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

Devotional Photo Blog - December 2010

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. I handle Thursday, 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 in the "Devotional Photo Blog" on the dark blue menu to the left. 

Old and Interesting
Photo and Commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 31, 2010

Moseying about used book stores as often as I do, I get a feel for how they’re organized. For example, you have the dictionaries and thesauruses (or “thesauri” if you want to be truly Latin-conscious), and right next to them you have the books on how to write, and then you have essays, and so on. Over in the religion section the books on Judaism and Islam are next to the ones on Christianity, and then just to the right are volumes on magic and the occult.

But every once in awhile I come upon a category-label I haven’t seen before, like the one in the above photo—“Old and Interesting.” That word-combination seems oxymoronic. How can something that’s old be interesting, and vice versa?

However, the truly wise know differently. “There is nothing new under the sun,” Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:9. In other words, ideas which seem new are merely old ones recostumed. And if a concept is sound, it makes no difference whether it’s modern or ancient.

Those who spend regular, prayerful time with the Book whose most recent chapters were written 2,000 years ago understand that a book (and its ideas) can be both old and interesting. What could ever be more gripping, more absorbing than where we came from, why we’re in the condition we are, and whether there’s any hope of living forever in happier circumstances? Those are Scripture’s major themes—and arching over them like a rainbow is the truth that God is love.

Why not read your Bible regularly this year? You can follow our Bible reading plan (you’ll find the link in the left column of the home page), or you can choose to get acquainted with Jesus first, by reading Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Because not only are the Bible’s truths old—they’re eternal. And that’s interesting.

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God’s “Text Messages”
Photo and Commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Thursday, December 30, 2010

Whether or not you’re a Facebook or Twitter user, you probably recognize that whatever God has to say to you is at least as important as anything you’ll read on those social media.

Having just gone through the extreme inconvenience of a hard drive failure, I’m so glad that God saved His “text messages” in “hard copy” format. Rather than trust to people’s memories—which can be skewed by emotions and selective forgetfulness—God’s prophets wrote His words on papyrus, vellum, then paper.

And many, many copies were made. In fact, the Bible is by far the best-authenticated ancient document, which means that many times more ancient copies of Scripture exist than any other writings. And this makes sense, because any writings which spiritually encourage and strengthen and inform the way the Bible has is bound to be copied and spread around.

Want to really get into God’s text messages this year? Why not read something in the Bible every day? And if you’d like to follow a “Bible year” plan, click here.

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Turn On The Faucet
Photo and Commentary ©2010 by Darren Milam

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 

There are two verses in the book of John that speak about water and the significance of that water.  in John 4:10 it says, "Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”". As you may remember, the setting here is Jesus asking the Samaritan women for a drink of water.  He was ready and willing to supply her with Living Water, in exchange for a drink of well water.

In John 7:37 & 38 we read, "On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”. In this particular setting, Jesus offering water AND the promise that if taken, it will flow out to others, through those that drink the water.

When you think of taking in, or drinking, water we tend to think of a glass of water, or maybe the 64 ounces we should be drinking everyday.  When we think of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman - He was asking for a cup of water. If we were offered water from God, that would turn into Living Water - flowing out of our hearts - let's make sure we don't ask for the cup or even the full 64 ounces.  Let's make sure to ask for large amounts, so we can in turn have buckets of Living Water flow out from us.

The image above is of Snoqaulmie Falls (with the faucet turned on :)).  May our lives have this much Living Water flowing through us, to others.

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Pine Grosbeak
Photo and Commentary ©2010 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 

The year 1861 was a dismal year for many Americans.  President Lincoln had just been elected to the presidency and the nation split apart as the Confederacy declared its independence.  The four years that followed were some of the bloodiest in our history.  But it was during that same year that Emily Dickinson penned these words to begin one of her poems:  “Hope is the thing with feathers…”  The country certainly needed something to hope in during those fateful years, but that need is no less today.  Fortunately, the New Testament writers have a good deal to say about this topic, for it was a basic part of their belief system.

By its very nature, hope is future oriented; it looks forward to fulfillment or completion. (Romans 8:24)  But the fact that it has yet to be fulfilled in no way lessens the reality or certainty of this hope.  Paul speaks of this as something beyond human understanding in Colossians 1:27  where he calls it a “mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (NIV)  Who can understand the miracle of Christ dwelling in us, becoming part of who we are in our deepest being?    The phrase which ends this quote, “the hope of glory”, could indicate that while here, we live in the kingdom of hope which points us forward to a time when we will be glorified and live with Him in glory.  To be completely sinless, that’s beyond our comprehension too.

