves much. Love much as Jesus did.   

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It's Too Crowded

My three-year-old grandson entertained us at the dinner table, singing a song about Zaccheus. My eyes filled with tears at the sweet sound and over his delight in singing about Jesus going to a “wee little man’s” house.

Sometimes we don’t see Jesus, but it’s not because we are vertically challenged like Zacchaeus. It’s because of the crowd. There’s too much in our way—a to-do list or people making demands on our time. The urgent, the necessary, and the important block our view. Or preoccupation with self or disappointment that things aren’t turning out as we wanted. My focus is on what I wish I had.

Things, attitudes, events, and people crowd Jesus out, no matter how tall we are. We give everything priority except seeing and listening to Him. 

Zacchaeus did everything he could just to see Jesus. Jesus responded by changing Zacchaeus’ life.

We don’t have to climb a tree, but we may have to prioritize our day and change our calendars. We may have to purpose in our heart to pray and read God’s Word to renew our focus. We can share what we have learned and receive encouragement from people who do the same.

When we do, like Zacchaeus, we’ll find the view is awesome. When we see Jesus, change happens.

Ask God for the persistence and passion Zacchaeus had.

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Depression's Dead Weight

Professional counselors learn depression is the underlying source of many personality and behavioral problems.

There are treatments for depression in the tool box of any licensed psychotherapist. Unfortunately, not every therapist has a Bible in their tool box. This is unfortunate because the most penetrating and insightful thoughts about depression are unavailable without a Bible since the Bible is “given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16). 

Immaturity in a person is often revealed when a person becomes angry, frustrated, or depressed if their opinions, needs, and pleasantries are rejected. Immature adults have much in common with spoiled children. Things seem outrageously wrong if an unexpected reality stands in the way. These individuals have had their way too long. This usually is related to their inability to accept changes to their expectations or demands.

Such individuals only have left what a spoiled child has once their expectations or demands are rejected: D.D.T (Delay, Deny, Tantrum). These tactics are vigorously used once their demands are rejected. They will make one demand after another until they get their way. Cursing, hitting, and shouting are the common tools used to force others to change their mind and submit.

An immature adult takes their opinion too seriously. Graciousness and prayer for their enemy is impossible. Agreeing to disagree is distasteful. Depression’s dead weight and the aspects of immaturity are relieved by accepting the sovereignty of God.

God’s sovereignty—that He is in control—is one of the most important subjects in the Bible relating to a person’s mental health. Mental health is central to a person’s self-image—how a person views themselves. When James says our lives are vapors that will vanish someday, a person understands they are substantial like a fog. A vapor that is going to blow away should prompt one to prepare for their walk through the Valley of Death. John 3:16 should also be central to the self-image of a prepared person.

Depression’s dead weight will lessen as you accept and proclaim: “My Father is in charge and He knows best.” Don’t let depression’s dead weight hang over you. 

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His Ways Aren't Ours

Imagine having your home go into foreclosure, not being able to have a child, or having a friend die from cancer. 

One woman who had lost her sister to cancer sat star gazing. It was something they had done together. Through tears, she asked, “God, why couldn’t you heal her cancer? I prayed so hard. I trusted you. I don’t understand why you didn’t heal her.” 

In that moment, she felt the words, “I did.” She realized for the first time her sister was healed. She wasn’t sick or in pain anymore. She was cancer free, even though it wasn’t the answer she had hoped or prayed for.

One of the people in the Bible I relate to is Peter—passionate, impulsive Peter. He jumped out of a boat to walk on water, then sank when he took his eyes off Jesus. He cut off the ear of a soldier to defend Jesus, then later denied knowing Him.

When Jesus shared details about His impending death, Peter rebuked him: “Jesus, don’t say that! You’re freaking everyone out! We will never allow that to happen.” 

Jesus responded, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Harsh words. I wonder if Peter felt hurt, confused, or maybe a little rejected. How could this death Jesus described be God’s will?

Believers know the reason Jesus had to die. Peter didn’t understand. Part of what Jesus said to Peter was “You do not have in mind the concerns of God but the things of men.”  Put another way, “You are not God.”

I don’t know why God doesn’t always answer our good prayers the way we hope. I think His definition of good is bigger and greater than ours. Faith is believing God’s promises when we don’t understand. He promises hope and a future. He promises to make all things right.

Believe God’s promises—even when you don’t understand. 

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Freedom Means Free From

It’s hard to understand. Hard to imagine. Hard to figure why, when there is a land of plenty, wealth, and freedom, that we work so hard to botch it up.

Independence Day is personal to me. I can hardly watch as the color guard in the parade passes by, decked out in full dress uniforms and carrying the American flag. A flag that holds the blood of hundreds of thousands of men and women who fought willingly for the freedom it represents. A flag that carries the blood of my own father, wounded twice in World War II.

Why then does a nation who has lost so much to gain even more, stand in such chaos. Disrespect is rampant. Hate bubbles from every pore of men. Our bodies have become sinful pleasures over godly temples. We have so much good. Why the massive rhetoric?

Paul did his best to convey to the Galatians that their calling was higher than their fleshly indulgences. Their sins of the flesh exceeded terrible: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy.

Sound familiar? But Paul wanted the Galatians to experience true freedom. Freedom from their sin and the things that tempted their hearts. He encouraged them to let go of the evil and love one another . . . love their neighbor just as they loved themselves.

Freedom comes in assorted facets, from personal sin and bondage to unbridled evil and rhetoric. Our hard-earned, sacrificed-for freedom is abused relentlessly with selfishness, greed, and entitlement.

As much as we’d like to say our nation is free, it is not. We are bound tightly by the toehold of sin Satan has planted to divide and conquer. Until we do as Paul suggested, we will never truly be free. And then what have those brave soldiers fought for? What did Christ die for?

Remember freedom means “free from.” Start today to break your chains of bondage. Set to flight with the liberty found in Him—freedom in Christ who gave it all for you. Thank our soldiers who sacrificed. Bond together as Christians, as one nation under God, and truly be free.

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A Brush with Death

I had no idea I would swim with crocodiles.

Fresh out of college, I headed to Central America to serve in an international school. On a break, my colleagues and I flew to Tikal—a remote area in northern Guatemala—where we climbed Mayan ruins, took shelter under the trees in a rain forest during a downpour, and spent the better part of a day cruising down a concrete water slide and splashing into the lake below.

Later, while on a boat tour of the lake, we passed a bank where crocodiles were gathered for their daily feeding—not far from where I had been swimming. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Why had no one mentioned there were crocodiles in the lake the waterslide spilled into?

When I asked our tour guide about the danger to tourists, he assured me the beasts were fed there daily so they would not bother tourists. That was the last day I swam in the lake.

Two years prior to my unintentional swim with crocodiles, I had a brush with death in the mountains of Kazakhstan. Hanging by my arms over a deep valley from the frozen bars of an antiquated ski lift—with hail raining down on my bare legs and arms—I kept counting to ten, hoping I could hang on until the earth met my feet again.

These close calls left me with a clear sense that I was on this earth for a reason—that it was no accident I had survived.

Escapes from death serve to jolt us, reminding us we have something left to do on earth. They can move us to use our time wisely and to discover and live out our callings.

Whether or not you’ve had a brush with death, you can be sure you're not still here by accident. God has a purpose for you. He wants us to count each day as a gift from His hand and to use the balance of our time intentionally

Bring God glory, help usher others into His Kingdom, and be transformed into His likeness. 

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Be Sure of Your Salvation

The young woman wept at the altar as I made my way to the front of the church.

She wanted to be “sure of her salvation,” she said. Raised in a Christian home, she didn’t want to take being saved for granted. We prayed together, embraced, and she thanked me. This girl was now a child of God ... without a doubt.

Later, I was questioned by a church leader because this girl was the daughter of a long-time, respected deacon, and everyone assumed she was born again. No one knew she had never accepted the Lord. Fortunately, I didn’t know her or who she was related to. But even had I known, we would have prayed regardless.

Fast forward twenty years to another church service. Again, I was praying at the altar when laughter erupted behind me. My husband was talking with one of our dearest friends—someone who had been a deacon, taught Sunday school, and had been involved in church for over twenty-five years. His wife assumed he was a Christian, as did his children and all who knew him.

He confessed that he had been pretending for all those years. He was simply going through the motions, doing what was expected of a Christian. But he was tired of the charade. That day, he made a commitment and asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. From that day forward ... there was no doubt.

Romans tells us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The key word is calls. We’re not saved because we go to church or because we’ve been raised in a Christian home. Salvation is a personal, intimate experience. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 NIV).

My daughter once said she could no longer believe what I believed—just because. She wanted to learn about God and His Word for herself. Instead of fretting, I was ecstatic. She was finally seeking God on her own and not “riding on her parents’ coattails,” as she put it.

Be confident in what you believe. And then, never take it for granted that everyone you know has a relationship with the Lord. When He prompts you to talk to or pray with someone, don’t hesitate. Their eternity might rest in your hands.

If you can’t remember a specific time when you invited Jesus into your heart, do it again. Then you’ll know … without a doubt.

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Don't Worry, He Knows

Worry is an emotion that afflicts everyone.

We worry about our children, our finances, and our health. Some of us even worry about things that may happen—such as losing a job, a spouse, or our way.

The word worry is a Germanic word which means “to strangle.” Interestingly, it was used in the late 1600s to describe the treatment of sheep when dogs or wolves attacked.

Believers are Jesus’ flock. If we’re not careful, we can allow the enemy to weigh us down with worry. The life God intended us to live is strangled because we choke on our worries and cares instead of trusting our heavenly Father.

Jesus reminds us not to worry about anything because our Father in heaven knows what we need. Our Father. Not a stranger who is indifferent to our circumstances—or a friend who would like to help but can’t. He is our loving Father who is intimately acquainted with us and keenly aware of our needs.

Worry causes many of God’s children needless friction. If we would allow this truth to permeate our hearts, we would be far less inclined to give ourselves to this choke-hold. As Christians, we have a sure remedy for worry.

Choose to turn your worries over to your heavenly Father in prayer. Lay your burdens down.   

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Reaching Canaan

A delay in God’s call does not necessarily mean He has changed His mind.

Abram, who would become Abraham the father of many nations, set out with his father, Terah, to travel to Canaan. They settled in Haran, about halfway to Canaan. The Scripture does not tell why they stopped at Haran instead of completing their journey. Some commentators suggest Terah’s age made going on impossible.

There are times where circumstances are beyond our control. Our spiritual journey is often traveled in segments that involve delay and even diversions from our intended course. The apparent disruption in our spiritual odyssey is often preparation for obtaining our inheritance from the Lord. In God’s kingdom, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.

Unlike us sometimes, Abraham—after the death of his father—proceeded to Canaan. Through delay, we often lose sight of our spiritual goal. Our promised land is not just a place where we arrive on this earth or even something we do. It’s an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Although our Heavenly Father uses our calling to fulfill His purposes, His calling is a means to an end, not the end itself. God is calling us to ascend the mountains of delight to discover the knowledge of the holy One. This is our Canaan land. When we arrive at the summit, it is not about being at the top but about who we find at the top.

Often when we enter the valley at the foot of the mountain, we become prosperous and comfortable. The glimmer of snow on the peak becomes less inviting. Little by little, we lose our desire to climb it. God will allow us to do this if we choose.

Remember, the view of the Lord from the valley will never be as spectacular as the one from the mountaintop. Reach your Canaan land. 

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Darkness and Light

Thomas Kincaid is the “Painter of Light” for sure.

Thomas Kincaid’s paintings have a magical quality. His use of yellows and whites attract the eye and hold it there. What a gift. Beyond what’s on the canvas, Kincaid injects God into his work and tells the story of the true master of light, the “light of the world.”

On deeper reflection, there is another force at play in these paintings and in life itself: the darkness. If the artist only painted with whites and yellows, the paintings would be formless and bland. But when the light is placed in the darkness, awesome things happen. The darkness is exposed. Without the light, the darkness would not be visible. And when the light is placed in the darkness, the light is magnified and emphasized. In the spiritual realm, glorified.

If our lives were only shades of yellow and white and no darkness ever entered, we wouldn’t know the power of the light. If we never felt burdens, sorrows, or pains, we wouldn’t praise the One who brings comfort.

It seems like a paradox to say those who are happy are those who mourn, but it’s true. When we are in our darkest hour, God shines the brightest. When we lose sight of all we have, we can view Him in His fullest.

The darker the night, the brighter God’s light. Mourn and He will comfort you.

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A Man Named Nimrod

I can see him, tall and strong with long hair sailing in the wind. He draws his bow and releases, and a large bear falls swiftly to the ground. 

At first glance, it seems Nimrod was a hunter with a heart for God. But scholars believe Nimrod was a bold man who used his skills to defy God. His name means rebel or tyrant. He used his might to build cities and kingdoms. He probably also used his prowess to hunt and kill men. But he could have used his abilities to protect and help others.

Like Nimrod, we all have God-given abilities and talents. We can choose to use what God has given us to build up His kingdom or to build up our own. Let's serve the Lord with our talents instead of rebelling against the one who loves us. If we determine to use our talents and skills to please the Lord and serve people, we will reap great rewards and please God our Father. We will also experience the joy of the Lord.

I can see it now, the arrows of our lives hitting the mark—the bullseye of God’s best. When we reach the heavenly shores, let it be said that our life was well-lived for God’s honor and glory.

Use your gifts and talents so God’s purposes will prevail on earth.

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What I Learned from a Stroke

I’m so glad to be able to sit here and have enough clarity to tell you what a stroke taught me.

I don’t remember the ambulance that took me to the hospital or the helicopter that airlifted me to a cardio hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. A large blood clot was removed from my brain stem by a tube that ran up through the main artery from my groin. I don’t remember much of anything for the five days at the hospital. I’m tired, but I learned a life-changing lesson.

Later, as my wife drove me down busy Highway 10 to the cardiologist—because the loop recorder monitoring device they inserted into my chest began bleeding—my brain experienced a sharp pain, causing me to close my eyes. The Holy Spirit brought Psalm 23 to mind. As I began to rest in the psalmist’s words about my Lord Jesus, the pain disappeared and the dizziness went away.

I continued to rest in Psalm 23 as we approached the hospital. I felt love holding my brain. Such a warm safe feeling can’t be put into words. It has to be experienced.

I began to understand that Almighty God had shown me the center of the life of Christianity: a relationship with the Good Shepherd of John chapter 10. The One who calls each of His sheep by name is touching me as He leads me, even through the valley of the shadow of death. My Shepherd loves me and knows best, whatever lies ahead.

In this is where I rest, even to my last breath. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When walking through the valley of the shadow of death, everything else is discovered to be merely a vapor. Our relationship with the Good Shepherd is the center of day-to-day living. 

Quote Psalm 23 to yourself often.

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Walk Don't Run

How I wished she just would follow my lead. I only wanted to protect her.

As I walked my dogs, one kept stride, walking calmly beside me. The other strained to walk ahead, pulling frantically all the while. I became frustrated with the one pulling because I wasn’t ready to move forward. I also knew what lurked around the corner: a neighbor’s menacing dog.

I often do the same in my attempt to walk in step with God. It’s a challenge to walk alongside Him, but wise. He sees what’s around the bend. I don’t. But what happens when I misstep and run headlong into a course of action that leaves me feeling frustrated? When I fail to walk in step with the Spirit?

All Christians have been there at one time. We pray, we wait for what we think is a reasonable amount of time, and then we move forward because we can’t wait any longer. We would rather do something than nothing. Something other than wait on God because in our estimation, His answer is too slow in coming.

Paul the apostle exhorts us to walk in step with the Spirit, not run ahead. One of the most difficult Christian disciplines is waiting because it requires patience. And being patient goes against our nature.

Thankfully, God doesn’t abandon us when we fail to heed His instruction and run ahead of Him. Quite the opposite. He works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.

Walking in the Spirit is not something we achieve overnight. It is the consistent yielding of ourselves, our anxieties, and our presumptions to God—who neither slumbers nor sleeps.

Keep in step with the Spirit daily so you won’t find yourself frustrated and spent. You will be walking in stride with an all-knowing, all-wise, and all-faithful God.

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Fireflies Dance at Dusk

The lime-green intermittent flashes darted in and out of the flowers like moving holiday lights, instantly unearthing a fond childhood memory.

The first time I’d ever seen a firefly was at my grandmother’s big house on Orchard Lake in Michigan in the 1960s. Scads of tiny green neon lights twinkled brightly against the darkness as we chased them, our high-pitched giggles providing the background music.

As carefree, breathless children playing in nature, we ran with spongy grass beneath our feet. We imprisoned the fireflies in clear glass jars to gaze in wonderment at their brightness. Every child should enjoy this ritual; it should be a required rite of passage.

Seeing these delightful creatures again after many years while vacationing at Forest Hills Resort in Dahlonega, Georgia, was a holy moment. Not because it was deep or super spiritual, but because it brought me back to a cheerful, happy place in a childhood that wasn’t overly delightful. My parents’ domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and divorce left scars.

Seeing the fireflies reaffirmed what the psalmist believed. My heavenly Abba was with me every step of my life journey, and He always will be. When God breathes life into something, it becomes a holy moment. He was present at that exact moment in July 2011 when He orchestrated the firefly show. He will always be my very present help in time of trouble, but He will also be my friend and constant companion. And I am His. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3).

God has fireflies and a myriad of additional treasures planned for you if you will allow Him. Don’t wait until a crisis hits to reach out for God. Be on the lookout every day for new spiritual adventures.

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Bring Your Longing to Jesus

The sun sets palely over flat water while fireflies dance at dusk’s invitation.

I stare at the horizon with a heavy heart, a dozen longings pounding against my chest. I recognize the familiar longing for deep friendship, the longing for success in my career, the longing for God to relocate us to a home on a quiet lake somewhere, and the longing to feel heard and appreciated in the ministries in which I serve. Amidst all these longings, I identify something deeper—a longing to fulfill something that feels empty and lacking in the deepest part of my soul.

I flip my Bible open to the book of Isaiah, and God’s Word comes alive in the fading daylight. My deep longing feels something like thirst, and I know this is the answer to my plight. Jesus is calling me to come to the living water of His refreshing presence. He is calling me to bring all my longings to Him … to let Him speak truth into every part of my life. 

I imagine myself lifting my longings before the Lord, gazing into the pale sunset and thinking of His holy throne. As I surrender my longings, I sense a subtle shift. I’m content to wait for the fulfillment of my longings and to lay them at the feet of Jesus and wait. I sense the freedom to cease from striving. I am left with only one longing: the longing to draw close to His heart. 

Jesus calls us to bring our longings to Him so He can transform the desires that do not match His, reveal the deepest longings of our hearts, and fill us with His living water. He invites us to find a quiet place and seek His face so He can fill us with living water.

Think of the areas in your life in which you are striving. Surrender them to Jesus and let Him fill you. 

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An Alternative to Complaining

Oh, how we love to complain. It’s our default setting whenever something doesn’t go our way. And we’re not alone.

I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus in my quest to read the Bible in a year. Almost without fail, every time the children of Israel had a need, they complained about it. They fretted. They whined. They lamented that God had abandoned them and grumbled about how much better things were back in Egypt.

Frightening circumstances and overwhelming odds? The Israelites complained against their leader, Moses. Bitter water to drink? The Israelites complained against Moses. No food to eat? The Israelites complained against Moses.

James bluntly states the obvious: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Moses got it. So should we. Absent in each of these wilderness crises is what should have been their default response—prayer. It never occurred to the Israelites—with the exception of Moses—to take their needs to God.

Most of us probably aren’t wishing we were back in Egypt, but we often wish for “the good ole days.” We complain, fret, and whine. I, too, often walk in the Israelites’ fretful sandals. But I can learn a valuable lesson from my shortsighted compatriots and from their leader.

Moses saw their complaining, fretting, and whining for what it was—not a statement against their circumstances but a complaint against God. “The Lord hears your complaints which you make against Him,” he said. “And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord” (Exodus 16:8).

Yikes. Every complaint I make isn’t really against my circumstances, but against the Lord. My grumbling goes straight to His ears.

In contrast, Moses had a different type of conversation with God. “So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him” (Exodus 15:24). Every time Moses saw a need, he asked God to meet it. And God did. Gladly and generously.

Whatever situation is making you whine and complain, take it to the Lord and see what He will do.

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No Dead End Here

We must know—before, during, and after a tragedy—that what follows is not a dead end. 

The dead end, the end of the line, the peace she once knew. All were gone forever. At least, that’s how Naomi felt when her life changed. She would take the broken pieces of what was left and return home.

Naomi had been blessed with a husband and two sons. Together, they left Bethlehem to live in Moab. Her husband died there. Both sons married women from Moab. Later, both sons died. Ruth had married Naomi’s oldest son and insisted on remaining with Naomi after her own husband died. Naomi returned to Bethlehem—miserable, broken, and nearly alone.

She would learn that she brought with her God’s answer to the healing of her soul: Ruth. If Ruth had not accompanied her, we would not have the book of Ruth and the wonderful story of a kinsman redeemer. Naomi would never have held and nursed the child that would be an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Nor would she have had it said of her, “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:15).

Naomi was blessed more through Ruth than she was through her own family. Because of Ruth, Naomi has a special place in history. We, too, can have a special place in history if we allow God to work His eternal purpose in our lives—to redeem our lives.

God never stops working in us and for our good. He is sovereign and He is good. The Word of God gives us a picture of God and the work He is doing on earth. We need to steep our souls in the Word.

No tragedy is welcome, but there is a God-ordained purpose for everything that occurs in our lives. And we can trust Him wherever life leads us. He will get the glory from us, and we will enjoy the blessing of knowing our lives will count for time and for eternity. No dead end here.

Let God lead you beyond what appears to be dead ends. 

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The Sum of All Happiness

Though they searched frantically, no one found what they were looking for.

A group of fifty people was attending a party. The organizer decided to do a group activity. He gave each person a balloon and asked them to write their name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.

The participants were let in the room and given three minutes to find the balloon with their name on it. In a state of frenzy, everyone sought for their balloon with their name—colliding with each other and pushing others around. There was absolute chaos. At the end of the time limit, no one was able to find their own balloon.

In another round, each person was asked to collect a balloon from the room and give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes, everyone had their own balloon. The speaker explained how this happens in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.

For true and eternal joy, Jesus is the source, and He gives it to those who make it to heaven.

Much as this story gives a viable way of securing happiness, getting it that way is only temporary. Happiness gotten this way fades with time. Our happiness lies in the gladness of other people. Give them theirs, and you will get your own.

To have true happiness, make heaven a priority.

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Forgiving Eve

In a single bite, she threw it all away. And for what? An apple.

As a woman, I have a complicated relationship with Eve. When I was younger, it was easy to judge her … to vilify her. She had everything. Literally. A God-appointed, perfect soul mate, the ability to commune with all creatures, the ultimate utopian backyard, and a body so taut and tiny (if illustrations are to be believed) that she could manage to cover it using precisely three fig leaves as pasties and a bikini.

Then she threw it all away. She condemned all of womankind to severe childbearing pains, perpetual body shame, and earthly mortality. As far as I can tell, the instrument of our ultimate demise wasn't even a caramel-covered apple.

Eve believed the hype. She succumbed to the world's first sales pitch and dismissed everything she had for a plain apple that offered the allure of more. It was almost too much for my young mind to comprehend.

As I've gotten older, my view of Eve has evolved. I recognize that I live in a country of privilege. I understand that much of the world perceives us—based merely on our birthright—as having everything.

On my best days, I count my blessings and praise God with humility. Yet if I'm honest, there are times when, like Eve, I find myself caught up in the ancient trappings of more. More success, more money, more stuff.  During these moments, I stop judging Eve and start empathizing with her. I understand how it's possible for anyone to be tempted to trade our entire kingdoms for a single taste of shiny fruit.

Gratitude is a powerful weapon against comparison and discontentment. Adopt an attitude of gratitude by acknowledging God's goodness in your life.

Pray for eyes to see and appreciate your blessings.

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Waiting for a Package

My doorstep was empty, though I expected my package to be here by now. Each afternoon I went to the door, anxious to see the brand’s trademark blue plastic wrapping. Disappointed day after day, I comforted myself with the knowledge that, though slow, it was coming.

There are times I find myself experiencing similar feelings of anxiety in my walk with God. Perhaps I need guidance in a work-related decision or on how to best address a health concern. God has promised to provide all my needs, and, like my package, I know a response to my prayer is coming. But I wonder, When? There’s no spiritual tracking system that gives me a moment-to-moment update on when the answer will arrive—though I may dearly wish for one.

Sometimes God’s provision seems to be sent express delivery, and the time between my prayer and the manifestation of an answer is only hours or days. At other times, it feels as if His response has been mailed using the slowest method possible. I know it’s out there … somewhere. Just like the doorstep, I check in day after day. God, where is my answer? My guidance? My healing?

Though God’s promises may seem slow in coming, His Word assures us they will be fulfilled, and He encourages us to wait patiently for them. What seems to be a delay may, in fact, be God’s perfect timing, so we can rejoice in the assurance that something good is indeed coming.

As for my package? Three weeks after I placed the order, my waiting was finally rewarded. My package, instead of on the doorstep, was slumped inside my mailbox, looking weary from its journey. I hurried to try on my long-awaited sweater, which it turns out didn’t even fit.

Thankfully, God’s answers always fit perfectly. And they’re worth the wait.

If you wrestle with fears or worries when faced with your needs, ask God to show you how to wait with joyful expectation. And trust that He will fulfill His promises.

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Whom Will You Trust?

A bus ride was the place where Scott learned about trust—and forgiveness.

Scott, his classmates, and his teacher were on a field trip. Scott was eating a bag of potato chips and nonchalantly tossed the empty bag from the bus window when he finished. Within seconds, the driver began backing the bus to the place where the bag had landed.

The bus driver ordered Scott to pick up the trash he had thrown out. Scott left the bus with his head hung low and picked up the litter. When he returned to the bus, his teacher gave him some wise advice: “Learn from your mistake, but don’t let it ruin your day.”

All people have sins in their past. Sometimes their memory binds itself around the person like a heavy chain. Although they have asked God’s forgiveness, they refuse to believe He has forgiven them.

Possibly, the Lord’s advice to those who can’t believe He has forgiven them would be similar to the advice Scott’s teacher gave him. Maybe He would say, “I forgave you of those sins when you asked Me. Learn from your mistake, but don’t let it ruin your life.”

Whom we trust is up to us. We can choose the convicting voice that tells us our sin will never be forgiven, or we can choose the assurance that God has removed them as far as the east is from the west.

Trust God when He says He forgives the sins of your past. 

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"I" Versus "U"

My middle-school Sunday morning Bible study group has some unusual discussions, while I do my best to keep them relevant.

