For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. [Psalm 95:3-6 (NLT)]

Burgess Creek - Steamboat CO“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship,” said the Psalmist. [19:1] It’s not just the heavens, however, that declare God’s glorious existence. Something as lowly as soil or as ordinary as water testify to His magnitude, creativity, skill, wisdom, and attention to detail, as well!

Unless we encounter an earthworm or beetle while digging in the garden, we probably think of soil as lifeless when, in actuality, it’s a dynamic living ecosystem. One handful of productive soil contains about 100 billion microorganisms of bacteria made up of about 10,000 different species. In that same handful of dirt are 100 meters of fungal cells of some 500 species of fungi, along with 20 million protozoa, 100,000 nematodes (unsegmented round worms) and 50,000 arthropods (like centipedes and microscopic mites), along with any earthworms and algae that may have tagged along. There are more living organisms in a handful of soil than there are human beings on our planet!

As small as all those microorganisms are, consider that one drop of water (.05mL) contains 1.67 sextillion molecules of H2O (that’s 21 zeroes). Smaller than those molecules are the more than 5 sextillion atoms of hydrogen and oxygen in those molecules! If we were counting the molecules of H2O in just ten drops of water (.17 oz.), we’d need 210 zeros (a quantity outnumbering the stars in the universe and all the organisms in the soil combined)! We really shouldn’t be surprised; after all, this is the same God who glued those beautiful microscopic scales on a butterfly’s wings (600 per square millimeter), dropped miniscule pollen grains (.006 mm) in the forget-me-not, and packed 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

We stand in awe at the enormity of the Grand Canyon, the striking colors of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, the red and orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, or the flood of water surging over Niagara Falls (757,500 gallons per second) without giving a thought to the atoms that make up every drop of that water or the microscopic life existing in the world beneath our feet. The heavens may declare His glory and existence but so does the rest of His magnificent creation!

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
[Cecil F. Alexander]

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 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 1:19-20 (NLT)]

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)]

Writing about pesky mosquitoes yesterday reminded me of a story told by Corrie ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place. As part of the Dutch resistance during World War II, Corrie’s family harbored Jews and others hunted by the Gestapo in their home. After being betrayed by a Dutch informant, the ten Boom family was arrested and imprisoned. Corrie and her sister Betsie ended up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. That first night, as they shared a bed in the crowded barracks, Corrie discovered their bedding was infested with fleas. Betsie reminded her sister of the Scripture passage they’d read that morning from 1 Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” As they began praying, Betsie listed the things for which they could give thanks, such as their remaining together and having smuggled a Bible into the barracks. But, when she mentioned the fleas, Corrie’s response was, “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” Betsie explained that the verse said all circumstances and not just the pleasant ones, so Corrie reluctantly joined her in a prayer of thanksgiving that even included the fleas.

With their hidden Bible, the ten Boom sisters offered strength, comfort, and clandestine Bible studies in their barracks. Such gatherings were strictly forbidden and the women feared their meetings and secret Bible would be discovered. For some unknown reason, however, the German guards never entered the women’s sleeping room or searched their belongings and Corrie often wondered why. She later discovered that the guards kept their distance because they were terrified of getting fleas from the prisoners’ mattresses or clothing! Upon learning this, Corrie truly was thankful for the fleas in their beds!

As difficult as it is to thank God for the nuisances of life like mosquitoes and fleas, it is even harder to be thankful in the midst of the injury, pain, discomfort, loss, and trials that comes with our fallen world. From our viewpoint, we see our challenges as afflictions that must be borne. Perhaps we should consider looking at them through God’s eyes and seeing them simply as well-disguised blessings given out of love. Unlike Corrie, while we’re on this side of the grass, we may never discover the blessing in the fleas and other afflictions but, someday, we will meet the Lord face to face and finally understand.

Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings. It’s something we make inside ourselves. [Corrie ten Boom]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)]

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Gila monsterGod saw all that he had made, and it was very good. [Genesis 1:31a (NIV)]

Although mosquitoes serve as food for birds, bats and fish, most scientists agree that the world would be no worse off if they disappeared; in fact, many think our planet might be a far healthier place if they did! As I dab cortisone on my swelling bites, I can’t help but wonder whether our perfect God made a big mistake when He made the mosquito.

