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Finishing Strong

 

My nephew is training for an Iron Man competition taking place in April.

Every day Preston follows a carefully prescribed regimen of exercise, riding his bike, running, and/or swimming. He eats a specified diet, and strives for proper rest. Recently he purchased a new bike based on current research for achieving top speed.

Much of this is according to his trainer’s recommendations, from his acquired knowledge and experience as a competitor. The trainer knows what it takes to finish the race.

Over the last forty-plus years of Iron Man Triathlons, participants have learned strategies for success. For example, they use their arms almost exclusively for the swim portion, saving leg strength for the bike ride and run.

 

 

Months ago Preston had to choose: should he embark on this test of endurance or opt for an easier goal? And if he did tackle an Iron Man race, would he seek guidance or train on his own? You already know his choices.

Now Preston is within weeks of the race. He’s in the best shape of his life and pushing his body to accomplish far more than ever before. But any current contentment will be multiplied many times over when he crosses that finish line and celebrates the completion of this extreme challenge.

What Preston is experiencing in the physical realm, God would have us understand in a spiritual sense, as laid out in Jeremiah 6:16:

 

 

Like Preston, we face a choice, but of much greater consequence than a competition.  Will we follow the ancient paths of God’s good ways or not? And like Preston, we can experience contentment now—not just when the race is complete. God offers us peaceful rest within our spirits (Philippians 4:6-7).

Meanwhile, many around us suffer from discontent and restlessness–the result of sin and following one’s own path. Jeremiah proposes a better plan: follow the good ways of God and contentment of soul will result.

But there’s a broader meaning to this verse. Jeremiah was addressing the entire nation of Judah. As he spoke the words quoted above, a national calamity loomed. Within a few years the people of Judah would be taken captive to Babylon, because the people had not listened to God’s words and they rejected God’s law (Jeremiah 6:19).

 

 

Our nation also stands at a crossroads, but few Americans seem to be looking to God for how to proceed. Instead they’re engrossed in self-interests. They don’t ask for the ancient paths that led us to security, prosperity, and blessing in the past.[1] They reject biblical values as out-of-date and stifling.

As a result, many Americans experience dissatisfaction in life, relying on drugs or alcohol to numb the emptiness and soul-strife.[2]

And what of us who believe in Christ and do seek the ancient paths? We stand at the crossroads of these choices:

 

 

  • Will we defend our faith even though ridiculed?
  • Will we remain on the ancient path of righteousness, or bend to blend in?
  • Will we stand for absolute truth or succumb to the relative truth of the culture that says it all depends on perspective?

 

Uncomfortable repercussions may result when we stand for our faith and absolute truth. But our souls will rest in the peace and contentment of a clear conscience.

When Preston finishes his race, family and friends will be ready to congratulate him.

 

 

When we finish our life race, God will be ready to congratulate us with, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

IF we remain steadfast.

 

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,

for when he has stood the test

he will receive the crown of life,

which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:12 (ESV)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Help us all, O God, to be on guard against the lies of the enemy, to stand firm in our faith, to remain courageous and strong in all circumstances. Our heart’s desire above all is to honor you—by finishing strong. 

(1 Corinthians 16:13)

 

 

Notes

[1] The security of settled minds (Psalm 112:7-8), the prosperity as God’s people (Jeremiah 29:11), and the blessing of his provision (2 Corinthians 9:8).

[2]   a. In 2017, 12.7% of Americans were taking antidepressants, up 64% since 2014 (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers).

b. About 38% of adults in 2017 battled an illicit drug use disorder (https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics ).

c. 14.5 million people, or 5.3% of the population had AUD, alcohol use disorder, in 2019 (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics).

 

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included eight statements called beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Each one highlighted a virtue that results in the highest kind of happiness: sweet contentment not based on circumstances but on joyful faith in God and his provision for all we need.

In addition to the beatitudes of Matthew 5, the Bible offers dozens of blessing-statements—each one an encouraging slice of truth about God and his ways for us. They just aren’t constructed in typical beatitude style.

For example, consider Psalm 37:4:

 

 

Written as a beatitude:

 

Blessed are those who delight in God

for they shall receive the desires of their hearts.

 

Of course, the desires of our hearts often reflect child-sized plans, while God may have designed a “hugely dimensional destiny” that will surprise everyone.[1]

Kara’s* story illustrates. She fully expected to attend university and then enter the world of business. But even with a straight-A average, no scholarship materialized, and her parents earned too much money to qualify for sufficient financial aid.

Unless she took out a large student loan, Kara’s only option was community college. Highly disappointed—embarrassed even—she applied. Meanwhile a letter happened to arrive from that local college, describing a new course of study in TV production.