Our group covers deep topics, and the girls are learning the Bible isn’t just a bunch of old stories. While discussing various sins, we once explored the question, “Have you noticed ‘I’ is always in the middle of sin?”

After listing examples of self-centered sinful behavior, we noticed huddled conversation in one corner. One girl kept telling another, “Go ahead. Say it.”

Finally, everyone’s curiosity won out, and we encouraged Elizabeth to speak up. She said, “Have you ever noticed ‘u’ is always in the middle of trust?”

She was right. Technology and culture may have changed, but God’s truth remains the same. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t discover new ways to look at those ageless truths. When we place our complete trust in God, we focus on God and His will for our lives. We don’t worry or get sidetracked with misplaced desires.

When we allow God to guide our relationships with other people, our focus becomes God’s will for their benefit. We love them with the purity of God’s love, recognizing what we do affects them as well as us. Whether immediate or in the future, that impact can’t be denied. We prove ourselves trustworthy and also encourage them to grow in trust and trustworthiness.

Allow God to guide you away from self-centered sin into the purity of self-sacrificing love by placing your complete trust in God.

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Giving God the Time of Day

“Are you done with your three days of silence yet?” a girl on my hall asked. Then a guy texted, “Did you find God?”

Three days earlier, I had told my friends not to text me. Other than attending classes, I would be spending time alone in my dorm room. For the next several days, I turned off my cell phone, ate only Ramen noodles, and spent every spare moment praying and reading the Bible.

I didn’t care that my friends didn’t fully understand what I was doing. I just knew I needed to satisfy the itch in my soul. I realized the itch was actually my spirit yearning for some intimate connection with the Father.

Jesus experienced similar days, and He responded by disappearing into the wilderness to fast, pray, and escape the bustle of life so He could rejuvenate His soul. His actions show us how important it is to stay connected with God and how doing so affects life with other people. In order for Jesus to rightfully serve others, He needed to be spiritually filled first.

We all experience spiritual draining. No amount of rest, food, or vacation time can refresh our spirit like immersing ourselves in God’s Word and prayer. Our Father is the best source of life and energy. As we fill ourselves with Him, He can flow more freely to others. 

Don’t be distracted by the many obligations of life. Take the time to separate yourself and run into God’s welcoming arms. Step away and discover His power that gives you rest and restores your soul.

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Trust Over Worry

One worried thought led to another in an endless cycle of fear and anxiety, which kept me tossing and turning for hours.

All that worry added nothing to my life, but it did take away. Because I lost sleep, I awakened tired and irritable. No amount of coffee made a difference. I needed the rest my worried thoughts had stolen.

Jesus taught His disciples God would provide for them. By trusting Him, they didn’t need to worry about how their daily needs would be met. Although it’s not always easy, the same lesson applies to us. God’s love and care are great. We can trust that He knows what we need and when, and that He will provide for us.

Worry leads to sleepless nights. Trusting God leads to peace, despite difficult situations. Worry steals our joy and peace. Trust in God gives us joy and peace, regardless of what we’re facing. Worry leads to anxiety. Jesus said worry won’t add anything positive to our lives, but trusting in God will.

God invites us to bring our problems and concerns to Him. I waited too long during that sleepless night. I let the cycle of worry take over my thoughts and emotions before laying it all at the foot of the cross. Had I prayed first—before focusing on everything I couldn’t control—my morning would have gotten off to a better start.

Trust or worry. One will override the other, depending on where we spend our time and focus. If I keep my focus on situations beyond my control, worry will control me. But when I keep my focus on God through prayer and trust in Him, I will receive peace only He can give.

Worry may be our default reaction in life, but it doesn’t have to be. The more we choose to trust God over worrying, the easier trusting will become. And one day, we’ll realize trust is our new default reaction in all circumstances.

Let God teach you to trust rather than worry during troubling circumstances. 

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His Love Endures Forever

Every day. Every single day. I am thankful. I’ve often spoken of my sweet husband as my prince. And he is. As we approach thirty-one years together, it appears it was only yesterday we met. Time seems to have stood still. We fit like a hand in a glove.

We met in our early thirties and now we press into our sixties together. I can’t remember what it was like to be in a previous marriage, for all I remember is the new relationship God graced me with. And for that I am thankful.

Through the years, I’ve made mistakes. Some serious, others just foolish. Yet through them all, my sweet husband has stood beside me, loving me despite myself. His love is lasting. Forgiving. I can’t imagine being without it.

One Sunday, I noticed something unique at church. An elderly couple—one with a walker, the other a limp—made their way into the building. His hand was on hers as she slowly moved her walker along. A second elderly couple walked hand in hand. A third younger couple sat in front of us, and she leaned her head onto his shoulder as they prayed. There was a sweetness present.

What was so unique about them? It was the presence of God in their relationship. When He is the priority of a relationship, even mistakes or hardships cannot break the bond. Our love becomes everlasting. Solid. Steady. God values and blesses them.

As the people put the Ark in the tent David had placed, he had them present burnt offerings before God. David instructed the people to praise God. Extol the Lord, thank Him, and praise Him. Proclaim His name for all He has done because He is good.

When all else failed for Israel, God’s love for them endured forever. This act of praise represented the thankfulness and gratitude of the people. It proved Israel recognized God was faithful, and His love—even when they were less than loving toward Him—endured.

Valentine’s Day brings out touching cards and chocolate. It’s a time to celebrate those we love—our husbands, wives, children. I get to make over my prince, but in all honesty what it should represent is the everlasting love of God.

Give thanks, extol the Lord, for His love for us endures FOREVER.

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Tight-fisted or Trusting?

After spending some time thinking, I apologized for my prayer tantrum. 

I had lost some money while on vacation. Disappointed, I mumbled a prayer of frustration to God. I wanted the money back. It was mine. In the stillness that followed my prayer, I sensed God saying, “You are right. That money was yours. And the cattle on a thousand hills are mine.”

True, I had lost the money. But just as true, I serve a God who shares His riches with me daily. He has already given me all I need. If I trust Him with my life, I certainly can trust Him with my money.

In Philippians, we are reminded God will not only provide for some of our needs but will also provide for all of them. If you find yourself wrestling to give God control of your finances and material possessions, confess your tendency to be tight-fisted.

Ask God for help to loosen your grip and trust Him to provide everything you need. 

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Homeless

Broken people are everywhere—racked by the tormenting side effects of drugs and left hurt and bleeding by people who promised to “love and cherish” them.

She was there the other night—the drugged-out lady at the local park who babbles incoherently and laughs eerily at nothing in particular. I knew she wasn’t a threat, but her spaced-out eyes and stumbling ways left me feeling helpless to reach out to her.

But that night the Holy Spirit did not whisper with a still, small voice. He called sharply. Leaning hard on a power that wasn’t my own, I started toward her with quick determined steps. I’m not running away this time! I sat on the park bench with my hand across her shoulder, drawing her closer. She may not have understood, but God’s power supersedes human inabilities. I prayed for her, and then she left. I’m not afraid of her anymore.

As I stepped off a bus in Baltimore a few weeks later, I saw a piled mass of blankets and backpacks. Looking closer, I saw a man—face buried deeply in a heavy winter coat. Everything he possessed was cluttered around him as he slept in spite of the street noise. No one thought about or looked twice at him. This person with pulse beating and lungs inhaling was alive—and yet somehow he wasn’t.

These were the people Jesus stopped for along the road or on His way into the temple. He touched untouchable lepers. He crossed the line of what was culturally acceptable by ministering to a Samaritan woman. And He gave the hungry more than food. He offered a hope-filled, grace-drenched, turned-around new life. He cared about their physical limitations and pains, but it was ultimately their soul He sought to minister to.

Regardless of whether we are a destitute beggar or wearing Armani on Wall Street, Jesus sees through it all, and in the end we all have the same need: a Savior.

Without Jesus and the hope of eternity with Him in heaven, we would all be homeless too.

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Seeing Above the Noise

Prone in the chair, I allowed my mind to drift towards the things of God.

As the dentist began his periodic check and clean, I saw the empty cross—and the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then as I was ascending to see Jesus in the throne room of heaven, the dentist spoke. Coming back to earth, I heard him say I had one cavity.

“Did you want to take care of it today?”

I answered with a nod.

The real fun soon began. The numbing, the drilling, the water spouting. We all know the drill (no pun intended). The noise and sounds distracted me so much that it took intentional effort to get back to the things of God. Then I realized how tense my body was. My hands clenched together, and my shoulders became rigid.

How quickly immediate circumstances can affect our whole being. I allowed God’s Spirit to speak to my spirit. Calm invaded my soul, and I was able to visit the throne room and see Jesus. But this time it was not as easy.

Sometimes I think God allows distractions so we will press on and pursue Him. The rewards are immeasurable, for He never disappoints. Allowing daily life and circumstances to draw us away from being close to our Saviour isn’t wise.

Let determination and desire—even in the midst of distractions—draw you closer to God so you can see above the noise. 

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Holding On

Bonnie Tyler took the radio charts by storm in 1984. She belted out the lyrics about holding out for a hero.

Bonnie’s qualifications for such a person were ginormous. Her hero had to be a human with Hercules strength and speed. A person larger than life. Fresh from a fight, he’d appear on a white steed to rescue her.

Ms. Tyler’s song kept young women believing this hero existed somewhere out there. Many were disillusioned with their mates or in the search for one. But this superhero only existed in movies, romance novels, and comic books.

As a young woman in my twenties, my hero swept me off my feet. I took a ride on his white steed. However, my story didn’t end with the happily-ever-after quote. Devastation and despair engulfed me. In my efforts to recover, I picked up the Bible and read about the One who came to live and die for me. A pastor comforted me with the following statement: “If you were the only person ever born, Jesus would’ve left the throne room of heaven and come down to die on the cross just for you.”

I woke up from the daydream that an earthly hero existed to meet all my needs and affirm me to the fullest. My discovery? Only Christ can raise me up, meet my every need, and love me the way my heart desires.

In all honesty, I raise my hand as guilty of trying to hold humans to superhero status. My high expectations have crashed with the strength and speed mentioned in the lyrics. No person born with the DNA of biological parents can meet the required standards in a song. I’m flawed. We’re all flawed. We rise and fall in our strengths—every single one of us.

Ms. Tyler held out for a hero. I doubt he ever appeared. I’m holding on to mine: “For He who promised is faithful.”

Look for your hero in Christ, not a human. 

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Don't Leave Them Waiting

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

“What for?”

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

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

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

I handed her two quarters, and she skipped out the door. Her simple gesture reminded me there are opportunities to love people every day. If I think about the way I want to be treated and ask God for direction as I consider others’ needs, I will find plenty of people to love.  

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

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

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Finding the Reason

Everything happens for a reason.

The statement is synonymous with the Christian walk as we try to explain the unexplainable. It is a noble attempt to find something good in a bad situation.

Paul says God works all things together for good for those who love Him. Bad things happen for no apparent reason to the weak and innocent. Saying God promoted these acts of violence to advance a result is difficult. But He will bring purpose out of horrible events that weren’t in His perfect will. We have free will, and this freedom brings good and bad.

The Lord has created a path for us to walk—a path that will have hurt and pain because we live in an imperfect world. Hurt can create questions with no answers. When we feel pain, it is offensive to suggest God willed the pain upon us. The Lord never wills pain, but He wills His healing to our path. Whether it is a parent losing a child or a wife losing a husband to cancer, these are not events with a positive purpose, yet the Lord can create good in the aftermath of these tragedies.

The Bible says it rains on the just and unjust. Believers will experience pain and unanswered questions as our unbelieving neighbors do. But the Lord will turn the believer’s pain into gain and their mourning into healing.

We are not guaranteed a painless life, but when we are limited, God is not. If you have tasted pain, turn to the Lord and ask Him to create good out of your bad. I have tasted pain, but the Lord was faithful to bring good out of the situation when I was ready to receive it into my life.

God is ready and willing to make good out of your bad situation. 

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Why Not Say No?

I often find myself saying “yes” when I really want to say “no.”

It’s easy to say yes to:

People who know all the guilt buttons to push and won’t take no for an answer.That’s called manipulation and a power play.

Projects you don’t have time for but accept because someone is desperate for your help. That’s called taking advantage of you. Note: Look around and you’ll probably discover they never bother asking people they know will turn them down—just sweet little you.

Events you have no interest in, but agree to attend hoping you’ll be seen in a good light. That’s insecurity with a capital “I”—or worse, disingenuous self-aggrandizement.  

Three simple, yet highly effective techniques, will help you get “yes” out of your system so you can put “no” on your lips:

  1. Don’t listen to the scaredy-cat inner voice that says, “She’ll never talk to me again.” She’ll get over it, and if she doesn’t, you might want to question the health of a relationship where you can’t say no without suffering dire consequences.
  1. Don’t give an immediate answer. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Take time to get your thoughts together before answering. Try writing them down and then practice saying them out loud. Then get back to the person and say no.
  1. Don’t lie. Say something like this: “I hope you’ll understand when I say with all I have on my plate, I can’t add another thing.” Then button your lips. You don’t need to make excuses. If you mean it, you can say you’d be willing to help at another time—but only if you mean it.

One other thing about saying yes and no. Jesus said, Let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37). Forget maybe. Maybe is the wishy-washy coward’s way of saying no. It’s been said courage is a muscle, and no is a word that will help you strengthen it.

Ask the Lord to help you be courageous and gracious. The result will be a happier, healthier, and less stressed you.  

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Peace on Earth

Our Christmas celebrations begin in December, sometimes sooner, but do we know when the first Christmas observance began?

My research reveals this happy holiday has been observed for hundreds and thousands of years.

We have records of Christmas hymns written as far back as AD 400. By AD 1200, people enjoyed Christmas music with both religious and secular themes. Artists expressed versions of the Christmas story in their work. Sandro Botticelli painted the Adoration of the Magi and Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Christmas Oratorio. Charles Dickens taught readers to understand the spirit of Christmas through the tales of Ebenezer Scrooge in The Christmas Carol.

Church and secular groups promote the season. Some may observe Christmas only as a happy holiday; however, there’s a connection to Jesus behind our holiday customs. For example, the poinsettia, Flor de la Noche Buena, means flower of the holy night. And how about kissing each other when caught beneath the mistletoe? In Scandinavia, a kiss beneath the mistletoe signified a truce between enemies. Even our traditional gift exchange mimics the magi’s gifts to baby Jesus.

Before cards, before egg nog, and way before stores stocked their holiday aisle, a host of angels sang the first Christmas song to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”

We can observe the holiday in a holly, jolly way. But how do we get that peace and good will? The first step is acknowledging Jesus as your personal Savior.

Take the first step toward peace on earth by following the lead of the shepherds. Bow down and pray. Accept Jesus into your life, and then open your gift—the inner peace that comes from accepting Jesus as the Son of God.

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Lessons from a Mother Moose

Amazing what a mother moose and her baby can teach about the Lord Jesus, Creator of all things.

We were in Alaska visiting family before returning to our home in Surprise, Arizona. While out on the back deck—which is ten feet above a little forest, I saw movement. I looked down to see a six-foot-at-the-shoulder mother moose and her baby standing fifteen feet away. She was black, sleek, and full bodied. As I watched her eating mushrooms, I thought about what she revealed about Jesus—since He is understood by the things that are made.

The mother moose taught me about God’s attributes. As this scene was complete and beautiful, so God is all-knowing. She also taught me about God’s power. Her baby was created and born to be just like her. Finally, she taught me about God’s love. He provided the mushrooms she was eating that would make her strong so she could feed her baby and protect it from danger.

A relationship with God—which includes eternal life, starts with the new birth John talks about in chapter three of his gospel. The Father’s love for mankind is a matter of history, summarized on the cross and received by grace through faith.

Salvation is just the beginning of an ongoing personal relationship with God. Having a daily close experience with the One who loved us enough to give His Son to pay for our sins is one of the most important life-changing pieces of wisdom we will ever gain. And there is a revelation in nature that teaches us about Jesus the Creator.

Make it your task to learn a bit more about both of God’s revelations: His written Word the Bible, and His handiwork, Creation.

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Never Settle

The absence of bad does not equate to good.

After sampling new cuisine, I sometimes say, “That’s not bad.” This can mean I either enjoyed it or tolerated it. But there’s a big difference between tolerating something new and enjoying your favorite meal. I love authentic Mexican food, but I tolerate Taco Bell as “not bad.”

When thinking there’s nothing wrong with something or someone, we create a value vacuum where the absence of “best” pulls in a “not bad” mentality. Considering something as not bad doesn’t make it good. Just because there’s nothing wrong with someone doesn’t make them the right or optimal choice.

Our impatience sometimes makes us settle for the most available option instead of waiting for the best. Then we justify our choices with the “It’s not bad” or “There’s nothing wrong with it” mentality. We forget quality should never be optional.

I’m sometimes guilty of justifying the things God is trying to remove from my life. While I clench the “not bad” and “there’s nothing wrong with it,” He refines and transforms me in His effort to make me more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Christ stands before me, hands outstretched to receive the things that hold me back and the desires to which I cling (Hebrews 12:1). He awaits all the traits and habits I am putting off to replace them with what I am putting on (Ephesians 4:17-32). Out with the old, in with the new (II Corinthians 5:17).

In this newness of life, God moves me from the permissible to the perfect. There is no mediocrity, partiality, or ambiguity with Him. He is sovereign and knows what’s best. The question is whether I will accept His best and settle for nothing less—even if what presents itself is okay, not bad, or not necessarily sinful.

Never settle for less than God’s best or accept “not bad” when God offers “premium selection.” Instead of settling for “there’s nothing wrong with it,” wait for God to deliver His optimal choice.

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Our Peace in Busyness

We’re all on overload. The whole world is in a tizzy.

Our minds are bombarded with too much information on a regular basis. Our calendars are filled to the brim, and watching television captures many hours of our day. Organized sports fill our Sundays, leaving no time for families to attend church. How sad that God gets left out of the picture.

There’s no way we can keep up with all the world offers without serious consequences. Sooner or later, stress will take a toll on our lives. Once, there were only a few choices of things to buy and places to go. Now, malls contain so many stores we don’t know where to shop first. And to top it off, new products come out each day, and technology becomes obsolete from week to week. Keeping up with the latest inventions can become a financial burden.

Even our children’s schedules are too heavy for them to carry. In addition to their education and after school activities, they spend hours texting to their friends and chatting for long periods of time on their cell phones.

I recently saw a television program emphasizing the need for children to play. They need time away from organized activities to relax and enjoy themselves. When I raised my five sons in the 1960s, kids came home from school, had a snack, and had fun with their friends. Now children have the pressure to be involved in something every day after school.

Times have changed, but despite the turmoil, there is one thing that remains constant. The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). He is our Peace in the midst of our busyness.

It’s reassuring to know Jesus never changes. He is faithful, merciful, truthful, and always available. He is not bound by time and is able to be everywhere at once. We serve an awesome God.

Don’t get so busy that you can’t hear God’s still, small voice. 

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Thankful Joy

Thanksgiving should be more than just a date on the calendar.

A little girl in another country opened a Samaritan's Purse shoebox and was delighted to find a yo-yo. She pulled it out and held it in her hand as if she were holding diamonds. The look on her face was pure joy and excitement.

A local radio host experienced this last Christmas as he traveled with Operation Christmas Child to deliver the shoeboxes. The story kept coming back to me as I set the table for our family’s Thanksgiving meal. As the children came home and we gathered around the table, I thought of how much we take for granted, and my heart was grieved. We have so much to be thankful for. The table was full of delicious dishes, and we were warm and all in good health. But the one thing on everyone's mind was who would win the afternoon football games.

We should keep a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts and on our minds each day. We have too much to be thankful for to take for granted the freedoms and abundance we are blessed with.

Thanksgiving is a perfect beginning to the Christmas holidays when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him, we would have no hope or future.

Keep the spirit of Thanksgiving in your heart and on your lips. Come before Christ with thanksgiving.

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Do the Next Thing

Mother opened the screen door and called for my sister, “Dorthy Louise, Dor… thy…”

Dot was often in a field playing softball with the neighborhood kids. She made a point to be far enough away from the house so she couldn’t hear Mom’s call. There were chores to do, help to give with dinner, or baths to give our three younger siblings. As a young teen, Dot sometimes didn’t want to respond to the call.

In midlife, I questioned, “Lord, it seems most of Your people have a calling on their life. They feel directed to study in a particular field and work in that area. They have an identity and feel their life is worthwhile. Some are nurses, others are teachers. They have a career. I don’t.”

I stayed at home with our three offspring. Then when they were older, I worked at various jobs and finally worked in offices. I don’t have a focus, Lord, a calling. They have a title they’re known by. Who am I?

As Christians, we are all called to serve Christ as ambassadors and bring others to find hope in Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). But even in this, some have titles such as pastor, evangelist, or music director. A young minister said he learned about finding God’s will from his Sunday school teacher, “Until you are sure about the direction for your life, just do the next thing.”

Dot answered her call years later when she joined Dr. Faye Whitten as a missionary evangelist. Even with three degrees behind her name, she discovered the ministry of helps as they traveled the world mentoring and training young ministers in other countries.

Finally, I realized I don’t have to have a career title or a spiritual title. I just need to do the next thing in obedience to God’s Word. I gave up searching for a specific label. My calling isn’t my focus anymore. I don’t seek to know it, but I seek to know Him.

If you haven’t felt God calling you to a particular work, keep seeking His will for your life.

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Which Way?

Sometimes it’s hard to understand which direction life is taking us.

The choices we make have weight in the present and determine our future comfort level. It’s hard to understand what’s best when you don’t have all the information to make a decision. The path is not always clear, but the Lord is always there to show the right way.

In the ministry, I have had to make tough choices. The choice to move your family or not to make a change is always difficult. You want the Lord Himself to descend from heaven and show you which path to take. At times I’ve known which way to go by the leading of the Lord. I either had peace to make the decision or the still small voice guiding me.

Elijah was searching for the voice of God. He was seeking His voice in an earthquake, tornado, and wind. The Lord was not in those big demonstrations of this planet, but Elijah found Him in a still small voice deep within his soul. God’s power was demonstrated in the power of consistency. Big demonstrations won’t always be there, but God’s still small voice will.

Occasionally, we pray for guidance but still don’t have peace about a decision. The Bible instructs us to follow after peace in our choices. Peace will guide you, and God’s voice will direct your steps.

In my most difficult situations, I have found the inner guidance of peace as my navigation. If you are facing a major decision in your life, the Lord will show you His perfect path. The greatest demonstrations of the Lord can be found in the small gestures He gives to guide our steps. All we have to do is ask, and He will show us His will. 

Listen and be aware that God’s peace is the greatest navigation to your destiny. Whether a little choice or a big decision, the Lord will show the right path.

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Interrupted by God

When my husband asked about my agenda for the day, I had no idea what was in store.

It was the day after Thanksgiving—which I consider a day to rest and recoup from all the cleaning, eating, and entertaining of the holiday. My husband had other plans. We had purchased some new flooring, and he was anxious to get started. Before I could think of a good reason to opt out, we found ourselves busy scraping up old tile, moving appliances, and shifting things from one place to another.

I’m a creature of habit and task-oriented. Interruptions don’t always sit well with me. When my daily routine gets blindsided or my to-do list ignored, there’s a definite disturbance in the force. But I’ve learned that God’s plan is always best. Mark Lowry once said at a concert, “God’s not in our plans; He’s in the interruptions.”

Think about some of the Bible characters whose routines were interrupted: Moses and the burning bush, the Good Samaritan, and Mary the mother of Jesus, Even Jesus Himself. He was on His way to raise a young girl from the dead when a woman with a bleeding disorder stopped Him. Another time, He was trying to teach when a crippled man with palsy was lowered through the roof.

The best part is what resulted from the interruptions. Moses was in the field doing business as usual when he was called by God to deliver the Israelites. The Good Samaritan stopped to help someone when all the religious people turned their heads away in disgust. Mary was informed by Gabriel that she was to become the virgin mother of the Messiah. And Jesus not only healed the sick woman and brought a young girl back to life but also healed the crippled man and told him his sins were forgiven.

Agendas are okay. Some of us couldn’t live without our lists and schedules. But we need to realize God doesn’t have to stick to our agenda. He has His own, and we have the privilege of being used to fulfill His plan and purpose on the earth.

If you want to be used for the Kingdom, get ready to be interrupted by God.

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Beauty for Ashes

Fifteen minutes after I walked out of the World Trade Center, the first plane struck.

That sunny, late-summer day began like any other work day. I rode the PATH train from my home in New Jersey to the terminal inside the World Trade Center. From there, I did my usual brisk ten-minute walk to my office. As I waited for my computer to boot up, I looked at the magnificent view I had of the Twin Towers. Then, in what seemed like slow motion, I watched a great burst of flames erupt from the first tower. Suddenly, the world would never be the same.

Years later, when I first saw the Freedom Tower that is part of the new World Trade Center complex, I felt deep sadness for the lost lives and a longing for the buildings that had been there. Eventually, I experienced great hope and a sense of wonder at how God has created us to persevere even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

In God’s hands, the destroyed things in my life have been redeemed. Out of family brokenness, the Lord drew me into a deeper relationship with Him, blessed me with wonderful new friends and sisters in Christ, led me to a great church family, and renewed my passion for His purpose for me. Along the way, He empowered me to pursue new job opportunities, buy a home, and improve my health, among other things.

If there are areas of your life you have given up on and thrown into the ash heap, God is a master at taking the broken, burned-up pieces and exchanging them for beauty. Turn them over to Him, and be open to the new people, places, and opportunities He will bring into your life.

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Sober Your Mind

The biggest enemy on the battle­field is the mind.

Dresses were picked out for the bridesmaids. The countdown was on. From all appearances, I was the happiest woman alive—and I was. But what people couldn’t see was me crying on my pillow at night—fighting the voices in my head. “How do you think you’re going to have a successful marriage when your last one wasn’t? No woman in your family has ever made a marriage work. Call it off. You’re a failure.”

Had I listened to those chants four years ago, I would not be where I am today, ministering with my partner to newlyweds who desire fulfilling marriages, and helping people fulfill their destiny. Though I experienced the pain of a failed marriage, God restored the years the locust had eaten. He wanted me to live in the fullness of that blessing with a renewed, sober mind.

To be sober means to be subdued—devoid of frivolity, excess, exaggeration, or speculative imagi­nation. When we usurp self-control, we are in control of our emotions, desires, and actions. Walking in this posture on a perpetual basis takes prayer, conse­cration, and the maturity to understand it starts with the mind.

What we think influences our actions. Being rational in our thinking—and not giving place to the lies we hear in our spirit—is critical. It is much easier to believe a lie than to believe the truth. The Devil plays games with our thoughts and imaginations, which eventu­ally affects our emotions. We have to take the wheel back, get back in the driver’s seat, and regain control of our emotions. When we don’t, they will drive us to make decisions we’ll regret.

