The Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave BaabNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century

Lynne's Blog

Nature speaks about God: Algae and stars

Friday March 16 2018

Nature speaks about God: Algae and stars

The view under the microscope was gorgeous. The slimy mass of green scum I had scooped out of a drainage ditch revealed itself to be long strands with bright green geometric patterns. The color was beautiful. The patterns were beautiful.

I lifted my head from the microscope and stood in that biology lab praising God for creating something so amazing, yet hidden from view most of the time. Who would have thought that algae could speak to me, calling me to praise the God who made it?

I was 20 years old that fall day in the biology lab. I had become a Christian the previous Christmas, and I had studied for a total of four weeks at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland – two weeks at Easter and two weeks in June – diving deep into the book of Romans. I had learned a great deal of Christian theology by listening to recordings of Francis Schaeffer talking, hour upon hour, about Romans. Romans, and Francis Shaeffer’s reflections on it, helped me learn to worship God with my mind. (I wrote about my time at L’Abri last week.)

I returned to Willamette University in Oregon, eager to get involved in the Christian fellowship group there. We met on Sunday nights. Some of the students played guitars, and I learned the praise songs they taught us. We often had speakers at our meetings, usually staff from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The praise music and the speakers called me into God’s presence and gave me a place and words for praising God.

But in that first semester back at Willamette after becoming a Christian, some of my most powerful moments of praising God were stimulated by what I saw in the microbiology lab. The green geometric forms of algae were probably my favorite, but I also loved bacteria. We grew various kinds of bacteria on Petri dishes, then spread them on slides, stained them with dyes, and looked at them under the microscope.

The bright colors caused by the dyes and the repeated shapes of the bacteria spoke to me of the intricacy of God’s creation. Bacteria, like algae, called me to praise the God of tiny things.

That semester I was working part time for an astronomy professor, typing up his handouts and exam questions and serving as a lab assistant. He took the students, and me, on some field trips on moonless nights to look at stars. The dark, cold nights with stars blazing overhead called me to praise the God of immensity, who created a huge and expansive universe.

In the long hall of the science building, the astronomy professor had created a scale model of the solar system. The sun and planets were tiny dots with many feet of hall between them. I loved walking down that hall, pondering the amount of space between the planets and then also between our solar system and other suns.

We stand in the middle, with parts of the created order that are much, much smaller than we are, as well as created objects that are much, much bigger than we are. The scale of smallness and hugeness is astonishing, yet one more thing to praise God for.

Not everyone has the privilege of looking at algae under a microscope or serving as a lab assistant in an astronomy class. But most of us are exposed in some way to the wonders of the created world as revealed through science. I encourage you to ponder something you’ve read about or seen on a science show or in some other science-related setting that calls you to praise God.

(Next week: tropical fish in the Red Sea. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Two years ago on this blog: The last post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. That post was one woman’s story about a trip to a Benedictine monastery, a great place to start the series. At the bottom of the post are links to the other posts in the series. I highly recommend developing an understanding of Benedictine spirituality because of its three vows of stability, conversion of life and obedience – all of them so helpful in our time with so much emphasis on constant movement, self-focus and pride.

Stories I ponder: The noisy washing machine

Thursday August 24 2017

Stories I ponder: The noisy washing machine

About four months ago our washing machine started thumping during the spin cycle. We were going to move and sell our house only two months later, so I wondered if maybe the washing machine could limp along for two months.

One Sunday morning I put a load of laundry in, and it was spinning and thumping as we left for church. The noise was loud enough that I realized we needed to get it fixed as soon as possible. On the way to church I had a bit of a revelation. A couple of weeks earlier I had washed a pair of shoes, and when the wash cycle was finished, one of the shoes was missing a piece of shoelace. I wondered if perhaps that five-inch length of shoelace was somewhere in the machine.

At church, the worship leader shared a little story about how God had worked in his life that week. I thought the story was pretty stupid. I’m generally not a hyper-critical person, but sometimes critical thoughts just jump into my head, and in that instance I was flooded with negativity. How could he think that silly incident showed God’s action in his life?

The worship leader then asked us to share with the person sitting next to us a story about something that had happened to us that week showing God’s hand in our life. Dave, my husband, was on my right, and he turned to the person on his other side. So I turned to the man on my left, who I didn’t know. We told each other our names and we told each other a brief story from the week.

When we finished our stories, other people were still talking, so I asked him what he did for a living.

“I repair appliances,” he said.

