When we read the Bible in the beauty of nature, new insights about God's wonderful plan for our lives become living, reliable facts. This eternal wisdom touches our souls, and without it, we become less than gnats, with neither origin or destiny.
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Meeting the WORD in the World
By GLEN W. WARNER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2014 GLEN W. WARNER
All rights reserved.
The WORD In The Desert
My wife Nancy gave me a wonderful gift this summer. I had always wanted to see some National Parks and was musing through a tour catalog which included a 10 day journey through six parks in the southwest USA. "Why don't you go?" she asked. I said it was lengthy and not cheap. In her usual wisdom she pointed out that seeing six parks in one journey was cheaper than separate trips. So with her encouragement, I went and it was wonderful. I didn't want it to end.
Our group was congenial, only 18 of us on a new 40 passenger tour bus. The tour director was knowledgeable and courteous. We visited Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Some travel was by small planes and hiking was available at all stops. Each day exceeded the impressions of the previous one. The incredible beauty, age and size of these places are indescribable. To be immersed in these experiences is truly to sense that we are a miniscule part of eternal, ongoing creation.
When looking into an ancient canyon which reveals millions of years of geologic history, each colored layer of rock like a very long chapter, one cannot really grasp, in ordinary human terms, how it came to be. One of our speakers, Marty Ott, quoted geologist Clarence Dutton (1889): "These dimensions have no meaning to our senses. What we are left with is a troubling sense of immensity."
The sunrises were one of the best parts of the trip. We were blessed with clear, cool September days and the early morning dawns opened the day, as John Muir said, "Shouting Hallelujah!"
It was one morning like that in my favorite stop, Zion National Park. I was up early. Pine scent was in the air, fresh and cool. No one else was around. Zion is a place where you look up at the sandstone cliffs from the canyon floor rather than looking down from a rim. As I watched, the sun was rising, lighting the skies high above the canyon walls. Then, concurrently, slowly, silently, the light descended down the copper colored monoliths, down, down to the place where I was sitting. It was a timeless experience, a revelation of eternity.
In awe, I tried to identify some reference point in my little life – some memory or past human meaning of such an experience. It was beyond any such effort.
And then the great words of I John 1:5 somehow came out of my mouth, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
For many people of faith, linking the awesomeness of nature with our belief in God as creator is just natural. For others who are more skeptical, there is an uncrossable chasm of disbelief in such thoughts. Theirs is a dilemma that if unsolved perhaps leads only to some form of humanism as their faith.
Later in the day I thought about that wonderful dawn experience. I do not think it was a coincidence that I happened to be reading some thoughts by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks on the meaning of life. He quotes Ludwig Wittgenstein: "The meaning of a system must lie outside it. Football, for instance, is governed by a system of rules. If you want to learn how the game is played, you would be well advised to study that system. But if you want to understand what the game means to its players and fans, you would have to consider things like honor, camaraderie, local pride or the desire for heroes – things not in the rule book ... Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean." The Great Partnership
I really like that. It is possible to have both – knowledge of how things work, and what they mean. As long as I live, I will always remember that dawning of descending light in Zion.
"But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." John 3:21
Conversation at the edge
I PETER 3: 15-16
The walking trail along the edge of Bryce Canyon National Park has a few rustic benches for restful viewing. So it was on a clear and breezy September day, there was a sense of just 'swimming in the invisible air' of the graciousness of God. It was close to perfect, the weather and the view at 8,000 feet elevation were outstanding.
This park has several natural amphitheaters etched by erosion into the sides of the Navaho sandstone cliffs. They house thousands of bizarre humanoid shapes, colored rich red and orange known as hoodoos. (They are especially spooky in the moonlight.) People enjoy talking about what or whom the shapes look like to them. It is also a place of life-giving thunderstorms with stupendous lightning displays. Wind, rain, snow and ice are constantly, gradually sculpting Bryce National Park.
Trying to take this all in, I was suddenly aware of another person coming along, also deep in thought. It was a retired heart doctor and we immediately fell into a lengthy, very interesting conversation. We sat on one of those benches watching the changing light on the hoodoos and talked of faith and religion. He had studied both for many years in connection with his surgical practice. He was now enjoying the learning and stimulation of travel to interesting places.
