Tag Archives: Christ

Lean On Me

Driving in the predawn hours along the winding road that leads through the mountains, the cold gray light of dawn ages everything. Outbuildings and barns appear centuries old, if not close to it in reality. Then the aged fence row, that corner where the rusted barbed-wire is intertwined with honeysuckle vines, comes into view. The wood of the posts, rough-hewn from trees long forgotten, now cracks long furrowed brows of age, leaning one against the other for bracing or sheer moral support. To the passerby, the entirety of the corner is a jumble of vines, rusty wire, and weathered wood. But if one were to stop and breathe in the scene, they would find something much more profound.

Having sweated and bled over many a length of ancient wire such as this in my farming days, corners like this one were all too familiar. There, in that forgotten end of the pasture, a strength from nature’s own would begin to recompense into another form – honeysuckle and briars would interweave themselves into that ancient wood making a formidable foe, one relying upon the other for support. In this scene of decay and unfettered growth, one could find a sense of need, a feeling of caring for those that need us to be there for them, day in and day out.

Fencerow on the Blueridge Parkway

As the campus begins to breathe new life, students returning with parents in tow, each seeking a new future, there again is that feeling – a dependency of need, one for the other. Yet, beyond that wild vine growing unabated, there is the aged support. We can all look in the mirror and realize we aren’t the spring chicken we once were. Those lines, those furrowed brows tell a story of worry and woe, some far greater than others. Although they show signs of wear, even if there is strength in their core, the façade is one that we cannot deny. No amount of makeup or plastic surgery can dismiss the truth. Time does not lie. So, as the youth’s vibrancy evolves from a sleeping landscape into a living being, those with memories of yore become the support for those entering this new world. 

In the eyes of the young, thoughts of gray hair and being old are only distant shores, places to cross in some far-off future. For now, they are immortal in their youthful minds. To mention the mere thought of eternity or mortality becomes simply a nuance, a fairytale from whence more exuberant adventure stories can evolve. For in their gaming worlds, you might die, but you quickly regenerate, return to life once again through some superpower. Unlike those weathered locust posts on our fence line, whose demise is slow but perpetual, the young adult only knows of a never-ending repeating cycle of death and regeneration in their make-believe worlds of social media and online games. Their bodies try to mimic this feat, with some pushing the boundaries beyond what is mortal. In the end, their fate can be predicted by those who recognize such patterns of ill-advised decisions. Yet, for one to believe, one must almost always find out first-hand.  

As Jesus spoke to his disciples, they listened and heard every word. Yet, again, for one to believe, sometimes a person must feel the pain of reality before learning sinks in. But like those unruly briars, those disciples’ paths were not retaining the preaching of the Christ, but rather, went off into directions that were inconsequential, of no use. It wasn’t until that day when their leader finally hung on an aged, weathered cross, its furrows deep from years of persisting in the elements, now filling with the blood of Christ. Like the veins of a new being, the wood comes alive as the slain Savior above slowly dies a painful death. His life ebbs as the tree now part of an unbelievable, unfathomable, cataclysmic event unfolds before the eyes of the multitude of haters. Those who persecuted Jesus could not understand how God could come to earth in the flesh as a man. God incarnate was against their law. They despised him from the beginning and sought to take his life only because he spoke the truth. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”

As those disciples watched in horror as their Savior, the Son of God, died on the cross, they felt their support slowly eroding, being torn from their grasp. It was too late to turn back and rescind any doubts. It was too late to take back those moments when they questioned his deity. As the bracing of that ancient corner of the pasture was being ripped out, those sweet-smelling vines shredded from the grasp of that olden wood; likewise, their hearts wept bitter tears of pain as his leaving was becoming a reality.

 In the darkest, coldest, bitter nights on a college campus in the lonely corner of a dormitory, often near the latter stages of a semester, students begin to realize how they had mistaken that loving support of their parents or caretakers. Those helpful suggestions from that caring professor come back to haunt them as they face the magnitude of their decisions. Suddenly gone are all those bravado moments of fleeting joy, the inescapable memories of ridiculous expectations of what they thought they were in the light of what they really would become. Those pleasures of the flesh have vanished, and with them, their supposed friends. 

So too, those disciples began to retrace all the words which Jesus had said to them. Those many parables and warnings of his imminent death suddenly roared back like a tidal wave of humility and soul-sucking regret until they ran from the scene of Golgotha. Their hearts were breaking as their chests pounded from lack of oxygen, racing down the mountain hoping to flee all that had transpired. But too soon, as do those students who come to college for all the wrong reasons, all find that there is a day of reckoning. 

But Jesus told his followers that even though he would leave them, he would send a comforter. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.”

As those students often forget, when they leave home, they sometimes try to leave everything, including all they had been taught in growing up, there is an answer to their darkness. Like those disciples that ran and hid, there would be an answer. Although it wouldn’t be there the following day, the answer would begin to manifest itself three days later when Christ would arise from the dead. However, it wasn’t until he ascended to heaven that what he had predicted came true. For there in that upper room in Jerusalem where they hid from authorities, they finally received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ had finally been glorified, the mission had been completed, and now, the Comforter had been sent to be with them until their dying days. 

Likewise, those who find darkness overpowering their world don’t have to give up. While their academic or perceived future may have to be redirected or cut short, it is not the end. Those dark, lonely nights when the realization hits home, it is then that we pray somewhere, somehow, they either remember those lessons learned from their childhood in Sunday School, or that somehow, they have heard there is hope in Christ Jesus. Although it may seem as if life is over when those grades begin to slip and those grandiose aspirations begin to fade, all is not lost. There is something much more precious in life that awaits if only we seek it. For God doesn’t make us love him but instead wants us to choose him. It is our option, not our mandate. We can carry on living our lives trying to make it on our own, but in the end, we can never work our way into heaven. It is by God’s grace that we don’t receive what we are due, an eternity in hell. It is by His saving Grace, through the sacrifice of the blood of the pure lamb of God, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that we can have the hope of life eternal. 

For now, the fence row sits in the shadow of the mountain. That corner continues to stand as the ivy and honeysuckle continue to weave their network of hope around those ancient weathered beams of support. Like the threads of our existence, that rusted wire slowly erodes, but together, wire, wood, and vine continue to withstand the forces of this world as long as possible. The bend of the fence row stood long before my time and will likely continue to do so long after I’m gone. We are only here for a brief moment in time when compared to eternity. It is up to us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. For as old as the story may be, its truth is more vital today than ever before, for it is not of our own hopes and desires but comes from the ultimate woven being, God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. 

