There’s TRUTH in them ‘ thar hills!

Here I sit. . . Here I sit, surprised by a gift from God! As I write the Image result for Free Pictures of Gold Rushfirst draft of this blog, it is Friday, April 17, 2020, the day after President Trump announced his plans to start reopening our country after the coronavirus shutdown. (Finished this today, 4/29/2020 : – )

So, here I sit, with back and shoulders stiff because my home exercises do not help as much as those at the gym and using the gym’s pool. Here I sit, wheezing although I am taking asthma and allergy medicine to fight spring pollen. I am mindful that asthma, and, uh, age, categorize me as high-risk but I am so grateful for God’s protection and knowing that, if I get the virus, He will take care of me. So, here I sit, day after day, like you, struggling to maintain a semblance of daily life BQ (before quarantine), frustrated with weight gained during extra sedentary time, battling negative thoughts more than usual because relationships with family, friends, and usual activities outside my home are changed.

Image result for free clip art of messy lady at a deskYes, here I sit, my hair REALLY interesting, like yours might be since hair salons are non-essential during our corona virus lockdown. Also, my living space is tangled up since I spend so much time here now and asthma has caused fatigue, another good excuse. Besides, housekeeping, much less house fluffing, was definitely NOT my gifting anyway.

Yet I am also, like you, I hope, trusting and relying on God, keeping my heart on Him all day long, proclaiming aloud my gratitude and dependence on His sovereign and loving nature, knowing this will end and that He is turning it for good all over His world.

So, dear reader, today while I sat at my desk, in my distinctly non-glorious surroundings, writing and digging deeper and deeper into the Word about a topic that keeps expanding, doing my writing work for God, Holy Spirit gave me a gift I want to share with you.

Digging deep is a gift. While writing about affliction (a booklet is Image result for free picture of gift with blue bowcoming!) and digging deeply into Isaiah 30 today, I froze and stared out the window. The ding! in my mind as the lightbulb went on was nearly audible. I realized that Holy Spirit had been able to explain what Isaiah 30 meant about despising God’s Word because I had stopped and dug deeply, pondering, meditating, thinking hard about what He meant in those verses, looking up definitions, using other translations, etc.

What a gift this gift was! God confirmed that my way of studying the Word, for myself, and the way I study when I write for Him, is the right way for me! I tend to be insecure, so having that thought as tangible as a white box with a huge Tiffany-blue bow on top was a true treasure.

Image result for Free Clip Art Of Man Digging a Deep HoleSo what is digging deep? I remember Bible study as a new believer. One of the first times I sensed Holy Spirit giving me understanding (little old me!) was late at night, after my daughter had been bedtime-storied three times. Stretching my exhausted, single-parent self on the bed, I resumed my Bible reading from the night before, with Proverbs 2:1-5:

  • My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
  • turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding,
  • and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
  • and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure (underline added),
  • Then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (NIV)

I remember staring intently at verse four. Then I rested the open Bible on my chest, the navy blue New International Version my Mother had given me when I found Jesus. I stared at the ceiling a long time. Thoughts rolled through my mind. “How do you dig for silver? And hidden treasure? Ah! You have to dig and keep digging. You do not find silver or hidden treasure without hard work.” I was thrilled that God would use His Word to speak to me directly. And it is just as thrilling each time, after all these years! How good God is to us!

That night, I understood the passage on a surface level (no pun intended) and have pondered it often, each time, gaining more insight. But today, it was like brand new, as I thought more about it. 

Image result for free clip art of man digging a deep holeDigging deep takes time and effort. You do not search for silver or hidden treasure  by digging one scoop of dirt, flipping it to the ground, then walking 10 yards and digging another shallow scoop, and so on. Neither do you find treasure by walking over the land and scuffing the surface with the toe of your boot. You find treasures in God’s Word when you do like He says and search for it because it is covered up, hidden, and you cannot even see it, much less pick it up and claim it as your own and profit by it, until you do a lot of digging. And! You will not dig deep unless you have faith that something is there, waiting for you, lovingly prepared by God. And! you will not even be there trying to find treasure unless you have faith. It is all by faith!

God has an abundance of truth treasures stored up for each of us. Proverbs 2:7 says, “He hides away sound and godly Wisdom and stores it for the righteous (those who are in right standing with Him); He is a shield to those who walk uprightly and with integrity.” (AMPC)

How to search–DIG DEEP– for wisdom. Many beloved pastors, Bible teachers and other mature saints  have found God’s gold and silver and shared it with us. How do they tell us to mine for wisdom in the Word? Below is a composite of suggestions that have helped me greatly.

[1] Before you begin, pray and ask God for wisdom (James 1:5-8) and commit your study time to God.

[2] Find a list of Scriptures about your biggest area of personal need.

[3] Dig deep and keep thinking and talking with the Lord as you dig.

[4] Meditate on and memorize the verses that Holy Spirit emphasizes for you the most.

[5] Collect your personalized verses in one place and review them regularly.

Five steps to dig deep. Below are details of the five steps that work well for me. If you have used other methods and want to share them, please email me by using the “Email me” tab on the website, or the comments section below this blog post.

Step 1: Before you begin, pray and ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) and commit your study time to Him. If you “commit to the Lord whatever you do. . . He will establish your plans, (Proverbs 16:3, NIV). As the NLT phrases it, “. . . your plans will succeed.”)

Image result for free clip art of a list Step 2: Find a list of Scriptures about your biggest area of personal need (e.g., worry, anger, faith, etc.) To make your list, use a concordance, the alphabetized index in the back of most Bibles. You can also use the internet to find a list of Scriptures by typing into the search window, for example, “Bible verses about anger”. But BE CAREFUL! Your search results will include several internet addresses to click on that, in addition to listing Bible verses about your topic, also give someone’s ideas about that topic. Unless you know or can easily see that the individual shares your faith in the God of the Bible, just write down the book and verse and move on with making your list. Even if you do know that person is sound in the faith , it is far better to get your list, then go directly to the Word, God and you alone, and let Holy Spirit speak to you, personally, through the Word.

I also recommend that, unlike the dude in the clipart above, you make just a short list and then dig into the Word. Do not obsess about the list! 

Trust God’s ability to communicate with you more than you trust your doubts about yourself. God will lead you to find just the verses you as an individual need. He is the same One who led Israel, who numbers the hairs on your head, who has written your name on His heart and Who holds the universe in place. If you seek Him with all your heart, He promises you will find Him. (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13).  God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).

Image result for free picture of person sitting with a bibleStep 3: Dig deep and keep thinking and talking with the Lord as you dig. 

