Devotions for Life: New Ideas from Old Ways

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He forgave you (Friday, May 27)

The secret to leading an effective life in Christ is learning to forgive. We must first forgive others. Then we must forgive ourselves. Trying to move ahead in our lives without being able to forgive is like attempting to drive a car with the emergency brake still on; we are not going to get very far.

Early in his life, Paul realized the importance of forgiveness. How far could he have gone without the Lord’s forgiveness of his former persecution of others, especially when he held Stephen’s cloak as he was being stoned to death? Paul stood by and did nothing. He watched. Or what about the forgiveness he received from the other disciples after his blinding experience on the road to Damascus? Barnabas had to convince his brothers to forgive Paul and to accept on faith that his life had been dramatically changed. God had forgiven Paul and they could do no less.

The whole reason why Paul could suddenly be used by the Lord in such a tremendous way was due entirely to forgiveness. With great confidence and assurance, Paul could later write to the Colossians (3:13) to, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

God forgave him and Paul had a responsibility to forgive others. He did so not because it was easy. He did so because it was the right and just thing to do. Only then, when he was free of blame and condemnation, was he able to move forward.

Desiring his gifts (Thursday, May 26)

The Lord blesses us each day in his way, regardless of what we are experiencing. He protects us from evil we cannot see; he guides us on a path that is not always clear; he gives us opportunities we may not discern; and he loves us no matter what we do or say. Any of these gifts alone would be sufficient for our daily sustenance, but God showers us every second with all of his divine grace and mercy.

He is generous beyond measure. Yet how many times today will I take him for granted? Will I suddenly forget his love for me when I am asked to help another person? Perhaps I will look the other way when I face a difficult situation. I might even become aggressive or hostile toward others in order to receive the attention I think I deserve. Whenever I act according to my own human nature, I can be sure I am ignoring God’s desire as well as his blessings.

Too often we overlook both the meaning and the purpose of our lives. We cannot expect to serve God and, at the same time, find satisfaction in the world. It does not work that way. Our way is always contrary to God’s will. Only when we truly desire the gifts of God can we begin to appreciate everything he does for us all of the time.

Alive with hope (Wednesday, May 25)

I am sure Jesus felt weary at times, disappointed by what he saw going on all around him: the fighting, stealing, hurting and killing. He must have wondered, as we often do today, when people would learn to get along with one another.

While Jesus may have been troubled by such acts of selfishness and violence, he never stopped being a living example of the perfect life – that of heaven. He was always showing a better way by making individuals whole in body, mind and spirit.

Likewise, we should not be deterred in the least by the evil in our society. Our purpose is not to dwell on what is wrong everywhere and with everyone. Jesus expects us to lead the way to a higher and better life through him.

"If you hold to my teaching,” Jesus said. “You are really my disciples” (John 8:31). The term disciple comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning a “follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime.” For all intents and purposes, we are the modern-day followers of the living Christ. He imparts his life to us now so we can serve him and bring glory to the Father.

The Great Physician (Tuesday, May 24)

Doctors can do all sorts of things to help us. They can make us see better, repair a problem with our heart, fix a broken bone and diagnose an illness. What they cannot do is to make us more caring, loving and compassionate. No operation or treatment can give us what we truly need to be whole in Jesus Christ.

But, like an operation, we need to set aside time for the procedure. We must let God work on us, little by little, each day. He cannot help or change us if we do not go to him, give ourselves to him and follow his advice. Too often, though, we are too preoccupied with trying to help ourselves. Similar to those who put their faith in homeopathic and natural cures, we think we can mend ourselves. We do not see that only God can give us what comes from him.

Maybe it is time to take matters out of our own hands and place ourselves in his hands. He is the one who created us and he knows every part of us inside and out. He knows the right treatment for each one of us. All we have to do is to give him the chance and the time to give us what we need. Through the ages, God has often been called the Great Physician and with good reason.

Do you need prayer? (Monday, May 23)

What a humbling experience it is to be carried along by and through prayer. There are times when our strength alone is not sufficient. There also are occasions when our faith is weak and our hope is battered. Prayer can take us far beyond any trial.

How often have you had to rely on prayer? Not only your prayers, but the prayers of others. Perhaps you were not strong enough physically to overcome the difficulty. Yet, spiritually, you were able to accomplish the impossible. You were healed or comforted in a way the world cannot explain.

St. Paul was no stranger to the power and effects of prayer. “In every situation,” he said, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Paul was not afraid to ask for prayer. Time and time again he wrote to his sisters and brothers everywhere requesting prayer. Ask a friend or co-worker to pray for you today. You will be surprised at what happens! Like Paul, God will give you exactly what you need when you need it.

Celebrating each day (Sunday, May 22)

We naturally celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and family gatherings. But every day in our lives is extraordinary because of who we are in Christ. Today marks another day when we are loved and protected by the creator of the universe.

When we pause to think about the fact that God fashioned this very day and made us for this day, we begin to see our lives from a new perspective. Suddenly, we feel a part of the universe rather than apart from it. Too often we as Christians think that we are estranged from the rest of the world. Our purposes and goals seem to be out of step with post-modern society. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

The universe was created by God and it is controlled by him. We are his creation and we were put here for his glory. We are not out of step with his design at all; rather, it is the world that has chosen to turn away from God. One of our primary purposes in life is to point the way back to God – to show those who are not believers what they are missing.

Realizing the importance of our work here on earth, as well as all that we possess through Christ, we can shout with joy and assurance that “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” We celebrate each day because we are living in him, from this moment on and forever for all eternity.

Set yourself free (Saturday, May 21)

Imagine living in a prison. Hour after hour and day after day you are confined to a space no larger than a closet. You are cut off from the rest of society and you cannot go anywhere.

Many people put themselves in a mental cell each day. They limit themselves to what they can do because of their thinking and attitude. All kinds of things keep them from being completely free: prejudice, anger, jealousy, bigotry, hatred and hundreds of other feelings.

We need to set ourselves free. We are no longer prisoners of the world. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul (Romans 8:1-2). “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Jesus opened wide the prison door and released us from the sins and wickedness of this world.

What we need to do is to live as people who are saved. Do not let the world confine you by its standards and principles. Live by the spirit who does not condemn you or judge you for every little thing. Set yourself free to live like Christ.

Help me, Lord (Friday, May 20)

My prayer today is for strength. I also need your peace, Lord. I need your comfort. I trust you, though I don’t understand. I believe you Father, yet I am confused. I have faith in you God, despite my fears.

When I pause to consider how big you are, I wonder why I doubt at all. After all, you are the Creator of the universe, the Creator of life and the Creator of me. Why is it that I so often lose my hope even when I know you are all these things?

You are in control of each and every situation. No matter what occurs, you do not leave me or abandon me. You do not make me an orphan. You remain faithful, like a loving Father who protects and cares for his children. You are ever-lasting all the days of my life.

Even now, if I have any reason or cause to question you, I ask your help. Forgive my weakness. Grant me your might and courage. On my own, I would surely give up. But with you, I shall endure. Even more, I will overcome because of you!

More than conquerors (Thursday, May 19)

At a funeral many years ago, the widow was greeting mourners with joy and happiness. She was helping friends and family accept the loss of her dear husband who had died days earlier from cancer. Now she was alone, but her attitude remained the same; she was as cheerful as ever. It was easy to see God’s presence and love flowing through this woman as she went from person to person.

Even during the greatest tragedies, we can be joyful because of who we are in Christ. Since we have placed our trust in him, he gives us his power and strength to conquer what might seem to be an impossible situation. Through Jesus, Peter was able to step out of the boat and walk on the water. Through Jesus, Paul was able to preach salvation to those he once persecuted. Through Jesus, Stephen was able to defend his faith to the Sanhedrin before he was stoned to death.

Unfortunately, we often try to do too much on our own. We fail to let Jesus work in and through us. We attempt to overcome sorrow, grief, tribulation and failure by ourselves. Even our best efforts fall far short of giving us any satisfaction or relief. The reason is we are trying to defeat emotions and forces that are much more than we can handle. Jesus, however, is more than able to triumph over any kind of adversity or tragedy. Paul reminds of this fact in Romans 8:37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Through Jesus, we are “more than conquerors.”  We can be happy in all things because his strength and love prevail in any tragedy.

Forgiven by and through him (Wednesday, May 18)

Until we are able to express sorrow and regret for a wrong attitude or action, we will never enjoy the fullness of being forgiven. It is in our humanness that we discover our weaknesses as well as our imperfections. Without this knowledge of ourselves and our sinful nature, the beauty of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness remain little more than a notion. We will never grasp the reality of what God offers us through salvation because we cannot confess our imperfections.

Paul realized the importance of declaring his sinful state. Often in his epistles he professes his flaws and failures. At one point in his letter to the Romans (7:24), Paul cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Like Paul, we need to realize our inadequacies and be willing to express them openly and honestly. Not only do we need to tell our sisters and brothers in Christ, but we have to remind ourselves we are far from perfect. In fact, as Paul exclaims, we can never understand perfection while we are in our mortal bodies.

As we humble ourselves before God and man, we reach the realization that we can do nothing without God. Even our vain attempts to worship and praise God are meaningless unless we comprehend the great gulf, the vast chasm, between our fallen flesh and the perfection of eternity. Learning to say we are sorry and to express our mistakes, openly and without hesitation, is the only way to receive the forgiveness we need. For in our forgiveness we come to know the indescribable power of God’s love for each one of us. Then, like Paul, we can turn our regret into rejoicing as we proclaim, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God's sovereign, unconditional love (Tuesday, May 17)

We serve a sovereign God. But, do we understand what that means? As finite and imperfect creatures, how do we begin to grasp a being that is infinite, omniscient and omnipotent? More important, why would an all-powerful God desire our simple companionship, even our service?

There is only one answer: love. God’s supernatural love for us transcends everything else in the universe. We are more important to God than all of the stars, the sun, the oceans or the earth itself. He gave us the breath of life when we were born and each day, minute by minute, he watches over us. When we fail, he loves us. When we fall, he loves us. When we hate, he loves us. There is nothing we can do to make him turn away. He cannot because it is against his nature.

Our nature is to want to go through life following our own desires, our own will. It is only when we start to follow God’s plan for our life that we begin to understand the meaning of unconditional love. What happens then is we are placing God above everything else we think or want. Loving him is suddenly more important to us than our own life. Yes, God is sovereign. Yet he chooses to love us unconditionally because we are the most important thing in his life.

Let him help (Monday, May 16)

May God breathe new freshness into our tired, old lives this day. As you worship him and give thanks, let him fill you with his spirit, his compassion and his love. No matter how you are feeling, God can take away the pain, the doubt, the weariness and the fatigue. He is able to transform us in an instant.

But, we must let him and we must do as he says. We cannot ask for his help and then ignore his wisdom. We must come to him with open and willing hearts, ready to follow what he says is best for us. We cannot be like a patient who goes to the doctor to get better and then ignores the medication as well as the treatment. What has this person accomplished, but to become more miserable?

We can trust what God tells us to do. He knows the effect of our every action and word before we act. He knows what can make us better and what will make us worse. Left to our own devices, we usually make the wrong choice – the decision that will take us farther away from where we need to be. 

As we lift our lives and problems to him, let us be ready to follow him without hesitation. May we believe, with all of our being, that his way is the best way. Never mind what we think. Doing what he says is the only way he can help us.

One purpose (Sunday, May 15)

Our sole purpose as Christians is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” These words from the Shorter Catechism should be more than a reminder of what we need to do each day. They should tell us how to allow God into our lives so we live according to his plan. Much of what we do daily, however, gets in the way. From morning to night, it seems our many activities separate us from God: working, shopping, entertaining, studying, even eating. Seeing God in all these places and times is not easy.

Frequently, we have to push beyond our neighborhoods, the television programs, the breaking news and all of the chatter around us in order to notice the God of the universe. When we first seek him, he is barely visible through the fabric of our busy schedules. But, as we look closer and more intently, we will begin to see his brightness and radiance. Slowly, he reveals himself to us. When the complete magnificence of his eternal love comes shining through, we wonder why we never noticed its beauty before.

When we truly see God’s divine love and begin to grasp his greatness, our whole desire in life will change. Nothing will be more important to us than “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

Walk with God; don’t run ahead of him (Saturday, May 14)

Children love to run ahead, whether at the mall, the park or going down the street. Parents have to tell them to stop and not to go any farther; they know the dangers of what could happen. Children usually are not paying attention; they are just having a good time and not thinking of anything that might possibly harm them.

Adults do the same thing with God. They get ahead of him and he has to tell them to stop. Sometimes they listen. Most of the time, they do not. They think they are fine; they believe they know the hazards ahead and they will be okay.

The Message Bible explains the importance of staying with God. “You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right—you don’t go off [or run off] on your own; you walk straight along the road he set” (Psalm 119:1-3).

Don’t ever run ahead of God. The risk is too great, and he knows it!

Take things as they come (Friday, May 13)

A magnifying glass allows us to see beyond our normal sight. With it we can see even the smallest type, a splinter in our finger or the images on a coin. In science, this “hand lens” can allow researchers to discover new microorganisms and bacteria that are harmful to the human body.

When we use a magnifying glass in the right way, it becomes a useful tool. If, however, we use it incorrectly it can be damaging and harmful. What child has not used a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s light to burn a hole in a piece of paper or a leaf? But there is another way a magnifying glass is detrimental.

We often use a personal magnifying glass when it comes to our problems. We take a small object and turn it into a huge mountain. We blow things out of proportion. A little hindrance, such as a minor illness, become a catastrophe; immediately, it turns into a life-threatening issue because we have used our internal magnifying glass.

Avoid the temptation to make more of your trials than meets the eye. Put away your magnifying glass, as least for today, and take things at face value. Do not be anxious about anything, Jesus said. Especially those things that do not matter in the long run even though they seem to matter now.

Knowing the unknown (Thursday, May 12)

Our belief in Jesus frequently finds its origin in what he has done for us rather than on what he will do. In times of difficulty, it is common to draw on what we know. We look back on those events and incidents when the Lord has helped us in divine ways. As much as these reflections help, we have to realize the limitations that such experiences impose.

When Nathaniel was called by Jesus to become one of the disciples, he put his trust in Jesus because of what Jesus had done already. Jesus told Nathaniel that he had seen him sitting under a fig tree long before Philip approached with news of “the one Moses wrote about in the Law.” Nathaniel was amazed Jesus possessed such power. But Jesus quickly pointed out that Nathaniel would see far greater things in the future.

“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree,” Jesus says in John 1:50. “'You shall see greater things than that.’ He then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” On that particular day, Nathaniel could not have imagined all he would witness in the coming months and years.

We are like Nathaniel who based his faith solely on the seen and not the unseen power of Jesus. It is time we place our trust in Jesus because of the greater things he will do in the days ahead. There are no limits in the kingdom, and Jesus is not confined to what he has done already. Jesus has the power to open the heavens, but we must have the hope to believe that he will.

Learn to lighten your load (Wednesday, May 11)

Things do not always go the way we plan. We get it set in our heads that what we have in mind will come to fruition exactly as we envision. The problem is we often do not take the unexpected into account. We put ourselves on a schedule and then become disappointed when we do not meet our expectations.

No doubt the 12 disciples had their plans to go and spread the gospel to all nations. Each one had a different plan and a different country. Unfortunately, their schedule probably did not make room for being arrested, being sick or being thrown out of villages. They eventually had to learn to follow God rather than their own itinerary.

Two days ago, I had cataract surgery in the only eye with which I can read. I planned to be well enough the next morning to write a devotion. I was not, however. The whole day I felt bad for not living up to my expectations. As much as I knew God understood, I could not accept that I missed a day posting and sending out a devotion.

The crux of the matter is that we often make our lives harder and more difficult than they need to be. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthey 11:29). Let’s allow him to lighten our load today rather than us burdening ourselves with our own expectations.

Why do others prosper? (Monday, May 9)

What happens when good things happen to bad people? How do we react? Are we jealous? Angry? Mad? We have to wonder why the unjust and unrighteous seem to prosper more than we do at times.

Our feeling is that we should be the ones who always come out on top because we are followers of Christ. But God never said we will always be victors in this world. He promises that we will win over sin and receive the gift of eternal salvation.

If we stop and think about it, life in heaven is worth more than everything we have to give up or endure in this life—even when we see good things happen to bad people.

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). May we not be upset when we see unbelievers prosper. Instead, may we pray for them for they do not know their treasure on earth will mean nothing in heaven.

The journey (Sunday, May 8)

The apostle Paul was serious about being a missionary. In his three journeys, Paul is known to have traveled to at least 38 cities. Some of these – Antioch, Derbe, Troas, Philippi and Thessalonica – he visited two and three times. When he wasn’t preaching the gospel, he was writing letters to congregations he had already seen or to those worshippers he wanted to see: Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, etc.

Few persons today can rival all that Paul did for the kingdom. Even when he came to the end of his journey in Rome, Paul still was serving the Lord. Confined and seemingly alone, Paul pressed on. The last verse in Acts tells us that, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We should remember Paul today not for what he did, but for what the Lord did through him. Actually, Paul did a simple thing: he followed the example of Jesus Christ by allowing the Lord to use his life. Giving our life to God is not complicated, but often we make it difficult because of our own stubbornness and desires. If we are serious about spreading the good news of salvation, we will let the Lord use us in his way.

God has our journey already planned, just as he did with Paul. We can either follow his direction or wander through life on our own. It is a simple decision that can have profound and lasting consequences.

Unexpected delights (Saturday, May 7)

What an unexpected delight! I woke up this morning expecting to find thunderstorms. Instead, it was bright and sunny without a cloud in the clear, blue sky.

As children of God, we have many unexpected delights as we turn each corner. We may be going to the grocery store for a few items when we bump into someone we have not seen in months. Perhaps we open the mail and find a card from a loved one who is “thinking of you.” Maybe we are working in the yard and discover some flowers that have bloomed for yet another year.

Our lives can be a constant celebration of God and his beauty. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).

Look for unexpected delights today and you will certainly find them. They are all around us reminding us of God’s constant nearness and care. He loves to create new opportunities for us and to see our joy in him!

Accepting his will over ours (Friday, May 6)

People ask God for all sorts of things: healing, success, strength, happiness. Sometimes God answers our prayers in the way we want. Sometimes not. In our minds, we think there must be a reason why he helps some and not others.

After all, Jesus told us that whatever we ask in his name, he will do. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). I once heard a radio preacher say that if people did not receive whatever they asked in prayer, then they did not believe hard enough. “It’s that simple,” he added. That was his opinion and interpretation of what Jesus promised.

In a commentary on John 15, however, the Rev. Joseph Benson explains that the will of God must be first and foremost in any request. “Two things are implied in this promise: 1st, That the true disciples of Christ, who abide in him, and in whom his word abides . . . , will not ask any thing but what is proper to be done for them, and according to the will of God” and “2d [that their prayers will be granted] when and as far as God sees will be for their good: which is all they desire; for they would not wish their requests to be granted to their own hurt, the hurt of others, or God’s dishonour.”

What may seem like a paradox to us is not to God. He does what is the absolute best for us and others, but also brings honor to his kingdom. When our prayers are not answered as we had hoped, it has nothing to do with our lack of faith. Instead, it has everything to do with bringing glory to him. Our will for worldly wishes must always bow to his perfect will for heaven.

His mercies never end (Thursday, May 5)

Before you get too caught up in the world today, stop and think about all you have from heaven. You and I have God’s love, his protection, his grace. Most of all, we have his many promises that he will take care of us and sustain us.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). There is evidence, according to preacher and scholar Charles Swindoll, that the prophet Jeremiah wrote these words despite the devastation he saw throughout his city of Jerusalem. “Jeremiah walked through the streets and alleys of the Holy City and saw nothing but pain, suffering, and destruction in the wake of the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC.” The entire book is a series of laments over what has happened.

Swindoll adds that, “Like the book of Job, Lamentations pictures a man of God puzzling over the results of evil and suffering in the world.” Sounds like many of us in this modern age, doesn’t it? We wonder why wickedness seems to surround us and we question why there is so much misery everywhere we look.

We do not know the answer. Similar to Jeremiah, however, we do know God’s love never ceases and his mercies never end. His grace is brand new every morning and his faithfulness toward us endures. All of these gifts from heaven are constant, despite what we are dealing with at this moment, because they come from a God who is infinite. All the finite problems of the world will come to an end someday, but God will still be there.

Perfecting our faith (Wednesday, May 4)

We cannot afford to be confident or smug in knowing we are justified by faith. The reason is that, most of the time, our faith is not all it should be. We go through periods of doubt and fear, uncertainty and hesitation.

Thankfully, the level of our faith does not determine whether we are justified or not. Jesus said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed then we could move mountains; nothing will be impossible. Even a little bit of faith, no larger than a grain, makes us acceptable in his eyes. Still, we need to keep strengthening and developing our faith.

Each tiny step takes us a little closer to believing in him – to trusting him. It is a gradual process, much like climbing a mountain. St. Paul wrote that our suffering produces perseverance; perseverance leads to character; and character develops hope. He adds that God’s hope, not our own, does not disappoint.

Let us keep perfecting our faith as if it depends on being justified, but knowing all the while that it does not.

Near to God (Tuesday, May 3)

Do we spend enough time with God? Is it quality time or just a quick exchange of thoughts and ideas? In order for our relationship to flourish, we need to make sure we have deep and sincere conversations—ones that will last and carry us through difficult times.

The relationships we have with a spouse and true friends are the most valuable because we spend considerable time together. We share our joys, disappointments, successes and feelings. They know our deepest thoughts and they know ours; our minds and hearts are almost inseparable from one another.

John 15:5 talks about how near we must be to the Father: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” We need to abide with him. Literally, we must live with him and subsist in him. Nothing should be able to tear us apart or away.

The Rev. Robert Schuller, who founded the now-famous Crystal Cathedral, once said, “Tough times don't last, tough people do. ” Don’t let the tough times separate you from God or the ones you hold so dear in this life. Hang tough when it comes to love and spending time with your Father.

Learning to grow up (Monday, May 2)

Every child in Sunday School learns the story of the Israelites in the desert: God guided them and protected them day after day for 40 years, they received manna from heaven when they were hungry and drank water from a rock when they were thirsty. But the story is about more than God’s goodness and miracles. As adults, we need to see the underlying plot of these events.

In spite of all God had already done for the Israelites – setting them free from bondage in Egypt – the people complained and questioned whether God was truly watching over them. They grumbled about being thirsty, being hungry, being weary of wandering. At one point, the people even accused Moses of trying to kill them: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” What had happened to these people, God’s chosen, who once were overjoyed with gratitude and praise to the Lord?

They did not remember God’s goodness. Even though they were now free, they forgot what God had done and the promises he made to them. How many times were they hungry, thirsty and tired when they were slaves? Now, suddenly, they thought God was going to let them die in the desert. We easily see their foolishness and lack of faith. But how often do we act and think the same way? Time after time, through all of our years, God is there helping us. Yet, when we face another difficult situation, we think God has unexpectedly abandoned us.

It is time that we grow up. We are no longer children. As adults, let us remember the real message of this story. The theme is about more than God performing miracles. Rather, it is about God being true to his word and people who lost faith.

Worry (Sunday, May 1)

What are you anxious about today? Is it work, a hectic schedule, money, the future, an illness that will not go away? God tells us not to be anxious in anything. For most of us that is far easier said than done. Our human nature is to worry and fret.

God knows we can rise above the many things troubling us. He created us and he also created a way for us to overcome adversity. He would not have told us as much if it were not so. We do have the ability not to allow anything to beset us, but the power comes from God himself.

Our success in these matters lies in whether we trust him. How much are we willing to let him control? The level of our anxiety goes up or down in direct proportion to the amount of faith we possess.

The more we give to him the less we have to carry for ourselves. No load is too great for God, even though it is too much for us. We were never meant to labor with his burdens. He is always willing to bear ours, though. If we are able to give them up, our anxiety will go down.

Being thankful (Saturday, April 30)

How often do we take the time to consider all we have been given, and to give thanks for our blessings? Look at everything we own, all the people who love us, the money we possess, where we live and the opportunities that await us. Even though our lives are far from perfect, we can experience a sense of peace and contentment that the world will never understand.

Because of who we are in Christ, we can celebrate each new day with gladness. We see things we never noticed before. We hear sounds that startle us. We think of sweet memories from the past. We realize, with a certain surprise, what our lives are all about. If only for a moment, we are able to grasp a little of what we will have in eternity.

What can make this day so different is our attitude and perspective. God has not changed at all; he is still the same. But, for the first time in a long while, maybe we have changed. We wake up feeling good, refreshed, and we suddenly are filled with enthusiasm. We look forward to what will happen to today, whether it is planned or not.

The hours are before us. They are a gift from God to us. How we live today depends on how much we are truly thankful to him.

You are his missionary (Friday, April 29)

Have you ever thought of yourself as a missionary? Not someone who travels to distant lands. But one who stays at home, works in the community and spreads the gospel throughout the neighborhood.

All of us are missionaries for the kingdom. We are on a daily mission to tell people about Jesus. We must let them know what his life was all about and why he died on the cross. Most especially, we need to explain the amazing gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a missionary is “a person undertaking a mission and especially a religious mission.” Part of the promise we made when we accepted Jesus into our lives was to be his disciple. We agreed to take the good news with us wherever we go, whether near or far.

Make it your ambition today to talk to at least one individual and let that person know about Jesus. Describe what Jesus did 2,000 years ago as well as what he is doing right now through the Holy Spirit. Let Jesus work through you as you bring another follower into the fold. Be a missionary for him and do as he commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

The amazing way he made you! (Thursday, April 28)

All of us have an internal time clock. Whether we use it is another story. Perhaps we rely so much on technology to tell us the time that we never use our own sense of timekeeping. Most people are surprisingly good at knowing the time. I can usually estimate the time within five to ten minutes, but I have been practicing for years.

We are amazing creatures. God created us to do all sorts of wondrous things. Unfortunately, we limit ourselves because of our own perspective and knowledge as finite beings. For example, we can usually tell when someone is ill or having difficulty. We also know the right decision to make in almost every situation. And, we understand the dangers of going down the wrong path, literally and figuratively. Even so, we hesitate to act on our God-given instincts. Instead, we do what seems most logical to our way of thinking.

The hard and honest truth is we often trust ourselves more than we trust what God is trying to tell us at times. We need to throw our human reason aside and start using what we already possess. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” says Proverbs 3:5, “and lean not on your own understanding.”

Trust means believing what we cannot see; not seeing what we believe. Take a leap of faith today. You’ll be surprised at how well you do and what you can accomplish—all because of God and the amazing way he made you!

Your money and your peace (Wednesday, April 27)

Each day we receive tons of junk mail by regular mail and email. Most of it is for things we do not want or need. Yet, it still keeps coming. We would be wasting our time to try to stop all of advertisements from ever reaching us. About all we can do is to throw it away or delete it and move on.

One time I thought we could save money by changing cable providers. A flyer we received offered television, Internet and phone service for half the price we were paying. I called the company and spent the next 45 minutes getting details. Turns out the price was the same once we added up all of the equipment, fees, surcharges and services.

In my zeal to save money, I actually wasted time and energy. I also became extremely agitated by all of the questions I had to answer before I could get a quote. The saying is true: “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.”

The truth is the world will always try to deceive us with spectacular sales and deals. Car dealers, cable companies, stores, restaurants, etc., all attempt to entice us with great opportunities and huge discounts. We can never go wrong, however, when we put our faith and trust in the promises of heaven. Remember what Jesus said? "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Be careful as you make choices today. Make sure you use the wisdom God gave you so you will not be deceived by the world. Don’t let anyone or anything steal your money or your peace.

The rich colors of God’s light (Tuesday, April 26)

Stained glass windows are some of the most beautiful creations on earth. They take light from the outside and flood the interiors of churches and basilicas with dazzling colors. The most well-known cathedrals are La Sainte Chappelle, Chartres, Notre Dame, Salisbury, Kings Chapel and La Sagrada Familia. The huge stained glass windows of these structures transform the sunshine and make it come alive, almost bursting forth with the very spirit of God himself.

Perhaps you have been in one or more of these magnificent buildings and experienced for yourself the wonder of how the myriad of colors play upon each object. When the sun is bright the windows glow with an array of light that dazzles the mind and eye. It is almost too much to take in at one time. On other occasions, when the sun is obscured by the clouds, the windows are dark and dreary.

When God’s light is not beaming through us, we are the same way. We appear dim and subdued. There is no brilliance or brightness—nothing to show forth the many rich and colorful facets of God’s splendor.

Jesus says to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In other words, when we shine then God shines, and our lives will glorify the creator of all light.

Staying afloat (Monday, April 25)

Our lives ebb and flow like the waves in the ocean. The movement is constant, but not always predictable. We go from one experience to another on our journey through the days and weeks. The secret to remain above the stormy seas that threaten to take us under.

We must understand how to navigate and plot our course. The captain of a ship needs to know how to sail in both calm and turbulent conditions. He must always be on guard for he knows not when the wind or current will push the vessel in one direction or another.

We, too, can easily be pushed off course and pulled into rough seas. There is no reason to panic. God will keep us safe above the turmoil of life and take us to still waters.

The next time you encounter a trial remember that such experiences are all a part of life. We will face good times and tough times on our voyage. In each condition, though, God is there. As long as we set our heading on him nothing can overwhelm us.

Walk with God (Sunday, April 24)

We do not know all that will happen today. Yes, we know that we will go to church and perhaps do a few other things we have planned. But, for the most part, today is a mystery.

What a comfort it is to know God will be with us each second. He will go before us, blessing the path he has chosen. His strength and protection will sustain us. No matter what we encounter, God is able to turn it around and use it for our good.

“Trust in the Lord,” wrote David. “Have faith, do not despair. Trust in the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). If all of our faith, trust, hope, confidence and reliance is focused on him, we will not be caught off guard by despair or distress.

Do not let the hardships of ordinary life beset you today. Nothing can harm you or even wound you as long as you are walking with God.

Actively serving him (Saturday, April 23)

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus makes a point about keeping busy. We must constantly look for ways to serve him; we are not to remain idle in the kingdom.

Jesus explained that on the judgment day, when the King separates the righteous from the unrighteous, what will matter most is what we did. He will say to the sheep on his right, Jesus said, “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (Matthew 25:35-37).

In essence, whatever we do for the least of these people in the name of Jesus, we have done for him. We gave him something to eat. We gave him something to drink. We invited him in to our house. We clothed him. We cared for him in sickness and we visited him in jail. In each example, the emphasis is on what we did—not on what we thought of doing or what we were going to do someday.

Serving Jesus means actively looking for what we can do for him. We cannot afford to wait for the opportunities to hit us in the face. Just the opposite. We must let every person see the face of Jesus in what we are doing for him right now so we receive the inheritance he has already planned for us.

The first true Earth Day (Friday, April 22)

This is Earth Day, an international day to recognize and care for the planet. All around the world, events have been planned to improve and sustain our natural resources. Earth Day began in 1970, but the first true Earth Day was many thousands of years ago when God created the world out of nothing.

Genesis 1 tells us that God first “created the heavens and the earth.” Then he created light out of the darkness. Next, he created dry land from the waters of the deep. On the third day came plants and trees. He made the sun, the moon and the stars of the universe. He filled the sea and land with creatures of all kinds, and finally formed mankind out of the dust of the ground.

God’s words back then speak even louder to us now: "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Sometimes we forget our responsibility to take care of this planet; we take our resources and nature for granted. Let us take the time, especially on this particular day, to realize what the Lord has given us. He has entrusted an entire world to us. May we value this precious gift and take care of it as we should.

Do we have a right to get angry? (Thursday, April 21)

Anger is a natural human emotion. It’s what we do with our anger that gets us into trouble. Besides, if we think about it rationally, we will realize getting mad does not do anything except make us feel even worse.

The apostle James wrote that, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

This morning I woke up to discover we were out of coffee. My first reaction was to get mad at my wife for not buying more. Suddenly, it occurred to me that blaming her or being upset would not solve the problem. We would still be out of coffee.

We all need to be “slow to speak and slow to become angry” as James says. The alternative is to make matters worse and to act contrary to “the righteousness that God desires.” Our reaction to annoying situations shows the world whether we please God or disappoint him.

His wholeness in our brokenness (Wednesday, April 20)

We are reminded in Psalm 51:17 of our frailty as human beings: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” Most of us make numerous “sacrifices” to the Lord each week. We see and experience all kinds of things that tear us apart. Our heart breaks over and over again because of illness, poverty, hate, divorce, hunger and, sometimes, death.

It grieves God to see us in distress. He suffers when we suffer. We are, after all, made in his image: with the likeness of his emotions and nature. As a result, the anguish we go through at times is both felt and shared by God. Like a father, he wants to help us, to relieve our sorrow. That is precisely why God experiences inexpressible joy at mending our hearts and hurts. There is no time we require him more than when we feel crushed and alone. Taking our broken spirit to God is, in effect, sacrificing our life to him. We offer up our shattered lives, the ashes of our despair, so we can be healed.

Lovingly and tenderly, the Lord receives our bodily sacrifice. He touches our spirit with his compassion so it is whole once more. In spite of our human brokenness, we are able to become complete through his divine love.

Turn on the sign; this church is open! (Tuesday, April 19)

Many stores and restaurants throughout the country have small neon signs that light up. They tell people whether the business is open. Without the signs, people might drive by and never stop.

It might be silly, but maybe we should hang an open sign near the front doors of our churches. We might be surprised at the response. If nothing else, people who pass by would at least think of where they should be on Sunday morning—as opposed to golfing, fishing, shopping, etc.

Unfortunately, most churches look the same during the week. There may be more cars in the parking lot or lights on inside from time to time, but little else seems different to passersby.

I recall a pastor who once asked the leaders of his church the following question: “If our church wasn’t here, would it make any difference to the people in the neighborhood?” Something to think about. How would your church leaders answer? Perhaps a lighted open sign is not such a bad idea after all.

Taking life step by step (Monday, April 18)

When things are out of control, we need to let them go. The worst approach we can take is to try to solve everything all at once. Even Jesus, with all of his divine power and wisdom, did not allow himself to be distracted by the needs of all he met all at once. He focused on one person at a time, one healing at a time, one situation at a time and one lesson at a time.

Many of us, though, have the false notion that we can perform multiple tasks simultaneously. To compound our problem, we think of a dozen other chores and responsibilities while we are still in the middle of one project. Our minds never seem to be quiet or still; we are always moving on to the next item on our schedule.

The key to enjoying the peace that Jesus came to give us is in following his example. We must be wholly present in each moment. When we are in church to worship, let us be completely involved in worship. When we are praying, let us be completely involved in praying. When we are reading the Bible, let us be completely involved in reading. When we are helping a friend, let us be completely involved in helping.

We must learn how to be consumed by the moment, to be so caught up in what we are doing for God that nothing else matters. All of the other things that come into our minds may seem important, but all they do is distract us from what should be our main purpose in life.

What are you willing to invest? (Sunday, April 17)

In the parable of the talents, we discover the secret of how to live. We are to invest our life for God. In the end, what we return to him from our service matters both to him and to us.

The story that Jesus tells is about more than money. It is a metaphor for our entire purpose here on earth. How we spend our time is the key. Are we like the first servant who was given five talents? When the master came home, the worker returned five talents more. Or are we like the second servant who received two talents and gave back two more? Maybe we are similar to the third servant who buried the one talent to keep it safe.

The first two servants pleased the master because they returned much more than they had been given. But the owner rebuked the third servant because he had done nothing with the money; he had not even put the one talent in the bank to earn interest.

Are we able to say today, with complete assurance, that we are investing our lives in ways that will produce the most for our master? God expects us to do more with our time and talents than to keep them safe. He is looking for our highest and best service.

Too much too fast (Saturday, April 16)

Rather than gradually easing into our day, many of us try to get everything done in the first hour we are awake. We forget that we have the next 15 hours or so to accomplish everything on our list.

