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

Daily Photo Parable -  January 2015

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.

Here Comes the Neighborhood!
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 31, 2015

For the past several months Shelley and I have occasionally driven past the above scene – minus the huge, long sign which was recently pinned up on the wire fence – and wondered what was happening to the gigantic piece of property there. Excavation had taken place, then everything was leveled off, and now flat sections of concrete have been poured.

Eventually we discovered that a section of apartments and stores had been planned and will soon spring up here. And this sign gives a humorous twist on an old saying. Rather than an existing neighborhood which has fallen on hard times, this “neighborhood” has been carefully planned, and will be built brand-new.

Can you spot where I’m going with this? Sure you can. Listen as Revelation describes a staggeringly magnificent approaching “neighborhood.”

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1 – 4 NKJV

I’m sure that – even before the first scoop full of dirt was excavated – enterprising businesspeople scurried to sign up for a space in this brand-new project. And you and I can reserve space in God's descending super-city:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  John 14:1 – 3.

For more details, click the link immediately below:

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Even the Trash Cans Praise Them!
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 30, 2015

I’m going to have to do a bit of explaining about the above photo to bring up to speed those of you who haven’t been living in the Puget Sound area the past few months. We are in the midst of what can be called (and I’m severely understating this) “Seahawks Fever.”

Wednesday morning Shelley and I were on a walk, and we came upon the above scene. The daylight hours have somewhat dimmed the fan-fervor of the panorama, so here's the translation.

Reading from left to right, we have a large “1” and “2” on adjacent garage doors, which of course stand for the “12th man,” a synonym for the devoted fans. It’s a bit hard to see, but just beyond the upper left corner of the “1” garage door is a blue lamp, and just beyond the upper right corner of the  “2” door is a green lamp (they show up better in the dark). Blue and green are the team colors.

Just above the house’s main entrance is a partly-furled “12” flag, and ‘way over to the right, beside the doorway of the other house, is a “12” banner. Parked at the corners of both driveways are garbage and recycling containers which are—you guessed it—blue and green! (Actually, they've been blue and green for years and years, long before the Seahawks started doing their Superbowl runs. But in this season of joyful anticipation of victory, even the garbage cans are praising the Hawks!)

Seriously—and seriously, there really are more important things than football—we have a Heavenly Father whom many of the Psalms praise lavishly. And whenever praising God might seem a bit over the top, maybe a bit too pious and religious and not quite the 21st-century thing to do, let’s just remember the non-stop screaming of thousands of fans who will give voice on Sunday afternoon, and let’s try to work up some enthusiasm for the eventual Victor in the great controversy between Christ and Satan.

Amen? Amen!

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Happy House
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Thursday, January 29, 2015

I snapped the above photo Sunday evening, January 18. Earlier in the day, the Seattle Seahawks football team had clinched the NFC championship, the game which sent them to Superbowl 49, this coming Sunday in Arizona.

Shelley and I were returning from some errands, and happened to drive by the Virginia Mason Athletic Center (VMAC), which is Seahawks’ headquarter and is located just west of I-405. On a whim, I decided to take the exit and get as close to the building as I could.

This is all the closer we could come, because of a very firm security gate just below the frame of the photo. The lighted wing to the left contains offices (though I think the team’s corporate offices are elsewhere), and the huge lighted window/wall to the right is the south end of the indoor practice facility.

In recent days the Seahawks have mounted a gigantic banner on this side of the building, visible from the freeway. It says simply “12,” and stands for the “12th man,” the devoted Seahawks fans. The Hawks and their administration are very happy to have the deafening noise provided by fans at CenturyLink field.

Those who’ve been following the Hawks closely have watched as coach Pete Carroll has formed the team into a quite humble group who are willing to muffle their egos and play for each other. Nobody knows what will happen this coming Sunday, but there’s a lot of honest confidence that we’ll win the Superbowl like we did last year.

One of the charming things about Seahawks players is that they’re mostly 3rd and 4th round draft picks. (In fact, the supposed superstars the Hawks have put on the field over the last couple of decades haven’t fared too well.) From the quarterback on down, this seems a humble team, who have truly decided to play just one game at a time, and not let their attention wander too far down the season.

Pretty much a parable of what the Christian should do, right? Though Jesus never said anything about sports—and yes, there were sports coliseums in Palestine in His day—a rereading of Matthew 5 through 7 shows Him insisting that we not worry about the future, but to make every moment count today.

