Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church
Daily Photo Parable

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-- someone from the Jurgensen family. 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.

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 31, 2016

Have you revisited a place in another season to find it looking differently?  I took the above photo of Castelluccio di Norcia, a remote hilltop village in the Apennine Mountains of Umbria, Italy in early June some years back.  Our stay in that area enticed us to return this last year.  But, this year the area looked different:

It was already autumn season when we were there in early September.  Snow was gone and the green fields had turned tan, as you can see in my second photo.

Just like there are seasons in nature, we have seasons in our lives.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 refers to times or seasons, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:  A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.”  We have seasons of preparation and seasons of reaping from what has been sewn.  What season of life are you experiencing?  Is God with you, guiding you in that season?

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Potluck Tables
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 30, 2016

If you glanced at yesterday’s Daily Photo Parable below, you’ll have read that on Tuesday I had to take my car in for repairs, and that I spent the waiting-time in the University district.

I was strolling by a church west of the campus when, through large windows, I saw the scene in the photo above. These tables—which I and probably many other pastors will always think of as “potluck tables”—were clustered in a cozy bunch and surrounded by what look like comfortable chairs.

I have a fondness for tables of this design, because I have helped put them up and take them down many times during my ministry. A memory-twinge in my lower back suggests to me that the above tables are the older, heavier kind (the kind Noah probably used on the ark), but I have learned a couple of tricks to carrying them and setting them up which largely spare the pastoral spine. I don’t know the people who actually sit in these chairs from Sunday to Sunday, but I’m sure they’ve shared happy memories with others, from either food or conversation or both.

The better acquainted we become with Jesus’ earthly ministry, the more we understand how much He loved gathering with people for meals. Fellowship and food are powerful barrier-breakers—Jesus attended wedding receptions and Sabbath potlucks. He invited Himself to a meal at thehome of the recently-converted Zacchaeus (not an imposition but a high honor for the tax-collector.) He told stories which pictured banquets to which guests had been invited, and must decide whether to accept.

And at another meal, the final Passover supper He would celebrate with His disciples, He invited them to a future convivial gathering:

But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29 NKJV)

Since anyone who follows Jesus is also His disciple, that invitation holds for you and me if we care to accept it. You can learn how at the link immediately below:

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Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 29, 2016

My Honda’s muffler recently disconnected from the engine and was in grave danger of falling off, so Tuesday morning I gingerly maneuvered the snorting car around many potholes and got it safely to my favorite repair shop in north Seattle. While waiting for it to be fixed, I hopped a bus to the University district.

There I saw the poster you see above. Part of me felt a bit nostalgic for my college days. Back then, the same as now, idealists visited those campuses, put up their posters, and tried to attract the attention of kids who still believed it was possible to change the world.

But part of me felt surprised. Last time I checked, socialism hasn’t had the best of track records. It’s all very well to preach the benefits of a “social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively” (American Heritage Dictionary’s definition). But for socialism to be effective, everybody in the community must be absolutely selfless, willing to be equal with everyone else and to abandon the concept of private property. But with every human heart currently shot through with selfishness, this just can’t work.

This poster gave me another surprise when I read about the location of the lecture—in the basement of a Christian church near the campus! I was about to roll my eyes and wonder what on earth the pastor or church board must have been thinking, when I remembered a couple of verses describing the pure, fresh-from-revival Christians in Acts 2:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (Acts 2:44-45 NKJV)

Socialism, right? It didn’t last long—and the Bible doesn’t prescribe it, just describes it—but from what we know about the kingdom of God, it will be inhabited only by truly selfless and Spirit-led servants, who will be greedy neither for gain nor for position.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

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Let Your Light Shine
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Caleb Jurgensen
Thursday, January 28, 2016

Our church's Pathfinder club youth group recently did a church service with the theme "Let Your Light Shine." It reminded me of this stick man figurine that sits above our fireplace holding his candles. He looks like he's sprinting with his hair flying in his eagerness to share his light.

In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says: "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Maybe if we had half this stick man's energy, we could spread the Gospel much faster!

