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Archive for July, 2013

Why is it we’re never satisfied?

As kids, we could hardly wait to grow up—to stay up late, drive a car, and never have to go to school.

As adults, we sometimes wish we were kids again—to play all day, take a nap, and never have to go to work.

As kids, time seemed to move slowly—especially when looking forward to a special event.  Remember how L-O-O-O-N-G it took for Christmas to come?

As adults, time seems to move extremely fast—especially as Christmas approaches and the cards haven’t been sent, the gifts haven’t all been purchased yet, and the tree still sits in a bucket of water on the back porch.

We go shopping and come home with new place mats, some pillows for the family room, and a new quilt for the bed.  For a while we’re delighted over the difference those items make to the decor.

Bedroom

Bedroom (Photo credit: Supermariolxpt)

In no time, though, our focus shifts from those lovely things to other “needs” we identify around the house.

 Reminds me of what the oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller (1837-1939) said.  He was asked, “How much is enough?” And he answered, “A little bit more.”

Español: John D. ...

John D. Rockefeller ca. 1875

This from a man with an estimated fortune of $1.4 billion.  In fact, Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest persons of all history.  Not even Bill Gates or Sam Walton can come close.

Before we dismiss Mr. Rockefeller as selfish and greedy, though, it’s important to know he was generous with his fortune.  His financial records indicate that $550 million were donated to schools, health organizations, scientific research, and the arts.

But his comment (perhaps spoken with a twinkle of humor in his eye) speaks to the attitude of many.  We believe that with just a little more, we’d be content.

That’s a lie.

So what is the truth of the matter?  What is the real reason we’re never satisfied?

The answer might be that contentment is the result of our focus.  Our attitude is impacted by what occupies our thoughts.  Therefore, we would be wise to:

 1.  Stay focused on who we are right now, and where we are right now.  Every age and stage has its advantages and disadvantages.  Which column is worth our attention?

2.  Stay focused on what God is providing, what we have currently.  “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow” (Helen Keller).

3.  Stay focused on God’s attributes and blessings.  “The fear of the Lord leads to life:  then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).

To fear the Lord means to have reverence and awe for him.  Such an attitude leads to many benefits in life, including:

  • peace of mind, because our powerful and loving God is in control
  • joy of heart, because of the pleasure in his bountiful blessings,
  • contentment of spirit, because we’ve already received so much.

That’s how I want to live—totally satisfied, in complete serenity, as a worshipful tribute to my gracious God.

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Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the gifts of serenity and satisfaction, when I focus on you.  May my days be filled with your praise!

Photo credits:  www.wikipedia.com , www.flickr.com , www.treasuretheordinary.blogspot.com

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“These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own”  —  G. K. Chesterton.

Indeed.  Christians are often labeled narrow-minded, because we uphold what the Bible teaches:  that faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven.  We are fair game for pundits to disparage and comedians to ridicule.

This fellow, Chesterton, is right on.  Christians are expected to be loving toward others; others are not always loving toward us.

A person might think Chesterton is a current commentator on American culture, but he was born in London in 1874, and died in 1936.

Do you know him?

G. K. did not start out to become a writer, much less a defender of the Christian faith.  He set out to become an artist.  But his first job upon leaving art school was to read manuscripts for a publisher.  In his spare time, he tried his own hand (and mind) at writing.  Several essays were published in magazines, and it wasn’t long before two newspapers began publishing his column.

Over a period of thirty years in journalism, G. K. wrote 4000 essays.  Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, points out the immensity of that number: you would have to write an essay every day for eleven years to reach that total.

Mr. Ahlquist adds to the marvel of this feat by reminding us: every one of Chesterton’s essays was an example of fine journalism—often witty and thought-provoking at the same time.  For example:

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmastime.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” 

But unlike many journalists, G. K.’s writing talent swept across numerous genres.  During his lifetime, he wrote hundreds of books, both fiction and nonfiction, two anthologies of poetry, five plays, and over 200 short stories.

