Revelation


Interstate 80, reportedly the busiest highway in our country, runs like a thread throughout the Omaha community—from its eastward border at Iowa all the way to the west into Colorado. Since my home is in the southwest corner of the city, I must traverse this super-slab path everyday in order to get to the post office as well as to my office. Late one extremely cold February afternoon, I drove to my post office in the south east part of town before it closed. The skies were completely overcast as a dull gray aura hovered over our area from dawn to dusk.

Once I had retrieved the mail, I got back onto the interstate and soon was caught in the thick of the evening rush to the suburbs. Although it was a normal and expected delay in ones daily travel, I was not too enthused to be in it. The five o’clock commuters filled the multiple lanes of the interstate and I adjusted my speed accordingly. As I did this, I became fascinated at a sight unnoticed before. In the far distance where the cloud cover would seem to be in touch with the earth’s surface, there was a slight clearing—a gap between the gray sky and the plains. Positioned directly in the gap was an extraordinary slice of the sun—a flat, bright, orange-colored piece of it as it made its way behind the western hills. I remember the scene most vividly as I spoke aloud and said, “That is the most beautiful shade of orange I have ever seen.”

As I continued to drive home, I kept thinking about that sight—the wonder of it, and the peculiar timing that enabled me to be on the road at that given moment to catch it. I asked the Lord, “Why was I in that spot on the highway today to see that remarkable sight?” I heard the Lord say, “Don’t ask me; ask the sun!” So I said to the sun, “Sun! Talk to me!” I know you probably think I’m crazy by now as you read this, but as sure as I’m sitting here, the sun spoke and I heard these words: “I know you couldn’t see me, and I know it didn’t look like it; but I was there all the time.” While there was no hint of its reigning presence in the span of the entire day, this snapshot view emerged to remind me of one incontrovertible fact; it was there all the time.

All of us experience cloudy days and somber skies that hang over our circumstances. Every Christian will eventually face a time when it will be difficult to see or sense the hand and presence of God. This experience taught me a very valuable lesson which I have never forgotten. It really does not matter how things appear. God has promised us in His word: “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5); and, “…I will be with you always even to the end of the earth.” (Matthew 28:20). Either way you look at it, that’s good news!

In Ezekiel’s comprehensive vision of the glory of God filling the temple, the concluding details indicate a name change for the community. Once the construction is finished, the name of the city from that day will be, “Jehovah Shammah!” Translated, this Hebrew expression means, “The Lord is there!” (See Ezekiel 48:35).

It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, and no matter what things look like; remember, God is always there! Rest in that reality!

It amazes me how God has literally stapled our lives with the blessing of memory. The older I get the more I realize there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of childhood, youthful, and adult experiences which help to shape and format my life, my faith, my attitude, even my behavior. Actually the same is the case for all of us. I don’t know anyone who is exempt from this reality. The only difference may be our discovering how to access those experiences which have already downloaded onto our individual “hard drives.” This discovery is a precise discipline; and it takes practice.

While attending seminary in Richmond, Virginia, during the eighties, I enrolled in an elective class labeled Introduction To Spirituality and Human Personality. Dr. James Parham was the professor, and concurrently served as pastor of the Messiah Presbyterian Church in Norfolk. A profoundly mystical brother, I recall his requiring of us a weekly written reflection from our spiritual journeys. The assignment was simply to write a one-page article on a given personal experience from which we could draw clear spiritual implications. His aim was to encourage us to continue cultivating this spiritual exercise beyond the course requirements for the rest of our lives. I must confess, I have not been as faithful to this task as I should, but my present writings are only a re-kindling of this neglected discipline that I hope will challenge my readers to likewise begin. Today I offer another of my many invaluable life’s experiences.

When I was a toddler (around 2 or three years old), my dad took me and my older brother, Llewellyn, some distance from our wood-frame house in Hickory Plains, Arkansas, to a small pond where he would often go to get away and just fish. A steep ridge surrounded this common fishing hole and its contours required a bit of skill for one to avoid falling in. My brother and I played on the hill while daddy focused his attention on one of his favorite pastimes. In a moment, this peaceful reservoir environment became the scene of a near disaster. My inexperienced foot slipped on the side of the hill and I tumbled into the murky waters below. Fortunately, a family friend—Mr. Alvin Hood—was close by and was able to quickly grab me from the scum-filled pool, and hoisted me to safety. He carefully presented me to my daddy, who took me home where I could be cleaned up, be safe, and live.

Quite frankly ours is never to change others or force them into conformity. That specific ministry has been delegated to Another. The critical responsibility of every believer is simply this: (1) be aware of others who may have fallen; (2) be available to reach into life’s murky waters to lift them; and then (3) carefully present them to the Father. Our God alone knows how to clean people up. He will skillfully bring them safely into His house—the fellowship of the church, and He promises (even guarantees) to enable them to live.

