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“Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:17-21).

I tend to be a clumsy sort of gal. Like epic Lucille Ball antics, but not on purpose. It’d be nice if I could get away with blaming circumstances, others, or even inanimate objects for my stumbles. Even if I could pretend some level of temporary comfort with the dishonesty, I’m too obvious a klutz to pull it off.

Excuses amplify the ridiculous, you see.

“The sidewalk jumped up to trip me!”

“Who moved that wall?”

If only my foibles were limited to physical falls. Sin causes deeper bruises and its consequences sting for longer than I’d like to recount. I hate when I’ve created afflictions for myself. No backward movement on the soccer field can be more humiliating than dishonoring the Lord.

I’m so thankful God saves me anyway. Even when I least deserve it. Especially when I’ve run out of ridiculous excuses. I need only cry out to Jesus. In the pit of my deepest failures, my Redeemer never fails to show up.

Whether or not it’s my fault, Jesus lifts me from the darkest distress. He brushes off the dirt of my sin and pours His healing love over my self-inflicted wounds. I get myself into the mess, but the Faithful Savior gets me out of it. I’m so thankful for His unfailing love.

Are you thankful for the Lord’s redeeming love today?

prison

“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering . . .
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds . . .
for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:10-16).

My dad volunteers his time to guide incarcerated people toward transformation. He visits the jail at least once a week, and courthouse staff know him by name. Those who complete the Transformations Program have such a marginal rate of reoffending, judges recommend and celebrate their work. Dad often expresses the immeasurable rewards he experiences through guiding those lost souls to a renewed life. Their freedom extends beyond the removal of bars. Liberty defines their healthy lifestyle, a victorious state of the soul.

Bars and cell walls make some types of imprisonment clear. Whether or not the bars can be touched, other strongholds bind the soul with tenacious chains. Destructive thought cycles. Emotional quicksand. Toxic relationship patterns. We can step inside various spiritual strongholds and feel unable to escape on our own.

All the while, the One Who loves us most stands at the cell door. He extends the key in His nail-scarred hand. Our first step to freedom is reaching out in prayer to accept His help.

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Transformations graduates won’t testify to an effortless escape. Anyone with a life story of empancipation recognizes the journey’s challenges. Spiritual freedom requires us to change, which proves an intense challenge to habit-captives. Though we face tough work, Jesus Christ takes on the heaviest lifting. Soul liberation remains impossible without God’s power.

As the psalmist proclaims, the Lord never ignores a heartfelt cry submitted to Him. When we lay ourselves out in surrender, acknowledging our need for Christ’s transforming power, He shows up. Every time. Regardless of the circumstances, which might not change, Jesus renews, sustains, and frees each soul to the extent of its surrender to Him. The deep chains fall away, and His children celebrate inner victory.

What’s holding you hostage today? Will you consider praying to surrender all before the One Who waits to set you free forever?
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wasteland

“Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    . . . hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord . . .
    and he delivered them . . .
 Let them give thanks to the Lord  . . .
 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:4-9).

Fear clinches her stomach. Emptiness rises like bile to burn in her chest. She staggers through weeks and months as if trudging across endless sand dunes. Daily stress rises to sear her skin like desert sun rays. As she parts her lips, the dry world of her wasteland burns into her throat. With a gasping plea, she at last musters a simple prayer. Help me, Lord.

The blaze persists. Dunes still overwhelm the view. Yet, her escape has begun.

She wriggles outstretched fingers toward the sand-walled horizon, anticipating mist from an unseen waterfall. With a dry, cracked hand, she picks up a branch for a staff. Peace floods into her spirit, soothing away the thirst of emptiness and fear. Her pace quickens. She might not sprint, but she now marches. To the streams she knows from within her. Where answered prayers have begun to lead her onward.

Ever felt lost in the wasteland? Hunger and thirst roil from physical needs, spiritual angst, or both. From health problems or financial devastation to inner storms of depression and stress, life can leave us feeling stranded in a desert-like existence. When despair overwhelms us, we recognize our inability to escape on our own strength. We can either succumb to its ravages or cry to the Lord for help.

A heartfelt prayer, no matter how simple or weak, vaults to heaven. God hears. And the escape begins.

