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Remember Christmas morning as a child—the first glimpse of the enticing packages tucked under the tree?  Did you hop and clap with delight?

Or how about that winning touchdown for your team—in the last few moments of the game with your school’s arch rival? Did you jump up and shout in celebration?

Perhaps a family member or dear friend recently announced glorious news—a baby on the way, better employment obtained, or a clean bill of health finally received.  Did you find yourself dancing for joy?

Over-the-top pleasure and exciting events will do that to us. And although the body may no longer respond with hops, jumps, or dance, our spirits certainly soar in the moment.

photography by Nicole Sánchez : love.nimagens.com

The prophet Habakkuk of Old Testament times wrote about just such a response.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased the verse: “I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God” (Habakkuk 3:18 MSG). Sounds like the prophet received the answer to a heartfelt prayer or perhaps a miracle had occurred.

Truth is, Habakkuk’s home city of Jerusalem faced imminent invasion by the brutal Babylonians.  Recent conquests of other kingdoms left no question about the city’s fate.

God had made clear why disaster loomed.  The people of Jerusalem had continually ignored his wise ways and reveled in wickedness. Multiple warnings had been proclaimed and disregarded.

In response God was about to provide a means of saving his people—not from the ruin of their city—but from the ruin of their souls.  He would allow the invasion and a period of captivity in a foreign culture 900 miles away (Isaiah 39:5-8; Jeremiah 25:1-11).

(Isaiah foretold this scene in the latter half of the eighth century BC,
Jeremiah in 605 BC. The invasion took place in 586 BC.)

Habakkuk questioned God’s decision, wondering why he would allow the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to “swallow those who are more righteous than they are (Habakkuk 1:13)?”

By the end of his book, however, the prophet’s doubts had turned to faith and he declared—in the face of calamity–“Yet I will celebrate the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (3:18 NIV).

The word rejoice in this verse is ‘alaz’ in the original Hebrew, and means to “spin around for joy.”* Can you imagine? Disaster loomed. All Habakkuk had ever known would be destroyed.  If not killed, he would be forced into captivity in a hostile country.

Yet Habakkuk determined to dance for joy in his spirit—spin cartwheels even.

How does a person acquire such joy? Not by setting her sights on things that make her momentarily happy.  Deep-down dancing joy grows in proportion to our trust in God, and our trust grows in proportion to our knowledge of God—knowledge gained as we spend time in His Word.

We’d also do well to remember the close relationship between joy and gratitude.

As 2022 unfolds, a number of crises threaten—in our cities and states, our country, and around the world.  With Habakkuk of old we have a choice: to sink into despair over the real possibility of disaster, or to rejoice in our God who will enable us to endure whatever we may face (James 1:2-4).

It is our turn to spin for joy–in the God of our salvation!

*Linda Dillow, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, 202.

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.love.nimages.com; http://www.maxpixelnet; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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(From Morning by Morning, March 4.)

S. Truett Cathy (1921-2014) was just such a person, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression to become a steadfast and unmovable masterwork of God.

At age eight he started his own business, inspired by a woman in his Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood. She sold cupcakes from her front yard.

M-m-m.  What could I sell to earn some money? Truett wondered. 

The answer: soft drinks. He purchased six bottles for a quarter and sold them for a nickel apiece. Just twenty six-packs, he figured, and I’ll have a whole dollar.

Truett quickly realized he could expand sales by enticing the door-to-door salesmen with cold drinks. He began to serve ice with the soda.

Soon the young entrepreneur had saved four dollars—enough to buy an old bicycle. Now he could make quicker profits by delivering newspapers.  But competition for customers was stiff with three well-established papers in Atlanta.

Truett had learned the value of customer satisfaction, however, so he made sure his papers landed on porches. On rainy days he put them inside the screen doors, and his customer list grew.

Truett delivered papers until high school graduation, after which he was drafted into the Army. Upon honorable discharge in 1945, Truett returned home to pursue his lifelong dream:  owning a business.

He decided to open a restaurant, knowing a bit about cooking for a crowd.  For years he’d helped his mother as she daily prepared meals not only for their family of nine but also for six boarders.

Truett and his younger brother Ben pooled their resources, took out a loan and bought a piece of land near a Ford assembly plant and Delta Airlines at the airport which provided a large customer base.

