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Archive for May, 2013

松林夕景 pine forest at sunset

pine forest at sunset (Photo credit: uBookworm)

I placed my Diet Coke on a nearby table and settled into one of the front porch rockers. The book I had brought with me remained closed on my lap. Instead of reading, I gazed at tall pines, listened to birds chirping good-night to each other, and breathed in cool mountain air.

What a stark contrast to home, I thought. My husband, two sons, and I had escaped the oppressive summer heat of our Florida home, and were vacationing in a North Carolina rental cabin.

Not long after settling, I noticed an enormous Luna moth perched on the porch railing. He appeared to be sleeping soundly. His shapely sea foam wings stretched out primly, in a perfect display of shimmering symmetry. Not even an antenna moved.

English: Luna moth (Actias luna), Florida.

Luna moth (Actias luna) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the sweet idleness of that moment, I had time to wonder.

When do you suppose moths wake up? Is it at dusk, or does it have to be completely dark? And what will be the first part to move? Will his wings flutter a bit in warm-up? Or will those long antennae flicker, checking his surroundings before he ventures into the night?

My knowledge of Luna moths was sorely lacking.

I made strong attempts to read my book, but kept distracting myself for updates on that moth–especially as the sun dipped lower in the sky and shadows deepened.

Eric, our older son, came out on the porch. He stood with hands in pockets, watching the sunset. “What’s up, Mom?”

“This is going to sound silly,” I began, “but see that moth over there? I’ve gotten curious about when they wake up. Is it at dusk or only when it’s completely dark? And as if that isn’t enough, I’m wondering what part of him will wake up first. Do you suppose it will be his antennae that move first, or maybe his wings?”

Eric chuckled slightly—not sarcastically, but in good humor that once again his mother’s curiosity was taking an interesting turn. I thought he’d turn and go back inside the cabin. To my delightful surprise, he chose to sit in the rocker next to me.

Twin Lakes Cabin 6 screened porch and rockers

(Photo credit: vastateparksstaff)

Together we kept vigil over that moth as the sunlight diminished to an apricot glow on the horizon, and the landscape turned dark gray. Still that moth did not move. And soon we were all enveloped by the night.

Suddenly, with barely a testing of his wings, the majestic moth was off the railing and fluttering away. Eric and I barely had time to say, “Oh! There he goes!” before the moth disappeared into the darkness.

We sat quietly for a few moments longer, listening to the crickets chirping cheerfully. With a contented sigh I reveled in the moment: the cool, peaceful surroundings and my satisfied curiosity. Most of all I savored that Eric had chosen to share with me this rather inconsequential moment.

Fire lit Forest

(Photo credit: `James Wheeler)

Just a few years earlier, if I had asked Eric to sit with me and watch a moth, he would have said, “BOR-ING!” and loped off to other pursuits. But that year he was twenty-four. We were starting to relate to one another differently, share more common interests, and communicate on a similar level. Eric was still my son, but he was also becoming a friend.

Reminds me a bit of what our Heavenly Father offers.  As we mature in him, our relationship grows into a loving, familial friendship, characterized by common interests and heart-to-heart communication. But such a relationship develops only as we spend time with him and his word.

Those who say, “Time with God is BOR-ING!” and lope off to other pursuits are missing out.

On what, you ask?

• The joy of His presence (Psalm 16:11)
• The goodness he bestows (Psalm 31:19)
• His strength (Psalm 138:2-3)
• Rest, in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1)
• Perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3)

Such precious gifts, Father: joy, goodness, strength, rest, and peace. I praise you with all my heart for being a God who pursues a warm, loving relationship with his children. May I seek your face in return. Always.

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English: monument in front of the Grace Fellow...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember Commandment #2?

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5a, emphasis added).

God reaffirmed this trait of his several chapters later: “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14, again, emphasis added).

Doesn’t that seem…odd? Jealousy seems such a petty, immature emotion. By contrast, God is holy and perfect, so how can he be jealous?

