The BEST First

Here’s our word for the day: first. Like, first in line, in a race, in a contest, or first when a meal is served. In our childhood’s we wanted to be first. Yet, most adults around us advocated that we learn to wait our turn. Being first is good, and bad. The bad part of being first is selfishness. There are good things about first.

First is good when we think of human needs. First is wonderful when you are thirsty. The first swallow of fresh clean water is delightful. So is that first sip of coffee in the morning. It is great when you are really hungry and you put that first bite in your mouth. First is heavenly when you are really tired and you lay your head on the pillow to sleep.

First is magnificent in nature. We have arrived at the time of first cold, freezing cold. The first ice sculptures on the edges of lake are stunning figures of water in solid state. First cold brings resplendent beauty. First cold causes humans to bring out caps, jackets, mittens, even boots. It brings a cold refreshment to exposed skin. First cold makes first warmth upon returning inside a simple delight.DSC_0012_879sig First cold brings migration. Just the thought of geese, swans, ducks and songbirds on the move to unfrozen water and available food is thrilling…seriously. Hearing the haunting beauty of the first fall calls of migrating tundra swans puts goosebumps on my skin. DSC_0028_886sigBack to first ice, it represents a major change in all bodies of water. Ice seals the lake or wetland for a season of cold, a season of darkness and quiet beneath the frozen sheet. That season has come now.DSC_0013_880sigDSC_0017_882sig

Thinking about “first” brings us to the most important first. It is a true first that changes everything for every human past, present and future. This first is about love-the love of God. This is the core of that truth: God loves us first. We do not know how indescribably good this is. God loves us first. When God loves us first that means he loved us before we breathed our first breaths. He loved us before we could delight in this earth he made-for us to live on and delight in. Because God loves us first, that means all of our bad junk-lies, coveting, hate-you know all of the evil we do-is already covered. What came first God’s love or my sin? This is not a trick question. Because God loved us first, all of our evil behaviors are already covered by the love of an eternal living God. 1 John 4:19 says, “we love because he first loved us.”DSC_0022_884sig

Firsts in nature are delightful. They occur every season. The most important reason nature firsts are wonderful is that they remind us of God’s great first love. As first ice forms, as Tundra swans fly overhead, let your heart be at peace as these signs of God’s power also remind you of His everlasting first love for you and me. God loves us first even though he knew we would not deserve it, he loved us first anyway.  This is the best first of all.DSC_0031_888sig

Why There are “Outskirts”

This is the final piece of writing about “outskirts.”…for now.

These seven photos are ordinary examples of the outskirts of the outskirts of the majesty and power of God. These photos were taken from July through November. There are actually uncountable millions of beautiful photos which could have been taken but were not. Yet, the beauty of the earth continued.DSC_0169_311sig

Job used this term to describe the majesty and power of God. Understanding this word brings us closer to understanding what omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God is like.
One example Job provided regarding the “outskirts” of God’s glory is contained in this statement, “He hangs the earth on nothing.” Breath stopping views of earth from the moon confirm this- there is nothing holding the earth.DSC_0005_871sigDSC_0028_723sigDSC_0108_735sig

Wanting more of this awesome picture of God, my question for three days was, “If hanging the earth on nothing is the edge of God’s power and majesty-what must the center be?”

For two days my mind pondered this question. My thought was the answer could not be known until heaven. A few days ago, it came to me (a gift from God) that we can know the exact center of the majesty and power of God today, today, now.

If the “outskirts” of God’s majesty and power is evidenced by the earth “hanging on nothing” then the center of his majesty and power is Jesus. Jesus is the center of God’s awesome power and glory.

John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. The love of Jesus before, now and in the future days to come is the center of the unfathomable power of God. The power of God centers in love. Look at the photos, see the power and know the even greater love of God for you. Fall to your knees, this love for us is beyond amazing and God promises his love for eternity!DSC_0068_760sigDSC_0160_869sig

The Edge of “Outskirts”

Walk with me to the outskirts. You remember, the edges. We will walk past the small grove of ash trees towering over invasive tenacious buckthorn. As we reach the edge the ground will be soft. There’s water near the surface here. Here near a new outskirt we’ll find reed canary grass. In this place it always grows at the edge of the outskirts. We take just a few more steps and we arrive. At this “outskirt” the broad-leafed cattail grows in tangled abundance. This outskirt is peaceful, the north wind cannot reach the sheltered wetland where this outskirt is found.DSC_0128_859sig

