The Light of a Small Candle

No amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child.

In northern Arizona, there is a famous slot canyon called Antelope Canyon. It sits in Navajo land and has both an Upper and a Lower Canyon, both of which can be toured and photographed by permit. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is “Tse’ bighanilini,” which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” The natural, sandstone walls have been carved into incredible, rippled waves over many years by erosion.  They have an orange coloring that glows as light enters in bright rays during specific times.  Shades of pinks and blues also grace the upper surfaces of rock.  It is, to say the least, impressive!

Some years ago I photographed both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.  I timed the visit so that the sunlight would be coming down through the vertical walls which can be as high as 120 feet above the canyon floor.  The featured image in this post is one of many that I took, and it is perhaps my favorite.  The verse from the Gospel of John came to mind immediately once I was able to look at the image on my computer.

In comparison to the exquisite light of Antelope Canyon, Cindy and I took our children into a lava tube near Mount St Helens in the State of Washington in the 1990s.  There, we walked through an ancient tunnel in which lava once flowed through, leaving a massive, hardened exterior of lava rock.  Once inside, you are confronted with total darkness.  It is absolutely pitch black and you can’t see your hand in front of your face or anything else for that matter.  You take headlamps and/or flashlights to navigate your way through the hardened, undulating floor of the tube which runs for over 2 miles.

The contrast between the two locales is striking.  Antelope Canyon’s brilliant light and colors are spectacular and exciting.  The lava tube, in contrast, was dark and oppressive, yet still quite interesting to see – although once was enough for me.

Light is an amazing thing, and how thankful we are for it. As a photographer, my goal is to capture images in which the light is at its best for the subject at hand. For landscapes, that is in the early morning or late evening. So I think about light a lot.

There are creatures on this earth that God has placed in areas of total darkness. Whether it be at the bottom of the ocean or deep inside caves, such creatures often develop unique characteristics over time where they might lose their natural pigmentation and eyesight or develop the ability to create their own light source. God obviously loves to create and I love all that He has given to us to enjoy with our eyesight.

How marvelous the blessings that we all can be thankful for, that we live in an age when we can see the wonders of the world through television or computer monitor, without the requirement to travel to remote corners of the world.

As the title of this post states, no amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child. We pray that you will always be thankful for light. As a believer, remember that the light of God shines within you.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

I Hope You Know What You Are Doing!

Hope is an expression of an outcome desired, but not yet attained…

We hear the word hope in many contexts. We have no doubt heard the following expressed:

  • “Well, I would certainly hope so!”
  • “I hope you know what you are doing!”
  • “He is hopeless!”
  • “That was my last hope.”

Hope is an expression of an outcome desired, but not yet attained. It is used to express a belief, one in which we have a reasonable expectation that it is true. As an example, we hope that our friends will be there for us in a time of need. We believe they will, but we aren’t certain.

In the language of a Christian, hope is one of three aspects of a believer’s character.

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1st Corinthians 13:13

Hope can also represent the very person of Jesus Christ to us. “He is our hope.” “Put your hope in the Lord.”

One thing is certain.  If you have hope you will act much differently than if you have no hope.

We are all faced with challenges, both large and small. Misplacing our car keys is small. Realizing someone has stolen our car is large. Some challenges are common (I often misplace my car keys). Some are uncommon such as losing your car.

While in San Diego on a photography trip a few years ago, I parked my car and walked a number of blocks to see the galleries of a couple of famous photographers in La Joya. The streets aren’t laid out in a nice north/south grid. There are some winding streets and others at angles. In returning much later to where I had parked, I found it gone. Had it been stolen? It took me a considerable time to realize that I had simply failed to recall the exact location I had parked it. In my time of searching, you can imagine the thoughts that went through my head. Initially, I had hope. However, that started to fade as my fruitless searching dragged on and on. Once I found it I was extremely relieved.

We know that the word of God says to “be anxious for nothing”, but we tend to be anxious for many things. Even as I write this, I think about the potential to be unclear or to use poor grammar. Yet there are truly monumental challenges that await us in life that will require a hope that cannot be easily lost.

