Saturday, December 27, 2014

Going Through the Motions

Ferris Wheels -- Going Through the Motions

One of my favorite songs is "Through the Motions" by Matthew West.  I'm intrigued by the song because it seems to capture the way so many Christians live out their lives.  I'm also sorry to say that I find myself sometimes "going through the motions" as well.  Here're the words of the chorus:
     I don't wanna go through the motions
     I don't wanna go one more day
     Without Your all consuming passion inside of me.
     I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,
     "What if I had given everything,
     Instead of going through the motions?"
The three pictures of Ferris wheels above were -- coincidently -- taken in the fog.  It gives them a ghostly appearance - especially the first one where it was so foggy you can barely see the cars dangling from the giant wheel.  To me, the fog added an additional dimension to the whole message.  Not only do we too often just go round and round in life, we're also too often going through our motions with a dullness of mind and spirit and an unawareness of where we're heading, so that our life focus resembles walking through a fog.
Going through the motions in life is neither fulfilling nor particularly fun (and, I'm not talking about Ferris wheel's here!).  It's basically lazy, uninspiring and ultimately useless -- especially on a foggy day.
I want to be filled with an "all consuming passion" for God, His ways, and His will for my life.  That is fulfilling and inspiring for me -- and it will be for you too, if you try it.  After all, that's really the major reason God left us on this planet Earth after we were saved instead of whisking us right up to Heaven to be with Him.  He wants our passion for Him to shine through like a beacon in a dark world so that others might see Him in us and turn from the darkness too.
Paul reminds those of us who are saved:  "For you are all children of light, children of the day.  We are not of the night or of the darkness" 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
There is joy and excitement and life in passion.  Being filled with a passion for God -- I promise you, it doesn't get any better than that!!
I certainly don't want to come to the end of my life and say, "What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?"
Photo note:  If you're curious about the Ferris wheel photos, here's where I took them:  (1) Along the boardwalk at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  It was surprisingly foggy along the oceanfront for the entire day.  You literally could not see the ocean from the beach.  (2 & 3) an amusement park in Vienna, Austria.  #2 is a historic wheel built in 1897.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Simeon Meets the Savior

One of my favorite Bible stories from what I consider the season of the birth of Christ is the visit to the temple when Jesus was around six weeks old.  This was the time a Jewish male child was officially presented to the Lord and a sacrifice for the child was offered.  In this case, because the parents were of modest income, they offered a pair of turtledoves.

This beautiful stained glass window in a church in Texas (above) and another window in Edinburgh Cathedral in Scotland (below) offer us a glimpse of that moment in time when God's beloved Son Jesus Christ was offered back up to His Father in the ancient Jewish ceremony.  This, however, was a ceremony unique in all of human history, because it involved the only begotten Son of Almighty God -- a tiny Messiah come-to-earth -- the hope of the world and the pride of heaven itself.

It was an incredible moment not only in heaven, but also on earth below where only a glimmer of that  momentous glory broke through -- but, oh what a glimmer it was!  As the devout believer Simeon held the baby in his arms, God revealed to him that this was indeed His beloved Son.  Simeon was blessed by God with a glimpse of who this baby boy was and was to become -- a vision that was perhaps this man's very life purpose.  Earlier, it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had "seen the Lord's Christ."  On that particular day, the Spirit had brought Simeon into the temple for that very reason.

And so, as Simeon held the Lord Jesus in his arms and the Holy Spirit revealed the baby's true identity to him, Simeon spoke these words:

"Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your
salvation which you have prepared before the face
of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the
Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel"
Luke 2:29-32

It always thrills me when heaven breaks open its fabric of invisibility and lets the glory of heaven shine through for us to see -- even if only for a moment in time. 

May we remember this precious birth and the purpose for which our Lord came to earth.  May we hold it in our hearts as Mary did and join Simeon in praising God for His most amazing Gift.  Let's join with the angels "praising god and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" Luke 2:14

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Our Little Lights

These pretty little votive candles were burning brightly in two different churches we visited in Salzburg, Austria.  The red candles were in the Salzburg Cathedral and the white candles in St. Peter's Church.  In both cases, worshipers lit the candles to offer a specific prayer for someone or some need.  This reminds me how each us as Christians are to be lights in a dark world as a testimony of our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus said it plainly, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" Matthew 5:16.

I have one of these little votive battery-powered lights with a switch on the bottom.  My little grandkids love it when I take them into our big, dark closet, flick on the small light, and sing the song, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine..."  Then, they put their hand over top of the candle and the light grows very dim as we sing, "Hide it under a bushel, No!, I'm going to let it shine...."  Of course, they love to "blow" out the candle (as they blow, I quickly flick the switch on the bottom and we're plunged into darkness), as we sing, "Won't let Satan blow it out, I'm going to let it shine...." 

It's a little scary to kids to be in a dark closet, so I quickly flick the candle back on after they "blow" it out and once again our light shines for Jesus.  What a reminder of the importance for our Christian light to stay lit for Jesus in this dark world in which we live.

I'm very active in a church with many fellow-Christians.  My entire family are also Christians (Praise God!).  These are the people I spend most of my time with -- look again at the pictures.  I feel like I am one of those votive candles, living with my candle lit -- in the midst of all these warmly flickering candles.  Although my candle may sputter and flicker low at times, praise God it has not gone out entirely.  And -- I am a Christian surrounded by other Christians (for the most part).  I feel very blessed.

At the same time, there is a vast dark world beyond my doorstep.  I want to be a light shining in darkness to someone.  As Sandi Patti sings, I want to be a "candle lighting someone home" -- home being the loving, saving arms of Jesus Christ. 

I love being surrounded by other warm, brightly glowing candles, but I pray that God will give me opportunity and brightness of my own candle that I might be a beacon for Him - to bring Him glory and to guide someone to the warmth and brightness that He offers to the whole world.

"...For the Lord will be your everlasting light..."  Isaiah 60:20.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Road Ahead

I don't know about you, but seeing this bicycle leaning against a post along a picturesque street in Zurich, Switzerland, makes me want to hop on and cycle around the curve up ahead and see what the intriguing European streets have to offer.  Of course, I'd never steal a bike, but it's still fun to imagine pedaling along those cobbled streets and admiring the scenery.  We walked down the road instead and admired the scenery at a slower pace.

