Our Love/Hate Relationship With Nature

???????????????????????????????Mary Helen champions the rights of squirrels. “Honey, just let them eat. They work so hard to get your bird seed.”

Unlike Mary Helen, I’m in constant conflict with our squirrels. Our aggressive squirrels, black and grey, repeatedly knock down the finch feeder, even though they’re not finches. Then there is the main feeder that I’d set up to feed our feathered friends: cardinals, nuthatches, rose-breasted grosbeaks, chickadees. The squirrels leapt from the deck the ten or twelve feet to the feeder where they proceeded to ???????????????????????????????empty it in spite of a circular squirrel baffle I’d installed so they couldn’t climb the pole. So I moved the pole three feet farther. No problem, the grey squirrels leapt the distance, knocking it to the ground and breaking the feeder.

This meant war. I went to the local hardware store and invested in a fancy squirrel proof feeder. True, the squirrels—so far—have not have not been able to get into the main storage area. But where I hung it from the eaves trough, they placidly clung to the wire grid and munched away. The store of seed quickly diminished. I decided to ???????????????????????????????go back to the drawing board.

So I designed what I thought was an ingenious way to keep the squirrels out of the seed: a pole with a round baffle to keep them from climbing and the feeder on a moveable arm so I could raise it high above the ground. After installation, I sat back and smiled at my ingenuity.

Lo and behold, within a few hours the grey squirrel found a way to leap onto the top of thiGrey squirrel on squirrel proof feeder?????????s new-fangled invention and munch away. How? I’ve no idea. Is it a magician?

And not satisfied to deplete the regular seed, both varieties of squirrels curl around the finch feeder and using their tiny tongues tease out the miniscule niger seed. I’ve obviously lost the war. Mary Helen tells me to give up and just admire their ingenuity and perseverance. “Doesn’t James say that the testing of your faith develops perseverance?” (James 1:3) Touche

What about chipmunks? Mary Helen loves them. “They’re so cute,” she says.???????????????????????????????

“But,” I reply, “They’re eating the coriander seed, the buds off flowers, and digging up the tulip bulbs. They also dig up peas and sunflower seeds as fast as I plant them. They even feast on half-ripe tomatoes!”

“But they’re so cute,” she repeats.

“True, they’re cute,” I admit. “But they do a lot more damage than garter snakes.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMary Helen’s attitude changes in an instant. “Snakes, I can’t stand snakes. You’ve got to kill them.”

“But they get rid of insects and other pests,” I reply. “And they’re harmless to us.”

“I don’t care. What if they come inside!”

Irrational, I think, but don’t say, as I admit defeat on all fronts.







We Need Wild Nature

Sugar MapleTall, mature trees almost completely encircle our property. Giant poplar, white pine, maple, oak, beech, hemlock and cedar. Purposely, we’ve left the underbrush beneath them to grow wild. Why? Partly, it’s a shortage of energy and resources to tame the wildness resident there. Mainly though, it’s a desire to live near something wild and natural.

True, our house is surrounded by lawn and gardens where we even have space to grow some vegetables. And, yes, I have made a pathway through the woods to the stream at the back of our property. So it’s not all wild. But it’s quiet, peaceful and private. The domain of squirrels and chipmunks and raccoons and wild turkeys and a host of birds. We have neighbours, but none are visible.

This year, as we lounge on our deck, we remark more than ever what a soothing??????????????????????????????? benediction it is to rest our eyes on the curtain of green that surrounds us. To listen to birds cavorting in and out of the branches. To let our eyes trace the trunk of an 80 foot tall white birch as it reaches for the sky. To watch the breeze make the trembling aspen dance. To hear the soft gurgle of our stream.

Most of us live in cities surrounded by concrete and skyscrapers or commute to and from suburbs filled with cookie-cutter houses crammed cheek by jowl. We’re busy rushing here and there. Our lives are scheduled to the max and full of noise. ??????????????????????We become captive to our computers and cell phones and gadgets. And it’s all good. It’s a convenient way to live and work.

