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The Voice of Melody

The voices of the distant past return.

Like haunted echoes through the canyon walls, their cries of mourning and anguish retell the story of old. There in the northwest corner of Italy, they were forced into isolation. They were hunted like animals, labeled as heretics: their crime, merely sharing and evangelizing the Word of God. In that foregone time, the troops could be seen coming from afar. Standing on the abyss of the mountain tops, the faithful ancient Waldensians, or people of the valleys, knew their only hope of survival, other than having faith, was to retreat to the upper mountain passes; to the places where even Angels feared to tread. There, in those high, Alpine meadows and caves, they survived. Their legacy, the very Word of God. For through their faithfulness, they had planted the seeds of the reformation.

Today, those voices are once again crying out. Unlike before, their torment is not from man, but rather, from an unseen enemy, a virus. The sickness has permeated their region to the point that the government has called for a total lockdown; nobody can be on the streets without justification. Even vending machine use is forbidden. Again, the people of the valleys, the descendants of the ancient Waldensians, face a darkness that slowly invades their land. Like armies of death marching to seek and destroy, they find once more their hope of survival is that of finding refuge in those high, solitary lands. The remote valleys once more become the perfect setting for isolation and self-quarantine. Having lived through past invasions, plagues, and economic strife, their heritage has taught them to be complacent with impoverished life. Yet, we must decrease so that he may increase, as the Apostle Paul would say.

Forced isolation caused those ancient people to learn how to cope with less. While eeking out a meager existence just to survive, they turned inward to find solace in the scriptures, and in those pages, found hope. Their fears had been diminished by knowing that their trials were only preparing them for a more magnificent journey someday. In those dimly lit stone caverns, they found comfort in the gifts that their Creator had bestowed upon them. Using these blessings, they would use them to pass on their faith, culture, and heritage. Today, one can find a more significant percentage of those ancient Waldensian descendants with all manner of creative talents than in typical societies. It is no wonder that their time in isolation had proved beneficial in not only keeping them alive but also it afforded them the time to enrich their souls.

Last night, as we passed the time in our own home, thousands of miles from those battling to survive in Northern Italy, I was reminded of how when we turn our thoughts to our brethren, our real gifts begin to be seen for what they were intended; to lift those up around us and to be the light for our world. As my eyes scanned through various social media platforms, a message began to emerge.

Musical artists of all ages began to stream live free music. From the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and Brad Paisley played and sang to an empty Ryman Auditorium. Meanwhile, across our country, various bands played in front of phone cameras to professional-grade videography. In some cases, husband and wife duets performed for the world after having put their children to bed. It was an evening of sharing and uplifting songs. As the performers played, they all spoke in like tone; prayers for our country and for those people facing the uncertainty of tomorrow. Unlike traditional performances, the platform of social media allowed people to give instant feedback to their entertainers. Those of us watching could see a much-needed catharsis taking place as people would praise the singers and lift family members up in prayer.

In all my years, I had never witnessed anything like it.

But it didn’t stop with music. Poets were reading their works to the public to enlighten others. Individuals were sharing inspirational words of encouragement and scriptures. It was as if the world of social media had turned off the news and found themselves once more.

Then, this morning, after I had begun my morning coffee and finished my devotional, I once more wondered what the rest of the world was doing for Sunday morning worship. Once more, scanning through the pages of social media, I was once again blessed to find all manner of preachers, congregations, and individuals finding creative ways to share the Word of God. In my heart, there was a renewed feeling of hope. Gone was the negativity of the new media, and in its place, the true spirit of our country began to emerge, a voice of love, faith, and determination.

Bear the puppy.

Today, as my own family found time for a walk together with the newest family member, Bear the puppy, a sense of purpose, a restoration of hope began to return. In my mind, I tried to drink in the moment. Just being in their presence was enough.

Sadly, there are those in our world that don’t have the ability to receive help from all of those bands on social media. Some have no family with which they can find solace. Many sit alone in the solitary confines of a dark room waiting, listening to the sound of their own heartbeat. Some wishing that it would end.

Reading over the scriptures this evening, I asked God to send a message; to show me the scripture that would help to give hope to the world. It was then the voice said to look upon Isaiah. It was then the words over the recreation of the Church at Ciabas on the Trail of Faith came to me.  The inscription reads, “Le Petit de Sion,” meaning, “God will surely find comfort on Zion,” taken from Isaiah 51:3.

Turning to the scriptures, I read once more, “Hearken ye to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD; look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole from the pit whence ye are digged…For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places: and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; o and gladness shall be found therein thanking, and the voice of melody.”

