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Category: thoughts by Marilyn Ehle

Reason(s) for the Season

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Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter. 3:15

The holiday-red card arrived in a square, shiny envelope. Attached to the card were credit-card sized “certificates” for merchandise available in a nearby department store. It wasn’t the bargain opportunities but the message on the card that caught my attention: “Let this be the holiday you find new reasons to believe.”

Even in the midst of the bustle of this season, most of us who call ourselves Christ followers could quickly come up with “a reason for the season.” We know that tinsel and trees, cookies and candles, family and friends are only side effects of the miraculous birth of the Savior. But how many new reasons for the season could we offer? What new work of God is happening in our lives? What new facets of God’s character are we discovering? What new and powerful truths from the Bible are becoming reality?

I wonder who in the advertising department thought up the potentially life-altering slogan? My skeptical nature doubts that a commercial establishment is interested in my relationship with God. But eleven short words arriving in the mail have focused my attention in new ways. Each day during this beautiful month I want to discover yet another “reason for the season.”

by Marilyn Ehle
Used by Permission

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Keep On Keeping On

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“…there was a priest named Zechariah…he was serving as a priest before God…an angel of the Lord appeared…Luke 1:5-11

We only hear about him at Christmas, but Zechariah should be a yearlong model for us. He was a man who loved God, a man who prayed, a man who struggled with doubt.

When we are discouraged, when we live with the confusion of unanswered prayer, when we feel God is distant, it is easy to remove ourselves from the fellowship of other Christians, to neglect the rituals of the church and put the Bible to one side. And yet Zechariah, whose deepest heart longing was unsatisfied, continued his spiritual duties. How he must have wondered if the God he prayed to in the temple was really a trustworthy God. We know that he doubted God’s promise even when delivered by the angel Gabriel.

During the months of his wife’s pregnancy, Zechariah’s prayers were silent ones. He could only commune with his Heavenly Father in the stillness of his heart, but I believe his long years of faithful service—even when he couldn’t hear God speaking or see God working—provided strength during those silent months.

Be careful to “keep on keeping on” during the days when God’s presence seems to have disappeared, when the Bible seems to contain promises only for others. Gathering with fellow Christians—many who are experiencing their own doubts—can be encouraging. Participating with your friends at the table of communion will provide spiritual sustenance. God will, in his good time, speak again.

God, give me courage to keep on when I don’t hear your voice or when I seem to be making no “progress” in my faith. Teach me again that you are near.

How has practicing the essentials of the Christian faith helped you during dark times?

By Marilyn Ehle
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Collapsing Floors

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We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9

A recent newspaper article reported the story of a sad accident in a small town. When over 100 people gathered in a small room built over a garage, the floor gave way under the weight and the crowd fell through the splintered wood. While none was injured seriously, several received medical treatment for minor wounds. It was reported that onlookers rushed into the garage using strong beams in an attempt to brace up what was left of the floor, but their efforts proved futile.

Calvin Miller writes, “Christ is the grand overcomer. By receiving Jesus into our lives, we erect the inner bracing (emphasis mine) that enables us to withstand the pressure of all our outer circumstances…we gain the power to control life and not be crushed by it…”* The pressures of people, circumstances and perhaps even malicious evil threaten to destroy the foundations of life. Prolonged illness, extended periods of joblessness, betrayal by those we thought friends make us feel as though everything we trusted to provide stability has disappeared.

The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to live with “collapsing floors.” In writing to his friends he said, “We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going…We live under constant danger to our lives because we serve the Lord, but this gives us constant opportunities to show forth the power of Jesus Christ within our dying bodies 2 Corinthians 4:9-11 (The Living Bible).

And the same message Paul heard from God in the midst of his troubles is for us: “(God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Thank you, Father, for the “collapsing floors” of my life because I am learning to know that you will never leave nor forsake me.

Take time this week to thank God for the difficulties you have faced, and for how God has provided stability in the midst of them.

