In Search of Beauty

Human beings are beauty enthusiasts. We realize this, but seldom think of it. The world’s most famous museum, the Louvre, holds 35, 000 masterpieces. Millions of people visit here annually. They come to see beauty. We don’t need to think about liking things that are beautiful, we are wired to enjoy it. The substantial number of annual visitors to the Louvre is evidence we are willing to seek it.

Beauty is not found only in paintings. The musical compositions of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and many others are witness to the beauty found in music. The human ear is synchronized with the heart to the beauty of harmony and melody. Beautiful music brings joy, peace and great emotion to the human spirit. The music does not need to be classical. It is estimated that 32 million people in the United States attend a music festival each year. It is the beauty they hear in music which draws them.

Humans become obsessed with beauty. Masterpiece paintings are stolen. Shiny new cars, sparkling diamonds, dazzling gold are objects we humans can become fanatically infatuated with.

What is the gateway through which we relate to beauty? We find it with our 5 senses. Throughout our lives we use our eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, and finger tips to know beauty.

We see beauty in a sunset. Hear it as the wind rustles the leaves of Aspen trees. Feel it as that same breeze caresses our skin and cools it. We delight in the scent of water freshened air. The citrus taste of a fresh orange boosts a healthy diet.

What is beauty? We know it when we see it. Understand it when we hear it. We are grateful when we feel it. We say “aah!” as we smell it and “yum” when we taste it.

Why does it grip the human heart so strongly? Human ability to appreciate beauty is a gift. While we use our 5 senses for other aspects of life, the 5 human senses work in harmony with beauty. Without our senses we could not enjoy or delight in the beauty found on earth.

Now, what is the origin of beauty? Serious reflection brings us to the conclusion that beauty did not develop with time. The qualities of what constitute beauty exist. They did not advance as time passed. Recorded human history for millennia reveals the presence of beauty. It also reveals the existence of the human sensory gifts to experience it.

Our 5 senses and beauty are God’s gifts to us. Beauty originates with God. Psalm 50:2 is clear: “From Zion, (Zion in this context means heaven.) perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” God is infinite beauty. He is the creator of beauty, and He made 5 human senses to experience it.

Examine the photos with this text. They provide examples of the beauty God placed in this world. No human has ever been credited with the invention of a human sensory ability. Yet, every human has a sense and appreciation for beauty. We were made to seek it and delight in it.

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Finally, the wisest man in world history, King Solomon of Israel, wrote these words about beauty and its origin, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 Enjoy this beautiful world, use your gifted senses to experience it. Have no fear when you cannot comprehend it all. The Creator of beauty and your senses loves you with a love beyond understanding. Remember the love of God when you next experience beauty on earth. Go, seek it and find its Creator.

Waiting for Sunrise

Have you ever anticipated something? It may be a day in the future like a graduation, or a wedding. It could be a new job. There are many things we find reason to anticipate with pleasure.
For me, it was a sunrise.
Bruce, my cousin and friend would be my guide. He said, “I’ll pick you up at 5:00 AM.” My response was, “I’ll be ready.” After he told me I had to wait. Waiting is hard-especially when you wait for something you know will be good. Waiting for sunrise, it’s splendid and hard.
My head was on the pillow early the night before we were to go. My goal was to be up at 4:30. My feet touched the floor at 4:23 AM. Knowing the morning would be long, a bit of food was my task after dressing.

With camera and gear in the backpack my step outside happened 20 minutes before 5 AM. The black sky glittered with stars. The Milky Way glimmered from southwest to north-east. My gaze went to the east. Sunrise was on my mind.
Soon, the sound of tires on asphalt told me he was coming. No one else would be up this early. We drove east on the main road of the island. Only one other vehicle was out this early. That person was headed west, likely not for sunrise.

