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Archive for February, 2017

You Are

(A personal psalm)

 

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God of the boundless universe,

Your oceans roil and churn across wide expanses of the earth

To depths greater than the height of Mt. Everest.

Your sun explodes with firestorms,

Spewing plumes of flame thousands of miles upward.

A mere handful of 100 billion stars form the Milky Way–

Just one of your millions of galaxies.

You are a God of awesome, infinite power.

 

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God of perfect wisdom,

You know all truth and comprehend all things.

You possess the ability to always choose the best.

Your wisdom is righteous, impartial, and sincere–

Not just a function of your all-knowing, precise mind–

But guided by a heart of purity, understanding, and compassion.

Your wisdom is always active, never-failing, and full of mercy.

You are the all-wise God–far beyond human comprehension.

 

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God of mercy and compassion,

Your persistent love pursues us, longing to bring us home.

Your selfless love engulfs us, bestowing forgiveness and grace.

Your generous love endows us, lavishing immeasurable treasure.

Your changeless love is not based on our performance.

Your attentive love does not leave us to struggle alone.

“Your perfect love perseveres until it perfects.”*

You are a God of incredibly active love.

 

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God of glorious resplendence,

You illuminate our way through life,

Dispelling the darkness of fear.

You send forth your enlightenment and truth to guide,

Diffusing the fog of uncertainty.

You provide the radiance of your presence,

Instilling a sense of well-being and peace within our spirits.

You are a God of transforming light.

 

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God of bountiful blessing,

Every good and perfect gift comes from you—

From cloudless skies to life-giving rain,

From hearth-fires in winter to fireflies in summer,

From treasured memories of yesterday to anticipated hopes for tomorrow.

From rousing sunrise to restful sunset,

Each day overflows with abundant pleasures.

You are a God of extravagant goodness.

 

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You are a God transcendent above all imaginings or hope!

 

Sources of inspiration included:

  • Stanza #2—James 3:17; Job 28:12-13.
  • Stanza # 3—Luke 15:11-27; Romans 8:38-39; Deuteronomy 31:8; *Philip Yancey, Grace Notes, Zondervan, 2009, p. 242.
  • Stanza #4—Psalm 89:15; 27:1; 76:4; 43:3.
  • Stanza #5—James 1:17; Psalm 31:19.

Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.dailybibleme.com; http://www.dayofgrace.me; http://www.wikimedia.com; pixabay.com.

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If there were a Museum of Faith, and artifacts from earliest times still existed, the heroes of Hebrews 11:4-12 would surely be represented. On display we might find:

 

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  • Rocks from Abel’s altar, where God proclaimed him a righteous man.
  • Enoch’s walking stick, left behind when he strolled with God one day and ended up in heaven.
  • Part of Noah’s ark, which he spent at least 100 years building before God’s promise of rain (and protection for Noah’s family) was fulfilled.
  • Abraham’s tent, in which he lived while traveling to a place God had chosen, though Abraham did not know where he was going.
  • Isaac’s swaddling clothes, reminders of his miraculous birth to elderly parents, twenty-five years after God first promised his arrival.

 

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Then we come to verse 13.

 

“All these people were still living by faith when they died.

They did not receive the things promised;

they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,

admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth”

(NIV, italics added).

 

What was the writer of Hebrews referring to? What things did these heroes of faith not receive that God had promised?

They did not see fulfillment of the most important promises: the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, his glorious resurrection, and all the blessings and privileges he provides. (All the way back in the Garden of Eden, God foretold that One would come to defeat Satan—Genesis 3:15).

 

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If the great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews did not receive things promised, I’d be wise to prepare myself for the same.

What should I do when promises are not being fulfilled? Below are five possibilities:

 

  1. Consider that the roadblock might be me.

Many promises come with conditions. If I’m not willing to comply, how can I expect the promise to be fulfilled? Philippians 4:6-7 offers a good example. If I want to receive God’s promise of peace, I need to be praying with a grateful heart.

 

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  1. Consider that the time is not right.

More than a few biblical heroes endured long waits for their promises to come to pass: Abraham for his son, Joseph for his position of leadership, the Israelites for their promised land, David for his kingship, and devout Jews like Simeon and Anna for their Messiah—to name a few.

I must remember that God is always at work carrying out his plan (Isaiah 46:11b). My work is to trust, pray, and wait.

 

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  1. While trusting, praying, and waiting for one promise, I can celebrate those already kept.

 Dozens of promises have been fulfilled in my life already. At the appropriate time God has provided:

  • Wisdom for difficult decisions (James 1:5)
  • Peace in the midst of challenging circumstances (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • Provision in miraculous ways (Philippians 4:19)
  • Purpose (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Strength to push through weariness (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • Help in all sorts of situations (Isaiah 41:13)

 

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Praise for what God has already done is a powerful weapon against discouragement.

  1. God’s ways aren’t my ways.

If God has not fulfilled a particular promise, he has good reason. What I desire may not be for my ultimate good or for the good of others.

