Tag Archives: Bible

A Sure Supply For Every Need

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“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105 KJV)

When I was ten years old we lived in Astoria, Queens. My Dad worked long hours to support a large family, and my mother was busy with my sisters, twin baby girls. Therefore, my brother and I were often given a list and sent out into the neighborhood to purchase various items.

There were no Supermarkets back then. If meat was on the list, we went to Ace Meat Market, where the different cuts of meat were displayed behind glass and the floor was covered with sawdust. If we wanted bologna or salami, we went to Connie’s Deli. Fish was purchased at the fish market and purchases were weighed on scales, packed in ice, and wrapped in white paper. If we wanted cheese, we went to Antoinette’s, where the cheeses hung from the ceiling. If it was aspirin we needed, we stopped at Riley’s Drugstore. It amazes me that most of the things we walked blocks to purchase can be found today under one roof and in one store.

In my younger days, I sought out spiritual food in this same way, going from one book to another, from one teacher to another, and from one philosophy to another. Then one day I realized that the spiritual food I craved was contained in one book, the Bible, the Word of God, His personal love letter to me.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us your Word. What a fountain of living water it is! We delight it in it as the psalmist of Psalm 1 delighted in the law. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus to complete it. We promise to spend time reading, meditating and feasting on Your love letter to us this very day and every day. Keep us grounded in it, as we wait to be with you.

In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh,

Amen

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Who Do You Follow? Choose Jesus!

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“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” (Psalm 23:4 KJV)

Did you ever play follow the leader?  In our urban New York neighborhood, following the leader meant skipping down a city block, going up and down stairs, crossing busy streets, traipsing through a schoolyard or meandering through a vacant lot dotted with yellow dandelions in the summer, crunchy leaves in the fall and deep snow in winter.  No matter where the leader took us, we followed.

The 23rd Psalm is about walking, being led, resting, and following. While reading verse 4, another Bible verse came to mind: Isaiah 52:7, which is quoted in the beautiful hymn Our God Reigns:

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news,
Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness,
Our God reigns, our God reigns.

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The second stanza tells us that Jesus “had no stately form, He had no majesty, that we should be drawn to Him.”  But many were drawn to Him as we are drawn to Him now, because as the third stanza tells us: It was our sin that bruised and wounded Him because like sheep, we strayed.  Nevertheless, our Shepherd came and bore our shame.  He, who was without sin, let himself be led to the slaughter, so that we might be born again.  In the final stanza, we are told:

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty,
He is alive, He is alive.
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side,
Yes we know He is alive…Our God reigns…

Our Lord, whom we follow, is the Good Shepherd, who leads us to the mountaintop.  To get there, however we sometimes have to walk with Him through the valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death.  He is the Lamb that was slain for our sins.  He is the King, who has defeated death and is alive.  Because He died for us, saved us, reigns over our lives today, we do not hesitate to follow Him into life’s valleys.

Several years ago, during a revival service, Ernest Easley, a cancer survivor, preached a sermon on walking through life’s valleys with the Lord.  In his sermon, he identified nine valleys: the valley of uncertainty, the valley of fear, the valley of detours, the valley of suffering, the valley of storms, the valley of discouragement, the valley of confusion, the valley of correction, and the valley of sickness.  The main point of the sermon is that victory comes through the valleys.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

You loved us so much that you sent your Son to die for us.  Amazing love! How can we not follow the one who gave his life for us, who went through his own “valley of the shadow of death” so that we might have new life in Him?  Thank you for walking with us through life’s valleys.  Forgive us when we lose sight of you on the path and begin to doubt.  When we hesitate give us confidence.  When we tire, give us strength. Gather us into your arms when we are afraid, and encourage us when we hurt.  Remind us that beyond the horizon, heaven awaits.

In the name of Jesus, wo shepherds us through life’s valleys,

Amen

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A Lion Who Guards and One Who Devours

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But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5 NLT)

When I was four, my grandparents moved to New York City from Puerto Rico.  One of the first apartments they lived in had stone lions flanking the entrance.  The first time I went to visit, I did not want to go in because I was afraid of the lions.  Finally, I was told to close my eyes, and with my head buried in my father’s shoulder, I let myself be taken in without being attacked by the ferocious beasts of my imagination.

The next time I came to visit, my uncle explained to me that one of the lions was mean, but the other one was strong and kind and had more power than the mean lion.  He said they fought to see which one was going to be the boss.  The kind lion won, so now the mean lion had to obey the nice lion.  Then he let me get close to the kind lion and pat its head.

After several more visits, I stopped being afraid.  I became so comfortable with the kind lion that my brothers and I would sit on it and pretend he was our friend.  Somewhere in the many family photo albums there is a picture of me and my brother siting on the kind lion.  In the picture, we are smiling, completely at ease and at rest.

In the Scriptures, there are two lions.  One of them is Satan.  We are told: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV) The other Lion is our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is kind and compassionate and is also the Lamb of God, who was slain for our transgressions.  He is also strong and mighty; He is the only one able to save us.

