“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
The bursts of lightning struck all around the mountain last night. The bolts from the sky shook the earth with each succession of haunting light that filled the dark room. With each strike, the word “Grace” kept coming to mind. There are times like those, when the power of God’s creation is on full display, that we feel most helpless. Think about it; there is essentially nothing that can protect you from a bolt of lightning if you are out in the open without any shelter. It is then we begin to comprehend something of God’s grace. In layman’s terms, one could think of God as someone so powerful, so unthinkably magnificent, that on the one hand, he could destroy you with nothing less than the blink of an eye, while on the other hand, with the same force, he’ll protect you from all harm. In this manner, one could imagine how grace is given – not what we deserve, but what we are provided through the goodwill of another.
The other evening, walking around Bass Lake, God’s grace spoke to me. The sun was setting, and the sky was painting all manner of purple and orange hues upon the surface of the water. Up ahead of me, several deer were grazing on the new shoots of grass growing along the trail. My pace didn’t change, nor did their demeanor as I approached. It was then, standing and looking at them peacefully accepting me in their presence, that I realized they were affording me grace I didn’t deserve. Here were animals that would have already darted away if their natural instincts were allowed to rule. Yet, we stood, looking at one another as if they were my pets. How often do we receive grace but fail to pass it on? We seem to easily receive, but when it’s time to pay it forward, we make excuses – inabilities or infirmities stand in the way. As a result, the person that needed our help or support is left without because we failed to give the very thing we were afforded – grace.
Walking along the confluence of the John’s River yesterday, it was apparent that the night’s storms had brutally assaulted the highlands. The water was the color of chocolate milk, raging in frothing fits seeking to burst its confines. As my footsteps were careful to avoid the pockets of mud, my mind wandered to a comparison of my life to the water. So many times, my life had taken a turn; sometimes, it seemed for the worse, sometimes, less frequently, for the best. Many days, it all felt like my life was like the turmoil that flowed past me. Yet, along each step, along each misdirection, He was guiding me. The Apostle Paul suffered from a thorn in his side, as he put it. He had an affliction that he suffered with throughout his ministry. It had to have been unpleasant, for he asked God three times to remove it, but God’s answer was simply, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” In other words, God could have taken away the ailment but chose to allow Paul to continue struggling through his life with the condition. Paul could have been angry but realized that “God’s Grace” was enough for this unmentioned thorn in his side, that he could bear it, and with that, he was satisfied. He even used it as a motivation when he said, “For my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
The word “grace” can take on all manner of connotations when thought about within the context of the Bible. One of the most important places it is used is when it says, “For it is by His grace that we are saved, and not of ourselves, that any man should boast.” We live in a fallen world. As adults, we are all guilty of sin. By God’s judgment, we are guilty and convicted of this sin, such that we deserve death. But it is by His grace that we are saved. The only condition is to believe in Him and accept Him into your life – it’s that simple.
There are times when we feel inundated with what the world puts on us. Paul wrote about such things, putting it into perspective, he said, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound….” He realized and knew that what was in the world was no match for the power of God. When the obstacles became too great, he would lean all the more on the Lord. In these times of need, he saw again and again that God’s grace came down and allowed him to continue. From shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and even death, God’s grace was more than enough to prevail.
As I pondered these things, I wondered if “Grace” was something that I really wanted to write about this month. “Surely, if it is meant to be, God will give me a sign,” I thought to myself as I continued my walk to church. It was during the special music that I received my answer. The preacher, unannounced, sat down at the piano and performed a song that I had never heard before. When he got to the chorus, it became apparent what the song was about, and I knew the confirmation was complete. “Grace to cross the river, grace to face forever, there’ll be new grace I’ve never needed before.” Yes, it was the gospel song, “New Grace,” and how it hit me.
All of grace is my story, all the way from earth to glory
Since by grace, He lifted me from sin and woe
Living grace, He has extended as on Him my heart depended
And He’ll give new grace when it’s my time to go.
There’s been grace for every trial, there’s been grace for every mile
There’s been grace sufficient from His vast supply
Grace to make my heart more tender, grace to love and pray for sinners
But there’ll be new grace when it’s my time to die.
In the Gospel of John, we are afforded the most telling description of how God’s grace is sufficient, “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Not only have we received the ultimate blessing, God’s grace, but by that grace, we are allowed more grace to enter because of it. Like the cleansing of the waterpots before Jesus turned the water into wine, we too, when we accept Christ into our lives, are like those vessels.
Allow God’s grace into your life, and find out how much richer your world will become. You’ll have the grace to cross the river, and yes, grace to face forever unlike any you’ve known before.
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.
As the sunrise was slowly trying to find a crease through the shroud of clouds upon the mountain, my mind was searching the scriptures for inspiration. To my left, a momentary shaft of light found its way to the earth. There, on a distant peak, among the multitude of gray skies, the golden illuminance caused the lingering fall foliage to burst forth into a breathtaking radiance. In a monotone sea of dreariness, it was as if God had created a bonfire of hope. In that instance, a brief line of scripture erupted into my mind, as if Jesus had said them himself, “What seek ye?”
So great was their meaning at that scene and moment, that I shouted out loud, “What seek ye?”
No sooner than I had released the thought from my lips, the voice echoed back across the valleys below. There was no one there to hear- nothing but the mist of the morning air, floating across the trail before me, wrapping itself between the trees, flowing into the pastures above. Like the fog, the words floated into my thoughts, until one had to ask themselves, “What is it thou truly seekest in this life?”
Images of all the possibilities wavered in my mind. What was it in the physical training that made me get up before dawn to pursue climbing a mountain? What was it in my daily work that drove me to rise above expectations? What was it that made me feel lost without starting my day with scripture? Yes, what was in all these things that were being sought? In all, the answer for me had become Colossians 3:23-24, “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.”
Although, there was what seemed to be a simple answer for myself. It wasn’t always the case. It took many hardships and trials in my life before the realization of what needed to change became apparent. All of those past failed paths, like the dark crevices that linger beneath the caves of the mountains, their memory never seems to fade. In my misinterpreted gains, when I felt that a work was of my own doing, when it was something that I had accomplished, there was the misbelief of it being my own doing. Back then, the goals in life were to obtain as much as possible before time ran out. I was truly lost.
An inspirational speaker, and alumnus, once visited one of my college engineering classes at the University of Florida. To us college students, he was the “Real Deal,” someone that had been in the corporate world and had succeeded. In truth, he was probably a significant donor to the department in which I attended classes. Nonetheless, he was a gifted speaker. In all of his inspiring words, the line that he said which stuck with me the most was a quote from Abraham Lincoln that he had altered to fit his persona, “Good things are left to those who wait, …which were left behind by those who hustle.” Sadly, that egotistic mindset was what drove me from that time foreword and for many years afterward. Unfortunately, with misaligned goals, one’s foundation cannot be properly created. Wealth without purpose becomes a greater burden than having nothing at all. These were the many variations of the doomed concept of mankind’s’ success that had been hammered into my head throughout the collegiate engineering studies. It would take many years of God’s presence in my life to slowly change them and to awaken me to what matters most. But before the transformation could begin, I had to realize there was something on my end that had to be done.
I had to seek him.
But no sooner had the answer to my situation had come, the thought of others around me surfaced. How did others seek Him? How were my colleagues, my friends, and those whom I knew that were still lost, how did they all seek God, or did they?
All around us, there are so many that seek what can never fulfill. From well-meaning goals and rewards to fleshly desires and momentary earthly satisfactions, there are a multitude of choices that can easily go wrong. Sadly, these ambitions and addictions are based on worldly values. While they may perceive that they are climbing the corporate ladder, or satisfying a desire within, what they are leaving behind, and worse yet, what they are not realizing, is that while these attributes provide for wealth and immediate satisfaction, their treasures and thrills are only temporary. For what they sacrifice in the gain of “success and pleasure” they lose in the grand scheme of things eternal.