Then again, if you’ve been bitten by a Gila monster or a venomous snake or spider, you might be questioning God’s wisdom in creating them. Yet, while Gila monster venom can be fatal, it is used to treat all sorts of medical conditions. Exenatide, used in treating diabetes, is a synthetic form of a chemical found in Gila monster saliva. Chemicals in their venom can also stop the growth of certain cancer cells. Although there are around 50,000 fatalities from poisonous snake bites each year, the venom from some of those snakes is saving lives. Drugs that treat high blood pressure, angina, and other heart conditions have been developed from the venom of the Brazilian pit viper, pigmy rattlesnake, and saw-scaled viper. I don’t much care for spiders but a substance found in scorpion venom helps identify cancerous cells in the brain and a drug developed from the Chilean rose tarantula’s venom is now used to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Those suffering from chronic pain may be surprised to learn that any of seven different compounds in the venom of some 80 spider species might be giving them relief by blocking nerve activity. Apparently, God knew exactly what He was doing when he created these venomous creatures. It’s just taken mankind a little time to figure out how to create something good out of them.

After unsuccessfully searching for something good to say about mosquitoes, I have to agree with scientist Norbert Becker’s words: “Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals confronting mankind.” I may be annoyed by some swelling and itching but, every year, more than a million people die and hundreds of thousands are incapacitated by mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, West Nile virus, encephalitis, dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus. Sadly, every two minutes, another child dies of malaria.

Mosquitoes truly seem to be the bane of our existence and I don’t understand why they came to exist. If we think back to Eden, however, it was perfect; all was good and mosquitoes wouldn’t have bothered Adam and Eve. It was through our first parents’ disobedience that disease and death came into the world. Maybe, every mosquito bite is just God’s way of reminding us to obey Him. Perhaps, hidden inside the mosquito is a positive purpose and God just is waiting for us to discover it as we have with venomous lizards, snakes, and spiders. Then again, perhaps God is challenging us to find a way of preventing those mosquito-borne diseases by supporting research, funding clinics and education, or making donations to organizations that provide insecticide-treated bed nets to third-world nations. I don’t know.

As much as I hate mosquitoes, I will not make Job’s mistake and question God’s wisdom or plan. I will trust that He has a purpose for everything and accept that we are supposed to thank and praise Him in all things, not just the ones we like or understand.

Thank you, Heavenly Father for all of your creation—not just the butterflies, song birds, and wildflowers but also the spiders, venomous lizards and snakes, poison ivy, ragweed, fire ants, sand flies, and mosquitoes. We don’t always appreciate your idea of blessings but will trust that you, in your infinite and loving wisdom, know what you are doing!

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job replied to the Lord: … Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. [Job 40:1-2,42:1,3 (NIV)]

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wild geraniumYou know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)]

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:9-11 (NLT)]

Psst! I’m rich but, please, don’t report me to the IRS. If you tell them, they’ll want their ever-increasing percentage and it’s simply nor theirs to take. The riches I have won’t pay politicians’ salaries, build highways, or purchase helicopters. My true wealth has nothing to do with bank balances, investment strategies, crypto-currency, or real estate holdings. It can’t be held in a bank or brokerage account nor can it be spent at Saks or on Amazon. Better yet, my riches are never-ending; I simply can’t run out of them!

I have a sense of peace that far surpasses anything one gets from having enormous assets at Fidelity or Charles Schwab. I have a joy far greater than one could ever get from being listed as one of Forbes magazine’s richest people. I have a better future than someone possessing a hefty IRA or annuity fund. I am loved better and forgiven more than the richest person could be by his ever-hopeful heirs. Indeed, I am blessed beyond belief.

You see, I’m enjoying the riches that come from a relationship with God. Moreover, I don’t have to concern myself with the Dow Jones average, fret about P/E ratios, read Barron’s or The Economist, or worry about capital gains or volatile markets. All I have to do is realize my need for God, admit my sinfulness, and receive Jesus Christ as my Savior.

My faith isn’t in the dollar, Bitcoin, or yen; my faith is in the Lord. Rather than regularly calling my broker, I keep in touch with God through daily prayer. Instead of poring over The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, I regularly read God’s word. Rather than listening to and following my financial advisor’s advice, I listen to (and obey) the voice of the Holy Spirit. Instead of having servants, however, I am expected to serve, but it is a small price to pay. If I do all of that, not only will I maintain the riches I already have, but my riches will continue to increase (and all with no tax consequences)!

