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“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

view from Chimney Rock

On one of THOSE days, the alarm clock fails to rouse me. After the third slap at the snooze button, I’ll roll off the bed to press my forehead on the carpet in prayer. In my fogginess, I misjudge the distance and crash a bit harder into the floor than I intend.

Please, God, spare my vanity and let there be no rug burn on my head.

The tweeting “sound spa” clock reminds me I didn’t quite turn it off. Red digits glare at me.

“I’m late.”

Protein bar and zip fizz have to make do for breakfast. I glance at my Bible with a pang of regret and grab for my purse. The phone charger cord yanks my arm back. After fumbling to untangle straps, elbow, and cord, its a race to the car.

Traffic slows to a crawl. What’s this? My road is closed. I clench my jaw while probing narrow streets for a new route. A German luxury car cuts me off. The protein bar crumbles onto my lap. I roll down the window to flick out the mess. A swig of carbonated B-vitamins coincides with a ragweed sneeze. Fizz burns into both nostrils. I slap my nose to stop the flow. Pink snot drops adorn my quaking palm. Another luxury car honks me away from the desperate search for a napkin. I return my slimy grip to the steering wheel, shouting the most popular query to heaven.

“Why?”

In this throng of dust-creatures, we bump into one another and grate our flesh on the brokenness of this world. Annoying days fade in comparison to the rampant tragedy filling the earth. None of the chaos, frustration, or pain makes sense. Suffering and loneliness seem to have no end or meaning. We often cry to the Lord in despair, wondering how a loving God can forsake us.

Jesus met us in our experience when He cried out to His Father on the cross,  “’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” But He didn’t leave the question to hang out there without response. He gave His life with a final declaration, “It is finished.”

Christ resolved our loneliness and met our need for meaning. He stamped an expiration date on the broken world and its suffering. In that sacrificial moment, earth’s curse broke with the gift of wings.

When I use His wings to rise from the dustiness of life, I see things from a broader perspective. Above the smog of pain and sin, a clear sky brings fresh breath and new focus. I hear Truth and see beyond my present darkness. He is with each of us and all of us. Christ appears throughout every crowd and alongside those in solitude. Love gleams onto each rug-burned forehead below, even those too downcast to notice. A sweet breeze shifts my gaze to the horizon. Beyond the gloom, hope peeks from the coming Day with brilliance to outshine the dawn.

There’s more to today than our earth-view reveals. There’s more to life than this day’s gloom.

Instead of getting distracted by my discontent, I can zoom out with the wings I’ve been given. Acknowledging God’s supportive presence allows me to shift the day’s burdens to His shoulders. The weight of my momentary troubles set into His hands, I can direct my energy toward life’s true meaning–blessing.

Let me use this day, no matter how dusty or tragic, to lift the chins of the downcast. Lord, let my life draw attention upward so others see Your love.

 

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ” (Romans 8:18).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38-39).

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).

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“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 24:4-6,12-13

In less than twenty minutes of evening news, we see evil circling our community. Spouses lie crushed physically–and worse, emotionally. Parents harm infants. Children shoot classmates by the dozen.  The dark-clad terrorists victimizing lands across the sea are not as far away as they seem. Evil plots against those created in God’s image, conscripting pawns to carry out its destruction.

Fields, once green with potential, stand browned and dry. Clouds gather over love’s light, and the earth shudders. Christians murmur about end times. Some huddle in fear as persecution mounts across the world. Ripened wheat fields look rather dead, even hopeless, to the untrained eye. Farm folks know the signs of harvest, as should Christians.

The advancing darkness casts an ominous hue over the world’s landscape. It comes, as Jesus said it would. When things appear beyond all hope of rescue, expect the Savior to show up for harvest. Not just at the end of times, but whenever dry circumstances creep in and threaten to steal our faith. Bleak days occur far ahead of the end days, for the world and for each individual’s personal experience. Instead of growing fearful, we should prepare to offer our fruit.

When things feel uncertain and situations drain your vigor, it’s time to raise your head. Declare and demonstrate your purpose. Show the tasseling Spirit’s power to reap unbelievable benefit when all the worth seems lost. Congratulations on your coming victory over evil’s doom. Thank the Lord for looming challenges, because it’s a certain sign of a magnificent harvest on its way.

I don’t venture up onto my roof often. In fact, I only brave that weak-kneed climb if no one else volunteers to help with an annual task. My core tightens as I wobble those initial steps. After I reach the center and grip onto an anchoring structure, my lungs relax for a full breath. I look out across the treetops as dusk honeys the heads of our neighborhood live oaks. My view extends beyond our street to the school, ballparks, and the mass of homes further outward.

