Visualizing Heart-Hands

January 26, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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A Journal of Joy: Things that make my heart smile…
By Barbara Dahlgren

When our church started allowing contemporary Christian worship music, it seemed to inspire a more demonstrative form of worship. Although our church had never forbidden raising holy hands in worship, we certainly had not encouraged it. Now we wanted people to respond the way their hearts felt led by the Holy Spirit.

As one of the worship leaders, I’ve always found it interesting to see our congregation sing together. Worship is a corporate activity at church, but it also an individual one. I had long ago learned that what touches one person’s heart during worship does not necessarily touch another’s. I remember sitting in church while another worship leader led some of the most boring songs imaginable – at least I thought they were. However, two rows ahead of me was a lady so moved by the worship that she was crying.

As a worship leader, it could be discouraging to look out at a congregation who didn’t appear to be responding the way I wanted – especially with certain songs. Some might be lifting holy hands above, but many did not. They appeared to be disinterested but, oddly enough, they would be the very ones to come up after church and tell me how much the music meant to them.

I was puzzled. Then I thought of a Christian principle I could apply to this situation. God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). Just because these people didn’t appear to be wholeheartedly worshipping didn’t mean they weren’t. I knew most of these people and you couldn’t find more love-filled, dedicated servants of God. God looked at their hearts and that’s what I needed to do.

After that, when I led worship I would visualize each person’s heart having little hands reaching up to God. I called them “heart-hands.” No longer did it matter to me if people were clapping to the music, lifting physical hands, or swaying back and forth. I could see their “heart-hands” reaching up to give God glory and praise. This gave me joy!

Only God knows a person’s heart (I Kings 8:39). Only God knows a heart’s intent (1 Chronicles 28:9). For me to evaluate someone based on appearance is folly. God looks at my heart and I must look at the heart of others.

*****

Lord, help me to look at people the way You do. Where I might see a beggar I want to avoid or an old woman taking too much time in the fast checkout lane, You see someone who needs my compassion or patience. Create in me a heart that does not turn away. Give me the vision to see others through Your loving eyes.


Immanuel

January 19, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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A Journal of Joy: Things that make my heart smile…
By Barbara Dahlgren

One of my favorite Christmas quotes comes from Taylor Caldwell: “This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” I realize Christmas has passed, but it brings me joy to keep a little Christmas in my heart all year long. Reflecting on these words helps me do that.

This quote is good but the true story it comes from is better. First published in a December 1961 Family Circle Magazine article, Taylor Caldwell recounts one Christmas when she was down and almost out. She was a divorced mother caring for her five-year-old daughter Peggy and things couldn’t have looked bleaker. Unless a miracle happened, she would be jobless, foodless, and homeless by January. She prayed continually and wondered if God and man had completely forgotten her.

On Christmas Eve, she and Peggy were ready to partake of the meager three little cans of food they heated for dinner when the doorbell rang. There stood a delivery man with parcels of gifts and food filling his arms. This had to be some mistake, but it wasn’t. A stranger Caldwell had done a good deed for six months earlier wanted to repay her kindness. It was indeed a true Christmas miracle.

After enjoying a sumptuous dinner, she put Peggy to bed. Then she decided to tackle her mail which she knew would be full of bills. To her surprise, one envelope contained enough money for rent from a job she had done earlier that year. Another had a permanent job offer to begin two days after Christmas.

She could hear the church bells ringing and people singing “Come All Ye Faithful.” The Lord is born! She thought, “I am not alone at all. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

I love this story and I love that quote. One of the names for Jesus is Immanuel which means God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). We usually only use this name for Jesus at Christmastime but I think about it all year long. Jesus came so I would not be alone. At times I may feel all alone or forsaken, but I’m not. Immanuel is in me! Immanuel is with me! And He will be with me always – even until the end of time (Matthew 28:20).

*****

Immanuel, I praise Your name. Thank You for coming to earth and dwelling among Your people. Thank You for living within us. Help me realize that no matter what I may be going through or how I feel, I am never really alone. You, my Immanuel, are always with me – even until the end.


Knowing God Loves Me

January 12, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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A Journal of Joy: Things that make my heart smile…

By Barbara Dahlgren

Conceptually, I understand that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus to die for it (John 3:16). His redemption was for all of us. He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17). However, I must admit I have a difficult time comprehending God’s love for me as an individual. Academically, I know He loves me. Emotionally, I’m not always sure. After all, why would He love me?

