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Many of us have endured lots of rain this spring, but the payoff has been worth it. On our little hillside, tightly compacted foliage now covers trees and shrubs. Hearty blades of grass press thickly together like subway travelers. The whole landscape is so green, you’d think we lived on the Emerald Isle.

 

(Trees and shrubs behind our house.  ‘Wish the light was better,

but it’s another day of clouds and  rain.)

 

Close inspection reveals, however, that spring foliage comes in many more shades of green than emerald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t green a glorious color? No matter the shade, there’s something about green that breathes restoration and life into our beings.

Researchers have studied the response of the body when a person is surrounded by a particular color. Green causes muscles to relax and blood vessels to dilate. Therefore, it has a calming effect and lowers stress.

The positive effects of green are even more pronounced when we get outdoors. Studies have shown that such capacities as short-term memory, mental energy, creativity and concentration all improve after time spent in nature. Even five minutes can produce positive effects.

 

 

Researchers are even discovering restorative responses in the body after a person has been outdoors. For example, inflammation decreases, nearsightedness is less pronounced, and the immune system improves.

What do you suppose accounts for all those benefits? Perhaps God intentionally designed his creation (at least in part) to provide restoration of body, soul, and spirit–for us.

 

 

The challenge is getting out there. Too often I’ve allowed indoor tasks and activities to take precedence over sitting on the deck or taking a walk.

And once situated on the deck or strolling in the neighborhood, I need to take note of my surroundings. If my mind is preoccupied with the to-do list or troubling concerns, restoration is not going to happen. I have to pay attention.

How?

Engage the senses.

 

 

  • Take note of the light dappling the foliage.
  • Listen to the breezes whisper among the evergreens.
  • Fill the lungs with pure air cleansed by flourishing, carbon dioxide-breathing trees.
  • Touch the cool, curled edges of the geranium leaves.

 

 

Experience the wonder.

 

  • Limbs and gentle winds join in an intermittent dance.
  • Leaves bob and sway.
  • Treetops enthusiastically participate; creek bed foliage plays the wallflower, quiet and still.
  • Sun glints through the woods, creating a spotlight effect on some branches. Others are draped in deep, green-black shadow.

 

 

And the most important step of all:

 

Express gratitude.

 

I thank you, Father, for the gift of greenery, the grandeur of stately trees, the delight of shapely leaves, the peaceful calm of an open field or forest temple.

 

 

I thank you for the lessons they teach—reminders to grow our roots deep into your love (Ephesians 3:17), to be watered by your Word (Psalm 1:2-3), and to live in the Light of your Son, Jesus (John 8:12).

 

 

It’s not just the infinite heavens that declare your glory and display your wisdom and power (Psalm 19:1). Even the minutest of plants offers evidence of your splendor and artistry.

 

 

The whole of nature is your living room, God, and I humbly thank you for the precious privilege of meeting you there.

 

  

(“Nature is God’s living room,” a Michael Hyatt creative expression.)

 

Photo credits:  www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg (3), http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com (2), http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; geograph.org.uk; http://www.maxpixels.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com.

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Though another cold spell (down to 33 degrees!) just moved through our area, spring is still evident everywhere. Small leaves on tree and bush have quickly grown into verdant foliage. Flowers bloom in dazzling colors, and birds happily twitter nonstop. I’m captivated again by the beauty and grandeur of nature, especially as the earth reawakens from winter.

 

 

Just being outdoors surrounded by God’s splendor can increase our awareness of him. His attributes are on grand display every day, in every corner of our planet. For example, we see confirmation of:

His glory – God’s magnificence is personified in the splendor of sweeping prairie vistas, the majesty of mountains, and the vastness of oceans.

 

(Cook’s Inlet, Alaska)

 

His power – Who else could create innumerable galaxies of stars, planets, and moons, then place them over light years of endless space?

 

 

His holiness – God is perfect; his works are perfect.   Evidence abounds in the exact count of petals on a buttercup (It’s always five), the ever-changing hues of a sunset sky, and on the rainbow wings of a Fire Clipper butterfly.

 

 

His grace – God keeps Planet Earth in a state of perpetual renewal as the sun provides energy, rain supplies hydration, flora and fauna exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.

 

His wisdom – Unlike most substances, water expands when frozen, increasing its volume. As a result, ice floats. Imagine what would happen if glaciers sunk to the ocean floor. Sea water would have chilled dramatically a long time ago and cooled the planet. Life would have been unsustainable.

