There we were, standing looking back from where we had come. To us, it was merely a passage to the place – telephone poles, power lines crisscrossing the back street upon which we stood. From our immediate perspective the view was uninspiring. But while my traveling companion was still speaking to me, I couldn’t help notice the people walking toward us, the ones just arriving, were in awe of something majestic, something so wonderful that it made them weep. Some would stop and fall to the ground overcome by their emotion. Ignoring my friend, I turned to remind myself of what it was to which they were being drawn and overwhelmed. For in my heart, I already knew the answer.
“What is it,” the other said to me.
“Oh, I just wanted to see how it looks from here.”
“You know what it looks like,” he said, turning and looking with me now toward those distant peaks. Far beyond the bleak daily surroundings of mankind, those earthly dwellings and facades, there stood a majestic mountain range. Yet, it was no mountain range like any of this world, for it stood, even from this distance, to reach unimaginable heights. Far above, only a cloudless day like this one, it’s fervent peaks, capped in white, were glimmering in the sun, almost too brilliant to look at without shielding one’s eyes.
“See, it’s the same as when we left. It never changes.”
“True, so true my friend, for it is not “It” that changes, but us.”
“Ah, but of course,” the other said, nodding his head in agreement. For we both knew that time in that heavenly abode had already grown on us, making us a tiny bit less appreciative if we allowed our focus to wane. Being there, in His presence, it wasn’t so, but the minute you found yourself around some odd corner, such as now, we found ourselves alone with our own thoughts. It is then, away from the Father, that we give in to our former being, questioning what needn’t be asked.
Just a few hours earlier, while back on the mountain, I had met with some old friends that I knew before leaving for my new home. They were happy to see me and each wanted to share in what they had been doing and to what passion they now attended. One man in particular, the son of one of my friends, was eagerly sharing with me all that had changed or been improved upon. We stood upon weathered, greyed with age wood, something that was once part of an outdoor structure. It looked disheveled and fallen, yet this man, now much older than before my departure, was speaking about it as if it were some grandeur palace. Patiently, and without interjecting any disproval, I listened as we walked around the grounds.
Then, out of the blue, my old friend appeared. He seemed much younger than I remembered, even though he was still advanced in age. He was wearing traveling clothes and had on a large backpack, shoved full. On his head, he wore a wide brimmed versatile hat that looked like something and adventurer would wear.
“Where you off too dad,” said my self-imposed tour guide, obviously speaking to my old friend?
“Headed off across the pond,” he replied, pointing over his shoulder back toward the ever present mountain range.
“Well, have a good trip,” the son said.
“No worries.” At that, he turned and was gone. Immediately disappeared.
Waking from the dream, my thoughts were no longer with the many tasks and challenges that awaited. Rather, it was what all that the dream had entailed.
It was then the verse from John 14 came to mind, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”
We have much to share before our time is done. Reach out today before it is too late.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new;” – 2 Cor. 5:17
You know the feeling. We’ve all had them at one time or another. It had been one of those spiritual dry spells where it felt as if God was not listening to your prayers. Reading the word seemed difficult. Nothing seemed to be sinking in. It was as if there was a disconnect between Heaven and Earth. Searching for something, a sign, a voice, anything that would awaken the spirit within, my hand reached for the radio dial and tuned to a Christian music station. The gray morning landscape passed by the car windows – looming mountains shrouded in misty somberness slept peacefully.
The coffee had yet to sink in when something on the airwaves caught my ear, “I know there’s gonna be some brighter days,” the voice sang.
Within an instant, my thoughts turned toward today’s youth and how they faced a seemingly uphill battle. For some, they have yet to know brighter days. For the collegiate individual, their time has been spent since their youth in scholastic endeavors, some now in their early twenties, still seeking to find themselves in an ever-increasingly dark and bitter world. But, then, at the same time, in a parallel stream, my mind thought of the elderly and how they, if allowing themselves the pity of afterthought, began to dwell on what once was comparing it today, would likewise find themselves seeking brighter days ahead. It was then the comparative contrast of the two was born and how each should hear of the other and be reminded that they are not alone.
And the song continued, “I swear that love will find you in your pain. I feel it in me like the beating of life in my veins. I know there’s gonna be some brighter days.”
When we think about it, we find two vastly separate age groups with potentially similar dismal or enlightened trajectories, depending upon where they are in life. Two distinct paths for each, both similar and both different but for obvious reasons. In each thread, there exists a level of anxiety, or as the song reminds us, pain: the student and the elderly both fear the unknown, but the latter’s eminent destination is far more grave – death. No one can escape it. One’s fear is far less severe than the other, yet each is embraced with equal resolve, or at the very least, should be. Graduation from an institution of learning is a joyous occasion. Yet, we don’t always perceive the graduation to our Heavenly home as such. For some, without a hope of a greater tomorrow, their earthly existence is all there is. When it stops, so does their hope – therein lies the potential for one’s anxiousness. In each graduation, there can be joy, or there can be anxiety. In life, one can find this contrast often. Like most terrestrial encounters, the life experience is almost always an infinitesimal glimpse of what the heavenly experience will provide. In this vain, we continue the comparison and share how the detrimental aspects can be lessened or completely erased when one finds themselves in the preferred spiritual frame of mind.
The melody continued as the dark peaks slowly emerged from the shadows of darkness, “Oh, ashes fall from burning dreams. On, never lived through times like these. Oh, if you’re trying hard to breathe in the dark, In the dark. I know there’s gonna be some brighter days (yes, I do).“
Some say age is the great equalizer. Those dreams of fortune and fame fall like ashes from the burning flames of life. Reality begins to set in and childhood fantasies are replaced with the daily grind of existence. Before you know it, you’ve passed middle age and your body begins to falter. In our youth, we recover from ailments more quickly, but as most know, the more advanced in years you become, the slower those muscle strains dissipate – some become chronic, lasting a lifetime. My earthly father had almost all of his major joints replaced with man-made devices. Yet, even after all that, his pain persisted to the point he would say, “I know the day that I wake up, and there is no more pain is the day that I’ll know I’m dead.” His point was in heaven, there will be no more pain, no more sorrow. The body’s ability to regenerate often becomes the distraction to which many become victims. The soul’s health doesn’t seem as important when you feel immortal. But the day will come when all of that youth has passed away, and then, in those twilight years, some become painfully aware of the fallacy of their childish convictions. To make the point, imagine yourself in a stadium at a rock concert full of college-age students. A band is blasting wailing guitars through mountainous speakers, people are screaming, and you can barely hear your own voice. Meanwhile, your best friend is trying to tell you their most intimate life story. All you see are their lips moving and the roar of the crowd. Here and there, you catch a word, maybe recognizing the formation of the lips into something intelligible, but most of what is said is missed. When you leave, your friend feels like they have poured out their soul to you, but you feel little to nothing. There was just too much in the way. In that sense, many of us found religion in our youth precisely like those two in the concert. God was there for us. Maybe a youth minister spoke to us passionately, but we couldn’t hear them for the interference that surrounded our lives; the hormones raging, the chat texts blowing up, the fast times cruising the strip, or whatever led you astray – they all stood as an obstacle to knowing the Father.