It is cold here, but we won’t stay long. We will linger a few minutes to examine this outskirts plant. Speak Latin with me, say Typha latifolia. We could simply call it cattail, but personally the Latin term is more stimulating. If we could look at a map of North America we would see that broad-leafed cattail grows in every state of the lower 48, into Canada and on to Alaska. If we had come here when the cattail were green and growing we could have enjoyed a cattail snack. During the growing season, all parts of the cattail are edible. Since we cannot see it now you should know that cattail pollen is considered a fine flour substitute. Its rich yellow color adds an eye appealing color to fresh pancakes. Are you hungry yet? One more thing about cattail as food. An acre of cattail would produce about 6,400 pounds of flour. In comparison, an acre of wheat produces about 65 bushels, each bushel produces 42 pounds of flour. Do the math, an acre of wheat will produce about 2730 pounds of flour. Now you are wondering, why don’t we have cattail flour.DSC_0132_861sig.jpg

I know what you are thinking. It’s cold. Yes, it is, my fingers are feeling it. Before we go, take a look again at this plant. So common, but it’s definitely an “outskirts” plant. Grab one of the brown seed heads, the ones that look like brown hotdogs on a stick. Let’s try counting the seeds. Ok, right there could be over 300,000 on one seed head. By the way the cattail seed is about 2mm long you can see some of them sticking to the seed head. Yes, that’s unimaginable! Let me tell you cattail can also spread by their roots. Cattail rhizomes spread under water, they can even grow while floating in the water. But an acre of cattails may only come from a few cattail plants whose rhizomes have spread over the space.DSC_0145_864sig

Yes, it’s cold. Walk back to the car with me. There are many other reasons why this common wetland plant is an exceptional “outskirts” plant. Since the parking lot is close, listen to two more. This is not a trick question, or a riddle. What do cattail do to prevent overpopulation a wetland? They emit a toxin which prevents germination of their own species. The last reason is one of my favorites. cattail are the perfect habitat for red-winged blackbirds. They make their nests of cattail, and they find their insect food on the cattail plants. Males, who return first in the spring use the old mostly bare seed stems as perches when they establish a cattail territory.

Oh, it has been on my mind that perhaps the cattail is not really an “outskirts” plant. In thinking about it perhaps we should classify the broad-leafed cattail as an “edge of outskirts” plant. You know at the outskirts of the outskirts. Why? It’s not a big enough example of the majesty and power of God.

In Job 26:14 we discover the true “outskirts” examples: God has hung the earth on nothing! What would you hang the earth on if it were up to you? We read that another of the “outskirts” of God’s majesty and power are when God, “wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.” Job 26:8  Don’t stop, I won’t even make you uneasy by asking you how many clouds you have made, and we won’t think about filling them with water without bursting.

Would you agree? The broad-leafed cattail even though truly amazing really should be an “edge of outskirts” example of the power of God? Could we drive home in silence?  Thinking about “outskirts.” makes talk seem unfitting.DSC_0153_867sigDSC_0157_868sig

 

 

 

On the “Outskirts”

This word has been on my mind all day: outskirts. Either you are thinking, “get a life,” or you are wondering, “why?” For those who wonder, outskirts is synonymous with fringes, the outer edge of something.

I have found a bird that is definitely on the outskirts.  This is my explanation.

The bird referred to is the emblematic American Robin (Turdus migratorius, (turdidae are the thrush family). It holds an esteemed place for nature watchers. For some it is a herald of warmer days ahead. It has been the subject of songs and poetry. A robin’s song stirs the human heart. Found year around in the United States, Robins also nest in most of Canada. It is estimated that 310 million American Robins live on the North American continent. The estimated population of the United States for 2017 is 324 million. There are almost enough robins for every American to enjoy their own personal robin! The robin is likely at the outskirts of the places where North Americans live, whether it is Mexico, the United States or Canada-there is a robin near you.DSC_0038_843sig

Robins are more than symbols of good weather. They are prolific. A female robin may produce up to 3 broods each year. This is a necessity. The entire population of 310 million turns over within 6 years. Life is short for a robin. In fall, surviving robins gobble enormous amounts of fruit as they prepare for migration. Robins are frugivorous. They eat fruit. Of course, worms are in their diet, but only when in season. John James Audubon praised the robin for skillful nest-building and for nourishing their young “with anxious care” He described the robin pair as “tender parents.”  Such behavior enables the robin population to remain steady, even grow in some areas.

