Monday, June 30, 2008

3 Ways To Fuel Your Sense of Wonder

Andromeda Galaxy

1. Look At The Heavens

I love pondering the magnitude of the Universe. The gigantic size and beauty of Space.

I love standing out on my back patio at night, maybe with a wind blowing through our huge maple trees, and just looking up at the stars and the moon and contemplating the vastness of what God accomplished when He said, “Let there be”. And there was.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

When I was a new Christian back in the '70's, I visited the Planetarium in my home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I've forgotten the regular Planetarium show that night, where you sit back in your seat, looking up at a huge white ceiling, and some astronomy lesson is projected out on the ceiling “sky”. I'm sure it was a good presentation.

But I still remember vividly, some thirty years later, the experience I had in the foyer of the Planetarium, as I was looking at some blown-up photographs of the sky, taken through high-power telescopes. Huge expanses of outer Space with too many stars to count printed on my brain, and I was struck with the awesomeness of the God Whom I'd just come to know.

Tears came as I realized that this awesome God, this Creator who cast not just millions of stars, but billions of galaxies out into Space by His Word alone, had created a little planet called Earth, and had come here in love, to give His only begotten Son, to save me...and you, from our sins.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, it's important to not just take time to smell the roses, but take time to inhale the aroma of a God who by His Word made the star Antares.

Antares is a giant star, so much bigger than our sun that if it was placed where our sun is, 93 million miles away, the Earth would actually be inside of the star!

And Antares is just one of 500 billion stars in our galaxy called the Milky Way.

From America there is only one other galaxy that can be seen at all with the naked eye. That galaxy is called Andromeda, and is 2 million light-years away. That means that light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, would take 2 million years to reach Earth.

And yet that's a very very short distance in Space.

Until recently in human history, Andromeda was just thought to be another star. But with powerful telescopes, we came to know that Andromeda was actually a galaxy(!) twice the size of our Milky Way, and contains hundreds of billions of stars.

And the Milky Way and Andromeda are just 2 of 100 billion galaxies, each with billions of stars.

Which brings me to the second time I got tears in my eyes at the Lord's creation of the heavens:

I think it was the early 90's when National Geographic published some photos taken by the Hubble telescope. The Hubble is a very powerful telescope which was put into Space orbit, so that the earth's atmosphere wouldn't interfere with or distort what the telescope could see.

By the way, a side note. Did you know that if you took a globe -- you know, a globe like you might have at home, that spins around and let us see the maps of the world in their actual shapes -- if you took that globe and sprayed a coat of varnish on it, that coat of varnish would be the equivalent of about the actual thickness of the atmosphere on the earth, the air we breathe? Isn't that amazing?

Anyway, back to the National Geographic photos from the Hubble telescope.

One of the sets of pictures showed a part of Space which we had previously only seen as a black empty spot of Space from our Earth telescopes. Then another picture showed that same black spot that we previously thought was empty, and Hubble had shown us that that black empty spot of Space actually contained whole new beautiful astounding galaxies of stars and worlds that we didn't even have a clue existed. I was stunned, and the immense power and majesty of the Lord who became our Friend, once again shook my heart with gratitude.

Philip Yancey tells the story of how he was visiting a refugee camp in Somalia, just below the equator. He writes,

“I had spent all day interviewing relief workers about the megadisaster of the moment. Kurdistan, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia -– place names change, but the spectacle of suffering has a dreary sameness: mothers with shriveled, milkless breasts, babies crying and dying, fathers foraging for firewood in a treeless terrain.

“After three days of hearing tales of human misery, I could not lift my sights beyond that refugee camp situated in an obscure corner of an obscure country on the Horn of Africa. Until I saw the Milky Way. It abruptly reminded me that the present moment did not comprise all of life. History would go on. Tribes, governments, and whole civilizations may rise and fall, trailing disaster in their wake, but I dared not confine my field of vision to the scenes of suffering around me. I needed to look up, to the stars.”

The Lord asked Job, in the midst of complaining about his suffering, “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in the seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?”

Amazingly, Job was helped by these somewhat sarcastic questions from God.

Job had been focusing on earthly things, as horrible as they were. And the Lord lifted his eyes to the heavens. And Job was changed.

I'm changed too, when I contemplate the heavens.

The heavens declare the glory of God.

Don't ever lose your sense of wonder at the God who created you. Step outside, day or night, and look up at the heavens. I don't mean to be spooky about it, but just relax, just wait and let the heavens declare His glory.

It will fuel the sense of wonder that God wants you to have.

2. Look At The attributes of God.

The attributes of God could make up a hundred other messages, so time permits only a taste here. I would recommend A.W. Tozer's book, The Knowledge of the Holy, if you'd like to delve into the attributes of God more.

But just to whet your appetite for this wonderful way to fuel your sense of wonder, let me mention some things about our Lord that we sometimes might not think of every day.

It's so important to think rightly about God, but we have to start with an understanding that God is both knowable and unknowable.

