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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Retirement:

a time to enjoy all the things

you never had time to do

when you worked.

–Catherine Pulsifer

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

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

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

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

Neurons, confocal flourescence microscopy

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

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

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

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

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

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

First:

You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later you will understand.

John 13:7

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

Second:

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

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

whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy

—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

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

Third:

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

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

Ephesians 2:10

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

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

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

Come run with me!

You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 NIV

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He rejoices with joy and joys with his singing,

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

his own righteousness upon them,

his own grace in them.”

— John Gill

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

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

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

“Where’s Tommy?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’d like to watch the video:

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


[1] Colossians 1:16

[2] Psalm 23:4

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

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

[5] Ephesians 3:20

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Eight-year old Jennifer Wiseman tagged along behind her parents down the road in front of their farm, just as she did every evening on their habitual walk.  No matter how many times the family of three and various pets set out under the dark sky, Jennifer always ended up trailing them, her head craned backward to study the stars.

With no city lights within miles, the countryside of her Ozark Mountain home offered a spectacular heavenly view.  Jennifer shuffled along, mesmerized. 

It seemed as if heaven’s glory itself shone through thousands of pinpricks in the black canopy of sky.  Jennifer knew about heaven from her parents and their church community where she saw lived out what was being taught.

Her interest in stars grew as she watched Carl Sagan’s television program, Cosmos.

(Carl Sagan)

 What would it be like to explore space, she wondered, to stand on a far-distant planet amidst its craters and mountains? To make new discoveries about the universe? Maybe one day I can be a part of space exploration.

That interest remained with Jennifer.  But whether to become an astronaut, astronomer, scientist or engineer building space probes—Jennifer didn’t know. So she majored in physics at MIT, since that basic science could be applied in many areas of study.

A few months before graduation in 1987, Jennifer traveled with other students to the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.  On photographic plates taken by astronomer Brian Skiff, she discovered a new comet that became known as the Wiseman/Skiff Comet.

(An unidentified comet)

Jennifer continued her education at Harvard, receiving a Ph. D. in astronomy in 1995.  From Massachusetts she moved to Virginia as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to research star formation.  Her childhood dream had finally become reality [1].

(Galaxy Grand star forming, photo from Hubble Space Telescope)

Currently she is the Senior Project Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope.

(Dr. Jennifer Wiseman)
(Jennifer teaching a seminar)

Dr. Wiseman is a sought after speaker because not only is she articulate and passionate about her subject of outer space, but as a believer in Christ she’s a strong defender of exploration as a divinely Christian activity.  She sees no conflict between science and her faith, sharing often a quote from John Calvin [2]:

As Jennifer considers the billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, she recognizes God is responsible for it all, and has been supporting and sustaining this ever-changing universe over billions of years, long before life existed.

(a star forming, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope)

For some, that realization fosters a feeling of insignificance, but not for her.  Jennifer senses a reverent fear and gratefulness that God engineered the universe to mature over eons of time until at least one planet can support abundant life.

“And I get to be a part of that for just a little while,” she says. “So I’m grateful. It also makes me a little fearful:  am I using my time well [3]?”

Jennifer allows her awe to impact her worship as she contemplates her Savior, the one who sustains the universe (Hebrews 1:3).  “He’s the one responsible for galaxies, black holes, planets, oceans, and porcupines!” she says.

(NASA photo of a dwarf galaxy)

“When we say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ we must mean that Jesus is Lord of all time and space.  Who was the Lord at the Big Bang when Time began?  Jesus.

“Who was Lord when the first galaxies coalesced and the first stars turned on?  Jesus.

(Colliding galaxies. Photo credit: ESA, Hubble, & NASA)

“Who was Lord as our own solar system came into being?  Jesus.

“Who was Lord during all the epochs of life on Earth—the Cambrian, the Pleistocene, the era of [early humans]?  Jesus.

“And who will be Lord as long as time exists, and forever outside of time as well?  Jesus [4].”

(The Omega Nebula or Swan Nebula)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We do praise you, O God, for the wonders of your universe. Thank you for giving us the capability to study and understand its marvels at least in part, providing opportunity to gain insight into your greatness.