When Jesus speaks to his disciples about his death, he says:“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.  I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33 NLT)  Also, as he spoke of his impending sacrifice on the cross for our sins, Jesus said: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31 ASV)  Satan is the prince of this world, he is the roaring lion overcome by the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

In the end, there will be a final battle. Jesus will defeat Satan and his angels. In Revelation 12:10, John tells us:Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” (NKJV)

Dearest Heavenly Father,

You have made provision for us.  You have given us a place of safety under the protection of a mighty King, your Son Jesus.  We take refuge in Him and rest on His promises till He comes again in glory.

Amen

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Wood, Nails and Lots of Love

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The year I turned ten, my brothers and I decided to build a clubhouse.  Our decision, however, did not go without opposition.  Living in a three story house with relatives, meant we all shared one back yard.  One day, I overheard a conversation my parents had with my grandfather and my uncle.  I recall the term “eye-sore” being used more than once.  At some point, however, my grandfather and uncle must have relented.  After much deliberation, it was decided that we could have our clubhouse till it was time for my grandmother to plant her flowers in the spring.

Joyfully we went right to work.  Most of our building materials came from Weber’s lot.  At Weber’s lot, treasures that only a ten-year old could appreciate were available for the taking:  two by fours with only a couple of nails to pull out, a metal shelf with only a dent or two, and a perfectly good step-ladder with only one rung missing.  Our local grocer supplied us with discarded wooden fruit crates.  We raised money for nails by collecting pop bottles and turning them in for cash: 2 cents for the small ones and 5 cents for the large ones.

Laying the foundation and erecting the four corners of our rectangular structure was as far as we got before running into technical difficulties.  While we worked, my grandfather sat on the patio reading his paper. From time to time, he would make a suggestion, or measure and then, saw a piece of wood.  Sometimes Uncle John helped us hammer nails, and once Uncle Frank stopped by to help us put a latch on the door.  Soon the whole family was involved.  My grandmother provided a piece of linoleum for the floor, my aunt, an area rug, and my mom, a flashlight and snacks.  My Dad helped us paint.

We enjoyed our clubhouse that fall and winter, but before long, it was time for my grandmother to plant her flowers.  With heavy hearts, we tore down the clubhouse.  In truth, springtime called us to enjoy other outdoor activities and the initial excitement and enthusiasm for the clubhouse had waned.  What remained intact was the solidarity that developed in our relationship with our relatives.  It was a thing of beauty, to work together for a common purpose.

A church is a family.  Sometimes its members do not agree on the merits of a project, but that is all right, as long as an agreement is reached and we decide to work together to achieve a common goal.

Dear Heavenly Father,

How wonderful that you let us call you Father and that you call us children.  We thank you for adopting us, and for placing us in a church family.  As we worship and serve you, there will be times of disagreement.  Help us to discern the things that need to stay the same and those we need to change. Teach us how to work together for your eternal purposes, and to love each other through our differences.

In the name of Jesus, our cornerstone,

Amen

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What Are You Reading Today?

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I thought it would be fun to see what all of my followers and anyone else who visits our blog is currently reading?  We might get some great ideas from each other!

Right now I’m actively reading, Blowing on Dandelions by Miralee Ferrell.  I’ll be publishing a review in the next few days I hope…things keep getting in my way of reading lately!  Not good!

I’m also reading, Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle.  I was up in the middle of the night on Monday with my back hurting, so I pulled this book up on my kindle!  If it had been during the day I would have been laughing out loud (didn’t want to wake my hubby) and I had to have lots of tissues to wipe my eyes, because I was silently laughing so much I was crying…can’t wait to get back to this book! 🙂

And I’ve been slowing reading a great devotional book, Walking with Bilbo by Sarah Arthur.  If you are a Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fan like me, you’ll love this book of devotions.  I think I’m taking my time, because I don’t want to finish it.  I’m sure this will be one I’ll refer to again and again.

So….what are you reading?  Let me know!

 

 

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Restored To A Perfect Shine

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When I was 15, our family moved to an old colonial style home on the outskirts of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  My father immediately assessed the property and saw its potential.  He decided that with a little paint and TLC, we could make this 5 bedroom house into a home for our family of 9.  The painting was going to be easy, but have you ever restored hardwood floors the old fashioned way?

First, we emptied the room and removed the vinyl carpet.  Next, we got rid of protruding nails.  After all the nails were gone and some of the floor boards replaced, we scrubbed the dirtiest areas with a brush, we swept and we mopped.

Once dry, the floor was ready to be sanded.  Each of us was handed a piece of sandpaper which we used to smooth down our designated area of the floor. While we worked, my father moved from one spot to another encouraging and advising us on how much pressure to apply and how to move the sandpaper in a circular fashion.  Every night we had to sweep the dust away, since we did not own a vacuum cleaner.

By the third day, some of us got grumpy thinking we would never see an end to this project. Then, finally, one day, the floor was ready for my father to stain and varnish. When he finished, the floor looked beautiful, shiny and new.

My father had restored wood floors before, so he knew how it would look when we were through doing all the hard work.  He had a plan.  He was sure we could do the work.  He also knew we would do the work because we trusted that he knew what he was doing.  He probably didn’t tell us how long it would take because knowing that would have been overwhelming.

