GOD’S WOODLAND CREATURES AND US!

Often, we think of God’s woodland creatures in terms of big animals. Such as the caribou that we saw in Alaska. Tall, heavy with incredible racks on the top of their head. The muscles that are necessary to hold their head up are incredibly strong, they would have to be to carry the antlers as they do. And they are fast, when speed is needed.

Caribou close up
Caribou with large rack grazing in the Denali National Park., Alaska.

 

Out west we have the buffalo, certainly a handsome specimen of strength and endurance!

Buffalo in ND
Buffalo in the American West, specifically in the plains of North Dakota.

 

Then, of course, we think of the bear. Huge, frightful jaws and paws with claws that can rip almost anything, certainly a person if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time! He is certainly not someone I want to encounter without a bus surrounding me!

Bear in Denali
Bear walking across the plane in Denali National Park, Alaska.

 

Another of God’s creatures is the deer that inhabits the wooded areas of our country. Traveling through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you can drive an 11 mile loop road around Cades Cove, the first settlement in the Smoky Mountains, and deer are always visible. Of course we are not afraid of deer – we remember Bambi!

Deer in woods Oregon 2009 178 (C)
Deer grazing in the woods of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park along the loop road in Cades Cove.

 

But there are also the small woodland creatures, and many of them are not confined to the “woods” as in forest, take squirrels and chipmunks for example. Many abide in urban areas, finding shelter and food in unique places.

 

It is not very hard to find food in our backyard. Not only do we feed the squirrels and chipmunks by hand, when possible – we also have several feeders around the yard. They provide continued amusement, as long as the food supply is available!

Squirrel at corn cobs on feeder (C)
Squirrel eating corn at the backyard “picnic table” just below the bird feeder.

 

Not all squirrels have their own private restaurant, however. Many have to forage for their dinner. Consider the squirrels and chipmunks seen in Oregon at the Lava Butte Lookout. This squirrel blends in with the lava rocks and minimal vegetation so well that we almost missed him. [Hint: if you can’t find him, he is in the very center of the picture, nibbling on some greenery right in front of him.]

Squirrel can you see him Oregon 2009 229
Squirrel seen in Oregon nibbling on greenery growing among the rocks.

 

This little chipmunk apparently made a home in the lava cone near Bend, Oregon. Not much in the way of greenery, but he must find food in the area.

Chipmunk in cinder cone Oregon 2009 190
A chipmunk in a cinder cone in Oregon.

 

Here, the little guy running down the steps must be successful in spotting some food that looked good to him.

Chipmonk on steps Oregon 2009 199 (C)
A chipmunk trotting down the wooden stairs at the Lave Butte lookout, near Bend, Oregon.

 

Clearly, our Creator God has equipped the squirrels, chipmunks, caribou, deer and all His creatures with the ability to find sustenance, even in the harshest of places. Rocks are not edible, but there is an abundance of food for this chipmunk as he is seemingly protected in his rocky restaurant.

Chipmunk in cinder cone (C)Oregon 2009 232
A chipmunk standing in a cinder cone, Oregon.

 

This Alaskan squirrel appears to be ready for winter, although it was only August when we saw him, but winter comes quickly so it is best to be prepared!

Alaskan squirrel (C)
An Alaskan squirrel, looking for goodies before winter covered the landscape with snow and ice.

 

The Creator God cares for each member of His creation. Jesus says, in Matthew 6:26:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

 

This same passage expands God’s care for His creation by including care for even the flowers and grass of the field. See Matthew 6:30 where Jesus says:

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

 

I don’t believe that Jesus intended to say that birds and grass were the only parts of creation that God tends with His loving hand. Rather, they are illustrative of the depth of love God has for His creation. Grass is temporal and is burned when its short life is over. Birds may seem insignificant to us, but not to God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.   Matthew 10:29-31.

 

Jesus is teaching by comparison. God loves these seemingly insignificant parts of His creation so that He knows even when a sparrow falls out of a tree, so that he knows even the number of hairs on our heads, even the insignificant parts of His creation illustrate His love and care to those for whom He sent His Son to die!

 

God has a plan for His creation and, for those who are in Christ Jesus, God has a specific plan for us to accomplish during our time on this earth. We are not insignificant even though we may feel that way at times. Whatever our age, whatever our station in life, whatever our physical or mental abilities, we are not insignificant.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.    Ephesians 2:10.

 

When negative thoughts attack you, when you feel like no one sees or cares, remember the chipmunk or the squirrel, or the sparrow or the grass. Those features of God’s creation merit His attention at all times … how much more does He care for those He created in His image and into which He breathed the breath of life. Genesis 2:27.
Praise His Holy Name.

 

Father, thank you for providing for the little critters you created. Thank you for giving us the wide variety in animals to look at and care for. Thank you for telling us that we are not insignificant. But most of all, thank you for sending your Son to die for our sins, and to provide redemption for us so that we can be your children. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace.

PAPERWHITES – LOST IN THE SEASONS!

This year we, in the southern United States, had a very mild fall and early winter. The temperatures were in the 60s and 70s when they should have been much colder than that. I’m not talking in the below freezing range, but surely colder than flip flops and tank tops for Christmas shopping attire.

 

The front lawn at our house is a challenge for us. Grass does not want to grow there because of the big trees that suck up the water and provide too much shade, especially along the street. We had a lawn service come in and put in new plants, but I don’t believe that the lawn service considered the fact that there is not a green thumb among any of the 20 fingers resident in our home.

