Photo Reflection

introduction

Romans 1:20 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.

God’s creation is constantly revealing His nature to us. I pray to see the world around me ever-more-completely through the filter of His truth…And this is what I’ve seen!

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Matthew 26:24

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The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. (Matthew 26:24, KJV)

30 pieces of silver…

bubble trapped in ice, our home, Columbia, ME

It is astonishing to me that one of Jesus’ disciples, one who ate and slept and lived and breathed with Him, who learned from Him and healed with Him and witnessed His miracles and cast out demons in His name, would ultimately sell Him to His enemies for just 30 pieces of silver, the simple price of a slave.

In fact, it was astonishing to everyone except Jesus. Jesus always knew. It was only in hindsight that the others recognized it, but Jesus always knew. Jesus was not astonished, and Jesus was not even upset. Jesus submitted Himself patiently to this unparalleled betrayal. We do not find Jesus weeping here, as He wept over the broken hearts of His people at the house of Lazarus, as He wept over the hardened hearts of His people in the city of Jerusalem…

Instead, we find Him here calmly declaring the fulfillment of what has been written…And then transitioning immediately to a much more urgent lesson, to something more important than our astonishment at the evil that may be secretly hiding in the hearts of men who appear good…

Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! (Luke 17:1, KJV)

You see, while we should remain astonished that any one who experiences Jesus’ presence should ever betray Him, it is much more important to consider the consequences of what Jesus declares next. It is important because it turns our thinking upside down. We consider offense to be the cause and woe to be the effect, trouble to be the cause and distress to be the effect. But Jesus clearly, plainly, and unequivocally demonstrates and teaches something quite different. He was not distressed when this trouble came upon Him. He was not saddened or angered or upset by the betrayal of one of His closest companions. He assures us that trouble will come. And in His victorious kingdom, He teaches us a truth that sets us free –  since the Father’s good will is always being accomplished, as it is written, the person who has cause for woe is not the person to whom great evil comes, but only the person through whom great evil comes.

And this is both a wonderful promise and an awesome responsibility.

Because the simple truth is that God’s will will be done. It will be done with us or against us, through us or in spite of us, equally through the actions of good men and the actions of evil men…

And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:15, KJV)

God blessed Israel through Balaam…God rebuilt His temple through Cyrus…God spoke prophecy through the High Priest Caiaphas…God fulfilled Messianic prophecy through Judas…But I would not desire to find myself in the place of any of these ungodly men through whom God’s will was accomplished!

And so the important question that we must begin to ask ourselves, in the face of this teaching, is how will we prefer to be found? Faithfully participating in God’s plans, or being used to accomplish His plans in spite of ourselves? Seeking His kingdom first in all things, or following along casually in His presence, heedless of the thirty pieces of silver preparing a place for themselves within our hearts?

You see, the unfolding of God’s will is not, actually, evidence of any individual’s devotion to His will. It can’t be. The unfolding of God’s will is evidence only of the power of His Holy Spirit at work, independent of any will or thought or action of our own, accomplishing that which He desires it to accomplish, for the good of His eternal kingdom…

When someone responds to an altar call, that is not actually evidence that the preacher loves the Lord. It is only evidence that the Holy Spirit loves the Lord. When someone gets baptized, that is not actually evidence that they love the Lord. It is only evidence that the way of salvation is available to all. When someone prays for help or healing or finances or promotions or cars or houses and receives them, it is not actually evidence that the person loves the Lord. It is only evidence that God sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. It may simply be evidence that the prince of this world possesses all of the riches of this world, and gives them to whomever he pleases. All of these events work together for the good of God’s people, but you cannot tell from the events themselves which people are God’s people. 

We cannot actually tell, from any external evidence, from even the most clear fulfillment of the will of God demonstrated before our eyes, whether or not we stand in the place of the disciples, or in the place Judas, whether God’s will is done through us, or in spite of us.

This is not an easy lesson. In this lesson, we do not get to stand up and say, “Because I love the Lord, I know that I am saved.” Can we, with our deceitful hearts, truly know that we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? I imagine Judas would have claimed that he did, and I imagine there were times when he quite thoroughly believed it.