In our youth, we don’t have the life experiences from which to draw. When we are young, the consequences of our actions are buffered by our body’s ability to recover from them if they are minor enough. Yet, in advanced age, those ailments become burdens. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those worldly pleasures are enhanced by our body’s youthfulness. Desires of the flesh are much more gratified by the hormone-induced will than that of the geriatric patient who barely has feeling in their extremities. One can’t help but to want to sin in our youth, while the elderly becomes numb to its sensation, allowing for the reception of the more spiritual aspect of life to become more significant. Here in this comparison, we can find how much more easily an elderly person might become a follower of Christ than a young person. Here too, we can see how much more unique and beautiful it is when we find a young person that is a faithful follower of Christ – because they have found, through God’s Grace, the ability to overcome those earthly temptations with the aid of the Holy Spirit. This is, of course, not meant to diminish the elderly believer’s faith. Likewise, some have lived in sin their entire lives, and to finally in old age, to realize that their whole lives were lived in darkness. Is this not just as monumental? Finding Christ in their later years is indeed as much a blessing as those young folks who find Him. Which brings us to this revelation: Regardless of age, salvation is priceless.
Either way, the act of regeneration of the body and soul is not easy at any age. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” There will always be struggles when one seeks to become a follower of Jesus. The graduate must learn to balance starting a new career while daily reminding themselves who they serve. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
Everything is a new frontier, a new challenge waiting to happen. Like those potential college graduates, the future has much to hold. Like the believer, the one who knows that when they pass from this life to the next, there will be an experience waiting that has no comparison. As a believer, the things of this world take on new meaning, new purpose. Again, these are only minute snapshots of our eternal home. We’ve read throughout the Bible the various prophecies of heaven and all that it holds, but in truth, no one on earth knows. Like those students with whom I recently asked about what their future would be like when compared to an elderly person, they could only see it from the bright side of youthful optimism. In essence, both are saying, as scripture tells us, “Death has no sting.” Christ defeated death on the cross so that we may have eternal life.
Physically, dying is hard. Even if the pain is removed, the eventual separation from our loved ones, that departure, is brutal. To some, the anxiety, whether from losing a loved one to the loved one going on to glory, is by far the greatest of all sufferings. In our own pain of loss, we often wish those that have died to come back, to return into our presence so that we can go on living as before. How selfish is that? C.S Lewis described wanting his beloved wife, Joy, to return from death like this. “What sort of a lover am I to think so much about my affliction and so much less about hers? Even the insane call, ‘Come back,’ is all for my own sake. I never even raised the question whether such a return, if it were possible, would be good for her. I want her back as an ingredient in the restoration of my past. Could I have wished her anything worse? Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn’t Lazarus the rawer deal?”
Herein lies the perspective from the opposite side of the coin. When one doesn’t have the gift of salvation, when all they know is only what this world has to offer, there is a genuine and foreboding sense of dread when facing the end. Whether it’s the end of the college career or the end of life alone, we often feel inadequate or helpless. Some mask their fears with an overabundance of optimism, only to cry themselves to sleep in the loneliness of a long dark night. Through the pandemic, we heard stories of depression and abandonment. Suicide rates skyrocketed as many who based their lives on the secular world’s existence became abandoned, castaways in their own homes. Even the believers who could not fellowship with others felt the pain of what it was to be like Christ on the cross when God seemed to abandon him. The separation from God is a fate worse than death. And so, we can find that without Him, we are nothing. There is no hope, no future, nothing beyond this life. Those who ignore the calls to join his flock, to become a believer, are like those students who quit and give up and find themselves forever regretting their decisions. While their choice to drop out of school is not for an eternity, and some do recover and have a successful life, their choices early in life affect the remainder of their earthly life. However, unlike a career choice, the spiritual decision has much graver consequences. The choice we make here in our short time on earth will impact our eternal life – damnation in hell or eternal bliss in heaven.
Finally, the song concluded as the sunrise broke through the clouds. As I parked my car, the morning’s glow reflected in the lake nearby. The words to the song matched the beauty of the scene before me, warming my heart with a feeling only God can provide. “I know there’s gonna be some brighter days, I swear that love will find you in your pain, I feel it in me like the beating of life in my veins. I know there’s gonna be a brighter day.“
In the end, no matter the age, God’s love is there for us. We only have to accept him into our lives, confess our sins, believe that he died, rose from the grave and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and we too can know Him.
Your salvation is up to you.
There is no age limit. Yes, there can always be a brighter day.
Thanks be to God!
 “Brighter Days” by Blessing Offor, https://youtu.be/I6lp1Oxb9L4
C.S. Lewis wrote about the holy spirit, “It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise, when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.”
But to those that receive it, “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.”
If we were to interpret the holy spirit as a sensation, then it would quickly dissipate. Jesus even explained the action like this, “And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” While some say this is speaking of the gospel’s truth, it can easily be seen how it also applies to the receiving of the holy spirit and, with it, the truth. For one cannot have one without the other.
Considering these scriptures and words from Lewis, thoughts, or rather, questions, began to form in my mind. How to encapsulate a testimony in so few words that it could be conveyed to a stranger passing on a twisty, root-covered mountain trail? From that momentary interaction, the planting of a tiny seed begins. How then can something more than a sensation, a feeling, be transferred in that split second of enternity?
Those are the questions that arose.
The struggle with these thoughts were fully born the other night when my wife and I went to our favorite local ice cream shop for a treat. As we sat on our favorite bench across from said eatery, watching humanity pass before us, a young man and his daughter walked by. The father was dressed in familiar bib overalls, something that is second nature to my heart in clothing. A pair of worn but serviceable bibs with a t-shirt underneath is probably as close to heaven’s robes that I will know on this side of glory. That was the first thing that caught my attention. The other was his intentional stare. It seemed that he noticed something about me that also drew him in. As he slowed to get a better look, our eyes locked, and it was then I realized I knew him from somewhere. My mind raced through the fog of mental cobwebs trying to place him. It was as if we were in a duel, seeking the past. Finally, the young father stopped walking. He had proceeded so far past our point of rest that he had to awkwardly turn his head to continue staring. Then, as if neither one of us could not take the not knowing anymore, he smiled and said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” With that, he turned to face us. The little girl with him turned around and came back toward us, wondering who her daddy had found in a town so far away from home that he knew.
