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 Smithsonian.com 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).


June 30, 2014

I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you…Thus you will know…that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other… Joel 2:25-27

Yosemite is 150 years old today!

On June 30, 1864 Abraham Lincoln put his signature on the Yosemite Land Grant (it took another 26 years for Benjamin Harrison to make it a national park). “In the midst of our country’s civil war, with all the bloodshed, all the battle, all the anxiety,” said ranger and park historian Dean Shenk on NPR, “many of us would like to think that he took a moment and perhaps shook his head, or smiled, in just perhaps a sigh of pleasure”—perhaps just one example of the “very good” God saw at creation (Genesis 1:31).

Many believe photos taken by Carleton Watkins in 1861 helped persuade the president to action. Eighty of the original prints are on display at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center through August 17, 2014. You also might want to check out the well-known Hudson River School paintings by Alfred Bierstadt (I have a print of the top one in my living room), as well as the park site’s own photo gallery, multimedia presentations, webcams and its sesquicentennial history page.

The current emphasis these days at Yosemite is restoration. Officials plan to restore the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias as part of the anniversary celebration. The trams that ferry people among the trees on paved roads eventually will be phased out and the parking lots built on top of the trees’ roots torn up. Visitors will have to hoof it to view the sequoias, much like those first visitors so long ago.

The Biblical book of Joel dates back much further than 150 years, to 835 B.C., yet it also concerns restoration. Joel was God’s spokesman to the Israelites during a period of severe drought and an invasion of locusts, which the prophet noted as punishment for the people’s sins, and also a harbinger of a time to come. This Day of the Lord, as it is called in Scripture, will involve God’s judgment not only of the nation of Israel but the entire world (the Old Testament books of Isaiah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel address this as well, and in the New Testament, predominately the book of Revelation).

“Has anything like this happened in your days or your fathers’ days?” Joel asks right off the bat in chapter 1. The obvious answer was no, no one had ever seen such disaster. Crops were devastated, water dried up and both animals and humans suffered tremendously. This, Joel declared, is a picture of the future as well.

But as is God’s merciful nature, He not only gives us ample warning of impending devastation and destruction, He shows us the way to avoid it. “Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain!,” the Lord urged through Joel. “Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near…Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments” (2:1, 13). Joel continues the theme: “Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness” (2:13).

God’s promises are as true today as they were for the Israelites who continued to ignore or wander away from Him. For anyone who turns from doing what is wrong in God’s sight to accept His healing and forgiveness, there is abundant provision: “Do not fear…rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has done great things…whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered (2:21, 32).

It’s a great day to celebrate the beginning of one of our nation’s most beloved and beautiful places…and a great day to make sure you’re calling on the Lord for deliverance for today and for eternity.

(This post was partly inspired by an email I received concerning Anne Graham Lotz’s call to prayer July 1-7).


June 12, 2014

Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord! Psalm 144:15

I’m sure that most of you by now have heard Pharrell Williams’s upbeat song “Happy,” from the movie Despicable Me 2. If you’ve haven’t seen the video, go here. It just may have you snapping, clapping and dancing along!

But what does this tune have to do with the national parks, you may wonder. Pharrell Willams is known for wearing hats, specifically the kind he sports in the clip (he’s the guy at the beginning and other places in the video—you also might spot some celebrities doing the happy dance, too!). And what does his hat look like? Kinda like a national park ranger’s!

The celebrity/entertainment news site TMZ noticed this, too, and at the recent reopening of the Washington Monument, facetiously asked Jonathan Jarvis, head of the National Park Service, about it (he also was queried about the possibility of another face being carved on Mount Rushmore—the TMZ staff had a flippant albeit humerous take on that…).

Mr. Williams’s song really captures the euphoria of happiness, the feeling of utter joy that makes you want to dance and sing. When I imagine happy times, I think of the moment I knew I was in love, the birth of my daughter, acceptance of an article in a major magazine, watching a beautiful sunset—things like that.

But even those really down deep instances of pure joy lasted only a little while. We humans just can’t sustain that kind of intense emotion, as much as we’d like to. Nor can we manufacture them—they’re always spontaneous. And the irony is, every one of those deep, exhilarating flashes of mine were followed by something much more prosaic—making a marriage, parenting a child, putting my nose to the grindstone, hiking down the trail. And as happens with everything in life, while doing that work, I sometimes found—and still find—myself unhappy.