First, we can’t compare God’s jealousy to that of people. Human jealousy often grows out of discontent and selfish desires. It can cause reactions of bitterness, unkindness, and anger.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By contrast, God’s jealousy is “holiness reacting to evil in a way that is morally right and glorious” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 169). His jealousy grows out of a desire to preserve his relationship with his people. After all, he made us. Every human being belongs to him, whether he/she acknowledges that fact or not.

God’s jealousy is an aspect of his love that motivates him to action. He knows that loyalty to himself and his ways is what’s best for us. So he provided the way for mankind to experience full, abundant life with him.  Through his Son, Jesus, he bought us with his own blood.

The Death of Jesus

The Death of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And what does that full, abundant life include?

Close companionship with the King of the universe. His love, joy, peace, strength, and more overflowing in a continuous supply.

And then, when our time on earth is complete, a perfect life with him in a perfect place—forever.

Therefore, God cannot bear that we would choose other gods—people, activities, or things that seize all our attention. He’s been known to take strong action when his children disregard him.

Think of the Israelites taken captive by the Babylonians.

Think of Jonah in the belly of the great fish.

Jonah

Jonah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then consider the situation from God’s point of view. “If God has to choose between your eternal safety and your earthly comfort, which do you hope he chooses” (Max Lucado, Grace for the Moment, p. 226)?

God’s jealousy is simply a case of eagerness to protect what belongs to him, what is precious to him—you.

Thank you, Heavenly Father,  for being a jealous God, for being passionate about your children. How I want to be zealous in return, seeking to please you, to reflect your glorious moral attributes into a hurting world. Keep me mindful of my desire so that I can make moment-by-moment choices for what is good, right, and loving. Help me to be strong for you.

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Let’s take a walk down to the river, you and I. It won’t take long—I know how busy you are…

…You’ll come? Splendid!

It’s much too lovely a day to stay indoors anyway. See how the sunshine fairly dances across the mounds of bright white clouds? And look how the yellow asters and violets seem to vie for attention in the grass.

Listen! Before we even glimpse the river through the trees, we can hear the water gurgling over the rocks.

Ah-h-h. Feel that cool air? These grand, shady oaks grow especially lush by the river.

English: River under the Trees The River Erme ...

River under the Trees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here we are! I told you it wouldn’t take long. Let’s sit on these rocks for a moment.

Isn’t it peaceful? The only sounds are the burbling eddies and the distant chirping of a few birds. Must be nap time for the woodland creatures.

The water currents are moving at a slow, steady pace today. Look how the sun glints off the gentle ripples, like tiny stars on liquid sky.

What is it about water that we find so appealing? Why does a vista of calm waters also calm our spirits?

Reflection of trees in river

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such questions bring to mind a scripture about God being like a river.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (Psalm 46:4).

Those of us who love God are the inhabitants of the city, made glad by the streams of the God River.

But how is God like a river?

One, he is our resting place, much as this river offers a quiet retreat. Just reflecting on a few of his names can calm our hearts. He is our Shepherd—caring and protective, he is our Rock—reliable and strong, he is our Father—loving and kind.

Just to name a few.

English: Sheep, Eden Brows. Woods descend to t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two, God’s grace (all of his riches) comes to us like the water of this river, in an unending flow. And much as we delight in this scenic view of drifting water and majestic trees, God’s exquisite grace cheers our hearts again and again.

But to enjoy the river fully, we have to sit on its banks. We have to look and listen with focused attention.  Otherwise we’ll miss much of its beauty.

The same is true of God’s grace.

So sit quietly. Turn over in your mind the glorious treasures of his grace, and inspect them:

• Inexhaustible love

• Unmerited favor

• Total forgiveness

• Eternal bliss in heaven

Sunbeams

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

• Lavish provision

• Unfailing empowerment

• Delightful blessings

• Dazzling transformation

And again, this list is just a sampling.

Last, consider these grand oak trees. They, too, offer appropriate imagery of another Bible passage about rivers.