I was reminded of those ancient people of the valleys. They didn’t allow their solitude to destroy their faith. Their heartiness, their ability to live and survive at high altitudes of long periods, as if hewn from the granite upon which they trod, came to mind. Much like the spirit of the American people today, beneath the ambiguity and divisiveness that some would want to portray, we are a hearty people. When we are pushed into a corner, the true American spirit begins to return; one of faith, hope, and charity. Satan wants nothing better than to see us fight over rolls of toilet paper and to hate our neighbor. The fear and despair that Satan preaches can only be spread by those who have no hope of tomorrow. It is up to us who know the truth, those of us who share a belief that God has a purpose in all that we do, to share our faith and hope of tomorrow with those around us. We must be reminded that although we face an unseen enemy, it is no different than any other day we face the same enemy, except it usually isn’t called a virus, it is called sin.

This next week, I urge each of us to lift up your family, your brethren, and your neighbor. Seek to use the gifts God has bestowed upon you to bring light to someone’s dark world. Make someone’s wilderness an Eden; their desert a garden of the Lord. There, when you share with those souls abandoned to dark rooms of despair, you will find hearts floating in the air, and the smile of gratitude spread across their faces. In that moment, when the happiness begins to shine in their hearts once more, listen for the voice of melody, and you will know God has spoken through you.

Yes, gladness, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody will return.

Thanks be to God.

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A Butterfly Cloud of Faith

We awoke this morning to a blissful 64 degrees here in the foothills of the Blueridge Mountains. It was indeed a long-awaited respite from the summer’s toils. Although the sky was overcast, the soothing temperatures allowed for a more leisurely feel to the walk to church. Along the way, the bountiful colors of the wildflowers began to catch my attention. “Had they been there all summer and I just missed them amid the turmoil of heat and fatigue,” I pondered as my walking stick continued to make the rhythmic knock upon the trail? At first the red of the Cardinal flower caught my eye, but the farther I walked and became aware, the more colors that began to reveal themselves until the full spectrum of the rainbow was pulsating within view; the Vincas, Violas, Orchids, and Lilies of all shapes, sizes, and varieties. Pausing to catch my mental breath, my mind began to drift back to another hike in a far distant land. The place where the 23rd Psalm seemed to come alive; the Germanesca Valley in Italy.

The Germanesca Valley on the trail approaching Col-du-Pis.

My heart began to race as my thoughts returned to the life-changing scenery we had experienced on our Alpine journey.

Like a wounded warrior returning from battle, my body fought to keep the path of descent. In our unencumbered ascent up the mountain, we had seen with beholding eyes unspeakable beauty, flowers of every color of the visible spectrum. We had just scaled up the Germanesca Valley in the Cottien Alps to a point not far from the summit of Col-du-Pis. The altitude was challenging alone, reaching slightly above 9,000 feet in elevation. The thin air caused us to breathe while we walked as if we were running at full speed.  Each new turn in the trail unfolded another revelation of God’s creation, one that we had heretofore never witnessed. But in our haste and unimagined divine adventure, we had not accounted for the human element which so often detains us, shackling us to man’s law; time. From unimaginable heights we now scurried, our bodies weakened by the lack of oxygen battled to keep pace with the spirit within. In our haste, we pressed the pace around another massive boulder only to find a spectacle beyond comprehension. Looking back, had we not been suffering from the consequences of poor planning, or rather, spontaneously inspired destinations, we might have taken the moment we were about to encounter more slowly, more diligently. We are often reminded in those fleeting few seconds before death that events you thought could never be captured return in one glorious review. What was thought lost returns with a voracious message of what was most important.

How many times had the disciples asked themselves the same thing? Had they only taken more time to appreciate the precious little time they were allotted to spend with the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, how much more would they have understood? Jesus had tried to make them realize again and again.

“Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand…. I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” – John 13:7,19.

How many more questions they could have asked? How much more faith they might have found had they only known?

“Why weren’t they warned,” you ask?

Jesus foretold his death and resurrection on more than one occasion.  “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” – Matthew 20:17-19

Yet, they too were so pressed for time of this world, trying to make it day-to-day in circumstances under which they had little to no control. Albeit they were in the presence of Jesus, they too found it difficult, seeing so many miracles and hearing so much, that there was little time to take it all in and absorb it fully. After a while, their human bodies began to tire. The weariness of the journey was more than many could physically take; the emotional and spiritual strain alone of having one’s mind stretched beyond belief each day would be enough to cause a mental breakdown. Yet, Christ afforded them through his divine power the ability to understand, as he opened their minds as only God could do. “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”-Matthew 13:9-11

Enthralling scenes that no human could imagine took the disciples breaths away; again and again. They could never dream of what was just around the bend.

Just beyond the shadows of the granite edifice from around the curve in the path lay a patch of grasses covered with wildflowers, colors as vivid as the cloudless azure blue sky above. Yet, unlike anything we had yet to discover this day of miraculous discovery on the mountain, there was something unreal; something that pulsated from this patch of living color. As we neared, our shadows ran before us, touching the breathing spectrum of life. Without warning, the colors began to rise in place, as one. Our mere mortal eyes couldn’t understand what we were seeing; yet, we saw something beyond explanation. We inched closer and soon realized the cloud of flowers were hundreds of tiny butterflies, each matching the fauna of their selected petals below. As if their spirit could sense our breathlessness, before we could capture the image for all to see, the cloud of cuspid elegance dispersed into nothingness in a cloudburst of flight. Pausing, my traveling companion and I simply looked at one another in awe of God’s unending magnificence.

