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, 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).


April 29, 2015

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1, 2

Time for a little test: The Weather Channel has put together this short, 10-question quiz on the national parks. I admit I got one incorrect answer—I wasn’t sure which desert was pictured.

I’ve been writing this blog for six(!) years now, with each post reiterating the same basic message: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

I’ve tried to present it a variety of ways while conveying what I’ve learned about the parks and, more significantly, how I’ve seen Scriptural principles reflected in them, taking this phrase as a guide: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

I believe I have “correctly handle[d] the word of truth,” as Paul admonishes his protégé Timothy to do (2 Timothy 2:15). But, strange as this may sound to some of you, I don’t want you to take what I write as gospel. The Bible is the gospel, not my words, and it says very clearly that what I—or anyone—proclaim as biblical truth must be backed up by Scripture.

Even early believers had to stand up under that scrutiny. Acts 17 relates how Paul and Silas traveled from to Berea, going straight to the Jewish synagogue so Paul could tell them about Jesus, as was their custom (v. 2). The Bereans “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (v. 11).

So please, don’t just take my word for it—make sure for yourself that what I’m saying is biblically accurate. Because while knowing about the national parks may be fun and interesting, studying and understanding Scripture’s promises and commands is not merely important—it’s vital. As Moses reminds us, “they are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

April 23, 2015


We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

President Obama visited Everglades National Park here in Florida yesterday in honor of Earth Day. Maybe he used it to tweak the state’s two likely Republican presidential contenders—former governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio—in their own backyard, as suggested by a New York Times article. But he had to go somewhere to acknowledge the day, and Everglades is as good a place as any.

The president called the 1.5 million acre park “magical” and a “treasure,” and indeed it is. It’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., declared a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Several endangered species reside in Everglades, including the elusive Florida panther (I saw one’s footprint when I was there!), manatees, sea turtles and American crocodiles (you may remember that in one of my first posts, I mentioned that the park is the only place in the world where alligators and crocs co-exist). Mangrove trees with their strange root system are abundant. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a journalist who fought hard to protect this natural ecosystem, called the park a “river of grass,” a fitting description of the sawgrass undulating in the slow-moving water.

We treasure many things in this life, some of which were never meant to be given such lofty status. Scripture speaks eloquently of this tendency of ours: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Usually we have to learn this the hard way. For me it was by robbery, first of our apartment and then a few years later our house. The crooks took both my newer jewelry and pieces that had belonged to my grandmother. And my poor mom—she went berserk when she discovered one of my brothers unknowingly threw out a box of household cleaning supplies ruined not by moths or rust but by a leaking pipe. She had used the package as a clever (or so she thought) storage place for her valuables.

What we often forget in our day-to-day existence is that our greatest treasure isn’t a thing or object. It’s our soul, ironically enclosed in our “earthen vessel.” We won’t be taking that container with us when we leave—just the spirit, so cherished and loved by God that He sent His Son to die for it (John 3:16, Romans 5:8).

Because, you see, we are His treasure (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18; Psalm 135:4; Malachi 3:17).


April 14, 2015

As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

April 15 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln, the first president killed while in office, and solemn remembrances will mark the occasion.

Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln was shot and which is now part of the National Park System, will hold around-the-clock dramatic re-tellings of the events of April 14-15. Its museum will be open as usual, with exhibits such as the tiny pistol John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate Lincoln, his coat and top hat, and a bloodstained flag. Visitors can cross the street to the Petersen House, where the mortally wounded president was carried the night of the 14th and where he died the following morning (D.C. church bells will toll at 8:00 a.m. on the 15th). Adjacent to the house is the Center for Education and Leadership, which explores the immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s death and his continuing legacy.