 

front yard
Front yard along street where grass doesn’t like to grow!

 

Nonetheless, every year we try something new, trying to have our yard at least a little bit visually attractive.   This fall, we went to The Home Depot and picked up 2 bags of tulip bulbs and 1 bag of paperwhite bulbs. According to the instructions, they both would be good along the street and would provide some pretty flowers for cutting, etc. in the Spring.

 

So, my husband went to digging holes and (since my ankle was still not useable) I would sit on a chair and toss him a bulb to put into the ground. I wasn’t much help, in reality, since often my toss would send him out into the street to retrieve the bulb, but at least I felt like I was participating in this gardening effort.

 

We were very proud of the area along the street that had been cleaned, dug up and planted, with new top soil and a hearty dose of water, all according to the directions. Now all we had to do was to wait for Spring and we would have flowers galore.

paperwhites
Paperwhites coming up shortly before Christmas.

 

Imagine our surprise when, in early December we saw green spikes coming up in our tilled soil. They were not all over the space, just in the center where we had planted the paperwhites. The weather continued to be cool, not cold, and the spikes grew taller.

paperwhites 2
Two of the paperwhite plants up close.

 

Indeed, by mid-December we had a crop of precious paperwhites. They stood along the street so tall and proud of themselves, unaware of our laughter as we drove down the driveway and saw them waving in the breeze. In our effort to have the yard visually appealing in the Spring, we now were the only ones on the street to have flowers blooming beside the piles of dried leaves waiting for the collection truck.

paperwhites 3
The paperwhites share the curb with dried leaves waiting for the leaf truck.

 

The tulips apparently were a bit smarter, they are still in the dirt (unless the squirrels got them without our knowledge, always a possibility!) and we are anticipating some beautiful blooms in the Spring. Of course, we were expecting that from the paperwhites too, so our anticipation may not be well-founded.

 

And of course there is the next question, “What are the paperwhites going to do in the spring, when they are supposed to come up since they already made their appearance?” I don’t know … that is outside my area of expertise!

 

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes said:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

 

What the Preacher is saying is that God has ordained the seasons and, indeed, every matter under heaven. This, of course, includes the time to plant and to pluck up that which is planted. To put it bluntly, the Preacher is saying that God is sovereign.

 

God’s sovereignty encompasses all aspects of our world, its operation and workings, and humanity’s work, even each individual’s life and actions. The concept of God’s sovereignty is overwhelming to me. My finite mind simply cannot comprehend the scope of that which is subject to His control. His sovereignty is total – it is without limit – it is untouched by human plan or design. His decree will come to pass, without exception and without interference.

Yosemite scenic view  2011 cropped
Yosemite National Park

 

He is the Creator and has created and ordained the heavens and all beings therein, even the mountains and oceans do His work. Read Psalm 148 where the Psalmist commands that we and all of creation “Praise the Lord” and where he further says that what God has decreed will pass away.

Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska
Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska

 

One of the most beautiful statements of God’s sovereignty and majesty is found in the book of Job, chapters 38-41 where God responds to the questions Job has raised in his own defense to the situations presented to him. I encourage you to read the entire book of Job, but particularly these chapters. After listening what God has said, and after considering the chasm between God’s omnipotence and Job’s helplessness, Job replied, quoting his earlier statements and recanting from them, as follows:

 

Then Job answered the LORD and said:  “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 42:1-6 [ESV]

God knows the animals and has created them to accomplish that which He decrees.  Remember the story of Balaam and his donkey in Number 22, where the donkey saw the angels of the Lord standing in the road, blocking the way that Balaam wanted to go. In this case, God even opened the donkey’s mouth so that he could instruct Balaam! Also, remember the great fish that swallowed Jonah and then spit him up on to the land where God had told him to go! And remember the fish with the shekel in its mouth in Matthew 17, providing the money to pay the tax.

 

God even knows about the flowers in the field.

Flowers - Lillies (C)
Lilies blooming in the backyard.

 

How God sees the flowers of the field is revealed in Matthew 6 where Jesus is speaking:

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:28-30 [ESV]

 

Take time today to consider the magnitude and majesty of God’s sovereignty as it is revealed in creation and in His Word, the Holy Bible.   Spend some time pondering the omnipotence of the Creator God, and then thank Him for his grace, mercy and sovereignty.  Thank Him for knowing you, not just as part of the universal creation but on an intimate, personal basis, and thank Him for letting us know Him, as revealed by Jesus Christ and as expressed in His Word and His indwelling Spirit.

 

Father, I cannot comprehend your power, magnificence and majesty.  I cannot begin to understand the scope of your sovereignty.  All I can do is bow in humble reverence and awe, and claim your Son as my Savior and Lord.  Thank you for your grace, mercy and love, through Jesus Christ, I pray.

WATER – POWER HIDDEN IN TRANQUILITY

Certain scenes evoke a sense of rest and peace for me. One such picture is this view, captured by my Beloved, of an Oregon lake with the mountains mirrored in its reflection.

Mirror lake (C)
A lake in Oregon that looked like a mirror image.

Or this scene of Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills of North Dakota taken many years ago while I was on vacation with my parents.

 

Sylvan Lake, Black Hills, ND (C)
Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills of North Dakota

 

We are, of course, aware that water is not always absolutely still at the surface, and if they were totally still, they would be stagnant. There are the rippling sounds of the woodland waters as they slide over and around the rocks and stumps in their way.

