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There’s No Making Friends with a Snake

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”Genesis 3:15

Sneaky ReptileWhen I read Genesis 3 last week, I had kind of a random thought about the story of the snake tempting Eve. The snake talked Eve into tasting the forbidden fruit. Eve shared it with Adam. Then, once caught, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake. Everybody turned on everybody. The world’s first sin not only separated man from God, it destroyed the peace that had existed between people and animals up to that point. A peace that we’ll enjoy again someday thanks to Jesus Christ:

“The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest”Isaiah 11:8.

(You can read all of Isaiah 11 to learn more of what this prophet said will come because of Christ.)

Scholars have different opinions about that crafty reptile in Genesis 3. Some say he was Satan in disguise. Some think maybe animals could talk before the Fall and that Satan recruited the snake to help him out. Others think Satan possessed the snake. I don’t know which is true, but Eve didn’t seem surprised to find herself having a conversation with a snake. If my dog ever talks to me, I won’t remain so calm.

The way I see it, though, in Genesis 3:15, God says He’s going to put enmity between the snake and the woman, between its offspring and hers. Satan was already her enemy, already cursed. So I’m thinking God was actually referring to the snake. If so, perhaps the serpent is supposed to be an on-going, physical reminder to us of spiritual dangers we cannot see. Perhaps, somehow, snakes are meant to remind us that Satan is lurking where we least expect to find him. We need to be vigilant to avoid temptation.

Satan LurksAs I’m writing this, I realize there are groups of reptile-loving people who work really hard to convince the general population, children in particular, that snakes don’t need to be feared so long as we respect them. I have pictures of all three of my boys in classroom or VBS (Vacation Bible School) settings where someone from the local zoo came to visit and speak, then had each child present pose for a picture with a snake around his neck. Two out of three of my kids were really reluctant to participate. And my middle son’s picture is priceless. His mouth is frozen in a forced smile with gritted teeth; his eyes say, “I’m smiling because you [zoo photographer] said I have to. Get this thing off my shoulders before I die!”

There was definitely some enmity there in spite of the reassuring zoo personnel.

To be clear: I don’t think there is anything inherently evil about snakes. And I have no problem with programs that teach children more about them. These can be fun, and, in a way, whether the snake professionals see it this way or not, these programs look toward that future day of peace with hope. They teach people that there are ways to safely handle some kinds of snakes, creatures our God created, but they always urge caution (I hope) and stress that some of these reptiles are extremely dangerous. Given the opportunity, they will bite. There’s no way to really make friends with a snake.

What a perfect analogy!

Satan wants us to believe he’s safe, so we’ll let down our guard and give in to temptation. But given the opportunity, he’ll always bite. Let’s not try to make peace with temptation. It’s better to heed God’s warning, keep our distance, and stay safe.

Father, make us aware of Satan’s schemes. Help us to recognize temptation for the danger that it is. Give us the courage and determination to step away. We don’t want to make friends with anything that will harm our relationship with You. Amen.

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Sutter’s Vision

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”Hebrews 6:10

DSC00213eNear the end of our recent trip to Northern California, my husband, son, and I visited Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento. Because I grew up in California, I figured I had a pretty good grasp on its history. But I really learned a lot! John Sutter was fascinating person, though his story is tragic.

Sutter immigrated through the existing United States to California from Switzerland. California was part of Mexico at the time, so Sutter became a citizen of that country. The Mexican government welcomed him because they appreciated his vision for the area and wanted to encourage him. Sutter dreamed of creating a strong, agricultural community. He invited immigrants to live at his fort, free of charge. He only asked that they work to learn a trade and support the community. He trained farmers and blacksmiths and merchants. He even invited the Native American population to be a part of it all.* In fact, according to the narrative at the fort, he is the one who taught them to weave the blankets so popular now at southwestern, roadside souvenir stands.

Sutter was generous and well-respected, known as a true gentleman. And all was going well until some kid just happened to find a bit of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Generosity, community, and cooperation were replaced by greed just that fast.