Either through curiosity or from hearing someone that has planted a seed, when we begin to search for Christ, our real journey begins. John’s disciples found that out when they too sought to find out why their master had called this man that approached them, “The Lamb of God.”
“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?”
In this memorable passage of the gospel of John, we see Jesus approaching John the next day, meaning the day following the baptism. John greets him with the same words as to when he first saw him just before the baptism. Yet, this time, he (Jesus) has come to visit his cousin, John. Yet, we must be mindful that John wouldn’t have been alone either, for he too had built up a following. As his account attests, “Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth…He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.” In other words, John and his disciples were having the honor of receiving Christ into their presence.
We can guess, that from John’s record and witness of Jesus, that at the moment in which he voiced his exclamation, “Behold, the lamb of God,” he had already baptized the Christ. In that dramatic scene, many would witness the anointing of the Son of Man, as the only begotten son of God. They would have seen the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and abode upon him. Then, the voice that emanated from on high spoke, and said, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” In that inspired crowd stood John’s disciples as well. Whether out of curiosity or reverence, two of John’s disciples heard him speak of the lamb of God, and they began to trail behind Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, his next words were pivotal – “What seek ye?”
It is here that the two men could have dismissed being caught as an accident. They could have said, “Oh nothing, we were just headed this way already.” But they didn’t, they responded with the honorary phrase of “Master,” which was by interpretation, “Rabbi,” a term used only for the most respected scholars and teachers of their time. Then in true Christ manner, he answered with the most endearing reply, “Come and see.”
When we finally seek him, it is then he graciously invites us in. On that fateful day, the two disciples not only came and saw where he dwelt, but they remained with him the rest of the day, and he within them, the rest of their lives.
Like most who seek God and find him, when they receive him into their lives, they dwell with him and are forever changed. That very concept is what Paul tells us in Romans, when he says, “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. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. … For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Jesus shared with us his answer to seeking as well. When the Pharisees persecuted Jesus and sought to kill him simply because he had healed a crippled man on the Sabbath day, he rebuked them and shared with them the concept of his ministry when he said, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” Christ knew that God had sent him to do his work, and to finish it. In so doing, he was bearing witness of himself and to the fact that he was indeed sent by God.
He went further to show them, that as Moses had written, the answer was already before them, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” In other words, if they had sought him, as the writings had foretold, and believed, then they would know he was indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.
Unlike John’s disciples, we cannot physically dwell with Jesus. Yet, through his Grace, we can find salvation, and then when we accept Him into our lives, he dwells within us. It is then, we have sought the truth, that we finally begin to live a full and fruitful life. As the first Psalm tells us, when we delight in God’s word, we become like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth our fruit in our season. Even the most insignificant things in our lives, as the leaves on the tree, shall not diminish or wither. Whatever we do, shall prosper, as the psalmist writes.
Of course, all will not be sunshine and pretty mountain flowers. There are dark valleys between each glorious peak. We will have to walk through our own valleys in the shadow of death, but we can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone.
“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.”
Tonight, look into the mirror and ask with a heart of knowing that there is a God that loves you no matter who you are, what you’ve done, nor where you’ve come from, “What seek ye?”
In the end, what you receive will be a reward far greater than anything of this earth.
They once called it “Nowhere” mountain. Today it’s known to the rest of the world as “Rich” mountain. The slow gradual climb slowly wears at your body, walking or running. The deceptive incline slowly takes you to a secluded overlook. There only the stone remnants of an ancient house’s foundation are all that exist. Leftover from another time, a bygone century. For a moment, above the distant mountain peaks, above the wayward meadows there is a feeling of freedom. The cattle in the fields dispersed amongst the shaded oaks and hemlocks, lowing in the fresh mountain air. Their voices bellow across the ridge. Once this was all that there was of a pioneer outpost, a home in the wilderness. It eventually became the property of the Cone’s. Today, it’s a place where one can go and find themselves a few moments of seclusion from a world that seems to fall out of control a little more each day.
A few days ago, I had found myself atop of Nowhere. Therein lies the story – it was part of my run.
Before I continue, let me say that this is not meant to be any shape or form of bragging. There are times that we must share something in our life that has become a testimony; thus, the sharing with you of how running (or the semblance thereof) has become part of my spiritual journey. Besides, my sister, a practicing Cardiac Nurse, recommended it would help strengthen my heart. Something with which my Cardiologist wholeheartedly agreed. Truly, if you saw me in action, you would know there was nothing to brag about.
Several weeks ago, the Lord convicted me to start running again. At the time, it was as if something inside me wanted to be done with this life. Between the never-ending accusations of our society from one extreme to the other, to the seemingly never-ending pandemic, fueled by every political conspiracy theory you can imagine, one begins to look with joy toward the next life. In a sense, pushing my body to the extremes will either make me a healthier warrior for the Lord or it will take me home to be with him quicker. The options are Pauline in nature, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Herein lies the rub: many have not, nor have no idea what that “next life” is. They live day-to-day, battling from sunup to sundown without hope. Their lives have little to no direction. For them to find the way to life eternal on their own would be like finding a needle in a haystack. While we want to help them as much as possible, we can only plant the seeds. It is by God’s Grace that we are saved. As Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” Sadly, there are greater numbers of lost in our world than those who are awakened to God’s plan of salvation. For those who know Him, and have asked Him into their lives, there is that hope of life eternal. Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
I don’t know the exact mileage of each week. I don’t keep track of the miles that my body has been pushed these recent days, but this much I can tell, there is a renewing of the soul. Slowly, my body shifts from the unhealthy cravings as before to now, those of wholesome, natural foods beckon my taste buds. As I had experienced once before, the feeling of how the body changes when it is exercised to the extreme is not new to me. Yet, the reserve with which I can now control my diet and temptations to imbibe in things that only go against not only your body’s health, but the spirit within – these have become the things to which I am now drawn, those things which enrich the body, soul, and spirit.
This journey is not about becoming the fastest. The goal these days is to merely push this terrestrial body to become the best it is capable of being, only so that my soul has a better home. I heard Ravi Zacharias mention a quote from the 19-century writer, George McDonald a couple of days ago. McDonald said in a roundabout way, that we do not “have” a soul, but rather, we are a soul. “We have a body,” he said, “but we are a soul.” Genesis says it best, “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.” This new perspective has really made me rethink the way in which I had been approaching life.
In the act of pushing my body, I am then making a better dwelling place for my soul to live within. The nicer the home, the better the soul can feel. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “ What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” The more features the temple has, the more possibilities there are for the soul to flourish, and with it, the spirit. When our spirit is awakened, it then is able to welcome the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Then, as we might prepare for an esteemed guest, we would too want our temple to be the most glorious that it can be. It is in this vein that my pursuit of the new day’s dawn, from the time, that the sun hits the horizon until long past its setting – my days are thus filled to serving Him.
Pain in this life is a constant reminder that we live in a fallen world. There is not a run that I take that I don’t have pain. My dad used to say, “The day that I wake up and feel no pain is the day that I know that I’ve died.” Today he no longer suffers. His body was healed when his soul was welcomed into that home above.
In my youth, I longed to train in the mountains; something I was never afforded. Now, in my advanced age, here I am, training in the mountains. There is no pain like that of running up a continual climb at elevations over 3,500 feet. To try to lessen the suffering, I learned a long time ago in those early training years, that if you could talk while you were running, then it would keep you at a pace that was optimal for practice runs. In that vein, my journey has brought me full circle. Since I run alone most days, there is only myself with whom to converse. As I’ve mentioned many times in other writings, today I work as unto the Lord, not unto man, and so it is with my exercise. So now, as I run up those steep grades, my practice of memorizing scripture is put to work, quoting out loud as I run. It is nothing spectacular. A word here, a breath there, and maybe after a few hundred feet a sentence is finished. This is how it goes.