To read the NIV version of Matthew 5 and beyond, click the link immediately below:

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Closer and Closer
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
In a few of my photo parables I have mentioned a good friend of mine who lives in South Carolina. The young man heading toward us down the tube is my friend’s son. We had a chance to visit the family last summer, and we had numerous chances to visit the local park by their home (the boys loved the tunnel slide seen in the image above).  As much as we enjoy visiting them, we are reminded of how far away they live – just under3,000 miles!
I’m happy to say that, as you read this, they are in the process of moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado – just under 1,400 miles!  Look at that – with one move, they are now less than half the distance they were last week.  This move was based on both Jim’s and wife Sara’s new opportunities in the Air Force. My hope: their next move will be even closer.
God is closer to us as well.  He gets closer to us each and every day. My question – do you get closer to Him?  Each day, do you feel like you have a closer relationship with our Savior?
The closer we get to Him, the closer He will be for His second coming.  In John 14, we can read about His promise to return:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
Closer and closer we get = the closer He gets to us.

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Rufous-winged Sparrow
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We humans have a strange way of drawing lines and establishing frontiers.  Perhaps it gives us a sense of security to believe a piece of land, confirmed by a piece of paper, is ours to use as we see fit.  We even went so far as to pen the third and fourth amendments to guarantee protection of these property rights. 

Needed, they may be, but such limitations are not seen in the natural world, at least not in the same way.  Our maps, drawn in different colors, seem to be constantly in need of revision as borders and boundaries change.  And on a more personal level, I’ve stood on the Texas banks of the Rio Grande and waited until a Mexican species flew more than half way across the river so I could count it on my U.S. list.  Ah, the games we play.

The Rufous-winged Sparrow is another of those Mexican species that barely makes it into the United States.  It was first discovered in 1872 near Tucson and it became the next to the last species to be found and named in our country.  But due to misuse and overgrazing, it was thought to have become extinct in the United States for a number of years.  Fortunately, today it can once again be found in limited areas in Southern Arizona.

This bird, of course, has no interest in political boundary lines.  It seeks out habitat that it finds most suitable whatever flag flies above it. The Lord promises us true surety, not by building higher walls or erecting more sophisticated security systems, but by placing our values in the proper place.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

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The Guardian
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 26, 2015

I was walking in a bird sanctuary with some family members and we came across this gander that was guarding some young goslings that were unable to fly.  He was making hissing noises along with showing us this fearsome display.  Thankfully, some bird seed distracted him long enough for us to get past the spot.   

Unlike this Canada Goose which dropped its guard when some cracked corn was thrown down nearby, we have been assured that we have a guard who surrounds and defends all who fear him.  

In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened;
    he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the LORD is a guard;
    he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
Taste and see that the LORD is good.
    Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
Psalm 34:6-8 (NLT)

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His First Passover
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 25, 2015

We heard drums and other music along with joyful people!  We stopped to watch and listen.  We were in the midst of several bar mitzvah ceremonies in Jerusalem! 

According to the Jewish Law, when boys reach 13 years of age they are “subject to the law” and are accountable for their actions and can participate in religious services.  (Now days, girls celebrate bat mitzvah, at the age of 12.)  This celebration usually includes much celebration that includes food.  A few years ago we attended a bar mitzvah in Portland.  That included time at the synagogue when the young man recited part of the Torah and a large evening celebration at a golf club that included lots of food, music and gift-giving.  This bar mitzvah in Jerusalem was different!

Groups were marching around with drums and horns being played.

Sometimes the young men were carried. 

Other times they carried a Torah.  And people were carrying food to share!

A bar mitzvah celebration didn’t exist at the time of Jesus.  However, religious instruction was likely more intense when a boy reached the age of 12 or 13.  This was the time when Jesus spoke for Himself and he had a clear sense of His calling.  Luke 2:41-52 records the incident when they went to Jerusalem for the yearly Passover festival when Jesus was 12.  The Passover celebrated God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  

When the seven-day festival was over Mary and Joseph headed back to Nazareth assuming Jesus was with others in their large group of family and friends.  When they couldn’t find Him, they returned to Jerusalem where they found Him in the temple surrounded by the teachers who were amazed with His knowledge and questions.  When Mary questioned Him for not returning with them, He said, “Did you not know that I was bound to be in my Father’s house?”  v. 49 NEB

This shows that Jesus was close to His heavenly Father but respected His parents by going home to Nazareth with them.  Mary treasured all these things in her heart.  As Jesus grew, he continued to advance in wisdom and was in favor with God and men. V. 51-52

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Happy You Year!
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 24, 2015

On the second-to-last day of 2014 Shelley and I happened to be in a mall clothing store, and I noticed these well-dressed but expressionless mannequins beneath a huge green sign.

The sign’s message, of course, was: This new year is all about YOU! Be good to yourself—buy our clothes!

In one sense this year is about you. You’re the one who’ll have to make decisions about what to spend your money on, where you’ll go for entertainment, whether you’ll keep your current job or drop it for a better one, and so on.

But in my three-plus-decades’ experience as a pastor, I have discovered that people who truly do adopt the idea that the universe revolves around them, and that their own personal wishes must be fulfilled before helping others fulfill theirs, end up with lives as blah as the expressions on these dummies’ faces.

