Impetus

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

When our small church was unable to meet corporately last Sunday due to a scheduling conflict in the elementary school where we meet, some of our friends and family decided to move our worship outdoors. Because of the unusual opportunity and the beautiful weather, we met to hike a portion of the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park.

The plan was to take a 9-mile loop that included a stop at a scenic overlook about half-way. However, due to a, um… slight disagreement about the direction to take after our  stop, we wound up hiking down a steep gorge and back up again. Meanwhile, my intuition, which has been honed by playing, “Hey, guys, let’s see if we can get lost in the woods” with my cousins when we were children, dogged each step with a cerainty that we were headed the wrong way.

As we took the rough stone steps, I recall thinking that our navigator may be in some slight danger of mutiny if we had, in fact, taken a wrong turning. Not until we had climbed to the bottom of the  ravine and back up the other side did we all stop and look at one another with the absolute certainty that we were not on the 4.5 mile loop back to our cars, but on the 8-mile stretch that headed to the trail’s southern end in another town.

Frustrated with himself (and possibly nervous about the possibility of violent mutiny), our navigator took off back towards the way we had come, as, with a few scattered murmurs, the rest of us collected ourselves and followed him.

It was absolutely glorious.  

There is not much I love more than hiking, and this particular trail is on my personal top Mom01110 list. Each step of the way back, I brought up the rear with my mom (who turns 66 today – happy birthday, Mama!). She had tweaked her knee somewhere in all the elevation change and had to take it a little slower. This was fine by me since it afforded an opportunity to drink in all the splendor of my Father’s handiwork.

All told, we hiked approximately 14.25 miles and by doing so answered the question of about how long we would need to plan to hike the Fiery Gizzard end-to-end (13 miles). It’s easily doable in a day, even leaving time for my beloved Nikon if we start early.

And as is my habit, the whole trek got me thinking about my walk with the Lord.

Some of our number who are not as giddily in love with the forests and hills as I found the last leg of our trek to be sheer misery. A fair amount of complaints were vocalized, as were several wistful wishes for extra water or a nice, juicy steak.

But for me, even the accidental detour was delightful. Even through the discomfort of thirst and the annoyance of arthritic feet, I enjoyed the quiet beauty of the woods, the surprising red-orange of occasional mushrooms, the steady plashing of the streams. In my experience, I have found that focusing on trouble only makes it that much harder to bear.

The difference, however, was not only focus but motive. 

True, I chose to concentrate on the scenery rather than ponder hunger or the pain of sore feet. But the bigger reason for the disconnect in our various experiences is that I love hiking for hiking’s sake. A short jaunt into the woods, particularly after a long drive, leaves me feeling cheated, so an entire day spent reveling in the Master’s artistry was a rare and wonderful pleasure.

Likewise, my walk with the Lord – and for that matter, all my relationships – are affected by motive. If my motivation for following God’s trail is solely what I can get out of it, be it blessings, comfort, peace, provision, or anything else, then I stand to be disappointed when things take a wrong turning.

However, following my Messiah for His own sake – well, that, my friends is where joy in the journey is found; not merely joy because of circumstances but even joy despite them. There – in Him – is true and lasting peace.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:3-4)

Counting the Cost

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
(Luke 14:28-30)

Anyone who walks through this life with any kind of invisible illness or chronic pain knows what it means to count the cost. In my personal experience with chronic migraine, the ability to assess the risks of known triggers and weigh them against the cost – in my case, a migraine – is critical, especially if you are resolved to actually live and not merely exist until the end should come.

As a relatively handy illustration, I’ll relate a little experience I had on Holy Week this year. I have mentioned before that our small group was able to celebrate the Lord’s Passover under the guidance of a Jewish man and his wife during Holy Week. What I did not mention were the many migraine triggers that accompanied the event.

