April 8

TODAY IS…

the perfect day to remind ourselves that anyone can change.

“Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them.”  Joshua 2:8 NLT

There are many lessons for us all to learn by examining the changes that took place in Rahab, who was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. She was willing to risk her life to help the spies the Israelites had sent ahead before invading the city. She sensed that this ‘God’ that the Israelites relied on was worth trusting, so she allowed them to hide on her roof and lied to the king’s men who came to look for them, risking her very life.

Going up on the roof before the men went to sleep, Rahab talked with them about what she had heard about the power of the God of the Israelites. Her faith that the Israelites were correct proved to be well founded.

“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” (Hebrews 11:31 NASB).

Rahab’s life after the fall of Jericho became one of significance. She married Salmon and gave birth to Boaz, who grew to be a man of tremendous character. Rahab was the great-great grandmother of King David, and as such, was in the direct lineage of Jesus Christ.

Most of us would tend to shy away from a prostitute.

We would try to maintain distance from people we considered to be of low moral character. We would tend to want to keep criminals and other such “undesirables” separate from those who are “decent.”

But what if every one of us were to embrace all of mankind with the same love that the Lord does?

What if we all viewed the worst that society had to offer as having the potential to be the best that the world has ever seen?

God has taken some of the worst people who have walked the earth and transformed them into hardworking, dedicated individuals who have been filled with His spirit.

“The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (1 Samuel 10:6 NIV).

We must never allow ourselves to think that people cannot completely change their lives with the help of God. After all, if He can create the world and everything in it, surely He can help change a person’s heart.

We must constantly remind ourselves not to judge other people. That is God’s place, not ours.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  Luke 6:37 NIV

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Matthew 7:1-5 NIV

There are many more examples, but we all know this. The problem enters when we say, “I know I’m not perfect, but I didn’t do that!”

Far too often, there is a feeling that my sin was not as bad as his sin. Perhaps not to us, but to God, sin is sin. It is only when we are in the flesh that we tend to assign different levels of severity to it. This helps us always make ourselves believe that, “I am really a good person.”

And perhaps you are, but if you have a tendency to shy away from those whose sins – in your eyes – make them incapable of change or less worthy of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness than yourself, then you are judging another individual, and that is clearly not something you are supposed to be doing.

As difficult as it may be sometimes, our responsibility to others is clear: When we see a human being attempting to change, it is our obligation to them – and to God – to help them, support them, and encourage them, and today is the perfect day to remind ourselves of that.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

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April 7

TODAY IS…

a wonderful day to enjoy some fresh bread.

“I am the bread of life.”  John 6:48 NIV

Everlasting life.

That is what Jesus offered the world. There was no hinting around about it; the Lord came right out and said it.

“I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51 NIV).

What a remarkable gift was given to us!

Many of us have “eaten” the living bread, which means we have accepted Christ into our lives. We have experienced a tremendous uplifting feeling that comes about from the Holy Spirit flooding into our bodies and sinful desire and immorality flowing out. We have known the joy of feeling safe and secure, confident that the Lord was with us, watching over us constantly. We have read our Bibles daily, taken refuge in the Word of God, and used it to inspire, guide and motivate us.

How glorious has been the feeling that consumes us and how relaxing it has been to be filled with peace, joy, and a desire to be a good person; a desire to help those less fortunate than ourselves; a desire to share, with others, our happiness and our belief in the Lord’s promise of everlasting life.

Yes, how spectacular life on earth became when we accepted Christ and “ate” the bread of life.

And then life got in the way.

We felt good about ourselves and the way things were going. God had blessed us and everything was going our way. Our lackluster lives picked up momentum and as we gained speed moving forward, we found we had precious little time to accomplish all of the things that had come about due to our relationship with God.

Things were going well, but we found that the things of this earth were requiring more and more of our attention. The time had to come from somewhere, so we “borrowed” it from God, figuring we would pay it back later.

But later never came.

In fact, more and more time was needed, so it came from the time we spent reading the Bible and praying; from the time we spent in fellowship with others; and the time we spent helping those less fortunate.

