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Archive for the ‘God’s Salvation’ Category

Micki and I first met at church, and within moments it became clear: this woman would make a great friend. Not only did she exude warmth and smile easily, she asked questions.   Good questions.  And then she listened intently to my answers.

Fast forward a few years from that initial encounter. God did bring Micki and me together, and we’ve been friends ever since—over ten years now.

To know Micki is to experience loving acceptance from her heart, hear godly wisdom from her spirit, and receive splashes of joy from her effervescent personality.

You would not know that this well-balanced and vibrant person has suffered much pain and loss.

With Micki’s permission I am sharing with you her story:

At one time or another during her youth, Micki lived in the same house with an alcoholic, a drug abuser, and a person suffering from mental illness.

In addition, she is an incest survivor and rape survivor.

“When you are abused by a person who should represent safety and security, and no one comes to rescue you, your entire world shifts,” Micki explains. “All the foundational undergirding and security a healthy child experiences is taken away. The world becomes terribly unsafe, with no one to trust or run to. And even though it is the abuser who is wrong, it is the child who feels dirty and bad.”

Those dreadful circumstances, however, were not the only tragedies to enter Micki’s life. She endured the trauma of teenage pregnancy and a doomed marriage as well.

“My first husband was a good and honorable man, but he was so wounded by his own childhood, he could not express love. For five years I was married to a man to whom I would say, ‘I love you’, and from whom would come silence. A man I hugged who couldn’t hug back. A man who regularly moved away from my touch.

“He never abused me, never fought with me, always provided for me, but his rejection was like a cancer, slowly eating away at my self-esteem. At that time I didn’t know he’d been wounded. I only knew he couldn’t stand to touch me, and the conclusion I drew was he must have discovered the truth—that I was dirty, unlovable and ugly.”

Micki recognized the damage in her life from living with an alcoholic, so she began attending Al-Anon, the sister organization of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Through that program, Micki was drawn to people with this light inside them—people who seemed happy despite their desperate circumstances—people who appeared to have a handle on that “Higher Power” the Al-Anon leaders taught about.

Of course, those people who radiated that Light were Christians, and in due time one of them led her to Jesus. She didn’t know it, but that was Micki’s first step toward wholeness.

Not long after she became a Christian, someone asked her, “Do you know how special you are to God?” She remembers sobbing because, how could ANYONE, much less GOD, think she was special?

Micki was so blinded by her past she could not fully grasp God’s personal love. But gently and tenderly over a number of years, he led her toward emotional and spiritual healing, that moment in time when she could finally accept God’s warm and gracious love.

Micki participated in her healing through enthusiastic Bible study. Where once she found scripture rather meaningless, the new Micki reveled in the instruction, inspiration, and encouragement she found within its pages.

Prayer became a lifeline as she navigated the rough waters of challenging family relationships and a stressful job.

Later, ministries at church became a source of great fulfillment. God has put her on a healing team and the planning team for women’s retreats, given her Bible study groups to lead and young women to mentor, as well as put her at the podium occasionally to speak. She has impacted hundreds of lives throughout the three decades since she said “yes” to Jesus.

As he so often does, God took the great brokenness of Micki’s life and created beautiful wholeness.

Then God took her wholeness, broke it open and poured it out, to multiply the beauty in others.

It’s what our God loves to do.

 

Micki and me, April 2018

 

 

 

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Cookie Ingredients Bake Cookies Christmas Time Bake

 

Lena was baking Christmas cookies when she realized her wedding ring was missing.

The family searched everywhere. No ring. Lena, of course, was heartsick. She had designed the ring herself—a band of white gold with seven small diamonds.

Years later when they renovated the kitchen and took up the old floor tile, the family again searched carefully. Still no ring.

One morning Lena was harvesting carrots from her garden when she pulled up a surprise. The carrot in her hand wore her wedding ring.

Lena surmised the ring had fallen into a pile of vegetable peelings in the kitchen sink and become part of their compost heap—sixteen years previously.

 

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_________________________

 

Petunia, an American Staffordshire terrier, somehow escaped her family’s Virginia farm in 2003. In spite of a vigilant search, they were not able to find their pet.

Imagine the family’s surprise, eight years later, to receive a phone call that their dog had been located. The woman who found Petunia took her to a vet who scanned her microchip and discovered the address of Petunia’s family. However, getting her home was a bit complicated. Petunia had wandered 3,000 miles—all the way to California.

