berries, cherries and bears, oh my

“Haven’t you ever thought of living
unconsciously like bears, sniffing the earth,
close to pears and the mossy dark,
far from human voices and fire?

Nâzım Hikmet Ran


(a mama bear and her cub perch high in the wild cherry trees / Julie Cook / Cades Cove, TN / 2018)

Some folks would say it’s the sign of an impending cold winter…
What with the numbers of bears we’ve seen in just a two-day span, gorging themselves
on berries and apparently the prolific wild cherries that grow plentiful in the
Smokey Mountains.

Twelve bears and counting.

An amazing feat really given that we’ve been coming to this area on and off now for 35
years and have seen maybe a total of 5 bears over the course of that time—
and those were just at a glance here or there.

Today we ran into 5 more bears with one almost literally running into me.
We were actually walking through a field along the woodline, walking away from one of
the few remaining original cabins in Cades Cove when my husband turned to say something to me
yet he could only muster that single word again, BEAR!!

I turned just in time to see a small black bear right behind me before he kindly bolted
into the woods.

Next, as we were exiting out of the cove we saw a mom and cub perched high in the wild
cherry trees enjoying a late brunch.

Then later in the evening, on one final drive through the cove,
we came upon another young bear eating fast and furiously…


(all bears seen in Cades Cove / Julie Cook / 2018)

Not knowing when I’ll make it back this way, as it’s been about 5 years since our last trip,
I savor these moments.
Breathing in deeply, holding it as long as possible before slowly exhaling.

These snippets, these glimpses of things that are truly greater than our hurly-burly
hectic ant-like lives…
lives spent hurrying here and there as we always seem oh so preoccupied and
tremendously busy…I consider these moments, these gifts of time, one of the
greatest privileges offered.

Being able to see animals in their natural habitat, in a place that is stopped in time,
doing what they do best…simply living and being the wild animals that they are…
is a gift…a gift offered by the Creator to one of the created…

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him
and for him.

Colossians 1:16

live to see another day

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
Voltaire


(a young bear scales the tip top of the trees in Cades Cove / Julie Cook / 2018)

We’ve come up to Tennessee, to Cades Cove for a couple of days.
It is by far one of my most favorite places on earth…as I have seen some mighty grand and
lovely places on this planet. But Cades Cove is special.

I’ve written about Cades Cove before so I won’t go into all of that all over again
but just know that it remains a small remnant of who and what settled this great
land of ours.

Today in the Cove (an 11-mile one-way loop around what was once an early 19th-century
mountain valley settlement and centuries-old Indian territory)
we actually came upon two bears climbing like nimble footed acrobats
to the tip-top branches of the trees…
there were berries.

Cars had stopped as everyone got out, careening necks upward while staring in amazement,
watching these two big black bears acting more like squirrels.

As the day waned, we made our way back to the cabin where we were staying and
decided to go hike some of the nearby trails.
We had been told upon check-in that there was a bear on the property so just be
vigilant when out and about.

Making our way up a narrow trail, my husband leading the way with his long spider stick
waving precariously in front of him like some sort of crazy conductor’s baton
(a stick or twig used to knock down all the webs that are prolific this time of year)
all the while as I lagged slightly behind with my camera snapping pictures of the various
mushrooms and toadstools and yes, spider webs…

Suddenly my husband stops dead in his tracks and urgently announces BEAR.

I freeze.

About 20 feet in front of us, at the bend in the trail, lumbers a very large mother
black bear with two tiny cubs in tow.

I threw my camera up as fast as I thought I had life left to do so in order to snap a shot,
a shot I didn’t even have time to focus, when mom and babies nonchalantly kept
walking around the curve in the path….
all the while as we prayed she wouldn’t turn and charge at us.

We just stood there as she rounded the turn and disappeared.
Then boldly, or brazenly I’m not sure which, we opted to take a few steps forward just
to see which way they were headed when suddenly one of the cubs pops back around
the corner to take a gander at us before he circles back to mom.

At which point we turned and took another trail.

Once back down to the main road we spied a maintenance worker who we decided should
hear our report of seeing a mama bear with cubs on the retreat’s property.

