Category Archives: Photovotionals

Photovotional — Burning the Candle at Both Ends

CandleatBothMedIt took some effort to photograph a candle burning at both ends. Here’s the inside scoop on the “special effects” it took to make it happen.

First, I had to melt away the wick on the bottom of the candle so it could be lit. I positioned a black poster board in a vertical position, poked a small hole in the middle of the poster and stuck a pencil through it with a needle sticking out of the eraser and into the middle of the candle. My able assistant, my wife Diann, held the pencil that held the candle from behind the poster board. I then lit the candle at both ends and quickly fired off several shots. One was the best, and it was accepted into my portfolio of images on Istockphoto. Apparently a number of people are thinking or writing about burning the candle at both ends, the photo’s sold 60 times (earning me $70 – I won’t be quitting my day job).

Burning the candle at both ends” is an English idiom from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in which she has the line, “My candle burns at both ends, It will not last the night…”It’s come to refer to working long hours with little rest, ungodly hours, which is an appropriate way to say it, for God’s call for us rarely is a call to work to exhaustion.

We live in a culture that affirms people who work to the extreme. Our favorite mantra is “I’m so busy” and it’s best said with a sigh. Hillary Clinton is known to burn the candle at both ends. She told the New York Times, talking about relaxing, “It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired.” People like this are admired and emulated for their workaholism. This is not good!

The Lord considers rest so important that He made it one of His Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” (Exodus 20:8-9)

What is it about us that we’re tempted to work ourselves to distraction? Does it make us feel more important? Do we think we’re the only one in the world that can do all that we try to do? Are we not effective at setting boundaries for ourselves and for what others expect of us?

We regain a true sense of God’s calling on our lives when we realize we’re not to be busy all the time. Our greatest value is not in what we do but in who we are. We connect best to God, to others, and to ourselves when we put pauses in our lives: to sit, lay, rest, think, listen, and pray.

Jesus’ invitation to His original disciples is good advice for us to hear from Him as well. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

Try to read this next sentence that has no spaces. Itisnotveryeasytodo. Our lives, like sentences, need spaces!

Photovotional — A Serendipitous Life

HorseInMistCroppedSmallThe fog was a shroud of gossamer floating about in thick and thin waves. Through it all ran a horse. The picture was there for the taking. But there are always variables. Fog comes and go, so you have to be ready. I couldn’t shout instructions to the horse as to what he should do to make himself more photogenic. I’m not a horse whisperer, but even if I was, he was at a distance that would have required shouting, not whispering. Fog and horse were in place, all that remained was for a photographer to drive by; that would be me. It all came together and, presto, here’s the picture. Photos like this are not planned; they just happen and you have to be ready. I almost always have my camera with me in the car.

I’ve come to realize that much of life happens spontaneously. We plan some, and should, but always we must be open to the unexpected. Consider how the bookends of life, both birth and death, are not easily scheduled. Expectant young parents wait for the birth of their child, and wait some more. Adult children sit beside the bed and wait for the death of an elderly parent. Both the maternity ward and the Hospice unit operate on a flexible time frame. Life in between the bookends often doesn’t go as scheduled either.

Jesus went about doing a great many miracles but of the 30 plus recorded miracles in the four gospels there’s none that were planned ahead of time by Jesus. It was miracles by interruptions. God’s calling for each of us comes without a printed schedule. He informs us on a need-to-know basis, which often means about the time it happens! It’s a calling to act spontaneously by the Spirit!

Each day is filled with the unexpected, but with His help we can expect to carry out His will in the midst of the surprise. Who will we bump into? What phone call will come? What will get canceled? What good news will we get? What bad news will we get? Will we be healthy or sick tomorrow? Will we have a narrow miss or an accident? God is very much alive and active in all of our unknowns. As has often been said, we don’t know what the future holds but we can know the One who holds the future! God says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 42:16)

Photovotional — Growth Rings

treeringsbackgroundCut down a tree and you have a graphic record of the tree’s growth. In temperate regions of the world each ring represents the tree’s annual growth. Counting the number of rings will give you the age of the tree. Some growth rings are thicker than others; it’s dependent on environmental factors such as rainfall, temperatures and amount of sunlight. Thick or thin, there’s always some growth.

