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Archive for January, 2013

Hope.  Such a small word for such a big, important concept.

Multi-syllable synonyms seem to carry more clout:  expectation, assurance, confidence, conviction, and assumption are a few.  (Thank you, Dr. Roget.)

Stir them together to create a definition for faith-filled hope:  the constant, confident, assured expectation that God will see us through every circumstance until we’re standing before him in heaven.  Those are words with heft that we can hang onto in the dark of night.

 

Moonlight

 

You see, hope is much more than wishful thinking.

But sometimes it hides behind the overwhelming issues we face:  health concerns, financial problems, troubled relationships, difficult circumstances, foreboding futures.

 

Grief

 

How can we live with confident assurance that all will be well when uncertainty seems to rule the day, the week, the year?

As always, scripture offers us insight:

  • Understand that hope doesn’t come from a hidden reservoir within ourselves.  According to 1 Peter 1:3, our hope comes from God, provided for us out of his loving mercy.  It’s a living hope, breathing energy and strength into our souls.
  •  Remember:  we can live with positive expectation because He is our all-powerful, grace-filled God—loving, kind, and wise, too.  He’s not just watching from afar; he’s an involved God, tending over us like an attentive Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11a).
  • Rest assured that our faithful God will see us through to a satisfying conclusion—either through events that unfold over time, or perhaps through an instantaneous miracle.  It may be the satisfying conclusion will not come until we cross the threshold into eternity (1 Peter 5:10).  But then, in the glorious ecstasy of that moment, our earthly trials will no longer matter (Philippians 1:21-23).
  • God’s plan is designed for our good (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • Hope involves waiting (Micah 7:7)—expectantly and patiently.

Sometime during second grade I noticed that being a teacher looked like fun.  And soon  my favorite pastime became playing school with whomever I could cajole into being students.  When necessary, dolls were pressed into service.

That dream of becoming a teacher stayed with me all through school.  Finally, after fourteen years, I was the one standing in front of my own class of cherubic first and second graders.  My hope, my confident expectation that I would one day be a teacher, had at long last become reality.  And the import of the moment was not lost on me.  My eyes filled with tears that I had to quickly blink away.

happy adjustment to school: Talking With Your ...

 

Such euphoric joy does not happen often without waiting.  We appreciate more what we have to wait for.  And frequently, hard work is also involved.  God allows us to be part of the process, teaching us important lessons about patience and perseverance along the way.

Here’s what I need to remember, and perhaps the realization will help you too:

Long-term waiting and steady, hard work toward a dream makes the fulfillment all the sweeter when it finally comes.

For now, we can enjoy hopeful anticipation of a new reality that is coming—a new chapter of good health, financial security, improved relationships, or fulfilled dreams.  We can take comfort from the knowledge that our God, who is unlimited by the constraints of time, already resides there.

Let’s step out into each new day with trust and obedience, because God is preparing us for that new chapter.  And may these words ring in our ears:  “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:25).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What hope have you been clinging to?  Are there scriptures which contribute to your confidence and expectation?  What experiences of the past give you assurance for your hopes of the future?  Please share your insights!

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“Glorify the Lord with me” David invited.  “Let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). 

M-m-m.  That’s puzzling.  Why didn’t David say, “exalt his names?” 

He has dozens—Creator, Father, Holy One, King, I AM, —to name just a few. 

My question led to three observations. 

One, most of us do have at least three names:  first, last, and middle.  Royals are often given multiple names.  Prince William of Great Britain, for example, is actually William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor.  Yet even when he’s asked to give his full name, that word “name” is used in singular form. 

Two, most parents, including royalty, take great care in choosing names for their progeny.  They not only consider how first, middle, and last sound when spoken together, they consider the meanings of  the names.

                              

Three, some moms and dads choose names that honor family members or friends.  Perhaps they hope that the name will also bequeath to their child the positive traits and accomplishments of the honorees. 

Based on these observations, it would seem appropriate to do the following when we desire to praise or rejoice in God’s name: 

  • Think on at least several of his names
  • Consider their meanings, especially as they relate to personal experience
  • Meditate on the attributes and accomplishments of God associated with that name. 

Let’s try it.  The name-list above offers a start.  

God of heaven and earth, you are Creator of all.  My mind cannot begin to fathom your power, wisdom, and creative genius that brought this universe into existence—out of nothing.  From vast planetary movements to intricate ecosystems, your divine proficiency produces perfect function. 

  English: A Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata) r...

You are the Holy One of the universe—completely righteous and totally separate from anything or anyone else.  You are the only one who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  There is no one like you. 

Yet you are my Heavenly Father!  You lovingly and patiently care for me, providing guidance and instruction on how best to live.  You graciously bestow blessings—sometimes the desires of my heart, and sometimes serendipity gifts that I haven’t even asked for. 