And I know other people—many of them—whose Christianity is astoundingly selfless. I met some members of such a family at a funeral I conducted Friday morning. Decades of giving and helping and encouraging (in other words, pointing the “happy-you-year” away from themselves and toward others) have stamped their faces with good-humored tenderness and compassion.

For a three-text Bible study on selfishness and how to avoid it, click the link immediately below:

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Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 23, 2015

This past Wednesday I was driving through a parking lot when I noticed this tranquil line of Canadian geese jaywalking (goose-stepping?) across a busy street. Though these birds and their leavings are abhorred by people whose backyards they decide to frequent, there’s no doubt that they present an impressive appearance. So the bus as well as cars coming from the opposite direction came to a courteous and reflective stop until the parade was safely across the street.

When I take the opportunity to observe creatures of the wild (though maybe these geese are more domesticated than I realize!), I often think, How amazing it is that these birds are born, live, and die with no assistance from human beings. Nobody had to tend these birds’ nests, or bring food to them, or otherwise nurture them. Instead, these birds are smart enough to do these things all by themselves. And they have enough additional smarts to figure out that hanging around human parking lots means you might get to enjoy the occasional dropped French fry.

We have a wonderful God, whose magnificent creations adapt quite well to a sinful world.

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Mining for Wisdom
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Caleb Jurgensen
Thursday, January 22, 2015

This is an old coal mine near Issaquah that was probably shut down because they didn't find enough coal or the coal was too low grade. Nearby, there is the foundation of what was going to be a coal processing plant. There was a lot of orange goop in the little stream coming out of the mine. It coated everything in the stream, but wasn't very thick. This is probably caused by iron bacteria, which oxidizes iron dissolved in the water to get energy. Basically, the orange goop is just rust. Most of the bacteria's iron probably comes from the grate that blocks the mine.

In Job 28, Job talks about wisdom and where to find it. "Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold that they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from the ore. Man puts an end to darkness and searches out to the farthest limit the ore in gloom and deep darkness.... But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living.... From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?... God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.... And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’"

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Light in The Dark
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
There are times when I get my exercise for the day in, early in the morning – when it’s still dark outside.  I get out there, in the cold and rain (sometimes) and it doesn’t feel like I should be awake yet, let alone running in the dark.  Around the Pacific Northwest, that’s a common theme when we are in our winter months.  It’s dark a good portion of the day.  The last few weeks haven’t been too cold but it’s not summer out there either. You get used to it but it doesn’t necessarily mean you like it.  Most people prefer light over dark, but we work with what we get.
Life can be the same - lots of darkness. Sometimes we can feel so discouraged by the darkness that surrounds our lives, on this planet, it feels hopeless.  Just about that time, God sends His light to brighten up our day.  He knows we are, currently, stuck on this planet and it’s filled with darkness.  He longs for us to get away from this place and ‘come home’.
This image was taken at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens.  Unclear of the particular flower, but it brightened up my day.  The color, the details, the brightness – it certainly took a lot of the darkness away, even for just a moment.
Here comes another great promise from Jesus...This one is found in John 8:12, “ The 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.” The ‘light of life’ – doesn’t that sounds tons better then walking in darkness?  It’s like living in the sunshine, 365 days a year.  Count me in.

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Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Mallard might be considered the Adam and Eve of the domestic duck world for it is the progenitor of nearly all domesticated varieties except for those descended from the Muscovy duck.  It is the most abundant duck found in the Northern Hemisphere as well as the most cosmopolitan.  It also leads the list in at least two other ways as it is the most studied and the most frequently shot with four and a half million being taken annually.  Their diet consists mostly of plant material, but interestingly, a laying female may eat two times more animal food than either males or non-laying females.

Flight, while not unique to birds, is the characteristic most frequently thought of when birds are mentioned. But, like many other species of ducks, the Mallard goes through a molt following the breeding season.  During this molt they will withdraw into seclusion for they become vulnerable to predation since they become unable to fly.  The female is in this condition for 32 days and the male two days longer. During this time flight muscles decrease while there is an increase in leg muscles and a growing layer of insulating fat.

It is more than tempting to try and find a parallel with mankind to justify our increasing girth, but since our flight muscles don’t increase, that will remain open-ended.  Somehow it is rather comforting to know that truly, “to everything there is a season.”  We, and the mallards, both know that to be true. 

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Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 19, 2015

Despite the many years I have lived in Washington, I have never been to see Mt. St. Helens until this past fall.  I've always been in a hurry to get to somewhere else when I pass the exit and haven't had time to take a side trip and it's a bit of a distance for a day trip destination from home.  Anyway, I had some time off and decided to combine seeing what was left of the mountain with a loop trip to see the coast.

The dormant volcanoes in the area are so beautiful with their white year-round coverings of snow and ice that I wasn't sure I was ready to see what was left of Mt. St. Helens.  I've seen pictures of the mountain before the eruption and it was just as beautiful as Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt Hood.