Rapids in stream (C)
Rapids in the woodland stream.

With the right conditions, a stream can become a whitewater rapids. Also, there is the ocean with its rhythmical tossing of waves along the shore, a sound that many of us love to hear when we go to sleep.

Power hidden in tranquility.

Water can be extraordinarily powerful when drops of water combine along their way and, together, they plummet over a rocky edge to fall, sometimes, hundreds of feet to the bottom.

One of the majestic waterfalls in Yosemite National Park illustrates a waterfalls that is not only beautiful but which is, quite literally, capable of rearranging the earth’s surface.

Yosemite majestic waterfalls (C)
Majestic Yosemite Waterfalls

 

While water and its need by humanity is universally known and while death will surely come if there is no rain or fresh water, we in our arrogance often ignore our dependence on God for our water.

This fact is reiterated in the Old Testament where Scripture tells us in Genesis 7 that God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights, saving only Noah, his family and animals in the ark.

In Exodus we have the story of Moses seeking the release of God’s people from Pharaoh. Convincing Pharaoh required multiple plagues including one of rain, thunder and hail. Pharaoh said he would let the people go if God would stop the hammering hail and rain and in Exodus 9:33 we read:

So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the LORD, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth.

Of course, we know from the next passages in Exodus that Pharaoh again changed his mind, ultimately letting the people go only after death entered the country and all the first born sons died in one night.

King Ahab, also, had to learn the hard way that God is in control over ALL things, even rain. In 1 Kings 17:1 Elijah the prophet tells Ahab:

As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.

While it is the very next chapter in the Book of First Kings, from a chronological standpoint, three years had passed since this statement by Elijah. No rain or dew for three, dry, long years. Imagine the condition of the vegetation, animals and countryside, let alone the condition of the people after going three years without rain. Then, in 1 Kings 18:1, the Lord puts the exclamation point on his lesson for Ahab:

After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.”

Jesus said, in Matthew 5:45, that:

God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

The source of water is, simply put, our Sovereign God.

Water that we need for our physical survival is provided for us by God. We cannot make it rain when we want it to do so. God is in control.  He is sovereign. His will reigns and nothing will stop it from occurring as He decrees.

We may think that God is tranquil, that He is not doing anything so we don’t need to worry about Him as He is not a force that we need to reckon with.

Don’t be deceived. God is active in our world today, just as He was thousands of years ago. In Micah 6:8, God stated what mankind needs to do and there will be judgment if we do not do so.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This judgment may not occur on earth, but rest assured it will occur at the end of time, because sin cannot go unpunished by a Holy God.

Isaiah fell on his face when he saw the vision of God seated on the throne.

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Isaiah 6:5.

Isaiah instantly recognized that he was unclean and could not be before the Holy God in his sinful condition. God’s power may be hidden in seeming tranquility now, but it will be unleashed one day.

  • Do we really have an accurate understanding of who we are and Who God is?
  • Do we even begin to comprehend how all-encompassing our omniscient, omnipotent Sovereign is?
  • Do we even recognize how arrogant we are when we think that we have it in our power to control anything, let alone that which is required for our survival!
  • Do we comprehend how sinful and dirty we are when compared to the holiness of our God? Even our good deeds fail to merit attention … all our deeds are as filthy rags. See Isaiah 64:4.

Do I live my life in humble recognition that our loving God, who sent His Son for our salvation and who sent His Holy Spirit to be with us and to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Sovereign God of the Universe?  Do you so live?

Do we bow in submission and thankfulness for His Power, Mercy and Grace toward us?  Do we give Him our life, daily?

We should!

 

Father, forgive me when I have gone my own way and have ignored You and Your Word. Forgive me when I have forgotten Who You are and when I have failed to give You all honor and glory. Forgive me when I have failed to yield my life, daily, to You. Cleanse me and enable me to have the will and the power to live so that Jesus is the One who lives through me, all to Your glory, through Jesus Christ my Lord!

UNRUFFLED AND SIDELINED … A LESSON WHILE HEALING

Bellingrath Gardens long bridge and swan (C)
Long bridge with beautiful swan at Belingrath Gardens, Alabama.

 

There are times that nature moves quickly and with an intensity that man can only watch and admire. But, nature can also move slowly and with a deliberation that allows us peace and unruffled living. The swans at Bellingrath Gardens, in Alabama, provide a peaceful scene in which quiet contemplation is possible.

The swan must exert herself under the water so that she can majestically glide over the water, but she is able to do it with truly “unruffled” feathers.

Swan
The majestic swan — unruffled even while working!

How do we respond to things that upset our schedule or which create a problem for us to overcome? Do we have peace? Are we unruffled? While we might have to work at the response to the situation, do we worry and fret all the while?  What about while we are at work or have family troubles, do we stress and complain or do we have peace, even in chaotic circumstances? What about healing? Do we squirm because we are not as physically able as we want to be? Are we willing to submit to His loving care and see what He has for us, even if that includes physical pain?

The past two years have been an exercise in waiting for me.  I retired so that we could have time to do things like travel and visit family around the country.  Nine months later, I had a left ankle break that required surgery and over 9 weeks of non-weight bearing; then there were months of physical therapy as I healed from that event. I then had meniscus repair surgery to my left knee with resulting physical therapy, and I am just now beginning therapy after having surgery for a total right knee replacement. Each of these medical situations has found me, at times, accepting and, at other times, frustrated.

