Saturday, October 22, 2016

Be Aware & Beware!

Be Aware & Beware!
As we walked along the jungle pathway in Animal Kingdom at Disney World, I saw this sign near the Tiger enclosure.  The sign told us to "Be aware" that tigers were nearby.  Another sign (below), told us to "Beware" of the presence of tigers and to stay on the path for safety.

While these signs are meant to add color and interest to a theme-park adventure, there was no real danger to visitors of Animal Kingdom.  Instead, we were able to admire the beautiful Sumerian tigers on display inside their well-fortified enclosure.

The two signs, however, immediately made me think of something far more sinister.  They reminded me of the fearsome beast that prowls the jungle paths of our lives in this world.  Scripture warns us, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Resist him, steadfast in the faith..." 1 Peter 5:8-9.
Although the verse speaks of a "lion," a tiger is every bit as fearsome.  We can easily overlay these two signs across the paths of our lives and consider the warnings.  We should be aware and never forget that "tigers are frequently encountered in the ruins ahead," which translates to, "Satan is frequently encountered on your pathway ahead."  He's there, just waiting to pounce, and he is every bit as fierce and merciless as that tiger pictured above.
The second sign offers a way of safety to the traveler:  " will be very safe by walking on the well-traveled path," which translates to, "You will be very safe by walking on the well-protected path set forth by God in His Word."  God lovingly offers us a path of safety, and if we choose that path, He promises to walk with us along the way.  Now, that's the kind of safety I'm looking for in a jungle teeming with tigers!
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me..." Psalm 23.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lead Me, O Lord

Lead Me, O Lord

As we begin our morning, the path of a new day spreads out before us.  What lies around the corner?  What waits along the sides of our pathway?  Should we plunge ahead, or walk through the jungle of this world more slowly - trusting God to guide our way?

These are questions to consider.  Moses considered these questions as he felt the weight of responsibility God had given him in leading the nation of Israel through the desert.  Can you imagine such a job being thrust upon you?  Neither could Moses.  During this dilemma of what to do and which way to go, Moses asked God, "Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in your sight."

The next request of Moses, however, is the one that really impresses me.  He said, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here" Exodus 33:15.  I love that he said that.  Sometimes, we think we know the best way to do a thing, and we don't bother to ask God if, indeed, it IS the best path we should be taking.

I'm a "planner," and I plan for this and for that, making lists, working on my agenda.  I think my ideas and plans sound good and logical, but if they are not bathed in prayer and done in the will of God, I may be walking down that path without the power of the Holy Spirit's "Okay" on the thing, and I really don't want that.  Sometimes, I come to a jarring stop and realize, this is my plan, not God's.  I apologize to Him for my impulsiveness and pray Moses' prayer -- "O Lord, if You are not in this thing and Your Presence doesn't go before me in it, forgive me and keep me from stepping forth without You in it.  Guide me, O thou great Jehovah!"

There -- that's how we should approach our day -- asking God the way to go.  We really don't want to go there if God is not in it.  Two of my favorite verses in God's Word are found in Proverbs.  They are words to live by:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" 3:5-6.

Photo:  The path in the photo above is in Animal Kingdom at Disney World where my husband and I enjoyed a day of wandering recently.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

God is Still Good

God is Still Good

I took this photo at the large indoor cemetery near the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.  The marble sarcophagus shows one figure mourning the death of a loved one, while the other figure is perhaps seeking comfort from God.  Both are pictures of sorrow.

A friend was recently asked why he wasn’t angry with God as his beautiful, young wife lay dying of cancer.  His answer:  “Honestly, it never occurred to me to be angry at him. Why would I lash out in anger toward the only thing that brings me solace? That’d be akin to punching the lifeguard who’s trying to save me from drowning.  I must cling to Christ, desperately, determinedly, gratefully, for strength to see myself through every moment, both good and hurtful, both joyful and sorrowful. And so that’s what I do. I’ve found Jesus to be more than sufficient. He is a man of sorrows who knows how to share mine, and who tells me gently, in ways that I can believe, that in the end, everything is going to be ok. God is good; he is always good.”

Even while we are trusting God to comfort us when tragedy and sorrow strike, we still often ask, “Why?  Why is this happening in my/our lives?”
The answer is as old as time.  We live in a sinful world where bad things happen -- even to good people, and God’s children endure heartache and pain just as often as those who do not believe.  In this world we live in, God doesn’t wave a magic wand over the lives of His children and say, “No more problems for you.”
We can’t expect to walk through life never stubbing a toe or having a sore throat, with a dust-free home and no car repairs, never suffering with a mosquito bite or hurt feelings (and that’s just some of the small stuff!).  Not only are we not guaranteed a carefree life, we are actually guaranteed that live will NOT be carefree.
Jesus spoke of that assurance in John 16:33:  “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
You can count on issues ranging from that stubbed toe and dusty house, all the way up the scale to the possibility of cancer and heart disease, and a home being gobbled up by an earthquake or forest fire.

