Category Archives: Religion

In Spirit and in Truth

The flap of the wings belied the size of the animal, as the wild turkey left its roost from the night. They stand a little over three feet tall on average when strutting on the ground. Their wingspan is just over four feet. The sound thereof beating the air with such great force that I could hear it from where I sat on my porch made me wonder just how much more would that of an Angel’s wings sound? And since I had not seen the bird leave its night’s perch, it was my assumption, based on what my senses told me, that it was indeed air being moved by a winged creature. So too, wouldn’t I be able to discern a more exceptional being than this should it be in my presence? The thought of an angelic being visiting me came to mind. Just the idea of such a moment caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand, being in the presence of one of God’s messengers. “Thou shalt see heaven open and the angels of the Lord ascending and descending on the Son of Man,”[1] Jesus told Nathaniel. Yes, what a scene it would be.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind as the dawn’s early light began to glow upon the pages of my Bible. Before me lay the gospel of John, which was part of today’s morning devotional.

The sound of the wind, not that we can see it, but rather we know from the effect it has upon the things which we can see, allows us to know it is there. We see the branches of the trees move, the summer grasses dance to and fro. When we seek shelter in the shade during a long, hot summer’s day, we pray for its caress upon our skin. Our natural senses allow us to perceive its existence. We never see it, but we know it is there. Yet, unlike the wind, it is our spirit that senses the Holy Spirit of God. It is this innate ability which we are creator has endowed us with, that allows us to worship him in Spirit. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”[2]

It was then the verse of scripture came to mind. Jesus had a late-night visitor, Nicodemus, who questioned what it was to be born again. Jesus told him not to marvel at what he said, that a man must be born again to enter into the kingdom of heaven. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”[3] And then he went on to compare knowing the Spirit to knowing there is a wind, and that we cannot see it, but we hear the sound thereof and know it exists. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.[4]

Suddenly, there came upon my continence a profound statement made at the wedding in Cana of Galilee to which Jesus had attended. There was an inexplicable connection that I had never noticed before; a paradox of divine nature.

When they had run out of wine, we all know the miracle that happened when Jesus turned the water in the water pots to wine. When the servants drew the water-turned-wine out of the pots and bear it to the governor of the feast, he knew not whence it came, but they did. It was this “knowing” of the servants versus that of the ruler of the feast that gave the moment an irony I had missed before.

Here we have the man of stature, reigning over the wedding feast. He obviously has a position of authority in their daily lives, and as such, has probably tasted some of the most excellent wines mankind had produced. Yet, when the drink was given to him, he was impressed by that the family of the bride had kept the good wine until now. His perception was that of what our earthly desires are aware; that which our senses allow us to understand from the world around us; the obvious.

Meanwhile, the servants, knowing that Christ had turned the water into wine, bore their gift to the governor with shaky hands. At this point, we wonder, “Had they tasted the water-turned-wine or were they blindly taking a substance that had simply changed color to the governor of the feast, fearing what he would do?”  Because the scripture states, “but the servants which drew the water knew,”[5] we must consider the former, that they had tasted it and realized the miraculous nature of the drink. Containing their joy of seeing the miracle before it had been revealed to the world, their minds had already been blown away. Here now, they realized they stood in the presence of someone that commanded extraordinary powers, if nothing else, able to change six stone waterpots full of water into wine – not one, not two, but all of them at the same time. As one carried the drink, the others watched, all-knowing from whence it came. Their perception was not of the actual beverage, but the fact that it was not of this world – something far beyond what mankind could ever produce.

Both parties had reality and the supernatural united when the ruler demanded that the family had kept the best wine until last, which was not of the custom. The disciples who were with Jesus at the wedding were assuredly aware once the announcement had been made by the ruler, if not before. We are left to wonder if the governor of the feast ever realized the blessing from on high that he tasted that evening. If only he had known the truth, how much greater would have been his reward? All we can do is speculate. We might compare the ruler of the feast to the rich young ruler whom Jesus told to sell everything he owned and to follow him. He left saddened at what Christ had told him. We are never told what happened beyond that moment, and here too, we are left to wonder.

Like the water turned into wine, the written Word of God to the unbeliever is nothing more than letters of ink written upon a page. Purposeful to them possibly at best in that they are wise sayings passed on from a time when their usefulness had long ago expired. To the believer, they are more than just words on a page; they are the Comforter to which Christ said he would send. Those words speak to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, lifting our own spirit, teaching, leading, and inspiring to all those who believe. Their taste surpasses any of the finest wines man can produce. The scriptures are from the fruit of the vine given by inspiration to man, so that we may continue in his footsteps long after the ascension of Jesus, to sit now at the right hand of God.

Sadly, there are many that will ever only understand the scriptures from the context of knowledge. Even the learned scholars, some who are preachers and teachers, will never fully realize the magnitude of the gift they behold when reading the words on the pages of the Bible. Some spend their lifetime seeking something before them, not realizing that the Spirit is found through the Word, not upon its literal writings. Many wander this life lost, unaware of the fruit of the Spirit, even when it is placed in a cup on a table before them. It is not until they receive the gift of salvation, by the Grace of God, that they will fully comprehend the depth of scripture, and the real purpose behind God’s Word.

Yes, we cannot see it, but the beating of its wings, we can sense when our senses are awakened to our new selves, a new world when we become one with Christ.

Let not your heart be troubled, for if it were not so, I would not have told you so,” Christ said, but even more important, is what he didn’t say, but rather, allowed the Spirit to speak in his silence.

Therein lies the beauty of the irony, for which we can be even more thankful.

Thanks be to God.

And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;)…” – Jn. 2:8-9


[1] John 1:51 KJV

[2] John 4:24 KJV

[3] John 3:7 KJV

[4] John 3:8 KJV

[5] John 2:9 KJV

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No Retreat…

“And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”-Luke 14:27-30

When I read this scripture, I often think of the old cliché, “Don’t change horses in mid-stream,” meaning don’t change your mind in the middle of an event or process that has already begun.

In this passage of scripture, recorded by Luke, Jesus is explaining to the crowds that desire to follow him, that unless they give their whole heart, mind, and spirit to him, they cannot truly be one of his disciples. In other words, “you have to be ALL in or nothing at all.” Once you commit, you cannot turn back. Doing so can only be detrimental to yourself, but to those around you as well.

As my own life’s journey and construction of the Spiritual Retreat continue, this scripture really struck a chord with my heart.

First, this journey began with a commitment to follow Christ. It wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly, nor undertaken half-heartedly. It began with a 100% vow to boldly follow wherever the Lord shall lead. That pledge has taken not only me but my family as well, along this path upon which would have never imagined.

There is no turning back.

Even as this is written, we continue to unpack from a move that began five years ago. We are literally still in transition. But even as this is written, the pathway is changing. The future is as unclear as it was in the first few days of that fateful decision. The difference is that now, after those arduous five years, we have seen the power of God working in our daily lives, answering prayer, and working miracles. Yes, in the deepest valleys, He is with us. On the highest mountain tops, He is with us. No matter how far we run, no matter how far we roam, our Lord and Savior is with us, he will never leave nor forsake us. There is comfort in the knowing, for as we face an unknown future, we can take solace in knowing that we are not alone.

