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Archive for the ‘God’s Protection’ Category

 

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Three-year old Elena (our granddaughter) had much to report about preschool last Thursday:

“Firemen came and they brought their fire truck! We got to hold the hose!”

Later Elena recited what to do if a fire occurred: 1) Don’t open a hot door, 2) To get out, crawl along the floor under the smoke, 3) Stop, drop, and roll if clothes catch fire, and 4)…

 

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“…CALL 9-1-1!” she announced loudly and firmly.

Isn’t it a comfort to know that with three quick taps on our phones we have access to emergency help almost anywhere at any time?   The process to develop such a system, however, was not quick. It took forty-some years to fully install the Emergency Call Answering System, from its inception in the 1950s to almost complete coverage of 911 service across all America by the 1990s.

On the other hand, Pastor Arnold Prater pointed out years ago in one of his sermons that King David of Bible times called 9-1-1.

Did you know that?  I didn’t.

David recorded his call in Psalm 91, verse one – 911:

 

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(“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”)

 

Notice his call was not characterized by panicked fear. Instead his attitude is one of calm faith.  David affirmed several important truths about Who he was calling and what the Almighty had to offer to those who dwell in His shelter.

Wait a minute. DWELL? How do we dwell in the presence of an unseen God?

By bringing our thoughts back to him throughout the day with praise, worship, and gratitude. We can:

 

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  • Say his name to center our attention. He has dozens but to get us started, he is God Almighty, Maker of all things, The Lord Who Provides, and our Helper. Let who he is impact how we function.
  • Breathe out the stressful, worrisome thoughts; breathe in the Spirit, the breath of the Almighty (Job 33:4). Listen for his voice.
  • Pray, recite scripture, sing, even shout (Psalm 47:1-2)!

 

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David says we dwell in the SHELTER of God. Bible writers used the word, shelter, or synonyms like refuge and sanctuary, more than 40 times. In Psalm 91, David alludes to several details of God’s sheltering protection. He is trustworthy (v. 2), faithful (v. 4), watchful (v. 11), attentive (v. 15), thoughtful and compassionate (vs. 15-16).

These traits are just a few examples of our Heavenly Father’s character—which he brings to bear in our lives. He never responds out of character; he is always motivated by love and goodness. Take shelter in such glorious thoughts!

In addition to those mentioned above, the MOST HIGH is another meaningful name of God. One of the ancient creeds described him as “a Spirit infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” No one can claim to be of higher capacity or higher worth.

 

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And in him we can REST. How? I like Spurgeon’s advice: “Use the Lord’s words as your pillows. Lie down and [rest] in Him.” We can collect pillow after pillow as we prayerfully read our Bibles, asking God to speak comfort and strength into our weary souls.

And in the SHADOW OF THE ALMIGHTY we find:

  • Security (Psalm 17:8),
  • Love and Kindness (Psalm 36:7),
  • Refuge (Psalm 57:1),
  • Satisfaction and Joy (Psalm 63:7).

 

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Now some readers of Psalm 9-1-1 might assume David was promising a delightful, problem-free life of ease. But his own life proved otherwise as he ran from murderous King Saul, lived as a fugitive in enemy territory, fought numerous battles, dealt with problem sons, and more.

No, David would be among the first to tell us that God doesn’t rescue us from all difficulty; he uses difficulties to nudge us closer to him.

In the shelter of the Most High.

In the shadow of the Almighty.

 

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What better place to be?

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.thefellowshipsite.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.quotes.gram.com; http://www.pinterest (4).

 

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With quick, deft movements our daughter, Heather, enveloped her baby girl in a swaddling wrap.   It was bedtime, their first night of a week-long visit from Washington State to our home in Florida. Our younger son watched the swaddling process, fascinated by the flannel and Velcro contraption.

“Now what do you do?” he asked his sister. “Hang her upside down?”

Sophie did resemble a bat, all folded up into a neat little package. You would have thought she’d be squirming in discomfort, but her sleepy, contented expression said otherwise. Infants love the cozy, confined sensation that simulates the womb.

 

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But within months even the openness of a childproof play space isn’t liberating enough for many toddlers. Given their way, the little tykes would wobble off down the street—make that the middle of the street–confident in their abilities to handle life. Efforts to hem them in are met with raucous dissent.

