September 5, 2016

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered, “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:8-9

I love to look at photos from the national parks, and with the Park Service celebrating its centennial last week, a burst of new ones have come out on the internet:

  • Okay, so this one’s not a nature picture, but it’s clever—1,000 people using brown, green and white umbrellas to make the Park Service logo on the National Mall
  • Vintage photos from the park’s early days
  • A slide show of 61 different park sites
  • Photos from and brief commentary about each of our national parks from the BBC— (while there are currently 413 units of the Park Service, only 59 are designated “national parks”)
  • A treasure trove of Ansel Adams photographs from the National Archives that you can view and order copies of
  • Vivid photos I bookmarked three years ago
  • A baker’s dozen of national park shots
  • On the National Parks Traveler website, more great photos and tips for taking your own

Why do we enjoy looking at pictures? For a couple of reasons, I think. Nature photos delight, inspire and leave us in awe. If we’ve ever been to the places they depict, they invite us to remember. Armchair travelers can visit the locations vicariously. Photos of people conjure up memories of those we loved and perhaps have lost (I should know: I have volumes of scrapbooks with photos and artifacts from over 100 years ago!).

We who are alive now have never seen Jesus. The paintings done throughout the years only guess how He might have looked—and many of them are suspect at best (A pasty white Jesus living in the Middle East? I don’t think so!).

No one who’s ever existed has seen God. Since He is spirit (John 4:24), no one can. Scripture does tell us of instances where He assumed visible form, though (Genesis 32:30, Exodus 24:9-10, Judges 13:22, Isaiah 6:1, Daniel 7:9). When Moses wanted to see God, his wish was only partially fulfilled and with several stipulations (Exodus 33:18-23).

But we do have a “picture” of God, in words. Philip, the rest of the apostles and all those who encountered Him some 2,000 years ago didn’t quite realize who He was, God in the flesh, fully human yet fully divine. Jesus told them He and God were the same (John 8:58, 10:30, 14:8-11, 12:45), showed it in the attributes He shared with God (holiness, omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience—John 8:46, Matthew 28:20, John 11:11-14) and in the things He did that only God can do (forgive sins, raise the deal and judge—Mark 2:5-7; John 4:28-30, 11:43; John 5:22, 27, 10:38). Eventually the apostles understood and testified to the fact (John 1:1, 14, 18, 20:28; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).

Most of us have never seen all the parks depicted in these online photos, and perhaps never will. Yet we know they exist because we’ve read and heard about them, and viewed pictures.

Jesus realized the vast majority of Earth’s inhabitants would never see Him either. He addressed that in some of His final words: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). So He left us that picture, the Bible, to remind us of God’s work throughout the ages.

Get out and visit the parks. Enjoy the pictures I’ve linked to. Just don’t neglect God’s “scrapbook.” In it you’ll find things that delight, inspire and leave you in awe (Romans 11:33). You’ll also find great love (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9-19). You’ll find…life (John 10:10, 2 Peter 1:3).


August 25, 2016

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Park Service’s founding. It’s something to rejoice over, because of the magnificent lands and history it represents.

Just yesterday, President Obama added number 413 to the list of park sites. The drive to join Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to the park service has been going on for years, ever since the 87,500 acres set in Maine’s North Woods was donated to the federal government by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees.

How to celebrate this centennial? The Park Service offers free admission throughout the country through Sunday the 28th, and invites you to Find Your Park. If you happen to be in Washington, D.C. its Convention and Visitors Bureau has some suggestions. A Philadelphia television station proposes 10 Breathtaking Experiences. And the National Park Foundation proposes a few ideas.

Then again, many of these things can be done year-round. You don’t need a big birthday just to go the national parks!

