Saturday, October 14, 2017

Do We Need More Spice?


Have you ever tried to lower your sodium intake? Things just don’t taste the same with low sodium. As bad as it may be for our blood-pressure, salt does make things taste good. When Jesus said that we are the salt of this earth, Jesus meant that we are the spice of this world. We’re here to add flavor, in other words; we are here to make things taste good.

The purpose of salt, the purpose of spice, is to add flavor. Job 6:6 asks “Can flavorless food be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?”


I love good flavorful food. We use lots of spice at our house. If you don’t like garlic you would have a hard time at our house. We grow our own basil and rosemary so that we have fresh flavorful spices that are much tastier than the dried spices you can buy in the store. Take a quick look at our spice rack and you will find thyme, sage, paprika, oregano, curry, bay leaves, chili powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cumin, onion, coriander, turmeric, mustard, saffron, and pepper. The purpose of each of these spices is to add flavor.

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus said. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its salty taste, it cannot be made salty again. It is good for nothing, except to be thrown out and walked on”.

Without salt or spice, many foods are very bland and tasteless. Jesus isn’t looking for bland followers. If you aren’t salty, if you aren’t spicy, if you have no flavor you aren’t good for anything.

In verses 14 and 15 Jesus continues, “You are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hidden. And people don’t hide a light under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand so the light shines for all the people in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven”.


Light has amazing qualities. One of my favorite qualities is when it passes through a prism and breaks up into the colors of the rainbow. We are to be the light that gives light to the world, but we each one are a different color. We each have different qualities, different flavors, and different spices.

God hasn’t asked us to be cookie cutter copies of each other. He has asked each one of us to spice up our corner of the world. Each one of us has a sphere of influence that no one else has. God has asked us to be a light in our sphere of influence.


When it’s dark, people notice the light. Have you ever seen a searchlight? When I was a kid growing up it seemed like we saw them quite often. Whenever I would see one it was very intriguing.

I haven’t seen a searchlight in years, but I can still vividly remember seeing them. I grew up out in the country where there were no streetlights. When I could see a searchlight it looked like it was the only thing in the sky.

Is there any way someone could hide a light like that? No way. There are some lights that just cannot be hid. So if that light is on, then we are going to see it; and if we can’t see it, there’s something wrong!

If salt is there, then we’re going to taste it; and if we can’t taste it, there’s something wrong! If there are spices, then we’re going to taste them; and if we can’t taste them, there’s something wrong! Christians should make a difference in this world; we should be just as noticeable as salt and light. We should be the spice of the world, and the world needs more spice.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Loose Screw

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 11, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


I volunteer at a local food pantry. Once a month we receive a shipment of food from the River Valley Regional Food Bank. The last time that we received a delivery, I met the delivery truck with a couple of friends of mine who also volunteer at the food pantry. After picking up the food and delivering it to the food pantry, we each went our separate ways. I headed back to work in my 1962 Rambler American.

As I pulled away from the food pantry, my Rambler started sputtering and running poorly. Because my gas gauge doesn’t work, I thought that I might be running out of gas, so I headed for the nearest gas station. It only took seven gallons of fuel to fill the Rambler’s tank. I knew that being low on fuel wasn't the problem. After filling the tank, I wasn’t able to keep the little car running enough to drive it. The engine would start, but it ran so poorly I couldn’t move the car.


After a few minutes, I decided that it wasn’t going to run, so I would have to walk back to my shop. Just as I was closing the hood, someone stopped and asked me if they could help. I told them that I could use a ride, so they drove me to my shop. I returned with my Dad, and we towed the Rambler back to the shop.

It was a couple of days before I had time to look at my Rambler. I suspected the fuel system, but when I checked it out, the fuel pump was working great, and plenty of fuel was being delivered to the carburetor. Even though I had rebuilt the carburetor several months ago, I took the top off to inspect the needle valve and jets. Everything looked fine.


When I checked the ignition system, I found that there was a very weak, almost imperceptible spark. What could be causing a weak spark, I asked myself. The points were brand new just a few hundred miles ago, and I checked that they had the proper gap. It wasn’t the points. I replaced the ignition coil and the coil wire. I still had a very weak spark. It wasn’t the coil. What could it be?

