December 30, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Year-in-Review Photo Slideshow

Good day, friends!  Since I missed last week, I thought I'd pop in today with one more tradition I've done for the last several years.  On New Year's Eve or Day, we watch a simple slideshow of photos from the year to remind us of all we've done and been through together.  Ideally, I should make these shows into photo albums, though I never get that organized.

All I do to produce this amazing show is go through our digital photos day by day and copy a handful from each month into a folder within the photo program.  When I'm done, I can open the folder and we can watch a slideshow of the photos, because the program allows me to do that.  My husband knows how to get it to play on the tv for us.  I am technically unknowledgable - not challenged, because I probably could learn if if I needed to, but I don't because he does and  always takes care of it.  Good man!

Aaaaanyway, just wanted to share this fun and simple way to enjoy remembering your family's year together.  If you have young children, it is also fun to see how much they've changed over one short year.  For example, Katherine's hair January 2014 and December 2014:

I'm cooking up ideas for 2015 for Life in the Valley.  I'll probably only have the resources and time to make 10% of them happen, but that's more than no percent, right?

Happy end of 2014 to you!  I hope that if you get a chance to sift through your photos, the Lord reminds of you of how faithful He has been to you and fills your heart with thanksgiving.

December 25, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: Anticipation and Longing

Merry Christmas!  The day has finally arrived and I'll be brief since I know many of you will be busy with family and friends today.  I do pray that this is a day touched by joy for each of you.  I know Christmas is not a happy day for all, but I know that even in grief, pain, and sorrow the Lord can wrap us in His peace and hope.  I am praying for you all as I write.

Over the course of Advent, I have been following a few reading plans and on this final 'Interacting with Christmas' Thursday, I want to share with you something that has stood out to me.

There were many who waited and prayed
with great anticipation and longing
for the promised Messiah.

Do you know of Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna?  You can read their stories in the early chapters of Luke.  They not only believed in God, but they held Him to is promises and spent time in worship and prayer asking the Lord to bring consolation to Israel, to bring the Light of salvation.

Yesterday I was reading a short reflection on Mary by Martin Luther and as he was talking about what Mary might have been doing when the angel came to her to announce that she would be the mother of God.  He said, Quite possibly Mary was doing housework when the angel Gabriel came to her.  Angels prefer to come to people as they are fulfilling their calling and discharging their  office. ... Possibly, however, the Virgin Mary, who was very religious, was in a corner praying for the redemption of Israel.  During prayer, also, the angels are wont to appear.  Again, I was prompted to meditate on how much the people of Israel longed and prayed for the coming Messiah.

We have the blessed privilege of knowing the whole story of Jesus' earthly life!  It is the best news a person can hear and embrace.  The Light has come into the darkness and prisoners can be set free.  Hallelujah!!

But did you know the story is not over?  Jesus, God with us, departed with another promise:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to he place where I am going. ... I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  John 14:1-4 & 6
In short, Jesus is coming back!  We know the Lord's salvation, but we are not yet with Him forever. We still struggle daily against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We can join Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, and Mary in anticipation and longing, not for our Savior's arrival, but for His return, our day to join Him in glory.

God started making promises to His people in the Garden of Eden.  So far, He has fulfilled all of them.  Let us be found longing for and anticipating His return when the final promise comes to pass!

Christmas is only the beginning  Jump on board the A & L - anticipation and longing - train, because our Lord who came first as a baby will come again, riding on the clouds, in His full glory as King of kings and Lord of lords!

Merry Christmas!

*Sorry I missed Tradition Tuesday this week.  We were already with family and I decided not to make the time. Leaves something for next year!

December 18, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: It's Simple Really

Yesterday I finished up James Mongomery Boice's, The Christ of Christmas.  What an excellent read.  The book is a collection of sermons he preached between 1969 and 1982.  I find it to be a perfect balance of Biblical scholarship, passion for Christ, and love for the world.  Boice expands the reader's perspective on and understanding of different aspects of the Christmas story, while also challenging him/her to connect with be changed by the Lord, the Christ of Christmas.

