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Sometime in the 1940s the New York Museum of Natural History created a living room space–from the perspective of a dog. Table legs rose like tall pillars, chair seats hovered overhead, and the mantel of the fireplace loomed higher still.

Now any human museum-goer would instantly know this was an unrealistic representation. But if we were all terriers, we’d bark to one another how accurately the decorator had appointed the room.

Which view of the museum display is correct—that of humans or dogs? Our instinctive response is: the way a room appears to us as humans is the accurate view.

And we think, The poor dogs—living their whole lives with an illusion they accept as reality.

 No doubt that museum space provided plenty of entertainment. But perhaps an important lesson was hiding among the over-sized furniture and features. What if we compared Planet Earth to that room? Then we are the small creatures gazing upwards—at towering mountains, high plateaus, and tall waterfalls.

 

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(El Pailon del Diablo–Ecuador.  Can you spot the people?)

 

Oh, but our view must be expanded further—far beyond Mount Everest even. We must consider what Planet Earth looks like to God, who made the numerous planets, spinning in billions of galaxies. On a map of the stars, our tiny planet isn’t even represented.

Yet it’s so easy to lose sight of this reality.  Our sphere of contacts–family, friends, and coworkers –becomes our whole world.  The pursuit of happiness within this microcosm becomes our whole focus.  And we think living life “my way” is the ticket to happiness and satisfaction.  Like our poor canine friends, we can easily spend our whole lives accepting an illusion as reality.

Then there’s God’s point of view, as taught by Jesus:

 

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“How blessed are those

who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness,

because it is they who will be satisfied!”

–Matthew 5:6 (ISV)

 

Which view of reality is accurate–our view or that of our sovereign Maker (who sees, understands and controls everything)?

Logic supports the latter. The real world-view is God’s view.

And if we’re ready to accept that reality, then we must also agree it makes sense to follow his instruction manual, the Bible, for living in the world he created.

My self-serving, egocentric side says, Wait a minute. I have my own ideas of what’s best for me. I ought to know what will make me happy. Doesn’t my viewpoint count for anything?

Such thinking exposes my lack of understanding, putting me on the level of a dog in that museum living room! My world view is flawed.

No, I’d be much wiser to embrace God’s point of view as revealed in his Word, and learn about true reality—the reality of his invisible, spiritual kingdom and its benefits:

  • His foundation of security

 

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“Those who know your name will trust in you,

for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

–Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

 

  • His way to happiness

 

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“The one who trusts in the LORD will be happy.”

–Proverbs 16:20b (HCSB)

 

  • His gift of peace

 

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“Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.”

–Colossians 3:15a (NLT)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Thank you, Father, for these benefits and more, lovingly bestowed as we seek to live within the spiritual reality of your kingdom. Yes, it’s invisible to our human eyes, but no less real than the wind. And as we follow you and obey your Word, the more real your world becomes, the more wonders we experience. Help me to outgrow the immaturity of illusions and embrace your reality!

 

(Information about the New York Museum of Natural History room display came from Ralph Sockman’s book, The Higher Happiness, Abingdon Press, 1950.)

 

Photo and art credits:  www.wikipedia.org; http://www.trafficamerican.com; http://www.dailyblossom.com; http://www.pinterest.com (3).

 

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No doubt many of you know the name, Jan Karon. She’s the author of the Mitford series, named after the fictional village tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains where most of her compelling stories take place. Within the pages of these thirteen books live Father Tim, an Episcopal priest, and a delightful cast of eccentric, endearing characters.

One of Mitford’s residents is Dooley, a foster child who is eventually adopted and the recipient of God’s generous, providential care.

In volume #11 of the series, In the Company of Others, Ms. Karon writes of Dooley: “While most people understandably took family for granted, he took it for grace.”

Isn’t that a wonderful quote? I copied it down with the thought, I want to be like Dooley and take all gifts for grace—never for granted.

Gifts such as:

  • A praise song that causes my heart to overflow in joyful, reverential tears.
  • A word of instruction or encouragement that speaks to a need in my life with uncanny accuracy.

 

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  • Participation with God in his creation–even if it’s just in the yard.  Gardening offers great pleasure and a sense of his presence in the beauty of leaf and flower; the concert of bird song as I putter; the aroma of soil, grass, and blooms; the delicate softness of petals–all gracious gifts of my Heavenly Father.
  • Holy beauty in a writer’s words (even in a secular work)–words like: “Lingering as long as it could, sunset’s sad joy filmed over the day with a delicate blush…” (Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List, 355).

