Monday, April 6, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: God's love that was shown through a family cat


What our family cat taught us about God’s unconditional love
A devotional by Jessica Brodie

“You were my second mommy, the sweetest girl ever, and I miss you so much.”

The words, scrawled by my daughter in a tear-stained letter to our late cat, Teetee, broke my heart.

We lost our kitty-daughter, Teetee, a couple of weeks ago after her short battle with cancer. She was old—almost 17—and her passing was relatively quick and in the night at our home, a blessing for which I am grateful.

Still, our home is not the same. I still imagine her in the shadows, out of the corner of my eye as I walk from the bedroom to the kitchen… still envision her lazing happily in her favorite sunshine spot, still expect her to come prowling when I get out the cheddar cheese—her favorite snack—for breakfast.

Teetee was the absolute best cat ever—not a pet, in truth, but the Real Mom of the House. The kids might call me “Mom,” but Teetee and I knew she was really the one in charge of everyone’s welfare. After all, she was the one who knew when someone was sick, often even before we did. She’d sense the illness and come to sit by us, try her best to sleep on our head, even, if we’d let her.

If someone was sad, or worried, she’d scooch close and snuggle in, like she could somehow send her “everything will be fine” state of mind directly into us.

And she’d been with us through so much!

I found Teetee at the adoption center of a pet store back in 2003, shortly after my kitty Roxanne passed away. I was brokenhearted back then and certain I wasn’t ready for a cat for a long, long time … and then I happened by Teetee, a tiny calico relaxing among the other, more antsy felines. I couldn’t resist asking to hold her, and she came to me willingly, sniffed at me curiously, turned in a circle in my arms, and promptly fell asleep. (In other words: She picked me.)

Teetee sat with me as I sobbed during a long period of infertility; it felt like she was saying, “I understand. I can’t have babies either. Everything will be fine.”

Then, after my “miracle son” was born two years later, she’d watch me nurse, change diapers, and rock my little one long into the wee hours. We’d exchange knowing looks, Teetee and I—“We’ve got this,” we’d think at each other.

Two years and another baby, a daughter, later, and Teetee and I had settled into a pattern. She’d watch them carefully, look at me mournfully when one was wailing or tugging at her tail. We’d commiserate, mom to mom; the toddler phase was tough! She’d let them do most anything to her, too, tolerating my son’s heavy pats and allowing him to lug her here and there. She’d let my daughter dress her up with princess cloaks and baby blankets and push her around in a baby stroller.

She was with me again as I’d despair on lonely nights, through an out-of-state move, through the dissolution of my marriage and a period as a single mom, through times when I’d wonder how we’d all eat or get through. “Everything will be fine,” she’d tell me in her kitty way. Of course, she was right.

When Matt and I fell in love and planned to marry, and he came over one night to watch a movie, she claimed him as part of the family, too. She leapt onto the couch, bypassed me, and settled right down on his belly, placing one paw delicately on his chest. “You’re in,” she was saying.

As the kids went from toddler to elementary-age and now young teens, she handled their mood swings far better than I, cuddling with my daughter when my daughter would get furious with me over some perceived slight, calming her with her kitty “everything’s fine” vibe.

Now, all these years later, she’s gone, and the house feels so empty without her. I miss her cuddles and purrs, the way she’d meow “helllloooo” in the early mornings trying to wake us up, her peaceful basks in sunny spots, even her cat hair that covered every surface like putty.

She loved us fiercely. And we loved her.

Looking back, I see the love of Jesus Christ shining throughout her whole life… the way she was always there in our toughest moments; the way she never, ever left us even when we wailed or acted sassy; the way she kept us focused on the after, letting us know everything would be fine. Now I realize what she was saying: Relax. God has you, sweet angst-filled human. Don’t fuss or fear.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV).

Rest in peace, sweet Teetee. Thank you for your love, for always being there in the toughest moments, and for showing us the unconditional love of Jesus in the way you loved us.

~*~
Author Bio:

Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden.

She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team.

Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Balance


Balancing life with God
A devotional by Mirachelle Canada

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (ESV)

I am blessed to be close to my sister. Most people are surprised we are six years apart. In our younger days, we were compared like twins. That comparison caused me to want to be more like her and as I grew older, I observed and analyzed things she was doing – some I agreed with, others I did not. Later, I realized that because of how much I had been concerned for her choices, I had developed some internal (unspoken) criticisms against her that had taken root as a judgement in my heart.

We are still similar in looks, but individually we both developed through very different approaches to life. My sister is laid-back and enjoys pleasing others. I am independent and carefree. I like writing, and she likes crafting. We look like the same flower, but it felt like we’d grown up in two different gardens.

How often do you unintentionally criticize those you love in your heart? It’s easy for thought or observation about someone to become a judgment root. It can sprout in a moment of disagreement or anger, or from a verbal and emotional comparison. As I watched my sister face life’s difficulties, I compared her reactions and choices to my own; to the way I would have done it, and more honestly, to the way I thought she should have done it.

It wasn’t until after I experienced the biggest event of my sister’s life – her wedding day – that God tugged on my unexposed judgment root. Both of us were older than we expected, and I had prayed a long time for this gift of happiness for her. At the time of her marriage, everything was going great in my life, but very shortly after everything fell apart. My career tanked, and my finances plummeted. I had to move back home, and I grieved my losses. I also felt left behind, primarily because of my sister’s newfound happiness. It wasn’t at all how I had imagined my life to become.

God spoke to my heart with this thought, “What did you expect?”

God showed me my sister on a tightrope. She was wobbling, as we all do at the beginning. I wanted to help her find balance, but I watched as Jesus Christ gave her His tools instead: an umbrella, with which she moved farther along, then a tricycle and she rode further still. Lastly, He placed a long balance pole in her hands, and she made it to Him waiting on the other side. I immediately knew what each tool represented from 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV), “So now faith, hope, and love abide...” He gave her an umbrella (faith), a tricycle (hope) and a balancing pole (love). She was welcomed at the end into His open arms because “the greatest of these is love.”

He showed me my tightrope, cluttered with items I had placed before me and those I had used behind, barely staying balanced on the line. They were all the choices, excuses, and deflections I had used to get this far on my own. Of course, God had walked with me, but I had chosen my own tools to do things my way, the way I thought others should. Had it been up to me to guide my sister, I might have cluttered her lifeline like my own.