What has always intrigued me is that there’s a growth ring for the very last year the tree lived. Trees keep growing until they die.

The tree’s growth is a lesson we can apply to our own personal growth, and our spiritual growth in particular. I’ve been a pastor for a good number of years and have always appreciated the presence of older folks (dare I use “elderly”?) in the Bible classes I’ve led or in the congregation absorbing the taught Word of God while I preach. I come alongside these folks and realize their spiritual depth is the result of years of spiritual growth. Now that I’m in my 60s I find myself joining their ranks, and challenged to keep on growing in my faith.

Unlike trees, we humans don’t come by spiritual growth naturally; we have to be intentional about it. We can easily become stunted saints, plateaued, stuck in one place instead of staying on a pilgrimage.

How do we keep growing in our faith? It means not being satisfied with our current experience of God. It means wanting more input from Holy Scripture and from others who are are also serious about spiritual growth. It means letting God use all our experiences – good, bad, and indifferent – to grow us in Him.

I want to have it said of me what the apostle Paul wrote of the Christians in a certain Greek city. “Your faith is growing more and more.” (2 Thessalonians 1:3) Trees keep growing upward their whole life. I want to as well! You too?

Photovotional — Relaxing Among the Smiley Faces

CatSmileyMy attention was immediately drawn to this cat and the place she chose to take a cat nap, an open umbrella decorated with smiley faces. Relaxing among smiley faces, what a good idea. We should adopt this cat’s philosophy! I recall a sign in a busy place of work that stated, “If you can keep your head while those around you are losing theirs, you may have misjudged the situation.” We’re often in situations and places that are far from peaceful. Can we have peace even when the environment is anything but peaceful? The answer for the person who’s serious about walking with God is “Yes!”

Isaiah prophesied of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, words we often quote at Christmastime, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) A prince rules; Jesus rules with peace!

Jesus Himself said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus promises to give a peace we can’t get anywhere else. If I had Jesus physically walking alongside me I’d find it rather easy to believe His words of having peace in His presence. The reality is that when we’re followers of Jesus we always do have Him with us, sight unseen but with us nevertheless. Practicing the presence of Jesus in any and every situation can help bring peace to us in that situation. Perhaps it would help to pray in an unpeaceful situation something to the effect, “Bring your peace to me, Jesus.”

Peace may not be found in every situation but, through Christ, we can bring His peace to any situation! We can be a person of peace when we allow ourselves to be ruled by the Prince of Peace. This is better than a catnap among smiley faces!

Photovotional — Ripples of Influence

RippleThe accompanying photograph is of a drop of water falling into a swimming pool that’s lined with blue tile and white grouting. The tile and grouting create a graph design. Graphs are used to measure results. I took the picture with the specific intention of wanting to illustrate how influence is measurable, tangible, real.

Each of us is influential because we are in relationships and relationships cause ripples! We can’t live our lives without having a ripple effect on others. Each of us has a sphere of influence, people upon whose lives we have impact. It may be a large number of people or a small circle of people, but influence people we do. Some we have major influence on – a mate, a relative, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. We cause ripples in their lives day after day, week after week, year after year. We have a lesser influence on many others, but we can still help to make or ruin their day – the grocery bagger, the bank teller, the server in a restaurant.

It doesn’t take much to cause a ripple in a person’s life that keeps on rippling outward. Many of us can think of a statement someone made years ago, perhaps an offhanded comment, that has impacted our life ever since in either a good or negative way.

