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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UNCHANGING

Look up at the skies, ponder the earth under your feet. The skies will fade out like smoke, the earth will wear out like work pants, and the people will die off like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my setting-things-right will never be obsolete. [Isaiah 51:6 (MSG)]

Dragon's mouth springs - Mammoth Hot springs - yellowstone

The unstable, ever-changing, and even violent nature of this world in which we live is evident throughout Yellowstone Park. It’s disconcerting to see hot mud shoot out of a cavern, to smell sulphur and feel the hot spray as a geyser erupts, and to stand in the steam and hear the booming belch as water surges out of a hot spring. Yellowstone is actually a super-volcano that last erupted some 640,000 years ago and smaller eruptions of lava have occurred as recently (geologically speaking) as 70,000 years ago. The park is what geologist Robert Smith calls “a living, breathing, shaking, baking, caldera,” and those geothermal wonders that attract visitors are fueled by magma as hot as 1,500 degrees that lies just a few miles beneath the earth’s surface.

The abundant geothermal activity and the 1,000 to 3,000 small earthquakes that occur there every year mean that the park is always changing. For example, when my husband visited the park as a boy, there was no Quake Lake west of Yellowstone and the Steamboat Geyser had been dormant for nearly fifty years. A massive earthquake in 1959 created the lake and the geyser awoke in 1961. Since then, it’s been erratic in its activity but, after four years of dormancy, it began erupting again in March of this year. Shooting nearly boiling water up 345 feet, it has erupted ten times since then. The travertine terraces of Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs are like living sculptures and continually change shape as over 500 gallons of hot water are discharged every minute and two tons of calcium carbonate are deposited there every day. Even the beautiful Yellowstone canyon, the result of wind, water and earthquakes, speaks of change as the Yellowstone River continues to erode the bedrock. Fire also has changed the landscape; over 70,000 acres of lush forest that existed when we visited there a few years ago became nothing but charred remains in 2016.

In Yellowstone’s dynamic and unsettled landscape, even the ground around the thermal features is unstable and can collapse. Then again, you don’t need to be in Yellowstone to realize how nature is an unpredictable, ever-changing, and often dangerous force. That Thai soccer team discovered how quickly a dry cave can fill with water in a flash flood, residents on the island of Hawaii saw their lives change in May when Kilauea began erupting and sent lava over the streets and through their neighborhoods. Texans, Floridians, and Puerto Ricans certainly can attest to the power of last year’s hurricanes. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, drought, earthquakes, hail, thunderstorms, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, avalanches, sinkholes, lightning and fire: we all are vulnerable to disaster from the changing and volatile nature of this world in which we live.

Yellowstone is a vivid reminder of how the forces of nature can change the world as we know it: rock erodes, mountains crumble, geysers appear and disappear, volcanoes erupt, forests burn and ground can collapse. I take comfort in the knowledge that, while nothing in this world is constant and forever, God remains our everlasting and unchanging bedrock. The same yesterday, today, and forever, He is our firm foundation.

Consider what you owe to His immutability. Though you have changed a thousand times, He has not changed once. [Charles Spurgeon]

I love you, God—you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout. I sing to God, the Praise-Lofty, and find myself safe and saved. [Psalm 18:1-3 (MSG)]

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LEAVING THE NEST

anhinga chicksMy child, pay attention to what I say. … Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. [Proverbs 4:20a,23, 25-27 (NLT)]

This past spring we watched an anhinga family who’d nested near the swamp boardwalk. At first, mom and dad provided around the clock nest service for their brood of blind and helpless chicks. When the chicks were about three weeks old, rather than returning to the nest with food, the parents would perch nearby. If the youngsters wanted dinner, they had climb out of the nest and hop along a branch to get it. As the babies grew, mom and dad perched further and further from the nest until, at about six weeks, their chicks had to fly for their supper. Within two months of hatching, the youngsters were flying across the pond and the nest was abandoned. Mom and dad, however, were never too far away; perched nearby, they watched their brood learn to fend for themselves around the swamp. I wonder if they worried about their youngsters becoming dinner for an alligator while they fished or sunned on a log. Nevertheless, mom and dad knew their young ones had outgrown the nest; it was time to let them lead their own lives.

Today, my eldest grand receives her high school diploma. An honor student, she’s a delightful young woman and I know her parents are immensely proud of her many accomplishments. That pride, however, is combined with a fair amount of apprehension on their part. Later this summer, this young woman will leave the nest and move 5,500 miles to London where she’ll spend her freshman year of college. Although her parents won’t be worried about alligators, there will be plenty of other concerns that might keep them awake at night.

Our children: we love them, teach them, correct them, encourage them, support them, lead them, and guide them in an effort to prepare them for adulthood. As a mama, I know how difficult it is to let our children go, but let them go we must. After all, parenthood is a job that is supposed to become obsolete; it’s when our children are confident enough to leave home that we know we’ve done our job well. Let us praise God when we see them spread their wings and fly. No matter how far away they go, however, we still have the job of acting as prayer warriors for our children and we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of children and the privilege of leading them into adulthood. Reassure those parents who are struggling with letting go; may their tears of sadness become ones of joy as they watch their children take their next steps. As we release our children to your tender care, we ask you to wrap your loving arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the world. May they always walk in your ways and grow in courage, strength and wisdom. Let your Holy Spirit fill them with faith, hope, and love. Teach them, guard them, lead them and lift them so that they soar!

