Monday, December 30, 2013

An Uphill Journey



  "I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
     and in His word I put my hope" Psalm 130:5

Recently I spent over an hour reading a friend's online journal chronicling the saga of she and her husband's life during the last year.  Sometimes I wept, sometimes I chuckled, but all the way through, I marveled at their amazing, Spirit-filled testimony and faithfulness to God.  It has truly challenged me in my own Christian walk.  I want to share just a bit about her story in hopes you too might be challenged to view faith and God's plan for our lives in a new and fresh way.

To represent Sandy and Scott's journey of faith, I chose this picture that I took a few years ago in the town of Charlotte Amalia on the island of St. Thomas.  These stairs are called The 99 Steps - they lead from a lower street to an upper street with a beautiful view.  The stones were brought from Denmark as ballast in the sailing ships and the stairs were built in the mid-1700s.  The steps are steep and often uneven -- and it's a tough climb to the top.

Sandy and Scott's last year and half has truly been an uphill, exhausting climb, but it is the attitude of their hearts that has made all the difference.  Here's a synopsis of their story:

In 2007, Scott was diagnosed with liver disease.  He was a healthy young man -- a Christian who neither drank alcohol nor smoked, but lived an active lifestyle.  It was not until 14 months ago that he began having real problems from this disease and he, his wife and two young daughters began the uphill journey that still continues.  In March 2013, he was approved for a liver transplant at a University hospital in the state. 

I won't go into detail about all the ups and downs of his health during that next five months, but it was deteriorating.  On August 17, he received a liver transplant.  That should have been the turning point, but their uphill journey was only beginning.  Scott nearly died on the operating table primarily from excessive bleeding and had to have 100 units of blood.  Since then, infection, bleeding problems, blood clots, collapsed lungs, kidney dialysis and other issues have combined to make recovery a dream they continually pray for. 

They have now been at the hospital for 19 weeks - most spent in the ICU!  In spite of this, Sandy consistently writes in her journal, "We continually remind ourselves that God is in control.  He knows the desires of our hearts and He is not surprised by any of this.  God knew this would happen."

At the end of most entries, Sandy includes a verse and praise to God.  Here's one that reflects the attitudes of their hearts in spite of the many setbacks:  "O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago" Isaiah 25:1.

Two days ago, Sandy was praising God that Scott's blood count was looking good and that he had been able to take 10 bites of food.  They're hoping he can be moved to Rehab in a few days.  Her verse that day was in Isaiah 12:2:  "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord Himself is my strength and defense; He has become my salvation."

In closing, I want to share what Sandy wrote about a chance meeting (planned by God, no doubt) in the cafeteria with the daughter of another patient.  When Sandy asked the young woman how her Christmas had been, she began telling her how difficult it had been with her father in ICU and how tired she was after nine days spent at the hospital.  Sandy said I just stood there, listened, and told her I'd pray for her dad's recovery.

Then the woman started asking about Scott and if he'd be home by New Year's Day.  Sandy said, I told her a little about Scott and casually mentioned that we'd been here for 19 weeks.  She was shocked and then apologized for complaining about being here 9 days.  I told her the same thing I've told many people...I don't thing God has given us a bigger burden than anyone else - just a different burden.  I said her dad being here for 9 days was just as big to her, as our journey is to us.  Then I was taken back by her next statement - she said, "You're a Christian aren't you?  I can tell your faith is what's keeping you going right now."  I was thankful that a perfect stranger noticed Jesus in me. Although I was surprised at first, I shouldn't be surprised that HE answered my prayer - I've been praying I can stay strong and people here would see Jesus in me.  Thank you for praying that I daily maintain my testimony - people are watching.

As we begin this new year of 2014, I just wanted to share this story about two of God's choice servants and their family who are still climbing that staircase, but praise God, they know that God is right there beside them and that He has a goodly plan for them and a beautiful view at the top of the staircase. 

Please pray for Scott and Sandy, and their precious young daughters, Paige and Sidney, and for Scott's parents who are helping with the girls.  What an honor to have a part in praying for such warriors of God in this battle.  I thank God upon every remembrance of them and pray God's richest blessings on their lives -- and their continued testimonies.





Friday, December 27, 2013

Red Cardinal Blessing

God sent this bright red cardinal into my backyard this morning to cheer my heart.  You might say, "Get real! You really think God sent that bird just for you?"  My answer is a joyful, "Yes, I do!"  And by the way, I praise His name for sending me this gift.  Here's how the story goes:

A few days ago in the morning, lots of birds were flitting around my backyard, including this cardinal (at least, I assume it was this one).  I snapped a some photos of various birds, but the cardinal would never sit still long enough and only showed up briefly.  This morning, I was feeling a bit down and as I was looking out the window at the bare winter trees, I spoke in my heart, "O God, it would be so nice to see that pretty little cardinal to lift my spirits."  A moment later, this little guy showed up and perched himself on a bare branch.  Not only that, but God commanded him to remain in that spot for several minutes so that I could get his picture and enjoy his beauty.

The prophet Isaiah records God speaking specifically about summoning a bird and sending him wherever He wished him to go:  "I say, My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.  From the east I summon a bird..."  Isaiah 46:10-11.

I smile as I write this because it was indeed a direct answer to a simple prayer -- a small request really, but one that blessed my heart and once again indicates that the great God of all creation who keeps the planets in every universe spinning, cares enough about me to send a tiny red bird to my little ole backyard.  If that is not a wonder and a mercy and an indication of amazing grace, then I don't know what is!

One of my first thoughts when I saw this lovely spot of red in a gray tree on a gray day was that it reminds me of the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from every sin and covers our unworthiness with His wonderful righteousness.  "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience...Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds"  Hebrews 10:22 & 24.  And to go even a bit deeper, that blood was shed on a bare tree.  Just thought of that.

Don't be afraid to ask God for little things as well as the big things.  He delights in showing His children that He loves them and cares for every aspect of our lives.  Since our heavenly Father is all-powerful, He has the ability to send all manner of surprises and blessings our way.  Just make sure you don't miss it by neglecting to notice.  His blessings can show up in the strangest places -- even on the bare branches of a simple tree.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!


A Very Merry and Blessed Christmas
and Grand New Year to You All!


This lovely holiday scene is in historic Atalaya, located at Huntington Beach State Park, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.  My sister and I visited there two years ago and I just loved the way they decorated this rustic 1930s home, warming up the stark brick walls and hard stone floors in such a beautiful way.