It’s no wonder he’s credited with being one of the most prolific authors of his time.

While his career as a writer was burgeoning, Chesterton married Frances Blogg.  She was an important influence, helping to turn him from his agnostic beliefs to embrace Christianity.  His writings often reflected his faith.  For example:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried” (from What’s Wrong with the World).

 “There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” – (from Illustrated London News, 1/13/06)

 “The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the  contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things  forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.” – (from Illustrated London News, 1-3-20)

 Even after his death, Chesterton’s influence lived on.  One of his books, The Everlasting Man (1925) was instrumental in leading C. S. Lewis from agnosticism to Christianity.

An evangelical Protestant scholar has said, “There has not been a more articulate champion of classic Christianity, virtue, and decency.”

Here are a few more examples of G.K.’s thoughtful writing:

 Quote

“One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

 “If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.”

 Words of wisdom?  I think so.  And if…

 …“He who walks with the wise grows wise” (Proverbs 13:20a), then we have certainly benefited from spending a few moments with G. K. Chesterton.

(Photo credits:  www.saltandlighttv.org , www.catholicnewsagency.com , www.lifesitenews.com , www.brainyquote.com , and www.biblegodquotes.com)

 

  

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Why do we say, “in Jesus’ name,” at the end of our prayers?

Several scriptures instruct us.  Let’s begin with John 14:6.

Jesus spoke very plainly and firmly that the only way for us to be welcomed into God’s presence is through him, our Savior and advocate.  Jesus made access possible by his death on the cross, paying the penalty for our sin.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Based on our own right-doing, we could never enter into God’s holy presence.  Our good deeds are as valuable as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), because they’re stained with sin.

But when we believe in Jesus and allow him full reign in our lives, he exchanges those filthy rags for a dazzling cloak of righteousness—his righteousness.  And dressed in this glorious finery, we may enter into the throne room of the King of the universe with our requests.

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:21).

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we’re praying by his authority.

Years ago, Steve and I enjoyed a VIP tour of Cape Canaveral, thanks to our acquaintance with an engineer who worked there.  Had we walked into some of those buildings on our own, we would have been turned away.  Immediately.  No discussion.    But Steve and I had been given special badges.  We were accompanied by a certified tour guide, and so we were given access.

Now think of such a privilege on a cosmic scale:  We are able to walk into the ethereal presence of Almighty God because we know his Son, Jesus.

John 14:13 says that we may ask for anything in Jesus’ name, and he will do it.  At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is promising to fulfill our every wish for a home worthy of Architectural Digest, a car that causes heads to turn, and a vacation each year in an exotic location.  Make that twice a year.

But could I really ask for those things in Jesus’ name?  He left the perfect splendor of heaven and angels to live in the squalor of humanity.  He died an excruciating death, to rescue me from the consequences of my sin.  How dare I behave like a spoiled child and request frivolous things, when he sacrificed so much?

No, what I want to do is line up my prayers with what Jesus values, what he would desire.  And his main goal is to bring glory to the Father.   Jesus wants to highlight the magnificence of our God in the prayers he answers affirmatively.

And when our prayers are in agreement with Jesus’ agenda, we can pray with confidence that we will be heard and God will answer.

“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12).

Perhaps it would be wise to begin our prayers with affirmations of these truths.  It might sound something like this:

Heavenly Father, I come to you as one of your forgiven children, saved by your Son, Jesus.  It is only by his authority that I kneel before you to bring these requests.

Teach me what it means to pray in the name of Jesus, to align my desires with yours.  Remind me to ask, even as I begin, “Will this request bring you glory?”

I don’t want to trivialize the horrific price Jesus paid for my life, by asking for frivolous things.  I want my prayers to reflect what you value.  It’s just another way I can live my love for you, O Lord, my God.  And that’s the deepest desire of my heart.

