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Fitness experts will tell you, strong core muscles of the mid-section greatly enhance your physical well-being, contributing to stability that prevents falls, minimization of strain that causes pain, as well as effective breathing that optimizes oxygen flow.

When core strength is absent, a person is likely to:

  • have difficulty getting up from a chair without leverage
  • struggle to bend down and tie his shoes
  • find himself slouching
  • lose his balance
  • experience back pain

But it’s never too late to reverse such ills. Those same fitness experts recommend exercises: crunches, planks, and bridges—to name a few—although just a brisk walk engages core muscles and contributes to strength.

Of course, even more important than our physical fitness is spiritual strength, which raises a new question:

How strong is your core–of the soul?

Just as we can identify symptoms of physical weakness, we can identify soul-weakness when challenge mires us in such thoughts as: Why me? This is so unfair. If God cared, this wouldn’t be happening.

However, it’s never too late to reverse such ills. Our spiritual Fitness Expert, God himself, has provided exercises to strengthen our souls, including:

Bible Meditation

More than just reading a passage, meditation includes taking to heart God’s Word and responding personally.

For example, how might you respond to Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit?”

Perhaps your response would be similar to my own.

I praise you, O God, for your omnipotent power. Nothing is impossible for you (Luke 18:27)! Just that knowledge alone can settle my anxious heart and foster sweet hope.

I praise you also for your unlimited understanding. You are a God of infinite wisdom and you generously offer to bestow wisdom to me–if I just ask (James 1:5).

Thank you for coming alongside, ever-ready to expend your power and wisdom for my good. You are a gracious God beyond what anyone could hope for!

Such an exercise develops the muscle of faith, contributes to stability of soul, and helps prevent falls into worry and fear.

Positive Prayer

Even the tone of my prayers can impact soul-strength. If I focus on the problem, the emotional pain is likely to remain:

Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I keep trying various scenarios in my mind but there seems no way out of these circumstances. You’ve got to help us, although I don’t see how. What a mess!  

On the other hand, if I focus on God’s attributes at work and his promises that apply, the strain of the situation diminishes:

“I praise and thank you, Father, that I have no reason to fear. You’ve given our family the promise that you’ll fight for us; all we have to do is stand firm and see your salvation (Exodus 14:13-14). YOU are our strength, providing the wherewithal to rectify this situation. YOU are our very present help in this time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

As positivity is expressed in our prayers, the spiritual muscle of hope develops.

Gratitude & Joy

It stands to reason: if we focus on the problems surrounding us, discouragement will weaken our spirits.

But if we focus on all the good things flowing to us from God’s loving heart, we’ll find plenty to be joyful about. It’s just a matter of engaging our praise and gratitude muscles.

Most sets of the physical exercises I do each morning include twenty repetitions. I wonder if we could name twenty of God’s attributes, providing twenty reasons to be joyful in him?

Skim through the psalms with me, and let’s see what we find:

1. Watchfulness (1:6)

2. Righteousness (5:8)

3. Protection (5:11)

4. Encouragement (10:17)

5. Unfailing love (13:5)

6. Security (16:5)

7. Perfect ways (18:30)

8. Victorious power (20:6)

9. Goodness (25:8)

10. Uprightness (25:8)

11. Faithful ways (25:10)

12. Strength (28:8)

13. Splendorous holiness (29:2)

14. Justice (36:6)

15. Ever-present help (46:1)

16. Guidance (48:14)

17. Great compassion (51:1)

18. Power (62:11)

19. Forgiveness (65:3)

20. Sovereignty (71:16)

We did it—and long before reaching the end of Psalms!

Do you find the strain on your spirit relaxing, just in reviewing his surpassing greatness?  Is renewed strength, stability, hope, and joy flowing into your soul?

Keep up those soul-core exercises!

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.heartlight.org; pxhere.com.

The Best Pillows

Have you been pillow-shopping lately? If not, be forewarned: the number of options may cause nausea, dizziness, and high blood pressure.

There are pillows made with down, fiberfill, foam, latex, gel, and even buckwheat hulls. Manufacturers also provide different levels of cushioning, and now pillows come in different shapes, depending on your sleep position or special needs such as neck pain.

All they want is for you to get a good night’s sleep, right? Oh, and sell you lots of different pillows until you find the one best for you!

For proper rest though, we need a different kind of pillow—not made from feathers, foam, or buckwheat hulls; not made by Mike Lindell. The pillows I’m thinking of can easily be taken with us wherever we go and never need to be replaced. They’re free too!