 

 

His ability to work wonders – God made creatures that morph in astounding ways: caterpillars become butterflies, tadpoles turn into frogs, and newborn kangaroos, no more than pink blobs the size of bees, transform into two hundred pound adults.

 

 

His goodness – Our world abounds with countless plants and animals in various shapes, colors, textures, and more. Such diversity is surely not necessary for our survival. Wouldn’t a world in shades of gray suffice? Wouldn’t bread and water keep us alive? But God sees fit to bless us with the delight of variety.

 

His orderliness — God has designed entire ecosystems so precisely that every organism is perfectly provided for in a methodic, rhythmic cycle.

 

 

His creativity – Planet Earth is home to at least 9,000 species of birds, 15,000 different kinds of mammals, 27,000 types of fish, 400,000 different sorts of flowers, and 900,000 species of insects. Each one is unique.

 

(Rainbow Leaf Beetle)

 

The scope of creation is so vast, the most detailed descriptors only skim the surface of its marvels. Everywhere we look—into the deepest recesses of space with a telescope, or into the minutia placed under a microscope, we see intricacy, precision, and complexity.

 

(Microbe Organism)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

The earth is full of your riches, O God. Day and night the visible things of creation silently shout the unspoken truth that you are the all-powerful, ever faithful, and perfectly wise God. Lead me, I pray, to experience your world with the eyes of worship.

Psalm 104:24 ASV; Romans 1:20; Grace Notes by Philip Yancey, p. 165.

 

 

What additional evidence of God’s attributes do you see in creation?  Please share in the comments section below!

 

(Photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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(a personal psalm based on Psalm 36:1, 5-8, 10 and other scriptures)
 

 

Our world is in travail, O God.

Wicked men create schemes to fraud others;

They viciously hunt down the innocent.

Their mouths are full of curses, lies, and threats.

Blameless victims suffer at the hands of their selfishness and greed.

In prideful arrogance, they even mock You, Father.

 

 

How is it that the wicked accumulate wealth and wield power?

Their dark deeds and unjust treatment of others

stir up frustration and resentment in our hearts.

Then we remember: the days of the wicked are numbered.

Our best course of action is to contemplate You,

And affirm our trust in your wise and loving ways.

 

 

Yes, You are our God of steadfast, self-sacrificing love,

As expansive and incomprehensible as the heavens.

Evidence of your attentive love is all around us—

In the gracious people we meet,

The delightful circumstances we experience,

The unexpected gifts we receive and enjoy.

 

 

You are our God of reliable and unchanging faithfulness.

You keep all of your scripture promises—all 2,300-plus of them!

You always have and always will act according to your holy character;

Therefore we can forever trust you to do what is right.

Never will you turn your back on us,

Even if we turn our backs on you.

 

 

You are our God of perfect and transcendent righteousness,

As firm, immovable, and majestic as mountains.

Everything you do is good,

Motivated by a purity that will not forever tolerate wrong.

Your perfect plans always conform to the prudent purpose of your will.

Everything you say is truth; you cannot lie.

 

 

You are a God of certain yet merciful justice.

To be honest, we’re often mystified by your actions.

We see evil men prosper and righteous men suffer.

Your judgments are as unfathomable as the deepest oceans.

But what we do know is this, and we cling to its hope:

In your infinite wisdom you work all things for good.

 

 

You are our God of strong and ever-present refuge,

Offering comfort, peace, and security through your Word.

In your Presence we are strengthened; our faith is renewed.

You shelter us from the full force of the storms of life.

You even protect us from what we thought we wanted

And provide us instead with what You know is best.

 

 

You are our God of abundant and delightful blessings

That flow continually like a great river.

Who can count all the wonderful works you have done?

But above all, you O Lord, are the embodiment of all blessing—

In you alone we find rest, support, and salvation.

In you alone we place our trust.

 

 
Stanza #1: Psalm 10:2, 7

Stanza #2: Psalm 36:1, 10

Stanza #3: Psalm 36:5a, 7, 10

Stanza #4: Psalm 36:5b; Psalm 145:13; Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Timothy 2:13

Stanza #5: Psalm 36:6a; Psalm 119:68; Habakkuk 1:13; Ephesians 1:11; 1 Chronicles 16:27; Numbers 23:19

Stanza #6: Psalm 36:6b; Jeremiah 12:1; Romans 8:28

Stanza #7: Psalm 36:7; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 31:19-20; Psalm 9:9; Psalm 18:2

Stanza #8: Psalm 36:8; Psalm 105:5a; Psalm 62:5-8; Psalm 31:14
 
(Art & photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; pinterest.com.)
 