I've written a number of posts about paths and the roads we travel through life, but I'm ever intrigued by the concept of walking through life - one step at a time - with no earthly idea what lies around the corner up ahead.  I am very thankful that my Father God knows that path backwards and forwards and is aware of every dip and rough spot in the road.  And -- He not only knows what lies beyond the curve in the road -- He's already waiting there for me.  Now, that's a really cool thought.

Here's what God told Isaiah to write:  "I will lead them in paths they have not known.  I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight" 42:16.  Another place in Isaiah, He says, "I will go before you..." 45:2.

Whether the road ahead of you looks appealing as this street in Zurich does, or it looks like a mass of rocky stones, just know that there is nowhere on this earth or even beyond this earth where God is not there, waiting around the curve for you -- even as He guides your present steps.  It's a miracle that only an omnipresent God can accomplish.

Over and over in God's Word we are assured that He will be with us, before us and around us. The Psalmist says, "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" 16:11.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Revelation 1:13-20

I am fascinated by this fresco painted up in the ceiling of one of the side chapels inside the magnificent Salzburg Cathedral in Austria.  This is the type of picture that makes scripture seem to come alive and pop off the page for me.  Although it doesn't include every single detail in the verses that it visualizes, for me it captures the spirit of the message that John writes to us in Revelation the first chapter.

" the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band... He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.  Amen.  And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.  Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.'"

That is a long passage of scripture, but it is captured so well in the painting.  Notice the water in the background below the cloud -- John was on the Island of Patmos as a prisoner when he had this vision of past, present and future events.  

One of the apparent inaccuracies might be that John is portrayed in this picture as very young -- more like the youth who walked as a disciple with Jesus than the old man he had become at the time he was on the island and wrote Revelation (he was probably in his mid-80s).  Rather than being inaccurate though, I see something infinitely beautiful in that portrayal.  I see Jesus viewing His dear son John as the young man he would always be to Him.  I believe that as our Father, God always sees His children as young and beautiful.  And, isn't the spirit within us always younger than our outsides would indicate?  Also, in verse 10, John indicated that he was "in the Spirit" when he had this vision.

I'm not offering up a commentary on this passage of scripture, but just this painting to help you visualize a moment in time that happened a little less than 2,000 years ago and continues to offer a message to the church today.  I will simply repeat what Jesus Himself says to each of the seven churches (and to each of us who are a part of His church):  "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches..."

I suggest you read Revelation 2-3 to see what the Spirit says to the seven churches.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Stand at the Door

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice 
and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine
with him, and he with Me" Revelation 3:20

We were recently in the little town of Melk, Austria.  At the end of a short, narrow lane was this old stone house with an equally old-looking, heavy door.  I liked the idea of knocking on the door for a picture -- no one answered.  I wonder how often we fail to answer when Jesus stands at our heart's door and knocks for admission.  The verse seems to be written to Christians and indicates a desire from almighty God for a closer relationship/fellowship with His children.  

Do you want a closer relationship with Christ?  He wants a closer relationship with each and every one of His children and speaks of that desire frequently in his Holy Word to us.  We need to "hear his voice and open the door" so that He might come in and feed us with the milk and honey of His own dear presence and all the wonders that come with such an intimacy.

When I studied about the beloved apostle John back in 2007, this was a prayer I wrote out "Unto God" -- it is still my prayer.  Won't you pray it with me?

Unto God
I am who I am in Jesus Christ -- His unique creation to be used
for His glory, empowered and led by Him and only Him.
Please, God, help me to follow so close to you that I will feel 
your breath upon my heart -- and even my cheek.
Whisper in my ear your will and help me to do it.  Silence the 
whispers of negativism and defeat.
Be thou victorious through the open channel of my life.
Not me, but thee, dear Lord, almighty God of all --
my Savior, my Sustainer, my dearest Friend.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weighed in the Balance

   This beautiful statue sits above the street in the old town section of Salzburg, Austria.  It's always a good idea when walking down these old streets to occasionally look upwards where all kinds of beautiful statues and signs and architectural features reside.  I was so glad I spotted this stunning angel statue.  The message she offers is an important one.

    First of all, we have a well-dressed angel here.  She appears to be wearing pretty much the whole armor of God as described in Ephesians 6.  She has her waist girded with truth and a breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and her feet are shod with the gospel of peace.  If there are times when the angels in heaven might wear the armor of God, how much more do we as mere humans need to gird ourselves with this power from the Almighty?

   "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" Ephesians 6:12.

   I love that this angel is trampling on a demon who was up to no good as evidenced by the pitchfork in his hand.  Paul says, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil."  This angels posture might also allude to the verse in Romans 16:20, "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly."

   Now to the set of scales that she prominently holds in her hand.  These scales are used to weigh one thing against another thing.  In this case, God would be weighing our righteousness against our unrighteousness.  The angel even holds a blazing torch that symbolizes how nothing can be hidden from the light of truth.  We know, of course, that our righteousness (or good deeds) can never outweigh our unrighteousness since we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and all our righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God.

   The classic verse relating this is found in Daniel 5:27 when the hand of God Himself wrote a message to King Balshazzar on the wall, saying, "You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting."

    That same pronouncement could be made over each person who depends on his or her own goodness to get them to heaven.  We always fall short and will always be found wanting in our own selves.  "It is by grace we are saved, through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God not of works, lest any man should boast."  Once your "balance" is filled with the righteousness of Jesus Christ as Savior, you are no longer lacking.  He fills your scale with Himself and you are forever made worthy through Christ.

    Amazing Grace -- oh, how very sweet the sound!!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fairy Tale Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

   This fairy tale castle, perched high above the small town of Hohenswangau in Bavaria, southern Germany, has been the number one destination on my "bucket list" for a number of years.  Well, I happily check the castle off my list because I have now "been there, and joyously done it," and yes, I took this picture (and maybe a hundred more!) of the famous castle.

   Neuschwanstein is indeed a magical castle of fairy-tale beauty with a story that lacks the familiar "happily ever after" ending.  Young King Ludwig II began construction on his dream castle in 1869 at the age of 24 years.  When he died at the age of 40 years, the castle was still not completed.  On that day, work on the castle ceased and it remains pretty much as the king left it.  Alas, in spite of all his hopes and dreams and work, he only spent 172 days in his beloved home.

   Is there a spiritual spin to this tale of woe?  You betcha!  There are surely a number of messages we can glean from this whole castle on the cliff, etc.  This is the one I've chosen for today:  we've all heard the words from Robert Burns poem, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."  The poem was written a hundred years before Ludwig's death, but the truth of the words is as relevant today as it was then.  It reminds me of a verse in Proverbs 19:21, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the Lord's counsel -- that will stand."

