The Choice Is Ours

Last night I dreamed about a huge snake! He was of such length that I never did see the end of him. Strangely enough, he was also flat–about a foot or more wide, and though menacing, never dared touch me. Instead, he hovered and lurked and watched.

I wonder if that was Eve’s experience, except that, as she stared at the incredible creature, it talked!

The serpent tipped its head, never taking its penetrating gaze from her. It seemed to smile. “S-s-so?” it hissed. “Did God really say that you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

Eve blew an exasperated breath. Of course not! “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat or even touch it, or we will die.”

“You won’t die!” the serpent declared.

At this point, Eve had stayed too long. Within minutes, the serpent talked her into believing God was withholding something desirable. If she ate that delicious-looking fruit, she would be as wise as God! Eve fell for the serpent’s trick (Genesis 3:1-7). She ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. The penalty of death from which God had tried to protect them became their heritage and ours.

No doubt about it! God’s enemy is crafty. His purpose is to trick us into sin. He tempts us to question God’s goodness, to doubt the wisdom of following God’s commands. “You won’t die!” he hisses.

But Jesus called Satan the “Father of Liars.” That Father of Liars continually tempts us to believe that God is withholding some good from us. But the truth is: God wants to fill our lives with joy, satisfaction, and blessing, not destruction and regret.

The choice is ours, just as it was for Adam’s son, Cain.

“Why are you so angry? So dejected?” God says to us as he once said to Cain. “You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you … you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:7, New Living Translation).

The greatest love we will ever know is in our relationship with God. The best life we will ever experience is the one we choose to live in obedience to the Lord God Almighty because we love him.

We can believe the devil’s lies, or we can trust and obey God. The choice–and its consequences–are ours.

Focus: “The thief’s [Satan’s] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My [Jesus’] purpose is to give life in all its fullness” ~ John 10:10, New Living Translation.

How about you? What’s been your experience as you’ve made one or the other choice? Which works best for you and why?

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Following His Star

After Jesus was born, wise men arrived in Judea on a mission. Having seen a special star, they followed it to Jerusalem. They went to King Herod and asked where they could find the newborn king of of Jews.

Herod and his people were deeply disturbed. He told the religious leaders to consult Scripture, and they told the foreigners to look for this new king in Bethlehem. The wise men quickly went on their way.

As soon as they left the city, the star appeared again. They were overjoyed as it guided them to the exact place in Bethlehem where they could find the child Jesus.

God obviously used this star to guide those wise men to Jesus.

But what about looking to the stars to guide us? Should we be checking daily horoscopes to help us make choices and life decisions? Our loving God has something important to say about that.

“Call out the demon hordes you have worshiped all these years. Ask them to help you … [Do you hear the mocking in God’s voice?] You have more than enough advisers, astrologers, and stargazers. Let them stand up and save you from what the future holds. But … they cannot even save themselves!” (Isaiah 47:12-14, New Living Translation).

Does it surprise you to see God group astrologers with “demon hordes”? If anyone should know the source of so-called wisdom in horoscopes, it would be God.

To save us from such deception, he invites us to the safety of seeking wisdom from him. “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good and leads you along the paths you should follow” (Isaiah 48:17-18, New Living Translation).

Do you want to follow a star? God has a star for you to follow. “I, Jesus, … am … the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16, New International Version).

God news! We don’t have to look anywhere else for the wisdom we need. We have had the right star all along–our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

Focus: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” ~ James 1:5, New International Version.

How about you? Where do you go to find the wisdom you need? Does it surprise you to know God is more than willing to give you wisdom?

The Christmas Crisis

The young couple was poor, and their little backwoods town scorned. Yet they have been remembered and their story told for centuries. Through such as they, God can work his mighty plans.

So, the angel Gabriel went to Nazareth to tell a virgin that God had chosen her to bear the long-awaited Messiah into the world. He would be called Emmanual–which means “God with us”! For the child to be born was truly God, the second Person of the Trinity. He would pay the price to free us from sin and restore us to a right relationship with God.

When Mary told the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants” (Luke 1:38, TLB), the courageous thirteen-year-old faced great danger. Her fiance would know the child was not his, and unless Joseph provided his protection, the townspeople would stone her to death as required by the law.

Yet Mary said “yes” to God.

It was no surprise when Joseph considered breaking their engagement. But God intervened. In a dream, an angel told Joseph not to hesitate, but to take Mary as his wife, “for the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit … you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Savior’), for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20, TLB). Joseph knew the price he would pay. He would lose his good name. The townspeople would believe that he slept with Mary before their marriage, something strictly forbidden. His livelihood as a carpenter would fail if people took their business elsewhere.

Yet Joseph said “yes” to God.

Sometimes, God asks us to bear great burdens. Why must our loved one die? Why will no one hire us? What purpose does deformity and lengthy illness serve? How can our difficult situations can lead to anything but more trouble? Like carrying a baby to term, instead of ending the unwanted pregnancy. Won’t that complicate–maybe even endanger–the mother’s life? Or forgiving those who repeatedly hurt us. Won’t that just encourage them to continue?

Life is full of challenges. Some we bring on ourselves through our own choices. Some come to us through choices others make, or the unrelenting forces of nature. At times like those, we can sink into fear or choose to reap the joyful rewards of trusting God and the wisdom of his ways.

Focus:“Stop being afraid of what you are about to suffer … remain faithful even when facing death and I will give you the crown of life–an unending, glorious future” ~ Revelation 2:10 (TLB).

What about you? When, most recently, have you trusted in God while facing great difficulty and been glad you did?

