This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

I am to become a Christ to my neighbor and need to be for him what Christ is for me.

Martin Luther


This Day's Verse

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Numbers 6:24-26
The King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.

Thomas a Kempis


This Day's Verse

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16
The Revised Standard Version


This Day's Smile

To be a witness means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.

Dorothy Day


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

To have the undivided attention of God can be disconcerting until one realizes that his gaze is tender and full of love and compassion.

Christine A. Dallman


This Day's Verse

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous!  For praise from the upright is beautiful.  Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.  Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.

Psalm 33:1-3
The New King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

That is true prayer: being all ear for God.

Henri Nouwen


This Day's Verse

Fight on for God.  Hold tightly to the eternal life which God has given you, and which you have confessed with such a ringing confession before many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12
The Living Bible


This Day's Smile

Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.

Bernard of Clairvaux


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Eric will return with his sermons in two weeks)

Faith

by Tony Grant

1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Harrington University has other names: the University of San Moritz, the University of Palmer’s Green, and the University of Devonshire. At Harrington, the campus is small; the class schedule is convenient (In fact, there are no classes at all), and a Ph.D. will only take you 27 days and a few thousand dollars to earn. No transcript from a previous institution is necessary. Instead, you get full credit for what Harrington calls “life experience.”

Harrington University is (or was, until it was shut down in 2003 by the authorities) a “diploma mill.” It was an online “university” selling bogus bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Rather than classrooms and a campus, Harrington University was the residence of an American living in Romania with mail drops in the United Kingdom, printing services in Jerusalem, and banking options in Cyprus. By 2002, some 70,000 Harrington-Palmer’s Green-Devonshire degrees had been “granted” to online applicants, earning the operator more than $100 million.

Using e-mail spam, online advertising and even print advertising in major US magazines, diploma mills like Harrington are a growing phenomenon in our wired world. As jobs become more scarce and competition for them more fierce, many people are turning to quick, albeit illegitimate, ways to pad their rèsumès without the cost or hassle of actually going to class.

A May 2004 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found 28 senior federal executives who claimed degrees from diploma mills, and 463 federal employees with bogus college degrees were hired or advanced in their jobs. Sham scholars with fake degrees have held jobs as sex-abuse counselors, college vice presidents, child psychologists, athletic coaches, engineers and even physicians. Counterfeit colleges and universities make it easier to pull off the rèsumè charade because they provide fake diplomas and transcripts that often seem legitimate.

With all this academic fakery going on, it is becoming harder for legitimate institutions to maintain their reputations, and it is also more dangerous for people in need of professional services.

Take the case of Marion Kolitwenzew, who found out her daughter was diabetic and took her to a specialist for treatment. He seemed like the real deal, with a wall full of diplomas and an office stocked with medical supplies. When Marion followed the “doctor’s” advice and took her daughter off insulin, the daughter quickly became violently ill and died. Later, the “doctor” was sentenced to 15 months in prison for manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license. His wall was adorned with counterfeit credentials.

How do so many people get away with this stuff? The answer is simple: No one seems to check them out, No one calls the references, No one asks for the paperwork. Thus, it can be fairly easy to fake who you are.

The church is not proof against this kind of fraud. A few years ago, right here in York, we had a minister in one of our local churches who did much the same. He had been in his denomination for several years and claimed to have a couple of degrees. No one actually investigated his resume until he became involved in some bitter strife in his church, and someone became angry enough to check up on him, and found that his degrees were fake.

By the way, I do not post diplomas on office walls, but if you want to go down to Erskine Theological Seminary and check on my degrees you are welcome to do so. But in church, the real problem is not fake diplomas, it is fake faith.

In Romans 4, Paul is using Abraham the Patriarch as a primary case in a study of God’s dealing with people. Abraham was a hard-driving businessman and a devoted man of God. If anyone had a rèsumè of solid credentials to “boast” about, says the Apostle Paul, it was Abraham. But it was not his righteous rèsumè that made Abraham a prime candidate for the job of Patriarch of the faith. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God,” says Paul in verse 2.

In other words, even Abraham’s best work could not match the standard of holiness set by God. No human rèsumè is impressive enough. Earlier in Romans, Paul puts it more clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Instead, it was faith itself that was Abraham’s one and only true rèsumè builder. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).