    Neither wealth, nor prestige, nor vision can supersede the will of God.  I don't know what the will of God was for the life of Ludwig, but it's pretty obvious it was not God's will for this castle to be enlarged any further.  This was one of four castles built by Ludwig in various stages of completion on the date of his untimely death.  This reminds me of a parable Christ told about a rich man who built many barns for his crops and goods, and planned to take his ease and enjoy life.  Jesus said, "But God said to him, 'Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'" Luke 12.

"Whose will those things be which you have provided?"  Well, in the case of this beautiful fairy tale castle -- it's now owned by the country of Germany, and well, I guess you could say, it belongs to all of us who step inside its lovely walls -- even if just for a moment.  In reality, everything we own upon this earth is just for a moment.  As scripture tells us, "Only what's done for Christ will last."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

What Will Burn?

This is not a pretty picture.  Here we see a BMW that had been packed up the night before for a family vacation set to begin later that morning.  The mass of cinder and melted plastic in the front corner of the picture is a jet ski.  Fire defaces and destroys whatever it touches.

The family of four who lived in this house escaped with the clothes on their backs.  Standing on the street in front of their house, they helplessly watched as firemen battled smoke and fire billowing from their home.  No more than an hour after they'd been awakened from sleep by the alarm on their smoke detector, they watched the roof cave into their second-floor bedrooms. 

It was a sick feeling to watch their home go up in flames.  In spite of the great relief that no one was hurt, it would still be a sad, sad day to go through such loss.

I'm reminded of a day that is coming when our works may go up in smoke and be burned to a crisp just like the jet ski we see in the corner of the picture above.  How would that feel if everything you've ever worked for was destroyed by fire?  Sad, very sad.

God's word tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:11-16: 
    "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 
    Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
    each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 
    If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
    If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
    Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"

Notice the sentence that reads, "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved..."  As I said earlier, in spite of the great relief this family felt that no one was hurt, their feelings of loss and desolation was numbing.  So it will be in that day, if everything we have worked for -- our beautiful home, our bank accounts, our successful career, our popularity -- all the things we've held dear on this earth -- go up in flames.  Even though you make it through safely, I believe there will still be a great feeling of loss.

It doesn't have to be like that.  We're still here and we're still breathing.  There's still time to make deposits in that heavenly bank account where as Jesus said, "neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" Matthew 6:20.  Fire doesn't destroy that heavenly treasure either -- and we'll have all of eternity to enjoy our reward instead of just a few years here on earth with the more flammable stuff.

I'm sure the family burned out of their home wish that it had been fireproof.  Unfortunately, there is not a single tangible item on this earth that is totally fireproof.  Those things that are fireproof and come with eternal guarantees are less tangible, but far more important.  Things like:  praise and prayers to God; giving to those in need and to God's work; faithfulness; serving through ministry, hands-on work, missions; kindness and encouragement to others; soul-winning and spreading the gospel; letting God work through you in your home, your school, your workplace -- these are the types of things that will be stored up for you in heaven and offer dividends throughout eternity.

Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" Matthew 6:21.

Note:  The home in the picture above is directly beside my daughter Holly's house.  We are so thankful it was not a windy day and the flames did not jump to any other houses. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

On Growing Up

They seem a bit young to be driving, but they certainly look happy to be behind the wheels of their own silver trucks.   Declan and Roman had fun chugging slowly along on the vast green carpet of grass at Roman's granddad's farm.  If they'd been out on the highway, however, it would have been a whole other story.

Children aren't expected to be able to handle the same things adults handle.  Nor should they be expected to behave like an adult.  Childhood is suppose to be that carefree time of life with giggles and silliness and pretending and faces that are lit with joy like these two adorable little boys.  It's a once in a lifetime experience that is, hopefully, magical and happy.  But, eventually, we all have to grow up.

Paul spoke about childhood and growing up in his letter to the Corinthians:  "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things" 13:11.

It would look strange indeed if the two dads of Roman and Declan tried to drive these two mini-trucks instead of their own full-size vehicles.  It's downright laughable to imagine them trying.  Let's face it, there's no way either dad would be able to squeeze even a portion of his six-foot frame into those little cabs.  These trucks are just right for a three and four-year old, but completely inappropriate for grown men.

That's what Paul was talking about -- only on a higher level.  Paul was talking about our views of God, our behavior, and our goals in life.  These things are suppose to change drastically when you grow up.  Therein I think lies part of the problem -- many people just aren't ready to grow up.  Some thirty-year olds still have that "college dorm" mentality, perhaps hoping to catch the eye of Peter Pan and join the Lost Boys in Neverland (you remember, the land where you never grow up).

I don't mean to sound harsh, but it does seem to be a problem in this age we live in.  Apparently it was also a problem in the early church when Paul wrote to the Corinthians and then in another letter to the Hebrews when he wrote:  "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" Hebrews 5:13-14.

Growing up doesn't have to mean losing that happy smile or the joy of fun and games.  It does mean that we need to put our lives into the right perspective -- having fun when it's appropriate to do so, but being serious and deliberate in the important aspects of life -- making sure there is good purpose, God's purpose, in our thoughts and our actions.

A diet of milk doesn't sound like something any of us want as our only form of nourishment.  Simply being a Sunday morning church-goer and never stepping up to serve, or worse, failing to ever open your Bible or darken the door of the church -- these things will keep you on that liquid diet reserved for babies. 

"Solid food belongs to those who are of full age" -- those who grow in the Lord and the power of His Word, those who seek and find and rejoice in the presence of the Lord in their lives.  These are the grown-up men and women who "put away childish things" and join in the real adventure of life following after a God who -- after all, created us in the first place!

My question to you is, would you rather sink your teeth into a juicy cheeseburger and fries, or do you want to sit there and nurse your glass of milk?  It's your choice -- choose wisely.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" Matthew 5:6.

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" Psalm 34:8.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Yellow Stuff

Such a pretty shade of yellow -- sort of buttery and bright.  We were in Vancouver, Canada, and these huge piles of yellow stuff sat across the river from us glowing in the sunlight, beckoning a closer inspection.  We didn't venture any closer, however, because these were piles of stinky sulfur waiting to be shipped to other countries to be used for such things as fertilizer, matches, insecticide and gunpowder.