Anyway, I drove out to the Johnson Ridge Observatory where I watched a couple of IMAX type documentaries - one on the eruption and one on the new life that is coming back to the area.  I also took a short hike that has great views of the mountain and valley below.  Alongside the trail there were a few tree stumps and quite a few wildflowers.

These photos show one of the stumps that was left after the eruption and the other photo is of Mt. St. Helens.   The wording on one of the signs describes what happened:  

Each Stump Tells the Tale of the Blast  -- At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, the north side of the mountain slid away, releasing a tremendous sideways explosion. The searing blast plowed through the landslide, picking up large rocks and other landslide debris.  Within 90 seconds, the debris-filled blast struck this forested hillside, pulverizing ancient trees.  The nearly 500-mile-per-hour (804 km/hr) blast shattered and toppled trees, sweeping some into the valley in front of you. The blast stripped their bark and branches, carrying them miles away.  The mangled stumps around you are all that remains of 150-foot-tall trees, testimony to the blasts incredible power.  

The whole area was just a desolate wasteland initially and this is what I think of when I think of destruction.  Part of the mountain was gone, the forest was gone, a once beautiful lake was clogged with tree trunks, a new lake formed, the river was filled with debris and people lost their lives.

The Bible talks about eternal destruction and how to avoid it:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

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Return to Nazareth
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 18, 2015

The community water well in Nazareth, shown above, was a gathering place at the time of Jesus.  Today, the town is much larger than it was at that time and has a modern water supply and system.  It’s located on a steep hillside and even the streets in town are steep.

I took this second photo overlooking the upper part of the town from our hotel room.  The large doomed structure is the Church of the Annunciation, built over the traditional site where the angel appeared to Mary.

Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus returned to Nazareth, their home town.  Jesus grew big and strong and was filled with wisdom as God’s favor was upon Him. (Luke 2:39-40) When He was old enough; He undoubtedly helped Mary with household tasks which included carrying water.  Since Joseph was a carpenter, as Jesus grew older, He probably helped him in his shop.

This last photo shows Jesus helping Joseph.  It’s part of the relief on the Church of the Annunciation door that depicts scenes from Jesus’ life.  Nathanael questioned if anything good could come from Nazareth (John 1:45-46).  Yes, something, Someone good indeed came from Nazareth!  Do you know Him?

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Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 17, 2015

A couple of mornings ago I happened to glance at the bright blue sky, and I noticed these jet contrails. The upper one was the usual filmy white, but the lower—maybe due to a different altitude or a smaller size of aircraft—featured wispy little shapes something like DNA. As I was turning my camera on I discovered that they were vanishing rapidly, and I only managed to snap the photo before they were gone for good.

Looking at those parallel bits of steam reminded me of the real strands of DNA which store staggering amounts of information and preserve that information as they divide and divide and divide in the cells of living things. (Want your mind blown? Check out the Wikipedia link I describe below.)

Charles Darwin, whose work brought the theory of macroevolution to the minds of many, had no clue that cellular life was so complicated. Yet here's another mind-blower: many of the very people whose training and research enable them to understand far more than the rest of us just how complicated life is—these are the very ones who insist that no Intelligent Designer had anything to do with life’s origins!

Anyway, here’s the link. (At the top of the Wikipedia entry you are offered the option of clicking on a “non-technical" introduction to the topic. Go there if you’d like, but the following link--though technical--is overwhelming, and screams intellgent design in every phrase.) And whichever version you read, praise Him who created all things.

For some reason I can't get the actual Wikipedia article to link to this page, so simply go to and type in DNA.

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Fear Tactic
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 16, 2015

This past Tuesday morning while on my way to volunteer at our local Adventist school, I waited with a line of cars under a freeway underpass for the light to change. I heard a booming, incoherent voice, and at first assumed that it came from a truck stereo on steroids.

But then I spotted this man with a gigantic bullhorn attached to his hip. He was shouting something into it, and from my years of driving in the Seattle area I’ve discovered that most of the time when lone individuals stand on sidewalks shouting at my passing car, there’s usually only one reason—they want to let me know that if I don’t shape up morally, God is going to destroy me.

As it happens, I had indeed taken the wrong path that morning. The crush of traffic had prevented me getting into the right-turn-only lane beside which this man was standing. I had to go a couple of blocks before I could turn around, and when I got back to the intersection, I got another view of this roadside preacher. This time I saw the sign on the pole he was gripping.

This is an extreme zoom shot, so I can’t make out all the words. Here are the ones I’m fairly sure of: “FEAR THE LORD. DEPART FROM EVIL.”

And as I guided my car past him, I snapped one more shot—the back of the man’s jacket.

Sorry—my car was moving, and my hand probably moved too, but with my eyes I got a clear view of what it said. “REPENT—OR PERISH!” The “PERISH” was outlined in orange flames.