I asked God to forgive me for not making Him the complete Lord of my life (and not trusting Him with the lives of others). As He removed my judgment root, everything fell off my tightrope, and instead of waiting on the other side for me to cross, He zipped down the line to stand before me so nothing else was in view. He offered me His hand. As I took it, He turned and raised a lantern to light a pathway instead, and my spirit rejoiced at the promise that filled my heart, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 ESV). Yes, God, not my way, but yours alone. There is no greater balance in life.

Do you need such balance in your life today too? Is there a stumbling root in your heart that God can remove? Pray and seek Him. He’s waiting at the other end of your tightrope to make your way clear and straight into His arms of love.

~*~
Author Bio:
Mirachelle Canada is a writer, playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director/producer from Northern Virginia, where she teaches television production at her high school alma mater. 

She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Script & Screenwriting from Regent University and is an alumnus of Act One: Hollywood Film & Television Writing Program.

Mirachelle is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, American Fiction Writers Virginia Chapter, The Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild, and Your Novel Blueprint.

She is currently working on her first historical fiction novel set during WWII.

~*~
Connect with Mirachelle:
Website: www.mirachellecanada.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mirachellecanada/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/miracan

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Grace


The Peace of Grace
A devotional by Allison M. Wilson


Key Scripture: 
John 16:13, Philippians 4:4-8, 1 John 4:18, Mark 9:24 (NASB)

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or a variation of that greeting, is used by the apostle Paul 16 times in the New Testament when addressing the church in various cities in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) version of The Holy Bible. In three of those cases, Paul adds the word mercy to the blessing. In the current times of this worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, this particular phrase from the Apostle Paul speaks to me.

Why are grace and peace, with the addition of mercy now and then, the preferred greeting from Paul? Grace, in the original Greek charis, means kindness. Peace, eirene in Greek, implies welfare. What is Paul doing with this blessing?

Paul was reminding the believers of the unmerited gift they had received … grace. He was also reminding them that the grace they were given had an amazing side effect … peace. But, as believers in Christ, are we allowing that peace to be freely felt?

For the last few years, God has really brought home a message to me. Every problem has one question attached to it: “Do you trust Me?”

No matter the issue, that's the ultimate question. If I trust Him, then there is no fear in any issue, because I know God will see it through to my ultimate good and to the transforming of me into the image of Jesus Christ. Even if I cannot see the good yet, God’s promises tell me that is the end goal.

Every blip on my radar that seems to stir up negative emotions ... Do you trust Me?

Every person who can't seem to remember the rules of the road ... Do you trust Me?

Every time I see one of the kids making poor decisions or going through a hard time, and want to jump in to "fix" it ... Do you trust Me?

Health issues in family members ... Do you trust Me?

And, that "Do you trust Me?" is also asking if I know just how much God loves me. Do I trust that what He says is true? If so, why do I doubt? If so, why do I fear? If so, why do I look at the circumstances rather than look to the Solution?

When we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us the truth of grace (John 16:13), we find that peace follows. Our perception of what we are going through, whatever the situation, has to change in the light of the incomparable love of our Father. Accepting and internalizing the love of God for us will change our thinking, too. We can go from fear of everything to fear of nothing. 1 John 4:18 tells us why that is true.

But, it boils down to a lack of belief. His grace is there, too! Mark 9:24 is one of my favorite verses. It shows us that we can believe, yet need help in our belief. God doesn’t leave us on our own. He has given us many ways to cry out to Him for more grace, more peace, more faith. He longs for us to reach for Him rather than for something in the world – be it food, relationships, or even security in things we think we can control.

Grace and peace really do go together. When we get what grace really means, the peace that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, as Philippians 4 tells us. That section of Scriptures gives a step-by-step way to have your mind and heart guarded by Christ. That is grace and peace at its finest.

Let’s Pray: Dearest Jesus, You have already given us so much, yet You want to give us even more. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit that You have put into our hearts, but we think our way out of it so often. Remind us of Your grace. Remind us of what is truly means in order for our peace to be complete. Bring those verses and Scriptures to mind when the world is swirling around in chaos in front of us, and do as You promised You would do…guard our hearts and minds in You. In Your precious Name we pray, Amen.

~*~
Author Bio:

A very early reader and lover of the written word, Allison M. Wilson has been writing since the age of 8 with the heart to impart stories and God's truth.


She has judged countless contests for the last 25 years, reviewed for several online publications, professionally edited, and written articles and devotionals.

Wife, mother, writer, editor, teacher, mentor, and mompreneur, God keeps her busy while living in east central Florida with her family.

~*~
Connect with Allison:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allisonmwilson
Twitter: https://twitter.com/amwilson

Monday, March 30, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Trusting Jesus Christ to guide us through life


Trusting the Shepherd in Troubled Times
A devotional by Tema Banner

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.”
– Psalm 23:4a (NIV)

I have been in Israel with my daughter and a wonderful group that I now call family. 

When we left for our trip, the first week of March, spring was not yet here, daylight savings time had not begun, and the Coronavirus had not reached the fever pitch that it would soon reach. In fact, it was something that was taking place on the other side of the world and even though a cruise ship had been infected, there was no real concern to most Americans.

The trip was amazing, a spiritual journey that I will treasure the rest of my life.

As we flew home, Psalm 23 came to me, given the condition of our world as it relates to the concern over the Coronavirus, it reverberated with me as I am sure it does with you.

During our time on our trip, we were immersed in the word of God, walked the streets that Jesus walked, visited the towns of His ministry and saw the Bible come live! We knew what was happening in the rest of the world, so we took precautions, but we did not allow it to dampen our enthusiasm for the trip and our spiritual pilgrimage. Even when our planned excursion to Petra was canceled, we knew God was in control. 

There were many God moments along the way: those who miraculously received the funds for the trip, airplane schedules fell in line, the necessary rooms we required when our Petra trip was cancelled, became available, and many other instances in between that told us God was, and is, in control.