What if you get a call from your child letting you know they have been arrested for possession of illegal drugs? What if you get a call from a hospital telling you that your child has been in a traffic accident, and the caller is dodging your key question about how your child is doing?

As believers, whether we are looking for our car keys or our car, how do we remain hopeful and not turn to anxiety and despair? Whether we receive a call from the jail or the hospital, how do we put our hope in Jesus Christ and hold on to the hope we have in Him?

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…
~ Ephesians 1:18-19

These words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells us that our heart can actually be enlightened – so that we will understand the hope we have in Christ. Paul says that this enlightenment can be obtained through prayer.

My understanding of this is that we can ask God for the ability to hope, through a greater understanding of how trustworthy He is. We have “a living hope” in the person of Jesus Christ, one that is not frail or perishable. Thus through prayer and through reading the word of God, we can strengthen our ability to more clearly understand the basis for our hope in Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~ 1 Peter 1:3-5

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Those Who Love God

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

One of the most popular, most comforting, scriptures in the Bible is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
~Romans 8:28

Some reading this may not know the Bible well and perhaps don’t know who Paul was. Imagine then, that you are a man who is highly intelligent and devout, having a set of beliefs about God that you not only cherish but defend. You are known as Saul of Tarsus by your Jewish brethren. You are a Jew and also a Roman citizen. From early childhood, you have spent your life studying the Torah, the written law of God. Your reputation is based on your beliefs. You have gone so far as to seek out heretics who are claiming that God has come in the person of a man from Nazareth, a carpenter’s son. Blasphemous! Later, you become a leader in the search for these heretics so that they can be brought to justice. You stand on the sidelines and watch as one of them is stoned to death. Then one fateful day, as you are traveling to a city called Damascus in your search, God stops you in your tracks. Literally. You are blinded. You fall from your horse into the dusty road and hear the voice of God: “Saul, Saul, why you are persecuting Me?”

Saul had been hunting disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ, who had apparently proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God. Saul was known as “the Pharisee of Pharisees”. A Pharisee was one who was “separated from others” and they were often self-righteous and arrogant. You can imagine the outrage of such a man when confronted with people saying that this Jesus was supposedly God in the flesh.

There are 13 “Principles of Faith” that Orthodox Jews believe. The 12th states: “I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.” There was a belief that a “Messiah” would come to liberate the Jewish people and bring world peace. He would be a powerful king, ruling here on earth! Yet when He came, instead of coming as a king here on earth, He came as a gentle, loving man who would say that His kingdom was not of this earth. Instead of being recognized as the Messiah, He would be mocked, beaten, spat upon, and crucified upon a cross. Then those who had been His disciples would be summarily hunted down and killed. And Saul was a leader of the pack of hunters pursuing them.

With that backdrop of a man who was vehemently against Jesus and His followers, how on earth is it possible that he would be the one who would risk his life innumerable times to tell the story that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God? Wouldn’t God have struck him down with a bolt of lightning, killing him on that road to Damascus to show others what would happen to them if they persecuted and killed his followers? Wouldn’t God smite those who had killed His Son, Jesus?

God is God, and His ways are not our ways. That’s a very good thing indeed. Instead of killing Saul, He dramatically showed him the error of his ways and turned him from his path of self-righteousness and destruction to a path of true righteousness and salvation. Saul would come to be known as Paul, as his life would take a complete reversal in direction. He would go on to write many letters, revealing the story of Jesus Christ and declaring His message of love, grace, and sacrifice.

The longest of Paul’s letters would be to the Romans. It was when Nero was the Emperor. His letter to the Romans was written around 57-58 a.d., while Paul was most likely in Corinth. Paul had never met those he wrote to but knew of their faith in Christ based on the testimony of others. They were of differing backgrounds. Most likely there were Jews among them who believed in Jesus. Others would have been heathens who had also come to believe in Him. There would have been contentious beliefs about how to be a follower of Christ. Paul’s letter would be written to encourage them and instruct them on his inspired knowledge of the sinful nature of man, the sacrifice that Jesus made in our man’s behalf, and that salvation is through faith alone.