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence. [Hodding Carter]

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. … Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:1,5-7 (NLT)]

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

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ONE AT A TIME

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval. [John 6:27 (NLT)]

northern mockingbird

There once was a beautiful mockingbird who loved to sing from the branches of the forest trees. An old sly fox sat beneath the trees and licked his lips as he thought of devouring her. Every time he tried to snatch the bird, however, she would fly away to safety high in the oaks. One day he offered her a mouthwatering berry for the price of just one feather. Accepting his offer, she plucked out a feather, swooped down for the fruit and flew back up to the treetop before the fox could catch her. The next day, he made the same offer and the mockingbird, anxious to enjoy the sweet bite again, gave him another feather. The wise owl warned her not to play this foolish game with the fox but the bird, hungry for the tasty berries, ignored him. This went on for several days until one day, after giving the fox a feather and snatching the berry, the mockingbird tried to fly away only to discover that she couldn’t. Foolishly, in her desire for the passing pleasure, she had given away one feather too many. The fox had his meal and the mockingbird was no more—all for a perishable and momentary indulgence.

Berries won’t cause our downfall, but pursuing fleeting pleasures can. We don’t have a wise owl on a neighboring branch but we do have the Holy Spirit living within us. We must listen to his voice and live by his power. Best of all, even if we lose our feathers, all is not lost. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s final word is not punishment and death but grace, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) … Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:9, 12-14 (NLT)]

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PICTURING GOD

sunriseAfter his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” [Matthew 3:16-17 (NLT)]

 A little boy was busy with his crayons and a large sheet of paper. When his mother asked what he was drawing, he proudly answered, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The mother tried to explain: “But sweetie, no one has seen God so we don’t know how he looks.” Smiling proudly, the boy continued coloring and reassured his mom. “Well, they will when I get done!”

That story reminded me of last Sunday’s sermon. In honor of Trinity Sunday, our pastor asked us how we picture God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Had there been any children present, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one had described him as an old gentleman with a flowing beard, wearing a white robe, and sitting on a golden throne. Actually, I was a little surprised that no one said they picture God as Morgan Freeman, George Burns, or even Octavia Spencer. Instead, people shared how they saw or felt God’s presence in things like babies, sunrises, rainbows, and sunsets.

When asked about Jesus, no one described the man who walked the dusty roads of Judea, wept at the tomb of Lazarus, or reassured the doubting Thomas. Instead, they spoke of seeing Jesus in actions like love, sharing, forgiveness, service, and sacrifice. As for the Holy Spirit, people described hearing His still small voice in things like insight, inner conviction or experiencing a compelling force.

Our assignment for the week was to become more aware of our triune God’s presence in our lives. Early Tuesday morning, my husband called to me while I was reading Scripture in my windowless office. When I looked out the east facing window I understood his urgent call: the sunrise was absolutely majestic. As our Creator God announced Himself, remembering Sunday’s sermon, I responded to God’s proclamation by finishing my prayers on the deck while watching the sun rise. The show in the sky was accompanied by a heavenly chorus of robins, wrens, sparrows and cardinals. Our Triune God made His presence known and felt.

I had a pastor who used to start her morning prayer with, “Good morning, Lord. It’s so nice to see your face.” I hadn’t thought about the fact that she was looking out at the congregation when she said those words. Indeed, she was seeing God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the sea of faces before her. We are, after all, made in His image, saved by His blood, and filled with His Spirit.

As for that little boy’s picture: I don’t know if he drew a grandfather, a sunset, a long-haired man in robe and sandals, a hospice volunteer, a breeze, or a dove descending from the sky. Perhaps he drew Jesus’ baptism when all three of the Godhead were present. The youngster is probably too young to understand the Trinity but I hope, in his own unique way, he found a way to incorporate three beautiful images into one. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [Matthew 28:19 (NLT)]

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THE PRESCRIBED BURN

blue eyed grass- shooting star - rue anenome

I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “These are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” [Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)]

The darkned soil, scorched bark, blackened remains of dead trees, and faint aroma of smoke indicated a prescribed burn occurred earlier this spring. But, even without those tell-tell signs, the abundance and diversity of wildflowers blanketing the forest floor told me there’d been one. Fire used to be a natural occurrence in our woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Nowadays, we suppress natural fires, and invasive plants crowd out native flowers and grasses. Planned and controlled, these prescribed fires defeat non-native plants, stimulate the growth of native ones, restore valuable nutrients to the soil and, by eliminating leaf litter and dead wood, reduce the chance of uncontrollable wildfires. When brush and small trees are checked by the fire, flowers and grasses get enough sunlight to grow and the native plants regrow from their roots. Unlike invasive species, native plants have deep tap-roots and thick bark that enable them to survive the controlled burn’s heat.

When something similar to a controlled burn happens to us, the Bible often refers to it as refining and likens this purifying process to separating out precious metals from ore, such as silver from lead. After the ore is melted over a hot fire, hot air is blown across the surface which changes the lead to powdered lead oxide. When this dross is blown away, pure silver remains. Being more a naturalist than metallurgist, I prefer the analogy of a prescribed burn to smelting metal.

While necessary for a healthy habitat and biodiversity, I’m not sure the plants and animals appreciate the fire when it happens. I know I don’t appreciate it when God refines me. Rather than impurities like lead or invasive weeds, He wants to eradicate offensive behavior, false ideas, and bad attitudes. When weeds like jealousy, self-reliance, self-centeredness, pride, covetousness, selfishness, materialism, intolerance, or impatience invade my heart, God has a way of refining me. Rather than fire, He allows things like challenges, trials, opposition, disappointment, loss, and even illness to eliminate my invasive unwelcome weeds.

Like the native plants in the forest, I have deep roots. Not only will I will survive the trials of a burn, but I also will thrive and (like both purified silver and the renewed forest) be all the better for the experience. I can reach up to the Son’s light and blossom with the flowers of God-dependence, hope, humility, thankfulness, love, joy, peace, patience, tolerance, generosity, compassion, self-sacrifice, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-discipline.

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription. [Sir Isaac Newton]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-8 (NLT)]

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:7 (NLT)]

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