He has revealed Himself both in the creation, and especially in His written Word, and most especially through Jesus Christ.

But beyond what is revealed to us is a vastness that we must rest in never fully understanding. Deuteronomy 29:29 says simply, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever...”

We should learn about, and meditate on, and study the Lord. But not with speculation. Not with "making up" things about the Lord that He has not revealed to us. We should never go beyond what is revealed to make a God of our own making. He has told us much about Himself, and that should content us.

For example, we know that God is one. He is one God, the only God. Yet He is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity, but that word isn't in the Scriptures. We merely use it as a shorthand for the amazing truth that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. We may rest in that mind-boggling truth and worship Him accordingly.

We learn from Scripture also that God is self-existing, that He was not created, but is the Creator of all things. We learn that He always was, that He is eternal.

We learn He is unchangeable, what the theologians call immutable. Aren't we glad for that?

The false God's of ancient Rome and Greece were like men, changing their minds and ways at the drop of a celestial hat. Never predictable, always capricious. And so, to be feared, not for their goodness and justice, but because they were like heavenly Three Stooges, slapping the faces of those they felt like, and poking the eyes of anyone who got their emotions riled.

If our true God is to be feared at all, it's precisely because He never changes.

He is always true and good and just.

And yet He has deemed to love us, His children, with a deep love that's as unchangeable as He is. And so we can rely on His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us.

We learn that God is omniscient, all-knowing. Is that not a comfort to us? It may be a little scary that we can never hide from Him in the slightest. Yet if He loves us (and He does), how comforting to know that He has already seen our sins from the past and all the way to the end of our lives, and has forgiven them.

How comforting to know that there is no problem, no situation in our lives that He doesn't know from beginning to end, and because He is also omnipotent, all-powerful, there is nothing too hard for Him. Only a God like that can work all things together for good to those who love Him. That's His promise in Rom. 8:28, isn't it?

I'm mixing a lot of God's attributes together in this little "taste", but consider the awesome fact that He is everywhere, we say omnipresent, and yet He dwells in you, if you are a born-again Christian.

How silly in a way to even ask, “How is that possible?” Feel free to ponder that for the rest of your life, but if you can fully explain it, you will be the first. He simply hasn't revealed those details. But He has revealed the truth of it. Let that fuel your wonder! Christ in you, the hope of glory!

I could go on and on, with the self-sufficiency of God, the mercy of God, the goodness of God, the justice of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the holiness of God, all worthy subjects to learn and think about.

But I'll close this part with a short statement about the sovereignty of God.

Because all His other attributes would not have much impact if He had no ability to bring about what He wants. But He does.

Psalm 115:3 says with pure simplicity, “He does whatever He pleases.”

So simple, yet it's the foundation for all the rest of the creation, from beginning to end, and it's the foundation for your life. This God we love has a plan. And it's a good one, a perfect one. And He has sovereignly chosen you and me to be a part of it, and He will bring it to pass. And it will bring Him glory.

Don't ever think the Universe is too slippery for God, that somehow He can't get His arms around it, and things are falling apart that He can't remedy. He can put any Humpty Dumpty that He chooses together again. Nothing is beyond His scope, nothing is outside of His plan.

And if you really contemplate that sovereignty of God, you will fuel your sense of wonder at the amazing Lord who chose to love and save you, and become your Friend and your Beloved through Jesus Christ.

And it started by grace, and it's still by grace, from start to finish.

3. Look At Lives Changed By Christ.

I love biographies. Especially Christian biographies. I love to see God's history played out in the lives of people.

You'd think I'd get used to seeing God change lives, but I never do. I believe one of the most important ways to fuel your sense of wonder, is to read or hear how God has changed the heart of His children.

I'll close with one of my favorite stories. You may have heard it. It comes from the words of the late Corrie Ten Boom, whose family hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II, in Holland.

Corrie was captured by the Nazis and was sent to a horrible concentration camp, but her life was amazingly spared by God, and she became a world-traveling witness to Jesus Christ. I loved her dearly, though I never met her.

Here are just a few words of hers, showing the change that Christ can bring in a life, and hopefully fueling your sense of wonder at our great Lord:

"It was in a church in Munich where I was speaking in 1947 that I saw him--a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat, the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.

"Memories of the concentration camp came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment of skin.

"Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.

"Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: "A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!"

"It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

"'You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,' he was saying. 'I was a guard there. But since that time,' he went on, 'I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein' -- again the hand came out-- 'will you forgive me?'

"And I stood there--and could not. Betsie had died in that place--could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

"It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

"For I had to do it--I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses,' Jesus says, 'neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.'

"Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. 'Jesus, help me!' I prayed silently. 'I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.'

"And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

"'I forgive you, brother!' I cried. 'With all my heart!'

"For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then."

Don't lose your sense of wonder. Take advantage of these ways to fuel your sense of wonder:

Look at the heavens.
Look at the attributes of God.
And look at lives changed by Christ.

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