SMELL THE ROSES

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42 (NLT)]

barred owlsMy father always had a fixed itinerary for everything he did and, for him, a schedule, once made, was set in stone. Unless it was on his agenda, he never stopped to “smell the roses.” Whenever we vacationed, he had a list of sites to visit and things to accomplish for each day. For example, as soon as we arrived at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, he got out his list and, without even pausing to view the flowers or drink any tea, crossed off the park, and announced, “Well, that’s out of the way; now we’re off to the top of the Mark!”  Once there, our cursory look out its windows at the city went much the same way and we rushed off the next destination on his itinerary. Had we visited in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, rather than stopping to listen to Him speak from the hillside, we’d have rushed off to see the Pool of Siloam or Jacob’s well in Sychar!

I thought of my father’s version of sightseeing when visiting the bird sanctuary. We were oohing and aahing at a mother owl feeding her owlets only a few feet away. As a young man approached, we started to point them out but, without even turning his head, he quickly strode past. This swamp is one of southwest Florida’s “must see” destinations but, apparently, like my father, the fellow was anxious to cross it off his list and get on to the next thing. He missed an “Aha” moment (along with the herons, wood storks, alligators and blue flag iris) and will probably tell people his walk wasn’t worth the entrance fee.

Being the promised Messiah was a heavy assignment and Jesus knew he had a limited time on earth, yet we never read of him being in a hurry, rushing somewhere, or not stopping when someone called to him. Rather than grab a quick falafel at a first century fast-food stand, He stopped and dined in people’s homes. He didn’t rush by those who needed healing. While on the way to Jairus’ house to heal the man’s daughter, he paused long enough to heal a bleeding woman. He was never too busy to answer questions and he seized any opportunity to share God’s love and forgiveness. After chatting with the woman at the well, he interrupted his travels to stay with the Samaritans for two more days. Although large crowds followed him, he always found time for prayer and little children. He taught, preached, and healed, but he never was too busy to stop.

Our lives should be more than a “to do” list of events, destinations, and achievements. Granted, we need plans and goals, but we should be willing to adjust our schedules and revise our plans. Rather than think of life’s interruptions as distractions, we could consider them as opportunities presented by God. He gave roses a lovely aroma for a reason; perhaps it’s so we’ll stop to smell them! At the age of 56, my father, a man who never stopped to smell those roses, died of a massive coronary. There’s a lesson to be learned from his sudden death—the time to smell the roses is now! If we don’t, we’ll miss out on more than just a few “Aha!” moments when on vacation. We may miss precious opportunities with family, friends, and God. Isn’t that what Jesus was telling Martha so long ago?

As we journey through life, Lord, slow us down and stop us when necessary. Don’t allow us to become so intent on some distant objective that we forget to cherish the scenery, people, and opportunities we encounter along the way. May we always welcome interruptions that allow us to serve you, share your love, or appreciate your bountiful gifts.

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it is a cup of blessing. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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TEND THE GARDEN – EARTH DAY 2022

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” … The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. [Genesis 1:28,2:15 (NLT)]

It is terrible to hear the young birds calling for food after the old ones have been killed to get the feathers for rich women to wear. I am not going to have my birds sacrificed that way. [Rhett Green (Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Warden from 1912 – 1917)]

great egret - snowy egret - corkscrew sanctuaryThe wading birds of southwest Florida are absolutely beautiful, especially this time of year when they’re wearing their mating plumage. We’ve lived here eleven years and I still haven’t tired of their beauty as I encounter them daily in our ponds. 115 years ago, however, I would have been hard put to see any of these beautiful creatures anywhere. In the late 1800s, bird feathers became the fashion craze in women’s hats. Along with a plethora of plumes, some hats even featured an entire exotic bird! By 1900, more than five million birds were being killed every year and plume hunters had nearly wiped out the entire egret population. It wasn’t just the egrets with their white mating plumes—herons, roseate spoonbills, flamingoes, and peacocks were among the fifty North American species being killed for their plumage. No bird was safe.

After killing the birds and stripping them of their plumage, poachers would leave their carcasses to rot. They also left abandoned nests with eggs that would never hatch or baby birds unable to fend for themselves. For the hunters, poaching was profitable; they could easily bag 100 birds on a good day and the plumes sold for as much as $32 dollars an ounce. Merely for the sake of fashion, the bird population in rookeries was decimated throughout Florida and the southeast U.S. Fortunately, because of a grass roots campaign by two Boston socialites, organizations like the Audubon Society, and both state and national legislation, the carnage of these beautiful creatures has stopped.

