December 6, 2014

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:3

Four of the nine living survivors the USS Arizona are gathered in Hawaii this week, set to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On Sunday, the actual 73rd anniversary of that “day of infamy,” they’ll toast their shipmates with a bottle of sparkling wine given to their survivors’ association in 1975 by President Gerald Ford from the White House wine collection, reports Stars and Stripes. It’s likely this will be the last official reunion in the islands, since the men are all in their nineties.

The Arizona sank during the massive attack that brought the U.S. into World War II, and 1,177 sailors died that day. Many of the bodies remain entombed in the vessel, and 38 survivors chose it as the final resting place for their cremated remains. The ship is now part of the National Park Service’s World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

One of the survivors at this reunion, Donald Stratton, was burned over 65 percent of his body. He spent a year in recovery and rehab, and then was medically discharged. But he re-enlisted and went on to serve in the South Pacific until war’s end.

Scripture often uses the analogy of soldiering and fighting to describe the Christian life, especially in 2 Timothy. Like Mr. Stratton, who felt so strongly in the cause for which he fought that he signed on again despite grave injuries, Christians have a “holy calling, not according to our works, but according to God’s own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus” (1:9, 10). Christians—like good soldiers—are commended to be single-minded (2:3, 4) and disciplined (2:6-10) in their crusade to serve the Lord.

Soldiers never know what will happen when they go to war—injury, death and defeat are always possible. Very few escape unscathed in some way. Same in civilian life. But no matter where we do battle, we have a Commander who fights alongside us (2 Chronicles 20:15; Psalm 16:8, 9), and He guarantees victory when we stick with Him: “It is a trustworthy statement: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Soldier on!



November 19, 2014

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

Maurice Barboza’s idea to build a memorial to black Revolutionary War soldiers first came to him in 1984. That was the year his aunt achieved her goal of becoming the second black member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Over the next 30 years, Barboza did a lot to see his vision realized—historical research, development of a monument and congressional legislation. He even sold his house to raise money for the project.

Last month, all his work started to pay off. Congress unanimously approved a site for The National Liberty Memorial on the National Mall—under the National Park Service’s jurisdiction—and President Obama signed the authorization into law. “It’s been a long struggle,” Barboza told The Washington Post of his effort to honor the 5,000-10,000 black soldiers—some free, others falsely promised freedom in exchange for their joining in—who fought for independence from the British.

But his job is hardly over. He and his supporters still have to raise at least $6 million for the memorial’s design and construction. Then they have to get approval from the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

What makes a person chase a vision over three decades and at the cost of selling his home? Only something valuable, something he believed in with all his heart.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that kind of quest. Commentators debate two interpretations of the parables (stories told to illustrate a spiritual or moral truth) of the hidden treasure and the precious pearl. They could demonstrate God’s great love for us by sending His Son Jesus to pursue us for Himself—in other words, each of us are His “treasure” and “fine pearl,” and He gave up all He had (i.e. His life) to pay the price for our salvation so that we would be with Him forever.

Alternately, the treasure and pearl may stand for the incomparable value of knowing God, for which no sacrifice is too great. It is the comfort and joy of having Him as Savior in our life now (the earthly kingdom of heaven), and looking forward to that future, eternal kingdom after death or when Jesus comes again (Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Timothy 4:18, 2 Peter 1: 10-11).

Maurice Barboza is admirably determined to see his dream come to fruition, and he’s more than proved he’s willing to work for it. Either interpretation of these Biblical parables expresses a similar truth: precious things are found not by passive waiting, but by conscious seeking. God took the initiative for His beloved (John 3:16). His desire is for every person to know Him (1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9). He never gives up searching (2 Chronicles 16:9) and standing by for our response (Isaiah 55:6; Matthew 6:33, 7:7).

Because He is the greatest reward of all (Psalm 19:7-11).



