Venturing West: The Long View

IMG_4130For all the outdoor beauty we enjoy here in Minnesota, I must admit that there is one thing we’re a little short on, and that’s the long view.  I do love all our trees, but thanks to those thick forests the places where you can stand and see for miles are somewhat few and far between.  Which is why, when I travel to places like North Dakota and Montana as we had the opportunity to do this last month, I can hardly get enough of those endless scenic vistas.  I love to see the beautiful, raw curves and contours of the land, love to see distant hills fading away in shades of blue and purple to the horizon, love the way those vistas kindle my imagination with the possibilities of what may lie even further beyond.

It’s in moments like those that I sometimes find myself wishing that life itself was a little more like standing on the edge of a continual scenic vista and not quite so much like plugging along through the thick forest with no idea what’s around the next bend.  You know, being able to see into the future and knowing the purpose and end result of things instead of always wondering.  Have you ever wished for that, too?

In some ways, that’s just how it is to be human.  We aren’t all-knowing or all-seeing like God is.  That’s why we have to trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding, because He’s the only one who can see the long view.  That necessary dependence is part of the beauty of our relationship with Him.

Yet recently I happened upon a passage in His Word that, interestingly, does promise a certain amount of special vision for the righteous.  In this particularly beautiful chapter in Isaiah, “sinners in Zion” and “the godless” are terrified after hearing of God’s promised judgement and ask:

“Who among us can live with the consuming fire?  Who among us can live with continual burning?”  (“burning” being a picture of the judgement that is prophesied to come)IMG_4067And God answers with that beautiful balance of justice and mercy befitting His character: “‘He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity…IMG_4221.JPG
…he who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe…IMG_3959.JPG
…he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil…IMG_3965…he will dwell on the heights, his refuge will be the impregnable rock…IMG_4178IMG_4194.JPG…his bread will be given him, his water will be sure…

IMG_4171…your eyes will see the King in His beauty; they will behold a far-distant land.'”  (Isaiah 33:14-17)

That last little line is my very favorite part.  Isn’t it beautiful?  To those who walk according to His ways, He does give, among many other wonderful gifts, without negating our need to walk in faith, a glimpse of that long view and those distant horizons, or, as another translation puts it “the land that stretches afar”.

He’s not talking about physical scenic vistas here, breathtaking as those are.  I don’t even think He’s necessarily talking about knowing the future.  Instead, He’s promising the righteous spiritual eyes to see above and beyond the figurative forests humankind stumbles through, and to see instead His ways and His will—and ultimately, to see to the farthest horizon where the glory of eternity with Him awaits.  To see things from His perspective.IMG_4125It’s like being given a pair of God-shaped binoculars.  And, really, can you think of anything more breathtaking?

P.S. Yes, this trip out west is the reason you haven’t heard from me here in a while—but my camera was busy while we were away.  Stay tuned for more soon!

 

Rushing River

IMG_3039  IMG_3020We were standing at the edge of a steep bank.  Late afternoon sunlight slanted gold through pine branches over our heads, highlighting the moist hummocks of brilliant green moss creeping along the slanting forest floor.  Below us, a river, satiated with a deluge of rapidly melting snow, rushed it’s wild, joyful way down to bigger waters.IMG_3026IMG_3021  IMG_3033The music of its abundant fullness reminded me of this verse:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  (John 7:37-38)

A little river like this, wildly overflowing with springtime run-off, is exactly what I picture a life looking like as the fulfillment this verse.  A life so brimful of Christ that it can’t even hold the goodness back—it pours out in utter abandon, literally gushing with the joy of it.

And the good news is: in our case, the source never diminishes like the banks of melting snow eventually will for this little river.  The invitation is always open, the supply is endless.  The only way we can possibly dry up is if we quit coming and drinking.

And how do you come and drink?  It’s simple.  Spend as much time as you can with Him.  Read His Word.  Talk to Him.