God gives us the ability to recognize the enemy’s attack on our minds—which causes us to think irrationally about our situations, the people who love us, and the validity of our destiny. Through Christ, we have power over the Devil to denounce the lies he speaks to our minds. We can be made new in the attitude of our minds and put on the new self, which was created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.

From this day forward, don’t allow the spirit and the voices of the Enemy to influence your thoughts and actions.

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The Legacy in the Cards

I know I shouldn’t judge a person by the messages in the cards, but I think there was a message in this deck.

I attended a retirement party for one of my husband’s co-workers. The invitation said no gifts, but cards were welcome. As people arrived at the restaurant for the party, they dropped their cards in a pile next to a large cake.

After a delicious meal was served, the retiree opened his cards and passed them around the room for everyone to read. There were silly cards, humorous cards, crude cards, and outrageous cards. Notes and comments were written on the cards and read by those around the tables as the mountain of well-wishing sentiments was passed along.

As I read the cards that came to me, I found a theme ringing through the messages: this guest of honor liked to party and was definitely a fun guy. Not much else was said.

I wondered what would be written if I were the recipient of this pile of cards at my retirement party. I hoped there would be evidence that I loved and served the Lord and my family, and that I cared about people—evidence my life counted for something. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this cover told me this man’s life was lived without much purpose.

I want to live my life with purpose—now and in the future. God has ordained a purpose for my life, and I want to fulfill what He created me to do. When it’s my retirement party, I want that message to come through loud and clear.

Make sure there’s a meaningful legacy revealed in your cards. 

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Swimmingly Secure

“You can’t get in the water until you learn how to swim.”

My co-worker’s grandmother set that rule years before. As a result, Dawn feared water. She wanted to swim but had no idea how to start. 

My parents had me playing in water from infancy. I loved nothing more than a trip to the creek on hot summer afternoons. My sister, cousins, and I dreamed up and played water games for hours. We stood on our hands, floated on our backs, and watched the drifting clouds. We flipped, jumped, splashed, and looked for fish, decorative rocks, and other underwater wonders.

I wanted my friend to know this same freedom. One afternoon after work, we visited a community pool. Gasping for air, she entered the shallow end. After she felt secure enough to hold the side and kick, I suggested she lie back, and I’d help her float. Letting go, she allowed me to guide her.

She found that weightless feeling fun. I removed one hand, reassuring her she wouldn’t sink. Then I removed one finger at a time and said, “Dawn, I’m holding you with one finger. You know I can’t do that. You’re floating on your own.” Tensing, she went down.

Like Dawn, I often shy away from God’s call to new service because I don’t know how. Yet, in order to learn, I have to get my feet wet. Once I take the plunge, I still hold back, not fully trusting. And like the apostle Peter, when my eyes stray from Jesus, focusing instead on my frailties, I go down.

Loosening my grip and giving God control helps me overcome my fear. By immersing myself in God’s Word and purpose, I find my own.

Don’t be afraid to swim when Jesus calls, “Come on in. The water’s fine.” 

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Preconceived Ideas

For three years, I suffered from monthly hormonal migraines, two days in a row, right on time.

My headaches were agonizing, nauseating, and pounding. I sought medical help to no avail. Over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, herbal remedies—nothing worked. I prayed. Others prayed too.

A local church announced a healing service in the newspaper. I attended and stood in line for a healing prayer, expecting the miraculous. When it was my turn, the pastor quietly prayed with me. He didn’t wave his hands over my head, anoint me with oil, or cure me. Like Naaman, I grew angry.

Naaman wanted to be cured of leprosy. His wife’s servant suggested he see the prophet Elisha. Naaman traveled to Israel with a letter from his king requesting the king of Israel heal his leprosy. Israel’s king tore his clothes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of leprosy?”

When Elisha heard about the king’s distress, he asked Naaman to come to him. Elisha didn’t greet him but sent a messenger who said, “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

Naaman left angry. I imagine he felt like he was on a wild-goose chase. He expected Elisha to personally call on the name of the Lord so he would be cured. Naaman’s servant convinced him to follow Elisha’s instructions in spite of how he felt. He complied. After dipping seven times in the Jordan River as instructed, he was healed.

A godly friend came to me and convinced me to see the doctor again. I went and was prescribed a different medication. For the first month, things looked worse, but after two months, the migraines subsided. Eventually, I stopped the medications and made healthier lifestyle choices.

I chose to follow God’s instructions for me just as Naaman did. Trusting the Lord, I laid down my expectations of how healing should happen. It’s been more than eight years since that healing service, and I function most months without migraines.

Lay down those preconceived ideas about how God should do things, and trust Him to work in His ways. 

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That's Saul Folks

Our teammate’s size transformed a mountain into a molehill.

We tossed meaningful smirks at the other teams in the Edge Games (an Olympic-like competition between youth groups). Our giant would gain a victory in any test of strength. When the announcer called for contenders for a “mystery activity,” we shoved the titan to the front. Another lanky teammate, a foot shorter than our giant, asked to participate instead. We ignored him. The announcer revealed the activity and unfurled a crawl-through tunnel. The diameter of the GigaTent was the same size as one of our goliath’s thighs. There was no way he could fit.

Like the Israelites, we elected a Saul to lead our team. We rashly chose an unfit leader based on his physical strength and magnitude. Our group had another candidate, the lanky teammate, who would have guided us toward victory. But we overlooked him because of his lack of physique.

Aside from my youth group, I often elect Saul over God in my life. Saul could appear in the form of a boyfriend who does not believe in God. Or perhaps Saul emerges in working eighty-hour weeks in order to secure an ample paycheck. Sometimes, we trust in the Sauls rather than God because they appear to be a head taller than the alternatives. Then we ignore the lanky options, such as not only offering our finances to God, but devoting our time to Him as well.

Whether I designate a leader for an athletic event or devote my time to some activity, I need to discern whether I cherry-pick a Saul or choose God.

Elect God for your team captain today. 

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Liberty in Christ

God’s gift is free and has no blind spots in the contract. 

Believers have been set free from the bondage created by the Law of Moses. The law was unable to make anyone righteousness and was flawed because it only exposed humanity’s weaknesses. When Jesus died on the cross, He died to fulfill what we couldn’t through good works and sacrifices. 

Christ-followers have been given righteousness through Jesus Christ. We have the ability to be at rest with God, satisfying the struggle for God’s approval once and for all. We don’t have to offer anything to God to be received as worthy. The process was simplified to one basic element: Christ alone. 

Believers don’t—and can’t—add to the salvation equation. We have to believe Jesus Christ is. When that is established, salvation is given freely. We aren’t required to give anything because the debt is too great for us to pay. God saw our inability to be righteous apart from His intervention and provided His Son as the bridge between us and Him. 

Believers don’t have to earn anything from the Lord. Trying to earn His approval underestimates what Christ did on Calvary. Our society associates the term free with cheap. Salvation was not cheap, because it cost God His Son.

We can express our gratitude to the Lord by loving others in the same way we are loved by Him.  The Lord does not require payment. He just wants us to spread His love to those around us.

Do not be yoked again to fear or shame. Be set free from false obligation, and be united in the Lord to know your freedom in Christ. 

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Freeing Your Enemy

Forgiving those who wrong us sets several things in motion.

Because of his jealousy, hatred, and fear, King Saul chased David around the countryside. God had rejected Saul as Israel’s king and instructed Samuel to anoint David as Saul’s successor. Though he had done nothing wrong—and although he was God’s anointed selection—David found himself running for his life.

On two separate occasions, David could have killed Saul in self-defense. And he had every right to. But he spared Saul’s life because he respected God’s appointed king and trusted God’s timing for the upcoming change in leadership.

David forgave Saul—freed his enemy—for his aggressive attacks against him because he relied on God’s sovereignty. When Saul found out what David had done, he said, “May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” Imagine receiving a blessing from an enemy. That’s the way God works.

When we forgive those who wrong us, several things happen. First, we express reliance on God’s sovereign control over every detail and event of our lives. God could have prevented the wrong we suffered, yet He allowed it for some reason. Second, we present ourselves with a learning opportunity. Even the most horrible experiences offer life lessons God wants us to know. Third, we free not only those who have wronged us but also ourselves.

Forgiveness does not erase the memory or pain of the wrong, but it allows us to release ourselves from the prison of anticipated judgment, revenge, or restitution. Even though we may be justified in our feelings, until we forgive, our hearts remain frozen in time by the desire to exact judgment, seek revenge, or have the wrongdoer recognize his error and pay for what he has done. None of those desires provide the freeing effect of forgiveness.

If we trust God’s hand in every detail of our lives, we can forgive those who have sinned against us, knowing God is orchestrating all things for our good and His purpose. By forgiving our wrongdoers, we demonstrate the family resemblance of our heavenly Father who forgave us.

Free your enemy and yourself by extending the forgiveness freely given to you.

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A Kingdom of Vashti's

Some graduate from the school of adversity with flying colors; others do not.

A drunken king demanded his beautiful wife to sashay amongst his merry-making cronies during a royal palace party. The queen’s refusal outraged her husband and all the men at his side. If Vashti’s “no” slipped by unpunished, all women might perceive disrespect as the new norm allowed in marriage.

Queen Vashti was banished from the presence of her husband forever. Where she took flight is left to the reader’s imagination. Nary another word is heard from the demoted queen. A beautiful woman named Esther replaced her. God made beautiful what men devised as evil. He always does.

Relationships get messy. Some learn to work through their differences. Others resort to alternate solutions: give in or give up, fight or flight. And some wind up like Vashti—off the radar and never heard from again.

Curiosity leads me to conclude various endings for the woman who left her crown at the castle’s door on the day of her banishment. Maybe she found someone else to love her and sit on an ash heap with her, weeping until the day of her death. Perhaps she was pitied or ridiculed.

My own experience with rejection helps me relate to Vashti. Sitting at the back of a “Single Again” class, I saw male and female Vashtis. Rejection wears many faces. Divorce takes place in relationships other than marriage. Parents and children, siblings, best friends, business partners, neighbors. Rifts, divisions, and exclusions all amount to pain—arrows to the heart.

Colossians 2:10 states, In Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority. Only Christ can make us complete. Another person brings happiness, wisdom, guidance, and a plethora of emotions to a relationship. But no person can be expected to fulfill every longing. Such demand is costly, painful, and generally winds up in the kingdom of Vashtis.

For all the Vashtis banished from a relationship, only God’s love will complete you, enable you to stand, bring hope to your heart, and comfort you through the fiercest of storms.  

Everything we need—hope, strength, and love, lies in Christ. He is enough.

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Whatever It Takes

Church membership is changing, church atmosphere is changing, and if the leadership does not embrace these changes, churches will not grow. 

When the sun fades into the horizon, everyone has gone home, the fire dims, and we are left alone with no one to push us on, we must finish the job. When the newness wears off and we ache all over, we must press forward.

Christ said to Judas, “Do what you came to do, friend.” Even Jesus knew there was a mission to be finished, and it was necessary to complete His assignment.

Changing a dirty diaper is not pleasant. Nor is staying up all night with a sick child or caring for a family member who can’t care for themselves. Most of us don’t want to invite the in-laws over for dinner, but some things are inevitable. None of us want to face death, but one day it will come to us all. When our life is over and we are remembered, we should want others to say, “What a life!” not “What, a life?”

Pastors and congregations must embrace the environment of the local families and be equipped to meet the spiritual needs in their neighborhoods.

It may not be comfortable or the same as it was in 1974, but our communities have changed, and so must the methods we use to share our faith and continue the work of hope that is found in a relationship with Christ.

Don’t be afraid to fail; be afraid not to try. 

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Longing for Egypt

Desperate for God to hear my petitions, I prayed, fasted, and begged Him for mercy.

There was a time when I needed my circumstances to change. After what seemed an eternity, God answered my prayers. For a time, I celebrated in worship. Then obstacles emerged—which I initially faced with enthusiasm. But I lost momentum. Doubt crept in. I remembered what I had left behind and longed for the past.

For days I wrestled with God. Then a friend reminded me that God does not forsake His own. I realized my focus was on the obstacle when it needed to be on God and His faithfulness. By refocusing, I regained my footing and stopped longing for the past.

The Israelites spent 430 years in captivity, longing to be rescued. Imagine their emotions as the news of freedom circulated through each family. But at some point in their journey through the wilderness, disenchantment replaced their enthusiasm.

From their perspective, it was taking too long to reach their final destination. Minor irritations turned to grumbling. Complaints mounted. Instead of focusing on God’s promises, they remembered what they left behind and longed to return to Egypt where they were fed and knew what to expect. In misery, they had comfort.

In the desert, uncertainty became their misery. And uncertainty was more than they could handle. They hit a snag—a bump in the road. A bump that caused them to doubt God’s faithfulness.

If you’re in a similar place—you’ve been rescued but have hit a snag, lost your focus, and are longing for your past—remember God’s faithfulness. Worship Christ as your Rescuer, Redeemer, and Savior.

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Waiting on the Moth

“Abby, come quickly to the garage.”

I knew Abby would be excited to see the chunky caterpillar crawling on the floor. As predicted, she was thrilled by my discovery and wanted to keep him. Minutes later, our little friend had a new home in a plastic container, filled with grass and leaves.   

Abby awoke early the next day to check on the critter. To her surprise, the caterpillar had incased himself in a cocoon in the top corner of the plastic box. We were excited, knowing it would only be a matter of time until a beautiful moth would emerge. Watching God at work in the life cycle of insects—transforming them into new beings, is fascinating. 

My daughter and I check the plastic container several times a day to investigate for signs of change in the cocoon. Sadly, the encasement is dormant. Being patient is difficult because we’re ready to see the beautiful designs on the wings of this new creature.

Sometimes in life, I have to learn to be still and wait on God, realizing He knows what is best for me. I pray for specific areas of my life and then sense God telling me to wait for His perfect timing. I have faith God has good things in store for me. He will help me grow and mature, just like the moth is growing and maturing in its cocoon.  

Maybe you have a “moth” you are waiting on. Don’t lose hope. Waiting isn’t easy, but you can find hope by reflecting on what the moth begins as and the wonderful transformation that awaits.

God wants to help us become beautiful beings in His sight. Trust Him to complete the metamorphosis.  

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If Nothing Else

It was day two of a writers’ conference. I’d flown across the country for it, but I couldn’t stop crying.

The last two years had been difficult. I’d looked forward to this conference as one looks forward to a family reunion. I’d planned and budgeted, but as time drew closer I realized there were too many bills. So I paid them, sent out an online prayer request, and went to bed.

When I awoke, my inbox was overflowing with good news. A friend offered her frequent flyer miles. Another took care of the ground transportation. An anonymous benefactor covered my room and food. And I’d received a scholarship for the conference.

My thankful spirit was mixed with a sense of duty to make the most of the conference. If God orchestrated so many people to come alongside and get me there, there must be a reason. I was striving to find Him in every word, face, and class. My focus had shifted to being overwhelmed at being overwhelmed.

“If nothing else ...” The words haunted me. I’d said them to many people, but they weren’t true. I didn’t want the only reason God sent me to the conference to be so others could see His glory. I wanted more. I wanted for myself. I wanted to learn, network, laugh, grow, and surround myself with new people. I wanted to create new stories … to forget my recent hurts and be happy. But I couldn’t.

Surrounded by those I call family, I couldn’t shed my darkness. I was supposed to be strong, courageous, and secure like children of God should be. But God’s children cry. And it’s messy, awkward, and embarrassing. Here I was, crying without control. The only thing my writing family could do was comfort me with their presence and prayers.

As I began to let go, the hurts and anxiety flew out, making room for nothing else … but God. My expectations for the conference were exceeded when I realized God was answering my prayers. I was learning and growing—not just as a writer, but as His child.

In the midst of your hurts and anxiety, rest in God’s arms of abundant grace. And that is everything. 

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What's Better than a GPS?

“It’s fine. I’ll use my GPS.” That’s what my friend said as she was driving me home. Even though I was with her, she preferred using the GPS rather than have me give her directions.

Initially, I wasn’t paying attention to our route as she followed her GPS’s instructions. But as we rode along, I realized we were going in the wrong direction. I got her back on course and we arrived after a long detour. She had put the wrong information in the GPS.

I’ve committed the same spiritual mistake. God is with me, but I chart my own path, certain I know what I’m doing. Then when I get lost and frustrated in my attempts to make it, I turn back to Him and ask what He wants me to do and how He want me to do it. Sometimes this means simply stopping and waiting for His timing. When I rest in God’s presence and do things His way, peace returns, and my confidence level rises.

Moses realized he and the Israelites could not make it on their own. They needed God, along with the direction and light for their path He could give.

When you are surrendered to God, He is with you. His presence makes the difference when you consciously live in it and follow His direction. Without God’s presence and guidance, things may appear okay for a while, but they will veer off course. And frustration will follow.

Live with the awareness of God’s presence and receive His guidance. Then you will experience confidence and peace.

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God's GPS

Make a right turn in 500 feet.

We’ve all been there. Our trusty GPS in hand, that mechanical voice telling us when and where to turn. Often, the thing meant to aid in our travels becomes an annoyance—as the disembodied sound counts down the miles and feet until our next move.

Although they can be annoying, a GPS makes getting places easier. I was reminded of this while on a trip to visit my mother. As she sat in the passenger seat, she became engrossed in a story that demanded her attention. She realized a few seconds too late that she’d failed to give me directions to turn. Fortunately, God saw us through a handful of near collisions.

My children have asked me how I can tell whether God is speaking or whether it’s the desires of my heart.

“It’s very much like a GPS,” I say.

When we’re connected with God through prayer and reading His Word, we hear His voice directing us to every turn. His direction will never surprise us since He often prepares us in advance.

Failing to be consistent in our time alone with God allows the static of everyday life to drown out His voice. Sharp turns invade our lives. Doubt and confusion distract us from where He wants to lead us.

Devotions and a daily prayer journal are great ways to ensure we don’t forget to let God speak. They also help us learn to hear His voice in times of peace and trials.

Make whatever changes needed so you can hear God’s voice. 

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Remain in My Love

I feel it happening again—the temptation to take charge.

Handling challenges myself is enticing. I want to trust God, but I’m tempted to believe the familiar lie that it’s all up to me. I’m compelled to do something for God in order to maintain His love for me. I feel the vulnerability of moving out from under the wings of His love into independent striving for achievement and approval.

Knowing I need truth, I turn to John 15 where Christ repeatedly tells me to abide in Him and His love. Abide also means to remain. I’m to remain in God’s love. Jesus tells me He loves me just as much as His Father loves Him. I want to believe this, but I struggle.

To remain somewhere, I have to be there to begin with. I can’t remain in a room unless I’m already in the room. God has united me with Christ Jesus. I did nothing to be placed in Jesus’ love. Remaining in His love doesn’t require striving but resting. While on the cross, Christ said, “It is finished.” Believers now have full access to His love.

Remaining in Jesus’ love requires trust and rest—yielding to His life in me. When I’m hit with the lie that I must do something to earn God’s love, I rest in Christ’s finished work. Doing so allows Him to produce fruit through me. He then gets the glory and I’m filled with His joy.

Trust Jesus to be your strength in whatever challenge you face. Remain in His love and yield to His indwelling Spirit to love others through you.

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Eye to Eye

I felt like I was contending with God Himself.

“Look ‘em in the eye” was what I was always taught. Doing so shows strength, courage, and honesty. Yet, due to a stroke in my eye, looking up is hard. Brightness hurts, so I keep my head down, feeling less friendly and probably appearing rude to those who don’t know me. Everything I do is harder because of the brightness and blur. I just want to be me again. Sadly, the damage is done. Doctors don’t expect the condition to improve.

During trials like this, I feel a real connection to Job. He knew God would bring him through stronger, but he was full of questions—just like me. There’s nothing wrong with asking. Be honest. God desires truth. Just be prepared for His response.

I’m not a “sporty” girl, but this gives the visual of a boxing match with God. When we go a round with Him, He puts us in our place. Just read Job. What a clear picture of why He’s the One in charge and not us. Four chapters of detailed questions proving God’s greater wisdom. Ouch! Humbling, indeed.

A blow like that might cause some to want to curse God and die, as Job’s wife suggested. But God is not the enemy. He is for us, not against us. Trials test our faith. He already knows how you will come through, but He wants you to know, like Job. Even if I appear to be the underdog in this battle with my body (or God, who allowed it), I can trust His goodness. His supply of strength never ends. Being in God’s corner is best.

When I look eye to eye with God instead of focusing on the situation, His perfect love casts out fear. I can see purpose in the pain, recognize my real opponent, and follow my Instructor. Better yet, I know life isn’t the main event. It’s just a prelude to heaven.  

Step out of the ring and into the Word. Allow God to be your Personal Trainer.

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Faith In Unthinkable Circumstances

 “I had a dream last night. I saw angels encircling your family.” The words of my co-worker sent chills down my arms.

I blinked. Wanting to cling to anything I could, I relaxed hearing her words. My son, only months old, was hooked up to machines to keep him alive. His diagnosis was a rare form of dwarfism called Thanatophoric Dysplasia which means “death-bringing.” Nurses kept vigil, ever ready to respond to my son’s alarms while I was at work. 

My co-worker went on to say the angels were facing outward with their wings touching. Why would this picture of protection give me hope? Because hope is powerful in the face of challenging circumstances. You embrace it when the world tells you there is none. Dare I hope for a miracle? Miracles happen to other people.

While I hoped the doctors and nurses could keep my son alive, a stronger belief rose in me when I read, “With God all things are possible.” While this verse referred to the likelihood of a rich man entering heaven, the truth remains: nothing is beyond God’s reach—even reaching down and touching a wee child in the hospital.

At the core, this is a trust issue. Do I trust Him with the most precious gift of my son? God allowed this sweet boy into this world. Could I … we … the doctors and nurses, keep him alive. It was a leap of faith. The stakes were high. Ultimately, like Abraham, I placed my son on the altar and trusted God with the rest.

There were no other choices outside of lapsing into despair or clinging onto hope. Hearing my co-worker share her dream comforted me and reminded me nothing is impossible with God. And now my son is ten years old.

Miracles can happen to you too, because anything is possible with God. Remember how God pulled you out of an unthinkable circumstance. Place your trust in His faithfulness and watch faith grow. 

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Broken Cisterns

Light shone from the Buddhist temple and beckoned worshippers inside. I gazed through open doors at an enormous statue of Buddha. A young man slipped past me and knelt with his face to the ground before the glittering idol. I ached at the emptiness in that place.

As a Western Christian, idolatry seems foreign to me. Why pray to a man-made statue or spend money on sacrifices, when it could be used to purchase daily necessities? It’s easy to think that this issue does not affect me, to gloss over all that Scripture has to say about it. And yet, idolatry is an issue of the heart. It is a matter of trust. As such, it has great relevance—even to modern believers.

The Burmese worshippers at the Buddhist temple came searching for something. Assistance. Fulfillment. Protection. They trust Buddha to meet those needs and are willing to sacrifice to prove their devotion. Though I have never bowed before a statue, I’ve looked countless times to things to meet my needs. I’ve run to people before seeking the face of God, and I’ve gone to the refrigerator to numb an emotional need.

I run to these things for help or fulfillment. These are my idols, and they are as real as Buddha in a temple. They often hide behind good, sound reasoning. They may not be inherently evil. Maybe they are even good things. But if so, I must remember they are gifts and not givers. Like cracked cisterns, they offer no true fulfillment when I look to them instead of God. They leave me dry, empty, and needy.

God is a Fountain of Living Water. His waters are like a bubbling brook—always fresh, always available, and always satisfying. He delights in meeting every one of our needs—spiritual, emotional and physical.

Has the Lord identified an idol in your life? He longs to satisfy your deepest needs. Ask Him to teach you to find your fulfilment in Him.

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Those Complicated Relationships

We all have quirky ways and stubborn hearts that can cause speedbumps in relationships.

My wife and I have been together since we were in high school. September 27 of this year marks our twenty-second year of being officially together—thirteen of which we’ve been married. Marriage is a completely different journey. Add kids to the mix, and you are now what people call “settled down.”

God wants us to love and follow Him above all else. Everything from that commitment forward will be done to glorify Him, which is what our families should do. Honoring our fathers and mothers is a part of glorifying God.

No amount of human wisdom can comprehend God’s love shown through His Son on the cross. A husband’s love for his wife should be incomprehensible. He loves without reason, and he lives a life of sacrifice for her. People should look at a man’s relationship with his wife and be amazed at the love he shows her. A husband who is rooted in Christ will love his wife with a love that surpasses all the quirks.

When I look at my marriage, I see scars I have caused. My life before Christ was centered on me, and my marriage and my wife suffered for it. I didn’t do anything to repair my marriage, but Christ fixed the real issue through salvation. My desires became His desires, my love for my wife became His love for her, and my love for my children became His love for them.

Selfish quirks still pop up. My flesh will accompany my entire life until Christ returns and sets me free from it. In the meantime, I will continue to point my family to love and honor God.

Center your love on Christ so your relationships can be healthy. 

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Coming Home

I felt sure my oldest son almost always turned a deaf ear to me.

One day, my son slithered through the door at four in the afternoon. He was supposed to be home at two. Extremely angry, I blurted, “Why are you so late?” Laying my hands flat on the table, I glared as I waited for his answer.

He raised his head and laughed. “I figured I was in trouble when my friends and I were riding bikes in the wooded area around the springs. I looked at my watch and it was two o’ clock. I figured it didn’t matter whether I was a half hour late or a couple hours late. I was in trouble.”

I launched into the whys of why he should listen and not come home late.  Studying his facial expression, I questioned. “Have you heard anything I’ve said?”

“Yes, Mom, I heard you. I just didn’t want to.”

Then it hit me. I had ignored God when I shouldn’t have. I had missed what God wanted to say because I didn’t want to hear it. His voice was clear, but I didn’t listen.

I wanted to swallow the words I had spoken to my son. If I, the adult, cannot listen to God’s simple instructions, how could I expect my son to listen to mine? Now I thank God for berating me when I don’t listen. As He speaks to my heart, I listen so I will not be late coming home.

Thank God for instructing you, and then ask for His strength to obey what He has said.

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Annoyed

The barrage began before I was completely awake.

No sooner had my feet touched the floor that morning than annoyance over something I read the night before slithered into my thoughts. Then I remembered the all-night wrestling match with my pillow, sheets, and quilt. My hip ached, which started another whole train of irritated feelings. Fifteen minutes later, I realized an old ploy from Satan.

Satan’s attempt to rile me in the morning has happened for years. His tactic once worked much better than it does now, but occasionally it still gets me annoyed. The end game is to get me off track for the day, week, or month, and to go about my business with an increasing undercurrent of anger. Thankfully, I have learned to recognize the signs and leave the annoyance behind.