Here’s something else to rejoice in 365 days of the year, 24/7: our God. Every moment we have a multitude of reasons to revel in Him because:

–He reigns over the world (1 Chronicles 16:31)

–He is a glorious Creator (Isaiah 65:18)

–He’s given us salvation (1 Samuel 2:1; Psalm 35:9; Isaiah 25:9, 44:23, 61:10)

–He’s left us with His instructions (Psalm 119:162)

–His lavishes us with love, comfort and compassion (Psalm 31:7; Isaiah 35:10, 49:13)

–He offers us hope (Romans 12:12) and peace (Isaiah 55:12)

–He judges righteously (Psalm 96:11-13, 98:8-9) and overcomes evil (Revelation 10:12, 18:20)

But you know what’s ever more awesome? God rejoices over us! “As a bridgegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you,” Isaiah writes (62:5).

Zephaniah 3:17 is one of the loveliest verses in the whole Bible: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Visualize these word pictures. Imagine a groom’s face when he sees his bride coming down the aisle. Think of a mother rocking and singing her child to sleep in her arms. That’s how God sees and loves and takes care of you.

And that fills Him with great joy.

How can we not rejoice?


April 14, 2016

People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire. Job 5:7

Smithsonian magazine never fails to provide interesting articles, both online and in print. A few weeks ago, for instance, I read a piece explaining why rockfalls happen in Yosemite National Park.

The article began with mention of a 1996 incident in which 80,000 tons of granite slid down onto a trail, taking out about 1,000 trees, a bridge and a snack bar along the way, as well as killing a hiker and injuring several others. The author noted that around 60 to 70 of these kinds of occurrences happen each year in the park, usually due to some obvious cause, such as a storm or an earthquake. But the 1996 event, as well as other seemingly random rockfalls—appeared to happen for no apparent reason.

But now scientists think they know why.

For over three years, two geologists used an instrument to study a large chunk in Yosemite still attached to the main rock at the top and bottom but separated by about four inches in the middle. They observed that every day when the air heated up, the rock also got warmer and expanded away from its anchor. When the temperatures cooled at night, the slab contracted back. In summer, it progressed more outward; in winter, inward.

The constant motion is destabilizing the rock, which means that eventually it will fall off, perhaps triggered by another event, like a storm—or maybe not even that. Looking back on data from past rockfalls, the geologists noted that around 15 percent of them occurred not during severe weather events, but on warm, clear days—just when you’d least expect them.

Have you ever had a delightful day utterly ruined in a moment? I have. Things are going along smoothly, we’re feeling great, then suddenly—boom! Out of the blue we’re blindsided by “rockfalls,” which can be as small as a nasty comment or as huge as devastating, life-altering news.

That’s how it must have been for Job, as we read in the biblical book of the same name (and yes, he was a real person—see Ezekiel 14:14, 20 and James 5:11—and his story is not allegorical). Job wasn’t perfect—none of us are (Romans 3:23)—but the Bible tells us he was in good standing with God (1:1). He had a large family and prosperous business, considered “the greatest of all the men in the east” (1:3). Yet in one day, he lost it all (1:13-22).

The record doesn’t sugar coat his physical and mental suffering. Job wishes he’d been stillborn (Job 3:11-13) and longs for death (17:1). He feels hopeless, helpless and abandoned (17:15,19:6-20, 30:27-31). He begs God for relief and demands to know why He’s doing this to him (Job 13:20-14:22). It’s that last issue that perhaps plagues him the most (23:14-16).

And while he’s at it, Job also wonders why God doesn’t punish the world’s real evildoers (24:2-24).

Those who should have consoled Job instead make him feel worse. His wife tells him to curse God and die (2:9-10). Three friends come by to “help.” Mostly they insist he must have done something wrong to deserve his calamity (8:1-7). Job calls them out as “sorry comforters” (16:1).

In short, Job’s piled-on anguish causes him to doubt everything he thought he knew about God and about life.

God finally breaks His silence to answer him—in a way (chapters 38-41). He rhetorically asks Job a series of more than 70 questions to point out Job’s ignorance in the face of His own all-consuming greatness.

How absurd that Job should become the critic of the Creator (38:2, 40:1-2), God says. Does he rule the sun and moon, snow and rain, or the animals? No, Job can’t even tame nature, so how dare he demand an accounting from the One who can (41:1-11)? Criticizing God’s ways was, in effect, trying to usurp His power and position as Lord of the universe (40:8-9).