November 7, 2014

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God…How much more severely do you think a person deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?…It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26, 27, 29, 31

More vandalism in the parks—graffiti-like paintings have been found in eight western locations. Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Death Valley in California; Crater Lake in Oregon; Zion and Canyonlands in Utah; and Rocky Mountain in Colorado are all national parks that have been hit with huge, colorful pictures painted on rock outcroppings. Colorado National Monument also has been tagged. Park workers are trying to get rid of the “art” by sandblasting or using chemical strippers and even spatulas to scrap off the paint, trying to find the best methods to loosen the material without damaging the natural rock.

The woman suspected of defacing the parks posted photos of her work on Instagram and Tumblr, perhaps not anticipating the furor it would set off (she’s since disconnected her phone). People who love the national parks and other wilderness areas are livid over this defilement of nature, and justifiably so.

Investigators are interviewing her and collecting evidence for what could be felony charges.

But all this makes me wonder—why do we think these same rules don’t apply to our relationship with God? Why do we take our desecration of Him so lightly? Why do we imagine there are no consequences when we “trample the Son of God under foot?”

On his “Desiring God” blog, John Piper discusses this very subject, referring to the verses I quoted at the beginning:

“When it comes to God, all we want to hear is the sweet side—the tender side, the warm side…We believe that the only good motivation comes from hearing about grace, not judgment. And little by little we let that motivational conviction (as unbiblical as it is) creep into our view of God Himself, until we have no categories anymore to understand, let alone love, a God whose wrath is a fury of fire against sinners. But the writer of this book of Hebrews will not be silent about the wrath of God…

“Whatever your view of God, the Creator of the universe and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, if it does not include this, it is a distorted, unrealistic view. God is a God of vengeance, and to fall into His hands is a terrifying thing…

“Most people today do not tremble at the power and wrath and judgment of God. He is a good old boy. Or a coddling father. Or a doting friend. But rarely a raging fire of indignation and holy anger at sin.”

Just like the woman “artist” in the parks, we’ve all left a trail of graffiti—all the things we’ve said, done and thought that are fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)—behind us, sometimes even boasting of our “work,” never considering that we justly merit the anger of our Creator, whose standards we have ignored or defiantly disobeyed.

And yet…like any loving parent, God desires not punishment but restoration. John Piper again: “God has made a provision for escaping His anger, namely, the sacrifice of His Son in the place of sinners. The love of God provides escape from the wrath of God by sacrificing the Son of God to vindicate the glory of God in forgiving sinners. That’s the gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ—the essence of Christianity—makes no sense at all apart from the wrath of God. If there is no wrath and no judgment to escape, then Christ was sacrificed in vain.

“But He did not die in vain. He died so that you and I and anyone who believes on Him might be saved from the wrath of God and have everlasting life in the love of God—in the peaceful eye of the hurricane of His holy wrath.”

Piper concludes with a warning: “Take heed to yourselves. You have received a knowledge of the truth. The Son of God has laid His life down for you to receive as your substitute…Do not trample the Son of God or make light of His blood or insult the Spirit of grace that is blowing over your soul even now.”

Let God gently and lovingly scrape away all that stands between you and Him. His Son is the right tool for the job. Even the most stubborn stains are no problem (Isaiah 1:18). Only He can restore you to the way in which you were meant to live.


October 23, 2014

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

A couple of reports about destruction in the national parks came to my attention recently, one from natural causes and the other due to humans behaving badly.

An example of the former is the recent fire at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania—the non-suspicious blaze wiped out three administrative buildings, a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001, and some personal possessions of the 40 people killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed that day.

Then last month, someone damaged a fossilized bone at Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument, taking a hunk out of a sauropod’s humerus, most likely as a souvenir. That, of course, is illegal.

Stealing and destroying don’t happen only in national parks, of course. Spiritual forces of evil are everywhere (Ephesians 6:12).