My schedule was stopped cold. Now all I had to do was to heal.  Wait, and yield to the caregiving provided to me … frustration and humiliation at not being able care for myself, even in fundamental ways, had to be let go so that I could appreciate the effort and care being rendered on my behalf.

As an example, I came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day and the next day my daughter Liz and my daughter-in-law Mandi prepared an incredible Thanksgiving Day meal for 12 people, served in our dining room, and all I had to do was to get up the steps and walk to the table. This was the first time that I had relinquished the holiday meal to others.  I praise these two wonderful women for their efforts which were absolutely successful, and I am thankful for the great celebration we had together. (The day of our Thanksgiving Day meal was our wedding anniversary, so it really was a celebration!)

Then too there is the wait for the doctors to practice their skill with still more waiting for the healing to come. Multiple doctor office visits and many more physical therapy sessions, with even more to be scheduled and endured. Wait, be calm and do the therapy so that healing will be complete.

There have been times when I wanted to scream “Doesn’t God know that we had plans?  Doesn’t God know that this is messing with what I thought He wanted me to do?  Doesn’t God care …?”

Of course, the answer is that “Yes, God does know. In fact, He knows everything!” That is the very definition of omniscience! What I need to know is that He is sovereign and He is in control of everything. That is the definition of omnipotence!  And, God does care — the cross is our confirmation of His love, mercy and grace for us.

                 What I need to remember is that I am not God.

This time of testing has a purpose, unknown to me, but important to God. Perhaps He has something that I am to learn about Him, about my life in Christ, about myself and the best way for me to do that is to experience this diversion that I would not have selected on my own.

In Mark 4:39 Jesus was with His disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arose. His disciples were terrified and they woke him pleading that He help. Scripture says:

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

This became a teaching moment for the disciples! It should also be such for us, for me.

The Almighty God who spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1) and His Son, Jesus Christ, who could stop the storm instantly by commanding “Peace,” has promised to provide peace to us in our time of need through the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 26:3 instructs:

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

Jesus promised that we would have divine help through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:25-26.

We are not guaranteed a life of ease as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, but we are guaranteed eternal life with Him and His presence through the Holy Spirit in the here and now. Such peace will transcend the frenetic pace of the world and calm our hearts if we read His Word and listen to the Holy Spirit’s instruction. If we turn our eyes upon Jesus, He will help us to learn the lessons that He has ordained, and He will encourage and support us even as we go through the difficulties attendant with those lessons.

Blessings to you. May you find Peace through your relationship with the King of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord and may His Spirit reside within you to comfort and strengthen during difficult times, even physical therapy!

Father, thank you for loving me so much that you are working in my life to transform me into the image of Jesus. Forgive me when I rebel and don’t want to go down the road you have ordained. Help me to remember that I am yours and that you are sovereign and in control of all things. Thank you Heavenly Father for your Son, my Savior and Lord, and thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to instruct, guide and comfort as we go along our way, even if it is to physical therapy.

 

 

 

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

It certainly is no secret that a new baby in the house upsets the applecart for parents as well as for older siblings.

Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital
Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital

It sometimes is a stressful time with the older siblings wondering if Mom or Dad have enough love to go around.  This is especially true given the emphasis (rightfully so) on the newborn baby which has now taken the place of priority over that of the older children.  “Mom, do you still love me with all your heart?  You love me more than the baby, right?”  Of course Mom would respond that she loves both the children with all her heart. Then she is asked: “How can you love both of us with all your heart – you have 2 hearts?”  Math and biology have now become real issues!

Child looking at infant sibling
Child looking at infant sibling

We smile at the question, but as adults, don’t we sometimes wonder how much we are loved, whether it is by our spouse or our children or our friends?  Sometimes, during hard times, we even wonder if God still loves us … if He did, surely He would have prevented “X” from happening.  [You fill in the blank.]

When it comes to God, I think the answer to how much God loves us is encapsulated in the saying:

“There is nothing that I can do to make God love me more than He does; and there is nothing that I can do to make God love me less than he does.”

I believe that this saying captures the definition of divine security.  Human love is strong, but it is sometimes fairly conditional.  Not so with God.  Scripture teaches that His love for me began even before I was born and it will continue throughout eternity. I did not earn it, I did not merit it, and I cannot lose it.

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist describes God’s creation of his being and the intimacy of God’s knowledge of him personally.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.

Psalm 139:2-4 [NIV]  (Emphasis mine)

The Creator of all things knows me so intimately that He knew the number of my days even before I was born, before I “came to be”.  Further, He knows what I am going to say, even before I say it!  [That thought is difficult for me to even put into a post – praise Him for forgiveness!]

The scope of God’s knowledge of us and of His love for us is beyond my comprehension; I can only bow in thankful praise and abject submission to this God of love who sent His Son to be my Savior.

Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The depth of His love is shown by Calvary and the tomb; and, His power over death is shown by the Resurrection!

Philippians 2:8-11 describes Jesus’ sacrifice like this:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  [ESV]

Praise the Lord that He has reached out and has adopted us into His family, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are children of the Sovereign Almighty God.  We are members of God’s family, and we are sisters (and brothers) of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  See Romans 8:15-17.

There is no question that God loves His children.  His love is more than sufficient for His children; it is perfect and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.  We read in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 that:

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. [ESV]

Thus, the real question is “Do you love Jesus?”