For one, any kind of stress – even what I call “good stress,” which includes enthusiastic anticipation – is a major trigger for me. Considering that I have longed to be a part of a Passover Seder almost since I read in the Bible that Jesus was a Jew, we can safely say that Trigger #1 was a go.

Then, of course, our small group meets in our home and since we would be having first-time visitors, I took the time to do some extra cleaning (which, in my world, lands the house extremely far from “Better Homes and Gardens” but at least puts us somewhere above “clearly, a natural disaster happened here.”) Getting overheated, particularly with moderate physical activity is a trigger for me. Because it was a fairly hot day and I did not bother to turn down the AC, we definitely had Trigger #2.

For some unexplained reason, I frequently get muscle cramps in my neck and upper back which can cause pain and, naturally enough, sometimes trigger migraines. Well, it must have been my lucky day because Trigger #3 was present as well.

I have at least two known food triggers – wheat, the consumption of which is an absolute guarantee for migraine fun, and alcohol which is only a trigger when there are other factors kind of pushing me towards the edge.

Matzo, of course, is made of wheat yet I did not want to be fussy, so I broke off the smallest pieces I could in order to participate. Knowing that there were plenty of triggers already lining up against me, I had intended to forgo the wine, but since a very helpful young man had already poured about an ounce in each adult glass, I once again chose not to speak up (although I did compromise by only having a sip at each point where a cup is supposed to be consumed during the meal). Ergot – Triggers # 4 and with all the others, #5 joined the party as well.

And yes, the following morning I woke up at around 3:00 a.m. with a doozy of a migraine; the kind that had me attempting a freaky, creeping sort of walk without fully raising my head and choking down the medicine while (very literally) praying that it would stay down long enough to work.

But it was worth it.

Sure, I lost a couple of days, but the heightened sense of communion with the Lord by participating in this very ancient tradition and the deeper understanding of how intentional His every act really is… well, there just aren’t words. For me, it was about knowing my God a little bit better. I had weighed the probable cost and decided to ante up.

Just so, when the Lord began the discussion that we jumped in on the middle of at the beginning of this post, He was trying to make everyone who was listening think for a minute. Understanding that the cost of following Jesus is… well, everything… we can see that it would be somewhat prudent to count the cost.

Following Him means He comes first; it is absolute surrender, and as my pastor said a couple of weeks back, when an army or nation surrenders to a conquering king, they do not set the terms. They accept them.

It is the same with Him, but I assure you that His terms are good. He asks that we give Him all that we are – absolute trust, absolute obedience, absolute surrender. Following Him means understanding that He sometimes withholds things that we are positive we need because He knows what is truly best for us. It means a commitment that extends for eternity and a willingness to be teachable and humble; to have our eyes opened to ugly and uncomfortable truths about ourselves and to feel the sorrow that our sin brings.

It means turning away from all of it – even the ‘pet’ sins that don’t seem that bad to us because He says that they are – and walking with Him no matter how hard things get.

In return, He offers us a life beyond the few brief decades of toil we have on earth; a life that will be free from sickness or sorrow or fear; a life in the glorious presence of God – an eternity to spend time getting to know the Eternal One.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is definitely worth it!

 

 

A Word of Thanks

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Hebrews 10:24-25)

I have always been something of a loner. Although I enjoy people and have an especial fondness for hearing about the lives of others, I can also become “peopled-out” and I will rarely turn away an opportunity to spend some time alone (which in my world, really means “alone with the Lord”).

However…

In my, eh… let’s just say greater than three and fewer than eight… decades, I have learned that there are two areas in which I do not perform my best when alone: working out and my Christian walk.

In some ways, they are remarkably similar. Just as I have a tendency to push a little harder if I have a workout partner, so I also have a tendency to actually “run with endurance” if I have someone (or several someones) keeping me accountable to both the Word of God and the ways of God.