We reached the entrance gate to the State Park. Bruce punched in the code and we drove eastward into the park. In the darkness to my right it was difficult to ignore the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico. It was mystery with hundreds of miles of wilderness salt water. But we were headed for the east end of the island, the tip and sunrise there.
We came to the gate that closed off the protected shorebirds nesting area. Only a gravel road passed through this part of the park. Using the code provided we went through and closed it behind us. We were 4 miles from sunrise now. In those dark miles with only the pickup headlights to show the way our only companion was a Night-hawk which flew up from its resting spot on the road.
The Milky Way and handle of the Big Dipper were still visible as we parked at the east end. Bruce gave me a red-light LED flashlight and we walked on the sand along the bay. Ghost crabs scurried into their holes or swam into clear deeper water from us. No hint of sunlight yet.
As we reached the end of the island Bruce led us southward toward the Gulf of Mexico. The south wind pleasantly cooled our faces. The vastness of the place was unmistakable. A deep sense of wildness came upon me. We were alone with only the sound of the breeze, the surf and shorebirds of the night.
Then Bruce said, “Let’s look for a bench.” It delighted me when a short distance later we found a ledge of sand created by the water from a recent high tide. We sat on the “bench.” It was perfectly positioned. It faced east. We sat. We waited. Our words were few. The magnificence all around us was powerful, making words, irrelevant. Sunrise would be soon. We watched the eastern horizon.DSC_0455ed
My camera was ready. We watched as a more intense pink-orange glow developed in the east. Moments later a golden sliver of sun popped above the earth’s edge. We could see the sun move with the horizon as a reference. In moments the perfect star for earth cleared the horizon. The day had begun.DSC_0477ed
One reward for our early rising besides the sun, were the shore birds we saw in first light. A Great Blue Heron landed near us. Perhaps it thought we were fisherman. Royal Terns, Sanderlings, Willets, Brown Pelicans even a Red Knot searched for food to fill their stomachs. We got to watch them.DSC_0484ed

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Waiting for the sunrise turned my thoughts to another event greater than any sunrise. It is a once in eternity event. It is coming. It is worth every anticipation, even longing for. It is better than a sunrise. Actually, it is better than all sunrises and sunsets combined since time began. Imagine that.
One day, some-day, Jesus the Son of God will come again. The Bible tells us “every eye will see him.” Like a sunrise, Jesus is coming again to the earth he made and on which he walked. The return of Jesus will be a simultaneous world-wide event. Every person on earth will see him.
This is the best part: Those who believe he is the Son of God and Savior of the world who have turned from their sins in repentance will be raised with him… “in the clouds” to be with him in heaven. (Revelation 1:7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Waiting for a sunrise reminds me that one day Jesus will return. It will be magnificent beyond imagination. DSC_0477ed

Value in Stillness

Think with me about being still. If someone asks you to be still, what is your response? Is it stop moving? Still is opposite of move. Does still include speech? Are we still if we talking? Stillness is opposite motion. We’ve established two qualities of stillness. First, still is ending physical movement and second, closing our mouths. This is not an attempt to be unpleasant. We need the plain uncluttered truth about being still. There is a third quality of stillness. To be still is to quiet our thoughts. Our minds are full of thousands of thoughts. What we’ll do next, unfinished tasks, appointments, meetings, kids activities, sports, things we want. You understand. Still our minds, but not empty them. Stillness permits our minds to become focused.

Why be still? Someone asked me recently, why are there animals on earth? One reason, we can learn from them. We have an Eastern Cottontail rabbit in our backyard. It has perfected physical stillness.DSC_0026_1895sig

The Eastern Cottontail teaches us about physical stillness. Being still for a cottontail is essential to life. When most other living things eat you, being invisible in full view equals life. Biologists have discovered that only 20% of eastern cottontail survive their first year of life, that’s 8 in 10. Few cottontails live beyond their first year. Yet being a “freezer” enables a cottontail to live longer. Stillness brings life. 

