Archive for February, 2014


“Oh no, Elena, you don’t want that,” I say to our one-year old granddaughter.  Obligingly she holds up to me a minuscule scrap of paper she’s found on the floor.  Thanks to much practice with Cheerios, her thumb and forefinger can pick up the tiniest items.

Elena and I are on an excursion through the living room and dining room.  From her jaunty steps, I can tell she’s loving the freedom to explore.  And I’m glad to provide the watchful eye she needs.

No sooner do I slip the paper into my pocket than her little hands are grabbing for a cell phone on a side table.  You wouldn’t think her arms are long enough to reach that far.  Daddy says she has the wingspan of a pterodactyl.

“I’m sorry, Elena,” I tell her.  “We’ll have to put that up here on the shelf.  Mommy’s phone isn’t a toy.”

I think she’s heard that before.  The removal of the phone doesn’t upset her; she just moves on. Quickly Elena toddles toward the living room fireplace where unlit candles stand in a decorative formation.  Not for long.  She grabs the chunky, center candle, clutches it to her chest, and proceeds on her way around the table.

“Let’s leave the candle here,” I say, gently prying it out of her fingers.  “If you drop that on your toes, it will hurt.”

I’m surprised Elena doesn’t become upset.  For a moment I think she’ll march on to other discoveries and leave the other candles in the fireplace.  Instead, she wastes no time turning around and heading back.  Soon there are five candles up on the table.

And so it goes as I tag along behind a toddler who knows very little, fears practically nothing, and desperately wants to be free and independent.  We adults must be attentive, instructive, and protective.

You know what?  There are times I’m not much more than a toddler in God’s family.  I, too, know very little, lack a healthy fear of those things that could hurt me, and struggle against the desire to be free and make my own choices.

Good thing I have a Heavenly Father who is so attentive.

“He who watches over [me] will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3).

My Heavenly Father is instructive.

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (Psalm 25:9).  Key word:  humble.  I have to be accepting of instruction and willing to apply it.

My God is also protective.

“He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge” (Psalm 144:2).

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Oh, Father, forgive me for the times I act like a toddler and take off on my own.  Thank you for your constant, watchful presence, for those times you’ve grabbed things from my grasp because you knew they were not in my best interest. Thank you for instructing me through your word and through wise, godly people.  Slowly but surely you have equipped me with the knowledge of your ways–ways that are good and right.  Then you’ve patiently trained me to follow those ways.  May my heart be set on keeping your decrees to the very end (Psalm 119:112)!

(Photo credit: http://www.pexel.com)

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“Times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” Peter said (Acts 3:19b).

I wonder:   What might those refreshing times look like?

If we think about those moments that restore us physically and emotionally, we’ll find clues to the spiritual refreshment God offers.

For example, do you feel renewed after…

…a good night’s sleep?

Jesus offers rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29-30)–rest that includes insulation against fear and worry.

…a tall, cool glass of water on a hot day?

Jesus offers “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).  He was speaking of an enhanced life–characterized by peace, joy, and his comforting presence.  Finally, this enhanced life will turn to ecstasy once we’re transported to heaven.

…a delicious meal?

Just as food satisfies our stomachs, God’s Word satisfies our spirits.  The Bible fills us with truths that strengthen and promises that revive.

…a heart-to-heart chat with a friend?

God actually designed us for symbiotic relationship.  “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).  But the uplift is augmented when we know Jesus and seek his wisdom–his ways–in our interactions.

Then consider the relationship we have with Jesus himself.  I can’t imagine living without him, can you?  Just a quick reminder that he is in control and has a plan can ease any anxiety.  When I affirm he will supply my needs and those of family and friends, I can breathe easier.  Knowing he is always with me is great comfort.  When I avail myself of these benefits, he does indeed restore my soul (Psalm 23:3a).

…a hot shower?

Nothing is quite as restorative as washing away the grime of the day and allowing the pelting water to ease weary muscles.

Peter spoke clearly and bluntly, “Repent…turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19a).

Why do we resist repenting–confessing and turning away from those things we know deep down aren’t good for us?  We’re like little kids, grungy and itchy from playing in the dirt, and resisting a bath!

But if we do not repent, if our sins are not wiped out, the times of refreshing from the Lord cannot come.  Here’s the whole of Acts 3:19, parts A and B together:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

I do not want to be tired, thirsty, hungry, lonely, or dirty in my spirit.  Not when God’s refreshing grace is always available for renewal, restoration, and replenishment.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

So here I am, Lord, coming to you with a repentant heart.  I don’t want to live in some remote wasteland, removed from your presence!   Thank you for your restoration that is complete and your provision of refreshing times that are continual.  All day long you replenish my spirit!  Even in the night you restore my soul.  Your loving kindness and grace are boundless, and my spirit soars with praise!

