Tag Archives: God

Matterhorn: Pointing to God

May 19, 2013 — Zermatt, Switzerland.

On the vehicle train and headed toward the mountain tunnel.
On the vehicle train and headed toward the mountain tunnel.

Yesterday I drove into the Alps. The climbing road in required that the car be driven onto a train which, serpentine-like, carried the vehicles like a mechanical monster under the mountain, belching them out above a verdant expanse of some of the most beautiful countryside

The stark contrastive beauty of the Alps
The stark contrastive beauty of the Alps

I’ve ever seen. The switchbacks on the descent pushed the limits of the BMW rental. Occasionally I’d stop at one of the many pull-offs in order to take pictures of the scenery. The stark snow-covered mountain peaks contrasted sharply with the lush greenery in the valley below, brought to life by melting snow and incoming storm.

Beautiful countryside in the alpine valleys
Beautiful countryside in the alpine valleys

The nail-biting road ended in the sleepy town of Tasch, which is where my hotel was for the night. The trip into Zermatt would have to wait until the next morning, requiring a trip on an electric rail or vehicle. My room was nice, but a little warm (in Switzerland it is common for hotels to only have heat and no cooling). So I opened the window and went to sleep.

Shuttle to Zermatt
Shuttle to Zermatt

This morning I awoke to find snow drifting against my window and powdered across the floor beneath it. Mountain-blown snow was descending on the warm valley and left the ground covered with the beautiful steamy dust. The feeling was surreal. I had some tennis shoes for hiking, but I wasn’t prepared for the higher-elevation snow. So I geared up with what I had, ate a light European breakfast, and grabbed the first train into Zermatt.

Fresh snowfall outside my hotel
Fresh snowfall outside my hotel
IMG_0724
City of Zermatt. I took this picture looking down from one of the hiking trails.

This touristy and expensive Swiss town was bustling, even during the off-season. Families with children, adventure sports types, and the elderly crowded the streets. First thing on my list was to find some hiking boots. I needed something comfortable that could withstand the snowy ascent into the mountains. One fitting and 120 Swiss Francs later, I had my hiking boots and was off to the trails. Even before heading up into the mountains, it became immediately evident that an adverse effect from the morning snow was taking place. Clouds had moved in from the mountains and combined with the melting snow. The end result was a thick blanket of fog that only allowed me to see about 100 feet at a time. But that was sufficient to start.

Thick mountain fog
Thick mountain fog

Winding up the mountain, I stopped a couple miles up the trail in order to wait for the fog to clear. Not wanting to bite off more than I could chew, I took an ascent break and rode a cable car through the dense fog up to an overlook. At the overlook, I was surrounded by delighted skiers and hit by a blistering snow-driving mountain wind. It sliced through my clothes and chilled me to the bone. I had hoped to be able to see the Matterhorn from here and was largely disappointed. I still couldn’t see a thing! But before I

Clouds across the alps
Clouds across the alps

headed back to the cable car, I glanced behind me and saw that the wind had just moved out some of the thick white cover. And there it stood! The scimitar-curved finger pointing to the heavens. I stood and stared, took pictures, and stared some more.

The Matterhorn appears through the clouds!
The Matterhorn appears through the clouds!

When I finally turned to head down into the valley and resume my hike I was already stunned by the majesty of the massive mountain. But on the descent, the most amazing thing happened. The fog I had been fighting below had broken while I was at the overlook, but a thin layer of cloud lay between the mountain overlook and the valley below. As the cable car descended, we broke through the cloud and a jaw-dropping awe-inspiring expanse lay glittering below. The craggy mountains on my left and right stood out against

The cable car descending from the overlook.
The cable car descending from the overlook.

the fresh snow and grassy slopes below. There was something gut-wrenching about that moment. Something bigger and more meaningful than so many of the petty goals and achievements that I’ve vested with ultimate significance in over the years.

“Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” (St. Augustine)

One view from the cable car
One view from the cable car

Holding back tears, the immensity of what I’d seen moved me emotionally. It seemed like God had placed a mighty finger pointing to him on the mountaintop, and a rolling parchment below that told the story of his greatness. How could someone walk away from this beauty and wonder if there was a God? How could all this happen by accident — mere chance? Why is it that every person I know who looks out at a wonder of nature such as this and feels in their

Breaking through the clouds in the cable car
Breaking through the clouds in the cable car

heart a sense of gasping awe and yearning desire and inexpressible joy because of the beauty they see? But it isn’t like we can eat it or drink it — that it actually meets a material need of a purely physical body as it stands. It doesn’t do anything for us, but yet it meets a need of our souls — the immaterial part of our being. Perhaps the astounding beauty of the Alps is a crack in the wall of our materialistic dwelling, pointing us to something greater outward and upward. Simply stated: if I find in myself a craving for something unexplainable and immaterial, I must conclude that this is an echo of something even greater and more unexplainable that alone can fill that deep desire of my heart.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

(Psalm 121:1-2)

God's creative beauty on display throughout my hike.
God’s creative beauty on display throughout my hike.
This thought was one that I couldn’t shake throughout the remainder of my 10 mile meander through the Alps that afternoon. I dedicated this day as a visual reminder of the grandeur of God and my inborn desire to find revel in his unimaginable and unfathomable greatness.
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
(Psalm 65:5-8)

Legalism Part 4: My Life on Legalism

John Bunyan

Legalism seems to be the smallest of sins, but it is really one of the biggest.  The bigness of this sin shows up in a lot of ways.  The first place that legalism wreaks havoc is in our own souls.  I remember this distinctly.  It started out well.

I wanted to be a good kid.  It started out as a simple desire to follow God’s Word.  I would take battle to the Enemy like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s dream.  But little did I know that the Enemy was more subversive in his tactics than I had imagined.  The Devil doesn’t like all out war with clean battle lines and trenches.  No, he prefers the guerilla tactics of hit-and-run jujitsu combat.  He takes even our best aspirations and uses them to fight us.

I wanted to keep the rules.  Not just the Bible now.  My focus began to shift beyond Scripture to all the rules of the family, church, community, etc.  I had to fulfill everything.

I wanted God to like me.  Perhaps this thought came about because I didn’t think there was much of me to like.  I sucked at sports.  I studied hard, but I’ve never been brilliant.  I’ve always struggled with aspects of dyslexia, inverting letters or thinking ahead of myself as I speak.  I was socially awkward.  But I thought if I could learn more about God and pray and read my Bible, maybe at least God would like me.  Even if no one else did.

I wanted to be the best.  Now my legalism turned outward.  It was not just good enough to be good, I had to be gooder!  I couldn’t just read books, I had to read more books than anyone else I knew.  I had to be the best I could be spiritually.  Sure, sometimes I couldn’t find chapter and verse for the things I did, but I was always sure to tell people that I was taking the wisest or safest route on the issue at hand.  And to me, taking the less-wise and less-safe route was not the best.  Only the best would work for me.

I wanted to escape the cycle.  Now my legalism became heavy.  As I grew up and began to struggle with real sins and lusts and such, my legalism wasn’t enough to curb sin anymore.  Now the enemy was attacking from every angle.  My foundation for the past years had been my legalism and what a shoddy defense it was now!  The best I could do was to console myself between attacks of the glories of my own righteousness.  I would make fresh commitments to God.  I would read more books.  I read my Bible lots and lots.  But then the new round of temptations would come and I would be devastated.  I was angry with myself.  I wished God would just kill me.  I thought of suicide.  Despair and darkness would set in.  I would cry out for help and God would love me and help me.  And then I’d go back to my fortress of legalism.

Legalism hurts.  It cuts to the deepest part of the soul.  The promise of legalism is a life above the fray.  A life of purity and free from sin.  It is the life that is safely positioned far from the cliff of temptation.  It is the tiptoeing conscience, sneaking away from the big dangers of the spiritual walk.  But the promise of legalism is empty.  Believe me.  Legalism is a cliff unto its own self.  Legalism tiptoes around the sleeping giants of temptation and into the middle of a massive minefield.  The purity and higher life are merely a façade – a mask you have to wear to make people think you’re really something you aren’t.  But that’s just what legalism does to you.  What about what it does to others?

Legalism Part 2: The Broad Appeal of Legalism

Toyota Prius

(To see Part 1, click here)

But why is legalism appealing?  We absolutely detest it in other people and especially when the finger is pointed at ourselves.  I think it is the one sin that the most righteous to the most wicked person in society would condemn in others but would be least likely to see that they commit it themselves.  But if we hate it in others, how can we live with ourselves?  Why then does legalism turn people on?  I thought that there may be a couple reasons.  Perhaps it has something to do with enjoying absolutes…black and white.  There certainly is something reassuring in knowing that there are no questions and only answers.  But the Bible doesn’t always work that way.  It seems to give us the answers to the key issues of life and leaves other things for us as individuals to work out (Rom 14).  God actually gives us the space to apply the Gospel in our contexts.  But the legalist hates this kind of thought.  It seems downright postmodern to believe that something could be right for one person and wrong for another; however, that’s exactly what the Bible indicates (Rom 14:22-23).  But there seems to be another reason why legalism is so appealing.   I think this is tied with the other appeal of knowing all the answers.  It is that sense of awesome spiritual superiority that you get when you have all the answers.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.  You’ve seen it in yourself and others.

