Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church

Daily Photo Parable -  December 2014

Thanks to all the photographers who have kindly accepted my invitation to provide their photos and commentary. Here's the schedule of those whose excellent, thought-provoking and encouraging work you'll be seeing, and when: SUNDAY--Bev Riter; MONDAY--Cheryl Boardman; TUESDAY--Robert Howson; WEDNESDAY--Darren Milam; THURSDAY--either Russell or Caleb Jurgensen. I handle Friday and Sabbath, generally using photos from the point-and-shoot camera I keep on my belt.-- Pastor Maylan Schurch

NOTE: To see previous photos from this current month, simply scroll down. To see previous months' blogs, click the month you want on the menu at the left.








Endings
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Endings don’t necessarily mean bad things – right?  Here’s a perfect example – this gorgeous sunset over the Puget Sound, with all its hues of orange, red, grey and a little green – it’s the end of a day.  During creation, God specifically created the end of 6 days.  The best part about the ending of those days?  There was a start to the next day.  God created them both.
 
When we think of the end of the year, what do we think about?  Are you the type of person that sits and reflects on all that has happened in the year?  Are you the type of person that pushes all that has happened aside, and focuses 100% of your energy on the coming year?  Or are you a blend of the two?  I happen to be a blend.  I feel I owe it to myself to stop and ponder the previous year – what did I accomplish?  What can I learn from it?  Where can I improve on?  Then, I take a deep breath and look at the year to come. What plans do I already have in place?  What should I do better? How can I listen to God this year – better than I did last year?
 
Given today is New Year’s Eve – take some time to reflect - it’s the ending of 2014.  Once you have done that, focus on the plans God has for you in 2015.  We know God has plans for each one of us. We know there will be joy, heartache, trials, amazing experiences and we know that God will be at our side every step of the way. For every ending, there comes a new beginning.
 
Happy 2015!


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North American Porcupine
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 30, 2014

We all have our challenges, and the North American Porcupine is no exception.  The quills for which they are famous also present personal challenges.  Being relatively large and cumbersome, this second largest rodent of North America often spends much of the daylight hours sleeping in trees.  However, they sometimes fall out of these trees as they seek tender buds at the tips of the branches.  And therein lies the problem.  If you have some 30,000 quills and are prone to falling, you could do serious damage to yourself.   But wouldn’t you know it, the Lord God has already made provision for such occurrences for it is the only North American mammal to have antibiotics in its skin.

Its Latin name, from which we indirectly get the common name porcupine, roughly means “quill pig” and a close up of its face reveals a blunt snout which probably contributed to this title.  And the nickname “Porky” undoubtedly comes from “porcine,” another reference to pigs.

The following New Year’s Day prayer unfortunately is not original but seems to fit, at least loosely, both the porcupine and the rest of us as well:  “Dear Lord, So far this year I’ve done well.  I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper; I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.  I’m very thankful for that.  But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot more help.  Amen.”  But the really good news is, at least for us, help has already been promised most abundantly.



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Blossom in a Garden
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 29, 2014

This is the time of year when we get more rainy, gloomy, cool days than we do warm and sunny days so I thought I'd show a picture of a bright summer flower to remind you that Spring is just around the corner!

I will sing for joy in GOD,
    explode in praise from deep in my soul!
He dressed me up in a suit of salvation,
    he outfitted me in a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom who puts on a tuxedo
    and a bride a jeweled tiara.
For as the earth bursts with spring wildflowers,
    and as a garden cascades with blossoms,
So the Master, GOD, brings righteousness into full bloom
    and puts praise on display before the nations.
Isaiah 61:10-11 (The Message)


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A Bright Star Appeared
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 28, 2014

Today, many star symbols can be found in Bethlehem linking back to the bright star that appeared after the birth of Jesus.  This iron star is on a gate in the cave where it’s thought Jesus was born.  The Church of Nativity is above this site.  Astrologers (also known as magi or wise men) were excited about this new star as they searched for meaning in the sky. They probably wondered where it had come from and did it have a message for them.  Finally, they found an ancient Jewish scripture about a star rising out of Jacob. (Numbers 24:17)  It meant that a savior of the Jews had been born!

After gathering their tents and enough belongings for the journey, they probably followed the star from Moab across the Jordan River up to Jerusalem.  Upon arrival they asked where this newborn king of the Jews could be found so they could pay homage to him.  King Herod and many others in Jerusalem were greatly perturbed about the thought of another king. After studying, the chief priests and lawyers said that He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).   King Herod asked the astrologers to report back to him so that he could go and pay homage to Him. (Of course, King Herod had other things in mind!)  The men continued following the star until it stopped above the place in nearby Bethlehem where Jesus lay.  They were overjoyed as they saw the child with His mother and bowed to the ground in homage to Him. They gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense (a fragrance essence of resins and oils) and myrrh (a rare orange-colored gum used in making perfume).  Mary and Joseph were shocked to receive such valuable gifts.

