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The view from my deck chair


(What follows is an imaginary exchange with God.)


ME:

Such perfect weather you’ve provided the last few days, Father, with temps dropping into the 50s by early morning and rising only into the 70s by afternoon.  I’m reveling in this absolute perfection while sitting here on the deck with you.

Sunbeams glint through openings in the tree branches, casting pools of  light into the undergrowth of the creek bed.  Birds tweet and chirp, warble and sing; squirrels scurry from tree to tree, out for their morning run.




Enhancing these pleasurable sights and sounds is your presence, O God.  How empty the wonder and joy would be without you to share the experience, without you to praise for your glorious handiwork.



Open my ears, eyes, and heart to more of your glory.

M-m-m.  Just as I was writing that sentence, the sun cleared the thick foliage of the trees in the neighbor’s yard and shone upon me.  Thank you, Lord, for the glory of your radiant presence that envelopes me.

GOD:

I anxiously await the day when you will experience the fullness of My glory, the day you enter heaven.  The wonders of creation you enjoy now give you a mere glimpse of what is to come:

  • An eternity of blissfully bright days, because I am the Source of Light.  Think of My Light as a symbol for all things good and beautiful, including complete knowledge, perfect righteousness, effervescent joy.  Such splendors are only the beginning.


  • Cheer-filled angel-song wafting through the air, like the bird-song surrounding you there on the deck.  And just as angels focus their music on worship, so do the birds (Psalm 66:4, Revelation 5:13).  They celebrate the dawn and life-giving Light; angels celebrate the Light of My Son Jesus and the life He bestows to all who come to Him.
  • The gentle wind of the Spirit is continually refreshing the atmosphere of heaven, similar to the breezes of earth.  In fact, each time you feel that silken brush of air against your skin, let it remind you of the comfort, strength, and peace in My Spirit’s presence—with you now and always.


  • The Tree of Life mentioned in Revelation gives a hint that there are trees in heaven.  Wait until you see the variety.  Botanists may marvel at the thousands of different species on earth, but what I’ve planted there is just a sample. 
  •  Oh, and I do love animals too.  They make Me smile right along with you.  I’m so glad you enjoy the daring antics of the squirrels, the waddling strut of the ducks, the graceful soaring of a hawk, the regal stance of the deer.  Again, don’t be surprised if more delightful species aren’t awaiting your discovery in heaven.

As you revel in creation (which I’m so delighted you do), let your joy lead you to anticipation in this:

From his book, Nearing Home


Soon you’ll experience “the unsurpassed joy, unfading glory, undiminished bliss, unlimited delights, and unending pleasures” (John MacArthur) of heaven.    

Rest assured:  life in heaven will never become boring.  You, along with all kingdom saints will reign together with Me forever and ever (Revelation 22:5), carrying out satisfying work and fulfilling important responsibilities.

And you will never come to the end of discovering My inexhaustible wonders, the splendor of My glory, or the marvels of My creation .

One day you’ll fully understand:


Just you wait!


Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxfuel.com.

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“It is not mere reading, but meditation…

…which extracts the sweetness and the power out of Scripture.”

—James Stalker

 

I like the sound of that, don’t you—extracting all the sweetness and power out of Scripture?

To that end, I chose to follow a suggested psalm for meditating, #116, allowing those verses that apply to speak sweetness and power to my spirit. Then I framed my response as a prayer back to God.

Following is part of the result. It’s my hope you’ll find your heart responding too. You can add your own verse of personalized psalm in the comment section below!

 

PSALM 116:1-5, 7,

PERSONALIZED

 

 

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy” (v. 1).

Time and again you have heard my voice, O God as I’ve cried out in need. Your answers have flowed in countless mercies of provision, guidance, protection, strength, wisdom, and more.

 I remember: 

  • Your provision of a short-term assignment my seventeenth summer that turned into employment, enabling me to pay a good share of my college expenses.
  • Your guidance to marry Steve, even though he was headed toward the pastorate (and becoming a minister’s wife raised serious apprehensions in my heart).