Emily Dickinson personified hope as “a thing with feathers”.  The Pine Grosbeak shown above would certainly fit her description for it will sing its tinkling song in the midst of a snowstorm.  Thoreau referred to them as “angels from the north” and it will often bathe in snowdrifts.  While this resident of the north may demonstrate favorable characteristics, the Christian’s hope is based upon something far more reliable than a thing with feathers.  Even if the drawings I’ve seen picturing angels with feathers are right, we can take assurance knowing the One who left heaven and came and dwelt among us was not one of those heavenly messengers, but God Himself. 

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This World Is Not My Home
Photo and Commentary ©2010 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 27, 2010 

I took this picture last year at an airport where Christmas holiday travelers were lined up waiting to go through security.  People especially try to get "home" for Christmas.  I was talking to a couple of people in the airport this last week and one was planning to spend Christmas with her son and the other one was meeting up with siblings she hadn't seen in years.  I was heading up to spend Christmas with my parents. 

For most people, home is somewhere where they are accepted, loved, appreciated and welcomed.  Home to me is not so much a place (my family has moved a lot!) as the people you are with. 

I was just reading a book about prisoners of war and they constantly thought about what it would be like to get home; reunions with loved ones, what they would see and do and how they would feel.  Going home was something that was looked forward to with much anticipation and sometimes the thought of home was all that kept some of them going. 

As much meaning as the connotation of home has down here on earth, home down here does not compare to our heavenly home.  We are told that, "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." Philippians 3:20  Although most of us have positive and fond memories of home, our earthly home does not compare to our heavenly home.  We are told that our heavenly home is better and that God has prepared a city for us. Hebrews 11:16  Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14: 1-3

I first heard the following song sung by Mark Lowry.  The words are by Gloria Gaither and the music is by Buddy Greene:


It’s not home where men sell their souls
And the taste of power is sweet, where wrong is right
And neighbors fight while the hungry are dying in the streets
Where kids are abused, and women are used
And the weak are crushed by the strong
Nations gone mad, Jesus is sad
And I don’t belong

I don’t belong and I’m going someday
Home to my own native land
I don’t belong and it seems like I hear
The sound of a "welcome home" band
I don’t belong, I’m a foreigner here
Singing a sojourner’s song
I’ve always known this place ain’t home
And I don’t belong

Don’t belong, but while I’m here
I’ll be loving like I’ve nothing to lose
And while I breathe I’ll just believe
My Lord is gonna see me through
I’ll not be deceived by earth’s make-believe
I’ll close my ears to her siren-song
By praisin’ His name, I’m not ashamed
‘Cause I don’t belong

I belong to a kingdom of peace
Where only love is the law
Where children lead, and captives are freed
And God becomes a baby on the straw
Where dead men live and rich men give
Their kingdoms to buy back a song
Where sinners like me become royalty
And we’ll all belong

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Our Messiah, Our Lord
Photo and Commentary ©2010 by Bev Riter

Sunday, December 26, 2010

...there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch through the night over their flock, when suddenly there stood before them an angel of the Lord, and the splendour of the Lord shone round them. They were terror-stricken, but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid; I have good news for you: there is great joy coming to the whole people. Today in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you – the Messiah, the Lord. And this is your sign: you will find a baby lying wrapped in his swaddling clothes, in a manger.' All at once there was with the angel a great company of the heavenly host, singing the praises of God:

'Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth his peace for men on whom his favor rests.'

After the angels had left them and gone into heaven the shepherds said to one another, 'Come, we must go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' So they went with all speed and found their way to Mary and Joseph; and the baby was lying in the manger. When they saw him, they recounted what they had been told about this child; and all who heard were astonished as what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered over them. Meanwhile the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen; it had all happened as they had been told. Luke2:8-20 NEB

May the wonder of His birth fill your heart. May the joy of the season bring you peace. May the gift of His life bring you hope.

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Celestial Light
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Friday and Sabbath, December 24 and 25, 2010

Happy Christmas Eve!

Manger scenes all over the world this weekend most likely have a star hanging over them, in memory of the celestial event which caught the attention of eastern Wise Men and drew them to the newborn King.

Earlier this week, the night of December 20, another celestial event happened. Sure, it featured nothing more exotic than our old familiar moon (made misty by a thin film of cloud as I snapped this photo), covered by a massive earth-shadow for a couple of hours, but the eclipse also tells us much about our Creator.

The Bethlehem star said, “Heaven is deeply interested in Earth.” And Monday night’s eclipse said the same thing, because its very predictability reflects a Creator whose carefully-designed gravity system holds the universe together. Imagine what our solar system, and our planet, would be like if gravity changed power-level from moment to moment! 