The tiny restaurant, aptly named the Dwarf Grill, included just ten counter stools and four tables.  The brothers served quick-to-fix burgers and steaks.

(The Dwarf Grill is still in operation, but in a new building with a revised name.)

They worked hard and the business thrived. But in 1949 tragedy struck. Ben, another brother, and two friends were killed.

Later Truett would remark, “I lost two brothers in an airplane crash, both of them leaving a wife and kids.  When I get to heaven, that’s probably the first question I’d like to ask: Why was it necessary?”[1]

The heartbreak did not erode Truett’s strong faith in God, which had been inspired by his devout mother and nurtured by Sunday School teacher and life-long mentor, Theo Abbey.

Then more trouble ensued.  In 1959 Truett was diagnosed with colon cancer. In an interview he explained that just prior to the successful surgery he experienced a new peace, knowing that whether he lived or died, he would be with God.[2] God granted another fifty-six years.

In 1960 the second restaurant burned to the ground, and then the original Dwarf Grill caught fire in 1965. But instead of becoming discouraged, Truett leaned on his God, growing stronger in faith and more determined than ever.

With only one restaurant to oversee, he focused his time on developing the menu. Truett remembered his mother’s impressive fried chicken, how she seasoned it the night before and put it in the ice box to marinate. 

He experimented with recipes, tried his efforts on regular customers and soon created a new menu item: the Chick-fil-A sandwich—a play on the word fillet, but also indicating the meat was grade A.

Customers loved the new sandwich, and in 1967, Truett opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant. One successful opening followed another until, in the year 2000, the restaurant chain grossed one billion dollars in sales. By 2018, it surpassed $10 billion in sales.

(Enlarge this image to read about Truett Cathy’s winning habits
–based on Biblical principles.)

Today, the company generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain, even though all locations are closed on Sundays. (Since his first day in the restaurant business, Truett set aside that day for his employees and himself “to rest and worship if they choose.”[3])

Truett’s commitment to put God first is expressed in the company’s statement of purpose: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”[4]

Truett also delighted to glorify God by spending his fortune to encourage others.

How do you identify someone who needs encouragement?

That person is breathing.

–Truett Cathy

Since 1973, Chick-fil-A has given more than $35 million in college scholarships to its employees. Truett also founded the WinShape Foundation, providing approximately $18 million dollars for the development of foster homes and summer camps.

His legacy of planting Christian ideals in the lives of others continues, even though Masterwork Samuel Truett Cathy now resides in heaven. (He is survived by his wife of sixty-six years, three children, eighteen grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren.)


[1] https://www.quotetab.com/quote/by-s-truett-cathy/i-lost-two-brothers-in-an-airplane-crash-both-of-them-leaving-a-wife-and-kids-w

[2] https://www.11alive.com/article/news/thank-you-god-that-im-alive-in-book-chick-fil-a-founder-s-truett-cathy-shared-faith-affirming-brush-with-mortality/85-48c52862-7a53-4167-9e7a-1a37bd8d6185

[3] https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/inside-chick-fil-a/secret-menus-and-closed-on-sundays-chick-fil-a-fact-or-fiction

[4] https://billygraham.org/story/a-conversation-with-truett-cathy

Other Sources:

http://www.academicstar.us/UploadFile/Picture/2015-7/20157331854318.pdf

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/311452

http://www.giantsforgod.com/s-truett-cathy/

https://www.thextraordinary.org/s-truett-cathy

Photo credits: http://www.pixhive.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.samiskelton.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxfuel.com.

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“God’s presence flowed over me like liquid love.”[1]

Isn’t that delightful imagery?

Perhaps you’ve experienced God’s presence as liquid love—deep-down warmth drenching the soul through a God-enhanced moment, overflowing joy as he lavished favor upon you.

Looking back on 2021, I can identify such glorious moments and have included a few of them below.  Perhaps they’ll trigger memories of your own, when you experienced liquid love from God’s river of delights.

First, the highlight of 2021:  our youngest two granddaughters invited Jesus into their lives—one in August, one in December.  Nothing warms the heart more than seeing loved ones take this all-important step of faith!

