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I know. It’s the week before Thanksgiving. If we start feasting on stuffing, mashed potatoes, and squash casserole now, we’ll gain five to ten pounds before the holiday even arrives.

It’s a different kind of feasting the post-title alludes to, the kind Reverend J. R. MacDuff recommended long ago.

And just for fun I’ll make a fill-in-the-blank from his statement, and you can guess the key phrase:

 

“Cultivate _______________.

It will be to thee a perpetual feast.”

—J.R. MacDuff

 

How would you complete the quote?

  1. an attentive outlook?
  2. a thankful spirit?
  3. a cheerful attitude?
  4. a faithful heart?

I’ll bet you guessed correctly, given the season.  MacDuff chose #2, a thankful spirit. But missing from his quote is an explanation of how gratitude could possibly offer the pleasure of a perpetual feast.

Perhaps he would suggest the following.

 

Gratitude fosters a positive perspective.

 

 

 

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns;

I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

—Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

 

In recent years scientific research has proven the benefits of optimistic thinking, including increased life span, less stress, better sleep, fewer colds, and better cardiovascular health. Gratitude to God surely augments the benefits.

 

“The optimist says, the cup is half full.

The pessimist says the cup is half empty.

The child of God says, my cup overflows.

–Anonymous

 

Gratitude develops a sense of awe.

 

 

“Gratitude bestows reverence,

allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,

those transcendent moments of awe

that change forever how we

experience life and the world.”

—John Milton

 

Think of the delight young children express when they encounter a ladybug sauntering across a rock, a sliver of rainbow glimmering on the wall, or a leaf shower providing a game of catch.

As we follow their lead, we’ll discover our ordinary days are laced with many transcendent moments to be grateful for.   And our hearts will fill with reverent awe for the Creator of these and all good things.

 

Gratitude strengthens our faith.

 

 

“Count blessings and find out

how many of His bridges have held…

Gratitude lays out the planks of trust

from today into tomorrow.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

Keep a written record of those planks. You’ll be amazed how quickly they accumulate.

 

Gratitude ushers in joy!

A nearby church posted the following wisdom on their marquee:

 

 

To that end, we can engage our senses with a thankful heart, finding joy in:

  • milkweed maidens poised for dancing
  • crackling leaves breeze-rustled into a huddle
  • a winged wedge of geese honking good-bye
  • flannel shirts and fleece vests—cozy as a hug
  • cinnamon apple tea:  autumn in a cup

 

 

Ordinary experiences can be turned into extraordinary blessings–by the power of gratitude.

 

Gratitude contributes to a heart of humility.

 

“Pride slays thanksgiving,

but a humble mind is the soil

out of which thanks naturally grow.

A proud man is seldom a grateful man,

for he never thinks he gets

as much as he deserves.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

The humble and grateful person realizes everything comes from God and nothing is deserved.

 

 

Gratitude cultivates a calm spirit.

 

“It’s impossible to give thanks

and simultaneously feel fear.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

We can express gratitude for all God is—his sovereignty and strength, his wisdom and loving kindness, his grace and glory—thus acknowledging his ability to bring good out of every situation. It releases us from the grip of fear and allows us to rest—in him.

 

 

_________________________

 

There you have it—just a few results from a perpetual feast of gratitude:

 

  • A positive perspective
  • Awe-inspiring wonder
  • Strengthened faith
  • Continual joy
  • Quiet contentment
  • Holy peace

 

Let the gratitude-feast begin!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.torange.biz; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net, http://www.publicdomainpictures.net.)

 

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“Be careful what you think,

because your thoughts run your life.”

–Proverbs 4:23, NCV

 

“Your thoughts run your life.” That would explain why worrisome thoughts can turn into paralyzing fear, pessimism into debilitating discouragement, and sadness into utter hopelessness.

No one wants to dwell in such misery.

But if a person is facing difficult circumstances, and she allows her thoughts to run amok on auto-pilot, she’s likely to slide downward into hyper negativity.  Climbing out is difficult.

“Snap out of it!” someone will say. Not very helpful.

“Look for the silver lining,” advises another. Easier said than done when tragedy strikes–and lingers.

 

 

“Spend some time in reflection.” That’s what one web site recommends, offering sixteen questions for a person to consider. Most of us don’t have time for that much introspection–nor the inclination–when we’re hurting.

So, how can we climb out of a miserable pit of despair?

By replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, especially scripture.

You see, our brains cannot focus on two things at once. Prove it to yourself by counting to twenty and reciting the ABCs at the same time. You’ll find you’re either counting or reciting, not both simultaneously.