To “take all gifts for grace” can produce ethereal joy.  For a moment we experience the transcendent, as if the veil between heaven and earth is parted ever so slightly, and a single beam of God’s shimmering glory pierces through the dullness. Suddenly we’re basking in the warm euphoria of his presence.

We never want the moment to end. But inevitably the splendor begins to fade and we’re left reeling like Jacob—as though we’d been transported to the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17).

 

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And we’re anxious to repeat the experience.

Is it wrong to desire frequent glimpses of God’s glory?

I don’t think so. Yes, on the one hand we’d be misguided to try and evoke such moments (“Come on, tears! FLOW!”). On the other hand, surely God wants us to live aware, alert to receive those gifts of grace when he sees fit to grant them.

Like Micah, the prophet, we can affirm:

 

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(“As for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,

I wait for God my Savior.”

–Micah 7:7, NIV)

 

Surely watchfulness is part of seeking—seeking to know him more intimately, to experience him more profoundly (Jeremiah 29:13).

 

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And as we grow in our awareness of these glory-infused moments, we begin to realize how often they really do occur.

Just in creation alone we:

  • See him in the towering mountains and trees, the powerful oceans and rivers. There is glory in the grandeur.
  • Hear him in a pounding waterfall and crashing thunderstorm. There is glory in the power.
  • Feel him in a soft breeze and gentle rain. There is glory in the whisper.
  • Take in his aroma from the pungent pine tree and sweet honeysuckle vine. There is glory in the refreshing.

 

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In fact, his glorious gifts of grace are all around us.

 

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Thank you, oh God, for the gracious display of your splendor throughout each day. You fill my heart with wonder and joy every time I catch a glimpse of your glory—from an early morning bird chorus to a liturgical dance performed by children, from the encouraging word of a friend to the warm welcome of strangers. I praise you that your gifts of grace are bestowed with such delightful creativity! May I never take them for granted.

 

What gift of grace has filled your heart with euphoric gratitude lately?  Tell us about it in the Comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.goodreads.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.doityourself.com.)

 

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(“There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God.”

–Brother Lawrence)

“That does sound wonderful,” a young mother says, “but Brother Lawrence was a monk, working in the garden or kitchen all day. He could pray as he went about his chores. I work in a noisy office and then deal with three noisy kids when I get home. How can I experience continuous communion with God?”

Her dilemma is all too familiar, even for someone like me who’s retired!

So I began a list of possibilities to help me live in more continuous communion with God. Perhaps an idea or two will appeal to you.

  1. Begin the day with God–even as I get out of bed.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” the psalmist urged (118:24).  OK, what can I rejoice in and be grateful to God for, as I anticipate the day?

 

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  1. Wear a reminder-bracelet—even a paper one! Write a scripture on it (such as Isaiah 26:3), or an encouraging statement, such as: “He is beneath me as my foundation, He is beside me as my friend, He is within me as my life” (Barbara Johnson, Women of Faith speaker).
  1. Copy a meaningful scripture on a 3 x 5 card. Post it on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door, the visor of the car, or the inside of a closet. Move it around every few days so the element of surprise serves to grab my attention.
  1. Sing to God (while driving quiet streets or doing noisy chores!)
  1. Keep my blessings journal more faithfully. (Even though I established the habit years ago, I still allow some precious gifts to go unrecorded. More attentiveness will add more joy to my days.)
  1. Get outside. Find at least one marvelous gift in creation, and praise God for his genius.

 

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  1. Follow this advice from Barbara Johnson (mentioned above): While using a household product, see if the name or its attributes remind me of God and my relationship with him. One example: Fresh Start laundry detergent. While loading the washer I can pray, “Thank you, Father, that every day is a fresh start with you. Your mercies are new every morning.”  (Interested in more products and their implications?  Click on “A.M. Attitude Adjustment.”)
  1. Post a verse on the bathroom mirror. Work at memorizing it.
  1. Each time I sip my coffee or tea, I can also “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) by savoring the blessings of the moment.  Thankfulness opens my heart to his presence and my mind to his thoughts.**

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  1. End the day with God, recalling his blessings or reciting his scripture.

