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Archive for the ‘God’s Love’ Category

Some time ago, wise-and-insightful blogger Michele Morin (at Living Our Days) shared that she was journaling through some of the old hymns. I imagined her digging into the meaning of some of the rich language and theology, personalizing the truths, and/or using them as the basis for prayer.

Putting pen or pencil to paper in such a way slows down our thinking, allowing wonderful blessings to emerge:

  • Increased knowledge of God and his Word
  • Clarity of understanding
  • A record of discoveries
  • A record of faith deposits for later encouragement
  • Renewal of the mind
  • Augmented intimacy with God

If writing a meditation sounds intimidating, adopt the attitude of Isaac Asimov:

“Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers.”

Isaac Asimov

For Christian journalers, writing can be worshiping through our fingers.

But how do we even begin such a process? Try Anne Sexton’s approach:

When we invite Jesus into our lives, the Spirit of God takes up residence within our spirits (1). We can put our ears down close to our souls and listen hard for him to guide our thoughts and lead us to the insights he would have us discover.

And then, we fill our pages with the breathings of our hearts (2).

The following is an example of a journal entry, based on the first verse of the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”(3). The next four images contain the lyrics.

You, oh God, are the Source of every blessing—every provision, every answered prayer, every wise decision, every creative idea, every moment of joy. All good and perfect gifts come from you (4).

Out of your lavish generosity, blessings flow continually from your hand. May I be quick to praise you for each one as they demonstrate your lovingkindness.

This fount of blessing includes your mercy also. I praise you for your forgiveness, undeserving as I am. Thank you for looking upon me with compassion and tenderness in spite of my weaknesses, failures, and sins.

And I praise you that your mercy never ends! You are faithful to forgive me every time I come to you in repentance. Such grace is beyond comprehension. Yes, I want to sing songs of loudest praise, to honor you rightly for all you’ve done for me and continue to do.

Perhaps if I had the voice of an angel and knew the songs of heaven I could sing the full praise you deserve!

Nevertheless, I celebrate your name(s)—Shepherd, Lord of Peace, God of Grace, Father of Compassion and more. I glory in all the attributes indicated by each one. And I remember: the one trait that is part of them all: your unfailing love.

Thank you for loving me, in spite of my shortcomings; thank you for redeeming me from the consequences of my sins so I might enjoy you forever!

Should you decide to journal through a hymn or praise song, remember: perfection is not the goal, getting to know God better and worship him more passionately are the aims.

An added benefit? Our meditations will positively impact our words and actions (5).

Notes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 3:16
  2. based on a quote from William Wordsworth
  3. by Robert Robinson, text adapted by Margaret Clarkson
  4. James 1:17
  5. Joshua 1:8

Photo credits: http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.flicker.com; http://www.freebibleimages.org.

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While exercising last Friday I listened to a podcast of Pete Briscoe’s sermon, “Every Day Jesus.” He made the point that we can actually see “tangible evidence of his intangible love” if we’re paying attention.

Pete told the story of a man who began looking for hearts, as emblems of Jesus’ love for him. He found them everywhere—heart-shaped rocks, shells, clouds, a heart-shaped stain on his jeans, even a heart-shaped dinner roll.

Pete told Jesus, I’d like to find tangible evidence of you too.  That very afternoon he spotted a pile of grass clippings on the side of the road, shaped just like a heart. He shared a photo on the sanctuary screen, and sure enough, there was no mistaking it.

Oh Lord, I thought, while finishing a set of push-ups.  That sounds like such fun. But I wonder if my emblem might be different than hearts—something personal. What could I look for?

No sooner did I get up from the mat than there it was: a star—a big one—blazoned on the wheel of our exercise bike. (Jesus made sure I didn’t miss it!)

The verse in Revelation came to mind where Jesus calls himself the bright morning star (22:16). And brief research delightfully expanded my understanding, so I’d appreciate more the stars yet to be discovered.

Just as Venus, the morning star, is always present whether we see it or not, so is Jesus. He is FAITHFUL and TRUE (Revelation 19:11), even when there’s no evidence in the moment.

Just as the morning star gives us assurance of approaching dawn, so Christ gives us assurance of approaching eternal life with him in heaven. He is our HOPE (1 Peter 1:3-5).

And just as the morning star cheers the night-weary soul, so Jesus brings JOY to the discouraged soul (John 17:13).

Each star then, would be a reminder of my Savior’s unfailing faithfulness, the confident hope I have in him, and the ineffable joy he provides.

Since Friday stars have been appearing with surprising frequency.

For example:

A friend posted a photo of her snow-covered garden. Right of center stood a small windmill –with a star on top.