It also came from the time we had to love our spouses and families.

If this sounds like you, today is a wonderful day to enjoy some fresh bread. It is a wonderful day to renew your relationship and reaffirm your commitment to the Lord and to His service.

There is nothing better for us in all of God’s creation than to eat the Bread of Life, and there is no more wonderful day to do it than today.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

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April 6

TODAY IS…

a good day to think about the spiritual side of retirement.

“They shall bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing.”  Psalm 92:14 NKJV

Doctors say that staying mentally and physically active is good for our health and is particularly important when we reach retirement age.

For too many of us, our work consumes so much of our time and energy that when we retire, we feel useless and unneeded; lost in ourselves; unable to function. For while we may have planned financially for our retirement, many of us have neglected to plan spiritually for our retirement.

This is truly something that must be done because it will give new breath to older lives as our time, wisdom, patience and spiritual maturity all come together to work for good as we work for God. Not only will we be refreshed, recharged, renewed and restored, the positive impact we can have on others our age, our communities, our churches, and on our children and grandchildren will enhance our remaining time on this earth.

A spiritual plan for retirement may not add years to our lives (although it is quite possible that it could), but it will certainly add life to those years.

“When Joshua was an old man, the Lord said to him, ‘You are growing old, and much land remains to be conquered.’” (Joshua 13:1 NLT).

At the time God said this, Joshua was between 85 and 100 years old! God wasn’t done with him and if we make ourselves available to Him, there will be plenty of work for us to do as well. With people being people, sin being sin, and the devil being the devil, we need not worry about whether or not there will be work for us when we retire.

The only question will be, “Have we spiritually prepared to do the work?”

The answer, of course, will be “Yes!” if we start today building ourselves spiritually.

And how do we do that?

It’s quite simple really: Get involved, be involved and stay involved in the spiritual health and growth of yourself, your family, your friends and your church. Start making “deposits” into your spiritual “bank” today and when your time comes to retire, you’ll be able to make “withdrawals” and use them to do God’s work.

Your regular investments will pay off in your ability to make a positive difference in the lives of those around you and your golden years will prove to be rewarding in ways you had never dreamed.

Retirement should only mean that now we are ready to go to work full time – for God.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

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April 5

TODAY IS…

an outstanding day to open up.

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.”  Psalm 25:9 NIV

God wants to use us to teach others how beautiful life can be when we are safely wrapped up in His love. It is impossible to teach what one doesn’t know, so today, let’s all open up our hearts, our minds, our ears, and our eyes and receive all that the Lord is trying to teach us.

Like David, we must each ask God to, “Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths…” (Psalm 25:4 NIV).

If we are open to receiving God’s message, we will find that He delivers it in many different ways. That is why we must open up our entire beings to be ready to receive His message.

The Bible, of course, is one way of receiving His message. No matter how we do it, it is important that we all take time each day to fortify ourselves, to fill ourselves with His love, and to get a glimpse of the beauty and power of the Lord and take advantage of His desire to teach those of us who are willing to learn.

Some of us may have Bibles that are organized into daily readings that enable us to read the Bible in a year. Others like to read a Bible that has been organized chronologically. Still others pray for God to guide their eyes then open up the Bible and read whatever is before them.

The method each individual chooses is a personal decision and preference. The only thing that each of us should open in exactly the same manner is our hearts and our minds to whatever message the Lord has placed before us.

In addition to the Bible, we must also be open to God’s teachings delivered in other ways: through people encountered throughout our day; through Christian radio programming that is available; and in newspapers and magazines that contain stories that reflect the positive side of mankind and the Glory of God.

With everything open, we will find it easy to pick up on all of God’s messages and develop an understanding of how He wants to use us to teach others what we have learned.

So use the gift of this day to open up to what God wants us to learn today.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

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April 4

TODAY IS…

a superb day to say, “I Love You”.

“He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.”  Colossians 1:8 NLT

“I Love You.”

