He Knows

Having Someone above you, that knows what’s going on inside you, makes all the difference.

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“If you really want to quit, give me 15 minutes, and I will lay out a plan guaranteed to work”, said my fellow shipmate in response to my struggle with trying to lay down a two-pack a day smoking habit. My wife Laurie and I had been transferred to Guam and were now caring for two young children through the foster care program, and Laurie did not want me smoking in the house, and in that tropical environment, I didn’t want to smoke outside! So, I set out to stop something I had been doing since high school. So, there I sat, listening to John confidently lay out his 15-minute plan, with hopeful expectation. John’s plan was well presented, even included a diagram on a piece of copy paper, and when he was finished, I asked the million-dollar question, “John, how long has it been since you’ve been free of this habit?”, “Well,” he replied, “I’ll have you know I never smoked a day in my life; I take care of my body.” Here was this man, giving out advice on stopping something he never struggled over. Needless to say, I threw that cartoonish diagram in the trashcan and went my way.

Was his advice sound? Perhaps. Would that advice, if taken at full value, have worked? Maybe. But what I could not get over was that he did not know what it was like to be huddled on all fours in the kitchen the night before crying out to God for the strength to stay home and not rush out to the store for more cigarettes. John didn’t personally know the struggle and had never experienced the personal pain, and for me, that was a deal-breaker. No wonder he made it sound so easy to simply stop something that had its roots in me for years, something that had provided comfort, made me feel good, and had been with me through some tough times; he was on the outside looking in. I did end up finding Someone that understood, offered advice, and gave me the power to overcome that obstacle, Jesus Christ.

Writing to a group of Christians who had endured suffering and faced even more, the author of the book of Hebrews writes, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” The author may have had some good advice on how they should respond when their loved ones were dragged out of the home, beaten, and thrown into an arena where wild animals would tear the flesh from their bones. Or how they should keep the faith when thrown in prison, scheduled for execution, and separated from their children. But what the author could not say with integrity was, “I know how you feel” therefore, he pointed them to Who could say that very thing, Jesus. While we all can appreciate the sentiment when someone uses “I know how you feel” as a springboard to giving advice, it often falls on deaf ears since it’s spoken from the outside looking in. But with Jesus, He has been there and done that and knows how we feel in every situation or struggle. He always speaks from the inside; therefore, He speaks with authority, credibility, confidence, and power.

Whatever you are going through, there is one true thing; no one around you knows how you feel. There is, however, One above you that does know how you feel. Before you shed that tear, God knows why. Before you open your mouth, He knows the request. And, knowing that God knows makes all the difference. Perhaps today, you would be willing to consider this all-knowing, all-loving, and all-caring Father that went through the ultimate suffering so that He could be with you today not only to hear you but help you. 

Scripture: “You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” -Psalm 139:3-4 ESV

Question: Do you feel like you are walking a trail of trials alone? Would you be willing to call out to Jesus today to find hope in a God with inexhaustible resources?

Prayer: Father, I am going through a trial and feel so alone, like no one understands how I feel. Please remind me that you are with me, you care about me, and you know how I feel. Remind me today that I am not alone. Please draw close to me, and may I find comfort and strength through your presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

What’s in a Name?

A name can either give us hope or leave us feeling hopeless.

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I was the last one into the classroom that day, strolling into Mr. Sonato’s fifth grade English class, head down, and determined that everyone should know that I felt as bad as I looked. As I walked by the teacher’s desk, making my way to that desk/chair combo with yesterday’s gum stuck underneath, I remember him saying, “Chin up Tom; it’s going to be a great day!” I also remember thinking about how very wrong he was. In my mind, I had nothing to be thankful for, no one to be grateful to, and no reason to smile; I was unloved-or, so I felt.

At school the day before, I had some interactions with my classmates at lunch that excited me with potential. The conversation started with me lamenting about my home life, specifically that my Mom remarried, and while my Step-Dad Rob gave her his last name, he left me feeling like a third wheel. While my last name used to be a source of pride, it became a constant reminder that I was unwanted, hence unloved. But, there in the lunchroom that day, my friends told me that Rob could adopt me and then I would have his last name as well. On the way home, I considered that either Rob didn’t know about this “adoption” thing, or he felt that I didn’t want his last name, so the excitement built as I walked up to our driveway, knowing that soon I would trade those excuses in for a new name!