The events of these next two days are sure to be crowded, but Ford’s is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas days so you can go there throughout the year (actually, April 18 and 19 are good days to go, because it’s the beginning of National Parks Week, April 18-26, and admission is free on those two days at any park). And although the Ford’s Theatre itself is sometimes closed because it’s a professional working stage, there are other, on-going programs at the site: “One Destiny,” a short show which runs in the summer, depicting the assassination through the eyes of two witnesses, and an evening musical through May 20 about Lincoln and the Civil War. The theatre also will host a walking tour of downtown Washington through October, themed on the shooting. If you’d like to brush up on the events of April 14-15 online, I suggest this Smithsonian article, excerpted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

It’s right and good to memorialize this and other solemn occasions that changed the course of American history. But reading about all the activities centered on the dates got me thinking about where the word “remember” occurred in the Bible.  I looked it up in a concordance, and discovered many of the references were about not remembering. But it was the subject of what was not remembered—in other words, what was forgotten—that riveted my attention the most:

“In Your [God’s] love You kept me from the pit of destruction; You have put all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38:17)

“’I, even I [God], am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more’” (Isaiah 43:25)

“’I [God] have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist’” (Isaiah 44:22)

“’For I [the Lord] will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’” (Jeremiah 32:34)

“’In those days, at that time’, declares the Lord, ‘search will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare’” (Jeremiah 50:20)

“Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18, 19)

“’Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord’” (Acts 3:19)

“[God] forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14)

Don’t these verses paint a great word picture? God has taken all the offenses His followers have ever done or will do against Him and others, and infinitely separated them from us. He put them behind Him; blotted, wiped and swept them away; ground them under His feet; tossed them into the deepest sea; and stamped “Paid In Full” on that sin debt once and for all by putting it on Jesus who took the punishment we rightly deserved.

And then He forgets there even was any wrongdoing to begin with!

How He does that…I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. But I figure if He’s great enough to create the world, then He’s great enough to disremember.

Still—I regularly beat myself up about my past mistakes and failures, and too often suppose that’s what God must do, too. But when He casts our sins into the ocean, He doesn’t set up a fishing hole there. So why should we? Because as far as He’s concerned, there’s nothing there.

And that is something to remember.






April 9, 2015

Submit therefore to God…Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:7, 8

Today is a day of surrender at Appomattox.

One hundred and fifty years ago Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee capitulated to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia. My daughter is there, and she says it’s crowded. There’s a slew of activity at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park—historical narration of the happenings on that important day so long ago, signings by authors of Civil War history books, demonstrations of Civil War era photography and a reenactment of the surrender. This evening there will be lantern tours of the historic village. Commemorative events continue through the 19th (see the schedule here).

Most people focus on the village when they visit Appomattox Court House NHP. It’s largely a self-guided park—cars aren’t allowed, so you must explore on foot. Two different videos are shown at the visitor center, and exhibits include original artifacts associated with the surrender. Living history talks are often presented by actors portraying people who were there in 1865, so while it’s fun to be there on the actual date, you can still get a good feel for what went on no matter when you go.

Here’s what has to say about surrender: “Surrender is a battle term. It implies giving up all rights to the conqueror. When an opposing army surrenders, [the soldiers] lay down their arms, and the winners take control from then on.

“Surrendering to God works the same way. God has a plan for our lives, and surrendering to Him means we set aside our own plans and eagerly seek His. The good news is that God’s plan for us is always in our best interest (Jeremiah 29:11), unlike our own plans that often lead to destruction (Proverbs 14:12). Our Lord is a wise and beneficent victor; He conquers us to bless us [1 Peter 5:6].

“There are different levels of surrender, all of which affect our relationship with God. Initial surrender to the drawing of the Holy Spirit leads to salvation (John 6:44, Acts 2:21). When we let go of our own attempts to earn God’s favor and rely upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, we become a child of God (John 1:12, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

“But there are times of greater surrender during a Christian’s life that bring deeper intimacy with God and greater power in service. The more areas of our lives we surrender to Him, the more room there is for the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we exhibit traits of His character (Galatians 5:22). The more we surrender to God, the more our old self-worshiping nature is replaced with one that resembles Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Romans 6:13 says that God demands that we surrender the totality of our selves; He wants the whole, not a part: ‘Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.’ Jesus said that His followers must deny themselves (Mark 8:34)—another call to surrender.

“The goal of the Christian life can be summed up by Galatians 2:20: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Such a life of surrender is pleasing to God, results in the greatest human fulfillment, and will reap ultimate rewards in heaven (Luke 6:22-23).”