As I journeyed home, returning to the reality of everyday life, seeing the soft green, yellow fuzz on the tips of the trees that tell me spring has arrived, to the clock on my car dashboard that has yet to be sprung forward, I am reminded that Jesus is my shepherd, He loves me, He loves you, and carries us on His shoulders. He protects us no matter the path we tread.

Relax in His love and be secure in His everlasting, everyday protection. Let His words seep into your ear and settle in your heart. God is not surprised by anything that is going on in the world, nor anything that happens in your life. Trust that He is with you, even if you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

~*~
Author Bio:
Writing stories that take the reader on a journey to parts unknown has been a lifelong love for Tema. She enjoys all history and continues daily to hone both her knowledge of history and her writing skills. 

God is her guiding light and the reason for every endeavor in her life. She is a member of the South Carolina ACFW chapter as well as an active member of her local RWA chapter, Carolina Romance Writers.

Tema has served as past President and Secretary as well as holding various chair positions. She is the honored recipient of the Harold Lowery Service Award, presented by the Carolina Romance Writers.

God has gifted her with a loving husband, two children and three grandchildren who are the delight of her life. In her spare time, she gardens and digs into genealogy for nuggets to use in her stories.

~*~
Connect with Tema:
Website: https://temabannerauthor.com
Blog: www.temabannerauthor.com/blog
Instagram: Instagram.com/temabanner

Friday, March 27, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Discipline


Does God Discipline Us?
A devotional by Amy Odland

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord. “And I will bring charges against your children’s children. Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord.”
 – Jeremiah 2:9-12 (NIV)

My, how the world can change in a week! Those of us who’ve lost someone unexpectedly or been through a natural disaster or tragedy before already understand this. But a large portion of the world is finding out all at once what it’s like to have life change in a moment.

I haven’t heard anyone preaching about this being some sort of punishment from God yet, but I’m also writing this on March 16. The Coronavirus is still pretty new to most of the United States at this time (though, our friends in Washington state have been dealing with it since January) but the numbers of cases and deaths worldwide is growing steadily right now in most places. I imagine by the time this is published, someone somewhere will be preaching the idea that this is God’s punishment on us.

So, let’s bypass the fluffy examples I could’ve used for this devotional and dive right into the deep end: “Is God disciplining us with the Coronavirus pandemic?” 


I say YES and NO. Here’s why ...

YES:
Complacency, indifference, and disbelief are always present in our society to a degree, but they became more blatant as the arrival of the Coronavirus started spreading in the news. First in Italy, then in America. Phrases like “It’s basically the flu” and “the flu kills more” became common in Italy until they realized too late that it is different from the flu in that no one has immunity from it and large numbers of people were being infected all at once. We heard these phrases being said by our own citizens and leaders just a couple weeks ago.

People have become complacent as a result, and while the disease does look similar to influenza in its symptoms, there are other concerns. The clustered increase of people all getting sick at the same time will overwhelm the healthcare system like a tsunami wave hitting the shore. It has already happened in Italy and they have warned us. 

Trying to educate people about this very serious concern and the benefits of social distancing before there is the evidence of a large number of cases present has been made more difficult because people don’t believe it’s true or believe it’s a political conspiracy or news media hoax. Add to that the delay from our leaders (between March 9-13) in communicating the seriousness of this and you have a recipe for indifference, disbelief, and conspiracy theorists...which made speaking truth during this time much more difficult. 

Yes, God can allow a new virus to sweep the world to show people He is still able to wipe the earth clean. It’s not a flood of water like He’d promised Noah He would never do again, but it can still be an effective wake-up call to many who haven’t considered eternity before now.


NO:

If Christians die because of this pandemic, is God punishing them? If my loved ones get sick and die because of this pandemic, do I believe God is punishing me (or them)? Definitely NO. This world is evil and filled with people who do evil. Rape, murder, theft, and destruction are just the result of living in a fallen world and having evil reside amongst us. People by nature are selfish, greedy, and stubborn...even the good ones are not perfect all the time (Romans 3:12). I have seen many on social media selfishly choosing to still go on vacation or still gather in large groups. They will affect us all more than they realize right now.

Psalm 91 says that “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1) and “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.” (Psalm 91:14) Yes, we can pray the words of this Psalm in times of trouble and we can pray it would be the Lord’s will for us to be protected from the calamity that lay before us. But this Psalm isn’t the guarantee of safety that some would interpret it to be. It is not a force field or protective shield to turn on and off when we need protection. The words in this psalm are a promise of eternal salvation, a promise that no matter what evil comes before us or is successful in destroying us, God has sealed our eternity.

God has only promised us we will someday be completely free of sickness and death and evil. But he did not promise that we would be trouble-free in this life. John 16:33 tells us to take heart, though, because Jesus has overcome the world.

We are not living lives of fear if we “see danger and take refuge” (Proverbs 22:3) and take extra oil along for our lamps as the virgins did in the parable in Matthew 25:4. We are being prudent and wise, just as God has told us to be. It is an act of love to be quarantining ourselves right now in order to protect the lives of others who are more vulnerable, who are at high risk for complications from this virus, just like it is an act of love when we speak up for the unborn or when we help the widows and orphans.

We can do our part to still love others during this hard time and have peace because Jesus has told us He is preparing a place for us and will take us there to be with Him (John 14:2-3). We can have peace because He has promised He will care for us and while it doesn’t mean He’ll care for us on our terms or based on our parameters, He WILL care for us. Let us be encouraged to rest in the shelter of His shadow and acknowledge His name.

~*~
Author Bio:

Amy Odland has been serving in church ministry as a volunteer leader for over 16 years, in various worship, prayer and women’s ministry roles. 



Her passion for helping women stems from her own struggles and lessons learned in her journey as a Christian since first deciding to follow the Lord in 1994.

Amy’s priorities after her faith include her family — husband Rick, and their four kids — as well as extended family who all live close in proximity and the many friends she’s made over the years.

In addition to a love of teaching and helping her husband with the bookkeeping for their many businesses, Amy has recently expanded her stay-at-home work to include leading author’s book launch teams for publishing companies like Baker, Revell, Barbour, and Lifeway.

She also enjoys teaching new authors about platform building, self-launching, and online marketing.

