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God’s Image

One day, there was a religious leader who wanted to trap Jesus. He asked Him which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus knew what was in his heart and replied that we must love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. What the leader wasn’t prepared for was what Jesus said next. He said, “A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself” (NLT). He knew if we could do these two things, we could fulfill the law.

The first one seems easy enough. We are to love a perfect God with everything in us. The second one, that’s equally important, is the tough one because people are imperfect. People do things that make us mad, offend us, hurt us and drive us nuts. Yet Jesus is telling us to love them with everything in us as much as we love God. Why would He put that pressure on us? Why can’t we just love God and go to Heaven?

I believe God wanted us to learn to look past each other’s faults to see what He sees in them. Genesis 1:27 tells us what to look for. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Each of us are made in God’s image, even the people you can’t stand. God put His likeness in each one of us and it’s up to us to learn to see it the way He does.

If you look for the best in others, they will look for the best in you. If you can see God’s image in them, you can learn to love them because we can easily love God. It’s tough sometimes to dig through their layers to find it deep inside them, but His image is in there. When we learn to see Him in others, and to help them see His image in themselves, we begin to see the world through different lenses. We begin to know as we are known and also to fulfill that second, but equally important commandment. Look deeper into to others today to find God’s image and fulfill the law of Christ.

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Your Potential Growth

To me, one of the coolest miracles is the miracle of a seed. I have packets of them sitting around. Some are for flowers, some are for vegetables and some are for trees. They can sit inside their packet for years and nothing will happen. However, when I plant them at the right time of year, the miracle begins. In the dark, wet earth, something in the seed wakes up and it begins to come apart as a small shoot makes its way out of it. That shoot pushes back the ground all around it and somehow knows to go upward in search for light. It continues growing in the proper conditions until it replicates in some form the plant or tree that produced it. Then, it produces its own seeds so that another generation can grow.

When I look at an acorn next to an oak, I can’t help but look up and ask God, “How do you fit an entire tree in this little nut?” When I think about it, He does the same thing with us. Each of us have an incredible potential inside of us waiting for the right conditions in order to grow and develop into something incredible. We all have hidden potential that is waiting to be discovered, but it needs the right conditions in order to start growing. Those conditions are usually dark times in our lives where we’re in over our heads and aren’t quite sure which way is up. The world around us seems to be pressing in on ever side, yet out of that, God births things in us that we didn’t know were there.

2 Peter 1:3 says, “Everything we could ever need for life and godliness has already been deposited in us by his divine power” (TPT). Just like every sin lives in you waiting for the right conditions to come out, every good thing lives in you waiting on the right conditions to come out. Don’t run from the pressures of hard times in your life because those are the places where God grows these deposits in your life. You have an incredible potential beyond what you can imagine. Just like a giant tree begins with a small seed, there is a giant in you waiting to come out. As you mature and grow, you will begin to reproduce other people in the faith. You will provide shade for them to grow in, when you have roots that go down deep into God’s Word. Isaiah 61:3 says, “In their righteousness, they (you) will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory” (NLT). There is a tree inside of you waiting to grow.
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Perfect Peace

After months of social distancing, my 9 year old has had enough. He was frustrated last week and asked, “Why is everyone obsessed with COVID-19?” I explained that this is something new to the world and is affecting everyone. It’s causing some stores to close, and the ones that remain open have shorter hours. Businesses have shut down, people have lost their jobs and don’t know how to support their family. I also explained that no one knows how long this will last, and that the unknown causes fear. When people are afraid, they try to consume knowledge, but no one knows what information to trust because there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I said, “Because of all of those things, it appears to you that they’re obsessed with COVID, but really it’s just fear causing confusion and it shows up in people in different ways.”

Fear has been at work since the beginning. Adam and Eve were afraid that God was lying to them about the tree. Fear robs us of peace and does it’s best to distract us with the mindset that we can beat it with information. 24-hour news stations try to meet that need for people to have the most up to date information and often report things before they’re vetted. It’s easy to get addicted to the news and not realize that you’re feeding fear as it’s compelling you to keep watching. Internal peace is hard to find in an uncertain world, but it is possible. You won’t find it in the news, on the internet or from your favorite podcast. The only peace that overcomes the fear of the unknown is the kind that Jesus promised us.