During this year's read through, of all the wonderful thoughts and ideas presented, I was struck most by a paragraph early in the book.  It reads as follows:
Christians can know that they are of God by their conviction that Jesus is indeed God's Son.  John puts it in formula form: "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us" (I John 4:15-16).  "Jesus is the Son of God" becomes the confession by which one can tell whether or not he is a Christian.   (p 21)
Boice's words brought forth a sigh of relief from my soul.  In the Christmas season, we can feel like we need to conjure up all kinds of Christmas spirit and, worse, like we're supposed to have some fantastic spiritual experience to top it off.  We make Christmas about works and the law, the very thing Christ came to fulfill and save us from!

Do you believe Jesus is God's Son?  Son of the Most High, as Gabriel called Him when speaking with Mary?  Then you are a Christian.

As a loved, forgiven, justified, and adopted child of the Most High through His Son, you are free from making your faith and your Christmas more complicated, and more about your abilities and accomplishments, than they need to be.  You are also free to daily give thanks to the Lord for His gift of salvation through the Christ of Christmas and the Christ of the Cross, (to borrow the title of another of Boice's books).  You are free to love God and your neighbor as you feel the Spirit lead.  You are free to repent and believe the Good News: Jesus is the Son of God and He came to the world to save sinners like you and me!

If you have never considered the Bible's claims and Jesus's claims that He is the Son of God, this Christmas season is the perfect time to do so.  Grab a Bible, grab a Christian friend, and read through the book of John together and then John's letters 1, 2, and 3.  Let this be the merriest Christmas you have ever known because your burden is lifted and your soul set free for the very first time!

"If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in him and he in God.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us."

Dear reader, it's simple really.  Rely not on your Christmas spirit.  Rely not on your ability to create the best Christmas ever.  Rely not on your good behavior or good deeds to outweigh the bad.  Rely not on your resources or lack thereof to provide.  Rely on the love God has for you!

God uses Christmas as much as Easter to remind us that our only hope is
to rely on the love He has for us.
And how reliable that love is.

Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Cookies!

I like cookies.  I enjoy making cookies,  I love eating cookies.  I delight in sharing cookies, as long as it's not the last one, of course.  So over the years we have developed a couple of cookie traditions: delivering cookies to neighbors and hosting a small sugar cookie decorating party.

Delivering Cookies

As you can see from the photo, we have an arsenal of cookies that we like to make this time of year.  Naturally, part of the motivation is my desire to eat them!  But the other is to love our neighbors with some baked treats.  For the last several years the kids and I have assembled little bags, boxes, or plates of cookies and gone door to door delivering them.  We have lived a couple of different places and I have found this to be a great way meet neighbors.  Wouldn't you know, other people like cookies just like I do!

Yesterday we dropped off a plate to a neighbor up our hill who we don't often see because she's had a difficult year with her health.  As we were leaving she said, 

Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven!

I thought that quote was so sweet, and I was touched to know that she got the spirit behind us sharing a plate of cookies.

Cookie Decorating Party

The other tradition we've had going for many years is inviting friends to decorate sugar cookies with us. Cookie decorating time was always an event at our house when I was young and I still love it.  It is even more fun with friends!  We bake up some cookies, whip up some frosting, set out the sprinkles and the kids take care of the rest.  What a sticky, sprinkley, happy time it is!  Afterward, everyone has a plate of cookies to take home and share with their families.

Have you been enjoying traditions with your family this year?  Do any involve inviting and gathering or meeting and greeting to strengthen or initiate relationships?  I think the reason these cookie traditions are some of my favorites is because they involve people beyond our immediate family.  (And, yes, also because I love cookies!)  Baking might not be your thing, but maybe you have a gift with crafting or music that you could share, or some other ability or resources you can use to start a new loving-others tradition this year.  After all, Christmas is all about God inviting us into relationship with Him through His Son, loving us beyond measure!  With minimal effort, using gifts He gave us, we can share that love with others.

December 11, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: Repentance

Good Thursday to you!  Isn't it remarkable how quickly the weeks go by, especially in the last month of the year?  Today has sneaked up on me, despite having a topic in mind for today's post since Saturday.

How are you doing?  Are you embracing the holy joy of the Christmas season, worshiping the Lord with gladness for His gift to you in Christ?