Surely Paul had to wonder sometimes why God allowed him to be imprisoned in Rome for two years. Perhaps he recited from the psalms:

 

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“’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name…

…I will deliver him and honor him.”’

–Psalm 91:14-15 NIV

 

Paul had every right to claim this promise. His love for Jesus was passionate, and he acknowledged his Savior’s name everywhere he went. But God did not rescue Paul. No angel came to deliver Paul, as had happened to Peter.

As a result, we are beneficiaries of Paul’s letters, containing priceless teaching from the heart of God: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon–all written from his prison cell in Rome.

 

  1. Fulfillment may come after I’m gone.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not see their descendants become as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5).  But the promise was kept centuries later, because there is no stopping the perfectly wise, precisely timed will of God.

 

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“From him and through him and for him are all things”

(including the fulfillment or unfulfillment of his promises).

“To him be the glory forever!”

–Romans 11:36 NIV (parenthetical comment added)

 

What helps you cope with unfulfilled promises from God?  Please share in the comment section below.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.biblewalks.com; http://www.pinterest (5); http://www.thefellowshipsite.org; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

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Cookie Ingredients Bake Cookies Christmas Time Bake

 

Lena was baking Christmas cookies when she realized her wedding ring was missing.

The family searched everywhere. No ring. Lena, of course, was heartsick. She had designed the ring herself—a band of white gold with seven small diamonds.

Years later when they renovated the kitchen and took up the old floor tile, the family again searched carefully. Still no ring.

One morning Lena was harvesting carrots from her garden when she pulled up a surprise. The carrot in her hand wore her wedding ring.

Lena surmised the ring had fallen into a pile of vegetable peelings in the kitchen sink and become part of their compost heap—sixteen years previously.

 

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Petunia, an American Staffordshire terrier, somehow escaped her family’s Virginia farm in 2003. In spite of a vigilant search, they were not able to find their pet.

Imagine the family’s surprise, eight years later, to receive a phone call that their dog had been located. The woman who found Petunia took her to a vet who scanned her microchip and discovered the address of Petunia’s family. However, getting her home was a bit complicated. Petunia had wandered 3,000 miles—all the way to California.

 

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(Petunia)

 

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(A scenic spot in Mark Twain National Forest)

 

In early May of 2009, three-year old Joshua Childers decided to take a hike in Mark Twain National Forest, not far from his home in southeastern Missouri. He was wearing sneakers, a T-shirt, and a pull-up diaper. It wasn’t long before Joshua was lost.

Joshua’s family notified authorities and for 52 heart-in-the-throat hours dozens of searchers combed through the underbrush, worried every moment the toddler would succumb to exposure in the wet and chilly weather, fall over a cliff or into a creek, or be attacked by mountain lion, bear, or snake. There were so many dangers to which a three-year old would be susceptible. And, of course, he had no food or water.

 

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(Southern Copperhead, one of five poisonous species in Missouri.)

 

After two days, searchers were beginning to lose hope of finding the boy alive. Finally one of the volunteers spotted Joshua huddled in a hollow near a creek bed. He wasn’t moving. The volunteer feared the worst but called out to the boy. Joshua sat up and grinned.

 

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Such stories receive much attention on social media, some even make it to the national news. Everybody loves a lost-and-found story. We find them satisfying, uplifting, and even resonating deep within our souls.

Why is that?

First, the impact of such stories is magnified by the importance of the lost items. If Lena’s ring had been costume jewelry, if Petunia had been a plastic toy dog or Joshua had been a doll, we would hardly react.

Second, we marvel at the odds. A ring found on a carrot? A dog found 3,000 miles away from home? A toddler found unharmed in a damp and chilly forest after 52 hours? The feel-good endorphins kick in when we hear such news.

Jesus told his own lost-and-found stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

 

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(The Prodigal Son by Charles Joseph Lecointe)

 

The sheep was lost because he foolishly left the watchful care of the shepherd and went his own way. The coin was lost through no fault of its own. And the prodigal son willfully lost his way in life through self-centered pursuits.

Each story illustrates: It doesn’t matter to God how we got lost; every one of us is important to him. He longs to restore us to the place where we belong: in his care and keeping.

And that brings us to the third reason we like lost-and-found stories.

We were programmed to be found, and to experience a happy ending—at home in heaven—where we’ll find secure safety, joy beyond imagination, and everlasting peace.

 

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(“Our hearts were made for you, O Lord,

and they are restless until they rest in you”

–St. Augustine.)

 

That’s why Jesus came—to find each of us and restore us to our Heavenly Father, because we were lost (Luke 19:10). And just like Lena who polished her soil-encrusted wedding band until it shone, Jesus makes us new, shining like stars (Philippians 2:15).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, O God, that my soul has found rest in you. You are my rock of stability and fortress of protection; You are my salvation from all that would destroy me (Psalm 62:1-2).

“And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I’ll recognize the sound of your voice” (Psalm 119:176, MSG).

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.littlethings.com; http://www.motleydogs.com; http://www.fs.usda.gov; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimediacommons.org; http://www.pinterest.com.