I don’t like to talk about the devil and demons too much, because people can get all weirded out about the subject, and some are especially prone to look for a demon behind every bush, so to speak. As C.S. Lewis writes in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, his humorous (but spot on) take on how Satan works in a Christian’s life, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

Along the lines of disbelief is making Satan into a joke. Believe me, I love Flip Wilson’s routines, and he weaves his catchphrase—“The devil made me do it”—into hilarious skits (find one of his best here—and wait for the punch line). But it’s much easier to laugh at the thought of the devil than to ponder his reality.

Because he certainly is real. Satan is mentioned in 7 Old Testament books and by every New Testament writer. Jesus acknowledged his existence (Matthew 13:39; Luke 10:18, 11:18); He even did battle with him (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil is called a liar and murderer (John 8:44), an accuser (Revelation 12:10), a deceiver (Revelation 20:3), a schemer (Ephesians 6:11) and an all-around adversary (1 Peter 5:8). He’s involved in all that is dark and evil (Ephesians 6:12), and works in opposition to God (Matthew 16:23), trying to prevent people from believing in God (Luke 8:12, 2 Corinthians 4:4). John 10:10 sums up the devil’s mission very well—steal, kill and destroy.

The good news is that Satan does not have ultimate power over those who profess Jesus as their Savior. He can be successfully resisted (James 4:7). We may be tempted to wrong and evil, but God limits just how far the devil can go (Mark 1:23-27, Job 1:12). God protects believers spiritually—and sometimes physically (John 17:15; 1 John 3:8, 5:18) and equips us with everything we need to fight back (Ephesians 6:13-18).

We only go around once, but Satan whispers in our ears that in order to make that trip worthwhile, we need to get what we can while we can, maybe even stealing, killing and destroying things and other people to do so.

But the only “souvenir” we can take from this life is our soul, and nothing we could gain in this world is ever worth destroying or losing that (Mark 8:36, 37).


October 2, 2014

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Sesame Street was one of my favorite children’s shows when my daughter was growing up. “Watch Sessie,” she would say, wanting to see “Big Ick” (Big Bird) and the gang every afternoon during her toddler days.

Even now, years later, Joe and I still reminisce about and quote lines from the show. Do any of you parents remember Smokey Robinson singing “You Really Got a Hold on Me” while trying to get out of the grip of the letter U (get it—“you” sounds like “U”)? “Squeal of Fortune” with the Count and Prairie Dawn? Ernie and the boogie-woogie sheep (“Oh, not the bugle!” Bert moans)? Grover and the waiter (“Round and tasty on a bun, pickles, French fries, yum, yum, yum”), and Captain Vegetable  (“My name is Eddie, I love spaghetti…”)? Or Guy Smiley and the shrieking shovel?

So I was glad to read that Elmo and Murray have teamed up with the National Park Service to introduce youngsters to the national parks. So far there are videos for the Grand Canyon and Gateway National Recreation Area, and you can find them here. It’s a fun way for you and the kids or grandkids to explore our great landscapes together.

Sesame Street’s theme song ends with a question—“Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” Thomas, one of Jesus’s disciples, posed a similar query to the Man he’d been following for three years. At the time, in view of His coming crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus had been encouraging His disciples: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” (John 14:1-4).

Obviously, Thomas wasn’t quite sure he did. “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?” (v. 5). And Jesus graciously and plainly answered him: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (vs. 6).

Christianity has been denigrated as a religion of exclusivity, meaning it shuts people out. One way to God? How narrow-minded! Yes, it is—“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:13 and 14.

Think of it this way: finding the “broad way” is pretty simple. We humans are always looking for the easy way, the shortcut, the quick route—and the world gladly offers plenty. It’s so much easier to do what we want and go with the flow, but the consequences aren’t pretty: “Professing to be wise, they became fools…and exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…[So] God gave them over to degrading passions [and] a depraved mind…being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:22, 25, 26, 28-32).

Finding and traveling down a “narrow” path takes more time and effort. It means searching out and choosing a different direction. For example, who really wants to work out and eat right, or go to work every day? Not most of us. But we make the decision to get off the couch or out of bed because we enjoy the rewards—a healthy weight and body, and money in the bank. We feel better, act better, live better. And that makes the discipline and sacrifice worth it.