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Cloud Cover
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Have you ever found yourself out in the hot sun (maybe not this time of year…) begging for a little relief in the form of some nice shade?  Wanting a big fluffy cloud to roll over and give a tiny respite from the intense sun? I know I have, on several occasions. In fact, this image was captured while I was exploring the White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. It’s not exactly cold out there – at least not during the summer months. This large cloud was not only a great break from the warm sun but it also made a great picture. If you haven’t visited this area of the country, put it on your list of things to do – it’s very unique.  Make sure you prepare for the sunshine, as there is plenty of it.
In reading some of Isaiah, there are many spots where God is blessing, helping and forgiving the children of Israel.  In chapter 44, versus 21 and 22, there is a specific example of just that:
“Remember these, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
I have formed you, you are My servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!
I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions,
And like a cloud, your sins.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”
When I read that line – ‘….blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions…”, I thought of God giving us the "break" we need.  He sees our transgressions, our sins, and He covers them up – like a cloud gives us that cover from the sun. This break, allows us to: recover, regroup and ready ourselves to do things again – better this time. What God did for the children of Israel, He’ll most assuredly do it for us as well.  Bring the things you need covered up and forgotten to God. He’ll take care of the rest.
The next time you find yourself in hot sun (might be a few months from now) and you need a quick break from the intense heat – look up, some cloud cover may be coming your way.

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A Matter of Focus (Mountains and Snow Geese)    

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Taking pictures today should be a piece of cake.  You don’t have to worry too much about setting the F stop or shutter speed.  That can be done automatically.  You no longer have to remember to advance the film since film has gone the way of the dinosaur and today’s cameras advance to the next frame automatically.  The camera will even spontaneously focus for you.  About all you have to do is push the shutter release.  Why then do I have to throw away so many pictures? It seems like every one should be a winner.

But the truth is more complicated than that.  Consider this picture of a snowy mountain and flock of Snow Geese and other waterfowl.  It came down to a matter of focus.  The camera was unable to pick out specific birds to focus on so it substituted the mountain instead.  My intention was to have the mountain serve as a background, not the primary subject of the picture, so to accomplish this I had to manually focus on the birds in the foreground.  It’s all a matter of what’s most important to us.

Paul understood this as well.  “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.”  (Roman 8:7-8 The Message)  So what picture do people observe when they see the pattern of our lives?  Or put another way, what does our life reveal is most important to us?

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A New Point of View

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 25, 2016

This is the view from Mt Erie in Anacortes.   You can see lakes, islands and the Sound as well as roads and cars and houses.   When you are driving up there, you don't really know where you are in relation to everything else around you.  You only see what is in front of you and what is to your immediate right and left and if you look in the rear view mirror, you get a narrow glimpse of what is behind you and if you've just gone around a curve, you may not even get that much of a view.  

Getting a view from on top of a mountain or from the air gives you a whole new perspective.  The Bible tells us that we need to look around and see the big picture:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.  Colossians 3:1-2 (The Message)

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Life In Old Well

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 24, 2016

Many villages in Italy still have their old wells that were once used for their water supply, as seen in this photo.  Even though they now have water piped in, the old wells remain.  I think of the woman at the well as recorded in John 4 whenever I see one.  She was searching for truth and Jesus gave her “living water”.  Since I’m especially fond of old wells, I especially enjoyed visiting Jacob’s Well in Nablus where this conversation is thought to have taken place. (I wrote about this in my Daily Photo Parable on October 12, 2014)

Even though the well in today’s photo no longer has water in it, it’s providing life – life for an olive tree!  This goes along with the parable mentioned above. Only through Jesus can we obtain and receive eternal life.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  John 14:6.

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Really Serious!

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 23, 2016

Wednesday’s mail at our house included this formal-looking envelope. Its senders coyly concealed their identity as far as the envelope’s exterior was concerned, but the two bold-print words insisted that I immediately check out the interior.

