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Archive for July, 2015

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On my right hand I wear a ring–just a small ruby solitaire, set in a narrow gold band with a bit of delicate embellishment on either side.

I’ve owned the ring since I was a young teen—a long time ago! Yet the ring is even older than I am, passing its one hundredth birthday back in 2004.

The original owner was my grandmother. Great Grandpa and Grandma gave her the ring in 1904, on her fourteenth birthday. On my fourteenth birthday, she surprised me by passing the ring on to me.

All these decades since, the presence of that little band continually reminds me of her—a kind, soft-spoken woman of deep strength and enduring faith. (I wrote about her a couple of years ago. You can access that post–“The God of Rachel, Clara, and Henry, Part 1”– here.)

Perhaps you, too, own a cherished possession that may not appear significant to others, but is highly valuable to you. In fact, you treasure it.

On a much grander scale, God treasures you. You are dearly beloved and precious to him.

Oh, no, some will say. Not me. I’m not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to be highly valued.

That’s not what scripture says:

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(“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors.  And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ,the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

God paid a very high price with the precious blood of his own Son, in order to make you his treasured possession. Evidently goodness, smarts, and talent have nothing to with it (Ephesians 2:8-9)!

And God doesn’t view you as ordinary, anymore than I consider my ruby ring ordinary.

Here are several indicators of the high value he places on you:

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  • You are precious and honored in God’s sight simply because he loves you (Isaiah 43:4). Just as God went to great lengths to bring his precious children of Israel out of captivity, so he has gone to great lengths to bring you into his family.
  • He is constantly thinking about you (Psalm 139:17)–preparing for your welfare, providing for your needs, guiding and guarding until it is time for your final journey to heaven.
  • He blesses you with all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). It is not the material stuff of the outer life that satisfies; it is the wealth of spiritual blessings of the inner life. God offers: forgiveness of sin, freedom from guilt, peace of mind, joy of heart, wisdom, comfort and strength—to name a few.
  • God has prepared for you an eternity of absolute bliss (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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Think of it. God Almighty sees and appreciates your value, your beauty.

He speaks affirmation and restoration to your soul through his Word (Psalm 19:7).

He listens with wrapt attention when you call to him (Psalm 145:18).

He enfolds you in his wings of protection and comfort (Psalm 36:7).

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He is with you, for you, and in you.

Accept it, embrace it. Send your roots down deep into the truth:

You. Are. Highly. Cherished.

(Photo and art credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.winterpastfinally.blogspot.com; http://www.faithgateway.com; http://www.thelovelyscribe.com.

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Music.

It has the power to thrill our hearts, calm our fears, and strengthen our resolve.

Music energizes, encourages, and inspires. It even augments our connection to God.

So it’s no wonder that, in the Bible:

  • There are more than 400 references to singing.
  • There are fifty direct commands to sing.
  • The longest book is a collection of songs.

It would seem that music is important to God.  In fact, God himself sings.

 

GOD SINGS

David proclaimed,

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(“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble

and surround me with songs of deliverance — Psalm 32:7”)

 Granted, we may not hear an actual melody, but the power of his Word sings comfort, hope, and strength into our spirits., much as we can “sing high praises” of someone, without a tune.

The sons of Korah, who were temple musicians, composed Psalm 42. In verse eight they state, “At night his song is with me.” Job also spoke of God “who gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10).  In other words, even when we face dark circumstances, God gives his song of help, salvation, and deliverance.

One more affirmation that God sings is found in this uplifting verse from Zephaniah:

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(“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love,

he will rejoice over you with singing”–3:17.)

His songs can inspire courage, like a rousing march.  His songs can be like sweet lullabies, expressing peace and love.  And they can be joyful and upbeat, expressing delight in who we are becoming.

The power of God’s songs is in his attributes expressed.

 

NATURE SINGS

An anonymous psalmist wrote:

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“All the earth bows down to you, [God]; they sing praise to you,

they sing praise to your name–Psalm 66:4.”)

Other scriptures offer more specificity:

  • Trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:33).
  • Meadows, flocks, valleys, and grain shout for joy and sing (Psalm 66:13).
  • Birds of the air sing among the branches (Psalm 104:12).
  • The heavens sing for joy (Isaiah 44:23).
  • Mountains burst into song (Isaiah 49:13).

Did you notice a theme? All creation sings for joy to their Maker.