Prior to Covid vaccines, a friend arranged a Zoom call for three of us to enjoy a cup of coffee together—virtually.  The delightful gab fest, mutual encouragement and prayer for one another did indeed generate the warm flow of God’s liquid love.

A week of balmy weather in April allowed us to bask in sunshine-amidst-bird-song much earlier in the year than usual.

(Deck view of our backyard, mid-April)

Inspiration for blog posts often comes at unexpected times.  One morning while getting ready for a women’s Zoom Bible study, an idea suddenly occurred to me. I smiled at the pleasure of it, knowing exactly where the notion came from!

After thirteen months of separation, we reveled in joining our son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters for dinner in their home.  The best moment:  reaching the third floor playroom, seeing the girls’ faces light up as they shouted, “Nana!” and tangling together in a glorious hug.

(Snuggling for a selfie)

Early May Steve and I were able to return to church. Though masks hid smiles and hugs were verboten (at first), we celebrated the togetherness of church family and the joys of in-person, corporate worship.

Mid-spring we watched four fox kits cavorting in the grass—a number of times.  Their jumping, wrestling, and teasing nips at one another made us laugh.  Better yet, such close encounters with God’s creatures feel like personal love-gifts from him.  Indeed, “God’s love notes are stashed everywhere.”[2] They even appear in our own backyard.

Speaking of love-gifts, one lies upon our living room floor—a new rug.  Though our wish-list was quite specific, and options studied online weren’t measuring up, the perfect choice presented itself in the first store we visited. (The discovery of a rug that appealed to both of us was a bit of miracle in itself!) 

A Ruegg family reunion (13 of us) in a large, rustic cabin took place in August.  What a glorious time of hiking, games, reading, long conversations, superb meals (planned and prepared by our older son and daughter-in-law), and even a song-fest around the fire pit one evening—all enjoyed in perfect weather no less.

Another cabin-adventure—this time with old friends–occurred in October.  The mountain view out the back windows took our breath away; the laughter, banter, and coziness of our relationship produced a considerable uptick of endorphins. 

(Mineral Bluff, Georgia)

Granted, people take pleasure in nature, family, friends, and delightful experiences all the time—without God. But for believers in Christ, the pleasure of each gift is richly augmented because God is in it with us.

Another gift?  The overflow of liquid love often becomes blissful tears.

Now it’s your turn. In the past year, how did God’s love flow over you like liquid love? Share your experience in the comment section below!


[1] Pat Chen, Intimacy with the Beloved, quoted by Linda Dillow in Satisfy Your Thirsty Soul, 82.

[2] Sara Hagerty, Unseen, 106.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; Steve Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com.

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One of the psalmists proclaimed, “I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4). The statement raises the question, How do you delight in someone who can’t be seen or touched?

Perhaps we can discover the answer by considering how we delight in the people around us. My father offers a perfect example.

First let me tell you: Dad worked miracles with his numerous tools.  He could fix or build practically anything, as well as paint and wallpaper like a pro.

We were probably among the first to have a built-in sound system.  Dad wired and hooked up a speaker in every room (each with its own on-and-off switch), so anything on the radio or hi-fi could be heard anywhere in the house. 

Dad also built custom-sized furniture:  in the living room–a bookcase (with open shelves above and enclosed shelves below) along with Mom’s music cabinet; in the kitchen—new cupboards and a storage cabinet; in Mom’s and Dad’s bedroom—a large dresser; and for my brother John and me—desks. Each project displayed his careful attention to detail.

But Dad’s admirable qualities weren’t only on display in his home improvement projects.  He demonstrated patience while teaching us how to play Muggins (an old card game), how to use his tools, and how to plant seeds.

He exemplified selflessness by taking us sledding and kite-flying in the park, swimming at the community pool, and biking around town. Dad proved his generosity by volunteering time and effort to help neighbors and fulfill various needs at church.  

When Dad said, “Who wants to pick up some lumber with me?” or “Who wants to go to the hardware store?” John and I were ready to drop whatever we were doing. 

It’s not that these were exciting activities in themselves, it was Dad who made them a special delight–conversing with us as we rode to and from, pointing out items of interest along the way, and holding our small hands in his big ones as we crossed streets.  

Now all this activity and industriousness took place decades ago of course, yet I still take pleasure in remembering his noteworthy undertakings and attributes. In fact, appreciation and admiration for him have only increased over time.  I consider myself privileged to have known Dad and spent time with him.

