Perspective: As the Heavens Are Higher than the Earth

We can perceive and feel our way to understand that time had a beginning at the point of a quantum vacuum, but we can go no further even to perceive, but for speculation, what lies beyond. We are left to grasp by pure faith that God initiated the universe into being.

Photo from the James Webb Telescope

Perspective can make all the difference in the way we perceive and understand anything. Our view from a position under the canopy of a dense forest will be different than our view from a drone in the same location flying over the same forest canopy. The higher we fly that drone, the more our perspective expands and understanding of our location grows.

From a great height, we see the expanse and contours of the forest, the streams and rivers that run through and beyond it, the mountains in and the oceans in the distance where the forest transitions into the hills, the foothills, the mountains slopes and the peaks in one direction, and the openings, meadow, plains, and coastlands in another direction.

The higher we go and farther out we see, the more we see and understand the forest in relation to other geographical features that surround it and the savannas, valleys, deserts, and coastlands and oceans in the grater world beyond the forest.


“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9


This verse has become so often quoted that it might seem trite to us. “Yea, yea!” we say. “We need to trust God. I get it.”

It’s hard to grasp and trust in the perspective God has from our place where light filters sparingly through the forest canopy. Our perspective is not much better in the barren expanse of a vast desert or on the waves of a vast ocean as far as the human eye can see. Knowing that the forest canopy, barren desert or vast ocean gives way to a different reality can seem like a small consolation from where we stand.

We have a harder time grasping and appreciating that God sees out over the universe where our planet sits tucked among other planets circling the sun in an opportune place in the Milky Way solar system where we peer out, however tentatively, into an expanse of other solar systems stretching out in all directions beyond our capabilities even to observe.

Ninety five percent of the universe we can see is comprised of dark matter and dark energy that we know exists, but we cannot even observe. Mystery surrounds us in every direction and beyond our capability to go or even to glimpse.

We can perceive and feel our way to understand that time had a beginning at the point of a quantum vacuum, but we can go no further even to perceive, but for speculation, what lies beyond. We are left to grasp by pure faith that God initiated the universe into being by His very Word and expends still into some unknown future and “void”.

Continue reading “Perspective: As the Heavens Are Higher than the Earth”

Abraham, Faith, and the Hope Deferred

I ended the article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Here I Am, with a promise to come back to the story of Abraham and Isaac one more time. Recall that Abraham had the intuition to tell Isaac “God would provide” when Isaac asked him where the lamb was for the sacrifice.

We do not know whether Abraham really believed what he told Isaac, whether he was simply being hopeful, or whether he was merely dodging Isaac’s question. We learn in Sunday school that Abraham truly believed it. Perhaps, that is the right answer.

I say that, not because of a Sunday lesson, but because of Abraham’s experience and particularly his experience with God in moments of great doubt and angst. One such moment was described in Genesis Chapter 15. The set up is interesting.

Four kings conspired together to attack Sodom and Gomorrah. They attacked and routed the inhabitants, seizing their goods and carrying off Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his possessions. (Genesis 14:5-12) Abram (as he was still known at the time) responded immediately with “318 trained men in his household”. He pursued them, routed them, pushing them all the way to Damascus, and recovered Lot and all the goods. (Genesis 14:13-16

Melchizedek, “priest of the God Most High”, pronounced Abraham blessed by “God Most High”, and Abram tithed a tenth to him. (Genesis 14:18-20) After this great victory and blessing from Melchizedek, we read that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield [sovereign],
    your very great reward.”

Genesis 15:1

We might expect Abram to be exalting in the afterglow of his decisive routing of the four kings and blessing by Melchizedek, but he wasn’t. Abram appears to be struggling with the lack of fulfillment of the promises God gave him so many years before.

Abram is human. He has held onto the promise, but his faith is waning. The doubts are rising. Though God had just given him an encouraging word, Abram is focused on the unfulfilled promise:

“But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?'”

Genesis 15:2

The text continues with Abram still talking. That means God hasn’t responded, and so Abram continues:

“And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.'”

