Category Archives: Photovotionals

God’s Sheep

This is the eighth in a series of nine photovotionals based on the photo prints
of mine which we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.
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The farmer up the road from Refuge Ranch here in Mexico frequently takes his sheep to greener pastures. On this particular day a couple of his family members were leading the sheep right across the road (use the term “road” loosely) from the house at Refuge Ranch. I quickly grabbed the camera and this is one of the images I captured.

The psalmist declared, Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3) The imagery of us being God’s sheep is a strong and pervasive image in the Bible. It might be an image that’s hard to comprehend for modern suburban or urban people, but it is an image that has resonated well through the centuries and still does today in many third world countries, and Mexico too! I frequently see one or two people keeping watch over their flock as the sheep graze, often along the busy highways and roadways we travel here in Mexico.

You watch the shepherd (or shepherdess) and he (or she) is giving 100% of their time to tending the flock. God is intentional about wanting us to see Him as our shepherd and we as His sheep. He wants us to know that He is always with us, watches over us, leads us, protects us, provides for us, and in general really cares a great deal for us, just as the shepherd does for the sheep.

Keep in mind, too, that the sheep is not the smartest animal in the barnyard, has few defenses against attack, and is, in general, a high maintenance animal. We’re like this to God! Let’s not take offense, however, for any negative aspect of comparing us to sheep is more than compensated for by the fact that the Lord is our shepherd and a very good shepherd at that!

What kind of care do you need from the Good Shepherd at this point in time? Do you need rest, rescuing by His shepherd’s crook, comfort, direction, a sound whack by His rod, nourishment of some kind from His green pastures, refreshment of some nature from His still waters, or something else that comes to mind when you think of God being your Good Shepherd?

It’s a powerful image, the shepherd taking care of his sheep. It’s why we have such an image hanging in our living room in Florida. I always want to remember that the Lord is my shepherd!

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1)

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Clouds of Glory

This is the seventh in a series of nine photovotionals based on the photo prints
of mine which we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.
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The sun streaking its rays of light from behind clouds inspires thoughts of glory, of heaven, and of God. Such scenes are fleeting. I happened to see this scene from the back yard of our son Dan’s home in Florida. I ran for my camera for soon the sun’s rays would be gone. It was a case of racing the sun. I’m glad I won the race, so I could share the trophy of this photo!

On this side of heaven we only catch hints of the glory that someday will be for those of us who love the Lord and His appearing. Sometimes when I see the edges of clouds gilded in glorious light I think of my father who has gone to heaven and what he must be experiencing even now. I can almost hear him say, “I can’t wait until Clara, the kids, the grand kids and the great grand kids can see this!”

Sunbeams that aim downward toward the earth look like silvery slides to me, slides that angels sometimes slip down to meet with us humans occupied in the sandbox of day-to-day living. God’s angels have at times shared the glory of God and His heaven with us earthlings, wearing God’s glory as clothing. Talk about wearing a name brand! God’s glory of heaven has always been meant to spill over to earth.

We were created to enjoy the glory of God, His heaven, and His eternity, and nothing else will do. C.S. Lewis wrote of our desire for this “far off country” which makes us to some degree dissatisfied with where we now are. There is always the yearning for something more. We lament, even at a party or the streets of Disney World, “Is this all there is?”

And yet, strangely, we seem ready to settle for something less than that which God has for us. Lewis’ classic quote from The Weight of Glory says it well. It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

A sunbeam can remind us that there’s something more and that any dissatisfaction with our current situation can be replaced by an anticipation for what God has planned for us in His glorious eternity. The sunbeam can also remind us that God breaks through to us even now, when much of the landscape of our living may seem dark. We may not always be aware of His glorious presence, just as we can’t fully appreciate a sunbeam when we’re in the middle of it. This is where faith comes in, the confidence that God’s glorious presence is always with us!

But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” (Psalm 3:3)

The Freedom of Obedience

This is the sixth in a series of nine photovotionals based on the photo prints
of mine which we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.
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The drive to my church office took me by a pasture that this morning was pure magic. The rising sun shown through the morning mist. The resident horse of the pasture felt like celebrating the morning, running and cutting his way through the thick golden fog. The benefit of having your camera with you even when you’re not planning on taking pictures is that you can take a picture that you didn’t plan on taking, like this one.

This horse seems to be enjoying the morning, though he’s confined by a fence. I’m sure there are other times when he’s guided by a bit and bridle that are in the hands of his master. His life has limits but he sure seemed happy, well fed and in fine shape the morning I saw him.