Numb from our weakened physical condition, we shook our heads and pressed on. Had we been less hurried, less concerned about our fear of missing the bus, would we have been able to capture the magnificent event? Would we have found the moment more impressive at that instant than we had otherwise seemed to feel considering our weariness and exhausted conditions? Each of us had witnessed something that would forever be part of something special, something that would allow us to forever change our perspective of life.

It would take many months for the scene to return to our minds in as an epiphany of revelation.

How do you describe the indescribable to someone?

How do you share a vision or testimony to someone that hasn’t shared the same path as yourself or has walked in a field of wildflowers?

More than likely, your answer is that it is nearly impossible. If the person you are sharing with has never had a similar experience in life or has never found themselves able to question their own spirituality, then they probably will not understand how to relate to what you are describing. Just as Jesus fought to make his disciples aware, against even the most obvious, in-your-face statements, they continued to be confused. Up until the very day of his capture and eventual crucifixion, they had yet to come to the understanding of all that he had said. It was until after his death and resurrection did they finally begin to fathom the trail of clues their Master had provided during their earthly time together.

Likewise, we must be aware of those around us that are either knew in faith are or those who have yet to accept Christ at all. They will look at you with ears unable to hear, with eyes unable to see, and with hearts often hardened from years of hearing the very words you might say to them. It isn’t until they have walked the trail of wildflowers and seen the cloud of flowers burst open into a prolific spectrum of colorful butterflies will they finally be able to comprehend your words. In the end, it isn’t us that can come into their hearts and minds, but Christ who must be the one. Alone we are only mouthpieces. It isn’t until Christ speaks through us in spite of us can we reach the lost souls of our world.

Yes, we can never do it alone, nor are we ever alone.

Open that back door and take a walk down the nearest trail and search for God in all that you do.

You will never be disappointed, and most importantly, you may find a miraculous beauty made by our Lord that will forever change who you are.

Thanks be to God.

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Your Raise Me Up

His hands were calloused from years of labor; working on the farm, and now this, building the Retreat. Scars covered is arms like roadmaps of a tumultuous life. One stone after another he carefully picked from the pile of rocks, rotating it in his hands before finding the match for which it had been chosen. Around him, the forest sang along to the music to which he worked. The man had a special affinity to listening to music while he toiled; it made him slip away from the pain of the job at hand and allowed his mind to float from one life’s precious memory after another.

Music had always held a special place in his heart.

There were times when he was at work, thinking to himself that after the next song, he would stop for a much-needed break. Inadvertently, the next song would speak to him, keeping him enraptured. Unable to break the bond, he pushed his body onward; sometimes to the point of near exhaustion.

Today it was like that once more, as one rock after another was placed onto the chimney. The strains of gospel songs were compelling him to recall scriptures that matched the lyrics of what was being sung. The hum of the cement mixer blended into the background while his mind continued to buoy from the Word of God and back again. It wasn’t until the song, “You Raise Me Up,” came on that he had to pause.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,

  You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,

   I am strong when I am on your shoulders,

   You raise me up to more than I can be.”

As the captivating voices of the Celtic Woman drifted into his consciousness, he suddenly realized he was being transported to one of the most special places in his heart; those distant Alpine Peaks of the Waldensian Valleys. He paused, looking up through the canopy of the forest to the azure blue sky. In his mind, he was back on that day, when he and a young pastor he still only knew as Stanley, had stood on that peak facing the valley below. The view was of a breathtaking vista in which God’s craftsmanship was on full display. The clear blue sky hung like a shroud above the temple of those fateful valleys below. There, where so many had lost their lives because of their faith, the depth of time and wails of mournful cries combined into a bittersweet scene that stretched as far as the eye could see.

They, both he and Stanley, had felt the hand of God upon them that day; so much so, each took measure to make mention to the other of how this day may never come again in their lives; at least not in this one; not in this manner. Each man knew in his heart that this possibly might be the only time on this side of Heaven in which they would feel the presence of God so strongly.

The feeling that remained in the man’s heart from that day had not abated; but rather, had only caused his faith to grow stronger. The lyrics in the song made perfect sense as the ladies continued to repeat the chorus, “You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.” Knowing that this time in his life was as if he was in a boat being tossed upon a stormy sea. Yet, in his faith, he knew that God was in control. The door to the future would open when God had finished the preparations. The man’s faith in Jesus Christ allowed him to walk upon that stormy sea, fearing not that he may sink. Unlike the Apostle Peter, he was sustained by all that he had learned of his walk in faith from that epic mountaintop experience.

