Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sing! Serve!

I love to sing hymns, although folks around me probably wish I’d spray myself with a can of hush. Because I don’t sing beautifully, I’m thankful the Bible says, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:1-2, ESV, emphasis added).

Now, I can make a joyful noise, even if I don’t have a church-choir voice. And I do come before His presence with singing many times throughout the day, especially early each morning before I read the Bible. (I sing softly behind closed doors, of course, so as not to disturb anyone else.)

This morning, I sang a few phrases from the chorus, “I Will Enter His Gates,” which includes these words found in Psalm 100:4, ESV: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (If you’d like to listen to the entire song (and sing along!), click here.

After making my joyful noise unto the LORD, I decided I’d "pray back" Psalm 100, so I said to God:

I will, day by day, make a joyful noise unto You, O LORD of all the earth. I will serve You with gladness in my heart and on my face no matter where You lead me to serve, no matter whom You want me to serve. As I serve, I will remember that You are right beside me, so I will sing praises to you  throughout the day as I sense Your presence, not just in the mornings.

I do know that You are the LORD God, the One who made make me, the One who keeps me. Because I’m happy to belong to You, to be  one of the untold numbers of “sheep” in Your pasture and under Your tender care, I will enter Your gates with thanksgiving in my heart. I will enter Your courts with praise. I will give thanks to You. I will bless/honor Your name by my words, actions, and attitudes.

I will gladly do these things because You, O LORD, are good, and Your steadfast love endures forever, and Your faithfulness to all generations. 

Because I experience Your goodness, Your steadfast love, and Your faithfulness every day, I will sing and serve with joy!

Will you, Dear Reader, do the same?




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Forget Me Not

When a 95-year-old woman and I were talking one afternoon, she lamented the hardships that being that old had brought to her.

I acknowledged that the aging process involves changes that are hard to face. Declining health.  Becoming less independent. Having to depend more and more on others.  

After we talked a bit about all that, I said, “But God has been faithful to us in all sorts of difficult situations through the years, hasn’t He?”

When she agreed, I said, “He will see us through this stage of our lives, too.”

I thought of that conversation again the next morning when my daily Bible reading brought me to Psalm 27, which is a prayer of David. Because of the conversation described above, I paid particular attention to the request David made in verse 9:




The morning after that, the Spirit continued to speak to me about the matter. He brought to mind the words to a hymn I’ve known and loved through the years, as my parents did. The words to “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were written in 1932 by Thomas A. Dorsey in Chicago, Illinois, after his wife died while giving birth to a child, who also died shortly thereafter. Thus, the writer was no stranger to sorrow and difficult situations.  But Mr. Dorsey wisely asked the LORD to take his hand, linger near, and lead him through the darkness to brighter times.  Listen to the song by clicking here.

Dear Reader, we can relate to Mr. Dorsey’s requests, can’t we? Thankfully, the LORD not only hears but He also says yes to our pleas for His presence and His help, especially when, for whatever reason, we are tired and weak and worn.


As my dear mother so often said, “Whether He spare or share, He will be there!” What a comfort!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Surely the LORD Is In This Place...


Lassen Volcanic National Park in Mineral, California
When I photograph sunrises and sunsets, snow-capped mountains, giant Redwood trees in ancient forests, beautiful gardens, etc.  I often think of the words found in Genesis 28:16: “Surely the LORD is in this place.” But there’s more to that verse than I just quoted. I’ll share the rest of it a bit further down. But first let me remind us that God is present everywhere, not just in the beautiful places. For example, God is very present in hospitals, in homeless shelters, in war zones, and in all kinds of unlikely places.



David knew about the omnipresence of God, for he said to Him,
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
~Psalm 139:8-12, ESV


God is very present everywhere, even in places no human eye has ever seen, even in the darkest of places! The problem is that we, like Jacob, often fail to consider that He could be in unlikely places, specifically that He could be with us, especially when our lives are anything but beautiful. So, like Jacob, we must acknowledge, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16, ESV, emphasis added). Once we truly sense His presence, then we, like Jacob, will respond to Him in some way. Perhaps we'll praise Him or thank Him. Perhaps we'll beg Him to help us. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Time to Build Sand Castles?

