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Bucket Of Joy

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7

Have you ever ridden on a carousel where the operator, at some point, drops down a metal arm toward the riders and a brass ring drops toward its end?  The riders on the outside stretch and strive to grasp that brass ring.  The prize?  A free ride to the one person who can attain that ring.  I think that’s how I was looking at joy for many years.  Not only from a grasping and striving point of view but from a scarcity mindset.  There’s only one ring and lots of riders.  You have to be on one of the outside animals to even have a chance.  And once the ring is taken by a rider, your chance is gone.  I searched in earnest many years for joy.  How to attain it and how to hold on to it.  And what I discovered is that joy, freely given in abundance by God, is right in front of me for the taking.  

Praise God that His joy, unlike the joy the world offers, comes freely and is never ending.  It is available to all.  In the carousel world, as we spin around and around, we can choose the outer seat or even one of the animals constantly moving up and down, never finding rest.  But how about instead we pick one of the colorful, stable sleds?  And sitting there on the bench as we take our seat is a replenishing bucket full of shiny joy rings.  Not just one free ride but endless opportunities for laughter and cooling breezes hitting our face as we go round and round.

God’s joy is available to everyone, not just the chosen few.  It’s there for the taking when we sit nestled in the promises and gifts of His Holy Word.  We pick up a ring from the bucket each time and hand it to the operator saying, “let’s ride!”  All the while we watch the outer edge riders stretching for the measly gifts of the world.

The thing about riding a carousel is we carefully pick which animal or sleigh to ride when we jump up to the main stage.  We are drawn to the exciting and the colorful, to the chance to grasp the ring.  Isn’t that like the world?  The bells and whistles of the flesh pull us to stretch for even more?  To search for a bigger and better brass ring?  But God says, “Come and rest and I will fill your bucket overflowing with joy.”  All we need to do is choose Him.


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Solidarity

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 
Hebrews 12:14

I was having lunch the other day with a friend and she shared with me a disturbing trend in her two Bible study groups.  She said to me, “I’ve had it.  I’m exhausted.  I don’t want to hear either side anymore.”  You see, the Christians in her group forgot who was in charge of their lives and the great gift of peace bestowed on believers.  They started arguing about politics.  In fact, one of her groups completely dissolved because of this.

When we think about the status of our faith, we usually concern ourselves inwardly.  But throughout the New Testament we are charged with guiding our fellow believers closer to God’s truths and blessings.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15

So often that “bitter root” that gets fomented in our churches, faith groups, Bible studies, etc causes people to disconnect from their faith journey.  And if we have joined in creating that situation, we must count ourselves at least partially responsible for the results.

It is easy to throw stones at others, but glass houses should whisper caution.

Charles Spurgeon on A Political Dissenter

That’s not to say we aren’t to discuss the worldly goings on and the effects they have on our lives.  But our primary focus should be always on God and being peacemakers.

When the Covid pandemic hit and a Bible study I was in was still meeting we were discussing our fears and such.  The group leader proclaimed, “I believe God is sending us this pandemic as punishment for what we have done to the environment.”  I’m sure that just caused everyone reading this to divide into camps.  Now, I love the environment but I’m not an “environmental activist.”  And that statement didn’t sit well with me.  But instead of going on the attack I kept my mouth shut for once realizing that nothing I might say would change her mind or be helpful.

We seem to have evolved into a society where our opinions absolutely must be heard and must be accepted or else we are prepared to judge our “adversary” in all manner of ways.  And when this happens within a Christian group, I can tell you one thing for sure, Satan is quite happy.

This quote by AW Tozer is a bit long but he handles this issue very well:

One thing must be kept in mind: We Christians are Christians first and everything else after that. Our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are grateful for political freedom. We thank God for democracy as a way of life. But we never forget that we are sons of God and citizens of another city whose builder and maker is God. For this reason, we must not identify the gospel with any political system or make Christianity to be synonymous with any form of government, however noble. Christ stands alone, above and outside of every ideology devised by man. He does not join any of our parties or take sides with any of our great men except as they may come over on His side and try to follow Him in righteousness and true holiness. Then He is for them, but only as individuals, never as leaders of some political faction. The true Christian will be loyal to his country and obedient to those in authority, but he will never fall into the error of confusing his own national culture with Christianity. Christianity is bigger than any country, loftier than any civilization, broader than any human ideology.  