  • Read your first verse or verses slowly, over and over, and the verses before and after it that seem connected. Pay attention to connecting words, like: therefore, because, for, since, for example, that, then, in order that, so that, so, etc.
  • Then, be still and just think about what it means. Ask God to show you. Take time for just you and God and His Word.
  • After, and only after, you have paused to think, with God, about what the text means,  use other tools. Look up cross references noted in the text. See what a Bible dictionary and an English dictionary say. Look up not only the definition but also synonyms and plug those words into the verse. Look up antonyms. If God uses figurative language, like comparing the work of Holy Spirit to the wind, as in John 3:8, pause and ponder what you know about wind or look it up. Ask God to explain, and He will, just as Jesus explained His parables to His disciples.
  • Use commentaries and other study aids, but again, use caution because all  writers are  human.  Commentaries and Bible handbooks can be a great help because they describe cultural context, customs, geology, archeology, church history, etc. So, do use them. I recommend the highly respected Halley’s Bible Handbook, which has sold more than 6 million copies. However, there is no substitute for trusting the God of the Word of God to speak directly to you. Ensure that you spend the bulk of your study time in the Word, rather than any other book, no matter how good it is. Use other non-Bible time to read those supplemental writings. 

 God obviously is The Supreme Teacher, He loves to teach, and He loves to fellowship with you, to be close to you. He wrote you a love letter, and He is longing to explain those parts that you do not yet understand. Why? It helps you, helps others, and it brings Him pleasure to be closer to You. And do not worry that the enemy might lead you to misunderstand. If you make mistakes, God will correct you. Imagine a young son asking his carpenter father to teach him how to build a bench. Would that not give both father and son great delight? And would not the father show his son the best way to hold a hammer and saw a board?

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  • Keep chewing on your thoughts about those verses, just like a contented cow in a field, working on her cud. Keep thinking and asking Holy Spirit to help you understand. If you seek wisdom, you will not be disappointed. In Proverbs 8:17 wisdom is personified as a woman who says “I love those who love me, and those who seek me early and diligently shall find me. Proverbs 8:17, (AMPC)
  • And I urge you, dear friend, please do not say that this will not work for you because . . . you are not studious by nature, not able to hear God, lack time or self-discipline, not smart enough or any other flaming arrow of untruth (Ephesians 6:16) the enemy might shoot at your mind! Holy Spirit will show you personally how to dig deep into His truth, and you will know it when He does it. He will use whatever things are available to you and work for you.

Image result for Free Clip Art of Cow in a fieldStep 4: Meditate on and memorize the verses that Holy Spirit emphasizes for you the most. Digging deep is part of meditating, pausing, taking time, thinking about, pondering, and exploring what God means in a Bible passage or a word or a phrase so that you can apply it to your own life. Meditating brings blessings (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 105:2)

Meditating on God’s Word is part of loving Him with all our being. Deuteronomy 6 in the NLT is labelled “A Call for Whole-hearted Commitment.” I urge you to read the entire chapter. Moses reminds Israel that they are to follow God’s laws carefully so that things would go well with them and their children. Moses reminds them that the LORD alone is their God, then he says, “And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (verse 5)

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Notice that right after Moses tells them that, he then tells them to meditate on God’s Word all day long. That says to me that doing so is part of loving God with all my heart. Moses said the people must commit themselves wholeheartedly to God’s commands. They were to “Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your foreheads as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Verses 7-9). Then Moses goes on to talk about the blessings God will pour out on them.

Writing some of your personalized verses on index cards, taping them around your house and car and carrying them with you sounds, to me, similar to how Moses instructed Israel to keep God’s Word visible to their eyes all day long. Doing so tremendously blesses me and lots of others I know. Notice the picture of the hand and arm phylacteries above. They were certainly visible reminders, to the person wearing them and to others who saw them.

Image result for free picture of college classroom[5] Collect your personalized verses in one place, and review them regularly, so they do not fade away. I like to think of Bible study as the privilege of being in  school with God as my teacher, for all my life. Throughout a school year, teachers lead students step by step through the basics of a subject, often pausing to repeat and review what was just taught. Why? Review and repetition imprints new knowledge more deeply into the mind. Quizzes and tests serve the same purpose because students are required to recall what they have learned, thus making a deeper neural pathway in their brain. Part-way through the school year, students have reviewed the basics so often that they know them. They can then build more knowledge on top of that solid foundation imprinted in their minds.

Digging deep brings innumerable blessings. Chapters 1 through 9:12 of Proverbs explain the benefits of wisdom and how to obtain it. Can you hear the earnestness of God’s heart? This discourse begins with God pleading “Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.” (Proverbs 1:23, NLT). Halfway through, God says “Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgement.” ( Proverbs 4:7, NLT). God summarizes this discourse on wisdom by saying:

“And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it. Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home! For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36)

One last observation. Proverbs has 31 chapters. Each month has 31 days. Hmmm. . .

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My Father is the strongest! How to abide in peace

Image result for royalty free picture of awe“God is bigger than all my problems” (“Bigger than any Mountain” by Bill and Gloria Gaither) “But you tourists are all so rich, you must buy some.” The man’s voice was harsh and accusing, venomous with sarcasm.

“No! I said I do not want any!” Anger and fear throbbed in my friend’s voice.

“Hey!” I said in a loud, low tone as I squinted my eyes, stared at the man, and stepped in front of my friend. I was profoundly glad to be six feet tall, with a solid frame. Sharon was now hidden behind me, and I towered over the man.

Our tour guide had instructed us to ignore overly aggressive peddlers, but when our group was temporarily halted, Sharon’s gentle manners had apparently lured her into conversation.

“We do not want any” I said and took a small step toward the man. “Now leave us alone.” I had no idea what I would do but I knew showing fear would only draw out more aggression.

Suddenly, the man disappeared. Our tour guide, a six foot four, sturdy young man, had stepped in front of me. Broad shoulders blocked my view completely, up, down and on both sides. I said, “Wow, thank You, Lord!” under my breath and took Sharon’s hand to lead her quickly back to the group.

That was 15 years ago, but I can still feel the heavy peace of feeling safe that blanketed me. I believe God wants us wrapped in that peace of feeling safe, not just when we know we need Him and run to Him, but always. That peace is where He wants us to dwell. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no foe can withstand]. (Psalm 91:1, AMPC)

Young children boast, “My Daddy can do anything and he’s bigger than anything!” As believers, God wants us to remember who He is when the world, our fleshly weakness, or the enemy of our souls comes against us. Selah!

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God wants us to have the peace of knowing He is omnipotent—more powerful than anything or anyone.

6 “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

8. Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.

10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hand, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1-6-12, NIV)

Image result for royalty free picture of bible on desk with papers The Bible tells me . . .  Thirty plus years ago, as late afternoon shadows lenghtened,  I paused, staring blankly at the bookbag and red sweater on the couch across the room. The sweet sound of laughter came from the balcony of our apartment, where my daughter and my neighbor’s little girl played together came through the window beside the desk. As a new believer, I was reading my way through the Bible each evening after supper. That day I was starting the book of Job.

“Wow!” I mused. “So, Satan has to get permission from God before he does anything. So that means God is more powerful than Satan! That’s good to know.”

It was indeed good to know that truth, and to know it from my own personal Bible study, not just second-hand from Bible teachers, early in my walk with Jesus. Since that day, this truth together with the truth that God loves me personally, have garrisoned my frail heart with bedrock peace (Philippians 4:7, AMPC) while I learned, through the mistakes of many years, how to live in victory over the world, my flesh, and the enemy.

