ONLY HE CAN MAKE A TREE FROG

For 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)]

A friend sent a link to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world; you’ve probably gotten a similar one and been amazed by photos of the northern lights in Iceland, the red and orange pillars of Bryce Canyon, or the Glowworm caves in New Zealand. Awestruck by God’s amazing creation, I thought of how He makes Himself known through all that He’s made. Unfortunately, we tend to hear God better when He shouts with the exceptional and impressive than when He whispers with the small and familiar. obedient plant (false dragonhead) - green tree frogWe’re sure to notice God in the Grand Canyon, the multitude of stars in the night sky, or when watching two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelles migrate through the Serengeti. We sense Him in extraordinary or exotic things like the peacock’s splendid tail, Devil’s Tower, or spectacular sunsets and sunrises. But do we notice Him in the commonplace and unremarkable?

Yesterday, I watched, spellbound, as several bees visited the flowers I was photographing. A bee would enter one of the purple tubular blossoms and disappear as it inched its way deep into the corolla to gather pollen and nectar. After backing out, it would move on to another bloom. A perfect fit, it was as if bee and flower had been designed for one another (and they were). The flowers’ scent attracted the bees and, while the bees gathered food for their hive, they pollinated the plants. What was happening in these ordinary flowers growing wild by the road was truly extraordinary!

God’s grandeur is revealed in the giant trees of the redwood forest but His attention to detail is found in the one billion bacteria that live in just one gram of the forest’s soil. His greatness is made known in the 1,600 miles of the Great Barrier Reef but also in the 1,500 species of fish, 5,000 species of mollusks, 17 species of sea snakes and 6 species of turtles living there. We see our ingenious Creator in the enormous African elephant but also in the oxpeckers and cattle egrets that ride on its back and in the lice, ticks and parasites living on the elephant that are eaten by those birds. God’s artistry is revealed in the 28,000 species of orchids and but also in His amazing design of the wasps, bees, flies, moths, ants and gnats that pollinate them.

God teaches us, speaks to us, and provides for us through his creation. Let’s not fail to see His marvelous work in the everyday and mundane: wasps building a nest, mushrooms appearing on the lawn after a rain, maple leaves turning red in autumn, raindrops glistening on a flower petal, or a squirrel gathering nuts. You may remember the first line of Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees: “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.” The last line reads: “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” Only God can make a tree, but He’s also the only one who can make the lichens and fungi living on its bark, the small tree frog hiding in its leaves, and the sparrow nesting in its branches.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Nature is the living, visible garment of God. [Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe]

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures, great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all. [Cecil Francis Alexander]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. … I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. [Psalm 104:24,33-34 (NLT)]

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THE BARBER

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. [Jeremiah 17:5-6 (NLT)]

 If God is, why is there evil? But if God is not, why is there good? [Saint Augustine]

Kuchenhof Gardens netherlandsThe story is told of a barber who vehemently denied the existence of God while cutting his customer’s hair. “Look at this troubled world,” he said. “School shootings, terrorism, wars, genocide, pain, poverty, hatred, prejudice, and deceit: they all prove your so-called God doesn’t exist!” The customer tried to reason with him but the atheist would have nothing of it.

When the customer left the shop, he saw a man sitting on a nearby bench. His hair was long, filthy and matted; his eyebrows were so shaggy they nearly covered his eyes; his face was so dirty his skin color was undistinguishable; and his mustache and beard were long, mangy, and disgusting. Returning to the shop, the customer announced to the barber, “There are no barbers; you do not exist!” The shocked man replied, ”But, I do; I’m right here in my shop. Here’s my chair and sink, towels and wash cloths, shampoo and shaving cream, scissors and razors, combs and brushes. How can you say I don’t exist?” The customer then pointed to the unkempt man sitting outside on the bench. “Well, that’s what happens when people don’t come to me,” said the exasperated barber. “My point exactly,” replied his customer. “This troubled sinful world is what happens when people don’t go to God!”

It’s been said that someone once asked Billy Graham how Christianity could be valid when there is so much evil in the world. The famous preacher replied, “With so much soap, why are there so many dirty people in the world? Christianity, like soap, must be personally applied if it is to make a difference in our lives.”

 A Christian is nothing but a sinful man who has put himself to school for Christ for the honest purpose of becoming better. [Henry Ward Beecher]

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. [Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)]

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DISCREPANCIES

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. [Luke 1:1-4 (NLT)]

tri-colored heron Skeptics often point to contradictions in the Bible when questioning its reliability. For example, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man and casting the demons into swine but there are inconsistencies between their accounts. Mark and Luke say this occurred in the region of the Gerasenes but Matthew calls it the Gadarenes. In this region, however, there were at least three towns with similar names: Gergasa, Gerasa and Gadara. Adding to the confusion, once healed, the demoniac testified throughout what was called the Decapolis or Ten Towns and both Gadara and Gerasa were in this district. The area of the Gerasenes probably included that of the Gadarenes in the way someone living in Hammond, Indiana, also lives in Lake County, on the South Shore, in northeast Indiana, and within the Chicago metropolitan area. The same place can be described many ways.