So what does keep us going for the long haul? I believe the answer is not fleeting happiness, but contentment. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” the apostle Paul exhorts. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:6, 8). “Practice these things,” he advises, “and the God of peace will be with you, [and His peace], which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds (vv. 9, 7). Ups and down happen, so he concludes, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” (v. 11).

Happiness come and goes. Enjoy the feeling of “a room without a roof” or “a hot air balloon that could go to space,” as Pharrell Williams sings, when it comes. Sure, “happiness is the truth.” But so are sadness, difficulties and bad days. That’s why we need to hang on to the reality of God’s active presence in this world and His support of those who love Him (2 Chronicles 16:9, Hebrew 13:5).

That truth lasts forever!


June 5, 2014

The race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11

Perhaps you’ve read in the paper about the six climbers in Mount Rainier National Park who are missing and presumed dead.

According to the park, searchers located climbing gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons at the top of Carbon Glacier. “All indications point toward a fall of 3,300 feet from near the party’s last known location at 12,800 feet on Liberty Ridge,” says a news release. “There is no viable chance of survival from such a fall.”

Apparently it’s too dangerous to send rescue/retrieval teams there because of the risk from further falling rock and ice. Perhaps at a later time, officials say, as snow melts and conditions improve. Still, given the route’s difficulty, recovery of the bodies may not ever be possible.

You might be tempted to think that these were inexperienced hikers, but that’s not the case. The Seattle Times reports they all were frequent and skilled climbers, and one guide had summited Mount Rainier more than 50 times. A spokesman from the Seattle company that organized the climb speculated that it was a sudden incident, rather than a storm, that caught them unaware, perhaps while they were sleeping. As quoted in the New York Times, he said, “We’re all guessing at the why of this.”

Isn’t that what we wonder every time we hear of someone else’s tragedies or face our own?

Life’s whys are the most perplexing questions, without a doubt. And the biggest has to be this: why do we suffer, especially through no fault of our own? For those who believe in God, there’s an additional twist of the knife: If God is a God of love and mercy, why would He let this happen?

If you’re looking for an answer from me, you can stop reading right now, because I don’t have one. As hard as it sometimes is for me to admit, I will never find a fully satisfying answer to my whys. Job came to the same conclusion in his Old Testament book, after God basically said to him, who are you to critique Me (Job 38:1-4 to the end of the book). Job ultimately realized he was blowing smoke about things he couldn’t possibly begin to understand (42:3).

Even Solomon, to whom God gave wisdom like nobody else has ever and will ever have (1 Kings 3:12), puzzled over the whys. Life, he came to realize, can be seemingly aimless (Ecclesiastes 1:4), paradoxical (Ecclesiastes 4:1, 7:15, 8:8) and futile, but it is to be enjoyed as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15, 9:7-9). He concluded we need to stop wasting time trying to figure everything out, and instead cling to what we do know: God alone has the ability and the will to work things out (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, 12:13-14).

The sad story of the Mount Rainier climbers is a strong illustration of this solidly Biblical principle: life and death are unpredictable, and our talents and abilities often have little if any affect on either. But rather than succumb to cynicism or depressed resignation, looking to other temporary, random things to prop us up, our only sane recourse is to choose to turn to the One who holds the world together (Colossians 1:17) and never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Our plans may be thwarted, but His never are (Job 42:2)—and they are always for good (Romans 8:28).

Here’s how Charles Ryrie puts it in his commentary on 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 dealing with us or with others. God is always in control of all things, even when He appears not to be.”

Granted, that takes a heap o’ trust. Oh, for grace to trust Him more!


May 20, 2014

It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:31, 32

As you’ve probably heard, the Washington Monument reopened last week, almost three years after a 2011 earthquake left nearly 670 feet of cracks in the granite and marble edifice.

The most interesting tidbit I learned from all the media coverage was that it’s no longer possible to ascend or descend the 897 steps to and from the observation deck—you have to take the elevator. There’s a small museum below the deck, which you can walk down to if you wish, but that’s the extent of foot traffic allowed.

And that’s too bad. The interior walls are lined with commemorative stones from individuals, civic groups, cities, states and countries who wanted to honor George Washington’s memory. While some of them are visible when you go down in the elevator, the ride is too fast to get a good look. Then there’s the loss of fun and bragging rights from walking up and down those 500 feet of stairs, which I did when I was a teenager. And I made my mother do it, too (you’re a trooper, Mom!).