The Bethlehem star said, “Heaven has come down to redeem the people of Earth.” And as I think back to Monday night when I watched our planet’s shadow creep across the moon’s face, I remember another time God came down--to form a wonderful planet out of what must have been a bleak, cold, water-covered rock ball, and to populate that planet with His crowning work of creation. What moved across the face of the moon was not only the shadow of a 7,000-mile-wide rock but of trees and flowers and animals and birds and people, and what was once an Eden. And to that very planet God came in the form of His Son Jesus Christ.

The Bethlehem star said, “Take notice! Lift your eyes away from yourself and your struggles and look up!” Monday’s eclipse drew our gaze skyward, which will also happen one day when a dazzling cloud of angels swings past the moon on their approach to Earth. “Look up,” Jesus said when talking about events just before His return, “because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

What’s facing you in the week ahead? Sure, you’ll have to brace yourself to meet it. But first of all, look up. Lift up your eyes! Jesus is coming soon! And the same Savior who will return from the sky is able to help you make it through!

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What Part of “No Exit” Don’t You Understand?
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Thursday, December 23, 2010

Earlier this month I was visiting one of our church members in Seattle’s huge Veterans Hospital. After I’d finished the visit I went back to the crowded foyer. The main door was blocked because they were doing construction just beyond it, so I headed left, where it looked as though there were a natural passageway through to another wing which I could see through the glass windows.

I gave half-a-glance at the above sign (I think I noticed the first “No Exit”), but gave it scarcely a thought. I kept moving, only to discover that just around the corner the glassed-in walkway abruptly ended. On the way back into the lobby I glanced at the sign again, and finally saw the multiple warnings. The number of repeated warnings shows that I must not have been the only one who had failed to stop and heed even just the one "No Exit" but had kept striding along on what seemed like the right way. 

You know where I’m going with this, right? “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death,” says Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV). And all along the Bible trail the Lord has put up clear and repetitive warning signs: “Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the LORD; and they testified against them, but they would not listen.” 2 Chronicles 24:19

So, what does this have to do with you and me? “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” 1 Corinthians 10:11.

So don’t just go blundering along through life, taking the easiest and seemingly most logical way. Slow down. Read God’s Scripture signs. Turn back toward more productive paths.

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Solid Rock
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
In Psalm 18: 2&3, we can read exactly what God is capable of doing for us, just by trusting in him. 
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
         My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
         My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised;
         So shall I be saved from my enemies.

In Utah's Arches National Park, God's handy work is so massive and impressive, it's difficult not to trust in Him -- as He is our Rock.

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Photo and commentary ©2010 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What feelings come to mind when looking at the picture above? The responses will undoubtedly be varied depending upon your own personal life experience.  If color photographs had been possible during America's Colonial period, preacher Jonathan Edwards might have been pleased with the focused emphasis to accompany his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon.  If you’ve recently lost your home to a house fire or been engaged in fighting a forest fire, the pangs of loss and devastation might be called to mind. 

But for many, the response would be exactly what it is, a roaring blaze in the fireplace offering warmth and comfort from the blustery weather outside.  The diversity of our responses to an ordinary occurrence points out the challenge God faces in conveying to His children what He indeed is like.  He had already tried the fire depiction with limited success.  Yes, the bush aroused curiosity, even awe and reverence, and Moses later describes God in Deuteronomy 4:24 as a “consuming fire”.  A true portrayal but very limited in its scope.  Something more was needed to show His family what He was really like and how much He wanted to be close to them.

The definitive answer is found in one word:  Immanuel, God with us.  And that is what the Christmas story is all about, God coming down in the form of a vulnerable baby to meet man exactly where he is.  We have taken His personal guarantee of dependability where He states in Malachi 3, “I change not.” and reformed Him into some static monolithic figure, unmoved by the likes of us.  The Christmas narrative changes that.  The Sovereign Lord of the entire Universe somehow becomes more accessible to us when we see shepherds with muddy sandals standing at the foot of His crib.  He is no longer far off, removed from us.  Of all the Gospel writers, the Apostle John seems to best grasp this desire for intimacy, which in turn makes it impossible for us to understand why he totally omitted the story of His birth.  Whatever his reasons, he is the one who recorded Christ’s words to Philip, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9)  Of all the reasons Christ came to earth, this one, to make the relationship between God and man more personal, is the one that comes through most clearly in the story of His birth.  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are great, but they’re nothing compared to His gift to us.  Merry Christmas.

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The Real Purpose of the Gift
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 20, 2010

In this time of commercialized celebrating, when so many people seem preoccupied with what they are going to get for Christmas, it was interesting to see this cross hanging on a door instead of the customary Christmas wreath.  Although it is unusual to see a cross at Christmas time instead of Easter, I think this person has grasped the real purpose of God's gift to us.

When the angel appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks near to where Jesus was born, he told them, "Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2: 10-11

We don't have to reciprocate or earn the Gift.  "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."  John 3:16

Just before Jesus died (for your sins and mine), he said, "It is finished." (John 19:30)  His whole purpose of coming to earth as a human baby had been fulfilled.

