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Archive for May, 2015

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“Oh, what a beautiful tree!” my mother-in-law exclaimed with enthusiasm. Her comment referred to a tall bush, planted near the house and visible outside our kitchen window. “What’s the name of it?” she asked.  Being from Ohio, Mom wasn’t familiar with some of the unique foliage of our area in south Florida.

“That’s a sea grape,” I told her. “It’s actually a shrub, but they can grow quite tall.”

“Well, it’s lovely. Such big leaves!”

Now clearly there’s nothing remarkable about this conversation, until you know that Mom had asked the very same question with the very same enthusiasm every morning of her visit. And each morning I supplied the same answer.  Mom was in her late 80s, and her dementia was becoming more and more noticeable.

Mom’s fresh outlook each morning reminded me of Lamentations 3:22-23: 

The faithful love of the LORD never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is his faithfulness;

his mercies begin afresh each morning (NLT).

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Just as Mom brought new enthusiasm to each morning, so God brings new mercies for each day. Yes, the challenges we faced yesterday required wisdom, strength, and perseverance. But today we’ll need a fresh supply.   Praise God he never runs out of such gifts; he is always able to provide.

In the same way, God’s new mercies for today are not meant to be sufficient for tomorrow. In other words, we shouldn’t expect to feel confident and in charge this morning for the potential challenges of the future—much as we’d like to. (Who hasn’t wished to know now exactly how the next day or week will unfold, and how best to respond?)

Instead, our wise and loving Heavenly Father has chosen to lead us one day at a time. And just what is so wise and loving about keeping us in the dark?  So as to protect us from being overwhelmed, easy prey to depression, and paralyzed by fear.

No, our best course of action is to avail ourselves of God’s mercies for this one day. As for tomorrow, we can trust God to supply new mercies, more than sufficient for whatever we might face when the time comes (Matthew 6:34).

I’m remembering Corrie ten Boom. (Maybe this post brought her to your mind, too.)

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Corrie and her family suffered cruel hardships in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, as a result of helping Jews escape the Holocaust.

After the war, people would often say to Corrie, “I wish I had such great faith as yours. I could never live through the experiences you survived.”

Corrie would tell a story to explain.

When she was a child, Corrie happened to see a dead baby. A terrible fear gripped her that one of her family might also die. When Papa ten Boom came to tuck her in that night, she burst into tears.

“I need you!” she sobbed. “You can’t die!”

Her sister, Betsy, explained why Corrie was so afraid.

Papa asked, “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”

“Just before we get on the train,” she responded.

“Exactly,” Papa replied. “And God knows when you’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need—just in time.”

Papa ten Boom was proven right. When Corrie needed supernatural strength, God did provide. We can rest assured that his mercies will be new and fresh each morning for each of us, as needed.

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I praise you, Lord God, that we can face each day with fresh enthusiasm, because for each trial, you have prepared for us great mercies like endurance, strength, and wisdom. I thank you that in the midst of trouble, you also provide blessings: a more acute awareness of your presence, peace that defies explanation, family and friends to come alongside, miraculous provision, and delightful surprises to make us smile. You are not just a sufficient God; you are an abundantly gracious God!

(Photo credits:  www.mgonline.com; http://www.coffee4thesoul.com; http://www.myhero.com.)

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Every field of study includes specialized vocabulary or terms that students learn, in order to function in that realm.

In economics, you need to know arbitrage, equilibrium price, and store of value.

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Those in the field of education learn about asynchronous learning, constructivism, and heutagogy.

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An engineer becomes familiar with Bernoulli’s Theorem, fixture units, and porosity.

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(Give yourself a pat on the back for each of those terms you can actually define!)

The study of God, theology, is no different. Sit among a group of seminary students and you’re likely to hear terms that don’t come up in our daily conversations, such as immutability, omniciency, and transcendency.

But maybe those words (and others that describe God’s attributes) should become familiar, everyday terms, because:

  • What we think about God influences what we think about everything else—our values and possessions, other people, the world, etc.
  • to fully appreciate our God, we must know him well
  • the better we know him, the greater his impact upon our lives
  • the more we know him, the more we can trust him

Take, for example, that fancy, six-syllable word, immutability. It refers to God’s insusceptibility to change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). It is not in his nature to change—ever. God is always the same. He is consistent in all his attributes, all the time.

