Thursday, November 28, 2013


On this Thanksgiving Day in the United States, let me offer a thought (only one).
In the ministry of visiting the elderly (among others) that God has given to me in these days, there is a realization that has come to me.
Some of these older folks that I visit are in their 80’s, others in their 90’s and there are even two that are over 100. Most of them are still very sharp in their thinking, although at times some of them seem a bit confused (and who isn’t?). In visiting with them, I sometimes do most of the talking and they sit and listen. But sometimes it is I who does most of the sitting. I just listen to them talk about whatever is on their minds.
Do you know what they talk about more than any other thing? They do not usually talk about what they accomplished in life (or did not accomplish); they do not talk about dream houses that they had built for themselves or lands that they have acquired. All of these things hold very little significance for them.
What they talk about more than any other thing is people. They talk about their families; they talk about friends that they have known, students or teachers that they have had, besides many other people who in large and small ways had become part of their lives.

We know that houses and lands and riches will not last into eternity, but if we take the words of these octogenarians, these whatever-it-is-you-call-people-in-their-90’s, and these centenarians, all of these material things are not even important in this life. That which looms large in importance for these folks are the people that they have known and who have been part of their lives.
This Thanksgiving I give thanks for the people in my life. There are many. When I think of all the people who had a positive influence upon me in my childhood and growing-up years, all of the people with whom I have worked in many countries, and all of those who befriended me, it leads me into deep thanksgiving.
I know that many people that I have known in the past regularly read this blog, and if you are one who has befriended me in some corner of the world or here close to our home, I want you to know that I thank God for you! I have been enriched because of you!

Philippians 1:3-7 NAS
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart.
Happy Thanksgiving 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013


In the Genesis account of the creation of man, there are four words that describe God’s intentions for man’s responsibility to his environment. The first two of these words are found in Genesis 1:28 where God tells the man and the woman “…Subdue the earth and rule [have dominion] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The words here that have to do with man’s responsibility to the earth are to subdue it and to rule or have dominion over it. These are words can be construed as having a rather strong and even oppressive intention.

Subdue the Earth
The word subdue (kabash), for instance, is most used in Scripture as relating to the state of the nations who have lost in warfare. For instance, when the early Israelite nation was entering into Canaan, Joshua told them, “The hill country shall be yours…for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong.”
Indeed, the result of this warfare was that the land was “subdued” before the Israelites (Joshua 17:18-18:1). In most cases in the Bible, this is the sense of this word subdue. (See also 2 Samuel 8:10-11)

Have Dominion over the Creatures of the Earth
The word for rule or dominion (radaw) is much the same, although perhaps a little less stern. As an example, when God was later giving the Law to the Israelites, and in the case of an Israelite who may have become so poor that he would have had to sell himself into slavery, God told the one who may buy him, “You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God” (Leviticus 25:43 NAS). This ruling was not to be with a heavy hand.
In the Psalms it is sung of Jesus, “In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more. May he also rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72:7-8 NAS).
Here is dominion that brings peace to the earth.

These two words, subdue and rule, are the words used in the first chapter of Genesis to describe the relationship of man to all of the domain of the earth. At first blush, this may seem like it could be a rather strong-handed relationship.
But we need to read on.

In part one of this series on the 6th day we saw how the account of the creation of man was introduced in the first chapter of Genesis, and then expanded in the second chapter. It is much the same in this case.  As we move on to the second chapter of Genesis, we learn more of what man’s relationship is to be with the environment. Two different words are used.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 NAS)

