Revisiting: Ah! Sunflower or The Forbidden City (part 2)

I never mind having leftovers from supper.  I try to serve them later with a new item or in a new combination.  For example,  Monday’s extra rice from a stir-fry and Tuesday’s roast chicken become Wednesday’s chicken and rice.  

An updated version of a post from last August (when I began blogging) is on the menu today.  Enjoy the new photos by Barb Briggs!  Leftovers aren’t so bad after all, are they?

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Ah! Sunflower Part 1

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Imagine that you’re shopping, and you see a sweater that you like very much in a nice shade of sunflower yellow .  It fits you (and your budget), so you place it on the counter near the cash register and announce, “I’ll take it.”

The clerk replies, “I’m sorry.  Only members of the Royal Family can buy that color.  May I interest you in the blue sweater instead?”

Flickr_free_The_Forbidden_City_By Pete Stewart from Perth, Australia

Sound implausible?  The color yellow was so identified with the Chinese imperial family (a symbol of their “celestial nature”), that only they could wear it.  Even the roofs of nearly all the buildings in the imperial palace complex were constructed of yellow, glazed tiles. This complex of religious, political, and residential buildings, called the Forbidden City, was surrounded by a 26′ high wall and a 20′ deep moat.  Commoners and royalty  were forbidden to enter without permission of the Emperor.

Thankfully, there are no walls or moats between us and God.  We have access to him because of Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross.

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us.

Romans 5:1 The Message

We can return to the metaphor of God as sun and believers as sunflowers in the next verse in Romans 5.  Now that we have access to God, we can be in His presence and worship Him.

We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

Romans 5:2 The Message

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 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! . . .Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (The Message)

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If we are like sunflowers facing the east, toward God, we are becoming “brighter and more beautiful”  because He  is not only sharing his presence with us, but his  “celestial nature.”  The restrictions of imperial China are long gone. We common sunflowers are allowed to wear yellow, but our color is a gift of the sun (not a sweater we buy in a store).  When the sun shines on a sunflower, the flower absorbs all the other color wavelengths (think rainbow) and reflects yellow.  So we see golden, yellow flowers.

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“We were created to reflect God’s glory, born to bear his image, and he ransomed us to reflect that glory again. “

from Waking the Dead by John Eldredge

God loved us enough to send his Son

  • to reestablish access to Him,
  • to restore relationship with us,
  • so we might reflect his glory.

The Lord delights in seeing us become more like Him and therefore a better version of ourselves–a more wonderful sunflower.

The glory of God is man fully alive.   St. Irenaeus

I can imagine the Lord shining on us, saying “Ah!  Sunflower!”

photo by Barb Briggs

Sunflower photos by Barb Briggs

Forbidden City photo by Pete Stewart

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   linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

  linking with Holley Gerth

Essential Fridays Linkuplinking with Essential Thing Devotions

PhotoFridayButton_MG_7389-Edit.jpg  linking with Diane Bailey

Revisiting: Ah! Sunflower or Heliotropism (part 1)

Today’s offering is an updated version of a post from last August, when I began blogging.  I’m revisiting a topic that interests many some a few people.  Honest!  Someone besides me googled “sunflowers and heliotropism” and ended up here.

Enjoy the new photos by Barb Briggs!

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Sunflowers have inspired

paintings,

Van_Gogh_Sunflowers wiki CC

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

 poetry,

Blake Ah sunflower

“Ah! Sunflower” by William Blake

and worship.

The ancient Aztecs and Incas used sunflowers in ceremonies honoring their sun-god–a natural connection, since the color and shape of the flower echoes the sun.

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The sunflower, however, is more than a pretty, golden face, reminding us of the sun. The flower seems to “worship” the sun because of the way the buds and leaves of sunflowers orient themselves to face the sun, following its movement from east to west across the sky.  (This is called heliotropism.)

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By the time the sunflower matures and is in full bloom, the flowers permanently face east.

This video (from Indiana University, Department of Biology) shows a young sunflower plant tracking the sun over a 24-hour period.

The dance of the sunflowers and the sun is a wonderful (full of wonder) picture of the relationship between believer and God.  Sunflowers, like any plant, need the sun to survive.  This is the process of photosynthesis where light energy is converted into chemical energy that the plant can use.

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For in him we live and move and have our being.  Acts 17:28   NIV

English-speaking Christians have often taken advantage of the happy coincidence of the homonym of sun/son, but there is some Biblical basis for idea of God as the “sun.”