God is in the business of restoring people.  He has a plan.  He created us and is aware of our strengths and weaknesses.  He knows the true measure of our faith and trust.  And ultimately, He is the only one who knows the duration and the outcome of his plan for us and future generations.  Sometimes He will even use us to smooth the way for others to come to Him.  Because He has been faithful to keep his promises in the past, we have the assurance that His plans are “to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) in this life and the next.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your faithfulness, your loving-kindness and your discipline.  Thank you for taking the time to wash away our sins.  Thank you for smoothing out the rough places in our lives and for using us in preparing the way for others to come to you.  Forgive us when we lose heart, and encourage us when we hesitate to come along beside you.  Knowing your timing is perfect, we give you our hands, our hearts and our will. May they be used for your glory!

In the name of the one who makes us a new creation,

Amen

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A Song To Sweeten Our Sorrows

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“After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  (Mark 14:26 NASB)

One treasured memory of my childhood is hearing my mother sing as she went about her daily tasks.  As we grew older, she taught us those songs and we sang them in the car when we went on family outings.  Most of them were songs she learned when she sang in the church choir and some that reminded her of her Puerto Rican homeland.

Just before I got married and left home to come to Georgia, my mom confessed to me that when she came to live in New York City as a young bride, she was homesick and afraid of living in so huge a metropolis.  She said that singing those songs gave her courage to face each day.

Recently, I read an article about two Christian women, Gisela Wieberdink-Söhnlein and Hetty Voûte who were arrested in Amsterdam for hiding Jewish children in World War II.  They were sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, Germany in 1944.  To survive there and at Vught Camp, where they were later transferred, they wrote and sang songs.  The songs offered comfort to their fellow inmates, were a source of entertainment, and provided a distraction from the ugliness and brutality that surrounded them.  Both women survived the war.

Remembering my Mom’s story and reading about these women brought to mind the hymn that says:

God of grace and God of glory.

On Thy people pour Thy power;

Crown Thine ancient church’s story,

Bring her bud to glorious flower,

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

For the facing of this hour.

No matter how small or how great our suffering, the Lord grants us grace for each day and each hour.  What a wonderful God we serve!

Dearest Heavenly Father,

Before going to the Mount of Olives, Jesus sang with his disciples.  It is clear by the verses that follow that He knew Golgotha awaited Him beyond that garden of prayer.  Then, You sent an angel to strengthen Him, and He was able to say: “Your will be done.” Thank You for sending us Jesus. As we wait for the fulfillment of your promise to receive us in your kingdom, put a song on our lips, and strengthen our resolve, so that we will live a life that is pleasing to you.

In His precious and holy name,

Amen!

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More Than Fresh, Sweet Corn and Red, Red Roses

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“As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:15-16 NIV)

This week has been one of unexpected blessings.  On Monday, my son Chris came home with freshly picked corn from the farm where he works.  Not only was the corn freshly picked, but it had already been shucked and washed.  If all you have ever eaten is store bought corn, you have certainly missed one of God’s sweetest blessings.

On Tuesday, while we studied verses 8-15 in the book of Ruth, one of our church workers presented us with flowers.  They were not just flowers, but beautiful roses in a variety of colors. Mine were a beautiful deep red hue. The unexpected blessing produced smiles all around our study table.

It occurred to me then that the attention of Boaz toward Ruth was like receiving roses unexpectedly or even fresh, sweet corn, shucked and washed, and ready to be cooked.  Part of the joy of receiving such a gift is that you have done nothing to deserve it.

Boaz was a prominent man, wealthy and esteemed in his community.  Ruth’s position was lower even than that of a maidservant.  She was a foreigner and a beggar asking for leftovers.  Nevertheless, Boaz notices her (Ruth 2:5), speaks to her (Ruth 2:8), and acknowledges her diligence and her kindness toward Naomi, her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:11). She is to glean exclusively in Boaz’s field Ruth 2:8). Not only is she noticed and praised for her deeds, but she is invited to drink water drawn by others of a higher position than she (Ruth 2:9).  Overwhelmed, Ruth falls at her benefactor’s feet and asks: “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10 NLT)

For Ruth, being noticed, praised, and invited to drink water and being allowed to glean in Boaz’s fields would have been enough.  But this is just the beginning of God’s plan for Ruth. The harvest season is just beginning.  Next, Boaz invites Ruth to eat roasted grain (Ruth 2:14) and arranges for the workers to let some grain fall from their bundles so that she can pick them up (Ruth 2:16).

Even before Boaz became Ruth’s “official kinsman redeemer”, he began to pour out his kindness upon her.  This reminds me that God does the same for us.  Even before we are saved, God provides for us.  He has a plan to draw us to himself and continue to bless us throughout our lives. When we choose to glean exclusively in the fields of the Lord, He will invite us to drink the Living Water and eat the Bread of Life, and like the sheaves of barley in the story of Ruth, He will make sure that we find unexpected blessings along the way.

After the corn and the flowers, we got grapes, cantaloupe, Vidalia onions, Clementines, cucumbers… and summer has only just begun.

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Dearest Heavenly Father,

In summertime and harvest we are reminded of the abundant life you have promised.  As if the fruits of the land were not enough, you have stored up treasures for us in heaven,  How great is your faithfulness! Your loving-kindness is humbling. What have I done to deserve such abundance? Nothing, but  Jesus has done it all.

