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Posts Tagged ‘God’

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“Here’s something that happens all the time and makes no sense at all: Good people get what’s coming to the wicked, and bad people get what’s coming to the good. I tell you, this makes no sense.”

Haven’t we all said or at least heard such comments? It’s a fact: life is not fair. But knowing it and accepting it are two different responses.

That quote above came from a guy who had it all—fame, wealth, and power. If anyone could claim that life had been fair to him, it was this guy. Yet in spite of the veneer of an enchanted life, he, too, experienced disappointment and confusion.

What was his name? King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. Those sentiments of his at the beginning of the post come from Ecclesiastes 8:14, as interpreted in The Message.

No doubt you’ve experienced your share of disappointment and confusion, too. Perhaps you’re floundering right now, desperately in need of a handhold to keep you from falling.

Selwyn Hughes, that wise, Welsh pastor from a generation ago, recommends we fight uncertainty with certainties.

Certainties would include truths from scripture that apply to our situations. Truths that we can hold tightly in our hearts, such as:

  1. God is in control over the difficulties as well as the blessings. Yes, he could rescue us from trouble in an instant. But in his infinite, all-knowing wisdom, he has chosen not to. The reasons why may never be revealed. What we do know is this: God never acts or withholds action without purpose.

 Think of Joseph, a poster-child for unfair treatment. Yet, to the brothers who sold him into slavery, he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

 

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God brings good out of all things—even the problems, hurts, and pain (Romans 8:28).

  1. God has you in his mighty hand—mighty in power (Psalm 89:13), mighty to save (Zephaniah 3:17), mighty in deed (Jeremiah 32:19).
  1. Out of his infinite might, God will provide strength to get us through. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
  1. Even as we plod through adversity, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:25). That goodness includes his comforting presence, his provision, his blessings in the midst of difficulty, and more.

King Solomon also observed:

“The good life is reserved to the person who fears God, who lives reverently in his presence,…the evil person will not experience a “good” life. No matter how many days he lives, they’ll all be as flat and colorless as a shadow—because he doesn’t fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13, The Message).

 In other words, life with God is far superior to life without God–no matter what.

These certainties are just a few God has graciously provided in his Word that can be applied when uncertainty threatens. But if you’re like me, simply reading them doesn’t help for very long. “Out of sight, out of mind” happens frequently.

Perhaps we can make the most of God’s promises by:

  • Keeping a list, particularly those that apply specifically to our situations. As the list grows, so will our faith.
  • Copy especially meaningful promises on Post-Its and tuck them in unlikely places. When we spot them they’ll provide a pleasant surprise and uplift. Possibilities include: inside a cabinet door, on the coffee container, on the dashboard. Move them every week to keep the surprise (and uplift) fresh.
  • Memorize promises while doing mindless tasks like washing the dishes, waiting at red lights, taking a walk. Soon you’ll be able to pray the promises back to God—anytime, anyplace–to bolster your spirit and strengthen your faith.

 

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Let’s stand on the certainties of scripture and God’s promises because:

 

“To stand is more important than to understand.”

–Selwyn Hughes, Every Day Light

 

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Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the handholds in scripture, the truths and promises that help us keep our balance, so we can stand in the midst of adversity. Although I do not understand why troubles and heartache sometimes attack, I do understand that you are unequivocally reliable and you will see us through. I praise you, for you are the strength of my heart (Psalm 73:26b).

 

(Photo & art credits:  www.mygratitudelife.wordpress.com; http://www.ncbv.org; http://www.sjeciowa.org.)

   

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Pretend you’re on an ocean liner that has embarked from New York City and is sailing to England.   You and several thousand other passengers enjoy your days at sea, free to choose from dozens of activities—games, shopping, shows, sports, crafts, and more. You can eat anytime you like, sleep whenever you feel drowsy, make friends among the other passengers, or remain solitary. In other words, you make many choices during the voyage, but all the while the ship is headed towards its predetermined destination.