 

(photo credits:  www.bestronginthelord.com , www.camanocommunity.net , www.menupix.com , www.barnako.typepad.com , http://www.capresbytery.org  )

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Back in the 1970s I saw Helen Hayes in a made-for-TV movie.  Some of you may recognize her.  She was known as the “First Lady of the American Theater,” beginning her career on Broadway in 1905, when she was only five years old.  In the 1930s, Helen expanded her stardom to films, and finally to television.

The reason she comes to mind now and then is the impression she made upon me, as an energetic, sparkly eyed senior citizen.  I remember thinking, “When I get old, I want to be like that!”

Poof.  Four decades have passed, and I am indeed getting old!  I don’t feel like it, but that doesn’t stop the incessant turning of the calendar pages.

So I was delighted to come across these verses from Psalm 92 that cast aging in a positive light:

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him” (vs. 12-15).

Palm trees do indeed flourish, living up to 100 years.  Withstanding heat, drought, and high winds, these trees stand tall and strong; their leaves fresh and green all year long.

 

What a perfect picture of an energetic, sparkly eyed senior citizen! 

How do we achieve such age-defying qualities? 

First, notice that the righteous will flourish.  When our faith is grounded in God, when we follow his principles for a prosperous life, we flourish.

Like the palm tree that grows straight up toward heaven, the righteous reach for the God of heaven.  That’s how they’re able to stand strong through the winds of change and difficult circumstances.

The psalmist then continues:  “The righteous will…grow like a cedar of Lebanon.”

Majestic cedar trees grow to 120 feet in height and up to 30 feet in circumference.  They provide the perfect picture of a firm, stable person.  Just as the cedar’s roots go deep into the soil, so the righteous person is rooted and grounded in God’s love (Ephesians 3:17).  From those roots comes the nourishment needed to remain strong and spiritually healthy.

Second, notice where these trees are planted:  in the house of the Lord.  They flourish in the courts of our God.

Charles Spurgeon, that eloquent preacher and writer of the 1800s, had this to say about those who dwell in habitual fellowship with God:  “They shall become men [and women] of full growth, rich in grace, happy in experience, mighty in influence, honored and honorable.”  Now that sounds like a very satisfying way to live—so much better than the opposite!

Think of a complaining oldster whose mouth turns down from constant disgruntlement.  His bottom lip protrudes from perpetual pouting, and his brow is permanently lowered into a frown because anger often rules his emotions.  All this negativity has stunted the growth of his maturity.  He’s unhappy much of the time, and is not held in high regard by others.  Do you suppose he ever considers that his way of life is terribly unsatisfying?   

However!  When our lives are centered upon worship of God, as we express gratitude for his blessings, praise for his attributes, contentment for where he’s placed us, and joy in the midst of trials, we become those admirable men and women Dr. Spurgeon described above:  mature, gracious, and happy.

Dr. Spurgeon also added “mighty in influence and honored.  God rewards the righteous aged with “fruit.”  In other words, we may still bring glory to God by our words and actions—well into old age.

We can be:

  • Energetic—with the power of the Holy Spirit
  • sparkly-eyed—with the indwelling of God’s peace
  • grace-filled—with continual demonstrations of God’s love to others
  • joyful—with hearts focused on God’s blessings

These kinds of saints provide a powerful example of God’s faithfulness—through pleasant times and challenges, through plenty and want, year after year.

May we continue to grow deep and stand tall—all the days of our lives.

(photo credits:  www.pachd.com, www.captainkimo.com, www.forestertreeservice.com, www.centrifueleadership.com, www.seniors.ovetoknow.com)

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“Come on, Mommy!  Let’s catch fireflies!”

Each evening, while visiting her uncle’s home in the Midwest, our granddaughter, Sophie, wanted to capture those glowing insects.  Where she lives in the Pacific Northwest, the little creatures do not abound.

I, too, was visiting Sophie’s uncle (my son) and delighted in those fireflies as much as she did.  That’s because Steve and I have lived in Florida for over thirty years, and although a habitat map for fireflies includes our state, I’ve never seen one here.