Jesus asked this very question of Simon Peter, the disciple who often seemed to put his foot in his mouth before thinking.  The impetuous Peter had affirmed his devotion to Jesus in the Garden before Judas and the guards came … then, during Jesus’ “trial”, he denied that he knew Jesus, not just once but three times.

After the resurrection, Jesus was with Peter and he asked “Do you love me?” three times – paralleling Peter’s three denials.   The story is told in detail in John 21:15-19.

Peter said that he did love the Lord and Jesus’ response was to direct Peter to “feed my lambs”, to “take care of my sheep”, and to “feed my sheep”. [NIV]  In other words, saying you love Jesus is not the end of the inquiry … you have a job to do.  In Peter’s case, it was to be a missionary feeding, caring and tending for the Lord’s sheep, and ultimately dying a martyr’s death.

That may not be what Jesus calls us to do … but He does call us to do something for which He will equip and provide direction and strength.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 [ESV]

So, how much do you love Jesus?  Enough to obey Him?  Enough to be a witness for Him wherever you go?

Father, help me to be a witness for my Lord.  Give me strength when I think I cannot go on, and give me wisdom to know when I should simply express love.  Help me to let Jesus shine through me in all things for your glory and praise.

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE REFORMATION

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE REFORMATION

A number of years ago, we visited the Butterfly Farm on Grand Cayman Island as an excursion from our cruise ship.  I saw the name “Butterfly Farm” and, being the literalist, saw long rows of planted butterflies.  At first I thought it was a joke, but finding out that it was a legitimate, informative place, we decided to go on the tour.

It was a wonderful time and we learned a great deal about these small animals.  Hurricane Ivan had passed across the island, causing severe destruction.  As we learned during our tour, one of the significant casualties was the butterfly population.  Essentially, the butterflies were blown out to sea by the force of the hurricane.  While this might not seem like a big deal at first, it is huge inasmuch as butterflies pollinate plants, just as bees do; therefore, we/humans need butterflies for food propagation.

Beautiful butterfly
Beautiful butterfly

Therefore, a “butterfly farm” was established to repopulate the butterflies on the island.  The “building” was essentially a mesh wall with a mesh roof, into which were planted shrubs, flowers, trees and grasses that would provide the food and shelter.  Butterflies were brought in from other areas of the world and placed in this protected environment.  When they were ready and in sufficient numbers, the roof would come off and they could be released into the area.

Butterflies - getting to know you!
Butterflies – getting to know you!

Of course, the butterflies were more than willing to work toward repopulation.  While we were there we saw these two butterflies doing their part to assist in the growth of the island’s butterfly community.  The pictures in this post were taken by my husband, but most of the scientific information that is included came from the website for The Butterfly Farm on St. Maartin, found at: http://www.thebutterflyfarm.com.

Butterflies are a type of insect.  They belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera, which means “scaly wings”.  The butterfly’s life cycle is made up of four stages, each of which are unique and very different from each other.  This process is called metamorphosis which means “change of form.”  First, the butterfly starts as an egg.  After about a week, the egg hatches and a tiny caterpillar emerges.  The caterpillar eats and gets bigger and bigger, ultimately shedding its skin 4 to 6 times.   Here is a picture of a leaf at the Butterfly Farm on which a caterpillar has attached itself.

Caterpillar on a leaf
Caterpillar on a leaf

After 2 to 4 weeks, the caterpillar will be full grown and it then transforms itself into a chrysalis/ or pupa.  It hangs from a tree or bush, appearing to be doing nothing, but inside the caterpillar’s body becomes the adult structure of the butterfly.  This stage takes 10 to 15 days.

Then, the former caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

Butterfly - stained glass
Butterfly – stained glass

But that emergence did not come easily … the insect has to struggle inside the cocoon, pushing against the sides before ultimately breaking through into the sunlight.

Butterfly having some strawberry lunch
Butterfly having some strawberry lunch

If the cocoon is cut so that the butterfly can emerge without struggle, the butterfly is doomed to live on land, unable to fly.  Getting out of the cocoon the easy way costs the butterfly the opportunity to soar.  It is the struggle to escape the cocoon that allows its wings to strengthen so that, after the struggle, flight is possible.

In other words, it is in the struggle itself that strength is born.

This week is Reformation Week – a time of remembering October 31, 1517, the day that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The debate that arose out of this action culminated in what is now called the Protestant Reformation.

One of the primary teachings of the Reformation is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Good works do not constitute any basis for our right standing before God; rather, our good works are the result of and the witness to our faith in Christ.  Ephesians 2:8-10.

Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, that we are forgiven of our sin, and that we have righteousness in His sight comes to us because through our faith alone the Father imputes to us, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

In other words, the Reformation’s call is that the just shall live by faith alone, in Christ alone.

Being justified, however, is not the end of the question.  There is a responsibility to live a Christ-centered life when we are justified by His sacrifice.  Paul says we are new creatures when we have yielded our lives to Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17.

Elaborating on this statement, Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 that we are to:

“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Even though we may not like hearing the message, we too are to put off the old self.  This is a struggle, but we need to recognize that it is in the struggle that we are strengthened. We may lose some of the battles but, even if we lose the round, at the end of the day we are stronger than we were before the struggle began.

I don’t know if I agree with the “No pain – No gain” mantra, but I do know that it has been through the painful times of life that I have gained new understanding of God’s grace, His mercy, His guidance and His love.