We can apply the same strategy to negative thinking. At the first moment we realize our thoughts are headed in the wrong direction, we can confess it and ask God to help us renew our minds:

“Lord, I don’t want to think about this anymore; it’s accomplishing nothing. Help me to refocus on what is noble and right, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8).”

 

                           

Then we start singing a favorite praise song, or quoting an uplifting scripture, or listing all the reasons we can trust God in this situation.

For a start, the bulleted quotes below highlight some common threads of negative thinking.  Following each is a positive scripture as rebuttal:

 

“There is no way this situation is going to work out.”

Oh? “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, italics added).

 

“I can’t stand another day of this.”

Oh, yes, I can stand. I can put on the full armor of God, so that in this day of trouble, I may be able to stand my ground” (Ephesians 6:13).  Restoration will come.

 

 

“I am never going to succeed.”

 Not true.  God says [he] will accomplish all [his] purposes (Isaiah 46:10b, italics added).  What greater success could there be than to accomplish the purpose of Almighty God?

 

“I have no idea how to proceed; maybe I should just quit. This is just too hard.”

I can pray as the author of Hebrews did: “May the God of peace…equip me with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in me what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

 

“Sometimes I can’t seem to do anything right. How can God use me?”

It is God who made me the way I am, with specific plans and purpose in mind:  to do good works according to the gifts and talents he’s given.

 

 

_________________________

 

If the bulleted comments in bold print are our focus, our lives will surely head in a downward direction toward discouragement and hopelessness.

If, on the other hand, we focus on the promises and positive affirmations of scripture, we head in an upward direction toward wholeness, productivity, and joy.

“He enables [us] to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19)–above the doubts and uncertainties.

“Outlook determines outcome” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 22).

 

(https://quotefancy.com/quote/931807/Warren-W-Wiersbe-Outlook-determines-outcome)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *

 

What scripture promise or affirmation lifts you up when circumstances try to pull you down?  Add your favorites in the comments section below!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.needpix.com; http://www.heartlight.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.quotefancy.com.

 

(Revised and reblogged from April 16, 2015, “Focus Determines Direction.”)

 

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“I AM WHO I AM.”

That’s how God identified himself to Moses, as he spoke from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).

On the face of it, God’s statement seems rather strange.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but doesn’t it sound like a line Lewis Carroll would write for the Mad Hatter, or Dr. Seuss for the cat in the hat?

Moses had asked a legitimate question in response to God’s directive to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves leave the country (v. 11).  On what authority could he tell Pharaoh what to do?

But of course “I AM WHO I AM” was the perfect response. It’s a name that encompasses all the glorious complexities of almighty God.

And true to his word and character, the I AM of omnipotence and wisdom did take care of everything to release his people from Pharaoh’s grip and take them back to the land of their forefathers.

 

 

And since God never changes (Malachi 3:6), the same I AM is everything and anything we will ever need (Philippians 4:19), including the following.

Let’s shout these affirmations from our spirits:

 

The I AM of absolute power and sublime perfection

is our stability and security (1).

 

The I AM of self-existence and self-sufficiency

is our foundation and competence (2).

 

The I AM of supreme sovereignty and divine holiness

is our confidence and sanctification (3).

 

 

The I AM of firm constancy and unrivaled transcendency

is our inspiration and strength (4).

 

The I AM of complete wisdom and absolute knowledge

is our counselor and guide (5).

 

The I AM of abiding faithfulness and assured reliability

is our help and support (6).

 

 

The I AM of unfailing love and generous benevolence

is our encourager and comforter (7).

 

The I AM of enduring patience and exceeding kindness

is our peace and joy (8).

 

The I AM of deep understanding and gentle compassion

is our defender and reconciliation (9).

 

 

The I AM of bountiful mercy and lavish grace

is our Redeemer and Savior (10).

 

The I AM of righteous integrity and overflowing goodness

is our Shepherd and provider (11).

 

The I AM of splendorous glory and royal majesty

is our Father and Friend (12).

 

 

Listen to his affirming whisper:

“I AM in you, with you, and for you. 

When doubt or fear seep into your thoughts, remember who I AM and send those negative thoughts scurrying.  

Rest in who I AM; enjoy who I AM— the One who delights to bring all My attributes and blessings to bear upon your life.

Take joy also in the principle of reflection. The more time you spend in My presence, even as you’re involved in other tasks, the more you will reflect Me and My character to others. 