Let me tell you something, last week I was not.  I was a bear, a big, growling, grumpy grizzly of a bear.  I mentioned last week that I was feeling defeated by my sin and that was stealing my joy.  But to be honest, I wasn't just feeling defeated by my sin, I was wading around in it and refusing to get out of its septic waters.  Consequently, I was unpleasant to be around because all I could do was complain and command.  I was 100% focused on my discontent and lack of control over every. little. detail.

For example, I had had cleaning up this room on my to do list for weeks.  But I never seemed to be able to get to it and I really didn't want to have to deal with it.  This room became a metaphor for my week:

There is much talk nowadays of being thankful and using gratitude to transform your attitude.  I agree with much of these encouragements and know the transformation such a practice can bring.  But I also think expressing thanks can be too temporary a solution.  Last week I needed to do more than look around and say to myself, Look at all you have to be thankful for, Heather.  I was walking in the foolishness of unrepentance.  I needed to confess my sins and be forgiven.  I needed to repent and believe the good news of the Gospel!

Like that room, I was a mess.
The mess needed to be addressed!

Saturday morning I sat down for my quiet time feeling as heavy laden as each of the previous days of the week, but this time I felt the Spirit say to my heart, Heather, just say you're sorry.  Confess your sin and be free.

Wowzers, what a difference that made!  Of course God knew all along that I was wading around in foolishness when I could have been running around in freedom.  In those moments I finally saw that I had been acting toward God all week the way that my two-year-old acts at her worst: demanding, whiny, and  ungrateful.  To say it in the word that I recorded in my journal: bratty.

After a few paragraphs of confession, my burden was lifted.  I was able to pray sincerely for others, what with my eyes pulled away from my own navel and all!  And I asked the Lord for a verse to take with me into the day.  Here it is, image taken from here:

The word that caught my eye?  LET!  LET the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

I had been doing no such thing.  I had been letting - allowing, permitting - all things contrary to the Gospel rule in my heart, when the PEACE OF CHRIST had a rightful place there.  I needed to LET GO of those things, be forgiven, and then LET THE PEACE OF CHRIST RULE IN MY HEART.

Allowing anything else to rule in my heart is a disaster.  Allowing anything else to rule in your heart is a disaster, too.  Child of God, let the peace of Christ rule in your heart today.  God deals with the mess of the other stuff we let rule there by the blood of that very Christ.

O Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

You know what else happened on Saturday?

With a heart set free, my hands were set free!  Hearts that are set free are those that know forgiveness.  The Lord makes the way to forgiveness.  The chasm between us was was too wide to be bridged by good deeds or pedigree, but not too wide for the arms of Love with hands pierced for our transgressions.  Those arms entered the world on the first Christmas as angels announced the news to shepherds and a star caught the eye of learned men.

Do you know Him?
John the Baptist said of him, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Have you turned to Him in repentance and received eternal life?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Will you let His peace rule in your heart this Christmas? 

Repent and believe the Good News!

Merry Christmas, friends!

December 9, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Cutting Snowflakes

I read once in a Reader's Digest or something, about a family who had the tradition of always taking a walk together on the first snow of the year.  If you live in a place where it snows, you know the quiet that settles on a place when snow has fallen.  It is so peaceful, not to mention beautiful.

I liked their idea and thought it would be fun to have a first-snow tradition of our own.  So for a several years now, on the first snow of the year, we drink hot chocolate and make snowflake cut-outs.  Then we hang them around the house on ribbons or in the window.  The kids love it, producing their age-appropriate designs with enthusiasm and sometimes frustration as they elarn.  My husband always makes one or two unbelievably beautiful snow flakes using his extensive knowledge of symmetry and by taking his time.  (He is more patient than I am!)

We have seen a little snow this year, but it was before Thanksgiving, so we didn't do cut-outs yet.  But there is promise of snow in a couple of days.  Last year, we didn't do our cut-outs until winter was almost over!  Sometimes life is like that.  Traditions bring depth to our experience with family and friends, but they don't need to be so rigid that they cause turmoil!

