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The Seen and Unseen

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” – Hebrews 11:3

Oh, how much more beautiful are those things before us when we consider the hands that hath made them? To know that there is a loving creator, one who formed a Universe such that it would provide for our lives upon the tiny orb, the spec in the grand abyss of space, to which everything is set in perfect alignment so that we may have life, should give us a sense of comfort and awe simultaneously. Not only are we a magnificent work of the Father, but we are also part of the Master’s plan. As we commute to our daily labor, we should take notice of the world in which we live – the beauty, the grandeur, the utter magnificence of everything that unfolds before us – the visibly seen.

Yet, as much as appears, there is all the more that is unseen: the subatomic, the ethereal, and lastly, the spiritual. The more science uncovers in its inexhaustive search for the truth, the more we can see the hand of God. Time and time again, the revelations point to the supernatural, that which is beyond the measure of analytical approach. In the end, we are led to have all the more confidence in our faith in one that we have never seen, yet who we know exists.

However, as much as one considers all the proof, some find themselves doubting, even when they have once fully believed. How is this possible? From my limited but careful observation, I find that there are many reasons, but seemingly, in each, there is an element of sin, however small, that comes between knowing God and his will for our lives. Unlike the grain of sand in the oyster shell, which eventually becomes a pearl, this agitation is quite the opposite, resulting in a darkness that can consume its host. From relational disappointments to desires of the flesh, there are a multitude of methods in which the enemy can interject the seed of doubt, casting believers into a season of utter despair and misery.

But how do we cope with this season of doubt, of feeling lost? How does one crawl out from beneath the massive granite boulder of depression and guilt? There is no one set answer for all, but the underlying path is to seek God where you found him in the beginning if there was one. Where was that? Hopefully, it was in the Word, in prayer, in supplication, and in the fellowship of other believers. But if not, that would be a solid place to start.

“Yeah, ok, that sounds great and all, but how does that remove the doubt,” you ask? To eliminate that which draws you away from Him, you must first identify what it is that has made the separation. Then, once that cause has been identified, one should search for the reason that pulled you away from His divine nature. Was it church? Was it a concept? Was it a person? There are endless possibilities, but for the sake of time, let’s focus on one – the person.

Too often, we unknowingly put others on a pedestal, propping them up in our minds. The danger in this is that those other people are human too, capable of sin as easily as you are, no matter their stature or importance on the world stage. We’ve all heard of the demise of church leaders and evangelists. Their corruption becomes like a wave of disease that spreads across their congregations and followers. When they fall or fail to exhibit those Godly characteristics to which we were first attracted to them, we suddenly become hurt – it’s as if a piece of our heart has been deceived, leaving a hole within. In those instances, one can begin to question if they genuinely believed, having seen the one whom they held in such high esteem become a mere mortal once again. We ask ourselves, “Were their teachings truly espousing the Word of God, or was I deceived,” we might ask? “Can I trust my salvation if it were based upon someone who had secretly been sinning all along?” These questions are valid, yet should not be the final answer to where you leave your faith. One must press on, turning to the scriptures yourself, not waiting to be fed, seeking Him on your own. Then, once you have found Him once more, find a community that supports you, both spiritually and fundamentally. The restoration process can be long, but in the end, the results are so much more glorious, for then, you will have achieved a testimony of your own.

We live in a dark, sinister world that seeks to devour us and our faith. We must be ever vigilant, seeking Him in all things—both visible and invisible. We serve a mighty God.

If you have a testimony, share it with others. There are so many that are hurting, that have doubts, and those who just need someone to talk with who truly cares about them in a loving manner.

As you go forth today, be a light to the world around you and always know that whether we can see Him or not, He is with you always – until the end of time.

Thanks be to God.

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Squeezing the Essence of Life

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by “the veil of familiarity”. The child enjoys his gold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves.” – C.S. Lewis[1]

Squeezing the essence out of life, clenching between our fists that material by which we are to be enriched, too often we fail to allow room for that which we cannot control by grasp and might to flow as it should. I’ve heard many times of Bible studies, the reading of the entire Bible in ninety days, as more of a corporal punishment than something by which one can be refreshed and filled with the Holy Spirit- rather, it becomes a monotonous lecture of words through which we tire, losing focus on what God is meaning to speak into our lives. We check off the box, saying how much we have accomplished, yet in the grand scheme of things, we’ve only spent time in the Word superficially, leaving the best morsels on the table, thinking that we have bettered ourselves when fooling ourselves was the only success obtained in the struggle.

