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Posts Tagged ‘God’s Love’

 

 

It was a grand summer evening to be at the park. Not too hot, not too crowded. Mom, Dad, my grandparents, baby brother and I were just finishing a picnic supper. Through the trees a nearby vacant swing beckoned.

Come ride with me! We’ll fly up to the sky!

I had just learned how to pump and was anxious to try my new powers on the ten-story park swings. (OK, they weren’t that tall. But compared to most playground swings, these were colossal.)

No sooner were the last bites of hot dog and potato salad consumed, than Mom and Dad said it was time to pack up; we needed to leave.

“But I want to go on the swings,” I protested.

“We’ve got something better planned,” Mom replied.

What could be better than flying up to the sky?

Reluctantly I climbed into the back seat of the car. Dad stowed the picnic paraphernalia in the trunk, and drove us through city streets to the countryside where fields of corn stretched to the horizon.

 

 

And then, miracle of miracles, Dad turned into the parking lot of…

…Kiddie Land!

Some clever farmer had carved out a corner of his field and installed a number of carnival rides: a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, kid-sized motorized tractors, small boats that rotated in a large tub, and more.

 

(Another visit the following year,

when my brother, John, was old enough to join in the fun.)

 

We had passed this Kiddie Land at least several times on our way to visit my great-aunt and her large family. And though I would beg to stop, we never had time.

“Not today, Honey,” they’d say. “We have to get to Aunt Hester’s.

That summer evening, however, turned out to be the occasion of my first visit, and in a cloud of euphoria I flew up to the sky on the Ferris wheel instead of an old playground swing.

 

 

My plans for the evening didn’t begin to compare to what Mom, Dad, and my grandparents had in store for me.

Someone else also designs delightful plans that far exceed my child-sized ideas. My Heavenly Father.

One experience on top of another begins to construct a good foundation of things already seen, so I can trust him for what is not seen. (A number of previous posts have highlighted some foundational experiences. See: “After the Fact,” “Progress,” and “The Greater Plan.”)

The psalmist, Asaph, knew about this foundation for faith and built one of his own. “I will meditate on all your works,” he declared, “and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:12). He affirmed there is no god as great, who performs miracles and displays his power among us all (vs. 13-14).

 

 

Ah, but what about the potential for trouble or pain in the not seen of the future? Even then, God will produce good effect (Romans 8:28). And a bedrock foundation of trust will provide the necessary fortitude to endure, even thrive.

With Job we’ll be able to say, “Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction” (36:15).

I have no idea what God is planning for tomorrow, next week, or next year. But just as my parents set a reliable example of parental care and blessing, so has my Heavenly Father–only infinitely more so. Every good gift comes from him (James 1:17), and they are plentiful.

I have seen enough evidence to know I can trust his all-knowing, all-wise, all-sufficient ways. Especially because all he does is motivated by perfect love.

 

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *   *

 

Thank you, Lord of Joy, for every good and perfect gift you bestow, many of which exceed our expectations. We delight to see your creativity and marvel at your generosity. Day after day you pour forth your blessings, building a strong foundation of experiential evidence. And each blessing demonstrates your compassion, grace, patience and love.

“Your righteousness reaches up to the skies, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?”

 (Psalm 103:2-5, 8; 71:19)

 

 

What great things has God performed in your life that have built your foundation of faith?  Please share an experience or two in the comment section below!

 

(Photo credits:  www.nps.gov; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com (3).

 

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Years ago I created a memory booklet to celebrate my dad on his birthday. Good thing I did. Over the intervening decades, some of those recollections would surely have been forgotten. And now the memories are more precious than ever.

 

(Dad and me 1964)

 

Their meaning, however, goes deeper than mere sentiment. Throughout my life, Dad has modeled the loving ways of my Heavenly Father.

For example:

Dad often took my brother and me to the community pool or on bike rides through the back streets near our home.  We also accompanied Dad to the hardware store, the lumberyard—even the dump! When he asked us to tag along, we always said yes. It meant quality time with our hero.

How incredible to realize God Almighty desires our intimate company, too (2 Corinthians 6:16).

 

 

    *     *     *

 

John and I had our own personal shoe fitter—Dad. He’d gently press on toes, instep, and heel, to ensure proper fit. Such attention to detail was his modus operandi. As a result, we could trust him. He always had our best interests at heart.

God also carefully attends to the details of our lives (Isaiah 40:11).   For a number of months in 2013 we searched realty websites for a new house. Two weeks before the actual walk-throughs, a perfect brick ranch just happened to become available. Though we looked at other homes, this became his obvious choice for us—a true gift.