Another favorite group of “freezers” are woodpeckers. All species are shy. Wary is a superior word. Even the largest, the pileated woodpecker is constantly alert for danger. Birds and mammals model the benefit of being still, without motion. It means life for them.DSC_0056_1864sigDSC_0031_1900sig

In contrast, most humans are constantly on the move. Personal calendars are full. We tell each other we multi-task. Who are we trying to dupe? Our physical bodies are not still. With physical motion our mouths and minds are engaged. Everything is moving. Why is this a problem? Life in our culture is “on the go.” Isn’t this the way to live?

These ideas are not mine. A shepherd, who spent 24/7 with sheep, wrote these words, “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7 A shepherd’s work was watching, being still. When the shepherd was still, there was time to think. Perhaps shepherds talk to sheep, not regularly. Body still, mind still, mouth closed, what happens?

God speaks. God has put each of us on a life journey. God. I am not the director of my life journey. Debate with me, but respectfully, truthfully, you are not either. Being still in body, mouth and mind brings us to a place where we can listen. It is not mental illness. When we are still God speaks. Invisible, all-powerful, everlasting, all-knowing God can easily speak to the human soul. It is simple, a shepherd directed by God gave us the way to hear God speak. Be still. Sit down, put your lips together, ask God to speak. You’ll be surprised.  You’ll discover where the absolute power is. There is real life in stillness. Need a model? Watch a cottontail.DSC_0007_1886sig

 

Done For You

How do you feel when someone asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?” Do you break out a broad smile? Are you shocked? Possibly the cynic in you thinks, “finally.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” It’s like a signed blank check. It’s like someone opening a bank account-with your name on it. It’s not an everyday experience.

Hearing those words may leave you momentarily speechless. But in those moments without words you are already thinking of what you want

By know you may be thinking, “This is not as good as it seems. When someone says something like this there are limitations.

What if there were no limitations? What if the person asking you really meant it? The word “What?”  is open ended

What if that someone was God?

He has already asked it of you. There was a blind man. He was sitting by the road. Jesus was walking on it. The blind man shouted for Jesus to have mercy on him. Jesus asked him, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) The man asked for his sight. Jesus gave it to him

But you say, “Jesus does not ask me what I want him to do for me.”

Are you sure? He has already “done” for you. You and I did not need to ask.

He wore a crown of thorns. He died on the cross. He said, “It is finished.”

“Finished” it’sDSC_0030_1658sig another word for do.

 

A Bump on a Log

Bumps on logs intrigue me. To be technical immediately, these bumps are burls. Find them on limbs and trunks of trees. Burls are formed from changes in the growth hormones of the tree. These changes occur from a number of factors. They originate from bacteria, a virus, a fungus, or even an insect.  The most common bacteria responsible for most burls is the crown gall bacterium. Scientists have discovered that crown gall bacterium carries with it extra DNA identified as plasmid. It causes the tree to produce extra amino acids and new growth regulators which cause the burl to grow. The burl appears be the preferred habitat for the bacterium. It is remarkable that the bacterium which begins the burl has usually disappeared long before the burl becomes large.

DSC_0066_1553sigA burl on a log appears useless. It does not move, its inactive, it breaks the uniformity of the tree trunk or limb on which it grows. On the outside is seems useless. The surface appearance of a burl does not fit the contour of the trunk or limb it grows on.  A derogatory statement about people relates to the burl. Know that being referred to as a “bump on a log” is not positive. It means you are not contributing, even worthless. Being a bump on a log suggests a laziness of heart, mind or body. There are few times in life when being a bump/burl on a log is a good thing.

Yet, the dense wood of burls may have great value to woodworkers. The wood grain found in burls is twisted and contorted. Its deformed nature creates a grain woodworkers call “figure.” Normally grained wood generally follows parallel lines. The grain of a burl is comparable to a ball of twine, twisted and wrapped together. Beautifully crafted pieces of art, furniture and sculpture are created from tree burls. Large burls have significant value. Because of this, the theft of burls on trees in parks and private property occurs. While a burl remains on the tree there is little damage. When a burl is removed disease is more likely to follow.