When the age-old battle for my mind presents itself, the solution is always the same: renew my mind by ridding it of negative thoughts. Renewing involves repentance—telling the Lord I'm sorry and asking for forgiveness. Confession reveals any wrong thinking that has taken root and blossomed into words or actions. Once I've repented, I turn the negative thoughts into positive ones.

Instead of remaining annoyed about what I read the night before, I search for the root of anger. Usually it's a false belief on my part. I massage my hip and decide to talk to my massage-therapist daughter about remedies instead of continuing to think worst-case scenarios. Then I dismiss the all-night wrestling match with the bedding as no big deal. 

Like a mist, the annoyance evaporates when I take charge of my thoughts. I’m free to go about my life with a can-do instead of a woe-is-me attitude. Bad thoughts can’t take me anywhere I don’t want to go. Christ gives me the authority to kick them out.

Make the choice to renew your mind when you’re annoyed.  

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Weathering the Storm

Wind gusts whipped through leaf-clad tree branches. Snow pelted the sidewalks, leaving a slushy mess. For October 31st, the weather was displaying its own form of trick-or-treat. Unfortunately, it was no treat. 

Despite miserable conditions, children—dressed as ghouls and goblins—trudged through the inclement weather, eager to claim their yearly treats of Snickers and cupcakes from next-door neighbors. 

When I awoke the next morning, I noticed the once-leafy branches were now brown, bare limbs. Ice-crusted leaves lay scattered upon the ground; frosted remnants awaiting the first rays of sunlight to melt the snow. I shuddered. I was not ready for winter.

Around noon, I drove across town to visit my step-daughter and grandson. On the way, I passed a beautiful red burning bush. Its vibrancy immediately caught my attention, so I pulled to the side of the street and stopped.

What amazed me about this shrub was the fullness of its scarlet leaves. Unlike the trees and plants that had taken a beating from gale-like winds the night before, this little bush remained fully clothed in all her glory, gleaming in the morning sun. Her leaf-adorned branches stood aright and grand, displaying beauty and strength.

Looking at the magnificent little bush, I wondered if I was prepared to weather impending storms heading my direction. When wicked winds blow into my life, will I stand strong? Will I remain fully clothed in splendor and beauty, or will my leaves drop to the ground covered with icy frost? How will I face inclement weather ravished upon my soul?

When I start to question my strength, I turn to the book of Psalms. Here I’m told that God will help me through life’s storms because He is my strength. If I stand rooted in Him, I will remain strong and flourishing. 

Then, instead of worrying about impending storms that threaten to diminish me, I look to God for strength. With His help, I stand unhindered by the daunting forces of destruction as they whip through my being. I cling to His hand and trust Him to lead me through the darkness. And when daylight breaks, I remain strong—standing radiant and beautiful for all to see.

If you are caught in the midst of life’s storms, reach for God. He will be your strength.

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A Life Restored

God seems to do His best work through broken and flawed people.

A few years ago, an angry man rushed through the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam until he reached Rembrandt's famous painting, "Nightwatch." Then he took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly before he could be stopped. A cherished piece of art was severely damaged. But what did officials do? Throw the painting out and forget about it? Absolutely not. Using the best experts, who worked with the utmost care and precision, they made every effort to restore the treasure.

Scripture is filled with example after example of people who messed up in a big way.  Moses was called by God to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt, but Moses first took the life of another man out of anger. David was called a “man after God’s own heart,” but he orchestrated the death of another man just to commit adultery with his wife. Study Scripture closely and you’ll find an interesting theme.

Peter was no different. Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him, but Peter maintained it would never happen. It did. Peter denied knowing Jesus just hours after Jesus was arrested in the garden. Peter let fear get the best of him. He failed. But that’s not the end of Peter’s story. Through an encounter with Jesus in John 21, Peter was forgiven and restored. In Acts 1, we find Peter is the unquestioned leader of the early church. The same Peter who denied knowing Jesus was used by God in a mighty way.

When you have failed God, remember He promises you forgiveness and restoration. 

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God Is Always Near

Dot had a few parting words, “Be careful, it’s drizzling rain. Tennessee roads can be slick when they’re first wet,” she warned.

My husband was working in Chicago and I was at home with our three children. Lonely and uncertain about our pending move to the Windy City, I drove seven hours from Ohio to visit my sister in Tennessee. Dot, the children, and I tromped over a trail, stopping to enjoy a picnic at a fallen tree.

On Sunday, the children were sad to leave their Aunt Dot as we turned our car toward home. We had good traveling the first couple of hours, but as we rounded the curves through the mountains, it began to rain again. Instinctively, I touched the brakes to travel at a slower speed. As soon as I did, I knew I’d made a mistake.

My little green Chevy spun out of control. All I had time to say was, “Jesus.” We went into a hard spin. Kimberly, Kent, and Kyle all screamed as they braced themselves. We crossed into the other lane of the highway and back. Then we swirled onto a small stretch of gravel beside a closed café. The car stopped. When it did, I was praising God.

On another stretch of highway, we might have smashed into another vehicle or gone off the road into a ravine—since this was before I-75 was completed. But there was absolutely no traffic on this two-lane highway when we began to spin. Though I’d seen miles of roadsides which dropped off into the valley, this was one of the few places with a small stretch of land beside the highway.

I was unaware that our tires had poor tread and needed replacing, but God watched over us. He is constantly nearby and often keeps us when we aren’t wise enough to keep ourselves. How do I know? After returning to Cincinnati, I contacted my friend, Margie, to tell her about God’s protection. She asked what time we’d had the trouble and then told me she was washing dishes that morning when she felt impressed to pray for our safety at that exact time.

Even when we are unaware of danger, the Lord is alert to our needs.

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Come and Have Breakfast

Serving breakfast to a group of friends who recently abandoned you isn’t easy.

After enduring the most traumatic, physically grueling, and emotionally draining experience of your life, climbing into bed and curling up in a cocoon of soft blankets might offer comfort. Or perhaps a hot bath while listening to some relaxing music. Maybe even resting in a comfortable lounge chair in a lush and fragrant garden.

Jesus chose the more difficult response one morning after His resurrection when He met seven of His disciples along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Having gone through the most agonizing—and victorious—event in history, His words to them were not, “Why have you gone back to your old way of life?” or “Why did you forsake Me?” Instead, He asked, “Children, do you have any fish?” A question asked not out of concern for His own hunger, but for theirs.

“No,” they replied.

He instructed them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. As they fished, He prepared breakfast for them. After the disciples hauled in their large catch of fish, Jesus offered a loving invitation: “Come and have breakfast.”

Jesus had just secured the matchless gift of eternal life, yet here He serves again by meeting the disciples’ temporal needs, just as He meets all of our needs—spiritual, emotional, and physical.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to serve and “feed His lambs.” People around us are starving for love, encouragement, peace, and truth.

Reach out today and say “Come and have breakfast.” 

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Busted

I knew we’d been caught when the police officer placed his huge hands on our table, leaned forward, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “I have been a detective for twenty-six years, and I can tell you that nothing gets past me.”

Busted!

Our dilemma began when my husband and I decided to pick up the tab for a uniformed policeman—anonymously of course. With the help of a willing accomplice—a chatty waitress—we were able to get his bill. While my husband was paying, I saw the barrel-chested, wide-berthed policeman looking for his bill, so I played it safe and put my head down.

Before I could get the nerve to look up, Mr. Policeman was at our table. His voice was stern, but the smile that erupted on his face wasn’t. Not only was he a uniformed policeman, he was also a plain-clothes detective. He had this day off and decided to make some extra money at a ballgame and was required to wear his uniform.

Just our luck. The day we try to get away with paying a policeman’s ticket, he ends up being a seasoned detective—one who has been trained to watch his surroundings, take note of all activity, and keep an eye on those in his sight. We were busted!

After I laughed at the irony of our trying to get something past a detective who sees all, I was reminded that God does the same. He isn’t a detective, but a loving Father who watches over us. He watches His surroundings, takes note of all activity, and keeps an eye on those in His sight. Nothing good or bad goes unnoticed by Him.

God sees the things we do that are pleasing to Him, but He also sees the things done in secret that are displeasing to Him—done with or without an accomplice.

Remember, no matter what we do, God sees it all. 

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Whipping my car up the driveway, I parked near the back steps. With packages and both girls in tow, I unlocked the door and entered the kitchen. Within seconds, I backed out the same door.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I’d seen. Searching for some feasible explanation, I drove to our neighbor’s house and called my husband. When he answered, I blurted, “Did you come home and leave all of the kitchen cabinets open?”

Sitting in disbelief, my husband and I answered the detective’s questions. We’d been robbed. We’d lost much of what was valuable―not only in dollars but in sentiment. The latter was the greater loss―the loss of items tied to loved ones who’d passed on and times we could never revisit.

We’d lived in our home less than a year and were content with our new surroundings. How quickly that all changed. Our home was equipped with an alarm system, but I’d failed to set it. If I’d taken time to secure the perimeters before rushing out the door, I could’ve avoided the loss of cherished possessions and days of unrest.

For the next few weeks, I wore the alarm panic button hooked to my side. The intruders had not only violated the borders of our home, they’d violated the confines of my heart. They’d stolen something far greater than possessions—my peace.

The same is true in our spiritual lives. One minute we’re content, the next the enemy has ransacked our souls. How do we hold our place of contentment when the enemy attempts to violate the borders of our lives?

We must secure the perimeters of our hearts and minds. When we put down the panic button and pick up the sword of God’s Word, we refuse to allow our thoughts to run wild and, instead, focus on the One who is in control of all things. Then with our shields of faith held high, we can cling to His promises—promises that hold firm and secure as we step out to meet the day.

Secure your perimeters. The enemy can take our peace only when we hand it over to him.

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Don't Be Led Astray

An obedient daughter, a faithful friend, a studious high school student. That was me. Until…one day when I attended a business class workshop.

Several girls from our senior class attended a workshop off school property. Dismissed early, three other students didn’t want to go back to class but decided to drive around town. I knew if I went back to school alone the other girls would get into trouble, so I went along with them. My excuse was lame, but the truth. I knew I was displeasing the Lord, but I made the poor choice anyway.

Cutting class was a new experience for me. Quite fascinating, but I felt a heavy blanket of guilt for days. I always felt I’d be caught doing wrong so I wasn’t usually a willing participant. Strangely, the experience turned out to be a good one.

Remembering how I felt when I did wrong, cutting class wasn’t something I wanted to repeat. I allowed myself to be led away from my own conviction by others’ decisions that time, and my tender conscience was uneasy. Once was enough.

God’s Word tells us not to be led off-course and not to allow others’ choices to determine ours. I learned it was important to make my own decisions instead of following what others did, especially if it was against my better judgment.

Who influences your decisions? Do friends lead you where you didn’t intend to go? Do you end up paying a higher price for an indiscretion than you expected to? Or, like a young friend expressed to me, “I always look forward to the next big event with my friends or a dance or whatever. Then when I go to the event, I feel a let-down. It’s never as exciting as I was told it would be.”

Maybe you don’t want to be the only one doing the right thing. I didn’t. But I hope you decide, like I finally did, that displeasing the Lord isn’t worth the outcome.

Make choices based on your personal values rather than walking blindly behind others. 

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Freedom Unleashed

The retractable dog leash sounds like an interesting device—until pooch gets into trouble.

Pets have the freedom to run and explore on retractable leashes that extend up to twenty-six feet and are equipped with a locking mechanism. Unfortunately, that's far enough away for a dog to wander into traffic, get attacked by another animal, or nip at someone before you can personally intercede.

Locking mechanisms can also fail, which hinders a pet owner’s effort to pull their pet back from danger. The very device meant to open up a dog's world can easily end their life. The handler holds the key to their safety—reeling them in when danger is near or keeping them close enough to avoid it. Sadly, the person holding the leash isn't always attentive. Reading, texting, or listening to music can divert an owner long enough for an incident to occur.

Our heavenly Father watches over us with an undistracted eye. He allows us the freedom to roam and make our own choices. We, in turn, experience the scrapes and pitfalls of life. Through them, we learn to set personal boundaries. A wise sojourner will remain in close proximity to God. The closer we are, the easier it is to hear His voice. He alerts us to potential danger and reminds us that with freedom comes responsibility to others.  

The Bible says everything is permissible, but not everything is profitable. Danger lurks around careless corners. Everything isn't good for our body or our minds, so we should monitor what we watch and eat. Expressing our freedom can also harm those around us. Just because we can doesn't mean we should.  A joke at someone else's expense could injure them deeply. An innocent drink at the office party is fine, until we learn the new employee we were hanging around with is struggling with alcohol abuse.

When we consider our actions in light of the effect they have on others, we encourage rather than tear down. Cultivating that type of freedom is worth pursuing.

God’s mechanisms don't fail. Stay close to Him and imagine the jolt if He retracted your leash.

Then think about how your actions build up the body of Christ, and make adjustments if necessary. 

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Shedding for New Growth

In order for new opportunities to appear, something old must die and depart.

In spring, during my daily walk around the neighborhood lake, I always notice the trees, still naked from winter but sprouting tiny buds from their fingertips. The bright sky shines easily through their bare branches which causes me to notice their trunks, hugging the lake’s edge and craning over the water’s surface. Most are large birches, growing in clumps along the water’s edge, the bark peeling frantically as they begin to shed paper-white coats and reveal new growth.

Whether a person is shedding unbelief, immaturity, or a sinful habit, they must first undergo a tearing away of the old things. A loss of the old way of thinking or doing something must occur for growth to happen and something new to begin.

Even trees shed to grow. Bark splits to allow for increased girth. If a tree was wrapped tightly to prevent peeling, the tree’s growth would be hampered. Trees are meant to grow, and growth means shedding layers that hinder expansion.

Habits, thoughts, and fears can hinder spiritual growth. Things wrapped tightly around us can trap us in an unfulfilled and unproductive life.

What can you peel away so you can grow unhindered in the light of the Son?

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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

He slid the note across a neighboring student’s desk, motioning to pass it to the intended recipient. That would be me. Would I survive my first breakup and the quirkiness of seventh grade?

Additional heartbreaks were scattered across my life—a few instigated by me. Although painful, there were breakups in my best interest. I’ve composed notes specifying the reasons I wanted out.

Dear Insecurity, We’ve spent a lot of time together. I’ve grown comfortable with you these many years. You’re not a trustworthy companion—always denying the truth. It’s been just the two of us in this love affair, but I’m tired of the on-again, off-again charade. It’s off. We’re done. Sincerely, Secure in Christ.

Dear Perfectionism, I opened my heart to you. Masquerading as a heart-throb, you’re a heart-rob—stealing my joy. This isn’t working out. We’re breaking up and never making up again. I don’t love you anymore. From, My Heart Belongs to Christ.

Dear Pride, I know you’ve been seeing other people on the side and never wiped one tear I cried. You dazzle with false hope of greatness. You thought I was never leaving, but I’m giving up on us. Get it? Got it? Good! Signed, Christ Above All.

Dear Acceptance, Once a restless heart, I needed you. I’ve grown weary of desiring approval. There’s a new guy in my life. He’ll always be the lover of my soul. No longer hopelessly devoted, I’m over you and moving on. The end. Don’t call or write, Chosen by Christ.

Dear Me, You’ve changed since we first met. Like two strangers, you’re someone I knew in the past. It’s time to walk away. I’m not living the same way. No longer at your service, Christ Lives in Me.

Exits out of these relationships won’t happen overnight. I may find myself on a blind date with any one of them, offering enough pampering to warrant weak moments.

Another note has been passed on through the ages by neighboring students of the Word. A letter declaring unconditional love from a trustworthy companion. A relationship with Jesus worth our highest devotion. The intended recipient? That would be me. And you.

What breakups are in your best interest for total allegiance to Christ? 

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Come, Drink

Camels drink a lot of water at one time—up to thirty-two gallons in thirteen minutes. Where do they store it? Uhmm, no, not in their humps.

A camel’s hump stores fat that is built up by eating and drinking. Once their humps contain the maximum fat, they can go several months without more food and several weeks without more water, depending upon their work conditions and environmental situations. We humans have different levels of needs. Go three days without water intake and your body begins to die. Go three weeks without food and you’ll be too weak to survive.

A recent conversation concerning the use of the word withered led to a few statements. The Greek word used in the New Testament means to be devoid of water to the point of death. Scripture tells us that trees planted by a river won’t wither because they have a constant supply of water. Conversely, seeds sown on non-hydrated soil will perish.

Our soul requires constant watering. Jesus understands our design and offers encouragement throughout the Bible to continue a daily intake. He gives a source of unlimited spiritual water that will prevent us from withering. In fact, this water carries us through to eternal life.

Daily intake of water allows our body to function better and not deteriorate. Our skin remains pliable and protects us from infection. Our heart beats steadily to carry nutrients everywhere. Our liver, kidneys, and intestines process toxins and wastes out of us. If any one of these functions fails, we die. So it is with the water of God’s Word. If we sit once a week in church to hear the Word and depend upon it for the rest of the week, we practice life as if we are camels. Not only will our soul lose its vitality, but our body suffers as well.

If we drink of God’s Word on a daily basis and prepare for the journey ahead of us, we stand prepared for changes in both our spiritual environment and the spiritual workload increase caused by the attacks of our enemy.

Come with me. Drink until eternity.

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Excellence

The faster they go, the happier he is. My husband loves a beautiful Porsche. The problem is he only drives them on special occasions – like when his buddies visit, and he wants to show off the car’s ability to perform. Otherwise, they sit hidden behind garage doors.

I, on the other hand, drive a van. When our children were growing up, my van often appeared trashed from transporting kids. It was a workhorse. Occasionally, my sweet husband had to drive my workhorse. It didn’t matter if the van wasn’t perfect. It was useful and got the job done.

God reminds us that by all appearances, you and I are damaged goods. In addition to our imperfections, we are trashed and dented by the bumps caused by other workhorses or perhaps even “works of art” we may encounter as we travel through life. Regardless of how others may drive, God instructs, through the act of deliberate and obedient excellence, to devote [ourselves] to doing what is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Like Richard’s Porsches, you may look like a work of art with a message of high performance written all over your beautiful sleek design. Or, like my van, you may look more like a workhorse, not very showy, but rugged and durable. Whatever your design features, you are called to be excellent in how you endeavor to perform. Polish your “vehicle” till it shines. Put a little oil of grace on those dings and dents and drive with excellence wherever God is leading.

Oh, and by the way, to do this you must leave the garage.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Spring Brings New Life

Spring is a time of rebirth.

An Amish student once told me he knows spring has arrived when the red-winged blackbirds return. Each year, around the end of February, I start scanning the roadside for the miniature sentinels as I drive to work. I usually spot them soaking up the sun in the early morning hours.

After a particularly cold winter, I spotted a red-winged blackbird perched atop a small brush-like tree as I was on my way to work. The next morning, I was even more ecstatic to see not one but many red-winged blackbirds stationed every few hundred yards like little soldiers at their post. I knew winter was on its way out and spring was just around the corner.

I like spring because it brings new life. Daffodils and crocuses emerge through cold, hard ground—splattering hues of yellow, purple, and pink against the dingy remains of winter. Colorful buds burst open on grayed tree limbs, clothing them in knobby splendor. Twittering bird choruses fill the air as they reunite after venturing north to their summer homes. Raccoons and skunks forage for food after waking from their long winter naps.

Spring is also the time to celebrate Easter. Easter is a celebration of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross as the perfect and final sacrifice for our sins. When He was buried in the tomb, our sins were buried with Him. When He rose from the grave, He brought us new life. Giving our lives to Him results in having our sins cleansed.

Starting afresh brings hope and healing. Death holds no power and is swallowed by eternal life. The best part is not having to wait for winter’s end.  Our new life can start right now.

This year, as spring unfolds, celebrate Jesus’ gift of new life—eternal life—by believing in His death, burial, and resurrection for the payment of humanity’s sins.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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What Consumes You

The day after my grandmother passed away from a brief but intense struggle with cancer, I was holding her worn and written-in Bible in my hands. I slowly paged through chapter and verse, reading all of my grandmother’s notes until I came to Hebrews 12:28-29. Written above the verses, in her looping handwriting, was my name—Philip.

I’ve read that line over and over again, and I’m still humbled by my grandmother’s thoughts about me. Even now, I ask, “Was she right? Is God my all-consuming fire, and if He isn’t, what is?”

What is it that burns in our life like an all-consuming fire? You can almost see the flames consuming people lining up in droves at stadiums, in front of stores, in front of mirrors, and before their complement televisions, leaving behind only ashes scattered to the wind.

But when the God all of things consumes us with His eternal fire—this thing we call faith—the temporary is consumed and burned away. What is forged in those flames is the eternal—that which never passes away and is held for us by God in the heavens. The love of God in Jesus was my grandmother’s consuming fire, and she has now received the eternal blessings of that flame. My desire is to be consumed by that same fire till all that remains is the love of God in and through me.

Think about your consuming fire, and if it’s not God, what is it?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jzlomek.)

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Paradise Birds

One of my favorite paintings is of a mother Paradise bird feeding her baby. If you’ve never seen a Brazilian Paradise bird, you have missed one of the Lord’s most beautiful creations. The mother has a brilliant gold tail that is over a foot long. The colors of the rest of her body are equally awesome and lead to lush blues covering her head. Her babies are part of nature’s ugly ducklings. Small and dull are gracious descriptions, and they have very big mouths.

I think of Moses, Paul, and God’s children when I think of Paradise birds. Moses was not a motor-mouth; he was the opposite—a slow tongue. Paul pleaded for an opening of his mouth that he might speak boldly as he should. Christians are told to be filled by the Holy Spirit, and Spirit fillings speak through open mouths and yielded bodies.

Sadly, believers can scream about the World Series and mumble about Jesus. God’s children often feel accuracy is more important than spontaneity when, in reality, truth is only given life by the quickening of spontaneity. Those that are primarily thinkers can be the dullest and most boring people. It’s not unusual to feel a thinker doesn’t know what’s going on around them until we are surprised by something they say.

Those who mumble, those who lack spontaneity, and those locked away in their thinking, all need to open their mouths and God will fill them. We don’t always have to know what to say or always have the answer. God made that clear when He said the just are to live by faith.

Our heavenly Father wrote the manual for life that can furnish us all good works. The problem for Christians isn’t lack of information. He also caused the Holy Spirit to live in each born again believer so our potential is not lacking. Then, He attached each believer to His Son—who is the Vine—as branches. All God’s children have to do is receive their food—the word of life—and let the Spirit flow.

Don’t be one of God’s children who keeps your mouth closed. Open your mouth wide the way the Paradise Birds’ baby does, or you will remain small and your feathers dull. Your strength will not grow and your beauty will not show. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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They Don't Make Politicians As They Used To

Are you as tired of politics as I am? Promises are made we know aren’t going to be kept. A candidate says one thing to one group, and then tells the next gathering the exact opposite just to get more votes.

President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk in the oval office that read: The buck stops here. He accepted responsibility for all ideas and actions. Now, there are specific people hired to spin each incident so the blame goes to someone else.

It can be quite lonely at the top. Just ask King David. This poor guy was out caring for his dad’s sheep one day when the call came for him to be anointed as Israel’s next king. God didn’t even ask him if he was interested in the position.

The next thing David knows, he’s running for his life from King Saul. When he does ascend to the throne, his son, Absalom, abdicates the throne for a time. David’s heart shines through in Psalms.

King David knew there was only one being higher than he was in God’s chosen nation of Israel. God was the rock David turned to when all appeared lost. It was God who helped young David kill lions and bears. God would help him now.

What obstacles are you facing today? Is there a challenge that seems overwhelming? You may have run out of answers in all the books on your shelf, or your friends’ suggestions may have come up empty.

Make it a habit of running to God first—not last—when you come up against something bigger than you. He placed the challenge there so you’ll turn to Him.

Pursue God’s heart in all you do. It will make a nice epitaph for you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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9-1-1 In Jesus

“Mom! Mom! Call 911! Now!  Dave fell off his bike and his head is bleeding bad. Help!” 

The chilling screams of a twelve-year-old sister kneeling beside her fallen brother pierced the humid summer evening only to be replaced by loud blasts as blazing lights and sirens filling the road. 

“Hurry! Stop the bleeding! Please!” 

A quiet calm settled over that little figure and all who stood by. EMTs tended to Dave’s deep wounds, wrapped him warmly, and settled him in the ambulance. 

“The bleeding is stopped. He’ll be okay in a few days.”

Is it time for you and me to stop the bleeding and the crying and call “9-1-1 Jesus?” 

I’m so aware of the deep wounds we often carry with us day in and day out. It seems so hard for us to forgive those who have hurt us, to recover from life’s occasional punch in the stomach, or to surrender that unfulfilled expectation we had. I have heard my friends say, ”Life’s not supposed to be like this.” Time to call 9-1-1 Jesus.

Just like that 9-1-1 operator, Jesus waits to hear our cry for help. He wants my hurts to be healed so I can go on with my life in peace. When I read the Word of God or devotions, I hear the call to open my heart, dig down deep for those old hurts I have buried, and drag them out and place them at the foot of the cross of our Lord Jesus—and leave them there. 

No one says forgiveness is easy, but it is the vehicle for peace in the Lord. Jesus taught us to pray, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We are abundantly forgiven and can go to the Lord for the strength and direction we need to forgive others in equal abundance.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and alvimann.)

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Follow-Me Marks

“I am the one…your mother!  Follow me!”

The frantic herd was scattering wildly in every direction. Hoof beats pounded in the young gazelle’s ears. And the unmistakable roar of a ravenous lion pierced straight through his heart. There was no time to think. Instinctively, he knew there was only one thing to do—follow his mother. But where was she? Suddenly he spotted them—those unique markings he’d known from birth. That combination of lines and curves belonged to one and only one—his mother. Any other gazelle might, in a moment of panic, leave him to the enemy. But not his mother. He knew if he could keep his eyes fixed on her familiar marks, and if his shaking legs would carry him, he could trust her to lead him to safety. But he must, especially in the chaos, remain focused solely on those marks—her follow-me marks...the ones he’d learned to trust.

We, too, have a very real enemy who is described as a roaring lion. He is prowling through our nation, towns, churches, and homes looking for anyone he might deceive, discourage, or destroy. Sometimes he creates such chaos in our lives that we don’t even have time to think. And it’s in those moments that our hearts must instinctively turn to the only One who can deliver us from the lion’s mouth. The question is, have we spent enough time in the presence of Jesus Christ so that in the moment of panic we will recognize Him as our Savior and follow Him.

The marks of Jesus’ love are clear and were painfully and permanently set into His hands, feet, and side at Calvary. They set Him apart—the combination of His scars and His risen glory crying out, “I am the One…your Savior!  Follow Me!”

His marks are clear. His call is too. Is He beckoning you today?  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Stencilphotos.)

