Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow and Manna

"And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground."  Exodus 16:14

I have mixed feelings about snow.  I've always loved watching the snow pile up outside, smoothing out all the rough edges and painting a fresh new world on the landscape.  As a kid, it gave me courage because falling down, making a soppy wet fool of yourself and acting crazy are all perfectly acceptable and painless in a deep cushion of snow.  But one of the things that has always bothered me about snow is how temporary it is.  Even when snow sticks around, after the second or third day the fresh lightness morphs into worn-out, cold, soggy piles.  To truly appreciate a good snowfall, you've got to get out and enjoy it while it's new, or the ideal opportunity will be lost. Today's snow is only good for today... and who knows whether tomorrow will bring a fresh layer or not?

What in the world does any of this have to do with the verse from Exodus?  Exodus is talking about manna, God's heavenly provision of bread for His people while they wandered in the desert.  Each day the children of Israel woke up to a fresh batch of food provided directly from God's hand, especially for them.   Each morning they were instructed to gather enough food to feed their family that day before the sun grew hot enough to melt the manna.  And each night, any extra manna that they had greedily gathered would rot and breed worms.

I always picture manna as a light snow blanketing the desert.  In many ways, I think snow, like manna, can be a powerful illustration of God's provision and our response to His grace.  Like snow, like manna, God's  compassions toward me are new every morning. He evidences His mercy and lovingkindness in ways that are unique and special for me.  He covers the harsh edges of my old nature with the pure white robes of His righteousness.  He purifies me by graciously overlooking my sin, which has been conquered by the cross, looking only on the righteousness His Son has given to me and calls it mine.  How can it be that I am considered righteous?  This is just one of the wonders that should astound me every day.

"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." Isaiah 1:18

If I truly recognized the ugliness of my sin I would have a deeper appreciation for this undeserved righteousness that I call my own.  But just as the Israelites scoffed at the bread from heaven, so many times I scoff at the provision of my Bread of Heaven (Jesus Christ) without realizing it.  I ignore the potential power and joy, like those Israelites who slept in past the manna-gathering time or like the children who stay inside watching people enjoy winter on TV while the snow outside melts away.  I get lazy in my spiritual life and the gifts that God has prepared for me for this day slowly fade.  

Other times, I express discontent at the provisions that God gives me, wanting something new, different, or more exciting.  Sound familiar?  It sounds just like God's people when they complained about the miraculous things God did for them.  I long for something more, something other, but God knows exactly what He is doing and He is kind enough to give me what I need rather than what I ask for.

Snow doesn't last forever, but new blessings come in its place.  Each season is important to the health, beauty, and vitality of the created ecosystem.  In the same way,  God's provision for each day is different , tailor made for this season of my life and preparing me for the next.  Will I ignore His goodness and power?  Will I ask for something else?  Or will I respond to His gifts of love and righteousness by getting out there and exploring all the facets of what He has done for me... making His holiness real in my life by exercising it? I want to appreciate and put into practice the resources He has lavished on me... one day at a time.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Karolina Sandellburg

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wild and sweet the songs repeat of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

          Every year at Christmas I ask the Lord to help me see the Christmas story in a new way and to meditate on some particular aspect that will make a difference in my life.  One year I was awestruck by the role that Mary played in the coming of the Messiah, and last year God used the homelessness of Jesus to comfort me during a difficult transition.  This year, as I have been struggling to balance my attention between Christmas-themed events (parties, programs, and endless shopping), it has taken a while for God to get a hold of me and teach me once again what His birth really means.  On the way home from a long busy day, a line from a song struck me.
        "Hallelujah, the King is here, given for all men."
Given for all men? We talk about how Christ is God's gift to the world, but what exactly did he bring?  What did He promise?
          The angels declared, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will to men."  Is this the gift of Christ? If the Prince of Peace came to bring peace to all men, where is it?
          "Then in despair I bowed my head, 'There is no peace on earth', I said.  'For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men." Longfellow
           Jesus Himself said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matt 10:34)
         And yet, as I wander through a hushed white world, feeling the earth around me stop turning for a few moments while I watch the dance of the falling ice stars.... peace on earth doesn't seem that far out of reach.

