Category Archives: Beauty Around the World

Where Are You?

(The following devotional was written by my friend, Lisa Walkendorf, and I think it’s a great reflection to begin our journey into the new year. As Pastor Rick taught me, “Wherever you are, be all there!”)

We spent a day touring Athens, Greece before flying home from a mission trip recently. We saw amazing sights and marveled at history mixed within current culture… current sites built along historic ones.   Ruins were visible in the midst of town.   We (like many others) came as tourists to study and reflect on the past.  It is incredible that items from the 5th century BC have survived  and are still preserved for us today! We marveled as we toured the archeological museum.   When we reflected on the day, our group shared what most impressed us,
and there were certainly many options to choose from:  *The Acropolis   *Mars Hill where Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians, noting their worship to “the unknown God” and introducing them
to the known God, who created everything (read more in Acts 17:16-33).  *The delicious, cultural food *The archeological museum  and ancient artifacts.   * All the sites in town.   *And, fellowship with our team members!

One friend shared that she took a picture that impressed her most, but it was not a pretty picture!   It was simply a sign giving directions that stated: You are here. She reflected on the literal reminder “You are here.”  This is where we are.  This is the only life we get to live.  There’s not some other life to live than the one we have.  Some day people may be looking back to this time frame, perhaps viewing it through a museum lens of what was important to us culturally, relationally, and spiritually.

We are here now.  We have this time to love family and friends, to reach out to others and share the good news about Jesus.  It can be helpful to reflect on the question, “Where are you?”  and to be reminded, “You are here!”

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) – “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Psalm 90:12 (NIV) – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Where are you today?

Prithivi Highway: The Longest (and Most Memorable)110-Mile Bus Trip I’ve Ever Taken

Most of the time we flew between destinations on our tour of India and Nepal, but on one occasion we took a scenic bus trip  along the Prithivi Highway through the rugged terrainbetween Chitwan and Pokhara in Nepal.  It was “only” 110 miles, and according to the literature,  we were supposed to enjoy the ride during the morning,  then arrive at our hotel in time for lunch and spend the afternoon touring. NOT!  It took us 8.5 hours to travel the 110 miles with only two brief bathroom breaks. The temperature was approximately a million degrees out,  and between the heavy traffic,  aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2015  and intensive road construction,  the air was so full of dust that trying to make out what was happening outside the windows  took considerable concentration and creative imagination… which was particularly taxing considering the state of our bladders on such a rocky road!   (My friend Deb said the bus ride was so bumpy that her Fitbit recorded her as walking 10,000 steps although she didn’t think she’d really walked even 500!) In fact, Alan had to sit in the front seat and also concentrate on not throwing up, since the 600 hairpin turns we’d traveled on Hawaii’s Heavenly Hana Highway had been but scant practice  for surviving this rollicking ride balancing on the edge of the steep gorge overlooking the Narayani River Basin through the foothills of the Himalayan and Annapurna Mountain Ranges,  which are home to eight of the world’s fourteen highest peaks!  However, this trip was not only memorable for the twists and turns as we progressed at a blistering twelve miles an hour  through unbelievable clouds of dust and dirt,  it was also remarkable for a never-ending stream of gorgeous views  that would have taken our breath away  had we had any (which we didn’t, due to elevation and air pollution).  Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the most dangerous road trip I’ve ever taken  —although it possibly was! (Well, maybe my all-time scariest bus ride was in China back in 1995
when our bus’s transmission gave out in high gear)! 😦  And, it might not have been the dustiest ride I’ve ever been on  …although I really can’t think of anything to compete!   On the bright side, we had great air-conditioning, and we were definitely in the mountains much of the time (like, most of the time), which was cooler.  Our driver was amazing, and although he drove as furiously as Jehu, he allowed emergency roadside stops once or twice (but what’s that between friends?). We were also granted two real stops during the 8.5 hours (but what’s that between friends with post-60-year-old bladders full of breakfast coffee?).  Well, we all survived, and as far as I know, nobody threw up or wet their pants. It was also a ride I’ll bet nobody ever, ever forgets  (unless they develop Alzheimer’s).  Would I do it again?  Yes, although with my eyes open and an entirely empty bladder.  Would I recommend it for others? Absolutely!
(Possibly not for those who get motion sick
or have breathing, heart, G.I. or bladder issues.)
Did I learn anything? Yes!  And, if you’re willing, let me share a few of the meditations of my heart  while we bounced along:  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
(Matthew 5:8, it’s hard to see when the windows of our hearts are dirty.)   “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,
having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,
and our bodies washed with pure water
” (Hebrews 10:22). I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom  concerning all things that are done under heaven:  this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.” (Ecclesiastes 1:13)Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness
unto them which are exercised thereby
” (Hebrews 12:11).  (The Prithivi Highway is going to be one of the world’s most beautiful
when it’s finished!)   “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb
” (Revelation 22:1). Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;
but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water
springing up into everlasting life
” (John 4:14).  What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?” “I have seen the travail,
which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. 
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:  “also he hath set the world in their heart,  “so that no man can find out the work that God maketh “from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11).

