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“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of,” said the wealthy, well-known actor.

Of course, I thought. He’s loving the high life—for now—and maybe feels guilty that 97% of humanity will never live the dream he’s privileged to enjoy.

But what he said next shocked me.

They should do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.”

Who made that startling statement? A man just about everybody in America recognizes on sight: Jim Carrey.

I wonder if Jim knew how close he came to echoing the words of King Solomon?

 

 

(“When I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

nothing was gained under the sun”–Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV.)

 

From ancient times to today, man has strived to find happiness by obtaining the next desired possession, experiencing the next enticing adventure, or pursuing the next enthralling relationship—even though any success is short-lived.

When will we learn?

Contentment results when we:

Want what we have.

 

(“The things you take for granted someone else is praying for.”

— Anonymous)

 

When our children were eight, eleven, and thirteen, my pastor-husband was appointed to a church in an area of South Florida known for its golf courses, beaches, and wealth.

That last characteristic was most challenging for our children. Many of their classmates arrived at school in expensive cars. They wore clothing with exclusive labels, owned all the latest gadgets, and traveled to exotic locations.

Though Eric, Heather, and Jeremy could see that consumerism did not guarantee happiness, they still struggled with the inequity.

The younger two, Jeremy and Heather, were thirteen and sixteen when they joined a crew of teens and sponsors for a one-week trip to the Dominican Republic.  Their responsibilities included painting at an orphanage and interacting with the children.

The next summer they repeated the trip. And as a result of witnessing true poverty, their outlook on life was dramatically transformed.

 

(Heather is the blonde on the left, in case you weren’t sure!)

 

Months later, Heather and I were riding together in our van and stopped at a red light. We weren’t even talking about those weeks spent at the orphanage. But a decked out sports car pulled up next to us and after a pause, Heather wistfully said, “The cost of that car would feed so many people in the Dominican.”

Such a dramatic shift of perspective had occurred in her heart.  Jeremy’s too.

However, over time contentment easily fades. We must:

Find the positives of each day.

I’ve started a new section in my quiet time notebook:  “A Celebration of Small Things.”  Maybe you’d like to join me?  Each evening I’m recording at least one thing that gives me a sense of contentment. The first entry on Monday was daffodils.

 

 

You see, last week a bitter cold snap here in Ohio ruined much of the early spring flora. Even the hardy daffodils laid bowed over to the ground.

However, they were not defeated! When the temperature rose above freezing again, most of their floral stems stood tall once more. Fluted cups remained open and delicately ruffled; petals fanned outward with only a slight curl at the tips.

I’m so very grateful a soupçon of spring has survived.

 

(“Sweet are the thoughts that savor of content.

The quiet mind is richer than a crown.”

– Robert Greene, English author, 1558-1592)

 

I’m discovering Robert Greene was right. Sweet thoughts do produce the treasure of a quiet mind.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

What a delight, Father, to give you thanks and praise for your abundant gifts—the beautiful, the pleasant, the heart-warming, the humorous. Every day is filled with blessing because of your love, compassion, and faithfulness.  My heart overflows with gratitude as I contemplate your goodness!

 

(Psalm 9:1-2, 103:8; Colossians 2:6-7)

 

 

What small thing causes your heart to overflow with thankfulness?  Share your choice in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.truevined.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.oldquotes.com; Myra Johnson at http://www.picturemythoughts.com.)

 

In the Image of God

Imagine God on the sixth day of creation, surveying the work he’s accomplished.

Craggy mountain peaks reach upward toward cerulean skies.

 

 

Undulating oceans teem with thousands of different kinds of fish and sea creatures—from protozoa to humpback whales.

 

 

Flat lands and rolling hills, some covered with grass, others with trees, also abound with life—from pixie cups that can only hold one drop of water…

 

 

…to elephants that can drink 80 gallons per day.

“And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).

But he wasn’t finished yet. God created one more being capable of deep thought, complex interaction, and an array of emotions. He called the creature “man” (vs. 26-27).