The other day, as my practice of speaking scriptures as I ran continued, I happened past an older lady. She too was out enjoying the beautiful day before the afternoon storms came. As I passed her on my ascent up the mountain, she and I exchanged the usual pleasantry of, “Good morning.” On my way back down, she said something that gave me pause. Before I passed her, she smiled and said toward me, “Thank you for using your gifts.” All I could eke out was a simple, “Amen.” As I was still pondering her words in the back of my mind, I continued through my versus. Just as I was finishing John 1, I rounded a curve and broke out into a meadow filled with a plethora of golden wildflowers. My voice still trailed, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”Suddenly before me above the field of gold, the sky around me was like a throng of white stallions waiting to stampede, yet were held at bay by a mighty hand. In the center of those towering billows of white, was a crystal clear, azure blue sky reaching to the heavens. Yes, the heavens had opened and my eyes searched those ever-changing Cumulus formations for angels ascending and descending. It was at that moment I could feel the power of the Holy Spirit dwell within my soul. For a moment, there was no ground beneath my weary legs, there was no pain, there was only the glory of God.
Being afflicted through the sufferings of our daily life, and yes, in our daily exercise, are all part of how God shapes us. As Peter wrote, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” In our youth, our bodies recover more quickly so that there is little time to dwell on the struggles through which we face. As we age, it takes longer to recover and to overcome those once trivial obstacles. Through the tribulations of life, our soul is refined as the sword in the fire. Through these trials, we are made stronger when we learn to lean on Him, and in so doing, find hope for tomorrow. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope…”
This morning, the water was still dripping from the trees. The abundance of storms had passed in the night leaving the air fresh, new, and alive. The sound of the bountiful life-giving fluid made it feel as if I was surrounded by a tropical rain forest. The effect it had upon my body felt good. Like a blanket of comfort, its warmth enveloped my being. My mind drifted back to the Garden of Eden and how it must have felt for Adam and Eve before their sin. It was at that moment that I realized that while we are affected by the world through our flesh (our body), it isn’t always negative. There are moments, as in that instance, where we are blessed by God through his marvelous creation. Through those beautiful sunrises, to the smile of a newborn child, we are given glimpses into his love and majesty; thereby, enriching our soul, allowing the spirit to be lifted. Yes, even when we happen onto the edge of a golden meadow while His words parse through our lips we are blessed. When we are one with Christ, we are then afforded to allow the Holy Ghost to dwell within, and in so doing, find beauty in places heretofore there was only sadness and despair. These precious moments in time uplift our soul, and like the afflictions, strengthen it.
Not all growth has to be painful, for, at the top of Nowhere, one can be afforded the most gratifying reward – to look upon the distant mountains and valleys and rejoice in God’s glory. As the air slowly returns to our weary lungs, as the heart beats blood to those body parts that are fatigued and ailing, we can be blessed by more than what this world of man will allow. It is up to us to sometimes go to the middle of nowhere and call upon His name.
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As you go through each day, beware of the effects the world has upon you through your body. Live each day as if your soul depends on it.
Like haunted echoes through
the canyon walls, their cries of mourning and anguish retell the story of old. There
in the northwest corner of Italy, they were forced into isolation. They were hunted
like animals, labeled as heretics: their crime, merely sharing and evangelizing
the Word of God. In that foregone time, the troops could be seen coming from afar.
Standing on the abyss of the mountain tops, the faithful ancient Waldensians,
or people of the valleys, knew their only hope of survival, other than having
faith, was to retreat to the upper mountain passes; to the places where even Angels
feared to tread. There, in those high, Alpine meadows and caves, they survived.
Their legacy, the very Word of God. For through their faithfulness, they had
planted the seeds of the reformation.
Today, those voices are
once again crying out. Unlike before, their torment is not from man, but
rather, from an unseen enemy, a virus. The sickness has permeated their region
to the point that the government has called for a total lockdown; nobody can be
on the streets without justification. Even vending machine use is forbidden. Again,
the people of the valleys, the descendants of the ancient Waldensians, face a
darkness that slowly invades their land. Like armies of death marching to seek
and destroy, they find once more their hope of survival is that of finding
refuge in those high, solitary lands. The remote valleys once more become the
perfect setting for isolation and self-quarantine. Having lived through past
invasions, plagues, and economic strife, their heritage has taught them to be
complacent with impoverished life. Yet, we must decrease so that he may
increase, as the Apostle Paul would say.
Forced isolation caused
those ancient people to learn how to cope with less. While eeking out a meager
existence just to survive, they turned inward to find solace in the scriptures,
and in those pages, found hope. Their fears had been diminished by knowing that
their trials were only preparing them for a more magnificent journey someday.
In those dimly lit stone caverns, they found comfort in the gifts that their Creator
had bestowed upon them. Using these blessings, they would use them to pass on their
faith, culture, and heritage. Today, one can find a more significant percentage
of those ancient Waldensian descendants with all manner of creative talents
than in typical societies. It is no wonder that their time in isolation had
proved beneficial in not only keeping them alive but also it afforded them the
time to enrich their souls.
Last night, as we passed
the time in our own home, thousands of miles from those battling to survive in
Northern Italy, I was reminded of how when we turn our thoughts to our
brethren, our real gifts begin to be seen for what they were intended; to lift
those up around us and to be the light for our world. As my eyes scanned through
various social media platforms, a message began to emerge.
Musical artists of all
ages began to stream live free music. From the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Marty
Stuart, Vince Gill, and Brad Paisley played and sang to an empty Ryman Auditorium.
Meanwhile, across our country, various bands played in front of phone cameras
to professional-grade videography. In some cases, husband and wife duets
performed for the world after having put their children to bed. It was an
evening of sharing and uplifting songs. As the performers played, they all
spoke in like tone; prayers for our country and for those people facing the
uncertainty of tomorrow. Unlike traditional performances, the platform of
social media allowed people to give instant feedback to their entertainers. Those
of us watching could see a much-needed catharsis taking place as people would
praise the singers and lift family members up in prayer.
In all my years, I had
never witnessed anything like it.
But it didn’t stop with music.
Poets were reading their works to the public to enlighten others. Individuals
were sharing inspirational words of encouragement and scriptures. It was as if
the world of social media had turned off the news and found themselves once
Then, this morning, after I
had begun my morning coffee and finished my devotional, I once more wondered
what the rest of the world was doing for Sunday morning worship. Once more,
scanning through the pages of social media, I was once again blessed to find all
manner of preachers, congregations, and individuals finding creative ways to
share the Word of God. In my heart, there was a renewed feeling of hope. Gone
was the negativity of the new media, and in its place, the true spirit of our
country began to emerge, a voice of love, faith, and determination.
Today, as my own family
found time for a walk together with the newest family member, Bear the puppy, a
sense of purpose, a restoration of hope began to return. In my mind, I tried to
drink in the moment. Just being in their presence was enough.
Sadly, there are those in
our world that don’t have the ability to receive help from all of those bands
on social media. Some have no family with which they can find solace. Many sit
alone in the solitary confines of a dark room waiting, listening to the sound
of their own heartbeat. Some wishing that it would end.
Reading over the
scriptures this evening, I asked God to send a message; to show me the
scripture that would help to give hope to the world. It was then the voice said
to look upon Isaiah. It was then the words over the recreation of the Church at
Ciabas on the Trail of Faith came to me. The inscription reads, “Le Petit de Sion,”
meaning, “God will surely find comfort on Zion,” taken from Isaiah 51:3.