Seek God, search him with all your heart, and you will find Him. Knock, and the door shall be opened. For it is by His saving grace that we have the hope of life eternal.

Thanks be to God.

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They Were Fishermen

Early one morning, as my car’s headlights weaved around one mountain curve after another, a song on the radio caught my attention. The pleasing melody, like the pre-dawn somberness, melded together, finding its way into my soul. As I listened, the words began to speak to me.

They were fishermen, ordinary simple men.
A lot like you, a lot like me.
They were fishermen; Jesus chose to follow him
Go cast your nets out on the sea.
Go cast your nets out on the sea.

Men of few possessions, not men of wealth or fame.
Had no education, no titles by their name.
Yet it was they who answered and left to go with him
When Jesus said, I call you to be fishers of men.

Arriving early on campus, there is a calming tranquility that permeates the early morning darkness. Students sparsely ramble about, some seeking food from the dining hall, others are trying to make it back to their dorms after pulling an all-nighter before that 8:00 AM class. The only sounds are from the facility’s crews that prepare each day like the day before – utility and garbage trucks making their rounds. To be here before the sun rises adds another sense of peace to a place that becomes a pulsating, vibrant community by mid-afternoon on warm sunny days. In this time of respite, there is room to breathe, air to think. Here, the ponderings of living begin to percolate into the consciousness, and the Lord begins to speak.

Once more, in this life, I find myself a college student (albeit part-time). There is a purpose for why I’m here. God’s plans are never our own. The thought of how and why seldom seem to leave the cusp of my thoughts. In so doing, I make it a point to remind myself of the “why.” At my age, one might be looking forward to retirement. But for some reason, God has made me different. I look at the short time I have remaining on this earth and feel the urgency to strive ever more to fulfill His purpose in the path He has set before me.

Appalachian State University, 2021

As a college student striving to fulfill one’s purpose, every day is an unending stream of information, tests, and trials through which one must struggle. We all should strive every day to make the most of whatever we do as if we are serving God and not those who write our paycheck or grading our tests. “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.” So it is with this in mind that I seek not to complain, not to panic when I feel inadequately prepared for an upcoming quiz, nor to worry about grades. No, my goal is to learn as much as possible with an eye to returning to the classroom, to someday teach once again – for that purpose, to be there for these students is what drives me onward. Those short three years when I served at the High School were a never-ending stream of caring, loving, and nurturing the students who had been placed into my care. Some of them still keep in touch, which warms my heart with each distant hello.

A career of working in the computer/network-based industry had provided me the basis for obtaining my current career position. The landing of that position was as much a testimony as to all the others before it – a story for another time. But before being the System Administrator here at App’s Computer Science department, there were many years in which my career interfaced with technologies and applications that are usually the end-point for someone attending college. My journey has somewhat physically been the reverse. Over time, all of those various computer architectures, operating systems, and protocol languages created in me a wealth of information – knowingly or not.

However, unlike those beginning disciples to whom Jesus called, my slate is not empty. Similarly, the students around me don’t have to wade through years of industry knowledge and similar-sounding acronyms, which now I’m being taught stand for something new. As those fishermen left their nets behind, they had an open mind and weren’t clouded by the teachings and intense studies, as were their counterparts who persecuted Jesus, the Pharisees. No, these were simple men. They were ordinary men who worked day-to-day to feed their families and provide for their community. They had no preconceived interpretations as did their counterparts but were open to the words which Jesus spoke.

In the Air Force Basic Training, we were taught to shoot an M16, the rifle of choice in the early ’80s. As the Training Instructor (TI) was going over the presentation, he clearly stated, “Raise your hand if you have ever hunted or learned to shoot a weapon at home.” Of course, over half the class raised their hands. He then continued, “Those of you who raised your hands will most likely not make Marksman.” Now, the word “Marksman” was a badge of honor to a young man. It meant that, even though you were merely an Air Force serviceman, you would have something to say to the world, “Hey, look at me, I’m a good shot with an M16.” Ribbons, which were the badges of honor to the entry-level airman, were much-coveted, so the more you could earn, the prouder your chest became.

The Sergeant went on to explain why he made such a deflating comment. “You see, when you learn to shoot at home, you develop your own style, your own habits begin to form. When we get out there on that shooting range, those old habits will be hard to break. Although we’ll show you the right way, those preconceived practices will hinder your ability to follow through with the new instruction, and as such, you will fail.” As much as I tried to listen and obey, I too fell short and missed Marksman by a few points. It was the same concept with those disciples whom Jesus had chosen. They were not encumbered with the wealth of knowledge that prevented the Pharisees from seeing who he was. Even if the Pharisees wanted to believe, they could not clear their minds enough to accept the mind-altering concepts Jesus delivered.

Take Nicodemus, for one. He was an esteemed leader of the Jews and one of the Sanhedrin, one of the highest orders of the Jewish Rabbinical Judges. He sought out Jesus at least one recorded evening after dark. Some speculate this was to protect himself from being caught with Christ so as not to tarnish his reputation. Others believe that it was because that most scholars of that time did most of their intense study after dark when the surrounding communities would become quieter and the air was cooler. Here, under the cover of night, the ruler of the Jews met with Jesus and struggled to understand how he, an old man, could be born again. “How can these things be,” Nicodemus asked Christ. Jesus responded with, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” Nicodemus never became a disciple, but we know that he never gave up following the life of Jesus. He was even credited with contributing to the burial of Christ about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, demonstrating a verifiable act of love toward the Savior.

If you are blessed enough to reach advancing years in age, you can be afforded the opportunity to look back and marvel at the journey. In this reminiscent vein, you can see how God has often used not only yourself but also those around you. Myself, being a child from an impoverished farming family, there were never any dreams that could have manifested themselves into the life I now lead.

How many of you would have ever envisioned yourself being where you are now in life?

My family never lacked for anything, but we were not rich by Wall Street’s standards. Our bountiful living came from God’s providence, his creation, and the devotion that endured for generations. From that bedrock faith of my youth to the uncharted waters my footsteps find themselves upon today, there has and will always be that guiding light. As He has spoken to many so many times before, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”

We are all made different. Our paths to life eternal are never the same. But we can take comfort in knowing that we don’t have to have credentials behind our name. We don’t have to have an extensive portfolio nor earthly wealth and fame to have a relationship with the Lord. All it takes is that we step down from our pedestals and open our minds so that we can receive the truth and the way to life eternal. In other words, we must wipe our slates clean and humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord. It is written in scripture, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Jesus wasn’t looking for supermen when he found his disciples; he was only looking for one thing – simple men who would become fishers of men.