These special pillows have been available a long time, but perhaps Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher of Victorian England, was the first to make note of them. He suggested we “use the Lord’s words as our pillows,” and lie down upon them in restful faith [1].

We’d do well to understand:

God wants us to rest—physically (Psalm 127:2) and especially spiritually (Matthew 11:28-30).

In fact, the word rest, when referring to spiritual relaxation, is used over 200 times in scripture [2].

Spiritual rest brings tranquility of soul.

We can experience rest from anxiety and fear—even fear of death—as we place our confidence in God, our all-wise and powerful, ever-merciful and gracious, wholly-trustworthy and faithful Heavenly Father.

St. Augustine was right when he prayed:

The key to spiritual rest is acquainting ourselves thoroughly with God’s Word (Psalm 119:52).

It’s there we find the pillows of encouragement, hope, and peace we need in order to experience rest.

And what might some of those scriptural Word-pillows be? Here are three examples.

Pillow #1

My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

–Exodus 33:14

Each moment we can choose to focus on God and his attributes, or on our problems and their difficulty. When we choose the former, He wields his attributes on our behalf.

  • His wisdom offers perspective, and keeps discouragement in check.
  • His power affords strength to endure.
  • His attentive care provides blessing in the midst of challenge.
  • His protection shields us from deep despair.
  • His provision supplies all that we need [3].

Pillow #2

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

— Jeremiah 6:16

The more we know of God and his attributes, the better-equipped we’ll be when adversity strikes.

Pillow #3

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Then you will experience God’s peace,

which exceeds anything we can understand.

His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

–Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

Such truths become all the more meaningful when we remember: the apostle Paul was in prison when he penned these words to the Philippians (1:14). From his own experience he wanted his readers to know that prayer and gratitude produce peace, as we depend upon our sovereign God whose ways are always right.[5]

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

O God, help me rest in you and upon your Word-pillows of scripture.

 I thank you for the pillows of promise, reminding me of your sovereign power to provide whatever I need.

I thank you for the pillows of assurance, affirming your glorious attributes, always at work for the best conclusion.

And I thank you for the pillows of encouragement, reminding me that with you all things are possible, with you I can stand firm through life’s trials, and with you I am NEVER without hope.

(Psalm 23:2-3; Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 145:15-16;

John 5:17; Job 42:2; Ephesians 6:10-17 and 1:18)

What Word-pillow from scripture gives rest to your soul ? Please share it in the comment section below!


[1] Faith’s Checkbook, January 3.

[2] Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 241.

[3] Proverbs 2:1-11; Isaiah 40:31: Jeremiah 17:7-8; Psalm 33:17-18; Philippians 4:19

[4] Psalm 18:30; Psalm 22:28; Deuteronomy 32:4

Photo credits: http://www.rawpixel.net; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.wikimedia.com.

Because God Says

Because God says we’re forgiven (Psalm 103:8-12), let’s refuse to dwell on past sins.

Sins are so remitted, as if they had never been committed.

Thomas Adams

Because God proclaims us righteous (1 Corinthians 1:30), let’s refuse to be haunted by past failures.

Do you know what you imply when you say that you are a Christian? It is that you are as guiltless in God’s sight as Christ Himself.

G. V. Wigram

Because God has already asserted his 100% approval of us (Ephesians 1:4-5), let’s stop pursuing perfection.*

Because God has made clear his love for us (Romans 5:8), let’s not tarnish that love with disbelief.

All shall be well, all shall be well . . . For there is a force of love moving through the universe that will hold us fast and never let us go.

Julian of Norwich

Because God pronounces each of us his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10 ISV), let’s not berate his workmanship.

All who are in Christ form the highest, finest, and most beautiful expression of [God’s] thought and purpose. They are masterpieces upon whom he bestowed his best.

Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 330

Because God says, “Fear not” (Isaiah 41:13), let’s not doubt his unlimited power to help.

Because God affirms he’s our unfailing source of strength (Isaiah 40:29-31), let’s refuse to say we’re weak.

It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.”

Jeremy Taylor

Because God declares he’ll instruct us and watch over us (Psalm 32:8), let’s not strike out foolishly on our own.

With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack?

A. W. Tozer

Because God promises to work for our good (Romans 8:28), let’s not fret about the what-if’s.

Because God provides the way for victorious living (1 John 5:4-5), let’s not live in defeat.