A moment on the peak shifts my perspective. The sunshine’s caress penetrates my cheekbones. The breath of a fresh season revives my senses. I consider distant homes as my neighbors. At this moment, when God secures my quivering frame, the world feels both larger and more intimate. Standing on the rooftop, I recognize myself as a saint.

As twilight darkens my view, time demands my return to life on the level earth below. I resume my daily routines, walking across the dust of the past toward the tomorrow from which it will grow. The miseries and burdens of passers-by permeate the stagnant air. I see despair in their eyes and feel the pull of hopelessness from their hearts. So much pain. I reach out with an urge to help, but hesitation quivers in my fingertips. I, too, have knees prone to buckling. Who am I to offer them strength? What if I let these fragile neighbors down? My doubts and fears tire me, and I begin to sink onto the curb of purposelessness. The suffering of life on the roads and in the alleyways tempts me to forget I am a saint.

Rays warmer than sunbeams lift my drooping chin. I need not search with my eyes to know Who is there.

“You are not made to be a saint for the rooftop,” He says. “Nor are you made to pour your own strength out to sustain these others.”

I want to leap from the curb and snuggle in His arms. Every muscle of my body, to the core of my soul, longs to soak in His presence forever. “Keep me with You,” I say.

My spirit inhales a heady draft of His invigorating fragrance.

“You are a saint because I am with you. Here on the road…” He turns my shoulders to face out across the vast neighborhood, through the nearby fences and into the world beyond them. “And out there. I am the strength you offer, the healing you convey. You got your bearings on the rooftop so you can live My purpose while you’re down here.”

I crane my neck, attempting to glimpse His brilliance. Though my eyes fail to capture a view of the Son, He has not left me alone. The Word of my promise-keeping God anchors my certainty about His location–within my heart.

I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).

The confidence that He remains with me girds my weak knees to venture out into the world and steadies my frail arms to reach out to bless those who suffer. I do not merely give myself to those in need, but I offer Someone far better. He alone can transform the unsteady roof climber into a earth-treading saint. The Son Who did so for me can change any willing soul. With such immense suffering, the world needs more saints to climb down and share His love on the roadway. Let’s reach out together, in His strength, to leave no neighbors to despair of hope.

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John17:20-23).

 “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:18-20).

I pry my tongue from the pasty mire on the roof of my mouth. Parting my chapped lips, I heave in a breath of sultry air. Perspiration streams down my legs as I trudge across the parking lot. I struggle with a dizzy urge to hustle out of the August glare. My body cannot muster speed as it fights through the soupy haze. I hope my lungs don’t melt before I reach shade. I stagger through two sets of double doors. Freon-chilled air caresses my sticky neck and shoulders. The air conditioning fails to quell the nausea in my core or settle my reeling head. Shelves of empty vessels, soda concentrates, and coffee pods stare at me from the walls. Packaged beverage machines line the aisles. None can rescue my parched body. I need water. And there’s none here.

In our arid world, it’s common to stumble into the wrong places seeking water. When crowds stream toward a shady spot, it glimmers like a refuge mirage. The environment hooks our senses and draws us in. The diversion promises relief from the harsh elements, but indulgent comforts prove shallow. Hedonistic balms spritz an oh-so-temporary soothing over the outermost layer of skin. They vanish into thin air before reaching the burning need within. Pleasing the senses cannot quench the soul.

Some of us grope for chemicals, alcohol, or sex as a respite for inner thirst. But false relief can take more innocuous forms, too. Shopping, food, or other benign endeavors become toxic when misused as hydration. Like salt, good things offer benefit when used for the proper reason and in appropriate doses. When poured into our spirit’s well in place of living water, even good things can parch us to death.

On my dusty journey, I often feel the heat sapping my strength. Discouragement threatens to force my rubbery legs to give way beneath me. I gasp for some fresh breath to revive me, to help me plod forward another mile. Sometimes I want to go shopping or head to the spa. If I indulge my flesh instead of praying through my frailty, I end up with a mouthful of sand. Nothing satisfies. Disappointment adds to my emptiness. Then I remember the obvious. Only the Fountain of Life can refresh my spirit. When I feel least able to pray, that’s what I need most. Turning to Scripture and prayerful meditation draws me near to Christ. He fills the dry, empty caverns of my soul and quenches my deepest need. My hope renews, and I thank Him for His patience with me.

After our reviving moments together, sometimes the Lord encourages me to visit the spa or the mall. But we go together, sloshing with the threat of splashing passersby. Instead of seeking fulfillment there, I remain piped into the Fountain so I don’t miss an opportunity to share His love and peace with someone else.

 

“All my fountains are in you” (Psalm 87:10).