I am amazed at all my wife can do even before I finish my second cup of coffee. She feeds the cat, has breakfast, looks at the paper, lets out the two dogs, watches the news on television, checks her Facebook account, cleans the kitchen, gets dressed and answers her text messages. I get tired just watching her. Often, though, I am guilty of the same routine, especially when I have a large project I want to do that day.

Jesus probably began his day much differently. No doubt he started with prayer and not just for a few minutes. He may have spent considerable time talking with his father. Then he prepared his apostles for what they were going to do and see that day. Finally, they had breakfast and headed into town.

May you and I slow down this morning. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Keep in mind that we can only rejoice and be glad if we pause to remember what we have been given by God—not what we want to do for ourselves.

When we try to help, but fail (Friday, April 15)

When was the last time you gave solid, sound advice to someone only to discover that the person did not listen? There are few things more frustrating than dealing with those who have a mind of their own. Understanding their way of thinking is exasperating.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt as they tried to tell others about Jesus and the eternal salvation he offered. They knew the truth, yet many ignored their words and warnings. Jesus realized this would happen. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words,” he said, “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).

There are times when we, too, have to shake the dust off our feet and quite literally walk away. Otherwise, we will drive ourselves crazy! We can end up wondering all sorts of things. “Why didn’t they listen?” “What didn’t they understand?” “Why couldn’t they see what would happen?”

In such situations we have to know that we did our best. We cannot blame ourselves and we are not responsible for the decisions or choices people make. All we can do is to pray for them, asking God to intervene and give them yet another chance. We may not be able to get through to people, but he can.

Lasting treasure (Thursday, April 14)

We are physical beings in a very physical universe. All around us, tangible property—money, cars, clothes, houses, stocks, boats, pools, home theater systems, jewelry, motorcycles, vacation homes—dominates the cultural landscape. People acquire more as they earn more. Our society goes round and round each day, buying more and accumulating greater wealth.

Jesus warned about being deceived by the world’s many treasures. After 2,000 years, people still are not listening to his words: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

There is nothing wrong with owning a house. The problem begins when the house is three times as large and expensive as what we need. Owning a car is fine, but buying dozens of antique vehicles to admire their beauty is another matter. Having a television is okay, too, but do we really need a $10,000 home theater system? Jesus was deeply concerned that such objects could easily capture all of our time and attention. As a result, we would be distracted from the true meaning of life: the spiritual treasures of heaven. that can never be destroyed.

Money, houses, cars, etc. can be destroyed or stolen. The possessions of this world do not last. But the spiritual virtues we cultivate are stored up in heaven for all eternity; they will never rust, be destroyed or taken away. Thinking more about the lasting treasures of the spirit, and less about the transient things of life, will give us a right and proper perspective. We need to be able to place our hearts and lives in the treasure house of God’s kingdom.

Not to worry (Wednesday, April 13)

What are you anxious about today? Is it work, a hectic schedule, money, the future, an illness that will not go away? God tells us not to be anxious in anything. For most of us that is far easier said than done. Our human nature is to worry and fret.

God knows we can rise above the many things troubling us. He created us and he also created a way for us to overcome adversity. He would not have told us as much if it were not so. We do have the ability not to allow anything to beset us, but the power comes from God himself.

Our success in these matters lies in whether we trust him. How much are we willing to let him control? The level of our anxiety goes up or down in direct proportion to the amount of faith we possess.

The more we give to him the less we have to carry for ourselves. No load is too great for God, even though it is too much for us. We were never meant to labor with his burdens. He is always willing to bear ours, though. If we are able to give them up, our anxiety will go down.

Ask for help (Tuesday, April 12)

When was the last time you asked for help? Perhaps you needed help on a project at work, repairing something at home or simply asking someone for advice. Most of us usually think we can get by on our own. Men are a perfect example; they almost never stop to ask for directions. They would sooner drive around for hours and miles than to seek help.

Sometimes we forget that Jesus asked for help. Even he did not try to save the world on his own. He called 12 special persons to help him spread the good news of salvation. In addition, he had dozens of other followers who gladly took the message far and wide.

As you go through this day, try to recall the many individuals in the Bible who had a person or persons helping them. Names such as Moses and Paul should immediately come to mind. But there are many, many others.

We should never be afraid to ask for help. After all, we ask God for help all of the time. Why, then, should we hesitate to ask our sisters and brothers in Christ?

You are a new creature with a new life (Monday, April 11)

Paul looked the same. He appeared no different than before. Yet, what happened on the road to Damascus changed him forever. He was radically transformed in his heart and mind.

After the experience, it is thought that Paul returned to his home town for the next several years. According to scholars, he probably spent the time studying the Torah and learning more about Jesus’ life as well as his teachings. But how about the many people who knew Paul? Did they see the Paul who persecuted Christians or the reborn man he was now? Chances are they viewed him as the same old Paul.

How do people see you? Do they see the person of 20, 30 or 40 years ago or do they see what you have become now? All of us change with time. I look back on what I was like in 1976, for example. I was young, naïve, bold and aggressive. It’s a wonder someone did not put me in my place. The past four decades have mellowed and softened me considerably. Still, I know if I encountered those from my past they would see me as the same old, obnoxious kid. They would not be able detect the inner changes, at least not right away.

Paul was radically different after his encounter with God. He went from tracking down people to telling them about God’s kingdom. In fact, he was so committed to his new way of living that he wrote one letter after another to encourage his fellow believers. These same writings now account for two-thirds of the New Testament.

When God changed you, he went all of the way. You may not look any different, but inside you will never be the same because you “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23). Like Paul, you are a new creature with a new life no matter what you did in the past. 

Make a name for Jesus (Sunday, April 10)

There are good, honest people everywhere who want to make a name for themselves. They long to be known for the work they do, the possessions they own, the places they visit, the education they have and so on.

I chuckle each time I go to a physician and the individual walks into the room saying, “Hi, I’m Dr. Jones.” I smile and reply, “Hi, I’m Dr. Swaffield. PhD, not MD. I work with the mind.”

My degree and knowledge are not about making a name for myself. In fact, very few of my relatives even know I have a doctorate. I imagine how surprised they will be someday when they find out. I hope my life is really about making a name for Jesus. I want him to have all of the glory and honor. He made me what I am; my life should be a reflection—as well as an example—of who he is.

Maybe it is time for us to remember again who we are and whose we are. Let’s make a name for Jesus rather than a name for ourselves. His is the name above all names!

What we see (Saturday, April 9)

Our vision for the future is much different than God’s. We tend to think in terms of tangible things. God does not. He focuses on what we will do for the kingdom, not on what we will do for ourselves. When we set our sights on the days ahead, we generally see only the physical. But his vision goes beyond this life. He can see clear into eternity.

What most often prevents us, blinds us if you will, from the great future God is taking us to is our lack of trust. We believe in God but we do not completely believe him to bring us to a place of peace and happiness. Each day, we struggle with doubts about what lies ahead. Maybe we even wonder about our purpose, value and worth. All the while we forget that God has, indeed, begun a good work in us and he will bring it to completion – his conclusion. We will achieve what he wants us to achieve. Nothing less.

Therefore, nothing in the world can stop us from what God has planned for our lives. What people say about us does not matter. What others do to us is of no account. What we have lost in the past is of no value. What we are going through right now, as difficult as it might be, will not stop God from fulfilling his will in us and for us.

If we try to catch sight of the future in terms of what little we know and think, we most certainly will come up short. If, however, we contemplate all that God can do, our eyes will begin to see infinite possibilities. He is above all and he is showing us the way there. He will see to it that nothing gets in the way.

A charmed life vs. a divine life (Friday, April 8)

Some people seem to live charmed lives. They have money, friends and good fortune. Rarely, if ever, do they encounter difficulty or hardship. Instead, they always seem to prosper.

The phrase, “a charmed life,” comes from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth written in 1605. Few of us today would say we lead a charmed life, at least not in the earthly sense. We do, however, have a charmed life because we belong to God.

He has chosen us as his own. He has created us and he loves us. Daily he protects us from harm and guides us on our journey. No, our lives are not perfect. We suffer sickness, disease and misfortune of all kinds. Our Father does not always stop tribulations from attacking us, but he does give us a way to go through them. And, he is with us each second as we struggle.

There is nothing magical or lucky about our lives. As Christians, we have something much better. We have miraculous lives that are full of grace and favor from God. David wrote that, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15). I will take the Lord’s divine life over the world’s charmed life any day. His way is certain while the other depends on chance.

Follow the Golden Rule (Thursday, April 7)

All of us want to change—to be better than before and not to take things personally. Try as we might, though, we still get mad when someone hurts our feelings. We still become angry when we are ignored, and we still are offended when others do not accept our advice.

We are human and our emotions usually get the better of us. More often than not, we tend to fight back or make excuses. We might even play the blame game and make others responsible for the problem.

It is easy to forget the two things we are supposed to do each day of our lives. “Love each other,” Jesus said (John 13:34). “Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” He also reminded us not to be critical. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Always remember the Golden Rule and you will always act the right way. May you “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Fresh energies from God (Wednesday, April 6)

The elderly woman thanked each person for holding the doors. She walked slowly but resolutely, using a cane, as she left the Mexican restaurant. Apologizing for not going faster, she explained she was 102 years old and her knees weren’t what they used to be.

How amazing! This remarkable lady was not allowing her physical condition to diminish her character or attitude. Not in the least. Her desire and motivation, her true spirit, was much more powerful than her body. “That is why we never give up,” wrote St. Paul. “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Charles John Ellicott said in his commentary on the Bible that, “The ‘outward man,’ the material framework of the body, is undergoing a gradual process of decay, but the ‘inward man,’ the higher spiritual life, is ‘day by day’ passing through successive stages of renewal, gaining fresh energies.”

No matter what your age, you are actually getting stronger. This divine truth is one of the many ironies of life here on earth; it is a paradox no human can explain. So, today, take heart. Know that you are being renewed minute by minute, “gaining fresh energies” from God, even though the world says you are growing weaker.

How he brings us closer (Tuesday, April 5)

The apostle James wrote that we should count it all joy when we encounter trails and difficulties. Before we take his message too literally, and think his words are nonsense, we need to understand precisely what he is saying. He is not telling us to be happy and full of delight when we are suffering. Which one of us would ever be glad that we are in misery? Physical pain and mental anguish hurt. Only a fool would welcome such things.

James is speaking about joy on a spiritual level. Because we have our faith in God – and trust what he is allowing us to experience – we can enjoy peace during times of great trial or heartache. The reason is because we know God is perfecting us, making us stronger and more mature in him. He is showing us how to depend on him rather than on ourselves. That is what this molding and perfecting are all about.

Day by day, year by year, God is transforming into the mature child he created us to be. We can never reach our full potential without being tried in one way or another. Trials show us who and what we are. Through difficult situations, God is allowing us to see our strengths and weaknesses. Over and over again he gives us a chance to change and improve.

A test is never easy, but it is the only way we can become more like Jesus. The next time you and I are tempted to cry out to God and complain “why me,” we need to remember what is really going on. God is bringing us closer to him. His very hand is moving us forward, in spite of the circumstance. Our hearts and minds can rest in his assurance and protection, even when we feel overcome by our own physical feelings. This matter is a spiritual one. When we realize that, nothing else will matter.

From hopeless to hopeful (Monday, April 4)

In all situations, God is our hope – our only hope. We should turn to him first, not as a last resort when all else has failed. Too often, though, we try to take care of ourselves. We wrestle with illness, relationships, finances, careers, attitudes and thoughts. As we reach the end of our human ability to conquer a particular problem, we suddenly realize that we cannot help ourselves. Then and only then do we go to God in prayer.

We are very much like children. We want to be independent, to do things ourselves. We think we are big enough to tackle any problem and we do not want anyone to help us. Perhaps we feel it would be a sign of weakness. Maybe we don’t want to bother someone else with our problems. Quite possibly, we cannot bring ourselves to feeling vulnerable, somehow less capable and competent than those around us.

Whatever the reason, we need to get into the habit of going to God first and to ourselves second. As we take our cares and difficulties to God, we will find his comfort and peace as we continue along the journey. Our way may not be easy, but it can be made easier with God. “Be of good courage,” says Psalm 31:24, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” We will only experience the strength we need if we are willing to put all of our hope in God.

Realizing our hopeless state allows us to become hopeful in him.

A psalm of praise (Sunday, April 3)

Dear Lord, today give me a heart for gladness, not for sadness; give me hands for helping, not for hurting; give me eyes for visions, not for desires; give me feet for following, not for falling; give me thoughts for atonement, not for avenging.

My whole life depends on what you do for me, not on what I do for you. I know that I cannot do anything on my own. You are my constant source and resource of strength and hope. If you were not there to help me, I would certainly fail.

You show mercy to me even when I forget you, even when I take you for granted, even when I deliberately turn away and ignore your guidance. Each time I stumble, you pick me up and mend me. You even forgive my ways and forget my sins.

How great is your patience with me. How amazing is your love. How incredible that you protect me all the days of my life. Use me as your creation to bring glory and honor to your name. Show the world that I am nothing in myself but everything in you.

Pure grace
(Saturday, April 2)

The real greatness of God is seen in all that he has done for us, not for himself. He formed an enormous world out of nothing. He created every living creature. He came to earth in the form of a child. He works daily through the Holy Spirit. All of these things are completely and totally for us.

We do not truly comprehend God’s care and devotion. If we did, we would willingly give up everything to serve him. We would offer our lives in the same way he has offered himself to us. We would do anything or go anywhere he asks. We would gladly allow ourselves to be broken for his sake rather than to be made whole for the world.

We must constantly remind ourselves of all that God has done for us. Our lives, and everything we will ever do, are the result of his humility and grace. He blesses and loves us even though we do not deserve it. All he asks in return is to let him do more for us.

Your day
(Friday, April 1)

We need to learn how to live by the courage that is in our hearts rather than by the doubt that is in our minds. Simple faith in God can overcome any fear or uncertainty we have in our head. With God, all things are possible, even what we cannot now see or fathom.

What person is able to realize what God can do in a lifetime? How often, perhaps many times each day, are we kept from harm or sickness? How constant his protection has been, though we did not see or feel him present. During those times when we thought we were alone, he was all around us. His invisible hand surrounded us like a glove. His love kept us safe and secure.

Although everything in our lives has not turned out the way we would like, we can take comfort in knowing (and believing) that all has been according to God’s plan. On those occasions when we experienced pain, frustration, the loss of a job or promotion, rejection and disappointment, he was there with us. Despite the darkness, he has never left us in the dark. More important, he has never forsaken us.

As we live this day, Friday, April 1, 2016, we do not live it alone. Long before our birth, God had this time planned. What the hours ahead of us hold we do not know. But we should know, both in our heart and head, God will be with us each minute.

Anticipating what will come
(Thursday, March 31)

“You’re wearing shorts today,” my wife exclaimed. “It’s 30 degrees outside!” I was quick to reply: “I’m getting ready for later today when it will be almost 70.”

I suddenly realized what I had done could be a great example for how we should live. Too often we live by what is happening at the moment rather than preparing ourselves for what lies ahead. We do not see beyond the here and now to a time when events and situations will change.

Solomon once wrote, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). In other words, we should trust that God has great plans for us no matter where we are right now. With each step he takes us higher and closer to him. He also gives us greater responsibility to serve him.

We have to have faith in his future for us. We must meditate on where he will lead us in the days ahead. Like putting on shorts when it was cold outside, I was getting ready for much warmer temperatures. Are you ready for the opportunities and blessings God has waiting for you? Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).

A true friend
(Wednesday, March 30)

The words of the great hymn remind us of his friendship: “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear; What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” No matter what we are going through right now, Jesus bears the load with us. In fact, he will carry all of our burdens if we will turn them over to him.

Like a true friend, he longs to help. But most of the time we are not willing to trust him: “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear; All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Perhaps one of the reasons why we doubt Jesus is because, as his friend, we have let him down often. We have failed him when we should have served him. We have ignored him when we should have followed him. We have even sinned against him when we should have known better. In short, we have been less than a real friend to him.

Still, in the midst of it all, Jesus remains true. He loves us in spite of ourselves. Day after day, his love is the same for us. We can count on him. “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.” He is waiting to hear from you and to help you right now.

Do you believe science or God?
(Tuesday, March 29)

The world is full of theories that try to disprove the miracles of God as well as his existence. One is that Moses never parted the Red Sea; instead, a fierce wind blew back the water at a shallow point and the Israelites simply walked across. Another theory is that God never caused a flood; rather, a meteorite fell into the sea, raising the water level everywhere on earth. Still another theory is that Jesus was a prophet like all the others in the Old Testament; not the Son of God. Finally, the most popular of all is that the universe was created by a “big bang” and humans evolved as opposed to being created by an omnipotent God.

Science attempts to explain what makes sense to us. The Bible, on the other hand, tells us what is beyond our logic; it describes the incomprehensible power of God. Oddly enough, both positions require faith. Either we put our faith in human beings or we put our faith in God.

To my way of thinking, much more faith is needed when it comes to believing in science than in the Bible. First, how could the Red Sea have gone down at precisely the moment when the Israelites were fleeing from the Egyptians? Second, how could a meteorite have fallen just when Noah finished building the ark? Third, how could a prophet rise from the dead on his own? Fourth, how could this complex world with its diverse array of living things, especially human beings, evolve by happenstance?

In his supreme wisdom, God knew we would be confused and baffled by what we see and think. Therefore, he told us centuries ago, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). That is the only evidence I need about everything—past, present and future. What about you?

In his footsteps
(Monday, March 28)

What a range of emotions—from the sadness of Good Friday to the joy of Resurrection Sunday! From death to life in three short days.

How quickly the darkness of death turned into the light of eternity. Suddenly all of the grief was gone. Not just for a day but forever.

On earth, though, it was not over. Jesus came back and spent the next 40 days with his disciples. Our minds do not have to wander far to imagine what he did. Luke tells us, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” John adds that, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to live in our lives today. He opens our minds and allows us to see what the world cannot. Most of all, he teaches us more about the kingdom so we, too, may follow in his footsteps and tell others what he did for everyone.

The tomb was empty!
(Sunday, March 27)

The writer was there himself and witnessed what happened. “Early on the first day of the week,” he says. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him’” (John 20:1-2).

Immediately, Peter and John ran to the tomb! All they saw were “strips of linen” and “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.”  Did someone steal the body? If so, where was it? Maybe Jesus was alive after all? The gospel, however, is quick to add that, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

Today we have the full story from beginning to end to the resurrection. We do not have to wonder. We know what he promised is true. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4).

Yes, we know without a doubt. That makes all the difference as we celebrate Easter on this miraculous morning. He is risen, indeed!

He proved the scriptures
(Saturday, March 26)

Imagine what the disciples were thinking today. Jesus is dead. Their friend and master of three years is gone. For the first time since he chose them, he is not there to lead and teach. They are on their own. Where do they go from here?

So many questions and so much confusion. We can relate to their feelings and thoughts by remembering how we have felt when a loved one has left us. Our minds and hearts are full of sadness and sorrow. While we may be happy that she or he is now in heaven, we grieve for ourselves and wonder what we will do now—how the future will be different without this special person.

No doubt the disciples talked and argued among themselves, trying to untangle what Jesus said to them just two nights earlier during the Last Supper: “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (John 16:17). “Because I am going to the Father.”

Even for us living today, we wonder what Jesus was doing between his death and his resurrection. Where was he and why did he stay away so long, not rising again until the third day? Why did he not come back right away? One day we will know the answers. For the time being, we know all we need to know. Jesus rose from the dead and conquered the grave, just as the scriptures said all along.

Love and forgiveness (Friday, March 25)

For six agonizing hours Jesus hung on the cross. The crowds and soldiers laughed at him and mocked him. They taunted him with their insults. Many no doubt yelled at him: “If you are the King, then save yourself!” All the while he remained silent despite the intense suffering and pain.

Instead of cursing them, he prayed. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they doing” (Luke 23:24). Even in the face of death Jesus showed what he meant when he said to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Love and forgiveness have no boundaries or limits. It should not matter if we are having a bad day, if we don’t feel well or if we are tired. We must love and forgive whether we want to or not. We must love and forgive those who offend us, those who oppose us and those who want to harm us. We must even love and forgive those who are selfish and self-absorbed. There are no excuses for our hatred and anger.

This day, Good Friday, is all about love and forgiveness. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). May we show the same kind of mercy and grace to others as God has shown to us. Not just today, but every day.

“Come, follow me”
(Thursday, March 24)

Simon and his brother Andrew were busy fishing by the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, they heard someone call to them. It was Jesus. He was standing on the shore. “Come, follow me,” he said. With these three simple words, they dropped their nets and went with him.

Could the two men have had any idea where Jesus was going and where this strange invitation would lead them? Did they think this journey would last for three years and then for the rest of their lives? They could not have even guessed that God had chosen them to witness the greatest event in the universe. Simon and Andrew were plain fishermen who would never be the same again.

So the story goes, repeated over and over again millions of times throughout the past 2,000 years. Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” People instantly drop what they are doing and go with him. When I heard Jesus call to me at the age of 15 during a Youth For Christ rally in Cleveland, Ohio, I never imagined he would take me to where I am today. I have reached this point only because I have followed him. Where I would have gone on my own is hard to say, but I know it would have been the wrong way.

Think of where you were and what you doing when Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” Those three words have made all the difference in both your life and mine. May we never forget the day he chose us to follow him and for all he has done through the years.

A word of prayer (Wednesday, March 23)

We should constantly acknowledge God’s sovereignty and control. Yet, we often accept God’s authority as only a last resort – almost as if everything else we have tried has failed. How many times have we heard someone say, “I guess all I can do is pray.” Turning to God in each situation needs to be the first thing we do. Not the last.

In what is believed to be his very first written epistle, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians telling them to pray without ceasing. He knew that prayer had to be the very core of our faith and belief. Our lives are formed by prayer and out of prayer we become God’s obedient servants. The more we rely on prayer, the more we realize why God wants us to depend on him each minute.

Contrary to our way of thinking, prayer is not a magic formula for getting our way. We should not expect to take our wants or wishes to God for his blessing and approval. God does not always give us what we ask. Prayer is a chance for us to bring ourselves in line with his divine will. Not for us to convince God to see things our way.

We need to be honest with God when we pray. We should confess that we want him to grant our petitions and, at the same time, admit he knows what is best. We have to give him room to work in our lives, to show us greater things than we can imagine. Going to God in prayer means we are willing to trust him even when we do not understand. Even when we do not agree. Even when we hurt.

Even if we do not receive what we hope for, we will always receive Our Father’s comfort and peace.

Think on this (Tuesday, March 22)

My hope today is that the Lord will help me to be “here” and not someplace else. Like most people, my thoughts wander everywhere at almost every moment of the day. I might be driving down the street, for instance, and I am thinking about what I will do tomorrow. Or I could be wondering about what a particular person said to me yesterday, especially if it happened to be a disturbing or critical comment.

The apostle Paul told us how and what to reflect on in his letter to the Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” All of these values are positive. They bring us closer to God and keep us going in the right direction. There is no chance of us being led astray by negative thoughts.

Most of the time, we catch ourselves thinking about circumstances that really do not matter. What can I possibly gain today by pondering a remark I heard yesterday? Or how can I be effective right now if I am anticipating what may or may not happen tomorrow? When I am distracted, I get off track; I allow my thoughts to take over.

We can stay on the narrow road by meditating on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. These qualities make us more like Christ. Things like worry, anxiety, anger, regret and stubbornness make us more like the person we were before we came to Jesus. Why go backward in our lives when the Lord longs for us to move forward toward a better life?

Change (Monday, March 21)

Being open to the Lord’s will means being able to change at a moment’s notice. It requires a humble and contrite heart to admit his way is always best. We also must possess the capacity to listen carefully.

When we experience thoughts and feelings of compassion, God is trying to tell us something. All of a sudden, maybe we get an urge to help a family by taking a meal to them. Perhaps we have a thought about giving some money to the church to help with Vacation Bible School. Possibly we are in the middle of a project when the image of a certain person comes into our mind.

If you have ever followed your intuition in such cases you know that your hunch or feeling was right. More often than not, the need was welcomed with open arms and an expression of “what a coincidence.”

We have a strange way of describing what we cannot explain. Our first thought, when something extraordinary occurs, should be to remember how God works in our lives. He is present each moment, trying to show us what is best. He offers us gentle reminders as we go through every day. He knows we are not perfect and that we need his help. Whether we listen or not, and change ourselves, depends on how much of ourselves we can leave behind.

Story to be continued . . . (Palm Sunday, March 20)

“You have cataracts in both eyes,” the ophthalmologist said in a rather matter-of-fact tone. “We can do the surgery any time you are ready.” I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. It had been a difficult week already because we had to put our 16-year-old cat to sleep and our son had root canal. I was not ready for anything more, let alone operations on both eyes.

What immediately came into my head was the surgery on my left eye, the only eye with which I can read and see clearly. The other, the lazy eye, allows me to see large objects and people, but nothing more. What happens if the surgery on the good eye is not successful? I would never be able to read again. I told the doctor I would have to pray before making a decision. As I sat in my car in the parking lot, fear took over.

All the way home I wondered what to do. I recalled a devotion I had written a few days earlier—the one about Deo Volente (Latin for God willing). Now it was time for me, not someone else, to walk the walk. I realized I needed to pray “without ceasing” to find God’s will in this situation. I know he can heal, but I also know he gives us doctors with the ability to help accomplish his will.

My life, as well as yours, goes by quickly day by day. Each 24 hours is a new time with new challenges, but with the same God. He is the unchanging One who controls all and watches over all. As we seek his face, he will appear just as he has since creating the universe. For the time being, we can write “To be continued” on each one of our stories. God is not yet done working in and through us. He still has great things ahead.

Supernatural power (Saturday, March 19)

Living for Christ means learning to live with adversity. There needs to be a certain acceptance of daily difficulties and hardships. At the same time, there must be a sure knowledge of God’s sovereignty and control. Both are pivotal in the life of a Christian. One force never exists without the other. Negative circumstances will always oppose us, but God’s power shows us how to triumph.

A wise person learns early how to steer through problems and trials, just as a good sailor knows how to navigate in a strong headwind. Rather than fighting the force that comes against him, he takes advantage of it. He actually uses the energy of the opposing wind to move forward. Going back and forth at 45-degree angles, the boat captures just enough of the breeze in the sail to advance. By this process of tacking, the vessel presses ahead rather than being pushed backward.

We must realize how to do the same with our lives – how to use what comes against us to move us closer to God rather than farther away. Through suffering, Job developed a deeper understanding of God. Living in exile, Moses realized what the Lord wanted him to do with his life. In betraying Jesus, Peter discovered his true place in spreading the gospel of salvation to the world.

Tell the world about him (Friday, March 18)

The events of the crucifixion some 2,000 years ago are over. Jesus was arrested, tried, beaten and murdered. He rose again and ascended into heaven. But the story did not stop there. In fact, it was just the beginning.

Since then the good news of salvation has been handed down from generation to generation in every nation. Parents have told their children and they, in turn, have passed it on to their children. From a handful of followers who walked with Jesus to millions of believers in every age and time, the story has been told over and over again in hundreds of languages, dialects and tongues.

May we seek more opportunities during the coming days to tell the world what Easter is really all about. As modern disciples, it is our time and our turn to keep the message going to make sure others know Jesus as well as we do.  He is counting on us. 

His strength, our trust = Mighty Power (Thursday, March 17)

Will we make the most of today? Can we push ourselves to show the world what God can do working through us? Or will we try to live this day on our own?

We have amazing strength and power, if only we will use it. “Be strong in the Lord,” wrote St. Paul, “and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Certainly, Paul could not have traveled more than 10,000 miles spreading the good news on his own accord. Daniel could not have been kept safe from the lions by his own power. Joseph could not have become second in command because of his own ability.

Humanly speaking, not one of these persons was any different from us. Spiritually, though, they had learned how to rely on God’s might to accomplish great things.

Their secret was placing themselves in God’s hands, trusting him with their complete heart, mind and soul. Whatever you are facing today, you are not alone and you are not too weak. You have the power of the universe flowing through you. Take it from Paul himself: You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Rejoice in being renewed (Wednesday, March 16)

From day to day, I feel my age. I realize that I cannot do many of the things I did 10 or 20 years ago. My muscles are not as strong and vigorous. I often have the same will power, but not the same body power.

The apostle Paul wrote about the paradox of growing old but, at the same time, remaining young: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

We should not worry or fret because our bodies are becoming weaker or more frail with age. That is a fact of life that we cannot stop, no matter how hard we try. Instead, we should rejoice in knowing that our mind and spirit are being transformed each moment. Inwardly, we are always gaining strength in the Lord.

When we think about this irony, we should see what is most important to God. We value a healthy and active body, while God looks at what is inside of us – those things that are imperishable. Our desire to serve and praise him will last for all eternity. We can rejoice today because we are being renewed in ways that really count for the kingdom.

Deo Volente (Tuesday, March 15)

The pastor on the radio said when he was growing up in Glasgow he was taught to say “DV.” It is a Latin term for Deo Volente, the Lord willing. Someone might exclaim, “I will see you tomorrow,” and the proper Christian response would be “DV.” This once-popular phrase in Scotland has long since given way to the expression, “The Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Both expressions are based on Scripture. “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (James 4:14-15). It is a good thing for us to hear and remind ourselves often the Lord is in charge. He controls our rising, working, playing, laughing, crying and weeping. Sometimes we forget all about him as we go on our merry way, and we do not return to him unless we become destitute and desperate.

Now is a great time to look ahead at our plans for the day. “DV” or “The Lord willing,” we should respond. It is a way to force ourselves to look to him to make sure we are truly doing and accepting his will.

Sharing rather than saving (Monday, March 14)

There is greed in each one of us, just as there was in Judas. You may recall he was the disciple who criticized Mary for wasting expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. And, of course, he later betrayed Jesus for a bag of silver.

You might argue that you are nothing like Judas. But isn’t greed the same whether large or small? We would never sell out for Jesus, yet we might buy cheaper, store-brand canned goods because we are giving the food to a homeless shelter. For our own table we serve the better brand.

We need to be careful about classifying greed, or any other sin for that matter, by severity. Jesus told us to strive to be perfect in everything we do. In other words, going part of the way will not cut it. We are just as guilty and greedy as the person who does nothing or withholds everything.

May we remember the name of Judas each time we are called to serve. Let us share what God already has shared with us rather than storing it up for ourselves.

Being content and happy only with his will (Sunday, March 13)

God made us to do his will for our life. We have the freedom to choose. We can follow him or not. What we fail to understand at times is we will never be content unless we do what we are meant to do.

Years ago I worked for an airline. I serviced airplanes inside and out. The money and benefits were fantastic, yet I was not happy. It took me four years to realize what I was supposed to be doing to fulfill God’s will. I was meant to be teaching students instead of cleaning lavatories on planes. As soon as I made the transition and went back to college for a doctorate I knew I was in the right place.

Philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.” It makes sense that there is within us a place where God dwells because we are created from and by him. The concept is no different than having a place for our parents and grandparents deep in our hearts; we can never deny our heritage or ancestry.

The process of finding who we are in him may take years, though some know it right away. The key is to keep seeking and searching until God fills us completely with himself.

He has chosen us (Saturday, March 12)

We need to remind ourselves often who we are and why we are here. Every one of us has been separately selected by God for a divine reason. No matter what we have done, where we have been, how much we have gone through, God has a purpose for our lives.

“You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” In our difficulties and personal struggles, we might wonder what we can do that will make any difference now, let alone last into eternity. The point is we are set aside by God. We have been singled out by him. It is not up to us to judge the ways in which we can be useful or bear fruit; rather, that is up to him. All we need to know is that we have been picked by the Creator of the universe for a reason.

Many times we try to show God what we can do for him instead of letting him show us. But he already knows what we can do. That is precisely why he has chosen us. He also realizes what needs to be done. He does not require our thoughts to see the best way to handle any situation and circumstance.

Each day, through each challenge, God reaches down to guide us, protect us and help us to accomplish what he alone has ordained. The fruit we bear is up to him. What should be foremost in our heart is that we have been chosen by God for all the things we face both today and tomorrow. As we bear fruit for him, he will give us whatever we ask for his sake.

Jesus is the reason (Friday, March 11)

The children in the local elementary school have specials days. Beach day. Super hero day. Moustache day. Wild hair day. Favorite team day. Pajama day. Historic figure day. On each occasion, they come to school dressed according to the theme. The whole purpose is to make them look forward to the day.

What about us? Do we go to church each Sunday with a sense of expectancy? Not in the hope that we are going to get something, but with a feeling of joy because we have a chance to praise and worship our Lord and Savior.

We may come to church for the pastor, the sermon, the choir, the friendship or the hymns. All of these are worthy and worthwhile. Unless we put Jesus in the center of everything, though, we are missing the whole point. The worship service is not for us—so that we feel good. It’s all about Jesus. Plain and simple.

Even a child can understand why we worship. “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever” (Psalm 86:12). We should not need a special purpose or event to go to church. Jesus gave us the only reason we need.

The greatest peace at the most difficult time (Thursday, March 10)

The husband of a dear sister in Christ died recently. I sent our condolences and she wrote back: “Thank you, Dear Friends, for your warm email hug! Bill was so sick and just had no more strength to live. I tried to explain to a student this morning whose grandfather is dying. These bodies of ours aren’t intended to last forever on this earth. How we thank our Lord for making Heaven available to us! Amen?!”

It is easy for us to offer our regrets to someone. But our trust is tried and tested when it comes time for us to lose a loved one. Then the words—“he is now with the Father in Heaven”—take on new meaning. They become real and tangible, offering the greatest peace at the most difficult time in our life on earth.

Death is never easy for those who have been left behind. The physical separation seems almost more than we can bear. St. Paul points out, though, that death is not the end; it is only the beginning of eternity. "Where, O death, is your victory,” he asks rhetorically. “Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Commenting on this verse, theologian Matthew Henry said, “Death may seize a believer, but it cannot hold him in its power. How many springs of joy to the saints, and of thanksgiving to God, are opened by the death and resurrection, the sufferings and conquests of the Redeemer!” Our friend Elinor said it best: “How we thank our Lord for making Heaven available to us!”

Running to keep up (Wednesday, March 9)

The children in the neighborhood had to run to catch the school bus this morning. One after another, with their huge backpacks bouncing, they raced down the street to the corner. Once everyone was onboard the bus pulled away.

Sometimes our day begins with feeling like we are running to catch the bus as well. We get up late, have to do something extra or simply take too long in the shower. Whatever the reason, we fall behind.

We cannot plan each and every second of our day, but we can do a better job of looking ahead. Watches, clocks and cell phones can keep us on track if we pay attention to them. If we ignore them, however, we will certainly fall behind.

Our spiritual life is no different. We have to stay focused on God’s word. We need to pay attention to what he wants us to do and when he wants us to do it. He has a precise time for everything in our lives. “As for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me” (Micah 7:7). We must watch and wait and be ready; he wants us to wait for him, not for him to wait for us.

Worldly wisdom is nonsense (Tuesday, March 8)

Have you ever done something on a lark and realized years later the joke, so to speak, was on you? I took a typing class in the 10th grade because a few boys and I thought it would be funny to sign up for a class with all girls. How hard could it be, we thought; it will be an easy A.

Today, I wonder what would have happened if I had not learned how to type. My career as a journalist, writer and professor would have been extremely difficult—if not impossible all together. As a 15-year-old, I had no idea how critical that class would be for the rest of my life.

1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “But God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame.” Here I thought I was being smart by taking a silly typing class. As it turned out, I only earned a B in the course and God had the last word: every day for the past 45 years I have used my typing skills in one way or another.