A.W. Tozer

I’ll be honest, I’ve really struggled with this issue for the last few years.  I want to live in God’s peace but I also am a lover of freedom and America.  For the last few months each time I work myself up to being outraged over some issue I’ve turned to God.  I remind myself that He is ultimately in charge.  I remind myself that my job, as a Christian, is to share His Word and live faithfully by it.  That means showing grace and compassion.  It also means “allowing” God to handle everything until He tells me He needs me to do my part.

When we truly desire to be peacemakers and have Christian solidarity as a goal, we change our conversations and words.  Instead of sending around an inflammatory news article or Facebook post to our Bible study group and letting it drop like a bomb, we should share with them the struggle we have with the issue and where we see God in it.  

The apostle Paul dealt with strife amongst some of the churches.  Because let’s face it, our churches are just made up of people.  People with varying points of view and opinions.

I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  
1 Corinthians 10:2-6

We should not be “waging war” like the world does.  Our fight should not be with each other – working to destroy one another’s faith.  We need to turn our focus back on to God and help our brethren to do the same.  

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The Big Picture

Lesson #2: Commit to the big picture of Christ through the details of His love

So when I come, I will call 
attention to what he (Diotrephes) 
is doing, spreading malicious 
nonsense about us.
3 John 10

My current Bible study, Everyday Theology, has been a great strengthening and clarification of my Christian beliefs.  Starting with what scripture is intended for and delving into the trinity and our role as believers in this big world, the lessons have given my BSGs (Bible study girls) a number of  “ah ha” moments.  We currently are on the section about “church.”  What it is, who is the head of it and what our responsibilities as part of the body entail.  The first question asked was for us to define what we call “church.”  

When I hear media-types chastise the “church” or “Christians” for not condemning some action or stance it makes me wonder what church spokesperson they think will step up to a microphone.  Of course, for Catholics that would be the Pope or a regional bishop.  But in the non-Catholic world we are so dispersed, with varying types of faith, traditions, even morals and values.

In John’s letter to the church elder, Gaius, he juxtaposes the elder’s immense love for his brothers and sisters in Christ with another church leader, Diotrephes.  These brothers and sisters are strangers to Gaius but he welcomes them readily into his home.  These travelers are doing the good work of Jesus – spreading the salvation message.  And then there’s Diotrephes.  John describes this leader as one “who loves to be first.”  He doesn’t welcome strangers but even worse, he refused to welcome John.

Imagine that, a church elder who wouldn’t welcome Jesus’ apostle!  You’d have to think about the reasoning behind this.  This elder even kicks out other believers who welcome new people.  And why? Because, as what Warren Wiersbe calls a “church dictator,” he lost his focus on Jesus’ Big Picture of love and instead became focused on the details of man-made doctrine.

“All true Christians can agree on the fundamental doctrines of the faith and, in love, give latitude for disagreement on other matters.”

Warren Wiersbe

I’ve read there are about 34,000 different Christian denominations in the world.  The Wikipedia page on Christian denominations (Catholic and non) is an almost endless list.  Sub groups within sub groups.  People who have followed a pastor’s or priest’s particular issue with “the way things are done” and split off from their home church.  And as active members of church we have all seen the after effects of a change in leadership – numbers dwindle and people divide.  Some churches survive and even thrive while others fade away.

But avoid foolish controversies 
and genealogies and arguments and 
quarrels about the Law, because 
these are unprofitable and useless.
Titus 3:9

The Greek word zelos means something very fervent as with Spirit-fueled zeal to serve the Lord. Zelos is used both negatively (“jealousy”) and positively (“zeal”) in the Bible.  

For where you have envy and 
selfish ambition (zelos), there 
you find disorder and every 
evil practice.
James 3:16

Because when we put our ideas about “the way thing should be done” above the big picture of Jesus and His commandment to love one another as He loved us, we will fail every time.  And what is showing that love? To live in obedience to His will.  

As I’ve worked through studying the Bible, I keep coming back to my knowledge of how churches work and how they don’t.  I’m mystified by the lack actual Biblical based decision making.  And how so many people forget the message of 1 Corinthians 13 — the people in our church or faith family are all gifted by God but the use of those gifts must be in love.