 

 

And the Lord Most High endowed man with abilities similar to his own. For example:

  • God is creative; people have the ability to produce new works and ideas.
  • God is linguistic; people can communicate with words.
  • God is logical; people are capable of reason.
  • God is interpersonal; people have the capacity to develop relationships.
  • God is wise; people can develop wisdom.
  • God is gracious and compassionate; people are capable of responding to one another with patience, kindness, and encouragement.

 

 

Just like our Father, each of us is (to some degree) capable of all these abilities. We can creatively solve problems, retell events, weigh the pros and cons of a decision, make friends, choose wisely from the grocery store shelves, offer a compliment.

But evidence would indicate God chose to endow each of us further, with a particular intelligence in which to excel. Our own family includes:

  • Two creatives—an artist and a graphic designer
  • Two linguistics—both pastors
  • One logistic—a tech support manager
  • Three interpersonal types—a teacher, school psychologist, and psychiatric/family doctor

 

 

Each person also has secondary and even tertiary strengths, in various combinations.

Yet God didn’t stop there. In his image he made us spiritual beings as well. Within each person is an invisible, eternal soul, a place where we can experience his presence (Ephesians 3:16-19). And he gave us a conscience to know right from wrong—not to spoil our enjoyment of life but to enhance it (Psalm 128:1-2).

 

 

As wondrous as all these gifts are—individually designed strengths, eternal souls, and the compass of a conscience–God chose to bequeath us with one more extraordinary privilege. He made us to be reflections of his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

God chose not to confine his grandeur to the throne room of heaven. He allows us to make his radiant image visible in the world, as we reflect his multi-faceted goodness. No other creature was given such honor.

King David experienced the wonder. He marveled that God made us just a little lower than the angels and—get this—crowned us with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5).

 

 

Think of it: The God of all glory who deserves all honor desires to share his magnificence in the world through us.

Just this week, I glimpsed the image of God as:

  • Steve thoughtfully brought me a cup of fresh coffee—as he often does.
  • Trelene kindly gave us a book she thought we’d enjoy.
  • Micki shared her wisdom.
  • Cheri offered a word of encouragement.
  • Four-year old Elena gifted us with a sample of her artwork—accompanied by hugs.

 

 

In such ways, God’s loving kindness, wisdom, inspiration, creativity, and affection are made visible. How dark our world would be without the sparkling splendor of God’s perfections reflected through his people.

So take note:

You are irreplaceable.

No one has your particular set of gifts, strengths and traits.

God designed you specifically

to achieve pre-designed purpose (Ephesians 2:10)—

just the way you are,

in the glorious image of God.

_________________________

 

What God-given attributes do you see among your family members? Where have you glimpsed the glorious image of God this week?

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.en.wikipedia.org; http://www.mnn.com (Leonard Turner); http://www.mybible.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.freestockphotos.biz.; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.believers4ever.com; Nancy Ruegg.)

 

Sweet Friendship

 

Soul refreshment in progress at the Ruegg house this week.  A dear friend is visiting us from Florida.  I’ll be back next week with a new post!

 

(Photo credit:  www.pinterest.com

 

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Fifteen minutes had passed since three-year old Elena had been tucked in for her afternoon nap, but she was still conversing with her buddies—the half-dozen or so stuffed animals she sleeps with.

I left my book to go settle her down.

“Elena, it’s time to be quiet and rest,” I reminded while re-tucking the blankets around her.  “You can talk to your buddies when you wake up.”

“But I can’t rest,” she replied, her wide, innocent eyes locked with mine. “They keep talking and talking so I can’t go to sleep.”

Don’t you love the vivid imaginations of young children?

Why does that ability diminish over time? What happens to that creative nook of the mind as we grow older?

In reality, the ability to imagine has its purpose even into adulthood, and into the serious realm of faith. According to theologian and author, Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976):

 

“Faith is imagination grown up.”

 

M-m-m. He makes an astute observation. Faith is greatly enhanced by engaging the imagination. For example:

 

We can use our imaginations to better understand God.

The Bible includes a variety of metaphors that help us know him. As we apply our imaginations, what might we see?