The lesson, for me at least, is that God has a supernatural and mysterious plan for our lives. Sometimes there are things that seem trivial or meaningless in our eyes, but they are valuable beyond our imagination. God can even use the stupid things we do to get our attention and to help us serve him better.

Sing joyfully (Monday, March 7)

God does not come and go like the wind. No, he is always there like the sun that shines even when night comes. Though we are not able to see the light from dusk to dawn, the sun blazes brightly.

So it is with God. His spirit moves constantly across the seas and the lands. He dwells among us through his love, and he fills the earth with goodness. His glory is everywhere, from the smallest creature that is barely visible to the billions of stars that inhabit the universe.

“O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord. Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving. Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms” (Psalm 95:1-2).

As you go through this day, sing psalms of praise and thanksgiving to the one who never fails you. He is with you in both your light and darkness. You are always in his presence no matter where you are.

With you all the way (Sunday, March 6)

Run the race that is before you, wrote St. Paul. “Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Each one of us is in a separate race as we go through life. Whether we limp along or encounter frequent obstacles, all of us are struggling in one way or another. The most important part is that we keep moving forward.

We must learn to “run with patience,” as Paul says. Many things will frustrate and beset us. Sometimes we will be crippled by fear or illness; it will seem as though we are constantly climbing a hill or running into a fierce head wind. Keep going and endure whatever you are facing.

In the end, all that matters is how we finish. Jesus is waiting for us, eager to welcome us home. When he does, we will forget everything we had to undergo and go through. He, too, will put our past behind because we have completed our race. “Well done,” he will say, “you have done well. You have finished your race. I was with you each step of the way.”

Trusting what he promised (Saturday, March 5)

Little by little, God strips us of our human desires and emotions. He teaches us how to be wholly dependent on him. The process begins long before we even realize that he is refining us. Gradually, through each experience in our lives, we become more used to his ways than our own.

Occasionally, we seem to face more than we can bear. Our entire world can be shattered in seconds and we are left wondering, doubting, questioning. We do not understand what is happening. Why, at times, does God allow everything familiar and comfortable to be taken away? Even small things can have the power to leave us bereft and empty, depending on our outlook and attitude.

We must remember that God has already been at the place where we now stand. He knows how we feel and what we are thinking at this moment. Long before we felt any sorrow, pain or loss, God took on our experience. He suffered the same hurt and the same hardship. But he also created a way to carry us through.

Whenever we are weak, afraid, lost or confused, God will lift us and take us the rest of the way. He will take care of us – carry us – if we are able to release ourselves into his arms. Like a loving father, he will hold us and protect us. We only have to trust him to do what he promised years ago when we first came to him.

Spreading happiness (Friday, March 4)

Everyone in the waiting room heard about Grover. He was not going to take the silence sitting down. Clearly, he loved to talk; he engaged everyone waiting for the doctor in conversation. He was 92, worked at Goodyear Tire & Rubber for 35 years, had been married for 60 years and took care of his wife who just had an operation. Oh, and he also had diabetes.

Grover reminded me of a time gone by when people actually talked with one another and had real conversations. Nothing deep. Just a chance to share thoughts and ideas—an opportunity to know someone else a little better.

There was a joy and gladness in his voice. He seemed genuinely happy to be alive. I don’t know if he believed in God, but I suspect he did. He had an inner peace that is not possible without the Lord.

Try to be like Grover today. Take delight in wherever God takes you. Psalm 96:11-13 says, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” God will certainly bless you as you bless others.

Forsaking our sins (Thursday, March 3)

“Maybe it’s a good day just to sit and contemplate our sin,” a friend said over the phone the other morning. Was he being facetious? I wondered. He has a way of trying to be funny at times. I decided to take him seriously, at least for part of the day.

I discovered a number of sins in my life that I had purposely and conveniently overlooked. I still harbored ill feelings toward a few people who cost me my job more than 20 years ago. I got mad recently at a driver for going too slow. I was upset a certain person was not acting the way I thought he should. I was anxious about my health and I was jealous that others seemed to have more than I did. My list could easily go on and on for hours.

The point is that I began to see myself in a different light—in a not so pleasant darkness. I was not as perfect and good as I thought. Now, God does not want us to dwell on what we have done wrong, but he does want us to stop long enough to look at our faults. How else can we hope to improve and not commit the same mistakes again in the future?

It is important that we acknowledge our sins daily both to ourselves and to God. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13). May God fill you right now with his compassion and forgiveness as you release all of your sins to him.

Staying the same in any situation (Wednesday, March 2)

The huge, black garbage can was on its side and blocking the sidewalk. I went around it and continued going down the street. A few houses later, I wondered what I would have done if I saw a $100 bill on the sidewalk. I certainly would have picked it up even though it did not belong to me.

My behavior is a perfect example of situational ethics. In other words, when the situation changes I act differently: I would most certainly pick up the money but not the garbage can—even as big as it was! We make similar decisions many times each day. We will let someone out in front of us on the road if we are not in hurry, or we will stop at the store for a neighbor if we do not have to go out of our way.

How do we act toward the Lord? When the situation or circumstances change, do we change as well? Do we make it a point to buy staples for the local food bank, but only if we have extra money? Do we share our lunch with someone even though we can eat it all ourselves? Do we work overtime to get the job done despite not being paid for an extra hour or two?

God expects us to do our best with a glad and willing heart in everything we do, not just when it suits us. We should not allow situations to define us; instead, we should allow situations to let us shine. We need to show others the glory of God as he uses us to bring wholeness to the world.

Waiting for his promise (Tuesday, March 1)

We get most anything we want in practically no time at all. We can order a book online and have it delivered the next day. We can pull up to a drive-thru and have a complete meal in a minute. We can call for a pizza and it arrives at our door in less than half an hour.

The problem is we tend to expect everything to happen almost instantly—even God. We forget that God will not suddenly appear the moment we turn to him with a problem or prayer. We may have to wait weeks, months or years. Moses had to wait 40 years. Joseph had to wait more than a decade. Who knows how long Noah had to wait as he built the ark?

Immediate gratification is the way of the world. God’s kingdom is different. We must wait patiently and with confidence for God’s will to be done. Like a farmer, we must plant our seeds in his spirit knowing the harvest will spring forth in due time. Remember, too, that farmers do not just sit down, do nothing and watch for the crop to appear. They get to work preparing all of their equipment and tools. They want to be ready for the moment they can return to the fields again.

“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass” (Psalm 37:7). Never mind what others do, think or say. Start now to prepare yourself for God’s answer. It will come just as he promised.

Peace, joy and love (Monday, February 29)

I walked into the kitchen at home singing, “I’ve got peace like a river.” I had just come from Sunday morning worship and I couldn’t get the spiritual out of my head or heart.

Suddenly, my 10-year-old granddaughter looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. Her eyes and mouth were wide open in amazement. “Hey,” she said, “we sang that song at Kenna’s church.” Ellie was there two nights earlier for a youth group sleepover.

I told her we sang the same song in church that morning. “Did you sing all three verses,” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” she said. Without any prompting she sang “I‘ve got joy like a fountain; I’ve got love like an ocean.”

Wow! God certainly works in mysterious ways, I thought. He had planned this wonderful coincidence all along to show her that peace, joy and love are some of the most valuable things in life.

Time flies (Sunday, February 28)

There is an interesting paradox when it comes to measuring time and our days here on earth. As we look ahead in anticipation of a dream vacation or visiting family members far away, the days go by slowly. It seems to take forever to get to that “special day.” Ironically, when we look back on the many great occasions in our life, the years have somehow slipped away very quickly. Time, of course, has not changed; it remains the same in the past, present and future. What does change, however, is our perspective and perception.

My wife and I have been married for almost 44 years. How difficult it is for me to believe that we have been together, day after day and year after year, for more than four decades. To me, our wedding day in 1972 is so near and close – as if only a few months have gone by since this beautiful ceremony. I remember, too, being on the other side of this day as we waited to be married. We thought the moment would never arrive. Even now, the time before our wedding seems much longer than the time after.

Perhaps our thoughts about God are sometimes similar. As we look toward eternity with Him, each day may appear longer than 24 hours. On the other hand, looking back on our lives we realize just how fast the years have gone by. Ten years in the past can seem like only a few days ago, but 10 years in the future may feel like forever.

We cannot alter time, but we can adjust how we use it or even how we view it. Each second is a precious gift from God to be used in a special way. All that matters is that we live each day fully and for his glory. Yes, life is short but there is plenty of time to accomplish all that he has planned for us.

Not looking back (Saturday, February 27)

Life is not about how much we have done but, rather, how much we have left to do. More than likely, we base our lives on what we have accomplished and not on what still remains for us to do in the kingdom.

Reflecting on what we have achieved so far makes us feel good about ourselves. We take great pleasure in meditating on our many works and deeds. Plus, our sense of self worth is closely tied to our success. Unfortunately, all this does little for God. He knows what we have completed. He wants us to anticipate the future – toward the weeks and months ahead as we serve Him.

We cannot do anything for the kingdom if we become too pleased with our past. As the saying goes, there is no time to rest on our laurels. Time is short and there is much to do. If we take our eyes off of what lies ahead, and keep looking behind, we will not be able to finish our work.

No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God, Jesus said. Are you and I fit for the kingdom? If the answer is yes, then our eyes have to be focused forward on God and not backward on ourselves.

We decide (Friday, February 26)

Being happy is a decision, not the result of circumstances or events. True happiness must spring forth from within – inside of us. It does not come from without – by anything out in the world that gratifies the flesh for a brief time.

The happiness that comes from God is like, though not exactly, a peace that grows from letting go of all anxiety and worry. Such contentment has nothing to do with earthly values and treasures. God’s happiness does not just happen; we have to make a conscious choice to pursue happiness.

When we set our minds to being happy, we allow God to work through us. He will show us things we have never seen before. We will, perhaps for the first time, see pleasure in all sorts of things, even work and pain.

I have seen those who are suffering still remain happy: a woman who lost her husband of more than 60 years; a child dying of cancer; families that have lost their homes to fire and destruction. In spite of it all, certain folks remain happy. Why? Because they have decided to trust in God and not in themselves. They let his joy shine through them each day.

The greatest law is sometimes the least of all (Thursday, February 25)

Laws are for our own good. Cities have laws about what people can do and cannot do. Streets and highways have speed limit signs. Intersections have traffic lights or stop signs. Companies have bylaws and policies. Even parking lots have lines showing where to park.

What would happen if people disregarded all of the signs, lights and laws? We know the answer. The result would be complete and utter chaos. Perhaps that is exactly what has occurred throughout the world. People have ignored the laws of God—laws that he gave us to protect ourselves from ourselves.

And, yet, we look around and ponder what is wrong. Individuals everywhere seem to lie, cheat, steal and disobey. We wonder about how to get back to the way we were years ago. We ask where did we go wrong?

Our country and many others made a wrong turn a while ago. It is time to learn some lessons from our past and remember that “[God’s] law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). His law is above all, yet it is sometimes the least of all in the world.

Count your blessings (Wednesday, February 24)

What did I do to deserve this? Let’s turn this phrase around rather than always thinking of something bad or negative. Why not say, instead, what did I do to deserve . . . . a house, a car, a job, food, clothes, a family and friends who love me?

During the past year, my wife and I have been blessed with four wonderful vacations. We have taken a seven-day cruise on the Baltic Sea, visited childhood friends in Colorado Springs, been to Disneyworld, travelled again to Italy. All these trips were in addition to the countless blessings we have enjoyed at home. God has been so good to us. I confess there have been times when I have been brought to tears wondering what we ever did to deserve these gifts.

Do we have any concept of the largess of his love? Paul tried to describe God’s love. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If God loved us so much when we were sinners that he sent his son to die for us, how much greater is his love now that we have accepted his salvation?

May you go through today counting your blessings. As the hymn says, “Name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Amen.

God hears each and every sigh or song (Tuesday, February 23)

Sound. There is the sound of music, the sound of human voices and the sound of nature. There is even the sound of silence. What a precious blessing it is to be able to hear. Our ears allow us to enjoy a bounty of noises, from birds to choirs to bells on a church.

There also are the sounds that startle and unnerve us. But they have their place, too. The sound of a siren, for example, means someone is responding to one who needs help. The sound of a car horn usually means an accident is being avoided. The sound of a baby crying means she or he needs to be fed or changed.

God knows well the power of being able to hear and even to see. “He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see?” (Psalm 94:9). God loves to hear the music coming from the creatures he created. He delights in the echo of our praises and thanks.

As you appreciate the ability to listen with your ears remember that God hears the same things. Plus, he hearkens to your prayers and pleas. Nothing escapes his hearing, not even one precious sigh or song.

We are different, but serve the same God (Monday, February 22)

The other day our son, who lives with us along with his daughter, said that our two Huskies had dug a hole in the backyard next to the fence. “They are almost on the other side,” he said. “It will be easy for them to get out.” Right away I put on my work clothes and filled the two-foot hole with rocks and dirt.

I wonder why he did not jump in and fill the hole himself. Perhaps he did not want to get in the way. Or maybe he thought I had a certain way of taking care of the problem.

The incident made me think about how we react to the things we encounter during the day. Some people are ready to jump into action while others step back and wait. We are all different and we serve the same God. But, what we do in any given situation should depend more on what he wants us to do rather than on what our individual personality directs us to do.

"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here’” (Zachariah 3:7). In the words of Matthew Henry, “Whatever trials we pass through, whatever services we perform, our whole dependence must rest on Christ, the Branch of righteousness.” May you be blessed the more you do the Lord’s will and put your personal thoughts aside.

Resetting ourselves (Sunday, February 21)

Too often, we do not take time to reset ourselves – to realign our lives with what God has in mind for us. We can quickly become caught up in what seems to be important now but means little in the long run. Answering e-mails, making phone calls, attending meetings and running errands all have their place. Yet, we frequently fail to put them in their place. Instead, we make these a priority and forget about what matters most.

In order to be the servants we were created to be, we have to step back from time to time to re-examine what we are doing. We must ask ourselves if we are making the greatest use of our days. We also need to consider if we are using our talents wisely. Perhaps our daily schedules do not go according to what we should be doing; rather, they revolve around what we think is critical and necessary.

The problem with our lives is that we try to accomplish too much. We attempt to live for ourselves and for God at the same time. In addition to all our Father has planned for us, we add all of our personal activities to the list. We may be able to cope for a while. Soon, however, we may become overburdened with too many things to do in too little time.

Our spiritual compass always must be pointed in the right direction. If it is not positioned properly – with a true heading toward the kingdom – we can easily get off course. Like a ship sailing across the ocean, we must take our bearing from what is above and not from what we see around us. If we are reaching for heaven, then we must plot a course that will take us there and no place else.

Being thankful (Saturday, February 20)

How often do we take the time to consider all we have been given, and to give thanks for our blessings? Look at everything we own, all the people who love us, the money we possess, where we live and the opportunities that await us. Even though our lives are far from perfect, we can experience a sense of peace and contentment that the world will never understand.

Because of who we are in Christ, we can celebrate each new day with gladness. We see things we never noticed before. We hear sounds that startle us. We think of sweet memories from the past. We realize, with a certain surprise, what our lives are all about. If only for a moment, we are able to grasp a little of what we will have in eternity.

What can make this day so different is our attitude and perspective. God has not changed at all; he is still the same. But, for the first time in a long while, maybe we have changed. We wake up feeling good, refreshed, and we suddenly are filled with enthusiasm. We look forward to what will happen to today, whether it is planned or not.

The hours are before us. They are a gift from God to us. How we live today depends on how much we are truly thankful to him.

Feed my sheep (Friday, February 19)

At one point, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Each time, in quick succession, Peter answered almost without thinking, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” John writes that Peter was hurt because the Lord posed the same question to him three times.

We can be easily distracted by Peter’s reaction in this situation. How uncomfortable and uneasy he must have felt. The effect is similar to reading about the prodigal son and feeling sorry for the older brother who stayed at home; the whole point of the parable is that the older brother should have shown love rather than disdain, contempt and jealousy.

Here, Jesus’ questioning is meant to stir the heart of Peter. Clearly, one of the most important things Jesus wants Peter to think about is the meaning of divine love – what it truly means to love the Son of God and to serve him. “Feed my lambs. . . . Take care of my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep,” Jesus says respectively to Peter’s confession.

If we do indeed love Jesus, we will take care of his flock, whoever they are and wherever they may be. Praising, praying, singing and thanking are all ways to show our love toward him. But perhaps the greatest is to serve his sheep and to feed his lambs.

The mysterious joy in discovering God (Thursday, February 18)

God’s will is not revealed fully until the moment it happens. We never see all that he has planned before the right time. Nor will we know exactly what he will do. Instead, we must wait, being patient and diligent, preparing to go where we cannot see or comprehend. We obey out of trust alone.

Abraham was told to go, not knowing exactly where. Moses was commanded to free the Israelites, yet he was given no details. The apostles were charged with making disciples of all nations, but they did not receive a specific plan. Sometimes God sends us forward without telling us why. We do not understand completely until we see the miracle unfold directly in front us. Then, suddenly, God reveals his power and love in a wondrous, remarkable way – through a divine experience that would have been impossible if we had realized his plan beforehand.

Anyone can follow instructions, especially when the destination and way are made clear. A planned journey is usually comfortable and easy, without any anxious times of feeling lost or confused. Those who know the end will look only at that goal. They will not anticipate anything else along the way. They will be unaware of what is new, different, unique.

God wants us to discover him. But it is up to us to look for him, constantly, in everything we do and everywhere we go. He is there if we take the time and effort to seek him out. When we follow his will we will always be surprised by what he does, for he loves to delight us. He enjoys revealing himself to us in all his glory and majesty – in a way that we could not have guessed or expected.

The world vs. God (Wednesday, February 17)

What often is viewed as harmful is just the opposite. Much can come out of negative and painful circumstances because God has authority over every situation. He uses what the world rejects to show his power and love.

The apostle Paul must have wondered why God took him all the way to Rome and allowed him to remain under house arrest for two years. Certainly, Paul thought about the people he could talk to each day in the forum among the markets and temples. He could speak of the good news of salvation and tell the Romans what he had preached throughout the Mediterranean. Finally, he was in a position to talk about the kingdom of heaven in the very heart of the great Roman Empire.

Paul could do nothing of the sort, though. He was confined and cut off from the people he came to see. Though some came to him, he was unable to go where he wanted and do the Lord’s work as he had done elsewhere. God had a different plan for him. Paul would spend most of his time writing down what he knew about God. He wrote letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians and to Philemon.

Where would the church be today without these so-called prison epistles? What would we know about living as children of light, putting on the whole armor of God, imitating Christ, thanksgiving and prayer, and so much more? At the time, it may have seemed as though Rome was stronger than God himself. But in the end, God was working all things together for his divine purpose in the future. He would have the last word through Paul, even though it seemed the apostle had been silenced forever.

God works the same way in our lives. He uses what happens to us today, especially in the worst of trials, for his purpose tomorrow. When the world seems to be finished with us, God has just begun.

Beyond our limits (Tuesday, February 16)

Our tendency as believers is always to build an earthly structure, a place where God can be found. There are numerous accounts throughout Scripture that talk about building tabernacles for worship. One of the most well-known stories occurs on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Peter, James and John see Elijah and Moses with Jesus. Peter immediately suggested it would be good to put up three tents, one for each prophet. Many centuries later, no doubt Peter would be surprised to know that an enormous cathedral bearing his name was erected in Rome.

It is hard to fathom the grandeur and size of St. Peter’s Basilica, especially when seeing it in person. There are immense marble monuments, spacious Renaissance paintings, spectacular hand-carved sculptures and grand white columns that support one of the largest domes in the world. The church is so large that it took 120 years to complete.

Thousands of tourists from all over the world visit St. Peter’s every day, each one amazed at what has been constructed to the glory of God. As magnificent as this structure is, though, the building does not represent even the slightest majesty and power of God himself. Nor is God small enough to be contained in such a space, no matter how large.

God is far beyond our worldly concept and representation. He is outside of everything we know and he needs no tabernacle. He is everywhere we go and everywhere we look. God transcends all. It is well and good for us to build churches where we can gather throughout the week. But let us keep in mind that we do not need to go someplace special to seek him. He is with us each moment and he will come to us despite where we are.

The real news (Monday, February 15)

Every morning and throughout the day, we hear news of all kinds of events and incidents. The news seems to be everywhere: on television, on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on the web. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of the so-called bad news about accidents, shootings, fires, burglaries, robberies and stabbings. Whenever I grow weary of what is going on around me, I turn to the news found in scripture.

The New Testament is full of good news. The headlines should be familiar to each one of us: “Peter converts thousands.” “Two followers heal lame man.” “Barnabas becomes a disciple.” “Believers speak out in Samaria.” “Leaders establish church in Antioch.” “The Council meets at Jerusalem.” “Paul sets out on second missionary journey.” Page after page, we read the wonderful news of our faith.

On occasion, it is necessary to forget about the temporal and get away from the things happening around us. We need to contemplate the good news from above – the lasting news of God’s word and world. The headline reads: “Jesus offers salvation to all.”

The greatest truth (Sunday, February 14)

Not one of us will go through this life without being beaten and attacked along the way. There will be all kinds of trials: loss of jobs, having to move away from family, houses destroyed, bankruptcy, foreclosure, the terminal illnesses or death of loved ones. These are tough experiences that leave us shattered and destroyed.

We are not alone in our brokenness, though. Jesus endured everything imaginable. In the end, the world took his physical body as well. Had the story ended there, we would not even think twice about his life and work. But the reality of his resurrection from the dead made all the difference. When he arose on the third day, everything changed forever.

From that moment on, death lost its power and control. Jesus showed the world that the spirit could not be destroyed or even harmed. The spirit was eternal, no matter what happened to the body.

You and I have faced some difficult times so far and we have many more waiting for us. But the past has taught us the truth. We have learned that, despite the pain and suffering, we will survive. Jesus gave us the victory 2,000 years ago, and our names are already written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Above all (Saturday, February 13)

Remember that God is Lord of the universe, not merely Lord of our lives. He does not think and act as we do. Thousands of years ago, God proclaimed a fundamental principle to Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways my ways."

We know this, but still we persist in thinking of God like he is one of us. We reduce him and bring him down to size. Lord, we say, I need better health. Father, please give me more money. God, we are going to lose our house if you don’t do something. All the while, we have the solution figured out. All God needs to do is what we tell him. With the touch of his hand, our problems will disappear.

He, however, is higher than our way of thinking. This realization may confound and frustrate us. At the same time, we should feel a sense of peace knowing that he is completely in control. We should be relieved that God will not handle a situation in a human way. He will act in a divine way, making anything possible, even things we cannot imagine at first.

Instead of feeling buried by life’s difficulties, we should rejoice and give praise that God is going to take care of us in his way. Thankfully, his thoughts and ways are not like ours. We glimpse only the temporary, but he can see all eternity. Often, we act like the beggar at the temple gate who asked Peter and John for a few coins. Peter healed him.

It is time for us to turn our problems over to the Lord. Let him decide what to do for a change.

Can’t buy happiness (Friday, February 12)

Early one morning my wife and I were talking at breakfast. “For some reason,” she said, “I feel really short on patience today.” “I’m going to the store later,” I replied. “I’ll buy some for you. How much do you want?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place where we could instantly get emotions – things like patience, kindness, hope and peace? What if we could buy them like we buy detergent, milk or bread? There would probably be a run on stores everywhere as people hoarded supplies to last weeks or months. But there is no retailer on earth that sells happiness. It is found in one place only.

God is the source. He offers freely and generously. The only cost is giving up our anxiety, frustration and anger. Once we turn these over to him, exchange them, we get what is best for us.

Despite the need, God responds instantly. “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness,” wrote Peter, “but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Unlike those around us, God is swift to answer. A few seconds in prayer produces all of the help we need for today.

Sing joyfully (Thursday, February 11)

God does not come and go like the wind. No, he is always there like the sun that shines even when night comes. Though we are not able to see the light from dusk to dawn, the sun blazes brightly.

So it is with God. His spirit moves constantly across the seas and the lands. He dwells among us through his love, and he fills the earth with goodness. His glory is everywhere, from the smallest creature that is barely visible to the billions of stars that inhabit the universe.

“O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord. Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms” (Psalm 95:1-2).

As you go through this special day, sing psalms of praise and thanksgiving to the one who never fails you. He is with you in both your light and darkness. You are always in his presence no matter where you are.

Moving the mountains (Wednesday, February 10)

We have all prayed for God to take away our financial problems, to give us a better job or to help us buy a new car. It is hard for us not to take Jesus literally when he said, “if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them” (Mark 11:23).

Of course, Jesus is using a metaphor to help us understand what we can do through the spirit. We cannot make mountains move any more than we can command them to jump into the ocean. But we can believe that God will remove the mountains of difficulty in our lives: illness, rejection, despair, discrimination, judgment. Our mountains are many and they are impossible to face alone.

God always is ready and willing to do what we need. He works, however, in ways that transcend and confuse the physical world. God had a great plan for Joseph. But before Joseph became the ruler of Egypt, he was rejected by his brothers, thrown in a well, sold as a slave and spent years in prison. We usually want God to take us right to where we want to be without any hardship at all.

God guided Joseph in a way he could not have anticipated. He will do the same for us when we have faith as small as a mustard seed ((Matthew 17:20). All it takes is our tiny faith for God to move the tallest mountain.

Free to live (Tuesday, February 9)

God does not condemn or demean us when we do something wrong. Instead, he forgives us and gives us another chance.

As a college student, I wanted to get a suntan so I sat about a foot away from a sun lamp for about 20 minutes. The next morning my face was burned and blistered. I went to the campus health center for help. One nurse after another told me how stupid I was. They made me feel even more pain.

The world is always quick to chastise. People criticize, judge and condemn. Perhaps they think they are offering some kind of aid when, in fact, they are making matters worse.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). No matter what we have done, or how stupid we have been, the blood of Jesus has made us clean and pure. Through him we are able to continue the journey he planned for us even before we were born.

Our honor to serve (Monday, February 8)

Prepare me for this day, Lord. Make me ready. Help me as I seek to help you. Let my words reflect your love. Let my deeds show your mercy. Wherever I go remind me I am not alone; you are guiding me and protecting me in all things.

Give me eyes to see your will. Give me ears to hear your voice. Give me strength to endure and give me a heart for your way. Help me to learn to be patient, forgiving and kind.

Most of all, father, may my happiness shine throughout the world. May others see you when they look at me; for I want to be a reflection of your glory and greatness.

This day is yours and my life is yours. I want you to be proud of me and I want others to know I am honored to serve you.

Straight toward God (Sunday, February 7)

The best way to follow God is to look in the distance to where he is leading you. Find his point for you far ahead and then keep your eyes fixed on (t)his course.

Farmers are famous for planting in straight rows. Doing so requires much practice, but it also demands something else: they must focus on a point on the other side of the field and aim straight for it. They do not look down except occasionally to check their bearing.

As we go through life, we spend most of our time looking directly in front of us. Once in a while we pause to look ahead. For the most part, though, we see only just a few hours or days ahead. Then we wonder why we get off course rather than heading straight toward God.

Use the farmer’s trick for making your life straighter and better. Look ahead, find him and keep your life going in that direction. “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6).

The million dollar question (Wednesday, February 3)

There is a sign in our doctor’s office that says, in part, “Appointments cancelled less than 24 hours in advance will be charged a $25 fee.” The funny thing is the notice starts with these words: “Beginning in February 2007, . . . “ Time after time during the past nine years, I have wondered why they no one has updated the sign.

In a way, though, the poster is a metaphor for our lives. Rather than making changes and moving forward, we tend to look back on the past. We fail to release what happened long ago and return to that point in time. Then, we wonder why we are upset or anxious. Our current attitude has nothing to do with today, but everything to do with yesterday.

How many times in 40 years did Moses wish he hadn’t killed an Egyptian guard? Or how often in more than a decade did Joseph think he could have done something different not to end up in jail? But all of the wishing and hoping cannot change the past. It is done and over.

The great news is God has forgiven us. We know that, but the hard part is forgiving ourselves and forgetting what we did. God does not expect us to live with guilt. So if God has set us free, why would we want to live in bondage to the past? That is the million dollar question.

Learn to go willingly (Tuesday, February 2)

It was obvious the little boy did not want to go. His his mother continued to pull him by the arm. As she reached the front door of the store, he got away and ran behind a railing. He thought he was safe. She grabbed him once more. He dropped to the ground, but she picked him up and took him in.

Sometimes God has to do the same with us. He has to take us, kicking and screaming, to where we need to be. We always have our own ideas, and we think we know what is best. We want to do big things for the Lord and so we sign up for a mission trip to the other side of the world. Maybe all God wants is for us to help the neighbors down the street.

Perhaps he wants us to spread the good news to the people at work when we think we have to go to Papua New Guinea. Or it could be we want to be in charge of property care at our church, but he merely us to participate in a workday.

Whenever God leads us, let us not try to get away to do what we want. A small boy knows very little compared to his mother. As adults, we know almost nothing compared to God. He will have his way. It is up to us whether we go willingly or not.

Remove those roadblocks in your life (Monday, February 1)

Roadblocks are frustrating. We can be moving along fine, say on our way to the store or the doctor, and suddenly we encounter a roadblock. We have to wait or go around it. Either way, it sets us back.

Not all roadblocks in life are physical. There are mental and spiritual roadblocks as well. For instance, when was the last time you said “I can’t do that” or “God won’t heal me.” These roadblocks slow us down on our road of life. They make the journey much harder and longer.

A woman I know is trying to get her aging father to sell his five-acre farm and move into a condominium on one floor. He has many excuses. “It is too small.” “I don’t think I would be happy there.” “Your mother and I built this house—it’s been in the family 60 years.” Each time he says why he can’t move, she responds by saying “Roadblock.”

Sooner or later this father will get the message. He will see that only he has the power to remove these roadblocks because he is the one who is putting them there in the first place. Jesus came to set us free from roadblocks and all other limitations. He wants to give us life. Not take it away.

You can finish the race (Sunday, January 31)

Doing most anything these days requires perseverance, and a great deal of it. Even with God on our side the journey can be difficult. So much threatens to steal our resolve, from our own doubts to the remarks of others.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” wrote Paul. “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

I have participated in 12 marathons. After 15 to 20 miles, the body begins to break down. Muscles hurt, fatigue sets in, the mind begins to wander. All thoughts turn to giving up and giving in to the pain.

But there is no reward for those who do not finish; in fact, your name will be listed in the Did Not Finish (DNF) column. Whatever race you are running, do not give up. Keep pushing, knowing that God is with you. Know, too, that he would not have given you a race you could not finish.

Moving a mountain is nothing (Saturday, January 30)

We made it safely through last night. The temperature was 30 degrees while inside the house it was 63 degrees. Quite a difference. Our furnace went out around 7 p.m. on Friday and the technician was unable to fix it.

No matter. God helped us through last night and he will help us through the whole weekend if needed. He is able to do things we cannot understand, even keep a house warm without a furnace. Look at what he did to the walls of Jericho, the Red Sea, three boys in a fiery inferno and Daniel in the lions’ den.

Why, then, could he not keep us safe and warm in our tiny little house? His ways are not our ways. He proved what he could do by protecting the Hebrews in the desert; in fact, for 40 years they did not need shoes, clothing, food or shelter. Miraculously, he provided everything they needed.

The next time you need help, look up to God first. Say to yourself, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains, from whence cometh my help” (Psalm 121:1). Remember, God even has the power to remove that very mountain if necessary. If he can do that there is no telling what he cannot do.

“If I can do it, you can do it” (Friday, January 29)

Whatever the Lord has called you to do today you can do it. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). We are able to accomplish anything he desires because our strength comes from him.

Right now you may be suffering from a cold, the flu, depression or fatigue. How you feel has very little to do with what you accomplish. These things may slow you down, but you do not have to give up and do nothing.

What if Job would have given up on God after a few months? He never would have seen the great reward coming down the road. What if Noah would have given up on building the ark? He would have drown like the rest of the world. And, what if David would have turned away from Goliath? The Hebrews never would have defeated the Philistines.

Don’t let physical circumstances dictate how you are going to act. Know that you are able to move forward through Christ who strengthens you. I can hear Paul saying, “If I can do it, you can do it.” But we will not know until we try.

We have no excuse (Thursday, January 28)

The adage goes that, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” This phrase has been attributed to many people, most notably Abraham Lincoln and P.T. Barnum. What if we make a slight change in the wording: “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool God any of the time.”

Yet, how many times have we tried to fool God? Moses said he could not face pharaoh because he was not a good speaker. Adam said it was Eve’s fault he took a bite out of the apple. Then there was the man who told Jesus he would follow him after he took care of matters at home.

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. The world is full of them. Everywhere we go, people try to pull the wool over our eyes. They hope we can’t see the truth.

God knows the truth and he will not be mocked, according to Galatians 6:7. Do yourself a favor today. Don’t try to fool yourself, others or God. Be honest. Stop using excuses to justify your actions. You will feel much better when you humble yourself before the Lord.

Cleaning our hearts and minds (Wednesday, January 27)

Temporary Internet files, cookies, add-ons, recently typed URLs and saved searches can cripple a computer if not removed on a regular basis. Taking the time to run security scans and cleaning software enables the system to run smoothly and efficiently.

We also have to pause daily, if not several times each day, to clear our mind of unwanted thoughts and feelings. Anger, impatience, anxiety, etc., can slow us down and prevent us from serving the Lord as we should.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of someone being weighed down by his own emotions is Jonah. It was clear he was supposed to go to Nineveh. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it,” God said. “Because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2). Instead, Jonah went in the opposite direction and boarded a ship for Tarshish. He did not stop to think about what he was doing or why. He reacted solely out of fear.

May we learn from Jonah and not have to spend three days and nights in a dark, disgusting place until we realize what we have done. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). God will clear our hearts and minds of unnecessary clutter but only if, and when, we turn to him.

Changing our expectations (Tuesday, January 26)

Never in my wildest thoughts did I expect to be suffering from an injury more than three months ago. I had walked into a trailer hitch on the back of a pick-up truck and punctured my shin all the way down to the bone. It sounds worse than it was, but I am still battling the infection.

The question for us today is what do we do when things do not turn out the way we expected or hoped? Paul probably never expected to be stoned nearly to death. He got up the next morning and walked right back into the city. Moses most likely never thought he would be going back to Egypt, yet he did what God told him. Stephen never imagined he would be stoned to death for the sake of Christ, but he stood boldly and gave his testimony.

So often in life we have to make adjustments in our thinking. We think we are healthy, but the doctor tells us otherwise. We believe we have a steady job, yet we are let go. We depend on our car, but it just broke down; the repair will cost hundreds of dollars we do not have.

First of all, God tells us not to be anxious. Second, not to worry. Third, to trust him. He makes sure we get the message by telling us exactly what not to do and what to do. If we listen we will not have any trouble getting rid of what we thought would happen and start looking forward to what God will make happen.

Draw closer to him (Monday, January 25)

Whether we still are in school or not we are learning each day. Once our formal education ends, the practical and spiritual study begins. We start to apply what we have been taught in the past to situations in the present.

When I finally defended my doctoral dissertation, my director took me back to his office. He sat me down and said, “Now your education really begins.” I was shocked. I couldn’t believe he would say such a thing, especially when I had spent the last six years of my life doing nothing but going to classes and writing research papers.

As I began my full-time career in the classroom, however, I realized he was right. Everything I learned had to come into play if I wanted to become an effective professor.

May the Lord “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Day by day we are growing in our faith. We also are growing in our knowledge of God. We need to use each experience, good or bad, to draw closer to him. Our education in the ways of heaven never ends.

Going through the motions (Sunday, January 24)

Every day, everywhere, people are simply going through the motions without any emotions. They appear to be robots, mechanically doing their job, driving a car, talking on the phone or working out.

What separates us from the rest of world is that we cannot just go through the motions. Whatever we do, as Christians, comes out of our desire to be caring and loving. We genuinely want to help others and we want to please God.

