Brain in Training

There are many areas in which we receive training. Jobs, leadership, sales, skills, weight or strength training in sports, and many more. Training methods include simulators, on-the-job, and instructor-led.

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While studying elementary education, my training experience included assignments as a student teacher. In both situations, I found myself becoming a ‘Mini-Me’ of the mentor teacher. I found myself mimicking their mannerisms, teaching style, and how they interacted with students. I learned by spending time observing them and then practicing what I’d seen them do.

In the same way, we learn from and are transformed as we spend time with Jesus. In order for our brain to be trained or retrained, we must spend time in His Word. Daily Bible reading, especially in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John will cause us to observe how Jesus interacted with people and to learn the key lessons and values He taught.

Jesus is quoted in Luke 6:40 as saying, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Training or changing our thought patterns and behaviors is no easy task. It will require more than a two-to-six-week time investment. In fact, it will be a lifelong commitment.

The apostle Paul wrote, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Now, that takes real brain training!

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The Battle is the Lord’s

There seem to be many worship songs recently that mention that our battles belong to the Lord, but the message really rang out when I came across a story in 2 Chronicles 20. Hang on to your helmets as I summarize this whopper!

It begins with the news of a vast army coming against God’s people. The good king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, responds by inquiring of the Lord and proclaiming a fast. The people come together to seek God’s help.

The king’s prayer sounds similar to what we might say when facing an overwhelming problem. “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

The Spirit of the LORD answered through another man. “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (verse 15b). He continued with directions for Judah to take up positions the following day, stand firm, and see the LORD’s deliverance.

The king was so confident in the Lord that he appointed singers to lead the army out. And check this out! “As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men . . . who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (verse 22). What the men of Judah found was that the nations who had gathered against them had annihilated each other.

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The inspiring finale is that the fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how God had fought the battle for His people.

Remember, our God is all-powerful, trustworthy, and faithful. May we pray, take our next step of faith, and then watch and testify of His goodness.

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Take Words with You

As an author of devotions and children’s picture books, words are important to me. So, as I was reading in the minor prophets recently, this verse captured my attention and curiosity. “Take words with you and return to the LORD” (Hosea 14:2a).

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A major theme for most all prophets was to call Israel or Judah back to the Lord, to encourage them to repent of disobedience and rebellion, and return to a relationship with Him.

Hosea continues by giving specific words returning rebels could speak to the Lord. “Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips’” (Hosea 14:2b).

This is a profound and simple teaching for us all. When we find ourselves being disobedient or convicted of sin in our life, we can go to God, repent, and ask His forgiveness. It is comforting to know that He receives believers with salvation, blessings, and favor. It is then natural to bring Him an offering of praise and thankfulness, a bouquet of beautifully chosen words.

The author of Hebrews says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

May we bring our words to the One who created all things through His.

He wants to hear from us.

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Word for the Year

This is a first for me, a word for the year, something to contemplate and focus on. I asked the Lord about it and this is what came to me . . . with.

With? My first thought was the name given to Jesus. Matthew 1:23 refers to the prophecy from Isaiah. “’The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” God came to earth to be with us.

As an additional picture in your mind, note how ‘with’ is depicted in sign language. Hands together, side-by-side.

After Jesus’s death and resurrection, He promised that His Holy Spirit would come to live in believers, thus God with us.

My problem is I forget God is with me. I act like He is nowhere around. This year I want to keep in mind that God is really with me, literally!

That means there is nothing I have to face on my own. David wrote this word of encouragement, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). God will be with me every moment of this year.

The other half of the equation is that I choose to be with Him. I want to walk with the Lord daily, like Adam did at first in the garden, doing life together with Him. I don’t want to hide from Him or run from Him.

In the gospels, Jesus called His disciples to follow Him. That means I allow Him to lead and He helps me stay on the right path. Even when I rebel and go off track, I can be assured that God is still with me . . .

Which brings us back to where we started . . . God is with us!

Be blessed as you go with God!

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New Year, New Life

Around the world this year, babies will be born and begin a brand new life on earth.

For those of us who’ve been around a while, there have been many times we’ve wanted to start anew as well.

Paul wrote to believers, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

New life is something God offers all people. A chance to start over with a clean slate means complete forgiveness.

Peter wrote to believers, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Our new life should look different from our old way of life. Paul taught to put off the old self and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10).

Being made new is a life-long process. Praise God, we can always come before Him, confess our sins, receive forgiveness, and begin anew. Jeremiah writes, “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

It’s a new year! If you’ve never chosen to follow Jesus, there is no better time. Believe that He is God’s Son who died for the sins of all people. Accept Him. Live for Him. He will live in you and His Holy Spirit will guide you through the new year and in your new life.

Happy New Year!