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; . . .  Psalm 84:11   NIV

The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us.   Psalm 118:27   NIV

His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.   Revelation 1:16   NIV

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We “sunflowers” turn our faces toward the Lord.

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.   2 Chronicles 7:13-15   NIV

Your face, Lord, I will seek.  Psalm 27:8   NIV

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.   Psalm 105:4    NIV

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Too much information?  Is it all Greek to you?  Just remember God shines his light on us, and we seek his face like the sunflower. “Shine” and “seek.”

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photos by Barb Briggs

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Sandra Heska King - Still Saturday  linking with Sandra Heska King

The Center of the Universe

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I sat on the gray, wooden steps of the porch and pointed my camera up at the brilliant yellow of a bird-planted sunflower.  I sat because I couldn’t trust my balance to keep me steady while standing and holding the camera with both hands.

Just a few days earlier, the world had spun around me like a carousel out of control, and when it stopped, it left me reeling and nauseous.

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At the doctor’s office, the nurse noticed my eyes scanning the floor in front of my feet and my hand reaching for the wall to steady myself.

Don’t look down, she cautioned.  Look up.  Look ahead.

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The doctor wrote “vertigo” in a space on the yellow form left blank for a diagnosis.

Inner ear . . . possibly a virus . . . medication three times a day . . . keep your head steady

All this would help control the dizziness, to keep the world from spinning.

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But the world really is spinning, rotating on its axis at about 1,000 miles per hour (at the equator).

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The earth is orbiting the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, and our sun is speeding around the center of our Milk Way galaxy at 490,000 miles per hour.

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Even though we are spinning and circling and hurtling through the galaxy, we can’t sense that enormous velocity.  There is no galactic motion sickness. “Dizzying” speeds produce no dizziness.

Despite the unimaginable and yet undetectable speeds, my world can be still.  When the eternal God is the center of my universe, there is peace and calm.

But when I put myself at the center of all things, and my life spins on the axis of my self-centeredness, there is no tranquility.  There is dis-ease–vertigo of the soul.  I was never meant to be the center of the universe.  Only God is.

The nurse’s words echo.

Don’t look down.  Look up.  Look ahead.

I need to turn my gaze away from my own stumbling feet and toward the God who created

the star-studded, spiraled arms of galaxies,

the intersecting spirals at the center of a sunflower,

and tiny, perfect spiral of the cochlea of the inner ear.

Then my world will cease its frantic, dizzying spin.  It will quiet and be still.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;   Psalm 37:7   NIV

 Be still, and know that I am God   Psalm 46:10   NIV

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earth photo from visibleearth.nasa.gov

galaxy photo from Hubblesite.org

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Diane W. Bailey  linking with Diane W. Bailey 

Sandra Heska King - Still Saturday  linking with Sandra Heska King

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

  linking with Holley Gerth

My Nephew

Filtered, morning sun from a single window softly lit the small, rectangular room where upholstered and folding chairs lined three walls.  The members of two extended families, ranging from a toddler to those in their eighties, filled the seats.  All sounds were muffled:  sobs and sniffling, the rip of tissues torn from their cardboard box, subdued conversations in an adjoining room, and the chime of a grandfather clock down the carpeted hallway.

An open casket was centered against the fourth wall.  We had come to see him one last time, to “pay our respects,” to say good-bye.  As the time for the small, family-only burial service neared, everyone left the viewing room and gathered in the main entry area, discussing directions to the cemetery.  I stepped back in and looked at my nephew’s still face a final time.  Oh, Nathan, Nathan, what have you done?

bleeding heart by heather johnson

Our hearts are broken:  every mother, father, brother, and sister heart, each grandparent, every aunt and uncle, each cousin and friend.  We have all fallen with the weight of this loss, and we are scraped and bruised, bleeding raw emotions.

To lose a young man we loved–who was only twenty years old and had such potential and such a gentle soul–is difficult enough,  but in this way . . .

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We are left with nagging questions and regrets:  the should haves and could haves and would anything have?  I can’t imagine the pain and despair and hopelessness that led you to this choice.  I can’t imagine how your mind was painted with the wide, black strokes of depression.  I answer my own question (Nathan, what have you done?):  you became ill.