Listening to my new Sha Na Na album while waiting for my Step-Dad to get home from work, I rehearsed my lines like a nervous actor auditioning for the role of their life. Over and over again, I went over that future conversation until I heard that back door open, and Rob walk down the hall to his office. There I stood, in the doorway of his home office, stomach in knots, mind racing, palms sweating, and without any introduction, I just blurted it all out. Something like, “Dad, you and Mom have the same last name. I have been thinking a lot about this, and I want you to adopt me so that I can have the same last name too. Can I have your last name?”. Bent over his suitcase, opened on the guest bed, he didn’t even look up; he just replied, “No. I don’t think that would be a good idea.” We went back and forth, me begging for his name and explaining what it would mean to me, and him refusing to budge with the conversation ending with his triumphant and stern, “I said no.” 

There was a group about 2,000 years ago also excited about a name; in fact, they stood at the edge of their city ready with shouts of acclamation as Jesus Christ entered through the gate. They shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38, ESV-emphasis mine). And, there were those in the crowd that asked the Father to rebuke them, to which Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40, ESV). Jesus was saying those folks had every reason to be excited about a name, especially considering what that name could do! Later, some of these very people would even take on that name, in pride, proclaiming themselves Christians. And, God Himself cemented their desires by adopting them as His children (Ephesians 1:5).

I did end up being adopted and receiving a new name; it was just from a different Father. In the book of Revelation, God says that He will give His children “a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17, ESV). This new name means that I no longer have to feel unwanted, unloved or awkward as not fitting in or belonging. That is why I wear this new name as a badge of love, a token of acceptance, a trophy of grace, and a display of what the power of love can do.

Scripture:  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Rev. 2:17 (NIV)

Question: Have you ever felt unloved, unwanted, or out of place? 

Prayer: Father, this world has a way of making me feel unworthy, and I certainly feel out of place, like I don’t belong. Please remind me today that you went through so much that I could have a home, know I am loved, and never feel unwanted again. Thank you for my new heart and my new name. May I be most focused on your Name and all that you have done for me. I love you, and thank you for loving me. In the Name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

Short-Timer

This is not your best life.

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In the military, there is a term; short-timers attitude; it merely describes a soldier that is nearing the end of their tour with just weeks or months left before a transfer. One particular tour of mine that I felt the full effects of this label was while stationed on the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sweetbrier in Cordova, Alaska. Even the best of writers would be hard-pressed to romanticize my tour there, scrubbing barnacles off of buoys in the Bearing Sea 12 plus hours each day for a year. Yet, I will never forget what I heard over the ship’s intercom system that day, “Seaman McCracken, please report to the Yeoman’s office,” for the only reason that announcement would come was that the command had approved my transfer request to Radioman school. Leaving the Yeoman’s office with my orders in hand, I ran, literally ran, back to my bunk, drew the curtain, opened the envelope, and read-word for word-my orders. I was to report to Training Center Petaluma California for Radioman School in 30 days. Once word got around, I only had 30 days left; my shipmates labeled me Seaman McCracken the short-timer.

Still, that label didn’t mean anything to me until one event, and from that moment on, I got it. It came around 0300 (that’s 3 AM!) when I was jolted out of a dream by the ship’s general quarters alarm system, a shriek that resonated through the ship like a screaming banshee before a death. Not too far off as our ship had taken such a severe roll in a storm that the next announcement was “prepare to abandon ship.” I made my way up the ladder to the Muster Deck and past open lockers exploding their contents on the ground. By the time the ship’s crew were mustered on the deck with our life jackets and we unsecured all the small boats, the danger had passed, and the Captain dismissed us. On the way back to my rack, I remember vividly announcing to myself with a voice that purposefully carried to anyone listening, “I only have three more weeks of this!” and at that very moment, I realized I was a short-timer!

From that moment on, nothing bothered me like it used to; being woken up in the middle of the night to cover a shipmate’s bridge watch because he was sick, no problem-only three weeks to go, cleaning up someone else’s vomit in the paint room because I was the lowest ranking sailor on deck, no problem-only two weeks to go, boarding a Japanese vessel in the dark of night, rounding every corner wondering if it were my last, no problem-only one week to go, being dropped off by helicopter to an isolated island lighthouse for solar conversion, even though I am scared of heights, no problem-I am leaving for sunny California tomorrow! Then, it all came to a head when the Chief Boatswain’s Mate put me on the cleaning crew to remove the rust from the ship’s hull while in dry dock in Oregon with a needle gun the following week. No problem, “Hey Chief, not me; I am flying out to California tomorrow morning!” I was able to put up with almost anything knowing that my days were numbered and that I had a much better destination in my future. That is what being a short-timer is all about.