A few months ago I had a similar problem with the car, and after rebuilding the carburetor, replacing the spark plugs, replacing the points and distributor cap the problem was finally fixed when I replaced the condenser. Could the new condenser have gone bad already? I decided to change the condenser. When I was replacing the condenser, I noticed that the screw that attaches the condenser lead to the terminal of the points was a bit loose. I didn’t think too much about it, but when I was reinstalling the screw, I found that it was very difficult to get tight.


After installing the condenser, the little Rambler started right up and ran fine. I’m sure that the condenser was good, and that the problem all along had been the loose screw. Such a small thing had caused to much trouble. It made me think about how important each part of a car is if you want it to run properly. Just one small screw being a bit loose made it impossible for me to drive my car.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Many people feel like they are unimportant. They feel that their lives just don’t matter. Nothing they can do will make a difference in the world. They feel that they are just a small insignificant part of the world.


Even though the screw that fastens the condenser lead to the ignition points terminal is very small, if it isn’t doing its job the car can’t function. The same is true in God's Kingdom. 1 Peter 2:5 (NLT) tells us, "you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” In a physical building, a missing brick leaves a hole in the wall. God wants us to be a part of something so much bigger than just ourselves, but he wants us to know that we have an important part to play.

Another symbol that the Bible uses for believers is the body of Christ. I Corinthians 12:12,13 (NLT) tells us that “the human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit."


When you become a Christian, you become a part of the body of Christ. He is the head. He leads the body. But He needs you. He has a special purpose for you. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV), "God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." There are more than seven billion people on this planet, but God made only one you. You are unique. You are unlike anyone else who has ever lived or ever will live. He made you because He wants someone exactly like you. He has plans for you. You are important and necessary. The  Bible says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a  separate and necessary part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27( NLT)

Gentle Reader, many people today are experiencing feelings of insignificance because they compare themselves to others. There will always be someone who you feel is more important than you. There are many more important parts of an automobile than a small screw inside the distributor. But that small screw is so important that if it is loose, the automobile isn’t usable. We each have an individual purpose that cannot be compared to anyone else. You are a separate and necessary part of the body of Christ.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Metamorphosis


The Butterfly Palace is a family owned attraction in Branson, Missouri. On my last visit to the area, I visited The Butterfly Palace with my sister and her family. In the butterfly aviary, which is designed to be a living rainforest, there are over 1,000 live tropical butterflies from around the world. Butterflies of all sizes and colors were flying everywhere and even lighting on us.

As we walked through the aviary, it was hard to decide where to look next. As a photographer, I was most interested in taking photos of the beautiful butterflies. While we were there, we took part in the daily butterfly release. The Butterfly Palace purchases butterflies in the chrysalis stage from around the world. Each chrysalis is placed in a plastic container. Every day, the butterflies that have emerged from their chrysalis are released into the aviary. The average lifespan of a butterfly is about one month, so the Butterfly Palace must release new butterflies to keep a large population in the aviary.

I enjoyed being a part of the butterfly release. People who are in the aviary at the time of the release are allowed to participate. Each butterfly is in the clear plastic container that has been the home of the chrysalis. Those of us participating were instructed to hold the container over our heads, remove the lid, and turn the container upside down, allowing the butterfly to go free. Some of the butterflies had to be coaxed out of the container after it was opened. My butterfly was eager to be free and flew out of the container before I even turned it upside down.


The butterfly release provides for some great photo opportunities. When the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, its wings are wet, and the butterfly cannot yet fly. The wings must dry, and the butterfly must exercise flight muscles before it can fly. When the butterflies are released, they like to find a place to land and stretch out their wings. I took some beautiful photographs of these butterflies with their wings spread out.

According to the website, Learn About Nature, "all butterflies have complete metamorphosis. To grow into an adult, they go through 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Each stage has a different goal - for instance, caterpillars need to eat a lot, and adults need to reproduce. Depending on the type of butterfly, the life cycle of a butterfly may take anywhere from one month to a whole year.

A butterfly starts life as a very small, round, oval or cylindrical egg.  The coolest thing about butterfly eggs, especially monarch butterfly eggs, is that if you look close enough, you can see the tiny caterpillar growing inside of it. Some butterfly eggs may be round, some oval and some may be ribbed while others may have other features. The egg shape depends on the type of butterfly that laid the egg.


