Tuesday, May 20, 2008

matters of the heart

Tonight I've been watching one of my favorite movies: "Superman Returns".  There's something I love about Superman.  He has a great purity and he lives to serve others and save mankind from disasters.  What stood out to me tonight was his personal vulnerability...not to Kryptonite, but to heartache.  There is a scene in the movie when Superman realizes that Lois Lane is disenchanted with him.  He has been busy rescuing folks from all kinds of spectacular dilemmas and he is idolized, adored and esteemed as a hero by millions.  Yet, he is lonely and his heart longs for the affection of Lois.  In the despair of unrequited love, he soars up into space to look down on the entire globe of Earth.  You are aware of his tremendous powers and superhuman capabilities.  Practically nothing can hurt him and there is almost nothing he can't do with his physical powers.  Yet somehow his extraordinary characteristics only heighten his loneliness and this seems magnified by the backdrop of the blackness of space.  The thought occurs: our greatest needs, our greatest joys, our greatest challenges and our greatest victories occur on the most personal of scenes: our individual hearts.  I think part of the good news, here, is that with the presence of Jesus in our heart every man, woman and child has the potential to exceed even Superman's powers.  And we each can play a role in rescuing others from the despair of a lonely heart.
2 Corinthians 3:2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
Rob Smith

Friday, May 16, 2008

seeing mountains from above

On the flight west last weekend we flew over all kinds of terrain and saw farmland, rivers, desert and mountains.  It seemed especially interesting to fly over mountains.  It occurred to me that mountains are normally seen from below...from the surface.  That viewpoint inspires awe as we crane our necks upward and are awestruck with the lofty peaks.  Mountains seem to represent the large problems and challenges we face.  The effort required to climb to the top is something like the difficulty we face in many of life's trials.  We sometimes speak of the dark days of life as "walking through the valley".  But I realized that, in the Lord, we rise up and are carried as passengers in a jet.  It can become possible to look down at mountains that way.  They are still impressive from above and it is a joy to be carried over them.
Isaiah 49:11 I will make each of My mountains a road,
      And My highways shall be elevated.
Rob Smith

Thursday, May 15, 2008

time window

Yesterday we visited the Grand Canyon.  We walked along the rim and flew over the Canyon in a small plane as well.  I've never been exposed to anything that so overwhelmed my vision.  This massive gorge is ten miles wide, a mile deep and 270 miles long!  The views were so stunning that they had an unreal quality, as if they were somehown painted on a vast canvas.  I suppose you could study the Grand Canyon for a lifetime and not begin to probe all the lessons to be learned from it.  But what struck me on reflection was that the Canyon gave a view into the distant past.  In a sense, God was providing a "Cat scan" of how He assembled the earth's crust.  Layers of rock carried evidence of fossilized life from long ago and showed the canyon had once been ocean bottom.  The Lord did so much work to build the foundation of our planet so that we, who walk on its surface, might thrive.  When it comes to the Grand Canyon, words really have not been invented to capture the beauty on such an immense scale.  When it comes to our Lord, we are also challenged to find words that capture His great design and the lengths He has gone to fashion our earthly home.
Job 38:4 " Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
      Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Rob Smith

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

to another level

Today, we drove from Phoenix north to the lovely canyon area known as Sedona (Arizona).  In Sedona, there are massive red stone walls, mountains and buttes that surround you like Gulliver's Travel guards over Lilliputian people squeezing between their toes.  What struck me was the dramatic changes in elevation.  Phoenix lies at 1,000 feet above sea level.  The high temperature over the past few days has been in the upper 90's there.  As we moved north, the elevation climbed as well.  We didn't cross mountain ridges, the entire table of land moved to a higher plane.  By the time we reached Sedona (perhaps 100 miles above Phoenix), the elevation was 5,000 feet for the basic land level.  The massive stone outcroppings rose yet above this.  The thought I had today was that the Lord can take us to a new level in our lives.  We don't have to always go up one side of the mountain, crest and tumble down the far side.  With the presence and the opportunity for ongoing trust we have in Father, Son and Holy Spirit our lives can move upward to a whole new level (and from there we can still view the dramatic mountains of God!).  By the way, when we reached Flagstaff today, there was snow still on the ground from an early morning snowfall and the temperature is expected to drop to the 30's tonight!  We went from summer to winter in less than 4 hours!
Psalm 125:2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
         So the LORD surrounds His people
         From this time forth and forever.
Rob Smith