We were called to be good stewards of the earth, but we still show little regard for God’s creation. Last fall, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted 11 species of birds from the endangered species list—not because they no longer were at risk but because they had become extinct! In 2021, Birdlife International reported that nearly 1,500 of the 11,000 species of birds face the threat of extinction with another 1,000 species considered “vulnerable.” We’re not wearing fancy feathered hats but loss of habitat, climate change, wind farms, cell towers, pesticides, cats, and even windows pose threats to them. It’s not just birds that are in danger; our local papers are filled with reports of blue-green algae, red tide, fish kills, Florida panther loss, starving manatees, diminishing wetlands, and endangered sea turtles! Worldwide, we face plenty of other pressing environmental issues including oil spills, water pollution, global warming, fossil fuel dependency, a diminishing rain forest, and the loss of open land (to name just a few).

When I look at the birds with their beautiful plumage, I thank God for their creation and for the people who took action to save them. Although God did the creating, it is up to us to do the maintaining. In Genesis, we read that God gave mankind permission to govern the earth and reign over all the animals along with the responsibility of tending and watching over His garden. The Hebrew word used for “tend” was shamar and it means more than keeping the land cultivated and free of weeds. It means keeping watch, preserving, guarding, and protecting. Have we tended God’s beautiful garden and made it thrive or have we run roughshod over it without regard for His creation?

Today is Earth Day. Observed by over a billion people every year, it has become the largest secular observance in the world. Concern for our environment, however, is not a secular concern—it is a sacred responsibility given to us by God. Let us remember that every day is Earth Day!

Lord, grant us the wisdom to care for the earth and till it. Help us to act now for the good of future generations and all your creatures. Help us to become instruments of a new creation, Founded on the covenant of your love. [The Cry of the Earth]

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. [Psalm 24:1 (NLT)]

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IT’S NEARLY MIDNIGHT

The earth mourns and dries up, and the land wastes away and withers. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. [[Isaiah 24:4-6 (NLT)]

painted buntingCreated in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock’s purpose is to show the world how close it is to destroying itself with technology. Midnight on the clock indicates world-wide catastrophe and the end of the world as we know it. When it was reset for 2022 last week, the good news is that it’s no closer to midnight than last year. The bad news is that we remain at doom’s doorstep with only 100 seconds until midnight!

In 1947, the clock was initially set at seven minutes before midnight. After the Soviet Union tested their first atomic bomb in 1949, it was reset to three minutes before the hour. In 1953, when I was six and in first grade, it was down to just two minutes before midnight. Along with school fire drills, we regularly had air-raid drills where we were to “duck and cover” under our desks in case of atomic attack. In 1991, with the end of the Cold War, the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the clock’s hands were set back to seventeen minutes before the hour. By 1995, it had crept up to 14 minutes and, by 2002, it was at 7 minutes to midnight.

When the clock started 75 years ago, the greatest threat to humanity seemed to be from nuclear weapons but, by 2007, the Bulletin’s scientists recognized the possibility of catastrophic disruptions to life from climate change and global warming and the clock moved up 2 more minutes. Today, along with the world’s vulnerability to nuclear war and climate shifts, the Bulletin considers the perils of biological threats and disruptive technology such as cyber terrorism and the spread of false and misleading information over the internet.

Last year, our nation saw record-breaking heat waves, wildfires that destroyed nearly 7.7 million acres, and life-threatening floods. For the second year in a row (and the third time since 2005), we had to move into the Greek alphabet to name all of our hurricanes. We saw how vulnerable we are to cyber warfare in May when a cyber-attack took down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. A year ago, when our Capitol was attacked, we saw firsthand the results of misinformation and baseless rhetoric in the digital age. We’ve seen a decade of rising tension among the nine nations capable of atomic attack as various leaders flex their muscles and make threats. Yet, we know that a nuclear war can never be won by either side; in the end, everyone loses. We don’t need esteemed scientists and Nobel prize winners to tell us our world is in peril; one glance at the news tells us that. But, I wonder, do we realize how close we are to destroying God’s creation altogether?

The scientists behind the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have been warning the world for 75 years and, for the most part, their warnings have fallen on deaf ears. National Geographic compared the Bulletin’s scientists to the “Biblical bad-news prophet Hosea, preaching a warning of doom to a distracted, if not disinterested, people.” It wasn’t just Hosea who warned the people of looming destruction—so did men like Joel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and Zephaniah and yet their warnings were ignored. Will we do the same?