Okay. What about it? Free speech, right? America lets this guy stand on the corner and say whatever he wants, as long as it’s not pornographic and doesn’t incite to violence. And obviously, he wouldn’t put himself out there on the corner unless he was deeply concerned about the people in the cars.

But is this the best way to alert people about an approaching God? Sure, Jonah preached a message this strident to Nineveh, and they listened and repented. And John the Baptist—though he wasn’t quite as apocalyptic—paved the way for Jesus’ arrival with calls to repentance.

However, the New Testament (and the huge majority of the Old Testament) shows that God has a better way—and that this way was demonstrated in the life of Jesus and His disciples. Jesus spoke about God’s love and fatherhood (Jesus called God “Father” or “your Father” about 200 times in the four gospels, and called Him nothing else). And when the disciples became the apostles, the Acts and Epistles document how they moved out through Europe and Asia, not majoring in “God is gonna get you” but in “God loves you and wants you to live with Him—and Jesus made this possible.”

Who knows—maybe a couple of drivers Tuesday morning (assuming they had time to roll down their windows and hear the bullhorn-preacher clearly) were indeed moved to examine their spiritual life. But you and I, if we smile and speak in a way which reflects the encouraging love of God, will have a greater long-term effect for Him.

Want to read a few Bible passages which show God’s way of witnessing? Click the link immediately below:

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Finding the Trail
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Russell Jurgensen
Thursday, January 15, 2015

Finding a rarely used trail can be challenging, fun, and a little exciting.  At first we bypassed this hidden trail and went about a half mile too far on the well known trail.  After realizing our mistake, we stopped to study the map and discuss the situation.  Then, we headed back, being careful to check against the map and a gps unit.  We came to this particular location in the picture but we were not convinced at all that it was even a trail.  

We were looking for an abandoned section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe this was just an animal track into the woods.  After a bit we noticed the knot hole in the tree where the backpack is leaning was not actually a knot hole, but an old blaze cut.  It gave us added hope.  With a few hours left of daylight, we cautiously set off up the faint trail.  Gradually it became more distinct and most reassuringly, it headed the right direction.  We were very happy when it reached the lake where we planned to camp.

Life can sometimes be like finding a trail.  We have a map with the Bible that gives us a general direction, but it does not say exactly where to take each step.  With study and thoughtful consideration, the Bible is an excellent guide.  It is exciting and rewarding to follow its direction.  In Matthew 7:7,8 Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

If at first it doesn't seem clear, keep following and searching.  Happy trails!

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Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
In our yard we have a few fallen, small trees in need of being cut up to use for firewood.  Unfortunately, this project hasn’t been on my priority list.  A couple weeks ago, when I was attending to some other chores, something caught my eye on one of the logs – these mushrooms.  It’s interesting how a log on the ground, basically at early stages of decomposition, hosts new life.  Here are these mushrooms (no clue as to their identification), growing abundantly on this log.  Yet another example of the amazing circle of life.
In our Christian life, we are continually faced with challenges and obstacles. There are times (I’ll speak for myself) that we stumble and things seem very bleak.  If fact, just like the fallen tree, we are down on the ground – lying there.  That’s when God, not only is already beside us but reaches down and picks us up.
In Psalms 65, we read a song of praise for God’s salvation and providence (verses 9-13):
You visit the earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it;
The river of God is full of water;
You provide their grain,
For so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers,
You bless its growth.
You crown the year with Your goodness,
And Your paths drip with abundance.
 They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,
And the little hills rejoice on every side.
The pastures are clothed with flocks;
The valleys also are covered with grain;
They shout for joy, they also sing.
Like these tiny, delicate mushrooms, God wants us to grow – to flourish. He wants to bless us.

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Black Phoebe
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Have you ever had a flashback of something that happened to you long ago? Something you hadn’t thought of in years, yet, surrealistically it reappeared in vivid Technicolor as real as life?  Perhaps it was in a dream, perhaps it just appeared out of nowhere.  It’s been said that our mind has the capacity to remember everything we’ve ever experienced; every word, thought, pleasure, or pain.  That’s a fearful notion.

Yet somehow we think we’re more like the Black Phoebe that is seldom seen far from water.  It sallies forth from lower branches to catch insects passing by.  It then regurgitates indigestible portions in small, round pellets without ever having to ingest the “bad” parts.  Even though it makes its nest of mud pellets which are fastened to a cliff overhang or wall, it seems never to get dirty.  It’s even been known to build its nest in wells some four or five feet below ground.

But we’re not made like that.  What we take in becomes part of us, apparently permanently.  We can’t live “underground” and not have some of the muck rub off on us.  That’s why Paul encourages us to seek something better. “If you are then “risen” with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of Heaven, where your master reigns in power. Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 J.B. Phillips New Testament)

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A Work in Progress
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 12, 2015

I hadn’t put together any puzzles for a very long time, but someone brought one in to work at Christmas time and several of us started to get caught up in trying to finish it on our lunches and breaks.  I took a couple of puzzles with me when I went to visit my folks over the holidays and my mom and I finished them fairly quickly.  I've been working on this one (pictured) most recently.  Thankfully, there is blue edging on all of the border pieces!