~*~
Connect with Amy:
Facebook: https://facebook.com/amyodland
Instagram: https://instagram.com/amy_odland
Twitter: https://twitter.com/amy_odland
Website: https://amyodland.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Lessons learned from The Lion King (movie)


Lessons From The Lion King
A devotional by Julia Wilson

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” 
–Psalm 32:8a (NIV)

God is not limited. He can use all sorts of things to talk to us and to get our attention. All around us there are life lessons to be learned.

I have always enjoyed the cartoon of The Lion King so I was very eager to see the new movie. It was, in my opinion, one of the best movies I have ever watched. I found God ‘speaking’ to me throughout this film, so would like to share some of my observations, in no particular order.

Scar, the evil brother in The Lion King, reminded me of the accuser. He takes Simba aside and whispers to him, “You’re no good. Nobody wants you.” He piles the guilt on Simba, encouraging him to run away. I wondered how often do we do this to ourselves? We listen to those voices that tell us we are no good. Nobody likes us. Why would anyone want us? These are not the voices we should be listening to. We need to stop listening to these voices and tune in to the life affirming voice of God. God says we are loved. We are wanted. We are to come to Him just as we are, no running away.

There is a beautiful scene where Simba sits beside his Dad, Mufasa, as they watch the sunset. Mufasa tells Simba that he will always be with him, and to just look up to the sky and he will be there. He will never leave Simba. Isn’t this just like God? God tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV). “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV). When we look for God, we will find Him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV). Whatever we are facing, look up and see God. We are never alone.

Later Rafiki, the monkey, leads Simba to water, pointing out to him that his father lives in him. We see Mufasa in the reflection. Likewise, we can have our Heavenly Father living in us. We are called to be the eyes and ears, the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world.

During their previous father-son talk, Mufasa tells Simba “everything the light touches is yours.” It’s a vast, green area so why is Simba not satisfied? Why does he insist on going to the darkness that is the elephant’s graveyard? We can be a bit like Simba, God tells us that everything we have is ours, so why are we not satisfied? There are echoes here of the grumblings of the elder brother in the prodigal son as his father tells him that “all I have is yours” (John 17:10 NIV).

God is a generous God. He withholds nothing from us. He lavishes good gifts on us so why do we listen to that voice that urges us to give in to temptation? “Go on, you deserve it.” It only takes a small spark to start a huge fire and sin is like that, it just snowballs and before we know it we are deep into addiction (shopping, alcohol, drugs etc.). Even Jesus was tempted in the desert. He defeated temptation by standing on the Word of God. “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10 NIV). When we face temptation, we too must stand firm on His Word.

Simba spends a while in the wasteland and while it is a lush, green wasteland, it is not what Simba was created for. He needed to fulfill his purpose to be king. God has a purpose for each and every one of us. We were not created to wander in the wasteland, no matter how nice it looks. We were created for a purpose… we were created to have the promise of God living in us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 NIV).

In summary, God wants to teach us life lessons and He will get our attention using whatever He can. For me today, it was The Lion King but tomorrow it will be something different.

~*~
Author Bio:

My name is Julia Wilson but I also go by Christian Bookaholic.


I live with my husband and five cats in a small town in Worcestershire on the banks of the River Severn (England). We have four grown up children and three granddaughters.

I have always loved reading and have always been surrounded by books. I used to work as a teaching assistant for special needs in the local high school. Ill health forced me to stop working in December 2015. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as M.E.) and fibromyalgia. I now have plenty of time to read and review books!

Our eldest son set up my Christian Bookaholic blog. I review every book I read. I read over 300 books a year. I read Christian and mass market. I prefer stories set from 1850 onwards. My favourite type of books to read is stories set in WWI and WWII, and Russia under Czar Nicholas II.

I am a historian, having a Combined Humanities degree where I majored in History and minored in English. I also love swimming. I only learned how to swim in 2017 and go swimming four mornings a week for 90 minutes before breakfast, it keeps my joints going.

I am also a crazy cat lady. I absolutely love my cats. I have grown up with cats and cannot imagine life without them. My dream is to own an old fashioned seal point Siamese … but not while we have our young rescue cat as she hates other cats!

I love God and love going to a large lively church called Lifecentral. I cannot imagine life without God. He gives a peace even when life does not. He guides my life. He is my Rock.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Spiritual insight from watching pinwheels


Pinwheels
A devotional by Glynis Becker

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” –Psalm 27:4 (NASB)

Spring comes relatively late where I live. The month of March can be anything from snowy and cold like winter or rainy and warmer like spring should be. Right now there is no snow on the ground, but also no green grass or buds on the trees. There are no gardens and no flowers. Add in gray skies and the world can seem exceedingly drab.

But the other day, on my drive to work, my eyes were drawn to something colorful. I drive the same way every day, but this time I noticed a row of bright garden pinwheels planted outside a plain white house. I’m sure they’ve been there since last summer when they stood in the midst of flowers and plants. It may have been the contrast of the rainbow colors against the brown grass and the white siding, but I think what my peripheral vision really caught that day was the movement.

There was very little wind that morning, and a line of primary-colored pinwheels stood still as stone. But one, the one on the edge, spun in place. Just a few degrees off its axis and the one pinwheel that was not absolutely in line with all the others had caught the breeze and been able to accomplish what the others hadn’t: fulfilling its purpose.

What is a pinwheel meant to do? It’s not a windmill or a water wheel, so there is no energy generated when it spins. There’s really nothing for it but to catch the wind and be beautiful.

I continued to think about that pinwheel and how it compares to us as believers.

In Acts Chapter 2, the coming of the Holy Spirit is described as a “noise, like a violent rushing wind” (Acts 2:2 NASB). It’s no wonder we’ve come to think of The Spirit of God as a wind, a breeze, or a movement we feel but can’t see because it feels like the perfect analogy.

But here’s a good question: If we are all given the Holy Spirit when we become believers, why do some people seem to “catch the fire” or seem more “in tune” with the Holy Spirit than others?

Maybe, like that pinwheel, some of us have positioned ourselves just a bit differently, in order to catch the wind of whatever God is doing. So what might happen if each of us, instead of facing the same way everyone else is, turned our faces toward Him a little bit more? Would we catch a new movement of the Spirit? Would we be able to better fulfill the purpose for which we were created?

All the pinwheels are beautiful. All of us are beautiful. But when we all spin in the direction of the Holy Spirit? Well, no one will be able to look away!