Perhaps the biblical poets were speaking metaphorically, giving musical voices to creation where none really exist (except for the birds, of course). However, is it not possible that a choral symphony is wafting on the wind–it’s just that our human ears cannot hear that particular range of decibels? (Just like we can’t hear a dog whistle.)

Imagine:

  • Trees providing sweeping arias
  • Meadows and valleys echoing the refrain
  • Birds creating the grace notes
  • The heavens resounding in a mighty chorus of melody and harmonies
  • The mountains booming deep, rich bass notes

The power of nature’s song may very well be ringing around us this very moment.

 

WE SING

 

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Praise God he has given us the ability to sing also. What a precious gift to fuse melody, harmonies, and rhythm that augment the meaning of our words—sometimes even supersede the necessity of words—as we express our praise, gratitude, devotion and love to God.

But what if we can’t sing or play an instrument? What then?

Meet Antonio, a lover of music who lived long ago. Imagine his bitter disappointment as he grew from boyhood to youth and realized he would never sing or play an instrument well.

But a wise friend told him, “There are many ways to make music. What matters is the song in the heart.” That friend happened to be a violin-maker. And because of his influence, Antonio was encouraged to become a violin-maker himself. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Antonio Stradivarius?

We would all do well to remember his friend’s wise words:

What matters is the song in our hearts.

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“Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything,

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Ephesians 5:19-20)

The power of our songs is to touch God’s heart.

(Art & photo credits:  www.dreamstime.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.cards.ccojubilee.org; http://www.etsy.com; http://www.christianitymalaysia.com; www,denisehighes.com.)

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One evening last week, before a sweltering heat wave arrived, I parked on the back deck to read. The sun had dropped behind the old oak tree to the west. Shadows danced and flickered on leaf, grass and flower; a few birds added soft background chatter.

All of a sudden I had company. A butterfly joined me, landing gracefully on my knee. I don’t remember ever being visited up-close-and-personal by a butterfly. I studied him in wonder.

Orange stripes and white splotches stood out against black and chocolate-brown wings. Along the feathery perimeter, white scallops created a fluted edge.

But what astounded me most were his antennae. Tiny black and white stripes encircled each one. And the tips appeared dipped in fluorescent yellow paint.

I didn’t dare move, anxious to prolong the magical moment as long as possible, to enjoy his presence and inspect him further.

His markings were remarkably symmetrical, and I wondered if, while in the cocoon, butterfly wings grow folded in such a way to produce the effect—much like folded-paper ink blots. (I did check online, but found no answer to this specific question. Do you happen to know?)

I  even studied the vein lines—dozens and dozens of them—some large and pronounced, others barely visible. They, too, appeared symmetrical.

For the duration of his visit, the butterfly remained quite still. I found myself stilled, too, enveloped in a sweet interlude of peace.

Twice my new friend winked his wings at me. “Good evening,” I imagined him saying. “Isn’t our Creator God amazing? ‘In wisdom he made us all. We are both marvelously made!’”*

Oh, yes. This butterfly was marvelously made alright. Stunning, actually. And I felt the beauty of the Lord upon me (Psalm 90:17)—his favor and splendor–as one of his loveliest, most graceful creatures honored me with his presence.

I was also reminded:

  • A butterfly visitation is a God-visitation, as his eternal power and divine nature are magnificently displayed (Romans 1:20).
  • God is a Master Artist. How awe-inspiring to discover such minute details as tiny, even stripes on an insect’s antennae.
  • Just as I delighted in the butterfly’s presence, God offers supreme delight to those who bask in his presence (Psalm 16:11).
  • God’s presence also offers calm and peace, not only for a moment but forever (Isaiah 26:3).
  • God’s blessings sometimes come in surprising, unexpected ways. He even provides unnecessary blessings—like butterfly landings–just because he loves us.

All too soon my delicate visitor departed. But the delight lingers, because a God-visitation is not quickly forgotten.

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He has caused his wonders to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and compassionate.

–Psalm 111:4

Later, on the internet I found this picture, a member of the same family as my winged friend. His kind are known as Red Admirals.  Can you see those tiny stripes?

 

Red Admiral Butterfly

 

What experience in nature lingers in your mind as a God-visitation? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

*Psalm 104:24b; 139:14

 

(Photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.allaboutgod.net; http://www.goodpixgallery.com.)

 

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In one scene of What’s Up Doc? (an old screwball comedy from 1972, starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal), a hotel concierge wants the gruff house detective to stop a particular woman from leaving the hotel.

“And how am I supposed to do that?” inquires the detective with much sarcasm.