There's something about the Christmas season that warms hearts -- even those that are stark and hard.  It's not just the pretty lights and decorations either.  The glow of that long-ago Christmas star shining down on that humble manger spotlights the reason for the season and the warmth in our hearts.  I'm so thankful Jesus made that journey from His kingdom in heaven to become a man on this lowly earth.


Let's join the angels in their great song of praise to our holy, matchless Savior Jesus Christ -- 

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace 
good will toward men" Luke 2:14


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sailing



The third port in our recent Eastern Caribbean cruise was St. Maarten/St. Martin (there's a French side and a Dutch side to the island).  We took a tour around this beautiful island and stopped at these two beaches (above).  There's quite a difference in the water in these two pictures.  I so often think of my inner thoughts as being like a sea - sometimes calm, sometimes rough -- always needing my loving Father to guide my little boat into His safe harbor.  That's what I see in these two shots.

The first picture shows a sailboat plying across a rough sea.  I like the way the water has a silvery sheen, contrasting with the green bushes in the foreground and the muted sky and distant hilly land.  Some days, I feel like I'm on a rough sea as described in James 1:6:  "...he who doubts is like a wave of a sea, blown and tossed by the wind," and also in Jonah 1:4:  "Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up."  At such times, I cry out to God -- please, calm the sea in me, help me for I feel as if I'm drowning.  Do you ever feel that way?

When we feel caught in a raging - or even slightly rough sea, our first instinct should be to call out to the Captain of our soul and seek His help.  When the disciples feared they'd drown in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, they called out to Jesus and He "rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm" Luke 8:24.  Often, it's during those rough seas that we learn the most and grow in the Lord, "Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm..." Job 38:1.

The second photo was taken at Orient Beach and looks quite different than the first.  We see a sailboat peacefully anchored on a beautiful, calm turquoise water with a gentle white froth of surf in the foreground.  A small green-topped island and cloud-studded blue sky complete the scene.  At times, our lives resemble that peaceful sea.  I'm reminded of one of my favorite verses:  "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage" Psalm 16:6.  And of course we can't forget lines from the famous Psalm 23:   "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters..."

When peace like a river flows around us, let's praise God and bask in that glorious beauty.  Likewise, when the rough seas toss us about, let's also praise God and thank Him for the opportunity of growth and to see Him work in wonderful ways.  Storm and Calm / Calm and Storm -- they are each close to one another.  We never know when the waters of our life will change.  We have One who knows the forecast and has a plan for our voyage.  I am so thankful He holds our little boat in the hollow of His hand.

Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pigeon Holes



Yay and Hallelujah!  The pictures loaded today -- I hope you like them.  These two shots were taken in San Juan, Puerto Rico at a spot where hundreds of pigeons reside.  The wall beside a wide plaza on a hillside above the harbor is filled with pigeon holes.  I was fascinated with these multi-colored feathered friends and their interesting tenement dwelling.  They really act like they own the place -- and I guess they do.

I immediately thought about the words pigeon hole and its various meanings.  Originally the words were only used as nouns.  The first usage seems to be in medieval times when pigeon holes were just as these pictures show -- openings in a wall in which pigeons nested.  In the 18th century, desks were made with compartments used to file documents, which were called pigeon holes.  By the 19th century, the phrase had taken on the trappings of a verb when it was used to classify information.  Today, the term pigeon hole is often used by society to classify people.

Have you ever felt like you were being pigeon holed?  Do you feel it was a negative or a positive classification?  Sometimes people are pigeon holed as "Christian."  Now, that's a pigeon hole I'm happy to be put into.  Some people may be throwing out that classification with a negative spin, but I totally accept it with a positive outlook.  If our lives shine for Christ and we are labeled "Christian," then we're following that commandment of the Lord that says we are to let our lives shine for Christ so that others may see Jesus and glorify the Father.

How about the noun usage of the words?  I tend to compartmentalize things in my life -- put them in pigeon holes, so to speak.  I look at the openings in the second photo above and see two nicely-squared pigeon holes and then one that is jagged and messy looking.  That's how some of the issues are in my heart.  Some of the compartments are nice and tidy because I let God control those issues.  Then, there are the issues I try to handle in my own strength and the pigeon holes where I've placed them have painful, jagged edges that I just can't seem to get right.  I wonder why I don't let the Master clean them up and make them whole.  Sometimes that old "me" nature has a hard time letting go.

Wouldn't it be great if all the pigeon holes in our lives could be labeled "Christian," and that God could be in control of each and every one.  He'd keep them cleaned up and nicely-squared and we could live with greater peace and power and purpose.  And, on top of that, we wouldn't suffer from so many ruffled feathers from those jagged edges rubbing against us in our pigeon holes.  



  



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Problems

I'm having a problem getting my photos to load up for my blog posts.  I feel almost lost with no picture sitting above my written words.  I'm not particularly computer-literate so such a problem is a mystery to me.  I can only hope that we'll be able to find someone who can help fix it.  Until then, no photos (boo-hoo!).

Even so, there's always a spiritual application I can learn from pretty much anything that crosses my path.  I'm pretty sure God plans it that way since every step we take here on planet Earth is part of the roadmap He's already marked out for us on His giant timeline.  In this case, I'm reminded that there will always be problems (not that I really need a reminder of that obvious truth).  My frequent comment when a new problem pops up:  "Well, if it's not one thing, it's another."  Isn't that true? 

I like the opening phrase in Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities":  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...  You could probably say that about most weeks of your life -- maybe not to that extreme, but to say, "Yeah, there've been good things happening this week and there've been problems happening this week."  It's basically the story of our lives, taking the bad with the good on a regular basis.  God says it plainly, "In this world, you will have trouble...."  It's not a matter of "if," but an assurance of "you will."

But then there's that last half of the verse that gives us hope and helps make those problem-riddled days seem a little less overwhelming:  "...But take heart!  I have overcome the world" John 16:33.

When these problems arise, take a deep breath and look up to the One who knows the end from the beginning and is in control of every drop of rain and ray of sunshine that crosses our paths.  Let's say, "Thank you God for another opportunity to see you work."  I'm adding my own special prayer at this moment, "God, please clear up this blog/picture issue.  Thank you!"

I'm so thankful that, in spite of all the earthly problems that crop up, I will never have a problem with my Father God who has promised always to be there for me, always to love me, and always to have a perfect, problem-free home ready and waiting for me when it's time to leave this problem-riddled earth.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

San Juan

 
 
 
Here are three views from our visit last month to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  It was a beautiful, sunny, hot day in November and we enjoyed walking the hilly streets of historic San Juan.  The architecture of the homes and buildings is really pretty.  There is a mix of colonial, Spanish and Caribbean to the style which, along with palm trees, lots of greenery and their famous blue cobblestones, is a real delight.
 