Sunday, May 11, 2008

a way in the desert

We are visiting our daughter in Phoenix, Arizona.  We're adjusting to a very different place than Virginia.  Flying over the country we watched the land below change from green to brown somewhere in Texas or New Mexico and the brown of the desert is the primary land color here in Phoenix.  As I was leaving the airport, I asked a local fellow where the water came from for this large city.  He said it came from the Hoover dam area, which must be hundreds of miles from here.  Until they had a strong source of water, the city of Phoenix really couldn't develop (based on today's anticipated 97 degree high temperature, I think air conditioning also has played a key role).  The thought occurred to me this morning that people have carved a city out of a place that basically wasn't intended for human habitation.  The Lord also provides all we need.  Life can be like a desert, with dryness of spirit, hostile conditions from experience and uncertainty.  But just as they have found a way to carve a city out of the desert in Phoenix, so the Lord makes our personal desert a green oasis by His presence and His provision.
Isaiah 35:6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
      And the tongue of the dumb sing.
      For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
      And streams in the desert.
blessings (and Happy Mother's Day, Mom)
Rob Smith

Thursday, May 8, 2008

consider the egg

As I was watching a program about penguins the other night I was fascinated by the battle penguin mothers must often fight to protect the eggs they were sitting on from predators or jealous penguins.  I thought about the amazing characteristics of the egg design that God developed.  It's amazing to me that the baby bird must totally form inside this "capsule" while outside of its mother.  The hard shell provides protection from the elements while also supplying calcium for the bone develpment of the baby egg.  The white albumen provides a food source for the first few weeks of development.  The yolk, where the embryo forms, is centered to optimize shock protection.  It has all the nutrients to complete the chick.  As the cells of the embryo rapidly divide, they form three layers.  The outer layer grows into skin and feathers, the middle layer grows into bones, blood and organs, and the inner layer becomes the breathing and digestive systems.  Somehow, the mother bird can distinguish her egg by subtle shape and color distinctions from all other eggs.

We also develop with a degree of protection from a cruel outer world.  The Lord is our shield to guard us from attack and, at the same time, He provides all we need to mature.  We are surrounded by protection and nutrients and one day we will emerge to a world we've never seen, in a body that has been fashioned just for that place.  And He recognizes us each by the unique aspects of our design.

Deuteronomy 22:6 "If a bird's nest happens to be before you along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, with the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young;"

Rob Smith

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

to soar

The Albatross is an amazing bird.  It can have a wingspan of up to 12 feet, while weighing about 20 pounds.  It will routinely travel thousands of miles to find food for its young. They have been tracked flying from nests in Hawaii to the San Francisco Area, up to Alaska, and back to their nest.  They actually favor the Antarctic region because of the high winds, unblocked by land masses, that allow them to fly.  Typically, an albatross can fly over 1,000 miles in a day, at speeds of about 100 m.p.h!  Once they find prey, they store it in a special kind of stomach until they can return and regurgitate the food to feed their young.  One of the most fascinating characteristics of the albatross is its inability to fly unless the wind is blowing 15 to 20 m.p.h.  Their wings are so long and slender and their bodies so heavy that they are unable to lift off due to flapping alone.  The wind must carry them and, once they are aloft, they are masters of the wind.  They are able to lock their wings, like the fixed wings of an airplane and so they can soar for those long distances.

We, too, cannot fly on our own energy.  No matter how hard we flap our wings we just can't "lift off" without the Holy Spirit wind blowing through us.  But we, too, can travel long distances and see great sights as we enjoy the Lord's wind moving in and through us.  We, too, were intended to soar!

Exodus 19: 4 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself.'