If I speak in the tongues of men 
or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a 
clanging cymbal.
1 Cor 13:1 

I once sat on a church marketing committee that included a wide variety of talented people — many of whom had been members of the church for eons. The pastor welcomed us and gave us our charge. I asked a few questions seeking clarification. Within seconds of him leaving, so we could move on with more planning, an older woman who sat across from me immediately pointed a finger at me and said, “Who do you think you are? And what makes you think you know anything about what needs to be done?” Fortunately I was comfortable enough about my background (I have worked in public relations and marketing) that I almost laughed. You see, because I wasn’t part of her “known” circle I was a nobody to “her church.”

We are so often led by the flesh – what sounds good, what feels good.  That’s how someone like Diotrephes was allowed to be a dictator at his church.  He said enough of the right things to convince enough people to support him.  Had they backed up in their thinking and measured his actions against Jesus, the Truth would’ve been revealed.

Notice this Life Lesson isn’t just about the Big Picture.  It says, “through the details of His love.”  As Christians we must be students of the Word.  If not, we are easily led by apostates and dictators and anyone else in our church who appears to be in charge.  Jesus didn’t come to erase the Law.  He reminds us of the simplicity of the Mosaic Law, without all the human-made rules and regulations placed on it.  He constantly chastised the Pharisees for behavior that we find today throughout our Christian churches.

Woe to you experts in the law, 
because you have taken away the 
key to knowledge. You yourselves 
have not entered, and you have 
hindered those who were entering.
Luke 52:1

Remember that question in my study about theology?  What is the church?  It’s you and it’s me.  It’s not just a pastor or priest or committee of leaders or even the clique of volunteers.  We need to take ownership of our membership in the church body.  When we see one of our body leading people astray we are to remind them of Jesus’ Big Picture.  And we are to be knowledgeable enough about His Word to help set the church body back on track.  A dictator or false teacher is only successful with willing followers!

Read the verse again in 3 John 10: “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us.”

Notice John will confront Diotrephes face to face.  He feels the responsibility of keeping the ship on the right course.  He steps in out of love of the Truth.  He doesn’t say, “I’m coming to fire him” or “I’m getting everyone together to run him out of town.”  John also doesn’t tell Gaius to just go start his own church.  It’s an intervention of sorts.  That sounds a lot like Jesus.

Imagine a Christian world where the more than 3 billion of us were one body.  Where our focus was on obeying Jesus’ teachings and His Big Picture of Love.  Imagine the impact we would have on this broken world.  Imagine if we could just get our own heart and our own local church soundly on that Big Picture path.  

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Mighty Growth

A few weeks ago, I told my husband the following: “I can’t wait to get back to the way things were before the pandemic.”  And then I stopped.  I realized that wasn’t really true.  My good friend and I were having lunch this week and I shared this moment with her.  I went on to explain that yes, there’s a lot I’m hoping will “get back to normal” in the coming weeks but God uses every single moment in our lives for His purpose – good and bad.  He uses non-believers and believers.  I heard a pastor the other day explain that we shouldn’t be asking “why” to God when faced with difficulty but rather, “what can I learn about God or what does God want me to learn about myself?”

My BSGs (Bible Study Girls) were asked recently to draw a sanctification growth chart.  Sanctification meaning our faith journey toward being more like Jesus.  I drew some small spikes, a few flat lines, and then two large spikes.  From the day I clearly recall my daughter (about 2 years old at the time) spurring me to answer her questions about God and angels to today I can thankfully say my growth chart has well, grown.  The two large spikes include a large test Jesus put me through when He asked me, through a vision, to drop much of what I thought was important in life and instead feed the homeless for a year.  The second spike?  It started in February 2020 – the start of the COVID pandemic.  

My church shuttered their doors.  My old Bible study group went on-line.  And then all other communication with my church ceased.  Yes, they offered a weekly video but that is not fellowship.  A cold, impersonal video just isn’t “church.”  It’s not a communion of the saints.  

My new BSGs, however, stayed in constant contact.  Some of us came together in person with walks and distanced lunches.  And together we made a commitment to not let each other go and to help each member delve deeper into His Word.  We have been open about our sins and our dreams.  Our hopes and our failures.

But more than just this group, I have fallen often on my knees in prayer.  Sometimes crying out in fear and sometimes in sadness.  Other times in thankful hallelujah.  Had I been left to attending Sunday church for one hour a week I’m not sure I would’ve made the same progress.  But I can tell you this, of all the things I’m most grateful for over the past year is what I now understand to be the most important – God’s never ending love for me.  

