Tag Archives: Collettsville
The long-awaited time of recompense has begun.
In life, there are seasons.
One must traverse through these one at a time.
Some may feel like they have entered into the valley of the shadow of death. Others may feel as if they have reached the summit of life’s journey. Through each day, we are seeking a means to an end. For some, their grasp reaches no further than what is just before them. Many people today are self-absorbed in the many distractions of this world so much so, that they think no more about the consequences of their actions than that of a passing of a swift cloud overhead. It is because of the choices of the first humans, Adam and Eve, that we live in a fallen world – thus, the reason for death and destruction. What we choose today can alter the course of our life for not just this lifetime, but for eternity.
Think about that for a moment!
My own journey has just passed through some very turbulent waters. While they are nothing compared to many people I know, they were at least some of the more challenging in recent years. To that end, my extended passions, art, music, and writing had to take a back seat. It was as if part of me had to be cut off for the whole of me to be fully engaged in receiving, and absorbing the information necessary to make it to the next stage of the journey. In some ways, it was as if the fruits of the spirit were slowly dying on the vine, withering away due to neglect. It was not something that I wanted, but it was the only way to make it through the valley in which I had traversed. Did I think about my choice as to why this was happening? Oh yes, frequently and often. Did it give me solace in knowing that my trials were making the path more difficult? Yes, for when we often are serving God, there are certainly times of trials and struggles, to which the Apostle Paul attested, again and again.
So, it was this morning, as I walked to church that once more, my consciousness was as clear as the air was cold. The trail I was on ran beside the John’s River. The frigid waters were a gray, forbidding froth as the mountain shed the previous night’s rain. The forest is now like a living graveyard, bones of the tree trunks barren and gray offering little comfort in their winter gloom. In the bountiful days of summer, their foliage provides a canopy of shelter from the sun. Yet, as my footsteps carried me forward, the sunlight was my welcome companion. My mind was free to recite scriptures, something else that had been derelict in my daily life, much to my chagrin. But today, as I walked, the words of the Lord flowed from my lips, like the waters cascading over the rocks in the torrent below.
It felt as if my blood was flowing once more.
Even before my journey had made it to my mid-way stopping point, the Collettsville General Store, there was the deep-throated howl of the hunting dog. “Odd,” I thought to myself, “Did I just hear a hound dog wailing this early in the morning?” Sure enough, as my footsteps rounded the bend in the road and the parking lot of the store came into view, there standing near the picnic table was the familiar Blue Tick Hound. We’d met before, and he seemed comfortable with my presence. So much so before, that when we sat together on the porch of the store, he sat next to me, as if we were old friends.
Today was no different, as he seemed to recognize me as much as I did him. I shuffled on over to the weathered picnic table and unloaded my pack and walking staff. Old Blue came over and greeted me, and I him. As I sat down, he continued to check out each car that pulled into the lot, either seeking his owner or a morsel of food. Either way, he kept coming back to me and eventually leaned over my shoulder as if to say, “Hey, how about some attention fella.” Reluctantly, for fear of coming away smelling like an old hound dog, I began patting the back of his head. to which he seemed to smile. He rather enjoyed it all the more, so much so, that it invoked his instinctual voice of glee to erupt into a punctual, “Baaaaroooooooof,” in my ear. It was the unmistakable howl of the bear-dog that I had heard earlier, and it had definitely been from my newfound friend, Old Blue.
It is in these simple moments of respite that one feels life’s vessel beginning to refill. As we sat there, me pouring a cup of coffee to go along with my devotional, and old Blue keeping watch, the morning sun continued to warm us, both inside and out. There are times when man’s best friend, even if he’s not your own, can be one of the best companions; and so it was today.
The traffic to Wilson’s Creek had almost entirely diminished so that the area of repose beside the general store was somewhat peaceful this Sunday morning. Old Blue and I chatted some more before he decided to go check out the visitors at the Ruritan’s Building across the road. I took the opportunity to continue likewise on my journey. But before I left, I thanked God for affording me the time to sit and be rejuvenated from one of his creatures.
Sometimes, it is the simpler things in life that make all the difference.
Thanks be to God.
In the still of the night, the word “Serendipity” came to me. There was no reason for the thought. There had not been any text that I had recently read that included the term. My first inclination was to write it down lest I forget. Unfortunately, I had not placed my journal by the bedside before going to sleep. Assuring myself that it would not leave me, I turned over and went back to sleep.
Of course, when morning came, the expression was gone in the midst, like the vapor of a dream.