 

(Just a few years ago–August 1, 1970)

 

  • Your protection from relationships that wouldn’t have been good for me, which I only recognized in hindsight.
  • Your strength to withstand stormy circumstances now and then–like the uncomfortable and stressful moves to new churches.
  • Your wisdom slowly but surely seeping into my soul over the decades, one discovery or lesson at a time—an ongoing process.

How can I not love you, my generous and attentive Heavenly Father?

 

“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (v. 2).

Why would I turn anywhere else? You are the only One who can truly help in every situation.

At the first whisper of your name you draw near–such a precious reality. And just as you’ve promised, you give strength and bless me with peace in your presence (Psalm 29:11).

I’ll never forget that morning during a particularly difficult time, when I randomly opened my Bible first, before turning to the day’s assignment in the study guide. 

To my amazement, the first instruction directed me to a Bible verse already on display, at the top of the page no less.  I could almost hear your voice saying, “This verse is for you, Nancy”:

 

 

Granted, that understanding may not come this side of heaven, but one day I’ll know. In the meantime I trust you, my loving, sovereign Father.

 

“The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow (v. 3).”

Remember the time we rushed Heather (1) to the hospital, after severe pain awakened her in the middle of the night?

Few distresses cause anguish like seeing your child suffer and being helpless to stop it.

 

“Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘Lord, save [us] (v. 4)!’”

 

 

All the way to the hospital I prayed, “Jesus!  Jesus”  Jesus!”  That was all my troubled spirit could muster.

But even such a simple prayer wields power, because your name, O God, represents your character. To call on your name is to trust you will work on our behalf.

By 9:00 a.m., we were heading home, with Heather sleeping peacefully (2).

 

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (v. 5).

You have been incredibly gracious over the years.

 I remember: 

  • Scholarships and grants provided for our children’s education.
  • Funds arriving at just the right time, like the unexpected tax return–three years late–that paid for the new refrigerator we needed.
  • God-enhanced moments, as I’ve breathed in the glory of…

…your nighttime sky filled with stars,

 

 

or the tiny wonder of a single star hidden within a flower.

 

 

 …the delight of a newborn grandchild in my arms, and the moment months later when those little arms wrapped around me.

 

 

 …friends who are family, and family who are friends.

 

 

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (v. 7).

 I do seek rest in your love and faithfulness, O God, your gracious kindness and wisdom. Even if not one more blessing came my way, I couldn’t complain.

 Glorious and majestic are your deeds, and your righteousness endures forever (Psalm 111:3)!

________________________________________________

 

Now it’s your turn, to add in the comment section below a bit of sweetness and power you’ve extracted from Psalm 116:1-5, 7.

Remember with me the wonderful works He has done, His miracles (Psalm 105:5a)!

 

Notes:

  1. Our daughter
  2. More details of the story can be found in a previous post, “When Circumstances Spin Out of Control.”

Photo credits:  http://www.pickpik.com; http://www.wallpaperflare.com; Richard Schruel; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pickpik.com; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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And just what might that decision be?

A. Your food choices to stay healthy and energized?

B. The tasks you’ll complete to use your time wisely?

C. The attitudes you’ll adopt to influence your emotions?

Author/pastor Charles Swindoll chose C: “I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude” (1).

Now why would that be? “Attitude is that ‘single string’ that keeps me going or cripples my progress,” he added.

Zig Ziglar explained the impact of attitude this way:

 

 

Science actually supports such statements.

According to an article in the British Medical Journal, “There is not a tissue or an organ in the body that is not influenced by the attitude of the mind and spirit” (2).

So the question becomes, how do we foster a positive attitude when circumstances conspire against us, or our days are a treadmill of monotonous routine, or we’re just glass-half-empty-kind-of-people by genetics?

The fact is, it’s still a matter of choice. And that choice alone wields great effect because:

“The inward impacts the outward” (3).

This principle is even evident in nature. Did you know that the color of silk can be altered depending on what is fed to the silkworms? Red dye in their food results in pink silk. Even the worms turn pink.