One of the seven deadly sins? Oh, yes.

Sutter spent the rest of his life fighting for the rights to his land and died alone in an East Coast hotel, a penniless pauper. His story broke my heart!

DSC00190eAs we traveled through Northern California, though, from San Francisco to Sacramento to Grass Valley to Paradise to Chico to Yuba City . . . we were surrounded, not by gold mines, but by crops. Walnuts, Almonds, Peaches, Apples, Strawberries, Grapes, Lettuce, and Rice . . . lots and lots and lots of rice! It seems to me that Sutter’s dream eventually came true. The Sacramento Valley is a strong agricultural community. Evidently, some of the people he taught stuck to the trade instead of seeking gold. Others returned to the trade once they recovered from gold fever. And others came after to follow in Sutter’s footsteps. Sutter never saw his dream come true—and yet, it did!

It’s a lesson to remember. When God gives us a vision of some good that we can do, our place is simply to do it, leaving all results to Him. When we serve Him faithfully to show Him our love by caring for His people, He is faithful to us in return. We may never see the fruit of our labor, but our God will not forget. We can trust Him with this.

Father, please show us daily how we can best serve You. Help us remember that we love You best by loving people, by doing our part to build Your Kingdom on Earth. Thank You for seeing and remembering the work we do for You. It’s a honor to do what we can. Amen.

DSC00208e*Note: I used Wikipedia to double-check some facts and discovered that it doesn’t portray Sutter’s character in such a positive light, indicating that he actually coerced the Native Americans of the area into working for him. Other sources imply this was an act of self-defense: they attacked; he enslaved them in order to teach them his ways. Sutter’s own words indicate this is probably true: “The Indians began to be troublesome all around me, killing and wounding cattle, stealing horses, and threatening to attack us. I was obliged to make campaigns against them and punish them.” According to the story as the fort told it, however, he did teach them agricultural skills, just as he taught the other inhabitants of the fort. He even had his cooks learn to prepare meals they were accustomed to and to serve them in the manner they would have served themselves. It seems to me that, in the end, he hoped the different cultures would learn to get along, but only God knows the motives of anyone’s heart.

This post is listed with the Missional Weekend Link Up. Visit that site to find more inspirational posts.

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Learning to Obey

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.’”Exodus 16:4

Sometimes children challenge their parents. When given an instruction, they ask, “Why?” If the child is capable of understanding, the parent may patiently explain. But sometimes the answer just has to be, “Because I said so.” Parents train their children to obey whether they understand why or not because that obedience can save their lives. If a child is headed for danger and the parent says, “Stop,” the child must stop to stay safe, not keep going until he understands, “Why.”

It’s the same with soldiers. They are trained to follow orders. This is why boot camp is notoriously difficult–all right, miserable. Physical exhaustion, discipline of action and thought, repetitive training, and emphasis on high standards are meant to train the soldiers to follow orders, so their missions will be accomplished and fewer lives will be lost.

Just as a parent who has taught a child to stop on command without question has saved that child’s life if the child wanders too near a quickly oncoming car and a commander who trains his soldiers to obey will likely bring more home from battle heat and in victory, God trains His children, soldiers in a spiritual battle, in order to keep them safe.

The rules for gathering manna didn’t make sense to the Israelites, yet God established those rules to test them, to see whether they would follow His instructions. Some did. Some didn’t. Those learned.

Likewise, we may not always understand God’s instructions. But He is God. We respect His authority and do things His way, knowing He’s averting disaster we may not be able to see. When the rules don’t make sense, we must remember who we are and Who God is. We are His beloved children. He is the Creator Father Who loves us dearly. We serve as soldiers in our Lord’s army. He is the Commander Whose orders we follow for the good of all.

Thank You, Lord, for training us, for testing us, for teaching us to obey. You are the Father we love, the Commander we respect. Help us serve You well, trusting whenever we don’t understand. For You are God; that’s all we need to know. Amen.