Robins are the birds we are most familiar with. Being an “outskirts” or at the edges, dweller, it is often the robin whose nest or eggs are found by children. The robin is likely the bird most children know because robins live in proximity to humans. Children and adults delight in the sight of two robins in a tug of war contest over a fat spring night crawler. It is equally delightful to watch robins gorge themselves on the fruit of fall. They especially enjoy the small ornamental apples produced by the thousands of flowering crab apple trees planted in many places of the country.DSC_0044_844sig

The robin magnificently represents another use for the word “outskirts”. Have you thought about the magnitude of 310 million robins dying every 6 years? Have you considered how many eggs female robins lay to produce 310 million juvenile robins in 6 years? How many worms and how much fruit do these 310 million eat? How many feathers are on 310 million robins? Yes, the robin is a perfect example of a model for the word “outskirts.”

Here’s what it means. Job is one of my favorite Bible people. While he was explaining to his friends used the word “outskirts” to describe the unfathomable majesty of God. He spoke of “hanging the earth on nothing,” and of “binding water in thick clouds and the clouds do not split open.” He said, “even the pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.” (Job 26) In conclusion, Job reminds his friends that these things are “but the outskirts of his ways…” The robin is another outskirt example. This bird, a delight to many, is another example of the power and majesty of almighty God. There are many examples of things outside which demonstrate just the “outskirts” of God’s power. What delight there is in being a student of the “outskirts.” What a privilege it is to examine just the edges of the greatness of God!DSC_0051_845sig

Stunning Power

DSC_0204_834sigPhotographs of nature always catch my attention. My offer to you:  six pictures of natural objects for your eyes to focus upon. The first, the final yellow leaves of fall clinging to the branch despite a strong northwest wind. The second, the gray white seed of stiff goldenrod transformed by ripening from brilliant yellow to gray white, matching the color of winter to come. The third, cottonwood yellow and what happens when the final moisture dries from the leaf. The fourth, little bluestem purple, a permanent fall favorite of mine. The final two photos are of the common Canada goose. Remember, however, there is nothing common about the Canada goose.DSC_0005_842sig

These six will be our evidence, only six. Understand, there are millions, even an infinite number more which may stand as evidence. These six photos were taken less than 10 minutes from the living room couch where my current book awaits my attention. It is conceivable that within this small area there are millions of other photos to use as evidence. My choice this time, trees, grass, flowers and birds. Subjects not chosen to use as evidence are the stars, planets, the sky, and the ocean, these are the colossal examples of evidence. These six photos are more than enough proof.DSC_0210_836sig

Each speaks of the power of invisible God. But, to speak of the power of God is something my mind is highly unqualified for. Sorry, your mind is not qualified either. To offer these six photos of evidence that God is the creator of the earth and universe is sufficient. Our minds then move to the infinite number of living things inhabiting the earth. All were formed by God. Scientists estimate there are from 5 million to 100 million species, and only 2 million of them have been identified. Actually, this is unfathomable, but it is clearly evidence of God’s power.

To me the greatest demonstration of the power of God is found in HOW he created all we see on earth and beyond. We know one thing about how God created. There is unimaginable power in this: God created all we know and see by speaking them into existence. He SPOKE and there were cottonwood trees, geese, little bluestem and stiff golden rod. God spoke and it existed. Are you able to speak anything into existence? You know I can’t.DSC_0217sig

My final question, what power might God possess if he can say a word and something exists which did not before? You do not need to take my word for it. The writer of the book of Hebrews speaks of the power of God. We read, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Hebrews 11:3

To keep us clear about God’s absolute power. He also willingly gives us the faith we need to believe and understand his power. This bi-level faith enables us to believe and it saves us from our sins. Paul, the author of the book of Ephesians wrote this about faith, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

Search for evidence of Gods power. It is easy to recognize, we are surrounded by it. Why would there be so much evidence of God on earth and in the heavens. One reason is he wants us to know him. Amazing, the God of the universe, creator of all things wants to know you-and me. We can speak to him through prayer, another of his gifts to us. These truths are stunning.DSC_0009sig