 

 

What we feed our minds and spirits colors our attitudes. We can choose to feast on the delights of God’s grace—his love, provision, promises, and blessings—or we can gorge ourselves on pig slop—disappointments, hurts, injustice, and the failures of others.

 

 

The Apostle Paul provided the perfect example while imprisoned in Rome. He never referred to himself as prisoner of Festus or Caesar or a victim of the Sanhedrin’s unjust treatment. He called himself a prisoner of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1), and saw his detainment as helping to spread the good news about Jesus (Philippians 1:12).

Paul also told his readers to pattern their lives after his (3:17). Years ago I wrote Wow! next to that verse in my Bible. Such a claim. But the book of Acts provides the evidence of his selflessness, integrity, and passion for Christ.

So when he wrote to the Philippian Christians from prison to rejoice in the Lord always (4:4), we can be sure he was choosing the same habit. When he recommended they focus on what’s excellent and praiseworthy (4:8), it’s a given that’s what he was doing too.

 

 

And now neuroscience has proven what God inspired Paul to write centuries ago: think positive thoughts and the brain will produce serotonin, which creates a sense of well being and helps the brain function at is best.

Think on negative thoughts and the brain produces cortisol, diminishing brain function and even causing depression (4).

 

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/662828

 

But controlling our thoughts is not easy.  Here are several strategies I’ve found to be helpful:

 

1. Keep in God’s Word.

We’ve considered this important step before (5); it’s number one for a reason.

 

2. Keep coming back to the center.

Ever play tennis or watch it on TV? After every shot a player returns to the center of the court, so he’s not caught too far afield when the ball comes back. When you find your thoughts crouched in a back corner, come back to the Center: Jesus. Keep your mind happily occupied on all the ways He is excellent and praiseworthy.

 

 

3.  Keep a record.

We can train ourselves to see God all around us as we keep a journal of God’s faithfulness. I began mine in 1983, in response to a Bible study (6), and now there are over 1300 entries. Just the weight of that notebook encourages my spirit.

How about a gratitude journal, to record at least one thing every day for which you’re thankful? I didn’t start that one until three years ago. It’s a delightful exercise to review God’s gifts of the day and choose one to highlight (7). It’s also fun—and spirit lifting—to look back and remember previous gifts.

 

 

Slowly but surely, the most amazing thing happens. Our joy begins to expand and we start to become transformed into our best selves—with an increased ability to live freely and enjoy God’s presence—just by choosing a better attitude through the way we think (Romans 12:2 NLT).

 

 

Notes:

  1. Strengthening Your Grip, p. 207
  2. Quoted by Selwyn Hughes in Every Day Light, p. 132.
  3. Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 335.
  4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201108/happy-brain-happy-life
  5. https://nancyaruegg.com/2018/08/23/perfect-trouble/
  6. See  https://nancyaruegg.com/2012/11/12/proving-gods-presence/   for the full story.
  7. The post that started my gratitude journal: https://nancyaruegg.com/2017/03/30/eating-live-frogs-and-other-blessings/

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wallpaperflare.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pickpik.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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Preparations were complete for the Passover meal. Jesus and the disciples had gathered to celebrate together.

Perhaps they were beginning to recline around the table when Jesus said, “I’ve been looking forward to eating this Passover feast with you, before I suffer.”

Surely the disciples froze for a moment.

Why would their Master be talking about suffering now, as they were about to share this sacred meal?

Yes, he had mentioned it before—even spoke several times about being killed one day (Matthew 16:21). But such an actuality seemed impossible. He was the Messiah after all—come to establish God’s kingdom on earth as the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6-7). How could Jesus do that if he was dead?

 

 

The disciples undoubtedly tried to ignore such puzzling and gruesome thoughts, wanting to focus on the beloved celebration of Passover. But a few moments later Jesus startled them again.

“One of you is going to betray me.”

Preposterous. Who would do such a thing to their beloved Master? Yet Jesus had never been wrong about anything before. What could he mean?

And then a third troubling statement soon followed: “I will be with you only a little longer.”