Folks, I know this world is getting worse. Every morning we hear about how COVID cases are rising, of another political scandal, violent protests in our streets, racism, murders, sex-trafficking, and much more. We have to say goodbye to friends and family that have lost their fight with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Our bodies are marked with pain, our minds are filled with anxiety, doubt, and fear, and our spirits are troubled, causing our eyes to shed more tears than we ever anticipated. However, let me remind you, Christian, you are a short-timer. Your days on this earth are numbered by God (Hebrews 9:27) and are promised to be short-lived as a vapor (James 4:14). Christian, this is not your home; you are a stranger, a pilgrim, a tourist! Therefore, don’t let this world get you down, hinder your walk, impact your faith, or impede your purpose. And, not only are you closer to home each day, but you have received orders to a place even better than sunny California; you’re bound for Heaven! So today, as you navigate this sinful world, do so with confidence and joy, knowing you’re a short-timer with a heavenly destination.

Scripture: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:11-12, ESV)

Question: Am I getting discouraged over the things in this world because I have forgotten my true home?

Prayer: Father, my heart needs to be encouraged. This world is getting to me, I have lost my joy, and I am struggling with all that is going on. Please help me remember that this world is not my home, that this life is not as good as it gets. Father, I ask for you to give me the strength and faith to have a short-timer’s attitude so that I can be that patient and long-suffering giver of grace that this sinful world needs in times like these. Thank you for the gift of tomorrow, and may I live today in light of that very gift. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

Death Becomes Him

How can death be precious?

My eyes opened after a night of sleep; I focused on my wife across the room, who was marked with sadness. She spoke, “There is something I have to tell you. Mike Ledbetter passed away last night.” My heart sank, my mind quickly retrieved special memories, and my eyes teared up. Mike was my friend. He had joined our congregation about seven years ago, and as a retired missionary, both he and his wife proved to be a tremendous evangelical asset to all of us. But today, his story changed.

With over a quarter of a century of experience, I can say with certainty, over the next few days, I will hear, “We lost a good man,” and, “I am so sorry for your loss.” Those statements irk me as they are not accurate, and they chisel away from the message of love and what the Gospel can do. Mike is not lost; in fact, he is more found than he has ever been. The bible is very clear that for the Christian, the next life is far better than this one, which is why David cries out in Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (NIV)

Streets of gold, walls of jasper, the foundation of precious stone, gates pearl, angelic beings worshipping around the throne of God, a peaceful river, the Tree of Life uprooted and replanted from the Garden of Eden, Jesus Christ Himself standing and ready to personally receive each of us (Rev. 21), and the list goes on and on. The next life is better. But, is Mike Ledbetter lost now? The Apostle Paul answers this very question by encouraging all followers of Jesus that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).

You see, when I opened my eyes this morning, I became inundated with all of the reminders of the effects that sin has over this world, from the news on the television to the argument in the street outside our camper. I woke up to another day filled with violence, politics, child pornography, protests, and sex trafficking, just to mention a few. Mike closed his eyes down here and opened them up to be with his Savior forever. Mike, lost? No, he is more found than he ever has been. Mike is home, happy, healed, and healthy, and there is no amount of convincing that will ever bring him back; he just waits for us all to join him. That is what the power of love and the Gospel can do!

Perhaps you’re struggling with the recent passing of a loved one. Or, you may be anxious about your death, what will become of you? Friend, may this devotion today provide you with peace and joy in either situation; to know the truth is to set you free.

Scripture: “Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV)

Question: Am I allowing my feelings to drive me, or are my eyes wide open to the truth of God’s promises concerning the next life?

Prayer: Father, when those times of sadness and missing overtake our lives, please remind me of your truth and of the hope we have through your Son. May I focus more on what my loved one has gained and to celebrate the difference that they made while on this earth and that I have the opportunity to be with them again very soon. Thank you for loving us so much that even death is not something to fear but a gift of love. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen. 

Eyes of Love

Very rarely does love reach down, grab you, and shake you to the core.

