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In Bible study on the Book of Exodus, our lecturer said the Ark of the Covenant was a “portable Eden”. It was where God chose to dwell among His people on earth.  Placed in the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle, God recreated Eden in a golden box so He could travel with His believers and be in covenant with them.  Once the temple in Jerusalem was built, God dwelled there, in the midst of the land He’d promised them. It became “Eden.”

That sent a flutter through my chest. Why? Paul told the Corinthians that their bodies were the temple since the one in Jerusalem had been destroyed. It has never been rebuilt, by the way. Not that it needs to be because God now dwells in the hearts of believers. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1Corinthains 3:16).

That makes you and me portable Edens!

In Eden, there was love, goodness, peace, calmness, and serenity.  Mankind freely communed with God. They shared time and space. Sin was an outsider.

Eden is not a lost world. It still exists. The peace that passes all understanding still resides there like a gorgeous flower that is always in bloom. Faith, trust, and compassion flourish in lush fullness. This wondrous place now travels with us wherever we go in this un-Eden-like world. It is our “go to” spot whenever we need it. Better than comfy pants or chocolate.

So, if this portable Eden is always with us, and thus God is, why are we not more serene and content?  Why aren’t our lives centered more in Christ?

And…If our hearts contain that marvelous, fruitful place called paradise, why do we try to bring the seeds of worry, strife, anger, and bitterness through the garden gate? Those need to stay outside. We don’t need to haul them inside to dwell where only God should.

Where can we find God today? He is in Eden, a heartbeat away.

 

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A-ward

What is a ward?  A hospital wing? An orphan you’ve decided to financially support, especially if you live in Jane Austen’s time in England?

The word “ward” brings to mind an act of caring and being responsible for the welfare of another. If we assign a meaning to each letter, I see W-A-R-D as “with all resources directed.”  It becomes our focus.  And that is important.

Now, let’s add a syllable in front of the word. Award, for example.

Awards are nice. We all like to take responsibility for something we have done well. Bow at the sound of the applause. Maybe blush a tad bit as the chest swells with pride. Nothing wrong in that. We should be recognized for our accomplishments.

As a believer, the ultimate award awaits me in Heaven. Paul told Timothy, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…” (2 Timothy 4:8). But Paul also knew who provided the means for that award. It was the Lord and to His glory that all of Paul’s resources were directed.

Backward, forward, toward. By adding the syllables “back”,  “for“, or to””, it switches from being a noun to a verb. It implies action. And we are responsible for our actions, right?

Backward? Hmm. John Grant, former Senator from Florida, said in a recent devotional from Thoughts About God, “In life looking back is not going to help you…Never look back; nothing ever changes there. Don’t look back because you are not going that way.”

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, stated it this way: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (3:1).

When we look backward, our resources are directed to a past we cannot change. It stagnates us, like a river that has lost its current. So, we need to find another “ward” to go. Another direction to utilize our resources.

So, should we go toward? or forward? The Apostle Paul chose the word forward. Why?

If we go toward, we are being drawn. It is a passive movement. Someone or something else is pulling us.  But if we go forward, then we take the action and decide to move. We take ownership.  We are “for” whatever lies ahead.

Forward, by using the definition above, is a positive responsibility. We are moving with all of our resources in a future direction that holds meaning and purpose. And for Christians, it is to become more Christ-like, to give God the glory, and to help others along the way. That is the way to go.

Are you moving forward in your faith walk?  Or have you stopped, because you keep looking back? Are you wanting to move forward but aren’t taking action? Are you being pulled by the momentum of someone else’s faith instead?

It’s okay to lean on Christ when you are weak, but when you are again ready to run the race, He will move you forward like a parent watching his child wobble on a two-wheel bike, always there to catch you if you fall but encouraging you to keep peddling forward.

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A friend of mine posted a picture of how well her new solar lights worked in her yard.  When I saw it, the double meaning flashed across my brain.  So, I asked her if I could use it.

Solar lights work because they store up the sunlight during the day. It’s very easy to correlate the storing up of Christ’s Light through His word in us so we also can shine.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:6

But what was unique for me was how each lamp shined in a circular pattern.

We all have a circle of influence. First, are the people with whom we are in close contact. These are the people who see us day in and day out and with whom we have the most influence. Close friends, coworkers, family. It’s hard to hide our true self from these people. The more we have Christ’s Light in us, the more we will reflect Him in our day-to-day lives and shine into theirs as well.

Moving out in the spiral, are the people with whom we have casual contact. Notice the specks of light are further apart and do not touch. Perhaps these represent friends on social media or distant relatives. Friends we went to school with or old neighbors that moved away.  We occasionally keep in touch with them, especially if there is news to share.