Christmas Lights in the Darkness

With winter drawing near, days grow shorter and driving home means picking my way down our long, dark country road in the snow. Familiar houses become shadows. Trees and bushes blur into misshapen patches of black.

Until something magical takes place …

Our neighborhood gets busy decorating. Christmas lights appear on bushes and trees, around windows and within wreaths on doors. More lights festoon the eaves of our houses. Some neighbors include outdoor creches where baby Jesus is looked on adoringly by Mary and Joseph.

What a difference a wonderland of lights makes as I turn onto our road after dark! Lighting the darkness, it cheers my heart and points the way home.

Unfortunately, as with the recent attacks in Paris, our world grows darker, and we wish we knew a light to point the way to safety. The good news is that God sent that Light into the world more than two thousand years ago. We’re told that his “light shines through the darkness (John 1:5, NLT), and his name is Jesus. Whatever the darkness troubling our hearts, he is the Light we desperately need.

This Christmas season, we can dispel darkness by inviting him into our lives and letting him show us his good way. “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in to stay. Reveal your ways to me, forgive me of my wrong-doing, and light the way to your Father’s house in heaven as I travel the days of my life here on earth. Thank you. Amen.

Having done this, hope crests in our hearts, and we find joy in the prophet Isaiah’s encouraging words.

Focus: “Rise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you!” ~ Isaiah 60:1 (NKJV).

How about you? Have you invited Jesus into your life? Do you know the joy of his eternal Light dispelling your darkness? How did it happen for you?

Thanksgiving Living

On Thanksgiving Day in 1942, Dorothy was a beautiful, twenty-four-year-old bride. Over the years that followed, she and her husband raised seven children. They’s didn’t have much money, but they provided a home filled with faith in God.

Every Sunday they took their children to church. Every school year, they made room in their budget to send those children to Christian school. Every evening her children could find her on her knees at her bedside, bringing their needs to God in prayer.

During the early years, Dorothy cleaned, cooked, canned, and sewed to stretch each dollar to provide her family with the best her talents could offer. As the older children entered school, she added a part-time job as a waitress in family restaurants. None of her children lacked for love or care. Neither did her church family. Both she and her husband supported their church with their tithes and their talents.

Fifty years passed quickly. Surrounded by family and friends, Dorothy and her bridegroom of long ago celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary, including the renewing their vows before God in church. Eighteen months later–again in the company of family and friends–she laid her husband to rest.

This year Dorothy celebrated her ninety-seventh birthday. In a world consumed with the threat of an unstable economy, how does a ninety-seven-year-old widow on social security and a small pension manage? Who cares for her?

God cares for her! He not only provides for her needs but delights her heart through her children’s loving care. He surprises her with unexpected gifts, gives her the health to enjoy living in her small apartment in a lovely retirement community, and answers the prayers of her grateful heart. Surrounded by her loved ones, Dorothy lives quite well as she always has–by her faith in the Lord God whom she serves daily with thanksgiving.

Focus: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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, New International Version.

How about you? How have you seen God provide for your needs in surprising ways as you walk in thanksgiving living?

Who’s in Control?

I woke in the middle of the night and starred into the darkness. Would I be all right while traveling half way across the country and navigating huge, unfamiliar airports on my way to a writers’ conference? Would our son and daughter-in-law snag a low-interest mortgage to purchase their first home? Had I measured and ordered accurately so that my husband would have little trouble installing our new kitchen cabinets? Had I …?

Worries whirled in my head, tumbling over one another and gaining speed. At this rate, I would win the Olympic God Medal for worry and finish well ahead of any competitor. Not good!

In his Word, God repeatedly urges us not to worry, not to be afraid.

By worrying, can we change anything?

  • Would worry turn my cross country trip into a trouble-free journey? No, but trusting the details to God and thanking him for his goodness would ensure a trip filled with his good will.
  • Would worry about my son’s first house mortgage make a difference? No. For Pete’s sake, it wasn’t even my business! But I could ask God  to give him and his wife wisdom and the right opportunity. I could give the situation to God and thank him that he loved them and would see them safely through their newest family adventure.
  • Would worry about the kitchen remodeling project make any problems go away? No, but asking God to guide us and thanking him for his gift of wisdom to overcome each challenge would take us safely through to completion.

The bottom line: If we want success and peace, God says we can have it. First, by remembering who’s in control–not us but our God Almighty who loves us. Second, by following his instructions (see below).

Focus: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” ~ Philippians 4:67, New Living Translation.

How about you? In what situations have you overcome worry and experienced God’s peace by turning to God in prayer?

Wounds In the Storms of Life

I loved the graceful, old maple tree that stood in our back yard. Its green leaves like layers of lace would rise and fall majestically in a mild October wind. Restless, they knew their time was short. Soon they would change color and fall to the ground.

That tree fascinated me. I’d marvel at its beauty and recall the time when lightening ripped it nearly in half. The wound stretched long and visible, one side of the tree stripped bare of branches.

On the advise of a tree surgeon, my husband painted the wound with black sealant. Over the years that wound not only healed but became almost invisible. As promised, branches grew and covered the naked side, restoring the tree to its former beauty.

In the storms of life, we also suffer wounds. Some lay our lives so wide open that we feel naked to the world. We wonder if we will ever recover, if we will ever know beauty again.

But from the very moment we are wounded, God is at work, and over the years, he heals and restores us. We do become whole again. What seems impossible to us is always possible with God. His loving-kindness is ever at work in the lives of those who earnestly seek him and put their hope in him. To those, he makes a promise.

Focus: “Behold, I make all things new.” ~ Revelation 21:5, New International Version.

What about you? What gaping wound have you suffered in life and then found God faithful to heal it?