Category Archives: Visual Illustrations for Bible Verses

Meijer Garden: Tales About Being ABD and MIA

Did I tell you that our son, Stephen, recently became ABD? He’s been working on his PhD from Eastman School of Music in New York and recently passed his field exam, so now he’s completed all his class work and only has to write his dissertation. (Thus “ABD,” All But Dissertation completed.) Congratulations!This is a major cause for celebration, and while he was home taking a well earned break, we wandered all through the various venues of Meijer Garden.  No sooner had we returned home than I realized that one of my ear rings was MIA (missing in action). It was part of a set of gold fleur de lis from one of the french chateaus I’d visited with Stephen (and Alan and Joel) a few years ago, and although it wasn’t super expensive, it had a lot of sentimental value, so I was quite disappointed. However, it was too late to return that afternoon to search.I remembered walking in the Japanese Garden under a low-hanging bush that had caught my hair, and I’d tugged to get my hair loose. Could that be where it fell? But, if so, would I ever be able to find it again? If not, would anyone else ever see it? If they did, would they be inclined to turn it in…or keep it? I’ve heard that there are over 1,000 volunteers at Meijer Garden, and every one I’ve ever met has been sweet and pleasant, so it occurred to me that I should at least call the front desk and ask if they have a “Lost and Found,” and if so, to give them my name and number just in case anyone found it and turned it in.The lady who answered said she was almost done with her shift and could go out and look for me. I told her not to bother, but that I appreciated her offer, saying I’d come back first thing in the morning to look.However, before I could go searching the next morning, I got a call from the front desk, saying that my ear ring had been found and would be waiting for me! It made me think about the parable of the lost coin in the Bible (Luke 15), only in that story, the woman herself swept her house and looked everywhere until she found her lost coin, then wanted her friends to celebrate with her.In my experience, kind people came to my rescue! I asked if I could have the name and number of the person who had found the ear ring, but that sweet person (probably the volunteer?) had left no information. I couldn’t even thank them!Still, I want to thank all the 1,000+ volunteers at Meijer who help make it such a beautiful, warm, and welcoming place, and all the visitors who enjoy the gardens with care and integrity. I’m inspired! I’ll never be ABD, and I hope I’m never MIA, but if any of you are feeling MIA emotionally or spiritually, please contact someone (myself included!) to let them know you’re lost and would like to be found! Jesus is even better than a volunteer! Jesus is the good shepherd, who gave his life for lost sheep (people, like me), and if you call out to Him, He will rescue you and bring you safely home to heaven! As He taught, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
(Dorothy A. Thrupp, 1779-1847)

1. Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
much we need thy tender care;
in thy pleasant pastures feed us,
for our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

2. We are thine, thou dost befriend us,
be the guardian of our way;
keep thy flock, from sin defend us,
seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear, O hear us when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

3. Thou hast promised to receive us,
poor and sinful though we be;
thou hast mercy to relieve us,
grace to cleanse and power to free.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
We will early turn to thee.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
We will early turn to thee.

4. Early let us seek thy favor,
early let us do thy will;
blessed Lord and only Savior,
with thy love our bosoms fill.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Rise Up, My Love (287): What Kind of Grape Are You?

