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Archive for November, 2017

 

 

“Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth to Bethlehem,

because he belonged to the house and line of David.

He went there to register with Mary,

who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

–Luke 2:4-5 excerpts, NIV

 

The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about eighty-five miles. Can you imagine walking that far, nine months pregnant? I can’t. Even if Mary rode on a donkey, she’d have been jostled and swayed from side to side. How comfortable would that have been? I think I’d rather walk.

And yet, in spite of Mary’s unremitting discomfort and Joseph’s growing concern, the couple surely traveled the road to Bethlehem with great hope in their hearts. Her firstborn would soon enter the world—a Child like no other. The angel, Gabriel, had made it clear to both of them: Mary would bear a son, the promised Messiah, and he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Sure enough, Mary delivered the child while they were in Bethlehem, the exact birthplace identified by the prophet Micah (5:2), centuries before the event.

 

 

That same night shepherds cowered in the grass as blinding light pierced the darkness and a startling figure appeared—an angel. Fear quickly gave way to wonder, however, as the shepherds heard the astounding announcement. The Messiah had finally been born, not in the Holy City of Jerusalem as one might expect, but just a stone’s throw away in their own little village.

Soon the shepherds were also traveling a road to Bethlehem. But this was undoubtedly no midnight stroll; they may have even tried to outrun each other. And the exuberant joy that propelled them was accompanied by confident faith in their hearts. They knew the angel’s message had come from the Lord (Luke 2:15).

 

 

Many miles to the east wise men took note of a special star and shortly thereafter set out upon their own long road to Bethlehem. It’s possible they followed the star westward for two years, in order to worship the Messiah and present him with precious treasure: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   Theirs was a road of generosity.

And now it’s our turn to travel the road to Bethlehem—a figurative one. With Thanksgiving behind us, we journey toward December 25, the final destination after a month-long celebration of our Savior’s birth.

Like Mary and Joseph we can travel with hope because our Heavenly Father is a God of his Word, who loves, encourages, strengthens, and more (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

 

 

Like the shepherds, we can embrace the truth of our Savior’s birth and all its implications for an abundant, God-enhanced life now and unending euphoria in heaven yet to come (John 10:10, 1 John 5:11-13).

Last, like the wise men, we can follow the road of generosity, not only with presents for family and friends or contributions to ministries and charities, but also with such gifts as:

  • A smile for the harried store clerk,
  • Focused attention on the toddler who wants to sing “Rudolph,”
  • A listening ear for the elderly lady at the grocery store,
  • Cheerful patience while waiting in line at the post office, and
  • The benefit of the doubt—for everyone.

Best of all, our road to Bethlehem extends beyond December 25—into eternity—where hope will be culminated, faith will become sight, and generosity will be rewarded (1 Peter 1:3-4; Hebrews 11:1; Ephesians 6:8).

 

 

The road may seem long at times.   But the destination will be rapturously worth it.

______________________________

Your turn:

Of course these three–hope, faith, and generosity–aren’t the only roads to Bethlehem.  There are many, including the familiar roads of love, joy and peace.  What road (s) will you travel this Advent season?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.slideplayer.com; http://www.pexels.com.)

 

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“You prepare a table before me, 

In the presence of my enemies.” 

–Psalm 23:5

 

You, oh God, are my Host at the table of life!

 

 

You have prepared for me a veritable buffet of experiences and opportunities. Some have been delicious and delightful, created (it seemed) solely for my enjoyment—events such as close encounters with birds or butterflies, an afternoon of laughter and reminiscing with old friends, or a spontaneous hug from a toddler.

Other experiences you’ve prepared because they were good for me: challenges, changes, and uncertainties.   You wanted to build stronger character within me and grow maturity in my spirit.

Sometimes I’ve wondered what you were serving! Forgive me for saying so, but occasionally you’ve created circumstances that seemed as distasteful as dill pickles, cream cheese, and corned beef.  (That combination sounded awful when I was first introduced to it.)  But just as I discovered how delicious Piggles* are, I’ve learned the superiority of your plan–to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

 

Another observation:  some of the dishes being served aren’t just good for me, but for others at the table—especially the younger ones. Take Brussel sprouts, for example. If the children see me eating my portion, perhaps they’ll be inspired to eat theirs too. In like fashion, as a participant at the table of life, you allow me to join with you in fulfilling larger, far-reaching purposes–way beyond Brussel sprouts.

Even when enemies such as trial or pain try to swoop in and spoil the celebration, I can rejoice because you are with me, to strengthen and uphold. You’ve given me your Word, where I can feast on your attributes and promises. By your power, those enemies will be held at bay—outside the banquet room.

And on this Thanksgiving Day, when many a cook prays his/her feast will turn out perfectly, I praise you that everything you prepare for me is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4).