But most of us feel the need from time to time to get away from it all. Summer is a great time to do that. To visit some place that is not imprisoned in concrete. To hike through meadows that have not surrendered to industrial farming. To sit on the shore of a lake and read a book. To climb a mountain. To hike a trail through wild forests. To dip our feet in the vast untamed ocean. To cruise down a great river.june-presquile-035

There is something rejuvenating about exposing ourselves to nature where it is relatively unspoiled by human schemes; closer to the way God created it. At least, that’s the way I see it.

In many ways, this has been a difficult year. We put our property up for sale last year. Fortunately, it didn’t sell. The Lord knew we needed a leafy sanctuary where we could see more clearly His creative hand and thus learn to trust him more.

???????????????????????????????So, why not use summer, or winter for that matter, to find a place where you can be more open to the message of God’s creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge”(Psalm 19:1,2). “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made”(Romans 1:20).






This Beautiful World-And The Next

???????????????????????????????Mary Helen and I often comment about the beauty spread around us. A stunning sunset. The changing array of wildflowers. The soft green of tree leaves whispering in the breeze. The birds that inhabit our world. Each species of bird has a distinct personality and dress. The friendly black-capped chickadees keep us entertained all year as they flit from feeder to forest. The robins scold us whenever we come near their nest.

But this year, more than any, we’ve been blessed by the unusual variety of ???????????????????????????????beautiful birds visiting our bird feeders. By hanging out orange slices, we’ve enticed a pair of the Baltimore orioles to nest nearby. Although very skittish, their stunning orange dress catches our eye whenever they raid the hummingbird feeder. Their chatter echoes from the woods.

The bright blaze of scarlet on the rose-breasted grosbeak and the deep blue of the tiny indigo bunting also arrest our ???????????????????????????????attention. And who does not delight in the brilliant yellow of the goldfinch. Occasionally we catch sight of a red cardinal whistling for its mate or visiting the feeder.

The astounding acrobatics of the hummingbirds entertain us from spring to fall. I’m sure evolutionists can find some reason for the iridescent patch on the male, but I just enjoy the beauty.

We’re not even in the tropics where gorgeous parrots flit through the rain forest ???????????????????????????????and orchids hang from the trees, but even here in a temperate zone, God has touched everything with His artistry. His handiwork is evident in rock crystals, sea creatures, cloud formations, birds, insects and flowers. Such astounding diversity!

If God continues to spread beauty around, in spite of our world being marred by the fall, how much more amazing will be the new heaven and the new earth? A day is coming when this old world will be destroyed. “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness”(2 Peter 3:13). That which has marred our Blue Jayworld— sin, pollution, war, thoughtless progress— will be purged from the new universe God will create. Beauty will shine forth without being diminished.

According to Scripture, the most beautiful element of all, besides God, is the beauty of holiness. “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness”(Psalm 29:2). And so, as we look forward to heaven, and ultimately a renewed earth, we can prepare ourselves by donning the qualities of a holy life so that we may worship God acceptably. (See Gal. 5:22,23) Without holiness we are unable to fully recognize the beauty of God reflected in His creation.

Since He is the source of all this beauty, we should not be surprised when we read in the Scriptures that His God-followers long “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”(Psalm 27:4). They recognized, as we should, that God Himself must be??????????????????????????????? beautiful beyond measure. Daniel, Ezekiel, and John, among others, caught glimpses of God’s splendor that left them stunned and speechless.

The beauty spread out around us should inspire us to give glory and praise to the Creator, and move us to don the robes of holiness He provides through His Son. We should also look forward to the beauties of heaven.







The Mysterious Power of Growing Things

???????????????????????????????Out for a walk recently, I noticed something startling. The path on which we trod had been recently paved. And there sticking up through the pavement were little plants; plants determined to force their way into the sunlight.

One wonders how soft plant material can possibly thrust itself through tough asphalt, but it does. The innate power of growing things is visible throughout our world. Trees growing out of temples in Cambodia. Oat grass reclaiming dunes in the Carolinas. Tree roots lifting concrete paving slabs in our cities. Living things in the natural world exhibit an incredible vigor.

