X & O Devotionals

X&O Index

Have A Heart for the Hurting
A Guide For Confused Days
Making Ends Meet
Care and Share
Keep An Open Mind
The Flat Days
Stay Cool!
A Dumb Ox
Name Calling is Inexcusable
Choose Good Advisors
Big Head, Small Soul
Be A Friend
Fighting Our Monsters
Holy Warfare
Be Sincere, Not Sly
You Aren't A Clothes Hanger
The Right Shape
At Your Best
A Costly Ministry
Indolence Is Taboo
Running for Life
The Crown Awaits
Be A Barnabas
Fallen Angels
Take Hindrances in Stride
Negatives? Si! Positives? Si, Si!
Enduring the Unknown
What Do You Spell?
Don't Make a Case for Wrong
Don't Put A Pricetag on Friendship
Companions, not Competitors
With the Bad for Good Reasons
Humor, a Dangerous Asset
You Can Help Others
Self-contained Is Self-destructive
Differences, Not Divisions
Stand Tall, Christian!
Christ Makes Us Whole
Break Jail!
Rescue Comes From the Outside
Brace Others
A Long Time
Stand By Your Friends
Loved and Loving
Chosen and Unchosen
A Costly Virtue
Love Is Courageous
Tell the Truth
Centered In God
Do What You Can
Anger Isn't Cute
Service or Sacrifice
Popularity Is Perilous
An Inside View
Adversity Conquered
Be Smart, not Smart-Alecky
Don't Debate with God
Keep In Touch with God
Good Reason for Bad Company
Encourage Someone Today
Someone To Swallow Whole
Christ Has No Secrets
Laughter Can Be Dangerous
Monkey Around a Little
Union for Christ's Sake
Hopping Mad People
A Moment of Sin, A Lifetime of Sorrow
Look Deep or Be Fooled
Pretense Can't Last Forever
Stay Teachable
Not All There - a Common Failing
The Popular, a Dangerous Hook
Neither Kicker or Kickee Be
Like and Unlike
Our Ultimate Honor
Ancestor Worship Is Vain Exercise
Obvious Turnabouts
Be Led, Not Driven
Fight or Flight?
The Noblest Sacrifice
Forbidden Judgment
Radical Change
A Mighty Defender
Multiplied Influence
Living Flexibly
Limitations and Encouragements
Christ Shares the Heat
Your Accent Identifies You
We Need to Be Needed


I want to offer a word of explanation about X and O, the characters who dominate the cartoons on this webpage. My wife and I were visiting with our oldest son and his family in Jacksonville, Florida. One night I dreamed I saw an X and O standing together. I heard X complain, "My joint hurts." O responded, wryly, "I never have that problem." Next morning I told the family about it. They laughed, and may have thought I was losing my mind.

The next night I saw X and O again in a dream. Near them stood C who looked like an O with a missing section. I heard O call out, "Pull yourself together." When I related that dream they laughed again, but somewhat quizzically. Without warning or invitation these two letters invaded my consciousness day and night for several days. I began to scribble down their snippets of conversation. Within two weeks I had well over 100 entries in my little notebook.

The little rascals had assumed personalities. X was given to barbed comments; O was gentler but capable of zingers now and then. I sensed that they were friends who enjoyed teasing each other but hung together against any threats from outsiders. They lived quietly in my mind and study for some time.

I decided to feature them in a book of devotions. In that way I could impress them into the service of Jesus Christ, whose service has been the passion of my life since I was sixteen years old. So, for whatever it's worth, here they are. I hope readers find it both relaxing and challenging, both comical and serious - in a word, lifelike.

Have A Heart For The Hurting

No life is without its problems; no heart is without its shadows. We do not all have the same problems, but we do all have problems. When others hurt, we too often rejoice that we are not hurting, that we have escaped what causes their pain. That attitude is cold comfort and brief respite, for some form of suffering either afflicts us or awaits us. We should be sympathetic, not self-congratulatory.

In a church I pastored there was a woman who responded to every mention of another's trouble, "That's her problem. I've got enough of my own." She lived a selfish life and died a lonely death. In that same church was a woman who regarded her health as an opportunity to serve the ailing, and her illnesses as lessons in sympathy for other victims. She lived and died surrounded by people who loved her deeply.

Never shrug off another's pain. Offer empathy and assistance instead. As Paul enjoined the church, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

Compassion should never be exceptional in the church. We follow Him who said of a hungry multitude, "I have compassion for these people" (Matthew 15:32).



A Guide for Confused Days

Most of us can sympathize with poor X. There are days so filled with confusion and turmoil that we hardly know which end is up. Everything goes wrong and our careful planning collapses into a tangle of debris.

On days like that we need a guide and not a gloater beside us. We need to hear a voice saying, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:31).

We can have such a guide. The Lord says, "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth" (Isaiah 42:16).
This promise was first made to ancient Israel. God's people had endured a long and painful captivity in Babylon. Now they were going to be led through desert places along rough trails to their homeland.

The promise of guidance is yours to claim today. Trust the Lord. He will put things right side up.


Making Ends Meet

This is a common problem. "Too much month at the end of the money" is a frequent lament.

"Live within your means" is good advice easily given. Situations arise, however, when means are inadequate, even for marginal living. Unexpected loss of jobs, or devastating injuries and illnesses, can create financial disasters.

Making ends meet calls for budgeting, belt-tightening, and balancing acts. If income cannot be increased, expenses must be decreased. No-frills living is demanded, but ruinous self-pity should be rejected.

Share your diminished resources with those having an even rougher time. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord"-- and the Lord pays a generous interest (Proverbs 19:17). "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" is a promise given to those who were sharing, not hoarding, their limited resources (Philippians 4:19).


