The God Who Sees Me – Part 2

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In our small group Bible Study we have been looking at the names of God in the Bible.  One of those names is El-Roi, “the God who sees me.”  I wrote about the basis for that name recently in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1.

Reading that story led me to think of times in my life when I experienced that same sense that God had seen me.   Times of my own fear or suffering when God ministered to me in a clear way that let me know He saw me.  He knew my distress and He gave me assurance that He was with me and would help me in this time of difficulty.

The first time was when I was 14 years old and grieving over the father who walked out on me and my mother and left us to get by the best we could.  That story is told in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1

Almost 20 years later, God again assured me that He was the God who sees me.  While working at the University of Missouri Extension office in Perryville, Missouri, I anticipated the daily call from my oldest daughter.  My two daughters would ride the bus each day from school to our home in the country.  Their father who worked the midnight shift would be getting up and waiting to greet them.  Although he was always there to meet them, I still had my daughter call me just to let me know they were home and see how their day had gone.

When the phone rang at work, I picked it up happily awaiting my daughter’s voice.  But as soon as she began speaking, I knew something terrible had happened, something that would change our lives forever.  I will always remember that little girl’s voice saying

Mommy, I think Daddy is dead!

My two daughters – only 6 and 11 – had come home to find their father laying in the driveway underneath our car.  He had been working on the muffler and the jack had apparently slipped and crushed him.  He had always been very careful when he worked on the car and to this day I do not understand why he raised the car with the jack and did not use anything to stabilize the car or the jack.  It was not like him to be so careless.  I always remind my family to be careful because it only takes one moment of carelessness to bring disaster.

Hanging onto the phone, I felt my heart would stop!  It was hard to believe it was really true but the moments that followed showed me it was true.  At 33 I was a widow with two little girls to raise.  All kinds of questions flooded my mind.

  • How would I get through the days, the years to come without my best friend?
  • How would I help my daughters cope with not only their father’s death but the horror of finding him crushed beneath the car?
  • How would I be able financially to take care of them with the loss of my husband’s salary?
  • Who would be there to take care of them when they got home from school since I would be working?
  • How would I pay for the funeral?
  • Should we stay in Missouri or move back to be close to family?  Could I make it on my own far from family’s support?

On and on the questions raced through my mind as I tried to grasp what had happened.  It still seemed like a bad dream.  Surely I would wake up soon and be in my own bed with my husband beside me and I would laugh at it all.

But it was not a dream.  For the next few days I was numb.  Planning the funeral, trying to comfort my daughters, trying to find answers to all those questions, slowly the sense of being in a dream began to leave and reality hit me hard.

Blessed to have family and friends who loved me and supported me, still the time came when everyone went home and back to their lives and I was left with my daughters to face the future alone.  This realization came to me the first night after everyone had left.  I fixed supper for the three of us and started to place the dishes and silverware on the table for us.  Turning from the table to get the food from the stove, I realized I had put four plates and four setting of silverware on the table.  With tears streaming down my face, I picked up the extra plate and silverware and returned them to the cabinet.  In the future, we would only need three sets of dishes.

I did what I had always done in times of despair.  I cried out to the Lord telling Him I did not see how I could make it through the months and years ahead, how alone I felt.

Instantly a verse of scripture came to my mind.

Lo, I am with you always…

While I know in this instance Jesus was speaking to His disciples – and through them to the church, I also realized this scripture had come to my mind by no coincidence.  God saw me – this young widow living in the middle of the country – and He cared.  He assured me I was not alone and that I would make it because He was with me.  He was the “God who sees me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worship – What’s Your Style?

We talk a lot about worship.  We write/read books on the subject.  We talk about the “style” of worship we like. There is contemporary worship, traditional worship, liturgical worship.  In some churches the argument over what songs we sing, what instruments we use and whether or not we have a praise team or a choir has actually split churches.  At many larger churches we see signs that advertise a certain style of worship will be used at one service and another style at a second service.  Seems to me that we treat worship like we do other music.  Some love country songs, some classical music and other rock and roll.

