Celebrated and Overlooked Waterfalls

Ever hear of Manabezho, Nawadaha, or Manido? How about Niagara? Ah! We’ve all heard of Niagara, and now you can probably guess I’m talking about waterfalls.

Manabezho Falls along the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains

There was a time when our children were young that we lived in Michigan’s upper peninsula. During those years, our kids sometimes got a little “ho hum” about waterfalls . . . I guess because we lived on fifty acres overlooking the Dead River, so going for a walk out our front door made us intimate with dozens of gorgeous, unnamed waterfalls that tumbled over granite boulders on their way to Lake Superior.

Purple Coneflowers

In those days, we sometimes had trouble motivating our kids to leave home and travel by car to experience some new waterfall or woodland path.

I guess when you live in a wilderness paradise surrounded by natural beauty, your senses can get a little dulled . . . or at least lulled.

Brown squirrel feasting on an acorn

But I think today any of my kids would jump at the chance for an enchanted afternoon meandering through green forests

Manido Falls on the Presque Isle River

or standing mesmerized beside torrential waters.

I’m hoping you would too, and since COVID (and now inclement weather) is keeping many of us home bound,

I thought you might enjoy taking a vicarious hike with Alan and me along the Presque Isle River in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park.

As I mentioned last week, there are nearly 90 miles of hiking trails throughout the 60,000-acre park.

But my personal favorite is an easy round trip from South Boundary Road down the west side of the Presque Isle River out to Lake Superior, then across the river via a scenic little bridge and back along the east bank of the river.

It’s only about 2-3 miles and is fairly level (but not completely, and not paved, although there are boardwalks at times), so it’s the perfect hike for families with children or retired folks!

Black-eyed Susans

I’ve probably talked long enough, so let me be quiet for a few minutes while you enjoy the trail—

Manabezho Falls
Fascinating sandstone bedrock beneath Presque Isle River
Manido Waterfalls
Nawadaha Falls
Bridge Across the Presque Isle River in the Porkies
Near the mouth of the Presque Isle River as it flows into Lake Superior
Clear, shallow waters of the Presque Isle River, golden brown from tannic acid
Geometric striation patterns in sandstone bedrock of Presque Isle River
Nawadaha Falls as seen from the west side of the river. Porcupine Mountains, MI
Nawadaha Falls as seen from the east side of the Presque Isle River

This stunning hike is so popular that it is celebrated by almost every traveler who comes to the Porkies, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are lots of other waterfalls.

Some are hard to reach, and I’ve never seen them, but some are just a few steps off the road and are too good to miss, although apparently they often are! For instance, “Overlooked Falls” is literally 100 feet off the road but doesn’t get much attention.

The Little Carp River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

If you take a trip to the Porkies, please take a few minutes to enjoy Overlooked Falls along the Little Carp River!

Overlooked Falls in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park

I wonder, what do you suppose we are overlooking
on our journey along the path of life?

But 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 took all the above photos in Porcupine Mountain State Park.)

Way to Die

Have you thought about dying lately? One thing on my mind since turning seventy is facing the fact that I’m going to die one of these years, so it’s probably time to start preparing— not only spiritually, but physically.

Physical death is a one-way, dead-end highway with no optional “OFF” ramp. Whether or not we approve, death is the natural end of life on this earth. We can prolong our lives by living wisely, but sooner or later we will enter the one-way vortex from which no body escapes.

I agree with the top half of this tombstone: There is no escape from death. However, we don’t have to feel trapped by this fact, because we can be born again into the family and kingdom of God. Spiritual rebirth endows us with eternal life through Jesus Christ, so that even though our physical body will die, or spirit will never die (John 11:25).

Do you believe this? “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). We don’t have to wait until we die to know what’s coming next!

If we never rise again, it will be because we made a conscious choice to reject the good news that Jesus died for our sins and will save us if we cry out to him in repentance and faith.

Nevertheless, on this earth, we need to figure out what to do with our bodies after we die. My parents were cremated and asked that their ashes be mingled and scattered in the Rocky Mountains where they were married 80 years ago. That seemed totally appropriate and romantic, so I thought it would be great for Alan and me to request something similar, only maybe have our ashes scattered over one of the great lakes. I also told him that if I die first, I would happily be cremated and buried in an urn under his arm in his casket wherever he decides to be buried.

