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Archive for November, 2013

The First Course:

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

(G. K. Chesterton — 1874-1936. Columnist and author extraordinaire;  called the best writer of the twentieth century.)

The Second Course:

“The unthankful heart…discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!”

(Henry Ward Beecher — 1813-1887.   Congregationalist minister, known for his support of the abolition of slavery.)

The Third Course:

“Thanksgiving gives effect to prayer, and frees from anxious carefulness by making all God’s dealings matter for praise, not merely for resignation, much less murmuring. Peace is the companion of thanksgiving.”

(Author Unknown – Quoted in Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary on the Whole Bible, Philippians 4:6.)

May wonders and mercies surround you this Thanksgiving Day, bringing you peace and happiness!

(photo credit:  www.blog.familywize.org)

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I don’t know what’s better:

That first sip of coffee in the morning, or the first moment on the pillow at night!

The anticipation of an exciting event, or the lingering memories after.

Ice cream in the summertime, or thick, hot soup in winter.

Gazing at a wide vista of mountains and trees, or studying a tiny flower up close.

Snuggled up by the fire, or walking through crisp, autumn leaves.

Dark chocolate or white popcorn!

A new book with a tantalizing title, or an old, prized volume, underlined and dog-eared.

The raucous noise of a festive party, or the delicious quiet afterward.

The uplift of a clear, cloudless day, or the coziness of a cloud canopy.

Looking forward to wonders yet to be discovered, or looking back on wonders already known.

Oh, yes, Lord.  “You have made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

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Thank you, Father, for continually blessing your people—not just corporately but individually.  You even bestow custom-blessings, specifically designed for the pleasure of one!  And thank You that, as I draw near to you with a grateful heart, your presence fills me with awe and joy.

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What blessings are you hard-pressed to choose between this Thanksgiving?  Share your thoughts in the Comments below!

(photo credits:  www.3dwaltz.com/babies-pictures-6.html, http://www.popsdigital.com,  www.levenger.com, http://www.footage.shutterstock.com.)   

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Have you ever noticed that, except for the first line, the familiar Thanksgiving hymn, “We Gather Together” is not about God’s blessing?

We sing such statements as:

  • The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing
  • So from the beginning the fight we were winning
  • Let Thy congregation escape tribulation

Don’t those seem strange concepts to emphasize on a day set aside for thanks?

The truth is:   although Thanksgiving is about gratitude, it is also a celebration of religious freedom.  That was surely on the minds of the Pilgrims back in 1621.

Freedom to worship God, and to read the Bible for themselves, were among the chief reasons the small band of believers left England for Holland in 1609.  Then, as circumstances became difficult there as well, they courageously set out for America to establish their own colony (albeit with a charter from the king of England, which granted them permission to inhabit the Virginia Colony).

The Pilgrims had faced the threat of imprisonment and death in Holland as well as England.  In addition, the trip to America included such hazards as shipwreck, illness, and accident.

Yet troubles only mounted upon reaching the New World.  The Mayflower landed too far north–at Cape Cod—not in Virginia as planned.  A late launch and a sixty-six day voyage on stormy seas (instead of the planned three weeks) meant they arrived in late fall.  Shelters were not completed until February.   Then there were Indians to worry about.

Yet they were willing to face all these challenges in order to establish a colony “for the Glory of God and Advancement of the Christian Faith” (from the Mayflower Compact).

The third line of the hymn  speaks of one joy they embraced:  “The wicked oppressing” (King James of England and his bishops) “now cease from distressing.” God had removed the Pilgrims far out of the king’s reach.  No longer could he persecute them.

The first verse ends with:  “Sing praises to His name.” There is no historical record that the Pilgrims sang at their first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.  But music was typical at their gatherings, so perhaps they did participate in a psalm or two.  After all, the feasting lasted three days!

Undoubtedly the Pilgrims would have offered their prayerful thanks– even though half their number had died the previous winter, and the first harvest had been quite meager.  (The ninety Native Americans who attended that celebration actually brought most of the food.)

The second verse of the hymn begins:  “Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining.”

God certainly chose an interesting way to guide the Pilgrims and join with them in surviving the harsh conditions of New England.  Remember Squanto?  He’s the one who showed the Pilgrims how to fertilize the soil with fish.  Without that first crop of decent corn, the Pilgrims never would have survived.

Even more amazing?  Squanto just happened to speak English!