Much more potent is the spiritual power of God as manifest in the transformation of sinners into followers of Jesus Christ. When I was converted by God as a 19 year old, my life began to change overnight. Swear words dropped??????????????????????????????? from my vocabulary. A concern for others began to slowly break up the hardness of my pervasive selfishness. Hope and faith began to chase away the clouds of gloom and discouragement that periodically engulfed me. As Jesus taught me his standards of right and wrong, I felt a compulsion to confess my stealing to a store manager where I’d pilfered some items. To this day, God continues to woo me to embrace change. Sometimes he has to shake me out of complacency.

The life-principle imparted by God transforms. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”(2 Cor. 5:17)! That life comes through Christ. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men”(John 1:34). Christ explains; “I am the way, the truth and the life”(John 14:6). The new life he imparts to a repentant sinner is potent with potential! “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full [abundantly]“(John 10:10). Nothing can resist the implanted power of new life in Christ. Drug addiction? No. Lust? No. The desire to control others, to abuse them, to steal from them? No. Fear of death? No.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout history and all over the world today the power of new life in Christ continues to transform people. Licentious Augustine became a godly bishop and gifted theologian. God moved C.S. Lewis from agnosticism to faith. And in our day, Muslim jihadis become loving disciples. Drug addicts break free from their habit. Hypocrites become sensitive and humble. Tribal men and women in Ethiopia joyfully cast off their fear of death and witch doctors. A cutthroat money trader becomes honest and generous in giving. A single mother bound in poverty and despair rises up with new faith in God’s ability to provide.

Living things reflect the Creator’s power to initiate change in humans. The change begins when we embrace the gospel and ends when we pass into heaven. Meanwhile, are you and I resisting or rejoicing in the flow of life eternal in us and through us? Are we open to positive change or resistant to the alteration of our lives, as the Spirit works to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ?

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Spring Reminds Me to Celebrate Youth

In the spring we gaze in awe at the flush of new growth we see all around us. The reviving trees paint the whole countryside with a coat of vibrant, light green. Basswood spring leavesHow to describe this astounding colour? Is it lime green? Not quite. Emerald green; closer but not as dark. Sea green may be closer still. Perhaps bottle green? Whatever the technical term might be, we love how the Creator decorates the hillsides with a thousand subtle shades of spring green. So fresh. So alive.

It reminds us of the vibrancy of young life. The wonder we feel at the birth of a new baby. The energy and excitement of a child. The awesome potential of a young person with his or her whole life ahead. It’s wonderful to celebrate along with youth the hope and dreams they feel.

Many of us older folks remain vibrant and hopeful but sometimes our aches and pains and sorrows make us somewhat jaded and world-weary. Admittedly, there are children who are obnoxious and young people who have a dark and hopeless view of life. But ???????????????????????????????too often we find unnecessary fault with the antics of a child, the perceived carelessness of a teenager, or the brash self-confidence of a twenty-something. Could our irritation be rooted in envy? Or perhaps nostalgia?

Older and younger, we need each other to achieve balance in life. Sadly, the modern breakup of families has left many of us without any positive experience of the warmth of an extended family; children, parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins. We segregate everyone into age brackets: Gen X, Baby Boomers, Millennials, and so on. It may help marketers but it’s not healthy.

Every year has a spring, summer, fall and winter and every human needs connection with people of every age and experience. Pers???????????????????????????????onally, I don’t find living in a senior’s ghetto attractive at all. (To some it may be just what they need.) But most of us seniors need to rub shoulders with children and young people—and they need us older folks. Perhaps some of their joie de vivre will rub off on us and some of our wisdom on them. Perhaps we’ll become more tolerant, better adjusted, less jaded and gloomy. Didn’t Jesus rebuke the disciples for hindering children from coming to him?

Sometimes Life Is Like A Swamp

Sometimes life is like a swamp: boggy, muddy, wet, full of biting insects. Can any good come out of these times of distress?

??????????????????????Swamps may appear pretty in the spring when clothed in marsh marigolds. But many consider swamps as useless land, good for nothing. And so, for centuries we have been draining swamps and bogs to create more tillable land or to enable buildings to be erected. Millions and millions of acres have been reclaimed to gratify our human view of progress. For example, the Florida Everglades have been reduced from eight million acres to just two million.