As with the continued construction of the Spiritual Retreat, the path has altered somewhat. There had never been a bank account full of money from which to draw to pay for the materials for which it was to be built. Although it was thought out, as far as rough floor plans, the financial side was lifted up to the Lord to provide. And as such, each step of the way, He has provided. Like the parable for which Jesus was describing, a man does not set out to start a project unless he knows he has the means for which it is to be funded, lest he be mocked by his neighbors. Although the literal meaning could apply in my own case, it was with a purposeful choice that we began knowing that in faith, the funds would come. And in faith, the project has only been slowed, not by lacking the means to pay for the building supplies, but rather because of either illness or other commitments which took precedence at the time. In other words, the providential funds of faith have provided all that we have needed.

Like the choice to serve, and like the decision to begin construction without financial backing, each took a level of faith not easily obtained. Through observation of others on their journey, we might feel uncomfortable with taking on that level of commitment. It is only natural. You should never take the leap of faith unless you are willing to suffer for Christ’s sake. It is never easy, nor should it be.

Christ died for our sins.

Let me say that again, Christ DIED for our sins. He suffered a death none of us could nor would want to imagine. He even forewarned that his followers would suffer likewise, because, “If they hate me, they will hate you as well,” he told his disciples.

As the disciples followed Jesus, he took a band of men with backgrounds as diverse and opposed as any could imagine. Along the way, he changed who they were and taught them a new way to believe. Their minds were opened to an understanding never heard before. Men that had never been able to read were now recording his teachings. As this metamorphosis took place, they became the future bearers of Christ. In so doing, their attention had to be laser-focused, and pinpoint sharp as any modern-day recording device. Yet, they lived in a world of parchment and crude writing implements. One might imagine at the end of a day, they would stop and recap what all had taken place.

Visualize this one day happened to be the day in which the woman, who had sought many physicians, and yet after 18 years, had never been healed. Then, when she had heard that Jesus was to come to her town, she did, like so many others, found her way to a place that might afford her a chance to speak to him, or if nothing else, just to see him pass by. As it happened, she reached out and touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, she was healed.

She had to reach out and touch him, just as we must ask Him to come into our lives. The opening comment about changing horses in mid-stream is a comment made about what happens once you have received Christ and are now ready to act upon whatever calling He has given you. Once you have been saved by grace, your life will change. To fully receive Him is to no longer seek the old ways, but rather, the new.

Yes, the woman touching his garment and being healed spoke volumes as to who Jesus actually was; God and man. As Jesus shared this with his disciples that evening, imagine now, if you will, that the multitude that had been gathered had more than once touched his garment. We are only familiar with the one story, but think of the comment at the end of the gospel of John, where he says, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” What if there had been numerous healings? What if after the first story, your hand is now starting to get numb. You can no longer keep up as he continues to tell you moment upon moment of people touching his garment that singular day and the testimonies behind each healing. How blown would your mind be at that point? Your head would be spinning as the untold amount of disbelief mixed with faith rattled around in your brain until your head felt as if it might explode.

There could be no distractions. There could be no turning back. You would literally have to hate your old life and be immersed in your walk with Christ to handle the brutal commitment to serve.

There was no lukewarm faith allowed.

You were either all in or nothing.

No retreat, no surrender.

Like each choice, both require an oath of servitude that cannot be stopped once it is started. To stop in the middle can not only be disastrous financially, but it can also be morally repugnant. How many times have you heard of a preacher or pastor quitting the ministry or falling from grace, and at the same time, felt your heart sink knowing that another soldier for Christ as fallen? Not only can it be a demeaning choice, to turn back, but it can affect others as well. Like those other little boats on the Sea of Galilee, all watched as the boat that Jesus was on was being tossed in the storm. What if Jesus’ boat had turned back? What if he never caused the raging seas to cease? How much less would the scriptures had been impacted?

As I already stated, my future is unclear. While one door closes, somewhere God is opening another door. Like that choice to start laying the foundation for the Spiritual Retreat, so is that foundation of the future being poured. While I cannot see the door, nor what path it is He has chosen, I can trust that like those funds that have found their way into our lives to continue the Retreat’s own construction; likewise, so will He provide for us in the future.

As many have asked, “Can I pray for you to find a job?”

“No,” is my response, “for J O B is a book in the Bible.”

Then I humbly reply, “Rather, please pray that God brings me to a door where I may serve Him fully.”

In the end, faith is not only the substance of things hoped for, but there is actual evidence in things unseen from which we can trust. These foundations of faith continue to build, one upon the other as we grow closer to Christ. We may have questions. We may have doubts. These are our natural tendencies. When we trust in Him, these quickly fade away as we remind ourselves of how those stories in the Bible, of blind faith being rewarded, have come true in our own lives. We may not have the funds to continue the path, but if it is the door through which God has chosen, in the end, we shall find that God will provide.

Never make a choice in faith-based upon what is seen, for if it is truly a God-given path, He will provide.

So remember, don’t change your horse in the middle of the stream, keep the faith.

Accept Christ into your life, and the journey will have just begun.

Thanks be to God.

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The Next Step…

Looking down, past the brown tops of my hiking boots, the abyss below opens up into a vast expanse of space. Blue-green vestiges spread beneath the view of their void occasionally obscured by clouds passing below. My feet are precariously placed upon a solitary outcropping of rock. From whence I stand, it is as if the whole world can be seen. The next step, if I were to choose, would be off into nothing; thin air, an empty void of obvious surface for which to step. Somewhere behind me, the faint voice of reason shouts, too far to hear clearly, for they have yet to catch me. I close my eyes and listen once more for the still small voice.

“I will never leave nor forsake you…”

He spoke to me as a father. Inside, the change was only known by my soul, as my own spirit had been infused with his Spirit. Outward, the metamorphosis had taken time but was still a work in progress. Yet, the call had been perfectly clear. The door had been opened, and it was now or never.

Eyes still shut, I step forward to where there was no place to step.

The shouts from behind are closer now, which turn to screams. There is no turning back once the foot has left the safety of the known, for once we leave it behind, there is no turning back.

They dropped their nets, never to return to those fishing boats. The father watched as his sons walked away from the family business, simply to follow a man that was merely a prophetic voice at that point, one that had suddenly come on the scene as a teacher of some new way of thinking. Gone, as if they had stepped off a cliff, never to be seen again. He tore at his clothes, wrenching in agony at their seeming abandonment of his life’s work. “How could they?” “What spell did this stranger cast upon his children?”