 

 You are the King of the universe, in control of everything.  But unlike some overlords, you know what you’re doing.  Everything you do is perfect.   I can trust you with the concerns of my life because of your great wisdom and understanding. 

You are the great I AM, who always was and always will be.  You live in a perpetual present tense.  And you are always the same—dependable and faithful, loving and gracious to your children. 

Thank you, God, for revealing these names to us—and many more.  They help us to understand who you are and how you respond to your children.  And as we meditate upon them, our hearts are filled with wordless wonder and overwhelming gratitude. 

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Wisdom dictates that we learn from our mistakes. Better yet is to learn from the mistakes of others, and save the trouble of making them ourselves.

Listed below are a few of my recent mistakes, which may provide a learning opportunity. Actually, they’re typing errors—typos with significance!

Example #1:

Instead of thankfulness, I typed thinkfulness.

My mistake reminded me of a quote I read years ago: “If we would think more, we would thank more.”

And why is thankfulness a worthwhile pursuit? According to recent research, multiple benefits result from expressing gratitude:

• Better physical health
• Better sleep
• Better relationships
• Lower stress levels
• More optimistic attitude
• Longer life

Gratitude Journal

Seems like scripture was right all along: “Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9) That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Peace of mind and heart contributes to the items on that list. And gratitude is key.

 Example #2:

I meant to type worship, but what appeared on the screen was workship.

The truth is, worship does involve work. Not the work of getting to church on time, or the effort of tuning out distractions to focus on God. As valuable as those objectives are, there’s more.

Paul tells us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). True worship involves the work of obedience.

Gratitude

But again, God provides benefits that far outweigh the effort. Psalm 112 reveals a number of them:

• Households are blessed (vs. 2-3)
• God’s light breaks through the darkness (v. 4)
• Goodness comes (v. 5)
• Strength develops (vs. 6-7)
• Joy and peace fill the heart (v. 8)

 No doubt there are dozens more scattered through scripture. That’s one of the things I greatly appreciate about our God. When He asks us to work at something, and we comply, He generously blesses us!

Example #3:

Somehow my stumbling fingers produced medication on my computer screen instead of meditation.

It occurred to me, though, that meditating upon God and His Word works like medication to:

• Ease the aches and pains of life, such as miserable circumstances or  hurtful people
• Calm the acid of frustration
• Speed the healing of stinging remarks and wounded feelings

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7a)!

Example #4:

I saved the best for last. My intention was to make this point:

It is our responsibility and joy to “minister encouragement and hope into the lives of others.”

That’s what I meant. Here’s what I typed:

“Minister encouragement and hope into the livers of others.”

Wings of Encouragement

Quite silly at first glance; quite profound after some introspection.

You see, everything that goes into our body goes through the liver. It is in the liver that transformation takes place, the food we eat becoming nutrients.

Here’s the application: In order for our words of encouragement to be transformational, they must sink deep into the core of our listener. The comments need to be thoughtful and spoken with conviction. Glib platitudes will never nourish a hungry soul.

Another interesting fact about the liver: To some extent, this organ is able to remove toxins from the body. That’s what we can do with our words of hope. We can help overcome the toxins that have collected in a person’s spirit.

So, my friends, let’s:

Be thinkful in our thankfulness.

Embrace obedience as a spiritual act of workship.

Meditate on God and His Word, as medication for our souls.

Minister heartfelt encouragement and hope into the livers of others.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

And please share the outcomes of your efforts to make something meaningful out of these mishaps!

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Last Thursday I shared with you a decision-making discovery God brought to my attention while studying Acts 10:1-11:18. In that passage we read the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius (a non-Jew). As a result of the apostle’s visit to this Roman centurion’s home, his entire family and many friends became Christians. (For a summary of those events, click on the link above to Part One.)

In review…

God doesn’t always connect all the dots when guiding our decisions.

Peter experienced a strange vision, and received brief instructions from the Holy Spirit. But a number of important questions were left unanswered. It appears Peter was left to connect the dots on his own.

The lesson for us seems to be: act upon what you know (from scripture), heed the inner impressions from the Spirit, and step out in faith.

And now…

Decision-Making Discovery—Part Two:

Peter received confirmation from others that a visit to Cornelius was the right choice. (Remember, according to Jewish law, it was the wrong thing to do.)

Affirmation #1: The entourage from Cornelius knew exactly where to find him.

Peter was traveling about the country (9:32). There was no way for those messengers from Cornelius to know he was in Joppa, staying at Simon the tanner’s seaside home—except by divine intervention (v. 5).

Surely this extraordinary revelation was not lost on Peter. Events were lining up in a miraculous way. God was about to do something extraordinary.

Affirmation #2: Six Christian brothers from Joppa accompanied Peter to Cornelius’ home (10:23, 11:12).