Butterfly eggs are usually laid on the leaves of plants, so if you are actively searching for these very tiny eggs, you will have to take some time and examine quite a few leaves to find some.
When the egg finally hatches, most of you would expect for a butterfly to emerge, right?  Well, not exactly.  In the butterfly’s life cycle, there are four stages, and this is only the second stage.  Butterfly larvae are actually what we call caterpillars. Caterpillars do not stay in this stage for very long, and mostly, in this stage, all they do is eat.

When the egg hatches, the caterpillar will start his work and eat the leaf they were born on. The mother butterfly needs to lay her eggs on the type of leaf the caterpillar will eat – each caterpillar type likes only certain types of leaves. Since they are tiny and can not travel to a new plant, the caterpillar needs to hatch on the kind of leaf it wants to eat.


Caterpillars need to eat and eat so they can grow quickly. When a caterpillar is born, they are extremely small. When they start eating, they instantly start growing and expanding.  Their exoskeleton (skin) does not stretch or grow, so they grow by “molting” (shedding the outgrown skin) several times while it grows.

The pupa stage is one of the coolest stages of a butterfly’s life.  As soon as a caterpillar is done growing and they have reached their full length/weight, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis.  From the outside of the pupa, it looks as if the caterpillar may just be resting, but the inside is where all of the action is."

An article in Scientific American helps us understand the process. "Inside of the pupa, the caterpillar is rapidly changing. The old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called ‘metamorphosis,’ to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. Tissue, limbs, and organs of a caterpillar have all been changed by the time the pupa is finished and is now ready for the final stage of a butterfly’s life cycle.

The caterpillar’s  metamorphosis from a tree clinging, 12-legged pest into the majestic flying butterfly is one of the most used metaphors to describe a 180 transformation. It’s truly a fantastic mechanism, yet while all may seem fantastic on the outside, this transformation looks pretty gruesome deep inside the chrysalis. In short, for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly it digests itself using enzymes triggered by hormones before sleeping cells similar to stem cells grow into the body parts of the future butterfly.


How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?

First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly.

Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. Some organs stay intact. Others, like muscles, break down into clumps of cells that can be re-used, like a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks."

Metamorphosis isn’t just some beautiful physical transformation, though. It’s a stunning display of God’s creative power at work. Butterflies and caterpillars don’t just look different; they behave differently too. One lives in trees, the other flies. Most importantly, one eats leaves, and the other solely feeds on nectar. There’s plenty of room for both kinds throughout the ecosystem since they don’t interfere with each other’s food stocks. It’s brilliant! One butterfly expert said, “The creation of the body of a caterpillar into the body and wings of a butterfly is, without doubt, one of the wonders of life on earth.”



The metamorphosis of butterflies is a difficult process to understand. Scientists have made great strides in the last few years in their understanding of the process. A groundbreaking study was done in 2013 using CT scans on butterflies in the pupa stage. The more scientists learn, the more questions are raised.

Just like the rebirth of a caterpillar into a butterfly can be a difficult process to understand, so can the rebirth of a person. When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NLT) Nicodemus then asked Him, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” John 3:4 (NLT)

How can we be born again? The caterpillar’s metamorphosis provides a great illustration of a believer’s spiritual transformation. In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

God has a plan to change our lives. Have you been born again? You might call it conversion, call it commitment, call it repentance, call it being saved, but has it happened to you? Does Christ live in your heart? Do you know it?

You may go to church, but perhaps you are still searching. There is an empty place in your heart, and something inside tells you that you’re not right with God. Nicodemus fasted two days a week. He spent two hours every day in prayer. He tithed. Why did he seek out Jesus? What do you think he wanted to know.


Why did Jesus say that Nicodemus must be born again? It was because He could read the heart of Nicodemus. Jesus saw that Nicodemus had covered himself with religion but had not yet found fellowship with God.

What is new birth? Nicodemus asked that question too: “How can a man be born when he is old?” He wanted to understand it. Nicodemus could see only the physical and the material, but Jesus was talking about the spiritual.