In the name of the only one that is mighty to save, 

Amen.

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EXTRATERRESTRIALS AND THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE – July 5, 2013

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I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. (Psalm 142:1-3 NIV)

…Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. (Ruth 1:9 KJV)

And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. (Ruth 1:14 KJV)

When I was in Middle School and High School, I took a liking to the science fiction genre.  I read stories by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.  In many of their tales, they examined the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life.  I remember how those stories drew me in.  The possibility that we are not alone, and that there might be life elsewhere in the universe seemed fascinating to me.

Photo courtesy of NASA

We are not alone,
In the beginning God…

I no longer read science fiction books.  Instead, I read the Bible.  The Bible affirms the premise that we are not alone in the universe.  There is, however, NOTHING fictional about this affirmation. In fact, the Bible makes us aware that everything we think, say and do is thought, said and done in the presence of an everlasting God.  Therefore, we are not alone.

While modern man lives and breathes and acts as though God does not exist, the people in the Bible are aware that there is someone out there besides them.  Even the heathen acknowledge His existence, though they do not worship him. They fear him, even though He is not their God.  (Genesis 41:38, Daniel 4:34, Jonah 1:6)

As I read the book of Ruth, I realized that the three women raising their voices as they wept had a deeper meaning than just an increase in volume.  They were raising their voices to “someone.”  They were pouring out their hearts to the great “I AM”, Yahweh.

I like the King James rendering of these passages: “and they lifted up their voice.”  They cried out knowing that God was there to receive their complaints.  The Hebrew term used here is “ansa”, which simply means to raise or to carry.  They were aware that when they cried out, their weeping would be carried upward toward the LORD of the universe.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

How wonderful is your WORD!  When we read your love letter to us, we are assured that we are not alone, that you listen, that you love us, and that you care.  Thank you for this blessed assurance.  We lift up our voices to you in a prayer of gratitude for and acknowledgement of your presence in our lives. Thank you for being there for us.

In the name of Jesus, who will never leave or forsake us,

Amen

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An Empty Vessel Filled By God’s Grace – June 28, 2013

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 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty… (Ruth 1:21 NIV)

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13 NLT)

One last reflection on the Book of Ruth:  Sometimes there is a particular verse or phrase that speaks to me when I read the Bible.  This week Ruth 1:21 has been on my mind:  “I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.”

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This verse brought back memories of my family. In a large family of modest means there is a certain way that food is distributed.  My mother was adept at adding water to the soup. She could cut up a chicken in creative and non-traditional ways when there were extra mouths to feed.  She knew how to make rice with chicken instead of chicken with rice.  It was only after I left home that I realized people actually ate an entire steak all by themselves or an orange for that matter.  In the evenings, for a snack, my mother would peel and divide an orange into wedges and each of us would receive a treat that was both juicy and sweet.  Whether full or empty there was love and contentment in our family.

Naomi was afflicted, and could not see that whether empty or full, she was blessed, because the Lord had Naomi in his hands, He was watching out for her, He “had her back”.  She did not realize that in many ways, she had left empty during a famine and come back in the company of the one who would fill her life with joy once more.

Sometimes, in our suffering, we fail to see how we have been blessed in the past, are daily blessed in the present, and will be blessed in the future.  While Naomi had lost her sons and husband, she was given a daughter-in-law, who was “better to her than seven sons.”  God provided access, through Ruth, to Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, who says: “Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.” (Ruth 3:17 NIV) Then he takes her shawl and fills it with barley (six measures to be exact).

This is exactly what Jesus does for us as our kinsman redeemer.  Like, Boaz, when we come to Him empty, He never lets us leave empty-handed.  He gives us the kind of spiritual food that strengthens us and can be shared with others.  By relying on His goodness and mercy we learn to be content in all circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)

Dearest Heavenly Father,

You fill us daily with your love.  When we come to you, in good times and bad, you never let us leave empty-handed.  Forgive us when we dwell on our suffering and forget to count our many blessings. Thank you, Lord, that you can be trusted to provide natural food for our bodies as well as spiritual food for our souls.  Thank you for filling us with your love, and for giving us family and friends who minister to us when we are afflicted. We pray that as you fill us with your love, we will be able to carry your love and blessings to those who need to know you.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

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Spread A Corner of Your Covering Over Me, Lord! – June 21, 2013

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“Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my kinsman redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9 NIV) 

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  (Psalm 32:1 KJV)

He (Christ) redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14 NIV)

The Book of Ruth is about redemption.  In Chapter 3:2-4, Naomi instructs Ruth to go to the threshing floor where Boaz will be sleeping.  After he is asleep, Ruth is told to lie down at his feet.  In the middle of the night, Boaz is awakened, and asks Ruth, “Who are you?”  Ruth replies, “I am your servant Ruth.  Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my kinsman redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9 NIV) 

The words kinsman and redeemer are used interchangeably in the Bible.  A redeemer is a relative, who is charged with the protection and defense of another relative.  In many cases the kinsman redeemer claimed inheritances for poor family members, avenged wrongs against them, or married the widow of a male family member.