*Into the Depths of God by Calvin Miller

By Marilyn Ehle
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The Real God in the Midst of Real Pain

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“…at once the Spirit sent Him (Jesus) out into the wilderness…Mark 1:12

(Herod) locked John up in prison.”  Luke 3:20

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.”  Isaiah 41:13

I recently wrote an article describing how when Christians experience the loss of our dreams, it might be good to sit quietly in the presence of God waiting in trust for what God has prepared for the future.

What has been amazing is the tone of the responses I’ve received. Almost all sound like the popular song, “Don’t worry, be happy.” A kind of “don’t-worry-it’s-not-really-that-bad-everything-will-get-better.” Could this be denial of the pain and reality of life, the stuffing down of emotions?

It was with these responses in mind that my mind wandered to the verses above. John had just experienced the earth-shattering, heaven-opening baptism of Jesus. Now surely the glorious beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the fulfillment of all John the Baptizer’s dreams of the coming Messiah will occur. But then we read that immediately after hearing His Father’s affirmation, Jesus is sent by the very Spirit entwined with His own being into the wilderness of temptation and suffering. And then this cousin of Jesus, blessed to be the herald of the coming Kingdom, is thrown into prison.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus were faithful and learned Jews who knew the writings of the Prophet Isaiah. Was it in prison and in the wilderness—real places of real suffering—that both men recalled, “Do not fear; I will help you”? God did not rescue Jesus from the temptations of the Evil One. He gave Him power to resist. God did not open Herod’s prison doors so John could escape and continue ministry. Instead the Tetrarch Herod ordered John’s head to be presented on a platter for the cruel enjoyment of his guests.

It is in all places, in all times—in the Jordan Rivers, in the wildernesses, in the prisons—that we hear the “Do not fear; I will help you.” As the Apostle Paul described it, it is “in every circumstance and in everything, we are to “make your wants known to God.” Then “God’s peace shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 Amplified Bible)

The real God comes in the real pain.

by Marilyn Ehle
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I’m Here, God

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The Lord takes pleasure in his people… Psalm 149:4

It seems silly to announce my presence to God, and yet almost every morning when I settle into the rocker after coffee, I find myself spontaneously whispering, “I’m here, God.”

Do I see him smiling at my naivety, or is that smile more the welcome of a loving parent who cannot control his joy at the adored child’s return? I haven’t been in a “far country” like the prodigal—just busily preparing for my day. Or sometimes retreating in the middle of that detail-filled day.

My head knows and believes God’s omnipresence. But not only is he everywhere at any one time, he is with me in the “omni”—in all my places, in all my ways, without limits.

When I whisper, “I’m here,”this knowledge somehow moves from head to heart and I begin to quietly experience his presence. “I am with you always” settles into my being, prepares me to “go into all the world,” whether that world consists of housework, study or relationships. And in that going I often hear, “I’m here, Marilyn.”

To imagine your joy in me, Father, is near unimaginable and yet your presence brings me comfort and confidence.

by Marilyn Ehle
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Stop Talking!

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Zachariah 2:13

Be silent before the LORD, all humanity, for He is springing into action from His holy dwelling.” Zechariah 2:13 (NLT)

In a cartoon by Bill Keane, children are standing outside in awe at a scene in their backyard made ever whiter by softly falling snow. One of the little boys says with obvious exasperation, “If Dolly would just stop talking, we could hear the quiet!”

Immediately I saw a connection to my prayer life. Instead of settling myself in God’s presence, wordlessly meditating on His love and grace, perhaps repeating some of His many names, all in anticipation of our time together, I too quickly present Him with my list. Things I want Him to do for me and others. Even my complaints. Or my regrets. Or my Wish List.