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

In the predawn hours of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls’ experienced hands gripped the ship’s wheel of the Planter, though his heart was pounding. Ahead were five checkpoints along the Charleston River, and then the open sea. Within a few hours he and the fifteen others onboard would be free from slavery.

Or, failing to succeed, they would be sinking the ship, jumping overboard and perishing together. They had already decided: being captured was not an option.

Smalls prayed aloud, for the benefit of his crew and passengers: “Lord, we entrust ourselves into thy hands. Like thou didst for the Israelites in Egypt, please stand over us to our promised land of freedom” (1).

The first checkpoint came into view, its lanterns gleaming gold against the dark night. Even though the sentries would not be able to see him clearly, Smalls had taken the precaution of wearing the captain’s coat and straw hat. He even assumed his captain’s posture. And when Smalls gave the correct whistle signal, they allowed him to pass without question.

Robert whispered another prayer, this time of gratitude and praise. He marveled how God had engineered events to bring him to this moment:

  • At age twelve, Smalls’ master, Mr. McKee of Beaufort, South Carolina, had rented him to an employer in Charleston. Smalls had worked in the city ever since, as waiter, lamplighter, and then wharf hand.
  • Currently he was employed as wheel hand aboard the Confederate supply ship, Planter, under command of Captain Ripley. His circumstances had allowed him to learn how to sail and how to make the correct whistle signals at checkpoints.
  • The captain and white crew members frequently spent their nights in Charleston, not on the ship. This night was one of them.

 

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(Charleston street scene by Matthew Brady)

 

  • Smalls enjoyed good rapport with the other ship-hand slaves of the Planter. Without them, this daring getaway would have been impossible.
  • The opportunity for escape presented itself when a pre-dawn mission was scheduled for May 13. Smalls’ 3:30 a.m. departure, although earlier than actually scheduled, did not alert the harbor guards.
  • Smalls had time to notify his wife and children that he would pick them up at a prearranged wharf nearby, prior to the first checkpoint.

A small pinpoint of pale light appeared ahead. Checkpoint Two. Again, the Planter slid by without incident as Smalls signaled to those on shore. Three, four, and five also allowed them to pass.

By sunrise they were sailing into safe Union waters. Upon sighting the first vessel of the Union blockade, Smalls took down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white sheet—just in time before Onward sailors began to fire at the Confederate vessel.

His plan had worked; the little band onboard had escaped to freedom. No doubt their shouts of celebration included, “Thank you, Jesus!”

Smalls surprised the captain of Onward with his knowledge of Rebel fortifications and their locations. Also of value: a book of secret flag signals used by the Confederates, and a full cargo of armaments.

It wasn’t long before Smalls had joined the war effort for the Union, helping to enlist Black men to fight. Nearly 5,000 former slaves fought courageously for the North.

For his part, Smalls became the Union Navy captain for the CSS Planter, the ship he had sailed to freedom. He also captained the ironclad, USS Keokuk.

 

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(The USS Keokuk)

 

Smalls led Union ships into waters the Confederacy had protected with mines—mines that Small had helped to plant while enslaved in Charleston. Soldiers deactivated the mines, opening those passageways to Union vessels.

Smalls courageously conducted seventeen missions in and around Charleston, which included assisting in the destruction of railroad bridges in the harbor area.

After the war, Smalls and his family returned to Beaufort, South Carolina. He was awarded the rank of Major General of the South Carolina Militia during Reconstruction, and turned his attention to business, education, and finally, politics.  He opened a general store and started a newspaper. He helped establish the first school built for African-American children in Beaufort County.

 

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From 1869 to 1889 Smalls served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature, and five terms in the U.S. Congress. Referring to his political service, one commentator said, “His record was brilliant, consistent, and indeed he led in all the most prominent measures” (2).

One story in particular highlights Smalls’ Christ-like attitude that impacted his entire life:

 

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(The McKee/Smalls House in Beaufort, SC)

 

He eventually acquired enough wealth to purchase the house in Beaufort where he and his mother had been slaves of the McKee family. Sometime after Smalls and his family moved in, Mrs. McKee came to the door. By this time she was elderly and perhaps suffering from dementia. She thought the house still belonged to her.

The natural inclination would have been to send her away or have her delivered to her current home. But that was not Robert Smalls’ way. He invited Mrs. McKee inside, gave back to the woman her old bedroom, and then served her.

Robert Smalls died in 1915 at age 76, and was buried with great honors.

In 2001 a Logistics Support Vessel was launched with his name, the Major General Robert Smalls. It was the first ship named for an African-American.  A worthy honoree, indeed.

 

Notes:

(1) Boone, Bishop Wellington, Black Self-Genocide, p. 165.

(2) http://www.docsouth.umc.edu/neh/simmon/simmons.html

 

Sources:  Black Self-Genocide by Bishop Wellington Boone, APPTE Publishing, 2016; http://www.biography.com/people/robert-smalls; http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/138685.aspx; http://www.historynet.com/robertsmalls; http://www.robertsmalls.com; www.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ibiblio.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (4)

 

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