And honestly, not all forms of exercise are either wise to perform alone (like hiking as a woman, or rock-climbing as almost anyone) or even possible to engage in alone (judo, for example). Although if you are a well-armed woman with a exemplary skills in judo, it could be argued that a solitary hike isn’t such a bad idea…

At any rate, there are also several of my Lord’s commands that are fairly tricky to accomplish when flying solo. Loving others as you love yourself, or meeting together, or encouraging each other, or treating others with greater honor… actually, there are a considerable number of them that just don’t work for a body in isolation. Although it might be argued that it’s easier to love theoretical people than it is to love actual people… but then it would only be theoretical love, and of course it must be admitted that virtual seeds do not grow actual fruit…

Either way, the older I get and the longer I run this race, I am finding that it is much, much easier to stay the course if I depend less on my own motivation and more on my God and those He has put around me.

I need others. I need people like some of you who write about keeping our eyes on Jesus or how good our God is; who will take long walks with me and listen as I think out loud and be unafraid to speak the truth in love or to remind me to step outside my own, small perspective. I need people to pray for and people willing to pray for me.

I need people like some of you who stir my heart with something God has shown you or who let me know that He stirred your heart by something I wrote or shared verbally. Though I may like time alone, it’s still very nice to know I am not truly alone.

So for all who read these words, thank you. Thank you for being you, for being raw and real, for speaking truth, and sometimes just for being there on the narrow path, anonymous but still a fellow sojourner.

Even if you disagree with me at times (or always), thank you. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often wrong and may need to re-examine in the Light something I have written in the dark.

And constructive criticism, of course, is also devilishly difficult to manage alone.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

 

Bread of Life

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink….”
John 6:53-55

After Jesus spoke these words, many of the people with Him turned away.  I have to wonder what they were thinking…  Were they more angry at the audacity of His words or because He would not perform another miracle for them(see John 6:30)?

Whatever their reasons, one thing is certain: this part of the crowd did not really understand Jesus; did not know either the Man nor His purpose. And so, when He moved the conversation from the realm of the physical to the spiritual, many left.

Sure, a number of them may have truly been outraged by His words. Likely, however, the majority of the people did not really care what He meant. Once they saw that this Jesus was not going to use His power the way they wanted Him to, they walked away in disgust.

Are we any different?

What is it that we want from Jesus? Often, we want Him to answer our prayers, to grant some boon or provision. We want Him to bring His power to bear on our plans, moving the mountains we want moved when we want them moved — typically right now.

But we forget that He is not only a miracle worker. He is the Bread of Life, the very Living Word of God made flesh. His blood, too, is life; a pure and unstained life poured out as payment for the blood debt we owe our Creator. Though we do not understand Him nor even seek Him for the sheer wonder of Emmanuel, still He offers Himself for us. He cries out to us an invitation to drink deeply of His life and be quenched; to feast on His eternal Word and be truly and thoroughly satisfied.

It is a sad fact that many turned away from the invitation of the Lord; many did not wish to know the Man but only wanted to see what He would do for them.

It is still a sad fact today. Many turn away when told that they must take up their cross to follow Him. Many who are told that they must not only hear about the Word but spend a lifetime soaking it in also turn away. Many do not want a slow and abiding journey but a quick fix, a sort of one-time transaction of blessing. Many still are not interested in a daily diet of the Bread of Life but only in a free lunch.

The goals we have for ourselves are often far short of what our Lord has in store for us. We crave comfort, convenience, leisure, and many fleeting and flimsy pleasures here and now; He desires to give us inexpressible joy, absolute satisfaction, substantive and lasting pleasures in His presence forevermore.

There is good news yet in our tale. When the many turned aside, Jesus asked the few who remained if they would also like to leave. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”

What do you say, friends? Would you like to leave, to turn aside now from the hard sayings of the Lord? Or would you like to know more of this Jesus, to find daily spiritual nourishment in the Word of God, to feast forever on the Bread of Life? He has more than power to heal the sick and feed the multitude. He has the words of eternal life!