We started our touring in the well-preserved Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort (an edge is seen in the top photo).  It sits atop a high promontory overlooking the entrance to San Juan Bay so we also had a cool view of it as we sailed into the harbor as well.  It was a bit of a jaunt from the ship to the fort, but the walk was pretty as well (although hot and uphill most of the way).  Begun in 1539, it wasn't totally finished until 1787.  It's been an active fort, attacked over the centuries by the English, the Dutch, and even the United States.  It's now part of the U.S. National Park system, which meant we were able to get in free with our Golden Age Park pass (:
 
The second photo offers a glimpse of the colorful houses, hilly cobbled street, and lush greenery.  The last photo shows the interior of the Catedral San Juan Bautista Basilica Menor Nuestra Senora de los Remelios -- that's, of course, in Spanish so I'm not sure what the translation would be, but it is a beautiful cathedral with some striking stained glass windows.  We sat down and I prayed for a few minutes beneath the "shadow of the cross."
 
Seeing the fort reminds me that in spite of a peaceful appearance, our world is in the midst of intense warfare.  These visible pictures appear peaceful and even beautiful - and it was a peaceful and beautiful visit, but we should never forget that in the midst of what is visible, there is an invisible world that is clanging with crashing swords and fierce fighting -- right above our heads.
 
Jesus tells us in His word that Satan is a roaring lion and that the forces of evil are strong and insidious - seeking to invade our homes and families.  They want nothing more than for us to be lulled into letting down our guard.  The enemies intention is to destroy us -- or at least our own peace and testimony.
 
The picture of the church is a symbol of Jesus overcoming the forces of evil by dying on the cross and rising from His grave.  He conquered death and hell and I'm so thankful that in all these things He is stronger and that He has given us His Holy Spirit as our great warrior - "Greater is He that is within us, than he that is in the world."
 
Go in the power of the Holy Spirit, O warrior princess and warrior prince!
 
 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Santa Maria Cemetery



This is the most unique cemetery I've ever seen -- and one of the most beautiful.  You've heard the old term, "Location, location, location."  Well, that term is relevant even in the place of burial in this case.  Not only are the central building and surrounding monuments beautiful, the location right beside the pounding surf of the vast blue Atlantic Ocean, in a valley between two handsome historic forts, is absolutely stunning!

We visited the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery on our recent visit to San Juan, Puerto Rico, as one of our cruise ports.  I'm a bit of a "cemetery junkie" and so this was one I really wanted to see.  I took the first photo looking over the old walls of the Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort.  I'll share some more of the pictures from San Juan in a later blog.  This cemetery is in the colonial style and was began in 1863.  Forty feet walls surround the estimated 1,000 graves.  I read that the Spanish government "viewed death with fear because it was a mystery."  They also built it overlooking the Atlantic to "symbolize the spirit's journey to cross over to the afterlife."

Several things strike me about this.  First of all, giving that old term, "Location, location, location" a spiritual spin changes our view of this cemetery (even though I still think it's visually beautiful).  While these deceased bodies lie in a beautiful location, it is the location of the soul/spirit that is of paramount importance.   There are many cemeteries throughout the world where bodies lie, but there are only two locations in all of creation where their soul and spirit reside.  Those two locations hold the spirits of every single person who has ever died.  Heaven and Hell -- they are the only addresses available to those who have drawn their last breath on earth.  Which address is listed on your ticket for eternity?

The beauty of accepting Christ as Savior and being sure your future address is "Heaven" is that even before you die, your eternal home is secure and -- in essence -- you will never truly die.  You'll just take one last breath on earth and the next breath in your new home.  Jesus promises, "...whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life...; he has crossed over from death to life" John 5:24.

Lastly, there will come a time when this beautiful graveyard will be emptied of its residents.  Sounds spooky, doesn't it?  It is, however, a bit of a mystery, but not one that should be viewed with fear -- not if you are a Christian (if you're not a Christian, yes, be afraid, be very afraid!).  Jesus made another promise in the book of John, when He said, "...for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear my voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" 5:28-29.

If you have chosen the way of truth through the Lord's gift of salvation, there is nothing to be afraid of and everything to look forward to.  We can view a beautiful cemetery like Santa Maria Magdalena with an eye for the aesthetics and enjoy our visit.  We can also feel joy in the knowledge that we will never truly die.  With Paul we can gladly sing out, "O death, where is your sting?  O grave, where is your victory?" and two verses later, "But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" 1 Corinthians 15:55 & 57.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Change in Plans

There was an interesting little article in our newspaper this morning about a deer, so I chose this picture I'd taken of a herd of deer a few years ago in Yorktown, Virginia.  They're daintily nibbling at the winter grass in the late afternoon and I like the way the dark and light blend in the picture.

Back to the article:  Here is a situation where a 71-year old woman gets in her SUV one morning, on her way to a particular destination.  At the same time a 27-year old woman was out jogging on the side of the road near where the woman was passing in her vehicle.  Everyone was minding their own business, probably thinking of their plans for the day, when all of a sudden a deer pops up on the scene right in front of the SUV.

As you can imagine, there was a considerable impact as the stunned and frightened driver hit the deer with a shuddering -- and no doubt loud -- collision.  The impact sent the deer flying through the air.  Imagine the young jogger's surprise when a flying deer falls on her and sends her sprawling along the side of the road!  Yes, this is a true story -- one of those happenings that is "stranger than fiction" - for sure!

Both the driver and the jogger were taken to the hospital and treated for non-life threatening injuries.  The deer, however, was not so lucky and is no more.  While this story has a real "wow!" factor, it also has a spiritual message (it has a number of messages actually, but we'll just stick to one).  When you and I start our day, no matter how many plans we have in place, we really don't know how that day is going to end.

The driver of the SUV had no idea her car would be wrecked that morning and she would end up in the hospital.  The jogger had no idea she would be hit by a flying deer (let's face it, that's one scenario we really can't imagine happening!) and end up in the hospital.  And the poor deer (did you catch that pun?) really didn't expect to go airborne and become a carcass on the side of the road that morning.  We just don't have a clue what our future will be the rest of this day.  One assurance we can have about our future if we are Christians, is that no matter how our day goes, or even if it's our last day on earth, we know beyond a doubt that our last day on earth will be our first day in heaven. 