English: River Add through the trees

“Blessed is the man who trusts me, God,
the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees replanted in Eden,
putting down roots near the rivers—
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
bearing fresh fruit every season”
(Jeremiah 17:7-8, MSG).

*     *     *     *      *     *     *      *     *     *

Oh, Lord, thank you for your peace and grace that flow unending like a great river. I reaffirm my trust in you. My heart’s desire is to be like one of these trees– spiritually strong, serene, and calm—no matter what happens. And I want to bear fruit, to grow qualities that reflect you. As I seek to send my roots deep into the soil of your Word, guide my thoughts and actions.  Because most of all, I want to honor you.

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462457_10151403709046048_1054311189_o

Her name is Elena (EL-e-na) Grace, born February 28, 2013.  As you can see, she sports a fuzzy round head and pudgy cheeks.  What you can’t see are her feet–long and slender like her father’s.

Now two months old, she studies her surroundings and tracks right and left the toys we jiggle for her. Elena already likes books, too. Wide, blue eyes take in as much as possible before the page turns. As her grandmother, I’m delighted to play and read, just to see her reactions.

Elena’s father, our son, is an artist. A number of his paintings hang in their home. Hold Elena in front of one and she scrutinizes it carefully.

“Wow!” her eyes seem to say. “Have you ever seen such creativity? Such interesting spatial composition? What intriguing juxtaposition!  Such beauty.” (Yes, I’m sure these would be her comments if Elena could talk. Grandmothers know these things.)

Early in April she began to smile. Each time her little face lit up, my spirit lifted.
And then came the first “coo,” followed by many more. No doubt Elena thinks she’s joining in the conversation. We listen closely to catch every “word.”

Is this how it is for our Heavenly Father?

I wonder…

Does his heart fill with delight when we revel in His creation, as Elena delights in her daddy’s paintings? Does he experience joy when we take pleasure in his blessings, much as we take pleasure in Elena’s smiles? Surely so.

Psalm 69 gives us a hint: “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord” (Psalm 69:30-31a). One of God’s names is Creator. He is also God of grace. What a privilege–to make the King of the universe smile, simply by expressing praise and thanksgiving for what he has made, and what he has done.

I wonder…

Does he listen closely to every word (as we listen for Elena’s coos)–even to our thoughts that defy words?

Oh, yes.

“He delights in genuine prayers” (Proverbs 15:8b, MSG). 

“If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans” (Romans 8:26, MSG).

God listens and responds, even to inarticulate prayers.

Why? His love for us is wide and long and high and deep (Ephesians 3:18), in spite of our shortcomings and disobedience. Incredible, isn’t it?

Thank you, Father, for your loving kindness, your forgiveness and empowering presence. Thank you for treasuring us even more than we treasure our families. And thank you for little Elena, who brings new attention to familiar, old truths.

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English: Portrait of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Fron...

English: Portrait of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Frontispiece from her book of poems “Three Women” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                                                              

“With every deed you are sowing a seed, though the harvest you may not see.”

–Ella Wheeler Wilcox, author and poet (1850-1919)

Observation #1:

We never know when a small deed may plant a seed of faith or encouragement that will reap a bountiful harvest in the life of someone else.

Live attentively to the fact that every deed is a seed. The people around us are watching and listening.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the story of a church elder who once led a worship service for two. It happened over 150 years ago in England. A blizzard on Saturday night made it impossible for villagers to get to the church—including the pastor.

English: Oakwood Park, London N14 - snow storm...

The elder almost sent home the two individuals who had come, an older man and a young boy. But something (Someone?) compelled him to speak. Later he confessed his words came out rather jumbled and brusque.

But. The elder planted a seed that immediately took root. The young boy accepted Jesus as his Savior. His name? Charles Spurgeon—preacher and author extraordinaire, whom God used mightily. People are still impacted by his writings to this day.