Care and Share

Much of the comic is cruel. Humorists often joke about the deficiencies or problems of others. They win their laughs at the expense of hurting people. The only humor that deserves respect is self-deprecating.

Scorn, contempt, ridicule--these are weaknesses, not strengths, and unworthy of Christians. Jesus did not despise or exploit human weaknesses and failures. "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Matthew 12:20). He was patient and kind to those who were poorly endowed by nature or savagely treated by events.

To greet the complaints of others with wisecracks or sneers is to betray Christ. The pain of others must not become our entertainment. Instead, we ought to "share with God's people who are in need" and "rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:13, 14). Our duty is to care and share, helping others to find a fuller and better life. In doing so, we shall be subtly, slowly, but surely transformed into the likeness of Christ.


Keep an Open Mind

When you talk to a closed person nobody's listening. Hang up and call back when that person is willing to listen, evaluate, and reconsider.

I argued with a friend who found me closed to his viewpoint. He did not persist. Shortly after he sent me a small figurine--a man whose head was parted like a "v", as though an ax had laid it open. At the foot of the figurine this line was printed: "Let's keep an open mind." I kept this gentle reproof on my desk, until it was accidentally broken.

If you are stubbornly opinionated--as I was--you need to practice the stewardship of listening with an open mind. It's amazing how much we learn, and how often we revise our judgments, when we patiently consider another's point of view.

God has often, in mercy, recalled to me the words of Jesus, "He who has ears, let him hear," and those of James, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak" (Matthew 11:15; James 1:19). I am a better person when I practice these biblical precepts. If you want to be heard, first be willing to hear.


The Flat Days

It's hard enough to be F without being F flat. From childhood we identify F with failure. On a report card it sticks out like "a lion in a den full of Daniels." Parents always see F quicker than A or B or C.

F flat is useful in music, but I wonder how many F flats secretly wish they were B flats or even C sharps.

There are red letter days on everyone's calendar. Holidays and birthdays are prime examples. But lots of days are flat, with neither peaks nor valleys. They spark no fervor, they set no corpuscles dancing. They are filled with routine chores, and we live through them in a semi-detached mood. There is more plodding than soaring in our lives, but God promises strength for those times.We can not only "soar on wings like eagles," we can also "walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:3).

"Life is so daily," a woman complained to her pastor. That is true, but grace is daily also, and every day is a fresh summons to faith, hope, and love. How we live the flat days may be the truest test of Christian character.


Stay Cool!

To blow one's top, some psychologists say, is healthy. Venting anger, they advise, helps keep you emotionally and physically well.

Scripture says, however, "In your anger do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). Anger is not always a bad emotion. Jesus was angered by the hardness of men's hearts (Mark 3:5). Anger can be the mood of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:6-11). What the Bible condemns is selfish, vindictive anger, and the passage cited from Ephesians urges us to "get rid" of such anger. We are to be compassionate and forgiving instead (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Righteous anger, held too long, can provoke wrongdoing. "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26). That doesn't mean, "Avenge yourself before sundown." It means release your anger. Don't let anger become a festering sore that spreads the poison of hatred throughout your relationships.

Anger, persistent and uncontrolled, has filled graveyards, asylums, and jails. Don't become the victim of a blown top. Replace anger with love.

Choose Good Advisors

Each of us needs advice at times. Unfortunately, this creates a happy hunting ground for gurus, witches, fortune-tellers, horoscope writers, etc.

The quality of advice depends upon the wisdom and integrity of the advisors. We don't want marriage counseling from someone thrice divorced. We don't want financial advice from a veteran of Chapter XI. We don't want medical advice from a correspondence school alumnus. We want advice from the level headed, the competent, the successful.

For the Christian that means a person schooled in Scripture and steeped in the values and teachings of Christ. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10).
Proverbs says, "for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisors" (24:5). Christianity is spiritual warfare. A war-cabinet of 66 advisors, starting with Genesis, is recommended. They never fail to guide wisely and well.


A Dumb Ox

The ox has never been a symbol of beauty or speed. It has been a figure of speech for stupidity. "Dumb ox" is a phrase I've heard all my life, sometimes as an accusation leveled at me.

Proverbs likens the fool who hastens after an adulterous woman to "an ox going to the slaughter" (7:22).

What the ox lacks in smarts and speed it makes up for with strength. A friend of mine used to describe the very wealthy as having "more money than a young ox can pull." The pulling power of the ox is quite celebrated.

Proverbs also says, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest" (14:4). In Bible times the oxen pulled plows and made possible a farmer's daily bread. In our culture tractors have replaced oxen, but oxen still survive as symbols of power used patiently and positively.

The Lord promises both wisdom and strength to His people (James 1:5; 1 Peter 5:10). We can be both wise enough and strong enough to live useful and victorious Christian lives. Let's claim both promises for the challenge of today.


Name Calling is Inexcusable

Name calling is childish. Angry people, insulting each other about their appearance, are disgracing Christianity. I recall such a verbal bout waged in the center aisle of a church between the frustrated pastor and a rebellious teen-ager. Visitors were shocked and members embarrassed.

The incident would be just as wrong, whoever was involved and wherever the venue. Speech unbecoming to a pastor and church is also wrong in homes, offices, schools, factories, streets and parks. There is no right time, place, or occasion for insulting others.

Scripture exhorts, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and warns, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." As a famous writer once said, "You can't have your friends and eat them too." Like the Psalmist, we all need to pray, "May the words of my mouth ...be pleasing in your sight, O Lord" (Psalm 19:14).