When we are saved, this is what we are asking Jesus to do.  Jesus is our kinsman redeemer.  He has the power to put his covering over us.  What He is covering is our sin.  Like Ruth, we come humbly, as servants prostrated at his feet, and Jesus lifts us up to the position of heirs, not of an earthly kingdom, but of a heavenly one.

In front of witnesses, Boaz claims to be a kinsman redeemer for Ruth and Naomi.  The witnesses give the union between Ruth and Boaz their blessing and Boaz marries Ruth.  Through Ruth, a Gentile, we receive the blessing given to Abraham. (Galatians 3:14)  The story ends with a wedding.

Have you ever heard of the wedding supper of the Lamb?  Our story also ends with a wedding.  We are all invited, but not all accept the invitation.  Revelation 19:9 (NIV) says: “Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

On the day we are saved, Jesus claims us as His before witnesses, and when he comes again in glory, he will clothe us in fine linen, avenge the wrongs done to His church and open wide the doors of heaven for us to enter through them. (Revelation 19:11)

Dearest Heavenly Father,

You are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We are yours by your great mercy and grace.  Thank you for redeeming us in this life and for securing a place for us in the next.  What a joyful day it will be when the angels sing their thunderous Hallelujahs! As we enter into your kingdom,  we ask that you cover us and protect us from our sins and from the evil one, till that day when we can claim our inheritance.

In the name of Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer,

Amen

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The LORD, My Life Preserver

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“Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” (Ruth 2:20 NKJV)

In 1966 my brother dropped out of college to join the Navy.  He feared he would be drafted, and by enlisting in the Navy, he thought he was taking control of his future.  He arrived at Great Lakes Training Center in the middle of winter.  Almost immediately, swimming lessons began.  Later on, my brother referred to his instructor’s teaching method as the “sink or swim” method.  He claims that on the very first day, he and the other recruits were literally pushed into the pool.  Experienced swimmers and life preservers were at the ready in case a man floundered, but my brother did not know this at the time.  Therefore, the experience was terrifying.

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Elimelech and Naomi thought that by going to Moab during a famine, they would be more likely to control their future. They were wrong. In Moab, Naomi loses her husband and her sons and has to return to Bethlehem as a widow.

Sometimes in life, we feel like we have been pushed into a pool full of water before having learned how to swim.  Though we know God is there, we wonder how, when, or through whom our help will come.  Naomi was aware of God.  She knew He was responsible for putting an end to the famine. (Ruth 1:6)  She asked the Lord to bless her daughters-in-law. (Ruth 1:8-9)  From Naomi and her family Ruth learned about God, which is evident in the commitment Ruth makes, not only to Naomi, but to Naomi’s God: “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”(Ruth 1:16 NIV) This commitment would not have come about if Naomi had not been a believer, albeit a very confused one in her time of sorrow.

I never noticed it in previous readings, but it was Ruth, and not Naomi, who took the initiative to provide for herself and Naomi. After they arrived in Bethlehem, she volunteered to glean in the fields: “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” (Ruth 2:2 NIV)  This is how she met Boaz, her kinsman redeemer, who offers her his protection and later pledges to marry her.

Naomi returns from Moab in mourning.  She flounders as helplessly as someone who does not know how to swim.  Like a life guard at a pool, Ruth reaches out to Naomi and clings to her.  In Bethlehem, Ruth brings Naomi new hope and a grandson.  God fulfills his plans for Naomi through Ruth, and through Naomi and Ruth He fulfills His plan for us all. Through Ruth and her grandson, David, Jesus Christ is sent, to be our Lord and Redeemer, our Savior and the Bridegroom of His Church.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

There is nothing in our lives that you cannot use for your glory.  You can use our pain, our suffering and our disappointments to accomplish your purposes. You can even use us to rescue those who are thrust into turbulent waters.  We give you permission to use us, Lord. We volunteer to reach out to those who need love, patience, hope and encouragement, because you first loved and reached out to us in our time of need.

In the name of Jesus, LORD and Redeemer,

Amen

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Some Great E-Books – Free and Discounted

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Here’s a list of some great books, some I know are good, some sound good and I’ll let y’all do the hard work again today by looking up the books for yourself.  Just go to your e-reader website and type in the title of the book and see if the price is what you expect. Then….do whatever….download or not.

  • FREE: The Deposit Slip by Todd M. Johnson. We have this in our Media Center and I’ve read it and it’s very good.
  • FREE: Some Smaller Grace by Noelle Carle
  • $1.99: Power in Prayer by Andrew Murray.  This is a classic!
  • $3.03: Lightkeeper’s Bride (A Mercy Falls Novel #2) by Colleen Coble.  We have this entire series in our Media Center and it’s a great series.
  • $3.03: Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck.  I’ve recently read this and it’s very, very good!
  • Here’s a link to some special e-books for Father’s Day from Zondervan.  You might find something good to download on your husband or dad’s e-reader.

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The Silent Treatment

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And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” (Ruth 1:15 NKJV)

When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her. (Ruth 1:18 NKJV)

The Bible is so rich I have difficulty reading it straight through like a recipe or a novel.  The only way I have been able to read the Bible is to stay in a book as long as it takes to read, backtrack, dig deeper, reflect and understand its message.  According to the 3-year plan, it should have taken me 2 days to read this book. Today, I’m still in Ruth.

