Wednesday

What Painted Pottery Taught Me about God's Care

“Good luck getting them home,” Emily said as I showed her the painted plates I found in Seville. “Everyone who comes to Spain falls in love with the pottery and tries to take it back in their suitcases. No matter how carefully they wrap it, it always breaks.” 

“What if I put bubble wrap around them?” I asked. 

“Tried it.” 

“Wrap them in clothing?” 

“Tried that, too.” 

“Surely there’s some way I can get these home?” I insisted. 

“The only way they’ll make it intact is if you carry them,” she said. 

So that’s what I did. 

I wrapped them in bubble wrap, tucked each one between several layers of clothing, and hauled them halfway across the world in my carry on suitcase. 

When a TSA agent tried to lift my little suitcase onto the screening belt, I did it myself. When a flight attendant offered to stow it under the plane, I declined. When another volunteered to place it into an overhead bin, I refused. On every plane, I gently tucked my carry on beneath my seat where I knew it would be safe. 

I wheeled my suitcase from Jerez to Madrid, from Madrid to Dallas, from Dallas to Charlotte, and from Charlotte to home. Six thousand, six hundred, and eighteen miles. 


But Emily was right. My pretty painted plates arrived safely. Now they hang in my kitchen as a beautiful reminder of my trip to Spain. 

“Why would you go to all that trouble?” my husband asked when I described what I’d done. “Were they very expensive?” 

“Not really,” I told him, “but I like them. They make me happy. They’re valuable to me, and I think they’re beautiful."

My plates remind me of Spain, but the trouble I went through to get them home reminds me of the way God cares for me. Isaiah 40:11 paints a beautiful word picture to describe how God relates to his children: 

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” 

He carries them in his bosom. Carefully, like objects of great value. Gently, like precious, fragile heirlooms. Lovingly, like a most treasured keepsake. 


When we by faith place our trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, he commits to carry us all the way through our lives. But unlike the checked luggage that I sent on ahead of me under the plane, God doesn’t just promise to get us there. He promises to carry us every step of the way. Because he loves us. And values us. And thinks we’re beautiful.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you,” he promises. “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). 

If you’re feeling devalued today, I pray this simple metaphor will help you realize how much God treasures you. May you feel God’s tender arms beneath you, hear the beat of his loving heart, and rest in the comfort and safety of his embrace. You can rest in the confidence that he won’t let you go until you’re safely home.



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Sunday

Remembering the Plagues - What Suffering Teaches Us

It was appropriate, we thought, for this non-Jewish congregation to commemorate the crucifixion of our Lord by celebrating the Passover. Our leader was a Messianic, or completed Jew. As he read from the Haggadeh, the book that retells the story of the exodus from which the Passover Seder is conducted, he lifted the second cup. 

“This is a cup of remembrance,” he said. “And one of gratitude.” 

“As we list the plagues God sent through the hand of Moses,” he said, “it is customary to dip one finger into the glass, then onto the plate, leaving one drop to symbolize each plague.”



Blood. 
Drip. 
Frogs. 
Drip. 
Vermin. 
Drip. 
Flies. 
Drip. 
Pestilence. 
Drip. 
Boils. 
Drip. 
Hail. 
Drip. 
Locusts. 
Drip. 
Darkness. 
Drip. 
Slaying of the Firstborn. 
Drip.

“It is a cup of remembrance, lest we forget the power of God . It is a cup of gratitude, lest we forget his mercy and deliverance,” our leader said. 

I’ve never thought to list the plagues God has allowed into my life. Frankly, I prefer to forget them. And list them for the purpose of expressing gratitude? This, too, is a strange concept. Strange, yet very biblical. King David the Psalmist embraced this practice. 

“It is good for me to be afflicted,” he wrote in Psalm 119:71, “that I might learn your decrees.  I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” 

Remembrance and gratitude. The rear view perspective of a man who has suffered, survived, and now has the ability to see how God has used his affliction to make him better. 

With this in mind, I dipped my finger into my cup. And while the others recited the plagues of old, the list in my head sounded much different. 


Disease. 
Unsaved family members. 
Unemployment. 
Broken relationships. 
Wasted opportunities. 
Prodigals. 
Doubt and discouragement. 
Broken hearts. 
Betrayal. 
Death. 