Again, standing at the abyss, my faith sustains me. There is no need to rush, no need to make haste, for to do so would only result in miscalculated belief. “Trust and Obey,” says the song, “for there is no other way.” As I stand and watch, the onrushing mist begins to part, ever so slightly. Through the fog, there appear distant edifices, dark and obscured, they are not yet visible. Their images undiscernible, but not mistaken for another. There is a firmness in what they represent; something solid and not imagined; real and not pretend. They cannot be touched from where I stand; but rather, can only be seen. To step to them before it is time would be fatal for the journey. Waiting, patiently, my heart drops as the clouds thicken and those distant images are once more obscured; gone before they could be imagined more clearly. Yet, the heart knows they are there. It is only a matter of time that once again, the clouds will part, and they will be visible once again; patience in the waiting.

The still small voice speaks, and we who believe listen.

Some might think them only pure coincidence, but to the believer, we know better. Each week, as the clouds continue to hide the pathway before my footsteps, there is that continued voice, speaking, whispering the prophetic words of things to come. Each new revelation begins to paint the blank canvas with what might be; where the Lord is leading. Again, the words, “Trust and Obey,” surface in one’s thoughts. Below your feet, there is no clear path, only the emptiness of

the unknown. Patiently you wait, not wanting to step before it is obviously the “time.” Each week, yet another revelation confirming the news from what was previously known. The past folds its story together, also confirming that this was not just chance, but obviously the work of the Master’s hand. Like the Red Sea coming back together after the Israelites had passed, crashing in upon itself with a thunderous roar, so too are doors behind slamming shut.

There is no turning back.

Onward you must press. Looking back only causes the heart to lament on things that were meant to be. Yes, it is difficult. Loved ones are some of those precious memories that you must leave. Their presence will no longer be in your immediate life, but rather, removed to a distant place where only the occasional visit may allow. Gone are all of those things in life you had worked so hard to achieve, all of those countless hours spent in toil for something that now seems to matter little. Yet, in truth, all the hard work and toil were the fire that forged the metal within.

Perspective begins to become your greatest gift, seeing what once led you astray, away from God. Now, with new eyes, you can see what once was hidden. Those moments, those dear precious seconds that you put aside for the sake of that “goal,” come into focus. The distant mountain comes back into view and once more, you can see it; a granite monolith, shrouded in greens and blues, standing firm where it had always existed, yet now knew to your own vision. The wind shifts and you can smell the earth, rock, and life that lives upon its surface. Suddenly you are struck with an awareness that shudders your body to the core; you have come alive; you who once were lost are now found; yea who once were dead, are now alive in the Spirit.

The cry of the nearby raptor echoes off the canyon walls below. The voice whispers once more, and another peak ahead appears. The late morning sun brings the entire scene before you now aglow with warmth, like God wrapping you in his bosom, comforting your soul. The energy of the moment flows from your head to your toes; the tingling unmistaken, like tiny pinpricks that make your body laugh with joy. Momentarily, there is no pain, nor weight of the world, no heartache, only unblemished joy.

In your heart, you smile for the coming days will soon reveal what He has prepared.

They had just left Jerusalem. It had been a heart wrenching, painful arduous Passover.

There was no turning back.

There had been so much hope, but in the end, so much tragedy. Yet, even now, as they walked toward the small village of Emmaus, they were confounded by the recent news of the empty tomb. “What could it mean,” they asked and speculated. So intense and sad was their discussion; they barely noticed the stranger joining them as they walked and talked.

And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?”-Luke 24:15-17

They were stopped in their tracks with disbelief. Cleopas, one of the two answered him saying, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?”

What things,” he replied?

They then went on to explain how Jesus, a prophet mighty in deed and word to God and all people, was brought to be put to death by the chief priests and rulers; to be crucified. Their eyes now brimming with tears as they spoke to the stranger, who had yet to be revealed to them.

“He was to be the redeemer for all Israel,” Cleopas said pulling at his garment.

The other continued when Cleopas could no longer speak, “It has now been three days since his burial, just today, and now this morning we hear the news that cannot be believed.”

Cleopas clearing his throat broke in, “Yes, certain women, also of our company made the most amazing discovery at the tomb, finding the stone had been rolled away and the grave was empty.”

The other broke in now, with an elevated voice of hope, “And they said that there was an angel told them that he was not here, but that he was alive!”

Jesus stood listening, finally nodding in response and said as he began walking toward Emmaus with them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”

The seven miles seemed like seconds when the two realized they were almost at their destination. The pair had been so enthralled by all their traveling companion had to tell them about the prophecies of old about Jesus, they forgot the time. The stranger felt as if he knew them. So reluctant were they to end their fellowship, and fearing that the stranger was traveling farther, they offered for him to remain with them for the night. It was often dangerous to travel after dark, and so being kind hosts, they made sure their new friend was to be protected. Jesus obliged, and minutes turned to hours once more. They soon found themselves seated at the table preparing to begin the evening meal. Giving their guest the honor of breaking the bread, they watched with gracious anticipation, not realizing what was about to happen.

As Jesus took the bread, broke it, and then handed it to the guests, their eyes were then opened…and he vanished.

Soon, the path will be made clear. Soon the direction you are to choose will be obvious; there will be no mistake. When you are handed that precious bread of the body of Christ, you will feel it touch your skin, you will see Him standing before you, and then, yes, then your eyes will be opened. Your heart will quicken, and eternity will flow through your veins as you become a child of God, born not of the blood, not of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

How often have we been seated with the very thing in life that has provided for us and given us the very essence of grace and neglected to realize it? How often have we taken what Christ did for us for granted? Have you been blind to the truth; God sent his only Son to earth, to become flesh and blood, to suffer and die for our sins? He then arose on the third day to sit at the right hand of the Father. He has prepared the path for you; awaken and take his hand and receive that precious bread of life.

Soon, yes, soon, the door will open, and the pathway will be waiting.

The next step is up to you.

The voice whispers once more, “I will never leave nor forsake you…”

Thanks be to God.

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An Affliction of Conviction

by Timothy W. Tron

The cold gray light of dawn had yet to reach the brink of my window sill. Somewhere over the mountain, the light had yet to reach this side of the morn. Like waves crashing upon the rocks of a distant shore, I could hear, but I could not hear. The words of the young man from the day before returned; thoughts of music and farming combining as one. As he spoke, my mind reflected on the scripture references: ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as we are one with the earth from whence, we came.

I placed my materials at the judge’s table well in advance of the start of the days Fiddler’s Convention. As I returned with a fresh cup of coffee, a young man settled into my left, he too being a judge for the morning’s event.

“William Ritter,” he said as we shook hands.

11th Annual Appalachian State Fiddler’s Convention

To his left, another judge began to sit down. They had known one another from other encounters and began to strike up a conversation of coming events, dances, and such. I casually listened as I watched folks of all ages filtering into the Lynnville Falls ballroom of the Plemmons Student Center at Appalachian State University where we were part of the 11th annual Fiddler’s Convention. Our morning was to start with the youth guitar competition. Voices filled the chamber as I serenely sipped the bitter brew. Eventually, the keywords struck my ear that seemed to be a bit at odds, “Heirloom seeds and music.”

“Did I hear you correctly,” my attention now turned fully to the bearded young man sitting next to me?

