hugI am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10


One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1963 production of The Pink Panther starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Jaques Clouseau. The “Pink Panther” is the world’s largest rose-colored diamond, named because of a tiny flaw resembling a panther. The plot centers on the attempted theft of the gem by the Phantom, whose accomplice is Clouseau’s wife. The poor inspector is so inept, he is constantly looking in the wrong place at the wrong time to foil the theft. The jewel is actually planted on Clouseau at one point, making him appear to be the real thief. The inspector speaks English with a heavy French accent, which causes problems in one memorable scene. Clouseau asks the hotel desk clerk conspiratorially if there is a “message” for him, but pronounces it “massage.” A hilarious exchange ensues where the clerk believes Clouseau wants a back rub, when all he is looking for is a private communication regarding the jewel theft.


Every time I recall that scene in The Pink Panther, I think of the message of the Good News about Jesus. Some people just can’t understand what that “message” is all about. They believe its meaning is one of guilt and shame, and they just don’t realize the significance of God sending His only Son to live among men and die on a cross to save us all. It took a mighty miracle on God’s part to bring me into His everlasting arms. Only then did I begin to see the life-giving magnitude of the Christ story.


Like the humorous scene in The Pink Panther, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). But what the world calls “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,” and “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Those who do not heed the call of God are like Inspector Clouseau, misunderstanding what’s being said to them. The kingdom of God is the precious gem, the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46), and Satan is the thief who tries to keep us from seeking Him.


Holy God, open everyone’s ears and eyes so that all may believe. Amen


 creation_handAll things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. John 1:3


I know that God exists! How do I know? Because of the “before and after affect.” When I was schlepping around the earth as a young twenty-something and thought I was smarter than everybody (including God) I was a different person. I was profoundly sad, with an attitude that nothing in life would ever turn out right for me. I was scared of everything: sickness, being alone, death, nightmares. I endured years of insomnia because of all the things that worried me. The list went on and on. Once I accepted Christ, my fears went away for the most part. I began sleeping like a rock, my attitude improved, my choice of people I associated with improved, and I found that “unspeakable joy” and “peace that passes all understanding.”


But don’t take my word for it! I went right to the source: Google! Oh, I had to search a bit to find an article that was Biblical and understandable. On the site, http://www.everystudent.com/features/isthere.html , Marilyn Adamson lists six reasons why God exists:


  1. The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but keeps it going. (Example: the human brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories.)
  2. The universe flashed into being, and scientists cannot find out what caused that to happen. (If not by God, how was it created?)
  3. The universe operates by uniform laws of nature, not by chance. (Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics says, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”)
  4. The DNA code informs and programs a cell’s behavior. (In every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, a mini-computer program.)
  5. God exists because He pursues us. (He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself every day.)
  6. Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God revealing himself to us. (Jesus said God exists and you’re looking at Him. No other religion claims that.)


Need any more proof? Me neither!


Almighty God, thank You for creating and sharing this amazing world with us! Amen


Lay Off Notice

Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women. Ephesians 6:7


I never thought I would see a hostile takeover in education, but that is exactly what happened at the small two-year college where I worked as a counselor. Shortly after my husband and I were married, a series of events made my work life, as I had known it, a thing of the past. To put it bluntly, the good guys lost—and the bad guys won.


I’m sure many people who have been laid off feel they have been treated unjustly as I did. There is no “good” time to lose one’s job, but at the time, I was also dealing with my father’s declining health in another state, and my own health was precarious as well. In the middle of the hostility at work, a bunch of crazy men flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the nation pulled together to face 911. The workers at the college didn’t pull together to do anything. We all felt defeated at the hands of some incompetent and power-hungry administrators. It was one of the worst times in my life.


People’s identity is often tied up in their occupation. “What do you do?” is often the first question asked of us. The first answer usually isn’t that we worship the Lord Jesus Christ (although it should be!), or even that we are a wife/husband, mother/daughter, volunteer, blood donor, amateur gardener or avid recycler. We answer with what we do for a living. When our livelihood is taken from us, we feel devalued and useless. We grieve for the loss of our productive self. Luckily, I was able to “claim” a position at another college, but not before I spent many anxious moments, buried my father, and moved my mother closer to us.