 

 

Thank you Jehovah-Jireh, my Provider, for your faithfulness and goodness in my life.

May the happy thanks-giving of your people provide happy thanks-receiving for you.

_________________________________

*The name, Piggles, was created the night a bunch of us made pigs of ourselves on this pickle appetizer/snack.

 

(Revised and reblogged from November 26, 2015.)

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.heartlight.org.)

 

 

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In March of this year I began a new journal, A Celebration of Small Things, in an effort to become more aware of God’s daily gifts.  But after discovering the quotes below it became clear: my gratitude list is missing whole categories of blessings.

See what you think of these statements.  (Note that with each quote I’ve included my own prayer-response and a corresponding scripture.)

 

QUOTE #1

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Just be thankful you have a glass!

—Jack Wellman

 

You’ve given me a beautiful glass, Father—a life overflowing with loving family and friends, days filled with purpose and pleasure, surprise blessings that satisfy my heart with joy. The words “thank you” seem trivial for such gracious gifts.

 

 

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

Psalm 92:4 NIV

 

QUOTE #2

Give thanks for ‘all things’ for, as it has been well said,

‘Our disappointments are but his appointments.’

—A.W. Pink

 

I thank you, Father, for the doors of opportunity you’ve closed, the challenging moves to new communities you’ve ordained, and the wishes of my heart you’ve withheld. Each disappointment I know was for my benefit and your glory. Thank you for hindsight to understand in part, and the promise that one day I’ll understand in totality.

 

 

“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

John 13:7 NIV

 

QUOTE #3 

“I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before;

second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life;

third, although they took my all, it was not much;

and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.

—Matthew Henry,

on the night he was robbed

 

Thank you, Father, for Henry’s example of grateful positivity. No doubt he lifted his own spirit with such a prayer, and I can imagine your smile of approval as well. When trouble assaults my life, may I be as grateful and positive as Matthew Henry.

 

 

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

 

QUOTE #4

There’s one thing for which you can be thankful—

only you and God have all the facts about yourself.

—Dub Nance

 

Oh, Lord, thank you for being a God who delights to show mercy, lavishes compassionate forgiveness, and understands well my frailty. Thank you also for molding me day by day into the image of Christ—in spite of my shortcomings (Micah 7:18b; Psalm 103:12-14, and 2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

 

“But God is so rich in mercy that,

on account of His great love with which He loved us,

He made us who were dead in trespasses,

alive in unison with Christ.”

Ephesians 2:4-5, Berkeley Version

 

QUOTE #5

The best things are nearest:

breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes,

flowers at your feet, duties at your hand,

the path of God just before you.

—Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Oh, yes, Father. Thank you for numerous “best things” close at hand such as: a spontaneous hug, the chortling giggles of a grand baby, a carnival of birds frolicking in the backyard trees (at least six species at once), and savory chicken/sausage soup—made by Steve—for a bleak and blustery day.

 

 

“Rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you and your house.”

Deuteronomy 26:11 (emphasis added)

 

Indeed, ALL the good. Thank you, Father, for bringing to mind these new blessings to count.

 

And now, precious readers, which quote especially caught your attention? I’d love to hear about it. Please share your choice and thoughts below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.publicdomainpictures.com; http://www.godswordimages.com; http://www.flickr.com.)

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The time:  1892

The place:  Spindletop, Texas.

A group of five investors formed the Gladys City Oil Company.  Sulphur springs in the area gave them great hope that black gold lay beneath the surface, especially since gas seepages in the area would ignite if lit.

Soon the area was dotted with holes–holes that produced nothing.  Two investors pulled out.

A geologist was brought in.  More investors were convinced to take the risk.

Nine long, unproductive years went by, and  still no oil. That’s 3,285 days of discouragement, disappointment, and exhausting labor.  Yet those men would not give up.

Finally, on January 10, 1901, their long-held dreams were realized.  At the depth of 1,139 feet, the company struck oil.  And it wasn’t just a gurgling flow.  The discovery at Spindletop gave new meaning to the term, “gusher.”  The oil shot over one hundred feet into the air, spewing enough to fill 100,000 barrels a day.  It took nine days to get the well under control.  No oil field in the world, up to that time, had been so productive.

 

Lucas_gusher

 

I wonder what those men said to each other each morning, over those 3,000-plus days of working, learning, waiting, and wondering?  Surely their conversations included some positive uplift, or they would have quit.  Perhaps they made such comments as:

  • “If we don’t find oil, at least we can say we gave the effort everything we’ve got.  If we quit before all possibilities are tried?   That‘s failure.”
  • “All the signs indicate there is oil.  We cant quit!
  • “Today might be the day!”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Just as oil is sometimes discovered by accident, so God’s blessings fall into our laps as glorious surprises. Other times,  God chooses to postpone a blessing while we dig our way through learning, working, waiting, and wondering–like the oil men of Spindletop, Texas.