This is the truth God wants me to learn this year.

This is my assignment to meditate on this Christmas.

This is my meaning of Christmas.

"On earth PEACE, goodwill to men."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Look up into a late November sky and tell me how it makes you feel.  Warm and comforted? Or cold, separated, and small?  West Virginia's November has been unusually warm but still the season feels austere... more like a chilly Gothic cathedral then a sanctuary full of life, chatter, and color.  The clouds that brought a light rain this morning seemed far away, foreign, silent, and barren.  Sometimes all of November feels the same.

Even the trees that scratch this formidable sky are empty and cold.... robbed of the softness and friendliness that their green leaves conveyed.  Everything around me feels void and unapproachable.
But then, I look around my feet and see countless seeds, fruits, nuts, leaves, scattered carelessly in a thick blanket.  The squirrels and a visiting flock of flickers know why the trees dropped their harvest; and they greedily collect all they can find like children on an Easter Egg Hunt.  The discarded leaves seem to arrange themselves in a crazy quilt pattern all over the lawn, protecting the grass and newly sprouted acorns from the snow that imminently hangs in those far-off clouds.  

And I see the truth: the sacrifice that made the trees seem empty has filled all the living creatures.  The life and vibrance of the tree will return, but for now its purpose is to give all it has for the sake of its neighbors.  And this gives a new and deeper beauty to the naked limbs that pierce the frowning gray sky.

Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude for abundance.  "Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished upon us, that we may be called children of God!" I John 3:1.  We must never forget that the abundance of grace, mercy, and blessing all came at a terrible--and wonderful--price to our Father.  He joyously sacrificed His dear Son for the sake of ungrateful wretches like me.  The best way to express gratitude for God's incredible gift is not sitting back, fat and happy, in the lap of luxury.  He died so that I might die, and through His life I will live again, but the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  Like the trees that drop food and protection for the rest of the forest community, may I pour myself out for the sake of my neighbors.  It is only through dying to sin and selfishness that I may truly live, and it is only through giving that I will truly understand God's abundance. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Every Season

I heard this beautiful song on the radio on my way to church this morning, driving through a sharp blue sky and inwardly struggling to resist the autumn changes in my life right now and in the lives of those I love.  Why must seasons change?  Why do sisters grow up and move away? Why do godly servants of God have to fight physical, mental, and spiritual battles without respite? The song reminded me that all the things God has done are good, and all the things He has promised are good, so that means that the season I am currently in is GOOD.  He is not His creation, but He has made His fingerprints evident all over creation--even through the seasons that resulted from the Flood.  He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Here's the song: "Every Season" sung by Nichole Nordeman.

Every evening sky, an invitation
To trace the patterned stars
And early in July, a celebration
For freedom that is ours
And I notice You
In children’s games
In those who watch them from the shade
Every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder
You are summer

And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and was to come
You are autumn

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter

And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Race... The Hill.... The Life