“For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). We have the Lord working through us so it is impossible not to have compassion for whatever we do—no matter if we are at work, at school or at home.

May we find joy in knowing we are a blessing to others everywhere we go. After all, we have his Spirit within us. We cannot help but be happy!

Following our faith rather than our folly (Saturday, January 23)

Thousands of motorists were stranded last night on roads and freeways in the Northeast because of winter storm Jonas, “The Beast in the East.” Up to two feet of snow fell in places. Everyone was warned for days not to drive anywhere. So what went wrong?

We know the answer. People thought, “It won’t happen to me. I won’t get stuck. I know how to drive in snow.” Sadly, we frequently underestimate our ability.

In one story after another in the Bible, we see the mistakes people made. They thought they knew what was best only to discover they should have listened to God.

“I will listen to what God the Lord says,” says Psalm 85:8.  “He promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly.”  As we go through this day, may our foolishness not get the better of us. May we, as “faithful servants,” listen to common sense and to God. The lesson is clear: our own folly always leads us in the wrong direction.

Why don’t we listen? (Friday, January 22)

When there is a winter storm approaching, officials warn people not to drive or travel. The advice is to stay home and stay safe. But there usually are individuals who try to defy the odds. They think they will not have an accident or get stuck in the snow.

We do not always do as we are told. Children have a hard time learning this lesson, and we are no better as grown-ups. In fact, adults may be even worse than children when it comes to listening. The reason is because we use our minds to rationalize our actions.

Job, Jonah, Adam and Eve were just some in the Bible who learned the hard way. They eventually realized it does no good to argue with God. He has heard all of the excuses before and he has not accepted even one.

The Lord means it when he says “I know the plans I have for you.” He knows what is best for us and he knows what will happen if we do not listen. What don’t we understand? When will we stop listening to ourselves and begin listening to him? We don’t have to learn everything the hard way.

Putting the pieces together (Thursday, January 21)

Our lives sometimes seem like a jigsaw puzzle. We have a few pieces here, some there, and others in a pile off to the side. It is difficult to imagine the final picture. But slowly, one by one, it comes into view.

We may wonder what God has in mind as our life unfolds. We lose a job we really loved. We are forced to move to another city. We have to find a new church. We suffer an illness. We have to take care of an aging parent. A myriad of events, like the pieces of a puzzle, gradually fall into place and form the totality of our life.

Most of the time the segments do not seem to fit together. We have difficulty imagining how everything will fit together. As we get older, though, everything seems to make a little more sense.

Throughout our time on this planet, we need to trust God. We have to have faith that each event and situation, somehow, has a particular purpose. It may not have much meaning on its own. But when put together with the thousands of other pieces, the picture is clear. God knew all along what he was doing.

Equal to the task (Wednesday, January 20)

You are a masterpiece, and you are worth more than any Van Gogh, Picasso or Michelangelo. According to God’s word, you are priceless.

“For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

What makes us so valuable is we are God’s personal handiwork and also that we can do good works for him. We may not know what lies ahead today, but we do know God has prepared all of these good works. That means we will be able to accomplish each one because he made them just for us. In other words, we are equal to the task through Christ Jesus.

Slow down; prayer zone ahead (Tuesday, January 19)

There is a radio station that announces throughout the day that “school zones are prayer zones.” They encourage listeners to pray for the school, students and teachers anytime they drive through a school zone. It is a neat concept. Not only does it remind people about the power of prayer, but it also gets them to slow down even when they are in a hurry.

This same idea could be applied to other places as well: church zones are prayer zones; hospital zones are prayer zones; business zones are prayer zones. Think how different the world would be if people spent more time praying everywhere they went.

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we should “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Paul knew what he was talking about. When we pray we not only help ourselves, but we help others as well. Remember those “prayer zones” and to “give thanks in all circumstances.” You will find yourself happier and healthier because you are pleasing the Lord.

The need to be free (Monday, January 18)

Many people have today off from work or school. Some will spend time seriously thinking about the life and work of Martin Luther King while others will not even give it a second thought. What is important to remember is that Dr. King stood for civil rights for all persons, not just African Americans.

Too often we have the wrong idea about individuals and events. Two thousand years ago, people thought Jesus came to be their earthly king. He came, however, to show them a greater kingdom. Unfortunately, their minds could not comprehend because they saw what they wanted to see.

We do not have to be black to understand or appreciate the significance of this day. We can be of any race or color to celebrate the spirit of this holiday. At various times in our nation’s history those who are Chinese, Hispanic, Latino, Italian, German, Irish and many other nationality have been victims of discrimination.

As we go through this day, let us celebrate first and foremost the freedom we have in Christ from the things of this world. Then, let us celebrate the freedom from prejudice that we have because of people like Dr. King. He had the vision to see people from all walks living and working side by side. May we pause long enough to share both his optimism in humanity and his faith in God. 

Having divine sight and insight (Sunday, January 17)

Watching the news can be extremely depressing: a boy killed in a sledding accident, a family dies in a house fire, a gas station is robbed. On and on we hear of one sad event after another.

We need to be careful to put everything into perspective. For each negative situation that we hear about there are dozens of things that have gone well: people have recovered from terrible diseases, babies have been born happy and healthy, the homeless have found shelter, missing children have been found.

Let us not become overly discouraged and lose our hope as we go through this day. Let us not dwell on what has gone wrong. May we concentrate, instead, on all that has gone right. Much of life depends on our perspective—whether we look at the world from our position or whether we see through the divine eyes of God. Our way is dark while his is bright.

He is forever (Saturday, January 16)

Where do you put your trust? Is it in this world or in something much greater? David wrote that, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses. But we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).

We do not think in terms of chariots and horses today. We have moved on. People now put their trust in money, houses, cars, businesses, land. Some even put their trust in winning the lottery or in an inheritance someday.

None of these comes even close to what we have in God. In him we have love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, strength, power and, most of all, eternal salvation. The name of God is superior to everything in the universe.

The next time you think about placing your hope in something that does not last, remember all that God offers. Just saying his name transcends all we see around us. He is the alpha and omega; he is forever.

His throne of grace (Friday, January 15)

Years ago a man left after Sunday worship and never returned. He called the pastor the following day and said he was leaving the church. The man’s closest friends were stunned. They knew nothing about his decision until after it happened. They felt confused and betrayed.

To this day I still wonder why. He was a good member, involved in the choir, Sunday School, Bible study, special events and the men’s group. Yet, he suddenly walked away from all of it.

All of us do strange things. Our actions don’t always make sense. On occasion we may not understand ourselves. Despite what we have or have not done, Jesus is there. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” wrote St. Paul. “But we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Christ knows well the temptation, confusion and uncertainty of daily living. He came to show us there is hope and help in every situation. Through him, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” even when we do not understand what is going on around us.

Safe [and calm] under Christ’s wing (Thursday, January 14)

The small plaque reads “Keep calm and fish on.” There is a little fish in the center and it was a Christmas gift from Lexi, my nine-year-old granddaughter. I love the sign even though I haven’t fished in years. For me the phrase applies to most any situation. “Keep calm and work on.” “Keep calm and drive on.” “Keep calm and move on.”

Most individuals have a hard time remaining calm. For one thing, we try to do too much each day. Then, when everything does not fall into place we get anxious and upset. Second, we often go out of our way to find a problem or two or three to fret about. Third, we forget who is in control. Instead of relying on God, we take matters into our own hands.

There is a reason why Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light" (Matthew 11:30). The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains this paradox: “That rest which the soul experiences when once safe under Christ's wing makes all yokes easy, all burdens light.”

The next time you are tempted to get upset and nervous, remember to “Keep calm and fish on.” In other words, don’t let your uneasiness distract you from what you are supposed to be doing. Why? Because you are “safe [and calm] under Christ’s wing.”

Something new is ahead (Wednesday, January 13)

A friend was talking about the days he had to spend in the Navy some 40 years ago. He said he had little choice: it was either join the Navy or be drafted by the Army. Ken explained he did not harbor any bad feelings now, but I was hearing something quite different. I was hearing how hard it is at times to leave the past behind.

Each one of us has baggage. We carry the past with us as we go through the present. In a strange way, too, we know we will keep the past with us as we go into the future. We tell ourselves that our past has made us who we are and that we can deal with or accept what happened years ago.

What we forget is we do not have to “deal” with the past. We do not have to explain it, rationalize it or even understand it. God tells us to leave it behind and move on.

He says, "Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). When we stop looking behind, we will find the future looks so much brighter and better. The reason is because we have a chance to experience “something new” rather than always reliving the same old thing.

It is all about love (Tuesday, January 12)

Snow was falling everywhere throughout the city. Each house, store, church and car was covered with at least two inches of white, fluffy flakes. It would have seemed silly if a person walked outside and exclaimed, “why is it snowing on me? I didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

Yet, this is exactly what we do when difficulty arises in our lives. We look up to God and cry out, “why is this happening to me?” Jesus told us God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). In a sense, the Lord treats all of us in the same way. But the whole point of what Jesus is saying has nothing to do with what kind of a person we are.

He is talking about love. God loves everyone whether she or he is good or bad, righteous or unrighteous. The Father loves each person in the same way, especially when it comes to his grace and compassion.

Let us throw away our faulty logic and thinking. May we not be like Job’s friends who accused him of doing something wrong and so he deserved God’s punishment and wrath. Let us stay focused on the fact and knowledge that God loves all of us unconditionally. He does not reward some and harm others based on how people act. Instead, it is all about how much he loves everyone.

Different because we are made in his image (Monday, January 11)

There is an enormous difference between who we are and who we want to be. We want to be smarter, better looking, more talented, more popular, richer and healthier. For most of us, the list of wants is long.

As we get older, though, the list should shrink. Time will help us accept who we are and who we were made to be. Sometimes, it takes years to grow into the life God planned exclusively for us.

What a wonderful feeling to finally discover who we are in Christ rather than who we wanted to be. Suddenly, nothing else seems to matter—not our job or our appearance. Not even our status.

We know, without a doubt, that God created us to be a special person with specific gifts. After all, we are made in his image and made to be very different than anyone else. What should make us the happiest is knowing we are pleasing him. Let the world say what it wants about us. In the end, his opinion is the only one that will make any difference.

The winning treasure of heaven (Sunday, January 10)

For the past few days everyone has been asking, “What would you do with $800 million?” The answers range from buying a new house to traveling to paying off bills to donating a lot of money to charity. People from all walks of life, rich and poor, are suddenly getting in on the action. They all want a chance to win the largest Powerball drawing in history.

The mantra of the day is, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” The odds of winning are staggering, but no one seems deterred.

I am not sure what I would do with the money; probably give most of it away and keep only a small amount for myself and family. In a very real sense, I have everything I already need in life. Most important of all, I have salvation and eternal life. Not even $800 million could buy the precious gift of heaven.

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,” Jesus said. “When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). Life certainly will change for the person or persons who win the Powerball drawing. But the change will be nothing compared to what awaits each one of us in heaven.

Our spiritual Fitbit
(Saturday, January 9)

Millions of Fitbit Trackers have been sold throughout the world since they were first introduced a few years ago. These amazing wristbands can do all sorts of things, such as measure the number of steps we walk or run, how many calories we burn and the intensity of our personal workouts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar device that could tell us our spiritual fitness? In an instant, we would find out how well we are doing at serving God, loving others and helping those around us. We could then make adjustments and change.

God has given us something much better than a piece of plastic we wear on our arm. He has filled us with the Holy Spirit—his very breath and being. What we often call the “still, small voice of God” is inside of us; it can guide us and strengthen us. It even has the power to change us in remarkable ways!

Think about the spiritual Fitbit you carry with you wherever you go. It is with you at all times giving you all sorts of information, especially how well you are doing at fulfilling God’s purpose for your life. The problem is we have to take the time to listen to what he is telling us.

Make the most of your gifts (Friday, January 8)

Computers are great—when and if they are working properly. In many respects, they have made our lives easier. But in some ways computers have made life more difficult. They seem to have a mind of their own at times, especially when we search for information or websites.

Therein lies the problem: computers are not capable of thinking. They do not use logic or reason; they can only perform what they are programmed to do, nothing more.

Thank goodness God did not create us to work like a computer. Instead, he gave us free will and the ability to think. He even gave us emotions to allow us to feel things like love, kindness, compassion and generosity.

The point is that when we are working properly, as God intended, we can accomplish amazing feats. “Heal the sick,” Jesus said. “Raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We have been given incredible gifts from the Lord. May we make the most out of each one!

The miracle of one purpose
(Thursday, January 7)

One man was in his 70s. The other barely 25. For more than an hour they worked side-by-side to fix the main door of the church. They hammered, chiseled, pounded and drilled—each one doing a separate job until the repair was completed.

As we go through life, we are much like these two men. God calls us from different backgrounds, ages, cultures and races to join together for one common purpose: to further his kingdom both in heaven and here on earth.

Churches everywhere are proof of his great plan. Wherever we look we find diversity, difference and great variety. No two individuals are the same. Yet, they all have a common bond and goal.

Take some time today to notice those around you. See how the Lord has chosen us and placed us in various places to accomplish his will. We are sisters and brothers in the same family with the same Father, Savior and Spirit. Who cannot marvel at the miracle of how God has united us with one another through love, service and commitment?

We are the Magi (Wednesday, January 6)

Today is Epiphany, yet there are very few signs left that mark the Savior’s birth a little less than two weeks ago. The neighbor across the street began dismantling his outdoor display yesterday. The scene is much the same throughout the neighborhood. Lights, inflatable characters and ornaments are coming down.

Many people believe Christmas is over. The time of gifts, presents and parades has passed; now we move on to the next holiday. But, in fact, Christmas is not a one-time celebration that happens only on December 25. For us as Christians, each day of the year is Christmas. Without Christ’s presence in our lives the world would be a very dark place indeed.

One online dictionary defines Epiphany as “a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.”

The physical appearance of Christmas may be gone, but the spiritual effect and impact remains. It continues during the entire year through us. We need to share “the manifestation of Christ” each day of 2016. You and I are the modern-day Magi who can tell everyone what we have seen.

A simple answer for two huge questions (Tuesday, January 5)

Our lives are full of questions. Why doesn’t the Lord help me get a better job? Why won’t the Lord help me make more money? Why isn’t the Lord making me feel better? Why can’t the Lord tell me which way to go? Perhaps the bigger question is not why, but when?

The problem with us is we are both curious and impatient. First we ask why. Then we ask when. Coupled together, these two characteristics can make us think the Lord has forgotten us at times.

We need to give God a chance to work in our lives. We cannot expect him to respond to our every need as soon as we pray or ask. Why and when are enormous questions with vast dimensions. Plus, would we understand even if God explained the why and when to us? For example, would Joseph have understood if God revealed to him that he was going to be the second highest leader in Egypt, but first he would have to be thrown in a well, sold into slavery and suffer in prison for more than a decade. And what about the case of Job?

Think about your own life. Would you have comprehended God’s plan for where you are right now if he would have explained himself 20 or 30 years ago? Probably not. Let us stop trying to figure everything out and, instead, spend our energy trusting him. He has the answer we are seeking in each and every case; of that we can be sure. If we believe in him we will be able to wait for him to show us his plan. It’s that simple.

The great days ahead (Monday, January 4)

For most people, today is the first day back to work or school in this New Year. The holidays are over and it is time to move on. As we do so, may we look forward to what lies ahead rather than thinking that our days of relaxation and enjoyment are over.

Because our lives are in Christ, we know that what is in the future is greater than what is behind. It does not matter if we have endured illness, financial or personal loss, and any number of other difficulties. God always brings us through hardship and gives us more than we had before.

The Bible is proof of his tremendous goodness and grace. Look at what he did for the Israelites, for Job, for Joseph, for Abraham, for Jonah, for Esther and Mary. Need we go on? How many times, too, have we also seen his glory in our own lives and those around us?

Let us look forward with anticipation to the wonderful days ahead! May we be excited about seeing what God will do next. He loves to surprise us and to show up when we least expect it. That alone should stir our faith as well as build our hope. This year promises to be the greatest we have ever seen. Watch and know that he is God.

Making good on our promises (Sunday, January 3)

It was still dark outside when I opened the church for Sunday morning worship. It was quiet and still, and I was the only person there. Slowly, going from one room to another, I turned on the lights and made sure the heat was working. All the while I kept thinking what might have happened if I did not follow through with my promise to open the main doors that morning. Eventually, people would have been able to get in, but it would have been much harder for them.

How often do we make it more difficult for people to get to know Jesus or to come to him because of how we act or talk? Perhaps we cut someone off in traffic and they notice the fish sign on our bumper. Or maybe we are wearing a cross around our neck or on our jacket when we say something derogatory. Certainly, people don’t want any of that particular brand of Christianity.

Remember what Jesus said? “Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’” (Luke 18:16). He was talking about children, of course. But he was talking about all those who, through no fault of their own, do not know about the kingdom of heaven. They are innocent. They need to be taught and nurtured. No one should stand in their way or discourage them from coming to Christ.

Let’s make sure we make good on our promises to serve, obey, love and lead others to Jesus. May we never be found guilty of hindering anyone from coming to him—especially not by our words, actions or attitude.

One single purpose (Saturday, January 2)

Some people are good at multitasking. They can watch television, talk on the phone and read a newspaper all at the same time. Research varies on the effectiveness of doing any one thing well. Many contend that doing one task at a time is always best.

When it comes to serving God or praying and meditating, we need to focus on him alone. We cannot be stuck in traffic, angry at the stupid drivers in front of us, while we are praying for the Lord to give us strength and patience. That kind of multitasking never works.

Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Either you are mastered by your own emotions or by the master of the universe.

As you begin 2016, may you keep your heart and mind on the one thing that matters most in this world: serving God and showing his love to others. There is no multitasking in his kingdom. We have one single purpose for our time here on earth.

A hope-filled New Year (Friday, January 1, 2016)

The first day of the new year begins with a bang throughout the world. People celebrate the countdown with fireworks and festivals as one nation after another begins 2016. Everyone hopes this year will be better than the one we have left behind.

As Christians, we are hopeful as well. But our hope is different. Our hope is in the Lord. We trust that he will guide and protect us on this journey through a new year. No matter what trials or obstacles that come our way in the next 12 months, we can be sure God is there. He never leaves us alone, not even in the worst of circumstances.

St. Paul wrote to the sisters and brothers in Rome asking, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” We know the answer: Nothing in the world or the vast universe shall separate us from the love of Christ.

Each and every day of this new year we need to repeat over and over again, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.” He is there through illness, loss, tragedy, temptation and hardship. Nothing anywhere can come between his love for us when we place all of our hope in him.

Proving God (Thursday, December 31)

One of the primary purposes of our time on earth is to share our life with others. God put us here to help one another, yet many times we simply want to be left alone. We desire to enjoy quiet lives, away from the noise of daily conflict and difficulty. We seek to escape, to find a place where we can have peace and solitude. Time spent in prayer and meditation is good, for it is the foundation of our day. But time spent serving others is better because it allows us to put our faith into action.

Jesus is our great example. He taught of love and preached about the kingdom of heaven. Yet, he also healed the blind, cured the lame, ate with sinners, touched the lepers, raised the dead, fed the poor and cast out demons. Jesus did more than talk about the grace of God; he demonstrated the Father’s love and care to the world.

As followers of Christ – for we are called Christians – we need to show how God changes lives. Through our actions, our conduct, our words, we serve in the kingdom by serving others.

During this day, devote some of your time to helping someone else. Invest in what you cannot comprehend or understand right now. In the long run, because you are serving a God of miracles and greatness, you will see that you get more in return than you can ever give away!

In his name, go (Wednesday, December 30)

Do you realize how much power you have through Jesus Christ? First of all, nothing in this world can defeat you. Absolutely nothing!

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus said. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19). We can do whatever Jesus calls us to do because he is above all else: our fears, our weaknesses and our inabilities.

Not even evil can come against us and win. Once we believe that God is in control, evil has been defeated. The problem is that much too often we give evil a foothold in our thoughts. Then we quickly talk ourselves out of the victory that is just around the corner.

May we learn to listen to God more than our doubts. Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth.” If he says “go,” then nothing can stop us!

Climbing higher (Tuesday, December 29)

Whatever stands in your way right now should not matter. Jesus said we would encounter trials and tribulations. He experienced much trouble and he wanted to prepare us for life in this world. Jesus never wasted time worrying or fretting. He knew God was in charge.

Maybe you are concerned about your health, money, school, work or a person you love dearly. Rather than suffering, let God lift you up out of doubt and anxiety.

Occasionally, I feel like a plane going through heavy turbulence. I am knocked about by forces I cannot see or control. The only way for me to find peace is to go higher, above the storms and clouds. We have to do the same in our personal lives – to rise above the obstacles that threaten our safety and security.

As long as we listen to Jesus, and follow his example, we will find the comfort we need. He will always help us climb above the confusion and turmoil of everyday difficulties.

A Bible in New York (Monday, December 28)

God uses whatever we give him, large or small: our time, our service, our work and our hands. He can even use what we own if we let him.

I often wonder where my old pocket Bible is today. I took my favorite Bible on a mission trip to New York City about 15 years ago. At a soup kitchen, I met a homeless man who asked for something religious to read. I said I would find brochures or tracts, but there was nothing anywhere in the tiny Chinatown church.

After I told him the sad news, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper: “Give him your Bible.” “But this is my Bible,” I argued. “Give him your Bible,” I heard again. “You can get another one. He can’t.”

My Bible, with all of my notes and annotations written over the years in the margins, is someplace in New York. Who knows who has it now or how many souls it has brought to the Lord. As one person said after hearing this story, “Because of all your notes inside, whoever reads it will understand the scriptures better.” That was my prayer as I returned home and started writing in a new Bible. 

Deep belief (Sunday, December 27)

People are quick to believe, but also quick to forget. During his time on earth, Jesus acknowledged that one of our human weaknesses is a tendency to be fickle. Our nature is mutable and inconsistent. We may trust what we see one moment and then suddenly, the next second, change direction in our thoughts or actions.

Jesus spoke of our capricious behavior, as John recorded in the second chapter of his epistle. “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he (Jesus) was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.”

The crowds saw that Jesus had the power to heal, yet they were unwilling to accept him as their savior. The miraculous works were one thing; accepting Jesus as the Messiah was quite another. Their trust did not go beyond the miracles Jesus performed, and their faith had little substance because it was based entirely on transitory and fleeting moments of awe.

How often does our own faith revolve around amazing signs and wonders? We are fine as long as we see and feel God’s hand constantly at work. But when the miracles cease, so does our trust. Our confidence in the Lord needs to be grounded in a firm knowledge of his full authority and power. The deeper our belief, the less we will be swayed by the transitory and fleeting thoughts of our own indecisive nature.

All for our sake (Saturday, December 26)

The day after Christmas seems to be more meaningful, for me at least, than the actual day when we celebrate Christ’s birth. I suspect that many people feel the same. After the gifts, the decorations, the meals and the television shows, we have a chance to rediscover our Lord and Savior.

Somehow, on Christmas Day, Jesus seems to be lost in all of the confusion. Of course, he is the reason we have Christmas. But he seems to blend in with the flurry of activity on December 25. Our family was so busy yesterday that we failed to say a blessing before dinner. In our haste to eat, we forgot the whole meaning and purpose of the day.

I wonder how we can get back to the simplicity and essence of Christmas. How can we focus solely on the tiny baby being held and soothed by his mother? There must be a way where we can set aside everything else and meditate on the birth that also gives us life.

Perhaps we can spend today thinking about the gift we can bring to Jesus: what we can give him to show our respect, adoration and gratitude. More than gold, frankincense and myrrh, we can give him our very lives—just like he gave to us by coming to earth and being born in a tiny manger. It was all done for our sake.

The perfect gift (Friday, December 25)

We dash from store to store, search countless websites and scan dozens of brochures and catalogs looking for the perfect gift. We want to find just the right item for each person we know. Every individual is special and the gift needs to be unique as well. No “one size fits all” will do.

In the same way, God planned a perfect gift for each one of us. Yes, we all have distinctive and exclusive talents; no one else can do the things we are able to perform. But our true gift is even greater. God gave each one of us a personal savior. Jesus has a special, intimate relationship with every individual. Like the 12 disciples, he chose us to be with him and to share in his kingdom.

In last night’s Christmas Eve service at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis proclaimed that the real message of Jesus’ birth is that we are not alone. He is with us each moment and he is with everyone who will answer his call.

As we pause today in front of the manger, may we see the Christ child for who he is: our savior, guide, strength and creator. His birth, in so many ways, represents our birth in him. He came into the world to serve each one of us, no matter our race or culture. He is the perfect gift for and above all nations. He is the perfect gift for you.   

Born again (Thursday, December 24)

Being born again means having a new life. The old person is gone, dead, and a new person comes forth. We receive a new nature, not a new body.

Often, we confuse the two. As Christians, we wonder why we have to face pain, sickness and trouble. Somehow we think we are supposed to be immune from the problems of this world. But Christ never promised us a perfect life. He promised us eternal life.

What he came to give us is far more than we can either think or imagine right now. Our new life in him guarantees us new life in paradise – forever.

Once we begin to realize what awaits us in heaven, we no longer will be so upset with what we are going through right now. Now will not last, but eternity will.

Having a glad heart (Wednesday, December 23)

Praising God continuously transforms and renews us. In an instant, we can be new creatures in him. When we lift our hearts, hands, voices, minds and bodies – all that we are and have – toward God, we set ourselves free from the earthly problems that so often beset us. Our perspective on life shifts dramatically because we are taking time to experience the full glory of God. Being grateful for the great works he has done shows us, proves to us, how much we have been blessed.

Nothing else matters when we live each moment through the presence of God. He is all we see and hear as we go through the day. If we encounter trouble, we realize our entire life will not fall apart. If we do not feel well, we know God will heal us. If we lack strength and energy, we have faith he will help us. If we are depressed, we understand he will lift us. If we are anxious, we believe he will calm us. If we feel grief and sorrow, we remember he will comfort us.

Worshipping and praising God are not hard, yet they do not come easily. Sometimes we must fight our way through hatred, regret, suffering and stubbornness. On occasion, we must battle even harder with feelings of anger.

We need to know, and remind ourselves over and over again, God is good. He has given us the gift of life and the grace of his love. We can praise him for these two things alone; yet, how much more he has done for you and me. No matter what this day brings, we are able to give thanks. We praise him with a glad heart, confident that he walks with us because we see all his blessings.

What we know (Tuesday, December 22)

The day can be gray and dreary, yet above the clouds the sun is shining. Which one I choose to see depends on my perspective. Although I may be walking in rain or snow through the wet streets, I can be thinking about the beauty that lies overhead just beyond my sight. A thin layer of clouds is all that keeps me from seeing what is really there.

Our life in Christ is similar. We may not be able to see him with our eyes, still we know he is there above the difficulties of life. Despite what we are experiencing today – not feeling well, disappointment, worry, concern, fatigue or perhaps boredom – we know the truth. Jesus is right next to us. All that separates us from him is the physical limitation of our sight.

Whether we believe what we cannot see depends on us. Like the sun that shines beyond the clouds, we can set our minds on what we perceive with our earthly senses or what we know with our minds. Jesus told us he is with us always – even to the end of the earth. We should not need to touch him to know it is so.

In the same way, I should not have to fly in a plane above the clouds to realize this day is clear and sunny. I know it, even though I feel the rain as soon as I step out of my house.

We are victors (Monday, December 21)

Sometimes our best just isn’t good enough. Watching the World Cup in 2010 reminded me that there are times when we give our all, putting everything we have into something, and still come up short. Like the United States soccer team playing in South Africa, we can lose even though we have done everything we know how to do to win.

No one likes to lose, and it does not matter whether it involves a game or a matter more serious like a promotion or being turned down for a loan. We take our losses personally, even though there may have been nothing else we could have done. We think losing in one area or on one occasion makes us losers in every respect.

We should never give up our value and dignity simply because we did not get what we wanted. What we lost is one thing. Our lives are another. The only thing that matters in life is our life. If we lose our soul then we have lost everything. But if we lose a soccer match, a baseball game or even a job, the defeat will not matter in the long run. Yes, the pain of a loss is intense and immediate. But so is the joy of victory. Who will still be suffering or celebrating in five or ten years?

The whole point is that we never lose with God. We do not have to worry about being overcome by any enemy. He keeps us safe and secure. In him, we remain children of the king in spite of the world’s difficulties; we are always victorious. Nothing can conquer us as long as we trust and believe the conqueror.

Being healed (Sunday, December 20)

I need open heart surgery. Not the sort that is done by a cardiologist. But the kind that is done by the Lord.

Only God can mend the things that are wrong with us. From the thoughts that we sometimes think to the words that we speak to the actions we commit, God is the great physician who can perform miracles. He can repair whatever is wrong and make us new again. He is able to give us a new lease on life.

He cannot help us, though, if we do not go in for the operation. We must be willing and ready to allow him to examine and work on us – to do what needs to be done in order to fix our broken hearts. The surgery will not be easy, but his hand is steady and his skill is perfect. He knows precisely what he is doing. After all, he has done this kind of thing countless times before.

If we want to be healed, we have to trust him. How soon we schedule our open heart surgery depends on how soon we want to get better. God has time right now. Do you?

His desire for us (Saturday, December 19)

As much as I hate to admit it my wife and I sometimes argue, even after 43 years of marriage. What we disagree about usually is something silly. The next day, we have our peace once again and we move on.

I know that we are still adjusting to retirement. Two years ago, we had notions of relaxing all day and not having any responsibilities. We would not even have to go outside or to the store if it was cold or snowing.

The Lord, however, had different plans. He brought us back to Ohio from sunny Virginia Beach for some very important work: to babysit our two-year-old grandson and allow our 10-year-old granddaughter and son to live here with us. There are numerous other things we never thought we would be doing. All in all, our lives have been rocked by change since 2013.

On occasion, we fight our own ideas of what we should be doing at this time in our lives. We get caught between what we want and what God wants. In the end, when the petty bickering ends, we realize that serving him is much more important than serving ourselves. He knows what is best and all of us need to trust him more.

Facing our fears (Friday, December 18)

What do we do when opposition comes our way? It could be a person or a situation. Maybe there is someone who has been mean toward us or there is a problem at work. Our natural response is either to fight back or run away. But there is another way.

When Paul was in Ephesus, he wrote to those in Corinth about the difficulty he was up against. “But I will stay on [here] until Pentecost because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9). Paul used a different approach other than fight or flight. He opted to stay exactly where the Lord had put him.

No doubt he wanted to spread the good news of salvation to the very people who accosted him with angry words and hurtful hearts. It might have been the only chance they would ever have to learn about Jesus.

Paul did not let his fear get the better of him. He put it aside for the greater glory of God and we need to live the same way. We need to remain steadfast whenever adversity arises, knowing that God will help us stand just as he did with Paul.

The good all around us (Thursday, December 17)

The clerk at the snack food kiosk was gone for at least 10 minutes. I watched curiously as hundreds of travelers went by in both directions of the airport terminal. Surprisingly, no one took advantage of the situation to grab even a bottle of water or a candy bar.

Deep down, the majority of people in this world are good. They are honest and trustworthy. They do not lie, cheat or steal. In fact, probably 99 percent of the seven billion individuals are decent, law-abiding citizens. It is the less than one percent who cause harm and destruction for the rest of us.

Our nature is to focus on the evil in society rather than on the good. The news each day—in papers, on television, radio and the Internet—consists primarily of fires, shootings, arrests and robberies. There is so much going on that we tend to overlook the good being done by folks everywhere. Look at the millions of dollars donated each year to help those who are homeless and hungry. Think of the many non-profit organizations that pay for the thousands of children who need treatment or surgery for a variety of illnesses. And remember all of the churches that do mission work in their community as well as around the world.

During this holiday season, let us focus on the good instead of the bad. Let us not lose our peace or our happiness by being distracted by all of the negative things we see and maybe experience for ourselves. May we spend these precious days dwelling on the true meaning of Christmas and why Jesus came to earth in the first place.

Looking ahead (Wednesday, December 16)

Unlike us as human beings, God does not worry. He is not anxious. Nor is he concerned about time – whether or not events happen according to the circumstances of this world. So, too, God is never swayed or affected by what people do or do not do. At the same time, though, he cares for us and wants to give us his peace.

We can only experience his divine assurance by placing complete faith in him. He alone knows the future. God knows where he is taking us. All things work together for those who love and trust him. There is a great future awaiting us. God has made it and promised it. Despite our many doubts and fears sometimes, God’s plan does not change.

All of the challenges of life are taking us nearer to the day when we shall see his greatness. We will realize his blessings and fullness beyond all we have ever imagined. Then our struggles of this present moment will not matter. They will be gone forever, replaced by what God had waiting for us all along.

Our shame (Tuesday, December 15)

We do not talk much about shame these days.  There are all sorts of shame we feel from time to time: disgrace over a loss of our reputation; embarrassment from something we have done or said; dishonor because we have lost respect; humiliation due to being arrogant or proud.

It is interesting to observe that the Bible begins and ends with the subject of shame.  In Genesis, we see Eve and Adam hiding because of their shame.  In Revelation, we find the seven churches living in shame for one reason or another.  In a very literal way, the Bible is a book of shame – our shame and sin as human beings.

But the Bible is also a book of forgiveness – God’s forgiveness.  Over and over, no matter what people did or did not do, God never stopped loving them.  He never quit loving Eve and Adam, Moses, David, Jonah, Peter, Job. The list goes on and on through the centuries all the way up to us.  We are included in God’s continuous and unconditional love.

Nothing we ever do will make God love us any less.  Nothing at all.  Not our mistakes, our doubts, our anger, our fears, our many, many faults.  God’s love remains the same in spite of ourselves.  He will always love us, even in our shame.  

Connected to our source (Monday, December 14)

Up and down the streets everywhere are lights, decorations and inflatable figures cheering the Christmas season. From Santas to angels to snowmen, these blow-up characters come to life at night but go down quickly during the day when they are not plugged in.

From time to time, we can feel like these deflated decorations. Things go along smoothly and then, suddenly, it is like the wind has been knocked out of us. We become unplugged, so to speak, and we fall to the ground. We feel drained and lifeless.

On such occasions, we need to look up to God. He will fill us with life and hope once again. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:1-4).

God provides the energy and power we need to keep going and serving him. We might fall down, but he is able to pick us up and help us stand tall once again. He is our source and strength. Nothing can hold us back as long as we remain connected to him.

Pure grace (Sunday, December 13)

The real greatness of God is seen in all that he has done for us, not for himself. He formed an enormous world out of nothing. He created every living creature. He came to earth in the form of a child. He works daily through the Holy Spirit. All of these things are completely and totally for us.

We do not truly comprehend God’s care and devotion. If we did, we would willingly give up everything to serve him. We would offer our lives in the same way he has offered himself to us. We would do anything or go anywhere he asks. We would gladly allow ourselves to be broken for his sake rather than to be made whole for the world.

We must constantly remind ourselves of all that God has done for us. Our lives, and everything we will ever do, are the result of his humility and grace. He blesses and loves us even though we do not deserve it. All he asks in return is to let him do more for us.

Ready to believe (Saturday, December 12)

There is power in prayer because there is power in God. It is his grace, compassion and love that heals, restores, revives and renews. Alone we can do nothing. With God, we can do everything.

Jesus granted us his authority over sickness, disease and difficulty. I tell you the truth, Jesus said, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Each moment of our lives, Jesus intercedes on our behalf. He goes to the Father for us. He presents our need to God as we present our prayers to him. Whatever we ask through him and by him, he says he will do. He will answer our prayers because our petitions for wholeness in him bring glory and honor to the Father.

No matter what our request, Jesus is there. He says we can ask for anything in his name and he will, indeed, do it. But we must be willing to ask and also ready to believe.