“Sharpe’s Store,” I replied in question, “at the music?”
He grinned a little bigger and turned to face us. “That’s right. It’s been a couple Sundays since then.”
“Are you still playing music,” he questioned, still trying to put the pieces back together.
“Some, in fact, they have a jam up here on Saturday mornings that I go to sometimes.” A vague recollection of him playing banjo seemed to fit
My mind was trying to recover names or faces that he might know, but it was as if my head’s fuel tank had run dry, and nothing would come. He seemed to be doing the same when he brought up a couple names or instruments that they played. But nothing seemed to trigger the right neurons, and so we left it at that and started talking about what brought him to town. He was obviously there on vacation, so we went over the usual suspects of destinations. He was leaving to go back to Bonlee the next day. By this time, my mind was frantically trying to pause time. As I looked upon him, it was apparent that he hadn’t physically changed much at all. He was still slim and clean-shaven. His children, whom I didn’t know he had any, were now old enough to enjoy walking with their daddy down main street in Blowing Rock. While I was still trying to drink it all in, he said, as if to reinforce my look of doubt, “The last time I saw you, you said you were starting to write a book.”
That last statement sent my head reeling into dates so long ago that it seemed multiple rivers had flowed beneath my proverbial bridge. It was over twelve years ago that something like that might have been uttered from my lips.
So much had transpired. It was almost beyond comprehension to put into words how much had changed. In other words, it was impossible to tell him that he was looking at the new me. What he didn’t know, nor do most people in my life, was that the writing of that book changed my perspective on life and my walk with God. It placed upon my heart an urgency, an impetus of motivation born from those ancient ancestors that gave their lives to share the Gospels.
Seven years ago, it had become too much. There was a frustration level in my soul that couldn’t be quenched by serving God just part-time. It was time to take the step off the proverbial cliff and devote all of me to Him. It was an immersion that would take my family and I hundreds of miles away from the only home my children had ever known – our Chatham county farm. My instincts were drawn to the mountains, both physically and spiritually – to a higher calling, if you will. The first year was one that I felt would break us, both financially and emotionally. It was our Israelite forty years in the desert phase. We learned to do without and to suffer. But we learned something much greater through all of those trials – that we couldn’t do it alone. We needed God even more than ever before. But how could I convey this to Matthew, a person who had almost entirely been lost in my memory?
But there, in those precious few seconds, there wasn’t enough time to tell the whole of the story. There weren’t enough seconds to convey what God had done in not only my life but in the life of those around me. Suddenly, as if the breath of life were about to be removed from my chest, an urgency came upon me. If it weren’t for this chance encounter, this momentary pause in time, we would have never seen one another again. There was an instant of longing to want to find a way to spend time with him and his family, but he said they would be leaving on the morrow. There was no way to reach out to him technically because, like so many where he came from, they have spurned those so-called advances, and for many good reasons. It was a finality of a missed opportunity that stung the most. There was so much to show him and his family they would have missed.
But then, if we are true to our faith, isn’t this a feeling that should possess us every day?
The feeling that we sometimes only have a moment in passing a person on the trail, walking past someone on the street, or even meeting someone only briefly in our daily life, to reach out to them to share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sense that time would slip by before we could tell them how their salvation depends on the way, the truth, and the light of Christ descended on my heart mightily. This spirit of urgency began to drive me to seek wisdom and direction from the Word. And with it, a determination to seek out those who are lost, not by their own accord but through lack of hearing.
It was in this mindset of fleeting chance encounters that lingered when the sunrise beckoned, and it was time to go to the Bible Study on Tuesday morning. Dan, our teacher for the day, walked us through first Timothy, chapter four. He was enlightening as always, and for that, we were grateful. But the moment which is always desired, but rarely seen, happened after the meeting had concluded. My friend Richard and I had planned to go hiking and were about to head out after all the bustling of departures had ended. But in my heart, that lingering pause, that feeling that we should rush out just yet lest we miss something, seemed to loom over my earnestness to depart.
The chance encounter occurred when one of the elderly men, named Jim, came over to my table and began to share with me the enjoyment of reading that book Matthew had alluded to the night before, “Bridge to Heaven.” He started to ask questions, and as is usual, they brought back the flood of memories, emotions, and spiritual awakening that had transpired through its writing. As we talked, another friend of mine, Richard, joined us. It was just us three in the restaurant’s dining area at that point.
Jim began to open up about his own personal walk and how that very morning, his dear wife had shared with him her point in life when she came to Christ. She told him that he needed to know it because it was something often mentioned at funerals, how the believer came to know Jesus. Tears began to well up in his eyes as we could feel our own heartstrings being pulled.
As he continued to share, his own emotions began to flow down his cheeks. He then said he wasn’t sure if he had ever truly received Christ into his life. We both could hear the despair in his voice. Then, without warning, he continued. The tears of sorrow flowed from his eyes like rivers of relief as my friend, and I felt that moment open, like the clouds after the rainstorm parting and the sun breaking through.
“Do you want to come to Christ right now,” Richard asked.
“Then let’s do this,” and Richard began to pray over Jim, asking God to come into his life and give him the gift of eternal life through the salvation of his Son, Jesus Christ. When Richard was finished praying, he then, with head still bowed, said, “Jim,” as if to say, “take it away, you know what to do.”
With head bowed and heart in deep contrition, I was blessed beyond measure to hear our friend Jim pray to God, seeking his forgiveness, thanking him for his Son, and asking him to fully come into his life, once and for all. He battled through his flood of emotions so much that we began to embrace him through his change. The Holy Spirit began to flow, and that shaft of sunlight seemed to illuminate that little room until all three of our hearts would almost burst with joy. For a moment, time stood still, and the love of Jesus Christ filled us to overflowing.
Grace for grace became our measure.
As I sit here this morning, the day after, still reflecting on all that transpired in the past couple of days, it is with profound, heartfelt sincerity that I want to share how important it is that we seek those chance encounters. In those brief moments of time, we must find a way to stop time and speak into another’s life. Be always prepared to succinctly and as abundantly tell someone about the gospel of salvation, the story of Jesus Christ. And even more importantly, allow them time to come to Him in their own words.
Walking in a bleak and forsaken landscape, there seemed little to brighten the spirit within. It appeared the societal oppression had finally reached my soul. Alongside my pathway, the river ran a confluence of grayness, passing over rocks and eddies of congestion. Dark voids formed pools of contention. The sound of rushing water was the same as in the brilliant days of springtime, yet there were no blooms, no sunshine vistas – the world felt trapped in an eternal abyss of despair.