During our visit, we’d all sit on the front porch in the evening.  Sophie and I, in particular, would watch for the magical moment when the soft, silent glimmering would begin.

The fireflies drifted up from the grass and lilies of the valley in front of the house.  Just a few at first.  But soon there were too many to count.

I became curious about whether they blink at even intervals or not.  Since they move slowly, it was quite easy to choose one, follow its course, and count the seconds between blinks.  I can confidently report that this particular variety (There are over 2000 world-wide!) chooses to blink at random, although within a range of 4-6 seconds.

As soon as the first firefly was spotted, Sophie was off the porch and into the yard with her jar.  She took great joy in the catching, but kindly released them when it was time for bed.

We’d say good-bye as each one took flight from the edge of the jar.  I gave them names.

“Good-bye, Floyd!”

“Sleep well, Beulah!”

“See you again tomorrow night, Fred!”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

These images came to mind as I read, “Love in the Dark,” by Danielle Ayers Jones–a meaningful post for the (in)courage blog, July 9.  She wrote about experiencing God’s love, even in the midst of dark, hard, confusing, even seemingly hopeless circumstances.  Joseph was her example.

As I read, I thought of those fireflies in the dark we had witnessed just the week before.  The soft glimmer, blinking here and there, reminded me: the steadfast love and favor of God glimmers here and there in all circumstances—including the hard, confusing times. Sometimes it’s an encouraging word from a friend, a Bible verse that speaks directly to our situation, or an unexpected God-incident that ministers to our hearts.

That word unexpected highlights how our God works.  He likes to surprise us sometimes.  His glowing love gifts often come randomly, not at precise intervals.

We have to keep alert or we might miss the blessings.

But the more alert we become, the more we’ll see—until we can no longer keep count.

 What fireflies have glowed in the night for you?  In other words, how has God’s love penetrated the darkness in your life? Please share your experience in the comment section below.

(Art & photo credits:  www.headofleslie.com; addins.wwa.com; http://www.charlottesfancy.com)

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“Worship the Lord your God and his blessing will be on your food and water” (Exodus 23:25a).

Food and water.  Common, everyday things.  But this verse promises God’s blessing on them.  In other words, even the mundane things of life can put smiles on our faces.

Mundane things like:

  • The graceful dance of tree limbs in a soft breeze
  • The tapping of rain on the roof, while cozied up in bed
  • The spontaneous hug of a child

Such delightful gifts are embarrassingly easy to overlook.  Most of us are much too busy and moving too fast.

So how do we take hold of these subtle blessings and treasure them?  The first five words of the verse give the answer.  It happens when we worship the Lord our God.

I’m not talking about the hour or two we may spend in church sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

Worship means expressing to God his worth—his worth-ship.  And it’s something we can enjoy all day, every day.

Yes, I said “enjoy,” because worship should be celebratory.

One means of celebrating our God is to express appreciation. “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything,” Paul recommended (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

As we begin to notice and appreciate all the delights God has bestowed, we experience a contentment and steadiness of spirit that defies explanation.  And to be contented and steady is a very blessed way to live!

Another means of celebrating our God is to express praise.  Gratitude expresses appreciation for what he’s done in the past, what he’s doing in the present, and what he will do in the future. Praise expresses admiration for who he is and honors him for his glorious attributes.

Attributes like:

  • Creativity, inspiring him to design tree branches that dance and sway in the breeze
  • Loving kindness, expressed with pleasurable gifts like raindrops rapping on the rooftop
  • Comfort, offered through the spontaneous hug of a child

As we begin to praise God for his attributes, we experience a change of perspective.  Our attention moves from personal circumstances to God Almighty.  He is:

  • Glorious in the splendor of his majesty
  • Capable of awesome works
  • Abundant in his goodness and compassionate on all he has made
  • Faithful to all his promises and righteous in all his ways

Interested in more descriptors?  See Psalm 145!