“Use your charm,” replies the concierge.

So when the woman enters the lobby and heads for the doors, the detective…

…trips the unsuspecting victim, causing her to sprawl most unladylike on the floor.

Charming indeed.

I dare say some of us are as lost as that clueless detective when it comes to such an illusive quality as charm. Just what is it that makes a person charming?

One important quality, for sure, is respect.

And it happens to be a biblical concept:

“Show proper respect to everyone.”

(1 Peter 2:17)

M-m-m. Everyone. Not just the people at church on a Sunday morning, or at the meeting with the boss on Monday—but with family, and those with whom we have little in common, and even those we don’t particularly like.

But how do we demonstrate such over-arching respect?

Here are ten possibilities. (And while you’re reading, consider:  Which of these strategies, when administered to you, have made you feel especially respected?)

  1. Politeness – even at home. Be on the alert for rudeness, sarcasm, and inconsiderate comments or behavior. Even family members deserve to be treated politely. Make home a haven of kindness.
  1. Tact.  Perhaps your mother was like mine, offering the frequent reminder, “THINK before you speak.” It was wise advice.

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  1. Gratitude.  Never let an opportunity pass by to say “thank you” for the least of favors or the smallest of gifts. Try to be a person who notices.
  1. Thoughtfulness — demonstrates that you value the other person. Let the Golden Rule be your guide.
  1. Compliments — especially in the hearing of others. Plant a lot of positive input into the people around you, and make their souls blossom.

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  1. Focused Listening—with eyes as well as ears. Even if you can recite his last sentence word for word, but your eyes were on the door, on the kids, or on a screen (as in TV, computer, iPhone, etc.) he will assume you’re not interested.
  1. Reliability.  Keep promises and commitments; be on time for appointments or engagements. Consideration of these matters indicates you truly care about the other person.

Respect also requires that we avoid certain behaviors:

  1. Avoid comparisons to others. Suggesting that Jake be more like Zeke is deflating and demoralizing, not helpful.
  1. Avoid criticism unless absolutely necessary. Share judgments carefully, sandwiched between positive and affirming comments. NEVER criticize in front of others.

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  1. Avoid making corrections, especially in the company of others. Does it really matter if an event happened on Tuesday, not Wednesday, or that the car was a Ford and not a Chevy? Interrupting with unimportant corrections borders on rudeness. Yes, it does.

I’ve heard some people say, “If So-and-So wants respect, she needs to earn it.”

In my younger years, I made similar remarks, too. I wish I’d known better.

The truth of the matter is:

“The way we treat others is more about who we are,

not who they are.”

(Source unknown)

Perhaps the above list can be our guide.

So! Did you agree wholeheartedly with one or more of these evidences of respect–because you’ve been treated that way, and felt valued as a result? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.wpclipart.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.quotescover.som.)

 

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Tuesday afternoon, our older son, Eric, held up his iPhone so I could see the screen. On display was an unimpressive image of a sphere, various shades of beige to brown against a black background. Not much of an attention-grabber.

“What am I looking at?” I inquired.

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“Get ready to be amazed,” he teased. “It’s Pluto.  The New Horizons spacecraft just arrived there after a 9 ½-year flight, and sent this photo back to NASA.”

First, I was impressed by how far the spacecraft had traveled: over three billion miles. Even at thousands of miles per hour, it took New Horizons almost a decade to reach Pluto.  Incredible.

Then I noticed how well-lit the dwarf planet appeared, considering its distance from the sun (3.6 billion miles).  Also astounding.

And I marveled how a tiny sphere of rock that far-distant, is still controlled by the sun’s strong gravitational pull, keeping it in orbit within the solar system. In fact, there are even more dwarf planets beyond Pluto that are maintained in a stable, elliptical orbit around the sun.

It’s no wonder David proclaimed:

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“The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

–Psalm 19:1

We’d be smart to consider the heavens with David.  Our attention is so often focused on to-do lists, calendars, and bank accounts, we forget we’re just specks in the cosmos. Even Planet Earth is less than a tiny pinhead of matter, when compared to the universe.

Yet we view the sun as playing a supporting role in our lives, giving us light and keeping us warm. In fact, the sun is the star (pun intended!) of the Solar System Show. It occupies center stage, and accounts for 99.8% of the mass in our planetary system.

In actuality, the sun is the most important influence to our existence. It is perfect in size, perfectly distanced from earth, burning at the perfect temperature and brightness in order to sustain life here on our little planet.