Young Samuel was wisely counseled that when awakened from sleep by God’s voice, he need only say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” The Bible is filled with admonitions about the importance of listening: Listen to my words…I told you, but you would not listen…Be silent, Israel, and listen…

Listening is best done in quiet. Again from the Bible: Teach me, and I will be quiet…In quietness and trust is your strength…It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord… Come with me (Jesus) by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Rebecca St. James writes these words in a meaningful praise hymn:

I’ll stand in awe of you, Jesus…
You are God in Heaven
And here I am on earth
So I’ll let my words be few
Because I’m so in love with you…

by Marilyn Ehle
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Spiritual Sunglasses

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2 Corinthians 4:18 ...the joys to come will last forever

So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”
2 Corinthians 4:18

I live in a city with over 200 days of sunshine each year. But along with warmth and beauty, such brightness also yields a negative effect. Extended exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays produces cataracts as well as more serious degenerative diseases. To counteract these possibilities, doctors advise the wearing of sunglasses.

But sunglasses have both positive and negative effects. Recently as I was driving I commented to my husband, “It looks as though the predicted rain will be heavier than expected. Look at those dark clouds.” Then I removed my sunglasses for a moment and was surprised to see that while clouds definitely were scudding across the sky, they weren’t as dark and threatening as I first thought.

It’s possible to wear spiritual sunglasses that distort our view of people and the world just as my glasses produced a less than accurate picture of the sky. God says, “Love your enemies,” but I see their violence and assume that the Father’s love couldn’t possibly extend to them and therefore, I have no responsibility to emulate that love. Jesus proves his power over wind and storm but I cower in the face of natural disasters and the vicissitudes of life. He proclaims victory over sin and death but I neglect or refuse to appropriate all that the Holy Spirit generously offers.

Physicians who specialize in eye care routinely recommend cataract surgery, an operation to remove a cloudy lens, replacing it with an artificial lens to restore clear vision. In a similar but far more restorative procedure, God waits for our consent for his operative work to help us see him, his creation and even ourselves with more perfect vision. His command to “fix our eyes on Jesus” can become a daily reality when we remove the sunglasses of our own distorted view and see God and his world with vision unfiltered by our own pessimism and faithlessness.

The psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes…” and the hymn writer penned, “Open my eyes, illumine me…” How different will be my viewpoint of the people and world around me when my prayer is the same.

By Marilyn Ehle
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The Danger of Strength

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Deuteronomy 8 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise…your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God”

After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong,  he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.
2 Chronicles 12:1

Self-sufficiency is a much admired quality in many parts of the world. We applaud the woman or man who became successful against the odds of an impoverished childhood, limited education or repeated setbacks. We encourage our children to “make something of themselves,” to be the best that they can be.

But success and strength can become dangerous when uncoupled from reliance upon our Creator God, when we assume autonomy instead of recognition that all we are and all we accomplish are from the hand of a gracious God.

In his book, The Alexander Complex, Michael Meyer writes, “Alexander has been dead for twenty-three-hundred years, but there have always been people who share his spark… They live in the grip of a vision. Work and career take on the quality of a mission… And because (these people) are talented and convinced that they can change the world, they often do.”

Unfortunately, many who pursue such goals begin to think their success is due primarily to their own goodness, wealth or intellect. They either have not heard or choose to ignore a warning God gave His people: “Remember how the Lord your God led you… Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise…your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8).

God asks us to be strong and courageous, to work hard in and for His Kingdom, and always to recognize the true source of our strength and courage.

by Marilyn Ehle
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God Knows My Name

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God Knows My Name

Jesus said to her, “Mary”  John 20:16

His resurrection would soon be known to and believed by many. Two of His close followers would rush to the tomb when they heard the report of its emptiness. But it is Mary of Magdala and a few other sad women who are the direct recipients of the angel’s earth-shattering message that Jesus has risen from the dead. Even they react in ‘trembling and astonishment,’ but reality takes hold with a fierce grip when Mary hears her name. Jesus takes time from His post-resurrection agenda to make sure that this hurting, wondering, wanting-to-hope, forgiven woman knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that He is alive again. Here I see the heart of my God. He takes time to meet ‘me to know my heart’ to call me by name.

In the midst of our busy lives it is easy to miss the call of needy friends. Responsibilities of managing a home and family in addition to our positions in the business world fill our ears with sounds that frequently blur the desperate call of others. Too often it is only when we are faced with the tragedies of earthquakes, tsunamis and the death of loved ones that our ears are open to desperate cries.