The air blowing in off of the Gulf of Mexico heightened my awareness of the surroundings. I wondered, Is the sky a brighter blue here than at home? I laughed as the playful wind gave me a new hairstyle. Though the sun beamed down upon my untanned skin, the cool breeze made me oblivious to the sunburn that was in progress.
As my younger daughter, Jena, and I walked along the wet sand at the edge of the water, I noticed that there were only a few sand castles. Since I had seen many families enjoying the sand and the surf, the scarcity of sand castles puzzled me.
When I commented on that, Jena responded, “Why bother to build sand castles? They’re going to get washed away.”
At first, I accepted the logic in her conclusion. Indeed, why waste time constructing something that won’t last 24 hours? Why not spend time doing something significant? Why invest our time and creativity in building sand castles when our energies are needed to solve the serious problems facing this world?
A voice inside me challenged those thoughts: “Lighten up. Not everything has to be ‘serious and stuffy.’ It’s perfectly okay to do something just for the sheer enjoyment of it.”
I pursued that line of thought. Those who build sandcastles do enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, but their pleasure is not the only benefit. For example, when builders are surrounded by noisy seagulls, brilliant sunshine, azure sky, gentle breezes, and wet sand, it’s easy to praise and thank the Creator.
Building sand castles builds relationships also. As sandy walls go up, emotional walls come down. Parent and child bond as they delight in working together on a simple project that allows each of them to use their creativity and skills. Even though the sand castle itself may be worthless and quickly washed away, the memories associated with it are priceless and last for a lifetime.
As the Old Testament writer says in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

 There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
     A time to plant and a time to harvest…
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
     A time to grieve and a time to dance…
A time to tear and a time to mend.
     A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.


Perhaps he would also agree that there is a time to work and a time to play, a time to face responsibilities, and a time to build sandcastles. 

I took this photo in Sanibel in 2014, several years after I wrote the above message.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

May all who seek You...


List the Gifts!

“I’m cancer free!” a friend said to me in an e-mail.

“I’m so thankful…,” I replied. “And I’m going to write this HUGE blessing down in my 1,000 Gifts journal—NOW!”
Note: My friend knew which journal I was talking about because I’d given her one just like mine; and she, too, is experiencing big changes in attitude and outlook due to listing the “gifts” God gives day by day. (We’d started listing our gifts a couple of months ago, after beginning to read Ann Voskamp’s inspiring book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.)

My friend’s wonderful news was #587 on my list.  Next (#588) was a mention of the delicious dinner my husband and I had had with our two oldest grandsons (ages 16 and 13) at The Island Cow Restaurant on Sanibel Island, Florida. At first glance, that entry seemed far less significant than #587. However, my thankfulness for #588 increased all the more as, later that same evening, I heard about a grandmother who, along with other family members, was waiting at a hospital to find out if her granddaughter would live.

My heart ached for them, and I did pray earnestly—and late into the night—that God would help them and bring good out of that situation, which He can do, as Paul says in Romans 8:28.

Although I remained so sad about the woman’s granddaughter, I also realized how truly blessed my husband and I were to have enjoyed a yummy meal with happy and healthy grandsons.

The following morning, as I was reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Samuel  22:1-51, I had an “ah-ha!” moment as I read these words:

Remarkable preservations should be particularly mentioned in our praises…
Those who receive signal mercies from God, ought to give him the glory.

Matthew Henry then points out that the very day God delivered David, David sang a song of praise to God, while God’s mercy was still fresh on his mind.

Dear Reader, daily listing God’s mercies, while they’re still fresh on our minds, keeps us reminded of His great goodness to us. By listing seemingly simple things like enjoying a meal with loved ones, we’ll be reminded of the remarkable preservations that He has given to us.

Apart from His tender mercies, all so undeserved, we would be the ones weeping in a hospital and praying for a life-saving miracle for a loved one.

My precious mother knew the truth of that, for she often said, “We should thank God for what He’s given us—and thank Him for what He has spared us from.”

Dear Reader, we can do both if we do two things:
1.  Notice and then list seemingly ordinary ways God says, “I love you.” For example, I’ve noticed—and written down—gifts such as these:
#25—Family photos showing “the way we were.” Happy memories!
#34—Overcast skies holding the promise of much-needed rain.
#99—Time today to “just be.”