The Confederates and Gen. Lee weren’t happy to give up. They fought right to the end—Private Jesse H. Hutchins joined the Confederate Army in the first days of the Civil War, served in almost every major battle in the East, and was shot and killed in a skirmish very near Appomattox just hours before Lee surrendered (his grave is in the Confederate cemetery there). But Lee’s troops were worn, weary and desperate. “There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant,” Lee admitted, “and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

And yet I imagine there was a sense of relief as well. No more battles—just going home. Rest at last from the misery and pain of war.

Surrender to God also involves those same two emotions. It’s tough to relinquish our rights to live as we please and yield instead to God’s will. But oh, the release! When we finally come to the end of ourselves and realize we can’t always fix our circumstances and problems, when we’re tired of fighting the constant inner battle between doing what’s right and best and our self-centered desires, then there’s freedom in admitting, “I give up. I can’t keep on the way I’ve been going. I’m tired. There’s nothing left for me to do but go to You. You take over, Lord.”

Gen. Grant was gracious in his terms of surrender–no mass imprisonments or executions, no parading of defeated enemies. As President Lincoln had concluded in his second inaugural address a little over a month earlier, the goal was to “bind up the nation’s wounds [and] achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace,” rather than exact vengeance.

Our General offers the same terms. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you;not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

All to Jesus I surrender,

All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all,

I surrender all;

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.


March 24, 2015

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7, 8

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the third, final and ultimately successful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, a protest against the lack of voting rights for blacks in the South.

Earlier this month was the commemoration of the first march, the one conducted on what came to be called “Bloody Sunday,” when law enforcement used clubs and tear gas to break up protestors crossing Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. Afterwards, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for volunteers and ministers to attempt a second demonstration, but they were blocked by a federal judge’s temporary stay on demonstrations. The final march began March 21 after the judge ordered federal protection for the participants. The crowd, led by King, swelled to 25,000 by the time they reached the state’s Capitol in Montgomery.

Ultimately, the public shock at the violence and the protesters’ persistence propelled Congress and the President to pass and sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which helped open voter rolls to millions of Southern blacks.

Visitors to the site of the initial skirmish, the Pettus bridge (which, Smithsonian magazine notes, is named after a Confederate general and leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan), can find a number of places nearby that tell more about the historic protests. Not surprisingly, the National Park Service has an interpretative center, which offers photographs of the events and video interviews with people on both sides of the issue. That’s a good place to start exploring the Selma to Montgomery route, which is a Park Service National Historic Trail. The 54-mile route is on U.S. Highway 80, and has another interpretative center as well as commemorative signs along the way.

The February issue of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Decision magazine has an article about the evangelist’s role in race relations. He promoted integration early on in his ministry. During his 1957 New York City crusade, uneasy over the predominately white crowd in Madison Square Garden, he preached in Harlem and Brooklyn, specifically inviting all the listeners to attend. And they did.

He invited Dr. King to address his team on racial issues and to pray at the crusade. As Graham noted in his autobiography, King told him to keep doing what he was doing—preaching the Gospel to integrated audiences and leading by example—and King would keep doing his work on the streets.

Graham was at the White House when the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, and after the Selma march, at the urging of President Lyndon Johnson, he held an evangelistic campaign across Alabama.

Dr. King noted, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my own work in the civil rights movement would not have been as successful as it has been.”

History—biblical and secular—is filled with the stories of men and women who did what was right in the face of terrific opposition, and supported others who also did so. They were willing to leave comfort and stability behind because they felt strongly that wrongs needed to be righted. Christians through the ages, knowing that even though what they were doing was right in God’s eyes and were in a way following Jesus’ example, also acknowledged that they would pay a price for civil disobedience (see1 Peter 2:13-24 and Hebrews 11, and the story of the early church in the book of Acts). Dr. King endured stints in jail—and produced a remarkable letter that still resonates today, defending his work as a righteous struggle (he was, after all, one of the founders and the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council). And he was one who paid with his life. As he proclaimed in his now-famous speech the night before he died:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

None of us is perfect. None of us is capable of bringing perfect justice to our very imperfect world. But isn’t it amazing that God uses us flawed people to do His work anyway?

So carry on with what He’s called you to do. It’s those who fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith who will reap the reward of spending eternity in the presence of the One who alone has the power, wisdom and will to truly and justly right every wrong.