Do you have any snowy or wintery traditions?  Maybe you go skiing every New Year's Day or something amazing like that.  Can I come?!  Or maybe you live in a place where there it never snows.  Do you do anything to mark the winter season?  I'd love to hear what your families do in the Christmastime/winter season.  Feel free to share!

December 7, 2014

A Reminder about the Refuge

Since we're a week away, now, from the Running to the Refuge series.  I wanted to remind you and me of something very important using a handy-dandy diagram:

It is Sunday.  Run to the Refuge in communion with other believers!

December 4, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: Holly-Jolly and Holy Joy

Since on Tuesdays through December I will be sharing about holiday traditions our family enjoys, I thought I would reserve Thursdays for more serious reflection on Christmas.  Don't get me wrong, I am serious about traditions!  But making this season one of special focus is much more than a basket of picture books, cutting paper snowflakes, or even showing up for the Christmas Eve service.  So on Thursdays, let's interact with Christmas!

In this interactive experience you will be granted access to the inner-workings of my brain as I try to process through the holly-jolly and get to real joy.  You know, I really love the holly-jolly - Christmas lights, Salvation Army bells ringing, the background music of carols, shopping for gifts - but maintaining the 'merry and bright' attitude of my own volition for an entire month is pretty much impossible.  Can I get an amen?


Part of my problem this week is that I don't want to have to do any obligatory work.  I came off of a week of Thanksgiving vacation wishing we could go straight into our two week Christmas break!  But that is not real life.  And if Christmas is going to make a difference it has to intersect with real life, not be a happy blip of celebration in an otherwise dull existence.

Joy of joys, and Hope of hopes, Christmas does intersect with real life and can enliven not only our celebration in December, but each day of the year.

One of our pastors was teaching Sunday school this past Sunday morning and was asking us to apply the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace" passage to our lives, so we can give testimony to who Christ is and what He does when we interact with people this Christmas.  Cool idea, huh?  If knowing Christ is not changing our lives, how can we tell others about how He can transform theirs?
Please join me this week in asking yourself, How have I known the Lord as my Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace?

A second part of my struggle this week is feeling very defeated by my sin.  I am proud.  That leads to either judging others or envying them, and feeling very insecure.  I am impatient.  That leads to quick anger with my children, husband, and others.  I am un-self-conrolled.  That leads to over-eating and laziness.

I am a sinner.  That needs to be led to a Savior.

Thank God it is Christmastime!

She will give birth to a son,
and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.

That is what the angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, recorded in Matthew 1.  This is my very most favorite Christmas-story verse.

Christmas is so much more than holly-jolly.  It is holy joy!  Jesus came to save His people from their sins!!
Please join me this week in meditating on this truth when your sin threatens to undo you and satan is accusing you with all he's got.

In the midst of every-day life, with its less-than-thrilling routines and frequent uncertainties, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace is present and unchanging.  In the face of our sin, Christmas reminds us that we are redeemed because love came down and went from the manger to the cross, then rose to life and will come again.

Please join me in clinging tightly to hope this Christmas.
May our hearts be filled with holy joy!

December 2, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Christmastime Book Basket

This month you won't be hearing from me every day at Life in the Valley, but I thought it would be fun to have some regular posting.  On Tuesdays in December, I will share one of our holiday season traditions.  Traditions give kids and other family members a sense of belonging and security in a world that is often unwelcoming and uncertain.  I fondly remember traditions we had in our home  when I was growing up, especially during this season of the year, like picking a tree at a local lot, sleeping by the fireplace trying to catch Santa, outdoor ice skating at Schenley Park, or making new years resolutions in "resolution booths" made out of couch cushions.

Now my husband and I have a family of our own and have created our own set of traditions, that I add to whenever I want!  What thrills me as a mom now is that our oldest anticipates and knows our traditions; for her they are part of life and she is disappointed when we can't make them happen.  She also gets the younger two excited about our family traditions - a delight to my heart!

Okay, enough of my bubbling over about how much I love traditions and the depth they add to a family's experience together.  Here's one I stole I think from Kristen Kill, who I met at an intensive at Sally Clarkson's house, blogs at HopewithFeathers, and is all around amazing!  She shared once that she had a basket of books that came out only in the Christmas season, a collection of carefully selected stories related to the time of year.  IT IS SO FUN!