Daylight was quickly fading from the sky above. My thoughts turned to contemplate my return route and which way I should go. It was of little use to take the high ground since the sun was already nearly past the horizon. A blissful sunset was out of the question. Feeling a sudden urge, like a gentle nudge from on high, I decided to return home the way I had come, back through the darkness of the forest, a welcome cover to my demeanor. Turning around to retrace my steps, it was at that moment that the scene before me nearly took my breath away. The words from above suddenly filled my heart, “I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
There before me was a brilliant orange, fiery sunset in the backdrop of a forlorn winter sky. The glory of the LORD was above and reflected in the waters of the secretive Johns River below. Suddenly, that seemingly dead, distant landscape had come alive, a breathing, living being – a reflection of His almighty omnipotence. As the radiance of that fading image smiled across my face, a reminder of thankfulness began to warm my heart. The words of John’s testimony from Patmos echoed in my mind, “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
We face a new year, and for many, they do so with much heaviness in their hearts. There has been much death and darkness in our world. In a time when it seemed like we could finally leave a recent train-wreck of history behind us, there seems to be no end to the calamities through which we must traverse. Looking ahead, we may only see forests like the bones of the dead underneath dark, foreboding skies. Yet, if we turn around and look, even against an aghast bleak sky, there is still something for which we can be thankful – something that we must realize was Godly; a blazing sunset to remind us that God was and is still with us through it all.
The beginning of a new year is often a time to make resolutions, but maybe we should try something different this year. Perhaps, we should instead think about looking back to the blessings with which we have been bestowed, no matter how small.
Sometimes self-reflection is more rewarding than one might anticipate. We often get so lost in the struggle to make it to the next day we fail to realize what we have accomplished. Sometimes we are reminded of self-reflection in the oddest circumstances.
I was recently walking with a colleague on campus and discussing the state of things. The conversation turned toward recent advances in technology. He asked if I had heard about the latest telescope that was about to be sent into orbit, the James Webb telescope. He told me how it would be so powerful that it could see back through time to the beginnings of the universe. Researching his statement revealed this from NASA’s website, “The James Webb Space Telescope’s revolutionary technology will study every phase of cosmic history—from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe.”
When I hear about science trying to “look back in time” to find evidence of the “beginning” it somewhat irritates me. My frustration comes from the fact that many people who do not believe in God will do anything to try to prove that creation began with some miraculous spark of combustion out of nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying my colleague is or is not a believer – that is yet to be seen. But rather, the lengths to which governments will spend taxpayer monies to research the creation in the name of science are sometimes laughable. It was in this vein of thought that the first thing that blurted out of my mouth when my colleague mentioned this incredible scientific breakthrough was, “What if someone on earth is looking through the lens of the orbiting telescope and sees in the distance another eyeball looking back at them?”
“You mean like another being, like an alien looking at us?”
“Not quite.” My mind was thinking more of God, but at that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud.
“Or maybe you mean like us looking back in time at ourselves,” he said with a hint of mysticism in his voice, “Like through a wrinkle in time?”
“Perhaps,” I replied, but my thoughts had already begun to turn to how amused God must be at our incessant desire to disprove his existence by hoping to look back to the beginning of time. Under my breath, I mouthed the first lines of the gospel of John to ward off any more insolence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”
You see, by the sheer virtue of light, we were given life. Through humanity’s self-absorption, thinking that we can grow wiser than our creator, we can miss the mark. The answers to life, to from the beginning to the end, the alpha to the omega, are all handed to us by the one who we seek to find – God our creator.
Then my mind returned to the words of my colleague, “Us looking back at ourselves….”
It was then that the sunset on that dreary evening made sense. We didn’t need a state-of-the-art orbiting telescope to see it. We don’t need an international space agency to define the beginning of time to know who we are. The great Northern Irish mathematician, bioethicist, and Christian apologist, John Lennox writes, “To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power.”
When we seek what we cannot find, we lose our way. But when we seek Him, as the scriptures had said, if we knock, the door shall be opened. When we realize that all we need is merely for our asking, if only we ask, then the concept of realization of our existence begins to make sense. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
If you can find nothing else in this past year for which to give thanks, believe that there is at least one thing that was there all along. You may not have turned around and caught a glimpse of that setting sun, but then again, you had to turn from your ways before it could be seen. Once our time on earth is done, there won’t be any more opportunities to make restitution with God. Judgment day is at hand, and all will stand before the Lord. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”
Are you ready for eternity?
Seek not things of this world, but seek that which gives life eternal, the salvation that comes only from Jesus Christ.
“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6
The early supply chains in our country were once little more than ancient Native American paths turned into wagon roads. These became the trade routes where the frontiersman and trappers would traverse, hauling their precious cargo to divergent hubs or government forts. Those hunters and traders not only carried on commerce but provided the necessities to which the American family needed to survive. Today, like then, we rely on individuals that take hardship and danger into their daily lives as they continue the tradition of hauling goods and providing services across our country. This story shares a forgotten legacy of a past we cannot afford to forget. In the rush to deliver and provide, let us not forget the purpose behind what we do in this Holiday season. Christmas was not intended to be a time of hustle and bustle, but rather one to seek something greater than ourselves, the one true God – Jesus Christ.
Pause now for a moment and sip on a cup of your favorite hot beverage as you read the tale below. May your heart be blessed by the journey within.
The ominous clouds hung low over the mountains. To most, it was a warning, but to Arden, it was just another obstacle through which he must push. The dust from the Civil War had yet to settle. It was 1871, and there was still great poverty throughout the South. The roads which were little more than wagon ruts, were filled with weary travelers seeking a better place. At night, the bandits preyed upon the weak. It was a bleak time.
Arden was finally heading home after another grueling trip to livestock trading posts in North Carolina. There, he had taken some of his family’s Quarter horse colts to sell. The Carolina markets paid much more than those on the edge of the frontier, so it was worth the dangerous journey. Besides, Arden Edwards wasn’t just a horse trader; he was the last of a dying breed – a frontiersman.
The farther west he traveled after turning off the Trading Path route toward the mountains, the darker the sky became. Finally, it was as if the heavens couldn’t withhold their bounty any longer. The snow began fluttering down in large goose-down-sized flakes. It was beautiful and foreboding at the same time. A chill ran across the seasoned trapper’s spine. There were many miles to travel before he could rest. Nothing felt right about this. Storm clouds only meant that his arduous journey would become even more difficult. The rugged mountains slowly being blanketed by a cover of whiteness depicted an eerie peace. Arden’s horse Jeb blew breaths of clouds of labor before him as they climbed the Eastern Divide. All around them, the sound was washed from the air as a calm flowed over Arden’s soul. Something made him pause, looking out over the vastness of the earth, slowly turning white. It was as if he was seeing a place to which he had never known, a distant place beyond the clouds. “Will I ever know something greater than this,” he thought to himself as he gritted his teeth against the biting cold. Flashes of the war coursed through his mind, and he winced at the scenes. Angrily, he nudged his spurs against Jeb’s side, and they pressed onward.