As you look to Me, you will be radiant.

And those around you will see who I AM.

 

 

(1 Corinthians 3:16; Psalm 23:4; Romans 8:31; Psalm 143:5;

Psalm 145; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 34:5; Matthew 5:16)

 

 

Notes:

  1. Matthew 19:26; Psalm 18:30; Psalm112:7; Proverbs 3:26
  1. Psalm 90:2; Acts 17:24-25 and Romans 11:36; Psalm 18:31; 2 Corinthians 3:4-5
  1. 1 Chronicles 29:9-11; Isaiah 6:3; Proverbs 3:26; 1 Corinthians 6:11
  1. James 1:17; Psalm 113:5-6; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 46:1
  1. Romans 11:33; Job 37:15-16; Psalm 32:8; Isaiah 58:11
  1. Psalm 33:4; Psalm 121:3; Psalm 33:20; Psalm 18:35
  1. 1 John 4:8; Psalm 31:19; Isaiah 41:10; 2 Corinthians 1:3
  1. 1 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Psalm 4:7
  1. Psalm 103:14, 8; Psalm 138:7; Colossians 1:20-22
  1. Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 45:21-22
  1. Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 25:8; Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 145:9
  1. Exodus 15:11; Psalm 93:1; 2 Corinthians 6:18; John 15:14

 

Photo credits:  http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.canva.com (3); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.needpix.com; http://www.flickr.com.

 

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Ask a church gathering, “What’s your favorite psalm?” and many folks will name #91 for its reminders of God’s goodness and power.

They’d be in good company. The great theologian, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

 

“In the whole collection there is not a more cheering psalm,

its tone is elevated and sustained throughout,

faith is at its best, and speaks nobly…

He who can live in its spirit will be fearless” (1).

 

That fearlessness would certainly be encouraged by the eight promises of verses 14-16:

 

 

Note that God promises:

Rescue, protection, and deliverance (vs. 14-15)—not from trouble, but through it. He does not promise a life of ease and bliss. However, “the only things faithful people can lose in suffering are things that are finally expendable” (2).

Answers to every prayer (v. 15)—answers that always reflect God’s perfect knowledge of all things, his wisdom and grace, even when the answer is wait, or even no.

His steadfast presence (v. 15)—“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly” (George MacDonald).

 

 

Salvation (v. 16)—“I have summoned you by name; you are mine,” God has said (Isaiah 43:1). We belong to him, purchased at an exorbitant price:  the precious blood of his own Son.

But upon first reading, one promise puzzled me, and another actually startled me.

First, the puzzle. In verse 16 God promises long life. And yet all of us have been devastated by lives cut short.  How are we supposed to interpret this promise?

With a long view into eternity.

Once we experience the glory of God and his heaven, we’ll no longer be concerned about the number of days any of us spent on earth. We’ll only delight in the fullness of God’s presence and all the eternal pleasures he’s prepared for us (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

And then there is the startling promise: that God will honor us (v. 15), as in confer special esteem, respect, and distinction with deferential regard (3).

But he’s the one who deserves honor. Our God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, omnipresent and eternal—to name a few of his attributes.  What could we possibly do to warrant his honor?

Not a thing. But scripture assures us: those who honor him he has chosen to honor in return (1 Samuel 2:30).

Imagine standing in the splendorous throne room of almighty God as he announces:

  • The removal of your filthy rages of sin, to be taken as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)
  • The magnificent robes of His Son’s righteousness placed around your shoulders (Isaiah 61:10)
  • Your official standing as his child (Romans 8:15-17)

 

 

  • The privilege of companionship with him any time of day or night (Revelation 3:20)
  • Tasks to provide purpose and satisfaction in life (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Countless blessings to bestow joy and pleasure (Psalm 40:5)
  • Eternal life granted through his Son Jesus (1 John 5:11-12)

 

These honors and more are the extravagant expressions of God’s infinite love for you.

 

 https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1404884

 

An expanded excerpt from Ms. Smith increases the wonder:

 

Put together all the tenderest love you know,

The deepest you have ever felt,

And the strongest that has ever been poured out upon you,

And heap upon it all the love

Of all the loving human hearts in the world,

And then multiply it by infinity,

And you will begin, perhaps,

To have some faint glimpse of the love God has for you.”

–Hannah Whitall Smith

 

There are two caveats, however, presented in verse 14. These promises, including the conferral of God’s honor, are reserved for those who love him and acknowledge his name (affirm the reality of his attributes in their lives).