He casually replies “yeah…they’ve been around awhile, best to keep your distance
but that’s nothing…
two weeks ago I was standing right over there when a mountain lion came
out of nowhere and crossed the path right in front of me…
but these darn spiders…now they’re what really bothers me”

We opted to leave him our spider stick for protection.

The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,

Isaiah 43:20

Operation

“To convert somebody,
go and take them by the hand and guide them.”

St. Thomas Aquinas


(one of my favorite games as a kid in the early 1960’s was Operation by Milton Bradely)

Yesterday my post centered on ailing…
ailing as in being sick and in turn needing a doctor…
I found today’s quote, offered below by Fr Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure,
most timely.

The ailment I was speaking of is actually the condition afflicting most of us as spiritual beings.
And as I noted, we are in desperate need of a doctor…with that doctor
being the Great Physician.

And we must know that this Great Physician has offered each of us the cure…

A cure found in the form of Salvation through the blood of His son Jesus Christ.
And yet oddly, or sadly depending on who you ask, many who are sick care not nor want or
even understand that they are in need of the Physician let alone a cure…

And even if we were aware, many have simply chosen to rewrite the prescription in order for
it to be more applicable to the desires of living life our own kind of way.

When a person who is sick is offered a prescription of medicine, and if taken correctly,
the medicine will offer a cure…why then would that sick person play fast and loose
with the dosage or even opt not to take the medicine at all…???
as it appears that they are assuming that they know more than the doctor knows.

When I was a kid, I loved the game Operation.

I loved it because I could play it with a friend or even better, I could play it alone…
while practicing my “skills”—that way I could mess up as much as it took to finally
get good enough to remove the parts without any repercussion.

I could play it for hours as I’d work on removing those things
the patient would need removing…
The winning of the game went to the person who could remove all the necessary parts, using the
special tweezers, without touching the metal sides of the opening, causing a buzzing sound.

I’d hear that buzz and think “uh oh, I’ve just let my patient perish on my operating table.”

After all my practicing, I imagined my skills to be so good that when I grew up,
I could indeed be a surgeon.

Little did my young mind comprehend that being a doctor and a surgeon would require
a great deal more than using a pair of electrified tweezers to remove a tiny plastic
piece of bread or the equally tiny little-broken heart…
the one piece that really would test my skills.

And so when I read the quote offered today by the good father, I found it rather timely
with my thoughts from yesterday.

The good father reminds us that when we are diagnosed with something rather serious
and are offered a procedure that promises to make us better… or say that it’s not even a promise
but a hope that it might make us better…we put life and limb
on the line by trusting the doctor and allowing him or her to cut us open.

And yet we are not willing to allow the Great Physician to bring us healing.

And the thing is… His healing is a guarantee.

We trust ourselves to a doctor because we suppose he knows his business.
He orders an operation which involves cutting away part of our body and we accept it.
We are grateful to him and pay him a large fee because we judge he would not act as he
does unless the remedy were necessary, and we must rely on his skill.
Yet we are unwilling to treat God in the same way!
It looks as if we do not trust His wisdom and are afraid He cannot do His job properly.
We allow ourselves to be operated on by a man who may easily make a mistake—-
a mistake which may cost us our life—-
and protest when God sets to work on us.
If we could see all He sees we would unhesitatingly wish all He wishes.”

Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure,
An Excerpt From
Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence
p. 90

ailing?

“Sin separates us from the presence of God”
David Fiorazo, The Cost of Our Silence


(image of a WWII medic’s bag found on pintrest)

Slowly picking my way through David Fiorazo’s book The Cost of Our Silence,
picking as if I was walking ever so slowly and ever so carefully through a thicket of
freshly ripening blackberries…
eyeing the bushes just so as I closely look for the riper and juiciest berries…
so goes my reading.

And whereas time is also a contributing factor to my lack of speed, I seem able only to
take in a page here and a page there…

I’m jumping around a bit as yesterday I offered a look back to our nation’s backstory
as we took a peek back in time to examine the ideals that the pilgrims had brought with them
as they left family, friends, and home an entire ocean behind…
risking everything, including their lives, in search of a place where free worship of
the Creator would be paramount.