Cultivate the Garden
The first of these words is cultivate. The Hebrew word here is ‘abad. The word in this particular verse is variously translated to dress the ground, or to till or work it. All of these terms are good words for this verse in Genesis, since the sense of the verse is that the man would be farming the ground.
However, of the more than three hundred times that this word ‘abad appears in the Old Testament, it is most usually translated as serve, or some form of that word. In fact, there is only eight or nine times when it is not. For this reason, I prefer the English word cultivate concerning the relationship that Adam was to have with the Garden on Eden.
Here is why I prefer this:
It is easy to see that our word cultivate is closely associated with the word agriculture. Indeed, they both come from the common Latin root colere (variation cultus.) This Latin word had two separate meanings which may seem unrelated to us, but which to the ancient Latin speaking people had a connection.
The first meaning has to do with the tilling of the ground and with agriculture as we know it. The second meaning for the word is to worship. As we see in the Genesis account, the tilling of the ground was one of the original occupations of man. This is why I have said in other places (perhaps with some bias), that farming is the most honorable of occupations. This is also why this word till also a good translation in the above verse.
However, there is another aspect to this, and it has to do with the inflection of serving, which is how this same word of Genesis is used in other parts of the Scripture.
The Spanish language has been derived more directly from Latin than has English. When I was first learning Spanish, I was a little surprised to learn that the worship service in the churches was called the culto. In North America, I was accustomed to hearing the word cult only in relationship to a religious organization or church that has deviated from the truth of the Gospel in some way.
However, like the words agriculture and cultivate, this Spanish word culto is also derived from the same Latin word colere, which has the alternative meaning of to worship. This is why Spanish speaking people call their worship service the culto (pronounced cool’tō, or something similar to that).
When God gave Adam the task of tilling the ground, it was more than an occupation. Adam was, in some ways, to serve the ground. It was the way in which the Lord intended man to worship God, by serving the creation which God had made.
In God’s original intent, we see true environmentalism. It is true that the earth was made for the good of the man and the woman and that they were free to utilize its resources. God told them to “Rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth…Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you” (Genesis 1:28-29 NAS).
However, the attitude in this dominion was not to be exploitation, but service. It is by taking care of our environment that we show worship to God.

Keep the Garden
The other word in this verse in Genesis 2 that has to do with man’s relationship with the garden is the word keep; Adam was also to keep the garden. This is not used in the sense that we would normally say that someone has a well-kept garden. This word is shamar, which means to hedge around (as with thorns), or to protect or guard.

We might ask; what threat was present at that time against which Adam had to protect the garden? The Garden of Eden, we have always thought, was a perfect environment. And so it was. There was no evil that was present there. However, there was evil lurking around the edges. It would eventually come to the garden. It did eventually come, we are told, using the form of a serpent.
We do not know specifically when God created the angels and the heavenly host. However, at the end of the sixth day, God looked at all that he had made and saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Thus, it seems that up to this point, Satan had not yet led the great demonic rebellion against God.
But soon-to-come rebellion was not a surprise to God. He knew that sin would become a threat to the garden environment. Thus God told Adam that one of his tasks was to protect and to guard the garden from the introduction of
evil. As we know now, this was a task at which Adam later failed. Satan did enter the garden and deceive the woman Eve into sin, after which Adam also sinned.

When we consider all of these four words in relation to man’s role in the earth, we can understand that when Adam sinned, it was not only the human race that was affected, but also all that was under his domain. This included all things on earth and even the earth itself. God’s original intent for man was that he should subdue the earth and to rule over it. Man was to cultivate and to keep it. This was to be his service to the Lord.
That is why the Apostle Paul writes of creation of being “subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it” (Romans 8:20 NAS).
But neither is this the end of the story. Again we need to read on:

“Creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 NAS).

In the end, we will see God’s original intent and assessment of his creation. We will look on it all and see that it is “very good.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013


A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Genesis 2:10).