Turning to the scriptures,
I read once more, “Hearken ye to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye
that seek the LORD; look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole from
the pit whence ye are digged…For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort
all her waste places: and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert
like the garden of the LORD; o and gladness shall be found therein thanking,
and the voice of melody.”
I was reminded of those
ancient people of the valleys. They didn’t allow their solitude to destroy
their faith. Their heartiness, their ability to live and survive at high altitudes
of long periods, as if hewn from the granite upon which they trod, came to
mind. Much like the spirit of the American people today, beneath the ambiguity
and divisiveness that some would want to portray, we are a hearty people. When
we are pushed into a corner, the true American spirit begins to return; one of
faith, hope, and charity. Satan wants nothing better than to see us fight over
rolls of toilet paper and to hate our neighbor. The fear and despair that Satan
preaches can only be spread by those who have no hope of tomorrow. It is up to
us who know the truth, those of us who share a belief that God has a purpose in
all that we do, to share our faith and hope of tomorrow with those around us. We
must be reminded that although we face an unseen enemy, it is no different than
any other day we face the same enemy, except it usually isn’t called a virus,
it is called sin.
This next week, I urge
each of us to lift up your family, your brethren, and your neighbor. Seek to
use the gifts God has bestowed upon you to bring light to someone’s dark world.
Make someone’s wilderness an Eden; their desert a garden of the Lord. There,
when you share with those souls abandoned to dark rooms of despair, you will
find hearts floating in the air, and the smile of gratitude spread across their
faces. In that moment, when the happiness begins to shine in their hearts once
more, listen for the voice of melody, and you will know God has spoken through
thanksgiving, and the voice of melody will return.
be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an
ensample.”- Phil 3:17
It was an
early Sunday morning. The air had the feeling as if it could snow at any
minute. In an uncustomary manner, my morning devotional was actually upon the
steps just outside the front door of our church, Rock Springs Baptist. There, I
opened my Bible, journal, and thermos, pouring a hot cup of coffee to accompany
my communion with the Lord. Before beginning, the steam from the coffee caught
my attention. Swirling from the depths of my cup, the vapor rose, swirling as
it ascended, like a spirit rising to meet our maker. On my walk, the
bone-chilling air had eventually found its way into my very core. Taking a sip
of the hot, bitter brew, I could feel the warmth invade my body, slowly
recapturing that which had been nearly frozen.
then the similarity hit me; the steam; the Spirit, warmth of my body; us
accepting Christ into our hearts.
passed and broke my focus for a moment. Taking another sip, I closed my eyes
and prayed. The sound of the vehicle dissipated, and soon, the voice of the
John’s river began to speak, which lay just beyond our church’s parking lot.
The soothing sound and the warmth of my coffee began to erase all the toils,
and struggles of the week as the hand of the Lord wrapped his arms around my
being. As I exhaled, my breath made another pathway of steam into the air. It
was then the thought of how much better coffee tasted when you were partaking
of it out in the open, especially on a cold, winter morning. In fact, the more
I thought about it, the more everything seemed to taste better when eaten or
drank in the outdoors, where all that was man-made was removed, and you were
one with the elements; purity begets purity.
mind turned toward the devotionals on my Sunday morning hikes to church and how
they always seemed more powerful, more meaningful than those of which I partook
every morning before heading up the mountain while sitting in my home. It was
as if the materials of man’s creation removed, allowing for a purer experience,
a cleaner connection to the Almighty if you will.
had done it; allowed myself to find something of God in merely drinking a hot
cup of java on the front steps of the church.
mind took a quantum leap, back, many years to my youth.
was covered in snow. It was the dead of winter in Indiana, a place where Boy
Scout Troops wouldn’t cancel a camping trip for the weather, regardless of the
conditions. Fortunately, the camporee was at a camp where our tents were the
heavy canvas permanent type built on wooden floors; surplus from a not so distant
war. It was Friday night when we arrived. The routine was that we were to build
a fire and then cook our supper while we made camp. From experience, we knew
that in this weather, the fire was the key to everything; warmth, food,
survival. Yet, everywhere we looked the snow had covered everything; not one
stick of firewood was left untouched. Everything was either frozen or soaked
with water. Knowing that we might face a challenge for which we may not fair
too well, we began to build our wood in preparation for a valiant attempt,
nonetheless. By good fortune, one of our patrol members found an old mouse nest
in a hole in one of our tents’ floor. Thankfully, we shoved the dry tender in
amongst all the other shoots of Sassafras, Cherry, and Pine, knowing that once
the moisture burnt off, we would have the start of a roaring fire. One of the
patrol leaders went to the cook box to find matches. When he returned, he held
open the small cardboard box, with the little drawer, pulled out. The look on
his face said it all. With a look of shock and dismay, we all quickly realized,
there was just one match left. We gathered round, each of our young faces had a
look of fear and anguish. One of the new scouts almost began to cry, “Oh no,
we’re going to starve,” he stammered as tears welled up in his eyes.
not,” I bit back, the steam from my mouth shot into the air like a blowtorch.
“You have to have faith. We’ve been through tough times before, and if anyone
can make a fire with one match, it’s this patrol.” Ricky, the Scout Master’s
son, who was also my good friend, stuck up for me at that moment, and reiterated
what I had just conveyed.
“You gotta trust us man, if anyone can get a fire going, we can make it happen.
We’re going to show them all, with one match, we’ll keep this fire going all
There, he had done it; Ricky had unknowingly made the vow that we would all gladly
have given our last breath to uphold. It was an unspoken word of truth and
honor, nearly as revered as the Scout Law.
like marooned sailors on a deserted island, we made all the preparations and
double-checked each other’s work to make sure that the one match would work.
Then, with a shaky hand, someone struck the match. The smell of sulfur and
warmth filled the space before us. Immediately, we all gathered around, holding
our hands as a shield to prevent any breeze from extinguishing our flame before
it could take. Slowly, the flame touched the old mouse bed, and steaming smoke
began to spread through our pile of tender.
breath,” Ricky commanded.
stood, feet in shivering in the snowbank that we had created digging out the
fire pit so that it would be clear of any moisture, and watched as the smoke
seemed to almost disappear. The skeptical scout almost began to whimper once
more. “Have faith,” I breathed again.
if prayers had been answered in unison, a flame nearly 12 inches tall leaped
from the center of our woodpile. Smiles spread across our faces as we older
scouts looked and nodded at one another. The younger scouts then realized they
were with someone who would take care of them.
weekend happened to get so cold, below zero, that they made us stay in the chow
hall one night, for fear we might freeze to death in our cots. Meanwhile, we
had stoked and prepared our fire, so that no matter how long we were gone, it
would continue to keep a hot coal bed. We needn’t fear that the fire would
spread since the ground was covered in almost a foot of snow. So, unlike other
times when we would have to put out a fire when leaving our campsite, that
particular weekend we were allowed to keep it going. Memory also recalls that the
other patrols had not been so lucky when trying to strike their fires. More
than one patrol visited us that weekend to warm themselves because of their own
inabilities to keep a fire going. We learned a lot about ourselves in the
process, not only that we had possessed a knowledge which provided for our own,
but that we were able to pass on this to others while sharing with our neighbors.
I don’t remember
anything else about that weekend, other than our parents came to stay with us
the night we stayed in the chow hall. But the one thing I do recall, even to
this day, was that by the time to pack up Sunday evening to head home, we had a
fire that had never gone out. Meanwhile, other patrols had problems just
getting theirs started, let alone able to keep them going.
struggled through adversity, but already in our young lives, having experienced
hardship campouts before the one just mentioned had allowed us to have faith.
It is the same in our walk with Christ. Those who are new to the faith struggle
with knowing that the Father is with them always. By providing them examples of
our own steadfast faith, we can give them the courage to face the struggles in
their own walk.
