Because His Love is Better

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” —Psalm 147:16-17

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Some days the complaints about winter weather pile up faster than snowflakes around here. Grumbling comes easy when the outside air hurts my face and my hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. Weariness and discontentment can deepen as I clear the driveway and sidewalk.

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But someone has kindly pointed me to Psalm 63. And the words in verse 3? They melt me.

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

Can my dry, chapped lips glorify God while they grumble and complain about the cold and snow He sends?

Can my heart truly believe that His steadfast love is better than life? Why does my heart doubt His goodness in sending the weather?

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

I put on these words and wear them close, like a layer of Under Armor insulating my prone-to-wander heart.

Then I take a walk in the fresh snow.

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I stop now and then to take a picture. Fresh air and photography help me re-focus my heart and be more watchful of His goodness, His grace, His love. Each beautiful flake of snow is worthy of pondering closely.

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

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God is always good and His steadfast love endures, even the thermometer reads -31 degrees F like that Sunday morning back in December.  And even when it’s -31 degrees, I can still be thankful and trust the One who sends that cold. Because the One who sends the cold, He is the One who provides what I need to keep warm. Warm socks, hot tea, fire in the fireplace. He provides. And His love never fails.

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“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” Job 37:6

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“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” Job 37:10

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Another day I walk across the lake. And walking on water, albeit frozen, tests my faith. I’m inclined to question every step, but God reminds me to trust Him.

“Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8

Trust builds with each thank-You prayer. So I thank Him for the sunshine and fresh air. I thank Him for a quiet morning. I thank Him for guiding me step by step.

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In the marsh, the cattails capture a soft, shiny glow in their fluff.

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And there on the frozen lake the light catches on the flakes, and the snow sparkles — as if someone has scattered little diamonds across it, shiny little treasures waiting to be found.

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” Psalm 63:3

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Alive in the Spirit

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“I cannot start a Reformation like Martin Luther did. However, I can have within me the same Spirit that drove him in that direction. It is the Holy Spirit that we need in our midst today.” -A.W. Tozer, Alive in the Spirit

In his never-before-published book titled Alive in the Spirit, A.W. Tozer encourages Christians to study church history and learn about the women and men on whose shoulders our faith stands.

“…it is imperative that we read and understand our past,” Tozer argues. “If we do not understand our past, we will never fully comprehend our future. What God has done in the past is what He will do for us today…If I do not know what He has done, how can I have faith for what He will do for me today?”

One of the most-honored figures in church history is Martin Luther. And this year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther, who protested the teachings of the Catholic Church by nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These ninety-five theses, and nearly all of Luther’s other works, proclaim Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and point to God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith, not through works or indulgences as the church leaders of his day were teaching.

At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther said before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils…My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything.”

A few weeks ago at our local art museum, I saw the touring exhibit “Martin Luther: Art and Reformation,” which features many historical objects, artwork and artifacts from the 1500s. Along with my daughters and three of our dear friends, I beheld dozens of remarkable items: an early copy of the ninety-five theses that was widely distributed during Luther’s day, woodcuts by German painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, and a cooking pot used in Luther’s boyhood home until it was buried in a heap of plague-infected household items. Most remarkable to me were the stunning gotha altar, a wooden window seat from Luther’s home, and the habit of an Augustinian monk.

Because the exhibit hall was overly crowded and uncomfortably warm, it was difficult to maneuver through the museum and fully ponder the historical significance of each artifact on display. And since my cell phone battery had died, I didn’t capture a single image of this memorable experience. But what I took away was meaningful nonetheless and quite beyond what my camera could have captured anyway.

Focusing on all of Luther’s notable accomplishments as a writer, translator, hymn composer, professor, theologian and pivotal figure in the Protestant Reformation, Luther seems larger than life. But after studying some of his personal belongings and even some letters he wrote by hand, I began to see a much more humble and human side of him. He was, after all, a man of flesh and blood. He sat at a table to eat and write, he sat at a window seat to pray and meditate, and he sat before people who misunderstood him, misunderstood Scripture and misunderstood Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

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So where did this simple man get such a mighty vision of the righteousness of God and the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus? What provoked him to protest and boldly debate the church leadership, refusing to accept its authority? What fueled his work of translating the Scriptures into German and writing powerful hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God?”

In his biography Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland H. Bainton says, “Luther did the work of more than five men.”

How is that even possible?

Having just read Tozer’s book about experiencing the presence and power of God through the Holy Spirit, I am convinced that Luther was alive in the Spirit. Surely he was prompted, encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit as he acted in response to the living and active Word of God, particularly the Psalms and the book of Romans.

