So, it’s been said a picture is worth a thousand words. That is perhaps never truer than when we are trying to describe God’s creation. Words at their finest barely scratch the surface of what we see in every area of creation. If you doubted before the first manned spacecraft orbited the earth, you didn’t doubt as the beauty of the earth turning in space was captured by a camera lens for us to view for the first time.
One of the blessings in my life is a friend, Rob Blair, who is a professional photographer as well as a worship leader in his church. He took the photo and designed the cover of the book I wrote, Bring Me A Vision.
When I see through his camera lens the beauty God allows him to capture there, I am sometimes transfixed by the awesomeness of our God.
After seeing several of his recent shots, I asked him if I could share them here with you. Enjoy this feast for your eyes and as you do, take time to linger with each one and don’t be surprised if you begin to worship the one who painted the scene you see through Rob’s lens.
In 1984 Tina Turner recorded the song, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, and it soon reached the top of the music charts in the U.S. The lyrics of the pop hit linked the word ‘love’ as being only a “physical, second hand emotion” and added “who needs a heart when a heart can be broken”.
Somehow it seems for too many of us, we made the decision the lyrics were right and it was better to close off our hearts to prevent them from being broken or broken again. Long before a first opposite sex relationship, many of us had already experienced our hearts being broken when the love we hoped for never happened or was shattered by neglect or abuse. As life went along, more experiences happened that convinced some of us to build the walls around our hearts even higher.
But there was a problem.
We were designed and created by a loving God who placed within us a capacity for and a desire for love that is as essential to us as breathing.
The design was first for our relationship with Him since we were created in His likeness. It was also designed to share and experience with others. The absence of it and the accompanying emptiness was a pain we did not tolerate well, so we looked for other things to fill it or blunt the pain. Those choices ultimately led us in paths that took us into greater difficulty.
I love the words J. Kevin Butcher used to describe that in Choose and Choose Again:
“In days gone by, industrial site cleanup experts tried to deal with toxic water waste by putting dangerous chemicals and materials in steel drums and burying them deep beneath the surface of the ground. That was fine until twenty or thirty years down the road when the drums began to leak and spilled the deadly waste into the ground water, poisoning everyone and everything within its reach. The same is true for our pain. We might be able to store it away or hide it in a secret place in our hearts for a while. But eventually our hearts begin to leak, and our un-grieved pain and loss spills out into our lives and relationships, poisoning everyone and everything that matters to us. And that pain continues to poison us—and the shaming voices attached to the pain continue to shout—until the wound is grieved, lamented, and released into the hands of a caring, healing God.”
Too often we have believed the lie that God could not possibly love us when we have messed up yet again and we move away from Him rather than toward Him because we fear He may reject us. Sometimes that happens even though we know in our heads what the Word says about His love for us. Our hearts have sometimes been so closed off for so long we don’t even recognize it as the central issue.
I love what John Eldredge writes about that in Waking the Dead:
“Without your heart you cannot hope to find God, for the heart is his dwelling place. If you ignore your heart, it’s like looking for him everywhere but home.”
Because He is love and He resides in our hearts, love has everything to do with it!!! It is that very love we have turned aside from or never risked pursuing that is there to walk with us into the shattered places of our lives and heart to bring the healing we need. It is only when we risk doing that and turn toward Him and choose Him or choose Him again that we can begin to experience His love. And that is what equips us to be able to love others.
We need to confront the fear of God’s rejection of us when we turn toward Him. Unless we do, it will push us farther and farther away from Him.
J. Kevin Butcher describes what we need to understand about turning toward Him:
“We run toward the kind of love that always comes for us because we know that kind of love is to at long last be secure enough to begin the healing process…”
Jesus would have us set aside the superficial and too often fake love of the songs that we hear on our devices that can never satisfy us or fill our hearts to overflowing no matter how perfect they sound. His love is so much beyond our imaginations to even fathom, but He wants us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” as the psalmist writes.
When we experience His love beyond believing it, everything changes.
“If we fall in love with Jesus, not only will nothing on this earth attract us, nothing on this earth will intimidate us.” (Ken Gire)
Each of us seems to be more and more time conscious these days. I think it relates to the fast-paced overly busy schedules we keep where we struggle to arrive on time and get home before midnight too many days.
We can all thank Thomas Edison for some of that. Before he created the filament for incandescent light bulbs in the late 1800’s, our ancestors’ days were much more related to the rhythm of sunlight and darkness as it changed through the seasons. After his invention, we stretched our working and playing farther into the night until we now seem to no longer recognize the sleep and wake cycles had a purpose for our good and health.
When we are young we tend to feel as if time is passing slowly and we are eager to push it forward for all we want to do or be, but as we get older and see how quickly we are using it up we are more likely to want it to move forward at a slower pace.
With those as a backdrop I have been reflecting on the statement of a pastor from Mexico a few weeks ago who spoke of the Lord coming soon. Yes, I have heard that many times over the years and if we are reading the New Testament carefully, we see Paul’s letters speaking of it. That can leave us quite uncertain about the meaning of the word “soon” in relation to His return.