(Photo credit: http://www.wikimedia.org)

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Many of our founding fathers were men of Christian faith.  The record of their background, correspondence, and character attests to that fact.  Consider:

  • Twenty-four of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence attended seminary or Bible school.
  • Hundreds of letters of these men speak of God and their faith in Him.
  • Honor and integrity were important attributes which characterized their lives.  Most of them sacrificed much for the cause of American liberty.  “With firm reliance on the protection of the divine Providence*, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor,” they declared.

George Washington was no exception. With great integrity,  courage, faith, wisdom, and humility, he was instrumental in bringing America through perilous times.  We should know his legacy well, and follow his example.  Can you imagine an America where men and women would display…

 …The Integrity of George Washington

Washington was the only president unanimously chosen by the electoral college, an indication of the trust the American people invested in the general.  Frequently throughout his life, he demonstrated strong reliance on God.  Remember the portrait of him, kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge?    And decades after his death, pastors were still preaching sermons that honored his exemplary life.

…The Courage of George Washington

Washington’s accomplishments can be rivaled by few.  At age 23 he was commissioned colonel at the outset of the French and Indian War (1754).  His courage was legendary.  In one battle he directed the troops while riding up and down the front lines on his horse, seemingly not to care he was an easy target.  After that battle (which the British and American forces won), George wrote home that his safety was the result of “the miraculous care of Providence*.”

…The Faith of George Washington

Washington recognized that God had been strongly involved in the colonies’ battle for liberty.

“The hand of Providence* has been so conspicuous in all this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

His first act upon being sworn in as President?  He prayed, reminding his listeners at the inauguration that it is Almighty God who presides over the universe.  Washington also closed his inaugural address with prayer.

As he signed official government documents, he often concluded with the closing, “In the year of our Lord Christ.”

…The Wisdom of George Washington

In an address given in 1796, George wisely stated:  “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

(Might the economic and political decline now happening in America be the result of those supports–religion and morality–being slowly but surely removed?)

…The Humility of George Washington

In spite of a long list of outstanding accomplishments over a lifetime of sacrificial service to his country, Washington said:  “I have only been an instrument in the hands of Providence*.”

What chance did the weak, floundering colonies have to become a strong, prosperous nation?  Small, indeed.  But God used men of Christian character such as Washington to achieve the impossible.

What chance does our nation have today, to recapture our strength and prosperity?  Small, indeed.  But, God can use men and women of Christian character, just as he did George Washington–those willing to follow God’s lead and live sacrificially, to achieve the impossible. Because “nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) .”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

*Providence was a word used frequently in early America, to indicate God’s active care and protection.  Noah Webster, in his first dictionary (1828), noted that Divine providence is often understood as God Himself.  The word appeared over 100 times in the Geneva Bible, the translation of choice among many early Americans.  Now the word is translated with synonyms for care, such as “tender mercies,” “loving kindness,” and “protection.”

Because the word, providence, no longer appears in our Bibles, some have concluded that those forefathers who used the term were Deists who believed in an impersonal God.  But many outspoken Christians of the day used the term, including Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon (minister and signer of the Declaration), John Quincy Adams (officer of the American Bible Society, active patriot, and sixth president of the United States), John Jay (president of the American Bible Society and first chief justice of the Supreme Court), and Dr. Benjamin Rush (founder of the Sunday School in America and signer of the Declaration).  All of these men and others, whose allegiance to Christ is verifiable in their writings, also  included many references to Providence in their works.

(Sources:  The Founders’ Bible, http://www.wallbuilders.com, http://www.ochristian.com)

(Art Credit:  www.en.widipedia.org)

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You’ve heard of spiritual gifts–those special abilities the Holy Spirit endows, which equip us to serve others.  Teaching, prophecy, discernment, and healing are examples.  Altogether, the apostles Peter and Paul listed at least twenty.

May I be so bold as to suggest there may be a few more spiritual gifts than those  listed in the New Testament?

For example:

The Gift of Thoughtfulness

Oh, my.  If I started listing the number of people who have this gift, I’d be writing through the night.  But recently…

Donna and I were admiring a craft project created by a mutual friend–little dresses made out of dish towels, to hang over the oven door.  I mentioned what fun it would be to make some of those myself, but I didn’t have a machine anymore. 