In the midst of these questions, Job realizes he has no answer (40:3-5). And when God is finished speaking, the only reply he can give is this: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (42:2-6). He asks forgiveness for his pride, arrogance and rebellion, acknowledging that God truly is Lord of the good days and bad.

There are many lessons in the book of Job, many more nuances than I can parse out in one blog post. Perhaps the biggest, and the hardest to come to terms with, is that we don’t always know God’s purposes. We don’t know what goes on in the unseen world. The first two chapters of Job detail the root of Job’s misery—the devil. The Bible says he’s our adversary (1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:10) and opposes everything God stands for (Isaiah 14:12-17, Ezekiel 28:11-15). Why God initiated the conversation that led to Job’s being tested, and gave Satan permission to do so isn’t revealed (1:6, 12).

Nor does God feel the need to explain. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” God states in Isaiah 55:8-9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Job’s wife’s reaction was that God was capricious, mean and unfair. That’s a conclusion in direct opposition to the Bible’s overarching message. If God really were callous and unjust, what’s the explanation for all the good Job had? Job replies to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10). In his journey of suffering, he discovers all over again, as we must, that assuming God blesses the righteous and afflicts the wicked is faulty theology. Matthew 5:45 tells us God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” That’s frequently called “common grace”—although there’s nothing common about it! It’s the work of a good God who provides for all, regardless of how they feel about Him.

Finally, Job’s “friend” Zophar flat out declares that Job’s suffering is his fault, because of something he did, and he is just getting what he deserves. All he needs is to repent and everything would be fine again (11:1-6, 13-15). Again, that reasoning flies in the face of a good God. Certainly just as our parents had to correct and punish us for our misdeeds, God sets up consequences to our disobedience to Him. The ultimate punishment for those who refuse to heed Him is eternal death (Matthew 25:31-46). But Job chapters 1 and 2 explicitly state that Job did nothing wrong, so the conclusion that all suffering is caused by sin can’t be universally true. The Bible clearly says that God’s desire is always reconciliation, not retribution (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Another lesson to be learned from these “sorry comforters” is to not be one. When we comfort others, it’s not our place to try to discover the reason behind the woes. Our job isn’t to find the answers, but to listen, offer a shoulder to cry on, help the sufferer work through the pain, and assure him or her that God is there.

Here’s how the late Charles Ryrie sums up the takeaway from the book of Job: “If we know God, we do not need to know why He allows us to experience what we do. He is not only in control of the universe and all its facets but also of our lives, and He loves us. Though His ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension, we should not criticize Him for His dealings with us or with others. God is always in control of all things, even when He appears not to be.”

On good days, you might nod your head in agreement. If you’re in the midst of turmoil right now, maybe that’s not a wholly satisfactory explanation. I get it. A perfectionist control freak like me prefers neat and tidy answers I can fully wrap my head around.

I think that’s where the phrase “leap of faith” comes in. Trusting in a good God when life is hard isn’t easy. Coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know why things happen is tough. But among God’s many promises to us is this: “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). The apostle Paul found that out, too, when he asked the Lord to take away some persistent affliction: “My grace is enough for you,” God answered (2 Corinthians 12:9). And with that, we mere mortals have to be satisfied.

Oh, we may have to wrestle through difficult times to get to that place of trust—again and again and again, as our emotions, like a rock slab, expand and contract. And that’s okay. As the old hymn says, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!”

Trust is the only answer that brings relief and makes sense of suffering—trust in a sovereign God whose purposes are beyond our understanding, trust in His perfection and justice, and not our own inadequate righteousness. The first step to developing that trust is to “seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33); that is, to restore a right relationship between yourself and God by accepting His gift of salvation through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So when the rocks fall on a sunny day, you’ll be ready.


March 11, 2016

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?…Stand and consider the wonders of God. Job 12:7-10, 37:14b

I’ve been very, very negligent about my blog—but for a good reason. My book based on this blog will be out next month! I’ve been busy with the final proof-reading and edits, not to mention laying the groundwork for a publicity campaign.