A.W. Tozer gave us this illustration in his classic, The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Brothers, 1961), to help us understand God’s sovereignty: 1) Our all-powerful God has total authority in the universe, just as the shipping authorities exercise sovereignty over the course of a ship. 2) We have been given much freedom, within the confines of God’s sovereignty, to move about and make choices.

Now some folks take issue with God’s control. They want to direct the course of their life-ships.  I, for one, find great comfort in the numerous, reassuring scriptures about God’s sovereignty.

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For example, everything in heaven and earth belongs to Him. He is the glorious head over all, the ruler of all things (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). That includes us–those who know Jesus and belong to the family of God. As our Heavenly Father, he provides for our needs, guides us through decisions, bestows many blessings, and more. What encouraging truth! The Almighty God of the universe is in charge of our lives, as we submit to him. We don’t have to navigate alone.

The key, however, is submission. God is a gentleman and will not force himself upon us. He has chosen to limit his sovereignty, to allow man free choice.

Another reassuring truth: God is totally competent. We’ve all known inept leaders who could not fulfill their responsibilities. But our Ruler is supremely capable.  Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17).  As we focus on his complete sufficiency, our worries shrink in significance.

In addition, no plan of God’s can be thwarted (Job 42:2).   What God says, happens.

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His sovereign plan is efficient and goal-oriented. He works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his perfect plan (Ephesians 1:11).

God’s sovereignty is also employed with infinite wisdom (Job 12:13).  No foolish decisions come from God’s throne!

And contrary to appearances, he does maintain over-arching rule on mankind (Jeremiah 32:27). That would include the barbaric Babylonians of Jeremiah’s day, who destroyed Jerusalem, murdered the nobles of Judah, and took thousands of Jewish captives to Babylon.  God’s over-arching rule also applies to the wicked forces creating havoc in our day.

Good people are often hurt in the process, and it breaks our hearts.   Every century has had its martyrs for the faith. And our questions of why God allows bad things to happen to good people don’t always get answered. We’re not privy to everything God knows or to all the reasons behind his decisions (Romans 11:33-36).

What we do know is this: Evil never wins in the end. Every evil empire of history that rose in prominence and power eventually fell in ruin. Our sovereign God knows what he is doing. He will have the last word.

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So when the squeaky wheels of worry, doubt, or fear begin to spin in your head, and you wonder, Is God in control?, apply the oil of gladness in who God is—our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, and yes, in-control God!

Take joy in the knowledge that “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?

And rest in the affirmation that “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36, emphasis added).

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Sovereign Lord of the universe, we bow in worshipful wonder of your magnificence. Your greatness shatters all boundaries! We stand in awe of your vast power and infinite wisdom, always at work in the world.

“And when I cannot understand” [your plan or your ways], “help me just to stand” (Selwyn Hughes).

(Art & photo credits:  www.en.wikipedia.org; http://www.verseoftheday.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.spiritualinpsiration.tumblr.com.)

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Have you ever heard statements like these?

  • “Oh, yes.  God wants me to be happy. He’s promised to give me the desires of my heart.”
  • “If you have enough faith, anything you ask of God can be yours.”
  • “God will take care of me. I don’t need to budget or plan ahead.”
  • “I can’t help it if I’m moody; that’s the way God made me. He understands.”

Any person who holds such beliefs can point to a verse or two in scripture, proving their points.

The problem is, the Bible was not written in brief, stand-alone statements. Bible truths are based on the context of the whole. Historical and literary understanding are also important.

Another problem? We wish for God to conduct himself in a certain way.  We even find scriptures that seem to back up our desires. But the truth is, we must know God as he is.

If we don’t, we’re living in confusion.

“The sooner we accept God as he is, and do not imagine him as we would like him to be, the sooner we will move from the path of confusion to confidence” (Selwyn Hughes, 1928-2006, Welsh pastor and author).

However, so much of God is beyond our understanding.

 

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“Just as [we’ll] never understand

the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman,

so [we’ll] never understand

the mystery at work in all that God does.”

Ecclesiastes 11:5, The Message.