At the cemetery family members carried the casket from the hearse to the graveside, walking across the green grass sprinkled with sweet clover.  Some sat in chairs, and some stood in the shade of a small, blue awning under the vault of a bright, blue sky.

We commended Nathan to God’s care and final healing.  We listened to the reminder that Nathan’s name meant “gift of God.”  He was.  He is.  We read his favorite scripture and sang his favorite hymn.  Those who wished to share spoke of his life, his character, what he was like as a child, and how we remembered him best.   After a season of dark illness, Nathan now rests in the Light of Jesus.

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If I could have choked out the words at the graveside service, I would have shared this verse.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

If faith falters, and hope slips away, love remains.  Nathan may not have had a life “full of years,”  but his life was full of love–his love for his family and friends and their great love for him.

And over all, covering all, forgiving all, healing all is the boundless love of God.

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Nathan, age 10

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If you are depressed and feeling hopeless, please, please, talk to someone.  I am not a counselor or mental health professional, but I know you need to get help.  Talk to your friends, your family, your pastor.  Find a doctor or a counselor.  You may need to call your local mental health center and schedule an emergency appointment.

If you know someone who is despairing, reach out.  You may need to direct them to professional help.  Offer to go with them to an appointment.  If you have serious concerns,  you may call the police who can go to the person’s residence to do a welfare check.

If someone you love has taken their own life,  you may experience a range of emotions: from anger to sorrow.  You may benefit from support groups and counseling .

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   Galatians 6:2   NIV

. . . weep with those who weep.   Romans 12:15   RSV

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More information:

When suicide strikes in the body of Christ  — Please continue reading to the end of this article for links to suicide hotlines, prevention and awareness sites, and grief support for survivors.

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bleeding heart photo by Heather Johnson of truelifewithgod.com

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

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Essential Fridays Linkup  linking with Essential Thing Devotions

Searching for the Light

The sun had burned off the morning haze and ushered in a beautifully-bright June day.  The warm breeze was gentle, and the deep blue sky was spotted with puffy, cumulus clouds.

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On days like this it’s easy to understand Jesus’ proclamation:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12   NIV

The sunshine surrounds me and illuminates everything.  It is  the engine of photosynthesis that provides food for man and animal.  Sunlight heals.  It banishes the deep shadows.

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Sometimes the light is muted, weak.  High humidity at dawn can drape the morning with a heavy haze,

but the sun is still there.

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Sometimes sunshine is hidden, obscured.  Storms swirl and veil the sun.  The word “hide” means “conceal from sight,”  not destroy or eradicate.

The sun is still there.

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When the rainstorm scrubs the world clean, and the light is shrouded in the final wisps of clouds and is captured in rain-washed reflections,

the sunshine is still there.

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Sometimes when the sun has slipped below the horizon, the only light is what is reflected in sunset clouds.

But the light is still there.

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Is your life today as warm and cheerful as a bright summer’s day?  Soak in the rays and rejoice!

Are there troubles on the horizon, making it hard to see how the future will unfold?  Let the light of God guide you.

Are the storms of life–illness and injury, financial setbacks, broken relationships–clouding your days?  Have faith that the radiant glow of the Lord’s compassion shines behind the thunderhead.

Are you facing the loss of a loved one in the dark grief of sunset?  The blazing love of Jesus is a light that will comfort you as you mourn.

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Jesus is the Light you need every day, every kind of day, in every circumstance.  Look to Him.

Seek the Light.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4:29   NIV

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Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

 

 

 

 

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He Stinketh

Four days ago, two fast-moving lines of thunderstorms dumped nearly five inches of rain on our part of the state in less than twenty-four hours.

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Basements flooded, languid streams turned to torrents, and rivers surged out of their banks.

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Homeowners have pumped out their basements and piled ruined, sodden belongings on the curb, waiting for garbage trucks.  Creeks (the first to flood and first to fall) have resumed their normal path, leaving behind muddied soybean and corn fields.  The large river closest to us is still rising, forcing the closure of the main highway there.

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In a few days (if we don’t receive any more heavy rain), the flood waters will recede. The river will drop below flood stage, leaving orphaned pools of water, which will eventually begin to smell–and not in a good way.

I usually read a more modern translation of the Bible,  but the King James version’s story of Lazarus really captures this idea of an unpleasant odor.  The Revised Standard Version merely warns of “an odor,” and the Good News Version cautions about a “bad smell.”