Silently, the car made its way up the mountain. The turns in the bends, the fog, and the words of scripture which passed through my lips brought comfort in this predawn hour. Forgetting the day, the course of life, only the moment therein was alive. Suddenly, like a flash of light from the distant horizon, the word returned, “Serendipity!” Putting it in my waking consciousness, I vowed to retain it long enough to get it down on paper – and more importantly, to see what it meant.
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
“a fortunate stroke of serendipity.”
After reading the meaning, the definition didn’t sit well with my soul. A word within its meaning caused me to wince – “chance.” When we walk in faith, when our journey is fully directed by God, there is no chance. It was here, again as a moment paused in time, that the walk to church last Sunday came to mind.
Rounding the bend in the road, there was the continued reminder of mortality. Someone at some point dumped off a deer carcass in the bushes. Time and weather had aged the remains into a stark, ivory remnant that stood out amongst the gray of winter’s last vestiges. It was not the first time I had seen it. Yet, it remained as a tale of life gone on before, the morbidity of the season – bone against a dreary backdrop of one’s demise.
The thoughts of the journey my life had become began to emanate from those bones, as a subtle suggestion of that likewise, time would end for us all – some sooner than later. Yet, there was the continued push to learn, absorb, and become more than I once was. The season of growth had not just begun but had continued since the long journey began, now six years long.
My eye caught the rushing waters of the river and how they pulsated against the rocks, flowing ever more furious downstream, never stopping, never yielding. As my way continued, my direction was upstream, against the river’s current along which I walked. “So much like the life I live,” were the thoughts that seemed to flow into my head. How much easier my life could be if it weren’t constantly going against the tide. Yet, to serve as I have been called to do, there is no time to waste. There is an impetus to strive for that next hill of knowledge, to seek the wisdom that cometh from God only.
These are the times in which my life’s journey has become.
Then there is the comparison of the natural world, the secularism of man, pursuing itself – washing the multitude of humanity with it downstream to the ocean. We who seek God go against this current. Some can barely stand firm without being washed away, like those rocks wherein the water below crashes violently against. As long as they remain, the water, the worldly current complains in the tempest of thrashing white water. Some give way and are tumbled along, not happy with their displacement, eventually finding footing once more to continue their stance, while others never find a way to resist and are washed away with the multitude.
As my path found its way to the porch of the Collettsville General Store, I discovered that my arrival was greeted by a lonely Blue-Tick Hound, likely a hunting dog that had been lost in the night. He welcomed me as if this was his home and treated me to a gratifying pat upon his neck. Soon, we found ourselves sitting side-by-side on that familiar spot. Once before, two dogs, Barney and Otis, had likewise provided companionship when there was none other. As we sat, watching that tide of humanity rush by, like those frantic waters of the John’s River flowing behind us, we sought the peace of God about us.
Once more, the word pursed its impression upon this reflected scene – “Serendipity.”
May you find the peace of the Lord today, no matter how small the token. Embrace what God hath provided and pause for a moment, giving thanks. As my late father would say of moments like these, “The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the grass is green. What else could be better?”
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…” – John 14:27
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” – Galatians 6:9
This morning I awoke but felt as if there was no purpose in escaping the comfort of the warm covers. When my feet finally hit the chilly floor, my body felt as if it needed another night’s sleep. A weariness of the spirit seemed to weigh me down.
Yesterday’s work had been one grueling mental challenge that lasted the entire day, from before sunup to after sundown. It sometimes surprises me how tiring the mind can become, and in so doing, bring the body down with it. In these times of uncertainty and struggle, many are facing the same challenge, feeling their minds reaching a certain level of strain that begins to seem as if their entire world is starting to unwind. Combine that with that the fact that they are held captive in their own homes with people, whom many will call family, that are now beginning to weigh on their patience. Meanwhile, they struggle to find the new norm when attempting to keep the same level of workload with which their jobs demand, working remotely.
For some, the pressure has become more than they can bear.
Yet, in my struggles, there I was once again, striving to do it all on my own. We sometimes push ourselves beyond what we are capable of, both physically and mentally. As I was driving back from the office, having made one of my bi-weekly “Essential Needs” run, my body battled to remain awake. The intellectual demand had literally worn me out. In that solitude, driving down the beautiful mountainside on a sunny April day, it occurred to me the error of my ways. Like those awful storms that had awakened me at 3:00 AM, there was now no sign of them. The five inches of rain that had fallen on the mountain had all but vanished. Yet, when something falls, there is always a price to pay. Down the mountain, in our foothill village of Collettsville, the price was waiting to be paid. When we mess up in life, we must always learn to face the consequences, no matter how hard they are to look upon.
