Meet Melanie, The Uncrushable Humpback of Madeira

Humpback anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsonii), a species of black seadevil (Melanocetidae). From August Brauer (1863–1917): Die Tiefsee-Fische. I. Systematischer Teil.. In C. Chun. Wissenschaftl. Ergebnisse der deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition ‘Valdivia’, 1898-99, 1906. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.

You’ve seen her in movies such as Disney / Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  She’s appeared on SpongeBob SquarePants,  She’s been the bane of deep sea crustaceans for eons.

She is Melanocetus johnsonii: the Humpback Anglerfish.  We’ll call her Melanie for short.

And Melanie is a lot like you and me.

OK, let me explain.  To look at her, your first reaction may be to recoil in horror.  Let’s face it, at the very least, Melanie is way past due for a trip to the dentist.

She’s no Marilyn Monroe.  But she wasn’t created to be.

Melanie was handcrafted by God to thrive in the environment where He created her to live.  The Creator designed her with a luminescent “bulb” she dangles in front of her gaping mouth to lure prey.  He even provided her with the bacteria that cause her light gland to shine.

(And I thought Rudolph’s red nose was impressive.)

God didn’t just teach Melanie to fish.  He gave her the rod and bait as well.

And, wow, can she eat.  Melanie’s one mean carnivore, with a huge mouth and curved teeth perfectly designed to catch her dinner.  To hold her consumed prey (after all, she needs to hold as much nutrition as possible – shrimp aren’t exactly plentiful at 3,000 feet beneath the surface), Melanie’s stomach can swell to double her size. 

Take that, Mr. Creosote!  (My apologies for the disgusting Monty Python reference.)

Not only can Melanie avoid starvation, she is created to withstand immense pressure.  Consider this: at 100 feet below sea level, divers not wearing pressure suits can begin suffering nitrogen narcosis, leading to lethargy and impaired brain processes.  At 250 feet the average scuba diver becomes incapacitated.  We humans are not designed to live at these depths.  Melanie can live at a depth of 3,000 feet, where the pressure can reach over 1,300 PSI.  To put this in perspective, it takes 10-20 PSI to crush an aluminum drink can.  43-58 PSI underwater can crush a human.  

Like Melanie, we are created for the place God has us.  Melanie’s secret to surviving the pressure she lives in: she has no air within her.  No air = no air pressure.

Our “secret”: faith.  Simple trust in our loving Father God as opposed to our circumstances.  We are designed to serve and glorify God, to love one another, to be salt and light to a dark world.  We are called to follow Jesus Christ:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? – Matthew 16:24-26 (ESV)

God equips us through His Word, providing us with the wisdom, guidance, comfort and strengthening we need to fulfill our purpose:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.– 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

Just as God provides for Melanie – as well as all of His creation, from the bottom of the sea to the heights of the sky – He provides for our every need as well:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

So, are you where God intends you to be?  Yes.  Are you doing what you were called to do?  If you are trusting Jesus, following God’s Word, seeking the Lord and glorifying Him in your life, yes.  God is after our hearts,  If our hearts are right, the rest will follow.

Like us, God created Melanie, as well as the environment she calls home.  Despite how uninhabitable her undersea world may appear (pitch dark frigid cold, with crushing pressure), the LORD provides Melanie with all she needs to live at the ocean floor. 

Unlike Melanie, we are created not merely to survive, but to thrive in our surroundings.  We are not created to attract as much krill and shrimp as we can consume, but to be a shining example of Christ, using our “bulb” to illuminate the world where we live.

You have a God-ordained purpose.  Find great comfort and joy in that simple fact.  Life isn’t always easy.  But it should be purposeful.

All-Encompassing Gratitude

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4-7 (ESV)

I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop. And I am grateful.

Very grateful.

Grateful to be anywhere outside my home. OK… maybe not anywhere. I’m not neck deep in a vat or boiling tar, or detained indefinitely in a dank foreign prison cell, or attending a political rally.

And, don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for my home.

But I’m grateful to no longer be under COVID-19 induced house arrest.

Gratitude is a habit I really should work harder to cultivate. If I would learn to see all good things as a gift from God – and this includes the painful and uncomfortable things I would just as soon reject but are good for me – my life would be so much more joyful and productive.

