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Archive for March, 2020

While perusing old photos, I came across this one, taken when our middle granddaughter was a toddler.

 

 

E. loved to be buried under those pillows, then explode out of them like a jack-in-the-box.  She’d stand tall with arms stretched toward the ceiling, and look up at me with triumph—all while giggling with delight.

It occurred to me: what if all those pillows represented our fears about the coronavirus? Our worries for family and friends? Our anxiety about losing income?   Our uncertainty of how long self-isolation might continue? Our apprehensions about the economy and the added debt we’re accruing?

Altogether these concerns may appear to be a heavy, insurmountable burden. But just like E. under her pillows, we can cast off our anxiety, stand tall, and look up in triumph.

How?

We can cast off worry with prayer and gratitude.

When the realization dawns that we’re buried in worry, our best tactic is to follow Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:6-7. You’re probably familiar with these verses already. Now might be a good time for us to post them around the house–even memorize them:

 

 

Did you notice the word thanksgiving sandwiched in the middle there? Now why would God consider that important?

Because gratitude expresses trust in him. It’s an affirmation that God is always at work, bringing hope out of despair, joy out of sadness, and peace out of turmoil (1).

It’s not that gratitude takes away our difficulties, but it does transform us for the better in the midst of them (2).

We can stand tall in Christ’s strength.

Let’s admit it. We’re weak. But the omnipotent One of the universe is our Heavenly Father. And what has he promised? First, he never assigns an overload, and second, his strength equips us for all circumstances (3).

With such firm promises as those to bolster our confidence, we do possess the wherewithal to stand tall.

We can look up in faith.

Way up–to Jesus. And where does he sit? In the highest place, at the right hand of God (4).

He is:

  • Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25)
  • Head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:10)
  • Ruler over all (Colossians 1:17)

 

 

Our circumstances can change overnight. One day we’re free to come and go as we please; the next day we’re self-isolating except to pick up necessities or handle emergencies.

But Jesus is our never-changing Hope. If we habitually make him our focal point, we’ll never walk in the darkness of ignorance and fear (5).

“Worry looks around but faith looks up.

—Barbara Johnson (6)

Years ago, I heard Dr. Howard Hendricks (7) tell about this exchange:

He asked one of his students how he was doing, and the young man replied, “Well, under the circumstances, I suppose I’m doing alright.”

Dr. Hendrick’s response must have caught the student off-guard.

“Under the circumstances? What are you doing under there?”

Those words have stayed with me through the decades, reminding me that under the circumstances—buried beneath fear and apprehensionis not where I belong, as a believer in Jesus, and it’s not where I want to live either. I’m guessing you feel the same.

Let’s determine to put our energy into casting off our burdens with prayer and gratitude, standing tall in Christ’s strength, and looking up consistently with faith.

 

 

And then let’s add a flourish of joy—just like E. with her squeals and giggles as the pillows tumbled.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I praise you, O God, for the joy of your comforting presence, your residing power enabling us to persevere, your hope-filled promises, and the joy that results from contemplating your magnificence. Thank you for providing the way to triumph through our Savior and your Son, Jesus.  AMEN.

(Psalm 16:11; James 1:2-3; Psalm 119:162;

Psalm 92:4; Psalm 126:3, 1 Corinthians 15:57)

Notes:

  1. John 15:7; Psalm 42:11; Psalm 126:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  2. David Vryhof, https://www.ssje.org/monasticwisdom/gratitude/
  3. Psalm 55:22; 1 John 5:5; Philippians 4:13
  4. Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3
  5. Hebrews 12:2; John 8:12
  6. Joyful Journey Daybreak, Perpetual Calendar, May 20
  7. Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, author and speaker (1924-2013)

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.uihere.com.

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Check out this baby oak tree. Isn’t it adorable, sporting those glossy, miniature leaves on its spindly stem?

 

 

Every other spring or so our yard becomes a forest of miniature oak sprouts, peeping up over the grass. They’re birthed from the thousands of acorns produced by our neighbor’s mammoth oak tree.

Not so adorable by the dozens. They look like weeds. Thankfully most of them stop growing after being mowed down again and again.

But then there are the acorns that squirrels diligently plant among the bushes, plants, and flowers in front of the house—sometimes right at the base. A sincere effort is required to dig them all out, because their taproots grow surprisingly deep for such tiny trees.

 

 

Of course there’s good reason to reach deep. The developing oak must absorb moisture and minerals for the monumental growth that’s ahead (should the sprout be allowed to mature, that is!). The deep root also provides support for the above-ground portion.

Perhaps these two purposes were on Paul’s mind as he encouraged the Ephesian Christians to be “rooted and established in God’s love” (3:17).