Arden was originally from Orange County, not far from what we know today as Chapel-Hill. But now, his home was in a tiny village in the southern Illinois territory, out on the edge of the prairie. It would someday be known as the village of Maunie. After the war, he headed west like so many survivors. He had met a young woman and settled down near her family on the banks of the Wabash River. There, Arden fell in love with a pretty young maiden; her name was Nellie Jane. They married, and he found himself working horses with her family. Before long, her family chose Arden to take the yearlings east for the market. It was only natural, seeing as he had connections back east and was familiar with the open road. So, with trepidation, he headed off in hopes of returning as quickly as possible. But most importantly, his young bride was with child, so there was an even greater urgency to make it back before Christmas.
As horse and rider pushed through the deepening snow, he thought of his mission. His pouch was full of valuable payment for the stock he had sold. These funds would support his and his wife’s family for many months. Yet, Arden knew that carrying such a rich purse meant he was an even greater target. Bandits and thieves were an ever-present danger, but he was no greenhorn to the perils of traveling the Trading Path trail. At one time in his life, he had carried bundles of hides to Raleigh to trade in some of the more affluent markets in his fur trading days.
That was before the war, before Nellie. It was as if an eternity had passed.
Arden’s horse, Jeb, was a hearty breed from good Quarter Horse stock, one that could make such a journey. His gun, a Colt army model .45 caliber, a relic from the war, was snuggled against his side just inside his thick fur coat. It had served him well through many battles, and he knew how to use it if needed. He realized that if he could just make it through the mountains the most challenging part of the journey would behind him.
However, before Arden had cleared the deep passes of the Blueridge, the gentle flakes had become a howling blizzard. Undeterred, he pressed onward. The warrior fought against the cold and hunger, fearing that he might risk freezing or being robbed if he stopped for the night. So, with unprecedented determination, he fought against all of his instincts to stop. Fording across the French Broad, his feet froze to the stirrups, but still, he pushed onward. By the time he reached the Kentucky territory, his body had lost all feeling. The temperatures continued to plummet. Soon the blinding whiteness consumed man and horse.
Once more, the peace, an unearthly calm, passed over his being, one like never before.
There, only five miles from his new home, they found him and his horse, Jeb. They had fallen into a deep ravine. Arden was trapped beneath the weight of steed. His feet were still locked into the stirrups, still frozen in place. Jeb had died – frozen stiff. But buried beneath his horse, somehow barely breathing, Arden was still alive. They later surmised that the body heat of the dying horse sustained him long enough for them to find him. They took Arden home and nursed him back from the edge of death.
When he finally awoke from his ordeal, he was at last able to see his beloved Nellie once more – his journey complete. Arden was there when his son was born a week later. But, as happy as the story may sound, there was still a price to pay.
As was often the case in those days, because of the exposure, Arden came down with pneumonia. The rattle in his lungs that lingered after his son’s birth became a haunting reminder of his near-death experience. Soon, the cough became a fever that sucked the energy from his very being. Slowly, the hardened frontiersman found himself bedridden. Nellie and her family tried all they could to save him, but there was a distance in Arden’s eyes. He no longer had the fire within but instead seemed to be looking at a distant place beyond the walls of their meager cabin. Nellie sat on the edge of the bed, cradling their newborn son in one arm while reading scripture to Arden as he listened with eyes closed.
In her prayers, Nellie begged God to open her beloved’s eyes, to save his soul before it was too late. Time was not on their side.
The family all whispered the inevitable out of reach of Nellie’s hearing. Deep inside, everyone knew it wouldn’t be long.
But there, confined to his bed, Arden began to realize something that before had only been a distant notion. God had been with him all along. Through those dangerous trading trails, through all of the bloody battles, and even through the freezing blizzard He had been there. Arden had never stopped long enough to really seek Him. But now, as Nellie would read the Bible, he found himself yearning to know Christ more than ever before. From one struggle to the next, all through his life he had pushed his body, not thinking of the soul within. He had never slowed down long enough to think about eternity – not until now as he stood on the edge of life and faced it. Here, now in this time that God had allowed, he was given one more chance to realize what he had never sought but had been there all along for his taking.
Then one evening, before the sunset on the distant horizon, Arden knew he had finally found Jesus. Like the last rays of daylight, his life almost gone; he had found Him before the darkness came. The scene from his recent journey returned to his mind. There standing on the precipice in the mountains, he looked out upon vastness of creation. There before him were no more storms, nor more scenes of horrific battles, but a sea of gentle calmness. Arden’s mind could finally see the world with eyes made new, and he silently whispered to himself, “There was much more to this life.” In Christ’s arms, he could now rest, knowing that his family would be in God’s hands, not his.
Arden continued to fight the sickness in his lungs, but his life had become like water, slipping through his fingers. With each passing day, he faded away a little further. Nellie could see him struggling with each breath, and her heart panged to watch him suffer, but there was nothing left to do – nothing but to pray for comfort. Then one night, as the full moon crossed over the river, like a spirit coming to beckon him home, he passed away, lying in the arms of his beloved Nellie Jane.
Arden’s journey was finally complete.
They buried Arden Thomas Edwards on Christmas Eve, in the year of our Lord, 1871.
As the last hymn was sung at the graveside, the snow began to fall once more. There in the anguish of death, Nellie felt a warmth, like a comforting arm wrapping around her. The snowflakes fell onto her eyelashes as her tears melted them into the heartache within. Before her, the casket was soon covered with a blanket of white, as if God had come to tuck Arden into bed for his final rest. Yet, she knew he was long departed of this world, and for a moment, realized that she was not alone. Arden was with the Lord, and the Lord was with her.
As the entourage of mourning departed, the snowflakes continued to fall, and silently, as tender as a feather upon the cheek, all the sound was once more washed from the world – and there was peace on earth.
Whatever obstacles you face this Christmas, don’t let them hinder you from seeking the most important thing in this life – God. For without him, we strive for all the wrong things. As Arden found, he had lived his life only trying to make ends meet. It wasn’t until he was forced to face eternity that he realized there had always been so much more, if only he had just taken time to notice.
