Friday, October 21, 2016

View from the top

It’s not the top of the world, but Sun Mountain above Central Washington’s picturesque Methow Valley is certainly a splendid setting.  As a winding road ascends, signs warn drivers to watch for wandering mule deer. These critters think they have priority on the road (and some, sadly, lose to a car). En route are scenic pullouts fully worthy of... WOW!

Normally, the rates at the Sun Mountain lodge are way beyond our budget.  But for a limited off-season time, they offered drastic reductions as a “community appreciation” for help in last year’s wildfires. Besides, it offered a memorable way to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary—in a “jacuzzi bridal suite,” no less!  The location was so peaceful, leaving me in renewed awe of the amazing landscape of this planet that God designed. 

A lot of people in reading through a Bible wonder if anything good can come out of the Old Testament books of Chronicles.  There’s a lot of gory, king-conquering, king-failing history in the books.  But there are also the fingerprints of God’s help and mercy.  Into that context was dropped this observation:
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

 Because it describes God’s character, this verse can stand by itself as well as in the narrative of foolish King Asa’s actions. (This was a king who had bad counselors and turned away from God.)  I know how it lifted me years ago as a single, when I wondered if God was aware of the challenges and troubles I faced.  Of course, God doesn’t have an “eye” as we would think of on humans. But the image provided for me that sense of larger watch-care when I went through things that were bigger and scarier than I’d ever encountered.

 Seeing the panorama of mountain beauty did something else for me.  It reminded me to seek the “high view” toward others who aren’t quite at the point of “hearts...fully committed to him.” I think the writer of Proverbs had that same sense when he wrote:
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)
A wise person has selective vision. That person’s eyes may range to and fro, finding those who offend or oppose, but their heart of love forgives.

And that, as 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, is a strong, “love” response. It takes the high road, and looks down with mercy and love on all the daily-ness and struggles of life’s valleys.

Can you see why I loved the view?  And why it reminded me of God’s loving eye on me, wherever in life’s journey He takes me?

Friday, October 14, 2016

The tongue and the tree

Ashy gray sadness pervades in areas scorched by wildfire. This hill, with so many evergreens stripped to black splinters, was part of last year’s “Carlton Complex” fires that took the lives of three fire fighters, left another severely burned, and churned through a quarter of a million acres.  The acreage amounted to three-fourths of all fire loss in my state that summer.

Fire is so ruthless, so devastating, so unpredictable. I thought of James 3:5-6
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and it itself set on fire by hell.

Powerful words! But how many of us have experienced the fury of an angry person and the stabbing pain of their negative words?  How many of us have been guilty of doing that? 

One mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to control one’s words.  Paul urged:
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31)

Even deeper, a mark of maturity is reacting to the fire of angry words with the cool spirit of someone controlled by “Living Water.” None of us will escape the fury of someone’s anger. But I am challenged and encouraged by the advice that James gave later in the same chapter.  The best “fire extinguisher” possible is the wisdom of God, seen in a heart that is:
....first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

The firefighter’s mascot, “Smokey the Bear,” famously said, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Maybe we need to amend that to: “Only YOU, with the help of Christ, can fight angry tongue fires with His ‘living water’ of a peaceful, forgiving spirit.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fruity duty

A custom of the past still exists at my local county fair, with Grange-sponsored fruit and vegetable displays in the floral and horticulture barn.  I’m not sure of the judging criteria, but each display must illustrate some sort of theme. This year, it was “carnival.”  As I compared the various displays, I thought of how the blessing of food wasn’t taken for granted in ancient times. Our mega-size farms with dinosaur-size planting and harvesting machines were unheard of and undreamed in Bible times.

Farming also took on spiritual meaning with the prophet Hosea.  He’s best known for marrying, at God’s command, an unfaithful woman and using that sorrowful experience to illustrate Israel’s spiritual promiscuity and God’s longing for restoration. His three children’s names were part of the prophecy.
Jezreel, the first-born son, meant “scattered,” for the Israelites would be dispersed from the land.
Lo-Ruhamah, the daughter’s name, meant “Not loved.”
Lo-Ammi, the second daughter, meant “Not my people.”

Hosea’s prophecy condemns relying on anyone or anything other than God for the guiding and sustaining of life. Near the end, he uses some farm imagery that still speaks clearly:
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12)

At some point in my life, I wrote three references in the margin opposite this verse:
*2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
*2 Corinthians 9:6: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly well also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
*Galatians 6:7-9: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.” The verses go on to connect the sinful nature reaping destruction, and pleasing God’s spirit as reaping eternal life.