(Dad and me, mid-1960s)

To know our Heavenly Father we turn to the Bible, of course.  There we learn about his wonderful deeds and miracles. We see God’s glorious character traits on display, including his astounding abilities, his goodness, generosity, and love. We soon find ourselves delighting in all that he is.

We also delight in God as we spend time with him–celebrating what he’s done in our past and praising him for what he’s accomplishing today. We learn important life lessons from him.  And we consider the benefits bestowed by our Heavenly Father, his eternal commitment to us, unfailing love for us, and strength-infusing presence with us.

We find ourselves happily praising God:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7335.jpeg

Then we turn all these contemplations into gratitude.

The daily practice of the discipline of gratitude

is the way to daily practice the delight of God.

–Ann Voskamp*

And what will be the result of such a practice?  Pleasurable wonder, resilient faith, and serene contentment—as a start. Doesn’t that sound glorious? Especially during these turbulent times.

In addition, we’ll bring delight to him also (Psalm 147:11). Imagine that!

Perhaps we’d do well to turn Psalm 43:4 into a New Year’s resolution for 2022:

[Daily] I will go to the altar of God,

to God, my joy and my [deep] delight.

____________________

*One Thousand Gifts, 82.

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixnio.com; Henry Mensinger (my grandfather); http://www.heartlight.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

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For most of us, the words Christmas scriptures bring to mind the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.  We may even remember the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah.

Rarely will we think of the psalms as part of the Christmas story, yet at least a dozen passages from the Book of Songs include references related to Christ’s birth. A few qualify as outright prophecies; other statements are less direct, but hindsight allows us to make delightful connections.

So for each passage quoted below, see if an aspect of the Christmas story doesn’t come to mind!  (To keep this post from getting too long, I’ve included just six examples. Answers appear below.)

1. “The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David, My servant, I will establish your offspring forever and build up your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:3-4 HCSB).

2. “[The Lord] himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:8).

3. “Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:11).

4. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory” (Psalm 97:6).

5. “Send me a sign of your favor.  Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me” (Psalm 86:17 NLT).

6. “Praise the LORD and pray in his name! Tell everyone what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

7. “Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts (Psalm 68:29). 

(The second Jewish temple; a model in the Israel Museum)

Answers:

1. Jesus’ lineage and reign described in Matthew and Luke fulfill this prophecy perfectly (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:32-33).

2. Psalm 130:8 sounds very similar to Matthew 1:21, doesn’t it?

3. The Light of the world began to shine that night in Bethlehem, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed great joy for all people (Luke 2:9-10).

(by Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1740-1812)

4. The psalmist may have thought he was writing about the stars, sun, and moon—all declaring the power and glory of God.  Little did he know his words foreshadowed events on the night Jesus was born, when the heavenly host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:9) and the shepherds saw the glory of the Lord shining around them (v. 9, 13-14).

5. This verse also brings to mind the lowly shepherds (whom others often despised) as well as the angel’s words, “This shall be a sign unto you . . .” The birth of the Messiah brought great help and comfort to all his people, but perhaps especially the marginalized. For everyone, the long wait for his appearing was over.

6. The shepherds followed this directive as they left Jesus’ birthplace and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).  They glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard, just as they had been told (v. 20).

7. That’s exactly where the Magi went first—Jerusalem—seeking the one born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2.)  And of course they came bearing gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11).

Isn’t it amazing–from the Book of Songs written eons ago, come the distant strains of the exquisite, eternal Christmas Song that we celebrate to this day:

All your works declare Your glory;

all creation joins to sing.

Praise resounds as earth rejoices

in the birth of Christ the King (2)!*

*the last four lines of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” stanza 2)

Art & photo credits: Steve Ruegg; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

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The first Christmas carol ever composed rarely appears in a collection of Advent songs.  But you will find it in the Bible, Luke chapter one.  It’s Mary’s song, shared with her cousin Elizabeth soon after she arrived at the older woman’s home.

Using much scripture, Mary artfully wove this prayer-song to praise God for his work in her life and in the world-at-large, especially now that the Messiah would soon be born.