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Last week, our three grown children, their spouses, and three granddaughters gathered here–in one place, at one time. Even Steve’s sister and brother-in-law were able to join us for a day.  Such gatherings do not happen often.

(Left side, front to back:  1. Steve, 2. our younger son, Jeremy, 3. our daughter, Heather, 4. her husband, Tim.  Right side, front to back:  1. Steve’s brother-in-law, Bill, 2. Steve’s sister, Karen, 3. Tim’s and Heather’s daughter, Sophie, 4. Eric’s and Hilja’s daughter, Elena, 5. Eric’s wife, Hilja, and 6. our older son, Eric.  Not pictured:  Jeremy’s wife, Nancy, and Eric’s and Hilja’s baby daughter, Maarit.)

For Steve and me, the greatest pleasure in life is the opportunity to enjoy our children– what King Solomon called “God’s best gift” (Psalm 127:3 MSG).

He went on to say:

 

How blessed are you parents,

with your quivers full of children!”

–Psalm 127:5 MSG

And what is a quiver-full?  Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary explained years ago that, in Bible times, a quiver most often held six arrows.  Thanks to our three children who chose their spouses wisely, Steve and I now have a full quiver–with three little arrows as well.

Oh yes, we are blessed, and always count down the days until our clan can gather once more.

Even four-year old Elena reveled in the long-awaited together time.

Sophie (8), Maarit (3 months), and Elena

During the week, we  visited several parks with playgrounds…

…and even explored the zoo on Wednesday.  But perhaps some of the sweetest memories will be those associated with home…

… such as one afternoon at Eric’s and Hilja’s, catching up with one another and playing games.

(Jeremy and Nancy)

There were fun moments at Nana’s and Papa’s house, too.

(The Night of the Big Sleepover)

Now these moments are treasures to hold close in our hearts–not so much for what we did as for who we were with.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;

They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

–French novelist, Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

How fitting that, as the landscape blossomed last week, so did our souls–because of a family who make us very happy.

*      *      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I thank you, Father, for the joy of doing life with this particular group of folks.  We may not live in close proximity, but because of you, our spirits are intertwined.  Every opportunity to be together is cause for great celebration.  And we praise you for the gift of recollection, so beautiful moments like these may live in our hearts forever.  

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?  The answer is, Joy.”

Do you find that surprising too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unexpected topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

 

(“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete.”

–John 15:11.)

 

The word, this, refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 

Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

 

 

 

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

 

 

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

 

(Reblogged from April 7, 2015.  The Ruegg family has gathered this week for an overdue reunion.  Art & photo credits:  www.rejesus.co.uk; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org.)

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In one of his picture books, Barney Saltzberg asks all young artists: What can be done when your paper tears, a corner gets bent, or paint drips on your project? Throw it away and start over?

No, Saltzberg has better ideas, and through the pages of his book demonstrates his creative mastery of the mishap. A tear in paper, for example, can become the snaggly smile of an alligator. A bent corner can be turned into the head of a penguin, and paint drips into wheels on vehicles.

Saltzberg titled his masterpiece, Beautiful Oops!

 

 

What perfect imagery his book presents for the beautiful life Jesus creates out of each of us!

Without Jesus we make ourselves victims of mishaps and mistakes, motivated by the desires for self-gratification, power, and notoriety (to name a few). The results can include: gluttony, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, physical and emotional abuse, cheating, and slander (to name a few again).

But with Jesus, even those mishaps and mistakes can be transformed into something beautiful:

 

 

“Anyone united with the Messiah

gets a fresh start, is created new.

The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!”

–2 Corinthians 5:17, MSG

 

And what a life it is!

Those of us who ask Jesus into our lives get to enjoy incredible benefits such as:

  • A new perspective. No longer are we scrabbling for the next gratification, promotion, or thrill. Our eyes are opened to the delight of blessing others.

 

 

  • A new source of power. Dependence on ourselves is exhausting and worrisome. What a relief to rely on Someone all-wise and strong, Someone who even knows what will happen in the future.

 

 

  • A new certainty. No more lying awake at night with unanswerable questions pounding in our heads—questions like, “Is there life after death? How can a person know whether there’s a heaven and hell? If there is, how can I be sure to experience the former and not the latter?”  One step toward Jesus settles those questions. The believer knows his eternal destiny in heaven is secure.*

 

 

  • A new plan of action. No more striving after things that don’t satisfy. Life takes on new meaning, purpose, and fulfillment when God is integral to our lives.