Yes, Jesus chose fishermen; they were a lot like you and a lot like me.

Thanks be to God.

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A Gathering to Remember

by Timothy W. Tron, Nov. 2020

As the coming holidays approach, Thanksgiving and Christmas, there seems to be a sense of melancholy that has begun to permeate through the din of the incessant roar of this tumult our society has become. In my mind, there is a desire to reach back in my memories and dwell upon a time when life was simpler when the so-called advances in technology had yet to be developed. Because of the threat of lockdowns restricting these beloved reunions, those distant memories have become even more cherished. One such date that comes to mind coincides with a memory that our family holds dear to their heart.

It was the late 1960’s. Back then, we survived without non-stop news coverage, without updates from our social media accounts, and without the fear of dying from a virus, let alone anything else that existed at the time. It’s not to say there wasn’t death nor dying, for there had yet to be the advances we have today in the fields of heart disease and cancer. Both of these maladies took many lives before their time, and still do today, but not nearly as severely as in those days. No, we feared not because we had a faith that was the bedrock of our existence.

That faith was taught to us through our elders, passed down from one generation to the next – a thread of belief that was built upon an unending truth – Christ is indeed the Savior of the world. So, it is in this vein that once more my heart reaches for a well-worn story that is based on an actual event whose legacy has lasted for many years in our family. It is like the cup of an instant drink, void of the liquid to make it real – once the hot water is added, the story being recalled becomes the sustenance that warms our being. Like that beverage, the Spirit enters into our soul, and we are warmed from within to that which is without. Herein lies the beauty.

Looking back through the shadowy fog of time, those distant memories are like the passing clouds overhead. They are here but for a moment, and then cross over the mountaintops before we realize they are gone. As we near the season of holidays and family gatherings, it seems that those ancient days of yesteryear are ever more treasured. Like the value of a tattered cloth that once was held in the dying grasp of a loved one, its price to most would be nothing, but to those who knew its connection to the soul of the other – it becomes a priceless object.

That year when the snow fell around Christmas would become one such moment in time for me.

The classic event which unfolded is still known to this day, by all that attended, as the Sled Hill Christmas. Of all my childhood holiday experiences, it will forever be the most memorable in my mind. To read the entirety of the original story, you can find it online at https://timothywtron.dreamhosters.com/sled-hill-life-more-abundantly/ But this article looks at that event from a different perspective; one of how the warmth of a loving family and faith carried us through what may have been considered just another dark winter.

Like a revival, a truly epic event can only unfold when it is least expected. So it was that overcast December day so many decades ago. Several of us grandkids were staying at Grandpa and Grandma Tron’s house, there on the outskirts of New Harmony, Indiana. The town itself was in the season of slumber. Farming was still the driving industry, and the fields were now silent in their winter sleep. The hay had all been stored in the barns and the silos were filled to capacity with grains and silage to last until the next growing season began.  A feeling of hibernation overtook one’s soul, making those opportunities to warm by the woodstove or to huddle close around a cup of hot chocolate all the more permanent upon the creature within. Gathering with others was the only natural thing to do in a time such as this – it was who we were, it was what we were. In those precious slices of time, we fellowshipped without knowing that’s what it was called. Visiting with others when the work in the fields slowed was just as natural as splitting your firewood by hand – we all did it.

Tron House, New Harmony, Indiana.

When those first few snowflakes began falling the night before what would become the day to remember, we went to bed not expecting anything more than just a typical Midwest December dusting. When we awoke the next morning to the sounds of someone rattling around downstairs in the kitchen, it was as if Christmas had come early. Jumping from underneath the multiple layers of quilts, which weighed nearly as much as another cousin, we raced down the icy narrow stairs from the unheated upstairs bedrooms down to the kitchen where the pot-belly woodstove in Grandma’s kitchen was already red hot. We shivered and shook the remnants of chill from our bones, as our bare feet fought to find the warmth emanating from the scant linoleum floor by the stove. Excitedly, we peeked through the threadbare kitchen curtains that hung over the sink. The window faced grandma’s kitchen garden. Outside, the world was no longer the muddled gray of winter, but instead, was a brilliant whiteness, even in the pre-dawn, early morning hours.

About the time we had settled down around the table, after getting out of our bedclothes, Grandpa came in from the morning milking. We could hear the creaky old porch door slam behind him as he walked down the long back porch, from the barn end, up to the door of the kitchen, where he paused and took off his boots. The confines of that narrow passage clothed in clear plastic, a feeble attempt to thwart the cold winds of winter. The repurposed material was clouded with age, giving off a soft sheer grayness within the tomb of the veranda’s confines. The oft sound of rippling plastic slapping the screen made thoughts of warm summer nights, fresh tomatoes, and fireflies come to mind. Needless to say, those were but a distant rumor as the snow continued to fall.

With all eyes upon his entry, the vacuum of anticipation cut the air, like the cold wind that followed him inside. Snowflakes fell off his outer coat confirming what we already knew. Before he had time to take note of his unexpected audience, the questions began to roll off our lips.

“How deep is it grandpa?”

“Does it look like more’s coming?

“Where are the sleds?”

“Were the cows cold?”

He turned and smiled, looking toward grandma. Victor Tron never was a man of many words, So, when he replied with, “It looks like it’s gonna be good,” rest assured, that was all we needed to know. Grandma already had his breakfast ready, along with ours, and we sat down for an unusually early start of our day. We all instantly grew silent when grandpa bowed his head and reached his hand over to grandma. She grabbed his outstretched weathered hand with hers and we all joined hands and bowed our heads as grandpa said the blessing for the breakfast meal. In my mind, I can still hear that strained voice, barely above a whisper, thank God for what grandpa said was an abundance of blessings. Before us was a meager meal by worldly standards, but to us, it was Heaven sent. For we knew, even as children that every bit of it was from those two pair of withered hands that grasped one another in a love that never ended, even upon their death.

Victor Tron Sr.