Harder to reconcile is that Matthew writes about two demoniacs while Mark and Luke just mention one. Yet, where there are two, there is always at least one and Mark and Luke never say there was only one man. That they don’t mention a second doesn’t mean he wasn’t there; he just wasn’t essential to the story the way they told it. A similar inconsistency is found in the accounts of the woman at the tomb Easter morning. John names only Mary Magdalene. The other three gospels all name her but include other women. The “other Mary,” is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel and Mary (the mother of James) and Salome are in Mark’s. Luke says Joanna, Mary (the mother of James), and several other women told the apostles about the empty tomb. None of the writers, however, said that only the women they mentioned were there that day.

Differing accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. If my husband and I were both to tell you about a wedding we attended, I would tell you it was near Cleveland, he would say Ashtabula, but the invitation would say Geneva-on-the-Lake. I would mention the bride’s gown, the wedding party’s attire, and the flowers but my husband would tell you about the terrific venue, food, and band. When recounting the people there, while our lists would overlap, they wouldn’t be identical. Our accounts would be different but truthful and certainly not incompatible.

While the message in the Bible is God-breathed, it was man-penned and the authors were writing for different audiences at different times. Matthew wrote specifically to the Jews, Mark wrote to the Christians in Rome, Luke wrote for the Gentiles (and specifically to Theophilus, a Gentile convert of high rank), and seekers and new Christians were John’s original audience. Paul was writing for the early church in places like Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus and Philippi. From different backgrounds, they were writing for different people, and emphasized different things. Let us never make the mistake of thinking that different means irreconcilable or false. As for me, I’m not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater over a few discrepancies in Scripture. I just pray for discernment and continue to seek the truth.

This Book (the Bible) had to be written by one of three people: good men, bad men or God. It couldn’t have been written by good men because they said it was inspired by the revelation of God. Good men don’t lie and deceive. It couldn’t have been written by bad men because bad men would not write something that would condemn themselves. It leaves only one conclusion. It was given by divine inspiration of God. [John Wesley]

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. [2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. [2 Peter 1:20-21 (NLT)]

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THEY SENT HIM AWAY (Mark 5:1-18 – Part 2)

If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. [Matthew 10:38-39 NLT]

pansyThere’s probably no end of sermons and commentary on the swine that went plunging into the lake after Jesus saved the demoniac. “Why pigs?” some ask while others focus on the death of the animals rather than the salvation of a man. Non-believers criticize Jesus for his “wanton destruction” of other people’s property without realizing their criticism implies their belief in the miracle. Theologians respond that since Jesus is God, those pigs actually belonged to Him. I don’t know what the demons wanted when they asked to be sent into the pigs, why they plunged down the hillside to their death, or what happened to the demons after that. What I do know is that the value of 2,000 pigs does not exceed the value of one human soul.

Rather than the pigs, I’d rather consider the townspeople and their reaction to the demoniac’s miraculous healing. A crowd soon gathered around Jesus and the now obviously sane man. Rather than joy over his miraculous restoration, the people only saw their loss and they told Jesus to go away. Since much of their wealth had just perished in the lake, their initial reaction is understandable. Moreover, with the Gerasenes being a Gentile region, the people had no messianic expectations. Understandably, encountering a man so powerful that he could banish demons and send pigs over a cliff frightened them. Yet, there is no record of anyone asking Jesus who He was, why He’d come, what He wanted, or from where His power came. They just pled with Him to leave them alone!

Unfortunately, the people closed their minds and chose wealth and fear over the miraculous healing brought by Jesus. What Jesus could have given them far outweighed the loss of a herd of pigs. Surely, the demoniac wasn’t the only one in the region needing healing and yet no one else approached this amazing healer who’d arrived on their shores. Sadly, the people were so afraid of how Jesus would impact their lives that they rejected Him. I wonder if we, like the people of the Gerasenes, allow fear and materialism to keep us from welcoming Jesus into our lives. As theologian D.A. Carson says of the Gerasenes’ people, “They preferred pigs to persons, swine to Savior.” We must never do the same!