That “narrow way” is what Jesus offers us—a meaningful life with the God of the universe alongside to help us stand up under its slings and arrows (Matthew 11:28-30, John 16:33, Ephesians 6:10-13), and eternal rewards. And that path is open to everyone who looks for it: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

It’s not how you get to Sesame Street, but it’ll get you someplace even more delightful!


September 22, 2014

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Cor. 9:24, 25

I’ve heard about ultramarathons, runs that go for more (usually much more) than the usual 26.2 marathon miles. And I recently read about ultramarathoners who are increasingly taking to the trails of the national parks for their epic adventures. And why not, since these places are among the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

While I hate to run, and the thought of all that sprinting over miles and miles makes me want to take a nap, I was fascinated to read there’s a website that unofficially keeps track of the FKT, or fastest known time, of different ultramarathon challenges not just in America’s national parks but all over the world. It seems to be an online community that shares information on different routes and comes up with new ones every year, and is also a place to claim bragging rights.

The problem with bragging rights, though, is that they often last only a short time. Being the greatest feels terrific, but as Solomon said, time and chance take their toll (Ecclesiastes 9:11), and FKTs and other such distinctions eventually matter not a whit in the eternal scheme of things.

In the verses I quoted at the beginning, the apostle Paul compares our lives to the Isthmian games, with which his readers in Corinth would have been very familiar, since they were held in that city every two years. The games were in honor of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea (his Roman name is Neptune). Athletes—men and women—competed in footraces, wrestling, boxing (and not the gentlemanly kind either—it was brutal), discus, javelin, long jump and chariot racing, as well as poetry reading and singing (!). Participants trained rigorously. All competitors took an oath to abide by the rules of the games; if they violated that pledge, they were disqualified. And at the conclusion, there were no silver or bronze holders—only one person won each contest. He or she received a crown, in the early years one of celery leaves, but in Paul’s day a wreath of pine, supposedly sacred to Poseidon.

God recognizes that we are all ultramarathoners in our life race, and through Paul’s words, He tells us what have to do to win. Physical exercise is important, but we also need to train ourselves spiritually, recognizing that our biggest struggles are in our heart, mind and spirit (Ephesians 6:10-12). And we must vow to follow the rules—God’s, not our own, since He’s the final arbiter (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 3:16, 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15). To do both, we’ve got to know the “rule book,” that is, the Bible.

When we run our life His way, God promises us not a crown that withers away, spoils or fades, but one that is worth more than any precious medal, reserved in heaven just for us (1 Peter 1:4, 7; 5:4).

Then we can say with Paul, as our earthly FKTs, honors, awards and laurels fall away, and we look toward our final reward: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).

Keep running!

P.S. And think about visiting a national park this Saturday, when entrance fees are waived for National Public Lands Day.


August 27, 2014

I lift up my eyes to hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121

Drones have invaded the national park system!

Despite National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis’s edict that all parks take steps to prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft, someone let his or her radio-controlled drone drop into Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic hot spring. The brilliantly-colored body of water is the third-largest hot spring in the world, 370 feet in diameter and more than 121 feet deep.

Apparently, the person flying the drone approached a park employee about retrieving his property; the employee unthinkingly let the tourist go. Yet the aircraft still remains in the drink—the latest news indicates park officials haven’t yet spotted it nor decided whether to even retrieve it.

This is not the first drone intrusion into the parks—the Chicago Tribune notes that earlier this summer, one crashed into a marina at Yellowstone Lake, and Grand Teton National Park has seen several violations of its ban.

“Recreational” drones are usually used to take personal videos and photos, but increasingly, we hear about their role in surveillance and warfare (read more than you’ll ever want to know about them here). How our government and military deploys them is a subject for elsewhere, but the National Park Service is concerned about public safety, protection of wildlife and natural features, and disruption of the parks’ tranquility. Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks now ban drones, and an interim rule by the National Park Service prohibits launching, landing or operating unmanned aircraft from or on Appalachian National Scenic Trail lands. I expect we’ll be seeing a more extensive prohibition on them very soon.

