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Archive for March, 2016

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“Haste makes waste,” Benjamin Franklin wisely observed. And most of us would agree. When we hurry, we spill things, drop things, forget things, trip over things.

But Ben’s proverb may be true in a way he never intended.

Haste makes waste of the beauty around us, the joy and goodness to be found in the present moment.

 If we’re not careful, we rush right by such priceless splendors as:

  • Tiny leaves courageously reaching for sun in spite of snow

 

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  • Evergreens encrusted with raindrop jewels

 

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  • The first butterfly of spring (‘Just spotted one like this yesterday!)

 

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  • An impromptu hug from family member or friend

 

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  • A wisp of a bug living between flower bud and leaf

 

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(See it?  On the left side of the bud!)

  • A child’s giddy grin, wreathed in chocolate

 

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But how do we become people who live aware—vigilantly watchful for beauty, goodness, and joy?

Ann Voskamp would say: begin a list of wonders. Many of you know she challenged herself to live aware and record One Thousand Gifts (the title of her book about the quest and its impact on her life). Somehow the act of collecting and writing helps us become more intentional.

Spring is the perfect time to practice living with joyful awareness.

Have you noticed the greening of the landscape, beginning at ground level with the grass, and working skyward through bush and shrub? The largest trees will be the last to unfurl their leaves in a grand display of emerald luxuriance.

 

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Perhaps even more glorious is the splendor of the magnolia, dogwood, and redbud in full bloom. Their individual beauty can only be surpassed when clustered together.

 

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And of course, the blooming of flowers, the songs of birds and the scampering of squirrels give us much to savor.

But beautiful or joyful as these may be, what’s the value of paying attention to such details?

Heightened awareness of all these gifts (and more) fosters gratitude.   And gratitude positively impacts the way we see the world and experience life.

Of course, appreciation in itself is rather meaningless. How silly to say “thank you” to the air. No, gratitude must be expressed to someone. And all we have, all we enjoy, is due to the loving kindness of a singular Someone—our benevolent Father.

When we express our thankfulness to him, we’re ushered into his presence.  Yes, right into the throne room of Almighty God.

Now you may have been wondering as you skimmed this post, When is she going to get to the part about “How to Be Rich—Today?” (That was the title, in case you missed it!)

Here’s what we can do:

Focus on what we already have, not on what we lack.

 

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“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

You see?  We’re already rich.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Thank you, God, for countless, precious blessings every day—blessings that make me smile or gaze in awe at the wonders you’ve created. May your praise always be on my lips, as I seek to live aware of your bounty around me. And may my gratitude bring joy to your heart also.

 

(Art & Photo Credits:  www.amazon.com; http://www.tulipsinthewoods.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.scalar.usc.edu; http://www.hookedonthebook.com; Nancy Ruegg; ww.pixabay.com; http://www.freebigpictures.com; http://www.pinerest.com (2).

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Yes, the title is a bit of word play, generated by the discovery of this quote:

 

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(“Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books.

Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.”

–St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

M-m-m. Spiritual lessons in the woods are relatively easy to extrapolate.  The Bible offers several inspiring metaphors/similes from trees (1).

But stones—lifeless, drab stones? What can we learn from them?

 

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So began my query into stones, and a bit of research turned up the following:

There are at least 120 different sub-categories of rocks, within the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic groupings. Another thirty-one types make up a group of their own, not fitting those three common categories.  One website stated there are over 700 varieties of igneous rocks alone.

Geologists and rock collectors will tell you:

There is delight in diversity.

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(Beach stones washed in the surf of Lake Huron

near Kincardine, Ontario)

 

That goes for people, too, doesn’t it. A planet inhabited by identical beings would be painfully boring.

But even similar, ordinary stones can generate interest. For example, take this little pebble:

 

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Rather dull and ordinary, right?

But what if you put it with numerous, similar stones? What then?

 

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We discover that:

Many ordinary stones together can provide breathtaking beauty.

Within the church that truth applies to people. Regular folks become remarkable as we join together and serve under the power of God. Someone put it this way:

When a river sings, it is thanks to the stones.

 

 

Now some stones appear dull and plain on the outside. The casual observer passes them by. But the trained eye detects a hint of the splendor within.   And when such a rock is split open, a colorful, gleaming wonder is revealed.