Once again, in my unintentional arrogance, the “I,” had tried to solve the problem alone. Had not the previous summer’s lessons been learned? Was I still ignorant of how God was with me, but it was up to me to ask for his help and guidance? Again, my mind reflected back to those times before of calling upon His name, and how each time, there was an answer. The next morning, again before starting, I prayed for God to forgive me for my previous day’s arrogance, and to give me strength, guidance, and wisdom. I then vowed to never again forget to seek Him in all that I do. To make sure, I pulled up Romans 12:2-3 to help me keep focus, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
Within an hour of starting that morning, the problem had been solved.
There is no better feeling of satisfaction than to know God is with you. The sense of accomplishment on our own is one thing, but to know something happened because of God working in your life is an entirely new level of triumph.
The song, “Victory in Jesus,” comes to mind, and says it
I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.
Later, I took a walk along the river. The low-water bridge across the John’s River that is my route into Collettsville had been inundated by yesterday’s flash flood. Piled on top of the bridge chest-high in the storm’s wake was all manner of wood, debris, and full-grown trees. Below, in the shadow of the bridge, the water now ran full-throated, clouded and murky from the deluge. Continuing onward, with my walking stick in hand, I carefully climbed to the top of the massive heap of rubble. My mind flashed back to the previous day’s struggle and how the tabs along the top of my page were like those countless limbs and trees now underfoot. One-by-one, they were caught in the fight to flow onward, until they created the gigantic roadblock. Had my struggle continued without stopping and regrouping, and finally seeking God’s divine intervention, I would have never solved the crisis. My attempt to unravel the challenge would have only ended like the massive pile of debris upon which I stood, at an impasse with no way around it.
Thankfully, the words find purpose, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Yes, God doesn’t want our lives to wind up like a useless pile of trash. When we seek him, our lives become filled with a purpose, an intentional reason for being. When we acknowledge that He has paid the price for our sins and that we are redeemed by his blood, we can afford to be plunged beneath the cleansing flood and come up victors.
Yes, there’s victory in Jesus.
Try never to forget, you are not alone.
Seek Him with all your heart and knock and the door shall be opened.
Leave the “I,” behind, and learn to lean upon the everlasting.
Thanks be to God.
Words and Music by E.M. Bartlett
© 1939 – Administrated by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc.
All rights reserved
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”- Phil 3:17
It was an early Sunday morning. The air had the feeling as if it could snow at any minute. In an uncustomary manner, my morning devotional was actually upon the steps just outside the front door of our church, Rock Springs Baptist. There, I opened my Bible, journal, and thermos, pouring a hot cup of coffee to accompany my communion with the Lord. Before beginning, the steam from the coffee caught my attention. Swirling from the depths of my cup, the vapor rose, swirling as it ascended, like a spirit rising to meet our maker. On my walk, the bone-chilling air had eventually found its way into my very core. Taking a sip of the hot, bitter brew, I could feel the warmth invade my body, slowly recapturing that which had been nearly frozen.
It was then the similarity hit me; the steam; the Spirit, warmth of my body; us accepting Christ into our hearts.
A car passed and broke my focus for a moment. Taking another sip, I closed my eyes and prayed. The sound of the vehicle dissipated, and soon, the voice of the John’s river began to speak, which lay just beyond our church’s parking lot. The soothing sound and the warmth of my coffee began to erase all the toils, and struggles of the week as the hand of the Lord wrapped his arms around my being. As I exhaled, my breath made another pathway of steam into the air. It was then the thought of how much better coffee tasted when you were partaking of it out in the open, especially on a cold, winter morning. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more everything seemed to taste better when eaten or drank in the outdoors, where all that was man-made was removed, and you were one with the elements; purity begets purity.
Then my mind turned toward the devotionals on my Sunday morning hikes to church and how they always seemed more powerful, more meaningful than those of which I partook every morning before heading up the mountain while sitting in my home. It was as if the materials of man’s creation removed, allowing for a purer experience, a cleaner connection to the Almighty if you will.
There, I had done it; allowed myself to find something of God in merely drinking a hot cup of java on the front steps of the church.
Then my mind took a quantum leap, back, many years to my youth.
