Protection in the Storm

Isaiah 4:5-6
Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

When Hurricane Ike came through Houston, my family decided to stay in our house to see what would happen around us during the storm. It was the first time we didn’t leave town before a hurricane hit.

God protected us. Our children were old enough to help clear debris from the yard, but we didn’t have that much work to do in the aftermath. We lost one tree and buckets of leaves. We lost electricity for a few days, but other than a little spoiled food, we came out all right. Our roof didn’t have any leaks. We were safe.

We listened to reports on the radio and prayed for those who lost their homes. God used many with gifts from neighbor to neighbor, sharing generator power and much needed encouragement. We knew God was our shelter, and we leaned on him.

God has proven himself in so many ways. When I read in the Bible about God’s provision and protection, I can add my own stories to the discussion. If we keep remembering what God has already done for us, it’s easier for us to expect the fatherly love of God to show up again and again.

Protection for the Obedient

Isaiah 25:4
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.

Verse two of Isaiah 25 reminds me of the battle of Jericho. The strong, fortified city of Jericho became a heap of rubble and a ruin, not because of the tanks and bazookas of the Hebrew people. They didn’t have any tanks and bazookas. They had their obedience to God. That was weapon enough to pull down the enormous, reinforced city walls.

Verse five reminds me of the Cloud by day and the Fire by night that guided the Hebrew slaves in the wilderness after they left Egypt. When the cloud of God hovers, there is relief from the oppressing heat of the desert. When God is with you, you can escape oppression no matter where it comes against you.

God protected the people as they left Egypt and he carried out their protection in the battle of Jericho. He is able to do that and more for you today.

He takes in the needy and protects those who follow him. That’s a great reason for us to look to God for our shelter. He covers us and hides us from the storm.

Like A Rock

1 Samuel 2:2
There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

When we enter a giant rock, we call it a cave. We find protective shelter in the cave. Can you imagine being inside the sheltering presence of God?

Part of the fun of reading the Bible is seeing how God describes himself in so many ways. In one place he’s the Living Word, in another place he’s our Rock. Those descriptions give me a variety of pictures in my mind that help me see God better.

In my imagination, I can see God sitting in a field like an impressive mountain. I can run into the mountain to hide from a storm. There, I’m protected. But if I’m out in the field during the storm, I’m dead meat.

God wants to be a permanent part of our lives just like a mountain. But he knows how we can be. Sometimes we love him, sometimes we ignore him, and sometimes we get angry and yell at him. Like a strong mountain, he stubbornly sits in a field and refuses to crumble into dust to be blown by the wind just because we get angry at him. He waits for us to run to him.

Because he knows how we can be.

He is our Rock. He is solid and unmoving, but he has a place for us. He stubbornly cares for us. 1 Samuel 2:5-7 show us other ways God protectively cares for his faithful friends.

He knows we need him, and he’s available right now. So won’t you seek God with me?

Planting A Shelter

Ezekiel 17:23
On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.

This verse is from a section that describes how God planned to bring down one who was strong and to lift up one who was weak. A tall cedar tree can be easily uprooted by God. A small plant can be nurtured and protected until it is strong protection for someone else.

When God plants something, it will grow. It will be strong enough to hold up under the weight of those who need a shelter. It will produce an abundance of food and shade for others. It will be beautiful.

God encouraged me with those words. If I see an insurmountable challenge and feel low and weak, he can lift me up. If God called me to do a specific thing, it is not solely my responsibility to carry it out. It’s my responsibility to work with God to achieve the goal.

When God speaks to you, you have a responsibility to respond to him. But know that you won’t be working alone. If God says he’ll do something, rest assured, He will do it.

A Real God Gives A Real Reward

Hebrews 11:6
… anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

It’s easy to ignore God. Lots of people do it. Developing a relationship with someone is something fewer people do. It takes time and effort. You have to give of yourself and work on two-way communication.

Anyone who wants to hear from God about a particular issue must realize that God doesn’t really approach you in a business-like manner. He doesn’t have office hours. He doesn’t take coffee breaks. He is actually available to us whenever we want to speak and listen.

And since He’s available 24/7, we have to realize one more thing. He’s not a vending machine. We’re not supposed to put in words of praise and adoration like quarters into a machine. He doesn’t give out blessings and miracles if you push the right buttons.

God is real. He’s not only real, but he’s also a person with feelings. We sometimes forget how to approach God since we’ve never encountered anyone else who is Almighty, Omnipotent, and Omniscient. We have to remember that “seeking God” is simply seeking a relationship with him.

He is the powerful Lion who is also the gentle lamb. He’s just, and he’s merciful. He knows we’ve sinned, but he reminds us (often) that we’re forgiven.

The reward mentioned in Hebrews 11:6 is sometimes thought of in earthly or financial terms. But my experience has been that when you seek God with your whole heart, the satisfying and enduring reward that He gives is the thrill of his warm presence. Being with God is more important to me than receiving a small gift of finances. I know He provides and protects in whatever way He chooses, so I don’t fret about what I don’t control. I simply enjoy His presence.

This is the perfect time to thank God for his presence with us.

Two Searches, One Goal

Matthew 7:8
For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

There are two kinds of searches. The first is a search for something you once had, but lost. The second is a search for something you never had.

The goal of both searches is achieved the same way. You have to look for what you lack.

In the first search you know what the item you’re looking for feels like. You know whether it’s heavy or light. You know its size and smell and general appearance. You even know when you last had it. The search should be easy.

The second type of search is a little more difficult because you may not have all the necessary information. You have to do an initial search for the information that will tell you where you should look for the item.

If you and your dog Jumpy are sitting in the back yard in the shade and you fall asleep, and then you wake up and the dog is gone, you simply look in the usually places for him. If you see Jumpy across the street in the neighbor’s yard, you would recognize him right away. It should be easy to get him back.

However if you go to your Grandma’s house and she asks you to help her find her new dog Simon, but she doesn’t have a picture of him, it would be much harder to get Simon back. Even if she told you he’s a black and white dog, it would be possible for you to bring back three or four black and white dogs before you find the right one.

My point is no matter if the search is easy or difficult, you’re not going to obtain your prize unless you look for it.

When I lost something and knew it had to be there nearby somewhere, I got distracted away from whatever else I could’ve been doing and got really focused on finding it.

That’s how God wants us to be when we’re searching for Him. You ask yourself, “Where’s God in this situation?” He’s there. You just have to look harder. He even gave us a Bible verse to motivate us to keep looking for Him. Deuteronomy 4:29 “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Whether your search is for something tangible like a dog or intangible like peace, you may need to get more information before starting your search. You may need to ask God for wisdom to look in the right places. So start there first, and seek God with me.