Mary’s prayer is often referred to as the Magnificat, because in a number of translations it begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if Mary is holding up a magnifying glass to God’s attributes while she draws attention to each one.

I too have seen God’s attributes at work, and have experienced countless blessings.  While contemplating Mary’s song recently, I wondered: could I compose a Magnificat? What follows is the result.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O Lord . . . (Luke 1:46 HCSB)

. . . on display in the wonders of creation, events that defy explanation, and in the transformed lives of people—including my own. 

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”[1] as needs are met, disasters avoided, and the way forward provided. You alone are omnipotent, with all resources at your disposal.

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior (v. 47 NIV).

I praise you for saving me from the consequences of my sin through the sacrifice of your Son.  Upon my last breath, you will take me to heaven to live with you forever. In that moment I’ll be healed of all ailments and released from all adversity.

Until that day, you gladly save me from worry, fear, discouragement and stress when I trust you and follow your ways. Thank you, dear Father!

You have looked [with loving care] on the humble state of your maidservant (v. 48 AMP).

By the world’s standards I’m a nobody–no wealth, no fame, no power. Little do some know my true status, the daughter of the King of the universe, and the numerous delights I enjoy as a result:

  • glorious moments in your presence
  • generous gifts not even asked for
  • friendships with your other children (augmented by your involvement and influence)
  • your frequent intervention in difficult circumstances, as only a powerful King could arrange

From one generation to another you have demonstrated your mercy (v. 50 GNT).

I think of my grandparents, each of whom you sustained and helped through difficulty.  I think of my parents who also experienced your faithfulness as they were faithful to you.

And now we can testify of your gracious kindness. You have dealt compassionately, especially in times of distress.

Your mighty power has been on display (v. 51 GWT) . . .

 . . . through healings that doctors can’t explain, needs met in miraculous ways, monetary gifts arriving just in time, and moments of desperation turned around in an instant.

“You satisfy the hungry with good things” (v. 53, HCSB). 

The list is lavishly long: your undeserved love, comforting presence, inexplicable peace, fullness of joy, heartening encouragement, fulfilling purpose, undying hope, sure promises, abundant provision, generous blessings, wise counsel, abiding strength—to mention a few! “In your giving we have a sea without a shore.”[2]

My God, the King, I exalt you for your glorious attributes,

and will praise your name forever and ever.

 Your ways are absolutely holy—no one is like you. 

You are the God who performs miracles!

Your power is on display in glorious ways all over the earth,

yet you have chosen to do great things for me and those I love.

My heart is filled with joy!

(Psalm 145:1; 77:13-14; 126:3)


[1] Psalm 77:14

[2] Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 255.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com (twstringer); http://www.pxhere.com (dorothe); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixaby.com (Simon); http://www.wikimedia.com (VinceTraveller); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (nastya_gepp); http://www.pix4free.

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Ask a group of people to name a taste of heaven and likely answers will include a favorite meal, a beloved quiet spot, or a happy get-together with family and friends.

But British minister William Romaine (1714-1795) suggested a different way to experience a taste of heaven that doesn’t involve cooking, traveling, or gathering.  His recommendation:  gratitude to God.

Gratitude to God

makes even a temporal blessing

a taste of heaven.

–William Romaine

Such tastes of heaven are not few and far between either. During every one of the 1,440 minutes of each day, blessings descend, including such privileges as:

  • Just getting out of bed in the morning and being able to move about
  • enjoying the privilege of communicating with others–including with God himself
  • receiving adequate strength to fulfill the day’s responsibilities
  • taking in helpful information and experiencing delight through our five senses
  • encouraging others with kindness and increasing our own joy in the process

Though none of these are rare blessings, they still hold great value.

If you remember the dignity of the Giver,

no gift will seem small or mean,

for nothing can be valueless that is

given by the most high God.

–Thomas á Kempis

Not only do the gifts themselves hold value, they demonstrate the depth and value of God’s gracious love toward us—when we’re grateful for them. 

To be grateful is to recognize

the love of God in everything He has given us—

and He has given us everything.

Every breath we draw is a gift of His love,

every moment of existence is a grace,

for it brings with it immense graces from Him.