I cannot fully recapture the vitality of our discussion so these thoughts are partial. His knowledge was more extensive than mine but his questions paralleled many of my own. We hit it off as people say, an example I think of the translation that the kingdom of God is between you. I asked him if I could make some notes on his thoughts. He grinned and agreed.
He had practiced and lived medicine for over 32 years and had watched so many people suffer and die, even with good medical care, that he started to ask, "What is faith? What is real?" Facing the deep questions of the brevity and uncertainty of life in that setting was awesome.
He said that life seems totally random and chaotic, that scientific research tries to make sense of it all, but it seldom really succeeds. Therefore, we can learn to make use of chaos, harnessing some of it but never able to fully change the nature of it. He believes in our consciousness, our awareness of all of life, but that we have not even come close to being aware of who we are or what we can do. His viewpoint reinforced the belief of some that we use less than 1 % of the billions of brain cells we each have. We do have symptoms of greatness, he said, such as spiritual reverie when visions of possibilities occur. Medically this means that blood is moving to a different part of the brain. So what can we discover, really?
What then, is life itself? Does religion give us any really good knowledge of it? What can Christianity really bring to the world? I mean REALLY. What should be taught to the younger generations who are moving into a future in which they have no experience?
I ventured to ask the Doctor if he is an atheist and found out that at this point he did not know, but did not like the implication. He liked the term secular religion, living out a Christian philosophy in word and deed. He is still an active church member and donates heavily to a certain charity, but smiling, added that maybe that just bribes his conscience. He noted that he wondered where the truly hungry people were, since many who came to the mission meals he supported were quite overweight.
The great statement made by Jesus, "I am the resurrection and the life, "he thought to be quite meaningless to most people, because we are so spiritually illiterate. More and more he believed that Christianity should be able to bring good things to the less privileged in the world. He noted the prevailing attitude in America, and maybe the whole world, that people will not help themselves as long as someone else is taking care of them.
He was really rolling along and the give and take of the conversation was exciting. In a pause, I looked out at those strange hoodoos and thanked him for the interesting conversation, one of the best in my memory. "What do you think?" the Doctor asked. "What real use can we make of the chaos we meet every day in the world? What purpose is there to life?"
After the honest mental calisthenics of the past hour, I could see this was not just a polite casual question. He was sincerely searching. There was no wimpy, sentimental answer for this one! It was one of those times when answers come forth that you didn't know you were thinking.
After a few moments I responded something like this: "We are standing on the edge of a fantastic canyon, and we also are standing at the edge of the potential of our brains. I will probably never know all that my brain can do, but I will make use of the wonder that I feel. It matters most how I respond to the unknown and this is not new to us in our generation. I believe there is a purpose that must be worked out in each of us whenever, wherever we have lived. I don't fully understand it, so it is enough for me to believe and live by faith."
He was closely listening, so looking out again at the amazing beauty of Bryce and feeling so invigorated by the good discussion with him I remembered these words, and said:
"Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes." Ephesians 1:4 Then we just sat in silence at the wonder of it all.
Foundation of the world
Seen from its perimeter rim of 2,750 miles or from an airplane, the multicolored beauty and hundreds of square miles of the Grand Canyon are an overwhelming spectacle. It is like seeing the very foundation of the world.
Some see it as a stone city resembling "an ancient ruined metropolis dense with elegant public buildings, skyscrapers, cathedrals, theaters, apartment buildings, aqueducts and highways ... as if every nuance of line and hue of every stone palace and temple were planned by a master architect." Views beyond the Beauty by Gary Ladd
It is interesting to simply listen to the comments made by people as they stand at the rim for the first time. Some remark about the length of time and the geologic forces that produced such a natural wonder. Others simply worship God who created it all. Is this about Geology or Theology ? Can it be both?
Science and Religion both wonder in their own ways at the miracle of our earth and life upon it. Each approach is deeply significant. Science seeks to know and explain our origins and HOW we got here. Religion seeks to explain WHY we are here and what it means so we can understand human behavior.
At least 12 different colored layers of geologic history are definable to the eye, and represent unimaginable time spans which some experts say total 350 million years. Each layer is uniquely different from the others. At the very base of the Canyon, the oldest visible rock is called "Vishnu" and is said to be 1.6 billion years old igneous. The total earth is estimated by some to be 4 billion years old. These observations bear little relation to the time we see on our wristwatches, calendars or even the passing of the sun each 24 hours.