I think our lives are kind of like a puzzle.  As we grow, pieces start to fall into place but sometimes we don't know how things are going to fit together; life can sometimes seem disorganized.  The important thing to remember is that God is the one who who can finish the big picture and will finish it in the end.

I like the following verses where Paul writes to the Philippians (emphasis added): 

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

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Fleeing to Egypt
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 11, 2015

Villagers were busy with their daily activities – cooking, bathing, tending animals and working in the fields as we traveled by boat on the Nile River.  The photo above, taken between Luxor and Aswan, shows villagers and their animals along the river. When in Cairo, we visited several historical sites that have been preserved by Egyptian Christians through the centuries.  According to their tradition, the apostle Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in the first century, a few years after the death of Jesus.  Soon after, a large number of Egyptians accepted the Christian faith.  In fact, during the 4th to 6th centuries A.D., Christianity was the largest religious group in Egypt.

This photo is of a mosaic in the courtyard of the Hanging Church in Cairo.  Christians in Egypt place special significance in the fact that their country protected the life of baby Jesus from persecution by King Herod.  Mathew 2:13-14 tells that when the wise men left Jesus and his family in Bethlehem, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Rise up, take the child and His mother and escape with them to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the child to do away with him.” NEB   So they got up during the night and traveled to Egypt where they stayed until Herod’s death.  Since Egypt was outside the domain of King Herod, it would be a safe place to live temporarily. This fulfilled what God had said through the prophet, “I called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1)

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Lights Out
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 10, 2015

A couple of days ago I was in North Seattle’s University District, and walked past this old church which stands on a busy corner.

I felt a curious mix of emotions as I paused to snap this photo. I’m not going to mention the congregation’s name—in fact I have inserted a white box to cover over the church’s logo and website address. The name isn’t as important as what happened to cause the sign panels announcing the church’s name in large letters to be removed from the metal frame at the top, leaving the now-extinguished fluorescent tubes exposed.

Briefly, this old church has most recently been one of several “campuses” to which people would gather to listen to live video simulcast sermons from the dynamic and passionate pastor who had founded this movement, whose stated purpose was to make Jesus central in the lives of his listeners.

Unfortunately, this pastor’s domineering personality and actions—especially behind the scenes in board and other church leadership gatherings—began to cause deep concern among the other leaders, and not long ago this pastor resigned. And now this church stands lonely and empty, its light extinguished. The future of the entire chain of campuses has been left to their individual congregations, who must decide which direction to go.

So what’s the takeaway? All I know about this congregation is from various secular and Christian media sources, so I’m certainly not going to try to make specific pronouncements. But my own takeaway is to remember to be humble, and to consult carefully and thoughtfully with my fellow church members as we plan for the future.

Want to hear some of what the Bible says about the value of spiritual growth? Click the link immediately below:

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The Key
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 10, 2015

Back in late November as I approached my car I saw this pretty leaf rain-pasted to the door just above the handle. I was startled by the stark contrast between the natural and the man-made. I had a brief humorous thought—Wouldn’t it be cute if this leaf could be the key to the car?

A bit over a year ago, a pastor of my own denomination decided to experience “a year without God” to see what would happen. Within the past few days I heard a radio interview with him. Now that his God-free year is over, he has concluded that God doesn’t exist.

I thought to myself, Could I ever come to that point? What would it take for me to make that same declaration?

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I don’t think this could ever happen to me. For one thing, digging into the Bible each week to prepare a sermon keeps me grounded in the truth about the Deity.

But another huge reason I think I will be impervious to atheism is that I have made it a conscious habit to keep an eye out for the many miracles in nature. That little leaf on my car-door is a staggeringly wondrous work of self-regenerating art—and is therefore indeed a “key” to what God is like.

The retinas in the back of my eyeballs which are able to see this leaf, and the “wires” which send the image to my brain, and the brain itself which is able to see the image and name it “leaf,” and other stupendous wiring which connects my brain to the fingers and make them able to type to you about it, all these (and much more) say to me: It’s a no-brainer. God exists, and what’s more, He’s creative and fun.

My heart goes out to this pastor. May he eventually find his way to belief again.

For a three-screen Bible bio of God and why we should care, click the link immediately below:

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Golden Mouse
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Caleb Jurgensen
Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sometime near Christmas, I was hiking on the trails behind our house with some family when we saw this little mouse run into the leaves on the side of the trail. It didn't seem to be very afraid of us, or else it was just really dumb. I picked up the leaf it was hiding under and it didn't run away. It just stuck its head under another leaf and tried to dig like we couldn't see it. Eventually, it started climbing the steep bank next to the trail, and I got this picture when it paused in a pocket of leaves behind a bush. I'm not sure what kind of mouse this is, but it looks like a "standard" mouse whatever that may be (possibly a house mouse or deer mouse). Here is a list of rodents in Washington.