As with the Lionfish in the previous post, looks can be deceiving and what appears beautiful and appealing can really be dangerous and deadly.  Unlike the Lionfish, however, sulfur can actually be good for you -- in small quantities.  While sulfur is an essential element for all life, if I'd decided to go across the river and play in that big, soft sulfur pile "sandbox," it would have been very harmful to my health and well-being.

Many things in life are beneficial and even essential if used in the right balance.  For instance, exercise.  We need exercise for optimum health, but the Bible warns us that we can overdo, "For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things" 1 Timothy 4:8.  The same goes for eating -- an obvious necessity that Proverbs warns should be kept in balance.  The first verse certainly tells it like it is:  "Have you found honey?  Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit" 25:16.  Proverbs 23:21 further warns:  "Do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty."  They will also probably be overweight!

Then there are our belongings.  We need food, clothing and a comfortable place to live.  That's about all most people have in the majority of the world.  Not so in the land of plenty -- our beloved USA. Most of us have so much more than we need it's .... well, let's see what Jesus says about it in Luke 12:

"Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.  Then He spoke a parable to them, 'The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?'  So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, 'Soul you have many goods laid up for many years, take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.'"  But God said to him, 'Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

So - what can we learn from these admonitions against excess?  We need a healthy balance in all things and as Paul said, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" 1 Corinthians 10:31.

If we live by that verse, we won't lose our balance in life -- and we'll have just the right amount of the yellow stuff in our bodies too.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Lionfish


Isn't this a beautiful fish?  Would you like to have one of these handsome marine creatures swimming around in your aquarium?  This ornate striped beauty with elegant-looking spines is floating along in a tank at the Living Museum -- alone.

Why is this fancy fish alone?  He just happens to be one of the most venomous fish in the world, so, no, you really don't want him in your fish tank no matter how pretty he might be.

There are a couple things about this fish sparked a bit of spiritual analogy.  Most obvious is his beauty which is appealing to the eye coupled with the poison he shoots out from his spines if he is touched. Isn't that so like sin?  Let's be honest -- many sins are beautiful to the eye and the senses; they are so appealing, we just want to reach out and touch and even taste what they have to offer. Does that sentence ring any bells?  It's exactly what Eve and then hubby Adam did in the garden. Their failure to avoid the "poison fruit" has caused pain and death ever since.

I read that the Lionfish has "warning colors meaning - stay away."  Adam and Eve were warned to stay away from fruit that would poison the entire world, but they touched it and tasted it anyway. They did not heed and they gave in to temptation.  How often does the Bible warn us about sin after sin and yet we far too frequently still partake.  God is so loving and He does provide a way for us to just say, no.

"...let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" 1 Corinthians 10:12.

Another interesting -- and scary -- aspect of the Lionfish is the fact that their population is increasing rapidly.  This fish is originally from the Pacific, but was accidentally introduced into Florida in the 1990s.  As a result, this invasive species is all over the Caribbean and up and down the east coast of America as far as North Carolina -- as if the ocean wasn't dangerous enough with sharks, undertows and rip tides!

Does it sometimes seem to you like sin is increasing rapidly in our world today?  Just as it is a scary thing that poisonous Lionfish are filling our waters, it's a scary thing that poisonous sin is filling our world.  Jesus warned, "Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold" Matthew 24:12 NIV.

The moral of this fish story is this:  we don't need to be afraid -- either to step into the ocean for a swim or to wade through this big, sinful world.  Our Father goes before us and He has placed us in this time and this place for His purpose.  He offers so many promises in His word, here is just one of them:  "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" Isaiah 41:10.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Bottle Tree

This colorful bottle tree and background crape myrtle blossoms are on display at the local Zoo.  The sign beneath the tree reads:  "The bottle tree has evolved into a unique Southern garden tradition.  Its roots trace back to the African custom of trapping evil spirits in sparkling glass bottles suspended in trees.  Today, the bottle tree brings new purpose and appreciation to empty glass bottles as inexpensive yard art.  Any spirit entrapment is simply a bonus!"

Using pretty bottles as yard art is a cool idea.  Their various colors and shiny exteriors sparkle in the sunlight and offer texture and maybe even a place for birds to alight (if they aren't spooked by the shimmer and slippery surface of the glass). 

The African custom of trapping evil spirits is what intrigues me most about this bottle tree.  Wouldn't it be great if we could trap the evil spirits that circle around us like carrion birds waiting to feed? Perhaps if they were trapped, they could be destroyed in some way -- or at least, their powers might be neutralized.  If only it were that easy...

Scripture tells us, "...Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" 1 Peter 5:8.  There's no way you can hope to trap a lion in a bottle anymore than you could hope to capture an evil spirit in a bottle tree.  In fact, it would be easier to trap a lion in a bottle than to trap an evil spirit.  In other words -- it ain't gonna happen.

Whether we like it or not, Satan has been given temporary freedom to be "the prince of the power of the air," and his hoard of demon spirits are out there flying right beside him -- all of them attempting to wreck havoc on this ole earth.  That could be a pretty scary thought if it were not for One who is Greater than all...

"Greater is He that is within us [the Holy Spirit], than he [Satan and his demons] that is within the world" 1 John 4:4.  Evil spirits may be in the air around us, but God has promised that "...the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer..." 1 Peter 3:12.  We don't need bottles or any other thing than the power of the Holy Spirit of the living God to protect us from the dark forces that would seek to harm us.

If we are filled with the Spirit and standing on the promises of God, any spirit entrapment is more than a bonus -- it's a gift from our loving Father.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Silvery Dragonfly

One afternoon this dragonfly sat for about ten minutes along the top of our bird feeder.  Sunshine glinted off the black metal turning it into a glowing silver rod.  The same sunlight glittered off the translucent wings of this elegant creature painting them with iridescent silver.  It looked like a shimmering work of art hung on a gallery wall.  The Great Artist, God Almighty, had done it again.  He'd blended simple items into a one of a kind masterpiece and given me the privilege of witnessing the brief moment in time that it existed.

How many times in our lives do we witness a masterpiece of God that exists for a brief moment in time?  Think sunsets and roses and fanciful clouds and a newborn baby's first hours in this world -- just to mention a few.  If we stop and think about it, we are privileged to witness many beautiful, brief moments -- but, how many times do we stop and savor that moment?  How often are we aware of how fleeting and special this thing is that God is giving us a glimpse of?

God tells us in His Word that we need to "have eyes to see and ears to hear."  The world is full of God's beauty and purpose -- it's all around us every day.  Too often, eyes develop a skim of worldly weariness and ears become dull to subtle sounds of heavenly music.  Guess we could say it's an occupational hazard of living on planet earth.  It doesn't have to be that way.