I’m reading the book Horses for Dummies because Refuge Ranch, where we are currently living with our daughter and her family, has a horse named Sonya, and I’m determined she and I are going to ride places together. The book mentions the fact that horses are social animals and that one usually dominates the group as the leader. Sometimes other horses test the leader to see if that horse should still lead. The book goes on to say that when the other creature a horse is relating to is a person the horse will test that person to see if he or she should lead. Just as children are happier when they’re disciplined children rather than spoiled children, so the reality is that a well disciplined horse is a happy horse while a rebellious horse never looks happy.

The Bible uses different names and titles for God in describing our relationship to Him; one of those titles is master. God as our Master calls for obedience from us. This might seem to put limits on us, but His commands are not at all limiting. He is, after all, a good God and wants only what is best for us. Can we move the truth of this concept from pure intellectual agreement to heartfelt belief that prompts a voluntary and enthusiastic desire to serve Him with obedience, unlike the horse, which usually needs the coercion of a fence and bit and bridle?

“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” (Psalm 32:9)

The Net of God’s Love

This is the fifth in a series of nine photovotionals based on the photo prints
of mine which we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.
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It was evening and time for the fisherman to fish. He walked along the seashore near Ixtapa, Mexico, waist deep in the waves, casting his net again and again. Capturing a scene that is there and then gone within less than a second is one of the gifts of a camera. Here my camera caught a moment in time when the net was at its artistic best, on its way to the task of capturing some fish.

The picture, edited to a sepia tone, hangs in our home as a reminder of Jesus’ rich imagery of how He called four professional fishermen to change vocation from fishing for fish to fishing for people. These fishermen didn’t use a line and hook but a net, much as the modern day Mexican fisherman in the picture.

The fisherman casts his net, taking the initiative to catch the fish, and this certainly was part of what Jesus was getting at with His invitation to these four fishermen. Jesus was calling them to take the initiative to reach out to others on behalf of God. Jesus’ invitation to the four fishermen expressed the amazing truth that God takes the initiative to reach out to people. He wants to catch us in the net of His love!

We humans are not left to our own efforts when it comes to finding God. We simply have to let ourselves be found! Once we’re in the net of His love we’re called to offer a captivating witness by our character, our deeds, and our words to those within casting distance of our influence.

People often come up with their own form of reality, of the way they think life really is, or at least hope that it is. The reality, the real reality, is that God wants to capture us in the net of His love!

Come, follow me,Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people. (Matthew 4:19)

Rock Solid Living

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This is the fourth in a series of nine photovotionals based on the photo prints
of mine which we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.

The island juts out on the horizon of the ocean near Ixtapa, Mexico. It looks like a giant rock. If you were on a boat that was sinking and were near this island, that’s where you would swim toward. Even the world’s best swimmer can’t stay afloat in the ocean forever and would swim toward that big rock.

We get ourselves in pretty deep in the struggles, temptations, defeats, and challenges of life. In fact, we often feel we’re in over our heads; drowning would be a good metaphor. I heard of a guy who fell into some deep mud up to his ankles. It doesn’t sound bad until you know that he fell in head first! Then, too, I remember the images of the old TV westerns where a guy gets sucked down in quicksand. The psalmist was in such a predicament and penned these words in praise to God: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:2)

Rock is quite immovable, especially big rocks. We recently started construction on our cottage in Mexico, at Refuge Ranch, the headquarters for the ministry of our daughter and son-in-law. By God’s grace three amigos from Pennsylvania came down to the Ranch, renting some big earth moving equipment here in Mexico, to clear land for the main house for the large family. They also cleared a spot for our small home. Our house will be situated on a narrow rock ridge. It needed to be flattened, which meant moving a lot of big rock. It took the big machines to move rock we could never have moved by human effort. At least our house will be built upon rock!

No wonder Jesus used the imagery of rock to symbolize the effect of building our lives on Him and His teaching. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

When our greatest love is for the Lord, our greatest satisfaction is in the Lord, our greatest desire is to please the Lord, and we count most of all on the Lord for help, then we’re living life in the best way possible. It’s the way to live a rock-solid life.

Whenever life becomes a challenge we can do no better than to pray the prayer of the psalmist to the Lord. “Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.” (Psalm 31:2)

Fruitful Living

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This is the third in a series of nine photovotionals based on the photos I’ve taken that
we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.

