Monday, March 14, 2011


Commentary on the Sabbath School lesson for 3.19.11 

Where do you feel most in tune with God?  Where do you feel like you can really sense the presence of the Holy Spirit?  Do you have a special place you go to meet with Him?

Lots of people say that they feel most able to really communicate with God when they get away from their everyday things and spend time out in nature.  Why do you think that is?  Is it just getting away from crowds?  It used to be that going on a picnic or a nature walk was a way to get away from phone calls, TV and the computer, but those things kind of follow us everywhere now.  Why would nature feel any different than sitting in your own living room then?  What’s the difference?

In the book, Education, Ellen White makes a statement that explains why it’s so important for us to spend time in nature.  
“[I]n ten thousand objects in nature, from the oak of the forest to the violet that blossoms at its root, is seen the love that restores. And nature still speaks to us of God’s goodness.”[1]
Would you agree with that statement?  Do you feel restored by being in nature? Does nature speak to you of “God’s goodness?” 

Well, as to the restoration part, I think almost everyone, Christian or otherwise would agree with that.  Even without the “God component”, the Outward Bound organization has demonstrated that experiencing nature changes lives.  Their work with at-risk youth and soldiers returning from war has shown that nature plays a huge part in the restoration of broken people.
“A recent issue of the Oprah Magazine has an interesting article on awe. The article's introduction states: ‘Somewhere at the intersection of joy, fear, mystery, and insight lies awe, the ineffable response to the amazing world around us.’ The article goes on to give a more refined definition: ‘Overwhelming, surprising, humbling, even a little terrifying—awe is what we feel when faced with something sublime, exceptional, or altogether beyond comprehension.’“University of California's Dacher Keltner, PhD, a psychology professor, does extensive research on the subject of awe. In his 2009 book Born to Be Good, he describes the feeling of awe as pushing people beyond selfishness and giving them a desire to do good. He believes that cultivating awe ‘is part of unlocking the truest sense of life's purpose.’ In his most well-known experiment, he had students complete a series of "I am" sentences. Half the students were facing a full-scale replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex; the other half were facing a hallway. The first group was more likely to describe themselves in larger, grander terms (‘I am part of the human species’). The group facing an empty hallway described themselves in smaller, narrower terms (‘I am a soccer player’).“The article even gives some tips for cultivating awe:“…2. Go outside. The ultimate in awe is the beauty and wonder of nature.“…4. Look up at the night sky. Better yet, buy a telescope.“Although the article presents a mostly secular view of awe, it does tap into our human longing to find ‘joy, fear, mystery … [in] response to the amazing world around us.’ According to the Bible, there is one source for all the awe we experience—God. We were created to live in awe of God. The word awe or awesome is mentioned 53 times throughout the Bible. The God who is ‘awesome in glory’ (Exodus 15:11) and ‘mighty and awesome’ (Deuteronomy 10:17) performs ‘awesome deeds for mankind’ (Psalm 66:5). No wonder the psalmist proclaimed, "The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders" (Psalm 65:8).”[2]
Do you feel awed by nature?  Sometimes I think that someone who doesn’t believe in the God of Creation, can’t really experience it, because they don’t have Anybody to credit the beauty to.  Does that make sense? 

Even a person who doesn’t believe can be led to see Jesus by studying how nature works.
“As a researcher and physician, Francis Collins' credentials and accomplishments are well-respected in the scientific community. He headed up the Human Genome Project before serving as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. In 2007 he also wrote a New York Times best-selling book, The Language of God, which weaves together the story of his work as a world-renowned scientist and his journey from atheism to faith in Christ.“Interestingly, although Collins is thoroughly committed to rational inquiry and the scientific method, God also used people and nature to lead Collins to Christ. As a gifted medical student, Collins thought it was ‘convenient to not have to deal with God.’ But then, after one of his patients told Collins about her faith, she asked him, ‘What about you? What do you believe?’ In Collin's own words, ‘I stuttered and stammered and felt the color rising in my face, and I said, “Well, I don't think I believe in anything.” But it suddenly seemed like a very thin answer. And that was unsettling.’“Then after a long period of searching, which included grilling a pastor and reading C.S. Lewis, Collins finally came to Christ after watching the beauty of creation. This is Collin's description of that life-changing encounter:“‘I had to make a choice. A full year had passed since I decided to believe in some sort of God, and now I was being called to account. On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.’”[3]
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” Psalm 19:1, 2
Are you listening?  Have you stopped to look at a sunset and remember that God is responsible for everything beautiful? 

“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works— he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.  I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.  But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, my soul.  Praise the LORD.  Psalm 104:31-35

[1] E.G. White, Education, p.101
[2] David Hochman, "The Wonder of It All", Oprah Magazine, (December 2010)
[3] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 225

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