The wasteland will not vanish in a moment, but you will gain resources to sustain you. Peace and hope nourish the soul, equipping you to march toward something beyond your view. A fresh draft of God-supplied faith empowers you to take the next steps. The cross beam becomes a staff to steady you on the way to fulfilled hope. God’s answer to your prayer for rescue has come, even as you await the answer of full deliverance.

Our miraculous answer to prayer is thriving, not only after our deliverance from the wasteland, but also during the journey of our escape.

What’s your miraculous answer to prayer today?

cactus (2)

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“’Am I only a God nearby,’
declares the Lord,
‘and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?’”

– Jeremiah 23:23-24

Padlocked journals. Receipts tucked into a sock drawer. Deleted files. Disguised flasks. Shredded evidence. What happens in Sin City . . . behind our doors . . . outside the church . . . when we believe no one is watching us . . . allegedly remains our little secret.

Secrets range from embarrassing moments to treachery, from things we’ve done to those we should have. Some hidden facts seem innocuous, like an emotional struggle we’d rather not share. Other mysteries demand cover because we can bet others won’t help us justify the sin. Murderers feverishly cover their evidence, as do tax evaders, addicts, and adulterers.

Camouflage grants us confidence. We convince ourselves that no one sees, that the matter remains of no consequence at all. A cycle of shame and arrogance flips us between insecurity and justifying our cover.

When my boys were tots, they’d press their hands over their faces and declare, “You can’t see me.”

“Yes, my baby. I can still see you,” I’d assure them. I wanted to see their precious, beloved faces.

“No!” They insisted. “You can’t see me!”

Ah, the myth of our powerful hands. We have yet to outgrow the childish idea that we can cover our eyes and become invisible to our Father. While swirling in shame and pride over our sins, we miss the point of our relationship with Him. He adores our precious souls, and enjoys intimate face-time with us. Especially when our cheeks bear stolen cupcake grime and our noses bleed from playing in areas we shouldn’t have.

I resisted sharing my emotional struggles for years, believing they’d make me appear faithless. I didn’t want others to think less of Jesus because of my weaknesses.

“I see you.” The Lord pried up one of my fingers.

“Yes, I know. You must be very disappointed.” I peeked between my digits to glimpse His gentle, loving smile. “Can’t I just keep hiding anyway? It’s more comfortable here behind my hands.”

“Comfortable isn’t always best.” He tugged my pinky. “In order to see more of Me, you have to come out from hiding behind your hands.”

I gradually opened my palms. Transparency wasn’t a comfortable thing, but I offered a little at a time. I knew it would be a challenge, but I really did want to see more of my Father. Peeling back my hands required me to depend on His hands. And God revealed His presence in more ways than I imagined. Not only did the Lord exchange my frailty for healing, but He also used my story to lift others to see Him more clearly.

I had convinced myself of my power to hide, to avoid the risk of disclosure. The true risk, I discovered, was in keeping my secrets. The myth of locking away reality holds its believer in a dangerous lie. Pride and shame wielded authority over my purpose and identity instead of God’s power and grace. Not only could I have remained outside God’s perfect will, but hiding also withheld healing God intended to pour through my story into others’ lives. Darkness of locked boxes could have defined my life instead of God’s glory.

Maybe you have unconfessed secrets, too. Consider extending your confessions to the Father Who adores you. He transforms the darkest moments of life into a more powerful vessel of freedom than you can imagine. It’s hard to expose your heart, but I guarantee that His freedom and love are more than worth it. So are the lives of those who’ll be blessed in the wake of your new life of trust in Christ.

Will you pray with me, to become more yielded and open as He leads us? Let’s take Christ’s hands and encourage one another to become His vessels, bringing others to see Him a bit more each day.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. . .

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. . . 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:11-24).

2015 class

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20).

I wiggled on the plastic seat and squinted toward the floor of the expo hall. Four hundred fifty-four square black caps huddled into rows of folding chairs. Red honor cords, white stoles, and baccalaureate medals flowed to the center of the black robed sea. One precious individual sat in the middle of the crowd awaiting his moment to cross the stage. Four years of excruciating work now hung as distinguished accouterments around his neck and lay as satin remnants over his shoulders. The moment of graduation hung within reach, with a few words to traverse on the way.

The principal delivered his congratulations and exhortations, followed by high-ranked students offering similar remarks. As the International Baccalaureate Valedictorian approached the podium to deliver the final speech, the expo hall went dark. No sound equipment. No lights. Shadows engulfed the commencement process.