Traditional vs Contemporary – Us vs Them

So we appear to insist there are two kinds of worshipers.  There is the “old crowd” who love their hymns and want something “traditional.”  There is the “younger crowd” who want contemporary songs only with drums, keyboards and guitars or, if they do an old hymn need to change it to a more contemporary style.

But is that really what worship is?  Should my own musical likes or dislikes determine how I worship?

Tradition

To those who long for the “good old days” when we had organ and piano instruments and “traditional” hymns, I have to ask:  “Do you think worship only started when those old hymns were written?” The singing of hymns was not officially approved in the Church of England until 1820.  Yet, without those old hymns the early church clearly worshiped.  Paul wrote to the church at Ephesians

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Matthew’s Gospel tells us after the Last Supper before Jesus went to the garden to pray He and His disciples sang a hymn.

Traditional means:  the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs,information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice:

If you want traditional music, how far back do we go for that?  Just to the hymns of the 1800’s and England?  Maybe we should go back to the Middle Ages and the Georgian chants?  Most Biblical scholars believe the early church probably sang the Psalms?  So if we want to have traditional music perhaps we should only sing the Psalms.

Contemporary

Contemporary means:  what is happening right now, marked by characteristics of the present period.

So contemporary worship will be worship that is suitable and meaningful for the current population.  It is not for those who lived hundreds of years ago.  Therefore, we have to recognize that the “method” of worship will always be changing.

From Psalms to Gregorian chants to Charles Wesley’s hymns to Chris Tomlin’s praise songs.

The Old Becomes New Again

For those “old folks” who long for the old hymns, just hang around a little longer.  I found interesting studies as I did some research on the history of worship that many millennials are leaving churches with contemporary worship and returning to the liturgical churches with their organs and old hymns.

Is Worship Just About the Style of Music?

When we have made our focus on worship about the style of music, we have lost the real meaning of worship.   Our worship should not be dictated by the style of music we like or dislike.  Our worship should be dictated by what we believe. Our worship should be directed toward God, not ourself.  In John 4:23-24 Jesus told the Samaritan woman

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

So our emphasis is not about the style of music, rather we have a praise team or a choir or a single worship leader.  It is not about the “outward form” of worship.  It is about the “inward form” – our heart.  God is seeking worshipers who will worship him truly from their hearts.  God could care less if we have the latest sound system and the best worship teams if we do not come to worship Him from our hearts. God wants our hearts!

 

 

 

 

Who Do You Turn To?

It’s 8:30 at night – I’m sitting in my recliner – in my pajamas – and I’m crying!

The tears are partly a result of the tension of the past few days.  For over a month I have been planning a women’s retreat for my church.  With the guest speaker, who is my youngest daughter, I have brainstormed picking a theme, planning the lessons, the decorations, the music.  I so wanted it to be a success.  But as the weeks went by I had to ask myself – why do I want it to be a success and what needs to happen for me to consider it a success?

I have questioned my motives.  Do I just want to impress everyone with how smart I am?  Do I just want everyone to see what a great speaker my daughter is?  Do I want the women of my church to be encouraged and help them better understand God’s Word?  Do I want to see spiritual growth among my “sisters?”

Will it be a success if we have a large number show up?  Will it be a success if everyone has a good time?  Will it be a success if someone really is encouraged, really does develop a greater desire to know God, have a better appreciation for God’s Word?

So I have prayed that my motives would truly be pleasing in God’s sight and that there would be nothing in my efforts that would desire anything other than that God would be glorified and lifted up.  I have prayed that there will be a good response, that the women will show up, will enjoy, but most of all will draw closer to God as a result of the weekend.

Then, there was the worry of getting it all to come together.  Finding the right decorations to set the scene (but at a cheap price as I promised the church board it would not cost the church anything so the expenses are on me).  Getting volunteers to bring food for our Friday night snack and breakfast and lunch on Saturday.  Will I have enough food?  Finding volunteers for the skit I want to do on Friday and for worship on Saturday.  Praying for my daughter as she prepares the lessons I have asked her to do.