But God is always ready to call us by name, to gently attract our attention to His love and care. It is important that I take time daily to sit quietly and listen.

Father, thank you for knowing and loving me intimately by name.  Help me carefully listen so that I hear your loving whisper. Amen.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Who Can I Trust?

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Psalm 62:1 My soul finds rest in God alone. He alone is my Rock.

My soul finds rest in God alone. He alone is my rock.”
P
salm 62:1

Fidelity. Security. Trust.  It’s no surprise that many institutions through which we invest millions of dollars have names signifying certainty or confidence. Why would we allow our valuable assets be handled by entities with less principled titles?

How easy it is to slip into believing that our ultimate faith should be placed in bank accounts, stock portfolios or other works of human hands. The Crash of the 1920’s may slide noiselessly into history, but we need only reflect on the recent past to discover how quickly the economy betrays our trust.

Wise King David discovered, (often with wavering faith), that his ultimate trust could be placed in God alone. Whether experiencing betrayal from those he thought loyal or outright opposition from an enemy, David could finally say, “My soul finds rest in God alone.He is my fortress and I will never be shaken.”

Father, it’s so easy to fall into the habit of placing total trust in myself or other equally fallible humans. Help me look daily to you as my ultimate confidence. I do believe; help my unbelief. In Jesus name, amen.

by Marilyn Ehle
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Don’t Let Jesus Walk Away

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crowd, city, Luke 4:30

“…he passed straight through the crowd and walked away.”  Luke 4:30

His message was too straightforward. He spoke soul-piercing truth. Machinations and motives were publicly revealed by his message. All the people in the place of worship were furious at his words and “drove him out of the town, took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff.”

But Jesus had a purpose and it had not yet been accomplished so “he passed straight through the crowd and walked away.” Imagine their confusion, their frustration, their anger. Emotions heightened when they realized he simply went to another town where his message was welcomed.

How many times does Jesus walk through the crowds today when people resist and refuse his message of love? How many times does Jesus tenderly walk away from me when I have resisted his message? My heart is humbled and comforted to know that he always walks back when I recognize my rebellion, ask for forgiveness and return to his loving arms.

Don’t miss him. Don’t deny him the opportunity to do what Jesus did in the next town where the people were amazed at his authoritative teaching and saw him do miracles. Jesus can walk straight through but oh, how he desires to stop and have sweet fellowship with us.

Help me, Lord Jesus, to recognize your presence in the midst of the crowds. Teach me to sense when you want me to join you there.

By Marilyn Ehle

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The Power of Choice

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feature scen mountain autumn

Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.”  John 14:1

It’s just the way I am. I can’t help it. I’m a worrier by nature. I’m too old to change.

Do any of those phrases sound familiar to you? Do you find yourself excusing your tendency to worry or your lack of discipline? Unfortunately we have too often allowed ourselves the Privilege of Excuse to mask areas in our lives which need change or improvement. We do not hesitate to challenge our children when they use excuses to cover their poor performance in school or their disobedience, but we frequently are far more lenient with ourselves when it comes to matters between us and God.

Jesus speaks to his friends in the hour of their greatest need, when they are about to witness their beloved Savior being beaten and killed. How preposterous of him to say they have the ability to not be troubled. Don’t they have every “right” to be agitated (the primary meaning of the word troubled)? Their world is about to crumble in front of their eyes. Their future is bleak. The one they have trusted to give them hope and a future is about to be murdered.