Song of Solomon 8:11 “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.” Baal-hamon means literally “Lord of a multitude” or “possessor of abundance” (according to Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1099). Scholars have not been able to tie this name to a particular geographic location, so there is debate over whether or not the bride intended this comment literally or figuratively.   However, rather than enter into insolvable supposition (and in keeping with our approach to understanding the entire book), let’s simply take this verse at face value and consider it on both levels. Let me try a generously amplified and expanded attempt at paraphrasing the bride’s statement: “Solomon, who is the Lord of a multitude and possesses great abundance, has a huge vineyard that he rents out to husbandmen. Each of these men pays Solomon a thousand pieces of silver year by year for the privilege of tending (and profiting from) his excellent grape vines.”   That’s a pretty straight forward declaration, and Isaiah 7:22-23 describes a similar picture of Israel experiencing a time of “butter and honey” with many locations “where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings.” It seems probable that during Solomon’s reign, each vine of a vineyard would rent out for one piece of silver, but the harvest would be so bountiful that the husbandman would make a handsome profit even beyond the silver required for rent. This verse in itself is just background information given by the bride to explain her actions in verse twelve, so both verses need to be examined to understand the bride’s activities.  However, verse eleven is rich with spiritual implications for our greater-than-Solomon husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. First, let’s consider the fact that the king had a vineyard. Where was his vineyard, and what was its name? “Baal-hamon”…“Lord of a Multitude.” God promised Israel that his descendants would be “as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 32:12).   In the Old Testament, we find that God was the Lord of a multitude, and that multitudinous vineyard was Israel. Isaiah 5:1-7 begins, “Now will I sing to my well beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.” The wording sounds like Solomon speaking to his bride, but it is God speaking to Israel as if she were His vineyard: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7).   God explained that he had chosen an ideal location and planted the choicest vine (which sounds like the definition of Baal-hamon to me), building a tower for protection and a press for productivity. In fact, he asked, “What could have been done more to my vineyard?” He did everything possible to prepare it for fruitfulness, but what happened? In Jeremiah 2:21 the Lord laments, “I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” Instead of being a fruitful vine, Israel turned away from him and produced only wild grapes!  What do you do with wild grapes? I can tell you. Have you eaten wild grapes? We call our home Tanglewood Cottage because it is in a woods practically over run by wild grape vines. The grapes are small but turn a beautiful purple in late summer and look wonderfully attractive. For the first few years, the kids and I would always try to harvest some, but they were consistently so sour that we finally gave up and bought some commercial grape vines advertised as producing large, sweet grapes, and planted them along the fence around our pool. We patiently tended those domestic vines for three seasons, hoping for many years of delicious fruit for our labors!  Our oldest son was married in a beautiful vineyard not far from here where his bride’s relatives produce grapes they sell to Welch’s to make grape juice, and the fruit is wonderful. Our California cousins live in a state where there are awesome grapes. We’ve seen hillsides full of luscious grapes from Italy to Tasmania, but can you guess what happened to us? Our new grapes turned out to be small and sour…not much different from the wild grapes. What happened?   I don’t know. I blamed our failure on bad soil, but God chose “a very fruitful hill” and still Israel failed. The whole process taught me a little bit about the frustration the Lord was expressing over Israel. He’d done everything for the Israelites, but instead of loving him and living godly lives…being a “fruitful vine,” as a nation they turned away from faith in him and disregarded his commands.   In Isaiah 5:5-6 God goes on to say that since Israel produced only “wild grapes,” God let his vineyard be wasted. Oh, Lord, as we consider this today, may we not be sour grapes that are good for nothing! Help us to produce sweet fruit by abiding in your Spirit!

(The photos are of vineyards near Veneto Italy and Castello Scaligero, taken during a trip to visit some of our kids, who live there, except for the photo of the wild grape vine, which was taken at our home, and the beautiful grapes, which was taken in Tasmania. [The grapes in Italy weren’t ripe yet.])