During the course of their conversation, I had come to understand that they had connections through Warren Wilson College, where sustainable agriculture was taught and practiced. William had mentioned speaking at one of the events they had been talking about on the subject of heirloom seeds, music, and their connection.

“Tell me more,” I asked, now fully vested in understanding his perspective; my own had already been retrieved and ready to compare. He shared how we too often take for granted those seeds that which are passed down from one generation to the next, and how much richer and sweeter those fruits and vegetables taste when compared to generic, run of the mill seeds purchased at your local farm supply store.

Nodding my head in agreement, I fully understood where he was going. He went on to say how old-time music is much the same, how society doesn’t appreciate the traditional music and how it is passed down from one generation to the next; it too having a much richer and sweeter disposition upon the soul than other forms of music.

“It is our affliction,” I said to him. He paused in reflection, thinking deeply about what I had said. You could tell he wanted to dig deeper, but before we could embark further, the emcee for our judging event called the program into order, and the participants began to perform, one after another. In our short, but rewarding time together, William and I found a common thread and bond.

Reflecting back to that moment, there had been so much more to convey that had sprung forth from that beginning. Like a seed being planted, those purposeful words of heirloom seeds and music, so too was our faith passed down from one generation to the next. Either one of which, that may be dropped, perpetuates a loss to the coming generations; their ancestral ties to the truth become endangered. Someone once said, “We are one generation away from apostasy.”

As surely as I awoke this morning, I knew in my heart that God had planted me next to William Ritter for a purpose yesterday. Inside of me, there was a renewed sense of being and what the Lord had called me to do. The words, “Afflicted to be Convicted,” came to mind. I sat up in bed, searching for pen and paper in the dark before the words left me.

My life had been one of working the land, while soothing music reconnected my spirit to God. A vision of the past began to take hold. In it, there stood a figure in the cold light of day, there were no shadows, only the gray, bleakness of late winter. The boy picked up a handful of the dark earth and crumbled the rich soil through his fingertips. As tiny remnants of dirt slipped through his hand, he pulled his fist close to his face and inhaled, smelling the deep aroma of rich humus. His mind drifted back to the garden just outside Grandma Tron’s tiny kitchen window.

It was early spring, and it was the dark of the moon. Easter was near. The family had been called in for the celebration of Good Friday. The cherry trees would soon be blossoming at the Roofless Church. Whenever the family gathered, they also came to work together. A Tron was not content to just sit; they had to keep busy. It was time for putting in the potato sets for the year’s garden, and Grandma had the troops fully deployed. Most of the blooms on the trees and bushes had yet to come forth; summer was still a distant thought, but we knew if Grandma had said it was time to plant, then it was time to plant. The dirt was cool to the touch as his hands dug one hole after another, placing the sets carefully so that the eyes were facing up. Behind him, a cousin was following, laying straw into the bed, covering the seedlings, as yet, another cousin followed the other, pulling the soil back over both, tucking them into bed for their eventual resurrection. Grandma worked alongside us, whistling old hymns in the sweetest refrains. We often tried to mimic her, but our lips could never sustain the sweetness to which she carried her melodies. One after another, their gentle refrains blessed our ears, calming our youthful spirits. It was back-breaking work, but the reward, spending time with grandma, and then to be rewarded with a fresh plate of her fried potatoes, was well worth any toil.

He looked at his dirt-stained hands, the soil blackened beneath his nails; the sense of accomplishment and family; a feeling he would not soon release. The unnamed melodies forever planted within his soul; the bond of earth and song were inseparable. The two were in his blood forever part of who he was.

God had created man from the earth, breathing life into his nostrils, so that he could have life. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”-Gen.2:7-8 After the sin, man was cursed to work the land, by sweat and toil; yet, again, it was who he was. “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”-Gen.3:17-19

God had intended for us to work the land from that point forward, but not only the land, our humanity as well. His only Son provided us with the path to eternal life through our salvation, but only such that we had been entrusted with the planting of those seeds of faith. Without them, the future generations would be lost to sin, and eternal death. It is our conviction of purpose to plant those seeds. Although we as sowers may never reap the harvest, it is up to us to carry on the Word of God unto the world, for these were Christ’s own words, “18 And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and on earth.19 Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Amen.”-Mat.28:18-20

Chatham County JAM Students performing on stage at Reno Sharpe’s Store, Chatham County, NC. May, 2010.

As my fingertips glide across the keys, music connects me to another realm whereby God speaks through me in spite of me. The connection is undeniable. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”-Col.3:16

Like that feeling of dark soil slipping through our fingertips, its smell reaching our senses, reminding us of our irrefutable connection to the earth, and God’s love. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Seeds of faith, the far-reaching ability to touch our hearts through music, and the ground upon which we trod; we are never far from the graces of God.

Long ago, the seeds of faith were planted in my soul. Grandma gently watered them with beautiful melodies of faith, which to this day, bring grace to my heart. We may pass from this life to the next one day, but until we do, we too shall break the ground and plant the seeds for those to come; lest they fall to the wayside and darkness prevail.

Preserve those heirloom seeds, music, and faith, if not for yourself, do it for those you love.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Let our affliction become our conviction in all that we do.

Thanks be to God.

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Lest We Forget…

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – 1 Thess. 5:18

There was a whisper in my ear this morning as I headed out for my weekly walk to church. “Pay attention to all that surrounds you,” said the still small voice. Fresh from pouring over the lesson plan for our Men’s Bible Study group at church, thankfulness was heavy upon my mind. Just days following Thanksgiving, the reminder of being so blessed with all that we have still rang true in my head.

The night’s crisp, chill was still blanketing the lower reaches of the hollers through which my path did trod. Crossing over the footbridge, the water beneath steamed when compared to the air above, making a mist rise before the trail. There was a surreal, gentleness beckoning. My eye was captured by the brightness of the carpet moss which blanketed the forest floor. Pausing to inhale the breathtaking beauty before me, the suns rays slid across the upper reaches of the mountain, finding their golden fingertips caressing the world in which I stood. Transfixed, my eyes followed the moss-laden tree nearby. My thoughts returned to being thankful for all that was and was to be.

From where I stood, the dark, foreboding tree glowed with an awakening of the dawn. The mist from the stream behind it rose meeting the sun’s rays, like a majestic dragon exhaling gusts of breath. Beyond, like soldiers standing arrayed in solitary posts, the remaining forest hid in the soft, gray air. Each one, coming to view as thine eye hath sought them, like the thanks that we often have to struggle to recall. The first is easy; the most recent, the greatest need met. Yet, then there are those that weren’t as significant; yet, they were obtainable. When we continue to look, more stoic images appear those nearly forgotten blessings; more answers to prayer, more promises that God had provided. In our simple minds, we are unable to keep pace with the graces we are so often provided. When we go to Him in prayer and give thanks, we may start easily, but when we really focus, like those hidden trees in the distance, they soon come into focus.