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Very rarely does love reach down, grab you, and shake you to the core. When those moments come, we must be willing to recognize and embrace them. Else we risk standing on the other side of love carrying bags of regret wondering, “what if.” 

Growing up, I had heard of the love that God had for us all; that He sent His Only Son to die and rise for us.  I’d driven by the church buildings constructed to celebrate that love and changed the channels when television evangelists asked for more money to spread that love. But I had never had that life-changing, earth-shattering love from heaven overwhelm me like others. The truth is that I had too many excuses for God’s love to take the next exit; as if my life were that dilapidated town unworthy of a tourist visit or even a pitstop. Those excuses quickly turned into the stones I used to construct a wall that would hinder anyone from ever getting close enough to love me.

Apparently, I had left some cracks in that wall because someone snuck in, unannounced, unplanned for, and unexpected, yet there she stood, my heart in her hand, and there it remains almost thirty years later. It was this same girl that introduced me to God and His love.

Now let me do something that should not be done in writing, breaking chronological order. But we will be back; let’s just take a step away to another story before we wrap things up.

There stood Laurie and me in a pet store in Massachusetts, we were about to start our lives together, and I felt it necessary to buy a dog. Laurie on the other hand thought it a bad idea and had so many reasons or excuses why dog ownership shouldn’t happen. The apartment we were in did not permit pets, we were in the military and they could station us somewhere that may not allow animals, we couldn’t afford anything with four legs and breathing, and the list of excuses went on and on. Sure, they were valid and reasonable, yet I was determined. So, while Laurie was on the other side of the store, I quietly asked the manager to let me hold the little Yorkshire Terrier that Laurie had been eyeing. Dog in hand, I walked up behind Laurie, tapped her on the shoulder, and when she turned around, I placed that dog in her arms. As soon as she looked into that dogs’ eyes, Laurie let out a sigh, and an hour later, we went home with Adidas and a monthly dog payment! What happened to all of the excuses? They went away when Laurie looked into the eyes of love.

That pet store experience is the best way to describe what happened to me and my relationship with God. I had excuses, and they were valid and reasonable; I was damaged goods, unwanted, unworthy, rebellious; an angry young man that was unlovable. And there I sat in my unlovable misery in the back row of a church one Sunday, just to satisfy Laurie, waiting for the final “amen” so I could slip out and get back home. And then it happened. I don’t remember the sermon or song selection; I just remember the preacher presenting Christ in such a way that all I could do is look into the eyes of love. Every excuse went out the window when I considered how much Jesus Christ loved me.

Friend, perhaps you can relate to this story in that you have never allowed the love of God to overtake you because your past flaws have overwhelmed you. Maybe you have listened to the voices around you so long that you have believed yourself to be unlovable. Or, perhaps you have allowed the love of God into your life, but you struggle with believing that He forgives you, cares about you, or still wants to be with you. Why not take some time tonight to look into the Eyes of Love.

Scripture: “Jesus looked at him and loved him” -Mark 10:21 NIV

Question: Have you cleared a path for love to enter your life, or have you constructed a wall designed to keep it out?

Prayer: Father, please help me remember that your eyes of love never lose focus, that you long for me to gaze into your eyes of love and surrender. Help me understand that your love does not come with strings, nor do you love a future better version of me; you just love. May I open the door to that love into my life and allow it to disrupt and change everything. Thank you for loving me, and thank you for having patience with me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

The Maine Point

We must strive to keep the main thing the main thing.

As I walked out of the Rockport, Maine woods to the clearing ahead, the trail yielded unadulterated views of God’s Creation-Porpoise Point. Sitting down next to my wife with our two wiener dogs by our feet, we simply took in the visual gift of God’s creativity with the thundering sounds of ocean waves colliding with the rocks below echoing in our ears. It was then my Grandmother’s words uttered over three decades ago resonated fresh in my mind, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” While that sentiment fell on deaf ears as a teenager, today, they meant something to me, something worth considering. Of course, we know the premise of such an adage that we can be so involved in something that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Or, in my case, so focused on doing, that I never took the time to step back to enjoy and appreciate the fruit of the labor.