In the middle of all this I start having terrible pain in one of my teeth.  I had it filled last year but the dentist told me the tooth was really bad and he was not sure the filling would hold. A call to the dentist and off I got to get it pulled.

I’m feeling great!

Everything is coming together!

I have my tooth pulled on Wednesday.  Dentist tells me I can expect pain, bruising and swelling.  But here it is Friday.  I have had no pain, there is no sign of swelling or bruising.  My husband says it’s a God thing.

I truly believe my heart and my motives are right – that my desire is only for God’s glory.  I find most of the decorations at the Dollar Store – budget saved.  Tables are decorated and the room looks great.  My daughter sends me her notes for the handouts and they look perfect.  Volunteers have all responded and the skit, the worship, the food – it is all on track to be a great event.

Oh no!

Friday morning I start cutting up veggies for the Saturday lunch.  Suddenly my carefully laid plans all seem to come apart.

My husband comes up from the family room in the basement and he looks white as a sheet.  He tells me he almost passed out and off we go to the doctor’s office.  After examining him and talking to his heart doctor, we are off to the emergency room for further evaluation.  He had a heart attack in 2009 and has had 4 stents put in since then so the fear of another heart issue makes me very nervous.

Now I’m getting up tight.  Clearly I need to be here with my husband, but what about all the things I still need to do to be ready for tonight?  Is he going to be okay?  Is he having a heart attack?

While waiting for the doctor to evaluate the EKG and the blood work I pick up my cell phone to start calling our kids to let them know their dad is in the ER.  Before I can dial out, my phone rings and it’s our son.  When I answer he tells me that he has just had a call from his wife and he is rushing to the ER in their town.  Their daughter has been in a bad car wreck.  He doesn’t know more than that but wants me and his Dad to be in prayer.

Now I’m really stressed!

I try to hold back the tears as I think – “What do I do?”  I have to tell my husband, but is that going to add to his stress and cause a heart attack?  After sharing the news with him, we hold hands, crying and calling out to God for our granddaughter.

I watch the clock waiting for the doctor’s evaluation pulled between needing to be with my husband and needing to get back home and finish final preparations for the night session at the retreat.  Of course, my husband keeps telling me I need to go on and get ready for the evening and I keep telling him no way I’m leaving him until we find out what is going on with his heart.

And we keep waiting for our son to call with more information on our granddaughter.  How badly is she hurt?  Is she going to be okay?

He’s going to be okay

The doctor finally comes in and tells us that he is not having a heart attack but they do want to keep him overnight for observation and possibly do some tests in the morning.  When I am assured that he is in no immediate danger, I finally leave, hurrying now to get cleaned up myself and get to the church to finish final preparations.

We finally hear from our son.  Our granddaughter was hit in the passenger side by a young man drunk and high on drugs.  He hit her at such a high rate of speed it flipped her car over twice, crushed in the front and they had to pull her out through the windshield.  But, miraculously she has no broken bones, no life-threatening injuries, but is terribly bruised and some cuts on her arms from being pulled through the broken windshield.

While working with my daughter to put the finishing touches on everything at the church, we get a text from my son.  He has sent us pictures of my granddaughter’s car.  When we see the pictures my daughter and I both began to cry and to spontaneously praise God.  From the pictures of the car we realize we have seen a miracle.  There is no way anyone should have walked out from the car alive.  The whole front and right side is smashed in, the windshield completely broken out.  We get pictures of my granddaughter’s neck and front of her chest.  She looks like someone who has been severely beaten.  Clearly she has subsisted some terrible bruising and will be in pain for some time.  But no broken bones, no concussion.

As we praise God, I feel the tension drain from my body for a moment.  Then my husband calls.  They are going to do an angiogram tomorrow morning.  Doctor thinks they may be more blockage.  I start to get uptight again, but I’m reminded in my spirit that the same God who protected my granddaughter is the same God who will be with my husband in the morning.