 

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(Petunia)

 

_________________________

 

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(A scenic spot in Mark Twain National Forest)

 

In early May of 2009, three-year old Joshua Childers decided to take a hike in Mark Twain National Forest, not far from his home in southeastern Missouri. He was wearing sneakers, a T-shirt, and a pull-up diaper. It wasn’t long before Joshua was lost.

Joshua’s family notified authorities and for 52 heart-in-the-throat hours dozens of searchers combed through the underbrush, worried every moment the toddler would succumb to exposure in the wet and chilly weather, fall over a cliff or into a creek, or be attacked by mountain lion, bear, or snake. There were so many dangers to which a three-year old would be susceptible. And, of course, he had no food or water.

 

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(Southern Copperhead, one of five poisonous species in Missouri.)

 

After two days, searchers were beginning to lose hope of finding the boy alive. Finally one of the volunteers spotted Joshua huddled in a hollow near a creek bed. He wasn’t moving. The volunteer feared the worst but called out to the boy. Joshua sat up and grinned.

 

_________________________

 

Such stories receive much attention on social media, some even make it to the national news. Everybody loves a lost-and-found story. We find them satisfying, uplifting, and even resonating deep within our souls.

Why is that?

First, the impact of such stories is magnified by the importance of the lost items. If Lena’s ring had been costume jewelry, if Petunia had been a plastic toy dog or Joshua had been a doll, we would hardly react.

Second, we marvel at the odds. A ring found on a carrot? A dog found 3,000 miles away from home? A toddler found unharmed in a damp and chilly forest after 52 hours? The feel-good endorphins kick in when we hear such news.

Jesus told his own lost-and-found stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

 

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(The Prodigal Son by Charles Joseph Lecointe)

 

The sheep was lost because he foolishly left the watchful care of the shepherd and went his own way. The coin was lost through no fault of its own. And the prodigal son willfully lost his way in life through self-centered pursuits.

Each story illustrates: It doesn’t matter to God how we got lost; every one of us is important to him. He longs to restore us to the place where we belong: in his care and keeping.

And that brings us to the third reason we like lost-and-found stories.

We were programmed to be found, and to experience a happy ending—at home in heaven—where we’ll find secure safety, joy beyond imagination, and everlasting peace.

 

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(“Our hearts were made for you, O Lord,

and they are restless until they rest in you”

–St. Augustine.)

 

That’s why Jesus came—to find each of us and restore us to our Heavenly Father, because we were lost (Luke 19:10). And just like Lena who polished her soil-encrusted wedding band until it shone, Jesus makes us new, shining like stars (Philippians 2:15).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, O God, that my soul has found rest in you. You are my rock of stability and fortress of protection; You are my salvation from all that would destroy me (Psalm 62:1-2).

“And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I’ll recognize the sound of your voice” (Psalm 119:176, MSG).

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.littlethings.com; http://www.motleydogs.com; http://www.fs.usda.gov; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimediacommons.org; http://www.pinterest.com.

 

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For a number of months, the pastoral staff of our church has been preaching from the gospel of Mark. Yesterday the text was chapter fifteen, the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

Pastor C. graphically described the flogging, the nailing of limbs to the cross, and the slow death by asphyxiation so we might better grasp the appalling circumstances of Jesus’ death and appreciate, at least in part, the supreme sacrifice he endured for us. Tears kept burning my eyes as I contemplated Jesus’ physical pain and emotional suffering—for me.

 

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Next Sunday, the sermon text will come from chapter sixteen of the same gospel—the description of astounding events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his escape from a sealed tomb, and his sudden appearance to a group of men in a locked room.  (Further details are described in the other gospels.) The wonder and splendor are in sharp contrast to the preceding horror.

 

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Now according to the traditional church calendar, such sermons in November are terribly out of sync. Usually we save the sobering remembrances of Christ’s crucifixion for Lent. And it’s Easter morning we celebrate “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” with euphoric joy.

But my husband, Steve, noted after church, “It might seem strange to some people that we’d focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection at this time of year, but actually, I see it as the perfect time. Next week is Thanksgiving Sunday.   And of all the things we have to be thankful for, nothing is more precious than Christ’s sacrifice in our place and his gift of eternal life.”

 

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So true, I thought and nodded in agreement. How dreadful my life would be if Jesus had not taken my sin upon himself and provided the God-enhanced life I’ve enjoyed all these years.

 

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“I also find it fascinating,” Steve continued, “that Mark fifteen would just happen to be the text for today. Pastor C. couldn’t have known months ago when he planned this series that a lot of people would be distraught and even angry about the presidential election. Other issues have folks divided too—from racial tension on the national level to family concerns on the personal level.