His Word has been revealed to me in so many amazing ways.  I’ve discovered the majesty of the Lord and His faithful promises.  I’ve learned about the perils of disobedience and the joys of freedom that obedience brings.   Through His Word I’ve learned how to hold the line of faith and to recognize when the devil is trying to loosen my grip.


While reading Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on the book of Jude I came across this powerful yet simple message to Christians everywhere:

Every Church = Bible Institute

Every Christian = Bible student

Every Pulpit = Teach the positive words of Biblical truth AND denounce error

Are you a student of the Bible?  We are well-versed in so many other unnecessary aspects of life: the details of every episode of Downton Abbey (or pick your favorite show), the stats of our favorite baseball (golf, basketball, etc) player, the ins and outs of Joanna Gaines’ life.  You get the picture.  But can we say the same about every single book in the Bible?

My same friend I mentioned earlier asked me what I thought about the books that weren’t included in the Bible.  I told her, “To be honest, if I could just become extremely knowledgeable about the ones in it, I think I’d be doing pretty good.”


And that’s I why I chose for my next series, Tiny But Mighty: 15 life lessons from the Bible’s smallest books.  If you have never read these five books you could tackle them in about an hour (or less).  But I’ll be honest, my first read through these left me thinking, “There’s a lot more than 15 lessons here.”  

During the next 5 weeks we will discover more about how to confront a difficult situation, why love is obedience, how to really make social change, the effects of disloyalty, our role as God’s soldier and much more.

So, jump on board, join me in this sanctification journey!  We may be just one Christian on this path to glory but God is sure to use us and the more we know about His will, the more He can do with us.  We may be tiny but we sure can be mighty.

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The Sword of the Spirit

For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord Almighty is his name.
16 I have put my words in your mouth
    and covered you with the shadow of my hand—
I who set the heavens in place,
    who laid the foundations of the earth,
    and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

Isaiah 51:15-16


When we picture warcraft during the United States Revolution we typically envision lines of soldiers from each side marching toward each other.  Here’s a description by the American Battlefield Trust:

“Under normal circumstances, 18th century combat entailed that two armies march toward one another, shoulder to shoulder, and usually in ranks of about three men deep. When the opposing sides were within range, orders were given to halt, present arms, to fire, and then to reload.

After several volleys, one side gained the upper hand, and they would begin to close the distance with the enemy, bayonets lowered. This typically culminated in a full out charge at close quarters; sabers, bayonets, and rifle butts were used to sweep the enemy from the field and claim victory.”

And how did one side get the “upper hand?”  The lines would break down either by death, injury or desertion.  The battle would be won or lost based on who could hold their line the longest.

We Christians have been in a similar battle since the time of Christ.  We link arms in communion and espouse the greatness of God to unbelievers.  We are tasked, by God, to go out into our communities and battle against evil through our works, our testimony, and our telling of the Good News of the gospel.  

However, from my, albeit, limited experience so many of us have chosen to desert our place on the battlefield.  I live in a very liberal state within the United States.  Church and Christians are not valued members of many communities.  In fact, we are frequently described as racist, hateful, bigots because of our adherence to the teachings in the Bible.  And that, I believe causes us to shirk our duties as soldiers for God.  

I know too many people who feel uncomfortable sharing the Word of God.  Some are afraid to even mention their faith in the course of conversations at work.  And yet, it is this responsibility that Jesus gives us.  We are not called to be closet Christians, afraid of what to say, how to say it and when to say it.  God himself promises to put the right words in our mouth at the right time.  We just need to be willing to do the one thing that we are called to do – obey Him.

My BSGs did a study on The Armor of God (Ephesians 6).  What stood out to me is the preparation we are admonished to complete before taking up the final Word of God.

Therefore, put on the full armor 
of God, so that when the day of 
evil comes, you may be able to 
stand your ground, and after you 
have done everything, to stand. 
Stand firm then, with the belt of 
truth buckled around your waist, 
with the breastplate of righteousness 
in place, and with your feet 
fitted with the readiness that 
comes from the gospel of peace. 
In addition to all this, take up 
the shield of faith, with which you 
can extinguish all the flaming arrows 
of the evil one. Take the helmet 
of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, 
which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:13-17

Once we have studied and learned the character and promises of God we need to pray to have Him send us out into the world and speak His words.  Each morning when we rise, we should ask God to place someone in front of us that day to whom He needs to say something.  And be watchful and ready for that moment.  He will give you the words to speak.