John 14:27 says, “I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!” (TPT) Perfect peace is what we as believers have been given, but many of us have allowed ourselves to be robbed of it. We have yielded to fear and allowed ourselves to be troubled in this uncertain time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take precautions or follow guidelines, but don’t let fear dictate our every move. The world is full of fear and we have the antidote with the Good News. God is still in control. He is still on His throne and has not abandoned us. Trust in Him, be courageous and yield to the Prince of Peace. I don’t need to know everything about COVID-19. I only need to know the One who holds my tomorrow in His hands and put my trust in Him to find peace in this troubled time.

Thanks to @Elijah_sad for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

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The Power Of Praise

When I was a child, I started to learn the power of praise and worship. My earliest recollection of it was hearing the story of King Saul who was tormented by an evil spirit. David would come in, play his harp singing songs of praise to God, and the spirit would leave the king. I remember then hearing the story of Paul and Silas in prison. They had been beaten and were in the deepest, darkest part of the dungeon. In the middle of the night, they began to sing praises to God. The prison shook, the chains fell off and they were free. Then I memorized Ephesians 5:19 where Paul emphasizes to believers that we need to be, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melodies in your heart to the Lord” (KJV).

I know when I’ve had major events in my life, I’ve turned on praise and worship music to help me get through. When I’m stressed out and under emotional pressure, I find a praise and worship station on Pandora. All of a sudden, the atmosphere around me begins to change. My mind shifts from my problems to my savior. There is a powerful thing that happens in those moments as I invite God’s presence into our situation. The thought chains that held my mind captive begin to fall off. The way I see and approach the problems changes as I shift my focus from them to the One who is greater than anything I face. I go from being the victim in the situation to the victor because I take up the weapon of the Word of God and began to fight the unseen battle.

Psalm 71:14 says, “No matter what, I’ll trust in you to help me. Nothing will stop me from praising you to magnify your glory!” (TPT). The writer knew that there will be things that happen to you to try to take your focus off of God. There will be lies spoken and heard internally that tell you God has abandoned you and forgotten you. However, he purposed in his heart that nothing (no lie, no circumstance, no situation or pressure) would keep him from praising God. When we focus our hearts on praise, our faith and trust in God rises. We quit listening to our circumstances and begin to speak into them with the Word of God. Don’t underestimate the power of praise in your life. God isn’t listening to see if you can carry a tune in a bucket, He’s listening to the intent in your heart. Don’t stop praising God no matter what is happening in your life because it will carry you through and break the chains trying to hold you down.

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Godly Confidence

Almost every time I get on stage for work or church, I get nervous. What if I mess up? What if I don’t say things just right? I begin to doubt and my palms start to get sweaty. What if I drop the microphone? I’ve learned to step outside the room by myself to give myself a pep talk. I answer those questions with positive statements about myself and my abilities. I do it until I’m either out of time or until I’m full of confidence. I then march into the room with my head held high, ready to take on the challenge. Confidence is what gives me the strength to push through the doubts and questions in order to trust what I’ve done hundreds of times.

Stepping out in faith feels very similar. No matter how many times we do it, those questions echo in our mind. What if God doesn’t show up this time? What if He leaves you out here by yourself? What if this fails? The best thing to do is to go to God’s Word for a pep talk. Look at His character since the beginning. See how He delivered ordinary people extraordinarily. The Word of God should give each of us confidence to overcome our doubts, to get our game face on and to push past fear. I’ve found that you just need enough confidence to push past the initial fear. After that, momentum and faith can carry you to the finish line.

Here are some Bible verses on God giving confidence.

1. You will not be subject to terror, for it will not terrify you. Nor will the disrespectful be able to push you aside, because God is your confidence in times of crisis, keeping your heart at rest in every situation.

Proverbs 3:25-26 TPT

2. Lord, never forget the promises you’ve made to me, for they are my hope and confidence.

Psalms 119:49 TPT

3. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust [with great confidence, and on whom I rely]!”

Psalms 91:2 AMP

4. But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

Jeremiah 17:7 NLT

5. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.

Romans 15:13 AMP

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Rock Of Help

When I get overwhelmed by circumstances and things going on in my life, I do an exercise in faith. Before I panic, I force myself to remember times when God has come through for me. I try to think of all the times before when things have been hopeless and at the last minute, He answered. Doing that reminds me that God answers at just the right time, that He sees my situation and that He’s been faithful in the past. When I begin to take my focus off of how impossible my situation is and remind myself of how capable my God is, my attitude starts to change.