Let's open our eyes and our ears to what God offers us today.  And yes, I believe He offers us something of beauty each and every day.  We just too often miss it.  I read a story of a man who said he didn't believe in God.  He'd called out to God and ended with this: "If you're there, touch me."  A butterfly fluttered onto his shoulder and he flicked it away, saying, "I knew it - he's not there!"  The man did not have eyes to see and he missed a beautiful moment sent by the Almighty God of all creation.

Even though I'm speaking primarily of physical eyes and ears here, they must be driven by spiritual eyes and ears that see beyond what is in front of our faces and deeper into the heart of God.  He wants us to see Him moving in the world around us.  When we do that, we will develop a heart of joy and praise that will glorify our Father -- and that's what it's really all about!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Follow the Yellow-brick Road

Yay!  I was finally able to load a new picture by using a different browser.  I don't understand this stuff, but I'm just thankful this method works - praise God!

The top photo shows our little Dorothy (portrayed by granddaughter Marisa) standing in her familiar farmyard in Kansas shortly before a tornado came and blew her away to the Land of Oz.  In the photo below, she's just been told her house fell on the wicked witch and killed her -- "Uh-oh!" She says.  I don't quite understand why the Land of Oz has a blue-brick road in this picture, but keep scrolling down --

Finally, the famed Yellow-brick Road with the Emerald City in the distance
and Toto still safely held in Dorothy's basket.  
There are many spiritual lessons we can find in this familiar story, but the one I'm going to focus on in this post is seen in this third picture.  We're all following the yellow brick road of life, singing the cute little song, "Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road...." The road leads through quiet fields, scary forests, and all sorts of good and bad events.
Some people are following the road, searching for that Emerald City where they are hoping their greatest need/wish will be fulfilled.  Trouble is -- the "world" is following a path that leads them to nothing more than that painted picture of a green city we can see at the end of the road in the picture.  And -- along the way they wander through fields of red poppies that lull them to sleep (like in the movie) to the realities of real life.  Therefore, they end up finding out that the "Wizard of Oz" is just a big fake -- with no real power in himself at all.
How does this relate to the real world and spirituality?  Of course, we are all on the road of life, following the path that has been set before us to its final destination.  The question is -- what are we seeking?  Are we seeking the will and way of almighty God, who has a good purpose for our lives and has all power to accomplish it.  Or, are we seeking that famous Wizard who has fooled everyone into thinking he has the power to fulfill wishes and needs?
Proverbs 14:12 tells us, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."  The path can look oh, so, appealing, but not be the path God wants you on.  The shiny delights of a one-dimensional Emerald City is not the destination God wants for His beloved creations.
Psalm 16:11 offers a better vision:  "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."  This is the road that leads to a good end -- and also offers us the best sort of scenery along our journey.  This road is found through acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior -- He is the One with all power and with the perfect road map to get us to the Eternal City where all our needs will truly be fulfilled.
Jesus tells us, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me."  In a way we could say, He is the true "yellow brick road" that we should all follow.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our Earthly Tent

 When I see a tent, I'm frequently reminded of Paul's comparison of our physical bodies as "tents."  I took this photo of a lodging we stayed in a few years ago in San Bernardino, California.  Called "The Wigwam Motel," it's a fanciful and fun emulation of an Indian encampment.  Built in 1949 along historic Route 66, this retro motel was even featured in Disney's animated "Cars" and called the Cozy Cone Motel.  It's a cool place to stay and is far more roomy inside than it looks from the outside.

Interestingly, these tepees are constructed of sturdy concrete and house an empty room that will someday pass away, while our tents (our bodies) are fragile flesh and house an inner person that will live for eternity.  Paul described this in 2 Corinthians 5, writing, "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."

Real tents are made of somewhat flimsy material that can be blown away in a hurricane, drowned in a flood, burned in a fire, eaten away by insects and mold, and will eventually deteriorate with age.  Does that remind you of the frailty of the human body?  But, the wonderful thing is that our tent-body is only an outer covering for that wonderful, incredibly-important-to-God person inside.  For those who have been born again into the family of God, Paul reminds us, "Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee."

While we're living in this tent, we want to take care of it and be the best tent we can be for the Lord.  We want to keep it clean both inside and out and to provide comfort and warmth to those who might pass our way.  When the time comes, we want to be ready to fold up our tents, rise to the heart of our Father, and put on that eternal "building" that Paul describes as our new bodies.  I believe he may have used the two terms merely to contrast the flimsiness of a tent with the substantial construction of a building (no, we're not going to become a "building" in heaven).  I believe our bodies will be similar to our current body in appearance, but perfected in every way and eternally strong in the power of the Lord.

Paul ended that segment in chapter 5 with these words:  "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" KJV.

Note:  I haven't posted recently because I've not been able to load photos into the blog - and my blogs are photo-driven.  This photo and one more had been loaded some time ago.  I haven't been able to figure out what's wrong with the program, but it is frustrating.  Hopefully, I'll be able to post as usual soon.  If anyone has any knowledge of how to fix this, I'd love to hear it.  Thanks!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Time to Let Go

As we walked along the sidewalk in downtown Vancouver last month, we came upon this large artwork that had been installed right there along the walkway.  It caught my attention partly because it was unexpected, but more so for the words printed on the wall, "Time to Let Go..."  No doubt this phrase has different meanings to different people, but it has a specific meaning for me.

First, let's see what the artist says.  The sign beside the artwork reads:  "Vancouver artist Babak Golkar presents a participatory installation comprised of several large terracotta vessels designed to contain sound.  Step up and release your excess emotions!"

The phrase also reminds me of the popular song, "Let it Go," from the Disney movie Frozen.  While the general meaning of the song sung by the character Elsa is far from what I have in mind, there are a few lyrics that speak to the heart of the matter:  "The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.  Couldn't keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.  Don't let them in, don't let them see...Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know."  These words describe inner turmoil in a person who wants desperately to be rid of that agonizing storm within, but rather than let it go, the person conceals and tries to hide what's going on inside her heart and mind.  It's hard living with a storm inside your mind, so this artist suggests you scream into one of these clay vessels and release those emotions.  If only it were that easy.

Many of us carry stuff inside that we need to let go -- like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiving attitude, and various frustrations and insecurities.  The Lord knows that carrying around any of this stuff in our vessel has a damaging affect in our lives, that's why in Ephesians, Paul wrote:  "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" 4:31-32.