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Photo and commentary ©2010 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 19, 2010

Many areas were flooded this last week because of heavy rain. As you can see in my photo taken in the Snoqualmie Valley, many roads and bridges were closed due to high water. Detour and road-closed signs alerted travelers of the road closures. Fog hovered over the valley like cotton suspended in the air.

Like detours on the road, life sometimes has detours. We might have a plan to know where we're going or what we're doing, but something prevents that from happening. Sometimes the “detours” in our lives can be very confusing. Jeremiah 42:3 says “Pray that the Lord your God may tell us which way we ought to go and what we would to do.” NEB God is watching over each one of us. We just need to trust and follow Him.

We all know the song, “When We Walk With the Lord,” written by J.H. Sammis. The first verse and chorus go like this:

“When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

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Religious Baby?
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 18, 2010

So. What about it? Is the above greeting-card-category true? Is there such a thing as a religious baby?

Probably not. I remember years ago listening to a first-time father tell me about holding his crying little boy, his “new little miracle,” just a couple of months old, and realizing that at this particular cry-moment, his son wasn’t sad but hopping mad. The father, a Christian, knew about the verses that tell us everyone is a sinner, but it jolted him to realize that his sweet-faced, innocent child was a rebel at heart. (Fast-forward nearly 30 years – that same son, thanks to his loving and sensible parents, quickly mellowed out and is now happily married, and may even be shocked to discover rebellion in the heart of his own first child!)

The Bible is very clear that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15 NKJV), but that if parents “Train up a child in the way he should go . . . when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) So don't forget to pray for children, not just your own but for others. And take courage from the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), because it shows just how much God really cares for His own children.

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The Shortest Distance
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 17, 2010

Earlier this week, on a walk while my car was being serviced in North Seattle, I saw this interesting little pictorial parable of two paths. People round the barrier at the upper left-hand corner of the photo, and their goal is the railing at the bottom, which leads them across a little patch of water to a shopping center.

As you see, a landscaper with a sense of orderly design and proportion has created a gracefully-curving sidewalk for the would-be shoppers. However, if you look closely you will notice that many heedless feet have taken the shortcut straight across the beauty bark, to end up at the same place.

Sometimes I think this is what has happened to modern Christianity. Jesus' death on the cross and high-priestly intercession for us in heaven have made it possible for us to "come boldly before the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16)--in other words, take the most direct route. However, most of Jewish and Christian history shows how tempting it is to try to over-think and over-design paths to faith which Heaven must find incredibly frustrating.

The key, of course, is to read widely in the Bible – the Gospels, the book of acts, Paul's letters, Deuteronomy. If Scripture is read in the light of a God who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to willingly die to redeem us, the Bible clearly shows us the shortest distance to our Heavenly Father. Why not read your Bible this way during the new year? Make sure you write down, or otherwise record, your thoughts as you read.

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The Gods Will Fall
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Thursday, December 16, 2010

This year I’m reading the Bible through--but I got slowed down, so at the moment I’m coming close to the end of only the Old Testament. (For the record, nobody says you have to read through the Bible in a year--just prayerfully read some every day, slowly enough so that you can catch the point.)

So that means I'm working my way through the “minor prophets” now, and many of them contain God’s earnest anger against idol-worshipping. So when I saw the above two views of the same Santa (one in the daytime and one at night), it made me think of the gods the Israelites were inexplicably attracted to, and the true God’s emphatic prediction about those gods’ destruction.

Now obviously nobody anywhere is groveling abjectly before an image of Santa, inflatable or otherwise, at least I hope not. We know that the guy in the red suit, and his ho-ho-ho, and the sleigh and the North Pole and all the rest of it were basically created within the past 120 years, using and reformatting a few facts/legends about the 4th-century Saint Nicholas of Myra. 

But consider a few chilling comparisons between idols and our modern Santa. Both are images--and in Santa’s case, human beings often dress up in red and white to make his image more real. Both are objects of adoration. Both demand specific behaviors from their worshipers in order to receive divine favors (the gods demanded sacrifices--sometimes human--and Santa has his eye on that “naughty or nice” list of his). And so on.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of Christmas fun--as long as we don’t succumb to the fallacy of the Old Testament idol worshippers, which was, “I have the right to create God in my own image, rather than the other way around.” Instead, we must focus our attention more and more on the true God, because the time will come when, in the night chill of the last days, all the false gods (money, mythology, magic, soul-myopia and a multitude of others) will deflate, sag, and finally fall.