Apostle Paul had faced many trials and difficulties in his life once he turned
to serving God instead of persecuting Christians. He was an encourager to
others in the faith, and with confidence, not arrogance, as brother David said
this morning, he told his disciples to ““Be ye followers of me, even as I
also am of Christ”
He had faith enough to know that if they were to become believers, that they
would have to have faith in what he said and to know that through believing
him, they too would come to know Christ.
had faith, they would find the love of Christ working in them, warming them, imbuing
them with the Holy Spirit, lighting the flame within and starting the fire.
Like that hot cup of coffee and a cold winter day, God envelopes you with His
Spirit and warms your very soul.
as I begin to climb the mountain, either figuratively or physically, I ask the
Lord to help me find my way. Each day, he answers me in the most unexpected
the river speaks to me, and a song begins to play in my head:
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
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.”
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.”
climbing upward taking one step at a time
The higher I got the harder I climbed
climbing upward and my journey’s almost ended
I’m nearing the top and you ought to see the view
Oh the water flows freely, there’s enough to make you free
So friend, if you’re thirsty climb this mountain with me.”
gospel of John, Jesus said on the last day of the feast, “If any man thirst,
let him come unto me, and drink.”
may or may not be my last days, the harder I climb, the more beautiful things I
see and reveal, seeing with eyes anew. From walking in faith, although I will
never achieve the level of the Apostle Paul, I can, with deep conviction share
with others that with faith, all things are possible. In sharing that belief,
may it light a spark within their own soul, one that will make within them a desire
to seek Him.
spark, a fire can be built, and with it, the light of life can begin
particular campout of which I shared earlier was one where our parents were
invited to come spend a night camping with us. It was one of only two times
that a parent of mine came to a campout. My mom, of all people, came to stay
Saturday night. She, along with the other parents, stayed in the chow hall with
the rest of our troop. Looking back, I wish I had done more to interact with her,
but it was a treat just to hear her voice talking to the other adults and to
know that someone who loved me was present. Now that she is gone, those few
glimpses of the past are ever more precious.
with the other parents, more than likely had no idea of our fire struggles, but
rather, took it in stride that we had learned how to survive and were doing
well enough. I don’t remember anything else about that weekend, but the one
thing I do recall, even to this day, was that by the time to pack up Sunday
evening to head home, we had a fire that had never gone out.
of this, we can surmise that we are a constant work in faith. We may never
achieve the level of faith of an Apostle Paul, but we can share our testimony
with others, and with that, provide them the knowledge that they are not alone.
Through our faith, shall we lift up others, and in the end, give them hope of
from the coffee cup, the Holy Spirit will warm us through and through, and our
walk of faith will continue to grow as we climb that final mountain and drink
from the eternal fountain.
Yesterday, as I sat and watched the thick cloud bank slowly envelope Grandfather, I was reminded of incoming tides upon ancient seas. The jetties and rocks of life, like those distant mountain peaks, were soon to be covered by the rising waters of time. Before long, he had vanished, obscured by a billowing blanket of gray, blue, and white. Grandfather Mountain was not gone, this I knew, for I had seen him. It was not necessary to hope for his existence because by seeing, we know that he is still there. Yet, we cannot foretell what the coming storms will unveil. In a manner of hours, or even days, we may see a changed mountain, one blanketed in a snowy, majestic white mantel of winter; this is the wish of many.
wanted anticipation, some may see the impending storm and look forward to a
delay in the upcoming return to school. While others may fear what is to come
knowing regardless of the road conditions, they will be expected to be at their
posts or jobs. Likewise, those who walk in faith are much like those gladly
seeing the possibility of winter storms; the former seeks the hope of life
eternal by knowing that regardless of what the storms of life may bring, they
have the hope of salvation unto our final dwelling place on high. “For we
are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why
doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with
patience wait for it.”
just as a child, torn from their home due to circumstances which have created
living conditions so dire that the state has to intervene, they seek hope to
eventually return home. Yet, what they don’t fully understand is that in order
for them to return home, their parents or guardians must change. The addiction
or bondage to the sins of the flesh must be broken. The downward spiral of
drugs, alcohol, otherworldly lusts has permeated their lives so deeply that
they often have lost sight of caring for their family, if not themselves. We’ve
all see the posted mug shots of convicted criminals and seen the effects of
meth, just to name one, on their physical being. Inside, there remains a
remnant of the human being they once were.
within, there is a flicker of a soul.
those school children looking forward to the coming snowstorm, the Apostle Paul wrote of coming storms and
afflictions, “Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not
blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much
patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in
imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;”His point being, that those storms of life, the daily challenges and trials,
only make us stronger Christians. Meanwhile, those of the world suffer greatly because
their faith is nonexistent. There is nothing to embolden. In their despair,
they seek earthly means to fill the void. The Apostle Peter wrote about them saying,
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the
faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that
are in the world.”
those lost parents cannot conquer the darkness that holds them captive. It is
by prayer and the hope of their children, the faith of which they often do not
know, that they can be lifted up. These thoughtless parents reckless abandon for
life is conveyed by those whose tender young hearts who are willing to still
have faith. In their undying hope that their parents will change, unto the day
they may return to a new home, those orphaned children never give up.
Similarly, we seek faith to eventually return to our heavenly home because this
world is not our home. Yet, we are not left as orphans to fend for ourselves,
for our heavenly father awaits. “That
at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of
Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and
without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off
are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
though the parents of those orphaned children may be so lost in their sin that
they don’t even realize the cause of their forced separation, nor do they know
how to free themselves from the enslavement of their fleshly additions and
afflictions, Christ gives us that answer. Through the power of the blood Jesus
Christ shed upon the cross, we may overcome the darkness that seeks to devour
our world and flood us with iniquities beyond our comprehension.
cannot achieve this freedom alone.
Hebrews 11:1, we are reminded that “…faith is the substance of things hoped
for, the evidence of things not seen.” Having held true to my faith in
these recent months, I can tell you from personal experience, the harder the
clouds of turmoil flooded my soul, the harder I fell to my knees. There were no
immediate replies. There was no blinding light that threw me off my horse and
into the road. There were often days of silence. Nothingness.
nothing worth having is ever easy,” – Theodore Roosevelt
the scripture tells us, “But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with
patience wait for it.” From having seen prayers answered, it is then when
we start to understand how one can have “evidence of things unseen.”
Prayer is one of our most powerful spiritual tools. Daniel prayed five times a
day. When his enemies learned of his daily practice, they used it to entrap him
which landed him in the den of lions. Daniel didn’t fear but resorted to what
he knew best, prayer. His hope of release from the expected doom was his answer
to faithful prayer.
we approach a future that sometimes appears, if anything but bright, we can be
reminded that there is “hope.” As we awoke this morning and the clouds had
departed, Grandfather was there as the sunlight began to cast its golden rays
upon his face. His crown, a mantel of snowy white, now proudly unveiled for all
storm had been weathered.
will always be the dawning of a new day. Don’t let the darkness of the light
consume you. Although it may feel as the darkest hour is just before dawn,
don’t let fear overwhelm you like the storm clouds smothering Grandfather. Let
the light of Christ shine upon your life, and through you, such that those
around you are enlightened by the Holy Spirit within your own. Choose to be the
light in a dark world, like the beautiful snow-covered peaks of Grandfather
this morning, their light reflecting the sunrise, like golden shields of hope.
is a new day. Rise with hope in your heart
and let your light shine for all to see.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply
our hearts unto wisdom.”-Psalm 90:12
Outside the Retreat, the pitter-patter of raindrops falls
gently upon the rooftop. The sound is soothing to one’s soul and adds a sense
of tranquility to the ambiance within. Inside, the fire warms my body, removing
the damp chill from the outside. Reflectively, I sip on the hot drink while peering
into the red-hot coals. The flames dance around in their anguished throttled
roar while the occasional pop and hiss remind you that the scene before you is
real. My mind drifts, like the puffs of smoke up the chimney, thinking of friends
and colleagues of my former days.
