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.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jonah and the Great Fish

Here are pictures I took of some of the beautiful stained glass inside the Main Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  It was not surprising that the various windows highlight stories from the Bible having to do with the Sea.  Both Jonah and Noah's stories are pictured in several windows each. 

Those familiar with the story of Jonah will remember that God told his prophet Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach to them, warning of the need to repent or that they would be destroyed in forty days.  Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, as did all of Israel.  The Ninevites were well-known for their extreme brutality toward their enemy.  They never showed an ounce of mercy, why should Jonah be the instrument to extend God's mercy toward these wicked people?

Instead of heading out toward the city in obedience to God, Jonah foolishly thought he might be able to run from God.  So, he bought a ticket for a far-away city, boarded the ship, went below and fell asleep.  A bit later, a violent storm nearly tore the ship to pieces.  It was discovered that Jonah was to blame and the window above illustrates Jonah being tossed overboard.  As soon as he went over, the storm immediately stopped.  At that moment, a great fish swam by with his mouth open and Jonah was swallowed into his stomach.  Miraculously, God had prepared this very fish for this very moment - and He was totally in control.

After three days and nights in the belly of the fish, and quite a bit of praying and repenting within that dark, smelly interior, God caused this great fish to swim up to the shore and vomit Jonah onto dry land.  After he washed his smelly self up, Jonah started walking toward Nineveh (a very long walk!).  This time, there was no arguing.  Jonah was still not happy about his mission, but he was not going to botch this assignment a second time -- he might not live through it.

  And so, as soon as he reached the gates of the city of his enemy, he began to preach about God and repentance.  The really, really amazing thing is that almost immediately, everyone in the city repented and turned to God.  They even put on sackcloth and sat in ashes to show their sorrow -- even the king and queen.  It was probably the greatest revival in history.  How exciting and wonderful!
   Except - Jonah was not happy.  In fact, he was very angry.  To make a long story shorter, he whined and complained, and finally God let him know his anger was misplaced and he'd better get an attitude check.

This story tells us at least a couple of obvious things:  First, God's mercy is shown in a big way.  It's a beautiful story of mercy and grace, not only to the people of Nineveh, but also to Jonah (that God didn't just zap him).  It also shows us how God sometimes uses imperfect and reluctant persons to accomplish His plans and -- that His plans will come to pass.

I'm so thankful for God's mercy and grace - and for His willingness to use we who are flawed vessels to show His great glory.  Praise God!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sacramento State Capitol

Sacramento, California
State Capitol

State Seal - featuring a bear, a miner, shipping, and a Greek woman

Larry admires the marble statue of Columbus and Queen Isabella

We recently enjoyed a trip to California and Nevada that included visits to their state capitols.  We like to check out state capitols on our travels.  The fine building in Sacramento was built in 1822, and has room after room decorated with beautiful features.

This statue Larry is looking at has an interesting engraving near its base.  In this tableau, Christopher Columbus appears to be seeking funds to finance his great adventure across the wide oceans. Queen Isabella of Spain, agrees to fund the venture, saying, "I will assume the undertaking for my own Crown of Castile, and am ready to pawn my jewels to defray the expenses of it, if the funds in the treasury shall be found inadequate."  I was impressed by her willingness to sacrifice for what she believed in.

It made me think about we as Christians - are we willing to sacrifice for what we believe in?  When God places a burden on our hearts, or an opportunity at our feet, what do we do?  Do we give it our all for Christ, or consider the cost too high and let the opportunity pass?

I don't imagine Queen Isabella ever realized what a great deed was done that day when she put her all on the line for a simple sea captain to make a long and dangerous voyage to an unknown land.  Only eternity will reveal the extent of the outcome of our actions.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Thankful American


    I am so thankful to be a citizen of this great United States of America.  While our country is far from perfect, we have been a bastion of freedom, prosperity and hope in a world full of struggle.  I love our flag with its red and white stripes and fifty little stars on a field of blue in one corner.  Each time I see it, I feel a wave of patriotism at what it stands for and how thankful I am to be part of it.

    This grouping of flags was on display in front of the capital in Sacramento, California during a special tribute at the California Peace Officers' Memorial.  The flags stood crisply at attention as those officers who'd been slain, as well as those who still faithfully risk their lives to protect others, were honored.

   Our American flag is often used at times when people are being honored - from those quiet, somber moments at a graveside when a folded flag is offered to the family in honor of a loved one, to those exciting, happy times just before a baseball game when the Star Spangled Banner is sung and thousands of attendees gaze at our beautiful flag snapping in the breeze.

   Happy Birthday to our beloved country -- the home of the brave and the land of the free!  God bless America!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Running Around in Circles

Running Around in Circles
    Do you ever feel like you're running around in circles - especially in your prayer life?  In the photo, my grandson Storm is playing Duck, Duck, Goose with a group of kids at VBS.  He's running around the circle, seeking a place to land.  Sometimes, that's how I feel when I pray.
    We have such an awesome God who offers to us the privilege of prayer -- the ability to actually talk with the One who created the entire universe and beyond, to express our feelings and needs to Him, and to have Him listen and respond.  When you think about it, it's beyond amazing!
    Yet, if you're like me, you still kinda want to understand how that works.  When God says, "Ask and you shall receive, that your joy be full" Matthew 7:7, what does that really mean?  Does it mean that I can ask God for healing for Storm's 14-year old cousin who has been in a coma for ten days as a result of a traffic accident, and he'll definitely be healed?  Does it mean I can ask God for answers to various other needs and always expect a happy outcome?  Those of us who know anything about prayer, know the answer to those questions are "Not always."
     Sometimes, God answers our prayers in the affirmative immediately, other times there is a need for extended prayer for the thing and then He gives it to us.  Then, there are the times He answers with an entirely different outcome than we asked or wished for.  Those are the times we question and, in some cases, we might wonder if our prayers even matter.
     One day I lamented to God, "I just don't understand prayer!"  I felt Him lovingly answer my spirit, "You don't have to understand, you just have to obey and pray."  I actually felt relieved that I didn't have to understand the process (cause trying to understand always brings on a "circle moment"), I just needed to do the thing - to obey God's directive to pray and trust Him to handle the outcome.
    That old song, "Trust and Obey," is so relevant here.  We need to obey God's directive to pray - which is plainly taught throughout His Word -- and then, we need to trust His loving heart to know what is best for us on this sinful earth.
    I believe that verse, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" James 5:16, reveals a lot to us about the power of prayer.  Even so, we need to never forget the verse in Isaiah 45, that reminds us of the sovereignty of God:  "I have made the earth, and created man on it...and I will direct all his ways..."
   Yes, there will always be times we get caught in a circle while we remain in this world (which is itself a circle), but God has promised that He provides a landing place for us.  I always come back to the wise verses in Proverbs 3:  "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."
    Thank you Lord for the awesome privilege of prayer, and for your patience with us when we run around in circles.  Help us to land in your arms of love and grace and peace.  And help us to always trust and obey.