Genesis 15:3

Finally, God breaks in, telling Abraham that his legacy would come from his own flesh and blood, taking Abram outside to look at the sky and telling him his offspring would be like the stars. (Genesis 15:4-5)

We are told that Abram believed in that moment, and God, who sees the hearts of men and knows the thoughts and the intents of mean’s hearts, credited that belief to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) God also reminded Abram that He brought Abram out of Ur to the land Abram stood on to give it to him. (Genesis 15:7)

Though Abram believed, and though God had just given him more assurance, Abram kept pressing:

But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’”

Genesis 15:8

It wasn’t for lack of belief that Abram kept pressing God. We were just told Abram believed. In fact, this was the very moment that God credited Abram with righteousness for his faith!

At the same time, Abram was pressing God for something more than a bare promise. Doubt is not the absence of faith, and pressing God for assurance is not a lack of faith. I hear echoes here of another father who cried out for his son when Jesus promised deliverance, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

God doesn’t rebuke Abram, and he doesn’t take away the righteousness God had just credited to Abram. In the same vein, Jesus didn’t rebuke the father who asked for help in his believing unbelief. Jesus commended him, and God tells Abram,

“Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Genesis 15:9

If you are scratching your head right now, that is good! God’s response begs for some understanding and insight. Just as Abram pressed God, we should be pressing right now for understanding.

Continue reading “Abraham, Faith, and the Hope Deferred”

When the Smoke of Battle Clears, Where is God?

God is bigger than the battles in history and the lives of all the men who fought them, but He is with each one of us.

My great, great grandfather, Enoch Jones, and his brother, Silas Jones, fought in the Civil War for the north. They were members of the 40th Illinois Infantry, Company F. They mustered in August 10, 1961, at Springfield.

In March 1862, the 40th Illinois, 46th Ohio and Morton’s Battery was organized into a Brigade commanded by Colonel Hicks under General Sherman, and they boarded transport ships that carried them up the Tennessee River. They re-combined with the 6th Iowa under Colonel McDowall and entered the Battle of Shiloh. It would be their first armed conflict.

The north took a beating at Shiloh. The 40th Illinois was commended for standing ground under heavy enemy fire even after their cartridge boxes were empty. A total of 196 men of the 40th Illinois were killed or injured in the one battle, including Colonel Hicks.

Silas suffered mortal injuries. He mustered out of this life two weeks later. Enoch mustered out of the 40th Illinois Infantry on May 15, 1865, two days after Jefferson Davis was captured and one month after President Lincoln was assassinated. The north was victorious, but at great cost.

Enoch saw action at the Battle of Shiloh, Siege of Vicksburg, Battle of Missionary Ridge, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and Siege of Atlanta, and other places before he returned to a humble life in central Illinois. Enoch didn’t participate in the famous “March to the Sea”, because he took a bullet in Atlanta. The bullet drove a button into his chest, but that button saved his life. It earned him the Purple Heart my parents have to this day.

I was fortunate at a Civil War memorabilia show years ago to find a tattered and yellowed dairy written by another volunteer in the 40th Illinois Infantry. He was in a different company, but his periodic reports of the movements and activities of the Brigade gave me a ground level view of the experiences of my ancestors as Union Civil War infantrymen.

When the diary opens, the author anticipates with patriotic and religious confidence the mission they are about to partake. The 40th Illinois was a completely voluntary unit. The diary expresses a kind of righteous hope and abandon to the cause of fighting for God and for country.

I could not help but think of the horrendous carnage of human and equine life they would encounter. Sinew, flesh and bone left exposed to the gaping air as the smoke slowly drifted off future battle scenes. The groans of shattered men lying in their own blood would be the only sound remaining as infantrymen regrouped to count their ranks. Trees splintered by the shrapnel of canons and muskets would stand starkly against the acrid stench of gunpowder lingering still that gaping air.

Did they know what they were in for?

I recalled seeing Civil War physicians’ bags. They carried saws, and picks, and hammers and other objects of painful reminders of the brutality of war without modern anesthetic or antiseptic. Saws saved what was left of the living by cutting off limbs susceptible of gangrene. Many, like Silas Jones, survived the battle with injuries only to die later of infection.

Knowing these things, I was intrigued to read the thoughts and expressions of resilient faithfulness to the duty fight for God and country continue on the pages of that diary after the Battle of Shiloh, and all the way past the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Then the diary ended – abruptly. No resolution. No postscript. No clue as to why it simply ended.

