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.



June 22, 2017

For You, God, are great and do marvelous deeds. Psalm 86:10

 Catch a wave at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve!

Every spring and summer, snowmelt from the Sangre de Christo Mountains tumbles down onto the dunes surrounding Medano Creek, creating ridges in the sand. The folds in turn cause regularly occurring waves, turning the water into the perfect place for tubing and wakeboarding.

This article explains a little bit more about the phenomenon, and the accompanying photo makes it look like a lot of fun. So if you’d like to go to the beach in Colorado, better hurry: the water’s usually dried up by the end of July.

I love reading about these natural but unusual happenings in our national parks. They remind me how creative and, as David the psalmist declared, marvelous God’s works truly are.


June 13, 2017

We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners.  Psalm 20:5

June 14 is Flag Day, a big deal at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. As it notes on its website, “Where better to celebrate Flag Day than at the home of the Star-Spangled Banner?”

Let’s take a look back in history as to how this came to be. Francis Scott Key was a wealthy lawyer who by 1814 had appeared several times before the Supreme Court, and been appointed U.S. District Attorney. Deeply devoted to his faith and opposed to the War of 1812, he nonetheless served briefly in the Georgetown Light Field Artillery.

In August 1814, the British captured a prominent physician named William Beanes, and Key was asked to help secure the doctor’s release. Key traveled to Baltimore in September and, with a government agent who arranged for prisoner exchanges, set out on a small vessel flying a truce flag to meet the Royal Navy.

The two men boarded a British ship and procured Dr. Beanes’ freedom then all three Americans re-boarded their boat, but they weren’t allowed to return to Baltimore until the British finished bombarding Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay in the Battle of Baltimore.

It must have been excruciating to watch the assault from behind the British warship, about eight miles from shore. For 25 hours, the British pounded the fort. Finally they gave up the unsuccessful effort and left.

As the smoke cleared and it became apparent to the Americans that the British truly had given up the fight, Key looked toward the fort, hoping to see the flag still flying. And as we learned in grade school, it “was still there.” He quickly wrote out a poem, which was handed out under the title “Defence of Fort McHenry.” Later the words were set to music and it became “The Star-Spangled Banner.” While it was a popular patriotic song, it didn’t become our national anthem until 1931.

It’s no surprise then that there’s a huge focus on the flag at Fort McHenry, and Flag Day is an all-day affair.

One Biblical name for God is Jehovah Nissi, which translated from Hebrew means “the Lord is my banner” (Exodus 17:15). The idea is of a rallying point, a flag or signal or standard where troops gather under its leader, either to prepare to fight or in triumph.

The War of 1812 didn’t end until March 1815, so when Francis Scott Key saw the flag at Fort McHenry, several more months of battle lay ahead. We too still have many skirmishes ahead of us in this life. But we have this promise: “You [God] have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth” (Psalm 60:4). We have our sure gathering place in a Person who lives forever, a Leader “who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

So proudly fly the Stars and Stripes on June 14—and remember, every day, to honor the One whose everlasting, never fading “banner over us is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4).


September 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


August 25, 2016

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

Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that fills Him with great joy.

How can we not rejoice?


April 14, 2016

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

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

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

But now scientists think they know why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s where the phrase “leap of faith” comes in. Trusting in a good God when life is hard isn’t easy. Coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know why things happen is tough. But among God’s many promises to us is this: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The apostle Paul found that out, too, when he asked the Lord to take away some persistent affliction: “My grace is enough for you,” God answered (2 Corinthians 12:9). And with that, we mere mortals have to be satisfied.

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

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

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