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Archive for August, 2014

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Remember your first attempt to use a microscope? If your experience was like mine, countless adjustments had to be made to find the object under the lens and then bring it into focus.

I’m so glad our eyes don’t work that way! God made them to automatically adjust for distance, intermediate, and near. Granted, as we get older glasses are often required. Some of us even need trifocals. But the miracle of physical sight is incredibly precious, even with corrective lenses.

God offers us another miraculous gift of vision—that of spiritual sight. It, too, is trifocal–to see  lessons of the past,  opportunities of the present, and possibilities of the future.

First we need to understand where spiritual vision (godly insight and foresight) comes from.  It is a function of faith and wisdom.

Faith grows with our knowledge of God. For example, our vision of his future for us is based on such truths as: 1) He has designed a special plan for each of us. 2) He can do the impossible.   And, 3) he empowers the weak.  Embrace such truths and wishful thinking for your future can become a statement of conviction.

Faith also focuses on God’s promises.

Do you have a vision of a productive life, fulfilling his purpose? Focus on John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Do you need courage to step forward toward a God-inspired goal? Focus on Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Do you feel overwhelmed and incapable of completing the task God has whispered into your spirit? Focus on Psalm 121:2. “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

In addition to faith, godly wisdom contributes to spiritual vision.

Godly wisdom grows with our knowledge of God’s Word. Of course, knowledge by itself is not enough; we must apply it (Psalm 19:7).

And as we absorb his truth, God gives us the ability to see those lessons of the past, opportunities of the present and possibilities of the future.

Now before I share a few examples please understand: I am no visionary with extra-spiritual powers to see the invisible. I’ve just lived long enough, had the privilege to learn from stellar Bible teachers, and spent glorious hours getting to know God and discovering his Word for myself. As a result…

…I can see lessons from my past.

One lesson:  God knows what he is doing.  Consider that…

  • He put me in a Christian home and in churches where my spirit and character were formed.
  • As a short-term missionary in Honduras and Ecuador, he grew my reliance upon him.
  • Serving at six churches with my pastor-husband stretched me emotionally and spiritually, but I also experienced much joy and fulfillment.
  • Each of the four teaching positions I held represented God’s ability to engineer circumstances in stunning ways.

Oh, yes, I can see clearly that God knows what he is doing.

I also see opportunities of the present as we babysit our granddaughter. What an awesome privilege to pass on to a new generation the heritage of faith we have treasured. I can envision the value of sweet memories, sound truth, and especially the example of godly integrity in her life. (Lord, help me provide those gifts to both of our granddaughters!)

And, I see possibilities for the future, where my husband and I might serve—perhaps at a soup kitchen. (Steve loves to cook.) And a volunteer tutoring service for under-privileged children might be able to use a retired teacher.  Each locale would provide possibilities for planting seeds of faith into the lives of others.

I want to live out the advice of missionary to India, William Carey (1761-1834):

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

But we’ll need tri-focal, spiritual vision for that to happen.

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What are you envisioning right now?

 

(Photo credit:  www.prescription.lensesrx.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Ever watch one of those television shows that provides a person with a complete makeover? By the end of the hour she (or sometimes he) has acquired a personalized, updated wardrobe, learned how to apply make-up, and received a new hair-do.  The physical transformation is always stunning.

However, there is a transformation even more amazing.  Paul explains it this way:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

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Those of us in Christ haven’t just been adjusted, primped, polished, or camouflaged.  We have become new people with clean slates, strong purpose, deep joy, and vibrant enthusiasm for life.

And that’s not all.  Each day we’re becoming better than the day before–a bit more perfected–if we remain in Christ.  Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) says we’re becoming more fully our true selves–the ones God designed us to be.  I like that.

Each day in Christ is an opportunity to grow more completely into his glorious image.  These changes have nothing to do with outward appearance.  They take place on the inside, impacting our personalities, emotions, minds, and spirits.

That expression, in Christ (also “in the Lord” and “in him”), occurs 164 times in Paul’s letters.  Such repetition would indicate the importance of the concept.

