Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"I Finally See the Mountains"

An event 35 years ago reminds me that what's real isn't always visible

One of my favorite stories from my early ministry days happened about one month after I started seminary and my work at First Baptist Church of San Bernardino. It was quite a time for me, having driven cross country in a Buick Opel in August (without air conditioning) to begin both work and seminary in a new place. My mentor, Al Somers, was my senior pastor, and I was living in a small house on our church property, surrounded by the church buildings.

I left every Tuesday through Friday morning at 6:10 am to drive the 55 miles from San Bernardino to Talbot Seminary in La Mirada. It was three freeways and 2 major surface streets and traffic was already getting thick every day as I got off the freeway and headed to school. I often stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way if I had time, but when traffic was bad, getting there in time for my 7:30 class could be dicey--and it was Intermediate Greek that year, so I didn't want to be late and fall behind.

Like every other day thus far, I arrived on time, went to my first two classes, then to chapel, and then my final class for the day. I finished at 12:30, stopped at Del Taco for lunch (if you don't know what it is, you've missed out and I can't help you), and then headed home. I'd be in my office before 2:00 pm and work until 9 or so, breaking for dinner at some point.

On that day, I was driving home, listening to the radio turned up to be heard over the wind coming in my open windows (remember, I had no a/c) as I drove as fast as traffic would allow to get  home and get cool. I wasn't really thinking about the drive until about 40 minutes from home, and then I almost drove off the road!

I don't recognize where I am! There are mountains to my left, my right, and ahead of me. Those ahead were snow-capped! What happened? Did I make wrong turn?

I glanced at the side of the road and saw the freeway sign; I was on Interstate 10 East, where I needed to be. The next exit ahead was one I recognized. But I didn't recognize the scenery!

Slowly it dawned on me that the day had been more than a little breezy, with a condition that natives called "the Santa Ana" winds blowing. The name was a corruption of a phrase for "devil winds," and not a reference to the city of Santa Ana, but what they were were high winds coming over the mountains and blowing toward the ocean. These conditions brought dry air, warm temperatures, and most importantly, blew all the smog and haze in the air westward toward L.A. and the ocean, clearing out all the valleys along the way, including mine.

What I was seeing is what my new home looked like when the air was clear. And it was amazing to see! I lived in the shadow of the mountains!

Now, I knew there were mountains around me. I had driven over them to come into San Bernardino. But as I descended into the valley the bluish/brownish haze filled in, and when you looked around from my porch or from the church or from most of the city, you saw hazy sky, and you didn't see the mountains unless you were really close. In that first month, I hadn't gone anywhere other than church, home, school, and a few homes for dinner that didn't give you any sort of panoramic view. So, while I had known they were there, I simply stopped thinking about them.

Until the air cleared, and I saw them. I think from that moment on, my perspective changed. I lived with mountains and valleys. I treasured the seasons when I could see them clearly (winter and spring were the best). And when I couldn't see them I missed them, and longed to see them again. But now they were a part of my reality.

I think that we all have a tendency to forget about mountain-like realities that we may "know" exist but have been so obscured by the haze and pollution of our lives that we forget about them. What are some of the mountains we may be missing? Oh, how about...
  • God's constant presence--"As the mountains surround Jerusalem (or San Bernardino), so the LORD surrounds his people"--Ps. 125:2
  • The Lord's willingness to help--always. "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth"--Ps. 121:1-2
  • The reality of the spiritual realm of powers arrayed on our behalf, like Elisha's servant was made able to see on the mountain where they were--2 Ki 6:17
  • The promise of dwelling in God's presence in a place he calls "my holy mountain"--Is 11:9, 56:7, 57:13, 65:25
I've only used four, and I've only used references that referred to "mountains" because they were easy. But there are so many more such realities. God's promises to us and his descriptions of what truly is and will be are powerful, but often missed when sin--including our own--pollutes our environment to the point we don't see or remember anymore. 

So, I'm here to shout to you today, "The mountains are there!" And I'm praying that God sends a strong east wind your way to clear the valley and remind you once again of his realities!