Let’s Pray: Sweet Holy Spirit, turn our faces to You today. Make sure we are in tune with Your movement in the world and not going our own direction. We want to catch the fire. We want to be part of what You’re doing. Allow us to be beauty in a colorless world. We love you. In Jesus Christ’s beautiful name we pray, Amen.

~*~
Author Bio:
Glynis Becker writes devotions and inspirational fiction, hoping someday to have a published novel on her resume.

She has co-written several screenplays, including the film Sinking Sand, available on DVD and digital streaming.

Glynis, whose childhood was spent all over the country as an Air Force brat, has called South Dakota home for many years, along with her husband and two teenage children.

When she’s not writing or reading, she is watching more television than she should and crocheting. You can find her at www.glynisbecker.com.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Arise


Arise: Learning to be comfortable with what God has called you to do
A devotional by Alexis Newlin

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” 
– Isaiah 60:1 (ESV)

Since 2014, on January 1st, God has given me a new word to define my year:

Hope (2014)

Change (2015)

Authority (2016)

Restore (2017)

Victorious (2018)

Trust (2019)

And every year, on New Year’s Eve (December 31), I try to cheat by trying to find out what my word will be before New Year’s Day (January 1) or by giving God ideas of what I think my word should be.

This year (2020) was no different. I found myself asking, “God, will my word be Brave? Can you give me a hint? What difference does a few hours make?”

God never gives in to my attempts to cheat. I imagine Him smiling as He tells me, “You know the drill. You’ll find out at midnight on January 1.”

This year I brought in the new year with friends. We ate an enormous amount of food, played board games and had an indoor “snowball” fight. It was so much fun that I forgot about my desire to know my word for the year. As I got into the car to go home past midnight, God said to me, “Your word for the year is Arise.”

This word stopped me in my tracks. “Arise?” I asked, quite stunned.

“Yes. Arise.”

I pondered this word for a moment, still not quite sure of what to think about it. Then I smiled.

“Okay, Arise it is. I like it!”

Since January 1, this year has felt like a whirlwind. I didn’t have much time to sit down and study my word out of the year until recently.

I love to break words down and study them out. When I found a free moment, I plopped down in my favorite chair, grabbed a chai latte and dug into all things Arise. Here’s what I discovered: Arise as defined by my favorite gal pal (Merriam Webster) means, "to begin to occur or to exist: to come into being or to attention, to get up or stand up, to move upward."

Arise requires movement. A stepping up. Not staying in the same place.

Renouncing the old and embracing the new. Changing levels.

Arise scared me.

I don’t know about you but I love being comfortable. I love routine and LOVE when things don’t change. There is a sense of safety in all these things. To arise, to walk out the word that God gave me to define my year, would require movement. Stepping up. Change. Things that I feared. Things that weren’t comfortable or required a ton of trust. Things that wouldn’t allow me to hide anymore.

As I fleshed this word out, God brought this verse Isaiah 60:1 (ESV) to me: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

We can be so tempted to stay hidden for fear of failure, or what others think. We can embrace remaining comfortable or disdain change because we fear moving forward. I think what causes us to feel this way is that we forget who is inside us. We forget God is walking with us, lighting our way.

God is our light.

God fills us with His glory.

Therefore, we must get up, move forward in what He has for us and shine so that others may see Him.

When God is asking you to arise, whether it is a new job, relationship or parenthood, He knows the plans he has for you and He knows your potential. With God, we can’t fail. So friend, take that step. Move toward that scary thing that you want to do. Arise. Shine and remember, the glory of the Lord is with you.

~*~
Author Bio:

Alexis is a 36-year-old lover of Jesus, loose leaf tea, roller coasters, writing stories and going on adventures. Originally from Marietta, GA, Alexis now resides in Fresno, CA. 



You can always find Alexis outdoors enjoying a walk in her neighborhood, scoping out the newest food truck, hanging out with friends or planning her next trip.

Her church, The Revival Center, and family mean the world to her. They have supported her through the loss of her mother and her own cancer diagnosis.

Alexis enjoys encouraging others by reminding them not to look at what they see, but to always look to God, who is working in the unseen.

Alexis currently writes for several online ministries and hopes to launch her first podcast – The Brave Podcast – in January 2020.

~*~
Connect with Alexis:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/apeachincali/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/apeachincali
Podcast: http://thebravepodcast.buzzsprout.com
Website: www.apeachincali.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Arguments


Foolish Arguments
A devotional by Christa MacDonald

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (NIV)

2020 is shaping up to be another challenging year for my family personally and, it would appear, the world at large. In the U.S. we now have the COVID-19 virus on top of all the silliness and animosity of an election year. As a nation we’re more divided than ever, and those firmly in the right or left camps daily lob accusations and remonstrations at each other as well as those in the middle who refuse to join in. It’s a mess made far worse by social media.

Remove the interpersonal part of communication but keep the speed and ease (unlike mailed letters or even phone calls) and you get the unique set of circumstances that has created our current online interaction. While it truly is great that we can all connect, there are some serious downsides. Every day I see a Facebook post that makes me want to fire off a comment about how ignorant/hateful/wrong it is. It’s hard to scroll by, but I try my best to do just that. If that person is part of my non-virtual life I try to remember its important elements for when I can address them face-to-face and in love. Otherwise I honestly try to weigh it before I wade in.

This verse, among others, always come to mind. Paul is being blunt (and I love it). The message is straightforward; don’t get sucked into a stupid argument because eternity is at stake.

The Internet is full of foolishness and, boy, does it produce quarrels. If it seems as though a lot of posts in social media are tailor-designed to outrage you. SPOILER ALERT: They are! The Internet world runs on what is called engagement: likes, comments, clicks, etc. Content-producing web sites live and die by engagement. If you’re not clicking on their posts they aren’t selling ads or influence or whatever else they’re using to remain in business. The more outrageous a post the more engagement it gets.

The Internet rewards all of our bad behavior with access to content designed to confirm our worst opinions of those we disagree with and to share that confirmation widely with our like-minded friends. It’s no joke that some would say about Facebook that the website isn’t the product, the subscribers are.

