June 10

Today is…

the ideal day to conquer embarrassment.

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.”  Galatians 2:11 NIV

Many of us have come to Christ from situations and life-styles that were far from Christ-like.

Perhaps we are still acquainted with those who shared that life style. In many instances, we may hide our love of Jesus Christ when we are around those who have not yet made the journey. For some reason we are embarrassed about the feelings that are beginning to grow within us, and we are often afraid of what those who knew us “before” will think of the new and glorious direction we have decided to take in our lives.

As uncomfortable as we may feel, it is important that we ask God for the courage to hold up our faith to all of those around us so they may feel the warmth of its light and in the hope that they, too, will want to share in the joy that comes into us when we accept Christ as our Savior.

It is perfectly understandable that any of us would feel awkward expounding on something in which we feel we have no expertise. We are not expected to run when we haven’t even stopped crawling. However, we do not want to be embarrassed to the point of hypocrisy as Peter was when he refused to eat with the Gentile Christians when some Jewish friends of James were around.

Opening our hearts to the salvation that Christ offers was not an easy task for many of us.

We understand how increasingly hard our hearts had become before we began to chip away at them to reach the soft center. If we, or someone we know, is struggling to become free of a burden, we must not be embarrassed or act in a hypocritical manner. It is important to remember that all of the reasons to be strong and secure in our faith can be found in the Bible.

The best day of our lives was (or will be) the day we said (or will say) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Say that again, and again. Soon you will find that there is no embarrassment and there is no hypocrisy.

There is only the abundant joy that comes from faith.

*******

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

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June 9

Today is…

a good day to think about how we should act towards those who do not believe.

“Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those that rise up against You?”  Psalm 139:21 NASB

Can any of us think of anyone who needs God more than those who do not believe in Him?

Those of us whose love of the Lord is great instinctively want to stand up for God and defend Him. Perhaps our defense of Him may include hating the one who does not believe or – even worse – hates God.

But is this an acceptable way to act towards individuals who desperately need God in their lives but just have not realized it yet?

If the action we take is to ignore or isolate these individuals then we are helping to spread the negative message that spills from their lips. If we do not act differently, we give them additional power to spread the wrong message. The last thing we want is for others to fall victim to thoughts and beliefs that will deprive them of the promise of the kingdom of God.

We do not have to put ourselves in physical danger or subject ourselves to any verbal abuse by confronting these individuals directly, but we do need to take positive steps that can help either change their hearts, or shield others from the venom of their disbelief.

The first way we help to affect change in the way others act is by setting an example in the manner in which we live our lives and conduct ourselves. A belief in God that is deeply rooted within us, will be evident in the friendly, outgoing, pleasant and helpful way in which we live. Perhaps we cannot influence them directly, but there is always someone whom they are trying to convince who just might sit up and take notice of a better way to live.

Our faith can be worn with a smile and a helping hand that can be seen by all.

Another way to act towards those who need God the most is to use the power of our prayers for their benefit. Jesus says “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44 NASB).

A simple way to do this is to pray, “Father thank You for working in the hearts of those who hate. Please continue to soften them that they may one day accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and join those who have secured a place with You that will be filled with everlasting peace, joy, and love.

Amen.”

That is how we should act towards those who do not believe, and today is a good day to start.

*******

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

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Jeremiah 29:11

When God’s Plan Is Revealed

“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 NIV

For those who are not familiar with the story, I will retell it.

Soon after I was incarcerated in April of 2010, I spoke with my sister Kathy and told her that the amount of mail an inmate received was tabulated to help determine the presence – or absence – of a strong social and family network. Kathy reached out to her Bible Study group and encouraged the women in it to write to me.

One did.

Sometimes God’s miracles are very tiny and seemingly insignificant. In this case, the miracle came in the mail in the form of a little note with Jeremiah 29:11 printed on the front, and a short note of encouragement from a woman I had never met, written inside. I taped the scripture up next to the mirror in my cell where it remained for the entire 4+ years I was incarcerated, and I wrote a note of thanks to the sender.

The friendship with the woman who sent the note, Diane Woodall, grew from that point and continues to this day and her importance in my life would take pages to fill. She led me to Washington DC, where I now live, and to Central Union Mission, where I now work, and Jeremiah 29:11 has remained, to me, as the singular most encouraging and motivating verse in the entire Bible.

Jeremiah 29:11 helped me face who I had allowed myself to become and to see that God had a better version of me in mind when I was born.

Jeremiah 29:11 helped me to put the gifts and abilities God had blessed me with to work in the Mission kitchen, first as a volunteer, and then as a member of the Mission staff.

Jeremiah 29:11 helped me face a particularly trying, and challenging time when I was falsely accused of something and was almost forced to leave the Mission.

