Standing in line this morning waiting to prepay for the limited gas at the pump, I listened to those around me talk or shuffled their feet in silence. The sign on the gas pump read, “$20 limit Pre Pay Inside.” Quietly listening to those voices around me, my thoughts turned to how this moment may have been prepared in advance – the unlikeliness of being in the presence of others that normally would not be possible yielding the opportunity to witness. Yet, still finding myself waking up, there I stood in calm repose, not saying a word. It was enough just to watch the lone cashier hurriedly ringing up each person, as most had come in for the same reason. It would have been easy to have been upset that we had been required to come inside to pay before pumping. In fact, the whole issue of why this had happened could lead to a myriad of political to social topics that would only inflame and agitate the parties in close proximity to the discussion. As human nature had advanced itself to the degree of manifestation of greed upon self-preservation, many had begun hoarding gas. The viral videos of people pumping gas into Walmart and trash bags were nearly incredulous. Had people lost their minds? Instead of focusing on the disparaging images of a society gone mad, my thoughts purposed toward how this moment could be used to share God’s love in a world that seems to spin out of control more each day.
When it was my time to pay, I told the attendant which pump, and then she said only, “Okay, now it’s ready,” meaning the card reader had been ready to receive my $20. “Have a blessed day,” I said after the transaction was complete. She quickly replied, “Thank you.” And that was all…
Was the opportunity to witness to others verbally wasted?
Did my sparse, if nonexistent words make a difference in anyone’s day?
Scripture tells us in James, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” It is not always necessary to speak a volume of words to reach those around you. Sometimes, as the saying goes, “simplicity is elegance.” Likewise, as Paul wrote in his letter to Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.”
Sometime later, as my car rounded the bend on 321 heading into Blowing Rock, the sky was ablaze with a brilliant red-orange sunrise. The light from the weekend campfire at the Denton Bluegrass festival splayed into my thoughts. There, the scripture from Colossians had first hit me. Although my brothers and I were there to enjoy the music, there was another purpose we served as we walked among so many that were lost. As the same sun hit the horizon, the view from the campsite was no less breathtaking. The morning rays poured over the Word of God that lay before me, and it was as if the voice of God spoke. From the chill of the air, the warmth of the words poured over my heart and warmed me within.
Too often, we feel that the mission field is in some far-off land, not there is anything wrong with missions or those who serve in them abroad. We overlook that very thing before us – that need of our family, neighbors, and friends. While enjoying the music and fun of this past week’s festival, it quickly became apparent that there were many, even friends of mine, that were not fully vested. One must promptly remind those reading this, that I do not put myself above others, nor do I consider myself more righteous than any, for there is no not one righteous, no not one. Yet, as we desire to become more Christ-like in our daily walk, it quickly becomes apparent the differences in who we have become versus those around us.
We need not be great orators to reach those with whom we seek to help. Our actions often speak louder than words. From the choice of our attire to the music we listen to or play on, our instruments represent the walk we profess to tread.
As we return to our daily lives, let us be mindful that there are many, too many, who are lost and need a beacon of hope and light. A simple kind word summonsed from a pure heart is far greater than an enlightened speech from the loftiest podium. Let us then share God’s love in all that we do and be ever grateful when we say, “Thanks be to God.”
“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” – Col. 4:5-6
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” – 1 Peter 3:15
They once called it “Nowhere” mountain. Today it’s known to the rest of the world as “Rich” mountain. The slow gradual climb slowly wears at your body, walking or running. The deceptive incline slowly takes you to a secluded overlook. There only the stone remnants of an ancient house’s foundation are all that exist. Leftover from another time, a bygone century. For a moment, above the distant mountain peaks, above the wayward meadows there is a feeling of freedom. The cattle in the fields dispersed amongst the shaded oaks and hemlocks, lowing in the fresh mountain air. Their voices bellow across the ridge. Once this was all that there was of a pioneer outpost, a home in the wilderness. It eventually became the property of the Cone’s. Today, it’s a place where one can go and find themselves a few moments of seclusion from a world that seems to fall out of control a little more each day.
A few days ago, I had found myself atop of Nowhere. Therein lies the story – it was part of my run.
Before I continue, let me say that this is not meant to be any shape or form of bragging. There are times that we must share something in our life that has become a testimony; thus, the sharing with you of how running (or the semblance thereof) has become part of my spiritual journey. Besides, my sister, a practicing Cardiac Nurse, recommended it would help strengthen my heart. Something with which my Cardiologist wholeheartedly agreed. Truly, if you saw me in action, you would know there was nothing to brag about.
Several weeks ago, the Lord convicted me to start running again. At the time, it was as if something inside me wanted to be done with this life. Between the never-ending accusations of our society from one extreme to the other, to the seemingly never-ending pandemic, fueled by every political conspiracy theory you can imagine, one begins to look with joy toward the next life. In a sense, pushing my body to the extremes will either make me a healthier warrior for the Lord or it will take me home to be with him quicker. The options are Pauline in nature, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Herein lies the rub: many have not, nor have no idea what that “next life” is. They live day-to-day, battling from sunup to sundown without hope. Their lives have little to no direction. For them to find the way to life eternal on their own would be like finding a needle in a haystack. While we want to help them as much as possible, we can only plant the seeds. It is by God’s Grace that we are saved. As Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” Sadly, there are greater numbers of lost in our world than those who are awakened to God’s plan of salvation. For those who know Him, and have asked Him into their lives, there is that hope of life eternal. Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
I don’t know the exact mileage of each week. I don’t keep track of the miles that my body has been pushed these recent days, but this much I can tell, there is a renewing of the soul. Slowly, my body shifts from the unhealthy cravings as before to now, those of wholesome, natural foods beckon my taste buds. As I had experienced once before, the feeling of how the body changes when it is exercised to the extreme is not new to me. Yet, the reserve with which I can now control my diet and temptations to imbibe in things that only go against not only your body’s health, but the spirit within – these have become the things to which I am now drawn, those things which enrich the body, soul, and spirit.
