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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

Thank you Lord that you are a refuge, a fortress in times of distress. Thank you for the peace you provide in the midst of stressful situations. Take time today to give thanks to the Lord God for the blessings he has given you. If you are so inclined, make a comment on something you are thankful for this week.

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Thank you God for your infinite love and grace, for giving us renewal. Take time today to give thanks to the Lord God for the blessings he has given you. If you are so inclined, make a comment on something you are thankful for this week

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” – Psalm 100:4-5 (NIV)

Thanksgiving Day is everyday. Take time today to give thanks to the Lord God for the blessings he has given you. If you are so inclined, make a comment on something you are thankful for this week.

I was surprised last week to see Thanksgiving items in the store discounted 50-80 percent for clearance before Thanksgiving Day. It gave me a feeling that they were discounting the need to be thankful. Here in the States it seems the minute Halloween is over Christmas displays appear with holiday ads. Thanksgiving seems to get squeezed between two major holidays that generate major income for retailers.

It’s easy for me to grumble that our society isn’t taking time to give thanks. Yet I have to admit this time of year I tend to want to jump into the Christmas season before Thanksgiving Day. I need to remind myself to stop, slow down and take time for Thanksgiving; to thank God each day for the love and grace he has showered on me this year.

As the Christmas ads inundate us each day, urging us to “hurry” to get those great Black Friday deals, I encourage you to hit pause. Take time this Thursday to give thanks to God for his never ending faithfulness over the last year. Thanksgiving is a day to orient us toward thanking God for giving us salvation through his son Jesus.

I am thankful for all of you who take time to stop by this blog and read the posts. I appreciate the insight and encouragement you offer in your comments. As a reminder to continue to give thanks to God each week, now until the end of the year I will do a Thanksgiving Thursday scripture post. I encourage you to read the verse and take a moment to offer praise and thanksgiving to the God we serve.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” – Ephesians 1:15-16 (NIV)

I had anxiously waited for this day to come. With great anticipation I approached the building where I would finally get to tour the Hall of Fame. All the great heroes I had read about from young on were memorialized here.
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My guide greeted me at the door with a warm smile and presence that made me feel like we had been close friends for a long time. “Welcome,” he said as he opened the large ornate door and motioned for me to enter. I stepped through the entrance into a large lobby area with a polished marble floor and vaulted ceiling with a painting of the universe.
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“Ah,” my guide remarked as he observed me gazing upward. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible (Hebrews 11:3, NIV).” I nodded. “It’s important that you understand what we recognize here as greatness,” my guide continued.” I looked at him and said, “The great things they did for God.” My guide shook his head no. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” he explained. “This is what the ancients were commended for (11:1-2).”
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I frowned wondering what he meant. How could someone be commended for just having faith? All the other hall of fames I had visited recognized people for their deeds, their great accomplishments. My guide smiled and motioned for me to follow him through a modest wood door. We entered a dimly lit hall with small gallery lighting illuminating signs with names printed on them. “That’s it?” I exclaimed. “I came all this way to see a bunch of names on a wall?”
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My guide gently smiled and said, “Come, follow me.” As we walked past the names of so many of my heroes, my guide would stop at each one and explain. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (11:8).” At Moses, my guide said. “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (11:27).” 
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We continued down that long hallway as my guide told the stories of all the great names of the faithful. At the end of the hallway we walked around a corner into another long hallway and stopped. I stared at the walls, confused. “These walls are blank. Why?” My guide smiled at me with a gleam in his eye. “These walls are reserved for the faithful yet to come. There is a place for you if you choose to follow God in faith.” I frowned as he continued, “If you choose to persevere and run the race marked out for you (12:1).” He paused and placed his hand on my shoulder, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (12:2).”
#WednesdayWalk through the Bible — Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3.

I have often found comfort in Psalm 91 during traumatic times in my life, particularly verses 1-2: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (NIV).” Finding refuge and rest under his wing (verse 4) is a comforting image of God’s care and concern for us. But when I read Psalm 91 yesterday, the word “fortress” in verse 2 resonated with me.

As a fortress, God also defends us against the forces of evil. We need not be afraid because the arrows of the evil one bounce off the fortress of God that surrounds us (verse 5). We do not need to fear the evil that stalks us (verse 6). “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (verse 11).”

Verse 14 tells us God offers protection to those who acknowledge Him; he answers those who call his name. Declaring that God is your refuge is more than just a place of rest; it is also a declaration that you put your trust in God as your fortress against those who pursue you with evil intent. By declaring, “The Lord is my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” we verbalize that we put our faith in God and his eternal purposes, not the temporal ways of the world.

Anyone who has stood inside a majestic cathedral and gazed up at the towering stained glass windows can’t help but stand in awe at the beauty. The intricate detail of all the pieces precisely aligned create amazing images illuminated by sunlight. It’s a breathtaking feeling that gives us a sense of the infinite magnificence of our God.

But this week I had a different view of stained glass windows. I thought of all the small glass pieces laying on a table in random piles; pieces carefully cut with precision by a master craftsman. To the casual observer, all those pieces look like a bunch of shattered glass, broken and useless. But the craftsman has the full picture in mind and knows how to assemble the pieces to create an inspiring image illuminated by the light.