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Put The Phone Down....No One Will Get Hurt
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two weeks ago, we were able to attend the 'Journey To Bethlehem'. No, we didn't actually travel to Bethlehem, we instead traveled to the Auburn Academy SDA Church, where they put on a huge performance every year.  There are hundreds of cast members, and it takes months to prepare for the few days they open the event up to the local community. it's the story of Christ's birth, as you walk through Bethlehem (and many other locations and adventures). As we have family that take part in this event, we were treated to a "behind the scenes tour", where I saw this sign. Ironically, I didn't have my camera (or phone for that matter) but I was able to take the picture with my wife's phone, send it to my daughter's phone, who in turn emailed it to me....and I posted it for a blog --- technology! 
Speaking of, an article about a week ag quoted Steve Wozniak (co founder of Apple Computers), "All of a sudden, we've lost a lot of control. We can't turn off our Internet. We can't turn off our smart phones. We can't turn off our computers." He also mentioned, "You used to ask smart people questions, now instead, we go to a place that starts with, G-o.....and it's not God."
While Mr. Wozniak may have a point with the first part of not being able to put down the phone, the computer, or Blackberry, I hope he is wrong on the second part.  In fact this holiday season, let's do two things: be conscious of the time you spend with technology.  Take the time to have "face-to-face" time with your family.  Play a game (a board game....we don't need to always be on the Wii, Xbox, PS, etc). Second (and most important) - When faced with a question, a challenge, a problem -- go to G-O . . . . D!  They did it in Bethlehem, you can do it wherever you are!

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The Art of God
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 12, 2010
Art, by its very nature, reflects the perception and outlook of the artist.  If you doubt this, take a brief survey of the art produced after the gut-wrenching days of World War I and compare it with the art that was created in the optimistic days preceding the war.  Before the Great War broke out there was an almost universal belief that the world was getting better and better and would soon enter an era of almost universal bliss.  Such dreams were shattered by the carnage that erupted when nations employed their new-found powers in still more devastating ways to kill each other.  The art created during this post-war period carries with it the same cynical overtones shared by many of the thinkers of that day.  Much of what we loosely call “modern art” communicates this same pessimistic outlook, a rather sullen resignation to fate. 
But not so with nature.  As marred and distorted by sin as it must be, it still carries with it a pattern of balance, of healing, of beauty that reflects the Creator.  In a more romantic time, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Nature is the art of God.”   In almost every book on nature photography there is a section that deals with capturing pattern and symmetry which is found throughout nature and is so appealing to mankind.  While it is true that nature contains the violent and cruel, this is far outweighed by that which is exquisite and uplifting.  Another writer enlarged on the words of Emerson in a book entitled Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings.  Notice her words from pages 96 and 97 of that volume.  “The beauty of all created things is but a gleam from the shining of His glory.  If He has lavished such infinite skill upon the things of nature, for your happiness and joy, can you doubt that He will give you every needed blessing?

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He Will Lift Us Up!
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 13, 2010

I saw this float plane flying overhead last year when I was downtown Seattle.  I have flown in one of these planes a couple of times and it's kind of nice to know that this plane will hold you up in the air AND in the water! 

Better than a float plane, however, is knowing who is there to hold us up when we do fall and to lift us up us when we stumble:

Psalms 145: 13-16
The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises
   and faithful in all he does.
 The LORD upholds all who fall
   and lifts up all who are bowed down. 
The eyes of all look to you,
   and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
   and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

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In Stormy Times
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 12, 2010

We all know the weather can be stormy at times, as you can see in my photo. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can get severe weather conditions such as rain, snow, ice, lightning and thunder storms. Fortunately we don't get hurricanes or significant tornadoes.

Sometimes our lives, like the weather, can get a bit “stormy”. The Christmas holiday season can bring added stress, especially for those who are unemployed or are suffering from physical illness. Some may be dealing with relationship issues or a mental health condition like depression. We all experience difficulties at some time in our lives. This can seem overwhelming at times. No matter what your challenge might be, God is there to listen to you and give comfort. Psalms 37:5 states that “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” KJV We all know the song, “In the Heart of Jesus” by Alice Pugh. The second verse seems fitting here: “In the mind of Jesus, There is thought for you, Warm as summer sunshine, Sweet as morning dew; Why should you be fearful, why take anxious thought, Since the mind of Jesus, Cares for those He bought?”

My prayer is that your Holiday season will be filled with joy in knowing God, with thankfulness for having salvation through Jesus Christ and with hope in His second coming.

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The Apple
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 10, 2010

Late last month Shelley and I were in a grocery store, and she spotted this misspelling of one of our favorite apple varieties.

Before I became a pastor, I was a college English assistant professor, and one my duties was to try to embed in the brain of the average freshman the concept that yes, spelling was indeed important. “You may be really smart,” I would tell the students frankly, “but if you can’t spell, people will think you’re dumb.” I would also tell them that if they went into one of the medical fields, a misspelling error could result in illness or worse. And of course there are lots of other pluses to standardized spelling, including the ability to trace and track language development.