Many faces come and go in the swirl of steam up the chimney,
like their lives, several now gone, passed on. Each individual remains with me,
each with their own story, each with a remnant of who they were left behind
with my own being. My good friend, Vance
Dunn, who recently passed, came to mind, as he so often does. He would have
dearly loved the opportunity to sit with me by the fire and discuss the many
thoughts that would bounce into our heads as we supped on our warm brews. On
one particular road trip, whereby we were headed to training as part of our Junior
Appalachian Musicians (JAM) affiliation, we spent the several hour drive to the
mountains doing just that; talking in-depth about everything and anything that
popped into the stream of our conscious thought. One specific conversation that
returned to me this morning was our animated discussion about vocabulary and
the word “regardless” versus “irregardless.”
Vance loved to latch onto something and then to pull it back
into the conversation, again and again. His observation, and probably the
meaning behind the reason for which the word that percolated to the top of our
discussion that day, was how many in the world of academia often try to sound
more important than they are by the use of grammar that is either incorrect or
absurdly unnecessary; thus, the word “irregardless.” Many
scholars maintain there is no such word as irregardless because regardless already means “without
Vance had an extreme disdain for professors or teachers who spoke down to their
The Apostle Paul would write, “For if a man think himself
to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”
Paul’s intention was to say more simply, “Don’t try to pretend to be something
Now Vance had
every right with which to speak in such terms. Having been a scientist at NASA,
he dealt with and helped train many of their engineers and researchers over the
years. He had worked with many a person that felt their position in life was
enough to warrant them respect simply by their title. Yet, he would share with
me that those who walked humbly in that regard had far more impact on those
with whom they dealt than the former. Vance’s intellect was far beyond what I
could hope to ever achieve. In essence, he was, at least to me, a true genius.
He never tried to be superior when we talked, but rather, would humor me in
meaningful terms so that we would traverse life from one end of the spectrum to
the other, regardless of who was listening. Once we started, when time allowed,
we would literally carry on with our own geekish comical relief, much to the
disdain of those that were within earshot, for hours. He conveyed to me on this
day how “irregardless” wasn’t really a real word, but rather something people
would utter when they wanted to sound more intellectual. So, in our effectual
dialogue, we would carry on with statements like “Regardless of how
irregardless something truly is, you still can’t say irregardless unless you’re
holding something up to be something it isn’t, regardless of its actual
meaning,” and then we would roll with laughter until tears would fill our eyes.
Paul would go on
to write, “But let every man prove his own work and then shall he have
rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.”
Vance proved his
merit by serving his country both in the Army and then working for the
Aeronautical Space Agency. He would spend his career working for NASA and
eventually retire with his family to Chatham County, North Carolina, where he
and I would eventually meet. He often substitute taught in the school system,
filling in for those roles many would pass. Vance’s favorite predicament was
walking into a High School Calculus class and picking up wherever the teacher
left off. Mind you, this was years after he had touched a mathematical formula.
He would always tell me, “You can always solve anything if you work it back to
the root.” After studying for and eventually passing the NC High School Math
Praxis myself, his words would come back to me, again and again, regardless if
we hadn’t seen each other in years.
conversations of faith, I never quite understood where Vance stood exactly. As
with most intellects, he preferred to remain aloof about his belief in God.
Yet, when it came down to it, I had the sense that he honestly believed but was
more skeptical of religion as a whole. As Ravi Zacharias put it, “We are not
Christians because of the abominations or denominations we belong to, but
whether you know Jesus Christ in your heart.” It was in these
theological interactions that I sometimes felt as if Vance was questioning me
not only for something to pursue intellectually but that he was actually
becoming aware of seeing someone moved by the Holy Spirit. In our walk of
faith, we should never fear witnessing to anyone regardless of their station in
life. As Paul would convey, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate
unto him that teacheth in all good things.”
A few months ago,
before the wheels fell off my life, I was to speak at a church back in Chatham
County. It was a wonderful blessing in and of itself, to be asked to share a
sermon with the Cumnock Union Church, but was equally rewarding in seeing so
many brother and sisters in Christ once more. It was during this trip that God
spoke to me and said that I should stop by and see my friend Vance and his
family before heading home. So, after
sharing fellowship with the brethren at Cumnock, I then turned off the highway
and found myself winding through the little streets of Goldston, and eventually
pulling into the driveway of Vance’s family’s farm. There, one last time I sat
with my old friend and shared in past experiences. Denise, his daughter,
brought him out to the couch to sit and visit with me and it was then that I
was struck with the reality of what time and illness had done to my friend. He
had suffered in his last years from advancing Dementia and Alzheimer’s
diseases. We tried to revive a minuscule portion of days gone by, but in the
end, faith in God was all that remained, for my dear friend was not the man he
once was. The horrific disease had taken a brilliant mind away from the shell
of the man that sat before me. Inside, my heart was sobbing, but outwardly, I
was thanking God for this short time together. We said goodbye, and part of me
realized that this may be the last.
There had been
plans to return for some other possible speaking engagements, but once the
trials and afflictions began, there was nothing to do but try to survive, and
as such, those events fell by the wayside.
Not long ago, I
saw Denise’s post of Vance’s passing, and with it, my heart dropped. Gone was
the last chance to say one more goodbye. Gone was that last chance to jokingly
poke fun of so many that held themselves in such high regard, regardless if
they deserved it or not. But in the end, I know that Vance found God as
inspiring as he had hoped, for in the end, when he crossed into that eternal
home, he found intellect beyond his own and enough time to laugh and share with
those minds that would match his own.
Tonight, I am
thankful for all the lives that have crossed my path in life, and especially people
like my friend Vance. May we never forget them and let us pray that we carry
their legacy with us, sharing with all a part of who they were for others to
Thanks be to God.
“If any of you
let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and
it shall be given him.”-James 1:5
Each time he returned from the mountain,
his life was changed. Another nuance of who he had become was revealed. He was
forever changing into the new person to which he had sought his entire life to
become. There was no tablet in his arms as he descended from the heights above;
no law; no antiquated precept for which to behold; rather, there were pathways
to distant memories that had once been buried, now unearthed to become the
inspiration for going forward. They had returned as ghosts from his past to
help others around him see the light; that which is the true light. He was not
that light but was there only to help those, through him, believe. Those scars
of life’s experiences became a therapeutic source, something he never
anticipated. Through the catharsis of healing, he could now better understand
his purpose for which God had intended. Through the new journey, there was more
than just the apparent nature of healing spiritually, but physically as well.
Where the spirit is weak, so is the
body. One cannot exist without the other.
Each day as the sun arose, the
scriptures spoke of new hope, new promises to be found.
Each day, the healing within and without
Jacob, a good friend of mine, had only recently found himself able to once more confidently be himself. His world had seemed to fall apart, one seemingly unbelievable event after another. It was as if anything that could go wrong would. From one loss to the next, it seemed as if bad news were the only guarantee in his life. The stress of so many unanswered prayers continually compounded themselves; dark waves crashing against the bedrock of his soul, one upon the next, until it seemed his heart would break. Pushing it all aside, using every ounce of faith he could contain, he forged onward. “Press on toward the mark,” he could hear the Apostle Paul saying. Every morning he arose, making himself pretend there was a consistency in chaos. The work of the building kept his mind occupied while he communed with the Lord. The blistering heat swayed not his determination. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. When it appeared as if all detrimental events had subsided, a new, more deadly attack came.
Looking back, Jacob could see where the
sultry summer solstice had merely turned out to be the calm before the storm.
Out of nowhere, an insect-borne illness struck.