 

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(An agate)

You have to open up some stones to discover their treasures.

Agates of a different nature are all around us—in our neighbors, coworkers, church acquaintances, etc. What if we reached out with a friendly question or two and gave them opportunity to open up? Perhaps gleaming treasure awaits.

Beauty in stone can occur in other ways, too.  For example:

A stone in the hand of a master sculptor becomes a new creation.

 The genius of Michelangelo gives us a glimpse of such transformation. Out of nondescript marble he chiseled exquisite, life-like statues.

 

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(Madonna from the Pieta)

 

Praise God that even dull, ordinary people of stone can become works of art when we give ourselves over to him.

God, our Rock, is Lord of stones. 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

I praise you, oh God, for being a Rock of constancy, stability, and protection. You graciously build us into a spiritual house—individually and corporately– where the Holy Spirit can reside.  As “living stones,” we too become everlasting and durable, united together with the One Living Stone, your Son, Jesus (1 Peter 2:5).

 

(1) For metaphors/similes of trees, see Psalm 1:3, 52:8, and 92:12; Jeremiah 17:8; Micah 4:4.

 

Photo Credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.free-pictures-photos.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.freephotosbank.com; http://www.hdwallpapers.com; http://www.bhmpics.com; http://www.d.umn.edu; http://www.italianrenaissance.org.

 

 

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“Matt* and Loren* are coming to visit the weekend after next. Would you be able to join us for dinner that Saturday night?” I asked, Dave*, the worship leader of our church.

I had just arrived at ensemble practice.  Dave was already there organizing music.

“Yeah, I’ll come. It’ll be great to catch up with them.” Matt and Loren were mutual friends who had moved away.

“We’ll probably eat around six, but come early—say five? That’ll give us more time to chat,” I added.

Dave whipped a pen off the piano and wrote a note to himself—on his hand.

I had to smile. Dave was/is one of the most creative, musically talented young men I’ve ever met. Not only is he a concert-trained pianist, he’s a composer with a gift for turning artful melodies into worship.

But in those days, he would have been the first to tell you that keeping track of details or appointments was a challenge; thus the notes-on-the-hand habit. If the commitment was right there in front of him, he’d most likely remember to put it on his calendar later. The message wouldn’t be forgotten amidst all the ideas and musical themes racing through his head.

I know someone else who writes information on the palm of his hand. The information is your name and mine. The someone? Our Heavenly Father.

 

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(“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

–Isaiah 49:16 NIV)

Of course, this assurance was addressed to the people of Israel, but it’s applicable to each of us, because: 1) those of us who believe in Jesus have been adopted into Abraham’s family (Galatians 3:6-9), and 2) God does not lose sight of the individual within the multitude (Luke 3:3-7).

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

–St. Augustine

But don’t think of God’s love as perfunctory or pity-driven.

You are a treasure to your Heavenly Father—the delight of his heart (Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 149:4).

 

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You and I are constantly in his thoughts (Psalm 139 17-18).

And the imagery of our names engraved (cut, carved, or etched) on his palms brings to mind several important truths:

  1. God cannot and will not forget us or abandon us.
  1. His omniscient knowledge doesn’t just include our names, but also who we are—our personalities, dreams, circumstances, strengths and weaknesses—everything about us—is on his mind.
  1. Our images engraved on God’s palms represent an incredible role reversal. In ancient times, slaves bore the brand mark of their masters. But our Master has sacrificially submitted himself to inscribe our names on his palms.
  1. The image represents who we are becoming in God’s view, which is undoubtedly different from ours. “Reality is not what we see; reality is what God sees” (Biblical Illustrator). And that reality is perfection.

 

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(“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever

those who are being made holy.”

–Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

 

Of course, that one sacrifice was Jesus, who bled and died on a cross so we might be made right with God and receive the gift of eternal life.

As a result, Isaiah 49:16 (about our names written on God’s palms)  has taken on new meaning:

 

“See, I have engraved you—in blood—on the palms of my hands.”

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *

I praise you, Heavenly Father, that it is totally impossible for you to forget your own.  How humbling to realize I am engraved on your hands—hands that withstood the nails for me. But gratitude alone is terribly insufficient.

I want your name, Lord, engraved on my palms, so I might become that perfected reality you already see.