The men were warned to return home another way rather than going back to Jerusalem because they knew King Herod was very upset in learning another king might challenge him and his authority.  But how could a baby do this?   He fretted and planned a scheme to destroy all the baby boys.  An angel appeared to Joseph telling him to take his little family to Egypt in order to save Jesus’s life.  The life of Jesus was saved so He could save the lives of the rest of the world, including you and me!  (Read the full story in Matthew 2)


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His Too
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 27, 2014

This past Wednesday morning on an exercise walk through my neighborhood I spotted this car. It bears one of those jocular license plates which portrays a wife who, while devoted to the new family car, grudgingly acknowledges that it belongs to her husband as well—who may even have been the one who put up most of the cash.                 

I snapped its photo because it reminds me that it’s far too common even for Christians to travel about in their God-created body “vehicles” and scarcely even acknowledge that He deserves ownership as well. In fact, Paul goes even further. He calls our bodies not simply well-crafted transportation devices, but temples:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20 NKJV)

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to exercise more, and take better care of my body in other ways as well. Want to join me? For more Bible counsel about health and why it's important to God, click the link immediately below.

http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/health

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Your Cashier Today Was . . .
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 26, 2014

A couple of days ago—Christmas Eve day to be exact—I stopped in at a Safeway to get something for Christmas dinner. The lines at the registers were kind of long, and since I had only one item, I used one of the automatic checkout stands, where you scan in the item and your phone number and then feed cash into the bill-slot.

It was Shelley who later spotted the startling line on the receipt: “Your cashier today was Self.” Even though I knew that this merely meant that I’d checked out my product myself, I actually felt a pang of guilt as I read those words. It’s getting to be new-year’s-resolution time, and as I look back over the past twelve months, I don’t like to think of the times I’ve not been exactly self-less.

What about the times I should have spent in daily Bible study and prayer but chose to use those minutes to do something else? What about when I should have reached out to someone but didn’t even remember he or she was going through a tough time? And there are many more times we’ve self-cashiered—paid ourselves dividends from time and resources which either belonged to God or could have been better used by Him.

So what can I do to correct these selfish tendencies? In chapter 8 of Ellen White’s classic salvation-manual Steps to Christ she gives this unfailing recipe for success:

Consecrate yourself to God in the morning; make this your very first work. Let your prayer be, “Take me, O Lord, as wholly Thine. I lay all my plans at Thy feet. Use me today in Thy service. Abide with me, and let all my work be wrought in Thee." This is a daily matter. Each morning consecrate yourself to God for that day. Surrender all your plans to Him, to be carried out or given up as His providence shall indicate. Thus day by day you may be giving your life into the hands of God, and thus your life will be molded more and more after the life of Christ.

That's one of my personal New Year's resolutions. Will you join me in making it yours?

For a brief study of seven essentials of Christianity, click the link immediately below:


http://www.bibleinfo.com/ru/node/5436

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Crowding Close
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Caleb Jurgensen
Thursday, December 25, 2014

Is this the way you normally see a nativity scene arranged? With all the people and animals crowded around the manger?   

Or are they generally arranged like this?





Nativity scenes I see are generally arranged carefully, with the three wise men standing on one side, shepherds on the other, etc.   

But if you get small children to arrange a nativity scene, it can be surprising and sweet to see what they do. Many times they crowd all the people and animals as close to Baby Jesus as possible. It might even be hard to see the manger!

I started thinking about that. Isn't that what Christmas is all about? Celebrating Baby Jesus' birth and getting as close to Him as possible?

The shepherds hurried to see Baby Jesus, And the wisemen made a very long journey to see Him. We have the privilege to be able to worship Jesus wherever we are. Let's let Christmas remind us to try to get as close to Jesus as possible.

Luke 2:10-14:
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
    “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

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Light
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
 
The day is almost here.  The day we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Unfortunately, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the commercial side of Christmas.  The shopping, the decorating, the food, the trees, the lights, etc.  Not that we can’t have these things and still concentrate on the true meaning of Christmas, but we have to be careful. Even the TV shows that are shown during this time of year, center around the “Santa side” of Christmas, versus the “Jesus side”.  It’s bound to happen when there is a lot more money to be made by companies, when “Santa” needs to bring all the toys to the kids.
 