Our finite brains cannot fully comprehend our infinite God. But that shouldn’t stop us from learning and experiencing all we can.

Learning comes from the Bible. In its pages we find a glorious treasure trove of wisdom, encouragement, and guidance.

Experience comes through exercising our faith.

“If we begin to worship and come to God again and again by meditating, by reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little God becomes known to us through experience” (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, twelfth century monk).

It is impossible to fully explain this life of faith, just as you can’t fully explain what it’s like falling in love, getting married, or becoming a parent. Words fail to describe such beautiful and strong emotions.

We had to trust those who told us:

  • “You’ll know you’re in love when it happens to you.”
  • “Your wedding day will be the best day of your life to that point.”
  • “Perhaps the only ‘high’ better than falling in love or getting married is holding your newborn baby in your arms for the first time.”

 

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Similarly, we have to trust what God tells us through his spokesmen in the Bible. For example:

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect,

and all his ways are just.

A faithful God who does no wrong,

upright and just is he.”

Deuteronomy 32:4

You might want to read that third line again. Our God is faithful—reliable, loyal, and completely trustworthy. HE. DOES. NO. WRONG.  Now that’s Someone in whom we can place our confidence!

Here is another example of scripture-truth about him:

 

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 “Righteousness and justice

are the foundation of [God’s] throne;

love and faithfulness go before [him].”

Psalm 89:14

Those four characteristics—right-doing, justice, love, and faithfulness—are the bedrock of who our God is. Everything he does flows from those attributes, including difficult circumstances and painful events that make no sense to us.

“Our inability to discern why bad things sometimes happen to us does not disprove God’s benevolence; it merely exposes our ignorance” (Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith, p. 46).

Someday we will understand why such events occur. For now we must trust.

But our trust is not blind. We can be confident in our God because:

“True faith rests in the character of God” (A.W. Tozer).

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.whatmykidsread.com; http://www.photobucket.com; http://www.huffingtonpost.com, http://www.pinterest.com.)

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Several weeks ago, in a post entitled, “Autumn Blaze,” I wrote about the glorious colors of fall foliage. The title was borrowed from a line of poetry by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885): “The land is lit with autumn blaze.”

As most of you know, Steve and I lived in Florida for forty years. We retired in June to Ohio, so we could be near two of our three children and their families. In many ways our transition has been a homecoming because both of us grew up in the Midwest.

One of the things we missed most while living in the south was “autumn blaze.”  All through last summer I waited expectantly for October and the display of God’s rich tapestry among the trees.

But those of you who live in four-season states know only too well: the blaze is quickly snuffed out by northerly winds and chilly temperatures. By mid-November, many trees have already been stripped of every leaf.

And now those bare, bleak branches stand pitifully exposed, reaching uselessly toward the sun for warmth. The splendorous color is gone; dingy gray-brown bark is all we see. The trees stand lifeless. Hopeless.

If I’m not careful, such sad thoughts will lead me into the doldrums.

A better train of thought to follow? Reasons to appreciate this dormant stage of the trees. For example: When the leaves are gone, I can appreciate the delicate lace work of branches, hidden from view except in winter.   They too demonstrate the creative genius of our God.

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However, when numerous bare trees huddle together on a hillside, the individual branches are indistinguishable. Our younger son and daughter-in-law enjoy a hillside view from their kitchen window–in spring, summer, and early fall, that is. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the trees were ablaze, dressed in autumn finery.

Now the scene is much different. Look out that window today and you’d be underwhelmed by the great swath of drab dullness. Time to close the curtains.

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But wait. What if we look at that sad scene and think HOPE. Because we know what’s in store.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn” (Hal Borland).

Winter is a time of rest, recuperation, and preparation. When warmth and light return in the spring, new life will burst forth in all creation. Guaranteed.

Those lifeless branches can remind us of another HOPE. Because we know that the God who brings life to dead trees can redeem any situation. Guaranteed.

“Oh? What basis is there for such grand HOPE?” someone might ask.