While looking for an old photo on my phone I came across a springtime star from our own backyard.

We watched our Cincinnati Bengals squeak a win over the Titans last Saturday night. I’d never paid attention before to the NFL logo—with its stars.

The Titans’ helmets also include stars. See them surrounding the T?

In our refrigerator are a half-dozen stars or so. . .

. . . if you were to cut the apples horizontally, instead of stem to calyx.

A devotional reading this week just happened to be titled, “Star Gazing.”

In my office you’ll find paper clips shaped like stars. . .

. . . and on a table sits a Czechoslovakian, star-topped creche that I leave out all year.

On a shelf in the family room a crystal star adds sparkle . . .

. . . and even makes rainbows when placed in the sun.

With each star discovery, my heart sings. He is here—with us—revealing his extraordinary presence among the ordinary moments of our lives.

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord God, after less than a week I’m already rich with stars! You’ve scattered them throughout my days with such creativity.  Thank you that each one reminds me: my faith is not misplaced, my hope is assured, and every joy of life is enhanced—because of your loving presence.

Do you find tangible emblems of Jesus’ intangible love as you go about your day? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

P.S. Here’s a link to Pete Briscoe’s sermon: https://benttree.org/sermon/part-1-everyday-jesus/

(Art & photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.pxhere.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:

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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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“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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For the second time in his life, twenty-four year old Johnny Lee Clary considered suicide. The first time he’d been just fourteen, when his parents split up and his mother’s boyfriend started beating him. Now Clary had reached another personal crisis.

For ten years he’d belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, members providing the family he’d lost.  Clary worked hard to move up through the ranks, thinking achievement would produce fulfillment. But his rise in the Klan came at a cost. His wife divorced him, taking their young son with her.

Six months after attaining the position of grand wizard, Clary realized he felt just as empty and unsatisfied as before.

Now he sat on the edge of his bed, contemplating suicide again, when a sunbeam lit up a dusty Bible on a shelf, and he remembered the hours spent at a Baptist church when he was a boy. Those days were the happiest of his life.

He took down the Bible and it fell open to Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son.  Clary saw himself as the young man returning to his father.  He explained later, “I realized that no matter what I’d done, the Lord had never left me or forsaken me.”

And so thoughts of suicide turned into a whispered prayer.  Clary asked Jesus for forgiveness and rededicated his life to him.

That was 1989.  He left the KKK and spent two years immersed in scripture and in the teaching of respected Christian leaders.  In 1991 Clary felt God wanted him to do two things:  preach about Jesus and call Wade Watts.

Wade Watts, a Black pastor and civil rights leader, had not been far from Clary’s thoughts since meeting him in 1979, when they’d participated in a radio debate on racism.

When Watts offered Clary his hand, Johnny took it without thinking but then quickly withdrew, remembering a Klan teaching:  “Physical touch of a non-white is pollution.”

The black pastor took no offense. Laughing, he said, “Don’t worry.  My black won’t come off!”

During the debate, Clary hurled every hate-filled insult he could think of. But Watts won with his strong logic and good-natured humor.

As Clary left the radio station, Watts stopped him, holding his adopted, biracial daughter in his arms. “You say you hate all black people.  How can you hate this little baby?”

Clary didn’t answer as he stomped toward the parking lot. Watts called out, “God bless you, Johnny!  I’m gonna love you and pray for you whether you like it or not!”

Fueled by Watt’s intolerable good nature and the embarrassment of losing the debate, Clary began harassing the black pastor.  He and other Klansmen hurled garbage into Watt’s yard and plagued him with death threats.  Watts failed to respond.

Another night the Klansmen dressed in their white robes and hoods, lit torches in the pastor’s yard, and dared him to come out and face them.  Watts did, speaking calmly from his porch.  “Boys, Halloween is still four months away, so I don’t have any treats for you.  But come back in October!”  Then he went back in the house, leaving Johnny and company stunned into silence.

When they lit a cross in his yard, Watts asked if the Klansmen would like some hot dogs and marshmallows for their barbeque.

Finally Clary and other KKK members set fire to Watt’s church.  Clary called the pastor a short while later.  “You better be afraid,” he snarled in a disguised voice.  “We are coming to get you, and–”

Watts interrupted the threat.  “Hello, Johnny.  A man like you takes the time to call me, I am so honored.  Let me do something for you.”  And he prayed for God to forgive Johnny for setting fire to a house of the Lord.

Harassment of the black preacher continued for some time but Watts always responded with love, composure, and often humor.

One evening in 1991 after Johnny had turned back to Jesus, he called Reverend Watts.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” he began, “but my name is Johnny Lee Clary.”