Burls teach us a spiritual lesson. Humans get burls. You can not see them on the outside as on trees. Inside every human there are “burls”. We are born with them. They are not benign. In trees burls are caused by bacteria. The bacteria in humans is sin. It is not a topic any of us enjoy being reminded of. Human burls cause jealousy, envy, striving and contention with others. Human burls are the cause of wars, murder, and sorrow and grief of all kinds. Whether we are willing to acknowledge sin in the life of every human, it exists. It is the unseen “burl.” In contrast to tree burls, human sin is deadly. Unless sin is dealt with sin in the life of a human condemns all to righteous judgement-from God.

Sin “burls” in the human heart are terminal.

Just as a burl can be turned into something of beautiful by a skilled carpenter, there is a way to turn the burl of sin to something beautiful, something perfect. All it takes is a Master. Jesus is that Master. As a boy and young man, he learned to work with wood. He was a carpenter. I have a friend who calls Jesus “the big carpenter.”  We do not need his carpentry skills here. The sacrificial death of this Carpenter gives every human who believes in him permanent “burl” removal. The blood of Jesus cleans the “burl causing bacteria” of sin from every human. The Psalmist knew how to be cleaned of sin. In Psalm 51:2 we read, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Only Jesus, “the Big Carpenter” can do that. He takes our sinful burls and turns them into a beautiful work of art, a human no longer sentenced to death, but cleaned of sin.

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Wonder Doubled

Exclamation, we know it as strong feeling. We use a mark to show it! One! is strong. Double that, does this indicate double strong feeling? What is double strong feeling? Perhaps more emotion, more passion? We know strong emotions walk with strong feelings. Perhaps they are the same. Passion found in strong feeling forms a feeling trio.

This is about strong excitement, great enthusiasm, and delight. This is about fervent emotion…doubled. To understand we will use two words: fathom and miracle. Fathom as in understand and comprehend. Miracle, the same as marvel and phenomenon.

You know there are miracles. We can find them in everywhere in nature.DSC_0073_1562sig A sunrise is an obvious place to begin. It is a phenomenon every human can witness daily on clear mornings. Astronauts aboard the International Space station witness nearly 15 sunrises in 24 hours. Because we could witness a sunrise multiple times each week, it does not seem significant. Light 8.3 minutes old streaming to earth from 93,000,000 miles distant is a marvel. Sunlight is radiant heat and bright light. Life giving vitamin D is in sunlight. Sunlight drives the entire earth process of photosynthesis. Our ability to witness a sunrise heralds a daily miracle Honestly, it is a phenomenon beyond human comprehension. This alone is double strong feeling, emotion, and passion.

Only one more example…hearts. One of my favorite birds, the Black-capped Chickadee has an astonishing heart. In daytime activity this tiny feathered dynamo has a heart rate of 2,000 beats per minute. There are three zeros after the 2. Beyond belief, 2,000 beats in 60 quick seconds. During the day it can feed constantly, not at night. How does a tiny bird survive northern climate nights where temperatures often reach -20F  (-28C)? Slow the heart rate…begin a nightly torpor, an overnight hibernation. At night a chickadee is able to slow its heart rate to 500 beats, that’s easy math 75% slower at night. Along with a vastly slower heartrate its body temperature lowers 20 degrees. Take a breath. This is unfathomable it is phenomenal in epic proportion. Make it double emotion. What makes your heart beat?

Now consider this. To put this in proper perspective we must turn to God. We read this in the Bible: “The Word of God is living, and active…”Hebrews 4:12 This truth is the foundation of the two miracles and the phenomenon they bring us, and infinitely more.

Remember what we began with, emotion, miracles, and phenomenon, doubled. In the Living Word of God, the book of Job there are two verses that read exactly the same. Word for word the same, all 12 of them.  12 words are repeated twice, a message doubled. Think about the significance of God repeating himself. Eternal, almighty, all-knowing, everywhere present God intentionally repeats this message of 12 words. Here are the words: “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Two verses, Job 5:9 AND Job 9:10  exactly the same.