So, how do I view difficult times?   How do you?

Remember the butterfly.  Before the caterpillar can become the beautiful butterfly it is destined to be, it must go through all the stages and struggles.  Only then will it emerge as the new creature that can fly far above the ground to which it formerly was attached.

Then, praise God that He is with us, in both difficult and easy times.  Praise Him that his grace and mercy is always sufficient for our struggles as we seek to put the old self away so that we can be renewed in the likeness of our Lord. When struggles come, praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit is present with us to give us strength and clarity of mind and soul as we resist temptation and stand strong in the struggle. Praise Him too that so many years ago men were ready to stand up for the Gospel and to remind us that salvation comes through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thank you, Father, for the provision and protection of your Word and for the work of Martin Luther and other saints of the church who suffered greatly for their proclamation that justification is a matter of faith in Christ alone, and for the resulting Reformation.  Thank you too for the times when I have struggled, even when I have lost my way; for during those times, you gently guided me back to you and the struggle itself strengthened me for the rest of the journey.  Thank you for the beautiful butterfly, who daily illustrates the concept that difficulties are for a time, that there are struggles and hardships, but that the end result is worth the struggle as we grow in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ through your grace and mercy.

DOCTORS, HOSPITALS, PETS AND FEARS

Cuddles and Snickers are at the doctor’s office today.  Normally they are in the family room, balancing on the recliner while looking out the window through the blind slats … not at all sure what they can see, but they are intent.

But today, they are at the vet’s office for their various shots, tests, nail clipping and baths.  While it sounds routine, it is anything but routine for Cuddles.

Apparently, at some time in her past, she was abused in and around her paws.  When she first arrived at our home, we tried clipping her nails and could not get her to hold still.  She violently pulled back — never snapped, but clearly was terrified.

She is not terrified to look out the bedroom window at the birds feeding just a couple of feet away.  So we don’t know what caused her terror at having her claws clipped.

I see you, birdies; I just don't want to get out there, that's all!
I see you, birdies; I just don’t want to get out there, that’s all!

So, we did what anyone would do, we took her to the groomer’s and asked them to clip her nails.  They were successful in “grinding” some of them, but could not get all of them done and none of her claws were significantly shorter than when we left her for the grooming.  And, again, she was clearly terrified.

Cuddles with her long nails
Cuddles with her long nails

Next stop on the journey for reducing nail length was the veterinarian.  Surely, with all the staff, equipment, etc., he will be able to clip her nails and we will be on our way.  Cuddles disappeared into the back of the animal hospital with the smiling vet carrying her, assuring us that it would be a simple task for them.  [You can read into his expression “You poor guys, can’t even get the dog to hold still for a minute!  We’ll take care of it.]

About 8 minutes later, a very harried vet returns carrying Cuddles — nails are no shorter and he is significantly humbled by the strength of our little MinPin.  And, as per previous encounters, she is clearly terrified.

“We were not able to calm her sufficiently to do the job.”   He then said that our only option was to bring her back on another day and have him operate on her … just put her under anesthesia for about 10 minutes and they would clip and cauterize her nails.  She would not be declawed as that is not a good thing for a dog, but the nails would be very short and it would take several months for them to grow.  Of course, the operation costs money, as does the anesthesia, treatment, etc. and it would be an, almost, all day affair for her.  We had this as one option — the other option was to have our limbs shredded when our skin comes in contact with her paws.

Needless to say, we have taken her to get her “nails done” today so that when we bring her home she will no longer shred our legs with Samurai sword claws when she jumps up onto our lap.

We don’t know what terrified her so much when it comes to her feet.  She has been with us almost two years and there certainly has not been anything here to foster that kind of reaction, but it matters not because her fear is visceral and there is no way to prepare her for the normal clipping procedure.

So, is this post about our travails with Cuddles nails?  Yes, but just a bit.

I want Cuddles’ experience to cause us to consider what terrifies us.  I am fairly confident that there is something in each of our lives that has hurt us, burned us, or abused us whether the injury is physical, psychological, mental or emotional.

When I was a very young child, I had polio and it resulted in scoliosis that showed up before I started school. Because the doctors warned that the severity of the curve would claim my life by the time I was 25, my parents opted for experimental treatment that involved spinal fusion surgery and over a year in a body cast.  I turned 10 years of age after surgery and 6 months in bed in a body cast that went from my head to my knee.   The Lord was gracious, the scoliotic twist was not cured but it was halted, and I was able to live a normal life, including having two children.

I tell you this to say that, even though I credit the Lord as the Great Physician and his messengers, my human doctors, for sparing my life, the horrors of the treatment and body cast were imprinted on my heart and mind.  But, I never thought of them until a doctor suggested that one of my children might have scoliosis.  All at once my greatest fear was staring me in the face.  All the memories that I thought were gone came crashing down and I was wailing, sobbing and utterly drained.

My beloved husband kept repeating that decades had passed since my surgery and the traumas that were associated with it, but I could almost touch my fear it was so real.  I had to come to the point where I could say, truthfully, that my children were the Lord’s and that, if He wanted them to go through this, I had faith in Him that He loved my children even more than I did and that He would handle the situation according to His plan for them, and for me.   As it turned out, there was no scoliosis diagnosis from any orthopedic or neurosurgeon specialist and the children are now adults, both of whom tower over me in height!