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of LightningThinking about God’s power is calming. Why do people and animals alike quake at the explosive sound of thunder? It is the sound of power that we instinctively know is far greater than we are. I believe God’s Word so often urges us to consider nature because it reminds us of His power. Psalm 8 says the whole earth tells us of God’s supreme kingship, or majesty. Psalm 19 says the heavens and the skies make known God’s magnificence. And when God wanted to strengthen Elijah, who had become discouraged after having been very zealous (I Kings 18), God showed him a “great and powerful wind (that) tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD”, then an earthquake, then a fire (verses 11-12). “And after the fire, came a gentle whisper.” (verse 13) In everything God does, He remembers that we are mere humans (Psalm 103:14), so when God shows us His awesome power, He also shows us His tenderness toward us. (Isaiah 40:11) It is like an earthly father’s big hands tenderly holding a baby. If human fathers know how to be gentle, how much more does our Heavenly Father know?

Remembering God is near brings peace. Keeping the mind on God’s greatness and nearness calms the human soul. Because my father was the superintendent of a rock mine, he wore heavy boots to work. Each evening when he stepped through the door, he leaned over and removed those lime-rock encrusted boots, and my heart was at peace. The prototypical strong, silent type, my father loved his family and was home each evening. The house was so much quieter then. Shouting was rare and fights were few, with Daddy’s quiet presence a calming oil upon troubled waters. I adored my Father and just thinking about his work boots by the door brings me peace, even now.

Friend, our all-powerful, tenderly loving Heavenly Father is with us, this very moment. May we both find rest in His presence.

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God is so, so, so, so good to us!

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God does great things beyond our understanding (Job 37:5)   God is so so so so so good to us! Who but God could show me a wild red rose, growing up a corner wall, as I walk around the building, just to get out of the house? Who but God can make me just happen to look in that direction at the right moment? Who but God can let me see that the red of the rose is far, far deeper and richer than the most costly cloth ever made by the hand of man? Who but God can make me know that only the softness of a baby’s skin—also made by God—can rival the softness of the petals?

Who but God can pause my feet and arrest my thoughts, causing me to know that every hue of every color, every fabric, every building, every microscopic-sized invention, every application of knowledge have all sprung directly from one of His blueprints?

How can I not pause and consider the heavens, so high, so blue, that He holds lovingly in place over the whole earth, while we humans scramble to understand one tiny virus? How can I not know that the peace in my heart– in the middle of the biggest changes our modern world has seen–comes from Him? How can I not praise Him, admire and respect and applaud and lavishly thank Him? How can I not honor and worship this One who deserves all the glory?

Image result for royalty free pictures of majesty in natureAs I consider who He is. How can I not give Him all of my heart, all of my soul and all of my strength when He has done such awesome things for me and the whole world? How can I put anything else before Him in my affections? I simply cannot, when I consider who He is and who I am. I can only confess my weakness of fear and doubting and rebellion and lift grateful hands to heaven and my eyes to the hills, where my help comes from, from this Holy One of Israel, this Yahweh, this great and high and holy one, the Great I AM, Who was and is and is to come, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, the firstborn from among many brethren, the risen Savior and our soon-coming KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!

Image result for royalty free picture of jesusAll glory, all praise, all honor to the Lamb that was slain, Who alone takes away the sins of the world, Who dwells in unapproachable light, but also in the hearts of those who love and obey Him, this One who sets eternity in the heart of man but dwells with the meek and the lowly!

I will not fail to praise Him, lest the rocks cry out! (Luke 19:37-40). How can we fail to praise the One Who, out of love, made us so that if we love Him and keep our minds on Him, our hearts are steadfast and strong? (Isaiah 26:3) How can we fail to trust, lean on, rely and be confident in the One who makes obedience lead to blessing? (Deuteronomy 11:13-32) Hw can we fail to rely on this compassionate, kind, gracious and everlastingly loving One who promises to give us all that we need, and to never, never, no, never fail us in any regard? (Hebrews 13:5)

HE IS all we need. (Philippians 4:19) How can we not turn to Him and rely on Him, with confident trust, when He is the One who made us, the One who gives us life through His breath, the One who chooses to dwell in human hearts, the One in whom we live and move and have our very being, this One who rides through the heavens to come to our aid, this One whose touch melts the mountains but Who whispers His love to us in the darkest night? How, I ask, can we fail to love such a One as this? He is:

  • Elohim, God My Creator
  • El Shaddai, God Almighty
  • El Elyon, Most High God
  • EL Olam, God Everlasting, God Eternal
  • El Roi, God Who Sees
  • Adonai, Lord, Master
  • Yahweh (YHWH), GOD
  • Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Provides
  • Jehovah Nissi, God, My Banner
  • Jehovah Sabaath, Lord of Hosts
  • Jehovah Mekeddeshem, Lord Who Sanctifies
  • Jehovah Shalom, The Lord our Peace
  • Jehovah Shammah, The Lord is There
  • Jehovah Tskkenu, the Lord our Righteousness.

(from Names of God Study for Kids, https://rachellarkinblog.wordpress.com)

This Most High and Holy one, is our God, and He says:

“Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.” (Isaiah 41:10, AMPC)

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How much does God love you?

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Grand PianoA few notes into the pianist’s prelude, and I knew what the choir would sing. Eyes closed, shutting out all distractions between me and God, Holy Spirit was right there with me. I felt I could almost touch Him. With the rich harmony of many voices, the familiar melody and words rippled along:
“How many times must I prove how much I love you?
How many times must I show my love for you?
How many times must I rescue you from trouble
for you to know just how much I love you?”
(from “So You Would Know” by Al Hobbs.)

Smiling, I lifted my face upward and raised my hands, murmuring, “Oh, Father!” as tears trickled down. God’s voice continued . .

“Didn’t I wake you up this morning?
Were you clothed in your right mind?
When you walked in on a problem didn’t I step right in on time?When you got weak along life’s journey My angel carried you,
so you would know just how much I love you.”

I shook my head slowly as I recalled how many times God had miraculously come through for my daughter and me during ten years of single parenthood. God’s voice continued. . .
“How many days must I be a fence all around you?
How many nights must I wipe your tears away?
How many storms must I bring you safely through for you to know just how much I love you?”

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of CrucifixionAfter giving my heart to Jesus, three years into single parenthood, the lifetime loneliness had greatly lessened as I sat alone with Him, after Sharon was asleep, looking out the window at the stars. I was so grateful I could feel His love, so grateful He showed me how to take good care of Sharon. God’s voice continued. . .
“Didn’t I put food on your table?
Show up when your bills were due?
When the pains were racking your body didn’t I send a healing down to you?
When you were lost in sin and sorrow, I died to set you free,
so you would know, just how much, I love you.”

I stood, hands lifted, face upturned, as more tears poured down. How many times had God sent an unexpected check for us? How many times had family and friends bought clothes for Sharon, taken us out for dinner, and paid for school activities? How many times . . . That was decades ago. All these years have only added more times to remember how clearly God has shown how much He loves me.

