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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OUR PRAYERS

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm. [Psalm 47:6-7 (NLT)]

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer! Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. [“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven]

ZINNIA“That’s more like it!” I thought as I read Psalm 47; I certainly preferred it to the curses of the previous set of Psalms I’d read. I’m reading the Bible in chronological rather than in canonical order which means that the various books and chapters have been divided and rearranged. As a result, the psalms of lament and complaint were grouped together during David’s trials and the praise psalms were placed after the chapters outlining the duties in the Temple. These psalms of worship, adoration and thanksgiving seem more appropriate for Israel’s book of hymns than the earlier ones about wickedness, treachery, calamity and vengeance.

Although I prefer the joyful psalms, there is a reason Israel’s prayer book has lasted over 3,000 years and continues to be our prayer book today. Rather than a sappy feel-good book of poetry, Psalms reflects the gamut of human experience and emotions. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, I’m surprised He didn’t tell them they already knew and direct them to the Psalms for guidance. The Psalms’ words are intense, raw and honest; they conceal nothing. If the Psalmist is suffering, fearful, angry, depressed, or exhausted, he says so as readily as when he expresses his elation, adoration and thanksgiving. Never pretending that all is well when it isn’t, he fearlessly lays out his emotions before God. Wretchedness and joy, pain and jubilation, wickedness and virtue, despair and hope, grief and thanksgiving, fear and confidence: all are articulated. It is in that depth of personal expression and experience that we find words of consolation, faith, trust, and hope.

When I seriously evaluate my own prayer life, I’m nowhere near as honest and bold as the psalmists. Of course, God knows my personal struggles but, unlike David and the rest of the psalmists, I’m not as willing to lay them so passionately or openly at His feet. When Joseph Scriven wrote the words, “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” he meant all of it, not just the pretty stuff. I’m sure God would prefer honest words of grievance to false words of praise any day.

A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by the storm-winds from the four quarters of the world. Here it is struck with fear, and worry about coming disaster; there comes grief and sadness because of present evil. Here breathes a breeze of hope and of expectation of happiness to come; there blows security and joy in present blessings. These storm-winds teach us to speak with earnestness, and open the heart, and pour out what lies at the bottom of it. … What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm-winds of every kind? Where does one find such words of joy as in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? … On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? … And, as was said, it is the best thing of all that they speak these words to God and with God. [Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter]

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. [Psalm 145:18 (NLT)]

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SACRIFICES

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (NLT)]

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:40 (NLT)]

little blue heronA 2013 United Healthcare Group study found that volunteering is linked to better physical, mental and emotional health. Apparently it reduces stress, brings people together, promotes personal growth and self-esteem, strengthens our sense of community, and helps us learn new skills. Something their study did not mention is that volunteering is an act of worship and sacrifice. A sacrifice is an offering to God and every time we sacrifice time, talents, or resources by doing for His Kingdom, we are worshipping Him.

Because Jesus was the perfect and final sacrifice when He died for our sins, we no longer bring pigeons or sheep to God’s altar. Rather than dead animal sacrifices, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, not to atone for sins but to worship our Lord. When we drop that envelope in the offering plate, give a dollar to a street person, write a check to a charity, or bring groceries to the food pantry, we’re really not giving to the church, homeless, Red Cross, or the hungry; we’re giving to God. When we lift a hammer at a Habitat home, sort clothes at the charity resale shop, pack lunches for the migrant workers, give someone a ride to church, visit the ill or assist at Sunday school, we are worshipping God with our service. Our sacrifice of resources, time, and talent is as much an act of worship as singing hymns or offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

The Old Testament often spoke of God being pleased with the aroma of a sacrifice. While our New Testament sacrifices are not burned on an altar and have no aroma, I think God finds them just as pleasing to His senses. When those ancient sacrifices were not the first and best or were accompanied by a bad attitude, God found a stench to them. It would seem to follow that when our Christian sacrifices are offered begrudgingly or we fail to give the best we can, our hypocrisy will cause them to stink, as well.

Let us worship the Lord with our hearts and hands as well as our voices! Let us joyfully worship Him with service as well as with song!

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. [Romans 12:1 (NLT)]

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. [Hebrews 13:15-16 (NLT)]

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FAITH AND PATIENCE

But you have followed what I teach, the way I live, my goal, faith, patience, and love. You know I never give up. [2 Timothy 3:10 (NCV)]

great egret

On Moses’ sixth ascent up Mr. Sinai, the Lord told him to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders part way up the mountain with him. All of the men saw the God of Israel and ate a covenant meal in His presence. After Moses was told to come further up Sinai to receive the stone tablets, he entrusted the Israelites to Aaron and the other men who then went down to their camp.

Easily missed when reading Exodus 24 is that Moses’ assistant, Joshua, continued up the mountain with him. The two climbed a little further and made camp where they stayed for the next six days while a cloud covered the mountain. On the seventh day, God called to Moses from within the cloud and the Israelites’ leader disappeared into the mist. He wasn’t seen again for forty days. During that time, God gave Moses various instructions and commands for the Israelites. When God told him of their sacrilege and wickedness with the golden calf, Moses went back down the mountain where he met Joshua.