 Grandpa’s first milking was at 3:00 AM and he usually finished up around 5:00 AM. His second milking was at 3:00 PM, every day of his life. He never took a vacation that I could remember. Usually exhausted from rising early, he would routinely drift off to sleep no matter where he sat, so finding time to talk with him was rare. He milked the cows until that night he died peacefully in his sleep, never to milk again. What we didn’t know as children, was how precious those few moments were with him when we were able to visit, especially that snowy morning on a cold December day so many years ago.

As soon as we were able to clear the table and bundle up, we were headed out the door. Eventually, someone asked if we could check out sled hill. An okay was given and like a herd of young calves heading for new pasture, we bolted out the back gate. Past the woodpile where grandpa’s ax and splitting log were shrouded in snow we raced. Heading for the opening to the lane, we quickly found ourselves wading through the knee-deep snow toward the iconic destination; Sled Hill. Past the milking barn, the bullpen, and Ms. Wolf’s house we trudged. Each one of these structures held a plethora of memories and stories that one could sit for hours and share. Like a life of living, their collections, like the holdings of stockpiled hay for the winter, waiting for one to return and use for the giving.

The bushes along the Labyrinth were blanketed in a sweet frosting of white. Our panted breaths billowed before us and were quickly whisked away in the falling snow.  In our rush to find out how well the sledding was going to be, we didn’t realize how hard the snow was continuing to fall. Nor did we realize how deep the snow had already gotten since sunrise. In the overcast grayness of the day, it all seemed like a dream, even when it was live.

Labyrinth, New Harmony, Indiana

As the story, “Sled Hill: Life More Abundantly,” conveys, the rest of the day was a multitude of adventures and excitement. With each passing moment, the tempo of the day’s delight reached a fevered pitch. The enthusiasm of the children soon bubbled over into those of the adults, igniting in them the feelings of youth. Gone were the aches and pains of age. The adrenaline of living purged those boundaries of limitations that had kept them hostage. Soon, parents, Aunts, and Uncles were joining in the merriment of sliding down the hill so aptly named.

As the sky began to darken as night approached, the thrill of the day and the feeling of being one with something greater than ourselves overwhelmed us. Fearing that it would end in darkness, the men created torches on the fly from used old tin cans (which we also used as drinking vessels), nailing them to poles and placing them along the sled run, all the way to the top of the hill. What started out as child’s play quickly turned into a major production. In essence, a cow pasture had turned into our own ski-slope far removed from any mountaintop.

When the last vestiges of daylight gave way to darkness, there along the sled run was a perfect row of home-made flaming lights shedding an ambient glow of warmth. Off to the side, a pile of wood was set afire and a massive bonfire became the gathering spot between runs down the hill. There we regained strength to carry on from food and drink the family had brought in at a moment’s notice. There, the entire family that was able to make it collected. The sentinel image that remains with me to this day was seeing both grandpa and grandma’s faces glowing in the reflection of the firelight. To know that grandpa had a milking coming at 03:00 AM, and yet, he was here foregoing precious sleep, standing alongside us kids around the bonfire said something more that than words could fathom. Even then, the whispers of the children could be heard, “Look, even grandpa and grandma are here.” The statement was a confirmation of the significance of that moment in time, one that made a profound statement on all that were present.

That night, once our bodies had been worn to a frazzle. There was barely enough strength to make it back to the house. As we pulled off our wet, nearly frozen clothing and briefly warmed by the fire, a numbness of exhaustion began to overtake us. The enormous featherbed never looked so welcoming. Shortly thereafter, after our bedtime prayers were said, there was little more than the sweet, “Goodnight children,” from grandma as she tucked us under the pile of quilts before we fell asleep.

For once in a lifetime, there was no sweeter sleep.

As the snow continued to fall outside that night, there was a warmth within that was more than physical – a love that transcends all understanding. There was something created that day that would last forever in the hearts of those who had been privileged to experience it. It became an inexplicable thread of life that would weave its way into our souls which would become part of who we were. The similarity of a feeling such as this can only compare to that of Christ’s disciples.

Like those followers of Jesus who had walked and talked with Christ after his resurrection, they too had a story to share. One that was so inexplicable, so earth-shattering that they would live the rest of their lives pursuing the mission to share it with all that would hear, even unto the point of death. It was who they were.

As we go forward in this holiday season, let us come together as a family, and may the hope of Christ, and Christmas be with you, until the end of time. May it someday become who you are as well.

Thanks be to God.

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The Last Four Minutes…

Dawn had just awakened in the mountains. Walking down the forest’s path, I paused but for a moment. Turning around, I peered into the darkness broken by shafts of light filtering through the canopy above. A sullen mist hung close to the ground. My breath, visibly seen, became one with the morning dew which clung to the ferns that bountifully lay along the pathway from which I had come. As my eyes followed the trail from the light into the depths of darkness beyond, there was so much to reflect upon.

A couple days ago, I met a young man who went by the name Wallace. It was after the culmination of a tour that I had led at the Trail of Faith that we had time to sit down while breaking bread together. Wallace had been mostly silent during the course of the tour. But now, pulled aside from the crowd, he began to open up and share. Wallace leaned in toward me and asked that I pray for him. “What shall I pray for,” I questioned.

“I want to come closer to God. I can’t get enough of Him,” he said with a grimace. “I want to go to that next level of faith,” Wallace pleaded in all sincerity. He had the look in his eyes of someone that sought after something of which they could not find. As his question settled in my mind like the dust on a gravel road, I thought of how each of us, at least those who are believers, yearn for the same thing. Wallace’s eagerness seemed to paint him as if he were a new believer, someone who had not yet realized that the journey is not a sprint but rather a marathon. “Sanctification lasts a lifetime,” I told him. And I then went to great lengths to comfort his worries, in that he wasn’t alone: With each new day, a believer awakens to the creation of God, becoming more aware of God’s handiwork and able to hear his voice through the written word. With each new day, our mind is opened a little more to the understanding of the veritas (truth). “No one comes to the father but through me, I am the way, the truth, and the light,” Jesus would tell his disciples. As I paused to allow the words to sink in, he exclaimed, “Man, you are so cool.”

“No, no, please, no,” I said shaking my head. “It’s God speaking through me that you are hearing.”

It was then the scripture from John 1 came to mind, as I shared with this young man who sought after God with a passion I had not seen in a long, long time.

