DEFYING NATURE

ngorongoro crater

At the blast of your breath, the waters piled up! The surging waters stood straight like a wall; in the heart of the sea the deep waters became hard. … The finest of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters gushed over them; they sank to the bottom like a stone. [Exodus 15:8,4-5 (NLT)]

Skeptics love questioning the miracle of the Red Sea. Either they provide a natural explanation or deny it ever happened. Unfortunately, sometimes we even find believers doing the same thing. A miracle is usually defined as something that violates the laws of nature, but God wrote those laws! “Miracles are not contrary to nature,” said Augustine, “but only contrary to what we know about nature.” As Christians, we base our faith on a miracle—the resurrection of Jesus—so a belief in God’s powerful ability to defy nature’s laws is essential to our faith.

How can the waters part for the Israelites and then come surging down on the pursuing Egyptians? For decades, scientists have tried to find a natural explanation using various computer models. In spite of Moses giving a good description of where their crossing occurred, land and water are not static and the topography of the area has shifted over 3,500 years. Not knowing exactly where it happened, many suggest that, instead of it being the Red Sea, the crossing actually took place further north in a shallow lake called the Reed Sea. They explain that a wind temporarily drained this shallow marshy area just enough to allow the Israelites to safely cross. The Hebrew word used to describe the seabed was yahbashah which means dry land, not the muck or mud of a damp marsh. Moreover, while the Egyptians with their heavy chariots might have gotten bogged down in the mire, that can’t explain how an entire army was drowned in a few feet of water.

Other skeptics have argued that a volcano or earthquake north of Egypt produced a tidal wave or tsunami that parted the Red Sea. A tidal wave happens suddenly which hardly supports Moses’ description of the gradual retreat of the waters during the night or the fortuitous return of the waters in time to drown the Egyptians.

Scientists also have estimated that a steady 63 mph wind from the east could have swept the water back to the western shore to create a land bridge. Winds of just 45 mph make driving hazardous and can knock down a person weighing 100 pounds. A wind of 63 mph would make the crossing nearly impossible. Moreover, Moses described two walls of water, one on each side. I’m not a scientist but two opposing walls of water would seem to imply winds blowing in opposite directions and I can’t see how anyone could get anywhere in that kind of crosswind! When considering the width of the path required for about two million Israelites (along with sheep, goats, and cattle) to cross a seabed in just part of one night, it needed to be at least one mile wide. It’s hard to believe that any natural wind could do that.

Even if some of these explanations are partially or totally correct, there is no explanation for what would seem to be the most amazing coincidence in all of history: that the Israelites arrived at some body of water at the exact moment a tsunami or gale force winds occurred that caused the waters to recede, that the land remained dry just long enough for them to cross, and that the waters gushed back at precisely the moment the Egyptians were in the seabed! That so-called coincidence would require the miraculous power of Almighty God!

Scientists admit they can’t explain everything but even a valid scientific or medical explanation doesn’t negate a belief in the hand of God. While her doctors might say that Pearl’s recovery from metastasized cancer is a result of oncology advances, they originally thought she’d not live a year. While John’s doctors could say his ability to walk after having his pelvis crushed is the result of their skills as orthopedic surgeons, they initially thought he wouldn’t live, let alone walk! I know how thoroughly Pearl’s body was attacked by cancer and I’ve seen John’s x-rays; I have no doubt that without our prayers and God’s intervention, modern medicine would have failed them both. In spite of a medical explanation for their recoveries, they are nothing short of miraculous.

Skeptics and atheists have trouble believing in miracles because a belief in miracles necessitates believing in the hand of someone or something that can cause them: God. I’ve seen His wonderful work firsthand; our God is a God of miracles and that’s explanation enough for me!

I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. [Psalm 145:5 (NLT)]

He does great things too marvelous to understand. He performs countless miracles. [Job 9:10 (NLT)]

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THE ARK

giraffeThen God said to Noah, “Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives.  Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” Genesis 8:15-17 (NLT)]

The National Geographic Photo Ark is on display at our local zoo. This travelling exhibition features large-scale animal portraits taken by Joel Sartore, a man on a quest to photograph all of the world’s animals. Sartore has photographed a little more than 9,800 of the 1.2 million species of animals that have been identified by zoologists so far.