God Loves His Kids

Zephaniah 1:6
I will cut off “…those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

God loves you. He wants you to know that.

If you have been in church and found the people in the church to be imperfect, don’t judge God by that. If you’ve been hurt by someone who claims to be a Christian, don’t judge God by that. People – even good Christians – are imperfect. But God is love.

Many find questions in church that they can’t answer, and they turn away from God. We have to realize that some answers don’t come easy. Don’t make getting answers a condition of your love for God. He doesn’t put conditions on his love for you.

God can be in charge and not like what he sees. He’s a parent. Sometimes his children are well-behaved, and sometimes they’re naughty. He loves his kids anyway.

If you’ve ever known God’s love, don’t turn away from him. When difficult times come your way, stay with him. Ask him the hard questions. Seek him in prayer. Sit silently in his presence. He will be with you.

God stays patient with us through our ups and downs, but we have to remain his kids. Why do we turn our backs on God, disown him, ignore him, run away from him, and then wonder why we don’t feel his love?

There will be a day when those who turn their backs on God will identify themselves with the wicked. If they remain arrogantly wicked long enough, they will turn down every chance to come back to God. They won’t seek God when they need him.

God doesn’t want to lose any of his kids. No parent does. That’s why I keep encouraging you to seek God with me.

Seeking Him In Our Brokenness

Psalm 10:4
In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

Where is God when you need him?

He’s right where he was when you thought you didn’t need him.

He’s always been there for us, but we haven’t always been there for him. We sometimes find that there is no room for God in our schedule. But God always has room for us in his.

Why is God so patient with us?

When we arrogantly think that we can handle all the events in our lives without help from God, we ignore his guiding touch. We push away the hand he holds out to us. Then when we find ourselves in need, we know he is the only one to whom we can run. But we often hold back our call for help. We think he won’t help us. We think we’ve offended God too much for him to hear our plea.

It’s not the cry for help that he ignores; it’s the unrepentant heart. As long as we take him seriously and believe he will respond to us, we can run to him in our brokenness. We can flood his shoulder with our tears. We can ask him to help us stay turned back to him.

It starts with a heart that is willing. You must be willing to be held and directed by God.

The wicked doesn’t seek him. They don’t want his love. But you aren’t wicked and your heart is willing to be held in the hand of God. So seek God with me today.

Getting Rid of Evil

1 Peter 2:1
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

Chapter one of the book of First Peter tells us that our goal is to love each other deeply because we have God’s love. Chapter two continues that thought with step two which is to get rid of the evil that destroys relationships. We aren’t loving each other when we slip into hypocrisy and deceit.

Showing respect for others, submitting to the proper authority, and doing good deeds are ways we love our neighbors. This love is ammunition for demolishing the evil.

How do you rid yourself of darkness? Turn on the light.

How do you rid yourself of evil? Use love. Use God’s love. But to use it, you have to have it. So go to God and receive the life that turns away death and the light that turns away darkness. Go to God and receive his love.

Nine Verses

Ephesians 4:14
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

In Ephesians 4:8-16, I have found words of hope and clear direction that have often been overlooked. We know that there are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in our enormous Christian family. But do we read past that verse to find the people the others were put here for?

Let’s look at the verses. Verse 8 tells us that God has given gifts to men. Verses 9 and 10 tell us about the one who gave the gifts. Verse 11 tells us what the gifts are. Verse 12 and 13 tell us why he gave the gifts. Verse 14 tells us what happens when we reach the goal achieved by using the gifts. Verse 15 tells us we will grow up by speaking the truth in love. Verse 16 tells us we’re supposed to work together.

Those nine verses tell us that each one of us has been given the gift of a job that is so special and so necessary that there are people being directed by God to help each of us prepare for that job. If we each do our job to the best of our ability, we will mature in the process. Then we will no longer be deceived by the “good ideas” that get thrown at us all the time. If we each do our jobs and mature until we reach unity in the faith, we will be stable so we’re not blown about by every wind of teaching.

Can you imagine what would happen if everyone actually did this?

I believe we will do this. But each of us has to do those works of service that we were created to do.

If you are doing your God-given works of service, good for you. I’m proud of you. Keep it up. If we all keep it up, we will reach a unity in the faith that we have only dreamed of so far.

God has a plan. Let’s stick with it.

Flattering Lips

Psalm 12:1-2
Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.

Have you ever felt like you were the only one trying to do what was right?

I know children often complain about getting into trouble for something they’ve done because it seems as though their siblings never get into trouble. Does a mother forego justice to keep the peace?

No. Parents must teach their children to do what is right even when you really are the only one doing it.

Psalm 12 shows us that this feeling has been around a long time. When we think everyone is lying, God reminds us that His words are flawless. We can lift up the words of the Lord and remain in His protection.

Deceitful Gain

Genesis 27:35
But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

When you think of the story of Jacob and Esau, the word “deceit” comes to mind. Although he was helped by his mother, Jacob was the one who deceived his father into giving him his brother’s blessing.

Jacob received the blessing, but did he walk in honor? No. He had to run away to protect himself from Esau who was consoling himself with the thought of killing him.

Many people are able to get what they want – one way or another – like Jacob. Anyone can stoop to being a deceitful scammer, but I don’t think it feels as good as getting what you’ve earned and walking in honor.

Why flee when you can live free?

It’s hard to forgive those who take things by deception. The good news, however, is that Esau was able to forgive Jacob. Genesis 33:4 tells us that the brothers saw each other again after years of separation – and Esau didn’t kill him as Jacob had feared.

Hannah's Prayer

1 Samuel 1:2
He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

Hannah had no children.

Year after year, Peninnah persistently irritated Hannah about the fact that she had no children. She provoked her until Hannah broke down and cried.

Isn’t that sad? Not only was Hannah not able to bear children, but she was also tortured by the one woman who could provide sons for their husband. She had the love of her husband, but she that didn’t solve her problem. She was frustrated with the fact that there wasn’t anything she could do to fix her problem.

So she prayed.

She prayed so fervently and with such anguish that she got the attention of Eli the priest. He told her to go and God would give her what she wanted. She immediately believed God would do it.

I think a lot of Christians do that kind of praying. We try to be patient and endure whatever may come. Then when we get so frustrated by our inability to get what we feel we should have, we fall on our face and pray to God.