The priceless gift (Friday, December 11)

Two weeks from today we will celebrate the birth of our Savior. We will exchange gifts with one another, enjoy a wonderful meal together and maybe even sing carols. But let us not forget Jesus in all of our jubilee. He should be the center and focus of everything we do on that special day.

May we remember that each present we give or receive represents the life that Jesus gave to us. Let us think, too, about sharing a meal together: it is much like the supper that Jesus had with his disciples on his last night on earth. Afterwards, they sang a hymn together and went with him to the Mount of Olives.

Both now and on Christmas day, we need to pray for those who do not know or perhaps understand the true meaning of Christmas. May their eyes and hearts be opened so they can see the real light of the world rather than just the colorful lights on our houses and trees. May they come to a realization that there is a deep and living significance behind all of the decorations and presents.

Let us spread the good news to others as Luke did for us: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ’Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Most of all, let us share the peace that we have as Christians—the peace of knowing that the Lord came to earth to give us the precious gift of eternal life with him.

Our souls can rest (Thursday, December 10)

The Lord watches over his children. Not just sometimes. But in all times and in all places. A case in point: my wife and I recently traveled to Italy. We missed our connecting flight in London, but God gave us a chance to have a traditional English breakfast in a wonderful restaurant at the airport and relax after an all-night flight. Coming home our flight from Rome was canceled, but we had a chance to stay another night and to enjoy a good night’s sleep before a nine-hour flight the next day.

Also, my wife’s purse had been stolen in Rome, but all the thief got were three credit cards and $150 in cash. The day before, however, she had more than $3,000 in her wallet from collecting registration fees at the conference we attended. And her passport was not taken because it was locked away in the hotel safe.

The saying is true—that bad things do happen to good people. Evil is always trying to steal our peace. God’s protection and love, however, are much stronger and much greater. Despite our difficulties, we kept our eyes on the Lord and he kept watch over us. This trip was one of the best we have ever experienced!

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate. The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and he saved me. Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:5-6). His grace and care allows our soul to rest in any situation. Amen!

Winning the battle (Wednesday, December 9)

I wonder why it is that I still become anxious during periods of difficulty. Is it a matter of my unbelief in God? Haven’t I learned yet that everything always works out? Perhaps there is something missing in my make-up or my intellect. I frequently experience doubt despite the fact that I realize God is in control.

The odd thing is that we know we are protected by his love and care; still, we fall apart at the least sign of trouble. Does this mean that we do not trust or have faith in God? Maybe the answer has little to do with our confidence in God. Instead, it could be that we become upset and worried due to our loss of control. It is not easy for any of us to relinquish our ability to handle each situation in life. We simply have difficulty in letting go.

Even when it comes to God, we have a tough time of stepping away. Deep down, we understand God is watching over us – that all things work together for good to those who love him. We also believe in his power to heal and to guide. In spite of everything, though, we struggle. We carry on this battle inside of ourselves; we war over what God is doing and what we want to do.

God says that the battle is not ours. He will fight for us if we just step aside and stop trying to tell him what to do. Surely, he knows what must be done. The only way he can prove himself to us is if we stop trying to prove ourselves to him.

Emmanuel (Monday, December 7)

Advent is a season when we prepare to celebrate the Savior’s birth. We await his coming with great anticipation. People everywhere put up lights and decorations that remind us of the beauty of what God did 2,000 years ago.

In our hearts, though, we do not have to wait until December 25. Jesus is with us always. He was there when we woke up this morning and as we began our day. He goes with us as we work, go shopping, attend meetings, do routine errands and when we pause for lunch. He remains present throughout the afternoon, through dinner and into the evening as we relax at home. We may not always see him at our side, but he is there.

As we approach the end of another day, many hours from now, the Savior continues to protect us and watch over us during the night. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He is good, loving and gentle in all he asks us to do for the Father. Sometimes we miss his tender touch because we become hardened by the world.

We must learn to receive him in the same way in which he was sent: as a meek and mild child who is the King. He came to serve us so that we could serve others. Let us take on his humility, knowing that the meaning of life is found in divine grace. Emmanuel. God is with us each moment.

His reflection (Sunday, December 6)

We do not always see our real image when we look in the mirror. If you are like me, you may see what is not there. Many times I picture someone younger, stronger and more handsome. I do not notice the tired eyes, the balding head, the gray hair and the flabby cheeks.

The apostle James said that we should be careful not to deceive ourselves. We ought not to think more of ourselves than we are. Jesus told the temple priests that they were like white-washed tombs, that they had eyes but could not see, that they could swallow a camel but choke on a gnat.

What did you see this morning in the mirror? I wonder how we would look if we used the Bible as our mirror. No doubt it would not give us the image we are seeking. Let us take more time to look at ourselves with eyes wide open and see how we can improve as God’s reflection here on earth.

Born again (Saturday, December 5)

Being born again means having a new life. The old person is gone, dead, and a new person comes forth. We receive a new nature, not a new body.

Often, we confuse the two. As Christians, we wonder why we have to face pain, sickness and trouble. Somehow we think we are supposed to be immune from the problems of this world. But Christ never promised us a perfect life. He promised us eternal life.

What he came to give us is far more than we can either think or imagine right now. Our new life in him guarantees us new life in paradise – forever.

Once we being to realize what awaits us in heaven, we no longer will be so upset with what we are going through right now. Now will not last, but eternity will.

Confusion (Friday, December 4)

What must Jesus have been thinking when he rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday? People cheered, men placed their cloaks on the ground, and children waved palm branches. Everyone was filled with joy. All perhaps except for Jesus.

Jesus knew why he had come to earth. Yet, the crowds saw him as their new king – one who would stand up against the Romans; one who would restore power to the Jews.

Deep in his heart, Jesus must have been disappointed. After all he had said and done, most still did not understand. After the miracles, the healings, the teachings and the caring, there remained much confusion over who he was.

Make no mistake, my friend, Jesus can to be the Savior of souls, not of earthly bodies or nations. He desires that we live forever in heaven rather than a short time here below. And he showed us what he meant by going to the cross. We must follow him if we want to receive his reward.

The church (Thursday, December 3)

Upon this rock, Jesus said to Peter, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The Savior says the same to each one of us today. He is depending on us to build his church here on earth.

We have an incredible responsibility both to the kingdom and to God. What happens or does not happen is up to us. Either we stand with Jesus or we fall alone. As much as we might want to run away or deny Jesus at times (as Peter most certainly did), the truth is that we made a commitment to God himself.

Our spiritual faith must always be stronger than our physical fears. Christ is building a church that will last forever, not one that is subject to earthly decay and destruction.

The foundation was created 2,000 years ago. Jesus now calls to you and me to continue building. Peter is the rock, but we are the stones that will make the church rise high into the heavens.

Routine or risk? (Wednesday, December 2)

On occasion, I have difficulty going beyond myself. I tend to become comfortable with the way things are and I get used to a certain routine. But I believe the Lord always wants us to reach higher than ourselves. He calls us to leave our life of safety and security – to take risks in his name.

Peter did not realize what the Lord could do through him until he stepped out of boat. Moses did not know how God could use him until he arrived in Pharaoh’s court. Noah had no idea what the Lord was about to do with him until the rains came.

Whenever we step forward in the name of God, we may at times fall a little short. We never fail, however, in God’s eyes. He can use us even when we think we are useless. He will show what he is able to accomplish if only we let him work through us. All he asks is our willingness to trust him.

I can think of many things in my own life that prove what God can do through one small person. The fact that I am who I am today is because of him. I know he wants to accomplish even more through me and through you as well. The end result depends on how much faith we have in him. The greater our trust, the more he can do.

Peace (Tuesday, December 1)

You and I usually seek the wrong kind of peace. We long for earthly content rather than heavenly peace. We want people to like us more than we want God to love us. We look for acceptance, recognition, encouragement, support and strength – all in a worldly way. In essence, we are looking for the impossible, something we will never find.

The only lasting peace we can have comes from Jesus. My peace I leave with you, he said. My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. What we often call peace is nothing more than temporary tranquility, a calm for the time being. Eventually, things will change and this peace will vanish. It will disappear as quickly as it appeared.

God’s peace never changes. Nor does it ever leave, fading away without a trace. His peace remains deep inside of us and does not depend on other people or outside circumstances. We can be at peace, if we will our minds to do so, even when our flesh is in pain. The reason is because what Jesus gives us is spiritual, not physical.

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, Jesus reminds us. He is talking entirely about our heart and not our body.

Do it (Monday, November 30)

James the apostle did not mince words when he told us how to live. He stated emphatically and unconditionally: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22). There are no exceptions, no excuses, no exclusions and no explanations. Do what the word says at all times.

If someone offends us, we must walk away if we have truly heard the word. When people conspire against us, we must pray for them. Should persons hurt us, we must forgive them. We need to do these things, according to James, so we will not deceive ourselves into thinking that we know the word of God.

Hearing and knowing are not necessarily coexistent. One can be present without the other. Most of the time we equate hearing the word with doing the word. We assume, rather falsely, that there must be a cause and effect relationship here. We read the 10 commandments; therefore, we obey all of them. If the truth be known, most of us have broken all of them in one way or another.

When it comes to following God, there is no room for cavalier or careless attitudes. God’s word is there to help us. If we merely listen, we are only fooling ourselves. The word can do no good until we do what it says.

At a crossroads (Sunday, November 29)

Intersections are dangerous places. Paths converge. One way intersects with another. We must make a decision: we can go right, left or straight ahead. Which we choose depends, of course, on our destination.

At every nexus, there is usually a warning of some sort. There is a stop light where two roads meet, and there is God’s prompting when it comes to our lives. He points the way to life; plus, he tells us the safest and surest route.

The decision, though, is up to us. We can keep going down the same road. Or we can make a left turn and go the right way, following the directions that lead us closer to God. Even if we make a mistake, we can still make a U-turn and get back on the proper course.

God is always ready and willing to help us correct our direction. We cannot do it alone. His love and concern are like a personal GPS. If we do what we are told, we cannot go wrong. On the other hand, if we go our way we may be entirely on our own.

The season (Saturday, November 28)

Thanksgiving now is behind us for another year. No doubt we have already put away the brightly colored displays of turkeys and cornucopias. In many homes, these were quickly replaced the day after with Christmas trees and miniature mangers.

In our rush to get everything done, we move rapidly from one holiday to the next. Sometimes we do not pause long enough to catch our breath or ponder the significance of what we are celebrating. All that seems to matter is that we take care of everything on our list. Somehow we feel the season will not be the same – that it will be incomplete – if we one little item.

But there is where we miss the point and purpose. When we place more importance on what we do rather than how we feel, we have overlooked the true meaning. Each holiday, especially Thanksgiving, is a chance for us to take a break from our busy lives and to remember things we tend to forget the rest of the year. What good does it do, for example, if our lives are blessed but we never take time to consider all God has done for us?

For many of us, we make the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas the busiest time of all. I wonder what would happen if we suddenly forgot about all of the decorations, meals and parties? How much more time we would have both for ourselves and for others. Perhaps we would see, after all, that people really make the holidays meaningful. It has nothing to do with food, gifts or even bright lights.

Shake it off (Friday, November 27)

Evil and wrong-doing command our attention, but they do not deserve our contemplation or concentration. When we see something wrong – whether it is a person speeding by us on the highway or someone who never has anything good to say – we need to ignore it and move on with our lives. We should not give the matter a second thought.

All of us are familiar with the story of Paul who was bitten unexpectedly by a poisonous snake. Scripture tells us that he simply shook it off and continued on. He did not allow the incident to get the better of him.

We, too, must learn how to shake off anything and everything that threatens to beset us in some way. If you are feeling a little under the weather this morning, shake it off and do what God has set before you. If you are so busy you don’t know what to do first, shake it off and let God tell you where to start. If you are experiencing anxiety for some reason, shake it off and remember that God did not give you a spirit of fear.

Let us focus our time and attention on what God is doing in our lives rather than on what Satan is trying to undo.

Great monuments (Thursday, November 26)

Churches all over the world show what people can do when God is working through them. Some structures are tiny chapels, some are modest auditoriums and others are magnificent shrines that soar into the heavens. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Milan Cathedral and the Duomo in Florence symbolize the greatness of God’s power and might.

But the greatest work of all is us. You and me. Each one of us is an individual masterpiece. Our bodies and our lives are the very workmanship of the Creator. We are fearfully and wonderfully made – made in the image of God himself and designed to do his work. Our flesh is his living body on earth.

Recall the words of St. Paul in his loving letter to the Ephesians: “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God made each one of us for a specific time, purpose and meaning. We are a part of his grand design to spread the good news of salvation to the four corners of the world.

What a remarkable structure we are. We can breathe, move, talk, think, hear and see. God has certainly poured out his excellence in us. We are living monuments to greatness. We are holy temples of the Most High.

Our seasons (Wednesday, November 25)

Each year has its seasons, and every season has a purpose. So it is with us; we have our seasons as well. We may be going through a season of change, one of prosperity, a time of sickness or a period of tragedy. Whatever the experience, we can be sure there is a reason.

Placing complete trust in God is essential to our growth and endurance during various seasons. We have to know God will take care of us. Over and over again, God reassures us in his word: he says he never leaves us; he takes care of all our needs; he guides us; he gives us his strength; he loves us; he is our refuge; he is our helper; he is our hope. It is up to us to believe these promises, even when we do not see an answer or the end of a season up ahead.

Some of us have an easier time of trusting God than others. Occasionally, we have to convince ourselves that God will come through for us. The only way to satisfy our doubtful minds is to look at what God has done in the past. Hebrews 11 gives us a reminder of how God helped people like Abraham, Noah and Moses. Our individual lives and experiences are another reminder of how God has brought us through various seasons in the past.

We can be deceived by what is going on right now, such as how we feel physically or mentally. Rather than to trust what we see, God tells us to put our faith in what we cannot see. He says to have faith for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Trusting God, through our faith in him, gives us the hope we need to weather any season. Ironically, our blind trust often allows us to see God’s hand at work in our lives.

Difficult decisions
(Tuesday, November 24)

Sometimes we question the Lord’s path for our life. We find it almost too hard to follow him. Along the journey, we encounter conditions that are difficult and painful: sorrow, anguish, disappointment, rejection, illness, death and a multitude of everyday problems. We often want to deal with tough situations by going the opposite way. But running away is not the answer, especially when the Lord is leading us in another direction.

Speaking to a large crowd one day, Jesus explained the right way to go in life was the truest and easiest. “Come to me,” he said, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus tells us to follow him and he will lift our burdens.

Each day we are forced to make decisions; most are small but some can have long-lasting consequences. Our emotions and desires push us in one direction while, at the same time, God is telling us to go a different way. We wrestle with what to do. In the end, we may think we know what is best for us because we have spent time considering every detail and effect. We may even reach the point where we can rationalize our decision – it makes perfect sense to us and to others. Still, God seems to be leading us somewhere else, someplace that seems unreasonable or irrational.

But God does not show us which way to go based on our reason or emotions. He imparts his will for us, regardless of what we might think or feel. He tells us that if we do go with him, we will find both rest and relief. However, we have to make the decision. Once we make the choice to go in his direction, and to be yoked with him, he will step in to help us. Not only will he show us the way, but he also promises to guide us gently and bear all of our burdens.

Die to self to live for him (Monday, November 23)

You must be willing to give up all of your crutches if you are serious about serving God. You have to let go of those things that gratify your flesh but do little for the kingdom. You need to quit pleasing yourself by always trying to satisfy others; you must forget about doing only those things that are easy or comfortable; you must cease from judging others; you need to refrain from thinking of yourself more highly than you ought. In short, you must quit being selfish.

Only if you do all these can you really know that God is enough in all situations. You do not have to worry about what you give up. God will come in to fill the empty and anxious spots that are left vacant – the places where you are left most vulnerable.

No one can serve both God and people. As long as you have certain behaviors or attitudes on which you depend, God cannot be fully present in your life. You must give up everything in order to have everything. You must first die to your self before you can live for God.

Pray like this (Sunday, November 22)

Not only are we made in the image and likeness of God, but we are told to imitate Jesus when we go to God in prayer. “This, then, is how you should pray,” Jesus says in Matthew as he begins the Lord’s Prayer. Luke also writes about Jesus instructing the disciples in the proper form and format for prayer: “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name….’” Jesus has given us these specific directions for a reason.

The most obvious, and yet the most overlooked, reason is the fact that we may address God as Father. We can come to the God of the universe and call him Father because we have a unique and special relationship with him. We are his family, his children, his sons and daughters. We are heirs of his power and might. As a father, he has promised to take care of us, to provide for us, if we will only place our lives in his hands.

Allowing God to be our Father is both simple and difficult. We want him to help us and, at the same time, let us do what we think is best. But we cannot follow God and ourselves. We must make a choice. That is why we say “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God can only be our Father if we let him.

Cherishing the unknown (Saturday, November 21)

The mystery of the gospel. Paul used this interesting phrase in his letter to the Ephesians. He was in jail, thinking of his brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, when he wrote, “Pray for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19-20). A mystery implies the unknown and unexplained. But Paul knew the teachings and gospel of Christ as well as any of the apostles. He experienced the physical power of the Lord on the way to Damascus, and he saw the spiritual power of God through many miracles and healings.

What he could not make clear, however, were the divine designs and plans of the living God. The vast mystery of the unseen power of the Holy Spirit, the creation of the universe, the resurrection of Jesus – all of these can be explained only by faith and belief in the gospel.

Without these two elements (faith and belief) we could never even begin to ponder the mystery and wonder of God. It is this inexplicable concept that we must tell to the world. Like Paul, we need to ask for the right words in order to help others appreciate and cherish the unknown. Through the unknown, God becomes known.

Our complete restoration (Friday, November 20)

Job lost his family and fortune. Moses lost the kingdom of Egypt. Paul lost his sight. In each case, the Lord restored life and blessings far beyond what any of these men could have ever dreamed. Certainly, we know that God can and does restore money, prominence, reputation, influence and health to all sorts of people. The Bible tells of the many times when God restored kingdoms, nations and individuals.

But the real question is, “Will God restore me?” There should be no doubt that he will. No matter what we have done, God promises to restore us and to finish the work he began in us if we are willing to do all he asks. We do not know how long the process will take because we are all different. Job suffered for many years. Moses had to wait an entire generation before God brought him back to Egypt. Paul was blinded for a few days.

We are always concerned about time, just as people living centuries ago. Writing to the Christians in the northwest section of Asia Minor, Peter reminded them that God’s restoration surely will come. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10 ). God promises to restore all we have lost or given up in his name.

Still, we worry about how quickly it will come. We wonder how long we will have to suffer. Peter was emphasizing the everlasting truth of God’s word. The pain and anguish last only “a little while.” Instead of always thinking about what we have lost, we must focus on what we have in God and in our loved ones. God knows us inside and out; he sees our heart and he loves us. Family and friends know us as well; they know who we are and they love us, too. The only way for us to get through this short time of suffering is to place our full hope in the eternal love that comes from God. Such love surpasses anything we will ever have to endure in life, and it can give us the earthly restoration we need as human beings to press on.

The root of the problem (Thursday, November 19)

The other day, while putting up a 20-foot ladder to clean the gutters, I accidently broke a plant. I must have hit the top of it with the ladder and severed it from the roots. I took care to dig a hole and put the plant back in the ground. I also tied it to a small stake to keep it upright.

The plant is still green, but the leaves are drooping. I am not sure the plant will survive. In fact, it would be a miracle if it did because it was cut off from the roots.

Our lives are no different than this plant. If we are cut off from our source of nourishment and energy, we also will die. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Remember, too, that Jesus cursed the fig tree with the withered roots because it was not bearing fruit (Mark 11:20-21).

Focus today on the fruit you are producing for the kingdom. If you stay connected to the source of all life—your roots—you will spread God’s bounty and goodness wherever you go!

Bondage of pain (Wednesday, November 18)

Prayer can offer us deep comfort during times of trouble and crisis. When we pray, we feel close to God; we know that he is listening to our hearts. Sometimes, however, God does not answer our prayers and petitions as we ask. When this happens, prayer can leave us frustrated. Over and over again, we continue to ask God for help. Still, our pain seems to grow worse.

Our finite minds suddenly think God does not care, that he does not love us. We beg, plead, cry, and yet our situation does not change. Often, we feel worse because of the added confusion over God’s purpose for our suffering. “What are you doing, Lord,” we ask. “Don’t you see what we are going through? Please, Father, help us.”

We are human and we want the pain to go away. What we do not understand or see, at least for the moment, is how God is using our present grief to strengthen us for the future. Each minute more that we can endure means we will not be susceptible to the same kind of earthly hurt again.

God is always by our side, teaching us how to overcome such trials. As our loving Father, he is teaching us we are stronger than we think and that having faith in him can help us deal with any temporary pain. Faith lasts for eternity, but physical suffering does not. Once we learn this truth, we will be set free from the bondage of our own pain.

Listening to hear (Tuesday, November 17)

In a world constantly blaring with the raucous sounds of daily life, it is difficult to hear God. Everywhere we go we encounter noise from traffic, cell phones, computers, airplanes, television, ipods, radio and even people talking or yelling. Our society seems almost obsessed with sound, as if there is something distasteful about silence.

We often think we are wasting time when we sit quietly in a room. We feel like we should always be busy, running from one place to another. Periods of silence, though, can be some of the most productive times in our lives. When we are quiet, we refresh our mind, body and spirit. By relaxing, we have a chance to renew our perspective and remind ourselves what life is all about. We can focus on the true essence and meaning of being alive: God.

Psalm 46:10 tells us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Only in the stillness can we come to know our Creator. Only through our silence can we develop a deeper relationship with him. We want his ways to become our ways, his will to become our will and his purpose to become our purpose. These qualities take time and must be nurtured over hours, weeks, months and years. We are building an everlasting relationship – a bond that transcends anything and everything we have ever experienced.

Like our ties between family and friends, quiet time together strengthens our love and affection for one another. It would be impossible to really know others if we never spent time with them or we never listened to their thoughts, feelings and ideas. When we are still, we listen and come to know. God wants us to know him intimately, but we have to be willing to be quiet and hear what he has to say.

No darkness can hide his light (Monday, November 16)

The recent events in Paris make us keenly aware of the evil that threatens not only our very lives, but our souls as well. When tragedy strikes we turn to God for strength, understanding and hope. What we need to do, above all, is to remember these words from the hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote: “When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.”

We cannot allow the darkness of this world, however evil and sinister it may be, to keep us from seeing the true light of the world. Far beyond the deaths and injuries of hundreds of persons, there is hope. Hope for those who have perished. Hope for those who are in critical condition. Hope for those who need healing and consolation. Hope for those of us who want peace. Even hope for people who right now want revenge and retaliation.

Naturally, we ask where was God was on that horrific and dark night in Paris, fondly known as the City of Lights. Why didn’t he prevent the senseless murders and injuries? Why didn’t he intercede and stop the assassins and suicide bombers? Why did he let evil triumph?

But that is where we are wrong. Evil did not win, for we know that God has the last and final word in all things. We know, too, that God always is the victor. He proclaimed it more than 2,000 years ago when his son was murdered on a cross. No doubt Mary, Martha, John and dozens of others were asking the same questions we ask today: “Where was God?” “Why didn’t he do something?”

He did! He raised Jesus from the dead and gave salvation to people through the ages and throughout the world. God’s “unchanging grace” was sure and steady then just as it is today. Since the time of Adam and Eve, he promised that a savior would one day be born to bring light and forgiveness to all who would believe. In his Concise Commentary of the Book of John, Matthew Henry said that “Christ is the Light of the world. God is light, and Christ is the image of the invisible God. One sun enlightens the whole world; so does one Christ, and there needs no more. What a dark dungeon would the world be without the sun! So would it be without Jesus, by whom light came into the world” (John 8:12-16).

We must never permit the dark deeds of some to blot out or extinguish the one great light of the universe. In him, rests our hope and in us rests his grace.

Weak yet strong (Sunday, November 15)

Often, we are dismayed by what we notice going on around us. We see injustice, inequity and inequality almost everywhere we turn – from the workplace to our schools to our communities. As caring Christians, we try to correct the problems we encounter. Occasionally, we are successful. Most of the time, however, we are left frustrated and confused because we feel like we are alone in our fight. No one else seems to be concerned.

The Bible offers us guidance on how to act when we come up against opposition. We are told to be strong yet gentle, firm but compassionate, wise as serpents though harmless as doves. To our way of thinking, we must be one or the other, but not both at the same time. What at first seems like a paradox is really a profound truth. The reason is because we are not alone in trying to right the wrongs in the world. God is always there, giving us guidance as well as his strength.

The people of Judah were not alone when they faced the Moabites and Ammonites. Before the battle, the spirit of the Lord came to them saying, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). At a time when King Jehoshaphat and his people were the weakest, they were made strong through the Lord. “You will not have to fight this battle,” the spirit assured them. “Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”

We have to realize that there will be many occasions in life when we appear defeated, at least in the eyes of the world. At such times, we need to let God fight the battle. Even though we are weak, he is strong. God knows our heart. He realizes we are not standing by and accepting all the evil we see. He knows we did not want to give up. That is why the spirit reminds us “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” With God’s help, we can be weak and strong at the same time. We can appear harmless, yet wise, because we are letting God take care of the problem.

Celebrating each day (Saturday, November 14)

We naturally celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and family gatherings. But every day in our lives is extraordinary because of who we are in Christ. Today marks another day when we are loved and protected by the creator of the universe.

When we pause to think about the fact that God fashioned this very day and made us for this day, we begin to see our lives from a new perspective. Suddenly, we feel a part of the universe rather than apart from it. Too often we as Christians think that we are estranged from the rest of the world. Our purposes and goals seem to be out of step with post-modern society. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

The universe was created by God and it is controlled by him. We are his creation and we were put here for his glory. We are not out of step with his design at all; rather, it is the world that has chosen to turn away from God. One of our primary purposes in life is to point the way back to God – to show those who are not believers what they are missing.

Realizing the importance of our work here on earth, as well as all that we possess through Christ, we can shout with joy and assurance that “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” We celebrate each day because we are living in him, from this moment on and forever for all eternity.

Living for the future (Friday, November 13)

Nothing in life is truly ours. All that we are and have belongs to God. For a brief time, we use what has been given to us – finances, house, cars, our vocation and even our physical bodies – in order to do God’s work on earth. These things came from God and they belong to him. They are merely tools to make our work for the kingdom easier and more efficient.

Unfortunately, many people place all of their joy in temporal objects, such as a large house or a particular type of car. Some people are extremely proud of pieces of furniture, a boat or a painting. The reality is that everything we see around us will perish eventually. Decades from now, the house in which we live or the car we drive right now will not matter in the least.

What will make a difference, however, is what we cannot see right now. The love we have for our family and friends, our dedication toward God, our work for the church, the hours we spend in prayer and meditation – these will last clear into eternity. These are the kinds of things that bring us closer and nearer to God. A new house or car does little to develop our relationship with God.

We can easily be caught up in the values of the world. But we need to tell ourselves, as well as the world, that as Christians we have a higher purpose in living. We are placing all of our hope and sights on eternal life. In order to reach our goal and to finish the race, we are living for the future. We are exchanging the earthly for the eternal, the finite for the infinite, the un-lasting for the everlasting.

Pleasing him above all (Thursday, November 12)

Whether people persecute us or praise us, we should always remember the promise of Jesus. “Great is your reward in heaven,” he says in Matthew 5:12. Christ is speaking, of course, especially of those times when people accost us for who we are in him. But his word also holds true when we receive recognition from others for our service. The fundamental reason we do anything for the kingdom is to bring glory to God and not to ourselves.

There are persons everywhere, in all walks of life, who want to be respected for their greatness and acumen. They seek to be known for their wisdom, knowledge and generous spirit. They receive an immediate reward for their labor and goodwill as they are honored by others. In short, they have been given their trophy.

Our prize, however, is in heaven. God will give us an eternal reward for our earthly work. He alone will acknowledge what we have done with our lives; it is not for man to decide. We must never allow others to distract us from the goal. No matter if people criticize or commend us, we need to remember the reason for our actions or activities. Our only purpose in all things should be to delight God.

Pleasing him should please us. What the world says about us will no longer matter when we are wholly focused on heaven.

You are special (Wednesday, November 11)

We can easily forget who we are. Because we live in a world that is directed by human principles and thoughts, we often allow people to define our worth and usefulness. When we let people put labels on us, or to decide where we belong in society, then we have a tendency to overlook who we are in Christ.

As each new day begins, we need to take a moment to remind ourselves we are made in the image of God and that he loves us unconditionally. God does not examine us or judge us as the world does; rather, God encourages us, strengthens us, guides us and protects us. We are so much more than the world sees. Yet, those around us do not accept us because the world recognizes and acknowledges only its own.

When we feel out of place or out of step with the rest of society, we need to remember that belong to God. We follow his plan and his purpose. We are living for eternity, not for the ephemeral ways of earth. Knowing who we are in God, we can go through our short time in the world with confidence, assurance and boldness. We have been set aside for a reason, despite what others might think or see.

Thinking about what we do and say (Tuesday, November 10)

You dial the phone number. Almost immediately you hear, “This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.” How many times a day do we hear the same message? Two or three, or dozens? Seems like every company everywhere is taping our conversation for some reason. Is it to check up on their employees or on us?

Maybe we need a similar reminder every day that the Lord is watching and listening to us. He sees us and hears us even when there is no one around. We might wonder what God does with all of this information. Does he use it to reprimand us or change us? Does he reward us in some way? We do not know for certain.

What we do know is that God does not hold it against us. He forgives us, time and time again, just as he expects us to forgive others. We are not to hold grudges or turn away from anyone. We are not to record the incident in our minds where it remains forever. We are to forgive—not just once, but over and over again.

The next time you hear “this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes” remember that God is right next to you all of the time. Everywhere you go. Imagine how proud he is when you say and do the things that bring glory to him.

Time for a change (Monday, November 9)

In Northeastern Ohio this time of the year the birds and squirrels are in a last-minute frenzy. From early in the morning until just before dark they are scurrying around in search of food. They look like people do during the holidays, dashing from one store to the next to find everything they need to celebrate the birth of our savior.

Maybe this year will be much different for many of us. Perhaps we will slow down and think about what we are doing. The last thing we need to do is to be rushing all over the place. We should not be so preoccupied and busy that we forget what Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about.

Think of what Jesus said long ago. "If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You people of little faith” (Luke 12:26-28).

May you take more time this year to meditate on the true meaning of the upcoming season: peace, love and patience. Jesus came to give us all three. Let us show others that we belong to his way of living rather than the way of the world.

Keep fighting (Sunday, November 8)

The yard was spotless. There were no leaves at all after I went over the entire lawn with our mulching lawn mower. The next day, however, the yard was full of more leaves. I mulched again. I had no sooner finished when a gust of wind shook the remaining leaves on the branches. Down they came.

Often in life we think we are finished with something, only to find out we have to keep working at it. As much as I would like to get rid of the leaves once and for all, my wish will never happen. There are always more and more leaves. The best I can do is to keep on mulching until the snow begins to fall.

Evil is the same way. We conquer one battle and think we have defeated Satan for good. But he keeps coming back. The war never ends as long as we are on this earth. We are always going to be tempted and challenged.

St Paul reminded us that we must be diligent and keep fighting. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Remember, too, what Jesus said: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

No matter how many times evil comes against us, we know who will win in the end. Jesus went to the cross to give us the victory—not just for a day or week—but for eternity!

God’s creation (Saturday, November 7)

Perception can make a world of difference. The earth looks much different, for example, from a plane at 25,000 feet. Peacefully and serenely, the ground below glides by. We marvel at all of shapes and shades of landscape scattered here and there. For miles, we see dark blue rivers that twist and turn; forests and fields that are outlined by roads and highways; and large sprawling cities that suddenly seem small and insignificant.

Sometimes we need to get above the clutter and noise of daily life in order to appreciate the world that God made for us. The true wonder and beauty of this life is found in God’s creation, not in the many works of man.

When we start to see the world through the eyes of God, we begin to notice the little things we miss each day. We need to spend more time focusing on what God designed rather than on what man has developed.

Being protected (Friday, November 6)

Each day as we go about our activities, God protects us. He is with us as we drive in traffic, when we are at work or at home, as we visit the doctor for news about recent tests, while we are eating and when we are watching television. No matter where we go or what we do, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit.

We may never know how much has been kept from us because of God’s protection. We can probably recount numerous examples when we should have been harmed in a traffic accident or some other incident. Perhaps we narrowly escaped permanent injury from an illness or operation. Then there are attacks of spiritual forces that we do not see – the evil that is constantly at work all around us.

God keeps us safe, much like our earthly parents when we were small. We did not realize it at the time, but our mothers and fathers took great care to make sure nothing harmed us. God does the same on a much grander and divine scale. We are his children and he watches over us each second of the day and night.

Jesus gave us the words of the Father so that we would not fear anything. “Surely I am with you always,” he said, “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We have God’s mantle of protection over our lives. His covenant keeps us safe through any trial.

The union of love (Thursday, November 5)

There is pain and hurt everywhere. We cannot escape it. If we take the time to look deep into the eyes of our neighbors, we will see their suffering. Too often, though, we look away – afraid of what we might see. Perhaps their grief reminds us of our own. Tucked away in their hearts are the same human miseries that touch us as well. We are alike in our anguish.

We are similar in another way, too. We are the same in our capacity to love. We can reach out to one another in love and bridge the chasm of pain that keeps us apart. By sharing our lives, we can experience the love that Christ tried to show us on the cross as he died out of his love for us.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” In turn, his son loved us so much he gave up his life. Now we are called to love one another enough to give away our hearts in tenderness and compassion. Through the Holy Spirit, we are bound together in divine unity through love. We must help each other at the same time God is helping us.

Waiting on God (Wednesday, November 4)

We often spend a great deal of our time waiting on God. We wait for him to answer our prayers, to give us direction, to fill us with peace and to comfort us with his very presence. While we may think we are simply wasting time because we are not moving forward, God is doing an important work in us.

There always is a purpose and a reason for waiting. During this difficult time, God is teaching us many things. He is helping us learn the act of patience. He also is showing us how to be persistent at the same time we are waiting.

When Jesus left the apostles for the final time, he told them to wait before going out into the world. They were not to do anything until they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. What thoughts and emotions must have gone through them as they anticipated the time to move out into the world. Surely, they wondered why God was holding them back from doing their work.

God was preparing their hearts and minds during this period of waiting. He was preparing them spiritually for the journey ahead. We need to remember their example and experience as we wait for God. Though we may think nothing is going on during this critical period, God is using the time to make us ready for what lies ahead.

Learn to focus (Tuesday, November 3)

Events of the past can haunt us, but what is going on today can have the same impact. Maybe we are not getting along with a family member. Perhaps we are struggling with someone at work. We might not agree with a person or group at church. Maybe we are having difficulty understanding what God is doing, or not doing, in our lives.

Whatever the reason or the situation, we can find peace and calm. We do not have to be anxious and upset. What we need to do is to look to God. We have to look at him and nowhere else. Focusing all of our attention on him is similar to looking through a telescope. Scientists use telescopes so they can peer deeper in space and not be distracted by everything else in the sky.

Concentrating solely on God is hard at first, much like looking through a telescope. As we learn how to close the other eye, though, we will see him come into view. When his image is all we see, then everything else will fade away. “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11). His face is all that matters.

Looking ahead (Monday, November 2)

Unlike us as human beings, God does not worry. He is not anxious. Nor is he concerned about time – whether or not events happen according to the circumstances of this world. So, too, God is never swayed or affected by what people do or do not do. At the same time, though, he cares for us and wants to give us his peace.

We can only experience his divine assurance by placing complete faith in him. He alone knows the future. God knows where he is taking us. All things work together for those who love and trust him. There is a great future awaiting us. God has made it and promised it. Despite our many doubts and fears sometimes, God’s plan does not change.

