October 18, 2018

Where morning dawns and evening fades You call forth songs of joy. Psalm 65:8

I just saw a National Geographic article on the best places in the national park system to see sunrises and sunsets. It’s an interesting list, in that it suggests exactly where to go to catch the finest views, and covers 10 parks, from beaches (Canaveral National Seashore) to mountains (Acadia, Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks) to the Old West and deserts (Saguaro, Petrified Forest and Arches National Parks, to even an urban setting (the National Mall and Memorial Parks). The piece even mentions surrounding sights and sounds, like silence (Badlands National Park) to howling coyotes (Joshua Tree National Park). Although it’s not on this list, I must add Haleakala National Park for its sunrises and sunsets and their silence. Just a note of caution: the park now requires private and rental vehicles to obtain a reservation for viewing sunrise from the mountain’s summit. Don’t worry if you don’t get one; sunset is just as gorgeous, and doesn’t require a reservation–yet).

Just think—every day we get to see a pair of spectacular celestial displays, at the beginning and at the end (unless, of course, it’s cloudy)! Two times to take in events that are as dependable and consistent as the One who created the sun to begin with and who called it “good” (a bit of an understatement, wouldn’t you agree?).

Dawn and dusk certainly do bring out feelings of wonder and joy. They’re excellent moments to worship and thank the God who formed us in His own image and pronounced His ultimate creation “very good.”

But what about the stretches flanked by daybreak and nightfall, sundown and sunup? Our tendency is to lose sight of the beautiful and sublime, and instead preoccupy ourselves with everyday cares and worries. What if we heeded the call of Psalm 113:3 to praise God not just twice a day but all day? What would that even look like?

The answer is found in the same psalm, in its seemingly contrasting but actually complementary two-fold picture of God. On one hand He’s incomparable and exalted over all, yet He “stoops down to look on the heavens and earth” (v. 5). This is how the Wycliffe Bible Commentary puts it: “While supreme over the nations of the earth and the hosts of the heavens, God humbles Himself to consider the needs of mankind.” The prophet Isaiah echoes this awesome truth: “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15).

This is how we live in the light and in the dark, aware of and confident in the knowledge that the remarkable God who bookends each day with two amazing blazes of glory, also oversees the times in between, gladly bearing our burdens 24/7 (Psalm 55:22, 68:19).

What’s not to praise about a God like that?!



September 19, 2018

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

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the silly, made-up Talk Life a Pirate Day rolls around. If you enjoy acting like a buccaneer, then I say, have at it. For your trouble, Long John Silver’s is offering all you scallywags who take on the “ahoy, mateys” dialect a free Deep Fried Twinkie at participating locations. If you dress the part, you’ll get a free Fish N’ Fry combo as well.

Would it surprise you to know there are pirates found in the National Park Service? Aye, aye! Here’s just a few places where you’ll discover tales of nefarious blackguards who trolled the seas:

Six sites make up this park in the southern part of the state: Barataria Preserve is a 23,000-acre wetlands; Chalmette Battlefield is the place to learn about the War of 1812‘s Battle of New Orleans; the Acadian and Prairie Acadian Cultural Centers allow you to learn about the Cajun people; the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center offers bayou boat tours; and the French Quarter Visitor Center in New Orleans is where Lafitte had his headquarters.

Not a lot is know about this pirate turned patriot turned pirate again. Lafitte called himself a privateer (basically, a pirate with government protection to capture enemy ships, usually used as a license to achieve wealth and dominance by less legal means; buccaneer is the Cajun slang for privateer, and today we use pirate, privateer and buccaneer interchangeably). He illegally smuggled goods and slaves into Louisiana, and was arrested twice by U.S. authorities, but escaped prosecution. During the War of 1812, though, General Andrew Jackson took Lafitte up on his offer to help fight the British in exchange for pardon for his band of men, called Baratarians. President James Madison granted the request, but Lafitte returned to piracy. What eventually happened to him is unknown.

Edward Teach (or perhaps Thatch), better known as the infamous Blackbeard, started out as a British privateer, then took up piracy in the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast of North America in the early 18th century. He burnished his menacing image as a man who stole cargo and terrorized passengers and seamen alike by growing his hair and beard long. He met a gruesome end at Ocracoke Inlet just a few short years into his disreputable career.