“Remember you!” responded Watts.  “Son, I’ve been praying for you for years.”

The black pastor invited Clary to preach at his rebuilt church.   At the end of the sermon a teenage girl came down the aisle, crying, and embraced him.

Then he heard someone else crying—Wade Watts. “Johnny, remember that baby I showed you when we debated on the radio? And I asked how you could hate such a child?  This is that little girl!”

And so began a deep friendship between a former Klansman and a black preacher.

Watts often said, “If you want to make beautiful music, you got to use the black and white keys together.”

He and Clary enjoyed making beautiful music for seven years, often preaching and holding rallies jointly until Watts passed away in 1998. Clary continued preaching about Jesus and teaching against racism until his death in 2014.

Martin Luther King. Jr. wrote:

Through forgiveness, humor, and prayer for his enemy, that’s exactly what Wade Watts accomplished.  

Sources:

https://alobar.livejournal.com/3348812.html

https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/not-a-chance-encounter-but-a-divine-appointment-with-truth/

https://www.godyears.net/2017/08/the-redemption-of-ku-klux-klan-leader.html

https://thislandpress/2013/08/29

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.photstockeditor.com; http://www.pxhere.com;www.wikimedia.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.flickr.com.

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In the cool of morning two weeks ago, I sat on our deck before the sun had cleared the distant trees–much less those close by.   Below, the creek bed of lush foliage loomed dark and still, but above me birds chattered happily while one lone cardinal out-sang them all.  Thankfully the cicadas hadn’t started their ruckus yet.

a bit later in the morning

From several blocks away, commuter traffic already rumbled, and high in the sky the occasional jet roared northward.  Yet the serenity of my immediate surroundings superseded the extraneous noise.

And I sensed God saying to me:

Breathe in the stillness, in spite of traffic din and aircraft drone. 

I’m referring to the serenity you feel in your spirit because of what you see around you:  quiet trees unmoved by breeze, the tranquil creek bed, and the peaceful yard to the east where golden light silently presses against deep shadow—portraits of stillness in spite of the noise.

Be mindful that, as the sun faithfully turns darkness into day, my face shines faithfully upon you with the golden light of peace (1).  I push back the shadows of worry and fear while the noise in the world clamors around you—political factions arguing against one another, loud voices contending for self-serving agendas, terrorists, criminals, and thugs wreaking havoc, and more (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

Learn from the birds and woodland creatures who find refuge in the thick foliage of bush and tree. You too can find refuge—in me.  In fact, peace grows in direct proportion to time spent with me (2).

Picture yourself surrounded by my protective, calming presence and affirm:

  • I will never stop caring for you or supplying your every need (3)
  • I will never leave you to struggle alone (4)
  • I will never fail you, no matter how the future unfolds (5)

Focus the eyes of your spirit on such promises. Feel their truths calm your heart (6).

Even as the noise of this world grows louder because the end of time draws near, breathe in such peace-generating realities often.  Let them usher you into my Presence, surround you with comfort, and encourage your soul (7).

I long for you to live within the tranquility and protection of my Presence.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Thank you, Father, for even wanting to be my shelter. Thank you for your loving care expressed in countless ways over the decades.

I know you are trustworthy. I praise you for your unfailing love that will see me through whatever the future holds. In addition, you will provide quiet refuge within my spirit where I can rest in you.

Help me keep focused on you, to live in the shelter of your love no matter the noise of the world.

(1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 32:10;

Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 119:114)

Notes:

  1. Numbers 6:24-26
  2. Isaiah 26:3
  3. Philippians 4:19
  4. Isaiah 41:10
  5. Hebrews 13:5c
  6. Psalm 119:50b
  7. Psalm 119:165

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (2), http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; www. heartlight.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

is the revelation of himself.

F. Elaine Olsen (1)

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

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

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


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

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

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The Advanced Placement Program launched in the 1950s. Perhaps you took advantage of A. P. classes as a high school student. Though more challenging than standard secondary courses, they provide a substantial payoff–up to a semester’s worth of college credit.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought of A.P. classes upon encountering a Charles Colson quote about gratitude. He presented a whole new level of challenge concerning this quality.

Instead of giving thanks for the goods received, Colson suggested we express appreciation for who God is—his character. Colson said such an act of faith provides evidence the Holy Spirit is working in a person’s life (1).

 

 

So, in spite of self-isolation and lockdowns, distress for our country and world, as well as the personal concerns we all carry, let’s aspire to A. P. gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day by reflecting upon:

 

God’s grace

 

God is . . . a personal Father who cares,

and not a God who merely wound up the world with a key

and then went away to let it run by itself.

God’s grace is a certainty, even amid the turmoil of today’s world.