Attributing human traits or emotions to non-humans is anthropomorphism and I admit being guilty of it as I viewed Sartore’s amazing photographs. An embarrassed-looking mandrill with its hand covering his mouth seemed to be politely concealing a burp. With his cocked head and puzzled expression, a white arctic fox looked perplexed. The Sumatran rhino’s wistful look made me wonder if he knew there are less than 100 like him on the planet. Clearly unaware that he also is an endangered species, the giant panda looked content and rather pleased with himself. The young chimp appeared to be proudly flexing his biceps, as do toddlers when they want to show how big and strong they are. The Sumatran tiger lay regally, his head erect with paws crossed in front of him as if the photographer had posed him for his royal portrait. A black-footed ferret seemed forlorn, as if he knew that only a few hundred of his species still live in the wild. Perhaps my favorite photo was that of a bashful Brazilian porcupine on his hind legs. Looking a bit anxious, he was scrunched over a bit, legs squeezed together, with his front paws tucked down between his legs. He looked just like a toddler who desperately needs to go potty!

The purpose of the National Geographic Photo Ark is to use “the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late.” Although ours is a small zoo with only 70 species and just 52 of Sartore’s photographs on display, the amazing diversity in God’s creation was evident in both the enclosures and photographs. Sadly, many animals had words like “endangered” or “at risk” beside their names. God entrusted mankind with the task of looking after His amazing creation and we haven’t done a very good job of that.

The extinction of various species has always existed (i.e. dinosaurs) but it is increasing at an alarming rate. If the current trend continues, it is estimated that one in every three animal species on earth now will have disappeared by the end of this century. Following the flood, God vowed to never again destroy all living things. He won’t have to; we seem to be doing that on our own!

As we left the zoo, I thought about my anthropomorphic view both of Sartore’s photos and the zoo’s residents. Perhaps God gave us the tendency to attribute human emotions to animals so that we’d connect with them. It’s when we connect that we begin to care. Martin Buber said that, “An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” While I’m not sure exactly what Buber meant, the eyes I looked at told me to care.

Scripture is filled with admonitions to care for animals; domestic animals were not to be overworked or treated cruelly and Jesus told us that God knows when even a single sparrow falls to the ground. What does God think when an entire species ceases to exist? All of creation belongs to Him and we are little more than tenant farmers responsible for its care. When God gave us dominion over the earth, He expected us to behave conscientiously and we will be held accountable for the way we’ve tended His world. Are we good stewards or have we become exploiters? Will our zoos become the arks of the future and the only place God’s beautiful creatures will exist? Noah once saved the animals; can we do anything less?

It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. … When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves. [Joel Sartore]

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 10:14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LEAPING OVER A WALL!

deerFor it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. [Psalm 18:28-30 (ESV)]

We’d been driving down a remote mountain road when we spotted a herd of deer in front of us. After leaping over the fence on our left, they crossed the road and trotted off into the forest on our right. One, however, stopped on the side of the road. Turning her head and flicking her tail, she stared across the road at where she’d just been. There, on the other side of the fence, we saw one lone fawn, struggling to leap over the obstacle. Perhaps looking for an easier way across the road, he kept pacing back and forth along the fence line. Several times he approached the fence, but never quite took the necessary leap. Meanwhile, unwilling to leave her youngster behind, the doe patiently stood across the road. Perhaps it was the way she flagged her tail that finally convinced him he could do it. In one great leap, the little deer made it over the fence, trotted across the road to his mother, and off they sped to join the rest of the herd.

I wondered why this fawn was unable to clear the fence when the other youngsters had leapt over it so easily. Perhaps, having strayed or lagged behind the others, he didn’t realize he needed a running start. Maybe, when he saw the fence, he allowed fear to stop him in his tracks. Fortunately, his mother’s presence eased his fears and gave him strength and courage enough to leap over it. As the doe did for the fawn, God’s presence in our lives eases our fears. It is His presence and power that enables us to vault over the hurdles in our lives.

Thank you, Lord, for never abandoning us. Don’t ever let us lose sight of you. Help us stay close to our brothers and sisters in Christ so we can learn from them and follow their examples. Encourage and strengthen us so we never allow fear to keep us from following wherever you lead.

If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. [John Newton]

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. [Psalm 18:31-33 (ESV)]

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SHEEP, SNAKES, AND DOVES

rat snakeLook, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. [Matthew 10:16 (NLT)]

Matthew tells of Jesus calling the disciples together, giving them the authority to cast our evil spirits and heal all kinds of illness, and then sending them out to announce that the Kingdom of God was near. Preparing them for persecution, Jesus said they would be as sheep to the wolves. Helpless against predators like wolves, sheep also were used in religious sacrifice.  Jesus made sure the disciples understood they would encounter opposition, danger, trials and floggings by likening them to these vulnerable sacrificial animals.