Saturday, October 30, 2010, I competed in my first 10k (that's 6.2 miles for all you Americans) Race.  Only a couple years ago, I hated running and wondered why anyone would put themselves through the torture of bouncing up and down and breathing hard when you can just as well walk.  But now running has become so much more than a physical discipline to me... it is a release, it is a goal to reach, it is a spiritual journey.  During the 10k, God impressed me with so many spiritual applications that I've had trouble processing and condensing everything into a neat little blog post.  Still... the lessons were so profound to me that I can't help but share at least one story. So here goes...
The Pipestem 10k Pumpkin Run was held at a WV state park on a cold, crisp morning.  Having never seen the course, for some crazy reason I expected it to be what I call "WV flat", in other words more hills than most other states but not vertical enough to count as a "WV hill".  The first mile proved me wrong.  I briskly jogged down.... down... down.... a long hill with two thoughts rotating through my mind: "Hey, this downhill is easy! I feel great!" and "Uh-oh.... I'm pretty sure we have to backtrack this whole section. What goes down must come up. It's gonna kill me!" 
I tried not to anticipate the agony of running back up the "Hill of Death", but inevitably I had to make the turn and begin the never-ending trudge.  As I ran, I kept lying to myself (you'd be surprised the crazy things I tell myself while I'm running!) "It's not that bad.  You're doing fine.  You're almost there."  This tactic usually works, but this time I got to a point where my body screamed, "It IS that bad!  You're NOT doing fine--look at all the people passing you! And you are nowhere near the top-- in fact, it feels like you're moving backwards!"
What do you do when your body and mind get into an argument?  When your will desperately wants to achieve but your flesh desperately cries, "I can't!" When the easiest thing in the world and the worst thing in the world is to just stop running?
My will couldn't hold up much longer so I called out to God in prayer.  I prayed for every breath, for every step forward, I prayed that my will and determination would last, that my muscles would keep moving.  It seemed silly to ask the Creator of the universe to help me finish a race, but at the same time it felt perfectly natural because He is the sustainer of my body as well as its Creator, and He is deeply involved in every part of my life.  He understands how incredibly spiritual this run was for me.
The reason I felt so desperate to make it to the top of the hill was much bigger than a cheap trophy or any claim to fame.  I realized that this hill was my whole race.  If I could make it up and over this one hill, the rest of the race didn't matter because I had overcome the obstacle that tried to tear me down.  And I realized, in between screaming muscles and heaving breath: This Hill is the Race, this Race is my Life. If I were to fail on this hill, this physical challenge, I knew I would be unprepared for spiritual battles in the future. In life, I regularly encounter challenges that try to defeat me.  They are all much too hard for me to overcome-- I am too weak to avoid that sin or to love that stranger or to pray that radical prayer.  But in my weakness, Christ--the Giver of my Life, the breath I breathe and the energy that moves me-- longs to make me strong and victorious.  My job is to cling desperately to Him and to just keep going, using up every ounce of strength and ability that He gives so that He can refill me abundantly. 
I feel like I left every ounce of strength, will, and breath on that WV hill that day.  In Christ alone, I made it to the top and once I was there, I realized there was no reason to stop since the strength kept going.  This is the way that Christ works in us, He always gives more grace and expects us to use up every drop in serving Him, so that He can refill us daily with grace, mercy, and wisdom.  I truly believe that I ran that entire race--not stopping once-- and ended up winning a trophy as a result of God's grace.  Some may disagree and accuse me of overspiritualizing the mundane things of life, but I can't help but see God at work in every aspect of who I am... whether I eat or drink or run or whatever I do, He can be glorified and He is at work. 
This verse was the theme song of my run, and there are tons of ways I saw its practical applications that day.  But I'll leave the applications to you, since it's late, this is long, and the applications are obvious.  Look for them!
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I've been running a lot lately, and the more I run the more I want to run.  But every time I run, I am running away from things, and also running to things.  God is teaching me what it means to run with freedom, and just tonight I started a Bible Study by Cynthia Heald about how to Run the Race with Freedom.  He is still shaping the lessons in my heart, so I won't say much about it yet, but ponder this question with me and we will look for the answer together: 

                     Who or What are you running from?

                                      Who or What are you running to?

please pardon the improper grammar above.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


If there ever were a miracle food to cure whatever ails you, it would be water.  

Water is the best remedy for hunger, headaches, pain, and all types of sickness.  If you're cold, drink water. If you're tired, drink water.  If you're thirsty, drink water!  I lead a lot of outdoor adventure trips, and the most common treatment I advise for fatigue, fear, coldness, or just about any other common complaint is water.  It really works!