Cuddles trusts us — she, in her own doggie way, knows we would not intentionally harm her.  But her trust is not sufficient to overcome the fear that some other event had imprinted on her psyche.

Cuddles and I are different; however, because while my fear knocked me down, it could not overcome my Lord and Savior. He is sovereign and trustworthy, and I am in His hands.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” 

Psalm 9:10

We are repeatedly admonished in Scripture to trust the Lord.  For example, the Psalmist compares objects of trust in Psalm 20:7 where he affirms:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

And, the writer of Proverbs says:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

The God that is described in the Old Testament as being trustworthy is the same God we serve in the New Testament body of Christ.  The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 13:8 that:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

So, who do you trust when you come face to face with your fears?  Do you trust in human wits, Oprah, psychology, or tabloid suggestions? Or do you trust the Creator of the Universe, the omniscient, omnipresent God who sent His Son to be our Savior?

May we say, along with the prophet Isaiah:

“Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” 

Isaiah 26:4.

Father, forgive me for the myriad of times when I let my fears and insecurities rise to the surface so that they distract me from living my life in victory in the power of your Son through your Holy Spirit.  I praise you for being an everlasting rock upon whom we can trust.  I praise you, also, that you have never forsaken me even when I have tried to run and when my fears turned my eyes away from your beloved Son.  Thank you for your overwhelming love and protection, despite my fears.

A CALL TO WAKE UP AND REPENT – Scripture reference corrected

I suspect that the question of how long our life will be is far from our normal conscious thought, until something happens to jar us out of our lethargy and into the reality that none of us is as big, as strong, as indestructible, or as far from leaving this life as we believe ourselves to be.

These thoughts are on my mind today because we just came back from the memorial service for a dear lady in our church who died this week after an extended illness.  While it was difficult to learn of her passing, we were relieved that she was no longer in pain, that her husband was no longer watching her suffer, and that he and the rest of her family could rest in the knowledge that she was with her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Family at my grandfather's grave
Family at my grandfather’s grave

Unlike our friend who suffered the ravages of disease for many years, the picture above is of the family after my grandfather suffered a premature, and unexpected death in 1956.  As I recall, his death was sudden, without an extended illness.  There was no way for the family to prepare themselves, one day he was with us, the next he was gone.

I know this is true of my own mother.  She died when I was 21.  I was living several states away so we communicated by phone.  I spoke with her on Sunday and we expressed concern about my father’s cancer.  He was in the hospital preparing for surgery, but we were not sure what the outcome would be. (Back then, you did not prepare for cancer surgery by sitting at home, you waited in the hospital bed for multiple procedures in preparation for surgery.) She was comforting me about my father, telling me that the Lord was with her and with Daddy and that He would take care of both of them.  I was not to worry.

That was the last time I heard my mother’s voice. Two days later, on Tuesday, I received a phone call that she had suffered a massive stroke.  She never came out of the coma and on Thursday she went to meet her Lord and Savior.  She was only 54 years old when she was called home.

Mother's tombstone
Mother’s tombstone

Hard to concentrate on trivial things when your life is turned upside down by a sudden death of a loved one.

No one has an answer to the multitude of questions that are raised when death comes like a thief in the night nor are there answers when we watch a loved one die a slow, excruciating death.  That simply is not within our sphere of knowledge.

Like it or not, we are the creation, not the Creator.

Mountain view in Alaska with caribou rack in foreground
Mountain view in Alaska with caribou rack in foreground

God is sovereign in all things, even in the length of time his creation exists.  Even before we are born, God knows when we will arrive as that bundle of joy and when we will leave this earthly existence.

Proverbs 90:12 says –OOPS —  CORRECTION:  Proverbs only has 31 chapters so clearly this is an incorrect reference.  Thanks to my dear friend Claudette Starr who noticed this mistake.  I do apologize for this error; my proofreading will have to improve in the future!  Now, back to the thought.  If you look at PSALMS 90:12 you will find the following text:

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

There are numerous lessons that can be learned when we attend a funeral, or when we learn that a loved one has died suddenly, not the least of which is that we are reminded that we need to be ready for “our own personal end of days” as well as “the end of days,” when Christ returns.

He sent His Son to be our Savior.  His Son, Jesus, died as an atonement for our sin, all of it.  Because he died for us, we no longer have to suffer the punishment that our sin places on us.  He rose from the dead and, because He lives and is interceding on our behalf, those who believe in Jesus’ Name will live eternally.

In 2 Corinthians 6:2, the Apostle Paul says it as clearly as possible:

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

That Tuesday, my mother had no idea that such day would be the irreversible beginning of herlast days”.

As Reformed Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ will bodily return one day.   Indeed, Paul affirms this in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Then, there will not be any more time to repent.  The die, as we say, will have been cast and the game of this world will be abruptly ended.  There will be no more time.  Even if Jesus does not return during our lifetime, we know that we will all have to face death, some sooner and some later; but it is inevitable.

It is a certainty that time will run out – whether it is when Jesus returns or at our own personal “end of days” — and there is absolutely no way that you or I know when that day will come.

The Apostle Paul was right – Repent, for today is the day of salvation!

Father, often we live our lives as if we will continue on for decades before anything major will happen, certainly before death knocks at our heart’s door; forgive us for being so callous and foolish.  Forgive us, Father, for thinking of salvation as a type of fire insurance.  Forgive us when we have marginalized Jesus’ work on the cross rather than bowing in humble obedience to Him.  Forgive us when we have ignored the Holy Spirit’s prompting for a living, dynamic relationship with the Almighty Sovereign Creator God.  Father, forgive us!