Finding life in the every day things, the beauty of God’s creation is similar in aspect. When allowed, that which is beyond our comprehension comes into our thoughts as creative decorations, adorning the journal upon the table before us, presenting itself as something more than just a paper and pen, but a pathway into a magical journey through the mystical realm of the mind’s imagination. Squeezing the life of every waking minute of the day shouldn’t be one of tireless pursuit of money or labor to the point we become weary of living. Rather, we should embrace the breath of air in our lungs as another opportunity to find that secret cove beyond the next bend in the forest trail to which we seek – its magical discovery unfolding a world to which we have yet to discover, exhaling the very essence of the Spirit into our soul.

Last night, the dream began with something of a defensive posturing against something unseen, something dark and sinister. We were to dig large holes, much like one might find with a crawdad hole, albeit without the tower of mud, but more like the forty-five-degree angle of the hole in the ground the size that would capture an alligator or animal similar in size. These holes we dug were in water about waste deep. After setting up, we then pulled the craft in which we worked onto shore on a roughly paved landing. It looked like something someone would have done by hand, shaping the pavement in handfuls of tar-covered rocks, then smoothing them with the palm – lumpy, uneven, but useful, in that the traction gained was better than a smooth surface that would become slick with water.

Later, the old general store, or what was left of it, came to mind. From the darkness, I approached a dimly lit counter area. Nothing else was visible, like a beacon on the shoreline, it was all there was. Behind the counter, the shelves stocked with the normal old country store wares. Before the counter, under the shadow of the protruding edge, sat bags of beans and small barrels of smoked fish and crackers. There was a poorly constructed chicken coop built behind and around the counter as if it were the support structure for the loosely wound chicken wire. It appeared it had either been constructed in haste, or by someone ignorant in the methods of building a chicken coop. Predators were a major concern, either by myself or the proprietor in charge. During the day, the chickens were allowed to walk around, in and out the front door, around the store, or wherever they wanted to roam. But when dusk came, we hurriedly sought the poultry to put back into their cage of protection. This anxiety seemed to become the overriding theme of the dream in that when I awoke, there was a feeling of anxiousness – not being able to keep up with mortality induced by foxes, coons, and coyotes.

Knowing that the F3 group would be at Local Lion, which was my initial destination for the day, taking up the majority if not all of the parking spaces, my drive was intentionally slowed by my own intentions, giving the F3 gang time to disperse. Taking my time, the commute was much more enjoyable. Along the way, the concept of allowing the story to dwell within the reality before me added to the beauty of the coming dawn – giving life to those inanimate structures that we see day after day. Their stories allow for richer perceptions to flow, and with that, something greater than the superficial observation begins to surface. As Lewis put it, “the veil of familiarity,” when removed, allows for the richness of the essence of significance something once had to return to its former glory, penetrating through the persistent glaze of rust brought on by daily wear. Finding the will to perceive that concept is not easy. Alone, we are incapable of doing such, or at best, vaguely successful. Some turn to exterior inspiration in a drink or otherworldly narcotics that supposedly enlighten one’s soul. Yet, in the end, their reputation exceeds their benefit causing their partaker to faulter. Had they only found the source of true spiritual rejuvenation, they would have known that the world cannot save them nor provide for them in ways that seem to bring out the creativity they seek. It is only when we find Him, and imbibe of His Spirit, do we truly find the well from within that sates those inspirational draughts, reviving our spirit with His.

As long as the story, so to speak as Lewis wrote, dwells within us, those majestic peaks of that morning drive become even more supernatural. Their heights become legendary, and their impressive veil reflecting the coming sunrise only speak more of what we have in store that awaits, should we continue to keep Him in our heart. The day is young, and the story has yet to unfold; answer when he asks, “Whom shall I send,” with, “Send me,” and so it shall be.

The journey awaits.