The third verse of “We Gather Together” begins:  “We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant.”  The Pilgrims honored God as Lord.  They recognized that from him all blessings flow.  And the hymn concludes:  “Thy name be ever praised; O Lord, make us free.”

In actuality, this hymn was not written as a direct tribute to the Pilgrims’ experience.   It dates back to Holland, in the late 1500s, written in celebration of a Dutch victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Turnhout (1597).

Under the rule of Spain’s King Philip II, Dutch Protestants had been forbidden to gather for worship.   Perhaps the Pilgrims heard the song while living in Holland.  But the words we sing today were translated into English by Theodore Baker, in 1894.

Even so, the words remind us that the Pilgrims suffered much and risked everything to found a colony where they could gather together in freedom—to proclaim:

“All glory be Thine!”

May we, too, extol our Leader triumphant, as we sing this hymn through the coming week.

(Sources:  The Founders’ Bible, www.plimoth.org, History News Network at http://www.hnn.org )

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Those of us who believe in Jesus are on a faith journey.

Sometimes we fly.

He carries us on eagles’ wings.

One example from scripture is God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.  He said, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4).

The Israelites had done nothing to secure their release from Pharaoh.   God caused the plagues, God opened the Red Sea for the Israelites’ escape, and God destroyed the Egyptian army.

Moses and his sister, Miriam, sang a song to the Lord, to celebrate their deliverance.

“Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?  Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

Has your heart soared on the euphoria of an awesome and glorious miracle?

We have.  A number of times.  One day Donna called to announce she wanted to buy us a car.  Arrangements were made with a dealership; all we had to do was go and pick one out.

“Oh–and get leather seats,” she insisted.  “They’re so much more comfortable.”

Can you imagine?  What an incredible blessing!  Our hearts soared for weeks on that miracle.   Even now, more than thirteen years later, that car is a constant reminder of God’s supernatural provision.  (Yes, it’s still running smoothly!) Through Donna, God proved unequivocally his love and power.

Sometimes we soar; sometimes we runon supernatural strength.

We feel the supernatural power of the Spirit coursing through our veins, providing strength and passion for the task at hand.  It is a spontaneous sprint, energized by omnipotent God.

New Christians are often empowered for a running start in their burgeoning faith.  Eagerly they soak up Bible knowledge in small groups and personal Bible study.

In other cases, God places a special call on someone’s life to fulfill a need.  And with the call comes supernatural strength to meet the challenge.

That’s what happened to J.B.  God infused him with a passion to upgrade the sound system of our church.  Night after night, he worked at rewiring the sanctuary.  Much of that time was spent climbing about in the rafters.  This after working each day at his business.

When I asked J.B. about exhausting himself, he assured me  he was having fun!  He didn’t feel worn out at all.  God was giving him the strength to complete the project.

Yes, it’s exhilarating to fly on eagles’ wings of miracles and run on supernatural strength.  But…

…most of the time on our faith journey, we walk.

Step by step.  Choice by choice.  Slowly approaching the destination—the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).  Sometimes the path is uphill and rocky.  We strain with effort to make progress.  Some days the path is winding, and we cannot see ahead.

Yet in spite of struggle and uncertainty, the walk can still bring much pleasure to the heart.  “Blessed are those…who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord” (Psalm 89:15).  You see, we do not walk alone.  The Company we keep makes all the difference.

Walking in faith involves plenty of ordinary tasks and days without miracles. Children to care for.  Laundry to do.  Meals to cook.  Calls to make.   Students to teach.  Sales to close.

But!  Whatever needs to be accomplished, we can walk through it and not collapse under the repetition and frustration.  How?  By inviting God to walk with us.

Years ago, when our three children were young, my life was a routine of laundry, cleaning, cooking, errands, and child care.  I was not one of those mothers who derived great fulfillment from these tasks.  Instead of walking joyfully through each day,  I often plodded.

Then I came across Colossians 3:23-24.  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

In the margin of my Bible, next to those verses, I wrote, “including housework!”  I wanted Who I served to be more important than what I was doing.  Plodding didn’t end once and for all, but I learned to walk at a believer’s pace more frequently, as I invited God to cook, clean, and launder with me!

Those verbs–soar, run, and walk–are found in Isaiah 40:31, in that order:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Perhaps soaring is first because  the euphoric wonder of flying on eagle’s wings seizes our attention with intensity.

Running is second.  Adrenalin runs high during spurts of divinely inspired growth and service.