I wonder what would happen if we’d listen to God earlier in the scenario. Does God wait until we’ve cried our last tear before he acts? I don’t think so.

I don’t think we see things the same way God does. Maybe he waits on us to act on our faith. Maybe he wants to see if the thing we want is going to be ahead of him in our list of priorities. Maybe he waits for us to throw away the arrogant notion that it was our idea to want the thing.

When we get to the point that it has to be God making it happen, we can never claim the gift as our own creation. We can never own the miracle. It’s God’s hand at work, not ours.

We are his children, after all. He knows our tendencies and weaknesses. Some of us generally lean toward self-sufficiency. I think God tries to do what is necessary to keep our attention on him.

He wants to help us achieve success, but we have to wait for God’s plan. He sees things we don’t see. That includes pitfalls as well as successes. He knows what will trip us up and what will help us triumph.

Hannah had no children. And then she had a very important child.

If we’ll trust God’s plan, our obedience will speed us to the victory.

Relationship Renovation

Genesis 48:11
Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too."
I missed out on going to my family reunion this year. I enjoy going as often as possible so I can visit with aunts and uncles and cousins. I love seeing how the young ones are now so tall.

My kids also enjoy seeing my brother’s kids every year. They used to be a lot closer in size than they are now, but they still party like there’s no tomorrow when they see each other. Their love for each other makes even the adults smile.

I imagine there will be great rejoicing in Heaven when we return to those friends and relatives who have gone before us. Won’t that be an exciting time (– among many exciting moments in Heaven)?

I love it when God brings loved ones back together again. Or when he restores friendships or family relationships between those who allowed something to come between them.

Mercy and Healing

Genesis 20:16-18
To Sarah he said, "I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated." Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah.

There are those to whom pregnancy comes easy. And then there are those who pray for a child. Those who are praying God would open their womb and help them conceive a child can read about Sarah and Hannah. God gives us examples of women who stubbornly loved God and stubbornly asked Him for help with a pregnancy.

I know children are a blessing. They’re a lot of work, but they’re also a blessing.

Some women find it unfair that those who don’t want kids get pregnant easily. And those who want kids, but can’t have any, must learn to not take offense when someone else gets pregnant.

As much as God loves the sound of children’s laughter, He also cherishes the hearts of the adults. No person is more important than another, regardless of age or even child-related cuteness.

God wants each of us to notice and accept Him. Even if we don’t get everything we want. We are to follow God’s guidance because His plan is better than ours.

In Genesis, God had to deal with the hearts of Abraham, Sarah, Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls before the issue of child-bearing could be corrected.

My kids are old enough to take on a little more responsibility now. I give them tasks and expect them to obey. God does that with me, only I’m just as imperfect as my kids. Should I expect my kids to obey me to the letter when I don’t follow God perfectly?

Because our kids are a blessing, we should recognize that we’re here to be that kind of a blessing to our Heavenly Father. Because he gives us mercy, we should pay it forward to our kids.

Thank You, God, for healing us and showing us mercy.

An Inheritance For Your Children

Joshua 14:9
So on that day Moses swore to me, 'The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.'

Joshua and Caleb were the only two men to bring back a fearless report of the land they’d been sent into. They told of a land flowing with milk and honey, but the other men stirred up fear in the hearts of the people.

At eighty-five years old, Caleb reminded Joshua what had happened when he was forty. Moses gave him land as an inheritance, and Caleb wanted to move into what was his.

I come from people who live a long time on the earth. They’re strong and proud and active. I can just imagine Caleb looking even more fit than my relatives. His words sound like he was energized and ready to go.

One of the things I like about Caleb is the fact that he doesn’t expect to drive out his enemies with his own strength. He knows he can be victorious against his enemies with the Lord’s help. Verse twelve shows his confidence is in the Lord. “You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

Because of his obedience and trust in the Lord, Caleb secured a great inheritance for all of his descendants. Or from verse nine, “your inheritance and that of your children forever.”

How are you building up an inheritance for your children?

Rejoicing

Nehemiah 12:43
And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

The wall of Jerusalem had been finished, and the Israelites had settled in their towns. Then Ezra read the law to the people. They had a feast and celebrated. They made a binding agreement, took part in ceremonies, and rejoiced.

They didn’t just have a pot-luck supper where everyone sat around drinking tea and visiting. They rejoiced. Loudly.

Have you been to a party that was so loud you were sure the police were going to shut it down because it was disturbing the neighbors? The Jerusalem party was like that combined with a large group of junior high girls screaming at a concert. I’m saying it was loud.

They had a right to be loud. They had come back to Jerusalem and had fought to stay there. The city wall, which was destroyed, had been rebuilt. They listened to the law of God and committed themselves to the God who had never left them through all their many problems.

They had come back home.

In this age of mobility, we understand what it’s like to move from home to home. Today there aren’t as many people who live in one place as there used to be. People who, decade after decade, live in the same house next door to the same neighbors.

Many parents want to be in one place to raise their children. They want their children to relax in the place they call home.

God had brought these people through many hard situations. He gave them a victory and a reason to fill their mouths with thanksgiving. And now it was time to celebrate.

The next time God gives you peace, rest, and a reason to celebrate, remember the people of Jerusalem, the men and women and children who responded to God by rejoicing from the bottom of their hearts.

Real Power

Ephesians 1:19-21
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

God gave us his word for our understanding. If we will study his word, we will be able to know what he’s talking about when he has a conversation with us. For instance: the word “power” means something a little different to different kinds of people. God gives us one definition in the verses above.

This is power: God raised Jesus from the lowest point to the very highest. God is strong enough to do that. He can certainly hold us up under the stress and pressures of our everyday life.

Worship him because of his goodness, not because you have something to celebrate. Worship him not for his power but in his power.

Rest in him and be flexible under his guidance. Many of us get hard-headed and feel the need to press on until our power runs out. But our batteries need to be recharged too often for us to be really effective. Let God’s guidance signal our direction. Let his power keep you running until you arrive at the destination he sent you to. Know that the power he wants you to use is his power. He doesn’t expect you to be able to do in your own power what he asks of you.

Cherish his presence whether you think your day has been good or bad. God is still with you and can help you know his power.

Follow Your Heart

Ephesians 1:17-19
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Have you heard the phrase “follow your heart”? I have. It sounds so wise. It seems romantic and ethereal and yet so doable. It’s an encouraging phrase that sounds like it’s telling us to do whatever we want.

But that’s not what it’s saying.