(Planetary Nebula)

We also praise you for working at the infinitesimal level—in our individual lives. How glorious we can never come to the end of your attentive loving kindness any more than we can reach the end of your universe.

(Psalm 19:1; Genesis 1:27; 1 Chronicles 29:11;

Matthew 10:29-31; Psalm 57:10)

 Notes


(NASA’s Power Couple, Jennifer Wiseman and Mark Shelhamer)

[1] Meanwhile she married fellow NASA scientist Mark Shelhamer in 1997.  They met at MIT when she was an undergrad and he was pursuing his master’s degree.

[2] https://news.belmont.edu/dr-jennifer-wiseman-speaks

[3] https://blog.emergingscholars.org/2013/07/interview-with-jennifer-wiseman-part-2/

[4] www.letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/how-science-can-inspire-can-inform-worship-jennifer-wiseman/

Other Sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.testoffaith.com

https://biologos.org/podcast-episodes/jennifer-wiseman-light-in-space

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxhere.com;www.pixabay.com; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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I first heard that title-phrase–thin places–from a woman in my writers’ group. (Thank you, Colleen!) It refers to a location or moment in which we’re more aware of God’s presence, where the veil between heaven and earth seems particularly thin, and we experience a taste of how glorious heaven will be.

Someone might say, “But the Bible says so little about our eternal home.  How do we recognize those thin places?”

A few examples may help.  Think of a time when:

  • You encountered a breath-taking panorama of woodland flowers amid greening trees– on a day of sublime spring weather.  Did your heart fill with praise to the Creator for such beauty and perfection?
  • You found your skin tingling and your eyes stinging in response to music.  It may have been a moving classical piece like Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a rousing hymn such as Great Is Thy Faithfulness, or a soul-touching worship song like Christ Our Hope in Life and Death (Matt Papa/Keith and Kristyn Getty).  And during the moments those lovely notes lingered, were you carried on wings of splendor into the heavenlies?
  • You received an unexpected gift, a note of genuine appreciation, or a sincere affirmation.  Did a wave of bright euphoria sweep through your spirit in response to this delightful love-expression, and did your heart turn to God with overflowing gratitude as the One who inspired it (James 1:17)?
  • A prayer was answered—more perfectly than you imagined—or an over-the-top miracle unexpectedly materialized.  Were you rendered speechless by the glory and wonder of it all?

Just think: 

If we celebrate astonishing beauty in this world . . .

. . . if we’re carried on wings of splendor by events here on earth . . .

. . . and if we experience euphoric moments within imperfect relationships . . .

. . . what pleasures must await in heaven that Christ was willing to die, in order that we might enjoy them with him?

Let the thin places be a reminder:  Though the earth is full of God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3), heaven offers more—much more.

Let that thought lead to praise.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I praise you, Father, for those times and places I’ve sensed your intimate presence, when my heart felt strangely warmed as if touched by your holy hand.

I praise you for the fullness of joy you provide here and now in spite of my sins and shortcomings.  How precious is your loving kindness, O Lord! 

With happy expectation (a delight of its own), I look forward to the day when you’ll walk me through the veil and I will dwell with you in your glorious realm forever!

(Psalm 23:4; 16:11; 36:7; 23:6)

When or where have you encountered a thin place? Please tell us about it in the comment section below!

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.heartlight.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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On January 25, 1905, diamond mine superintendent Frederick Wells inspected the walls of the Premier Diamond Mine in South Africa—as usual.  Suddenly his practiced eye caught a telltale glimmer in the rock.  

Workmen cut free the luminous stone that very day, then took it to be weighed in the office of mine owner Thomas Cullinan.

The miners knew the fist-sized gem was a stellar find, but no one expected what the scale revealed.  Before them lay the largest diamond ever found—3,106 carats worth, and a perfectly clear specimen except for one black spot in the middle.

Frederick Wells with the Cullinan Diamond

Named for the mine owner, the Cullinan Diamond was sold to the Transvaal provincial government and eventually presented as a birthday present to England’s King Edward VII in 1907. 

King Edward hired master-lapidary I. J. Asscher of Amsterdam to divide the stone.  Asscher studied the Cullinan for six months before making the first cut, and subsequently created nine major stones along with ninety-six smaller ones.