Rise Up, My Love (282): A Meditation on Cedar

Song of Solomon 8:9 “And if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” What else might King Solomon mean by saying that he would “inclose her with boards of cedar?” We have discussed the merits of cedar wood already in this study. To enclose her with boards of cedar would mean not only providing for her, but providing the very best for her, both physically and spiritually.  Cedar trees were considered the strongest: Job spoke of the great leviathan as thrashing his huge tail “like a cedar” (Job 40:17). Cedar trees were regarded as the most beautiful and the best: King David lived in a house made from cedar (2 Samuel 7:2), and his son, Solomon (who is the husband now speaking in our text), built his house, “and covered the house with beams and boards of cedar” (I Kings 6:9). The great temple built by Solomon was also enclosed with boards of cedar (I Kings 7). To enclose the younger sister in boards of cedar was—symbolically—to provide the very best for her, even as Solomon had provided the very best for his bride and his God!   Cedar trees were not only the tree of choice for strength, beauty, and durability, but cedar trees were also used in Scripture to picture royalty. In 2 Chronicles 25:18, King Joash of Israel likened himself to a cedar and derided the king of Judah by comparing him to a thistle. In Jeremiah 22, the Lord sent a scathing rebuke to King Zedekiah telling him that if he would not be a righteous king, God would judge him severely. During this prophecy, the Lord says, “Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar?” The intimation is that to enclose oneself in cedar is a kingly thing to do. To enclose the little sister in cedar was to treat her like royalty!   Indeed, our King will enclose us with the cedar of himself! In Zechariah 11:2, the rejection of the Messiah is likened to the destruction of a cedar tree: “Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen.” In Leviticus 14, cedar is mentioned five times in connection with the sacrifice offered in the ritual cleansing of homes. Cedar, because of its strength, beauty, durability and fragrance, speaks of our precious Lord’s character. He was offered up as a sacrifice for the redemptive cleansing of our bodies, the “home” of the Holy Spirit. And, just as the Leviticus sacrifice in the ritual cleansing was enveloped with the fragrance of burning cedar, so may we be both a living sacrifice made fragrant by Christ’s character, and a cleansed temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Then we, too, will be enclosed by boards of cedar like the little sister… encircled forever by Christ’s ineffable love.(Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons, and in particular Jerzy Strzelecki, for sharing their photos so freely!)

Good Friday: Practicing the Resurrection Principle

Are you anxious about some challenge in your life? Good Friday is the perfect time to remember the Resurrection Principle, which a friend shared with me from Reader’s Digest. By the way, do you ever read Reader’s Digest? My parents subscribed when I was a child, but I didn’t even know it was still in existence until I looked it up today on Wikipedia and read that it’s the largest paid circulation magazine in the world. So, maybe you’ve read all about the Resurrection Principle already, but if not, let me pass along what my friend suggested: “Prayerfully wait three days before becoming anxious about any problem, because most of the time, the problem will be resolved.”

At first I thought, “What? Usually only the most insignificant issues are resolved in three days unless it’s good news about a test or something.” As I considered the challenges in my life that tend to make me anxious, I felt like almost all of them are long-term, on-going difficulties which are out of my control and often take years to resolve. However, it occurred to me that Christ rose again after three days, and that’s the most significant resolution of any problem in the world!

So, like leprous Naaman in 2 Kings 5, I decided to try the Resurrection Principle and see what happened. I found that prayerfully waiting three days rarely brought a clear resolution that chased the clouds away and left me with no further need for faith or dependence on the Lord. However, as I practiced praying earnestly for three days before freaking out, I discovered that most problems were resolved in this way: I learned to lay them down at the feet of Jesus and find peace. It is completely worthwhile to follow 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Does God love us? Yes. Does God have the power to help us? Yes. Will God answer our prayers in a way that makes us more like Christ and brings glory to Himself? Yes. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).If you’re struggling with anxiety this Good Friday, why not start practicing the Resurrection Principle? Develop the habit of praying earnestly for three days before you allow yourself to give in to anxious thoughts. Hopefully, this will keep you from jumping on the anxiety roller coaster at all, and perhaps you, like me, will more often be able to find a sense of serenity and rest even in the midst of life’s battles, knowing that God loves us, hears us, and will answer our prayers! Let’s allow the resurrection power and ministry of Christ to flood our souls with light in the darkness, transforming us from anxious souls into spiritual beings.

The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him” (Lamentations 3:25).

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

(Thanks to Bob Hardee for the two photos with scripture verses imprinted on them!)