In our reading of Genesis and of the account of the Garden of Eden, we learn about a river with some characteristics that are very unusual. In fact, there is no river today on the earth with such characteristics. This river of Eden, which originated within the garden, then flowed out of the garden and later divided to create four separate river systems.
This simply does not happen. In our experience, we see rivers that have their headwaters usually in the higher altitudes, and then begin their long journey to the ocean. On the way across the continents, they are joined by other rivers that have begun in other regions. These rivers all
The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole
merge to become one larger river. They are later joined by yet others, until they all become one very large river. The
Mississippi is a good example of this, as are large river systems in every continent.
On rare occasions, there are rivers that will divide and become two rivers. This is called bifurcation (two forks). The largest river on the planet where this occurs is on the Orinoco in Venezuela. The Orinoco is a huge river. It is so large that the fresh waters flowing out of the river into the Atlantic reduces the salinity of the water far out into the ocean. The outflow of the river is so great, that on his third journey, Christopher Columbus knew that he must be sailing toward a very large continent with a large river system instead of another of the small Caribbean islands.
Deep in the jungles of southern Venezuela, where the Orinoco originates, there is one spot where the river divides. One fork remains the River Orinoco, and the other river becomes the Rio Negro. The Rio Negro, in turn, joins in the normal fashion with the great Amazon River. Thus, in this case, one river divides to become part of two separate large river systems.
     When we lived in Venezuela, and when I was on a flight to Brazil, I once had the opportunity to fly over this region and believe that I saw this bifurcation of the Orinoco. I saw the point where the Rio Negro joined the Amazon.
But this phenomenon is extremely rare. What is more, in the case of the river of Eden, the river divided and became not two, but four rivers. Two of these rivers can still be identified as the Tigris and the Euphrates. The other two rivers, the Pishon and the Gihon are unknown to us today.

All of this is interesting to me, but of even more interest is the life giving nature of the River of Eden. The river seems to have had its source in the garden itself. It supplied water for the garden before flowing out of it and becoming the four separate rivers.
In our experience, rivers do not originate in this way. Large rivers require large watersheds. They begin small with many tributaries, and grow in volume when the tributaries join together.
The River of Eden rose within the garden itself. How it did this, we do not know. However, before God had prepared the garden, we are told that there was a mist that emerged from the land to water the face of the ground (Genesis 2:6). This is perhaps an indication that there was a large water source beneath the surface of the ground that bubbled out in an artesian springlike way and gave rise to the river of Eden. The river watered many the many trees of the garden. Among them was the Tree of Life.
We cannot be certain how this all was, but it makes me think of another river that we learn about in the Scriptures. Indeed, it is one of my favorite passages and one that I read every so often. I have even carved a stylized wooden motif of it that forms a part of the railing of my balcony upstairs in our house. The Scripture is found at the opposite end of the Bible from where we read of the river of Eden:

To explain this motif: There are twelve round
“fruits” on the tree, and the leaves for the
healing of the nations. The line down the
middle signifies the River of Life flowing
out of the roots of the tree. The river also
forms a cross – the Cross of Calvary

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb The river was flowing down the middle of the great street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)

Here again is a very unusual river. It appears in the new kingdom, when God will bring all things to completion and again to perfection. Like the River of Eden, this new River of Life does not have a large watershed to collect its waters. Rather, it rises from the very throne of God to water the trees along its bank.
     And what is the tree? It is the very Tree of Life that was once found in the Garden of Eden. Pure life and perfection will be restored!

Oh to drink from the crystal flow that comes from God’s own throne. 
Along its banks, a tree will grow – the tree of life in my new home. 
Oh, to lie in the shade of this tree; the nations, by its leaves will be healed.  (Revelation 22:1-2)
And its fruit will be life-giving to me, and to all that the Spirit has sealed.  (Ephesians 1:13)

(Excerpt from a poem I wrote years ago entitled, Foreign Shores – a poem for the road weary worker)

Monday, November 11, 2013


On the sixth day of creation, God created man and woman. The account of this is found in one of the first verses of the Bible. “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Of course there is no way that we are able to comprehend the depths of meaning of this verse. We cannot know all of the implications of the meaning of what it is to be created in the image of God. Any explanation that we can give of this phrase falls far short of an accurate portrayal of what God actually did. Besides this, we cannot do justice in describing the love and the dedication that God put into his creation of man.

