Casting Your Bread Upon the Waters

Over the years, I’ve felt led by the verse, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8) when it comes to blogging and sharing photos, so whenever someone has asked my permission to use a picture, I’ve always given permission without charge. Of course, I appreciate it when they credit me (and give a link back to my blog if appropriate), but as long as they aren’t selling my work per se, I’m happy to share the gifts that God has given me—in this case the privilege and leisure to observe and record glimpses into God’s magnificent creation.

Over time, my photos have shown up in dozens of diverse venues. To name a few: posters for national parks, a book on Central Park, advertisements for state fairs and tourist sites, a video for carpet cleaner, the front cover for an Episcopalian magazine, a tee-shirt design, as part of a composer’s music video, to enlarge and print for use in various people’s private homes, as subject matter for a young artist’s painting, many times to illustrate the blogs of fellow writers, and most recently, to be used in a large-format sepia drawing to be displayed in a public building. I’ve even noticed (a bit to my dismay) that sometimes my photos are used without my permission. In particular, two have showed up as wall paper designs for sale in Greece! 🙂

I have also had many friends and family members who have allowed me to use their photos and other creative work on my blogs, and I am deeply grateful for each of these dear friends! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! However, I have recently been amazed and blessed by a gift from an extremely talented Korean artist, Yongsung Kim.

It all happened as I began diligently searching the internet for free images of the life of Christ to illustrate my new series (“Meditating on the Commands of Christ”) since I cannot go anywhere to take photographs of Jesus at this point and have no talent as an illustrator. I can find wonderful classical paintings of Jesus, but I was longing for some fresh, modern interpretations that might be more appealing to today’s generation and kept coming across paintings by Yongsung Kim that were so original and evocative that they’d take my breath away.

I found Yongsung Kim’s website but was reluctant to ask if I could use his pictures because his artistry is his living, but I also knew that I could never afford to pay him for the value of using of his paintings, since I am not generating any income.

However, I also knew that I have been happy to share what God has given me as a free blessing to others, and so I thought it might be worth asking him! Amazingly, he has given me permission to use his paintings on my blog as long as I credit him and don’t use them for commercial purposes.

So, a huge thank you to Yongsung Kim. I will be sure to credit him at the end of any blog where I use his paintings, and I’ll start right now with a link to his home page:https://www.foundationarts.com/yongsung-kim

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).


Meditating on the Commands of Christ (28): What Does It Mean to Have Mercy and Not Sacrifice?

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).

Last Sunday, on Easter morning, a friend who had been dear to my heart for almost 50 years died. Two of his daughters were at his bedside, holding his hands when he breathed his last. This was not an easy death. After 30 years of marriage, my friend walked out on his wife and family in order to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. You can imagine how shattered his married daughters were to discover that their father preferred seeking his own pleasure (over a thousand miles away) to being an active husband, father, and grandfather. I think their act of honoring love is the perfect example of what Jesus was trying to teach in today’s study.

Jesus had invited Matthew to become his disciple, and Matthew immediately accepted. One of the first things Matthew did in response was invite all his friends over for a big dinner party so they could meet Jesus. What a perfect way for Matthew to share what he was experiencing with those he loved best! When you love someone, don’t you want them to meet your friends?

Well, the Pharisees objected to this and criticized Jesus for eating with “publicans and sinners,” but—as is the usual case—they didn’t confront Jesus directly. Rather, they complained to Jesus’ disciples. Nevertheless—as is also usual—the complaints eventually made their way to Christ, who had no qualms about explaining his actions: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).

This is not idle conversation. Jesus really wanted the Pharisees to understand this saying, which came from Hosea 6:6, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” We see the end of the Pharisees failure to understand just a few chapters later, where they are criticizing Jesus and his disciples for picking ears of corn from a field to eat on the Sabbath. There Jesus rebukes them for not learning what he’d tried to teach them: “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:7-8).

What is it that Jesus wants us to learn? Showing mercy means even more to God than offering a sacrifice. Loving others who need help is more pleasing to God than bringing him an offering. In fact, caring for those in need is an offering to God. It is a sacrifice of love! Which would make you happier: Having your little girl bring you a bunch of flowers, or watching your little girl helping a smaller child who had fallen down and was crying?

Life is not about external conformity; it’s about internal transformation. We are created as image-bearers of God, and He wants us to grow more and more like He is, not in the ways we can’t (such as in his omnipotence and omniscience) but in his attributes. Specifically, in this context, God is not only just, he is also deeply merciful. The Jewish leaders in the days of Christ had added an insurmountable heap of regulations onto the laws that God had given them. For instance, there is no law in the Bible against inviting people to your home to hear the message of Christ, but the Pharisees thought it was scandalous to associate with anyone who didn’t agree with them politically or religiously. Wrong.