It’s the parent whose kids all turned out right.

It’s the guy in prison who stole, but at least he didn’t commit child abuse like that other inmate.

It’s the hipster in the Prius.

It’s the preacher with the right Bible version.

It’s the cop who is always catching everyone else doing wrong.

It’s the vegan to that poser’s vegetarian.

It’s the guy who owns his own home.

It’s the kid who is the teacher’s pet because she always keeps the rules while the teacher is looking.

It’s the guy who wishes he could say “I told you so” a million times when people don’t follow his procedures.

It’s the overweight guy who smirks at the alcoholic.

It’s the protester on the street that says that another person or company did something wrong.

It’s the intellectual who always has the deepest insights on all things political and religious.

It’s the lady with a college diploma to that guy’s GED.

It’s the voter who is so thankful for the good sense not to vote like the person with that bumper sticker.

It’s the guy who lusts after women and not men.

It’s the person who looks at the bum on the street and assumes things about their poor choices.

It’s the family who always know what holidays to celebrate and how.

It’s the person who wears the nice clothes.

It’s the guy who is in touch and connected in his culture (whether high culture or pop culture).

It’s the angry motorist on the highway who wishes everyone could drive as well as he does.

Now I don’t suppose that all of these people have to become legalistic and superior about the way they do things.  But based on my experience, when you find yourself in one of these spots it’s really easy to start smiling and thinking to yourself about how much better you are.  Been there.  Done that.

As I continued to think about the appeal of legalism, I shuffled by one of the teachers offices and somehow the archaic image of the teacher’s apple popped into my head – an image which took a couple of odd twists and turns as it usually does in my bizarre little mind.  Somehow I ended up thinking of an apple or probably some other really cool fruit dangling from a mist-covered tree in a garden some years ago.  Perhaps the roots of legalism’s grip on me go even deeper.  Maybe they go back to my parents…my first parents.

A Prayer After Meditating on the Resurrection in Colossians 3

Dear God,

You’ve saved me to be more than I could ever imagine, yet I go through life trying to find the strength to do Your will in my little schemes and plans.  I look for my righteousness within myself.  I attempt to please You by manipulating Your favor.  All this I have done, but I keep coming up short.  I am frustrated with my own inability to be something that, by my own power, I am not.  Help me to look to the resurrection and to see that You have radically changed me.  Now putting on Christ is simply being who I already am in You!  Let my veins pulsate with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who lives in me and I in Him.  Empower me rise to from my sins, my self-righteousness, my idols and run to you.  Let Your life live in me.  Give me the strength to be who I really am in You!

Is Ambition Good or Bad?

This question has batted around in my head off and on for a number of years.  It seems like the question is answered differently depending on whom the question is posed to.  The answer also seems to vary depending on the definition or the circumstances surrounding the ambition.  So before we make a decision on the matter, I think it best to define what we mean and then draw some conclusions.

Ambition can be defined variously, but for our purposes I would like to think of it as the desire for advancement or success.  I believe that this desire has been ingrained in the heart of every man, woman, and child since the dawn of time.  It is the Adamic compulsion to take dominion over creation that forms the core of ambition.  Ambition separates the proverbial wise man from the foolish man, because it drives him away from laziness and towards productivity.  So in its purest and natural form, ambition is a healthy drive that motivates us all to strive and to achieve and to succeed.

But there is a dark side of ambition too.  We’ve all seen its consequences.  It starts so young and innocently.  It begins as the child who abandons their playmate in order to hang out with the more popular kids.  But it only gets uglier.  It is the dad who is too busy pursuing his career that he has no time for his children.  It is the wife who is so caught up in her own dreams that she leaves her husband.  It is the athlete who is so intent on scoring that his team looses the game.  It is the musician who is overcome with chasing success that he abandons everyone who really matters in life and becomes a recluse.  It is the pastor who is so consumed with the bigness of the auditorium, giving, and attendance that he misses the bigness of the peoples’ need.  Ambition turns dark and hurtful when it is turned inward.  Self-centered ambition is, no doubt, one of the greatest plagues of our era.