There is no record that Peter had to cajole them. Scripture simply says, “Some of the brothers from Joppa went along.” Remember, Cornelius’ home in Caesarea was thirty miles away. This was no quick trip across town. By volunteering their time and effort, these six friends offered valuable encouragement and support.

Lessons #1 for us:  Affirmation of others can be important evidence of God’s approval.

I say can be because if we try to manipulate people’s response, if we shamelessly seek after it, that affirmation may not be reliable.

But let’s consider what happened to Peter, and learn from his experience.

Lesson #2: Step out in faith and accept the affirmation, especially if there’s any hint of God’s miracle-working ways involved. Peter’s encounter with the three messengers is our example.

Lesson #3: When a number of people tell us the same thing, it’s probable the message is accurate. Six men showed their support of Peter’s decision to visit Cornelius by going with him to Joppa. There may have been others who gave encouragement also. Scripture includes no record of opposition.

Are you puzzling over a course of action?

 

 

Do you have supporters coming alongside to offer encouragement, verification and support for a particular choice? Count them. You may be surprised how much confirmation God is presenting!

Thank you, Father, for the encouragers in my life. They have created uplift in my soul when circumstances have weighed me down.

May I remain faithful to renew my mind with the wisdom and guidance of your word. May I step out in faith each day, ready to embrace any surprises you have for me–like a spur-of-the-moment trip to Joppa! And may I rest in the confirmation you have already given. Equip me, I pray, to be a wise, encouraging support for others.

* * * * * * * * * *

What affirmation have you received as you faced uncertainty or a tough decision? Please share your experience and be a voice of encouragement for someone else!

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The story told in Acts 10 may be familiar to you. The apostle Peter was staying in Joppa, and one noontime he went to the rooftop of his host’s home to pray. Instead he fell into a trance. Three times he saw a puzzling vision of a large group of unclean animals, unlawful for Jews to eat. Yet a voice directed him to do so. Three times Peter said no. “I have never eaten anything impure,” he replied each time.

While he was still thinking about this strange dream, three men came to see him on behalf of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, stationed about thirty miles away in Caesarea. Cornelius had also been surprised by a surreal experience: an angel visitation. Not only did the heavenly visitor tell Cornelius to send for Peter, but told him the house in Joppa where the apostle was staying.

The three men found Peter, precisely where the angel had said he would be. Compelled by the Spirit, Peter went back to Caesarea with them, accompanied by six men of faith from Joppa. When the entourage arrived, they found a large group of Cornelius’ family and friends gathered. Peter preached to them, and while he was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon them all!

Bernardo Cavallino - St Peter and Cornelius th...

Sometime later Peter went to Jerusalem. Jewish Christians criticized Peter because he went to the house of Gentile and ate with him—both acts unlawful for Jews. Peter explained what had happened—the angel’s visit, the vision, the timing, and the evidence of the Spirit. He ended his explanation with a rhetorical question: “If God gave them the same gift as He gave us…who was I to think I could oppose God?” (Acts 10:1-11:18).

Bible teacher extraordinaire, Anne Graham Lotz, uses this story in her book Into the Word (Zondervan, 2010) to teach us about God’s guidance. While meditating on Peter’s experiences and considering Anne’s thought-provoking questions, the Holy Spirit led me to several interesting observations. Perhaps they’ll interest you, too.

Discovery #1–God Doesn’t Always Connect All the Dots

Why didn’t God send an angel to Peter as he did to Cornelius? Why the puzzling vision?

Granted, after the vision, Peter did receive an impression from the Holy Spirit. “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (vs. 19-20). Clear instructions, but no reasons given.

Why not explain in plain terms that visiting Cornelius was the right thing to do? Why the strange dream? It seems Peter was left to connect the dots—between the cryptic vision and the Spirit’s instructions—on his own.

Perhaps God wants us to follow Peter’s example, to act upon what we know, heed those inner impressions from the Spirit, and step out in faith. You might ask along with me: What do I know that is guiding current decisions in my life?

We have a resource that Peter did not: sixty-six books of God-breathed truth at our fingertips, the Bible. Here are several of my favorite passages about His guidance:

• “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8).

• “Delight yourself in the Lord and do good, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this (Psalm 37:5-6).

• “I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10b).

The word “will” stands out to me. He’s not finished instructing me, working on my behalf, or accomplishing his purposes. It would seem God is guiding me to press on, to pursue the passion in my heart—a particular desire. I will continue the pursuit until God makes clear another course of action.

But every day I pray for his guidance, as an act of committing my way to him. I tell him if I’m blindly heading off course, please adjust my rudder! Every day I seek to submit to his instruction.

I know I can trust God’s truth to teach me in the way I should go, including a change of course if he sees fit. I can trust his heart of love, to understand me and know me. And I can trust who he is: my Heavenly Father who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth (Jeremiah 9:24)—including my little corner of the world.