Daily living by faith in Christ is what makes the difference between the sickly and the healthy Christian, between the defeated and the victorious saint.

A. W. Pink

This means, my friends, we can live each day guilt-free, grace-imbued, love-wrapped, purpose-filled, worry-free, strength-infused, fully-equipped, highly blessed, and victory-assured—because God Almighty says so!

*We don’t have to earn God’s love and acceptance. Neither do we have to pursue perfection, as if it’s necessary in order to please God or be accepted by him.

Photo credits: http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.freeimg.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.canva.com.

Years ago I came across an amusing, tongue-in-cheek article, “What Your Favorite Color Says about You.”  Wish I’d saved it, but alas.

I remember thinking, This will be fun to share with the girls in the faculty lounge during our break.  Those girls would be the other fourth grade teachers at my school.

Sure enough, as each colleague revealed her favorite color and I read its meaning, they began to laugh uproariously, because the humorous descriptions fit each person’s personality perfectly. A few times I could hardly get the words out before a giggle-fit would overpower me—even though the article was already familiar.

Had the laughter come while reading to myself?  No—not until I shared it.

Surely you’ve noticed this phenomenon, which brings us to the first joy-booster:

Share a joy and expand that joy.

St. Augustine explained it this way:

What a God-given gift—the privilege to contribute happiness to one another, and find our own joy increased as well.

Another joy booster?

Pay attention to detail.

I wonder how many of God’s delightful gifts have escaped my attention because I’ve been distracted?

I’m still striving to live aware and not allow my thoughts to be so focused on events (past, present, or future), what-ifs, or the to-do list, that I miss God’s glory right in front of me.

 I want to:

  • Take note of the graceful sway of the willow trees
  • Breathe in the aroma of a crisp winter’s morning
  • Listen attentively to the happy praises of a house sparrow
  • Pause to truly taste the nutty goodness of freshly brewed coffee
  • Focus on the cool softness of a rose petal

The incredible gift of the ordinary! Glory comes streaming from the table of life.

Macrina Wiederkehar

Joy Booster #3:

 Express gratitude and be filled with joy (Deuteronomy 26:11; Psalm 126:3).   

Expressing appreciation for what we already have—even the little things—can profoundly affect our spirits.

For example, I’m grateful for:

Color.  God could have created the world in shades of gray; it probably wouldn’t have mattered.  But the variety, the interest, and infinite number of color-combinations add such great pleasure to our lives.

Anticipation. The remarkable aroma of garlic and onions simmering in olive oil–a precursor to the savory soup we’ll enjoy in a few hours–all the more flavorful because my husband is making it. (He actually likes to cook!)

The contrast of light and shadow. The security lights on the backsides of the neighbors’ houses create enough glow so tree branches cast lovely criss-cross shadows across the snow.

Steve’s three squeezes when he holds my hand.  It means, “I love you;” and we’ve been passing that silent message back and forth for over forty years.

The dimples on a baby’s hand—the epitome of cuteness.

And while contemplating such blessings, I realize afresh why God has told us to rejoice at all times (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Let’s boost our joy by sharing happiness to those around us, living attentively, and expressing our thanks to God continually!

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What boosts your joy?  Tell us about it in the Comment section below!

Photo credits: pixabay.com; canva.com; geograph.org.uk; pixabay.com; wallpaperflare.com; wikimedia.com; pixhere.com.

(Revised and reblogged from March 29, 2014.)

On the Lookout

A glowing horizon and a bright crescent moon provided a delightful inspiration one morning. What if I stayed on the lookout for more of God’s blessings that day and kept a list?

The time was spring—sunbeams spangled the sky, a light jacket warded off cool breezes, daffodils and hyacinths dotted neighbors’ yards, and the birds sang their equivalent of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” By day’s end that list included twenty delights. (You can access that list here.)

Spring is an easy time to count blessings, when creation displays God’s glory in numerous ways.

But what about winter, when skies are often overcast, when much of the landscape offers only shades of gray and brown, and when most birds are silent or absent altogether? Is it possible to find twenty delights in quick succession?

As a matter of fact, yes.

Let’s begin with the first matter of morning: coffee.

Within minutes of hitting the start button, our coffee maker gurgles with gusto as the last of the water pumps through, thus providing the first item for my list:

#1: That happy burbling sound indicating the coffee is almost ready!

#2: The sublime flavor and fragrance of coffee.

