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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WE ASK THE LORD’S BLESSINGS

Anna Maria Island beachYou will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God: Your towns and your fields will be blessed. Your children and your crops will be blessed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be blessed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed. [Deuteronomy 28:2-6 (NLT)]

When praying for the Church one recent Sunday, we asked our Creator God to bless wild animals and family pets, prairies and kitchen gardens, beaches and sandboxes, mountains and hearths. While I’m used to asking God for spiritual blessings, to bless people and even activities (such as a ministry), I’m not as used to asking Him to bless physical things (and certainly not sandboxes and beaches).

While people may present their pets for a special blessing of the animals, I’ve never thought to ask for God’s blessing on creatures such as the squirrel, panther, skunk, or alligator. I frequently thank God for the beauty of His wildflowers but have never asked Him to bless the prairie displaying those flowers and, when saying grace, I ask Him to bless our food and those eating it but I haven’t thought to ask Him to bless the farmer or the garden that grew that food. I often asked God’s blessing on my children while they dug in their sandbox or played at the shore but I didn’t ask Him to bless either the sandbox or beach. When gazing at the Grand Tetons, in awe of God’s power and majesty, I thanked Him for His magnificent mountains. It didn’t occur to me that I could ask Him to bless those peaks and I’ve never asked Him to bless the slate on my fireplace hearth or the granite on my counters.

Ministers and priests often ask blessings on sacramental objects like baptismal water, bread, wine, and even wedding rings, but I’ve not heard them ask God’s blessing on the reservoir, wheat field, grape arbor or gold mine that produced those things. Yet, asking blessings on things is not so odd. When I asked God to bless my brother-in-law, I didn’t know that the wings he proudly wore on his Navy uniform had been blessed in a special ceremony when he graduated from fight school. An annual Blessing of the Fleet has been a tradition for boaters, sailors, fishermen, and the Navy for generations. The Roman Catholic Church has specific rituals for the blessing of things designated for sacred purposes, such as vestments or a chalice, and also for those designated for ordinary use, such as a cornerstone, houses, schools, and hospitals. Whenever we sing “God Bless America,” we ask God to bless our nation and I suppose we can ask for God’s blessing on anything, as long as it isn’t evil or would lead to sin. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that God blessed any of the assault rifles brought to a ceremony last February that was sponsored by the Sanctuary Church and Rod of Iron Ministries (offshoot of the Unification Church).

God is the source of all good things and, in that Sunday’s prayer, I think we were asking Him to shower His goodness on all of His creation so that it would sing with joy. We were asking for His divine care and the restoration and protection of the world in which we live. We asked God to reveal Himself in His creation and, as we asked for His blessings on it, we offered Him our praise and grateful hearts. Most of all, the words of that prayer reflected the love that both God and His Church have for all of creation. They also served as a vivid reminder of the obligation and responsibility we have to care for all that has been given to us.

Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps. [Psalm 85:10-13 (NLT)]

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ALL FOR THE GOOD

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge,” is a blessing often said by Jews when they undergo a death or tragedy. “This is all for the good,” or “Blessed is the true judge,” is often said by other Jews in response to their tragic news. Rather than being about God’s final judgment of a person, these words remind them that only God can judge whether events are good or bad. To illustrate this point, the Talmud has a story about the second century sage, Rabbi Akiva. One night, the rabbi, along with his rooster and donkey, arrived in a village. When no one would give Akiva a place to stay, the rebbe said, “All that God does, He does for the good.” He then walked to a field outside of town, set up camp, and lit his lantern. That evening, a gust of wind knocked over the lantern breaking it, a fox came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and killed the donkey. In spite of all that, Akiva said, “All that God does, He does for the good!” Just before dawn, marauders came and attacked the village but, camped in the field without light, crowing rooster or braying donkey to reveal his presence, the rabbi remained safe.