It was when the pastor used a soccer game analogy and said we are in the last three minutes of the game that my attention was arrested. I have little knowledge of soccer so it was likely not as clear an illustration for me as it might be for others, but it still left a definite impression about the possible meaning of “soon”. If I broaden the idea out to cover other sports I know less well, it becomes clear it means near the end. I know the final minutes of a game often determine the outcome.
I went to a high school where football was king. High school students there first played it in 1891. Prior to the current playoff system that began in 1972, the team won the state championship 23 times. The teams were also recognized as the AP National Champions 9 times between 1935 and 1961 (the most in the nation). Since 1891, more than 10.5 million fans have watched the games of this team.
Every Friday night during football season the whole town would show up at the stadium decked in team colors with lots of enthusiasm to cheer on the team to victory. As a student on such a day, the excitement began with a parade downtown at lunchtime led by our marching swing band and cheerleaders. The idea of losing was not an option in anyone’s mind. We went to games at home and away cheering on the team and I saw more than a few games that came down to the final minute or two of the game to determine the winner.
I loved every minute of it! I first learned the game of football as a grade schooler sitting beside my dad for each game. When I was finally able to sit in the student cheering section, it was an electric experience! I knew every cheer and song and most of the plays happening on the field.
The analogy the pastor was talking about was far more significant and one that often seems to get less attention and fanfare in most of our lives than our favorite sports team. Yes, we know Jesus will return and as we see the world unraveling in every corner of the globe we perhaps think of it a bit more often, but is it a truth that spurs us to respond to the time we have differently?
The truth about Friday night football in my town was not just about watching or playing the game. It was also about preparing for the season as well as each game itself. It affected nearly every choice that was made so we would be in the optimal condition to play and win. It was the spirit and the traditions handed down generation after generation that included a certainty about what we believed about the game and ourselves. We knew we were winners, but nothing was taken for granted or left to chance. It was something that everyone felt a part of and prepared for, not just the players on the field. We all got ready.
As I reflect on those exciting fun times over what could seem like a silly game to most, I wonder where I am (where we all are) if we are in the last three minutes of the game before the Lord returns. Am I living each day with the end in mind as Stephen Covey might ask?
So often I have felt the reminder as I read about the story of the wise and foolish virginsJesus tells us in Matthew 25. The parable clearly speaks of preparation for a sure end that has an unknown time stamped on it.
Maybe we handle the anticipation about the last three minutes of the game differently because there is no specific time stamp we know and because we have heard “soon” for a long time. Perhaps that has dulled our senses and lulled us to sleep. Sure, we think of it when we face the death of someone close to us or hear a diagnosis of our own that suggests our own days are numbered, but what about the big picture? What about the unseen world we are living in the midst of that has an eternal reality stamped on it?
One thing seems certain. It is closer today than yesterday.
Even though we do not know the exact time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s words spoken by Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring reverberate in my heart, mind, and spirit:
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
We all love a day that has no drama or undue stress. We can relax and enjoy the day. Oftentimes we look toward vacation days or weekends for such respites from the daily challenges of life and work. There is something about being able to let down our guard and just chill out that appeals to most of us.
Even when we plan for such days or times away, many of us have had these plans and desires upended. Flights get delayed or canceled, construction on the highway sends us on an endless detour, a sudden storm halts all modes of transportation, or someone gets sick. Our hope for an easy day, weekend, or vacation disappears like a vapor.
We continue to long for easy days, lazy days. We want someone else to be in charge for a while.
Sometimes when such a day comes together, we lean back in a hammock and let thoughts roam, or we sit on a patio as dusk falls and listen to the sounds of the night commence as the last rays of the sun slip below the horizon.
We stop paying attention and cuing into anything but our own reverie.
It can be natural to forget there is an unseen world around us where a battle is raging for our soul. Our archenemy never sleeps and is always seeking who may be off guard and lured into his devices.
It can happen to the best of us who love and serve the Lord. If it happened to Kind David, it can happen to any one of us.
David, the Goliath slayer, the one about whom songs were written and sung throughout Israel, was a mighty warrior undefeated in battle with God on his side. But then in 2 Samuel 11 as spring came and all the kings were going out to battle, David sent his chief of military operations, Joab, and all his servants and mighty men out to battle while he remained at home. Didn’t he deserve a day off now and then? He had trained mighty men of war, certainly they could manage without him this time. Perhaps they could, but maybe he couldn’t manage to handle his leave from battle as well as he thought.
Here he is relaxing on his roof on a beautiful day and the archenemy sees his chance. David’s eyes gaze upon the beauty of woman bathing and lusts after her. He sends for her to be brought to him. She is Bathsheba, wife of one of his mighty warriors, but no matter. The enemy has already stirred David’s lust to a fever pitch, and he takes her to his bed and then sends her home. Did he really think no one would notice and that he would not get caught?