 

 

Kara had just completed a high school course in multimedia programming and loved it, so she applied for this new program and was accepted. Better yet, God provided full tuition as she earned that degree. And best of all, he molded Kara’s desire to coincide with the delightful and satisfying plan he’d designed for her.

Now years later, Kara and her husband make their living in the entertainment industry. No doubt the two of them marvel how God brought them together to work in a medium they love.

Kara is a miracle.

Romans 5:3-4 offers another beatitude truth:

 

 

As a beatitude it might read like this:

 

Blessed are those who embrace their challenges,

for they shall be changed for the better.

 

Anne wanted to support her husband’s dream of a free counseling service in their community and began making pretzels to sell at the local farmer’s market.

Through long effort and a number of failures, Anne was able to grow the business into hundreds of franchises across the country. You’ve probably eaten one of Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels at a mall or airport.

 

 

Anne’s personal life also included struggles, failures, and even the death of one of her children. Yet she says, “I am now thrilled to live this life, feeling that each day is one to be enjoyed. God’s grace and forgiveness are what got me through it all.”[2]

Anne is a miracle.

Our third new beatitude is based on Mark 10:27b:

 

 

Beatitude style?

 

Blessed are those who care less about their limitations

and care more how limitless God is.

 

The bio on the backs of Jennifer Rothschild’s books informs the reader she is a wife, mother, and recording artist. Jennifer also travels the country as a speaker, and cofounded WomensMinistry.NET.

What the bio does not reveal is that Jennifer has been blind since age fifteen. In her book, Lessons I Learned in the Dark, she wrote: “God often wraps difficult gifts with His grace—and then uses them to display His glory.”[3] Jennifer’s productive and joyful life perfectly illustrates that statement.

Jennifer is a miracle.

All three women exemplify what Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) wrote long ago:

 

 

Kara, Ann, Jennifer, and countless other believers demonstrate: When we embrace God’s be-attitudes, we not only experience the highest kind of happiness; we become miracles.

 

*Name changed.

 

Notes:

[1] Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, pp. 160-161.

[2] Karol Ladd, Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive, pp. 147-148.

[3]  Jennifer Rothschild, Lessons I Learned in the Dark, p. 84.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.stocksnap.io; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

 

Thanks to inventor Hans Busch, physicist Ernst Ruska, and electrical engineer Max Knoll, we’ve enjoyed the benefits of their invention, the electron microscope, since 1931.

With its superior magnification power (up to 10,000,000x), scientists can capture images like those below. See if you can identify the object in each photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo #1–the cross section of a plant stem; Photo #2–butterfly eggs; Photo #3–butterfly scales; Photo #4–olivine (rock); Photo #5–tomato plant leaf; Photo #6 rose petal.)

 

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

–Psalm 19:1

 

First, the heavens include our planet, of course.  And everything on the earth and in it also tells of the glory of God.

 

 

Second, what exactly is the glory of God? Theologian Charles Ryrie described it as “the manifestation of any or all of God’s attributes on display.” Puritan preacher Thomas Watson said it’s “the sparkling of the Diety.”  I love that, don’t you?

Just in those few microscope-images above we see evidence of his dazzling wisdom—in the design of a plant stem that moves water and nutrients upward against gravity to the leaves. And then the products produced by photosynthesis in the leaves are taken back through the stem to other parts of the plant, including the roots.

We see evidence of God’s stunning artistry in those butterfly eggs with the eye-catching ridges.

And we see his creative use of shape and color in the butterfly scales, the olivine sample, the tomato leaf, and rose petal.

Billions more examples can be found all across our varied planet, manifesting his goodness in the variety of plants, animals, landforms, and more that he’s given us to use and enjoy.

 

 

I wonder—do you suppose God smiled when he created those tiny eggs with dozens of ridges?  That tomato leaf with hundreds of sprouts? (No wonder they feel rough to the touch!)  That rose petal embroidered with ovals? Did he smile to think about the day when someone would discover the infinitesimal splendor he’d designed eons before?

And yet, even more astounding than the magnificence of God revealed in nature is God’s glory revealed in you and me.

 

 

All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces;

and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit,

transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.

1 Corinthians 3:18 GNT

 

We’re a bit like those watches with phosphorescent numbers. The more light those numbers absorb, the more they glow.

Similarly, the more we bask in God’s presence through prayer, praise, and worship, the more we’ll manifest the glow of his attributes:

 

 

  • his perfect wisdom guiding our life choices, what we do, and what we say
  • his marvelous artistry in our positive imprint on others
  • his divine creativity manifested in the unique shape and color of our gifts and talents
  • his absolute goodness in the blessings we bestow to those around us

 

And imagine our faces, glowing ever brighter as we continually reflect more of the sparkling of our Diety.

