Perspectives on the Journey
Perspective is a gift from God. At strategic times He extends this wisdom and grace to keep our focus and motivation strong. The most helpful times are usually when we have lost our way, either emotionally or spiritually, and we need words that ring true. Only God can author those words, but often they come from the heart of those we love and respect. They are words bathed in the holy Scriptures, and brought to light by the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus can be reflected through our frail humanity.
This simple story follows the progress of Stephan the Courageous. His journey, though often taking him to places he never intended, always leads him to truth. Behind every bend in the trail, it seems, Creator has a new lesson waiting. So it must always be for those who love Him, and who are called according to his purposes. Put yourself in his shoes and try to experience the drama through his eyes. My prayer for you is that the perspective Stephan gains will help you discern where God may have you now, and then more importantly what new steps of faith Hes calling you to trust Him for in the future. Enjoy the hike!
1. How badly do you want to know Christ?
2. Would you say that your relationship with Him is intense and focused?
Irregularity in personal devotion correlates strongly with falling to temptation. Both stem from a casual approach to our faith.
The First Fall
Stephan the Courageous turned along the darkening trail, heading toward the crest of the first summit. All day the climb had been steady and rigorous; in many ways the toughest part of the journey. His legs were beginning to loosen up a little, and he felt light. Etched across his mind was the promise of the summit.
It would be the payoff for all the sweat and spills he had experienced so far on the hike. He had been too cocky at the beginning. His excited gaze had reached far out onto the trail ahead of him. He hadnt seen the short stump until it was too late. He had twisted his ankle badly, falling in a pile of anger and frustration. For a long time he sat, nursing the pain, pondering how foolish hed been not to have noticed it. It seemed to come out of nowhere. That had been several miles ago, and yet the dull pain in his ankle continued to remind him of his fall. It would be so easy to disqualify myself, he thought. And Ive hardly even begun!
"Creator," he said in a soft whisper. "Im sorry for how foolhardy I have been. I will keep my eyes where they belong, and let You take care of the trail ahead."
As the trail turned sharply upward, Stephans body told him to rest, slow and even turn back. The voices were unrelenting always speaking of compromise, and the easy way out. But a calmer, more reassuring voice won the day and he held fast to the sound of it, as if it were literally life or death. The journey had begun, yet doubts still tugged at his heart. Would he have enough to finish the trail? He wanted to find the inner peace of knowi
ng, and so decided at the next summit to pause just long enough to hear the voice of reason, and to take food enough for the next leg until suddenly without warning, he saw it. Through the dense forest growth, rising up thousands of feet like a monument he saw just a glimpse, a glimpse of the trails end.
So, it is possible, he marveled. The summit inspired in him just enough motivation to keep a level head. The energy it brought would be needed on the next leg of the journey.
"Thank you for that glimpse, Creator," he whispered through labored breath. "Thank you for letting me know youre still near "
1. What tends to trip you up in your walk with God? Anger, pride, lust, gossiping? What are you going to do about it?
2. Its been said that our view of God in our darkest moment, is our view of God. If thats true, who is God for you, when you stumble on the way?
3. Psalm 119:105 says, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path." We will always trip and fall in our relationship with God without adequate light. Are you depending upon Christ to be the light illuminating the path of your life? If youre not in the Word regularly, you are most likely walking in darkness.
"Behold, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with firebrands, walk in the light of your fire and the brands you have set ablaze. This you will have from My hand: You will lie down in torment." Isaiah 50:11
The Defining Moment
With the scene of the trails end fresh in his mind, Stephan turned toward the upward path. Though promising only pain and relentless pressure, he knew it was for him. He had a higher purpose in mind now. Others he knew would need his faith and fortitude to walk their own paths though he knew every person must ultimately walk his alone.
By and by, he came upon a fork in the trail. He stopped and pondered the message painted crudely beside each path with a jagged arrow pointing invitingly onward, each in separate directions. The left arrows sign read, "Come this way and you find ease, comfort and peace of mind." On the other it read, "Dark the ancient path and full of toil, yet in the end He will prove loyal." The left path seemed much more inviting, and so instinctively, he began moving towards that course. But he suddenly halted. Something he had read once in the Ancient Book came back to him. He thought it went something like this: "Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep." I want to be a man who does business on great waters, he pondered, and going the left way will be easier, but I have a suspicion that it will lead only to a shallow, self-seeking existence. I will choose the way in which my spirit has felt the most turmoil, for such a way the Lord has seen fit to go before me. Easy roads have no need of divinity. Tougher, more enduring roads have Creators tracks well engraved for the traveler to remind him he is not alone.
So with a resolute step, Stephan stepped right, and left the easy path for others. Character does not bend under the lightness of such loads. He knew he had chosen wisely, but just on ahead he also knew he would be tested most sorely. Give me grace just for today, he murmured, and set his face like flint to take the mountain that God had already given him
1. The verse Stephan remembered is found in Psalm 107:23. Read it now in its full context. Youll notice that right after this verse, the Lord sends a storm which has these salty seafaring veterans crying out for Him to spare their lives. The truth is we dont usually get a chance to see the Lords full majesty and power at work, until we are at our wits end.
2. Why did Stephan choose the obviously tougher trail?
3. When was the last time you really had to cry out to God for his divine intervention? Remember, "Easy roads have no need of divinity." Ask God to examine your heart. Have you taken a trail which at the time seemed safer and less uncertain, over what could have been Gods best for you?
4. Do you feel close to God today? If not, it could be that youve ordered your life in such a way that you have no practical need for Him? Think about it.
"Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you shall find rest for your souls.' But they said, We will not walk in it.'" Jeremiah 6:16
Stephan woke up chilled, but not from the coolness of the forest floor. Something else caused him to shiver. The woods seemed to be calling to him, but its words were cold and menacing. It almost sounds like voices, he thought. But then again, the wind might be playing tricks on me. He rose, went to the river, and for a long moment stared into the quiet deep pool of water which collected behind a fallen log. Just behind him the river cut dangerously downward, but here, the depth brought a calming effect to him. He knelt down and cupped his hand for a draught. It was sweet all right, and the coolest hed ever known. Wiping his mouth with his hand, he thought about his progress. He had climbed steadily and with good success, yet only a fraction of his trip was behind him. He felt strong, even stronger then when hed begun. The river had an almost magical effect on his soul, and gave him a calm confidence. He had been wise to stop here. He would need the strength it gave him up ahead where rocks and trees and other unspeakable things waited. Only now he knew that he was ready for the next test
Slayer knelt beside a fallen tree and watched. His grimace said it all. Stephan the courageous would have to be dealt with, and quickly. The momentum of his climb was getting out of control. He knew that if he didnt hit him with a significant setback soon, that any type would prove futile. "What will it be, my valiant climber?" he hissed. "Discouragement, marital dispute, lust, complacency, pride? What?" Ahhh, at last it came to him, sent from the regions beyond and below. A messenger of vile filthy stench had whispered the idea so delicately, that Slayer almost thought it came from himself! "I will give the climber a distraction, neatly wrapped in a beautiful box, with ribbons and a note of urgency attached. He will have to turn aside, and for a good long time at that! Distracting and significant, something that will feed his ego. Yes, O deceiver of souls, come and do your work "
"Stephan!" He couldnt believe his ears, the sound of another voice so high on the mountain. He turned, and stood face to face with his good friend McCala. His face was flushed and looked urgent
1. Unless we identify the schemes of the devil, we will fall prey to very good things, instead of living out the best things God intends for us. But how do we discern if an opportunity is a distraction, or something God really wants us to do?
B-begin in prayer-we must hear His voice.
E-express your desires to Him-be honest & open (expect opposition).
S-search the scriptures-find out his mind on the subject-confirm His leading.
T-test it immediatelywindows of opportunity close quickly.
2. Satan knows exactly what will pull you off the trail and stop your progress. Hes a master of disguise, and a convincing liar. Be honest with God and at least one other person. Make a list of the weakest links in your moral character, and begin today to build strong walls of conviction around these vulnerable areas.
"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm." Ephesians 6:13
" Walk On "
Stephan blew into his hands to warm them. He had come far, and the higher altitude had plunged the temperature down near freezing. The perspiration on his chest cooled, causing him to shiver, even though he pushed the pace. He couldnt get McCala out of his mind. Their confrontation had been intense, and ended badly. Stephan had been tempted to step in and help his good friend. When McCala began to cry it caught him off guard.
"O Creator," he thought, "why cant I help this brother? The timing of this hike makes me angry! Nothing inside of me walks in step with this decision. I want to turn away, and go down the trail and attend to his needs. Please let me go, please, Creator of the Path. Please ..." He had huddled in a pile next to the sound of the river, and finally had muttered to McCala: "No I cant," and heard his friend leave with heavy step. It was like taking a knife in the gut. How long had he huddled by the river? He couldnt tell, but his legs were stiff and numb when he heard the sound of twigs breaking behind him.
"Take your staff, O man of Courage, and walk on!" The voice commanded his attention and he stiffened in fear. Creator had come. His voice was unmistakable, but a little unfamiliar at the same time. Inside, he knew though that obeying that voice without reserve would be the only thing that would take him beyond self-interest. He decided to start moving up the trail again. With a final look across his shoulder, he bent into the trail. The distraction had nearly accomplished its diabolical intent.
Slayer gnashed his teeth in anger, and raised his hand, giving Stephan a vulgar expression of hate and malice. He kicked the ground in disgust and withdrew.
The night closed in quickly around Stephan, causing him to stumble on the path. Hed never seen darkness like this before. He peered up into the night sky but could see no stars. Why hadnt he noticed the coming dusk? But this night was nothing like hed ever seen. The woods made the black seem so close, almost thick like he could touch it. The sounds of the wind had died away, and left now in its wake was the steady beating in his chest. How long before he would step upon the highest summit? For the first time, he wondered about the importance of it. Did it really hold that much promise? Perhaps it was just a pipe dream, something made up for the weak to gain strength by in times of hardship. These thoughts bothered him. He felt alone and confused. He huddled up against a stump, tucked himself up in a ball by holding his ankles, and tried to sleep. But sleep would not come that night. Little did he know that just above the trail, on a side path, forces were in motion which would take him to the breaking point of his strength. He had known pain and toil, but the kind needed to mark manhood into him he had not experienced. Deep down he knew this, but was afraid to admit it.
That night, under the Eternal Oak, Slayer asked for an audience with Creator. "Granted, Foul One, but make haste; you reek of the underworld, and your slime will take time to clean after you have slithered away "
1. Stephan chose to do the right thing, though nothing in him wanted to do it. Can you recall a time in your life when a similar decision needed to be made? What was the outcome? Did it surprise you?
2. Its been said that you can measure the damage inflicted to the enemy by the blow you get in retaliation. Dont be surprised after you gain a victory, that you find yourself again under great pressure, or feeling afflicted. The greatest tests of our lives often come on the heels of triumph. Elijah is a perfect example. Right after he gained his most impressive victory over the prophets of Baal, he "was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba and he requested for himself that he might die." 1 Kings 19:3-4
The Ancient Book
Slayer and Adversary were stalking the high places getting ready for Stephan, the man they hated and feared. He had caused them trouble in the heat of battle, but now while he made this journey alone, they would scheme for that moment when all his defenses were down and his will weakened by perplexity. "At his wits end, yes, when he is exasperated beyond measure " Stephan had been walking up the banks of a stream now for hours, and had smelled the good country.
Still in his nostrils, it enriched and cleared his mind, and readied it for whatever might be in the woods ahead. They were dark, unknown woods which lay just beyond this meadow. Why couldnt this path along the river just continue until the top, he thought to himself? The stream has put new life into me. He remembered a saying from the Ancient Book which read,
"There is a river, whose stream makes glad the city of God. God is in the midst of her; she will not be moved."
