When a good day goes bad

Today’s chapter: Matthew 4

Have you ever noticed how some days can start off just fine, but then in a matter of moments go completely off the rails? You wake up and the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and a Phil Collins song is on the radio. Life is sweet. Then a kid yells in the back seat. Or an aggressive driver uses a hand gesture to say he thinks you’re #1. Or somebody doesn’t say thanks for something thoughtful you did. Or your spouse asks a question you know you’ve answered before.

bird sings a song in summer sunny day

If we’re completely honest, sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to throw our day into a complete tailspin. Those moments of weakness are when we need to be most alert because that is when temptation is strongest. Satan always comes in our moment of weakness to see if he can poke and prod us into doing something foolish. He loves to come when we feel alone. Or tired. Or angry. Or out of control. Or hungry.

After Jesus had fasted forty days and was extremely hungry, Satan decided this was the time to try to goad Him into sin. He tempted Jesus to meet a legitimate need (food) in an illegitimate way (selfishly).

Jesus was clear on God’s will because he knew the Father and he knew what Scripture said. He quoted a verse about how the Israelites received daily manna (bread) from God. They learned not only that God would meet their needs, but that He cared about them and they could trust Him. He cares about you, too. You can trust Him to not only meet your needs, but to be with you in your troubles, even when you’re tempted to move away from Him.

Do you know what is at stake every time you’re tempted? Your future. With each decision you make, you’re becoming someone. Your words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions are all moving you in a direction. It’s entirely up to you whether you move toward God or away from Him.

Don’t get so caught up in the moment that you don’t see how the ramifications of temptation are always bigger than just that moment. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and only focus on the here and now: this decision, this dollar, this relationship, this argument, this cookie, this moment. But it’s bigger than that.

Choices always have consequences – some we can anticipate and some we can’t. You’re free to choose to live however you want. But once you choose, you’re not free to choose the consequences. So choose wisely.

What is a weak spot where you recognize you’re more vulnerable to temptation? It could be a tendency to be critical of your spouse, to worry about what people think, to exaggerate, to be sarcastic, to not spend enough time with your kids, to drink too much, to be selfish, or something else. Confess it to God. Identify a Bible verse that addresses the issue and memorize it. Follow Jesus’s lead and use Scripture to defeat temptation.




Why I’m glad I never dated anyone named Karen


Today’s chapter: Matthew 3

I can still remember how excited and nervous I was on my wedding day. My beautiful bride, Erin, had spent months planning the event. For the most part, I had wisely chosen to stay out of the way as she finalized all the details. Now that the ceremony was underway, I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to mess it up.



When my pastor told me to repeat after him, I listened closely to get my lines right.

“I, Todd, …” I repeated what he had said.

“… take you, Karen…” Um, wait a minute. I’d never done this before, but I knew if I followed his lead and said the wrong name, I’d be in the doghouse for the rest of my life. Awkward!

I froze long enough that the pastor looked at me. Fortunately, he then realized his mistake. He said, “I mean, Erin. It is Erin you’re marrying, right?”

A wedding is a ceremony where two people are initiated into a new stage of their relationship based on their shared commitment to each other. The couple makes a public vow and allows friends and family to celebrate this moment with them.

In a lot of ways, baptism is similar. It’s a ceremony that initiates people into the life of the church. By being baptized, believers are publicly demonstrating their commitment to Christ and inviting their friends to celebrate with them as they take this important step.

John preached about and offered a baptism of repentance. The word ‘repent’ means to change directions. When I repent, I’m switching from going in my own direction and doing things my way to following Jesus and becoming more like Him.

I’ve talked with lots of people who said they weren’t ready to be baptized yet because they still had so many bad habits or didn’t feel like their relationship with God was as close as it should be. But baptism isn’t reserved only for people who are worthy or have mostly gotten their lives in order. Baptism is a public statement that a person is changing directions and committing to follow Jesus today.

If you’ve been putting off baptism because your current or past lifestyle isn’t godly enough, then you’ve missed the point. Baptism isn’t about how well you’ve followed Jesus in the past, but is based on your commitment to follow Him starting now. In fact, since Jesus commanded us to follow in His footsteps and be baptized, by delaying your baptism you’re continuing in your own direction. You can “repent” and follow Him by changing direction and taking this public step.

John initially didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he mistakenly thought Jesus was submitting to a baptism of repentance, like everyone else. But just as He would later alter the meaning of the Passover Meal when He observed it at the Last Supper, Jesus was forever transforming the ritual of baptism. As Jesus began His public ministry, His first act was to make baptism a symbolic doorway to a new kind of life, and He would be the first to walk through it.