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Unbalanced, Resting, and Free

Words Aptly Spoken“One of the favorite words in the Rule is ‘run.’ St. Benedict tells me to run to Christ. If I stop for a moment and consider what is being asked of me here, and what is involved in the act of running, I think of how when I run I place first one foot and then the other on the ground, that I let go of my balance for a second and then immediately recover it again. It is risky, this matter of running. By daring to lose my balance I keep it.” –Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction

I came across this quote this morning in the daily devotional I’ve been reading this year, A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, and it really made me think—especially when I put on my running shoes and took off for five and a half miles shortly after. I put the quote to the test, confirmed it was true, and made a few discoveries of my own to share with you.

When we run, we launch ourselves into the air with one foot then catch ourselves with the other. We don’t really think about this; we just do it. (No Nike reference intended.) But the launching is risky. It’s like singing a Capella for a moment, hoping that when the accompaniment starts again, we won’t have slipped off key for our audience to hear. If we don’t hold our feet just so while in the air, we’ll fall when gravity pulls us back to earth.

This means walking is safer. When we walk, one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground. (This is part of the definition of walk.) The motion is the same; we’re still pushing up with one foot while supporting ourselves with the other. But we never actually leave the ground.

So we have a choice to make. Walking is safer, but when we run, we enjoy a moment of freedom from the earth—we soar! And it’s in this moment of soaring that we rest!

That’s right. We rest. We rest while we run but never when we walk.

Most fascinating of all: those who’ve learned to run the fastest, rest the most. Have you ever watched an Olympic runner sprint? Their strides are longer than their heights. Those runners get air!

10-29-14 PostMe. My stride needs work—lots of little jumps. I’ve read that if I boldly allow myself to enjoy a longer stride, I’ll find myself running faster with less effort. That change will take courage because it will involve greater risk. My stride won’t lengthen until I trust myself more, until I stop believing that if I stay in the air too long I will fall.

This trust is what running through life with God is all about. God offers us freedom and rest, but we have to be willing to jump, to work on our stride. This will leave us feeling unbalanced at times, but it sets us free. It lets us rest. No worries about the future; it’s in God’s hands. No struggles to be met in our own strength, with only our own resources. Just confidence in the One Who’s leading us where He wants us to go, where, ultimately, He knows, we most want to be. This running is risky, but God won’t let us fall. He’s teaching us to trust Him, so we can run with Him for all eternity.

Father, please help us to run with confidence and strength. Set us free to enjoy life Your way. Enable us to rest in You. Amen.

Related Bible words: Hebrews 12:1, Isaiah 40:31, Proverbs 3:5-6Proverbs 3:26

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Only One Option Works

DSC00596e“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”John 14:6

I’ll confess. We’re a family of tortilla chip snobs. There is one brand we love. Eating any other kind equals reluctant settling.

Sadly, I’ve only been able to find one store in our area that carries this brand, and that store only keeps the chips in stock for holidays and sporting events that demand great amounts of tortilla chip consumage.

The last time that this store had our chips in stock, I grabbed four extra-large bags of them. (I would have purchased more, but they would have gone stale before we could have eaten them. There are limits to how much you can stock up on tortilla chips.) When I got to the check-out stand, the cashier said, “You must be throwing a big party.”

I said, “Oh, no. Your store doesn’t have these chips in stock very often, so I get a bunch whenever you do.”

“Are they that good?” she asked.

I assured her they were. On the way out the door, I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been great if she’d asked me about Jesus instead of tortilla chips?”

Jesus is the One I love. No other religion, person, or substance can satisfy my soul. Not only is He my Savior, the One Who gave His life to open the door to Heaven for me, but He’s also my best Friend. Jesus offers peace, joy (even in the midst of heartache), wisdom, patience, and compassion. He loves me like no one else can.

He wants to do and be all of this for you as well—and He’s the only One Who can. Anything else is settling and will never satisfy. Jesus is the way to Heaven, the Truth that sets you free of the pain that comes from believing this world’s lies, and the One Who gives us life: abundant life, eternal life, a life that’s worth living.