–Thomas Merton

Therefore, we’d do well to follow the advice of nineteenth-century Scottish minister and author J. R. MacDuff: 

Little did Reverend MacDuff know what secular researchers would discover about gratitude a century beyond his lifetime. The benefits include more than a sense of well-being.  Grateful people enjoy:

  • Better sleep
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved mental health
  • Increased optimism
  • Better relationships*

In addition, a few discerning Christ-followers have noted:

1. Gratitude soothes over the irritations of life as attention is directed away from trouble and toward the blessings that remain.

We would worry less if we praised more. 

Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.

–Harry Ironside (1876-1951),

pastor, author, theologian

In other words, a grateful heart is a contented and satisfied heart.  Doesn’t that sound like a taste of heaven?

2. “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter every day epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world” (John Milton).

Every day epiphanies?  Transcendent moments of awe? These too sound like glorious tastes of heaven.

3. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life” (Melody Beattie) . . . as we begin to see the wealth we already own, the blessings we already enjoy, the prayers God has already answered.

The unthankful heart discovers no mercies;

but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and,

as the magnet finds iron, so it will find in every hour,

some heavenly blessings!”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Imagine naming a blessing for each iron shaving here!

In this week leading up to Thanksgiving 2021, what tastes of heaven are you enjoying? Please share a sample with us in the comment section below!

* https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-gratitude-practice#takeaway

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.maxpixel.net (2); http://www.wikimedia.org.

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“Father, please try to understand. I cannot go back to medical school. I’m not well-suited to be a doctor.” Francis looked hopefully into his father’s eyes. Perhaps this discussion would finally convince Father to let him follow his heart’s desire:  to become a writer.

“Son, you’ve spent six years in training,” began his father, a physician himself. “It would be foolish to throw away all that time and effort. Besides, think of the security provided by a position in the medical field. If you pursue this notion of becoming a writer, there is no guarantee of success or even a steady income.”

Once again, father and son had reached an impasse. And so, with only a few coins in his pocket, Francis set out on his own.  He traveled more than 220 miles to London, found a job as a bookseller, and wrote in earnest as time permitted. The year was 1885.

Francis’ health began to suffer and he lost one job after another until he ended up selling matches in the Whitechapel slums of London’s East End.

That barely provided food much less rent.  Soon Francis was homeless. To make matters worse, he found himself addicted to the opium he had first taken for relief of neuralgia pain. At one point he attempted suicide.

In 1887 Francis sent some of his poems, “scribbled on sugar paper,”[1] to Wilfred Meynell, the editor of a journal, Merrie England. Meynell was highly impressed, in spite of the humble presentation, and agreed to publish them. But the proceeds were meager.

The following year Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of Whitechapel. Francis did what he could to protect the murderer’s would-be victims, the prostitutes of the make-shift brothels. Perhaps it was one of these women who saw Francis collapse in the street one day.  She allowed him to stay with her and even cared for him for a while. (Francis later referred to her as his “savior,” though he never revealed her identity.)

When the publisher Meynell discovered Francis’ dire circumstances, he arranged for the young poet to live at a monastery where he could regain his health and overcome his addiction. The process took five years. As Francis began to heal physically, Meynell and his wife helped Francis renew his faith in God. Sometimes as he walked the peaceful grounds of the monastery, Francis would become overwhelmed by God’s grace to save him, and he’d break out into songs of praise.

(Perhaps scenes such as this caused Francis’ outbursts of praise.)

During this time Francis continued to write—poetry, essays, and short stories—including his most famous work, “The Hound of Heaven.” The autobiographical poem recounts his experience of being lost and God’s persistent pursuit of him.

“Hound of Heaven” begins:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days

I fled Him down the arches of the years

I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears.

(Such a monastery chapel as this may have inspired line 2 above.)

Later in the poem Francis described God’s pursuit:

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after

But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat–and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet–

‘All things betray thee who betrayest Me.’

Another section provides God’s explanation for removing certain pleasures from the speaker’s life, because they were leading him in the wrong direction. God’s purpose was to guide him toward choosing the right path.

In the end God tells the speaker that “the happiness he sought by running away was following him all the time” (Cummings).[2] And the darkness of deprivation had been but “the shadow of the Divine hand stretched over him in love” (Blamires).[3]

Once Francis had regained his health in 1893, the Meynells invited him to stay with them. That same year Meynell helped Francis publish his first book of poems. “Hound of Heaven” was included.