The psalmist is not talking about a warm, congenial feeling for God; he’s talking about a love put into action with trust and obedience.

 

 

As humans, our default mode is often self-reliance and independence. But what could be more sensible than to trust and obey One who is all-seeing and all-wise, who loves perfectly and honors lavishly?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Father, how foolish I have been at times, willfully rebelling against your leadership.  May I choose daily the place of honor you’ve sacrificially prepared for me by loving you wholeheartedly, trusting you for guidance, provision, and protection, and following your wise ways.      

 

Notes:

  1. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David
  2. Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, Viking, 2015, p. 226 (emphasis added)
  3. Webster’s II New College Dictionary

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com (4); http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.pixhere.

 

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“Here’s what I’ve been looking for!” My husband propped his walking stick against a forest tree and pulled from the underbrush a straight, stout branch about my height. With his pocketknife he whittled off several small branches and gifted me my own walking stick. “Try this, “ he coaxed. “It really helps.”

I’d been groaning through the incline portions of our hike in the Appalachian foothills. Yes, exercise and walking were part of my routine at home, but we lived in the flatlands of Florida at the time. The upward slopes of this footpath were causing my leg muscles to complain loudly.

What a surprising difference that branch made!  Swinging it ahead helped propel me forward. I felt more stable in the uneven and slippery places with the walking stick to provide balance.  And leaning into it as I hefted myself up steep inclines did take some of the stress off my aching legs.

That experience brings to mind a familiar truth tucked in Psalm 23:

 

 

Your rod and your staff comfort me.”

 

Just as that walking stick gave me relief on the trail, the staff of God’s Word has offered much relief on the path of life.

For example:

As a young wife and mother, discouraged by the mindless repetition of housework, I came across this staff of scripture to propel me forward:

 

 

The realization dawned that taking care of my family was equivalent to serving him. And though it would be a lie to say from that day forward I happily swept, scrubbed, and sanitized, I did carry with me a new perspective.

 

When distraught over my faults and deficiencies, God handed me this walking stick of relief:

 

“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you

will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…

For it is God who is working in you,

enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”

–Philippians 1:6; 2:13 HCSB

 

 

What a loving, attentive Father he is, day after day working out his plan and blessing upon our lives, slowly but surely transforming us into our best selves.

 

When distraught over election results, I leaned on the comforting truth of Daniel 2:20-21:

 

 

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and

power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and

raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to the discerning.”

 

What a relief to know he is sovereign over the universe, and everything is under his control.

 

When I was heartbroken after a young friend died as the result of a car accident, I desperately wanted to know why. Why didn’t God answer the prayers of countless people and bring her out of the coma?

Shelly was a talented pianist with a short-term missionary assignment pending. Why didn’t he save her?

God gave me the stabilizing staff of Romans 11:33-36, to help me walk through my questions and grief:

 

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?

For from him and through him and for him are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

 

 

Those last two statements brought sudden clarity. Everything—even painful eventscome through God first before they touch us. And somehow it all has potential to bring him honor and praise. The answer to my question why isn’t necessary.

 

“Each of us may be sure that

if God sends us over rocky paths,

He will provide us with sturdy shoes.

He will never send us on a journey

without equipping us well.”

–Alexander MacLaren

 

And with those sturdy shoes of equipping, praise God he also provides walking sticks of stability, support, relief, and comfort in his Word–if we keep a watchful eye.

 

 

What walking sticks in scripture have offered you stability, support, relief, and comfort?  Please share in the comments section below!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org;  http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org.

 

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“Would you look at this?” my friend exclaimed. Her outstretched hand waved over a selection of magazines in our favorite place to meet, a local bookstore/cafe.

 

 

Do you see what caught Cindy’s* eye? That word “Mindfulness” or “Mindful” shouted from nine different periodicals.

After the initial surprise, we realized why mindfulness is such a hot topic.  These days many adults are under great pressure to push themselves hard, move faster and accomplish more each day. All the while electronic devices are demanding their attention.

Add to that the worries rasping in their minds: the mistakes and failures of yesterday, the tight schedule and uncertainties of tomorrow, and fears for the future.

The pace, stress, and anxiety take their toll in the form of health problems, sleep disorders, and relational strain.

 

 

As a result, many have embraced mindfulness—a pleasurable time-out to capture the joy of now–like pausing to savor the tart, crisp, juiciness of an apple, stopping to listen as small bare feet patter down the stairs, or taking a moment to study a chipmunk collecting acorns.

