I realize I’ve been away from this blog for too long, but I believe God is leading me back, so please hang in there and stay tuned! In the meanwhile, here is a composition from a photo I took several months ago. At the time I knew the message I wanted to use it for, but crafting that message took longer than planned. So often we chase things that seem to be great and wonderful, but in reality they may not provide any real or lasting value. Worse yet, they often rob from us precious time and resources that could be better invested. This also occurs in our spiritual lives, as we tell ourselves that what we’ve chosen to do is wonderful, worthy and fine. But if that path isn’t following Jesus Christ, and Him only, then we have become deceived. So check your map and see what destination awaits you on your present road.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
How many bridges do you cross on any given day you’re on the road? If you took the time to actually count them, I bet the number would be surprisingly high. We cross bridges so often that we simply taken them for granted and pass over without notice. Bridges are simply a way we can cross over obstacles that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, for us to overcome. And of course, those obstacles are in between us and where we want to be.
There was a time a few thousand years ago when the Creator walked the Earth with a fellow named Adam. The fellowship they shared must have been truly amazing, however it came to an abrupt end when Adam disobeyed his Creator. That first sin became an obstacle preventing him, and all others to follow, from enjoying fellowship with God. Fast-forward to roughly two-thousand years ago, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth to be our Redeemer. As people redeemed from our sins, we could again fellowship with God. When He died on the cross, Christ became our direct path to the Creator. In fact, Jesus Christ stated that very clearly, as recorded in the Gospel of John 14:6; “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The crucified Christ became our bridge to return to fellowship with God.
Coming across the Rocky Mountains last week, along what I believe to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country, a glance in the rear-view mirror captured my attention. After winding down the east side of Roger’s Pass, the highway straightened out for a long stretch and seemingly reached out for some infinite point in the distant mountain range. The beckoning springtime grass, scattered clouds and silent highway combined to make a compelling scene. This sight brought to mind a number of thoughts and Scriptural messages, but one in particular felt like just the right fit.
“Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” Isaiah (40:3) spoke these prophetic words about John the Baptist’s future role. Later, each of the Gospel writers would document John doing precisely this, with John 1:23 recording, “He [John the Baptist] said: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness; Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said.”
So John basically made this proclamation to anyone who would listen to him, and maybe even to some who wouldn’t. But what was he telling them? God can do anything He wills, surely he doesn’t need people to pave the way for Him! John’s purpose in this announcement was to put people at the ready for Jesus Christ, who would soon be in their midst. This was not only so folks would be on the lookout for Him, but was an urging for people to get their lives right by God prior to the impending arrival of the King.
Just as the arrival of Jesus Christ in the flesh was imminent in the time of John the Baptist’s life, the Kingdom of Heaven will soon be at hand when Christ returns in judgement. We don’t know when that will happen (Matthew 25:13), but if our lives are not right with God at that moment, we will not join the fellowship in His kingdom. Worse, we will be ushered to the gates of Hades. So, what if you don’t believe that Christ’s return is going to happen soon? Well, perhaps you’re right, but then I’d ask, when will you die? Again, if you don’t have your life right with God when you leave this life on earth, the same rules apply. And that death can happen in an instant – even when you’re least expecting it.
Listen carefully…..do you hear it? Hailing from the clutter and noise of our modern day wilderness can still be heard that same announcement – Make straight the way of the Lord!
Normally I look for cloudy skies and spectacular colors to make a good sunset photo. This evening when I looked westward, the sun was perfectly positioned through the Ponderosa Pines. And as I squinted into the light, rays extended halfway back to me. The light bands of clouds that are angling upwards made me question whether or not I needed to level the image. A second look outside confirmed that the image is correct as-is.
Jesus Christ, by His constant designation as the Son, must not be considered as belonging within time and space. Take as an illustration the sun and its rays. Does the radiance of the sun proceed from the substance of the sun itself or from some other source? We all know that it proceeds from the substance itself. Yet, though the radiance proceeds from the sun itself, we cannot say that it is later in point of time than the existence of that body, since the sun has never appeared without its rays. It is for this reason, says the fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, that Paul calls Christ “brightness” in Hebrew 1:3, setting forth thereby His being and His eternity from God. The fact that Jesus Christ, the Word, is presented as a separate personality from God the Father does not mean that He is less eternal, less infinite, and therefore less God and less responsible for the creation of the world, than God the Father. – from Illustrations of Bible Truths
This time of year, if you happen upon a forgotten, rural graveyard along the northern plains in the evening with a little moonlight, a quick glance may reveal what appear to be ghosts standing guard. Very likely these ghosts are bright blooms of the native Yucca plants that make themselves at home in the arid plains. Nick-named Ghosts in the Graveyard, in Montana our most common species is the Small Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca). Climatic conditions this year must have been perfect for these hardy plants, as their explosion of blossoms is unlike any other year in recent history. The short-lived blooms give the landscape a truly unique look, and they also bring beauty to a plant that is oft derided because of the lance-tipped leaves than can inflict tremendous pain to the unwary pedestrian.