Throughout this time, I never lost my faith. Just as Joseph had done when he was sold to the Egyptians by his own brother (Genesis 39), I did my best to maintain my integrity, serving students and applicants with a smile on my face and carrying out my job duties responsibly. Praying diligently every day and night, I stood on the promise that God would see me through. And He did.


Lord, see us through the storms of life with integrity. Amen


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 23:  South Korean lawmaker Kim Moon-Soo shows a genuine U.S. $100 note above a counterfeit one during a news conference at the National Assembly February 23, 2006 in Seoul, South Korea.  Kim, who obtained the counterfeit through human rights activists in the Chinese city of Dandong bordering North Korea, is urging the South Korean government to deal with North Korea's alleged counterfeiting more sternly.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Matthew 7:15


I once read a story about Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, who was seated next to an FBI agent at a dinner one evening. She asked him what he did for the agency. He replied that he worked in the department that tracked the making of counterfeit money, which prompted Mrs. Graham to say to the agent, “You must study a lot of phony bills.” “No,” he replied, “we study the real ones, so that when we see a fake one, we will know the difference.”


I have watched the news aghast to see that ordinary human beings can be persuaded to drink the Kool Aid with men like Jim Jones, or barricade themselves inside a bunker at Waco, Texas with David Koresh. I have plowed through Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, the story of the polygamous, fundamentalist, spiritually abusive Mormons. I’ve studied Hal Lindsey’s Satan Is Alive And Well On Planet Earth with one eye closed because I couldn’t to read Satan’s abuse of ordinary people. And what about ISIS, convincing otherwise decent kids to fly off to the Middle East to have a high old time killing innocent people? How do people get so far off track that they might find the words of these false prophets compelling?


This isn’t such a new problem. Third Millennium Ministries posted an article entitled “The Distinguishing Marks of False Teachers,” written by a nonconformist British preacher named Thomas Brooks in the early 1600’s. Brooks nailed it with his list of Biblical no-nos!  Keep an eye out for dubious spiritualists who are “men pleasers” (Jeremiah 23:16-17); cast “scorn and reproach upon…Christ’s most faithful ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 10:10); “spew out the devices and visions of their own heads and hearts” (Jeremiah 14:14); dwell upon “things…of the least importance…to the souls of men” (1 Timothy 1:5-7); “cleverly disguise…dangerous principles and soul-deceiving notions with very attractive speeches and golden expressions” (Numbers 24:17); try harder to “win men over to their opinions than to improve their behavior “ (Matthew 23:15); and “exploit their followers (2 Peter 2:1-3). As 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, we must always be alert to Satan’s treachery!


Protect us, O Lord, from the enemy and his warriors. Amen


Read about Thomas Brooks at http://thirdmill.org/magazine/article.asp/link/http:%5E%5Ethirdmill.org%5Earticles%5Etho_brooks%5Etho_brooks.false.teachers.html/at/The%20Distinguishing%20Marks%20of%20False%20Teachers


Smoke and MIrrorsI will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will You come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house. Psalm 101:2


Pathological liars fascinate me. Maybe I feel this way because the concept of integrity is so very important to me. As a child, I could not trust my alcoholic mother to tell me the truth or to do what she promised. Now, as an adult and a retired counselor, I seem to hold myself and others to a higher standard because I have seen first-hand how lying is so hurtful to the liar and the recipient.


Pathological lying is defined as “a long history of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned” (source: Psychological Times). “Normal” liars feel remorseful; but guilt, shame, regret, or even possible consequences do not affect the behavior of the pathological liar. Diagnoses vary depending on other personality factors, and treatment is difficult if not impossible because the liar doesn’t want the therapist to know the truth (if indeed the liar gets as far as the therapist’s office in the first place). I can still picture Bernie Madoff looking so shocked in news clips when he was arrested for bilking hundreds of senior citizens out of their life savings through his Ponzi schemes.


What does God say about lying? Obviously, He doesn’t condone it, since He Himself is Truth personified. Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips.” Paul states in Romans 1 that the ungodly (including liars) “are without excuse…For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”


American evangelist Rick Warren says, “Integrity is built by defeating the temptation to be dishonest; humility grows when we refuse to be prideful; and endurance develops every time you reject the temptation to give up.” Christians are commanded by God to treat people fairly and honestly (Leviticus 19:35-36). By insisting on our good behavior, God protects us from getting into trouble (Psalm 25:21). And Proverbs 28:6 says integrity is more valuable than riches. The indwelling God is not about smoke and mirrors; He’s about honesty and transparency.


