ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL

Absarokas - Cody WyomingFor ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
[“All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Cecil F. Alexander]

“When in doubt, trust your horse!” was the sign I’d seen earlier in the corral and so, as we slowly wended our way through the pinyon-juniper forest and up the mountain trail, I trusted my mount. After all, he didn’t want to fall down the ravine any more than did I. When we reached the ridge, I gasped—somewhat out of relief but more so out of wonder. The scenery was breathtaking! As I looked across the Wapiti Valley, I saw the incredible volcanic rock formations of the Absaroka Mountain Range and, when I looked down into the valley, I saw some of what Teddy Roosevelt called “The fifty most beautiful miles in America”. Surrounding us in the sage meadow on the ridge was an incredible array of wildflowers. An abundance of color, there were red Wyoming paintbrush, bright yellow mule’s ears and sunflowers, purple lupine, white snowbells, low pink bitterroot, tall green gentians, delicate bluebells, and a few pale yellow prickly pear cactus. Fritillaries and a white admiral red clover - beebutterfly flitted among the blossoms and a marmot peeked out from behind a rock. So as to not spook the horses or spoil the day for my fellow riders, I silently sang the chorus to All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Only able to remember the hymn’s chorus, I looked up the lyrics when I got home. The author is Cecil F. Alexander. An Irish woman known as Fanny to her friends and family, she lived in the mid-19th century and was married to a clergyman. It is said that she based her hymn on the words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth.” She easily could have been inspired by Psalms 19 or 104. I doubt she ever visited a ranch in Wyoming so she wasn’t thinking of the Absarokas and a colorful mountain meadow. Nevertheless, I imagine the Irish countryside can be just as extraordinary; perhaps Fanny’s inspiration came from visiting some place like Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher where she stood in awe of God’s handiwork.

I couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words in the first chapter of Romans; we see evidence of God everywhere in His amazing creation and there is no excuse for denying His existence or not knowing Him. It doesn’t have to be majestic mountains and spectacular scenery; God’s workmanship is just as evident in our backyards in the exquisiteness of things like red clover and the wings of a bumblebee. Indeed, “How great is God Almighty, who has made all things well!”

Each little flow’r that opens, Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.
The purple-headed mountains, The river running by,
The sunset and the morning That brightens up the sky. …
He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
[“All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Cecil F. Alexander]

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. [Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. [Psalm 104:24 (NLT)]

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OUR PRAYERS

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm. [Psalm 47:6-7 (NLT)]

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer! Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. [“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven]

ZINNIA“That’s more like it!” I thought as I read Psalm 47; I certainly preferred it to the curses of the previous set of Psalms I’d read. I’m reading the Bible in chronological rather than in canonical order which means that the various books and chapters have been divided and rearranged. As a result, the psalms of lament and complaint were grouped together during David’s trials and the praise psalms were placed after the chapters outlining the duties in the Temple. These psalms of worship, adoration and thanksgiving seem more appropriate for Israel’s book of hymns than the earlier ones about wickedness, treachery, calamity and vengeance.

Although I prefer the joyful psalms, there is a reason Israel’s prayer book has lasted over 3,000 years and continues to be our prayer book today. Rather than a sappy feel-good book of poetry, Psalms reflects the gamut of human experience and emotions. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, I’m surprised He didn’t tell them they already knew and direct them to the Psalms for guidance. The Psalms’ words are intense, raw and honest; they conceal nothing. If the Psalmist is suffering, fearful, angry, depressed, or exhausted, he says so as readily as when he expresses his elation, adoration and thanksgiving. Never pretending that all is well when it isn’t, he fearlessly lays out his emotions before God. Wretchedness and joy, pain and jubilation, wickedness and virtue, despair and hope, grief and thanksgiving, fear and confidence: all are articulated. It is in that depth of personal expression and experience that we find words of consolation, faith, trust, and hope.

When I seriously evaluate my own prayer life, I’m nowhere near as honest and bold as the psalmists. Of course, God knows my personal struggles but, unlike David and the rest of the psalmists, I’m not as willing to lay them so passionately or openly at His feet. When Joseph Scriven wrote the words, “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” he meant all of it, not just the pretty stuff. I’m sure God would prefer honest words of grievance to false words of praise any day.