“Do you work on washing machines?” I replied, and he said he did. So I asked what company he worked for, fully intending to call the next day to ask for a repair person.

Then I told him I thought perhaps a piece of shoelace had probably gotten into some critical place in our washing machine. Could that cause thumping, I asked. He said yes and that after the service he’d be happy to tell me how to get it out.

And he did. He asked the make of our washing machine, he called up pictures on his phone, and he showed me a little door to open at the bottom of the machine. I would need to drain out water, and he told me the steps to do that, and then I would look inside at a little fan.

That afternoon I drained the machine carefully and found the piece of shoelace wrapped around the little fan. With scissors and tweezers, I got it out, and the machine worked just fine afterwards.

This lovely fellow told me how much it would have cost for a repair person from his company to come to our house, so I knew how much money he saved me. A good sum, but in the light of our upcoming move and all the expenses of moving, it wasn’t really that much money. But it still mattered a great deal. It was a sign to me of two things:

1.  God is involved in the everyday aspects of my life.

2.  Despite my negativity, the worship leader was following God’s guidance in telling his story and asking us to share stories. God wanted to give me a gift, and having a conversation with the guy sitting next to me enabled that gift to happen. Okay, so the story the worship leader told wasn’t a story that resonated with me as a way to illustrate God’s action in our lives. Maybe it touched someone else. Whether it did or didn’t, God gave me a gift initiated by something I thought was stupid.

God is God. I am not. God works in such amazing, unexpected and sometimes seemingly ridiculous ways. I need to curb my criticism and keep my eyes open. In The Message version of Isaiah 55:8, God says, “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

(Next week, another story I ponder, about my Great Aunt Lynn. Illustration by Dave Baab, the view from the back deck of our former house with the noisy washing machine. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

On this blog one year ago: The last post in a series on worshipping God the Creator. The post has links at the end to the previous posts in the series.

Quotations I love: A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work

Friday November 4 2016

Quotations I love: A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work

“God wants worshippers first. Jesus did not redeem us to make us workers; He redeemed us to make us worshippers. And then, out of the blazing worship of our hearts, springs our work.”
          —A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) [1]

I try to picture who A.W. Tozer was thinking about when he said these words. Was he envisioning a hard working Sunday School teacher who had been teaching kids for thirty years and who was a bit tired, but determined to continue? Maybe he was thinking about people who have what I call a “martyr spirit,” who work hard and get a lot done for the church, but who serve a bit grudgingly, out of a sense of duty. When Tozer was speaking and writing, in the middle years of the twentieth century, the two World Wars and the Depression would have been strong influencers on Christians, teaching them the values of duty, perseverance and hard work.

Even though “duty, perseverance and hard work” are less common descriptors of what motivates people in churches today, I think Tozer’s quotation is valuable in our time for two reasons. The first reason relates to the human tendency for joy in a task to diminish over time. Many Christians today began their Christian life with a sense of joy in God’s goodness. They responded by jumping into some form of service, and their joy has diminished over the years in the hard slog of life. For someone who might use the word “slog” to describe their life of faith and their service of God, Tozer’s emphasis on worship is worth pondering. Perhaps the sense of slog might lessen, and feelings of joy might increase, with a renewed focus on worship.

My second reason why Tozer’s quotation is valuable today relates to the opposite problem, people who view the Christian faith as a means to their own ends and have no intention or desire to work hard for the Kingdom of God. I once read some interviews with young adults, many of whom seemed to view their faith in God as a way to get help to meet their own goals. One of the interviewees said something like this: “I want to be a lawyer, a successful one, and God helps me study and keep my focus now while I’m a student. After I become a lawyer, I know God will help me succeed.”

Tozer refers to the “blazing worship of our heart” as the source of our work. I assume he means all kinds of work: paid work, unpaid work in the home, and various forms of service in the church and community. It’s worth pondering which forms of work in our lives arise most clearly out worship and which forms are somewhat or mostly separate from a heart that’s blazing with the love of God.

And it’s worth pondering what kinds of worship set our hearts ablaze. When, where and how does that kind of worship happen for you?

Work that is motivated and illumined by blazing worship of God will have a different character than work that we view as our right and our achievement. Are we creating climates in our congregations where we encourage “blazing worship of the heart”? Do we talk in small groups and with friends about the connections between worship of God and work/service in everyday life? What would it look like to link worship and work more closely together in your life?

(Next week: Arnold H. Glasow on hospitality as making others feel at home. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

[1] From an address at a Youth for Christ convention, date unknown, quoted in In Other Words, Fall 1999, page 5.