[1] On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. Copyright © 1982, 1966 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Adrift at Sea

You never know what you will see or hear on campus. As I made my way to the car to drive home, several groups of high-school students made their way to the dining hall. The season of summer camps had begun. Each group, some the first time away from home, clung to their companionships like a drowning man to a remnant of wood that once was the ship from which they had been cast. Afloat now in a vast ocean of unknowns, their only hope was the meager breadth of wood to which they clung – those few people that had traveled with them from their beginning. It is no wonder that as they converse and carry on, they must adhere to something which gives them strength of spirit, an inner encouragement.

So, it was no surprise to hear a small group of young men repeating a saying that would repeat itself ad nauseam if said correctly. Now, I don’t keep up with the latest memes or gaming nuances – they themselves never end. Yet, whatever they were repeating was entertaining enough, and garnering them enough attention, that they loudly spoke as if orating a masterpiece of knowledge.

Passing by and hearing them made me wonder something, which in a sense, was a judgment but not one of intent. Instead, it made my heart sad that such brilliant minds might otherwise have memorized something which the world needed – something which contained a thought or phrase which, if spoken to the passerby, might give them a sense of hope. Yes, what if they had memorized a scripture long enough to challenge their mental faculties yet, spoke a message to the world that as they walked, they professed their belief in God? What if they merely quoted the twenty-third Psalm? Would those whom they randomly encountered be blessed all the more?

As their voices faded into the hum of the campus life, a butterfly drifted past me, landing on a flower, one amongst the many in the landscaped bed. How precious, yet, blessed was the sight, so much so that it caused me to stop and think. Did not those young voices mesmerized by their own abilities not give one a sense of hope. Like that butterfly finding that one flower amongst so many, could not one person reach one in that group, and through that one individual reach the others, giving them something to cling to? Like that piece of driftwood lost at sea, they could find something that would not only keep them afloat but save their life as well. For if one person speaking to one of them, could it not change the minds of more? If they can memorize that useless phrase, what if they someday met someone that gave them a different, uplifting passage that would not only allow them to show off their mental status but, more importantly, give light to the world about them? Have I not encountered the very thing Jesus espoused to his followers, “The fields are white ready to harvest, but the laborers are few?”

Think about those before you today, and speak as if God has given you a platform to share His message, not one of inane repetitiveness, but of truth and light. Be not of this world, but rather, seek Him first, and all else will fall into place.

Thanks be to God.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

On Saturday, my wife said that she had read on the Cove’s forum that blueberries were ready to pick down at the community garden and asked if I could pick some for her. Wanting to be a good husband and knowing from years of training that the two best words a man can utter are, “Yes, dear,” I replied that Sunday would be a better day to do her bidding.

So, yesterday, when time availed itself, my preparation for the good deed began. Looking for a container with which to retrieve the berries started out with the idea of an old plastic milk jug cut in half, knowing that there probably wouldn’t be many berries remaining. After all, the message had been sent to several hundred people. However, from not finding a suitable cutting tool to having no other small container available, it felt like I was being led to take something larger. Soon, after listening to that still small voice speak, a left-over dry-wall mud bucket was chosen. “Too large, but at least it would be easy to tote since it had a nice handle,” I said to myself.

After washing my new oversized carrying container under the outside hydrant, my journey began. Through the shade of the deep woods, over the trail that wound beside a gentle flowing stream, the pathway led. There was a cool breeze – quite a pleasant surprise, considering we are in the midst of the summer months. The birds were singing melodies quite pleasing to the ear, providing a serenade of peace that made the weary soul rejoice. Before I knew it, the forest gave way to the open field surrounded by the black wooden fencing where the gardens lay.

My suspicions from the initial thoughts of the number of blueberries available to be picked were soon confirmed – pickins’ were far and few between. Yet, knowing that even a couple handfuls would make my beloved happy, I began taking what few drops of heavenly sweetness would afford. After gleaning as many as possible, my large bucket seemed still wholly empty. The breeze wafted, causing the apple trees nearby to catch my eye. There, splendidly arrayed, were several trees with ripe apples of different varieties. “Well, since there’s plenty of room, why not,” the thought came. So, ambling in their direction, my hands eagerly picked some of the delectable choice morsels. “These would be wonderful treats and add a nice touch to my daily smoothies,” the thoughts cascaded into my head.