The ground was covered in snow. It was the dead of winter in Indiana, a place where Boy Scout Troops wouldn’t cancel a camping trip for the weather, regardless of the conditions. Fortunately, the camporee was at a camp where our tents were the heavy canvas permanent type built on wooden floors; surplus from a not so distant war. It was Friday night when we arrived. The routine was that we were to build a fire and then cook our supper while we made camp. From experience, we knew that in this weather, the fire was the key to everything; warmth, food, survival. Yet, everywhere we looked the snow had covered everything; not one stick of firewood was left untouched. Everything was either frozen or soaked with water. Knowing that we might face a challenge for which we may not fair too well, we began to build our wood in preparation for a valiant attempt, nonetheless. By good fortune, one of our patrol members found an old mouse nest in a hole in one of our tents’ floor. Thankfully, we shoved the dry tender in amongst all the other shoots of Sassafras, Cherry, and Pine, knowing that once the moisture burnt off, we would have the start of a roaring fire. One of the patrol leaders went to the cook box to find matches. When he returned, he held open the small cardboard box, with the little drawer, pulled out. The look on his face said it all. With a look of shock and dismay, we all quickly realized, there was just one match left. We gathered round, each of our young faces had a look of fear and anguish. One of the new scouts almost began to cry, “Oh no, we’re going to starve,” he stammered as tears welled up in his eyes.
“No, we’re not,” I bit back, the steam from my mouth shot into the air like a blowtorch. “You have to have faith. We’ve been through tough times before, and if anyone can make a fire with one match, it’s this patrol.” Ricky, the Scout Master’s son, who was also my good friend, stuck up for me at that moment, and reiterated what I had just conveyed.
“You gotta trust us man, if anyone can get a fire going, we can make it happen. We’re going to show them all, with one match, we’ll keep this fire going all weekend.”
There, he had done it; Ricky had unknowingly made the vow that we would all gladly have given our last breath to uphold. It was an unspoken word of truth and honor, nearly as revered as the Scout Law.
Delicately, like marooned sailors on a deserted island, we made all the preparations and double-checked each other’s work to make sure that the one match would work. Then, with a shaky hand, someone struck the match. The smell of sulfur and warmth filled the space before us. Immediately, we all gathered around, holding our hands as a shield to prevent any breeze from extinguishing our flame before it could take. Slowly, the flame touched the old mouse bed, and steaming smoke began to spread through our pile of tender.
“Nobody breath,” Ricky commanded.
We all stood, feet in shivering in the snowbank that we had created digging out the fire pit so that it would be clear of any moisture, and watched as the smoke seemed to almost disappear. The skeptical scout almost began to whimper once more. “Have faith,” I breathed again.
Then, as if prayers had been answered in unison, a flame nearly 12 inches tall leaped from the center of our woodpile. Smiles spread across our faces as we older scouts looked and nodded at one another. The younger scouts then realized they were with someone who would take care of them.
That weekend happened to get so cold, below zero, that they made us stay in the chow hall one night, for fear we might freeze to death in our cots. Meanwhile, we had stoked and prepared our fire, so that no matter how long we were gone, it would continue to keep a hot coal bed. We needn’t fear that the fire would spread since the ground was covered in almost a foot of snow. So, unlike other times when we would have to put out a fire when leaving our campsite, that particular weekend we were allowed to keep it going. Memory also recalls that the other patrols had not been so lucky when trying to strike their fires. More than one patrol visited us that weekend to warm themselves because of their own inabilities to keep a fire going. We learned a lot about ourselves in the process, not only that we had possessed a knowledge which provided for our own, but that we were able to pass on this to others while sharing with our neighbors.
I don’t remember anything else about that weekend, other than our parents came to stay with us the night we stayed in the chow hall. But the one thing I do recall, even to this day, was that by the time to pack up Sunday evening to head home, we had a fire that had never gone out. Meanwhile, other patrols had problems just getting theirs started, let alone able to keep them going.
We had struggled through adversity, but already in our young lives, having experienced hardship campouts before the one just mentioned had allowed us to have faith. It is the same in our walk with Christ. Those who are new to the faith struggle with knowing that the Father is with them always. By providing them examples of our own steadfast faith, we can give them the courage to face the struggles in their own walk.
The Apostle Paul had faced many trials and difficulties in his life once he turned to serving God instead of persecuting Christians. He was an encourager to others in the faith, and with confidence, not arrogance, as brother David said this morning, he told his disciples to ““Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” He had faith enough to know that if they were to become believers, that they would have to have faith in what he said and to know that through believing him, they too would come to know Christ.
Once they had faith, they would find the love of Christ working in them, warming them, imbuing them with the Holy Spirit, lighting the flame within and starting the fire. Like that hot cup of coffee and a cold winter day, God envelopes you with His Spirit and warms your very soul.
Each day, as I begin to climb the mountain, either figuratively or physically, I ask the Lord to help me find my way. Each day, he answers me in the most unexpected ways.
Nearby, the river speaks to me, and a song begins to play in my head:
stood at the foot of a great high mountain
That I wanted so much to climb
And on top of this mountain was a beautiful fountain
That flows with the water of life
down on my knees at the foot of this mountain
I cried, “O Lord what must I do?