When the Corona virus pandemic invaded our lives over seven months ago, I went to work on ways to excite our disconnected congregation and engage our hurting community. I filled my schedule each day, every minute accounted for, with service to my Father, leading our congregation and community to make a difference in lives. To date, there are well over 30 news media stories, two magazine articles, a sandwich named after our church, and we even graced the front page of two newspapers, all documenting and recognizing the difference that we made through this pandemic. And, it was still not enough; I wanted to do more. But my body had different plans, so I was forced into a three-month absence to focus on my health. That is what brought me to Maine, a chance to get away. And, ironically enough, to literally walk through the woods so that I could see the trees. 

Sitting on the bench overlooking this beautiful view, it dawned on me, I have been so busy that I forgot to keep the main thing the main thing. What is the main thing? Jesus Christ. Matthew 6:33 encourages us to “Seek ye’ first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (KJV). And our purpose? To love our God. While I am a tad frustrated that it took me this long to walk out of the woods of my life to enjoy my Father’s love, I am grateful for this time. As I took a picture of my wife sitting at the edge of the water on one of the rocks, I quietly thanked God for giving me this time to appreciate His love and another day to enjoy all of His blessings. It really is a Maine thing.

Friend, we live in a crazy busy world where every moment of every day is scheduled. I am confident that you are not an exception, that you are more active than ever before, and if you’re honest, you’ve not taken much, if any, time to simply enjoy your relationship with God and benefit from His blessings. 


Question: Am I keeping the main thing the main thing? Is my schedule so full of stuff that I am not taking the time to enjoy the Savior?

Scripture:Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, ESV)

Prayer: Father, while you encourage me to serve you passionately, and you honor and bless a solid work ethic, may I take time to enjoy who you are each day. Please help me strike that balance of working for you and spending time with you. You are a good Father and know what is best for me. May I trust your heart more and more each day. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

Turning the Page

You can spend so much time feeding others that you starve yourself.

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Back in the 70’s Bob Seger sang a song titled, Turn the Page, in which he lamented, in part, 

Out there in the spotlight
You're a million miles away 
Every ounce of energy 
You try to give away 
As the sweat pours out your body 
Like the music that you play. 

On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page

This song seems to be about a man giving all he has, goes to bed, wakes up, and another page is turned with him continuing to give his all without taking any time for himself. This song is a burnout song, a song about those that spend so much time feeding others they starve themselves until eventually; they have nothing but regret overcoming their days and nights—a tragic place to be. 

Don’t get me wrong, God calls us to serve Him passionately and even promises rewards to those that do (Hebrews 11:6). However, we must be sure to strike a healthy balance in helping others and loving ourselves. I am writing this devotion about a thousand miles from my family, community, and church. Not because I wanted a break, instead because my body called “foul” and benched me, all because I was so focused on turning that next page, I neglected to dwell on my own story. 

Interesting that my current view includes a lighthouse. Being a former sailor, I am quite familiar with both the importance and purpose of a lighthouse; in fact, I spent a year repairing and updating them throughout Alaska. As ships would depart from the shores to set their sights on work, that lighthouse tethered them to shore, a continually burning light both reminding them of home and directing them safely back to a harbor of rest. Jesus Christ is our Lighthouse, and He serves the same purpose; to remind us of home and provide safety back to our Harbor of Rest. 

As I look at the lighthouse before me, I am saddened that it took me this long to pull my ship back into the Harbor of Rest, but thankful to God for those around me that care so much for me, they helped lead me back to the One above me

Perhaps you have been going from circumstance to circumstance, day to day, just turning each page and doing it all over again. Is there a chance that today you realize it’s been a long time since you have taken care of you? While I commend and am very thankful to you for giving yourself so sacrificially to make a difference in this world, take it from me, you must take time every day in the Harbor of Rest.

God is not done with you yet; you may just need some time in port for God to refresh your body, renew your mind, and make any repairs that He needs to make. 

Scripture: “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” -Psalm 43:3 NIV

Question: Am I taking time in the Harbor of Rest to draw close to God and allow Him to recharge, refresh, and revive my body, spirit, and soul?

Prayer: Father, it is easy to get so busy loving you by serving others that I lose sight of my own needs. Please help me realize that I can’t fix everything, and I can’t be there for everyone all the time. Please remind me that I need you as much as those I seek to help. May I stop focusing on turning that next page to enjoy my relationship with you so that I will have the strength to serve others. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

Narrow Minded

The road most travelled is not always the best

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My wife Laurie and I both love to hike. We discovered our mutual interest when stationed in Guam, both serving in the United States Coast Guard. While on that WWII historic island, we were made aware of several trails leading to places where reminders of an era gone by lay in wait for another picture-taking tourist. Things like abandoned tanks, downed airplanes, and even caves that once housed forgotten Japanese soldiers were but some of the treasures we found. Over the years, we have hiked many a trail, both in America and abroad. And, while the sights may change, there is one constant; most paths are either wide or narrow, and both are that way for a reason. 