  1. We base our HOPE on God’s love.

 Absolutely nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:39). And if he loves us, he will care for us. “With God on our side, how can we lose?” (v. 32, MSG).

HOPE in our loving God is not misguided.

  1. We base our HOPE on God’s character.

I love Psalm 145, the only one called “a psalm of praise,” in which David extols God’s character. Our Lord is great (v.3), gracious, good, and compassionate (vs. 8-9), glorious and mighty (v. 11), righteous and kind (v. 17).

These are not descriptors of a distant god who takes no interest in his creatures. Our God is a hands-on Heavenly Father who demonstrates all these glorious attributes–in our day-to-day lives. The Lord is always watching over us (v. 20).

HOPE in our powerful God is not just wishful thinking.

  1. We base our HOPE in God’s promises.

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made” (Psalm 145:13).

HOPE in our reliable God is not blind optimism.

Christian HOPE is the trusting expectation that God will keep his Word.

This may sound strange, but let’s look to the bare trees for encouragement. See them as glorious HOPE on display! And let’s live in cheerful expectation of God’s plan, purpose, and blessing for the future.

(Photo credits:  www.staticweb.maine.edu; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.terragalleria.com.)

 

 

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While skimming through my grandmother’s Bible, I came across a notation she made next to Jeremiah 31:33.

First, the verse:

 “I will put my law in their minds

And write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

And they will be my people.”

 

Perhaps a bit of context would be helpful.

Jeremiah was a prophet of Judah for over forty years. He was instructed by God to speak strong judgment against the people because of their sin. They were following worthless idols and had become worthless themselves (2:5). God promised disaster from the north, even terrible destruction (4:6).

Babylon, the empire from the north, did attack in 586 B.C. and Jerusalem was destroyed.

But Jeremiah offered great hope, recorded in chapters thirty and thirty-one. The verse in bold print above makes clear two glorious assurances.

Assurance #1

“It is God’s work.” (That’s what my grandmother wrote in the margin of her Bible next to Jeremiah 31:33.)

See the phrase “I will” used twice in the verse?  It is our Heavenly Father who initiates the work of transformation in our minds and hearts. We couldn’t make ourselves godly no matter how hard we tried. It is his Spirit who enlivens the instruction of God’s Word to our hearts.

A friend of mine accepted Jesus into her life as an adult. M. once told me that before becoming a Christian, she had tried to read the Bible, but it didn’t hold her attention and didn’t make much sense. But after coming to Jesus? Oh, my! What a difference! Suddenly M. became a ravenous reader of God’s Word. Every word spoke wisdom and encouragement to her heart.

You see, what God provided for my friend (and for all of us who seek him) is a miraculous, spiritual heart transplant.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” God says.  “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

God is not saying he will force us into surgery.   We can accept or reject his offer of a new heart and spirit.

When you receive an appealing offer, how do you decide whether to accept or not? Do you consider the reliability of the person or company making the offer? Probably so.

And when you are given advice to follow, do you consider the source? No doubt.

So let’s consider the One making the offer of a new heart and a new spirit–God Almighty himself.   His love for us is limitless.  He is the all-knowing, all-wise God of the universe. We can trust that his instructions are for our good, that following them will bring peace, contentment, joy, and more.

(Tell me again why we rebel?!)

Assurance #2

He will be our God.

 “When this is fulfilled, you are the possessor of all things,” Spurgeon said.

Think of it: innumerable blessings are ours, beginning with a precious, personal relationship with the King of the universe.

His comforting presence, 24/7.

His guidance and provision for every day of our earthly lives.

And the glory of heaven assured.

 

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We praise you, holy God, the One who has informed us through your Word, who transforms us by your Spirit, and conforms us, day by day, to be like Jesus. Praise you for the privilege to be yours, guided and cared for by an all-wise, all-powerful God!

(Photo credit:  www.wallpaper4god.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the 1970s somebody came up with the idea of worry stones—small, smooth pebbles that people could rub between their fingers to release their worries. (What a great money-maker, huh?  Collect some free pebbles, clean ’em up and sell for 100% profit.  Genius.)

