Beauty in Unexpected Places

Burl on Tree Trunk.
Image by Evelyn Simak, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-2.0

Sometimes there can be magic hidden within the most unlikely of places.

Take tree burls, for instance (or burrs, to our British friends).

These rounded, knotty growths found on tree trunks can seem very ugly.

Burls form when the tree is under some kind of stress, causing bud growth cells to develop in an abnormal way. Such stressors might include bacteria, viruses, fungi, insect infestations, or wounds. A burl is visible evidence of how the tree is dealing with these attacks.

They look rather like tumours, and mar the otherwise regular pattern of the bark.

Surely there’s nothing good about burls?

But there is.

Their unsightly exterior hides magnificence.

Few people know that inside these contorted and gnarled outgrowths is concealed something wonderful. The wood that burls yield is unusual and highly figured, making it valued and sought after by woodworkers and artists.

This unique wood is prized for its beauty and rarity, and is often used for veneers or inlays in fine furniture, trim or panelling inside luxury cars, and for household objects like bowls or pens, which become works of art.

Do you have a few “burls” in your life? Some knotty problems that have grown into a tangled mess?

Wonder if God could ever bring something good out of them?

He can!

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Ultimate Victory Is Coming

Pont de la Concorde, Paris. Image by David Mark from Pixabay

If you’ve ever been to Paris, you’ll know that many of its bridges have a story to tell.

The Pont de la Concorde is no exception.

This stone-arch bridge across the River Seine connects the Place de la Concorde with the National Assembly.

Construction of the bridge started during the late 1700s and continued even during the turmoil of the French Revolution. It was completed in 1791.

Interestingly, some of the stones used for the Pont de la Concorde were sourced from the rubble of the demolished Bastille prison. The bridge’s architect, Rudolph Perronet, said this was “so that the people could forever trample the old fortress.”

Today you can traverse this bridge and trample under your own feet the stones from the once-feared stronghold which imprisoned so many.

It’s a satisfying feeling to show your contempt for something vile by actually stomping on it, isn’t it?

Scripture tells us that Jesus will do something similar:

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Everyone Loves a Winner

Image by 7721622 from Pixabay

A funny thing happens in a city when one of its sports teams reaches the playoffs or finals.

Suddenly, everyone becomes a fan.

This is especially true if that team has suffered a trophy or title drought for a considerable length of time, perhaps decades.

The team’s fortunes become a topic of conversation everywhere in town. People talk about their team’s success while at work, in stores, or on transit. They speak with authority about the merits of certain players, or even about specific shots in particular games.

On any given day, people in town know exactly where their team stands, and how many games they need to win to achieve the championship title for that year.

My hometown of Toronto experienced this in 2019 when the Raptors won their first NBA title in the franchise’s history. Their victory was celebrated with a massive parade downtown, attended by millions.

I had friends who gushed about the Raptors’ success, then grinned sheepishly and admitted, “And I don’t even like basketball!”

Everyone loves a winner, don’t they?

But what happens when your team doesn’t produce the victory everyone is hoping for?

Jesus could tell us a thing or two about that.

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Behind Enemy Lines

Image by Defence-Imagery from Pixabay

We all love stories of rescues from behind enemy lines, don’t we?

There’s something thrilling about the courage of soldiers who risk their lives penetrating hostile territory for the sole aim of retrieving a fellow soldier who is trapped there.

Perhaps you’ve seen movies like “Behind Enemy Lines” or “Saving Private Ryan,” both of which feature storylines of military units launching search and rescue missions into enemy territory to retrieve one of their own soldiers.

We admire the willingness of soldiers to potentially sacrifice their own lives to save another’s. They deserve our utmost respect.

But did you know that God goes “behind enemy lines” to save people, too?

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Your “Spring” Is On Its Way!

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

A beautiful red cardinal has been singing heartily outside my window the past week, as though it’s already spring.

My hibiscus houseplant has broken its winter dormancy and is putting forth flower buds.

But there’s still snow on the ground, and there’s bound to be more snow coming. This is Canada, after all, and it’s only March. It’s still cold enough outside to need a winter coat.

Doesn’t seem like spring to me.

Do the cardinal and the hibiscus know something I don’t?

In fact, they do. They sense the lengthening of the day and the increased hours of sunlight, things that have escaped my notice.

They know that spring is on its way, even if I can’t see it coming just yet.

In the same way, God knows a thing or two that we don’t.

He knows when a turnaround in our situation on its way, even if we can’t see any evidence of a change in the offing.