And Jeremiah 29:11 helped me to present an idea to the Mission’s executive director, an idea that I hoped would help others to find that better version of themselves.

Mission Muffins was born almost 4 years ago and today is becoming an important part of the Mission’s efforts to help others to help themselves.

As an outgrowth of my role as the manager of Mission Muffins, I was asked to develop an 8 week “Introduction to Baking” class for men in the Mission’s Restoration and Transformation Program. Each week, we learned a little bit about different aspects of baking, but more important, we learned about ourselves and about God’s desire to guide us and to encourage us as we all moved forward with the new lives He is helping us to create.

And I learned that I had truly discovered God’s plan for me.

The connections that I was able to make with the men in my class as I tried to show them how scripture plays a role in every aspect of our lives, including in our work lives; as we shared stories of the struggles of incarceration; as we shared stories of our struggles with sin – those connections have humbled me to the point of tears at times, as I have thanked God for never, ever giving up on me and for instantly coming to my rescue when I cried out for help almost 10 years ago.

Normally, when our men complete classes or training of some sort, we give them a certificate. Certificates are good reminders of what they have accomplished and provide recognition for growth in a particular area.

But the class had become so personal to me and so meaningful, that I felt I had to do something a little more to help these gentlemen remember our time together, so I made a commemorative ‘scrapbook’ in the hopes that it might provide a more vivid reminder of what they had learned and shared.

The books arrived today and it is difficult to explain the emotions that coursed through me as I opened one and turned the pages slowly, reliving those moments I so want the men who will receive them to relive.

I took some screen shots of the book from the website I used to design the book and would like to share a few with you. I’m sure the impact will be nothing like what I felt when I first opened the actual book, but the feeling that I was actually living Jeremiah 29:11 and that I had really discovered God’s plan for me was so overpowering and humbling that I thought a peek might help anyone reading this to at least get a sense of what I am talking about.

The cover
This is the first page and those are the 4 guys who finished the class.
Each page contains slides and text from the PowerPoint presentations used for the class, as well as pictures taken by Marc O’Brien, the Mission’s Volunteer Coordinator. Each week consists of 4 pages. The first 2, like those above, contain slides and text from the PowerPoint presentations used in each one, as well as pictures taken by Marc O’Brien, the Mission’s volunteer coordinator.
The next 2 pages contain more pictures from the class and a description of the ‘lab’ portion of the class.That was where we actually made muffins, scones, cookies, and more, as you will see below.
This is the second set of pages from Week #4 where we had a guest come in and teach. Dorine Ferreira of Lorton, VA helped the men think creatively and guided them as they each decorated their own cupcake to look like spaghetti and meatballs like the one in the photo above.

The point of sharing all of this with you is, simply: God does, indeed have a plan for each and every one of us. Unfortunately, we often get so wrapped up in the business of living that we fail to see the little messages He provides. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as a note of encouragement from someone you’ve never met can hold the key to unbelievable joy and purpose.

I pray that each one of you has either discovered, or is open to discovering, that version of you God intended you to be. I wish I’d discovered this version of me much earlier, but, in God’s timing, the night is still young.

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June 7

Today is…

a fine day for a little home improvement.

“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?”  Haggai 1:4 NASB

Life is a rat race, this much is certain.

There is always a desire for more money for more things to make us comfortable and provide us with a higher standard of living. We think we must work harder and longer to obtain more physical comfort for our days on earth. That new car, boat, RV, or swimming pool certainly does beckon to us.

There is nothing wrong with having a desire to live a comfortable life and reap the rewards of our labor, but in our effort to make our homes more enjoyable, our lives more comfortable and our leisure time more fulfilling, are we neglecting God?

After King Cyrus dreams that the people of Israel who had been exiled could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, work was begun but opposition to the work, as well as indifference on the part of the people, caused the work to come to a halt. People became more focused on their own needs and their own desires than on God.

Haggai was very good in pointing out the seriousness of their mistake. Placing God anywhere but first affects everything else in our lives in a negative manner, whether it is immediately apparent or not.

If we don’t think of God first, how can we make decisions? How can we identify which is the right path? If our concern for God comes after our concern for ourselves, how do we expect Him to put us first?

The Jews were negligent in not making the rebuilding of the temple a priority. Through that negligence, they were making a statement, and it is not a statement that we want to make.

God comes before everything else. With God in front of us, we can count on Him to lead us in the right direction. We can count on Him to warn us of danger heading our way. We can count on Him to enrich us in ways we cannot imagine.

It is time to do a little work on our relationship with God.  A little help in improving God’s house will go a long way to improving ours.

