Friday, July 3, 2020

Glorious Freedom

Photo courtesy of artist Kathy Barlow and
photographer James Magnus
When I first saw this photo, the thought "Symbols of Freedom" popped into my mind. Indeed, they are. 

That thought reminded me of a deeper understanding I'd received several weeks ago while reading the 8th chapter of the Gospel of John. When I came to verse 32, I noticed that the translators of that particular version had capitalized the word Truth, something I'd not seen in other versions. 

So, I read the verse again (and the one preceding it), in which Jesus said, "If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free" (Amplified Bible, Classic Edition). 

Indeed, the more we know the truth (what is right), which He taught, the more we know Him (who is the personification of all truth). After all, He clearly said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me" (John 14:6, AMPC). 

He is the One, the only One, who can set us free from the tyranny and guilt of our sins and give us a new and abundant life--now and throughout all eternity.


Monday, June 15, 2020

A Chance Encounter?

Note: Another FICTION story using these words provided by one of my grandsons:

Noun-duck

Adjective-slimy

Adverb-quickly

Verb-jump

Career-seminary professor

Abstract-hope

Color-indigo

Evan eased his lanky frame onto a park bench to watch the ducks glide serenely and seemingly effortlessly across the pond. Sometimes they disappeared into the murky water and reappeared, holding a slimy “something” in their beaks. He enjoyed watching them, as well as feeling the gentle breeze rearranging his wavy hair. Being so chillaxed, he startled when someone sat down beside him. 


When he and the young woman occasionally caught each other stealing a glimpse of the other, both blushed before she looked away. But one time, she held her gaze, her blue eyes looking even bluer because of the indigo jogging suit she wore.


Smiling, she said, “Do you come here often?”


“Sure,” he said. “I work near here.”


“Where?”


“At Union Theological School.”


“ What do you do there?”


“I’m a seminary professor.”


“You can’t be," she spluttered. "You’re too young!”


He grinned. “Well, I’ve known since I was twelve that God wanted me to know His Word and teach it to others, so I just jumped right into that. After I graduated college, I enrolled at Union and did so well there that the administration asked me to serve on the faculty.”


She lowered her eyes. “I wish my path had been made that clear. I’m still struggling.”


“Have you asked God to reveal His will for your life?”


“Many times. But I’ve given up hope that He will.”


“No. No. What God said a long time ago is still true—and true for you, too.”


Sensing her eagerness to know more, Evan seized the opportunity to quote Jeremiah 29:11 to her. “For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Then Evan added, “You can be sure of that.”


“Thank you for encouraging me. Maybe even this chance meeting is part of God's good plan?”


Evan nodded. “Nothing happens by accident. God uses all our experiences for His glory and our good.”


“I have to go now,” she said, “but could we meet again to talk more about this?”


“I’m available after 3 most days—and my time is God’s time.”


“Well, how about we meet right here tomorrow at five?”


“Certainly. If you’d like, we can walk around the pond as we talk.”


Evan watched her until she disappeared from sight, confident that she, like the ducks, would reappear--which would definitely delight him.



Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Tough Assignment

Notes: 
  • As per my request, my 19-year-old granddaughter provided a word/phrase for each of the seven categories I sent to her. I challenged myself to use all seven in a FICTION story.
Noun: Japan 
Verb: refine

Adjective: lustrous
Adverb: safely 

Color: cherry blossom pink
Career: writer
Abstract word: justice 
  • The photo is one I took years ago on a street near my house.
  • The word count is much higher than in my usual posts, but I hope that won’t be a problem.
  • I’d love to know what you think of the story. Please post a comment or send an email.



Valerie gasped as she did every spring when she turned onto Sunset Avenue. This IS a sight to behold. Yoshino cherry trees in full bloom stood in single file in the middle of a 20-ft.-wide grassy median that stretched as far as her eyes could see up the sloping street.  

After she parked her car—half on the street and half on the grass—she grabbed her camera and began to photograph the graceful sweep of the trees. Once she’d gotten what photographers call “environmental shots,” she stepped toward the nearest tree to photograph closeups of the blooms where buzzing bumblebees sipped sweet nectar.

The sights and sounds and a slight almond fragrance so captivated her senses that she “plumb forgot,” as her granny would say, why she had come. But when an old truck rumbled past, spoiling her sense of wonder, she returned to her car and opened her iPad to write the article assigned to her.

Unsure how to write the controversial piece, she bowed her head and whispered the words she prayed before beginning any writing assignment: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, Lord.”