The Israelites were at Mizpah offering sacrifices to God for their sin. I Samuel 7 tells us that all of Israel was there repenting. While they were gathered for offerings, the Philistines decided to attack them. The Israelites were scared, confused and began to panic. Samuel cried out to God on their behalf as he made a sacrifice. Verse 10 says that as he was making the sacrifice, the Philistines showed up for battle. God spoke from Heaven in loud claps of thunder that threw the enemy into confusion. After Israel routed the Philistines that day, Samuel set up a rock and named it “Ebenezer” which means rock of help.

Anytime that Israel was in distress, they simply had to look at that rock and remember that God came through in an impossible situation. It was a reminder that if He did it before, He’ll do it again. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. David knew that too. I wonder how many times he passed by Ebenezer and called out to God. In Psalm 61:2, he wrote, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” He wanted to be led to God, but also to that memory that God saves us just in time.

When we get overwhelmed, our prayer shouldn’t be one of panic. It should be that we are led to the rock that is higher than we are. When the enemy comes in like a flood, we need to run to that rock for safety. When we can’t see tomorrow because of all the trouble today holds, we need to remember the God we serve. We need to call to mind the great things He has done in the past and remind ourselves that we are not forgotten. We have not been abandoned. He will come just in the nick of time as He always has.

Don’t make your decisions based on fear. Make them based on the faith that God hears us. Make them based on how He has responded in your life in the past. Your situation may seem hopeless. You may be outnumbered, out gunned and surrounded, but you serve a God who is able. He is able yo deliver you from whatever you are facing today. It’s not too late. You’re not too engulfed. You’re not finished. When you’re overwhelmed, run to the Rock of Help. He’s there for you in your time of need.

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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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Defeating Hidden Sins

Nearly twenty years ago, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed with a shotgun on my lap. Thoughts were racing through my head. I had been hurt badly and wanted revenge. I knew that the people were meeting at Target in about an hour. My heart was racing as I played out the scenario in my head. I thought about where I could run to or where I could hide out. Then I started thinking about what it would be like to spend the rest of my life in prison. I started to put the gun back up, but all those thoughts of pain came rushing back. “They deserve it,” I reasoned with myself. The argument went back and forth. In a split second, I put the gun in the closet, ran to my car and drove an hour away. I called a friend to meet me, gave him my keys and told him not to give them back no matter what I said.

That night scared me to death. It’s the night I realized that every sin lies within me dormant waiting for the right circumstances to bring it out. I never thought I was capable of such a thing, but that mental battle was real and it was all I could do to keep from committing it. That night I began to pay more attention to my thoughts and where I let them go. I also started to keep myself from certain situations that I thought I was immune to. Guarding my heart became something I did rather than just something I read about in the Bible. If every sin was hiding in my heart, waiting for the right moment and circumstances to align, I needed to be more cautious.

David must have had one of those moments too. In Psalm 19:12, he prayed, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults” (NLT). He found out that every one of us are capable of any sin, but he also knew that the remedy was knowing God’s Word and seeking Him for help. In verse 11, referencing God’s Word, he wrote, “They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them.” The Bible is a lamp and a light (Psalm 119:105). It exposes hidden sins, faults and thoughts, as well as it shows you what to do. Jesus used the Word of God to keep from sinning as He was tempted. It’s a powerful weapon in our arsenal against sin, but you can only be equipped with it if you know it. Don’t fall prey to the hidden sins in your heart. Be proactive by putting God’s Word in your heart so that you won’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).

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God Hears And Sees

One of the things that happens when we’re going through a tough time is that we get tunnel vision as the world seems to close in on us. We tend to hunker down and shut people out. We feel like running away to escape our problems, but know we can’t. If you’re like me, the problems weigh heavy on your mind and make you feel fatigued. It’s a lonely place, and it feels like it’s you versus the world. Many times, it can feel like your prayers are going unheard. You even start to wonder, “Where is God? Doesn’t He care?” Your prayers seem to feel flat and it’s like they aren’t being heard. Going through times like this are tough, especially when you feel like you’re doing what God told you to do.

I’m sure Hagar felt all these things. She was Sarai’s handmaiden and had been given to Abram as a second wife so that God would fulfill His promise to give Abram children. When she got pregnant, Sarai began to hate her and verbally abused her to the point that she did run away taking what they thought was the fulfillment of God’s promise. I love verse 7 of Genesis 16. It says the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring and said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where did you come from and where are you going?” (AMP) He knew the answer, and even called her by name. He blessed her and told her to name her son Ishmael which means “God hears”. “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are God Who Sees’” (verse 13).