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God's Table

My husband, Jim, regularly sets a beautiful table. It’s not your usual table covered with a cloth and filled with dishes, silverware, glasses, and condiments. This one is on our back deck and displays a variety of unusually shaped bird feeders—some plastic, others metal, some small and others extra large. Each is filled with a variety of different kind of seeds. Jim also sets out suet.

Our state bird, the gold finch, frequently visits our deck for a snack. Red-winged blackbirds, red poles, sparrows, doves, and cardinals also stop quite often for a meal.

It’s fun to watch the different tactics of each species. The small birds peck a little at a time, and seem to be in no hurry; the larger birds swoop in, gobble up the seeds, and quickly fly away. With so many winged friends dining with us, Jim often has to fill the feeders every day.

God sets an even more beautiful table. Throughout the Bible, He offers us a splendid variety of spiritual food for our souls—simple truths for beginners who, like the small birds, need messages that are easily digestible without rushing and deeper treasures for more seasoned Christians to savor. Regardless of the level of our spiritual growth, there’s always plenty of food for everyone.

Once you taste the food that God has to offer, you’ll want to return frequently for more substantial food. The words you absorb from the Bible will stay with you longer than normal nourishment. An added benefit is that once you memorize some of the scriptures, you will discover they give you strength to deal with whatever situations come your way.

Why is it we always find time to feed our bodies, often gobbling up more than we should, but somehow don’t concentrate on nourishing our spirits? If we get excited when birds visit our feeders, and we get disappointed when they don’t come, God must feel the same way about us. He must smile when we regularly feast on His words but be sad when we forget to spend time with Him.

Set aside time this week to surprise God with an unexpected visit. He’ll be happy, and you’ll be blessed.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Light in Dark Places

A flashlight is an incredibly valuable tool for a peace officer. I carried one with me constantly, regardless of the time of day or my specific assignment. While on patrol, and before flashlights were miniaturized, my Streamlight always rested between my legs on the drivers seat. This ensured it was never left behind when exiting the patrol unit.

Then Surefire miniaturized flashlights with the same candela produced by the larger lights, it was always on my duty belt.

A cop needs to have light available since it is not unusual to find yourself in dark places: a building search, homes with blacked out windows, darkened tunnels, etc.

Light is important because it defeats darkness every time. While light and dark are a reality in the physical sense, they are also present spiritually.

A group of self-righteous men brought a woman caught in the darkness of adultery before Jesus. They reminded Him the Law of Moses commanded stoning. Jesus spoke to them saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Our eyes will adjust to darkness to allow better sight, but it’s still dark. In a spiritual sense, some people constantly reside in dark places, so they do not see or appreciate the light.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, … the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Jesus further instructed his followers to walk in the light so the darkness would not overcome them. While physical light defeats darkness, spiritual illumination will overcome shadows cast by sin.

If you have friends in dark places, be the light they need to see.

(Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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GPS: God's Patient Sovereignty

The night was dark and rain hit the windshield in a steady downpour. I was in the middle lane of a five-lane interstate, surrounded by speeding cars. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, and I was scared to death.

I looked at the GPS sitting mute on the dash of the rental car. “Speak to me, Zelda!” I said aloud, using the nickname I’d given the device at the start of this long trip.

Just as I began to fear she was broken, Zelda spoke, telling me to take the next exit on the right. I did, and in short order I was rewarded with those six sweet words: “You have arrived at your destination.”

Clearly, I didn’t inherit what my father called his uncanny sense of direction. I’ve been lost in most of the major cities of the world: London, Paris, Athens, Berlin, Tokyo, Shanghai. You name it. Chances are I’ve wandered around that city slack-jawed, hoping grace would lead me home.

It’s the same as I journey through life. Being human, I have made some major mistakes. Some decisions have knocked me off course, and I’ve seemingly wandered aimlessly for a time, wondering whether I could ever get back on track.

Left to my own devices, I’d end up who-knows-where. Thankfully, though, I’m not traveling this road alone. In fact, Someone is guiding my steps. He has charted the path ahead of me, and, in His sovereign wisdom, knows exactly where He wants me to go.

When I’m driving and make a wrong turn in spite of the GPS (Yes, I even get lost with a GPS!), I see that little tracking device hurry to recalculate my position and set a new route for me. In the end, I still arrive where I’m supposed to be.

In a sense, God does the same when we make mistakes and get off track. Because He is sovereign, nothing will thwart His plans for our life. He takes our wrong turns and makes them part of the journey while ever working out His purposes for us. 

I am so grateful for GPS: God’s Patient Sovereignty. We can know we will arrive safely at our destination because grace is leading us home. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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When Our Prayer List Resembles Santa's Wish List

I remember standing in the long line at the mall (or Sears, in my case) waiting to see the big bearded man dressed in red. He was larger than life and especially jovial. After all, he made all our wishes come true!

I admit my climb onto Santa's lap was done so with one mission in mind (okay, maybe two, if you count the cherry lollipop): To present him with the list. You know the one. Dolls, dresses, Easy-Bake Oven, and such. Everything I wanted, desired, and wished for carefully printed on blue-ruled 8 x 10-1/2” paper. It only took a bit of exertion on my part, a quick rundown of my list, and I was on my way home feeling warm and fuzzy inside. All was right with the world.

I thought those days were behind me, but recently I became aware of how many of my prayers often began with:

"Show me ..."
"Reveal to me ..."
"Please heal ..."
"Lord, bless ..."

Granted, Jesus tells us in the New Testament to ask. There’s nothing wrong with asking. However, to approach a holy God much in the same way I once approached a red-suited minimum-waged man with a fake-o beard is to miss out on the richest of relationships, as well as the power of prayer.

I am resolved never to trade in a place at my Father's feet again. Though warm fuzzy feelings are never a guarantee, the true presence of a holy, loving, forgiving and merciful Father is—and that’s more than this daughter of the King could ever ask for or imagine.

Perhaps you, too, have at times traded a place at our Father’s feet for Santa’s lap. We missed out on the true meaning of prayer for awhile, didn’t we? But thanks be to the One we celebrate this Christmas, and every day. We can know there is always room for us at His feet.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Life Interrupted

“Write down everything in that journal. Someday you’ll be sharing your story.” John handed me the red Moleskine® journal. Instinctively, I reached out and took it from him.

“I don’t want this story.” Though devastated from my son’s arrest just weeks before, I attended a seminar training as scheduled. John, who was part of the seminar staff, was also a licensed professional counselor and he took me aside to counsel me in my grief.

The following year after my son’s conviction, I no longer wanted to share publicly—whether through Bible teaching or through inspirational writing. I walked away from the call the Lord had for me because the life I envisioned was shattered. The plans I had for my life were interrupted.

As the holidays approached, I meditated on one of my favorite Christmas passages from Luke 1. Then I saw it. Mary, a young woman betrothed to Joseph, must have been dreaming dreams for her wedding day and making plans for her married life. But … BAM! Her life was interrupted when the angel appeared to her and announced, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

Mary’s life would never be the same. She conceived the Son of God before she was married. Imagine the sneers, stares, and snickers that went around Nazareth. In Mary’s time, typically a woman who conceived out of wedlock was stoned to death. Her life plans … interrupted.

There are significant differences in the way I responded and how Mary responded. Mary responded in faith by saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Then she went to celebrate with Elizabeth. When my plans were interrupted, I responded in fear, which became my personal prison. Thank God for His patience with me as it took me years to finally say, “Let it be according to your will.”

Life circumstances interrupt us. An angel may not have appeared to tell you what it is, but you have a call from God. You have a purpose that needs to be fulfilled. How have your responded to it? Have you run from it? Or are you willing to say, “Let it be …”?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Koan.)

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Which Figure Are You?

“Here, Rose,” said my granddaughter, “put this man there. He can’t see baby Jesus.”

Elyse handed me the man with the bagpipes. “Why did he bring his bagpipes? Wouldn’t loud noises scare baby Jesus?”

“You are right, sweetheart, bagpipes are loud. This man wanted to play a song for the baby. This man is a talented musician and he is bringing a present to Jesus – music. Psalm 95:1 says, Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord… God loves music.”

Every year we carefully place the manger scene on the piano and ponder each figure’s story. My favorite is the figure that lives in the box marked “man with headache.” This fellow carries a basket over one arm and has the other hand to his forehead. I can identify with him. Some days seem so overwhelming I just put my hand to my head and stagger toward Jesus.

Unwrapping him, Elyse asks, “Why does that man look like his head hurts?”

“He is probably tired. He worked hard to get things situated so he could leave. He’s worried about his family too. See his basket? His wife packed him enough food for the trip to see Jesus. His family is waiting for his return to tell them about it.”

Then we came to the egg lady. She carried her basketful of eggs carefully to Jesus. “Does baby Jesus eat eggs?” seemed a logical question for someone whose baby brother was not eating solid food.

“Baby Jesus can’t eat eggs, but Mary and Joseph will be hungry. Eggs are a fine gift. This lady probably doesn’t have much to give, so she gathered the eggs from her chickens and brought them to Jesus.”

“Where does this little boy go?” Elyse picked up a young boy who was kneeling with one hand outstretched.

“He needs to go right in front of the manger. That little boy came to worship Jesus. He didn’t bring anything else. He just brought himself.”

“He didn’t bring a present for baby Jesus?”

“No, he didn’t. Only himself. That’s what Jesus gave on the cross, and that’s all He really wants from us.”

If I could chose the figure I’d like to resemble, it would be that little boy kneeling at the manger. He is not encumbered by gifts or laden with supplies. He simply kneels, content to gaze upon God’s gift to the world.

Bow down in worship. Go to your knees before the Lord our Maker. This is a busy season. Instead of hurrying and scurrying, stressing and depressing, why not spend more time thinking and thanking on your knees in front of the One whose birth changed the world.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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He Is a Good Father

The greatest gift as a parent is to see your children happy and fulfilled on Christmas morning. You watch them count down the days to this moment of pure joy and exhilaration. Every parent wants to see their child joyful on Christmas morning because our gift is to see them blessed and satisfied.

I recall one Christmas season early in our ministry when we were very short on money. We had a small family at that time, but we wanted to bless our daughter with everything possible. We did not know how we were going to give her a goof Christmas or even have money to pay our bills.

One evening someone knocked on our door and handed us a check for two thousand dollars. “God impressed on me to give you this money today.”

We jumped for joy, ran out, and bought our daughter everything we had wanted to but simply could not afford. We felt a release of joy as we witnessed one of the greatest gifts I had ever experienced.

We sometimes get lost in life’s stresses and demands. The Lord wants to bless us just as we bless our children. He has great things in store for us. The Father sent the greatest gift anyone could imagine – His only Son. The significance of Jesus can never be overstated because this gift brings a true joy that teleports us back to childhood and the excitement we experienced on Christmas morning.

Jesus tells us, as He taught His disciples, that we must humble ourselves like a little child to enter His kingdom. A child believes in the unseen and has faith to move mountains. When a child makes a request, parents will move mountains to make sure desires are met. The Father will also move mountains for us and give us great pleasures in our life.

Pleasure is from the Lord and joy derives from Him. He waits as a proud Father to give us joy and to bless us with great treasures. He is truly a great Father and He is waiting to bless us with great opportunity and peace. Peace is a result of security, and the Lord is waiting to hold us in our fear and displeasures to give us that unspeakable peace.

We were young parents struggling to support our family and pursue our dreams. We were brought back to a childlike dependence on the Lord, and He provided as a good Father. I can only imagine seeing His face as He gazed upon us seeing our joy in His gift.

You might be in the same position with different problems and different obstacles. The Lord is waiting and willing to help you as any good Father does for His children. Do not be afraid to depend on Him as a child because we all need a helping hand in our lives. This Christmas, remember your children’s joy as they open their gifts from you because the Lord is waiting to give you that same joy every day of your existence. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and sideshowmom.)

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He Became Poor

Sleigh bells jingled in the background, and lights twinkled as I waited at the end of a long line of strangers to exchange my cash for our daughter’s Christmas gift. In a limited sense, I became poorer so she could become richer. When we give a gift, we sacrifice—usually money—and ultimately, time. Yet my transaction didn’t make me truly “poor” or make her truly “rich.”

But what if our family left our suburban home with only the clothes on our backs? What if we left our cars in the garage, our furniture, our technology, our clothes, our freezer full of food, our education, our jobs, our children’s school, and all that we have and do. And what if a refugee family from a third-world country moved in and suddenly acquired all we left behind . . . while we took up their life of hand-to-mouth poverty? We, who had been rich, for their sakes would become poor that they might gain our riches.

What if a billionaire traded places with the poorest of peasants? What if the Son of God became poor for earthlings like us?

Jesus willingly embraced the ultimate poverty. He left His Father and all that encompasses the celestial sphere to become a helpless infant. He took on human limitations. The hand that formed the heavens with the moon and the stars, wrapped themselves around a teenage girl’s finger as she lovingly swaddled Him in homespun strips of cloth. He became utterly dependent on the people He created—for milk, for shelter, for protection. Although He was the Word from the beginning, He had to learn to talk. Taking on humanity demonstrated no small sacrifice. He traded all of heaven’s glory for our sakes so that we could acquire all He left behind.

We celebrate Christmas because a Savior came to provide eternal life. We sing carols about joy, celebrate with candlelight services, and re-enact the Nativity. We rejoice in the benefits of His grace.

But Jesus experienced unfathomable loss. Loss for a sinful people who may take the incarnation for granted. And if becoming a baby wasn’t humbling enough, He gave up His life as the ultimate sacrifice. For our sakes—all because He loves us.

This Christmas, when we remember God’ unspeakable gift, let’s also remember it’s through His poverty that we become truly rich. Joy to the world!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GaborFromHungary.)

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Why Not Me?

Life’s experiences can sometimes cause us to cry out as David did. Though God always allows us time to vent, these emotions, if unabated, can lead us to doubt God’s character. In the midst of heartwrenching circumstances, some cry out, “Why me?” and others say, “Why not me?”

God is just in all He does, and in everything He does He is kind. God is good, just, and kind. These are character traits of our eternal God. Nothing that happens to us ever changes these attributes. One of the favorite sayings of a missionary friend of mine is, “Never judge God by your circumstances, but judge your circumstances according to the character of God.” 

A good God allows bad things to happen to good people. But our sovereign Lord takes the negative and turns it to something positive for all those who love Him.  In the midst of heartache and pain, our heavenly Father is always choosing our highest good.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It has been said that we only appreciate what we have after we have lost it. God, in His sovereign will, sometimes withdraws a measure of grace and things happen. I have often said God could send a bolt of lightning to destroy me and not have to apologize to my family and friends. I would have gotten only what I deserved. Complaining about a momentary pause in God’s favor is like saying I deserve what I don’t deserve. It’s a contradiction in terms and shows a lack of understanding of the grace of God. 

I don’t pray much for justice anymore because I am afraid I might get it. In the future, when you’re tempted to say, “Why me, God?” I hope your question is instead, “Why not me, Lord?”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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An Elevated State

I was leaving from a place of less than 1,000 feet above sea level to over 5,000 feet. Talk about extremity in a matter of travel hours. In preparing for my journey, I researched the city, culture, cuisine, and climate. I was advised to prepare for extra water intake, sunscreen, and extreme temperature changes of day and night. As well, I prepared for altitude sickness, but in all my preparation, I still had adjustments. Nothing like the real experience.

My breathing was heavier while I walked on flat lands. Dry throat along with periods of dizziness and exhaustion were my initial physical reactions in the first few days. My sleep patterns changed too. I also processed information and details quicker. As the days progressed, the physical reactions in my body leveled, but the requirements for living at an elevated state were still intact.

Elevation means “a height above a given level.” In viewing the definition from a life perspective, whenever one experiences an elevation in our spiritual growth, ministry, or assignment, there are adjustments and changes necessary to sustain that elevated state. Living your life with the same faith and spiritual practices at higher altitudes will create unnecessary illness, distraction, and hardship. Elevation requires not only a physical but a mental adjustment. More discipline, extra care for the body, and greater stamina are also required.

Oftentimes we realize God has granted an elevation in our lives, but we have haphazardly prepared. Moving higher requires us to take in deeper breaths of God grace and depend upon His provision for survival and sustainability.

Drink more from the fountain of life, and exercise your faith to remain fit for the lifestyle. More is given to us, and more is required of us. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Koan.)

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Getting My Priorities Straight

What is my priority for today?

I ask myself this question every day. And that’s a good thing. Getting the wrong priority is not. If God has saved us for eternal life, but we are still here,  it just makes sense He has a job for each and every one of us to do. Otherwise, He would call us home. 

Finding out what that job may be is yet another story. Asking Him for guidance for what He wants us to do for the day seems to be the only way to find out. Proverbs 3 was the answer for me: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and look not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

I spent several years bemoaning the fact that God wasn’t sending me on any more overseas mission trips. Then one summer I took a trip back to my hometown and discovered many of my friends were on walkers, using canes, and, in one instance, in a nursing home. It didn’t seem right that I still had the use of all my faculties, walked a mile a day, was still driving, and generally felt great while they were all undergoing these problems. 

It became clear what my shift in priorities was. I was no longer to go on overseas mission trips. He even made it crystal clear by having my cardiologist forbid me to go on long flights anymore. Rather, God wanted me to use my efforts right here at home. Now I delight in picking up people to go to church who might not otherwise have a way.

Visiting my shut-in friend is something that has become high on my list.  Also, I discovered a need I didn’t know existed: cancer patients need rides to their appointments badly. I contacted the American Cancer Society, and now I’m on their list of drivers. It’s my third year of doing this, and I find it so humbling. You can always find someone whose needs are greater than your own—and usually you don’t have to look very far.

God saved me for eternal life many years ago, but my life on earth is so blessed now that I can ask Him every morning, “What would You have me to do today?” 

Take time to ask God what His priority is for you today.   

(Photo courtesy of  morguefile and mensatic.)

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Fire and Soap

“What did you learn today?” My father considered it his duty to ensure I learned something every day. It wasn’t important that I reveal the answer to an age-old problem. I needed only to speak a statement like, “I learned the primary export of Argentina is beef.” He would be satisfied.

One day the conversation turned to cleaning. I think I asked, “How does soap work?”

“Look it up,” was Dad’s usual answer, but this time he simply said, “Emulsification.”

Oh, great, a word I didn’t know. Now I’ll surely hear, “Look it up.” But no. “It’s the act of bubbles lifting the dirt off the surface.” It was an acceptable choice of words for my edification.

In Malachi 3, we learn of God’s displeasure with His people. He mentions how He’ll come in righteous judgment against all the major sins as we know them. He will sit in judgment with a refiner’s fire and soap. That seems to be a contradiction unless one considers the end result of the two processes. Both restore purity.

No matter which process we require, God will take us through it. Further into Malachi reside the promises of God for those who learn the lesson and submit to Him. He removes the generational curse that prohibited the family from recognizing the sin, the dirt, and the stain of complaining to God that no matter what they have done in support of the church, they yet do not prosper. He further states that when one does stop robbing God and performs a righteous offering, God grants a reprieve from the curse and restores discernment—between those who do evil and those who don’t, and between those who serve Him and those who don’t.

How we go about our daily walk determines how God judges our actions. If He sees actions based upon the fear of the Lord, He judges righteously, removes the curse, and we prosper through spiritual discernment. If we continue to rob God, He reverts to refining us, by fire if necessary, or by soap if we so submit.

We’re all human and we all sin. By which method would you prefer to be cleansed?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kzinn.)

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Going Through a Transition

“The only thing that is constant is change.” ~ Heraclitus

I have a big change looming ahead. In two short months, I will retire from my position as an elementary principal. My resignation letter mentioned the overused term “bittersweet.”

I taught before moving into the administrative side fifteen years ago. You do not have to be a teacher to envision the environment – spatially populated, colossal energy, unending dialogue. Schools are busy, noisy, and active places.

As a principal, I love to interact with the students. I frequent the lunchroom and the classrooms. I greet arrivals and dismissals. My “lunch bunch” program ensures I have lunch with every student throughout the school year.

I am on my final day of spring break. We didn’t travel, so it has been a quiet week. I keep thinking, “This is my life in two months,” and that frightens me. Yet with every transition in life, something is lost and something is gained. I know what I am losing. I wish I had more insight to gain.

The Bible is ripe with examples of significant transitions. Abram was called to leave Ur. Joseph was sold into slavery. Paul was struck down and redeemed.

Some transitions are by choice while others are unwelcomed. Some are significant while others are routine. Mine is retirement. What is your transition? Marriage? New job? Baby? Geographic move? Empty nest? Cancer?

When I look backward on my life, I can see God so clearly. He has been present through every passage of time. My challenge is to turn that knowledge to faith as I look ahead. Whether big or small, chosen, or intrusive, God is on both sides of the transition. He will walk through the journey with us and will be present at the other end. I can look forward to the next chapter in my life story because God has a plan and it is good.

One thing that is certain never to change – God.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and 46birds.)

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Slacker's Remorse

As far back as I can remember I've always been a procrastinator. No matter the task or obligation, I always seemed to put it off until the last minute. It didn't matter if I was studying for an exam while working on my Master's Degree, preparing for a project at work, or promising to write at least thirty minutes a day, I'd always wait until the last minute to tackle it or not do it at all. This is what I call "Slacker's Remorse."

For years, I  thought my ability to focus all of my energy at one time to accomplish a goal within mere hours was a special power of mine. I thought I was a superhero with the ability to shut out everything else to write a 10-page paper in a day without batting an eye. So why couldn't I focus or organize my day in such a way that I was able to accomplish anything my little heart desired?

Nothing seemed to work. The more lists I made, the more things remained undone. My feelings of inadequacy increased. Slacker’s remorse hit. So how do all of us that want to accomplish our goals, do it? 

I'm not ashamed to admit I sometimes need help in trying to navigate life. But not just in the way of organizing myself or saying some mantra every morning. I need something that evokes real change in my life. And then it hit me. Maybe I'll always be this way. Maybe all I can do is show up each day and do my best.

With everything and everyone moving at the speed of light, I need to remember my best is going to vary from minute to minute and day by day. What I aspire to and accomplish is going to change even when I'm at my peak. Just knowing that is enough to quiet the sometimes restless soul when it's screaming to do more. I'm learning to simply relax and let it come to me. As soon as I settle my heart and allow it to be open, the words flow like the Nile.

I didn't worry about perfecting anything or meeting a specific deadline. I just listened to my body, and when the words came, I was ready. So today you may feel a bit of "Slackers Remorse," but remember tomorrow is another day.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and grietgriet.)

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A Clear Conscience

“How does he sleep at night?” The words were sermonized in my mind and spoken about a person who conducted daily affairs in a dishonorable way.

What about me? Is a clear conscience true in my life? Does the same sermon apply to how I conduct myself?

We often consider the “small” things less weighty in comparison to issues on a much larger scale. Contemplate the way a simple untruth is displayed in our lives: “I didn’t eat the last donut” (I answer with glazed icing stuck in the corner of my mouth). Perhaps trivial to some, but I am revealing myself to have falsehood.

According to God’s Word, truthfulness is all encompassing. There are no little or white lies, and dishonesty is wrongdoing in any form or shape. If we are not people of integrity in all matters, we are not full of truth.

Honorable actions are scarce. Threads of dishonesty are weaved throughout culture’s tapestries in business, politics, relationships, and in the church. Visible or unseen banners denoting, “Truth does not dwell here.”

The honest, gospel truth is from the very character of God. The goodness of God is found in Jesus and can be imparted to us. Holy attributes including love, kindness, mercy, honor, and compassion. Let us not forget the Lord is equally just and the epitome of truthfulness. Characteristics we can aspire to imitate in Christ. Acting honorable in all things!

I don’t know about you, but I want to lay down and sleep at night with a squeaky-clean conscience. Take a look at the threads of honor in your life, and observe how you are conducting yourself. What tapestry are you weaving in your workplace, family, church, and community? Display the banner, “Truth lives here.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Kemeki.)

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Preparing the Way of the Lord

I was about to leave home for an important meeting about a long-standing financial burden. Before I left, I felt the desire to write a check for my church’s construction fund and also to write a check to deposit into my savings account. I took my checkbook out, anticipating I’d be writing those two checks after the meeting because the burden would have been removed. By God’s grace, He indeed removed that financial burden. I joyfully and gratefully wrote those checks that night.

Preparing the way of the Lord like this is not an exercise in trying to “sway” God to do something we want done. He is sovereign. We are subservient. It’s not that we are trying to convince God to do something. But when He prompts us to take an action in anticipation of an outcome we’ve requested (and that is within His will), I believe it activates our faith.

After the woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, He told her that her faith had made her well. The healing came from Him, but her faith was the channel to manifest it in her life.

I encourage you to prepare the way of the Lord with a specific, tangible act of faith linked to the petitions, dreams, and desires you have presented before Him. Look for those opportunities and promptings and act on them. Then watch God do amazing things in your life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jclk8888.)

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TLC

I have been given a second chance at parenting. While most grandparents have the luxury of spoiling their grands and sending them home, our granddaughter has lived under our roof for most of her five years. She is a joy—and a challenge. Let me just say chasing a toddler was a whole lot easier when I was twenty-five.

During my first chance at parenting, I followed the current trends in parenting, and they didn’t work so great. They advocated a TLC approach—treat them tenderly, love the child, and care for their self-esteem. Sounded good, but created some problems.

That strategy proved faulty, so given a second chance, I turned to the Scriptures. I spent many unproductive hours scouring the Bible for a positive parent role model. I looked at Noah. Nope. Then at King David. Not hardly. Even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fell short.

I had to be missing something. I lifted my eyes from the pages and aired my frustration to God, “Where should I look?”

When I finally lifted my gaze to the Father, I saw the perfect parent. I noted His parenting strategy. He taught a different form of TLC.

Train – I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Psalm 32:8 ESV).

Listen – Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you (Jeremiah 29:12 ESV).

Correct Those Whom I Love –  I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19 ESV).

To become a better parent, I need to be an obedient child. Only then can I train, listen, correct, and be less likely to provoke my own children.

If you are a Christian, you are a child of God and have been called to parent. You may or may not have biological children, but God has given His followers the task to train spiritual children in their faith.

Who has God given you to parent? Are you providing them with His form of TLC?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Sgarton.)

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Whom Do You Trust?

It was pitch black except for the light illuminating the plane engine outside the passenger window. 

“Flight attendants take your seats. NOW!” boomed the speaker above my head. Flight attendants scurried to finish their tasks and take their seats. A few seconds later, the plane began to dip and bob as it started to descend through massive clouds on its way to the landing strip. I gazed out the window at the illuminated engine and wing. Condensation from the cloud wrapped around it as if snuggled in a cozy blanket. I could see nothing else.

In that moment, my thoughts wandered to the pilot and his ability to see us safely to the airport below. I reflected how every day millions of people board planes and don’t think twice about pilots getting them to their destination. Travelers trust that when they step into the plane, they will be delivered safely.