We pack up the books with the Christmas decorations in the new year, then bust them back out again just after Thanksgiving!

The book basket!

Reading right away when the books came out this year!

When we first started, I collected whatever Christmas or winter-themed books we had and packed them up post Christmas.  Then I started buying each of the kids a new book for the collection each year, given on the first day of Advent.  One day when they leave the nest, they'll each have a small collection of stories to take along with them.

This year's books ready for their recipients.

Opening time!

That concludes the first installment of Tradition Tuesday.  I have a few more up my sleeve for you this December.  Many of the ideas I have stolen or adapted from others.  I would love to hear some of your favorite holiday traditions; I just might idea-steal from you next!

December 1, 2014

Three Advent Resources

The season of Advent began yesterday and since I was finishing up the series, I didn't mention it; I was saving that for today!

Here are few things you might like to read this month.  The first is a Bible study you can jump in on today.  Head over to Love God Greatly and subscribe to get their three weekly emails or 'like' their Facebook page.  They have a free Advent Bible study going on that I'm going jump in on too.  It's a few readings a week, with a couple of optional readings to add, and three blog posts (M-W-F) to enhance the study.  The study is called The Road to Christmas and focuses on women in the story with these four themes - Waiting: Overcoming Shame, Willing: Social Outcasts, Wanting: to serve and Glorify, Wishing: to See the Glory of God.  When you subscribe, you'll receive the blog posts in emails, the resources are available for download at the bottom of those messages.  This is the first week's reading plan:

Resource number two is a book edited by Nancy Guthrie called Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.  It is a collection of sermons by well-known preachers, past and contemporary, on Christmas topics.  I have read it every year for many years.  It is a gem and worth having in your collection.  You can order it through Amazon.

And, finally, resource number three: The Christ of Christmasby James Montgomery Boice.  Boice put together this book from Christmas sermons preached over more than a decade.  He is a wonderful Bible scholar and a passionate lover of Jesus Christ.  I started into this one yesterday and already have so much to ponder!

There you are, a few resources that will help to keep your focus on Christ this Christmas season.
Have a good week!

PS  I have a few simple things up my sleeves for this month, not every day, but at least twice a week.  Stay tuned!

November 30, 2014

Running to the Refuge {Day 30}: Worship and Rest and ... Giveaway Winner!

This is the final post in a month-long series.  Catch up on the whole series here.

Since I have given you a song each Sunday, I can't pass on doing that this week.  This hymn is a perfect match for a Refuge study, don't you think?  The first verse of this version is classic with an organ, then it gets a little jazzy.  Lyrics below, for your edification and to make you scroll a little further to find out if YOU are the winner of this month's giveaway!

A Mighty Fortress is Our God
by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Now about that giveaway ...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a part of this series, readers.  I appreciate you and pray for you.

Would you like to know who our winner is?!  I have to confess that I am very excited for a couple of reasons.

1. I don't personally know this reader, and I think this is the first time someone I don't know in real life has won a giveaway.  Woo-hoo!

2. She had a wonderful testimony to how God used this series to encourage and sustain her (check it out in the comments on this post.

Without further ado ....

This is our highly sophisticated system, names on paper in a bowl.

Making her selection.

And AMY is our winner!

Shoot me an email with your mailing address by clicking the 'contact me' button under my picture on the right,
and I'll get your gift on its way asap.

November 29, 2014

Running to the Refuge {Day 29}: Refuge Wrap-up

Hi, friends!  Welcome to the end of the Running to the Refuge series.  This is the place where I feel I am supposed to say something profound to leave you thinking for days.  Not sure I have that, but I can give you a summary of the series and trust the Lord will give you something good to chew on.

First thing: Running to the Refuge is simply trusting in the Lord.  We run to the Refuge when we acknowledge that God is what we need and all we need.  We run to the Refuge when we turn to God and forsake all other gods.

Now, let's take a tour of where we have been over the past four weeks!  Each week had its own special theme with sub-topics:

  • Week one, God is a Refuge of God is the best refuge because He is eternal, He saves, He loves us, He is strong, He delivers, and He is faithful.  I began with this theme, because running to the Refuge is easier when we know the Refuge is trustworthy and able to protect and shelter us.  God is!