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Isn’t that glorious news? When we come to him, we don’t have to worry that maybe he’s decided we’re not worthy to enter his presence anymore. We don’t have to worry about whether he’s in a good mood or not.  And we don’t have to worry that he might go back on his promises. God’s character never changes, and he doesn’t change his mind either.

How about omniciency? That’s only four syllables, but just as profound as immutability. It refers to God’s ability to know all things—perfectly.

“Stop and consider God’s wonders,” Elihu said to Job. “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:14-16, italics added)?

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Again, what stunning news! He knows all things.  He knows the past and the future, therefore he can guide me—perfectly. He knows my personality, my innermost thoughts, my motivations. Therefore, he understands me–perfectly. He knows my needs, therefore, he can provide for me—perfectly.

And then, last but not least (for today, that is): transcendency, which means God is above all of his creation. He existed before the first glimmer of light appeared in the universe (Genesis 1:1-3). And his existence is not dependent upon creation as we are. In addition, the way God thinks and works is far beyond our limited capacities (Isaiah 55:9).

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Under the heading of God’s transcendence we find his infallible wisdom, incomprehensible power, self-existence (because no one made him), righteousness, justice, mercy, and more.

And all of these wonderful attributes he graciously exerts upon us who believe in him, who seek to know him.

Think of it. The immutable, omniscient, transcendent God who oversees the universe, is also Overseer of each of our lives. He is caring for us, living in us, and participating with us each and every day.

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I praise you, oh God, for the magnificence of your attributes. You are immutable, never responding out of character. You are omniscient, always responding in our best interest, because you know all. And you are transcendent. From you, through you, and to you are all things (Romans 11:36). Oh, that we may worship you as you deserve!

(Art & photo credits:  stagecraft.co.uk; http://www.teachtought.com; http://www.hengineers.com; http://www.shareaverse.wordpress.com; http://www.environment.nationalgeographic.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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“Stay awake! Stay awake!” the pilot yelled at himself.

His little plane skimmed over the ocean, mere feet from the cresting waves. Another moment of dozing might have spelled disaster for the lone aviator.

The scare pumped adrenalin through his weary system. He pulled up out of danger, then banked the plane slightly so he could see ahead through the side window. There was no window facing forward, because an over-sized gas tank blocked any possible view.

Up ahead the young pilot saw towering storm clouds. He decided to guide the plane around the thunderhead. Earlier, he had tried to fly through a large cloud, but sleet began to collect on his plane. He was forced to turn around and get back to clear air immediately.

Once clear of the cloud bank, the pilot thought, Maybe I should eat something. He pulled out one of five sandwiches stored behind his chair. Very little else was packed into the tiny cockpit—no parachute, no radio, not even the usual leather pilot’s seat. He’d opted for a wicker chair, to keep the plane as light as possible.

The young man checked his watch. He had already been awake thirty-six hours and knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep for at least another twenty. The good news: his destination was closer now than his departure point. Of course, that also meant no turning back.

The little plane hummed along, bouncing a bit on the air currents. If any plane is well-suited for this journey, it’s this one.  And the pilot smiled, remembering the camaraderie of the design team, of which he had been a part.   With creativity and engineering prowess, they sought to solve every problem that might present itself during his long solo fight.

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The body of the plane was only 9 feet, 8 inches high, and 27 feet, 8 inches long. But the wingspan was longer than usual, to handle the weight of the extra-large fuel tank. Someone quipped the plane wasn’t much more than a propeller-driven fuel tank.

Yet another cloud bank loomed ahead. The pilot checked his compass, the only instrument he had brought aboard to steer by. It wasn’t working again. Magnetic storms from the North Pole interfered with its function.

So he chose to fly over this bank, skimming the tops of the clouds at 10,000 feet. Darkness enveloped him. There wasn’t even the glimmer of a crescent moon to guide his way. Only pinpoints of stars glinted in the black sky overhead—stars to guide his course.