Concerning their allegation that Jesus was “breaking the sabbath,” the principle God gave us was to set aside a day for rest and worship each week, which was not meticulously defined in Exodus 20:8. It says simply, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Jesus and his disciples were probably much better able to rest and worship with a light meal of fresh corn than they would have been on empty stomachs!

In the Bible, we are given all sorts of principles to guide our lives. I like to think of them as the Path of Life. In Psalm 25:10 we learn, “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.” I think of mercy and truth as being the boundary markers along the Path of Life. What we do must be “truth” (must be right) based on keeping God’s laws, but what we do must also be bounded by mercy. If we fail to do what’s right, or if we fail to do what’s merciful, then we have gotten off the true Path of Life. One regrettable memory I have is turning down an opportunity to see a sick sister because I thought it would be wrong to miss church. The scripture tells us not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25), but that does not mean it is always wrong to miss any service of our churches. There are times when it’s more important to be showing mercy, which is exactly what my friend’s two daughters were doing on Easter. Instead of being in church with their children, they flew across the country to bring the light of God’s presence into a very sad, dark corner of this world.

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck;
write them upon the table of thine heart” (Proverbs 3:3).

Texts for this study:

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:10-13).

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:1-8).

O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me” (Hosea 6:4-7).

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20: 8-11).

Willow, Weep for Me?

I will weep for you!
How is it that simple winds
Can break a huge tree?

Although weeping willows grow quickly to great heights and are often prized by romantics (like me) for their long, gracefully arching branches and lacey leaves, they are relatively short-lived (about 50 years). They have vast root systems that suck up huge amounts of water, and in the winter, the water can freeze, causing the branches to become rigid and brittle. So, despite their beauty and size, weeping willows are prone to ice damage, and even a stiff spring wind can cause a great fall, such as happened recently to one of the lovely willows along our lane.

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes the healthy way for a church to grow. Have you noticed that some churches grow at amazingly rapid rates? They may be drinking in a lot of spiritual water (the Word, Ephesians 5:26) and even have sturdy root systems (rooted and grounded in love, Ephesians 3:17), but if they don’t recognize and utilize the full compliment of their church’s gifts (as given by God to each member), they are likely to become rigid and brittle over time (which happens in churches led by only one man) and very susceptible to “every wind of doctrine” that blows. The results can be devastating, just like weeping willow trees: Individual branches break off easily, and sometimes even huge limbs can come crashing down in a wind storm, not only killing a large part of the tree, but exposing the rest of the tree to disease and eventual death.

If you are a part of the leadership at your church, are you making sure to use all the spiritually gifted members of your congregation? Many minds and hearts working together will protect you from doctrinal error and strengthen your church family. If you are an inactive member of your congregation, do you know what your spiritual gift is? Will you offer to use your gift to help your church be healthy and grow stronger?

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV).

Happy Eleventh Anniversary, Summer Setting!

Life is beautiful.
It’s never what you expect,
But it’s still sublime.

Would you like to guess what I was trying to capture in this photo? Life never sits still for us, does it? Worse yet, we move even when we’re trying to hold still! Life is grander, more colorful, and more full of light and dark than we can begin to imagine. It makes me think of what I’ve been trying to accomplish with my blog these past eleven years. . . and even more, what God has been faithfully working to create in my life. I catch a vision, but it’s gone before I can even record it clearly. The funny thing is, the result can be more beautiful than what I was originally trying to capture! If your life seems messy, out of focus, and moving too fast, don’t despair! Give it to God. He can turn anything into something sublime.

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Beautiful Spilled Milk

Don’t cry for spilled milk.
Some find beauty in spilled milk.
Always look for good.

Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?10 Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?” (Job 10:9-10)

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11) God will bring us through the messes and suffering, just as he did for Job, who was able to testify after all he endured: “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). May our hearts echo his faith.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (24): Be Thou Clean!

One of Jesus’ most prominent ministries while he was on earth was his ability and willingness to heal people of all sorts of sicknesses, not only physical ailments, but spiritual problems. Furthermore, he wasn’t just able to heal some of them. He healed all of them: “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them” (Luke 4:40). There was no sickness that Jesus could not heal, and there’s no record of him ever refusing to make anyone well who came to him for help.

In our passage for today, a leper came to Jesus seeking help. Do you know what leprosy is? I’d never heard of leprosy as a child, and it’s very uncommon in America, but it’s a terribly disfiguring, painful, progressive bacterial infection that can result in blindness, loss of limbs, and eventually death.