How is the new birth accomplished? We cannot inherit new birth. The Bible says that those who are born again “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13 Your father and mother may be the greatest born-again Christians in the world, but that doesn’t make you a born-again Christians, too. Many people have the idea that because they were born into a Christian home, they are automatically Christians. They’re not.

We cannot work our way to God, either. The Bible says that salvation comes “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

Reformation is not enough. We can say, “I am going to turn over a new leaf,” or “I am going to make New Year’s resolutions.” But Isaiah said that in the sight of God “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6

Some of us have changed on the outside to conform to certain social standards or behavior that is expected of us in our church, but down inside we have never been changed. That is what Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about. He said, “Nicodemus, you need changing inside,” and only the Holy Spirit can do that. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin; He disturbs us because we have sinned against God.



When the caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis, it is transformed into a completely new creature. When we recognize our sin, confess it, and receive God’s forgiveness, we are transformed into a new life in Him. 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit regenerates us. He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That is when we are born again. The Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts to help us in our daily lives. The Spirit of God assures us, gives us joy, produces fruit in our lives and teaches us the Scriptures.

In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar appears lifeless. Paul described this stage of a Christians life in Romans 6:6 (NCV); “We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin.”

Once the butterfly emerges, it does not return to the caterpillar state. When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it flies; something it couldn’t do before. The butterfly drinks sweet nectar instead of gorging on leaves. The butterfly has a new life, a new purpose, a new way of feeding itself.

But all too often, we as Christians try to crawl back into the chrysalis. We want to be caterpillars again. Peter wrote about this behavior in 1 Peter 2:9-11. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” He continues in verse 20, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.”


A caterpillar cannot change itself. It has to lose its form and identity as a caterpillar to become a butterfly. Most Christians are familiar with the passage found in Ephesians 2:8,9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Martin Luther wrote about this passage. “God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of Another — God alone.”

As important as these verses are to Christians, I think that we need to look at the context in which Paul was writing. Let’s start at the beginning of Chapter 2. “You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Here Paul is describing the caterpillar portion of our existence. The caterpillar's main purpose in life is eating. It eats the leaves in its world just as we feed on the ideas of the world around us. As Paul puts it, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind. But God has a plan for us.

Startin again with Ephesians 2:4 we read, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.


In our born again, recreated phase, we were created for good works. Just like the caterpillar when it emerges from its cocoon, we are transformed into a completely new creature. When we recognize our sin, confess it, receive God’s forgiveness, and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord we are transformed into new life in Him.

The butterfly does not return to the caterpillar state; nor can it return to the pupa phase. When a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it flies — something it couldn’t do before! The butterfly also drinks sweet nectar instead of gorging on leaves.

Are you a new creation in Christ still trying to gorge on leaves? If so, do you find them choking you? Are you a new creation in Christ still trying to crawl back inside the chrysalis to live as you once lived? Even if you could go back in time, leaves would no longer nourish you, and the torn chrysalis would no longer protect you. Why? It's because God has transformed you into a new creation. Now you have the blessed privilege and opportunity to live in His power and do His work on this planet. So spread your wings into their full, beautiful glory. It’s time to fly.







Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Butterfly Palace

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 4, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


The Butterfly Palace is a family owned attraction in Branson, Missouri. On my last visit to the area, I visited The Butterfly Palace with my sister and her family. In the butterfly aviary, which is designed to be a living rainforest, there are over 1,000 live tropical butterflies from around the world. Butterflies of all sizes and colors were flying everywhere and even lighting on us.

As we walked through the aviary, it was hard to decide where to look next. As a photographer, I was most interested in taking photos of the beautiful butterflies. While we were there, we took part in the daily butterfly release. The Butterfly Palace purchases butterflies in the chrysalis stage from around the world. Each chrysalis is placed in a plastic container. Every day, the butterflies that have emerged from their chrysalis are released into the aviary. The average lifespan of a butterfly is about one month, so the Butterfly Palace must release new butterflies to keep a large population in the aviary.


I enjoyed being a part of the butterfly release. People who are in the aviary at the time of the release are allowed to participate. Each butterfly is in the clear plastic container that has been the home of the chrysalis. Those of us participating were instructed to hold the container over our heads, remove the lid, and turn the container upside down, allowing the butterfly to go free. Some of the butterflies had to be coaxed out of the container after it was opened. My butterfly was eager to be free and flew out of the container before I even turned it upside down.


