Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Joy in the World

"The Big Adventure."  It was a well-worn sign inviting Boy Scouts to the adventure of camping at Worth Ranch Scout Ranch just down the road.  As the van carrying our entire troop and all its camping gear jostled along the trail past the sign, I thought, what kind of a "big adventure" are we getting into this time?  I hardly heard the scrunch of the tires on the new fallen snow.  Where are we even going to find a campsite we can reach in the snow with all this equipment?

We did find one.  It had an open-air stone building to boot.  So we set up the two patrol tents inside the building so they'd be protected from the wind and its chill.  Real adventuresome, huh?  After we'd set up camp, however, I just had to hike down to the site we usually picked, inaccessible today because of the snow on the trails.  Point Campsite was a plateau about 75 yards below the parade grounds.  It was broad enough to provide space for an entire troop to camp there safely, and it overlooked the Brazos River Valley another 200 to 250 yards further below.

That afternoon, I encountered a winter wonderland in panorama.  No National Geographic picture.  No vacation promotional brochure.  This was real life.  Stepping as close to the edge as I dared, I gazed out over a forest of evergreen, juniper, and oak covered with a gentle white blanket glistening in the muted afternoon light.  For miles around, I beheld a crystalline world that only God could have constructed.  And gliding through it to the west, the silver ribbon of the Brazos River itself wrapping the scene in sparkling wonder.  And God said to Job, "Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" (Job 38.22, KJV).

On another occasion, for hours we paddled our canoes down the Brazos River from Possum Kingdom Dam to Worth Ranch Scout Ranch.  Little powder puffs of cloud dotted the sky here and there, while the sun warmed everything but the water.  Halfway to the Ranch, we stopped for the night.  When darkness dropped its cloak on the woods and the boys were finally settling in for the night, I lay back on the river bank to rest and recreate.  Folding my arms behind my head, I gazed up and gaped, speechless and in wonder.  I am a city boy, born and bred.  On the clearest cloudless night in town, the heavens would unveil only a few hundred stars at best.  But there in the wilderness, it was as if the Lord had taken the blackest, richest velvet He could find, stretched it across the heavens, and dumped all the diamonds in the universe onto it --- just for me to see.  Wow!  Truly, "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (Psalm 19.1, KJV).

Although a city boy, my experiences with Boy Scout Troop 83 have introduced me to a new dimension of my Father's world, a dimension of beauty, of delicacy, of intricacy, of wonder. From a goldenrod along the trail to a hummingbird's nest disguised unobtrusively as a knot on a tree limb.  From a delicate spider web to a stolid oak tree.  From a covey of wild turkeys on the river to a family of raccoons scurrying through the woods past a campsite.  There is wonder at every turn in the world my Father made.  And He wants me to experience the joy of it.

When He made it, He took great delight in it Himself.  I cannot help but think of the story of the creation of Narnia in C. S. Lewis's classic tales.  Pitch black.  So black that if you touched your nose with a finger, you still could see neither your finger nor your hand nor the tip of your nose.  Then incredible music filled the blackness.  One voice singing, rich and full.  But as the light gradually conquered the darkness, a thousand voices joined the Creator's; and Aslan, the Lion Prince of Narnia, created his world amidst a mighty chorus.  I imagine the creation of this world was not unlike that.  To be sure, God did not sing as Aslan did.  Instead, the Psalmist tells us, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host....  For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast."  (Psalm 33.6,9, KJV)  Still, when He laid the foundations of the earth and dug out the channels for the rivers, it was a time "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38.7, KJV, italic mine).

I have seen the joy of God in the purple peaked mountains of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  I've watched the sun set on the Grand Canyon, splashing changing pastels along the jagged canyon walls.  I've listened to the pitter patter of rain on my tent in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, and gazed at the majesty of Wyoming's Grand Tetons, snow capped even in summer.  At each of these moments, I remember most of all the wonder.  Jesse Brand, pioneer missionary to India, once wrote to his son Paul, "God means us to delight in his world."  From the very beginning, God planned His creation to be a garden of joyful beauty.  In spite of the sin that crept in and damaged it, He still delights in it.  Shouldn't we, too?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Praise His Name!

One place I never expected to find myself there I was. We were visiting Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The theater we decided to attend was called Ozark Mountain Hoedown. It sounded like a hillbilly convention, but we went. And near the end of the first half of the show the lead singer in the group announced they were going to sing some Christian songs. It didn't take long for one of those songs to stand out in my heart. "Praise His Name!" And the lead singer, Bruce Haynes, was the one who wrote it.

"When you're up against the wall," he wrote, "and your mountain seems so tall...," what do you do? You praise His name. You lift Him up.  The command in Psalm 113.1 is to praise the LordHe is the focus of our praise.  He is the subject of our praise.  He is the object of our praise.  He is everything, our all in all.  And the command is Hallelu-Jah!  Praise ye the Lord!

But the Psalmist also says to praise the name of the Lord.  What does it mean to praise the name of the Lord?  What is His name?  Having grown up under the influence of the authorized King James Bible, I always thought God's name was Jehovah.  Not!  Imagine my surprise to discover Jehovah is not only not God's name, it is not even a name at all in Hebrew.  For fear of profaning God's name, the Hebrews contrived an artificial way of expressing it, resulting in the creation of an artificial name --- Jehovah, and almost losing sight of God's real name altogether in the process.

If Jehovah is not God's name, what is?  God's name is sacred, but God wants us to know His name.  Why else would He command us to praise the name of the Lord?  And His name is Yahveh, abbreviated sometimes as Yah or Jah.  The Lord Himself revealed His name to Moses, when He told him to "say to the sons of Israel, 'Yahveh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.'  This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations" (Exodus 3.15).  Later Moses confirmed this in a song of praise.  When he witnessed thousands of his enemies fall under the judgment of God, he sang, "The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; God of my fathers, and I will exalt Him.  The Lord is a warrior; [and here it is] The Lord is His name" (Exodus 15.2-3, my translation).

In the Biblical culture, a name was more than just a tag for identification.  It was an expression of character.  God's name identifies His nature, so that a request for His name like Moses made, such as, what is Your name? is equivalent to asking about His character.  It is a succinct, yet overflowing revelation of who He is.  To praise the name of the Lord, according to Charles H. Spurgeon, means to "extol His revealed character, magnify every sacred attribute, exalt in all His doings, and reverence the very name by which He is called."

So, brothers and sisters, praise His name! Make it part of every day to praise the Lord even if no one is listening except the Lord Himself, especially if no one is listening except the Lord Himself.  Whatever your circumstances. Praise His name! However you feel. Praise His name! Remember who He is! And Praise His name! Like the Levites, whether you're in the choir or not, sing His praises, and sing them to the Lord.  Praise  the Lordbaruk ha shem (praise the name!)!