If you haven’t met Him yet, I recommend Him to you! Click here to read more about the life Jesus offers. There’s no sufficient way to put this relationship into words; Jesus is Someone you must experience. But I promise that if you reach out to Him by seeking to know Him through His Word, the Bible, by talking to Him like you would talk to a friend, and by telling Him you really want to experience Him like others do, He will be there for you. And You will be thankful—eternally.

Jesus, I love You! Please draw others to love You, too. You are the way, the truth, and the life, the One Who leads us to the Father and into the best relationship of all. I’m so thankful for all You’ve given to me, what You make available to all! I don’t want anyone to miss out. Please reach them, Lord. Amen.

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That Spinach Sure Is Sneaky Stuff

“Wait! What did I just do?” I asked myself in horror while cooking dinner the other night. I had added spinach to an old favorite recipe—just because it seemed like a creative idea. By choice?!

IMG_6328eBut I don’t like cooked spinach. I don’t. It’s just plain yucky stuff!

When I was a child, I refused to eat spinach except under parental duress—even then, I went to great lengths to disguise the taste. You’d find my technique disturbing. As I think of it, I find my technique disturbing. I suspect it’s why all three of my children absolutely refuse to eat mayonnaise. (Not even in potato salad!) The trauma went just that deep, embedding itself into my DNA for my kids to inherit.

It wasn’t until we moved to the Netherlands that I learned one could eat spinach raw—and I discovered that I like it that way. I’ve been okay with spinach in salad ever since. But you have to admit, served raw it’s an entirely different vegetable, part of the crisp lettuce family as opposed to the slimy algae clan.

In Colorado, I discovered spinach quiche and decided that cooked spinach is okay when buried in egg and cheese. But I determined my terms of acceptance would absolutely end there. My children were blessed with a spinach-free life. My husband never complained.

We’re trying to eat healthier foods now, though. Mike, by choice, me, because of a body that’s decided to stop tolerating foods that contain milk or soy. If I had my way, I’d probably serve cheeseburgers with French fries for dinner every night—with chocolate fudge cake for dessert.

Okay, not really. But doesn’t that sound good?

Back to my story. While visiting my mother-in-law last month, Mike found spinach in her freezer and decided to cook some up to serve as a side dish with some baked potatoes. He really liked it. He asked me to get some for him to enjoy in our home from time to time. I did. He’s fixed it for himself a few times and raved about it.

And evidently, thoughts of spinach got stuck in my head. Because as I was cooking dinner the other night, I thought, “This might be really good with some spinach cooked into it.” And just that fast, I added spinach to our perfectly good meal without even thinking about it.*

And it tasted good.

The author of Hebrews used the concept of maturing food tastes to illustrate spiritual growth. In Chapter 5, he writes, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (verses 12-14).

Just as my tastes had to mature (a lot) before I could accept spinach into my diet, Christians grow into the more difficult Bible passages, the deeper Scriptural truths. We wouldn’t expect preschoolers to read Leviticus or to understand Paul’s letters. We introduce them to the Bible through its stories of history. When introducing adults to the Bible, we teach them the essentials of the faith first: Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and so on. We have them start with the Book of Luke and let them grow into the complexities of Job and Revelation over time.

So what’s my point? If you haven’t learned to love Deuteronomy just yet, that’s okay. Take the more challenging books in smaller doses. Spend most of your study time on the books you love.

But don’t neglect the more challenging ones. Discipline yourself to ingest them in small doses. As you become more familiar with them, you’ll gradually get to know the people behind them, the overall themes, and, best of all, the God Who was at work when events happened, later as they were recorded, and now as we read of them. If you stick to it, you may decide you’d like to digest Isaiah someday.

And you will discover it’s good.

Father, please encourage us to keep on reading. Open our hearts to the truth of Your Word. Use it to help us grow in faith and in fellowship with You. All of Your Word is good. Amen.

*Click here to find the recipe on my Facebook page.

