Black and White Challenge

“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22)

My daughter-in-law Carlie tagged me in a Facebook challenge to post seven black and white photos in seven days with no explanation or words. At the time, my life was spinning too fast to take her up on it, but tomorrow the holiday festivities begin with the first family arriving, and between now and the New Year, we have high hopes of seeing all twelve of our children (counting our in-law kids) and eighteen grandchildren except those who live in Belgium. Therefore, my life is going to be even busier . . . possibly too busy to write my blog! So, I’m thinking to have a series of seven black and white photos that depict what life has been like over the past few weeks (albeit interrupted over the weekend with my usual recipe post on Saturday and a scripture meditation on Sunday). Perhaps over the Christmas to New Year week I can post a series of color photos that relate to our holidays and the joy of family (from another popular challenge going around Facebook these days called “Grandma”).

Because my heart is to share the Lord, I’m allowing myself one scripture verse caption for each photo, but I won’t indulge in any other explanations or words. Hope you enjoy!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (57): Consider the Lilies

Among the world’s most beautiful living plants, I can’t think of anything more gorgeous than flowers. How about you? Trees can be majestic and fill me with awe, but for sheer pleasure, there is no botanical sensory experience I enjoy more than visiting a lush flower garden bursting with extravagantly colored blooms . . . especially if they perfume the air! The profusion of shapes and sizes . . . the uniqueness of each blossom . . . I sometimes feel like I’ve died and gone to a Thomas Kinkaide heaven!

Lilies and delphinium growing in our garden

Therefore, it was with great joy that I embarked on a memory tour of my favorite lily photos to share with you while meditating on today’s texts: Matthew 6:28-30 “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Luke 12:27 “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Amaryllis. belladonna (aka/Belladonna Lily)

When I typed “lily” into my photo library’s search bar, it brought up 434 pictures (about 300 of which weren’t actually lilies), so the first thing I realized is that there are many flowers that look like lilies but aren’t.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) growing along our lane
Some scholars believe this could be the “lily” from Song of Solomon
Rather idyllic rendering of Jesus preaching to the people about lilies,
but these are what are commonly considered “true lilies.”

Even within the generous group of flowers that I always thought of as “types of lilies”— with common names containing the word “lily” . . . most of them are not actually part of the genus “lilium,” and are therefore not true lilies by botanical class or definition!

Nymphaeaceae, Pink Water lily in Thailand

For instance, all the gorgeous “water lilies” —lotus flowers—found around the world are not “true” lilies!

Water lily in our lake

Nor are any of the common (but splendid) water lilies that choke the perimeter of our lake part of the lilium family. I am so surprised!!

Lily-of-the-Valley, Convallaria majalis, growing in my front yard

The thousands of lilies of the valley that crowd the edges of our woods are not true lilies!

Trout Lily in our woods, Erythronium
(in truth, more closely related to tulips than true lilies!)

Not even the tiny trout lilies that dapple our woods in spring can be called genuine lilies! I was amazed when I learned this (just now, through study for this post)! 😦

Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria aurea) found in Iguaçu National Park, Brazil

Even this delicate “Peruvian lily” that I noticed growing near Iguaçu Falls is not a member of the “lilium” genus. So, the first thing I learned in considering the lilies is that there are many flowers called lilies which are not genuine lilies.

Lotus flowers blooming in Fort-de-France, Martinque

As I believe you are someone interested in studying what Jesus taught, I think it’s worth considering: Are you a genuine Christian?

Springtime in Monet’s Garden, Giverny, near Paris, France

The world is full of beautiful people, many of whom may call themselves Christians or think of themselves as Christians without truly be a part of the genuine family of Christians. Jesus taught us that: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). How can a man be born again? “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

Easter lily, uncurling in the early morning light

It is my hope and prayer that if you are reading this, you either are—or will become—a true child of God through faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior!

Lilies at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

All true children of God—whether or not rich and part of some magnificent church . . .

Red lily growing wild in the french Alps

or alone, growing in some remote area of the world . . .