  • God, our Shepherd (Isaiah 40:10), rubbing his hand lovingly over the heads of his sheep one by one, or resting his cheek against the neck of a lamb while cradling her in his arms. How caring and affectionate he is.

 

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  • God, our Father (Psalm 103:13-14), with attentive ears and tender eyes upon a child who’s pouring out her heart of pain. Note the furrow in his brow because one of his precious children is hurting. How compassionate he is.

 

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  • God, our Shield (Psalm 3:3)—strong in body, alert in mind, passionate in spirit, never distracted, never weary, and always attentive. How determined he is to protect us.

 

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We can use our imaginations to add insight to Bible reading.

For example, imagine you are the innkeeper in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-36). The kind traveler explains the situation and announces he will personally care for the injured Jewish man.  Surely you respond with a slight jerk of surprise. That’s just not done! you think. Too much bad blood between Jews and Samaritans. Why does he care so much?

 

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(The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt)

 

As we imagine such details, we discover more insight: The demonstration of sacrificial love like the Good Samaritan may compel observers to ask important questions.

 

We can use our imaginations to see more in the natural world.

The great theologian, Jonathan Edwards, used his imagination to see scripture themes in nature.

  • Butterflies provided images of the burial and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Spider webs illustrated the devious ways of Satan to entrap us.
  • Sunrises demonstrated the brilliance of God’s grace.

 

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With a bit of effort we could add to Edwards’ list:

  • The unending treasures of God’s creation speak of his eternal glory
  • A light summer breeze brings to mind the wind of the Spirit–gentle and grace-filled–wafting from person to person through a kind word, a small favor, a listening ear.
  • When leaves sway back and forth like church bells, the trees are clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12). I’ll bet God hears their praise too.

 

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I’m thinking, faith is not only enhanced by the imagination; faith requires the imagination in order to accept a spiritual dimension beyond our five senses, an invisible but all-powerful God who exists as Spirit, and his Son who resides in us and with us (2 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 28:20).

 

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Oh say, can you see?

 

How has your imagination impacted your faith?  Please share your experience in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.dailylifeverse.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.freestockphotos.biz.; http://www.pinterest.com.)

You Are

(A personal psalm)

 

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God of the boundless universe,

Your oceans roil and churn across wide expanses of the earth

To depths greater than the height of Mt. Everest.

Your sun explodes with firestorms,

Spewing plumes of flame thousands of miles upward.

A mere handful of 100 billion stars form the Milky Way–

Just one of your millions of galaxies.

You are a God of awesome, infinite power.

 

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God of perfect wisdom,

You know all truth and comprehend all things.

You possess the ability to always choose the best.

Your wisdom is righteous, impartial, and sincere–

Not just a function of your all-knowing, precise mind–

But guided by a heart of purity, understanding, and compassion.

Your wisdom is always active, never-failing, and full of mercy.

You are the all-wise God–far beyond human comprehension.

 

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God of mercy and compassion,

Your persistent love pursues us, longing to bring us home.

Your selfless love engulfs us, bestowing forgiveness and grace.

Your generous love endows us, lavishing immeasurable treasure.

Your changeless love is not based on our performance.

Your attentive love does not leave us to struggle alone.

“Your perfect love perseveres until it perfects.”*

You are a God of incredibly active love.

 

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God of glorious resplendence,

You illuminate our way through life,

Dispelling the darkness of fear.

You send forth your enlightenment and truth to guide,

Diffusing the fog of uncertainty.

You provide the radiance of your presence,

Instilling a sense of well-being and peace within our spirits.

You are a God of transforming light.

 

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God of bountiful blessing,

Every good and perfect gift comes from you—

From cloudless skies to life-giving rain,

From hearth-fires in winter to fireflies in summer,

From treasured memories of yesterday to anticipated hopes for tomorrow.

From rousing sunrise to restful sunset,

Each day overflows with abundant pleasures.

You are a God of extravagant goodness.

 

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You are a God transcendent above all imaginings or hope!