In between all that, I’ve been thinking about wonder. I’ve enjoyed basking in yet another balmy Florida winter, enjoying the mild temperatures, continually flowering plants, and the delightful knowledge that I don’t have to deal with ice and snow.

Activity in and news from the national parks also has filled me with wonder. Have you seen the photos of Death Valley National Park’s “super bloom?” More than 20 kinds of desert wildflowers are in bloom thanks to record rainfall last October. Death Valley is the driest place in the U.S., usually recording only around two inches of water annually, so blossoms are rare. And they won’t last much longer, as the heat rises and the wind picks up.

President Obama has designated three new national monuments covering nearly 1.8 million acres of land. All are in California and link already protected areas. Mojave Trails is a landscape of mountains, lava, and sand dunes, as well as rare plants and endangered birds. Sand to Snow includes the tallest mountain in southern California and around 1,700 Native American petroglyphs (art carved on rock faces) and many bird species. Castle Mountains teems with wildlife and has a ghost town. This new acreage means the current administration has protected more land and water than any other.

And there’s a new movie coming soon to a theatre near you—National Parks Adventure, a 3-D IMAX film out for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service this year. Robert Redford narrates. Watch the two-minute trailer, check out these stunning still photographs from the movie, and read about the making of the film.

The biggest wonder of all, of course, is the God who carved out these spectacular places, and fashioned each and every plant and animal found in them. Even better is the fact that of all creation, God declares us humans His finest work.

King David pondered this many times in the Psalms. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!…When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:1, 3-8). “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us. There is none to compare with You” (Psalm 40:5).

He truly is a God of wonders. As you go about your business today, take time to look for his wonders in the world around you. They’re there, no matter where you live. If that’s still a struggle, immerse yourself in the photos I’ve referenced here. Then remind yourself that you too, as one of His works, are a wonder, one greater than the most gorgeous landscapes ever made.

And repeat after me: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in my eyes” (Psalm 118:23).


November 20, 2015

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10

The news about the Paris attacks last week, and today’s situation in Mali hasn’t been easy to watch. Fear, worry that it could happen here, wondering what what’s coming…I’m sure those thoughts have flitted through all our minds, as images of death and destruction flicker across our television screens, and commentators speculate on what it all bodes for the future.

The New York Times’ November 15 Sunday magazine inadvertently added to anxieties about harm happening in the most innocent of places, with a short article about books which detail fatalities in national parks. Death in Yellowstone, Death in Yosemite, Death in the Grand Canyon and Death in Big Bend chronicle the parks’ fatalities due to accidents and homicides, from falls, floods, animal encounters gone wrong, bad decisions, stupid mistakes, clumsiness and human brutality.

Reading about them amid the terrorism was a little disconcerting, underscoring the fact that misfortune can catch us anywhere, anytime. None of us is exempt, no matter where we are, even in the most spectacular park.

Our God-given instinct is self-preservation, telling us to hide ourselves when we feel threatened. Too often, though, we fall into the trap of believing our government or our possessions will shield us, or we can somehow gut it out on our own. But those resources can only do so much.

With so much calamity and uncertainty around us, if we don’t have the right security, we’ll instead find ourselves caught in a toxic vortex of fear, worry and anxiety, grasping at whatever floats by to give us the stability we need.

So here’s the real life preserver to hang on to: lasting safety is found only in God.

His love, wisdom, power, strength, faithfulness, kindness and purpose never change or falter despite circumstances. He is always on hand, always on duty.

If you’re struggling with apprehension over the state of this old world, switch off the TV and open the Bible. Here’s a sampling of Scriptures I turn to when I’m feeling vulnerable, ones that remind us we have somewhere to run:

1 Chronicles 28:20

2 Chronicles 20:5-12

Job 42:1-2

Psalms 23, 37, 46, 91, 118, 121

Isaiah 26:3

Matthew 11:28-30

John 16:33

2 Timothy 4:18

Hebrews 4:15, 13:5

1 Peter 5:7-11

(Please feel free to add your own favorite verses by clicking on “Post Comments Here” under this post’s title.)


