Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holy GPS! Part II

     The one thing they always tell you is, "Don't panic!" 
     Those very reasonable words are said in a classroom, a training session, a manual.
     Easy, right.
     Yup.  Til the moment hits you and you are feeling that rising panicky feeling in your stomach.  Then all you can think is, "What the *&^% am I supposed to feel other than panic?"
     Yet, we've all heard it:  Panic can kill you.  
     My faith-walk-turned-hike taught me another valuable lesson:  the power of fear.
     We've all heard the Scriptures about trusting God, and not fearing.  Here are seven out of fifty that I found on a website by Christine Abraham called  
  1. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
  2. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 NIV
  3. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34:7 NIV
  4. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matt 10:31 NIV
  5. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. Deuteronomy 13:4 NLT
  6. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT
  7. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 NLT
     I am sure you have your favorites.  But, we read such verses sitting at our computer, in church, or sitting up in bed before we go to sleep.
     I had been listening to a wonderful Bible teacher at the retreat.  What she said resonated with me.  Then I got lost in the woods.  Now, the rubber hit the holy road.
     Once I realized that I was lost, I could feel the fear starting to percolate up from my gut.  At first, by optimistically staying focused, I could keep it at bay.  But as the afternoon passed, it took more and more effort to keep the fear down.
     At one point, I thought, "I could sit down right now and have a good cry..."  True, but I resisted it.  How?  By focusing on what I had learned in the retreat and what the Bible told me about God's faithfulness.
     The worst damage fear inflicts is deafness.  When you are panicking, you don't hear the directions that are coming your way.  If you are caught in a river, and you are panicking, you won't hear what the rescue team is saying to you from the shore.  Fear deafens you with a kind of white noise that becomes louder and louder as time goes by and the situation hasn't changed.
    In fact, look at fear as having its own database, so to speak.  You start uploading all the horror stories you've heard about how badly it went for others in your situation; you think about what could happen; you lose less and less connection with what is going on, and focus more and more on the data in your head.
    The only way to counter fear's database is with another database that overrides it.  The Word is our Database.  It provides the conduit whereby God speaks to us.  If we are listening to that Database, then Fear's white noise lessens.
    I had to keep reminding myself what God promises in His Word. 
    But, I learned that it goes way beyond the "I need to think of key Bible verses to keep fear at bay."  I actually need to hear from God Himself.  Fear drowns out not only what we know of Him to be true, it drowns out His voice as He is speaking to us.
    That was my gravest (pun intended) concern:  if I let Fear talk to me, I will not hear the Father's voice.  I kept praying as I hiked; I was in constant communication with Him as I went down this path or had to turn around on that path.  Why?  Because I eagerly sought to keep my mind quiet...quiet enough to hear Him calling to me from the shore.
     I know when people say, "Yes, I speak to God and He speaks to me!" you may be looking for the "This Person's Been Eatin' Kooky Krackers Again" sign stuck to their back.  But, think about it.  God has always spoken to His people.  Adam and Eve.  Noah.  Abraham.  Gideon.  David.  Jesus.  Now, don't say, "Well, that was in Bible times.  He doesn't operate that way today.  We have His word."  Yes, we do, but hear what His Word says, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better."  (Eph. 1:17)
    Paul knows the Ephesians have the Old Testament and the various epistles in circulation, but he is praying for them to know God better.  How?  By learning from His Spirit, Who reveals Who God is.  Wisdom comes from hearing His Word, and coupled with the illumination of His Spirit, we walk into a deeper relationship with God.
    The Spirit will not reveal anything that is not in harmony with God's Word nor with the Son.  God's truth is just that:  it is consistent and pure.  So, whatever we hear, must be in harmony with His Word and His Son.
    Walking through that forest made me learn how important it was to stay quiet and listen to His words of guidance.  Fear would have deafened me; I neede to hear His gentle voice.  He didn't speak in long sentences--just a few words here and there, and I eventually made it home.