Thus, we Christians are famous for saying that all our attempts to approach God by doing stuff are bogus. That whole way of thinking, which is called “works righteousness,” is counterfeit. The only way to come to God is by faith, by real faith, Abrahamic faith.

Which leads us to the next question then: What is real faith? What is Abrahamic faith? Strangely enough in over 30 years in the ministry, I have never been asked that question. I have often said to people you must be saved by faith. But no one has ever responded by asking, What is faith? But it seems to me a very apt question.

Tillich and Faith

Philosopher and Theologian Paul Tillich wrestled with this question. Tillich said, “There is hardly a word in the religious language, both theological and popular, which is subject to more misunderstandings, distortions, and questionable definitions than the word ‘faith’.” [Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, Introductory Remarks].

Tillich offers us a definition: Faith is “the state of being ultimately concerned” [Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), 1]. If we have faith in something, we are dead serious about it. We are not only concerned about it. We are concerned to the nth degree .

Now, we all met people who claimed to have faith in Jesus, but whom we suspected did not. How can I make a statement like that? What grounds do we have for such suspicions? Because they are not much concerned about Jesus. Ask them if they believe in Jesus, and they will say that they do, but what are they really serious about?

The Masters takes place in Augusta, so let me use golf for an example. If you are always thinking about golf, if every scrap of your time is devoted to playing or watching golf, if you mortgage your house to buy that new set of titanium golf clubs, then golf is your ultimate concern, not Jesus. Your faith is in golf, not Jesus.

Most Americans who claim to believe in Jesus attend church only occasionally, give to the church only occasionally, pray seldom if ever. Do they actually believe in Jesus? If we accept Tillich’s definition of faith as that which we are “ultimately concerned” about, then we suspect that they do not, that they are not really serious about Jesus.

That is a question for us today: How serious are we about Jesus? Or to put the question another way, What is our ultimate concern? To what do we give our highest priority? What are our most cherished goals? That is where we put our faith.

Faith is an attitude that involves our entire personality. Tillich says, “It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements” [Dynamics, 4]. Our faith is expressed by our whole being. Our faith determines, to a large extent, what we are. Thus, when faith is misplaced, our lifestyle becomes confused and disoriented. If we believe the wrong things, trust the wrong things, we will be screwed-up people. That explains much of what is wrong with the world today. Most people have faith, most people are ultimately concerned, about the wrong things. For example, they are ultimately concerned about a nation, or, they are ultimately concerned about my job or my way of living. But countries rise and fall–witness the rise of China right now. And Jobs come and go–where have all the textile jobs gone? And lifestyles change every few years. So those things are nothing to be much worried about. Ultimately, we are concerned about only God.

The problem people have always had from the very beginning of recorded history is that we become “ultimately concerned” about something other than God. Whenever we elevate something other than God to a level of ultimate concern, we commit idolatry. We put something in God’s place. We have faith in something that is not worth our faith.

This was what happened to Israel during the Exodus in what we might call the Golden Calf Episode. They had received the Law at Mount Sinai. They had all expressed their willingness to obey the Law. They had ratified a covenant with God. Then, when Moses was away for awhile on the mountain, they forgot about Moses, forgot about the law and the covenant, forgot about God and began to worship instead a Canaanite idol. They put their faith in something that was not worth their faith. They elevated a golden image to the level of God and made it their ultimate concern. Thus they broke their covenant with God and brought down God’s wrath upon them.

The question is what is faith? Faith is a way of answering life’s really important questions. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Everyone asks these questions. I have sometimes been stunned when a person that I did not think had a serious bone in their body begin asking serious questions; What happens when I die? How do I know God’s will for my life? That is an humbling experience because you realize that all of us are pretty much alike in that all of us are trying to make sense of the world around us. But the only way the world makes sense is through faith in God.

And notice what this faith is. It is not only a faith that God exists. We always mean far more than that when we speak of faith in God, we mean that God accepts us and loves us. That is what Jesus taught and proved. Through Jesus, we are made “righteous” before God, to use the Apostle Paul’s terminology. Nothing we do makes us righteous, but by faith in Jesus, by making Jesus our ultimate concern, we are accepted as citizens of the kingdom of God.