According to enthusiasts, the constant rubbing activates the nerves at the base of the thumb, releasing endorphins. As a result, a sense of calmness purportedly settles in the user’s mind.

Even if that’s true, what happens when the person stops rubbing? Since the worry has not been resolved; isn’t it likely to return? I can’t see myself rubbing a stone until I fall asleep at night, can you?

Here’s a better idea.  Instead of going to a small pebble for worry-relief, go to the Rock.

What Rock, you ask?

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).

Next question:  Why go to the Rock?

1.  God our Rock is more stable and reliable than Gibraltar.

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The Rock of Gibraltar has become a symbol for stability, having stood sentry on the southern coast of Spain for centuries. Some say it dates back to the Jurassic Period.

But our God is older still, isn’t he.

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:4).

And he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  Now that’s reliable.

2.  God our Rock is more sheltering than a deep cave.

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(Verteba Cave, Ukraine)

During World War II, a small group of Ukrainian Jews found a way to escape the Nazis. They lived underground in caves for a year and a half.

At night they foraged for food. They even built showers and latrines deep inside.

But imagine living every day in pitch blackness and in fear of being discovered.

One day it happened. Nazi soldiers stumbled upon their hiding place. A courageous woman spoke for the group, as German guns pointed straight at her.

“What are you afraid of here?” she said. “Is the Furhrer going to lose the war because we live here?” Miraculously the soldiers left without doing anyone harm.

The band of Jewish villagers found relative safety in those caves,  and in April, 1944, the cave dwellers were liberated, able to return to the light.

But God our Rock offers guaranteed eternal safety for our souls. His Son, Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9)

3.  God our Rock is more protective than Masada.

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Perhaps you’re familiar with the mountaintop fortress, towering 1500 ft. above the Dead Sea.   The refuge was built by Herod the Great, from 37 to 31 B.C., to showcase his power.

Infamous for his brutality, Herod had good cause to be paranoid. He spared no expense to make sure this desert fortress could withstand attack and provide long-term refuge. His plan included protective casement walls, an ingenious water-collection system and cisterns for storage, storehouses, barracks, palaces, an armory and more.

Impregnable? Almost.

When Herod died, Jewish rebels were able to overtake the Roman guard remaining at the fortress. A thousand Jewish zealots lived atop Masada for three years.

Yet nothing or no one on earth can compare to God our Rock.

“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” cried David. “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe” (Psalm 61:2-3).

And how do we avail ourselves of God’s refuge?  Through gratitude, praise, and prayer.  We can:

  • Thank him for his promises, for the times he has protected and provided in the past.  We must feed our confidence in God rather than our fear.
  • Praise him for his glorious attributes that he is bringing to bear upon our situations–attributes such as power, wisdom, trustworthiness, and love.
  • Affirm our faith. If we occupy our minds with expressions of trust, there won’t be room for thoughts of worry.

“My soul finds rest in God alone;

my salvation comes from him.  

He alone is my rock and my salvation;

he is my fortress, I will never be shaken…

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;

my hope comes from him”

(Psalm 62:1-2, 5).

(Photo credits:  www.ehow.com; http://www.kids.brittanica.com; http://www.noplaceonearthfilm.com; http://www.masada.org.il.)

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(As most of you know, Steve will soon be retiring from the pastorate, after serving forty years in Florida. Mid-June we move to the Midwest, to be close to our sons and their families. Now if our daughter and her family would just move east from Washington State, life would be near-perfect!

No doubt you’re also aware that packing and unpacking are time-consuming tasks, so I’m putting the blog on hold for a few weeks.  But please continue to visit! I’ll re-blog some previous posts, and hopefully you’ll find them meaningful again, or perhaps for the first time.

The following post was first published 12-3-12.)

 

When I was a little girl, my parents kept a large garden in the backyard. They grew corn, beans, tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, and more.

Among all that produce grew something else: garter snakes. I was petrified of those snakes, in spite of assurances from Mom and Dad that they could do me no harm.