The tiny plane seemed like a speck, hung in that immensity of space between sea and sky—a sea whose depths were beyond man’s reach, and infinite outer space, beyond human comprehension.  Inside the tiny plane was a man, smaller still. Any moment could be his last on earth.

The pilot grabbed his inflight journal and wrote:

“It is hard to be an agnostic up here…aware of the frailty of man’s devices, a part of the universe between its earth and stars. If one dies, all this goes on existing in a plan so perfectly balanced, so wonderfully simple, so incredibly complex that it’s far beyond our comprehension—worlds and moons revolving; planets orbiting on suns; suns flung with recklessness through space. There’s the infinite magnitude of the universe; there’s the infinite detail of its matter—the outer star, the inner atom. And man conscious of it all—a worldly audience to what—if not God.”

And just as David had proclaimed in Psalm 19:1-2, the young pilot heard in that moment “the heavens declare the glory of God”—as if all the heavenly bodies thundered praise for the Lord’s wisdom, splendor and power—to create such complexities on such a grand scale. Indeed, “the skies proclaim the work of his hands”—in the countless stars of immense proportions. “Day after day…night after night they display knowledge,” as they constantly revolve in the same precise order.

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No one knows how long the young pilot contemplated God and his wonders.  We do know this:

Thirty-three hours after takeoff he landed his little aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis. He had gone without sleep for fifty-five hours. But Charles Lindbergh had fulfilled his dream to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean–by plane.

The date: May 21, 1927. Eighty-eight years ago today.

“Lindbergh did it,” wrote Edwin James, for the New York Times. “Suddenly and softly there slipped out of the darkness [surrounding Paris], a gray-white airplane as 25,000 pairs of eyes strained toward it.”   Later the crowd would be estimated close to 100,000.

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When he returned to the States, Lindbergh was honored by a ticker-tape parade in New York City, attended by four million enthusiastic spectators.

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But I wonder if his most precious memory of that world-changing event was the moment when his heart filled with wonder and he recorded those inspired thoughts in his journal. That was the point he profoundly understood in new ways God’s creative genius, his precise engineering, and powerful control of immense forces in the universe. That was when Lindbergh acknowledged God is the only One capable of producing such perfection.

Sources:  www.biography.com; http://www.charleslindbergh.com; Christmas, by Charles Allen and Charles Wallis, Revell, 1977; http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com; http://www.history.com.

(Photo credits:  www.fiddlersgreen.net; http://www.charleslindbergh.com; http://www.worshipinitiative.som; iconicphotos.wordpress.com; http://www.telegraph.co.uk.)

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No, that’s not a typo in the title; I intentionally chose rust. However, that parody on an old hymn actually did result from a typo years ago.

Steve was just a few months into his first pastorate in St. Petersburg, FL. The mean age of the congregation was somewhere in the 70s. When the church secretary typed the opening hymn title for one Sunday’s bulletin, ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, she accidentally omitted the “T” in trust.

But there was a whole lot of truth in that typo-title. Many saints of that congregation could testify, even into old age: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (Psalm 40:4).

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And just what might those blessings be? A few possibilities quickly come to mind. When we put our trust in God, we enjoy:

  • Peace of mind (Isaiah 26:3-4)
  • Guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Help (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Strength (Isaiah 12:2)

But there are many more blessings that come to those who trust in God—some of which are quite surprising. The following is undoubtedly just a partial list:

Intimacy with God–not just acquaintance. The more we exercise trust, the more we recognize his involvement in our lives. With David, we can affirm: “All those who know your mercy, Lord, will count on you for help. For you have never yet forsaken those who trust in you” (Psalm 9:10).

Hope. Praise God for his hope that fills us with all joy and peace as we trust in him (Romans 15:13)! I can’t imagine going to bed at night without hope for tomorrow—much less for eternity.

Joyful Expectation and Quiet Confidence. Our lives are in the hands of an absolutely perfect, all-powerful, loving God. We can count on him to see us through every situation. So with great delight we can say, “I don’t know what God’s up to, but I know it has to be good!”