     Jesus was always listening to His Father.  He spent time in prayer, reading the Word and hearing His Father's voice.  How can we, especially in these troubled times, do anything less?  
     Finally, the first verse of Addison Road's "What Do I Know of Holy" puts it beautifully:

I made You promises a thousand times.
I've tried to hear from Heaven,
But I talked the whole time.
I think I made You too small.
I never feared You at all, no.
If You touched my face would I know You?
Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

    If you haven't heard His voice, perhaps you have been doing all the talking. 
    Listen.  Someday, your life may depend on it. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Holy GPS! Part I

     Last time, I told you of a prayer walk at a retreat in the mountains that turned into a Faith Hike.  The whole time I was out there in that forest, I was thinking how this was an enormous lesson from the Lord.  I kept saying to myself, "What is the Lord trying to teach me in all of this?"  Here is what I gleaned--I will never forget my time in that forest.  My prayer is that I never forget what He taught me.
     No map, no compass, no GPS. Up in those mountains, I became a true modern, post-Christian person, making my way through the forest of this age. “Make your own trail” sounds so alluring, so appealing to our “Yeah, I’m an individual” kind of mentality. I go where I want, do what I want, say what I want and at the end of the day, It’s All About Me. Who needs a map, anyway?   It was exhilarating to be up in the forest, following paths and yet being so free.
     But over time, with the trails destroyed by new logging roads, me with no water, and a sense that I was getting lost, that "Hey, I'm free" was slowing being eclipsed by "Hey, I am lost, I think."  Exhilaration was giving way to fear.
     Isn't that the way it is today?  In our exhilaration of tossing out all the old notions of morality, and saying, "We are free from such unenlightened thinking!" we are equally experiencing niggling doubts about this all working out.  People have a deep sense that all is not well these days; the solutions range from more government to no government; hide out in the hills or take to the streets; care for the planet or care for yourself. 
     These ideas work for a while.  My hike was "working" for a while.  I was moving.  I saw the trails.  It wasn't dark yet.  I hadn't seen any wild animals or sketchy people.  Yet, somehow, what should have been a walk under an hour had now turned into almost two hours.  I saw houses I hadn't not seen when I started; I saw a lake I didn't even know existed and I was increasingly aware that my walk was no longer pleasurable. 
     For centuries, Christians have seen the Bible as a divinely inspired guide to navigating through life. It tells of sin, our need for salvation and how Jesus Christ came and died to set us free. It tells of how His resurrection power enables us to live the life we are called to live; it states emphatically that we cannot do it on our own. It tells of God’s faithfulness to His people, and to us.
    Yet, today the Bible is denigrated by believers and non-believers alike.  Its prohibitions seem to antiquated and hostile to modern life and modern thinking.  
    We are now running into things that were inconceivable twenty years ago:  Gay marriage is now legal.  Polygamy is seeking the same recognition.  Many couples are seeking to legitimize incest.  The family is now a fluid unit, with moms and dads coming and going.  Younger and younger people--children--are having sex, viewing pornography and trying to make sense of it all.  Kids are killing adults, and kids are killing kids.  Suicide rates among the young are staggering. 
    As a culture, we may, in an off moment, wonder, "Wow, we didn't see that coming."  No, we didn't.  Why?  Because we are not consulting the Road Map.
    But isn't that Road Map a hindrance to people's self-esteem?  Let me give you an historical example.  Britain, in the 18th century, wanted to send its criminals to the colonies in America.  They argued that the new climate and new surroundings would reform them.  Ben Franklin shot back a suggestion to the British government:  Fine, you do that.  We will send to you , in exchange, our rattlesnakes.  Put them in Hyde Park and see how well they reform there.  
    My point?  A rattlesnake is a rattlesnake.  D'uh.  But what if you don't know that?  What if you have never encountered one and think that rattling sound is an invitation to pet it?  How do you learn what a rattlesnake is?  You find a authoritative source and identify it with pictures and descriptions.  Now, you know.