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Not a Genie

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”Matthew 7:11

Shortly after my husband and I were married, a speaker in our Sunday school class testified about something he’d come to believe about prayer. He’d learned this lesson while on a fishing trip. Before he’d left, he had prayed and asked God to help him catch something big. God answered his prayer. After quite the wrestling match to haul it in from the lake, he landed an old, rotting log. Boy, was he ever proud!

Not really. He was disappointed. What lesson did he learn? He said he learned that God wants us to pray very specifically. If we don’t, He might give us something we don’t want in order to teach us a lesson. He said God wants us to think about our prayers in order to get them right.

For a long time, I think I believed that, though something inside me said it wasn’t quite true. My prayers sometimes gave my superstitions away, particularly before a trip. If I was going on a journey, I’d not only pray for a safe trip. I’d pray for a safe and uneventful trip, fearing that if I didn’t include those extra words, my safe trip might be full of cancellations, delays, and much rerouting. Yet I noticed, over time, that sometimes when I had prayed for a safe and uneventful trip, my journey was full of mishaps anyway. Other times, all would go well, though I’d forgotten to pray so specifically.

The truth is: our God’s not a genie. And prayers are not carefully worded formulas for getting what we want from Him.

According to legend, the mythical genie not only grants wishes, but takes great delight in looking for the loophole. His goal is to make the wisher regret having wished—there his victim stands with his big catch, the log, and he can’t complain because the genie granted his wish. In order to beat the genie, you have to word your wish perfectly.

God isn’t like that. (And prayers aren’t wishes.)

God is the perfect father. (If you had a loving father who cared for you, God is even better than that. If you didn’t, God is all you had longed for your father to be—and more!) He loves His children and delights in blessing them with good things. He knows what we need before we ask Him and is eager to provide. He hears our prayers, then gives what’s best for us. (Just as a loving parent hears the child’s request, then does what is best, yes or no.) If God’s answer to our prayer turns out to be a log instead of a fish, it’s not a colossal joke. If our cross-country flight takes ten hours longer than we’d planned, it’s not because we forgot to pray for no problems that day. God with perfect wisdom has simply chosen to say, “No.”

Sometimes life’s frustrating, but it’s not because our God is playing jokes at our expense. Believe that—no matter what! God loves us. He’s watching over us. He gives His children good gifts.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”Philippians 4:19.

Thank You, Father, for hearing our prayers and granting what’s best—always.

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Setting Little Records to Reach Big Goals

IMG_6578eOne fun thing I’ve noticed about the American Ninja Warrior television show is the creative way they invent records for just about everything. The challenge isn’t just about being the first person to make it to the top of Mount Midoriyama. The athletes in this competition celebrate every achievement they can think of!

Every time builders create a new obstacle for one of the courses, the commentators make note of the first person to conquer it. They know who has completed each course the fastest—for the season and for all time. They keep track of several other achievements, too. This year, for instance, Kacy became the first woman to complete the qualifying course and earn her right to compete in Las Vegas. Jon became the oldest man ever to qualify. Meagan made it two obstacles farther in the Las Vegas competition than any other woman ever has. And, of course, Brian currently holds the record for coming closer to that final obstacle than anyone else. Every week, it seems, someone is setting a new record for going farther or faster in some way than those who’ve gone before.

Hmm. I wonder if I could be the first Army chaplain’s wife to attempt the course. (One giant jump, splash!) Yeah. I think I’ll leave that record for someone else.

I am applying the concept to my personal workouts, though. I have an overall speed goal I’m trying to reach. Some days (like today!) I’ll successfully set a personal best record that brings me closer to this goal. Other days I watch for other records I can set. I may try to run farther than I have before (instead of faster). Or I may start out at the faster pace I’m reaching for overall and try to maintain it further than I ever have before. Or maybe I’ll run for a longer period of time between walking intervals or with a steeper incline than I’ve ever used. Reaching these goals encourages and strengthens me as I work toward my overall goal.