Peach-colored lily growing along our fence line (Michigan)

each of us is precious to God and can claim the promise intrinsic in what Jesus taught:

Tiger lilies growing in our yard
(along with blue delphinium and wild black raspberries)

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30).

Bouquet with lilies on our kitchen table

Any of you feel pretty as a picture (or pretty as a picture of a flower)?
For me, I say, “Not a chance!”

Budding Tiger Lilies on our lane

Most lilies (particularly the common “tiger lilies” that grow everywhere around our home in Michigan), put on an extravagant display in July, but each flower only lasts for a single day, and then withers, often being replaced by another emerging bud.

Peonies and tiger lilies in our garden

Although the (literally) hundreds of lilies growing around our home have to fear being eaten by the deer, they do not fret over what they’re going to wear!


Spring Bouquet

They don’t toil all night spinning the dress of gold they’ll wear on the morrow!

Star-gazer lily in a basket of flowers

And yet, have you ever met any person robed any more elegantly than a lily?

Easter lilies in full bloom

I may just be a sucker for flowers, but I wouldn’t trade the beauty and perfume of a dazzling lily for the most elaborately adorned woman. Would you? (I’m not talking about the woman, I’m talking about how beautiful her dress is . . . and maybe you would think her dress is more lovely than a flower. That’s fine too, but I would not.)

Bouquet of lilies, roses, and babies’ breath

Regardless of how much you prize clothing and shoes and jewelry and accessories, the point is this: God will take care of us if we’ll let him, and He doesn’t want us to spend all our time worrying and fretting about not having or being. He has a better plan for us!

Lilies growing over the edge of our swimming pool

God wants us to grow where we’re planted and concentrate on being and loving, not having and doing! Sound like a good plan?!

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (55): “Take No Thought for Your Life”

Some of Jesus’s commands seem impossibly hard, but others seem simply impossible. This is one of the latter! How in the world can we, as humans, actually “take no thought” about the most basic aspects of our physical lives: Food and clothing? After all, doesn’t the Bible teach us that, “having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8)? Or, in other words, “As long as we have food and clothes, we should be satisfied” (Names of God Bible rendering).

I can get far enough in my thinking to understand that Jesus doesn’t want us to be all caught up in material possessions and to imagine that it’s possible to be content with simple food and shelter. My mother, who grew up on the western prairies with a fierce pioneer spirit, claimed as her theme songs “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964)

I—on the other hand—identify more with Eliza from My Fair Lady, who sang:

“All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?”

That’s me! I could be content with a quiet corner of a small, warm home ( . . . especially if I had access to my camera and computer! 🙂 ) How about you?

I always thought contentment with “whatsoever state I’m in” (Philippians 4:11) was the goal, but Jesus calls us to something higher! He challenges us to “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25). If life is more than eating and the body more than clothing, then what is that “more”? What’s more for you? Got any thoughts?

I’d love to hear your response! Is there anything in life even more essential to your well being than food and shelter? What’s the essence of your life? Is there anything even better than life to you? I’ve been pondering this passage particularly in light of just returning from a cruise down the Amazon River. There is something better than life to me, and I’ll try to be ready to share it with illustrations from Amazonia by this coming Tuesday!

Texts for today: Matthew 6:25, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” and Luke 12:22-23, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.

(Painting of Jesus holding a little girl by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com )

Magnify

Do you ever wake up on a rainy morning and say to yourself, “I just need to go for a walk!”?

Peony crowned with raindrops

Yesterday was one of those days for me, so I donned my raincoat, grabbed my trusty umbrella (to protect my camera), and took off to see what I could see!

Orange Bearded Iris in Rain

It was as I thought—absolutely beautiful!

Peony buds in the rain

The amazing beauty of springtime
is always exhilarating and glorious, isn’t it?!

Purple Bearded Iris

First I walked along the lane to check out the woods and swamp.

Wood ducks in a swamp

At first, I didn’t see anything of particular interest, but then I saw a movement in the distance. It wasn’t until I was able to zoom in with my camera that I got a clear picture: a pair of wood ducks resting on a log, trying to negotiate the rain. They kept shaking their wings, and I smiled, thinking about the saying that something is as insignificant as “water off a duck’s back.” Not if you’re a duck! They worked hard to shake all the rain off their feathers!