I was studying through the book of Matthew the other day, and something hit me that I had never noticed before; it was one of those waking and shaking scripture moments. In chapter 7, verse 13, we find these words, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

When city planners set out to create our infrastructure; our roads or paths, they intentionally designed each path; in other words, each path is purposefully either wide or narrow to accommodate the anticipated crowds. Going into a big city, for example, you will find several lanes of paved roads. In contrast, the road to the bait shop is narrow and perhaps either dirt or gravel when in the country. Why? Paths are intentionally designed to accommodate the traffic. Don’t miss that. Paths are built to be either broad or narrow, depending on how much interest there is in the destination. 

Why don’t many take the paths less traveled? Because it’s more difficult and requires work. Taking the road less traveled means, you will encounter obstacles and inconveniences that not everyone wants to deal with. Am I saying that the Christian road is more difficult than the worldly road? A resounding YES! The Apostle Paul compelled Christians to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1a ESV); being a living sacrifice is neither pleasant nor comfortable. But I will give you some good news today, while the path less traveled is difficult, it always allows access to a treasure that is not available to anyone else. One can’t see the beautiful Roanoke Valley’s views from the Hawk Observatory unless that arduous 3-mile hike up the narrow path is navigated. Likewise, those who chose to take the broad path in this life will never experience heaven’s views nor enjoy all of the bountiful treasures that lie in wait.

Even the American poet Robert Frost proclaimed;

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, 
And I-I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference

Scripture: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -ESV

Prayer: Father, may we appreciate more and more the treasures that lie down the path less traveled, and may that help us to have patience when we encounter obstacles. Life is hard, but Father, I know that one day it will get much better. As I continue in my journey today, may your presence strengthen and encourage me, and may the destination inspire me to persevere. In the Name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen. 

Is It Well?

When sorrows like sea billows roll, is it well in your soul?

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In the song Even If, by MercyMe, Bart sings, “It’s easy to sing when there’s nothing to bring me down, but what will I say when I’m held to the flame like I am right now. I know You’re able, and I know You can, save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone.” Job in the Old Testament proclaimed the premise and theme of this song when he lamented, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21 ESV) 

I can think of no better example of someone whose faith was sorely tested, yet remained in love with God, than Horatio Spafford. In 1873 Spafford was trying to recover from significant financial loss due to the great Chicago fire of 1871. In an attempt to get away with his wife and four daughters to rest, Spafford booked passage aboard the Ville du Havre, a ship that was to cross the Atlantic and arrive in Europe. Some last-minute business dealings forced Spafford to send his family ahead of him, planning to board another ship and join them the following week. Enroute, the Ville du Havre collided with another ship, the Loch Earn. On the deck, Spafford’s wife Anna assembled her four daughters and led them in prayer, that if it were God’s will, He would spare them. Within minutes the Ville du Havre was overtaken by the dark waters of the Atlantic. Moments later, a sailor spotted a woman hanging on to some wreckage; it was Anna. Nine days after the incident, Anna finally arrived in Wales, where she wired her husband with only six words, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Upon receiving word that all four of his children had perished, Spafford boarded another ship and made his way to join his grieving wife. Spafford had just one request of the ship’s captain; that he took him to the accident location. After the captain informed Spafford of their position over the tragic site, Spafford left his room and made his way to the deck. Leaning over the railing and looking through tear-stained eyes over at the watery grave of his children, Spafford began to write lyrics for a song.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well; it is well with my soul

Over the years, Horatio and Anna Spafford continued their unrelenting pursuit of Christ, always trusting God and never abandoning hope. What about you? Have you ever experienced the kind of trials that rip your heart out? Are you familiar with grief and pain? Do you wonder how a couple, like the Spafford’s, could trust God so implicitly and love Him so unconditionally? The answer, I believe, is found in one of the lesser sang stanzas of the same song, It Is Well With My Soul, whos lines read:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

Spafford believed, really believed, that God loved him so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son to suffer, bleed, and die for him and that in rising, Christ gave Spafford abundant and eternal life. Folks, I hope today you realize how much God loves you. And that you never allow the things around you to affect your love for the One above you. So, when sorrows like sea billows roll, is it well in your soul?