Alan isn’t dead sure what he wants yet, though, so we’re still considering.

Do you ever read tombstones? Most of them are sweet, simple, and straightforward, but some epitaphs are pretty outrageous, whether they’re intended to be humorous or intentionally slanderous. Here are a few that made me laugh, although I would never want them for my head stone!

They say you can’t take it with you, but I guess you can at least keep any of your loved ones from having it. 😦

Some are cleverly esoteric but also bizarre.
Is this man rising from the grave to offer his beloved a rose?

This is one of the saddest (to me): A monument to deadness? Was their last name “DEAD,” or are they expressing their theological assumption that there is no life after death . . . or something else?

This one strikes me as funny but sweet. When we moved to Grand Rapids, I fell in love with an old farmhouse that only had one bathroom. Alan vetoed it given we were a family of nine. Five females sharing one bathroom would definitely test family synergy!

This couple must have had a good sense of humor!

Did these two commit suicide? Die doing something very foolish? I’m guessing whoever oversaw the design of this gravestone was feeling more than a little angry.

How about this one? What?!?
Aren’t epitaphs supposed to epitomize the person?

This one is getting a little closer to something I’d like. It made me stop and think: What would I like on my tombstone? What message would I like to give any person who stops by my grave? How about you? What would you like for an epitaph when you die?

I believe that when I die my spirit will arise and go straight up to be with Jesus and my heavenly Father, and I don’t care what happens to my physical body, although I do want to be considerate of the feelings of those I’ll leave behind. What caused Alan and me to reconsider our stance on cremation was one daughter-in-law who felt strongly that she wanted us to have a grave site.

Whatever happens in my future, I now know the message I would like to leave: “Jesus Saves!” I also know from the depths of my being that even though my physical body will die and decay—ashes to ashes and dust to dust (Genesis 18:27), nothing will hold back my spirit from rising up to be with Jesus forever. I pray that you won’t let anything hold you back either!

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
(Acts 16:31, ESV)

(P.S.—I cannot take credit for any of these great photos. The text is [obviously] mine; but the photos were passed on to me as an email forward from a friend who has no clue who originally found them or sent them around. If you are the photographer, please let me know so I can credit you! Thanks!)

The Rainbow-colored Cocktail

“You may think it’s a little early to be drinking” the cheery nurse announced, “but I’ve brought you a morning cocktail with your breakfast.” She handed my a little white cup with about 8 pills . . . more than I’d ever had at one sitting in my entire life. I’ve never liked alcohol, and I’ve never had a penchant for pills, either. She must have noticed my nose wrinkling as I peered down into the cup. It looked like a tiny Easter basket filled with pastel eggs, although there was no chocolate in sight, and I suspected it was going to taste pretty toxic.

“The white pill is your pain medication. The 2 red pills are stool softeners to counteract the effect of the white pill. The peach one is a baby aspirin to reduce the possibility of a blood clot; the pale green one is iron to help build up your hemoglobin after losing blood.” She went on and on, patiently explaining why each pill would be helpful, and I could tell she was an old hand at persuading doubtful patients to comply.

“But, what if I told you that I don’t drink?” I asked with as much of a twinkle in my tired eyes as I could muster.

“Well, if you don’t drink this cocktail, then within a few hours you’ll be wanting to start drinking just to cope with the pain.

Case closed. I wasn’t really going to resist her. After all, you don’t come to a hospital for help with an arthritic hip and then refuse to take your medicine, do you?

But, maybe sometimes we do! I know that sometimes I do. There are times when I’m hurting that I run to the Lord for healing, but then when He tells me what I need to do to make things right, I take a step backward. Like Naaman, the commander of the Syrian king’s army (2 Kings 5), what I really want is for God to do everything for me—wave a magic wand over my pain and make it disappear. However, most often when I come to the Lord for help, I get help in the form of wisdom. Not a magic bandaid, but a few concrete steps to take.

It was humbling for Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River, and it made no sense to him. God was testing his faith. “Will you trust me?” “Will you obey me?” Finally, Naaman’s soldiers talked him into trying, and he was wonderfully rewarded by being healed from his leprosy.