One of the shows I saw recently was about Christmas lights and a few families competing on which displays were the best.  I think the title was Light Fights, or something like that.  It’s crazy how much money (thousands) and time (hundreds of hours) went into these displays.  Again, putting up decorations and lights isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you are smart with your time and money.  Making sure we are we storing our treasures in the right spot.  Back to the lights.  It got me thinking – what if everyone knew about and concentrated on the true light, this time of year?
 
In John 8 we read about Jesus, being “cornered” by scribes and Pharisees – them asking Him to show punishment to a woman caught in a sin.  Instead of being trapped, He showed them their sins instead, which made them very uncomfortable and they left the scene.  Later, Jesus asks the woman, where her accusers are?  All had fled.  In verse 12, we get to see the true light – “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’”
 
This Holiday Season, enjoy your family, relax, celebrate. And most of all, remember the only light of the world that matters – Jesus.


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Ferruginous Hawk  - Christmas Story         
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It appeared on the skyline as we came over a knoll.  Immense in size it was, thus narrowing its maker down to a few species.  The open prairie provided few trees in which to nest and a pair of Ferruginous Hawks had elected to make this lone tree their home.  Largest of the North American hawks, these birds feed primarily on small mammals that also live in the grasslands.  Its species name, regalis, or regal, is a reference to its large size, which in a roundabout way brings us to the Christmas Story, a story of another king and his unlikely birth.
 
The story is a familiar one, set in a cow shed with other appropriate animals serving as stand-ins.  The details may vary from culture to culture but the essence remains the same; the Christ child, born in the humblest of places, God with us, Immanuel.   It’s a story that goes beyond the rational and encompasses the unexplainable:  the virgin birth, the shepherds’ song, and that star in the east.  All very nice, but what possible connection does that have with this long-winged raptor?  Probably nothing, except for the observer who just sighted the nest.
 
To improve the esthetics of the picture, the original was altered to remove what was considered distracting elements and lines.  Look at the photograph below, which was the original. 



There, with no house in sight was a barren tree, decorated with a long string of, yes, white Christmas lights.  My rational self tells me hawks have no interest in Christmas, or any other holiday for that matter.  But then there appears to be another blue-colored, man-made object in the nest as well.  So you provide the answer as to what they were doing there.   Whatever your response, it makes a nice story to think that maybe the Wise men had already paid a visit.


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Hope
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 22, 2014

This is the time of year that we celebrate when the Hope of the World came down to this earth as tiny baby in order to bring a permanent solution to the pervasive sin problem that was infecting the whole planet.  

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
    Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 (The Voice)


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On the Eighth Day
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 21, 2014

Several high security check points greeted us in the West Bank city of Hebron when we went to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Synagogue/Mosque, the only divided mosque in the world.  (The tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah are located here, which I’ll share about at a later date.)  In addition to seeing these burial places, we happened upon much excitement in the synagogue – a circumcision had just taken place!  The photo above shows this little baby boy resting in his mother’s arms. The women had gathered in the kitchen.  





Men and boys were sitting around tables where they had eaten.





Other men were standing, listening as a man read a text while boys looked on. This special religious rite is performed on male children of Jews on the eighth day after their birth as a token of the covenant given to Abraham by God (Genesis 16:12).  

This was something like the circumcision of Jesus.  According to custom, Jesus was circumcised when he was eight days old.  “Eight days later the time came to circumcise him, and he was given the name Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.” Luke 2:21NEB   He was probably taken to the synagogue in Bethlehem for this.  It was common for the father of the baby to be involved with the actual circumcision, along with the rabbi.  Baby Jesus was now a Jew, a son of the family of David.  This was also the time when the baby was named.  His name was Jesus!


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The Bird in the Mall
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 20, 2014

Earlier this month I was in a shopping mall food court when a bird suddenly fluttered down onto a nearby table. The food court is enclosed, but has a high ceiling composed of metal rafters and skylights, and it would presumably be easy for a bird—once in the building—to stay alive, especially by hanging around where food is served.





I snapped a few pictures, and emailed the photo immediately above to birder Robert Howson, our Daily Photo Parable Tuesday blogger, and asked him to identify it. As usual, he had the answer. “What you have here,” he wrote back, “is a female Brewer's Blackbird, known in these parts as a Costco Bird.”

I shot back another email asking if this name was because the bird hung around Costco parking lots, or because it actually managed to get into Costco warehouses and do as this mall bird was doing—live off the store’s resources. Robert replied, "Truth is, probably both. The bottom line of course is food. But this bird is equally at home in the farmer's field or in the areas adjacent to the Costco provider. It's almost a chicken or egg thing."