Pathmaker had whispered such words into his heart from the very beginning. He thought how foolish he had been to forget the source of such wisdom and profound goodness. But in the midst of making such good progress, he had forgotten. He took out of his pocket a crumpled piece of paper which he kept safe, and hardly ever removed, except in moments like this. With the woods so close and menacing, and yet the stream so invigorating, he sat down with his feet in the water, and read the few scribbled lines nearly illegible on the moist paper:
The trail has endless wastelands
Paths which lead the dead to death
But you will know the Pathmaker
And run to win though short of breath.
He has formed your limbs to climb,
Where men of lesser soul recoil
To take you by the hand and show
That oaks stand tall from seedlings toil.
Press the trail to find your soul
Resist the urge to flee the scorn,
The prize awaits your tired feet,
Youll hold and blow the victors horn.
The ancient book holds the key,
Open it on bended knee.
He knew that he had neglected the Ancient Book too long. Folding the parchment neatly away, he looked up into the woods again, and felt the presence of pure evil. "I had better camp here by the stream tonight," he thought. That night, voices came echoing out of the woods which made him shiver and doubt and wonder. The book lay in his sack, and reaching for it, he picked it up and held it up against the night. The fires glow reflected against its leather bindings. He would not sleep; the fires within him had cooled to embers. Before he could resume the climb, wisdom, grace and love must weave a delicate tapestry within his soul. Too long he had climbed alone; now he needed life to form these words into strong strands of living fiber-to restore the fire.
That night a vision of a tired, worn-out man came to him. A beggar of sorts, who approached many different people on the street, but went away empty-handed. He woke up troubled in spirit without clear understanding. The sky was clear, the stars shone, and so forsaking sleep he packed up and set out. It was the fourth watch, the time when most men sleep.
1. Progress in the Christian life is often measured by external accomplishment. However, true progress should be measured by our understanding and knowledge of God. Have you neglected the Ancient Book lately? What is your personal plan of action to regularly seek God through His Holy Scriptures?
2. Do you hunger and thirst for God? One way to express that hunger is our discipline of Bible study. Ask yourself an honest question: When was the last time you dug into the scriptures and discovered meaningful truth? Be careful, not truth found in a book, a song or a sermon. Do you recall how exciting it was to hear from God? If this doesnt happen regularly, the embers of our fire will cool.
3. The Scripture Stephan recalled is found in Psalm 46. Its a beautiful picture of God as our refuge. It would be a great place to plunge into the Scriptures.
"For I gave them the words you gave Me and I accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me." John 17:8
"Remove Your Strength"
The cool currents took the words screamed into the gusting wind and dissolved them high upon the mountains peak. Creator heard them and smiled.
The log had fallen so hard and fast that Stephan hadnt enough time to maneuver out of the way. It landed with a thud against the back of his leg and pinned him under its weight. He hadnt been conscious of the words coming out of his mouth until they nearly been lost into the forest. "Creator, you cant do this "
It was wrong of course to blame Him, but at this moment right and wrong had little meaning to him. He was angry with himself, and scared at the same time. His strength seeped out of him as blood from an open wound. He clawed the ground, but found nothing to gain leverage. The pain caused him to drift in and out of consciousness.
A short time later he awoke, fitful and frustrated. He recalled now that Creator had warned him to stay clear of the forest; to take the higher ground, the path which led steeply and precariously beyond view. Why hadnt he listened? Now the accusing, nearly deafening voices came to him, condemning him for his failure, and reminding him of his sin of pride. Stephan held his ears, but the sounds would not go away; in fact, they seemed to be coming from within him. He remembered once Creator telling him forcefully and warningly that hell resided not fathoms deep under the earth, but merely three inches below the chest in every mans heart.* The words scolded him now.
He had thought he could make the hike. His strength seemed to surge through him. But now why this? Punishment? Thats not like Creator, he corrected himself. Then why? Valuable time is being lost, and for what? It was the first time since the hike began, that he saw clearly the consequence of disregarding the voice of Creator.
Clawing again for something, anything to pull himself free, his hand found a sharp metallic object buried in a shallow crevice. What? How could metal be so far out into the forest? He uncovered what looked like a brass plate about the size of a wallet, and rubbing off the caked clay, his eyes began to focus on words engraved neatly into the brass. He read each word deliberately, as though they were meant for him, and him alone:
"Find the blade whose name is TRUE, wield its shaft and make it new. Strong the arm whose name is light, remove your strength, and punish night."
Some kind of riddle, but more, he thought to himself. There rings truth in the words, and a sober warning I feel in reading it. He put the plate inside his vest pocket; its weight would remind him of the words. If this blade existed at all, he wanted time to read and reread the plate, just in case it did have purpose in the hike. What do I do if I find it, he wondered? Could this hidden plate have anything at all to do with this journey? Could Creator have somehow left this?
The pain behind his legs brought him back to his predicament. What will I do with this log? I am so helpless. "Forgive me, Creator for forging a path of my own. I bow now in my spirit, and accept your paths, whatever they may look like, and for whatever reason you may send me there."
"My Servant Stephan is close to learning the lesson," Creator announced. "Go now and remove the log so he may move, but leave pain in the legs and cripple his feet. He has far too much strength to make it to the top."
"Very good, Creator." The angel bowed low and leaped away, down toward the dark forest
1. Does it surprise you that we talk about hell being three inches below the chest? Remember, the Bible states that the heart is deceitfully wicked. How can we learn the deep lessons of our sinful nature, without letting it discourage us?
2. We all have far too much strength to make it. Thats why God orchestrates events and circumstances specially designed to show us our weakness. How about you? Have you come to a place where God has shown you this truth? Why does God seem to use the weakest vessels to accomplish the most for the Kingdom?