We’ve all heard the old cliché, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”

When we go to the Lord in prayer and give thanks, it’s often like that; standing in a forest. We start with those memories that are immediately before us; the imposing trunks that stand out. If we continue, we can remember another event or blessing to which we were awarded. Someone once said that if we truly knelt in prayer to give thanks, we might not rise again from our knees for days. It is with a devotion so tempered in gratitude to which we must seek each day.

Charles Spurgeon, the great evangelist, once said, “Thankfulness makes much of little.” When we stop to take note of our lives, like pausing deep in the woods in the early morn, we can begin to appreciate all that has been awarded us in our lives; even the most insignificant can be a hidden blessing to which we must give thanks. The depths of our graciousness should be no less than the path of righteousness upon which we trod. Through that dark wooded abode we travel, some only seeking the path before them, while others look beyond that which is before to that which is to come.

The prophet Nathan had a vision given to him by God, which he revealed to King David, “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.”

We should be reminded by Nathan’s revelation to David, that we must also give thanks to those things we are to come, not to just those that have already happened. When we go to Him in prayer, like the winding pathway of life, we cannot see all that is before. The twist and turns obscure the distance. When we fully trust in our Savior, we are promised that He will answer our prayers in time; not always our own, but always in His time. As such, as Nathan spoke to David, he was not only conveying to him the things that would be done by his son Solomon, but he was foretelling the prophecy of Jesus Christ. In essence, Nathan was assuring his King, that his prayers for a temple would be granted, but not in his time. As we learn later, the true temple, the one that which Christ indwelleth today, is no longer a building as David had wanted. The last physical Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Yet, the temple is still alive and well today, as we, those who have accepted Christ into their lives are now the new temple; if only you would accept Him into your life and believe, confessing to Him your sins, so that they may be forgiven.

Yes, it is only as simple as pausing within the morning mist of the sun-kissed mountains to hear and see all that we should give thanks to God.

If only we might listen, lest we forget; giving thanks to all that was and was to be.

Thanks be to God.

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What Could Be…

We’ve often heard or used the phrase, “Dead-end job.” Whereby, we are referring to an occupation that has no future; no room for growth or lateral movement. Stairs that lead to nowhere are a lot like that. A normal flight of stairs are meant to take us from one level of a building to the next. This past weekend, after cutting and placing stringers for the Spiritual Retreat in place, and then setting the treads down, I sat at the top of the newly erected staircase and looked out at the vast, empty space that awaited on the second floor. My thoughts reflected back to when I had harvested the trees on this very spot a year ago. The stringers from which the stairs are made came from one of those tall pines, some of which still stand tall nearby. That was just one step of many to get to this point. There have been buckets of sweat, copious amounts of blood, and many a restless night’s sleep due to pain between then and now. For the moment, there is no money for flooring for either the lower or upper levels. The wood that had been cut has mostly been used or will be used on other framing aspects. It does not bother me for I know that in time, He will provide. Therefore, my perch only afforded me a vantage point of “What Could Be.”

Sitting at a desk behind stacks of papers to grade or bent over working on the engine of a car as sweat pours into our eyes stinging our vision, we often find ourselves asking the question, “Is this all there is in life?” Or perhaps another, “Where can we go from here?” Likewise, our spiritual life can come to a similar crossroads. All our lives we have spent laboring to build a comfortable world around us; acquiring material wealth, pleasant homes, fancy cars, all to find in the end, we often need very little of all that we have spent a lifetime to amass. In time of solitude, we are often left in moments of recollection, finding that memories are probably the most cherished possession we own. When we look back, we cannot see where we are going. In reflection, we find ourselves sorrowed in that moment. To look back is to see only where we’ve been, not where we are headed, there is a sense of loss; a passing of time that we cannot recover.

Time; once it is gone, it is gone forever.

However, living in the past can only bring sorrow and regret. To turn around and face the future brings new life, a chance to start over for some. Yes, there is a place for which we all should strive to reach, an obtainable goal that was made possible to each of by the most precious sacrifice ever known to mankind: Jesus Christ. We cannot know the Father until we come to know the Son, Jesus. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.,” Jesus told his disciples (John 14:6). To gain the glories of heaven, we must first accept Christ into our lives; there is no other way.

Too often, we imagine that we have properly prepared for what is to come. You know the person I’m speaking of, the one who can tell you that they have spent their entire life going to church, they believe they have achieved salvation simply by being in the building, by going through all the rituals necessary; following the letter of the law. When asked further how they know they are going to heaven, you find the wheels begin to fall off their spiritual wagon. Just because you park your vehicle in the garage doesn’t mean it’s a car. Doing deeds or works to obtain heaven is not how we receive His amazing Grace. No, my friend, that is not salvation, that is religion. Religion cannot get you into Heaven, only by the Grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ can you be saved and obtain salvation from your sins. By the water and the Spirit, we are saved, and those who receive Him shall have eternal life.

In Genesis 11, mankind built a city and a tower known as Babel. The people were extremely proud of their accomplishment, so much so, that God came down to observe their amazing feat. What he found was that man had believed himself to become an equal with God. They had literally built what they believed was a stairway to heaven. God immediately realize the error of their ways, “and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Not only was this a false foundation of achievement, but it was also a structure dedicated to idolatrous worship. The offspring of Noah had once again, as the wicked before the flood, fallen away, taking up the worship of idols, even to the point of dedicating the massive building to a multitude of gods. The peak of the monument was capped with an altar dedicated to the god Bel-Merodach, along with all the signs of the Zodiac.

Many Man-Caves are places men often build in their homes or in outbuildings where they can escape from the world, or as some say, “Get away,” from the rest of the family. Here, they decorate the walls and surroundings with all manner of icons that make them feel happy or comfortable; neon beer signs, sports team logos, and many more images that portray that to which they have become a fan. To become a fan, one must follow a team or sports figure to the point you become “fanatical” about them, hence the term fan. If we look at it from the perspective of the tower of Babel, they have essentially erected their own altar to Bel-Merodach. In essence, their decorations become their worship to other gods as did those in Babel.

Thankfully, the focus of my building, even though someone recently asked if it were to become my Man-Cave, is not of things of this world; rather, it is “What is to come.” As I sat atop the stairs to nowhere, it was apparent that they were only the precursor to, “What will be.” From this point forward, one cannot say what is next other than I know in my heart that from here, my purpose is to serve Him in all that I do. Even in the construction, this mindset has enveloped my every action. Someone asked, “Did you build it all by yourself.” Other than my son and Leroy stopping by occasionally to give me a hand, for the most part, literally the answer would be yes. But in truth, all along, He has been here with me. Even now, as I sit in the twilight hours of day typing by the temporary lights hanging on nails, His Spirit is with me. So, no, truly I’ve never been alone.

The dead-end job for me ended five years ago when I chose to leave everything behind and step into the journey of serving the Lord. That was the first step on the stairway. Since then I have lifted many an often-weary foot upon the next tread. Each time, my view came from a high plane than before.