 

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So what was my reaction if, while playing in the yard, I noticed the slightest bit of slithering? I RAN while emitting eardrum-splitting shrieks. No doubt those snakes took off just as rapidly in the opposite direction, but I never looked back to find out.

Those experiences make a good word-picture of what my response should be when snakes of negativity, worry, or hurt feelings invade my mind. RUN!

James recommended exactly that: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7b).

But where should I run to? As a child, when seeking escape from the garter snakes, I often ran into the house, a safe and secure refuge. (Although I did have the occasional nightmare about smart snakes, who knew how to slither under doors and up stairs, so even the house wasn’t safe!)

As an adult, facing “snakes” of a different nature, where should I run?

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

That means, when my thoughts begin to turn to the negative, I need to run to God, my refuge of hope and help (Psalm 119:114).

When people speak or act unkindly and my emotions are bruised, I need to run to God, my refuge of comfort (Psalm 31:19-20).

When worry overtakes me, I need to run to God, my refuge of peace (Psalm 9:9).

Once my attention is focused on him, I must:

  • Look into his eyes and see the great everlasting love he has for me (Jeremiah 31:3).
  • Sense his strong arms around me, holding me close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11).
  • Hear him reminding me of all his promises and all the times he has blessed me in the past (Psalm 77:11-12).
  • Taste his goodness (Psalm 34:8) in all the flavors of his attributes: power, wisdom, holiness, loving-kindness, grace, and more.

And what will be the end result? “Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy” (Psalm 5:11a). That sure beats cowering, fretting, and flustering, doesn’t it?

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Thank you, Father, for availing yourself to us as a refuge, a person-place we can run to for help, protection, and peace. We love you, O Lord, our strength, because you are our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer (Psalm 18:1).

Thank you for caring for us, those who seek to trust in you (Nahum 1:7). May we avail ourselves of your gladness and joy rather than let the snakes of negativity, worry, or emotional hurt get the best of us!

(Photo credit:  www.wikimedia.org.)

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For ten years of my husband’s ministry, we lived in a parsonage with a pond out back.  The delightful view from the kitchen window made dishwashing a much more pleasant task.  Light and shadow played on grass, trees, and water, creating an ever-changing scene.  Wading birds grazed the edges–herons, egrets, and wood storks.  Anhingas and ducks enjoyed an occasional swim.

During several spring seasons,  a brown duck and his mate chose our pond to raise their family.  It was especially fun to watch the pond-crossings of Mother Duck and her brood.  As she ventured out onto the water, the little ones fell into line behind her.  When I say line, I do mean line–straight enough to rival the Radio City Rockettes.  But at some point, Mother would turn.  And with split-second precision, those ducklings would also turn, as if she had given them a cue ahead of time.  (Had she?  Perhaps God has given them the ability to communicate with body language that zoologists haven’t noticed yet!)

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To appreciate their performance even more, consider that the eyes of ducks are on the sides of their heads.  Can they even see well straight ahead?

Oh, that I could be like those little ducks, responding to God’s leading with split-second precision.

Why don’t I relax and stop fretting about outcomes?  Isaiah reminds me:

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden like a spring whose waters never fail (Isaiah 58:11).

Why do I concern myself with what-ifs, when Jesus said:

“Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it…Seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 11:29-31).

Why don’t I respond with quiet trust, when Paul assures me:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

I’m beginning to understand what happens.  When worry, self-doubt, and fear occupy my mind, I’m allowing my emotions to take the lead, not the truths of scriptures.  Lousy leaders, those emotions.

I need to become more aware of my thought life–not let my mind just roam around helter-skelter.  Paul used military terminology to describe our course of action.  That makes sense, since spiritual warfare does occur in the mind.  Paul said, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I like the way Eugene Peterson interprets that verse:  “We…fit every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ”(The Message).

The scriptures mentioned above would be good places to start.  I can write key phrases on 3×5 cards or slips of paper and stash them here and there–on a mirror, in a dresser drawer, on the car visor, in the refrigerator!  (Yes, in!  That ought to grab my attention!) Over time I would expect these memory-joggers to train my brain toward positivity and faith.

