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.

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.