So when Shelley pointed out this spelling, I immediately grabbed for my camera. The name Crips, as you may know, can strike terror to the informed heart. The Crips are a powerful street gang which was founded in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, and which has feuded with another gang, the Bloods, from time to time.

A long time ago, in a wonderful garden, a woman reached out for a piece of fruit. Her Creator had already labeled this fruit as dangerous, but she ignored the dangerous part of the label and instead focused on the “honey” part, the part which was pleasing to her. She took a bite, and Adam took a bite, and the rest is hiss-tory.

The moral: when considering what seems like a delicious course of action, make sure you read the label. (The labels are stored securely in a 750,000-word Book you probably have in your house.) Because “There is a way that seem right to a man,” say Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25, “but its end is the way of death.”

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Found Art
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 11, 2010

When I was in college I always enjoyed going to the gallery in the student union building and looking at the senior art exhibits. Every once in awhile some of the works would include “found art”--objects such as a cup or a golf ball or miniature doll which were added to the work just as they were when they were “found,” and which gained significance by being included in the art project.

A little over a week ago, when I went outside to scrape ice off my car windows, I discovered this “found art” on the roof. During the night, ice crystals had created this surreal and almost jungle-like scene. I’ve darkened the photo a little so that you can see the magnificent swirls and other patterns.

I don’t know the science behind why crystals sometimes swirl and swoop like that rather than simply covering the car’s roof with an eighth-inch of level frost. But I sense the hand of a Pattern-maker, a Maker of "Found" Art.

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The Complete Illustrated Guide to Turning
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Earlier this month I had parked myself in a chair on the second floor of a favorite bookstore while waiting for Shelley, who was elsewhere in the attached mall. My startled eyes fell on the above book. I stared at it for a second, and then glanced at the titles of other books on the same shelf.

The puzzle became clear. The surrounding books were woodworking manuals, and this one was evidently an expert guide to “turning” wood--in other words, how to work with wood which is clamped onto a lathe, and carved while the lathe rotates it.

The Bible, as it turns out, is an even more effective “complete illustrated guide to turning.” All over the world this month, the beloved Scriptures Georg F. Handel set to The Messiah music are sounding in many ears: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way.” Isaiah 53:6 

And the wise-hearted ones understand that it is only God who has the power--once we choose--to turn us back. In Jeremiah’s small mournful book Lamentations, that’s what he specifically asks: “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored.” Lamentations 5:21. And the Lord wants us to turn back. “Turn, turn from your evil ways,” He begs his straying people in Ezekiel 33:11.

Why not resolve to read your Bible anew with this prayer: “Turn me back to You, O Lord”? And don’t wait until 2011--start now!

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Up, Up and Away
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Several years ago, on a vacation, 3 out of 4 of the family (Zach was too young) were brave enough to try out parasailing.  The images above show both me parasailing, and the view I got at the height of my "ride" (both shots with insta-matic style cameras).  If you aren't familiar with this, it's a sport. You get harnessed into a parachute, tied up to a boat, and as the boat moves forward you are pulled up into the air.  As the boat slows, you are brought back down to earth.  Between the time you go up into the air and the time you set foot back down on terra firma, you have to have a ton of faith -- that the parachute won't collapse, that the rope that ties you to the boat won't snap, that your harness holds strong, and that the boat doesn't sink.
It's interesting that in Hebrews 11 we read, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (verse 1).  And in verse 6 it says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."
As we can see, we cannot live without faith, at least not a good life, but the very act of faith is hoping for something we don't always have evidence of.  The more we say "I believe," with full faith in God, the more evidence God will allow us to see and feel.

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Acorn Woodpecker
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christ had a good deal to say about work.  We remember His words in Matthew 6:26 where He says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?” (NIV)  But that’s only a small portion of what He has to say on the topic.  In John 5:17 we hear His rather interesting comment in reaction to the Jews accusing Him of working on the Sabbath after He healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (NIV) 
It would be easy to twist these verses into something Christ never intended to convey and miss the richness of His message to us.  The skeptical biologist might find fault with the first verse quoted by referring to the Acorn Woodpecker.  This western woodpecker could certainly be held up as an example of one which goes contrary to Christ’s words quoted in Matthew, for they definitely do store up in barns.  Actually they are called granaries instead of barns but the idea is the same.  These storehouses are then defended against raiding jays and squirrels, albeit sometimes unsuccessfully. A group working collectively may store up to 50,000 acorns in a single tree for later consumption.  They do so by drilling holes into the bark and then finding an acorn the exact size to pound into the created opening, point first.  (See photo below)

Should this part of Scripture be excluded from the sacred pages since it doesn’t appear to agree with observable science?  The answer should be obvious.  One should always read with the intent of finding the truth Christ has for us.  For the lazy, the text might be used to justify slothfulness just as the passage in John might be used to excuse working on the Sabbath.  What a shame it would be if we missed the blessings God wishes to lavish upon us and like His critics on the edge of the pool, look for some way to trip Him up instead of celebrating the miraculous healing. Not only are provisions for the woodpecker supplied on a regular basis, but He enriches our lives by giving us a front row seat to observe His goodness.  