Further out still may be the people on the peripheral edge of our lives. Perhaps those who benefit from our charitable donations, or the cashier who notices we actually smiled and called them by name. They get tiny snippets of light, but it can be enough to encourage them to draw closer to the Source.

Now, notice that each lamp has its own circle of influence, and the spiral they cast barely touch. It brought home to me that God has me planted where He wants me to be, and in touch with those I should be.  It’s my job to shine His grace and mercy, and to keep replenishing the Source so I can still be of use, lest I grow dim.

It’s a dark world out there, and it’s growing darker. Let’s all work harder at shining into other people’s lives, whether it is most of the time or a chance encounter. Let us never pass up an opportunity to shed a bit of God’s love.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:6

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“God does all these things to a person—twice, even three times— to turn them back from the pit that the light of life may shine on them.” Job 33:29-30

A dear friend gave me a pothos ivy. The kind with wonderful green leaves that stretch into strands to dangle down bookcases, shelves or stair rails. I placed this one on top of my bookcase near a window so it could get some sunlight. Soon, the tendrils began to grow longer, curling down the side of my bookcase, leaves angled toward the light streaming through the blinds. After a while, all the leaves exposed to the light had turned toward it. Their leaves were lush and full.

However, on the “darker side”, the leaves stop growing, and several died. I decided to turn the plant so that side could receive the light. And sure enough, the thriving side’s leaves still began to turn toward the light, even though they were further away. They had gotten used to it and knew it was what they needed.

Now the botanists among you will nod, saying this is common. For plants, yes. But is it common for us humans?

Once we receive the light of the Son, we thrive on it. We know we need it to grow in our faith. To flourish, we need to be near Him daily. But Jesus wants all of us exposed. That means even our darker sides. The side that harbors our bad habits we try to hide from the world. The sins we have pushed to the back of our hearts and minds because we simply do not want to deal with it right now. Perhaps we gossiped, or unkind words slipped from our mouths. Maybe we left off some tiny thing on our tax return so we could get a bigger refund. Perhaps we told a lie because it sounded better, or we didn’t want to reveal the truth. Maybe worse.

Eventually, Jesus will nudge us to turn those darker things to Him so His loving mercy can expose them. Once that happens, His grace can pour in. We can begin to flourish again where we were once stunted, and in fact, shriveling.

My ivy taught me that though I may not wish to do so, I must expose my whole being to my Lord so I can reflect His Light in my life. All my thoughts, fears, desires, and doubts need to be turned toward Him. Full Son exposure!

Do you dare turn your darker side to His glory?

 

 

 

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Today is April 15th. It marks two big events this year. It is Tax Day, and it also begins Holy Week.

As a freelance writer, I am self-employed, so I have to pay double the taxes people with employers do. The thing is, when money is tight, it is tempting not to pay into my savings so I can make those nasty quarterly payments to the beloved IRS. And if an expense comes up, such as an unforeseen medical bill or a flat tire, well, okay I could skip a quarter and pay next April. Or hope that I can find a few more deductions to make up for it. I can let it slide, right?

The IRS won’t forgive the debt, though. By April 15th, I have to pay back every cent I owe to them. Or set up monthly payments at exorbitant interest rates. Talk about sliding downhill into debt! At times I wish I had a Sugar Daddy to bail me out.

Two millennia ago, Jesus warned, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26). Debts have to be paid.

We live in a debt-filled society. Many owe thousands on credit cards. Our income barely keeps up with inflation, and the tax system is skewed to applaud those who can figure out the best how to get out of paying. When someone does, don’t they toot their horn and tell all their friends? “My accountant is the best. He found a way to deduct 1,000 extra dollars. The wife and I are off to Cancun after all.”

Cross on a hilltop in Kerrville, Tx. Photo courtesy of Coming King Sculpture and Prayer Garden

Not to be a Debbie Downer, I have good news. When it comes to our souls, there is also a way to get out of paying our debt to God for all that we have let slide. It is called accepting Christ as our Savior. He paid our debts–past, present, and future–on the cross.

The payback? Our gratitude, which draws us closer to Him. And it doesn’t hurt to tell others about how our debt was paid. “You would not believe how much I owed. But He paid for all of my transgressions. Every single one.”

God’s method of accounting would make a tax attorney rub his temples. God prefers to cancel as many debts as possible and let His Son pay them all.

But there is a catch. We have to ask for it.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).

We ask for help at tax time from professionals, be it online, hiring an accountant, through software, or mulling through the irs.gov site (there’s a headache).  How much more should we ask for help from the One who can save us from the worse debt of all…the one caused by our sins!