Montmoreceny cherries starting to ripen in rain

I’ve been meditating my way through the Book of Psalms in the mornings lately (and I most highly recommend Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David for eloquent insights on the these comforting scriptures)! We need a lot of life’s drenching rains to grow spiritually. Bless God for rain; without it we would all die!

Wild roses blooming on our lane

That morning, I was meditating on Psalm 34:3, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” I feel like just one little wild rose, but one blossom in the midst of a cluster of wild roses can still attract attention . . . and may any attention we attract always magnify our wondrous creator, who has “made everything beautiful in his time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)!

Water droplets falling off lily pad leaves

I thought about how much more we can see when something is magnified. Without my camera, and it’s wonderful capacity for magnifying life, I would have known it was raining, but I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the distant pair of wood ducks or seen the tiny droplets of water dripping off the edge of the lily pads. May those of us who know God be like magnifying lenses for those who don’t.

Honeysuckle

Although I could smell the heady sweetness of honeysuckle, without magnification, I couldn’t really appreciate how beautiful it is. As we meditate on God’s beauty and draw near to him, may we share that sweetness with those around us!

Elaeagnus angustifolia, commonly called Russian olive, silver berry, oleaster,
Persian olive or wild olive

We have lots of Russian olives in bloom along our lane, but how could I explain to you how joyous they look without magnification?

Highbush Cranberry blossoms

We can’t “magnify the Lord” in the sense of making him anything greater than he is, because he is the Creator who holds the universe in his hands! He is already higher than the heavens and deeper than the seas . . . crowned with beauty and glory!

Mock orange budding in the rain

But, as we draw near to him and begin to appreciate his beauty, we are filled with such awe that we want to share what we’ve experienced with others, just like I love sharing my experiences with you!

Daisy

With magnification, even the common experiences of life become uncommon . . . like the daily miracles we may fail to notice—the breathe of life, color, water . . .

Nightshade

Only through the magnification of God’s Word do we learn to understand that not everything which is beautiful to look is also safe to eat. Some things are really bejeweled poison! “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isaiah 42:21).

Waterlily bud in the rain

Only with magnification can we see the tiny details, like the minuscule fly resting on the lily. (Can you see it?) “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). Can you think of anywhere outside scripture where we are given so many insights about the “little” details of righteousness?

Tiny clover blossoms and a tiny slug

I realized that magnification makes me aware of the fragility of life. How easily I might have stepped on these delicate clovers growing in the middle of the road! Even more surprising, there was a miniature slug sitting in the middle of one of them, which I really did not see until I studied the photo later! Whom might we harm because they’re in the middle of our road?? Ever read the children’s book, Horton Hears a Who?

Robin Hood Roses in rain, out of focus!

Finally, I realized that the most powerful camera in the world (which I certainly don’t own . . . but for the sake of argument), with the best magnification potential in the world, would be absolutely useless if it isn’t focused properly! If we don’t learn how to use the Bible (the world’s most powerful tool for revealing and magnifying God) to focus others on the magnificence of God, we won’t have anything worth sharing with others! Instead, we’ll be much more likely to confuse or frustrate them.

Robin Hood Roses in the rain

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
(Psalm 69:30)

Just an Itsy Bitsy Mouse

What’s not to love about a tiny mouse? Bright black eyes, pink ears and tail, tiny little paws. Soft and shy.

While they’re adorable when you find them out in the field, and it’s somewhat funny to find an old boot stuffed full of dog food that they’ve stolen from your pet’s dish,

it’s not adorable or funny when they confer with the mice of NIHM on how to colonize your screen house and start chewing holes in your home!

Therefore, we’ve had to resort to capturing them in live traps and taking them to a nearby reserve where we set them free to begin life anew in a vast park with ample supplies of all things mousely.

Alan and I have started making little dates out of our evening adventures, but—despite transporting them to new and improved surroundings—I always feel a little sad in case we’re separating parents and children (or whatnot), and so I make up stories about how this mouse is actually the husband, who is going to build a new nest in preparation for his beloved wife . . .

who will be arriving just in time for dinner tomorrow. In fact, over the past few months, Alan has caught myriad mice and chipmunks between his 6 live traps laden with peanut butter and bird seed . . . an apparently irresistible combination!