     What if those reptiles books are seen as discriminatory to younger readers, who need to embrace the planet's creatures equally?  A shark is as valuable as a zebra; a rattlesnake is as beautiful as a butterfly. 
     We teach and warn our children based on knowledge that guides us to live discerningly in this world. 
     So, if the Bible is viewed as an impediment to modern living, how do we discern right from wrong?  Even the idea itself of "right and wrong" is up for grabs if we do not have a standard whereby to make that judgment.  The Bible identifies what a "rattlesnake" is:  sin.  Sin may blend in well with the modern environment but woe unto you if you get too close.  Its "venom" will course throughout your system and paralyze you, rendering you unable to react to the changes going on around you.
     Children today have no real basis for living.  They are an accident of evolution; they really don't matter in such a huge universe; the planet they are on takes precedence over them; families are collapsible structures, meant to house what only works for the adults in their lives. 
     Yes, the modern person may say, children are free to be who they are.  Sounds lovely, doesn't it?  To an adult, maybe.  But can you hear those kids asking, What does my life mean?  What is my purpose?  Why am I even here? 
     The forest was lovely at first as I was walking.  But over time, it took on a darker hue. 
     Our society has taken on a darker hue.  We have 9/11.  The Boston Marathon.  Columbine.  Sandy Hook.  The list now goes on and on.  Self rules the day.  No other standard except, Hey, that makes me happy!  
     Look at the world we are  handing off to our children.  We pursue the self, not the Spirit.
     I had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit to guide me in that forest.  His words echoed what the Bible says about not fearing but trusting God; that He will never leave nor forsake you, and He will guide you in all your ways, just cling to Him.  Those promises, brought to my mind from the Lord, guided me and sustained me. 
     The Spirit's guidance brought me to a door.  That door, opened up by that sweet couple, got me home.  Jesus is our Door, and He will lead us home.  He gave us His word and His Spirit to be our holy GPS. 
     It is to our peril if we as individuals and as a culture ignore the Map.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

From Prayer Walk to Faith Hike!

     Recently, I went on a retreat with my daughter’s church.  The theme of the retreat was “Breathe.”  The idea was that what we take in—inhaling God’s forgiveness and grace--will provide the strength we need.  We are then to exhale—serving Him and others. 
     The speaker, Desiree Wiles, first spent time on discussing the absolute necessity of having the Bible as a foundation.  She called the Bible our Compass, our Map, our Light, our Mirror.  She undergirded all of her references with many scriptures. 
     As I sat there listening, I realized how devalued the Bible is today. 
     Later I joked (only half-heartedly, really) that today’s modern Bible would be a brochure.  My daughter piped in and said it would say, “Jesus loves you” and “Don’t judge others.”  One page would say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”   The final page would say, “God wants you to be happy.”  So true. 
     Quick, easy with no demands…that’s how moderns want the Bible to be.  If they even want it at all.  Desiree emphasized the Bible’s role in showing us who we are and where we need to be.  It equally informs us of God’s power available to us, enabling us to live life in the power of Christ.  
     So, after the morning session, and Desiree’s message of how precious and necessary the Bible truly is, I decided to go for a hike.  The retreat center was in the mountains of Idaho, about two hours from Boise. 
     I live in the mountains.  I live about one half hour up in the mountains above Boise.  I walk the gravel roads all the time.  I love to go out for an hour or so on what I call my “prayer walks.” 
     I walk and talk to the Lord about everything, out loud and free as a bird.  Occasionally, I have an audience.  I have looked up and on a hillside, stood a deer, staring at me with ears cocked.  I have quickly passed a skunk, waved to a porcupine, and sang loudly at some cows who decided their grazing was more important than moving out of the way so I could continue. 
     I love praying in the mountains and I am so blessed that I am able to do so. 