In all things, no matter what gifts you did or did not receive this Christmas, realize that the gift of life in eternity with God is the most precious gift of all.
Thanks be to God.
This tale was based on a true story, one taken from my maternal family ancestry. While the dates and names were slightly altered, the account of Arden dying after returning from North Carolina to trade horses was true.
As my footsteps made their way up the side of the mountain, one could feel the coolness of the night slowly overtaking the day. It had been another unusually pleasant spring-like day in December. The last rays of the setting sun were up ahead. The heartbeat in my chest, the labored breathing, all signs that it had been a while since last making such an ascension. The trail upward was already in the shadows of the setting sun. But up ahead, like a beacon, the light of life called. As I climbed, the old song, “Great High Mountain,” began to play in my head,
Once I stood at the foot of a great high mountain That I wanted so much to climb And on top of this mountain was a beautiful fountain That flows with the water of life
I fell down on my knees at the foot of this mountain I cried, “O Lord, what must I do? I want to climb this mountain, I want to drink from this fountain That flows so clear in my view”
Then I heard a sweet voice from the top of this mountain Saying, “Child put your hand in mine” I started climbing slowly, “Watch your steps at the edges And take one step at a time”
I started climbing upward taking one step at a time The higher I got the harder I climbed
Watch the edges, for there will be danger at every turn. Every decision in life has lasting consequences.
The higher we get to the end of that mountain, the harder it seems to climb. But the water we should be seeking comes from only one source. Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
“Then I heard a sweet voice from the top of this mountain saying, ‘Child put your hand in mine.’” The closer my journey came to the summit, the more the words to the song became real. Giving your life over to Christ is like a child putting their hand into that of their parent, the one that would be there to protect and care for them for the rest of their life. Yet, this was the voice of God, beckoning his child home.
As we pass through this world, we must remind ourselves that we are only here for a moment. The Hebrew writer would say that we are like the “hevel,” a vapor in time. The shadows of the forest pass by, or is it I passing them? To some, hiking up a mountain would seem more strenuous than necessary. “Why not find a flat walkway,” they might ask? But nothing worth having is without a struggle to achieve – so it is in life.
As the Apostle Paul wrote of the importance to face trials to achieve the summit of that high mountain, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
Footsteps push onward, Breath more labored than before. Chasing sunbeams as they slowly depart before me. Then, finally, at the peak, there is the sweet reward. Sunshine fills the trail before me as the last parting rays of the December sky slide below the horizon. “I’m nearing the top and you ought to see the view.”
Pausing for the moment. There is time to think.
The past few days had been a blur. From the preparations for Christmas, the Church events, the school presentations, the logistical nightmares, and the planning of meals, it all encompassed more than one would accept if given the openness of mind. Yet, we do them and then wonder why the end of the year becomes such a time of stress. It is now, here standing on this mountain top, that one can fully appreciate what was the real meaning behind it all. Stopping, allowing my lungs to catch their breath, the mind is cleared of all the turmoil.
The day’s headlines are swept away as the passing clouds.
There is a certain calmness up here as the distant rapids from the river below echo up the canyon. The pain from the loss of loved ones is washed away, soothed beneath God’s loving hands, making it known that we shall join them in His presence some day. There is so much more to this life than we, mankind, have tried to foment. It is in these moments of solitude with our maker that we can come to appreciate what we have and where we are in the journey, giving thanks to God.
We can reach the end, that final destination, and cherish the view, or we can be of the lot that only has regrets. “Oh the water flows freely, there’s enough to make you free.” When we drink freely from that fountain of life, we know that that final mountain top is only the beginning of the next life – life eternal.
“So, friend, if you’re thirsty climb this mountain with me.”
Yes, the view is so sweet to see. Come climb this mountain with me.
Thanks be to God.
 Written by Ralph Stanley, Great High Mountain, – version from Jack White – Cold Mountain Soundtrack
From C.S. Lewis, From A Grief Observed, “But she was near death; near enough to make a good shot. She used to quote ‘Alone into the Alone.’ She said it felt like that. And how immensely improbable that it should be otherwise! Time and space and body were the very things that brought us together; the telephone wires by which we communicated. Cut one off, or cut both off simultaneously. Either way, mustn’t the conversation stop?”
Howbeit, that once this mortal body was obtained, through the spark of life, it was only a matter of time until the consciousness of being awakened. We, being created from other beings who likewise were created from God’s design, through the conception of copulation, we continue his plan. Further on, as the mind developed fully, or even before, there was a sense of being part of a creation beyond one’s self. This adoption of the soul into the greater being of God became realized fully later in adulthood. All the while, we were in the palm of his hand without realizing it. It is in this time, space, and body, as Lewis put it, that we then learn to communicate with God.
This morning, although the sense of others around me finding themselves overwhelmed seems to be more apparent this week than ever before, I feel a deep sense of calm and comfort. For it is God that provideth this peace, not as the world knows peace, but tranquility beyond all comprehension. As the waves of life’s tumult swirl in what may seem chaotic despair, God wants me to be the rock upon which they may crash. Seeing how the Master works through me, their spirits can be comforted using my reactions to life’s challenges to perpetuate his will.
As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “Who shall separate us from thelove of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
The older I get, the more I can realize how God uses us. Handing over the reigns to his control is never easy, but with time, those of us who have given him complete control begin to understand how things work in this mindset of circumvented power.
I was reading Francis Chan’s “Letters to the Church” last night, and a statement he made really struck a chord with me. “True compassion takes into account far more than what a person feels today; it takes into account what he or she will feel on judgment day!” He was making the point that we allow our acceptance of sin, of how people feel today, to influence our witnessing. When we weaken the message, we weaken God’s ability to reach them fully. Their salvation depends on receiving the true Word of God without filter, without alteration.
Think of this message as a lifeline, a rope used to save a person from drowning. If we manipulated that line in any fashion, say to make it lighter and not so heavy to carry about, and we replaced it with a less sturdy material, its strength becomes compromised. On that fateful day, when the plea for help comes from those dark waters, the new rope is then thrown to save that frantic being. When they go to grab onto the weaker rope to be pulled to safety, it breaks. That soul that we meant to save is now lost and drowns dying a needless death. When we water down the message, we predispose our lifeline to be less than what it is meant to be. Those very fibers we intend to use to pull the victim from the clutches of eternal death are those which the Master’s hand had created long before our existence. How is it then that we feel obligated to alter them, sugar coat them so that they would be more readily accepted, when in fact, we are altering their eternal purpose?
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he said of this very thing, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Simon Peter answered Jesus when asked if he too would go away like those disciples that turned back and walked no more with Jesus when he said, “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
We cannot change God’s word, His purpose, or His meaning least we doom the very people he meant for us to reach so that His grace may abound.