Scripture: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” -Philippians 4:11b ESV

Prayer: Father, during those times when I feel like the rug of my life has been ripped from under me, may I be reminded of your love. When I consider the cross and all that your Son endured for me, the shame, the beatings, the nails, the rejection, the isolation, and the pain, may I spend more time focused on that love and less time focused on the distractions to that love. Father, I am weak. I need you. Please help me stay focused on the power of your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

The Difference Between Doing Good and Being Good

You can never be good enough, but you can be enough

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

Like many people, I grew up in an environment of works-based relationships, which led to years of being disillusioned, dissatisfied, and dysfunctional. I was frustrated and hopeless. When I was four years old, my dad had an affair that ultimately led to my parents getting divorced. Although I did not have the maturity to articulate my feelings, I can tell you that I believed I was at fault. I thought that perhaps if I were a better kid, my dad would not have walked out of my life to start another family.

A few years later, my mom started dating a new man. The first time her boyfriend came over to meet me, I rushed to the door, hugged his legs, and asked, “Are you going to be my new daddy?” From that point on, I was determined to do everything in my power to please him, to work so hard that he would never have a reason to leave me as my biological dad did.

Eventually, my mom married this man, and I quickly discovered that he was the smartest, strongest, and most talented man in my world. The bar was set high in this works-based relationship! My new dad was a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, so I decided to earn his love by taking karate lessons. Unfortunately, I was the clumsiest kid in the world—the one who often fell putting on his pants and occasionally fell going up the stairs! During one karate lesson, I attempted to do a roundhouse kick that I had seen in a movie, only to face-plant on the mat in front of all my classmates. I was so embarrassed that I quit studying karate.

My stepdad was also an Eagle Scout, so I joined the Cub Scouts and decided to work my way through to achieve the same rank. After a few months, our Cubmaster called my parents for a meeting to discuss my poor behavior. That put an end to my Scouting career.

My stepdad was also a bicycle racer—at one point, he was sponsored by 7-Eleven. One day, I visited his bike workshop and asked if he would train me. At my first race, as I waited with the group for the horn to blow, I proudly looked to the sidelines to see my mom and stepdad cheering me on. I think I made it one mile into the five-mile race before I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned my bike against a tree, struggling to catch my breath. I will never forget that old Chevrolet Chevet pulling over, my stepdad loading my bike on the rack, and the three of us driving home in complete silence as I sat in the back seat, defeated once again.

Since my stepdad held a master’s degree from Penn State University in acoustical consulting, my last effort was to excel academically. No matter how hard I tried, report card after report card came home with consistent D’s and the occasional C; always met with groundings and reprimands. After a fifth-grade parent-teacher conference confirmed to me that I was worthless, I gave up on that path as well. I realized I could never work hard enough to win my stepdad’s approval, acceptance, or applause.

Things didn’t get any better. Over the years, counselors lamented that I would never amount to anything. Teachers reviewed my work and declared that I was no good. Adults discounted me as worthless, and other children shunned me as damaged goods. In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.

I wasted many years of my life trying to do good to please those around me: my parents, family, counselors, teachers, bosses, and friends. All of these folks came at me from different directions and perspectives, their well-intentioned voices echoing the same sentiment: “Tom, do good!” And for many years, I felt like a failure for not living up to that expectation. I never dreamed that one day I could be good.

That day came when I was 21 years old in the back of the church in Massachusetts. I don’t remember anything about the pastor’s sermon that day, but I do remember, almost audibly, God saying, “Come as you are. I love you right now. I will never walk out of your life. Surrender to my love, and you will find that acceptance, approval, and applause you have been searching for all your life.” Nothing could have kept me from being the first to the altar that day, where I repented of my sins and finally found out what true love was. It was that day that I discovered that our relationship with God is also works-based; the only difference is that Jesus has done all of the works for us. And, now with God in us, it’s not so much about doing good because we are empowered to be good. That is the power of love!

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Scripture: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17 ESV

Prayer: Father, there are times that I still struggle to simply embrace your love and tines when I feel like I need to prove my love to you through my works. Please help me see that there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me any less, and there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me anymore. Father, today I just want to relax, let go, bask in your love, and breath.