#3: The fact that black coffee has no calories! (Yes, I realize the first three mercies on this list involve coffee. But I’m sure you agree: its supreme delight warrants attention to the details!)

#4: The view out the kitchen window, especially when it includes virtual mountains—a pale gray cloudbank spreading along the horizon, looking every bit like a ridge of the Smokies.

#5: For that coffee, my new Ember mug (a Christmas gift), keeping the last sip as hot as the first.

#6: The lamp on my desk perfectly backlighting the graceful steam curls from my mug. Mesmerizing!

#7: Sunshine pouring in the south-facing windows across the back of our house, especially welcome after several days of gray.

#8: Blowing cantaloupe-sized bubbles (sometimes bigger) with my fingers. (I discovered this bit of fun during the early days of pandemic hand-washing. With sudsy hands, make a ring of forefinger and thumb and blow!)

#9: Running an errand in my new, cozy and comfy boots—the outcome of a two-month search.

#10: A collection of herbal teas to choose from, once I’ve met my daily quota of caffeine.

#11:  Lazing in our recliners before the fireplace, with books, computers, and tea, reveling in the warmth, crackle, and wood-scent.  All five senses contentedly engaged.

(The view over our slipper-tops.)

#12: Discovering by chance the last item needed for my Colors of Winter list. Red was easy—cardinals and holly berries. Orange—robins and red foxes. Yellow—prairie grass. . .

. . . Green—the pines and evergreens. Blue—blue jays and blue-gray Northern bayberries. And finally, for purple, a snow-dusted beautyberry shrub. 

For eyes that seek, winter offers more than brown and gray after all.

#13: Restoration through creativity, as a scented candle flickers, restful music provides background, and occasional sips of tea offer refreshment. Again, all senses engaged.

(My latest effort–Thanks to inspiration from Pinterest!)

#14:  Playtime with the grandgirls.

(Calico Critters lined up for their baths.)

#15: The luxury of a cozy nap!

#16: A snow flurry, providing more stars for another list, included in my post two weeks ago, “Emblems of Love.”

(Photo taken on our deck)

#17: Fairy lights and candles to dispel the gloom of a wintry dusk.

#18:  A happenstance glimpse of a fox trotting by, as we view the snowfall one last time before dark.

#19:  Popcorn—a guilt-free snack (if prepared properly) and . . .

#20: . . . dark chocolate–just one square, offering a lesson in savoring. How wonderful researchers have determined dark chocolate is good for us!

The more we look, the more we see of God’s mercies and immense graces—a truth that applies even in bleak winter.

Have you been on the lookout? What mercies and graces have you seen? Please share an example or two in the comment section below!

Photo credits: http://www.maxpixels.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pixaHive.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg (4).

Sammy Morris

Prince Kaboo’s head hung over his chest. Every part of his body ached from being tied to a wooden cross and then beaten. His back stung like fire from whippings with poisonous vines that also caused chills and fever. 

All Kaboo could think about was death, and he welcomed it. Then the continual torture and starvation would stop, inflicted by the powerful Grebo tribe, who’d taken him captive in central Liberia. They used Kaboo to extort “peace payments” from his father, chieftain of the neighboring Kru tribe. He was only fourteen years old; the year, 1887.

(Liberia is located west of the Ivory Coast in southwestern West Africa.)

Suddenly, a bright light appeared over Kaboo. The ropes that held him to the cross fell off, and a voice called, “Kaboo! Run!” He felt miraculous strength return to his emaciated body.

Kaboo did as the voice commanded, dashing for the jungle and hiding inside a hollow tree until nightfall. Questions swarmed in his head. Where had the light come from? Who spoke to him? How did he become instantaneously strong? Kaboo had no answers.

The young prince did know he could not return home. The Grebos would just come for him again. So Kaboo determined to go in the opposite direction. At nightfall when he emerged from the tree, Kaboo was startled to see the light still shining above him. It guided him through the jungle.

Kaboo walked many days and finally came to a farm where he met one of the workers who happened to come from his tribe. That young man introduced Kaboo to the boss, who gave him a job.

The fellow tribesman took Kaboo to church on Sunday.

(Perhaps the church resembled this one.)

There he heard the story of a man named Saul who saw a great light and heard a voice.

“That’s what happened to me!” Kaboo exclaimed. He realized the same Jesus who spoke to Saul had spoken to him, and he invited Jesus into his life.  Soon after, an American missionary, Miss Knolls, gave Kaboo a new name: Samuel Morris, after her benefactor.