When I look at myself, I see nothing but flaws and imperfections. I fall short of the person I want to be or the one I think God would have me be. Plus, society functions in a way that makes me feel insignificant. It’s a great big world and I am just one small cog in the wheel of life – not even a name to most, but more like an impersonal line of data entry. I have a voice but cannot be heard.

But here’s the truth… Although I may be just a number in the world, I am not with God. God knows my name (Isaiah 43:7; John 10:3). God hears my voice. God cares about what I think and how I feel. The hairs on my head are numbered (Matthew 10:30-32). He knows my sorrows and keeps track of my tears (Psalm 56:8). He knows my sitting down and rising up. He knows my paths. He understands my thoughts. God knows me inside and out. I may not matter much to most of the world, but I matter to God. Such knowledge is too wonderful to comprehend (Psalm 139:1-6).

That God would know me intimately and love me anyway, in spite of my shortcomings, brings me much joy! I don’t have to earn God’s love. I don’t have to jump through hoops or make long lists of dos and don’ts. He loves me when I’m good and He loves me when I’m not too good. God is love (1 John 4:8) and He loves everybody, but His love for me is special. God has the ability to love each one of us like we are His only child.    

God’s love is hard to fathom. It is wide and long and deep and high (Ephesians 3:17-19). Nothing can separate me from God’s love (Romans 8:35-38). It’s there if I want it. It’s there when I need it. It’s there for me all the time. I may not fully understand it, but I gladly accept and appreciate it. 

*****

Lord, thank You for loving me. There is no reason why You should and that’s what makes Your love all the more precious to me. When this world gets me down, Your love lifts me up. Your love for me makes my life matter.


A Year of Joy

January 5, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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A Journal of Joy: Things that make me smile…

By Barbara Dahlgren

Here it is – the New Year! And I think it’s time for a change. I’ve enjoyed blogging about choices these past five years and even managed to get a book from the effort, but I’m ready for something different.  

Choosing a new theme has not been easy, though some topics were definitely no-brainers to mark off my list. I’d rather not spend the next year exploring my mood swings, pet peeves, or irritants. Although, Lord knows, I’d never run out of material. So I asked myself, “What do I really want to reflect on this year?”   

After reading Philippians 4:8, I found my answer. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever thing are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.”

Day after day we are bombarded with everything that’s wrong in the world. Plus, we are surrounded by personal stress, pressure, difficulties, worries, concerns, and troubles. Some of these we bring on ourselves; some we don’t. Life can be complicated. Meditating on Philippians 4:8 will not take my problems away, but may make them easier to tolerate. I think it will make my life more joyful.

So this year I will focus on joy. Now, I’m not talking about happiness. Spiritually speaking, happiness and joy are not always synonymous. Christians know that true joy comes from knowing God and having a relationship with Him. This gives our lives meaning and purpose. True joy is an attitude of the heart and spirit, present inside us.

Joy can share its space with other emotions such as sadness or shame, or even exist in the darkest and most difficult times. Hard times don’t have to take away our joy. There is joy, peace, and comfort in knowing Jesus is always with us. He will never leave or forsake us. He walks with us every step of the way. He will help us make it through. Joy helps us look beyond the current situation.

Maybe that’s why James 1:2 tells us to “count it all joy” when we have trials. It’s not telling us to laugh with glee when bad things happen. It’s telling us to look beyond circumstances. Learn what we can, do what we can, but realize this physical life is temporary. 

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus endured being crucified because of the joy set before Him. He could see beyond what was happening. Joy can exist regardless of what is happening. All people having a relationship with Jesus Christ can have joy. Joy undergirds our spirit. Joy brings hope. Joy brings peace and contentment.

So this year my blog will be a Journal of Joy where I’ll discuss what brings me joy personally – things that make my heart smile. My hope is that these thoughts will bring you joy as well. Or perhaps they can be a catalyst for you to think about what brings you joy and motivate you to meditate on those things.  

*******

Lord, my joy lies in You! Help me filter everything in life through the eyes of Your love and think on what is true, noble, just, pure, virtuous, and lovely. For these are Your thoughts.


Choose to Begin Again

December 29, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Choices change lives…

By Barbara Dahlgren

Every day is a new beginning. In other words, today is the first day of the rest of your life, don’t screw it up. Each day is a new day to practice making wise choices.