3. Pride sits at the root of every sin and failure we will ever experience. Take some time to ask God to examine your heart. What are you secretly proud of today? Take these thoughts to Jesus and ask Him as a loving Savior to wash them away.
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." Psalm 51:5
"And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly,therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
(* Thank you to Calvin Miller for this insight.)
Pain On the Journey
Stephan had been crawling now for what seemed like hours. It didnt matter though, since the terrain now had taken a very steep ascent. Every movement forward was painful, but something deep within him drove him on. The hike had seemed hard when he was going strong and putting in long days. His sleep then was well-deserved, he thought, and full. But that was on the gradual incline, where trees seemed to encompass the trail like a tunnel, and wildlife scurried away, startled by the sudden appearance of a man. That part of the hike now seemed like childs play compared to what he was facing. His knees were bleeding, and his hands were skinned at the knuckles. Every creep forward was painful and required excruciating effort. Such little progress it seemed. How much farther?
"Creator, I cant do this much longer," he cried. "O Creator of the Paths, how could you allow such torture to one of your very own?"
His feet had no feeling in them, and at the same time could not hold his weight. Something was terribly wrong. The log had done some kind of damage to the nerves, but how extensive remained to be seen. All he wanted now was a view of the top. Without it, he didnt know if he could continue. He remembered hearing about another man who had taken to the trail years before with thoughts of glory. But he hadnt made it. In fact, he was only a few short hours away when they found his body curled up and shaking. He looked pitiful. Stephan had been a member of the retrieval team. The eyes of the man seemed to speak louder than anything, because there was a wild look in them, like an animal trapped and desperate, only this animal was helpless to strike Would he end up like that man? Would they find him, stripped of all dignity and void of any feelings? Could he keep a level head amidst the pain? How could he separate his vision with this overwhelming setback? How could he maintain his intensity, when his insides felt like they were hanging out of his stomach?
Slayer called his legion to attention and barked out orders like a drill sergeant. "We have im on the ropes, boys," he sneered. "The kids on his belly, asking all the right questions."
"Can we finish him then?" howled another.
"No, we dont have that kind of permission," he responded sarcastically. "But we can arrange another unfortunate mishap, now, cant we? Hes heading for the ford and will need to cross the bridge tonight. Lets see what hes got left "
1. What keeps you going when pain presses in on your life?
2. What perspective would you give a friend whose "insides felt like they were hanging out of his stomach?"
3. Could we conclude that God has a purpose for pain? If so, what is it?
"Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of the wicked, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth " Isaiah 58:6,8
The tests that come to a man will only come from the best of intentions, sifted first by the Hand of Love and than gently ushered into the chambers of the heart. There, the lessons of life, planted and cultivated by divine hands, will crumble the framework of humanity, to reveal perfect divinity in the glory of Christ
Stopping to draw breath, Stephan noticed a man bent over and advanced in years quickly approaching him. He stopped several feet away from him and sneered an ugly scowl at Stephan. A slight chill ran down his spine.
"The barren hill takes no captives, my friend," the old man snarled. "No man can hike its expanse without leaving so much of himself there that nothing remains but curses. It will rob you of all that is good and fair, and leave bitterness like a crusty piece of bread and then you will die."
Stephan pushed him aside and fixed his gaze on the trail ahead. Something drove him on. It was an inner voice of reason that shouted louder than his circumstances. Farther back on the trail he had found himself dangling like a stuffed toy against the sheer cliff of a cavern. Right before he had crossed the bridge someone or, something had pushed him over the edge. But then he thought, he really felt nothing. Dangling there for what seemed like forever, his arms began to ache, yet at the same time his mind became clearer and clearer. He remembered a man teaching once that a person needed to get to the point of being scared enough, hurting enough, and realize that his strength alone would never be enough, to ever make it on his own. But they had only been words.
Finally, in that desperate hour, he had learned the secret of that lesson. At last, he felt that these words could no longer stay in his mind, but rather like an arrow had been shot into his heart. Yet, it wasnt a feeling more of a deep-seated certainty. At that moment, he had pleaded to Creator for help, like he had never petitioned before. Suddenly lightning had struck and thunder sounded loudly. He could hear the screaming of many panicked voices. Then out of nowhere, a hand caught his, and pulled him to safety.
Lying exhausted on the brink of the crevice, he remembered a story. It was about a valiant warrior who, upon hearing the news of his brides death, rode out against the enemy single-handedly. Some thought it a suicide gallop, and others thought he had snapped in grief. But in the end after he had slain many of the enemy, he returned in triumph. Blood covered his body from gashes which seemed everywhere, yet more blood of the enemy soaked his shirt than his own. He survived. They asked him later why he rode out, and he gave this simple reply:
"At last I had no reason left to hold back," he said. "I knew that warfare would either heal or destroy me in my darkest hour. I could stand on middle ground no longer, either advancing nor moving back. Being in the jaws of inertia is hell on earth. So choosing warfare I chose my healing, not knowing that in the heat of battle, character would come to the rescue of my emotions, and so ultimately truth would triumph."
The cackle from the old man could only be heard faintly now, the wind swallowing up his last condemning words. Stephan felt the weight of the plate in his breast pocket, and thought about the blade he must secure, and the truth he must wield. Somewhere between that precipice and the old mans words, the pain in his legs had dissolved. Strength seemed to return with every step, but this time he knew the strength was not his own.
Smiling with pleasure, Creator excused himself from the Great White Court. The old man had spat towards him and shot him the image of hate and perversion. Creator only laughed. He laughed because one of his children had finally come home.
1. Consecration is a fancy Biblical name for giving yourself over to the care of another. This is what Stephan finally did in his hour of desperation. Next to our conversion experience, its the most important decision we can ever make. Can you point to a decisive moment in your life when you gave over complete and utter control to Jesus Christ?
2. So many people live in that gray twilight which knows neither victory or defeat. What do you think keeps people in this condition? What are some practical ways to help others out of "the jaws of inertia?"
