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“Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.”  2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

These last months, the world has become accustomed to the phrase “social distancing,” which means staying six feet apart, limiting interaction, and living in quarantine. Why? To avoid catching the corona virus.

Did you ever consider that the Bible refers to a similar practice for spiritual health? In 2 Thessalonians, Paul ended with the command that if anyone disobeyed these instructions, they were not to associate with them! Warn them!

In its full-blown form, this teaching, along with others, prompted the early church to develop the practice of dis-fellowshipping. Sounds unloving, right? Even judgmental. Why would God inspire Paul to write it?

Menno Simons, a church reformer, wrestled with this teaching and practice. Simons saw it this way. God called us to be holy [1 Peter 1:15- 16]:

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am and to live in the world but not like the world”.

So when believers chose to thumb their nose at God and gave Jesus a bad name, God made a plan for spiritual, social distancing.

But Simons understood that we are all sinners, so holding others accountable must be done with care

in sighing, tears, and a spirit of compassion”… in the love of Christ,” and done “not too rigidly or too leniently.”

May we seek God’s wisdom, walk with patience, and speak with courage when we admonish others, and may we do so in love for the good of one another. And if we receive such admonitions, may we wake up to God’s loving call to return to his ways.

Dear God, you care deeply for our spiritual well-being and detest sin. Help me understand how to graciously yet firmly approach brothers and sisters — in love — who appear insistent on spoiling your reputation. And may I humbly receive correction in the spirit of love so that I may know and love you more. Amen.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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FURTHER READING

  1. How to Fall in Love with Jesus by Sylvia Gunter
  2. The Christian and the Bible – Do you ever doubt the validity of the Bible?
  3. Can We Believe the Bible? By Max Lucado

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“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” I Corinthians 2:14

Ever wonder how we are nudged by God’s Spirit? I have wondered if the Holy Spirit resides in my thoughts, feelings, or body. I consider this a mystery, however it works.

An example of God’s mysteries is his commandment that we forgive one another. During Jesus’ public ministry he forgave people routinely — and his critics hated him for it. But Jesus told us to forgive our sister or brother not seven times, but seven times seventy (Matthew 18:21-21). Outrageous!

Jesus’ lavish offering of forgiveness, and his call to forgive, may not seem wise today. One reason might be our pride. Studies show that when we are proud — when we are “full of ourselves” rather than God’s Spirit — we are prone to not forgive others, nor accept forgiveness from others. We may think that forgiveness shows weakness, lets the perpetrator “off the hook” or approves of what they did. We may not offer forgiveness because we want the wrong-doer to suffer.

Yet the Spirit prompts us to do it. Forgiving others make more sense when we remember what God did for us. He forgave us even while we were still sinners, and that Jesus suffered and died to make God’s redemption complete. Theologian Louis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Do you feel nudged to forgive people who have hurt you? Or do you want to nurse your ego by not forgiving?

Dear God, forgive me for my unwillingness to forgive! Forgive me for squelching your Spirit! You have forgiven me of so much, and have provided your Spirit to guide me in wise choices. Help me listen authentically to your voice, and to accept the things that are of you. Amen.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25

When we see Christmas scenes of Jesus’ birth, we observe a family of three: Mary, Joseph, and the infant in swaddling clothes. They appear like a nuclear family in the 21st century where mom and dad work and junior goes to daycare. Jesus was born first, but he wasn’t an only child.

I wish we had more insight into Jesus’ growing up as he welcomed his half-brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas and at least three sisters (see Matthew 13:56). Did all the sons join father Joseph in the carpentry trade? Did his sisters marry early and bring brothers-in-law to the mix? How did siblings respond to Jesus’ messiah complex? We read in scripture it took a while for them to come around.

Why these questions at Christmas time? Because for me Christmas is about hope like that mentioned by the writer in Hebrews. And hope is best shared with family. This month our three sons will find their way to our home and we will eat, laugh, share, and encourage one another. And for any who struggle with health or relationships or vocations, we will find in the image of Jesus, the helpless babe so frail on straw, a source of strength. We know that He in us provides abundant potential for peace and purpose. Even amidst broken family.

