And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

spiderwortMy husband and I have been married for fifty years now and there’s not much that surprises me about him anymore. Even the surprise birthday celebration he planned for me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Oh, the way he managed to fool me into thinking I was just going to a business dinner—that truly was a surprise; that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 70th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After fifty years of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst; there’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. It’s not boring in the least; it is relaxed, pleasant and peaceful. Even though we usually know what to expect, as my birthday celebration proved, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through five decades, both my husband and I have changed to complement one another. God, however, doesn’t change and any changing that must be done is done by us, not by Him. As in any relationship, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice and to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts. The more we read God’s word, the more likely it is that our prayers will be in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to Jesus, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Him.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics or a way of life; it is a relationship with God and believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. We have to spend time in His presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for that relationship to flourish and grow. No relationship is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty years, I can ask myself, ”What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

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Peacocks - albinoThey [the Levites] are to stand every morning and evening to thank and praise the Lord. [1 Chronicles 23:30 (NLV)]

Several years ago, when my daughter and grand visited, we had a fun-filled day with excursions to both the botanic gardens and a private animal preserve. When offering grace over dinner, we thanked God for our meal and the many plants and animals we’d seen that day. Later that evening, I realized it wasn’t just the abundance and beauty of God’s creation for which I was thankful. I was grateful for the look of amazement on my grand’s face while petting an iguana and feeding a zebra, for the volunteer workers who make places like botanic gardens and animal refuges possible and for the donors who fund their cause. I was thankful for the people who rescue mistreated and abandoned animals and the grocery stores that donate food to feed those animals. I was thankful for Legos and the talented artist who created the delightful Lego sculptures at the gardens, the GPS that led us to the remote refuge, seeing peacocks with their beautiful plumage, and our laughter as we played silly card games after dinner. As the list continued, I realized how incredibly blessed we were, not just that particular day, but every day. After all, every day with which we’re blessed becomes an extraordinary day! The Levites were required to give thanks at least twice a day but twice a day hardly seems enough.

Father, forgive us when we fail to properly thank you for the many blessings in our lives. A few words are never enough to express our appreciation for the way you make our ordinary days so very extraordinary.

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A. W. Tozer]

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and sing praises to Your name, O Most High. It is good to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning, and of how faithful You are at night, with harps, and with music of praise. For You have made me glad by what You have done, O Lord. I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. [Psalm 92:1-4 (NLV)]

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We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)]

spiderwort - wild flowerIn C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the youngest child, Lucy Pevensie, happens upon an enchanted armoire and steps into the magical world of Narnia. Upon returning, she rushes to tell her siblings of her astonishing adventure. Hearing such a tall tale and finding no concrete proof of its truth, her older siblings assume the story to be a figment of her imagination. They take their concern over her falsehood to their wise elderly uncle. He cautions them to use logic and consider Lucy’s story carefully. He points out there are only three possibilities: either she’s lying, crazy or telling the truth. After pointing out that lies are usually more plausible than Lucy’s tale, he asks if she’s lied before. The children admit she’s always been truthful. After pointing out that none of Lucy’s behavior indicates mental illness, they all agree she can’t have gone mad. He then suggests that since she’s neither a liar nor crazy, they could consider the possibility that Lucy’s story is true.

Interestingly, this is the same line of reasoning Lewis uses in what is called the “Lewis trilemma” or his “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument found in Mere Christianity. Lewis uses this logical argument when people claim to believe in the existence of Jesus as a great moral teacher but not as God (which, unfortunately, many people do). Jesus talked as if He was God. He professed to be able to forgive sins and to be the only way to the Father. He claimed to have existed since the beginning of time, that He was a heavenly king who offered everlasting life, and would judge the world at the end of time. Lewis points out that we have only three choices about those fantastic claims: Jesus was either a liar who perpetrated a fraud, a madman with delusions of grandeur, or the Lord. The one thing Jesus couldn’t have been was just a principled man or an excellent teacher of morals and ethics! Jesus was either a very bad or troubled man or He was divine and exactly who He said He was!

There are many people who consider Jesus simply to be a Jewish version of Buddha or Socrates: a great man, filled with compassion and love, who had some profound and noble ideas. That whole Messiah/Son of God thing, however, just doesn’t sit well with them. We should remind them that neither Buddha nor Socrates claimed to be God; Jesus did! The Pevensie children soon learned the truth of Lucy’s claim and, hopefully, others will see the logic and truth of Jesus, as well!

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

The Father and I are one. [John 10:30 (NLT)]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. … Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. … And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. [John 14:6,11a,24b (NLT)]

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O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. [Psalm 139:1-3 (NLT)]

Doesn’t he see everything I do and every step I take? [Job 31:4 (NLT)]

security camerasImmanent and omniscient, God is everywhere and can see everything. When you think about it, that’s a bit disconcerting. Is God a voyeur who likes peeking at us in our most intimate moments? Is He similar to the paparazzi who try to capture celebrities in their most embarrassing ones? Like those ever-present security cameras or the traffic cop with his radar gun and ticket book, is He hoping to spot us doing something wrong or catch us breaking His law? My life is boring; why would God be interested in me?