What’s really exciting about this idea is that it works for any discipline—even the spiritual ones. Maybe you’ve never read through the whole Bible and find that idea just too daunting. Instead of trying to reach that goal, challenge yourself to read just a little every day for thirty days instead (even if you only read a verse or two each day). You can also challenge yourself to read just the New Testament or one book of the Bible that sounds interesting to you. Set a goal, reach it, celebrate your success—then set another goal.

Prayer is another spiritual discipline. If praying is new to you, the thought of kneeling for an extended amount of time, talking and listening to God, may seem impossible, if not unrealistic. So make your goal to set aside a few minutes for prayer each day or to write in a prayer journal every day for a month or simply to pray for family members each morning as they leave the house for the day. Set a goal that will challenge but not overwhelm you, then reach for it, celebrate your success, and move forward from there.

One caution, however: remember to offer yourself tons of grace. Whether you’re running or reading or praying, you don’t have to set a new record every day. Some days it’s enough just to attempt the course. Ask God to help you know when you should push yourself a little harder or try something new, when maintaining your current pace is best, and when you must slow down to give yourself a break. We’re pressing on toward the goal, but we won’t reach it if we break down and stop.

Father, thank You for the ability to train ourselves through discipline and diligence. Please help us to set good goals, to reach for them with all the effort we can muster, to know when to rest, and to count on You for strength and endurance. We can’t do anything on our own, but with Your help, we’ll progress steadily until You take us home, triumphant at last. Amen.

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Many Languages

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.”Acts 2:5-6

DSC02012eSince the time of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) people all over the globe have spoken different languages. Living in the Netherlands, our family experienced the confusion God promised first hand. People where we lived spoke Dutch. Ten minutes away in one direction, they spoke German. Twenty minutes in the other, they spoke French. And when we travelled, we encountered other languages as well. By the time we left Europe, I could order French fries from McDonald’s in six languages. But I’m only fluent in one, English–and the British people I’ve met sometimes question even that.

Dutch people, however, take great pride in their ability to speak several languages. Many can speak English, French, German, and others–even American! Since I knew very little Dutch, I usually depended on them to help me communicate. And they seemed to like it that way. “We understand your English better than your Dutch,” they’d proudly say. They were happy to use their knowledge to help out wherever mine lacked.

Beyond Europe is a whole big world full of many languages–some yet to be discovered. Friends of ours once completed a year of language training in Brazil, learning Portuguese in order to minister to the people of Mozambique. You’ve probably heard missionaries from exotic countries share bits of language from the places they’ve been. And even in America, I sometimes have to listen closely to understand the dialects of friends from Maine, Alabama, or New Jersey! When God promised confusion, He delivered.

But God is never confused. He understands every language, every dialect, every bit of slang, and even words that don’t transcend the generation gap. (I’m pretty sure He even speaks text.) And just as He helped the disciples communicate with the crowd “from every nation under heaven,” He can help us communicate His love wherever we go. We may have to study, use sign language, or ask a lot of questions, but Christian love goes a long way toward building understanding.

Will you have fritessaus with your fries?

All-Knowing Lord, help me to communicate with people around me today. Whether they speak another language or simply need to know I understand how they are feeling and what’s going on in their lives, remove the confusion. Replace it with love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Keeping Imagination in Its Place

Life gave me reason to worry today.

Jesus said, “Do not!”

The facts I have say that if everything went according to plan, then all should be okay. The facts I have give me no reason to worry.

My imagination, however, is trying to tell me all the things that might have gone wrong. It wants me to worry.

DSC01608eTruth: My imagination doesn’t know anything. My imagination makes things up.

Therefore, I will ignore it.

I will wait.

I will pray.

I will give my imagination something else to do. Something it was intended to do! Something productive and creative and beneficial to this life we’re all living.

Worry is a poor use of the gift of imagination.

I will anchor my mind in the facts, trust God with them, and go on about my day. I will pray whenever my imagination tempts me to worry.

What’s that? An e-mail! All is well.

Thank You, Lord. Amen.