Unlike the plagues of the Exodus, these plagues weren’t limited to the unbelieving Egyptians. God, in his sovereignty, allowed them into my life. Not out of cruelty, but out of a bigger, greater, more God-glorifying plan than I can ever conceive. Most of the time I can’t see his purposes, but every now and then I catch a glimpse, for we walk by faith, not by sight. 

Thank you, Lord, for disease, for it has taught me that health is a gift to be treasured and protected. 

Thank you, God, for unsaved family members, for they remind me that nothing is too hard for you. 

Thank you, Father, for unemployment, for it demonstrates that you are my provider, not my job. 

Thank you, Lord, for broken relationships, for they remind me that you will never leave me nor forsake me. 

Thank you, God, for wasted opportunities, for they prove you can restore what the locust has eaten. 

Thank you, Father, for prodigals, for they have allowed me to experience your heartbreak when I sin against you. 

Thank you, Lord, for doubt and discouragement, for they cause me to seek comfort in your arms. 

Thank you, God, for broken hearts, for they show me that you are everything I need. 

Thank you, Father, for betrayal, for it allows me to enter into your earthly suffering. 

Thank you, Lord, for death, for without death, there is no resurrection. 


As you list your own plagues, and lift your cup of suffering, may you also raise a psalm of praise to God, in faith. May you trust that he who walks with you every step of the way will redeem every moment of your suffering for his glory. 

“May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:76-77). 

“You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:68). 


Now it’s your turn. What “plague” are you trusting God with today? It would be my honor to pray with you for God to use it for good in your life. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.



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Wednesday

Easter Praise from the Mouths of Babes

Several readers let me know that the link for the video I reference below was omitted in their email. I don't want you to miss this, hence the second email. Enjoy, and Happy Easter. He is risen!


"But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. 

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. 


"Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?" (Mat. 21:15) 

This poignant, beautiful version of "Gethsemane," by 3-year old Claire Ryann will make your heart soar and your eyes weep. 

Rejoice, and happy Easter.

 If you're reading by email and can't see Claire Ryan's version of Gethsemane, click HERE.







 If you're reading by email and can't see Claire Ryan's version of Gethsemane, click HERE.



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Sunday

Are You Suffering from Spiritual Affluenza?

There’s a new disease in town.

Like many illnesses that have mutated from their original nasty strains, this sickness puts a 21st century spin on a centuries-old malady. Some victims contract it and are cured. Others struggle with it all their lives. Only the hyper-vigilant manage to completely avoid its destructive effects.

The disease is called Affluenza. Merriam Webster loosely defines it as “the unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence.” Although the online dictionary doesn’t address the spiritual component of affluenza, it’s very real. And regardless of our bank accounts, all Christians are at risk.

The first documented case of spiritual affluenza occurred in Israel, even before the Israelites had inherited the Promised Land. On the eve of their entrance into the land “flowing with milk and honey” (an Old Testament description of wealth and prosperity), God, through Moses, warned his people:

“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut. 8:11-14). God knew the Israelites’ vulnerability to affluenza. Sadly, 21st century Christians are no different.

When money is tight or our marriage is struggling, we pray often and fervently. When we’re seeking insight into how to help our wayward children or addicted family member, we make church attendance a priority. When we’re lonely or sick, we welcome the support of God and his family. 

Affluence, however, can derail healthy Christians faster than a stomach virus in a daycare. When money is plentiful and our jobs are secure, we don’t often ask God for our daily bread. When family relationships are strong and our kids are making wise life decisions, we don’t spend as much time in prayer. When we’re surrounded by friends and enjoying good health, we spend more Sundays traveling and sleeping in than going to church. Like the Israelites, we often sideline God when he blesses us.

How lame is that? God fills our lives with good things, and like spoiled, ungrateful brats, we grab the gifts and gallop off with nary a backward glance.

God saw it coming and tried to warn his people: Don’t forget me. And certainly, “don’t say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’” (Deut. 8:16).


If you recognize some of the symptoms of spiritual affluenza, you’ve taken the first step toward healing—admitting you’re sick.

The second step is to avail yourself of the cure. God, the Great Physician, wrote a three-part prescription on the pages of Scripture. Thankfully, there’s no expiration date on this tonic, and the refills are unlimited.