“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believebecause I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you,youwill see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’the Son of Man.”[1]

The thoughts of Wallace were with me the next day as I climbed the trail to the top of Rough Ridge. Again, the question returned, “How do we get closer to God?” The rocky crags cut deep into my heart, leaving nothing untouched. From up there, the world below seemed so distant, nothing to fear. Sitting on the edge of the earth, the thoughts roll across one’s mind like the clouds across the broad landscape below.

As I stood in front of the washing machine the other night waiting for the spin cycle to end, the time showed four minutes remaining. Then, for some unknown reason, the question arose in my head, “What if you only had four minutes left in your life. What would you think of? What would your final thoughts be about?” I closed my eyes and lifted my head toward heaven and waited. Instantly I was taken back to that old run-down farm house on the edge of New Harmony, Indiana. There, my paternal grandparents had carved out an existence in a life that had been anything but easy. My view was from within the kitchen seated at the head of the table. There on that worn formica countertop my grandparents had seen all manner of life pass. From the earliest times I could remember my grandpa Tron seated in the position of admiration, the head of the table. He was our patriarch. Grandma sat to at his right hand. When grandpa passed, she would move to his seat. It was there in my mind that my journey of what my last four minutes of life began.

You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought to myself, “The last four minutes and I’m stuck in the old kitchen,” as I chuckled silently. But as I sat there, a feeling of reverence washed over me, calming my anticipation. Time slowed. A flood of memories of a lifetime began to pass before me. In those moments, my grandmother’s soft-spoken manner again, and again, warmed my heart. As she spoke, the words she said emanated from where she lived, in God’s word. It was then I realized why it was here my journey began. The words from Peter told of who she was to our family and why my story could not be told without her as its beginning, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”[2]

Before I could finish that thought, I was whisked away and was now standing at the top of Sled Hill, the highest point anyone could find in our flat landscape of southern Indiana. Geologists say that at one time, glaciers pushed the earth ahead of them as they grew into North America. When they retreated, the soil that they left behind became the hills and hollars of exploration of my youth. Those rolling hills, covered in hardwood forests, bordered the Wabash River, creating a utopia for the weary. The rest of the state had been bulldozed flat by those massive goliaths of their time. So, as I stood on this highest vantage point around, my eyes beheld once more the view of our little village from above. Below me, the rooftops and spires of the church’s reached above the trees that lined the streets beyond our little farmhouse that was home. It was then another feeling came over me, one that I had not remembered since the first time my eyes rested upon that scene – The feeling of standing on a mountain struck a chord within my child’s mind. It was as if a light had been turned on. My destiny began at that moment. Little did I know that a calling to return to our ancestry would be driven by the desire to reach for the mountains. None of us knew at that time, but deep within my soul, there was a beckoning to return to a place that I didn’t even know. Even though there overlooking New Harmony, I was barely above the tree-line, the words to the song, “Nearer My God to Thee,” never resonated more.

Likewise, when we accept Christ into our lives, an awakening, a light is turned on and suddenly we find ourselves longing for a home we have never seen –  a place where we can spend eternity in the beautiful, blessed arms of our Savior. When we become Christians, it is then we realize this earth is not our home. We are only passing through.

The last four minutes slowly washed away into a flight like the raptors who soar above in the azure blue skies over those granite peaks. Time, like the tiny rivulets of water that trickle down the pathway after the summer showers, passes without hesitation. We cannot stop it, for if we try, it only dams up into a pool from which we can peer within. Our reflections are all that we see. Letting go, the fluidness continues on as it had before we paused its journey. Onward down the mountain it falls, joining tiny stream after another until they become greater torrents of fluidness. Like the many lives of others, we have met, our experiences becoming one.

The flight continued onward and upward until there was no more ceiling, only heaven above.

Time had expired, but life had not. Once we pass from this world to the next, be it in four minutes, or be it four decades, we will realize that all that we did in this life was a witness to our faith. Whether we realize it or not our journey was seen by those who watched, even when we knew not. If we lived according to God’s word, our life would have been an example, a wonderful testimony, which hopefully would have led another soul to Christ. How great the scene when, “the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

Like a new believer, may we seek to draw closer to God every day. To do so, we must not just read the Word, we must become one with it. When we are saved, we leave our old self behind becoming a new person. In the vacuum of the old self departing, we must fill the empty space with God. To become absorbed with the Bible’s knowledge is one thing, but by taking it to heart, we receive its blessing, and with it the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  

The journey of faith, once we accept Him into our life, takes a lifetime. A diamond is not formed from a lump of coal in a day.

Yet, when we have run the race, and fought the good fight, not yielding to temptations of this world and pressing always toward the mark, we shall have finally been the light to those around us.  It is then we might expect to hear those fateful words, “Well done, good and faithful son, well done.”

Thanks be to God.


[1] John 1:47-51 KJV

[2] 1 Peter 5:2-4 KJV

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Spirits in the Sky

This evening, the news of a famous retired basketball player dying in a helicopter crash has caused many in our nation to take pause. He was only 41. His life, one of a truly, gifted and amazing athlete, was followed by wealth and fame. Sadly, it is now all gone. What will remain are the memories and legacies to which he may have imparted; be they good or bad, as a two-edged sword, we may never know.

Each morning we awaken, we are afforded another precious gift; another day of life. We should never take one of them for granted, for we never know when this may be our last.

Today I was afforded the blessing of meeting a friend at a church on the mountain, one that he was looking at possibly joining in the future. As I drove along the winding road, there was much to reflect upon. Overhead, the skies were a crystalline clear as the John’s river’s icy waters. Their reflection of earth’s outer sphere, like a deep cerulean blue, gave the rising sun something with which to compete for the beauty and majesty. As my car drove up the mountain, the sunrise cast long shadows behind me, forcing darkness in pockets upon the eastward facing slopes; behind them, the veil of white lay waiting. As I made the crest of the mountaintop, the morning’s first light made the snow-covered forest come alive. Like a multitude of angels at Jesus’ birth, so too were the trees enshrouded by the luminescence of an untold number of diamond-like snowflakes.

Here and there around each bend, chimneys spewed forth slender columns of woodsmoke, each rising like tendrils into that azure blueness above. Each a signal of life within. Inside the humble cabins, the morning coffee had begun to percolate as the fire cracked and popped. Somewhere nearby, bacon sizzled in a cast-iron skillet. Some would be preparing for church while others would simply be rising to live another day of life, one with the hope of a tomorrow and the other just wishing there was one.