No matter how your day plays out, if God is your Father, you can hold onto this promise:  "The steps of a good man (or woman) are ordered by the Lord; and He delights in his way.  Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him" Psalm 37:23-24.

In these days of uncertainty, that's a marvelous promise to hold onto.  I'd like to add one final bit of advice from Proverbs:  "Lean not unto your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Grand Turk


Because Grand Turk was my favorite port, I can't just let it go with one post.  The top photo was taken along the shoreline in Cockburn Town, where Larry and I wandered around for 2-1/2 hours.  While there, we enjoyed their small, but informative museum.  It's a very small town, but picturesque and "real," meaning it's not commercialized as are so many Caribbean locations.
 
The second photo shows our ship (the smaller Holland Westerdam) moored beside it's bigger Carnival sister.  The pier was built by Carnival Cruise line at one end of the small island so they could bring cruisers to this beautiful place.  Most of the visitors remain at the lovely beach and shopping village, but they miss out by not visiting the town, which we very much enjoyed.
 
Only eight of the 40 islands in the Turk and Cacaos chain are inhabited.  One of the things I found so fascinating about Grand Turk is that it is separated from its related islands by a 22-mile wide body of water called the Columbus Passage (yes, named after our friend, Chris).  The fascinating thing is the depth of the water in that passage -- after leveling off for about 40 feet, it drops suddenly and dramatically to 7,000 feet deep!  That's nearly 1-1/2 miles.  Needless to say, we didn't venture past the shallows near the shoreline.
 
When I think of how deep the oceans are -- many of which have never had their depths plumbed, it reminds me of the depths in God's Word.  I love studying the Bible and have marveled time and again that even a story I've heard dozens of times can have new depths revealed as I study it more deeply.  Even as I enjoy indepth Bible study, I realize I'm only scratching the surface of what God has written in His Word.  Like those divers who descend a few thousand feet into the depths, there is still so much more to be discovered. 
 
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen"  Romans 11:33-36.
 



Monday, December 2, 2013

Small World Moments

 
I love the stained glass featuring the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."  This beautiful glass sits above the entry doorway we're looking through in the second picture.  It's one of many lovely windows in the St. Mary's Anglican Pro-Cathedral Church on Grand Turk Island in the Caribbean.

We enjoyed our first port call for our recent Eastern Caribbean cruise on the island that is capital of the Turks and Cacaos Islands.  It was my favorite port.  You can glimpse the gorgeous azure blue water just beyond the opening.  Most of the town of Cockburn is located along the curving shoreline of these incredible waters.

When we stepped into the church to admire it's beauty, the docent there told us about the stained glass windows.  It turned out to be one of those "small world" stories.  Some years ago, a group of stained glass artists from a town in North Carolina, came to St. Mary's and installed these windows.  Amazing!  That town where Larry grew up and many of his relatives reside.  We had just been there  two weeks earlier for a family reunion.  It was one of those "wow!" moments.

As if that "small world" moment was not enough, there was another one at dinner on the ship the previous night.  We were sitting at a table in the dining room with five strangers who we were chatting with as we tried to get to know one another.  The couple beside me said they lived in Macon, Georgia.  Larry looked at me and said, "That's where Cliff --- lives."  He'd grown up in our church, we'd taught him in Sunday School as a teen, and his mother attends my Bible study.  Our new acquaintance, Jan, snapped her head around and said, "You know Cliff ----?!" 

We then proceeded to hear from she and husband, Tom, how Cliff had gone to their church in Macon and that Tom and Cliff had served together in the church, and what a fine Christian man Cliff is.  We were all taken aback by yet another "small world" happening.

It's just delightful to me the way God brings His people together, because these were dear Christians as well, and reminds us how the Holy Spirit binds us all together in a mysterious way that is exquisitely beautiful! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

I've enjoyed this arrangement on my kitchen table during the last couple of months.  The two pumpkins sit within a pumpkin bowl along with a bunch of fruit, nuts and silk leaves.  It's a simple bit of Autumn that seems to capture the idea of a bountiful harvest.  I am so thankful to God for the bounty He has blessed us with.  I praise God from whom all blessings flow.

It is not by my might or my power or any talent I may possess that I am what I am and that I have what I have.  Everything -- indeed, every breath I take -- is a gift from God.  Oh, that we might be full of praise and thanksgiving, not only on November 28, but each and every day of our lives.

The Apostle Paul says that we are to give thanks in all things -- not only in the good times, but also in difficult times.  It's really hard when you feel like you're at the bottom of the barrel, to look up and give thanks, but if you do, it will brighten your spirit and bring glory to our gracious God.  Giving thanks also reminds us that it is not we ourselves, but the grace of God that has saved us and kept us until the day we join Him in glory.

On this special day of Thanksgiving, let's not forget to thank God for His amazing gift of salvation and eternal life in paradise that He has promised to us.  But until that day, let's rejoice in the Lord and enjoy this beautiful world and all the wonders that are in it -- a world He created for us.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Grow Where Planted


I took this photo during a brief stop in Williamston, North Carolina.  It looks like a hillside covered with moss, but it's actually the rooftop of an old house -- covered in moss with trees and plants growing and old limbs and leaves littering its surface.  I always think its strange when I see plants growing on rooftops and walls.

When I saw this, I thought -- hey, we're all suppose to grow wherever we're planted, even if it might not be the most convenient place to put down roots.  There are people all over this world living in every kind of condition you can imagine.  Christians are being persecuted, dispossessed and far worse on a regular basis in many countries.  This is nothing new -- it's been happening since Christianity began and will, no doubt, continue until the Lord takes us all home.

Regardless of its place of residence, the green moss covering this roof is, I think, pretty.  It's soft, lush-looking and a nice shade of green.  Nonetheless, it's probably not the best place for a plant to grow and prosper, but those little plants are persistently hanging in there and holding their own.

There is actually a verse in 2 Kings 19:26 that speaks of plants growing on a roof:  "Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame.  They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up."  While this verse speaks of the grass scorching from the sun and withering away, the moss and plants on some roofs manage to keep on keeping on.  I wonder what the difference might be?

Statistics tell us that 75% of religious persecution these days is against followers of Jesus.  Christians are being persecuted, dispossessed and even killed in many countries in our world today.  This is a sad state of affairs, but it is not too different than many other times in history.  Satan is ever seeking to stir the pot against followers of our Lord.  Rome was responsible for the deaths of countless Christians during the years following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  And so it will ever be -- until His return.