Opened in 1854; still in business.

The largest diamond is called the “Star of Africa I” or “Cullinan I” and sits atop the British royal scepter; Star of Africa II is part of the Imperial State Crown.[1]

Star of Africa I is the pear-shaped embellishment atop the scepter.
Star of Africa II, front and center of the crown, just above the band of ermine.

Why did God create diamonds?  For the same reason he created everything in the universe:  to display his glory.[2]

Diamonds offer a magnificent example of God’s creative power, as he applied heat and pressure to simple black carbon and created mesmerizing stones.

Of course, it takes tremendous pressure (50,000 times more than that at the earth’s surface) and severe heat (2000 degrees Farenheit) for the transformation to take place.  Such extreme conditions only occur deep in the ground—at least 90 miles below the surface.

Humans have only been able to drill a little over seven miles into the earth.  So how were diamonds even discovered?  Because of another spectacular display of God’s power:  volcanoes, which spew them up to the surface.

And though raw diamonds do glimmer, their full magnificence is not released until the lapidary cuts the stones on all sides, to maximize the refraction and reflection of light. Today’s popular brilliant cut requires 58 facets. The process takes up to two weeks.

The ancient Greeks believed that a diamond was a chip of star that had fallen to earth.  We smile at their naiveté until we learn astronomers discovered a star in 2009 that has cooled and compressed into a massive diamond—10 billion trillion trillion carats worth!

Imagine the smile on God’s face as the scientists proved lyricist Jane Taylor closer to truth than she knew: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star . . . like a diamond in the sky” (1806).

With Job, we can affirm:

In addition to displaying God’s glory, diamonds also provide valuable lessons—much as he’s used trees, sheep, and ants to teach us.[3]  At least two lessons have been encapsulated in memorable quotes. 

Lesson #1: 

You know what else makes God smile?  Transforming black-carbon lives into radiant diamond-people.  Think of those like Kirk Cameron, George W. Bush, and Franklin Graham, all of whom once lived in dark rebellion and now reflect the light of Christ.

Such transformations require a lengthy process, and most often the heat and pressure of difficult circumstances, but the results are quite spectacular.[4]

Lesson #2:

    

A lapidary reminds us of our Heavenly Father.  He chips away at our self-centeredness and pride until we’re Stars of Heaven, fit for his crown and radiating his glory in brilliant perfection.[5]

So, my fellow stars-in-process, “let faith and patience have their perfect work, for in the day when the crown will be set on the head of the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, one ray of glory will stream from you”—Charles Spurgeon.


Notes

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/worlds-largest-diamond-found# and https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/blog/2017/01/worlds-largest-diamond-the-cullinan/

[2] Psalm 19:1

[3] Jeremiah 17:7-8; Psalm 23; Proverbs 6:6-8

[4] Hebrews 12:5-11

[5] Zechariah 9:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18

Photo images: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org.

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(In honor of Women’s History Month)

 

Hannah More (1745-1833)

 

The odds were stacked against her.

Like all young women of eighteenth century Britain, Hannah More would have to choose between marriage and a select few occupations for females. Universities did not accept women, most professions were closed to them, they couldn’t serve in government or even vote.

Yet the case has been made that Hannah More wielded strong influence in important arenas of her time. How could that be? God paved the way.

 

 

First, he gave Hannah a quick mind and a schoolteacher father who taught his five daughters at home. As the girls grew into womanhood Mr. More helped two of the older sisters open a boarding school for girls in nearby Bristol. Hannah attended for a while, but at age eighteen, became one of the teachers.

In addition to the ability to teach, God gave Hannah a gift for writing. Even at an early age she was composing poems and essays. Later she began to write plays for her students—dramas that included life lessons.

In her early twenties, Hannah became engaged to neighboring landowner, William Turner. Three times the wedding date was set; three times he backed out. The third time Hannah broke the engagement. To assuage his guilt, William gave her a monthly stipend, enabling Hannah to move to London and focus on her writing.