Nothing quenches thirst or satisfies needs like water.  This fall I backpacked for a couple days in Yosemite, following some lesser-known trails to the most incredible vistas in the park.  What struck me as the most difficult part of the 3,000 foot gain in elevation was rationing my water.  I carried about a gallon of water at a time and drank most of my supply each day. I'm used to hiking on the East Coast, where streams, puddles, and lakes are abundant.  Running out of water is never a danger.  But hiking on the lip of Yosemite Canyon at the end of a dry summer creates a whole new challenge.  Here, streams are not abundant and the famous Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, was reduced to barely a trickle.  If this major water source was dried up, how was I supposed to expect other water sources to be available in this unexplored wilderness? 
My fear of running out of water escalated as I realized an increasing desire and need for hydration.  California's climate is as foreign to wet and wonderful West Virginia as are its inhabitants.  No matter how much I drank, my lips always remained parched and I always desired more water.  As I pushed on, I found myself daydreaming of the end of the trip when water would be available, endless, and free.  

One of the things I love most about water is that in most cases it is free.  Just by boiling out contaminants, I can drink my fill of clean, refreshing, healthy water anywhere I go.  It is one of the greatest provisions of life that God has given His creatures.  

You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.  From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. Psalm 104: 10-13

It's not a surprise that God has chosen water as a metaphor for the most precious, satisfying, essential gift He has given to mankind. This gift is entirely free, limitless, unmerited, and it provides health and strength for all areas of life.  

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.  The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock."  Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:10-14

Like water, the Lord Jesus' free gift of eternal life is all too often polluted, wasted, or taken for granted. Many try to replace water with soda, milk, etc.  It is not wrong to drink things other than water on occasion, but nothing will satisfy thirst in the same way as pure, plain water.  Some earthly pleasures may seem to satisfy for a moment but nothing can meet our need for God like the Living Water of salvation, which is Jesus' free gift of forgiveness and new life made possible by his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  

Are you wasting water?  Am I taking for granted the gift of life?  How are we unknowingly polluting the purity of the gospel?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Discovery of the Spot

--an excerpt from a nature journal, January 2007--

And then I knew I had found the perfect spot.  This boulder has an awesome view of the Gorge, rocky cliffs, and half of the New River Gorge Bridge.  It's more than just an amazing view though.  It's the kind of place that begs you to explore it....
The most intriguing part is-- I can hear a waterfall really close but I can't see it.  It's probably rushing through one of the little chasms that I'm too afraid to get to.  In a way, I'm glad I can't see the waterfall, because that way I can imagine it to be bigger and better than it might actually be.  Plus, I like the idea that there's something too wild for me to get to very easily.  For all I know there could be a trail that leads right to the waterfall-- or even a trail that leads to my spot. ... But I don't know for sure, and I like to think that I'm the only one that has seen this place in years, or that knows how to get here.  The sense of mystery and aloneness makes it feel more wild.
It's nice to know that there are still places like this-- places where all the questions aren't answered, or you have to work to find the answer.  What is even more amazing to thing about is that God delights in this place even more than I do-- and He is thrilled that I love it.  How can anyone see a valley so full of trees and rocks that you can't possibly know how many secrets are hiding there-- hear a never-ending waterfall that sounds so alive in a dead winter-- or feel a warm, golden sun and an icy breeze at the same time-- and not be overwhelmed with gratefulness to God? 
Thank you Lord for wild places! 

 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.  Psalm 24:1 

to begin...

Why am I starting this blog?  Why do we ever start something new? It has something to do with the thrill and challenge of embarking on a fresh adventure, taking the first step toward a lofty and noble goal.  It also has something to do with the desire to share and be known, to keep my heart from drying up while it is waiting, hidden away.  But perhaps the main reason for this particular blog is to keep myself on track: to keep myself always looking for God in everything I do.

Yes, this blog has a deeper purpose than airing the inner ravings and ramblings of my mind.  My desire is to use this place to share lessons I have learned through explorations and meditations on the things that God has created.  I love wilderness, even when it's just found in a straggly unmowed strip by the side of the road.  I love adventures, especially when they are reminiscent of romping through the backyard as a kid.  But I have learned since then that wilderness--adventure--life--has a deeper purpose that can be only be discovered through firsthand encounters.   God's World points to God's Word to teach us about Himself and about the kingdom of God.  (Ever notice how often Jesus pointed to natural objects to teach heavenly truths?)

So join me as we explore the world, far and near, to find the treasures of wisdom that God has hidden in plain sight all around us.  It will be an adventure!