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Archive for June, 2021

As far as I know, the apostle Paul was not one to create surprises. It’s possible he arranged a surprise birthday party for Barnabas, or gave a gift-for-no-reason to Timothy, or secured a bouquet of flowers for Lydia in appreciation for her hospitality, but there’s no record of such deeds.

However, when he prayed for the believers at Ephesus, he did include a startling statement:

Note that Paul asked God to give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, not so they would make judicious choices or recognize and follow God’s plan.  For me, those two requests would more closely fit what I’d expect.  Instead, Paul desired the Ephesians to know God better.

Centuries later, author/pastor A. W. Tozer brilliantly summed up why that would be uppermost in Paul’s mind:

Paul knew from his own experience that developing intimacy with the Heavenly Father would provide more pleasure, meaning, and satisfaction in this life–beyond what earth can offer. In fact, life’s journey can become a wonder-filled treasure hunt as we study the scriptures and look for evidence of God’s glorious Presence all around us, because:

God’s richest gift . . . this side of eternity

is the revelation of himself.

F. Elaine Olsen (1)

As we seek to know God better, we’ll discover delightful facets of his shimmering Personhood—facets such as these:

  • Grace.  Even though he knew every act we’d commit that would break his heart, God the Son willingly died for us anyway.  Nothing can separate us from his fierce love.
  • Goodness.  Even when trouble overtakes us there is good, because there is always God—with his empowering strength, his sweet comfort, and his unfathomable peace.
  • Power to transform. “All we are is by Christ, all we have is from Christ, and all we will be is through Christ” (2).  He alone can transform us, creating beauty out of ashes. 
  • Power to produce.  What we offer him may be as insignificant as five loaves and two fish, but when we put them in God’s hands, he produces more than we can imagine.
  • Love.  “Every door that opens into a treasury of love shows another door into another treasury beyond.  We need not fear that we shall ever come to the end of God’s goodness, or any experience for which he will have no blessing ready” (3).

That’s because our God is a “way-making, promise-keeping, battle-winning, water-walking, storm-stilling, faithful Friend and Savior” (4).  What treasure could possibly surpass such magnificence?


  1. F. Elaine Olsen, Beyond the Scars, 27.
  2. Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 206.
  3. J. R. Miller, quoted in Seasons of the Lord, 199.
  4. Kaitlyn Bouchillon, Take Heart, 210.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.quoteinspector.com.

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Retirement:

a time to enjoy all the things

you never had time to do

when you worked.

–Catherine Pulsifer

One of my retirement pleasures is watching the circus squirrels in the strip of woods behind our house.  They spiral the trunks in a speedy game of tag, balance at the tip of a branch without fear, and make dare-devil leaps from tree to tree.

One day I discovered those leaps are part of a habitual route squirrels follow to and from their homes.  Turns out they do not gambol haphazardly from tree to tree but “lay out and follow (probably by scent) pathways through the branches.”[1]

Mammalogists surmise this behavior is especially handy when they’re in a hurry. When danger lurks, the little critters can high tail it home with ease.

Sometime later the Spirit combined what I was learning about squirrels with what I knew about brain research (from teaching elementary school), and taught me an important lesson.

Neurons, confocal flourescence microscopy

First the brain research:  We create neural pathways in our brains with behavior. The more we repeat a behavior, the stronger and more deeply imbedded that behavior-pathway becomes until it is habit.[2]

The lesson?  Like the squirrels that lay out pathways through the trees to their nests, we can lay out pathways in our brains that lead home to the refuge of our Heavenly Father.

The question becomes, what are the branches that can make a habitual pathway to God?

I believe scripture truths form the stoutest limbs.  As we memorize encouraging verses and pray them again and again, the pathways of faith, strength, peace, and more become embedded—not only in our minds but in our spirits.  Reciting them back to their Author propels us into his Presence.

What might be some worthwhile passages to include?  Oh my.  The Bible offers a whole forest of reliable scripture-branches, ready to become part of the pathway into God’s sanctuary.

Here are a few of my favorites, though less traveled than some scriptures. You probably won’t find these on a list of “Top Ten Most Popular Bible Verses”—I checked!  But they’ve proven particularly helpful to me.

