Sunday, August 13, 2017

Something extraordinary is about to happen

There is a swath across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina 50 to 70 miles wide,  awaiting in breathless anticipation for what is about to happen in another week.  On August 21, a total eclipse of the sun will appear in the skies, plunging a bright day into utter darkness, when the moon comes between the earth and sun, blocking out the light.  In Nashville, where we live, it will occur precisely between 1:27 and 1:29 in the afternoon.

Image result for total solar eclipse

Tens of millions of people have purchased special glasses to observe this extraordinary event. Without protection,  eyes are permanently damaged.  Even school children in those regions have been dismissed from school to witness this once in a lifetime event. It last occurred in Nashville in the year 1478  -- 539 years ago.  None of us will be around when it visits Nashville next.

My husband and I attended a lecture about the eclipse at the Vanderbilt University observatory. The precise mathematical details were incredible, calculated and analyzed and studied by prominent PhD scholars and scientists.  Our lecturer had either his doctorate in astronomy or astro-physics (or maybe both).  He had mapped out the facts and figures in colorful charts and graphs, pointing out the exactness of this spectacular event. 

A total solar eclipse does not just suddenly appear, but can be calculated exactly in time and place, far in the past and into the future, down to the second, even where to stand along its exact path, a thousand feet on either side altering one's vision of it.  We were supplied facts on what, where, when, why, and how.   People in the audience were quite excited, peppering the lecturer afterwards with questions for clarification. The lecturer was energized by their curiosity.  He was prepared by decades of study and detailed information.

Towards the end of the question and answer period, a little three year old girl raised her hand. She said into the microphone in her tiny little voice, "But WHO made the sun and moon?"

It was as if all air had been sucked out of the room, along with all the facts and figures and models and knowledge.  The answer for "who" had been left out of the discussion, the answer for "who" was so obvious in that silence that no one -- believer in God or not-- had to answer.  The evidence of God, as Creator and designer, was blatant before us.  His Presence resounded in that room.

The lecturer was speechless.  That little girl's question hung in the air, seemingly printed in bold type and CAPITAL letters. In all of his study and deep research, he neglected the question "who.".  It was almost as if after his hour long lecture about this phenomenal eclipse, a tiny pre-school girl had set him up for this question.  The answer was obvious and profound:  God.

The lecturer stood at his podium, silent for the first time in almost two hours.  He stumbled and fumbled -- this man of elaborate explanations and equations -- and finally spit out, "Well, that's rather complicated."

Even the audience chuckled at the irony.

The presence of God is so complex, there is no end to discovery. The evidence is so obvious, even the smallest child can recognize Him.

All the calculations are incredible, because they are so seamlessly woven.  But don't forget the awe. What we recognize as beauty and wonder are only His fingerprints all over it.

So in a week, when this extraordinary event in nature spans across the skies, may the majesty of God rise up in the heart of every observer.  Things like this don't just happen.

There is design to it, nothing has changed, all the way to the beginning of time  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  Genesis 1.1.

Last week, I asked our four year old grandson, who is already mesmerized by study of astronomy, "So Adri, who made the sun and moon?"  He looked up at me and laughed out loud,  "God, of course!"

...let all the inhabitants of the world
     stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke,
and it came to be;
He commanded,
       and it stood forth.

                   Psalm 33. 8-9

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The only thing pathetic was my attitude

It was a long and upward trail on the side of a mountain.  There was a way through this wilderness that had been faithfully trod by those who went before me, be it rocky and full of roots that tried to trip me up.  But there was a path engraved.  I just had to follow it.

I kept my eyes to the trail.  And all I could see was dirt and gravel and roots and an occasional low spot of squishy mud.

Kind of like an ordinary day, I thought.  Keep your head down and you'll get through this.

But as I hiked, following Bill up the mountainside, my senses began to awaken to what was around me.  And I realized that the only thing pathetic was my attitude.  Because when I lifted my eyes, God astonished me. 

I glanced to my left, and God took my breath away.

And then, I looked up and saw a million trees singing praise.

This was not a path through the woods, but the main aisle in one of the world's greatest cathedrals.

God does not transform the mundane and ordinary.  I am already walking through the extraordinary, and I don't even know it.  Even now.  Even today.  Even in what only appears like gravel and mud, He dazzles me with His Presence. 

I just need to lift up my eyes and see what He has wrought.  Look where I am.  Look where I am going.  Look at what is before me.  I don't want to miss out on His resounding faithfulness, bombarding all my senses. How majestic is Your name in all the earth.

I will not just get through this hard gravelly place. Things will not just be OK.  That would be missing the point. That would be missing the awe of God in this.  Because God is not all about outcomes and destinations, but the incredible journey of knowing Him more.

Where is this hard path going?  You wouldn't believe.  Don't miss the wonder along the way.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
     who made heaven and earth.

                       Psalm 121.1-2

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sometimes take your stand, sometimes run for your life

It was late afternoon, the house was quiet, I was at a pause in my work.  I checked the forecast. The sky was overcast, but no rain was expected.  I drove over to the park to hike my favorite loop.

I started up the big hill and had almost reached the border of deep green trees standing like a sanctuary with its doors wide open, when I heard a noise I could not immediately identify.  It was not a chorus of angels.  I listened as I walked.

And very suddenly, an audible alarm resounded in my thoughts. I realized that whooshing noise was not a tractor in the distance, nor a plane flying overhead, nor the innocuous invading vibrations of a leaf blower.  It was the sound of rain rushing my way, so heavy, pounding down so incredibly hard that it appeared to be "white noise" on the highest volume, literally sounding like an ambushing army, violently coming my way.

RUN, my brain shouted.

I turned immediately and ran as fast as I could, back to my car.