While Paul probably couldn’t have conceived of a world in which people interact online, he knew plenty about human beings and how we act when we’re not putting Christ first, others next, and ourselves last. This passage is reminding us of what the standard is for how we act with each other so that the Gospel message that we are supposed to be bringing to the world is not lost. We are to be kind to everyone, and to be gentle with our opponents so that by the Grace of God, they will be led to the truth about Christ and their sin, repentance, and salvation.

We simply can’t allow the squabbles the world spends its time on to distract us from how God has called us to be. The next time you find yourself knee-deep in an argument going nowhere, take a breath, step out of that quagmire, and ask yourself how you got there to begin with. While you’re at it, make a decision to let go of any resentment, access the kindness element of the Fruit of the Spirit of which the Bible says in Galatians 5:22-23 that "against such things there is no law." You literally cannot be too kind! Remember that you’re here to help souls escape the devil and to find redemption in Jesus Christ.

Don’t let anything that the Bible defines as ‘foolish’ and ‘stupid’ be the thing that keeps you from fulfilling the Great Commission.

~*~
Author Bio:
Christa MacDonald is a 2017 ACFW Carol Award finalist for contemporary Christian fiction.

A native New Englander, she was inspired by her travels through the north woods of Maine to write The Broken Trail, which would become the first in the Sweet River Redemption series published by Mountain Brook Ink.

Christa's writing focuses on the real-life challenges of the modern world, love’s sometimes crooked path, and the redemptive power of Grace.

When not working or writing Christa can be found ferrying her kids around, reading, or attempting something crafty.

She and her husband live with their three kids, two cats, and one dog along the coast of New England. Connect with Christa at www.christamacdonald.com.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Battles


Choose Your Battles
A devotional by Malinda Fugate

Key Scripture:
Ephesians 6:10-18, Matthew 5:13-15, Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)

“I may never march in the infantry…. But I’m in the Lord’s army!”

Our young voices rang out on Sunday mornings or in summer Vacation Bible School, declaring our allegiance to a holy cause. Stories of Joshua, Gideon, and King David filled our imaginations with the glory of war. Before graduating elementary school, we were ready to be all that we could be in God’s military.

Youth group lectures warned of the dangers of public school and pending adulthood as we emerged into a world that did not love Jesus Christ the way we did. Our loins were girded with preparations of encounters with those who would challenge the Word of God. We were called to be set apart as God’s holy people and ready to defend against rejection while being on the offense, boldly declaring God’s truths in a sinful world. The imagery of battle was often used to illustrate this modern Christianity.

So is it any wonder, in our current climate of political divisiveness and high stakes, that our approach becomes oppositional?

Young Christians who prepared for war are now adults, armed and ready at our keyboards, slinging charged words with the rest of the world. Scriptures become weaponized and targeted for impact. We march in protests, speak out against those who disagree, and often train our children to do the same. But when our humanity creeps into good intentions, do our words become mean-spirited? Do our efforts focus on outwitting our neighbor and winning arguments? Are we now trying to score points for the Lord in a religious war we spent our childhood preparing for?

In our zeal, we’ve forgotten something very important. In our fervor, we turned our neighbor into our opponent and it was never meant to be that way.

Let’s start with a familiar call to battle, the description of the Armor of God in Ephesians. Our preparations include a belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet equipped to share the gospel, helmet of salvation, shield of faith, and the very crucial sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. The spiritual conflict is very real, so we need to prepare ourselves appropriately. Clearly, there is a raging battle and we were called to fight.

But Ephesians 6:12 shares with us an extremely vital piece of information: “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.”

In the frenzy of the fight, we took the target off the true enemy and placed it on our neighbor.

Jesus knew that it was difficult to live in a sinful world and there would be people who opposed us, just as they opposed Him. Yet, He instructed us in Matthew 5:44-45a, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” We have been commanded by our God to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are not fighting them, but instead taking on Satan and his forces.

We were not called to combat with violence and anger, but to live as Christ, actively demonstrating the love of God. Every action and word should reflect His character. Should we be bold in telling the truth? Yes, but with kindness and compassion.

God’s Word stands firm and speaks loudly without our attempts to use it forcefully or manipulate verses to match our own perspectives. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus tells us that we are salt and light. We are here to be positive, Christ-like influences on the world around us with hearts so full of love that they spill over and bless our neighbor. How much more profoundly does His truth speak when delivered with that love rather than shouted with insults? A battle plan executed with God’s love is astronomically more effective than any strategy we create on our own.

As we log on to social media or engage in conversations with our brothers and sisters, let us meet each perspective with the love of God. Friendly discussions examining our differences are a gentle yet powerful testimony. Following up with loving actions is even more impactful as we pray for and meet the needs of our neighbors who are different than we are.

Let’s aim to be like Christ as we speak truth and stand firm against the spiritual forces of evil while simultaneously loving our neighbors. May we truly be a light in the world, humble servants used by the Lord for the glory of His kingdom, vessels of His love.

~*~
Author Bio:
Malinda Fugate writes from the heart.

Though she serves full time as the Children’s Education Director at a church in Southern California, she is also a crafter of words published in books, including The Other Three Sixteens (May 2020 release with Ambassador International), Bible Time for Active Kids, which is an activities-based devotional that is available for purchase on Amazon, and The Pen and the Sword: Connecting With the Word of God, which is an interactive creative writing journal.

Malinda earned a communications degree with a theatre emphasis from Azusa Pacific University, then worked behind the scenes at the Los Angeles Salem radio stations, including The Fish and KKLA.

Her writing includes children's faith resources, commercial copywriting, and various faith-based stage and screenplays. Malinda lives by the beach with her pup, Yoshi.

When she's not writing or working at church, she might be creating art, reading, or exploring the many adventures to be found in the Los Angeles area.

~*~
Connect with Malinda:
Website: www.malindafugate.com
Blog: https://malindafugate.wordpress.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/malthestar/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/malthewriter/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/malthewriter/

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A devotional about hope in the midst of our troubled times


Hope for Our Troubled World

A devotional by Alexis A. Goring

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” –Psalm 42:5 (NIV)

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 15, CNN reported around 1:07 a.m. (EST) that there are 142,000 Coronavirus cases globally. People are getting sick from the virus and dying. The numbers of cases and deaths seem to increase on a daily basis. Fear is sweeping over the people of this world.