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This book tells the story of Elimelech and Naomi, an Israelite couple, who move to Moab during a famine.  There, the husband and two sons die and Naomi, hearing that “…the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.” (vs. 6 NIV)  The book says “…she left the place where she had been living…” (vs. 7 NIV)  After she has already left, she decides not to take her daughters-in-law with her.  Orpah leaves and Ruth stays.

In Ruth 1:16 (NLT) Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, pledges her faithfulness to Naomi with beautiful and heartfelt words: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Naomi listens to Ruth and when she is convinced that Ruth will not be dissuaded from following her, “she stopped speaking to her.” (Ruth 1:18 NKJV)   I never noticed before that Naomi never thanked Ruth for being so faithful to her.  Here, Ruth is being “as sweet as she can be” (to use a familiar Southern expression) and Naomi just gives her the silent treatment. Why?

Have you ever been at an “all time” low in your life?  Has it seemed like every bad thing that could possibly happen has happened in an abbreviated period of time? I think this is the kind of anguish Naomi is going through.  Not only has she lost her husband and sons, but now she has two lovely young women for whom she is responsible.  She is feeling the weight of that responsibility.

Naomi has reached the end of her emotional, financial and spiritual resources.  To make matters worse, she believes God has turned against her.  She is at a loss for words and too defeated to argue with or thank Ruth.  I can almost hear her thinking: “Fine. Suit yourself.  Come, if you must, but don’t expect too much from me.  I have nothing else left to give.”

Have you ever come to the end of yourself? Have you ever felt empty and abandoned by God?  Jesus did. He told his father, God, all about it on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV)  I think this is how Naomi feels.

God was with Jesus and God was with Naomi and Ruth.  God is with each of us. The cross was not the end of the story.  The cross was only part of God’s plan for us.  Naomi’s losses are not the end of the story.  Little did Naomi know that God would use her trials so that she and Ruth could be part of HIS story.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

You see and know all things.  We, on the other hand, “see through a glass darkly.”  You are the author of our story.  Only you know the end.  Though we may walk in darkness now, you have promised that someday we will be in the light of your presence.  We believe you, because you are faithful and true. You have a reason and a purpose for everything, and you know that if we let you have your way in our lives, you will use the brief time we have here on this earth to make us part of YOUR story.  Dear Lord, we put ourselves at your service.

In the name of Jesus, servant of all,

Amen

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“Come With Me! I Mean…Go Back!”

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“With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.  But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mother’s homes.” (Ruth 1:7-8 NLT)

In Ruth 1:19-20, which we examined in last week’s devotional, Naomi declares herself to be bitter.  Naomi’s bitterniess comes from her grief, and this grief is leading to what we call depression in modern times.

In Chapter 1 of Ruth, we learn that Naomi has lost her husband and her sons.  Naturally, Naomi is grieving.  Then she hears that the famine is over in Canaan.  So she decides (vs. 7) to go back home together with her two daughters-in-law.  On the way there, she changes her mind.

She changes her mind?  Why?  I can imagine how disturbing this must have been for Ruth and Orpah.  Traveling requires preparation both mental and physical. Both women had come to terms with Naomi’s decision and they were willing to accompany Naomi to Canaan.  They had packed their bags, said their goodbyes, and prepared themselves for the unknown.  Now in the middle of nowhere, Naomi changes her mind?  How odd is that!

Well, maybe it is not as odd as it seems.  Depressed people suffer from an inability to make decisions.  They are lonely and in need of companionship, but they push people away.  Naomi knows she is not herself.  She realizes she is poor company for herself and others.  She is depressed and bitter.  Perhaps, she does not want to subject her daughters-in-law to the bitterness she feels.  Instead, she decides to get through it alone.

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever had a friend who suffered from depression?  All of us are mildly depressed from time to time, but it passes.  One of the indicators of depression in my own life is when I stop calling or writing to my mother.  I want to share my successes with her, but not my troubles. However, my mother knows me too well.  If I neglect to write or call, her mother’s heart knows her baby is hurting.  She will then call me and her first words are: “Is anything wrong?  I haven’t heard from you in a while.”  This of course opens the floodgates, and once I share my burdens, I feel lighter.

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Verse 14 tells us “…Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.”  What a blessing for Naomi to have Ruth!  When our depressed friends or family members try to push us away we have a choice.  We can leave or cling to them, remaining steadfast till they get through their depression.  When we are the ones suffering from depression, we may experience contradictory feelings. We may want to be left alone, and at the same time long to be supported.  In truth, we are never alone.  God is with us.   He was with Naomi. She just had not realized it yet.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

Sometimes we do not know whether we are coming or going.  You have the power to give us direction.  Forgive us for not turning to you for help, and thank you for placing friends and family members in our lives whom we can count on to remain faithful and steadfast through our times of trouble.  Thank you for your Son, Jesus, who bore our sins and made our burden easier to carry.  We commit to be faithful and steadfast when others in our lives need us to be strong for them, because we know our strength comes from you.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

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Sweet Woman on the Road from Bitter to Better

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“So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.  When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them.  “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1: 19-21 NIV)

I have always enjoyed reading the Book of Ruth.  In my younger days, this love story captivated my imagination.  Recently, I realized that my focus while reading this book has always been on Ruth.  Yesterday when I began to read it, I noticed Naomi as if for the first time.