Unthinkable. They had been together for three years—over a thousand days. They had listened to his teaching—wiser than Solomon’s—and witnessed his miracles—greater than Elijah’s.

 

 

Their lives had been changed by what they’d heard and seen. And now Jesus was leaving?

Perhaps after three hard sayings the disciples began to look at one another with uncertainty and fear on their faces. Something was wrong, but understanding eluded them.*

And Jesus, knowing their thoughts before they did, spoke a proclamation that is familiar to us today.

“Stop letting your hearts be troubled.”

I wonder if he paused and pointedly made eye contact with each one to focus their attention on what he would say next.

“You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).

 

 

What did they believe about God? Their scriptures (our Old Testament) taught them much about the Lord Almighty, including:

  • God is in control
  • He knows what he is doing
  • He exercises his unlimited power with wisdom and love
  • God is good (1)

And what did they know and believe of Jesus?

  • He too was good
  • He demonstrated divine power, wisdom, and love
  • He was the Son of God
  • God’s honor and glory was bestowed on him (2)

The choice was up to the disciples. They could continue to stew in anxious thoughts or they could stop, and choose to believe in their powerful and perfect Lord Jesus.

They could choose faith over fear.

 

 

And the same choice confronts us today. We can believe that:

  • God is enthroned in heaven and rules over all (Psalm 103:19)—or believe the lie that the world is spinning out of control.
  • The God of the universe is on our side, and nothing could possibly come against us and win (Romans 8:31)—or believe the lie that suffering proves God’s lack of caring.
  • All his glorious attributes (those mentioned above as well as many more) are always at work to achieve his good purpose (Romans 8:28)—or believe the lie that no good can come out of trouble (3).

We can also believe in Jesus, who has proven himself our trustworthy Savior, who is called Faithful and True, because:

  • He lives to intercede for us. Is it likely the Father will ignore his Son’s pleas? Never.
  • He died and rose again that we might live forever with him. The promise of eternal Life can provide luminous light even on the darkest of days.
  • He will come again and take us to be with him (4). We’d do well to remember:

 

 

And when we choose to trust, tranquility follows.

 

_____________________________________________

 

 

*The events of the Last Supper mentioned here are based on John 13.

 

Scriptures referenced:

  1. Isaiah 14:24; Job 11:7-9; Daniel 2:20; Jeremiah 31:3; Exodus 34:6
  2. Acts 10:38; Matthew 8:27; Mark 6:2; Matthew 14:14 and 33; Matthew 3:17 and 17:5
  3. Psalm 103:19; Romans 8:31 and 8:28
  4. 1 John 4:14; Revelation 19:11; Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 1:3-4; John 14:3

 

Art and photo credits:  http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Today’s post is an acrostic poem (I use that term lightly!) of praise and prayer, based on the phrase, “peace in the midst of the storm.” For each letter, I chose scriptural affirmations that seemed especially appropriate for this time of upheaval and uncertainty.  (You’ll find the references at the end of the post.)

Why the Bible? There is no better source of hope and strength.

Abraham Lincoln expressed it this way during his time of trouble:

 

(Photo taken in1863, in the midst of the Civil War.)

 

I believe that the Bible is the best gift

That God has ever given to man.

All the good from the Savior of the world

is communicated to us through this book.

I have been driven many times to my knees

By the overwhelming conviction

That I had nowhere else to go.

 

While collecting biblical truths that apply to our current situation, I felt my own heart uplifted.

May the following be an encouragement to you as well.

 

 

Praise be to the Lord our mighty Rock; from

Everlasting to everlasting he is God.

As we cast our cares on him, he will sustain us.

Call on him when in distress and he will answer; his

Ears are attentive to our cry.

 

 

I trust in your unfailing love, O Lord.

Nothing is too hard for you.

 

The Lord watches over the way of the righteous.

He performs miracles and displays his power among the people.

Every promise he has fulfilled; not one has failed.

 

 

My shield is God Most High.

In him I take refuge.

Do not fear; he is with us…and will help us. He will

Satisfy our needs and strengthen our frame.