The butterfly release provides for some great photo opportunities. When the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, its wings are wet, and the butterfly cannot yet fly. The wings must dry, and the butterfly must exercise flight muscles before it can fly. When the butterflies are released, they like to find a place to land and stretch out their wings. I took some beautiful photographs of these butterflies with their wings spread out.


Butterflies are born as an egg. Next, they turn into a caterpillar. This caterpillar will eat constantly and will grow through this stage of its life. As the caterpillar grows, it will molt or shed its skin. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it goes into a resting stage and becomes a chrysalis. When the chrysalis breaks open, and a butterfly comes out, the adult butterfly will begin the process all over again by laying eggs of its own.

Scientists refer to this process of transformation as metamorphosis. It is an amazing process that is difficult to understand. First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve its tissues. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, and all the other features of an adult butterfly. One butterfly expert said, “The creation of the body of a caterpillar into the body and wings of a butterfly is, without doubt, one of the wonders of life on earth.”


Just like the rebirth of a caterpillar into a butterfly can be a difficult process to understand, so can the rebirth of a person. When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NLT) Nicodemus then asked Him, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” John 3:4 (NLT)

The caterpillar’s metamorphosis provides a great illustration of a believer’s spiritual transformation. The caterpillar's main purpose in life is eating. It eats the leaves in its world just as we feed on the ideas of the world around us. In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar appears lifeless. Paul described this stage of a Christians life in Romans 6:6 (NCV); “We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin.”


When the caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis, it is transformed into a completely new creature. When we recognize our sin, confess it, and receive God’s forgiveness, we are transformed into a new life in Him. 1 John 1:9 (NKJV) tells us that, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Once the butterfly emerges, it does not return to the caterpillar state. When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it flies; something it couldn’t do before. The butterfly drinks sweet nectar instead of gorging on leaves. The butterfly has a new life, a new purpose, a new way of feeding itself.


Gentle Reader, are you a new creation in Christ still trying to gorge on the leaves of this world? Are you still trying to crawl back inside the chrysalis to live as you once lived? Once a butterfly breaks free from the chrysalis, it is free to soar to new heights. It never goes back to its former way, of being in bondage in the chrysalis. Instead, it lives its life as God fully intended. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

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More photos from The Butterfly Palace. All of the photos on this post were taken by my wife and me at The Butterfly Palace.


















Friday, September 29, 2017

God's Amazing Love


Seven billion people. It’s a big number. I know that there are more than seven billion people living on this planet, but I can't comprehend what that means.

God doesn't see the number; He sees faces; behind which are personal histories and heartaches, individual predicaments and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues and deals with the obstacles that confront them. God feels everything each one of them feels. He sees every detail of every experience that has gone into making each of them exactly who they are at this very moment. He loves each one of these people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.


In his song Maybe, I’m Amazed, Paul McCartney wrote, I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time.  He finished the song with these words.

"I'm amazed at the way you're with me all the time; Maybe I'm afraid of the way I leave you. Maybe I'm amazed at the way you help me sing my song, Right me when I'm wrong- Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you."

Are you amazed by Jesus and the sacrifice he made for you? You should be. Remember, God loves each one of the seven billion people who live on this planet so much that he gave his only son as a sacrifice for them. Jesus loves each one of them so much that he was willing to come to this earth and sacrifice his life.

God loves each one of the seven billion and that includes you.  1 John 4:7-11 (NKJV) "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The Bible clearly states that God is love and that He loves us.  It also tells us that we are to love Him and each other.


In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What He meant is that a person’s love ought to reach in three directions—upward to God, outward to others, and inward to self.

Most Christians agree that loving God and others is important, but is it important to love yourself? Self-esteem isn't considered a Christian attribute. It’s often associated with pride and self-centeredness—and there are plenty of both in our world. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was saying we should recognize and appreciate our worth. God created us in His image so we could have a relationship with Him. Jesus died for us so we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.
Since God values us so highly, shouldn't we love ourselves? I’m not talking about a boastful attitude, but a quiet peace that comes from knowing we’re deeply loved by our heavenly Father.