First:

You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later you will understand.

John 13:7

Granted, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples the night of his arrest, so some would frown on applying them personally.  But the way this verse turned up during my quiet time one morning, precisely when I needed reminding of God’s wisdom and intentionality, led me to accept it as his confirmation for the moment.  Again and again, he has brought this truth to my mind.

Second:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is

noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,

whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy

—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Those negative emotions of worry, fear, hopelessness, and more can be whisked out of the way, as we focus on everything positive and follow this reliable branch to God’s peace and joy.

Third:

We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do

good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Each of us was created for God’s glory—to reflect his attributes—and accomplish good works.  Therefore, our lives have purpose and value.  That’s a strong branch to follow back to his affirming Presence when worthlessness wants to knock us down.

The more time we spend traversing such scripture-truths, the more we absorb God’s thoughts and the more secure, contented, and useful our lives become.

Like the squirrels boldly scampering through the trees, we can confidently follow such pathways as these into the joyful presence of our Heavenly Father.

Come run with me!

You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 NIV

What scriptures offer stout branches for your pathway to God’s presence? Please share in the Comments section below!


[1] https://www.berkshireeagle.com/arts_and_culture/entertainment/take-me-outside-squirrels-act-as-arboreal-acrobats/article_401341f4-5787-53cd-952b-218eeea93562.html#:~:text=Squirrels%20lay%20out%20and%20follow,to%20go%20in%20a%20hurry.

[2] https://healthtransformer.co/the-neuroscience-of-behavior-change-bcb567fa83c1

Art & photo credits: http://www.[xhere.com; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.recreation.gov; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.stocksnap.io; http://www.flickr.com; www. pxhere.com.

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It happened one summer day when all three kids still lived at home.  I’d been working at my desk for awhile and came out to the family room to find snack dishes and glasses here and there, Legos strewn across the floor, craft supplies littering the table, as well as bits of belongings strewn on the counter between kitchen and family room.

(At least it wasn’t THIS bad!)

At that moment one of those precious children asked, “Mom!  Since you’re up, can you get me some ice for my glass?”

To be honest, the details of the above event are hidden in the dust of several decades. What I do remember clearly was my response to the perpetrators of a grand mess and a thoughtless request.  In a sonorous tone worthy of Cinderella’s stepmother I announced:

“LISTEN!  I am NOT your SERVANT!!”

No sooner had I barked that declaration, than the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper, “Oh yes, you are.”

I knew what he meant.  Not what the three children would have liked—a personal maid to clean up after them and keep their things organized.

No, God was talking about denying myself in order to develop them.  In that moment it meant (calmly!) directing them in a family room overhaul.  Such a feat required some teeth-gritting, let me tell you.

Since those days, I’ve learned a few things to improve my attitude as I serve others, so Cinderella’s stepmother appears less often. 

God actually makes it possible to embrace servanthood when we remember:

We’re serving Christ.

He sees the daily grind of discipline we expend on our kids, the messes others make that we clean up, the kindnesses we perform when no one’s looking, the work we do for the benefit of others.  But we tend to forget our invisible audience of One [1].

We’d do well to remember:

The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet [2].

Oswald Chambers

Second, nothing is insignificant when we’re serving God; no effort is wasted.

We might not see positive results from our efforts, but God promises our work on behalf of others will never be for nothing.

Ask someone, “Who was influential in your life?” and the answer will usually include a quiet, modest person who made themselves available, listened more than talked, hugged warmly, and joined in celebrating or grieving with loving interest–insignificant efforts in the eyes of some, but not to that one, and not to God.

In addition, God has designed us so serving others fosters great satisfaction—an actual rush of endorphins—as God fulfills another promise: 

Third, small acts of service may result in a grand conclusion.

When men do anything for God, the very least thing, they never know where it will end nor what amount of work it will do for Him. Love’s secret, therefore, is to be always doing things for God, and not to mind because they are such very little ones.

Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)

Alcoholic John Baker finally hit bottom when his wife told him to get counseling or leave.  John left.

But soon he was attending AA meetings and finding his way back to sobriety, reconciliation with his wife, and God.  The meetings were certainly helpful but other members mocked John when he revealed his Higher Power was Jesus.