The Valedictorian looked back for direction from the faculty, who turned to the school principal. The entire staff hesitated for a moment. The darkness caught us all off guard. Then, the IB administrator urged her top student to press on. As he proceeded to speak, the generator brought up a few stage lights. The sound system resumed. As the lead student offered his concluding words of encouragement to the graduating class, the house lights brightened. With minimized delay, light guided our commencement outward.

On the drive home, my son and I discussed future graduations. With college racing toward us in a  couple of months, we anticipated undergraduate and graduate commencements to outshine the one we’d just completed. Before striving onward, we gathered for hugs and copious amounts of chocolate cake.

Diverse events comprise threshold moments of our lives. Certainly not limited to school achievements, many kinds of commencements spangle our timelines. Periods of intense trial come to a close. Good things end, too, such as cherished bonds or occupations we enjoyed.

At the end of one season, we can often experience a moment of uncertainty. The next steps toward our calling fall under shadows. We hesitate, taken off guard by our blindness.

In the shadows of commencement lies an opportunity to tighten our grip on faith. Turn back to consult the Lord’s wisdom through prayer and Scripture. Even when we cannot see yet, the Spirit might exhort us to press onward. Persevere despite the dim lighting and poor sound reception. Take the next right step. The lights will return to guide us outward into fulfillment of our mission.

Commencement defines the growth stages of our spiritual journey. Challenges and suffering teach us volumes. Compassion and wisdom shimmer over our shoulders more brilliantly than a scholar’s garb. With each threshold crossed, we have an opportunity to deepen our trust in God, develop more Christ-like love for others, and emerge well-equipped for the next level of our mission.

So, let’s pause to pray for wisdom. Prepare with me through frequent meditation on God’s Word. And even if we don’t know it all yet, the Spirit will exhort us to commence. But, before we get going, let’s not forget to celebrate with excessive chocolate.

Seriously, we have way too much cake here for one family. Any volunteers to help with that?

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds . . .encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:23-25, 35-36).

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

“‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven'” (Acts 1:8-11).

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“Sacrifice thank offerings to God . . . and call on me in the day of trouble;

    I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:14-15).

Heels bouncing. Arms upraised. Palms waving. I did the happy dance today. Full-on, Snoopy-style. A long wait sweetens good news, and I had waited over a year for an acceptance letter. Could’ve sworn I tasted chocolate while reading.

I love champagne truffles as much as any girl, but I’m more thankful for achievements. Success and answered prayers fire up my worship to a near-charismatic levels. Hand-raising tends to linger outside my comfort zone. When gratitude for provision and healing bubbles up from my soul like a wellspring, I can hardly help myself.

Christ receives my best praise when things go well. Do I offer the same level of gratitude during tough times? I pour out passionate prayers, declaring the power and perfect nature of God. I cry out, reach out, and plead. But days of trouble don’t bring out my Snoopy-style, charismatic thankful dance.

Eternal, indefatigable blessings remain with me at all times, bright or dark. The Holy Spirit promises never to leave me. Christ redeemed my soul and declares me an heir to heaven. The All-Powerful Creator adores me as a Father. Whether I see circumstances working out in my current moment or not, the Lord assures me of His presence. God promises to work out the big picture for my good, and I can trust Him with the immediate details. His goodness never fluctuates. Christ’s most significant blessing remains with me always. Jesus deserves my happy dance every day.

In Psalm 50:14-15, the Lord promises two bonuses if we offer thanks when we’re in trouble. He first assures our deliverance, a cherished gift of His grace. A grateful attitude provides additional perks. Praise shifts our mindset toward hope. Faith grows and strengthens. We secure our footing in the awareness of God’s presence. Thankful prayer offerings sustain and support us through trying circumstances. The privilege of new status gleams on our souls like a crown, for He lifts us up as those who honor Him.

I’m a fan of pleasing my Lord, so I set a new prayer objective. Every day, rejections and life-worries notwithstanding, I plan to fire up some thankful Snoopy waving. I’m working on my “Woot!” Will you join me?

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving: (Psalm 69:30).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

Afternoon rays highlighted splatter-spots dappling my kitchen window. I corralled piles of dishes toward the sink. The third time since breakfast. My hands trembled as I scrubbed the grimy counter. Why is it always such a mess? Recurring, ugly streaks, just like my failures in business and publishing. I tossed the rag at the sill.