The question was, What is faith? My faith is not about me at all. Faith is not about what I have done or not done. Faith moves me out of the picture and focuses on Christ. That sounds so easy, yet it is probably the hardest thing in the world for any human being to do. Even as we say Christ is our ultimate concern, we resort to little stratagems to make ourselves the center of attention.

A few weeks ago, I was over in Easley and my wife and her mother were shopping, so I was given the task of taking my father-in-law’s car to the carwash. I took the car to the Easley Deluxe Carwash, paid my money, and was standing there watching them wash the car. I noticed a little old man nearby and I started up a conversation just out of boredom. After we had exchanged a few words, he launched into a loud monologue about how he loved Jesus. He said that he had started a church and he had raised all this money, and he had talked to so many people and driven so many miles. The little man expounded on how they got contractors for the church, and they ran out of money and he told the people that they had to give more and so on. He had led so many people to Christ and he had done this and done that.

This speech went on and on, and I was a little embarrassed because we were standing in a car wash with other people all around, and this little man just got louder. Finally, I blurted out, “My car is done; I have to go,” and bolted out the door.

But as I reflected on this later, I could not help but observe that though the man said he loved Jesus, the speech was not about Jesus at all. It was about him. You know he never even asked my name. He never asked anything about me. He was too focused on himself.

Under the disguise of loving Jesus, he was talking about himself. It was pathetic really. Here was a little man trying to gain some esteem from a stranger in a car wash by bragging about what he had done for Jesus. But that little man was not so different from the rest of us. Even when we talk about Jesus, we are always trying to somehow slide the focus back on me. That is the great human error, the great idolatry. Most people really have faith only in themselves. The Apostle Paul says we must break that idol, and put our faith in Jesus. That is the only real faith. Any other faith is just a counterfeit diploma.

Amen.


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

This is a wise, sane Christian faith: that a man commit himself, his life and his hopes to God; that God undertakes the special protection of that man; that therefore that man ought not to be afraid of anything!

George McDonald


This Day's Verse

Praise the LORD!  Praise the LORD, O my soul!  I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Psalm 146:1-2
The English Standard Version


This Day's Smile

God commands you to pray but forbids you to worry.

John Vianney


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Your unhappiness is due not to a want of something outside of you, but to a want of something inside you.  You were made for perfect happiness.  No wonder everything short of God disappoints you.

Fulton Sheen


This Day's Verse

“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”

Jeremiah 3:15
The New International Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us.

Billy Graham


This Day's Verse

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

2 Corinthians 2:14
The New King James Version


This Day's Smile

We die daily.  Happy are those who daily come to life as well.

George MacDonald


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

His strength is made perfect, not in our strength, but in our weakness.

Hannah Whitall Smith


This Day's Verse

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20
The King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without condition or limits.

Henri Nouwen


This Day's Verse

Praise the LORD!  Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!

Psalm 149:1
The English Standard Version


This Day's Smile

I am here.  Let’s heal together.

Unknown


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Daily Prayers- Psalm 118


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DAILY PRAYERS – PSALM 118
Lesson 24 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 118, read by Lana Elder, with Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcorelle,” played by Eric Elder

 

There are many famous quotes in the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms. But there’s one quote in Psalm 118 that helps keep me going each day. The quote is this:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

I’ve talked several times in these messages about special prayers you can say to God when you’re facing special problems. But today I’d like to focus on the value of daily prayers, thanking God for each day you’re alive.

Thanking God for each day is not only important when things are going good, but also when things are going bad.

I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier messages that a few months before my wife died, a film team asked if I would be willing to record a short message to offer hope to others facing terminal illness. I didn’t think I could do it, as I was still trying to find my own reason for hope in the face of the most significant loss in my life.

But I agreed to do the interview, and at one point during the filming, God filled me with incredible hope for myself, too. I was finally able to say that even if the unthinkable happened to my wife, I knew God would still have a reason for me to live.

“My role,” I said, “is to find that reason, fulfill that reason, and walk in that reason.”

While it was a struggle for me to finally get to that point, trying to imagine living life without her, I truly believed those words were true. And here I am, five years later, having found that reason again, fulfilling that reason, and walking in that reason. God has continued to call me to purposeful living, day after day after day.

I know there’s a reason that I’m here. And I know there’s a reason you’re here, too. This really is “the day the Lord has made.” I am so thankful for today, and I am continuing to rejoice and be glad in it.