 

Sources of inspiration included:

  • Stanza #2—James 3:17; Job 28:12-13.
  • Stanza # 3—Luke 15:11-27; Romans 8:38-39; Deuteronomy 31:8; *Philip Yancey, Grace Notes, Zondervan, 2009, p. 242.
  • Stanza #4—Psalm 89:15; 27:1; 76:4; 43:3.
  • Stanza #5—James 1:17; Psalm 31:19.

Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.dailybibleme.com; http://www.dayofgrace.me; http://www.wikimedia.com; pixabay.com.

Unfulfilled Promises

 

If there were a Museum of Faith, and artifacts from earliest times still existed, the heroes of Hebrews 11:4-12 would surely be represented. On display we might find:

 

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  • Rocks from Abel’s altar, where God proclaimed him a righteous man.
  • Enoch’s walking stick, left behind when he strolled with God one day and ended up in heaven.
  • Part of Noah’s ark, which he spent at least 100 years building before God’s promise of rain (and protection for Noah’s family) was fulfilled.
  • Abraham’s tent, in which he lived while traveling to a place God had chosen, though Abraham did not know where he was going.
  • Isaac’s swaddling clothes, reminders of his miraculous birth to elderly parents, twenty-five years after God first promised his arrival.

 

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Then we come to verse 13.

 

“All these people were still living by faith when they died.

They did not receive the things promised;

they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,

admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth”

(NIV, italics added).

 

What was the writer of Hebrews referring to? What things did these heroes of faith not receive that God had promised?

They did not see fulfillment of the most important promises: the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, his glorious resurrection, and all the blessings and privileges he provides. (All the way back in the Garden of Eden, God foretold that One would come to defeat Satan—Genesis 3:15).

 

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If the great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews did not receive things promised, I’d be wise to prepare myself for the same.

What should I do when promises are not being fulfilled? Below are five possibilities:

 

  1. Consider that the roadblock might be me.

Many promises come with conditions. If I’m not willing to comply, how can I expect the promise to be fulfilled? Philippians 4:6-7 offers a good example. If I want to receive God’s promise of peace, I need to be praying with a grateful heart.

 

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  1. Consider that the time is not right.

More than a few biblical heroes endured long waits for their promises to come to pass: Abraham for his son, Joseph for his position of leadership, the Israelites for their promised land, David for his kingship, and devout Jews like Simeon and Anna for their Messiah—to name a few.

I must remember that God is always at work carrying out his plan (Isaiah 46:11b). My work is to trust, pray, and wait.

 

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  1. While trusting, praying, and waiting for one promise, I can celebrate those already kept.

 Dozens of promises have been fulfilled in my life already. At the appropriate time God has provided:

  • Wisdom for difficult decisions (James 1:5)
  • Peace in the midst of challenging circumstances (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • Provision in miraculous ways (Philippians 4:19)
  • Purpose (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Strength to push through weariness (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • Help in all sorts of situations (Isaiah 41:13)

 

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Praise for what God has already done is a powerful weapon against discouragement.

  1. God’s ways aren’t my ways.

If God has not fulfilled a particular promise, he has good reason. What I desire may not be for my ultimate good or for the good of others.

Surely Paul had to wonder sometimes why God allowed him to be imprisoned in Rome for two years. Perhaps he recited from the psalms:

 

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“’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name…

…I will deliver him and honor him.”’

–Psalm 91:14-15 NIV

 

Paul had every right to claim this promise. His love for Jesus was passionate, and he acknowledged his Savior’s name everywhere he went. But God did not rescue Paul. No angel came to deliver Paul, as had happened to Peter.

As a result, we are beneficiaries of Paul’s letters, containing priceless teaching from the heart of God: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon–all written from his prison cell in Rome.

 

  1. Fulfillment may come after I’m gone.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not see their descendants become as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5).  But the promise was kept centuries later, because there is no stopping the perfectly wise, precisely timed will of God.

 

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“From him and through him and for him are all things”

(including the fulfillment or unfulfillment of his promises).

“To him be the glory forever!”

–Romans 11:36 NIV (parenthetical comment added)

 

What helps you cope with unfulfilled promises from God?  Please share in the comment section below.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.biblewalks.com; http://www.pinterest (5); http://www.thefellowshipsite.org; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

Lost and Found

Cookie Ingredients Bake Cookies Christmas Time Bake

 

Lena was baking Christmas cookies when she realized her wedding ring was missing.