I want to climb this mountain, I want to drink from this fountain
That flows so clear in my view.”
heard a sweet voice from the top of this mountain
Saying, “Child put your hand in mine.”
I started climbing slowly, “Watch your steps at the edges
And take one step at a time.”
climbing upward taking one step at a time
The higher I got the harder I climbed
climbing upward and my journey’s almost ended
I’m nearing the top and you ought to see the view
Oh the water flows freely, there’s enough to make you free
So friend, if you’re thirsty climb this mountain with me.”
In the gospel of John, Jesus said on the last day of the feast, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”
While these may or may not be my last days, the harder I climb, the more beautiful things I see and reveal, seeing with eyes anew. From walking in faith, although I will never achieve the level of the Apostle Paul, I can, with deep conviction share with others that with faith, all things are possible. In sharing that belief, may it light a spark within their own soul, one that will make within them a desire to seek Him.
With one spark, a fire can be built, and with it, the light of life can begin
That particular campout of which I shared earlier was one where our parents were invited to come spend a night camping with us. It was one of only two times that a parent of mine came to a campout. My mom, of all people, came to stay Saturday night. She, along with the other parents, stayed in the chow hall with the rest of our troop. Looking back, I wish I had done more to interact with her, but it was a treat just to hear her voice talking to the other adults and to know that someone who loved me was present. Now that she is gone, those few glimpses of the past are ever more precious.
She, along with the other parents, more than likely had no idea of our fire struggles, but rather, took it in stride that we had learned how to survive and were doing well enough. I don’t remember anything else about that weekend, but the one thing I do recall, even to this day, was that by the time to pack up Sunday evening to head home, we had a fire that had never gone out.
From all of this, we can surmise that we are a constant work in faith. We may never achieve the level of faith of an Apostle Paul, but we can share our testimony with others, and with that, provide them the knowledge that they are not alone. Through our faith, shall we lift up others, and in the end, give them hope of the Father.
Like steam from the coffee cup, the Holy Spirit will warm us through and through, and our walk of faith will continue to grow as we climb that final mountain and drink from the eternal fountain.
 1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV
 Ralph Stanley, Great High Mountain, lyrics © Bug Music, Z77ss, Z77ss Music
 John 7:37 KJV
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.
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
Day after day, as one rock is painstakingly placed upon the next, the form of an ancient fireplace begins to take shape. The work keeps my mind off the fact that nobody calls me back from the multitudes of job applications I have submitted to various agencies. Prayers are lifted unceasingly. While working with mud and stone, there is time for the mind to wander and reflect; to commune with God. I am never alone, even when it may seem that I am.
The work is slow and arduous. There are times it seems as if it will never be completed, so little seems to be accomplished. It was upon these last few words that the dust of intellect and God’s voice settled.
How compelling to see a structure rise up from the ground, knowing that the only access to the site where a building now stands was a trail through the woods. God’s hand was upon me every step. When block and stone began to be set, what seemed to be an incredulous speed of advancement seemingly came to a halt. Now, as the daily heat begins to climb as our calendar advances toward July, the afternoon temperatures began to soar, causing the pace to slow further.
It was on one of these recent sweltering days that the words began to form.
Standing back and looking upon the work of thy hands, God impressed upon me how permanent these stones are versus the rest of the building. The stones are like our faith and the Word of God. We are as dust, here today and gone tomorrow, but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. Who hasn’t driven down some lonesome backroad and happened upon an abandoned old farmhouse. The only evidence being the singular rock chimney built from indigenous stones found nearby. The remainder of the structure, if still there at all, had long ago succumbed to the rigors of rot and decay. Sometimes, the entire chimney is still completely intact; the heart of the old homeplace where often times the food would be cooked and would also be the only source of warmth in the coldest of winter days.
Like that old chimney, the Word of God continues long after the fragile flesh of this world have gone. It should also be the center of our lives. When we are gone, the remembrance of who we were will vanish. All that will often remain of our earthly life is sometimes the work of our hands. “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”-Psalm 103:14-16
However, that is not the point, leaving a legacy of ourselves. We might think that what we leave to this world should be like the chimney, a visual reminder, but that would be misguided. Don’t get me wrong, it is more than pleasing for our children, and their children to look upon the work of their ancestors and marvel at something that their ancient hands had created that remains until their day. Rather, what we should prefer is that our legacy points to Jesus and a Christ-centered life.