 

 

What could be more delightful and satisfying?

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.com (4); http://www.rd.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.

 

Grace before Greatness

(In honor of Black History Month)

 

No sooner did Mama open the front door than Marian was in her arms, sobbing.

“Oh, Mama! It was awful. There were so many empty seats, and the critics—one said I sang as if by rote.” Marian’s throat constricted around the hurtful words.

If anything, she always put heart and soul into her music. To be told she sang by rote was as painful as being told she sang flat.

“I’m done,” Marian announced through tears. “I need to find a different profession.”

Mama paused, then quietly suggested, “Why don’t you think about it a little, and pray a lot first?”

For a full year, 1924-1925, twenty-six-year old Marian didn’t sing a note.

But a gift for music like Marian’s isn’t easily put away. She’d been singing all her life, including church solos from childhood. Her proud Aunt Mary took her to other venues in Philadelphia so everyone could hear Marian’s glorious voice with its three-octave range.

She longed to develop the gift God had given her and sing the music of the classical composers. So at age eighteen, Marian waited in a long line of applicants for a nearby music academy. Finally someone told her, “You can’t attend here; you’re Negro.”

Of course, she understood. African Americans of the time were prohibited from many establishments. But the pain didn’t come just from the words; it was how they were spoken. The young woman seemed to take delight in deflating Marian’s hope.

“That’s all right,” Mama told her. “God may have something better in mind.”

Mama was right. The principal of Marian’s high school introduced her to esteemed vocal teacher Guiseppe Boghetti, and asked him to take her as a pupil.

“No new students!” he barked, but agreed to hear her sing one song. Marian chose “Deep River,” and Boghetti miraculously found time for her.

But how would she pay him? Papa had died when Marian was twelve; Mama took in laundry and cleaned for Wanamaker’s Department Store to support her three daughters. Marian contributed as she could from her sporadic earnings as a soloist. It was their church who paid for the lessons as members contributed pennies into a special fund for her.

Soon invitations to sing arrived from outside Philadelphia. But travel, especially in the South, presented challenges and indignities. Trains did not serve food or offer sleeping berths to African Americans; hotels would not provide rooms. Marian stayed in homes or at the YWCA. And she sang to segregated audiences—Whites on one side, Blacks on the other.

Marian absorbed the ill treatment—even deflected it—by standing tall and dignified on every stage, in front of those who respected her voice but not her personhood.

Then came the devastating concert at New York City Hall, and her hiatus from singing. But within a year, Marian had returned to Boghetti for more lessons.

In 1925, he entered her in a vocal competition with 300 soloists. Marian won first prize: a concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Positive reviews fueled her courage to leave home for Europe, where she not only studied singing but the languages of the music she loved: German, Italian, and French.

From 1933-1939 she toured the continent. As those around her focused on her talent, Mama kept Marian focused in her spirit. “Grace must always come before greatness,” she would say.[1]

 

(1940)

 

As the Great Depression raged, Marian concluded each concert with several Negro Spirituals. Many were brought to tears as she poured her own emotions into each word, each note.

In 1939, Marian’s agent sought to book a concert at Washington D. C.’s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the Revolution. They refused the request, asserting their policy forbade African Americans from performing there.

The incident became a national headline when Eleanor Roosevelt heard of their affront. She expressed disapproval in her newspaper column and announced withdrawal of her membership from the organization.

 

(Eleanor and Marian, 1953)

 

Meanwhile the Executive Secretary of the NAACP approached the Secretary of the Interior with an alternative venue. Could Marian sing from the Lincoln Memorial steps and the audience stand on the Washington Mall? Permission was granted.

Seventy-five thousand people gathered to hear her sing. Black and White attendees stood together that day, shoulder to shoulder—a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream—nearly three decades before his famous speech, given from the same location.

 

(April, 1939)

 

More tours abroad and across the United States followed, keeping Marian away from home and family. But her mission compelled her forward:

 

“I sing to all, of course, but to that one, that one over the ninety-nine

whom you’d like to bring back into the fold—

if I reach that one soul, and reach it well–

then the concert was not in vain.”

—Marian Anderson [2]

 

By the mid-1950s the Civil Rights Movement gripped the country. Marian received criticism for not using her influence more vehemently. Perhaps they didn’t know her quiet battle behind the scenes.