 God reassures us of His love, so many times. The powerful song “So You Would Know”, written by Al Hobbs, trumpets God’s gentle reminder of His love for His children. The melody and words show God’s gentle patience, like a father answering his child, “Yes, sweetheart, how many times do I have to tell you. . .” Why does God reassure us so often, in so many ways?

God knows how we are made. God knows that we, being human, would like to actually see and hear Him, especially during trials, and especially during times like the whole world now faces. Psalm 103:14 reminds us “For He knows our frame, He [earnestly] remembers and imprints [on His heart] that we are dust.” That says that God, seriously and with intensity, always remembers our humanity. He knows we need constant reminders of His love, His presence, His provision, and His power. Let’s look at some things God wants us to know about His love, presence, provision, and power.Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Sunrise

Reminders of God’s love. How loving He is to inscribe into nature itself two visible reminders of His love for us: the height of the heavens and the distance between east and west. “ for His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as high as the heavens are above the earth. He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:11-12, NLT). Step outside and selah.

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Jesus Holding PersonReminders of God’s presence. Isaiah 41:10 says “Fear not [there is nothing to fear] for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice. (AMPC) When I remember that the God of the universe is right here beside me and living in me, when I remember that I have, indeed, made Him my God by loving and obeying Him, His peace descends like a warm blanket over my troubled soul.

Reminders of God’s provision. Hebrews 13:5b tells you and me to “. . . be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said, ‘I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support; [I will] not,[I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]. Dear fellow believer, let us take God’s Word like the medicine it is and read this verse, out loud, to ourselves, 10 times or more until we feel His peace, right in the midst of this trial!

Image result for royalty free picture of earthReminders of God’s power. In Jeremiah 32:27 God says, “Behold I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for me?” Let us imprint this fact about the nature of our divine God on our hearts, just as He has imprinted each detail about our human nature on His heart. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), He holds all creation together (Colossians 1:17) and God says, “I am the LORD: there is no other god.” (Isaiah 45:1, NLT)

NOTHING IS TOO HARD FOR GOD!!!

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD” Psalm 150:6,NIV. Choirs give a glimpse of what praise will be like in heaven. There is nothing so powerful as the sound of many voices, singing in harmonious praise to God. Search the internet using the phrase “So You Would Know” and worship and honor God along with the Brooklyn Tabernacle and the Radio Angels, right there in your home, with Holy Spirit.

As you worship, put fear to flight (Joshua 10:10-11), glorify God (Psalm 96), enthrone Him on your praises (Psalm 22:3), worship our mighty God, our KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, (Revelation 19:16), Who alone sits encircled above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40:22), Whose plans never fail (Psalm 33:11), in Whose presence the mountains quake (Nahum 1:5), and in Whose name demons flee (James 4:7). This Holy One of Israel, this Wonderful One Beyond Words, He is our God, the One we serve, the One Who cares for us each moment, and the One who will bring us home to live with Him for all eternity! “Let everything that has breath Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150:6, NIV)

“The Lord is good, a Strength and Stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows (recognizes, has knowledge of, and understands) those who take refuge and trust in Him. (Nahum 1:7, AMPC)

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Are you affectionate with God?

Image result for royalty free clipart of affection“I love You, I love You, I really just love You! Thank You again, Father, for a wonderful day!” I paused a moment, eyes closed, face tilted upwards. “I simply just love You, Lord!” Then I resumed typing.

That was the evening of Day Four of our President’s guidelines to quell the coronavirus, a truly wonderful day. Up at six to feed Barny and have devotions; then shopping for things I might need for two weeks, like allergy and cough medicine; finding Reese’s Easter eggs and Hershey bunnies for the grandsons’ Easter baskets and other little delights to surprise them with when they spent afternoons with me while school was out; then, finding new nuggets in the Word as I worked on a booklet about worry.

I sometimes touch my grandson’s foreheads with mine, make googly eyes, and say, “I love you, I love you, do you know I love you, don’t forget I love you, did you remember I love you. . . etc.”

I am affectionate with my grandsons because I have an intimate relationship with them.

Should we be affectionate with God? The short answer? YES!!! In the Amplified Classic Bible (AMPC), verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 134 tell us:

“Behold, bless (affectionately and gratefully praise) the Lord, all you servants of the Lord [singers] who by night stand in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in holiness and to the sanctuary and bless the Lord [affectionately and gratefully praise Him]!”

Notice the parts I underlined. One of many reasons I love the AMPC is that it spells out what people living in Bible days would have understood as implicit, or taken for granted, when they heard a word. Words in both Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the Bible was originally written, have more shades of meaning than English, like the word snow means more than just one thing to Eskimos.

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of The BibleGod’s Word tells us to be affectionate with Him. A searchable, on-line Bible website, like Bible Gateway, shows 23 times in the AMPC when the word affectionately is used to amplify the meaning of “bless the Lord.” Look them up.

Start each day by taking time to be affectionate with God. Notice that most of the findings for the word affectionate in the AMPC are in the psalms, which are so often used for daily devotions. Psalm 145:10 tells us, “All Your works shall praise You, O Lord, and Your loving ones shall bless You [affectionately and gratefully shall Your saints confess and praise You!]”

Image result for Royalty Free Clip Art of Cat Looking upThink about it. Can you be affectionate with someone if you are in a rush? It just does not work. Your actions say “I love this thing I am rushing off to (work, the kickoff on TV, an errand) more than I love you.” No, with affection, you give the object of your affection your full, focused attention. You cannot even give your dog or cat a really affectionate pat on the head if you zoom by.

Be affectionate with God as you go about your daily life. Another instance where the Bible talks of affectionate love for God is when Mary gave Jesus her very best as she kissed His feet, washed them with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with costly perfume.

Image result for royalty free picture of mary washing jesus feet“… and as she stood behind Him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.” In verse 45, the AMPC says that Jesus told the Pharisee that Mary had, from the moment He came into the room not stopped kissing His feet “tenderly and caressingly.”

Reading the whole story as recorded in Luke 7:36-50, shows us that Jesus obviously approved of the affectionate way Mary demonstrated her love for Him. Today, you and I can likewise show God our affection by giving our best effort, for Him, all day, in whatever we are doing. (“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10a, NIV). We also give Him our best by loving Him with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5).

An awesome reason to be affectionate. Next, notice that, in 1 Corinthians 11:24, during the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus had given thanks, He broke the bread, and said “Take, eat. This is my body which is broken for you. Do this to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance.” And He repeats His request when the wine is taken, in verse 25. “Similarly, when supper was ended, He took the cup also, saying, This cup is the new covenant [ratified and established] in My blood. Do this as often as you drink [it], to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance.” Every time I take the Lord’s Supper, Jesus wants me to remember Him with affection.

I knew that believers in Jesus observe the Lord’s supper to honor and respect Him by remembering His incomprehensible sacrifice for us. However, until I read this verse in the Amplified as I wrote this blog, I did not know that Jesus specifically asked us to remember Him with affection.