You must be careful when ascending the flight of stairs. One wrong step can send you tumbling to the bottom or worse, end up in serious harm. Just as physical injury can result from a fall; likewise, if our footsteps in faith are not grounded in the Word of God, we can find ourselves falling away, succumbing to the secular desires of the flesh. It is only with only one sure step at a time that we can advance safely. As my friend Jimmy Clark said today, “God will only give us so much insight, knowledge into the future at a time.” Those footsteps upon the stairwell are very much one in the same.

And you may ask, “Where would that insight, that knowledge come from?”

There is mainly one place that I can direct anyone to answer that question, and that is, “The Bible.” Yes, He may speak to us at times or give us visions, but most assuredly, the most definite place to find guidance from the Father is in the Word of God.

One word at a time.

One step at a time.

Let not your stairway lead to nowhere my friend.

Heaven awaits.

All you have to do is repent of your sins, confess with your mouth, and believe with your heart, and then simply ask, and ye shall receive.

Don’t hesitate.

Tomorrow is too late.

All I can do is share with you how. The rest is up to you and Jesus.

Don’t delay.

My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find Jesus if you have not already done so, and in the end, receive their salvation.

I love you, as the Father hath loved me.

Thanks be to God.

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Wisdom from a Tree…

There is a lot to be learned from a tree.

A long time ago, my fourth grade Art teacher, Mrs. Bradshaw, encouraged my choice of subject matter by saying, “Drawing people and trees have a lot in common.” She would go on to nurture my yet to blossom talent into something that, as of yet, may someday come to honor God more fully. But beyond that intended encouragement, her words would stay with me for decades to cross into other patterns of thought.

This past Sunday morning, as part of my weekly walking to church ritual, I stopped once again at the Collettsville General store to pause and take in God’s word. A gentle breeze blew across the picnic table before me, rustling the pages of the Bible, “Whispers of the Holy Spirit,” my mind mused. The unseen hand turned the thin paper until it landed upon a scripture in the gospel of Matthew. Glancing at the words before me, I read, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.”

No sooner had those lines entered my mind, to my left, the cries of a forlorn hawk echoed off the mountain walls. Turning to see from whence he called, my attention was drawn to a majestic old tree. In the upper reaches of that giant oak sat the raptor. He glanced in my direction as if to say, Good Morning,” Below him, my artistic mind began to trace the tree down to its curious, twisting trunk whereby was entwined about by a massive vine. Its strength is drawn partly from the earth, but ever more, it sucked the life from its host, the oak. Alone, the vine would have weighed more than several men could lift, yet the tree seemed unphased by its presence; healthy and vibrant were its limbs and branches.

How much greater would this tree have been had it not been encumbered by such a growth,” were the thoughts that rang in my head? “Or better yet, had this vine somehow created the curious twist and turns of that shape that lone it might have never known?”

Now two thoughts were churning about in my mind; the fruit of a tree and the trials of such a growth prohibiting what might be considered a normal existence for said tree.

All our lives, we toil and labor to obtain what is good and right. As we age, we find that what was once important no longer matters. When we come to Christ and are saved, we become a new person, and all that once was gold no longer glitters. We become changed, and with those changes, we can see how the fruits of those once labors of a lost being were misdirected. Now, with a new heart and soul, we can focus on producing fruit that is beneficial not only for our immediate family and friends but far beyond our horizons. We become that good tree of which Jesus spoke.

Yet, many suffer from ailments, both physical and mental, through which they must battle. Their lives are less than perfect. For some, the sin to which they are chained seems as if they may never break free. The vine of Satan’s grasp has them in its hold. They might walk each day in the world appearing to others as if they are quite normal, but beneath the surface, they are in utter turmoil. Their branches may appear healthy, strong, and abundant. Beneath the soil of their flesh, they fight to maintain their integrity. When they go home each night, it seems as if the world around them falls into greater chaos, an entropy if you will. The only fruit they produce only causes strife and ill will to others. With all their might, they strive to make things right, but alone, they cannot right the wrongs. “An evil tree cannot bear good fruit.” Some give up and end their struggles the only way they know how; by escape through alcohol or drugs, or worse, by taking their own life. That evil tree is cast into the fire, and with it, the life that once was is no longer. Sadly, many in our world face this dire ending.

But there is an answer. There is a cure for this darkness.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find: Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

Jesus Christ is the answer.

Like a lumberjack, he comes to our call when we ask, wielding a mighty chainsaw, cutting us free from our bonds of sin and strife. “The truth shall set you free,” says the scripture, and like the spinning teeth of the chainsaw blade, the Holy Spirit enters our soul, cutting to the very marrow of our existence, splitting us asunder from that corruption which once held us captive.

When we accept Christ into our lives, we are made a new person. That evil tree is cut down and cast into the fire, but unlike with those that are lost, in the place of this once evil tree, a new tree is planted, one that is good. From henceforth, it begins to grow, unencumbered by the clutches of Satan’s vines of addiction, it begins to flourish. The fruit grows ripe and sweet. The world around them can witness the change, and to them, this metamorphosis becomes a testimony in and of itself.

The breeze turned the page before me one last time. The conclusion became apparent. There before me, God spoke once again.

Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them.”

Jesus told us that it would be obvious to see those who had received Him by how their actions and labors would appear. The twist and turns of that ancient tree would become ever more glorious in that their story, their testimony, would produce a heavenly fruit; the sweet nectar of the Holy Spirit.

Although that massive oak makes a beautiful image with the vine that intertwines amongst its gentle limbs, how much greater might it be should a woodsman happen by with his chainsaw someday and cut it loose? As you go through your work week, watch and listen to those around you. They may appear the picture-perfect co-worker or friend, but don’t be afraid to wield your chainsaw, the Word of God, and be ready to set them free from the vines of this world.

In the end, they will thank you.

And in all we do, let us be thankful for his Holy Word.

Thanks be to God.

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” – Matthew 7:16-20

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God’s Scaffolding

 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.35 I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.” – Numbers 14:33-35

There I stood in the construction site of my Spiritual Retreat, looking up at the single 2×4 which was to support the ridge board, the peak of the building. Above, the canopy opened to the blue sky above. Around me lay the work of many days toil. The pinnacle of the job was about to be reached. An eagerness to push on no matter the consequence burned within; yet, something whispered in my ear to wait. In my younger years, I might have ignored that voice, but now, in these later years, I’ve learned to listen when He speaks.

Stepping back, I reluctantly looked from one end of the ridge board to the other; a mere fourteen feet. Yet, there was not another soul to help me on this day. There was no one that could lift the other end of the board to hold it in place while we sandwiched it between the two opposing rafters. Could there be some sort of makeshift rigging that would hold it? Could I manage to strap it to the overhanging suspension cable that I had used to lift the walls in place? All of these questions began to flood my thoughts as if something else were trying to drown out God’s reasoning. Before any decision could be made, I climbed back down to the ground floor and sat down to rest and ponder.

Another story from another time began to drift across my countenance.

