Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Strangers Meet

A Wood Pigeon in Paris
I spotted this wood pigeon perched on the railing near the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) overlooking the swirling waters of the Seine.  I wonder if he coos with a French accent?  His plumage is stylish with the understated elegance of gray, black and white.  You would expect no less from a Parisian bird.
He looked at me and I looked at him -- snapped his picture and then in a moment, we were each gone on our way.  Even though this was only a brief photo op with a bird, it made me think about the many times our paths cross with strangers and something about that brief moment in time makes an impression on one or both of us.
There is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that comes to mind, "Tales of a Wayside Inn," with the words:
   Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown,
   and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak
   one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

I'm reminded of the many people we meet on our travels.  I have conversations with women standing beside me in line to board a plane or shuttle bus or such and it's not unusual to feel a bond with these women -- even though we've only shared a ten minute conversation.  Other times, I find kindred spirits at dinner on a cruise or during a tour.  At such times I feel we really are like ships that pass in the night, but in that passing we've made an impression on one another that will be part of our life experience.  I really want that impression I make to be a Godly one.  I want my "light to so shine before men that they may see" Jesus in me.
That doesn't mean I have to act "holier than thou" or be a "goody-two-shoes."  I believe what it means is that I need to be real and authentic, caring and compassionate -- and clean living.  Ephesians 4:29 reminds us "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
God commands us to have love in our hearts for others and let that love show through in our words and actions toward them -- even if for a brief moment in time.  We all cross paths with strangers.  As Paul said in Romans, "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone" 14:7.  Let's ask God to help us be sparks of light for His glory as He uses us as a distant voice in the darkness of someone's life.
As for the little Parisian pigeon, I can guarantee I didn't make an impression on him, but he made an impression on me and the look he's giving me in that picture convicts me that I want to be a better ship passing in the night, speaking out with the pure love of Jesus in my voice, so that someone will not pass into darkness and silence. 
   ~Note:  this is the first in a short bird series.  Ever since we put up a bird feeder system in January, I've been getting messages from birds -- and no, they're not carrier pigeons (: 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who - Me?

"We love Him because He first
loved us"
1 John 4:19

The squirrels in my yard offer frequent expressive poses.  This guy looks like he's staring at me, pointing to his chest and asking, "Who - me??" 

That thought - "Who - me??" reminds me of a song by Casting Crowns, one of my very favorite singing groups, when they sing, "Who am I?"  Here's the first verse:

Who am I that the God of all the earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I that the Bright and Morning Star would choose to light the way for my ever wandering heart?
Not because of who I am, but because of what you've done -
Not because of what I've done,
but because of who you are...
I am yours.

This beautiful song message of God's love is written out for us over and over in the Word God has given to us in the Bible.  He - Loves - Us - totally, completely, beyond what we can understand - He loves us, because God is love. 

Many times in life, we don't feel loved, often because we don't feel deserving of God's love.  We for sure are not deserving of God's love and that's the amazing thing -- He graces us with His love in spite of our unworthiness.  The truth is, we could never do anything to deserve His love in the first place, but Christ took care of all that for us when He made us worthy through Himself. 

It may sound a bit convoluted, but it's really quite simple.  God loves His children with an everlasting love -- no matter what -- for all time.  We are so blessed to have such a Father.  So, next time you feel unworthy and take on the expression of this squirrel and ask, "Who am I?"  Just remind yourself that you are God's and he surrounds you with His love 24/7.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen

This is the part we get excited about -- our Lord Jesus Christ rising up from that tomb, once again alive in His physical body -- the first fruits of the resurrection all we that are in Christ will experience. 

The stained glass window in the St. Mary's Anglican Pro-Cathedral at Grand Turk Island is a thrilling imagination of what the moment of Christ's resurrection might have looked like.  There were the two adoring angels who would later speak to Mary -- two who had been chosen to share the good news and to watch the Lord they so dearly loved rise up from that awful grave.  There is a song by a group called Newsong that never ceases to bring tears to my eyes when I hear it.  The song describes the moment we see in this stained glass:

   The words all creation had been longing to hear --
   The sweet sound of victory, so loud and clear.
   Arise, my love.  Arise, my love.
   The grave no longer has a hold on you.
   No more death's sting  no more suffering
   Arise ...  Arise ... Arise!

