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The Never Leaving God

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I will never leave you nor forsake you… Hebrews 13:5

Come on, Johnny. It’s time to go. Johnny, if you don’t come right now, I’m leaving you… OK, Johnny, here I go. Goodbye…” The harried mother walks away, not really intending to leave her child, but hoping her threat will lure Johnny away from the tempting candy or toys.

Do you ever imagine God making such threats?If you can’t pay attention when you’re praying, I’ll stop listening.” Or “If you don’t witness, I won’t love you.” It is unimaginable that a mother would leave her toddler child in a busy store without her protection, but how much more irrational is it that he who gave his own Son will not also stay at our side through all the ups and downs of our relationship with him.

Conditioned by fickle human relationships, we’re tempted to believe that God is just the same, waiting for us to prove our love for him, or make ourselves good enough to be accepted into his arms. But his promises are as sure as his nature: always good, always loving, always just, always merciful. Never, ever will he leave you or forsake you. You can count on it!

By Marilyn Ehle
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Trust is Tough

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When I am most afraid, I put my trust in you… “ Psalm 56:3

With the sun setting beyond a placid lake and the sky softly glowing, we see the silhouette of a tall young man walking hand in hand with his small daughter. It is a painting that some would say perfectly captures the essence of trust: the child is quietly confident in the presence of her protective parent.

Yet the psalmist would tell us that this scene pictures only the early stages of trust. Walking together with loving parent, friend, spouse (or God) in peaceful times is important and necessary for the process of developing the relationship. But the tough test of trust comes “when we are most afraid.” In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning writes that the Old Testament patriarch Abraham “models the essence of trust…convinced (emphasis mine) of the reliability of God.” Further he writes, “without exception trust must be purified in the crucible of trial.

When we have walked hand in hand with the Savior in peaceful times, His presence will then be sure and constant when we are most afraid.

Thank You, loving Father, for those times when we have peacefully walked hand in hand. Thank You for those moments when I have learned to love You. Now, Lord, when times are tough, I want to step up to the next level of trust.

Question: Have you ever been “deeply afraid” – and  how did God help you in that situation?

By Marilyn Ehle
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The Pause that Refreshes

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Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12

Over 60 years ago, a leading soft drink company coined the phrase “the pause that refreshes.”  Whenever those words were said or sung, people’s minds immediately turned to the product as an example of how to take time out, how to slow down and enjoy the moment.

In describing the religious life of one of his characters, author Charles O’Brien writes, “During the day, Mrs. G. takes short pauses, becomes very still, as if asking God for direction, or sharing a problem with Him.” Truly a pause that refreshed.

In our modern world  “far busier than the world of more than a half century ago” we need such pauses. Time to stop the whirlwind of activity, to center our minds on the only one who truly gives new life. Time also to give us insight and wisdom for the choices that lie before us.

One dictionary defines refresh this way: to restore to a certain condition by providing a fresh supply of something. King David had grieved a loving God with the horrible sins of adultery and murder; he deliberately stepped outside the joy that God wants to gladly give his children. David not only admits his guilt but pleads with God to again fill him with the joy he once knew.

If David had only paused before any one of the actions that led to sin, if he had only asked God to resupply what he formerly experienced, or asked God for direction, how different his story might have been.

Father, it is so easy to keep active, to somehow believe that activity equals relationships with you. Forgive us for ignoring your call to refreshment. In Jesus name, amen.

by Marilyn Ehle
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Singing into the Future

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Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-20

It was a fitting song for a New Year’s Eve service: “God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in you.  In all the past, your hand we view.  God of the past, our times are in your hand.”*

We sang with a sense of gratitude and faith. In the beautiful sanctuary, surrounded by friends and in anticipation of the bread and wine we would soon share, the words slipped easily from our lips. We have seen his hand and we have trusted; we basked in his presence.

But then we came to the first line of the final stanza. ”God of the coming years, through paths unknown we follow you. The past is past, we cannot change any of its triumphs or losses. We now face the future and its sure challenges, its unknown paths.”

We dare not merely mouth the words; God hears every whisper of every song. Will we follow him as we promise in music? His part is to never leave or forsake us; our part is to follow through all the stanzas of our lives.

(*God of Our Life – by Hugh T Kerr)

Good Shepherd, it is so easy to sing the words and even to mean them to some degree. Help me carry the song into every moment of every day, singing to you.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Quiet Joy

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 “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Luke 2:19

If we could feel the quiet joy that Mary felt that night,

We’d celebrate Your coming in a new and different light.

Breathe calm into our frantic rush, help us Your peace to know.

Poet Lloyd Larson captures the essence of what we desire during the busy holiday season, and Luke gives us the key to capture what we want. “Quiet joy” comes as we learn to “breathe calm.” Mary went still—she “pondered”—so she could treasure all that was happening within and outside her. Her understanding was incomplete but that didn’t stop her from living fully. Angels appeared, shepherds told an unbelievable story, foreign visitors brought unbelievable wealth—people and events that just didn’t enter the life of a Jewish village girl. But when they did come, Mary gracefully—and gratefully—accepted all from the hand of God.

Early in her pregnancy, when her cousin Elizabeth pronounced the great things God was doing, sang, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Perhaps here is the key to Mary’s quiet joy: she learned that the Lord, her God and Savior was the center of her life. We too have the privilege of quiet joy when we learn a similar lesson.

Lord, I’m so rushed during these days. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get all the work done. Calm my troubled spirit. Bring peace to my frantic mind.

How do you capture quiet joy during the Christmas season?

by Marilyn Ehle
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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
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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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