For example, when the DAR sought to correct the wrong from 1939 and invited Marian to sing at Constitution Hall in 1943, she graciously accepted—with the stipulation that seating be integrated. The DAR complied.

Marian has been described as “a silent fighter who quietly opened doors for others.”[3]

Others. That was Marian’s focus, whether she was singing, serving her community, or giving interviews. In fact, she was known for questioning her interviewers, taking genuine interest in their lives.

Her nephew James LePriest remembers that even into her nineties people would comment, “You look just like Marian Anderson!”

She’d reply, “You’re the third person who’s told me that today,” and never reveal her identity.

Grace before greatness indeed.

(You can access a recording of Marian singing here:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO9yDb_9NVw&list=PL-J_hJ4fmXTik1Z1NuWrH2mXrTAk-8HVe&index=43)

 

Notes

[1] https://www.guideposts.org/faith-and-prayer/prayer-stories/power-of-prayer/guideposts-classics-marian-anderson-on-the-power-of-faith

[2] https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/1165

[3] Ibid.

 

Other Sources:

  1. http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/ead/ead.html?q=year%20of%20first%20concert%20at%20New%20York%20City%20Hall&id=EAD_upenn_rbml_MsColl200&
  2. https://whittakerchambers.org/articles/time-c/marian-anderson/

 

Photo credits:  http://www.loc.getarchive.net; http://www.flickr.com (3).

 

Truth or Trash?

 

Attend a graduation ceremony, participate in a work-related seminar, or just join in a break room conversation, and you might hear one of these statements:

  1. God helps those who help themselves.
  2. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
  3. Success = living life on your own terms.
  4. Believe in yourself.
  5. Follow your heart.
  6. You’ve got this.

 

Such statements are meant to encourage. But are they based on truth, or should a few be tossed in the trash?

Let’s consider:

 

Does God help those who help themselves?

Many people believe this idea comes from scripture. But the Bible teaches God helps those who recognize they can’t help themselves. The wisest course of action is to present each troubling situation to him in prayer before attempting any solution (1).

 

 

If I can dream it, is it a given I’ll able to achieve it?

Nowhere in the Bible are we told to pursue our dreams. Instead, God tells us to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Not that God doesn’t place desires for the future on our hearts. He gladly helps us achieve all the good works He’s prepared in advance for us to do.

This is what we need to remember: “A God-given dream is never about position . . . it’s always about contribution.” And it’s through God-ordained contribution that we find satisfaction and fulfillment (2).

 

 

Is success a matter of living life on our own terms?

That kind of living most often leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction. Instead, God invites us to live the abundant life on his terms.

Some would say, “But God’s ways are so constrictive!” Actually, his truth provides freedom—freedom from the misery of sin and misguided choices. On the other hand, when we live the way he’s expertly designed for us, we enjoy a myriad of blessings (3).

 

 

Should we believe in ourselves?

That puts us in charge, which sounds appealing until you factor in our limited knowledge, imperfect judgment, and inadequate abilities. Due to these restrictions, stress and anxiety become constant companions while we try to keep control over our lives.

How much wiser to trust God who knows all things and can accomplish all things—including the best way to proceed through all our tomorrows.

 

 

Does it make good sense to follow our hearts?

No, our hearts are guided by feelings, desires, and emotions, which cannot always be trusted. Just ask Jennifer—Wife #2 of Jack. She believed his stories about self-centered, temperamental Wife #1. Jennifer told herself, Our marriage will be different. But she is now facing divorce herself as Jack’s eyes have wandered toward someone else.

No, we can’t just follow our hearts. We need the guidance of God’s perfect wisdom (4).

 

 

Have we got this?

Not really. Life can be turned upside down in a moment—bosses terminate employment, sure investments for retirement turn to ashes, doctors reveal devastating diagnoses. What then? I can’t imagine facing such hardships without God.

How much more encouraging to remember: he’s got this. Numerous experiences of others as well as my own have proven: God always sees us through with his perfect wisdom and almighty strength—whatever we face (5).

 

 

Notice how each of these statements in bold print revolves around usour effort, our planning, our confidence—even though we’re prone to make mistakes and foolish choices. God is the only One with the wherewithal to achieve what’s best for us—100% of the time.

As it happens, all these common statements can be tossed in the trash.

So when someone says, “Believe in yourself ,”or “You’ve got this,” perhaps we could respond with a gentle nudge toward truth:

Actually, I’m eternally grateful that Someone much stronger and wiser than I am is in charge. Experience has taught me, I am much better off trusting in God than in myself.