I can only imagine the writer mustered out early – maybe in Atlanta. I assume he wasn’t as lucky as my great, great grandfather. But I am not writing merely to tell a story of my ancestor. There is a bigger picture.

Continue reading “When the Smoke of Battle Clears, Where is God?”

Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot

The views of Christians around the world provide a counterbalance to the unique bent of American Christianity.


I became a Christian in college, despite the progressive, skeptical atmosphere in the Iowa liberal arts college I attended. One that had roots in the Methodist Church, but the current tree had all but separated from those roots in favor of more modern fertilizer. I learned to put into perspective the tensions I saw between what I read in Scripture and what I was learning in college.

I compartmentalized some of the differences. I was able to synthesize many of them, but some of the tensions I learned to “shelve” for later consideration.

I wasn’t very career minded when I graduated from college. I only wanted to follow and serve Jesus. I ended up packing my bags to go to Alton Bay, NH for a summer job, believing that I was going, like Abraham, to a place God was calling me. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I only had a summer job, but I didn’t think I was coming back to the Midwest.

I got deeply involved in the local church in Laconia, NH after the summer job ran its course. It was a dynamic church, growing out of the Jesus People movement in the 60’s, and still going strong.

During my time there, the Moral Majority was on the rise and gaining influence. Pat Robertson ran for President while I lived in the Granite State. Live Free or Die was the NH motto, and people were proud of it.

Politics crept into my faith and into the church. I rubbed shoulders with sometime churchgoers who were members of the John Birch Society. As I look back, though, they were infrequent participants, but they left their mark.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this dynamic church with a storied local history was about to implode. I was there about six years, got married there and had two children. I left in 1988 to go to law school and pursue a new path. (Not long after I left NH, the church splintered into many pieces and is, now, only a distant memory.)

That path brought my back to the Midwest where I have remained ever since. I have wandered through much wilderness and have been challenged in my faith since then. Law school sharpened my thinking, but it dulled my spiritual edge.

I compartmentalized my faith once again, as I had done in college. I set things “on the shelf” as I devoted myself to learning the law.

It turns out I was pretty adept at understanding the law, leaving law school with a diploma and the academic standing of second in my graduating class. This was in keeping with a vision a wise and spiritual woman had for me that was part of the confirmation from God that I should go.

The certainty with which I left to go, similar to the certainty I had when I left for New Hampshire, gave way to uncertainty in how I should reconcile the political and cultural influences that bore down on me under the scrutiny of the jealous mistress of the law.

I kept that jealous mistress at bay, but it would be years before I reached a point of resolution.  My faith survived, but the political and cultural baggage I brought with me from New Hampshire did not.

The dynamic church I attended there a long ago now disintegrated into myriad pieces of broken relationships, broken dreams and broken promises during my sojourn away. The way was difficult, but I think I am a better Christian because of it, and this is what I believe I have learned.

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A Sure Fire Way to Know and Follow God’s Plan

Wouldn’t you like to get a hold of God’s plan for your life?


This blog post is inspired by today’s sermon: God Has A Plan. As I was listening, my mind took off in different directions from the various points that were being made.

To begin with, I need to note that I am an attorney, and I do estate planning. That is relevant because it explains the first place my mind went. Probate.

Ok, sorry. Let me explain, and I beg your indulgence not to jump off at this point. I know that it may seem a bit boring!

The thing is that I often tell people when explaining estate planning that, “If you don’t do your own estate plan, your estate will be controlled by probate.” That may sound more ominous than it really is (only because most people don’t know what probate is), but the point is that estate planning puts you in control of your estate, rather than leaving your estate to the default rules of the probate statute.

Enough of the legal stuff! (It’s Sunday after all) The reality is this: even when people do estate planning, things don’t always go as they planned. I’m here to testify that they don’t. We don’t foresee changes in circumstances, and we don’t always accurately assess the way things really are. One of the worst family fights I was ever involved in began with a family meeting in which they told me how close their family was!

We put a lot of time, effort and confidence in our own planning. We don’t want to trust that planning to anyone else – not to the state, not to others, and not even to God.

Did you know that God has a plan for you? Don’t you wish you could know what it is? Have you considered that it might be helpful to row with God rather than against Him?

It turns out there is a pretty sure fire way to know and follow God’s plan.

Continue reading “A Sure Fire Way to Know and Follow God’s Plan”