“It was immediately recognized as a masterpiece.”[4] One critic called it “one of the great odes of which the English language can boast.”[5]

Over the ensuing years, “Hound of Heaven” was praised by such respected authors as Oscar Wilde, G. K. Chesterton, Eugene O’Neill, and J. R. R. Tolkien. O’Neill showed his high respect for the poem by memorizing it—all 182 lines. Chesterton said, “it is the most magnificent poem ever written in English,” to which Tolkien responded that Chesterton wasn’t giving the poem the credit it deserved.[6]

Francis Thompson subsequently became a well-known, respected poet, essayist, and spiritual writer. But his health suffered due to the hardship of those years in Whitechapel, and he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1907 at the age of 47.

Across the decades since his homegoing to heaven, Francis would surely have us remember these words of the apostle Paul:

Notes:

[1] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/heavens-hound-got-francis-thompson-11630688.html

[2] https://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides3/hound.html

[3] Harry Blamires as quoted in Oxley, The Hound of Heaven: A Modern Adaptation, 81, as quoted by

www.hopechristianchurch.org

[4] http://houndofheaven.com/product/the-hound-of-heaven-the-story-of-francis-thompson/

[5] https://www.patheos.com/catholic/hound-of-heaven-pat-mcnamara-07-10-2012

[6] https://reasonsforhopejesus.com/is-hound-of-heaven-a-name-for-god/

Additional  Sources:

  1. https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/601/faith-focus/poet-return-god
  2. https://www.christiantoday.com/article/opium-addict-and-derelict-the-extraordinary-life-of-francis-thompson-christian-poet/130930.htm
  3. http://www.teleiaphilia.com/a-modern-adaptation-of-thompsons-hound-of-heaven/
  4. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/undergraduate/modules/fulllist/second/en227/texts/thompson-hound.pdf

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.canva.com.

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The psalmists of old seemed to have a favorite metaphor for God: Rock. You’ll find the imagery used twenty-nine times.  Sometimes the writers included reasons why this was a meaningful comparison for them; sometimes they included synonyms:

  • “The Lord is my rock, my fortress” (18:2)
  • “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield . . . my  stronghold” (also 18:2)
  • “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (61:2)
  • “God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe” (62:2 CEV)
  • “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come” (71:3 NASB)

David seemed especially fond of this metaphor, perhaps because he spent months hiding from King Saul in the rocky terrain of the Judean wilderness. Psalm 57 was written specifically when he escaped into a cave. It may have been the characteristics of the rock walls surrounding him that brought to mind descriptors of God—solid, strong, protective, and unchanging.

Perhaps a cave such as this hid David and his men.
Might such a formation as this have provided the inspiration behind
“Be the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2)?

Later when he became king, David composed Psalm 18, probably after the numerous battle victories summarized in 2 Samuel 8.  Four times in that psalm he extolled God as his Rock.

In the New Testament we find Jesus’ parable about a foolish man building his house on sand, and a wise man building his house on rock. The point is clear: God is a reliable foundation-Rock on which to build our lives.  He provides:

  • solid, trustworthy wisdom for decisions 
  • strength and power for life’s challenges
  • protection from our arch enemy, Satan
  • unchanging reliability, faithfulness, and love—to name a few unfailing attributes
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise,
like a person who builds a house on solid rock” Matthew 7:24.
(House in Meteora, Greece.)

One of my favorite examples of Bible imagery is found in Philippians 2:15.  To understand the context though, we have to start reading at verse fourteen:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,

so that you may become blameless and pure,

children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.

Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky

as you hold firmly to the word of life.

–Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

Isn’t that a glorious statement in the fourth line above?  We can shine into the darkness of the world like stars as we allow the Spirit to foster purity within us!

Ngc 3603 Nebula Cluster Of Stars

Now why would letter-writer Paul choose stars to make his point? Perhaps their beauty reminded him: with kindness, patience, joy, and more we can bring beauty to the world around us–a world darkened by selfishness, greed, and hatred.

Paul would also have known about using stars for navigation.  As far back as 3000 B.C. ancient Minoans were using constellations to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (1).  Perhaps Paul connected the starlight to God’s wisdom shining in mature believers, enabling them to provide guidance to those around them.