Those stones of the fireplace, each one carefully placed after being hand chosen, can be thought of as the individual moments in life where what we say or did something either in the Word or in a Christ-like manner, made a lasting impact on someone’s life, in a positive way. No stone is the same; likewise, no two events are ever exactly alike. It takes a multitude of rocks to build the entirety of the fireplace; similarly, life is a never-ending stream of events. In our own minds, they are interrelated, no matter the circumstance. They become forever who we are. Those who we reach in our life’s journey become part of who we are as much as the individual stone becomes part of the fireplace.
The mortar, like God’s word, carefully prepared bonds those moments together, uniting all into a solid, rock-hard formation. If the mortar is too wet, it runs and cannot uphold the next stone; its bond is weak. So too is the Word of God if it is watered down. Too often in today’s world, the church seeks to make God’s word “fit” the audience; make it relevant. That’s okay if it is kept in line with scripture, but the problem arises when it is weakened and altered to “blend” into what is considered acceptable by the world, to the natural man’s desires. When we hear of churches becoming more of an entertainment venue than a soul-saving institution, then we know the mortar has started to run.
From the opposite side of the spectrum, if our mortar is too dry, the stones cannot bond for lack of moisture. When the Word of God is delivered in such a dry, ritualistic manner, it becomes foreign to the listener. The concepts and teachings of Christ must be delivered in such a manner that they may be easily understood but without compromising their meaning. If those receiving the message are not right with God, then they too will be unable to understand; simply going to the show does not allow for reception of the word. “For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”-Acts 28:27 When the format of the program seeks to follow outdated legalistic procedures that are not biblical, let alone have a purpose, they destroy what the house of God seeks to employ; the presence of the Holy Spirit; the water of life and the moisture in the mortar.
In the end, if the mason has done their job well, the structure they have created will stand the test of time. If a life has been well lived, there should be no regrets. As a life well lived, the Apostle Paul said it best when he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Each stone, each moment in time will have created a living legacy of a Christ-centered life to which many will attest for years to come. If they are equally blessed, there may be a certain fireplace around which they may gather and think of the one who built it, not alone, but in the presence of God.
One could only be so lucky.
Thanks be to God.
“And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”-2 Cor. 1:6
The morning brought about overcast skies; something that hadn’t been part of yesterday’s plan. Contemplations of getting up and finding new subjects to capture to use for future inspirational messages were quickly shrouded over by the gray skies above. From my vantage point, sitting on the picnic table at the Collettsville General store, I sat in humble submission to all that God was trying to reveal to my simple mind. Even knowing what I know about my walk in the Lord, it was evident, His plans were not my own, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”-Isa. 55:8
The clouds loomed so closely that one might have perceived it to be dusk; the birds flitting to and fro cared little. Cars going by, crossing the bridge, had their headlights on. For late June, it was a pleasantly cool morning. The John’s River flowing past echoed a constant gentle whisper. Its voice was the blank canvas for all other voices, bemoaning a solitude to any that might listen; a respite from the worldly nature of mankind. If only one could sit each waking hour by such a place, how much more complete would their earthly life be? If the curse had not been placed upon the world, how much more awe-inspiring would this appear?
While contemplating all that was before me, the thought of how much more this might mean to one that had known struggles, darkness, and sorrow came to mind. Many of my friends, colleagues, and even myself included are facing all manner of persecution and trials. To this end, my thoughts began to reflect upon how much I wish each of them were here with me to see what I can see. But even in our afflictions, we must keep mindful of how our Savior is using this to mold us, make us stronger in our faith. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
Like a soldier having survived the atrocities of war, perhaps even death by his own hands, to then return into the normal society; he cannot help but be changed, forever altered in his perception of the fine line between civility and cruelty. For a moment he can be in the real world, and a split second later, he’s back in the hell from whence his world was forever altered; blood, gore, and mayhem the likes many of us may never know, nor shall we want too. Likewise, a person can return from the depths of struggle and despair so great, that once they do, they too are forever changed, never to look again upon a normal life without understanding how many divine circumstances have attributed to that fragile thread of what is deemed normalcy. Each one of us is so close to the edge of the abyss of having nothing; ever so close to losing it all, yet we doubtfully are aware. Those who comprehend this perilous precipice have the perception of both edges of the double sword. They are keenly aware and feel the sense of urgency unbeknownst to those around them. This difference makes them often seem either distant – when they choose to remain silent for fear of distancing those with whom they wished to be with – or that they appear overzealous in their beliefs to the point they unintentionally ostracize those they love. In essence, they push away those very people who they seek to reach.
When we accept Christ into our lives, when we turn away from the old ways and take on the new, we are also forever changed. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”-2 Cor. 5:17 All of those things in the past are forgotten; those old ways of sin, those old habits of which kept us in bondage are gone. We are set free. At that moment, in that embrace of total immersion into following Christ, we too can become separated from those around us who either never realized our change, or who have yet to come to know Him as we have come to know Him. Either way, we become a different person, one in which we have died to our former selves, and being such, we no longer rely on the old ways.