 

(www.azquotes.com/author/10363-Hannah_More)

 

God also provided opportunities for Hannah to meet people of influence. With her intelligence, wit, and charm, she was often invited to dinner parties and became a member of high society.

Meanwhile she made the acquaintance of John Newton, the slave-ship captain turned preacher who wrote Amazing Grace. They enjoyed a life-long friendship.

 

 

Newton was a member of the Clapham Sect, a group of passionate Christians, eager to release people from the oppression of poverty and slavery. One of the sect members served in Parliament, William Wilberforce. He, his wife Barbara, and Hannah also became friends for life.

 

     

William and Barbara Wilberforce

 

Hannah already despised the slave trade and joined the Clapham community. Their strong commitment to Christ greatly influenced Hannah and the practice of her faith took on greater importance.

At the suggestion of Wilburforce, Hannah wrote a poem to raise awareness about the treatment of slaves. It was published in 1788. One passage described the capture of Africans:

 

The burning village, and the blazing town:

See the dire victim torn from social life,

See the sacred infant, hear the shrieking wife!

She, wretch forlorn! Is dragged by hostile hands,

To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands.

 

As a result of reading Hannah’s impassioned account, thousands of people signed petitions demanding an end to the slave trade. The next year, Wilburforce used her poem in a Parliamentary debate concerning slavery.

Hannah helped the cause in other ways also. She encouraged a sugar boycott, since slaves provided the workforce on the British plantations of the Caribbean.

 

 

She even used her influence at dinner parties. Among people dressed in finery and focused on pleasure, Hannah would engage in cheerful banter, then pull out a folded piece of paper from her reticule, a drawstring purse.

“Have you ever seen the likes of this?” she might ask while spreading a print flat on the dining table—a diagram of the cargo hold inside a slave ship with Africans packed tightly together. The startling image helped garner more support for the cause.

 

 

Even as she campaigned for the abolition of slavery, Hannah took on another endeavor: education for the poor. She and her younger sister Martha established Sunday Schools since many of their students worked Monday through Saturday. (Child labor wasn’t prohibited in Britain until 1880.) They taught the three R’s and Bible lessons.

Soon three hundred children attended. Then adults were included and job placement provided. Within ten years, the sisters had opened sixteen schools, three of which still functioned into the twentieth century. Hannah involved herself in these schools for thirty years.

 

(Hannah More Academy, built 1834; closed 1974)

 

And of course, Hannah continued to write. She produced numerous pamphlets, plays of Bible stories that missionaries used around the world, as well as Christian novels and nonfiction. Her books outsold Jane Austen’s.

At age eighty-eight Hannah died peacefully in her sleep, just weeks after Parliament abolished slavery. The battle had taken forty years.

Even after her death Hannah’s positive influence lived on. She left the proceeds of her books, 30,000 pounds, for distribution to the poor—the equivalent of three million dollars today.

Hannah wrote in Practical Piety (1811):

 

“We must, while we keep our hearts humble,

keep our aims high . . . As God is unlimited in goodness,

He should have our unlimited love.

The best we can offer is poor, but let us not withhold that best.”

 

No one can say Hannah More did not give her best. May we follow her example.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/hannah-more/
  2. https://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-26-number-1/hannah-more-1745-%E2%80%93-1833
  3. https://www.str.org/w/hannah-more-guided-by-christian-convictions
  4. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/march/hannah-more-powerhouse-in-petticoat.html
  5. https://religionnews.com/2014/11/05/hannah-karen-prior-evangelical/
  6. https://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/the-power-of-a-poem-hannah-more-and-the-abolition-of-the-slave-trade.html.
  7. https://mylordkatie.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/hannah-more-a-heart-for-the-poor/
  8. https://www.citieschurch.com/journal/culture-shaping-faith
  9. http://christianwomenonline.net/2020/02/18/hannah-more-changing-the-world-with-a-pen/

 

Art & photo credits: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (3).

 

 

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“What takes you to Costa Rica?” the young woman across the aisle asked as we settled into our flight from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to San Jose.

“Oh, it’s just a stopover for me,” I replied. “My final destination is Quito, Ecuador. I’ll be serving as a short-term missionary at HCJB, a television and radio station.”