I am, of course, nobody’s fool. In my time I have received envelopes which look almost exactly as though I was receiving a refund check from the IRS, but which turned out to be clever ads. (You’ve got to be careful, though. Banks will send genuine, updated debit or credit cards in similarly plain-vanilla envelopes with similar identity-coyness, so I always feel the envelope to see if it contains a plastic rectangle.)

Once inside the envelope in the photo, I discovered that the contents were indeed serious. Or shall we say, Sirius. Maybe you can make out that name in the postage box, which I had totally missed. Perhaps satellite radio is indeed important enough to some people to justify a curt, bold “Important Information.” I, however, have managed to struggle along all these years without satellite radio, so it’s not important to me.

What’s really important in life? Think a bit, and you’ll realize that the questions this boils down to are fairly few:

Who am I? Where did I come from? What will the future hold? What happens just after I die? Is there a God? Does He have a message for me, and can He bring me safely through the door of the grave?

You’ll find answers to those very questions at our upcoming “Incredible Prophecies” lecture series featuring Dan and Gloria Bentzinger, which begins Friday night, March 11, at 7 p.m. . Each evening’s fast-paced multimedia event will capture your attention and focus it on a God who loves you and can bring you through to eternity!

Not long from now I’ll put “Incredible Prophecies” links on this website’s home page. Keep checking back!

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Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 22, 2016

A week ago this Friday Shelley and I were out on a morning walk, and she drew my attention to this ornamental rock. It’s nearly two feet long from top to bottom, and very closely resembles a heart shape.

As you can see, the right half looks natural, but the left seems to have been cut or shaped with some kind of saw. The contrast is interesting—but when all is said and done, both half-hearted halves are still stone.

When speaking to His rebellious children in the Old Testament, God pled with them using a wonderful promise to them which we can claim as well:

Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19 – 20 NKJV

For more of Bible’s crucial information about our spiritual hearts, click the link immediately below:

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At the Well
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Russell Jurgensen
Thursday, January 21, 2016

This spring-fed stream near South Tiger Mountain never seems to dry up.  It is a little faster in the winter and a little slower in the summer.  When we had a long dry spell last summer most of the small creeks dried up, but not this one.  It kept running reliably.

It reminds me of Jesus when he talked to the woman at the well in John 4:

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

I like it that Jesus describes how He works in peoples lives.  Let's rely on Jesus as the source.

Read the whole story at:

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Life Is Tough

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Life is difficult. It’s stressful and crazy busy. When you tend to be overly busy, it becomes more stressful and you start feeling more anxious. I (you may be able to relate to this as well) have to be careful, and take the time to de-stress, relax and let God speak to me. Life can be a whirlwind if we don’t allow ourselves to find that balance.
In Psalm 94, the chapter starts off with a title – God the Refuge of the Righteous. I feel better already, reading that title. In fact, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read the full chapter.  For now, I’ll focus in on my favorite part of the chapter, verse 19:
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.
What a way to put it.  We have a “multitude” of anxieties – all the things that we are thinking about, stressing over – allowing to consume us. Then God comes along – He brings comforts and those comforts in turn delight our soul. Delight. Our. Soul. I love that phrase. It doesn’t read that He makes us forget about our problems for a few minutes, no, His comforts delight our soul. Allowing God to change and adjust our soul in a positive way – that’s how we get through life.
Take the time to listen and have Him change you.

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Tundra Bean Goose            
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

If you are close to the same generation as me, and if you attended a Christian school, then it’s likely you remember looking at maps depicting the travels of Paul while enrolled in one of your Bible classes.  Mercifully, my teachers never expected us to memorize where he stopped after Troas on his second missionary journey.  Mercifully, for the maps had little meaning to this adolescent who had never ventured outside the United States. Presumably they didn’t play baseball there, so the distances portrayed by dotted lines had little relevance to me.
But not so with the fuzzy map shown above.  It began as a range map of the Tundra Bean Goose, a northern Eurasian species that winters in wetlands far to the south on those continents. Here's a photo:

Only rarely does the Tundra Bean Goose wander into North America along the outer Aleutian Islands.  Only once, or twice, depending upon which authority you cite, had it been seen in the Lower 48.  But there it was, along the Oregon coast, and now with a large red X to celebrate the occasion of our meeting.