The day may come when I won’t even need the reminders anymore.  When my thoughts line up and follow Christ’s leading, so will my emotions.

Imagine the peace, joy, and contentment!

(Photo credit:  www.science20.com, http://www.fineartamerica.com.)

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Like most expectant parents, Steve and I considered dozens of names before each of our three children were born.

First of all, the name had to have a pleasing ring with our unusual last name, Ruegg (pronounced “rug”).  We passed by Douglas.  Doug Ruegg rings too loudly.

We wanted a name that would not attract teasing or silly nicknames.  We passed by Dustin.  Dusty Ruegg would be too tempting.

And we wanted a name that meant something worthwhile, so we passed by Darnell.  “A-Type-of-Grass” Ruegg would not be very inspiring.

No doubt many of you who are parents experienced the same struggle to find appropriate names for your children.

Mary and Joseph, however, had no such struggle with their firstborn.  The angel who visited Joseph in a dream to tell him about Mary’s child, also informed him of the name.  “You are to give him the name Jesus,” he said (Matthew 1:21a).

And when an angel brought good news of great joy to the shepherds, he said, “A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

These two scriptures give us the three names we probably use most often when referring to God’s Son:  Jesus, Christ, and Lord.

And each name carries significant meaning.

Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, means “Yahweh (the Lord) is Salvation.”  Could a more perfect name be chosen for the One who would “save his people from their sins?” (Matthew 1:21b).  Yeshua becomes “Joshua” when translated into English.  And in Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), Yeshua becomes Iesous, or Jesus in English.

Jesus, our Savior.  The only perfect God-Man able to save us from the consequences of our sins.  He is our supreme Christmas gift, given by God, because he loves us.  Deeply.

Christ is English for Christos (Greek), which means “anointed.”  In Hebrew the word would be moshiach, or “Messiah.”

Anointing was a God-ordained custom, to dedicate someone for a special task.  You might remember the prophet, Samuel, anointed David to be king over Israel (1 Samuel 16).  That is, Samuel took oil (probably olive oil) and poured it over David’s head, signifying divine equipping for his royal position.

Again, what could more appropriate than our Savior to be symbolically anointed by God? Jesus was divinely equipped for the special task of saving his people from their sins.

Lord is also a name bestowed on God’s Son.  It is the name that is above every name.  And the glorious day is coming when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).  Imagine that.  Millions of voices proclaiming his majesty!

Lord is a familiar term, come down to us from feudal times in England, when kings and nobles were addressed as “lord.”  It denoted power and influence.

The history of the word, though, reveals a fascinating connection to Jesus.

Lord is derived from a compound of two very early Old English words:  hlaf (pronounced with a long “a”)  and weardHlaf means “bread,” and weard means “ward” or “guardian.”  Lord literally means “guardian of the bread.”  In feudal times, such a position would be highly important to the household.  And so lord came to mean “a man of authority and rank” (Webster’s New College Dictionary).

 Such background gives new meaning to Jesus’ words, “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life” (John 6:33, 35a).  In other words, he is the Sustainer of life.  Whoever comes to him can experience deep satisfaction of spirit (v. 35).

Jesus stands as the guardian of our abundant life now and eternal life in heaven yet to come.  He is also the guardian over of our minds and hearts, supplying peace, joy, comfort, and more.

Paul celebrated the magnificence of the Lord Jesus Christ at the close of Romans 8:

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (vs. 38-39).

And now, what do these names signify to me?  Am I deeply grateful to my Lord Jesus Christ?  Are my thoughts, attitudes, and actions pure and holy gifts I can give back him– my Savior, anointed Deliverer, and Guardian of my life?

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Lord Jesus, your very names proclaim astounding truths:  you are the Savior of the world!  In fact, you are the only Deliverer who can proclaim us “not guilty” before Almighty God.  And you are our Guardian, caring for our every need, when we depend upon you.  I praise and thank you for your love and grace, demonstrated supremely when you died in our stead.  Oh how I want my life to be a delightful Christmas present for you!