Last month, fourteen of us were in our seats at the ballpark when a friend’s friend offered my husband and me two extra tickets. Unlike ours that were high and overlooking right field, they were in the eighth row directly behind home plate. We declined the generous offer because moving to those seats meant we wouldn’t be with the rest of the family. Watching the game really wasn’t our priority—being with family was! The purpose of the afternoon wasn’t the Cubs; it was watching the little girls get their hair French braided by an older cousin and hearing the big brother explain a walk-off home run. It was making sure no one got lost in the crowd or choked on a peanut. It was holding children on my lap, handing out water, and seeing the girls giggle while sharing secrets. It was laughing at the children’s antics and watching them cheer on the home team. It was seeing Grandpa wipe catsup off messy faces, Dad shepherd kids to the ice cream stand, and a little one fall asleep in his mother’s arms. That’s when I understood why God watches us. It’s not so He can act as a Heavenly hall monitor and catch us doing something wrong; it’s because He loves and cares about us! We are His precious children and He loves us as much as my husband and I love our family. That’s not to say God won’t correct us when necessary and there were a few moments that afternoon when we had to offer some correction to the youngsters. Nevertheless, we watched them because it gave us pleasure and I think God watches us for much the same reason.

I love watching the grands romp in the pool, build sand castles, play games, do their homework, snooze in the car seat, fly on the trapeze, perform in a show, jump on the trampoline and hang from the monkey bars not because they are exceptionally talented or beautiful (which, of course, they are). I watch them simply because they are mine and I love them. We are God’s children and, like a loving grandparent, He watches over us all because we are His and He loves us.

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. [Psalm 121:5-8 (NLT)]

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Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. [Psalm 37:4-5 (NLT)]

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. [Psalm 20:4 (NLT)]

oxeye daisy
What is it your heart desires? A photo safari in Africa or a river boat cruise along the Rhine? A paid-off mortgage or an enormous IRA? A private chef, personal trainer, maid or someone to chauffer the kids to their assorted activities? To be free of physical ailments or pain? A better paying job, longer vacation, or nicer boss? Better behaved children, a more loving spouse, or an abundance of friends? Are these the things our hearts desire or do we really desire the things that will accompany them—things like love, security, joy, serenity, a sense of well-being and peace? When we commit everything to the Lord, we will have those things, even without the luxury items, vacations, ideal situations, money or even the health.

Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to count anything else. [Woodrow Kroll]

Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. [Psalm 73:25 (NLT)]

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. He grants the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. [Psalm 145:18-19 (NLT)]

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I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased [Psalm 138:1-3 (ESV)]

blue flag irisI came across a book that offers 101 ways to say “Thank you.” It suggested ways to express one’s appreciation for milestone celebrations, business opportunities, help, social events, and assorted gifts. I didn’t think a thank you note for a blender was that much different than one for a vase or candlesticks but, apparently, the author does. There also were chapters devoted to topics like stationery, envelopes, and internet etiquette. One chapter offered a “thank you thesaurus” complete with several “glowing superlatives and energetic adjectives.”

Like the book’s author, I firmly believe in writing thank you notes and, for the most part, still write them by hand. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to believe anyone needs a 160-page book to help them express their thanks. Granted, I haven’t hosted a debutante charity ball nor have I received an ambassador’s invitation to a reception, so I probably travel in a different circle than the author. Nevertheless, if such occasions should arise, I now know where to find the perfect wording for my thanks.

Since the book also included ways to express thanks for opportunities, love, friendship, continued loyalty, for being there and for “saving me from myself,” I thought of prayer and all of the things for which we should thank God. While just about every reason to thank people was covered, the author missed some important ones when expressing thanks to God. There were no sample letters for what Paul might call thorns in the flesh—be they disappointments, illnesses, challenges, difficult people, or pain. After all, we are to give thanks in all circumstances, not just the ones we like!

While some of us may be etiquette-challenged, there’s no official protocol for thanking God. We certainly don’t need a thesaurus or a list of vivid superlatives and adjectives for our prayers. Since God is the one who does the mountain moving, we won’t need the author’s list of “power words that move mountains.” Moreover, we don’t need to know the “do’s and don’ts of using honorifics.” Although we should remember that Jesus does not have the middle initial of “H” and that God’s last name isn’t “Dammit,” simply addressing God by any one of his Biblical names works fine. I do agree with the author that our thanks should be specific; simply saying “thanks for the many blessings” is way too generic for our generous God. Even so, I think God already knows if the pink cashmere sweater looks fantastic with the new beige skirt or that the blender will be put to good use when we make our morning kale smoothie.

There are only two rules about giving thanks to God: first, we must do it! Praise and thanksgiving are to be a part of our lives—at all times and in all circumstances. Second, while our prayers of thanks probably don’t have to be as eloquent as David’s, they should be as frequent and as heartfelt.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)]

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [Colossians 2:6-7 (ESV)]

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