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Life above the Fray. Like Paul, we can learn to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:12), knowing that God will give us the strength to endure (v. 13). A heart full of trust has no room for worry or stress. (Remind me of that when the challenges pile up, will you?)

Adventure. Think of the adrenalin rush these Bible heroes must have experienced, as they placed their trust in God:

  • Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho—with trumpets and loud shouts!
  • Elijah praying for fire to consume a drenched offering to God, in front of 450 prophets of Baal
  • Nehemiah watching the walls of Jerusalem reconstructed, after the Israelites had been held in Babylonian captivity for seventy years

Are we going to sit on the sidelines of life and miss the miracles, because we’re afraid to trust? Perish the thought!

Influence. The Light of Jesus shines most brightly through those who demonstrate trust in the midst of dark circumstances. People remember those saints who maintain a positive, faith-focused outlook in spite of trials.

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For all these reasons and more, it is indeed sweet to (t)rust in Jesus–to rest secure in the loving, everlasting arms of our Heavenly Father.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *   *

I praise you, Lord, with all my heart,

for being a trustworthy God who never fails his children.

How glorious to know

I can trust in your unfailing love!

(Psalm 9:1; 13:5; 52:8)

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixgood.com; http://www.masterfile.com.)

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“What’s that lovely perfume you’re wearing, Mom?” I exclaimed while greeting my mother-in-law with a hug.

“It’s called White Linen,” she responded. “I like it because it’s crisp and clean and not too heavy.”

The scent stayed with me, but I didn’t mind. Not only did the perfume have a pleasing aroma, but it belonged to one of the sweetest, most generous women I’ve ever known.

The apostle Paul taught that we should leave a pleasant scent wherever we go. But he wasn’t talking about perfume or cologne. He meant that our very lives ought to emit the fragrance of Christ:

“Through us, [God] brings knowledge of Christ.

Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.

Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God,

which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—

an aroma redolent with life.”

(2 Corinthians 2:14-15, The Message)

 I’ve been privileged to enjoy the exquisite fragrance of a number of saints over the years:

  • My grandmother, who loved and served Jesus with a passion. She demonstrated kindness and thoughtfulness, and never raised her voice. (At least not that I heard!)
  • My parents, who lovingly guided me, and demonstrated what a Christian marriage should be:  two people committed to the best interest of the other.
  • A youth pastor who showed personal interest in each kid, and whose prayers were so heartfelt, we knew this guy was up-close-and-personal with God.
  • A professor and his wife at the seminary Steve attended, who took us under their wings and lovingly mentored us with great wisdom.
  • A mother of three who led the first women’s Bible study I attended.  She provided strong teaching, but better yet, an example of what it means to be a godly woman of excellence.
  • An older couple who listened, supported, and encouraged us as Steve began his pastoral career.
  • A younger couple who came alongside us in ministry over thirty years ago and are still caring friends to this day.
  • A choir director who taught by example what a calm and gentle spirit (2 Peter 3:4) looks like.
  • Countless friends and acquaintances over the years who have loved on us and prayed for us.

Some of these wonderful people have already departed for heaven. Yet their beautiful fragrance lingers in my life to this day—a memorable blend of selflessness, generosity, and grace.

And I wonder, Where would I be without their enduring examples providing strength and guidance?

To be honest, I would surely have ruined my life with poor choices, spurred by emotional immaturity, and spiritual depravity. But God provided all these saints and more, that I might acquire even a faint aroma of Christ. 

And now I plead with myself, YOU serve Jesus by being a sweet fragrance for others, redolent with the life of Christ. YOU be the listener, encourager, and grace-giver. YOU provide the example of Christian maturity. 

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Oh, Father, I thank you for the countless people you have brought into my life, whose positive impact provided wisdom, direction, and inspiration. Guide me, I pray, to live just as fragrantly, spreading your love, grace, and joy wherever I go.

 

Whose exquisite aroma lingers in your life?  Tell us about him/her in the comments below.

 

(Photo credit:  www.etsy.com.)

 

 

 

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There’s nothing quite like a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. The best recipes (and a decent oven!) create a buttery crunch on the outside and a chewy, chocolate-and-walnut infused center.