 

*Names have been changed.

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com (3)

 

 

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What might have been uppermost in Jesus’ mind the morning after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Surely his thoughts were already swirling around the inevitable suffering just days away.   Perhaps the emotional anguish that peaked in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-44) was already starting to build.

How did he maintain the presence of mind to continue teaching his disciples and the crowds, telling parables, and answering the religious leaders’ trick questions?

 

Scene 07/53 Exterior Galilee Riverside; Jesus (DIOGO MORCALDO) is going to die and tells Peter (DARWIN SHAW) and the other disciples this not the end.

 

Then, as the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, and the horrors of the crucifixion took place, how did he endure, much less maintain his calm and resolute demeanor?

The writer to the Hebrews reveals at least part of the answer: Jesus kept his focus on “the joy set before him” (12:2).

What might that joy have included?

  • Returning to heaven. No doubt he could vividly see in his mind the splendor and bliss of his home that he’d given up some thirty-three years before.
  • Returning to his Father. Jesus looked forward to being glorified with God, reveling in the glory he had enjoyed with the Father before the world began (John 17:5).

 

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  • Commanding angels, authorities and powers subjected to him (1 Peter 3:22). This privilege was not a self-aggrandizing end in itself. It was a means of aiding and rescuing his people–us (Acts 5:31).
  • Becoming our mediator and saving us from the natural consequence of our sin: eternal death (Hebrews 7:25).
  • Offering glory to God for the work he had faithfully and perfectly completed on earth (John 17:4).

These joys were set before Jesus. They provided sublime assurance of what was to come.

These joys helped to sustain him through horrific agony—agony that was swallowed up in anticipated and certain victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).

 

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We, too, can fix our attention on the joy set before us. And just what do we have to look forward to?

  • Discovering heaven as our splendorous, blissful home.
  • Residing in the realm of our perfect Heavenly Father, the King of the universe.
  • Ruling with Jesus, at the right hand of God, as joint heirs of the kingdom (Romans 8:17, Revelation 20:6).
  • Offering glory and honor to the Lord (Revelation 4:11). I imagine a grand choir made up of all of us–millions of voices, singing heart-stirring melodies with intricate harmonies.  I see our arms raised toward the throne, reaching out in holy reverence toward our awesome King.

Years ago, a talented singer named Helen Lemmel (1863-1961) enjoyed the fulfilling life of a concert soloist, sharing her faith through song in many churches throughout the Midwest. For a number of years Helen ministered with evangelist, Billy Sunday, singing and song-writing for his crusades. (She composed over 500 poems and hymns in her lifetime.)

Suddenly in midlife Helen began to go blind, her husband left her, and other heartaches enveloped her as well. Through it all, however, the singer/composer maintained her faith and joy—all ninety-seven years of her life.

One of her best-known songs, perhaps, is “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (1918), written in the midst of her trials. You might recognize the chorus:

 

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(“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”)

 

Peace, determination, and strength result from focus—focus that’s riveted on Jesus and the joy set before us.

 

(Photo credits:  www.truthforfree.com; http://www.biblepic.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.slideplayer.com.)

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(a personal psalm)

 

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(I will praise you;

for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:

marvelous are your works;

and that my soul knows right well.

–Psalm 139:14, King James Bible 2000)

 

I do praise you, oh God, for the breathtaking wonder of the human body.

You put together trillions of cells that perform a multitude of functions in one harmonious whole.

 

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As each of us was formed in our mothers’ wombs, you carefully engineered the transformation of cells into:

  • blood vessels—an estimated 60,000 miles of them.
  • more than 600 individual skeletal muscles. Two hundred of them are required for just one step—an indication of the complexity of the muscular system.
  • organs, including the liver. Scientists have discovered five hundred functions for this highly important body part that we rarely think about.
  • The heart–strong and reliable enough to beat more than 2.5 billion times over an average lifespan.