Thankfully there is hope.  In the Gospel I find that Jesus has succeeded fully in my behalf.  There is nothing more for me to chase.  There is no achievement, no skill, no paygrade, no rank, no praise, no fame, no experience that will ever make me happy, for Christ came to die to fill all those desires in my behalf.  Now I find myself motivated by a holy ambition.  Driven by grace rather than will-power and driven towards God rather than myself, I find joy in pursuing God’s will for my life.  The Gospel turns my ambition around.  Rather than wasting my life chasing my shadow, Jesus Christ turns my ambition outward and upward.

A Prayer After Loosing Focus

God why do You put up with such a major screw-up like me?  I’m half-hearted, at best, flirting with shadows and dim lights.  I’m distracted by so little when I’m offered so much.  Like a millionaire who lives on $100 a week and like an idiot who’s trying to surf the web on a smartphone when he’s sitting in front of his computer, I keep chasing lesser things.  But I tend not to think of them in such a way.  The pleasures of life, love, wealth, wisdom, pride, and power seem so endearing and awesome when they trap my gaze.  For a moment now, You have broken my gaze.  You have shifted my eyes to Yourself and I cannot take them off You.  Oh that I might always keep my focus on You!

 

Disenchant me from my affection for lesser things.

Redirect me from my reckless ambition.

Break me from my idolatry.

Free me from my passion for myself.

Enflame me with a passion for the Gospel.

Reclaim the center of my soul.

Focus my life recklessly upon Yourself.

Capture my affection eternally and fill the eternal emptiness within me!

Why is the Incarnation Significant? – Part 3 – The Ultimate Revelation

The incarnation is significant because it is God’s ultimate self-revelation.  Consider for a moment all that we know of God that is reveled to us.  He uses what the theologians refer to as “general revelation” to tell us that He exists and that we are responsible to Him.  All throughout creation, the revelation of God is enough to hold men without excuse in the Day of Judgment.  But all this is not enough for us to know God.  There is still much missing.  Thankfully there is yet another facet of revelation provided to us.  The written Word of God forms a “specific revelation” given that we might know God.  But still there is something missing.

Here’s the problem.  With all that we know about God, no one has ever seen Him.  We have heard that Moses saw part of His glory, but no one has seen God (John 1:18).  How can you really know someone you haven’t seen, gone to a park with, watched their reaction as you tell stories to, and hugged?  There is something wholly different between a cyber relationship and the real thing.  This is something of the distance between God and His creation.  This distance has existed from the primeval period of our history, because mankind has  always wanted nothing to do with the one true God.  We’ve rebelled against Him and His holiness demands that He leave us to our will, but His mercy keeps finding ways to reveal Himself to us throughout history.  That’s where the two sorts of revelation that we just spoke of come from, but in the end God wasn’t happy just to speak to us in shadows.

The incarnation means that God spoke into our world with Himself.  The invisible God sent us His duplicate image (Colossians 1:15) so that we may see Him for Himself (John 14:8-9).  God all-glorious, mysterious, immortal, invisible, clothed in light, and high above every throne and dominion took upon Himself humanity.  As He sustained the molecules of the known universe, He was birthed into a cattle feeding trough in a smelly cave in a little town in the Middle East.

I am often fascinated by the Apostle John’s use of the term “Word” to refer to Jesus.  This was at one time a substantial source of confusion for me.  Why would you call a person a “Word”?  This makes very little sense to you and me, but it makes all the sense in the world to God.  Imagine with me that you had been trying to communicate with your girlfriend in another state.  You had emailed.  You’ve tried Facebook stalking her.  You’ve called and texted.  You’ve even had friends try to contact her locally, but to no avail.  You’ve tried every sort of message and now it’s time to do something extreme.  You hop a plane and travel across the country to see her.  You yourself are become the message.  So it is with the Incarnate Word.  Jesus is the message of God to a humanity that has ignored all of His prior messages.  But consider the content of the message.  It has often intrigued me that God’s message to man wasn’t one of hate and punishment.  We had rebelled against him, after all!  But quite to the contrary, God’s message to mankind was one of hope and peace through the work of Jesus Christ.

Every religion in the world is predicated upon the idea of man becoming a god, but the Christian teaching is that God became man that man could be reconciled with God.  God put Himself on the line so that he could suffer for the rebellion that we chose over Him.  As you celebrate this time of year I would encourage you to think of the fact that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was God shouting into the world with all His might.  God wants to be known.  God wants to reveal Himself to us and will go to the greatest lengths to do so.  Are you listening?

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”  (Hebrews 1:1-2)