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!