 

 

“We’re missionaries ourselves,” the woman replied, indicating with a hand-wave her seat mate.

And so began a pleasant conversation that passed the time quickly and helped settle my nerves about traveling alone from one foreign country to another that included an overnight stay in a hotel.

For six weeks of June and July, another girl and I had lived with a missionary family in Tegucigalpa, assisting them with their correspondence school.

 

One little corner of Tegucigalpa, Honduras

 

Laurel would soon head back to America to start college; I was taking a semester off between high school and college to teach preschool and kindergarten for the children of staff members at HCJB.

My very first commercial flights had been with Laurel as we traveled from Chicago to Miami and then Honduras. This twenty-four hour trip was on my own.

Upon arrival in Costa Rica I said good-by to the friendly missionaries and planned to remain in my seat till the plane took off again.

But a flight attendant informed me, “You’ll have to deboard, Senorita. This plane doesn’t go to Panama City.”

Oh-oh. The original itinerary arranged for in May did not include two separate flights and my ticket offered no clues. Now what was I supposed to do? Where should I go? What about my luggage?

 

 

The two missionaries had not left the plane yet. They accompanied me to the information desk inside the airport where a kind gentleman (who spoke excellent English) offered to resolve the problem. He assured the two missionaries all would be well, and I thanked them as they left.

Mr. Info Desk took me to another desk where they arranged for my second flight and made sure my luggage would be transferred.  Then Mr. I. D. invited me to sit nearby.

“I’ll see you to the gate in plenty of time,” he promised. An hour or so later he escorted me through the terminal and even ushered me onto the plane.

 

(The flight took us over the Panama Canal.)

 

In Panama City, while checking through customs, I met a woman from Arizona. We discovered our hotels neighbored each other and planned to share a taxi. But it took much longer for me to be processed–what with my six months-worth of belongings.  We said our good-byes and Ms. Arizona* exited customs.

Not long after I settled at the hotel, my new friend called. “Why don’t you come over and join me at the pool?” she suggested. I accepted her invitation, and we chatted away several delightful hours together.

The next morning all went well from hotel to airport, through emigration, and on to the crowded seating area. I settled next to an older priest, who also happened to be traveling to Quito.

 

(Tocumen International Airport, Panama City, Panama)

 

Our flight time passed without any announcement from the loudspeaker, and still we waited. Meanwhile a soccer team arrived, dressed in gray pants and navy blazers, all talking at once and laughing loudly. Once they left, the room grew noticeably quieter.

“I’m going to see what’s holding up our flight,” announced the Padre, getting up from his seat. “We should have been called long before now.”

He soon returned, announcing, “Grab your bags, Miss. We’re on the same flight with that soccer team. The desk agent didn’t think to announce boarding for the rest of us.”

Only a handful of passengers weren’t soccer players. If not for the travel-wise priest, I surely would have missed that plane.

 

(Quito sits over 9,000 feet above sea level,

nestled between mountains, higher still. )

 

But I arrived safe and sound with no mishaps, even though circumstances could have gone awry numerous times.

The help I received–from at least five people during my journey–seemed too coincidental for mere chance. God undoubtedly intervened.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the two missionaries, Mr. Info Desk, Ms. Arizona, and the Padre weren’t angels, put in charge of one young and very inexperienced traveler.

 

____________________________________________

 

*No, she wasn’t a beauty queen, I just don’t remember her name after all these decades!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.snl.no; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; www. wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.piqsels.com.

 

When have you received what seemed like angelic assistance?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

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O God, numerous concerns vie for my attention: the state of our country, family needs, friends going through difficult circumstances, my own personal struggles.

Redirect my focus, Father, from what I’m yearning for to what you’ve already given, including:

  • your Spirit of wisdom and revelation
  • your enlightenment to experience hope
  • the riches of your glorious inheritance
  • your incomparably great power*

Each of these gifts is a priceless treasure and more than worthy of meditation and praise.  And so . . .

 

 

. . . I praise you for your spirit of wisdom to guide my thoughts, to equip me for perceiving reality accurately and applying truth correctly.

Help me to trust your all-wise ways and not play the fool, ignoring the treasure of your wisdom that’s always just a prayer away.