3. Do you trust Jesus Christ for your unknown and unseen future? Take a moment and thank God that He has already visited every minute of it, and has approved wholeheartedly.
"I asked the man at the gate of the year, give me a light that I might walk safely into the unknown. But he said to me, stretch out your hand and place it into the hand of God. And it will be to you, better than the light, and safer than the known." From a New Years Eve speech by King Henry II
For some reason, the day grew exceedingly hot. In retrospect, Stephan had discerned the words of his enemy rightly, but the old mans words were striking a chord under the blistering sun, and the path lay seemingly endless before him.
"Creator, I am a different man than when I started," he muttered to himself. "Yet, I wonder at times if I have what it takes to go the distance. Why do I need to go completely to the top?"
The wind seemed to answer him, because a cool, nearly chilling current struck him on the right side, and his face immediately turned into it. For a brief moment he knew relief, and then nothing, only still hot air, and the mountains looming in the distance. That blast came from the hill country, he thought to himself. That is my destiny, and when I finally make it there, I will not falter nor fall from the heights. Creator will not let me. I am His son, and forever I will be close to Him.
Shadows were long when Stephan finally came to rest at the edge of the barren plain. He looked back over the many miles he had come, and smiled to himself. Surely this is a momentous occasion. Creator has sustained me and allowed me to get now to the base of the high country. I will bed down here tonight.
Tomorrow, perhaps I will push at least close enough to see and feel my goal.
That night he turned fitfully on the hard ground. His thoughts went back to a time when he was alone on a porch sitting on a swing. He must have been quite young because his feet dangled, and life seemed to have no hard feelings, difficult decisions or unpleasant sensations--only the passing of time, the lightness of wind upon his brow, and the birds playing hide and seek in the branches. But then suddenly, a figure had appeared on the porch, and without looking up he could tell the familiar boot sound clicking on the old wooden boards. He still did not look up, but the voice was unmistakable. His father had come home, and now this giant stood above him peering into his lap, where his little fingers fidgeted with his buttons.
"Son, I need to tell you something that you wont fully understand " After that everything seemed different. There was pain and worry, added to sadness. Would it ever be the same again?
Just then, he heard someone walking towards him. He raised his arms and made fists, just in case the old man had followed him. But his arms went limp as he starred in bewilderment. She was beautiful radiant. Like an angel would look, but more human than any person he had ever known. Not physically, but spiritually there before him stood, stood "Life," he heard himself say. "Life, youve come to me."
"Yes, Stephan," she began. "Ive come with a simple message from Creators heart."
Bowing respectfully, Stephan spoke softly. "Speak, my heart listens now."
"Rest in the way He has fashioned your past, Stephan; it is the doorway to your future," she began. "Every painful moment you have had, and will makes you that much more transparent. Embrace them as a gift from His loving hand. You see me radiant and full of life, because I have suffered a great deal. You have much more to suffer, before life can be fully seen through you. Know that without this, you could not set the pace on this hike, and so inspire others to journey as well. Your fathers words were a personal note to you, Stephan, even at that early age. They were a note from Creator to say that you would lead many some day, and not grow faint. Cling to what I have said, for it will need to sustain you in days ahead."
And then she was gone and Stephan did not sleep the rest of that night.
1. Its one thing to trust God for your future, because in subtle ways we still think we have something to say about it. But what about our past? All around us are people running away from, or angry about events and experiences too painful to thank God for. Can you thank God for the past He sovereignly designed for you?
2. Summarize the message Life brought to Stephan.
3. Do you agree that painful moments make us more transparent? We can glorify God through our lives when, like a master surgeon, he skillfully and lovingly, and yes, without anesthetic, removes the old man and replaces it with the Life of Christ.
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." Galatians 2:20
The Lesson Of The Pine
The dark, cloud-filled sky threatened rain. Stephan approached a lone pine tree by the side of the trail and was startled to see a large opening at the base. In fact, it was large enough for a man to climb through, so he stooped and entered, careful not to hit his head. But instead of a narrow encased space, he stood in a room-sized opening. Outside he could hear the rain coming down now in a steady rhythm. Looking back at the entrance he thought himself fortunate to have the protection from the storm, but the loss of time irritated him. He felt impatient, and wanted to feel the thrill of the trail again, and know he was making progress. This was not how he wanted to spend his day, stooped over in this hollow
Suddenly, without any warning, something hit him with the force of what seemed like a grizzly bear. It knocked him completely over, and for an instant he thought he would be devoured-sure now that it must be some kind of creature disturbed from hibernation. But the creature had arms and legs as a man. They wrestled in the mouth of the pine for some time without either gaining an advantage. Though it was dark, he could see his opponent: A man roughly his age, with wild flowing hair and beard, and a crazed look in his eyes. Stephan couldnt get the advantage, but then again neither could his assailant. Finally, the man pushed him off, and stood staring at him only inches from his face. Panting for breath, the wild-eyed man smiled, and then threw his head back and laughed out loud!
"Young man, youre a worthy opponent," he howled. "There, take a seat and Ill tell you whats on your mind " Stephan eyed him suspiciously.
"When you came into the mouth of this Great Pine you were restless and irritated that the rain had slowed your progress," he began. Frankly, Im a little surprised at that! Why not welcome a respite along the way? Whats the harm in sitting in the mouth of a tree and watching rain hit the earth and mysteriously absorb? Take time for more meditation and less execution, and you will grow old and wise. Others simply live to be old "
"Sir," Stephan panted under his breath, "who are you?"
The old man stared open-mouthed, horrified at Stephan for asking such a foolish question. "You mean you dont know who I am?"
"No, and should I know someone Ive never met?"
Smiling, the man gestured again for Stephan to sit down. "I am the keeper of the Blade, my son. My name is Paraclese. Creator has chosen me to be the gatekeeper for anyone traveling this way. I am to take you to it, but not allow you to find it."