A Ghost Tale
A great many years ago, there were twelve men rowing a boat across a stormy, raging sea. The men were frantic, and certain of their impending demise, when they saw what appeared to be a ghost coming towards them across the sea. Their worries about the sea became minor compared to the terror of this approaching apparition, but their fears were soon allayed, when what they thought was a ghost said, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Speaking these words, Jesus Christ arrived to provide unexpected help and encouragement at a time of desperate need. He continues to offer us that help today, because Christ, not evil spirits, is the ruler of heaven and earth. No matter what is challenging us, health concerns, financial troubles, problems at work or home, or sinful addictions, put your faith in Jesus Christ and allow Him to calm the stormy seas of your life.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “sitting in the catbird seat.” Some readers may know what it means, but I would suspect that many don’t quite understand it, and even more don’t know how it originated. As with many sayings that have been around for many years, the precise origin is subject to debate. Author James Thurber is probably most responsible for making the phrase popular in the American lexicon, following his short humorous story, The Catbird Seat, published in The New Yorker in 1942. A character in the story explains, “sitting in the catbird seat” means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. Because of my level of interest in it’s origin, I’ve invested a diminutive amount of time researching the topic, and have determined that it is highly likely that both Thurber and baseball broadcaster, Red Barber popularized the phrase, while it was probably coined in the 19th century. In any event, you now know as much as I do about this topic.
Why a catbird was chosen as the seat descriptor, I am not sure. But I did find a pair Gray Catbirds last week at Riverside Park, along the Yellowstone River in Billings, MT. These birds are a type of Mockingbird that is commonly found in all but five or six states in the continental U.S. Unlike many other birds, the Gray Catbird is able to recognize it’s own eggs, making them less likely to care for the eggs of brood parasites, like the Brown-headed Cowbird. One commonality with the Thurber phrase is that a group of catbirds is collectively referred to as a “seat” of catbirds. How that is an enviable position, I don’t understand!
It sounds to me like the catbird seat is akin to being in a place of comfort, peace and joy. While there is no Biblical reference to this phrase, I think Jesus Christ invites us into the catbird seat, as written in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30).
Biblical commentator, Matthew Henry (1662-1714), expanded upon these Scriptures:
Christ invites all to come to Him for rest to their souls. He alone gives this invitation; men come to Him, when, feeling their guilt and misery, and believing His love and power to help, they seek Him in fervent prayer. Thus it is the duty and interest of weary and heavy-laden sinners, to come to Jesus Christ. This is the gospel call; Whoever will, let him come. All who thus come will receive rest as Christ’s gift, and obtain peace and comfort in their hearts. But in coming to Him they must take His yoke, and submit to His authority. They must learn of Him all things, as to their comfort and obedience. He accepts the willing servant, however imperfect the services. Here we may find rest for our souls, and here only. Nor need we fear his yoke. His commandments are holy, just, and good. It requires self-denial, and exposes to difficulties, but this is abundantly repaid, even in this world, by inward peace and joy. It is a yoke that is lined with love.
Are you in the ultimate catbird seat?
- Our Pear-eating Catbird (wildbirdsunlimited.typepad.com)
It is about time to bring our southwest trip to a close. Beginning in Phoenix (Arizona Birding), we made our way to the Grand Canyon (Who Stole the Grand Canyon), then Zion National Park (Shroud over Zion), and finally arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. Except for gale-force winds, we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to welcome us to this geological wonderland! Some fresh snow from the previous night lingered, while the clouds were working their way in an easterly direction. The biting wind-chill kept many of the tourists at bay, so those of us that braved the day were rewarded with a peaceful visit. As astounding as the hoodoos, cliffs and weathered mountainsides were, the cloud formations were amazing, and really enhanced the breathtaking landscapes. Unfortunately the images posted below don’t do justice to the scenes, but if you haven’t yet visited Bryce Canyon, they might at least give you some encouragement to make it a destination on your bucket list. All of the images will open to a larger format if you click on them.
The first four images are the result of High Dynamic Range (HDR) composites, which I often utilize for scenes with a lot of contrast. In many ways, HDR helps photos look more like what our eyes see, which a single photographic exposure cannot create. However, this same technique can also be used to add some artistic flair, which you may particularly notice in the second image.
As mentioned previously, the clouds from the departing storm system really made this an awesome time to visit Bryce Canyon. Because we see clouds so often, we may take them for granted most of the time. If we do actually think about them, oftentimes our thoughts will relate to impending weather. I’d like to propose that clouds can, and should, take on a more profound meaning, serving as a call to action and a reminder of a promise made. Clouds are mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible, sometimes literally and other-times metaphorically. Three of these instances I’d like to briefly call to mind.
In the Gospel of Mark, after ministering to the multitude for several days, Jesus spends a little quiet time high on a mountain with Peter, James and John. For a short while Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, prompting some intrepidation on the part of the disciples, when; And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Mark 9:7). God used a cloud as a vehicle to get the attention of the believers, so they would focus, listen and hear the words of Christ.
Let’s jump ahead a little to the Book of Acts. Just to set the stage, Christ had already been crucified, risen from the dead, and was wrapping up forty days of ministering about things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Jesus shares some important final words with the Apostles, “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Again, a cloud was used as an apparent door through which Christ entered as He ascended to Heaven to join the Father.
Finally, consider what we should expect upon Christ’s return to earth, as He promised to do. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:16-17). This isn’t going to be a quiet affair! Indeed, I think it is going to be a grand reunion, of sorts, where all those who have trusted in Christ Jesus will be joined together with Him. And where is the reception hall? It is in the clouds! And from that point on, we will be with the Lord always!
Putting these three sets of Scripture together, we can see the clouds as 1) a reminder to focus on Him and abide by His instruction for our lives, 2) a doorway to Heaven which Christ used when He departed, and 3) that same door is where we will enter into eternal communion with Him upon Christ’s final return. So, the next time you see some clouds and think it might rain, perhaps you’ll consider some other things that those clouds might portend!