Before the children of Israel would cross the Jordan into the promised land, they sent twelve spies across to survey and bring back a report, knowing that the promised land was already inhabited. Of the twelve that were sent, ten of them that returned told of peoples so massive in number and size that it would be impossible for them to defeat them. Two had a different story to tell, Caleb and Joshua. They shared the fruits of that promised land and the benefits God had waiting for them if they would only believe and have faith that He was with them. This only angered the people to the point they sought to stone those bearing the good news. God was provoked to the point that he wanted to kill them all, but Aaron and Moses pleaded with him, asking for mercy. In the end, they would be sent back into the wilderness to wander for forty years, one year for each day that they had searched the promised land.

They had been so close, but because of their unbelief in God’s power and ability to protect them, they were sent away where “in this wilderness, they shall be consumed.”  Had they listened to all that God had done for them, had they realized what they accomplished up to that point was all because of Him, they would have succeeded. Instead, they listened to their earthly hearts, spurning God and in the end, dying before reaching what was so close.

Looking at the sheer height of the peak of the Spiritual Retreat, a mere seventeen feet above the floor, I knew that to continue might be more than a simple structural failure; I could easily be seriously injured, or worse, killed. Thinking about what the story of the Israelites was telling me, it was obvious that I needed to regroup and think about what had got me this far. Preparation for reaching to the peak of the roof was necessary, and it was not just going to be a couple pieces of wood. No, the majority of the floor joists for the loft and second-floor storage would be required. Sweat ran down my face as I sat drinking another bottle of water, realizing that to succeed, the proper planning and groundwork would be necessary; otherwise, a failure that could be more than a few splintered pieces of lumber could result. I did not want to become one that would wander in the desert for another forty years, or similarly, find myself unable to continue because of a severe injury.

As I worked to begin building the necessary scaffolding, God began teaching me another lesson; one of how he is preparing me for the mission field.

Often, in our earnest to serve Him, once that light has been turned on in our hearts, we eagerly seek to find a mission with which to serve. Some rush to those places of need so dire that even a box of candy and an article of clothing bring people running toward you. Now, don’t get me wrong because all missions are serving God’s purpose in some way. It is the essence of what it means to serve as in the great commission that Jesus commanded that is and should be, at the heart of these journeys. Sadly, they (the feel-good missions I call them) are often misunderstood, and in many cases, ill-prepared participants are sent out into a place that they can little effect, nor change with a box of candy and an article of clothing. These organized church teams that travel to third world countries are bringing momentary hope, but once they leave and jump back onto their planes, returning to their upscale homes and lives, they leave behind utter despair and agony for those who met them with smiling faces and open arms. Their speaking of God’s plan and hope diminishes as their shadows fade into the horizon. To truly serve those lost people in places so ravished with hunger and disease, we must bring to them as Jesus did the woman at the well, the water that needs to bucket, the gift of life that springs forth from a source that will never run dry; Jesus Christ. We must be prepared to know the Word of God to the point we are capable of bringing others to Christ in our own community first, even before going to other lands as strangers to speak through interpreters.

We must prepare our scaffolding well so that we do not fail.

As I watch friends and fellow believers go out into the mission fields, I watch them as they grow and prepare. Men like Chance Walters, Tim Cunnup, Jeffrey Canada, Will Graham, Marty Jacumin, Ted Alexander, and many more, all learning and growing in Christ, each serving the world in their individual ministries. Each of them began at home in planning the groundwork for their mission fields. Each found a place to which they were called, and each leads a life of reaching toward returning. Each of these men and many more bring salvation and hope to a world in which there is often little.

As I painfully, and slowly lifted each scaffolding board into place, it was with great elation as I finally nailed the first pair of rafters in place a full day later. It was then that the culmination of the joy of serving Him this past summer had reached its zenith. The Spiritual Retreat will become the headquarters of my own mission. From this point forward, from this little building nestled in a holler in the woods, God will use me, his vessel, to reach those near and far away lands. And if it be His will, I hope to reach those lost souls that are seeking something beyond what they are capable of reaching on their own; the gift of salvation through God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

God has a plan for each of us. When we do his will, we serve a greater good than our own. My prayer is that for each of you to seek Him, to find Him, and when you do, that you listen to that still small voice, for it has much to say. Don’t sit still once he has opened your mind and heart to his understanding, but before ye go forth to share the good news, prepare for the journey. Yes, prepare and plan as if your life depended upon it; for those who you seek to reach, their eternal life will depend upon you.

Thanks be to God.

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Charity is Love

 “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”-1 Cor.12:28-31

Tonight, I had to just get out and walk, taking in the view from the mountaintop. Grandfather was already tucked in for a midsummer’s eve slumber as the distant clouds barely allowed the setting sun the opportunity to cast its last golden rays upon his brow. There was nary a breeze, as the tops of the foxtails barely moved. My own forehead was damp from perspiration; the climb was not easy. Leaning against my walking staff, it couldn’t go unnoticed the lacerations and scars on my arms from work done these past few weeks on the building I’m calling the spiritual retreat. The thought of how we all serve God in a multitude of capacities passed through my head like the approaching clouds.

We cannot all be apostles, prophets, or teachers. Some are called to serve with what ability they were given; for some that means laying blocks, digging footings, and working in construction. At the present time, these latter talents are working heavily upon my soul, for they not only challenge our mind but more so, our bodies. When we are unaccustomed to the hard labor of such work, we are presented with the daunting reality of not being physically able to handle what lies before. If we choose to accept that challenge and answer the calling, we then step into what becomes a metamorphosis of both body and soul.

Like we are asked to do so many times in Jesus teachings, we become changed when we die to our former selves. When the course is one so difficult that it becomes a labor of blood, sweat, and tears, we are changed even more quickly. That once tight belt has become so loose, that new holes to latch with are required. Before long, even those have become loose. Braces for pulled tendons slowly fall by the wayside. Scars replace the bloody bandages as new cuts and bruises make their mark. The body slowly becomes adapted as muscles grow, allowing the work to seem less cumbersome.

At the same time, as we walk in our faith, we likewise struggle to understand the scriptures to their full potential. We read and understandeth not, we hear and don’t listen; yet, with time something changes. Stumbling as we walk along our path of faith, we slowly find those perceptions and understandings beginning to grow like our bodies; each adapting until we become metamorphosed into a new being. What once was only lines in a book become the words to which enlighten our innermost being, our spirit within our soul. When we become one with Christ, we allow the Holy Spirit to indwell, and it is then that we begin our true sanctification.

But we mustn’t become ahead of ourselves.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”-1 Cor.13:1-7

As Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, he was addressing the nature that we are all one body of Christ, each with our own added gifts. We should not see ourselves as better than anyone else no matter what we are capable of doing. We should not get “puffed up,” as he put it. As in my case, it is more of the reverse, for seeing, and feeling, how difficult and arduous it is to work with block and stone, I have even more respect and admiration for those that do it for a livelihood, not that I didn’t before, for it is now a heightened awareness. Likewise, is my respect and awe for the list of others whom Paul addressed as the people of whom we should covet their gifts. But then alas, we come back to the warning of doing just that. Even though there are those who seem to be perfect in what they do, the most eloquent speakers, the most admirable leader, we should not seek that gift of which they possess; rather, there is something much more miraculous of which Paul was speaking; charity.