 

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 56:3; 2 Chronicles 14:11; https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/why-god-helps-those-who-help-themselves-is-presumed-to-be-biblical.html
  2. 1 Timothy 2:22; Ephesians 2:10; https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/why-god-doesn-t-necessarily-want-you-to-pursue-your-dreams.html
  3. Proverbs 12:15; John 8:32; see Alphabet of Joy for examples of such blessings
  4. Romans 11:33
  5. Philippians 4:19

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.dailyveres.net; http://www.canva.com.

 

Nicole blinked twice as she stared at the number on the doctor’s scale. She knew a few more pounds had glommed on her midsection, but seven?

 

 

During the ensuing consult with Dr. Ames, Nicole mentioned her knees had started to hurt, she felt tired much of the time, and seemed susceptible to every virus that came along. Dr. Ames then shared Nicole’s blood work, revealing several more concerns. His treatment solution surprised her. “I’m going to send you to a nutritionist,” he said.

Three months later, Nicole already felt much stronger and healthier—energized even. Her knees no longer hurt, and her blood pressure and cholesterol had dropped dramatically. Nicole had learned her diet included too many simple carbs and high-fat proteins, depleting her body of strength, energy, and good health.

It’s a fact: we can’t function well without proper nutrition.

 

 

The same principle applies in the spiritual realm. We can’t function well when our souls are improperly nourished. We need to ingest spiritual vitamins.

For example, consider Vitamin A. As a physical nutrient in our food, it improves our eyesight—specifically night vision. In the spiritual realm, Vitamin A might represent Adoration of God, which improves our “vision” through dark circumstances.

 

 

“When we choose to practice adoration anyway

in the midst of whatever we are feeling,

our words lift us over that barrier

and into a deeper connectedness with God.”

—Sarah Hagerty[1]

 

That deeper connectedness with God results in strength and perseverance for what we face.

 

The benefits of the Vitamin B complex include converting food into energy. In our spirits, the Bible energizes us as we convert the food of truth into the energy of faith.

 

 

“I am sorry for men who do not read the Bible every day.

I wonder why they deprive themselves

of the strength and the pleasure.”

—Woodrow Wilson[2]

 

Vitamin C enhances the growth of bone, skin, and muscle. Companionship with God causes us to grow in faith, character, and contentment—no matter our circumstances.

 

 

“The greater your knowledge of the goodness and grace of God on your life,

the more likely you are to praise Him in the storm.”

–Matt Chandler[3]

 

Vitamin D plays a role in fighting germs. Delight in God’s blessings fights off the germs of melancholy and discouragement in our souls.

 

 

“Thankfulness restores a healthy perspective about our lives.”

—Valerie Bell[4]

 

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects against cell damage. Empowerment from God protects against soul damage—from such hurtful emotions as fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

 

 

“When God is recognized as the One who undertakes for us,

then difficulties are opportunities to trust Him . . .

contentment sings in the heart,

and all things are possible.”

—F. E. Marsh[5]

 

Vitamin K promotes healthy bones which support the body; knowledge of God supports the soul as we affirm his goodness and perfections.

 

 

“To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances;

to seek Him, the greatest adventure;

to find Him the greatest human achievement.”

—St. Augustine

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, O God, that as we absorb these soul-vitamins into our spirits, our trust in you will grow. We’ll find our strength renewed, and be able to run the race of life without lapsing into despair. May we be mindful each day to be enriched in your presence, in your Word, and in your power.

(Isaiah 41:31; Hebrews 4:16; Psalm 119:28; Ephesians 6:1)

 

Notes:

[1] Unseen, Zondervan, 2017, p. 151

[2] Soul Retreats for Busy People, compiled by Lila Epson, Inspirio, 2002, p. 40

[3] https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/inspirational-christian-quotes-about-love.html

[4] A Well-Tended Soul, Zondervan, 1996, p. 102

[5] Quote/Unquote, compiled by Lloyd C. Cory, Victor Books, 1977, p. 136

 

Art & photo credits: http://www.picpedia.org; http://www.pixy.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pixy.com; http://www.hearlight.org; http://www.canva.com.

 

Standing Close

“Nancy—kitchen window!” Steve stage whispered, loud enough for me to hear.

And while dashing from the office I cried, “Coming!” because his tone meant Steve had spotted something unusual in the backyard or the strip of woods beyond that.

“Look down in the thicket to the right of the black walnut tree,” he directed. I carefully scanned the undergrowth but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

“You don’t see four little eyes looking out?” Steve asked.

I did not.

“Stand here,” he directed, and stepped back so I could position myself directly in front of him. Then he leaned in, raised his hand to my eye level, and pointed. “Look up a foot from the base of the trunk, scan two feet to the right, under that diagonal branch, then look for four bright spots close together.”