Many wait until a New Year comes to make resolutions. That’s not a bad idea. But it’s actually day-to-day living that eventually helps us live better lives year to year. However, day-to-day living cannot fully rely on our resolve because our resolve just isn’t good enough. God in His infinite wisdom knows we need extra help living our daily lives and fortunately He provides it.

Sometimes life is so burdensome that it’s hard not to get discouraged. But God tells us not to lose heart. Things may not appear to be going so well, but 2 Corinthians 4:16 tells us, “…inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Re-new means to make new again.

Each day is a new day. Each day is an opportunity to renew our resolve. This is important to keep in mind when those New Year’s resolutions don’t reap the results we hope for. It’s day-to-day living that helps us live better lives year to year.

When we fall, we get up and face a new day. Each day we take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). God gives us what we need to make it through each day—our daily bread (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). Paul said he died daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). He recommitted to the sacrifice Jesus made for Him daily. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

Consider this… Each day we put off our old self and put on our new self (Ephesians 4:22-24). And we keep putting it on day after day after day after day. It’s not a one-time deal.

One final thought… Try repeating this at the beginning of each new day: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life!” Then don’t screw it up. If you do, then start over again the next day. Nobody said that life would be easy.


Choose to Celebrate the Birth of Christ

December 22, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Choices change lives…

By Barbara Dahlgren

People keep or observe Christmas for a few reasons. For adults, it’s a time for families to get together. For parents, it’s a time to give gifts to their children. For children, it’s time to get presents. For Christians, it’s all of these plus a time to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The birth of Christ is very significant. Yet, long before His birth there was something wonderful – the promise of His coming and the promise of redemption for mankind which was all foretold in Scripture.

Psalm 130:7-8 told us, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption. He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

Jeremiah 23:4-6 said a day was coming when God would raise up a king who would reign wisely and do what was right. His name would be “The Lord Our Righteousness.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 told us, “Unto us a child will be born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be called: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 11:2-5 said the Spirit of the Lord would rest on Him, and the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, fear of the Lord. He would not judge by what He saw or heard but with righteousness.

Over 300 prophecies were fulfilled through the birth of Jesus, His life, His ministry, His death and resurrection. Not just the promise of Christ’s coming was revealed in Scripture, but the details of how it would take place. This miraculous event was not some afterthought, but totally planned by God.

He would be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10/Luke 3:3), a descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12:3/Matthew 1:1), Isaac (Genesis 17:19/Luke 3:24), Jacob (Numbers 24:17/Matthew 1:2), Jesse (Isaiah 11:10/Romans 15:12), and David (Jeremiah 23:5-6/Matthew 1:1).  

He would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15/Galatians 4:4), a virgin (Isaiah 7:11/Luke 1:26-31), in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2/Luke 2:4-7), worshipped by shepherds (Psalm 72:9/Luke 2:8-15), and honored by kings (Psalm 72:10,17/Isaiah 60:3/Matthew 2:1-11). The slaughter of children (Jeremiah 31:15/Matthew 2:16-18) and flight to Egypt (Hosea 11:1/Matthew 2:14-15) were foretold as well. The list goes on and on.

Christ’s birth was significant! It was so significant that the world splits history, calendars, and timelines into two segments: BC which means before Christ and AD which means “in the year of our Lord” indicating after Christ was born.

To show the significance of Christ being born, an angel was sent by God on the night of His birth to announce His arrival (Luke 2:10-11). “Do not be afraid, I bring you good tidings of joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Sounds like a reason to celebrate to me!

Christ is the Savior for all, so I don’t worry too much about those who keep Christmas without focusing on Christ. They may not even know Christ yet. However, they are actually celebrating a holiday about Christ’s birth. They may try to say that’s not what they are celebrating, but how can they get around it? Christmas literally means Christ’s Mass. So, ironically, whether people want it to or not, it commemorates and celebrates Christ’s birth!

Consider this… The true gift of Christmas won’t be found under a tree, but in the presence of Jesus in our lives. That’s why, as we celebrate, we thank God for this indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). This gift of Christ was sent not to condemn us, but to redeem us (John 3:17). His name is Emmanuel which means God with us. We never have to be afraid or feel alone again.

One final thought… Christ is our good tidings of joy, sent for all people – from the poorest shepherd to the richest Magi! To me, that’s something to celebrate!


Choose to Receive Graciously

December 15, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Choices change lives…

By Barbara Dahlgren

The Bible says it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). Although it is more blessed to give, there are times when it is blessed to receive as well.