 

Now if you’re like me, a bracelet on the wrist or a 3 x 5 on a cabinet door soon become such common sights, I barely notice them anymore. Perhaps if I rotate through some of the suggestions, they’ll retain their impact.

Sunday might be the day for an outdoor respite.  Monday might be Bracelet Day; Tuesday could be Taste-and-See Day.

You get the idea.

Bottom line: I want my mouth filled with God’s praise; I want to declare his splendor all day long, simply because he is worthy of praise (Psalm 71:8; 1 Chronicles 16:24-25).

But how glorious is this:  our all-gracious God chooses to bless us when we seek to bless him—blessings such as:

 

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So…

“…For a short time, fly from your business;

hide yourself for a moment from your turbulent thoughts.

Break off now your troublesome cares, and think less of your laborious occupations.

Make a little time for God, and rest for a while in Him.

Enter into the chamber of your mind,

shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek Him, and,

when you have shut the door, seek Him.

Speak now, O my whole heart, speak now to God:

‘I seek Thy face; Thy face, Lord, do I desire.'”

– Anselm (1033-1109, Archbishop of Canterbury, caring pastor, author)

   *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What strategies help you to enjoy continuous communion with God?  Please share in the Comments section below!

**based on a statement by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling,p. 343

(Art & photo credits:  www.azquotes.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.guilford.ces.ncsu.edu; http://www.zazzle.co.uk; http://www.ourdailyblossom.com.)

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Online dating services have proved: you don’t have to see a person to fall in love. Through heart-to-heart sharing over the internet, couples become acquainted with the likes and dislikes of each other, their opinions on a number of issues, and what brings them satisfaction in life. The format provides the opportunity to “see” who another person is before finding out what he/she looks like.  (I understand one site requires five contacts back and forth before names are exchanged–much less photos.)

It’s possible that couples in online relationships grow to know one another better than couples who meet face-to-face, because they communicate more and at a deeper level. (Assuming they’re being honest, of course.)

Similarly, we can grow to know and love God through heart-to-heart sharing, even though we can’t see him.

For our part, we “give God [our] whispering thoughts” (Max Lucado).   Such moments happen when:

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(The view from our deck, a couple of Sundays ago)

  • Our attention is drawn to sunbeams on mist-draped foliage, and we turn the observation into praise for God’s creative power.
  • Someone grabs us in an exuberant hug, and we thank God for family and friends who provide encouragement and support.
  • An unpleasant task is finished, and we praise him for the fortitude to see it through.
  • Humor comes into our lives and we laugh in response, but also in appreciation to the God of all joy.
  • We light evening candles that remind us the Light of the world is with us in our homes.

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There is no sweeter manner of living in the world

than continuous communion with God.

–Brother Lawrence (1611-1691)

 

But one-sided communication doesn’t build a relationship. Listening for God’s words and watching for his works are essential. How do we do that? God rarely speaks audibly or shows himself physically. No one has seen his face (Exodus 33:20).

However, God does reveal his heart to us in a number of ways through:

  1. The Bible. No surprise there. Its pages offer a lifetime of new discoveries about who our God is and how he works in our lives. Especially through the gospels, God speaks to us directly through his Son. We hear God’s wisdom in Jesus’ words; we see God’s love in his actions (Hebrews 1:2-3).
  1. Other reading. Although Christian writers undoubtedly provide personal impressions from God, he sometimes speaks through secular works. Such moments often catch me off guard.

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Recently I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (1986). Among the many worthy morsels I wrote down, she said, “We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us.”

O God, I thought. That’s describes YOU! You see more of my real self than anyone, yet you still accept me, even love me. How astounding that you, a perfect God, would envelop me in absolute love–in spite of all my flaws. 

  1. People.  What a heart-lift others provide with their encouraging words, warm smiles, or comforting hugs–especially when we realize such good and perfect gifts come from God himself (James 1:17).
  1. Creation.  John Calvin once described the world of nature as God’s glorious theater. As we take note of his infinite genius on display, we learn of his ingenuity, attention-to-detail, and ability to bring together disparate parts into harmonious habitats.   Our hearts fill with wonder.

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  1. Music.  Sometimes I can almost feel God’s warm touch on my shoulder as he speaks comfort, strength, and joy through the power of song. (See “The Power of Song” for more on this subject.)

Notice: when God communicates with us, there’s a heart-reaction.  We experience a quickening in our spirits as we recognize his truth, sense his loving attention, receive the guidance and empowerment we need, or know without a doubt he’s with us, and has everything under control.