On their company website, CNN reported the following in a box titled “What You Need to Know” about emergency measures globally: "The US has declared a national emergency. France is closing all restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and clubs. People in Spain are restricted from leaving their homes. And the Philippines capital is about to go under partial lockdown."

Clearly, our world is in trouble and people have real reasons to be fearful. But the Bible says that this is just the beginning! However, God doesn’t want us to be fearful. The Bible says in Matthew 24:6 (NKJV), “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”

Now here’s the Good News: God has promised to be with us until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20) and He means that literally!

Let’s take a moment to see what that means … The Creator of the Universe who made this Earth and your heart tells us to NOT let our hearts be troubled! In John 14:1 (KJV), Jesus Christ (God’s Son) says, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”

Let’s read the full context of that Scripture in John 14:1-6 (NIV). This is where Jesus comforts his disciples. He said: “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.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is The Way to our home in Heaven. He is our hope in troubled times. He is our Savior. Our Healer. Our Redeemer, and He wants to be your Best Friend. Let that sink in, the Savior of the world wants to be your very Best Friend! Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus is the only friend capable of not only calming your fears, but saving your soul (John 3:16-17).

With Jesus in the picture, you always have hope! And the good news is that Jesus is always in the picture! Unfortunately, we as humans (even those of us who believe in God and are sold out for Jesus Christ) can sometimes forget these beautiful, Bible based truths and comforting promises of God as we become overwhelmed by the troubles of this world.

Early in the morning of Sunday, March 15, my soul was troubled. I was wide awake with worry after watching the news and emotional eating just after midnight. But, then God struck me with a Bible verse then He followed up with a song. Let’s read the verse first. The psalmist says in Psalm 42:5 (NIV), “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Put your hope in God. I could almost feel God whisper those words to me.

Then the song “Find Rest” by Francesca Battistelli entered my mind and I went to YouTube and played it immediately. As the song lyrics washed over me, it helped me to renew my mind (Romans 12:2) and focus on what really matters (my relationship with Jesus Christ because only He can save me)!

Let’s examine my paraphrase of the song: The opening lyrics point to Biblical truth in saying that God never sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:3-4). He’s never off the clock. Nothing that happens to us on Earth from the shedding of our tears to our expressions of what we fear, is a surprise to Him. God never runs out of resources to rush to our aid. All He wants us to do is to trust Him. He wants our weary souls to find rest in Him. He wants us to put our hope in Him. God is strong. God is faithful. God’s love for you and me is real.

As we say in church, God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good! Unlike mankind, God cannot lie. Everything that He says in His Word (The Holy Bible) is true! The Bible says in Numbers 23:19 (ESV), “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Now the age old saying when we are living in troubled times and experience tragedy or trauma is, “How could a good God allow this?”

There are many answers that we may not receive until we arrive in Heaven, the Bible says in Deuteronomy 29:29, and even then we may not know everything. But we can be okay with not knowing everything because what we do know is that God is good, God loves us unconditionally and He has our best interest at heart. We can trust Him to take care of us. Even when you don’t feel like God is there for you, He is. Don’t be fooled into thinking that He’s abandoned you. The Bible says that He will NEVER abandon you (Hebrews 13:5).

If you are living and breathing on this planet Earth then that is proof therein itself that God loves you and is there for you! Pastor Bianca Olthoff says, “If you are NOT dead, then God is NOT done!” Every day is another chance to accept Jesus Christ into your heart, believe in Him, love Him, obey Him, trust Him and follow Him all the way to Heaven!

Yes, we are living in troubled times. No, we don’t know what tomorrow holds but as the saying goes, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow.” God holds tomorrow! Can I get a “Hallelujah, Amen?”

You are in my heart and prayers. May God continue to watch over, bless and protect you. I pray that you will trust Him to deliver you and know that He will always be there for you. God will show up right on time in your situation. If you believe in the Bible and what it says then you have hope knowing that in the end, God wins! And if you stay on His team, you will win too and receive the most beautiful gift for free!

The free gift from God is better than a winner’s trophy or cash prize, it is eternal life spent in His Presence and that life starts in Heaven. It will be a life free from sickness and sorrow. A place that does not include death and is free of pain and destruction. It will be the start of a beautiful, real story that never ends. But first, we must press forward and never give up or grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9)! We must live for Him (God) and not worry about or become fearful of anything. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV), “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Hold on to hope, God’s hope. Put your trust in God.


Love,

Alexis A. Goring
Founder of "God is Love" blog

Friday, March 13, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Thoughts on How to Satisfy Soul Hunger


Spiritual Olestra

A devotional by Chaplain Paul Anderson

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” 
–Matthew 5:6 (KJV)

Recently, I went on a retreat. It was not a vacation.

I was depleted, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I did not know why I felt so drained. I am healthy. I’m overweight, but vibrant and strong. In my devotional quiet, I came to the awareness that my soul was empty. I had a clawing, soul hunger.

My thoughts were:
How could my soul be empty? I have an active devotional life.

I would pray and listen to hear God speak. I knew that even though I was in the right space, personally and professionally, I was in a wrong place on the inside. God called me to explore my inner life.

The vacuous gaps in my soul confronted me. My unconscious tics and subconscious habits became visible to me. Then I became aware that some of my conscious behaviors were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

I used to love Pringle’s Potato chips, until I found out that they were produced with Olestra. Olestra is a chemical compound that is used as a fat substitute that prevents absorption of fat and some nutrients during digestion. Some of my life habits were like Olestra, in that they prevented my soul from digesting the goodness and graces that God was granting, new every morning.

God confronted me that it was time to let go of some of my old pacifiers. I was led to a blog post written by Rachel Foy that listed “11 Signs of a Hungry Soul.” I was inspired to inventory the idols/vices that blocked or stole my spiritual fiber and left the hunger in my soul. Because drugs and alcohol were not vices that I embraced, I had to search a bit deeper in my core. It was there that I found 12 of my own.

My exercise in transparency below may be instructive and inspirational for you. If it drives you to reflect and create your own list then my writing and your reading will have been successful.