Bottom line:  When worship is an integral part of our lives, joy abounds, because God’s blessing rests upon us in all things!

“Worship the Lord your God and his blessing will be on your food and water” (Exodus 23:25a).

Such a simple exercise to implement;  yet such astounding results.

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(Art & photo credits: http://www.lawlessgallery.com  ; http://www.godwordistruth.wordpress.com ; http://www.lessonsinashell.blogspot.com )

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Seeking after God.  It’s a concept we come across frequently in scripture.  But God is Spirit; he’s invisible to us.  How do we seek after someone we can’t see?

Perhaps we can answer that question by considering the ways we seek a person, who can be seen.

Example #1:

When my husband, Steve, and I are separated in a crowd, it’s quite amazing how quickly I can spot him.  Beyond height, hair, and eye color, I know the breadth of his shoulders, the way the hair grows on the back of his head, the shape of his ears.  In fact, it’s such nuances as these that draw my attention, even more than the descriptors listed on his driver’s license.

Perhaps our first step in seeking God is to get to know what he looks like, although not his physical Being, since he’s chosen not to reveal himself that way.  But as we read his Word, the Bible, we become familiar with who he is.  Through frequent, thoughtful study—not occasional reading—we learn about his character and his ways.  One guiding question can train us to seek God as we study:  What does this passage teach me about God?

Example #2:

Sometimes I find Steve in a crowd when I hear his voice or the timbre of his laugh.

Step two in seeking God:  We can listen carefully for his voice, although he rarely chooses to speak audibly.  More often he communicates his wisdom and encouragement to us through the Bible, and the voices of wise and mature Christians—spoken and written.

God also speaks directly into our spirits, so we must cultivate the habit of listening carefully for strong but silent impressions.  We can ask God to make clear if those thoughts are indeed from him.  He will affirm.

Example#3:

I know Steve’s signature.  Give me a sheaf of papers with Steve’s name written by different people, and his distinctive style will stand out from the others.

Step three in seeking God:  Look for his distinctive signature of wisdom and power in his people and in God-incidents.

Even in creation, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:19).

Take note of the slow loops of a circling hawk, the graceful curve of a flower stem, the straight, tall sentries of a pine forest.  Pay attention to the perfect oval of a ladybug, the teardrop shape of  a milkweed seed, or the mounds of clouds in a summer sky.  You’ll soon find that God loves variety, pattern, organization, beauty, intricacy, and color.  Your heart will begin to respond with wonder and praise for your magnificent, powerful God.

Example #4:

Steve doesn’t even have to be with me, and my thoughts will turn to him.  A song, a phrase, a person who reminds me of someone from our past, and I think, “Oh, Steve would like this,” or, “I’ll bet Steve would agree he looks just like So-and-So.”

Just looking down at my new Mother’s Day watch, and I’m reminded of my thoughtful, generous husband.

Step four in seeking God:  As we get to know God through the Bible, as we learn to hear his voice, as we see his signature everywhere, we find our thoughts turning to him throughout the day.  A song may urge a response of praise.  A phrase might prompt a prayer, a person’s gracious kindness causes us to reflect upon his character shining through that individual.

And every blessing should result in gratitude.

Seeking God is an ongoing, progressional process.  Awareness of his presence grows slowly yet continually.  Perhaps God planned it that way so we always have more delights to discover about our Heavenly Father until we do see him face to face.

Seeking after God can begin with a simple prayer:  God, I want to know you more intimately,  to sense your presence  even though I can’t physically see you.  And I want you to be an integral part of my life and thoughts.  Nothing could be more satisfying than a close relationship with you.  This is what I seek.

That’s my prayer.  Will you seek God with me?  What steps have helped you to seek after God?

(Art & photo credits:  www.experienceproject.com; http://www.luddite1811.blogspot.com; http://www.revelife.com; http://www.finartamerica.com;  www.hullquist.com.)

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