He could have, very appropriately, said to call Him to remembrance with respect and awe and fear. This is certainly part of the way we should approach God and it is the most basic, foundational way to think of God. But He clearly wants us to think of Him with affection, too. If you have deep respect and awe and appreciation for Who God is and what He has done for us, if you know Him well and pursue a close relationship with Him, eventually your love for Him will also include affection.

See the source imageI believe that Jesus was, as always, putting us above Himself here because He knew thinking of the agony He endured for us could make us sad. I understand that because I would, if he were alive, affectionately kiss and hold my earthly father’s hands, hands roughened by years of operating heavy equipment, covered with sun-bronzed skin and scars. I would gaze with fondness at the tan lines on his forehead and arms, acquired through decades of loving labor for his family. I would do the same for my mother’s soap roughened hands. And so, when I think about what Jesus did for me, I am affectionately grateful, and privileged to come so close to Him.

We are only affectionate with those we know intimately. Synonyms for intimate include private, personal, secret, innermost, cherished, familiar, dear, devoted, and deepest. Help us, Father, to be more intimate with You!

Being affectionate with the Lord did not come naturally at first for me. As a new believer in Jesus, I had an overly formal attitude toward Him. I had the proper reverence and fear (Deuteronomy 13:4, I Chronicles 16:25, Psalm 2:11) but I also had an unhealthy subconscious fear that I was not doing enough, fear that I was not worthy, and fear that God would one day abandon me because of that. Those wounded attitudes were caused by events in the past, obviously the work of the evil one, but God (whose power no foe can withstand, Psalm 91:1, AMPC ) brought those hurts, with the shame and guilt, into the light of His love and forgiveness. Over time, He helped me learn to ask Him into each moment of my day, including the undignified times (like exercising or scrubbing the bathroom) and times when I fail Him (like in traffic or when I lose patience with someone.)

Image result for royalty free clip art of a little bookMy search for closer closeness with the Lord led me to read the little book “The Practice of the Presence of God”, written in the 17th century by a friar called Brother Lawrence. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It helped me overcome the last remnants of over-formality with God. In this dynamo of a book, Brother Lawrence talks about chatting with the Lord while he worked in the monastery’s kitchen, for example. Brother Lawrence said “. . . during any daily duty, lift your heart to Him (God), because even the least little remembrance will please Him. You don’t have to pray out loud; He’s nearer than you can imagine. . . We can make our hearts personal chapels where we can enter anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them” (page 36).

Slowly, I began talking to God more and more during the day, finding that as I drew near to God, He drew near to me (James 4:8) and that He was with me when I was with Him (2 Chronicles 15:2).

This will work for anyone. It took a long time, with countless failures and trying again. However, continually seeking His moment-by-moment presence as Brother Lawrence suggested has brought deep settled peace and the confidence that my loving Heavenly Father will always, always, always help me run into His presence and regain my peace, no matter what I do or what happens around me.

Fellow seeker, we can be confident He will come closer to us as we try to come closer to Him. He reassures us in I John 5:14-15 that:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that HE hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (NIV).

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If there is any doubt in your mind about this, it is a thought arrow of the enemy designed to keep you from your rightful place with God. Lift up the shield of faith and take the sword of truth in hand. Keep pressing on and pressing in until you reach the promised land of delighting yourself in His presence!

God is affectionate with us. Finally, beloved, God says He “. . . cares for us affectionately and cares about us watchfully.” I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and He cares about you watchfully.”

This is not the only place in the Bible where God clearly shows His affection and the depth of His love for us. As you pursue your daily personal Bible study, make note of these places and imprint them on your heart, i.e., memorize them! Some of my favorites include particular verses in Psalm 139, Psalm 136, John 3, John 14, Joshua 1, Isaiah 26, 2 Chronicles 14, and Ephesians 3. . . The Bible overflows with God’s love. It is, indeed, God’s love letter to us, as someone once said.

Ponder God’s affection for us. Would a baby in Jesus’ arms have a single worry or concern—ever? What a wonderful thought as we all walk through the challenge of the coronavirus. God Himself is with us. In Genesis 28:15, God told Jacob, and us: “And behold, I am with you and will keep (watch over you with care, take notice of) you where you may go, and I will bring you back to this land: for I will not leave you until I have done all of which I have told you.”

Ask, seek, and knock. If you ask, God will show you how to love Him more affectionately. The Bible tells us so!Image result for royalty free picture of jesus holding a child

 

Desperately needing God

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of clock Radio In The Dark  A desperate seeker. “Meowrp” My eyelids fluttered open. My beloved Barny was seldom vocal. In the darkness, the blue numerals of the clock radio glowed 9:00 a.m. as I scritched his chin.

“I got up and gave you both halves of your breakfast, Barn, at 6:00 and again at 8:00,” I mumbled, pulling the blanket to my chin. “But you have not gotten on the bed,” I thought, “since you went blind two months ago, and you have not gotten me up when I oversleep either.”

My hand reached to pull back the covers before the thought completely formed in my mind. “Barny is asking, no begging, for our brushing time! How sweet! Thank You, Lord, for that!”

I had always brushed him and given him catnip. But, since learning of the cancer, each morning I sat on the floor, let him lick a tablespoon of catnip out of my hand then spent fifteen minutes brushing his coat, gently running my hands the length of his small body, caressing his ears and face and, of course, crooning. This morning, Barny had insisted and required this of me. Food alone no longer satisfied. He craved my attention and affection. He had a desperately seeking heart. Why? He had experienced what 15 minutes of pure joy felt like. He wanted more!

A rich blessing of affliction. Talking with a friend last week about seeking God brought to mind my recent experience in seeking greater awareness of God’s presence. I thought I loved God and truly depended on Him, and I did, but after two years of depression I learned that when God says “Seek My face (Psalm 27:8)” He means to desperately insist and require His presence.

During that struggle with depression, I did everything I heard of, including lots of counseling and many times of special prayer. It all helped but each day was still miserable. Some days were a ceaseless torment. Slow improvement came when I overcame my reluctance to take an antidepressant. But the struggling continued, without peace, until I began studying the Word of God, for myself, in my areas of need, and began thinking and speaking the Word as often as I could remember.

Image result for Royalty Free Clip Art of ClockAfter some weeks of success in finding peace through pondering Scriptures during daily activities, I recall thinking I did not have the strength or even want to be like Joyce Meyer and other Bible teachers who sounded like the Word was all they thought of all day long. My sin, rebellion, weakness, doubt, laziness, and the enemy’s lies are obvious in that attitude! But, God graciously gave me a willing heart and renewed a steadfast spirit in me (Psalm 51:10). I soon saw that thinking on His Word all day long was just what I needed (Proverbs 4:21).