Even as adults, when circumstances hem us in, we balk at the confinement, which negatively impacts our time, energy, and choices.

So when we read, “You [God] hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5 NIV), a person’s reaction might easily be: “I’ve got enough stuff in my life hemming me in—family responsibilities, long hours at work, financial obligations—you name it. I need God to free me up, not hem me in any further!”

 

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But hemmed in by God IS freed up. According to Bible scholar, Warren Wiersbe, those italicized words in the ancient Hebrew of Old Testament times included the meaning, “to guard a valuable object.” ‘Brings to mind God’s protection, doesn’t it—being held in his strong, reliable hands. *

And don’t miss that adjective, valuable. God sees each one of us as precious. Otherwise, he would not have sent his Son to die in our place.

“Hemmed in” also provides imagery of loving affection. When Sophie was tucked snugly into her swaddling wrap, Heather or Tim would encircle her in their arms and hold her close until she fell asleep. Surely those moments of cozy contentedness were among the first when she realized Mommy and Daddy loved her very much.

Similarly, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (Psalm 32:10b).

 

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“Hemmed in” brings to mind peace as well, because the all-powerful God of the universe is active in our lives. Psalm writer, King David, says we’re enclosed “behind” (in the past) and “before” (in the future). As for the present, God has laid his hand upon us (139:5).

 

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That means, behind us there is God, redeeming the hurts, mistakes, and sins of the past. Before us there is God, preparing the way for the future chapters of our lives, chapters he has already written (v. 16). In the present, there is God—attentive to our needs, guiding us through each day, and enabling us to thrive.

We are not hemmed in because God desires to control us in some self-interested power-grab. He is motivated by his gracious, loving kindness to keep us safe and content.

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Thank you, Father, for hemming me in. What a relief to know that Someone much wiser than I am is in control. How comforting to contemplate your continual, unfailing love. Your hand upon me is not oppressive; it is restorative, as I learn to rest in your peace. You have freed me up to live in the joy of your presence, and I am humbly, overwhelmingly grateful.

(Psalm 73:23-24; 36:5-7; 63:7-8; 16:11)

 

* (See Isaiah 41:10.) Not that God surrounds us with virtual bubble wrap so problems and pain can’t impact our lives. Rather than insulate us from challenges and hurt, he most often brings us through them—with his strength, wisdom, and peace. He’s saving perfect bliss for heaven.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.justprems.com.au; http://www.centerforparentingeducation.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.biblia.com.

 

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Angie Perez sat on one side of her boss’s massive desk, he on the other. She began a lengthy list of reminders for the day…

“Now at ten o’clock this morning, George, you’re meeting with Sam about the Collins account. All the files you’ll need are in that portfolio. I put them in order from most important to least.” Angie pointed front-and-center with her pen.

“Great. ‘Appreciate you getting them organized.” George smiled. “I’ll need to review this paperwork beforehand—can you hold calls for me till I finish, probably around nine?”

Angie dashed herself a quick note. “Of course. And speaking of calls. Darcy Roberts already phoned, wanting to see you late this afternoon. I postponed her until tomorrow. I figured with your aunt’s seventy-fifth birthday dinner tonight, you’ll want to leave here on time today—maybe even early. You deserve to take a break after last week. Oh, and Aunt Lily’s gift is wrapped and ready to go in that black bag on the credenza.”

 

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“Oh, terrific. Thanks again for picking up the necklace.” George turned to glance behind him at the lovely gift bag Angie had prepared. “You’re probably right about taking off a little early today. I’m exhausted. And good thinking about postponing Darcy. That woman can stretch five minutes of business into a half hour of stories I don’t need to hear.”

…And so, one right-hand administrative assistant sets into motion the day’s activity for one corporate executive.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a right-hand assistant who took care of life’s unending details?

In reality, we have something far better: a right-hand God.

 

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“I have set the Lord always before me.

Because he is at my right hand,

I will not be shaken”

-Psalm 16:8 (italics added)

 

With God at my right hand, I have the strongest Protector—able to shield me from trouble much worse than George’s talkative clients:

 

“The Lord is my strength and my shield;

my heart trusts in him and I am helped.”