Within each cell nucleus is the DNA double helix, just 80 billionths of an inch long, yet “comprised of chemical bases arranged in approximately 3 billion precise sequences. Even the DNA molecule for a single-celled bacterium,  E. coli, contains enough information to fill all the books in any of the world’s largest libraries.”*

 

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(Model of the DNA double-helix)

 

Once this amazing organism called “human” begins functioning, you, oh God, orchestrate more wonder:

  • Nerve impulses travel to and from the brain at 170 miles per hour.
  • Noses (in conjunction with the brain) begin cataloging up to 50,000 scents.
  • The heart pumps the equivalent of 2,000 gallons of blood through the vessels every day.
  • The blood circulates through the body three times every minute.
  • Cell replacement must occur frequently.  Approximately 25 million new cells are being produced every second.

 

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Yet the wonder continues. You’ve given us the power to think and reason.

  • All the grooves or wrinkles in the brain provide more surface area, which equates to more processing power within the small confines of the skull.
  • The brain is surrounded in fluid that acts like a cushion in case of impact, and as a barrier in case of disease.
  • More than 100,000 chemical reactions occur in the brain every second.
  • The brain contains billions of neurons that send electrical and chemical messages to the body. If all the neurons were lined up end to end, they’d stretch 600 miles.
  • And for each neuron there are 1000 to 10, 000 synapses.

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But you, oh God, weren’t finished yet! You created within each of us wonderful and unique abilities. Just among our family you’ve designed a (n):

  • imaginative artist,
  • caring school psychologist,
  • attention-holding preacher,
  • passionate psychiatrist,
  • self-taught tech wizard, and
  • talented graphics designer

 

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(2010 — Shame on us for not having

a more recent photo of the whole family!)

 

How glorious to contemplate, O Lord, the breathtaking wonder of how we’re made. Hearts keep pumping, lungs keep breathing, nerve impulses keep sending messages–without a single voluntary thought. Our brains are capable of learning and storing an enormous amount of information. And everything works together in perfect unity.

I cannot begin to fathom your creativity, expert engineering, and attention to detail. Even if we were identical robots, we would have to stand in awe of your holy genius.

But you have made each person unique, designed to fulfill a specific purpose.

May I live close to you in order to be transformed day by day into the one you designed me to be.

 

*www.allaboutscience.org

Other sources: www.facts.randomhistory.com; www.health.howstuffowrks.com; www.icantseeyou.typepad.com, www.medindia.net; www.nursingassistantcentral.com; http://www.sciencekids.co.nz

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.tr.wikipedia.org; http://www.superteachertools.us; http://www.pinterest.com; Nancy Ruegg

 

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Ever try sleeping on a rock pillow? I, for one, can’t imagine actually falling asleep on such a hard surface.

The only person I know who had to try was Jacob of the Bible. (The story of that night is found in Genesis 28:10-22. It was also the subject of a previous post, which you can access here: Surely God Is in This Place.)

 

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The scene above of Jacob resting on his rock pillow provides a worthwhile image for a Spurgeon quote I encountered recently:

 

“Use the Lord’s words as your pillows.

Lie down and [rest] in Him.”

 

Indeed, resting on the rock-solid assurances of God’s Word is wise advice, fostering peace within our spirits.

Just reciting scripture can provide effective comfort.

A good place to start? In the book of Beginnings. This example comes from Jacob himself:

 

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“Let us go up to Bethel where I will build an altar to God,

who answered me in the day of my distress

and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

–Genesis 35:3 (NIV)

 

Notice this excerpt is seven chapters and many years past the “rock pillow” event. Jacob is no longer a young man; he’s seventy-seven as he embarks for Bethel. And during those intervening years, Jacob has experienced many days of distress as he:

  • ran away from home (Genesis 27-28),
  • worked for his Uncle Laban who took advantage of him (chapter 29 and 31:7), and then
  • set out on his own through enemy territory to return to Bethel, the home of his father, Isaac (chapters 35).

But in the verse quoted above, Jacob recognizes that through all those challenges, God demonstrated his favor, because with the Lord’s presence comes his guidance, provision, and protection.

I, too, have experienced distressing days. Who hasn’t?

But God has been with me through them all—circumstances such as these:

  • When my husband’s boss caused turmoil for us week after week,
  • When we received the unwelcome news (five times) that we were being moved to another church*, and
  • When pressure from certain administrators and parents caused ongoing stress at school (during my twenty-six years in the elementary classroom).

Yet now, looking back, I see that in each situation God was teaching me patience, perseverance, and reliance upon him. In fact, some distressing experiences were undoubtedly designed specifically to accomplish those benefits.