But how do those root-tasks of absorbing and supporting relate particularly to God’s love?

Actually, “love” is a perfect choice for Paul’s metaphor because so many of God’s attributes come to us out of his love—such attributes as his mercy, forgiveness, grace, patience, compassion, faithfulness, goodness, attentiveness, and generosity.

 

 

To be rooted in God’s love is to draw sustenance from all that he is, in order to grow into all we can be (Isaiah 61:3b). In addition, God’s love provides stability against the winds of trouble.

Such nourishment and support for our spiritual lives is essentially found in his Word, the Bible. That’s where we learn about the many facets of God’s love:

  • His mercy—so abundant it covers every sin (Psalm 86:15)
  • His forgiveness—so complete it washes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18)
  • His grace—so generous it overflows (Romans 5:17)
  • His patience—so extreme, he endures our pride and self-will, waiting for us to come to him (2 Peter 3:9)
  • His compassion—so reliable it never fails (Lamentations 3:22)
  • His faithfulness—so vast it reaches to the skies (Psalm 36:5)
  • His goodness—so great he has to store it up (Psalm 31:19)
  • His attentiveness—so individualized he knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7)
  • His generosity—so magnanimous he supplies every need—and then some (Philippians 4:19; Psalm 40:5)

 

 

Like a far-reaching root system, this network of truths about God’s love supplies nourishing strength and firm support—especially during the winds of crisis like we’re enduring right now.

God’s love also sustains us against fear and uncertainty. Again, his comfort and assurance are found in the Bible—familiar passages like Psalm 23, Psalm 56:3-4, and Philippians 4:6-7.

But there are many more—very appropriate for these days of battle against the coronavirus.

For example:

Are you wondering whether you can endure until it’s over?

 

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,

who daily bears our burdens.”

–Psalm 68:14

 

“You are my strength, I sing praise to you;

you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.”

–Psalm 59:16-17

 

(And don’t forget Matthew 6:26-27!)

 

Do worries refuse to budge from your thoughts?

 

“When anxiety was great within me

your consolation brought me joy.”

–Psalm 94:19*

 

Are there difficulties to be overcome?

 

“Lord, hear my prayer,

listen to my cry for mercy;

in your faithfulness and righteousness

come to my relief…

…Let the morning bring me words

of your unfailing love,

for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go,

for to you I entrust my life.”

–Psalm 143:1, 8

 

 

Reach deep into the rich soil of God’s loving assurance, provided among the pages of his Word.

The result will be peace (Isaiah 26:3).

 

*What does that last line mean?  Just what we’re seeking to accomplish in this post:  joyful consolation through the contemplation of God’s attributes, affirmations, and promises.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pickpik.com; http://www.peakpx.com.

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It happened again.

Steve and I had just finished our meal in a local restaurant when the waitress stopped by to check on us. We’ll call her Sarah.

“How was your dinner?” she asked.

“My chicken was delicious” I enthused. And then she looked to Steve.

“Well, this could have been better,” and he indicated his plate where a third of his steak remained. “It was left on the grill a little too long,” he explained. The dark, dry cast of the meat provided the undeniable evidence.

Sarah’s smile morphed into furrowed concern. “Oh, I am so sorry,” she exclaimed. “We have a new guy training on the grill tonight. He clearly let that steak overcook. Shall I have the chef fix you another?”

 

 

“No,” Steve replied. “That’s okay; I had enough.”

“Well, if you’re sure…Thank you for being so nice about it. I just took back five steaks from one table. They were not happy.”

“As a pastor for forty years, I know how people can be sometimes, forgetting their manners when they feel wronged. But this isn’t your fault,” Steve asserted.

Sarah nodded. “I’ll get your check,” she announced and dashed off.

Upon her return, Steve handed Sarah her tip in cash.

Now those of you who know Steve may guess her reaction to what she received, because he’s always been a very generous tipper. It’s part of his mission to be God’s agent, blessing other people in the name of Jesus (Matthew 25:40).

 

 

But Sarah’s response was a surprise. She began to cry. We could tell Sarah wanted to say something but she couldn’t speak for a moment.

“You don’t know what this means to me,” she choked. “I know God brought you in here tonight. It’s my fifth anniversary today for being sober, but it’s been a difficult day—not much of a celebration.

“When you said you’d been a pastor, I felt like God was saying he knows what I’ve been through. He sees the progress I’ve made. And now this.” Sarah indicated the bills in her hand as the tears continued to flow.

Now my eyes started to fill. To think: God had used us at just the right time to honor this young woman for her faith and perseverance.

“Well, you have to know,” Steve continued, “as a pastor, and Nancy here, a teacher, we didn’t make a fortune during our working years. But God has blessed us over and over and we just want to bless others—like you.”