Psalm 28:7

 

God is the wisest Counselor—able to advise on matters much more important than business accounts:

 

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“The Lord gives wisdom,

And from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

–Proverbs 2:6

 

God is the sweetest Comforter, offering empathy and support:

 

“As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

–Psalm 103:13

 

And our God is the most loyal Advocate:

 

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“We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—

Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

–1 John 2:1

 

God breathes strength into me by the touch of his hand. Granted, I can’t sense physical contact. But when I hear a hymn or worship song and tears well up, when I read a scripture or passage from a book that speaks directly to a current situation, it’s every bit as expressive of support as a clasp on the shoulder.

Our God is always close at hand, as if standing by, ready to assist however needed. He is always present, holding me by my right hand (Psalm 73:23).

And like a shade tree offering respite from the sweltering summer sun, God offers restful moments from the cares of this world.

 

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“The Lord watches over you—

the Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

–Psalm 121:5

 

He renews our strength as we rely upon him (Isaiah 40:28-31), and offers the rejuvenation of constant hope because we know our heavenly home is waiting for us (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, O God, for your presence. You are near as my Friend, ready as my Helper, dependable as my Guide. How breathtaking to consider I am never alone, left to struggle on my own. You are always at my right hand.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.hercampus.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.reviveourhearts.com; http://www.faithpictures.wordpress.com.)

 

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Ever try sleeping on a rock pillow? I, for one, can’t imagine actually falling asleep on such a hard surface.

The only person I know who had to try was Jacob of the Bible. (The story of that night is found in Genesis 28:10-22. It was also the subject of a previous post, which you can access here: Surely God Is in This Place.)

 

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The scene above of Jacob resting on his rock pillow provides a worthwhile image for a Spurgeon quote I encountered recently:

 

“Use the Lord’s words as your pillows.

Lie down and [rest] in Him.”

 

Indeed, resting on the rock-solid assurances of God’s Word is wise advice, fostering peace within our spirits.

Just reciting scripture can provide effective comfort.

A good place to start? In the book of Beginnings. This example comes from Jacob himself:

 

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“Let us go up to Bethel where I will build an altar to God,

who answered me in the day of my distress

and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

–Genesis 35:3 (NIV)

 

Notice this excerpt is seven chapters and many years past the “rock pillow” event. Jacob is no longer a young man; he’s seventy-seven as he embarks for Bethel. And during those intervening years, Jacob has experienced many days of distress as he:

  • ran away from home (Genesis 27-28),
  • worked for his Uncle Laban who took advantage of him (chapter 29 and 31:7), and then
  • set out on his own through enemy territory to return to Bethel, the home of his father, Isaac (chapters 35).

But in the verse quoted above, Jacob recognizes that through all those challenges, God demonstrated his favor, because with the Lord’s presence comes his guidance, provision, and protection.

I, too, have experienced distressing days. Who hasn’t?

But God has been with me through them all—circumstances such as these:

  • When my husband’s boss caused turmoil for us week after week,
  • When we received the unwelcome news (five times) that we were being moved to another church*, and
  • When pressure from certain administrators and parents caused ongoing stress at school (during my twenty-six years in the elementary classroom).

Yet now, looking back, I see that in each situation God was teaching me patience, perseverance, and reliance upon him. In fact, some distressing experiences were undoubtedly designed specifically to accomplish those benefits.

From the advantage of hindsight, I can see the pathway God prepared, to get us/me through those stressful days, and how he richly blessed on the other side.

As Charles Udall observed:

 

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(“In life you will always be faced with a series of

God-ordained opportunities

brilliantly disguised as problems and challenges.”)

 

I wish I could say that through all of life’s challenges I’ve rested completely on pillows of promise and statements of faith. That wouldn’t be true. But I know that scripture-promises, prayer, and faith-statements have made a positive difference. And the strength of my faith did grow through each experience.

Notice Mr. Udall says we’ll always face challenges. I can give in to the distress of that fact or choose to rest on the pillow of promise that God is preparing me for what lies ahead as well as preparing the way through it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

I praise you, Father, for being an all-knowing God.  No event catches you by surprise; you know every challenge I may yet face. Like Jacob, I think back upon stressful days of the past and affirm your comforting presence, attentive provision, and wise guidance through it all. May I be mindful to rest on your rock-solid pillows of promise from this day forward.