What about you? What kind of day are you facing today? What is God speaking to you, calling you to do and think and be? I know it can be hard some days to believe that God has a calling on your life, but God really does want you to know your purpose for living even more than you want to know it. And He really does wants you to live THIS day to the fullest, too.

Let me encourage you to say a fresh prayer to God again today, committing THIS day to live for Him and saying, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Then say it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, so that you can keep making the most of every day the Lord your God gives to you.

If you need some help in your heart to do this, here are a few cues from the writer of Psalm 118 for how he was able to do it, even when life had him on the ropes at times.

He remembered God’s love endures forever:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever'” (vv. 1-4). 

He remembered how God had set him free:

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (vv. 5-6).

He remembered that God is God and not anyone else:

“The Lord is with me; He is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me” (vv. 7-13).

He remembered who gave Him his voice to sing and to praise:

“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!’
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (vv. 14-18).

He remembered the Lord with thankfulness:

“Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation” (vv. 19-21).

He remembered the Lord for doing miracles:

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (vv. 22-23).

And he remembered that THIS is the day the Lord has made:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

If you need to get your mojo back, do what this psalmist did, and do it daily.  Remember that God’s love endures forever. Remember that He has set you free. Remember that He is God and not anyone else. Remember that He is the one who gave you your voice to sing and to praise.

Remember the Lord with thankfulness. Remember the Lord for His miracles. And remember that THIS is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us another day of life. Thank You for giving us a purpose and meaning for today and hope for our future. Thank You for Your eagerness to reveal that purpose and meaning and hope to each one of us. Help us to walk out the calling that You have in mind for us, living each day to the fullest and fulfilling every single thing You want us to fulfill. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. Last week I shared with you a brief, 8-minute interview I filmed at our church how God set me free from living a life I knew He didn’t want me to live. If you’re looking for freedom, or know someone who is, I’d like to also recommend a film that you can watch this week for one day only in theaters across the country called The Heart of Man. The film was produced by my friend and Hollywood producer, Brian Bird, who also produced Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I was able to watch The Heart of Man and found it to be full of hope for anyone who is struggling with anything in their life to which they might be addicted. The film also contains godly wisdom from real-life people whom God has set free and have gone on to impact the world for good. The Heart of Man is showing in theaters for one day only, this Thursday, September 14th. Click here to learn more.

Eric Elder

You can watch my own brief, 8-minute testimony that I shared with you last week at this link:
Eric’s interview at Eastview

You can to listen to today’s psalm at this link:
Psalm 118, read by Lana Elder, with Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcorelle,” played by Eric Elder

And you can see our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

God Is Everywhere

God is everywhere
If you’ve ever wondered where God lives…
If sometimes He seems far away in His house in heaven, look around you…
God is everywhere.
You see His face in a woodland flower.
You feel His touch in the gentle rain.
You hear His voice in the murmuring winds.
Even in small secret places, He is always near.
His miracles are as small as a snowflake…
and as great as a sky of stars.
God brings the spirit of joy to your home…
and the spirit of peace and thanksgiving where you worship.
When you speak to God, He guides you.
He is your strength when things don’t go right…
and your comfort when you are lonely or sad.
When you are kind and thoughtful, you are helping to do God’s work…
and in return He sends you the gift of happiness.
God is in every one of us.
He is in our friends who like us just the way we are.
He is in our parents who help us grow up and love us always.
God is in those who think and act as we do…
and in those who may be different.
God is love, and He lives everywhere there is love.
Most of all, God lives in your heart.

Barbara Burrow


This Day's Verse

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4
The Revised Standard Version


This Day's Smile

When someone speaks harshly about or to you, hurting your feelings, just move your sails out of their wind.

Christine A. Dallman


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Take that which God has given you and share it.

Stephen F. Olford


This Day's Verse

Yes, and those who decide to please Christ Jesus by living godly lives will suffer at the hands of those who hate him.

2 Timothy 3:12
The Living Bible


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

The child of many prayers shall never perish.

An old Christian, to Monica, mother of Augustine of Hippo


This Day's Verse

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.

Proverbs 14:16
The English Standard Version


This Day's Smile

Positive thinking without faith is like spray paint on rust–it doesn’t last very long.

Unknown


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

If any one would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness and all perfection, he must tell you to make it a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.  For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.  Could you, therefore, work miracles, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit; for it heals with a word, and turns all that it touches into happiness.