(photo & art credits:  www.babble.com, http://www.thefamily.com, http://www.ortzion.org, http://www.everydaywithmy savior.blogspot.com.)

 

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I love decorating our Christmas tree, even though it takes at least two days.

Two days?” you ask.  “Why so long?”

There are several very logical reasons – if you are me.

One:  It takes time to arrange the branches.  We have an artificial tree, you see.  (Cut evergreens don’t last long in Florida because of the heat, and Steve and I like to decorate right after Thanksgiving.)  That means, before decorating can begin, the tree has to be assembled and the branches spread out.

Two:  It takes time to string the lights.  Although pre-lit trees are convenient, they often include too few lights.  The rule of thumb is 100 lights per foot.  We put 1,000 lights on our eight-footer.  Some are tucked in, some arranged on the tips of branches.  This creates a tree that truly glows.

Three:  It takes time to hang the decorations — the ultimate 3-D jigsaw puzzle of Santas, angels, and miniature manger scenes, animals, toys, and traditional ball ornaments.  Dozens and dozens of them.  (And nearly all given to us by family, friends, members of the churches we’ve served, and students from my classes.)

Long ago I worked for a creative designer.  One aspect of her business included decorating Christmas trees for banks and businesses.  She taught me several tricks for creating a stunning display.  I’ve already shared the first rule:  Use lots of lights.

Two:  Consider the size, theme, and material of each ornament.  Try not to hang several Santas, or a group of red decorations, all together.

Three:  Just as lights are tucked in or perched on branch-tips, it’s important to do the same with ornaments.

Four:  Use the tree lights as spotlights for the ornaments, as often as possible.

A beautiful, glowing Christmas tree is in the carefully executed details.

tree 2012

(Photo taken before the last step:  settling the treetop angel in place.)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Something else that’s found in the details?  Wonder.

Yes, that statement could be applied to decorations.  There is a sense of wonder when studying a breath-taking display.

But more significant?  The glorious wonder to be found in the carefully executed details of the Christmas story, the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Beyond the familiar events of angel visitations, a trip to Bethlehem, Baby Jesus laid in a manger, and a shepherds’ hurried trek to see the newborn Messiah, there is much to appreciate in the details.

For example:

One:  Little did Caesar Augustus know he was being used by God to fulfill an ancient Messianic prophecy, when he decreed the census that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,…out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  God is sovereign — even over those who do not know him.

Two:  Observe whom God chose to notify first about this pivotal event in history–the birth of his Son.  Shepherds!  Members of the lowest class in Jewish society!  Perhaps God wanted us to know that wealth, position, and even the respect of others is of little consequence in his eyes.  What does matter?  Faith.  “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

The shepherds did believe – in the old Messianic prophecies and in the angel’s message:  “Today!  Right now!  In the little town of David, your Savior, the Messiah, has been born” (Luke 2:10-11)!  Those sheep herders scurried off to Bethlehem as fast as they could go.  And their faith was highly rewarded.  They were first to see the long-awaited King of kings, the Messiah.  Their lowly position in society didn’t matter.

Three:  Most wondrous of all?  The Son of God, who was with God and was God from the very beginning, became human (John 1:1-2).  The One who created all things (Colossians 1:15-16), chose to become a helpless baby, and embrace every aspect of the human experience through thirty-some years of earth-dwelling.

I like the way Eugene Peterson says it:  “God became one of us and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message)!

And how do we respond to such wondrous details?  We follow the example of those shepherds.  We praise and glorify our God for all the things we have heard and seen, which prove what we’ve been told (Luke 2:20).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I DO praise you, Heavenly Father, that early in life I heard about your Son and your gift of eternal life.  I invited you into my life, and have experienced your love, joy, and peace, just as you promised.  In fact, I have seen many of your promises fulfilled in my life and in the lives of others.  You have proven to me over and over that what we’ve been told in scripture is indeed 100% truth.  With Mary, I exult:  “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47a)!

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