Captain Samuel Bellamy‘s ship, the Whydah, capsized off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717 with an almost total loss of life, including that of the captain. “Black Sam,” who earned his nickname because he wore his black hair tied with a black satin bow instead of adopting the fashion of powdered wigs, preferred to be called the “Robin Hood of the Sea.” The former slave ship supposedly contained a fortune in looted treasure. It was discovered in 1984, and its artifacts are at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth. Just this year, archaeologists believe they may have uncovered Bellamy’s remains.

I always thought Sir Francis Drake was strictly a good guy, rescuing the first Roanoke Colony from starvation and attack, and taking them back to England. But before and after that, he was a thorn in Spain’s side, harassing its Caribbean colonies and looting its ships around the world. I suppose that makes him a privateer–along with Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville–even if he did defeat the Spanish Armada, which lead to England’s dominance on land and sea.  Oh, the things you never learn in school…

Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t just a concept for the movies–the area’s history is rife with tales of pillaging and mayhem. The Francis Drake Channel separates the American and British Virgin Islands. The celebrated Captain Kidd and “Black Sam” prowled the waters here. Two sites found within the park may have been 17th century pirate hideouts.

Pirates make for exciting stories, and if talking and/or dressing like a pirate gets you free food, more power to you. But theft is not fun for the victim. Thieves steal, kill and destroy, like pirates did long ago (and still do, in some parts of the world). If you’ve ever had your home or car broken into, or been accosted on the street, you know the fear, anger and anxiety the incident leaves in its wake.

In the opening verses of John chapter 10, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd; the writer of the book of Hebrews says He’s the “great Shepherd” (13:20), and Peter calls Him both the Chief Shepherd and “the Shepherd and Guardian of [our] souls” (1 Peter 5:4, 2:25). Isaiah foretells this shepherd’s coming (40:11), and most of us know Psalm 23 is all about the Lord being our shepherd. The word picture is that of a guide, protector and constant companion, who not only watches over us but provides for us. He gives us what we need, and showers us with an abundance of love, mercy and grace (Ephesians 2:4-7).

And here’s the best news: Once we’re His, He keeps us forever, and promises no one can snatch us away.

If you’ve wandered from the Good Shepherd and imagine He’s so disgusted with you that He’d never take you back, think again. He gave His life for you, so why wouldn’t He rejoice when you’re found again? If you think you don’t need a shepherd, well, you’ll never find a surer, steadier leader among all the “isms” or self-help gurus out there. As my pastor says, Jesus did all the work and we get all the benefits. Where else will you find a deal like that?!

In this life, we’ll always have break-ins and thefts. Our earthly treasures–material possessions, money, health, jobs, people and even our emotions–can disappear or take a nose dive in a heartbeat. False gods and teachers and scammers offer empty promises. But no one or thing or circumstance can steal our security once God grabs hold of us.

Good news on a day devoted to pirates!


March 9, 2018

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness. Jeremiah 31:3

Our national parks apparently are being loved to death.

We toss around that expression “loved to death” a lot, meaning that we have such a strong affection for something or someone that we will love it until we die.

The phrase has darker nuances as well. There’s a shop in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district of that name that says it “caters to the odd at heart,” carrying such items as Victorian-themed “anthropomorphic taxidermy dioramas and jewelry.” As you might imagine, the store has been described as “creepy.” The television program 48 Hours had a similarly-titled episode about a teen romance that resulted in murder.

In the case of the parks, being loved to death invokes both connotations: so many tourists are flocking to them that not only are they creating an overcrowding problem, but environmentalists are worried about their impact on the natural elements.

2017 statistics show that around 331 million people visited all 417 units, or sites, within the National Park system (you can see the individual location rankings here; it might surprise you that #1 is a road). Zion National Park, #16 with 4.5 million sightseers, is mulling over a reservation system just to enter the park, and other of the 59 units designated as national parks are either considering it or taking a wait-and-see approach.

Do you know you also are loved to death, in the very best way possible? The God of the universe’s love for you and me is so great that it extends from eternity past to eternity future. The word lovingkindness in the Bible is the Hebrew word hesed, meaning a loyal, steadfast or faithful love, with the idea of belonging together. In other words, we were created for a relationship with God. What’s broken that bond is our desire to do what we think is best, as exemplified by Adam and Eve, who had a perfect rapport with their Creator before they decided they knew better than Him. That bent to self-will is called sin, and we’ve been wrestling with it ever since.

But God’s hesed love has been calling us back for just as long, culminating in sending His Son to make final atonement for our waywardness: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

There’s no reservation needed to be loved to death by God. Crowding’s not a problem; there’s always room for one more. Just come.