He knows that our “spring” is coming.

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Sounds Like Paradise

Image of New Zealand by Lars_Nissen from Pixabay

Right now, living in countries like New Zealand sounds like a sort of paradise to the rest of the world.

Some island nations have been able to beat back the novel coronavirus to the point where life is almost back to normal.

People in those countries can once again attend concerts, go out to restaurants or to church, return to their workplaces, and hug their friends and family.

They can pretty much go about their pre-pandemic lives.

For those of us living in countries still battling second or third waves of COVID-19, life in places like New Zealand seems like a dream.

We hope that one day maybe life will be like that for us, too: we long for a world where there are no more restrictions, suffering or death due to COVID-19.

In essence, we all yearn for a release from “bondage,” don’t we?

But even when we’ve been able to put the novel coronavirus in the rear-view mirror, this ache for freedom won’t quite go away.

Why?

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Your Past Doesn’t Determine Your Future

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

If you’ve ever invested in stocks or mutual funds, you’ll probably have come across a disclaimer like this:

“Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.”

This phrase is meant to warn us and give us pause before we press the “Buy” button. We shouldn’t assume that an investment will continue to succeed in the future just because it’s done so in the past.

But there’s a secondary meaning that can be read into that disclaimer, too.

We shouldn’t discount or overlook an investment opportunity simply because it has performed poorly recently. It could well turn around and gain ground.

It’s this last meaning of the disclaimer that we see exemplified in several characters in the Bible. It applies to our own lives as well:

Past failures in our lives don’t mean that God can’t still use us.

They’re not a reliable indicator of our future results or success.

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Faster Than The Speed of Light

Artist’s concept of Mars Perseverance Rover, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Last week, NASA’s science rover “Perseverance” landed successfully on Mars, to jubilant cheers from scientists back home.

Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab near Los Angeles had been waiting anxiously for confirmation that the craft had landed safely.

Because it takes radio waves 11 minutes to reach Earth from Mars, “Perseverance” had already settled on the surface of the Red Planet by the time news of its safe arrival reached scientists back on Earth. NASA had to endure a nerve-wracking wait before they got the verification.

We encounter this time lag throughout our universe.

The light from our own Sun takes 8 minutes to reach Earth. Light from Pluto takes 5 hours. It takes 8 years for the light from the “Dog Star” Sirius to reach our planet.

This time lag means that with stars extremely distant from us, we’re actually seeing them now as they were thousands of years ago. It takes that long for their light to travel to us.

It sometimes seems as though there’s a similar “time lag” between our brains and our hearts.

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A Series of Fortunate Events

Image by Susann Mielke from Pixabay

Sometimes it takes a bit of time before we can tell if an event will turn out to be good or bad for us.

Take the famous Chinese proverb about Sai Weng losing his horse. The story goes like this:

Sai Weng, a old farmer, raised horses for a living. One day, his prized stallion ran away. His neighbours comforted him in his misfortune by saying, “What terrible luck!”

Sai Weng merely replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later, the stallion returned, bringing with it several wild mares. The farmer’s neighbours congratulated him on his good fortune: “What wonderful luck!”

Again, Sai Weng only said, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

One day, Sai Weng’s son tried to ride one of the new mares, but was thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbours again commiserated with the farmer, saying, “What bad luck!”

Sai Weng once again replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later, soldiers from the national army came through town, conscripting all able-bodied men for service in the war. The farmer’s son was spared, however, because he was still recovering from his broken leg. The neighbours said, “What great luck!”

Sai Weng simply said with a smile, “We’ll see.”

We often can’t judge whether an event in an of itself is fortunate or unfortunate. Sometimes only time will tell the whole story.

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The Essential Ingredient

Perhaps this pizza slice is slightly overcooked?
Photo by Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-3.0

Have you ever cooked a dish which turned out to be plainly inedible, or even downright dangerous to consume?

It can happen to the best of us, as these examples prove:

A grandmother with failing eyesight accidentally grabbed a bottle of ammonia instead of vinegar when making potato salad for her family. They started gagging at the mere smell of it, which fortunately prevented anyone from eating it!

An 18-year-old living on his own for the first time wanted to make fried rice. He poured some oil into a very hot pan, then dumped in a bunch of uncooked rice. Needless to say, the burned mess had to be thrown out.

Another young person forgot to add water when cooking packaged ramen noodles. I guess cooking isn’t for everyone!

Did you know that a cooking fail even happened in the Bible?

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