While I had been picking the bounty of fare, several different groups had arrived, either tending to their own gardens or just stopping by to view the plots therein. As I made my way to the gate to leave, one of those couples hailed me, “Hey, would you like some cucumbers or zucchini? We have plenty.”

“Sure, I would love some,” came my reply. “I work full-time, so I just don’t have time to plant a garden.”

“Well, we’d be happy to share. They’re just on the other side of the fence.”

“Ok, I was just headed that way.”

We met at the exit gate and exchanged greetings, shaking hands, the husband and wife. They looked to be around my age and very fit. Evidently, life had treated them well. We shared where we lived, each not knowing exactly where that was, seeing as the size and scope of the neighborhood.

We talked briefly about gardening as they pointed to the vegetables arrayed on the ground. I shared with them how much we missed growing a garden since leaving the farm back in Chatham County. They handed me one item after another until my bucket was nearly overflowing. It was then I realized what had happened. The Lord had shown again his ability to provide even when there was no thought nor request for sustenance. “Give us this day our daily bread” came to mind as they eagerly shared their hard work and graciousness. Before leaving, I thanked them repeatedly, ending with, “The Lord told me to bring a bigger bucket today. Now I know why.”

They smiled in return, and we said our goodbyes.

As I walked home along the trail of tranquility, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding blanketed my heart with sweet joys. The burning in my arms from carrying the great reward was a blessing, not only because of what was shared but knowing that God had again provided over and above all that was expected.

I was not worthy, yet he sent his Son to take the wrath for my sins on the cross so that a sinner like myself could have eternal life.

Yes, a prayer was answered even when it wasn’t mentioned.

Thanks be to God.

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Don’t Fall in the Ditch

 

There is something peaceful about a good night’s sleep. As we age, those precious occasions seem to grow less frequent. Last night was one of those rare opportunities to catch up on much-needed rest.

This morning, the temptation was there to rush off to the coffee shop to hang out and write. But knowing that it would cut into my morning devotion time and the fact that the last time I went there early on a Friday, a men’s group was just finishing – too large for the tiny establishment. When they concluded it was like a beehive had been struck, the fiery sound of a myriad of discussions ensued, overflowing the peace and calm, killing the intended mood and ambiance for which the location was sought. Agreeable to why they met, it was still a distraction that couldn’t be avoided.

So, withstanding the above encounter, I chose to remain at home this morning and sit listening to my preferred music while typing out these few lines. At least here, I’m saving time and money and still accomplishing some semblance of study and devotion.

One must ask, for if we do not, are we not guilty of assuming we are correct – am I doing all that is possible to draw closer to God? The scripture in Luke 6 warns of such assumptions, “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” Writing out the devotion, there were certain people I had in mind – those who could truly use those words spoken by our Lord and Savior. Yet, as I now write, it seems that the scripture found in Luke pertains ever more to myself in the aforementioned sense. How shall one be able to lead others if they have not done their homework, so to speak? Are we not susceptible to falling into the ditch, into temptation, into sin when we ourselves have not committed our lives, our every breath to seeking God? It is when we can look in the mirror and make the feeble determination, based on what we have learned to lean not on our own understanding but His that we then can be bold enough, when realizing if we are open to allowing Christ to work in us, then it will be Him that speaks through us. In this final realization, we become those who can guide others, not because of anything we do ourselves, but because He works in and through us. We are His vessels. We are the new temple; through that jar of clay, the Holy Spirit will shine through, speaking life into the dark world.

Do your homework, but don’t hide behind closed doors. Boldly go out into the world and be the light for someone in this dark world, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

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The Forest Before Me

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

The air is fresh and clean, but a welcoming blanket of humidity greets us today. The thunderstorms that rolled through the area overnight left in their wake an overcast dawn. Outside, the forest before me likewise slowly awakens, reminding me of my home in the holler of the enchanted wood back in North Carolina. Unlike there, the chorus of birds here only before me, not surrounding me as in my wooded home. Here, it is as if a stage is set before me in some grand theater as I sit on the edge of the woods. Birds of all varieties perform their best songs, every one of them a perfect rendition of the voice their creator bestowed upon them. Here and there, in the sings of this great state, domesticated avian crow their morning greetings – the reminder that this performance hall sits amongst a conflicted countryside, torn between the bucolic world it once was to that of the coal mines and growing suburban retreats, each a necessity of the other. A gentle breeze passes by, caressing the hair on my arm, causing my writing to pause and allowing one the momentary respite – acknowledging again God’s refreshing reminder that we are not alone.