In this lesson, we do not even get to stand up and say, “Because the Lord loves me, I know that I am saved.” The Lord will be equally glorified by the salvation of His children as the destruction of His enemies…Can we, with our human judgment, know for certain which will be which? I imagine Judas was quite confident that all of his actions would stand before the God of heaven, until the very last.

In this lesson, we get to lay face down on the ground and say, “Is it I, Lord? Will I betray you, though I’ve loved you, though I’ve known you, though I’ve walked in your ways all these years, could it be I, here at the end, who will turn and betray you?” In this lesson, we get to bow our heads and beat our breasts and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In this lesson, we get to remember that our confidence does not come from any particle of ourselves, from any evidence of any kind in this world, but only from the gracious power of our Father, Who alone is able to keep that which we have entrusted to Him, if only we continue to entrust it to Him. In this lesson, we get to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to guard our hearts, to guard our eyes, to guard our mouths, to take every thought captive, to watch carefully and constantly, that what we think, that what we do, that what we say, would not offend and grieve the Holy Spirit, would not dishonor our Heavenly Father, would not crucify our Lord and Savior anew…In this lesson, we find safety only in the knowledge that there is no stronghold but the Lord…In this lesson, we should be prepared to say, “Lord, if at the end of my days, I enter into eternal torment, it is only exactly what I deserve. I thank You and praise You that at least I have had the opportunity to learn and seek to follow your perfect ways in these days of my life, though it by no means redeems the penalty of my sins…Only Your sacrifice is enough to redeem me, only Your arm is strong enough to save me, and if Your grace and mercy will save me from my wretchedness, by the simple abundance of Your goodwill, I will be forever grateful to sing Your praise!” In this lesson, we can rely on absolutely nothing but our God, Himself, alone. Fortunately, He is mighty!

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not…(Luke 22:31-32, KJV)

Father, I pray that You would remove those pieces of silver far from my heart. As I walk in Your presence, I pray that You would keep me in Your ways, as only You can, protect me as a servant who will do Your will out of my great love for You, and save me from the path of the one who would do Your will in spite of myself.

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (John 17:15, KJV)

bubble trapped in ice, our home, Columbia, ME

Acts 1:7

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And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. (Acts 1:7, KJV)

It is late fall in Downeast Maine, and the first of our winter weather has already arrived. Icy cold fronts, freezing overnight temperatures, and the first few snowfalls have settled us comfortably into the routines of snow-clothes and wood-stoves and hot-chocolates…

And yet, as I brushed my teeth one evening, what should I see right there in my bathroom window, but a clouded sulfur moth, shiny and new and ready for the summer fields of wildflowers!

What strange circumstance, what unforeseen sequence of events, what unpredictable combination of delayed cocooning with some well-insulated nook, led to the late-November hatching of this magnificent creature, I will never know!

In fact, only the Lord knows…

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Matthew 24:36, KJV)

And He was gracious to share this moment with me, in a season of life when I rely on Him day-by-day, even moment-by-moment…In a season of life when I do not know what is coming next, when I often cannot see how the things that I do today will possibly translate into the things that I will need to be doing at this time next year, He reminds me that only He knows the day and the hour, only He knows the times and the seasons, and only He knows the plans that He has for me…And that this is exactly as it should be, since only He is able to perfectly plan them all to the good of all of His children!

There are times in our lives when we think that we have plans that make sense, when we think that the things we are working on now are marching progressively in the direction of the things that we are building towards…We have our goals and objectives, our plans and our schedules, and we diligently work day-by-day towards the accomplishment of our purposes…It seems like we are managing our own lives, our own actions, our own time…

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. (James 4:13-14, KJV)

But the honest truth is that any control of our own time is a complete illusion, and really a very destructive illusion…Because we do not know the day or the hour. In any given moment, at any stage of our plans, whether they are good or bad, whether we are successful or unsuccessful, the times could change. The Lord could return, or we could go to meet Him. And in that moment, will we have been thinking of His plan, or thinking of our plans? If we believe, at any level, in our ability to make our own plans, in our management of our own time, we risk being in the wrong frame of mind at any particular moment, at that one, most critical moment…

And the only answer, the only way to truly manage our time, is actually to abandon ourselves completely into the hands of the Father, every day, and every hour, so that we may be ready at every moment!