Three little words with a true meaning that is so large it cannot be adequately described. They are three of the most overused words in the English language, and yet they are also three of the most under-used words in the English language.

The ability to love is most assuredly one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. More valuable than all of the silver and all of the gold that can ever be found on earth. More precious than all of the diamonds, rubies, and emeralds put together.

Love is more durable than the mightiest of oaks that has endured decades of wind and sun and has survived the most brutal of storms. And yet it is fragile, like a delicately blown piece of glass.

Running out the door in the morning, or in hurried telephone conversations, we sincerely, but casually, murmur “Love You!”, turning three powerful words, that should be filled with our most honest and heartfelt emotions, into two words added to the end of a sentence with the banality of “Goodbye” or “See ya.”

Your spouse faces battles with you.

They share not only your bed, but also your pain, worries, sorrow, joy, laughter, and tears. If you have children, you participated in the creation of life with the abilities given as a gift from God. You have seen your spouse at his or her best, and at his or her worst. They may be as comfortable and familiar as a favorite sweatshirt or pair of jeans, but if you look close, you will see that bright spot of newness that was there when first you fell in love.

Take that person’s face in your hands, look them in the eyes and tell them how much you love them. Let them see how deep your love is and let them know that you are thankful to God for being able to love them as much as you do.

Take the time, too, to make sure your children understand that while you may not always agree with them, and while you may not always like the choices they make, you do always love them with a fierceness and a protectiveness that comes from God.

Make them understand how important they are.

And for everyone else around you, show them the love that God has placed inside you by the way you walk, talk, and act. Everything you do and say should be telling others that you love them.

There are different ways in which we love everyone around us, but that love – that ability – comes from the same source.

“I Love You.”

Three words God wants us all to use wisely, and to use often.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

Author’s Note: 4/4/2020

Many devotions lately seem especially relevant and important these days, but none more so than this one. I can think of nothing harder than saying a final “Goodbye” to a loved one via walky-talky, Facetime, simply on the phone, through a window, or – in many sad cases today – not at all. When a loved one is sick, we are supposed to be able to sit with them, hold their hand, and tell them over and over how much we love them.

I think, if I were dying, the last words I would want to hear before I joined God in His kingdom would be my children saying, “I love you.”

And the last words I would want to say would be, “I love you too.”

I pray anyone reading this will take advantage of God’s gift of this day and use those three words with meaning, with ferocity, and with deliberation.

“I love you.”

May God watch over us all and give us the strength and comfort we will need during these especially trying times.

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April 3

TODAY IS…

a perfect day to take no chances.

“She defiled herself with immorality and gave no thought to her future. Now she lies in the gutter with no one to lift her out. ‘Lord, see my misery,’ she cries. ‘The enemy has triumphed.’”  Lamentations 1:9 NLT

Jeremiah was writing about Jerusalem’s refusal to listen and ‘her’ insistence on giving in to immorality and sin. The warnings were all given, repeatedly, but they were ignored. The temptation of sin proved too great and all of those who chose to ignore God’s warnings paid the price.

It is important that each one of us heed God’s warnings and turn our backs on immorality and sinful pleasures. Perhaps we have crossed the line once; twice; three times or more, and gotten away with it. No one said the price that we would pay for our behavior would be paid immediately.

But it will be paid.

Sometimes the freedom to do whatever we want becomes the desire to do everything, regardless of the consequences. In succumbing to those desires, we allow ourselves to become slaves to sin, and when we become salves to sin, we can no longer be servants to the Lord. When our focus is taken off of God, and placed on things we know are in direct conflict with what we have been taught, then we stop living in Christ.

“No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him.” (1 John 3:6 NIV).

None of us wants to pay the price for the pleasures of sin that Jerusalem paid. God has proven His patience time and time again, but it is not wise for any of us to continue to test it. The Lord has His limits and we do not want to push beyond them until we are “in the gutter” with no one to lift us out.

Take no chances. Minimize your risks. Follow the Word of God diligently and faithfully. If you stumble, God will surely help you to regain your footing.