Want to be rich? Count your blessings! [sign in front of a local church]

It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has. [Henry Ward Beecher]

The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. [Proverbs 10:22 (NLT)]

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]

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“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered, “We are Abraham’s children, and we have never been anyone’s slaves. So why do you say we will be free?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not stay with a family forever, but a son belongs to the family forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free” [John 8:32-36 (NCV)]

paradeWhile the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were thinking of political freedom and enslavement to people, Jesus was speaking of spiritual freedom and the enslavement of people to sin. Yet, even then, the Jews were wrong. They’d forgotten about being Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt; being captives of the Moabites, Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites, Mesopotamians, and Ammonites during the time of the Judges; their Babylonian exile; Persian rule; Alexander the Great; the Ptolemies and Seleucids; and Rome’s occupation of their homeland. They hadn’t had freedom from foreign domination for centuries. Jesus’ answer, however, made it clear that He was speaking of spiritual freedom. His listeners’ hope for spiritual freedom wouldn’t be found in their ancestry; it would be found in Him—He was the Son who could set them free.

This weekend we will observe our nation’s Independence Day and celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy in this nation. Families and friends will gather for various parades, picnics, band concerts, carnivals, chicken roasts, and fireworks. Let us not make the same mistake the people of Judah did by thinking of ourselves as free when we’re not! While we may live in a nation of freedom, without Christ, we will never truly be free men or women. We won’t be free because, no matter where we live, we still will be slaves to sin.

As thankful as I am for the patriots who made this great nation a reality, I am even more thankful for Jesus and his small crew of apostles who made it possible for us to live in true freedom! The Liberty Bell rang out for our nation’s freedom but the cross gave us our spiritual freedom—freedom from bondage to sin and the freedom to serve God.

As we enjoy the fireworks and patriotic music tonight, let’s remember to thank God both for the freedom we enjoy in our nation and, more important, for the freedom we enjoy in our hearts and souls.

We lift up our hearts, O God, on this day of celebration in gratitude for the gift of being Americans. We rejoice with all those who share in the great dream of freedom and dignity for all. With flags and feasting, with family and friends we salute those who have sacrificed that we might have the opportunity to bring to fulfillment our many God-given gifts. … Come, O gracious God, who led your children Israel from slavery, keep us free from all that might hold us in bondage. Bless our country and join our simple celebration that we may praise you, our Source of freedom, the One in whom we place our trust. [Father Edward Hays, “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”]

The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [2 Corinthians 3:17 (NCV)]

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his very own. [Psalm 33:12 (NCV)]

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In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. [Deuteronomy 32:10-11 (NIV)]

eagleA friend once asked her mother which of her children was the favorite. I can’t imagine making such a query, wanting to hear the answer, or how I’d respond to the same question. Since I can’t even pick my favorite color, I certainly couldn’t pick my favorite child. Is it the one with the over-the-top personality who not only could sell ice cubes to Eskimos but convince them to double their order because of a possible shortage? Is my favorite the adventurous one with the wonderfully quirky sense of humor and a mind that puts Wikipedia to shame? Is my favorite the thoughtful child—the one whose faith, strength, and patience rival that of Job? If they were beverages, one child would be a doppio espresso; another spiced chai with ginger, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and cloves; while the third would be calming chamomile tea with a touch of honey. Like those beverages, each of my children is interesting, pleasant, and delightfully unique. One challenged me, one grieved me, and one worried me. Do I love them less because of that? Absolutely not! While I love them equally, because they have been blessed with different personalities and abilities, I don’t always treat them the same. Nevertheless, I love all three of them, just each in their own special way!

When my father called me the “apple of his eye,” I felt precious, treasured, and loved. I realize now that he never used that phrase within earshot of my siblings and suspect he used the same term of endearment in private with them. While there probably were times he liked one of us more than the others, I think we each were the apple of his eye in our own special way.

The Apostle John seemed to think he was the apple of Jesus’ eye. In his gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In the only other gospel written by one of the disciples, Matthew always refers to himself by name. I suspect the difference in how these men referred to themselves has far more to do with their writing style than with whether or not they felt loved. Granted, Jesus had his inner circle—John, Peter and James—but I don’t think that means He loved one disciple more than the next.

Indeed, John was the apple of Jesus’ eye—but so were Matthew, doubtful Thomas, Simon the Zealot, impulsive Peter, prayerful Mary, busy Martha, the woman at the well, and even the repentant thief on the cross. Because each was unique, they weren’t always treated the same but, without a doubt, each was loved and all were the “apple of his eye.” When we accepted Christ, God adopted us into His family and each of us, in our own special way, became His favored and much-loved child and the apple of His eye. Like John, every one of us is the disciple Jesus loves!

For God does not show favoritism. [Romans 2:11 (NIV)]

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)]

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