Monday, March 19, 2018



[Photo of an open planbook]

“Being confident of this, that he who began
a good work in you will carry it to
completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
—Philippians 1:6

The teacher lives by his or her plan book. If the teacher has done a good job, inside each plan book you can find day-to-day lessons. Each individual lesson will have an individual goal. Monthly or unit lessons that relate to the individual lessons will have a larger, more encompassing goal. Year-long plans for a specific grade level, or subject, will reflect the goals of the curriculum for the particular subject area.

Some teachers, once they have achieved mastery of all of these levels, begin planning “longitudinally.” This is the practice that I followed. I had music students from Kindergarten through Grade Four, so I looked at my students with the strategy of a five-year plan. How rewarding to see the skills these children acquired over those years and to know that I, in large part, had taught them and watched them grow in their proficiency.

We use a theological term for this kind of progress in our spiritual lives: sanctification. It’s important to note that sanctification follows God’s longitudinal design for us. And, rather than planning for a whole group of students—or disciples—God specifically designs a customized plan for each of us. He measures our individual progress against His long-term goals, which He has formulated for each of us since before the foundation of the world.

Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic as a teenager—on the day the doctors moved her in the hospital from “acute care” to “chronic care”—learned the very hard lesson of looking into God’s plan book. She knew then that this “lesson” of growth would become a long-range process. Here’s how she put it:1

The core of God’s plan is to rescue us from sin and self-centerdness. Suffering—especially the chronic kind—is God’s choicest tool to accomplish this. It is a long process. But, it means I can accept my paralysis as a chronic condition. When I broke my neck, it wasn’t a jigsaw puzzle I had to solve fast, or a quick jolt to get me back on track. My paralyzing accident was the beginning of a lengthy process of becoming like Christ.

As we consider God’s work in our lives, we should ask ourselves what God uses to teach us short lessons, longer chapters, or life-lessons, and how He masterminds all of it for His long-range good purposes in our lives. And, we should remember that lessons always go best when we cooperate!


1 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Pearls of Great Price. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2006. Devotional for February 17th.



Monday, March 12, 2018

The Sap of the Maple


[Photo of painting by Charlene B. Willink Kidder]

“The trees of the Lord are watered
abundantly and are filled with sap.”
—Psalm 104:16 Amp.

I love that in the months of February and March a great transformation takes place. The ground lies frozen beneath a blanket of snow and all the trees look like dead stalks. I can remember my childhood on a maple syrup-producing farm. Yes, before the robin sings his first song, before pussy willows pop their soft fuzzy shoots, or before the ice-hardened streams flow freely, we can find new life within the maple tree.

The maple tree, in order to produce the sweet sap, must teem with new life. Through its hidden roots, it must draw up from the moisture in the ground the glorious liquid that becomes its sap.

In a similar way, a Christian should bring forth new fruit and new living nourishment for the benefit of himself or herself and others. This fresh life is produced by the work of the Holy Spirit, Who brings the divine ability to give off the many effects of that new life. The root system of a Christian reaches deep down in God-breathed experiences, deep down to the Water of Life, the Lord Jesus, and deep down into the written Word of God that feeds spiritual nourishment to him or her.

The result of tapping into one of these mature maple trees and allowing a hot fire to boil away the extra liquid can be tasted in the remaining syrup and the many products made from the syrup, such as maple cream and maple sugar candy.

Mature Christians, with the living graces of Christ flowing into them, through them, and from them, produce sweet refreshments for others, as well. In Scripture, Galatians 5:22-23 refers to these sweet refreshments as the “Fruit of the Spirit.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say1:

As the sap manifests itself in producing the foliage and fruit of the tree, so with a truly healthy Christian, his grace is externally manifested in his walk and conversation.

Let us continually feed on the Water of Life so that we provide Christ’s sweetness to everyone we meet.


1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. Public Domain. Devotional entry for October 24th.
2 The photo above was taken of a portion of the mural painted by Charlene B. Willink Kidder for the UPMC Chautauqua WCA Hospital Emergency Department’s Waiting Room in Jamestown, NY.



Monday, March 5, 2018

Spiritual Sinkholes


[Photo of a sinkhole]

“Therefore let any one who thinks he stands—who
feels sure that he has a steadfast mind and is
standing firm—take heed lest he fall
[into sin].”
—1 Corinthians 10:12 Amp.

If you were driving along and came to the sinkhole shown in the photo above, would you try to drive around it? If you were planning to build a house, would you set your sights on the lot adjacent to such a sinkhole? No reasonable person would do either.