Baptism is an important way we publicly identify ourselves with Jesus and choose to be aligned with Him, but it doesn’t end there. Every day we have new opportunities to either be identified with Jesus or to align ourselves with something or someone else.

Do you have friends or acquaintances who you’re careful to not discuss your faith with? Are their certain environments where you try to not let your faith shine through? Change directions by committing to be identified with Jesus at all times. Be intentional about allowing your faith to show up in settings where you’ve concealed it in the past. Your boldness will encourage others and God might even use your public faith to impact someone you had thought was unreachable.

In what setting are you sometimes tempted to keep your faith in the background?





The truth is out there

Today’s chapter: Matthew 2

Even though I’m usually a fan of sci-fi stuff, I never really got into The X-Files TV show. It recently came back for an encore season and the reviews have been mixed. I saw enough episodes in the 90’s, though, to know the main plot. It was really a pretty cool concept.

A general view of the atmosphere during the FOX's 'The X-Files'

Agent Mulder was a big believer in the paranormal and was always convinced there was a massive government conspiracy concealing the truth about aliens. Agent Scully was the skeptic who worked alongside him and kept him in check. What united the two was they both were searching for the truth. The show’s catchphrase was: “The truth is out there.”

People have been going on quests to find the truth for a long time. Over 2,000 years ago, the Magi commenced their own search. Magi were wise men who were a cross between astronomers and scientists and philosophers. Since they came from the Mideast, their trip to find Jesus would have likely taken 5-6 months.

They had a serious commitment to finding the truth. It seems today we’re often interested in the truth, but don’t want to have to spend a lot of time on it. If we can’t digest it in a sound byte or read a summary of it in a 144-character tweet, it hardly seems worth the effort. But truth is important and is worth the trouble to discover it.

I can remember how shortly after I finished college, I began to have doubts about my faith. I wasn’t sure whether a Christian worldview really made sense, primarily because I wasn’t sure I could rely on the biblical account of creation. To be completely honest, I wanted to hold on to my faith, but I was afraid that if I began to seriously search for the truth, the answers I would find might contradict what I had always believed. I knew the truth was out there, but I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to know it.

Finally, I decided to begin my own search. I reasoned that if God was real, then surely He could handle my questions. I wanted to know the God who actually was, as opposed to the God I wished for. As I dug in and began to study, I came across Chuck Swindoll’s book, How Now Shall We Live? Buried within that book were the answers I was looking for.

Because I was willing to confront my doubts, I now have solid answers to those questions that once tripped me up. Whenever my experiences in life try to shake my faith, I go back to what I know to be true beyond any doubt about creation. The very issue that once cause me to have doubts is now a foundation for my faith. It’s a result of taking the time to search for the truth.

Jesus was born just a few miles away from the temple, which was considered the religious center of the world. Yet none of the religious elite went to him because they weren’t searching for him. The truth can be found by anyone who is willing to search for it, and the truth is what sets us free.

Are you actively searching for truth or passively going along with whatever comes your way? Finding the truths about God takes work and is an ongoing process. If you’re willing to confront your doubts, you’ll find the answers you’re looking for. Be honest with yourself about your doubts and take the time to research your questions. The truth is out there. And the end result is that you get to know the God who really is, as opposed to a God you only wished for.




The day everything changed

Today’s chapter: Matthew 1

My kids used to be convinced our family was completely different from every other one. They were absolutely sure that none of their friends had to go to bed by a certain time or ever brush their teeth and that they were all allowed to play video games 24 hours per day. Because they hadn’t spent much time at their friends’ houses, they made assumptions about what their lives must be like.

Empty manger in old barn with window showing the Christmas star

Then they got to know a bit more about other kids and learned they’re not so different. “Wait, your parents don’t allow you to watch that show either? So you’re saying you have a bedtime, too? And your parents even make you eat your vegetables?” My kids found out they had more in common with their friends than they thought, but they also discovered some important differences. The improved understanding helped them appreciate how our family operates and the things we do to protect them and guide them because we love them.

In Matthew 1, the long awaited Savior arrives as a baby. Matthew explains that his appearance fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that He would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” He came so we could know God in a way we never had before. Just as my kids got a different perspective when they saw their friends’ lives up close, Jesus shattered some of our assumptions and more than fulfilled our expectations. He showed us how we were created to live.

Jesus went to great lengths to remove the distance that separated you from Him. He bridged the gap so you could see Him up close and know in a more intimate way. He did that because He is incredibly interested in you. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He revealed in an unmistakable way that God loves you and wants a relationship with you.

It is amazing to realize that God is always with you. As His child, you can know He will never leave your side. The Bible never says God will take away your problems, but He did promise to be with you in the midst of them. You can’t see Him, but He is there. He is Immanuel: God with us.