I did a Google search on “Costco bird,” and one of the first choices was this link:

http://www.issaquahreporter.com/community/39749538.html

That link talks about birds who leave their droppings on tables in outdoor eating areas, But if the Costco birds actually get inside the warehouse, I can find much spiritual thought herein. I wonder what happens when a bird, such as my mall fowl, gets trapped inside a building? If it’s a large building, and if in that building there is a room that contains an ample and steady supply of French fry and Annie’s Bagels crumbs, then maybe over time the bird forgets the wild freedom of the skies and becomes content with a space that’s limited but also warm and dry.

Though He might not put it in exactly these terms, I have a feeling that God is hoping that you and I don’t become content with being earth-bound Costco or mall birds, never aspiring for eternity’s freedom but instead choosing to live through our days merely getting and spending, focusing only on the here-and-now.

For Bible verses about the glories of heaven, click the links immediately below.

http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/heaven

http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/salvation

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Love List
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 19, 2014

This past Sunday Shelley and I visited a used-book store. In the religion section, lying on the lip of a shelf of Bibles, I saw this page torn from a small pocket spiral notebook.

The heading, as you can see, says “Birthday Party,” and this is followed by a list of what could potentially be birthday-party activities. Technically, neither you nor I can say for sure that this is nothing more than a brainstorming list. Maybe Mom (it looks like feminine handwriting) was just listing the possibilities.

But the final entry, “Sign waiver,” seems to refer to the trampoline event, which indicates that the trampoline must be located somewhere else besides the back yard, somewhere one might need to sign a liability waiver. So maybe this list does describe one mad whirl of activity focused on one little girl and friends she might have invited—have a tea party, then run out to the back yard for a scavenger hunt, then off to the Disney store for a prearranged dress-up event, then to the trampoline place maybe in the same mall?

What really happened is anybody’s guess, of course. But this little list makes one thing very, very clear—Mom dearly loves her daughter and wants her birthday to be a special one. Even if this might  be just a brainstorm list, with only one or two events ultimately chosen, just the fact that Mom considered several options shows how much she cares.

So if this little list proves parental love, think of God’s long list of promised presents for us. Not only does He daily supply us with good things we most often take for granted (your magnificent mind and awesomely-functioning body make the birthday gift of a Rolls Royce or Porsche or--  _______________fill in the blank with the name of your “impossible dream” car—seem extremely cheap),  but think of a city of gold with a jeweled foundation. Think of eternal, pain-free, unlimited-possibility living.

And topping God’s “love list” would, of course, be “Allow My Son to die for absolutely anyone who wishes to live with Me forever.” Don’t forget to say “Thank you,” not only with your words but with the return gift of your heart.

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Fruits
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Russell Jurgensen
Thursday, December 18, 2014

This stand of old growth stumps is located near South Tiger Mountain summit.  I'm not sure when these trees were logged, but based on what I have been able to find out, it was around 1915-20, nearly 100 years ago.  It must have been an impressive forest.  The folks who cut them down thought so too, because they built a railway to get to them.  A pretty impressive harvest, although I would rather the old giants were still there.

In thinking about how much people desired to go after something valuable, I was thinking about the value of following God.  Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."  It is good to know that choosing God will naturally lead towards these valuable traits.

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Splash!
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I know I have mentioned it before, but I love taking water images.  They can be in the form of rivers, streams, flowing creeks, raging waterfalls or tiny drops of dew.  This one has an action element to it.  This past summer we took a quick hike along the Snohomish river and had a chance to throw a few rocks, to hear that great SPLASH.  Yes, I'm a boy at heart....see river, throw rocks.

As we know, during God's week of creation, He created water on the second day.

Genesis, 1:1-10

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.  And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

We can assume, as the creation process was happening, God needed to make the form of the land and the water around, in order to create the living animals and plants that rely on this water.  I believe this but I also believe God loves water like I do :).

Heaven will be a wonderful place -- lots of water to explore, among other things.


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Cordilleran Flycatcher
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Bible writers have strong opinions about our associations and how they affect us. Amos 3:3 is a good example.  “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (NLT)  And 1 Corinthians 15:33 conveys the same idea.  “Do not be fooled.  Bad companions ruin good character.” (GNT)  Even common sense throws in its two cents worth with, “Birds of a feather flock together.”  To continue along the common sense line of reasoning, if you want to catch fish then go where fish live, like a lake or river.

So, where do I go if I want to see a Cordilleran Flycatcher?  To a cordilla, of course. Which for most of us means a trip to the dictionary before launching further afield. There we are informed that cordilleran is a Spanish derivative of cordilla which is a system or group of parallel mountain ranges together with their intervening plateaus and other features, especially in the Andes or Rockies.  So it’s off to the Rockies to find this ordinary looking flycatcher.

Not that many years ago the Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers were classed as a single species, the Western Flycatcher.  Both look identical in the field but can be told apart by their voice.  But even their calls are similar except for the male’s position notes which are best detected by viewing a spectrogram.  And no, I do not carry one of those around with me.  The way I finally identified my first Cordilleran was by its range, or put another way, by the company it keeps.  A spectrogram machine would be much too awkward to carry around.