It would sure be nice if we could just walk up to one of those terracotta vessels, scream into its depths, and be rid of that stuff that's been clogging up our peace.  While such an easy fix is not likely, there is a way to Let Go.  It's called "Let Go and Let God."  Some things just don't seem possible in our own strength and indeed, sometimes they aren't, but Jesus made it clear that, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" Matthew 19:26.

God is sometimes the only one who can pry our fingers from around that ugly stuff we are holding onto and say to us, "My precious child, Time to Let Go."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Glacier Bay

This is one of my favorite pictures of Larry and I from our trip.  It's so cool to see us leaning out from our balcony with this majestic glacier in the background and a sea littered with chunks of ice.  This massive piece of ice is called Margerie Glacier.  It's just one of many evidences we see everyday of God's awesome creative power.  Psalms is full of praises to our glorious God.  Here are two portions of Psalms that I want to share:
Psalm 66:1-4:  "Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!  Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.  Say to God, 'How awesome are Your works!...All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.'"
Psalm 65:5-7:  "By awesome deeds in righteousness You will answer us, O God of our salvation.  You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the far-off seas; Who established the mountains by His strength, being clothed with power; You who still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves..."
All praise to our awesome, glorious God!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mt. McKinley

Mount McKinley --
Presented to You by Our Awesome God
I was thrilled to have the rare privilege of seeing this magnificent creation of God.  I say "rare," because only 30% of visitors to Alaska are able to see the mountain.  Most times the cloud cover surrounding this 20,320 feet tall mountain totally obscures its glory from view.  The mountain is still there, even though it appears to have disappeared - like the picture below:
The morning after we'd seen the beauty of Denali (that's what the native population call the mountain -- it's original name), it was no longer visible.  The blank area between the two sets of smaller mountains is Mt. McKinley behind cloud-cover. It looked to me like someone had erased the mountain with white-out.  This reminds me of the invisible aspects of our great God.
We walk around in a world of visible people, houses, trees -- mountains.  The thing is, there's a whole other world surrounding us that is invisible.  The ironic thing about that is the invisible world is more important to us than the visible world.  Sounds strange, I know, but it is very true -- just as true as the fact that there is a huge, majestic mountain in that second picture -- even though you cannot see it.
Just today I was reading in Beth Moore's "Whispers of Hope" and she wrote:  "Hebrews 11 reminds us that the most influential factors determining outcome in the life of believers are those we cannot see.  Your greatest reality in your greatest difficulty is an invisible, all-powerful God."  That's where faith comes in with such importance.  Hebrews 11:1 gives us the definition of faith:  "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Read Hebrews 11 and see faith in action.
No matter how "invisible" God might seem to you right now, -- He is there, He is here, and He is everywhere, all the time.  God is real and the work He is doing around us is more real than the noses on our faces -- we just can't see it with our eyes.  But, by faith we can see what we can't see (oxymoron, I know, but nonetheless, the truth).  This reminds me of one of my favorite verses:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path" Proverbs 3:5-6.
Thank you, God, for giving me the honor of seeing the beautiful, majestic mountain you created -- and even more -- for giving me the privilege of "seeing" you with the eyes of faith. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Every day is a Voyage

We enjoyed an Alaskan adventure in June and I'll share some of these adventures in this month's posts.  When I saw a souvenir pad of paper with this quote, "Every day is a Voyage," I thought -- what a true statement!  I've considered life as a journey for years and now I can add voyage to the adventures of life that we all go through each day.

We spent three nights in Anchorage, one at Mt. McKinley Lodge, and two at the Denali lodge before traveling to Whittier to board the Coral Princess for a seven-night cruise. We finished our trip with four nights in Vancouver, Canada.  During those 18-days, we traveled by airplane, car, bus, train, ship, subway, and foot (lots of walking)  -- so guess you could say we covered most every kind of transportation used by average folks.

Thinking of life as a voyage is easy for me.  I sometimes feel like a little boat bouncing around on rough seas or just floating around with no real purpose.  I know I need my heavenly Captain to steer my little boat into the right shipping channels and help keep me on course for what He has planned for my life. 

I'm reminded of several famous voyages recorded in scripture.  Jonah's ill-fated voyage heading for Tarsus instead of Nineveh as God had instructed him is full of excitement and a great example of God's will coming to pass.  I love that God had probably prepared that big fish for Jonah even before he boarded the ship.  When God said to Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me," He knew the outcome and had a lifeboat of sorts waiting to rescue His child from certain death in the deep.  That is so like our heavenly Father -- to rescue us and love us and continue to use us -- in spite of our disobedience.

The second famous voyage involved the apostle Paul and his voyage to Italy.  Early in the voyage, Paul warned the captain it was too dangerous to sail at that time, saying, "Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives" Acts 27:10.  People just don't listen to good, Godly advice -- consequently, they frequently experience rough seas in their lives.  In this case, Paul's warning came true and the ship sunk within sight of the island of Malta.  God used this situation to bring glory to His name just as He did with Jonah.

The third famous voyage was a short one across the Sea of Galilee and involved the disciples and a sleeping Jesus.  As they sailed across the sea, a sudden, violent storm came down on them and the disciples feared for their lives.  They awoke Jesus.  As the Savior stood with wind and rain lashing against Him, He looked out at the crashing waves and rebuked their behavior.  Immediately, the wind and sea calmed.  Once again, the situation brought glory to God.

Each of these voyages involved conflict and danger, and each of them ended up in safety and bringing glory to God.  The voyage of life that we are each on has similarities.  We occasionally undergo conflict and danger, and if we belong to God, He will use these situations to bring glory to His name and victory to our hearts and lives.

Keep your sails trimmed and your eyes on the Captain.  He will keep you on course.  And -- don't forget to enjoy your journey!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sweet Tooth?

Really??  What - do you think you're a hummingbird, Mr. Squirrel??  Note how this guy is literally gripping the pole with his toenails.  We have some very inventive squirrels in our yard.  Guess this guy has a real sweet tooth since that little hummingbird feeder contained sugar water -- and, he managed to empty it in just a few days.