So!

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“Keep your eyes open for God,

watch for his works;

be alert for signs of his presence.”

–Psalm 105:4 (MSG)

What a glorious way to live!

(Photo credits:  www.believe.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.org; http://www.amazon.com; http://www.pixiflore.com; http://www.believe.com.)

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Depressed young woman

 

“I don’t understand why this is happening,” Kelly cried. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”

*     *     *

“I’m not sure what God is doing, but business is bound to pick up soon,” Dave asserted. “I’m working harder than ever—like seventy hours a week. God helps those who help themselves, right?”

*     *     *

“I thought I was where God wanted me to be, but that loser job was not a good fit—such boring work and for such a lousy salary,” moaned Erika. “I just had to quit! But I’ll be OK. God loves me; he’ll take care of me.”

*     *     *

Ever hear comments similar to these? Each one represents a misunderstanding about God. The truth is:

  • God’s primary concern is our welfare, not necessarily our happiness (Philippians 4:19). The two are not synonymous.
  • God has not promised to help those who help themselves. That proverb is not in the Bible.
  • Neither has God promised to take care of us if we live irresponsibly (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

So, I’m sorry, Kelly, Dave, and Erika. Somewhere along the way you’ve heard these ideas about God’s ways which were misrepresented as truth.

But how can we know the truth of how God works in our lives? (They might ask!)

By becoming better acquainted with God’s Word. Within its pages we find such wonders as perfect wisdom, inspiring encouragement, hope-giving promises, and practical instruction.

For example:

Kelly, God loves you too much to grant everything you want. Over-indulgence leads to spoiled children. Discipline demonstrates true love; permissiveness demonstrates foolishness. Sometimes God exercises tough love in order to develop our characters, grow our faith, and prepare us to serve him in greater capacities.

 

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(“The Lord disciplines those he loves”–Hebrews 12:6a).

Dave, God is compassionate and good to his people (Psalm 103:4-5). He has promised to be our help, but it has nothing to do with our effort prompting him to come alongside. It’s the person who trusts in God wholeheartedly and follows his ways who may anticipate divine help:

“You who fear him, trust in the Lord—

he is their help and shield.”

–Psalm 115:11

and…

 

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(“May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts” –Psalm 119:173.)

 

Erika, God certainly does care for you (1 Peter 5:7), but he does not condone irresponsibility. A wise course of action would include prayerful assessment of the current job as well as other possibilities, while asking God for his guidance. Meanwhile:

“Do your best.

Work from the heart for your real Master, for God,

confident that you’ll get paid in full

when you come into your inheritance.

Keep in mind always that

the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.”

–Colossians 3:22-24 (The Message)

To all of us: When our corner of the world is rocked by challenges and disappointment, our best strategy is to turn to God’s Word. We can steady ourselves with the truth about his character and his ways, even experience joy and peace as those truths soak deep into our hearts (Psalm 119:35, 165).

“It is only when we understand who God is

that we begin to understand what he does.”

– Selwyn Hughes

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Thank you, Father, for the precious gift of your Word, for the way it continues to minister afresh, day by day, year after year, with reliable truth and uplifting encouragement. As if that wasn’t enough, you reveal yourself through its pages, allowing us to know you, the King of the universe. Open my eyes that I may see even more wonderful things in your Word (Psalm 119:18)!

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(Art & photo credits:  www.med-health.net; http://www.kristamcgeebooks.com; http://www.biblepic.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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Benjamin Franklin was the thirteenth child of a humble soap-and-candle maker. Obviously, no family fortune provided him easy success in life. Neither did a stellar performance in school that would lead to scholarships. His formal education lasted all of two years, from ages eight to ten. Yet Ben became:

  • a respected publisher
  • the country’s first millionaire
  • a world-famous scientist
  • an influential voice as the thirteen colonies fought for independence and established a nation
  • a distinguished diplomat in Europe

No wonder Franklin was proclaimed a self-made man. But there are other factors, outside his control, that contributed to his success, including:

INTELLIGENCE

His varied accomplishments as writer, statesman, and diplomat prove his sharp intellect.

CHARACTER

Ben was  curious and skeptical–useful attributes for a scientist. His astuteness, sense of humor, and ability to communicate served him well as publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac. And all of these traits came into play when Franklin participated in the forming of our nation.