Art & photo credits:  www.keyway.ca; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

 

*For those who may not know, my husband was a pastor for forty years.

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A Bit of Nan-Sense for 1-28-16:

 

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My son and daughter-in-law gave me a lovely, cloth-bound journal for my birthday. I decided to record favorite scripture verses, perhaps one or two for each book of the Bible, then meditate on the meaning, and record how the truths have played out in my life.

One of the first entries included Exodus 14:13-14, when the Israelites had just escaped slavery in Egypt only to come up against the Red Sea. To make matters worse, Pharaoh’s army was in fierce pursuit. The people were terrified, desperately wishing they’d stayed in Egypt.

Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

True to his word, God did miraculously rescue them.

Notes to self, in response:

Time and again God has proven to me his trustworthiness and demonstrated his loving care. My blessings journal with over 1000 entries thus far provides ample proof.

In addition, Scripture abounds with promises that give me hope during difficult times. I know that God specializes in bringing beauty out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3). And though deliverance may not come as soon as I’d like or in the way I expect, I know God will see me through.

With those words, “be still” (at least in this context) God was not suggesting total inactivity. After all, the Israelites did have to walk through the Red Sea to the other side. It appears God was urging them to be still of heart – to cease the negativity, consternation, and fretting.

That’s my part in God’s provision, too:  stillness of heart.

And how do I achieve that?

A mind is kept stilled in peace by staying focused on Almighty God (Isaiah 26:3).

 

(Does that make sense to you, too? Share your thoughts below!)

 

Photo:  Nancy Ruegg

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From the backseat of my grandparents’ car, I strained to catch my first glimpse of the Smokey Mountains. The day before the three of us had left home in Aurora, Illinois and were on our way to Conyers, Georgia to visit friends of theirs.

 

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(We traveled in style, in Grandpa’s 1950-something turquoise Studebaker.)

 

What an adventure for a six-year old.  Up until that time, I’d only visited one other state, neighboring Indiana.

Grandma had told me that mountains were like hills, only much, much taller. And instead of being a single mound (like the rise we sledded on in the wintertime), they were lined up one after another.

My imagination could hardly conjure a picture of such a phenomenon.

That second day of our trip, as we rounded the top of yet another hill in Tennessee, my straining paid off. Far in the distance we caught sight of mountain tops. Each rise thereafter afforded another spectacular view, always a bit closer to the peaks, and even more mesmerizing than the last. My breaths came in startled gasps. Never had I seen such magnificence…

 

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…until, at age fifteen, when I traveled to Colorado for a week at Young Life’s Frontier Ranch. The soaring, steep cliffs of the Rockies dwarfed the more rounded Smokies.

 

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Ah, but then came the semester-long, short-term missionary adventure in Quito, Ecuador, a city nestled in the Andes Mountains at 10,000 feet. Thirty miles to the south, Cotopaxi towers over the city, at 19,000 feet above sea level.  Again, my breath was taken away.

 

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“Mountains are earth’s undying monuments,” said Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Indeed, they do stand tribute to their Maker, ancient testimonials to God’s awe-inspiring, creative power.

They also provide a meaningful metaphor, because certain adjectives we use to describe mountains, also describe Him:

 

  • High

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(“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” — Psalm 61:2)

  • Firm

“God’s solid foundation

stands firm.”

–2 Timothy 2:19a

  • Strong

 

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(“O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies!

Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O LORD?

You are entirely faithful.” –Psalm 89:8, NLT)

  • Immoveable

“I the Lord do not change.”

–Malachi 3:6a

  • Eternal

 

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(“The eternal God is your refuge.” — Deuteronomy 33:27a)

 

One of the psalmists, perhaps King Hezekiah, wrote:

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the Lord surrounds his people

both now and forevermore.”

–Psalm 125:2

(Emphasis added)

 

Imagine yourself surrounded by high, strong and secure mountains.

Are they likely to crumble? No. Neither will your Almighty God fall to pieces, succumbing to the pressure of insurmountable problems.  It can’t happen!

Do mountains change with every passing breeze? No.  Neither can your Lord be shaken.

Are you easily accessible when surrounded by mountains? No. You are protected. Mountains can even act as barriers against stormy weather. Similarly God shelters you from the full brunt of the storms of life.

