Friday, December 2, 2016

Just passin' through

I have a weakness of wanting to photograph beautiful places—at least, according to my definition of “beautiful.”  So when my husband recently decided we needed a “date-drive” to see the fall colors, I made sure I took along my little digital camera. Sometimes a setting brings a scripture to mind and I have to ask him to stop.  So it was with this bend of a river in the Eastern Cascades of Washington state.  The prophet Isaiah didn’t have the privilege of beautiful mountain scenery, as I do, but what he wrote in chapter 43 certainly fit what I saw:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

And then when you pass through the rivers,

They will not sweep over you. (v. 2)

For months, I have had that verse on a sticky note on the upper ledge of my desk. Isaiah had in mind the crossing of the Red Sea as the Hebrews escaped enslavement in Egypt. You don’t need Hollywood’s technical team “holding back the water” to realize this miracle (Exodus 14) had to be of God. It was also a demonstration of God’s love for people who had lived under unbearable treatment by Egyptians. I didn’t face, as did the Hebrews, slaughter coming up behind me. But in navigating life’s unknowns and hard places, I’ve known times when I had to go forward in raw faith for God’s provision and intervention.  

This photo doesn’t show what’s around the next bend, and that’s part of His wisdom. Faith means a step-by-step dependence on God, trusting His love and protection.

After you finish reading this blog, open your Bible to beginning of Isaiah 43.  If you haven’t already, take a highlighter to the verses that speak to your heart. Don’t leave out verse 4.  Its truths about God’s character are marked in my Bible with a red asterisk:

…you are precious and honored in my sight…I love you.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This way, that way?

A rural road about thirty miles away has more kinks that a snake with a tummy ache.  Directional signs abound to warn drivers of tight curves. One is such a hairpin that it merits two signs, pointing at each other.  The right one warns drivers coming up, the left ones, drivers going down. I always smile when I see the two seemingly contradictory arrows.
I wonder if the signs might symbolize something far more serious in spiritual terms. Jesus declared that He was the one-way-only sign:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Problem is, people have switched some signs on life’s route.
Some say, “All religions lead to God.”  (Hmm, Jesus said He was the only way.)
Or, “If I’m good enough, without any of the really bad sins, God should let me into heaven.”  (Sorry, I’ve read Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”).
I’ve heard, “I’ve figured out my own type of religion.”  Hmmm.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
The day I took this photo, road crews were out removing overhanging branches that could break and snarl traffic when the snows come.  Flaggers stood at appropriate distances to direct one-way traffic as just-cut debris was loaded onto trucks. I’m glad they were there! For some reason, I thought of another scriptural “go-this-way” passage—one that encouraged me to keep trusting God when life’s challenges left me confused and doubting.  Isaiah wrote it to his nation to remind the people of God’s compassion and desire that they follow only Him. The principles of God’s trustworthiness encouraged me, too:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ (Isaiah 30:21)
Through this, God reminded me that He is my “lead car” or flagger in life’s inevitable interruptions and detours. He is the Way, the only safe way.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Like the stars forever

This is my “Daniel 12:2-3” plant. Through spring and summer, I water a pitiful collection of chopped-off stems in my front-door planter, hoping petunias will cover them over.  But by fall, those dead sticks have pushed out leaves and buds. By late October I’m treated to an explosion of color. Like stars in profusion picked up by powerful telescopes, they spill out of the planter in happy brilliance.  It’s quite a sight.

So what’s this about Daniel 12?  Here are the verses:
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The book of Daniel is a mix of biography and prophecy. What encouragement to read of a godly man who refused to compromise his faith, even as he lived under the authority of corrupt kings and civil authorities!  And what an awesome exercise to work through the predictions of world history that have happened, and will yet happen.

This particular “end-times” prophecy is the Bible’s first mention of “everlasting life,” though a few other Old Testament passages referred to a “resurrection.”  For the most part, the afterlife was given shadowy terms, like “Sheol.” But David caught a vision of something more-and-better in one of his psalms:
For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.  You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.(Psalm 16:10-11)

Isaiah, whose prophecies reach far forward to a Messiah, wrote:
He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces. (Isaiah 25:8)

“Fullness of joy”! My exploding bush says it in a plant-sort-of-way. “Pleasures forevermore”—oh, to anticipate it. But it’s not a given for everyone. I wonder if Daniel looked around at his fellow exiles and idolatrous neighbors and grieved for the spiritual deadness he saw—those destined for eternal “shame and everlasting contempt.”

I’d rather be on the bright side of eternal life, shining for Jesus Christ! How about you?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Golden hope

I only have to look across the street to know that the summer is past, and the winter is coming.  Half a year ago, my neighbor’s tree burst into a froth of pink to herald spring. With autumn, it’s a bristle of orange leaves, having dropped its pesky little knobs of crabapples. We’ve watched its turns of the seasons for decades. Recently, that blast of orange said something else to me:

For everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard those couplets from Ecclesiastes 3 many times. They’ve become timeworn in overuse and their context forgotten.  Kind of like First Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter,” often recited amidst candles and flowers at weddings without a nod to its context of spiritual unruliness.

The traditional author, King Solomon, through acclaimed as “wise,” also made poor choices in amassing wives and wealth. In this passage I’m hearing a sigh that what the world calls “happiness” won’t last forever.

But the Bible doesn’t end at Ecclesiastes.  It ends at Revelation.  With Christ returning again!  And with, for those who have died, a time to be raised to eternal life.

As I write this, we’re anticipating a call to announce that grandchild number three, a little girl expected by our daughter and husband, has arrived. A time to be born!  But within this past week, three older people I cared about experienced that “time to die.” I’m grateful that all of them lived fully for Jesus. One, aware that death would come soon as her kidneys failed, even called in her social friends and asked them plainly, “Will I see you in Heaven?  Have you accepted Jesus?”