Going out each day, seeking those with whom we can share God’s word, should be as purposeful as setting significant goals in our life – those that affect our long-term existence on earth, for we are continually surrounded by, as Hebrews tells us, a great cloud of witnesses. The challenge is to find them that are willing to allow us into their personal space. It isn’t easy to talk to a total stranger regarding breaking through without inciting some sort of defensive barrier. In order to make such a connection, one has to be portrayed as someone that exudes a personality of a loving, compassionate soul. To this end, when we walk in our faith, not promoting self-righteousness, but rather a humble, kind humility, we can then bridge those gaps of suspicion, allowing the stranger to open up and bare their innermost thoughts.

However, it is never easy to walk as Christ, emanating that radiant light from within. There are burdens in our life that are often difficult to overcome – the weight of life that besets us. They become our stumbling blocks, so much so that they become excuses we easily fall back on when the challenge before us causes us to hesitate. This is the enemy’s desire that we should falter in our effort to reach others. Interjecting our love of self, the one that is the very thing we are warned about, we become fearful of tarnishing that self-image. Our pride then overwhelms our purpose, the sin that clings so closely, and we cave into the feeling of either embarrassment or, worse, the belief we are incapable of acting in such an honorable manner. But as Paul writes in Hebrews, we must run this race with endurance. Our work toward perfecting our life’s mission is neither easy nor a sprint. The sanctification is a marathon – lasting the rest of your life. There will be hills and valleys. There will be challenges and setbacks. But through it all, we are to place our eye upon the prize, Christ – the perfecter and finisher of our faith.

Today looks to be a very full day – my plate is full. Yet, even on such busy times as this, we should pray that the Lord gives us the discernment to know when to pause, and drink it all in, allowing us to set this moment in time into one’s collective memory. For someday, it will be that place to which your mind returns, to once more be comforted through God’s grace. Yes, step out into the forest, and welcome the song of the woods, for each gentle breeze is a story in life’s journey. Make today one that lasts for that lifetime.

Thanks be to God.

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The Good Life

“The idea of reaching “a good life” without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up “a good life” as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain that we cannot climb by our own efforts, and if we could, we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished, for it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away,” and the rest is a matter of flying.”[1]

 

After reading Lewis’s writings this morning, the idea of the “good life” hit home. It is on this vacation of mine that many revelations of the past have come to life – some enlightening, while many are heartbreaking.

Visiting family, one encounters both extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum. From one end to the other, there is a common thread that is ever present – the impact of their choices in life or their own family’s choices, all impacting their ever-present position. To see the wealth of some, a portrayal of success for this world, only to hear of their tortuous relationships and loss of love begs the question, “Have they gained the world and lost their souls?” Some have succumbed under the weight of caring for others to the point that they are smothering beneath the daily load of supporting family beyond their own – piles upon piles of debris and belongings strewn about to the point there are few places to sit. Then some are so debilitated by health that they can barely function. Those who for years lived as if the poison they injected into their bodies was of no concern, only to, in the end, succumb to its dark, sinister destruction, cancer, and other diseases enriched by those foods containing unhealthy ingredients.

David Paul, one of my first cousins who had the nickname Deep, was probably the hardest one of the family to visit. In his youth, he was a rebellious, soul-searching hellion, always finding ways to provoke the world in which he lived. He eventually married and fathered a child with a woman much like him, yet one that seemed to tame his wild side. Her name was Suzi. She would eventually die of lung cancer, but not before Deep would take out a second mortgage on his home to pay for the experimental cancer treatments in Franklin, Tennessee. Before starting them, she was in a wheelchair and told she had maybe a year to live. After the stem cell treatments, Suzi went on to walk again and live another twelve years. For the last two, she was bedridden.