–Unknown

 

 

God’s faithfulness

 

No matter what we are going through, no matter how long the wait for answers,

of one thing we may be sure: God is faithful.

He keeps His promises.

What He starts, He finishes . . .including His perfect work in us.

–Gloria Gaither (2)

 

 

God’s goodness

 

Of all the things our minds can think about God,

it is thinking upon his goodness that pleases him most

and brings the most profit to our soul.

–Julian of Norwich

 

 

God’s compassion

 

Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow;

the same everlasting Father who cares for you today

will take care of you tomorrow and every day.

Either he will shield you from suffering,

or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it.

Be at peace then, put aside all anxious thoughts

and imaginings, and say continually:

‘The Lord is my strength and my shield;

my heart has trusted in him and I am helped.

He is not only with me but in me and I in him.’

–St. Francis de Sales

 

 

God’s love

 

All shall be well, all shall be well . . .

for there is a force of love moving through the universe

that holds us fast and will never let us go.

–Julian of Norwich

 

 

With these eternal gifts bestowed upon us—God’s fatherly care, promise-keeping faithfulness, ever-reliable goodness, soul-strengthening compassion, and never failing love, we surely have everything we need.

 

 

Notes:

  1.  http://www.crosswalk.com/faith-spiritual-life/inspring-quotes/30-christian-quotes-about-thankfulness.html 
  2. Quoted in Values for Life, Walnut Grove Press, 2004.

 

Art & Photo Credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.pixy.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

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If you’ve ever weeded an early spring garden, you know how tricky it can be to sort seedlings from weedlings.

In the garden of the mind mentioned in the above poem, the weeds of lies can be particularly difficult to recognize—such lies as these:

 

1. God can’t possibly love me because I mess up all the time.

The problem is we think God sees us the same way critical people do—like the spinster great-aunt who looked down her nose at energetic children, like the teacher who frequently criticized, or the boss who was never satisfied.

That’s not God.

He knows we’re incapable of perfection and looks upon us with the compassion of a loving father.  No matter the sin, God is always ready to forgive (1)–and forget–as we repent:

 

 

 

Take this to heart: “Our God has a big eraser!”–Bill Zeoli (2).

And we can use that big eraser of love, compassion, and forgiveness to erase Lie #1.

 

2. I am insignificant.

God would have us know:  “There is no such thing as an insignificant person or an insignificant place or an insignificant position” (3).

Take a refresher course on your status:

  • The Prince of Peace died for you.
  • The King of glory is always thinking about you.
  • You have been adopted into his royal family.
  • You can enter his throne room whenever you like.
  • Your work has been specifically commissioned by the Sovereign Lord of the universe (4).

 

 

We run into trouble when we start comparing ourselves to others. Here’s what we need to affirm: “My significance is not based on what I do; it is based on Whose I am.”

 

3. It’s obvious my prayers don’t matter…

A.  …because there’s been no answer. 

Here’s a thought:

 

 

But there are a number of possibilities why prayers seem to go unanswered, including:

  • Unbeknownst to us, the answer has already come. A young man praying for a wife may already have met his future bride; he just doesn’t know it.
  • Sometimes God gives us what we need, not simply what we ask for. A young teen might pray that her family not have to move across state, but five years later, ends up earning a much-needed college scholarship from their new church.
  • We benefit from the spiritual discipline of asking, growing in faith, and persevering as we wait.

If our God is 100% good—and he is—then it follows:

 

 

B. …Almighty God doesn’t need me to accomplish his plans.

 You’re right; God can do anything he pleases—without us.

But he instituted prayer as a way for us to come alongside him and participate in the good purposes he’s ordained. He allows us to share in the release of his power as we intercede for one another.

Lord Tennyson spoke of the power of prayer in his poem, Idylls of the King:

 

 

One day we’ll know the magnitude of the exact number. And won’t it be satisfying to have participated in God’s monumental work?

 

_______________________________________

 

Now that we’ve removed these three weed-lies from the gardens of our minds, we can enjoy to the fullest these flowers of God’s truth:

He remembers our sins no more.

We are precious in his eyes.

He always responds to our prayers (5).

 

Notes:

  1. Psalm 103:13-14, 3, 10.
  2. Quoted in Quote/Unquote, compiled by Lloyd Cory, Victor Press, 1977, 121.
  3. Anne Graham Lotz, The Vision, of His Glory, Word Publishing, 1996, 77.
  4. Isaiah 9:6; 1 John 4:9-10; Psalm 139:17; Ephesians 1:5; 1 Peter 3:12; Ephesians 2:10.
  5. Isaiah 43:25; 43:4; Psalm 102:17.

 

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

 

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