Take time today to recognize the reality of God being with you as you go through your day. If you’re in a struggle, lean on His strength and know you’re not alone. If you’re enjoying blessings, recognize His provision and thank Him. If you need wisdom, ask Him. He is there waiting to continue to the conversation with you because He loves you very much.




Whose line is it anyway?

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 22

Recently my youngest son was working in an activity book. One of the activities had a man holding a fishing pole at the top of the page. To solve the puzzle and catch the fish, he had to circle which fishing line was the right one. The problem was there was a jumble of curvy lines in the middle of the page. All those tangled lines obscured which was the correct line.

Tangled doodle pattern


My son solved the puzzle by working backward and starting with the fish, then carefully tracing the line back to the source. Then he was able to “catch the fish” and avoid getting tangled up. But the answer wasn’t obvious. He had to take the time to trace it all the way back.

It’s important that we regularly take time to do that in life, too. We need to trace our blessings back to the Source and remember where they came from.

As we accumulate stuff over time, our lives begin to look more and more like that activity page. The more stuff we have, the harder it gets to see the source. It’s ironic that the more we have, the less grateful we tend to be. We have to work harder at seeing the source, so we can avoid getting all tangled up.

This appendix to David’s story gives us a hymn of praise written by David early in his reign as king. He begins and ends his song by calling God his Rock and Deliverer. He recognizes God’s hand in every good thing in his life, remembers the tough times He has brought him through, and he wants to be sure to express gratitude for all the blessings.

It’s important that we take time to recognize our blessings, and then respond to them with gratitude. If we don’t turn our blessings into praise, they turn into pride. We’ll get tangled up and start to take credit for what God has done on our behalf. Let’s develop the habit of tracing the good things in our lives back to the Source and thanking Him for providing for us and blessing us in so many ways.

Don’t let this be a day you simply “read it” and don’t “do it.” Don’t be so busy enjoying your blessings that you don’t pause to thank God for them. Reflect on the experiences God has brought you through and pinpoint the ways He has answered your prayers and moved in your life.

What are you thankful for?




I’ve got this on my own

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 21

Evidently I’m a slow learner. After I had a hernia repaired, the surgeon told me I needed to be more careful about lifting things. He said I needed to know my limits and realize I could no longer do as much as I used to do. After two additional hernia surgeries, I finally listened.

new home, real estate, moving and furniture concept - close up o

The truth is my problem wasn’t just that I sometimes have to learn things the hard way. The bigger issue was my pride. I don’t like having to depend on other people to help me, especially when I think I can just do it myself.

We all have limits to what we know and we can do. But we don’t like to admit that to other or to ourselves. It’s hard to honestly face our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That’s what makes this form of pride so hard to see in the mirror.

How do you know if you have it? If you have a tough time asking people for assistance or accepting their help, then at the root of your independence is pride. If you wear yourself out doing something alone that could have been done more easily with others, then your pride is waving a big warning flag. If people sometimes offer to help you and you hear yourself say, “I’m okay. Help somebody else,” then you definitely have this brand of pride.

David led his troops into a battle with the Philistines, but he found that his energy level wasn’t what it used to be. He got exhausted and was fortunate that one of his men came to rescue him. David’s men told him they weren’t going to allow him to go into battle again.

The time had come for him to rely on others to fight the battles directly, while he provided leadership and support from a distance. Fortunately, David recognized his limits and didn’t allow his pride to get in the way.

Do you recognize your limitations and where you might need some assistance? Perhaps your marriage is struggling, but you’ve been convinced you can fix it on your own and won’t humble yourself enough to see a counselor. Maybe you’re in denial about an addiction to something you no longer have complete control over, but have stayed convinced you can handle it on your own. It could be as a parent you’re wrestling with issues with your kids, which could be resolved if you’d open yourself to advice from an older, wiser parent. Maybe you’re working on a project alone and making things unnecessarily hard for yourself.

Follow David’s lead. Admit your own weakness and vulnerability and allow others to assist you. Don’t let pride keep you from experiencing the life God intends for you to have.

Recognize a personal limitation where you’ve tended to resist help. Invite someone you trust to give you some assistance.

Is it easy or hard for you to ask for help?




Just do it

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 20

Today’s devotional is going to be super-short. I don’t especially feel like writing today because it’s gorgeous outside and there are other things I want to do, but I’m going to knock this out first.

To Do List

We don’t know the name of the woman in Abel Beth Maakah who addressed Joab and his soldiers, but the text specifically points out she was wise. Her actions on this day certainly proved it to be true.