February 20, 2018

With God is the fountain of life. Psalm 36:9

February is usually a good time to visit Yosemite National Park.

Not only is the park less crowded, which means more solitude to explore its wonders and see more wildlife, but also to indulge in cold weather sports—snowboarding, tubing and shoeing; downhill and cross-country skiing; and sledding.

Another reason is an annual phenomenon that, if conditions arrange themselves favorably, only occurs at certain times from the middle to the end of this month. Horsetail Fall, also known as El Capitan Fall, since it spills over the east end of the iconic rock formation, puts on a fantastic show. Here are the essential ingredients: a clear sky, sunset at just the precise angle, and temps warm enough to melt the snowpack so water flows over the fall. You also have to be in a good viewing spot.

And what is it you’ll see? Firefall. A steam of water lit by the setting sun to look like a blazing yellow-orange-red river of fire cascading down El Capitan’s cliff face. The breathtaking spectacle lasts a mere ten minutes or so.

Observing this wonder has become so popular that people travel from all over the world during the approximately two-week window when all these natural elements can possibly come together. The park now limits vehicle access, and suggests visitors arrive early to pick up a pass on a first-come, first-served basis, or take a guided tour.

This year, however, the prognosis for catching the marvel is not good. That’s because the fall lacks the most basic ingredient—water. There’s just not enough snow to fuel the stream.

“Living water” is a phrase used often in Scripture to liken our physical need for fluid with our soul’s longing for purpose and meaning. Just as only liquid quenches thirst, God says He alone satisfies those inner yearnings. “Every one who thirsts, come to the waters…delight yourself in abundance,” Isaiah calls out. Jesus alluded to that verse at the Feast of Booths, a commemoration of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, proclaiming, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

God put everything in motion, arranged all the conditions perfectly, so we could know and partake of this living water. Finally, at just the right time, He sent His own Son (Romans 5:6, Galatians 4:4), the embodiment of this ever-running stream.

It’s there, waiting for us to drink as deeply and as often as we want, every day of the year, 24/7. We’re invited to partake, with no waiting, no shortage, no pass needed.

At the fountain, we’ll catch a glimpse of what the Israelites saw on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:7)—an awesome blaze of wonder, God Himself, whose glorious presence goes on into eternity.


January 3, 2018

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment…How much severe punishment do you think [we] will deserve who have trampled under foot the Son of God, and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which [we are] sanctified and have insulted the Spirit of grace?  Hebrews 10:26, 27, 29

You’ve probably heard the news that President Trump has shrunk two national monuments, both in Utah. Bear Ears National Monument lost around 85% of its land, while Grand Staircase-Escalante is reduced by nearly half.

Of course controversy dogs the decision. Utah state officials believe the actions will pave the way for energy development: for example, a uranium company says it will give easier access to Bear Ears’ plentiful uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill. Coal is abundant at Grand Staircase. Environmentalists, naturally, are opposed, fearful of what that energy development could look like. And coal isn’t the only attraction at Grand Staircase—it’s loaded with dinosaur fossils.

Perhaps the greatest outcry is from Native Americans, who object to the loss of protection over land they consider consecrated. Five tribes which use the area for religious ceremonies lobbied for years to preserve Bear Ears’ cliff dwellings and archaeological sites. One Navajo called the indifference toward their sacrosanct soil “just another slap in the face.”

Hebrews 10 emphasizes another, much more serious disrespect—that of Jesus’ death on our behalf. When it comes to God, Bible teacher John Piper writes, “all we want to hear is the sweet side—the tender side, the warm side….[But] whatever your view of God, the Creator of the universe and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, if it does not include [judgment], it is a distorted, unrealistic view.”

Hebrews 10:26 and 27 lay out two choices we must make, Piper notes: accept His sacrifice for sin (thoughts, words or deeds contrary to God’s character) or face terrifying judgment.

“[S]in is what God is angry about, [but] He 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.”

Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears and everything else of this earth will pass away, and the treatment of hallowed Indian terrain will be a moot issue. What lasts is our response to this decision right now: trample on the sacred ground of Jesus’ atonement for sin, or accept it.

As the writer of Hebrews posits, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Something to think about in this new year.



November 30, 2017

God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Do you have any idea how many special events are in our national parks this time of year? Here’s a sampling:

Then there’s the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, “the nation’s longest-running citizen science bird count,” taking place at these park sites:

You know what’s interesting about all these events? None of them would happen if it weren’t for Jesus’ birth.