Naomi was tested in her lifetime, as many of us have been.  She lived through a famine, a sojourn in Moab, an adjustment to a new culture, homesickness, and finally the death of her husband and sons.  As a beautiful, young, married woman, she had to leave Bethlehem for Moab because of the economy.  Can you relate?  It is evident that Naomi was well-known, a person of prominence and beloved by her community.  Her return caused quite a stir in Bethlehem.  Her arrival brought the housewives out to welcome their friend home.  On seeing Naomi the women say: “Can this be Naomi?”

The implication is that Naomi has changed.  At first, I thought they might be referring to the effects of time on Naomi. The change, however, has little to do with her age, and more to do with her attitude.  Naomi left Bethlehem as a loving wife, protected, and cherished by her husband, eager to escape the famine that threatened their livelihood.  She was the proud mother of not one, but two sons. Her name meant “pleasant”, which might very well have described her disposition.  Life was sweet, in spite of the famine.

In this passage, we see Naomi returning to Bethlehem.  Age has taken its toll on her.  The beautiful young woman, who left Bethlehem with her head held high and her eyes set on the future returns stoop-shouldered, discouraged, and nursing a broken heart.  “Can this be Naomi?”  Not only do the women ask this question, but Naomi must have asked herself this question many times.  Faced with the loss of her husband and sons, Naomi has lost her identity.  So she responds:  “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara.”  Mara means “bitter”, and admittedly, Naomi is bitter about her losses.

There are many things that can make a person bitter:  the death of a loved one, financial ruin, injustice, a wayward child, an unfaithful husband, or an illness. During those times it may seem that God has abandoned us.  We may fail to find meaning in the midst of adversity.  It is important, however, to deal with that bitterness, to dig it out before it takes root.

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In verses 20-21, Naomi takes the first step in going from bitter to better.  She admits to God and to the world that she has a problem.  Throughout the Bible we meet people who have serious issues with God’s plans.  Jonah was upset when God did not destroy Nineveh, David was distraught when Uzzah and Ahio were killed for mishandling the transport of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and Job cried out to God in his affliction.

The good news is that we have a God who is big enough to deal with our confusion, disappointment and even anger.  As long as we remain in a relationship with Him, he can and will heal our bitterness.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

We know that You are in control.  We know you have a plan.  But sometimes, Lord, bitterness worms its way into our lives, and blinds us to the many blessings we have already received.  Forgive us when we question your good purposes.  Today, we turn every difficult situation over to you, the losses, the offenses and the hurt, knowing that your healing hands can restore our joy.

In the name of Jesus,

Amen

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Am I Sufficient or is God Sufficient?

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying:

“God will never put more on you than you can handle.”

I’ve said it to other people and I’ve said it to myself.  But, what’s wrong with that statement?  When I’ve lost a loved one, does that mean that I can handle it, since God let it happen?  How many times have I seen or heard of other people going through really, really tough situations and saying to myself “I could never handle that, so God knows that and He won’t let it happen to me.”  What about those people….do you think they are stronger?  Are they closer to God?  They have the strength to handle it and I don’t?

Two Sunday’s ago, our pastor, Dr. Phil Wages, preached on this very subject “The Blessings of Grace Giving”.  You may wonder how this worked into his sermon, but trust me, it did.  Here are a few quotes from his sermon:

“Mine and your resources are limited, but God has limitless resources.”

“God will never run out of grace.”

Now for the main topic of this post:

“”God will never put more on you than you can handle.”  That statement, inside that statement, is that you are sufficient.  That God will only put on you what you are sufficient for – folks – you are not sufficient for anything! He will put more on you than you can handle.  Why?  To show that you can’t and He is, that Jesus is sufficient for everything.”

If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, just click HERE and you will be directed to our church website and the sermon podcasts.  Look for May 12, 2013 and listen to the entire sermon.  I’m sure you’ll learn what I did,  God is sufficient, not me – God’s grace is for us at all times!

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A Playground, A Patriarch, and God’s Promises

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Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimageAs they pass through the Valley of Baka (weeping), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Ps. 84:5-7 (NIV) 

Remember when playgrounds had metal monkey bars?  One of the most challenging feats for me was grasping the metal rings lined up one after another on my way from one end of the monkey bars to the other. At the outset the task seemed easy.  Effortlessly I made progress toward my goal.  About a third of the way, however, my muscles tensed up, and more effort was required to hold on while suspended in midair.  The force of gravity was pulling me down while I counted on the strength and permanence of each ring to support my weight.  As I reached for each ring along the route, I sometimes doubted that I would complete the entire journey, but faith and hope caused me to persevere.  So I summoned strength where I thought none remained and always celebrated when I touched the last one and jumped down to land on solid ground again.