Nevertheless, not wanting them so naïve that they became perpetual victims or so timid they couldn’t accomplish their mission, Jesus then told the disciples to be as shrewd as snakes. We rarely think of these reptiles as canny or perceptive but, when we consider the snake Eve met in Genesis, the simile makes more sense. That cunning serpent certainly had a way with words as he convinced Eve to sin. Imagine what he could have accomplished if, instead of deception, he’d used his skill with words for good rather than evil! Jesus wasn’t telling the disciples to deceive but it would appear that He was telling them to use their wits.

There are other parallels between snakes and the disciples’ instructions. Snakes, being cold-blooded, adjust their body temperature by moving out in and out of the sun and shade to find a safe and comfortable resting place. While Jesus wasn’t suggesting hiding under a rock, He did tell the disciples to find a hospitable place to stay and, if a place wasn’t welcoming, to go elsewhere (as a snake does when the temperatures gets inhospitable). Unless attacked, most snakes are not aggressive; they prefer slithering away to a confrontation. Just as snakes know how to evade trouble, the disciples were told to do the same. Nevertheless, like a snake, they were to stand their ground and defend themselves when threatened. Rather than using venom, however, they were to defend themselves with the words of the Spirit.

Immediately after telling the disciples to be like snakes, Jesus told them to be as harmless as doves. Like sheep, doves were vulnerable and sacrificial animals but, even in 1st century Palestine, they were a symbol of peace and love. The story of the dove returning to Noah’s ark caused the Jews to associate the dove with peace. Because of Greek and Roman mythology, it also symbolized love and devotion and, because the Spirit of God descended like a dove at Jesus’s baptism,  it also signified the Holy Spirit to His early followers. As Jesus’s representatives, the disciples were to find a balance between prudence and self-preservation on the one hand and compassion, peace and love on the other.

In the free world today, we don’t face floggings; the wolves are far more subtle. I think of a friend who would never demean the ethnicity, culture or sexual preferences of her co-workers yet she frequently finds herself the object of their ridicule for her Christian beliefs. She has to be both a snake and a dove in her response to them as do the few conservative Jewish and Christian students in my grands’ California high school. Their free-thinking anything-goes classmates have disparaged their belief in God, purity, right and wrong, sin, and the Bible’s truth. While we don’t risk imprisonment, as Christians, we may still find ourselves targets with our beliefs mocked, challenged, or threatened in subtle ways. Jesus did not send us out as sheep to the slaughter but as ministers of His word. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can avoid confrontation while fearlessly and skillfully standing our ground with love and peace.

You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [Matthew 10:18-20 (NLT)]

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BEAR-PROOF

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. [Luke 4:13 (NLT)]

black bearMany people are unaware that south Florida is home to more than 1,000 black bears. Highly intelligent animals with a sense of smell that is seven times greater than a bloodhound’s, they can easily sniff out and find food. Opportunistic creatures, they take advantage of whatever is easily available (often man’s garbage). It’s estimated that they can smell a food source from as far away as 20 miles and, once they’ve found a good source like a berry patch, a stand of beech trees, or a trash can, they will continue to return to the same location for years. Relocated bears have been known to travel as much as 120 miles to return to an abundant food source.

While people are smarter than bears, we’re impatient and rarely willing to inconvenience ourselves or spend time solving a problem. Because the bear-proof dumpster we had in Colorado was difficult to unlock, it often was left unlatched and, even though they know they should wait until morning, our Florida neighbors find it easier to put out their garbage the night before pick-up. Bears, while not as smart as humans, are tenacious and will spend hours solving a problem if food is involved. No dummies, after determined bears in our Colorado town learned they could open the doors of Subarus, no unlocked Subaru in town was safe.

Satan is as opportunistic and tenacious as any black bear. Rather than sniffing out the aroma of a garbage can, he has an uncanny way of sniffing out our vulnerabilities and spotting our weaknesses. Think of the story of Job. When Satan couldn’t get him to curse God by taking his wealth and livestock, servants, herdsmen, workers, and children, he came back and took his health. Although Job never cursed God, he lost perspective and cursed the day he was born. Determined and unwilling to admit defeat, perhaps Satan was behind the words of condemnation spoken by Job’s wife and friends. When the devil failed to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he departed “until the next opportunity.” The enemy does not give up easily. He may change tactics a bit but, like the Terminator, he’ll be back.

