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Sunday grace

The day dawned magnificently, after rain and lower temperatures that enticed me into long sleeves.

With coffee cup in hand, I headed to the car, driving the miles to a long-awaited promise. The sky boasted shades of red and pink as the sun broke into the night, and my heart was eager for the day.

Parking my car, I walked to the church with Psalm 103 on my lips.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
 Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases,
 Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.


I was greeted by the women, beautiful women who had set their alarms early to arrive ahead of the crowd, who came to serve with smiles on their faces. And the joy of the Lord shone round about.

We came for Cultivate, to hear Kelly Minter teach from passages of Matthew 8 and 9, stories familiar to any who had grown up in the church. But today they were fresh, new, breathing, because the Word of God is active and living, its razor sharp edges penetrating my soul and spirit, judging the intents of my heart. I marked my Bible and took pages of notes so I wouldn’t forget.

We praised and worshiped in song with hearts and hands lifted to the only One worthy of our adoration. The music was a tender balm to my weariness. Tears washed my eyes so I could see Jesus.

At lunch I chatted with friends young and older, enjoying the fellowship of women who are dear to me. Smiles radiated on faces as we savored the experience of this day in August. Hugs were part and parcel to the love we felt.

Time flew and I was not ready for it to be over. Had we really been there seven hours? It didn’t feel like it, this taste of heaven’s atmosphere where God’s daughters are in one accord, bound together in unity and purpose.

What made the difference in this day among other days? I’ve pondered that.

We planned, prepared and prayed for it. We did our homework through Kelly’s Bible studies through the years. We were expectant and hopeful, desiring a fresh touch from our Father. We came with our hands open to receive.

And He did not disappoint. His glory was all around, and we opened our eyes to see it.

Is it possible I might experience God like this more than just one special day in a year? Is it me who holds back from receiving all He wants to give? Am I too busy with lesser things to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith? Do I prioritize time with Him and open my eyes to behold wondrous things from His Word? Do I put His commands in practice, keeping a humble, submissive heart?

Can I really have as much of God as I want? Didn’t my Father once tell me to believe and see the glory of God? And didn’t He prove faithful to His promise? Yes He did!

Then I shall believe and expect to see Him.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Reading Ephesians today, the first chapter reminds me how I tried to memorize some of these verses last year. I determined that Paul was very wordy. But who am I to talk?

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Paul’s usual greeting of “grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ” are comforting. I like it better than starting a letter with “Dear [so and so].”

In the few beginning verses, I’m reminded anew that I am chosen, holy and blameless in God’s sight, planned for and adopted as His daughter. I am redeemed by the blood of Jesus and have forgiveness of sins. God has lavished – lavished! – His rich grace on me. He reveals the mystery of His will to me, and all of it is freely given from the heart of a loving Father.

I was included to receive this glorious message of salvation, and I am marked by the Holy Spirit. I await a heavenly inheritance that is unimaginable.

It pleases Him to bless me like this. I am astounded at that!

In light of all these amazing graces, I pray this prayer:

Dearest Father, I ask for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I may know You better. I pray that the eyes of my heart would be enlightened so I will understand the hope to which You have called me. There are glorious riches awaiting me. That you call holy me holy is humbling indeed; but for Jesus, I am not.  With all my heart I want your incomparably great power actively working in me. 

And may the days of my life left on this earth be lived to the praise of your glorious grace.

Your daughter.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

{Click Here if you would like to listen to Fernando Ortega as you read.}

In the mornings, I’ve taken to opening the hymn book that normally resides on my piano. It contains artful poetry proclaiming the glory and majesty of God.

My voice is not at it’s best in the wee hours of the morning, a little gravely, and the pitch misses the mark. I sing softly when Sweet William sleeps longer.

As I voice words of such poets as Henry Van Dyke, Charles Wesley, Reginald Herber, Francis of Assisi, Folliot Pierpoint, Fanny Crosby, Andrae Crouch, my thoughts turn to the triune God who is holy, worthy, great and glorious.

Today the melody of Doxology becomes a prayer. I can add nothing more that what has been said.

Awake, my soul, and with the sun,
Thy daily stage of duty run,
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him all creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Sunday grace.

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Sunday praise

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Today . . .

Praise God for the food on your table and the roof over your head.

Praise Him for the clothes you wear and the shoes on your feet.

Praise Him for the fellowship of believers gathered in a church house or a home.

Praise Him for the beauty you see with your eyes and the songs you hear with your ears.

Praise God for the sunshine . . . or the rain for He sends both.

Praise Him in the good times . . . or the bad times for He is with you always.

Praise God in the sanctuary of your heart where He makes His dwelling through and because of Christ Jesus.

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Praise  God with your every breath for He gives your every breath.

Praise God at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Make His praise glorious . . . today.

Thanksgiving on purpose

Many of us, I suppose, have Thanksgiving traditions we do each year.  I’m not just talking about the kind of stuffing you fix or whether you have pumpkin or sweet potato pie for dessert or that you always go to grandma’s house for dinner.