This week, don’t let the IRS deadlines overshadow the tragedy that will happen on Friday, to His glory, and for our sakes.  Pay Ceasar his due, but render your hearts, minds, and souls to God.

Then rejoice next Sunday. Celebrate that our debt is canceled because Jesus is alive. He is risen indeed. And Daddy has bailed us out!

 

 

 

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courtesy Alexiscorvus | Dreamstime.com -

courtesy Alexiscorvus | Dreamstime.com –

Throwback Thursday….from a post three years ago. I needed this reminder. Maybe you do as well.

 

An author friend of mine, Anita Klumpers*, posted this on Facebook about her grandson:

Lesson learned from a 37-month-old, trying to control his sad tears: “Liam, how did you stop crying so fast?”
“I made my mouth go different.”

Scientists state it takes less muscle effort to smile than to frown, but often times it takes a lot more spiritual muscle effort, doesn’t it?  It is hard to stay upbeat, positive and hopeful when the world dumps troubles and strife on our shoulders like buckets of coal.  Yet, as Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, we are supposed to rejoice, be thankful in all things and steadfast in prayer.  Is this possible?

Yes- if we make our mouth go different.

  • Take a deep breath and move your lips into a smile. It is hard to be angry, hurt or anxious if you can smile, or even drum up a chuckle.
  • Open our lips to only speak good things. Our grandmothers were right. If you don’t have anything nice to say…
  • Audibly Praise God no matter what and pray for Him to alter your attitude.

The next time you feel your lips quivering into a frown, ask our Lord to help you make your mouth go different. That is not to say emotions are not valid. There are times we should be sad or angry. Jesus cried.  He also overturned tables in the Temple.

I’m also not insinuating we shove our negativeness down our gullets where it can fester. But, we can change our attitude by purposely altering our body language and our thoughts.  We can choose to brood and be rude or make the choice to rejoice. We can give our angst to God instead of spreading it to others and pray for Him to give us the attitude of gratitude instead of stinkin’ thinkin’.

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26-27

Each moment we have an option – be hopeful or despair, trust or distrust, stand firm or melt into a pool of self-pity. How will you make your mouth go today? However it goes, your thoughts and attitude will follow.

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The following is written by a lady in my writer’s group, Katy Huth Jones.  It definitely encouraged me. I hope it does you as well.

 

In the Bible, several things are described as precious. The Lamb’s blood (I Peter 1:19), the death of God’s saints (Psalm 116:15), an excellent wife (Proverbs 31:10), and this verse in Isaiah 43 that leaped out at me a few weeks ago: “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”

Who is precious in God’s eyes? Verse 7 has the answer: “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines precious this way: “Of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly.” Which compels this soul-searching question: Do I see myself as precious in God’s eyes? If not, why not?

When I was younger and healthier, I was a whirlwind of activity in service (I sincerely hoped) to my family, church, and community. I felt I had value because of what I did for others, and I guess my identity became wrapped up in all that busyness and affirmation from others.

Now that my health has crashed and I’m living with a chronic disease as well as the ever-present threat of a third cancer recurrence, I have felt worthless and wondered why God doesn’t just take me home. But those feelings don’t come from God’s view; I’m comparing my present self to my former self, and there is no comparison. I’ve been wasting time and brain space on wrong thinking, treating carelessly what God sees as precious.

No, I can’t do what I once did, in the strength of youth. But what can I do for the Lord in my twilight years? First, show gratitude to the One who calls me precious and sent his beloved Son to shed His precious blood for my sins. I can also be thankful for a loving, godly husband who still sees me as a precious wife and is grateful I’m still here.

I can acknowledge that God cares for me daily while my body gradually declines. Instead of moaning and whining, I need to praise Him daily for the hope of heaven that can sustain me even on the darkest days. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) The inner self is our true self, our eternal soul which will live forever in the presence of God and the Lamb.

I can continue to grow in faith, and hopefully wisdom, so I can keep sharing God’s love with others until my last breath. “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18) Even if I can’t “do” the things I once did, I can show by word and example what God has done for me. After all, He has brought me through the fires of tribulation, patiently molding me to have a genuine, precious faith: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 1:6-7)

If God sees me as precious, then who am I to call myself worthless?

 

 

 

Katy Huth Jones writes amazing novels (fantasy anthologies and Mercy series), children’s books, and a realistic, positive, daily devotional journey through chemo entitled Battling the Beast. It’s a must-read for anyone who has just been diagnosed with cancer or has a loved one who is starting chemo.

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