A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,

a wonderful Savior to me;

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,

where rivers of pleasure I see.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord—

He taketh my burden away;

He holdeth me up and I shall not be moved,

He giveth me strength as my day.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock

That shadows a dry, thirsty land;

He hideth my life in the depths of His love,

And covers me there with His hand,

And covers me there with His hand.











September 1, 2015

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name. Zechariah 14:9

Interesting news report on Sunday: President Obama announced that Mount McKinley in Denali National Park & Preserve is being renamed Denali.

Maybe you’re just as confused as I was before I visited Alaska in 2013 about these two designations. I always thought that when the park itself changed from Mount McKinley to Denali, the identity of the mountain changed too. Not so—at least not officially.

It seems there’s a century-old dust up over the whole thing. In 1896 a gold prospector tagged North America’s highest peak with the name of then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who was inaugurated into that office the following year. When Congress set aside the land surrounding the 20,237-foot mountain in 1917, it was called Mount McKinley National Park, to commemorate the commander-in-chief assassinated in 1901 during his second term.

But among Alaska natives, the mount was always called Denali, the “high one” or “great one” in the Athabaskan language. In 1975 the Alaska Board of Geographic Names made the name official within the state, and the legislature petitioned the federal board to do the same on the national level.

The request was blocked by Congressman Ralph Regula representing Canton, Ohio, which claimed President McKinley as its native son. When Jimmy Carter signed a bill adding more acreage to the park in 1980, a compromise was struck: the park’s new name became Denali National Park & Preserve, but the mountain stayed McKinley.

Regula continued to introduce legislation opposing any name change until his retirement in 2009, and his successors carried on the tradition. But in January of this year, Alaska Republican senator Lisa Murkowski put forth a bill to rename the mountain Denali, and during hearings in June, the Interior Department—under whose jurisdiction the National Park Service falls—said it had no objection.

Things moved quickly after that. The Columbus Dispatch editorialized that “Ohio should gracefully concede” and “let Denali be Denali.” (The newspaper also suggested the park name should be changed back to McKinley, something highly unlikely to happen). On August 30, President Obama took executive action to institute the change, in advance of his current trip to the forty-ninth state. And while Alaskans are grateful, Regula calls the move “disrespectful.” Other Ohio Republicans, including presidential candidate and state governor John Kasich, aren’t happy either and vow to fight. Even Donald Trump has weighed in: he says when he’s elected, he’ll change the name back.

Ah, politics…

As I mentioned in a previous post, names are important in our culture, which is why Ohio and Alaska have each crusaded for the one that means the most to its residents. Scripture likewise attaches significance to names, often given to reflect a person’s character or circumstances of birth (for example, Jacob’s sons, in Genesis chapters 29 and 30), or to mark events at a certain place (think Galeed, which means “heap of witness,” and Mizpah, meaning “watchtower,” where Laban and Jacob piled stones to mark their wary non-agression pact in Genesis 31:44-49).

There’s a church near me that has this sign out front: “Making Jesus Famous.” It never fails to give me a chuckle, because I don’t feel “famous” is the best word to use. I think to most people who aren’t Christ followers it gives the impression that Jesus needs a public relations boost because He’s in danger of becoming a has-been.

In reality I believe what the sign is referencing is John 12:32, where Jesus says that through His death and resurrection—His being “lifted up” on the cross and from the grave—He will draw people to Himself. That’s the Bible’s fundamental message (see also 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4), and not that the Lord is concerned with His celebrity. When you’re the active, self-existent Creator (Genesis 2:4, Exodus 3:13, 14), you hardly need the publicity.

On the other hand, it is the church’s mission to make Jesus known, by proclaiming His name, what it means (“the Lord is salvation,” Luke 1:11) and everything the Bible says about Him. To make Him “famous,” if you want to put it that way.

Yet Scripture tells us one day we won’t have to do that anymore, because that Name will be unforgettable. It will rise to the top, soaring higher than Denali or any other mere earthly crag. Then, Philippians says, Jesus’s name will be above all others, and at the sound of it, every single person will fall down in awe and worship to declare that truth (vv. 2:9-11).

No arguments, no discussion and, thank goodness, no politicking.


