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Archive for July, 2017

 

 

“The hills are clothed with gladness,” King David proclaimed (Psalm 65:12b).

 

I couldn’t agree more. Even on the little hillside of our backyard viewed from my perch on the deck, I see much gladness. And observations of the gladness lead to worship.

 

Sun glints through the trees creating a spotlight effect on some branches and turning backlit leaves into glowing emeralds. Down by the creek bed foliage is draped in deep, green-black shadow, beckoning wildlife into its cool environs.

 

 

Thank you, Father, for the comfort and cheer of dappled light.

 

 

Air currents waft through the trees causing branches to bob and sway. The long, compound leaves of the black walnut tree swing back and forth like bells joyfully ringing on the breeze. And flowers appear to wave jauntily to their Maker.

 

 

Thank you, Father, for the restoration and delight of a cool breeze.

 

Two cardinals take turns serenading amidst the lacy greenery overhead. Robins, house wrens, chickadees, and more add accompaniment; the cicadas provide percussion.

 

 

The hills have certainly burst into song this day (Isaiah 55:12)!

 

Thank you, Father, for the pleasure and solace of bird song.

 

Two small squirrels play tag, spiraling rapidly around a tree five times. When they stop, I wonder, Are they tired or dizzy? And how do they run so fast, even clambering upside down without losing their grip?

 

(Woosh!)

 

Sometimes they jump impossible distances from tree to tree and I catch my breath. Their safety seems in jeopardy, yet the little fellows never fall. God has specially equipped them to handle such feats—just one of a million examples of how he has engineered every plant and animal for survival.

 

 

(“In his hand is the life of every creature.–Job 12:10a)

 

Thank you, Father, for the evidence of your wisdom, power, and influence—even among our backyard squirrels.

 

I’m remembering other animals that have visited less frequently. In the fall, a chubby woodchuck lumbers in the underbrush, fueling up for hibernation. Every now and then we spot a chipmunk or rabbit; sometimes even deer emerge out of the thicket, regal and quiet, to feed and rest in the yard. Our resident raccoon occasionally perches in his hole high up in the hawthorn tree, checking on the weather.

 

 

On summer nights we enjoy a festival of fireflies. Our trees appear decorated for Christmas with hundreds of twinkling lights. Frogs in the creek bed offer the sound track.

 

Thank you, Father, for the fascinating variety of creatures with which you’ve populated the world. “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).

 

 

The sky is full of God’s creatures, too. A small gaggle of Canada geese announce their coming with raucous honking. They’re heading for the pond behind duplexes down the street. Long necks stretch forward; large wings gracefully ply the air.

 

Also skyward, among great banks of cumulus clouds glides a puffy hippo!

 

And sometimes a red-tailed hawk glides in circles above the trees. Landing requires several battings of wings with feathers fanned out and talons extended forward–a lesson in aerodynamics and precision.

 

 

“The heavens declare your glory; the skies proclaim your works” (Psalm 19:1), O God, night and day.

 

Thank you, Father, that all things speak of you—flora and fauna, rock and water, earth and sky.

 

This deck has become a holy, hallowed place where the glory of your creation excites wonder.

 

And woven throughout your works is the mystical and supernatural—to inspire, expand, and enrich our souls for more of you.

 

To that end I seek for my own life the same wisdom, power, and influence I see in your creation. Then I too may reflect your glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

 

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What has compelled you to worship from your deck, porch, or beach towel? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

(Photo credits:  www.guideposts.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

 

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My first teaching job was in a small community southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. Although the school included first through sixth grades, there were only five teachers. Second grade was divided, some students included in first, the rest with third. I was assigned the first/second split.

The first morning of school went by quickly as we read stories, played a few learning games, and completed a class chart of favorite summer activities. Soon it was time to march to the cafeteria for lunch.

The children lined up to receive their plates of food, and then were instructed to pick up napkins, utensils, cartons of milk, and straws – all without benefit of trays. Little hands struggled to hold so many items–much less carry them all without accident.

 

lunch

 

So began my habit of standing at the end of the counter, wrapping utensils and a straw in a napkin, then perching a milk carton on an empty corner of the plate as the students passed by.

One second grader, Ricky, was much too manly to use a straw. Each day he would proclaim, “I don’t need no straw.”

Each day I would patiently correct him: “I don’t need a straw.” Ricky would repeat it again after me.  It almost became a joke between us, as the exchange occurred day after day, month after month.

One noontime in March, while focused on wrapping the next set of flatware, I heard Ricky’s voice proudly proclaim, “I DON’T NEED A STRAW!”

My eyes popped, Ricky’s twinkled, and his broad smile indicated his pleasure in remembering–all by himself–how to correctly form his request.

A quick hug, a few pats on the back, and an “I-am-so-PROUD-of-you!” let him know how I felt.