God put into everyone’s heart enough wisdom to lead them to God. When people truly encounter God, they know it. When God gets somebody’s attention and they truly hear Him, they know it from the bottom of their heart. We sometimes feel things in the deepest part of our being, but we can’t always see things clearly.

When God gives you an eye-opening experience, you are able to see things differently. Your perspective about some things may change.

One of the many things God is good at is helping us to see things differently.

I love it when I’m finally able to understand an issue I’ve been struggling with. God lets us put our best effort into understanding things we encounter, and then when we come to a dead end with it, he removes what was blocking our vision. He opens the eyes of our heart. He wants to share the moment of discovery with us when we see something His way.

God doesn’t want us to know about everything we encounter. Some of the things we stumble upon are a distraction and a waste of time. I want to have blinders on when I’m around distractions. I only want to see the things God wants me to discover. As we seek God, we can expect God to open our eyes to some things so that we may follow our hearts in his guidance and receive his wisdom and revelation.

God wants us to know him better. He wants us to know the hope to which he has called us, and he wants us to know his power. But we’re not going to understand what he has for us unless he gives us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. God has to enlighten us.

If we follow our enlightened hearts, God will show us the unexpected treasures he holds. These treasures are power to help people. These treasures are power we’ve never experienced. God works all kinds of blessings through the hands of his people. When God shares experiences with us, that helps us know him better, and it builds up our testimony so others may know him better.

When you pray, ask God to give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. Ask him for clear vision in your heart.

May God open the eyes of our hearts so we may know the hope and power he wants us to know.

Receive

Ephesians 1:7-8
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

If we were God, how would we have acted when the first sin was committed? Some of us might have restarted the whole project over and over until we got the desired outcome.

But God is love. And he has all wisdom and understanding. Man does not.

In his wisdom, God decided that instead of scrapping the whole project, he would give man a way out of his sin. He made a way for us to be redeemed, forgiven, returned to him by his grace.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do because it involved a huge sacrifice.

Knowing our determined nature, God dug deep into his treasure of grace and lavished it on us “with all wisdom and understanding”. He knew what it would take to turn us around. He knew us before Jesus walked on the Earth’s dirt, and he knows us now.

There are people in today’s society who do not understand that God’s grace isn’t running low. The treasury is still full. We can still receive from him, but for that to happen, we have to go to him. The verse in Ephesians tells us that it is “in him” that we have these things.

If the ice cream is in the freezer, you can’t have the ice cream unless you go to the freezer.

Today, I challenge you to go to God and receive.

Are You Special?

Ephesians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Do you think you’re special? God does.

You were picked out apart from all others to be exactly who you are. You were given a personality and physical traits which distinguish you from others.

God thinks you’re special because he looked inside himself and gave you pieces of him that he wanted to see in you. If God is love (and he is), then you have pieces of his love in you – by his design.

As you worship God and study his word, allow yourself to be used by him. Give him the opportunity to help others with your hands and to comfort the wounded with his powerful words from your mouth.

God wants to see himself in you. He wants to see you in him too. So continue seeking God and studying his word. Be aware of the opportunities he puts before you.

When you look into God’s face, can you see yourself? Most of us say, “Of course not.” However, I challenge you to find yourself in him.

Who's Following You?

Psalm 23:6
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

When you look over your shoulder, what do you see? Do you see a shadowy figure in a trench coat and fedora?

Not me. I see goodness and love. Why? Because the Lord is my shepherd. God goes before me to clear my path. He walks beside me to lead and encourage me. Also… he’s got my back.

The Lord sends his angels to encamp around me. The Lord surrounds me with his love. I walk in peace. When I look over my shoulder, I don’t see darkness chasing after me. I see goodness and love chasing after me.

Shepherd and Provider

Psalm 23:5
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

If the Lord is my shepherd and I am his sheep, I can eat the sweet green grass even if a wolf is standing there watching. I know I’m protected.

As a child of the Almighty Father, I see this verse as a description of God as my provider. I will always have access to abundance because my Father created the universe. He’s not running out of anything.

Eating in the presence of enemies is a picture of protected triumph. Being anointed with oil is associated with power from God. Overflow is abundance.

Protected triumph, power from God, and abundance all show me parts of what God wants in my relationship with him. He wants me to walk confidently with him, aware of his protection. He wants me to walk boldly with him, knowing I can do anything he asks of me – even if it takes his power to complete it. He wants me to walk in generosity with him, knowing I have plenty to give – even if it comes out of his pocket.

I love reading this verse because of the encouragement I get from it. I hope you’re encouraged too.

From Darkest to Brightest

Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

When I walk through the darkest of valleys in my life, am I required to fear?

I think not.

If a child is awakened by a wild thunderstorm and he runs to scoot into his parents’ bed, why is his location a factor in his ability to sleep? The storm is still raging whether he’s in his bed or his parents’ bed. The parents aren’t making the storm stop.

When the child runs to his parents and feels their presence, the storm isn’t as scary and sleep comes more quickly. Just being with his parents makes him feel better.

We can run to God and feel his presence when we are in our dark valleys. We don’t have to fear the shadow of anything. He will comfort us and turn our dark hours into bright and glorious moments with him.

How the Shepherd Guides

Psalm 23:3b
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The Lord is my shepherd. And because I am his sheep, I listen for the peaceful voice of the shepherd. He calls to his sheep to guide them to the right paths.

In the book of John, the picture of sheep following the shepherd is displayed. I love reading about a loving shepherd taking care of his sheep. It evokes a sense of peace and an awareness of his presence, a comfort that is a necessary part of the day for those who live in today’s world.

John 10:4 reminds us that “his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” They know his voice because they’re around him a lot and hear his voice often. They know his voice because they are his.

I used to live in the country. On several occasions, I saw a cow eating grass on the side of the road. I knew that cow belonged to someone and wouldn’t be there very long. The owner would be there soon to put the cow back in the pasture and would fix the fence so it wouldn’t get out again. The owner would risk his life to get the cow away from the highway.

Jesus is like the owner of that cow. If his sheep wander away from where they’re supposed to be, he guides them back home, back in the paths of righteousness.

It’s good to know that the Lord is my shepherd. And he lays his life down for the sheep. And his sheep follow him because they love his voice.

From Tormented to Restored

Psalm 23:3a
He restores my soul.

These days, we put so much on ourselves. We think we have to be involved in everything – more than what is necessary. We pile up undue stress and pressure and heap problems on ourselves with the attitude that we can do it all.

We can’t.

We were never designed to handle it all. We were designed to be a small piece to a global puzzle. Even in our local communities, we’re a small part of the natural rhythm. God gave us gifts that work in relationship with others. None of us has everything he needs because, by God’s plan, we need each other.