Jacob was bedridden for days. The excruciating pain, fever, and chills were like
nothing he had known to this point in his life. The doctors were initially dumbfounded
by the test results. Eventually, the prognosis became clearer, and medication
was finally prescribed; but not after Jacob had seemed to hit rock bottom. At
one point, the pain was so intense, the darkness so great, he had prayed God to
take him home. There was nothing more he wanted than to be free of his earthly
body. Broken and shattered, he lay in the pool of sweat as his body felt
frozen. He felt as if he had now found the deepest darkest valley as he lay in
the shadow of death.
The painful hours passed, and Jacob contemplated
if he would ever be able to reach the top of the mountain again. “The deeper
the valley, the higher the peak,” he kept telling himself, through one exacerbating
breath after another.
In the course of searching for answers
to Jacob’s malady, there was another discover; one that had not been anticipated
initially. Jacob’s heart was not functioning as expected. Upon further
investigation, there was a concern of the erratic nature of the heart’s beat,
to the point he was sent to a Cardiologist. Later, the insect-borne disease he
had contracted was found to attack the heart in a way that it would affect the
beating. However, God always has a purpose, even when we think we know why we
are on a particular path, God’s plan may often be something unexpected,
something never imagined.
Eventually, the Cardiologist would find
it necessary to perform a heart catheterization on Jacob. In disbelief, he sat
listening. “What next,” he thought to himself as the doctor shared with
him what to expect. It seemed as if the summer, which he at one time had hoped
to be spent on a whirlwind, inspirational mission trip, had turned into the
summer of incomprehensible horror. A darkness of the most profound evil had
besieged him and his family. In the darkest moments of the storm, he had
continued to cling to the only thing that gave him comfort, the Word of God. He
placed his mind in the shadow of Christ as he continued to listen and felt his
savior envelop him in his arms.
“We might have to put in a stint, should
we find enough blockage, which is what I suspect,” espoused the doctor smiling
with the best intentions.
Jacob’s mind wandered back again, back
to another place and time to another one of those scars in his life.
He and his wife had visited his
hometown. It was nothing more than an opportunity to share with her the place
he grew up. Having left it behind so many years ago, it was as if they were
both discovering it anew once again. During that trip, they met with family
members for supper at a small country diner. In the group was Jacob’s most honored
family member, Uncle Markus. Markus was one that Jacob had looked up too and
admired for all that he had accomplished in his life. His Uncle had also become
the beloved spiritual leader of their family; the outpost of faith since Grandpa
and Grandma had passed. His Uncle Markus had been one of the first men of the
family to obtain a college degree and then went on to become a high school teacher,
and eventually, a college professor. Markus was there along with his wife, Rose,
and two sons. It would be the last time Jacob would see his Uncle Markus and Aunt
Looking back, that evening in the St. Joseph’s
Diner so many years ago, those in attendance were just a tiny portion of Jacob’s
father’s family. There had been seven siblings total in the paternal family;
five boys and two girls. Likewise, they were a tiny fragment of the fun-filled,
rollicking antics so often characterized by his paternal family. He recalled
how he had bought some cast rubber replicas of morels from Wilson’s Furniture
Store earlier in the day. They were unusual in that they had suction cups at
the bottom. He had guessed at the time they might be fun to stick on the dash
of the truck the next time they went morel hunting. Without thinking, he stuck
them in his pocket that morning for safekeeping. Hunting morels was a favorite outdoor
event that the entire family looked forward to every year. Morels are a type of
mushroom that only come up in certain soils at a specific time of the year.
Because of their precarious growing season and climate, they are difficult to
find. But because of their delicious flavor, when they are discovered, you feel
like you are receiving manna from heaven. So, as the course of the evening’s
meal ensued; somehow, the topic of morel hunting came up. When someone was
describing their prowess at finding the elusive mushroom, Jacob remembered the
rubber replicas in his pocket. Quietly, and without garnering attention, he
bent his head down and fastened the suction cups to the lens of his glasses.
Then when the moment was right, he looked up and said, as the rubber morels
goggled before his spectacles, “I would say, that I would be the best Morel
hunter around simply because of my superior morel vision.” The entire table, and
the rest of the restaurant who couldn’t help to overhear broke out into laughter.
The establishment had in a way, become their surrogate kitchen that evening,
and everyone shared in the raucous laughter. That memory, along with the
fateful journey of his Uncle Markus reverberated in his soul once more; afresh
and new, like the recovery of an ancient treasure that blesses the very spirit
Not long afterward, his Uncle Markus was
told by doctors that they had found blockages in his heart, but there was no
dire concern because they had a new way of relieving the life-threatening condition
through a new procedure using stints. The family was very much relieved, yet
apprehensive when it came time for the surgery. The operation went well, and Markus
was to stay overnight for observation, just as the doctor had told Jacob.
However, Markus’s surgery was forty years prior, the new miracle cure had only
just begun being used. Markus had been warned not to move around, but as was
the case, he got up simply to use the restroom during the night, harmless as
that may sound. The doctors would later surmise that plaque had broken loose in
the artery where the stint was inserted, which found its way to Markus’s brain.
Uncle Markus died long before his time. Yet, it was God’s time, not our own.
Jacob’s mind panged once more for his Uncle
and knew that God had used the stint to call him home. It didn’t make the
memory any less painful, nor did it comfort him knowing that medical advances in
the past forty years had made the procedure much less treacherous. In the back
of his mind, he couldn’t eliminate the thought of possibly facing the same fate.
Feelings of the recent trials and
struggles haunted him in the hours leading up to the operation. “Had he done
all that he needed to prepare for leaving this life,” he thought to himself?
“Had he done all that he could do to help his family financially once he was
gone?” Then the formidable realization of their salvation bore upon him, “Had
he done all that he could do to prepare them for life eternal?” He felt in
his soul that his work was not over, but if God was calling him home, he was
ready either way.
“The Lord would provide,” he told
himself, again and again.
Yet, he was never alone.
Friends and family had encouraged Jacob
on his journey, and many had prayed for him. As the Bible tells us, “Wherefore
seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us
lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us
run with patience the race that is set before us.” All his life, there were
those praying for him even when they had lost contact with him physically;
those faithful prayer warriors that lift us up even when we are the least
Jacob never forgot this, that many had
lifted him up in prayer, as the day for the surgery came. As the lights,
needles, and monitors flickered and beeped through the operating room, his mind
rested peacefully as he felt the hand of God warm him in that cold, foreign
place; prayers were being answered. Before he knew it, the medical staff and
the lead doctor were wrapping up.
“You’re all done,” the Cardiologist
“Your heart had a major blockage,” he
relayed without remorse, as he held his personal device over Jacob’s head.
“But, as you can see,” he said through
his operating mask, “Your heart has healed itself by making its own bypass. Better
than I could have done,” he said, pointing his purple glove finger toward the
“It’s just beautiful,” the doctor
continued, admiring the tiny image before Jacob, as he turned to look at it
himself one more time. “You won’t need any stints either, your heart is
perfectly clear other than that one blockage which has miraculously healed
Jacob couldn’t believe what he was
hearing. Through the fog of medication necessary for the operation, he
struggled to understand all that the doctor had just said.
“Miracle,” was all that he could
think, “God had performed a miracle. I should be dead,” he whispered to
Prayers had once more been answered;
like a thunderbolt, their presence was felt. Warm tears filled Jacob’s eyes as
the gurney was wheeled out of the operating room and back to recovery.
As the cloud of the sedative began to wear
off, Jacob continued to feel buoyed by the very nature of the miracle that had transpired;
unaware, unexpectedly, God had cured him of the life-threatening blockage. Not
only that, he had cleared every other debilitating possible blockage so that
his heart was like new. “With time, your heart will grow stronger,” the nurse
conveyed, as she heard Jacob speak of the revelation in the recovery room.