What is it about sweets that most of us just can't get enough of?  I can hardly pass a bakery anywhere in the world without going inside and at least gazing in mouthwatering wonder at the beautiful confections behind the glass.  Give me a piece of cake, a cupcake, a slice of pie, some cookies, a piece of chocolate filled with gooey caramel, or (better yet, make that "and/or") an ice cream sundae loaded with whip cream and I'm a happy camper (:

The trouble is -- too many sweets are not good for us.  There seems to be an epidemic of diabetes in our country and sugar is most often the culprit.  In most cases, sugar in moderation is not overly harmful, but when do most of us practice moderation?  I admit, as I was chomping on a second delicious donut recently I was pushing thoughts of moderation to the back of sugar-laden mind.

Moderation is important in all aspects of life.  Anytime we go to extremes in any direction, it can spell trouble -- even in the spiritual realm.  We don't want to pull totally apart from the world anymore than we want to become immersed in the world.  Jesus lived in the world of His day and rubbed shoulders with all kind of people and He knew we would need to do the same so He sent his Holy Spirit, partly to help us out in moderating ourselves to live in the world, but not of the world.  We don't want to be too "holier than thou" anymore than we want to be a good ole gal who plays in the mud of life with the worst of them.

Jesus spoke of Christians when He said, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. / They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. / Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" John 17:14-17.

We are to keep ourselves "apart" from sin even as we remain "a part" of the world in which we now reside.  We'll never be able to reach the lost if we live in a precious castle in the sky so-to-speak.  We'll never go wrong if we look at the life of Jesus and use His behavior on this earth as our guide in our own behavior.  Our goal as a child of God is to look and act more and more like our Savior.  A good start is to study the four gospels where the words of Jesus are written in red across their pages -- beacons of truth for us to emulate by the power of His indwelling Spirit.

The closer we follow our Lord and Savior, the sweeter will be our fellowship with Him and with all those with whom we come into contact.  And perhaps, with the help of His sweet Spirit, I can practice a bit more moderation in my choice of desserts as well. 

I won't worry about Mr. Squirrel -- anyone who can hang by their toenails like that can probably handle all the sugar water they can drink.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July!


Our beloved United States of America celebrates our independence and the birth of our nation on this day.  I am saddened that our country has fallen from what is right and good in so many ways, and that the light of liberty has so dimmed in the last five years.  Even so, our country still stands for freedom as is evidenced by the stars and stripes and the 50 stars that adorn our beautiful flag -- a flag that flies as a result of great sacrifice over the centuries.

I like the symbolism in this photo from the circus we went to in April.  I see the massive elephant symbolizing the strength and largeness of our nation, and the young woman symbolizing the beauty and humanity of our country.  I love our flag and always get a lump in my throat when I see it displayed with the patriotism I feel for this country that God has blessed so abundantly.

Praise God for America and long may her flag fly free.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Circus: Elephants Entertain

Watching these elephants stand on their hind legs against one another was certainly fascinating and one of those "Wow" moments in the circus, but it was also -- well -- unnatural.  I squirmed just a bit in my seat as I watched them put through their paces.  It just seems undignified for these massive, amazing and regal animals to be treated like little trained dogs. 

Even so, I think maybe these elephants like performing in the circus.  I'm definitely not a PETA person and I assume these elephants are well-cared for, so the fact that I didn't feel comfortable watching this act didn't mean it was wrong.  There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that I'm totally unaware of and who am I to judge the rightness or wrongness of these actions?

It made me think about how we as Christians too frequently judge one another regarding all sorts of things.  I'm reminded of Christ's warning in John 7:24 when He said, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."

One particular issue I see judged in the Christian community is what I call the method of conducting a Sunday morning worship service.  There have been churches that have split in two over the kind of music and instruments to use in church, as well as the degree of formal versus casual.  God gives wisdom and guidance to those who earnestly seek his path.  If a church is seeking God and seeking to glorify Him, then I believe their method of worship will reflect that and they should not be judged by other Christians who may disagree with their methods.  As long as the message (of the gospel) remains the same, methods could and should be changed over time.

Christians -- well-meaning, godly Christians, sometimes think that Christian thought, behavior and ways of worship should remain the same century after century, decade after decade, and that any veering from that old way of worship must be wrong, it must be caving into the world.  That’s just not true.

We should remind ourselves of how Jesus turned the status quo religion of His day upside down and changed methods that had been in the rule books for thousands of years.  Would anyone suggest He was wrong?  The religious leaders of His day certainly judged Him as wrong, when in reality He was right (of course He was!  He is God!) and they were wrong.

Newer methods can and do draw hearts to God, both in salvation and greater worship.  The thing is, that just as in olden times, the key to valid, meaningful and obedient service is the right relationship with God.  This is always the key which unlocks whatever method God chooses to reach a particular person or people group – at a particular time in history.
Even in the New Testament era there were new beliefs that veered from what God had required of the Jews in the Old Testament.  Now, circumcision was no longer required and even rejected to an extent.  Also, foods that had been unclean and forbidden were now accepted.  Peter had preached against eating certain unclean meats all his life and fully believed in what he had been taught and indeed, what was in the scriptures at the time.  In all sincerity he preached that it was wrong to eat such meat and he "judged" those who did so.  It took a vivid vision from God to change Peter's outlook on right and wrong in this situation.  The vision also included the mandate to reach the Gentiles and that they could be saved just as fully as the Jews could be.  The Gentiles were now included in God's repentance -- this too was a major change.  1 Corn 8:1-13-Paul / Peter in Acts 10:9-17 and 11:4-18

I'm sure it was hard for Peter to suddenly change his beliefs -- beliefs that had been ingrained in him since infancy, but he did and even embraced those changes, saying, "If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" Acts 11:17.

Indeed -- who are we to withstand God or question His methods for reaching the lost?  We need to embrace God-given change and we need to obey the words of our Lord when He said, "Judge not that you be not judged" Matthew 7:1.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Circus: Disaster

When we went to the Ringling Brothers Circus in April, I took this photo of a group of women who hung from hooks inserted into their hair.  They're called the Human Chandelier.  They twirled and gracefully moved around while hanging high in the air.  We all held our breath and thought, "Ouch!"

During our show, everything went as planned and the entertaining group safely performed their dangerous and, I would think, uncomfortable act.  It was an amazing display of grace and bravery and strong hair.

Only a few weeks after we were amazed by this unique act, these same lovely women met with disaster -- an accident -- in the form of defective equipment.  Just after they began their performance in Rhode Island, a clamp that held the apparatus to the rafters failed and in a horrifying moment, the eight women plunged 35 feet to the floor below.  It was not only the painful impact that caused injury, but a jumble of twisted cables and heavy metal from the support frame fell on top of the helpless women.  Although several of the women were in critical condition, it is believed that they will all survive and recover.