So, I began studying the Word MUCH more and spending more time learning new Bible passages or repeating ones I already knew, out loud as well as silently. The more minutes of the day I kept His Word on my mind and in my mouth, the more hours I searched His word and discovered truth I needed, the more healing came. Month by month, discouraging, self-critical and thoughts and fears overwhelmed me less often. Gradually, my mind was renewed enough so that I remained in peace, keeping my mind fixed on Him. (Isaiah 26:3) His Word was becoming life to me and health to my whole body. (Proverbs 4:20-23)

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Food and WaterGod tells us to desperately seek Him. In Psalm 27:8 God tells us, “. . . Seek My face [inquire for and require My presence as your vital need].” And the psalmist replies “My heart says to You, Your face (Your presence), Lord, will I seek, inquire for, and require [of necessity and on the authority of Your Word]” (AMPC). Notice that God tells us to ask for His presence and require His presence as our vital need. If something is vital, it means we must have it to live, like oxygen, food, and water. In older times, a wound was called vital if it was fatal. Ponder this and you will see it means we are to seek God’s presence as the number one thing in our lives. I did not do that before my affliction, but I do now! I know only God can keep my heart at peace.

An excellent Bible study is to type “seek, inquire, and require” into the search window of a website like Bible Gateway, where you can search the AMPC translation for that phrase. You will find 33 results, which will show you that, when God says seek or search, He does not mean a casual, haphazard, if-you-feel-like-it effort.

Image result for Royalty Free Clip Art of Heart  Ask God to make your heart willing. I did not consistently find God’s presence until I desperately pursued Him. My motivation was the fear that anxious, depressing thoughts would return. I say with the psalmist “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word” and “It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn You decrees.” (Psalm 119:67 and 71, NIV) I cannot explain how it works but God He does indeed make everything turn out for our good (Romans 8:28) and trials and temptations do help us become “. . . mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4). That is why James 1:1-4 tells us to rejoice about trials and temptations. Like the goldsmith’s refining fire, hardships purify us.

Desperation for God is good. God knows just what works with each of us because He knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10, Acts 15:8), and if we ask for something good, He will give us good things, not bad (Mathew 7:9-11).  God never withholds any good thing from those who walk blamelessly before Him. (Psalm 84:11b) Cling to that promise as you draw nearer to God! He is with you when you are with Him. (2 Chronicles 15:2). So, I say, dear friend, if you want a closer closeness with God, pray Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV) along with me:

  1. Create in me a pure heart, o God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
  2. Do not cast me from Your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
  3. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

God’s presence is a priceless gift. How blessed we are that He makes it available to anyone who seeks Him – desperately!Image result for royalty free picture of gift

 

One foot in front of the other

Image result for free clip art of walking wobblyFour truths about trials:

  • Trials sometimes come in clusters.
  • However, we can walk, even wobble, through trials one step at a time.
  • We can hold on to God’s hand during trials, with confident hope.
  • God always, always, always, make a way!

Come, laugh with me—at me! If you could see me, here at the computer, you would laugh out loud. I am wearing a tank top, black Bermuda shorts, clunky running shoes with tractor tire soles, support hose that supposedly are calf-length but hit an inch below the mark on my six foot frame, and no make-up (rash issues). The counter and area around it is cluttered with unemptied grocery bags, my gym bag, purse, a stack of mail, two Bibles, and a stack of library books. Also, I trimmed my hair myself last night and, uh, I will likely not do that again.

But! I am sitting in the corner of my front room, at my desk, writing, telling you a story about how I wobbled emotionally but regained my balance by putting one foot in front of the other and leaning on my Best Friend.

Trials sometimes come in clusters. For the last two months, I have desperately needed everything I learned recently about staying in peace. Why? An anaphylactic reaction requiring a $500 visit to an urgent care clinic; two irritating skin rashes; two new foot issues; more back trouble; gastrointestinal problems; increasing blood pressure; gaining more weight when I am trying to lose, and need to lose, 20 pounds because of the blood pressure; a new level of asthma; the need for a $1000 water heater (dream on!); and learning my darling Barny cat has cancer. Besides these challenges of my own, the trials of family and friends and are on my heart daily.

When the blood pressure rose (not enough to warrant a trip to the doctor) I stayed in bed a lot for two days. And, with the stresses of the last few weeks, being cooped up, and fresh issues with the feet, asthma and Barny, I fretted myself right into the snare of stinking thinking—even though I am currently writing a booklet about that subject!!!

Image result for free clip art of walking wobblyWe can walk, even wobble, through trials one step at a time. Fortunately, I knew from experience that Joyce Meyer’s suggestion about trials worked. She says to: (A) cast ALL your cares on the Lord (I Peter 5:6-9), (B) do the good that you know to do (Psalm 37:3-7), and (C) go about enjoying your life (Philippians 4:4-8).

So . . . I prayed, asked God to help me put one foot in front of the other, then went to the gym, determined to write later in the day. (Writing is part of my “Good that I know to do”). Although feet and hips ached and lungs wheezed, I stretched, lifted weights and bicycled, all the while silently repeating my chain of Scripture passages about peace, a habit I had neglected in the last two days of fretting.

We can hold on to God’s hand, with confident hope. When a friend recently asked “What has been most helpful in healing the depression and anxiety? I answered easily, “Digging into the Word for myself and keeping it in my mind constantly.” I have several passages about peace and God’s love hidden in my heart. Whenever I slow down and ponder these passages, phrase by phrase, the light that comes from God’s Word starts chasing away the dark doubts and lies trying to overtake my mind. Dwelling on truths about our loving God brings peace and stirs up hope.

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of A Path In The WoodsGod always, always, always makes a way! One of these foundational passages about peace that I dwell on when I feel wobbly is Hebrews 13:5, where God tells us to be content with our present circumstances and what we have because:

“. . . He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you). {Assuredly not!] (AMPC)

This passage refers to Joshua 1, when God encouraged Joshua to be bold and courageous about entering the Promised Land. Notice how vigorously God stresses that He will not IN ANY WAY let us down. I challenge you to read this verse, 10 times, pausing and really thinking about each phrase. Then see whether you feel more confident in God’s love for you and ability to care for you.

Another comforting verse to ponder is I Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV)

God never lies and always keeps His promises (Numbers 23:19, Deuteronomy 7:9). He will make a way for each Red Sea experience we have. Nothing is impossible for the One who rules the heavens but who chooses to dwell in human hearts (Matthew 19:26, John 14:23)!

Never, never, never . . . always, always, always! Although it is not written in all the places where God promises to make a way for His faithful children (I Corinthians 10:13, 1 Peter 5:10, Isaiah 46:4, etc. ) I believe that the emphasis God places on the certainty of His never letting us down in Hebrews 13:5 also is true in every place where He promises to deliver us. So, I can ponder Psalm 91, verse 14, and say to myself “Because I have set my love on God, therefore God will always, always, always deliver me.” If God promises to never fail us, that means He also promises to always deliver us. As I ponder Isaiah 46:4, I can say to myself, “God promises that He will always, always, always carry me and save me even in old age.”