We also do that with restaurants, don’t we? Who considers the sanitary conditions of the kitchens, the freshness of the food, or the ability of the cook to prepare it correctly when we walk into a restaurant? We eat out, spend lots of money, and never think twice.

Whether we realize it or not, we are a society of trusting people. We put our trust in people we don’t know. We place our lives in the hands of people we haven’t met and never will. We depend on these unknowns to provide something of value in our lives. Why is that? Why is it we can trust humans who are fallible, yet have such a hard time trusting in God who is not? 

Throughout the Bible, God encourages us repeatedly to put our trust in Him.  We see proof of His goodness recorded in its pages. We know people who have had amazing things happen in their lives that can only be attributed to God. So trusting Him should be easy. 

If you’re still not sure, try giving God a chance. Allow Him to take the wheel of your life. Trust Him to guide your way.  When you do, have faith He will see you safely to your final destination. After all, He already knows where your journey will end.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MaryRN.)

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Waiting for His Presence

One of my best friends lives in Ohio. Karen loves to hike, climb rough trails, and just walk. Anything she can do to get outside and breathe fresh air pleases her. She doesn’t hesitate to walk, even in cold weather. Over the years of our friendship, she taught me to enjoy nature, but she knows to get another friend for the long hikes.

Walking is peaceful and refreshing. Depending on the pace one sets, it can be relaxing. When I visit Karen and Don’s home, she and I walk through the subdivision at our leisure or at a nearby park. We share our inner thoughts with one another as we stroll. No one else is around, so we can share our hearts fully and we’ve helped each other through serious life issues.

Adam and Eve must have loved to walk with God each evening. I’m sure they anticipated that time of day and the communion they’d have with the Creator. Perhaps they shared with their Father how they loved the landscape of the Garden of Eden. God may have called their attention to the great variety of plant life and flowers. Then, Adam and Eve most likely opened their hearts to their Father and received wisdom and guidance from Him.

Think of it. The maker and master of the Universe chose to leave His abode and come down to fellowship with His creation. They heard His footsteps along a path through the garden and the rustling leaves as He came near. Usually, they looked forward to His visit. When they chose to disobey, the shame in their heart caused them to break fellowship with the Lord. They hid.

You and I can walk and commune with God in the cool of the evening or early in the morning. Or we can sit in our favorite chair with a cup of cocoa or coffee as we read words from the book He inspired writers to pen.

Even if we’ve sinned, we can bow before Him and ask forgiveness. Don’t hide. He desires fellowship with us. Look for Him in the midst of your day. Listen carefully for His footsteps. Get to a quiet place so you can hear His gentle voice. Anticipate His coming. Then say, “Welcome, Lord.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GospelMessage.)

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If You Keep Coming

After no serious workouts for several years, I attended my first Pilates class. My main achievement was to finish the class. Aside from that feat, my performance lacked any measure of "well done."  

 I spoke to my instructor afterwards. "So, it's normal for my tummy to shake like a bowl of jelly during this workout?"

She pondered, then uttered one syllable. "Yes."   

I don't know if I considered the question important or if I desperately needed the validation. However, she did answer, so I ventured another. "The quivering will stop?"

 "If you keep coming ..." The end of her brief statement trailed off.  

I would have laughed if it didn't ache so much. Every part of me burned like I had run a marathon. As I dragged my weary body out the door, I vowed to "keep coming." Over the next few weeks, I gained strength and lost the jello-tummy. Well, mostly. Aches and pains abounded, but I had gained strength and was happy with my progress.

Then, due to events on the home front, I dropped the Pilates class. When I did exercise, I opted for afternoons when no classes were available. Even though I had temporarily lost the vision to get in shape, the instructor's words echoed in my mind. "If you keep coming ..."

Months later, I donned workout clothes and attended Pilates class again. My hope that it would be easier this time around proved false. Nevertheless, I expected more of myself. And sure enough, good results happened. My body toned and I lost weight. I had better focus because the mental fog had cleared. After years of seesawing, I committed to physical exercise on a regular basis.

Just as I committed to regular exercise for the physical benefits, I often need to make a fresh spiritual commitment. Whether it's in the area of Bible study, prayer, or church attendance, it's easy to lag behind, misplace priorities, or simply go through the motions.

Every so often, I still hear the Pilate instructor's voice saying, "If you keep coming ..." In other words, if we persevere, then we will receive good results.

Just keep coming.  

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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The Power of Weakness

As a child, I suffered from a speech impediment. I started stuttering at the age of three and struggled with the problem until adulthood.

Stuttering became something I could not hide or change within myself. I struggled to formulate words and became very frustrated with myself. An act that most people saw as natural as breathing was a daily struggle for me. I would sit in private horror worrying the teacher might call on me to speak. In college, I avoided small classes to hide my private shame. My whole life was conditioned to accommodate my great insecurity. Fear controlled my daily thoughts. I was a prisoner of fear, and my weakness controlled every step I took in the world.    

When I felt the call of ministry on my young life, I naturally ran with great fear. In my mind, I was not anybody God could use for anything great. My life was destined to be controlled by my weakness. In my attempt to disqualify myself, I actually proved myself worthy to be called of the Lord. In my weakness, the power of God could be seen. Through my dependence on Him, He could speak through me.  I could not find one person in the Bible apart from Christ who was perfect.

God uses the weak to prove Himself in an unbelieving world. He uses the discarded to prove His love, and He uses the meek to conquer the world. His love is greater than our fear, and His power is only revealed in our weakness.

In my weakness, I stepped out from my fear and found God’s power. I now speak to hundreds and write inspirational articles to encourage many. The one thing in my life I thought was useless, God transformed into something amazing.

You may be at the same place I was many years ago. You may be trapped in a cocoon of fear watching the world pass you. God can use your weakness for greatness, and He can take your fear and turn it into passion. There is not one thing that can limit you in the Lord today.

Take that first step out of your fear and simply trust God with your future. He will turn your shame into greatness for all to see! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and LittleJack.)

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Revealing the Father

“I do too have a daddy,” my four-year-old sister Carol said, stomping her foot. Her little friend, Sandy, would not be convinced. My sister, Linda, and I came to Carol’s defense and confirmed we did indeed have a father. Even my mother’s intervention couldn’t stop the doubt.

But in 1964 it certainly looked like my mother was a single parent. Dad was an air traffic controller with the U. S. Air Force. He had moved his family to southern Illinois to be close to our other kin before going to Vietnam for one year.

Our lonely year was filled with letters and gifts arriving daily in the mail … constant reminders of our father’s love.  Carol would rush to show her friend her gifts or tell her we received a letter. Still, Sandy doubted. When the year ended and Dad arrived home, Carol dragged her friend into my parent’s bedroom where our father was sleeping after his long flight home.

“There’s my daddy,” Carol exclaimed, pointing at his sleeping form.

How often do we find ourselves assuring people we really do have a Heavenly Father who cares for us. He sends us assurances of His love in the Scriptures. Jesus gifts us daily through answered prayer. But until those around us can experience Him in their own hearts—until we can direct them to Him and declare, “There’s your daddy”—they will doubt us. And until they truly see Him with the eyes of the Spirit, they will always view our father as a figment of our imagination.

They will be watching us, observing what manner of father we have by the lives we lead. One day they will see as the Holy Spirit draws them, and they will declare, “I do too have a daddy.”

Stand firm in your belief. Your Father is watching.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Worthless

Ever been to the Grand Canyon? If not, I must say you are missing a masterpiece of natural art that offers us a glimpse into God’s creative imagination. I’ve been there twice, and I can tell you firsthand of its incredible, jaw-dropping majesty.

But not all who have stood at its rim while dizzily peering into the canyon’s soul have shared this sentiment. In fact, the leader of an army detachment sent in 1857 to scout the American Southwest was mostly underwhelmed when he first sighted the canyon. Quoting from his expedition notes, he stated:

“The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the South, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along with the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.” Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives, 1857 US War Dept. expedition

I wonder if Lt. Ives were around today, would he like the opportunity to rephrase his assessment? This same landscape he judged worthless is now among the greatest natural treasures in the US National Park System. It attracts around five million visitors each year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Not to mention that the Colorado River, by way of Hoover Dam, provides electricity and water to tens of millions who live in the Southwest. So which was truly “valueless” --- the canyon and its river, or Lt. Ives’ assessment of them?

Yet with all the Grand Canyon’s splendor, there is another creation God prizes even more—you. You are the apex of His creation. And when anyone, including you, questions your worth, God laughs just as hard as we do at Lt. Ives’ journal entry. He knows the worth of His creation. When looking at you, God sees the potential in your life even when others do not.

So don’t let the Ives’ of this world convince you that you have no value. The only one who can truly assign value appraised you as “priceless” when He sacrificed His own son to add you to His family. So when you look in the mirror, look past the paper-thin veil of a worthless report and be awe-struck by the potential of God’s most wonderful creation.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and PercyPants.)

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Eternity

“What are you afraid of?” the pastor asked as he began his weekly sermon.

The thought sprang to my mind: eternity. I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of eternity.  

It scares me. The “foreverness” gets me. No beginning. No ending. Here on earth I am secure, in between a beginning and an ending. I wake up in the morning when the sun brightens the day and go to bed at night when darkness steals the light.

Someday time will vanish and eternity will begin. When that happens, we’ll go on forever. Facing the unknown makes shivers creep up my back. What will life be like? Will it still be called life? Will I know those I have loved on earth ... my husband and children, parents and friends?                   

Since kindness will fill everyone’s hearts in heaven, my flat notes should be ignored when we sing praise songs. Maybe I won’t have to sing. Perhaps I can praise Him with devotional thoughts from my heart like Kahlil Gibran, the poet, hoped to do. He expected to meet his unpainted paintings and unwritten words in heaven.

I will tuck the thought away for now. Seeing Jesus will surely inspire greater words than I have been able to formulate here. Jesus has been my guide all these years, touching pain with healing, turning heartaches into joy, and transforming dark skepticism into bright belief.

I have no need to fear eternity when someday I will wake renewed and see God’s glory before me. Until then, let me wait with joy for my entrance into His presence, anticipating marvels I can’t imagine. When it happens, I’ll throw off the wrappings of time and see Jesus.

All my questions will be resolved, and I will be glad to exchange today for the forever of what God has in store for those who believe in Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jamierodriguez37.)

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Nails

Warning: check tire pressure. The words glared at me from the dashboard as I started my car one frigid Monday morning. I had a busy schedule at the office that day, so I tried to ignore it. But instead of heading toward my normal route to work, I reluctantly pulled into an auto repair shop. About 20 minutes later, a mechanic informed me, “You picked up a nail.”

As I left the auto repair shop a couple of hours later, I began thinking about nails.

The nails Jesus took for humanity in His crucifixion not only paved the way for eternal life with Him, but they also nullify our sin debt once we have received Him as Lord and Savior. Sadly, many of us sit in self-imposed debtors’ prisons. When we hold on to confessed, repented-of, and forgiven sins, it’s like we’re saying, “Jesus, I know You paid the price for my sins, and I thank You. But that’s not good enough. So, I’ll stay locked behind these bars of guilt, shame, and condemnation – that will really take care of my sins.”

What do you still feel guilty about that God has long forgiven? Debtors’ prison is no place for children of God. Let’s leave it behind and walk in liberty. Let go just as God has.

Lord Jesus, thank You that because of the nails You took, we rejoice in the words of the classic hymn, “. . . my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mike.)

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Poison Control

My wife called poison control. I shoved my face under the sink, shoveling handfuls of water into my eyes and mouth. It burned and burned.

The fire ants had decided to return, and I had been outside spraying around the house with a pesticide. But just as I bent over to unscrew the lid, the container slipped out of my hands. The liquid fire ant killer splashed into my face—my eyes and mouth wide open.

But you know what? My wife didn’t really have to call poison control. I knew where to go. It was instinctive. It was immediate. It was essential. It was ALL THAT MATTERED. I went to the water. The lady on the phone told my wife I needed to rinse my eyes non-stop for fifteen to twenty minutes.

But how long do my prayers for cleansing last? Five seconds? “Ah, shoot. Please forgive me for that. Injesusnameamen.”

Hmmmm? I sure don’t act like sin burns that badly most of the time, do I? But that’s exactly one of the devil’s great deceptions, isn’t it? “You don’t need a thorough cleansing,” he says. Or, “Not right away. You can take care of it later. It’s not that bad.”

But I am a sinner. And I need deep cleansing. It’s a regular thing.

Let’s ask God for help not to put off the washing we need. And let’s pray that we would feel the inner burning caused by sin and run to the Water for a “thorough” cleansing.

Fifteen to twenty minutes might be a good way to start, don’t you think?

Just start.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mensatic.)

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Twenty-Four Years

At the age of twenty-four I received the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer. After the battle, the doctor told me I couldn’t get pregnant for at least two years. I anxiously waited three. My doctor’s concerns were that pregnancy could cause the cancer to return. 

It’s now been twenty-nine years. God is faithful. My first child was born April 13, 1990. My oncologist came to the hospital to see us the day she was born. “She’s a miracle baby,” he said.

Certainly, we would all say we want our kids blessed by God. We pray for them all their lives and do our best to lead them. We direct babies in the way they should go. As Christian parents, we pray over our kids and with our kids. We love our babies and there isn’t anything more special than being a parent.

Parenting is such a privilege and a blessing from the Lord. God tells us repeatedly that if we obey, He will bless us. Children are a blessing from Him. God gives us His commands not to hurt us, but to bless us. He gives us these dos and don’ts to give us the boundaries we should stay within and to protect us from bad choices and the consequences which follow. He has unimaginable plans and blessings waiting for those who listen and obey His commands.

My precious miracle baby is now twenty-five. We could have let fear grip us as she turned twenty-four, since that was the exact age I had breast cancer. However, we chose not to walk in fear but to trust the Lord with all of our heart.

Pray for your children. Lift them up daily before the Father for His protection, guidance, and care. God will hear and heed your prayers.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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Just One More Mustard Seed

On a trip to Chicago, my mom and I came to a tollbooth. Actually, it was the third booth we’d passed through in the last hour. For the first two, we had given the woman our money and gone through. No problems. This one, however, tested our limits. The sign told us to pay $1.30. Seems simple enough, right? And it was until we saw the five-letter word printed underneath the amount. “Coins.”

We pulled beside the booth, realizing we needed to come up with $1.30 in coins—and fast. The car behind us honked as we searched. Her purse. My purse. The center console, glove compartment, door storage. We searched everywhere, but we still came up seventeen cents short.

The Scriptures tell us we only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Reading that verse, it sounds like a reasonable amount of faith to give, just like $1.30 for the toll. However, when you’re staring up at the mountain and searching through your pockets, purse, and the ground around you, you realize the value of that seed. It may be all you have. You may not have enough. Either way, you’ll be franticly searching.

We rolled past that tollbooth seventeen cents short of our payment. There are times when I stare at the mountain one mustard seed short. The tollbooth wasn’t exactly merciful, and it certainly didn’t help us come up with the change.  However, God isn’t a tollbooth.

When you’re staring up at the mountain, God doesn’t hold out His hand and wait for you to pay your fee. All He asks is that you trust Him enough not to give up. With Him on your side, you’ll come up with that mustard seed, even if you have nothing else.

God will take your faith and double it. Triple it. He’ll make you strong enough to move that mountain. When you come to your next spiritual toll and you’re searching everywhere for the mustard seed, remember you’re not alone.  Trust God enough to keep searching, and you’ll find it every time.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jmiltenburg.)

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Never Alone

My parents were going away on a trip, but I didn’t want them to leave.

At five years of age, I was sick with croup and craved the comfort of their presence. Our pastor and his wife stayed with my sister and me for the weekend. Mom placed a vaporizer/humidifier in my room. The cool mist enabled me to breathe more easily. Mom also wrote a message of love for me on a blackboard and put it by my bed so I could see it when I awakened. But one morning, I saw that the vaporizer’s mist had erased Mom’s message. I was inconsolable. To my child’s mind, the connection to my mom was gone. I wept as someone tried to comfort me. I wished with all my heart I could get that love note back.

When the time came for Jesus to leave earth, His disciples were grief-stricken and afraid. The visible connection to their Savior would soon be gone. They couldn’t imagine a life where they could no longer hear His voice or walk beside Him. But before He left, He promised them He would send His Holy Spirit to dwell in them and be their constant comfort and guide.

Today we have that promise too. We also have His written Word. It’s His personal message of love to us, and nothing can erase it. Not heartache or fears or loss of loved ones. Not even the fog and confusion of His apparent absence. His words are forever. They are our comfort and strength until we see Jesus face-to-face and the time of separation is finally over.

As a little five-year-old, I learned that just because the message disappeared, it didn’t mean my mom’s love had been lost. I had to trust she would return and I would be taken care of in the meantime.

What do you do when you don’t feel God’s presence? He hasn’t left you. Challenge your feelings with the truth of God’s Word. He has promised to never leave nor forsake us. His Holy Spirit is within us. We are never alone.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Warunee.)

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Wait, Again

The host fumbled with the paper. Shesh. I’m dying here. Just make the announcement.

She straightened the papers and glanced at the award plaques on the table. It was only seconds, but it felt like hours. I’d waited a month to find out if I’d won.

Actually, I’d waited longer than that. It took seven months to craft the novel. Three years to shop and sell it. Another year after the contract was signed for the publication and now, a month since the announcement of being a finalist. Without a doubt—a lot of waiting.

From the day I began the novel, I prayed two things: Help me keep my eyes focused on you. Let this work be to your glory, not mine.

Of course, I’d thought about what I prayed . . . but not deeply enough. I had made a concerted effort to give God the glory for the success of this novel, and when it was a finalist for a major award, I tried my best to keep those thoughts in mind. Well, I managed on the outside to keep those thoughts in the forefront. Internally, next to my heart, I longed to win just once.

So, when the host tinkered with her papers holding the winner’s name, I just wanted her to get on with it. The wait was killing me.

Lord, let this be a glory to you. That was my prayer sitting at the table, wringing my hands. Waiting.

The host moved closer to the microphone and announced the winner. Uh . . . not me. Instantly, my heart sank. A forced smile surfaced as I clapped for the winner.

David prayed a number of times to be strong and wait. Wait. His words of encouragement attest to the fact that he himself had to learn to be strong and wait in whatever task he worked or desired. God trained him in the fields, not in the throne room, and there was an art to being strong while he waited. Patience, anticipation, hope, and success—all in God’s timing.

I was ashamed of myself. Disappointed, but ashamed. I’d prayed fervently from the inception of the novel that God would use it to His glory, not mine. Being a finalist gave God the glory—a win would have given me the glory. God knew where my heart was at the moment, and though I’m sure He understood my disappointment, He taught me a valuable lesson: learning to wait on His timing is better.

When the desires of your heart grow strong . . . learn to wait on God. His wisdom and power are well worth the wait.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Darnok.)

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Old Wrapping Paper

I couldn’t find the right size gift bag for the hostess gift I planned to take to a friend. As I sifted through the stash of bags in a drawer, I found a package of unopened wrapping paper. I bought the paper from a little boy in our church who was selling it for a school fundraiser. I tore open the cellophane wrap, and it was exactly what I needed. As I began wrapping the gift, I pictured the boy and realized the paper was almost twenty years old. Hidden in a drawer, it had gone unopened all these years. There were many times I could have used it. Instead, I spent time shopping for other paper. I wonder how much time I wasted in the past twenty years doing that.

Peter tells us God’s power provides everything we need for daily living. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read of the praise to God who has blessed us with wonderful spiritual blessings through Christ His Son. We have God’s unlimited resources, yet we struggle and try human solutions rather than pray for wisdom or rely on His Word for direction. It’s easy to scan the self-help shelves of bookstores or seek the advice of someone who tells us what we want to hear. Too often, we choose a good solution rather than God’s best path. We often leave our Bible unopened when it has promises of encouragement and principles for living.

Pull open your chest of drawers and look for the beautiful paper hidden away. When you’ve failed to open God’s Word and access His power for daily living, remember it is exactly what you need. Don’t waste time shopping for a substitute. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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David's Courage

Defining moments happen on a daily basis in our lives, so the question is not, Will adversity come? The question is, What will you do when it comes your way? 

David was at the lowest point of his life in this Scripture: Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters.  But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

This moment was telling him he was a failure, and his journey in the wilderness was all in vain. He came back to his home in Ziklag to find his family and the families of his men taken hostage by the Amalekites. In a moment of weakness, his men turned on him, blaming him for their trouble and heartache. In their human nature, they sought out the source of their misfortune, but it is in David’s actions where we find the hidden gem of truth that articulates God’s abounding love for us.

All the elements leading to a quick demise seemed to have come down on David. He chose to be strong in the Lord because he came to the end of his own strength and realized the source of his determination was not in his ability but in God’s power. 

We will find adversity in some aspect of daily life, but it is how we react to those moments that will define our outcome. Adversity will attempt to imprint sorrow on our soul, but the Lord has promised us great things in His Word that will rejuvenate our joy. When the Word became flesh in Christ, the promises of God became tangible for us to obtain. As we gain His strength, we realize His strength has no limits or weakness. In our weakness, He is made strong in us. 

There is greatness in you, but adversity will try to steal your courage and joy. Be strong in the Lord. When the storm comes, get your strength from above. Be stubborn in the promises of God for your life, and be immovable in your goals and dreams. You will succeed and you will achieve your dreams because God simply cannot let you down.  Emulate David’s determination, and strengthen yourself in God’s everlasting love for you. Keep going! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and dmscs.)

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What If

It was the strangest thing, our neighbor coming to my friend’s house telling me I needed to go home. I entered, somewhat concerned, wondering if or why I was in trouble.

“I need to tell you something. We lost your brother today,” my father said.

“Oh, no, Dad. He told me when he left for school this morning that track practice was starting today. He asked me to tell you he would be late coming home.” 

My father looked me in the eyes and said, “Honey, you don’t understand, Doug died today.”

Instantly, I felt as if I would crumble to the floor as the news set in. How could this be?  At my tender age of thirteen, I could not wrap my mind around the news.

Throughout my life, I’ve found myself continuously playing scenarios over in my head. What if this happens? What if I lose my parents? What if something happens to my sister? What if I die young? What if, what if, what if? I thought if I played the scene in my mind I would be prepared for any hurt or worry. As I matured, I found the words in Philippians better prepare me. Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God?s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.When I find myself beginning to worry, I try to turn first to prayer instead of planning and preparing myself.

As children of God, there is much we don’t understand. It is a mystery much of the time believing and trusting without seeing. Through our blind faith, Paul tells us not to worry but instead to turn our worries into prayers, and God’s peace will see us through. We, of course, are all going to worry; it is our human nature. However, if our first reaction is prayer, we relinquish control of the situation, allowing God to work in us, comfort us, and guard our hearts. In prayer, God also helps us recognize blessings found in any situation. I’m blessed with the memories I have of my brother.

No one knows what life experiences we will be asked to go through. We may find ourselves worrying or upset about our families, our finances, our relationships, and, yes, even the death of a loved one. It is a challenge placed before each of us to react first to any worry or concern by turning to God in prayer. Don’t let the what if come first.

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You Did Not Choose Me

Men usually feel they have chosen the woman. Actually, the smile girls have on their face when they hear a boy say such things is a smile that comes from knowing they have accomplished their task of mate selection. Girls know men are hunters and women are shoppers.

Women choose their mates on the basis of whether the male appears to have the traits necessary to father, protect, and provide. A man hunts for the most appealing and satisfying trophy. A female grizzly bear is a good example of mate selection. When her body is preparing for babies, she is very gentle and compliant. She invites the male (who is busy tearing up trees to impress her) to approach and provide her with what she needs. Later, after the babies come, she will fight him to the death if he gets too close.

God’s children often are preoccupied with accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and miss out on the core of an abiding relationship. The center of Christianity is not what we are, but what He does. We did not choose Him, He chose us.

My wife chose me out of many possibilities—much to my surprise. For a while, she was a model for the fur industry in Alaska, so obviously she looks good. But she is more beautiful inside than she is beautiful outside. She is aging well because she loves Jesus, and it shows.

Jesus chose me, a sinner who was a child of disobedience. He is more beautiful than a sunrise. Any beauty I have is only a reflection of Him. I love Him so. Knowing the Creator personally, I feel nature is my friend—a friend I cherish and attempt to live with in harmony. My heart feels blessed by all of my brothers and sisters no matter the color of their skin. We all have the same original parents. And it brings joy if they know Jesus because they are also my spiritual family, and what do we have without family?

Because of these thoughts and feelings, I’m grateful today to be more than just a man and more than an animal. And I quietly pray, Thank You for choosing me, Lord. Amen and Amen.

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I Do

The marriage vows were beautiful … almost magical. I listened with heightened awareness as the bride and groom repeated the timeless words, “I do” and “I will.” The young couple made promises to each other and created a covenant meant to last a lifetime.

As I heard the vows being made, I thought about how we enter our relationship with Jesus—our Bridegroom.

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”

Peter’s answer? “Of course I do, Lord.”

Jesus asked men to follow Him as His disciples and they said, “I will.”

Jesus still asks questions of His followers today: Do you trust me? Will you serve me? Will you forgive your brother? Will you be obedient to My Word? 

Too many of us make hasty vows when we need to be rescued from a bad situation. “God, if you’ll get me out of this, I’ll do anything you want me to do.” Then, when He makes the slightest request, we come up with a multitude of excuses and renege on our vow.

Making vain promises to God we have no intention of keeping is not what He wants. His desire is for us to come to Him with a heart of love and adoration, giving ourselves completely to Him for all eternity. No strings attached. No fine print. No loopholes. And no backup plan. In turn, we are given a husband, father, savior, protector, provider, comforter, healer, counselor, and a trusted friend.

A covenant with our heavenly Bridegroom means everything we have is His, and everything He has is ours. All we have to do is believe and receive. The best news is that this covenant is not “until death do us part.” In this relationship, when we cross death’s threshold, that’s when the real celebration begins.

If God is speaking to your heart today—asking, Do you love me? Will you serve me?—let your answer be, “Yes, Lord. I do and I will.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Too Busy for God

Even when performing admirable actions, my busyness can lead me away from God.

I counted recently. Five jobs—one full-time and the others part-time. My total doesn’t represent workaholism … though I do struggle with enjoying downtime. My full-time job doesn’t pay enough to cover our bills, I must add a few part-time endeavors to get us over the hump. Thankfully, God has opened a number of doors, some of which I’ve had to close. I can only do so much in 24 hours, and I can only endure so much physically and emotionally.

Crowds pandered after Jesus. Occasions for Him to do good abounded. People needed healing, dead needed raising, sinners needed befriending, the hungry needed feeding, and religious leaders needed correcting. But there were times when He simply needed to get away to a solitary place so He could hear His Father.