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Less Than 20/20 Vision
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 15, 2014

I saw this piece of mirror art on a wall of the inner harbor in Victoria, British Columbia, this past spring.  I couldn't find out much about it but the writing on the mirror reads, "I am here."  I believe that it's supposed to reflect the beautiful harbor to show that the people getting their picture taken beside it were actually at this famous spot.  Of course, especially since it wasn't reflecting anything when I took the picture, you may, as I did, ask why not just turn around and take a picture of the real thing?  The mirror is also so small, it would only show a tiny bit of the harbor.

In this world, we don't see things clearly.  We are just getting a little reflection of the real thing and that reflection is flawed.  

For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God.  1 Corinthians 13:12  (The Voice)

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Announcement to the Shepherds
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 14, 2014

The fields just outside Bethlehem are still known as the shepherds’ fields and are the traditional site of where the shepherds were told about the birth of the Savior by the angels. Some of these fields are still used for grazing sheep and other animals. Shepherds used the nearby caves for shelter during the night and during stormy weather for both themselves and their animals.  After walking along a tree-lined path, we came to a cave (seen in the photo above) that had been made into a place of worship.  It included dioramas of the nativity scene, shepherds and of course, sheep.





A nearby dome with bells at the top featured several paintings including this first one of the angels appearing to the shepherds.   “Now in this same district there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch through the night over their flock, when suddenly there stood before them an angel of the Lord, and the splendor of the Lord shone round them. They were terror-stricken, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid; I have good news for you: there is great joy coming to the whole people.  Today in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you – the Messiah, the Lord.  And this is your sign: you will find a baby lying wrapped in his swaddling clothes, in a manger.’”  Luke 2:8-11 NEB This was good news. Long-awaited news!

The shepherds were still dwelling on what the angel said when many angels appeared, singing praises of God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Luke 2:14  The shepherds immediately went straight to Bethlehem to find out the truth. They had memorized teachings about God and that He had promised a Savior who would come from the House of David, Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  But why would a Savior be born in a stable?  Shouldn’t he be born in a palace like Herod’s palace?  





After asking around in Bethlehem, they finally found Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus who was lying in a manger, as shown in my last photo. They recounted what the angels had told them and Mary treasured what they said.  Then the shepherds returned to their fields and sheep, glorifying God and praising Him for what they had been told and saw. (Luke 2:15-20)  Everything was just as the angel said it would be – Mary, Joseph and most important, the infant Jesus, the Messiah and Lord!

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Is My Name Written There?
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 13, 2014

Back in mid-November I had the privilege of presenting a series of daily spiritual talks to students at a large Seventh-day Adventist elementary school. I also visited several classrooms and spoke about writing and drawing.

During one of those talks, I was using the Bible story of David and Goliath to demonstrate how to create an effective story plot, when my eyes were captured by the sight of my own name, written in a classic penmanship I didn’t think anybody ever used anymore. The teacher—who incidentally had been one of my first students back when I was a college English instructor—had written my name on the board to prepare the kids for my arrival.

I suspended my commentary on David, Goliath, Saul and the other names I had scrawled in my decidedly ungraceful handprinting, and took a moment to snap this photo and express my delight to the teacher. She grinned appreciatively. “That’s ‘cursive,’” she said. “I’m still teaching it to my students.”

I wonder if God will use a beautiful cursive script to write the names of the “overcomers,” as Revelation 2:17 says:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

How do you make sure your name will be written there? This old gospel song, which has been appearing in hymnals since the 1880s, gives the starting point—the redeeming blood of Jesus.

Lord, I care not for riches, neither silver nor gold--
I would make sure of heaven, I would enter the fold.
In the book of Thy kingdom with its pages so fair,
Tell me, Jesus, my Savior, is my name written there?

Is my name written there,
On the page white and fair?
In the book of Thy kingdom,
Is my name written there?

Lord, my sins they are many, like the sands of the sea,
But Thy blood, O my Savior, is sufficient for me;
For Thy promise is written, in bright letters that glow,
“Tho' your sins be as scarlet, I will make them like snow.”

Is my name written there,
On the page white and fair?
In the book of Thy kingdom,
Is my name written there?

O that beautiful city with its mansions of light,
With its glorified beings in pure garments of white;
Where no evil thing cometh to despoil what is fair,
Where the angels are watching--yes, my name’s written there.