My "spiritual Olestra" included:

1. Insatiable appetites

2. Self-medicating behavior that soothed the soul pains of my childhood and youth.

3. Buying stuff that I could afford but didn’t need.

4. Overwhelmed and stuck

5. Pensive and irritable

6. Boredom with unwillingness and inability to be creative

7. Mindless TV watching and flights of fantasy

8. Emotional doldrums

9. Unrefreshing sleep

10. Inexplicable anxiety

11. Hollow expectations

12. Intentional isolation excused by natural introversion

The remedy to my “soul hunger” was discovered by addressing the list above with spiritual conviction. Shifting from one side of the continuum to the other was where I regained my stride and found my soul hunger could be satisfied and my spirituality reinvigorated.

If you are moved by my list then I advise you to make one of your own. Put the depleting behavior on the left side of a horizontal line. Ask yourself what the opposite or desired behavior would be. Place that on the right end of the horizontal line.

By creating that continuum, you can begin to visualize and quantify the journey to wholeness that you must now begin. Remember, soul hunger is not a sin. In fact, the texts above promise a blessing to those who admit, identify and share their hunger with God. He promises not to leave us famished and will give us the desires of our heart.

Evading the signs of soul hunger may lead to sin. Don’t settle for spiritual junk food or devotional fast food. Go to the God’s Table instead. After dining there, Psalm 23 in The Holy Bible assures us that goodness and mercy will follow you. Then, you will dwell in God's peace with inexplicable joy.

I think that is where Heaven on Earth is found. I’ll see you there.

~*~
Author Bio:

Chaplain Anderson served for 20 years as a U.S. Navy Chaplain. Over 26 years of active duty, he was promoted through the ranks from Seaman Apprentice (E2) to his final rank as Commander (O5) in the Chaplain’s Corps. 


Prior to his Naval career, Chaplain Anderson pastored in the Allegheny East and Potomac Conferences of Seventh-day Adventists. His undergraduate preparation for ministry was completed at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md.

He has subsequently earned four graduate degrees: a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in Michigan, a Master of Education in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland and a Masters of Sacred Theology in Religion and Culture from Boston University. His Doctor of Ministry degree was conferred by Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Chaplain Anderson also completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He also holds certifications in Suicide Awareness and Prevention, Civil Mediation, Alternative Workplace Dispute Resolution, Temperament Analysis, Marriage Enrichment, Workforce Diversity, and is a certified Life Coach.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Pruning


Pruning Season

A devotional by Sharon Musgrove

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – John 15:2 (ESV)

Gardening brings me awe and great joy. The activities of creation are entertainment to me.

For as long as I can remember, the outdoors has been my place of respite, a break from the to-do list that always seemed to originate indoors. For some, rest is found in coming in. I prefer spending quiet times in the yard because it is here that I witness how God has structured the laws under which life exists.

Three years ago today, I wrote about the importance of rest, likening winter to a Sabbath time. We require time and seasons for renewal. God designed it this way. Our lives include both day and night. Stopping our work is a commandment written in Exodus 20:9-10 (ESV), which says, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work...” God blesses the “setting down of the load.”

Years have come and gone, and as I have come through yet another winter season, I know that it is time to address the garden’s needs before spring shows up.

It’s time to prune.

Like a fruiting plant, I am maturing. This is the year that God has pointed out the time to cut back is at the end of the rest period. It’s at this time that the leaves are absent, revealing the true state of the branches. The bare bones of the plant show what has not survived heat of summer, damage of harvest and the bitter cold of winter.

I’ve come through a tough year. There is damage done, yet there has also been wonderful fruit. According to God’s cyclical design, rest was a requirement. And I took it. Slowing my pace, going on vacation, and taking naps were all a part of that rest. Reading replaced studying. I invited prayer. I shared with trusted people. I listened.

The rest has given me the nurturing to be ready for cutting season. I scrutinize my bare bones and know that I cannot be fruitful if growth continues in certain areas. I’ve been holding up dead weight. These areas must go.

Yet there are parts of me that have been strong and faithful. Parts of my life that have produced great fruit year after year. It makes sense that these “tried and true” parts should be preserved...right?

John 15:2 tells us that God trims both the nonproductive and the productive. One for being dead weight, the other to make room for more. All pruning for the purpose of more fruit.

What goes? The new shoot or faithful stock? The Gardener chooses. How will I respond?

If I hold too tightly to the fruit of my past, I will resent the cut. Be resentful of the Cutter too. I will not rejoice in the new fruit because I am focusing on the loss rather than the intended gain. If I have faith in God, I will accept His choice in pruning, perhaps grieving the loss, without becoming angry and resentful.

Pruning demands faith. Faith in the Gardener, not in the fruit.

The purpose of winter is renewal of the soil. While little happens outside, everything is happening inside. The building up of the soil is the building up of faith. Look closely. Cuttings become compost that replenish the soil. Everything is useful, there is no waste in the garden. And timing is everything.

I hope that you can glean from personal seasons of fruitfulness that God is faithful to produce fruit through you. I pray that you trust in His wisdom of rest and reliance for renewal of your heart. And I pray that your growing faith produces feelings of assurance and hope, in the midst of pruning season.

~*~
Author Bio:
Sharon Musgrove is a self-proclaimed sociologist. The opportunities opened to her, over the years, have led her on a fascinating journey observing human behavior. 

She has a diverse background in business, fitness and health industries. This background led her to a unique position writing curriculum and teaching for two private, Christ-based, residential recovery programs. Both recovery programs served women primarily from the homeless community.

Sharon has traveled multiple times to Kenya, serving on medical teams and teaching in the rural Maasai communities. She's been privileged to participate in Leadership camps for maturing young women. These annual camps have a mission of encouraging and empowering the impoverished, underprivileged, and often abused young Maasai girls.

Easily identifying personally with the brokenness of the women she's served, Sharon now sees all people as needing more encouragement regardless of cultural or socioeconomic status. Within these ministries, Sharon has witnessed the transformative power of loving words spoken to the broken-hearted. Sharing God’s love and witnessing its transformative power has become her passion.

In her leisure time, Sharon enjoys her garden, health food, travel and a good story. She and her husband, Jeff, make their home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They have two grown children. Currently, Sharon is writing her first Christian historical fiction novel utilizing her study, experience, and understanding of self-destructive behaviors.