All of the challenges of life are taking us nearer to the day when we shall see his greatness. We will realize his blessings and fullness beyond all we have ever imagined. Then our struggles of this present moment will not matter. They will be gone forever, replaced by what God had waiting for us all along.

Being like our Father (Sunday, November 1)

Many things are contagious. Look at what happens when one person starts cutting the grass. Suddenly, three or four other people in the neighborhood are out there doing the exact same thing. At the store, if you pass someone who is smiling you feel happy, too. It can go the other way as well: anger spreads like wildfire. Road rage is a perfect case in point.

Jesus told us to, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What we do and say influences individuals, especially children. They learn from our example. They model our behavior and often, to our embarrassment, repeat what they hear us say.

Let us remember that someone always is watching us. People notice if we return the grocery cart, allow another driver take the parking space we wanted and leave a good tip at the restaurant. They can observe the happiness or anger on our faces. We must make sure we are reflecting the grace and goodness of God. We need to strive to be his shining light, to be perfect, so others will see and know who he is.

Serving with a glad heart (Saturday, October 31)

There are dozens of meanings and interpretations of the word service. Through the years, companies have used the word to build consumer trust. “Service with a smile,” “We service what we sell” and “Your service is our business” are just three of the many mottoes. For the most part, the service we receive today is far from what it used to be.

Anyone old enough to remember 50 or 60 years ago knows the definition of service. Back then, a service station provided real service; drive in and a platoon of attendants would run out to pump gas, clean the windows, check the oil and battery, put air in the tires and bring you the bill. Today, we have to do everything ourselves. It was easy, too, to call a company to complain about a product; you could actually talk to a person. Now we have to navigate a myriad of menus and promps, and wait forever.

I hope our Christian service, both to the Lord and to others, is much better. In fact, we need to have a perfect record. When we say we will be at a meeting at church, we need to be there. When we promise to teach Sunday School, we need to do it. When we tell someone to call us for help, we need to say yes when he or she phones. There is no room in the Kingdom of God for half-hearted souls.

Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). We have a big job to do and God has given us everything we need to complete the work. Remember, people are counting on your commitment to serve. And so is God.

Thy will or my will? (Friday, October 30)

Often we settle for less than what God has planned because we give up; we can quickly become impatient and accept what we are able to have right now rather than what will come tomorrow or next week. We find it hard to wait for the promises that God has for us, but easy to accept what we desire.

A case in point is looking forward to a vacation. We may make our plans months, sometimes even years, in advance. Each day we gain more hope because we are getting close to realizing our vision. Waiting for God to work in our lives is quite another story. We expect him to change situations and events overnight. If he does not, we grow discouraged. We lose hope. We think God has forgotten us and so we start to take matters into our own hands. We give up a divine plan for a worldly one.

As human beings, we frequently forsake the perfect for the imperfect, much like Adam and Eve who gave up a future in paradise for what they wanted at the moment – exchanging all of eternity for a simple, small apple.

God can help us from making the same mistake, if we take a moment to stop and turn to him. He will give us his patience and his persistence for what is best. Left to our own devices, we will surely fall and surrender to our own will.

Proper alignment (Thursday, October 29)

Who cannot marvel at the fact that God creates life, and then allows us to decide how to use it. We have been given an amazing body with a mind, hands, ears, eyes and a voice. But do we use these to serve him or ourselves?

All of our faculties must be in line with one another in order to do God’s will. We cannot have our minds focused on the world, for example, as we study his word. Our thoughts need to agree with what we are saying, seeing, hearing and doing. It is not possible to serve God fully if we are double-minded or if our actions do not reflect his love.

We must live for him with our entire being. Our mind, hands, ears, eyes and speech work together to glorify him – one depends upon the other. If one is missing or going in the wrong direction, the result will be far less than what he expects.

Each day we need to align ourselves with him, not with what we experience and encounter all around us. Jesus is our standard. He showed us how to live on the earth without being of the world.

One person (Wednesday, October 28)

God has a way of doing big things in little ways. In Calcutta, India, God was able to comfort tens of thousands who were sick and dying through an old woman. On a dairy farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, God raised up a boy who would tell millions everywhere about the good news of salvation. In Agoura Hills, California, God is using a quadriplegic to minister to the world. Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Joni Eareckson Tada dedicated what little they possessed so that God could make a big difference in the world.

David was a shepherd boy before he became king. Peter was a fisherman before he became a fisher of men. Matthew was a tax collector before he gave up everything to serve the true kingdom. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son before he became the father of many nations. Joseph was abandoned and sold off by his own brothers before he became pharaoh’s adviser.

Where you and I have been in our lives before does not matter. All that is important is where we are going, where God is taking us. He can do incredible, miraculous things through one person. History has proved his authority time and time again. How much more do we need to see and read before we believe in what he is going to do in our lives?

We do not know how God plans to use us in the future. Even though we might think there is nothing he can do through us – perhaps because of our smallness or weakness – we would be wrong. God says he has begun a good work in us. He will certainly finish what he started. If we give up on ourselves, we are actually giving up on the power and greatness of God himself.

Nothing is greater than love (Tuesday, October 27)

We are prone to forget sometimes that our rituals of worship and praise mean little to God if we do not love as we ought. Spending countless hours at the church—working, cleaning, attending meetings—are all well and good. But, if we do not share the love of God everywhere, then we have failed miserably. Why? Because we have tried to serve God with our hands only rather than with our entire heart.

Jesus was pleased with a teacher of the law in Jerusalem. He was the one who said to Jesus that it was more important to love God and his neighbor “than to offer on the altar animals and other sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). “You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” Jesus explained. Jesus was telling the teacher that the Kingdom of God turns on love. The acts of love, both toward God and neighbor, move heaven more than the physical realities of servanthood here on earth.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that the more deeds we perform the closer we are to God. Jesus’s message is clear: nothing in the entire universe is greater than love.

God’s mighty army of angels (Monday, October 26)

The Lord’s angels are round about us, whether we see them or not. They are constantly keeping us safe and protecting us from harm. Psalm 91:11 says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Just yesterday, as I was painting the front of the house, I missed the bottom step on the ladder. I fell back and hit my head on the house as I landed safely on the ground. I was dazed, but unhurt. Somehow, I did not fall into a three-foot, brick-lined basement window well. My body went completely over the hole. I also missed a metal spigot where the garden hose was attached.

There was no one around. Yet, there is only one way I missed being seriously hurt. Someone carried me several feet past the window well.

There should be no doubt that God always is watching over us. He charges his angels with guarding us as we go through life. This incident was not the first time I was kept from harm and, I am sure, it will not be the last. But no matter what Satan tries to do to us God’s love, and his angels, will keep us safe.

What if… (Sunday, October 25)

Our thinking can get us into trouble at times. We can be fine one minute and then be completely upset the next. What happens is that we have a tendency to say “What if_______" (fill in the blank with your circumstance). Rather than dealing with things as they are, we look at situations as we want them to be: What if… it wouldn’t have started to rain, then I would have gotten the rest of the grass cut. What if… I would have cleaned the house yesterday, then I would be able to rest today.

The list of "What if…." is long. There is no telling how many times each day these two words enter our heads. As soon as we utter them, either verbally or silently, our thinking takes a turn for the worst. Immediately, we fill our thoughts with regret and anxiety. We approach our situation from a negative perspective instead of with positive thinking. Norman Vincent Peale was a pastor who always stressed the power of positive thinking. He is right. The power of positive thinking can help us overcome anything that stands in our way.

The secret is really in the power of God. He can help you accept any obstacle and turn it into an opportunity. May you not allow your own thinking hold you back from moving forward today. Keep your heart and mind on him always, and he will show you how to make the most of every minute.

Having hope
(Saturday, October 24)

In all situations, God is our hope – our only hope. We should turn to him first, not as a last resort when all else has failed. Too often, though, we try to take care of ourselves. We wrestle with illness, relationships, finances, careers, attitudes and thoughts. As we reach the end of our human ability to conquer a particular problem, we suddenly realize that we cannot help ourselves. Then and only then do we go to God in prayer.

We are very much like children. We want to be independent, to do things ourselves. We think we are big enough to tackle any problem and we do not want anyone to help us. Perhaps we feel it would be a sign of weakness. Maybe we don’t want to bother someone else with our problems. Quite possibly, we cannot bring ourselves to feeling vulnerable, somehow less capable and competent than those around us.

Whatever the reason, we need to get into the habit of going to God first and to ourselves second. As we take our cares and difficulties to God, we will find his comfort and peace as we continue along the journey. Our way may not be easy, but it can be made easier with God. “Be of good courage,” says Psalm 31:24, “and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” We will only experience the strength we need if we are willing to put all of our hope in God.

Realizing our hopeless state allows us to become hopeful in God.

Living for the kingdom (Friday, October 23)

Little things, done with an open and joyous heart, mean more to God than great acts or vast sums of money. The widow who offered two mites at the temple gave everything she owned, while others put in only a portion of their wealth. Many probably donated 10 times as much as this poor woman, but Jesus was not impressed. She presented more, Jesus said, than all of the others combined.

The meaning and purpose of life is found in the seemingly insignificant. A note of encouragement, a phone call, a card or an e-mail take only minutes, but can last days or weeks to someone who is sick or lonely. Even returning a neighbor’s garbage cans to the back of the garage or putting the newspaper by the front door can mean a great deal.

Not only do these small things help those around us, they also show others what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our one little act can be a life-changing experience for another person. A few words, spoken in the right way, may open the door of salvation to a non-believer.

Just as Jesus noticed the old widow, he will see what we do in his name. When we quietly bring glory and honor to him, he is pleased. Our little works in the world become great in the kingdom.

Now and later (Thursday, October 22)

The world’s yardstick is contrary to the one God uses to measure the importance of a person. Stature, standing, prominence and reputation – all of these matter to people. God, however, does not care in the least for any of them. Such standards are worthless in his kingdom.

God values the level of love in the heart, the willingness to follow him and the commitment to his word. He also treasures the joy of serving, the happiness of being used and the delight in doing his will. These are how he weighs worth and significance in his world.

Jesus taught us clearly. There is no mistaking his words or his meaning. To be first, we must be last. Either we can be first here on earth and last in the kingdom of heaven. Or we can be last on earth and first in paradise. We cannot be first in both places; we must give up one now for the other later.

Each day we have an enormous decision to make. We have to choose A or B: A) We can let the world measure our value; B) We can let God tell us what we are worth. Which one we select will determine how far we want to go in the future.

Go by the book (Wednesday, October 21)

Lawyers swear by it. Cities count on it. Police most certainly go by it. What is it? The Book. Attorneys, cities and police all go by the book. But what about us as Christians? Do we go by our book—the Bible?

Do we always live by it and do what it says? The book tells us to be patient, honest, compassionate and loving. It says to strive for peace wherever we go. The Bible also points the way we must go and the path we need to follow.

We already know what happens to those who do not go by the book. Think of people such as Adam, Eve, David, Samson. The list could go on and on with millions of names and situations. Sooner or later, individuals who do not go by the book feel the weight of their disobedience.

May you go by the book today and every day. Perhaps you need to take the book—the Bible—along with you to remind you of what to do and how to act. You will find it much harder to lose your way when you are carrying the book with you.

Reading our life (Tuesday, October 20)

Each day we turn a new page. What happened yesterday is over and finished. As much as we might like to modify what we did or said, we cannot go back and make any changes. But we do have a chance to change today. God has given us this new day, fresh with opportunities to serve him better. This page of our lives is waiting to be written.

To be sure, this day will bring many obstacles as well as opportunities. We may encounter criticism from others, judgment by a co-worker or anger from a stranger. There may be drivers who cut us off, people who ignore us and situations that anger us. We also may be tempted to get into an argument or get even with someone. We might even face pain or sickness.

Today is all before us. We have the opportunity to record how it will go. Though we cannot alter what happens to us, we can indeed change how we react. We can choose compassion, forgiveness, love and kindness rather than resentment, indifference and bitterness. One way is the right way – to write our lives today – and the other is the wrong way.

In the end, what we do depends on how we want this day of our life to read. Either it will be a page that brings honor to God as creator or to us as human beings. We have the power and the will to decide exactly what is written.

The crown of life (Monday, October 19)

How do we really know we are Christians? We are saved merely by asking Christ to forgive our sins and become our savior. But doing so does not automatically make us a Christian. To be a Christ-ian, we must follow the ways and teachings of Jesus Christ.

To be a disciple of Christ, we must prove our faith and trust in him. In other words, we need to do more than receive God’s salvation. We have to be tried and tested. We need to demonstrate our sincerity as well as our commitment. We cannot be proven as Christians if we have no way to show who we are.

The setbacks in our lives set our future. Each problem, every obstacle (small or large) is an opportunity to verify who we really are. The working out of our faith requires us to provide the hard evidence of what we believe.

Very quickly, in a moment, we can receive salvation and eternal life. But it takes a lifetime to confirm that we are, indeed, worthy to be called Christians. Jesus suffered many tribulations during his time on earth and we will, too. The apostle James reminds us, though, that we will be exalted when all is said and done: "Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised."

Our shadow (Sunday, October 18)

An object in the air, depending on its height and proximity to the sun, can cast either a huge shadow on the ground or almost nothing at all. Our lives in God are much the same. Depending on how close we are to God will determine the personal affect we have on the world around us. The result of our individual actions can be enormous or very little. If we rise high enough in our spiritual lives, then we as human beings will be barely visible. But we will bring tremendous glory to the Lord because the world will see him rather than us.

As a hawk flew overhead the other day, I observed the immense shadow on the ground which covered an area the size of a house. If the bird would have been a hundred feet higher, though, there would have been no shadow whatsoever; it would have been only a small speck, barely discernible, against the giant light of the sun.

Often, we come between God and what he is trying to do. We rise up in our humanness just high enough so that we interfere with his plan and his will. Our selfish desires create a large shadow in every direction, blocking out God’s brightness on the earth below.

In any situation, we must make sure we get as close to God as possible. The world needs to see him, all of him, and not be shaded from him because of our tiny presence and influence.

A divine eclipse (Saturday, October 17)

Much like a solar eclipse, the world tries to blot out the divine light of God. Each day we are confronted with things that prevent us from seeing what is truly important. All kinds of objects get in the way: cars, houses, shopping, careers, even simple errands like cutting the grass or doing the dishes. We become easily distracted by what we think has to be done without giving thought to God’s priorities.

Our emotions also can stop us from seeing God. Frustration, anxiety, anger and regret hide the love of God. Although these feelings are small, they can cast a shadow over everything we do. A careless word or a simple gesture can obscure the great light that is in our hearts.

The closer we hold our possessions, passions and thoughts to us, the more they cover God. An object as small as a penny can obscure the sun when we hold it close enough to our eye. It is the same with God. If we hold on to our will and keep it close to our lives, we will not see God’s will.

His light is always true and bright. But it only takes something little to block his radiance from shining down on us.

Made perfect (Friday, October 16)

God’s love for us and through us allows us to live each day with faith and hope. No matter what we are facing, we know that his divine love is there to heal, comfort and guide. As he loves us, we can love others. As we love them, they are able to see God through us.

The love that comes down from the Father is unlike anything we commonly call love. His love transcends both our capacity and our capability. But he is able to use us to show the world a higher way. When we sacrifice our needs and our desires for another person, even someone we do not know, we display the love of God. When we give up our time or money to help the helpless and homeless, we demonstrate the love of God. When we forfeit our earthly possessions to serve the church, we reveal the love of God. When we surrender our lives for what is unseen in the future, we prove the love of God.

What we do because of his love makes little sense to many people. Yet, some are able to see and understand. They realize they are looking at something that far exceeds anything here on earth. Through us, as imperfect and insufficient as we are, God shows the world his perfect love.

Going beyond impossible
(Thursday, October 15)

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” says the author of a well-known book. “Love your enemy as yourself,” says the Bible. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” says the Golden Rule. There is an appropriate phrase for all of these sayings: “It is easier said than done.”

How do we not get mad at the little things? How do we love others, especially our enemies, as we love ourselves? And how do we treat people fairly when they have mistreated us? The real question is how do we live a heavenly life while still here on earth?

The truth is that we cannot—at least not on our own. But, with God anything is possible. Even the impossible of this world. Jesus proved it over and over again by his life. In fact, he was able to perform the ultimate act: to forgive those who did not deserve forgiveness in the least.

Jesus said, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). Therein lies the secret. First, we have to realize God is with us each minute. Second, because of his constant presence we can do what is right in all circumstances. He is with us, he is watching us and he empowers us with his divine spirit. Therefore, nothing is beyond his ability.

Pleasing to him (Wednesday, October 14)

Whether people persecute us or praise us, we should always remember the promise of Jesus. “Great is your reward in heaven,” he says in Matthew 5:12. Christ is speaking, of course, especially of those times when people accost us for who we are in him. But his word also holds true when we receive recognition from others for our service.  The fundamental reason we do anything for the kingdom is to bring glory to God and not to ourselves.

There are persons everywhere, in all walks of life, who want to be respected for their greatness and acumen. They seek to be known for their wisdom, knowledge and generous spirit. They receive an immediate reward for their labor and goodwill as they are honored by others. In short, they have been given their trophy.

Our prize, however, is in heaven. God will give us an eternal reward for our earthly work. He alone will acknowledge what we have done with our lives; it is not for man to decide. We must never allow others to distract us from the goal. No matter if people criticize or commend us, we need to remember the reason for our actions or activities. Our only purpose in all things should be to delight God.

Pleasing him should please us. What the world says about us will no longer matter when we are wholly focused on heaven.

One in Christ (Tuesday, October 13)

There are different races, cultures, countries and continents. Each one of us has varied traditions, customs and practices. Jesus came not that we should be apart from one another, but that we should be a part of one body, one kingdom and one life. He unites us as one people. Yet, how often do we think of our sameness, not only to one another but also to Christ himself?

It is our nature to dwell on difference – the many aspects that separate us from our neighbors. We frequently distance ourselves from Christian brothers and sisters because we do not agree with them or their conduct. In doing so, we decide that our ways are right, theirs wrong. Our place is not to judge. Instead, we are to draw together under one God, the divine ruler and Savior of all.

We need to remember that we are one, under One and for one. Until we accept this single universal truth, we will never understand the unity of our life on earth as it is in heaven.

No thing happens by chance (Monday, October 12)

We know God makes everything work together for our good, but we are usually amazed and surprised by what he does. Our refrigerator stopped working yesterday morning. On a Sunday of all days. We missed church and headed out to visit several local appliance stores. The first one we went to just “happened” to have the perfect refrigerator. It also “happened” to be on sale for the Columbus Days weekend. Plus, the unit “happened” to have another $100 in rebates.

Unfortunately, the model we wanted was on back order—unavailable for deliver for another two weeks. We then went searching for a store where we could rent a refrigerator. It just so “happened” that all of the places were closed on Sunday. When we returned home, we discovered that our old unit just “happened” to be working again! Now we have a working refrigerator until the new one arrives.

Time and time again, God shows he is always watching over us. What might seem like a coincidence is really part of his divine plan. Things do not just happen out of happenstance or luck. They occur because God creates them.

Revelation 4:11 proclaims, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” He is creating new things and new opportunities each second. Look and see what he is doing in your life right now!

Are you ready? (Sunday, October 11)

We need to be set at all times to be a witness – to be able to share our good news at a moment’s notice. We never know when God will open a door or give us a chance to lead someone to salvation. When the time comes, he expects us to be prepared for what he has called us to do.

Too often, we think that being an obedient follower means doing all of the right things: going to church, serving on committees, teaching Sunday School, being kind and patient, helping our friends and neighbors, not getting angry, even tithing regularly. All of these are good, of course. But if we are not able to share why we do them, then we are not doing everything we can. We are falling short of explaining to others how much God really means to us.

Think of Philip’s ‘chance’ encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip is in the right place at the right time. God has brought both of these men together in the middle of the day on the long, desolate road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. The eunuch is reading a passage from Isaiah, and Philip asks if he understands the meaning? How can I, says the Ethiopian, unless someone guides me? Philip takes the time not only to explain the scripture, but also to baptize the man.

Like Philip, we must be ready. We never know who we are going to meet on the road today.

We get to tomorrow by going through today (Saturday, October 10)

Christmas is more than two months away. Yet, the local Kmart already has aisles of Christmas trees, decorations and ornaments on display. The holiday season is in the air although we have not had Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Like the stores, we can get ahead of ourselves. We start thinking or dreaming about a vacation half a year away, while we let the present pass us by. It is good to anticipate something in the future, but not to the exclusion of what is going on here and now.

Every day has its own purpose and meaning. We cannot get to tomorrow without going through today, and we cannot mark the birth of our savior without going through Columbus Day, Halloween, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving and all of the other days in between.

Each day of our lives should be a celebration—not just one special day or time far off in the future. Let us rejoice and give thanks for this day. We are alive, God loves us and he has given us another day to spend with those who love us as well! May we not waste a minute of today dwelling on tomorrow. Tomorrow will be here soon enough. Much sooner than we realize.

Your burning bush (Friday, October 9)

Day after day passes in our lives with little change. Suddenly, it seems, God tells us that he is going to use us in a remarkable way. Our time of rest, peace and healing is over and he is sending us forth to change the world. Such was the case with Moses, who spent 40 years as a shepherd before God used him to free the Hebrews from Egypt. In an instant, Moses is transformed from a man living in exile to the leader of a nation.

You and I have to understand that the miraculous change in Moses’ life did not occur because of anything he did. Moses was not preparing himself for four decades to free God’s chosen people from bondage. The encounter with the burning bush made all the difference. Even though Moses at first drew back from both God and his commands, he finally accepted what he knew he must do.

No matter how hard, how difficult or even how painful God’s instructions seem to be, we must accept them. We have no other choice. We must obey. To do otherwise is to condemn ourselves to a future that is empty and meaningless. In a way, we would be like ancient nomads wandering around in the desert searching for food and shelter.

We can be sure that when we listen to God, and do as he directs, we will be inexplicably changed through his power and strength. He sends us forth by his might, not our own. Once we meet our burning bush, we must yield ourselves to God. There is no room for our will if we want to do his will.

Finding our future (Thursday, October 8)

The hope of eternal life sometimes seems so far off for the Christian that it is easy to feel defeated or even lost. Doubt arises in our lives from time to time. Fear creeps in. Anxiety slowly replaces cheer. We can become depressed without knowing how we ever got there.

On such occasions, we wonder how we can recover our sense of hope, how we can be restored and be happy once more. What can help us jump over the huge chasm between our despondency and the peace we once possessed? Paul offers the answer in his letter to the Romans. He reminds us that we should “never be lacking in zeal, but keep [our] spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” We can renew ourselves through service to God.

When we get busy doing the work the Lord has planned for us, we forget about our loneliness, our selfishness and our sadness. With our thoughts directed entirely on him, we suddenly discover our hope again. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose when we devote our lives to God. No matter where we look in the world, we find both our being and our hope only in him.

Our common bond (Wednesday, October 7)

In our pain and suffering, we sometimes cut ourselves off from one another. We tend to keep our hurts between God and ourselves. We fail to tell others. Perhaps we are ashamed or embarrassed. Maybe we think people will not understand.

More than likely, we do not want to show our vulnerability or weaknesses. Whatever the reason, though, we must realize that we are called to share our lives with one another. We are a family, a community, a colony, a fellowship of believers precisely like those described in Acts.

If we allow trials and tribulations to keep us apart, we become a house divided; we are not living as Christ taught. He preached unity and harmony, a oneness in mind and purpose through him. He intended for us to live together, not in spite of each other.

The times we need one another the most are when we want to be left alone – when we don’t want anyone to bother us because of how we are feeling. Our emotions often can mislead us and send us fleeing in the wrong direction: away from our sisters and brothers rather than toward them. They want to help us, but we have to be honest with them and ourselves. We desperately need one another, especially when we are going through difficulties that we cannot handle alone.

We are God’s children. He created us to live as a family in his house.

Resetting ourselves (Tuesday, October 6)
Too often, we do not take time to reset ourselves – to realign our lives with what God has in mind for us. We can quickly become caught up in what seems to be necessary now but means little in the long run. Answering e-mails, making phone calls, attending meetings and running errands all have their importance.  Yet, we frequently fail to put them in their place. Instead, we make these a priority and forget about what matters most.

In order to be the servants we were created to be, we have to step back from time to time to re-examine what we are doing. We must ask ourselves if we are making the greatest use of our days. We also need to consider if we are using our talents wisely. Perhaps our daily schedules do not go according to what we should be doing; rather, they revolve around what we think is critical and necessary.

The problem with our lives is that we try to accomplish too much. We attempt to live for ourselves and for God at the same time. In addition to all our Father has planned for us, we add all of our personal activities to the list. We may be able to cope for a while. Soon, however, we may become overburdened with too many things to do in too little time.

Our spiritual compass always must be pointed in the right direction. If it is not positioned properly – with a true heading toward the kingdom – we can easily get off course. Like a ship sailing across the ocean, we must take our bearing from what is above and not from what we see around us. If we are reaching for heaven, then we must plot a course that will take us there and no place else.

His work never ends (Monday, October 5)

The sanctuary of the 120-year-old church is now quiet. The thousands of voices that sang and praised God through the years have ended. Six generations of families have worshipped there, but now the church is closed. A dwindling congregation and growing expenses are the main reasons. The last service was yesterday.

It was only fitting that the members had communion one last time. In a sense, it was their Last Supper there. Just as the Last Supper some 2,000 years ago was not the end of the story so, too, the Last Supper at Calvary Presbyterian Church is not the end. In three days, the remaining people will move to another church a few miles away. There they will share space in another Presbyterian Church. The remaining followers at Calvary Presbyterian will have their own worship, choir and activities. They will continue to serve God as a family, just as they have done from the beginning more than a century ago.

My wife and I were there for the last service, the last hymn, the last sermon and the Last Supper. As we left the service, a man in his late 70s proudly said his parents were founding members. They are gone, but God’s work goes on through him and all of the others. Even though a church closes, the people remain.

Similar to the crucifixion of Jesus, when the Jews thought they had silenced him forever, he rose from the dead. After his ascension, the disciples carried the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. We witness the same power of God today. All around we see him working through his faithful servants to bring about the sort of world he planned from the start, and it will not end until he comes again.

Time to rejoice (Sunday, October 4)

Pure joy is found in God. No place else. Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul wrote, for he learned there was no lasting joy in what did not last.

Be grateful for God’s grace. Be thankful for his forgiveness. Be at peace because of his love. Be glad for his gift of salvation. All of these are eternal. They will never fade away. Nor will they disappear during times of difficulty.

Beyond the trials of life, God is always there – always faithful. There is joy in him even when there is sadness all around. Paul could rejoice in the Lord at all times because he rejected worldly situations and circumstances. To him, life was a spiritual matter.

He had joy through God, not through himself or what he was going through at the moment.

Seeing or believing? (Saturday, October 3)

During the frequent confusion and turmoil that touches our lives, there is no better and safer place to be than with God; there we are protected. Waiting with him, and waiting on him, offer shelter while the storm rages all around. He calms us. He gives us his peace. Especially in times of difficulty, our hearts need his comfort much more than our heads need human understanding. Without him, nothing makes sense anyway.

As he works, silently and surely, his mighty hand holds us firmly to keep us from falling into despair and doubt. In his grip, we are secure in spite of how we feel. Even if our world is shattered and broken, he continues to hold on to us. He consoles us with his love and presence. He asks us to trust him just a little longer; in time, we will comprehend. Later, we will see what he sees now.

It is not important how things look to us at the present, no matter how dark and threatening. For now, during the trial, we must have patience. We need to have faith in him and in nothing else. All of our energy should be spent clinging to him, trusting and believing in his power.

When we abide in him, he will give us all the hope we need. Hope produces faith and faith truly is the substance of things unseen. Our hearts need to be set on what God can and will do, rather than on what our eyes observe and experience at this moment.

Giving in to get control (Friday, October 2)

We do not know all of the many things we may encounter in the hours between our rising up and our resting again tonight. We can experience joy, pain, happiness, sorrow, delight, tragedy, peace, and turmoil. Our lives are unpredictable. None of us truly knows what will happen in the next 10 minutes, let alone the next 10 hours.

This example is precisely why our faith is so important. God does know what lies ahead. He also has prepared us for any situation, good or bad. In the sudden rush and flurry of activity in our daily lives, we often forget that God goes on before us. He is there to help and guide us. He will take us safely through hardship, suffering, even gladness and pleasure.

Where we run into real difficulty is when we decide to lead the way, when we try to handle life on our own. We should know by now we are incapable of even the slightest movement or accomplishment without God’s guidance. The key to our success is not in the ability to set our own life and destiny; rather, the real victory is in following God in spite of what we want to do.

When we relinquish control of our life and let God take over, each hurdle becomes smaller because God is clearing the way. We no longer have to be anxious over what will happen next. As long as we stay behind God and follow him, we are right where we need to be.

Left behind (Thursday, October 1)

We are often so busy moving forward in life that we fail to think about what we are leaving behind. Like a powerful ship making its way across the sea, our lives leave a wake that tells others where we have been. Do we leave a gentle ripple behind or is the wake of our life rough and roiled?

We should not go through life always looking behind, but sometimes we need to think about the effects of our present position and how fast we move forward. What will linger long after a moment of anger or frustration has passed? Rough and choppy words take longer to dissipate than smooth, gentle phrases. Also, if our lives cause too much of a wake, there is the risk that other, smaller ships will not be able to follow behind. They will have to avoid us completely.

As we steer our way through life, let us move forward with caution. Let us always remember to let God chart our course and speed so that we will not regret what we leave behind.

No God? (Wednesday, September 30)

I suppose that in every time and place there have been people who either questioned the existence of God or disbelieved altogether. They claimed there was no God without considering even the tiniest bit of evidence and proof.

The Bible cannot be dismissed on a whim. There are 66 books that verify the power and presence of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Not just once, but over and over and over again. What about all of the prophets, miracles, eyewitnesses and writers? Who would waste time recording all of these stories – accounts, by the way, that are remarkably similar through the ages – if they were falsehoods? What would be the point and the purpose?

One of the greatest minds of our time, physicist Stephen Hawking, recently proclaimed again that there is no God. He told the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom that, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

How sad and pathetic that someone with such knowledge and intelligence would try to make an analogy between a finite computer and an infinite God. His comparison makes no sense. Following his childish logic a step further, though, I wonder who or what made the computer. For that matter, who made the world? Isn’t that the real issue here?

Complete us (Tuesday, September 29)

People everywhere are seeking joy. They want to be happy and cheerful. It seems the entire world is obsessed with finding gladness. A recent search at an online bookstore revealed there are 36,990 books for sale on the topic of joy.

Going to will never help us find the kind of blissful lives we desire. There is only one place to go: Jesus. He is the answer and he holds the solution. “I have told you this,” he said, “that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Someday your joy will be complete” or “When you get to heaven your joy will be complete.” He meant now, today, “your joy may be complete.” That is, it may be complete but it depends on us. Do we see the hope Jesus offers daily? Are we happy to be Christians following him? Do we work our hardest to please him? Do we feel that nothing is lacking in our lives? Do we know we have everything we need to serve him?

Derived from Middle English, the word complete means to fill up, fulfill. The Latin form is complētus, which sounds like “complete us.” Jesus can complete us; he can fill us up with his joy so we find our true enjoyment and fulfillment in him.

The narrow gate (Monday, September 28)

It occurs to me that I may sometimes take grace for granted. That is to say I take God’s mercy and forgiveness for granted. I know he will always forgive me, no matter what I do wrong, and so I sin without worry. I may not even consider the consequences of my behavior.

There is a narrow path that I drive everyday to and from work. This stretch is perhaps seven or eight miles long and there is absolutely no shoulder on either side of the two-lane road. Within inches of the concrete, there is a steep drop of four to five feet. Needless to say, I pay special attention as I travel along. In fact, I do not take my eyes off the pavement in front of me for a second. I don’t even look over at the radio for fear I will get too close to the edge. I realize what would happen then.

As we journey along the course that God has set before us, we need to pay attention and remain alert. We cannot afford to become complacent, not even for a second or two, because the effects could be disastrous. Yes, God will always forgive us when we make mistakes, but he desires that we not harm ourselves in the first place.

Remember what Jesus said about eternal life: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). The same can be said about our lives here on earth, too.

Encourage one another (Sunday, September 27)

Of all the qualities we need to practice these days as Christians none is more necessary than that of offering encouragement. Not just to those whom we know or love. But to anyone and everyone. Most of us live on the other side of the fence: we tend to be discouragers. Either we say something negative or we don’t say anything at all. We usually have a propensity to see the worst in people rather than the best.

Our purpose here on earth is to please God. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than when we take the time to support others, just as Jesus did. Our Savior always offered encouragement wherever he went. He gave hope to the woman at the well. He told Peter to walk across the water. He stood by the prostitute who was about to be stoned.

Encouraging our sisters and brothers is not easy for us. We fear all sorts of things. Maybe people will think we are a little odd. Perhaps they will misunderstand. Possibly we will seem weird. There is nothing wrong with telling the mail carrier, “Keep it up. You’re doing a great job.” There is no harm in saying to a coworker, “I admire your creativity.” We have nothing to lose by allowing someone to pull out in front of us in traffic. We constantly encourage children, but we forget about adults.

God can give you and me the courage to speak up and encourage individuals in all walks of life. See how many individuals you can encourage today. In just a few hours, you will be surprised at how easy it is, not to mention the blessings that come from being an encourager. What we are doing makes God happy and it will change our lives as we encourage one another.

Man-made vs. God-made (Saturday, September 26)

I wonder why it is we always want to know God’s design and intention. Rather than following him step by step, we ask him to show us everything all at once. We want to understand his plan before we obey even his simplest command.

Yet, each day there are dozens of occasions when we do not need any explanation at all. We accept freely without the least bit of understanding or insight. We use computers, talk on cell phones, drive cars, fly on airplanes – all without any idea of how these things operate. We just know that they work.

We often put more stock in what is man-made rather than what is God-made. When it comes to God we suddenly become analytical and logical. We demand to know before we go anywhere or do anything. Why can’t we simply trust him?

It certainly does not say much about our faith in God if we put more confidence in the world than in the Creator of the universe.

Building or destroying (Friday, September 25)

Little things make a big difference. Too often we get caught up in doing huge jobs for God when, all the long, it takes just a few minutes to brighten someone’s day. During the past few weeks, an unknown person on the street has cut our grass. Our front lawn is quite small and it probably took less than five minutes. The whole point is that someone wanted to help.

In the same way, each Tuesday I take in several of the neighbors’ garbage cans once they are empty; I put the cans back by everyone’s garage. A tiny thing, yet I know it makes life easier because people do not have to move the large containers before they pull into their driveways.

Conversely, a little comment or action against another person can have a large impact. “You misread my email,” a person once wrote to me, removing all blame from himself. In another instance, a superior completely ignored a note I took the time to write and send. Still someone else cut me off on the road, forcing me to hit the brakes.

Small incidents have a titanic effect, good or bad. We need to think through each remark, reaction and action. It takes only a moment to build up the kingdom or tear it down.

One universal message (Thursday, September 24)

There is one central theme throughout the Bible. Book after book, chapter after chapter and page after page, the main message is all about love. From the creation of the world through the exodus of the Hebrews to the resurrection of our Savior to the journeys of Paul, love is the holy and invisible presence of God himself.

We only have to look at some of the stories to see God’s great love for Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Joseph, Naomi, Job, Solomon, Elijah, Mary, Lazarus, and each one of the disciples. Then there are all of the saints during the past 2,000 years. They are too many to number.

In each case, love is at the core of every being. It is the very center of life itself. Out of love, God created us. Out of love, God sustains us. Out of love, God protects us. Out of love, God uses us. Out of love, God saves us. Out of love, we serve him. Out of love, we live for him.

No doubt this tremendous power of love is why St. Paul could write these words with such knowledge and confidence: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8).