Can you find hope in the story of Christ as child? In Jesus’ family? Or in your family as a mirror of His in its less-than-perfectness?

God, celebrating Christmas with family can be challenging at times, yet even in this experience may I find hope for myself, and bring encouragement to siblings and parents alike. Amen.

by Bill Strom
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The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow . . . No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah.” Isaiah 62:2,13

The saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” could not be any more false. Actually, verbal abuse cuts to the core and wounds the spirit like piercing arrows.

On the other hand, a soothing tongue is a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4), and the tongue of the righteous are like silver (Proverbs 10:20). Yet more fundamental than affecting our feelings, the words people aim our way tell us whom and whose we are. Words shape identify.

God promised his people, Zion, a fresh identity through his words. Zion had drifted far from God, ignored his law, and allowed injustice to run rampant. Yet God said, “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, (Isaiah 60:20). After they did, God said that Israel’s neighbors would no longer label them “deserted” or “desolate,” but rather “my delight is in her” (Hephzibah) and “married” (Beulah), and that his words would draw them to himself.

Is the same true today for you and me? Dr. Neil Anderson of Freedom in Christ Ministries highlights terms that God promises us when we are found in him, terms such as:

  • Chosen
  • Redeemed
  • Complete
  • Free from condemnation
  • Inseparable from his love
  • His workmanship
  • His temple
  • A minister of his reconciliation.

The list goes on (see [https://ficm.org/about-us/#!/who-i-am-in-christ]).

Have you embraced those terms, and see yourself as God sees you, or do you shrug them off and say, “No, not me”?

Dear God, thank you that I am who you say I am. Help me ignore the labels that Satan and the world wish to impose on me. Draw my attention to your promise of freedom and joy when I walk with you, and may I know your love and redemption in my life as I agree with what you say of me. Amen.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” Mark 9:42-43

Jesus was speaking in these verses, and he didn’t mince words.

He was desperately concerned that bad people were causing young believers to lose faith. Many hurtful things cause new Christians to stumble — things such as being mocked, belittled, attacked, or humiliated. Or worse, being abused by fellow “Christians.” Jesus said it would be better if a large millstone — one so big it requires a donkey to turn it — was tied around the offender’s neck and he were tossed in where the sharks roam.

Then Jesus spoke to mature believers, challenging them to get rid of whatever steals their spiritual fervour, for heaven’s sake. If one’s hand causes one to steal, cut it off. If one’s foot causes you to walks into sin, cut it off. If one’s eye images evil, cut it out.

We might take all this as figurative way of speaking, but the warning is clear. The wrongful hand, foot, and eye may be graphic metaphors for any sin. If a practice undercuts our faith, takes us away from God, or causes us to stumble, it’s better to get rid of it than to risk God’s judgment — a perfect judgment that knows if we truly believe and have been transformed by him.

What causes you to stumble? What takes you away from God rather than drawing you closer to him? What makes you want to stop believing rather than rest in peaceful trust?

Praise God that he provides his Spirit to convict us of wrongdoing. May we rely on his leading so that we can live righteously in him.

Dear God, Jesus’ words are convicting here. I know you are full of grace, and that your blood covers my sin. But I also know who much you desire to free me from things that trip me up again and again. I confess my need for your grace, forgiveness and transforming power. Please help me to keep choosing you. Amen.

By Bill Strom
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But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.”  Jonah 4:1-2

Have you ever felt like God was too easy on sin? That he let people off the hook, so to speak?

Jonah felt this way. God had called him to sail to Nineveh — that bastion of Assyrian power and moral decadence. At first he refused to go because he feared that they would listen to his message, repent, and get right with God.

However, once he arrived in Nineveh, still smelling like fish (See Jonah 1:17-2:10), he obeyed God and walked around the city pronouncing His imminent wrath. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” he shouted. Those people repented.