Yes, my name's written there,
On the page white and fair.
In the book of Thy kingdom,
Yes, my name's written there.
       --Mary A. Kidder

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There’s a Computer Key for It!
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 12, 2014

If you know anything about computer tablets, you know that in some programs you can make a keyboard appear on the lower half of the screen, maybe to type an email or enter other kinds of information. The keyboards will vary slightly depending on the purpose they are needed for.

This past Wednesday I was trying to download a program, and up popped the familiar keyboard. However, this one had a feature I had never seen before – an actual smiley-face key! I’m wondering if the person who configured this particular keyboard was a cheerful person, or at least recognized the value of inserting happiness or humor into communications.

I am naturally a sober-face person. I remember my mom once in a while telling me to smile more. If my wife Shelley is standing beside me as a photo is being taken, she will dig me in the ribs to loosen me up. But my smile ends up looking abashed and uncomfortable, so I don’t use it as often as I should.

But as most people – including me – really know, a smile is a smile. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s a movie-star smile with white teeth, or a shy, crooked grin. It still communicates warmth and caring.

Back when I was in elementary school, when I should’ve been practicing my smile more, one of the teachers taught us this song. Smiling is not a cure-all for everything, of course, but it works wonderful magic if given a chance:

There are many troubles that will burst like bubbles,
There are many shadows that will disappear;
When you learn to meet them, with a smile to greet them,
For a smile is better than a frown or tear.

You can smile when you can't say a word,
You can smile when you cannot be heard;
You can smile when it's cloudy or fair,
You can smile anytime, anywhere

When the clouds are raining, don't begin complaining,
What the earth is gaining should not make you sad;
Do not be a fretter, smiling is much better,
And a smile will help to make the whole world glad.

You can smile when you can't say a word,
You can smile when you cannot be heard;
You can smile when it's cloudy or fair,
You can smile anytime, anywhere

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Ice Needles
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Caleb Jurgensen
Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sometimes when it freezes outside I see these little pillars of ice poking out of the dirt or grass. I looked it up and this phenomenon is called needle ice. Basically, it is formed when unfrozen water from the ground comes into contact with freezing air. The water freezes, but more water keeps getting wicked up from the ground and pushing the needle of ice higher. These spikes were about 3-4 inches tall, and even longer when curled over. It was interesting to see the things they would do; some spikes had small rocks balanced on top, as you see below.





I was trying to find Bible verses about ice, but I could only find it a few times in Job. Other verses talk about snow or frost, but not specifically ice.

Job 37:10 says: "The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen."

I was trying to think about what this could mean, and a certain recent movie came to mind. But in Job chapter 37, Job is talking about the power and wonder of nature and God's control over it. There are a lot of amazing things to see in nature, we just need to take the time to see them.


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Window Into Your Heart              
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
 
One of my favorite places in the Puget Sound area is the WWU Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory.  At least once a year, our Church family gets to head up to the facilities for a great weekend.  In the surrounding area you can find trees, beach, tidal pools, forests and lots of beautiful wildlife and scenery. This particular shot is looking out at the bay (and tidal pools). The image struck me, as the actual framed window peers out to the gorgeous scenery through the green foliage.
 
This image made me think of our NEED to allow God to look into our hearts.  In fact, God needs to dwell in our hearts.  There are plenty of times in our lives that we allow people to see who we “really” are.  Not everyone has that opportunity, but if we are making a short list – God should be at the top of that list. Let God in and open your heart.
 
1 Kings 8:61, “Let your heart therefore be loyal to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and keep His commandments, as at this day.”

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Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We’ve all felt it, that negative nudge to consider God’s law just a bit too restrictive. Too many ‘Thou shall nots’ for our contemporary tastes.  And we’ve all seen it, the sign that is placed along the side of the road usually near construction sites where the road was being altered.   We’ve also probably heard it wise to censure behavior rather than attack the person when we feel it necessary to extend helpful advice.  The sign even seems to follow that admonition as well.   And in doing so, it affords us with an insight into God’s law.
 
“Motorcycles, (not even motorcyclists) use extreme caution.”  Of course we recognize that any parable or analogy has limitations, but the overall picture is worth considering.  Is this sign designed to restrict the freedom of those reading it?  Or is it placed there to help riders avoid much pain and suffering?  Maybe this directive isn’t even a law, but the intent is the same as found in the Ten Commandments.  God desires us to live lives that are full of joy and it is His intention to protect us from that which would cause us hurt and pain.  This is not intended to demote those tables of stone to mere suggestions; they are clear directives from God.  But the purpose is the same, to offer a safeguard from that which would harm.

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More Important than Moving Mountains (or Being Moved by Mountains)
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 8, 2014

I saw this sign over the entry to the town of Valemount in British Columbia.  This town is surrounded by several mountain ranges (The Rockies, the Cariboos and the Monashees) and is on a circuit that a lot of tour buses take through the Canadian Rockies.

