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Pretend you’re a crew member on a cargo ship, and the captain has just announced rough seas ahead. That means just walking will be a challenge. Things on tabletops and floors will tumble and roll if not secured, and sleeping will require wedging yourself into position to keep from being tossed back and forth.

But the captain reminds you, there is good news. A full load of heavy freight in the hold will provide stability and safety against the waves. The rocking will be greatly curtailed.

All of us at some time or other face storms in life, and the same principle applies: certain kinds of cargo provide stability–not the lightweight freight of feel-good pep talks, relaxation techniques, or plain avoidance.

Cargo of substance is required, such as:

 

 

Joy

“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Simply affirming all the ways God demonstrates his love to us will quickly fill a large compartment with delight.   Last week’s post, Be Glad, included many reasons to rejoice in God.

 

 

Quietness and Trust

“In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

If you haven’t already done so, make space in the hold of your heart for frequent quiet times with God, perhaps by going to bed earlier and rising earlier.

Very soon time spent in his presence and in his Word will become one of your favorite times of day.   You’ll find it transformative also, creating strong bonds of trust with your Heavenly Father. Just ask anyone who has established the habit.

 

 

Promises

“He has given us great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4).

But they can offer no stability if we’ve not stored them in the hold our hearts.

“Grasp them by faith,” Charles Spurgeon wrote long ago.   “Plead them by prayer, expect them by hope, and receive them by gratitude.”

Not that a compartment full of promises will protect us from all harm. But our attitude toward the storms of life will be very different as fear is replaced by faith.

 

 

God’s Grace

“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9b).

And what is grace?  I like the old standby definition, an easy-to-remember acronym:  God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

This compartment is worth checking often, to examine the wealth of substantial contents stored there.

Several years ago I surveyed scripture for that wealth and discovered forty-seven gifts tucked behind the door of grace.*

Thomas a Kempis was right:

 

 

So if you don’t feel quite strong enough to face the challenges of 2020, add more weight in the cargo hold of your heart:

  • More joy in who your God is and more delight in what he does
  • Frequent quiet times alone with God, for meditation on his Word, talking with him and listening to him
  • A collection of promises, especially those that apply to your situation
  • Attention to the many facets of God’s grace and how each one impacts your life

Of course, if these blessings could be placed in the cargo hold of a ship, a record would be kept of each compartment’s contents.

The same is true of the cargo holds of our hearts, though for different reason. We can enhance our joy, strengthen our faith, increase our wisdom, encourage our spirits, and augment our worship of God—all as we keep record in a journal or notebook.

 

 

“The deepest satisfaction of writing

is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us

of which we were not aware before we started to write.”

–Henri Nouwen

 

M-m-m. More space for more compartments to add more cargo.

 

What would you put into one of them?

 

*(You can compare your list of God’s graces to mine at Undeserved Goodness Part 1 and Part 2.)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pexels.com.

 

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“Let all who take refuge in you be glad;

let them ever sing for joy.

Spread your protection over them,

that those who love your name

may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;

you surround them with your favor

as with a shield.”

–Psalm 5:11-12

 

Thank you, Father, for each line of encouragement here, presenting truth worthy of contemplation and celebration. To that end this is my prayer:

 

 

I praise you, O God, for being my unfailing refuge—my protector and sanctuary.

Year after year you have:

  • Supplied my needs, like the three teaching positions you provided–each one a miracle (1)
  • Brought me through difficult circumstances, including moves to new communities that initially I wanted no part of
  • Surprised my husband and me with delights we didn’t expect, such as a generous check enclosed with a note, suggesting we enjoy much-needed R & R at our favorite getaway

 

(Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL)

 

I’m not just glad you’re my refuge, I’m elated! My heart sings in celebration of your perfections, sovereignty, and kindness. You provide unending delight!

You have been my protection, preserving my life:

  • In dangerous circumstances, including that narrow mountain road outside Quito, Ecuador
  • From near accidents, such as that red-light runner who could have sent me spinning into heavy traffic
  • Through natural disasters, like those hurricanes during our forty years in Florida

 

(Hurricane Charley damage, 2004)

 

You have been my protection emotionally, carrying me through:

  • The incomprehensible, like the senseless death of a young friend
  • Hurtful circumstances, when those we trusted proved unreliable
  • Disappointment, as certain hopes were not realized

I thank you, Father, for every time you’ve limited our ordeals so we could endure; and when necessary you’ve given us your strength to withstand every difficulty (2).