  • Week two, God is a Refuge from enemies, trouble, danger, judgment, death, and shame.  This week's theme brought me to the conclusion that "God is a refuge from all that might assail us physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally."  (quote from Day 17)
  • Week three, God is a Refuge in weariness, uncertainty, grief, loneliness, the mundane, and sin.  When we are in the depths of the realities of life this side of heaven, God is our Refuge in every circumstance.  I only hit on a few, but hoped that this week of posts got you thinking about how God is a Refuge in every imaginable situation.
  • Week four, God is a Refuge unto praise, blessing, testimony, thanksgiving, and growth.  We don't run to the Refuge and hunker down until heaven.  Nope!  God has great things for us to be and do under His care.  Our sure and safe position with our Refuge frees us to worship, grow, and minister.

I wish I could say reading through this four-week study means we've all been able to master running to the Refuge!  I can't.  But I can say this, as I did on day 20:

If anything has been strengthening my faith from this study, it is a broader view of how complete a refuge God is because of how richly, deeply, tenderly, and abundantly He loves me.  Loves you.  Loves all who trust Him.

God is a complete refuge.  He hems us in before and behind, above and below, and He trains and equips us to live as restored refugees!  In running to the Refuge we receive more than we could ask for or imagine, so we can give more than we ever thought we could.

My hope and prayer is that these four weeks have strengthened your faith and intensified your resolve to run to the Refuge from start to finish of every day.  May God bless and keep you as you do.  He is able!

*     *     *     *     *

Don't neglect to get your name in to win these two lovely Refuge-reminders
by leaving a comment on today's post or this one!

November 28, 2014

Running to the Refuge {Day 28}: Refuge unto Growth

Today is my final single-topic day in the Running to the Refuge series.  Tomorrow I will write a conclusion post and Sunday announce the giveaway winner.  Don't forget to throw your name in the hat before tomorrow night!  Click here to read the details and leave a comment.  I cannot believe how fast November has come and gone, nor can I believe how much I have enjoyed writing this series.  Thinking about running to the Refuge has actually led me to more running to the Refuge!  I would love to hear about whether it has done the same for you.

You know, reflecting on how this series, i.e. on how God has used His Word and Truth about who He is to challenge and shape me this month, gives me a great idea for today's topic.  Thank you, Lord! Not only will it make for a good post, but it is also a subject near and dear to my heart: Spiritual Growth.

Did you know you can go to church your whole life, do many dutiful Christian things, and know lots of Bible stories, but not grow a bit in your faith?  I'll bet some of you have life stories that attest to that.  Parts of my life story do.

When I was young what I heard was, Believe in Jesus; He'll forgive your sins.  Then get your act together and live like a good Christian.  I don't think this is what was being said, but it is what my proud heart heard.  The first part is certainly true!  The second part was what my sinful heart believed and clung to, that I could work hard to make myself a good person.  But that is not how our Refuge works!

The Lord invites us to run to Him for Refuge, and under His wings He protects us and trains us.  We don't pop in for a short visit, we take up residence in our Refuge.  Forever.  In His mighty fortress we find Refuge from sin and death and from this world's challenges and ills.  In His presence we learn how to live here by faith, not by sight.  He transforms us from darkness lovers to light embracers!

When the Lord got a hold of me and got through my thick skull with the full truth that I need Him for both salvation and growth, my life started to change, really change, for the first time in my life.  I am still amazed at His goodness.

Would you like to look more like God and be a better reflection of Christ in the world?  Stay close to the Refuge!  Don't try to make yourself look more like Him; instead, spend more time being with Him and thinking about Him, especially your daily, hourly, minutely desperate need for Him.  Remember that His Spirit lives in you!  You have access to God at any moment because of Christ's blood and the presence of the Spirit in your heart.  Let your mind be blown by this truth and let your soul be at rest because of this truth.

Jesus talked about this comparing our relationship to Him as that of a branch to a vine and God as the vinedresser, John 15:1-5.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

Do you want to grow in your faith?  Run to the Refuge and stay put!  A broken-off branch cannot bear fruit, but a grafted branch can thrive when connected to a healthy, well-tended vine.  What goodness, kindness, gentleness, and patience we encounter when we run to the Refuge!  How our Lord wants to see us grow and bear fruit!