The Talmud explains this story by saying that we must bless God for the bad news that comes our way in the same manner we bless Him for the good things that befall us. Indeed, when Scripture tells us we are told to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength it doesn’t mention any exceptions for circumstances we don’t like. While it’s easy to love God with our entire being when all is good, we must also love Him that same way in our suffering, sorrow and misfortune. Rest assured, in the long run, whatever happens to us is for our good. That, however, does not mean everything that happens to us will be good. Indeed, even when we don’t know why, pain, grief and adversity are blessings. All that God does, He does for the good! Blessed be the true judge.

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

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ONE OF THE BEST DAYS

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)]

clam pass - naplesThe weatherman declared it to be “one of the ten best days of summer” and I thought of his words throughout the day. How many of those ten days have we already had this summer? What if, not knowing it was one of the ten best days, I missed it? Could I have been blinded to its beauty by the routine obligations, boring chores, petty annoyances, and minor frustrations of everyday life?

When reading the list of his ordeals in 2 Corinthians, is would seem that the Apostle Paul probably missed enjoying most of the best days of every season. He faced death many times and endured several imprisonments, countless beatings (three times with rods), and numerous whippings (five times with 39 lashes which was the maximum punishment allowed). The victim of stoning once, Paul also was adrift at sea for a day and night and shipwrecked three times. Not only was Paul weighted down with his concern for the early church but he also had a “thorn” in his flesh, quite likely a chronic ailment, that had tormented him for fourteen years. Since he lived another nine to twelve years after writing the Corinthians, that thorn probably continued to plague him and more trials and troubles certainly followed. All in all, Paul travelled about 15,000 miles on land and sea and endured sleepless nights, hunger, thirst and cold, faced hazards from bandits and even his own people, and spent between five and six years of his life imprisoned before being beheaded by the Romans between 64 and 67 AD. He endured all of this to proclaim the gospel and yet Paul never complained about missing out on any of the “best” days because he knew the secret of living in every situation—of making every day his best day.

We shouldn’t need a weatherman to tell us it’s one of the ten best days and we certainly don’t need good weather for the day to qualify. In fact, every day should qualify as one of the ten best days of whatever season it happens to be. Paul, a man who endured horrible ordeals both physically and emotionally for the church, knew that best days had nothing to do with circumstances but everything to do with attitude. He tells us to be joyful, to pray, and to give thanks to God in all circumstances (and not just on the good days). With an attitude like his, in spite of his sufferings, every day Paul experienced must have been one of his best. I’d venture to say that most of us suffer far less than did the Apostle and yet, instead of starting the day cheerfully saying, “Good morning, Lord!” many of us grumble, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” Let this day be one of your ten best; after all, you don’t know how many more remain!

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

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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IT HURTS

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (MSG)]

oleander - rocky mt. bee plant

I recently read about a man who can’t feel pain because of a rare neurological condition called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” As someone who often reaches for the Ibuprofen because of assorted aches and pains, this sounded like a true blessing. In actuality, as nice as never having a headache, sciatica, or feeling the sting of fire ants initially sounds, it is life-threatening. Although this man can identify whether something is warm or cool, he can’t know that the coffee is burning his tongue, the stovetop is blistering his fingers, or the subzero temperatures have given him frostbite. He won’t feel the pain in his abdomen before his appendix bursts or the tightening in his heart signaling a heart attack. He chewed off part of his tongue when just a baby and has broken over seventy bones simply because he doesn’t know how to avoid injury. With no pain to restrain them, children with this condition tend to be daredevils. Pain is what teaches us to use our bodies correctly and safely. It warns of danger by telling us when something is too hot, cold, heavy, tight, hard or sharp and alerts us when something is wrong—a muscle is torn, a bone is broken, or an infection has set in.

Not only does pain protect and correct us, it certainly gets our attention, knocks us to our knees and turns us toward God. Moreover, it offers an opportunity both for our church family to draw near and comfort us and for us to witness to others in our pain.  As much as we don’t appreciate pain, it is a blessing rather than a burden. In reality, along with thanking God for the Ibuprofen, we should be thanking Him for the pain.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (MSG)]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)]

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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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