The Taj Mahal: “Jewel of Muslim Art in India”

The Taj Mahal is in Agra, India, along the Yamuna River. It was voted one of the New7Wonders of the World in 2007
by over 100 million voters (largest poll in the world at that time).  It’s valued at over US$ 827 million and considered by many
to be the world’s premiere example of Mughal architecture.        It is perhaps the most perfect architectural monument in the world.  Commissioned in 1632 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, (Mumtaz Mahal, who died at the age of 38 giving birth to their 14th child), the Taj Mahal (which means “Crown of the Palace”) took 20,000 artisans twenty-two years to complete and was made of white marble  inlaid with precious and semi precious stones.  Because the Taj Mahal is Muslim artistry,

the exterior walls include some calligraphy from the Qur’an, carefully written with perspective so that you can read the letters at the top almost as easily as those right in front of you. The Taj Mahal is also a sacred site, so everyone is required to cover their feet (or go barefoot, but the hot pavement would burn your feet pretty badly, I’d think). Thankfully, the Taj staff provide shoe coverings as part of the admission price. My mom adored all things adventurous, especially if they involved travel. In fact, she was such a free spirit that she imagined being the daughter of gypsy parents dropped off on her parents’ doorsteps. Given how much she looked like her six siblings, I never took her tale seriously, but I definitely absorbed her curiosity about the world. Mom graduated to heaven before Bucket Lists became a thing, but had there been Bucket Lists while she was still alive, visiting the Taj Mahal would have been at the top of hers, because she always wanted to see it (although she never did).I can remember as a little girl being enthralled with her stories about a love so strong that the emperor would build a palace just to commemorate his queen…a “teardrop on the cheek of time” (as romantically described by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore back when my mother was young).  Therefore, it was with an awe inspired since childhood and a touch of my mother’s spirit within that I visited this wonder of the ancient world with Alan and our Gate 1 Discovery Tour Group a few weeks ago! Although I thought I knew a lot about the Taj Mahal before we visited, I learned a lot more and discovered that real life experiences are never quite what you imagine they’re going to be! For one thing, the Taj Mahal isn’t “just” the gorgeous onion-domed building you see in books and movies.               It is part of a 42-acre complex which includes a working mosque,                                                                a guest house,                                                      gates and watch towers,                                                   and extensive gardens.     I also learned a few things about India, which is so different from the West!     For one thing, if you go to India, prepare for extremely hot, muggy weather.  I think it was 100°F (±) with about 95% humidity that day (and I’m not kidding or exaggerating), and I was lightheaded despite drinking water constantly.  There are 7-8 million tourists who visit the Taj Mahal every year, so it’s crowded, and there are lines. (That shouldn’t be surprising, especially in a country with 1.3 billion people…but it also adds to the heat.)                                Everybody was trying to keep in the shade,  and many people were sweating through their clothing. (One of Alan’s docs warned us: “I know I’m from India and should love all things Indian, but India is too hot!”) Oh, yes!!However, the most lasting impression from my visit is that life is even more magnificent experienced than explained, which makes me all the more excited to experience heaven, which God has promised to all those who love Him.As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him
(1 Corinthians 2:9).

(I bought photos 1,3,11-13 from the photographer who was taking pictures for us. Photo 5 is a public domain photo from Wikipedia, because we were not allowed to take pictures inside the mausoleum. I took the rest a few weeks ago in India.)