Months later Kaboo met a boy who’d been a slave in the Grebo tribe when Sammy (as he came be known) was held hostage. The boy told Sammy, “We didn’t know what happened to you. A bright light flashed over you, someone called your name, and then you were gone!”

Sammy explained the miracle of his escape and the boy became a Christian too.

A dream began to form in Sammy’s heart, to head for America where there’d be knowledgeable teachers and many books about God. He was hungry to learn. So Sammy set out on foot for the coast where he found a ship headed to America.

(Such a scene may have greeted Sammy as he arrived at the port in Monrovia.)

He offered to work in exchange for passage but the captain declined.

“Oh Lord,” Sammy prayed. “Change his heart!”

And God answered. One of the sailors became sick and Sammy was assigned his tasks. Others on board mistreated him, but Sammy’s kindheartedness won them over, and by voyage’s end many chose to believe in Jesus, including the captain.

Upon arrival in New York City, Sammy set out to find Stephen Merritt. According to his missionary friends back in Liberia, this superintendent of a homeless mission would gladly help him.

(New York City, 1880-1890)

Sammy stayed several months with Stephen, learning to know God better and assisting with the mission work. His passion for Jesus was contagious and many of the men who came through the mission also accepted Christ into their lives.

Stephen urged Sammy to go to Taylor University in Indiana to continue his education. The superintendent contacted the school’s president, Thaddeus Reade, on Sammy’s behalf.

This was the same university where the missionary, Miss Knolls, had attended. By December of 1891, Sammy had enrolled at Taylor and planned to become a missionary himself to the people of Liberia.

(Samuel Morris)

On May 12, 1893, the unthinkable occurred. Sammy died from a respiratory infection.

Some would say, “Why would God allow such a tragedy?”

But here’s what happened.

A few days after Sammy’s funeral, one Taylor student declared in a prayer meeting, “I feel impressed this moment that I must go to Africa in Sammy’s place, and I pray that as his work has fallen upon me, the mantle of his faith may also fall upon me.”[1] 

Two more of that group affirmed they felt God wanted them to go to Africa also. Instead of one missionary—Samuel Morris—there would be three. And many more have followed.

In addition, five books and a film chronicle his life. In Sinoe County, Liberia, stands the Samuel Morris Educational Resource and Conference Center—a joint project of Taylor University, the Sinoe County Association of the Americas (SCAA), and local agencies in Liberia. At Taylor, scholarships and a dorm bear his name, and the school still prepares missionaries to serve around the world.

“Samuel Morris was a divinely sent messenger of God to Taylor University. He thought he was coming over here to prepare himself for his mission to his people, but his coming was to prepare Taylor University for her mission to the whole world. All who met him were impressed with his sublime, yet simple faith in God.”[2]

Thaddeus Reade

 

[1] https://pillars.taylor.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=samuel-morris

[2] https://www.taylor.edu/about/samuel-morris

Sources:

https://www.taylor.edu/about/samuel-morris

https://www.taylor.edu/news/taylor-group-traveling-to-liberia-for-dedication-cornerstone-laying-of-samuel-morris-center

https://wellsofgrace.com/biography/english/morris.htm

Photo sources: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

The Blissful Life

(What follows is an imaginary conversation between God and me as I contemplated the verses above.)

ME:

O God, at face value this proclamation excludes me from your presence. How unthinkable! I can’t imagine life without you actively involved, providing strength, wisdom, encouragement, and more.

But I haven’t led a blameless life, I haven’t always done what is right, nor kept my mouth from lies or insincerity. Any effort on my part to warrant access to your presence would fall horribly short of your standard.

However.  You understand what I’m made of; you know I’m just dust! You’ve provided the Way for me to enter your presence—even enjoy relationship with you—through your perfect and blameless Son.[1]

Jesus’ sacrifice in my place provided a figurative, pure white robe for me to wear, constructed from his uprightness, which is more than sufficient to cover all the stains of my sins.

It’s not my failures and wrongdoing that you see, but that radiant, spotless robe. “Thank you” seem such paltry words for such a precious gift![2]

And yet, even though I’ve been forgiven of all wrongs and no longer stand condemned, I dearly desire to be pure before you, including my thoughts, motives, and desires. 