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

John 11:39   KJV

How do I describe the olfactory assault from the stagnant water left from the flood?  It stinketh!

So do I at times.  I choke the flow of Living Water when I neglect prayer and Bible study

–an unpleasant odor.

When I get too busy for fellowship and quiet meditation, I begin to stagnate

–a bad smell.

I fail to grow and thrive as a Christian

–the stench of death.

I can become

stale, at best, and foul, at worst,

close-minded to God’s leading in new directions,

irritable and hard to live with

–I stinketh.

But–glory to God!–Jesus’ resurrection-giving Living Water can clean me up and make me sweet-smelling again.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

John 7:38    NIV

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Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ.  Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.   Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation–an aroma redolent with life.

2 Corinthians 2:15,16   MSG

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   linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

 

 

linking with Holley Gerth

 

Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

The Longest Day

I saw a golden glow to the west in the space between the evergreens.  I grabbed my camera and hurried out the back door to capture the sunset.  To the south over a neighboring farm and to the north over steel grain bins, wispy clouds glowed pink, creating a high canopy over the steel-blue line of another front moving in.

On this evening, one day past summer solstice–the longest day of the year–the sun had just dipped below the horizon.  The clouds, far north in the western sky, were splashed gold and rose and azure.

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In the northern hemisphere (where I live), each day will now be shorter, and the sun will seem to set farther south, until winter’s start in the cold, dark days before Christmas.

I have passed, unknowingly, my personal summer solstice, too.  The number of days behind me outnumbers those ahead.  I have a choice now to let this realization color my remaining years with sadness only or to leave room for the broad strokes of thankfulness.  I want to say, with David, that my

my cup brims with blessing   Psalm 23:5   MSG

I embrace the Biblical phrase “full of years” that was applied to Abraham, Job, and David. I hope to also be “full of years,” overflowing with experiences, friends, family–all manner of blessings.  I want my death to be at a “good age,” regardless of the actual number of years.  Imagine the joy of one day being “gathered to [your] people.”

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.   Genesis 25:8   NIV

I am becoming more content with the inevitable conclusion of life and the aging process, too, although I experience the typical fears:

illness of body and mind, debilitating disease, loneliness, and ostensibly outliving my usefulness.  I need to remember this verse:

They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,

Psalm 92:14   NIV

The fruit may not be the same as it was when I was younger.  It may not be of the same quantity, but as long as the tree or vine is alive, it can still yield a crop.

Until then I will rest in the arms of the One who carries me and sustains me.  I will clutch these promises tight to my heart with age-spotted hands.  I will walk outside with wind-blown, white-shot hair and watch the sunsets and thank God for blessings without number.

And I will praise Him for the final rescue, the rescue from death, in the never-ending Longest Day that is yet to come.

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Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Psalm 46:4   NIV

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linking with Holley Gerth

 

Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

Life at 60 mph

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My trip to the mailbox to collect the day’s news and bills often resembles the meandering, crisscrossing trail of Billy in the Family Circus comic.

When I stroll down my driveway and across the road, it’s rarely the shortest distance between two points, and it’s certainly not the quickest.

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Near the garage door I stop to admire the velvet petals and deep pink throats of the roses, and I breathe in the sweet fragrance.

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As my booted feet crunch down the gravel driveway, I discover tiny flowers underfoot, thriving in the rocky soil.

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I find common clover blossoms–some white, some pink-tinted–dotting the lawn.

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I stray past the ash tree, sporting tender spring-blushed leaves.

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Near the fence I hear grasses rustling in the breeze, pollen sent kite-flying down wind.

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I stop to peer into red clover at the edge of the soybean field, and the blossom reveals a tiny, jeweled katydid nymph.

When I reach the ditch near our road, I see purple crown vetch leaning against stiff, grass stems, curling tendrils extended.

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I cross the road to our mailbox, but I am distracted by bursts of color–wildflowers sprinkled like confetti on the grassy ditch bank.

I fold the letters and newspaper together, push the mailbox shut, and wait for traffic to clear before walking back across.  A semi-truck roars past at 60 miles per hour, stirring up a whirlwind of gravel dust.

The truck driver probably saw none of the wildflowers.  He (or she) may not have seen me.  How could he notice, when the next delivery beckons, when eyes are assessing the next curve of pavement?

Haven’t I lived my life this way at times, hurrying from work to home to activity to appointment, without any “white space,” without any margins?  When I live life in the fast lane, it may be quickest distance between two points, but I miss so much.