"Why do you talk in riddles?" Stephan demanded.
"I speak what is true; if you hear a riddle its only because your mind has not enough experience and wisdom to grasp hold of it. But it will come. It will come."
"Am I close to finding the Blade?" asked Stephan. He felt the heaviness once more in his breast pocket.
"As close as when you began, and yet far enough away to merit the need for strength and wisdom," replied Paraclese.
Shaking his head, Stephan was about to ask yet another question when the old man gestured for him to be silent. "Come, we have many miles to travel."
"The Blade," he whispered in awe. "But first, I want you to tell me the wisdom of the Pine. Speak, and so find the answer to your own set of questions."
When Stephan began to speak, the lesson did come to him, spilling out almost too quickly to capture it all. It was the lesson of refuge. The importance of resting in the hollow of someone who wants to protect and teach you. He hadnt thought about it like that before, and suddenly as he was leaving the Pine, he wanted to go back and do as Paraclese had suggested; just sit and watch to enjoy the cloister of the hollow. But Paraclese was already 30 paces ahead and making ground. He had many more questions to ask, but they could wait. He knew that soon, the Blade would be in his hand
1. Stephan needed to learn a still deeper lesson about his relationship with Creator. Can you summarize it in one sentence?
2. In a fast-paced and hectic world, its good to know that we can retreat when necessary into God our refuge. But thats easier said than done. What tends to pull you out of that deep abiding rest found only in Him?
3. The greatest question we can ask God in prayer is "Why?" Not out of anger or doubt, but for understanding. God promises that if we seek him, we will find Him, if we seek Him with all our heart. Have you seriously asked God "why" lately? When he reveals the answers to the deepest gnawing questions of your heart, then you will find the rest you have longed to know, and the boldness you desire to trust Him for greater things.
"And he said, Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel (he who strives with God); for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." Genesis 32:28
Following close behind Paraclese, Stephan began to piece together the events of the hike. Would he ever be the same after it was over? Would it ever really be over? The pace now was more intense, and his breath rose in quick shallow breaths. The air was thin now, and even trees began to disappear from the landscape. The events, like a puzzle, were beginning to take shape, but a very cloudy puzzle, and one in which the picture could not be fully seen. He knew the goal, and relished the thought that one day he would stand at trails end with all those miles behind him. But he often wondered, what would happen at that point? Would there still be other trails to hike? Other adventures to trust Creator for?
He noticed Paraclese taking time to examine rather common objects like flowers and rocks along the trail. He wondered at this, but then recalled something his grandfather had once told him. Calling out ahead of him, he wanted Paracleses attention.
"My grandfather once told me that there is a world inside this world in which we see," he said, "one so beautiful that our senses will never fully receive them this side of Creators Shoreline."
"Your grandfather was a wise man," Paraclese responded.
"But how does one truly see, and then understand?" asked Stephan. I must miss half of what you see, but perhaps I miss it because I have not the training, skill or secret knowledge."
"No special skills or knowledge are needed, Stephan."
"Wait, Paraclese, I think it is I who have discovered something even your eagle eyes have not detected. Please stop and come back quickly. Stephan was excited and dropped down to the rocky earth.
His heart beat wildly. Had he finally found the sword? He thought he saw the hilt just under the surface of the soil. What if he had finally found the sword of truth? What would he do with it? The brass plate burned against his chest, its words rolling across his memory: "Find the Sword whose Name is True "
Paraclese stopped and stared at Stephan, pulling breath from the air. He didnt smile, nor did he frown; rather, a blank gaze held him, like a statue.
Digging at the earth, Stephan uncovered the hilt, and pressed nearer to see what hed unearthed. But just as he was about to touch it, it vanished, as if into thin air. When Stephan looked up, Paraclese held it firmly. Running up to him, Stephan tried to pull it out of his hand, but he wouldnt let it budge. Then he spoke.
"Have you dared to believe that truth could be apprehended so easily? The truth will not be so easy to find, my strong one," he said. What I hold is a whisper of a promise. That is all."
With that Paraclese threw the sword down a ravine. Stephan was about to cry out in rage against Him, but something held his tongue. The wind carried the sound of it hitting the rocks below, as a cold blast hit its mark in Stephans chest. Pulling his parka closer about him, he rose and continued to follow. He was angry and bewildered.
That evening around the fire, Paraclese spoke on and on about the truth, and how subtle counterfeits can be. Stephan was tired, and finally rolled over, signaling his desire for sleep. During the fourth watch he was visited by two angels. One, the angel of mercy. And the other, the angel of battle. Together they whispered a message of hope:
"Many will be the days where apparent light is really darkness, and everything you ever felt worthwhile and noble will be swallowed up in your own anger and selfish speculation. That is when mercy will sing the loudest. That is when real life will be refined from even fleshly motivation, and real inner peace will birth remarkable and splendid reflections of Creators character. Hold onto mercy, and still fight the good fight. Dont ever assume that because you have your sights on Trails End, you will necessarily prevail. Humility must win the day, which, coming from despair, puts wings to character."
In the morning, Paraclese was gone. Though Stephan searched and searched, calling out his name, nothing but the relentless winds responded.
"Creator, I am so tired, he cried. I need you to show me just a small sign of your promise"
Toward the end of the next day, his answer came unexpectedly.
1. How do you discern what is true and what is counterfeit?
2. Paraclese represents the Holy Spirit. He is our Master Teacher, taking the truth of God, and teaching it to us. Without His help, we would have no ability to apprehend God in any meaningful way. Do you rely upon Him in this way to teach you Gods Word? How do you express this dependence upon the Holy Spirit as you read the Word?
3. Do you know someone who has bought into counterfeit ideas, or is living in ignorance of the truth? What is your plan to help that person? Remember, be filled with the Holy Spirit as you minister.
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things " John 14:26
The man must have been eight feet tall. Stephan faced him bravely, but kept his distance. The sword in his hand glistened cool and sharp.