However, by then, Deep’s own throat cancer had cost him his ability to work full-time, and he was forced to stay home. The struggle became a blessing, as he told me that he was then able to spend the last two years at home with his dying bride. Through all of his pain and suffering, he found himself closer to God. Suzi’s ashes sit under the T.V. in a wooden box with a hummingbird carved on the outside. Deep now speaks through a throat tube because of his larynx being removed in order to save his life. He proudly told me he had been cancer free for over two years. When I offered to take him anywhere he wanted to go, he responded, “I don’t go anywhere.” What he was saying, without saying it, was that he struggled to go out in public with what he’s been reduced to. One can only imagine what embarrassment it is to have such a disability, yet, through it all, there is a testimony. His life has now changed to the point he knows that God is in him and that he longs for heaven. Yet, no one will ever know his story. For him to share, speaking as he does, would be painful not only for the audience but for him as well. What he doesn’t realize is that in their pain to hear, they would also be opened up to the understanding of how one, through their suffering, can be consoled even more by God. Sadly, it would take a miracle in itself to get him to share his testimony.

Deep’s hesitancy to share with the world is much like how we are likewise hesitant to speak about the Good News of Christ to those around us, whether they be family, friends, or acquaintances. Are we not just as guilty? What keeps us from doing such is as much as what’s wrong with our society as what’s right – our self-consciousness, defeating the fear of being embarrassed, thus, protecting the sensibilities of our self-image. Why is self so important? Why do we fear opening up ourselves to allowing the world to see who we are? Is it our insecurities? And what drives these? The answer is the fear of people seeing who we really are, hiding the sin we bear within ourselves. The solution to this problem is to seek the cleansing that can only come from receiving Christ into our lives. When we come to realize that when Christ is in us, we have nothing to hide, our lives become the light in a dark world, and our inhibitions fall away, allowing us to become a testimony to others.

As you go about your day today, consider your juxtaposition with God. Are you close enough to Him that everything else falls away? Can you overlook your inhibitions to become a beacon of hope to others? Try to put those things of this world behind you and let the light of Christ shine through you in all you do. And lastly, always say, “Thanks be to God.”

[1] God in the Dock. Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 1968 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Strings of Soul

In a corner of the Spiritual Retreat is an instrument wall – a place where my stringed instruments hang from hooks made specifically for each type of instrument. They are kept there for ease of access, for one never knows when the “mood” might strike when that feeling of creativity and inspiration combine into a single thread wanting to intertwine into a melody.

While these pieces of wood and wire are built to make beautiful music, my budget for said devices has never been of the highest priority. That being said, they are worth far more in sentimental value than anything else. One does one’s best to maintain them though, but with time, things age and dry out. So, it was the other day that that “mood” had struck and as the fiddle was taken down it quickly became apparent that the strings had loosened. With a violin, that is to be expected. Of all the instruments, it is held together by opposing forces. The tension of the strings holds up the bridge, which is supported from within by the sound post. If one of these components weakens and gives out, the entire function of the devices is compromised. In this alone, there is a lesson, but for another day.

So, as I looked over the old “Ole Bull” it was quickly discovered to have all but one string was greatly out of tune. Working through the pattern J.W. Parsons taught me so long ago, I began to tighten each of the four strings. When it came to the “G” string, the lowest of the four, the tuning peg made an odd sound as it was being turned. The wooden peg began to crack and disintegrate as it was turned, literally crumbling in my fingertips – it was gone, useless to hold a string taunt. Distraught but not overwhelmed, my original song of inspiration had long ago escaped my thoughts. Now, there was a new challenge. What songs could be played on only three strings? From there, the fiddle and I walked down memory lane discovering what could and could not be found upon the limited number of wire strands. My fingertips were forced to find comforting notes in places they had seldom touched. It wasn’t pretty.

This morning, as my mind reflected back upon yesterday’s encounter, it occurred to me how life and aging emulate the strings on my old violin.

The aging aspect comes from the memory of that entry-level Electrical Engineering class I took back at the University of Florida so many years ago. Dr. O’Malley, a tall, thin white-haired elderly gentleman, then well past retirement age, walked in and began the first day’s intro quite unlike any that I had heard heretofore. “You will start today with 100 points,” he told the class looking over his wire glasses at a lecture hall full of beginning students. “From this point on, you will only lose points, it is up to you how many you lose. You will never gain them back,” he continued. In his eyes, you could almost tell there was more he wanted to say. Something about time, about a life lived. His words really hit hard. It was a thought that was truthful yet profound, and like it, life in the natural world was so much a parallel.