And what is your view from this protected valley? Your eyes are drawn upward toward peaks and sky, indicative of the appropriate response when we’re facing difficulty:

 

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Look up to the Maker of mountains

and Provider of refuge.

His righteousness is like the mighty mountains.

He surrounds us with his favor and loving kindness,

encircles us in his everlasting arms of love,

and guards us by his providence on all sides.

Hallelujah!

(Psalm 36:6; Psalm 32:10; Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 32:7).

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.tripadvisor.com; http://www.gatlinburg.com; http://www.mountainlake.com; http://www.cotopaxinoticias.com; http://www.pinterest.com (3), http://www.wikipedia.org.)

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(“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” — John 15:1)

With that metaphor, Jesus began teaching his followers about living like branches and abiding in him, the vine.

No doubt the disciples readily pictured a vineyard and the vinedresser tending to his work. They would have been familiar with the tasks he performed to assure a maximum yield.

But today, most of us live far removed from the sources of our food and drink. We have little knowledge of what ranchers, farmers, or vinedressers do to assure a high quality product.

We’re left wondering as we read this verse, How is God like a vinedresser?

Here is what I discovered:

His/her main duties include caring for the vines, pest management, irrigation, pruning, and harvest.

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Caring for the Vines

 Grapevines produce fruit for thirty to fifty years. Therefore the vinedresser comes to know each vine like a shepherd knows each sheep. He understands the special care each one requires and how to provide the best growing conditions, depending on the type of grape, the amount and direction of sunlight, the soil conditions, and more.

When branches grow long enough, the vinedresser lifts them up from the ground and gives them support so they can grow upward toward the sun. This practice also helps protect the vine from disease.

Vinedressers remove individual leaves to increase the amount of sunlight on the grapes and air circulation around the clusters, which improves the color and flavor of the crop. The vinedresser must know which leaves to remove, depending on the angle of the sun. Just the right number must be chosen also. If too many leaves are removed, the vine won’t be able to absorb enough sunlight for photosynthesis. If not enough are removed, the crop will fail to achieve optimum quality.

Pest Management

Weeds must be removed by hand or with a hoe. Contemporary vinedressers might be tempted to use a Weed-Eater, but it could easily damage the trunks of the vines. Insects and diseases must also be eradicated.

Irrigation 

Though grapevines can survive dry conditions, parched vines will not produce much fruit. Some experts recommend watering deeply and thoroughly so roots receive plenty of moisture.

 Pruning

Grapevines produce some branches that are barren and worthless. These must be pruned radically. In fact, “vines never produce to full capacity without drastic pruning” (William Barclay).

Harvest

The vinedresser knows the exact moment to harvest.  The grapes are plump, juicy, and rich in color. The skins are slightly transparent; the flavor a balance between sweet and tart.

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 Given even this scant information, we begin to appreciate God’s role of Vinedresser in our lives:

  • He knows each of us just as an attentive vinedresser knows his vines (Psalm 139:1-5).
  • He tends to us with vigilant, individualized care, providing circumstances, relationships and events that will create the best growing conditions for our souls (Titus 2:11-14).
  • He lifts us up, encouraging our development toward the Son (James 4:10).
  • As we submit to our Vinedresser, he eradicates the disease of sin (Psalm 103:3).
  • He provides streams of living water so we need not fear a year of drought. We can continually bear the fruit of the Spirit and good deeds (Jeremiah 17:8).
  • Like any wise vinedresser, he prunes with discipline, cutting away bad habits, erroneous beliefs, harmful influences, poor attitudes, pride, selfishness and more. He helps us become spiritually healthy as well as productive influences in the world (Hebrews 12:5-11).

And when we’ve reached maturity, our transparency allows the sweet, rich nature of Jesus to radiate from within us.

*     *     *     *     *   *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Heavenly Vinedressser, for your careful attention and protection. I marvel that you created me for abundance—abundant pleasure in you, abundant fruitfulness for you. Help me to abide in you, Jesus, the Vine, and respond in obedience and trust, so that I might live for your glory–the glory of my splendorous Vinedresser.

(Photo credits:  www.carolinasnalc.org; http://www.tripadvisor.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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