And walking is last.  Did God save the most important until the end?  Because it’s in the persevering that we become strong.  It’s in the trusting  that our faith grows deep.  And it’s in practicing his presence that we learn consistency of character.

So revel in occasional soaring.  Rejoice in periodic  running.  But take deep satisfaction in the day-by-day walk on the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3).

“Come…let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5)!

(photo credits:  www.betterphoto.com; http://www.linksterdiversions.blogspot.com; http://www.BlackburnNews.com; http://www.foxnews.com; http://www.photobucket.som/user/jamiesolome/media.com; http://www.faithgateway.com; http://www.pinterest.com)

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“The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:25-26).

Lovely, poetic words.  But what do those phrases about God’s  face mean?  Even if God’s face did shine upon me, or turn toward me, how would I know?  I’ve never seen God.  No one has (1 John 4:12).

A little research turned up this explanation:   God’s face represents his character.

Read those verses from Numbers again.  But this time replace the word face with the word character.  The meaning becomes clearer.

The Lord make his character shine upon you

And be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his character toward you

And give you peace.

How many of God’s character traits can you name?  David named seven in a psalm of thanksgiving found in 1 Chronicles 16:8-34.  God is:

  • Powerful (v. 9)
  • Strong (v. 11)
  • Trustworthy (v. 15)
  • Majestic (v. 27)
  • Holy (v. 29)
  • Good (v. 34)
  • Loving (v. 34)

This brief list is just the beginning of descriptors we could name about God.  He is infinite; His attributes are infinite!

All of those character traits and more are shining upon our lives, as he cares for us, lives in us,and participates with us every moment of our lives.

  • His power works miracles.
  • His strength carries us through difficult times.
  • He can be trusted to always do what is best.
  • His supreme majesty speaks of his authority over the universe.
  • He is righteous and holy in all he does.
  • Out of his goodness he provides countless blessings.
  • And all of this is graciously given, not out of a sense of duty because he made us, but because he loves us.

God’s face shining upon us represents God’s radiance.

 If we insist on following our own way, as Israel did, He may choose to hide his face from us (Isaiah 1:15).

But.

“When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring” (Proverbs 16:15).

When the King of the universe shines his approval upon us, what more could we want?  Life for us is not mere existence.  It is a rich, full life.  Rich with blessings, and full of satisfaction, peace, and joy!

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Thank you, Almighty God, for manifesting your character in my life.  I have seen you work miracles and give strength to the weak.  I have watched as you engineered circumstances to accomplish your plan. (And it always turns out to be a hundred times better than anything I could dream up!)

 I marvel at your power and majesty on display in creation.  I have recorded hundreds of blessings you’ve provided for our family.  Your radiance shines brilliantly all around me! 

 And now, as a thank you gift back to you, dear Father, may my life reflect your radiance to others—with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18)!  Amen!

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How has God shone his face upon you?  Share in the Comments below!

(art credit:  www.christianwordart.com)

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(This post is in response to a friend who asked, “Could you write about how to deal with those little aggravations that cause such trouble in our marriages?”  Here are my thoughts!)

Tremendous trifles–that’s what my sociology professor called the irritating habits of spouses that can drive us crazy.  Things like…

  • Allowing odds and ends to pile up on the kitchen counter, and never putting them away
  • Leaving lights on in vacated rooms
  • Hitting the snooze alarm five times before actually getting up
  • Checking messages during a dinner-date
  • Rarely being ready to leave the house on time

Tremendous trifles present choices, don’t they.

1.  We  can  choose our attitudes.

Will we dwell on the negative or will we focus on the positive qualities of our spouses?

Paul’s advice about our thought-lives (Philippians 4:8) can be applied to how we think about our spouses:

“You’ll do best by meditating on things noble…the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8, The Message).

Years ago, I completed a Bible study on marriage,  specifically written for wives.  The author recommended writing down all the positive traits of one’s husband.  I surprised myself by filling a page with more than a dozen qualities I admired about Steve.  As I wrote, my heart filled with refreshed love for the generous, thoughtful, hard-working man God has given me.

That familiar scripture above is accompanied by a promise, which also applies to marriage:

[Meditate on the best], “and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into most excellent harmonies” (v. 9, also from The Message).

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect marriage?  Two people blending together in perfect harmony!

2.  We can choose our responses.

Will we complain every time a light is left on?

Or, might the best choice be to just turn off the lights ourselves?