When the waves of life begin to flood the boats of those around you, reach out and comfort them with the same comfort which Christ has given unto you. “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” Each of us was created for a time, space, and body. Let us use the time we have left wisely.
Your mission field is just all around you. Open your eyes and see that the fields are indeed white, ready to harvest. Gather the fruit of them into life eternal, and know that you are finally doing God’s work.
Standing in line this morning waiting to prepay for the limited gas at the pump, I listened to those around me talk or shuffled their feet in silence. The sign on the gas pump read, “$20 limit Pre Pay Inside.” Quietly listening to those voices around me, my thoughts turned to how this moment may have been prepared in advance – the unlikeliness of being in the presence of others that normally would not be possible yielding the opportunity to witness. Yet, still finding myself waking up, there I stood in calm repose, not saying a word. It was enough just to watch the lone cashier hurriedly ringing up each person, as most had come in for the same reason. It would have been easy to have been upset that we had been required to come inside to pay before pumping. In fact, the whole issue of why this had happened could lead to a myriad of political to social topics that would only inflame and agitate the parties in close proximity to the discussion. As human nature had advanced itself to the degree of manifestation of greed upon self-preservation, many had begun hoarding gas. The viral videos of people pumping gas into Walmart and trash bags were nearly incredulous. Had people lost their minds? Instead of focusing on the disparaging images of a society gone mad, my thoughts purposed toward how this moment could be used to share God’s love in a world that seems to spin out of control more each day.
When it was my time to pay, I told the attendant which pump, and then she said only, “Okay, now it’s ready,” meaning the card reader had been ready to receive my $20. “Have a blessed day,” I said after the transaction was complete. She quickly replied, “Thank you.” And that was all…
Was the opportunity to witness to others verbally wasted?
Did my sparse, if nonexistent words make a difference in anyone’s day?
Scripture tells us in James, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” It is not always necessary to speak a volume of words to reach those around you. Sometimes, as the saying goes, “simplicity is elegance.” Likewise, as Paul wrote in his letter to Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.”
Sometime later, as my car rounded the bend on 321 heading into Blowing Rock, the sky was ablaze with a brilliant red-orange sunrise. The light from the weekend campfire at the Denton Bluegrass festival splayed into my thoughts. There, the scripture from Colossians had first hit me. Although my brothers and I were there to enjoy the music, there was another purpose we served as we walked among so many that were lost. As the same sun hit the horizon, the view from the campsite was no less breathtaking. The morning rays poured over the Word of God that lay before me, and it was as if the voice of God spoke. From the chill of the air, the warmth of the words poured over my heart and warmed me within.
Too often, we feel that the mission field is in some far-off land, not there is anything wrong with missions or those who serve in them abroad. We overlook that very thing before us – that need of our family, neighbors, and friends. While enjoying the music and fun of this past week’s festival, it quickly became apparent that there were many, even friends of mine, that were not fully vested. One must promptly remind those reading this, that I do not put myself above others, nor do I consider myself more righteous than any, for there is no not one righteous, no not one. Yet, as we desire to become more Christ-like in our daily walk, it quickly becomes apparent the differences in who we have become versus those around us.
We need not be great orators to reach those with whom we seek to help. Our actions often speak louder than words. From the choice of our attire to the music we listen to or play on, our instruments represent the walk we profess to tread.
As we return to our daily lives, let us be mindful that there are many, too many, who are lost and need a beacon of hope and light. A simple kind word summonsed from a pure heart is far greater than an enlightened speech from the loftiest podium. Let us then share God’s love in all that we do and be ever grateful when we say, “Thanks be to God.”
“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” – Col. 4:5-6
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” – 1 Peter 3:15
My journey to church this morning revealed the beauty of God’s creation in the flowers of spring. There is the reminder even in the third week of May that winter’s grasp is not gone. It is Blackberry Winter now in the mountains of North Carolina. Here and there, depending on your elevation, you can find pockets of white blanketing the landscape. Unlike the frozen precipitation, these are the tiny white flowers of the indigenous wild blackberries. They not only symbolize that in roughly two months, there will be the ripe, delectable berries for which they are named, but it also symbolizes that the last cold spell is upon us. To many folks, the temperatures drop far below what is considered normal during this time of year. While there have been many summer-like days with temperatures nearing the 80’s, during Blackberry Winter, there can even be a late frost with nighttime temperatures dropping near freezing or below.
While this seemingly unseasonable weather is not uncommon, it is still a shock to our senses. We quickly grow accustomed to the more leisurely days of warmth and look forward to the summertime, where living out-of-doors is more pleasant.
Why is it we so promptly become complacent in our lives and take the path of least resistance?
One could surmise that is simply our nature. We perceive the world around us through our senses, our natural instincts. When we rely on these alone, we are nothing more than the beasts of the field. Yet, God made us distinctly different from the wild animals of the forests and the beasts of the field. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Although we are of the earth, we have been given the ability to choose to serve a higher power – Yahweh. But too often, we get caught up in the worries and struggles of living from day to day and forget, if we knew at all, what our purpose is in life. Some never realize this or awaken to know God but live from birth to death in a valley of life where a shadow of death overshadows all that they do. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
It was in this vein of thought this past week that the scene of Jesus walking on the sea stood out.
First, in the Gospel of John, “And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”
From the Gospel of Matthew, “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”
Now, there is much to unwrap in these few lines of scripture. But if we focus on the idea of how the natural man perceives the world around him, and from this, either believes or rejects the supernatural, then we can find a greater meaning in this miracle. We see not only that Jesus walked on water, but that he called one out of the boat to do likewise. Yet, immersed in the surrounding passages are concepts that apply to us today.
“The disciples went down to the sea and entered into the ship. It was dark and Jesus had not come with them.” The ship was their comfort zone. Several of his disciples had been fishermen. Their familiarity with the Sea of Galilee would have made this travel almost routine. Like so many things in our lives, we stick with what is familiar. Going outside of our box is uncomfortable, yet Jesus told his disciples at the end of the gospel of Matthew to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..” He wanted them to leave everything behind, going to the ends of the earth if necessary. But before they were prepared to embark on such a journey, they had to be shown that they were capable. When we sit in our institutional churches and hear the weekly sermon, too often when we walk out the doors to go to lunch, we leave it behind. We put our faith right next to the Bible on the shelf, where it waits until the following Sunday – if at all.