 

  

I praise you, O God, that the righteous are not those who always say and do the right thing. Such a standard would disqualify me. Rather, the righteous include those who trust in you and love your many names–Shepherd, Counselor, Helper, and more.

I praise you that your favor includes adoption into your family, freedom from the eternal consequences of our sin, and freedom from guilt—when we ask Jesus into our lives (3).

You graciously give us access to your presence. And when we come you are always ready to listen, uplift, and advise (4).

 

 

You’ve designed us for purpose, to give us glorious satisfaction in life, and day after day you lavish blessing (5), including:

  • The privilege to watch children grow—from first steps to first race, from mere sounds to sentences, from making scribbles to writing stories
  • The delight of old friends we know well and new friends we want to know well
  • Your creativity all around us, whether it’s azure skies or smoke-like clouds, sunbeam ribbons or raindrop jewels, verdant treetops or bare filigree branches

 

 

Your shield of favor also stands between each of us and the evil forces on every side. You are beneath us as a foundation, over us as a shelter, at our right hand as security, before us to lead the way, and within us to provide strength (6).

Keep me mindful of all these glorious truths, O God—truths that make me more than glad. And as this new year begins, may my days be laced with praise to you, my choices motivated by gratitude to you, and my faith be strong in you until that day you take me home.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Two of those miracles are detailed in other posts, After the Fact and The Greater Plan.
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 41:10
  3. Ephesians 1:3-7
  4. Ephesians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:12; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Psalm 145:14; James 1:5
  5. Ephesians 1:11-12, 2:10; John 1:16
  6. Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 73:23; John 10:3b, 4b; 1 John 4:4

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; naplesnews.com; http://www.bible.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org.)

 

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(“Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus”

by Rembrandt, 1627)

 

An old man and woman stood in astonished stillness, watching the young couple they had just met thread through the Jerusalem temple crowd. The departing girl named Mary folded her shoulders inward to shield their baby. Her husband Joseph led them gently around one knot of people and then another until the couple was out of sight.

Finally old Simeon broke the silence with an awe-filled whisper. “From the moment I awoke this morning, I knew this would be no ordinary day.”

Anna leaned on her walking stick and looked at him expectantly, waiting for Simeon to explain.

“The sunrise was such a glorious sight after the cold drizzle of yesterday, the thought occurred to take advantage of the agreeable weather and walk to the temple.

 

 

“But no sooner did the idea take shape than I felt compelled to come, and I began to hope this would be the day God fulfilled his promise to me—to see the Messiah before I died. Now I know it was the Spirit of God nudging me.”

Anna nodded with understanding though she did not know him. Until now Simeon had just been a familiar face among the worshipers she saw regularly, living on the temple grounds as she did.

“How did you know the baby was…the Messiah?” Anna asked. She could barely speak the title, still filled with wonder for what had just transpired.

“I spotted Mary and Joseph purchasing doves for the purification rites. In the next moment my heart started to pound, I felt a warmth course through my body and a voiceless impression in my spirit said: ‘this is the One you’ve been waiting for.’” Simeon’s lower lip trembled and tears filled his eyes.

Anna drew an index finger across the corners of her own eyes. Now it was her turn to whisper in awe: “It was the same for me. I saw you speaking over the Child with such intensity, and noted the reverent expression on Mary’s face. My heart started to pound too and I sensed in my spirit the Baby was our Messiah.”

Anna paused; a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I am surprised Mary allowed you to hold Jesus.”

Simeon chuckled. “I never expected such a privilege. When I first approached them, I simply exclaimed over their precious Baby as we oldsters are prone to do. And then I hinted at the truth God had revealed to me. “Your Child will fulfill a singular, God-ordained purpose,” I told them.

“Mary looked at me with wide eyes and breathed, ‘yes!’ Joseph wanted to know if an angel had told me about Jesus.  That’s what happened to each of them. They said angels also visited a group of shepherds, to tell them about the birth of the Savior, and we talked about the wonder of it all.

 

(“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”

by Thomas Cole, 1833-1834)

 

“Our brief conversation evidently developed trust.” Simeon’s throat tightened with emotion; more tears rolled down his weathered cheeks. “Mary asked if I’d like to hold him.”

Anna barely heard his next words, spoken slowly with holy awe. “I held the Christ Child in my arms.”

Anna allowed the reverence of the moment to linger before speaking. “May I ask what you said to them?”