In this culture, many parents are tearing their hair out trying to provide everything for their kids, everything for their spouse, and everything for themselves. What about discipline? I think it’s okay to not have every toy your child wants. It’s okay to give inexpensive gifts instead of going into debt.

Why do we fill our soul with needless sorrows because of an ad on the TV?

If my soul has been damaged through the torment of life, I can go to the Lord.

The Lord is my shepherd. He sees my need for restoration. He can restore me to the flock if he needs to, and he can restore my soul.

A restored soul is a soul filled with peace.

Quiet Waters

Psalm 23:2
…he leads me beside quiet waters

I went to the beach for our family vacation. I loved it. The sharp edged shells and rocks kinda hurt my feet, but everything else was basically Really Awesome.

We decided to go snorkeling along the rocks because that’s where the fish hang out. The only problem with that is when I’m snorkeling, I’m looking down into the water at the pretty fish and not at the rocks piled above the water line.

The waves generally push a snorkeler around, so I had to pull my head up and keep a safe distance away from the dangerous, sharp, barnacle-infested boulder pile. I couldn’t let my feet hang down too far because of the rocks below the water line.

But the fish!

There were tiny purple and gold fish that might be either Basslets or Dottybacks. I’m no fish expert, but I think I saw some Angel fish, Tangs, Rockfish, and possibly some Croakers. The blue and yellow fish were the most curious group when we brought out our bread. A school of silvery long fish zoomed past us a number of times, but didn’t ever stop since they were in quite a hurry. Must’ve had an appointment.

Then we saw a Porcupine Puffer fish.

I was with my brother and sister-in-law. I got their attention and joyfully announced my discovery. My sister-in-law took off for the sand and stayed there for a while. I really didn’t mean to scare her. I was just surprised to see one so close to me. It looked at me with curious eyes. If I’d been brave, I might’ve reached out to it to see how close it wanted to come to me. But I backed off and gave it a little more room. I didn’t want to scare it. It probably takes a lot out of a fish to puff up like that.

Snorkeling is best in the morning. In the afternoon, the waves get much rougher, and it’s hard to maintain your position (away from the rocks and allowing the puffer fish its personal space).

When I read the second verse of Psalm 23, I think about the rough waves that push people toward the rocks, stir up the sand, and cause snorkelers to go home because they can’t see very well.

Quiet waters means peace to me. The opposite, rough waters, means fighting against the powerful wave shove that causes people to topple like bowling pins when they are in its way.

The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside peaceful waters. It’s to my advantage to follow him.

Filled and Happy

Psalm 23:2
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

If I were a sheep (a real one, the four-legged type), sitting in a field of soft, sweet, green grass, I'd be pretty happy. I wouldn't have to get in the car and drive down to the store and make decision after decision about what to eat. The food's right there at my feet.

Of course, sheep don't usually have cars, but that's beside the point.

I'm an American female who owns a car. I do make decisions in the store about what to eat. And I happen to like vegetables. So when I read about The Good Shepherd giving me a green pasture to lie down in, I get happy.

I’m not your ordinary American. I actually LIKE vegetables.

My niece keeps telling me she likes my salads, possibly because she likes to cook and enjoys the variety of ingredients in my salads. I’m a little picky when I want a salad. I choose fresh, colorful ingredients. Having lots of different colors in the salad bowl keeps me from getting bored with food. Being bored at a meal is such a shame. I like exciting flavors or surprising food pairings. I like trying new things.

When it comes to the Lord’s supply of my daily food, his generosity is thrilling. I can feed on His words of life in the Bible and find unexpected moments of revelation. He also provides unexpected experiences with flavorful food for my body. He fills me with good things for my belly and for my soul.

What The Lord Provides

Psalm 23:1
...I shall not be in want.

When the Lord is your shepherd, you can go to him with expectation. He’s a good shepherd; he takes care of his sheep. You’ll always find an abundance in his hands.

However if you ask for something and don’t get it, remember he does that to protect us from ourselves. I wouldn’t give a couple of eight-year-olds my car keys just because they said they wanted to drive my car. But I might give my keys to a responsible adult who knows how to drive.

The Lord is able to fill you full of whatever you need. That is my expectation.

I know He has a plan, a master design. He is able to accomplish all that is necessary to get us into position to succeed in His plan. Our strengths and weaknesses were chosen because these are things He uses to form us.

He smoothes our rough edges and polishes us inside and out until we fit the requirements for the purpose He created us to fulfill. He’s already planned our victory.

He’s an artist. He sees His creation and knows exactly what to do to bring out the beauty in it.

The Lord is your designer, your craftsman, your refiner, your life-giver, your savior, and your shepherd. He is the provider of all we need.

What He doesn’t provide, I don’t want.

Follow Him

Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd

When you accept the fact that Jesus is Lord, and you ask Him to take that position in your life, many crooked places become straight and many straight places become crooked. It is so worth it to back down from trying to be the Lord of your own life. With the right people in the right positions, things get done the right way. Life is better with everyone doing their job.

If I tried to do my husband’s job for him, his boss would be quite unhappy with the quality of work. I’m not trained to do my husband’s job, but he is. Jesus is quite experienced at being Lord. I think we should let Him do His job.

He is a shepherd. A shepherd knows more than the sheep, sees more than the sheep, and can do more than the sheep. So why do sheep stray?

Distractions. We are the sheep who run about in green pastures, trying to get to the other fields. We stretch our necks across fences and hurt ourselves on the barbed wire because we think there’s something better somewhere else.

Jesus is patient and guides us back to the flock. He heals us. He carries us when we can’t walk. He provides everything for us, but still we get distracted.

All we have to do is accept him as our Lord and our shepherd – and follow Him.

Feeding Jesus

Matthew 25:37
When did we see you hungry and feed you?

When have you seen someone who was truly hungry? Were you able to give them anything? How did that make you feel?

Would you have felt any different if you had given it to Jesus himself?

Many times, we feel awkward giving to people in need. We don’t know them. We don’t know what they’ll do with our gift. But that uneasiness would be gone if we pictured Jesus as the recipient of our gift.

Whenever you feel that God is giving you an opportunity to share what you have with those who have a lot less, you have the option of imagining God’s hands around yours as you offer your gift, or you could imagine Jesus receiving what you give.

Either way is fine, but the point is that you must realize that God wants to participate in our generosity.

God created us to need Him and to need each other. Withholding from God and from each other causes a blockage in the flow of God’s gifts to all of his children.

