Category  |  Christianity & Culture

Seeing Masterpieces

My father creates custom quivers designed for archers to carry their arrows. He carves elaborate wildlife pictures into pieces of genuine leather, before stitching the material together.

During a visit, I watched him construct one of his works of art. His careful hands applied just the right pressure as he pressed a sharp blade into the supple leather, creating various textures. Then he dipped a rag into crimson dye and covered the leather with even strokes, magnifying the beauty of his creation.

As I admired my dad’s confident craftsmanship, I realized how often I fail to acknowledge and appreciate my heavenly Father’s creativity manifested in others and even in myself. Reflecting on the Lord’s magnificent workmanship, I recalled King David’s affirmation that God creates our “inmost being” and that we’re “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13).

We can praise our Creator in confidence because we know His “works are wonderful” (v. 14). And we can be encouraged to respect ourselves and others more, especially when we remember that the Maker of the Universe knew us inside and out and planned our days “before one of them came to be” (vv. 15–16).

Like the pliable leather carved by my father’s skilled hands, we are each beautiful and valuable simply because we are God’s one-of-a-kind creations. Each one of us, intentionally designed to be unique and purposed as God’s beloved masterpieces, contributes to reflect God’s magnificence.

Multiplied Generosity

Cheryl was in for a surprise as she pulled up to deliver her next pizza. Expecting to arrive at a home, she instead found herself outside a church. Cheryl confusedly carried the pepperoni pizza inside, where she was met by the pastor.

“Is it fair to say life hasn’t been easy for you?” the pastor asked her. Cheryl agreed it hadn’t. With that, he brought out two offering plates that church members had filled with money. The pastor then poured over $750 into Cheryl’s delivery bag as a tip! Unbeknown to Cheryl, the pastor had asked the pizza shop to send their most financially strapped driver over. Cheryl was stunned. She could now pay some bills.

 When the first Christians in Jerusalem faced poverty, it was a church that rushed to their aid. Though in need themselves, the Macedonian Christians gave sacrificially, considering it a privilege to do so (2 Cor. 8:1–4). Paul cited their generosity as an example for the Corinthians, and us, to follow. When we use our plenty to supply another’s need, we reflect Jesus, who gave away His riches to meet our own spiritual poverty (8:9, 14).

Cheryl told all her customers about the church’s kindness that day, and, following its example, donated the rest of the day’s tips to others in need. An act of generosity multiplied. And Christ was glorified.

The Good Earth

While orbiting the moon in 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders described the crew’s close-up view of the moonscape. He called it “a foreboding horizon . . . a stark and unappetizing-looking place.” Then the crew took turns reading to a watching world from Genesis 1:1–10. After Commander Frank Borman finished verse 10, “And God saw that it was good,” he signed off with, “God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

The opening chapter of the Bible insists on two facts:

Creation is God’s work. The phrase “and God said . . .” beats in cadence all the way through the chapter. The entire magnificent world we live in is the product of His creative work. All that follows in the Bible reinforces the message of Genesis 1: Behind all of history, there is God

Creation is good. Another sentence tolls softly, like a bell, throughout this chapter. “And God saw that it was good.” Much has changed since that first moment of creation. Genesis 1 describes the world as God wanted it, before any spoiling. Whatever beauty we sense in nature today is a faint echo of the pristine state God created.

The Apollo 8 astronauts saw Earth as a brightly colored ball hanging alone in space. It looked at once awesomely beautiful and fragile. It looked like the view from Genesis 1.

God Provides

One snap of the shutter, and there it was . . . one beautiful moment captured in time for eternity. The late summer sun reflected in the breaking wave made the water look like liquid gold splashing onto the shore. If my friend had not been there with his camera, the wave would have gone unnoticed, like so many others that have come and gone, seen only by God.

Who can imagine how many waves Lake Michigan has sent rolling onto the shoreline? Yet each one is unique. As seen in every wave, God makes extravagant beauty out of seemingly mundane things. Using water and air, He makes wondrous works of art. We enjoy His gallery in skies above and on earth and sea below. But most of earth’s beauty remains invisible to us; it is seen only by God.