Today I’m going to skip ahead in our story, just a tad before I backup again another day
as there is still much that needs to be shared historically as to why we are the nation we are…
or perhaps that is,,, the nation we were…

However, today, as I was taking in a page here and there…
the following quote really jumped out at me…

“We can (and should) talk much about the love of God,
but we are doing the gospel and those who hear us a disservice if we do not also talk
about sin and the wrath of God.”

For you see this is a bit of a recurring theme of mine…
the theme that there is both sin and wrath…
God’s wrath to be precise.

But no one wants to hear about sin, sinful nature, repercussions, a wrathful God, consequences,
etc…
Because instead, we’ve turned all of that into political correctness and tolerance.

David goes on…
“There are many symptoms of the disease (sin), but God has provided a cure (Jesus Christ)
for the cause and has given us a written prescription (the Bible) to follow.
The Great Physician is always on call, so let us speak about the only remedy and
keep referring people to Him!”

Our culture has no idea that it is ailing…no idea that it is truly sick.
It ignores the symptoms, denies the disease, and discredits the Physician
more and more each day.

Any psychologist will tell you that it is human nature to run through some very basic
emotions when confronted with something really bad and or tragic…
with denial being right up there in the earliest stages.

Churchs today are so desperately wanting to cling to dwindling congregations or to a
youthful generation that is heeding the call of the world, so much so that the Churchs are
compromising the entire concept of sin and God’s wrath. Going so far as to offering a
desperately needy and thirsty people a watered down Gospel narrative…having turned it
into a feel good placebo.

No one ever really wants to hear that they are living wrong, immoral, sinful lives…
they’d rather be patted on the head, handed a sucker and told to go scoot off
and keep playing.

But that is not the reality of our world.
It is not the reality of the Chrisitan faith.

If we do not accept sin for what it is…
If we do not admit that we are in need of healing and saving…
then we will incur wrath…

So rather than deal with such, myriads of folks have opted to simply deny any such thing.
No God equals no sin, equals no illness, equals no need, equals blisful ignorance.

And so we, those remnants of the faithful, who understand that sin is sin, death is death,
Satan is real and that healing and saving are paramount… must speak.

We must speak up, out and loud.

David reminds us that opposition to such talk will be a given.
There will be pushback.
There will be ridicule.

But we must remember from whence comes that pushback and ridicule and to where it is actually
directed.

“Most of us understand in today’s culture that living our faith in public will attract
resistance, ridicule, and even hatred.
If we remember our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12),
we will not take it personally when people come against us.
Their problem is with Jesus Christ, not us.”

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces
of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12)

taking the middle ground

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630)

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land,
they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven,
who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all
the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feete on the firme and stable earth…
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Fatih and Honor
of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony”

William Bradford: History of Plymouth Plantation c. 1650

According to History.com, William Bradford was a founder as well as a longtime governor
of the Plymouth Colony.

He was one of the original Mayflower passengers and signed the Mayflower Compact.
Bradford helped to draft the legal code ” and facilitated a community centered on
private subsistence agriculture and religious tolerance.
Around 1630, he began to compile his two-volume “Of Plymouth Plantation,”
one of the most important early chronicles of the settlement of New England.”

Bradford was a staunch member of the Separatist Chruch, a church body that was opposed
to the Chruch of England’s dominance over the lives of all English citizens.
The Church was (is) a state church overseen by the sitting monarch and so religious
groups such as the Separatists,
who were opposed to the Catholic influence over the Church,
felt an increasing need to find a place that was more open and tolerant to
varying sects of Christianity.

So as a young man, Bradford left England, moving to the Dutch Republic (Holland)
where religious freedoms were more widely permitted.

Bradford eventually married and began a family—
but as time went on, there was concern over the encroaching strong Dutch influence
upon the English Seperatirt’s children…
This was the impetus needed for the Separatists to seek a new life in a new land.
Thus joining the Mayflower pilgrims…pilgrims seeking a new land, a God-fearing land,
yet a God-fearing land accepting of a diverse Chrisitan faith, Bradford and his family
made the perilous journey across the Atlantic.