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Yet another sun is even more perfect.   “The Lord is a sun” (Psalm 84:11).

Just as the physical sun is a glorious object in creation, so our God is glorious in light and splendor (Psalm 104:1-2).

The sun has existed since time began, and will continue to exist until time (as we know it) ceases. God, too, spans all of time (Isaiah 40:28).

The sun is a source of incomprehensible power. To produce the same amount of energy as the sun, 100 billion tons of dynamite would have to be detonated every second! Yet our God is more powerful yet. He is the Creator of our mighty sun, the sovereign Lord of the universe (Jeremiah 32:17).

The sun provides light; the Lord provides the light of his presence and understanding (Psalm 44:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6).

The sun provides warmth; our God provides the warmth of comfort and consolation (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Without the warmth and light of the sun we would soon die. Without the Light of Life (Jesus) in our lives, we would forfeit eternal life (1 John 1:5-7).

The sun’s glowing beams shed beauty and joy; our God sheds beauty and joy into our hearts (Isaiah 61:3).

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Father of the heavenly lights, for illuminating our lives from without and within.  We praise you for your dazzling splendor!  May we walk in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, and reflect his radiance to those around us.

 James 1:17; Malachi 4:2, 1 Corinthians 3:18

(Photo credits:  www.earthsky.org; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.suddenlinkfyi.com; http://www.allposters.com.)

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Benjamin Franklin was the thirteenth child of a humble soap-and-candle maker. Obviously, no family fortune provided him easy success in life. Neither did a stellar performance in school that would lead to scholarships. His formal education lasted all of two years, from ages eight to ten. Yet Ben became:

  • a respected publisher
  • the country’s first millionaire
  • a world-famous scientist
  • an influential voice as the thirteen colonies fought for independence and established a nation
  • a distinguished diplomat in Europe

No wonder Franklin was proclaimed a self-made man. But there are other factors, outside his control, that contributed to his success, including:

INTELLIGENCE

His varied accomplishments as writer, statesman, and diplomat prove his sharp intellect.

CHARACTER

Ben was  curious and skeptical–useful attributes for a scientist. His astuteness, sense of humor, and ability to communicate served him well as publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac. And all of these traits came into play when Franklin participated in the forming of our nation.

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TEMPERAMENT

Surely Ben was an energetic and passionate individual. He was always in pursuit of something—things like:

  • Solving problems. Numerous inventions credited to Franklin grew out of need. For example, his desire to create more heat in his home led to his invention of the wood stove.
  • Acquiring new knowledge. Ben attempted his well-known key-and-kite experiment because of his curiosity about lightning.
  • Improving the lives of his fellow colonists. Franklin wrote, met with other delegates, sought the help of France, and more, in America’s struggle to gain independence from England. In 1789, at age 84, he was still writing and working. His cause? The abolition of slavery in America.

OPPORTUNITY

Franklin was often in the right place at the right time. One example: through his connections in the publishing industry of Philadelphia, Ben secured a contract to print the colony’s paper money.

Seems that Ben’s success had much to do with factors outside his control. These elements just mentioned–intelligence, character, temperament, and opportunity–came from God. In fact, for all of us, “Our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

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In reality, the idea of a self-made man/woman is myth. No one is truly self-sufficient.

On the other hand, God has ordained work and effort. From beginning to end, scripture proclaims the value of industry. In Genesis 2:15 we see God placing Adam in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

So how do we balance working with our God-given abilities and depending on God?

  1. Pray.  Thank God for the gifts he has given us.  Then prayerfully seek to determine what God is doing and cooperate with him. If we are earnest in this desire, he’ll make each step clear. As seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, used to say: God does not play hide-and-seek in the trees with his will.
  1. Nourish.  The effectiveness of our giftedness requires preparation and inspiration. Preparation includes study and practical experience. (Even a talented pianist must take lessons and practice.) Preparation includes nourishing the spirit, too, with study of scripture and practical experience of worship and service. Inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit as he works within us.
  1. Embrace.   Embrace the teaching of wise, godly leaders. Embrace the help of others. Keep in mind that self-sufficiency is not a praiseworthy quality; it’s a form of pride. The person who thinks he knows everything and needs no input, or who is too proud to ask for help, is someone to be pitied, not celebrated.

As dependents upon God, we are meant to work. As workers, we are meant to be dependent upon God.