Yes, flipping a switch is a no-brainer for some folks, but for others—the creative and/or problem-solving types?  They seem to struggle with such mundane matters. Turning off the lights just isn’t in their skill-set, no matter how much they may want to remember.

So if saving electricity is important to you, it may be wise to flip those switches yourself.

Your motto can be:  “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8b)!

3.  We can choose to discuss the issue.

Does that mean we blast away when the pressure builds?

Or, will we ask the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation and provide wisdom and grace to share honestly but kindly?

Begin with a careful choice of time and place.   It’s best to discuss important matters when both parties are well-rested and well-fed.  A private location is also a must.  Perhaps the corner booth of a pleasant restaurant would offer a setting conducive for  heart-to-heart conversation.

And then limit the discussion to one matter.  An overload of negativity will sabotage the discussion.

Try a praise-then-prompt approach.  That’s a teacher-tip I learned in college, but it works in any conversation when you want to present a serious request.  Share with the other person at least several traits you appreciate.  Then ask if it would be possible for him/her to turn out the lights!

Each choice above gives us the opportunity to express our love the First-Corinthians-Thirteen Way.

Love is patient (when the clutter-pile grows),

Love is kind (when the mirror is splattered),

It is not rude (when she finishes your sentence),

It is not self-seeking (when he wants to watch a football game),

It is not easily angered (when the cupboard doors are left open–again),

It keeps no record of wrongs (when she leaves the sponge in the sink–again).

Love always perseveres.

It takes perseverance for a stable, mutually fulfilling relationship to grow.   Happily-ever-after marriages  don’t just happen.   They are created carefully, moment by moment–in the choices we make.

(photo and art credits:  www.homelifesimplified.com , http://www.lifestyle.ca.msn.com , www,jagran.com , http://www.justalittlebreezy.com )

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Before my friend, Elizabeth, even spoke, I knew something was wrong.  The slump of her shoulders, the wrinkled brow, the tears welling up in her eyes–they spoke loud and clear.

“You know how Michael and I would like to have a little brother or sister for Ashley,” my friend said, dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex.  “Well, it’s become more than just a desire for me.  I so desperately want another child.”  Her voice became tight.  “The waiting and uncertainty are becoming unbearable.”

We stood together, in the emptying sanctuary after church, arms entwined.  And I prayed for Elizabeth and Michael.

Psalm 113:9, a verse which had ministered to me years before, came to mind.  I included the promise in my prayer:  “God, you’ve promised ‘to settle the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.’  We are claiming that promise today for Michael and Elizabeth.  Even now we look forward to the day when they are holding a new, precious baby in their arms.”

Note the verse says children, not child.

The prayer came out of my mouth with certainty and brazen expectation, not in keeping with my cautious personality at all.  I have to admit, the thought crossed my mind, What if God intends for Elizabeth and Michael to have just one child?  You’ve gone way out on a limb with that prayer!

But I voiced no disclaimers, no caveats.  I let the prayer stand on its foundation of conviction–conviction that didn’t come from my spirit as much as from the Holy Spirit.

For the weeks that followed, I continued to pray that God would bless this couple with another child.

Weeks later, Elizabeth approached me once again.  Even before she spoke, I knew what she was going to say.  Her outspread arms, wide grin, and sparkling eyes spoke loud and clear.

“I’m pregnant!” she cried.

We hugged each other tight and noisily exclaimed our jubilation.

Would I have been as excited had I not been praying for this family?  Delighted, yes.  But jump-up-and-down-ecstatic?  Probably not.  My joy was greatly expanded because I had invested myself in the outcome—with the effort of prayer.

Yes, there are many reasons to pray, including these benefits:

  • Our wills are aligned to God’s will (Psalm 37:4).
  • Strength of character is developed through the discipline of perseverance (Luke 11:5-8).
  • We have the opportunity to bring glory to God (John 14:13).
  • Prayer is a means for fighting against evil (Ephesians 6:10-18, especially verse 18).

But the wonder of prayer, for me, is the privilege God gives us, to be part of the process, as he engineers circumstances to accomplish his will.

Every time God moves in situations for which we’ve prayed, he is giving us a precious gift:  the gift of participation with him–in a miracle.

Maybe two.

Michael and Elizabeth had twin girls!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, thank you for the splendid privilege of participating with you in the healing, protection, provision, and guidance with which you bless others.  May I never get tired of bringing my requests to you, knowing that the joyful conclusion will be worth every moment spent in prayer!

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