Rob Smith

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

my eve

As I was exercising on a stationary bike last night, I was listening to a Contemporary Christian TV channel.  It was good to focus on the Lord while simultaneously working on my body.  During each song, pictures of the artists and brief biographical notes flashed on the TV screen.  All of the pictures were flattering and all of the artists...especially the women...seemed attractive.  Then I remembered that the Lord has given me a beautiful woman to share every day of my life.  As I reflected on that I realized that He formed Shirley with all the qualities I could possibly need or desire for a lifetime of the closest kind of companionship.  Recently I've also been appreciating the great benefit Shirley brings in seeing people and issues that touch our lives with intuition and wisdom that I often miss.  And, to top it off, she is the mother of my three daughters and we share the joys of grandparenting now.  Putting these thoughts together I realize I am the recipient of two incredible blessings: a beautiful and amazing wife and a gracious and generous Lord, who designed marriage and brought Shirley into my life. 

Such treasure far surpasses the momentary view of other women.

Proverbs 5:18 Let your fountain be blessed,
      And rejoice with the wife of your youth.

Rob Smith

Monday, May 5, 2008

horizontal and vertical

It struck me recently that most of my thoughts are "horizontal".  Most of the time I'm wrestling with problems and matters between people, between myself and work, home and highway.  Maybe it's because the easiest position for my head is to look out horizontally and not to flex my neck and look up or to close my eyes and bow in prayer.  Of course, this time of year there is much beauty on the horizon.  Someone pointed out that we have a lovely wild bush in the woods behind our home, called Mountain Laurel.  Trees and flowers are coming into seasonal bloom all around.  But without the "vertical" dimension of thought and observation I think we can forget about heaven and God's dominion.  It's easy to live in such a way that we see life like one of those puzzles we had as kids, where you moved pieces around on a small board until they formed a picture.  For some reason, we still think that we are the ones moving the pieces around to form the picture of our lives.  I need to constantly remember to look up and to bow down and to add the vertical to the horizontal.

Psalm 5:3 My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD;
         In the morning I will direct it to You,
         And I will look up.

Rob Smith

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sculpted souls

Stand back about ten feet from yourself.  Turn on the video machine that plays the story of your life.  Watch your life story unfold.  Look at the positive qualities that emerge repeatedly from your life.  Having spent some time recently with my two sisters, I was struck with the thought that the personality traits I love so much about each of them are still just as present now as they were 40 years ago.  Qualities like humor, genuine interest in others (even strangers), perseverance to overcome challenges and endure trials and many intangibles.  The thought occurred that our Creator's design wasn't limited to our physical body...He also fashioned our personality, areas of natural talent, and our basic attitudes toward life.  Of course our life experiences have also chiseled our characteristics, but I realized that so much of who I am is the direct result of His Master Craftsmanship.  He is not just the Author of life, He is the sculptor of my soul !

Psalm 119:73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me;
         Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.

Rob Smith

Thursday, May 1, 2008

shocking change

Last Friday I went swimming in the ocean off Virginia Beach.  The air temperature was about 80 degrees, but the water was only 58 degrees.  I have always loved swimming in the ocean and I'm not deterred by cold water.  I've braved Lake Michigan and the ocean waters of Maine in the past.  So I ran into the water on Friday.  For the first three minutes, I took many short breaths to give my lungs and body a chance to accommodate the frigid surroundings.  I've learned from experience that if you can bear with the torture for a few minutes (and the water isn't unbearably cold) your body adjusts.  Somehow the circulatory system must pump more blood to vital areas.  Friday the waves were just great and I was able to play in the surf for about 45 minutes.  I was glad when my older sister, Carol, also braved the conditions to join me.  (I would only do this in shallow surf with family or friends nearby, knowing the reality of hypothermia). 
When we seek to share our faith in the Lord Jesus with an unbeliever, it can feel just as foreign and shocking as my experience plunging into the ocean.  We may test the waters with our toes and quickly flee because of an obvious feeling of discomfort.  Or we may plunge in and immerse ourselves, work through the discomfort and adjust.  Then we may experience great joy as our spiritual circulation system pumps warmth to our hearts and inspiration to our minds. 
We can watch the opportunities pass like we watch the waves break, or we can plunge in and eventually ride the waves.  You will probably find it encouraging to take this plunge together with a friend, with experienced believers available to encourage, help, and even rescue as needed.
2 Timothy 4:5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Rob Smith