William Law


This Day's Verse

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2
The King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on with them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God.

A. W. Tozer


This Day's Verse

Never pay back evil with more evil.  Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.  Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.  Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.  For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.  Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.  If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”  Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Romans 12:17-21
The New Living Translation


This Day's Smile

A man should utter a hundred daily benedictions.

Rabbi Meir


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Fearless Prayers- Psalm 112

Special note from Eric: Before sharing today’s message with you, I wanted to let you know that I’ve just finished writing a new book called Loving God & Loving Gays: What’s A Christian To Do? I think you’ll find this book to be a thoughtful look at a delicate subject, borne out of my own personal experience and my ministry to hundreds of others in this area for the past 30 years. This book also includes a study guide for every chapter, which you can use for personal reflection or to study the book together with a small group. I’d be glad to send you the paperback edition for a donation of any size to our ministry at this link ($15 is suggested to help us cover the cost of printing and shipping the book anywhere in the world), or you can get the paperback or Kindle editions directly from Amazon at this link. To learn more, you can watch a brief, 8-minute interview at this link, which was recorded live last weekend during a special service at Eastview Christian Church. Even if you’re not interested in the book, I hope you’ll watch my brief interview to give you a boost in your faith no matter what you might be facing today.

Eric Elder and Mike Baker - Interview at Eastview

Eric Elder and Mike Baker – Interview at Eastview


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

FEARLESS PRAYERS – PSALM 112
Lesson 23 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 112, read by Lana Elder, with Daquin’s “Nöel,” played by Eric Elder

Last weekend, I shared my testimony with the largest live audience I’ve ever shared with before. Needless to say, I was more than a little bit nervous.

But I took comfort from two things that I’d like to share with you today: 1) that a healthy fear of God is more important than an unhealthy fear of people and 2) that fearless prayers lead to incredible blessings.

You’ll find these same principles at work in Psalm 112, which begins with these words:

“Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in His commands.
His children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed” (vv. 1-2).

A healthy fear of God leads to all kinds of blessings. Why? Because following God and His ways inevitably leads to an abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever. God doesn’t give us His wisdom–His commands–to hold us back from the fullest life possible, but to bless us with the fullest life possible.

Listen to the blessings that Psalm 112 says will follow when we fear God and take delight in His commands:

“Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.

Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.

He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn will be lifted high in honor” (vv 3-9).

And listen to what happens when we don’t take delight in God’s ways:

“The wicked man will see and be vexed,
he will gnash his teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing” (v. 10).

Does this mean that only good will come to those who follow God, and only bad will come to those who don’t? Of course not. A simple look at anyone who has committed their life wholeheartedly to their Father in heaven shows that sometimes bad things happen to the best of people, Jesus being the prime example. But listen to what Jesus has to say about a healthy fear of God:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

When I told a friend a few months ago that I was asked to share my testimony in front of this live audience, my friend said, “Aren’t you afraid?” I said that I was, but that I loved talking about Jesus more than anything else, for it is in Him that I’ve found my hope–and I couldn’t wait to share that hope with others.

I said, “If telling people about the most closely held secret of my life means that I can also tell people about how Jesus has worked in my life, then it’s worth it. It’s not that I’m not afraid. I am. I’m just compelled to push through my fears to share what Jesus has done for me.”

The truth is, there’s coming a day when everyone’s secrets will be made known. Everyone’s sins will be revealed. My hope is that by revealing now how Jesus has helped me to deal with my secrets, others will put their faith in Him so they can deal with theirs.

As Jesus said in the same passage I referenced above:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs…. Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven” (vv. 26-27, 32-33).

Just listening to Jesus’ words reminds me that the words I speak, and the words I don’t speak, are massively important and eternally significant. We can be afraid of those who can kill our bodies, or we can be afraid of the One who can send both body and soul to hell.

As the days got closer for me to share my testimony last week, my fear factor kept increasing. But I took great comfort in the two truths I shared with you at the beginning of this message: 1) that a healthy fear of God is more important than an unhealthy fear of people and 2) that fearless prayers lead to incredible blessings, both for us and for all those around us.

Are there some fearless prayers you need to say today?