“Bradford’s history was singular in its tendency to separate religious from
secular concerns.
Unlike similar tracts from orthodox Massachusetts Bay,
Bradford did not interpret temporal affairs as the inevitable unfolding of
God’s providential plan.
Lacking the dogmatic temper and religious enthusiasm of the Puritans of the
Great Migration, Bradford steered a middle course for Plymouth Colony between the
Holy Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the tolerant secular community of Rhode Island.

A common sense sort of man…seeking the middle ground in a new world.
Which leaves me wondering, when I watch and hear what’s taking place around this
nation of ours, a nation that was once the hope of a people seeking to
worship the God of all Creation as that of His created while worshiping that of
His risen son…worshiping in the tolerance of varying denominations,
I wonder where that nation has gone…as that notion of worshiping the Creator…
a nation under God, is now fraught with grave contention.

David Fiorazo begins his book, The Cost of Our Silence,
with this look back to our founding as a God-fearing, Christian tolerant nation…
albeit when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, the idea of a “nation” was something
far from their thinking.
Theirs was simply the thinking of survival while building a new life in a new world.

Survival, living, worshiping and finding a place of happiness and peace.

David notes that in the earliest days in this land, when Christians experienced
hard times, their desperation caused them to rely on God.

Conversely, when things are going well, we (now) often choose to rely on ourselves.

Throughout history, the Lord often allowed persecution in order to turn people back to Him.

Men came to these shores hoping to establish a God-fearing settlement that would flourish
on faith and freedom.

So opens Chapter 1 “What’s Happening to Our Heritage?” in David Fiorazo’s book.

And so I will leave us today with this one thought offered by David…

“Has God removed His hand of protection and Providence from our nation?”

As William Bradford was near death, he reflected on life in the new land
by way of a journal entry.
He had been governer as well as a major designer in the community,
establishing the standard of living, the laws,
the judicial system as well as the economic system to be used
for that of Plymouth as well as the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Most importantly he helped to establish what was to be the spiritual life of
these early communities. A spiritual life based on the acknowledgment of God
and that of His Divine intent for His created in this new land…
along with an acceptance of how each man and woman would worship..
It was to be the basis for our religious tolerance today…

Bradford found himself opining the sentiment that this once dutiful Nation was
beginning to actually show the early signs, signs during Bradford’s own lifetime,
signs which seem to be coming into full fruition today,
that this nation was and is finding herself no longer willing to acknowledge the Creator
of all of the Universe…
nor is she willing to afford those who continue to call themselves Christians the
God given rights to do so.

And so we now ask ourselves…Has God removed His hand of protection and Providence
from our nation… because we first removed our faith and belief in Him…?

Shortly before his death, Governor Bradford wrote a journal entry:
“O sacred bond, whilst inviolably preserved?
How sweet and precious were the fruits that flowed from the same!
But when this fidelity decayed, then their ruin approached.
O that these ancient members had not died or been dissipated
(if it had been the will of God)
or else that this holy care and constant faithfulness had still lived,
and remained with those that survived…
But (alas) that subtle serpent hath slyly wound himself under fair pretenses of necessity
and the like, to untwist these sacred bonds and ties…
I have been happy, in my first times, to see, and with much comfort to enjoy,
the blessed fruits of this sweet communion, but it is now a part of my misery in old age,
to find and feel the decay and want thereof (in a great measure)
and with grief and sorrow of heart to lament and bewail the same.
And for others’ warning and admonition, and my own humiliation, do I here note the same.”

time is not my friend…it’s not yours either

“We must now define what it means to be Christian because the hypocrisy
of some can be confusing to a watching world.”

David Fiorazo

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?
Or am I trying to please people?
If I were still trying to please people,
I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10


(the fishing seems slim / Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2018)

Piggybacking on yesterday’s post regarding David Fiorazo’s book The Cost of our Silence,
I’ll admit that my reading of this book of his will be a slow go—because time is not my friend.
Not that it is a friend to any of us.