God uses another gallery to display His glory—humans. We too are made out of something ordinary—dust (Gen. 2:7). But to us He added an extraordinary ingredient—His very own breath (v. 7). Like waves of the sea and flowers of the field (Isa. 40:6), our lives are brief and seen by few. Yet each one is a beautiful “moment” created by God to say to the world, “Behold, your God!” whose Word will last forever (v. 8). 

Creation Care

The “big browns” are spawning in the Owyhee River—brown trout beginning their fall nesting ritual. You can see them excavating their nests in the gravelly shallows.

Wise fishermen know that fish are spawning and try not to disturb them. They avoid walking on gravel bars where they might trample the eggs, or wading upstream from the nests where they might dislodge debris that can smother them. And they don’t fish for these trout, though it’s tempting to do so as they rest near their nests.

These precautions are part of an ethic that governs responsible fishing. But there is a deeper and a better cause.

The Scriptures stress the fact that God has given us the earth (Gen. 1:28–30). It is ours to use, but, as the old angler Izaak Walton put it, “We must use it as those who love it.”

I muse on the work of God’s hands: a partridge calling across a canyon, a bull elk bugling up a fight, a herd of antelope far off in the distance, a brook trout and its kaleidoscopic rose moles, a mother otter playing in a stream with her pups—I love all these things, for they have been given to me for my delight, out of my Father’s great love.

And what I love, I protect.

Paying Attention

John Newton wrote, “If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving it another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things; but I will not neglect this.”

These days, it’s not hard to find someone in need of comfort: A care-worn cashier in a grocery store working a second job to make ends meet; a refugee longing for home; a single mother whose flood of worries has washed away her hope; a lonely old man who fears he has outlived his usefulness.

But what are we to do? “Blessed is he who considers the poor,” wrote David (Ps. 41:1 nkjv). Even if we can’t alleviate the poverty of those we meet along the way we can consider them—a verb that means “to pay attention.”

We can let people know we care. We can treat them with courtesy and respect, though they may be testy or tiresome. We can listen with interest to their stories. And we can pray for them or with them—the most helpful and healing act of all.

Remember the old paradox Jesus gave us when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paying attention pays off, for we're happiest when we give ourselves away. Consider the poor.

The Gift of Giving

A pastor breathed life into the phrase “He’d give you the shirt off his back” when he gave this unsettling challenge to his church: “What would happen if we took the coats off our backs and gave them to the needy?” Then he took his own coat and laid it at the front of the church. Dozens of others followed his example. This was during the winter, so the trip home was surely less comfortable that day. But for dozens of people in need, the season warmed up just a bit that day.

When John the Baptist roamed the Judean wilderness, he had a stern warning for the crowd that came to hear him. “You brood of vipers!” he said. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7–8). Startled, they asked him, “What should we do then?” He responded with this advice: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (vv. 10–11). True repentance produces a generous heart.

Because “God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (NLT), giving should never be guilt-based or coercive (2 Cor. 9:7). But when we give liberally, we find that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

Kossi’s Courage

As he awaited his baptism in Togo’s Mono River, Kossi stooped to pick up a worn wooden carving. His family had worshiped the object for generations. Now they watched as he tossed the grotesque figure into a fire prepared for the occasion. No longer would their choicest chickens be sacrificed to this god.

In the West, most Christians think of idols as metaphors for what they put in place of God. In Togo, West Africa, idols represent literal gods that must be appeased with sacrifice. Idol burning and baptism make a courageous statement about a new believer’s allegiance to the one true God.

As an eight-year-old, King Josiah came to power in an idol-worshiping, sex-obsessed culture. His father and grandfather had been two of the worst kings in all of Judah’s sordid history. Then the high priest discovered the book of the law. When the young king heard its words, he took them to heart (2 Kings 22:8–13). Josiah destroyed the pagan altars, burned the vile items dedicated to the goddess Asherah, and stopped the ritual prostitution (ch. 23). In place of these practices, he celebrated the Passover (23:21–23).

Whenever we look for answers apart from God—consciously or subconsciously—we pursue a false god. We do well to ask ourselves: What idols, literal or figurative, do we need to throw on the fire?

Look What Jesus Has Done

The little boy was only eight when he announced to his parents’ friend Wally, “I love Jesus and want to serve God overseas someday.” During the next ten years or so, Wally prayed for him as he watched him grow up. When this young man later applied with a mission agency to go to Mali, Wally told him, “It’s about time! When…