We should be grateful to the LORD for everything,, because everything is in His hands. He is in control. And in that we can all rest peacefully, especially when life feels out of control.

Be grateful when life is difficult, because He is molding me.

Shaping me.

Growing and refining me.

Leading me.

Be grateful for where I am in life. He has me at this station for a reason. I’m thankful I’m not king, not in charge. Who wants that responsibility? I’d foul everything faster than you can say “Uh-oh”.

Be grateful for all I have, tempered with the understanding that my greatest possessions are no tangible possessions at all, but the people God has put in my life, My family. My friends. The people who God put in my path to teach me, open my eyes, influence me. We recently lost a very dear family friend, someone I’ve known all my life. His passing started me thinking about the influence he had on me as a child. And my heart swelled with gratitude to God for having known him.

When we are grateful, the garbage in our lives refocuses, the feeling of hardship diminishes, our spirit flourishes and our life perspective corrects. When we approach God with gratitude, we recognize He alone is God. He alone has our best interests at heart (after all, His will is our best interest, and vice versa),

I am grateful to be in this coffee shop. Now I am grateful to be going home, where my wife and son are – who I am far more grateful for.

Know

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24 [ESV]

Knowing God is everything. And I don’t mean knowing about Him. I mean knowing Him.

Knowing God – growing deeper in our relationship with the Lord – is the most worthwhile pursuit we can have in life. It is beyond astounding to see our Father at work in our lives, and the lives of others. To know God is to know peace.

How do we get to know God? Simple:

Study

Don’t just glance over your Bible. Dig in. Study. Connect. Commit.

When we read Scripture, we find God revealed to us. When we begin connecting the dots and seeing the Bible for what it is – the inspired word of God, written over the span of centuries in three different languages by multiple people from many stations of life and cultural backgrounds.

Despite the different writers (from lowly fishermen to royalty, educated men to simple people, often the last person on earth who one would think should be writing God’s word), the 66 books that make up the Bible are , a cohesive whole. The reason is there are many writers, but One Author: God. The Lord inspired the writers with His message, His revelation of Himself.

The more we study the Bible, the more we know about God. But it requires more than Scripture reading.

Prayer

Converse with the Lord. It’s as simple as that. Open your heart to Him. Talk with God, knowing He hears you.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Matthew 6:6-8 [ESV]

Prayer is a conversation. Tell Him your hurts and needs. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11 [ESV]

God hears you. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you.

Believe

It all hinges on faith. Believe. Trust in the Lord. Take God at His Word.

When you read His Word, trust what God’s saying.

When you pray, believe that God hears you. He loves you. He is your Heavenly Father Who sent His Son Jesus to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins that we may have eternal life with Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 [ESV]

God is faithful, even when we are not. And God, full of grace and truth, merciful and not merely loving but Love Himself, loves you with a love beyond comprehension. This is why we never need fear, never worry. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all. And He is our All and All.

And the better we know the Lord, the deeper we’ll grow in Him, the firmer our faith will be, the closer our relationship.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8a, ESV).

The more you study His Word; the more you pray; the more you place your full trust in the Lord alone; the better you will know God, and hunger for the Lord and His will.

So Long 2020…

As I reflect on 2020 and try to make sense of the year just passed, I believe God is trying to teach me a few things. Among these lessons is this:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. – Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)

Remember God is sovereign over all. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God does not merely love us. He IS Love. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God is with us always. He will never leave us, never abandon us. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God’s strength, timing and planning are absolutely perfect. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God indwells each of us who believe through the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Guide. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember we are children of the One True King. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God’s grace is sufficient for us, for whatever we face. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God’s peace – a peace beyond all human comprehension – is available to us. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God with praise and thanksgiving, for He is God. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Sleep well my friends. God loves you. He has you in His arms. You are safe and cared for.

A Very Merry Christmas from the Bouville Diarist!

The wreath. It’s circular shape represents the eternity of God – it is round, no beginning, no end. It is often bedecked with colorful berries or beads or flowers, bejeweled with a beauty befitting a king.

The King.