In that moment, when we are saved, we become a new being. When we do, we face the same circumstances as those who have either lived through traumatic life events or circumstances. We must be mindful of our presence among those non-believers or even those who think they are Christian but are not.
It is a precarious path we walk when we are changed.
Not only that, but our perception of this fallen world changes as well. The world around us takes on a new light. Things once unseen for the sake of chasing after the natural things of this world are now visible. Our senses are like that of a babe, freshly receiving inputs from old receptors but are now seen through new eyes. Gone are those filters of addiction and worldly influences. We are cleansed by His blood, washed white as snow.
“Wherefore, he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”-Eph.5:14 When we awaken from that death, we open the door as if to a freshly fallen snowscape; pristine as it had been from the beginning. In our sin, we were too lost to see what was before us all along.
Lastly, when we become one with our Father, we no longer have to question our ability to speak with Him. We know that he listens to all that we lift up in prayer. Even in our weakness, God will intercede for us in prayer, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”-Rom.8:26-28
We understand that even on the darkest of days, those in which thunder clouds are looming on the horizon, there is still even reason to rejoice. Even when those countless prayers we have lifted up go unanswered, we still know that He is listening. “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”-Ps. 27:13-14
In the waiting, there is learning…and always hope.
When we feel downtrodden in that waiting, take heed and remember, He sends us his helper, the Comforter, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”-Jn 15:26
Yes, even on those days when you expected sunshine and God sends showers, rejoice in all that is given. We only have one earthly life to live. Let us not waste this time in despair, but rather, share the gift of salvation to all those who will hear. Be mindful of your audience and be not anxious. Some are meant to plant while others will reap; often will we see both. The fields are ripe for harvest. Now is the time.
Let your light shine for all to see.
Thanks be to God.
Sitting under the overcast, gray sky, the river rolled past, heavy from the night’s rain. One could see their breath in the chill of the air; it was a wet, dampness that encompassed not only the body but the soul as well. Barney and Otis were my lunch companions, each patiently sitting apart, respectfully waiting without being imposing. I sat on the aged picnic table facing the Johns River, as it flowed beneath the bridge in Collettsville.
Once more, my mind sought a rest, something beyond what had become the daily grind, something that had the ability to enrich while reaching beyond the surface. Like the turbulent waters rushing past, time was fleeting. Should we pass from this life to the next without taking time to appreciate what God has made for us in this life, we fail to live to the fullness as He intended. Thrusting one’s hand into the confluence in an attempt to stop its advance was as fruitless as holding water between our fingertips; slipping away before its sustenance can press upon our parched, dry lips. Rather, it required an attention of fullness in order to find what it was that would find its permanence within.
The day before, as the gray light of dawn began to lighten my bedroom, there was a whisper to my heart about something so seemingly insignificant and frivolous, that at first, it was dismissed. However, it came again, accompanied by another likewise meaningless idea; wonder if they would ever get checkers and hot chocolate down at the general store? The thought caused me to chuckle. It had been over a week since I had stopped in to visit the store down in Collettsville. As a matter of fact, it had been at least that long since I had seen Barney and Otis, my four-legged friends who so loved to simply sit by my side and be petted; an inspiration in and of itself. It became a point of destination for my walk later in the morning after a sufficient amount of time had been spent encompassed by my studies and schoolwork. There I soon learned of two new additions to the store. You guessed it, checkers and hot chocolate.
The thought of the whisper to my heart returned, and it warmed my being. Too often we try to explain away the voice of God if we would only listen.
The children of Israel had fallen away once again, and through the prophet Jeremiah, he was speaking out to them, reminding them of the errors of their ways. He even gave them direct commands to follow, “Thus, saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” Unwilling to listen, they went on their own paths to destruction, disregarding the former and ignoring the law which God hath given them through Moses. Again, and again, they would face the wrath of God because of their own choosing. They pushed on, proving that there would be no rest for the wicked.
Yet, my journey was guided by His hands as the scripture tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”-Prv3:5-6
Once more, guided by that still small voice, I found myself nestling the head of Otis in my lap as he napped, while Barney sat faithfully at my side while we occupied the bench on the porch of the general store. Content to rest and take in the world passing by, like the waters of the Johns River behind us, my thoughts wandered as aimlessly as the twitching leg in the sleeping dog’s dreams. Our repose was interrupted when the son of the store’s owner pulled up, Garrett. The tall, thin young man looked scholarly in his black-rimmed glasses. He was already quickly becoming a good friend, and today would encourage that bond even further. Walking up, he held an armload of vinyl records.