     So, taking a walk up a mountain trail seemed natural for me.  I had a map that came with the registration package.  I even asked the manager earlier that morning how long the trail was.  He said it was probably about three-quarters of a mile, but because he always traveled it by ATV, he wasn’t really sure.  No problem.  I walk that and even more all the time.  I was excited and away I went. 
     Now join me on my walk. 
     I feel prepared.  A little ways up, I realize I should have some water.  Nah…I’ll be fine.  I will probably be only a half hour or so.  The trail’s name is the “Boundary Trail,” which, according to the map, goes in a horseshoe shape up into the mountains, and will bring me back to the retreat center.    
    So, away I go.  It is early afternoon, about 1:30 as I set out.  
    I recognize the ropes course area, for I had come to this center seven years ago with another group.  I pass the wall climbing area.  I take in the beauty of the fall leaves and the quiet.  I notice that the poison oak has turned bright red (“If leaves are three, let it be”) and the quaking aspens and birches are a lovely golden yellow.  The mulleins still have a few flowers on them.  A lot of shattered white granite litters the trail, and flecks of mica shine like glass nestled in the soil. 
     Now the trail turns up.  I notice a fence is down, and its wires are across the trail. I think nothing of it.  I step over it and go up. 
     As I ascend the trail, I hear one of my favorite sounds:  high winds though pine trees. I hear the creaking of branches.  Needles float down on the breeze, adding to the ones that have already fallen.  Scattered pinecones speak of trees yet unborn and a few small pine trees are making that  promise visible. 
     I keep going higher, following the trail.  I come to a flat area and I assume this is the top where the trail will curve around, taking me back down.  No.   I walk on the flats for a while and then I come to a logging road. 
     A what? 
     The logging road, rather recently created, has obliterated the trail.  I think about walking the road for a while, but I don’t feel at ease doing that—logging roads take you up, deeper into a forest.  I am seeking to go down. 
     I find the rest of the trail on the other side of the road.  Easy-peasy. 
     ATV tracks are everywhere.  Obviously, this is where the manager goes in his ATV.  I must be doing this right.  
    It leads me up.  I am praying the whole time—intercession, adoration, praise.  But I have this little niggling feeling I am lost, but I ignore it and press on. 
     I see some huge boulders coming up.  Beautiful, rounded and old, I think about how the ribs of this mountain are showing.  I compose a poem in my head about the ribs of the mountain, how it lives and tells its history in its rocks.  The trail is well worn.  I picture people coming up here, sitting on the rocks and praising the Lord. 
     I start to head down…finally! 
     The way is steep, so I grab a branch and turn it into a walking stick.  The wind blows through the trees, and the boulders fade into the distance.  I come to another logging road, but I find the other half of the trail easily.  I am on my way down.  So I think. 
     The trail seems to follow a rivulet, long since dried out.  I wonder, is this really the trail?  It’s headed in the right direction, so I keep going.  The quaking aspens are everywhere, and their yellow leaves litter the trail.  I love that shade of yellow.  I think how soon all of the leaves will be on the ground, and how they provide a covering on the seedlings that have to endure the snow before spring.  
     Then the trail (if this really is one) stops at a meadow.  The dried grass goes back into the quaking aspens, and behind them are more pines.  I am—dare I say it—lost.  But, I have the Spirit with me, and so I pray what to do.  I decide to go back the way I came.  A solid hour has gone by and I sense that whatever trail was here has been marred by the making of logging roads.  I make my way back up, using my stick to steady me.  
    I have no water.  It is hot.  The way is steep and I am in a higher elevation.  So despite my opinion that I am fit for such walks, I am breathing hard and my heart is loudly thumping in my chest.  OK, Lord, where do we go?  I see the boulders up ahead and makes my way back to them. 