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of BibleI am blessed to report that right there in the gym, in the middle of bicycling, God began lifting the dark curtain. He gave the gift of His presence and His peace the rest of the day as I picked up my grandsons, grocery shopped with them, visited with my daughter, then came home to sit down and write this blog post. Beloved, our God is so so so good to us! All we have to do is love Him and obey Him—and use the sword of the Spirit when we stumble into the pit of worry!

Father, thank You for rescuing me over and over again when I stumble. Help me to take a new grip with my tired hands and strengthen my weak knees. Help me mark out a straight path for my feet so that, where I am weak and lame, I will not fall but become strong. (Adapted from Hebrews 12:12, NLT)

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Can love endure forever?

Image result for royalty free picture of college classroomRepetition aids memory. I leaned from side to side, then twisted left and right, trying to do so unobtrusively. It had been a long day of sitting at work. These three hours of class made it even longer. I took a sip of lukewarm coffee and popped another peanut M and M in my mouth. The freedoms students exercised in class puzzled me when I first returned to school three years earlier, but now I quietly ate snacks during lecture, too.

How I loved school! This Tuesday night class on human learning was my favorite. I hastily put the styrofoam cup down and picked up my pen when I heard, “Now, this is something you can make good use of yourself. Repetition is the key to getting information into long-term memory. So when you study . . .” The professor kept going but I heard that one phrase over and over. That was many years ago, but I hear it now whenever I work on Bible memory. It helps me persist in the necessary repetitions.

God knows how memory works. Obviously, God knows how memory works. God not only tells us to impress His commandments on our children by talking about them when we “. . . sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7, NIV) but He also tells us to keep them where we will see them all day long as we go about our daily life (Deuteronomy 6:8.) I say, thank the Lord for index cards and sticky notes!

Two key facts about God. Psalm 136 teaches us two facts about God. [1] God is good, and [2] His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1, NIV). When I first began pondering these two truths, I thought they were in Psalm 118. I was driving and so could not access my Bible. When I got home, I saw it was Psalm 136 and that the phrase repeated 26 times is “His love endures forever.” The “God is good” phrase is only stated in the first verse of this psalm.

His love endures forever. It is comforting to know that God’s perfect love will last forever, especially when we read I Corinthians and see what God means when He says love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

We would do well to take each of those phrases and use them as the responding phrase in Psalm 136. For example, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His patience endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His patience endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His patience endures forever.”

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Gold NuggetThe phrase “His love endures forever” is repeated 26 times. I have found that I must repeat the phrases of a Bible verse or passage I am memorizing MANY times. Repeating a nugget of truth 26 times is a small price to pay to acquire pure, refined gold straight from the hand of our loving and all-powerful God.

What does God want us to remember? It is my opinion that this must be one of the things God wants us to remember most of all, this unbelievable fact that His love will last forever, that He will never stop loving us. If you have been privileged to study the Bible even a little you know God repeats His fundamental truths many times, in multiple ways. Yet no other phrase is repeated so many times so close together. I think I should pause and think about that!

God IS good. As a believer, it hurts when I hear people disrespect God and when I hear people doubt His goodness. The enemy has attacked God’s goodness from the beginning. He successfully tempted Eve in Eden by lying about God’s goodness. (Genesis 3:4-5). He does the same thing today. How often does someone say there is no hope for mankind or that, if there is “a god”, then He cannot be good because He lets so many bad things happen. Lies, all lies.

How do we fight against that hateful darkness of the enemy? With the Sword of Truth! Look up scriptures about the goodness of God, ponder and memorize as many as you can, to get them down deep into your own spirit, and then speak the truth, with love (Ephesians 4:15) when you hear our wonderful Father in heaven slandered.

God hears our cries for mercy. I am so grateful to have my own copy of the Bible (actually, several translations!) so that I can write in it like the textbook it is. When I was in school, I underlined, drew arrows and brackets, made notes in margins, highlighted . . . anything to enhance understanding. In my NIV Bible, Psalm 118 is well-marked. It sums up the goodness of God and His enduring love in rescuing me from a season of deep depression.

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Jesus rescuing Lamb“I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned his ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, save me!’ The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, He saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:1-7, NIV)

Fellow pilgrim, has God been good to you? Has He proven to you that “His love endures forever”? Then thank Him and tell someone else! He more than deserves our highest praise and gratitude. . . for God “ . . . is good and His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1, NIV)

God’s Elixir of Gratitude

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Memories of gratitude. 62 degrees. No humidity. Sun beginning to set. A band of soft gray and beige and pink puffs stretches low above the horizon. I pause and stop to say “Thank You, Lord. Those are such beautiful colors and such pretty patterns.”

As I come around the corner of the building, loaded down with grocery bags, headed to my unit, suddenly I remember another early evening, rounding the corner of a building, loaded down with grocery bags, heading toward home. That evening was thirty plus years ago, when my daughter was 12.

Sharon had, as usual, phoned me when she got home from school. I had said I would pick up some videos after I got groceries and be home by six. A three-day weekend was coming up, for both of us. To help offset the fallout of my single parent finances, I made a celebration out of anything I possibly could. Our VCR player got lots of use as we curled up together under a blanket on the couch and ate popcorn. The hormonal storms of adolescence still a ways away, we had many sweet and tender times just being together that year.

I had not told her I would also get a box of fried chicken, a rare indulgence for our little family of two. As I rounded the corner that evening, toting the groceries, video and chicken, I felt an almost palpable reword sense of good will toward the whole world. I was simply grateful down to my bones that I could provide food, and even special treats like the fried chicken, and a few hours of entertainment that would delight my daughter. And I was beginning to finally feel secure in the job I had begun a few weeks earlier. The job had better benefits and we had health insurance now.

I rounded the corner, stood on the tiny stoop and, since I did not have a free knuckle, banged the bags against the door. Almost instantly, the door opened, and she reached to relieve me of some of the bags.

“Oh, Mama! You got three videos! And you got chicken, too!”

Happy tears blurred my vision as I looked into her bright eyes.

Grateful for feeling “Not bad”. Now, the bags looped around my fingers were cotton mesh, not the environmentally-unfriendly plastic of 30 years ago, and rather than anticipating a deeply delightful evening with my daughter, I was heading to my beloved rescued Tonkinese and my beloved Heavenly Father.

“Thank You, Lord, that I feel so much better today. Thank You that my eyes are not so swollen and I can breathe easily.”

Last night, at nine, I had had an anaphylactic reaction, the first in many years, so many that I no longer carried an epi pen. It had been a wild night, walking to the car with eyes swelling, tears gushing, throat swelling, driving to an urgent care clinic, only to find it closed then driving across town, then answering questions and signing papers at the front desk while thinking I might pass out, finally being given two shots and a breathing treatment, waiting three hours at the facility, then driving home, getting into bed at 5 a.m.

So, I was very grateful when I woke at one, feeling almost normal. It felt like a holiday to just get out and see the sun as I drove to the grocery and library. One blessing of trials is it feels so good when they are done!

“But, Lord,” I reflected as I put bananas on the countertop and stacked cat food in the cabinet, “help me be genuinely thankful all the time, not just when You have delivered me from a problem.”

