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.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In the middle of the whatsoever

Perhaps you have awoken this morning after the Fourth of July to a hard task, in an impossible place, all rain, no shelter in sight.

What am I going to do?  Apply His Word, let it seep in.

I don't think I can do this. "Good, because I can," says the LORD.

I don't know what to do. "But I do," He reminds me.

"I am with you."  God's Word does not just comfort, but directs me into His purposes.

In His Word is how to walk through this miry bog, up this mountain, knee deep in mud, tangled by the thicket, bushwhacking in the wilderness where sometimes it feels like there is no air to breathe. There, in that very place, you will find the faithfulness of God, beyond all explaining away.  And as the old hymn says, in the bottom of the pit, I find my Savior there.

Despair only blocks out any available light.

Have no anxiety about anything,
but in everything
by prayer and supplication
      with thanksgiving,
let your requests
  be made known to God.
And the peace of God,
  which passes all understanding,
will keep your hearts
and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren,
whatsoever is true,
whatsoever is honorable,
whatsoever is just,
whatsoever is pure,
whatsoever is lovely,
whatsoever is gracious,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything
           worthy of praise,
think about these things.

              Philippians 4. 6-8

Whatsoever is good,
even that little crumb,
      focus on that.
If there is anything to praise,
       seek it out.
God will bring you through.

An exit sign may not suddenly appear,
          but just the next step emerging,
another direction unfolding,
a strength in the staying.