For every portion of living, there is a double-edged sword with which we must contend. One side of the blade, as my friend put it, is Mercy; the other side Justice. Life cannot have one without the other. Justice without mercy is a formidable and a fearsome judgment to any who have received it. Mercy without justice is like giving freedom without having any fear of retribution; there is nothing for which to be freed if there is nothing for which to fear. Yet, God hath given us a sword for which the balance between justice and mercy is perfectly balanced. In fact, on the traditional broadsword, the center of the sword is slightly raised, giving height to the intersection of the two opposing sides, taking the high road, if you will.

Through God’s love for us, we are afforded the perfect balance of Justice and Mercy. For with each gradual trial we weather, by His Grace, we grow stronger in our faith. For if we find ourselves facing the proverbial headwinds in our daily walk with Christ, we must know that we are going in the right direction. For faith without trials is a faith untested. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”[1]

Just as each edge of the blade could be considered to stand for justice and mercy, so too could they stand for Thoughts and Intent of the human soul. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”[2]

Just as the word of God is quick and powerful, so too are its intention. Like a playbook on how to live life, its instructions are clear, succinct, and powerful. Yet, to the unbeliever, the words are only that, just printing on the page. As God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.[3] He gave us Christ, with whom we were spared eternal damnation and the expected end we deserved, with that ultimate justice; his death was the punishment for our sins.

To the unbeliever, the Bible is nothing more than theory; conjecture of good intentions.

As I was speaking to one of our department’s professors this week, the difference between theory and application came to mind. While we are immersed in the pursuit of education at our institutions of higher learning, most of what we achieve is theory. It is not until we go out into the “Real” world, get jobs, and start careers that we actually apply that theory. That application becomes the tools of whatever industry we pursue, sometimes for the rest of our lives. However, God has allowed me to return to the place from whence I began so long ago. As I listened to the very well-meaning professor describe the course layout, I found my mind jumping from the theory he was describing to the applications I had used in my nearly two decades of working in the industry. From that life of experience, from the applying of theory, I once more made the jump back to the present and was able to interpret his descriptions, but far from the conventional line of thought to which he was used to instructing.

For those of you who have learned or are trying to learn to speak a foreign language, you can relate. You at first have to think of the foreign word’s meaning in your mother tongue and then speak the foreign word. Slowly, as you become more proficient, eventually, you can skip the literal translation because you just know the foreign word, has finally become one of your own, no longer foreign. So too is the word of God. Like many who are lost and haven’t come to know or accept Christ into their lives, the words in the Bible are only that; words. But Jesus told his followers that they would not be alone; that he would send a Comforter. He also said that he would never leave us nor forsake us. That Comforter, that being with whom he spoke, was to be the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit, we are made anew, “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.[4]

From whence we came, is to which we shall return. For once we have walked in the way, we are made anew, and from there, we can speak to those who have yet to find the way, the truth, and the light. From our experience in the application of the word, we have become wiser, and with this wisdom, we are then able to help those who are lost. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and unbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”[5] From theory, as some may say, to become one with the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are changed. Walking in Christ, we are no longer living in theory, but rather, in the application of what it was meant to be, where Justice and Mercy meet in that high rounded middle of the blade, to which nothing can prevail; neither spirit nor soul.

As the finger-like wafts of smoke rise into the morning sky from their hand-hewn stone chimneys below, so soar the spirits of many who have breathed their last. Don’t go another day without seeking out that friend, that neighbor, or even that family member who might be lost. Seek them with all your heart.

And remember, for, by the Grace of God, we go.

We are all but a heartbeat away from eternity.

Live each day as if it were the most precious gift. You never know when it will be your last.

Thanks be to God.


[1] 1 Peter 4:12-13 KJV

[2] Hebrews 4:12 KJV

[3] Jeremiah 29:11 KJV

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:15-20 KJV

[5] James 1:5 KJV

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There is Hope in the Storm

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.

With 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.[1]

But 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.

Somewhere within, there is a flicker of a soul.

Like 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;”[2] 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.”[3]

Alone, 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.[4]

Even 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.

We cannot achieve this freedom alone.

In 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.

But nothing worth having is ever easy,” – Theodore Roosevelt

As 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.

As 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 to see.

The storm had been weathered.

There 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.

Tomorrow is a new day.  Rise with hope in your heart and let your light shine for all to see.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Romans 8:24-25 (KJV)

[2] 2 Corinthians 6:3-5 (KJV)

[3] 1 Peter 5:8-9 (KJV)

[4] Ephesians 2:12 (KJV)

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Are You Blessed?

 “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”-John 20:29

We stood in a circle. Our right hands made into fists as our arms were extended into the middle of the circle, like the hub of a human wheel, one placed upon the other as each of us bowed our heads in prayer. The boys like to call the configuration the “popcorn prayer,” a term they coined on their own. With the first of the young men that began, the next would continue the prayer until it came around the circle to the last person.

Crossnore Children’s Home

In the past, we would have had a morning devotional before going to breakfast, followed by a closing prayer. But this day was different, it was late Sunday afternoon. Unlike the times before, today they asked that we all pray together before we said our final goodbyes. In unison, they asked that I close us out by saying the last prayer.

It was one of the most poignant moments of my life, humbling to the core; it was their last request.

I had come to say goodbye, a goodwill gesture that was sincerely from the heart. It had been a tumultuous month, one that had left me more than tired. Several weeks earlier, when I had shared with my supervisor that God was leading my life’s journey away from Crossnore, I also asked that if they needed any extra help, I told him that I would be willing to fill in if needed. He thanked me for that offer.

At Crossnore, there is always a need.

And so, after many sleep-deprived and beleaguered days, my footsteps carried me one last time from one end of the Crossnore campus to the other. Those young men had left an undeniable mark upon my heart. For many of the children at Crossnore, their pasts are much like our own, better left behind. Many are at the home because of no fault of their own, and with that, you immediately seek to find the source of the mindset that acts out in ways that are not normal; because if anything, the trauma through which they have survived are anything but normal. It was because of this and much more that I couldn’t leave without at least letting them know that I would miss them.

Along my path that somber Sunday afternoon, the majestic oaks that had at one time provided comforting shade during the hotter months, had now given way to become barren, twisted towering bones, reaching to the azure blue sky above. They too, showed empathy for my departure, like elders who had seen so many come and go, telling me in their own way that they would forever be with me. The chilly winds blew leaves across my path as I made it to the all teen boy’s cottage. Many would prefer another assignment than to have to deal with young men at their age.