Of course, every ingredient of the recipe is necessary—not just the chips and nuts. You have to include the flour, butter, eggs, and more. Leave one out, and the results will be hugely disappointing.

Take vanilla extract, for example. A batch of chocolate chip cookies is quite bland without that one teaspoon of flavoring. But have you ever tasted vanilla extract all by itself?  Whew!  It is shockingly strong and bitter.

Now try this idea on for size: Our lives are a bit like chocolate chips cookies!

(Stay with me–the simile will be clear in a moment!)

Just as it takes a variety of ingredients to make delectable cookies, it takes a variety of people and circumstances to make our lives into “the aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15).

Some ingredients, like chips and walnuts, can be enjoyed all on their own. Similarly, God’s recipe for each of us also includes blessings, provided solely for our pleasure—all on their own.

But then there’s that vanilla. So awful by itself; so transforming when combined with the rest of the ingredients.

I see that vanilla as representative of the distasteful and bitter experiences God allows in our lives. Without them, we’d end up as bland and good-for-nothing as vanilla-less chocolate chip cookies.

Every person, every situation God allows into our lives has the potential to make us like Jesus. Even the bitter ones. No, especially the bitter ones. It’s those uncomfortable, challenging relationships and situations that transform us the most. For example:

  • Would Joseph have been as prepared to be second-in-command under Pharaoh—without being sold into slavery or thrown into prison? Probably not. He learned invaluable lessons about organization and leadership while overseeing Potiphar’s household. Those skills only increased while Joseph was incarcerated and given responsibility for all that was done in the prison.
  • Would David the shepherd boy have become the greatest king of Israel? Undoubtedly, his perseverance and faith grew strong as he struggled through fifteen years of waiting—and hiding in caves from Saul.
  • Would Paul’s ministry have been as effective to the persecuted Christians of the first century, if he himself had not been exposed to great suffering?

It’s true. Just a teaspoon of trouble can create great benefit. Trials offer us opportunities for:

  • Growing spiritually and emotionally
  • Ministering to others with understanding and empathy
  • Developing a closer relationship with God
  • Preparing for a God-ordained change-of-direction in life
  • Praising, as God engineers circumstances beyond our dreams

However.

We must be willing participants.

Perhaps our prayer could be based on Ephesians 3:20, a verse often quoted to give us hope for blessing. But this scripture also offers great hope for the good accomplished through difficulty:

“All glory to God,

who is able,

through his mighty power

at work within us,

to accomplish infinitely more

than we might ask or think.”

Just as a bit of acrid vanilla works wonders in the cookie dough,…

God uses the bitter moments to work wonders in our lives.

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Heavenly Father, I praise you for your infinite wisdom. You know exactly what to allow into my life to achieve your ultimate purpose. I thank you for the blessings but also for the trials. May I be a willing participant, like Joseph, David, and Paul. And may I become strong and resilient as they were—for your honor and glory. Amen.

(Photo credit:  www.thehealthyfoodblog.wordpress.com.)

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The fabric of our family;

slowly woven by the Master Weaver 

upon the warp and woof of each day.

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Just two colors in the beginning— 

Steve’s blue, and my yellow– 

our favorite colors.

Then came the addition of three children

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with threads of 

energizing orange 

as they romped through the house,

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invigorating green 

as they quickly progressed 

through the stages of development,

and excitable red

as arguments erupted! 

But calm colors were also interwoven 

among the bright:

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soft gray for security, 

rich brown for stability, 

and luminous white for the Light 

of Jesus, our Savior. 

Threads of respect and responsibility 

appeared throughout; 

Challenge and trouble, 

hopes and dreams, too.

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Each thread faith-strengthened 

And reinforced with love. 

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Not easily rended, 

but repaired here and there with forgiveness, 

embellished with the embroidery of laughter,

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and scattered with a patchwork of

familiar, soft-hued memories.

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As Mother’s Day approaches 

I celebrate 

the fabric of family 

that is fabulously, uniquely ours.

And I thank God that

“He gives the childless woman a family, 

making her a happy mother.

Praise the LORD!”

(Psalm 113:9, NLT)

(Tapestry art credit:  www.etsy.com.)

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