And…

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(“The God of heaven will give us success”–Nehemiah 2:20)

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I praise you, Father, for being my all-sufficient God, Someone I can trust completely for guidance, direction, and training. Help me find that balance between working for you and depending on you. May I not neglect preparation, but also look to you for inspiration.  And may I be a humble, grateful recipient of help.  Amen.  

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Years ago, friends of my parents decided to name their second son after a family member: Glenn Allen. But as the little guy began to demonstrate his extrovert personality (with humor and lots of energy!), they chose to legally have his name changed. Glenn just didn’t fit the bouncy, talkative toddler he had become.

Glenn Allen became Peter Glenn. But then someone in the family started calling him Breezy, for the way he merrily careened through life. And that’s the name that stuck.

Just as Breezy’s parents desired a personality-defining name, Old Testament patriarchs called God by new names as his personality, as well as his power, were revealed to them.

For example, Abraham was the first to call God, Jehovah-jireh (the Lord Will Provide), when God produced the ram to take the place of Isaac on the altar (Genesis 22).

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Hagar, a servant girl in Abraham’s household, was the first to call God, El Roi (the God Who Sees), when she fled to the desert (Genesis 16).

Other names given by Old Testament personalities include:

  • Jehovah Nissi (the Lord Is My Banner), proclaimed by Moses after the defeat of the wicked Amalekites (Exodus 17).
  • Jehovah Shalom (The Lord Is Peace), declared by Gideon as God prepared him to defeat Israel’s enemy, the Midianites (Judges 6).
  • Jehovah Raah (The Lord my Shepherd), given by David in Psalm 23.

I wonder, dare we create new names for God—names that indicate those moments when our understanding of him was enriched? For example:

  • El Pele (The God Who Surprises)

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Last summer, shortly after moving into our new house, we headed out to purchase tools and supplies. Our neighbor happened to be in her yard, and we stopped to introduce ourselves. In the conversation Steve mentioned an electrical problem we were experiencing that required a trip to Home Depot.

“Well, be sure to ask for Bill*,” she said. “That’s my husband and he just happens to work in the electrical department there.”

Sure enough, Bill was able to help us purchase what we needed. He even stopped by when his shift ended to work on our circuit breakers.

  • El Naphash (The God of Catharsis)

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How often has God sent encouragement, exactly when needed, or provided respite and refreshment during a stressful time?

Years ago one Sunday morning, I sat in church with Kleenex pressed to my cheeks.  The tears would not stop.  In two weeks we would be sitting in a new church, in a new community, where my pastor-husband had been assigned by our denomination.  Soon our five years with this congregation on the Florida Gulf Coast would only be memories.  It seemed much too soon to say good-bye.

After church, Garry and Cindy approached us.

“Listen,” Garry explained.  “I just won a weekend getaway at one of the hotels out on the beach, and we want you two to have it.”

After a bit of “Oh-no-we-couldn’t-possibly” and “Yes, we insist,” Steve and I consented.  I worried that the packing and long to-do list wouldn’t be completed on time; Steve thought we were on track.  (Turned out, we were!)

For two blissful days we forgot about boxes and focused on beach walks, shell gathering, and sunsets over the Gulf.  We returned home refreshed and reenergized to finish the tasks at hand.

Through Garry and Cindy, God provided the stress-relief we desperately needed.

  • El Neshamah (The God of Ideas) 

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Numerous times over the years I’ve needed ideas for: 1) teaching concepts to my elementary students, 2) communicating truths to Sunday School classes or Bible study groups, or 3) a fresh perspective in a blog post.  Numerous times God has supplied.

Sometimes I hear or read some little snippet, and God turns that spark into an idea.

One Sunday, not long ago, the worship leader used three words within the same prayer: salvation, restoration, and transformation.   For the next day or two I collected more  ____-tion words, thinking they might be expanded into a post somehow. The result? “Oh God,” published June 18.

Praise God he is always revealing himself in fresh, new ways, inspiring greater trust in him and informing us more fully of his character and provision.

*     *     *     *     *   *     *     *     *     *

To our God of Never-Ending Glory: Thank you for your love and faithfulness expressed in countless ways. You are holy and magnificent, yet you crown us with goodness and compassion, blessing and honor.  You care about every aspect of our lives.  For these reasons and more, we praise your glorious name(s)!

What new name would you declare for God, based on your experiences with him?  Share your contribution in the Comment section below!

*Name changed.

(Art & photo credits:  www.growingyourbaby.com; http://www.lds.org; http://www.dailytech.com; http://www.floridaescape.com; http://www.633woman.com.)

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