It’s funny how an otherwise trifling event can become so important when you experience it personally.  What was inert becomes alive, not because it has changed, but because you’ve encountered it face to face.  No wonder the Lord has invited us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  (Psalm 34:8 NIV)  He wants us to experience that goodness for ourselves.

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Sharing the Good News
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 18, 2016

I was at a bird sanctuary recently and put my arm out with a handful of black sunflower seeds in my upturned palm.  In no time, chickadees started appearing and the braver ones came and grabbed a seed out of my hand before quickly flying off with it.  As soon as one bird left, there was another one there to take its place and sometimes there were two at once.  Pretty soon, I could see about 10 birds in the nearby bushes waiting for their turns.  I don't know how they were able to communicate the free food but the word seemed to spread very quickly.  

As Christians, we want to share the gospel (good news) with others.  This is something that is available to everyone and is not something we want to hoard for ourselves.

The gospel is very simple but very profound.  Here it is in a nutshell (so to speak!):

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (NCV)

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Close to God
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our home for three nights in southern Tuscany was an agriturismo which had been a monastery in the 15th century, as seen in this first photo from a distant hillside.  As we walked through the main entry door, I knew we were in for another real travel adventure.

Next we walked up an incline on uneven pavers from many years of use.  A beautiful courtyard awaited us inside.  After opening a huge door seeming to weigh a ton, we walked up flights of stairs to our room overlooking the Tuscan fields with sheep and crops.  The walls of the dining rooms and computer room (recently added by the way!) were covered with old frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible as seen in this next photo.

The garden was beautiful with lemon trees and a circular pond. And we had our very own church!  Our time spent here was very special, where I felt close to God.

Are there places where you’ve felt close to God?  In a church, in the countryside or in the mountains?  Have you spent time with Him and told Him how much you appreciate Him and what He’s done for you?  Do you feel His presence in your life?  If not, you might give God a try!

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The Speed of Time

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 16, 2016

When I was a kid, and came across a clock large enough to actually see its minute-hand move, this frightened me. For some reason I didn’t get the same feeling while watching the second hand. But if I saw even the tiniest jerking of the minute hand, my chest would fill with alarm. Time was passing—and even at that young age I knew that aging and death were inexorable. My childhood was vanishing!

By checking back to see the date the above photo was taken, I discover that I snapped it on New Year’s day of this year. It was early Friday afternoon, and Shelley and I were just getting ready to take a long walk.

I was gazing at the two white light-spots on the garage door of the house across the street from ours, when suddenly I realized that those spots were moving—gliding slowly to the right! The sun was shining through two small openings between the tree-branches behind me, and the light had ballooned out to become circular, as happens when the aperture is small. When I first noticed them, the larger of the two circles had been exactly centered on the left garage door, and in the time it took for me to mention this to Shelley, and then grab for my belt-camera and snap the photo, they had moved as far as you see.

And my heart filled with that same childhood terror. I could actually see the planet turning! Time was passing—how could I seize those moments before they vanished forever?

The sometimes cynical, sometimes puzzling book of Ecclesiastes assures us that not only has God “has made everything beautiful in its time,” but that “Also He has put eternity in their hearts . . . .” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV)

So if we have eternity in our hearts—in other words, if our minds are most comfortable with living forever—maybe that’s why God allowed us a weekly appointment with eternity, a timeless 24 hours when we can fellowship with the Author of eternity. If you’d like to learn more about this “temple in time,” and how you can take advantage of it, click the link immediately below:

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The King is Coming
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 15, 2016

This past Sunday I saw firsthand how much the Puget Sound area is in the grip of Seahawks fever. Our scrappy football team, whose practice facility I pass on the I-405 freeway every time I head up toward our church (and which has a gigantic fabric “12” banner on its east wall), was playing its first playoff game of the year.