Simeon paused before continuing, but his passion and urgency increased as he spoke. “The moment I looked upon the Infant’s face, a number of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah came flooding into my mind. I found myself prophesying—with great conviction—as God himself gave me the words.”

“The Messiah’s name is no coincidence, Anna. This Jesus will be the source of salvation for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. He is the glory of Israel. Think of it: our little nation has born the Savior of the world; he will live among us. And many will rise out of their sins and sorrows to experience life and peace—because of their faith in him” (1).

 

 

Then Simeon’s face clouded. “But Isaiah also said not all will welcome the Messiah. Some will reject him, even hate him, and fall by the wayside” (2).

His eyes turned toward the horizon. “I also caught a glimpse of great pain and sadness in his future which will impact Mary too. God gave me a warning for her, but I trust God’s promise also: The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on Mary in her affliction (3).

Simeon focused again on his companion. “Your prayer of thanksgiving, Anna, was part of that comfort, I am sure. You provided Mary and Joseph a glimpse of the joy and blessedness others will experience because of Jesus—something they can hold on to when difficulty arises.”

“Praise God,” she exclaimed. “He reigns on high but has looked with favor upon such a lowly one as I (4). I feel as though my feet are no longer touching the ground!

 

 

“This news of the Messiah’s birth is much too glorious to keep to ourselves. Others have also waited expectantly for our Savior. I can’t wait to share what we’ve just experienced!”

“Yes, I too, am anxious to tell my neighbors,” Simeon responded. “It’s time, I suppose, to leave this sacred spot, and proclaim our God’s salvation (5)!  Good-bye, Anna.”

Simeon raised his hand toward her, as he turned toward home.  “The Lord’s blessing be with you.”

“And also with you,” Anna called.

 

(Based on Luke 1:25-38)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Thank you, Father, for prompting Luke to include this story of Simeon and Anna, two senior citizens! May their knowledge of your Word, their devotion to you, and their sensitivity to your voice be a constant inspiration to us, as well as a reminder we are never too old to used by you.

 

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 40:5; 52:10; 49:6
  2. Isaiah 53:3
  3. Isaiah 49:13
  4. Psalm 138:6
  5. Isaiah 52:7

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Why is it that most of us find Christmas to be the pinnacle of each year?

Is it:

  • the twinkling lights and candle glow?
  • the treats like eggnog that we only allow ourselves during the holidays?
  • the gift-giving, with all the build-up of anticipation beforehand?

Or might it be because: “Christmas is the day that holds all time together?”

Those words were penned by Alexander Smith, a Scottish poet of the 1800s. With just nine words he deftly solved the riddle. It is the Christmas season, more so than any other time, when past, present, and future come together in one glorious, unified experience.

Consider how the past becomes entwined with the present as families celebrate traditions or display treasured Christmas heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next.

 

 

Releasing each one from its cocoon of packing tissue is like greeting an old friend. And attached to those decorations are memories–memories of the loved ones who gave them to us and memories of Christmases past.

 

(Aunt Louise made these for us,

the first year Steve and I were married.)

 

One ornament in our family’s vintage collection causes a great wave of nostalgia for me. It’s shaped a bit like an old lamp, and shimmers softly with the patina of age, pale green and silver.

My father bought the ornament when he was just nine or ten years old in the mid-1930s. Grandma gave him the honor of bicycling to the dime store to choose a new decoration for the family tree.

Later he realized she and his older siblings were probably anxious to get him out of the house, so they could deck the halls without an excited boy underfoot.

That lamp-ornament hung on our family Christmas tree all the years I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. And sometime in the 1980s, Mom and Dad passed it on to me.

 

 

Wrapped up in that one decoration are all the Christmases of my distant, childhood past, characterized by tinsel-covered trees, dolls in crisp dresses, programs at church and school, and dining tables overflowing with delectable feasts.

As I hang the little lamp, my imagination returns to those Christmases, celebrated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whose love and laughter now live only in my heart.

Undoubtedly, memories are an important part of the euphoria Christmas creates. But there is plenty about the present that brings joy to the season as well:

  • Carols ring, and sweet aromas waft from kitchens
  • Cards arrive from distant loved ones, renewing bonds of love and friendship
  • Gifts are purchased and wrapped, with the hope of bringing delight to the recipients
  • Meals become occasions to be savored, as family and friends gather to simply enjoy one another’s company

 

 

And what about the future? As Christmas approaches, the thrill of splendorous moments to come certainly has us looking forward. Who has not felt the excitement of checking off days on the calendar until that special party? Until loved ones arrive? Until Christmas Day itself?