As you see in the enlarged photo, the smaller print under the town’s name says:  "Let the mountains move you."  I do feel uplifted when I see mountains, but do I have enough faith to move mountains? And even if I do have faith enough to move mountains, do I have love?

I may speak in different languages of people or even angels. But if I do not have love, I am only a noisy bell or a crashing cymbal.  I may have the gift of prophecy. I may understand all the secret things of God and have all knowledge, and I may have faith so great I can move mountains. But even with all these things, if I do not have love, then I am nothing.   I may give away everything I have, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned.  But I gain nothing if I do not have love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NCV)

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Birth of Jesus, Savior of Mankind
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our visit to Bethlehem to see the place where it’s thought Jesus was born was really special.  On October 19, I shared photos of the short entrance to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem first built by Constantine and his mother Helena in AD339 over the cave where Jesus was believed to have been born.  When that church was destroyed, the current church was built at that site in AD530.  After entering the church, one follows steps down to the cave as shown in my first photo. Once in the dark cave, people are drawn to a lighted area set off with curtains.




The star on the floor in the photo just above is said to be the place where Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.  One has to imagine what this cave was like over 2000 years ago with animals and the mangers that held their feed rather than a decorated church above it. 





The above photo shows what is thought to be the manger that held baby Jesus as he snuggled in his swaddling clothes on top of the clean hay.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:6,7 Also, Mathew 1:21 states that He was to be named Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins. The long-awaited Messiah was born!

While in the cave, I wanted to know more about His birth and the actual surroundings at that time.  I’m sure Joseph arranged clean straw for Mary and the baby and tried to make Mary as comfortable as possible.  No mention is made of a midwife in attendance, as was common practice. Was Joseph pacing outside or in another area of the cave while Mary was in labor? Those details haven’t been recorded. What we do know is that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem to save mankind as a free gift to all who will accept it.  Even though it’s unlikely He was born December 25, let’s celebrate Christmas this month thinking of the gift Jesus gave each one of us.



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"Call Today to See What the Future Holds"
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 6, 2014

I’ve "photoshopped out" the phone number on the above sign, not wishing to cause annoyance for this business. But it is certainly the right of any citizen to take public issue with concepts other citizens have set out for public display.

You can clearly make out the word “Psychic” at the top of the sign (which I spotted beside a street in late November), but the rest of the print is probably too small for you to read. Here’s some of it: “Call today to see what the future holds for a new tomorrow.” “Tells Past Present and Future.” “Tarot Card Reading.” “Crystal Ball Reading.” “Palm Reading.”

I’ve saved my three favorites for last: “Over 35 Years Experience.” (Experience in what? Telling fortunes? Or telling correct fortunes?) Then comes “98% Accuracy.” (To reach this percentage, the prognstications must be pretty generic: “You had a mother. You had a father. You alternately breathe in and then out again, and will continue to do so at least until you leave my office.”) Yet the owner of this business must have enough predictive power to decide that if this sign isn’t chained to the pole, it will vanish!

But now—the winnah!—my favorite bit of promo from this sign, which (to me) puts it all into perspective. On the last line of the sign, just to the right of “Palm Reading,” it says, “Available for Parties.”  

Somehow I don’t think that true prophets like Daniel or Isaiah or Jeremiah “did” parties. What they did do was foretell, and forth-tell, the true words God had told them to say.

Jesus warned against false prophets which would rise before His return, so we need to be careful. And He probably wasn’t talking primarily about psychics who do parties, but about vaster and deadlier deceptions. The two links below (read the top one first) give helpful Bible information about what true prophets do, and how to spot false ones.

http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/prophets

http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/fortune-tellers

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A Treasury of World’s Classics
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 5, 2014

Earlier this week, while doing a bit of Christmas shopping in a bookstore, I came upon this large display of impressive-looking tomes. On the cover of the top volume you might be able to make out “Selected Works of William Shakespeare”, and in smaller print on its cover (and on the spine) is the phrase “A Treasury of World’s Classics.” And the inference is that all these books, maybe even the ones written in what seems to be Chinese at the lower right, are part of this series.

But if you take one of these books and open it you see that it’s not a book but an empty box. The idea is that if you own small valuables such as jewelry and wish to keep them safe, you can pop them into this box, put it on a shelf with your other books, and the average home burglar—if not literate enough or sufficiently curious about World Classics—might pass it by.

As I mused on that “book” display, my thoughts took a deeper turn. I happen to own a complete set (a gift from someone downsizing a personal library) of the fifty-plus volumes of the Great Books of the Western World. Beginning with Homer, the series continues through authors and playwrights such as Sophocles and Euripides and Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas and Machiavelli and Shakespeare and many more, and ending with well-known names such as Darwin, Marx and Freud.