“What you got there,” I asked while continuing to find Barney’s favorite spot to be scratched.
“Oh, just some old records I found at a consignment shop.”
“John Prine,” I read out loud. “Wow, you like the old stuff?”
Smiling broadly, he began to show me the rest of the collection; names like Cash, Jennings, Daniels, Miller, Nelson, and so on appeared. It was like a walk back in time. “I even found a Roger Miller Greatest Hits,” he said holding up the nearly flawless album. My mind flashed back to that eight-track player my dad kept in the back of the Prowler that sat in the driveway back in Booneville. The sounds of that album would play continually as long as the power was turned on. Us kids would play in the driveway to the sounds of, “Dang me, Dang me, they outta take a rope and hang me,” blaring no-stop, until the word had been forever etched into our minds.
“That was one of my dad’s favorites,” I answered, pointing to the Miller album. “You like vinyl?”
“Yeah,” he answered respectfully, “I’ve been collecting them since middle school.”
“That wasn’t long ago,” I chuckled. He laughed at that too.
“Do you have a way to play them here at the store?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a little turntable I brought to play them on.”
Our conversation continued on, and we soon found ourselves stepping inside. Garrett pulled out a little portable record player, one that was a vintage remake, something he had bought at a Barnes-and-Noble; quite a sharp little unit.
“Got time for a game of checkers,” I said pointing to the barrel with the board stretched across the top?
“Sure, he said,”
“Want to play a record we can listen too while we play,” I asked?
“Yeah,” he said, “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Got a particular one you want to hear?”
“I’ve never heard that John Prine 71 album you’ve got there,” I answered, “How bout that one?”
“The only one I know on there is Paradise. It’s a Bluegrass Classic.”
“Yea, I know how to play that one too,” my young friend replied.
My thoughts rambled on to how we need to sit down sometime and just pick together. “This young man just continues to impress me the more I get to know him,” were my thoughts at that moment.
Not long after that, we settled into and began playing that ancient board game. In the background, the hiss and pop of the needle finding the groove in the record only added to the nostalgia of the moment. It was only fitting. The new owners had spent countless hours and dollars to remodel the store to resemble an old fashion country store, complete with hardwood floors, and ship-lap siding bare wood walls. Our checkerboard sat atop a seasoned antique wooden barrel, like one that might have held crackers in one of the old Carolina style general stores. As our play lengthened, we shared stories about places, times, and events in our lives. It wasn’t so much the game we were intent upon, but rather, the fellowship through its activity. Like those old days sitting on the porch at Sharpe’s Store back in Chatham, it wasn’t about why you came, but rather, what you learned through the fellowship of being there, and pausing long enough to take in life.
Daily, in my classroom, I watch as children try to keep up with the light-speed pace of the world around them; memes, social media, snapchat, viral videos, ad nauseam; many becoming frustrated and exacerbated by the feeling of being left behind. Their peers challenge them to keep pace, and if not, face ridicule if they don’t. Too few have any idea from whence they came beyond what the textbooks have told them. However, once in a while, you will find an old soul, an outcast of their own choosing; one who finds shelter in the old songs, old traditions, or ways of the past. Their upbringing often reflected in their manners.
The young man that spent time playing checkers; this past Saturday was just that, an old soul in a young man’s body. His upbringing has been well done, to which his parents should be congratulated. But even better, he shared with me his devout faith. Like a youth after my own heart, he plays music for his church and shares the gospel through the gifts by which God has endowed upon him. “If only there were more Garretts in today’s world,” I thought to myself as I pulled away from the store later on.
Yes, the whispers of frivolous things, as they appeared to me at that time, led to greater things than had been possible to imagine. Hot chocolate and checkers would find a way to replenish and refresh a weary soul.
“When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.”
That afternoon, we took time to step out of the torrent of the day-to-day grind and paused. There, a young man and an old friend stopped to step back in time, allowing their souls to rest. Like those moments of repose upon the bench with my friends Otis and Barney, Garrett and I chose to take the path God had intended, the old paths, the old ways.
Yes, there is hope for the next generation. It is up to us to pause long enough to spend time with them to share where we’ve been, and how God has helped us to get where we are. Like reaching into the roaring confluence of time, we can’t stop it, but we can grasp just enough to spill a few drops that may inspire those tender hearts who have yet to live.
Allow yourself to spend time alone with God and listen to that still small voice. What you might hear may sound insignificant and frivolous at first. But if you follow his call, the path you take may turn into some far more glorious and precious than you could have imagined. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.”-Heb.12:1
Thanks be to God.