God encircles us, surrounds us, protects us. We His children rest assured in His love. God loves us so much He sent His only Son to willingly give His life as the perfect sacrifice for us. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we hopeless sinners have hope. We sinful people have cleansing. We have the opportunity to be radically, eternally changed.

Today we celebrate the day God our Father sent His only Son to us. While the actual birth date of Jesus is most likely not December 25, it isn’t the data that matters but the event itself.

So today, feel encircled in His love. He grateful for His grace and forgiveness. Today we celebrate our Savior with gratitude and joy, unable to fathom the size of the gift He has given us. The Lord lavishes His love upon us in more ways than we can possibly imagine.

Despite the chaos of the year near gone – the troubles, the drama, the pain, the suffering – God remains faithful to us. Far more than we to Him.

God loves us. And, today, we celebrate the day His Son Jesus began His earthly journey to the cross.

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:1-11 (KJV)

Merry Christmas dear friends.

What I’m Thinking

Facebook wants to know what I’m thinking.

So I’ll tell you.

I’m thinking about my family and friends who are sick or hurting or afraid or suffering and wishing I had the wherewithal to take away the pain and make everything better.

I’m thinking I’m tired of all the political / election back-and-forth and shenanigans.

I’m thinking it’s time for the hatred to end. I’m thinking it’s time we stop viewing each other by labels (black, white, liberal, conservative, etc.) and start seeing people are people.

I’m thinking that Depeche Mode song is now going to be stuck in my head for awhile.

I’m thinking this third wave of COVID is astoundingly awful and the ones who claim it’s fake news or believe the government doesn’t have the right to mandate public mask wearing need to wake up and comply or stay home.

I’m thinking cancer is far worse.

I’m thinking I wish Colts had played a bit better today.


But I’m also thinking I am grateful.

Grateful for so so so many friends and family, both near and far and the ability to reach out to them electronically.

Grateful that, while I can’t take away your pain, I can talk to the One Who can. (You can talk to Him too. Prayer is not exclusive.)

Mostly I’m grateful to GOD, for He has everything in His control, and I am sheltered under His mighty wings, as well all those who trust and follow Jesus.

I pray for you strength. I pray for you guidance. I pray for you hope and health and God’s wisdom and ever-growing faith. I pray you know the grace, mercy and love of Jesus through whatever you are facing.

God knew beforehand all this would happen. Jesus warned us that “in this world, you will have trouble.” But He followed that sobering news with a great promise: “Take heart for I have overcome the world”.

God knows everything. He’s not surprised by the election results. He’s not taken aback by the skyrocketing COVID numbers. He knows not only what’s happening and why, but how to see us through whatever troubles are vexing us.

Pray. Trust in Him. Rest in the LORD. Smile. Laugh. Live.

That’s what I’m thinking.

Sing It Anyway, Sammy!

On August 19, 1971, Sammy Davis Jr. entered a Los Angeles recording studio to tape four songs for his upcoming album, Now! One song would never be released. The other three would appear on the new LP.

One of the remaining three songs was particularly disliked by Mr. Davis. He felt it was too cute. Davis complained bitterly to his manager, who wanted him to sing it. In the end, the 47-year-old Rat Pack crooner refused to record more than two takes, putting no real effort into singing the song he thought might end his career in show-biz.

And yet, despite all this, “The Candy Man” became Sammy Davis Jr’s only number one hit, earning him a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocalist. Not only that, it became his signature song, the title synonymous with the singer himself.

There are times in life when God asks us to do things we don’t like. Maybe it’s something as simple as speaking to someone we don’t care to be around. Perhaps He wants us to give up our dreams for His vision. Whatever it is, we will find ourselves blessed when we do.

Paul reminds us, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV). As followers of Jesus, we are no longer our own, but the LORD’s – “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

There is amazing freedom and blessing that comes from setting aside our own agendas and following God’s. His ways are far higher than ours. And when we begin to simply trust in the LORD and follow Him, we find the true meaning and purpose of our lives.

2:26am

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me. – Psalm 86:1-7 [ESV]

2:26am.

It is 2:26am.

Would in their right mind is awake at 2:26am?

Night shift workers, yes. Local TV news anchors, sure. Police officers on duty, absolutely. People with anxiety, unfortunately.