Shelley and I, listening avidly on the radio, were driving around doing a couple of errands. One of these errands was stopping by our favorite local farmers’ market for produce. As you can see in the photo, the parking lot is deserted—that’s our car on the right, and someone’s SUV at the corner of the lot. Everybody else was (you guessed it) home watching the final few minutes of the game. And when Shelley entered the store, she saw all the employees gathered around a big screen mounted high on the wall.

As it turns out, those final few minutes—especially the last 60 seconds or so—were worth watching. The Seahawks were leading 10 to 9, but the Vikings’ kicker (who had already made three field goals) was about to kick a very makeable fourth one, from 27  yards out. Despair was creeping into Hawk fans’ hearts.

But the kicker missed it. Wide. And instantly it was the Vikings who were doomed, and the Seahawks had escaped to the next playoff game by the skin of their teeth. Judgment day!

As I stepped back from the store to snap the photo above, I was irresistibly reminded of a terrifying yet triumphant Christian song about the Lord’s return:

The marketplace is empty
No more traffic in the streets
All the builders’ tools are silent
No more time to harvest wheat
Busy housewives cease their labors
In the courtroom no debate
Work on earth has been suspended
As the King comes through the gate

The King is coming
The King is coming
I just heard the trumpet sounding
And now his face I see
The King is coming
The King is coming
Praise God, He's coming for me!
     --by William J. and Gloria Gaither and Charles Millhuff

For more of what the Bible says about Jesus’ return (including the comforting parts), click the link immediately below.

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Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Caleb Jurgensen
Thursday, January 14, 2016

These two Nerf darts are identical except for the fact that the one on the left was squashed under a recliner leg-thing for several months. I'm sure we had looked under that chair before, so the dart was probably stuck somewhere inside the chair and then fell down later. Anyway, somehow it got under the chair and rolled up into a ball. Here it is unfolded:

Psalm 34:18 (ESV): "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit."

We tried soaking the dart in water to see if it would expand, but nothing happened. It was beyond repair. We can be thankful that none of us are beyond God's repair, not even the "crushed in spirit."

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Can't Wait For Heaven
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

There are some amazing locations on this planet. One of these spots (in my opinion) is Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods (seen above). If you’ve never been there, it’s worth the trip.  What’s more amazing – it’s not a national park, it’s a public city park.  That’s because the land was donated by one of the areas’ first settlers – William Jackson Palmer. Technically, he was the one who purchased land (480+ acres) and upon his death (at his wish) his family donated the land to the city of Colorado Springs, under the condition that the land was to be used for a park for all.
As you can see, the imagery of the park is amazing. These red stone spires rising from the ground – carved out by the flood (even though others would say differently). As much as I like this location and can think of a few others on the planet that compare, nothing (and I mean – nothing) can compare to what we will see in heaven.
The book of John is filled with good stuff, including a quote from Jesus, talking about heaven. Let’s read one of these examples –
John 14:1-4,
“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.”
First off, we have the promise of God having mansions waiting for us in heaven – incredible.  Not only are these new (amazing) homes waiting for us, we have the promise of Jesus returning to earth to take us away from this sinful world and deliver us to our new homes.  Thirdly and most importantly, when we arrive at said mansion, not only will this location be 1,000 (or more) times better than anything we can fathom on earth, we’ll have God – in all His glory – right there beside us. What an incredible sight to long for.  If you don’t believe, read all about it, in these four verses for yourself.

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Northern Wheatear

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 12, 2016

One can’t help but being impressed.  Even though the words of Job 40:15 and16 speak of the monster Behemoth, they in part could equally apply to this tiny wanderer from a far off land:     “I created him and I created you…but what strength there is in his body, and what power there is in his muscles!” (GNT)  In this particular case it was probably a she, but whichever gender, it was supposed to be in sub-Saharan Africa where essentially all Northern Wheatears winter.  Instead, it had taken a wrong turn and found itself on the shores of one of the islands in Puget Sound, Washington far, from others of its kind.  Its extensive migration, which crosses ocean, ice, and desert, is the longest recorded of any songbird.
Northern Wheatear nest in open, stony country across Europe and Asia, reaching as far as Alaska and Northern Canada.  Birds that nest in eastern Canada migrate by way of Greenland, crossing over 2100 miles of the North Atlantic before reaching their wintering destination in western Africa.  While those in Alaska generally fly south through Siberia and Eurasia, finishing with a passage over the Arabian Desert before overwinter in eastern Africa.  This means an almost 9000 mile trip each way. No wonder those pectoral muscles are so prominent!
Have you ever noticed that the return trip seems to go more quickly than the departure journey from home?  In the case of the wheatear it’s because of the wind currents.  The southward passage takes three months while the spring migration requires just 55 days. But just maybe it has something to do with a yearning to be home.  And if Heaven really is our home, maybe we should be longing for a quicker trip home too.