Meanwhile, John’s reunited family began attending church and a Spirit-inspired idea began to form.  What if there was a place where Christians could find healing from their hurts, hang-ups, and addictions?

With his pastor’s blessing (You may know him—Rick Warren!), John spent many hours preparing for his first group to complete a 12-week, 12-step program based on scripture. He included his own humble confessions.   

Would anyone come?

Forty-three people attended.  Now, thirty years later, 35,000 churches worldwide host Celebrate Recovery groups; over seven million people have been impacted.

 

And though John Baker unexpectedly graduated to heaven in February of this year, the grand conclusion of his work is still pending [3].

So is ours.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

O God, compel me to always be serving you—even in the least things—with passion and delight.  Guide me to act wherever and whenever you desire, that I might be a part of your overarching purpose.


[1] Audience of One, a song made popular by Big Daddy Weave

[2] from My Utmost for His Highest

[3] https://celebraterecovery.com/about/history-of-cr ; https://www.celebraterecovery.co.uk/pastor-john-bakers-testimony/

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Given that everything in the universe has its origin in God [1], it stands to reason music originated with God. 

Granted, he could have bestowed the gift without participating himself, but scripture indicates otherwise.

In Psalm 42:8b we’re comforted with this assurance: “by night his song is with me.”  Our part is to pay attention to the lyrics that proclaim his perfections and good works—lyrics he sings over us straight from his Word. When we memorize verses of God’s Song, they can comfort our hearts even in the darkest of times [2].

In Psalm 32:7 we read of God’s “songs of deliverance” that encourage and inspire.  Where might we hear these songs?

In the calming sounds of nature.  Creation is full of God-Song—beyond the musical offerings of birds.  Think of burbling streams, the wind humming through evergreens, frogs ha-rumphing, crickets chirping, and the soulful underwater cries of humpback whales. 

Indeed, God-Song surrounds us in the air, on land, and in the sea, reminding us we’re enveloped in his love.  And because of that love, he provides deliverance from fear, trouble, distress, and the evil one [3].

Second, we hear songs affirming his goodness, dependability, and compassion in his Word [4].

Third, we hear God’s Song through the uplift of hymns and other Christian music. Men or women may be listed as the composers and lyricists, but surely all would give God the credit for his inspiration and empowering.

In Zephaniah 3:17 the prophet depicts God delighting in his people with song. 

“He rejoices with joy and joys with his singing,

which shows how delighted he is with his people . . .

his own righteousness upon them,

his own grace in them.”

— John Gill

Of course, God wants us to make music also, and not just with our voices and instruments.  God longs to come alongside, and within the sphere of his influence, make sublime music with our lives—much more beautiful and satisfying than anything we could accomplish on our own.

Perhaps you saw the video—based on an actual event (and available on YouTube):

A young father settles into his concert hall seat next to his wife, just as a performance is about to begin.

“Where’s Tommy?” he asks.

“I thought he was with you,” she exclaims, worry lines already criss-crossing her forehead.

At that moment the curtain goes up to reveal a little boy, oblivious to the audience, sitting at a grand piano, legs dangling above the pedals.  Tommy.

 One single note at a time—and rather haltingly at that—he begins to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

“Go get him!” Mom cries in a stage whisper.

Too late.  A tuxedoed man is already approaching the piano from behind Tommy.

Will he reprimand the boy for touching the concert grand? Will he demand that the parents of the delinquent come to collect him?

No, he quietly leans over the boy and tells him to keep playing.  Then he envelopes Tommy with his arms, and begins to add Mozart’s intricacies to the simple melody.  Together they make sublime music, and both smile with pleasure.  So does the audience.

That’s a picture of how the Virtuoso of the universe delights to make music with us, to raise our paltry human effort into transcendent God-Song.  With his righteousness over us, and his grace in us, we can make beautiful music. 

And those around us will hear and smile with pleasure, including the Maestro himself [5].

If you’d like to watch the video:

Art & photos credits: http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.


[1] Colossians 1:16

[2] Psalm 23:4

[3] Psalm 34:4, 17; 107:6; Matthew 6:13

[4] Psalm 31:19; 145:17; 103:13-14

[5] Ephesians 3:20

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