I’ve been taking my medicine and trying to be a very compliant patient. After a pretty terrible, horrible, very bad, no good week, I’m beginning to emerge from the fog enough to suspect that it will clear and light will break through again. I can’t say I’ve been an ideal patient, but I can say that I felt completely enfolded in God’s peace this past week, and I can also affirm that my husband has been an especially wonderful, tenderhearted, very good, never bad caregiver, and that’s as good as it gets!

If any of you are—like me—in need of medication (physical or spiritual), I hope you’ll join me in doing what need we to do . . . even if it looks and tastes toxic!

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:10-11).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (93): The Face of Forgiveness

How do we know if we’ve really forgiven someone who’s hurt us badly? When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). This was such an unbelievably difficult commandment that the apostles ended the discussion with a confession of disbelief: “Increase our faith” (Luke 16:5).

I don’t think much has changed between then and now, and I echo the apostles’ prayer: Lord, please increase my faith! I agree with Alexander Pope: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Forgiveness is not a gem that can be found on earth. Furthermore, forgiving once is hard enough, although many of us can find it in our hearts to forgive someone who has truly repented (past tense) and is responding so faithfully (present tense) that we’re no longer afraid of what they might do to us (future tense).

However, until we all get to heaven, we’re susceptible to sin and failure, and that mountain of sin we thought had been cast into the sea might someday reemerge like Frankenstein from the swamp, coming back to terrorize us again.

Nevertheless, Jesus tells us to forgive, not just once, but over and over again. How do we respond to repeat offenders? What about your alcoholic loved one who is killing himself as well as causing inestimable pain to you and everyone who loves him? Do you find yourself wondering if you’ve ever really forgiven as the anger and frustration burn to the surface again and again?

Let’s look at some examples of forgiveness in the Bible to see what we can learn about what true forgiveness looks like:

  • First, a couple of verses on the God of forgiveness:
    • For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Psalm 86:5). God is good, ready to forgive, and merciful to those who ask. Ah, that we should be the same!
    • For they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Susanna Wesley taught that a child should never be punished for the same offense twice, and “that if they amended they should never be upbraided with it afterwards.” Ah, that we might never bring to remembrance past sins that are not present sins.
  • Joseph forgave his brothers, who sold him into slavery because they were so jealous of him. His response? “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph didn’t deny their evil, but he was able to recognize that God brought about good from the evil. (See also Romans 8:28).
  • Moses loved the children of Israel so dearly that despite their constant waywardness he interceded for them, “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exodus 32:32).
  • Paul expressed a similar sentiment to Moses’s in Romans 9:3. I can’t wrap my mind around such passion for people, but I’m convinced this is how God wants us to feel.
  • Abigail interceded on behalf of her selfish husband to David: “Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be . . . I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid” (1 Samuel 25:24,28). Abigail confessed that her husband was a worthless, selfish, churlish man, but she still risked her own life to save his! Would we try to protect the safety of a miserable wretch?
  • Jesus on the cross interceded for those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Am I able to believe that those who injure me don’t understand the depth of what they’re doing? It is true. Jesus understood this.
  • Stephen, while being stoned for accusing the Jews of being responsible for the death of Christ, interceded for those who were killing him: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Do I long for the exposure and just punishment of those who sin against me, or am I willing to bear the pain and pray for them?

True forgiveness has a high cost, but it’s also a holy calling. Harboring hatred and resentment imprisons the soul occupied therein. Unforgiveness hardens the heart and builds walls that encircle the bitter spirit like iron bars. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). It is a proud person, indeed, who presumes that he (or she) “should” be forgiven for their sins even though they are unwilling to forgive the sins of another person. Better is the attitude expressed in our Lord’s Prayer, “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Can we release the debts?

It is a study for another day, but if you find yourself more in the role of the offender than of the offended, please know that God puts the onus on the offender to repent and seek reconciliation: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Yes, as believers God calls us to the supernatural grace of forgiving others (for our own sakes as well as for theirs), but God also expects us to confess, repent, and seek reconciliation when we are in the wrong (which will be often whenever we are in close proximity to a rebellious person). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If I may quote Susanna Wesley again: “There are two things to do about the gospel. Believe it and behave it.”