It never occurred to me to say, “Well, it’s about time, Bud! You DO realize we’ve repeated this little ceremony over one hundred times, don’t you?”

No. This was a moment to celebrate! Our perseverance had paid off. And perhaps this one little grammatical victory would prompt Ricky to conquer the next. I was thrilled.

Do you suppose that’s how God feels when our “practice makes perfect?”

When:

 

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  • Our quiet time with him finally becomes a near-daily habit?
  • We remember to express gratitude and praise to him throughout the day?
  • We’re able to think before we speak more consistently?
  • We forgo some purchase for pleasure in order to supply someone else with necessities?
  • We put aside our agenda to do a favor for someone else?

Yes, I believe God is thrilled with our steps of progress, just as I was with Ricky’s effort. If God withheld his pleasure until we reached perfection, we’d never experience even one good thing (Psalm 84:11). He’d always be in discipline-mode.

But Isaiah tells us: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (30:18).

David reminds us that out of his grace and compassion he guides our steps and takes delight when we follow his way (Psalm 37:23).

Another psalmist proclaimed that the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (147:11).   No mention of delight reserved only for those who are perfect.

Ah, but what about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48:   “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?”

Yes, that is the standard, but God does not disapprove of us because we haven’t achieved that goal.   He knows perfection this side of heaven is impossible. What he does approve of is effort—to press on like Paul to “receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

When we stumble, we keep going. When we fall, we get up and try again.

But listen closely.  You’ll hear God celebrating our progress (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Zephaniah-317-

 

*    *     *     *     *   *     *     *     *     *

 

We praise you, Heavenly Father, for being a gracious, compassionate God,

who is slow to become angry and always abounding in loving-kindness.

Even as we strive to be more like you,

we can rest in the knowledge that you will not condemn us

when we stumble and fall.

Thank you for your readiness to forgive and your everlasting love.  

Thank you for continually drawing us closer to you and your perfection. 

 

(Psalm 103:1-2, Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 31:3).

 

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.grist.org; http://www.neabscobaptist.org; http://www.untilsheflies.com.)

Reblogged from June 15, 2015.

 

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No doubt it’s happened to you too: a shift of life-circumstances occurs in an instant and suddenly your world is shattered. Maybe it’s a job transfer or termination. Maybe it’s the break-up of a long-term relationship or marriage. Maybe it’s an accident or life-altering medical diagnosis.  Your thoughts wrap around the event and its consequences with such ferocity, you can think of nothing else.

We know focusing on “what ifs” and “if only-s” is counter-productive. And as people of faith we know God has our best interests at heart. But we hurt, and we wonder what God is up to.

The next time cataclysmic circumstances overtake me, I want to be better prepared, starting with a new perspective.  I want to view obstacles as opportunities:

 

“What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity?

Our attitude toward it.

Every opportunity has a difficulty,

And every difficulty has an opportunity.”

–J. Sidlow Baxter

(pastor, theologian, author, 1903-1999)

 

The trouble is, attitudes are not easily adjusted. How do we change our perspective? Perhaps such strategies as these will prove helpful:

 

  1. Be intentional about word choices.

We can call our situations opportunities as Reverend Baxter suggests. Challenges are adventures as we live out God’s plan for this circumstance. And we can change the D of Disappointment to an H for His appointment*—an appointment to learn, grow, and mature (James 1:2-4).

 

 

  1. Consider the circumstances from God’s point of view.

According to Charles Spurgeon, what seems a crushing burden to us is a matter of small dust to God. I need to focus on how great he is compared to the smallness of my problem.

 

 

(“Great is our Lord and mighty in power,”

His understanding has no limit.”

–Psalm 147:5)

 

Such scriptures need to be front and center, posted in attention-grabbing places like inside the refrigerator, on the steering wheel, or in the sock drawer.

 

  1. Let purpose impact perspective.

When our daughter was in high school, she joined the track team one spring. Heather never won a single race.  But she didn’t consider herself a loser, because instead of running against the competition, she ran against the clock. Every tenth of a second she shaved off her time, she considered herself a winner.  Her purpose for running was not to become a track star; it was simply to be with friends and get a good work out.  Her purpose impacted her perspective.

 

 

God has purpose in our circumstances—to produce tremendous benefit in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We can choose to embrace his purpose (even though we may not know what it is) and allow it to impact our perspective.

 

  1. Look for the blessings.

 

 

(“When I am in the cellar of affliction

I always look about for the Lord’s choicest wine.”

–Samuel Rutherford–

pastor, theologian, author, 1600-1661)

 

Rutherford wasn’t referring to material blessings, although God certainly bestows those, even in the midst of pain or trouble. The Lord’s “choicest wines” include his peace (Isaiah 26:3) and joy (Psalm 16:11) that defy explanation as difficulties assault.