My misstep as a toddler was not the only time I needed rescue. On more than one occasion I have slipped into life’s filthy waters and nearly drowned. Thanks be unto God, another Family Friend has long been on the scene. As a matter of fact, He’s more than just a “Family Friend.” He is the Son of the Father. Jesus, our Elder Brother, is ever willing to intervene in our circumstances; and knows exactly what to do with our dirty situations. You may soon discover He is well able to “…keep us from falling and to present us faultless before His presence with exceeding great joy…” (Jude 24). If you would simply call on Him, He will answer!

On January 25th, I flew to Arkansas to conduct a leadership conference at a thriving church. The flight there was pleasant. An ice storm had settled in the capital city as we landed, and made driving extremely hazardous. As I stood in baggage claim awaiting my luggage, I called my brother to get first hand a report on the road conditions. He told of a fatal accident he saw along his trek to work. These were clearly dangerous conditions.

After retrieving my rental car, I strangely verbalized (aloud), “The Spirit wants me to stay off the highway and go another route.” When these curious words came out of my mouth, I laughed and said to myself (also out loud), “I guess it would be dumb for me to credit the Spirit and then not follow His directions.” So, I took the back way up Roosevelt Road (a rather short jaunt from the airport) that would equally allow me to reach my hotel. In about five minutes I was at the intersection of Roosevelt and Independence Boulevard. While awaiting the light to change, I casually looked to my right and realized I was beside the Veterans National Cemetery. Without hesitation, I turned around and entered the grounds. Therein was my father’s remains (I hadn’t been there in the fifteen years since he had been laid to rest). I drove to the area I faintly recalled as his grave site, but was unsuccessful at finding the spot–no stone was there when we buried him. Eventually I had to return to the information center—a small, red-brick building that served as an office for this facility—to get what I needed. The convenient on-site kiosk was malfunctioning, and I had to wait on the attendant to return before I could receive help.

Mr. Jackson was a seasoned gentleman who kindly greeted me, and we proceeded inside to manually do the search. I told him my last name and we found the actual card with my dad’s name on it. The information thereon was clear: “section 19, lot 335.” I had not known this; but I will never forget it. He related to me how to get there and I thanked him and left.

As I drove near the area where I was first browsing, I quickly saw the sign, “Section 19.” In a few more feet, I drove past the row of 500’s, 400’s, and at last reached the 300’s. I saw 338, 337, 336, and there it was, 335. I parked and for the first time beheld the marker where my father’s lifeless body was laid. It read: Alvin W. Terry, U S Navy, FN, Korea, January 29, 1933 to April 15, 1992. While standing there in the freezing drizzle and beholding his head stone for the very first time, tears began to crystallize on my cheeks. I started thanking my daddy. “Thank you, daddy,” I uttered; “because everything I know about being a man I learned from you—like how to hold a hammer, and drive a nail; how to lay tile and shingle a roof. Thank you, daddy, for teaching me how to rake leaves, and cut grass; how to change a tire and bait a hook; thanks, dad, for taking me hunting and fishing, and for showing me how to load and fire a shotgun.” I thanked my dad for teaching us how to swim and how to train German Shepherds. My daddy often stood alone and forged the path for justice in our community during the civil rights era. He showed me what it means to take care of a family, and I’ve tried desperately hard to emulate his example as best I possibly could.

My conversation soon changed from one with my once-earthly daddy (I knew he couldn’t hear me) into one with my heavenly father—God. I thanked God for my daddy! I thanked Him for the privilege of having a daddy who loved us, provided for us, played with us and prayed with us. I was grateful to have a daddy who disciplined us when we needed it. I thanked God for a man who lived with us and slept with my mother; and for how his DNA was actually consistent with my own. I thanked God for the little things I had heard my daddy say (many of which I could not remember); but more especially for the many things I remember he did! He wasn’t close to perfect (by no means); but he was my daddy. With all those things—the good, the bad, and the ugly—the greatest joy I have even today about my now gone biological father is simply that he was there!

This fact comforts and convicts me in my own approach to being a parent, a pastor, and a person. I regularly encounter families and children who will never know the joys I have known. Many will never know their fathers, nor ever hear them call their names. Many will never have the privilege of having their father do for them what mine did for me. Some who know their dads sadly are unable to spend time with them because they are either in jail or prison, or perhaps some dads prefer not to own or ever want to see the child (or children) they made. These realities demand of me to live responsibly as an act of genuine gratitude for what God gave to and did for me through my daddy. I am constrained to behave honorably and to model manhood before the men, women, and children I serve; so that I can encourage them further by giving them a small glimpse of the giant-of-a-man I came to know, to cherish, and to love—my daddy!