Some people are too proud to receive anything from anybody. They don’t want to feel obligated to another person. They don’t want others to think they need anything. Some of these people are generous givers, but don’t know how to receive.

Some people can’t even receive a sincere compliment. Instead of just graciously saying, “Thank you,” they make up excuses as to why they don’t deserve the compliment. It’s as if they think if they accept the compliment, they aren’t humble enough. Or they immediately try to reciprocate with another compliment which is usually insincere because they are only reciprocating, not really giving a genuine compliment. Let’s face it— some days our hair really does look good so when some bald guy says, “Hey, I like your hair style!” we don’t need to say, “I like yours, too!”

Just as giving should be part of our lives, so should receiving. When we can’t receive genuine, heartfelt gifts, appreciation, help, or compliments from others, we rob them of blessings.

Jesus was the greatest giver. He gave up His life for us. But did you know Jesus knew how to receive as well. When Mary anointed His feet with expensive perfume, He accepted it graciously (John 12:1-8). The disciples were shocked because the ointment was worth a lot of money and could have been sold to help the poor. Yet, Jesus accepted this gift in the spirit it was given.

Jesus taught the disciples a lesson in serving others when He insisted on washing their feet at the Last Supper (John 13:14-15). However, this was a lesson in receiving as well. Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet, but Jesus said that unless Peter received this act of service from Him, Peter could have no part of Him (John 13:4-10).

God has gifts for us to receive, but sometimes we refuse to accept them. God wants us to receive forgiveness of sin. We already have it, but we need to acknowledge and receive it. Unless we do we will never be able to experience the fullness of a relationship with Him. 

Consider this… Jesus could have fed the multitudes with manna from heaven. After all, it had been done before. Instead, he let a little boy give up his lunch and share what he had with others (John 6:5-14).

One final thought… We should always give with an open heart. We need to learn to receive the same way.


Choose to Give

December 8, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Choices change lives…

By Barbara Dahlgren

Scripture says it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). How many of us are givers?

At first we may think scriptures about giving only refer to giving money to the church. While it’s true that many passages do speak of this kind of stewardship, the biblical principle of giving runs much deeper – such as giving cheerfully and generously of everything God has given us.

For example, in Old Testament times people were expected to give 10% or a tithe of everything they earned back to God. In the New Testament they were encouraged to give, but no fixed amount was given. They were exhorted to give according to how God had prospered them or how much they loved God. The decision was theirs to make. However, they should bear two things in mind. They should give cheerfully, not out of a sense of obligation or reluctance (2 Corinthians 9:7) and they should give generously. If we “sow” sparingly, we will “reap” sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6). In other words, we shouldn’t expect God to be generous with us if we aren’t generous with others. This applies in all areas of our lives.

God expects us to give to others because God has given to us! Every gift and blessing we have come from God and God expects us to share them all with others (James 1:7). Jesus gave instructions to His disciples in Matthew 10:8: “…freely you have received, freely give.” When we share what God has given us with others, it glorifies God.

Giving is a basic biblical principle for every aspect of our lives. We should be giving to God, plus we should be giving and sharing what God has given us with others.

What can we give to God who has everything? Here are some ideas…

  • Our love
  • Our trust
  • Our thanks
  • Our praise and worship
  • Our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1)

What have we freely received from God that we can share with others? Here are some ideas…

  • The good news about Jesus Christ
  • Acceptance
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Comfort
  • Forgiveness
  • Hope

What can we give to others? Here are some ideas…

  • Our time
  • Our talents
  • Our energy
  • Benefit of the doubt
  • Our prayers
  • A smile
  • Encouragement

I’m sure we can all add to these lists.

Consider this old adage… We make a living by what we get out of life but we make a life by what we give.

Studies show that givers improve their overall mental health, have a more positive outlook and improve relationships with others. So be a giver. It’s a win/win/win scenario. It’s good for you. It’s good for others. God loves it!

One final thought…  Remember these words of Anne Frank: “No one has ever become poor by giving.”


Choose to Use Your Access to God Wisely

December 1, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Choices change our lives…

By Barbara Dahlgren

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace…”

Years ago I heard a sermon about this verse. The preacher wasn’t totally advocating a “name it and claim it,” “blab it and grab it,” or “health and wealth” gospel, but he did give the impression we should boldly ask God for what we want and if it’s good for us, good for everyone around us, and just plain good – God will give it to us.