I’ll let you guess which of these four has me up typing at this inhumane hour.

And 2:26am feels like such a lonely time. At least it is when your body feels like you’ve drank three pots of coffee and you haven’t had any caffeine in hours.

Here’s the wonderful thing about 2:26am. Despite how you feel, you are not alone.

46 God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

Psalm 46:1-3 [ESV]

God doesn’t sleep. He is always awake. He wants us to run to Him in all times, good and bad. He wants us to give Him our burdens and cares. The LORD is always with us, always good, always true to His promises.

Go to the LORD with all your worries. There is nothing too hard for God. You won’t shock Him. Let Him care for you. Put down your burdens and rest in Him. Focus on GOD with gratitude. Don’t ponder your troubles. Think about the LORD. Praise Him!!

So, whatever has you up at 2:26am, don’t lie in bed and fret. Take this opportunity to talk to God. Spend some time with Jesus. Grab your Bible and read some encouraging Scriptures.

Don’t grab a cup of coffee though. Not if you hope to get back to sleep any time soon.

Mr. Know-It-None

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There are lots of things people fear. Some fear speaking in public, causing them nightmare about standing on stage in a crowded auditorium wearing only their underwear and a microphone.

Some fear death or illness. Others flying. Failure. Job interviews. Spiders. The dark. The Bogeyman. Reruns of Clutch Cargo (hey, that dude’s off-center moving human mouth superimposed on his idle-still cartoon face was freakily troubling).

I think all fear is rooted – in one form or another – in the unknown. We don’t know for sure the outcome of the situation we find ourselves in. And, let’s face it, we humans like certainty.

But here is the simple truth: we don’t know how things are going to turn out. We don’t know what the end result will be (except for the whole on stage in your underwear thing, which most likely will never happen unless you’ve made some very questionable career choices).

We are not as “in control” as we like to think.

And not knowing the end result of whatever you’re facing is actually okay.

We may not know the end results of the situations we face. But God does.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways”, declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Here’s the way I see it. God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He knows all things so He knows everything in my life. He’s above all things, so it’s all in His control. And He is everywhere all the time so, wherever I’m headed, He is already there.

Not only that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). He’s already working out the details. I don’t know what He has in store. But I know it’s going to be beneficial.

So remember God’s message to Isaiah:

Fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.

13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.” – Isaiah 41:10-13 (ESV)

Remember, you can rest in the LORD. Trust in Jesus, knowing He is working out your life for your good. There are no accidents. There is no luck.

And that’s a good thing.

Rest in His love. Trust Him despite what you see or think or perceive. Don’t stare at circumstances. Concentrate on the Solution.

Be thankful. Be joyful. Be peaceful.

Love God. Love others. Accept that we don’t know everything, but we are under the wings of God Who does.

Rest easy. There is nothing to fear in Jesus.

Unprecedented Pastors

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I’m just going to jump right in and say it.

Ask it, that is.

And I don’t mean to sound presumptuous. You may already be doing this. If you are, don’t stop. In fact, turn it up a notch.

Here is my request, plain and simple and very important:

Pray for your pastor.

Pray with fervor for your pastor.

The job is demanding. Pastors have to be leader, staff coordinator, supervisor, strategic ministry planner, vision caster, faith leader, teacher, counselor, mentor, business manager, writer, public speaker…

Not only do pastors juggle the same pressures the rest of us do (life/work balance, bills to pay, family ups and downs, rough days…), they also have the added pressure of a flock to shepherd, and the expectations of that flock.

Now, add COVID-19 to the mix, and all the uncertainty this pandemic has brought. Pastors today have to deal with the (in)ability / wisdom to gather in person, the safety of parishioners coming to worship, the need to be creative and flexible to work through unprecedented road blocks to find solutions to keep the church afloat and thriving (thank you Lord for Zoom and parking lots).

Chances are your pastor(s) are dealing with stress on a far higher level than before.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented prayer.

Please take a few minutes and pray for your pastor. Not only that, drop your pastor a line – a card, an e-mail, a phone call, some sort of encouragement to lift your pastor’s spirits.

Remember, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16, NKJV).

Love God. Love one another. Seek the LORD first and always. Be a blessing.