But lost in the hoopla of the monument’s reopening was another refurbishment, also on the National Mall, the tract of parkland encompassing many of the capital’s memorials (perhaps the most well-known image of this National Park site is that of the Reflecting Pool, situated between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument—go here and click on the Lincoln Memorial Aerial Photo for an overview). The Mall’s grass has been in bad shape for years, due to the wear and tear of countless marches, presidential inaugurations, fireworks displays, and millions of people who play games or picnic on it. Now the Park Service has installed new turf on about half of the Mall, part of a continuing $40 million restoration project.

And therein lies the problem. Tell visitors to stay off the grass, or let it be used as it was intended?

Here’s how the New York Times put it: “Should the mall remain a utilitarian gathering place, welcoming to all? Or should it be a more pristine landscape, a monument to the nation’s commitment to parks and preservation?”

That’s a question the church of Christ continually must ask itself as well. Are we welcoming to all—or do we want to keep ourselves “pristine?”

The answer, to me, is a no brainer. That would be like asking a hospital whether they would admit sick people. And that’s just how Jesus put it—it’s not people who think they’re already “fixed up” who need to hear the good news that He came to reconcile us to God—it’s the “messed up.”

And guess what? That’s ALL of us, at one time or another, whether we want to admit it or not.

In God’s eyes, we all sin and fall short of His glory—that is, we fail to live up to His standards (Romans 3:23). Our default mode is to do what we want and what we think is right, rather than what Our Creator says is right (Romans 8:5-8). Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (among other passages) mention ways in which this manifests itself.

So we all started out the same way, and we all must come to a decision at some point about whether to keep going our own way or to go God’s way. But if Christ followers only hang with those like them, how will others even know they have a choice to make? “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe whom they have not heard?” the apostle Paul asks (Romans 10:14). Christians should expect and welcome sinners of all kinds to show up at church, because we used to be them (1 Corinthians 6:11). God is alive and at work (John 5:17)! Heaven forbid His church should ever turn into a monument to the dead.

I’m not suggesting that the Christian church change or compromise its doctrine. The Times article quotes a letter Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa wrote to National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis about the grass: “While it is important to preserve the ground of this national treasure, we must ensure that its spirit is not diminished.” The church has the same tension—to espouse Biblical truth while remaining open to the Holy Spirit’s work of salvation (John 16:8-11) in the lives of anyone who walks through its doors.

The Old Testament is rife with the stories of hotheads, adulterers and outcasts (you do know Moses was a murderer, right?) whom God transformed to accomplish His plans. Jesus continued that ministry to society’s lowest (Matthew 25:31-40) and lost (Luke 15). He didn’t merely bump into them—He sought them out (Luke 14:21-23, 19:10). But He loved them too much to leave them—or us—that way (Matthew 22:11- 14). “Such were some of you,” Paul reminded the Corinthian believers), “but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).

The Park Service is going to have to figure out how to keep the Mall’s new grass in shape while keeping the space people-friendly. Already there are new rules and regulations in place. But it’s definitely still open for business.

Let’s make sure the church is, too.



May 10, 2014

Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit… Isaiah 44:9

Today (in addition to being my brother-in-law’s birthday) is the anniversary of a little-known but significant event in American history. Naturally, there’s a national park unit dedicated to it—and I’ve even been there!

The Golden Spike National Historic Site celebrates the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad, when the Union and Central Pacific Railroads were joined together in 1869. This rail link cut the time of a coast-to-coast trip from months to days. There will be a ceremony today at Golden Spike NHS, and reenactments are held twice daily every Saturday and holiday from May through Columbus Day.

But first, a little background from the Bureau of Land Management:

The Central Pacific Railroad began laying track east from Sacramento in 1863.  After tackling the rugged terrain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and crossing the Great Basin [which is a national park in Nevada], the railroad reached Utah in March 1869. The Byway follows the last 90 miles of grade laid by the Central Pacific before their rails met the Union Pacific’s at Promontory Summit. As you travel west from Golden Spike National Historic Site, you can see two parallel grades. In an effort to reap greater government subsidies, the two competing railroads laid grade along side each other for over 200 miles.

On April 28, 1869, The Central Pacific crews laid 10 miles of track in one day, a record which resulted from a bet between the two railroads. The Central Pacific crews rested at Camp Victory (Rozel), just west of the back country byway information site.