 “In our rushing, bulls in china shops, we break our own lives.”

Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

The “slow lane,” the leisurely stroll allows me to experience the details of the world and the life God has given me:  delicate flowers and painted insects, sighing grasses and crunching gravel, silky petals and even gritty dust.

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for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.

Psalm 26:3   NIV

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Diane W. Bailey  linking with Diane Bailey

 

Feathers and Fathers

I need to type more carefully.  Not only do I have trouble reading accurately when I skim, I also type carelessly when I hurry.

I was searching for a particular verse on biblegateway.com and entered “feathers” in the search box.  I was amazed at the number of entries until I realized that I had mistakenly typed “fathers” instead.

Still, there are several avian metaphors in the Bible that help us understand God’s love.  Our heavenly father is compared to a bird who protects his offspring under his feathers and a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.

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When we, like frantically cheeping chicks, scramble to hide from danger, we can let God protect us and keep us safe.

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge

Psalm 91:4   NIV

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When we feel afraid, we can run to the Lord.  We can trust in his love and believe that he will provide generously for all our needs.

How exquisite your love, O God!
    How eager we are to run under your wings,
To eat our fill at the banquet you spread

Psalm 36:7,8   MSG

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When life is difficult, and we’re just waiting, trying to figure out what to do next, we can still rejoice.  We can sing!

Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.   Psalm 63:7   NIV

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When gut-twisting events and unanswered prayers steal our sleep,  we can remember how God has been faithful in the past.  We can rest in the soft, dark shadow of his presence and allow him to be El Roi–the God who sees.

I lie awake at night thinking of you—of how much you have helped me—and how I rejoice through the night beneath the protecting shadow of your wings.  

Psalm 63:6,7   TLB

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When we don’t deserve your forgiveness–again, when we’re old enough to know better, and when it seems the only good thing about us is you, Lord,  You still take us in.  You hold us close and warm, a mere breath away.

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 57:1   NIV

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When the blackness that’s rooted in our the hearts pushes away your embrace, when we reject your gospel-good-news, you still love us–all the way to the cross.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me.

Matthew 23:37   MSG

Here is the story of Liza (a silky Bantam chicken), the chicks collected beneath her wings, and her sacrificial encounter with a hawk.  Here is the gospel written in feathers.

Keep your eye on me;
    hide me under your cool wing feathers
From the wicked who are out to get me,
    from mortal enemies closing in.

Psalm 17:8   MSG

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all photos by Barb Briggs

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linking with Holley Gerth

linking with Laura Boggess

linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

Essential Fridays Linkup linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

Words Like Rain

Water is life.  We could only survive a few days without drinking water, and, of course, crops must have water to live and grow. 

We have been blessed to have showers this week in my part of the Midwest, and now the rivers run full, and the thirsty corn and bean fields have soaked up the rain.

God has been good to provide for our need for water.

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He covers the sky with clouds;

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he supplies the earth with rain

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and makes grass grow on the hills.   Psalm 147:8   NIV

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And who do you think is the father of rain and dew,
    the mother of ice and frost?
You don’t for a minute imagine
    these marvels of weather just happen, do you?

Job 38:28-30   MSG

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In Deuteronomy 32 we read that Moses knew he wasn’t going to live much longer and was getting his “affairs in order.”  He had written down the Law and had passed leadership to Joshua. Moses also wanted to teach a song to the children of Israel.

Despite the clear choice that had been put before Israel,

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life .  .  .    Deuteronomy 30:19, 20   NIV

Moses knew the people would stray.  He wanted them to learn the song by heart, so that when the day came that they turned away from God, the words of the song would be a witness against them.  It begins:

Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;
    hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.

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Let my teaching fall like rain
    and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
    like abundant rain on tender plants.

Deuteronomy 32:1,2   NIV

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To sum up Moses’ song (which continues through forty-three verses in chapter 32):

God is great.  God is good.  And you, Israel, are not.

I’m not.  We’re not.

Just as Moses knew Israel would turn away,  God knew we would stray, too, and sent Jesus because He loved us.

Water may be life, but Jesus is Life everlasting (John 11:25 and 14:6) and the Living Water (John 4:10).

Listen to His words–gentle, life-giving words–words like rain.

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Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day,  .  .  .  They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.   Deuteronomy 32:46    NIV

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