The family searched everywhere. No ring. Lena, of course, was heartsick. She had designed the ring herself—a band of white gold with seven small diamonds.

Years later when they renovated the kitchen and took up the old floor tile, the family again searched carefully. Still no ring.

One morning Lena was harvesting carrots from her garden when she pulled up a surprise. The carrot in her hand wore her wedding ring.

Lena surmised the ring had fallen into a pile of vegetable peelings in the kitchen sink and become part of their compost heap—sixteen years previously.

 

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_________________________

 

Petunia, an American Staffordshire terrier, somehow escaped her family’s Virginia farm in 2003. In spite of a vigilant search, they were not able to find their pet.

Imagine the family’s surprise, eight years later, to receive a phone call that their dog had been located. The woman who found Petunia took her to a vet who scanned her microchip and discovered the address of Petunia’s family. However, getting her home was a bit complicated. Petunia had wandered 3,000 miles—all the way to California.

 

petunia

(Petunia)

 

_________________________

 

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(A scenic spot in Mark Twain National Forest)

 

In early May of 2009, three-year old Joshua Childers decided to take a hike in Mark Twain National Forest, not far from his home in southeastern Missouri. He was wearing sneakers, a T-shirt, and a pull-up diaper. It wasn’t long before Joshua was lost.

Joshua’s family notified authorities and for 52 heart-in-the-throat hours dozens of searchers combed through the underbrush, worried every moment the toddler would succumb to exposure in the wet and chilly weather, fall over a cliff or into a creek, or be attacked by mountain lion, bear, or snake. There were so many dangers to which a three-year old would be susceptible. And, of course, he had no food or water.

 

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(Southern Copperhead, one of five poisonous species in Missouri.)

 

After two days, searchers were beginning to lose hope of finding the boy alive. Finally one of the volunteers spotted Joshua huddled in a hollow near a creek bed. He wasn’t moving. The volunteer feared the worst but called out to the boy. Joshua sat up and grinned.

 

_________________________

 

Such stories receive much attention on social media, some even make it to the national news. Everybody loves a lost-and-found story. We find them satisfying, uplifting, and even resonating deep within our souls.

Why is that?

First, the impact of such stories is magnified by the importance of the lost items. If Lena’s ring had been costume jewelry, if Petunia had been a plastic toy dog or Joshua had been a doll, we would hardly react.

Second, we marvel at the odds. A ring found on a carrot? A dog found 3,000 miles away from home? A toddler found unharmed in a damp and chilly forest after 52 hours? The feel-good endorphins kick in when we hear such news.

Jesus told his own lost-and-found stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

 

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(The Prodigal Son by Charles Joseph Lecointe)

 

The sheep was lost because he foolishly left the watchful care of the shepherd and went his own way. The coin was lost through no fault of its own. And the prodigal son willfully lost his way in life through self-centered pursuits.

Each story illustrates: It doesn’t matter to God how we got lost; every one of us is important to him. He longs to restore us to the place where we belong: in his care and keeping.

And that brings us to the third reason we like lost-and-found stories.

We were programmed to be found, and to experience a happy ending—at home in heaven—where we’ll find secure safety, joy beyond imagination, and everlasting peace.

 

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(“Our hearts were made for you, O Lord,

and they are restless until they rest in you”

–St. Augustine.)

 

That’s why Jesus came—to find each of us and restore us to our Heavenly Father, because we were lost (Luke 19:10). And just like Lena who polished her soil-encrusted wedding band until it shone, Jesus makes us new, shining like stars (Philippians 2:15).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, O God, that my soul has found rest in you. You are my rock of stability and fortress of protection; You are my salvation from all that would destroy me (Psalm 62:1-2).

“And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I’ll recognize the sound of your voice” (Psalm 119:176, MSG).

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.littlethings.com; http://www.motleydogs.com; http://www.fs.usda.gov; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimediacommons.org; http://www.pinterest.com.

 

Laurie Klein, Scribe

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