Recovering Wonder

Long before blowing soapy bubbles with a storebought kit, we had dandelions. To this day I cannot say why it was such a childhood delight to pluck the ripe blowball and send the feathered seeds to flight on a silent whistle.

To a yard it’s a weed. Its broad leaves and tall stems disrupt the tranquility of a manicured lawn. To a bee it’s candy. The sunny bloom of the lowly dandelion invites honeybees to partake of its delights. To a person it is a vegetable, so I read.

It’s a wondrous thing that a simple plant could foster such pessimism and optimism. G.K. Chesterton, the British writer and philosopher, recalled his childhood fascination with the dandelion. He used the ubiquitous plant to illustrate the lack of wonder in humans who plod the oblivious path of uninspired lives. Mankind “has no right even to see a dandelion,” he writes, “for he could not himself have invented either the dandelion or the eyesight.”

The things you never consider or take for granted are the very things that would fill your heart with wonder. The rights you assume over your personal choices and worldview, not to mention your body, values, and relationships, betray a great omission – awe of your Creator. Chesterton warned of “the strange and staggering heresy that a human being has a right to dandelions; that in some extraordinary fashion we can demand the very pick of all the dandelions in the garden of Paradise; that we owe no thanks for them at all and need feel no wonder at them at all; and above all no wonder at being thought worthy to receive them.”

What are you to do, finding yourself somewhere along the oblivious path? Look at a dandelion and all its intricate detail and ask how it got here? Ask how you got here? Why do you experience what dandelions cannot – love, emotion, thoughts? You are capable of asking with the philosopher Leibniz, “Why is there something and not nothing?” Raising your awareness of origin and meaning stirs your sense of awe, wonder, and optimism.

The Psalmist captured a transcendent moment of wonder with a lingering glance into a clear night sky. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psa. 8:1,3-4).

And there you have it. The lowly dandelion, the heavenly lights, and all creation conspire to fill your heart with wonder and draw you to the One who is most wonderful. And He cares for you.

The Divine Critic

Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea, is about a Cuban fisherman, a marlin, and sharks. Or it may have been about something entirely different.

In 1950 after a 10-year publishing drought, Hemingway released Across the River and into the Trees. Critics savaged the novel. Hemingway was devastated. In response, he published The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The protagonist is Santiago who, after a long period of not catching a fish, landed a prize marlin after a great struggle. He delighted in his good fortune until the sharks circled and destroyed his hard work.

The novella reads like an autobiographical metaphor. Hemingway is Santiago and “Across the River” is the fish. The critics, well, they’re the sharks who shredded what Hemingway thought was good work. If the critics caught on, it did not prevent them from celebrating what became a literary classic.

The story about an old man fighting sharks redeemed Hemingway’s reputation as a writer. One wonders if Hemingway would have won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes but for those critics. He embraced the harsh criticism, wove it into a story, and good things followed.

I see a spiritual parallel. You have your own critics but only one matters. It is He who criticized Job’s complaints by thundering, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job could only respond, “I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 38:4, 42:6). The divine critic says you have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). What have you done with that criticism?

Theologians say humans are “depraved.” Sounds harsh but compared to a holy God, not so much. “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality,” writes Malcolm Muggeridge, “but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” Look at today’s headlines to verify that reality. Or look within. You could resist and take offense. Or it could prompt your greatest honor. When you embrace the criticism and the good news of God’s grace, you start a new story. It’s a story lived by faith in the Lord Jesus, the Creator, Savior, and Shepherd of your soul.

Life’s greatest honor is to know the God who laid the earth’s foundation and to be accepted into His family. By His magnificent victory at the cross, the stain of your sin (depravity) is removed, and you stand blameless before a holy God. Hemingway’s story hints at a greater truth – out of the pain and embarrassment of failure rises the realization of a more glorious reality. For those who believe, that reality is a redeemed life in right standing with Almighty God.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Finish Your Course

Every life runs a certain course, including yours. To have a sense of what that course is and to stick to it is the making of a fulfilled life.

This story starts with a lady who lived across from the local high school in Wyckoff, NJ. For years, Dorothea Clapp prayed for the students to come to know the Lord Jesus. She prayed for George Verwer by name and mailed some literature to him. Verwer assumed himself to be a Christian since he attended his mother’s church.

One day in a store, he noticed a magazine featuring a young Billy Graham. He read the article and the wheels of his mind began to turn. Soon after, a man in Verwer’s neighborhood offered to bus the local teens to a Billy Graham event at Madison Square Garden. Verwer went and heard the gospel for the first time. “This is the truth,” he thought. “My search is over; this is the most important thing in life.” So it was that in 1955 at the tender age of 16, Verwer received Jesus Christ as his Savior.

That set the course of his life. As a senior in high school, he distributed 1000 copies of the Gospel of John. He led several of his classmates to trust Christ. During his first term in college, he hosted a rally back at his high school. Hundreds of students packed the auditorium. After hearing Verwer speak, over 100 people professed faith, including his own father. The next year, Verwer and friends sold their possessions to purchase and deliver Bibles to Mexico.

A few years later, Verwer founded Operation Mobilization to support churches and indigenous Christian workers in spreading the gospel of God’s grace. Today OM works in 140 countries and has mobilized over 250,000 workers for that purpose. Verwer has said this verse describes the theme of his life: “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Verwer had a sense of the course of his life.  So did Dorothea Clapp, who had a quiet but vital ministry of prayer and encouragement. Therein lies my charge to you, Christian. God has a course for your life. It is some selfless expression of glorifying God, displaying His love, and advancing His truth. You are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Some pray. Some serve. Some even start worldwide organizations. But all of us can finish well, as did Verwer. In 2023, George Verwer left for the land of the living.  He was 84.

A Mother’s Intuition

The mother rushed to scoop up her toddler who fell on the playground. “You’re OK, I got you!” She brushed off his knees. “Everything will be OK; I promise.”

A child wants protection from harmful things beyond his control. He wants a restoration of tranquility and order. In his crisis, here comes Mom with her assurance of just that. But she cannot guarantee everything will be OK beyond that moment. The child will continue to face danger and stress. Life happens. Yet there remains something true about her words. In God’s time and in His way, everything WILL be OK. All of God’s children yearn for that.

In his book, Signals of Transcendence, Os Guinness writes about being born in China to missionary parents during WWII. It was a time when millions died in the Japanese invasion and the following communist revolution. His older and younger brothers died from hunger and disease. “My first ten years, to put it gently,” he writes, “were years of chaos, disorder, terror, fear, death, suffering, war, revolution, and loss. Everything was not alright.”

Yet in the midst of those trials, his parents’ faith in God remained. The same parents who lost two sons offered their remaining son a calm assurance. “Their faith gave them rock-solid grounds for trusting in the ultimate goodness of life and existence, despite the horror and sorrow of the immediate situation,” he writes. “The final reality behind the universe is God, who is love, and who has a great heart for humans who He has created in His own image.”

A mother’s intuition gives her reason to comfort her child saying, “Everything will be OK.” A mother’s faith offers her child the hope that tranquility and protection await those who believe, though we remain in the valley of the shadow for now. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psa. 23:1-4).