I’m thinking more about how we acknowledge the blessings we receive and how we give thanks to God for them.

Last year I wrote about my Joy List that started in 1995 and how it has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for me.  I need to mention another tradition at this time of year that holds much meaning for me.

It began in 2005 when I attended a Faces of Christ retreat sponsored by Southeast Christian Church at their beautiful County Lake retreat facility.  I had pondered this for over a year, but it was the Lord’s timing to send me that spring. 

I was a mess and I was going to get messier before 2005 was over.  By the end of the four-day retreat, I had experienced Christ and His cross in a life changing way, and I had met some precious Christian women.

Out of the 40 or 50 women who attended, I still maintain contact with two of them.  One of them was my table mate during the retreat, Margie.  She and I have shared lots of phone conversations and prayer requests about job changes, moving to new locations, car breakdowns, family crises, sickness of people we love, venting frustrations, and more.  Margie has become the kind of friend I can call when I need help, and she will come.  She has provided meals for Sweet William and me on at least three occasions this year when he came home from the hospital.  And she was one of those friends I wrote about who pulled together to make my Dad’s birthday celebration such a joyful event.

Out of the messiness of our lives in 2005, God has forged an amazing friendship that has blessed the socks off me.  I give Him thanks for that.

There was another young woman who attended the Faces retreat that spring.  We did not even meet each other that weekend.  We sat at different tables, and our assignments and interaction did not bring us together.  It was at a follow-up Bible study at one of the leader’s homes where we became acquainted and “just happened” to be paired together for an exercise on prayer.

We were instructed to call our partner for the next week and pray for each other.  Julie was my designated partner for the week.  We set a time to meet over the phone, 6:30 am.  I did not that Julie was not a morning person back then.  But she did not balk.  Bless her heart, she willingly agreed, and that week we called each other every day and prayed for one another and the concerns on our hearts.

I was still such a mess.  This young woman had no idea what she was getting herself into when she became my prayer partner.  There were mornings I could barely function or talk on the phone in that early hour.  After I would share my needs and my prayer requests, she would pray.  And I would feel myself being lifted up and strengthened by the Spirit of the living God so that I was able to move forward and make it through the day.  Don’t ask me how that works because I am not theologian enough to explain it.  I only know it happened.

Well, here it is 2011 and Julie and I still call each other twice a week at 6:30 am to share our praises and our concerns.  I wish I had an explanation for this too, how we two flawed, struggling, imperfect women have managed to hold onto this prayer discipline for six years.  The only answer can be the Faithful God who imparts His very being into us at the new birth, has lavishly grown the Fruit of the Spirit in us and made us faithful.  Julie will tell you, like I do here, this is not because of us but because of God!

So the week before Thanksgiving, we make our prayer time a remembering time to give thanks.  We look back over our lists of prayer requests (I keep mine in a notebook) and see how God has answered time after time after time.  I am amazed at God’s goodness every single year we have done this.  Yesterday was our call day.  Julie began with her praises first, and I was nodding my head in affirmation remembering the prayers we had prayed and the answers that had come.  Oh how good God has been! 

Then I began my list as I cried through most of it:

  • for my Dad, still alive and stronger than he was a year ago and Esther who has cared for him and been strengthened to do it.
  • for Bill who has come through three surgeries this year, still has the fight to get well, thanking God for His goodness.
  • that we have managed to pay for many unexpected household and vehicle expenses this year.
  • for work that brings me joy and respite and for my boss who has been so supportive though my erratic and unpredictable work schedule because of being in the hospital with Bill or at home during recuperation time.
  • for people who brought food and brought food and brought food to feed us.  They have no idea how very much it was needed on so many days when I had no more strength left.
  • for the staff at Caretenders who have tenderly and professionally provided nursing care and assistance with daily needs.
  • that my own body and mind have been strengthened to do much more than I thought possible.
  • for family who have loved me and supported me.
  • for friends who have sent cards and called us, who have told us they are praying for us.
  • for the weekly prayer calls with Julie which has been a life line to Heaven for me.
  • for being able to communicate by Facebook and cell phone, keeping me in touch with loved ones far away.
  • for my son, his sweet wife, and my three precious grandchildren being settled in Tulsa where he has work he enjoys and a home to shelter them.

Some things on  my list have been difficult to deal with this year.  I feel like I have come through 2011 kicking and screaming, while being dragged along into the will of God.  I have looked to Him often and said, “I know you must have a plan for all of this even though I don’t like it and it hurts a lot.”

Yet, He has been more faithful than I, faithful when I was not, faithful in spite of me.

The Lord is good.  His love is everlasting.  His mercies are new each morning.  He pours out grace upon grace.  And He is such a faithful God.

I need to give Him thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  It puts my life in better perspective, reminding me that I am not in charge here, that He is working all things – all things – for my good and for His purpose which is far greater than I can understand.

Giving Him thanks on purpose should not be just a yearly tradition.  It should be my daily practice.  He is God, and He will do what He wants to do.  Mine is not to understand.  Mine is to trust, to believe, to pray, to give thanks to my Father Who does all things well.