(source: 1 Samuel 4-6) After the Philistines captured the Ark from the Israelites, the Philistines began to have problems. They moved the Ark to Ashdod and put it in the temple of Dagon, and twice the statue of Dagon fell on its face in front of it. Then people of Ashdod got tumors so they sent the ark to the city of Gath. The people of Gath also got tumors and many died. At that point, the Philistines gave up on the ark and prepared to send it back to the Israelites. The Philistine priests recommended that they send an appeasement offering along with it.

1 Samuel 6:4-5 ESV: "And they said, 'What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?' They answered, 'Five golden tumors and five golden mice. ... So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. ...'" According to biblehub, the original word for mice was probably more general than just "mice."

So the Philistines sent five mice made of gold and five golden tumors as an offering to God. To me that just doesn't seem like a very appealing gift (other than the gold of course). However, God was glorified in this chain of events and the Philistines witnessed His power.

The Bible has a lot of unusual stories in it like this one. Before reading these chapters in 1st Samuel, I had no idea that the Philistines had also sent golden mice and tumors along with the ark. It's just one more reason to keep reading the Bible.

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Heaven’s Wall Display
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I don’t often include fabric-and-craft stores on my shopping rambles, but on Christmas Eve day Shelley wanted to stop at one, so I followed her in. Later, while she was at the cash register with her purchases, I noticed this display near the store’s exit.

The print is probably a bit small for you to read easily, but you’ve probably sensed that this display advertises upcoming classes. The center panel at the far left caught my eye: “It’s Your Time: Learn, Create, Accomplish.”

That’s all well and good, I thought, but the time I’m experiencing right now isn’t really my own. Scores of items load my to-do list, and one of them is the need to generate a weekly 3,600-word sermon.

But some of the Bible material I study to preach those sermons tells me that there will eventually come a Time—a time when time shall be no longer. It’s likely that in heaven I won’t seek out the quilting classes first of all—maybe landscape painting or something like that—but at least I’ll have time!

Want a refresher course on what the Bible says about heaven? Click the link immediately below.

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Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Competition is like that.  We know the difference between the gold and the bronze may be only a fraction of a second and the margin between standing highest on the platform and not even placing is only marginally larger.  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”  (I Corinthians 9:24-25 NIV) Paul knew it, as does every Junior High competitor.  Taken to the extreme is the quote most often associated with Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  And the reason it’s so highly valued?  The answer, at least in part, rests with its uniqueness

Falconers of the Middle Ages understood this concept too.  Only royalty could own Gyrfalcons, while Peregrine falcons were reserved for high noblemen, and Merlin were flown only by noblewomen.  This position held by the Gyrfalcon is probably deserved since it is the largest and strongest of the falcons.  In addition, its scarcity also added to its supposed value.  Today, birders outside the Arctic are excited when one of these wanderers from the far north should venture into their area as happens once or twice every few years in Washington.

But the prize offered us if different in at least one respect; first place has been offered to all.  And the reason for that?  Christ has already run the race as our representative, and won, hands down.  Second place wasn’t even close.  And now He’s offered to share the victory prize with all of His family who will accept it.

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Measuring the Blessings
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 5, 2015

I found these measuring beakers the other day while looking for some Christmas presents.  This is a great size because it is very useful for measuring fragrances or mixing colors when I make soap.  Lentils were used for illustration purposes for this photo parable.

The Bible also talks about measurements.  We are told that we are to give a tithe (10% of our earnings).  You can look up how tithe is used in the Seventh-day Adventist church here:

We also support different causes and various church functions through our offerings.   This money is needed locally to support our local church budget and renovation projects, Vacation Bible School, church school, Pathfinders and other outreach ministries.  There are numerous other ministries locally and further afield that can benefit from our free will offerings.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

Don’t hold back—give freely, and you’ll have plenty poured back into your lap—a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, brimming over. You’ll receive in the same measure you give. Luke 6:38 (The Voice)

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Presented to the Lord
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 4, 2015

(NOTE FROM BEV RITER: Beginning November 2, I started presenting Daily Photo Parables on the life of Jesus with photos from our recent journey to the Holy Land.  These will continue through Easter time, with His death and resurrection.)

Many people go the old Western or Wailing Wall (the stones are the only remaining part of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70) of the temple in Jerusalem to pray.  As Judaism’s holiest site, this was part of the wall of the Temple Mount built by Herod the Great.  Men visit and pray on the left side, while women go on the right as shown in my first photo above.

This photo shows cracks in the wall where people have placed their written prayers.  The large plaza is like an open-air synagogue for reading scripture, religious services and events.  This Holy City of Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish world.  And the Temple was their most important place.