Taking a deep breath, Valerie started typing whatever thoughts popped into her mind, knowing she’d probably have to delete most of the words and then refine—and rearrange—whatever remained. But, as a writer, she understood the value of warming up, of just beginning somewhere, of clearing a mental path for the right words needed to explain sensitive and significant matters. 

While she appreciated having a loyal following of local readers, many of whom said, “I trust you to tell the truth about what’s going on in our town,” she always felt the weight of that trust since she knew words either doused or fanned the flames of controversy. That was certainly true in this situation. 

Although everyone agreed the cherry trees were beautiful, especially during mid-March to mid-April when they bloomed profusely, the property owners on Sunset Avenue were enraged over what happened in their neighborhood during that time. Practically every resident of the city and county, as well as out-of-towners who’d heard about the trees, drove slowly up and down Sunset Avenue to take lingering looks at the beauty. Occasionally, they parked and wandered around to photograph the trees, as Valerie had done. Some parked on the edges of the lawns that bordered the avenue, which incensed the property owners. “We work hard to keep our yards pretty. We don’t want people parking on our grass—or making it hard for us to get out of our own driveways. Something has to be done!”

To deal with the complaints, the chairman of the City Council scheduled a special “open” meeting to discuss the matter. The Council expected a large crowd: angry residents eager to ban the traffic; other citizens insisting they had every right to see the annual sight. A week before the meeting, the mayor said to the newspaper editor, “Send your best writer out there to snap some pictures of the trees, to interview property owners, and to write an article that will clarify the situation.”

“Will do! Valerie is my best writer. I’ll send her.”

Valerie began with these words: “For fifty years the Yoshino cherry trees on Sunset Avenue have delighted onlookers and provided food and shade for bees, birds—like Cardinals, Cedar Wax Wings, Robins— and small mammals, just as they do in their native Japan and elsewhere. Surely, we can work together to create a win-win solution for all concerned.” 

After quoting people on both sides of the issue, she concluded the article by saying, “Why not invite onlookers to park in the city-owned strip between Town Creek and Sunset Avenue? They can easily— and safely—stroll up and down the median to enjoy the trees without being in the street or on private property. Perhaps a benefactor or one of the garden clubs could consider placing metal benches, painted cherry-blossom-pink, near the trees at the entrance to Sunset Avenue and at the top of the hill so that those who’d like to linger or rest a bit could do so.”

Pleased with her work, she pushed her lustrous black hair away from her face before heading back to the newspaper office.

“See what you think,” she said to the editor as she sat across from him. “You may have to refine it a bit, but I think it’s pretty good. I presented both sides of the issue, and I tried really hard to get some great pictures of the trees….though I’m afraid none of them do justice to the beauty of those trees.”

After reading the article, he grinned at her. “This is brilliant!”

She returned his smile. “Well, I did have a lot of help!”

“You did?”

“Yep! My Source came through once again.”

Monday, June 8, 2020

Amazing Care! Amazing Creator!

Because I'm enthralled by the exquisite beauty in flowers, even wildflowers and weeds, I can hardly bear to pass one by without taking its picture. As you can imagine, I have thousands of flower photos stored on various hard drives. For years, I made little effort to learn their names; but recently I've felt a need to identify them and to learn more about their uniqueness. 

For example, when I edited this "portrait" of one of the dozens of pink evening primroses growing in a drainage ditch near my mailbox, I decided to add a touch of elegance to it. I think the black background really showcases the loveliness of the common flower. Do you agree?

While reading a bit about it, I learned that it blooms from March through July, usually during the predawn hours, but protects itself by closing its petals during the heat of the day. Several insects visit it, especially the moths that are active at night.

These wildflowers spring up and flourish for a season, just as we do. Yet, God endowed them with great beauty, equipped them with systems that shelter them from the oppressive heat, and allows these delicate blooms to delight and serve other living things He created. I think that's amazing! Don't you?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Troublesome Times

The coronavirus pandemic. Isolation. Shifting of roles. Loss of routines. Suffering of all sorts. Dying—in its various forms. Rioting. Earthquakes and other disasters. Wars. Heartbreak. Desperation....

As I reflected on such things, I recalled these words contained in an old song: “Troublesome times are here, causing men’s hearts to fear.” R. E. Winsett was right when he wrote them in the 1940s. They remain true today.

Troublesome times ARE here—and have been for centuries. Oh, how sin has marred everything. If my heart is grieved, and it surely is, then God’s heart is grieved even more as He sees what is happening to the people and to the world He created.

Even though people have fallen so far from what God wants them to be, He still loves them. He is still forgiving and gracious toward even the most evil one among us. He still yearns for each of us to repent—to turn from our sins and turn to Him, as did the prodigal son who came to his senses and chose to return to the father who loved him. (See Luke 15.)