Yet, we all sometimes dare walk by and peer into a pit like this and suddenly get drawn into it. Sin entices us when we least expect it and we fall.

For example, we all have “besetting” sins that we get used to having in our lives. Some of us live close to a sinkhole called “Worry.” We find it so easy to step over the side and fall into this sinkhole. Others of us nurse “Grudges.” We stand too near the rim and catch ourselves—on the way down! Some of us get too close to the edge of a pit called “Self-pity.” Before we know it, we’re at the bottom of this sinkhole with no apparent way out.

How do we make it a practice of staying out of the neighborhood where sinkholes abide? Some days we’d much rather build our house right there on the perimeter and enjoy our misery. Do you ever feel that way?

In her book, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes about this problem area. She explains the importance of this crisis of daily living.

Be on guard against the pit… When you are weary or unwell, this demonic trap is the greatest danger you face. Don’t even go near the edge of the pit. Its edges crumble easily, and before you know it, you are on the way down. It is ever so much harder to get out of the pit than to keep a safe distance from it.1

Sarah Young suggests that Christians with this problem—the enticement of the pit—should occupy themselves with praising and thanking God for His blessings. She also speaks of living close to God in order to put a distance between us and the pit. Her suggestions are both good ideas.

Scripture itself, in the same passage as our introductory verse, tells us that we have help available if we want it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I hope that you will join me as we work at staying away from spiritual sink holes. Comfortable though it may be to peer into them, whenever we put ourselves into that kind of temptation, we cannot please our heavenly Father. He has definitely given us help to overcome such temptation.


1 Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Devotional for February 23rd.



Monday, February 26, 2018

Hidden Treasures


[Photo of a Waterford crystal apple and Grandma Raymond]

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on
earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where
thieves break in and steal. But store up for
yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth
and rust do not destroy, and where thieves
do not break in and steal. For where your
treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
—Matthew 6:19-21

I have a beautiful photograph of my maternal grandmother as a teenager. What a treasure! I also have a Waterford crystal apple given to me by my music colleagues on the occasion of my retirement from teaching. What a treasure! Once in awhile I take the opportunity to look at my various pieces of furniture, jewelry, dishes, photographs, and paintings that I consider true treasures.

I don’t think Jesus was opposed to earthly treasures. But instead, He wants us to put them in perspective and use them as an illustration of the greater things He wants us to value. Even more than the way we pull out our keepsakes and admire them, I believe He wants us to take the time, once in awhile, to admire the eternal treasures He gives us. What a better time than the period of Lent to do so?

Do you have familiar passages of Scripture that you memorized a long time ago, or learned as a child, but which have slipped into the background of your thinking? Why not take those passages out, dust them off, and reclaim them?

For example, how long has it been since you have read and meditated on Psalm 23? Or, perhaps the Lord spoke to you and changed you through another passage of Scripture that you haven’t looked at in some time? Take the time to read that passage in another translation, to study it verse by verse, word by word. If you do so, a treasure awaits you!

Another source, in my glass case of memories, comes through the hymns and spiritual songs that I have sung over and over throughout my lifetime. These hymns hold treasured phrases and living images of God’s truths. To review them brings renewed blessing, challenges, gratitude, and love for my Lord.

If you journal your spiritual progress like I do, the things that God teaches you daily in your quiet time with Him, reveal a fortune of riches. Take a look back through your journal entries. See how He has blessed you through the day-to-day revelation of His presence. The times He has met with you, answered prayer, and taught you about life with Him should make you rejoice in the treasures He has given.

So, I am suggesting that we all pull out the treasures we have stored in our hearts of Scriptures and spiritual songs and the day-to-day remembrances of His presence. We need to slowly turn them over in our minds, admiring the prized truths that bring our Savior closer, and help us adore Him, the greatest Treasure of them all!



Monday, February 19, 2018

The Gourd and the Worm


[Drawing of Jonah sitting under the tree after preaching]

Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed
for Tarshish…
[Jonah] answered,
“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the
God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
—Jonah 1:3, 9

Jonah was proud of his Hebrew heritage, and considered himself a prophet of the Most High God. Yet, somewhere he lost his way, and cared less about God ’s will than his own.

Yet God, in His faithfulness, not only to the Ninevites to whom He had called Jonah, but to Jonah himself, took extraordinary measures to discipline his servant Jonah. The Hebrews hated the Ninevites and would have rather seen them destroyed by God than saved. Jonah bought into this cultural opinion, and therefore, Jonah turned away from helping them in their return to God in repentance and headed in the opposite direction by ship.