This journey is not about becoming the fastest. The goal these days is to merely push this terrestrial body to become the best it is capable of being, only so that my soul has a better home. I heard Ravi Zacharias mention a quote from the 19-century writer, George McDonald a couple of days ago. McDonald said in a roundabout way, that we do not “have” a soul, but rather, we are a soul. “We have a body,” he said, “but we are a soul.” Genesis says it best, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” This new perspective has really made me rethink the way in which I had been approaching life.
In the act of pushing my body, I am then making a better dwelling place for my soul to live within. The nicer the home, the better the soul can feel. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “ What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” The more features the temple has, the more possibilities there are for the soul to flourish, and with it, the spirit. When our spirit is awakened, it then is able to welcome the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Then, as we might prepare for an esteemed guest, we would too want our temple to be the most glorious that it can be. It is in this vein that my pursuit of the new day’s dawn, from the time, that the sun hits the horizon until long past its setting – my days are thus filled to serving Him.
Pain in this life is a constant reminder that we live in a fallen world. There is not a run that I take that I don’t have pain. My dad used to say, “The day that I wake up and feel no pain is the day that I know that I’ve died.” Today he no longer suffers. His body was healed when his soul was welcomed into that home above.
In my youth, I longed to train in the mountains; something I was never afforded. Now, in my advanced age, here I am, training in the mountains. There is no pain like that of running up a continual climb at elevations over 3,500 feet. To try to lessen the suffering, I learned a long time ago in those early training years, that if you could talk while you were running, then it would keep you at a pace that was optimal for practice runs. In that vein, my journey has brought me full circle. Since I run alone most days, there is only myself with whom to converse. As I’ve mentioned many times in other writings, today I work as unto the Lord, not unto man, and so it is with my exercise. So now, as I run up those steep grades, my practice of memorizing scripture is put to work, quoting out loud as I run. It is nothing spectacular. A word here, a breath there, and maybe after a few hundred feet a sentence is finished. This is how it goes.
The other day, as my practice of speaking scriptures as I ran continued, I happened past an older lady. She too was out enjoying the beautiful day before the afternoon storms came. As I passed her on my ascent up the mountain, she and I exchanged the usual pleasantry of, “Good morning.” On my way back down, she said something that gave me pause. Before I passed her, she smiled and said toward me, “Thank you for using your gifts.” All I could eke out was a simple, “Amen.” As I was still pondering her words in the back of my mind, I continued through my versus. Just as I was finishing John 1, I rounded a curve and broke out into a meadow filled with a plethora of golden wildflowers. My voice still trailed, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”Suddenly before me above the field of gold, the sky around me was like a throng of white stallions waiting to stampede, yet were held at bay by a mighty hand. In the center of those towering billows of white, was a crystal clear, azure blue sky reaching to the heavens. Yes, the heavens had opened and my eyes searched those ever-changing Cumulus formations for angels ascending and descending. It was at that moment I could feel the power of the Holy Spirit dwell within my soul. For a moment, there was no ground beneath my weary legs, there was no pain, there was only the glory of God.
Being afflicted through the sufferings of our daily life, and yes, in our daily exercise, are all part of how God shapes us. As Peter wrote, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” In our youth, our bodies recover more quickly so that there is little time to dwell on the struggles through which we face. As we age, it takes longer to recover and to overcome those once trivial obstacles. Through the tribulations of life, our soul is refined as the sword in the fire. Through these trials, we are made stronger when we learn to lean on Him, and in so doing, find hope for tomorrow. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope…”
This morning, the water was still dripping from the trees. The abundance of storms had passed in the night leaving the air fresh, new, and alive. The sound of the bountiful life-giving fluid made it feel as if I was surrounded by a tropical rain forest. The effect it had upon my body felt good. Like a blanket of comfort, its warmth enveloped my being. My mind drifted back to the Garden of Eden and how it must have felt for Adam and Eve before their sin. It was at that moment that I realized that while we are affected by the world through our flesh (our body), it isn’t always negative. There are moments, as in that instance, where we are blessed by God through his marvelous creation. Through those beautiful sunrises, to the smile of a newborn child, we are given glimpses into his love and majesty; thereby, enriching our soul, allowing the spirit to be lifted. Yes, even when we happen onto the edge of a golden meadow while His words parse through our lips we are blessed. When we are one with Christ, we are then afforded to allow the Holy Ghost to dwell within, and in so doing, find beauty in places heretofore there was only sadness and despair. These precious moments in time uplift our soul, and like the afflictions, strengthen it.
Not all growth has to be painful, for, at the top of Nowhere, one can be afforded the most gratifying reward – to look upon the distant mountains and valleys and rejoice in God’s glory. As the air slowly returns to our weary lungs, as the heart beats blood to those body parts that are fatigued and ailing, we can be blessed by more than what this world of man will allow. It is up to us to sometimes go to the middle of nowhere and call upon His name.
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As you go through each day, beware of the effects the world has upon you through your body. Live each day as if your soul depends on it.