Since there no possible way in which we are able to envision how the actual creation of the man and the woman occurred, we often put no thought at all into it. We fail to contemplate the astoundingly great marvel of this event.
However, it is good to put a few moments into attempting to understand God’s creative act. What was the way in which God created the first man and woman? How was it that the first humans came to be? Did they just pop into existence, like a genie out of a bottle?
Even though the description of creation given to us in Genesis is of necessity a brief one, the writer in some small ways tries to communicate some of the wonder of the event. After the summary of what happened in the six days of creation in chapter one of Genesis, he then focuses in on what happened in the sixth of these days. He expands a little on the creation of man and woman.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the writer of the book said that the man and the woman were created. Bible students know that the Hebrew word used here is bara’, which is usually (but not always) translated in the Bible as create.
          When God created the universe, I believe that he did so using no pre-existing material. He did not take some matter that was already in some state of existence and use it to make the galaxies, the stars and the planets. These things God simply spoke into existence by the power of his word. “He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). This was creation by the power of God’s word alone, ex nihilo, as it is some times said (out of nothing).
In our verse of Genesis 1:27, when we first read of the creation of the man and the woman, this word bara’ is also used. However, when the author of Genesis tells us about it in the second chapter, he does not use this word. Here is what he writes:

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NAS)

Here the word create is not used, but we read that God formed man. For those of you who are interested to know, the Hebrew word here is yatsar, and it is here that we begin to get a glimpse of the devotion that God poured into our creation.
This word is used numerous times in the Bible. Often it is used to describe God’s involvement with his people even while they were still in the wombs of their mothers. As Isaiah the prophet wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself’” (Isaiah 44:24 ESV).
In fact, Isaiah realized that God had called him to be his prophet before he was even born. He said that the Lord “Formed me from the womb to be his servant… for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV).
The prophet Jeremiah realized the same thing: “The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:4-5 NAS).
As we saw in our verse in Genesis, God did not create man ex nihilo, but instead used some material that God had already created. He used the dust of the ground. God formed man from the soil. This fact gave rise to a biblical metaphor which may even be a bit more than a figure of speech. These same two prophets especially drew on this thought.
Isaiah writes, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8 NAS).
God sent Jeremiah to go to a potter’s house so that he
could better learn from this example. Jeremiah watched the potter working on his potter’s wheel, slowly shaping the clay. As the potter worked, the form of the pot gradually began to emerge.
However, the potter was not satisfied with how the pot turned out. Perhaps something happened to the freshly made pot to make it unusable. Since the clay was still pliable, the potter reworked the pot, again shaping and forming the clay in his hands. He did this until he was happy with the result and the clay pot was exactly how he intended it to be.
The lesson for Jeremiah was that God is still at work with his people. God continues to shape and to form us. The forming for some of us may take considerable reworking, for we do things that make us unsatisfactory in some way. But God is patient. As long as we, the clay, are still pliable, God will continue to work with us.
That God created us is marvelous enough, But to me, the thought that he formed us is even more splendid. He continues to mold us into His image.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Today the chickadees returned to the birdfeeder that hangs in a maple tree near our house. For most people, this is not a real significant event, but to me it is. For me, the return of the chickadees to my birdfeeder officially marks the beginning of the winter season.
          No, it is not the first snowfall that reminds me that I should be ready for the cold months ahead; it is not winter solstice on the calendar. Rather, it is when the first chickadee returns from spending the summer in the forest and comes looking for the black sunflower seeds waiting for them in the birdfeeder.
I took this photo this morning
It looks like I shook the camera a little
(I was holding my cup of coffee at the same time)