August 6, 2015

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was One like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7: 13, 14

An update on what’s been happening since last I posted: I’ve signed a contract with Sonfire Media, a small Christian publisher, for Life Lessons from the National Parks to become a book!

2016 is the National Park Service’s centennial, and so our parks will be very much in the news next year. And my book will be part of it! It will be divided into four sections corresponding with the seasons, each one having ten devotions/inspirational readings about ten separate parks. In other words, 40 parks will be highlighted. Some of the material will come from already-posted blogs, but there also will be lots of new information, including a blurb at the end of every reading with tips for visiting the location.

Needless to say, I’m tremendously excited—and nervous! And busy. I will be doing a lot of publicity after the book comes out—I don’t have a firm date yet, but I’ll let you know—and will be doing radio interviews and book signings at parks and Christian bookstores.

And I just returned from a two-week break from working on the book. Joe and I crisscrossed the country by train from Chicago, and one of the places we visited out in California was Yosemite National Park. The first (and last) time we’d been there was 30 years ago, so it was fun to go again after so long.

On that 1985 trip, we hiked up the steep Vernal Fall Trail, past the footbridge all the way up to the fall overlook and Emerald Pool (this YouTube video is of the top of the fall and the pool, showing much more water in 2014 than there is this year, due to California’s drought). Hoo boy—that hike was hard back then, and was even tougher now that we’re three decades older! The last part consists of 600 steps, with a handrail for only the last leg and barely enough room for those going up and those heading back down to pass. We weren’t the only ones who had to stop several times along the trail to catch our breath.

As you can imagine, the ascent is difficult–and the descent is no picnic either. The first strains the calves, and the latter takes a toll on thigh muscles and made my legs feel like jelly!

But what is considered by many to be the most majestic spot has no elevation gain. There is something incredibly awesome about standing in Yosemite Valley, especially on the easy, short Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail, surrounded by soaring, rugged granite peaks.

By the way, did you read about the five million pound slab of rock that fell off Half Dome in July? Apparently it took a few days for anyone to notice. Certainly we didn’t see any difference—but then again, even a chunk like that is nothing compared to the rock formation’s massive size.

What Joe and I did note, though, was the many different languages among Yosemite’s visitors. The park was crowded—not surprising, because a little over four million people went to Yosemite in 2014, and summer is its busiest season. Statistics also show that 9% of the sightseers were from international destinations, with 9% each of that percentage coming from Germany, Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Joe and I definitely heard German spoken, as well as some other languages we guessed were from Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. We also saw a lot of kids and young adults too, a very good sign.

Twenty-nine percent of Yosemite’s visitors identify as Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and/or African American, and we did see many Asians and Hispanics (whether from this country or not, I couldn’t say). But as usual, we didn’t glimpse many blacks at all, although we were heartened to see a couple of black park volunteers at the Visitor Center.

This lack of diversity among ethnicities and cultures concerns the Park Service, as witnessed in this and other articles referenced on the site. The New York Times commented on the subject last month as well. Part of the Park Service’s response to the issue has been to launch a “Find Your Park” campaign to connect Americans to nearby parks that reflect their interests. And I love this new print ad campaign put out for the centennial.

Fortunately the Park Service’s 407 units reflect the variety of people who have lived in our melting pot of a country. I’ve written on many of these places, but there are still numerous spots I have yet to see, especially as it relates to Native Americans. I recently read this Q & A with Park Service employee Otis Halfmoon, whose father was instrumental in creating the Nez Perce National Historical Park. He refers to other Park Service sites that specifically tell American Indian history: the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Halfmoon also alludes to Alcatraz, part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which Joe and I toured just before Yosemite. There’s a small room in the former prison with a film and exhibits relating to the takeover of the island by a group of American Indians from November 1969 to June 1971. You can still spot graffiti from the occupation.

All of this makes me ponder anew what heaven will look like, aside from presence of God and Jesus, who will be infinitely more awesome than Yosemite Valley. But the Bible emphasizes it also will be the eternal home of a variety of skin colors and tongues. And while most of us don’t live in that kind of environment in our day to day lives, the least we can do is find out about different cultures we’re liable to meet there, and the park sites seem like good places to start.