 

 

I praise you that year by year, you reveal more and more of yourself to me so our relationship can become increasingly intimate. Never will I tire of learning about you and experiencing you more fully.

 

 

I praise you for your gift of enlightenment to experience hope—complete and calm assurance that you will be victorious in the end, and we’ll live with you forever in the paradise of heaven.

That enlightenment also includes perspective for today. As I focus my thoughts on all you’ve done in the past, my confidence and expectation is affirmed for what you will do in the future.

 

 

I praise you for the riches of your glorious inheritance that we enjoy as your children: your mercy and grace, love and goodness, power and strength–all these and more provided to those who choose to do life with you.

And then there’s the staggering truth we are your inheritance. You look upon your children—even me—not as a liability but as part of your glorious wealth.

 

 

I praise you, O God, that with your incomparably great power, you can take every negative and turn it into a positive. In addition, your dynamic, eternal energy is within me and always available.

No circumstance intimidates you—not the problems of our country, the needs of our family, the difficulties faced by friends, or my own personal struggles. The tougher my day, the stronger your power will flow through me—as long as I stay close by your side.

 

 

I pray for the resolve, holy Father, to avail myself of all this you’ve already given, and may I do so with godly wisdom and constant diligence.

In the name of your Son Jesus who makes such wealth accessible, amen.

 

 

*from Ephesians 1:17-19a.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.piqsels.com (2); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.piqsels.com.

 

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In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included eight statements called beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Each one highlighted a virtue that results in the highest kind of happiness: sweet contentment not based on circumstances but on joyful faith in God and his provision for all we need.

In addition to the beatitudes of Matthew 5, the Bible offers dozens of blessing-statements—each one an encouraging slice of truth about God and his ways for us. They just aren’t constructed in typical beatitude style.

For example, consider Psalm 37:4:

 

 

Written as a beatitude:

 

Blessed are those who delight in God

for they shall receive the desires of their hearts.

 

Of course, the desires of our hearts often reflect child-sized plans, while God may have designed a “hugely dimensional destiny” that will surprise everyone.[1]

Kara’s* story illustrates. She fully expected to attend university and then enter the world of business. But even with a straight-A average, no scholarship materialized, and her parents earned too much money to qualify for sufficient financial aid.

Unless she took out a large student loan, Kara’s only option was community college. Highly disappointed—embarrassed even—she applied. Meanwhile a letter happened to arrive from that local college, describing a new course of study in TV production.

 

 

Kara had just completed a high school course in multimedia programming and loved it, so she applied for this new program and was accepted. Better yet, God provided full tuition as she earned that degree. And best of all, he molded Kara’s desire to coincide with the delightful and satisfying plan he’d designed for her.

Now years later, Kara and her husband make their living in the entertainment industry. No doubt the two of them marvel how God brought them together to work in a medium they love.

Kara is a miracle.

Romans 5:3-4 offers another beatitude truth:

 

 

As a beatitude it might read like this:

 

Blessed are those who embrace their challenges,

for they shall be changed for the better.

 

Anne wanted to support her husband’s dream of a free counseling service in their community and began making pretzels to sell at the local farmer’s market.

Through long effort and a number of failures, Anne was able to grow the business into hundreds of franchises across the country. You’ve probably eaten one of Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels at a mall or airport.

 

 

Anne’s personal life also included struggles, failures, and even the death of one of her children. Yet she says, “I am now thrilled to live this life, feeling that each day is one to be enjoyed. God’s grace and forgiveness are what got me through it all.”[2]

Anne is a miracle.

Our third new beatitude is based on Mark 10:27b:

 

 

Beatitude style?

 

Blessed are those who care less about their limitations

and care more how limitless God is.

 

The bio on the backs of Jennifer Rothschild’s books informs the reader she is a wife, mother, and recording artist. Jennifer also travels the country as a speaker, and cofounded WomensMinistry.NET.

What the bio does not reveal is that Jennifer has been blind since age fifteen. In her book, Lessons I Learned in the Dark, she wrote: “God often wraps difficult gifts with His grace—and then uses them to display His glory.”[3] Jennifer’s productive and joyful life perfectly illustrates that statement.