When God repeats himself, listen.

Your turn, apply these words to your life now. God performs wonders and miracles, for you and no one can count them. Can you hear God shout? He’s not angry, he loves us . He reminds us twice in a dozen words. What is his greatest wonder, his most profound miracle? Jesus, the one who died for our sins. No human can fathom such love. It is the greatest exclamation the world has ever heard.DSC_0093_1404sig

Opportunity for Great Joy

 

What trials are you facing today? Not court proceedings or legal things, what ordeals and hardships make your life hard to bear? You may be facing one or more life trials right now. Life trials bring us pain and suffering. They bring us distress. None of us want them. Yet, if you are drawing breaths, if you are reading these words you know life brings troubles. If you are not in a life trial now, you also know one is coming, likely soon.

What if we could consider life trials as opportunities? No, my sanity is intact. The idea that a trial in life is really an opportunity is not mine. One with infinite wisdom is the originator of the idea that trials in life are a chance for joy. There is an example we could consider.

To begin think about shyness. Call it a fear of people. Perhaps shyness around others is one of your life trials. Our example is a bird. A very shy bird around people. This bird is large, but shy. It would seem that being large would eliminate shyness. For the Pileated Woodpecker shyness is safety. Shyness for this bird is not a trial or trouble, it is an opportunity for protection. Shyness keeps this woodpecker nearly as large as a crow alive.DSC_0003_1532sig

Pileated woodpeckers are found in forests in most of North America. Find them in the hemlock forests of the northwest, the maple forests of the northeast, the cypress swamps of the south and forested places in between including Canada. This big bird likes big trees. Nearly a foot and one half long and weighing almost 1 pound, pileated woodpeckers are bird giants compared to other birds found in the same habitat. Its size, including a jumbo-sized beak allows it to feast on the number one preferred food of its diet: carpenter ants. The colossal beak soft at birth and bone hard in adulthood is an impeccable insect harvesting tool. That is, insects living inside the hardwood of trees. This long-billed wonder can excavate holes in trees nearly 20 inches deep and up to ½ a foot wide at the bottom. John James Audubon, one of America’s premier bird artists, testified of pileated woodpeckers stripping the bark off entire trees to satisfy their ant cravings.  He added that almost always the entrance hole of the pileated nest was found on the fair weather/sun-filled south side of trees. Audubon, a careful observer of nature, also wrote these words about the pileated woodpecker, he noted, “The Pileated Woodpecker is every-where to be found in the wild woods, although scarce and shy in the peopled districts.”DSC_0009edsig

We look at shyness in people as a liability. God put it in the Pileated Woodpecker (and all other animals) to preserve its life.

We see shyness in the pileated woodpecker. But in the bird, it is not a trial, it is a gift from God. And God has given us his words regarding life trials, … Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your perseverance has a chance to grow. So, let it grow, for when your perseverance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. James 1:2-5

Let’s go back to your current trial(s)in life. Can you really count them as joy, even “great” joy? There are many reasons why the answer is yes. A big reason has feathers. You can see it. God cares for and protects the magnificent pileated woodpecker. He has given it everything it needs: beak, long tongue, stiff balance giving tail, large body, loud call, even long life; and yes- shyness. God freely provides all these gifts for a bird of his creation.DSC_0013edsig

You are different. God loves you. He knows your heart. He knows the trials you are facing. He knows the trials you will face in the days ahead. He never leaves you. In his eternal Word, the Bible, he tells us to “consider it an opportunity for great joy” when we encounter trials.  Really? Yes, certainly. We have evidence God’s Word is true. One clear indication He has given to us is a large billed, loud and very shy woodpecker.

Are you in a deep trial today? You could let the trial destroy you. Or, you could take God’s word and consider it an opportunity for great joy.