I do not normally feed the birds in the summer. The song birds that fly in from the warmer, southern climates in the spring sometimes visit my birdfeeder while I am still putting out seeds, but I do not continue feeding the birds for long. In the spring and all through the summer, there is plenty of food for the birds to find in the wild. And in the autumn, seed-bearing time, there is certainly much for the birds to eat.
It is only in the first parts of November that I begin to put out the sunflower seeds for the birds to find. By this time, most song birds have abandoned our northern climate and have winged their way south in search of warmer weather and more food. The chickadees, however, have not left us. They have merely come in from the woods to see if there might be something to eat around our home.
The chickadee represents some of the best qualities needed to exist in the boreal woods. When the cold weather comes, the chickadee does not abandon our northern climate for some warmer place that is easier to endure. It does not find a hole in the ground to sleep away the winter. Rather, the chickadee continues to flit about the branches of our trees looking for little bits to eat. During the frigid nights, they will fluff up their feathers so that the little birds resemble soft, round Christmas tree balls perching in the conifers. Despite their miniature size and unassuming demeanor, the chickadee is truly a survivor.

It is interesting to me to see what animals various nations have chosen as their national symbols. Nations who think great things of themselves usually choose animals that represent strength or that invoke fear. The Russians have their bear, the Chinese their dragon. England has chosen the lion, even though the lion is not native to that land either in reality or in legend. The United States is usually represented by the majestic bald eagle, with its predator-shaped beak and piercing eyes.
When the United States was in its founding years, Benjamin Franklin noted that he would have preferred the turkey as a symbol of our nation rather than the eagle. He wrote in a letter to his daughter, “You may have seen him [the bald eagle] perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish…the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”
In contrast, Franklin wrote that “The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

If I would have had the chance to talk with the bi-spectacled Franklin, I would have suggested that perhaps the chickadee might instead be a good symbol for our new nation. Granted, in warfare, the sight of a banner emblazoned with a chickadee may not tend to strike fear into the hearts of the opponents, but little bird reminds us of some of the best qualities of nature. These are the qualities that help it adapt to changing situations and to make do with what is available.
The chickadee does not depend upon carrion in order to feed; it does not live on handouts. However, if someone is kind enough to give them a hand through the cold winter, they will gladly bring some joy to a bird feeder. And, unlike some birds, when coming to the birdfeeder, the chickadee will not sit and engorge itself, leaving a mess behind. Rather, the chickadee will take a single seed, flit off to a nearby branch of a tree, and enjoy a peaceful and simple meal.
We would all do well to learn these qualities from our little northern friend. It would all make us a healthier and happier nation. I am happy to see the chickadees return to my feeder and I look forward to a long winter with them.

This photo is actually from last winter
No snow yet this year. They say we may get some tonight


My small log home is in the woods up north
And upstairs, a little balcony.
It faces east, from where the sun comes forth,
But it’s shaded by a white pine tree.

In truth, so near the house the white pine grows
And its limbs grow so wide and so free,
That my balcony is, one could suppose,
Partially house and partially tree.

On frosty mornings I sit in my chair,
My mug of coffee warming my hands.
Its hot steam rising in the pre-dawn air,
I await the sun upon the land.

But not alone do I wait for the light,
In my nest on the branch of the tree.
I have company at that tree-limb height.
I am joined by four black-capped chickadees.

I have hung a birdfeeder for them there
And they enthusiastically come.
My friends don’t drink coffee (at least it’s rare),
Or I would gladly offer them some.

We have many birds in our summer trees,
But when fall comes they say with their song,
“We will be flying south now, if you please,
Your nights have grown too cold and too long.”

But my little friends, with their black-capped crests,
In our boreal days find their needs.
What a heart must beat in that tiny breast!
A dynamo fueled by sunflower seeds!

They may not sing of their enduring feats
By lusty song from top of a tree.
Their song is chickadee twitters and tweets
But their song sounds victorious to me!

So it is, as I await the sunrise,
I find myself in grand company.
They are grand indeed, despite their small size,
The Fellowship of my Balcony.