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Rescued from the Trash
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 11, 2016

I saw this old water bottle floating in a wetland on Lake Washington.   The bottle had obviously been used and was discarded into this fragile ecosystem.

Sometimes people, due to a series of life circumstances beyond their control and/or poor choices, can feel abandoned or feel that they have been tossed out with the garbage.  The Bible tells us that these are the very people God can save:

GOD is higher than anything and anyone,
    outshining everything you can see in the skies.
Who can compare with GOD, our God,
    so majestically enthroned,
Surveying his magnificent
    heavens and earth?
He picks up the poor from out of the dirt,
    rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash,
Seats them among the honored guests,
    a place of honor among the brightest and best.
Psalm 113:4-8 (The Message)

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Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 10, 2016

This Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) across the Arno River in Florence, Italy was rebuilt in the year 1345 after a major flood destroyed the previous one.  During World War II, this was the only bridge left standing across the Arno – it was saved.  In 1966, the bridge withstood major flooding when the Arno burst its banks again and was saved.  Small shops, now selling jewelry, on the Ponte Vecchio have existed since the 13th century.  For 671 years this very bridge has been used as a passageway.

Like the Ponte Vecchio has been saved from destruction in recent centuries, those who profess God as their Savior have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.  As recorded in John 3:16, Jesus spoke, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Even though we all have sinned, God doesn’t want us to perish. The blood of Jesus is the atonement for our sins.  Have you accepted this gift?

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Pray for Kings

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 9, 2016

I don’t know if this happens to you is often as it does to me, but it seems like the closer an eye I keep on the news of the world, the more of a choking feeling I get. The leaders of country after country seem to be behaving like little preschoolers demanding attention. “Me! Me! No, look at me! I’ll throw a tantrum if you don’t look at me!”

ISIS commits atrocities and uploads them to YouTube. Saudi Arabia executes a dissident cleric, and Iran blows its top, and the two countries withdraw embassy staffs. North Korea either explodes (or pretends to explode) a hydrogen bomb. China is making territorial claims in the China Sea, and Japan and Taiwan are getting nervous. Russia starts flexing its muscles on the borders of former Soviet Union sub-countries. And I could mention Mexican drug cartels, Venezuelan crises, turmoil in Africa and Afghanistan and Yemen and Syria. But now I’m seized with that old familiar choking feeling.

And here in America, one of the most appalling presidential campaigns I have ever watched is grinding its way month by month toward November. Candidates are attacking each other, and for some frightening reason, the aspirant with the biggest mouth and the least inhibitions is topping everybody else in the polls.

I would imagine that when Paul wrote my church reader board words to his young pastoral protégé Timothy, some of the Roman governmental leaders behaved just as badly. And things must’ve been worse, because kings ruled by fiat more than most are able to do today.

I used to think that both Paul’s and Peter’s admonitions to pray for those in authority meant that we should simply be loyal citizens. And that may be partly true. But it’s possible that those apostles realized that only divine intervention would be able to rescue these nations from the effects of unscrupulous power-grabs.

So make sure, as November approaches, that you study the issues and the candidates, and get out there to the ballot box and use your precious, hard-won freedom to make your voice heard. And pray, frequently and earnestly, that leaders all over the world will themselves turn to God and beg Him for wisdom.

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Hold Fast

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 8, 2016

Thursday afternoon I took a stroll in our neighborhood while studying the first part of Matthew 5, the basis of this week’s sermon. Part of my walk was along a sidewalk beside a busy street, which was walled off from the houses on either side with a concrete noise-reducing barrier.