I have some ideas for you of how to get started/keep growing on this page, or maybe you would enjoy the series on the spiritual disciplines.  Run to the Refuge, set up camp, and keep asking the Lord to speak to you and transform you as you walk with Him through all your days.  He will shape you by His grace and in His time, giving you more reasons to love, praise, thank, and live for Him!

***Don't forget to get your name in for the giveaway here!***

November 27, 2014

Running to the Refuge {Day 27}: Refuge unto Thanksgiving

I am nearing the end of this month-long series.  Catch up on previous posts here.

In America today we celebrate Thanksgiving, a national day to give thanks.  It stems from celebration that the Pilgrims shared with Native Americans long before America became a nation.  God had provided miraculous help for the Pilgrims through Squanto and the Wampanoag tribe.  The harvest was plentiful.  They wanted to celebrate.  They invited Squanto and chief Massasoit and ninety of the tribe came for the three-day celebration!  There was so much to be thankful for.  They had food to eat.  Babies had been born.  Houses were standing.  They were worshiping as they desired.  God had sustained them through their first year in New Plymouth, a year that ended bountifully but was also marked with sorrow.  They had buried half of those who came across the ocean seeking freedom.  Half.  Yet they gave thanks on that first Thanksgiving celebration.

I admire those Pilgrims and the strength of their faith, bodies, and spirits.  I learn from them about enduring and trusting God, running to the Refuge, when it seems like all hope is lost.  I am grateful for the many accounts of their story.

Did you know that God was preparing Squanto to be able to help them years before they hit the shores of modern-day Massachusetts?  He had two journeys across the ocean to Europe and learned English.  The second time he returned home, his tribe had been wiped out by sickness, but the Wampanoag took him in.  I find the story astounding, and a testimony to the ways God is preparing to take care of us long before we know how desperately we might need specific care!

So here are today's questions.  Are you giving thanks today?  If yes, fantastic!  All kinds of psychological studies attest to the value of the practice of thanks giving.  Second question, to whom are you giving thanks today?  Scripture teaches us that there is an Object of our thanksgiving.  We give thanks to God.  We take refuge in Him and he provides for us, not only materially, but, more importantly, spiritually.

On Sunday, our pastor reminded us not only to give thanks for good things in our lives, but to remember what God has done for us in Christ.  You see, the Bible teaches us that our biggest problem is not what we will eat or what we will wear.  Our most dire need is not external; it's internal.  Our hearts are a mess.  We are separated from our Creator.  Sin rules our lives whether we know it or not.

But God!

The Creator made the way for reconciliation so that we could again have a relationship with Him and have LIFE!  (Hebrews 10:19-25) If we have Jesus, we have reason to be thankful every minute of every day.

As I have shared here on this blog many a time, we do not always live thankful.  We're not in paradise with our Lord yet.  But no matter what is happening around us, if we are in Christ we are new creations and nothing can separate us from our God.  We are loved, beyond our wildest dreams.  Indeed, we can give thanks.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.
His love endures forever.

to the One who remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies,
His love endures forever.
and who gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136: 1, 23-26

Running Orders:
  • Read Psalm 136 today, maybe at your Thanksgiving table!
  • Direct all of your Thanksgiving to God today.  He is the Giver.  Don't just say, "I am thankful for ..."  Practice saying, "I am thankful to God for ...."
  • Have a happy Thanksgiving!

**Don't forget to toss your name into the hat for the giveaway
by leaving a comment here!**

November 26, 2014

Running to the Refuge {Day 26}: Refuge unto Testimony

This is day 26 of a month-long series.  Catch up on previous posts here.

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by your right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

These are words of Asaph from the end of Psalm 73.  I love how he describes God's relationship to him in the middle stanza.  He had found himself jealous of the wicked who seemed to be prospering all around him.  Then he enters the sanctuary of God (v. 17) and was reminded of the big picture and the sweetness of dwelling in the Refuge.  Then, he closes his song with the words, I will tell of all your deeds.