Later, when this ground-swell revival reached the King’s palace, he too repented, and made it official: Let everyone, even animals, fast. Wear mundane clothes to show humility! Call on God and give up your evil and violent ways! ( Jonah 3: 7-9).

More people repented. And God noticed.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3:10).

And Jonah felt that all this was very wrong, and he got angry. Jonah complained that God did what God is known to do — show compassion to people desperately in need of him.

Where did Jonah go wrong? It seems he forgot that God is in the business of redeeming everyone to himself, no matter what we’ve done. He’s eager to show compassion to those who admit that they have messed up, including you and me.

Dear God, help me understand your unfailing compassion for the world, and for me too. I confess that I am as messed up as people around me, and am desperately in need of your redeeming love. Keep from me a smugness of heart that would hold back my own compassion for others. Amen.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. Nahum 1:3

Have you ever been bullied? Perhaps the tyrant called you names, or pushed you around, or took something that was yours. Bullies are often puffed-up people who think losers deserve to be hassled, and those who get bullied feel pain and humiliation.

The children of Israel felt this way toward their powerful Assyrian neighbors. The Assyrians had invaded Jewish territory, seized King Hoshea, and deported most of the nation into exile (2 Kings 17).

The prophet Nahum assured the Jews that God was still in control despite the whirlwind and storm. Nahum reminded them that God had great power — enough to fix the issue in an instant if he chose — but that he was being patient. He allowed the bullying to continue because King Hoshea had done evil in God’s eyes, and the Assyrians are helping God get Israel’s attention. This was difficult news, but God wanted his people to turn back toward him.

In addition, Nahum also declared that God will bring justice to everyone who is guilty — eventually — but, because of his loving kindness, he often withholds his judgment until later.

When we experience hardship, we might ask, “What is God teaching me here, and how may I, like him, be patient and merciful even toward my enemies?” For as Paul wrote, “…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).

Dear God, sometimes I wonder why my enemies seem to have the upper hand and beat me down. Help me see your purpose in affliction, and remember that you wait patiently for everyone to acknowledge your Lordship. May I show the same loving kindness toward my enemies in order that I may draw some to you. Amen.

By Bill Strom
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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

In my work as a university professor I often write letters of reference for students who are applying for their first job out of college or for graduate school. Along with this service comes the role of counsellor to graduates as they hear from one organization or school, but not another.

Sometimes this feedback is about timing. In one case a student received a resounding “yes” from one graduate school, was offered a scholarship, and was invited to visit the campus to meet professors and check out the program. But a second school gave a “wait and see” response, did not offer a scholarship, and did not invite the student to visit.

Sometimes God makes his way clear, and when he does, we need to guard against demanding other answers or being given more options.

Jeremiah reminds us that God has plans for us, even prosperous ones. It’s too bad we second guess his clear signs as to which way to go. So often it is as simple as turning away from closed doors and walking through others flung wide open.

God, help me pay attention to clear signs you provide regarding my future. Help me see your ‘no’ as ‘no’ and your ‘yes’ as ‘yes’ that I may enter the doors you open for me. Amen.

Thought: Consider a decision you have to make. Are some options ‘green’ while others are ‘yellow’ or ‘red’? Follow the green option and keep trusting God.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28

Jesus words to his disciples confused me as a child, and honestly they still do now. When I was young I thought a godly life meant avoiding things that others in town enjoyed freely. I was on the outside looking in as my youthful peers spoke of their first cigarette, drink, and engagements with girls. Their lives seemed carefree, and mine a burden.

I remember commenting once to my father as a teenager that I wish I had come to faith from a life of drug addiction because then my testimony would be powerfully compelling. He smiled and said, “But just think of all the heartache you’ve avoided by the path you have taken.”

Dallas Willard speaks similarly in a chapter titled “The Secret of the Easy Yoke.” He writes, “To depart from righteousness is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved. Here is the source of that unending soap opera, that sometimes horror show known as normal human life. The ‘cost of discipleship,’ though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be a part of his company in The Way of life.” (In The Spirit of the Disciplines).