Troublesome times can and should lead us to turn to our God, to confess our sins and our shortcomings, to ask Him to forgive us and to restore what sin has stolen from us. Once we’re in right relationship with our God, then let’s ask Him to show us what we—each of us—can do to help ourselves and others recover from the troublesome times.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Always in HIS Care

One afternoon I stepped outside to take a look around. I saw beauty everywhere. A male cardinal sat on a leafy bough. An Eastern Phoebe perched on the limb of a crepe myrtle. Bright red cactus blooms, some as wide as a saucer, cascaded from the huge hanging basket on the front porch.
Peach colored daylilies and buds galore caught my eye as I strolled along the sidewalk. Purple and white irises looked so lovely against a backdrop of hydrangea leaves.

As I happily photographed such beauty, I reminded myself (again!) that the Creator God who designed and sustains everything is the One who is in charge of me, too. Why, then, do I worry? 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Sweet Memories

As I’m writing this, it’s Mother’s Day 2020, and there’s a lump in my throat. Although this is my 10th Mother’s Day without my sweet Mama and my 5th year without my sweet mother-in-law who was like a mother to me, I still miss them. Remembering them is bittersweet. Gratitude fills me as I look at photos of their dear faces and reflect on the things I learned from them and the kind things they did for me. And remembering the sweetness of their constant love causes me to miss them all the more.

That’s why the 7th verse in the 10th chapter of Proverbs attracted my attention. I’ve written about it before (see my blog post dated March 5, 2015), but I’m sharing the verse again since I so agree with the truth it expresses. The memories of these dear ones continue to bless me even now as their influence lingers on.

Perhaps you, too, have sweet memories of people who were precious to you. If so, then I know you’ll agree, as I do, with these words written centuries ago:




Sunday, May 3, 2020

Rekindle!

When the trail ran cold, I wondered, What happened to her? 

I'd discovered her while searching YouTube for what has quickly become one of my favorite songs: O to Be Like Thee. I'd listened to several renditions, including this one, before I found hers..I liked how her sweet and sincere voice expressed so beautifully the "prayer" written by Thomas O. Chisholm (1897). 

After finding only three more of her videos on YouTube, I searched other Internet sites but found no recent posts. I wondered, Why did she stop producing and posting? Had something tragic happened? Did she simply give up? If so, why? Because she assumed few people truly enjoyed and/or benefitted from her work? 

I've felt that way about my work, as you may have about yours. If so, we know how much we need people to say to us what the apostle Paul said to Timothy, a young Christian who was struggling with the ministry assigned to him. "...use the gift God gave you...let it grow, as a small flame grows into a fire...fulfill your ministry...keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant..." (See various translations of 2 Timothy 1:6 and 4:5).

Since we need such encouragement, let's faithfully encourage others. Our words will rekindle their resolve and, possibly, prevent them from giving up!




Sunday, April 12, 2020

“Friday” or “Sunday” Thinking?

One Friday many centuries ago, those who either witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross or heard about it experienced intense—and varied—emotions. Those who hated Him thought, Good riddance! Those who loved Him lamented His passing. Those who followed Him in hopes of receiving a miracle from Him regretted that He died before bestowing a blessing on them. Those who had left all to follow Him as He taught and ministered throughout the area mourned the loss of the One they called Master. Perhaps they thought, We never dreamed it would end like this—and so soon. Perhaps they asked themselves, How could we have been so wrong about Him? Perhaps they wondered, What are we supposed to do now? Return to the life we had before we believed in Him and followed Him?

The fearful, troubled disciples could have experienced comfort and peace if only they had truly believed Jesus when He repeatedly told them that He would die and that He would also rise again in three days. But as they grappled with their grief, they either forgot what He’d said about His death and resurrection or else refused to believe either would happen. If they had truly believed Him, they could have spent those hours following His death anticipating the miracle of new life for Him—and for them.

Don’t we, like they, think of life as a perpetual “Friday?” Don’t we hyper-focus on the harsh realities and fail to see the good God is bringing out of them? But Romans 8:28 assures us that He can and will cause all things to work together for His glory and our good. Don’t we go through life hopeless and defeated and discouraged and ...?

We may think that way, but we don’t have to! Granted, evidence often indicates that it’s Friday, but let’s refuse to give up on God. Let’s remember Sunday IS coming! Let’s remember the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples prior to His death: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

He lives in us and is with us at all time. Because He has overcome, we also overcome. Because He lives, we also live—abundantly—both now and throughout all eternity.