One of the images you see as you come in our front door and glance to the left by the kitchen table is an image of a cluster of grapes, a symbol of fruitfulness. Most of us want to live fruitful, productive lives. What does that mean? Different people will give different answers. If, at the end of the day, we can say it was a fruitful and productive day, what do we mean? It usually means we feel we got a lot done, and, again, those desired results would vary for different people.

We humans have different ideas of what makes for fruitful living, but what’s God’s idea of what it means to live a productive life? When God really gains control of a person’s life what kind of fruitfulness is to be the result? Fortunately, we have a very straightforward answer from God. Here’s what God says is the result of His Spirit’s presence dwelling within us: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Living a fruitful life for God is not so much about what we accomplish but far more about who we are. It has to do with how effective we are at coming alongside others and living in such a way as to add value to their lives. Fruitfulness is less about results and far more about relationships. Even in the business world a productive person isn’t worth keeping on the payroll if the individual can’t get along with people.

The nine fruit of the Spirit is a great summary of what a fruitful life looks like, but fruit isn’t something you can manufacture. Sure, you can buy artificial fruit to put on display, but it only appears to be fruit, it really isn’t, you can’t eat it. Similarly, we can’t come up on our own with the fruit of the Spirit. We need the Spirit’s help! The more we allow the Lord to occupy our heart, soul, and mind the more we will naturally be a fruitful person in terms of being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and exhibiting self-control. It’s a matter of letting the inner presence of God flow outwardly in these wonderful ways. This is what results in living a fruitful life!

Small But Mighty Influence

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This is the second in a series of nine photovotionals based on the prints
we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.

When we were reflecting on how to decorate the walls of our new home here in Florida we decided to use some of my photography. One of the images you see as you come in our front door and glance to the left by the kitchen table is an image of a salt shaker, tipped over, with salt spilling out. Salt is a mineral that’s very prevalent and very important. It’s found in huge deposits within the earth, and the vast oceans are very salty with a salinity of 3.5. Salt is necessary for life; human tissue contains a significant amount of salt. Our bodies desire salt and therefore we have taste buds designed to detect salt. That’s why we need salt in food for it to taste good. Salt has also been used throughout history as a preservative. We can’t live without salt.

Jesus said that His followers are to be like salt. You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) Salt’s properties of flavoring and preserving are to be the properties of our lives as well. We’re to be a positive influence in this tasteless and decaying world.

Author Tim Keller describes three factors that have to be present for us to influence others in a Christ-like way. He writes that we must be like those around us, unlike those around us, and engaged with those around us.

We have to be like others, a “regular” person to others, not odd (lots of people have a caricature of Christians being odd). We have to be unlike others in that we should be exhibiting the distinctive characteristics of a person who follows Christ and not the ways of the world. Then we have to be engaged and by this Keller means two things, that we’re to hang around people who aren’t necessarily followers of Jesus (not living in a Christian bubble) and that we’re to be comfortable in allowing our faith in Christ to show; for instance, engaging in conversations about our faith.

We all want our lives to have meaning and purpose. The most significant person ever was Jesus, and when we follow Him our lives, too, can be lived with significance.

You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)

The Food and Beverage of Choice

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This is one in a series of nine photovotionals
based on the prints we have hanging
on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida.

When we were reflecting on how to decorate the walls of our new home here in Florida we decided to use some of my photography. Three are color images that adorn the wall by the kitchen table. The theme is food. We went with color images to keep the kitchen area bright. In the living room we have two images on one wall and three on another. They’re in sepia, to match the walls and to, well, keep up with the style; black and white or sepia seem to be “in” these days. The ninth image hangs in our bathroom, an image of a bowl and towel. All the images were chosen to communicate a message. Over the next nine weeks I’ll be giving you a tour of these images, stopping each week at a different one and pondering what the photo communicates.

The first image you see as you come in our front door and glance to the left by the kitchen table is an image of a cup and bread. You can’t get much more of a simple meal than one of bread and beverage.

Serious thought goes into planning a meal for a special occasion. Jesus looked forward to His last supper with His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion. He told them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:14) This special meal was an adaptation of a meal already planned for that particular date in the calender year for Jews, the Passover. Jesus took the bread and the cup of Passover and gave them new meaning for His disciples who ate the meal with Him, a new meaning we’re to embrace as well. Jesus’ intention was that the broken bread be a reminder of His body broken and the cup of red beverage of the grape a reminder of His blood shed, both a reminder of His giving His life for us.