*******

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

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June 6

Today is…

a great day to give a gift to our children.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve Him with your whole heart and willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek Him, you will find Him. But if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.”  1 Chronicles 28:9 NLT

In order to know someone intimately, it is necessary to spend considerable time with that person, talking and listening.

We give our children life through the grace of God. This act should never be taken lightly. Our ability to create life is a gift from God, and that makes the children born as a result a gift as well. Our responsibility as parents does not end when the child is born.  In fact, as most of us know, that responsibility is just beginning. We are responsible for clothing, feeding and teaching our children. And of course, as parents of our children, we want them to listen to us, follow our instructions, and adhere to our rules and regulations.

We are also responsible for sharing with them the gift of intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. Sharing that gift is the most important thing that we can ever do for our children. In order to do that, it is important to have such a relationship with God ourselves so there is never any question where the guidance we give them, and the morality we try to instill in them, comes from.

In order to fully accept and appreciate this gift we are trying to give them, they must be able to clearly see the positive impact that our own intimacy with God has had on our lives, or else the message we want them to receive will have no impact.

We must teach them from the day they are born, and much of our instruction needs to be in the form of a living example of how the gift of intimacy with God makes us happier, healthier, kinder, gentler and more loving people.

If we want the very best of everything for our children, then we must begin with the very best gift we can give them. Of all the things we could possibly give them, the gift of an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the best gift we could ever give.

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

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June 5

Today is…

a good day to remember that God knows when we are unfaithful.

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Revelations 2:10 NASB

While God rewards faithfulness, some of us mistakenly think that if we are faithful, we will avoid suffering and that is simply not true. God never promises any of us that we will not suffer in some way, at some time in our lives. Our reward will come when we endure our suffering, as Jesus endured His, and still remain faithful.

In John’s vision, Jesus instructed him to write a letter to the church in Smyrna. In that letter He told them not to fear suffering, and instructed them to remain faithful during the suffering. Our instructions are the same today.

But God looks at faithfulness in several different ways. Not only are we to live our lives completely faithful to the Lord, but we are also to live our lives, if we are married, being faithful to our spouses.

Just as many Christians turn away from God when trouble enters their lives, many married people turn away from their spouse when difficulty and trouble enter their relationships.

“Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and who commit adultery.” (Hebrews 13:4 NLT).

Being a Christian is to know about commitment: Commitment to God, to our spouses, to our children, and to everyone around us. We cannot claim to be faithful to God if we are unfaithful to our spouses. We cannot claim to be faithful to God if we are not faithful to our children. We cannot be faithful to our children if we are not faithful to our spouses.

God sees us and knows if we are living up to our commitments. There is no hiding, there is no pretending. If we live secret, separate lives, we are being unfaithful to our children, our spouses, and to God.

There are no excuses to be made, just corrections to our behavior that are required. We should always endeavor to use the troubles and the suffering in our lives to make us better people, and to draw us closer to those we love: Our children, our spouses, and God.

Today is a good day to ask ourselves if we are being faithful to everyone we love. If we are honest, and we find that the answer is, “No,” remember that God knows too, and ask Him to help you change it to, “Yes!”

*******

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

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June 4

Today is…

a terrific day to satisfy our hunger.

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.”  John 6:35 KJV

If we are hungry, simply staring at a piece of bread or thinking about a piece of fruit will do nothing to satisfy our physical hunger.

The only way to do that is to eat. Eating is an active act. Simply wishing the food was in our stomach will not make it so. Dreaming about how we would feel after a big meal will not produce the desired feeling of fullness, nor will it provide the nourishment we need for physical life.

Bible translations often use different words to interpret the same sentence, but there is not much difference in the interpretation of the words spoken by Jesus when He said, “I am the bread of life.”

We need what Jesus Christ has to offer us in order to satisfy our spiritual hunger, but we must actively partake of what He offers us.

Merely thinking or wishing will not make our hunger go away.

Approaching Jesus Christ in a half-hearted manner will not produce the desired results. We must ‘consume’ His teachings. We must look forward to our next ‘meal’ with the same enthusiasm we have for our favorite restaurant or home cooked treat. We must savor each and every morsel that the words of Jesus represent and draw from them the nutrients to help us become spiritually satisfied.

Eating requires effort in order to receive the benefits that come from it. Far too many of us think that we need only sit down at Jesus’ table one time, or on special occasions. It is true that we do enjoy special meals at various times throughout the year, but in order to live, we must eat daily.

And so it is with the life that Christ offers us. We must partake of it on a daily basis so that we grow strong in faith and in character, and build up a defense against the disease of sin.

Fortunately, satisfying our hunger with the bread of life is not like when we were little and we were forced to eat our peas. The bread of life is wonderful to consume and makes us feel better inside immediately.

Make the bread of life a part of your daily diet.