It was then he realized, the work that he did was just as his forefathers had done back in those valleys so many centuries before; laying stone. At one point, they were known around the world for their skill in stone masonry, among many of the other spiritual gifts they possessed. The song interrupted his momentary epiphany with the words, “I am strong when I am on your shoulders.”

It was all becoming clearer. Like the low hanging clouds that had obscured the nearby peak on that fateful day, when they parted, it was as if a new revelation began to take hold. Like their ancient faith, like one carved out of stone, they never gave in to the demands that they relinquish their belief in God. In their hearts, they knew that God had given them a special gift when the disciples made their way to these valleys and spoke the words that gave them hope, the words that gave them salvation. From that day on, they vowed to never let those precious scriptures leave their hearts. Memorizing them so that they could never lose them, they would pass them down from generation to the next until they had become an oddity in the annals of mankind. Fro this they would be sought for persecution and atrocities few have known since. When they had been persecuted, it only made them grow closer in their walk. When their feet were literally held to the flames, they worshipped and sang songs in their dying breaths.

The gravity of the moment made him find a seat and pause even more.

Martin Luther spoke of the power of music in our faith when he wrote, ““We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. No greater commendation than this can be found — at least not by us. After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music.”

When I find myself seeking answers, listening for God to speak, many times it comes in the form of music; either a song or an instrumental piece. Many has been the time when there seemed to be no direction to my journey, or there was no clear sign from which to act, and without intentionally thinking about the impasse, a song would play through the speakers; there would come an answer.

A chill passed over the man’s body- the feeling of the Holy Spirit passing through him- as the next verse nearly took his breath, “You raise me up to more than I can be.”

That morning, the scripture from Hebrews 6:9 stood out, like a beacon. “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.”

Even though the future was uncertain, he knew that with faith, better things awaited. He again thought of that journey to the distant mountain, one in which he could not afford, yet God provided. A journey in which he never dreamed of making, but there he was. Again, and again, there was the miraculous being played out before him in such dramatic, demanding fashion that there would not be enough time to write them all down.

As he sat thinking of all that had gone on since that day with Stanley, he realized the future was just as unknown today as it was then. But as the Word of God had told us, with the faith of your salvation, we can trust that in the end, God’s will shall be done.

Through all of his life’s trials, God had been continually molding him, shaping him into the faithful believer he was today. There were scars, both inside and out, that were reminders of that journey. Through Jesus Christ, he had been made more than he could ever thought possible. Once he left behind the chains of sin, his world changed. It was as if he had been reborn. All things became new, and with new eyes, he could see like never before.

The man stood as the song ended, and before the next one could begin, picked up the next stone and walked toward the growing wall before him. Where it was to go, the Master’s hand would tell.

With time, we shall know the answers to the journey; with faith, we will persevere to the end.

Thanks be to God.

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The LORD Is My Shepherd

The crisp cool air hit his flesh, biting into the fingertips that grasped the walking stick. The wind on the peaks had yet to cause anything more than a stirring of the fading leaves here in the holler through which he trod. A fateful night of harsh wins left the trail littered with pine cones and limbs. Up ahead, a fallen flock of trees lay across the path, like obstacles in a steeplechase, over which he must straddle. Onward, like the current in the stream that flowed nearby, his body moved; silent and steady. In his mind, the words of the 23rd Psalm swirled like falling leaves upon the gentle breeze. Their parallel to the model prayer of which Jesus taught his disciples teased his curiosity. Lost in thought, he ambled on, as memories as clear as the crystal waters that gurgled in his ears echoed their distant reply.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”

The air that day had been as crisp, with a matching breeze. The brilliance of the sky was only enhanced by the majestic snow-capped peaks which reached to heights of which he had never seen; at least not from the foot of the mountain. With a small satchel upon his back, he began his unknowing ascent upon the footpath that had been well worn from centuries of pedestrian traffic. To be in the presence of such imagery caused him to pause often and stand in awe. Likewise, the reverence for which he watched became increasingly intense with each footstep upward. Like climbing to the Father, our approach to God the Father, each new day living in Christ, we come nearer to Him. In that manner, we humbly enter into his glory, and by his Grace, we are saved. It is at that point we can boldly say, He is my shepherd.

The burdens of the week began to drift back into the man’s train of thought. Instinctively, he began to prioritize the list, then stopped. “I shall not want,” he said to himself, “God’s got this.” He reminded himself once again that he was trying to do it all. “I must decrease so that He may increase,” he whispered into the chilly air, his breath drifting ahead of his pace.

Once we are aware, the awakening of our spirit allows to know him and He us. In that manner, we can then know that He will care for us as a shepherd to his flock. There shall no need of want. No worries shall cause our brow to cross. All we will ever need will be provided if we only trust in Him.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

Give us this day our daily bread.