 

Starting at the Top: Flight-seeing Mt. Everest

                                                Do you have a Bucket List?  Seeing Mt. Everest was at the top of mine until a couple of weeks ago, when I was able to cross it off! However, the mountain you can see in the background of this photo is not of Mt. Everest. I assumed we could drive to the base of Mt. Everest the way you can drive to a good viewing spot for Denali, which at 20,310 feet is the highest mountain on the North American continent. Did you know there are well over 100 mountains in Nepal, China, Pakistan, and India that are higher than Denali or any of the highest mountains in North America? They make our beloved Rocky Mountains look like child’s play!There is no resort community where you can gaze at Mt. Everest’s grandeur out your snug hotel room’s picture window such as you can for Denali or Mt. Rainier!  (Can you see the mountain in the clouds? This is Himalchuli Mountain in the Annapurna Range of Nepal…which is only 25,896 feet high!) Although Mt. Everest is a whopping 29,029 feet tall, it’s buried behind so many huge mountains in the heart of such a remote part of the Himalaya Mountain Range that the only way you can really see it is either by mountain climbing or by taking an early morning flight-seeing tour on a small aircraft.  We opted for a flight-seeing tour with Buddha Air. We had an amazing adventure, but I will say this advertisement is deceptive. I imagined crashing on the mountain due to unpredictable wind currents and had heard rumors that Nepal has the world’s most dangerous airport.  The rumors may be true, but the pilots aren’t crazy, so they really don’t get you any closer than ten miles from Mt. Everest. Still, on a clear day, you can get some breath-taking views from 10,000 aloft! In order to catch an early morning flight, we had to get up at 4:45 am and head out to the airport.  One of the striking things to Alan and me was that the flight was listed as simply “Mountain.” Cities were named, but everybody knew: There’s just one Mountain! They charged us an arm and a leg for our tickets, but at least every passenger had a window seat, and they let each of us go up to take photos from the cockpit when we were at ideal viewing range.  The flight lasted just an hour, but I took over a hundred photos and felt totally mesmerized by the mountains’ majesty!  The Himalayas are beyond anything I’ve ever seen before, and I had absolutely no appreciation for how vast and wonderful they are!  Eventually, the clouds started to rise higher in the warm sunshine and obscured some of the mountains. Still, I will never forget the beauty of that morning!Do you know what Mt. Everest is made from? It’s not volcanic rock! The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone! Can you believe it? When the flood covered the earth, it even reached to the top of the highest mountains, just as the scriptures teach us: The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits” (Genesis 7:18-20, NIV). Now, the Bible also teaches that the ” springs of the great deep” were broken up, and that there was tremendous upheaval, so perhaps this accounts for the shifting tectonic plates. I’m no geologist, but to me, learning that the world’s highest mountain is topped with marine limestone is one more exciting evidence of the validity of the Bible. And, if you’re willing to believe the Bible is right about the flood, will you also believe that the Bible is right about who created the mountains? “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). God created the mountains, God created us, and God loves us. Can you believe that?Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.
Isaiah 2:3

(I took all the photos on our recent trip, although the second photo is of a poster that was on our bus, and the photo of the model of the Himalayan Mountains was taken at the International Mountain Museum in Nepal.)

 

Stratford Scenes and Asian Harvest Adages

Stratford, Ontario, on the Avon River, is a quaint and charming city that hosts the Stratford Festival every May-October. It’s the county seat for Perth County, has a population of just over 31,000,  and is reputed as being one of Canada’s best places to live (and retire).  While there, we always enjoy our strolls along the Avon River,  their beautiful Shakespeare Gardens, and the quiet ambience (and restaurants). Today, I’d like to combine some of my favorite photos from our holiday  with a few adages gleaned from An Asian Harvest I hope you’ll take time to ponder!

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
~Abraham Lincoln“If God calls you to be a missionary, don’t stoop to be a king.” ~Jordan Grooms  “The greatest missionary is the Bible in the Mother tongue. It never needs a furlough and is never considered a foreigner.” ~Cameron Townsend