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In Genesis 48:1-2, we find Jacob in bed and close to death.  Previously, Jacob describes his life as a difficult pilgrimage (Gen. 47:9).  If we examine his history, we have to agree. In his mother’s womb, Jacob struggled with his brother Esau (Gen. 25:22). As a youth, he deceived his father, Isaac, in order to receive the blessing meant for his brother (Gen. 27:24).  Fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he remains with Laban for 20 years, after which he returns home with Laban in hot pursuit (Gen. 31:38). It is on the way home that Jacob has an encounter with God.  He struggles all night with God, and is injured in body, but blessed and strengthened in spirit and given a new name, Israel (Gen. 32:22-30).

Not only does Jacob struggle with God, Esau and Laban, but his married life is marked by conflict.  Jacob is married to Leah and Rachel, two women who vie for his love, because Rachel is loved and Leah is not (Gen. 29:33).  As a consequence, Leah’s sons hate Joseph, Rachel’s son and Jacob’s favorite.  Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and for years Jacob mourns, thinking he is dead (Gen. 44:28).

Finally reunited with Joseph, as the result of a famine, Jacob is ready to meet his maker (Gen. 46:30). After 17 years of living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection, the time comes when Jacob is ill and Joseph, being told of his illness, comes to him (Gen. 48:1). I almost cried when I read the words that describe how Jacob received Joseph’s visit.  It says: “When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.” (Gen. 48:2 NIV).

Jacob was still reaching for the next ring.  Before he died, he would bless Joseph and his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:14-16).  He would bless his others sons (Gen. 49), and secured a promise that he was to be taken back home to be buried with his forefathers in the cave of the field of Machpelah in the land of Canaan (Gen. 47:30). Israel had passed through the Valley of Weeping, he had been blessed, wounded, and redeemed, always struggling to reach the end of his journey.  He did it by going from “strength to strength”, strength through faith in the LORD’S promises.

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Dearest Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us your Word.  Thank you for not hiding Jacob’s imperfections from us.  Help us to finish well this pilgrimage of faith.  Help us to persevere and to reach for your strength when ours is spent.  Keep us looking toward the goal you have set before us.  Please know that we are looking forward to the time when we can let go and be received into your loving arms like a child jumping off the monkey bars happy and eager to finally stand with you on solid ground.

Amen

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Free E-Books – May 5, 2013

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Here’s 3 great freebies today.  I don’t know how long they will be free, so get them quick.

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Don’t Forget, But Do Forgive

FRIDAY GLEANINGS BY CARMEN

“Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” (Genesis 41:51 NLT)

IMG_0309Recently our book club discussed Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock.  In this book, the main character is trying to salvage a relationship with an abusive father and says: “Good memories are like flowers and bad memories are like weeds.”  If this is true, then it is not hard to understand why Joseph gave his firstborn son a name that means “to forget.”  Joseph was weeding his garden.  After being sold by his brothers and sold into slavery He was casting out the weeds of betrayal, hurt and disappointment in his past and holding on to his new life, which was unfolding like a well-watered flower in Pharaoh’s court.

What he didn’t realize, however, is that divorce is never final.  Whether we divorce a spouse, a parent or an entire family, relational ties are hard to sever. No matter how diligently we work to eradicate our bad experiences and memories, they tend to return and mingle with the newly planted seedlings of our current circumstances.

In a garden, some weeds can spoil a fruitful harvest, but others hold top-soil together, pull up water, provide food, and help control insects.  In life, God gives us flowers as well as weeds; roses as well as thorns.  He does so to help grow our character, our faith, our hope, and our resolve.  Joseph suffered through the rejection and cruelty of his brothers, the humiliation of slavery, and the isolation of prison, but God was with him. That God did not forget Joseph and that Joseph did not forget the God of the family he was trying to forget, accounts for his success in a foreign culture.

Eventually, Joseph has to face his past. When his brothers come to Egypt in search of grain during a famine, Joseph is forced to control his natural inclination to seek retribution and chooses instead, to follow his supernatural inclination toward mercy and forgiveness. (Genesis 42:3 NIV) In order for mercy to triumph, however, Joseph has to be willing to own his past as well as his present.  He must get to know these brothers that are like strangers to him. (Genesis 42-44 NIV) Will they prove to be more than bad memories and haunting nightmares?

To be part of this family again, he must put his brothers to a test, a test of their love for father Jacob, half-brother Benjamin, and their brother Simeon.  By detaining them in Egypt without revealing his identity, Joseph is able to witness their fear, turmoil, guilt and remorse over their past sin against him.  He sees their reluctance to bring more grief to Jacob, who is still inconsolable after Joseph’s supposed death.  Ultimately, his threat to put Benjamin to death elicits Judah’s impassioned defense of his brother and his offer to die in his stead. Joseph, who has resolved to forget his family, is faced with a life-changing choice: to love only his new family or to forgive and accept his place in the family of his forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Genesis 45 NIV)

Our all-knowing God, of course, knew the outcome.  God used the challenges in Joseph’s life to train him to be the man He would use to save Egypt from famine, and the Nation, Israel, from extinction.  God had a plan and a promise to keep and Joseph was a key player in the fulfillment of that promise.

Dearest Heavenly Father,

You were with Joseph and you are with each of us today.  Teach us to be content in every circumstance and to thank you for the flowers, the weeds and the thorns in our lives.  Heal our relationships through love and forgiveness and use our past, present and future for your greater glory.

Amen

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