But, we must look about. Will the blessing arrive through a special scripture or other reading? Perhaps through a song or the comment of a friend? The possibilities are endless because our God is infinitely creative. Our part is to be attentive.

 

  1. Focus on God himself (Isaiah 41:10).

 

 

By his power the whole universe functions as a cohesive whole. Out of his infinite wisdom, every creature is provided for. And because of his loving compassion, every person may enjoy eternal life through his Son, Jesus. God is able to do all things! He will not fail to see us through all our troubles (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

 

 

One of the first explorers to sail around the southern tip of Africa experienced whipping winds and driving rain during that portion of the voyage. He named the area Cape of Storms.

When Vasco de Gama traversed the same promontory in 1497, he renamed it Cape of Good Hope. His focus was not on the turbulent waters under and around his ship but the treasures of India ahead.

 

Vasco de Gama

 

In life, we can focus on the storms of difficulty and pain.   Or, we can center our hearts and minds on the life of good hope Jesus provides here and now, as well as look ahead to the glorious eternity of heaven.

The choice of perspective is ours. Will we choose to view our challenges as obstacles or opportunities?

_____________________________

 

What helps you achieve or maintain a positive perspective when adversity strikes? Please join the conversation in the comment section below!

 

* His Imprint, My Expression, Harvest House Publishers, 1993.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.wikimedia.com (2).

 

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Hurricane Frances, 2004, provided Steve’s and my first experience with that level of storm, even though we’d lived in Florida nearly thirty years. For twelve hours we listened to the roar of the wind and the banging of storm shutters, because Frances did not whoosh through the state, she shuffled.

 

(Note the eye.  That’s just slightly north of where we lived.)

 

Challenges continued after the storm, with a steam bath of heat and humidity compounded by the absence of electrical power for five or six days.

Even so, we celebrated:

  • Minimal damage–a mangled pool enclosure, many missing shingles, and a debris-filled yard. That was it.
  • A neighbor who shared his generator power with us, preserving the food in our refrigerator.
  • Time to rest after the ordeal of preparation; time to read and just be together.

The most memorable moment, perhaps, was the night we lathered up with Off, stood in the backyard, and stared into the cloudless heavens. (Plodding Frances had made a clean sweep of the sky on her way through.)

With the power out all along the coast of South Florida, more stars were visible than I thought possible to see without a telescope. Thousands upon thousands pierced every square inch of sky. Even one arm of the Milky Way spiral was discernible to the west.

 

 

Such an image is a worthy accompaniment to Philippians 2:15, where Paul urges us to be blameless and pure in a crooked and perverted generation, “among whom you shine like stars in the world” (emphasis added).

 

 

Paul surely had plenty of opportunity during his travels to contemplate the night skies. His view of the stars would always have been unencumbered by manmade light. And with all the ancients, he would have known that stars always shine brightest on the darkest nights.

So perhaps one inference we can make from Paul’s shine-like-stars encouragement: The brighter we shimmer with love, joy, and a positive outlook, the more we’ll stand out from those who focus on self, criticism, and negativity.

My thoughts turn toward those of you reading this right now who face dark circumstances in your lives. Every day you endure physical and/or emotional pain, yet you glow! You’re lit up by the Spirit within! And you scatter beams of grace to everyone around you–your family and friends, coworkers and neighbors. We bask in the light of your example and praise God for you.

 

 

Another inference we might make from Philippians 2:15: If only one pin-point star gleamed in the sky, we’d hardly notice. It’s the sheer number of stars that grabs our attention.

 

 

I wonder if Paul wanted us to contemplate the power of numbers. By the time he wrote to the Philippians, Christian churches had been established throughout much of the Roman empire. Today, thirty-seven million Christian churches spread across the globe*, and 2.3 billion people identify themselves as Christians**. That’s nearly one-third of all people on Planet Earth.

God has invited us to be part of a cosmos of believers—as grand as the night sky and awe-inspiring as the stars.

Just as the stars cannot be destroyed, nothing can destroy his church. Members may be persecuted, oppressed, and even murdered for their faith, but the church will not be extinguished (Matthew 16:18).

 

 

For 2000 years, kings, emperors, and dictators have tried. No one has succeeded. There are more believers in Jesus than ever.

True, people may scoff at or even refuse to listen to our words.  But a shining example of star quality is difficult to refute—especially against a dark sky.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Lord God, on any given day I fail to shine like the star you’ve created me to be. I want my words and actions to manifest YOU, to be a glimmer of hope, encouragement, and joy to others. Just as the stars continually gleam in the heavens, I pray for consistency in my life—consistency to rely upon you, my Source of delightful Light.

 

  

* http://www.christianpost.org

**http://www.pewresearch.org

 

Photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.Forestwander.com on wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.dailybiblememe.com; http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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