A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by the storm-winds from the four quarters of the world. Here it is struck with fear, and worry about coming disaster; there comes grief and sadness because of present evil. Here breathes a breeze of hope and of expectation of happiness to come; there blows security and joy in present blessings. These storm-winds teach us to speak with earnestness, and open the heart, and pour out what lies at the bottom of it. … What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm-winds of every kind? Where does one find such words of joy as in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? … On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? … And, as was said, it is the best thing of all that they speak these words to God and with God. [Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter]

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. [Psalm 145:18 (NLT)]

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YOU ARE LOVED

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. [Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)]

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:6 (NLT)]

purple coneflower

I have a friend who always signs her cards and notes with “Remember you are loved.” What a beautiful sentiment. I’m not sure if she’s thinking of the love we have for one another or of the love someone else has for both of us. There is one who will pursue us with His love like an ardent suitor. He loves us as a father loves his children. There is one whose love is eternal; His love won’t quit when we get sick, hurt, disfigured, old or in trouble. There is one who loves us, flawed as we are, and who never tires of forgiving us for our many failures. There is one who loved us enough to sacrifice His only son for our salvation. There is one who doesn’t just do loving things for us; His whole essence is love. That one is God.

Remember, my friend, you are loved

God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. [Fulton J. Sheen]

 Put together all the tenderest love you know of, multiply it by infinity and you will begin to see glimpses of the love and grace of God. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:16 (NLT)]

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AFTERNOON DELIGHT

How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails. [Psalm 111:2-3 (NLT)]

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! [Philippians 4:4 (NLT)]

geiger treeAfter finishing our walk, I told my husband to go on to the car while I got a few shots of the blossoms on the Geiger tree by the park entrance. Once done and on my way to the parking lot, I saw him sitting quietly in the gazebo. When I disturbed his reverie with a touch on the shoulder, he looked up and said, “I was just enjoying Him.” I knew exactly what he meant.

There are plenty of things Scripture tells us to do: to love God and to hear, follow, worship, and obey Him. We’re also told to put our hope in Him, rest in Him, have faith in Him, glorify Him and honor Him with our lives. We are to seek, work for and fear the Lord and to cast our cares on Him. We are also told to delight in Him—not just delight in his word, works, and gifts but in Him!

That morning, my husband was delighting in God: enjoying quiet time in God’s company. He was enjoying God’s presence the way two old friends might—sitting on a park bench together, quietly enjoying one another’s company in the sun. I’d been so intent on getting a picture that I hadn’t even enjoyed the bright orange flowers God had placed on that tree. By not taking the time to appreciate God’s richness, I’d missed a moment to enjoy Him. Although I had a nice photograph, my husband’s time was better spent than mine.

While my husband is a good sitter, I’m more of a doer. The problem with being a doer is that doers often miss delighting in the Lord. Not long ago, downtown for lunch and a matinee, we ended up with extra time before the show. Since there was a concert in a park near the playhouse, we stopped to listen to the band before going on to the theater. My husband settled quite comfortably on a park bench but I, being a doer, spotted a woodpecker in a nearby tree, got out my camera, and tried to get a good shot of the bird. Frustrated by bad light conditions and the bird’s lack of cooperation, I finally gave up and joined my husband. It was only when I stopped doing that I started enjoying—not just the busy bird, but also the music, the breeze, and the young families walking by on their way to the playground. Most of all, by pausing, I delighted in the Lord’s presence.

One of God’s many gifts to us is the capacity to enjoy or take delight in such things as work, people, family, nature, exercise, music, art and, best of all, Him. Let’s not get so caught up in busyness that we miss doing just that. Although David yearned for never-ending fellowship with God in the temple, we can have that fellowship anywhere, even on a park bench on a Sunday afternoon. This week, take the time to sit and do nothing but delight in the Lord.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. [Psalm 27:4 (NLT)]

Be still, and know that I am God! [Psalm 51:10a (NLT)]