Can't you just hear God the Father calling out to His beloved Son on that morning -- words that would have rung through the heavens with the power of love that would have thrilled every being within that land of glory.  To think that all of this amazing glory and miraculous work was going on in the spirit world and no one on the earth was aware of any of it.  That too is amazing.

I wonder how often there is amazing and miraculous work going on in the spirit world around us and we are unaware of it.  The spirit world that is just beyond the fabric of our physical world -- close enough we could touch it if it were visible to our human eyes.  Then, there are even times when miracles appear right before our eyes, and we don't see them -- as when the risen Jesus appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus and they did not recognize Him.

God wants us to recognize His presence in our lives and His working in us, both in the spirit and the physical worlds.  Let's ask Him to give us eyes to see and ears to hear, as Proverbs 20:12 tells us:  "Ears that hear and eyes  that see -- the Lord has made them both."

And just know, if you have been born into the family of God, someday, you and I will hear those marvelous words from our Father when He says to us as He did to His Son, "Arise my love!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Christ on the Cross

It is heartbreaking to think of the Lord Jesus Christ hanging from a cross in such shame and agony.  We cannot fully comprehend the awfulness of the thing.  But, it is even more heartbreaking to think what it would be if He had not hung on that cross in such shame and agony.  The amazing grace radiating from that cross has been our salvation.  We cannot fully comprehend the love involved in such a thing, but we can with great thanksgiving, accept it and rejoice that He was willing to endure it for you and me.

This set of stained glass windows in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburg, Scotland, offer us a rather "cleaned-up" version of the event.  It was more horrendous than artists would choose to portray in beautiful stained glass, but just know, our Lord's body was in far worse condition than you see in the picture.  Instead of seeing reality, we can appreciate the symbolism of the picture in the beauty of what Christ did for you and me.  It was the most beautiful act of love and obedience imaginable.

One of the verses in scripture under the heading "The Death of Jesus," that is especially thrilling to me is found in Matthew 27:51.  It happened immediately after Jesus cried out in a loud voice that it was finished and He gave up His spirit (notice - He alone had the power to give up His spirit -- which He did as a sacrifice for you and me).  As soon as Christ's payment for our sin was complete, "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."

I get chills just imagining that tall, heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple being ripped from top to bottom.  It was torn from top to bottom because the act came from above -- from the hand of God.  Before, only the high priest could approach the Holy of Holies -- and then, only at specified times.  Now, since God Himself opened the way, we can all approach the throne of God and have direct access to Almighty God.  What a privilege!

Thank you, Jesus, for your gracious sacrifice and the gift of salvation and intimacy that you so freely give.  "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" Hebrews 4:16.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bearing Fruit

I love the beauty of a pyracantha bush in the fall.  Its bright red berries clustered around shiny green leaves is a glorious sight -- especially when seen against the brilliant blue of a clear sky as I was able to capture here in Williamsburg.  This vibrant fruit reminds me of the vibrant fruit of the Spirit that God is pleased to see growing in His children.  Here's a list of some of those fruits:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law...Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" Galatians 5:22-23, 25.

Now, if this pyracantha branch with its plump fruit and shiny leaves were cut from the bush from which it grows, it wouldn't be long before the berries would begin to shrivel and the leaves would dry up and turn brown.  It would cease being a thing of beauty and nourishment to birds and animals and become useless.  This illustrates what happens to we as Christians when we fail to stay attached to our heavenly Father and let His strength and power and love work through us.  Jesus talked about that truth in John 15, when He said:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful...Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine...If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing....This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples...I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

When I was younger, I thought the fruit we were commanded to bear was souls won to the Lord -- that was our fruit.  Indeed, that is fruit that is important to our Father the Gardener, but it is not the only fruit that is important to Him.  As I grew older and studied the scriptures, I discovered that the fruit of the Spirit is what God speaks of more often than not.  He is cultivating His children to be loving and joyous, peaceful and patient, kind and gentle, faithful and controlled.  These are fruit that grow as we mature in Christ and this is fruit that brings great glory to the Almighty Gardener.