“Whenever God gets ahold of someone who is totally surrendered and one He can trust, God begins His work,” Tozer writes. “The quality of the work is not so much in the individual as it is in the individual possessed by God.”

Certainly Luther acted in obedience to God, but perhaps we give Luther too much credit as an individual and the Holy Spirit too little credit for Luther’s work.

Tozer explains that “…it is the Holy Ghost’s business to witness to the person and works and words of Jesus and confirm that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.” And likewise, Luther’s work confirmed Jesus as Christ and reinforced His works and words.

Tozer says that God has chosen to work within “the confines of His redeemed people” but is not restricted by the limits of human ability.

“God does not work within the confines of our strength; God works according to His character and nature and power,” he says.

Near the end of his life, Luther was not thrilled when his friends began gathering up his works for publication. He was willing to let much of it go because, “what mattered most was nothing that he had done but what God had done for him,” says Mark A. Noll in Invitation to the Classics.

Boldly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the world around us, just as Luther did, is what the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to do, Tozer says. And so it is imperative that those who follow Christ are aligned with God and His will as revealed in His Word by the Holy Spirit.

“The Bible gives us the power to do and to witness. We are to tell what we have seen, heard, felt and experienced. It all centers on the person of Christ,” he says.

“Our faith,” he concludes, “does not rest upon nor depend upon historical evidence, but upon the invisible presence witnessing to the inner life and our response to that voice.”

NOTE: Often quoted and frequently referred to as a “modern-day prophet,” A.W. Tozer, like Luther, was a theologian, pastor and author. He lived from 1897 to 1963. As an authority on Tozer’s ministry, Rev. James L. Snyder compiled and edited a series of Tozer’s sermons to create this book about the Holy Spirit. Although the content comes from sermons given many decades ago, the book is quite relevant for followers of Jesus today. To equip me for this review, Bethany House Publishers provided a free copy of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

8 Books I’m Thankful For

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Outside my kitchen window, a dapper little junco tap dances around the new little lilac bush we planted on Mother’s Day. The leaves on the lilac are still green, but the bush is surrounded by a small heap of dry brown leaves that blew off the maple tree on the other side of the yard.

It’s the first week of November. Soon the branches of all the bushes and trees will look thin and bare. Soon Daylight Savings Time will usher in shorter days. And soon that lonesome north wind will howl in the night.

Beauty in nature is hardest to find in Minnesota November. And if I linger too long thinking about my least favorite month, I will easily slip into complaining and feeling discontent. But then the calendar reminds me Thanksgiving is coming. And is it too corny to say I am thankful for Thanksgiving? Because I am grateful my favorite holiday falls during my least favorite month of the year.

I appreciate that Thanksgiving brings not just a delicious feast with my family around a dinner table overflowing with food, but also a rich, joyful feast for my soul as I count my blessings throughout the month.

Through the dull, gray days of November, I see that God’s grace still abounds with every breath I take. And God’s Word reminds me (yet again) that I need to keep speaking the language of thanks. Praise and gratitude should forever be on my lips, not just because it makes my soul joyful, but also because giving thanks glorifies Jehovah Jireh, the LORD Who Provides. He is indeed the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

To help ring in the month of Thanksgiving with that attitude of gratitude, I have for you a little list of eight Thanksgiving-themed books that I have loved reading aloud with my family. I am thankful for these books because sharing each of them with my kids has been a blessing I’ve counted — sometimes more than once.

1. Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton by Wendy Lawton

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This is a well-researched, 140-page chapter book in the “Daughters of the Faith” series. It relays the story of 13-year-old Mary Chilton, who also sailed on the Mayflower and bravely begins a new life in Plymouth. I especially appreciate how this story begins with the persecution these believers endured before leaving for America, as that really puts their situation into context. I also like the brief but very helpful glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back. I suggest this book for youth in upper elementary grades and up.

2. Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child

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I immediately fell in love with this picture book when my sweet friend Carla read it as part of a November story time for homeschoolers at the library one year. Of course, a few lines of the poem were already quite familiar to me, as they likely will be to you. But how delightful to have the entire poem as well as fantastic woodcut art to illustrate it! This is a treasure for all ages.