Lord, guard my heart and mind against those who use lies to hurt others. Amen


tower-of-bableCome, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech. Genesis 11:7


“This Bible study is boring!” she said. “It just ask us to repeat exactly what’s in the reading!” As the facilitator of the group, I had to agree with her. I had chosen the study from an internet source and had not reviewed the material carefully enough. Everyone in the group felt the same: we wanted something more than just regurgitating the words from the Bible. We wanted thought-provoking questions that asked us to dig deep into our spiritual beings and grow as Christians. I promised to be more discerning in the materials I ordered in the future so we could all benefit from the study.


Our Lord wants us to dig deep too. First Thessalonians 1:5 reminds us the “message of the gospel came to us not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” This is no child’s first reader we’re dealing with here. The Word of the Lord “has the power to save your souls” (James 1:21), and God “sustains all things by His powerful Word” (Hebrews 1:3). Psalm 119 speaks of God’s Word as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105); a “hiding place,” a “shield,” and a place of “hope” (v. 114). We are to stand in awe of God’s Word (v. 161) and “seek understanding” of it (v. 169). Isaiah 55:11 declares that God’s Word “shall not return to (Him) empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.” And Paul told the new converts to think of God’s Word as spiritual food. They were “not ready for solid food” (deep lessons) to begin with, but “solid food is for the mature” Christian who has learned the basics. God wants us to delve into and learn all we can so we can follow His ways more clearly.


When the people of Babel tried to build “a tower with its top in the heavens,” God scattered them and confused their language so they would return to Him (Genesis 11:4,8). The term “babble” now means nonsense or gibberish. Let’s take the sacred Word of God seriously and not conduct “babble studies!”


O God, You Word is precious to me. Let me meditate on it always. Amen


Last-Will-and-Testament-870x400For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16


Do you believe God only wants good things for us? I do. Why, then, do terrible things still happen in this life? The theological answer lies in part in our own free will. Not that we, ourselves, wish for unfortunate occurrences. But God allows us to have free will because He wants us to choose. Look at it this way: what kind of marriage results from one person demanding, or even forcing the partner to do certain things or act in a certain way? We call that domestic abuse. Why would God want to control us in that way, when He loves us with a perfect love?


But God didn’t leave us alone in this world to battle the forces of evil on our own with our dollar store super power cape. Life’s perils fall into three categories: messes we get ourselves into, messes that just happen to us, and messes that other people inflict on us. God cares about all of them. God is all-knowing, so He knows how everything will turn out, even the choices we make with our free will. A math genius can give a dummy like me an equation and ask me to solve it. The whiz already knowing the answer doesn’t change the choices I make trying to solve the equation. The answer doesn’t depend on me and it doesn’t change because the numbers are constant. God neither compel evil to occur nor forces us to be good. But He does have the final say in what happens to each of us at the end our lives.


In his book, He Chose the Nails, Max Lucado says, “Any injustice in this life is offset by the honor of choosing our destiny in the next.” In today’s scripture, John says that “whoever believes” in Christ “shall not perish but have eternal life.” It looks so simple, but we have a choice here: to believe or not to believe. Free will allows us to make that choice; it’s not automatic. So “free will” is actually very expensive, when you think about it. Choosing not to believe can cost us peace and joy in this life and the assurance of everlasting life in heaven.


Lord, I choose You! Amen


GraceFor God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7


“I was only eight years old when Nancy began to change,” says Cathy Platenburg. “It might as well have been the wind for the little I understood of mental illness.” That wind took “hold of our home and locked us all out in a ferocious snowstorm.” This is how Cathy describes her childhood memories of her beautiful older sister diagnosed with schizophrenia. Cathy felt Nancy “was thrown across the room, all the warmth…sucked from her heart,” taking away “her compassion, patience and intelligence,” leaving her “brittle, frightened and enraged.” That was in the late 1950’s.


Today, Cathy is Nancy’s caretaker, visiting her in the long term care facility where she resides after years in a state hospital, group homes and other placements. Shock treatments left Nancy with the mind of a child, but her sister now describes her as “one of the most cheerful people I know.” When Cathy comes for a visit, Nancy claps her hands in glee. Together they make art projects, sing songs and enjoy each other’s company. When Nancy is especially happy, she grins at her sister and declares it “a six candy bar day.” Nancy’s joy has returned, even though the path of her life did not go the way it might have.