Well, that’s what I did… and guess what? God didn’t give me what I wanted. Imagine my disappointment! My faith was a bit shaken because I felt like I was taking a giant leap of faith to make a request boldly. I also felt like my lack of faith prevented me from getting it.

Is our faith a bit wobbly when God doesn’t give us what we want – when clearly we know it would be the best for everyone concerned?

Ah…but do we really know what is the best for everyone? We may think we do, but maybe we don’t. God sees all and knows all. Only He knows what is best for everyone! Is it our lack of faith that prevents a request, or God’s faithfulness to doing what is best that makes the difference?

So what does it mean to come boldly before the throne of grace?

Actually this passage isn’t about our boldness – at least not the kind of boldness we associate with this word – like being brash, brave, or daring. The whole passage is letting us know we can have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, our High Priest. We have direct access to Jesus Christ! We don’t need to go through another person like a priest, a minister, a guru, a psychic, or an angel to get to God. This direct access thing is a big deal and was not really possible for the common man before the death of Christ.

In Old Testament times, the High Priest was the mediator between God and the people. Only he could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple (Hebrews 9:7). The Holy of Holies was a special place, considered the earthly dwelling place for God’s presence. A veil or thick curtain divided it from the rest of the temple, where man could dwell.

However, when Jesus died for our sins, that veil or curtain was miraculously “rent” or torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). God no longer dwells in temples made of hands (Acts 17:24). The way to God the Father is not through the temple, but through Christ His Son, because Jesus is now our High Priest (Hebrews 10:19-22).

And Jesus, our High Priest, came to earth, lived among us, and totally understands everything we go through (Hebrews 4:14-16). He feels our pain. He knows our weaknesses and temptations. So when we talk to Him, He “gets” us! He understands us. He knows where we are coming from.

Therefore, we can come “boldly” before Him.

The Greek word for boldly here is “parrhesia” and it means to be frank, outspoken, and even blunt. We can tell Jesus exactly how we feel. It’s not about making bold requests we want God to fulfill like some big sugar daddy in the sky. It’s about being honest without fear of reprisal. It’s about pouring our hearts out to the One who understands and having confidence in Him to do the best thing for us. We come boldly to Him so we can obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Consider this… We don’t have to worry that we are praying in the wrong way, at the wrong time, or with the wrong stance. We have a High Priest who looks beyond all that to our hearts. God doesn’t want to punish us; He wants us to realize how much He loves us!

One final thought… You see, it’s not our faith or lack of faith that makes the difference in our prayers; it’s God’s faithfulness!


Choose to Prayerfully Thank God

November 24, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Choices change lives…

By Barbara Dahlgren

Psalm 118:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. For His mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 100:4, 5 says: “Be thankful to God and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endures forever.”

Every day is filled with opportunities to be thankful. How much more should we focus on God’s blessings at this special time of year? Here’s a little prayer to get your started…

Lord, we would like to thank You for meeting our needs everyday – for food and shelter and clothing. And for the many extras You provide that we so often take for granted.

Lord, thank You for our families and friends who help make our lives complete. Thank You that even when we are miles away from our loved ones that we can be bound by the cords of Your love.

And Lord, we thank You that we live in a country where we are free to worship You and to read Your word.

And thank You Lord for hearing and answering our prayers. For being the one set of footprints in the sand that carry us when our burdens weigh us down.

And Father how we thank You for Your son, Jesus Christ, who is the “Light of the world.” When we turn to Him, He floods the darkness of our souls with the Light of Your love.

Thank You that Jesus not only died for our sins, but that He is alive today and at Your side. That He is our friend and brother and makes intercession for us.

And Lord we thank You that Jesus came into this world and made our hearts His home as our wonderful, merciful Savior – our precious Redeemer and Friend.

Thank You for all that you have given us as Christians. We have the Holy Spirit who is Your presence in our lives, the Bible that is a light unto our path, and Christian friends who encourage and help us.

We thank You Lord that we can face tomorrow with hope because Jesus is living for us today.

O Lord, how truly rich we are because of You. We aren’t coming before You now to ask for anything, but we just want to praise and worship You and thank You for ALL that You mean to us!

In Jesus’s name we dedicate this prayer of thanksgiving to YOU!  

Amen

Consider this… “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~Meister Eckhart

One final thought… It is good to give thanks unto the Lord (Psalm 92:1).