Christmas celebrations aren’t just restricted to our country, of course; they take place around the world, even in places where Christianity is not the majority religion. Here in the U.S., the only other holiday that gets much of a mention this time of year is Hanukkah. Even then, most stores relegate menorahs, dreidels, etc. to a tiny bit of shelf space amid the gobs of Christmas merchandise.

Without Christmas, we wouldn’t have huge light displays, decorations, parades, concerts, etc. We sure wouldn’t have Black Friday or Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday or Giving Tuesday.

Our entire planet recognizes Jesus the Savior’s first coming, consciously or not.

When He arrives the second time, we’ll all acknowledge it fully.

As Faith Hill sings, a baby changes everything.


November 15, 2017

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High, to declare Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness by night. Psalm 92:1-2

Thanksgiving seems to get the short end of the stick as far as American holidays go, a sort of bump in the road between Halloween and Christmas. There’s always lots of Halloween decorations, costumes, candy, etc. in the stores way in advance of October 31. Christmas stuff usually arrives sometime that month. Thanksgiving…eh, maybe we’ll see some cards, a turkey decoration or two, and plenty of leaves and gourds (which kind of get mixed in with Halloween). Around our tables, we chow down on turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie, but that’s about all most of us do to celebrate Thanksgiving.

If you’d like to get more into the spirit of thanks and giving, consider these three national park sites and their stories:

The real first American Thanksgiving

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 800 Spanish settlers founded St. Augustine in La Florida on September 8, 1565, and promptly celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving. Afterwards, Menéndez invited the native Seloy tribe to join them in a feast. This was the first community act of thanksgiving ever recorded in America (by the priest who performed the Mass), and it occurred right near Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

The Thanksgiving we all know

Pilgrims were Brits who wanted to separate from the country’s official church, the Church of England. They first fled to Holland to escape persecution, but found that they still wanted to be English. Eventually they set their sights on America.

The ship carrying 101 passengers set sail on September 6, 1620, arriving 66 days later. The rough Atlantic Ocean made the journey aboard the Mayflower miserable for most of them. They were supposed to land further south, but instead they headed to the safer waters of Cape Cod.

Of course they weren’t the first settlers in the area. The indigenous people, most from the Wampanoag tribe, aided the Pilgrims in adjusting to the new land. Three Native Americans are especially noted in history: Samoset, Massasoit and Squanto. Colony governor William Bradford later referred to Squanto in his journal as “a special instrument sent of God for [our] good beyond [our] expectation.”

Cape Cod National Seashore tells the story of both groups, and hosts programs on the Wampanoag culture, history and traditions. A short trail takes you past a former boghouse from the days of commercial cranberry harvesting.

President Lincoln makes it official

All thirteen colonies held thanksgiving celebrations in 1777. Both George Washington and James Madison declared a day of thanks for the entire country. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, then editor of Boston’s Ladies’ Magazine, began advocating Thanksgiving Day as an annual national holiday, and kept at it for the next 36 years. Finally she wrote directly to President Lincoln who, even though the Civil War raged on, promptly issued this proclamation:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Learn more about Thanksgiving and our 16th president at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the only home he ever owned, where he lived from 1844 until he was elected to the White House in 1861.

So there you have it, a short history of our day of thanks and giving, as told by the parks. The common element is gratitude to our Creator and Sustainer God, and sharing what He’s given us with others.

Let’s not let those values get lost in the shuffle.


September 7, 2017

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; thought its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Psalm 46:1-3

It started out as a beautiful day here in Florida, with abundant sunshine, blue sky and temps in the 80s. Now it’s raining, and I know more is coming. A hurricane is on the way.

I’m tuning in frequently to The Weather Channel this week; last week it was to watch Hurricane Harvey churn over Texas. Now it’s Florida’s turn, with Irma plowing through the Caribbean and making its way here. We still don’t know exactly what path the massive storm will take, but the entire state will feel the effects. Then there’s Hurricane Jose, bringing up the rear.

While we’re not in an evacuation zone, because we’re not near enough to a body of water, many in our city are, as well as millions of other Floridians. We (and my Mom) have hurricane windows and shutters to put up on our lanai. I stocked plenty of water before hurricane season even began. My brother and his family further north are also taking precautions.