Critics asked the series creators why they didn’t include the Bible, and the response was that it was too large (750,000 words), and anyway, pretty much every literate person already had a copy, in a font much larger than a Great Books version would have been able to use.

Valid points, of course. But the point I’m about to make is that when compared with the ideas presented in the Word of God, any of those Great Books volumes could really be considered empty. Freud’s theories (which got a whole volume of their own) are now largely discarded, and savvy Intelligent Design thinkers are showing that Darwin’s ideas have lots of holes as well.

And well-phrased and deeply-reasoned as they are, not a single one of those Great Books speaks directly from the Author of our existence and the Redeemer of our sins.

Are you looking regularly and prayerfully inside the covers of the Great Book of the Entire World? Only there will you find truth that guides you triumphantly and securely beyond your death.



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The Beginning of Time
Photo ©2014 by Chelsea Jurgensen
Commentary ©2014 by Russell Jurgensen
Thursday, December 5, 2014

With the recent snow, a few leaves are still providing their colorful appearance.  It is interesting that the seasons might make us think that perhaps the life and death of people is also part of the natural order.  However, Jesus wants us to know differently.  Just like Marty said in the movie Back to the Future, Jesus is practically saying, "I have to tell you about the future!"  In John 3:16, Jesus says, "For 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."

Jesus also says in John 6:58, "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."

The NIV Bible uses the word "forever" around 300 times.  I've wondered if atoms can live forever.  Interestingly, there is a long running experiment called the Super Kamiokande in Japan to try to determine how long protons will live.  So far, the experiment gives a lower limit for proton half life of 10E34 years.  Since they have not detected a single proton decay, the actual life is likely to be much longer.  Try writing a 10 with 34 zeroes after it, and then figure that is just getting started!

Since people do die, Jesus wants us to know He can raise us up.  See John 11  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+11&version=NIV) for the story of Mary, Martha, and the raising of Lazarus.   When Jesus tells us about the future, He wants us to know that His words are important, that he will raise us up, and that when He comes it is not the end of time.  It is the beginning of time.

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White As Snow
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
 
This last week, we got to see our first snow for the season.  The great news – we got the best of both worlds, the beautiful view of a blanket of white, all over the trees, lawn, ground AND the road ways were completely clear.  When the Winter season rolls around, I enjoy it for a number of reasons.  Clearly, I like the look of snow covering the area.  I like that I typically get a little time off to spend with friends and family.  I enjoy Christmas, for what it stands for and the fun and joy that goes with the days around the 25th.
 
More importantly, then all the reasons I have mentioned above, the best part of seeing this pure white snow is the reminder I think of – God’s willingness to clean our sins – white as snow.  In Isaiah 1, we can read all about the wickedness of Judah but I truly believe this promise from God applies to us today.  In verse 18, we can read that promise for ourselves,
 
“ ‘Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.”
 
We live in a sinful world.  We as humans, unfortunately, will sin.  The great news – we have a loving God that forgives, cleans our record – white as snow.

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Lark Sparrow
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For many, any little brown bird is a sparrow.  And while it is true that many sparrows look at least somewhat alike, only those most oblivious to detail would be likely to confuse this long-tailed sparrow with another in its family.  The Lark Sparrow has distinctive markings on the head which make it hard to confuse with others, in fact it is the only member of its genus.  Its Latin name, Chondestes grammacus, simply means “grain eater with striped head.”  You can’t get much more basic than that.
 
It is easy to view an organism as distinct, isolated from its setting, and forget that it is only a portion of the larger canvas of life.  While we often associate “ebb and flow” with tidal movement, it also describes the movement of this sparrow.  Prior to the 19thcentury it was found only in the West, but as land was cleared for farms which accompanied the Westward Movement, the Lark Sparrow extended its range eastward.  Interestingly enough, that expanded range is now shrinking to its former scope as pastures and open land in the East have disappeared.

As ordinary or distinctive as we each may be, we too are part of a bigger picture.  Our own story is only a small part of the larger whole.  We may feel like Jonah, caught up in forces bigger than we can control, and cry out like him, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:7  NIV)  It’s nice to know that even though we are but a small part of the universe, we’re still an important part to the One who counts.  What I do does make a difference to the One who put me here.  And since He took that initiative, we can trust that He has things in His control.

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Mud
Photo and Commentary ©2014 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 1, 2014

Does it sometimes feel that you are stuck sitting in the mud and not going anywhere?  I'm not talking real mud like these hundreds of ducks were sitting in but just the "mud" that we encounter in our day to day lives.  

David wrote a psalm about how God was able to lift him out of the mud:
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the LORD.
Psalm 40:1-3 (NLT)


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