Love is all embracing and all encompassing. It is everything. When we dwell in love, we live in God and he lives in us.

Being disconnected (Wednesday, September 23)

Most everyone these days has a GPS, a Global Positioning System that tells us which way to go, how far, when to turn and even when to turn around. It is one thing to have a GPS for our cars. What we actually require is a GPS for our lives. In essence, we need a God Positioning System that keeps us on the right path.

This divine GPS could tell us all sorts of information: what to say in every situation; how to react, especially in tense discussions; where to go to help someone; whom to encourage; why to do something that does not make sense at first. We would never make any mistakes or errors in judgment ever again when it comes to God and what he wants us to do.

The real question, though, is whether we would listen to and follow each command by our new GPS. When it says “love your neighbor,” would we forget our anger? When it says “turn the other cheek,” would we do so? When it says “go the extra mile,” would we keep going? When it says “pray for your enemies,” would we offer holy pleas for them?

Chances are eventually we would turn it off. Either we would get tired of hearing what to be told to do every minute or we would want to make the decision ourselves. Come to think of it, we have had a God Positioning System for years. But we don’t always take the time to read the Bible and do what it says. Let’s make a regular habit of using what God has given us for our benefit. He is always trying to help us. Yet there is little he can do if we pull the plug or fail to pay attention.

According to his time (Tuesday, September 22)

Little by little, day after day, the Lord is preparing us for his future. Sometimes we are not aware of the changes going on in us. On occasion, we may experience a shocking shift in our lives – as if the rug has suddenly been pulled out from beneath us and we fumble around trying to remain upright. We reach to hold on to anything, but we fall down anyway.

All the while, God is getting us ready for the next step. He knows where he wants to take us and he knows what needs to be done before we get there. He must make sure we are ready. We will not reach the point he has planned until the right moment when he decides we are equipped for the task.

For years, I wanted to write a book. I did not care what kind or how long; I just wanted to write a book. Twenty years later, the Lord made it happen. I always wanted to be recognized for my professional work. The honor came 30 years later. For some time, I have desired to do something permanent and lasting for the Lord. He now is preparing me for that to become a reality; it involves a project that began seven years ago.

God’s work in us takes time. We cannot expect a microwave experience when it comes to serving God. Today is a preparation for tomorrow, and tomorrow is a preparation for next week. Next week is a preparation for next year, and so on decade after decade. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It requires long periods for God to be perfected in us. May we be patient and let God prepare us for perfection one day at a time. We will get where he wants us to be in his time and when we are ready.

The real news (Monday, September 21)

Every morning and throughout the day, we hear news of all kinds of events and incidents. The news seems to be everywhere: on television, on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on the web. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of the so-called bad news about accidents, shootings, fires, burglaries, robberies and stabbings. Whenever I grow weary of what is going on around me, I turn to the news found in scripture.

The New Testament is full of good news. The headlines should be familiar to each one of us: “Peter converts thousands.” “Two followers heal lame man.” “Barnabas becomes a disciple.” “Believers speak out in Samaria.” “Leaders establish church in Antioch.” “The Council meets at Jerusalem.” “Paul sets out on second missionary journey.” Page after page, we read the wonderful news of our faith.

On occasion, it is necessary to forget about the temporal and get away from the things happening around us. We need to contemplate the good news from above – the lasting news of God’s word and world. The headline reads: “Jesus offers salvation to all.”

The heart of the matter (Sunday, September 20)

The everlasting nature of love is, for the Christian, the nucleus of all belief. The kind of love we are to practice is far removed from the temporal constructs of daily living, so much so that we may miss the point and meaning entirely. We tend to love with our feelings, attitudes and emotions instead of by and through the spirit. Our human character, because of its selfish and narcissistic temperament, often separates us from the divine quality of love.

Yet, this same human body, with all of its many flaws and sins, has the potential to reveal God’s complete and whole love. By loving our sisters and brothers in the way God loves each one of us, we can see the fulfillment of God; the invisible God becomes visible. The apostle John explains this profound mystery in his first epistle. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11-12). In other words, divine love will let us witness God in one another!

It is crucial to understand what John is saying. No one has ever seen God’s divine essence and nature but, John explains, we can see the invisible God as we practice unconditional love for one another. As God begins to live in us, his holy love is made manifest to the world.

As we look at the church – so full of people like us who are in desperate need of all kinds of help – we must remember how important it is to love one another with divine affection. When we are able to practice this kind of pure love – free of any intolerance or prejudice whatsoever – we will see and witness God. His love and being suddenly will be visible by each one of us.

Cleaning out the past (Saturday, September 19)

Sometimes we may wonder about being reborn and having a new life in Christ, especially when we don’t feel new. Many times the problem is us. We don’t let go of the past. We allow what happened before to make us feel like the same old person.

Recently, my computer began going slower and slower. I had to wait up to 20 seconds or more for a browser to open. A new security and protection program I installed hardly helped. The real problem turned out to be what was already in the computer—before the security software was added. In addition to built-up dust inside the computer, there was other software that was slowing down the operating system.

Like my five-year-old laptop, we expect to everything to go smoothly because we have a new life in Christ. What we fail to remember, though, is that we have to clean out all of the old stuff from the past. We keep it there, inside our heads and memories, hoping that somehow it will go away.

It is long past the time to start living the new life that Christ came to give us. We can’t, though, unless we clean out the dirt and debris from the past.

We will never fall (Friday, September 18)

For a birthday gift one year my eight-year-old granddaughter gave me a clear plastic bag full of pebbles, two pieces of chocolate (leftover from Valentine’s Day two months earlier) and a tiny, handmade card on notebook paper. In and of itself, the gift had no value. But to me it was worth more than thousands of dollars! What gave it such precious worth was that my granddaughter took the time to think of me.

Our gifts and work for God are much the same. Even the smallest service brings him great delight. Saying hello to a stranger, holding the door for someone at a restaurant, waving to a neighbor as we drive by—all of these little acts make God smile. He loves to see us share the joy of life with one another.

Never overlook the modest things for, when done daily, they add up to a grand masterpiece of servanthood for him. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the ones who delight in him; though they may stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).

We may trip or stumble today, but we will not fall. God will hold us up with his hand and allow us to stand through anything because he treasures everything we do for him. 

Finish the race (Thursday, September 17)

A small city in Northeastern Ohio has a unique tradition. At the beginning of each school year, the city hangs player banners on the street lamps along Main Street. Each colorful banner bears the name and picture of a high school athlete along with the sport. What a wonderful way to build community spirit and, at the same time, encourage the young people who live there.

As Christians, we also need to celebrate the accomplishments of one another and encourage all those who serve others. In a sense, there are heavenly banners lining the path we travel each day. There is a crowd cheering us on even though we cannot see them.

“Therefore,” said St. Paul, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This “great cloud of witnesses,” the saints who have gone on before us, now cheer us on just as others did for them. It is our turn to run the race for our faith. The only way for us to finish is to fix our eyes on Jesus and not let anything, or anyone, distract us.

The secret of our happiness (Wednesday, September 16)

The windows of the day care center at the church were wide open and the children were singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Their voices were full of enthusiasm and excitement as they clapped, stomped and shouted amen.

Perhaps we can take a lesson from these little ones. We, too, have every reason to be happy today. Nothing should hold us back from celebrating what we have in Jesus Christ.

No matter what issues we are facing, we also can sing: “Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live,” proclaims Psalm 146. “He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.”

If something threatens your joy on this Wednesday, just think of the children singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” It might even be good for us to sing along with them.  "If you're happy and you know it, then your life will surely show it."  Amen! 

Climbing the ladder (Tuesday, September 15)

The meaning of the journey is in the struggle. For struggle produces perseverance; perseverance develops persistence; persistence builds strength; strength evolves into hope. Each step takes us higher and closer to our Lord and savior.

The Christian cannot escape the difficulties of life. We are called to work out our salvation even though it is given freely. Step by step our lives are transformed from humanity to eternity. The metamorphosis occurs slowly, gradually, until we reach maturity in God.

Life on earth prepares us for where we are headed. The more we learn and grow each day, through each situation, the more we are able to treasure what we have been given. Only through our hardships do we become nearer to the things of heaven. We are drawn to God’s side as we fix and set our minds on him – on the ways that last forever, not just a lifetime.

Breaking through (Monday, September 14)

Many people talk about “getting a breakthrough” or being able to “break through.” The allusion is, of course, that there has been success at last. The time of bondage is over. The person has been set free – broken through, as it were, the wall that has kept her or him captive to some specific pain or suffering.

The real problem facing the Christian today is what to do when the breakthrough does not come for days, weeks, months or possibly years. How long must we wait? Our time on this earth is finite and measured. Our days are numbered and it is natural to think about when a change will come. What are we to do?

Perhaps our approach is all wrong. Rather than always dwelling on when we will break through, maybe we should tackle the issue from a different point of view. That is, when God will push through the mountain in front of us. These two perspectives are radically different. One view is human; the other divine. One puts the burden on us; the other places the task on God.

Too often, I think, we try to do what only God can do. We tend to feel as though we need to do more – to pray harder, be more righteous, become better stewards, act less judgmental and work toward being kinder. The list goes on and on. But none of these will make God act any quicker or treat us with any greater mercy. God’s will is perfect, and so is his timing. He knows when to move us forward, giving us the breakthrough we seek.

In the meantime, as we wait, we need to enjoy and appreciate this time. All too quickly the respite will be over and we will need every ounce of the faith we are developing right now. At this very moment, God is preparing us for the breakthrough that will surely come.

What he did for us (Sunday, September 13)

The final week of Jesus’ life was one the world would never forget. The joy of the crowds as he rode into the city, the beauty of the final supper with his disciples, the last hours of prayer in the garden, the betrayal of his own followers, the arrest and false trial, the beating and, finally, the humiliation and suffering of being nailed to a cross. The events leave us feeling weak, bewildered, lost and confused.

We see God’s ultimate plan for our salvation as it unfolds before our eyes. Yet, in our humanness, we ask if there could have been an easier way. We wonder why God, in all of his greatness and power, did not choose a path without pain, agony and death.

Perhaps God willed all of these things because of us, so we would understand what our lives are worth. Maybe this was the only way for us to realize the magnitude of God’s love. Whatever the divine reason, God allowed the world to crucify his own son. In doing so, he made the ultimate sacrifice for our lives. Jesus’ blood was shed for us. The very least we can do is to live for him.

False impressions (Saturday, September 12)

Becoming like Christ means following him. Looking at other people, no matter how pure and holy they appear, in the hopes of learning how to be more godly, cannot take the place of Jesus himself. In similar fashion, well-meaning disciples do not represent the totality of Christianity when they behave badly. Looking directly at Jesus offers the only true example of how to live. Anything else is merely an imitation, a counterfeiting.

Paul and Barnabas were hailed as gods when they healed a crippled man in Lystra. The gods have come down to us in human form, shouted the people. Paul was crowned Hermes; Barnabas was lauded as Zeus. The chief priest and the crowds even brought bulls to offer as a sacrifice.

Like those in Lystra, we often react to what we see around us. We venerate some because of their goodness and denigrate others because of their wickedness. Either way, we are deciding how to act by looking at people just like us.

The one sure way to model our lives is to learn from Jesus. Being like him requires looking only at him, and not being misled by the world’s impression of Christianity.

Needing his strength (Friday, September 11)

St. Paul believed he could do anything because of Christ, not because of his own power. “I can do all things,” he wrote, “through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

What about us? Do we want to do everything through Christ or through ourselves? Why is it we often attempt to fight illness, get through the day or meet all of our responsibilities to everyone—by ourselves? All the while, Jesus is right there saying, “I want to help you. Just take my hand and I will give you my strength.”

No matter what you need today—whether it is physical, mental or spiritual strength—Jesus is the one who can help. All we have to do is to take time to ask and he will be there. We have his promise because he gave his own life for us.

More than we ask (Thursday, September 10)

When we ask for Jesus, we receive the universe. We get the gifts of salvation and eternal life. But we also accept his love, his grace, his peace and his mercy. All this and more is what comes each time we call on the name of our Lord and Savior.

Despite our faith and knowledge, though, we often look for something plain and simple. We aim too low. We look hopefully to earth when we can receive heaven. Our loving Father opens the doors and windows of heaven and gives us everything – nothing is held back.

If we are truly servants of the King, why do we ask for a drop of water when we can have the ocean, for a crumb when we can have a banquet, for a job when we can have a vocation, for shelter when we can have a mansion, for money when we can have wealth untold?

We are members of a royal family. We need to start thinking of ourselves as heirs of the kingdom of the entire universe. It is time for us to take our rightful place, knowing with full and complete assurance that God will always give us more than we ask in his name.

The answer is way over your head (Wednesday, September 9)

When was the last time you heard someone say “I love to lose weight” or “I can’t wait to have root canal.” Things that cause us pain or difficulty send us running in the opposite direction. Yet, they are very necessary in our lives.

There are situations we must encounter as Christians to become stronger and more useful. Being sick or in the hospital can make us more compassionate. Being rejected by an individual or a certain group can draw us closer to God. Even having a tough time financially can make us more understanding of those who are homeless and poor.

Most of the time, we do not look on the bright side of our circumstances. Instead of trying to discover what different events will teach us, we think of how bad we feel or how unfortunate we are. We feel sorry for ourselves rather than being stirred into action because God is molding us into better person and servant.

Remember this verse of scripture whenever you are down: “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens” (Isaiah 40:26). Your answer is in heaven above, not in the earth below.

Serving for him (Tuesday, September 8)

Our true value and worth does not depend on the world. In fact, it has nothing to do with how great we are in the eyes of others. But it has everything to do with how great others appear in our eyes – how much we are willing to serve them.

Many people in today’s society want to be first. They seek recognition and respect for all that they do or think. Soon, we too can be misled by our desire to be known and admired. What we fail to realize, though, is that we will never find the greatness we long for from the world. We find our importance and purpose in being humble in what we do.

Like Jesus, we must learn how to serve. As we meet the needs of those around us, we begin to discover there is more satisfaction in feeding the homeless than in being honored by our peers and colleagues. The accolades and acclaim of this world are temporary while the acts we do in the name of God are eternal.

We were never created to be served. We were created to serve. When we fulfill our purpose here on earth we will become known in heaven, where it truly matters. The world does not see our quiet deeds of kindness and compassion because it is busy honoring its own. God always sees and he always blesses what we do for him.

Doing the right thing even when it hurts (Monday, September 7)

As I opened my email early one morning, I was greeting by a message from an individual who accused me of being completely ignorant of a certain matter. You can imagine my reaction. I felt I had every reason to be upset. First, this person was coming to a professional conference that I was directing. Second, an issue had developed several days earlier because of a problem she created. Third, the fact that a person with a doctorate felt she could talk this way surprised me. The more I thought about it, the madder I got.

Everything changed a few minutes later when I posted the devotion for the day. A line I wrote softened my heart immediately: “We have the capacity to love anyone, if we want. Most of the time, though, we choose to forsake others rather than to forgive them.”

In the natural, I wanted to hurt this person as much as she had hurt me. In the Spirit, however, I could not exact revenge and live as I should.

In the end, I apologized to this professor for any misunderstanding on my part. I added that I was looking forward to meeting her and in hearing her presentation at the convention in Rome, Italy. My emotions still were in an uproar, but my conscience was content. I had done the right thing even though it did not feel good at the moment.

Loving God’s way (Sunday, September 6)

God asks us to do something simple. He tells us to love. But we are not to love as the world does. We are to love as our Father has taught us. We have seen what we must do through the example of the son. Jesus made it perfectly clear.

We must be willing to give to others what we want to keep for ourselves, able to face rejection rather than reward, ready to pardon when we would like to punish, and prepared to love when we want to hate. The kind of love that God wants us to show transcends all logic and sense. In fact, it has nothing to do with what seems right to us, but everything to do with what is proper in God’s kingdom.

No amount of human reason can rationalize the infinite principles of God. Try as we might, we can never rationalize – at least not on a human level – why we need to pray for those who hurt us and love those who are our enemies.

We have the capacity to love anyone, if we want. Most of the time, though, we choose to forsake others rather than to forgive them. We should not be about seeking revenge and judgment. That is God’s job. We have enough to do with just trying to love one another.

Hearing their cries and ours (Saturday, September 5)

The modern-day exodus of people from Syria to other nations throughout Europe gives us an idea of what the Israelites must have experienced in their flight from Egypt. The people were scared, hungry and worried. They were desperate to find freedom.

It has been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We are seeing this current tragedy play out in front of us, just as it has done dozens of times in the past: people running from tyranny and oppression in search of a new life in a new land.

Through the ages, God has been with his children as they have sought safety. The poignant image of a dead Syrian boy on a beach reminds us once again that life is precious and fragile. Too often we take living for granted; we forget what we have until it is too late.

May our prayers and love be with all those today who are yearning for a better life. Let us do what we can, everywhere that we can, to help all those we can. We may not be able to lend a hand physically, but we can ask God to watch over them and guide them. He always hears the cries of his children, and he always responds.  

Awe and wonder (Friday, September 4)

Luke is not routine or prosaic when he describes the lives of the early believers. No, he is just the opposite. He is filled to overflowing with excitement, so much so that we can see how they lived. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43).

Imagine how these people must have felt, day after day, as they witnessed the “many wonders and signs” that came from God through the disciples. Luke says people were “filled with awe!” We can just see them with their hands raised high, praising the Lord for blessing them more and more with each day.

God’s goodness continues today. In the last week alone, he has shown me the right gift to buy my wife on our wedding anniversary, given us favor to find an airfare that saved us $300 each and told us the name of a hotel to book in a city we have never visited. Our list could go on and on. Each time something new happens, we are “filled with awe” just as the new followers 2,000 years ago.

May we never lose our sense of awe over what God does in our lives. He loves to shower us with unexpected blessings and he delights in hearing us praise him for his kindness. Even today, we can live with the same expectancy and excitement as our sisters and brothers in Christ.

A constant source (Thursday, September 3)

Confidence in God lies in consistently believing his word. Day after day, in spite of things that go wrong, trusting what he promises brings assurance and conviction. His actions, works and power are constant, though life is constantly changing. There is little to gain by placing hope in what is unpredictable and wavering.

During his short time on earth, Jesus was always the same. He showed compassion to his disciples even the night before he was put to death. He went about healing the sick even when he was tired and weary. He spoke to the multitudes despite their unbelief. He traveled from town to town even when the days were hot and long. All the while, he was gentle, loving, kind and forgiving.

The peace and joy that the world seeks can be found only in what lasts. Attitudes, feelings, emotions – all these vary from minute to minute. They find their source in and depend on circumstances, not on certainty. Events change, but God is changeless.

Like the sun, God is always shining even amid the darkness of night. He is ever present, though his presence is not always visible. What he offers does not come and go like the things around us. When Jesus came into the world, he came to stay. He is the steady source of our light. Through him we can find all the strength, substance and satisfaction we will ever need.

His example (Wednesday, September 2)

While some argue over a job, others are without work. While some talk about helping, others are helpless. While some live in large homes, others are homeless. While some spend money, others are poor. While some waste food, others are hungry. While some travel everywhere, others are unable to go anywhere.

Sometimes even the Christian can be turned around. What seems so important at the moment does not really matter in the long haul. Personal needs can easily become more critical than the needs of others.

Only when you and I think of neighbors first do we have our priorities in order. We need to learn to live the way we have been taught: to take care of people rather than possessions, to love others more than ourselves, and to demonstrate goodness rather than selfishness.

Jesus showed us what to do and how to live. To be his followers, we must follow his ways.

Love never fails (Tuesday, September 1)

Paul tells us "love never fails." He adds that “where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). All these are partial in nature.

But love is full and whole; it finds perfection and fulfillment in Christ, the one who first loved us. What Paul means is that love transcends everything in the mortal world because of its eternal nature. Love is our connection to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Love also binds us to one another.

When we love one another, sharing both our joys and sorrows, then we allow the miraculous and amazing power of God's perfect love to transform both lives and life. Love never fails because it remains when everything else is gone.

Spreading the Word to the world (Monday, August 31)

Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of heaven so they could tell others the good news, especially after his death. Had they kept the word to themselves, his life and crucifixion would have been in vain.

The church today must continue what Jesus began. If we simply sit in the sanctuary every week, and do not make known what we know, all that we see and hear makes little difference in the world. We are called to be disciples and to make disciples of all nations. The only way to fulfill this commandment is to practice what is preached.

Each day, as our schedule unfolds, we fail to live up to our divine purpose in life. We are not following what God wants us to do unless we can take the time to pass along the hope of salvation.

Declaring what we believe does make a difference – to others, ourselves and Jesus. As we talk about him, sharing all of our many experiences and miracles, he will become more real to those who cannot see what he offers. In a very real way, we are the evidence of his power and greatness. What he has done for us he wants to do for all. But it all begins with us.

You are the living church (Sunday, August 30)

Every person in the body of Christ needs to realize why the church exists. It is more than a structure, a meeting place or a location for weekly worship. The church stands as a constant reminder that God is present in the world and in the community. He is alive in all of the members and, though them, he is reaching out to those in the neighborhood who are suffering and in need.

The church is a sanctuary from the world and yet it works to bring hope to the world. The people who walk in and out of its doors should find rest, help, hope and love. Their lives should be changed forever because of what they experience there.

In each community, the church is unique. The style of the building is only the first place where the difference begins. What really matters is this: whether the people who are the living church make a difference in the community. When the church functions as it should, God can continue to build up his living body and not just a building.

Making us pure (Saturday, August 29)

There is something we take for granted and rarely think about these days. Filters. Car engines have both an air filter and a gas filter. Heating and air conditioning systems have filters. Air purifiers and vacuums, of course, have multiple filters. In each case, these seemingly insignificant parts are necessary for machines to run properly.

Psychologists tell us that we use “mental filtering” all of the time when we make decisions. Our minds evaluate what is right or wrong in every situation. No matter our age, mental filtering is extremely important because it keeps us on the correct path. In a similar way, God’s guidance acts as a heavenly filter to keep us from making poor choices and, instead, choosing what pleases him most.

God is with us constantly to help us filter out the ways of the world. May we really use his word today to purify our lives and to make us more like his son, Jesus Christ.

You are not alone (Friday, August 28)

I am not happy that our lawn is almost gone. Here in the Midwest we have not had a good rain in well over a month. Our grass is mostly brown although there are a few spots of pale green remaining. Up and down the street, the story is the same. These beautiful lawns once were lush and full—emerald green. Now they are going dormant, much too early in the season.

I could complain and bemoan that all of the hard work I spent on weeding and fertilizing was just a waste of time. The fact is that I am not alone. Everyone in this part of the country is going through the same thing.

How often in life do we get the notion that we are the only ones experiencing hardship and difficulty. The emotions and feelings of people are not as easy to see as the lawns in the neighborhood. Each day there are persons all around us who are fighting sickness, dealing with broken relationships, trying to accept defeat and even coping with some sort of loss.

The next time you think you are the only one who is having a hard time in life, think again. You are not alone. Others are struggling just like you. The amazing thing is God is able to help each person in spite of the individual need. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). His hope was in the Father and ours should be as well. Jesus’ resurrection proved that nothing can overcome those whom God loves and protects, not even death.

United in prayer (Thursday, August 27)

Sometimes we think and feel we are alone, that others do not care about us. But as we begin to pray for all those in our wide circle of family and friends, even acquaintances we do not know well, we realize there is no reason for our loneliness. We actually have more people who care for us than we can ever remember in prayer.

Those whom we pray for each day are with us, even though they may be apart from us. Their thoughts and concerns for our safety and happiness are present no matter how much distance separates us. They can be on the other side of the country or the other side of the world, yet as they pray for us and we pray for them the spirit of God brings us together in unity. We become one with him and in him. |

Nothing can keep us from the love of God, nor can anything keep God’s love from working through us. This divine element transcends all time, place, age, generation and space. Because of God’s love, others can be with us and we with them no matter what may divide us.

The love of God has the power to go beyond the things of this world because it is not of this world. It does not depend on earthly physics or human nature. Love exists over and above this world. We are held together with one another as we love them through God. With his love there is no loneliness, only loveliness.

Faith to see what he will reveal (Wednesday, August 26)

Human understanding of God is limited because of finite vision and knowledge. We find it hard (at times, impossible) to accept what we cannot see. But God says that faith is the substance of things unseen – the ability to perceive what lies ahead.

Nothing but faith can take us beyond ourselves. We cannot believe or think something into being. Nor can we wish or will our circumstances to change. Faith, however, has the power to transform our lives because we know God can do all. Trusting him allows us to see a future that is much different, far greater, than the one we can envision with our own small intellect.

Through God we can visualize a pure and perfect plan for us. Despite what we are enduring at the moment, perhaps with no way out, we can set our sights on God and see well beyond tomorrow. He has already promised to work everything together for good. We can count on his goodness as long as we have the faith to believe him. If we have faith, then we can see and feel what only he can reveal.

Complete trust or half-hearted belief? (Tuesday, August 25)

When God makes a way, we may not always move forward with confidence and assurance. We tend to doubt what will happen next, even though we know God will protect us.

God showed the Israelites which way to go when he brought them out of bondage. Still, at times, they thought they were going to die in the desert. When they were being pursued by Pharaoh’s army, God again showed them which way to go. He parted the Red Sea and held back the waters. As they crossed, they must have wondered if they were going to drown. When God at last showed them the Promised Land, they were afraid to go in.

We are no different than the Israelites. Even when God leads us in the right direction – both by closing the door behind us and freeing us to move forward – we are full of doubt, fear and confusion. Sometimes we feel lost because we do not know what is out there or what we will face in the days and weeks ahead. We want to know the outcome, the future, even before we go through the desert, the Red Sea or into the Promised Land.

God says “Trust me, and I will take care of you.” But we do not hear him because we keep asking, over and over again, “Where are we going and what are you doing to us?” Our faith should be built on our complete trust in God rather than the half-hearted belief we have in ourselves.

What he does for us (Monday, August 24)

Much of the beauty in our journey through the years lies in all that God has done for us: the loving people he has brought into our lives, the many times we were kept safe from harm, the unexplainable comfort we felt in the midst of anxiety, the opportunities that helped us grow, and the occasions when our hope was suddenly and inexplicably renewed. As we look back on everything, we realize God’s hand and plan at work.

We should not dwell on our past, but we at least need to stop long enough to remember all of the good things that have occurred. Too often we fail to see how far we have come and what God has truly accomplished for us. He has taken us through some tight times and, yet, he has been there time and time again to keep us steady and strong.

All we have gone through thus far has led us to this particular time and place. Though we may feel somewhat out of place – perhaps because of where we live or the job we have – we need to realize that God has a reason for each event and activity in our life. We are where we are for a purpose.

Reflecting on God’s divine guidance up to this point can give us the assurance and hope we need to keep moving forward, closer to him each day. Each step should take us ever nearer to where we will spend eternity. Only God knows the way and we must follow where he leads us.

God waits for us (Sunday, August 23)

If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that there are those times in my life when I do not give God a chance. I cut him off because of my impatience, my anger, my selfishness, my petulance, my intolerance. I should know better.

I suspect the same is true for a great many other people as well. Only when we put aside our feelings and our will can God go to work. What parent anywhere, for example, can do anything with a child who is having a tantrum? Until the young one is ready to calm down and listen, no amount of pleading, cajoling, coaxing or even threatening will make a bit of difference.

When I act like a child, I deserve to be treated like a child. But God always waits calmly (and lovingly) until I am finished. He gives me the time and the chance to discover for myself that I am ready to listen and follow him. After I have worn myself out – through with my complaining and groaning – then God can move in and begin to pick me up.

Until I am ready to grow up and realize my own foolishness, God cannot take me the rest of the way. He will never force himself upon me even though I often force my will upon him. I must want to accept his will, without any reservation, before he can do anything with me. Only when I turn my mind and heart over to him will I realize that his plan is far better than anything I ever wanted for myself.

Living in the moment (Saturday, August 22)

In just four months, we will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. Stores, houses and malls will be decorated with colorful lights and Christmas trees. Yesterday, as I shopped at a local grocery store, there were displays overflowing with Halloween candy everywhere even though Trick or Treating is more than two months away.

Too often in life we get ahead of ourselves. We start thinking about things in the future and forget about what is right in front of us. No doubt your plans for today are as full as mine. But we are probably concentrating on what we have to do next week or next month. Some of us might be so far ahead that we are already planning Thanksgiving dinner.

God does not want us to be going through today thinking about tomorrow. He wants us to live in the moment. As you live today, avoid the temptation of letting your mind run ahead of God—to what needs to be done in the future. God will take care of us tomorrow after he takes care of us today. Remember, we are supposed to let God guide and lead us.  He is not supposed to be running after us, trying to catch up to our thoughts about what lies ahead.

May you live in the moment today and not in the future.

His priceless gifts (Friday, August 21)

There used to be a television commercial that showed a father or mother taking a child to an event of some type. It detailed the cost item by item: concert tickets, transportation, food, souvenirs, etc. When it came to adding up the charges on the credit card, the total said “priceless.”

As Christians, there is no price we can put on our salvation. It comes as a free gift from God. But not only does he give us life for eternity, he also blesses us while we are here on earth. He gives us his love, security, companionship, guidance, protection. The list could go on and on for each day, each minute, of our life! The bottom line: way beyond priceless.

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8). Try to add up everything God does for you today. No doubt in one hour alone, you will be able to see dozens of wonders. Make it a point to share with others the priceless gifts we have waiting for us as well as the gifts we have already received. Let us proclaim his name wherever he leads us on this particular Friday.

Hearing he is near (Thursday, August 20)

The children were playing a game of Marco Polo in the pool. One person who was “it” shouted “Marco” and the others responded by saying “Polo.” The object is for the “it” to find the others while keeping her eyes closed. She had to tag another boy or girl merely by listening.

In a similar fashion, we sometimes we shout out “Help me, Lord.” He responds by saying “I am here,” but we have trouble finding him even with our eyes open. We look and look. Still, we do not see him.

The secret to finding God is in listening. It is much different than hearing with our ears. Instead, it is listening with our heart. We must pay attention to what the Lord speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, even when it does not make sense. God spoke to Cornelius through a vision. Immediately, Cornelius sent three of his attendants to Joppa (30 miles away) for Peter. The next day, as the men were approaching the town, God also instructed Peter to go to Caesarea to see Cornelius.

When we talk about hearing God, we must go beyond the physical world of sound. We have to listen to what we cannot hear, but to a voice that we can recognize and feel deep inside of us. That’s how near he is.

Ask before we act (Wednesday, August 19)

It was a small thing: a cell phone. It had fallen out of the man’s pocket as he rode a roller coaster at an Ohio amusement park. After the ride ended, he jumped a security fence to search for his phone. An instant later, the coaster hit him in the head and killed him.

We might all wonder what this 40-year-old was thinking. But before we criticize him and question his judgment, let’s be honest. All of us have done stupid things from time to time. Fortunately, nothing probably happened except a slight case of embarrassment. Who knows what we would have done in this particular instance. All of his personal and banking information, along with photos, probably were on this device. I would like to think I would have had the sense not to jump the fence.

All sorts of things cloud our reason at times. Emotions and rash decisions can mislead our better judgment whether it means dealing with situations or people. In a panic, this man obviously thought he could get his phone and get out before the coaster came around again.

My prayer is that we learn to think before we act—always. Sadly, this elementary school teacher will not get a second chance. Let us use the second chances we have today for three things: first, to pray for this man’s family; second, to thank God for protecting us when we have made mistakes; and, third, to turn to God before everything we do. He will tell us what to do, but only if we ask.

For your own good (Tuesday, August 18)

God sets boundaries in our lives to keep us safe and to protect us. Often, he will stop us from doing what we want because we do not see the danger ahead. We might think he is withholding something good when, in fact, he is taking care of us.

Years ago, our family lived in Florida and there was a fence around the entire back yard. Our son and daughter had a huge area in which to play. Occasionally, we caught them trying to climb over the five-foot high chain link fence. We would have to tell them to get down or, if they refused, we would take them off.

They always thought we were stopping them from having fun. Just the opposite. We were keeping them from harm. On the other side of the fence was a large lake and they did not know how to swim. They saw the cute ducklings a few feet from their reach while we saw what might happen to them.

If God is keeping you from what you want today, it is because he realizes the consequences of your desires. Instead of being upset, count it a blessing that he loves you and is guarding you. He doesn’t want anything to happen to you. He sees the danger on the other side of the situation, even though you think he is holding you back from something good.

Losing our self (Monday, August 17)

If our faith is not all it should be, perhaps it is time to re-examine our lives. Our belief in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit ought to give us the strength to endure any difficulty. Yet, during times of great trial, about all we can sometimes muster is a half-hearted attempt at acceptance.

There may be many reasons why we so often fall short of being strong disciples. Most all of the reasons have to do with us: our feelings, our emotions, our will and our desires. When we do not get our way, we suddenly lose trust in God. We think he does not care or understand what we are suffering.

But right there is where our faith needs to kick in and take over. Our instinct to turn to God needs to be stronger than our propensity to gratify ourselves; we must have a desire for God that cancels out and overpowers our personal desire for satisfaction.

Putting complete confidence in God is not easy at first, but step by step we change. Eventually, we no longer try to balance the scales; rather, we place all the weight on the side that matters most to God. When our personal lives no longer weigh us down, we have reached the point where God can use us most. He, too, will mean the most to us because we will trust him more than anything else in the world.

The depth of his riches (Sunday, August 16)

The tell-tale signs of autumn are here and there. Those who are keen observers of nature can see some leaves beginning to fall, days growing shorter, squirrels being more active and breezes not as humid.

But only people who actively look for the changes will notice the subtle differences. It is much the same with us as Christians: only when we are seek to see God’s hand at work can we witness his amazing miracles and power.

For instance, receiving a check when it is needed most is not luck. It is God. Or finding a credit card that was lost is not coincidence. It is God. And getting good news from the doctor when you expected the worst is not an accident. It is God.

St. Paul said it best when he wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out” (Romans 11:33). We will never understand his ways, but we can recognize his love and care for us when we see it.

Scars of the past (Saturday, August 15)

No one goes through life without being wounded in some way. Everyone is affected by trials and afflictions although the scars may not be visible.

The marks we bear do not define or describe who we are deep inside; past wounds that others see are only the superficial signs of what we have endured. The world always attacks the body, that which is mortal and perishable. What is eternal and everlasting, though, will last forever, even beyond death. Nothing, not even the worst assault, can destroy the soul.

The key to living is in knowing that everyday events and circumstances are unable to touch the part of us that belongs to God. Nothing on earth, no matter how powerful or absolute, can change who we are in Christ.

When God is alive and working within us, we are protected and safe from all human harm. The worst the world can do to us, even in our deepest despair, is to injure what will die anyway some day. The heart of us where God lives will live on forever.

Looks can be deceiving (Friday, August 14)

We know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Go to any bookstore these days, however, and you will see thousands of books with colorful, eye-catching pictures, paintings and images. The publishers hope you do judge the book by the cover and buy it!

This particular adage could apply to many other things as well. Don’t judge a car by its design. Don’t judge a hotel by a picture. Don’t judge people by their appearance. Looks can be deceiving. We don’t know what the disciples looked like, but many of them were tough, rugged fishermen. No doubt they looked the part as they travelled from town to town preaching and teaching the good news of salvation.

A man down the street likes to spend time sitting on his old golf cart, which is parked on the front lawn during most of the year except for winter. He puts it away at night and it is back out the next day. I have to admit, I didn’t think too much of him; he seemed like he would be much more comfortable in a trailer park. Hour after hour he sat there in the evening, always drinking something from a can. I could only imagine what. Finally, I crossed the street and talked with him. Wow! Was I wrong. He is the manager of Hertz Rental Car at the nearby airport.