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Light of the World
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Cheryl Boardman
Monday, December 6, 2010

I know that this windy, cold weather we've been having always brings fears of power outages.  Some of my friends and co-workers were without electricity for a couple of weeks a few years ago after a major windstorm that knocked trees onto power lines.

Have you ever been somewhere where it is totally dark and you can't even see your fingers when you hold them right in front of your face?  I've been on a couple of cave tours where they turn off the lights and you are suddenly immersed in total darkness.  It's a relief when the lights are turned back on.

Thankfully, we are not meant to stumble around aimlessly in the dark as we make our way through life.  Jesus said, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me, will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  John 8:12 (NIV)

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Sunshine in My Soul
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 5, 2010

Have you ever risen early in the morning to watch the sunrise? Sometimes while on vacation I'll get up early to listen to the birds and see the sun come up. As you can see from my photo, I'm not the only one who got up early one morning! And it was very cold in the Australian Outback where we were! It's always a special treat to see the sky getting brighter; then the first glimpse of the sun; and finally the full sun. While not wanting to look at the sun directly, I like to see what trees might be in the area for an interesting silhouette effect. Clouds have their way of adding their special touches, too.

My second photo shows what the sun looked like after it was up that morning.

What a blessing to see a beautiful sunrise, a bright sunset and have sunshine! Sometimes in the winter months, we can go awhile without seeing any sunshine. Then, we really appreciate the sunny days when we get them!

We can think of the familiar song written by E. E. Hewitt, “There's Sunshine in My Soul Today”:

There's sunshine in my soul today,
More glorious and bright
Than glows in any earthly sky,
For Jesus is my light.

O there's sunshine, blessed sunshine,
When the peaceful, happy moments roll;
When Jesus shows His smiling face
There is sunshine in the soul.

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Stop! Music!
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Sabbath, December 4, 2010

I suppose, on Shelley’s and my morning walks, I should keep my head upright more, enjoying the wonderful sunrises and trying to spot and name the birds who are singing so beautifully. I’m sad to say that my head once in awhile lowers, and I gaze blankly at the ground, thinking of all sorts of non-nature things.

It was during one of those downward glances that I saw this little white rubber band curled into an almost perfect treble clef. And as I thought it over, I realized that while there’s music in the tweets of the birds, and even metaphorical music in an orange-yellow sunrise, yet in that rubber band (and in the stones and moss and needles around it) there’s music too: the inaudible but breathtaking whine of electrons spinning around nuclei.

The lesson I took from this? Stop, Maylan. Slow down and pause once in awhile, and think of the celestial God-powered hum that keeps everything--animate and inanimate--running. “For by Him,” Paul tells us, “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist [“hold together,” NIV, ESV, NRSV].” Colossians 1:16, 17 NKJKV

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The Missing One
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Amber Jurgensen
Friday, December 3, 2010

[NOTE FROM MAYLAN: A couple of Sabbaths ago, Amber Jurgensen told a great children’s story about an olive jar--and even brought a photo of the jar to show the kids. I urged her to write this up for a guest Devotional Photo Blog, and she has graciously complied.]

To hear Amber tell this story, click here.

I was shopping at Costco and a jar of green olives startled me. A sign on it said, “MISSING ONE” and it had a special reduced price! I stared at it.  The jar was closed; it had not been opened.   How could it be missing one?   Well, I looked at it, and then I noticed that all the other jars were two-packs--in other words, two jars attached together.   And this jar was all by itself.   So probably what happened was somebody dropped the two-pack and one of them broke.   Wouldn’t that be an awful mess, all those olives and olive juice all over the floor?   So now it was missing one; it was missing its buddy.  

I picked up the jar and took it to the cashier.   At Costco, they have a helper to help the cashier.   And he picked up the jar and he stared at it!   And he looked at it!  And I was just watching him!   He just couldn’t help himself and he kind of sidled up to the cashier and semi-whispered--but I could hear him--and he said, “How did they know it was missing one?”  The cashier just exclaimed, “It was a two-pack!”   And I felt sorry for the guy and I laughed, and I said, “Don’t feel bad.  I wondered the same thing!   But I had the advantage of seeing all the other two-packs sitting there so I could figure it out.”