What kind of effect are we having on those within our sphere of influence? There’s an old song, titled “Make Me a Blessing” that was written in 1924. It goes like this:

Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
making the sorrowing glad.
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing –
out of my life may Jesus shine;
make me a blessing, O Savior; I pray,
make me a blessing to someone today.

The apostle Peter said of Jesus’ life that He “went around doing good…because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38) May God be with us as we go around doing good, having a positive ripple effect on those within our sphere of influence!

Photovotional — Half Empty Or Half Full?

GlassHalfEmptyIs the glass half empty or half full? Humorist George Carlin said, “Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” Daniel Tosh said, “Some say the glass is half empty, some say the glass is half full, I say, are you going to drink that?”

Ok, seriously now… It’s a familiar quote that reminds us there are two ways to look at life: the pessimistic view (the glass is half empty) and the optimistic view (the glass is half full).

Those of us who have intentionally entered into a relationship with God, making Him our top priority, should be “the glass is half full” kind of people. True, this is a fallen and messed up world and many aspects of life aren’t the way we’d have them be if we had anything to say about it. But it’s also true that God is on His throne, all the time. He’s in ultimate control, and, with God, good inevitably trumps evil. When we continue to fixate on what’s wrong we deny, or at least are distracted from seeing, the good God is up to.

Most of us know the story of God leading His people out of slavery in Egypt and that there were no adults (except for Joshua and Caleb) who made it through the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to see the Promised Land. Why? God tells them (and us) why. “In this wilderness your bodies will fall – every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.” (Numbers 14:29) Their terrible sin that kept them from seeing the Promised Land? Grumbling! Oh boy!

Being an optimistic person as over against being pessimistic isn’t a fool’s choice to ignore what’s wrong with life. Being an optimist is to be the natural response of being aware we’re in the continual presence of God.

But, I also find it helpful to regularly prompt myself to list those many things for which I can give thanks. This helps me focus on the glass being half full instead of half empty, and helps me move from grumbling to being grateful. I recommend it.

Photovotional — Racing the Sun

SundialTurnedSmallWe measure the passage of time in different ways by using mechanical time pieces, digital clocks, and the hour glass. But the sundial, it seems to me, is the most straightforward method of telling time, for it uses the movement of the sun itself.

Glance at the sun’s shadow, whether on a sundial or anywhere else it’s cast, and it seems stationary, but that’s because we don’t stare long enough. We’re like the hare in the story of the tortoise and hare where the race was won by the tortoise because the hare thought he had all the time in the world. We think the sun to be tortoise-slow, underestimating its relentless movement across the sky, and so we come to realize that in racing the sun we often lose.

The accompanying image of the sundial was photographed at the Toledo Botanical Garden. I don’t recall planning it that way, but did you notice I took the picture around the 11th hour?

One of my favorite singers, Neil Diamond, has a song, not one of his most famous songs, called Done too Soon. The lyrics list all kinds of people, from the past and the present, rapid fire. Then the song slows and Neil sings about how they‘ve all labored under the same sun and how that life, for all of them, was done too soon. I certainly can resonate with this tune about time, having just lost from this earth to heaven’s gain our five-year old grandson Danny. Life is often done too soon.

I’m thinking it’s good to live with a sense of the time being the 11thhour; it rarely works to our benefit to believe that we have all the time in the world. The psalmist Moses prayed a good prayer when he prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) Not to be outdone, the psalmist David prayed, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4)

We’ve each been parceled out an undisclosed number of days on this earth by our sovereign God. The psalmist David said as much when he prayed to God, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Most things that are precious on earth, like silver and gold, are precious because of their scarcity. Time is precious because in the vast scheme of things our time here on earth is very limited, a scarce commodity. Let’s cherish each moment of it!

Photovotional — Heaven’s Slide

SunbeamsSmall

This photo was taken on a foggy morning when I was walking along the edge of the soybean field behind our place. The sun was struggling to break through, and it did so several sunbeams at a time. I rushed back to the house to retrieve my camera, then back out to the bean field to capture the light show.