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  (Matthew 5:6)

May the river of living water that flows from you as a result be one hundred times more wildly beautiful and joyful than this one. IMG_3022.JPG

Budding Tamaracks

budding tamarack tree / rejoicing hillstamarack close up / rejoicing hillsI think I love watching the tamaracks bud out in the spring almost as much as the flowering crab trees.  In the distance, across the swamps and bogs and all along the edges of moist places in the forest, they slowly turn the loveliest soft green, utterly transforming the barren watery landscapes they call home.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that I found out the real treat is when you get a close-up look at those newly-budding lacy branches.

Close-ups like these always put me in quiet wonder at the Creator’s attention to detail.  Certainly there is awe to be found in the magnificent distant views of the sweeping starry heavens or soaring mountain peaks, but God, the greatest Artist of all, is no impressionist.  His masterpiece of creation stands up to the closest scrutiny.

“O Lord, our Lord!  How excellent is Thy name in all the earth!”  (Psalm 8:9)budding tamarack tree / rejoicing hills

Rejoicing Forest

pine forest / rejoicing hills IMG_5693 edit“Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord.  For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth;  He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.”  (Psalm 96:12-13) 

We took a hike amongst these majestic 300+ year old trees recently, and I stood there and thought about what it might be like to hear this stately forest literally rejoice in anticipation of their Creator’s coming.  Can you imagine?  Kind of gave me goosebumps!

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Springtime In An Unlikely Place

IMG_6004 editwhite blossoms / rejoicing hillsI’ve been seeing these little clouds of flowering white trees popping out all over the woods this week, and I’d been planning a hike out to where they’re blooming far across the field near our home—but then I spotted this lovely vignette of white tree trunks and blossoms while I was out driving, just exactly what I was looking for, and I swung in to snap some pictures.  At the dump.

It’s ironic, isn’t it?  I thought I would take my photos of gorgeous pure white blossoms out along the edge of a beautiful wide open field, to the gentle music of the creek flowing past nearby.  Instead I stood behind the peeling paint of a sign that detailed accepted and unaccepted waste for this facility, only a few feet from mountains of filthy garbage, listening to a different creak—that of the metal entrance gate in the wind.

There’s a little picture of something really big here, you know.

We’d all like to imagine our selves and our lives as idyllic and pristine as that pastoral scene I had in mind.  Lovely.  Serene.  Peaceful.  Picturesque.  In reality, though, we’re all a lot more like that dirty garbage dump.  Stinking, ugly sinners with messed up hearts and lives.  Not pretty at all.

But—

God can take the filthiest, ugliest waste of a life, wash it whiter than petals on those blossoms, and make it burst forth into life and beauty far beyond anything that I could ever capture with my camera.

white poplars and blossoms / rejoicing hillswhite blossoms / rejoicing hillswhite blossoms / rejoicing hills

Ignore my photos—and think about the incredible beauty of that!

“Something beautiful, something good

All my confusion, He understood,

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,

But He made something beautiful of my life.” —Bill Gaither

In Celebration of Green

IMG_5807My favorite color is green, but especially so at this time of year.  Am I the only one?  I kind of suspect that a lot of people have a renewed appreciation for this vibrant color of life in the spring.  There’s a whole lot more of it that’s going to be happening outside really soon, but here’s a little close-up celebration of the way green is beginning to appear everywhere we look.green leaf / rejoicing hills

“And the earth brought forth grass,

green grass / rejoicing hillsand herb yielding seed after his kind,

IMG_5720 editand the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind; 

lilac leaves / rejoicing hillsand God saw that it was good.”  (Genesis 1:12)

leafing spirea / rejoicing hills

Pussy Willows

pussy willows over water / rejoicing hillsIs there any first sign of springtime so welcome as the pussy willows?  Probably not—-unless it’s when they leave off their soft kitten grays and make happy polka dots of chartreuse all over the lowlands, ditches and swamps:fuzzy catkins / rejoicing hillsPussy willows are only the beginning;  color and life is exploding everywhere we look these days.  Spring is winning thousands of small and miraculous victories over winter, and the ice and snow is forgotten as all the glorious flowers and leaves burst forth.  Life conquers over death, again.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?”  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)