Like much else in our created world we have failed to understand the importance of conservation. In this case, in losing wetlands, we lose their incredible capacity to act as sponges filtering out harmful pollutants. We also lose their effect in absorbing flood waters. And so we harm ourselves.

We also disrupt the balance of creation by destroying the habitat for algae, zooplankton and all the higher creatures that feed on them. Wetlands create OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAan ideal environment for a host of creatures from snails to salamanders, frogs and lizards. Swamps create an ideal home for many birds and mammals: herons, ospreys, rabbits, otters, bobcats, deer, beavers, raccoons, and black bears.

Admittedly, swamps also harbor insects such as mosquitoes…but these feed a wealth of birds as well as annoy us.

Swamps can be viewed as a metaphor for difficult times in our lives. We’re journeying through sunlit fields of ripening grain, singing as we hike along shady forest paths and then suddenly we plunge ??????????????????????into a swamp. The ooze sucks at our shoes. Mosquitoes feast on our face and necks. A snake slithers across our boggy path.

Life has been good. We’re healthy and strong. Our children act like cherubs. Our pay cheque swells. We holiday in Rome and Venice. Friends multiply. Then suddenly the climate changes.

A child falls sick with a life-threatening illness. We are demoted at work. The catalytic converter on our car needs to be replaced. The washing machine packs it in. We develop headaches. Sleep eludes us at night. The doctor is mystified. The chiropractor can’t help.

Why Lord? Why so much all at once? What have we done to merit a swampy experience? The whys reverberate in our minds. The heavens are as brass. Silence from above. We suffer anguish without understanding purpose or cause.
We may need to remind ourselves that, like swamps, there may be a myriad of good effects hidden from our superficial sight.???????????????????????????????

Painful swamp experiences bring to the surface the pollutants that lurk unacknowledged in our characters: impatience, arrogance, doubt, laziness, aimlessness, tenuous grasp of God’s purposes, and self-confidence in place of trust in the Master. Trials and suffering give us a chance to acknowledge our terrible flaws and sins and bring them to the only one who can forgive and heal us.

Swamp experiences teach us to empathize with others in similar circumstances. God is the one “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God”(2 Cor. 1:4).

???????????????????????????????Swamp experiences, if we bow to Christ in submission, give the Holy Spirit opportunity to reform our character into the image of Christ. Out of bad, even evil, He makes a host of good to arise. “We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us”(Romans 5:3-5).

But Lord, we are frail. Help us to remember you are always with us and help us to be a blessing to others for your glory.

Being A Refresher

For some time now I’ve been wondering what Onesiphorus did that refreshed ???????????????????????????????Paul. Writing from prison, Paul asked the Lord to “show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains….He searched hard for me until he found me…You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus”(2 Tim. 1:16-18).

Whatever Onesiphorus did, it had to be important or else Paul wouldn’t have mentioned it. Refresh means to invigorate, re-energize or revive. Maybe he took Paul a good meal, or clean clothes, or ointment for the sores caused by the chains he had to wear.

I don’t really know whether he did any of these things but I do know that he OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmade up his mind to do something for Paul. He sought him out; he wasn’t embarrassed to visit him in prison and while there he brought blessing into Paul’s life.

I’m thinking that he must have revived his spirit perhaps by bringing news of the spiritual fruit evident in the Philippian Church. Perhaps he shared some comforting spiritual truths. Possibly, he had listened to Paul’s teaching then spent time praying with him. Being present obviously meant much to the apostle. Somehow Onesiphorus let Paul know he cared. Since the word often is used, he must have frequently contributed to reinvigorating Paul’s spirit.

???????????????????????????????Other people have often refreshed me. One friend used to arrive at our door from time to time with a single red rose. Another friend used the phone to express her concern about how I was doing. Still another used to interrupt our phone conversations by saying, Let’s just take this to the Lord in prayer. Refreshers—how wonderful they are!

It’s good to be on the receiving end. But I ask myself, Am I a refresher, an Onesiphorus, or do I depress others? And so I pray, Father, even from my rocking chair I want to be used to refresh your children. (From Mary Helen’s rocking chair.)