 

 

 *     *     *

 

Dad started taking me to the library as a toddler. It was on his lap and my mother’s I learned to appreciate books.

My Heavenly Father guided me to appreciate his Book.  Nowhere else have I found such wisdom, consolation, inspiration, and direction. David was right: The scriptures are more valuable than gold (Psalm 19:10).

 

 *     *     *

 

One time I ran out of reading material while sick with a virus. Dad went to the library to remedy the situation. Because he knew me well, Dad could choose books he was reasonably confident I’d like. And sure enough, I read all four.

 

 

My Heavenly Father knows me more intimately yet and cares about my interests (Psalm 139:1-3). After I had taken up writing again, a woman at church just happened to invite me to her writers’ group. Not only did the members offer encouragement and challenge, they became delightful friends as well.

 

  *     *     *

 

Dad and I were on an errand at Sears when we passed the bicycle display. Suddenly he asked, “If you’re willing to pay half out of your savings, what do you say we get you a new bike today?”   My heart pounded so loudly at such a glorious surprise, I found it difficult to focus on the decision of red or blue. (Blue won.)

God in heaven blesses us in delightful, surprising ways as well (Matthew 7:7-11). One afternoon a member of our church (where my husband, Steve, was pastor) called to seek a recommendation on a car. Why me? he wondered.  Steve thought perhaps she planned to purchase one for her grandson’s graduation. But no, it was for us.

 

 

    *     *     *

 

When I was seven or eight, Dad taught me the card game, “21,” so I could practice addition and subtraction. (Math never was my friend.) Not only did he sacrifice his time to help me, he aimed to make the exercise pleasurable too.

My Heavenly Father has gently taught me life skills too (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Recently I came across Ephesians 5:4 about what should be coming out of my mouth instead of foolish talk. Paul encourages thanksgiving, because it is life changing.   Positive thoughts become positive words that foster positive action. In addition, God knows a grateful heart is a joy-filled heart (Psalm 92:1-2, 4).

 

 

  *     *     *

 

My father is ninety-three, and still a remarkable man of strength, wisdom, and faith. His godly influence most greatly helped shape my life.

I wonder how different the world would be if all fathers followed the model of our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)?  He lavishes such attentive, everlasting love on his children.  My heart fills with awe and adoration at the wonder that I am his and he is mine.

 

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2), http://www.pinterest.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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With quick, deft movements our daughter, Heather, enveloped her baby girl in a swaddling wrap.   It was bedtime, their first night of a week-long visit from Washington State to our home in Florida. Our younger son watched the swaddling process, fascinated by the flannel and Velcro contraption.

“Now what do you do?” he asked his sister. “Hang her upside down?”

Sophie did resemble a bat, all folded up into a neat little package. You would have thought she’d be squirming in discomfort, but her sleepy, contented expression said otherwise. Infants love the cozy, confined sensation that simulates the womb.

 

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But within months even the openness of a childproof play space isn’t liberating enough for many toddlers. Given their way, the little tykes would wobble off down the street—make that the middle of the street–confident in their abilities to handle life. Efforts to hem them in are met with raucous dissent.

Even as adults, when circumstances hem us in, we balk at the confinement, which negatively impacts our time, energy, and choices.

So when we read, “You [God] hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5 NIV), a person’s reaction might easily be: “I’ve got enough stuff in my life hemming me in—family responsibilities, long hours at work, financial obligations—you name it. I need God to free me up, not hem me in any further!”

 

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But hemmed in by God IS freed up. According to Bible scholar, Warren Wiersbe, those italicized words in the ancient Hebrew of Old Testament times included the meaning, “to guard a valuable object.” ‘Brings to mind God’s protection, doesn’t it—being held in his strong, reliable hands. *

And don’t miss that adjective, valuable. God sees each one of us as precious. Otherwise, he would not have sent his Son to die in our place.

“Hemmed in” also provides imagery of loving affection. When Sophie was tucked snugly into her swaddling wrap, Heather or Tim would encircle her in their arms and hold her close until she fell asleep. Surely those moments of cozy contentedness were among the first when she realized Mommy and Daddy loved her very much.

Similarly, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (Psalm 32:10b).

 

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“Hemmed in” brings to mind peace as well, because the all-powerful God of the universe is active in our lives. Psalm writer, King David, says we’re enclosed “behind” (in the past) and “before” (in the future). As for the present, God has laid his hand upon us (139:5).

 

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That means, behind us there is God, redeeming the hurts, mistakes, and sins of the past. Before us there is God, preparing the way for the future chapters of our lives, chapters he has already written (v. 16). In the present, there is God—attentive to our needs, guiding us through each day, and enabling us to thrive.