"Before the day is over, this sword will be in your gut, boy," the giant snarled. "No one travels this way without feeling the pain of my fury. You will crawl like an animal on your belly and beg for life to end."
A chill went down Stephans spine--a cold, ominous warning that pure evil had come in the form of a man. Slayer had come to stand before him, and no man could stand against his fury for long without the aid of Creator. But it had been so long since Creator had made His presence known to Stephan. It had been lonely days of hiking, and silent nights of sulking for the young warrior. He had cried out to Creator, but nothing but the stirring of the trees had answered him. Since Paraclese vanished, a tightening in his gut had left him with no hunger. He had forced food down, but nothing satisfied him.
The sound of the giants taunts reached him again
"Young weakling, come and I will feed your eyes to the ravens."
"I know who you are, Slayer, and I know that you can not touch an anointed one, so best you clear the path and let me on my way." Stephans voice cracked as he spoke. He sounded like a little boy afraid of his own shadow.
"Ha ha ha ha "
Suddenly, the laughter seemed to tighten in Slayers throat, as if something strangled him. His eyes became wide in disbelief, and looking out beyond Stephan he began to stagger backwards and finally fell to the ground. Shielding his body from what seemed like invisible blows, the giant became mute, and curled up. Finally he closed his eyes, shaking involuntarily. The only sound was a slight whimper and shudder. Stephans heart raced. This all meant only one thing
"Stephan, come forward and draw your staff."
The voice was familiar, and a welcome one. It was Creator, walking up the path behind him and smiling broadly. He walked past him towards the giant, bent down beside him and whispered something too low to hear. Then the giant transformed himself into some kind of lizard, and crawled away into the low-lying brush. Creator spoke to Stephan but did not turn to face him.
"I have come, Stephan, because your cries came to me in the night. You have been looking for the sword of truth, but looking in the wrong place. You have sought for substance, but it does not come to those who look for what the eye can see. You have prayed for truth, but truth is not a sword, it is a personand you are looking at Him now."
"Yes, Creator, I, I see now "
"What have you learned, Stephan?"
The knot in Stephans throat tightened even more. But he managed to speak. "I have learned that the battle is not to one who is strong, but weak. And I have chosen the path towards life," he softly added. "But more importantly, I have learned to nestle in the cradle of your refuge. But it never seems to be enough, nor does it ensure that enemies will not still surround me and frighten me to fly like the wind. I have learned that regardless of how long the trail, and how steep the ascent, or how lonely and silent the way, that I have One who will never leave me."
Then, almost too soft to hear, he breathed out his final lesson. " I have learned that the trail has many dangers, and around any bend life could be quenched, but as long as I trust You, I will see clear enough to know the way."
"Good," Creator said. "You have tasted wisdom and still remain pure. The final leg of your journey has come. I have only this against you. Your words have the image of truth, but still ring hollow. Though the alloy is not gold, time will remedy this. Wait for power from on high. Wait, I will come again "
1. Do you believe that life is war, and that each day is a new battle? We cannot afford to rest on yesterdays triumphs, nor can we hope for tomorrows victories. Today, and only today is decisive, and completely up for grabs. Will you approach it like a warrior, or a bystander? The choice needs to be madetoday!
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me." John 14:6
"And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." Ephesians 6:17
The Trail Master
For the first time in many days, Stephan looked up and saw someone coming towards him. His eyes adjusted onto a figure about his size, cloaked in gleaming steel armor with a dove emblem embedded in the chest. Stephan wanted to know at once if he were friend or foe, and crouching in attack position he held out his arm to stop the man from advancing. The man smiled and stopped in the middle of the trail. "Stephan the Courageous?"
"Yes, I am he, and who are you?" Stephan weakly responded. He could have kicked himself for not checking his voice before he spoke. Any sign of weakness might incite the man to come forward and attack. But he stood his ground.
"I am the Trail Master, sent by Creator to accompany you the rest of the journey," he reassured. "I mean you no harm."
"Creator never has spoken of you," questioned Stephan. "If He wanted me to have a companion, than why didnt He say so?" He could see the mans face plainly now, and it startled him to realize that he had advanced many more years than he, yet stood powerful and unmoving. Age had defined a kind of fullness and grace hed never seen before.
"I understand what youre feeling, Stephan. I have had such thoughts myself, long ago when I set out on my own quest for the Trails End. As you can see, that was many years ago." His voice trailed off now to nearly a whisper, and Stephan strained to hear the words.
"But the time now has come for you to embrace the final lesson of this hike."
"And what might that be?" asked Stephan. He had gradually relaxed, and began to look at the man with keen interest. If he had wanted to attack, he would have by now, he reasoned. But he just stands there. Could it be true what he says ?
"The lesson of leading others up the trail, not just being on the trail."
"Creator has sent me to you because my time on the trail is nearly over. A mantle must be passed between us, an exchange for the sake of all who travel in harms way. You will be the Trail Master, Stephan.
Forget about the view from the highest summit. That hike is made when lessons of past battles, of proud moments and humiliating defeats, have all marked you, and you have successfully and graciously helped the next faithful to learn the same lessons."
"But I must make it to the top," interrupted Stephan. "I can not, and will not accept no for an answer." And with that said, Stephan the Courageous turned away, and continued up the trail. "I will not listen to such lies," he told himself over and over. "The enemy has really crept close this time. I will not and can not accept the fact that I will not see the summit on this hike. Its always somewhere in the future. Well, Im tired of the future. I will make the future happen right now "
1. There must come a time, when like Stephan, we face the call of God in our lives. Dark and uncertain at times? Sure! Downright frightening? You bet! Can you recall when God painted the picture of His future for you serving Him?
2. Remember, God orchestrates the experiences and events of our lives, so in turn we can strengthen others. Do you know someone who struggles? Your lessons could be just the encouragement and perspective they need.