Do not merely listen to the word, 
and so deceive yourselves. 
Do what it says.
James 1:22

A few years ago, I held on to that promise of God’s words when my daughter and I were in a great battle.  We were pushing and pulling constantly.  She was off at college and her faith was growing by leaps and bounds thanks to the organization Athletes in Action.  But each time we would talk it would end in a fight or tears.  I finally prayed to God to give me His words to bring this battle to an end.

The mother-daughter battle is a timeless one.

One day as we talked, the Holy Spirit gave me these words to say, “I’m so glad your faith is growing.  I can see that you have learned how to give a lot of grace and forgiveness to your friends and teammates.  I know that I fail you frequently in trying to not hold on too tight to you.  What I’m asking for is some of that same grace and forgiveness.”

God’s words, spoken through me, began our path toward reconciliation.  I just needed to stop trying to speak my thoughts and my desires and instead let God do the heavy lifting.

God needs us to fill our spot on the battlefield line.  He can give us all the tools we need – including the right words to say.  We just need to show up and hold the line.


Join me starting January 11 for my next series! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help create a vision of you! The words we speak and think and pray have a great impact on our life. We will embark on a journey of praying changes into our lives. New Year’s resolutions have nothing on what God can accomplish when we ask for miracles to transform us!

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Amazingly Grateful

Throughout this year the message I keep getting from every Christian source is to grow in my faith I need to learn about God’s character.  And to know God’s character we need to go to the one true source – His Holy Word.  The Bible is the most amazing reference book.  It changes every time you read it.  I’ve looked at the same passages at various times this year and discovered something new each time.  Even the simple verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) carries so much information.  It’s about trust, it’s about slowing down, it’s about getting quiet.  It’s also about placing God above all and realizing He is God and we are not.  

When viewed not only in context but also within the historical perspective the meanings grow even more.  Today in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving – a now much maligned holiday.  To some it’s been twisted to represent the killing of native Americans.  To others it’s about the first Europeans working with the natives to survive.  While others simply celebrate the opportunity to be with family.  Here’s a bit of this day’s true history:

“Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Native American who greeted them in English. 

Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days.”  — History Channel

You see, we can make up what we think the first Thanksgiving is about but when we truly are interested in finding out the facts and the historical perspective it takes on so much more meaning.  Taking a national day to “Give Thanks” didn’t become official for many years later and it was more about just that – giving thanks for the blessings God has bestowed us.

I asked my friends and family to share verses from God’s Word that have special meanings for them on this day of Thanksgiving.  To show appreciation and to give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed on us these thousands of years – written in His Holy Bible.  Take a moment to look each one up and see if you find something new that speaks to you! And feel free to add your own in the comments.


“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 

I have had this written on my cupboard door since the beginning of my cancer trial this year.  To me says it all and I was cured!! Thanks be to God – Beverly

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

When the trials come, I know I can endure them because Jesus has already overcome the world. – Brennen

“Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

It’s very intimate to me. – Janet

“To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.” Isaiah 54:9

Gods covenant of love and peace with us! – Madison

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

This is one of my favorite scriptures but a little ironic in a funny way because it’s said during Catholic mass, followed by the priest’s instruction to “show one another a sign of peace,” or in other words, say hi to the person sitting next to you. This always caused me anxiety at church because I’m kind of an introvert, but once I just let the words flow over me, especially in times of stress in daily life, I can sink into the peace of God’s love which is His gift to every single one us. – Laurel

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged, For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

When I recite this, I am reminded that I am not alone and I can feel strength from God coming back into me! – Betsy

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Prov. 3:5-6

This is comforting to me. During my immature Christian days, I thought God expected me to solve my own problems. Thankfully, he does not expect me to do this alone! God designed me to depend on Him and wants me to pray to Him because he knows what is best and will gladly answer my prayers and guide my decisions. I trust God more than anyone else when I need direction and answers. He knows me way better than I know myself . . . . what a relief and comfort! – Anita

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

It’s a promise of hope and joy and peace not only to just survive but to thrive.  God wants us to thrive and enjoy life. – Todd

“My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27

Because Jesus knows me! Little ol’ me. He knows me by name and I am special to him. — Andrea