Walk in the strength of the LORD.
Take your stand for righteousness.
Recognize your refuge in Him.
But also know,
                when to run for your life.

No temptations has overtaken you
  that is now common to man.
God is faithful, and He will not let you
be tempted beyond your strength,
but with the temptations
will also provide the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it.

                          1 Corinthians 10. 13

Listen for His voice,
    be aware of the exits,
look for the pass in the mountains,
be faithful in what God places on your path,
but be willing and ready to turn on a dime.

And flee when God says to.

If I had hesitated,
    even but for a moment,
I would have been caught by it.

Know when to run for your life.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

But something else does

The first time I picked up a book by author Annie Dillard on recommendation from a friend, I rushed into it, only to find myself deep in a bog, barely able to pick my way through.  And then, I began to walk at her own slow pace.  And a whole new world opened.

Sometimes an entire essay of hers doesn't move but an inch or two.  But profound truth, so embedded in creation, peeks shyly through the trees and astonishes me every time.

"Muskrats are cautious.  Many, many evenings, I wait without seeing one.  But sometimes it turns out that the focus of my waiting is misdirected... For when the muskrats don't show, something else does."  (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

And from her writing, I learned how to meander in my own life. Stop, stand still, and study what is all around me, to cease from always moving, always rushing, always looking for the next big thing, always watching for something else, always seeking another open door, a fork in the road, a different trail, or a path through the thicket or the miry bog. 

Having done all, to stand, right where I am, no need to go somewhere else.  What is right here, right now, right in front of me. An entire universe is under my feet, and I am looking everywhere else.  I have learned to be silent, and to realize only then, that nothing is silent, watching for what moves, studying what does not.  To watch the clouds creep across the blue and change their personalities, and look slowly like an elephant on its back, or a duck holding hands with a flying dog.

The brook does not gurgle, but it breaks into a million different levels of sound, the voices of its chorus rushing past the rocks that fail to stop the ongoing requiem.  And ten feet away, on the other side of the wooden foot bridge, the moving water sounds like a foreign language, a strange country from where I was, an entirely new section of the symphony.

We drove past a black bear the other day on the side of the road.  This huge lumbering pitch black marvelous creature was skirting the edge of the deep forest where she would become invisible, suddenly passing from one dimension to another.

A little further down the one lane gravel road, we stopped the car on the border of a field of tall prairie grass, so deep, if full-grown lions had passed in front of us, we would not have seen any more than a breeze rippling over its surface.  I reached for the binoculars which we usually forget to bring.  I scrolled along the huge trees on the far side of the field, one tree dead and barren, one smaller tree reaching up to the sky, and another next to it, its ancient limbs raised like an  enormous Y.  That is where I stopped moving the binoculars and watched and waited and focused and refocused on a dark spot I saw there, a shadow, I surmised, just a murky swath of bark.

But then I saw it move.

"I think there's a bear in that tree on the right," I said as I passed the binoculars to Bill.  I was a bit skeptical that it was.  Not likely.

Yet there was not one bear, but two.  In a tree where, with my naked eye, there was nothing but green, way too far for me to see anything on my own.  But with a deeper vision, there was the wonder, the reality, not at all a figment of my imagination, nor conjured up from all the years of nights my grandma told me the make-believe story of the three bears.  They were real as life.  Because they were real.

I was not looking for anything in particular.  But as Annie says, "when the muskrats don't show, something else does."

I just couldn't see it before.  And the people parked around us in their jeeps and minivans and sedans  were oblivious to this astonishing sight, as if in an invisible dimension right next to them.  How many hundreds of times I have passed that way and not considered it as much as an empty field?

That kind of vision, that kind of insight, does not happen on its own.  And that is why I read the Bible, because it matters, to see the supernatural all around me, not to make connections but to realize them, to be sensitive to what only appears invisible, to know, to stand still, to stop even before the day begins.  I don't want to miss any of it.  I don't want to miss the wonder.

And something always comes I never saw before.

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech,
    nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

                                 Psalm 19. 1-6

Friday, July 7, 2017

Even today

Even today, in what only appears as ordinary, or what looks like an impossible wall or harrowing abyss, even now, even here, God does not just suddenly show up. But we --the myopic people --slowly realize God does not just run ahead of us, His designs and purposes are already rooted and bearing fruit.  

God never works in singular outcomes. His faithfulness springs up from the very ground (Psalm 85. 11), even what is impenetrable to us.

Fifteen years ago, our family was in a tough spot. "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on You." (2 Chronicles 20.12) became our daily cry. We were six months into praying, reaching the critical path of ceasing to seek the answer, but seeking God in it and seeking Him through it. 

A huge turning point came in an unusual way, which is almost always how God breaks through.  I had taken one of our girls back to college, attending a morning church service with her before I headed the five-plus hours back home.  James MacDonald was preaching on the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament.  He directed our attention not just to the plight of the Israelites, but to our own. God is at work, he said. "And when you get to the end of this, you will have a story of God's faithfulness."

I couldn't write down those words fast enough. His phrase engraved itself with a promise that God would bring us through.

Those words resounded in my heart all those many miles home. As soon as I arrived, deep in the night, I jotted down that quote on an index card and set it by the kitchen sink as a reminder through the day.

Early the next morning, our youngest daughter rushed past to grab a bite of breakfast before she caught the bus to school. She hesitated a moment to read what I had written down. "That's not true," she said, rather shocking me.

And then, she spoke words which carried me through the hard places I couldn't even see yet, words that God continues to remind me through all these many years:

"No, Mom, every day is a story of God's faithfulness."

God is not just delivering an answer, there is not just an outcome, but God is bringing me through the story of His incredible faithfulness. 

Every moment. Every day. Even in the unexpected. Even in this place.

Even for you.