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THE OTHER SIX

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work… [Exodus 20:8-9 (ESV)]

naples botanic gardenUpon retirement, many people consider their productive years over. Having been a CEO in a major corporation, a friend’s father felt worthless without his corporate identity. Prior to retirement, he could call any number of powerful people and get a meeting simply because of his position but, without his title, he felt like a nonentity. His previous business triumphs couldn’t sustain him and he saw no victories in the future. Unfortunately, many seniors who found their identity in their career, corporate title or paycheck are at loose ends when retirement comes along. Some of my friends who were homemakers aren’t much different from those in the business world. It’s just that they found their identity in motherhood and their self-esteem in their children’s achievements. Now, with an empty nest and adult children living their own lives far away, they feel unnecessary. Like my friend’s father, they are looking back at who and what they’ve been rather than forward to who and what they can be.

A quick glance around the room at my noon women’s Bible study tells me that most of us qualify for senior discounts. When discussing keeping the fourth commandment, our pastor told us to read all of the words. While we should observe the Sabbath, she reminded us that those other six days of the week are meant for productive work. A few of the women attending are still employed and others are caregivers for ailing spouses or handicapped children. Like me, however, the majority of the sixty women present are happily unemployed and our time is our own. The pastor’s words clearly were meant for us.

Well into her 70s, this pastor lives her advice. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in this church, she stopped getting a paycheck but continued in her mission. She still teaches at least two Bible studies a week, oversees the women’s organization, conducts both the weekly preschool chapel and the Saturday evening worship services, and, during Lent, added a daily 7:00 AM communion service to her schedule. She did not give up her purpose when she stopped getting a paycheck!

Our work schedule after retirement doesn’t need to be as rigorous as this pastor’s, but it seems that God wants more for us than days in front of the TV, at the beach, shopping, Facebooking, or playing bridge, mah jongg, golf, bocce, or tennis. Yes, daily activities like cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, and making repairs qualify as “work” but the people I know who truly enjoy their golden years are the ones who regularly devote some part of their week to service and learning. One friend has parlayed her HR experience into a volunteer job helping seniors navigate insurance and another uses her love of animals as a zoo docent. A former teacher tutors the disadvantaged, a retired nurse does blood pressure screening, and a neighbor uses his marine skills as a boat driver for the Conservancy. Former CEOs help stock shelves at the food pantry, advise new businesses or build houses for Habitat.

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath but, before He gave us the Sabbath, He gave us the gift of work. No matter our age, let’s use those other six days both wisely and productively.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17 (ESV)]

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DAILY BREAD

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (RSV)]

daily breadYesterday, I wrote that “daily bread” refers to our necessities. What, then, are the necessities of life? The most obvious meaning is the food needed to sustain us physically. In spite of the hunger that exists in our nation, with 36% of adults and nearly 20% of children considered overweight or obese (according to the CDC), most of us have more than enough bread. So, can those of us with plenty to eat skip this petition? Martin Luther would say, “No.” When he explained the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he defined “daily bread” as the following:

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. [Small Catechism (Martin Luther)]

For Luther, the words “daily bread” encompass far more than whatever is necessary to sustain life. He expands it to mean whatever is necessary for a good life. In a mostly agrarian society, it’s easy to see why farm, fields, livestock, and good weather were a necessity to Luther’s congregations. Nevertheless, they’re still necessary in our increasingly urban society—without those, our grocery stores would be empty. When we continue to think in broader terms, Luther’s list makes as much sense today as it did in 1529. While we probably don’t have servants as members of our household, we may have employees or co-workers in business and we all depend upon other people’s employees when we dine out, bank, shop, visit the doctor, or take medicine. We may not have (or want) a spouse or children, but today’s children are tomorrow’s employers, judges, mechanics, police and office holders and we need strong and upright family units to raise them to be good ones.

After reading Luther’s list, I began to think seriously about what I considered necessary for life and it was far more than food, clothing and shelter. We all need friends and neighbors along with good government, peace, health, decency, and honor and yet I’d never thought of these necessities as daily bread until I read Luther’s words. Let us never forget that along with both our physical requirements and the less observable needs of life like friendship, there is yet another kind of bread for which we ask. When we ask for our daily bread, we ask for the true bread of life—Jesus Christ; the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. He is, indeed, a necessity for life both in this world and the next.

Our Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread!

“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:33-35 (RSV)]

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