So, how to endure when you're clinging to life on top of a roof?  There's no simple and easy answer, but the truth of scripture can help.  Peter wrote to the Christians during one of those dangerous times in history, saying:  "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness...but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be glory both now and forever!  Amen" 2 Peter 1:2-3.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giant's Causeway

This strange looking rock formation is found along the North Channel on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland.  It's called the Giant's Causeway because legend has it that it is the remains of a causeway built long ago by an Irish giant named Finn MacCool.  Another equally fictitious belief is that the rocks are several millions of years old. 

It is believed (and this is probably true) that ancient volcanic eruptions caused about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns to form from cooling lava flows.  The tallest of the columns is 39 feet high.  It's fascinating to see that each column is a uniform hexagonal shape.  As you can see from the photo, it looks as if someone has cut each column and placed them in perfect rows along the edge of the sea.  And indeed -- someone did do that -- our amazing God, the Creator of everything.

God is certainly full of surprises throughout this world He created!  The more I see of the world around me, the more in awe and delight I am of my gracious, inventive, almighty Father who loves beauty, variety and all manner of amazing things.  He even sent dainty, blooming flowers to grow in the crevices of these hard rocks for a bit of softness and color -- how lovely!

Thank you, O Lord, for giving us yet another unique spot on this earth to marvel at your power and love of variety.  This must be one of the most unusual collection of stepping stones on the planet!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giant Fruit

Okay, so this giant ice cream cone is not actually "fruit," but there is a giant cherry on top and strawberries are probably in the pink ice cream, so technically, it counts as fruit!  This big treat can be found in the picturesque town of Grand Lake, Colorado.

There are many ways we can look at fruit and make applications to our Christian lives.  My point here is that it's not the size or the amount of the fruit that's important.  We could ask, is a watermelon or a blueberry showing better evidence of God's glory and workmanship?  One is large and one is small, but each is what God created it to be. 

It's not the size of the ministry or the number of lives you touch that signifies if you are being fruitful or not -- it's what you are called to do by God.  Let me compare two very different women:  one is Beth Moore, who has written numbers of books and studies, and travels all over the world sharing the word of God with hundreds of thousands of people.  She has a wide-ranging influence and is a blessing to many (including me).

Then, there is my mother Eleanor Julian, who was nearly 94 years old when she died last December.  Before she broke her hip, she regularly went out and visited shut-ins (even at the age of 90!), took flowers and vegetables from her garden to people, sent cards of encouragement, and prayed daily for others needs.  She had a much smaller range of influence, quiet and low-key, but she was faithful and touched the lives of people for Christ (including me).

Which of these women would be considered more fruitful in the kingdom of God?  It's not how much we do for Christ, but how faithful we are with what He has given us.  Like the servants in the Parable of the Talents, the one who earned five talents was just as highly praised as the one who earned ten talents.  Both were rewarded with the words of the Master, "Well done my good and faithful servant..."

God asks one thing from us -- to grow and be fruitful in the field in which He has placed us.  In Colossians, Paul writes, "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God" 1:10.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Heavy Load

How would you like to carry this heavy load of "stuff" around with you all the time?  Whew!  I think it would be exhausting!  The thing is, many of us carry "stuff" around with us everyday and it gets so heavy and becomes such a burden.  What would your life look like if you just let it go?

Every person has a different journey experience in this life and I daresay that everyone carries at least some baggage in life, some far more than others.  Some folks carry as much baggage as you see in this photo -- these are burdens that we were not meant to have to carry around with us all the time.

So, what is the baggage that weighs us down?  A list of some things that can be termed burdens or baggage might be:  fear, anger/temper, addiction, insecurity, low self-esteem, bitterness, unforgiveness, sorrow, worry -- do any of these ring a bell for you?  What baggage are you carrying around with you on a daily basis?

Here's what Jesus says to us, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" Matthew 11:28.

There's a song by Dana Maclean aptly called, "Suitcase Song," and it has such a relevant message.  Here are a few of the stanzas:

How can you move when they're weighing you down?
What can you do when you're tied to the ground?
You carry your burdens, heavy like gravity
Just let them go now, there's freedom in release.
 
You can't run when you're holding suitcases;
It's a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don't have to be afraid.
 
Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There's a better way when you know you're forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don't have to be afraid.

We can live with freedom and joy when we get out from under the load of baggage in our lives.  Jesus says, "My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" John 14:27.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ravens in God's Plan


Bronze sculpture in the Raven Series by Jim Eppler, Loveland, Colorado
 
When we visited Norm & Winnie Wakefield in Loveland, we walked through the delightful scupture park they have in their town.  Norm pretended to swat at the ravens perched atop the archway over the sidewalk, but they didn't budge.  In the second shot, you can see the detail of a raven with a kernal of something, perhaps corn, in its beak.
 
This reminds me of the story in 1 Kings 17 about God using ravens to feed His prophet Elijah during a time of drought and danger in the land of Israel.  In the story, Elijah had just obeyed God by telling King Ahab that "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" 17:1.
 
After that pronouncement, God told Elijah to leave and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  There was good reason that it was wise to hide.  The Canaanite people believed that their god Baal was the only one who could govern the dew and the rain, and so this was a direct challenge to them.  Also, as time passed and the land dried up, people became angry at Elijah, blaming him for what was happening to them, when it was their own sin which had percipitated this judgment in the first place.
 
And so, for a period of time (probably a number of months since he stayed there until the brook dried up), Elijah lived peacefully in the ravine God had chosen for him.  The miracle that delights me most in that situation is the way God supplied his faithful servant's needs.  First of all, there was a brook with clean, clear water running through the valley, and more impressive to me are the ravens that brought food to Elijah.  Here's what God told Elijah:  "You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there" v. 4.  Verse 6 tells us, "The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening..."
 
I just love the way God is in control of every minute detail of His creation.  Speaking of birds, I'm also reminded of one of my favorite verses in Isaiah 46:9-11 where God says, "I am God, and there is none like me...My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.  From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.  What I have said, that will I bring about..."
 
In this verse, God speaks of His ability to summon a bird of prey to do His bidding, much like He summoned the group of ravens to do His bidding and feed His servant Elijah.  The bottom line is - God can and will supply our needs.  Just as Jesus said when He was on earth, "...do not worry about your ife, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear...Consider the ravens; they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!"  Luke 12:22-24.


 
Just as God supplied Elijah with what he needed and as he continues to supply the ravens with what they need, He has promised to supply the needs of His children.  What a blessing to belong to the One who is in control of every bird, beast and being -- and all of creation.  Thank you, Lord, for taking care of us.