Do you seek reprieve from a “soap opera” life? Have you been fed the lie that following God will mean just one more burden? What’s keeping you from leaning on God and following his ways? Doing so may bring rest for your soul like you have never known.

God, I desperately seek the restful yoke of following you. Help me choose your way so that I may know your pleasure and peace rather than the horror show I know today.

Thought: Name one thing you know you want to do but will only lead to heartache. Name an alternative action that you know will bring peace.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
1 Peter 3:9

In 1569, Dirk Willems had a difficult decision to make. Willems was arrested by authorities who thought him a heretic and who jailed him in a high stone tower. Over time he stowed away pieces of cloth until he could make a rope and let himself down the outside wall, only to encounter a moat. Since it was winter, it was thinly iced, and his light frame permitted him to cross. Not so for the armed guard who chased him. The ice gave way, enveloping the weighty man, who cried out to Willems to save him.

He faced a decision. Turn back and help his enemy, or run for his life? He did not ignore the man’s plea but risked his life to rescue the guard, the same man who then led him back to the prison. Not long after, Willems died a martyr’s death.

Have you been in a similar situation? Perhaps you have been persecuted for your faith or lifestyle, attacked by family or friends or co-workers. Perhaps you live where civil authorities have imprisoned you or your loved ones.

As difficult as it is, can you withhold repaying evil for evil? Will you extend grace and forgiveness toward people who wound, offend, or assault you?

Later in his letter, Peter says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Dear God, your love extends even to your enemies. Help me grasp that, like Jesus, I am to turn my cheek instead of fighting back. Help me hold my tongue and speak truth in love when taunted or ridiculed. Help me participate with Jesus in his suffering so that one day I may know your glory. Amen.

By Dr. Bill Strom

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Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:22-23, 25-26

Before the verses you see above, the writer says he is quite sure God is punishing him for something! He says God has turned against him, waits like a lion to pounce, has bent his bow ready to shoot, and has cracked his teeth with gravel! (Books like Lamentations convince me God knows how to relate with real people with real problems!)

I have felt the same at times, and when I do, it’s easy to blame God for my ills. Perhaps God is using hardship to shape me, but maybe I just want an easy scapegoat for problems I created myself.

The bigger point here is the writer’s resolve: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

When you pray, do you rant and shake your fist at God? Or do you sit quietly, assured of his faithful renewal even amidst turmoil?

God, I admit that it’s so easy to think that You cause my grief. If I have displeased You, show me where, and help me choose otherwise. In the meantime, God, help me to rest in Your faithfulness and compassion which is new every morning. Amen.

Ask God to renew your hope and to be your strength amidst your challenges. Share with someone else how God is faithful despite your challenges.

By Bill Strom
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Take the helmet of salvation…” Ephesians 6:17a

I remember as a child trying to figure out why the ‘armor of God’ fit particular parts of the body. Some made sense, like the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ protecting our heart—a metaphor for our soul—as well as the ‘shield of faith’ to ‘extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one’—the image of a shield protecting our whole being against Satan’s schemes. But why a helmet for salvation?

I came to understanding when an acquaintance of mine began doubting his salvation. Before his season of uncertainty he was living fully in God’s ways, serving joyfully in his church, and knowing purpose and peace.

But then he began believing that God judged him, not loved him, and that God withheld forgiveness for his sins. Even when I pointed out scriptures of God’s unfailing love, forgiveness, and empowering, he felt he was doomed. “I just don’t feel God’s peace or joy,” he would say.

John explains that “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” as my friend certainly did. John goes on to show the protection of salvation’s ‘helmet’: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Knowing in our head that we have salvation and feeling we do are not the same. In time this fella came around and once again believed—and felt—God’s saving love for him. Praise God.

Do you believe Jesus is God’s gift to the world for salvation? You can know your salvation is secure by doing so.

God, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the spiritual Savior of the world and me personally. Thank you for the knowledge that in believing in him I may know my salvation. Amen.

Thought: If you have never prayed for God to forgive you of your sin, but want to make it personal, simply pray the prayer above and expand on it as you feel led. God wants to know your genuine repentance and he wants to enter your life and help make you new.