Once again, the Lord showed me just how wrong we can be at times. I judged this guy by how he looked. Not for who he really was. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” Jesus said. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). I thank the Lord for this gentle reminder.

Counting on God like clockwork
(Thursday, August 13)

A while ago, my wife and I argued over what now seems a silly thing. We were checking out of a hotel in Milan, Italy, and heading back to the States. I paid the bill with a credit card rather than using the euros I had in my wallet. My wife was furious. “I thought we decided to use the cash and not the credit card,” she stated in no uncertain terms. The two of us argued all the way through the airport terminal.

Turns out that all of our bickering and quarrel was for naught. About a year later, we traveled to another country—one which accepted euros along with their own currency. Thank goodness we had euros; otherwise, we would not have been able to buy any souvenirs or mementoes at all from our visit.

How ridiculous we as human beings act at times. We get all worked up when life does not happen according to our plan. We forget that God has a better plan, a better way and a better outcome for us.

If only we would learn to cast our cares—all of them—on him. We need to take a lesson from children everywhere. They never ever worry about if they will have food to eat, clothes to wear, water to drink, a bed in which to sleep or bills that need to be paid. They trust their parents without hesitation or reservation. We need to do the same with God. “Surely, Lord,” wrote David, “you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield" (Psalm 5:12). Remember, we do not always see his favor until later. But we can count on it like clockwork: it comes precisely at the right time. I was the one who made a mistake, but God was the one who made it right. 

Before and after
(Wednesday, August 12)

Everyone loves to see before and after pictures whether it involves images of friends, houses, cars or pets. People always marvel at the difference: how much better the after shot looks.

Think, for a moment, of what a before and after photograph would be like if we focused on our lives. What did we look like before we gave ourselves to Christ and how do we appear now? Our physical appearance may not be too different. But our inner self is radically changed—like the contrast between night and day.

Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian teacher and author, is fond of saying, “I am not where I need to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.” The same can be said of all of us. The words of “Amazing Grace” certainly ring true: “I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” Before we were lost, impatient, angry, anxious, sinful and selfish; we were going nowhere and we had no true purpose. Now, all that has changed. We can see God’s plan and we know why we are here.

The lyrics of that now-famous hymn were written by John Newton. The story goes that he was raised by a Christian mother, but he wanted nothing to do with God. He had trouble holding a job and even deserted the Royal Navy. After many other hardships, failings and a catastrophic storm at sea, he finally turned his life over to Christ. He was never the same as before!

Going in the wrong direction (Tuesday, August 11)

St. Paul was not a timid man. He did not mince words and he was not afraid to proclaim the gospel. In a letter to the Christians living in Ancient Galatia (modern-day Turkey), Paul chided them for turning their back on God and returning to their old ways.

He says once they were slaves to the sinful “spiritual forces of the world.” “How is it,” he asks, “that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces….I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you….How I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”

Like most of us living today, we do not understand how people—especially those who know God’s truth and his ways—can suddenly walk away from the Lord or leave the church. Unfortunately, it happens every day in every part of the world. Individuals by the thousands think they can do a better job with their lives than the one who created them in the first place.

Rather than condemning these people, we need to be honest with them as Paul was. We also need to be praying for them. We should ask God to somehow show them the way back. Perhaps, like Paul, God can use us to show them they are going in the wrong direction.

Being calm and content (Monday, August 10)

Paul said he had learned how to be content in every situation. He did not mean that he agreed with each circumstance he faced. Despite difficulty, Paul was content in knowing that God was with him every moment; he accepted God’s direction and protection more than he believed in his own limited understanding.

The world is full of people who lean on their own knowledge; many even depend on what they think they know to get through life. They try to make things happen, despite all odds. They simply refuse to acknowledge their state of affairs; instead, they fight relentlessly until a change occurs or they are too worn out to do anything at all.

Being content is being happy with what is, pleased with what we have, not desiring something more or different, satisfied with our situation. We can be peaceful and calm at all times because we know everything is proceeding in accordance with God’s will.

Following our desires can make us act with contention. But pursuing God’s design leaves us content.

Covered in his will (Sunday, August 9)

As we walk through the door of each new day, we must be determined to continue to follow God no matter how we feel or what we think. There must be a constant renewing of our minds in him. Over and over again, we will wrestle with doubt, fear, insecurity, hesitation, even rebellion. We are stubborn creatures who think we know what is best. A new job, a new house, a new church or a new life somewhere else will not make any difference if it is not God’s will. Something different in our mind is rarely something better.

God knows what path we must take. In fact, he set the course long before we were ever born. Where we are right now is where he wants us to be. Where we go in the future is up to him. We can make our journey easier and lighter if we set aside our will for his. Instead of arguing with ourselves over things that do not matter, we can put all of our determination, hope and trust in him.

When we give ourselves completely to God, he gives himself completely to us. There, covered in his will, we are safe and secure even when we wonder where we are going or what is going on.

Cast your cares (Saturday, August 8)

On occasion, life seems almost too much to handle. Problems come at us from all sides all at once; never just one at a time. One difficulty after another piles up and threatens to bury us in an avalanche of distress and hopelessness. David likened the feeling to the waves in the ocean. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls,” he says to the Lord (Psalm 42:7). “All your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

John Gill, an 18th century theologian, wrote that such difficulties and “afflictions” are “comparable to the deep waters of the sea, for their multitude and overwhelming nature….As soon as one is affliction over, another came, as in the case of Job; which is signified by one calling to another, and were clamorous, troublesome, and very grievous and distressing.”

Perhaps you feel overwhelmed. The car needs to be fixed; you are struggling with illness; you have several overdue bills and still need to buy food; the clothes dryer isn’t working; and, the toilet is leaking.

The only thing that truly matters is what you do with your troubles. You can either hold on to them or give them to God. Take a moment to look up. The solution is right in front of you: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).

Work together (Friday, August 7)

My computer and printer still are not talking. They are like two angry sisters who want nothing to do with the other. I tried everything I knew to synchronize the two devices, but nothing worked. Not even connecting them together with a cable made any difference.

No matter how hard we try sometimes we cannot fix the problem. People, similar to a computer and printer, have differences. No one is willing to give in or apologize. And so they do not talk to each other.

What my computer and printer fail to understand is they need one another. No amount of explaining will change the situation. Human beings, on the other hand, should be different. People should be able to reconcile their differences and even forgive one another if need be.

Sadly, the documents inside my computer will stay there. I cannot share them with anyone because the printer will not work as it is supposed to do. Let’s not allow petty problems to keep us apart as sisters and brothers in Christ. We are all in this together and we need to work together, both for ourselves and for the Lord.

Going higher for Christ (Thursday, August 6)

Living is much like a chain of events that are connected. If one link is weak, the chain breaks. The little things we accomplish for Christ allow us to connect the past with the present and future. What we do right now makes an enormous difference tomorrow.

Will we, for example, take the extra effort to tell special persons that we are thinking of them? Or will we spend more time praying? Perhaps you and I will encounter a person who needs help. Whatever the situation or need, our reaction today is based on yesterday and it prepares us for the next day.

In Luke’s story of the 10 minas, Jesus stressed the importance of being responsible with the small things we do. If we do well in the lesser tasks, we will be given more. Every act leads us higher toward the life that Jesus has for us. God always desires the best, but he can only give it to us when we offer our best to him every day.

I heard it through the grapevine (Wednesday, August 5)

A song written in 1966 has been recorded by many groups and singers through the years. “I heard it through the grapevine” was first made popular by Marvin Gaye. We can all relate to the message: hearing something from someone other than the true source.

How many times have we heard a rumor or a story and then based our opinion on that information? We don’t even know if the report is true and yet we rush to judgment. One person tells another and word quickly spreads. In no time at all a reputation is damaged or an incident is taken completely out of context.

As human beings, we love to talk about other people. It comes naturally to us. We even do it as Christians. Someone prays for help and care for a particular person and, at the same time, repeats what was heard through the grapevine. There is nothing divine or holy about passing on gossip to God.

Proverbs 21:23 warns us to be careful of what we say: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” The same verse in the New Living Translation is much stronger: “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” May we remember these words today, especially when it comes to hearing something through our grapevine of fellow believers and followers. 

Acting from our heart (Tuesday, August 4)

Compassion, understanding, patience and forgiveness all begin in the heart. If the heart is weak, the mind will take over with all of its emotions and desires. Our human intellect will tell us how to act and react. The problem is that our reason resides in the things of this world, while our heart has its being in the life to come.

Our earthly intellect can take us only so far. It is limited to sensory knowledge – what we see, hear and experience. Oftentimes we cannot see beyond the present. We do not hear the voice that transcends reason.

We need to get beyond our humanness if we want to possess the kind of wholeness that Jesus came to give us. There is a greater world beyond the imperfect one that we know. But we must learn to be guided by the heart, where God dwells most deeply, and not the head.

Words for life (Monday, August 3)

Being successful as Christians involves learning how to be less physical and more spiritual. The situations we encounter most often, the real stumbling blocks in our journey through life, are all consequences of the physical world. Almost daily we come across anger, hate, jealousy, strife, pride or envy. We see the tangible realities of what these emotions can do to people as well as the personal effect they have upon us. Such feelings cause tension, stress and even illness.

God calls us out of this physical realm, with all of its pain and suffering, to live a life that is full. Jesus tells us in John 6:63 that, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” What are these words of life? Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Compassion. We need to recognize that every “word of life” has a counterpart in the physical world. Appropriately, these antonyms might be called the words of death: anger, hate, jealousy, etc.

The Lord wants us to live a spiritual life, not a physical one – to be in the world but not of the world. We can find the peace we are so desperately seeking if we learn to live by the ways, and words, that impart true and eternal life.

Our little lives are enormous in him
(Sunday, August 2)

Together we painted, scrubbed, planted and cleaned. Our church workday was incredible. Not only did God bring the right number of people to get everything done on our list, but he gave us perfect weather. A refreshing breeze blew through the entire church all morning long even though this was the middle of summer.

God knows the importance of gathering together to accomplish his tasks. As we worked side by side, we had a chance to learn more about one another and our faith. The greatest part was we felt blessed to be here. We were doing different jobs, but everything was for one purpose: to glorify God.

Today, as people come to worship in our church they might not notice what we did. But God knows. He saw each one of us giving generously of our time, and using our strength and skills to make his house better, cleaner, brighter.

We are proud of our church. But our true pride lies in being able to serve the Creator of the universe. There is nothing of greater value or more valuable than being one of his children. We show our love for him each time we give our life for him. May we never tire of working and cleaning for him. No matter what it takes. Even the smallest task or the most menial chore is enormous in his kingdom.

Learning how to love (Saturday, August 1)

Loving God must grow out of a true and sincere desire for him. Like children who want to delight their parents and make them happy, we must feel the same way toward God. We cannot love simply because God first loved us. Nor can our love be based merely on what he does for us. We should not need a reason in order to love him.

We must love God for who he is, just as we want others to love us because of who we are. The spirit of true love does not depend on circumstances, events or even reasons. It exists for no purpose or aim.

To love God means accepting his ways, in spite of what we think and feel. Whether we experience success or suffering, we can love God. For how much affection do we have for him if we turn away each time we do not understand or agree?

In Psalm 103, David praises God by counting all of the many “benefits” of God: He forgives. He redeems. He satisfies. He judges with righteousness. He is merciful and gracious. But the basis of our love toward God is not found in any of these. Rather, the root lies deep within our hearts, anchored to the very core of our life. There is where we realize how profoundly God lives within us and we live within him. Here we find the center and existence of our love for him.

No waiting (Friday, July 31)

We can go to the God of the universe at any time and he will be there. It may be in the middle of the night, early in the morning, at the end of the day, during lunch or dinner. No matter when we call on him, he welcomes us and invites us in.

The same cannot be said of those around us. If I want to see my doctor, for example, I must make an appointment sometimes weeks or months in advance. If I want to talk with my boss, I have to arrange a convenient time with his secretary. Even if I need to talk with my pastor, I have to check his schedule. On other occasions I may not be required to make prior arrangements, but I have to wait just the same. When I go to the store, I have to wait in the checkout line. When I need to get the oil changed on my car, I have to wait my turn. When I go to the bakery, I have to take a number. I also have to wait to get a haircut or have my glasses adjusted.

With God, however, there is no waiting or planning ahead. He can see me anytime. The problem is me. I am easily influenced by the world. I still feel like I need an appointment – that I must arrange (in advance) to spend time with him. Oftentimes, I believe that I can talk with God only during my prayer time or my devotions.

Each second of every day, God is available. He does not require us to wait or to make an appointment. Whenever we have a need, he will spend time with us. He is never too busy. Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, Jesus says, and I will give you rest. Right now, we can find comfort. We do not have to wait a moment longer.

Nothing is too hard for God (Thursday, July 30)

There are no guarantees in life. We can exercise, stay active, eat the right foods and, in general, take care of ourselves. Nothing, though, guarantees that we will remain healthy and strong throughout our entire life.

Our mail carrier was in the Navy and has been walking at least 10 miles per day for the past 20 years. Still, he recently came down with Bell’s Palsy. Another friend has worked out with weights for the past 45 years, but now he walks with a limp.

There is only one thing we can count on as we go through life: that God will be with us each moment. He is there no matter what we are going through and he will give us the strength we need to endure—in spite of the hardship.

God’s statement and question to us is the same that he posed to Jeremiah thousands of years ago. "I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” We know the answer. He can and will conquer whatever comes against us. He is our guarantee through thick and thin. All we have to do is hold on to him with all we have.

You are famous to God (Wednesday, July 29)

You probably never heard of Andrew A. Toth. He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and retired from a long career at the Timken Steel Company in Canton, Ohio. He was a member of Faith Community Church. He also loved dancing and was active until the last year of his life. Andy died last week at the age of 97.

We had the honor of knowing him because he was the grandfather of our son-in-law. We called him Grandpa. He always had something interesting to say, especially when it came to sports. He could cite statistics and details about most any player in any sport. What an amazing man!

The world is full of people like Andy. There are millions of them everywhere. They are not famous like actors, well-known like politicians or recognized like sports heroes. Nonetheless, they are great in God’s eyes. He counts them as saints because they are serving him faithfully and lovingly.

May you live today knowing God knows who you are and what you are doing for him alone. He counts you as his child and he admires everything about you. God is a proud father who smiles each time he looks at you. You are famous to him and he loves you unconditionally, just as he did with Andy.

True service or lip service? (Tuesday, July 28)

We say one thing and, yet, do something else. Do we always obey the traffic signs? If we are honest, we have to admit we do not always come to a complete stop at stop signs and that we frequently go over the speed limit, especially on the freeway. We also tell people to “let us know if you need help.” Then, when they call on us we cannot get away fast enough.

One time after another people in the Bible gave lip service to God. Jonah told the men on the ship that, ““I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Yet, there he was trying to escape God’s call to go to Nineveh. David is another example. After removing Saul from the throne, God anointed David. “God testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” Yet, David betrayed God when he sent for Bathsheba.

No matter how hard we try there are occasions when we let God down. I recall the time—one of many—when I did the opposite of what I said I would do. I was looking for a new job and promised God I would go anywhere. After months of searching, I was offered a position at a tiny college high in the rural mountains of West Virginia. Over and over I argued with God and said “no. I will not go.” I applied for more jobs without any success. Finally, with much misgiving I agreed to accept the job. Before I could respond to the school, though, another institution (one very close to my hometown in Ohio and near all of my relatives) called me for an interview. I eventually got that job, but it never would have happened if I had not remembered my vow to the Lord.

God deserves our best and true service. There is no place in his kingdom for lip service. May we always say what we mean, and mean what we say when it comes to serving him. He is counting on us, just as we are counting on him.

For your good (Monday, July 27)

Think about the vast open area around a mall or in front of a store. The land is needed for one very important reason: parking. In order to shop, we need a place to park our cars and trucks.

But what if these parking lots did not have lines and arrows? What would happen? People would park in every different direction depending on their own whims and desires. It short, it would be sheer chaos! The same thing would happen on roads and highways without signs and traffic lights. Vehicles would be going every which way.

Sometimes we complain about all of the rules and limits the Lord sets on our lives. We can do certain things, but not others. Plus, we are to pray for our enemies and be kind to those who dislike us. We even have to forgive people who mistreat us.

What would happen if God did not give us guidance and direction? The world would be a mess. Every person would do as she or he pleased. Thank goodness Jesus showed us how to act and live. He knows what is best for us even if we disagree. God wants to bring order to your days so you can avoid the disorder of the world.

One purpose (Sunday, July 26)

Our sole purpose as Christians is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” These words from the Shorter Catechism should be more than a reminder of what we need to do each day. They should tell us how to allow God into our lives so we live according to his plan. Much of what we do daily, however, gets in the way. From morning to night, it seems our many activities separate us from God: working, shopping, entertaining, studying, even eating. Seeing God in all these places and times is not easy.

Frequently, we have to push beyond our neighborhoods, the television programs, the breaking news and all of the chatter around us in order to notice the God of the universe. When we first seek him, he is barely visible through the fabric of our busy schedules. But, as we look closer and more intently, we will begin to see his brightness and radiance. Slowly, he reveals himself to us. When the complete magnificence of his eternal love comes shining through, we wonder why we never noticed its beauty before.

When we truly see God’s divine love and begin to grasp his greatness, our whole desire in life will change. Nothing will be more important to us than “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

The new self (Saturday, July 25)

When we accepted the gift and grace of salvation, we became new creatures in Christ. We rejoiced that the old person was dead. Our past was swept clean. We received a new life, one which will last into eternity. But what about our lives right now? We still make mistakes, become angry or frustrated at times, lose our temper, say the wrong things and, frequently, we do the wrong things.

So much for the “new person” that we are supposed to be. Many Christians think because we are born again that we are completely changed in an instant – that our old nature disappears forever. Suddenly, like walking through a spiritual threshold, we put on a heavenly attitude of love and peace. It is not so simple. Our new character needs time to evolve over many weeks, months and years as it is carefully nurtured by the Lord. We become the person God wants us to be based on his schedule and plan, not ours.

As we go through this refining process, God is gently guiding and molding us. His touch is tender as he removes the anger or hate in us. He delicately takes away our judgmental attitude, replacing it with tolerance and love. He eliminates our regrets and sorrow over the past, and gives us new hope for the future. All the while, he is making us a “new person” for life eternal.

God is using the time now to prepare us for heaven. He does not expect us to be perfect while we are still on earth. He does expect, however, for us to let him do the things he needs to do to get us ready for eternity. Some of what needs to be done will be painful, both to God and to us, but it must happen. Otherwise, we will never become the new creature who is fit for heaven.

Putting others first (Friday, July 24)

We were not created for ourselves, but for others. All that we think, do and say should be for those around us. 

Jesus was our example. Everything that he did, he did for others. Even when he spent time in prayer with his Father, he was asking God for the strength to help people: the lame, the sick, the homeless, the lost. It is not easy to put ourselves second and the needs of others first. But Christ came to show us a different way of life.

He demonstrated how to seek a higher purpose – a life centered on love and compassion rather than on the self-centered interests of our own flesh.

Do all things well (Thursday, July 23)

Trying to live like Christ each day is like anything else. Sometimes we say the right things but act the wrong way. Or we say the wrong things and act the right way. We can even do both things poorly. Rarely do we ever get it all right.

The challenge for us is somewhat like golfing. On occasion we are fine on the fairway but pathetic in our putting. Or the other way around. If I ever had a good game in both driving and putting, I could compete with the pros. They are consistent in what they do every day. The same holds true with my running. On certain days, my legs hurt but my lungs are okay. The very next day it can be just the opposite. Then, every now and again, my entire body is strong yet I don’t feel like getting up from the couch.

The closer we get to God, the more difficult it is to line up everything. The reason is because the more we improve, the more we know we can do better. As we become more like Christ, the greater we see how far we are from his perfection.

We should not be discouraged, though. Instead, we should be encouraged because He is helping us to grow stronger and better each moment. He is bringing us nearer to completion in Him and helping us to do all things well in His name. Remember Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Only God knows (Wednesday, July 22)

God has the answer each time he asks us a question. Yet, how often do we try to respond as though he is one of us? We treat him as human rather than as Lord over all. We imagine he will not realize or learn the truth.

Think of Cain who killed his brother. God asked, "Where is your brother Abel?" Cain answers, believing God will not find out what he has done. “I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" Recall, too, Adam and Eve in the garden. God called out, “Where are you?” Then he posed several other questions: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? What is this you have done?” With each response, our first parents try to hide the real answer from their Creator.

We need to pay close attention when God speaks, especially when he asks a question. It is a sure sign that he wants us to hear the excuse for ourselves and to remember our commitment to him. He also wants to make sure we understand what we have done or promised to do.

Is there something God is asking you today? Make sure that he does not have to repeat the question over and over again in order to get your attention. Don’t be like Peter. Jesus had to ask him three times if he loved him. Be open and honest in your first response because God already knows the answer.

Doing things the hard way (Tuesday, July 21)

My granddaughter was trying to put on her tennis shoes by pushing her feet into them. She did not want to untie the laces so she shoved and shoved until the shoes went on. The end result was it took her three times longer to do it her way.

So much of what we do in life we do the hard way. We don’t want to have to undo anything first because we think we will waste time tying everything back together again. What we sometimes forget is there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.

As we go through this day, may we remember God’s way is the right way. “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:4-5). We cannot go wrong following the path God has set before us. Maybe our motto should be, “It’s either his way or the highway.”

Defining the church (Monday, July 20)

During the Soviet era in the last century, all of the churches in St. Petersburg, Russia, either were closed or used by the state in various ways. These grand houses of worship were turned into such things as an ice skating rink, a warehouse for vegetables and even a museum of the history of religion and atheism. Religion continues to grow in the modern-day Soviet Union and the churches now are being restored to their original purpose.

How are we using our churches today in the United States? Are they more than just a place of worship once a week? Or do they serve people throughout the week? In many communities, the church used to be the very center of activity. Everything seemed to revolve around these buildings with their steeples rising high into the sky.

Churches throughout the country remain a place for food banks, after-school tutoring, and self-help meetings, but perhaps they should be more. A church should be a beacon of hope, a sanctuary of refuge and a resource for help. A church is where people can meet God and commune with him.

Let’s make sure our buildings never lose the purpose for which they were built: to glorify God and to serve others. Our churches need to make a difference in the lives of everyday people. Otherwise they are little more than monuments to what we once believed.

Who isn’t listening? (Sunday, July 19)

The Bible holds the answer to every question and need. Nothing is omitted. God tells us precisely what to do in each situation.

Do you need faith? Look up Ephesians 2:8. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Do you need patience? Go to Ecclesiastes 7:8. “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Do you need courage? Turn to 2 Timothy 1:7. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

Often our difficulty in life is not the problem itself. Instead, it is that we will not do what we need to do to find relief. We are like the person who always complains, but never does anything to seek help. I was that way many years ago. My back had been hurting for six months. I thought it would get better in time. The pain, however, became worse until I could no longer walk upright. Finally, my wife forced me to go to the doctor. Turns out, I needed non-invasive surgery. I had the operation and was home the next day.

God gives us instruction – 31,173 verses of scripture in both testaments – on how to find peace and comfort. What good are all his words, roughly 774,000 of them, if we never pay attention? Let’s take note of what he has already said to us before we suddenly throw our hands in the air and claim God isn’t listening to our prayers.

Taking control (Saturday, July 18)

To be like Christ means that our heart and mind must be going in the same direction. For us to make any progress, to keep moving forward in our lives, the two differing natures of our self must be in complete agreement. We cannot think about going one way when we really feel like going in another.

I might realize in my head that I need to lose weight, but nothing will happen until I put my heart into making the effort to change. I need to be passionate about becoming thinner and healthier. Then, with my knowledge and emotions so aligned, I can face any obstacle that threatens to hold me back.

In each case, God will give me what I need to be successful. “You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:16). On my own, I cannot control myself. But with the Lord’s help, I can defeat even my strongest feelings.

Wait (Friday, July 17)

The saying goes that we are all in God’s waiting room. The implication is that we are always waiting on him, and we must learn to be patient.

There are different ways to wait, though. We can be passive, and simply do nothing until God speaks to us. Or we can actively prepare ourselves for the next step so we are ready to do his will.

God’s waiting room is not a quiet place, with everyone sitting around relaxing and reading magazines. In God’s waiting room, there is energy and excitement; people are anticipating the time ahead. They know that at any moment the Lord may open the door for them.

No matter what you are waiting for today, do it with hope and expectation. All of your thoughts and energy need to be directed toward God. He is getting ready to do a great thing in your life! Wake up, and wait with joy and enthusiasm.

Twice as much as before! (Thursday, July 16)

Things do not always happen when we want or the way we want. But God makes sure that situations occur according to what we need.

My computer crashed five days ago. The timing could not have been worse for me. All of Saturday and Sunday, I struggled to get my PC up and running again. I tried everything, even downloading several utility programs. I finally gave up and realized the problem was beyond me. I had to turn it over to someone who knew more about computers. I trusted God to guide me to the right person at the right place to get the help I needed.

The Lord led me to a fantastic expert just down the street! He fixed the computer, saving all of the data! By the time he was finished, the computer ran better than when it was new five years ago. The best part: the cost was only $60.

When my computer stopped working, I was extremely upset at not being able to post a devotion each morning or to respond to any emails. I soon realized the break gave me a chance to rest mentally and physically—something I did not realize I needed. In addition, I soon may have a part-time job because of meeting this repairman. In the course of our conversation, he told me he knew someone who was looking for an editor for a local monthly magazine. As a retired journalism professor, the opportunity would be perfect for me.

Yes, I lost several days of computer time, but in the end God restored everything. In fact, he gave me twice as much as I had before—just like Job!

The rip currents of life (Sunday, July 12)

People everywhere flock to the beach in summer. They want to enjoy the warm sunshine, soft sand and refreshing water. What they do not see, though, is how dangerous the ocean can be at times. What seems to be a cool breeze on shore can actually create strong rip currents underwater. In seconds, a rip current can send even the most experienced swimmer out to sea.

Experts warn not to try to swim against a rip current. Instead, let it take you out away from the shore. When the current subsides, swim back to the beach. Hundreds die each year because they try to fight the current. They run out of strength and energy, and they drown.

Too often we also try to go against the rip currents of life. Rather than “going with the flow,” we fight back. Eventually, we become exhausted and lose all of our hope. We fall victim to a situation when we could have been victorious.

The next time you encounter a rip current in your life, resist the temptation to get angry and use all of your power fighting back. Wait until you no longer feel the problem tugging at you, then get back to where you were in the first place. God will calm the seas and help you to safety with his almighty hand.

God always provides
(Saturday, July 11)

Giving each one of his disciples the power over evil spirits, Jesus sent the Twelve throughout the land. In groups of two – carrying no bread, bags or money – they went from village to village to preach the gospel. With little more than the clothes on their back, they did exactly as the Lord had commanded. “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:13). God granted them special favor in spreading the message of repentance; he was the one who provided them with food, water, lodging and open hearts.

The Bible is full of examples that demonstrate God’s protection and help. We need look no further than our Sunday School stories about Noah, Moses, Jonah, David and Daniel for proof. Time and time again, we see that God looks after his children. He shelters them, feeds them and blesses them in ways we cannot explain. Nonetheless, we know we are sustained by his great love.

God continues to send us out into the towns and villages of our part of the world. He wants to use us to reach the lost, the dying, the homeless and the hopeless. He also wants to show us what he can do through us when we allow him to lead the way. Not only will he heal others, and bring them to salvation, but he also will grant us the joy of sharing with him in the process.

God in all
(Friday, July 10)

Our primary purpose in life is to serve God. All of our hope, trust and faith must rest on this principle alone. The work we do, where we travel, the places we live and the daily chores we perform are not what give our life meaning. Only by allowing God to direct each step can we find complete fulfillment. He must live in all things and be a part of each decision and action. |

What would be the reason to spend time seeking God’s will and then depart on our own journey? We may certainly find ourselves headed in the right direction, but without any true purpose or goal. In the words of the psalmist, we should meditate on God both day and night; he needs to direct our path if we are serious about walking with him. Too often, we let God point the way we need to go and then leave him behind as we journey alone. Then we wonder in amazement why our steps are difficult. Like the Israelites in the desert, we complain about our trials and hardships – how God seems to have abandoned us.

Yet, it is we who always abandon God. A brief time once a day with God is not enough to know his will. Every time we encounter a new situation, another person, a different thought, we must pause. We need to let God tell us what to do, to give him control, before we react with our will. In the end, the only way we can say we have done God’s work in each and every situation is if we have reached his destination – not ours.

Prepare your day
(Thursday, July 9)

What will today be like for us? Will we get upset or angry? Will we be happy and full of joy? For the most part, we cannot control the things we will face. We do, however, have the power to determine how we react.

The problem with most of us is we do not plan our day. Getting ready to embark on a new day is like taking a trip. When we travel, for example, we map each turn and stop with precise care; we chart how far we will drive, when to stop for gas and food, and where to spend the night. Nothing is left to chance. If something goes wrong or we hit an unexpected delay, we immediately make adjustments in our schedule. Our goal is to keep moving forward.

Not so with each day. We allow all kinds of things to get in the way and set us back: we misplace our car keys; we cannot find our checkbook; we get a call from the school because our child is sick; the refrigerator suddenly breaks down. We do not have to change how we act. In and of themselves, these problems do not have the power to get us down. We are the ones who let ourselves down.

The secret to our day is to keep moving forward and not let the little obstacles in life bring us to a grinding halt. Let’s keep looking ahead and following God’s guidance. He is leading us. That alone should give us all the encouragement we need to push on.

Keeping score
(Wednesday, July 8)

Keeping score in sporting events is important for many reasons. Most of all, it reveals how well one team is doing compared to another. But keeping score in life is something we should not do. Keeping track of another person’s wrongs can be extremely harmful both to us and them.

Years ago I worked for someone who constantly criticized everything I did. There were times when I thought, “If he says one more thing to me, I am going to tell him what I think of him.” Looking back on the matter, I now see that I was the problem. I was keeping score of everything he said and did. I was adding up his offenses in my mind. I was deciding when he crossed the line and when he had to be put back in his place.

What did Jesus tell us about forgiving others? In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus told Peter we need to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven. Jesus also said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3).

If you have been keeping score of someone’s good or bad points, stop right now. Keeping score in life is no game to play. Save the score for sporting events, not for people’s lives.

The journey
(Tuesday, July 7)

The apostle Paul was serious about being a missionary. In his three journeys, Paul is known to have traveled to at least 38 cities. Some of these – Antioch, Derbe, Troas, Philippi and Thessalonica – he visited two and three times. When he wasn’t preaching the gospel, he was writing letters to congregations he had already seen or to those worshippers he wanted to see: Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, etc.

Few persons today can rival all that Paul did for the kingdom. Even when he came to the end of his journey in Rome, Paul still was serving the Lord. Confined and seemingly alone, Paul pressed on. The last verse in Acts tells us that, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We should remember Paul today not for what he did, but for what the Lord did through him. Actually, Paul did a simple thing: he followed the example of Jesus Christ by allowing the Lord to use his life. Giving our life to God is not complicated, but often we make it difficult because of our own stubbornness and desires. If we are serious about spreading the good news of salvation, we will let the Lord use us in his way.

God has our journey already planned, just as he did with Paul. We can either follow his direction or wander through life on our own. It is a simple decision that can have profound and lasting consequences.

Praying for power
(Monday, July 6)

Jesus took three of his closest disciples – Peter, James and John – to the garden of Gethsemane so he could talk with the Father. “Sit here while I pray,” he told them. According to Mark, Jesus “began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”

Three times Jesus went off to pray and each time the disciples failed to do as he asked. They could not stand watch even for a brief time. “Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation,” Jesus told Peter. Jesus returned a second and a third time, but they were all asleep.

We would like to think we are different, that we would have stood watch for Jesus. But sometimes our best intentions are not enough. We are not strong enough to keep going when we are weary and tired. At such times, it would be good to remember what Jesus said to Peter: “Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation.” Like Jesus, we can always pray to the Father for the power we need to sustain us, especially when we are tempted to act contrary to his will.

Keep the celebration going
(Sunday, July 5)

The fireworks in our neighborhood were still going off at midnight. It seems people didn’t want to stop celebrating the Fourth of July! It was our nation’s 239th birthday and the party was bigger than ever.

I wonder what would happen if we celebrated our birth in Jesus in the same way. Christians everywhere would cheer being born again. The world would see and hear the great news of salvation. Not with fireworks and sparklers, though. But with stories, songs, praises and worship. The party would go on and on!

All is quiet this morning, the night after. Yet our enthusiasm for who we are in Christ fills the air. It is Sunday morning, the Lord’s day. The creator of the universe made this day especially for us – for us to rest and to be able to show our thanks to him. May we praise him all the day long. Let us keep the celebration going each day so people everywhere know the good news we have to share.

Freedom to be free
(Saturday, July 4)

Our independence is important to the Lord. He wants us to be free to follow him and serve him. As we choose him of our own free will, we become even more committed to doing his will.

We are blessed to live in a country where we are free. We have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of choice about how we are going to live and where we are going to live. The right to make our own decisions in just about every aspect of our lives makes us stronger both as individuals and as a nation. We develop a greater appreciation for what we have and what would happen if our independence suddenly was taken away.

This Fourth of July, as we celebrate our independence, let us remember our deep dependence on God. He has given us all we have and we need to acknowledge his presence in everything we do. Without him, nothing would be possible.

The opening words of “God Bless America” ring as true today as they have in the past: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Thank God we serve a God who allows us to be free.

His perfect will in an imperfect world
(Friday, July 3)

The morning did not go exactly as I had planned. I was trying to print store coupons from my computer. Unfortunately, the application that downloaded the coupons contained a virus and my computer shut down instantly. For the next three hours, I struggled to get it to run properly again.

I was frustrated. Here I was doing something nice for someone else – in this case, our daughter – and I was the one having all of the problems. Some reward, I thought, for being kind.

In a perfect world, people who help others would be rewarded, not punished. But our world is far from perfect. Hundreds of thousands of injustices occur every day, yet we cannot allow ourselves to become angry or discontented. We must keep on going, just like Jesus did, knowing that God sees our intentions and good works.

Countless believers for centuries have been persecuted, ridiculed, maligned and scorned for trying to make people and the world a little better. Their efforts were not in vain. In the end, God rights the wrongs of the world. We can’t afford to give up and give up what he has waiting for us.

The one and only power
(Thursday, July 2)

Some people treat life as though it is a game with definite winners and losers – a battle between the powerful and the powerless. The sport is all about dominance and control; those with the best strategy, the most skillful moves, come out on top. The world is full of leaders who have used a variety of approaches to become successful.

But what is true of this world is not at all true in God’s kingdom. Psalm 37:11 reminds us that “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” Only those who are gentle, mild, kind and compassionate will receive God’s treasures. Only those who are willing to follow God, rather than their own devices, will have peace and prosperity.

Bill and Gloria Gaither said it best in “There’s Just Something About That Name” when they wrote: “Kings and kingdoms will all pass away.” God will remain when everything else is gone. He alone is the one true victor and ruler.

Nothing else will matter in the kingdom of eternity except God. On that day the powerful on earth will be powerless as they stand in judgment before God.

God’s creation
(Wednesday, July 1)

Perception can make a world of difference. The earth looks much different, for example, from a plane at 25,000 feet. Peacefully and serenely, the ground below glides by. We marvel at all of shapes and shades of landscape scattered here and there. For miles, we see dark blue rivers that twist and turn; forests and fields that are outlined by roads and highways; and large sprawling cities that suddenly seem small and insignificant.

Sometimes we need to get above the clutter and noise of daily life in order to appreciate the world that God made for us, his children. The true wonder and beauty of this life is found in God’s creation, not in the many works of man.

When we start to see the world through the eyes of God, we begin to notice the little things we miss each day. We need to spend more time focusing on what God designed rather than on what man has developed.