Her city was under siege and she wanted to know why, so she asked. When she found out the soldiers were there only for a man named Sheba, she showed that she was someone who gets things done. Her response wasn’t that she’d try to get permission or that she would see what she could do. Even though she didn’t seem to officially be in charge of the city or have any formal position of authority, she simply said she’d get Sheba’s head for them and she did. Problem solved.

It was certainly an unpleasant task, but it needed to be done for the safety of the city. So she didn’t put it off or just hope the problem would go away. She did what needed to be done right away, then got on with her life.

What have you been putting off? What project could you knock out this weekend? Be wise. Stop procrastinating and get it done. It may be an unpleasant task or something you don’t especially enjoy. An unpleasant task looks much better in your rear view mirror, than when it’s still sitting on your to-do list.




Sometimes you just want it to stop hurting

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 19

Not long ago I was walking through a parking lot and stepped on a nail. It came straight up through the sole of my shoe and punctured my foot. At that moment I was thinking about only one thing: how to make the pain stop.

Worker steps on nail outdoors

That’s how we normally respond to discomfort in our lives. We want to address it directly and make it go away. When we’re hungry, we eat. When we’re bored, we find entertainment. When we’re cold, we put on a jacket. We deal with the issue so we can be comfortable again.

Sometimes, though, we encounter things in life that hurt in a way that we can’t do much to alleviate. People say things about us that are hurtful or untrue. We find out that someone we love is very sick. We have a friend who is struggling with their marriage or dealing with issues with their kids. When we can’t do anything to make a situation better, we feel stuck.

David is grieving the death of his son, Absalom. Clearly, there is nothing he can do to fix the situation. It just hurts. Joab points out to King David, though, that there is something he can do. In fact, there is something he needs to do.

David’s soldiers are in need of encouragement. They need for their king to take his focus off of his own problems, as real and bad as they are, and choose to encourage them. They have risked their lives for him and need to know he appreciates them. So with Joab’s prompting, David does the right thing. Despite his own sorrow, he goes out to the gateway and gives his men what they need.

Often when we’re hurting, we rationalize why our pain exempts us from ministering to others. Because we’re in need of help, we think we’re in no shape to help anyone else. We decide that we don’t have to concern ourselves with being compassionate until we’re healthier or richer or more stable or problem-free or better off than we are now.

What we overlook is that our struggle helps us better relate to the struggles of others, so we can have true empathy. We don’t need to have all the answers to other people’s problems and we don’t need to pretend to have it all together. Instead, our imperfect lives give us the credibility to encourage them in their challenges, even when we don’t feel encouraged ourselves.

Fulfillment doesn’t come from having your own needs met. Fulfillment in life comes from giving your life away. It’s counter-intuitive, but true.

Happiness doesn’t come as a result of happy circumstances. Happiness stems from a relationship with God and connecting with our purpose. As we shift our focus from ourselves to the needs of others, we begin to realize this is what we were made for. And our own challenges begin to become a lot more bearable.

Regardless of what’s going on in your own life, find a way to brighten someone else’s day. Identify a need and meet it. Whether someone needs a cold drink, some encouragement, a listening ear, or a word of appreciation, give the person what he/she needs. Don’t be surprised if it changes your own situation. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 11:25 – A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Who will you meet a need for today? What will you do?




My unbelievable conversation with a pizza guy

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 18

I recently called to order a pizza. It was a national chain, but I’ll call the restaurant “Pizza Shack.” The attendant answered the phone: “Thanks for calling Pizza Shack. What can I get for you?”
Me: “Hi! I’d like a large, thin-crust, pepperoni pizza and I’ll come pick it up.”
Pizza guy: “Sure, what size do you want?”
Me: “Large.”
Pizza guy: “OK, what style crust?”
Me: “Um, thin-crust.”
Pizza guy: “What do you want on it?”
Me: “Pepperoni.”
Pizza guy: “Will this be delivery or carry-out?
Me: “Carry-out. I’m curious: were you listening when you first asked me what I wanted?”

It’s frustrating when we feel like someone isn’t listening to us. It’s not only pizza order takers who struggle with this, though. We’re all guilty of not being good listeners sometimes.

I don't want to listen anymore

On average, people speak at a rate of 130 words per minute. Studies show, however, that we’re capable of hearing up to 300 words per minute with full comprehension. That gap can cause us to get bored and lose focus when others are talking. When you add to that the fact that most of us are far more interested in what we have to say than what the other person is saying anyway, you can see why listening can be such a challenge.

What’s interesting, though, is if you ask people what they could do to improve their own communication skills, the vast majority will say something about their speech like being more confident in public or articulating more clearly. Very few will point to their listening as something they need to improve. Most people think they are good listeners, simply because their ears are working.