First: Remember. “Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:17). Every day we should acknowledge that it is God who provides the opportunity, ability, and means to live the life he’s placed before us. He gives us the breath in our lungs, the strength in our bodies, and the creativity and perseverance to make a living for ourselves. Without God’s sustaining touch, every heartbeat could be our last.

Second: Praise. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deu. 8:10). We should also glorify God whenever and wherever we can for his provision. As we enjoy the blessings of food, fellowship, friends, and family, we should be quick to acknowledge the bountiful hand that provided them.

Third: Pray. “ . . . give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Pro. 30:8-9).


The psalmist recognized the danger that exists on both ends of the wealth spectrum. Jesus said it would be difficult for the rich (and we are all rich compared to much of the world) to admit their need for a Savior. He also acknowledged that while extreme poverty can prompt people to cry out to God as their only hope, it can also push them to commit desperate and godless crimes. The psalmist eloquently prays for a healthy balance between the two extremes. Asking God to provide our needs without giving us more than we can physically, emotionally, or spiritually handle is wise and biblical.

I don’t know if you’re struggling with spiritual affluenza. I know I sometimes do. I don’t want to be a greedy recipient of God’s goodness. Instead, I want to be a grateful one who never forgets that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (Jas. 1:17).

Now it’s your turn. Has affluence drawn you closer to or farther from the Lord? What do you do to combat it? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Father, I don’t want to be an ungrateful recipient of your goodness. Help me recognize how everything good in my life comes from you. Let gratitude bubble up in my heart and express itself in praise and thanksgiving. Help me pursue a healthy balance between poverty and wealth and honor you in everything I do. In the strong name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.



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Wednesday

Faith Isn't a Blind Leap in the Dark

The first dentist I worked for was Jewish by birth and agnostic by practice. Early in our professional relationship he told me he didn’t have a problem with my belief in God. 


“Everybody needs some kind of crutch,” he said. “If believing in God makes you feel better, I don’t have a problem with that.” 

I thought of Dr. B. this morning when I read about how Jesus called his disciples to follow him. 

Time after time in the Gospel accounts, Jesus gave ample proof that he was who he said he was—God in the flesh. “. . . even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father," he said in John 10:38.

Faith has never been just believing in “something to make you feel better." Nor is it a blind leap in the dark. God never calls anyone to believe in him without giving ample proof that he is worthy of our trust. 

The way Jesus called his disciples is a perfect example of this. In Luke 5, Jesus was visiting Capernaum. He taught in the synagogue. He freed a man possessed by an evil spirit. He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. That evening when multitudes flocked to him with physical ailments, he cured them all. Demons came shrieking out of people, testifying that Jesus was “the Son of God” (4:38-41). 

And if that wasn’t proof enough, the next day when Simon, James, and John were out fishing, he commandeered their boat and used it as a platform from which to teach to the crowds on the shore. Afterward he told Simon, "'Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.' 

“Simon answered, ‘Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break” (Mat. 5:4-6). 

Simon couldn’t take it any longer. Overwhelmed with what he had seen Jesus do and realizing that only God in the flesh could do such things, he cried out, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"  

"Don't be afraid;” he reassured the men, “from now on you will catch men." 

“So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” 

Before Jesus called his disciples to himself, he gave them ample proof of his power, and thus, his deity. 


We haven’t had the opportunity to walk and talk with Jesus Christ in the flesh, but we, too, have ample proof of his faith-worthiness. 

*We have the historical record of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, including biblical and extra-biblical sources. 

*We have evidence of God’s creative and sustaining hand in the world around us (Psa. 19:1). 

*We have the faith record of believers down through the ages (Hebrews 11). 

*We have the testimonies of contemporary believers attesting to the transforming power of the Gospel. 

*We have the evidence of God’s work in our own lives. 

Like Peter, my coming to faith experience happened in stages. First I heard about and read the biblical account of God’s work in ancient history. Then I listened to person after person tell how Christ had transformed their lives. Next I admitted my need for Someone greater and wiser than I to direct my life. Finally, I placed my faith in Jesus Christ and watched him begin to transform me from the person I was to the person I hoped to be. 

Little by little, God revealed himself to me and drew me to himself. Instead of taking a blind leap in the dark, I placed my trust in a God who has shown himself faithful to thousands of generations. 

Now it’s your turn. How has God revealed himself to you in your faith journey? Which evidences have you found most convincing? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.



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