WIND CHIMES – SOUND OR SILENCE?

Wind chimes — I love them.

Wind chimes playing music outside the porch
Wind chimes playing music outside the porch

I enjoy hearing them when the wind ripples through their parts and the chimes make melody along with the leaves and birds, all of nature combining to glorify God through their music.

Wind chimes outside porch window
Wind chimes outside porch window

But, not all the wind chimes are like the two above which are placed outside near the porch windows.  Certain wind chimes have been placed on hooks inside the porch.

Wind chimes with brass chimes on porch
Wind chimes with brass chimes on porch

We did have them outside for a time and their sound was just not … musical, shall we say.  The primary problem, though, is that they were not able to withstand the rigors of the breeze.  Seems rather weird that a wind chime could not hold it together in the wind, but that is the situation with those that are, now, inside.

Wind chimes on porch
Wind chimes on porch

Then there is the pottery wind chime from Hawaii that we had outside and it performed beautifully until one of the pieces broke after hitting the side of the house.  It is now in wind chime retirement, hanging on the wall inside the house.

Wind chimes from Hawaii
Wind chimes from Hawaii

A bamboo straw wind chime was a souvenir from an adventure in Jamaica.

Wind chimes made of wood in bedroom window
Wind chimes made of wood in bedroom window

The bamboo chimes have all the right pieces, but they just don’t make music – they rather thud!  A wind chime without the chime.  Just window dressing!

Wind chimes in kitchen window
Wind chimes in kitchen window

Some wind chimes have extra features, like balls that sparkle and, this one in the kitchen, even has a spring holding the chimes up.  Touch it and the whole thing bounces up and down with the chimes giving off a rather tinkling sound.  But I wouldn’t want to put it in the wind – the spring would have the chimes all twisted up in no time!

Wind chimes gracing the kitchen
Wind chimes gracing the kitchen

Some wind chimes, like this glass blown chime, are just too fragile to hang out in the wind.  It makes pretty music when the lower bob is touched, but it is simply not strong enough to endure the wind that would hit it outside. So it views life through the kitchen window.

Those chimes that are outside in the wind are doing what they were intended to do – make beautiful melody when touched by God through the breezes that He provides.  Those that are inside the house, for whatever reason, are still wind chimes, but they are not doing what they were intended to do.  They are pretty, they are providing ambiance, they are souvenir reminders of the trips that we have taken, but they are not fulfilling the purpose intended for them as wind chimes.

In Matthew 5:15-16, Jesus used a lamp as an illustration of something that can fulfill its purpose when being used properly.

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Of course, putting the light under a basket so that its light, although available, was not able to do its job is foolishness.  But Jesus then continues to say that the disciple of Christ should “let your light shine before others.”  Why?  For the purpose that others would see the works of the disciple and then give glory to God.

Notably, the very first question in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?”, and the answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  One of the proof text verses supporting this response is 1 Corinthians 10:31 where Paul directs:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

In short, as Christians, we are not called to live an inactive, inert, or passive life.  We are called to do God’s will for us.  God’s people have always been called to do His will.  In Leviticus 25:18, God tells Moses to tell the people:

Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.

In the New Testament, Jesus says:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15.  And then he gives the counterpoint command in John 14:24 by saying:

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.  John 14:24

In other words, if you do not keep Jesus’ words, you are showing by your very actions that you do not love Him. It matters not that you say you love Him.  The proof is in the pudding – do your actions show that you are keeping His commands?

So the next question is “What has Jesus commanded His disciples to do?”  That answer is found clearly in the Gospels.  Consider the Gospel of John where Jesus tells us what He wants … actually, He says it three times!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

John 13:34

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:17

And then, while we are loving our Christian brother and sister, as we are commanded to do, we are also to:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 28:19

Jesus knew that we would need power to do this, so in Acts 1:8 we read Jesus’ instructions to the disciples after his resurrection and just before He ascended into heaven.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Knowing that being His witnesses would be difficult, He prayed to the Father for them:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15

Thus, we have the commandments, instructions, power and protection, all provided by our Loving Lord.

So:

Wind chimes playing music outside the porch

  • Are we wind chime Christians whose grace-filled life makes everything around us more beautiful?
  • Are we behaving as Christians by loving each other as Christ loved us?
  • Are we loving those outside the Christian family so that they see Christ in us?
  • Are we strong enough to love people even when it is hard and windy?
  • Are we loving people even when they hurt us?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who are fulfilling the purpose God has for us?

Or:

Wind chimes on porch

  • Are we wind chime Christians who are too fragile in our faith to speak to others or to love those who are unlike ourselves?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who cannot withstand the torrents of difficulties attendant with Christian witness outside the confines of the church?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who have opted to stay inside the church, never getting out into the world so that we are not exposed to anything difficult or challenging?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who are so busy trying to look like Christians that we don’t have the time or inclination to follow Jesus’ command to love others?

 

Father, may I be a wind chime that sounds your love and mercy to others around me.  Forgive me when I have been content to sit on the sidelines of life and have refused to let my witness chime out for you.  Holy Spirit, embolden me so that I can do the work that you have arranged for me to accomplish and may my witness be love-filled even during those times when the winds of anger or contempt buffet the way. May I reflect Jesus in all that I do, to your honor and glory.