“Then I want to give you mine,” she said.  “Now that I’m living with Brenda” (her daughter), “I really don’t need it.  I can use hers.”

In spite of protests (“You can sell it, Donna.”), she was insistent.  So I now have a sewing machine!

In a world of greed and selfishness, such kindness is rare–except in the family of God where the spiritual gift of thoughtfulness abounds.

 The Gift of Joy

All my friend, Grace, has to do is chuckle, and everyone nearby joins in.  Hers is the most infectious laugh I’ve ever encountered.  She also supplies plenty of material for laughter with her quick wit.

You’d never know to look at Grace’s smiling face and twinkling eyes that she frequently suffers pain.  A case of shingles that never went away completely continues to cause problems.  But Grace never complains.

How does she manage to spread so much cheer in the midst of suffering?  It’s the spiritual gift of joy, I’m sure, bubbling up from a heart focused on Jesus.

The Gift of Chicken Soup

My husband, Steve, had just been released from the hospital, after a fever that defied explanation and aspirin.  It finally broke, although its cause remained a mystery. After a few days he was released to come home.  Meanwhile,  while Steve was hospitalized, I suffered a brutal attack of stomach flu.

The two of us were sprawled on couch and recliner when Barbara called.  “I’m making chicken soup for the two of you and bringing it over this afternoon,” she announced.

“Oh, no,” I quickly replied.  “That won’t be necessary.  We’re recouping fine.”

But Barbara didn’t buy it, and the delivery was made. 

NEVER have I tasted such savory, flavorful chicken soup.  By the end of the first bowl I felt strength returning to my limp arms and legs.  By the second bowl, I was ready for jumping jacks.

OK, I’m exaggerating–but only slightly.  That soup DID rejuvenate us!  So, there’s the proof that the spiritual gift of chicken soup exists.

If we want to be technical, I suppose these gifts and others could be categorized under those listed in scripture.  Exercising thoughtfulness like Donna is surely an example of generosity (Romans 12:8).   Dispensing joy like Grace is part of the gift of encouragement (same verse).  And Barbara’s chicken soup may very well be a manifestation of the gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:28).

It’s true:  “All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!  The variety is wonderful” (1 Corinthians 12:7, The Message).

What unique spiritual gifts have you encountered?  Share your story in the comment section below!

(Image of bow from http://www.publicdomainpictures.net.)

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The place:  Spindletop, Texas.

The time:  1892

A group of five investors formed the Gladys City Oil Company.  Sulphur springs in the area gave them great hope that black gold lay beneath the surface, especially since gas seepages in the area would ignite if lit.

Soon the area was dotted with holes–holes that produced nothing.  Two investors pulled out.

A geologist was brought in.  More investors were convinced to take the risk.

Nine long, unproductive years went by, and  still no oil. That’s 3,285 days of discouragement, disappointment, and exhausting labor.  Yet those men would not give up.

Finally, on January 10, 1901, their long-held dreams were realized.  At the depth of 1,139 feet, the company struck oil.  And it wasn’t just a gurgling flow.  The discovery at Spindletop gave new meaning to the term, “gusher.”  The oil shot over one hundred feet into the air, spewing enough to fill 100,000 barrels a day.  It took nine days to get the well under control.  No oil field in the world, up to that time, had been so productive.

I wonder what those men said to each other each morning, over those 3,000-plus days of working, learning, waiting, and wondering?  Surely their conversations included some positive uplift, or they would have quit.  Perhaps they made such comments as:

  • “If we don’t find oil, at least we can say we gave the effort everything we’ve got.  If we quit before all possibilities are tried?   That‘s failure.”
  • “All the signs indicate there is oil.  We cant quit!
  • “Today might be the day!”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Just as oil is sometimes discovered by accident, so God’s blessings fall into our laps as glorious surprises. Other times,  God chooses to postpone a blessing while we dig our way through learning, working, waiting, and wondering–like the oil men of Spindletop, Texas.

How do we press on when circumstances look bleak, when common sense tells us to quit?

1.  Pray!  The key to knowing when to persevere and when to change direction is to spend time with God.  Ask him to make clear what the next step is.  Most likely he will not reveal the whole plan at once.  He rarely works that way, because it eliminates the faith factor.  Our moment-by-moment trust in him is too crucial to the abundant living he desires for us.

2.  Believe!  Dozens of promises in scripture probably apply to your situation and mine.  We can recite those promises–not as demands (“God, you said this, so I’m expecting you to do it.”) but as faith-builders.  (“God, you said this, and I know with you all things are possible.”)