As the man returned to his journey up the Germanesca Valley, he recalled standing along the rushing waters of the mighty torrent that tore through the rocks. Like the sound of a roaring freight train, the angry waters thundered past into each falling abyss below. Thirsty, he longed for a drink. Around the next bend in the terrain, a waterfall fell from up above into the pearl blue basin. There, in the foreground of that thundering cascade swirled a beautiful pool of still waters. They beckoned him to come and sup. Bending down, the reflection of a bearded image stared back. He was not the young man he often thought of; rather, this man was aged, but his features showed an internal strength. Cupping his hands, he pulled up toward his face the fresh ice, cold water from the colorless liquid. He drank deeply, as the sweet water poured down his throat, overflowing his chin, it began quenching the deepest desires. He felt a fullness at that point, unlike ever before. The words came to mind, “He who drinks of this water will never thirst again.” The chill of the frigid water touched the core of his body as if his soul had drunk from the well; his spirit was likewise fed; “Restoreth my soul,” he said.

He leads me down paths of righteousness for his namesake.”

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

It was at this point that the man ran into another traveling companion that had ventured upon the same trail. His name was Stanley. He was the Pastor at a church in the Michigan area. He too was here with the same group with which the man was traveling. “Are you thinking about going further,” he asked.

Looking up at the distant peak, they both questioned the challenge that intrigued them both.

“Yes, but you know that the bus leaves at 4:00 pm,” the man replied. They both looked back up at the seemingly impossible climb.

Deep down inside, each man could hear the voice of one calling.

“How about we set ourselves a time limit, and when we reach that point, we have to agree to turn around; regardless,” the man said to the younger traveling companion.

“Okay,” Stanley quickly replied, “you got it.”

“We have to both agree that no matter what, no matter how beautiful it gets, we can’t keep going.”

“Agreed, the young pastor smiled broadly.”

Shaking hands, they took off and began the arduous climb.

Each winding turn in the goat trail that led upward kept turning back pages of scripture. It was as if God were rewinding each page of his life with the turn of each fragile page of the Word of God. Hand in hand he had lived his life with God watching over him, sometimes unknowing, other times purposeful; always led by the hand of the Lord. He literally had been led down God’s path of righteousness, but not of his own accord.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

When the two men had finally reached the peak. There was little time to commune with God. Sitting down, they both knew that this may the only time in this life that they might have the opportunity to reach this point on earth. Praying, they both sought His Majesties presence such that they would feel the Master’s place at their table. Around them, a gentle breeze blew, as raptors soared before them, floating effortlessly upon the unseen currents, slowly drifting past where they sat. Like a parade of God’s creatures great and small, the display of His creation came alive. Not far from their vantage point, wild mountain goats pranced in the snow, while nearby mountain ferrets chased one another in play.

Once they caught their breath, turning, their eyes followed the long dark chasm from which they had emerged. From this valley that had climbed. Below, in the shadows of the massive peaks upon which they now sat, the farthest reaches of the sunlight strained to find the earth. Where there was light, there was no darkness. Yet, even in the light of the midday sun, there were shadows upon the land. Like stains of memories returned, so many countless lives lost; blood scattered upon those very valley floors from whence they trod. Now, far beneath the soil, their memories not forgotten as the word from which the men quoted had remained alive; preserved by those martyrs of ancient times; the ancient Waldensians.

He preparest a table before me in the presence of thine enemies.”

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Death was merely a shadow, and as such, they feared it not, for to live as Christ was as death, each a gain either way. The rod and staff of God had provided for them even in the darkest of times. When the soldiers came to eradicate them from their homes, they fled to this point, there where the two men sat, and beyond. To the upper reaches of the earth, where if not for safety, to be closer to my God and thee. There the angels carried many to their final resting place.

The pair sat solemn silence. The awe-inspiring scene before the two men left them speechless. Here, the closeness to God was unmistakable. As they dined on the meager fare from which they carried, clouds chased their images upon the nearby snow-capped peaks as the multitude of waterfalls spoke in hushed whispers.

The vantage point from above, so close to Him, so far from that terrestrial countenance that resided in the shadows of the peaks from which they had now climbed. Their apex but merely temporary achievement, but for that which they truly awaited was one far above this point.

There was nothing more one could say, so divine was the beauty before them.

“He anointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.”

Each man finished and sat in repose; their thoughts inward and upward.

“Stanley,” the man said turning to his newfound traveling companion, “we may never make it here again. This may be the only time in our earthly life that we see the world from this vantage point. Let us give thanks to God for all that we have and for this opportunity to share our meal in his presence.” Stanley nodded in agreement. It was then they both knelt in prayer and praised His holy name as one.

Silently and stoically they stood, walking back to the direction from whence they came. Back down to the lower reaches of that distant valley. There was little to say at that point. No words could encompass what they had just felt.