So how would we define the meaning of being “in Christ?”  Here are a few possibilities.

1.  In Christ means we live within his presence.  Now that’s a rather abstract concept. Perhaps an analogy would increase our understanding.

Picture yourself surrounded by trees in a forest.  The woods fill your senses—the sight of tall, stately trees, the sound of chirping birds, the aroma of pine and earth, the textures of rough bark and velvety moss, the taste of cold, clear water from a stream.

 

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Similarly, the presence of Christ completely surrounds us as believers.  Christ fills the senses of our hearts, if we avail ourselves. We see more fully the glory of his creation, hear his truth, breathe in his love like a fine fragrance, feel his strength upholding us, and taste his goodness in the feast of blessings he provides.

Such sensations change who we are.  In Christ, we can become stable, contented, joy-filled people.

2.  In Christ means we are united with him, like a branch fused to the vine (John 15:1-8). He is the Source of everything we need, but we must stay in contact with him. How do we do that with Someone who’s invisible? Possibilities include prayer, praise, gratitude, and worship–throughout the day.

And when we’re united with him, his peace and strength are infused into us.

3.  In Christ means we’re in close relationship with him. Never should there “be day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him” (William Barclay).

And when we live in the presence of Christ, and in union with Christ, the inner transformation he has instituted will most definitely become visible. Jesus’ character will begin to flow through our attitudes and actions, just as sap flows through the vine into the branches. Attitudes like kindness, understanding, and forgiveness will give strong evidence that we’re living in Christ.

 

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And what will the people around us see?  Folks who…

  • exude joy and optimism.
  • are gracious to others.
  • exhibit self-control.
  • make wise choices.
  • aim to express love–always.

Such delightful, purposeful living awaits those who center themselves  in Christ.

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Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the supreme privilege of living in your presence.  You are the King of the universe, yet you want to be united with us in close relationship.  And as we avail ourselves, you infuse us with your attributes, your strength, your peace.  All praise to you, gracious Savior, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, as we abide in you.

(Photo credits:  www.brotherransome.com, http://www.wikipedia.org., and alishagratehouse.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elena, almost eighteen months old, loves to collect acorns. A grand oak tree, on the church property across the street from her home, provides perfect hunting grounds. She trundles along the edge of the sidewalk, her eyes on the grassy edge. Now and then she bends over, chooses a prime specimen, and clutches it tightly to her chest.

Yesterday was a banner day for acorns. Way too many shiny nuts with perfect caps. Her little hands couldn’t carry them all. I was given the honor of transporting a few of her treasures home. And this opportunity became the starting point for a train of thoughts.

You’ve no doubt noticed this yourself:  Acorns do not appear capable of producing oak trees.  They’re too small and too hard.  How can the seeds inside even escape those tough shells?   Yet given the right soil, the right climate, and plenty of time, the miracle of growth occurs.  White oak trees can reach the height of 150 feet, growing twelve to fourteen inches per year.  Acorns do not appear until the twentieth year.  In the end, the majestic giant provides hundreds of benefits (www.arborday.org and http://www.ehow.com).

 

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Now a few tall plants, like bamboo, grow very quickly. But not tall, strong trees.  I wonder why?

We humans are also slow-growing–in body and spirit. And I wonder about that, too.  Why didn’t God make us more like bamboo, able to reach maturity quickly? Instead, we progress through a protracted, sometimes painful, learning process to become “mature, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).

Perhaps God willed our development to happen slowly so we have many opportunities to follow his chosen path and fulfill the potential he’s especially prepared for each of us. A false step in the wrong direction can be corrected, just as a crooked tree can be straightened if attended to promptly.

 

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Yes, there are those who choose not to mature, not to participate with God.

But we know that God is good, that what he does is good. I want him to train and teach me (Psalm 119:68). My guess is you feel the same.

Day by day, choice by choice, we can progress along the spectrum from self-centered to selfless, from impatient to patient, from lesser to greater.  But we have to realize: it happens slowly over time.

Here’s another possibility, even better than just accepting slow progress.  Let’s embrace it.