3. A Light Kindled: The Story of Priscilla Mullins by Tracy M. Leininger

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This nicely illustrated, 60-page chapter book tells of the faith and courage of Priscilla Mullins, who was 18 years old when she sailed to America in the Mayflower in 1620. As one of only four women who survived the Pilgrims’ first winter, Priscilla endured many hardships and relied on God for strength through loss and trials. I suggest this one for school-aged kids and any younger person who will listen to chapter books. I am sad to say this one is out of print, but check your library or used book sites like Thriftbooks.com.

4. The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh

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This charming picture book on Thanksgiving was published in 1954, and it received Caldecott Honors. Alice Dalgliesh is one of my favorite children’s book authors, and I like that she includes a tidbit about the wash day the Mayflower women had shortly after arriving at Plymouth. Clean clothes are indeed something to thank God for! Can you even begin to imagine how disgusting those clothes must have smelled after that lengthy ocean journey and all the illness on board? Ugh!

5. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson

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When my dear friend Julie read this picture book two years ago, she right away knew that I would love it because it is a true story about the first female magazine editor in America. With an informal and humorous tone, the book explains how Sarah Hale used her pen to “save” Thanksgiving by arguing for it to be a national holiday. Like me, you may have to forgive Mrs. Hale for also arguing against pie for breakfast. I mean, why should we not eat pie for breakfast? This one is great for all ages.

6. The First Thanksgiving by Linda Hayward

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When my daughters were learning to read on their own, this “Step into Reading” series was a great fit because the stories and illustrations are well done. I like that this early reader about Thanksgiving was well-researched and informative.

7. Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Written in rhyming verses, this newer picture book about a family cooking their Thanksgiving feast feels like a familiar old friend. It is short, catchy and simply delightful to read. Plus the illustrations are just so quaint and darling that I can almost smell the turkey in the oven.

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8. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

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The text for this 32-page picture book comes from what originally was a longer story published in 1882, so the content has been significantly abridged and adapted. Usually that would deter me. But the illustrations by James Bernardin are so captivating I could not resist this version of the book, and I found the story is still quite worthwhile. The book’s length is ideal for all ages, and older students also might enjoy comparing this version to the one illustrated by Michael McCurdy.

Happy November and happy reading, my friends!

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The Trees Sing for Joy

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Whether we’re driving to town or just peering out the front door, the phrase I say and hear over and over lately is “Oh, wow! Look at THAT tree!”

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The sun splashes its light, and the leaves glow warm shades of golden yellow, fiery red and blazing orange. Take a short walk on a fall day and you can’t help but stumble into the endless gallery of God’s gorgeous handiwork.

All this color in the trees brings me joy because it is the work of His fingers. He is an amazing Artist. And so as I say my joyful “Oh, wow!” the vibrantly colored trees seem to sing out in response, “Yes, God is amazing!”

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Joy is the art of God, says author Ann Voskamp. Let us praise the Artist for His joy-giving work. Let us receive the gift with thanks and acknowledge the Giver. To Him be the glory forever.

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“All beauty is only a reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see that it’s Him and not the thing?” -Ann Voskamp

 

 

Watchful and Thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 

-Colossians 4:2

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On this beautiful October day, I am thanking God for all the evidence of His glory that surrounds us in nature and for the many gifts He’s given this past week.

I am thankful for a quiet hike through the woods.

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I am thankful for the leaves above glowing all golden in the warm sunshine.

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I am thankful for the leaves below that softly crunch as our boots shuffle through them.

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I am thankful for the cute pair of just-the-right-size rain boots a dear friend gave to my youngest.

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I am thankful for the cheerful Black-Eyed Susans still in bloom.

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I am thankful for the fallen tree that makes a good resting spot.

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I am thankful for the little collection of leaves my oldest carefully gathers up to treasure.

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I am thankful for the lemon-verbena that smells oh-so delightful.

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I am thankful for the dazzling dahlias in bloom.

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Oh, the dahlias make me smile big!

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I am thankful for bright orange pumpkins and bright-eyed girls with big smiles, too.

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I am thankful for our annual family outing to the apple orchard.

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I am thankful for the girls’ favorite wagon, Lacie, and all the memories it holds.

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I am thankful for the delicious harvest of apples to fill our pies and dumplings.

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I am thankful for the pumpkin patch nearby and determined pursuers of perfect pumpkins.

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I am thankful for God’s amazing creation and how it points to His goodness and glory.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

 

Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” That’s a line from a popular song by country music star Kenny Chesney. It’s catchy because it’s true. It’s rare to find someone who seems very eager to leave this life on earth. It’s rare to find someone who even wants to talk seriously about it.

I think this is true partly because none has a clear picture of what heaven will really be like.