An Easter Meditation from Nepal: There is a Sacrifice Better than the Blood of Bulls and Goats

One sunny day in early October last fall, we visited Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a vibrant potpourri of palaces and temples dating back nearly a thousand years.  Nepal is a melting pot of eastern religions, I think not only because it’s a very small country sandwiched between China and India, but also because it has a heritage of religious thinkers, including the original Buddha.  Durbar Square reflects this confluence of eastern spiritual ideas by providing places of worship for many gods and goddesses from various  religions, most prominently Hindu and Buddhist. There is even a Temple for Kumari, home of Nepal’s “living goddess” (a little girl chosen about once a decade who becomes a “goddess” until she hits puberty). There is also a temple to the Hindu god of destruction, and a statue of Hanuman, son of the Hindu wind god, Vayu.  The day we visited was a particularly holy day for the Buddhists, who were  slaughtering 108 bulls and goats as a sacrifice to appease the 108 manifestations of Buddha on earth.  To westerners, it seemed so macabre that many of our group turned their heads and walked away, looking for something less awful to take their attention. However, I was stood mesmerized, contemplating the somber import of this ritual and recalling a verse from the Bible: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). It occurred to me that every religion recognizes the need for us as sinful humans to somehow become reconciled to a holy god, but only in Christianity do we find a high priest who is willing and able to offer the ultimate sacrifice: Himself, unblemished and without sin, to die as a sacrifice for the sins of everyone in the entire world so that any person who is willing can be reconciled to the God who is “God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deuteronomy 10:17).  Are you willing to be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus? That’s what Easter is all about—the death and resurrection of Christ. He died for us and rose again to redeem us from our sins and make us into new creations, children of our heavenly Father who will love and serve the living God!  Christ appeared as a high priest… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV; the entire chapter is excellent reading to understand redemption through the blood of Christ).  Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

(Credits: I took all the photos last fall in Durbar Square, Nepal, except for the depiction of Jesus on the cross, painted by Rembrandt in 1631, and the picture with Psalm 63:2, contributed by my friend, Bob Hardee.)

Got Time for Some Funny Puns?

You may have seen this forward already, but I hadn’t, so I’m passing it along to you, just in case you need something to make you smile:

“Lexophile” is a word used to describe those that have a love for words, such as “you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish” or “to write with a broken pencil is pointless.” A competition to see who can come up with the best lexophiles is held every year in an undisclosed location.

This year’s winning submission is posted at the very end.

… When fish are in schools, they sometimes take debate. 

… A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months. 

… When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A. 

… The batteries were given out free of charge.

… A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.

… A will is a dead giveaway. 

… With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

… A boiled egg is hard to beat. 

… When you’ve seen one shopping center you’ve seen a mall. 

… Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest. 

… Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off?   He’s all right now. 

… A bicycle can’t stand alone; it’s just two tired.

… When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds. 

… The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine is now fully recovered. 

… He had a photographic memory which was never developed. 

… When she saw her first strands of grey hair she thought she’d dye. 

… Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it. 

And the cream of the twisted crop:

… Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.

ALWAYS LAUGH WHEN YOU CAN;  IT’S CHEAP MEDICINE!

     This last photo is used by permission of Robert Hardee. Thank you, Bob!

 

Rise Up, My Love (277): What’s in a Wall?

Song of Solomon 8:9. “If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” Let’s start with just the first thought: “If she be a wall…” What does it mean to be a wall? In the next verse, the bride declares that she herself is a “wall” with “towers,” which won her a place of favor in her husband’s eyes, so we can assume the couple felt that being a wall was a good thing. So, what is a wall, literally and metaphorically?

Literally, a wall is a structure that gives definition; it sets boundaries and limits; it protects. I’ve read that in ancient times, building a wall was the first step toward building a city, since walls were necessary for protection against wild beasts and foreign invaders. It was only after the walls came crashing down that the Israelites were able to successfully conquer Jericho (Joshua 6:5). When King Sennacherib led the Assyrians in a campaign against Israel, King Hezekiah immediately began his defense by building up the walls of Jerusalem: “He strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without”(2 Chronicles 32:5). When Nehemiah was called to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem, the first thing he did was rebuild the wall around the city (Nehemiah 12:27-32).