The man rounded the bend in the road, to the place where he had crossed the river many times. The water today was gray and angry. Its reflection was cold and forbidding. Inside, his heart he had been warmed by the memory of that journey now so seemingly far away. For a moment he wondered about Stanley and where it might be in life. Like strangers upon the road who travel along for a while, their union would become a memory for life; a shared point in time. Until that day when we shall all be called to Glory, then we shall reunite with those momentary acquaintances once more and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Yes, as the psalmist wrote, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen”

 

Matthew 6:9-13, The Model Prayer

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

 

23rd Psalm

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

 

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To Wait Upon the Lord…

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”-Isaiah 40:31

For once, he waited upon the weather; yet, it did not come. It unknowingly gave him time to pause and wait upon the Lord.

Technology had afforded him the foresight to know that storms were brewing in the distance, so he planned accordingly rather than going ahead. In his younger days, he would have gone ahead, not knowing, not caring, for if it were God’s will, then it shall be done.

One can never put man’s inventions before the designs of God. Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”

One hot, steamy Chatham County summer, he had started building a log cabin. It was not from a kit, it was not a prefabricated log assembly; no, it was from scratch. Finding a Coleman canvas eight-man tent at a yard sale, he set up camp and worked each day from sun up to sun down. He could go for days without seeing another soul. As he worked, his mind thought about his life and all that had transpired. The world in which he now lived was more of one with the land than ever before. It was as if he could feel a rhythm in the earth around him, one that God had created but man had ignored in the making of a world of his own. It was on one of those sultry afternoons when the work slowed because of the oppressive heat that the rhythm took on another tone; a dark rumble from beneath the soil rattled his awareness. Before he could gather his thoughts to take shelter, the flashes of lightning began to flash around him. Just over the hill, a black cloud pursued as the winds began to pick up tempo, so did his preparations to take cover. As he ran down the hill through the woods, the crashes of lightning hitting the earth were like mortar shells erupting all around him.

His heartbeat in his ears and nothing more.

Upon reaching the safety of his tent, he opened a flap at the opposite end to allow the pressure in the room to equalize. From his vantage point upon the bed made of cedar saplings lashed together, he watched with fascination and fear as the thunderbolts struck closer and closer, the earth-shaking tremors of resonance into his bones. He grasped the edges of the bed and prepared for the worst. The trees bent nearly double outside his little window. The rain was a sheet of water now, as the tent sides began to push in; yet, standing firm. Closing his eyes, he prayed that if it be God’s will to die, that it be quick; otherwise, he prayed that he be allowed to live to serve Him more.

When he opened his eyes, the trees had shifted to the opposite direction as the sound of a massive locomotive passed overhead. For a moment he could imagine himself lying between the steel rails of the train track as the roar of the steam engine passed overhead. In a matter of minutes, the dark clouds had dispersed, and the storm was gone. A mile down the road, it looked as if a bulldozer had gone through the woods, completely leveling massive trees, including the beautiful old oak in front of Jerry Moses’ home. He had survived and rode out the storm on nothing more than a bed made of cedar saplings and in a canvas tent; it has surely been God’s will.

For if it be God’s will, then it shall be done.

Fast forward, the same man, now standing on the edge of the Germanesca valley, high in the Cottien Alps. Around him, multiple waterfalls cascade down from tremendous heights. He is with a hiking companion, who like himself, had not planned on going this far today. The wind begins picking up the roar of the waterfalls, spiraling them around as they became a voice unto their own. They had not checked the weather reports for the day, but there seemed little to fear. The sky was an azure blue as far as the mind’s eye could see. There were no plans to go as far as they had. What seemed as a short leisurely hike had now become a mission; to reach the summit before their allotted time expired. The hiking companion was his junior by nearly 30 years, yet they were both feeling the effects of the altitude. As he paused, it was as if he waited upon the Lord to strengthen his legs. They had started at nearly 4,000 feet in altitude, and before they reached the summit, they would climb another 5,000 feet. He would need more than just his own power to make this journey. Silently he prayed asking God to give him the energy, and fortitude to make it to the top. Before he could finish, there was a surge of electricity that seemed to flow through his core, down through his legs to his feet. Suddenly, it was as if he could no longer feel the growing weariness in his thighs that moments before had made him question this endeavor. From there, it was if he had mounted on wings of eagles as they passed one group after another making their way up the mountain. They eventually made it to the top where they openly confessed thanks to having lunch with God. It was if Heaven’s door was within reach.

He had waited upon the Lord, and his strength had been renewed.

When he rolled out of bed today, before knowing the storms were coming, his body ached. Even though he had taken Sunday off from his labors, his body was worn from the daily toil in the summer heat. Once more he was building another structure, but unlike the cabin before, this one would be much larger and much more challenging. Add to that being nearly 30 years older, it was as if the odds were stacked against him. Although he was up for the task, his aging frame was having second thoughts. His right wrist had already suffered a strain and needed to be kept in a brace while he worked. Both hands had fingertips worn raw from the concrete blocks he was laying since the gloves he wore had long since been worn out. In essence, he needed more than just one day to recover, but the clock was ticking.