But as a believer in Jesus Christ, I know heaven is my ultimate destination, and so it should be foremost in my thoughts. In fact, the apostle Paul specifically urges us in Colossians 3 to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things.

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Reading Elyse Fitzpatrick’s newest book, Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings, has helped me set my heart and mind heavenward. The book overflows with Scriptures and Bible-based commentaries about heaven and the New Earth.

Fitzpatrick also clarifies some of the confusing and non-Biblical ideas many have about heaven, and she carefully explains the homesickness Christians feel living here on earth while our true citizenship is in heaven.

“Home in the place to come will truly be Home for us because it is where the Lord is. We miss him. We feel so homesick because we are ‘away from the Lord’ right now,” she writes.

In addition to offering wonderful glimpses of what heaven and the New Earth will be like, Fitzpatrick offers very fascinating thoughts on how the church on earth is like stepping into another realm.

“The church on earth is the doorstep of the church in heaven… it is the shining portal through which we catch glimmers of golden light… it is through the church that we are reminded that He provides all our needs, pardons all our sins, and protects all of us all our days,” she writes.

She adds that, “The church, when it’s functioning as it should be, should almost enable us to experience the world to come; it should make the division between here and there nearly transparent… the church should be a place where we get glimpses, whiffs, whispers of it [heaven] from time to time.”

Encouragement and comfort abound throughout this book, especially for those who are suffering.

“Life in the New Earth is only good news to those for whom this old earth no longer promises satisfaction,” she writes. “The Word of the Lord to all who trust in Him is that everlasting joy is coming, and nothing can stop it!”

Amen to that!

Please note: In exchange for this honest review, I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.

 

 

 

Finding God in the Hard Times

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One Sunday morning 11 summers ago, I stood in the auditorium with our church family singing together the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt and Beth Redman. I shuddered with fear when we sang the boldest line, “You give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name.”

Did I really believe this? Would my heart trust God with this tiny person growing inside me? I knew that God had given her to me, but what if He chose to do the unthinkable? What if He chose to take her away before she was even born? Would I still be able to bless His name? And would I continue to trust Him with the sweet but fidgety little two-year-old blonde that my husband held beside me as we sang? What did it really mean to bless God’s name anyway?

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Looking back over the last decade, I see God’s faithfulness as our family has walked down various roads marked with suffering, trouble and loss. In His great grace and faithfulness, God has blessed me with the gift and responsibility of being a helpmate for my husband and mothering these two precious girls, now ages 10 and 13.

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Through every phase of family life, God continues to teach me what it means to trust Him with all my heart in the hard times. He continues to show me how to be watchful and thankful and how to praise Him for every blessing He pours out. And God continues to minister to me through the words of Matt Redman’s music and writing.

Earlier this spring I was delighted to hear that Matt and Beth Redman have just published a second edition book called Finding God in the Hard Times: Choosing to Trust and Hope When You Can’t See the Way. It’s a concise book, only 123 pages, but it’s powerfully written.

Each of the five chapters is titled with a phrase directly from the lyrics of the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name,” and each chapter is reinforced with many quotes from Scripture as well as three brief but meaningful questions for reflection. The book is an excellent resource for individual study or for a five-session group study because the appendix features a discussion guide for small groups and a complete listing of Bible references for further meditation.

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One of the things I like best about this book is how it is both inspiring and practical. For example, in the first chapter the Redmans write about what they call “spiritual motion sickness,” which they describe as “living in the tension of what we think we know to be true, and the deep pain that seems to contradict it.” Pointing to truths in Lamentations 3 and Psalm 13, they offer these wise and practical remedies for building your faith and fanning the flames of worship when you’re in such an unpleasant condition:

“The key is to reinforce what deep down you know to be true, by adding extra revelation. Spiritually speaking, roll down the window and stick your hand out. Open the Bible and feed upon the truths of God and His faithfulness. Strengthen your understanding of His ways as you read. Find encouragement in the lives of those who chose to trust His power, grace, and purpose amidst their darkest hours. Look over His track record in your own life and in the lives of those you know to love Him. See how often He has poured out the oil of kindness in times of trouble. How on many occasions He has rescued seemingly at the last possible moment — or turned around something that at the time seemed like it could never lead to fruitfulness… The discipline of remembering helps us keep a grip on hope and find our way on the paths of praise… Remembering releases rejoicing.”

This is a book I will likely re-read, and I anticipate reading other books by the Redmans, including The Heart of Worship Files.

Please note: In exchange for this honest review, I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.