How do we press on when circumstances look bleak, when common sense tells us to quit?

1.  Pray!  The key to knowing when to persevere and when to change direction is to spend time with God.  Ask him to make clear what the next step is.  Most likely he will not reveal the whole plan at once.  He rarely works that way, because it eliminates the faith factor.  Our moment-by-moment trust in him is too crucial to the abundant living he desires for us.

 

 

2.  Believe!  Dozens of promises in scripture probably apply to your situation and mine.  We can recite those promises–not as demands (“God, you said this, so I’m expecting you to do it.”) but as faith-builders.  (“God, you said this, and I know with you all things are possible.”)

 

 

3.  Fight!  Fight against discouragement with plenty of encouragement.  God is very creative in the ways he brings hope to our spirits.  We must keep watching and listening!

 

 

A friend or even a stranger can speak uplifting words that resonate in our hearts.  Sometimes it’s as if God is speaking directly. One sign for me, that someone is speaking for God?  Goosebumps!  I can almost feel his light touch on my arm and his voice saying, “Pay attention to this, Nancy.”

Our God is a well of unending supply.  Whatever we need in this life, including wisdom, direction, and perseverance toward a goal, he will provide.  In fact, he will do whatever it takes for his praying, believing, fighting children to discover the oil of gladness, instead of mourning (over failure), a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

That’s one way our loving, supportive Heavenly Father displays his splendor (Isaiah 61:3).

 

 

(Revised and reblogged from February 13, 2014.)

 

Photo credits:  www.en.wikipedia.org; Art4TheGlryOfGod on http://www.flickr.com (2), http://www.pinterest.com;  http://www.pinterest.com.au.)

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A lot of people in our area woke up with great anticipation yesterday morning.  A local Christian radio station began playing Christmas music. Every year they jumpstart the season with carols and holiday songs, drawing attention to Jesus’ momentous birth.

 

 

Actually, 93.3 FM Cincinnati is not the only entity to begin the celebration in November. Have you seen the first Christmas commercial yet? The first store decorations? The eggnog in the grocery dairy section?

Even as Thanksgiving barely comes into view we welcome this season of well-loved customs, heightened joy, and delightful anticipation. But many of us will also experience exhaustion and frustration. We overextend ourselves in order to provide…what? A Norman Rockwell Christmas presented by Martha Stewart?  (I’ve certainly been guilty of striving for that.)

 

 

Author and friend, Jody Collins, has a better idea.

In her book, Living the Season Well, she suggests: simplify and savor.

 

 

Simplify the to-do list; savor the wonder.

And then she offers creative, common sense ideas for doing just that.

Her book is not a prescription, as in, “Here’s what you need to do in order to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.” Instead, Jody presents a buffet of possibilities and recommends we start small, start now with those ideas that stir our interest and seem doable.

For example, call a family meeting to discuss setting limits this year.  You might decide to:

  • Hang fewer lights–maybe even no lights–on the front of the house.
  • Purchase a pre-cut Christmas tree nearby instead of at the U-Cut lot miles out-of-town.
  • Brainstorm ways the children can help, such as stuffing and stamping the Christmas cards.

 

 

Such changes will make more room for “Finding the Heart of Christmas” (the title of Jody’s introduction).

Possibilities include:

  • Adjust our views (and the views of our children) about giving and receiving presents.  After all, she reminds us, “it’s not the presents but his presence that matters (p. 109).”
  • Turn off the screens—phones, tablets, televisions, and computers–for an hour each day in December. Savor the quiet; cuddle up with a good Christmas book to enjoy as a family. Jody lists worthy titles to choose from.
  • Mark the weeks before Christmas with an Advent wreath. Jody gives basic instructions, but also includes a list of resources, especially helpful if this custom is not part of your tradition.

 

 

Another of Jody’s recommendations: Slow down the celebration. Instead of the huge climax of December 25, followed by an equally huge let-down the next day, ease through the descent by observing Twelvetide—from December 25 to January 5. Jody offers delightful ideas for “savoring the moments” as the Christmas season wanes.

In just over one hundred pages, Jody takes us from Thanksgiving to Epiphany, showing us how to “tune our hearts to look for Jesus throughout the Christmas season, as we intentionally hold a space for him to come” (pp. 29-30).

Her suggestions lead the way to a Christmas of more joy and less busyness, more delight and less stress.

Sounds awfully good to me.

 

(Living the Season Well is available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.  Check out Jody’s blog, too, at www.jodyleecollins.com for more of her faith/life discoveries. You won’t be disappointed!)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pexels.com; http://www.flickr.com;  http://www.amazon.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.geograph.org.uk.

 

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But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

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