Thankfully, the pause of the morning was just enough to give him a chance to feel God’s grace once again. Once the errands had been run, he resumed his work and pushed through until he could go no further. He could walk and not faint, but he was certainly close.

As he covered all the items to be kept in the dry, he looked back and saw that three of the four masonry foundation walls were complete.

It was not the mountaintop, but he was getting closer each day.

Moments later, the rumble of thunder shook the valley below, and within minutes, the flood of the summer rains came cascading down. Like a sigh of relief, he rested once more as the strains of raindrops pattering against the window panes soothing his weary soul.

One step closer, one day more, we reach for the summit of that far distant shore.

In all we do, let us serve Him so that in all we do, God’s will shall be done.

Thanks be to God.

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Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

By Timothy W. Tron

The expression “…the creek don’t rise” is an American slang expression implying strong intentions subject to complete frustration by uncommon but not unforeseeable events. It presumably evokes occasional and unpredictably extreme rainfall in Appalachia, that has historically isolated one rural neighborhood or another temporarily inaccessible on several or many occasions.” -Wikipedia definition for “The creek don’t rise.”

The rains fell heavy throughout the previous night. When he awoke to overcast skies, it was no surprise. Quietly he pondered over the morning scriptures. He poured the customary tankard of black brew that he carried with him. Once he crossed the divide, he recompensed upon the bench in front of the little town’s only store. His routine was not yet chiseled into time long enough to be considered a “tradition”, yet he was sticking to the pretense as closely as his busy schedule would allow. The weather apps on his device kept warning of areal flooding. In the back of his mind he knew this meant that his normal route for Sunday worship may be altered, but not if he could help it. The air was one of those moist, damp chills, the kind that sunk below the flesh and lingered in the bones. Donning his cap and grabbing his trusty walking stick, he set out, bare legged and sandals for the eventual challenge, the crossing of the river.

As he rounded the curve in the road toward the river’s edge, he could see the water was well above its normal course. “How much more so,” he thought to himself as he tried to find a marker, a log, anything that might convey the true depth. There at his usual crossing, the stone sand-bar was nonexistent. The greenish, brown fluid rolled angrily past as he vied for any familiarity; there was nothing. Knowing the vantage point from whence he usually sought, he stepped into the ice-cold brink. The bottom kept going as he began to sink deep into the mud. There seemed to be no bottom and before he could recover, he was chest deep. Stinging cold chased him back to the bank where he fought back his disgust. Looking back, the water seemed to laugh back at him. “I will not be turned away,” he silently told himself, “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me,” he spoke through his teeth as he charged back in, this time at the point where he knew the bottom was more solid, yet normally deeper. Contact to the stones below was a welcome relief compared to the episode second earlier; however, the battle against the roaring current of the torrent quickly ensued. Driving his walking stick into the river bed, each step carefully taken. The force of the water ripping at his legs, his body being pushed against its will. One foot, one planting of the cane, another step closer to that distant shore. The rhythm of his course began to match his heartbeat. The struggle was all his own, nothing more than the determination to prove nothing to no one. In his mind, there was a greater purpose for which he sought to serve, and someday, sometime, he might be called to answer that calling. This was his personal boot camp for the Lord; the preparation for what may be required someday to serve in the army of God. Nothing of this world that could render flesh numb could stop his progress as he finally reached the calm waters at the edge of the distant shore. Climbing out, he looked back at the raging torrent below. Another Sunday, another journey through the abyss that would not keep him from his worship.

They would amusingly question him, some in disbelief that anyone would be so detached from the normalcy of life to put themselves through something so arduous, but here he was once more, wading the river, even at near flood stage capacity.

His purpose, not for anyone other than himself and God, was slowly becoming a light to those around him. Around him the chatter of the moment was growing ever more lively, for there was something other than to focus their weekly attention on, other than their usual family calamities and concerns. There was something that captured their imaginations and ran with them, diving into that flowing abyss beyond the church.

Meanwhile, he sat on the bench, seeking the warmth inside that only God could provide. His mind drifted back to the hardship of climbing that mountain. Those mountain rivers in the Germanesca Valley that flowed so icily in the summer air would now be slicing, bitter cold, humanly impassable torrents. For these there would be a day, but not until this simple flow in which he had just crossed could be mastered.

The training would continue, one river, one step, one verse after another until the day the Master calls.

In His time, his will be done.

Thanks be to God.