I’m surrounded by worthwhile prospects on a daily basis just as Jesus was, but I’ve discovered I can perform good works and still miss God’s will. Just because honorable opportunities abound doesn’t mean God expects me to put my hands in each one. Pursuing a good agenda doesn’t necessarily mean I’m satisfying God’s agenda.

Finding out which of the opportunities God wants me to tackle is the key. Through intense prayer, I can discover the avenues He wants me to pursue. Then, rather than just blindly and busily trying to do everything, I can focus my energy on the right thing. I can’t affect every good thing accessible, but I can seize those that fulfill God’s vision and further fulfill the Great Commission.

Going full speed in all directions only leads to frustration, bad attitudes, burnout, and ultimate failure in those areas where I want so desperately to succeed. Being open to change and sensitive to God’s guidance will set my course in the direction He desires.

Are you so busy doing good that you can’t hear God’s instructions? Follow Jesus’ example: get away with the Father.

Prayer: Dear Father, amidst the many opportunities to do good, give us clear insight into which ones are Your will for our lives.

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Reading Between the Lines

I wept as I read the words on the closed Facebook page. I felt like they were so searing hot that if they were etched on paper it would be scorched. The mom wrote about soul torture, family chaos, and hopelessness over the way her children have turned out. The thief of addiction had ripped another family to shreds, and I could relate. I had walked in her shoes for way too many years. To say our children had gone astray was an understatement.

Moms who read this, I write to you. I write to the storm-tossed one who cannot sleep because of worry about the son or daughter on the streets. I know tears soak your pillow. You’re devastated by the abuse your child has done to themselves through addiction. You want to die.

I write to you as you pray they will call, yet at the same time you dread the next phone call. One mother cries, “Oh no, he’s in jail.” Another says, “I wish my child were in jail. At least I’d know where he was.” Stories are similar with one common thread—the mother’s love. The enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy, and it hurts to be in the midst of his attacks.

Mom, I write to you so you will know you’re not alone in your pain and sorrow. Although the thief of addiction has killed your hopes, stolen your child, and destroyed your dreams, hang on to the last part of this verse: I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. 

Lord, I ask that You help us read between the lines of the words from hurting mothers and reach out to them in a comforting way. My child’s life changed just when I was about to give up.

Hold on to the hope that can be yours through Christ.

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Your One Word

“What is your one word?” she asked. “What one word describes where you are right now in your spiritual life?”

 I was part of a team preparing to lead a weekend retreat for women. Instantly, my mind began reviewing the difficulties of the previous years. My word was obvious: trusting. 

Actually, the word was one I had turned to often over the past ten years … especially in the days following my husband’s declaration: “I feel God is calling me into the ministry. So I want to quit my job and go back to school.” 

My first thought was he just needed to be more active in church and follow the lay leader track. Then the verse I had been relying on through another turmoil popped into my head: Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.

Through the various seasons of our lives, it is easy for our thoughts to get lost in questions and deducing why something is happening. What’s going on? When will this situation change? We’re sure we can figure everything out ourselves instead of turning to and trusting in God. Placing total trust in anything, even God, is often difficult for us. We can feel vulnerable, defenseless, and powerless. One of the wisest men in Scripture taught if we give our hearts over and trust God completely, He will lead us in the direction He desires us to go.

Often, we feel we should not bother God with every little situation or desire. We could not be more wrong. We are commanded to trust in Him and not depend on our own abilities. Our Heavenly Father loves us and wants the best for us. He already knows all the thoughts and desires of our hearts. We won’t always understand, and the questions will still go ‘round and ‘round in our head, but when we turn our hearts over to the Lord, He reveals the word to lead through a particular season.

Don’t rely on yourself. Rely on Him. He will guide you through.

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Changing Directions

“Lord, which decision do you want me to make?”

I’d ministered to teenagers for fifteen years. Teaching, planning parties like Around the World in a Day, leading the Bible Quiz Team to a state championship, and loving them. Yet, I felt it was time to move into another area of ministry.

Why would it be God’s will for me to stop doing what I’d done for so long? They needed me, didn’t they? I’d questioned God before, asking, “Am I doing any good? I can’t see any results.” I didn’t want to stop. I did my job well but realized I’d done a lot of it in my own strength. After wrestling with these questions for weeks, I decided to discontinue the youth work.

We already had an adult Sunday school class in our church, but I offered to teach an alternate class. After about a year, we had forty attending. A variety of ages signed up for our  four-week of Sunday’s marriage classes every spring. We also had parties … well, fellowships. The indoor beach event one winter was a hit. We learned to reach out in new ways to our classmates, such as when we cleaned Tammy’s house while she spent days at the hospital with her twelve-year-old son who had been diagnosed with Leukemia. And when a young mother of two was put on bed rest with her third pregnancy, a couple of ladies cleaned her house.

Ed was an intelligent, questioning student in the class that provoked me to deep lesson preparation. I knew I’d better know what I was teaching because Ed would likely ask me challenging questions. Later, I told Ed he’d made me a better teacher. I grew in the knowledge of God as He revealed Himself through the study of His Word. During those times of study and prayer, I came to a profoundly deeper relationship with God. I learned to depend on his power and unction to teach and minister to the class instead of  my own abilities.

God used Moses and Aaron in amazing ways, but even they understood the importance of asking for guidance and learning through their mistakes. When they failed, God’s grace covered them, and they grew deeper in their relationship with Him.

Being involved in ministry doesn’t mean you must do it the way you always have. God may have you change directions. He may have new things for you to learn about people and about Himself. When you ask God to show you which way to go, know He will guide you, even if it is in another direction.

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A New Windshield

One frigid January morning, Tom scraped my windshield. I had an early-morning appointment, and I was running late. By the time I crawled into the car, the windshield had iced over again. The scraper wasn’t in its spot, so I frantically grabbed a small metal box in my purse. It worked great and I was on my way.

Two days later, I was petrified as I drove facing the sun. There was a scratch on the glass. Not just one scratch, but multiples. My husband is quite fussy about his vehicles, and I dreaded telling him.

The men in the therapy clinic had plenty of advice.

"Call SafeLite. They will come to you now and fix it and your husband will never know.”

“Why didn't you use a credit card?"

One even went outside to see.  “Yes, I would kill my wife," he said with a grin.

I couldn’t concentrate on the therapy session because I knew I was doomed. Thankfully, my husband didn’t kill me. Neither did he berate or blame me. Even as I cried and begged forgiveness, he hugged me. “It can be fixed.” We had hoped it could be buffed with a coating, but the scratches were many and some too deep. This would cost more money.

I continued to criticize and condemn myself. How could I have been so irresponsible? What was I thinking, or why wasn't I thinking? Every single time I sit in that car, I am faced with the consequence of my careless, thoughtless actions. Those scratches seem to go deeper and deeper.

Soon my car will have a new windshield, and I will be freed of my guilt over this costly act. I will remember every time I look through that glass how costly my mistake was. I have a new understanding of my sin “ever before me.” No matter how many times I try to rub away the scratches, I can’t. Apart from replacing the windshield, I have no hope.

God, in his amazing grace and mercy, has forgiven me. As I come to Him in tears of sorrow, He reaches down and removes all the scratches. He gave me a new windshield. I see it every day, and I am filled with joy.

When you’re scratched deep, let Him buff away the divots.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Good Gifts

My first bicycle was love at first sight. A glittery purple; fuchsia to be exact with a little white basket. And best of all, a white banana seat. I was the coolest kid on the block with my new bike. My brother got a bike too, but I don't remember a single thing about his. Darting up and down our neighborhood streets, I applied the brakes liberally creating dramatic fishtails everywhere I rode. I don't even remember what happened to that bike. All that's left is the memory of a marvelous gift.

Years later, as an adult, I taught three doctors' daughters how to conduct themselves with poise and confidence during interviews for ivy league colleges. We worked through speeches, current hot topics, impromptu speaking, and what not to wear. Their grateful parents tried to pay me for services, but I couldn't accept due to community service restrictions. Nevertheless, on parent night, they presented me with a gift card to an upscale department store in our small city.

Those moms—doubt the dads knew about it—understood how to give a good gift. That particular gift card kept my wardrobe updated for months. Thoughtful and timely, good gifts touch a chord deep inside where the heart lives.  

Our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts too. His gift of salvation is priceless. What could be better than the certainty of knowing what will happen to our souls—the part of us that lives forever—when we die? He also gave the Bible to reveal Christ our Savior to us.  Furthermore, He said we can call on His name whenever we need help because our enemy doesn't fight fair and never lets up.

Remember the God-gifts you've received with a grateful heart. His gifts are treasures to us; in fact, they're perfect!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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Driving on Empty

The gas gauge needle was near Empty.

I was on a remote road in Virginia, driving my son to football camp. With the excitement accompanying such an event, I paid little attention to the gas gauge. We were simply driving along, enjoying our conversation, envisioning passes caught for touchdowns and college scouts rushing over with full-paid scholarships. Then the gas gauge caught my eye.

Fear has a way of momentarily paralyzing the mind. We were dangerously close to running out of gas on a rural road that didn’t have many gas stations. I’d driven this road numerous times. I knew there were few stations along the way, so I scolded myself for not stopping on the main highway in the larger town that we had just passed.

The irony of my predicament was I was in the left-hand lane passing a fuel tanker. Cruising along near empty, fearful of running out of gas on that desolate stretch of road, yet right beside me was a source of more fuel than my car could accommodate. If only there was a way to connect to that tanker as we drove. If fighter jets can refuel in flight, why haven’t we figured out a way for cars to do it? I should have filled up when I could. Now my journey was filled with fear.

Life resembles that scenario. We sail along, enjoying the everyday experiences, without a care in the world—never noticing our spiritual fuel tanks are running low. Then, once we notice or sense it, we fearfully forget we have the source of all our needs riding faithfully beside us.

God promises to never leave us. He promises to meet our needs and asks us to talk with Him in unbroken fellowship. Yet we forget or become distracted from what is truly important. Even when we do remember to refuel, we are so busy in the routine of our lives that our quiet time with God is more like a “splash and go” than a full tank top-off.

The great news is, even when we forget, God remains beside us. He offers Himself fully to us. He wants to meet our deepest, truest needs—even when we may have something else in mind. Stay spiritually “fueled” so you’ll be carried through the remote stretches of life without fear. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Keep in Time

Great things are on the horizon. They take shape before my eyes as I witness God's unmistakable hand on people and circumstances. God uses all the ripple effects of life’s small moments in the larger scheme of things. Sometimes I struggle to keep that in mind.

I'm sure you've been there too. Watching in awe as impossible circumstances change and take shape. Then it happens. A misinterpreted motive, a wrongly placed word, a zeal that overshadows personal feelings; and in that moment, promise has changed to conflict.

What are we to do when the Christian life of abundance is not all Jesus promised in John 10:10? When the enemy seems to get a hold and keep it, or when conflicts stir all around and with regularity.

I must admit, I say and do things I wish I could take back. The worst part for me is, when it happens, it seems to occur over and over again. I've unknowingly offended this one, overlooked that one, and callously moved ahead without addressing my poor behavior.

My mind has turned from God's hand at work, to necessary conflict resolution. I can't focus on Him because I must focus on them. It's a shame that the forward momentum is disturbed. But when words and actions meant to move in time with the big picture, trample hearts not in tune with the song, it causes great unrest. It's Satan's way of getting our attention and letting us know he's in it too.

I think back to band class – the importance of keeping in time regardless of hitting the wrong note. If I stopped to evaluate or replay, I'd be well out of sync with the group. I know in this situation I must move forward. Life is the same; it's prudent to move past a mistake rather than allow an offense to fester. When I'm the offender I find the same prudence must prevail.

Satan gains a victory every time we allow problems to steer our actions rather than remain in tune with God's plan. We can always go back to a musical piece and evaluate where we went wrong later. Putting distance between conflict and resolution is sometimes the better way. It allows hearts to heal, clarity to surface, and God's perfect timing to prevail.

The next time conflict arises, recognize Satan for the destroyer he is, and trust God for the abundance He has promised. 

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Race Car Driver

My son thinks he is a race car driver. “When I turn sixteen, I’m going to speed up and down these roads.”

I know my fourteen and a half-year-old son was picking to see my reaction. There we were, sitting in my car with my son in the driver’s seat. This should not be happening already. Just yesterday, I held him in my arms and sang lullabies to help him fall asleep.

Yet there we were—on our first practice driving session. We’d gone over all the necessary items for safety. We’d reviewed the mechanics of the car. We’d even prayed together. We were ready to drive.

I was excited and nervous at the same time. My son put the car in drive and eased up on the brakes. Slowly, he pushed the gas pedal and we were off on our adventure. Suddenly, I realized my life was truly in the hands of my child. I was totally dependent on him and his driving capabilities. All my confidence was in him to keep us safe. I had faith that Zack would follow the rules of driving and prevail at this task.

Scripture reminds me to be on my guard, faithful, courageous, and strong. I cling to this verse whenever I’m in the car with my son. “Lord, please help me have complete faith in You. I know You will protect my son and give him discernment to make wise decisions. Grant me the wisdom to teach this child what he needs to be safe. Help me be strong and courageous as I realize my son is growing up.”

I realize this verse has significant meaning for Zack also. My hope is he will be reminded to be on guard at all times for everything from peer pressure to driving on the road. My hope is this verse will give him encouragement as he navigates life’s road. That he can be bold in his faith in God and draw strength from Him.

Have confidence God is with you in whatever circumstance befalls you. He desires to be a very present part of every tiny detail of your life. Find peace in knowing you can call on God anytime, and He is there.

I may refer back to this Scripture often as the driving lessons continue. I am blessed I can rely on God to help me through trying times—even when my son wants to be a race car driver. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and lanjos.)

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Listen with Your Heart

“Listen to me, Mom!”

“I am listening, honey.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am. I’ve heard every word you said.”

“But, Mom, I need you to listen with your eyes.”

Mom then sets aside her work, turns to her child, and listens with her eyes.

This story, shared in a training session for social workers and foster and adoptive parents, drove home that everyone, not just children, need to know beyond any doubt we value and hear them.

In our multi-tasking world we must regularly ignore everything else and focus totally on the person before us. During those special blocks of time, we hear not only the words but a far greater message, revealing the emotions behind those words.

If individuals have had a bad day, they free themselves of a negative outlook by addressing their trials and knowing someone understands and cares. Laughing together over something silly they said or did creates stockpiles of goodwill to help weather future misunderstandings. Discussing warm fuzzies about nothing accomplishes the same goal. Serving as an accountability partner and encouraging them when they’ve demonstrated care for others energizes a lifestyle of service.

On the flip side of accountability, if they confess poor decisions and express remorse, our forgiveness and unconditional love gives a glimpse of God’s agape love. In the process, we strengthen the individual’s sound judgment, self-discipline, and sense of responsibility.

When we give undivided attention—with our eyes and our ears—the people around us feel respected and encouraged to share their inner concerns and desires. We also model the kind of listening God stands ready to give. God always hears our prayers. His attentiveness to our needs is both watchful and perfect.

Let’s love and listen the way God loves and listens to us. Let’s remember and remind others God always hears and responds with our best interests at heart. 

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Swerving

I’m driving fast.

Sixty-five MPH in the pouring rain is fast, right? I hear screeching tires. The car in front of me swerves to the right. I see something in the road ahead. Through the rain, I make out a long, wooden two-by-four in the middle of my lane. And then, I see the nails . . . sticking straight up out of the wood.

Right lane?

No good—long semi-trailer right beside me.

Left side-mirror?

Clear.

I swerve just in time to miss the nails and breathe a deep sigh of relief. That could have been a very miserable day.

Jesus is moving fast.

Three years for a public ministry is fast, right? He hears the screeching of an angry mob. His disciples flee in front of Him. He knows what’s in the road ahead. Through the blood pouring down His face, He sees a wooden cross in the middle of His lane. Then, He sees the nails.

Right lane?

“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Left side-mirror? 

“He will give His angels command concerning you, so that you won’t even strike your foot against a stone.”

No.

No.

No.

Jesus stays in His lane. He takes the nails. And breathes His last.

Perhaps there is a difficult task before you today. Maybe it is a painful task, an uncomfortable task. But it is right. And it’s the only way.

Ask for courage from the One who did not swerve in a hard situation. He was looking farther down the road, far past Calvary and a very miserable day. What did He see?

“For the joy that is set before us,” let’s look into what it means to practice unswerving faith today. And practice. 

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The Secret of the Butterfly

We insist on handing God our to-do lists at the start of a new year. Why is that? That’s not what we call them, of course. We call them resolutions, prayer requests, or desires of our heart. But we often develop them with little thought about what the Lord desires for us. Yearly, we immerse ourselves in complete-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plans, self-help books, study groups, fitness programs, and more. By March, many of us who embark on this annual journey feel the same way: overwhelmed, exhausted, and a bit guilty for not having made the progress we thought we would have achieved by now.

What if we took a different approach this year? Instead of busyness, what if we embraced rest as the passport to the transformation we so desire? I learned a lot about resting and waiting from the butterfly. Before it takes its maiden flight, a butterfly spends a great deal of time at rest, encased in a cocoon. In that stillness, much is taking place to prepare the caterpillar for a glorious change. It does nothing but wait amid the myriad processes that its Creator performs in exquisite detail.

And so it can be with us. Make the psalmist’s exhortation to rest in God and wait patiently for Him your theme for a new year. The rest David describes is not passive or lazy. It is listening for God’s direction and then obeying. It is spending time learning about His agenda, not telling Him about ours. And it is letting Him work wonders within us as we expectantly wait within a cocoon of faith. 

Open your heart to the way of the butterfly and see how God can change you. 

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When Did You Let Fear Go?

We were terrorized!

On the drive home from a short trip, a truck decided to follow close behind and shoot a gun to see if they could scare us. I immediately began to pray, and the truck turned down a dirt road away from us. The shooters accomplished their back-road game. When we arrived at my parents’ house to retrieve our daughter, we were so grateful to see our beautiful baby girl. It was by God’s grace we didn’t get a bullet in our window…or worse.

Before this incident happened, I was thinking bad thoughts. I was so anxious to get back to my daughter that I didn’t believe we were in God’s covering. I allowed fear to consume my mind with, “what if’s.” What if the plane crashes. What if we’re in a car accident. . .and this was all after I prayed for our safe return home in the beginning of our trip.

I was filled with unbelief, living in anxiety and fear until I almost made it manifest in my life. This was the day God said, “Devil, that’s enough.” God began leading me to understand His Word. He taught me to meditate on Him. He showed me His power by placing peace where there was fear. I was able to pray for protection and actually rest in His grace.

Fear can cause our worse thoughts to manifest. Timothy reminds us fear is not a gift from God; rather the gift is the love and power of a sound mind. God wants us to cast our fears on Him—the One who can replace them with peace.

God will transform the fear in your heart into power, love, and a sound mind. Make no room for fear to enter. Cast out the devil with Scripture and prayer. Remember, fear and faith cannot abide in the same place. Decide which spirit you will follow. 

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Head for the Hills

Puffs of smoke billow out of the train’s smokestack—forming silhouettes against the horizon. The wheels and mechanics are strained to the highest level as it rolls up the railway tracks. Sparks fly from the exertion of metal-to-metal, causing a fundamental force of friction. A job meant for larger … bigger ... stronger.

The Little Engine Who Could, by Watty Piper, is a children’s story that has been around since 1930. On a mission, a small train heads for the hills to try and make it up a high mountain. A motivational phrase ensues, "I think I can, I think I can.” A story of reaching for greater things. Motivating us as kids to believe in ourselves—we can do it—if “we think we can.” Aspire to help a worthy cause and achieve our potential.

While this is a wonderful storyline and inspiration to many in childhood, as Christ’s followers, we believe in God—in His ability. God is able—a wonderful storyline repeated over and over in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. A truth to pass on to our children as a personal testament from our own lives. The Lord calms the storm in the midst of broken relationships, a loss of employment, and financial struggles. He is able to heal physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He is present with us in times of loss and sorrow. God works all things for our good in hardships, hurts, or acts of evil against us.

God’s ability gives us strength for pursuits of dreams, education, work, and ministry. His wisdom influences our decisions in where, how, what, and why in daily living. He wins the battles in our present struggles and spiritual warfare.

God helps us make it up the mountains in life. We can't do it alone … in our own power. Our internal engine needs assistance from a greater mechanic. A complete tune-up or an entire overhaul. A regular maintenance program from a greater power. The Holy Spirit's fundamental force in our lives—a job meant for larger … bigger … stronger.

Head for the hills and let's get started. Ready. Set. Go! “I know God can, I know God can…"

God Can!

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Right Angle

It’s how I do things. I start each day with prayer and Bible reading, often locating myself in the living room to avoid disturbing the rest of my family. It’s usually dark when I walk in the room because of the early hour, and because the blinds are still closed from the previous evening.

One morning after my prayer time, I picked up my Bible and lay on the couch next to one of the windows. A light peered through the closed slats of the window blind. Intrigued, I stood, then stepped back and looked directly at the closed window blind but couldn’t see any light coming through. When I lay back on the couch, with my head on the headrest, I could see the light.

Isn’t that the way our spiritual lives are sometimes? God is light. He’s bright all the time, but we can’t always see His light even though it’s staring us right in the face. Perhaps we’re too busy. Perhaps we’re blinded by our own sin. Maybe we’re blinded by the devil. Could be we know intellectually Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts, but we can’t see it or feel it or taste it. Why? We’re not looking upward to the source of the light from the right angle.

If you’ve ever felt like you’ve lost that close connection you once had with God, then change angles. I’ve lost sight occasionally. Even when I’m consistently practicing the spiritual disciplines of daily Bible reading, confession, prayer, fellowship, and church attendance, I’m still plagued at times by memories of past sins or failures, or with terrible thoughts. What a wretched man I am. This is exactly the time when our faith needs to kick in and recall God’s promises to us. He has washed us and made us clean. Reject the condemning voice of the devil, in the name of Jesus, and revel in the restoring voice of our Savior.

God has a seat waiting for us in heaven, but He’s got a lot of work to do through us before we get there.

Give Him your best at whatever He’s called you to do. 

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Lord I Need Another Favor

I saw the car put on its blinker and slow as it approached my driveway. Thinking it was my breakfast date, I went outside. But no, the car turned into the driveway after ours. I came in, sat down, and said “Lord, I hate waiting.”

Right now I’m awaiting provision. A friend is dropping off an old twenty-seven-inch TV because ours just stopped working. So I am also waiting for him, hoping he arrives before my breakfast buddy so I won’t have to leave my daughter to take care of the positioning of the new TV.

I am also awaiting funding for some major house-maintenance jobs. We desperately need to get them done, but we don’t have enough money—yet. I know God will come through in one way or another. He always has … in completely remarkable ways. I keep a list of God’s saves

For example, my daughter needed thousands of dollars of orthodontic work, and it wasn’t for appearances. Her teeth had no room to come in. I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed. Soon after, I got a call from the orthodontist who had evaluated her. He was calling in response to a letter I wrote explaining there was no way we could come up with the money—at least by our own efforts. He told me it wasn’t something he made a habit of doing, but he was offering to do all her dental work for free. This man was not a believer, but he was a tool in God’s hands.

So when I say I am waiting now, it means I am waiting not just for my breakfast companion, but also for a miracle. I could easily name five more miraculous answers to prayer on the same or greater level than the one I just described. I know my God. I know He has a way. I’m just waiting for Him to reveal it. But I still don’t like waiting.

How about you? 

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You Are God's MVP

Every sport has its most valuable player. Sometimes even a game or a championship series will have a special MVP award just for that event. The MVPs are the elite—the best of the best. The person who came through in the clutch or outshined the rest.

Jesus calls you an MVP as well. While He didn't use the words Most Valuable Player, His words most definitely said the most valuable people on earth are His disciples. He said it like this: we are the salt of the earth.

In the days of Jesus, the salt was extremely valuable. It was used to preserve food, bring healing, and much more. In the cultures of that day, it was traded equally with gold. Some cultures even used salt as their currency. So when Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth,” He was using an idiom that meant belilevers are the most valuable people in the world. As a believer in Christ, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is your teacher, advocate, helper, comforter, gift-giver, strength, and inspiration. He convicts and compels you to action.

You have been given the greatest commission on earth—to go into the world and share the wonderful and life-changing message of Jesus Christ. We get to share life to all whom the Holy Spirit compels us to speak to. Our work matters for eternity, and no one else on earth can say otherwise.

Remember, it doesn't matter what the world may say. You are an MVP in the Kingdom of God. Now go out and tell everyone that glorious story. 

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One Son Shines

I walked through a town filled with people of alternate lifestyles. My initial surprise at this blatant disregard for society's norm compromised my good graces. As I engaged people in light conversation, something odd began to stir in my spirit. I liked them. They were real people, creations of my God.

I yearned for them to experience the Christ I loved. Unfortunately, harsh rhetoric by the Christian community (some) built a wall, not a bridge. Jesus displayed love and compassion for people. In the arena of evangelism, may we guard against overzealous ways. We can touch hearts, but God can change them.

In John 8, the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus. They wanted to stone her. He began to write something in the dirt. I believe he was listing their sins. When I study this passage, I gain insight into the mind of Christ: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

It's easy to overlook our hidden sin and condemn a blatant one. When in reality, the outcome of all sin is the same...death. I wanted to reflect the nature of Christ. He showed love and respect by engaging people, not avoiding those who were different.

Sin doesn't determine who we are, but faith in Jesus will impact who we become. He offers Himself as a sacrifice for our sin. He pursues a relationship with us, showers us with grace, and demonstrates how we should relate to others.

There were many reasons Jesus shouldn't have spoken to the woman at Jacob's well. She was a Samaritan, a woman, and a woman of ill repute. Their differences were stark. Yet He engaged her and offered her Living Water. We can learn a lot from people's reactions to our evangelistic efforts. Astounded by His manner, she embraced His love and was captivated by His truth. Her reaction was to tell everyone about Him.

As I glanced back over the city, I caught a breathtaking site. The most beautiful sunset cast orange, yellow, and pink rays against a darkening blue sky. God's beauty was available for all His creation to behold—as are His gifts of grace and eternal life. Reach out and partake. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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No White Elephant Gifts

Ah, December. The time of get-togethers with family and friends. Time of goodwill and cheer. Time to give that treasure we have carefully stored for such a time as this. It’s time for the White Elephant Gift Exchange. Personally, I'm not a fan of those parties where you get a gift, and then anyone who wants to can take it from you. 

Decades ago, I participated in a women's church group gift exchange that was NOT intended as a White Elephant exchange. I ended up with a metal address thing that had a little red arrow that slid down the side and flipped open. You know, the kind someone might have accidentally dropped into their purse from their office, and once they got it home, figured it'd make a lovely Christmas gift.