I directed my eyes down the sight line he gave me and followed his instructions. Sure enough, two little foxes were peering out from thick foliage that provided excellent cover. But with Steve’s guidance, I was able to share with him that exceptional moment. We’ve never seen fox kits since.

God also invites us to stand close to him—not just for moments of exceptional blessing, although he offers plenty of those. No, our Heavenly Father offers us life support in the form of strength, help, serenity and more when we draw near to him. The question becomes how—how do we move in close to God? How do we best avail ourselves of all he has to offer?

Perhaps the best way to begin is:

Say yes to becoming well-acquainted with God.

As Steve explained how to spot the foxes, I never once thought he might suddenly say, “Ha-ha! Made you look!” He’s not one to play silly pranks; he has proven himself trustworthy.

The best place to become acquainted with God and his trustworthiness is in his Word. Years ago a Bible teacher recommended that whatever passage we may be reading, look for evidence of God’s attributes and think how they’re manifested in our lives. It’s a delightful, uplifting exercise.

Some are obvious. In the psalms, for example, we find many statements describing him. He is:

  • A shield around us (3:3)
  • Righteous (7:17)
  • Always loving (13:5)
  • Our rock, fortress and deliverer (18:2)
  • Our Shepherd who provides, protects, and guides (23:1-6)

Other attributes are less obvious to identify. But in the opening verses of Romans, for example, we find evidence that God is:

  • A purpose-setter for each of us (1:1)
  • a promise-keeper (1:2)
  • holy—separated from all other beings because of his perfection (v. 4)
  • gracious (v. 5)
  • our source of peace (v. 7)

And as we consider how each attribute has been manifested in our lives we soon discover: to know God is to trust God (Psalm 9:10).

Say yes to practicing his presence.

Identify stops throughout each day—moments to refocus attention on our Heavenly Father through praise, gratitude and prayer. For me that includes a quiet time each morning, exercising to Christian music, worship at the window while waiting for the microwave, and reciting scripture before falling asleep.

When I taught school, I would use the trips between my classroom and the gym, library, computer lab, etc. for moments of worship.

Say no to more screen time or whatever competes for your attention yet accomplishes little.

Years ago a young couple in our church decided to finish their college degrees—even though both worked full-time and they had two young children. How did they find time to study?

W. and T. went to bed at 8:00 when their kids did, then got up at 3:00 or 4:00 to complete assignments and prepare for tests. With discipline and perseverance they achieved their goal.

We can do the same to achieve our goal of knowing God: make time to stand close with him in his Word, in his presence.

James the brother of Jesus wrote:

Notice God leaves the choice to us; we have to make the first move.

The day of the fox kit sighting my response to Steve could have been, “Too busy—can’t come!” But I would have missed an exceptional moment.

I’m so glad my response was, “Coming!”

________________________

Other posts that address these topics:

Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixy.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (3).

Certain Security

 

Uncertain times.

That phrase appears everywhere these days. Between the pandemic, political upheaval, social unrest, and concerns for the future, we can find ourselves desperate to find security—freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety.

But there is only one reliable source of security: God.

 

 

Out of his faithfulness to us, God always supplies what we need. And as it happens, the word FAITHFUL provides a tidy acrostic for eight blessings we enjoy–no matter what.

God is our:

Faithful promise-keeper. He is already ahead of us in the uncertainty of 2021, just as he went ahead of Joshua and the Israelites into Canaan. He has promised not to fail us or abandon us[1]—even when we cross dark valleys of troubling circumstances.

 

 

Attentive Father. Before we put our needs into words, God is on his way to meet it.[2]

Immutable (unchanging) Rock. He “does not change like shifting shadows.”[3] In a world where situations and relationships can change unexpectedly, God remains his rock-solid, reliable, perfect self.

Truth-Revealer.   The truth of God’s Word has been proven through numerous disciplines and in the lives of millions. Within its pages we find the wisdom and support we need.[4]

 

 

“The remedy for discouragement is the Word of God.

When you feed your heart and mind with its truth,

You regain your perspective and find renewed strength.”

–Warren Wiersbe

 

Hope. Our God of hope fills us with all joy and peace as we trust him. Hope allows us to see his blessings even amid hardship, and know with certainty he will use even our painful circumstances to accomplish good.[5]

Foundation. God’s ways provide a strong foundation for life, especially when storms of sorrow come. He upholds us with his love and compassion, peace and comfort that transcend our ability to explain.[6]

 

 

Unerring and righteous Judge. “Your kingdom is founded on righteousness and justice,” wrote the psalmist, “love and faithfulness are shown in all you do.” And because he is righteous and just, everything will work toward the best outcome in the end.[7]

Light, even in dark times.[8] Too often we focus on the swirling blackness of circumstances around us. But “God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.”[9]

 

 

Throughout my years as a blogger, I’ve shared many experiences illustrating how God has been faithful to our family. One in particular comes to mind that encompassed all of the above blessings.