When we read that “God causes all things to work together for good”, we must recognize that this pertains to just one group of people. It is “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” No such statement is made to those who do not love God and who are not called according to his purposes. Nor is Paul saying that we can cause things to work together for good. Only God can do this. “Looking on the bright side” may be helpful to us, but that is not what Paul is saying here.

What does the verse mean? How can we apply this in our life? First, we should love God.

There is a scripture in Mathew 22 in which Jesus had been asked a very important question by the Pharisees. When they hoped to entrap him, asking Him what the great commandment in the Jewish Law was, He replied:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.”
~ Matthew 22:37

In 2004, several months after the death of our son, Brian, I was in my car on the way to work. It was early morning and I was alone on a highway. I felt very alone indeed. My thoughts were of Brian and how much I missed him. I thought of Matthew 22. Understanding what it meant, knowing the scripture, was one thing. Being able to do it, I felt, was something altogether different.

Speaking out loud, I asked God “How is it possible for me to love you more than I love Brian, Daniel, and Katie? More than I love my wife? More than I love my mother and father, my sister? More than my friends? More than the amazing beauty of this world with its majestic mountains, rivers, ocean beaches, sunsets, and wildlife? More than starry nights, the twinkling of fireflies, the feeling when a large trout takes my fly in a Wyoming stream?” I stated emphatically “That is not possible for me God! I can’t just want to love you more than all that, it isn’t simply choosing to love. I have to really love You that much to obey that commandment!”

It would be misleading to say God answered me. More accurately, I believe He gave me a revelation that would change my understanding. I suddenly understood it as if He had said out loud to me: “John, every person and everything you just listed are gifts that I have given to you in your life. You love my gifts, can you not love Me, the One who gave you every good thing?” That was eye-opening for me. God had given me everything I had ever loved, ever cherished, throughout my entire life. And yet, here I was asking Him how I could love Him more than those people, those things. He had given me those things out of love for me. I was very appreciative of the gifts. But I had been missing the opportunity to love the Giver.

Cindy and I would see many evidences of God in our lives. We would be told that the forgiveness we had shown after Brian’s accident would be a blessing to others, and had even been shared by missionaries on trips to other countries. Cindy would tell the murderer of her brother to his face “I forgive you, I forgive you…” He would break down in tears as she said these words.  He would also go to prison for many years.  Perhaps her words would lead him one day to seek to know God, to surrender his life to the One who actually was in control of it?  We would see God working, bringing good out of the loss of our son, out of the loss of her brother. Yet the pain was also real, and the healing took a long time.

My belief is that we take so much for granted in this life and our love for God is far too shallow. We have expectations that things will go well, especially if we think we are being “good people”. We have simplistic views on the things that really matter, such as where we will spend eternity and the purpose of our very existence. We must remember that God causes all things to work for good – “to those who love God.”

Can we not cry out to God to help us out of the depths of His love?

“Lord, help me first to love You in a more profound way!”

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord!”

“Help me to see beyond the material world and the daily grind of activities and chores, so that I can see You at work in my life and the lives of others.”

“Help me to understand the depth of Your love, a love that would cause You to sacrifice Your Son to save a sinner like me.”

“Help me to love others, to extend Your love to them, and to not be focused on myself.”

“But most of all Lord, thank You! Thank you for loving me and for all the gifts you have given to me throughout my entire life. I am eternally grateful.”

My encouragement to you is that, no matter what has happened in your life prior to now, you are free to choose to follow after Jesus Christ at this very moment. Humble yourself, recognizing that you really aren’t in control of much in this life. But you can make choices! You have the freedom even in the midst of the most hostile countries in the world to choose to believe in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. My sins. Your sins. You can believe that He rose from the grave after three days and sits at the right hand of God. You are free to turn from sinful ways and follow Him, trusting Him with your very soul.