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The Blessing of Rest

Ah, today is the Wednesday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. If you are not traveling on vacation, it is probably a day where things are slowing down a bit, perhaps a time to pause and rest, maybe even sleep in or take a nap. I hope you have some quiet time alone, take time to ponder, and allow God to guide your plans and goals for the new year. Relax and rest in Him. Sit in His Presence, open His Word, and allow it to speak to your heart.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

We can be encouraged in that we do not have to do life alone. God is with believers. His name Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’ In Him, we find strength and help with burdens as well as rest.

David wrote, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1). He turned to God with His troubles in search for rest and found it.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

True rest is a blessing from the Lord. On the night of Jesus’s birth, the angels praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

May God’s favor rest on you as you seek rest in Him!

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The Word

Words ~ What words specifically remind you of Christmas? As I began brainstorming, I came up with mistletoe, reindeer, wreath, Santa, pine trees, presents, snow, and carols, which reminded me of who we are singing about, Jesus. I added to my list:  star, angels, manger, nativity, Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, and Son of God.

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The disciple John explained that Jesus was the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

In the introduction to the book of John, The Message Bible explains, “God’s word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. Jesus speaks the word and it happens: forgiveness and judgment, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Everything broken and fallen, sinful and diseased, called into salvation by God’s spoken word.”

The Word created our world, entered into our world, and became human. He spoke words of salvation and eternal life. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Bread alone cannot sustain life. God sustains life as we trust Him and live in obedience to His will.

May we have a word with this Savior, enter into a relationship with Him, and bring Him our words of adoration, thanksgiving, and worship.

May your Christmas be blessed!

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God Came to Earth

In the fall, I was finishing up some edits for my publisher for a children’s book. My purpose for writing this picture book was to get kiddos excited about reading God’s Word. It reads like a fast-paced highlight reel of the Bible, presenting miracles, amazing characters, and spectacular events, so of course, I included Jesus coming to earth.

According to the publisher’s theological review team, that’s what needed fixed. I learned that technically, it is not accurate to say, “Jesus came to earth.” Jesus, as a human, did not come to earth because He did not have a human nature before He came to earth. But it is correct to say, “God came to earth” or “God’s Son came to earth.” I appreciated the clarification.

Think about it this Christmas season: God, the Creator of all, came to earth and took on the form of a human. The apostle Paul describes it this way. “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human.” (Philippians 2:6-7 The Message).

What an amazing gift to the world. God became man so that mankind could have the opportunity to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe!

Note: My rhyming picture book, The Greatest Book Ever! (A Little Book about the Greatest Book), is scheduled for release September 2023 from B&H Publishing (Lifeway Christian Resources).

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Peace in the Seasons

With the calendar reading December, you might expect something relating to winter or the season of Christmas. Instead, let’s look at how to maneuver through difficult seasons in life that may include seasons of new beginnings, seasons of waiting, seasons of dark valleys, and seasons of pain.

The question is, will we be on an emotional rollercoaster as we ride through seasons like these or can we maintain a heart and mind filled with peace?

The apostle Paul wrote a lot about peace. It seems that peace is grounded on two foundational pillars, trust and thanksgiving. Romans 15:13 teaches that joy and peace come through trusting in God. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Trust for our present and future is strengthened when we remember the ways God has proven His trustworthiness in the past. We can see how God has demonstrated His trustworthiness throughout Scripture and to believers in the church today. God has met our needs before and we can trust Him with our present and future.

Thanksgiving is the second pillar that produces peace. Paul encouraged the fearful church with this. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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). Replace those pleas of panic with prayers of thankfulness for what God has already done and will do.

When fear, anxiety, and depression loom to steal our peace, knock them out with a one-two punch of trust and thankfulness. And, let God’s peace guard your heart and mind.

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Feeling Annoyed?

Some days, does it feel like everything and everyone around you is annoying? Noises rapping at your brain, a loud TV, ringing and pinging phones, bothersome emails, or background conversations?

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Today’s that day for me, so I opened my concordance (at the back of my Bible) to look up the word “annoy”. Well close, I found “annoyance”. Here’s a word of wisdom I found in Proverbs 12:16. “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult” (NIV). The Message Bible words it this way, “Fools have short fuses and explode all too quickly; the prudent quietly shrug off insults.”

Okay, so I guess I’ll do a lot of shrugging off and overlooking today. I think I’ll imagine an umbrella over me for protection. I will choose to not let those annoyances agitate, bother, disturb, exasperate, gall, irk, peeve, or perturb me. (LOL! The ever-handy Thesaurus.com.) Just let ‘em roll off! I’m moving on to the task at hand and ignoring . . . whatever-it-is.

I guess it comes back to focus, which reminds me of Colossians 3:2. “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” “Things above” does not include annoyances. “Things above” makes me think of God’s peace, His patience with me, His overlooking and forgiving the annoying things I do. Ah, refocusing is good!

Philippians 4:8 has a beautiful summary. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

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