If you have run to the Refuge, or better said, if the Refuge has enabled you to run to Him in faith, you have a story to tell!  You have a testimony to the goodness, greatness, and majesty of God's saving love.  Asaph knew the stories of God's work on behalf of Israel, whether or not she deserved it.  He also knew the stories of God's work in his own life.  And he wanted to tell of God's deeds because it was so very good to be near God.

When we tell of God's deeds we extol Him and we extend an invitation to our hearers.  Hey, I've got this safe place and He's a person and here's what He has done in the world and in my life.  This hope is for you, too!  Look at God; He is amazing!!  And he loves YOU!!!

Testimony declares the glory of God and points others to Him.

But it does something else too, which was highlighted to me this morning when I read a friend's lament about the state of the world and her desire to get away from it, (a feeling to which I can often relate).  Here it is:

Testimony declares the glory of God and points us to Him.

We forget too easily the power of God to effect change in our hearts, in the hearts of others, and in the world.  Remembering and testifying to His deeds keeps our eyes pointed in the right direction, our minds meditating on truth, and our hearts at peace.

Testimony gives hope.
Testimony restores hope.

My friends, run to the Refuge this Thanksgiving weekend.  Our hearts and our flesh may fail, but God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.

Running Orders:

  • You know what I'm going to suggest, right?  Testify today!  Tell someone, your spouse, a friends, your kid(s), your parents, your neighbor, etc., about God's deeds.
  • Meditate on the verses above, Psalm 73:21-28, and ask God to speak to you from His Word.

**Don't forget to toss your name into the hat for the giveaway
by leaving a comment here!**

November 25, 2014

Running to the Refuge {Day 25}: Refuge unto Blessing

This is day 25 in a month-long series.  Catch up on previous posts here.

When I think about running to the refuge, I think primarily of the relief of the refuge, getting away from whatever it is from which I need protection.  This week, as we wrap up the series, I am moving us away from thinking only of our Refuge in that way, to meditating on what God has for us to do when we know Him as our Refuge.  What is He a refuge unto?

Yesterday, I shared about praising God.  He rescues, protects, shelters, and saves us.  We respond in praise and with rejoicing.  God has been so good to us!  Today, it's blessing.  God is our refuge unto blessing.  The blessing flows from God to us and from us to others.

Repeatedly the Psalmists talk about how good it is to take Refuge in the Lord, using the metaphors of being in the shelter of God's wings, on the rock that is their refuge, or in the walls of His strong fortress.   Trusting in the Lord, i.e. taking refuge in Him, is a safe place.  God has got not only our back, but our front, top, and bottom, too!

What is beautiful to me is that God not only provides protection, but Scripture gives the impression that He wants us to thrive and grow, prosper and flourish in His care.  As a parent to a child, God wants to bless us with good gifts.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23:5-6

God is our Refuge who meets far more than our basic needs.  He blesses us abundantly!

Talk with any Christian you know and I guarantee they have stories of undeserved goodness and love that have followed them as they have run to the refuge over the years.  The Lord is generous with His children.  He takes care of us, often in surprisingly delightful ways!

If I wanted to, I could quit this post here.  I say, "Isn't it great that the Lord blesses us when we take refuge in Him?"  You respond, "Yes,  It is so wonderful."  But let us not stop there.  Let us look at those outside the windows of our fortress-Refuge and at our fellow refugees inside our fortress-Refuge.  Then let us look at the ways God has blessed us as we have trusted in Him - could be with material things or wisdom gained, could be with healing or spiritual transformation.  Look back to the people; look again at your gifts from God.

Now, start building bridges between the two.

God blesses us because He loves us and wants to express that to those who have taken refuge in Him.  He also equips us with those blessings to share with those around us.

What good works does God have in store for you because you have run to Him as your refuge?  I don't know.  But I am sure that He has even more joy, hope, and peace for you that will come from drawing near to others and sharing with them the many gifts He has given you, because He is your Refuge.

Be a builder of blessing-bridges!
Share out of the abundance of your Refuge-God!

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess His name.  And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.  Hebrews 13:15-16

**Don't forget to toss your name into the hat for the giveaway by leaving a comment here!**