I’m not saying we need to live in fear of the ax falling, but we do need to be aware of the reality of life on this planet.  Just as my friend does not blame God for the pain and sorrow of his wife’s condition, we can’t call out “foul” to God when He allows tragedy to strike.
We might say, “Oh, but He could have prevented this horrible thing from happening!”  And, yes, He could certainly prevent it, but He allows these things to plague mankind because He gives His creation free will.  That free will resulted in sin being introduced into the Garden of Eden, and we’ve been hemmed about with its awful consequence ever since.

While free will brought devastation in the form of sin into our world, free will also allows us to choose to follow God, in spite of the pull of the dark side.  When we choose to believe and follow God Almighty, a wonderful thing happens.  Even though we’re still living in this sinful world and enduring its sometimes painful environment, our spirits are bound up in the perfect love of Jesus in a way that frees us from the ultimate consequences of those sins. 

Someday, we’ll live in a sin-free place called Heaven, with the God who gave us free will to love Him and delights in our choice.  In that perfect place, there will be no more stubbed toes, cancer, or death.  At long last, we’ll enjoy the peace, joy and nearness with God that He intended for us in the first place.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Grass Sings


I took this close-up picture of lush grass during a wander through the woods in Scotland.  It reminds me of a song about the resurrection of Jesus by Sandi Patti that has the phrase, "Did the grass sing?  Did the earth rejoice to feel you again?" 

If you think about it, the earth is in a sort of limbo as it spins in its orbit during this space of time between its perfect creation and when it will again be perfected after Christ returns.  Scripture tells how creation eagerly awaits the day of its deliverance and even now, "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs..." Romans 8:22. 

Not only does the earth groan, but it also teaches.  Job 12:7-9 says, "But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you....Who among all these does not know that the  hand of the Lord has done this..."

While we know that nature does not have the same sort of choices and abilities that we humans are endowed with, animals do have feelings and instincts, and even plants apparently have some degree of feeling since scripture tells us that they both "groan" and "teach."  So, when the singer asks if the grass perhaps sang with joy when the Lord was resurrected, would that be so strange?

I love the song by Nicole Nordeman, called, "My Offering."  It begins with a verse about grass and its desire to glorify God, just as she desires to glorify God.

If You made me like the grass that is green
Growing tall and covering the hills above me.
And maybe I would pray for sunshine and a little rain
To fall now and then to make me lovely.
I could be a place where sheep could graze
Or barefoot feet could play.
And I would grow and grow and hope You'd bend down low
To hear me sing my offering.

Open up the Heavens, open up the skies
'Cause all of Your creation wants to testify.
And I have a song so let the earth sing along
'Cause I just want to praise You.

Pastor Rob Bell has said, "We live between the trees in a world drenched in God."  Living between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, both of which were in the Garden of Eden, and the tree of the Cross of Christ, which continues to offer salvation -- we live in a world where God offers love and grace to all of His beautiful creation.  In spite of the ugliness resulting from sin, there is still beauty and hope, and someday, there will be complete redemption.
I join with the trees which scripture says, "clap their hands" in praise to our Almighty Creator God.  All praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rags & Royal Robes

      Rags & Royal Robes

This is an interesting picture I took in Madrid, Spain.  We were walking around the popular Plaza Mayor when I saw this person (not sure if its male or female) near one of the entrances, sitting like a statue covered in mud.  I thought it to be a clever "costume" and dropped a coin in the slot for donations.

My greatest interest in this figure is how it reminds me of the verse in Isaiah 64;6:  "All our righteousness is as filthy rags."  I'd say this person is covered from head to toe in filthy rags.  The picture represents our natural condition before God -- covered in sin, with no hope of cleansing ourselves.  In fact, the verse specifically mentions any good we might have done as being little more than filthy rags in the sight of God. 

Even though the person pictured above can go home, shower, put on clean clothes, and expect to be outwardly clean and presentable, inwardly he, like us, can never cleanse himself of the sin we are born in.  There is only one way we can be made truly clean.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1 John 1:9.  What a wonderful promise from God!  What we have no hope of ever being able to cleanse, He has made a way for total cleansing.  No more filthy rags in our closets -- only robes of purest white.