We are not hemmed in because God desires to control us in some self-interested power-grab. He is motivated by his gracious, loving kindness to keep us safe and content.

_________________________

 

Thank you, Father, for hemming me in. What a relief to know that Someone much wiser than I am is in control. How comforting to contemplate your continual, unfailing love. Your hand upon me is not oppressive; it is restorative, as I learn to rest in your peace. You have freed me up to live in the joy of your presence, and I am humbly, overwhelmingly grateful.

(Psalm 73:23-24; 36:5-7; 63:7-8; 16:11)

 

* (See Isaiah 41:10.) Not that God surrounds us with virtual bubble wrap so problems and pain can’t impact our lives. Rather than insulate us from challenges and hurt, he most often brings us through them—with his strength, wisdom, and peace. He’s saving perfect bliss for heaven.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.justprems.com.au; http://www.centerforparentingeducation.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.biblia.com.

 

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“Let all that I am praise the LORD;

with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name…

may I never forget the good things he does for me.”

–Psalm 103:1-2 NLT

 

So begins Psalm 103 (one of my favorites), written by David the Shepherd-King.

I imagine him–seated at a large table, a blank parchment spread before him, and a sharpened reed in his hand. Close by sits a small pot half-filled with a mixture of soot, gum, and water–his ink.

David’s gaze drifts to the view of Jerusalem outside the palace window. His thoughts carry him back in time to the hillsides of Bethlehem, just a few miles away. There he had tended his father’s sheep as a boy. But oh, the wonders God had performed during the years since. The humble shepherd boy became a giant killer, then a fugitive from jealous King Saul, a courageous warrior against Israel’s enemies, and finally after many years, the crowned king of Israel.

I can sense his heart filling with gratitude and praise, his eyes filling with tears as he considers all the “benefits” God has bestowed.

And David begins to write, extolling the Lord for his forgiveness, redemption, love, goodness, and more (vs. 3-6).

 

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His pen needs more ink. As he dips the reed, David’s gaze is once again drawn to the window. He begins to contemplate God’s goodness expressed to his countrymen long ago:

 

“He revealed His ways to Moses,

His deeds to the people of Israel” — v. 7, HCSB.

 

Through the laws outlining his ways, God had revealed his holy character. Through his miraculous deeds God revealed his power, faithfulness and…

…David’s mind shifts to the days when the Hebrews were brought out of slavery in Egypt and led back to the land of their father, Abraham. How compassionate God was.

David marvels at the provisions God engineered, so his people could escape: the gold, silver, and clothing Egyptians gave them as they prepared to flee (Exodus 12:35-36); the food and water necessary for survival (chapters 16 & 17).

 

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David recollects God’s patience with the Israelites—grumbly and rebellious as they were (Numbers 14:18).

And David contemplates God’s love (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)—caring and protective—in spite of the Israelites’ ingratitude and disobedience.

David picks up his reed once more and continues to write:

 

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(“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

Slow to anger and rich in faithful love — v. 8, HCSB.)

 

Those words beg the question: When have I experienced God’s benefits of compassion and grace, patience and faithful love?

A few examples follow:

 

  • The Lord is compassionate.

Time and again God has tended our family through the loving kindness of friends—friends who have prayed with us in the midst of trauma and who have provided for our needs (like a place to stay, furniture, a contribution to our children’s college funds—the list is very long!).  God has benefited us with numerous blessings—even a car one time.

 

  • The Lord is gracious.

He cares about all our concerns, big and small. 

This past winter I lost a scarf at the local bookstore. It wasn’t an expensive one, just soft and warm, the perfect size. A thorough check through the aisles and an inquiry at the information booth proved futile.

A couple of weeks later I returned to the same shop. Although I doubted the scarf would turn up (After all, my search two weeks prior had been very thorough.), I decided to ask again. Sure enough, the girl behind the counter produced my scarf.

 

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  • The Lord is slow to anger.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to know Jesus my entire life. But I still suffer from bouts of sin—sins like fretting, negativity, lack of faith, low self-esteem, pride, selfishness…must I go on?!

Yet he patiently forgives me and removes my offenses as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He even understands my frailties (v. 14). How gloriously comforting is that?

 

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  • The Lord is rich in faithful love.

Every day, with his provision, protection, and presence, guidance, goodness, and gifts, God expresses his unwavering love for us.

And with David, my heart overflows.

You, too?

 

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(“Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being,

praise his holy name” — v. 1, NIV).