“The greatest ability you will ever have is your availability” ~Paul Hattaway, quoting some of the best advice he ever received, from an old man in his church named Bruce.   “The principal danger of the 20th century will be: a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christians without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and a heaven without a hell.” ~William Booth, 1899  Quotes by  “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be strong men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.” ~Phillips Brooks  “If you give God the right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you. God’s experiments always succeed.” ~Oswald Chambers   “It is an extraordinary power from God, not talent, that wins the day. It is extraordinary spiritual unction, not mental power, that we need. Mental power may gather a large congregation, but only spiritual power will save souls.” ~Charles Spurgeon “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.” ~Charles Spurgeon  “Jesus has many who love His kingdom in heaven, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake…Those who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy. And were He never willing to bestow comfort on them, they would still always praise Him and give Him thanks. ~Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)   “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.” ~Oswald J. Smith  “The Lord rarely provided my needs early, but He was never late.”~Paul Hattaway   “What matters most to God is my obedience.” ~Paul Hattaway  “If left to flourish, small character flaws grow into large defects which can bring about a Christian’s demise.” ~Paul Hattaway   “I believe the Lord would rather His children attempt things for Him and fail than to never take a risk for His kingdom.” ~Paul Hattaway   “John Stott once warned of the dangers of Christian tadpoles in the Church. Tadpoles, he explained, have huge heads but little else.”   “Many preachers say, ‘Before someone can die for Jesus, they must first be willing to live for Him.’ That sounds logical, but I have discovered the opposite is equally true. Before we are able to live for Jesus, we must first be willing to die for Him.” ~Paul Hattaway   “As I gradually learned the principle that in the kingdom of God, human weakness equals strength and human strength equals weakness, our work became more effective.” ~Paul Hattaway                      “No broken life is beyond repair with Jesus.” ~Paul Hattaway  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Poetry from Job and Vistas of the Grand Canyon

Job is often thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. Have you ever read it? It’s full of flowery speeches about why men suffer, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” Job is also listed as one of the twenty-five righteous prophets in the Quran, so his fame extends throughout the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.  What I love best about Job is that we know from the beginning Job’s suffering was not because he was evil. In fact, he was one of the world’s most upright men! Although it’s true we usually think of people as prospering if they are honest and work hard, from Job we learn that this is not always the case, and that some of the finest and best people suffer despite having sterling character.  In the end, God proclaims that He alone is the all-wise, all-knowing One, and Job’s mouth is stopped. But, during his trial,  Job receives a revelation so beautiful that Handel incorporated some of it into his timeless oratorio, Messiah: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23-26).  The Bible advises us to live with compassion and respect toward all men. We have no idea what their lives have been like. Great advice, don’t you think?

Anyway, my son Jon brought home about 2,500 photos from his trip white-water rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as I was thinking about what he’d learned and the beauty of this unique area, the words of Job 38 came to me. I thought they might be perfect paired with some of God’s creative magnificence and mystery, as recorded by Jon in July:

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee,  and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?  or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?  or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors,  when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof,  and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,  10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,  11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:  and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;  and caused the dayspring to know his place;  13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,  that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  15 And from the wicked their light is withholden,  and the high arm shall be broken.  16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?  or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?  or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  19 Where is the way where light dwelleth?  and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,  20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?  or because the number of thy days is great?  22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?  or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,  23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?  
24 By what way is the light parted, 
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder; 
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,  wherein there is no man;  27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground;  and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?  28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  29 Out of whose womb came the ice?  and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.  31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?  canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?  34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee? 
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?  36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart? 
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,  38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?  39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,  40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?  41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God,  they wander for lack of meat.” 

This eloquent reminder of human limitation goes on for several more chapters, but chapter 42 records Job’s response: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That’s where I’m at. I have surrendered to God’s ineffable wisdom
and acknowledge that even though I don’t understand his ways, I trust Him. As Job said, “Thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

(Photo Credits: Images related to Job from Wiki; all other photos were taken by Dr. Jonathan Armstrong in July, 2017, except the winter, aerial views, which I took last January, 2017.)

 

 

The Milky Way from El Teide Mountain in Spain

 

Did you enjoy watching any fireworks last night? Here in America, most of us try to find some place where we can celebrate our Independence Day with a display of color and light bursting through the night sky. However, today I want to share something so glorious that it makes man’s handiwork seem like child play. If you have three minutes to invest in transcendent beauty, here’s a link to one of the most majestic and soothing videos on stars I’ve ever seen. It’s called “The Mountain,” by TSO photography, and it was filmed in April, 2011, although I just saw it recently. The photographer was visiting El Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, which is one of the world’s best spots for filming stars (real stars!). On the website, he gives more details on how and what he did during that week of filming. Hope it thrills your soul as it has mine!

PS—You might want to shut it off as soon as it ends, because the one that started on my feed after this one ended was as bad as this one is wonderful. 😦  Sorry. I wish the internet was safe and pure, but it is not!

(First photo with Psalm 19:1 inscribed is the handiwork of Bob Hardee.)