Trying to see this in human perspective, our tour guide spoke of it this interesting way. Imagine a seven-volume set of average size books, each with 200 pages. Each single letter in each book represents 1500 years. At the start of Volume I, earth was formed but modern humans do not appear until the beginning of the last line of the last page of the last book. Finally, all of recorded human history is contained in the last three letters of the very last sentence.
In our Judeo-Christian tradition, we quote Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The first chapter of the first book continues through a six day creation cycle of everything that exists and then chapter 2 tells us that, "God rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And he blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work, which God created and made."
Do we have to choose which is the right, factual way this old world came to be?
I once posed that question to a respected and highly educated elder in church. He smiled and replied, "I believe creation happened in seven evenings and mornings." I have always found that to be a satisfying answer, bridging the scientific and the religious approaches to our beginnings.
Now shift focus with me for a moment all the way down from the rim of the Grand Canyon into our daily lives and routines. Standing in line at the market recently, I noticed the trash tabloids with the latest scandals and troubles of celebrities. The garish pictures and headlines all reflected the self absorption and confusion of celebrities trying, like very confused adolescents, to find happiness only within themselves.
Then, the young cashier zipped my items through the barcode reader, humming an old hymn from church. I was amazed and walking out to the car remembered myself as a 17-year-old at a youth retreat trying to find myself, as they say. The speaker for that day was, and still is, one good answer to my questions. Not just what he said, but he, himself, was an answer. He had found his passion in life and loved what he was doing. He had found meaning and knew that we young people in that crowd that day on those hard benches were all trying to figure out our lives and what we should do. His own life was an excellent example.
He read Ephesians 1:4 to us, "According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love."
Then he closed the Bible and with strong conviction said to us, "There is no greater knowledge than to believe that you were called to your purpose before the foundation of the earth." It was a new, powerful thought that meant every person can have a destiny of divine origin. Without that knowledge, he said, life is just fate. Destiny, or fate - which shall it be?
The modern way of expressing this is God has a plan for your life. I began to believe it that day, and I believe it even more today after many years of living by trial and error.
Four billion years ago, before the foundation of the world and the Grand Canyon had not even begun to exist, you and I were being chosen to live the life that God planned for us.
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139:13-16
Coffee on the rim
It is dawn on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. There is a rocking chair not far from my cabin overlooking the eastern horizon from an altitude of 8200 feet above sea level. There is a fresh pot of steaming coffee by my door. I take my cup and walk to my box seat to watch and wonder at the sunrise of another new day. The morning air is cool and full of pine fragrance. A Kaibab squirrel breaks the silence, chattering at me – asking where his coffee is, I guess. It is a timeless experience of perfect wonder.
Speechless, I watch the light of the rising sun flowing its life- giving rays over the countless colors of the canyon. The anonymous folk poem of our ancestors comes to mind:
The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power, To tell just where the hands will stop, at late or early hour. The present only is our own, to seek to do God's Will. Tomorrow holds no promise, for the clock may then be still.
These moments are so still, overwhelming and surreal that I wonder if I am really here. Somewhere from deep within, a favorite, old memory verse emerges: "Do you want more and more of God's kindness and peace? Then learn to know him better and better. For as you know him better, he will give you, through his great power, everything you need for living a truly good life; he even shares his own glory and goodness with us." II Peter 1:2-3 LB
Somehow these words fit perfectly with that sunrise experience as I watched the glory of the new day beginning and sensing the glory of God at the same time. It was enthralling, an awareness of the WORD in the amazing country before me. It was beyond time and our modern overscheduled lives with all the texting, tweeting, twittering, facebooking, flickering, messaging and e-mailing.
Excerpted from Meeting the WORD in the World by GLEN W. WARNER. Copyright © 2014 GLEN W. WARNER. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
The WORD In The Desert,
The WORD At The Shore,
The WORD In The Country,
The WORD In The World,
For the Beauty of the Earth,
Epilogue – A Sermon, 339,
The Works of the LORD Are Created,
Bibliography with reference pages in this edition, 363,
Abbreviations Of Reference Bibles, 366,
It Is Written, 367,
Study Guide, 371,
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