3.  Fight!  Fight against discouragement with plenty of encouragement.  God is very creative in the ways he brings hope to our spirits.  Often it’s through Bible reading and other Christian material.  We must keep reading!  Sometimes it’s in a sermon or a song.  We must keep listening!

A friend or even a stranger can speak uplifting words that resonate in our hearts.  Sometimes it’s as if God is speaking directly.  One sign for me, that someone is speaking for God?  Goosebumps!  I can almost feel his light touch on my arm and his voice saying, “Pay attention to this, Nancy.”

Our God is a well of unending supply.  Whatever we need in this life, including wisdom, direction, and perseverance toward a goal, he will provide.  In fact, he will do whatever it takes for his praying, believing, fighting children to discover the oil of gladness, instead of mourning (over failure), a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

That’s one way our loving, supportive Heavenly Father displays his splendor (Isaiah 61:3).

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For ten years of my husband’s ministry, we lived in a parsonage with a pond out back.  The delightful view from the kitchen window made dishwashing a much more pleasant task.  Light and shadow played on grass, trees, and water, creating an ever-changing scene.  Wading birds grazed the edges–herons, egrets, and wood storks.  Anhingas and ducks enjoyed an occasional swim.

During several spring seasons,  a brown duck and his mate chose our pond to raise their family.  It was especially fun to watch the pond-crossings of Mother Duck and her brood.  As she ventured out onto the water, the little ones fell into line behind her.  

When I say line, I do mean line–straight enough to rival the Radio City Rockettes.  But at some point, Mother would turn.  And with split-second precision, those ducklings would also turn, as if she’d given them a cue ahead of time.  (Had she?  Perhaps God has given them the ability to communicate with body language that zoologists haven’t noticed yet!)

To appreciate their performance even more, consider that the eyes of ducks are on the sides of their heads.  Can they even see well straight ahead?

Oh, that I could be like those little ducks, responding to God’s leading with split-second precision.

Why don’t I relax and stop fretting about outcomes?  Isaiah reminds me:

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden like a spring whose waters never fail (Isaiah 58:11).

Why do I concern myself with what-ifs, when Jesus said:

“Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it…Seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 11:29-31).

Why don’t I respond with quiet trust, when Paul assures me:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

I’m beginning to understand what happens.  When worry, self-doubt, and fear occupy my mind, I’m allowing my emotions to take the lead, not the truths of scriptures.  Lousy leaders, those emotions.

I need to become more aware of my thought life–not let my mind just roam around helter-skelter.  Paul used military terminology to describe our course of action.  That makes sense, since spiritual warfare does occur in the mind.  Paul said, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I like the way Eugene Peterson interprets that verse:  “We…fit every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ”(The Message).

The scriptures mentioned above would be good places to start.  I can write key phrases on 3×5 cards or slips of paper and stash them here and there–on a mirror, in a dresser drawer, on the car visor, in the refrigerator!  (Yes, in!  That ought to grab my attention!) Over time I would expect these memory-joggers to train my brain toward positivity and faith.

The day may come when I won’t even need the reminders anymore.  When my thoughts line up and follow Christ’s leading, so will my emotions.

Imagine the peace, joy, and contentment!

(Photo credit: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org.)

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Paul told his beloved friends in Philippi:  “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8, The Message).

As a meditative exercise, I decided to choose one event, object, or truth which embodied adjectives from this verse.  Which examples below are similar to choices you would make?  What might you select that would be different?

One important truth:


“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

That one was rather obvious, wasn’t it.  The veracity and certainty of eternal life colors every moment of life with peace and joy.   How incredibly splendorous!

One supreme example of nobility:

First, a definition.  Nobility includes qualities of high moral character such as honor, generosity, and courage.

I have been blessed and influenced by many noble people.  Any one of them would be worthy to contemplate and hold up as an example:  family members, pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, missionaries, colleagues, friends.

So if I stick my hand into an imaginary hat filled with their names on slips of paper, I might pull out…M. and L.

M. lost his job unfairly and in a hurtful way.  But they persevered through that dark time with honor and courage.  These two are also known for generosity and hospitality, in their church community and beyond.

 One person of good repute: 

 Again, I have to put my hand into that hat and pull out . . .

…Rachel Asherman, my grandmother.  To this day her grandchildren arise and call her blessed (Proverbs 31:28), because of her kind, gracious ways. Everyone loved Grandma Rachel.

One example of holy authenticity:

The Bible.  How grateful I am for the reliability of God’s Word—filled with wisdom, promises, and encouragement.  The more I learn of archaeology, prophecy, history, and creation science, the more astounded I am by the great volume of proof upholding its authenticity.