I have such a mother’s heart for little creatures that it’s hard to relocate them, but I’m thankful that Alan has a father’s heart to protect our home from intruders, even little ones, because they are actually quite destructive and dirty.

Remembering Song of Solomon 2:15 has helped me reconcile myself to the fact that “we ain’t in heaven yet,” and if we don’t protect ourselves from invasion, the consequences can be severe. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

We do have lots of tender grapes growing now, and possibly a fox or two in our woods, but even more importantly, I think there is a spiritual message for us in this passage.

Mice aren’t bad, and chipmunks aren’t bad. Neither are mosquitoes, spiders, flies, ants, or stinkbugs. But, if they invade our homes, then they are out of place and need to be captured and removed!

It’s easy to imagine the parallels in our lives and families, isn’t it? Got anything in your life that isn’t “bad” in and of itself, but will erode and damage your home if you don’t remove it? Maybe you can start having some nightly dates with your spouse to “catch” those sneaky little foxes and get rid of them! Don’t be sentimental. Be severe!! Protect yourself and your loved ones!

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” (2 Corinthians 10:3-7).

Contrasting Two Groups of Rebels

Last weekend—perhaps because we unconsciously had Memorial Day, war, and death on our hearts—we watched two movies that, as it turned out, had more in common than I ever could have imagined! Both are based on true events, both involved teams of men who believed they were being heroes, and both groups were on highly illegal missions. However, the outcomes of their actions were as different as night and day!

If you’re like me, you probably have vivid memories of the second event (which occurred just 18 years ago and has changed our country forever), but you’ve probably never even heard of the other (which occurred secretly in 1948). A Wing and a Prayer is a 2015 documentary making public the rogue heroism of a team of ex-World War 2 vets who risked (some gave) their lives to prevent a second holocaust from occurring in Israel when the Brits left the freshly-minted Jewish nation without any weapons to defend their new-found freedom from the planned attacks of neighboring nations.

In contrast, United 93 is a 2006 portrayal of what happened on September 11, 2001, when 13 Islamic terrorists hijacked four commercial jets, killing 2,996 people, injuring over 6,000 others, and causing some $10 billion in damages. It will always be remembered as “9-11.”

Three of the aircraft reached their targets that fateful morning: Two crashing into the heart of the World Trade Center and a third dive-bombing the Pentagon, but because of the heroism of the passengers aboard United 93, that flight never reached its target.

Instead, United’s flight 93 plunged into a field in Pennsylvania, where all the passengers were killed instantly.

Think of the contrasts between these two events! In A Wing and a Prayer, about 13 men (many of whom were not even Jewish but were motivated by compassion) acted in opposition to the law in order to protect the lives of a beleaguered people still grieving the terrible exterminations and terrors they experienced during World War 2.

These young pilots weren’t terrorists, they were trying to protect foreign people from being terrorized. Many of them were not particularly religious; this was not a “holy war.” However, the men took a moral stand against the American government, who was refusing to aid the Israelis for fear of alienating Middle Eastern leaders with whom we were involved in commercial (oil) enterprise. Their punishment: $10,000 in fines per person and the loss of their civil rights.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed after capture. Wiki. Public Domain

In contrast, the 13 al-Qaeda terrorists were on a mission, not to protect foreigners but to terrorize them. Not to preserve but to destroy. They were not taking a moral stand against wrong; they thought murder and terror was “right!” Their hope of reward? Suicidal death leading to immediate transportation to paradise. No fines, no imprisonment, no punishment, no loss of privileges. But, tragically, the loss of their lives along with those of thousands of others.

I highly recommend your watching the one-hour documentary on A Wing and a Prayer. However, I confused United 93 with Flight 93, which I saw 13 years ago and definitely prefer. Flight 93 has a PG-13 rating and tells much the same story without the terrible language or quite as much blood. So, I guess that’s yet another contrast between two movies!