When I had finished in the cemetery and was driving away, I heard in my Spirit a still, small, voice say, “See there; that really was Me; and you needed these moments with Me and your daddy.” Suddenly it occurred to me we would have been celebrating my dad’s jubilee the following Wednesday (it would have been his seventy-fifth birthday). I thanked God, again, and continued to marinate on my unscheduled pit-stop for the rest of the day until I finally drifted off to sleep for the night. Memorial moments can be quite cleansing. God truly knows what we need! I miss him so much!

Hallelujah!

The delight of vantage point! Modifying your position or location to better see! Doing this can affect perspective more than many may realize.

While watching a weekly televised wildlife documentary I was privileged to witness the predatory tactics of the infamous wild dog. For the first time (reportedly) an entire hunt was captured on film from start to finish. Viewers were able to observe the initial stalking behavior of these complex creatures, plus the complete chase all the way through to their finally making a kill.

It was interesting to see how an entire pack (with numbers at times around thirty members including adults and pups) could work so skillfully and strategically to bring down its prey. After first identifying their target, a small sub-group of two or three dogs would begin the hunt by isolating a single animal away from a herd, and then would run after it until it was so exhausted it could no longer escape. Wild dogs are not very big–standing only about 30 inches tall and weighing from 40-80 pounds. They don’t have enormous power or exceptional speed. What they have is that enviable quality most everyone needs and often desires—endurance. A single chase can span over several diverse and difficult miles.

Another interesting discovery was a cutting-across-the-field maneuver which occurred soon after the chase engaged. Once the prey animal was clearly identified and isolated, non-pursuing pack members moved quickly to a prescribed ambush location where the rest of the clan would sit and wait until their victim was expertly driven into the awaiting trap. It appeared as if an advanced canine conference had met detailing the plan; and disclosing the point where the rendezvous was to occur. After all the players were in place, these waiting predators would finally spring the trap, take down their prey, and the entire clan would feast on the prize.

As I sat and watched this entire development, it occurred to me the reason we (that is, me and the entire viewing public) were able to behold one of nature’s most incredible events without a hitch. Technology has afforded us the privilege of some major advancements which include, of course, the motion picture camera. Mobilized travel (jeeps) had even improved researcher’s abilities to somewhat keep up. But even these advantages—the camera and the automobile—could not have captured all the angles and images we beheld without the aid of another creation–the helicopter. There is no way possible for a normal human being to adequately keep pace with these dedicated runners of the wild throughout the expansive range of a single hunting expedition. The thing that made the whole hunt visible and viewable was the elevated perspective the helicopter cockpit provided. I clearly heard God!

All of us experience things about which we lack clarity and are often helpless to reconcile. However, being a member of God’s wonderful family has afforded some of us a different vantage point through which to look at and make sense of those experiences. As believers, we have the advantage of an elevated view, a higher perspective. The only thing we need to do is simply “go there!” Some may ask, “How do you get there?” Good question! God has so fixed it that we can be “elevated” through worship! We can even be “elevated” through praise! We can certainly be “elevated” through prayer!

So whenever you need to gain clarity or reach a better understanding of what just doesn’t make sense, these spiritual activities can surely help! They just might offer you perspective on your difficulties and challenges which you hadn’t previously considered! They just might help you see what you couldn’t observe while you were too close to the situation to notice! Perhaps you might try them sometime. Be encouraged!

Recently I returned from a brief excursion in Monterey, California. I was privileged to spend Thanksgiving on the delightful shores of the Monterey Bay. Words are simply inadequate to accurately describe the landscape and environment I saw. From the balcony of an ocean-front property I was able to witness for three-days a beautiful sunrise in the cool of the morning. Its brilliance was only enhanced as it illumined the rippling surface of the massive and magnificent Pacific. As I beheld this great liquid expanse, I couldn’t help but be in awe of a God Who came up with the vision and created such a view for His children to enjoy. The bellowing barks of mating seals served as nature’s alarm clocks in case the manmade ones should fail. Adjacent to Monterey Bay is the luxurious community of Carmel. A seventeen-mile stretch takes tourists to the celebrated Pebble Beech (a golfer’s dream) right along the coast. Pacific Grove is only five minutes away where retirees and millionaires enjoy the life of Riley, relaxing and reflecting in one of the most tranquil environments on the face of the earth. I had a wonderful time.

Interestingly, as I flew home, I thought how Monterey (with all its amenities) was not the only marvel of its kind in the United States or the world. There are literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of similar spots–many undiscovered–around the globe which God has created and which await our coming to see them. Then it occurred to me while this treasure has been there for some time, I would not (and could not) have experienced it had I not accepted the invitation and simply taken the trip. The same thing is true with a relationship with Jesus Christ. In Paul’s wonderful epistle to the Ephesians, he is trying to let this fellowship know there is much to experience and expect as members of the family of God; but one will never get to enjoy it if one is not willing to take the trip. In Christ, the journey is so much better, and the view is simply indescribable!