One item that demands compelling attention:

An impossible choice!  As I contemplate towering mountains and tiny snowflakes, colorful flowers and majestic trees, soaring birds and fluttering butterflies, radiant rainbows and ethereal sunbeams, crashing waves and delicate seashells…my heart is filled with wonder and appreciation.  And yet there is so much more!

God created such astounding beauty to display his attributes to us.  With  his power he carved out ocean beds.  In wisdom he designed the evaporation cycle.  With creative genius he splashed color over the earth–even out into the galaxies.  His engineering prowess is highlighted in a honeycomb, and his artistry in a rose.

“The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3)!

So where might that glory be most evident?  Perhaps at the birth of a baby, when the little one takes that first breath of life and greets everyone with a wobbly cry.  And surely there is glory in that moment when the parents first glimpse this new little person who will forever be entwined around their hearts.

Who is not compelled to give attention to that wonder?  “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4)!

One example of graciousness: 

A dear friend, Dixie, died of a brain tumor a number of years ago.  Her treasure of life stories included great heartache, but you wouldn’t have known that to look at her.  Dixie seemed to live in a cloud of contentment and peace, never showing anger, never gossiping, never complaining.  Her example is still an encouragement to me today.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the bounty of beautiful things and inspiring people you have brought into my life.  Meditation on all your blessings can keep me happily occupied for hours!

But you have ordained greater purpose in the exercise, because there is power generated by our thoughts.  “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart,” Jesus said, “. . . for out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).”

That means the more I meditate on your goodness, the more goodness will come out of my mouth.  And the more goodness that comes out of my mouth, the more will be evident in my life, because a man [woman] reaps what [s]he sows (Galatians 6:7).

May I make choices, moment by moment, that will demonstrate the overflow of your Spirit.  

Top choices.

(Photo credits: http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.commonswikimedia.org; http://www.flicker.com; http://www.whattoexpect.com.)

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“I can’t remember the last time I felt truly happy.”

“Nobody understands what this situation is like.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve experienced one or more of the emotions behind those statements,  including:  discouragement, self-pity, hopelessness, and fear.

When circumstances seem out of control and problems defy solution, what can we do?

A good place to start:  praise God.

I know.  That seems an odd course of action and counter-intuitive.  But that’s what God instructs us to do (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Now why would that be?

Reason #1:  Praise is a powerful weapon against those emotions listed above. It fosters peace and contentment by taking our minds off our problems and focusing our attention on God.

David shows us the way in Psalm 103.  In verse two he says,  “Forget not all [God’s] benefits.”  Then he lists  a number of them:  forgiveness of all sins, healing of all diseases*,  redemption from the pit, God’s love, compassion, righteousness, and justice (vs. 3-6).

What would your personal list include?  What specific ways has he provided for you, guided and protected you, fulfilled promises to you, and empowered you?

“Praise is the honey of life

which a devout heart extracts

from every bloom of providence and grace.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon

Reasons #2:  Praise invites his presence, and with his presence comes his strength and help.

“Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.  the Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.” (Psalm 28:6-7).

I have to be honest here.  There have been times when my praise to God had to be squeezed through gritted teeth.  And the first words of affirmation did not immediately lift me into golden clouds of euphoria.

What I can tell you is this:  Depression, discouragement, self-pity, and hopelessness were kept at bay.  And I felt the presence of God around me, giving me strength to press on.

How has praise brought God’s strength and help into your life?

Reason #3:  Praise lifts our spirits and gives us hope.  When words won’t come, we can turn to the psalms.  Chapter 145 offers one example of eloquent praise:

“God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough.  There are no boundaries to his greatness. ..

“God is all mercy and grace–not quick to anger, is rich in love.  God is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace…

“Generous to a fault, you lavish your favor on all creatures.  Everything God does is right–the trademark on all his works is love…

“My mouth is filled with God’s praise” (vs. 3, 8-9, 16-17, 21,  The Message)!

Can you feel the hope, comfort, and strength stirring in the depths of your soul?

Keep praising!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, yes, Lord, may my mouth be filled with your praise, whether I’m celebrating on a mountaintop or plodding through a valley.  Thank you for the delight of the former and your comfort and care through the latter.  I praise you that all things are under your control.  With a grateful heart,  I put my hope and trust in you. 

* All of our diseases are healed:  1) instantly and miraculously, often as the result of prayer, 2) slowly over time, often with extended prayer and medical intervention, or 3) eternally, when we reach heaven.

(photo credits:  www.pxhere.com; http://www.stockvault.com.)

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