I marched out the front door with an announcement to any ears in range. “I’m going for a walk.”

As I strode under the oak canopy, I grasped the air at my side. “Walk with me, Jesus.”

My morning time of prostrate meditation remains a precious way to center myself before the day’s mission begins. Bedside prayer also offers great benefit, laying all needs and offenses in divine hands. Sometimes, I wrestle with overwhelming angst and need to break out of my conventions to better connect with God. Fresh perspective unstops the ears of my soul.

This common need resounds from world headlines to the soul cries of our neighbors–financial crises, illness, general household chaos. Circumstances shatter our peace. Life whirls around our heads, distracting us from intimacy with the Lord. In this tumultuous life, we need help centering our spirits in prayer.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s new book, Praying Upside Down, offers novel tools to uncork conversations with God. She expands our view of divine interaction beyond the formulaic ideas of conventional prayer. A graphic designer, she crafts an artistic pathway to spiritual intimacy. Her analogies and suggested applications prove easy upon a reader’s eye and attainable to a beginner’s soul.

Have you ever struggled to focus? Railed at the ceiling as if it were a blockade? Or felt your heart too overwhelmed to summon a prayer? Upside down experiences might just refresh your mind and reveal the path to renew your weary soul.

If you’re interested in Praying Upside Down, find out more information from Tyndale or check out Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s website http://www.prayingupsidedown.com/

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“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Refugees abandon homes in pursuit of it. Defendants empty bank accounts to negotiate it. Acquisition offers empty promises of it. Anesthesia poisons the flesh with temporary illusions of it. A mother of toddlers looks for it in the bathroom.

Peace lingers in the desperate pleas of souls worldwide. From those enduring brutal oppression to those overwhelmed with daily stress, a valid strain proves critical within each experience. Humanity cries for an end to war with one another, heart-breaking circumstances, and ourselves. We struggle to cope and survive. A greater need pervades and exceeds all others. And it has already been offered to us at the grantor’s expense.

No change of address. No attorney fees. Debt-free and without side-effects. Not even confined to the powder room.

Peace with God provides hope beyond this heart-wrenching world. While refugees flee torment to dwell as outsiders in poverty, we leave behind a broken mortality and return home to the splendor for which we were created. Jesus, having paid our expenses with His suffering, also serves as our advocate to free us from judgment. We can trust His sufficient payment and negotiation has secured a brilliant future.

Our hope isn’t limited to the future.  Though salvation doesn’t eliminate earthly challenges, peace with God equips us to cope with our current struggles. Acceptance of Christ into our hearts brings His presence into our daily lives. We can neither survive this mortal life nor cope with it on our own. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to. His indwelling Spirit offers a constant resource of divine wisdom and strength, awaiting our requests for support.

Paul reminded early Christians of this, since they endured severe trials.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Will you take a moment today and thank God with me for His beautiful gift of peace?

Thank You, Jesus. For Your grace which secures our hope. For Your reliable presence that sustains us with precious, incomparable peace.

“Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

I once wondered if I could live without coffee. Clearing my sluggish haze each morning requires considerable effort. Anticipation or sunshine might spring some folks from their beds, but it takes more voltage to prod my toe out from the sheets. Despite my penchant for java, a brief fast proved certain substitutes offered the same boost. I could, in fact, live without my roasted bean beverage.

My cell phone consumes each free moment. Facebook posts MUST be checked for vital updates on loved ones. I dare not miss an email, lest the answer to my dreams awaits among the forty-plus daily sales pitches. While serving at retreats, participants fully engage my heart so my fingers never miss the phone.

Surely I need a full night’s rest. I HAVE to make sure the kids are okay. Personal space ranks high on my list of must-haves. And adequate food. Of course I need a hot shower to cope with life, and a clean environment, too . . .

I believed I couldn’t live without many things. Some trifles, like coffee. Some significant, like loved ones or rest. None of these can sustain me. My survival depends on one resource. He extends the brilliant energy of the Father’s glory to fill the universe. His verbal authority spoke all things into existence–past and future, sub-atomic to planetary, living and inanimate. Christ’s word continues as the empowering force which sustains everything.

While I’ve been tempted to believe I depended on other things, I now recognize the truth. The one thing I can’t live without will never run out, lose energy, or fail me. Thank you, Jesus, my infinite sustenance, power, and life.

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