Nine of every ten men who built the Central Pacific Railroad were Chinese. Renowned for their reliability and industrious work ethic, they labored into Utah ten thousand strong with little more than picks, shovels, and black powder. Subsisting on tea, rice, and dried vegetables from China, they lived in segregated quarters in camps. [For more on these immigrant workers, go here.]

Note that the place where the tracks met is called Promontory Summit. The National Park Service strives to emphasize the site is not called Promontory Point, under the Golden Spike’s “FAQs” section:

Promontory Point is thirty-five miles south of Golden Spike. The correct name for this location is Promontory Summit. For unknown reasons, some reporters and railroad officials in 1869 wrote that the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Point, and this falsehood has been perpetuated throughout history in textbooks, films, and all other forms of media.

A post on National Parks Traveler also mentions other misinformation regarding the golden spike ceremony, including the story of the four spikes used on May 10: two of gold, one of gold and silver, and one of silver. There was also a special silver tie into which the spikes would be driven, and a silver maul (spike hammer) with which to do it.

But all of those were for show. Central Pacific President Leland Stanford and Union Pacific Vice-President Thomas Durant merely tapped the spikes so all the objects could be preserved for posterity without any marks.

Afterwards, the commemorative items were removed and replaced with three ordinary iron pikes, an iron maul and a basic pine tie so the tracks really and truly could be joined. Stanford swung and hit the tie; Durant also took a swing and missed even the tie! It fell to a “regular rail worker” to actually drive home that last spike.

And what became of the ceremonial pieces? The gold and the silver spikes as well as the silver maul now reside at the Cantor Arts Museum at Stanford University, named after you-know-who. The gold and silver spike is owned by the Museum of the City of New York. The specially crafted tie ended up in the San Francisco offices of the Southern Pacific (into which the Central Pacific line had been reorganized; that railroad in turn merged with the Union Pacific in 1959), and burnt during that city’s 1906 earthquake and fire.

I certainly understand the symbolic importance of these articles—constructing a railroad that stretched from ocean to ocean was a great accomplishment that changed America, and seeing them helps us remember that achievement. And yet, on that day so long ago, they were useless. They were worthless to do the actual job of joining two railroad tracks.

We humans have a tendency to do that. We assign value to things that, in the end, have no real worth. As the prophet Isaiah noted, much of the stuff we sacrifice for, invest in and count as precious—possessions, careers, success—often makes us its slave, drives us crazy and catches us up in an endless cycle of futility. We try to make our “gold and silver” into what they were never meant to and can never be.

The Lord offers a better, lasting alternative: “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live…” (Isaiah 55:2, 3).


April 28, 2014

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained: what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Psalm 8:3, 4

In a wrap up of “oddball” bills awaiting action by Congress, Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times mentions one of particular interest to me: a measure that would establish the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park. This act calls for setting aside the moon areas where Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts trod,  to protect the surface from “spacefaring commercial entities and foreign nations,” says the proposal’s chief sponsor, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.).

The bill, which has yet to get a hearing, has elicited some…interesting reactions, as you might expect. “We don’t own the moon!” cried the Congressional Western Caucus. Citizens Against Government Waste noted that Edwards and her co-sponsor, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) “have gone where no member of Congress has gone before.”

(And then there are the conspiracy theories that claim we’ve never sent anyone to the moon…)

Nope, we don’t own the moon, or the planets, sun and constellations either, for that matter. But God does. He made each one and set them in place. Scripture says He knows the exact number of stars and even gave them names (Isaiah 40:26).

Even more incredible is that He knows each one of us thoroughly, all our thoughts, words and actions (Psalm 139: 1-18). But it’s not a negative knowledge, David the psalmist explains—it’s an expression of how great God is and how puny our minds are in comparison (v. 6), and wisdom to keep us from harm (vv. 23, 24). The sky, David declares, is a silent witness to God’s amazing creativity and love (Psalm 19:1-3, Romans 1:20).

We may never have a park on the moon, or if by some extraordinary chance it did come to pass, most of us would never have the means to visit. But a mere upward glance, day or night, reveals an earthly truth, accessible to all, far surpassing anything this world (or another) has to offer.

P.S. My blog has a new look because of changes by WordPress, the software I use for my blog. Hope you like it!