For many years I nursed the cherished dagger that I could only forgive people if they truly repented. The passage that seems to support this is: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). This is a two-edged dagger; don’t cut yourself on this one! At least, don’t set yourself up to judge the sincerity of your offender’s repentance. If you are left to judge the sincerity of their repentance, you’ll never be able to forgive them. First, because they will never be able to fully understand the depth of your pain, and second, because only God knows the heart, and you won’t ever be able to figure out how sincere they are. Waiting for them to prove themselves to you? Even if they try, they’ll most likely never be able to make up for your losses.

Thankfully, in all the other texts above, the person’s forgiveness was not based on appropriate repentance. When we sin, it is our duty to repent, but the offended person is not bound to be unforgiving unless we repent! Each of us is free to forgive because Jesus paid the price for all our sins on the cross. He died for our sins, and he died for the sins of others. We can forgive anyone anywhere at any time if we are willing, because Jesus paid the ultimate penalty for our sins and theirs. We are free. Free to seek God’s forgiveness, and free to forgive those who hurt us.

One last thought on the mind-boggling mandate to forgive 490 times. I don’t think Jesus meant that as a number to keep track of on a spreadsheet. In the Bible’s “Love” chapter (1 Corinthians 13), verses 4-8 give this beautiful description of how love lives: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.” I fail, but only because my love fails. God’s love never fails, and He wants us to grow in our ability to persevere and be patient with one another.

One last quote from Susanna Wesley (“Mother of Methodism” who homeschooled her 10 children over 300 years ago). One day her husband noticed her incredible patience during a particularly trying day. It’s written that he said, “I wonder at your patience: you have told that child 20 times the same thing.” Susanna replied, “Had I satisfied myself by mentioning the matter only 19 times, I should have lost all my labour; you see, it was the twentieth time that crowned the whole.”

Are you “fed up to the gills” with a loved one’s abuse and failures? “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). It’s a supernatural grace not within us, so let’s also be forgiving of our own failures and imperfections as we try to be like Jesus! There is nothing quite so abrasive as the scouring irritations of our loved ones, but we can take heart, knowing that it is these constant abrasions that will polish us if we surrender to the Master’s hand. Perhaps it will be on the 491st try that one particular sin will be overcome! 🙂

I would like to leave us all with this wisdom from Colossians 3:13-16, found inscribed inside the wedding ring of my thirdborn, who passed it along to my lastborn when he officiated at his wedding a fortnight ago: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 18:21-22, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Luke 16:3-5, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.

(Credit for the beautiful portrayal of forgiveness and healing goes to Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Empty Nesters . . . Again

I am definitely struggling with a painful malady this morning that seems to hit most people at some point in their lives—loss of loved ones. One of the symptoms is malaise. Saturday night was our youngest son’s wedding, but Sunday we still had family around and celebrated the fifth birthday of one of our grandsons. Yesterday was way too busy for thinking: Everything had to be put to rights! The rented tables and chairs, port-a-potties and trash cans needed to be readied for pick up. Potted plants returned to neighbors (who, bless their hearts, came and picked them up for us!). Various people stopped by to see if various of their possessions had been found. (Oh! Had they been lost?) Disassembling what took months to create is not an easy task. A Conrona-Virus-Era wedding for 97 in our yard took (mostly our kids) three months to arrange, so unarranging and rearranging will definitely take some time as well.

But, last night when Alan jokingly said, “Shall we leave the light on?” (for our youngest), it wasn’t funny. His bedroom was empty, and I knew he wouldn’t be there in the morning, as he had been for most of his life, and virtually every morning for the past 4. 3 years since returning from graduate school. However, this coming morning he’d be on his honeymoon!!! Now, that was a cheery thought!

So, I went to bed feeling quite euphoric over how lovely the wedding had been, how happy I was for our youngest to have found the love of his life and forever friend—his spouse, his wife, and maybe in a couple of years (she dreamed hopefully), the mother of his firstborn. It was all the way it is supposed to be. I was thankful and at peace.

However, I woke up this morning with a familiar pang in my heart, rather like I felt when I finished reading this same youngest son Winnie the Pooh for what I knew would likely be the last reading (to one of my own children) of this most favorite of all children’s classics. The end of an era.