And here, fluttering its gentle wings in my cupped hands, was a precious reminder of this simple truth…God’s timing is not my timing – in fact, there is no such thing as my timing…He alone holds management over all time, as He makes abundantly evident, even in the natural cycles that He, Himself, has established. He may be pleased to circumvent them at anytime; they, after all, belong to Him!

And so He reminds me that He can, beautifully, gloriously, simply and completely and purely, do all things in any time that He desires…And I am comforted and privileged to place all of my times, unreservedly, into His hands!

…nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12, KJV)

Isaiah 65:1

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I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. (Isaiah 65:1, KJV)

vernal pool ice

In search of snow buntings…

We drove to the blueberry barrens in search of snow buntings. We found ourselves stuck in the snow and ice. We prayed and we worked, patiently, diligently, digging out tires, putting down sand, rocking and pushing, following Joe’s instructions, waiting upon the Lord’s direction…

We found a lesson. Joe said, “I thought it looked fine, but I didn’t pray about it. I try to pray about everything, but I didn’t pray about this one decision. It just looked the same as when I had driven on it before.”

We found provision. At each step, Joe asked the Lord, “What should I do next?” We had many options. We could walk over to one of the houses and ask for help. We could walk home, it wasn’t really that far. We could keep digging, we’d get there eventually. And so we waited, and prayed, and took little steps at a time. 

After about an hour, Joe said, “Well, Lord, I think that’s about all I can do to the truck…What should I do now?” And I said, “A truck’s coming down the road!” So we got out our tow ropes, and a very grumpy and disgruntled gentleman pulled us out. He gave Joe an earful about the town not taking care of the roads, and people going out on the barrens when they shouldn’t. I had the kids roll up the windows due to an excess of colorful language. 🙂 I look forward to delivering the gentleman a little bag of cookies next week, with a thank-you note, because no matter how grumpy he is, I’m just happy he pulled us out of the snow – that was much easier!

And we found, as Joe so aptly put it, that even when we make mistakes, when our hearts are for the Lord, when we are not trying to be disobedient, but we simply goof up, He is so merciful to us to still watch over our steps, to guide our actions, and to answer our prayers. This is a great comfort, in times of small adversity, to be treasured and remembered in times of greater adversity!

We found that we overcame…And that we learned a little bit about what it means to overcome…And that we were delivered…As only He can deliver us…Because the truth is, we never really overcome anything ourselves, but we overcome only inasmuch as we patiently wait upon the Lord, until He delivers us…And that is a lovely lesson to learn, even when you’re learning while being stuck in the snow!

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? (Hebrews 12:7, KJV)

When we went out today in search of snow buntings, I said to Joe, “I have a feeling I’m going to be writing today about being in search of snow buntings…And I have a feeling that I’m going to be writing about how you go in search of one thing, and often what you find is not what you expected…So unfortunately, I wonder if that might mean we won’t be seeing any snow buntings…”

And indeed, we did not! What we found was not what we set out to seek, but still we are happy to receive what the Lord has graciously provided!

Because sometimes, indeed often-times, the thing you go looking for is not the thing you find…The thing you seek, when it arrives, is not what you thought it would be, is not what you expected, is not what you were looking forward to…And yet, it is what the Lord planned, it is what the Lord foresaw, it is what the Lord ordained…So, the question is, how will you accept it – and the answer is, with great joy!

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4, KJV)

And that’s why there is only one answer…That’s why there is only one thing safe for us to seek…I may be in search of snow buntings, but I better be first-and-foremost in search of God’s will!

If we seek the Lord, if we seek His glory, if we seek His kingdom, if we seek Him in all things, if we seek Him only, only He is great enough, is wise enough, is good enough, is perfect enough to be found exactly as we need Him, exactly as is best for us, exactly as He has planned for our refinement into His image…If we seek Him only, He will give us the desires of our heart, and the desires of our heart will be for Him, and then we will receive whatever He provides with the greatest of joy!

The Lord will reveal to whom He will reveal; the Lord will reveal in the manner He chooses to reveal; the Lord will be found as He is pleased to be found…And so, when we are in search of Him, though we will not always find what we expect, we will always find exactly what we need!

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, KJV)