But since this is my first experience with a major hurricane since I was a kid living down here (I remember filling the bathtub with water—which I’ll do this time as well—during Hurricane Donna in 1960), I find myself battling a mild panic when I see the long lines for gas (got that ahead of time, too), take in the grocery store shelves empty of water and bread, and hear our governor plead over and over again for residents to take this event seriously. Have we done enough to prepare? Is there something more I should do? Will our windows really protect us?

As if all that isn’t enough to worry me, I’m concerned with how the government will pay for all those who’ve been impacted in Texas, as they mourn the loss of lives and homes and possessions, then shell out for all the damage and destruction that will occur here and possibly in other states up the Eastern seaboard. Then there are the wildfires out west, forcing evacuations for health reasons. Flames are threatening Lake McDonald Lodge, the Swiss chalet style hotel we stayed at several years ago when we visited Glacier National Park in Montana, and park visitors have been evacuated. Washington State’s Mount Rainier National Park and Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park have closed parts of the both parks. As NASA’s website puts it, “The United States is in the middle of an unfortunate spate of natural disasters.” Not to mention the manmade frights here and abroad…

So what do I do when fear and anxiety threaten to consume me? I go to the only place I know where I can find real rescue, never-ending comfort and the strength I don’t have even on my best days. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite Scripture verses, ones that have reassured, consoled and fortified God’s people down through the ages:

  • The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge (2 Samuel 22:2-3)
  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me  (Psalm 23:4)
  • Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge (Psalm 62:5-8)
  • God will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day; nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday (Psalm 91:4-6)
  • Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10)
  • The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10)
  • As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you (Isaiah 66:13)

Do you need shelter from the physical, emotional and spiritual storms threatening you today? And the ones that certainly will follow? No matter where you find yourself right now, you can always seek out the sure, steady Presence who promises He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).


August 19, 2017

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1

So…maybe you’ve heard there’s a solar eclipse happening Monday?
Googling the event brings up a ton of sites dedicated to the occasion, but NASA’s has just about everything you’d want to know about the event, including an interactive map of the eclipse’s course. Smithsonian has a solar eclipse app.
And of course I’m going to direct you to the National Park Service’s website. Twenty-one parks and 7 trails in the parks system, from Oregon to South Carolina, are within the 60-70 mile wide total eclipse pathway. Homestead National Monument of America (a place dear to my heart, since I was its first Artist in Residence in 2009) is hosting a slew of eclipse-related events now through Monday–Bill Nye will be there! The National Park Foundation, the Park Service’s financial arm, offers some suggestions of great parks spots for viewing, as does Popular Science magazine.
But unless you’re planning to hop in your car and drive to locations within the totality (the point at which the moon completely blocks the sun) viewing area—and sleep in your auto, too, because most every kind of lodging has already been spoken for (some booked years in advance)—you’ll probably see only a partial eclipse, which of course will still be pretty great. Just remember to watch safely (I managed to snag 4 pairs of safety glasses–another thing in short supply–this past week at a new 7-11 opening in our area. Or just watch it unfold on TV or live stream it online.
Hankering for a souvenir? Naturally there will be T-shirts and all sort of paraphernalia, but check out these national park eclipse posters made by a physics and astronomy professor, inspired by old Works Progress Administration illustrations.
A big deal, right? That’s because it’s rare to have it pass entirely over the North American continent. The last time was back in 1979, and we’ll have to wait until April 8, 2024 to see another one in our country.
By the way, isn’t it incredible that we even know when the next one will be? Our Creator not only set the natural world in motion, but continues to “hold all things together” (Colossians 1:15-17)—and sometimes He lets us discover a few of His secrets!
Many Americans—and lots of eclipse fanatics from all over the globe—will gaze skyward on August 21. We’ll watch in astonishment and amazement. We might scream, cry or fall to our knees in wonder, as people have in the past.
Would that we would look up more often, pausing in our busyness to contemplate what we so often take for granted—the vastness, beauty and marvel of the heavens, a display that continually testifies to the magnificent, fantastic and one-of-a-kind God who, every once in a while amps up the spectacle, reminding us in a fantastic way just how awesome He really is.


June 29, 2017

For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence. Psalm 44:3


It’s the Fourth of July, a day when our thoughts turn to our country’s freedom, and often to a symbol of our independence, the Statue of Liberty.