Leadership of our church denomination assigned my pastor-husband to another church across state.   We were not ready to move. God ministered to me during those dark days of transition as I journaled through the psalms, affirming his love and compassion, peace and comfort. And as a result, hope began to blossom.

 

 

I grew in spiritual strength, compelled to rely on him through the grief of leaving beloved friends and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. He miraculously provided a teaching position for me not far from our new home. And in the end everything did work for good as that struggling church became a thriving community. (You can read a fuller account at After the Fact.)

In a book of liturgy, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) kept a bookmark with the following affirmation:

 

“Let nothing disturb you; let nothing dismay you;

all things pass: God never changes.

Patience attains all it strives for.

He who has God finds he lacks nothing.

God only suffices.”

 

God only—in all the numerous demonstrations of his faithfulness–is our certain security.

 

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Should you wish to read more examples of God’s faithfulness, you can click on the following links:

 

Notes:

[1] Deuteronomy 31:6

[2] Matthew 6:8

[3] James 1:17c CSB

[4] Psalm 119:24, 140, 160

[5] Romans 15:13; 8:28

[6] Isaiah 54:10; Philippians 4:6-7

[7] Psalm 89:14 GNT; Genesis 50:20

[8] Psalm 27:1

[9] Max Lucado, Grace for the Moment (J. Countryman, 2000) p. 195

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixy.org; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

When Truth Unfolds

Young William Ramsay, along with his bride of just one year, leaned against the rail of their ship. Eagerly they scanned the horizon in order to catch the first possible glimpse of their destination, Smyrna, Turkey, with its whitewashed structures nestled into green hillsides.

 

(Smyrna, 1900)

 

William’s archaeological adventure, funded by a scholarship, was about to begin.

While the ship creaked around him, William daydreamed of the renown he would garner even as a young Oxford professor, when he proved at least one book of the Bible–Acts–was mostly fiction.

Granted, no one could say unequivocally that Peter and Paul had not performed miracles in Jesus’ name. But he could prove that Luke’s record of the apostles’ work was full of errors in the categories of geography and history, thus casting great doubt on the whole.

The inspiration for such an endeavor began with William’s exposure to the Tubingen School of thought. They asserted that only four of the epistles were actually authored by Paul, and the rest of the New Testament was written much later—perhaps two hundred years later.

 

(The School of Theology at Tubingen University today)

 

In an effort to lionize the heroes of the early church, these Tubingen scholars decided Luke had exaggerated the stories and didn’t concern himself with accurate details. But no one had proven these theories until William set out to do so in 1880.

Soon after arrival in Turkey, the Ramsays met Sir Charles Wilson, an experienced explorer. He invited William to accompany him on two lengthy investigations that included Phrygia, Lycaonia, Cappadocia, and Galatia (1).

 

(Ancient limestone cave houses of Cappadocia,

deteriorated into cone-shaped structures due to erosion)

 

Beginning with these excursions and continuing over the next thirty-four years, Ramsay saturated himself with the geography and history of the Graeco-Roman world. He began to uncover facts that refuted the Tubingen theories–information that only a first-century eyewitness like Luke could have known.

For example:

In Acts 14:1-7 Luke reports the escape of Paul and Silas from Iconium, before they were stoned to death. They fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe.

However, later Roman writers including Cicero asserted that fleeing to Lystra and Derbe wouldn’t have saved the men because all three cities were in the same district.

 

(Turkish town of Konia, Paul’s Iconium–1911)

 

But in 1910 Ramsay discovered a telling inscription. In the first century A.D., Iconium was not under the authority of Lycaonia but of Phrygia, from A.D. 37-72—the exact time period when Paul and his companions would have visited the area (2).

Acts 17:1-9 relates the experience of Paul and his companions in Thessalonica. Luke uses the term politarch (translated “city officials” in NIV) in verse 6, a word not found in any other Greek literature. But Ramsay found five inscriptions in Thessalonica that used the title (3).

In Acts 18:12-17 Paul was brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. At Delphi, Ramsay and his team discovered an inscription of a letter to the proconsul from Emperior Claudius: “Lucius Junios Gallio, my friend and proconsul of Achaia.”

 

(The ruins at Delphi, Greece)

 

Historians date the inscription to 52 A.D., which corresponds to the time Paul and Silas would have visited the area (4).