The Greek translation for charity is, “agape,” which also means love. In this case, it refers to a man’s love for other mankind. Knowing that the charity of which he speaks is actually love, the words, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,” then make more sense. For as Christ told us, the greatest commandment of all is to “love one another as I have loved thee.”

Yes, we should know that no matter how excellent we appear to the masses, there is nothing greater to achieve.  “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”-1 Cor.13:10-13

In the end, no matter what our calling, the words that ring most true to me are these, “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” with regard to God the Father. No matter if you are swinging a pick in a muddy ditch as a laborer, scraping grimy plates as a dishwasher, or changing diapers in a nursing home, we beareth all for the Lord. Some serve in their daily capacity knowingly, never asking for praise, but doing as they are called. In the end, we are still all one body of Christ.

Tomorrow morning, the body may feel every swing the hammer from today, but when we rise, we are granted another day, another chance to share the love of Jesus with someone else. Our wounds will heal. Our aches and pains will eventually subside. Cast off the feeling of doubt, shout out loud, “Satan get behind thee,” and boldly step out the door. Once more we fight our way back into the trenches, doing His will, working toward helping others to see the light and the charity of which we seek to share.

Faith, hope and love; and lastly, let us not forget charity.

Thanks be to God.

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To Know Christ is to Know the Truth

I’ve always thought that the most powerful weapon in the world was the bomb and that’s why I gave it to my people, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the most powerful weapon in the world is not the bomb but it’s the truth.” – Andrei Sakharov

Every day, we are confronted with a multitude of information that puts us at odds with our ability to focus on the word of God; the truth. This comes in one of two variations. First and probably the most obvious, are those of distractions which are in the form of outside influences. They can come from a variety of sources; devices, media, radio, podcasts, and etc. The other, and sometimes not as obvious are the things of this world, the very objects we use to serve Him become so tremendously immense in nature that they overpower our Spirit-led intentions. We become consumed by the weight of their responsibilities. Under the load of this forbearance we find ourselves struggling to keep God in our minds, let alone to hinder that departure from our hearts where we have placed Him; our last bastion of safety within; sheltered from all else.

In an effort to maintain our sanity, we must filter the cloud of noise; purging the false, or more popularly referred to as, “fake news,” from the truth. In my grandfather’s milk barn, there was the room where he kept the Separator, as it was known. In my mind, I can still picture the stainless-steel piece of equipment that stood about chest high. Grandpa Tron would pour in the whole milk, that which was straight from the cow, and it would spin the cream away from the milk, where it could then be collected and used to make the other by-products of the dairy; cheese, butter, and etc… It was obvious when the Separator was done. Unfortunately, cleansing the input into our mental pallet is not as easy.

In a documentary in the early 1990’s Bill Moyer, an ordained minister in 1954, and a reporter for CBS and NBC News, presented a vision of the future as part of a special documentary, “A World of Ideas,” whereby he predicted we would soon be living in the “Age of Information.” However prophetic his words were at that time, albeit too soon for what was really to come in 1990; we now live in that time. From the traditional nightly news to the other end of the spectrum where anyone with a keyboard and access to social media can output information, be it true or false, we face a world of a constant barrage of data. More and more, unlike in what now seems ancient times, there is little to no references given, no facts to back up said purported info. There are sound-bytes thrown like frisbees, tossed into the mix sometimes simply to cause a sensation; their aim is to go viral, another operative of many that dwell in this spectrum.

What say you then of what Christ would say to those Jews who were on the fence of becoming believers, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” -John 8:32

To know the truth is to be the truth. “If it were only that simple,” you might respond.

Winston Churchill, “Truth is the most valuable thing in the world, often it is protected by a bodyguard of lies.”

Today, we struggle to resolve fact from fiction, not only in the obvious manner in which we often think, but also what is relevant to our purpose in Christ.

Churches and denominations across the globe face an attack from a force not of this world, trying to sway their leaders and congregations into softening their stand for the truth. Giving into the world was not an option in the Apostle Paul’s time.  As he spoke to the church in Corinth, he was brutally honest when he told them, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”

Paul was making an ironic statement about the apostle’s sake. These words are something which could be taken totally out of context in today’s world and often are literally used against unknowing Christians, being misquoted to advance other ideologies. The lies once more surrounding the truth. Paul and the apostles were anything but fools in Christ although, they were despised and hated by the Jews of their time. They were always under attack of defamation of character and literal persecution. Yet, as they would leave a town, either after a miraculous healing or near-death torture, they would, as my new-found friend Jimmy Clark would say, “Rejoice in their labors of the Holy Spirit.” Jimmy had been part of a mission team to South Africa a few years back. There, they were scheduled to visit a prison where the mission team was to speak to some of the prisoners as part of their mission work. On their walk to the prison facility, Jimmy said he was overcome with a message that God had given to him; so much so, that he asked the others if he might be able to share his vision when they arrived, to which they agreed. He described walking back to the hotel from the prison after his sermon as it being one of the greatest feelings in his life, his rejoicing in the Spirit had begun.

Our path isn’t always lit with the best of lighting.

As we strive to walk down the pathway which we feel God hath set before us, we must feel like the psalmist when he wrote the words to the 23rd Psalm, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” No matter where you are in the world, no matter where you are in your walk of faith, if you have begun, you still encounter the world in which you live. Through this manner of perspective, we must give insight as to the physical and emotional challenges that being of the flesh entails.

Although your journey may be obvious, there will be at times where you will face avalanches of problems and trials. Nothing ever comes easy when you finally find yourself walking in faith. As one of my good friends and missionary Jeffrey Canada said to me once, “You know you are going in the right direction, with regard to faith, when you feel a that significant headwind in your face.” Just as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we are buffeted, and nothing is for certain. Sometimes it feels as if you can barely hang on, when another wave crashes over the bow of your ship, swamping you once more. Slowly, your grab on to the railing and pull yourself up. Taking a deep breathe you stand to your feet and take another step forward.

Do we give up?

Do we quit?

No, for we must not be vanquished. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”-2 Corinthians 4:6-10

He, Jesus Christ, is the way, the truth, the light.

Yet, in all the struggles and tests of our faith, we must not forget that once we come to know Him and truly serve, we can put our trust in Him. In this hope, for it is not a simply a mystery, we have a guarantee of life eternal, that of which we cannot begin to comprehend in our earthly realm of consciousness. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”-1 Corinthians 2:9

To know Christ is to know Truth.

Confess your sins to Him, seek Him, knock and the door shall be opened. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”-Romans 10:9

Finally, when we are left with little hope, when we have been knocked to our knees for what seems the last time, remember the words of Christ, shortly before leaving this earthly realm, when he spoke these words to his disciples, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

Know that through all we face, all the trials, persecutions and adversarial relations, there is one thing we can count on; the Word of God, for it, is the ultimatum of truths, and for this, we shall ever be thankful.

Thanks be to God.

 

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