 
 





Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Web of Deceit

Your reaction to this picture will depend on how you feel about spiders.  While, I am not the least bit fond of the creatures, I have to admit there is a certain (creepy) beauty to this black and yellow argiope aurantia -- yes, that is the true name of this female Writing Spider -- as she is more commonly known. 

This particular lady was sitting motionless in the center of her web in my flower bed.  I chose not to disturb her because she is fulfilling her purpose of catching other insects, like mosquitoes and flies.  And how does she catch those insects which turn out to be her next meal? 

One thing this spider does is construct a thicker, white curly dangle of silk that is thought to attract insects to her nearly invisible silken web.  Once the victims blunder into the web, they're caught up in the sticky stuff clinging to it and they're stuck.

If you think about the construction and purpose of a spider web, you can see that it is a nearly invisible, sticky net intended to capture and ultimately destroy the unwary victim.  It's meant to trick the victim and to lure the victim in until it can't escape.

I'm sure you're already seeing spiritual messages in this scenario.  Webs have always been a picture of Satan's trickery in the world -- of his nearly invisible, sticky net of worldly pleasures that he uses to lure his victims until they can't or won't try to escape. 

In Isaiah 59, God is speaking to the wicked whose "hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.  Your lips have spoken lies..."  He says of these people, "They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider's web."  He goes on to describe a people who "are swift to shed innocent blood, their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways."

The Bible has much to say about deceit, which is defined as "the act or practice of deceiving; misleading" -- words that could also be used to describe the web spun by a spider.  But, in these cases, the web is spun by Satan and his designs are far more deceptive and deadly than any spider. 

Satan's web lures his victims into his silken net with promises of riches, fame, power, and even love.  The sticky substances of lust and self within his net captures his victims in their sin and before they know it, they're stuck.  Even our own hearts deceive us:  "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?"  Jeremiah 17:9.

We need to call out to God to protect us from being lured into these nearly invisible webs.  As we grow in the Lord, I believe Satan's webs will become more visible to our spiritual eyes and we'll, by the power of the Spirit, be more able to avoid them.  We need to pray as did the Psalmist:  "Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips and a deceitful tongue" 120:2.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Security


Have you ever seen so many locks??  I have to say, I'd never seen so many in one place, ever.  This weighty display of locks is attached to the Pont de l'Archeveche, a bridge over the Seine in Paris that is just behind Notre Dame Cathedral.  Couples from all over the world visit this bridge, pledge their undying love to one another, attach the lock and throw the key into the river below.  It's quite a phenomenon these days on numerous bridges all over the world.

Do you think that attaching a padlock to the side of a bridge would make you feel more loved?  Or, would increase your feeling of security in a relationship?  While the act certainly has a neat element of romance and excitement, I don't think it would really affect your first two answers.

We all long for love and security in this world we live in and, hopefully, you have a family who gives you these things, but what I want to talk about is the love and security offered to each of us by the Lord Jesus Christ -- whether there is a family in the picture,  or not.

First of all, God loves us so much that "He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" John 3:16.  That's a powerful love -- to give the life of His only and beloved Son in order to save you and me from destruction.  Whether we realize it or not, the love of God eclipses every other love always and forever - period.  So, in truth, you and I could never feel more loved than we do by God -- and it's not just a feeling, but a firm reality as well.

Then, there's the security thing.  Some of those padlocks on that bridge are really secure.  It would take some kind of massive cutting tool to snap such a lock.  When it comes to the security God offers us through His Son's sacrifice, there is nothing on this earth or beyond this earth that could ever snap that lock -- not ever!  And we have numerous wonderful verses that assure us of this truth:

"I write these things to you who believe in the name
of the Son of God so that you may know
that you have eternal life" 1 John 5:13
 
"Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. 
He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put
His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing
what is to come" 2 Corinthians 1:22
 
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who
sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed
over from death to life" John 5:24

What an amazing truth we as Christians enjoy -- the firm assurance that we are always loved and the equally firm assurance that we are eternally secure within the safety of the arms of Almighty God.  Our Saviour has a loving lock on us that will never be broken. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Church in Ruins

Although these Gothic ruins have a certain beauty to them, it's a sad state of affairs that a church, begun to the glory of God, fell into ruin before it was fully completed.  These stone walls in St. George, Bermuda, form the shell of a church begun in 1874 and intended to replace the older St. Peter's Church (built in 1713 and still in use).

So, what happened to the plans and all the money spent on what would surely have been a beautiful church?  A sign on the outside gives numerous reasons:  there was a congregational split which left the membership depleted; then, in 1884, another church burned down and money was used to rebuild that church.  In spite of the difficulties, by 1899, the roof was in place and the church was nearly finished.  Then, for some reason, work was abandoned and the people decided to repair the older St. Peter's Church down the hill.

Years passed and the beautiful, nearly completed church stood empty on its hill above the sparkling waters of the bay.  In 1926, a severe storm damaged one end of the church, the sign reads:  "the walls and floor suffered from neglect, storm damage and erosion."  Today, the ruins are preserved as a historic monument.

I see these ruins being preserved as a spiritual monument -- with a message to what can happen to a church that is neglected -- a church that is empty.

As we read the reasons the church was abandoned, let's look at scripture that speaks to each issue.
    First, the congregation split.  Psalm 133:1 - "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity" and Ephesians 4:3 - "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." 

    Second, there was no money for the work.  Proverbs 3:9 - "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops" and "Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

    Third, they left the work when it was near completion.  Hebrews 10:36 - "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised" and "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

    Fourth, storm damage caused erosion (defined as wearing away the surface by water, winds, waves, etc) - an erosion in the Christian faith and in Christian churches is addressed in The Cambridge Declaration, which reads, "Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ.  As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith." 
    A verse in Acts 20:28 tells how to fight erosion and although Paul directed this to the church elders, I believe it is true of every member of a church:  "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood."

And, although I do not know any more about that congregation of over a century ago than is written on the sign outside the church, I believe their actions speak loud enough to be heard 139 years later.  It seems to me that the verse in Proverbs 29:18 is an applicable ephitaph for them -  "Where there is no vision, the people perish" and, I might add, so does their church.