 

How has God demonstrated his compassion, grace, patience and love in your life?  Please share your story in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest (2), http://www.lds.org; http://www.pinterest.com;  www.poshmark.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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“Matt* and Loren* are coming to visit the weekend after next. Would you be able to join us for dinner that Saturday night?” I asked, Dave*, the worship leader of our church.

I had just arrived at ensemble practice.  Dave was already there organizing music.

“Yeah, I’ll come. It’ll be great to catch up with them.” Matt and Loren were mutual friends who had moved away.

“We’ll probably eat around six, but come early—say five? That’ll give us more time to chat,” I added.

Dave whipped a pen off the piano and wrote a note to himself—on his hand.

I had to smile. Dave was/is one of the most creative, musically talented young men I’ve ever met. Not only is he a concert-trained pianist, he’s a composer with a gift for turning artful melodies into worship.

But in those days, he would have been the first to tell you that keeping track of details or appointments was a challenge; thus the notes-on-the-hand habit. If the commitment was right there in front of him, he’d most likely remember to put it on his calendar later. The message wouldn’t be forgotten amidst all the ideas and musical themes racing through his head.

I know someone else who writes information on the palm of his hand. The information is your name and mine. The someone? Our Heavenly Father.

 

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(“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

–Isaiah 49:16 NIV)

Of course, this assurance was addressed to the people of Israel, but it’s applicable to each of us, because: 1) those of us who believe in Jesus have been adopted into Abraham’s family (Galatians 3:6-9), and 2) God does not lose sight of the individual within the multitude (Luke 3:3-7).

“God loves each of us as if there was only one of us.”

–St. Augustine

But don’t think of God’s love as perfunctory or pity-driven.

You are a treasure to your Heavenly Father—the delight of his heart (Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 149:4).

 

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You and I are constantly in his thoughts (Psalm 139 17-18).

And the imagery of our names engraved (cut, carved, or etched) on his palms brings to mind several important truths:

  1. God cannot and will not forget us or abandon us.
  1. His omniscient knowledge doesn’t just include our names, but also who we are—our personalities, dreams, circumstances, strengths and weaknesses—everything about us—is on his mind.
  1. Our images engraved on God’s palms represent an incredible role reversal. In ancient times, slaves bore the brand mark of their masters. But our Master has sacrificially submitted himself to inscribe our names on his palms.
  1. The image represents who we are becoming in God’s view, which is undoubtedly different from ours. “Reality is not what we see; reality is what God sees” (Biblical Illustrator). And that reality is perfection.

 

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(“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever

those who are being made holy.”

–Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

 

Of course, that one sacrifice was Jesus, who bled and died on a cross so we might be made right with God and receive the gift of eternal life.

As a result, Isaiah 49:16 (about our names written on God’s palms)  has taken on new meaning:

 

“See, I have engraved you—in blood—on the palms of my hands.”

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *

I praise you, Heavenly Father, that it is totally impossible for you to forget your own.  How humbling to realize I am engraved on your hands—hands that withstood the nails for me. But gratitude alone is terribly insufficient.

I want your name, Lord, engraved on my palms, so I might become that perfected reality you already see.

 

*Names have been changed.

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com (3)

 

 

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(Based on the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-24)

 

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Eliab plodded to the top of a familiar rise.  Just ahead he could see the flat rooftop of his ancestral home. Eliab’s heart began to drum in his ears, his face grew hot with shame, and sweat trickled down his back. Soon Eliab would face his father.

As he watched his feet take one step after another, thoughts circled around one question:

What would his father say?

Perhaps, “Get out of my sight! I no longer have two sons, only one.”

Perhaps, “Alright, Eliab, you may work in the fields and barn to pay back your debt. You may also sleep in the barn and take your meals with the other hired hands. Such flagrant waste of your inheritance must be recompensed.”

Eliab would soon know the response that would determine his fate.  He looked up once again to check his progress.  A man was running toward him down the road. What would cause him to be in such a hurry?

No sooner had the question formed in his mind than he recognized the bearing of the approaching figure. It was his father. Eliab’s knees grew weak, and not just from hunger. He collapsed to the ground in a heap, tears streaming down his face.

Quick steps approached; strong arms lifted Eliab up and grasped him in a tight embrace. He heard his father cry, “Oh, Eliab!” And together they wept.

 

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Moments passed and Eliab steeled himself for the speech he had prepared during his long journey.

“Father,” he choked, “I’ve sinned against God and I’ve sinned before you. I know I can no longer be considered your son, but…”

Eliab’s father wasn’t even listening. He turned to call out to his servants, “Get a clean set of clothes and new sandals. Bring the family signet ring. Then prepare the grain-fed heifer for roasting.   We are going to have the grandest celebration our village has ever seen! My son that was as good as dead to me is alive again!”