And according to the research, just a brief interlude of mindfulness can calm the nerves, reset one’s emotional equilibrium, and foster contentment—all to positive effect upon our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

But I wonder, how many people know God offers even more–if we augment mindfulness with gratitude and praise?

 

 

For example, while doing the dishes I can focus on the hot water warming my hands, the clean scent of soap, the rainbowed bubbles floating in a bowl, the burbling water cascading over glasses and cups–then add a short prayer:

Thank you, Father, for giving us five senses

with which to enjoy your world.

 

 

While traveling in the car I can take note of the late summer haze clinging to the hillsides, today’s cloud exhibition, and the leaves on the roadside performing pirouettes on the breeze–then honor the Lord of all things:

I praise you, Father, for your creative genius

on display everywhere I look.

 

 

While reading a book with my two-year old granddaughter, I can pay attention to the sensation of her little body snuggled into my side, the sweet sound of her toddler-voice “reading” some of the words, and the dimples on the back of her hand as she points to a picture–then express gratitude to the Giver of all good gifts:

Thank you, Father, for the delights to be found

beneath the surface of ordinary experience.

 

 

Each day I can pause to observe the rose-pink tint of dawn, the dappled treetops in the noonday sun, and the slow glide of shadows at sunset–then rejoice in God’s power and glory.

My mouth is filled with your praise, O God,

declaring your splendor all day long.”

–Psalm 71:8

 

 

Mindfulness may prod us to notice God’s gifts in the moment, and that’s good.

But mindfulness plus gratitude and praise prompt us to treasure him, and that’s transformational.

God’s presence becomes palpable (James 4:8), joy sings in our hearts (Psalm 92:4), contentment settles in our spirits (Isaiah 26:3).

And the Giver of all good things surely smiles with pleasure in response.

 

 

*Name changed.

 

Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; ww.canva.com.)

 

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Interesting, isn’t it, how the slightest trigger can transport us back through time?

  • A song might remind us of that first date with our spouse
  • The fragrance of lilacs brings to mind a previous home
  • The first bite of a family recipe at Thanksgiving conjures up bittersweet memories of another table long ago

 

 

They say that the memory of everyone we’ve known, every place we’ve been, and everything that’s happened to us is submerged in our subconscious. And the slightest nudge—haphazard as it might be–can bring a memory bobbing to the surface with surprising force.

But there’s another kind of remembering—a deliberate quest to seek truth for our lives—to understand how the hurts, mistakes, and losses, the treasured times, precious people, and lessons learned, reveal God’s work within us and for us, bringing good from it all.

For example, looking back through our memories we see:

 

God has given us strength to persevere.

At times we thought we’d never make it. Friends proved unfriendly and while the sting smarted we struggled to understand why the relationship went wrong.

Circumstances turned our lives upside down and we couldn’t see how to make things right again.

Death claimed a loved one and the pain seemed unbearable, unending.

 

 

But here we are. We survived, because God brought us through each calamity.

 

God has taught us the value of his wisdom.

Most of us have made choices along the way that seemed right but proved wrong.

Perhaps it was a relationship with someone whose habits provided troubling warning signs, but we ignored them and later suffered heart-rending hurt.

Or, perhaps we pursued an appealing, self-serving dream, only to discover its fulfillment did not produce the satisfaction we expected.

Some of us had to learn the hard way: God’s wisdom in scripture is truth after all, including his warning against relationships with fools (Proverbs 13:20) and the emptiness of selfish gain (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11).

 

 

But he also promised blessing for those who follow his all-wise guidance:

 

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,

and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.”

–Proverbs 16:20

 

God has demonstrated his faithfulness in countless ways.

Consider the categories listed below and allow your memory to plumb the depths, bringing to the surface people, places, and events from the past that reflect God’s faithfulness:

 

 

  • Nurturing family members
  • Loyal, supportive friends
  • Secure places of contentment
  • Health issues resolved
  • Knots of circumstances untangled
  • Necessities miraculously provided
  • Blessings bestowed, not even asked for

 And what can we anticipate as the result of this kind of remembering?

Peace.

Because we realize for all our yesterdays, God has…

…enabled us to power through on his strength,

…provided his wisdom to guide us through murky circumstances,

…and been at work in our lives for our benefit—sometimes in the form of gifts, sometimes in the form of lessons.

 

 

Such reassurances can settle fear, doubt, and worry, allowing peace to flourish today and into all our tomorrows.

This kind of remembering intentionally entwines past and future so memories become woven into faith-filled expectation.

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.needpix.com; dailyverses.net.)

 

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