“But there is one central fact that should overshadow everything else and help us keep a proper perspective: Jesus’ death and resurrection and all the incredible implications.”

 

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Smart man, that Steve.

The crux* of our lives is the cross, because it put on display the wondrous love of our God and Savior (John 3:16) and his omnipotent power over sin and death (1 Corinthians 1:18).  All matters of our day-to-day lives are secondary — including disappointments, irritations, and frustrations.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Oh, Jesus, keep me mindful it was my sin you took upon yourself that dark Friday. Every selfish deed, every outburst of anger or hurtfulness, every unkind, impure, or prideful thought—you paid the price.

That price included torn flesh, spilled blood, and excruciating pain beyond my ability to imagine. Yet such unthinkable suffering resulted in hope and healing for me.

Remind me to let go of  petty irritations, and prideful self-centeredness, to live instead in continual gratitude, awe, and celebration of you, precious Savior!

 

 *In Latin, crux means cross.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.christiannews.com; http://www.desktopnexus.com; http://www.pinterest (2); http://www.azquotes.com.)

 

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You, oh God, are resplendent with light

As if full of fire—

Blazing with power, dazzling in majesty,

Shimmering in an aura of glory (1).

 

You are the Father of lights

the Creator of sun, moon, and stars.

From the moment You spoke them into being,

the heavenly lights have never ceased to shine (2).

 

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Neither has your Light of Goodness

Ceased to shine upon your people.

You are loving and patient, generous and gracious,

Always seeking the brightest, highest good (3).

 

You are the Light of my Salvation,

Showing me the way to heaven through your Son, Jesus,

Guiding me home through the twists and turns of life,

The dark shadows of uncertainty and fear (4).

 

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You are the Light of Life,

Providing Son-lit days of peace, joy, and contentment

As I avail myself of your calming presence,

And celebrate your gifts (5).

 

You are the Light of Truth,

Who graciously shares his omniscient wisdom with his people.

Through your Word you expose falsehoods and evil.

You show me the best way to live—side by side with You (6).

 

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You are the Light of Holiness

Pure and perfect, completely separate from all else in the universe.

Through Jesus you already see me as perfect,

Yet day by day you are molding me to be holy, like you (7).

 

You are the Light of Blessing,

Making your face shine upon me

With grace, mercy, and compassion,

Lovingly exercising your power for my benefit (8).

 

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You provide the Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God.

I find it when I seek your Son, Jesus.

His earthly life gives me a glimpse of your glory in human form–

A form I can more easily understand (9).

 

And now, you have made me a Child of the Light,

Called to reflect your glory to others,

Shining brighter, I pray, as the years pass,

Till the full light of day–inside heaven’s gates (10).

 

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I praise you, oh God, that your Light shattered the darkness

Of evil that first Easter morning—and for all time.

I praise you for the privilege of living in that Light,

Now and into eternity!

 

  1.  Psalm 76:4; Ezekiel 1:28
  2. James 1:17
  3. Psalm 89:15, 34:8-9
  4. Psalm 27:1; 23:4
  5. John 8:12, 14:27; Psalm 16:11; Hebrews 13:5
  6. Psalm 43:3; 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; Ecclesiastes 2:13
  7. Isaiah 5:20; Romans 13:12
  8. Numbers 6:24-26
  9. 2 Corinthians 4:6
  10. Philippians 2:15-16; Ephesians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Proverbs 4:18

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Say the word, “blessing,” and what immediately comes to mind?

For me, it’s happy events and lovely gifts, engineered or bestowed by God out of his loving kindness.

But James, the brother of Jesus, saw a different side of blessing: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides” (James 1:2, MSG, italics added).

Tests and challenges as gifts?! Sounds a bit daft—until we consider:

 

What-Seems-To-Us-As-Bitter-Trials-Are-Often-Blessings-In-Disguise

 

Take, for example…

 

THE CRAZY BLESSING OF WANT

Do you wish you had a bigger house? A newer car? Better furniture? Consider yourself blessed, that you’re not like King Solomon–the wealthiest person who ever lived. For all his striving to achieve and accumulate, Solomon discovered that when every desire is gratified, the end result is nothing but meaningless smoke (Ecclesiastes 1:2, MSG).

The blessing of want protects us from the pit of depression caused by self-indulgence.

The blessing of want fosters contentment, as we learn to enjoy and be grateful for what we already have.