A waist-high ledge runs along that barrier, and I was surprised to see the items in the photo resting on it—a smartphone, a car key, what looks like a quarter peeking out from under some kind of receipt, and something that might have been an MP3 player.

This was very puzzling. Why would these items be placed there? Was a woman looking for something in her purse, and set these items on the ledge, planning to put them back in? (And why stop there—no bus stop or other reason for pausing was nearby.) These items don’t seem to have been stolen, otherwise why would they be left here neatly displayed?

Anyway, after I snapped this photo I gathered up these things and walked them over to a fire station across the street. The firemen gathered around with great interest (all three engines were present--it must have been a slow fire day), and thanked me, and told me they would do their best to find the owner.

When you think of it, those abandoned items are pretty important ones. The phone gives you the ability to communicate long-distance, plus can hold your identity and your phone list. The car key provides for transportation. And that little MP3 player, if that’s what it is, can provide hours of entertainment. Whoever owned these items should have held onto them – taken better care of them.

Jesus, speaking to the Christian congregation in Philadelphia (the modern Alasehir, Turkey) had the same advice about retaining what’s important spiritually. “Behold, I am coming quickly!” He told them. “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” Revelation 3:11 NKJV

In other words, don’t let loose of Bible truth you have learned. Don’t abandon or ignore the Savior who died for you and is returning for you. Don’t compromise your solid beliefs for temporary advantage.

For more Bible warnings about compromise, click the link immediately below.

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Russell Jurgensen
Thursday, January 7, 2016

This paper has been on the wall of a classroom in the church for perhaps the last 4 years.  Normally student artwork gets removed after a time and new artwork takes over.  This one somehow magically has stayed.  Perhaps each time a teacher cleans up, they don't notice it.  I like to think that no one can quite take it down because it emphasizes the words so well.

Perhaps we sometimes miss the intensity of meaning when we read words in the Bible.  It is good to sit down and ponder the full meaning of the words of Jesus.

In John 3:16-17 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  Continue reading at

Let's put these words in our hearts the same way that the student artist drew them, with passion.

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Behind The Scenes
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Recently, I was able to take a quick trip up along the Skagit River. I was specifically looking for Bald eagles but I wasn’t opposed to checking out all the other creations God has given to us. As you can see, a grove of trees covered in frost, with the sunrise coming over the mountains, wasn’t an eagle but a special sight nonetheless.
It reminds me of how God is ALWAYS behind us. There may be times we don’t feel His presence or question He is there, but as we pull back a bit we see that He is right there with us. We can see His light all around us.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

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New Beginnings and the Sabbath    
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, January 5, 2016

We’re an orderly people; logical, generally opposed to the arbitrary, and rational.  Or so at least we like to think.  But the truth be known, we’re far from that. Even in this age where science reigns supreme, much of what we do is not based upon human reason.  Having just entered into a new year, many celebrated this event with good intentions and a resolve to make improvements. Certainly this is worthwhile, whenever it should take place, but why single out January 1?

Not surprisingly, the Mesopotamians were the first to record celebrating a new year some 4000 years ago.  They did so in mid-March near the time of the vernal equinox.  Others, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, celebrated theirs along with the fall equinox, while the Greeks did so on the winter solstice.  It appears January 1 was selected for rather arbitrary reasons.  Rome settled on that date in 153 B.C. since that was the beginning of their civil year when the two newly elected consuls would begin their one year term of office.  Some believe this day was selected since it was when the feast of Janus, the god of doorways and beginnings, was celebrated.  In the 16th century the Gregorian calendar was adopted, and along with it many of the nations accepted January 1as the beginning of the new year.

Interestingly enough, while the day and yearly cycles are based upon astronomical activity, the seven day weekly cycle has no corresponding reason.  Based upon that same Gregorian calendar we now use, a year would contain precisely 52 71/400 weeks.  Not exactly a number that resounds with logical confidence.