But now, centuries later, we know more about stars than Paul did and further comparisons can be drawn:

Stars shine by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores.  We shine as the Holy Spirit burns away the dross in our lives—those unbecoming traits like pride, negativity, and ingratitude. That’s when we can become radiant.

One prominent star in the evening sky of Fall and Winter is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), which is 19 quadrillion miles from earth.  The gleam we see left Deneb about 1500 light years ago in 521 A.D (2). The gleam of our lives can also achieve far-reaching effect as one life touches another which touches another, and then another . . . ad infinitum.

Stars not only create beauty but fulfill function.  They manufacture and distribute into the universe such elements as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen (3). As we shine like stars in our circles of influence, we too fulfill function, manufacturing and distributing such elements as goodness, encouragement, and helpfulness.

From earth and sky come these two insightful examples of biblical imagery:  rock and stars.

Do you see the connection between the two? As you plant yourself on the firm Rock of Almighty God and shine for him like a star . . .

. . . YOU are a Rock star!

Notes:

  1. https://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/navigation/
  2. https://earthsky.org/space/ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-stars/
  3. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/how-do-stars-from-and-evolve

Photo credits: http://www.hippopx.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixfuel.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net.

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Fixate on current events and become anxious.

Consider the bleak projections for the future and become fearful.

Dwell on your own struggles and become discouraged.

Focus on personal inadequacies and become doubtful.

Mull over regrets and become guilt-ridden.

Contemplate fading dreams and become despondent.

Permit negativity free reign and become depressed.

How easy it is to drift away from the truths that provide prosperity of soul.

We must choose to remember the following.

NO MATTER what we see happening, no matter the fear beginning to build, we can affirm: “For every visible reason for terror, there is an invisible and immensely more powerful reason for trust.” [1]

O Lord, God of our ancestors,

you alone are the God who is in heaven.

You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth.

You are powerful and mighty;

no one can stand against you!

–2 Chronicles 20:6 NLT

NO MATTER that we may not know the way forward; we do know the loving, all-powerful, and trustworthy Way Maker who has promised:

NO MATTER that life is a struggle right now, God will use it for good.  “There is coming a day [when] . . . We will have the glorious truth of our difficult ‘now’ laid out before us in a way that makes perfect sense, that will leave us panting a breathless ‘hallelujah’ for the process we’ve walked to get there.” [2]

“You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later you will understand.”

–John 13:7

NO MATTER how inadequate you feel because of failures, shortcomings, and doubts, you must remember:  “Weakness . . . is the very thing that qualifies you. Never mind your feelings of inadequacy; it is God’s work, not yours. 

“Simply make yourself available, and let go of any need to impress others, or prove yourself worthy, or achieve ‘success.’  What matters is that God has chosen you, and that God claims you as His own.” [3]

NO MATTER what you’ve done, “You no longer have to fear the consequences of your past, for your sovereign God promises that he will cause everything in your life to work together for your good and Christlikeness.” [4]

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven. . .

. . . Blessed is the one whose sin

 the Lord will never count against them.”

–Romans 4:7-8

NO MATTER that your dreams may be fading; “the death of your dream [is] not the death of God’s dreams for [you].” [5]

NO MATTER that circumstances conspire to steal your joy, you can . . . “Begin to rejoice in the Lord and your bones will flourish like an herb, and your cheeks will glow with the bloom of health and freshness. Worry, fear, distrust, care-all are poisonous! Joy is balm and healing, and if you will but rejoice, God will give power.” [6]

“Do not be worried,

for the joy of the Lord

is your strength and your stronghold.”

Nehemiah 8:10 AMP

NO MATTER the uncertainties and challenges of life, we have an all-powerful, wise and caring Companion for the journey, who provides all we need to experience prosperity of soul.

Stanza #3 from “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” by Elisha A. Hoffman

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, These Bold Ashes, 11.

[2] F. Elaine Olson, Peace for the Journey, 101.

[3] Brother David Vryhof

[4] Kay Arthur, His Imprint, My Expression, 274 and Romans 8:28.

[5] Tasha June, Take Heart, 25.

[6] A. B. Simpson

Photo credits: http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.www.pixfuel.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.heartlight.org; Nancy Ruegg.

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