The “missing olive” reminds me of some stories that Jesus told.  Jesus had something to tell us that was so important that He told three stories that all mean the same thing.   They are found in Luke  chapter 15.

The first one is the story of the missing sheep.   I like a picture we have of the shepherd with his sheep.   It looks like he is taking such good care of his sheep and loves them, and he’s carrying a little lamb.   Well, in the story that Jesus told, the shepherd had 100 sheep.  And when he got them all back to their fold, one was missing!  And he knew it was missing!  And he went back, and he searched, and searched, and searched in the dark until he found his missing sheep.

The second story was about a lady with some coins.   She had ten silver coins.  And they were very special coins.   She took very good care of these coins.  Do you have something special, that you are very careful with and you don’t want to lose, because it is very precious?   Well, one day she counted her coins, and one was missing!   And so the Bible says she looked and looked.   She turned all the lights on, and she swept all the corners, until she finally found her missing coin, number ten!   And, like the shepherd did, she called all her friends and neighbors and had a big celebration because she was so happy to have found her missing coin.

The third story was about the missing son.  We often call that the prodigal son. He wasn’t exactly missing, but he kind of ran away and he did some really bad things.   His father looked for him every day and wanted him to come home.   And one day the son did come home and he was sorry for the bad things he had done and he came back to the father.   There is another picture that I love--of the father hugging the son in a huge embrace.   The father looks like he is so happy that his son has come back.

If you had two sons, you could easily tell if one of them was missing, right?  And if you had ten coins, you could easily count them to see if one was missing.  If you had 100 sheep, it wouldn’t be so easy to tell if one was missing.   You’d have to do a very careful count.  And if you had a jar of olives that was missing just one, you would not be able to tell that it was missing.

However, there are billions of people on our planet and Jesus knows every single person really, really well!

He loves every single person on this world so much, and every one of you so much!  

The reason Jesus told three stories about something missing and finding it is because He wants you to know that He does not want you to be away from Him.  He wants every one of you under His loving care because He wants you to be happy.  

All you have to do is say yes to Jesus!

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Busy Spiders

Photo and commentary ©2010 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, December 3, 2010

The above fence is the barrier to Lake Youngs, one of Seattle’s major sources of drinking water, and stretches for literally miles around the lake. Every year, Shelley and I notice a startling phenomenon--spiders have built mini-webs between the twisted ends of the wire links.

Back in 2008, which was when this photo was taken, these webs were really thick. And there weren’t just a fifteen or twenty-foot stretches of them. These webs literally went on for miles.

Here’s a closeup:

 I paused once and tried to put myself in a spider’s place. Aha! its little brain is evidently wired to exclaim. Two upright things with a space between--not very far apart--where I can build my web! So he toils away for a bit, finishes the web, and happens to glance sideways. Hoy! he cries. Another space for another web! And on and on, down the fenceline. Gotta keep busy. And who knows, what with all these webs, I might be able to go into business selling the insects I catch!

This is where we have to think carefully and humbly at the same time. God created everything good, right? That means that He didn’t create spiders to devour insects. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,” Isaiah 65:25 quotes God as saying about the New Earth. “The lion shall eat straw like the ox . . . .They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.”

So if the spider hurts or destroys, it’s not because God originally created it that way. Yet He must have allowed some genealogical modifications of some kind for certain insects. (And here is where my mind starts spinning.)

What I think we need to do is to--again--be humble. Stare at the marvelous spider web, and stand amazed at the instincts which cause it to do what it does. But remember that the only true source of knowledge about the Creator comes from the Book He inspired. The Bible should be our first “nature handbook.”

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Rock On . . . Tree
Photo and commentary ©2010 by Darren Milam
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
A couple of weeks ago, we were driving in the Port Towsend area.  As we were driving, I noticed a few spots where it had been clear-cut. The lack of trees always seems strange in amongst miles and miles of thick forest. In one of these clearings, I noticed this very unusual image and had to stop to record it.  Here was this 25-plus-foot "snag," cut off at the top--and on the top of it, (as you can see) is a very large (very heavy) boulder.  The sight, honestly, still puzzles me.  First of all, how could someone get this huge stone, up to the top of this tall tree?  Second, why?  Well, I may not have any idea on #2 but I have a theory on #1.  Regardless of the truth, it made me think about seemingly impossible tasks.  When we think of all the seemingly impossible tasks we have faced, or currently face, we can focus on this promise, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  This promise is found in Philippians 4:13. 
Now, I am certainly not expecting God to give me the strength to heave huge rocks to the tops of trees, but I do believe God will give me us all the strength I need to get through my daily challenges. Let's give thanks to God, as He can lift the huge "boulders" in our lives--and He can also give us the strength to push aside the pebbles.

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