Long day at hospital

But now, of course, I cannot be at the retreat on Saturday.  I know between my daughter who is speaking and the women who will be leading worship I don’t have to be there.  But I’m disappointed.  I have enjoyed watching the women in our Friday session and seeing their hearts being opened to God’s Word – just as I had prayed – and I really want to be there Saturday to share with them.

But I know there is no question about where I belong.  I love my husband – my best friend – and I not only need to be with him, I want to be with him.

The procedure is done and they have to put in another stent (his fifth).  The doctor shows me an area where there is a 50% blockage but says he will not touch it until it becomes blocked enough to be life threatening.  Because of its location it will require open heart surgery.  This makes me nervous.  How will he know it has become life threatening until it is life threatening?  On top of that they had trouble getting the bleeding to stop and have had to put a pressure cuff on his groin which is pushing down and is very painful.  While normally a person has to lay on still on their back for two to three hours, he lies all day – over six hours – not being able to move from his back and having this pressure cuff pushing down on his groin.  A rough day for both of us.  Since he cannot sit up, I help him try to get some food down.

The day is over!

Granddaughter is very sore – will be out of commission for a few days – but she is alive, she is going to be fine.

My husband is out of immediate danger.  He has to stay overnight in the hospital just to make sure he does not move too much and the bleeding stays stopped.  But, all is well with him.  I can bring him home tomorrow.

The retreat appears to have been well received by everyone.

Who Do I Turn To?

So, I need to be rid of all this tension.  What do I do?  Guess I could pick up a glass of wine.  I could put on a favorite movie.  I could take a hot shower, a sleeping aid and go to bed.

But I turn to the one I have always turned to.  My Savior, my Lord, but also my friend.  I put on a CD by Selah, lean back and think of all the times in my life – when my father walked out on the family, when my first husband was accidentally killed and my daughters came home and found him dead, when I was diagnosed with cancer and told I did not have a very good chance of making it – and so many other times when crisis came and how Jesus has always been there.  Giving me wisdom, peace, comfort.

And as I meditate on His goodness, His love to me, the tension drains from my body and my tears become more than just tears of release.  They become tears of love and gratitude.

I turn to Jesus.  Who Do you turn to?

When I’m far away from home
And the cold wind starts to blow
When I’m empty and alone
I turn to You

When there’s hardness in my heart
And I can’t see the truth
And I’m wondering in the dark
I turn to You

And here in Your holy presence
It’s all that I can do

For the faith to move ahead
And to let go of the past
And to see me as You do
I turn to You.

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do
I turn to You

You alone are worthy
The one and only God
The Ruler of the nations
And Father of my heart

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do, Jesus
I turn to You

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Did the Baby Change Your Life?

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One last look this time around

Brrrrr!  It’s so cold outside.  So today while staying snug inside I read and thought one more time on the Christmas story which we have just observed.  Now it’s time to move forward and begin thinking about spring and about the resurrection story.

But one writer I read during the Christmas season still speaks to me.

…the Christmas story is not just for observing, but for participating.  A long time ago, Jesus Christ was born.  But today, Christ is born in us.  And so we would be wise to spend some time wondering with the sheep and the shepherds, how does this baby change my life?

Sarah Cunningham

For 2017 – how has this baby changed your life?

 

Reflections on Christmas – Now that it’s over!

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Planning for Christmas

For weeks we have been planning for Christmas.  Looking for bargains, some even gave up their Thanksgiving evening to fight the crowds on “Black Friday.”  Family recipes were pulled out of the drawer, decorations out of the basement or attic.  Children were excited as they made out their Christmas wish list.  Churches were busy planning special observations on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

The day comes and goes.  Busy adults breathe a sign of relief and begin the task of taking down the tree and its ornaments, putting all the decorations back in the basement or attic until next year.  Children enjoy their new toys although some are probably already bored and ready for the next new toy on the market.