 

 

(“The meaning of earthly existence lies not,

as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering

but in the development of the soul.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

 

  • New delights, such as: 1) anticipation and hope for the future, 2) awareness of God’s presence, 3) augmented relationships, and 4) understanding of and pleasure in Bible reading.

 

 

The person who doesn’t know Jesus may read this list and doubt its validity. Perhaps they don’t sense the need (yet) for these things or they question Jesus’ ability to provide them.

But like all the Oops in Barney Saltzberg’s book, we don’t really know the difference the Master can make until we turn the page.

 

______________________________

 

Have you turned the page to new life with the Master? If so, what aspect of your new life would you add to the list above? Share your experience in the comment section below!

 

*  Why would we believe what Jesus claimed in the Bible, that he’s the One to trust for the gift of eternal life in heaven? Whole books have been written to answer that question, to prove that the historical record of Jesus is accurate and his claims are absolutely true. One I highly recommend is The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998) by former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel.

Mr. Strobel was an atheist when he embarked on a thorough investigation of the evidence for a historic Jesus and his claims. When he had finished, Mr. Strobel had this to say: “The great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth (p. 265)!” Mr. Strobel was convinced by the overwhelming evidence and chose to become a Christian.

 

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

 

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While waiting for the coffee to brew Monday morning, I peeked out the kitchen curtains. To the east, a glowing red band rimmed the horizon. Slightly to the west, a clear, dark sky provided backdrop for a gleaming crescent moon.

 

 

Thank you, Father, I prayed, for prompting me to look out the window just now. Your handiwork never ceases to thrill me.

I wondered what further delights God might present as the day progressed? I decided to begin a list, just for the fun of seeing how many moments I could record. The glowing horizon and bright crescent moon became #1.

#2.  A completed workout.   Thank you, Lord, for helping me eat a live frog–yet again!  (Yes, that’s a perfectly logical prayer for those who know what Mark Twain said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” For me, exercising is about as distasteful as eating a live frog!)

Moments later, as a bowl of oatmeal spun slow circles inside the microwave, I chose to window-gaze again. This time a squirrel caught my attention as he scampered along a treetop branch, then leapt across a wide chasm to the next tree.

 

 

How do squirrels jump like that without falling? Such astounding abilities you’ve given some of your creatures, Lord.  

#3 became:   A gravity-defying squirrel.

#4.   Oatmeal—with cinnamon, berries, walnuts, and milk. Thank you, Father, for the endless combinations of ingredients we can put together to make our taste buds happy! 

#5.   Coffee.  The most exquisite flavor to start the morning.

 

 

I was on a roll now as the praiseworthy moments continued:

#6.   A dropped contact found.

#7.   Sunshine pouring through the windows.

#8.   The drive to our son’s house along the edge of Mount Airy Forest. Spring is in evidence: bright green undergrowth portends the imminent leafing of trees.

 

 

#9.   Clear, rain-washed air–fresh and crisp. Just breathing is a supreme pleasure.

#10. Holding four-year old Elena’s soft little hand as we climb the stairs together.

#11.  Snuggling two-month old Maarit on my shoulder while taking her on another slow, bouncy tour of the living/dining, and kitchen area. Her bright eyes seem to study every object, any sign of movement, every play of light.

#12.  Reveling in Maarit’s smiles, each one a delightful surprise.

#13.  Making her laugh for the first time.

#14.  Watching Elena complete a 48-piece puzzle, with very little help.

#15.  Catching one of Maarit’s smiles on camera–well, almost.

 

 

#16.  Listening to a symphony of birds upon arrival home, as I walked from car to house.

#17.  Soaking up the warmth of sunshine on the deck while reading my Bible and journaling a bit.

#18.  Enjoying a refreshing salad, all the more delicious because Steve made it.

 

 

#19.  Receiving blessing and challenge while reading posts from bloggers I follow.  (See the list in the right column!)

#20. Resting with a pleasurable book.

 

    *    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

It may not be practical to record such moments every day, but I can see great benefit from keeping a list now and then.

It’s grateful eyes that get to see God’s goodness and glory everywhere–all day long.

 

 

(“It is good to praise the Lord…

…to proclaim your love in the morning

and your faithfulness at night…

…For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord,

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

–Psalm 92:1-2, 4)

 

What commonplace moment brings you uncommon joy? Please share in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.farm7.staticflickr.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimediacommons; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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