But let there be no mistake.

If you decide to ignore the Word of God and pursue immorality and sin, there will be a price to pay. It is best to not chance finding out what it is.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

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Cancer: The Blessings in the Curse

“I’ll take the blessing.”

“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“You have cancer.”

What frightening words those can be to hear. Those who have heard them know what I mean. What the brain interprets those words as is closer to, “You are going to die.”

So, yes, I have stage 3 lung cancer, and yes, I am going to die.

It just does not appear to be imminent. There will be a battle and most likely there will be times when I don’t feel like smiling and don’t feel very joyful, but no matter where this journey takes me, I know that I will always focus on the blessings that abound within what some may consider to be a curse.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

I am already filled with the joy and peace of believing and I am always filled with hope, but let us pray that verse together for all who are confronted with similar trials and tribulations – or worse – so that they, too, can find the only kind of peace that can bring them the contentment needed to also always see the hope no matter what the situation. That peace is God’s peace and the contentment it fills our hearts with is not a contentment of acceptance. It is not a roll-over-and-accept-your-fate kind of resigned attitude.

It is the contentment of the heart that allows us to have confidence that, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

That doesn’t mean we simply lie quietly and wait for death to come and take us. That means we listen quietly to what our magnificent God has to say about our situation. It means instead of running around in a panic with our eyes closed in fear, we need to sit quietly in confidence with our eyes wide open and see where He is pointing us.

He pointed me to what I feel is a great team of medical professionals at Kaiser Permanente in Washington, DC to attack the problem using the gifts that He gave them, and He has surrounded me with a remarkable group of loving, caring, friends who are like family to me. In addition, I have a wonderful loving family but they are, unfortunately, scattered all around the country and with Covid-19 totally upending everyday life, they will just have to believe that I am in the best possible hands.

While it is true that God is capable of performing miracles that astound and amaze, like parting the Red Sea, it is also true that the real miracles He performs are the ones He performs using His children. The doctors, the nurses, the lab technicians, the neighbors, the friends and the family all coming together to focus their talents, abilities, love, and prayers on someone in need.

In this case, little old me.

So am I cursed because I have cancer?

Of course not. I am blessed because I have God.

And so are you.

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April 2

TODAY IS…

an excellent day to comfort and encourage others.

“Therefore comfort one another with these words.”  1 Thessalonians 4:18 NASB

One of the Apostle Paul’s first letters was written to the church he had established at Thessalonica around A.D. 5.

Christianity was young and for many there was a high price to pay (just as in parts of the world today) for being a follower of Christ. Paul’s letter was meant to reassure them, for there was confusion among them as to when Christ would return. Many thought that His return would be sooner, rather than later, and Paul sought to reassure them that while there was no way to know when, it would indeed happen, just as the Lord had said.

In his letter he sought to comfort and encourage them and he stressed the importance of each one of them being there to comfort and encourage each other.

In today’s world, more than ever before, it is important that we all heed Paul’s words and offer comfort and encouragement to those around us. Today, and every day, we should offer ourselves as living examples of the strength, the joy and the peace that comes with the knowledge that Christ will return as promised. In the meantime, we must follow the example of Jesus and the words of Paul and reach out through our actions and our own words and offer comfort and encouragement to others.

Many new believers (and perhaps some who are not-so-new) have a very tentative grip on their faith.

Absorbing the beauty of God’s teachings can be overwhelming and those individuals may need the support of one who has had time to fully appreciate all that God expects of us and all that He has promised us.

In a letter to the church at Corinth a few years later, Paul stressed the importance of teaching others, and of reaching out to them.

“But everyone who prophecies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” (1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV).

Some of us may think that we are not up to the task of teaching, but one doesn’t have to stand up in front of a group in a classroom to teach the lessons of Christ. All one needs to do is reach out to others in love and friendship and offer support, comfort and encouragement.

When we do this, we will not only be helping other human beings, we will be helping ourselves to fulfill God’s wishes.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

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April 1

TODAY IS…

a good day to not be fooled.