Maybe our search will even bring about a little heaven on earth?


June 4, 2015

These are the things you are to do: speak the truth to each another, and render true and sound judgment in your courts. Zechariah 8:16

I just finished a book titled The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell. It’s the fascinating yet heartrending story of Japanese and German families who were interred in camps during the war. Many of the adults were not citizens, even though they may have legally resided in the U.S. for years, but most of the children were. Yet they all had to leave behind their homes and businesses to live behind barbed wire. Some were then exchanged for American prisoners of war.

Can you imagine the bewilderment and shock of being sent back to a country you hadn’t lived in for years, one devastated by war and where you were (again) viewed suspiciously as a possible enemy spy? For the kids, it was even worse—they barely spoke the language, and were suddenly thrust into a culture utterly foreign to them. The book follows the stories of a couple of households, including one German-American family that ended up in a concentration camp. It’s hard to wrap my mind around what those children must have gone through.

Now, I know that it was wartime, and the U.S. had been thrust into the conflict by the attack on Pearl Harbor. From everything I’ve read about that time and from what my mother’s said, fear was rampant—would there be another invasion? Were enemy aliens in the country working against us? Mom told me rocks were thrown at her parents’ house because their surname was German, that’s how crazy it got even in a little Illinois town. President Roosevelt had come into office in 1933 in the midst of the Depression, and in his inaugural address, he reassured the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He used that same philosophy to quell these new anxieties. And one of ways he did that was to issue Executive Orders rounding up those born in the countries of our foes, along with their innocent children. These internees never had their day in court.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Reagan, granted $20,0000 each in reparations to interred Japanese-Americans and their heirs. In October 1990, a ceremony was held to present the first checks and a formal apology issued by President George H.W. Bush:

“A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories; neither can they fully convey our Nation’s resolve to rectify injustice and to uphold the rights of individuals. We can never fully right the wrongs of the past. But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“In enacting a law calling for restitution and offering a sincere apology, your fellow Americans have, in a very real sense, renewed their traditional commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. You and your family have our best wishes for the future.”

The Crystal City, Texas camp, which the book is about, and most of the other relocation/interment facilities aren’t part of the National Park Service, but several that housed nearly 120,000 Japanese-American are, including Minidoka National Historic Site on the Idaho/Washington State border; Alaska’s Aleutian World War II National Historic Area; California’s Tule Lake, part of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument; and perhaps the most accessible, Manzanar National Historic Site in California. You can find a link to all the centers here.

The administration of justice here on earth will always be imperfect. But Christians are called upon to stand for what is right and fair, by a God who loves and even delights in justice (Psalm 33:5, 37:28; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 9:23, 24), and executes it flawlessly (Psalm 140:12, John 5:30). We are to actively address wrongs and seek help and wisdom through prayer as part of serving God: “And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8; see also Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 37:30, 106:3; Proverbs 21:3; Zechariah 7:9). We won’t always get it right, and for sure we’ll be frustrated, saddened, unsatisfied and even horrified by injustice.

The Just One is also our personal Justifier (Romans 3:26). For those who are allied with Him, even though we are guilty of offenses against Him, God sent His Son to give us not what we deserve, but to take our punishment Himself and free us from our prison of sin (Romans 8:1, 2). And when Jesus returns, “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). That flood of final, absolute and perfect judgment will “bring joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15; see also Psalm 37:12, 13; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Revelation 20:12-15). And all the world’s injustices will be righted once and for all.

That day can’t come soon enough.


May 20, 2015

Can a woman forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands… Isaiah 49:49:15, 16a

Maybe you saw this video on the news—a mother bear with her three babies chasing camera-toting tourists down the road in Yellowstone. It’s kind of funny, watching the people scramble as the foursome loped toward them. And the cubs are as cute as can be. But the Park Service released the video as a cautionary tale: even though you may like to see wildlife, watch them from a distance. It recommends getting no closer than 100 yards from any creatures you may come across in the parks.