Image result for Free Clip Art of TambourineI believe God loves it when we rejoice with Him when trials have ended and He has given a great victory, like when Miriam led the Israelites in singing on the other side of the Red Sea. Miriam took a timbrel and sang, “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously and is highly exalted; the horse and rider He has throw into the sea,” (Exodus 15:21, AMPC).

However, the Bible makes it plain we are to be thankful ALL the time. Why?

An attitude of gratitude is good medicine!  The dictionary defines elixir as a “magical or medicinal potion.” Another definition is “a particular type of medicinal solution.” (https://tinyurl.com/wfnrjh9). Like everything God tells His followers to do, being thankful is good for us. (“All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful to those who keep the demands of His covenant. Psalm 25:10, NIV). Being thankful is so powerful it does seem magical. No wonder God says to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).

Why are we to do that? Two, of many reasons, are:

[1] God “. . . is good; for His mercy and loving-kindness endure forever.” (Psalm 136). Thanking God, all the time, is simply the right thing to do.

[2] It brings us into His presence. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4, NIV)

Image result for royalty free picture of neglected gardenCultivating the garden of your heart. I have learned, the hard way, that a constant attitude of gratitude is essential for me. Unless I am actively thankful for God’s blessings, the enemy soon steals my peace. I tried, for years, to be consistently thankful but it was like the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Some seeds of gratitude I was trying to plant never got down deep into my heart, some landed in areas of my heart that were filled with the rocks of envy, jealousy and resentment, and some seeds of gratitude grew for a while but then worry about things of this world choked out the gratitude.

I finally saw that only God could remove the rocks, weeds and thorns. I had to ask Him to show me where the ugly things were, and then do my part. I saw that only God could provide good seed, and that I had to sow then water it by keeping His Word in my mind. I saw only God could make it grow, and that my part was to wait patiently, with hope, and to “Above all else, guard [my] heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). After much work, for a long time, God did change my attitude, but it was a process of cultivation, like developing a garden.

Image result for Royalty Free Clip Art Of Gardening Tools And Seeds'The process of cultivation. To cultivate the good fruit of thankfulness in my heart, I had to:

[1] Clear my heart of rocks, weeds, and thorns and break up the soil. In ancient times, through the prophet Jeremiah, God pleaded with His people to return to Him, put away their idols and “break up your ground left uncultivated for a season, so that you may not sow among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3b, AMPC).

Father, help me root out the thorns of ungratefulness, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and resentment. Use Your Word to reveal the hidden thoughts and intents of my heart that I cannot perceive so I may confess, repent and be forgiven. (Hebrews 4:12)

[2] Plant good seeds. Galations 6:7 (NIV) tells us “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”.

Father, You have provided all the seeds of truth that we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). Help me sow bountifully so that I may reap bountifully from Your Word. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

[3] Water, watch and wait. Growing anything takes time but God helps us as we seek to grow, and He finishes what He starts. As Paul said “And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up until the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.” (Philippians 1:4, AMPC)

Father, help me be patient as You do what only You can do. (Revelations 4:11)

[4] Maintain the garden. Maintaining a garden requires regular watering, weeding, and removal of pests.

Father, help me always water the garden of my heart with the Living Water of Your Word (John 4:13-15). Show me the weeds and thorns (Matthew 13:7) and help me to take “. . . the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards [of our love], for our vineyards are in blossom (Solomon 2:14, AMPC)

Dear friend, as we both strive to become more grateful, I can only remind us both of God’s promise in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11:

“And [God] Who provides seed for the sower and bread for eating will also provide and multiply your [resources for] sowing and increase the fruits of your righteousness [which manifests itself in active goodness, kindness, and charity]. (AMPC)

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The riptide of His love

Image result for royalty free picture of child in father's arms “You will be safe in His arms.” “You will be safe in His arms, you will be safe in His arms. The hands that hold the world are holding your heart. This is the promise He made. He will be with you always. When everything is falling apart, you will be safe in His arms.“ (Lyrics by Phil Wickham)

As I listened, I curled into the corner of the couch, next to the lamp and the radio, pulling the cotton throw over my bare feet, as I sipped my coffee. The air was pleasantly cool as a gentle rain washed the trees and bushes and grass outside in the darkness.

“Thank You, Lord. That is exactly what I needed this morning, to remind myself that You love me, that You listen to me and that You will take care of me.”

Yesterday had been an all-day, all-out fight for faith as a dear, dear friend was re-admitted to the hospital, my beloved Barny cat and I waited four hours in the veterinarian’s office, and I pondered the latest foot problem. All day, by grace I prayed and quoted Scriptures to myself. All day though, I felt shaky. I kept reminding myself that God would, in time, calm the storm in my heart.

Last night, still feeling shaky, I went to bed and by grace slept well. This morning, that song stirred the undercurrent of His love running deep in my heart. Emotions settled and thoughts about God and His countless instances of tender, loving care took over. Then, like a soft blanket, came that blessed, unutterable peace (Philippians 4:7).

We all need an undercurrent of His love. Because life is filled with troubles, we humans need the awareness of His love as the bedrock of our hearts and minds. We need that awareness as our default mode, a network of interconnected thoughts and feelings to which our mind automatically returns when it is not specifically involved otherwise.

Three hearts stay on my kitchen countertop. The words written on them say “God made me, and He loves me. God listens to me, and He loves me. God takes care of me, and He loves me.” These truths remind me of Scripture passages about God’s love that I have meditated upon for many, many weeks. This undercurrent of feeling loved and cared for, personally, by God has become my default mode of mind. It is one way Jesus helps me overcome the troubles in my world. (John 16:33)

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Laptop How to change your default. How do we get to the place so that even when life thunders, we remember God’s love and remain secure? By doing the hard work of renewing our mind, in other words, by changing our default mode of mind and heart (Romans 12:21).  It is a simple process.

[1] Look diligently into the Word for ourselves to find the truths we personally need. (Proverbs 2:1-11)

[2] Keep those truths in our thoughts constantly (Deuteronomy 6:7).

The process is simple. However, it takes hard work, and it takes time. So be patient, like a farmer tending a crop. (James 5:7) In due time, you will be rewarded. (Hebrews 11:6)

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Crashing WavesHow does an undercurrent work? In reading about undercurrents, I learned that they are currents flowing under the surface of a large body of water. A riptide is a powerful, fast-moving undercurrent flowing at right angles to the shore. I like to think of God’s love as a powerful undercurrent, a riptide, that we can, by choice, dive into and that will carry us out to clear, open water, far from the crashing waves. Once we have stored up His truth within our hearts, that undercurrent, that default mode of mind and heart, is firmly established (Deuteronomy 28:9). In darkest trial, we will feel safe, in His everlasting arms.

“There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor. The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you. He drives out the enemy before you, saying, “Destroy them!” So Israel will live in safety, prosperous Jacob in security, in a land of grain and new wine, while the heavens drop down dew. How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword! Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will stomp on their backs.” (Deuteronomy 33:26-29, NLT)

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