     A few minutes later, I am sitting on a boulder, breathing even harder, and feeling my heart pounding in both my chest and in my head.  The Lord counsels me to sit down.  Desiree’s words about deep breathing come into my head, and in order to calm my respiration rate down, I do some deep inhaling and exhaling.  It helps but only a little bit. 
     The other boulders seem further away, but only because I am getting tired.  I ask the Lord for strength to continue.  We go up and finally I hit the level area where the rocks reside.  I want to lie down, but I figure I am on my way back, so I press on.  
     I see what appears to be the trail and it leads down.  I decide to take it, because even though it’s not the part I came up on, it goes down quickly, and that’s how I would like to go!  The trail leads down to another logging road.  OK, I use the road this time.  I drag my stick as I walk, leaving a drawn line as I go.  I figure if anyone looks for me, they will see this line and follow it.  I hear an ATV in the distance and wonder if the manager is looking for me. 
     No.  Wishful thinking. 
      I continue on and decide as I approach yet another bend in the road, leading to who knows where, I need to go back.  I am adequately keeping the fear down, and I keep praying for guidance from the Lord.  I come back to the trail that leads back up to the boulders, and up I go.  
     I am thinking that I cannot take too many more climbs upwards.  I am growing tired, thirsty and hot.  The trees continue their song.  Earlier I thought of a worship song about trees singing praises to the Lord, and now I hope the Spirit using them to urge me on.  I think about how Jesus compared the Spirit to wind, and pray I am hearing Him and not me. 
    The sun is lower in the sky, but it is still hot.  I am once again on the flats, and I come to a place I remember where there are three possibilities to go.  One path has grass on it—implying it’s not used very often.  I remember having noticed that before, but am I sure I didn’t use it before?  I decide to try it, feeling a peace that it is where I need to go.  I huck my walking stick away into the grasses, grateful that I no longer need it.  
     I soon come across houses.  Houses? 
     I am as surprised at them as I was with the logging roads.  They were none too inviting—a rope stretched across the trail with a “No Trespassing” sign didn’t feel like a handshake and a “Come on, you can use our phone” kind of place.  The cabins were nice, but I am from California and my deep fear of strangers come to the fore.  I battle with the “Why would God lead me into danger” versus “I need to be responsible and not put myself in danger” and decide to be cautious. 
     I will go back to that junction and take the other path. 
     OK, Lord, got it.
     I walk back.  I see the path that took me to the boulders and the meadow.   I look behind me and see the trail I just came from.  There is only one choice and away I go. 
      I look for my shoes’ distinctive footprint, and I don’t see it.  Suddenly those aspen leaves and needles seem a little hostile to reading a trail.  The trail looks vaguely familiar, with the trees close by with bright green moss growing on their old decrepit branches.  I remember seeing the blue spray paint on some of the trees—marked for felling I suppose. 
     I am going down.  I see more fallen fences and a shotgun shell.  I see a sign naming a trail deep within a gathering of trees.  It is another trail.  I am desperately trying to remember if this is the trail I went up earlier.  Much earlier. 
    I do come across the first logging road that I encountered.  Whew.  Thank you, Lord. 
    I am on the right path.  Until I come to some different houses. 
     Houses?  What? 
    They look nothing like the retreat center.  They are summer cabins.  No one is around and although they are beautiful residences, I feel rather lonely. 
     OK, Lord, what next? 
     He causes me to look at one cabin that looks well-tended.  I will knock on the door and ask to use their phone.  My fear lessens as I believe Jesus is guiding me to this house.  
     I walk up and knock on the screen door.  No answer.  I open the screen, think I hear a voice, and then knock on the door.  No answer.  Why did You bring me here, Lord?  I am feeling rather confused and just a tad angry.  Then I look down and spy a water hose.  A water hose! 
     I then follow the hose and it goes down a hill, over to a shed, about fifty feet away.  I tug on it and lament I will have to drag it up the hill to use it.  
    Holy Spirit to Rhonda:  Unscrew the house and drink from the spigot.  