Sunbeams prompt me to think of heaven. They’re lighted pathways spanning heaven and earth. Or perhaps they’re silver slides enjoyed by playful angels.

We yearn for the transcendent. We instinctively know there’s more to life than buttering our toast, doing a load of wash, driving here, there, and back again, shuffling papers at a desk, cleaning a house that will be dirty and dusty again a week from now, or manufacturing something that will be in a landfill in twenty years. It’s not that the day-to-day details of life are unimportant, they aren’t. God has anointed them as part of what it means to be human on a daily basis. Still, we know there’s more, and, for me, sunbeams remind me that there’s more, far more.

It’s good, while we’re living the details of each day, to maintain a heavenly perspective, an eternal view. Like the child who glances at a parent from the sandbox or from the stage to see if the parent is paying attention, so we have a Heavenly Father who gives us His full attention. We can know we‘re part of His divine plans and that we have His mighty help. We‘re privileged to be able to pray the psalmist’s prayer, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

While we’re here on earth we’re to embrace all that God has for us to do. But in the doing of it we’re to never lose sight of heaven’s glorious perspective. Sunbeams are just one way God reminds us of this! “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6)

Photovotional — End of the Rainbow

RainbowEndSmallMy wife Diann and I were recently in Mexico visiting our daughter and her family. It was a difficult time because our five year old grandson Danny had just been through major open heart surgery to repair his heart that was missing a left ventricle. We were at Refuge Ranch, taking care of their other 17 children when we saw this rainbow. It was one of those rare times when it was close enough to see the end of the rainbow, within walking distance, just down the hill in the nearby small valley. Diann was wondering if we could experience being in the rainbow if we walked down there. I, being the one with the interest in such scientific things, said that likely not; we would not be at the proper angle to see the refraction of light that causes the rainbow.

“God is a God of promises,” Diann said in a soft, emotion-filled voice. I agreed. After the flood of Noah’s time God designated the rainbow as a sign and reminder of His promise to never again cause a world-wide catastrophic flood. In our case we didn’t take it to mean God was promising us that everything would come out well for Danny. We, however, did see the rainbow as a reminder that God is a God of many promises, and He keeps them! One of those promises — “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5)  I’ll be the first to confess that, though I believe this promise, I don’t always feel His presence in as vivid a way as I would like to, especially when I’m in the midst of a troubling situation. Oftentimes it’s only with 20/20 hindsight, when I get some distance from the situation, that I realize that the Lord was with me. (Note to self: remember that the Lord God is with me even when I don’t feel Him with me, because I will likely determine that He was, after the fact.)

Yes, we could have walked to the end of that rainbow, but we wouldn’t have felt it’s multicolored brilliance surrounding us. The presence of God is like that. It takes faith to believe that we are always living at the end of the rainbow of God’s presence!

Photovotional — “Merry Moments”

I photographed this lit lamppost decorated for Christmas, and it almost didn’t happen! Diann and I were driving home from church when I spotted the lamppost festooned in all of its Christmas glory. I had my camera with me but I drove past, anxious to get home, then had second thoughts. I interrupted our conversation and said to Diann, “I saw something I better photograph.” I turned around in the next driveway and went back.

The snow was falling lightly, as you can see in the photo. It stuck to the bow. There was a window of the house that came into the picture, blurred and in the background – perfect! I took several pictures, taking maybe five minutes. Then we were on our way again. I’m so glad I took the time to stop; it’s one of my favorite images I’ve taken this year!

The experience reminds me that we have to embrace the moment, even in this busy time of year when Christmas preparations cram our days, and nights sometimes too! We can be so busy trying to have a Merry Christmas that we miss the merry in the moment! The five minutes it took to take my picture of the Christmas lamppost was well worth it. I don’t want to miss something else God has for me. His gifts are found wrapped in moments I can easily overlook. I need to pause and unwrap them!

So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you.” (the teacher to his student in Proverbs 22:19)