Two Kinds of Water

Water, is as old as the earth itself. Water outlasts every human who needs it for life. Old, ancient, yet constantly renewable and always life-giving. It is made to refresh every cell in the human body. Likewise, all earth dwelling animals need the daily recharge of water within their cells. Water is the universal life-giving liquid. Foul it, dirty it then filter it clean again. It is always on the move. Evaporating, condensing precipitating as rain, snow, sleet, fog, even hail. The cycle of water is massive. It covers the entire earth. Blizzards, thunderstorms, hurricanes, torrential rains and gentle showers water the earth. It soaks into the earth giving life to all plant life. It runs off the earth forming rivers useful to man and wildlife.DSC_0143_820sig

DSC_0145_821sigWater is beautiful in every form. Water as ice is hard, cold and refreshing. As liquid it quenches thirst and cleans our skin. As gas it is invisible, able to form clouds. It can be blue, gray or the color of stainless steel. Water reflections form magnificent mirror images. No other substance has qualities like it. Actually, water is a miracle life-giving substance. We take it for granted. We can. God made water. He put it on earth to sustain life. God controls the water cycles of the earth. He knows how to care for it. Water is his gift.DSC_0165_841sig

DSC_0171_827sigGod has made another kind of water. It’s called “living water.” Living water is God’s specialty. This water is God’s ultimate gift to humans. Drink of this water and you will never thirst again. This living water wells up, it gives eternal life. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well on a hot day in the middle east. He told her he was the living water. He invited her to drink of the living water and receive eternal life. She did.

God is the perfect water expert. He has made two kinds. One gives life on earth, to earth. The other is far more powerful than earthly water. His second kind of water is more miraculous than earthly water. It’s Jesus, the living water, He is the source. Drink the life-giving water of earth for physical health. “Drink” the living water Jesus offers to be cleaned of every sin, and given life everlasting. You might think water this powerful would be expensive. Do you know what the most amazing truth about this living water is? Jesus, Son of God, invites us to come, it’s free, no strings, no expectations. There are no qualifying conditions, you are invited to partake of living water-as you are. Come drink, Jesus is inviting us.DSC_0178_828sigDSC_0179_829sig

No Ordinary Dove

It was a dove in a tree. But not just a dove. My first exposure to a dove of this species came nearly a decade earlier. It was on a barrier island in Florida. The calls of this bird brought a sense of being in an exotic place. The dove in the tree was the same species, close up. But it was not in Florida. This bird was in central North Dakota.

The bird is an Eurasian Dove or Streptopelia decaocto . The spread of these doves across the North American continent is astonishing. Yet, almost beyond belief is the fact that this bird’s place of origin is the Middle East. In 1974 ancestors of the dove in the photo were accidentally introduced to the Bahamas through a burglary of a pet shop. By the 1980’s this dove’s ancestors where in Florida. 47 years later collared doves live in North Dakota. It is an astounding testimony of the resilient power of a species, and something more, but that comes later.

If the essential habitat is present wildlife flourishes. In the circumstance of the collared dove, it is people who have provided the collared dove the platform to expand its range so swiftly. Bird feeders and trees people have planted in urban and suburban areas have created the perfect habitat storm for collared doves to flourish. They are now found in every state from Florida to Washington, all states west of the Mississippi have collared dove populations. Collared doves prosper where there are people.

Remember the collared dove’s place of origin? My imagination prompts me to think of another dove thriving under the care of people. This one was in a boat, a very large boat. All the land species of animals found in the world were on this boat. The boat floated through an earth flooding storm lasting 150 days. 10 months and 40 days later, almost a year after the flood began, the man on the boat released a dove “to see if the water had receded from the ground.” It came back to his hand. 7 days later it returned to him with a ‘freshly plucked olive leaf” in its beak. When he “sent it out” a third time a week later, “it did not return to him”. There is a respectable probability the dove Noah released three times was the Eurasian collared dove.

God also used the dove to teach us about Himself. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit of God came “down from heaven as a dove and remained on Jesus.”

Watch a gentle dove, be reminded of the tender, enduring love of God the Father Creator. God used a dove for his purpose in the flood, at the baptism of Jesus, and he is spreading his doves to remind us today his love is unchanged. The world is not spinning out of control. God oversees all, nothing escapes his notice, nothing occurs without his allowing, even the spread of doves. What should be our response to One who commands birds, even the wind and the waves…and they obey?