This 50:1 scale model of ancient Jerusalem in the year 66 AD shows the huge Second Temple on the right side. Covering about one acre in size in the Israel Museum, the model gives us a glimpse of what the city was like during the time of Jesus.  Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord and make an offering.  The 40-day purification had been completed according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12).  They met Simeon there whom the Holy Spirit had told he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah.  Simeon took Jesus in his arms, praised Him and blessed Him.  Anna, the elderly prophetess who never left the temple also recognized Jesus as the Messiah.  She then shared the Good News that the Messiah had been born!   (Luke 2:22-38)  Yes, after waiting for centuries, the Messiah had finally arrived!

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When the Jingle’s Gone
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 3, 2015

This past Tuesday Shelley and I were visiting a major mall, and I strolled past this recently-emptied store space. I don’t remember its name, but it had “Holiday” in it, and from the red-and-white theme, plus the denuded trees placed about the store, it obviously had been a place where you could shop for ornaments and lights and nativities and Santas, accompanied by an incessant soundtrack of Christmas music.

But now it’s time to roll up the red carpet, sweep the floor, take apart the trees, and repurpose the space. And for some folks (including me, and I consider myself remarkably even-keeled when it comes to Christmas) this let-down can be mildly depressing.

The Bible gives some keys to help counteract mild depression. (Note: I’m NOT referring to clinical, chronic depression, which often results from chemical imbalance in the brain or other serious causes, and needs professional help. I’m just talking about the occasional “blues.”)

You might want to print out the texts in the link below, to remind you of what to do when you’re feeling gloomy.

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No Need to Dread
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 2, 2015

You might be interested in what’s on our church readerboard right now, as the old year merges into the new. I don’t know how many hundreds of cars drive by our church each day—it may be a thousand or more—but I would imagine that a certain percentage of those cars’ occupants might be gazing toward 2015 with apprehension. You may be too.

This readerboard message isn’t wishful thinking—it’s reality. Take a moment to read through the following Bible verses, each of which gives hope about a situation or crisis or worry which might be troubling you (this list is based on a link, which I give at the end).

Here’s what God hopes you will pray about this year:

Forgiveness of all your sins and freedom from guilt:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. (Psalms 32:5,6; Isaiah 1:18; 1 John 1:7)

For being reconstructed spiritually, or born again, so you can live a new life of righteousness and obedience: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them: I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow My decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be My people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20.

For peace of mind:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

A remedy for loneliness and boredom:
"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

When you are tormented with fears:
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” Isaiah 12:2

For making the sinful past right in the sight of God:
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” Romans 4:7-8

For salvation:
“Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25

For guidance in perplexity:
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:6

For every trying situation:
“My grace is sufficient for you.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

For insecurity and frustration:
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27

When you are weary:
“Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

When the load seems heavy:
“Cast all your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” Psalms 55:22

When you face an unusually hard day:
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They shall soar on wings like eagles.” Isaiah 40:31

For the indwelling of Jesus to make your life right:
“If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

For being truly happy:
“I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

For the more abundant life:
“If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” John 15:5

For needed help and strength:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

When confused and upset:
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” Isaiah 32:17 (John 14:1,26)

When discouraged:
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalms 31:24

For deliverance from distress and trouble:
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.” Psalms 107:13

For long-held grudges, ill-will, hate, and resentment against others:
“And when you stand praying if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

When worried about the outcome:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

For victory over sin:
“For every child of God can obey Him, Defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him.” 1 John 5:4

For living forever in happiness:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” John 3:36

Adapted from the following:

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General Purpose
Photo and Commentary ©2015 by Russell Jurgensen
Thursday, January 1, 2015

This replica World War II bomb seemed to be fascinating to the little kids at the Oshkosh, WI flight museum.  I tried to get a clear shot, but one small hand couldn't resist touching it while I took a picture.  Maybe kids have a drive to face their fears.  I didn't have the urge to touch it.  

I had to wonder at the text printed in bold white letters, "500 LB GENERAL PURPOSE BOMB."  I suppose it would be worse if it were a "500 LB ALL PURPOSE BOMB."  I can just imagine someone saying, "How are we going to solve this plugged drain problem?"  The next fellow over would say, "Oh, let's just drop this all purpose bomb on it."

My attention is drawn to the phrase "GENERAL PURPOSE."  Especially since today is New Year's Day, maybe it could be something to think about for the upcoming year.  What is our general purpose in life?  How can we make our "general purpose" be something that is the opposite of a destructive bomb?  Turning our eyes to Jesus is a great place to start.  I like what Jesus says about the most important commandment:

Mark 12:28-31
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Here is a praise from Psalm 89:14-17.
"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    love and faithfulness go before you.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
    who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
    they celebrate your righteousness.
For you are their glory and strength,
    and by your favor you exalt our horn.

Whatever your "general purpose" is, may you go forward with a blessing in 2015.

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