My own experience was quite different.

From the outset, once they realized I wasn’t going to be a push-over, we began to connect. One might wonder if it had been the many years of working with the Scouts that allowed me to understand them? Perhaps you might ask, was it because of the time spent working with the Junior Appalachian Musician program? Or, maybe, you might conjecture, it was teaching High School math to teens their age that helped me cope? Whatever the reason one might attribute my connection to those boys, I believe it was the hand of the Lord who had put me there for that season, as short as it may have been. The reason I felt it was God, was because it wasn’t until I asked to share the devotional with them that I could see something new; a change in their demeanor toward my presence. It was when one of the young men-(the one that had been there the longest, over 6 years to be exact)- opened up to me, that their reactions began to make me take notice. They said that because of his years of tenure at the home, he had become so hardened that he would purposely keep you at bay, knowing that before long, you too would fall by the wayside.

Who could blame him?

He had seen so many come and go. And up to that point, he could have just as well said the same thing about me. But when he would purposely make it a point to greet me or go out of his way to tell me to have a nice day, it became apparent that God had moved him, through me, in spite of who I was. All of these thoughts swirled around in my head like the fallen leaves upon the ground that cold, blustery afternoon.

There had been so much to contemplate. For if the walk had been days, there would have been enough recent memories and experiences to occupy my thoughts the full breadth of the journey.

Recently, one of my new colleagues at the college asked, “How are you today?”

I replied, as I so often do these days, “I am blessed, I hope you are?”

He then later asked what I had meant by the word “Blessed.”

The question stopped me in my tracks.

My mind flashed back to the beginning of the summer and the terrible drought, and trials that my life had encountered. Through the loss of a job, loss of income, loss of medical coverage, to the near-fatal illness, to the days of unanswered prayers. The doubts and troubles piled up like logs against the bridge when the river rises. One by one, their pressure building until they either burst through or until they are swept over the bridge by higher waters. My life had become that bridge, inundated by the flooding trials that seemed to come, one after the other, each one building upon the other. At one point, the bad news had become so common that it became laughable. “Just how much more could one take and still survive,” I began to ask? My life began to feel a little like Job in the struggles, and a lot like Joseph at the bottom of the dry well; there was nowhere to go but up.

Then, like once before in my life when it seemed as if all hope was lost, God answered. I don’t recall the exact day or time, but there was a sense that only a few may know or understand. Like a warm wave cascading over your soul, the feeling of things that are about to change washes over you, and it is then that you know deep in your heart that it is going to be okay. It’s moments like that when Hebrews 11:1 makes perfect sense, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

My sweet co-teacher, Mrs. Rush, said it best last year when she was trying to comfort me about having to leave the school when she said, “God is going to answer your prayers in a way that is going to be far greater than your wildest expectations.” She continued, “The answer won’t come soon, but rather, it will probably be at the last moment when you feel like all hope is gone. It is then that He will finally give you an answer.”

She was as prophetic as anyone I have ever known. Was God speaking through her? I don’t know, but to this day, I have to believe he was.

To answer my colleague, my mind dug through those countless days of anguish and despair, and the words began to form. They had to pass through the filter of that prayer with those boys in the Cottage as we all stood around in the circle and prayed. The memory of what happened during that prayer still lingered in my soul.

From the bottom of my feet, the sensation began. As God poured the words through my lips, the Holy Spirit began to fill my body like a pitcher is filled from the bottom up. The electricity began to rise through my legs, torso, and eventually put my arm into the pile of hands. The words continued to speak as my entire body began to tremble. Attempting to retain my composure, I pressed on, asking God for this moment to never end. “They have to feel this,” my mind reflected while scriptures began to flow from my heart and out my mouth. The warmth of tears streaming down my face began to mix with the emotions in my voice until we finally said, “Amen.”

As I stepped back, wiping the tears from my eyes, the emotional toll was not just my own, for it was apparent in their eyes as well. My head was spinning as I tried to find a way to say goodbye. Once more, there was yet another reason to never forget, as they asked for a hug. In my heart, the pain of saying goodbye was a burden that must have shown. One of the boys raced to his room and brought out one of his most cherished items, a UNC flag. In the spur of the moment, I asked if we could have them all sign it, “As a memento,” I said. They all happily agreed, and each one took great care to make sure their name was visible. In a way, it was as if they wanted to make that indelible mark upon my heart; one, like the permanent marker upon the flag, that would never fade away.

Those multitudes of thoughts swirled around in my head as my colleague must have wondered why it was so difficult to answer a simple question about what I meant by being ‘Blessed.’ It was as Jesus had said to Thomas at that moment when he finally realized that he as standing in the presence of our risen Savoir. After putting his hand through the hole in Jesus’ side, his head suddenly became faint. The room began to spin. Stepping back, trying to regain his balance, he stared in awe at Son of Man, God in the flesh, who had now defeated death. He was speechless. Jesus said to him, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Yes, blessed are we that have not seen and yet have believed. But this was only one part of being blessed to which Christ spoke The sermon on the mount was full of blessings, enough to know that when we walk with Him, when we realize we have found our path only because He has led us upon it, it is then we truly know that we are blessed.

To my colleague, I finally said that one should be thankful for being in a place to which they had never realized they would be in life, by no cause or fault of their own.

He respectfully nodded in response.

To live or die is gain, and to know Him, Christ, our Savior, is to be blessed beyond measure.

To all things we should be grateful, and most importantly,

Thanks be to God.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”-Matthew 5:1-11

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A Heartbeat Away from Heaven

by Timothy W. Tron

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 continued.

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 Rose alive.

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 within.

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 worthy.

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 proclaimed proudly.

“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 miniature screen.

“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 itself.”

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 himself.

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 healing heart.

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 beyond measure.

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 to hear.

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 Christ.”

So, my friend, live as if living is Christ, and goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.

Thanks be to God.

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Make a Way in the Wilderness

The old path had been obliterated by the multitude of floods sweeping through the valley. Over the course of the late winter and early spring, the rains had fallen heavily upon the mountain. The water had nowhere to go but down into the valleys below. Massive logs had been strewn this way and that, like straws spilled on a table, their remains were all that was left, like bones upon the shoreline of a distant war. Now, there were only piles of dark, entangled webs of roots and logs. Their bulk lay wherever the currents had subsided.