 

THE CRAZY BLESSING OF DIFFICULTY

Difficulties provide a surprising number of positive opportunities. Here are ten:

  • To press in closer to God and trust him more completely.
  • To experience the adventure of God’s sufficiency (Philippians 4:13) as he enables us to endure—in ways we never thought possible.

 

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  • To see how God will bring beauty out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
  • To discover more of who God is.
  • To witness the fulfillment of his never-failing promises.
  • To present a sacrifice of praise to God, beginning with the affirmation that he has our best interests at heart—in spite of what we see.
  • To be prepared for greater usefulness for God (John 15:2), which fosters greater fulfillment and satisfaction in our spirits.

 

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  • To have a compelling story to share, as encouragement for others. Years ago I heard a speaker say, “With no test there is no testimony.” In the final analysis, I’d rather have the latter. You, too?
  • To become mature, complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4). That doesn’t happen without trials.  As Thomas Carlyle wrote:

 

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(“No pressure, no diamonds.”)

  • To love our Savior more passionately. Josif Trif, a pastor from Romania during the days of Communism, said, “If it weren’t for Communism, I would not have loved our Lord as much. I kissed the cross the Communists gave me” (1).

 

THE CRAZY BLESSING OF FAILURE

If failure served no purpose in our lives, God would not allow it to happen. But since he does, we can know that failure is either for our benefit or for God’s glory—often both.

Failure is the soil from which great success can grow, beginning with a crop of positive character traits, such as perseverance, humility, and greater reliance upon God.

 

Green-Bean-Sprouts1

 

Out of failure comes experience; from experience comes greater wisdom; and wisdom leads to a godly life.

“How blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because it is they who will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6, ISV)!

*    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Crazy as it sounds, I want to praise you, Father, for the blessings of challenges and tough times. Thank you for your loving attention that carries me through, transforming me and makes me a better version of myself.  I also praise you for the glorious promise that through trouble, hardship, disappointment, or pain–“overwhelming victory is ours through Christ” (Romans 8:37, NLT)!

 

What crazy blessing have you experienced in the crucible of trouble, hardship, disappointment, or pain?  Please join the conversation below!

 

(1) His Imprint, My Expression, Kay Arthur, Harvest House, 1993, p. 135.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.imagesbuddy,com; http://www.wallpaper4god.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.izquotes.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.harvesttotable.com.)

 

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(Based on the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-24)

 

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Eliab plodded to the top of a familiar rise.  Just ahead he could see the flat rooftop of his ancestral home. Eliab’s heart began to drum in his ears, his face grew hot with shame, and sweat trickled down his back. Soon Eliab would face his father.

As he watched his feet take one step after another, thoughts circled around one question:

What would his father say?

Perhaps, “Get out of my sight! I no longer have two sons, only one.”

Perhaps, “Alright, Eliab, you may work in the fields and barn to pay back your debt. You may also sleep in the barn and take your meals with the other hired hands. Such flagrant waste of your inheritance must be recompensed.”

Eliab would soon know the response that would determine his fate.  He looked up once again to check his progress.  A man was running toward him down the road. What would cause him to be in such a hurry?

No sooner had the question formed in his mind than he recognized the bearing of the approaching figure. It was his father. Eliab’s knees grew weak, and not just from hunger. He collapsed to the ground in a heap, tears streaming down his face.

Quick steps approached; strong arms lifted Eliab up and grasped him in a tight embrace. He heard his father cry, “Oh, Eliab!” And together they wept.

 

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Moments passed and Eliab steeled himself for the speech he had prepared during his long journey.

“Father,” he choked, “I’ve sinned against God and I’ve sinned before you. I know I can no longer be considered your son, but…”

Eliab’s father wasn’t even listening. He turned to call out to his servants, “Get a clean set of clothes and new sandals. Bring the family signet ring. Then prepare the grain-fed heifer for roasting.   We are going to have the grandest celebration our village has ever seen! My son that was as good as dead to me is alive again!”

And with that, Eliab, caretaker of pigs, was lavishly honored because his father:

  • Forgave him for being so foolish, squandering his inheritance.
  • Restored his position in the family, symbolized by the specific request of shoes. (Family members wore shoes; slaves did not.)
  • Clothed him in fresh, clean robes.
  • Honored him with the signet ring, a symbol of authority.
  • Loved him, pure and simple.

 

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Now I’ve never been a caretaker of pigs. You probably haven’t been either. But I’ve certainly committed my own foolish acts of selfish rebellion. Maybe you have, too.