“Thank you so much,” Sarah enthused. “I will never forget this.”

Steve and I won’t forget that encounter either. Surely as we left the restaurant our faces glowed as much as Sarah’s with the supreme joy of affirming her.

And Jesus’ beatitude that Paul quoted was proved yet again: It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

 

 

In the last few years, scientific research has confirmed those words of Jesus. Now we know that generosity:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases self-esteem
  • Lessens depression
  • Lowers stress levels
  • Contributes to longer life
  • Increases happiness, as the “feel-good” chemicals of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin are released.*

But that’s not all. When we give what we have, it may prove to be a treasure.

Our gift to Sarah returned a treasure to us of sublime satisfaction and euphoria—results far beyond what we expected. But Sarah’s gift of honesty and appreciation certainly blessed us beyond what she expected also.

 

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/539952

 

“Give what you have.

To someone, it may be better

than you dare to think.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

* https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.unsplash.com; http://www.pixfuel.com; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.azquotes.com.

 

 

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During a former chapter of my life, I taught fourth grade language arts and social studies.

One of the reading strategies we emphasized was looking for Ah-HA Moments—places in a book where readers finally receive answers to the questions they’ve been asking—questions like:

  • Why is the main character doing that?
  • Who could be responsible for this situation?
  • How will the main character(s) solve this problem?

The quest for Ah-HA Moments helps keep readers engaged, aids comprehension, and adds more pleasure to the reading experience.

I took great delight in seeing my students internalize this strategy. Even during other subjects, I’d hear “Ah-HA!” now and then, as a student found the perfect verb for her writing or a history research-team discovered why the Erie Canal was abandoned.

Eons ago the apostle Paul desired Ah-HA Moments for his children—the spiritual offspring he’d led to faith in Jesus.

 

(“St. Paul” by Rembrandt, c. 1657)

 

In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that his readers would experience spiritual Ah-HA Moments.

No, you won’t find those exact words in any translation. What you will find is a statement with similar meaning:

 

“I pray that the eyes of your heart

may be enlightened” (NIV).

 

 

And then Paul chose to highlight three aspects of our Christian experience that can create those Ah-HA moments: 1) Our hope in Jesus, 2) The riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and 3) God’s incomparable power.

I wonder what Ah-HA Moments we might discover while meditating on each one?

Consider the following:

 

Hope

 

“Hope is the reality that is being constructed,

but is not yet visible.”

—William Stringfellow (emphasis added)

 

And just what does our reality-under-construction include?

  • God’s good work in us that is never-failing and never-ending (Philippians 1:6)
  • Peace and joy, because we hope in Jesus (Romans 15:13)
  • God’s delight in us—not when we’re finally perfectbut when we put our hope in him (Psalm 147:11)
  • Hope that translates into strength—especially strength to persevere (Isaiah 40:31)
  • Refinement, as the anticipation of Jesus’ return “acts as a purifying hope in our lives” (1 John 3:2-3 and Kay Arthur*)

 

 

Did any of those statements provide an Ah-HA Moment for you?

For me it was the third bullet point. God delights in me, simply because I hope in him. I don’t have to wait until I’m perfect to receive his approval.

 

The Riches of His Inheritance

 

Some Bible scholars believe Paul meant God’s inheritance in us.  

We are his treasured possession, adopted into his family when we accept Jesus into our lives (Deuteronomy 7:6; Galatians 3:29).

As such, he takes care of us, provides purpose for us, and even takes pleasure in us. He enjoys our company and looks forward to the day when we’ll all be together with him for eternity (Revelation 21:3).

 

 

 

Again, any Ah-HA Moments?

I, for one, am astounded to realize God treasures me—sinful and flawed as I am.

 

God’s Incomparable Power

 

Every one of us can relate stories of God’s miraculous work, as he’s provided, protected, and guided in ways beyond human explanation.

But sometimes he produces super-human perseverance, inner strength, and even joy through difficult circumstances.

The Christian who avails herself of God’s power is ready for both kinds of intervention. She knows that God will supply all her needs, including the wherewithal to turn every negative into a positive.

That last statement provides my final Ah-HA for this post; maybe for you too. We can find delight—in spite of distress—as we avail ourselves of God’s power.

 

Of course, these two verses from Ephesians aren’t the only places in scripture where we can experience Ah-HA Moments. In fact, we will never come to the end of them—for which I am very grateful.  You too?

 

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture;

the book widens and deepens

with our years.”

–Charles Spurgeon

 

 

That’s especially true as we invite God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts—with Ah-HA moments.

 

*Kay Arthur, His Imprint, My Expression, p. 31.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.needpix.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com.

 

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