A healthy self-love is essential. If it is missing or in some way incomplete, we can’t love God or others as we should. A sense of unworthiness leaves us empty and prevents us from looking up to God in devotion and reaching out to others with affection. God does not want us to have low self-esteem.


The Bible has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

1. You were made in the image of God.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way”.

2. God made you in an amazing and wonderful way.

Ephesians 1:4 says that “God chose us before the world was made so that we would be his holy people—people without blame before him.”

3. God chose you even before the world was made.

In Romans 5:8, the Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”

4. Jesus died for you not because you were good enough, but because he loved you.

If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we will come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re worth as children of God.

Our self-worth is often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. Jesus is the true authority on our self-worth.  Since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we are.


When we fully accept God’s love for us, we’ll have a healthy appreciation for ourselves, an ever-growing passion for Him, and the ability to care for others.

How much are you and I truly worth? And what value should we place upon each other?  Often we'll look at the work someone is doing, and if they're doing a poor job, making mistakes, then we view that person as of little value.  But is this the correct way of seeing value in someone?

Think about it, if we truly saw the value of people as God does, would we still treat each other the way we do?  Mathew 25:45 tells us, “I tell you the truth, anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me.”

The key to seeing and understanding the value of you and me and all other people in the world is to see our value in light of what Jesus did to save us! Are there people that we don’t think are worthy of our love?


There’s no question that Christians should want to be loved and to love others. But it’s not enough to tell others that you love them – you must SHOW you love others! Love is not an abstract idea. True love is not just something you feel – it’s something you demonstrate!

We all need to grow in this area because everybody needs to know they are loved. You especially need to know how to show love if you are a follower of Jesus. In 1 John 3:17-18 the Bible says, “What if a person has enough money to live on and sees his brother in need of food and clothing? If he does not help him, how can the love of God be in him? My children, let us not love with words or in talk only. Let us love by what we do and in truth.”

James says something along these same lines in James 2:15-17, “Someone might need clothes or food. If you say to that person, ‘God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,’ but you do not give what that person needs; your words are worth nothing. In the same way, faith by itself—that does nothing—is dead."

We show our love through our actions.  God has asked us to love others. There are so many people in this world who don’t know love.

Let’s remember how valuable we are in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

As I was writing this sermon, I was thinking about how I view different people groups, and how in my mind I have decided that some are not worth my time or love. Their problems are caused by their own bad decisions.  They chose to live that way.


My thoughts came to rest on Nick.  He was in my youth class at church some years ago.  On October first, 2014, he was shot to death in Oklahoma City. He was just 23 years old.

The news report read, “around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, police were called out to the apartment complex on NW 25th and Penn on a shots fired call with a man down. On arrival, Nick Scott was discovered in the courtyard of an apartment complex. An apartment resident told police that they heard 5 or 6 shots. ‘I ran outside, everyone says Nick, it's Nick! He's dead; he's dead!’  The witness described Nick as a homeless man.”

When I heard the news, I was shaken up. I know that things like this are a daily occurrence, but it is different when you know the person. I knew that Nick had made some bad choices as a teenager. I didn’t realize that he had ended up homeless on the streets of Oklahoma City. When I attended his funeral, I found out more about his situation. His parents had been missionaries in Africa and had adopted him there. When they retired, they moved back to the U.S. There was a problem with Nick’s paperwork that his parents spent years trying to straighten out. They were never able to get citizenship papers for Nick, so he was living as an illegal immigrant.

At his funeral those who showed the most emotion where young street people who didn’t look the best or smell the best. Nick’s cousin gave the eulogy, and it made me think about my attitudes towards people. The eulogy made such an impact on me that I asked Nick’s cousin if he would permit me to publish it on my blog. He graciously gave his permission.  I would like you to read it. I hope that it makes an impact on you like it did me.


The last few years of Nick’s life were hard. Certainly harder than anything I've been through. There is no way to sugar coat it: as a homeless man in Oklahoma City, Nick suffered a lot. At Nick’s age, he should have been looking forward to an open-ended vista of possibilities. The American Dream, with all its hopes and promises, should have been tantalizing him with its optimism. And on his good days, Nick did dream of future success the way a young person should. He dreamt of getting his G.E.D. and going back to school, of making enough money to pay back everyone he had ever hurt, and of becoming a lawyer and helping people in situations like his.