I want to please you in appreciation for all you’ve done for me. In addition, a pure life of wisdom and goodness will allow me to experience the fullness of your blessings like peace and joy, untainted by any sin, guilt, or shame.[3]

How do I become pure, Father?

GOD:

(Put your name in the blanks.)

It pleases me greatly, __________, that this is your heart’s desire. Remember, just as my Spirit led you to Jesus, he is at work within you creating good.[4]

This is a joint effort, however. You strive toward purity while I strengthen you for the task and augment the outcome. With each step you take, the next one becomes easier as you grow in self-discipline.[5]

Let’s begin with your thought life. I inspired Paul to include eight adjectives that describe the kinds of thoughts that will cleanse the mind of negativity, discouragement, and temptation:

And the purest, most noble truth you can dwell on is my Word.

Within the covers of your Bible you find the guidance you need and the wherewithal to heed it, the encouragement to press on and the strength to do it, the comfort for every wound and the faith to embrace it.

And then pray, dear __________.  Seek the quality of purity as King David did when he asked, “Create in me a clean heart within me, O God” (Psalm 51:10).

Thus empowered by noble thoughts, scripture-truth, and heartfelt prayers, you’ll learn to love the sound of your feet walking away from things not meant for you[6] and reveling in the pure things that are.

Then–such wonderful blessings I’ve reserved for you! Remember what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount?

To see me is to enjoy intimate fellowship with me. You’ll sense my presence with you. Together we’ll enjoy my glory reflected in creation, in the events of your life, and in the lives of others.

I’ll open your eyes to see rare splendors of my glory.  From morning till night, __________, you’ll be praising my name and I will smile with delight.[7]

ME:

O Father, grow me in purity so I may present it as a love-gift back to you, and as a means of experiencing the blissful life with you that you so graciously offer.

In the powerful name of your Son Jesus I pray, AMEN.


[1] Psalm 103:14; 1 John 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] Isaiah 61:10;

[3] Romans 8:1; Romans 12:1-2; John 14:21; Proverbs 2:1-11; James 3:17

[4] Philippians 1:6, 2:13;

[5] 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Corinthians 9:10; Galatians 5:22-23

[6] Based on quote, author unknown

[7] Isaiah 6:3; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 113:3; Psalm 147:11

Photo credits: http://www.canva.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.

Emblems of Love

While exercising last Friday I listened to a podcast of Pete Briscoe’s sermon, “Every Day Jesus.” He made the point that we can actually see “tangible evidence of his intangible love” if we’re paying attention.

Pete told the story of a man who began looking for hearts, as emblems of Jesus’ love for him. He found them everywhere—heart-shaped rocks, shells, clouds, a heart-shaped stain on his jeans, even a heart-shaped dinner roll.

Pete told Jesus, I’d like to find tangible evidence of you too.  That very afternoon he spotted a pile of grass clippings on the side of the road, shaped just like a heart. He shared a photo on the sanctuary screen, and sure enough, there was no mistaking it.

Oh Lord, I thought, while finishing a set of push-ups.  That sounds like such fun. But I wonder if my emblem might be different than hearts—something personal. What could I look for?

No sooner did I get up from the mat than there it was: a star—a big one—blazoned on the wheel of our exercise bike. (Jesus made sure I didn’t miss it!)

The verse in Revelation came to mind where Jesus calls himself the bright morning star (22:16). And brief research delightfully expanded my understanding, so I’d appreciate more the stars yet to be discovered.

Just as Venus, the morning star, is always present whether we see it or not, so is Jesus. He is FAITHFUL and TRUE (Revelation 19:11), even when there’s no evidence in the moment.

Just as the morning star gives us assurance of approaching dawn, so Christ gives us assurance of approaching eternal life with him in heaven. He is our HOPE (1 Peter 1:3-5).

And just as the morning star cheers the night-weary soul, so Jesus brings JOY to the discouraged soul (John 17:13).

Each star then, would be a reminder of my Savior’s unfailing faithfulness, the confident hope I have in him, and the ineffable joy he provides.

Since Friday stars have been appearing with surprising frequency.

For example:

A friend posted a photo of her snow-covered garden. Right of center stood a small windmill –with a star on top.

While looking for an old photo on my phone I came across a springtime star from our own backyard.

We watched our Cincinnati Bengals squeak a win over the Titans last Saturday night. I’d never paid attention before to the NFL logo—with its stars.

The Titans’ helmets also include stars. See them surrounding the T?

In our refrigerator are a half-dozen stars or so. . .