I sat down to write this morning, but my mind was completely blank. I prayed. I waited. No bits of cheery thought floated to the surface as possible subject matter. Apparently, they had all drowned. 😦 I looked at the empty space listlessly, feeling ashamed that the only thing on my mind was selfish. I was absorbed by my own pain and sense of loss. Loss of intimacy. Loss of fellowship. Loss of companionship. A foretaste of possible widowhood. A precursor to inevitable death.

I considered: This isn’t the first time one of our chicks has taken flight! In fact, this is our sixth wedding, and all seven of our kids have long since left home to seek their fortunes in graduate school and beyond. This has been happening for the past twenty years, so you’d think I’d be an old pro at parting. Not so! The joke is that people can’t wait for their kids to leave, but not in my family. When I lamented to my sibs, all three of them consoled me by confessing to still missing the intimacy of sharing life day in and out with their kids—and my oldest brother is eighty-one with sons in their fifties who’ve been married over twenty years! So, watching your adult offspring fly into the sunset with the love of their life—while deeply satisfying and what we always pray for—is about as comfortable as chopping off an arm!

It occurs to me that perhaps loss is a pain that grows harder with age rather than easier. It’s also much easier to leave than to be left. My sister-in-law, Jan, remembered melting into a pool of tears on the first day her children left for preschool. Although she waved frantically, they forgot to even look back or search for her from their seat on the bus. They were off on an adventure! Bright skies ahead. No looking back!

I wondered: Have I written about loss before? Yes! I perused my past blogs for a little inspiration and remembered that loss is the price you pay for love. I’ll list a few of the links in case you’re also grieving some loss this morning and would like additional encouragement:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/the-empty-nest-syndrome-parting-is-such-sweet-sorrow/

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/what-does-an-empty-nest-look-like/

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/whats-at-the-bottom-of-an-empty-nest/

A couple of last hopeful thoughts: I reflected on the fact that although it’s never the same, the future will be good: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). In our family, we’ve had the great joy of seeing our kids and grandchildren pretty often. Best of all, there’s always the hope of resurrection and everlasting reunion with all the family of God at some point . . . probably (for me) in the not too distant future!

Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future,
and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14).

Let Us Pass Over—Even Across a Small Lake!

There are only a dozen homes on our lake, so you know it’s small . . . small enough to swim around every evening for exercise and pleasure.

When we first jump in, Alan says he feels each of his 70 years, but within a hundred yards or so, he swims backward in time until he’s only eight again! He feels as carefree as a little boy jumping off the dock at Kinross Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where he grew up. Not a worry in the world! Just the joy of living and splashing around in refreshingly cool water.

In the autumn or spring, before the lake is warm enough for swimming, we’re more inclined to canoe around.

In the winter when it freezes over, the lake is great for snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating.

It’s a year-round treasure, and simply looking out across the lake is one of our greatest daily pleasures!

It definitely makes exercise and keeping (at least a bit) in shape an anticipated joy!

All this to say that we’ve been swimming, skiing, and boating around the lake for the past twenty-seven years—ever since we moved to GR! Over the years, we’ve met most of our neighbors. Some have been good friends for many years—like our next-door-neighbors, who grew up on the lake and can tell stories from 60 years ago when an ice-cart and horse plunged to their death through broken ice one winter. (You can imagine how wide-eyed our kids were to think the remains of such an event might be buried still beneath the murky waters!)

We thought we’d met all our neighbors sometime between 27 years ago and this year. Hardly anybody moves away, but there have been a couple of new families over the years. We talk to them as they float by on rafts or fishing boats.

There’s more than one access road, so we’re most familiar with the neighbors on “our side” of the lake, but we still thought we knew everyone . . . until the last time we were kayaking around the lake. We noticed on the far side of the lake the beginnings of a new dock, so we assumed a new couple had moved in. We were glad to see a young-looking Asian man laboring to build, so I called out to him, “Hello! Are you our new neighbors?”

“No! We’re your old neighbors!” As we drew closer, I could see greying at his temples, and I supposed he was teasing about his age. His eyes were definitely twinkly.

“Really? How old?”

“We’ve been here for twenty-seven years!”

I was totally shocked! How could that be? Neighbors who had moved here the same year we had and had lived opposite us across the lake for twenty-seven years without our even being aware? Wow! On closer examination, we realized that his home was nestled well away from the shoreline (and hidden completely from view via our home or dock). Somehow, because they had no dock (and the shoreline is a tangle of water lilies, loose strife, wild roses, and weeping willows), we had failed to notice that there was one family with lake access who had never actually accessed the lake!