Nevertheless, as long as our own little corner of the world keeps plugging along, most of us carry on as if we don’t have a care in the world. But what of our children and our children’s children? Time is running out. Ducking under a desk wouldn’t have saved me back in 1953 and it certainly won’t help us tomorrow if the clock’s minute hand reaches the twelve. Do we really think we can escape the consequences of our cavalier attitude and irresponsible actions? God set us in His world to “tend and watch over it,” not to be part of its destruction. Even though we each have contributed to this situation, we also can be part of the solution! There still is time!

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

The day of the Lord is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be! … That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse. [Joel 1:15, 2:12-14 (NLT)]

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METAMORPHOSIS

monarch metamorphosisJesus said to him, “For sure, I tell you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the holy nation of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? How can he get into his mother’s body and be born the second time?” [John 3:3-4 (NLV)]

The being “born again” concept in Christianity isn’t an easy one to understand, yet we see it demonstrated whenever we look at a butterfly. Take the monarch, for example; it starts out as a tiny egg that hatches about four days after being laid. That’s its first birth. The caterpillar actually eats its way out of the shell before munching on the leaf where the egg was laid. Over the next ten to fourteen days, it eats and grows, shedding its skin every time it gets too tight. The full-grown caterpillar then spins silk and attaches its hind end to a leaf, hangs upside down and sheds its skin for the fifth and final time. When the new skin forms, it hardens and takes the form of a chrysalis. The monarch’s chrysalis is a beautiful jade green with little specks of gold and looks like a case that could be used to hold a jewel. Over the next ten to fourteen days, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis. During this stage, the DNA that makes wings is switched on and something almost miraculous happens. When the transformation is complete, the chrysalis bursts open and out emerges a full-grown butterfly. It is born again! The new butterfly hangs onto the chrysalis for a bit, drying its wings and getting stronger, before taking flight and becoming the thing of beauty God meant it to be.

The monarch caterpillar looks and acts nothing like the monarch butterfly and it’s hard to believe they are actually the same creature but they are! The DNA sequence of the caterpillar is identical to that of the butterfly it becomes. The caterpillar, however, no longer exists—it has to die to become a butterfly, much as a person’s old self must “die” when he becomes a follower of Jesus. When we’re “born again,” like the butterfly, we have the same DNA of the person we once were and yet we’re an entirely different creature.

Unlike the butterfly, however, the change is internal not external. Moreover, caterpillars have no choice about whether or not they will become butterflies—they just keep eating and growing and shedding and nature takes its course. On the other hand, people do have a choice about whether they will experience their metamorphosis. They can choose to remain wrapped up in the dark chrysalis of unbelief, a hidden jewel than will never reach its potential, or choose to be reborn in Christ. While there is a scientific explanation for the near-miraculous transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, science can’t explain the miraculous transformation that occurs when we are reborn, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and we become the things of beauty God created us to be.

We know that our old life, our old sinful self, was nailed to the cross with Christ. And so the power of sin that held us was destroyed. Sin is no longer our boss. When a man is dead, he is free from the power of sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe we will live with Him also. [Romans 6:6-8 (NLV)]

You have now become a new person and are always learning more about Christ. You are being made more like Christ. He is the One Who made you. [Colossians 3:10 (NLV)]

I have been put up on the cross to die with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. The life I now live in this body, I live by putting my trust in the Son of God. He was the One Who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Galatians 2:20 (NLV)]

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GOD DOESN’T COUNT

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. [James 1:22-24 (NLT)]

Physostegia virginiana - obedient plantFriends recently watched their young grandson while his parents enjoyed a much needed “adults only” vacation. Accustomed to the permissive parenting of today, the youngster wasn’t overly familiar with obedience. One of the first things he learned during his visit was that, “Grandpa doesn’t count.” Apparently, his parents give him a count of three (or more) to decide whether or not to obey them; Grandpa, however, did not!

The youngster could have learned about obedience from one of summer’s wildflowers: the Physostegia virginiana. Better known as the obedient plant, when an individual flower is lightly pushed in a direction, it doesn’t wait for a count of three before immediately responding to that touch and turning that way. It really is an obedient flower and a beautiful one at that.