And no sooner does one holiday season draw to a close, than we start thinking, “Next year, I’m going to make some of those cookies Sylvia brought to the party.” Or, “Next Christmas we’ll have another grandchild to enjoy!”

 

(Our youngest granddaughter,

in 2016)

 

And so, it is just as Alexander Smith said. Christmas holds all time together–in memories of the past, joys of the present, and anticipation of the future.

However, Mr. Smith’s words include a deeper truth for us as Christians. In one shining moment, past, present, and future came together at the birth of our Savior.

First, a number of prophecies from hundreds of years in the past, were perfectly fulfilled.

 

(Gerard van Honthorst’s Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622)

 

Second, we have only to consider his name, Emmanuel, to realize how Jesus’ birth touches the present. No doubt you remember Emmanuel means “God with us.” Present tense is suggested, reminding us that now, Jesus is with those who desire his presence.

Finally, our future is secure because of Christmas. Those familiar words of John 3:16 make clear:  God loves us and sent his Son, Jesus. When we believe in him, he gives us the precious gift of eternal life. Such simple truth, yet wondrously profound.

 

 

In reality then, it’s not just the celebration of Christmas that joins past, present, and future. It’s the One we celebrate on Christmas that holds all time together.

 

“To the only God our Savior

be glory, majesty, power and authority,

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

before all ages, now and forevermore!

Amen.”

Jude 25

(Emphasis added.)

 

________________________

 

What experience(s) of the Christmas season bring together all time for you?  Tell us about it in the Comment section below!

 

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg; http://www.needpix.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikipedia.org.

 

(revised and reblogged from December 9, 2012)

 

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With Advent near the surface of my thinking these days, I was primed to notice a new-to-me phenomenon in the word adventure.

It begins with Advent!

I don’t know how I’ve missed that similarity before. But once the word-within-a-word jumped out at me, I began to wonder: Are the two words related or is it just coincidence? Might there be significance to the similarity?

Research uncovered several interesting insights.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Advent as “the arrival of a notable person or thing.” It comes to us from Latin; ad- means “to” and venire means “come” (1).

 

 

Adventure refers to an undertaking that may involve danger and unknown risks, and/or an exciting or remarkable experience (2).

Etymologically the words are more like distant cousins than siblings. But they do come together at Christ’s advent into the world—and in our individual lives—because he does offer grand adventure—the adventure of faith.

Mary certainly chose such an adventure as Gabriel announced she would conceive the Son of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she affirmed. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Joseph also stepped into the adventure of the Messiah’s birth, risking the derision of his community (Matthew 1:18-25).  If his neighbors didn’t know it yet, they’d learn soon enough that his betrothed was pregnant.

 

 

Neither Joseph nor Mary knew the dangers they’d face (including King Herod’s paranoia) and the uncertainties of parenting the perfect Son of God who would be misunderstood, scorned, and even murdered.

For their adventure, the shepherds ignored the first rule of sheep-tending: never leave the flock to fend for themselves. Instead, these men  threw caution to the wind and participated in a remarkable experience. They were among the first to see the long-anticipated Christ Child (Luke 2:8-18).

The wise men most likely adventured for two years, traveling to Judea from Babylon or Persia in order to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:1-12). Imagine the stories of danger, risk, and astonishment they had to tell.

 

 

And now it’s our turn to choose. Will we step into the adventure of faith as they did—not knowing exactly what will happen and not being in control?

Yes, we might encounter danger or risk, but we are also guaranteed remarkable experiences, including:

  • Being used by God for eternal good, as we offer ourselves as his servants, just like Mary did.
  • Becoming the best version of ourselves as God works within us, developing our character and maturity (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Looking for the miracle-drenched moments—taking holy delight in the ordinary (Psalm 40:5).
  • Getting acquainted with the Bible, finding sincere pleasure in knowing God’s Word. The more we know him, the more we love him, and the more wonder we experience (Psalm 112:1).
  • Participating in God’s work through prayer (James 5:16b).

 

 

Two years ago our son and daughter-in-law gave us three wooden Christmas ornaments, created by a girl overseas. We’ll call her Kiana. Kiana works in a factory run by a missionary couple sent out from our church.