Sometimes your life might feel like all those pieces of colored glass scattered on the table. All you can see are shattered pieces all over the place and nothing makes sense; broken pieces full of pain and suffering. Mixed within the assortment are blackened pieces of glass that block the light; dark pieces Satan tries to wedge in to create a false image of your life; dark pieces that block the light. In the middle of all these shattered pieces you need to rely on God to help you put It all together.

God is the master craftsman who has a purpose and plan for your life. He sees all of your brokenness and the scattered pieces of your life. He knows how to bring it all together to create a life illuminated by the light of Christ Jesus; a life that can inspire others with the Spirit of God. He can remove the dark pieces and the false image of your life if you humbly submit to the work of your creator; letting go of your efforts to piece your life together so God can form you in his image, illuminated by his light.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NIV)

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. Job 17:11-12 (NIV)

England 2012 (594)

I was reading Psalm 67 and verses 1-2 convicted me: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us — so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (NIV).” Too often I desire God’s grace, his blessing, for myself. I seek to have his face shine on me so that I can feel his presence surround me and strengthen me. Yet in this Psalm, verse two tells us the purpose is so that God’s ways can be known on earth, that salvation would be “among all nations.”

I am reminded of Moses in Exodus 34:29-30. After he came down from Mount Sinai with the “covenant law” his face was “radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” This caused Aaron and the Israelites to fear Moses. It was apparent to them that he had been with God. It demonstrated what Israel was to be to other nations. The blessings that God bestowed on Israel were not for their own enjoyment, rather it was so that other nations would know God and his salvation. As the last verse of the Psalm 67 states, “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

It makes me wonder if people look at me and see God’s radiance on my face, “the joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10). Do they sense God is at work in my life and feel a proper reverence, a fear of God. The blessings in my life, the abundant grace he gives me should flow into the lives of those around me so that “the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you (Psalm 67:5).”

My old push lawnmower is nearing the end of it’s useful life, but for now it is still getting the job done. It needs a little oil added each time I fuel it up and it coughs white smoke when I start it up, but it still runs. I can see that a new mower might be in my future.

In preparation for that fateful day, I started to research replacement mowers to look for the best deal. I also researched electric versus gasoline powered mowers, studying up on the advantages of both. I had done my homework and I was prepared to make a wise choice when I needed a new mower. Problem is that I left God out of the whole process.

It never occurred to me to lift my situation to God in prayer. “Surely he can’t be bothered with something as small as a mower and the need to keep my lawn trimmed,” I thought. Apparently I had forgotten Matt. 10:30 that told me God knows the number of hairs on my head, that I am worth more than sparrows. But does he care whether I have a working mower? Apparently he does.

A few weeks ago we came across a mower outside a garage with a “free” sign on it. We were walking to church with some friends and I decided I would take it home after church if it was still there. “Certainly somebody needed it more than I did,” I thought. After church we walked back home and the mower was still there. God had provided a deal that surpassed all my research. I wheeled the mower home and started it up. It was a vast improvement over my old mower.

This was a good lesson for me to take everything to God in prayer. No matter how small or insignificant our needs may seem, we should lift everything up to God. By praying to God for our needs we take ourselves out of the equation and rely on his wisdom instead of our own. This week as I mowed the lawn with my new mower I praised God not just for his provision, but also for the lesson to take everything to the Lord in prayer.

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matt 6:8 (NIV)

“And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Matt. 10:30 (NIV)

I have often found it a challenge to put into practice 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).” As much as I want to, I just can’t seem to maintain a constant state of rejoicing and prayer. I began to wonder if it was even possible until last week when I ran into Sandy, a woman I have know for years.

Sandy is a giving person who has served on a village council for more than 10 years. When she first joined the council, their small village was depressed and not very prosperous. One person described it as being stuck in the 1950s, but she persevered with a grateful heart. Over the years she worked to implement one positive change after another. A mural here, an improvement to a park there, a repaved street here and there. Before long a positive momentum emerged as people saw the town change for the better.

I remarked to Sandy about all the good things happening in her village. “We are so blessed,” she exclaimed to me. Then she listed all the good things going on just this year. “I don’t have all the answers, but I keep praying for our town, our businesses and our people.” I smiled as I realized she is an example of 1 Thessalonians 5:16. In essence she bathed everything in prayer, rejoiced always and was thankful for everything.

Then she told me what really mattered to her. “Oh but what we really need is Jesus,” she said to me with a smile. “Now you know my real passion.” She had shown me that I had 1 Thessalonians 5:16 backwards. Her optimism wasn’t just out of her efforts to have a positive attitude about everything, it was a joy born out of her love for Jesus and her deep desire for others to have that same joy.

For too long I focused on the first part of the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances,” as this challenge to be joyful about everything; to lift up everything to God in prayer. I was treating it almost as a chore, keeping track of how many times I failed to pray or be thankful about something. What Sandy taught me is that the second part of this verse is really the answer: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

It is God’s will that in Jesus Christ we can rejoice always in continual prayer. Through Jesus we can find the ability and the will to gives thanks in all things. We can see God at work in all things. When our optimism is born of the Spirit of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are aligned with God’s plan and his will. It is having a passion to serve Christ Jesus, to bring Jesus to others, that makes us want to constantly rejoice, to constantly pray, to continually thank God.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. – Colossians 4:2 (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people – Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

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