They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:8-9).

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:14-16

Drought left the western earth thirsty, a tinder box waiting to catch with little more than a warm breath. One stray ember sparks a relentless blaze. Forest fires rage across thousands of acres and acrid smoke plumes across an entire state. Ready conditions require little to spur great flames.

We searched through sodden ditches. Green wood and rain soaked logs filled the truck bed. After an hour of persistent effort, we nurtured forth a glimmer of light. We fed the resistant stack, refusing to lose hope. A sweet reward loomed ahead, so  we worked with undaunted perseverance. Soon, the glow warmed all who surrounded it.

On fire

Joy overwhelmed me, since I had no intention of missing out on s’mores.

Christ calls us to act as His fire starters in the world. Some territories will receive the healing light of Jesus’ grace like parched brush. Flames will blaze from their hearts with an instant wildfire and spread to thousands of souls. Other ground we must cover lies sodden with resistance, and might not respond to our friendly invitation right away. We must not give up hope on those who question the truth, but continue reaching out to build light into the soggy pits of this world. Focus on the eternal goal and persist in love.

Imagine embracing the glimmering hearts of those Christ has sparked through your life of loving friendship. What joy we have in that hope, for a reward far sweeter than s’mores awaits us.

High tide waves glide ashore. The foamy caress adds a kiss of salt to the sugar sand. Water and pristine beach glimmer together in sunbathed glory. Breezes carry the fresh hint of brine, a lovely scent for visitors to carry home in their hair. As the weary sun droops, visitors retreat to their cars. Waves recede by the hour. The water abandons its affair with the sparkling sand. The beach reddens as the evening bares its hidden layers. Low tide reveals its messy and broken elements. Dead matter lends itself to the wind, no longer a delightful aroma. A lone beachcomber searches through the seaweed tangles, believing this moment a prime opportunity to find the most beautiful shells. I prefer high tide moments. My faith glows like noon’s rays. I feel connected to and appreciated by others.  Endless possibilities shine around me. Purpose scents the air I breathe, and its fragrance blesses all passersby. I work harder, finish more projects, and smile. Happiness and motivation ebb as low tide hits. The hidden regions of my heart, mind, and soul rise to the surface. Brokenness and mess glare at me, demanding attention. I resent my odorous attitude, but must deal with the source of the problem to remedy the symptoms. Dealing with the litter looms as an impossible task to conquer alone. Thanks to my Helper, I don’t have to face the ordeal alone. The Holy Spirit combs through my inmost being. The Lord identifies the gunk stinking up my soul and helps clean it out. He also untangles the mess to illuminate my unrecognized treasures. Were it not for low tide, the latent needs and assets would remain underwater. Thank you, Lord, for creating value during the low points of life. I praise You for restoration, healing, and renewed purpose. Let my next bright day glorify You all the more.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; 

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…

 Restore to me the joy of your salvation     and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,     so that sinners will turn back to you… Open my lips, Lord,     and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;     you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;     a broken and contrite heart     you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:7,10,12-13,15-17).

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;     he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted     and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him” (Psalm 34:17-19).

I grew up among whispering live oaks and pines. I scampered with other kids into the woods or frolicked with them among the tree cluster in our yard. When no one else could play, I climbed into my favorite oak and imagined myself queen of a living castle. In my tropical state, I could enjoy those branches year-round with one caveat.

Florida is the lightning capital of the world. At the first crack of a thunderstorm, my mom insisted we rush indoors, unplug all appliances, and stay off the telephone. Our desire to play often outweighed our fear of a strike. We tended to dally before responding to the warning. Another page or two in my book before leaving my perch in the oak. A few more minutes in the woods.

The rumble grew. Black skies burst into a torrent, drenching me as I ran down the muddy road toward home. A crash resounded with a brilliant streak in the next door lot. Splinters flew as a smoking tree split in half. I paddled my hands and feet through the sheets of rain until my sneakers sloshed onto the front porch. My tee shirt and shorts clung to my skin like plastic wrap.

Mom repeated her advice about hearkening to the first sign. Thunder offers directions. Listen to them.

Unlike thunder, the Lord tends to offers us gentler and more subtle directions. His signs might include scripture, things happening around us, or a message spoken to us from His servants. Not every rumble is a message from God, but He provides us with His Spirit to discern them and guide us.

I still get engrossed in play. Watch another hour of television. Sleep a few more minutes. Browse the internet. Sometimes God encourages extra relaxation. Occasionally, a faint whisper into my heart advises me to shorten my recreation and make more time for prayer. Connection with the Lord’s discernment depends on a healthy habit of prayer and meditation. I must choose to resist the distractions in order to listen to the Holy Spirit.