Jennifer is a miracle.

All three women exemplify what Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) wrote long ago:

 

 

Kara, Ann, Jennifer, and countless other believers demonstrate: When we embrace God’s be-attitudes, we not only experience the highest kind of happiness; we become miracles.

 

*Name changed.

 

Notes:

[1] Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, pp. 160-161.

[2] Karol Ladd, Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive, pp. 147-148.

[3]  Jennifer Rothschild, Lessons I Learned in the Dark, p. 84.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.stocksnap.io; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Attend a graduation ceremony, participate in a work-related seminar, or just join in a break room conversation, and you might hear one of these statements:

  1. God helps those who help themselves.
  2. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
  3. Success = living life on your own terms.
  4. Believe in yourself.
  5. Follow your heart.
  6. You’ve got this.

 

Such statements are meant to encourage. But are they based on truth, or should a few be tossed in the trash?

Let’s consider:

 

Does God help those who help themselves?

Many people believe this idea comes from scripture. But the Bible teaches God helps those who recognize they can’t help themselves. The wisest course of action is to present each troubling situation to him in prayer before attempting any solution (1).

 

 

If I can dream it, is it a given I’ll able to achieve it?

Nowhere in the Bible are we told to pursue our dreams. Instead, God tells us to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Not that God doesn’t place desires for the future on our hearts. He gladly helps us achieve all the good works He’s prepared in advance for us to do.

This is what we need to remember: “A God-given dream is never about position . . . it’s always about contribution.” And it’s through God-ordained contribution that we find satisfaction and fulfillment (2).

 

 

Is success a matter of living life on our own terms?

That kind of living most often leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction. Instead, God invites us to live the abundant life on his terms.

Some would say, “But God’s ways are so constrictive!” Actually, his truth provides freedom—freedom from the misery of sin and misguided choices. On the other hand, when we live the way he’s expertly designed for us, we enjoy a myriad of blessings (3).

 

 

Should we believe in ourselves?

That puts us in charge, which sounds appealing until you factor in our limited knowledge, imperfect judgment, and inadequate abilities. Due to these restrictions, stress and anxiety become constant companions while we try to keep control over our lives.

How much wiser to trust God who knows all things and can accomplish all things—including the best way to proceed through all our tomorrows.

 

 

Does it make good sense to follow our hearts?

No, our hearts are guided by feelings, desires, and emotions, which cannot always be trusted. Just ask Jennifer—Wife #2 of Jack. She believed his stories about self-centered, temperamental Wife #1. Jennifer told herself, Our marriage will be different. But she is now facing divorce herself as Jack’s eyes have wandered toward someone else.

No, we can’t just follow our hearts. We need the guidance of God’s perfect wisdom (4).

 

 

Have we got this?

Not really. Life can be turned upside down in a moment—bosses terminate employment, sure investments for retirement turn to ashes, doctors reveal devastating diagnoses. What then? I can’t imagine facing such hardships without God.

How much more encouraging to remember: he’s got this. Numerous experiences of others as well as my own have proven: God always sees us through with his perfect wisdom and almighty strength—whatever we face (5).

 

 

Notice how each of these statements in bold print revolves around usour effort, our planning, our confidence—even though we’re prone to make mistakes and foolish choices. God is the only One with the wherewithal to achieve what’s best for us—100% of the time.

As it happens, all these common statements can be tossed in the trash.

So when someone says, “Believe in yourself ,”or “You’ve got this,” perhaps we could respond with a gentle nudge toward truth:

Actually, I’m eternally grateful that Someone much stronger and wiser than I am is in charge. Experience has taught me, I am much better off trusting in God than in myself.

 

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 56:3; 2 Chronicles 14:11; https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/why-god-helps-those-who-help-themselves-is-presumed-to-be-biblical.html
  2. 1 Timothy 2:22; Ephesians 2:10; https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/why-god-doesn-t-necessarily-want-you-to-pursue-your-dreams.html
  3. Proverbs 12:15; John 8:32; see Alphabet of Joy for examples of such blessings
  4. Romans 11:33
  5. Philippians 4:19

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.dailyveres.net; http://www.canva.com.

 

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