As for the bears that can open car doors: once they’re inside, the door often closes and traps them. Before they manage to make an exit, the car’s interior is wrecked and the bear has done what it usually does in the woods! When the enemy finds us vulnerable and attacks, he can do the same thing to our lives!

One of the ways to prevent Satan’s attacks is to be self-aware. Recovery programs often use the acronym HALT as a reminder. Standing for hungry, angry, lonely and tired, these feelings make us vulnerable to Satan. While we often think of hunger as that grumble in our tummies, it is more. Hunger is dissatisfaction, frustration, a desire for something more or different and often has nothing to do with food. Anger isn’t just being mad at someone; it’s holding on to unforgiveness, hostility, and resentment and often includes casting blame. While lonely seems self-explanatory, we can feel isolated, deserted, and desolate even when surrounded by people. Being tired can be physical exhaustion, but it also can be feeling drained by circumstances (or people) or wanting to abandon both hope and effort.

Being aware of these feelings helps us take extra precautions to protect ourselves. We redouble our efforts to worship with praise and thanksgiving, gather in Christian fellowship, study God’s Word, and pray; we may even need to seek Christian counseling. When we leave ourselves vulnerable with hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness, we’re little safer from the enemy’s attack than people who keep their food in their tents when camping, store garbage outside, don’t lock their Subarus, or fail to latch bear-proof dumpsters. Whether from bears or Satan, we’re just asking for trouble.

Satan loves to fish in the troubled waters of a discontented heart. [Thomas Watson]

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. [1 Peter 5:8-9 (NLT)]

But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. [2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NLT)]

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BEWARE THE GNATCATCHERS!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkSeeing a red-shouldered hawk perched up in a nearby tree, I focused in on it only to see him suddenly duck his head to avoid being attacked by small bird and then drop again as another tiny bird swept down at him. Those two gnatcatchers boldly harassed the hawk as it kept bobbing and weaving to dodge them. Fiercely territorial, gnatcatchers are unafraid to confront predators and, apparently, the hawk was infringing on their territory. Eventually, the hawk admitted defeat and flew off to another tree. I later asked one of the Audubon docents why the large hawk didn’t fight back against the tiny birds and was told that the hawk knows it can’t win. Being so small, the fast and agile gnatcatcher easily can out maneuver the bigger bird. For the hawk, the energy spent trying to catch the gnatcatcher isn’t worth it; fleeing makes more sense than staying. After settling in another tree not far away, the hawk spotted a crayfish. After sweeping down to catch it, he returned to his new perch and enjoyed a peaceful breakfast (without any annoying gnatcatchers).

“Surely, there’s a devotion of some kind in this!” I thought. Seeing those tiny birds harass the hawk (who was more than 100 times their weight) seemed like a David versus Goliath moment. The more I thought about it, however, I thought the hawk was the innocent party. He hadn’t provoked the birds; he was just minding his own business and looking for breakfast when those birds started pestering him. What the gnatcatchers were doing is called “mobbing.” When birds mob, they make a distress call that attracts other birds (even different species) to join in the harassment. If the hawk hadn’t moved, chances are more birds soon would have joined in hounding and harassing him.

Since another word for harassing is “worrying,” I wondered if those gnatcatchers might be like the worries that seem to come at us from out of nowhere to vex, torment, and distress us. Like mobbing birds, worry calls its pals anxiety, fear, and apprehension to join in troubling us. The gnatcatchers kept the hawk from doing his work (finding breakfast) and worry keeps us from moving ahead, as well. Realizing those birds were not going to disappear, the hawk wisely moved away from them. Often, we’re not that smart; we remain smack dab in the middle of worry and allow it to continue attacking and pecking at us. While the hawk only needed to fly to a nearby tree, we need fly to God, thank Him for His goodness, ask Him for help, and leave our concerns with Him. “You can pick what you ponder,” says Max Lucado. We can perch ourselves in the midst of worry or we can perch ourselves in the promises of God.

Whether or not we worry, our problems will remain. Worry, however, accomplishes nothing. We may not have a lot of power over our problems, but we do have power over our thoughts. Like the hawk, we need to stop perching in the worry zone and get on with our lives, whether that involves catching crayfish in the swamp or giving our concerns to God and working at finding a solution to our problems!

Your problem is not your problem; it is the way you think about it. [Max Lucado]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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