Even after God called Jonah a second time and he reluctantly obeyed, he became very angry that the people of the wicked city of Nineveh turned and repented. So, he sat down outside of the city and pouted.

In kindness, God provided for Jonah a gourd with large foliage to protect him from the sun and scorching wind. This vine became the only thing in this story that made Jonah happy. Then, God did something that again made Jonah angry. God sent a worm to eat the gourd, causing the foliage shading Jonah to wither and die.

God went to extreme lengths to call His wayward servant back to Himself. What a readjustment Jonah needed! God used a storm, a fish, a gourd, and a worm to call Jonah back. If God would do this for Jonah, we can be assured He will not let us disobey and turn from what He has called us to do. God is faithful. He will keep us from going and straying away from Him.

The Scripture passage found in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 tells us:

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

God expects of His servants today the same thing He expected of Jonah—complete obedience to His will. And, God will not let us think more of our own comforts than we think of His sovereign plan. Even if He has to provide a gourd and a worm to prove it!



Monday, February 12, 2018

Open Wide!


[Photo of a baby eating]

“Open wide your mouth and I will fill it…
You will be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
—Psalm 81:10, 16

We’ve all watched as a mother tries to feed her child something the child thinks is undesirable: the mouth shut tight and the head squirming away from the spoon. The beets or peas—or worse yet, the medicine—remain despised, even though what’s on the spoon may be meant to nourish or heal.

How often have we closed our mouths, our hearts, or our minds to our Heavenly Father’s intention to feed us with something new that we perceive as totally undesirable. The struggle goes on until a smidgen of the substance gets into our system, leaving a messy face and a determination on our part to never take any more of the dreadful stuff.

However, our Heavenly Father loves us too much to allow us to persist in our stubborn ways. Sooner or later, He initiates the feeding again, and eventually teaches us that He has our best interest—and that of His Kingdom—at heart.

Do you remember the lengths to which Jonah went to keep His mouth and will closed up against God’s plan? God had requested Jonah to go “proclaim” the words God had given him to the people of Ninevah. After the unfortunate ship ride, the detour inside the giant fish, and the expectoration upon the beach, Jonah reluctantly obeyed so that God’s miracle work could happen for the Ninevites. Jonah opened his mouth and God filled it with His message.

Perhaps you don’t know what God wants to put in your mouth. You hesitate because you want to be sure you will like what He has for you. Or, you hesitate because you want to be certain that you are capable of “keeping it down.”

Yet sometimes, God only wants us to trust His wise and loving intentions. Even though the spoonful may not appeal to us at first, we must believe He has something tasty and nourishing for us.

Let us learn the valuable lesson to “open wide,” allowing Him to give us all He has for us!



Monday, February 5, 2018

Keep Us


[Photo of a girl with her cat]

“The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will
watch over your life; the Lord will watch over
your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
—Psalm 121:7-8

Often children are given responsibility for a plant, or a young pet, so that they learn the reliability it takes to keep something safe and alive. They learn the necessity for dependability and the sacred duty of a “keeper.”

Have you ever had the responsibility for taking care of another human being? A child, an elderly parent, or a sick spouse? The heavy task of such care gives comfort to the one under your watch. We want that one to feel at peace, to know that even in danger, he or she can relax, unafraid.

The older I get, the more I realize that I am incapable of taking care of myself. Yes, I do my best to live spiritually for God. But, more and more I recognize that I have nothing in me that will please Him. If left to ourselves, we produce only spiritual deadwood. We have no “life” in us but what Christ has given us. Even with the best of intentions, we utterly fail at pleasing God, of showing forth His glory, of doing His will in His way.

God has taken the responsibility of our care upon Himself. Not only does He watch over our physical and emotional needs, He has taken upon Himself the accountability for our sin, and cares for us spiritually. We would utterly fail, and die, were it not for His keeping power.

I love the prayer that Charles Haddon Spurgeon penned:

Hast Thou not said, “I, the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day”? Lord, keep us everywhere. Keep us when in the valley, that we murmur not against Thy humbling hand; keep us when on the mountain, that we wax not giddy through being lifted up; keep us in youth, when our passions are strong; keep us in old age, when becoming conceited of our wisdom, we may therefore prove greater fools than the young and giddy; keep us when we come to die, lest, at the very last, we should deny Thee! Keep us living, keep us dying, keep us labouring, keep us suffering, keep us fighting, keep us resting, keep us everywhere, for everywhere we need Thee, O our God!1


1Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 363.