True generosity turns the valve wide open.

Widows and Orphans

Isaiah 1:17
Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Last month, I showed in the first chapter of Isaiah how we can see God’s heart for his children. Today, I want you to see some things in that chapter that are very important to him.

In many places in the Bible, we can see the same issues coming to the forefront. God loves those who are oppressed. He wants to be the Father to the fatherless and Husband to the widow.

He wants our lives to be full of joy and peace, but if we’re oppressed, we’re not experiencing all God has for us. If we lack the fatherly guidance we need, we can go to God for that support. Women who have lost the care, provision, strength, and encouragement of a loving husband can go to God who wants to meet all their needs.

God wants to broaden our understanding of who he is. If we will take up his cause and work with him to alleviate the pain of the helpless, we will grow closer to him and draw strength from him.

God wants to help those who need it, but he wants to use our hands and feet.

Setting the Lonely in Families

Psalm 68:5-6
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Honor God by doing as he has shown in his example. When we follow in his footsteps supporting and defending the widows and orphans, God will multiply our efforts and use what we give.

Pray and find out what God wants you to do to help out those who have less than you.

Giving What You Have

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The call for us to support the widows and orphans is all over the Bible. Thomas Umstattd decided to help some orphans by creating a video to educate people about a specific ministry.

Thomas Umstattd’s video from Russia is about MIR, a ministry to orphans.

God's Heart

Isaiah 1: 27
Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness.

If you want to see God’s heart, read chapter one of Isaiah. The parental frustrations we feel have been felt by the God who created us. His heart cries for his children. He wants to give us the very best, but we make it difficult because of our rebellion.

To get past the language barriers some Bible translations cause, I’ve made up my own paraphrase, the LSV, or Laura’s Simplified Version. I read verse 2 like this: “I raised children, but they rebelled against me.”

I know how it is to plan good for my children and have to change plans because I can’t let the in-my-face disobedience go by without notice. I have to make my kids aware that they’re not going to be rewarded for bad behavior.

God taught us how to raise our kids. He taught us how to love with kindness and with discipline. He taught us how to recognize the empty pleadings of children who aren’t sorry they sinned, but are sorry they got caught.

Verses 13-15 speak to that. (LSV: Laura’s Simplified Version) Stop begging. Your prayers aren’t being answered because they’re not being heard.

Or in The Message, it reads like this. “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings – meetings, meetings, meetings, – I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way.”

But God doesn’t complain about our bad behavior without giving a way to improve our attitudes and actions. Check out verse 17: (NASB) “Learn to do good. Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

God also tries to give us help with our decision-making. He wants us to know that a reward is available. There is something to work toward. Verse 18-19 sounds like this to me: (LSV) Think this through. Be reasonable. There is hope for the obedient.

Part of the reward for obeying God fully is being known as God’s obedient child. Verse 26 lists a couple of other names: (LSV) After I restore justice, you will be known as the faithful and righteous city.

Just like I love my kids enough to do what it takes to help them turn away from bad behavior, God is determined to help us get our heads on straight. He’ll discipline us if we need it. God shows us that his ways are better than ours, and he will help us become what he designed us to be. Verse 27 is filled with hope for us. (NIV) “Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness.”

Ignoring Empty Talk

Job 35:12-16
He does not answer when men cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked. Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it. How much less, then, will he listen when you say that you do not see him, that your case is before him and you must wait for him, and further, that his anger never punishes and he does not take the least notice of wickedness. So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words.

I love my children. Always have. Always will. Nothing they do or say will change that – and they know that.

However, they sometimes become unhappy when they don’t get their way. In those situations, they tend to say things they don’t really mean. “Nobody loves me” is said just to vent frustrations. I’ve dealt with that attitude before, but now I usually ignore the empty words.

As a parent, it’s my job to train them to think, speak, and act with dignity and kindness. I’m supposed to teach them and show them love. Just as God gives me time to grow up spiritually and improve my attitude, I should allow my kids to make mistakes and learn from them.

I don’t correct my kids every time they say something wrong, and God doesn’t correct me every time I say something wrong. God ignores our empty words more often than we realize.

If you want to hear from God, give him something he can respond to. Give God your words of faith and love. Look in the Bible to see what he’s responded to in the past.

When my kids believe what I say and remind me of what I’ve said to them before, faith colors our discussion.

I believe God ignores our empty talk because he’s waiting for us to believe him – so he can respond to our faith.

God Will Take Care Of You

Job 34:21-22
"His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide.”

Are you whistling in the dark? Trying to pretend you’re not scared? Why? God gives us plenty of reasons to relax.

When my mother was a little girl, she often had to walk alone to the neighbor’s house. Something she saw along her path scared her every time, but she still had to make the journey. To strengthen her courage and to keep her feet moving, she decided to sing the song she’d learned in church, “God Will Take Care of You”. Civilla D. Martin wrote those very comforting lyrics in 1905.

Once my mother got into the song, she wasn’t as worried. She continued singing the same song every time she was scared because it reminded her that she was never alone. Funny how God uses a variety of things to show his love. For her, it was a song. For you, it may be something different.

When you find yourself afraid to venture out into the tasks you must complete, talk to God about it. Let him know you trust his hand of protection. And then act like you trust him. Sing if you have to, but go where he leads.

Rescued From The Pit

Job 33:26-28
He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. Then he comes to men and says, 'I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light.'

The Lord is the one who rescues. He has made a way for everyone who reaches up to Him to be pulled from the pit.

If you think you’ve been in the pit, let me remind you that you still have breath and one more chance to return to the Lord. When you leave your last unrepentant breath behind, then you’ll know what the pit is really like. Hopefully, you’ll never experience that. Jesus did what was necessary to keep you out of the pit. Our responsibility is to accept his gift of pit-free life.

We can experience God’s goodness while we’re still on the Earth. We can find favor with God right now. He wants us to live and enjoy our lives. He wants to light our path with His love.

When you’re walking in the light of God’s love, look up to see His face. It’ll make you shout for joy.

Warnings

Job 33:15-18
In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.

God sees our days at a glance, like he’s flipping through a desk calendar. He knows what we’re planning to do and what trouble we’re likely to get into. Do we call to Him in advance of our trouble? Not usually.

But God is merciful. His mercy responds with a warning to us. If we think all is well and it isn’t, God may really wake us up in the middle of the night with a memorable message. The wake up call isn’t because God likes to scare us. He doesn’t. He likes to get us back on the right path so we won’t get ourselves into horrible trouble.