    Whoops.  Sorry Lord. 
    The water is cool and refreshing, but it tastes funny.  Uh-oh.  Satan, who hasn’t really had a chance to weigh in, drops the “Oh, you’re gonna get sick from drinking bad water” into my head.  I wrestle with “Why would the Holy Spirit take me here to drink bad water?” and Satan retorts with “Better than no water at all.  Just wait till you get sick, and have to look for a bathroom!”  
    I have to silence this, for my fear is impeding me from hearing from the Lord.  I walk up a paved street and look at the names:  Meadow View Drive and Ridge Drive.  Ridge Drive seems more promising.  I figure it will connect with the main road that will take me back to the retreat center.  I am thankful to be out of the forest but I keep asking, where am I?  
    I look up and see a street sign with a name that I vaguely remember connects with the main road that goes to the retreat center.  I walk up and no, it is not that name. 
    The Lord is urging me to keep walking.  I had to grab another walking stick earlier and now I pitch my stick into some brushes and walk down this paved road.  A sign in the other direction says, “Dead End,” so the choice was easy.  
    I now see a lake.  A lake?  What?  Where did that come from? 
    There’s no lake near the center; again, I ask, where am I?  The Lord’s response?  Keep walking.  But Lord…Keep walking.  
    The houses I pass are clearly empty, and I grow sadder with every step.  Then I see a lovely house that faces the unknown lake.  A white pick-up sits in the drive way, and the garage door is open, with another car parked in it.  
    Go knock on the door.  
    Lord, are you kidding?  I am such an idiot!  I don’t want to embarrass myself. 
    So I keep walking.  
    You can knock on that door or you can keep walking for who knows how long.  Your choice.  
    I stop and look around.  It does seem to be the only house with anyone in it.  Two hours have almost gone by.  Is my daughter sick with worry?  Are people wondering where I am?  Why am I so stupid?  Where am I?  
    Pride aside, I walk down the driveway, hoping that a guard dog doesn’t come bounding up to either play with me or kill me.  
    Whew.  The front door is open.  I knock on the screen and a wee dog comes yipping up.  An elderly man comes to the door.  I apologize to the man, and ask him where Trinity Pines is.  
    He looks flummoxed.  (Where have I walked?  Montana?  Utah?)  As he is trying to figure out where that is, a sweet lady comes around the corner and says, “Oh, I know where that is.  You come back, dear (to him).  I will take her.”  
    I am so blessed.  I introduce myself, and tell her about my adventure.  As we climb into the white pickup, we are chattering like old friends.  She tells me of their needing to move because they are getting too old to take care of the place; her husband’s diabetes; their summer place in Parker, Arizona, where General Patton’s tank school is located and how every year, they go down to watch the tanks.  Some are even driven by vets who trained at that school and fought in World War II.  
    I tell her of my husband’s stroke, and how our lives changed within a few moments, with both of us taking retirement.  She is sympathetic and so kind, and all I could think was, oh, how good sitting down feels!  
    We drive a good twenty-five minutes.  I notice that the road we turn on is the retreat center’s road, but we still drive quite a while.  I picture myself having tried to walk this.  Would I have gone the right way when I finally come to this road?  If I had let my pride lead and not the Lord, how many more hours in the hot late afternoon sun would I have walked?  
    I see a sheriff’s car and wonder if he’s looking for me. 
    Finally, I see the center.  I am exhausted but keep chatting to my new friend.  I direct here to the parking lot and tell her several times what a blessing she is.  As I get out of the truck, she lovingly says, “Next time, dear, take a sandwich and some water.”  
     I walk back to the cottage where my daughter is still napping.  The ladies are all out and about.  No one knew of my adventure or noticed how long I was gone.  
    But He knew, and I realized a deep truth:  Sometimes you hear the message and sometimes you live the message.

 Next time:  What did I learn from this?

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