In today’s passage, David again demonstrates one of the qualities that made him such an effective leader. He listened well to the people around him. Because of his proven skills as a warrior, King David wanted to lead his men into battle. But his men convinced him that he was too valuable to jeopardize his life on the battlefield. They persuaded him to stay and support them from the city.

It is telling not only that David listened to those who reported to him, but also that they felt empowered to express disagreement with his plan. Their confidence to speak up suggests they knew David was willing to listen to them based on past experiences with him.

One of the most encouraging things you can do for others is to really listen to them. If you consistently don’t listen to the people in your life, they’ll eventually find someone who will.

Be intentional today about giving someone your full attention and listening well. When you start to get distracted, focus that extra energy on reading the person’s body language, noticing their facial expressions, and asking follow-up questions. You may be surprised how much more you hear when you really listen.

What step will you take to become a better listener?




3 ways to hear from God

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 17

A while back I went on a tour of Ruby Falls. It is a 145-foot high waterfall located in a cave over 1,100 feet underground. As I rode the elevator down deeper and deeper into the mountain, my anxiety began to increase as I felt less and less in control of what might happen next. But when we arrived at our destination, it was an impressive sight to see.


Our tour guide told us how years ago tourists had been allowed to tour the cave on their own. Even though people were warned that touching the delicate formations in the cave could cause damage, they ignored the rules. They were just trying to have a good time. But as a result of their actions, damage was done to some parts of the cave which now can’t be undone.

My tour had a guide. He was there to lead me and keep me safe AND to protect the cave. If I’d decided to tune him out and do my own thing, my actions would have put me in direct conflict with the guide. I would have been risking getting hurt, injuring others, and damaging the cave formations.

Sometimes in life, we’re tempted to tune out the voice of God and do our own thing. Our independent actions put us in direct conflict with His will. We risk getting hurt physically and emotionally, injuring others relationally and spiritually, and doing damage with consequences we may spend the rest of our lives trying to get over. It’s in our best interest to listen to our Guide and do what He says.

David is clearly a strong tactical leader. He strategically left Hushai in the palace to advise Absalom in ways that were beneficial to David. He then stationed Jonathan and Ahimaaz at En Rogel to bring word about what Absalom was up to. He had a good plan and it was well executed.

But by comparing David to Absalom, we can see there is more to good leadership than having the most followers or getting a position of authority. Those advantages belonged to Absalom, but real leadership isn’t about who has the best ideas or whose opinion dominates. True leadership is about listening closely to the voice of God, then leading others to do what He says.

Absalom doesn’t recognize God’s voice, so he is easily misled by Hushai. But David is hearing from God through his advisors, his critics (like Shmei), and his knowledge of Scripture.

God created communication, so He is the master communicator. If you want to have His guidance as you make decisions, it’s vital that you learn to hear Him speak in these three ways:

  • Listen to His voice through the Bible. Scripture provides the clearest path to God’s point of view. Through His Word, He instructs us on how to live and reveals what He thinks. Conversely, if you never read the Bible, then you’re not going to hear from Him very much. Understand, though, that God doesn’t exist simply to solve your problems. He is the source of a relationship. Knowing God’s will is a by-product of knowing God. We can have one without the other.
  • Lean into the counsel of godly people. I’ve heard people say, “All I need to get through life is the Bible,” which sounds super-spiritual. But it’s actually super arrogant. When you ignore godly counsel from others, you become blind to your own sin. If you don’t allow mature people to speak into your life, sooner or later you will make stupid decisions. Surround yourself with godly people who you want to be like and listen to their advice.
  • Pay attention to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s role is to provide spiritual insight and understanding of God’s Word. He guides us and changes us from the inside out. As we yield to His inspiration, he changes our desires and gives us the power to accomplish what He is leading us to do.

We need to develop the habit of listening to God through all three of these voices. If we never hear from God, then our life experience will be no different than someone who doesn’t know Him at all.

If the voices ever seem to disagree or contradict each other, then know that the Bible trumps everything else. That’s because God won’t contradict Himself and we can hear and understand Him most clearly through Scripture. If your friends are telling you that there’s nothing wrong with premarital sex or that there’s no need to tithe, just know that isn’t the voice of God because it contradicts what He has clearly revealed through His Word.

You’re on the right track by using these devotionals to develop the habit of reading the Bible on a daily basis. As you read the Scripture each day, ask God to show you what He wants you to learn and do. When you encounter a tough situation or difficult choice today, ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind biblical principles you’ve learned from your time in God’s Word.

How has God spoken to you lately?