For time is of the essence.
But it is rapidly waning.

Time being a central theme I’ve now been sounding for nearly four years.
Ever since a trip to Ireland and a Divine revelation.

And yet it remains…not a friend.

Not a friend to our lives as in it eats up what we call our own.
And it is equally destructive to our Spiritual lives.
As in it’s running out…time is running out…
but who wants to hear about that…
because that would mean we’d need to get up, get out, remove ourselves
from our comfort zones and really get ourselves busy.

And as Spiritual Beings, the idea that our time is growing more and more limited
by the day, is, well…something that should have us all gearing up to get to work.

Here are a few more thoughts from our friend and author David Fiorazo’s introduction from his
book The Cost of our Silence.
A little more food for thought.
More of the impetus for our getting up and getting going before our time runs out.

America has more Chrisitan churches and more resources than ever before–
more than any other country in the world–
so why do we look less and less like a Christian nation every day?
We have more Bibles, seminaries, Chrisitan music, and Christian entertainment than ever before.
We have the fanciest churches, the finest Christian colleges, countless ministries and no profits,
and we have an abundance of Christian radio, television, and Christin bookstores across the country.
Now consider the swindling amount of Christian influence in our culture today.
Something is drastically wrong.

Christians in America are facing indoctrination from a multitude of directions.
Schools instruct our children in evolution, environmentalism, and earth worships.
Later they learn about Freudian psychology, social justice, and homosexuality.
We are deluged with secular entertainment, promiscuity, and promotion of the abortion business.
Society is inundated with Marxism, socialism, and secularism.
Our lives are bombarded with atheism, witchcraft, false religions, and liberalism.
Even in some church denominations, liberals (some may refer to them as religious
“progressives” or the “Christian Left”) have gained power and introduced theological
heresies including New Age philosophies.

“If we are serious about our faith, others will know.”

“We as Bible-believing evangelical Christians are locked in a battle.
This is not a friendly gentleman’s discussion.
It is a life and death conflict between the spiritual hosts of wickedness and
those who claim the name of Christ.”
Francis Schaeffer

So what name are we claiming because we don’t have much more time remaining to be deciding…

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Matthew 24:13

the cost of silence as time is not our friend

“It is impossible to be a part-time Christian”
David Fiorazo, The Cost of our Silence


(image courtesy the web)

The very first paragraph of his introduction grabbed me:

America has over 300,000 churches, but few would contest that our Christian influence
is decreasing as the nation becomes more secularized.
Our biblical values are no longer being consistently demonstrated and promoted
and therefore, do not translate out from behind church walls and into culture.
Why are there so few speaking up for Jesus Christ and for righteousness in public anymore?
Hope for revival remains, and a remnant of committed leaders and believers are doing
their part, but because of the posers and pretenders,
American Christianity has almost become a joke.
People in the Middle East look at Hollywood, the Internet, and our government.
They see our education system, media and the people we elect.
They observe our greed, idolatry,
and society as a whole and refer to us as “The Great Satan.”

I mentioned the other day having seen the book The Cost of our Silence by David Fiorazo.
After reading the small snippet regarding the book, I was intrigued…
so much so that I ordered the book…
In part, because here was what I’ve been trying to say, in so many words, in the actual
print of a book…as in, this guy was saying what I’ve
known but have felt almost alone espousing from my small blog’s bully pulpit.

And here’s the odd thing.
As I’m not on social media, my little blog is indeed just that– little.
Not much exposure albeit for here in my small corner of the world of happy WP.
So my readership is not exactly grand in scope.

That is except when I write about certain topics…
topics just like what our friend David Fiorazo is addressing in his book.

I’ve never been much of a numbers person, as math was never my strong suit.
Yet when I was still in the classroom, schools were becoming big hunters of numbers,
percentages and stats…

We were inundated with keeping stats on all sorts of things with our students…
be it testing results, benchmark results, attendance, discipline…you name it.

This numbers notion was born from the thought that “numbers don’t lie”—
Numbers were now being equated with goals…
goals met or goals not yet met.
We were told that the numbers would tell us…
they would be the polestar pointing us in the right direction.