After morning prayer and worship, I recycled some containers at the mall today. I felt free to browse through a few sale racks. After a while, an inner nudge reminded meI didn’t need anything and indicated it was time to leave.  I walked outside to greet an inky sky. Thunder rumbled across the parking lot. I strolled past the oak-shaded spots and climbed into my car. Two initial drops of rain hit my windshield, but I drove out of the storm’s path before the downpour began.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for Your guidance, as it protects me from graver threats than lightning. Lord, please keep me steadfast in prayer and train my ears to stay open. Let my soul be drenched with each loving message You whisper. I don’t want to miss a single word.

 

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

“pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18). 

Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground”(Psalm 143:10).

Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good,  reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

 I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days…And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:28-29,32).

A Florida sunset blazes across the horizon–our effortless version of the summer campfire. Temperatures hover near ninety degrees, and customer traffic doubled at the neighborhood pool store. Yesterday’s evening breeze swept away the last remnants of spring. While Midwest residents continue salting icy walkways, we’re dipping our toes into the next season.

Not that there’s any hurry. Life strolls along at a casual pace in the sub-southern peninsula. Flip-flops clap along the sidewalks year-round. On special occasions, ladies switch to heeled sandals. A number of fair-haired drivers refuse to accelerate for the sake of impatient youngsters. Don’t bother honking to rush them. They either can’t hear you or will enjoy the pretense of deafness at your expense.

The tropics harbor unique creatures and comforts. Our kids weather hurricanes instead of snow days and build sand castles instead of Frosty men. Northern children make jewelry from fireflies, but here we have lizards to hang from little earlobes. When asked about sharks and alligators, natives shrug.

“Stay out of their way, and the neighbors won’t bother you.”

Cockroaches pose a more imminent threat. At least the larger predators won’t invade homes. Unless you have a doggie door, of course.

Battling insects and minding the local monsters–small sacrifices to preserve us from scraping, plowing, and arduous winterizing. When the long yard work season tires us, vacation options abound. Dreamy weekends beckon, less than a gas tank’s trip away. From world-class theme parks to sugary beaches, we grin at those who ask why we choose to reside in the lightning capital of the world.

When visitors bemoan rattlesnakes or the free outdoor saunas, it fails to lessen my appreciation for home. I imagine such dubious folks could experience the same epiphany that once struck my parents during an ice storm. Perhaps then they would join the highway’s right-lane caravan. Straining to see over the steering wheel, their questions might change from, “Why would anyone live there?” to “Are we in Florida yet?”

Quality of life hinges on perspective. Each can opt to embrace or despise his circumstances. The key to a satisfying life rests in recognizing and joining God’s magnificent work. The Lord created beauty in nature and within our hearts to be celebrated, participated in, and shared.

There might be some who fail to appreciate the Sunshine State. I hope they find beauty and joy in their hometown. As for me, I gotta love Florida.

 

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:10

Rejoice in the Lord always…in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:4-8

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” — 2 Peter 1:3-4

 

Sunshine honeys the rain-washed oaks. Clover patches huddle among blades of rye grass. The breeze whirls across varied shades of green, stirring the earth to behold the infinite blue marvel overhead. Jasmine blooms near the mailbox, drawing brilliant hummingbirds to visit my lawn. I search the landscape, but fail to pinpoint the hue I seek. Nature’s kaleidoscope erupts before me on this magnificent spring afternoon. Yet, all the colors in the world fall short of a ray of hope.

Sparrows twitter alongside the doves’ cooing. A tree frog resounds from the puddle near my doorstep. Wind-strummed reeds complete the melody. Yet, all the world’s harmony falls short of  the song of hope.

Sourdough bread delights my palate. Creamy chai mingles spices across my tongue and warms me to the core. Bits of chocolate swimming in cream whirl me into a decadent food buzz. Yet, all the world’s culinary treats cannot satisfy my hunger for the flavor of hope.

I miss the brush of a baby’s cheek against my face. Orchid petals slide against the tip of my nose,reminiscent of that infant silkiness. I savor the grip of a friend’s hand and cherish a lingering hug. Yet, all the world’s most precious touches cannot compare with the embrace of hope.

Resurrected souls bear witness to a broader spectrum of color, music, and comprehensive joy than our experience on earth permits. Scripture promises God’s glory illuminates heaven, so we will require no other light than His presence. Creation’s majesty remains a mere echo of the true satisfaction for which our spirits yearn. 

I long for hope, but won’t find it in the world around me. I must search beyond the tangible to attain true fulfillment. The Creator sculpted these surroundings as arrows to point my gaze toward Him, after all.

 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

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