. . . if you were to cut the apples horizontally, instead of stem to calyx.

A devotional reading this week just happened to be titled, “Star Gazing.”

In my office you’ll find paper clips shaped like stars. . .

. . . and on a table sits a Czechoslovakian, star-topped creche that I leave out all year.

On a shelf in the family room a crystal star adds sparkle . . .

. . . and even makes rainbows when placed in the sun.

With each star discovery, my heart sings. He is here—with us—revealing his extraordinary presence among the ordinary moments of our lives.

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord God, after less than a week I’m already rich with stars! You’ve scattered them throughout my days with such creativity.  Thank you that each one reminds me: my faith is not misplaced, my hope is assured, and every joy of life is enhanced—because of your loving presence.

Do you find tangible emblems of Jesus’ intangible love as you go about your day? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

P.S. Here’s a link to Pete Briscoe’s sermon: https://benttree.org/sermon/part-1-everyday-jesus/

(Art & photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.pxhere.com.)

Spin for Joy!

Remember Christmas morning as a child—the first glimpse of the enticing packages tucked under the tree?  Did you hop and clap with delight?

Or how about that winning touchdown for your team—in the last few moments of the game with your school’s arch rival? Did you jump up and shout in celebration?

Perhaps a family member or dear friend recently announced glorious news—a baby on the way, better employment obtained, or a clean bill of health finally received.  Did you find yourself dancing for joy?

Over-the-top pleasure and exciting events will do that to us. And although the body may no longer respond with hops, jumps, or dance, our spirits certainly soar in the moment.

photography by Nicole Sánchez : love.nimagens.com

The prophet Habakkuk of Old Testament times wrote about just such a response.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased the verse: “I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God” (Habakkuk 3:18 MSG). Sounds like the prophet received the answer to a heartfelt prayer or perhaps a miracle had occurred.

Truth is, Habakkuk’s home city of Jerusalem faced imminent invasion by the brutal Babylonians.  Recent conquests of other kingdoms left no question about the city’s fate.

God had made clear why disaster loomed.  The people of Jerusalem had continually ignored his wise ways and reveled in wickedness. Multiple warnings had been proclaimed and disregarded.

In response God was about to provide a means of saving his people—not from the ruin of their city—but from the ruin of their souls.  He would allow the invasion and a period of captivity in a foreign culture 900 miles away (Isaiah 39:5-8; Jeremiah 25:1-11).

(Isaiah foretold this scene in the latter half of the eighth century BC,
Jeremiah in 605 BC. The invasion took place in 586 BC.)

Habakkuk questioned God’s decision, wondering why he would allow the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to “swallow those who are more righteous than they are (Habakkuk 1:13)?”

By the end of his book, however, the prophet’s doubts had turned to faith and he declared—in the face of calamity–“Yet I will celebrate the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (3:18 NIV).

The word rejoice in this verse is ‘alaz’ in the original Hebrew, and means to “spin around for joy.”* Can you imagine? Disaster loomed. All Habakkuk had ever known would be destroyed.  If not killed, he would be forced into captivity in a hostile country.

Yet Habakkuk determined to dance for joy in his spirit—spin cartwheels even.

How does a person acquire such joy? Not by setting her sights on things that make her momentarily happy.  Deep-down dancing joy grows in proportion to our trust in God, and our trust grows in proportion to our knowledge of God—knowledge gained as we spend time in His Word.

We’d also do well to remember the close relationship between joy and gratitude.

As 2022 unfolds, a number of crises threaten—in our cities and states, our country, and around the world.  With Habakkuk of old we have a choice: to sink into despair over the real possibility of disaster, or to rejoice in our God who will enable us to endure whatever we may face (James 1:2-4).

It is our turn to spin for joy–in the God of our salvation!

*Linda Dillow, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, 202.

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.love.nimages.com; http://www.maxpixelnet; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

A Masterwork of God

(From Morning by Morning, March 4.)

S. Truett Cathy (1921-2014) was just such a person, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression to become a steadfast and unmovable masterwork of God.

At age eight he started his own business, inspired by a woman in his Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood. She sold cupcakes from her front yard.

M-m-m.  What could I sell to earn some money? Truett wondered. 

The answer: soft drinks. He purchased six bottles for a quarter and sold them for a nickel apiece. Just twenty six-packs, he figured, and I’ll have a whole dollar.