And we knew that a successful school that was meeting its goals and or standards was
seen as exceptional. If students were meeting their goals and standards, that would
in turn mirror the success of the school.

It became a vicious cycle of goals, stats, and results equaling glowing standards which were
being met with huge success…and we all know that if a school wants to be exceptional,
its students must be meeting and exceeding goals and stats.

These numbers became the backing behind the words.
Words such that “we are a school of excellence because our numbers don’t lie”
Schools could claim this or that as long as the numbers backed up the words.

Unfortunately, due to the pressure of meeting certain statewide or national criteria,
school systems found themselves fudging numbers in order to keep up the appearance of
being exceptional.
The pressure becomes so great that jobs were hanging in the balance of
student’s measuring up to the standard, goal, criteria numbers game.

It appeared that numbers could lie if the number counters could alter the count.

Atlanta Public Schools was one such system that was “caught” fudging the numbers.
They were inflating the state and national test results of their students…
going so far as to actually changing student’s answers.

The fear being that a failing school would lose federal funding due to
Falling scores and stats would see administrators losing their jobs and teachers would lose
their jobs and in the end who wants their school to lose that precious federal funding?!

It was and continues to be a numbers mess to be sure.

But here in blogland, the stats and numbers aren’t as precarious or crucial.
No one loses a job over low blog stats…rather perhaps one’s sense of worth as a writer,
or of that of a cook, or a photographer, or a creative individual…

We all have on our admin page the stats section.
A chart showing the readership over a day, a week, a month, a year…
a gauge of success, or as some think, popularity.

Yet life does not hang in the balance over blog stats…not unless you’re the type
of person who keeps track of such and in turn stresses over the fluctuation and
the fickleness of blog readers.

My stats, when I write posts that are more benign, more about a grandbaby or just pretty
pictures, typically run relatively low.
Kind of like just idly flipping through a magazine…
just another eyes glazed over page-turner.

But when I write posts from the bully pulpit of Christian Apologetics such as
Christian apathy or that of abortion, or homosexuality and same-sex unions,
heresy or atheism, or the failings of The Chruch, or posts about Chrisitan morality,
God’s word, the Truth of our Faith—
my numbers soar…as does the “hate” mail.

And I’ll admit that I don’t always have the time to devote to this sort of evangelizing
posting as it demands true depth and justice.

Some days life requires the simple and glazed over page-turners all because time is
not our friend.
The true meat and potatoes type of posts need passion, time for research and even valid
documentation…all of which does the subject matter justice.

And so when I read the words of authors such as Mr. Fiorazo, I feel those fires igniting—
as in it’s time to get cooking with some really flavorful meat and potatoes.

Mr. Fiorazo continues in his introduction:

Just as Jesus wept for Jerusalem while acknowledging its judgment,
should we not weep for America as the signs clearly point to God’s impending judgment on
a once-mighty, blessed Nation?
So we expect God to stay His hand of judgment and continue blessing a rebellious and
narcissistic people with His protection and provision?

One might argue, “But God is still on the throne.”
Sue. I agree He is sovereign over all events and circumstances.
He remains all-powerful, but He does not control us or force people to love Him.
God was also on His throne when we legalized abortion,
and soon America will be closing in on 60 million babies murdered in the name of “choice.”
Chrisitan helped elect the most pro-abortion,
anti-Christian president in our history–twice.
Do you suppose God cares how we vote?

God is still on the throne–
and He is preparing to judge a complacent people who continue ducking the issue of sin.

So with all of this simply found in the first few pages from a book’s introduction,
I can only imagine what might be waiting inside the book itself.

And so as I begin the slow picking apart and digesting of what it is I will be reading,
I will certainly, time and life cooperating, be sharing some important words for all
of us who call ourselves Believers.

Hopefully offering up a hearty portion of delicious meat and potatoes.

Yet I am mindful that time is not our friend.
Our time is running nigh as God’s judgment will not remain at bay forever…

Wake up!
Strengthen what remains and is about to die,
for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.

Revelation 3:2