2. Ponder the things He has spared us from. For example, relative to the three gifts above, I could also list: 
  • few unhappy memories
  • no severe drought
  • relatively few days with no time “to just be."
Even though my current list now contains almost 1800 “good gifts” I’ve received from His loving hand in less than a year since I started keeping the journal, the list could easily double if I were to also list the things He’s spared me from.

Adding to the list each day has helped me to become even more thankful for the obviously "good gifts" He's given me--and for the things He has spared me from!



A photo of pages in my "Gifts" journal



Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Heavens Declare


The heavens declare the glory of God, 
and 
the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Psalm 19:1, ESV

Photo taken in my neighborhood around 8 p.m.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Under His Wings

Taken on the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas.
Notice how watchful the mother duck is and
how the ducklings instinctively know
to hide under her wings!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Talk to Him About It

While reading through the Book of Psalms, I noticed how David is often is depressed and worried about his current situation. But after he talks with God about his concerns, his outlook changes. His thinking shifts from negative to positive, although his situation remains the same. The difference? He reminds himself of what he KNOWS to be true about God.

For example, in Psalm 13, David says, as you and I may have done, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (v.1). After asking the LORD to consider him and answer him, David concludes that psalm with these words:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (vv.5-6).

As I reflected on those words, I recalled the words to an old song, “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” which remind us that a little talk with Jesus makes us right, even though our situation may remain virtually the same for quite some time. (Listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf0pdkW8T7s ).


It’s the little talk with Jesus that changes our attitude. No longer are we despairing and doubtful. Instead, when we realize anew that He loves us and “deals bountifully” with us even in the most difficult situations, we, too, can rejoice if only we’ll follow David’s example, as well as the advice given in 1 Peter 5:6: Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.

A dear friend gave me this prayer box.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Prepared Feast

Dear Reader, I’m thrilled to share with you the following quote, which I've paraphrased slightly. I found it in the April 13th devotional in The Listening Heart by Judy Gordon Morrow. (Note: For each devotional, she writes the words she senses Jesus saying to her.)

Spending time with Me is like enjoying a banquet of My love. When you set apart time to be with Me, to feast on My love, then I will fill you up with everything you need: My love, My joy, My peace, My hope, My patience. You will be filled with Me and My attributes. You will see the results of this time with Me in your daily lives. For example, peace will replace anger, hope will replace despair, joy will replace anguish...

As I thought about those words, I recalled these words in the chorus of the old song, Come and Dine, written by Charles B. Widmeyer in 1906:

 “Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine;”
You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, “Come and dine.”


These two writers discovered, as countless others have, that the Bible is a veritable feast for anyone who accepts the gracious invitation to partake of it--as often as we want to!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Life Is...

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is costly, care for it.
Life is wealth, keep it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
Life is mystery, know it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it!

~Mother Teresa


This is one of my favorite photos of two of my grandsons having fun in the Fall leaves many years ago. I remembered it as I was reading Mother Teresa's words (above).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ways to Say, "I Love You."

After I’d (belatedly!!!!) e-mailed a friend some photos I’d taken at her husband’s retirement party, she replied, saying, “Thank you, Johnnie. You’re the best!”

I replied, saying, “I don't know about ‘the best,’ but my heart motivates me to love people and to do my best to let them know I do. Taking pictures (and sharing them, even if weeks late) is one way I say, ‘I love you, and I'm happy to be part of your life, part of your special moments!’”

Participating in special moments with family and friends is indeed a joy; but when those memories are recorded, shared, and preserved in pictures and/or in words, then the special moments can be enjoyed again and again every time the pictures are viewed and/or the words are read. That’s why I delight in being a photographer and a writer. 

Dear Reader, what gifts/talents do you use to demonstrate your love for others? Counseling? Cooking? Coaching? Chauffeuring? Feeding? Encouraging? Nursing? Repairing? Sewing? Teaching? Visiting?... Whatever it is that we enjoy doing and are “good at” can easily be used to enrich the lives of others. If we’re constantly on the lookout for ways to use our skill sets, we and others will be greatly blessed. And, more importantly, we will honor our Lord and Savior.

“A new commandment I give to you, 
that you love one another: 
just as I have loved you, 
you also are to love one another. 
By this 
all people will know that you are my disciples, 
if you have love for one another.”