Even in the wilderness and under attack, God spoke to her and proved to her that He hears and sees us in our most desperate times. Matthew 10:29 says that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing. You are worth more to Him than a sparrow, and He knows the very number of hairs on your head. While it may seem, and even feel, that you are all alone and that God doesn’t see you or know what you’re going through, He does. He sent Hagar back to Sarai from that well, and He may leave you in your situation, but it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care. Being under pressure and in difficult situations often produces a faith in us that we can’t get any other way. It opens our eyes to see that God is there with us in those times guiding us, listening to us and blessing us even when it doesn’t feel like it.

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Looking For Blessings

A couple of months ago I saw a Toyota Tundra for sale that got my attention. I had never been in the market for one, but this particular one made me want one. I did a little research on them and then suddenly I started noticing Tundras everywhere. Everywhere. It’s not uncommon for your brain to do this to you. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof effect. Once your brain learns something new or becomes interested in something, it subconsciously creates selective attention. You begin noticing the thing that was there all along, but now your brain is looking for it, and you then start agreeing with your brain that you’re seeing it more which perpetuates the process.

Life can be tough sometimes. Bad things happen and problems compound. In those times, the Baader-Meinhof effect can cause your brain to point out all the bad things happening around you. It can seriously bring you low. Knowing that this phenomenon exists, you can actually turn it around. Think of the blessings God has given you despite your current circumstances. If you start looking for them when everything starts to fall apart, your subconscious brain will begin to search for them and change your focus. When we focus on God’s blessings in our lives instead of our present troubles, we renew our strength, keep God in focus and maintain a good attitude. What blessings are in your life right now?

Here are some Bible verses on God’s blessings.

1. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.

Psalms 139:5 NLT

2. I said to myself, “Relax and rest. GOD has showered you with blessings. Soul, you’ve been rescued from death; Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears; And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling.”

Psalm 116:7-8 MSG

3. Blessing after blessing comes to those who love and trust the Lord. They will not fall away, for they refuse to listen to the lies of the proud.

Psalms 40:4 TPT

4. Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another.

John 1:16 GNT

5. For to everyone who has [and values his blessings and gifts from God, and has used them wisely], more will be given, and [he will be richly supplied so that] he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have [because he has ignored or disregarded his blessings and gifts from God], even what he does have will be taken away.

Matthew 25:29 AMP

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The Valley Of Blessing

In 2 Chronicles 20, several armies declared war against King Jehoshaphat at the same time. It says he was terrified when he heard the news. He immediately began to beg The Lord for guidance and asked everyone to fast and pray with him. The people came to Jerusalem to pray with him and to be ready to fight this vast army that had risen up against them. While they were praying, a man spoke up and said, “Don’t be afraid! The battle is not yours, but God’s.” He also told the people they were to march out to the battlefield, but that they wouldn’t even have to fight.

When they showed up to the battlefield, the other armies had been fighting each other and not one was left alive. The Israelites walked through the valley and gathered up all the spoils. It took them three days to collect it all. On the fourth day, they decided to call that place the Valley of Blessing. After that, no other armies wanted to face Israel and the story ends with, “Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.” Not only had God fought his battle and given him the spoils, He gave him peace and rest.

When I think of valleys, I don’t think of blessings. I think of difficult times, dark times, hard times, wandering aimlessly, and pain. What I see in this story is that God can take our valleys and turn them into blessings. We don’t have to be terrified of them because the battles that we face there are not ours, but God’s. He is the one who goes before us. He’s the one who fights on our behalf. We look at the odds and think, “There’s no way.” God looks at the odds and think, “Nothing is impossible for me.”

I like that King Jehoshaphat had the people meet him in Jerusalem. The very name of that city means “God will see to it”. They were reminded of that while they were praying and fasting about what to do in the valley. They knew they were out numbered. They knew there was no way for them to win the battle. Fear had taken over. In the middle of all that anxiety, God reminded them that He would see to it. All they had to do was show up ready to fight. When they acted in obedience to the Word of God, their enemies were defeated and they gathered the spoils. What should have been a valley of defeat turned into a valley of blessing.

You don’t have to be afraid of whatever valley you’re facing today. God sees that the odds are against you. He sees the impossibility of your situation. He wants you to turn to Him in prayer so He can remind you that He will see to it. He will be the one who goes before you. He will be the one who says, “This is my battle not yours. Show up for the fight and watch what I do.” As verse 20 says, “Believe in The Lord your God and you will be able to stand firm.” No matter what enemy rises up against you, God will see to it that the place you are afraid of will be turned into a valley of blessing.

Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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