Is that a question you can answer in the affirmative?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Double illumination

Because my husband was once part of an international layman’s Bible distribution ministry, we tend to check drawers for Bibles when we rent a room at motels. We weren’t disappointed during a recent overnight stay. But there was something else in the drawer: a “light stick” for emergencies. That made sense for a remote facility where winds or heavy snow could take down the power grid for a time.

I’m not quite sure of the chemistry behind them, but they apparently glow enough to help you find your way around.  The good side is they don’t rely on batteries. The bad: they’re disposable.  One used, they must be tossed, never to light up again. As soon as I saw the light-stick, I thought of one of my first Bible memory verses.  Perhaps you already guessed:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Written before electric lights, flashlights, or even chemical light wands, the Bible has many references to light. Among them:
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8)
The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130)
For these commands are a lamp, their teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life. (Proverbs 6:23)

Jesus called Himself “the Light of the World” (John 8:12). The apostle John, his understanding of spiritual truths shaped by the Light of Jesus, made frequently used the analogy:

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

Here’s an idea.  Take your Bible and a highlighter (the waxy type, sold in bookstores, doesn’t bleed through thin paper). Highlight all the references to “light” in the book of 1 John. Then go over to Revelation 22:5, which is the vision of Heaven John received:
There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

 It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that.  I won’t need my Bible in heaven!  All confusion and mysteries will be past, and what is now just a shadow will be fully known in the blazing, glorious presence of God Himself!

This week our family experienced a special "light": the birth of a granddaughter named "Eleanor," which coincidently means "light."  What a joy to hold this little one born to our daughter and husband, marvel at God's creative power in the womb, and anticipate what's ahead.  She's our third "grand" after two boys, now 3 1/2 and 22 months, born to our son and wife.  Because I married later in life, it's an extraordinary privilege to live to "grandparent" and influence another generation.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Reflections on reflections

Fiction writers sometimes revert to the “mirror trick” in describing a charter’s physical characteristics. They will have that person look into a glass or water mirror, their inner thoughts adding the details that help us “see” him or her.  Like this (go ahead and snicker at my  feeble fiction skills):
As Harold buzzed the stubble off his chin, he leaned into the bathroom mirror wondered why he hadn’t noticed the puffy bags under his eyes before.  He ran a brush through his thinning hair and groaned over how many were gray.  And those hairs hanging out his ears made him think of a dried-out tassel on a withered ear of corn.

The Bible had some thoughts about reflections, too.  Proverbs 27:10 says,
As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.

That verse came to mind recently when my husband and I traveled up the picturesque Methow Valley in central Washington state.  We passed by beautiful Patterson Lake, whose placid early-morning waters mirrored the shoreline trees.  Parts of the lake were a perfect reflection; others had already been stirred, probably by fishermen, blurring and shortening the reflection.

I thought of how when we reflect and love and peace of Jesus, it’s evident in our faces.  We’re approachable.  I have several friends like that—and how I enjoy being with them! But I have other friends who are plagued by anxiety or disappointment. The “peace of Christ that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) seems to have been drained from them. It’s hard to describe, but you just know.

It may seem strange to think that God is in the face-lift business and we lift our faces to Him—but He is. The apostle Paul picked up on that heart-to-face connection when he said those in relationship with Christ “with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory [and] are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

At times my “reflection” properties are in need of improvement, like those stirred lake waters that were no longer mirrors.  Thankfully, God is on the other side of the mirror.  He sees the exterior (like the morning chin stubble on our fiction model “Harold”) but He also sees deep within us to who we can become in Him.

Now, that’s worth reflecting on!

Friday, October 21, 2016

View from the top

It’s not the top of the world, but Sun Mountain above Central Washington’s picturesque Methow Valley is certainly a splendid setting.  As a winding road ascends, signs warn drivers to watch for wandering mule deer. These critters think they have priority on the road (and some, sadly, lose to a car). En route are scenic pullouts fully worthy of... WOW!

Normally, the rates at the Sun Mountain lodge are way beyond our budget.  But for a limited off-season time, they offered drastic reductions as a “community appreciation” for help in last year’s wildfires. Besides, it offered a memorable way to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary—in a “jacuzzi bridal suite,” no less!  The location was so peaceful, leaving me in renewed awe of the amazing landscape of this planet that God designed. 

A lot of people in reading through a Bible wonder if anything good can come out of the Old Testament books of Chronicles.  There’s a lot of gory, king-conquering, king-failing history in the books.  But there are also the fingerprints of God’s help and mercy.  Into that context was dropped this observation:
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

 Because it describes God’s character, this verse can stand by itself as well as in the narrative of foolish King Asa’s actions. (This was a king who had bad counselors and turned away from God.)  I know how it lifted me years ago as a single, when I wondered if God was aware of the challenges and troubles I faced.  Of course, God doesn’t have an “eye” as we would think of on humans. But the image provided for me that sense of larger watch-care when I went through things that were bigger and scarier than I’d ever encountered.

 Seeing the panorama of mountain beauty did something else for me.  It reminded me to seek the “high view” toward others who aren’t quite at the point of “hearts...fully committed to him.” I think the writer of Proverbs had that same sense when he wrote:
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)
A wise person has selective vision. That person’s eyes may range to and fro, finding those who offend or oppose, but their heart of love forgives.

And that, as 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, is a strong, “love” response. It takes the high road, and looks down with mercy and love on all the daily-ness and struggles of life’s valleys.

Can you see why I loved the view?  And why it reminded me of God’s loving eye on me, wherever in life’s journey He takes me?