There are many times in this journey that we find we are faced with a potential game-ending dilemma – either give up or adapt. Sometimes these are forces that are not of our doing. Illness, age, or accidents just to name a few can take away our ability to function as we once were capable. Like that fiddle with now only three strings, we learn that if we are to go on, we must learn new ways to play that old song. Those finger positions once foreign we are now forced to learn. A broken arm or hand of your favored limb makes writing almost impossible. But almost always, those who suffer learn to adapt and begin writing, albeit barely legible at first, and overcome their setback.

Likewise, when we step out of our comfort zone in faith, going to places or mission fields that we once thought foreign, test our ability to adapt and grow.  Jesus never told his disciples to stay put in Capernaum and make each other feel good. No, he told them to go out and spread the good news. “and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.[1] It was painful. Not only were they trying to cope without bringing bedding and food, they also suddenly had to remember what they had, in some cases, only recently learned. Jesus knew this would test them, but in the end, it would force them to grow stronger in their faith. Scripture tells us that through life’s trials we will only become stronger and persevere, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”[2] “…But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope…”[3]

There are those who once they’ve learned to play beautifully on just the three strings suddenly find that another is taken away, leaving only two. It is then, the more challenged we become, the more we must not lean on our own understanding. Many give in to the feeling of being overwhelmed. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so life, when it becomes unbearable, feels hopelessly lost. They seek answers in the life around them, but there is nothing that can ease that feeling of emptiness and despair that is of this world – no bottle is deep enough, no drug strong enough, and no emotional escape capable of breaking that spiral of death. It is only when the distraught and lost truly seek God is when they find hope.

Eventually, in some cases, those broken strings are restored. After that soul had learned to dance upon the instrument with fewer strings finds that restored octave or more, their appreciation for what once was becomes all the greater. So, it is with those who are reborn in Christ Jesus – their appreciation for things of God’s creation is from a new perspective.  Their soul is restored. They learned in that absence, in that trial, through the fires of tribulation how much more they were capable. Their strength and faith is renewed. They become a new creature. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”[4] What was once uncomfortable, or unknown becomes possible all because there was something that caused us to have to lean not on our own understanding.

Many return from mission fields, whether abroad or local, and find something about the world around them is not the same. Call it an awakening, or a new awareness. Either way, when we learn to seek Him, we too find these peeling away of layer, after layer of blindness to what we once could not see. We are able to understand something about God a little more. With each step, we learn. With each blunder or mistake, we learn. It is through those painful endeavors that we feel we cannot survive, when we find we grow the most.

When the mood strikes, seek for that thing which allows you to revel in your soul’s ability to thank God. When you find that a string is missing, press on toward the mark and let it not hinder your pursuit of the way, the truth, and the life.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Luke 9 NIV

[2] James 1:2-4 KJV

[3] Romans 5:3-4 KJV

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV

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Only Not to be Lonely

by Timothy W. Tron, May, 2022

A petite young boy, barely four years old, stood just within the entrance to the pasture. His tiny frame had easily crawled between the bars of the tube gate that was shut to keep the herd of cattle confined within. The firmament overhead was an azure blue, clear as far as the eye could see. Before him stood stalks of green, as tall as trees. The sun felt warm on his demure frame. He was smaller than most children his age. To know him, one would understand why. He was lucky to be alive.

For two years, at the tender age of one and then again, at two, he had contracted double pneumonia. Each time, he barely survived extended stays in the hospital, camping beneath a clear plastic tent as oxygen was pumped into its confines. Many prayed for and over the child. Most feared that he would succumb to the illness, but God had other plans. Like the countless stalks before him, a multitude of prayers had been lifted up in his name, supporting, strengthening, abiding in one another until they found their mark. He eventually healed, but his body suffered the ravages, growing more slowly than other children his age. So, as the sap began to flow in the trees, he felt a renewed strength start to flow through his veins. There seemed to be something that beckoned him to leave the old farmhouse and to wander out behind the tractor shed. Something beyond those palisades of fencing and outbuildings – an openness that smelled of freedom from the bondage of death.