Truly, our souls can find rest in God; our salvation comes from him.

 

 

Our Lord is gracious, righteous, and full of compassion; the

Fruit of his righteousness is peace.

 

Those who know his name trust in him, for he has never

forsaken those who seek him.

He hides us in the shadow of his wings; the

Eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,

who hope in his unfailing love.

 

 

Send us your light and your faithful care, O God. Let them guide us

day by day.

Thank you for always leading us in triumph.

Our enemies you will trample; with you we will gain the victory.

Righteous and kind are all your ways and all your works.

My hope is in you.

 

 

Scriptures used:

  • Peace–Psalm 144:1; 90:2; 55:22; 86:7; 34:15b
  • In–Psalm 13:5a; Jeremiah 32:17b
  • The–Psalm 1:6; 77:14; Joshua 23:14
  • Midst–Psalm 7:10a; 16:1b; Isaiah 41:10; 58:11; Psalm 62:1
  • Of–Psalm 116:5; Isaiah 32:17
  • The–Psalm 9:10; 17:8b; 33:18
  • Storm–Psalm 43:3a  ISV; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Psalm 60:12; Psalm 25:21b

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.pickpic.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.flickr. com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.needpix.com.

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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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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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Science teacher Mike Burns emerged from his house and headed to his car for the short commute to his middle school. ‘Wish it were Friday instead of Wednesday, he thought. How can two days feel like five?

Mike’s next door neighbor was already puttering among his prize rosebushes, even though the sun was just rising.

He called out a quiet “Hey, Bill,” so as not to waken any neighbors, then opened the door to the back seat and set his briefcase and lunch on the floor.

“Howdy yourself, Mike!” Bill responded cheerily, raising his clippers in a salute. “’You have a great day now. And just remember: The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese (1).”

 

 

Mike chuckled. Bill always had a quick joke or silly quote to share.

“I’ll try to be that second mouse!” Mike quipped, taking his seat behind the wheel, and waving good-bye to his retired neighbor.

As he waited at the first stoplight, Mike found himself sniggering again. Gotta love that Bill—always so positive.

On his way from parking lot to faculty lounge, Mike thought of several colleagues who’d also appreciate Bill’s advice, and smiled again. Yup, they’re gonna love it, he thought.

Early bird that he was, Mike decided to make the coffee. And while it brewed, he straightened up the papers, pens, and other office supplies littering the worktable. With a satisfied grin he surveyed the surprise for his coworkers, then grabbed his mug, poured the first cup out of the pot, and headed to the second floor.

 

 

English teacher Angie Thompson arrived next, the teacher who made coffee more often than anyone. But the lounge was already filled with the aroma of a fresh brew.

And look at the table! I’ve never seen it look so neat—and inviting! Angie smiled, already forming a mental list of teachers who might have been so thoughtful. Then with her own cup of joe in hand, Angie walked briskly down the hall to her classroom, invigorated for the day.

Half an hour later, as students strolled in, she found herself engaging with them in good-natured banter. And when the bell rang, Angie greeted her class with an extra dose of cheerfulness and enthusiasm.

The positivity proved highly contagious and as discussion groups got under way, the students responded to each other with more courtesy than usual.

 

 

The same phenomenon was occurring in Mike’s classroom too, as partners companionably constructed barometers.

In fact, the atmosphere of good will continued to spread throughout the day, impacting the entire school community by the time the last car left the parking lot.

And when everyone went home, each was surprised how energized they felt—even happier. Hundreds of households benefited from the positivity.

 And all because Bill offered a bit of friendly conversation and humor.

_________________________

 

Now some will say this sequence of events highly exaggerates the results from one small act of kindness. But research has proved:

“Kindness is contagious. It can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way…One good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people” (2).

No wonder God inspired Paul to write:

 

 

Mother Teresa gently expanded on Paul’s instruction this way:

 

“Be kind and merciful.

Let no one ever come to you

without leaving better and happier.

Be the living expression of God’s kindness:

kindness in your face, kindness in your smile,

kindness in your warm greeting…

Give them not only your care, but also your heart.”