In ancient cultures, farming was a constant battle of digging out rocks, pulling weeds, and protecting a crop from predators.  Such farming was also a perfect metaphor for living a life pleasing to God.  The spiritual “crop” of a God-centered life doesn’t happen if the inner life is neglected.  From time to time, hardship and hard-to-love people combine to help us break up that “unplowed ground” that isn’t being fruitful for God. 

It may sound strange to say this, but sometimes we need to sit still before God, repent of our weak spiritual areas, and say, “Turn over my soil, Lord.  It’s hard-packed and resistant from persistent sin. Break it up and press your seeds of truth into it.  Help me grow spiritually. Remind me that I’m on display for You.”

Friday, September 30, 2016


About the fastest things at my local county fair are the horses and little kids dragging their parents to the carnival rides.  I’m used to seeing the cows, pigs, goats, sheep, bunnies, chickens and other fowl as youngsters bring their pets to show and hopefully receive ribbons. But I wasn’t prepared for the critters fenced under some shady trees near the commercial exhibits this year. 

Yes, turtles. Huge, slow-moving turtles.  I neglected to ask the nearby people—presumably care-takers—why these were at the fair.  My best guess was for small-fry discovery, as some of the bigger (and noisier) animals can be scary and intimidating.

Not turtles. God’s creation reflects who He is in numberless ways.  And I wonder if He placed turtles among us to slow us down, especially those of us who live in this high-paced technical age where speed is a prized commodity.
Internet too slow?  Our company will give you blazing fast speeds.
Get there quicker in our brand of car with all its horsepower.
Fly to Europe in a couple hours.
Skip the shopping trip.  Place your online grocery order for delivery.
Lonely? Try our speed-dating service.

But God sometimes works r e a l   s l o w.  This was especially painful for early Christians who wanted the promise of a new kingdom with a righteous ruler—God Himself—as soon as possible.  Life with persecution was already near the edge of “unbearable.”  Jesus’ follower Peter knew the temper of spiritual times well, writing:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 8:9)

Lest early Christians think they could relax their fervor for Christ a bit, Peter added:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (v. 10)

When God’s ready, history won’t move at the pace of a turtle. It will happen in the blink of an eye. That’s why we’re to “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (v. 14).

Does that awe you, inspire you, and fire you up?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Glamour in the pen

Whee—pink leopard fashion shirt!  I couldn’t help but stop and smile when I passed by this goat at our local county fair.  I’m presuming this pet-cover helped keep a just-washed animal cleaner for imminent judging. But the animal’s woebegone attitude triggered my imagination. If animals could talk “human-talk,” I wonder what this one would have said. Maybe something of the animal version of: “I’d rather be in jeans with bleach holes.”J

Smiles aside, our culture’s move toward clothing for pets (such as Halloween costumes for Fifi and Fido, usually on 90% off clearance by January) lands in my “that’s incredible” file.  I’ll admit that our ancient cat (now 17 or 18 years old—he was a rescue cat) in earlier years suffered the indignity of being garbed with Cabbage Patch doll clothes.  Alas, he was so portly that they were a poor fit, and as soon as he could, he escaped from his modeling career to the great outdoors where he could freely wear his one-and-only fur coat.

Do clothes make the person?  The fashion world would have us believe that.  But another type of clothing--the inside-type--does communicate a lot about us to people around us. 

The apostle Paul wrote that God’s chosen people—“holy and dearly loved”—should have these clothing choices: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and the ability to bear with others and forgive each other.  Finally, like a coat over all, “put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14).

Peter had a similar clothes shopping list: “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5, part of it quoting Proverbs 3:34).

Paul wrote the Romans, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  Simple and basic.   But how profound!

Did you catch something about the “clothes” mentioned in those passages?  They’re about heart-conditions that undergo the wear-and-tear of relationships.  How the world sees “Christian-dress” has a lot to do with how we treat people.  No Christian-wear is flimsy. It needs to stand up to a lot of people-and-trials-wear-and-tear. But remember: the label says, “Inspected by John 3:16.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

No clouded perspective

Are you, like me, sometimes overwhelmed by natural beauty? One such time for me came recently as I noticed a cloud back-lit by the sun. I thought of this line:
He makes the clouds His chariot.
My concordance later helped me fix its address: Psalm 104:3. In his paraphrase. Eugene Peterson offers this poetic version:
You…made a chariot out of the clouds and took off on wind-wings.
One of the “ministries”—if I might use that word—of creation may be to help us unclutter our minds. The day I noticed this remarkable cloud formation, my mind was swirling with the usual “to-do” stuff plus the cloud of concern for loved ones whose emotional baggage impairs their ability to “do life.”
I looked up, and there it was: God’s reminder of His power, His brilliance, His grandeur, far, far greater than a clump of water vapor in the sky.

