Nature

Jul18

I love nature because it speaks to me of God. When the trees whisper to one another I hear His voice. The intricacy of a flower makes me wonder at His creative power. The detail He has invested in one little ladybug thrills me. I love nature. It draws me to Him.

And so I walk. I walk to find Him, to worship Him, to soak in as much of Him as possible. I take to the nearby nature trails and drink deeply of trees, wildflowers, wind, water, and Him.

But last week I was drawn deeper. Not far from our house is swampland, untraveled and untamed. About 50 yards from the road grow a few weeping willow trees, marking the border between manicured lawns and this marshy wilderness. And the secrecy and seclusion of those drooping branches beckoned me.

With a sense of adventure I left concrete sidewalk, struck across lawn, and then dove into the shadowy undergrowth. Almost immediately the ground grew soft and muddy. Ugh. Fortunately, numerous fallen branches and twigs lay about, so I began to teeter from one to another. But my movements disturbed a swarm of mosquitoes, who buzzed up around me. I swatted at them and lost my balance. Catching myself on a tree trunk I thought, “Good way to twist an ankle!” Then, to my distress, I realized the tree trunk was covered with some sort of climbing ivy. Oh dear. “Leaves of three, leave it be.” Let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4… Five leaves. Whew. That’s OK then. Wait… how many leaves does poison oak have?!?

Things were not going as I had imagined. Resolutely I pressed on, and spotted a fallen log. Balancing from branch to branch, swatting mosquitoes, I made my way to the log and settled gingerly on its rotting bark. I noticed it was rather hollow, but refused to allow myself to imagine what kind of creepy crawlies could be hiding inside, as I determined to focus on the nature around me.

And slowly (buzz buzz, swat swat) I settled in and became aware of the glory of that wild place. Various birds swooped in and out; I started identifying the unique song of each. The grasses and trees swayed and softly sang backup to the bird melodies. I started to relax and take it all in.

Suddenly a movement caught the corner of my eye. Holy Crap! Less than two feet away an honest-to-goodness snake calmly slithered its way into the very log on which I sat. Mud and poisonous plants forgotten, I sprinted out of there in five seconds flat!

Shaken and upset, I headed home. What had gone wrong? I am a nature lover, am I not? But that had been a little too much nature for my liking! It was so unpredictable, wild, and frankly, uncomfortable.

Then I wondered. Do I love God the way I love nature? The thought disturbed me. As long as He is kept tidy and manicured and tame, I find Him quite enjoyable. But what happens when God spills over the boundaries that we set for Him?

God cannot be contained in a creed, a chorus, or a flannel graph story. As much as I try to know and understand Him, there will always be parts of Him that are shadowed in mystery. Do I dare strike off the beaten path and risk being uncomfortable to know Him in a deeper way?

I can learn more about nature—plants and bird calls and even snakes—so that I can move more and more confidently into the untamed places. But no matter how much I know, there will always be a certain wildness, unpredictability, and—yes—even danger about nature. Because I cannot control it.

The same can be said for God. Both He and His creation are bigger than I am. And that’s just the way it should be.

I love nature, because it speaks to me of God.

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Freedom

Jul5

I have been back in the US for about six months now, and I have been surprised to detect a distinct lack of freedom. I am not talking about rights violations or a heavy-handed government. I am referring to a stunning sense of slavery in many Christians with whom I talk.

When I tell them we are taking a year to stop and seek God, I invariably get a response something like: “Must be nice. It would be impossible for me…” or “ Wish I could do that, but I could never…” or “Sure, I’d love a year off. Like that’d ever happen!”

And as I hear this theme repeated again and again, I realize that many people feel trapped. They feel demoralized, enslaved and out of control.

And so, in the spirit of this independence holiday, here’s what I’d like to say to them.

1. You are free.

Deuteronomy 5:15 says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”

When we become Christians we are set free from so many things. From sin, from death, from the laws of this fallen world. We are not slaves of anything, including our circumstances, our finances, our schedules, or our jobs. The book Sabbath Keeping says it like this:

“To keep sabbath is to exercise one’s freedom, to declare oneself to be neither a tool to be employed—an employee—nor a beast to be burdened.” (pg. 43)

I hear the objections starting already. “But we have to be responsible. Hold down a job. Pay bills.” Of course. God not only commands us to work, He is honored when we are productive. But neither money nor work is to become our master.

Remember, God brought the Israelites out of slavery “by a mighty hand.” He is strong enough to provide for our needs when we make seeking Him and His kingdom our top priority. In fact, He promises to do so.

2. You are not a citizen of this world.

As I observe what keeps people oppressed and harried, I see that many are racing to live up to the expectations of the world around them. These cultural norms and demands are so second nature—they have been taught to us from birth and permeate even our church culture—that many of us never question them.

But as Christians we need not live by these rules. As citizens of the kingdom of God we are free to march to another drum, to seek another way of life. In fact, we are obligated to do so.

Colossians warns: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (2:8)

We must stop and re-think the way we live in light of what the Bible teaches. Why is it necessary to achieve that? Who says I need to have this to be happy? To be socially acceptable? To be secure? Where does my definition of success come from? And if we find that the “traditions of men” run contrary to the values of Christ—whether in our secular or sacred cultures—we must have the courage to rebel. To claim our heavenly citizenship and refuse to live under the laws of a land which is not our true home.

I know this is revolutionary talk. It is inflammatory and subversive. But as those who—being slaves of Christ—are truly free , we must never bow to any law or master other than Him.