 The white cotton shirt beneath the little overalls wasn’t enough to remove the chill of the breeze that wafted the tops of the grasses that swayed before him. A deep, rich aroma permeated the air – it spoke of earth and nature. Earlier that morning, he heard his grandmother speak of prayers being answered for him and how God was great. She went on to share how millions of prayers were being lifted up for their country, seeing as something called the Vietnam conflict was being fought. He didn’t understand the words “prayer” or “war” or what a “world away” meant. It sounded scary. She saw his countenance drop and quickly comforting saying, “nothing to be bothered with, my son. It’s far, far away.” She explained that prayers were people’s way of speaking to God, “like you and I talking now.” But the word “million” made no sense at all. Like the blades of grass before him, too numerous to count, a million was a number that was beyond his comprehension. It was only an entity unto itself, like a living organism, something through which he could only understand if it was tactile. The boy wandered deeper into the tall grass.

A childlike faith, dread of nothing, guided his path as he made his way through the forest of green. Cows making their way had unknowingly prepared his path. A baby cannot know sin, just as there is no reason to Baptize such. So, it is with fear. The child only felt the hand of the comforter. It wasn’t a stranger to him. He had been with him before – like the long empty days when he was held captive in the hospital bed. There were times when he would look to the foot of his bed and see the shadow of one that watched over him, and those suffocating feelings of abandonment would drift away – a love unseen would flood his soul, and sleep would come once more. He was there now, the comforter, walking, holding his hand, watching over him once more. They continued on. The boy followed wherever the trail of grasses led. Surviving the illness had instilled in him a sense of hope, knowing that with each new day, each fresh breath of life, there was always something to look forward to. The Apostle Paul put it like this, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”[1]

To understand a faith like this, one must erase all the preconceived notions that cling to us as we traverse through life. It takes an unfettered faith, one that clings to God as a drowning man does to the one trying to save him. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”[2] This faith, the belief in something unknown, but yet, it was known, that guided the little child. For each new turn, every new wrinkle of light gave hope, a tantalizing offer of something else to come. For a child, heaven is as believable as the friend that talks to them when no one is there. Anything is possible when you can dispense with what we come to know as the natural realm of reality. Matthew describes Jesus calling the little children unto him, saying, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[3]  This faith, this pure belief, guided the little farm boy past the herd of gentle Herefords to the small brook that ran past the farm.

The breeze gently blew the leaves overhead as the little one found his way to the gurgling waters. Before him flowed a small tree-lined creek. Large river birches and pin oaks shaded the oasis below. The bank was worn away where the cows had trod to reach the life-giving sustenance. The little boy sat down on a rock, resting as he wondered about the beasts that soon followed him to the watering hole. He was at home with the herd of cattle as he was with being alone. The animals sensed a purity, a being so gentle, they couldn’t help to wonder. They didn’t speak but gathered, at first hesitantly, realizing the child wasn’t a threat. Then, one by one, they meandered on down to the water and began to drink. Calves followed their mothers, some sniffing at the little boy, their muzzles tickling his neck, causing him to laugh aloud with a cherub-like voice. The sound would cause them to jump, skittering a step away, but continuing on as accepting the tiny human’s presence. He did not know how long they gathered, only that as they departed, he followed like one of the herd. A rumble within his tummy soon reminded him that the grass that the cows were eating wouldn’t suffice, that he needed to return to grandma’s kitchen where the pleasant aroma of something good cooking surely awaited.

Like an old friend, he motioned goodbye to his newfound friends, the cows, and climbed back through the gate’s bars. Somewhere off in the distance, a Redwing chirped as it headed to the pond nearby. A tiny puff of a cloud whisked past as the little boy kicked at a dirt clod in the trail leading back to the house. The dust drifted onward, like his feelings, from one happy sugar cube of thought to the next. His days were filled with what some might call loneliness, but to him, it was just another day in the life he had been given. It was there, alone in those oceans of grass that loneliness and isolation were supplanted by imagination. It would become a voice within that would carry him through all the days of his life. There was nothing for which to compare, and as it was, he was glad to be alive.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Romans 5:5 KJV

[2] Matthew 19:14 NIV

[3] Matthew 18:2-3 NIV

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