During a recent Bible study lecture on the building of the Tabernacle during the Israelites' wanderings through the desert—recorded in Exodus 25-33—the leader said something that is the genesis for this devotion. She pointed out how the people were to give of the best they had for the building of the Tabernacle. There were to be no White Elephant Gifts.

God wants our best, not the leftover junk we won't miss. He wants us to bring our gifts willingly, not grudgingly. God wants us to give Him the firstfruits, not whatever we have left at the end of the month. He created us. Just as He delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, He has delivered us out of the bondage of our sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. God expected the Israelites to give their best. He expects no less from us. And He definitely deserves more than a metal address White Elephant thing.

What we give back to God reflects what we think of Him. Give Him the best you have to offer, no matter what your best might look like. After all, He gave us His best—Jesus.

This Christmas, declare No White Elephant Gifts Allowed.

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Am I Good Enough?

“Have you been a good little girl this year?”

I heard this time and time again when I was a child, along with statements such as: “If you’ve been naughty instead of nice, you’ll get coal in your stocking instead of candy.” When I answered, “Yes, I’ve been good,” I was surely hoping “good enough” would get me presents instead of nasty coal.

These are typical things adults say to children as Christmas approaches. Maybe it’s because we don’t really know what else to say. Christmas is a wonderful time, and Santa makes things fun and exciting for all of us—along with the other traditions of the holiday season. But as I hear these comments more and more, it makes me wonder what we’re really teaching our children about life … and especially about God.

Looking back and remembering how much I struggled with self-esteem—always feeling I didn’t measure up to the standard of others—I wonder if trying to be good for Santa caused me to grow up thinking I had to be good for God or He wouldn’t bless me … or even love me.

Because children think they have to earn Santa’s approval in order to get gifts from him, do they grow up thinking the same thing about a loving heavenly Father? Actually, how many of us have that same mentality as adults? Do we boldly approach the throne of grace as the Word says, or do we shy away from God, believing we haven’t met the mark?

If this is something you struggle with, let me share some scriptural truth I’ve learned along the way: God is for me. He is on my side. He even promises to do battle for me when necessary. I am saved by grace, not by what I do. He covers me with His robe of righteousness. He calls me His child, His chosen, His beloved. He forgives me when I fail and strengthens me when I’m weak.

God does not play favorites; what He’s done for others, He’ll do for me. He accepts me exactly the way I am, but loves me too much to leave me that way. He loves me with an unconditional, everlasting love, and there is nothing I can do to change that. He has delivered me from guilt, shame, and condemnation. He has seated me in heavenly places with Christ. God sees me perfect and complete in Him. My name is engraved in the palm of His hand. His faithfulness is never
failing, and His mercies are new every morning. In every situation, His grace is sufficient for me.

Child of God, during this blessed Christmas season, know that your Father loves you, is intimately acquainted with you, and has a wonderful plan and purpose for your life. Remember that you don’t ever have to worry about being good enough. Only God is truly good, and that’s the only thing that matters. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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The Gift

The year was 1969 and a cassette recorder topped the list of hot items to own. I was desperate to open mine on Christmas morning. My family consisted of seven daughters and parents who struggled to make ends meet. I’d planned strategically, asking only for the recorder. Weeks before the holiday, Mom took me shopping for clothes and shoes, but I declined anything she suggested. I refused to nix my chances of getting the coveted recorder. 

Christmas morning arrived and my sisters and I raced to the tree. We grabbed for our gifts and tore into them. But for me … no recorder. I wanted to run to my room, slam the door, and cry my eyes out. Slowly, I ascended the stairs when mom yelled out, “Dawn, there’s one more gift under the tree you missed!”

I froze. Was it? Could it possibly be? The size of the box made my heart leap. Yes, it was what I wanted more than anything. 

Fast forward to last year. I received so much, but not one of the deepest longings of my heart. I regressed into the girl whose only desire was to run to her room and cry. I stared at the tree, wondering why God withheld this dream—one of restoration. No money could buy the gift … the one left off God’s calendar for this holiday. For months I’d prayed fervently for the desire. I turned to the Scripture reminding me that my Father doesn’t withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly. Was this not a good thing? Perhaps all the pieces of the gift weren’t ready just yet, including me. I needed to wait and trust. 

It doesn’t seem fair that God can see infinitely further into the future than we can. Yet through His divine wisdom and His custom-made plan for each of us, He slips the perfect gift to us at the absolute perfect time. He knows best, and through all the shifting ways of the universe, God never changes. His course is firm. 

God saw my pain and He whispered my name. He’s saving this good and perfect gift for another time.

When the gift you’ve longed for doesn’t show up under the Christmas tree, rest assured God’s timing is perfect. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mzacha.)

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What a Gift

We had already stuffed ourselves with Mom’s Christmas breakfast. Dad read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and prayed. We designated the newest great-grandson to help distribute gifts. Then Mom shared her request. “Before we open gifts, I want us to do something new. Each person share something you’re thankful for.” Although appropriate any time, Mom’s suggestion was particularly meaningful in light of our family’s recent history.

Almost three years earlier, we faced a grim prognosis for our young helper and his mother. Because of acute respiratory distress, he was delivered via cesarean section seven weeks premature. Doctors remained guarded about his recovery. His mother’s situation was far worse, with a diagnosis of severe cardiomyopathy. Doctors performed immediate surgery and placed her on an external heart pump. Miraculously, the baby went home in ten days, and his mother, minus the heart pump, in a month. 

My husband and I spent the previous Christmas season in three different hospitals. A six-year survivor of a malignant brain tumor (a miracle story of its own), he suffered a heart attack, probable stroke, and other complications. Following emergency room consultation, we prepared to say goodbye. However, when staff removed his respirator the following day, he breathed on his own and tracked motion and sound. The third day he sat alone and talked. While he still 
suffers some residual effects, his progress astounds his doctors … and us. With those events in mind, our thanks rang especially true. What better way to top them than a sing-along led by our lovable little elf? Who needed presents after a day like that? Of course we tore into them with our preschooler’s enthusiastic help. What fun to watch him jump, clap, and laugh with delight when we opened each gift. 

Remembering our family’s near losses and the miracles of life that surrounded us made us appreciate, as never before, the sacrifice God made on our behalf. His precious Child freely given … the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, making victory over sin and death available to each of us … and the blanket of divine love that wraps each of God’s children with peace, joy, and comfort through every hardship.

What a gift! The gift is yours as well. Open it. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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No Strings Attached

If you were in Bloomington, Minnesota on December 2nd of this year and happened to be among the crowd gathered in the rotunda of Mall of America to hear a choir singing “Let It Snow,” you may be able to say you caught pennies raining from heaven. For it was at that moment when Serge Vorobyov, standing on an upper level of the mall, chose to shower the shoppers below with a flurry of more than one thousand dollar bills! 

The shower of money was first seen as a genuine gesture of spontaneous generosity and “good will toward men” at Christmastime. Unfortunately, further investigation has revealed each of the dollar bills was stamped with Serge’s YouTube address. It has been suggested he only let a thousand dollars float down from above in hopes the YouTube video would go viral, thereby earning him a great deal more than his thousand dollar giveaway. One cynical commentator quipped, “Single dollar bills? Really? What difference will that make?” 
 
I don’t know what motivated Serge. Only God can know a man’s heart, but I do know this: raining dollar bills on holiday shoppers at a mall sure beats raining bullets like we have seen in days gone by. And though it may be true a dollar does not account for much anymore, the surprise of having one or two of them, no strings attached, float into the hands of someone experiencing a not-so-merry and bright Christmas, may have been just the right amount of encouragement needed to lift their spirit and open their heart to the miracle of Christmas. The miracle, as pastor and author John McArthur has so beautifully said, is: “The birth of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us, the promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins.” 

As you prepare for Christmas, ask God’s help to give generously from a heart filled with love … no strings attached. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Lesson Learned from Monkey Bars

While watching three gloriously rambunctious boys, my husband and I took them to the school playground. As I played with the youngest on a simple climbing toy, I overheard my husband talking to the two older kids. He said, “Through God we can do anything. He gives us strength and we just need to ask Him.” 

After a while, I went to climb the dome-shaped monkey bars with the eldest boy. Now for a five-year-old, looking up at a seven-foot dome was pretty daunting. He sighed, propped a foot against the lowest rung, and pulled his skinny body up onto the first rail. One after another he climbed. Soon he was three feet off the ground. He whispered, “Jesus give me strength. Jesus give me strength.” He repeated this over and over until he reached the top. A smile broke over his face as he surveyed his new kingdom. It was priceless. 

What this little kindergartener learned that day will lead him through life well. God will provide us strength in the little moments and the big. There was a time when my life was in upheaval. My husband and I were separated, the bills mounted, court battles raged, and I was trying to hold a family of four kids together. It was then I learned the meaning of “Jesus give me strength.” One day at a time, He propped me up and pulled me through. He restored my life and marriage over the following year. 

God provided His strength when I asked. He carried me when I could not lift my head. We all face problems. Some are simple. Some are life-threatening. No matter where you are today, lean on God’s strength. Let Him carry the weight. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Just a Jar of Oil

I love this story. 

Recently, I read the amazing story of Elisha and the widow’s oil again, and found myself visualizing the bottle of olive oil I have in my pantry. I imagined pulling out all the empty mason jars I store in a kitchen cabinet, and thought about pouring my bottle of extra virgin olive oil into one of those jars, and then into a second jar, a third jar, a fourth, and so on. How awesome it would be to see that kind of miracle happen before my eyes. 

I haven’t been in the same kind of dire situation as the widow in 2 Kings 4. Creditors were threatening to take this widow’s two sons for slaves if she didn’t pay her debt. The prophet Elisha asks her what she has, and she reports she has nothing in the house but a jar of oil. 

Elisha instructs her to borrow empty vessels from her neighbors, and she collects the vessels and fills them all with oil from her one jar. She sells the oil, and the payoff is enough to take care of her debt, securing her sons’ freedom and giving her enough left over for her and her sons to live on. God definitely intervened with a miracle of multiplication in this story as He turned one jar of oil into enough to fill numerous empty vessels. 

If God can use a jar of oil to pay off the widow’s debt and also provide remaining funds for her family, then we should be encouraged that He is capable of multiplying what we have or providing what we need in ways we have not thought possible. 

The next time you pull out your bottle of olive oil from your kitchen pantry, remember what God did for this widow and her two sons, and believe He is still in the business of meeting needs above and beyond all we can comprehend and in ways we could not have imagined. 

Trust Him to provide. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and clarita.)

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A Kingdom Gnat

Have you ever had an encounter with gnats? I mean the tiny, swarming, pesky kind that cover your face, climb in your ear canals, stick to your tongue, sink to your scalp, and get sucked up your nose when you try to mow the lawn, work in the garden, or sit in the yard. Annoying, frustrating, maddening, right? These miniscule mischief-makers can render us helpless. 

In fact, gnats did leave the Egyptians, Pharaoh, and his magicians both helpless and clueless. Because Pharaoh would not release God’s people from slavery in Egypt to follow Moses to the Promised Land, God produced a series of miracles to force his hand. When Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same. When God turned all the streams, canals, and ponds to blood, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same “by their secrets arts.” When God sent frogs hopping from bed to oven to kneading trough, magicians imitated the miracle. But when a plague of gnats came on all the people and animals of Egypt, the magicians threw up their hands and declared, “This is the finger of God!” 

A principle of God’s kingdom assures us that the least consequential in His Creation will be used to astound the wisest. Gideon, just one of many Biblical examples of this paradigm, responded to God’s call, “My clan is the weakest, and I am the least in my family!” A kingdom gnat. 

God’s response was simple: “Am I not sending you? Go in the strength you have.” Incredible victory for Israel resulted.

Sometimes I feel as insignificant as a gnat, flying aimlessly about, seeking a target of effectiveness. Stories like Gideon’s remind me that God doesn’t seek a powerhouse. He seeks the yielded, dependent “gnat” who believes the promises of God and acts in obedience to His commands. The result: kingdom gnats transform their world. 

You are not inconsequential in the kingdom. Like gnats, you can astound the world and hear people say, “This is the finger of God!” Trust Him for who He has made you to be.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pedreojperez.)

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Shine Your Light

My shock was apparent. 

A coworker asked how I could stay calm through turbulent circumstances. I was honest. “Sometimes life stinks, but my faith in God reminds me I have a better forever. So I'm more focused on what's profitable for my future than wallowing in the present.” It surprised him I'd buy into this "religious stuff." Building up treasures, really? But he did see a difference in me and his friends. Our circumstances looked similar, but our attitudes were not. He wanted peace. 
 
I shared experiences of God's presence in my life. My friend's desire for hard facts challenged me to research the Bible. I shared archeological findings and numerous eyewitness accounts of Christ's death and resurrection. When we discussed prophecies—Jesus' birth predicted years before it happened—he was hooked.

So what shocked me? 
 
A few weeks later we stood talking when a disgruntled co-worker approached us to commiserate. Instead of letting him unwind, my friend informed him he was going to hell if he didn't change. He must repent or spend eternity damned, and he should do it now because no one knows if they have a tomorrow. 

Whoa! His insensitive timing and harsh words made me ashamed to be counted with him. His approach turned my stomach as it became a pattern of his newfound faith. He told people they were sinners but, in reality, their sin was no worse than his sin of pride. He’d found a way to spiritually browbeat people. 
 
I was mortified. It reminded me about the story of the demon-possessed girl who followed Paul, screaming, “These men are servants of the most high God.” Paul was annoyed and did not want someone to tarnish his witness. Being likeminded comes from knowing and growing in faith. Paul's story demonstrates imprisonment, salvation, and peace. God is faithful and works all things out for His glory. A good way to share Christ is to build a relationship that radiates your faith. 

Let your light shine in a way that others will seek God. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Pitfalls

It was a nasty sensation, hiking across our newly-planted cornfield when … zoop! My foot dropped eight inches into a pocket of muck that didn’t want to give it back. I managed to pull my foot free, but my sneaker stayed behind. I grabbed a stub of shoestring with both hands and yanked hard. The mud protested with a loud sucking noise, but finally gave up its prey. I tied my filthy sneaker back on and squished the quarter mile back to the house, grateful I hadn’t broken my ankle. 

Lord, what will it take for me to smarten up? See, I’d turned my ankle in another mud hole the day before—in the very same field, which the rain-swollen Susquehanna River had recently flooded. What possessed me to tramp there again? Curiosity, that’s what. I saw something bobbing in the receding floodwater and wanted to get a better look.  So I walked on, even closer to the river than the spot where I’d previously come to grief. And the muck sucked me in again, deeper than the first time. And very, very quickly. 

Proverbs warns us to stay far away from the paths of the wicked to preserve our lives. It’s no surprise that the wicked fall into snares and pitfalls. That’s the natural consequence of their actions. But good Christians who foolishly flirt with evil can stumble in too. 

Dabbling in almost-sinful behavior, whether out of curiosity, self-indulgence, or a misguided show of open-mindedness, seriously jeopardizes our walk with the Lord. If we ignore common sense, Christian counsel, and even personal experience of the hazards (like my first run-in with the muck) and continue to edge closer and closer to vice, the sin trap can snatch us—zoop!—as quickly as a muddy sinkhole. 

Do you think you can get away with a brief stroll on the fringes of sin? Smarten up. Run, don’t walk, far away from those paths before sin sucks you in! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Be a Friend, Accept a Friend

 

"Can we talk?" my friend asked. 

"Sure." 

She dabbed at her eyes and with a quivering voice, apologized for being such a disappointment to me. "I haven't been faithful at Bible study or food pantry and feel terrible. I've let you down." 

I looked deep into her serious eyes and burst into laughter. Now it was my turn to apologize. Perhaps this wasn't the sensitive response she sought, but it was the appropriate one. We were longtime friends. I understood her limitations and never placed unfair burdens on her. 
 
"Have I said you let me down? Satan is accusing you, not me." 

She was so surprised by this response, it left her no choice but to listen. Sometimes that's a good place to be. As iron sharpens iron, a friend can gently refocus us on truth. Illness caused her to miss commitments originally, but guilt caused her to build up walls. She assumed others were frustrated with her when, in truth, her absence stirred concern, not condemnation. Her thought-life was her enemy. 
 
Insecurities surface and guilt takes hold when we place too much importance on what we can't do rather than what we can. The mind becomes Satan's stomping ground: accusing, beating down, reminding, mocking. Our words can be salve to an aching spirit or salt poured right into an open wound. 
 
Scripture reminds us to be sober and of good judgment because Satan stalks us like a wild animal seeking prey. God knows our hearts and He knows how Satan comes after us, so when we see our friends struggle from needless guilt, it’s time to step up and help release them from the attack. After all, this is what He has done for us. 

Relationships are essential to Jesus. He took the time to stop, listen, and restore. As imitators of Christ, we're called to do the same.

Are you building relationships? 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Mind Vacation

Computers, ereaders, iphones, ipads, cell phones, electronic games. The list could go on and on of all the technology that has invaded our space. All these things are supposed to make our lives easier, faster, and simpler. But they seem to rob us of intimacy, create more frustration, and breach our privacy. 

Albert Einstein said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” 

Some of these things become addictive and some people actually spend their entire day with a gadget. You see people texting while driving, texting while walking (both dangerous), or with a cell phone stuck to their head like it’s a third ear. 

What did we do before all these so-called inventions were in our lives? We talked to people face to face, we sent a letter at the post office with a stamp on it, and we got junk mail in the mailbox instead of the inbox. And we survived. 

All these technological inventions are wonderful to have and we all enjoy using them. However, the key is to manage their uses and not become overly dependent on them or let them steal too much of our time. 

It’s important to have downtime in our day. After everything we are bombarded with during work, school, or running errands, it’s tempting to grab an electronic device for entertainment or relaxation, but that can be counterproductive. Our minds need a vacation. 

To be still and know that He is God requires shutting everything off, reading His Word, and just listening. Enjoy the quiet, let your mind rest, and hear what God is saying. 

You will be amazed at how refreshed you can be when no devices are running in the background of your life. Enjoy your technology, but don’t let it rule you. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Failure to Launch

“There’s another FTL,” I told my husband. That’s our nickname for the “Failure to Launch” baby birds who refuse to go out on their own. 

Our backyard is wooded and we see a lot of wildlife passing through. This summer we’ve had several FTLs. Although they are grown, flying well, and capable of surviving on their own, they follow their parents around, flapping their wings, and crying to be fed. Most of the time the parents seem to be patient and we’ve seen them feeding these FTLs for several days. But recently we saw one baby flap its wings and cry pitifully to be fed, and the parent leaped toward the baby and squawked as if to say “Enough!” 

Sometimes I wonder if God ever feels like telling us “Enough!” when it takes us so long to understand His Word and how to live by its principles. The writer of the book of Hebrews was addressing this problem of not progressing spiritually. He was telling them “Enough, you need to do better.” I’m sure God understands that some people will progress faster than others, but He does expect them to mature eventually. 

Perhaps some of us do not understand that we grow best by reading and studying the Bible for ourselves and not just depending on our pastor or someone else to feed us. As Elizabeth George has said, “Only through routine, regular exposure to God’s Word can you and I draw out the nutrition needed to grow a heart of faith.” 

God has given us His Word as an instruction book for living. But if we fail to read it, how can we know how God wants us to live? If we don’t know God’s promises, we can’t claim them. If we don’t read about the many people who struggled with problems, like King David, we will never know how to cope with our own struggles. 

Open your Bible and seek out the principles God has put there to help. Press on to maturity and develop a strong faith. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Filled with the Power

This old world is filled with pain, and God’s children are to bring relief and healing, not more pain.

A young woman came into my office with tears streaming down her cheeks. I had to wait for her to be able to tell me what was wrong. “My friend walked away.”

“Walked away?” I asked.

It seems this young woman was a new Christian who had told her best friend, a seasoned Christian, about her promiscuous behavior before she had asked Jesus into her heart. Her friend lived in a whitewashed world and was so shocked to hear about such behavior, she told this tender new sister that they couldn't be friends.

“I might become contaminated too,” the friend had said. This self-righteous lady evidently believed in sharing, but not in confessing.

The young woman’s heartbroken tears didn’t come primarily from losing a dear friend. They came from a trusting child’s broken heart. She thought all Christians would love her the way her Savior did ... no matter what.

Micah encouraged us to be filled with the Spirit ... controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit. He understood that by allowing our lives to be steered by Christ, the unconditional love we needed to share would become available. Remember that the fruit of the Spirit starts with love.

This modern world is populated by those in doubt, depression, and pain. Even if we seldom feel those emotions because of our relationship with Jesus, our hearts will soften for those who do experience this. It is a contradiction of terms to be a complicated Christian when we are commanded to live a life of simplicity ... a life that blossoms in the soil of simplicity found in Christ. Boil down your Christianity and put it into action by understanding a warm heart and warm eyes promote healing and reveal that we understand the power that comes from the Spirit of God. God is love, and not one thing about serving Jesus is about us. It’s all about Him.

Be full of compassion. Feel, and not just think, when someone is in pain. Be someone who understands because of what Jesus has done for you personally. Today, choose to be a simple soul filled with the power of God’s love, in spite of your past and in spite of your natural, carnal tendencies. Let God love others through you.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Free at Last

I used to think Christianity was a long list of rules. I tried hard to please God and insisted others did as well. This kept me trapped in a self-inflicted cycle of guilt, all the while sure this was God's plan for me. When others failed to measure up to the rules, I found myself judging them in my legalistic mind. I was lonely and didn't know why.

But maturity in the Lord taught me how wrong I was. The list of rules was my own attempt to be a “good Christian.” I really did love God and honestly wanted to please him. I craved his love. If I could just try harder.

I began to comprehend the unconditional love of God that could see the situation clearly. As I grew to understand His grace and was able to set aside the rules, the judgments, and the frustration for fruitless striving, I was able to live in freedom. Now I can see how precious people really are, no matter where they stand in their faith.

Galatians teaches when we truly understand that Christ died to free us from the law, we become partakers in the gift of grace He has provided. Freedom is accessible to us as we continually remember the Christian life is a relationship between a loving Father and His beloved child. Following after God and obeying Him changes from a “have to” to a “get to.” When we understand His grace, our desire grows to follow after Him with reckless abandon since the burden of sin has been lifted.

Are there areas of your life where you are religiously trying to be “good enough,” or earn God’s love and acceptance? Surrender to Him and let His grace transform you. Stop striving. Start enjoying the peace that is yours as a child of the King. Grasp the gift and stand free in Christ.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Grace for the "What Ifs"

My muscles were tight as I prepared some hot tea to soothe my nervous stomach. In a few days I was going to have a hard conversation with a very good friend. God was urging me to tell her a difficult truth, and I didn’t know how she was going to receive it. Would I have the words I needed to convey what was on my heart? I so wanted her to understand.

What if I lost my friend?

Recently, someone told me that God doesn’t give us grace for the “what ifs.” He gives us grace only for what actually happens. As I’ve tried to prepare for life’s conflicts and challenges, my tendency has been to worry about all the possible outcomes. I ask God how I’m going to do what He is asking of me, and He reminds me to seek Him for what is essential in my life. He affords the necessary grace I will need.

If you are in a difficult season right now, seek the grace God offers. Maybe you have a child who is making bad choices. Perhaps you’re unemployed and don’t know how you will provide for your family. Or you’re facing a frightening medical diagnosis.

Instead of fretting when those “what if” thoughts enter your mind, you can choose to pray and read the Bible for reassurance of God’s presence and guidance. He knows the best way to handle those tough issues in your life.

Call on Him and He will be with you, equipping you with the courage and strength you require to make it through. Trust Him to help you with what comes up today.



We Will Come back

“Wear your comfy tennis shoes.” God’s voice came to me as surely as if He were standing in my house.

“What? But I’m all dressed up, looking professional, and just have to take my car to get it serviced. Then I’m off to a ladies' brunch, so my shoes need to look nicer than tennies.”

“Wear your comfy tennis shoes.”

I tried to ignore Him, argued a bit, and finally gave in, although it made no sense to me. Laptop tucked into my briefcase, I drove into the service bay. I had planned on working for a couple of hours while they fixed the noise in the car’s trunk. However, there were two cars ahead of me and my wait would be several hours, which I didn’t have. Since this car was undriveable, I needed a ride home.

God promised Abraham he would have more offspring than he could count. But now God told him to sacrifice his only heir. Surely this was a mistake. God wouldn’t go back on his promise, would he?

Abraham knew God would work it out, so he told his servants that they would return – BOTH him and his son. As he lifted the knife to kill Isaac, an angel stopped him, providing a ram to sacrifice in his son’s place. God knew what He was doing.

Early Saturday morning is not a good time to call friends. No one answered, so I figured they were sleeping in, and, since there was no bus service, I started walking the four miles to my house. “Okay, Lord, I get it now. I didn’t know what would happen, but you did, and you prepared me ahead of time.”

After walking a mile, one friend called and came to take me the rest of the way home. But what if I’d allowed my stubbornness to overshadow God’s warning? I could have ended up wearing shoes that couldn’t maneuver country roads with no sidewalks.

Too often, we might hear God speaking in different ways, offering us direction. But do we really hear him?

Slow down from your rapid-paced life and listen . . . really listen to God. He may give you practical advice, like which shoes to wear.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Power Within Reach

Lucy opened her email and read a request to take meals to a friend recovering from surgery. She scanned the schedule and saw the only time slot open was the evening she had to be at her son’s open house at school.

Melanie was approached about helping with Vacation Bible School. “I’m sorry,” she answered, but I work nights and just can’t do it.”

Laura’s friend was moving and needed help packing. She and her family had already scheduled a trip to visit her parents out of town, so she couldn’t offer.

The church announcement called for help to assemble and paint the set for a children’s musical. Not quite my skills, Mary thought as she wished she could do something to help.

We want to help, but it’s times like these when we feel as if we aren’t serving others. Yes, there are often legitimate reasons we can’t help: schedules, other commitments, our health, or our specific skills and gifts don’t match a need.

Scripture encourages us to do good when it’s in our power to act. In fact, we're warned not to withhold good from those who may be in need. The writer of Proverbs even goes as far as to remind us to act whenever it is in our power to do so.

If my work and family schedules conflict with serving and meeting a need. If I lack the gifts that match a project, or if my health keeps me from actively serving, and it’s not in my power to do something, doesn’t that count? On the surface it appears that we’re off the hook.

Think for a minute about what we can all do. Pray. With each plea for help, there is also a need for prayer. The woman who had surgery could benefit from prayer for her recovery. Prayer is needed for the workers and children who attend VBS. A move, no matter the reason, has financial, emotional, and relational components. Prayer is definitely needed for families who relocate.

The next time you receive a request, don’t think about personal circumstances that limit you. Remember, it’s always within our power to do good by praying for needs that cross our path. That power to act is always within reach.

 

(Photo courtesy of http://www.waterfall-d-mannose.com)