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TEMPERAMENT

Surely Ben was an energetic and passionate individual. He was always in pursuit of something—things like:

  • Solving problems. Numerous inventions credited to Franklin grew out of need. For example, his desire to create more heat in his home led to his invention of the wood stove.
  • Acquiring new knowledge. Ben attempted his well-known key-and-kite experiment because of his curiosity about lightning.
  • Improving the lives of his fellow colonists. Franklin wrote, met with other delegates, sought the help of France, and more, in America’s struggle to gain independence from England. In 1789, at age 84, he was still writing and working. His cause? The abolition of slavery in America.

OPPORTUNITY

Franklin was often in the right place at the right time. One example: through his connections in the publishing industry of Philadelphia, Ben secured a contract to print the colony’s paper money.

Seems that Ben’s success had much to do with factors outside his control. These elements just mentioned–intelligence, character, temperament, and opportunity–came from God. In fact, for all of us, “Our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

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In reality, the idea of a self-made man/woman is myth. No one is truly self-sufficient.

On the other hand, God has ordained work and effort. From beginning to end, scripture proclaims the value of industry. In Genesis 2:15 we see God placing Adam in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

So how do we balance working with our God-given abilities and depending on God?

  1. Pray.  Thank God for the gifts he has given us.  Then prayerfully seek to determine what God is doing and cooperate with him. If we are earnest in this desire, he’ll make each step clear. As seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, used to say: God does not play hide-and-seek in the trees with his will.
  1. Nourish.  The effectiveness of our giftedness requires preparation and inspiration. Preparation includes study and practical experience. (Even a talented pianist must take lessons and practice.) Preparation includes nourishing the spirit, too, with study of scripture and practical experience of worship and service. Inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit as he works within us.
  1. Embrace.   Embrace the teaching of wise, godly leaders. Embrace the help of others. Keep in mind that self-sufficiency is not a praiseworthy quality; it’s a form of pride. The person who thinks he knows everything and needs no input, or who is too proud to ask for help, is someone to be pitied, not celebrated.

As dependents upon God, we are meant to work. As workers, we are meant to be dependent upon God.

And…

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(“The God of heaven will give us success”–Nehemiah 2:20)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I praise you, Father, for being my all-sufficient God, Someone I can trust completely for guidance, direction, and training. Help me find that balance between working for you and depending on you. May I not neglect preparation, but also look to you for inspiration.  And may I be a humble, grateful recipient of help.  Amen.  

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Christmas is a season of lights.

Candles glow and twinkling lights glimmer from houses, buildings, and trees.

People love all the flickering and shimmering!  Some spend weeks decorating their yards and rooftops in spectacles of light.  If you asked them why, they might be hard-pressed to express more than, “They’re beautiful, that’s all.”

 

 

But perhaps it’s more than just aesthetics.  Perhaps it’s a heart-response.

Light is symbolic for:

  • Beauty.  Light grabs our attention, whether it’s  soft and luminous, or sparkling and dazzling. It can also be refracted into a glorious spectrum of colors.
  • Safety.  Where there is light, we can see our surroundings.
  • Comfort.  A nightlight offers just that for many a child who is afraid of the dark.
  • Hope.  Light gleams triumphantly over the darkness, at the end of a tunnel.
  • Guidance.  Light illuminates the way.

Might it be that people are drawn to the lights of Christmas because the human spirit is drawn to the Light?

Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world (John 8:12).  He is Light because God the Father is Light (1 John 1:5).

And the Light of God the Father and God the Son is not merely symbolic.

God the Son is safety, because he offers eternal life.  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28-29).

God the Father is comfort, because he is loving and compassionate.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4a).

God the Son is hope, because of his resurrectionHe was raised from the dead, and we will be also.  “In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3b-4).

God the Father is beauty, because of all his glorious attributes.  “I’m asking God for one thing…To live with him in his house my whole life long.  I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet” (Psalm 27:4, The Message).

God the Father is guidance.  “He will guide you always” (Isaiah 58:11a).

Christmas lights cast a soft glow; spotlights illuminate large areas.  But Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.”   To every person in every corner, he offers his Light.

Let’s make time to linger in his dazzling Light this season!

“Blessed are those…who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord” (Psalm 89:15)!

(photo and art credits:  www.onebestwall.com, http://www.moyerlawncare.com, http://www.8thfire.net, http://www.naturewatcher.wordpress.com)

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