You see, our culture tends to look at time as a thief who steals away our youth, worth, mental acuity, and energy.

But what if we view time as a gift–a gift of countless opportunities provided day by day, choice by choice–to grow into the mature and gracious people God ordained?  Instead of regretting the passage of time we can celebrate:

  • Our progress to become rooted and built up in Jesus, strengthened in our faith (Colossians 2:6).
  • The growing ability to bear fruit (the fruit of the Spirit, exemplary living, glorifying God to others)–even into old age (Psalm 92:14).
  • Becoming “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

Oh, I like that last verse especially, don’t you?

And it can happen through  slow and steady perseverance, with God as our guide.

 

(Photo credits:  www.bio.brandeis.edu; http://www.treetopics.com; http://www.awesometools.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Love of Family

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This week we’re creating “special moments to treasure and keep,” as our family has been able to gather.  I’ll return with a new post on Thursday.

 

(Calligraphy source:  www.stickywallpapers.com.)

 

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Eric, our older son, and I were chatting on the phone.

“Mom, did you happen to save my old Uncle Wiggly book from when I was little?”

Uncle Wiggly? Goodness. I hadn’t thought about that old rabbit and his adventures for years.

“I doubt that we have it,” I responded. “Didn’t each of you kids already take the children’s books you wanted? I think all we have are the leftovers we’ve saved for the grandchildren.”

“No, I don’t have it either,” he replied.

“Well, maybe it was just too worn out to save,” I offered.

“Could be,” Eric said. “I was hoping to find a copy because it would be such fun to share with our Elena when she gets a little older.”

He paused for a moment.  “Remember the picture of Uncle Wiggly in his car?”

No, I didn’t remember.

“The wheels were made from big, fat sausages. That was my favorite page. But every illustration was full of imaginative detail like that,” he reminisced.

That would explain why Eric, our artist, would have such fondness for this particular book.

“I even checked on Craig’s List to see if anyone might have a copy, but didn’t find one.”

Wow. He did have a big soft spot for Uncle Wiggly. And I had a big case of guilt for getting rid of it. Why hadn’t I remembered that book was his favorite? How could I have thrown it away, even if it was tattered?

Months later, my husband, Steve, and I were sorting through boxes in the garage. Two of the boxes contained the children’s books we still owned.

Maybe we could pare down to one box, I thought.

I started unloading the books and organizing them into piles. At the very bottom of the second box was—you guessed it–Uncle Wiggly. And it wasn’t in such bad shape after all.

I whispered a prayer of gratitude for this small but precious gift—a blessing that I hadn’t even asked for.

Does it seem to you that unexpected blessings bring the most joy? Perhaps that’s true because they give us glimpses of God’s love and grace–love and grace that is:

  • Undeserved. Just as he “gave” me a book I had not searched for nor prayed for, God loved and provided for us before we ever searched for him or prayed to know him.
  • Personal. Surely there are not many folks who would delight in finding Uncle Wiggly.  The blessing of discovering its whereabouts was, it seems, personalized just for me (and Eric).

Similarly, God’s love and grace is personal. Remember the parable of the lost lamb?

“God loves each of us as if there was only one of us”—St. Augustine.

  • Lavish. It is doubtful a copy of Uncle Wiggly will turn up at a Sotheby’s auction.  It is not a valuable antique volume for which collectors will pay thousands of dollars.   But for me, finding that book at the bottom of the box was like finding buried treasure, placed there by God himself.  It was an unnecessary but perfectly lovely gift from my Heavenly Father.

I couldn’t wait to call Eric and share with him the good news.

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What unexpected blessing have you received that caused you great joy? Please share your story in the comment section below!

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Our son was telling me about the church he and his wife attend.

“You should hear this mother and daughter play their violins together.  The girl is only ten or eleven, but she’s very talented. I think the mom is teaching her.”

It would be delightful to hear them, I thought.

Several months later, I happened to attend their church when the mother and daughter were scheduled to play.  My heart was filled with delicious anticipation as they approached the piano with their violins.