We've all heard the old saying, "Accidents happen."  Yes, indeed they do -- everything from accidently hammering your thumb instead of the nail, to missing a step and falling, to getting a paper cut from an envelope.  Throughout life, little accidents plague us and we get knicks and scrapes, but we get up and in most cases, there's no lasting harm that's done.  But -- then, there are the accidents such as the one that befell these women at the circus, and the car accident last year where a friend of ours lost his leg -- these are the accidents we fear and sometimes lose sleep over at night when our imaginations work overtime.

After a particularly bad week of weather-related tragedies in the form of flood, fire and tornado that destroyed homes and caused dozens of deaths, I commented to a fearful friend, "Well, God is in control and we just have to trust Him to take care of us."  She looked over at me and asked, "And, what if it's not His will for you to be okay?"

That sobered me and I began thinking that, yes, sometimes He allows the worst to happen to us -- like with our Christian friend who lost his leg.  While we all prefer an accident-free, disaster-free life, we should say with Job, "...Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" 2:10.

A life on this earth will include accidents and, perhaps even disaster, but God does not want us to live in fear of those times.  Instead, we need to trust our almighty, loving Father who knows the end from the beginning and everything in between.  God has promised, saying, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" Jeremiah 29:11.

While that promise does not include an accident-free life, it does assure us that He will be with us through thick and thin and His ultimate plan for us is very, very good.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Circus: Taming the Wild Beast

We recently went to the Ringling Brothers Circus.  I was impressed with the production and really enjoyed the evening under the "big top" (that would be the concrete roof of the building).  One of the fascinating acts was, of course, the "lion tamer" and the big cats.  I have to say my stomach was tensed up as I watched this man in the cage with nearly a dozen lions and tigers. 

When I snapped this picture of the man leaning in and kissing the wide-open, sharp-toothed mouth of this Bengal tiger, I marveled -- not only at his fearlessness and, I'm sure, keen control of these wild animals through constant training, but I also marveled at what an incredible chance he was taking placing his very vulnerable face into the face of such obvious possible danger.

Of course, I know that's what the act with the big cats is all about -- fear versus fearlessness, intense training producing obedience in behavior -- all combining for an edge-of-your-seat exciting show.  And, I have to hand it to him, the trainer did an excellent job and it seemed to go off without a hitch -- or a claw or a bite -- thank goodness!

But -- when tempting fate as this behavior illustrates, there is no guarantee that you'll come out in one piece.  I'm sure this trainer believes he can keep these big cats under control.  He's probably been doing this for years and I'm sure when he sticks his face practically into the mouth of this tiger, he doesn't anticipate losing half of his face.  But -- it could happen -- and has happened. 

One of the most famous tragic trainer injuries was in 2003 when Roy of Siegfried & Roy was bitten in the neck by a seven-year old White Tiger and nearly died.  More recently, a young trainer in a zoo in Australia was bitten in the neck by a tiger he had raised from birth.  No matter how well-trained these animals may appear, they are wild animals with very large, sharp teeth.

You say, well, you don't have to convince me!  There is no way on God's green earth that you'll ever find me in a cage with a wild cat.  Maybe not, but there are times you've been face to face with a man-eating lion and you didn't even know it.  Peter writes, "Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" 5:8.  Satan and his minions are prowling around like big wild cats and they have very large, sharp teeth.  They'd like nothing better than to take a chunk out of you and me -- to dilute our testimony for the Lord or to someway keep us from bringing glory to our Father.

There have probably been times in your life (perhaps even right now) when you've been in the position of the trainer in the picture above.  You think you have control of the situation and you kiss the dangerous face of the lion or tiger (a picture of playing with sin).  If, as this trainer, you survived without a scratch, it is only by the grace of your gracious Father who protected you from being devoured by the wicked one.  We should never tempt God and we should never play with sin thinking we can control it. 

Peter further goes on to say that we are to "Resist him (the devil), standing firm in the faith..." 5:9.

God speaks through Peter in chapter 3 with words to live by:  "Whoever would love life and see good days ...He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer" 3:10-12.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

White Peacock

What a beautiful bird!  I don't think I'd ever seen a white Peacock before.  Although I think the brilliantly colored peacock is magnificent, there is something so elegant about this rare bird that I was delighted by its plumage.  It reminds me of a bride -- all in frothy white with a tiara on her head.  The white peacock is not albino, but rather a mutation of its brilliantly-colored brother.  I snapped this lovely close-up at Bluebird Gap Farm.
You know the old saying, "Pretty is as pretty does," or we might add, "Beauty is only skin deep?"  Well, I can't help but use those phrases with this magnificently beautiful bird.  Although his appearance is grand and elegant, from what I was told, this guy is downright rude and ugly-acting.  He has a temper and -- you see that sharp beak -- well, he's not adverse to using it if you get too near.  I kept my distance and used the zoom on my camera to get this close-in shot.
Not only is he notorious for an ugly temper, he has an equally ugly voice.  Now, I know he can't help how he sounds, but believe me -- it does not go along with his appearance.  If you've never heard a peacock call out, you might be surprised how harsh, honking and unattractive the sound is.  God does have a sense of humor and I can't help but think He may have decided He needed to temper this bird's brilliant beauty by giving him a harsh, totally non-singing voice -- perhaps to keep him humble.
So -- what sort of spiritual message can we uncover in this beautifully plumed exterior and equally unattractive inner make-up?
Think on these words God spoke long ago to a certain someone:  "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground..." Ezekiel 28:17.  Do you know who God was speaking to?
This one who God was speaking to was earlier in the chapter described as "...the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" verse 12.  These verses describe Lucifer, the brilliant angel who reminds me of this elegant peacock, strutting and shaking his tail feathers as if he thinks he is the master of the universe -- and that's exactly what Lucifer thought he was -- the master of the universe.  His head was turned by his own beauty and he had the audacity to think he was equal with God -- hence the casting to the ground in the earlier verse.
Beauty is a gift from God and if it is kept in perspective it can serve the wearer well, but if one's head is turned as Lucifer's was by their own beauty, that is when it becomes deceptive.  It's interesting to note that even Satan can be deceived.
The poet John Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."  That is particularly true of a person who has the inner beauty of the Holy Spirit living within their heart.  Whether you have outward beauty to go along with the inner beauty, or not -- God is most pleased with the heart that is turned to Him.  "...For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" 1 Samuel 16:7.
I still think this white peacock is mighty pretty!