“We moved here twenty-seven years ago too! I can’t believe we’ve never met!” We quickly introduced ourselves to him, and he replied warmly with his name and his wife’s name. “We’re from South Korea!” We exchanged pleasantries about how long they’ve been in America and how much we enjoyed visiting South Korea. We admired his new dock and expressed our certainty that they would be delighted with greater access to the lake.

“Hasn’t the weather been perfect this summer?” I commented enthusiastically.

“Yes!” he replied, lifting his hands to the sky.

South Korean, lifting his hands to the sky— I couldn’t help but ask: “Oh, are you believers?”

“Yes! We praise Jesus! We praise God!” He smiled broadly and lifted his hands again.

We didn’t talk too long, but long enough to know that we shared not only homes on our little lake but also the assurance that Jesus was preparing homes for us in heaven too; we were not only neighbors, we were brothers and sisters by faith in Christ. Siblings in the family of God.

Last Sunday I wrote about Jesus’s invitation: “Let us pass over.” The Sea of Galilee is huge compared to our little lake, but what a happy surprise to “pass over” and reach out, only to discover that our “new” neighbors are “old neighbors” who share our faith. God has definitely been impressing on my heart to be a better neighbor lately. With Alan retired, we have more time, but because of COVID, we’re trying to practice social distancing. How does that work?? I guess we can still be good neighbors and stay 6-feet away! But, a smile, a greeting, a prayer, exchanging contact info and the assurance of being available should anyone need help . . . these are things we can do. At least it’s a start!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, ESV).

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).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (87): Hear in the Dark; Shine in the Light

Still life is so serene! Don’t you love the early morning hours when sunlight filtering through the kitchen window creates long shadows and illuminates the darkness? “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You” (Psalm 63:1, NKJV). There is nothing sweeter to me than meditating on the Bible and praying first thing every morning . . . listening for God’s voice as He speaks into my heart. It’s like a new sunrise daily that banishes the darkness and floods my soul with light.

Sunrise on the Mexican Riviera

With my soul I have desired You in the night, yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early; for when Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness ” (Isaiah 26:9, NKJV). Just as we often seek God’s wisdom to lighten our way, in our passage for today (see below), we’re told that a great multitude of people gathered to hear Jesus speak. Before the age of microphones, I’m sure it would have been difficult for all of them to hear what he had to say without really straining to listen, don’t you think?

Sunrise on the Beautiful Blue Danube River

But, Jesus didn’t want people to simply hear the words he spoke, Jesus commanded them to “Pay attention to what you hear” (Mark 4:24). There’s a big difference between “hearing” and “listening,” right? I used to wonder if some of my children even heard what I was saying when they didn’t respond to me, but I soon realized that about 98% of the time, they “heard,” they simply didn’t “heed!” In this passage, Jesus urges us to pay attention to what we hear in the dark and become lights to brighten the way for others. Are you in the dark, or walking in the light?

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18, ESV, but I really love the KJV better: “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day“).

If your whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle does give you light” (Luke 11:36).

He was a burning and a shining light: and you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light” (John 5:35; Jesus was speaking of John the Baptist in this verse, but what a commendation).

*Texts for today’s meditation: Luke 8:15-18, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25; 33-34, “And he said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. . . With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (86): Ears to Hear—On Fire or In Fire

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43).

Van Gogh’s Halbfigur eines Engels nach Rembrandt. 1889. Public Domain.

What a contrast between the righteous and “all causes of sin and all law-breakers” whom Jesus will command to be thrown “into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42). At the end of your life, which would you prefer—to be as radiant as the sun or burned up in the fire?

I usually like to share beautiful photos and paintings with you, but this passage just brought to mind the chronic problem we have with seaweed (emphasis on the weed) that grows along the edges of our dock. In order to keep the swimming area clear, every few days we have to pull up the encroaching seaweed with a big rake. Last night was one of those nights.