If you get a wake up call, answer. Respond to God with an appetite for obedience.

How God Answers

Job 33:13-14
Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words? For God does speak – now one way, now another – though man may not perceive it.

Is there a proper way for God to communicate with us?

God communicates however he wants. He knows our limitations, and he knows how to get our attention.

We think we’re “all that”, but we’re wrong. God is “all that” and more.

We think God hides from us and won’t answer because he’s finicky. God isn’t at fault. We’re the ones who get picky about when and how God speaks. We want his answer on our timetable. And if we don’t like his answer, we get mad and hide from him.

We think our prayers are holy enough to make God do what we ask, but God shakes his head and answers us anyway. I’m pretty sure we are the ones who need to work on our communication skills.

We should probably read through the book of Job to get an education about God’s great love for us – and our great limitations in understanding God.

God Answers

Ps 120:1
I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.

When I’m in distress, filled with worry, doubting that I’ll find the victory in my situation, I can know that all is not lost. God is still there.

No matter how bad I feel I’ve been treated, God is there. No matter if my distress was caused by someone else or caused by my own mistakes, God is there. No matter what situation I find myself in, God is there.

And if God is there, he hears my cry, and he answers.

God answers me in my distress with comfort. He answers with food on my table. He answers me by shutting the mouths of my enemies. And he answers by lifting me above the flood that would destroy me.

He may answer you in unexpected ways. He may not give you what you want. But he answers. And his answers are always for your good.

You can look at your blessings and see them as opportunities to praise God for his answers.

Acknowledging God

Psalm 91: 14-15
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”

Like little children, we can be selfish. We expect God to answer us when we speak to him. But do we answer him? Do we acknowledge our relationship with him on a daily basis?

I once heard that you can get more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. This simply means that being sweet to others makes others want to be around you and do things with you and for you. If we show our love to God by being sweet to him and to those around us, if we trust in him instead of following our own foolishness, if we act like we’re God’s children because we honor him, then we are acknowledging his name.

When we firmly hold onto God and call to him, the logical next step is to listen. He has told us to call to him because he will answer.

Getting Answers From God

Psalm 3:4
To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.

Do you cry out to the Lord? Many people are crying out right now, but some have forgotten how to get an answer.

It is important to direct our cries to the one who has the answers. Just the act of crying out our pleas for mercy and for help to no one in particular isn’t going to get us what we need. When we cry out to the wrong person, we won’t get what we need. Our peace comes from knowing that we’re speaking to someone who can provide the correct answers, someone who wants to help us.

It is important to know what to expect from the one we’re crying out to. When we cry aloud to the Lord, we can know that he is interested in shielding us, answering us, and sustaining us. He wants to bless us.

It is important to listen for the answer with the expectation that we’ll obey his instruction. What good is it to call to the Lord if we don’t concern ourselves with his answer? Why would he want to answer us when we have no intention of accepting his instruction? When we call to the Lord, we can be sure that the guidance we’re waiting for will bring us to a better place in our lives. He will help us achieve those little victories that keep us walking forward with no intention of looking back.

I love knowing that God is love. His answers are full of love because that is how he guides his children.

The Best Teacher

Ps 32:8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

Teachers are very important people. I love them. I’m related to a few of them. I know from experience that there are teachers who give a lot and teachers who can give very little. I’ve had teachers who have tried their best to bring lessons that would benefit me in some small way, and that’s exactly what happened. They benefited me in a very small way.

When God says He’ll give you instruction, accept His offer. He’s the best teacher you’ll ever find. When He says He’ll give you anything, accept His offer.

Instruction, wise counsel, forgiveness, and love are all things we can receive from someone else. It’s funny how we often look for love and forgiveness, but reject wisdom and instruction.

When that happens, I think we’re really just avoiding getting the wrong advice from the wrong teacher. We’ve all heard people giving out bad advice, and I agree that we should run from bad advice. But when the most experienced, most trustworthy, most wise teacher gives the invitation, we are fools to ignore Him.

For many years, I’ve been reading my Bible with the attitude that God has something for me in there. Something for that specific moment. It’s my job as the student to read the text and study the meanings until I understand the wise counsel and instruction in the words.

I’m grateful to God for His persistence with me. Every time I come to Him, I’m able to come away with something good to help me with my day. So I encourage you to open your heart to His instruction. God is a good teacher because He knows how you learn – and because He loves you.

God's Everyday Gifts

Psalm 16:2
I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing."

It’s interesting how kids take their toys for granted. The kids don’t have jobs, so they can’t go out and purchase toys for themselves. They don’t have credit cards so they can’t order them online. They don’t realize that apart from their parents’ generous efforts (and gifts from others at Christmas and birthdays), they have no good thing.

This also applies to meals. My children are dependent on me for meals. If my husband and I don’t take them out to a restaurant or don’t buy groceries, they don’t eat. They rarely realize that apart from their parents’ efforts, they have no good meal.

You would think that as we grow older we would learn to appreciate God’s generosity. You’d think we would acknowledge God’s everyday gifts.

However if you look around, you’ll see how Americans have started to drift from the truth. We seem to look to food or entertainment for our comfort. We look to an employer for financial security. We look to an insurance company for security.

I believe God provides us with opportunities to interact with these businesses in a healthy relationship. But we seem to walk blindly away from God, mesmerized by our own decision-making power. We love the surge of power that comes from asking, “What do I want to do?”

I want to see this country turn the corner and head back to God with the question, “What does God want me to do?” I want to see this country pull together and try to salvage whatever love we still have for each other instead of growing colder and farther apart in our lust for self-power. I want to see this country realize that even in our self-righteous arrogance, we are dependent on God – and He still loves us.

I want to see this country get back to God because apart from Him, we have no good thing.

Give Me Understanding

Psalm 119:73
Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.

I’m thinking about food this month on my other blog, Blogging Domino. Cooking is a great way to escape the stresses of the day and relax with the aroma of warm bread or grilling meat. Practicing your culinary skills can be an outlet for your creativity as well.

One thing I’ve noticed through the years at family gatherings or at friends’ homes is that people are different in the way they approach cooking. Some use precise measurements. Others can look at a handful of cornstarch and know exactly how much they’re putting into the mixture.

My husband is the kind of cook who goes by the recipe. However, I don’t like to be bound by the limitations of the cook book. I add something each time to make it a little different than the last time I made the recipe. My niece has encouraged me with kind words about my salads. It’s rare that I ever make the same exact salad twice.

I think God gave me my ability to enjoy an incredible variety of things. But God made my son too. He’s a creative young man, but a very picky eater.