God likens His seeking, growing child to a tree planted by streams of water "which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers."  Furthermore, as His children, we are commanded to "Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord" Ephesians 5:8-10.

As we grow older in years, this verse in Psalm is especially encouraging:  "They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing" 92:14. 

I think each of us would like to bear fruit as attractive and luscious-looking as those red berries in the picture.  I think the truth found in Matthew 6:33 holds a clue on how to bear more fruit for the Father:  "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Drawing Water

     "Therefore with joy you will draw water
      from the wells of salvation" Isaiah 12:3

I can remember as a child visiting my grandparent's farm in the south.  All their water came from a well just off the front porch.  I'd drop the bucket down into the deep, dark hole until it broke the surface of the water with a splash.  Then, I'd turn the handle and watch as the rope wound around the overhead pulley and a bucket brimming with cold water lifted up to the surface.  The water from that well was the best-tasting water I've ever had -- and it was fun for us city-kids to draw water from a real, old-fashioned well.

This picture I took in Williamsburg, reminds me of those by-gone days.  The well-surround in the photo is fancier than my grandparent's well, but the bucket, pulley, rope and chain are very similar and all bring back happy memories of cold, clear water and the feel of turning the cold metal handle to raise water from the well.

We all need water to live and if our bodies don't get enough water, we become dehydrated, weak, confused, and can even die.  That's also a picture of our need for the salvation of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We need the water of salvation to live spiritually.  Without that water, we become dehydrated, weak, confused, and can even die spiritually (translated -- end up in hell).  Jesus made it clear to us that He is the living water and anyone who drinks from the water He offers (translated -- the free gift of salvation) that person will never thirst again.

What does that mean -- "will never thirst again?"  First and foremost, it means we are partakers of the living water of salvation and will live eternally with God in heaven.  But, while we're still here on earth, traveling along our journey of life, we need water to keep from becoming dehydrated, weak and confused -- all of which can even happen to a Christian if we don't frequently drink from the water of God's Word and spend time in His presence. 

A verse in Psalm 42 describes how a Child of God feels when we haven't stayed properly hydrated with God's Spirit and we're thirsty for a closer walk with Him:   "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."

We need to daily draw from the deep, satisfying well of Almighty God.  As a result, He has promised to give us strength for our weakness and guidance for our confusion -- and a joy that only comes from being properly hydrated in the Spirit.  Drink up and rejoice in the Giver of all good things.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Lamp

           "Let your lamp so shine before men, that they
        may see your good works and glorify your Father
                       in heaven" Matthew 5:16

This photo is hauntingly beautiful to me.  I took the picture through the window of the Maltese Cross Cabin, built in 1884, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, North Dakota.  The window looking out at beautiful yellow autumn leaves is dirty giving a Matisse-like quality to the view.  The old oil lamp, however, is in sharp focus.  Hmmm.... do I detect a spiritual analogy here?

We live in a society whose view of the world seems to become dirtier every day.  What was once right has become wrong and what was once wrong has become right (even though God's Word on these things has not changed).  This topsy-turvy world is changing at a rapid pace and it often appears that Satan is making points against Christians at a rapid pace.  We shouldn't be surprised.  The Bible tells us these things will happen and it also tells us what our response should be.  Here's what Jesus said on the subject:

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven...You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" Matthew 5:11-16.

The oil lamp in this photo stands as a reminder of several things: 

       --- that we should keep our lamps filled with oil by being fed by the Word of God and staying close to our Father through prayer and praise
       --- that we should stand up for what we believe, even it means standing beside that dirty window of the world in order to show forth God's glory
       --- that we should stand in sharp contrast to the dark and dirt that surrounds us; live a life above reproach in the power of God and for His glory.

God has instructed Christians to be lights.  If each of us will keep our wicks trimmed and our lights shining, God will use our combined lights to light a dark world and we can rejoice in the blaze of glory it will produce for our blessed Father of lights.