Happily, God has said that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against His church, so even though that particular church has gone to ruin, your church can remain vibrant for the Lord, growing in His Spirit and power, to glorify His name upon the earth.  I have been praying that our church -- Biltmore Baptist -- will grow to His glory and to the edification and unification of the saints who worship there.  I would suggest you pray for your church with a similar prayer.  With the Psalmist, I praise God and say:

"How lovely is Your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! 
 My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord. 
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God" Psalm 84:1-2.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Noah's Ark

The church at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has many beautiful and unique stained glass windows.  There were perhaps four windows depicting the story of Noah and the Ark.  I chose this window to highlight because every time I think of the faithfulness of Noah, I am literally amazed!  Just think about it.

Noah lived on the earth about 1500 years after it was created by God.  In that length of time millions of people had been born -- and many of those people were still alive since most people in that era lived to be over 900 years old.  Sadly, nearly every one of those millions of people were living in sin.  Genesis 6:5 says, "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."  the Lord only found one man who was righteous and faithful to Him - only one!  That's even worse than the days we're living in.

Imagine you are Noah and you've been living amongst these wicked people 480 years.  One morning you get up and hear God say to you, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood..."  Then God proceeds to tell you there will be a flood to cover the whole earth and that only you and your family will be saved, and then He gives you the dimensions of a vast ship that He wants you to build, how you will fill it with animals and food, and how God will bless you and your sons -- and that you will be the only survivors of the entire earth!

Several things were probably confusing to Noah at that moment:  first of all, there had never even been rain on the earth thus far, everything being watered by gentle mists; secondedly, as of yet, he had no sons (his three sons were born to him when he was 500 years old); thirdly, the massive ark was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high -- that's as long as 1.5 football fields -- and he would have to cut down every single tree himself.  So, how would you respond to such a command?

Scripture tells us in verse 22:  "Noah did everything just as God commanded him."  I'd say that's about the most amazing picture of faith in the entire Bible. 

It took 120 years of cutting trees, dragging logs, planing wood, lifting heavy loads, and putting up with derision and mockery from the rest of the population, but Noah - and his sons as they grew -- worked faithfully on that boat until it was finished and ready to fulfill its part in the first major judgment God visited upon the earth and its people.

Hebrews 11:7 commends Noah for his faithfulness, saying, "By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen..."  Things not yet seen -- now, there's the rub.  That's what we're asked to do today as well - to believe in things that are not yet seen -- not an easy task.  That's the definition of faith - "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see," Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is what God asks of each of us.  He doesn't ask us to understand, just as He didn't require Noah to understand how he would accomplish all he asked of him.  He just expects us to have faith and obey.  That old hymn is as true today as it always has been:  "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."


Friday, October 18, 2013

The Butterfly Wears Sunglasses

Here is something you have probably never seen before -- and chances are, you will never see it again -- a butterfly with sunglasses and a smile.  We won't mention the fact that it's not a real butterfly.  This Monarch is a super fly as well as being totally unique.  I love it!

In case you don't recognize her, that's my daughter Sara making herself into a lovely butterfly during a visit to the Outer Banks.  You might ask, what possible Spiritual message can you wring from such a picture? 

I see the light of God's love shining so brightly on this butterfly that she has a smile of joy on her lips and has shielded her eyes from the brightness of God's glory.  2 Corinthians 4:6 says, "For God, who said 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

God has blessed us so abundantly and let His loving face shine so brightly upon us, His children, that if we would just look and see how good He is to us, why, His light would be shining so brightly we too might have to shield our eyes from His amazing glory and goodness -- and our joy would soar on wings of eagles - or perhaps even butterflies.

I like the verse in Job 37:22 where it says, "...He comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty."  I believe that golden splendor might refer to the golden sphere of the blazing sun.  There are just not enough superlatives to describe God's awesomeness or to offer Him enough tributes of praise or to acknowledge His infinite mercy and grace toward us.  He shines brighter than any light we could possibly imagine.

Although words fail us when it comes to praising and thanking almighty God, we can obey the directive of Jesus when He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glrify your Father in heaven" Matthew 5:16.

I will end this with the words God spoke to Moses to be used as a blessing over His people:  "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace" Numbers 6:24-26.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lamp Jewelry




I have now invented "Lamp Jewelry" -- just know that you saw it first on Sandra's blog!  After my Mom died in December, we girls went through her extensive collection of costume jewelry.  Mother rarely threw anything away, so many of her nicest looking necklaces would be considered vintage - in other words, they're old and they just don't make 'em like that anymore. 

Although these pieces had originally been inexpensive, they were still well-made and very pretty.  But, what to do with them?  They were too pretty and unique to get rid of, and they were special to our Mother, but then, no one wears two, three and four strand necklaces like these anymore.  So, I came up with the idea of hanging these lovely ladies on my lampshades as you see above.  This way, I can enjoy them on a daily basis.  I'm quite pleased with the results and may even pin my idea on Pinterest. 

Of course, I can't write a piece in my blog and not see at least some spiritual message in it -- after all, there really is a spiritual message around every corner - and even on lampshades -- if we'll just see it.

In this case, I can't help but think how God can use anyone and anything to be useful to Him and to adorn His kingdom.  He frequently uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and that which is insignificant to be of great significance to Him.  Didn't God use an insignificant shepherd boy named David to kill giant Goliath with his slingshot, one smooth stone, and as David himself said, the power of "the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel" 1 Samuel 17:45.

You might ask, what has that got to do with lamp jewelry?  Only that, as I see light shining through the lampshade, causing the beads in this inexpensive necklace to shimmer and glow and give off a beauty previously unseen, I'm reminded how just the right light and creativity can make all the difference.  When God's light shines through our lives and His creativity causes a previously unseen beauty to glow and shimmer in us, He has taken something insignificant and made it infinitely significant in His Kingdom. 

Who knew a seemingly worthless necklace draped across a lampshade could be so beautiful?  I think my Mother must be getting a hoot out of what we're doing with all the jewelry she left behind.  After all, with gates of pearl and streets of pure gold, she's enjoying the real stuff in her new home!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Giant Crab of Fear

The headlines might read, "Woman Attacked by Giant Blue Crab!"  Caught between its sharp, pointy legs with pinchers ready to attack and wide mouth in position to do great bodily harm -- this is the stuff nightmares are made of!  Lucky for me it was only a painting on the wall of Frog Island's seafood store -- but, I do get a kick out of mugging for the camera (:

Pretend danger can be fun and exciting -- it's the real stuff, however, that can keep us awake at night, add gray hairs to our head, and cause our stress levels to rise several notches.  There's the fear that grabs us when we hear that one of our grandchildren might have a health issue, or one or our kids might have major problems, or we ourselves might start experiencing an unexplained pain or start having memory lapses -- or, we hear that a loved one or friend is suddenly in trouble.  These are the real things in life that make us shudder fearfully  and make us realize how vulnerable we are as human beings.

