Monthly Archives: July 2011

Cardinals and the Big Picture

The other morning I heard a pair of cardinals whistling to each other. Not only is their red plumage distinctive but so is their song which I’ve sought to mimic ever since childhood. Also unique is the perch from which they warble. In my experience, cardinals always sing from the highest braches of tall trees. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps they enjoy having a panoramic view of the landscape below.
Cardinals can teach us a lesson about perspective. Last Sunday a missionary friend talked about the importance of keeping the big picture in view. He recalled the incredible vista he and his wife enjoyed when they journeyed to an overview at 10,000 feet up in the Alps. He then turned to Luke 24 where Jesus gives his disciples an overview of his mission. “Everything must be fulfilled…The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:44,46,47). Not for the first time Jesus reminded his disciples that everything in the Bible will be fulfilled, including his promise that the Gospel would be preached throughout the world.
We need to keep the big picture in mind as we seek to serve Christ Jesus in a world of suffering and injustice. Whatever the setbacks we face, we can be assured that Christ will build his kingdom, the Gospel will spread everywhere, hellish gates will not prevail against it. He will come again. There will be a day of judgment. A new heaven and a new earth will appear.
We would be wise to frequently dip into the big-picture portions of Scripture: Genesis 1,2, Exodus 20, Matthew 5-7 & 28, Romans 8, Ephesians 1, Colossian 1, Revelation…and many more.
Currently we live just a few miles from the shore of Lake Ontario but our house is nestled in a grove of mature trees. We can’t see the lake from our living room window but we know it’s there. The unfolding plan of God is just as real and certain as the existence of Lake Ontario. But we need to keep it in mind lest we lose perspective.

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Walking Without Seeing – Pain & Perception

The other day Mary Helen and I were part way through our morning walk when a sudden realization struck me. I was mainly focusing on putting one foot in front of the other—something that is instinctive and should have freed me up to gaze around. Like many in the golden years, I struggle with knee and joint pain. They say that exercise in one of the best ways to limber up stiff joints, so rather reluctantly, I give in to Mary Helen’s entreaty that I take a daily 40 minute walk. I can’t say I really enjoy the daily discipline.

That day, like many others, I was concentrating on the goal, finishing a 40 minute walk, and in the process failing to enjoy the scenery. We were walking in one of our favourite lakeside provincial parks. That’s when the realization hit me that I was focusing on the pavement in front of me and how many minutes remained before the walk would end. So I looked up and everything was beautiful!

We were sauntering along the shore of Lake Ontario beneath towering maples and ash. The forest floor beneath the trees was carpeted by giant feathery ferns, some waist high. The sky above was blue. A slight breeze ruffled the leaves. In grassy spaces along the shore, gulls stood watching for a meal to wash ashore. And I felt better.

Part of the effect on my pain sensitivity was due to the balm God’s creation brings to the soul. A similar effect can be felt from a flower, a cloud formation, the stars at night, waves on the ocean, or a blanket of snow. Mystical? I don’t think so. Somehow, lifting our eyes from our own pain and problems to view God’s artistry restores a measure of perspective. Such a focus can return our thoughts to the one who is Able. Why couldn’t all hospitals and therapy centres be set in beautiful, natural surroundings? Wouldn’t that help patients to heal quicker?

I realize that the pain in my joints or the shortness of breath I experience from heart trouble is nothing compared to the agony many have to endure. My walk that day reminded me to be more sympathetic with those who live with pain. No wonder their focus is so constricted.

The Bible tells us that we can learn much from pain if we’re teachable. Sometimes it’s the only way God can get our attention. Sometimes, it teaches us to esteem what is really valuable. Pain can not only hinder perception, it can heighten it. And without pain, or its twin, tribulation, we won’t grow in Christ. “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3). Learn maybe, but rejoice? Lord, I’ve obviously got a long way to go.