And if so, will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us that we can come to You with our fears, and that as we pray boldly, You can reduce our fears immeasurably, knowing that You will bless those who walk in Your ways. Father, help us to be bold in our witness to You. Help us to share with others the hope we have found in You. Help us to pray fearless prayers, knowing that You will answer those prayers with incredible blessings, both for us and for all those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. You can watch my brief, 8-minute testimony at this link:
Interview at Eastview

You can to listen to today’s psalm at this link:
Psalm 112, read by Lana Elder, with Daquin’s “Nöel,” played by Eric Elder

And you can see our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

In fairness, if we ask the “Why me?” question in regard to our burdens, we should also ask it in regard to our blessings.  For this is the other side of the coin…There are many times in life when we do have both the occasion and the opportunity to ask “Why me?” in response to life’s bountiful blessings.  The Thanksgiving season is but one.

Dale Turner


This Day's Verse

Finishing is better than starting!  Patience is better than pride!

Ecclesiastes 7:8
The Living Bible


This Day's Smile

O sweet and loving God,
When I stay asleep too long,
Oblivious to all your many blessings,
Then, please, wake me up,
And sing to me your joyful song.
It is a song without noise or notes.
It is a song of love beyond words,
Of faith beyond the power of human telling.
I can hear it in my soul,
When you awaken me to your presence.

Mechthild of Magdeburg


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life to-day that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.
Let me use disappointment as material for patience:
Let me use success as material for thankfulness:
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:
Let me use danger as material for courage:
Let me use reproach as material for long-suffering:
Let me use praise as material for humility:
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:
Let me use pains as material for endurance.

John Baillie


This Day's Verse

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.  Stay away from people like that!

2 Timothy 3:5
The New Living Translation


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Let us not curse our luck when we get lost, but let us take God’s hand, for surely he will reveal the best route for us as we travel in this world.

Christine A. Dallman


This Day's Verse

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8
The New International Version


This Day's Smile

Kindness is a warm breeze in a frigid climate; a radiant heart that melts the icebergs of fear, distrust and unhappiness.

William Arthur Ward


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

We do not want suffering; we want success.  We identify not with those who are low and hurt but with those who are high and healthy.  We don’t like lepers or losers very well; we prefer climbers and comers.  For Christians, the temptation to be conformed to this world is desperately sweet and strong.  Yet, says the apostle Paul, we are children of God if we suffer with Christ.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.


This Day's Verse

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy,

Psalm 33:18
The New King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

There can be no doubt that possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in the Christian life.  Because it is so natural, it is rarely recognized for the evil that it is.  But its outworkings are tragic.

A. W. Tozer


This Day's Verse

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.

Proverbs 15:9
The Revised Standard Version


This Day's Smile

Live to shed joys on others.

Henry Ward Beecher


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Avenging Prayers- Psalm 109

Special note from Eric: I’ll be sharing a brief (5-minute) version of my testimony today during a special hour-long message at our church. I’d love for you to watch the whole service live online at 9 am, 11 am, or 5 pm (Central Daylight Time) at this link: live.eastview.church


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

AVENGING PRAYERS – PSALM 109
Lesson 22 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 109, read by Lana Elder, with Handel’s “Sarabande,” played by Eric Elder

Is it ever okay to ask God to bring vengeance on someone who is acting maliciously toward us? If David’s prayers are any indication of what we can or can’t ask of God, then the answer is “Yes.”

It’s not an easy answer, though, as God’s viewpoint on our troubles is not always the same as our own. We can sometimes be wrong in our assessment of others, and we can sometimes minimize our own guilt while magnifying the guilt of others.

Still, there are times when the malice of others is so evil, so awful, and so clear, that it is altogether fitting and proper to ask God to intervene on our behalf, to spare us from further harm, and to bring about justice on those who are acting contemptuously.

Listen to David’s prayer in Psalm 109, and see what you think. David begins by explaining the problem as he sees it:

“O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent,
for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (vv. 1-4).

So far, so good. The harder part for me to read is what David says next, when he begins to ask God about very specific ways he wants God to intervene! Listen to David’s boldness:

“Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse- may it come on him; he found no pleasure in blessing- may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him, like a belt tied forever around him.
May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me” (vv. 5-20).

Those are some pretty strong words! But there have been occasions in my life where I have felt like saying some strong words like that to God in prayer, too. And if we’re going to be honest in our conversations with God, part of being honest means saying things that might not sound as holy or as pious as we think we should sound.