From the advantage of hindsight, I can see the pathway God prepared, to get us/me through those stressful days, and how he richly blessed on the other side.

As Charles Udall observed:

 

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(“In life you will always be faced with a series of

God-ordained opportunities

brilliantly disguised as problems and challenges.”)

 

I wish I could say that through all of life’s challenges I’ve rested completely on pillows of promise and statements of faith. That wouldn’t be true. But I know that scripture-promises, prayer, and faith-statements have made a positive difference. And the strength of my faith did grow through each experience.

Notice Mr. Udall says we’ll always face challenges. I can give in to the distress of that fact or choose to rest on the pillow of promise that God is preparing me for what lies ahead as well as preparing the way through it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

I praise you, Father, for being an all-knowing God.  No event catches you by surprise; you know every challenge I may yet face. Like Jacob, I think back upon stressful days of the past and affirm your comforting presence, attentive provision, and wise guidance through it all. May I be mindful to rest on your rock-solid pillows of promise from this day forward.

Art & photo credits:  www.keyway.ca; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

 

*For those who may not know, my husband was a pastor for forty years.

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(Based on the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-24)

 

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Eliab plodded to the top of a familiar rise.  Just ahead he could see the flat rooftop of his ancestral home. Eliab’s heart began to drum in his ears, his face grew hot with shame, and sweat trickled down his back. Soon Eliab would face his father.

As he watched his feet take one step after another, thoughts circled around one question:

What would his father say?

Perhaps, “Get out of my sight! I no longer have two sons, only one.”

Perhaps, “Alright, Eliab, you may work in the fields and barn to pay back your debt. You may also sleep in the barn and take your meals with the other hired hands. Such flagrant waste of your inheritance must be recompensed.”

Eliab would soon know the response that would determine his fate.  He looked up once again to check his progress.  A man was running toward him down the road. What would cause him to be in such a hurry?

No sooner had the question formed in his mind than he recognized the bearing of the approaching figure. It was his father. Eliab’s knees grew weak, and not just from hunger. He collapsed to the ground in a heap, tears streaming down his face.

Quick steps approached; strong arms lifted Eliab up and grasped him in a tight embrace. He heard his father cry, “Oh, Eliab!” And together they wept.

 

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Moments passed and Eliab steeled himself for the speech he had prepared during his long journey.

“Father,” he choked, “I’ve sinned against God and I’ve sinned before you. I know I can no longer be considered your son, but…”

Eliab’s father wasn’t even listening. He turned to call out to his servants, “Get a clean set of clothes and new sandals. Bring the family signet ring. Then prepare the grain-fed heifer for roasting.   We are going to have the grandest celebration our village has ever seen! My son that was as good as dead to me is alive again!”

And with that, Eliab, caretaker of pigs, was lavishly honored because his father:

  • Forgave him for being so foolish, squandering his inheritance.
  • Restored his position in the family, symbolized by the specific request of shoes. (Family members wore shoes; slaves did not.)
  • Clothed him in fresh, clean robes.
  • Honored him with the signet ring, a symbol of authority.
  • Loved him, pure and simple.

 

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Now I’ve never been a caretaker of pigs. You probably haven’t been either. But I’ve certainly committed my own foolish acts of selfish rebellion. Maybe you have, too.

And yet, when we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, he

  • Forgives our sins and remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
  • Adopts us into his family, making us his children (John 1:12-13).
  • Clothes us in the righteousness of Jesus (Isaiah 61:10), and God sees us as if we had never sinned (Colossians 1:21-22).
  • Honors us (Psalm 91:15)—with his presence and countless gifts. Someday we’ll receive a crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).
  • Loves us, pure and simple, for now and always (Jeremiah 31:33).

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

How I thank you, Heavenly Father, for taking pity on me, as the father did in the story of the prodigal son.  You redeemed my life from the pig sty.  You forgive my sins–every one of them.  You have more than satisfied me with your goodness and faithful love.  Never do I want to lose the wonder of your love and grace!

(Psalm 103:1-5, 13)

Eliab means “to whom God is Father.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.childrenschapel.org; http://www.ncregister.som; http://www.susaneball.com; http://www.spiritualinspiration.tumblr.com.)

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