*******

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

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June 3

Today is…

a great day to understand why things are allowed to happen as they do.

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”  Nahum 1:3a NASB

It is very likely that most of us have experienced times in our lives in which we have felt frustration with God over things that we see around us, read about in the newspaper, or see on television. Great harm befalls innocent victims. People are slaughtered by a deranged gunman or are systematically eliminated by vicious dictators or rulers. Crimes of unspeakable horror are wrought upon children, women, and even men and we sit and cry, asking God for answers.

As difficult as it is to accept sometimes, we must not allow ourselves to ever think that God’s silence is approval for evil.

The Bible makes it very clear that, “The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in Him. But He will sweep away His enemies in an overwhelming flood. He will pursue His foes into the darkness of night.” (Nahum 1:7-8 NLT).

In other words, no evil act, or sin, escapes God’s notice, nor does God forget them.

It is important that we try to understand that even the life of the most despicable, hateful, murderous individual on earth is but a brief moment in time to the One who has seen all that has transpired since before time began.

In the end, those who prey upon the innocent and wreak havoc wherever they go will face an eternity of unbelievable pain and punishment. Our humanity demands justice now, but that is not always God’s plan, and it really is not our place to question His plan.

We are instructed to believe in Him and we are required to trust Him.

Unfortunately, there are those of us who fail to realize this and sometimes adopt an attitude that is not wise. Some may think that if God can allow horrible things to happen, He must not care. And if He doesn’t care, then, “It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Do not fall into this evil trap. It does matter, and we all need to have faith that it matters. It may be very difficult sometimes, but we must remain trusting and faithful to God and we must resist temptation in spite of anything that takes place around us because God never lets the guilty go unpunished.

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

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June 2

Today is…

the perfect day to stop at the crossroads.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But, you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road that we want!’”  Jeremiah 6:16 NLT

From the time we are small, we are confronted with choices we must make.

Most are incidental, relatively unimportant, and carry no long-term consequences if we make the wrong one, but we must train ourselves to recognize when we are at the crossroads of a decision that can have an effect not only on our life here on earth, but also on our fate when our time here is done.

The right way to go, of course, is the way of God – the way of righteousness, peace, love, and joy. Many of us have made the wrong choice at some point in our lives only to discover much later that we have spent a tremendous amount of time and expense, as well as an enormous amount of energy, moving in the wrong direction and following a path that clearly is not one God has marked out for us.

In an age of “new” and “improved” and “better,” it is sometimes difficult to understand that some things don’t change.

“Jesus Christ (is) the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 KJV).

We must always remember this. As much as the superficial things in the world change: fashion, furniture, cars, hairstyles, food preferences and on and on – no matter what transpires in politics or world events, the Lord can be counted on to be the same, and the path that God wants us to take will always be the right one.

We will never have to worry about God’s path going out of style or somehow not fitting. No matter what changes take place in the world around us, God wants us to always be aware of the path He wants us to take.

There are those who think that public displays of God are a way of forcing God, and God’s way, upon them. The truth is that God sets all of us squarely in the middle of the crossroads and allows us to make our choices. He does not force Himself on any of us. He just makes it clear that there is an eternal price to pay for following the wrong path, and there is an eternal reward to be received for following the right one.

So make the right choice when you are at the crossroads and follow the path that leads to rest for our souls and eternal rewards.

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June 1

Today is…

the day for true repentance.

“After two days, He will revive us; on the third day, He will restore us, that we may live in His presence.”  Hosea 6:2 NIV

We can hide nothing from God.

We cannot hide what we do, what we say, what we think, or what is contained within our hearts.

How often do we hear the words, “I’m sorry” and there is a certainty within us that the person saying the words is not sincere? Of even greater concern, how often are those words coming from our lips?

It is one thing to say something – anything – and it is quite another to mean it. Hopefully our understanding of God’s Word has taught us the importance of truth and sincerity at all times.  Some of us may wish to add here, “Especially with God,” but the reality is that God wants us to be truthful and sincere at all times and with everyone.

There is one major difference between not being truthful and sincere with each other and not being truthful and sincere with God: He knows!

The people of Israel had allowed the religious leaders to guide them away from God and into the worship of Baal. We all know that God forgives those who are truly repentant, but the people of Israel just assumed that God’s anger would subside in a few days and His promises of judgment would not come to fruition. For the most part, they all said, “We’re sorry,” but God looked into their hearts and knew that the words they were speaking were just words.

They were empty of truth, and devoid of sincerity.

Many times, people are sorrier for getting caught doing something than for the act itself. We must exercise extreme caution that this statement does not define us.

Because God knows.

God’s forgiveness is ours, but we must make sure that our repentance is something that comes from our hearts and not just an empty phrase coming from our lips.

*******

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

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