Truett quickly realized he could expand sales by enticing the door-to-door salesmen with cold drinks. He began to serve ice with the soda.

Soon the young entrepreneur had saved four dollars—enough to buy an old bicycle. Now he could make quicker profits by delivering newspapers.  But competition for customers was stiff with three well-established papers in Atlanta.

Truett had learned the value of customer satisfaction, however, so he made sure his papers landed on porches. On rainy days he put them inside the screen doors, and his customer list grew.

Truett delivered papers until high school graduation, after which he was drafted into the Army. Upon honorable discharge in 1945, Truett returned home to pursue his lifelong dream:  owning a business.

He decided to open a restaurant, knowing a bit about cooking for a crowd.  For years he’d helped his mother as she daily prepared meals not only for their family of nine but also for six boarders.

Truett and his younger brother Ben pooled their resources, took out a loan and bought a piece of land near a Ford assembly plant and Delta Airlines at the airport which provided a large customer base.

The tiny restaurant, aptly named the Dwarf Grill, included just ten counter stools and four tables.  The brothers served quick-to-fix burgers and steaks.

(The Dwarf Grill is still in operation, but in a new building with a revised name.)

They worked hard and the business thrived. But in 1949 tragedy struck. Ben, another brother, and two friends were killed.

Later Truett would remark, “I lost two brothers in an airplane crash, both of them leaving a wife and kids.  When I get to heaven, that’s probably the first question I’d like to ask: Why was it necessary?”[1]

The heartbreak did not erode Truett’s strong faith in God, which had been inspired by his devout mother and nurtured by Sunday School teacher and life-long mentor, Theo Abbey.

Then more trouble ensued.  In 1959 Truett was diagnosed with colon cancer. In an interview he explained that just prior to the successful surgery he experienced a new peace, knowing that whether he lived or died, he would be with God.[2] God granted another fifty-six years.

In 1960 the second restaurant burned to the ground, and then the original Dwarf Grill caught fire in 1965. But instead of becoming discouraged, Truett leaned on his God, growing stronger in faith and more determined than ever.

With only one restaurant to oversee, he focused his time on developing the menu. Truett remembered his mother’s impressive fried chicken, how she seasoned it the night before and put it in the ice box to marinate. 

He experimented with recipes, tried his efforts on regular customers and soon created a new menu item: the Chick-fil-A sandwich—a play on the word fillet, but also indicating the meat was grade A.

Customers loved the new sandwich, and in 1967, Truett opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant. One successful opening followed another until, in the year 2000, the restaurant chain grossed one billion dollars in sales. By 2018, it surpassed $10 billion in sales.

(Enlarge this image to read about Truett Cathy’s winning habits
–based on Biblical principles.)

Today, the company generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain, even though all locations are closed on Sundays. (Since his first day in the restaurant business, Truett set aside that day for his employees and himself “to rest and worship if they choose.”[3])

Truett’s commitment to put God first is expressed in the company’s statement of purpose: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”[4]

Truett also delighted to glorify God by spending his fortune to encourage others.

How do you identify someone who needs encouragement?

That person is breathing.

–Truett Cathy

Since 1973, Chick-fil-A has given more than $35 million in college scholarships to its employees. Truett also founded the WinShape Foundation, providing approximately $18 million dollars for the development of foster homes and summer camps.

His legacy of planting Christian ideals in the lives of others continues, even though Masterwork Samuel Truett Cathy now resides in heaven. (He is survived by his wife of sixty-six years, three children, eighteen grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren.)


[1] https://www.quotetab.com/quote/by-s-truett-cathy/i-lost-two-brothers-in-an-airplane-crash-both-of-them-leaving-a-wife-and-kids-w

[2] https://www.11alive.com/article/news/thank-you-god-that-im-alive-in-book-chick-fil-a-founder-s-truett-cathy-shared-faith-affirming-brush-with-mortality/85-48c52862-7a53-4167-9e7a-1a37bd8d6185

[3] https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/inside-chick-fil-a/secret-menus-and-closed-on-sundays-chick-fil-a-fact-or-fiction

[4] https://billygraham.org/story/a-conversation-with-truett-cathy

Other Sources:

http://www.academicstar.us/UploadFile/Picture/2015-7/20157331854318.pdf

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/311452

http://www.giantsforgod.com/s-truett-cathy/

https://www.thextraordinary.org/s-truett-cathy

Photo credits: http://www.pixhive.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.samiskelton.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxfuel.com.

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