By Dr. Bill Strom


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I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.”  1 Timothy 2: 1

Today I learned from an acquaintance about a fella who holds resentment and hatred toward his mother. Evidently this man—in his 50s—was born out of wedlock (unlike his siblings), and was treated differently by his mother all his life.

My acquaintance encouraged me to pray for this guy who has felt second-rate, disowned, and marginalized. I know personally that he has suffered from drug and alcohol addiction.

So I prayed for him. Interceded for him. Not a long prayer, just one that asked God to help this brother forgive his mom for so much pain, and that they might be able to talk about it, and work through it.

Isn’t it amazing that God lets us join in the conversation of healing and hope for other people? And better yet is that God promises his Spirit to help in the dialogue. Paul says in Romans 8,

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

While I may not be consistently faithful in interceding for others, I know God loves to hear me pleading for them. Have you interceded for others?

God, help me be more aware of people who need your strength and grace to manage the challenges of life, and to pray for them specifically regarding their problems. Thank you for your Spirit who articulates more clearly what my heart can’t form. Amen.

Pray for someone you know today.

by Bill Strom
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Articles on How to Pray

How to be sure God Listens to your Prayers

How to have a “Quiet Time”

What Should Be Included in Prayer?

Prayer is Talking to God

Praying with Confidence

Foundational Core Truths about Prayer by Sylvia Gunter


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Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Luke 10:27

Ever wonder what the Bible means when it says to love God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind? As one who does not know either Hebrew or Greek, I am prone, at first, to interpret these English words very basically as emotions, spirit, body, and intellect. However, even the shortest online search for studies on these terms tell us it isn’t so easy.

Some writers say these terms are not intended to divvy up human nature into neat categories. Others think they overlap like circles on a Venn diagram. Still others picture them as concentric circles with some more central and others on the edges. And few agree on psychological equivalents in human experience.

That’s why I like how one writer puts it: God wants us to love and obey him witheverything we’ve got.”

Remember young King Josiah? Of him it was written: “Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25). Josiah gave it his all in line with God’s law.

In a new year we are tempted to make resolutions that are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. There is much wisdom here. Yet I wonder if God wished we would focus less on outcomes and more about being His person, with everything we have, enjoying His fellowship, and obeying His commands. Doing so makes loving him less about us being successful, and more about Him being Lord.

Thank you God that you have made us complex so that we can love and obey you diversely! Please be my strength and comfort as I seek to make you Lord of my world. Amen.

* Think of a way you can practically work towards giving God all you’ve got.

by Bill Strom

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“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, thought here are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

Mary experienced joy despite her world turned bring flipped upside down. In Luke’s gospel, we learn that Mary lived at home, single, and engaged, when angel Gabriel appeared to announce that God had plans for her. She would conceive and bear a boy and name Him Jesus. Such good news, but also terrifying for Mary!Could Mary have known the challenges her glorious role would require?

Virgin and pregnant! How could this be? Worried if Joseph would believe her “Gabriel story.” The pain of childbirth, in a barn, on a trip. Raising Jesus knowing he was special. Losing Jesus at the Passover Feast; finding Him in the temple doing is Father’s business. The uncertainty of watching Jesus’ public ministry, a prophet not welcomed in His hometown.Standing at the cross at His crucifixion; Jesus entrusting her to John.Gathering with the apostles after the resurrection in the upper room.

What was God up to?

Mary’s initial response to Gabriel’s announcement was disbelief, and then a quiet resolve: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Later, she visited Elizabeth and learned afresh of Jesus’ unique status in the universe. She responded, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke1:46-47).

How might we find joy amidst this busy season or when pressures abound? Might we learn from Mary who submitted herself to God, aware that He had her best interests at heart?

Dearest Lord, no matter what pressures I face, be it the busyness of the season or just life in general, help me greet it with joy knowing that you have a plan and a purpose for it and will see me through whatever is to come. Amen.

By Dr. Bill Strom
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Thoughts by All thoughts by Bill Strom Thoughts by Men