We’ve all seen the photos, and many of us have actually visited the icon. But here are some statistics about her, courtesy of the National Park Service:


Height: 151 feet, 1 inch

Ground to the tip of the torch (which includes the base): 305 feet, 1 inch

Length of hand: 16 feet, 5 inches

Index finger: 8 feet

Length of right arm: 42 feet

Width of right arm: 12 feet

Thickness of outer copper sheeting: 3/32 inches, or the thickness of two pennies placed together

Wind factor: 50 mph winds make the Statue’s body move up to 3 inches, and the torch up to 6 inches

Crown: the 25 windows symbolize gemstones and heaven’s rays shining over the world; the crown’s 7 rays represent the world’s 7 seas and continents


On the New York Public Library’s website, I just read a story about how the arm, hand and torch figured into getting the Statue situated in New York harbor.

The original idea was to place “Liberty Enlightening the World” (Lady Liberty’s official name) as a lighthouse at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Then France proposed it as a gift to America. The catch was that the U.S. had to provide the pedestal via fundraising, an idea not greeted with much enthusiasm here.

So designer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi decided he would raise the money by sending Liberty’s arm, hand and torch on a tour.

First stop: the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Visitors bought tickets to climb a ladder in the arm up to the torch. Despite the interest, the New York Times reported, “From present appearances we have now all of the statue that we shall have unless we are willing to pay the cost of finishing it, and it is more than doubtful if the American public is ready to undertake any such task.”

The clever Bartholdi replied that maybe he’d allow Philadelphia to have the statue instead of New York. That sparked the city to announce it would display the sculpture in Madison Square while awaiting the rest of the statue (Madison Square is at the intersection of Fifth, Broadway and 23rd Street; the sports and entertainment arena, Madison Square Garden, used to be located nearby, hence its name).

The “Arm of Liberty” remained in Madison Square for six years, from late 1876 to 1882. “It is understood that just in proportion as money is furnished, other pieces of the statue [sic] of Liberty will be erected in parks and squares of this City,” the Times sardonically reported. “It is proposed to erect the two legs of the statue at one of the entrances of the Central Park. Persons who pass between the shadows of those two Titanic legs will undoubtedly be filled with all sorts of lofty emotions, but it must be confessed that a pair of detached legs, having no connection with either a body or skirt, will fail to satisfy those who insist that art should faithfully copy nature. It would probably be better to place the legs upside down in the middle of the Central Park lake.”

By 1882, though, New York was becoming very possessive of Liberty, the newspaper noted. “This statue is dear to us, though we have never looked upon it, and no third-rate town is going to step in and take it from us. Philadelphia tried that in 1876, and failed. Let Boston be warned in time that she can’t have our Liberty. We have more than a million people in this City who are resolved that this great light-house statue shall be smashed into minute fragments before it shall be stuck up in Boston Harbor.”

The Washington Post couldn’t resist a dig. “You would have been surprised to see how nicely the statue fitted the [Washington] monument. It really seemed to have been made for it.”

Donations for the pedestal had been trickling in; now the New York fundraising began in earnest, with benefit concerts, art exhibitions, souvenir sales and a campaign by Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper. Emma Lazarus donated her poem, “The New Colossus”, which was later engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted on the pedestal.

Finally, on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.

And to think it all came about through the exhibition of an arm, hand and torch.

The Bible alludes to God’s arm and hand as symbols of His power in several passages, mostly in the Old Testament. Beginning in Exodus, He promises to figuratively use them to deliver the Israelites out of oppression in Egypt: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (6:6). After He did, Moses told the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand” (Exodus 13:3).

Psalm 136, called “the Great Hallel” (“the great praise”) in Jewish liturgy, is recited at that commemoration, Passover, when “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,” God divided the Red Sea and overthrew Pharaoh and his army. Moses and Miriam’s song of deliverance alludes to it as well (Exodus 15:6). Deuteronomy reiterates the same imagery (4:34, 5:15, 6:21, 7:19, 11:2, 26:8), and it even gets a mention in the New Testament (Acts 13:17).

Isn’t it a relief to have a strong arm fight your battles? Scripture says God’s not only capable of doing so, but also willing: “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). He knows that just as the Israelites weren’t able to secure their own rescue, we too don’t have the capacity or strength to manage by ourselves, especially in light of our bent to do things our own way: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…He saw that there was no man…no one to intercede; then His own arm bought salvation to Him” (Isaiah 59:2, 16). Because there was no qualified (i.e. sinless) mediator, God bridged the gap between Him and us through His Son Jesus.

And here’s another comfort: God’s arms are not only potent, they’re loving. “There is none like the God of Israel, who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27).

Tough yet tender…that’s our God.