(For an example of Dr. Spurgeon’s God-given genius, see the post, “Not Length But Strength,” from last week, May 9).

Observation #2:

Our responsibility is the planting of “deed seeds”; the harvest is up to God.

The same principle that works in the physical realm works in the spiritual realm: A farmer may plant, fertilize, and water, but the germination of each seed is a miracle only God can bring about. Don’t become tightly focused on results.

English: Seedling

English: Seedling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The elder who led Charles to the Lord that snowy, wintry day, had no idea the boy would grow up to have such a profound effect on the world. The gentleman may not have lived long enough to see the results of his deed that morning. But we know, and we marvel.

Observation #3:

The true harvest is not measurable in physical terms, and it’s hidden from view in the spiritual realm.

Only now and then does God give us a glimpse of what our small deeds are accomplishing. Perhaps God planned it that way so pride and self-gratification do not taint the glory of the harvest.

Imagine the joy that elder continues to experience every time a saint comes through the gates of heaven, who has been influenced by Charles Spurgeon—fourth and fifth generation Christians, whose ancestors accepted Jesus because of Dr. Spurgeon. Others have been influenced and encouraged by the preacher’s writings.

The positive influence of a man or woman of God never dies.

Ivan Grohar: The Sower. The motif from this pa...

Ivan Grohar: The Sower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such a possibility should translate into enthusiastic motivation for planting seeds wherever we go.

 

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Back in January I wrote a post about meaningful mishaps on the keyboard—typos with significance. Now, four months later, I’ve collected a few more.

Mishap #1:

I meant to type caring, but the screen showed daring. Actually, the two words can be used together in a meaningful way: Sometimes we must be daring in our caring.

My husband, Steve, is a generous tipper. He frequently dares to care with his wallet. Not that we have a lot of money to spare, but we’ve experienced time and again you can’t outgive God. His economy isn’t logical; it’s theological.

Brick Queen Anne

 (Photo credit: TBoard)

A few years ago Steve was traveling out-of-state every few months to visit his elderly parents.  Each time he would stay at a bed and breakfast near the assisted living home. Steve became well-acquainted with the B & B manager and always left her a gracious tip.

In December of 2011, Steve’s dad graduated to heaven. He had served God well and been a mentor to many.  At age ninety-three, he was looking forward to meeting Jesus face to face.

Since we’d be needing several days’ accommodation, Steve called T. to see if she might have a room available for us at the B & B—even though it was very short notice.

“I can accommodate you the first three nights, but that last night, we’re full,” she responded. “However! There is no reason you and Nancy can’t stay with me. My apartment is good-sized, and you’ll have your own suite. In fact, I insist!”

Would T. have made such a generous offer, if Steve had not been so gracious to her? Probably. T is a very giving woman herself. I do know Steve did not give those generous tips in order to receive.

But when we dare to care, God often augments the results.

Mishap #2:

Imagine my surprise to look at the screen and see, not long-standing faith as I’d intended, but song-standing faith.

Turns out, that is quite meaningful. Frequently a song will lift my spirit and affirm my faith. Take Chris Tomlin’s song, Our God. Imagine an energized congregation singing the chorus with passion and volume:

English: Chris Tomlin performing a concert in ...

Chris Tomlin performing a concert in Johnson City, Tennessee, November 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And if our God is with us,
Then what can stand against us?
And if our God is for us,
Then who could ever stop us?

Such an experience has a powerful effect. I find myself standing up straighter. The concerns on my mind fade in importance, and my heart fills with confidence. Yes, song-standing faith works wonders! I need to avail myself of the opportunity more often.

Mishap #3:

The word was supposed to be dailyness, referring to the humdrum routine that occupies more of our time than we’d like. Instead, here’s what I typed: dailymess.

32::3 - A messy room

(Photo credit: WarzauWynn)

M-m-m. Another matter that occupies more of our time than we’d like: the messes we have to clean up, the interruptions, the unexpected turns of events. Such moments generate frustration and raise blood pressure. Not good!