School opens again and workers return to their jobs many complaining of how tired they are and how hectic the Christmas season has been.  Grandparents are thankful for the memories they made with their families over the holiday but glad to get back to their quiet routine.

Life goes on as always……has anything changed?

Response of Shepherds and those who heard their story

Reading the Christmas story this year I was struck by the scripture in Luke where he tells of the shepherds’ visit to the stable where baby Jesus laid.  The shepherds excitedly told Joseph and Mary about the visit of the angels and their message that the Messiah had been born that night in Bethlehem.    Apparently they also told the people in the village.  Luke tells us that all who heard their story were astonished.

I can imagine that was quite an experience for the shepherds and the people in the village. They probably talked about that night for years to come, telling their children of the visit from the angels.  No doubt there was many a discussion as to what happened to that child when his family suddenly left Bethlehem for Egypt.

But was there any change?

I wonder – did they search the scriptures to see what they had to say about the Messiah?  Did they seek to know more of God?  Or, was it just an exciting experience to talk about around the campfires at night as they continued to watch their sheep?  When Jesus appeared on the scene almost 30 years later, did they question if he was the little babe born in Bethlehem?

We celebrate Christmas

So today we make a big production of Christmas.  You can always count on people saying “Keep Christ in Christmas” and complaining of those who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  But what about keeping Christ in our lives all year long.  What does saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” really do if we go back to our normal life after Christmas content that we “kept Christ in Christmas’?  Did our reflection on the Christmas story make any difference in our day-to-day lives?

Mary’s response

Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” This was not just an exciting night to be celebrated now and then.  This was a daily part of Mary’s life.  Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and great concern she felt that she and her husband were to raise the Son of God?  Did she totally understand what that meant? And the words of Simon who told her a sword would pierce her own heart had to make her pause and wonder what the future would hold – for her – for Joseph – and especially for her son.

Mary pondered – thought – on all these things.  I wonder how much we ponder and think about the Christmas story and what it really means after the holiday is over.  The Christmas story is old and well-known to us, but after the observation of Christmas is over, has it made any difference in our lives?

I Hate Waiting!

Waiting….having patience…not easy for me.

In our culture I would guess it is not easy for most of us.  We pull up to the fast food place ready to give our order and if we have to wait more than a few seconds before we hear the words, “Can I help you?”  we start complaining.  “Come on!  I’m in a hurry!”

instant-food

We look for dinners in the store that can be popped in the microwave and be ready in two or three minutes.

We have “instant” coffee, “instant breakfast drinks” and now stores are offering “instant credit.”

Our spending habits reflect that also.  We want it now, we do not have the money now, so we charge it now and pay later.  Unfortunately for many of us, when “later” comes, we still do not have the money.  Waiting is not something we find easy.

But for a Christian, waiting is part of our faith.  In the Old Testament, they waited year after year for the Messiah to come.  In the New Testament, we wait for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In this first week of Advent we focus on that waiting, that longing.  As we reflect back on the longing of the Israelites as they awaited the coming of their Messiah and see the fulfillment of that longing, we can rejoice that God is faithful.  What He says He will do….He will do.

Over 400 scriptures and prophecies tell us of His birth, life, death, resurrection and His return as conquering King.  As we read those scriptures and see how Jesus fulfilled them, we are assured that God has a plan for His people.

And as surely as He brought the promise of the Messiah to fruition, we can rest assured that the promise of His return in glory will also be fulfilled.

So – this first week of Advent, I am preparing my heart to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and remind myself to be patient as I wait for the fulfillment of His return.

As Isaiah said when speaking of the ministry of the Messiah,

Prepare the way of the Lord

I seek to prepare my heart for the Messiah.  It is not easy to do that in our culture.  We have made Christmas such a busy time that often we are guilty of having “no room” in our hearts, in our lives for the one the holiday is all about.