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I Am With You Always…

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”-Matthew 28:19-20

 

Arktos sat on the expanse of stone, his balcony to the world that opened below. High on the mountain range above the Germanesca Valley, he sat watching the clouds gather in the depths of the void below. The air blew steadily up here. He closed his eyes and tilted his face toward heavens. The warmth of the sun caressed his aged face, blending the deep ravines of time into one of wisdom. His long gray hair, speckled with white wafted against his shoulders. The white beard gave him an air of intellect. Beneath it, his tanned skin, taut against his chiseled chin, gave the look of, “You will pay if you cross me,” which belied his true gentle nature; the tender heart beneath the façade of an ancient warrior. This was his place of repose, his solitary corner of earth where he could commune with God. To obtain this height, one must have the strength of a bear and the agility of the mountain goat.  Up here, the world below seemed so distant, so unimportant compared with what lay ahead.

Here there was no sound of humanity. There was nothing but the sound of the distant waterfalls cascading into the abyss below. Their voices echoed off the granite walls of God’s fortress of granite that surrounded him.

He was lost in thought, one with the Father as the words came to mind, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”-Phil. 4:7

As life and time march onward, the realization of himself becoming the one that others looked to for guidance bothered him. True, he studied the Word relentlessly, but he never seemed to rise above who he saw in those crystal-clear pools from which he supped his handfuls of water. There beyond those sky-blue eyes, was the same man he had seen for all his life. Much of the world around him had changed, loved ones had gone on, and now, he was nearly alone save for the few that were left.

Earlier that morning, he and the others had met once more to study and worship. There was no set plan, just the Word to guide them. They were the remnants of their kind. Many had been lost; as many had perished from the mountain as had those who had died from the sword. They were the keepers of the Word, the bearers of Christ’s ministry. They had no name as of their own, but rather, were given only the name from whence they came, the Vaudois. These were the Vaudoisians, the Children of the Light, as they had also become known.

As they slowly gathered, one, then another, in that small but ancient stone building that had created so many before them, each one was welcomed with brotherly love. They were united as one centuries before, longer than even their elders could remember. The words they used to describe their beginning were simply, “Since time Immorium.” As they prepared to begin, each lit a candle or lamp from which to read. The ancient structure barely allowed the slightest amount of light to enter. While light was hard to find, in the deepest recesses of winter, the sturdy, meter-thick walls also kept the freezing cold without; thus, serving as the perfect sabbatical from the outer world during the long dark winter months. Yet, even in the early summer, as now, they met to refresh their scriptures before departing for their summer missions beyond these peaks.

Today had been especially rewarding. There was the initial joking and sharing of mental challenges, but eventually, as was usually the case, someone said something that yielded to a lesson from within the pages of that precious text, the one they had guarded with a millennium of lives. Immediately, they dove within the leaves of that ancient book seeking the trail upon which they felt obliged to follow. Their questions led to further searches, all following a path only their Lord would know. The older students merely closed their eyes and quoted the scripture from memory, so intense was their learning.

Sitting back and watching their education come to fruition, Arktos had been blessed beyond measure. He knew in time, they would be gone, leaving for their journeys.

Many would never return.

Time after time he had seen them grow, become one with the Word, then leave to serve their commission. Those that returned had a renewed vigor that only experience and life could teach. Each time, he saw the youth that had been present in the spring of life be torn away, leaving behind the shell of reality forced upon their tender souls. Those that never came back left a hole in his heart that could never be replaced.  He felt so inadequate for what he was there to do. There was so much he needed to learn himself, so much more he could share, if only there were more time.

He returned to the present when the cry of the raptor that pulled him back. Before he opened his eyes, he whispered softly, “God give me the strength, and the wisdom to do your will until I no longer have the breath left to live another day.”

Blinking to the light of day, he tilted his head forward. There soaring upon the currents before him was a beautiful Golden Eagle. Below, them both, the sun had broken through the clouds and the expanse of meadow falling away to the sharp blue-gray edges of the valley below opened up. The view was breathtaking, as the wild bird was in its grandeur; man and beast as one, above the spectacle of creation only few can imagine. The old man felt the presence of God as the bird remained in place, gliding along with little to no effort. Its piercing eyes sought him, and from within he could feel a voice resonate through his soul.

You are not alone, for I am with you always, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

Arktos could not move. He tried to nod in agreement, but nothing would work; his head could not shake, his fingers could not even curl to feel the stone beneath where he sat. He was spellbound by those penetrating eyes and the omnipotent voice within.

Another searing cry from the eagle echoed off the nearby snow-covered peak, and immediately, the roar of the waterfalls returned. He blinked, and the beautiful bird was gone.

Had he dreamt the scene?

Had it been just another vision?

He reached for his weathered walking stick to prepare for the journey back down the mountain when he noticed it. There beneath its handle lay the reminder of the moment; a tail feather from a Golden Eagle.

He smiled, as he tucked away the keepsake into his backpack, and begin his slow descent into the world that awaited below.

He had nearly disappeared from that summit when the call of the great eagle echoed from a distant valley, and he smiled once more, for God was with him. Yes, God would be with him always.

Thanks be to God.

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