In all, Ramsay was able to verify ninety-five geographical details included in the book of Acts, as well as historical facts and the names of people who existed at the time. He found no evidence of errors (5).

 

(Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, 1924)

 

Ramsay authored numerous books that give record of his findings. In one he wrote:

“I began with a mind unfavorable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me . . .but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth . . .

“. . . Luke is a historian of the first rank not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians” (6).

Some say Ramsay’s search for truth brought him to faith in Christ; others argue that he did not embrace Christianity.

But I can’t imagine dedicating decades of my life toward a cause in which I held no personal belief.

What I can imagine is God leading Ramsay from proof to proof while simultaneously working in his heart, bringing him to the point of belief in the Bible and finally in his Son as Savior.

 

 

Notes:

  1. See Acts 18:23, 14:6, and 2:9 for mention of these provinces.
  2. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stewart_don/faq/historical-accuracy-of-the-bible/question13-is-acts-historically-accurate.cfm
  3. https://highergrounds.live/2017/12/05/sir-william-ramsay-and-the-book-of-acts/
  4. https://christiantrumpetsounding.com/Archaeology/Archaeology%20Bklt/Archaeology%20Verifies%20Bible%20Ch2.htm
  5. http://taoandtawheed.com/TaoTawheed/TabId/108/ArtMID/550/ArticleID/61/Luke-Got-His-Facts-Straight.aspx
  6. William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, 222.

 

Other sources:

  1. https://www.5minutesinchrchhistory.com/sir-william-ramsay/
  2. https://bibleevidences.com/archaeological-evidence
  3. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ramsay/ramsay_gasque.pdf

 

Photo credits:  http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.loc.getarchive.net; http://www.pxhere.co

 

Consider the Evidence

 

Years ago my husband Steve and I lived in a small town outside Lexington, Kentucky. All through the area old stone walls stitch together fields and pastures into a landscape quilt. We often marveled at the workmanship as well as the time and effort required.

According to historians, the rocks were gathered out of the fields by Scot-Irish immigrants of the 1700s, who settled the area and needed to clear the land for farms. They used the same dry masonry skills of their ancestors back in the British Isles.

As decades passed new immigrants built more walls as did the slaves who followed.

 

(Similar walls in Ireland)

 

Those stone walls came to mind as I read again a story of Samuel, recorded in 1 Samuel 7:1-12. He set up a memorial stone in celebration of an Israelite victory over the Philistines. Samuel called it Ebenezer (which means Stone of Help), explaining that “thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Thus far in our lives the Lord has helped you and me also. And if we collected a rock to represent each time God has helped us, we’d surely accumulate enough to construct many walls, stitching together our experiences into a kingdom quilt—in the kingdom of God, that is.

And what a memorial it would be to God’s faithfulness!

As many of you know, I began a journal in 1983 of God’s faithfulness to our family—a record of his provision, protection, guidance, and blessing. To date there are nearly 1400 entries.

 

(Note how yellowed these early pages have become!)

 

If I gathered a Stone of Help for every event noted, I could build a wall ten stones high and nearly 140 feet long. No doubt a record of your life would produce a similar-sized wall, perhaps longer.

Imagine an aerial view of thousands of such walls criss-crossing the landscape—a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to all of us. Our eyes would pop in wonder.

During this challenging year of 2020, God has demonstrated his faithfulness in numerous ways.

 

 

I am particularly thankful for:

  • Sightings of wildlife that turn window glances into marvel fests
  • Family and friends within easy reach through various forms of technology
  • Livestreamed church services that allow Sunday worship with our congregation
  • No hospitalizations for Steve in 2020 (Last year he was admitted four times for various problems related to his liver transplant and a subdural hematoma.)
  • Emotional and spiritual health in spite of isolation

And all of us have benefited from God’s unending supply of strength. We’d do well to remember:

 

 

I’m guessing you can remember a situation or two when you thought it impossible to press on. But you did—because of God’s enablement.

Other times responsibilities piled up to impossible heights, and the emotional crush was nearly unbearable. But then—miraculously—cancellations and postponements occurred, assistance materialized, and the pile decreased to manageable size–because of God’s intervention.

And why is all this looking back at the past significant? Because:

 

 

Where others might say, “So far, so good!” and hope for the best, we say, “So far, so God!” and rely on him whose help is certain. He never fails to do what he has spoken (Psalm 145:13b).

The millions of virtual Ebenezers among us provide reliable evidence we can count on–for 2021 and beyond.

 

 

A blessed and confident New Year to all!

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.needpix.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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