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
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!