A gentle reminder

 

This week I randomly picked the book of Ephesians to read at my early morning quiet time.  

When I’m not in a group Bible study with a particular passage to survey, I am free to go where the Spirit leads. I came to a halt at verse 12 of chapter 1. This is how it read in my Amplified Bible:

So that we who first hoped in Christ – who first put our confidence in Him – have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of His glory.” (emphasis mine)

I was struck down by those words and began to meditate on them. Right there at that very verse, I had penciled in a date, 1-23-10, almost exactly a year from this day.

Hum, the same book of the Bible and the same verse captured my thoughts in January. Something is up. I wanted to go back to last year’s journal writing and see what was going on with me then.

Sure enough, on January 23, 2010, I had recorded my thoughts. Here is a portion of what I wrote:

What would it look like if I lived out my daily activity for the praise of His glory?

I’m stumped and stymied by that heart question this early morning. I try to be pleasant and put on my best face and behavior at work and with my piano students. My work and performance evaluation reflect my attitude for sure, and I want a good reflection. Even one of my goals is to ‘leave them smiling’ whether that’s a checkout person at Kroger or the optical assistant at Lens Crafters. What if I did that in the deeply intimate confines of my home – with Bill each day? What if I determined to leave him smiling each morning and came home with my most cheerfulness each evening. What if he so looked forward to my home-coming because I reflected the joy of the Lord within me?”

It would seem that I am still a work in progress; otherwise why would the Holy Spirit bring me back around to that mountain again?

I must confess there are long days at work, and I come home weary and worn out. I’ve given the best I have to other people. Sometimes when I come home, I’m just given out. I’m not sure that is a good enough excuse to allow me to grump and grumble as soon as I walk into my home.

Home should be a refuge, a safe place, a sanctuary for Sweet William and me. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a tilt-a-whirl and a roller coaster.  

So once again in January 2011, I pray a prayer from last year.

Oh, Father, I pray for a Son-shiny day in my heart today. I can determine all I want to, but unless Your strength is exerted in me, I am helpless and hopeless. I am asking for bread this morning, not candy or frivolous stuff. Bread that gives strength and nourishes my very soul. Bread that only You can supply. Bread that will make my inner woman strong and able to live a life pleasing to You all day long.”

And I add one last request this Janaury 2011.

Let me live for the praise of Your glory!

The privilege of worship

    I am continuing my thoughts on worship today, having written about Epiphany and the gift of worship in a previous blog post. 

    On a typical Sunday morning, Sweet William and I will be found at Little Flock Ministry Center on Sundays at 8:45 am.  Bill likes to arrive early, take his seat and chat with our friend Bob who always sits behind us.  Even in a large church, we find our small group, our community of believes and familiar faces.

A little before 9 am, the band begins to play the prelude.  The worship team walk out on the stage and “worship” begins.  At least it begins in form.  How often have I stood up for the songs only to be distracted by thoughts of last week, plans for next week, questions about what is for lunch today, or observations of people coming in the sanctuary and finding their places.

I may be standing up on the outside, singing songs with my voice, but where is my heart?  Is that really worship?

One such Sunday, I had an “epiphany,” an insight into the meaning of worship, a moment of  revelation.  I began to wonder at this amazing privilege called worship.  How marvelous it is to enter into the very presence of God with my praise and adoration!

My understanding of the Jewish rules of temple worship tells me the place for the Gentile was far off from the center of it all, not in the closer arena of the chosen people of God, and definitely not near the sanctuary where the priests were serving.  The opportunity to enter the Holy of holies was zero to none.   Only the high priest entered that special place on the one day of the year set aside for the Day of Atonement.    

I let that thought sink in and then consider where I am standing today.  I am being led in a worship experience by singers and band members, proclaiming loudly and in harmony that we are in the presence of Jehovah.  And I am in awe.  The Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and earth, the One who holds the universe and all of time in His hand, has extended His heart to me and invites me to come in.  The invitation is written in Hebrews 4:16.  It reads:

” . . . let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” (HCSB)

Boldness is interpreted as being fearless and confident.

Take in those words. You and I can come to our Father’s throne room without fear and with complete confidence of being accepted because we are His children, purchased with the precious blood of Jesus.  We are members of the family, and family doesn’t need another invitation.  They are always welcome around the Father’s table.

The Jewish law instructed the people to come into Jehovah’s presence with an offering or a gift.  I read in places like Exodus 23:15 and 34:20 that God told them not to come empty-handed.

As a new covenant believer, I don’t bring the blood of bulls or goats, I don’t bring a meal or a drink offering.  What I do bring is my sacrifice of praise.  That is my gift to Him, my worship.  Just like the wise men, it should be what I offer first.

Standing there in the pew at church I realize I am afforded the greatest benefit, the most enviable of all invitations, “Come unto Me.”

I answer that request and I come, bringing my heartfelt praise, my adoration, my thanksgiving and worship. May I never take this precious privilege for granted.

Tell me about your worship experience.  Please leave a comment.