John’s River, Collettsville, NC.

One such testament to the disasters of this past season had now blocked the old trail which was once where my weekly crossing of the river would lead. It had been over a year since my last venture. Like a blanket of comfort, vines and forest growth had already claimed their new patron as their own. To once more scale the opposite shore would require finding a new way, a new path; blazing a trail once more through the wilderness. It was as if God was speaking to me this past week when all the events had fallen into place such that there was finally time to seek out this new pathway. Much like many of our lives at this moment, you too might be waiting on that next door to open. You might feel like those prayers you have lifted over and over again are not reaching through your own ceiling. In this time of waiting, there is learning. In this season of pause, we must seek what we have yet to find in our faith.

One might ask, “Is it even worth the effort to reclaim that old path?” or if your congregation has lived through a natural disaster you might ask, “Is it worth the money to rebuild the church after the storm?” To those fallen on even the direst of life’s circumstances, the question may arise, “How can I even go on living?”

God tells us through his prophet Isaiah, when he states, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

We often cannot see beyond the next hill or bank of the river. God has put before us the opportunity to blaze new pathways, leaving the old behind. When we find our way is blocked by circumstances beyond our control, or have a tragedy strike, we must first seek Him. When we find God, we must then listen, for when we receive him, his indwelling will become our guidepost. When we learn to listen for that still small voice, we shouldn’t be surprised to find guidance and direction, and often in the most unlikely of places.

The afternoon thunderstorms had been heavy, so it was no surprise to find the river was up. The sandbar, covered with all manner of stone, was now under water; it being my gauge as to when it is safe to cross or not. Having already decided that this would be the day to find out if there was a way possible, I went ahead with the plan. A wiser man might have simply passed for another day; not I. The first few footsteps into the murky turbulence proved my intuition was correct, the current was tearing away at my footing. Scarcely had not one step been taken before the next was nearly washed out from underneath. The crossing was not going to be easy. Not to mention, the distant shore, now covered with a network of vines and briars, would be even more daunting. I had just begun, and it seemed as if all was lost. In the back of my mind, the question arose as to, “Why, why are you doing this?”

Many times, when we are in the midst of our trial, even though we may be within the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death, we are not alone; God is with us. As we take that next step, there are those in our lives watching, like the boats surrounding the ship upon which Jesus had fallen asleep. Each small vessel carried passengers who also wondered if this may be their doom, waiting for a sign from the boat upon which Christ had found passage. To their amazement, from a distance, they watched as Jesus rebuked his disciple’s unbelief, and then calmed the raging seas. Those too, who are with us each day, watching our demeanor and response to the hardships through which we travail, are likewise inspired by the sometimes seemingly insignificant details of decisions we make; regardless, if it is something we find as trivial or something as horrific as the loss of a family member through a tragedy, each event elicits a similar revelation.

So, as I fought the raging currents to reach the other shore, it was with admirable satisfaction that when I embarked upon scaling the steep embankment, there was already an opening made by the hand of God. The force of the flood had caused not only trees to be washed away, but also the shape of the briars and vines had been swept into uniform patterns, causing them to lay one upon the other, like matting upon the earth. I easily found footing and barely had to cut back but just a few thorny green briars, here and there, until the paved trail of the Collettsville Park was in sight. All of my apprehension and fear had already been taken care of by the Master’s hand. All that was asked of me was to try, to take that first step into the raging torrent and trust in Him.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”-Isaiah 43:2

When we find ourselves in these times of trial and waiting, we must forge new forays into God’s Word, turning pages we might have never sought before. We are often taken aback at how direct the word may speak to us. Who hasn’t sought an answer from God, and in so doing, opened the Bible at random and found the very text to which your eye had cast upon answering you? But even in our doubt and struggle with waiting, we must keep every present in our mind that He will not leave us in our struggle. The wrath of destruction through which we survive, be it spiritual or physical, is not unnoticed by our Heavenly Father. When we pass through the storm, we will be blessed with the most loving promise, “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;”

In the silence, God is working on answering your prayers.

Be ever vigilant and patient. It takes time, at least from our humanly perspective, for rivers to emerge from deserts. From the driest and most arid of the human soul can the fruit of the Holy Spirit spring forth, bubbling up unto the presence for all to see; a testimony of having battled through hell and survived by the Grace of God to tell the story.

Step into that torrent, blaze that trail once more and never give up. Christ didn’t die for your sins for you to throw away your life.

You can make it. You have His promise.

Thanks be to God.

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;”-Psalm 103:4

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”-Isaiah 43:2

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”-Isaiah 43:19

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The Music Returns

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”-Col.3:16

From the depths of the hollar, the strains of the melodies rise above the canopy.

Finally, within the Retreat, the purpose for which it began, the music has begun. Weary fingers, mending from being crushed, broken, and scarred through the many trials of construction still somehow remember their positions on the keyboard. Like long lost loved ones gone but never forgotten, the old songs return.

Outside, the night sounds of the forest rise from the shadows as darkness creeps up the valleys below. The air begins to grow heavy, like gravy running from the tops of the biscuit, finding the crevices through which to yield, until only the peaks of the mountains prevail. Below the mist, the music rises, penetrating the cloud, singing the praises of the Lord.

It had been nearly three weeks since there had been a break, other than Sundays. Today, bodies, worn and tired, cried for a break; so, we listened. Progress is being made on the Retreat, but there is much to do. There are still windows and doors to set in place, but for now, it is a shelter from the storms. As we took time to step back and revive our life outside of the construction zone, we reconnected to the world around us; the mountains, rivers, and forest of the Blueridge. In the process of reconnecting to God’s grandeur, so too were our spirits rejuvenated with the blessings we had so long ago put aside to pursue the many purposes for which we serve.

The old fiddle sits poignantly in the corner of the fireplace as if she has always been there. From those strings, many blessings have been provided in this life, and hopefully, Lord willing, there are many more to come.

Tonight a few minutes were taken to revisit the old friend and to once more rekindle the Spirit within. When we make music, it is as if God can speak through us. His indwelling within us only makes our spirits rise to new heights. Like those notes floating beyond the tiny hollar from where they start, their tranquil melodies become one with the all of His creation. Together, their symphony is His grace singing from our hearts.

Yes, tonight the Word of Christ dwelt richly within, and for that, I have only one thing to say.

Thanks be to God.

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