Both real and imagined fear is rampant among us -- ready to grab us with its painful pinchers.  The only way to gain victory over this entity that wants to devour us is to turn to the One who is in total control of everything we might possibly be fearful about.  He knows the situation and the outcome -- and He loves us.  It's important to always remember the verse in 2 Timothy 1:7:  "For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Since God is not the one giving us the spirit of fear, we know the culprit is the one who makes a giant blue crab look harmless.  Satan delights in dumping fear on us by the cartload.  If he can't find a real situation to create fear in us, he'll just make something up and throw a black cloak of imaginary fear over our heads.  He's a wiley one and he knows which buttons to push on each of us.  Even though the evil one is strong and powerful, Almighty God is far more strong and infinitely more powerful - as we read in 1 John 4 that, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."

So, when you sense an attack of the giant blue crab of fear is about to grab you, stop and call out to Jesus and ask Him to keep you safe in His loving arms, to erase your fears and to take care of your every need.  He will replace our spirit of fear with, "....power and love and a sound mind."  Our great God is Master of all things - praise His holy name!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Storms of Life

I've always gotten a kick out of this photo.  It was taken when Hurricane Ernesto was pounding the coast of the Outer Banks in North Carolina and we happened to be there for our timeshare week.  Holly and Derek had come for a few days and here they were pretending that the wind was about to carry them off into the angry surf.

Holly looks terrified as she's being pulled out toward the boiling surf and Derek looks to be holding on for dear life and painfully determined to rescue his beloved from the stormy water.  It would be a fearful thing to actually be caught in a storm and be in true danger.

How often in life are we caught in a storm?  Sometimes its a consequence of our own actions, and other times we're just caught up as collateral damage, so to speak.  Whatever the reason, it's not the place most of us want to be.

There are numerous Christian songs referring to storms with lyrics like:  "Hold me close 'til the storm passes by," and "It takes a storm now and then to remind me to depend" on the Lord.  And then there's the pathos in Casting Crowns, "Praise You in This Storm," as Mark sings, "I remember when I stumbled in the wind; You heard my cry; You raised me up again..."

Just as storms rake across the earth from time to time, storms also rage through our lives at times.  As unpleasant as storms are, they are a fact of life and the best way to deal with them is to ask God for help and safety as we weather their effects.  None of us want storms in our lives, but oddly enough, they are what can eventuallly make us stronger in the Lord -- and more joyful as well. 

The Psalmist describes a Christian going through a storm and coming out safely in chapter 107:28-31, "Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!"

Monday, September 30, 2013

Where there's a Will...

 
That old saying, "Where there's a will - there's a way" is certainly true when it came to this squirrel wanting to dine on bird seed.  We tried hanging this bird feeder in a spot where the squirrels would stop eating all our bird seed so our fine feathered friends could partake -- at least a little!  It took the squirrels a bit of doing, but they still managed to scoff down food that was not meant for them.  Although I might applaud persistance, in this case, I was not happy about this clever manuever.

There is a message in the squirrel's determination, however, and I might as well get something out of my attempt to enjoy the dainty nibbling of lovely little birds instead of the greedy devouring of this annoying rodent. 

When I think of the phrase, "Where there's a will, there's a way," I think of the verse in John 14:6 where Jesus says, "I am the Way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me."  It was the Father's Will for His Son to provide the Way for you and I to be with Him for eternity.

Unlike the squirrel, we as humans have a divine purpose.  God has actual plans -- plans for you and for me.  I love the verse in Jeremiah 29, where God assures the prophet -- and those of us reading His words thousands of years later, "For I know the plans that I have toward you, says the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Where there's a Will, there's a Way -- God's Will is for you to choose to walk in His Way, where He promises to give you a "future and a hope."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Our Tent

 
"For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" 2 Corinthians 5:1
 
This picture of Larry in a tent was taken at Fort Garland in Colorado some years ago.  It's meant to help visualize the idea of our human body being the tent-home that houses our spirit and soul.

I think it's interesting to compare our bodies to a tent for several reasons:  a tent is a movable dwelling, able to travel from place to place pretty much like a human body is able to do; a tent depends on a series of poles to hold it up, sort of like the bones do in our bodies; a tent is somewhat fragile and easily knocked over and crushed; and when the people who dwell inside the tent no longer live there, the tent is empty of the soul and spirit of those who once lived within its skin.

Peter wrote, "Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me." 1 Peter 1:13-14.

Our bodies are marvelous creations of God and as the Psalmist says, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made..."  Nevertheless, when a person takes the last breath on this earth and the spirit enters heaven (or, sadly, elsewhere), that body becomes an empty shell -- sort of like an empty tent.

Lest you think our bodies are meaningless to God once our spirit is gone, I don't believe that's true.  I've always been impressed by the loving, gentle way God handled Mose's body when he died alone up on the mountain.  Scripture tells us that the Lord "buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is" Deuteronomy 33:6.  Why would the Lord bother to bury Mose's body if he did not want to honor it and protect it until the day of resurrection?

God created these wonderful bodies not only to house our spirits on earth, but to be reunited with that spirit in the day of resurrection and made fully whole and perfected at that time.  Someday, we'll no longer be housed in a temporary tent, but rather "a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
 
 
 


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Channel of Grace


"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us
 in our time of need" Hebrews 4:16
 
I chose this picture to use with a poem I wrote about seeking to be a channel of grace for God only because I think it's a beautiful shot and I had nothing more relevant to use.  These two feathery plumes were growing along the edge of the Currituck Sound near a newly constructed boardwalk, and I just love the way the picture turned out (:
 
I don't write poetry very often and I'm not particulary adept at it, but occasionally I just feel the need to capture a thought in a more poetic kind of writing.  I call this, "A Channel of His Grace."
 
What does it look like – day by day –
This life with Jesus? Please show me the way.
I long to be what you want me to be;
I long to see what you want me to see.
My prayer, O God - to be bound up in Thee;
To be swaddled in your love, rocked in your arms –
Surrounded by your Spirit - I’m safe from all storms.
Oh, the wind roars about me and the water is deep
But I know who holds my future and I know who guards my sleep.
I know my God as Father and I know His Son as Friend
But I long to grow still closer in this life that has no end.
I want my Lord to live through me - a channel to His grace
Until the day this life will end and I see Him face to face.
 
"With great power the apostles continued to testify to the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace
was upon them all" Acts 4:33