 

Imagine the over-lapping ripple effect if each of us became the living expression of God’s kindness.

It can start with just a brief, neighborly conversation.

 

 

What recent kindness made a difference in your life?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

  1. One of comedian Steven Wright’s famous one-liners.
  2. Jamil Zaki, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Standford University for Scientific American, July 26, 2016, https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness).

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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(www.thecove.org)

 

Have you visited the Billy Graham Training Center outside Asheville, North Carolina? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for retreat, relaxation, and renewal.

Ruth and Billy chose the location well, tucked as it is onto a peaceful Appalachian mountainside.

My husband and I visited years ago and reveled in five days of morning-and-evening teaching sessions under Warren Wiersbe. The afternoons were unscheduled—for the relaxation part.

One day we decided to tackle a long trail-hike and walk off some of the scrumptious food (and nightly, all-you-can-eat soft-serve ice cream!) we’d been consuming.

A staff member promised the mountain view from the lookout point at the end would be well worth the effort.

But in no time the hike became rough going. The miles we were accustomed to walking back home in the flatland of Florida hadn’t prepared us for the unrelenting incline of this trail.

 

 

I started to grunt and groan. My leg muscles begged for mercy until we had to stop and rest—several times.

For the entire distance trees surrounded us—lovely to be sure, but not once did we catch even a glimpse of the vista to come.

Finally we approached the rail of the platform lookout, and my grunts and groans turned to oohing and wowing.

 

 

Row upon row of gentle peaks stood sentry before us, stretching immeasurable miles to the horizon. Cumulous clouds above produced large patches of shade below—a jigsaw of light and shadow.

The staffer had been right. To see such a grand panorama of God’s handiwork was indeed worth the struggle.

 

 

“God has made everything beautiful in his time,” King Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

“Everything beautiful” certainly includes the splendorous moments on that platform, especially in contrast to the arduous process to get there.

But equally wondrous, God knows how to create beauty out of difficult life-circumstances—circumstances like:

  • A disturbing diagnosis
  • Ongoing frustration at work
  • A hurtful relationship
  • Financial struggles

How can that be? Because those are the times that push us toward maturity (James 1:2-4)—and maturity is indeed a beautiful thing.

 

 

Our problem is, we crave a smooth pathway through life—level, broad, and full of pleasure. But God knows what spoiled, useless creatures we’d become on such a course.

So he allows uphill climbs as the training ground for developing patience, perseverance, persistence, and self-discipline—important facets of maturity.

All the while we can rest assured the day will come when we finally understand how our ugly struggles fit into God’s great and beautiful plan—“a plan so overwhelming, magnificent, and joyful, we will laugh with wonder and delight”—Arthur Christopher Bacon (1).

And how do we know that’s true?

Consider God’s attributes, including his

  • Love and faithfulness (Psalm 117:2)
  • Wisdom (Romans 11:33)
  • Rghteousness (Psalm 145:17)
  • Justice and fairness (Deuteronomy 32:4)

 

 

Such a God does not allow useless distress; there is always purpose.

And note the verse says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

 

Every detail of your life

is fitting together to create

a tapestry of praise.

–Jane L. Fryar (2)

 

Sometimes we do see the details of our lives fitting together in beautiful, praise-evoking ways.

Our stories of struggle-turned-into-beauty can:

  • Inspire someone to start their own journey with Jesus
  • Offer comfort to another who’s struggling on the same stretch of pathway
  • Provide guidance for a wanderer
  • Encourage a hiker-believer to keep climbing to the heights

 

 

But I have a feeling God is saving the best and most beautiful revelations until we’ve reached the lookout of heaven.

For now we can cling to this:

All things are from him—for a purpose (Romans 11:33-36), and we will behold the beauty—when the time is right.

 

Notes:

  1. From Streams in the Desert, edited by Jim Reimann, Zondervan, 1997, p. 72.
  2. Be Blessed, CTA, Inc., 2009, p. 60.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.thecove.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.bible.com; http://www.canva.com;  http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net.

 

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