When Jesus uses the words “let not,” he is telling us that we have the power of choice. We need not be victims of our personalities or human tendencies or backgrounds. The road to victory is rocky and uphill, but God gives us the pattern for that victory: “Do not be anxious about everything, but in everything, 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 4:6-8)

Precious Lord, I confess that it is much easier to make excuses for myself than to intentionally grow in faith. Help me face myself honestly, confess to you my lack of discipline, and then trust you to give me wisdom and strength to change.

by Marilyn Ehle
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Sacred Saturday

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easter devotional

Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:56

Only Luke, a New Testament author known to include minute details, offers a glimpse into life on the day after Jesus’ crucifixion and the day before His resurrection. I have often thought that the weather on the Saturday before Easter should always be gray and gloomy, atmospheric conditions matching what must have been the emotions of Jesus’ friends and family. In addition to grief, they obviously were bewildered because Luke also records a conversation two had as they walked away from Jerusalem, away from the scene of broken hearts: “…we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”

I, too, have known the heavy weight of grief, a weight that causes the body to slump into mindless sleep only to awaken in the dark hours, in those first moments, denying the reality of death, then almost immediately becoming aware of all that has happened. But I also have discovered the comfort of “obedience to the command – ment”… By faith in the One who loves me, I laid my anxiety at His feet, I thanked Him for His sovereignty and presence, I prayed for myself and the weeping others, and then… “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” put a guard on my heart and mind so that I could go about the dailyness of life. The women prepared spices and perfumes; I prepared meals and made beds. In a few short hours those women would experience the joy of the resurrection. One day I, too, will fully experience that joy.

It’s not always easy to go about the daily rituals when the heart is heavy, Lord, but I thank you for the balm those rituals bring to sorrowing souls. Thank you for being a God of the daily. I love you.

by Marilyn Ehle
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Atrophying or Absorbing?

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Hungry for Understanding

“…they (are) ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding…”  Mark 4:12

In using parables, or stories with a lesson, Jesus’ words often seemed obscure. Even his closest friends questioned their meanings and shortly before Jesus’ death when he was teaching them important lessons, they said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.”

But Jesus’ motives and methods were always pure; He did not then nor does not now keep secrets or play favorites. So why did He seem to imply that some in His audience simply would not “get the point”?  Could it be that Jesus didn’t want certain people to be forgiven?

Whenever I am puzzled by questions such as these, I must go back to what I know about the character of God. He is loving, just, pure, merciful, forgiving. Since Jesus the Son and God the Father are one, I must dig deeper to catch a fuller glimpse of what He was teaching.

One Bible scholar puts it quite simply: by the use of parables there was the process of spiritual sifting that would be either eternally rewarding or eternally baffling, according to whether (people) had ‘ears to hear’…whether or not they earnestly desired to understand God’s ways… (Tyndale)

In my own life it works out this way: am I absorbing (earnestly desiring to understand) or am I atrophying (withering)? Even when I come upon biblical truths that are difficult to comprehend, is my attitude one of humble acknowledgement of my need? Do I truly “hunger and thirst” after more understanding? Or is my spiritual life in a state of atrophy—withering, without fruit, limp, satisfied with the status quo?

God is looking for people who are thirsty, ready to absorb all that He prepared to bountifully supply. Will I still have unanswered questions? Oh yes, but I know that God will give me all the answers  He knows I need.

by Marilyn Ehle

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Be Still

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Be Still - Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

Sleep had been fitful and finally non-existent so at 4:30 a.m., I got out of bed, showered and put on the coffee. Caffeine finally energized me enough to begin the day’s activities but there was still a weight in the pit of my stomach. Late the previous evening we received word of a huge financial loss and our future was murky to say the least. This wasn’t just a matter of belt-tightening but a much more dire situation.

I made my way to the corner where God and I meet each morning and turned to see which psalm was indicated in my well-worn weekly devotional guide. I read the familiar opening verse of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  I smiled as I thought of God’s perfect timing. He knew what words I would need and when I would need them.

But words farther down struck with even greater force: “Be still and know that I am God.” (The Hebrew language has the meaning of)“relax”.  The writer goes on to give the reason why I can choose to be still in the midst of turmoil:  Be still! The Lord Almighty is with us.

The situation hasn’t changed but as I consistently refuse to worry and thank God for the One who is my refuge and strength, I am acknowledging that the Lord Almighty knows, understands and stands ready to help.

In the middle of turmoil, Lord, it’s so easy to forget that you not only love me but stand ready to prop up my faltering faith. Help me believe even when I cannot see.

By Marilyn Ehle

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