While obedience is not a well-liked or widespread concept nowadays, my Bible has 518 specific references to man’s obedience or disobedience, so it appears that obedience is important to God. In fact, it appears to be a mandatory part of our lives. Abraham’s life is a lesson in immediate obedience. When God told him to pack up his family and move to a place he’d never known, the 75-year-old didn’t ask for a map and travel plan; he obeyed without question or delay. When God told Abraham that all the males in his household (along with all of his male descendants) had to be circumcised, Abraham didn’t question God’s command and every man was circumcised that very day. Circumcision was known among the people of that region so Abraham’s unquestioning obedience is easier to understand than his unhesitating obedience when God told him to sacrifice his precious son Isaac. Rather than doubt God’s wisdom, negotiate, or delay, Abraham and Isaac set out for the mountains the very next morning. Abraham continued to obey right up to the moment he held the knife to his son’s neck and the angel of the Lord intervened. That’s obedience!

Sadly, when it comes to whole-hearted obedience to God, we’re less like Abraham and far more like the Israelites who frequently delayed and disobeyed. When they balked at entering Canaan, their disobedience questioned both God’s authority and His power to defeat their enemies. Although they eventually obeyed and entered Canaan, their delayed obedience cost all the adults (except Joshua and Caleb) their lives. Delayed obedience is no different than disobedience and always comes at a cost!

As Christians, we don’t get to delay our obedience to God until a more convenient time or He’s counted to three! If He doesn’t tell us to do something in a specific timeframe, God means right now—not when we get around to it or feel like doing so. Our immediate obedience to Him proves our love and demonstrates our faith. Like disobedience, delayed obedience is an insult to God because it tells Him we don’t trust His plan or that we have better things to do!

Like that little boy, we’d prefer thinking that we are the ones in control, but we aren’t! Grandpa was in charge of his grand and God is in charge of us. We are to submit to God as readily as we expect a four-year-old to submit to us. Like that willful little boy, we need to emulate the obedient plant and follow God’s nudge immediately, willingly, and beautifully. Remember, Grandpa doesn’t count and neither does God!

The bottom line is the Christian faith is obedience and most people don’t even like the word. [Charles Stanley]

So why do you keep calling me “Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” [Luke 6:47-49 (NLT)]

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HEEDING THE SIGNS

sandhill cranesSo you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. [Matthew 24: 42 (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about the migratory birds’ staging area near our northern home, I remembered the year they weren’t in a rush to depart. Autumn that year had been unseasonably mild with temperatures hovering in the 60s and we’d returned north in November to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. The day we headed out to the park, however, the weather had taken a sharp turn toward winter. The day’s high of 37° occurred before sunrise and the season’s first snowfall was expected that night. While walking through the park that cold fall day, we were surprised to see hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese still in the marsh. Apparently, the mild fall weather and still plentiful food caused them to recklessly delay their departure south. The marsh soon would freeze and food would be scarce, not just in the park, but all along their migration route. Seemingly oblivious to the danger, the birds were like the people of Noah’s day or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah—having a rollicking good time right up until disaster rained down on them. By the time they realized what was happening, it was too late! I hoped it wouldn’t be that way with the birds.

Looking at the upheaval of the last two years, many are reaching for their Bibles and wondering if we’re seeing signs of the apocalypse. We read of death by “the sword and famine and disease and wild animals,” in Revelation 6:8. Luke 21:9-10 records Jesus speaking of wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and “terrifying things.” As much as that sounds like today, it probably sounds a great deal like much of mankind’s troubled history. Our century is not the only one troubled by pandemics, conflict, catastrophe, natural disasters, violence, scarcity, and loss. Jesus, however, said that no one (not even He) knows the day or hour of His return. Nevertheless, just as the sudden drop in temperature and wintery wind warned those birds of winter’s approach, these could be warning signs of things to come and the Bible tells us to be vigilant.

As with the flood and Sodom’s destruction, swift and sudden judgment will accompany Jesus’ return. Jesus compared His second coming to the surprise arrival of a thief in the night and both believers and unbelievers won’t know when that thief will appear. While unbelievers have good reason to fear that day, Christians don’t. To carry the thief metaphor further, we aren’t afraid of the thief because we’re well insured. Our acceptance of Jesus gives us assurance of salvation; our sins are mercifully forgiven and we have everlasting life. We’ve read the book and know how the story ends!

When we returned to the park two days later, the marsh was frozen but the birds were gone. They’d seen the signs and made the right decision; unbelievers should do the same.

Live as if Christ is coming in the next 10 minutes. Plan as if He is not coming for 1,000 years. [Roger Barrier]

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. [2 Peter 3:11-14 (NLT)]

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