~Jesus (John 13:34-35, ESV)



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Line Leader


When I taught third grade students many years ago, the students yearned to be the “Line Leader” for the day. I thought about that just recently when I read an article by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer in the April 2015 issue of *BBN Monthly Newsletter. In the article, Dr. Lutzer says, "Christ was resurrected with a new, indestructible body, a prototype of the body we shall receive,” as Philippians 3:20b-21 affirms.

Dr. Lutzer then says, “Our Lord goes ahead of us, first through the gates of death and then beyond to His resurrection and ascension to glory.” Thus, we are promised safe passage on the path He followed.

He mentions that W. Frank Harrington uses the title a “Go-ahead God,” based on Bible accounts such as when God, in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, led His people through the wilderness. Centuries later, Jesus, when speaking to His disciples mere hours before His arrest and crucifixion, said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14: 1-3, ESV).

Thus, Jesus is not only the “Line Leader” (based on what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:29, “the first-born of many brethren”) and the “Go-ahead God,” He is also “the Ever-present God” (to whom David is speaking in Psalm 139) and “Immanuel” (God is with us, Isaiah 7:14).

Oh, how blessed we are, Dear Reader, to have an awesome God who loves us and leads us and LIVES IN us in this life and in the life beyond.



Note: *BBN=Bible Broadcasting Network is my favorite radio station. And, much to my delight, I recently downloaded an app for it on my cell phone, which means I can listen in anytime, anywhere! To listen on your computer, visit www.bbnradio.org. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

He Lives!

Because I live, you also will live.
~Jesus (John 14:19, ESV)

A scene from "Bow the Knee" cantata performed by a local church.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Real Truth





I’ve read various versions of “The Legend of the Dogwood Tree,” as you, Dear Reader, may have. However, the Bible doesn’t say what kind of wood was used to make a cross for Christ. But the beautiful blooms on dogwood trees can remind us of His death on the cross. For example, the petals are arranged in the shape of cross; the center could symbolize the crown of thorns that were placed on His head; and the holes at the edge of each petal could represent the blood-stained nail prints in his hands.

While it’s good to notice such reminders, it’s far better to read what the Bible has to say about the resurrection and its significance (for example: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 15) and to sing the old hymns, such as: Low in the Grave He Lay and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.


That will help us to truly rejoice and to give thanks that “in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Chip Away!

While reading The Impressionist by Tim Clinton and Max Davis, I came across a powerful illustration one of the main characters (Jim Ed) shared with another one (Adam). According to the story, Michelangelo, a famous painter and sculptor during the Renaissance period, was asked how he was inspired to sculpt his now famous “David.”
           
His response went something like this: “When I first looked at that rough block of stone, I felt David was imprisoned somewhere inside. Since I considered it my divine calling as an artist to free him, I began chipping away everything that wasn’t David.”
           
Somehow Michelangelo and other sculptors are able to “see” more than what is readily apparent on the surface. For example, many years ago, I watched an artist carve a fluffy-tailed squirrel out of a huge block of ice. Like Michelangelo, he carved away anything that wasn’t part of the squirrel he “saw.” As he worked, ice chips scattered all over the place, leaving behind a beautifully carved squirrel. 

I have no clue how artists do that! But as a photographer, I do a similar kind of thing. I look at a scene and then decide what I want to include “within the frame” of the photo I want to make. Sometimes something small delights me, so I zoom in on that, leaving out a large portion of all that my eyes can see.
           

In like manner, when God looks at you, Dear Reader, and me, He looks beyond our imperfect exteriors and sees the godly person we can become and then consistently chips away at us, removing the things that don’t fit the image of a Christ-like person. We can assist in that process by asking God to reveal to us what needs to go in order for us to become more like Christ, which is God’s ultimate design for each of us. After receiving that knowledge, we, like artists, can chip away actions, attitudes, and words that detract from the person God wants us to be.



If  I want a "documentary" photo that shows the stages of this Powder Puff  bloom and a bit of the foliage, etc., I would make the above photo. But if  I want one that's  a bit more  artistic/detailed , I'd make the one below. 
Although it's a good idea to zoom in before taking the picture, I zoomed in during the editing process by removing (i.e., cropping out) the parts in the one above that didn't fit my creative vision for the photo.
One isn't necessarily better than the other one, just different. But it's the photographer's privilege to create the look she wants --either at the scene or in post processing.