But most days, Nicolas was trapped in a sense of futility. Robert Frost described an old man in a similar position in one of his poems, “The Death of the Hired Man.” Young as he was, it could easily have been Nick, Nick who lived as an illegal immigrant in his own country, barely eking out a living as a hired hand. Frost writes of him: So concerned for other folk, And nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope, So now and never any different.

If there’s one thing that I've consistently heard from Nick’s friends and acquaintances over the years, it was that he was truly concerned for other folk. Nick did many things that he regretted, some things as innocent as stealing food to survive, and some things less easy to forgive. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked in the cycle of hopelessness that so many people living in poverty experience from day to day. I’m told that money loses value when there is never enough of it. There is a certain logic to irresponsibility in situations where human flourishing is rare and precious.

But people never lost value for Nick. Nick was a passionate believer in compassion and empathy. Nick stood in judgment over himself for his failures to do justice to people and their experiences. And he stood in judgment over me, over society and criminal justice, and over the church. The one person I never heard him criticize was his late mother, Tilly Scott, who for Nick embodied a complete and unconditional regard for the well-being of her son.

Nick went back and forth on his religious beliefs. Life on the street doesn't afford much luxury for debating academic arguments about God and theology. He didn't know what he believed, but he read his Bible regularly, and Nick seemed to genuinely feel that Christ was often more present in the homeless shelters and jail cells of Oklahoma City than in its churches. He tried many times to explain to me his belief that there is good in everyone, a source of dignity even in what most of us would consider broken and violent souls. Nick knew convicted murderers that he believed were among the most profound representatives of Christ-like compassion that you could find.

A few weeks ago the minister at my church in Virginia delivered a message on forgiveness and challenged everyone in our congregation to forgive one person that week, and to ask forgiveness from someone. Things were tense between Nick and I at the time. He’d told some fibs while trying to get my family to help him with rent money, and I was feeling pretty stern. It was a busy week for me, and I procrastinated on my homework, but finally, I told Nick that I forgave him and that supporting him was what was most important to us. He died that evening.

Because of my minister’s challenge, I have the comfort of knowing that Nick’s last words to me were of gratitude. That week, his family had chosen to love him unconditionally. He told me that it meant a lot and that he would try to do better toward us.

But what I failed to do, and what I wish I could do now, is ask Nick’s forgiveness. Not just for the times I wasn't there to help him. I want Nick’s forgiveness for being slow to learn how to see the dignity in every human being. It is always far easier to judge the homeless than to help them, even with family. On Nick’s behalf, I challenge all of us, myself included, to see the Christ in those in need. We have to go beyond feeling sorry for others and build relationships that allow us to truly understand them. Nick is no longer here for us to learn to love, but his belief in love is something we can carry on now that he is gone.


I hope that today’s talk will help you see the dignity in every human being.  If we can do that; see the dignity in every person regardless of race, gender, religion, social standing, politics, nationality; We become more like Jesus.  We become like the Jesus of John 3:16,17  For God so loved the world (all seven billion people of every possible nationality, race, religion, social standing, and sexual orientation) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

I’ve always like the song, Jesus loves the little children. I’m sure you know it. “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world, Red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me."  I have always understood that helping the "least of these" was, in reality, helping Jesus. Recently I have come to realize that when I judge or criticize people, I do it to Jesus Himself. When I talk badly about people groups, I’m talking badly about Jesus.


When God looks at His children today, he sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who were created in His image to be like Him, to love mercy and do justly and walk humbly. He sees people who claim to follow Jesus and yet can't see when He, "the least of these," needs their help.

We as Christians have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time because they are no good.”

Instead of judging others, we need to look into the mirror of God’s law of love and recognize how bad we are.  James 1;23,24 says, "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”

We need to look into the mirror of God’s law and see ourselves as we really are instead of spending our energy judging others. When we judge or criticize people, we do it to Jesus Himself.

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.


1 John 4:7,8  Beloved, “let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

We show our love through our actions. God has asked us to love others to help them thrive. There are so many people in this world who are failing to thrive. Are there those that we know who are failing to thrive because we are not loving them – by what we do?

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children. Seven billion people and counting. It’s a big number. But God loves them all. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Are they precious in your sight?