A drone’s “eyes” record and report. The results can be used for good—or sometimes not, especially if it intrudes on someone’s right to privacy. That makes me think of two pieces of music—The Cadillacs’ light-hearted oldie, “Peek-a-Boo” (“Peek-a-boo, I’m watchin’ you”), and The Police’s driving “Every Breath You Take,” which I call the Stalker Song (“Every move you make, every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you”).

But the all-seeing drones also remind me that there is an all-seeing God, one that never gets lost, never stops functioning, and never needs repair or downtime. He watches over each and every life, from beginning to end, something our minds just can’t grasp.

But He isn’t a stalker out to harm us. Do you remember this little ditty from Sunday School:

Oh be careful little eyes what you see,

Oh be careful little eyes what you see.

For the Father up above

Is looking down in love;

Oh be careful little eyes what you see.


Oh be careful little ears what you hear…

Oh be careful little hands what you do…

Oh be careful little feet where you go…

Oh be careful little mouth what you say…

One day we will have to face all we’ve let into our hearts and our heads, all we’ve said, and all we’ve done: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13; see also Matthew 12:36, 37 and 25:14-30).

But the God of judgment who looks down in love has taken it upon Himself—literally, through the death and resurrection of His Son—to cover each thought, word and action of ours that’s contrary to His ways: “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2; see also John 3:17; Romans 8:1, 2).

It is those caring, devoted, sympathetic eyes that “range through the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). So look up—perhaps you’ll see a drone (hopefully not in the parks). But you’ll always find the One who’s watching over His beloved (Romans 9:25; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 John 3:1, 2; Jude 1).


August 11, 2014

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.   Isaiah 43:1-4

We’ve all been hearing about the terrible fires out West. Ironically, I’ve just completed an article for the magazine that goes out to Costco members about fire safety planning in the home (you can read it in the October issue of Costco Connection).

Yosemite National Park in California has been battling fires, but according to the latest update, the largest one, named El Portal after a nearby town, is  contained. Other fires in the park, started by lightening strikes, are being managed.

During a visit to Yellowstone National Park a few years back, I read about the historic fire of 1988.  That summer was the driest in the park’s recorded history, leading to 8,500 burned acres by mid-July. But within a week, fire encompassed nearly 99,000 acres, and by the end of the month drought and high winds made the fire almost unmanageable. Firefighters around the country arrived to help in what became the nation’s largest fire-fighting effort, and the effort made national news. On the worst day, in August, winds pushed the fire across more than 150,000 acres. The first snows in September helped dampen the flames, and the immediate threat to life and property was over, although the last of the fire wasn’t extinguished until November.

But the most interesting thing I learned about fire that day was that fire isn’t always bad. Naturally occurring wildfire, from lightning, can be good, contrary to early opinions that it’s destructive and should always be suppressed. Fire clears away forest floor debris to make way for new growth, and thins the tree canopy to let in more light to stimulate this rebirth.

What I found most fascinating was this: lodgepole pines, which make up nearly 80% of Yellowstone’s forests, have cones that are sealed by resin. It’s only the intense heat of a fire that opens them up, releasing the seeds inside so they can spread to make more pines.

Fire is a given in life, both the physical and the emotional and spiritual kinds. To prevent real fires, we do everything we can to avoid them—buying/renting places whose wiring has been inspected, installing smoke detectors, purchasing flameproof sleepwear, teaching our kids not to play with matches, etc.

But sometimes fire comes, no matter what we do. A few winters ago, during the Christmas season, we had outdoor lights, plugged into a timer in an outdoor light switch, using all perfectly safe equipment. But one night Joe smelled and saw smoke near the doorway, and we called the fire department. Whew—what a scene! Three fire trucks, police, sirens flashing…My neighbor came over and asked if I was burning the Christmas cookies I always make for him and his family! The fire fighters tramped all over the house, using an infrared camera to find the source of the smoke. Turns out the outdoors socket was half-buried in snow, causing unseen smoldering that could have burst into flame. One of the firefighters also gave us a few tips about things he saw around the house that he felt were small fire hazards.