On the tag attached to the ornaments was Kiana’s name and picture. Her sparkling eyes and joyous smile grabbed my heart and seemed to indicate Kiana just might know Jesus.

I began to pray for this young woman on a regular basis, thanking God for his promised provision and protection over her. I asked God to honor Kiana, bringing her to Jesus if she did not know him yet, and using her to impact others if she was already a believer.

Not long ago, those missionaries came home on furlough. I had the chance to ask about Kiana and learned she is a sweet Christian and even leads a Bible study.

My eyes filled with tears as I realized the privilege God had given me, to participate with him in the work he’s doing half-way around the world—through the adventure of prayer.

 

(One of the ornaments created by Kiana)

 

‘You see how gracious God is? Advent is only the beginning. The joy of this season can become an extended adventure that unfolds day after day, year after year, as we make ourselves available to him.

And that’s not all. The remarkable experience of heaven is yet to come.

The question is: will we embrace the adventure that begins with Advent, or will we withdraw?

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.europelanguagejobs.com/blog/turning_advent_into_adventure.php
  2. Mirriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 2001.

 

Photo and art credits:  http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com (painting by James Tissot); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; Nancy Ruegg

 

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Decades ago at the birthday party of a childhood friend, each of us that attended was given a surprise ball. (Maybe you remember this party favor?) Thin strands of colorful tissue paper were wrapped around and around to make the ball, about the size of a small grapefruit. Among the layers were tucked small trinkets.

We sat at the young host’s dining table, unwrapping, discovering, and exclaiming, until we’d created little piles of treats and toys such as candy, erasers, miniature tops, finger puppets, rings, gum, and stickers—next to a large mound of tissue spaghetti.

But the best surprise was at the center. When all the wrapping was removed, each girl found a miniature doll with hand-painted features, and each boy found a tiny car—with wheels that actually moved.

The trinkets paled in comparison to the treasures at the center.

I’m thinking the Christmas season offers us many delights among the layers of things to do and places to be, including:

 

 

  • unpacking the familiar decorations, each one laced with memories
  • baking vanilla sugar cookies and scenting the house
  • reading Christmas cards and letters, bringing far distant loved ones close to heart
  • creating a jumble of colorful packages under the tree

Lovely, holiday moments for sure, but they pale in comparison to the heart of Christmas: Jesus.

He is the treasure, and everything else is mere trifles.

 

He is the way—for a world that is lost.

He is the truth—in a world full of lies.

He is the life—for a world that is dying.

 

And the wonders of His radiance far exceed our capability to understand.

For example, he is:

 

 

  • Emmanuel—God with each of us always (Matthew 1:22-23)
  • God incarnate–fully divine, yet became fully human (John 1:14)
  • Our compassionate Friend (John 15:15)
  • Omnisapient—all-wise (Romans 16:27)
  • Lord of our Righteousness, putting us right with God (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • Our great intercessor, praying for us continually (Hebrews 7:25)
  • Able to create out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3)
  • Productive —always working on our behalf (Hebrews 13:21)
  • Faultless–absolutely perfect (I John 3:5)
  • The Alpha and Omega—eternal from beginning to end (Revelation 22:13)

 

 

There is nothing wrong with the Christmas traditions of decorating, baking, card-sending, and gift-giving. But they are just paltry trinkets—unless Jesus is preeminent within the celebration.

 

https://quotefancy.com/saint-augustine-quotes

 

And as we contemplate our Treasure, adoration swells within our hearts:

Lord Jesus, we bow in holy wonder before your supreme majesty, incomparable power, and unfathomable glory. You are the Morning Star! The King of kings! The Everlasting Father!

Yet, out of love for us, you left your throne and kingly crown to take on human form, giving up your majesty for a manger, supreme rule for severe restraint, and the beauty of heaven for the brokenness of earth.

What wondrous love is this, that you were willing to bear the dreadful curse for our souls? Our minds cannot comprehend.

 

 

But our hearts can sing in adoration of you and your overwhelming love that dispels the darkness with glorious splendor and ushers in eternal bliss—when we say YES to You.

 

You have opened heaven’s door,

Man is blessed forevermore–

Jesus, our priceless Treasure.

 

(Carols referenced: “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” “What Wondrous Love Is This,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainfiles.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.org; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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What are the immense graces of this moment for you?  Please share an example in the Comment section below.  Let’s celebrate together the gifts of His love.

 And a joy-filled day of Thanks-giving to all!

 

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