Arran Reeve, age 24 in 1886, suffering from Leprosy

It’s not just one of those diseases like small pox that has been largely eradicated, either. Hundreds of thousands of people (more than half from India) are still contracting new cases every year. Although it can be cured if treated early (and in the past 20 years, more than  sixteen million people have been cured), two thousand years ago when Christ lived on earth, there was no known cure. During biblical times, because it was contagious, people who had leprosy were ostracized from their families and communities. They were required by law to call out, “Unclean!” if anyone approached them. So, it’s not hard to imagine the distress the disciples might have felt to see a leper coming toward them. I think it’s noteworthy that this particular miracle is recorded by three of the gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The blind and lame were healed, but probably most people didn’t think they had contagious diseases. To have a leper approach meant possible contamination for all of them.  However, Jesus didn’t shrink away. Instead, he reached out his hand and touched the leper. Jesus wasn’t afraid of catching infection; he came to deliver us from evil: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). In 1 Peter 2:24, we are reminded that Jesus “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

Jesus came to heal, and he did: “And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed (Mark 1:40-42; See also Matthew 8:1-3 and Luke 5:12-13).

Isn’t this beautiful? From the second Jesus touched him, the leper was a leper no more! He would never have to shout “Unclean!” when someone approached him! He could be clean if he would be clean, and he desperately wanted to be clean! He was cleansed in a moment, and now he could shout, “Clean” whenever he wanted! 🙂

Do you ever suffer from feeling “unclean?” Would you like to be clean? Jesus can heal you if you’ll come to him and ask! I do not know of a single prophet, priest, or king on earth besides Jesus who has been recorded as being able and willing to heal “all” our diseases. Do you? Only God can heal ultimately and completely, and that’s one of the ways in which Jesus revealed that he was and is God. Come to him!

 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:2-4).

He Touched Me
(—William J. and Gloria Gaither, copyright Capitol Christian Music Group)

“Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same
He touched me, oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole
Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole,
I will never cease to praise Him,
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls
He touched me, oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (23): Do Not Think That I Will Accuse You

Many people envision God as The Great Judge who will determine our eternal destiny by weighing our souls in the Balance of Life after we die. If our good works outweigh our bad works, we’ll be ushered into glory; but if our bad works outweigh our good works, we’ll be cast into hell. Is that what you think?

This is what the Pharisees thought, and this is what many religions teach, but this is not the way of Christ. He said, “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47-48). Jesus told the Pharisees that if they would only come to him, instead of judging them, he would give them eternal life, but they refused.  When they refused to listen to him, Jesus told them:  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust” (John 5:45).

What did Jesus mean by that? In the Old Testament, God—through Moses—gave us  humans a list of basic “Do’s and Don’ts,” commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. Most people from Christian countries would say they believe we should keep the Ten Commandments, and many people agree that lying, stealing, and cheating are wrong. But in fact, none of us keep the commandments perfectly at all times. For example, how about the first one: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Who among us has never let some little god—some idol—come between God and ourselves?

Do you know what an idol is? It comes from the Greek word eidolon, which means “a reflection” as in water or a mirror. It’s not necessarily a literal image we bow down to and worship, but it is the representation of something we see and want. In Francine River’s  sweet devotional, Earth Psalms, she points out that idols are just “little nothings.” I like that. Idols are as ephemeral as a reflection in water . . . fleeting and without substance. We want them intensely, but they never really satisfy. They can’t.

On the other hand, God—our Father God, God Almighty—is unchanging and eternal. He is the only One who can satisfy us completely. Only God is worth worshiping, yet how often we chase some illusory vision or allow our own reflection to become our idol! Are we worshiping God, or ourselves? Who is the center of our personal universe? Whom do we love and live for?

So, if we can’t even keep the first of the Ten Commandments, I don’t think we should really want to be measured by the Mosaic Law. But, God does give us that choice: We can be saved through faith in the work of Christ, or we can be judged by the Law of Moses. Which would you prefer?

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12).

Be ye holy; for I am holy.17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:16-19). This is my testimony: I am not hoping that my good works will outweigh my bad works. I know that won’t happen. Instead, I have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, who died for my sins and for the sins of all who will put their faith in him. I hope this is true of you too! May we give up all our “little nothings” and place our faith and hope in Christ.

Texts for this week’s study:

And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.41 I receive not honour from men.42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:40-47).

And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.” John 12:47-50

The “Ten Commandments” from Exodus 20:1-17

“And God spake all these words, saying,

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”