God creates people so that there is an enormous variety on Earth. No two people in my large extended family like exactly the same things.

That’s why I go to God so often. He made me and knows how I think. If I have questions about something, God would have the answer faster than any of my family or friends. God can give me understanding when I’m confused.

When you taste a soup that isn’t like any other soup you’ve tasted, you can go to the chef who made it and ask what’s in it. When you have a question about people, go to God. He’s the one who cooked up the original recipe and can tell you what’s in it.

Seeking Wisdom

Prov 2:10
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

I recommend that everyone read the second chapter of Proverbs. The instructions there are easy to understand. The only problem is that you have to actually do what it says.

When you want to receive wisdom, go back to the first four verses of that chapter. The instructions are for us to listen to wisdom and accept wise commands. We’re supposed to search for understanding as if it were hidden treasure, and then apply it to your heart.

Some people don’t know how to search for wisdom and understanding, but verse six of that chapter clearly tells us to look at the wisdom in the Bible. “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

His words are wisdom and will protect us from men of wicked ways and men of perverse words.

Self-Importance

Nehemiah 6:15-16
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
Self-importance is a victory-stealer. I think we spend too much time thinking about ourselves and not enough time thinking about how God feels about things. The wrong kind of introspection is a weary walk down the road to misery. Don’t throw away your victory by trusting in yourself instead of trusting God.

Reading Nehemiah’s story can build courage in us for our tasks. He was focused on the job. If Nehemiah had spent a lot of time thinking about things he’d rather be doing, the wall wouldn’t have been completed. He didn’t worry about whether he was comfortable or if the task seemed too difficult. He just persevered.

What would happen if we kept an eye on ourselves this year in order to remove habits of self-pity, self-centeredness, self-doubt, self-righteousness, and self-aggravating selfishness? If I were to stop discouraging myself, stop being my own joy-robber or hope-thief, stop making myself miserable with pressure to avoid sin on my own (without God’s help), stop disquieting myself with guilt if I found sin in my life, and stop undermining my own successes by telling myself it’s just too hard, then I would find victory.

I can rely on God to help me remove sin when I recognize the opportunity. My job is to have a sin-free mindset and ask God to help me keep the sin out of my life. He doesn’t mind helping us if we’re not lazy.

I like the story of Nehemiah’s stubbornness in getting the wall rebuilt. He had many opportunities to give up, but he kept at it. His enemies tried to discourage him, intimidate him, and trick him into quitting. Nehemiah knew God was with him, so he didn’t give up.

Do you have any God-given goals you are tempted to give up on?

If you’ll read the first six chapters of the book of Nehemiah and learn from Nehemiah’s example, you can trust God to deal with your enemies. Fight against self-importance. Fight for your right to obey God. Fight for your victory. Keep working until you’ve completed the task.

Who is Worthy?

Psalm 24:7-8
Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
I’ve been thinking about how to honor the Lord this year. There are things you can do to honor Him, and there are things you can refrain from doing to honor Him.

Honoring the Lord is not something you have to work at. It isn’t so difficult that you frequently break a sweat over it. It is something that comes naturally to those who love Him with all their heart.

When you love someone, you want to speak their name in a loving way. You want to tell people the things you like about the one you want to honor. It’s easy to think of ways to honor someone you cherish in your heart.

But when you think of God as a Mighty Judge who waits to catch us in some minor sin, you don’t give Him credit for being the God who is Love. It’s hard to honor someone you’re scared of.

In order to honor God this year, we can think about how we treat Him in our one-on-one relationship. Can He see us as the child who loves Him? Is that how we treat Him?

Are we treating Him as if He is worthy to be honored?

No doubt, he is the Lord strong and mighty. And I honor Him because this strong and mighty King of glory has my back. He is love, and He’s watching out for me.

Deceiving Yourself

Numbers 25: 17-18

“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you…”

I think many people will agree that sin is an enemy. If you catch yourself committing a sin, you should put that sin to death. Don't think that if you ignore the sin, it will also ignore you.

When you deceive yourself by rationalizing your situation until the new spin on your own sin is more pleasing to your conscience, wake up and stop it.

Stopping a habitual thief or a murderer makes sense. We don’t want murder and stealing to become commonplace. But catching ourselves before we sin seems to be difficult. We don’t want to think of ourselves as sinners. We want to rationalize until we find a decent excuse for our sin.

We want to hide from the thought that we could commit sin. We’re good people. Right?

If we’re such good people, we should be on the lookout for that ugly sin that wants to make itself right at home in us. We can protect ourselves by confronting our sin.

A good way to confront sin in our own lives is to find an example of sin in the Bible and look for our version of that sin hiding in our attitudes and actions. How can we confront sin in anyone else’s life when we have that much or more in our own lives?

We can put to death the sinful attitudes in our own lives when we catch ourselves thinking about slipping into the comfortable sin we’re so used to. If you and I are going to honor the Lord this year, we have to get rid of our sin. We have to adjust our comfort level so we don’t become complacent and apathetic toward our own sin.

Be on the alert. Keep an eye on yourself this year as you try to protect yourself from self-deceit.

Honor the Lord

Numbers 25:13
“He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
The verse was speaking of Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest. When sin was again rampant in the camp, Moses heard from God about how to stop the sin epidemic. Moses told Israel’s judges what to do, but they didn’t stop all of the men from dishonoring God. Phinehas went to a man’s tent and stopped the man from ever sinning again. It was a drastic remedy for a problem that got out of hand. But finally, after some of the men of Israel died, the epidemic of sin stopped and the people turned back to their God.

Who will live a life that honors the Lord this year? And for how long? Will we give up and go back to our sinful ways after one failure or two?

Will we call ourselves the people of God and turn away from Him to worship fleshly pleasures? Will we put our hope and trust in ourselves instead of in Almighty God?

Can a people who only worship God in times of disaster come together to worship God in a time of peace?

I put out a challenge to myself and my own family as well as to anyone who reads this and accepts the challenge. I challenge us to make whatever change is necessary to bring honor to God this year.

Have we allowed God to be dishonored in our homes? Have we made Him less important than temporary pleasures?

I would hope that we take into consideration that God is always among us and will hear our every thought. He rewards those who acknowledge Him. Those who have faith in Him will speak accordingly.

My goal this year is to put to death the godless thoughts of self-pity and give life to thoughts of encouraging others. I plan to do away with self-focused speech and promote the honor of God.

My guess is that when I stubbornly hang onto these goals, I will accomplish more than I’d ever imagined.