“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  1 Timothy 6:10 NASB

Do not allow yourself to use material success as a sign of God’s approval. Many people equate one with the other when they actually have very little to do with one another.

Some individuals of extremely modest means live lives that are devoted to following God’s instructions, living in a manner that pleases Him, and work tirelessly to help others live and grow with the Spirit of the Lord inside them.

These individuals definitely have God’s approval.

Conversely, there are many individuals who have experienced tremendous material success who do not have God’s approval.

In order to not be fooled or influenced by anything other than the truth, we must always look to the individual and not the material for signs of that approval.

Happiness is not the only thing that money cannot buy. It cannot buy God’s grace, peace, love forgiveness, joy, or a place with God in Heaven. The only currency accepted by God is the currency of faith. The only payment that will cancel our debt to the Lord is belief. The only check that can be written to satisfy our obligation to Jesus Christ cannot be written against funds we have in the bank. It must be written against the love we have in our hearts for the Lord, and for our fellow man.

Many of us experience frustration from time to time due to the success of others and mistakenly attribute that success to God showing more love to them than to us.

Do not be fooled; do not be tempted; do not be swayed.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to escape the emphasis that is placed on having more, buying more, living grander, and chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But don’t be fooled. The real treasure is in the rainbow itself, which is a gift from God.

Live a life that is true to the teachings of the Lord; give of yourself to others; be thankful to God each day for the very air you breathe; smile for the benefit of others, and you will find out one day that those who have lusted after money and compromised their very souls have been the ones who have been fooled.

*******

Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Today marks the 10th anniversary of the day I began serving my 4+ year prison sentence in Oakdale, LA where this book of devotions was written. Most people might mark this day in their calendars as a rather dark day in their lives.

I have a different way of looking at it: As I stepped through the door leading into prison, I took my first step on the path to freedom. Both while incarcerated, and since moving to Washington, DC upon my release, God has brought many, many truly amazing people alongside me on that path.

For sure I have stumbled, and I have struggled, but the past 10 years have been as different from the previous 57 as night is different from day, and I just want to take this opportunity to say:

“Lord, I am not worthy of the love you give me, but you love me anyway. You have blessed me in ways that are too numerous to count and with friends who have helped me see what being a true child of yours should look like. I am grateful for your constant grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and thankful that when I cried out to you at my greatest time of need, you didn’t turn away from me, as I had turned from you for so many years. Thank you.”

AUTHOR UPDATE 2020: This year is slightly different than other ‘anniversaries’ due to the fact that I was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Yesterday was my first consultation with the oncologist and I learned several things:

I learned it is stage 3 cancer.

I learned the treatment plan.

I learned I am not afraid.

The prayer above is more meaningful today than it was last year when I wrote it. I am truly blessed, and I don’t mean I am blessed to have this disease in my body. I am blessed in that I know where to turn for the strength, courage, and contentment in my heart that will be required to deal with it. In this time of crisis, chaos, and uncertainty for the entire world, I am sure there are many who have individual, more personal, burdens to bear as well. Faith will be tested. Belief will be questioned. Trust in the Lord may be stretched almost to the breaking point. Pray for all of them that they, too, will know where to turn and that they will be secure in the knowledge that whatever the future brings, and no matter how long or short that future is, they need only, “Be still and know I am God.” Exodus 14:4.

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How Long, Oh Lord?

Timely, thought-provoking, and helpful, I think.

Faith Runner

I keep looking for what God is up to in this one-of-a-kind Lent, one where it looks like this Easter will not bring the renewal here on earth that it won for us eternally.

One of the passages reverberating in my mind has been from Habakkuk—-perhaps because my pastor and dear friend, Jeff, whose family has been hit hard by COVID-19, also introduced me to Habakkuk, whose book begins:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

Habakkuk 1:2-3

Habakkuk, we feel you! If we only knew when this pandemic will wane. If we could know with certainty how long to “#stayathome.” If we knew when we could come out and come together…

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