And yet, when we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, he

  • Forgives our sins and remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
  • Adopts us into his family, making us his children (John 1:12-13).
  • Clothes us in the righteousness of Jesus (Isaiah 61:10), and God sees us as if we had never sinned (Colossians 1:21-22).
  • Honors us (Psalm 91:15)—with his presence and countless gifts. Someday we’ll receive a crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).
  • Loves us, pure and simple, for now and always (Jeremiah 31:33).

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

How I thank you, Heavenly Father, for taking pity on me, as the father did in the story of the prodigal son.  You redeemed my life from the pig sty.  You forgive my sins–every one of them.  You have more than satisfied me with your goodness and faithful love.  Never do I want to lose the wonder of your love and grace!

(Psalm 103:1-5, 13)

Eliab means “to whom God is Father.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.childrenschapel.org; http://www.ncregister.som; http://www.susaneball.com; http://www.spiritualinspiration.tumblr.com.)

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In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye

(Deuteronomy 32:10, italics added).

Notice the verbs: found, shielded, cared for, and guarded. Just as God watched over the Hebrew nation in the wilderness, God is surely watchful over each of us. See if these stories trigger memories of your own–when God found, shielded, cared for, and guarded you.

FOUND:

Growing up in a Christian home, I learned about Jesus before taking my first steps. At age four, after hearing the crucifixion story, I asked Jesus to be my Savior and constant Companion. Even as a preschooler, I understood my need for Someone to take the punishment I deserved for my naughtiness, so I could receive God’s gift of eternal life. If Jesus was willing to suffer and die in my place, how could I say, “no?”

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Praise God he seeks after lost sheep—even the little ones (Luke 15:4)!

Where did God find you?

 SHIELDED:

Numerous times over the years I have felt shielded from harm, including serious car accidents.

One time while approaching a stoplight, I hit a rain-slicked patch of city street, with cars in front of me and a bus to the right. My car began to slide and swerve; I started pumping the brakes. But there was no way to stop soon enough and avoid collision with the slowing line of vehicles ahead.

I took a chance and turned a bit to the right, hoping beyond hope there would be enough room for me to squeeze ahead of the bus, where the lane was open. Surely God intervened and created the needed space. (I think he also alerted the bus driver to apply his brakes and leave room for me!) My car did come to a safe stop, with room to spare.

God has shielded me in other important ways, too. He’s protected me from life-choices that would have led me down treacherous paths. He’s saved me from unhealthy relationships.

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Praise God he is our shield! We can trust in him, and receive the help we need (Psalm 28:7).

How has God shielded you?

CARED FOR:

I couldn’t find the dental insurance form I needed to drop off at Dr. H.’s office. Jeremy (our younger son and a middle schooler at the time) assisted me in a thorough search.  No form. While out on my walk, it suddenly occurred to me the form may have been gathered up with the newspaper. Sure enough, that’s where it was. Being Wednesday, those papers—and the dental form—should have been long gone in the recycling truck, but Jeremy was saving newsprint for his art teacher. God not only revealed to me the location of that form, but kept it safe, saving me the hassle of getting a new one and filling it all out again.

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Praise God for his loving attention, even in small matters like dental forms (1 Peter 5:7)!

How has God cared for you?

GUARDED:

One spring day in 1985, an elderly gentleman hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, at the stop sign on our corner. He drove his station wagon right through the garage wall. Several feet more to the right and he would have plowed into our daughter’s room, and she was playing there at the time. The driver was protected, too, sustaining only minor injuries.

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Praise God he guards us like an eagle, hovering over its young (Deuteronomy 32:11).

How has God guarded you?

THE APPLE OF HIS EYE:

The last phrase of Deuteronomy 32:10 explains why God is so attentive to his people. We are the apple of his eye. Some translations replace apple with pupil. God protects us as the pupil of his eye.

Just as our eyesight is precious to us, so we are precious to God.

As we’re careful to provide protective care for our eyes, shielding them from danger, for example, so God provides loving, protective care of us.

May we continually praise our God for all he is to us. First, he found us, and then became our attentive Shield, Provider, and Guard.

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(“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” — Psalm 92:4.)

 In the Comments below, please share your personal stories of how God found you, or how he has proved himself as your Shield, Provider, and Guard. Let’s celebrate together God’s powerful deeds on our behalf!

(Art and photo credits:  www.biblewalks.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.com; http://www.imagefriend.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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