It’s also a reminder that mothers of all kind, from humans on down to the animal kingdom, aren’t to be tangled with. Those little cubs were probably curious about the running, yelling things on two legs—but their momma knew better. She recognized them as a potential threat, and she stood ready to defend her family. Moms are like that…

Except for the seriously negligent ones, of course. But even good moms slip up. A friend of mine, pregnant with her third child, drifted off one afternoon on the couch, only to be woken by a phone call from a neighbor, letting her know her two boys were dancing naked on top of her car. Twice in two weeks I let my baby fall out of her seat, once from a table to the floor, and then from her carriage into the street. As a child, I got left in the grocery store (It’s okay, I’m over it, Mom!). I’m sure you have your own stories…

It shouldn’t surprise you that God compares Himself with a mother—a perfect one. He offers motherly comfort and compassion from conception on (Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 46:3, 4; 66:13). He never goes to sleep or lets us drop (Psalm 121:3). He never makes mistakes (Psalm 18:30) or leaves us (Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 1:8, 18;).

He’s also fierce as a momma bear: “For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under his wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (Psalm 91:3, 4; see also Psalm 121: 7, 8; Isaiah 43: 1, 2; and 2 Timothy 4:18). Believe me, you don’t want to face His wrath (Psalm 6:1, Hebrews 10:26-31, Revelation 16:17-21)!

So stay away from the wild animals in the parks—but stick close to Mom…


May 8, 2015

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:1

Our society is obsessed with names. Think of the importance we attach to them. We agonize over the right first one for our children, something unique and meaningful yet not so crazy that it’ll get made fun of. Our last names usually come from ancestors who were tagged according to their traits, characteristics or jobs.

Or what about these phrases? A “name brand” is special. When someone “makes a name” for him or herself, it means they’re well known. Both products and people then have to “live up” to their name.

Which is why I find the following news so disturbing. The National Park Service has signed a $2.5 million marketing agreement with Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, to raise cash and awareness for the Park Service’s 2016 centennial and “Find Your Park” campaign. In consequence, Budweiser cans and bottles will feature images of the Statue of Liberty, and parks will host Bud-branded events like summer concerts inside park properties.

In 1998, the Park Service’s then-director issued a directive prohibiting donations associated with any “product, service, or enterprise that would reflect adversely on the NPS mission and image, such as alcohol or tobacco products,” according to the Denver Post article about this partnership. But I guess that’s gone by the wayside. And the National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress for fiscal year 2015, encourages the Park Service to pursue private funding, including “naming rights to any unit of the National Park System or a National Park System facility, including a visitor center.”

I don’t cotton to the idea of tying the parks in with alcohol nor with the possibility of assigning “naming rights” within them. As a baseball fan, I’ve witnessed the absurd onslaught of stadiums taking on the names of large corporate donors—Globe Life Park in Texas, the Chicago White Sox’s U.S. Cellular Field, Petco Park in San Diego and the dumbest one of all, O.co Coliseum in Oakland, to mention a few (and yes, three stadiums bear the names of beer brands). And now the national parks! I can see it now—The Google Grand Canyon

Okay, so I exaggerate. But names are important to us. They stand for something—an identity, a reputation—and as such are not to be taken on lightly. That’s true not only in the secular world, but among religions as well.

God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have so many names, or designations, in the Bible that I can’t list them here. Instead I refer you to this extensive (but not exhaustive) list. All reflect Their distinctive qualities and attributes, but perhaps God’s is best summed up in one title: Yahweh. This term is used 6,823 times in the Old Testament and is tied to His holiness (Leviticus 44:44, 45), His hatred of sin (Genesis 6:3-7) and His gracious provision of redemption (Isaiah 53:1, 5, 6, 10). It’s from the Hebrew verb “to be,” and was succinctly given as an answer to Moses when He asked God for His name: “I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15).

Jesus shares that same label: “God highly exalted [Jesus], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [Yahweh], to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

This association between the Park Service and Anheuser-Busch InBev may rake in the dough, but I don’t believe it’s a good choice for the parks. But I gladly take on the “name above every name,” who first reached out to me—and called me by name (Isaiah 43:1).