So what do we do when the daily-ness of our lives, which is challenging enough, becomes daily-mess?

To begin, song-affirming faith (Mishaps #2) will certainly help. Remember Paul and Silas, missionaries who traveled far and wide to tell others about Jesus? While visiting Philippi, they stumbled into an awful mess, and ended up in prison. For all they knew, they could be killed the next day. And yet at midnight, these two were praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:25).

They were accessing song-affirming faith to combat the mess—the unexpected turn of events in their lives.

And why were Paul and Silas in prison in the first place? They had been daring and caring (Mishap #1, above). They had helped a slave girl, enraged the owners, and were arrested. BUT! God intervened in a miraculous way. An earthquake opened the prison doors. Paul, Silas and the other prisoners could have escaped, but didn’t. As a result, the jailer wanted to know about this Jesus they’d been praying to and singing about. He wanted to know how he and his family could have eternal life. The daring and caring of Paul and Silas paid great dividends—more souls for the kingdom of heaven! (See Acts 16 for the whole incredible story.)

Daring and caring. Song-affirming faith. Both combat the daily-mess of life.

* * * * * * * * *

Thank you, Father, for the affirmations you reveal through my keyboard mishaps: 1) You augment daring and caring to produce amazing results, and 2) Song-affirming faith ushers us into your presence where we experience your power and presence, and 3) You provide strength and perseverance to deal with the daily-mess of life.

Hallelujah!  I give thanks to you with everything I’ve got!  Your works are so great, worth a lifetime of study–endless enjoyment!  Splendor and beauty mark your craft; your generosity never gives out, your miracles are your memorial.  You are the God of Grace and the God of Love!  (Taken from Psalm 111:1-4, The Message.)

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C. H. Spurgeon, "The Prince of Preachers&...

C. H. Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles Spurgeon, that well-known British minister of the 1800s, was called the “prince of preachers.” Not only did he speak and write eloquently, he packed a great deal of meaning into few words. Large crowds flocked to hear him speak—some historians estimate the total to approach 10,000,000 people. Add to that sum the vast number of readers, impacted by Spurgeon’s writings since his death, and it’s clear his powerful influence has had far-reaching results.

Here’s an example of his God-given genius, the topic being prayer:

Short prayers are long enough. There were but three words in the petition which Peter gasped out [“Lord, save me,” found in Matthew 14:30], but they were sufficient for his purpose. Not length but strength is desirable. A sense of need is a mighty teacher of brevity. If our prayers had less of the tail feathers of pride and more wing they would be all the better. Verbiage is to devotion as chaff to the wheat (from “Sinking Times are Praying Times”).

Note the italicized phrase in the middle of that paragraph. It is not the length of our prayers that matters; it is the strength. That statement begs the question: What does strong prayer look like? Even from Dr. Spurgoen’s brief text (Matthew 14:30), we can find three components of strong prayer.

One, a strong prayer is one of urgency and energy. Peter was no doubt very serious and passionate as he pleaded with Jesus save him. Now I may not be drowning, but such passion in prayer does seem appropriate. Why should I expect God to pay attention to ho-hum prayers? Conclusion #1 becomes clear: Consider the seriousness of my requests and pray fervently.

St Peter Walking on the Water

St Peter Walking on the Water (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second, Peter’s first word is, “Lord.” He didn’t use his master’s name, Jesus. He called him, “Lord,” instinctively focusing his attention on God the Son, in whom he had placed all his faith. I also must be mindful to whom I pray: my all-powerful, all-wise, triune God. Just as Peter placed his trust in Christ, so must I. Conclusion #2: My prayers need to be characterized by reverence for and confidence in the Lord of the universe.

Third, Peter had no time to string together lovely, impressive words. All he spoke of was his need. Conclusion #3: Simple, heartfelt, humble prayers are best.

Photo credit:  flickr

These are the elements of praying with strength:  passion, simplicity, and faith.

Help me, Lord, to embrace them.

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