Then there is the point that Jesus did not go with them, “It was dark, and Jesus had not come with them.” As with Philip, when he said that “This he said to prove him knowing himself what he would do,” it is probably safe to say that Jesus knew in advance that he would purposely surprise his disciples. Yet, he didn’t just show up walking on the sea in the dark. It was far worse than that, for, “The sea arose by reason of a great wind which blew.” In the last scene of episode 4 of Season 2 of the series “The Chosen,” Peter makes a comment regarding the healing of the man by the pool on the Sabbath when Jesus could have easily waited, and Jesus replies, “Sometimes you gotta stir up the water.”
The disciples knowingly went out on the Sea of Galilee at night. Was this by choice, or was this planned? The winds often pick up on large bodies of water during the day, so the night crossing would have been safer and easier under normal circumstances. But these were anything but normal circumstances. Remember their comfort zone – the boat? Knowing that these seasoned sailors would haven’t been bothered by the night crossing, I like to think that Jesus did a little stirring up of the water that night. When we are shoved out of our comfort zone, it is then we realize we need Him most. So it was, that dark stormy night, after they had rowed 25 or 30 furlongs, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing nigh unto their boat, and they were afraid. Yes, grown men, hardened sailors were now scared, so much so that Christ had to call to them, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Now, the Gospel of Matthew next tells of how Peter, possibly not believing that it was really Jesus, calls out to the Spirit, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” We must wonder if it was Peter’s disbelief or was it the fact that he was emboldened by the miracle that he called out to Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus answers and simply says, “Come.” Peter then, fully vested in his belief, gets out of the boat.
Friends, this is the moment that we should all gasp!
For this is the exact parallel to our lives today. We have been asked to go to all nations, making disciples for Christ, yet, we cannot leave the church walls before we are swept back into the boat. We fail to even dare step out of our comfort zone for fear of drowning. Yes, it is a leap of faith. Yes, it is daring and will require more of your dedication and commitment than ever before, but think for a moment of those first few steps that Peter took.
For a few brief seconds, a man was walking on the substance that sustains life. It was not frozen; it was swashing all around; the sea was boisterous, scary, and dark. Yet, Peter stood on the water as if it were solid ground, as did the Son of God! For those brief seconds, Peter was able to walk again where Yahweh stood. When we step out in faith, the impossible becomes possible. When we put God at the center of our lives, we are no longer a slave to the sins of this world. We are set free.
Leaving the confines of our comfort level will never be easy. We cannot expect to succeed at every step. In fact, we will be forced to rely on Yahweh all the more. The next few steps that Peter took revealed how quickly we lose focus. For in that brief instance of time, as he stood on water, Peter quickly realized the tumultuous seas around him and began to sink. As John the Baptist told his disciples, “He must increase that I may decrease.” And so it is with us. The more we give up, the more we rely on Him to provide for us.
Lastly, we see Peter returning to the ship with Jesus. As the Gospel of John tells it, “They willingly received him into the ship.” Soaking wet, having nearly drowned, Peter is now humiliated but relieved to be back into the confines of the vessel. However, he is not alone, for Jesus is with them all. As we picture that dark night on the sea of Galilee, those men once more were shown how the impossible becomes possible when we give it all to God.
But there is one last thought to this story, one final twist – Christ got into the boat.
“So, what is your point,” you ask?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Getting into the boat, Jesus entered into their world. He didn’t have to ride in a boat, yet, as God coming to earth in the form of a man, Christ got into the boat so that he could prove he too was the Son of Man.
When the weather turns cold after we’ve become accustomed to the warm, beautiful cloudless days of sunshine, let us not grow bitter, for the landscape becomes white of blooms of the Blackberry Winter. Let not your world be troubled by the change, but embrace it and seek to go beyond what is comfortable.
Take that step out in faith and watch what impossible becomes possible.
And remember, the first step might be the scariest, but it will always be remembered as the best.
The time passes one plank after another. The labor of love seems to never end, but then in the latter’s sense, it is not labor, for the work toward the Lord is a passion to which the heart gives in wholly; unabated. One must pause and look upon what has been done to fulfill the blessing within.
Shadows were glancing through the barren limbs of the forest, chasing the sun that barely rises above the horizon. The warmth of the fire reminded us that to remove the chills upon one’s back, you must subsequently afford that portion toward the flame. As one finds a void in their spirit, they too must find from whence its vacancy can be refilled, warmed anew as by the hearth. From the depths of God’s word, those empty voids can be rejuvenated – filling the soul so that the spirit may become refreshed.
This morning, the taste of manna from heaven ever more sweeten the taste upon my soul as my eyes read through familiar texts. Like an old friend, they reach out to me and speak to me in a calming voice. Their refrain falls upon my ears like the warmth of that welcoming woodstove or the taste of that slice of fresh bread from the oven. Each, although soothing the shortcomings of the fleshly needs of this world, bemoan the spirit within. Finding God in these moments, sensing his presence through those temporal moments, can relay us into the eternal glimpses that await in our next life, should we choose in this life wisely.
Being alone, the majority of the time while working on the Spiritual Retreat has become the norm. Yesterday, however, was different. My son joined me, and we worked together – something that was not too common. Like my own solitude, our duo worked without interruption from the outside. As if we were on our own island, we toiled together regardless of what the world was mesmerizing over at the moment. There in our little neck of the Blueridge mountains, we had no Covid, there were no threats of lockdown, there was no endless noise of fear-mongering from the media, there were just us two, working in unison as God allowed. Outdoor, the creek gurgled underneath a golden sky.
For all its worth, we were none the worse for wear. Well, mostly.
There were still drawbacks that could not be avoided.
My physical body has more than once found its limitations. Pushing through the pain is one thing, but when one’s back becomes so weary that it is difficult to stand, let alone function, something has to give. You either stop and wait to recover or find a way to struggle onward. Nearly always, the answer is the latter.
Multiple times the pain had to be subdued with ibuprofen in order to push onward – the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Although there are the earthly inhibiting factors, the beauty to which the work has revealed is a testimony unto our Savior. It is through us that his hands worketh. No task has not been managed that God has not provided – albeit in strength, knowledge, or skill. All have been a confirmation of what the LORD can do through us in spite of ourselves when we are one with him. As he asked us to drink of his blood, that he would be in us, and us in him, so it is, that when we fully commit ourselves unto his lifeblood, we too will be like the bride with the bridegroom – uniting as one. “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Last night, as my battered, scarred, and beleaguered hands typed these passages, there was a certain feeling of contentment that flowed. While sleep beckoned, these were just a few of the thoughts from which must be scribed so that if one looks back from the future, they will see only a small portion of what a day in the life of this person might have revealed.
So, with heavy eyes, I read over the Gospel of John, visiting my old friend one last time before I say my prayers and finally lay down to rest.
Before sleep overcame me, the last thoughts were, “If I die before I wake, may the Lord my soul to take.”