Joe and I were grateful nothing bad happened that night, but believe me, we’ve had other “fires” in our lives, those difficult emotional, financial and people-related infernos that threatened our well-being. Sometimes the “flames” were so intense, I wondered how we’d survive.

I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Old Testament book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a blazing fire because they would not bow down and worship his statue: “And what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” he taunted (3:15). But the trio stood their ground: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:16-18).

What amazing faith! Faced with a horrible death, they refused to renounce God and trusted Him to either save them or help them die. Perhaps you know the end of the story, how a raging Nebuchadnezzar order the fire heated seven times hotter, tied up the three “rebels” and had them thrown in (the fire was so hot the soldiers who did the deed died). “Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw in to the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.” He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods’” (Daniel 3:24, 25). Bible scholars and commentators speculate that what Nebuchadnezzar saw in the furnace may have been an angel or possibly a preincarnate appearance of Jesus—at any rate, the king realized whoever this being was, he was mightier than his gods, who could never have saved the men. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged from the fire so unscathed that in addition to not being harmed a bit, they didn’t even smell like smoke!

No, Scripture doesn’t shy away from affirming that everyone—Christians or not—will go through the fire in this life. Job says, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), and Jesus states, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

But in the latter half of that verse, He also assures us, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I have passed through my fires—and I will future ones, too—because Someone walked through the flames with me, the God I’d given my life to, whose commandments and promises I’d studied. One of them is this: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6, 7).  My troubles have cleared out the “deadwood” in my life and allowed God’s light to shine through. Just as God designed the lodgepole pine to flourish under fire, He always brings new growth in my faith through my fiery trials.

And He will do the same for you if you are His child (John 1:12), right up to the very end: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever” (2 Timothy 4:18).


July 23, 2014

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. Psalm 22:14

Firehole Lake Drive in Yellowstone National Park is back in business.

Perhaps you read or heard last week about the road “melting” (see a photo of it here). The problem? Extreme heat from surrounding thermal areas caused thick oil to bubble to the surface, which then damaged the blacktop.

But temporary repairs have allowed the popular, scenic road—a looping drive that winds through an active thermal section—to reopen.

Not to worry, though. As a headline proclaims, “Yes, Yellowstone’s Roads Just Melted. No, There’s No Reason to Panic.” Yellowstone is an active volcano and one of the world’s largest calderas (a area formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption). It also has about 1,000-3,000 earthquakes annually, a result of the huge number of faults associated with the volcano. But most quakes aren’t felt, and they serve to maintain the hydrothermal activity the park is known for: it contains more geothermal features than anywhere else on earth, with over 300 geysers and 10,000 other thermal elements.

But a catastrophic eruption isn’t imminent, the park’s website notes: “Geologic activity at Yellowstone has remained relatively constant since earth scientists first started monitoring some 30 years ago…[I]t is very unlikely to occur in the next thousand or even 10,000 years.”

A glance at a newspaper, the Internet or television shows tensions and trouble bubbling over all around the world. Like David wrote in Psalm 22—and perhaps like you, too—my heart melts like wax when I hear and read the news. My natural tendency is to fear and panic. What next, I ask myself. How will these conflicts and tragedies work themselves out?

I have few answers but lots of unease.

Then I remember God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10 (one of many similar verses throughout Scripture): “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.” Just as God’s people did in the days of Jehoshaphat, I remind myself the only solution is to take my worry and “turn [my] attention to seek help from the Lord,” acknowledging that He alone is “ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations [and] power and might are in [His] hand…[that I] am powerless [and] do not know what to do, but [my] eyes are on [Him]” (2 Chronicles 20: 4, 6, 12).

I pray that in these days of global unrest—and also in your everyday life—you too will refuse to hit the panic button, but instead “cast your cares upon the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).