I tried using the seaweed as fertilizer on our grass, but it dries in mats, blotting out the sun so the grass can’t grow. I finally decided it’s not good for anything but to be burned. We let it dry out over night and then gather it up to throw in our fire pit. The thin weeds shrivel to almost nothing and hardly work for kindling. They burst into tiny flames and disintegrate in seconds.

Vincent van Gogh’s Wheatfield with reaper and peasant woman binding sheaves
1885, Public Domain

In Matthew 13, Jesus contrasts wheat and tares in a parable to help us think about our own lives. Wheat and tares look identical when they’re first growing, but wheat produces edible grain, whereas tares are useless. Are we producing fruit, or are we simply growing like a weed? What are we sowing in our lives? Here are a few sobering reminders to consider:

Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same” (Job 4:8).

He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail” (Proverbs 6:7).

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Van Gogh – Selbstbildnis mit verbundenem Ohr und Pfeife. 1889. Public Domain.
(Self-portrait with a bandaged ear and a pipe)

This past week I wrote about Vincent van Gogh, and I have used a number of his paintings to illustrate blogs. I want to close with this self-portrait, painted in the last year of his life. His ear is bandaged because he cut it off! I don’t know if he could still hear out of his right ear, but—aren’t you glad you still have both your ears? I’m thankful for mine! “He who has ears let him hear” (Matthew 13:43).

And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped” (Revelation 14:15-16).

Texts for today’s meditation: “Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear’” (Matthew 13:36-43).

Commencement Addresses: Short, Sweet, Powerful

It’s never too late to hear wise words from great people, so even though spring graduation ceremonies are past for 2020 and we’re on to summer fun, I thought you might appreciate short excerpts from two of the most inspiring commencement addresses I’ve ever heard. The first was given by Lou Holtz, coaching icon from Notre Dame, and the second by line backer Rick Rigsby. His story is mesmerizing, memorable, and brought tears to my eyes.

Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste‘” (Isaiah 28:16, ESV).

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (80): Go In Peace

Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). To me, this is the most comforting “command” that Jesus ever utters. I don’t think of Jesus as really commanding us to do anything, but he admonished us in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” That’s what this study is all about—understanding what Jesus taught and what we can apply to our own lives today. What are his commandments? Well, this is the 80th time Jesus gives someone an imperative, and it’s wonderful!

Banquet in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, 1573.
Now in the Accademia, Venice, Italy

Jesus had been invited to dinner at Simon’s home. Simon was a Pharisee—one of the elite religious “right” you might say, who were known for rigorously keeping every detail of the Law of Moses but had somehow become unbalanced. The Pharisees were focused on justice but had become blind to the other half of God’s mandates, including mercy, humility, and kindness.

Mary Magdalene at the door of Simon the Pharisee,
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1853.
Now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England

Common courtesy in those days included washing the feet of guests, but Simon did not honor Jesus in this way. However, there was a disreputable woman who came to the dinner, not as a guest, but with the desire to worship Jesus.

Mary and Christ at Simon the Pharisee’s Home by Peter Paul Rubens, 1620.
Now at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

She washed his feet with her tears and wiped his feet with her hair, then anointed his feet with ointment from a precious alabaster box she had brought. Simon was displeased. (In truth, I might also have been uncomfortable with such a public display of affection had I been there.)

Woman pouring water into a jar by Gerrit Dou in 1640.
Now in the Louvre in Paris, France

Thankfully, Jesus saw past the awkward externals and into her heart. He understood her sorrow over her sins and her desire to be good! So, instead of condemning her inappropriate behavior, he defended her repentance and faith as genuine, rebuked Simon for his lack of graciousness and love, and sent the woman on her way with this benediction: “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

If you—like me— have a tendency to be like Simon, may we hear and heed the rebuke. May we learn to be hospitable and kind to everyone, not just those we admire and find fascinating company, but also those who have repented and have hearts full of love for our Savior! If you identify more with the woman (traditionally thought to be Mary Magdalene), pursue Christ whole-heartedly. Don’t worry if you don’t meet all the mores for socially appropriate behavior. Your love for Jesus is fresh, passionate, and beautiful. Don’t worry about what anybody else is thinking. Worship the Lord and sit at his feet!

For all women, here is a very sweet two-minute video encouraging us to be like some of the virtuous women in the Bible:

Text for this meditation: “And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).

Mary Magdalene 1899. Viktor M. Vasnetsov