And the truth is, calling on God to bring a stop to wickedness IS holy and pious. Jesus didn’t hold back from calling a spade a spade when He said things like, “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” or “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:33 and 23:15).

There are times when we might need to call a spade a spade, too, asking God to intervene to bring an end to wickedness.

I like calling prayers like these “avenging prayers” because asking God to bring about vengeance is different than taking revenge on someone ourselves. God is the ultimate judge, and calling on Him for justice is calling on Him to do one of the things He is fully qualified and fully capable of doing.

Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, said this about the difference between the words avenge and revenge: “To avenge and revenge, radically, are synonymous. But modern usage inclines to make a valuable distinction in the use of these words, restricting avenge to the taking of just punishment, and revenge to the infliction of pain or evil, maliciously, in an illegal manner.”

Calling on God to take action to do what is right and just is very different than asking someone to do something underhanded and equally evil or malicious in return for what they’ve done to us.

Like David, when I’ve come to the place where I’ve had to call on God to bring an end to something evil or wicked that is happening around me, I’ve taken careful stock of the situation and the people involved first, then I’ve asked God to bring about justice on His terms. And, at times, I have seen Him act surprisingly swiftly in response.

In one situation, a man was repeatedly abusing those around him, including me. The man refused to respond to civil requests to cease and desist, and refused to back down from his destructive tirades. When I finally got the courage to call on God to bring and end to his swath of destruction, two days later the man resigned from his position and left town. It was as if God had answered my prayer in a way that David wanted God to answer his, when David said: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”

God is gracious. God is loving. God is kind. Yet, He does not leave the guilty unpunished. As the Bible says:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6b-7a).

I sat in a courtroom one day when a friend of mine was on trial. I was there to testify to his good traits, but I was also there to admit that he had made some really bad decisions that were very harmful to others. While I wanted the judge to be lenient in some ways, I also didn’t want the judge to ignore the harmful things that had been done.

In reading the verdict, the judge commended my friend for the good he had done, and the judge offered the court’s help to turn my friend’s life around. Yet the judge also said, wisely: “The people in this room who have come to support you think you’re a good person, and frankly, I believe you’re a good person, too, but one who’s made some bad decisions. And this court and our society and those you have wronged are not going to tolerate the commission of crimes. There may have been issues in your life that contributed to those decisions, but there are always going to be issues. This verdict is to get your attention, to require you to make restitution for the wrongs you’ve done, and to help you to turn your life around.”

I felt the judge’s sentence was extremely fair, well-reasoned, and compassionate, yet he did not leave the guilty unpunished.

I am thankful that God, being the best judge, is willing to step in and intervene in situations where it would be dangerous and potentially even more destructive for us to try to take matters into our own hands. That’s when avenging prayers come in, calling on God to bring about justice. As the Apostle Paul says in the book of Romans:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You that You are a good Father and a good judge. Lord, for those who have wronged us, help us to call on You for help in bringing about justice and bringing about a change in their hearts. Help us to step out of harm’s way and let You step in to take up our cause. We pray that You would bring an end to the wickedness of those who are acting maliciously against us, and that You would cause Your light to drive out any remaining darkness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 109, read by Lana Elder, with Handel’s “Sarabande,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

God has every bit of me.

William Booth’s account of why his life displayed such spiritual power


This Day's Verse

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters.  But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.  Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14
The New Living Translation


This Day's Smile

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Mary Stewbeck


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Joy is prayer.  Joy is strength.  Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.

Mother Teresa


This Day's Verse

“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4
The Revised Standard Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Talk about what you believe and you have disunity,
Talk about who you believe in and you have unity.

E. Stanley Jones


This Day's Verse

The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.

Proverbs 20:27
The New International Version


This Day's Smile

Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance; yonder palace was raised by single stones, yet you see its height and spaciousness.  He that shall walk with vigor three hours a day, will pass in seven years a space equal to the circumference of the globe.

Samuel Johnson


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing.

John of the Cross


This Day's Verse

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.  Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy.  In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.

Psalm 86:5-7
The New International Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Gratitude is the memory of the heart; therefore forget not to say often, I have all I ever enjoyed.