The truth is, that seemingly arbitrary 7 day cycle was instituted by the God who spoke the world into existence and rested on the seventh day to celebrate that event.   “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”  (Exodus20:11 KJV)  It was established to celebrate the creation of the world. Maybe that would be a good resolution to include along with those others goals you set out for the new year, to honor the God who started the world spinning and placed you and me on it.

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Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, January 4, 2016

This picture is of my nephew's pet hedgehog.  She's quite cute but as you can see she's not exactly a cuddly pet because her whole upper body is covered in quills.  The San Diego Zoo website describes a hedgehog as a "pincushion with legs."  

The quills are like armor and hedgehogs use them for defense.  When threatened by a would be predator, they roll into a ball so that their quills are all pointing outwards.

The Bible talks about us having armor as well:

Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong.  Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.
Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armor.  Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.

Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people. Ephesians 6:10-18 (CEV)

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“Ring in” the New Year!
Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Bev Riter
Sunday, January 3, 2016

We had ordered our dinner at an outside restaurant at a small hilltop village in Tuscany.  Wanting to photograph the setting sun and my surroundings, I set out to explore the area while our food was being prepared.  The bell right above me, as seen in this photo, began ringing and seemed to never stop!  I’m sure it’s sound echoed for miles (or kilometers) across the valleys.

Have you thought of why we use the term “ring in” the new year?  Years back when people didn’t have clocks or watches, they depended on the ringing of the local church bell to remind them to go to worship, to attend a wedding or funeral or other events.  At some churches, bells rang three times a day, 6 am, noon and 6 pm to summon Christians to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

On New Year’s Eve, it rang out the old year and welcomed in the New Year. Did you hear any bells rings on New Year’s Eve?  Let’s thank God for all of His blessings this past year and for His guidance as we begin a new year.  Happy New Year to each one of you!

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Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, January 2, 2016

Back in mid-November Shelley and I stopped at one of our favorite grocery stores, which unfortunately was closing as a result of being swallowed up by another store chain. As you can see in the photo above, certain aisles had nothing on the shelves, and the few items left in other parts of the stores were deeply discounted.

This reminded me of a trip I took to Pskov, Russia back in 1992, just a couple of years after the Soviet Union dissolved. This city of 150,000 people had a large district of impressive store buildings, but nobody shopped there. Part of the reason was that the ruble was almost worthless--at that point it took 300 rubles to equal a dollar’s worth of value. Another reason was that those stores’ shelves were bare, not quite as bare as those in the photo, but close.

The Bible speaks about literal famines, but also about spiritual famines as well, where people hunt for the word of God but can’t find it because those claiming to be their spiritual leaders don’t make it available.

Fortunately, the Bible itself is spiritual food. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in the very face of Satan when He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:4 NKJV) Even old Job, in the midst of the heart-numbing trauma he was going through, could stoutly declare, “I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12)

And Bible food can also be as delightful as dessert. Whoever wrote the Bible’s longest chapter said to God, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

So how do you fill your hungry heart? Do what Jeremiah describes: “Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

A lot of people are making New Year’s resolutions about their health. Maybe you are too. Don’t forget your spiritual health as well. Why not plan to read the Bible through this year? You’ll find out how at the link immediately below.

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Self Transformation!

Photo and Commentary ©2016 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, January 1, 2016

I blinked when I saw this sign a few days ago at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. In the old days, this section would have been called—more humbly and tentatively—“Self Improvement.” But now, either the authors or the store chain’s sign-makers have kicked it up a notch—forget about improving yourself; thanks to the books in this section, you can transform yourself!

There’s a difference, of course. Self-improvement is when you wander over to Barnes’ “Kits” area, purchase a box with drawing tools and an instruction book, and eventually create a passable sketch of your family dog. Or you could buy a Dummies book on a computer software program, and get pretty good at it.

But self-transformation? Not likely, when it comes to life’s deeper issues. No matter how many New Year's resolutions we make, the Bible is quite emphatic about how spiritually helpless we are without divine aid.

Check out the following link to listen to the Bible’s truths—and encouragements—about personal change. And happy new year!

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