Blame it on having been an English major in college! But I believe that all of us, within our hearts, have that quiet longing for something pure and magnificent.  And that, of course, is the spirit of God who created us and all that surrounds us.

One of the old hymns that steps back in awe of creation is “For the Beauty of the Earth.” One day when he was about 29 years old, Folliott Pierpoint looked across the spring beauty of his home area of Bath, England. Situated on the banks of the Avon River, rimmed by an amphitheater of hills and blessed by warm springs (hence the name, Bath), the idea is well-known for its beauty. But that spring day, Pierpoint, a Cambridge-educated teacher, couldn’t control himself. The sight inspired the hymn that begins:
For the beauty of the earth; For the beauty of the skies;
For the love which from our birth/Over and around us lies:
Christ our God, to Thee we raise/This our sacrifice of praise.
Originally eight stanzas, it was used in the Anglican church for communion services. Coming over the Atlantic, it was often used for Thanksgiving, an American holiday.

It’s an ironic truth that the more we have, the less thankful we tend to be. This hymn reminds us to just stop and look around at what God has entrusted to us in His amazing creation.

There’s one more thing: that light behind the clouds took me to one more event.  Christ left in a cloud (Acts 1:10)—and I wonder, did it gleam with the glory He once came from?  He will come again in a cloud, “with great power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).

Clouds got your attention?  Use that moment to praise God for His creative beauty and eternal plan!

Friday, September 9, 2016


He’s Gonna Toot and I’m Gonna Scoot!  I couldn’t help but think of that book title by Christian humorist Barbara Johnson as I wandered an old cemetery in Roslyn, a sleepy town in central Washington state.  Just a few days earlier, we’d enjoyed a brief visit from the minister who married us 35 years earlier. Now 83, he told of visiting another cemetery where he buried his wife just last year. This weekend would have been their 56th wedding anniversary. A son and a grandson are buried there, too.  As his daughter helped him leave flowers, he said he thought how people better watch out when these loved ones experience resurrection and zoom out of their graves!  He was referring to the apostle Paul’s letter to the ancient Thessalonians, who were confused about death and heaven:
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the LORD forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Two sisters, almost 3 and 2 years old.
Once a booming coal mining town that grew to more than 4,000 in the 1920s, today it has about 900 year-round residents.  Its name made news when three movies were filmed there, including “Northern Exposure.”  To work the early mines, immigrants came from throughout the world. But stories of poverty, disasters (45 perished in an 1892 mine explosion) and epidemics are told through the crumbling headstones over 19 acres of cemetery. Many are for infants and small children. I recalled how some of the most poignant scenes of Jesus’ earthly ministry involved common people bringing their children to Him for blessing. He said, “Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 9:14). Like a shepherd who went to great pains to find his lost sheep, Jesus said God the Father “is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:11).

The Roslyn cemetery’s most distinctive feature is ethnic segregation. Twenty-six sections, like jig-saw puzzle pieces, divide the 19 acres of woods and hills.  Many family plots are surrounded by ornate iron fences, probably to keep foraging cattle and wildlife out.  Ethnic customs were also behind having some plots being raised above the earth, rimmed or covered with concrete, supposedly to protect “consecrated” grounds.  Many cemetery sections were labeled as burial places for those of Eastern European background. One huge section was for African Americans.  Again, I thought of Paul’s reminder about the snare of prejudice, that:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).  
A baby who died in 1903, not even a year old.
Artificial flowers abound on the graves.
Heavily littered with dead needles from the many ponderosa pines there,  the cemetery was a sobering, sad place. But I was taken back to the “Toot” and “Scoot” image that Barbara Johnson gave us in her humorous book about God’s final plan.  I recalled her story: of losing one son in the Vietnam War, another son to a drunk driver, and being estranged from a third son for many years. Her “Spatula Ministries” (alluding to being shocked to a splotch on the ceiling over family problems), borne of her own trials, helped many find God’s purpose and hope in life’s most difficult experiences. Those hard times aren’t forever. The best is yet ahead.  Paul also wrote, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  Did you catch that—“called me heavenward”?  What an exciting moment it will be when “toot- and-scoot” happens—not only in Roslyn but everywhere around the world!