Even if no man or woman saw the deed, did David think God was off on vacation and missed what he did?
As I was reading this passage, I took note of the wise comments in the footnote to this story in my Bible:
“There is no point in life’s journey so dangerous as when one has arrived at a comfortable place and lowers one’s guard.
Sin seldom shows itself all at once, or even as sin at all. The temptation to sin is usually more subtle than that. But once in its grip, one is taken to places one never intended to go and held longer than one ever intended to stay.”
It’s been said that any fool can lose a battle. You just need an opponent who is weaker, but it is a questionable talent to lose a battle when you start off with all the advantages.
History gives us numerous examples. It happened to Lt. Col. George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn despite his strategies and belief that the attack he planned would be a surprise. It happened to Napoleon when he ran short on supplies and sought to retreat from Moscow after he decided to invade Russia. It happened at the Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War as well and the list of such battles could go on and on. Over and over again when one side was underestimating the opponent or resting and not on watch, a rout took place.
You may be saying that our archenemy in the spiritual world is far stronger than you are and if you do, the enemy knows he is likely to win. He knows then that you have forgotten that our triune God and all his angels fight on our behalf. Our responsibility is to stay on watch and call on Him when those subtle temptations begin.
Peter understood that well. He had a history of faltering when the enemy was sneaking around. His recommendations are key to keep in focus on easy days:
“8 Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.
9 Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith.
10 The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! – will have you put together and on your feet for good. 11 He gets the last word; yes, he does.”
Most of us would prefer to say we are not, but it is more likely that we have all been guilty of grumbling from time to time even though the degree and frequency of our grumbling can definitely vary.
To be exact, grumble is a verb defined as follows:
“complain or protest about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way”
Sometimes others may not hear us do it as we walk away grumbling under our breath about something that didn’t go our way or frustrated us. It doesn’t absolve us of the action or attitude, however.
When I was growing up, our home had a copy of the famed series, Uncle Arthur’s BedtimeStories, which were originally published in the 1920’s. (No, I am not that old!) There were 5 volumes and each in a different color with short stories packed into each that always had a lesson to learn tucked within the story.
When I became a parent, the books moved to my house and a bit later I passed the volumes on to our daughter. It is somehow fascinating that all these years later some of those stories are still etched in my memory.
One of those that I recall especially well was entitled “Little Miss Grumbleton” and was about a cure for grumbling. The little girl in the story has a habit of grumbling. As a result of this bad habit, she has a consequence of being required to eat a meal she complained about when it was set before her. You see the meal was cold and not very tasty when it came time for the next meal. Everyone else in the family was enjoying a delicious hot meal while she was required to eat what she had not eaten the previous meal.
As the story goes, the little girl never makes that mistake again and is cured of the habit of grumbling. Who wants to eat a cold meal that was left on the table for hours when everyone else is enjoying a fresh hot meal?
Grumbling has been around since mankind was created and tends to represent a lack of gratitude. We see it in lots of places in the Bible.
One of the places we most often think of is in the book of Exodus with the Israelites as Moses goes about following God’s plan to be freed from slavery and enter the land He promised them. It can be easy for us all these years later to be critical of how they handled this “adventure,” but if we consider what their experience had been for more than 400 years we might discover our responses might have been similar.
Think for a moment. Pharaoh’s chariots chase you and thousands of others and there you are facing the Red Sea. Panic would be a given and then God parts the waters and you walk safely on dry ground to the other side. As you look over your shoulder as the last person reaches the shore, the waters fall back into the path you just walked on and all those chasing you are destroyed. You see God show up in a big way and likely expect He will have your back in the days ahead.
But then you are out there in the wilderness and the water you brought with you is nearly gone. Your animals are thirsty and so are you. It has been three days in the desert without water and they arrive at a place called Marah where there is water, but it is undrinkable. They are upset and frustrated and the grumbling starts and builds. Most of us would be the same.
They had seen the Egyptians destroyed in the Red Sea and were following the pillar of cloud God had provided so they must have known He was aware of their location and what the landscape was like as well as the condition of the water at Marah. This was their first big test and they were not handling it well.
What these people had experienced during the plagues in Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian charioteers at the Red Sea caused them to expect they were going to continue to move along without difficulty.
As a result, they failed to trust God to provide the water even if they couldn’t humanly see how He would do it. He had demonstrated what He could do many times over, but trust was still not resident within them.
You might be thinking it was so obvious that it should have been clear to them that God would provide, but ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has faltered in trusting God’s goodness.
Grumbling and complaining when our expectations are not met has been a long-standing habit for us. It continues to the present day and it gives evidence to a flaw to trust or have faith.
It can be difficult for us to determine if we are experiencing a test or consequences of being involved in something we should not have gotten involved in.
Our challenge is to remember God is good no matter which it is and He is there to lead and provide for us even if it is something that is extremely difficult to face.
When we fail to remember God’s goodness, trust and faith falter easily.
“The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.”