When Jesus steps into our lives, He radically changes us. He will restore us as He did for the demoniac but it will come at a cost, as it did for the townspeople. Jesus doesn’t want just a portion of us and what’s ours—He wants all of us and everything we possess. That means giving up a whole lot more than a herd of pigs. Rather than being afraid of Him and His power, as were the townspeople, we must trust Him and welcome Him with open arms. After all, is anything worth more than a soul?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? [Matthew 16:24-26 (NLT)]

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SENIOR MOMENTS

plumaria - frangiapaniBut that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. [Deuteronomy 8:11 (NLT)]

But the people soon forgot about the Lord their God, so he handed them over to Sisera, the commander of Hazor’s army, and also to the Philistines and to the king of Moab, who fought against them. [1 Samuel 12:9 (NT)]

“Are you looking for something?” asked Earl in Brian Crane’s Pickles comic strip. When his wife, Opal, replied, “My glasses,” he suggested looking in her purse. “No,” she said, “I can’t find it. That’s why I’m looking for my glasses, so I can find my purse. I’m hoping that’s where I left my car keys.” Looking down at his grandson, Earl explained, “That’s why it’s a good thing women Gramma’s age don’t have babies.”

Being around Opal’s age, and having had more than my share of “senior moments,” I understand perfectly. Forgetting the Lord, however, is not like misplacing keys, forgetting where the car is parked, or failing to remember the grocery list. It’s way more than absentmindedness, an appointment slipping one’s mind, or drawing a blank at someone’s name.

Forgetting the Lord is a conscious choice to turn our backs to Him and overlook His presence in all things. It is failing to remember His past mercies and how much He loves each and every one of us. It is disregarding His commands and ignoring our responsibilities both to Him and to our fellow man. When we forget God, we rebel, grow impatient, act rashly or imprudently, or begin to think we are self-sufficient and all-powerful. As the Israelites discovered, forgetting God can have serious, even tragic, consequences. Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses warned them not to forget the Lord and yet, from Joshua through Malachi, we continually read of their unfaithfulness, God’s anger, and the consequences of their deliberate amnesia.

As happened with the Israelites, it’s easy to let challenges overwhelm us, wealth and power deceive us, busyness distract us, temptation mislead us, disappointment frustrate us, grief blind us, impatience goad us, and complaint to harden us. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten the Lord. Moses’s many warnings to the Israelites apply to us today. God accepts senior moments—but He will never tolerate our forgetting Him. God never forgot the Israelites and He will never forget us. Why do we find it so easy to forget Him?

God is mindful of man, and it grieves Him that man is not mindful of Him. [Charles Spurgeon]

Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you. [Isaiah 44:21 (NLT)]

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. [Psalm 103:2 (NLT)]

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MEH

When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Lord, open the door for us!” But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” [Luke 13:25 (NLT)]

Not to decide is to decide. [Woodrow Kroll]

Tetons - Wyoming“Meh,” the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug, was added to the dictionary in 2008. Popularized by The Simpsons, it is a decisive assertion of non-commitment (or as decisive as having no opinion about something can be.) The New York Times used to run a list with the tagline, “Not hot. Not not. Just meh.” The list has included assorted celebrities and such things as Harrison Ford’s earring, petting zoos, Febreze, stocking stuffers, Tufts University, pumpkin ale, mugs with slogans, and the Golden State Warriors. The magazine’s culture editor, Adam Sternbergh, said the list was meant “to celebrate all those things in life that [are]…neither adored nor reviled, but, simply, meh.”

Whether we say “meh,” or dismissively use words and phrases like “whatever, it is what it is, I don’t care, not my problem, booooring, who cares” and “so what” we’re expressing indifference and an unwillingness to think about something. Apathy and disinterest are insulting: we don’t care enough to muster up any sort of approval, support, or regard for something but we also don’t care enough to dislike, oppose, or reject it.

Some in the media call Millennials “The Meh Generation,” but I fear that indifference, cynicism, disillusionment and jadedness are not limited to those born between 1982 and 2002. They’re not the only ones who find it easier to live together than commit to marriage or to walk away from a marriage than fight to save a family. They’re not the only ones who find it simpler to go along with the crowd than to stand up and speak or to accept what’s wrong rather than try to make it right. They’re certainly not the only ones who’ve decided the concept of sin is out of date, right and wrong is relative, or that anything goes as long as they aren’t the ones who get hurt. An ostrich puts its head in the sand to turn eggs but we put our heads there to avoid seeing what we don’t want to see. And, sadly, way too many in this world would put Jesus on “The Meh List” because He is “neither adored nor reviled, but, simply, meh.”

Jesus spoke of going through the gate to God’s Kingdom. At some point, we can’t ignore the gate’s presence or fail to form an opinion about the gatekeeper. We can no longer remain impartial, dispassionate or wishy-washy; a decision about following the shepherd has to be made. While neither death nor taxes can be avoided, remember that only the IRS grants extensions! Adore Jesus or revile Him but don’t simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh!”

I believe in my soul that there are more at this day being lost for want of decision than for any other thing. [Dwight L. Moody]

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. [Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)]

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