And with that, Eliab, caretaker of pigs, was lavishly honored because his father:

  • Forgave him for being so foolish, squandering his inheritance.
  • Restored his position in the family, symbolized by the specific request of shoes. (Family members wore shoes; slaves did not.)
  • Clothed him in fresh, clean robes.
  • Honored him with the signet ring, a symbol of authority.
  • Loved him, pure and simple.

 

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Now I’ve never been a caretaker of pigs. You probably haven’t been either. But I’ve certainly committed my own foolish acts of selfish rebellion. Maybe you have, too.

And yet, when we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, he

  • Forgives our sins and remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
  • Adopts us into his family, making us his children (John 1:12-13).
  • Clothes us in the righteousness of Jesus (Isaiah 61:10), and God sees us as if we had never sinned (Colossians 1:21-22).
  • Honors us (Psalm 91:15)—with his presence and countless gifts. Someday we’ll receive a crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).
  • Loves us, pure and simple, for now and always (Jeremiah 31:33).

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

How I thank you, Heavenly Father, for taking pity on me, as the father did in the story of the prodigal son.  You redeemed my life from the pig sty.  You forgive my sins–every one of them.  You have more than satisfied me with your goodness and faithful love.  Never do I want to lose the wonder of your love and grace!

(Psalm 103:1-5, 13)

Eliab means “to whom God is Father.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.childrenschapel.org; http://www.ncregister.som; http://www.susaneball.com; http://www.spiritualinspiration.tumblr.com.)

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One custom of our church community includes the babies and toddlers. Toward the end of the worship service, many parents collect their little ones and bring them to the sanctuary for the closing praise songs.

When our two-year old granddaughter, Elena, arrives, she starts out in Mommy’s arms, then clambers to Daddy, then over to Papa (my husband, Steve), and finally to Nana—that’s me.

Last Sunday she was particularly affectionate—arms around my neck, head nestled on my shoulder. Every now and then she’d lift her head to give me a kiss on the cheek.   I held her close and kissed her silken hair.

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(Who could resist snuggling with this?!)

 

Please understand: Elena is a typical toddler. She knows what she wants and when she wants it (usually NOW!). Her expressive cries can be quite vociferous.   But those traits of stubbornness and impatience—seen in most toddlers–don’t diminish my love for her. Not a bit.

I reveled in that moment of tenderness at church, while swaying to the music and singing of our love for God. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself as the child, held in the close embrace of my Father, who lovingly forgives my sins and casts them as far as the east is from the west.

What an astounding privilege he grants us—to participate in close, familial communion with him, the King of the Universe!

Day in and day out our glorious and powerful God draws near to us:

 

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  • Through creation. Just this morning, he draped pink cloud-ribbons across a crystalline sky, turning our minds to him and his infinite genius. Almighty God orchestrates every intricate aspect of life on our planet, yet we can know him as our gracious and compassionate Father.
  • Through his Word. Just this week I had occasion to study the word, abide, found in John 14:6. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (KJV). First I looked up the word in the dictionary, and discovered abide means much more than just being with someone. Abide also includes persevering under (!) and tolerating (!), in addition to remaining in one place, to continue or endure.   I had to smile at the tongue-in-cheek humor. And I prayed, “Oh, Lord, thank you for loving me that much!
  • Through people. A young woman at our new church has been enthusiastically friendly.   And though I’ve told her I appreciate her kindness, I doubt she can fully understand how her interest, hugs, and effervescence have ministered to me. God draws near with his joy each time we meet.
  • Through circumstances.  Hugs and kisses from a toddler are just one precious example that makes me mindful of God’s love for me.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Oh, Father, I shake my head in wonder to think

You long for us to be your familial friends.

I praise you for your abundant, gracious love,

Motivating you to reveal yourself

Through creation,

People, circumstances,

Your word, and more.

In fact, you are intimately involved

In every moment of our lives.

Thank you for blessing us

With your abiding presence,

Even though it requires of you

Great tolerance and perseverance!

We cling to you, our Source of

Strength, wisdom, and provision.

You are with us and in us,

Always drawing us closer to you.

Thank you for never giving up

And never letting go.

 

(2 Corinthians 6:16, 18; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 19:1-4;

Matthew 5:14, 16; Psalm 92:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17;

Psalm 139:1-5; Zephaniah 3:17; James 1:17;

Isaiah 41:10; 1 Corinthians 3:16; James 4:8;

Philippians 1:6; John 10:28.)

(Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg, and http://www.wallpaperup.com.)

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