Although Joshua served as a sort of personal assistant or servant to Moses, there is no mention of him during those forty days. We know he couldn’t have returned to the Israelites’ camp or been with Moses; in either case, he would have known that the clamor from the encampment was that of pagan revelry and not warfare. It appears that Joshua stayed on the mountainside alone and patiently waited for Moses’ return. If I’d seen someone vanish into the mist, I’m not sure I would have lasted even four days but Joshua lasted forty. As the days wore on, did Joshua worry that Moses may have been eaten by lions or consumed by what appeared to be fire? Did he wonder how long he should wait before giving up? Waiting alone in the wilderness, did he fear for his own safety? Think of the patience and faith it took for the young man to remain there for Moses’ return.

The rest of the Israelites, however, lost both faith and patience. They all had seen the glory of the Lord like a consuming fire on Mt. Sinai’s summit and seventy-three of them had gazed on God and eaten with Him! In spite of the miracles they’d experienced, they lost faith and grew impatient. Fearing Moses wouldn’t return and wanting to set their own time frame for events, they fashioned another god to lead them.

We think of Joshua as a scout, military strategist, leader, statesman, and a man of great faith but do we ever think of him as a man of patience? Yet, the same man who waited forty days alone in the wilderness had to wait an extra forty years before setting foot in Canaan! His faith and patience, however, were rewarded when he arrived in the Promised Land.

Faith and patience go hand in hand. If we have patience, we won’t lose faith in God’s plan as did the Israelites. If we have faith, we can be patient, even when things take longer than expected, as they did for Joshua.

My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. [James 1:2-3 (NCV)]

Be like those who through faith and patience will receive what God has promised. [Hebrews 6:12b (NCV)]

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THE PRICE IS RIGHT (Naaman – Part 2)

And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian. [Luke 4:27 (NCV)]

Fish Creek Falls - SteamboatA friend of ours has several jewelry stores in Colorado. When he opened a store in a posh resort town, he priced his goods as he always has: reasonably. To his chagrin, plenty of wealthy shoppers came into his shop but no purchases were made. After three days of disappointment, he re-tagged everything with higher prices. The following day, instead of leaving empty-handed, most shoppers left carrying pricy purchases (and they continue to do so today). Apparently, his rich customers believe affordable means second-rate or shoddy and that quality only comes with an exorbitant price tag.

When Naaman, the commander of the king of Aram’s army, was afflicted with leprosy, he was told that a prophet in Samaria could heal him. Rather than go to the prophet, he went to Israel’s king and offered 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing for a cure. The king, of course, could do nothing for the man but Elisha sent a message requesting the leper be sent to him. Rather than the prophet, it was Elisha’s messenger who greeted him with instructions to wash in the Jordan River seven times. A celebrated warrior, Naaman expected an impressive cure, if not from the king, at least from the prophet himself—not a servant’s directions to bathe in a dirty little river. Failing to understand how washing in the Jordan would heal him when the great rivers of Damascus couldn’t, Naaman left in indignation. When his officers convinced him to give the simple solution a try, he was miraculously healed and Naaman returned to Elisha. Convinced in the power of Israel’s God, he offered the prophet the lavish gifts brought from Aram. Elisha politely refused; God’s grace was not for sale!

Are we a little like those wealthy Colorado shoppers or Naaman? Do we tend to associate an item’s worth with its price tag, rarity, or the complexity of getting it? Let’s not make that mistake with God’s gift of grace; it’s free and incredibly simple to receive! Jesus has already paid for our salvation; it’s ours just for the asking and washing in the water of the Spirit is even easier than washing in the Jordan. Nevertheless, while grace is free, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out, grace is never cheap!

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. … Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again…It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life…what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. [ Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. [Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)]

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FATHER’S DAY – 2018 

the old man and the sea
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:-7 (NLT)]

I lost my first father the same year I gained my second one: my father-in-law. Although I only had my birth father for twenty years, I was blessed to have my father-in-law for thirty-seven! I think I married my husband out of my love for his parents as much as for my love for him! Dad J lived his life well: with faith, vigor, enthusiasm, joy and a whole lot of love. Compassionate and generous, responsible and helpful, good-humored and resourceful, he was a man of absolute integrity (with a touch of mischief on the side). The Bible might describe him as a man after God’s heart.

My father-in-law died nearly fourteen years ago as the result of a car accident. His injuries necessitated him being air-lifted to a distant hospital. It troubled me that in his final hours, Dad was alone in a strange place. There was no one to tell him his wife had survived the crash and no loved ones to hold his hand or pray with him. Then I realized that he was never alone; Dad always walked with God. As he walked through that dark valley, the Good Shepherd was with him, His rod and staff protecting and comforting my father-in-law the entire journey home.

If, at any point in his ninety-six years, Dad had been told that he had only one day left in which to live, he would have lived that last day in the same way he lived every other one. He had no regrets, no grudges, no scores to settle, and no debts to repay. There was no one to whom he owed an apology, no amends that had to be made, no deeds left undone and no loving words left unsaid. He was an example of how life should be lived and an inspiration to us all. In the words of Will Rogers, Jr., “His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father.” Indeed, he was as close to an ideal husband and father that any mortal man could be. I enjoy the benefit of his example in my husband and our boys. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree and there’s a beautiful bit of Dad in them all.

On this Father’s Day, join me in thanking God not just for our fathers, but also for our fathers-in-law, step and foster dads, uncles, coaches, mentors, big brothers, teachers, pastors and all the other men in our lives who have been examples of how to live a Christian life.

Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice. [Charles F Kettering]

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. [Psalm 127:3b (NLT)]

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them. [Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)]

Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children. [Proverbs 14:26 (NLT)]

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