Many people fear those suffering from mental illness, but it is important for the Christian to remember Christ’s commandment: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). How we go about carrying the Good News to others may change, especially with those who have limited understanding. Cathy cannot discuss deep theological matters with her sister, but she can be present in the moment and enjoy her company as it is. She can be a much-needed advocate for her sister, to ensure she gets her needs met from care center staff, medical personnel and others with whom she comes in contact. Most of all, Cathy can bring to her sister her own love of Christ and the unspeakable peace and joy that the Lord has given her.


Lord, grant us compassion and understanding for those with mental illness. Amen


 Shadow SelfI do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Romans 7:15


Sometimes I feel that there are two of me: the believing one and the doubting one. It can be a perfectly good Christian day, and whammo! I crash plunk into a very carnal brick wall and start acting like I’m possessed by demons. My speech suddenly spirals down to less-than-edifying, and I can feel the chill of being out of sync with God. Other times, I am so in love with Him, I have no cares in this world. Everything around me seems sacred; nothing or no one can push my buttons. I’m soaring on the wings of the Holy One Who has placed my feet in high places.


Why do we as humans have these spiritual mood swings? Why, once we have declared our love for Christ, do we backpedal and behave like our old selves? It’s because of Adam and Eve—let’s blame them! But when I’m on that mountain top of spiritual joy, how do I get from there to the dismal valley of discontent? I know God loves me when I’m down there, but it’s hard to remember that at the time.


The apostle Paul must have been an intense man, and perhaps we can learn from him. A zealous “Christ hater” in his former life, Paul gets a complete instant overhaul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He morphs from hate to love and becomes one of the most famous and revered promotors of our Lord. But even Paul struggles with the “split personality” thing. He still does the things he knows he shouldn’t (Romans 7:15) and he even struggles with how to share his faith. “For if we are beside ourselves (i.e., a little crazy), it is for God,” he tells the Corinthians, “if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (i.e., preaching the good news without too many theatrics) (2 Corinthians 5:13). I have to remind myself of Paul’s very words, “Pray without ceasing,” which came in the middle of “rejoice always,” and “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This formula can keep us all from torturing ourselves when we fail.


Forgiving Father, You have to grace to forgive; let me have the humility to accept. Amen


HourglassFor it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9


Ruth Bachman is an author, inspiring presenter, cancer survivor and survivor advocate. I am blessed to call her my friend. In her book, Growing Through the Narrow Spots, Ruth says, “In 2003, I was a left-handed woman…a wife, a mother, in apparent good health.” When she was diagnosed with sarcoma of the left hand, wrist and forearm, the bottom dropped out of her world. The only option to save her life was amputation. Having lost a beloved sister to melanoma twelve years before, Ruth could only define cancer with one word: “evil.”


Ruth says, “Spending time in solitude, prayer and meditation—moving from my head to my heart—helped me to say ‘Yes’…I would move forward and grow through this experience.” She formed a concept in her mind that “cancer was the narrow spot in an hourglass and (she) was the sand.” Ruth talks about sand as irritating and abrasive, creating discomfort when we find it someplace unexpected. But that irritation can also be a way to move us to change our attitudes about life circumstances, healing, change and even cancer. “We all know what happens to the oyster when sand gets into it,” she says. “It grows a pearl.” Ruth challenges her readers and listeners by saying, “Don’t just go through the narrow spots. Grow through them.” In spite of her amputation, Ruth insists, “I am whole because I have come to understand that wholeness resides inside. It requires being patient with myself and present with God.” Ruth knows that her “sand”—her being— is the same after passing through the narrow spots; it’s just rearranged.


Jesus “cured” the ten lepers and only one, a Samaritan, came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19). Jesus said to him, “Your faith has made you well” (v.19). Ruth believes “there is a significant difference between being cured, the absence of disease, and being well.” She continues, “The origin of the word “health” is halen , meaning whole.  That 10th leper was restored to wholeness of mind, body and spirit.  His faith made it so.”


Lord, heal our wounds and calm our spirits as we pass through the hourglasses of life. Amen