My husband and I have been blessed by the responsibility of planning our church’s Christmas Eve service.  How surprised I have been at the people who told me they could not help or would not be there because they had other obligations.  Not meaning to be guilty of being a Pharisee or judging, but I have to wonder just how much we have made this season about everything except the Messiah.  Shopping, decorating, baking, parties.  All of these are not bad, but I pray that in all of this, I will not lose sight of what it is really about.  I pray that I will take the time to prepare the way of the Lord in my own life.

And I seek to be patient as I wait for the fulfillment of his glorious return.

 

 

 

 

Guidance and Direction for the Coming Year!

Looking Back at 2015!

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A new year!  As we look back at 2015, hopefully we all can say “It’s been a good year.”  Whether the year was a good one for you or not so good, we probably all can think of events that we would have handled differently if we could do it over.  Times when we wish we had remained silent – or maybe wish we had spoken up.  Times when we wish we had not attended that event – or maybe wish we had gone to an event.  Times when we wish we had loved more – times when we wish we had pulled back from a relationship.

Looking back we can always see areas in our lives where we could have done a better job of communicating, sharing, being brave, being restrained.  But the year is past.  What’s done is done.  Like Paul, the apostle, we need to say:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Now the New Year has arrived!

This is a time we often make new year resolutions.  We are going to work harder (or devote less time at work and more at relaxing), we are going to lose weight, we are going to be more faithful in our Bible reading, our exercising.  The list often goes on and on.

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

Here is one list of top ten New Year Resolutions

  1. Miss more time with family and friends
  2. Exercise – get in shape
  3. Lose weight
  4. Quit smoking
  5. Relax and enjoy time more
  6. Quit drinking
  7. Get out of debt
  8. Learn something new
  9. Help others
  10. Get organized

New Year Resolutions for the “Super Heroes”

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For many of us a New Year’s Resolution might look like this

My goal for 2016 is to accomplish the goals I had for 2015 which I should have done in 2014 because I promised myself I would do them in 2013 after much planning for them in 2012.

A worthy New Year’s Resolution

While it is always good to have goals for the coming year – may I suggest a goal that would really be of the greatest benefit in 2016 – a resolution to not just read, but really study the Word of God this year.

God’s Word is an excellent instruction manual for our lives.  Manual

 

 

There has been so much violence and discord in our country in 2015.  Who knows what the coming year will bring.  But, whether this year sees peace or war, prosperity or difficult financial times, excellent health or too many trips to the doctor, we can find strength in God’s Word.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.   Joshua 1:8

How can a young person stay pure?
    By obeying your word.
 I have tried hard to find you—
    don’t let me wander from your commands.
 I have hidden your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119

There are so many aids and helps in learning more about God’s Word.  One of the greatest ways to get into God’s Word is an organized, consistent reading plan.

There are excellent plans out there.  Visit biblegateway.com for a listing of many that can be sent directly to your mail each day.

Each day includes a passage from both the Old Testament and New Testament.
Read the Bible in the chronological order in which its stories and events occurred.
Read the Bible from start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation.
Read the books of the Bible as they were written historically, according to the estimated date of their writing.
An intensive Bible reading plan that walks through the entire Bible in 90 days.
Read through the four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–in 40 days.
Read the New Testament from start to finish, from Matthew to Revelation.
This reading plan is provided by Brian Hardin from Daily Audio Bible.
Daily Old and New Testament readings based on the Book of Common Prayer.
Short readings from throughout the Bible that focus on the meaning and events of Easter.
40 daily Scripture readings that illustrate the character of God and the nature of faith.
Scripture passages that focus on the meaning of Advent and Christmas.
A reading plan that walks through the entire New Testament in 24 weeks of daily readings.
A daily inspirational and encouraging Bible verse.
Daily Bible readings that follow the church liturgical year, with thematically matched Old and New Testament readings.
Daily Bible readings that follow the church liturgical year, with sequential stories told across multiple weeks.
The classic M’Cheyne plan–read the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms or Gospels every day.
Read through the book of Proverbs every month of the year.

Check them out!