A gleam of joy shone into his now
The next couple of days were spent
resting and allowing the medication from the surgery to wear off. But once Jacob
was able to get outside, he took a short walk along the ridge where he lived.
In the distant, the blue peaks stood majestically; proud and stoic. Never so
bright were the flowers. Never so blue was the heavenly blue azure sky above.
The trees sounded as if they were singing the praises of the noonday sun. The
joyous memory of that evening in the St. Joe Diner sparkled once more in his
mind. The flicker of life revived, of happiness and laughter. The old spirit of
rejoicing with gladness the moments in life afforded us, no matter the setting,
no matter the circumstance had been rekindled. The old spirit had reunited with
the new Spirit; together, their energy was more than enough to uplift the weary
soul; they gave new life to the body within.
Jacob’s life had been a culmination of
learning and finding the way through failure and loss. The sins of his life had
kept him shackled to the world of the flesh, and because of it, had prevented
him from being to that which he was called. Subtlety, and without any
instantaneous change, Jacob found himself seeking direction from something beyond
the temporal world around him. Once he did, God began to work through him in inexplicable
ways. Some say that God works in mysterious ways, but when one walks through
the valley of the shadow of death and someday finds themselves on the mountain
top of that remorseful valley below, it is then that they can finally
appreciate what it is to receive Christ into their lives.
Yes, my brothers and sisters, God is
waiting for you to answer your call. He is ready for you to take him into your
life. Not only will your spirit be renewed, but your body will be blessed
Look to the horizon and climb the
nearest mountain, leaving that valley below. When you reach the summit, allow
all that you experience to fill your cup to overflowing. Allow yourself to be
changed. Sup from the spring of God’s mercy while you can for the peaks of our
lives never last forever. May He annointest thy head with oil. Share the testimonies
and miracles in your life, for you may be the inspiration that someone needed
Someday, you will descend into another valley,
and when you do, take with you the precious gift of God’s grace. By our scars,
we can be healed, and by Christ’s scars we can be reborn. Be the light for all,
no matter where you are; whether if you are on the highest mountain top, or in the
deepest, darkest abyss, let your light shine for all to see.
As Paul said, “For to me to live is
So, my friend, live as if living is
Christ, and goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.
Robert Frost so famously wrote in the
final lines of his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” “…Two roads diverged in a
wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the
As I stand at another crossroads
of my own, God has prepared an unusual circumstance, in that both roads in my
journey are “the one less traveled,” regardless of which one I choose. Unlike
Frost’s divergence, where one path eventually proves morally significant over
the other, with my choice, each has the potential to share the Word of God in
the duties required. In other words, they both have the ability to become blessings
to others, in that I will be serving the Lord on either journey; and that, yes,
that fact truly makes all the difference.
As a matter of confirmation, I was
afforded an opportunity to interview with a school the first part of this week.
I had just got through sharing my testimony with a friend when the phone rang.
Like Abraham at the altar, Isaac lying bound below his knife blade, the feeling
of his muscles’ s tightening in his shoulders as he was about to drive the blade
into his son; my path seemed perfectly clear, the decision to follow through
with what God had provided was made, there was no turning back. But then, in my
case, the phone rang. In Abraham’s, God sent an Angel of the Lord. The parallel,
as it ran through my mind, literally made me laugh as I answered the call. The
caller was from a school that I had applied for many months ago, so it was a
bit of a surprise when they called Monday morning asking if I could come in
Tuesday for the interview. Knowing that God has prepared one path already, I
was a bit hesitant, but thought that at least I should perform my due
“Was this God seeing how committed
I was to finally accepting the position at the Children’s Home, and then
providing me an opportunity to go on to a job that would allow me to more easily
provide for my family?” “Was this like Abraham, where he could see that
I was going to follow through with it, no matter the cost?”
It was with these questions in
mind that I drove to the school the next day for the interview. I felt
wonderful, and it was a beautiful day; clear blue skies, low humidity, and a
feeling inside that God was with me, no matter what. The interview went very
well, and it seemed that I was always one step ahead on the panel’s questions.
They told me before I left that they would have an answer within a couple days.
By the next morning, Wednesday they had made a decision; one that didn’t include
In many ways, the news was a relief.
I thanked God out loud, for it was as if He had chosen for me. He knows us
better than we know ourselves, and that being the case, would understand how
hard it would be for me to decide between the two. Comforted once more that God
is in control, I returned to work on the Retreat; there was always one more
thing to be done.
Thursday came, and once more,
there was another knock on the door.
I opened the email, and there was
another opportunity to interview with another potential employer that I had
applied for many weeks earlier. They had moved my application to the next round
of the selection process, which meant they were giving me 72 hours to perform
the interview and submit it for review. Once again, making sure I performed my
due diligence, I logged into the web site on Friday and began answering the
question. Before beginning, I prayed that if this was God’s way of holding the
best until last, then so be it, but that I was already more than well pleased
with the choice He had provided. The questions were not of the customary type,
but rather, asked things like, “How do you grow and maintain your walk with
Christ?” “What was your personal testimony with regard to accepting Christ, and
how have you continued that walk?” In each case, there was so much I wanted to
share, but the challenge was a one-minute time limit on each response. Needless
to say, it took a lot of effort to pare down all that I wanted to say and get
it to fit into the concise timeframe required.
Thankfully, there was no limit on
the amount of time given to think about each question, and as I peered out the
vista before me, I began to reflect on all that had transpired this past summer
and how it had been one of the most challenging periods of waiting for God to speak
to me in my life. My setting for the interview was at the Lodge, a place in our
community that literally sits on top of a mountain that provides a 360-degree long-range
view of mountains, as far as the eye can see. From my mountain top vantage,
there was the feeling of being literally closer to God. One question after
another, my reflection kept reminding me that I had never been alone, even when
I felt the loneliest. Looking back, those solitary moments were steppingstones
to the answers that would play out. In the waiting, there was the feeling that
God was working on something big; something that would make it clear there was
much to do in order to make it possible. Because, with God, nothing is
Finally, after the last question, I
hit the submit button.
It was done.
Have you ever completed something
and wondered how well it went? Did you get the sudden feeling that there many
things you hadn’t said that you could have? These questions and others began to
form in my mind, but as they did, there was the comforting hand of God upon me,
consoling me, assuring me that this was all that was needed. There was nothing
left to be done.
Lowering my head in prayer, I
began to thank God for the opportunity, regardless if I got the position or not.
In my heart, it felt as if God was allowing me to see that He was covering all
the bases. Should I finally, and ultimately land at the Children’s Home, I will
have the comforting sense of satisfaction knowing that all the other doors of
possible paths had been covered and provided. Each one, even though they chose
another candidate, allowed me to see that He was listening and that he had put
me where he needed me the most. In the end, although I initially felt like Abraham
at the altar, I realized that God was just letting me know that there should be
no other questions about his desire for me to be where he wants me to serve.
Talk about a feeling of God’s hand
upon your very heart; there is no greater satisfaction in this world than
knowing you are being cared for by the Almighty God.
In every step of this long summer’s
journey, as my ability to provide for my family has diminished; when there was
no more job, when we lost our medical insurance when health issues began to
arise, God was with us. He was providing
for us in each time of need; albeit finances, medical insurance, health, and strength.
The scripture from 2 Corinthians
4:17-18 keeps coming back to me. It can best summarize the recent course of
events in, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for
us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the
things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things
which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
“I must decrease, so that he
may increase,” said John the Baptist, and for my walk of faith, it is the
same. “When we are at our weakest, he is strongest,” wrote the Apostle Paul,
and it has never been clearer in my own life.
Where the next few days, weeks, or
months will take me, I cannot say.
But one thing I do know, wherever
He leads, I will follow.
And in that, we can most assuredly say, “Thanks be to God.”