My granddaughter Marisa twirls around in a beautiful white costume, looking clean and lovely from head to toe, reminding us of how God clothes us in His pure, clean righteousness - from head to toe. In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes, "Wear My robe of righteousness with ease. I custom-made it for you, to cover you from head to toe. The price I paid for this covering was astronomical - My own blood. You could never purchase such a royal garment, no matter how hard you worked."

What a blessing to be cleansed by Almighty God Himself!  Wear His garment of righteousness and salvation with thanksgiving and joy.  He has given it to you to wear for eternity.

"I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness" Isaiah 61:10.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bird of Prey

A hawk discovered our backyard is a good place to drop in for a handy meal.  This pile of feathers is evidence of some violent moments on our nice green lawn.  Sadly, there have been five piles of feathers over the last month. The doves that frequent our bird feeder have become easy pickings for these sharp-taloned birds of prey. 

We'd been told that hawks grab their victim and pluck off all the feathers before flying away to partake of their meal.  Sad for the doves, they are slow birds that often eat on the ground under the feeder.  At the beginning of the summer, there were many doves in our backyard.  Not so many now.

One evening, we saw the hawk in action.  He'd caught a bird (perhaps a dove, it was hard to tell) and was busy plucking its feathers.  A group of Blue Jays were squawking in nearby bushes, even going so far as to swoop down at the hawk to get him to leave.  He calmly stood his ground and continued his grisly business, until I walked near enough to scare him away.  And yes, he carried his prize off with him. 

Doves are one of the nicest birds we've seen.  They don't run other birds away and they wait their turn.  Even though they do not seem very agile, they keep trying to get on a perch until they manage to balance and scoop up some tasty seed.  I like the doves and it saddens me to see that so many have been killed.  Alas, such is the way of the world in which we live.

Many times, I make the comment, "It's a jungle out there!"  And, indeed, it is - in more ways than the obvious.  The obvious is all the terrible things that happen around the world - terrorist attacks, murders, poverty, child abuse, horrible accidents -- we've seen it all and it scares and saddens us.  Then, there are things like the Zika virus we've been hearing about lately, disease and infection.  To say it's a jungle out there is no exaggeration. 

To make matters worse, there is a slithery serpent by the name of Satan who uses jungle tactics against us every day.  He and his slimy servants are out to get us and we frequently don't even see them coming.  The jungle is a dangerous place.

I don't know about you, but I sure would like to know a safe place to keep me from the clutches of birds of prey who swoop in and grab unwary peaceful doves who are minding their own business (like you and me), and to protect me from slimy demons who work in the shadows.

Thankfully, there is such a place.  The Lord Jesus Christ promises to be our safest place.  Here's what David said about the Lord, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1.  Whew!  Aren't you glad there is a safe place in this jungle terrain?  I sure am!

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust'....He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge." Psalm 91:1-2 & 4.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Our Anchor

Our Anchor

Anchors always remind me how Jesus should be the anchor of our soul.  I took the picture of this anchor where it sits inside the stone wall of the San Anton Fortress in beautiful A Coruna, Spain.  There's an old hymn, written in 1882, by Priscilla Jane Owens, that asks the question, "Will your anchor hold in the storms of life...When the strong tides lift and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain?"

What is your life anchored to?  We all have something that centers us.  For some, it's their job, for others, family or the church.  It could even be their own inner strength they consider to be the anchor.  While all of these things are good to have in our lives, none of them are strong enough to be an anchor in every circumstance.

The chorus of the old hymn tells us where to find the only anchor we can truly count on.  "We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love!"

In Hebrews 6, the writer is speaking of how we can have hope, because we can trust God's promises; that we can take hold of the hope that is offered to us and be greatly encouraged.  Verse 19 days, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."

I love the way the writer Sarah Young talks about being anchored and staying centered on God, in her devotional book, "Jesus Calling." She writes:  "Your mind will wander from Me, but the question is how far you allow it to wander.  An anchor on a short rope lets a boat drift only slightly before the taut line tugs the boat back toward the center....As you become increasingly attuned to My Presence, the length of rope on your soul's Anchor is shortened.  You wander only a short distance before feeling that inner tug - telling you to return to your true Center in Me."

We've seen a picture of an anchor, a song about an anchor, a Bible verse and devotional featuring an anchor.  All of these anchor-related pieces, all point to our true center - the Lord Jesus Christ.  I'm so thankful to be anchored in the love of Jesus forever.