Blessings in Christ,
John

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Gifts From God

We are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of…

As I write this, and as you read this, we are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of. It is not material possessions that I refer to. How many things, for example, are in my possession simply allowing me to write my thoughts down and my words to reach you? Just a short list would have to include the following:

  • Language skills
  • The ability to type/write
  • Hands
  • Eyesight
  • Access to the Internet
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion

How often do we pause to consider how truly blessed we are? Using the word “blessed” implies that I have been given something. Think on each item in my short list above. Did I create any of those? Did I choose to be born and raised by a family living in the United States with the financial ability to provide me with an education? Did I fight for the right to freely express my opinion?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that every good thing I have now, or have ever had in my entire life, has been a gift from God. Even if I “earned” things, my very ability to earn them was due to prior gifts from God. Is that biblical?

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

~ James 1:17

How thankful should I be? A loving wife, three children, parents who loved me all their lives, a caring sister, friends, church, good health, an amazing dog named Baxter, on and on and on. I could literally go on for hours. But so could you!

How long is your list of things to be thankful for? Your life may be extremely difficult. You may have cancer. Your parents may have been cruel to you. Your spouse may have passed away recently. You may live in a country ruled by a dictator with oppression all around you. Yet, can you not still be thankful for many, many things?

Here is a thought to ponder: If you only would have things in your life tomorrow that you thanked God for today, what things would you start thanking Him for right now? I’ll pause here and give you the rest of the day to put your list together.

May God bless you richly! May we all recognize the many gifts we have been given and be thankful.

Your comments and thoughts would be welcome and we thank you for them in advance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Share with Your Children at Christmas – “The Tale of Three Trees”

“Now I shall be made into a beautiful treasure chest,” thought the first tree. “I shall hold marvelous treasures!”

Sharing a precious memory of Christmas past on this Christmas morn.

When our three children were very young, we would read children’s books to them each evening before bedtime. “Story Time!” always created excitement and had become a tradition that started with our first-born child Brian, as he grew old enough to listen, and in the following years with Daniel and Katie. Cindy and I were blessed by such times, and we knew the children enjoyed the stories. There were many, many books that we collected over time such as “A Giraffe and a Half”, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Enormous Crocodile”. Yet there was one story that held special significance for us at Christmas and again on Easter – “The Tale of the Three Trees”.

It is a tale of dreams held, of dreams shattered, and of dreams realized. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

Once upon a time, three little trees stood in a forest high on a mountain, dreaming of what they would be when they were grown.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds in the night sky. “I want to hold treasure,” it said. “I want to be filled with gold and decorated with jewels. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked down the mountainside at the ocean far below. “I want to be a strong sailing ship,” it said. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree said, “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me their eyes will raise up to heaven, and they will think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!”

Source

Thus the dreams of the three trees are made known to the reader. But then woodcutters came up from the town and their dreams were shattered one by one. The first was felled and fashioned, not into a treasure chest, but into “a simple feed-box.” The second was felled and fashioned, not into a strong sailing ship, but into “a simple fishing boat.” And the third that dreamt of never being cut down was instead felled and then cut into rough-hewn beams and laid aside.

But though the trees dreams were shattered, the story goes on to talk about a feed-box being used as a cradle that held “the greatest treasure in the world.” And a small fishing boat that would not “travel mighty waters” but would carry “the King of heaven and earth.” Finally, the story tells of beams of wood fashioned into a cruel structure onto which a man was nailed by his hands and feet. Yet the earth would tremble as the man died and then three days later “the earth knew that God’s love had changed everything.”

This simple, touching story has been illustrated by more than one person, but the book that we read to our children was “The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale” by Angela Elwell Hunt, with illustrations by Tim Jonke. We think the illustrations are wonderful.

You may perhaps find the book at your local library, but we encourage you to buy a copy at your favorite bookstore or at an online source. We pray it blesses you and your children as it did our family.