Soon soft, mellow notes of melody and harmony resonated through the broad, high-ceilinged sanctuary.  My son had not been exaggerating. They were both gifted violinists.

I had to hold back the tears.

Yes, the sweet music touched my spirit. However, my reaction arose from more than that.

The music was greatly enhanced by the mystical bond between mother and daughter.

One evidence of that bond was the subtle means by which the two remained in sync. The mother would nod her head or sway slightly as she directed the music. However, the girl didn’t actually watch. Just every now and then she would make eye contact over her violin–and smile at her mother like an angel—pure, innocent, and tender.

Her eyes seemed to say, “I love doing this with you,”  Mother smiled her love and pleasure in return.

In fact, the very atmosphere seemed to be permeated with love during those moments. But the affection of parent and child was only a part.

The Spirit of God and his love flowed in wondrous waves through the music and that mother and daughter. God’s love—the width, length, height, and depth that Paul spoke of*– filled every nook of that sanctuary.

Surely I was not the only one who felt wrapped in God’s warm embrace during those moments.

And to be loved by God is no small matter.

He is the Master of the universe and the King of glory. Angels sing his praises continually. And yet he delights in us, who fear (reverence) him and put our hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:11).

Isn’t that knowledge alone enough to astound the intellect and overwhelm the heart with joy?

The only possible response is worship, from a heart overflowing with gratitude. An overflow that often becomes tears, as praise intertwines with the invisible but palpable touch of God.

And I can almost hear him say, “I love doing this with you.”

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When has the overflow of love for God and gratitude to him brought you to tears?  Share your story in the Comment section below.

 

*Ephesians 3:18

 

(Photo credit:  www.visualphotos.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Does it ever seem to you that God shows up late sometimes? Surely you’ve had it happen to you.  In spite of persistent prayer and patient waiting (OK, almost patient), God did not intervene in a timely manner.

For example:

  • Applications for grad school were turned down—three years in a row. Finally, the fourth year, acceptance was granted. Why?
  • The job you needed ASAP didn’t materialize for two years. Why?
  • The bracelet that had been your grandmother’s suddenly disappeared. Heartsick, you searched and searched. No bracelet. Suddenly, months later, there it was–caught in a sweater you hadn’t worn in ages. Why?

Why the delay???

I know this sounds impertinent, but in all of these cases and many more, it would appear God was not paying attention.

Or…

…Could it be God operates in a different time frame, one not governed by days, months, or years?

After all, God is eternally the same, always was and always will be. Time is rather inconsequential to him. He lives in a dimension where past, present, and future are not separated.

Time for God is measured more in seasons. Paul included the concept in his persuasive address at Athens:

“From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).

The Greek word Paul used in that verse is kairos. It means, “the suitable or appropriate time for something to occur or for something to be accomplished.”

In his speech, Paul was referring to the appropriate times certain people-groups would rise to power, such as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans.

The Greeks had a second word for time: chronos. This is the kind of time we measure with clocks and calendars. This is our comfort zone–the kind of time we know and understand best. Perhaps that’s why we anticipate God should operate within chronos.

But kairos is God’s time, as in “I choose the appointed time, it is I who judge uprightly” (Psalm 75:2).

Taking the definition of kairos into consideration, this verse would read:

“I choose the suitable and appropriate time to accomplish my purposes.”

And what would be the foundation of God’s choice of kairos?

His righteousness.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:15).

Everything God does is right, including when he does it.

His wisdom.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out” (Romans 11:33)!

It’s been said: “If I had the power of God, there are many things that I would change; but if I had the wisdom of God, I would not change a thing.”

That would include the timing of events, too.

His love.

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9, NLT).

Would a God who loves like that fail to pay attention, and mess up the timing of his involvement?

Kairos implies “at just the right time.”

At just the right time, the door opened for grad school.

At just the right time, that job was provided.

At just the right time, the keepsake bracelet was found.

By not asking why we had to wait, perhaps we demonstrate a modicum of maturity.

 

(Art credit:  www.inscribewritersonline.blogspot.com.)

 

 

 

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