Meanwhile, waiting may be involved, and hard work may be required.

“Faith doesn’t make things easy. It makes them possible”—Anonymous

* * * * * * * * * *

What scriptural truth has God communicated to you that is guiding current decisions in your life? Please share! Your input may be just what someone else needs to hear.

Next Monday we’ll examine Discovery #2.

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Say the word “getaway” and I immediately envision Carriage Way, our favorite bed and breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida. (Visit their website at http://www.carriageway.com, and you’ll see why we love it.)

The house is a large, two-story Victorian, white, with pale blue trim. Wide verandas with wicker furniture entice visitors to sit and rest awhile. Each room is appointed with antique furniture, colorful quilts, ruffles and lace. Guests feel transported to a gentler, quieter time.

The name speaks to the inn’s location, along the horse-drawn carriage route.  Each evening of our stay, we love to sit on the second-story veranda, chat, watch the people go by, and listen for the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves.

NYC - Central Park: Horse drawn carriage

 But a bigger draw of Carriage Way is the grace and thoughtfulness of its proprietors. From the friendly greeting upon arrival (by name), to the cookies, coffee, and soft drinks always available, they do their utmost to please their guests.

One morning during our first or second visit, the chief-cook at that time, L., fixed an unusual egg casserole. The unique ingredient? Green chilies, which gave the dish a definite Southwestern flavor. We raved about it.

A year or two later, when we visited again, L. told us, “Tomorrow morning I’ll fix that egg casserole you liked so much!”

Now I’m smart enough to know L. couldn’t possibly have remembered we’d relished that particular dish. I’m sure he would have liked to, but with so many guests, and such a volume of information, such details would be impossible to retain.

However, I can imagine L. entering guests’ preferences into his computer for future reference. L. and B. (the owner) were surely aware that people feel honored when they are remembered.

Now digest this. Someone else honors us with his remembrance. The omnipotent Ruler of the universe.

Think of it: Almighty God is mindful of us (Psalm 8:4).

He thinks about us constantly (Psalm 139:17-18). He never forgets about one of His children. Not even the number of hairs on each head (Matthew 12:30).

He knows us intimately, like a good shepherd knows each of his sheep (John 10:14-15).

And because He is mindful of us, He blesses us (Psalm 115:12a), providing for our needs, and guiding us in the way of wisdom (Proverbs 4:11).

There is only one thing he’s forgetful about. “I will forgive their wickedness,” he declared, “and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

I am struck anew by your overwhelming love, Lord—a love that prompts you to remember us individually, know us intimately, and bless us magnanimously. Even more amazing, you choose to forget our disobedience and rebellion when we come to you with repentant hearts. Oh, that my life would bring honor to you. Guide me to that end, I pray.

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“Life holds so many simple blessings, each day bringing its own individual wonder”–John McLeod

Grab a scrap of paper and list a few simple blessings you’ve enjoyed lately—maybe even today. I’ll wait for you!

…OK. Did anyone choose clouds?

Yes, clouds.

English: Cumulus humilis clouds in the foregro...

 

I love clouds. I love how varied they are. From feathery wisps to dollops of froth. From great swaths of flat sheets to billowing thunderheads that soar miles into the atmosphere.

 

Several types of Cirrus clouds.

 

Wait a minute. Clouds can’t really be considered a simple blessing. True, the glorious views are available to all, free of charge. And on most days, some sort of cloud is visible.

But the process by which clouds are formed is not so simple.

Perhaps your second grade teacher performed the same experiment for your class that Mrs. Sturgess demonstrated for mine. (Don’t ask me how long ago!) She put a pie plate of water on the window sill/shelf on Friday. On Monday we measured the level of water, and marveled that some of the water had disappeared! Where had it gone?

Mrs. Sturgess explained evaporation to us. Little water droplets, too tiny to see, were floating in the air. They gathered up in the sky to form clouds. Incredible!

Water cycle

 Her answers generated more questions. If it’s just water that forms the clouds, how can there be so many different forms? And how do all those little droplets get together in groups anyway?

Clouds are not a simple blessing.

Now look at your list. Are there any truly simple blessings? I doubt it. God’s creative, powerful genius is behind each one. And it’s probable that multiple steps are involved to provide each blessing.

Then consider this: we experience hundreds, perhaps thousands of these miracles—every day. “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (Job 9:10).

In the final analysis, “simple blessing” has to be the most contradictory oxymoron in existence.

But John McLeod did get one thing right: the wonder part.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your abounding love that prompts you to lavish blessings upon us every day. Each one is a miracle, a precious treasure to savor. My mind staggers under the immensity of your magnificence. My heart overflows with inexpressible joy when I consider your abundant goodness.

May your praise always be upon my lips (Psalm 34:1).

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