Last thought, but I’d also like to contrast the Christian and Muslim views on heaven and how to get there. Muslims believe in a sensual paradise filled with pure rivers of water, milk, honey, and wine, where men can take pleasure in beautiful women every day (among other things). Christians believe in a physical paradise but with a spiritual purpose: Worship and fellowship with God and fellow human beings. Jesus taught that in paradise people would not marry but would be like the angels in heaven. The emphasis is not on personal sensual gratification, but on love in its highest and most transcendent forms.

What about how to get to heaven? Muslims believe you can only be assured of going straight to paradise by dying for Allah. Christians believe you can only be assured of going straight to paradise by believing in Jesus, the God who died for us! Muslims hope to get to paradise by being good. Christians know they’ll never be “good enough” to get to heaven, but they trust in Jesus, who was perfect, and who died for each and every one of us, so that we can be reconciled to God by repenting of our sins and putting our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

Want to be assured of heaven when you die? You don’t need to become a suicidal terrorist! Believe in Jesus, and embrace him as your Savior!

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (32): Let Your Light Shine

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ). In this passage, Jesus tells us that we are both salt and light. Salt flavors and heals. Light helps us see. Salt is a hard mineral—tiny bits of rock with sharp edges; it can cause a lot of pain if it gets in our eyes. Light seems almost metaphysical (although it isn’t); without light, we can’t see anything, but too much light can blind us. Salt makes our food taste better; light makes our world look better. Too much salt makes our food inedible. Too much light makes it impossible to see anything. How can we be salt and light in a way that brings healing without the hurt and light without the blindness?

Presque Isle Lighthouse in Marquette, Michigan

For one thing, Jesus wants us to shine like a lantern, or like the lamp in a lighthouse—not brash and in your face, but clean-burning, steady, and dependably good. While visiting Big Sable Point Lighthouse a few days ago, we heard about the huge fresnel lenses from years ago that had to be continually polished inside and out to keep them clear.

Second-generation fresnel lens from Stannard Rock Lighthouse, now in Marquette, MI

The one at Ludington had a light that would extend 18 miles across the water by using a spherical reflector with the filament of the lamp placed exactly at the focus point of the reflector. Ah, being focused is so important! It’s not just living in a whirl of activity, but living in such a way that we are truly radiating God’s goodness.

I’ve also been thinking about the hard lives of the lighthouse keepers . . . the isolation, the constant need to refuel the lights night and day, severe weather, dangerous work of going outside to polish the lenses, and the need for the lens to be perfectly focused in order to send the beam out so far that it actually reached to the point where the curvature of the earth made it impossible to see the light any more, no matter how bright the light was.

Light in Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Today, modern technology and electricity have revolutionized lighting, and a very “wimpy-looking” lantern can emit enough light to reach 15 miles. Christ followers in America have it very easy compared to those in most nations around the world. We don’t have to suffer great hardships and live in constant danger, isolation, and deprivation. I feel like a wimpy little light. HOWEVER, God still calls us to be lights, and keeping spiritually clean, pure, and in good spiritual working order is absolutely as essential in America as in the darkest corner of the earth. (In fact, America seems to becoming more and more one of those dark corners of the earth!) No matter where we live, let’s continue to obey Jesus and let our lights shine out by faithfully doing good works. Why? Not so we look good, but so people will see the Light of Life—God himself—shining out through us and glorify Him.

Marquette Lighthouse in Michigan

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning
(-Philip P. Bliss, 1871, Public Domain)

  1. Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,
    From His lighthouse evermore,
    But to us He gives the keeping
    Of the lights along the shore.
    • Refrain:
      Let the lower lights be burning!
      Send a gleam across the wave!
      Some poor struggling, fainting seaman
      You may rescue, you may save.
  2. Dark the night of sin has settled,
    Loud the angry billows roar;
    Eager eyes are watching, longing,
    For the lights along the shore.
  3. Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
    Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
    Trying now to make the harbor,
    In the darkness may be lost.

Text for this meditation: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16).

*Painting of Jesus with the lamb is by Yongsung Kim and used by his permission, website: Havenlight.com The rest are mine (as always unless otherwise noted), taken this past year in Ludington and Marquette, Michigan.