Lydia M. Child


This Day's Verse

For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.  For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

Lamentations 3:31-33
The King James Version


This Day's Smile

Every mother is like Moses.  She does not enter the promised land.  She prepares a world she will not see.

Pope Paul VI


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Praising Prayers- Psalm 103


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PRAISING PRAYERS – PSALM 103
Lesson 21 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 103, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” played by Lucas Elder

We’re looking through the psalms to find ways to make our prayer lives more effective. One of the most powerful ways is to include “praise” in our prayers, to include some words of acknowledgement that God is worthy of our praise. Doing so has benefits for us and for God.

If you’ve ever been in a conversation with someone that has not included any kind of praise and has not included any thoughts or words of thankfulness or gratefulness on any level, you know how hard such conversations can be.

But a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins sings. More than that, your words of praise will help to recapture the best of your relationship with God, a relationship built on trust that He is worthy of your praise, and that you are the apple of His eye–no matter what your circumstances may be.

Psalm 103 gives us an example of a prayer filled with praise, a prayer that opens and closes with the words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.” This psalm of David begins like this:

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits–
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).

One thing I especially love about this psalm is that David’s words of praise seem to be truly flowing from the depths of his being. His words aren’t simply in the category of saying something just to “fake it till you make it.” His words are true words of praise, words of faith. “Faith it till you make it” might be more like it, as David truly puts his trust in God’s goodness and God’s benefits.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name,” David says.  Then he begins to list God’s benefits specifically:

– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
– who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
– who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s

David had seen God do each of these things. He had seen God forgive his sins. He had seen God heal his diseases. He had seen God redeem his life from the pit, crown him with love and compassion, and satisfy his desires with good things. David remembered what God had done in the past, and trusted God to do so again in the future.

If you’ve noticed my prayers at the end of these messages, you’ll see that I often start with the words “Father, thank You…” and then go on to list some of the things for which I am truly grateful to God. I have journals filled with these types of prayers. Not because my days are always so rosy and cheery, but because I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to begin my prayers with words of thanks to God, no matter what else might be going on in my life.

Sometimes I have to push aside the things that are pressing down on me so I can find some words of praise. I know they’re within me. I just have to bring them out. So I’ll start by writing the words, “Father, thank You…” and think of something that has happened in the past 24 or 48 hours for which I am truly thankful.

This morning, my prayer would go something like this: “Father, thank you for my daughter coming home for this weekend. Thank You for my family gathering together and eating and laughing and crying and watching movies. Thank You for the sunny days when we could be outside and for the rainy ones when everything was watered well.”

If this was all you were to read in my journal, you would think I had a most blissful weekend. All in all, it was quite pleasant. But if you read further, you’d find that there were multiple concerns that were on my heart: accidents and injuries, bills that need to be paid, and relationships that need to be ironed out.

If your life is like mine, it’s usually a mixed bag of things which are praiseworthy and things which are difficult. By praising God on the front end, however, and praising God again at the end of the conversation, I find it brings balance to my prayers, encouragement to my soul, and blessings to both God’s heart and my own.

If you need some ideas to prime the pump of praise in your prayer life, read through Psalm 103. See if you can say any of the words of that psalm with true praise from the depths of your being. Then let your faith begin to flow, putting your trust in God once again for everything in your life.

I’m going to do this myself today as well. If you’d like, you can pray though the rest of Psalm 103 with me here, as I look through the words of David and turn each line that resonates with my heart into a prayer of praise to God. As I often start in my journal, I’ll just start with the words, “Father, thank You…” then I’ll begin to list those things from this psalm which I can truly say with words of praise from my heart.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You…
– that You are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love.
– that You will not always accuse, nor will You hold Your anger against us forever.
– that You don’t treat us as our sins deserve.
– that as far as the east is from the west, so far have You removed our sins from us.
– that You have compassion on us, as a father has compassion on his children.
– that even though our days are like grass and quickly forgotten, Your love is everlasting.

Thank You for being so worthy of our praise. We praise You Lord, from the depths of our souls. We praise Your holy name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm yet, you can listen to it here:
Psalm 103, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” played by Lucas Elder

You can also follow along with our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms here:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.

C. S. Lewis


This Day's Verse

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
The New King James Version


This Day's Smile

In times of darkness love sees,
In times of silence love hears,
In times of doubt love hopes,
In times of sorrow love heals.

Unknown


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