Metaphorically, a wall was used as a symbol of strength and security. David and his men were described as a protective “wall unto us both by night and day” while Nabal’s shepherds were out in the wild caring for their flocks (I Samuel 25:16). In Zachariah 2:5, the Lord promises that He will be “a wall of fire round about” Jerusalem to protect her from harm. In Proverbs 18:11 we are warned that a rich man will often fail to trust in the Lord for his help and mistakenly consider wealth as “his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.”

Truly, are we any different today? How many of us are tempted to feel secure if we have stable jobs and a good income? I know that’s a natural tendency in me, and I have to keep reflecting on the truth that “the horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). Virtually no one lives within a walled city any more, but I’ve seen lots of fence walls. In the vast tracts of tiny, hovel dwellings built on the garbage dumps of Agua Prieta, Mexico, I’ve seen fences around twenty-by-twenty foot compounds made out of bedsprings, trash, and cactus; in China I’ve seen walls with razor rolls on top and chunks of glass embedded in the concrete…all to keep people out.

And here in America, don’t we feel safer within the walls of our own home? I do! One of my dearest friends had a husband who always felt a huge sense of relief every night as he pulled into their driveway, so I gave him a plaque to hang on the wall of their garage right where he parked his car that read: Home Free! Isn’t that the way we feel? (At least, if our home is happy.)

Walls do protect and keep us safe…as long as we’re on the inside. However, if we’re on the outside of a wall trying to get in…well that’s another story! A wall that keeps strangers out makes us feel safe, but a wall that keeps us out can be terribly frustrating. Metaphorically, a wall is something that stops us from going any further. We speak of “hitting the wall” when we can’t go any further because we’re exhausted, being driven “up the wall” when we’re totally frustrated because we can’t reach our goal, and being “off the wall” when we’ve ceased being rational in the pursuit of our goal.

God made Jeremiah like “a fenced brasen wall” to the rebellious Israelites, “and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 15:20). God told Ezekiel to take an iron pan “and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city,” as a sign to Israel that God would not deliver them in the day of judgment because they refused to repent (Ezekiel 4:3). A wall sets limits. It can either work for us or against us, depending on who we are and what we want.

“If she be a wall…” Although this is the groom speaking of a younger sister, the bride later affirms that she is a wall, so as a spiritual exercise let’s consider these questions for ourselves: What kind of a wall am I? What walls have I erected in my life? Who or what am I keeping in and out of my life? Please ponder these questions right now, and if you happen to be reading with someone else, stop and talk about your thoughts together. Are you strong, straight, true, and able to protect? Are your wall boundaries what you want them to be? Are they effective? (If you know you have boundary problems [definitely a weak area for me], consider reading the New York Times bestseller, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend).

When I was in China, I walked along the top of the Great Wall one rainy day. People bobbed along under rainbow-colored umbrellas, and I could see out across a vast countryside of green and brown. The Great Wall is still one of the man-made wonders of the earth, but it is no longer used as a defensive boundary. Its main use today is as a romantically grand, pleasure walkway where millions of people come for refreshment every year.

What kind of a wall am I? What kind of wall are you? Oh, Lord, may we tear down any walls that we’ve attempted to make out of the trash and broken glass in our lives to keep you or others “at bay.” Help us to be straight, strong, and true to keep sin out of our lives, but not you or those you’ve created. Help us to be like a spiritual Great Wall: a display of your glory, but no longer a barrier to keep others out. May our hearts instead become a place where others may come to be strengthened, renewed, and refreshed. And, Lord, may we always take you as our wall of defense. Please be a wall of fire around us to keep us safely within your heart and will.

A friend of ours, Bob Hardee, sent this light-hearted photo after Alan and I had visited several castles in the U.K. with our two youngest. Truly, our homes are our “castles,” aren’t they? But, the real question is: How do we use the walls we’ve built?!