It’s a simple meal the menu of which has been duplicated countless millions of times over the centuries by His followers. It’s so simple a meal that it can be partaken of in almost any set of circumstances: from the battlefield to the prison cell, from the hospital bed to the cathedral.

This simple meal initiated by Jesus should prompt us to ask what feeds our heart and soul. We can wrongly seek our main nourishment from success, from wanting to be loved or admired or popular, from sensual delights that include everything from food to sex to music to movies. There are other sources too that we look to for our ultimate nourishment. Much of it is good, just not the best. It’s like Twinkies. It’s OK to have one occasionally, just don’t make them the mainstay of your diet; fruits and vegetables should be first and foremost on the dinner plate. Having our heart and soul nourished foremost by anything else other than a relationship with the Lord makes it junk food by comparison. Don’t misunderstand, these other aspects of life can be good and even necessary gifts of God, but they’re not the main dish, just the side dishes and dessert.

The broken bread and cup remind us that the ultimate nourishment of a relationship with God comes through Him having entered our world for the principle purpose of dying on a cross for our sins, that we might be fully fed by Him for a life that will last forever! That’s why, while we eat our meal at the dinner table here in Brandon, we have the image of the bread and cup to remind us where our best food of all comes from!

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man [Jesus Himself) will give you. (Jesus in John 6:27)

A Photovotional — Shoes Left Behind

ShoesInRowWhen I recently arrived at Refuge Ranch in Mexico, where our daughter and her family live, I was greeted by a row of tennis shoes drying in the sun after having been washed. At first I thought they were the grand kids’ shoes (there’s seventeen of them, so this was actually a short row of shoes). Come to find out the shoes belonged to the last mission team that had left a couple of days earlier. Many on the team decided to leave their tennis shoes behind, for the kids at Refuge Ranch, my grand kids.

What a great idea! These young people had not only worked hard at the ranch while they were there but had left something behind when they left. Over the next days I saw the shoes being parceled out to the grand kids, one pair at a time.

It got me to thinking, what do we leave behind when we leave a place, a room, a conversation? Do we leave something of value or something that people have to clean up afterward, get rid of, overcome, or counter act?

Do we leave a room having changed the atmosphere for the better? Do we leave a conversation with the other person being glad they had the conversation with us? Is our presence, wherever we are present, a blessing?

There are people I see at a distance in the grocery store that I’m glad to bump into. There are other people I see at the grocery store that, if they haven’t already seen me, tempt me to change direction and take a different aisle. I want others to place me in that first group of people!

God’s called each of us to influence this world for His good, to carry out a small part of His purposes for those He’s put around us. Wherever we go we’re always leaving something behind. May it be God’s blessings we leave behind!

Photovotional — Generational Influence

ClaassenThreshingMachineCroppedThe photos I share in these Photovotionals are pictures I’ve taken, except for this one! It was taken long before I was born, over a hundred years ago. The caption states that this is “The Claassen Brothers” threshing operation. As best as we can determine it’s my grandfather with his hand resting on the “roof” of the steam engine.

My grandfather pictured here was my Dad’s dad, John Claassen. My Dad carried the same name, John Claassen. My middle name is John, as is my son Dan’s, as is my grandson Casey’s: five generations with the same name. I never met my grandpa Claassen, for he died from complications after an appendectomy when my Dad was only ten years old. This photo gives me something of a connection to a man whose genes I carry but who I never knew.

Time separates us from both our ancestors and descendants, usually when the distance is more than four generations. Most of us didn’t get to know our great great grandparents nor will most of us know our great great grandchildren. Time separates people even more than does distances. Distances can be overcome while the passage of time can’t – transportation machines we can build, time machines we can’t.

We have not known our distant ancestors nor will we know our distant descendants, but we’re connected nevertheless. The connection is not just genetic but also by influence. This influence is not limited to our own family either. We’ve all been influenced by people who are no relation to us but who, like us, are the product of their ancestors, making their ancestors influencers on our lives. And we influence not only our children but others younger than us who will go on to influence still other people, many of whom will be born long after we’re gone, if the Lord tarries with His second coming.

We’ve been given the power of choice, of how to respond to the influence of those who came before us. We’ve been given the power of choice, of how to influence those who come after us. What “curses” of past generations do we want to stop and not pass on? What “blessings” do we want to pass on? “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

In the chain of events that are unfolding each of us is a connecting link between the past and the future and have the choice to leave this world a better place. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50)