"Who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:4
Within The Palm Of His Hand
All that day, Stephan glanced over his shoulder, but still the man followed. Once he stopped and yelled for the man to go away! It bothered him to be stalked like an animal.
That night he slept fitfully, dreaming of a battle. In it men lay wounded and dying all around him, yet he felt helpless to intervene. When morning came, the Trail Master sat close to Stephan holding a piece of meat over the fire.
"Good morning, my friend," he said. "I will cook us some fresh rabbit, and we can be on our way."
" Never!" He was fully awake now, and began to gather his things for the days hike.
"Stephan!" he urged. "Listen to me! There are many on the trail who will never see the Trails End, but for all the wrong reasons. But listen very carefully. Some like you were never meant to make the summit, but for a very good reason. They are destined to help others find it. Dont you understand what Im trying to say? You have been chosen out of thousands to deeply influence men. When you can embrace your calling, the fullness of Creators Spirit will course through your soul, and at that moment, no one will have to tell you it is right. You will know!"
"How do I know that what you say is true," asked Stephan?
"Show me the brass plate."
"How do you know about the plate?"
"Take it out and read it to me, Stephan."
Stephan reached into his vest pocket and held the plate. It had come so long with him, it nearly felt like an extension of himself. Haltingly, he read the lines.
"Find the blade, whose name is TRUE, wield its shaft and make it new "
The Trail Master stopped him with a wave of his hand, and pulled from his sheath a sword. Its blade shone in the moist morning air, glistening like a thousand diamonds. Stephan could see the double edge was razor sharp. He stepped back for a moment, frightened by its splendor.
"Look closely at the hilt, Stephan."
As he peered onto the glimmering handle, a name began to form in clear bold letters. It read, "STEPHAN THE COURAGEOUS."
"This sword now belongs to you," the Trail Master explained. "I have no claim to it any more. It was forged from the deepest mines, an alloy so strong that it can cut souls asunder. And only you have the strength and wisdom now to wield it. Take it, Stephan, and live under its dominion. For from its sheath, this sword will cast down evil and every evil intent raised up against Creator."
Stephan reached out with trembling hands to receive the sword.
"But, but . . . Creator told me that, that the blade would, would not come in substance," he stammered.
"This blade is an extension of Him, Stephan. And to you alone He has given Himself."
When his hand touched the hilt, a surge of joy enveloped him. Completeness! That was the word he was trying to find. It had happened so suddenly, without a whisper of warning. And it felt like the most wonderful moment of his life. Because now, he held his life mission in the palm of his hand.
"Thank you "
When Stephan looked up, the Trail Master was gone. Wind rustled the leaves. The morning sun shone brightly across the trail. And Stephan knew now what he needed to do. Kneeling dead center on the trail, he bowed his head and thanked Creator for loving him enough to entrust to him the sword of truth. The summit was unimportant now. Helping those on the way had taken on a whole new meaning. By the bend in the trail, he spotted a complete set of armor--left there by a friend he had known so briefly, but who would ever live in the armor he had given away.
The brass plate in his pocket grew heavy, and Stephan took it out. The letters had faded to nothingness. Then in an instant the plate dissolved into sand, which ran through his fingers. He threw what remained into the wind with a final shout of exultation.
"Thank you, Creator! I love you!"
His eyes scanned the horizon up the trail. Up there somewhere, the Trails End waited, but not for him. Not now! With a definite and final turn, he started off down the mountain. There were others on the trail, whose battles needed a sword
1. God holds out a sword to each of us personally. It is the weapon we must wield in the battle for souls. For as long as we are on the trail, our first priority must be to fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith. Do you feel ready to set captives free?
2. He has set you apart for that purpose. Do you believe that? How will you order your life to ensure that Kingdom priorities are elevated over selfish ambition?
" And take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints." Ephesians 6:17b-18
The familiar trail felt good under Stephans feet. Above him the sound of birds accompanied the old mans walk. The day promised to be fair. A slight wind could be felt coming out of the northa cold inclination that another winter would soon blanket the mountain. That always made the hiking more intense, dangerous and less productive. But a long time ago, Stephan had learned that Creator planned it that way. The ebb and flow of progress on the trail needed to have seasons of rest. The armor draped around his aged body still felt light. He thought to himself, I still have many more years of strength left to battle Slayer for the hikers on this trail. Thank you for strength to meet the tests today
The armor which draped his shoulders and hung stately around his frame was no longer polished. There were burn marks and gouges, tears and fragments missing. He had known the heat of battle, seen things too terrible to mention, and lived to teach their lessons.
He often wondered why the hikers continued to come. So many hopeful faces, and so many turned back in humiliation. Was it their pride that caused them to stumble? Was it that they could not trust their lives completely into the hands of another? Perhaps they simply had never learned to train their ears to hear the voice of Creator. Whatever the reason, Stephan had seen so many wild-eyed and daring young men fall in battle, and retreat down the trail before their time. It saddened him, but then he remembered the brave ones who resisted with spiritual hunger and fervor. These had delighted his heart, and these he would be summoned by Creator to help
Bending over a stream, he scooped water into his mouth, and was startled by a figure behind him. Turning around with his hand on the hilt of his sword, Stephan stood facing Creator. The familiar smile and gracious eyes drew him closer, and they embraced.
"Stephan, you have done well my, son," said Creator. "I have watched you battle for the souls of men, and triumph, but never consider greatness something to be grasped.
"Thank you, Father," returned Stephan with a almost whispered breath. He still felt great awe to be in the presence of Creator. His holiness made Stephan feel poor in spirit and unworthy, yet he knew that Creator understood his weakness. They stood there embraced for a time, and then Creator broke the silence.
"Its time, Stephan," He began. "The trail has taught you many things. The alloy of your soul is truly gold. You have been my delight and fellow warrior on the trail. I have never once hesitated to call on you."
"Thank you, but I have nothing in myself. Truth has strengthened my arms for war. You see a reflection of your magnificence, and at the same time a picture of wretched humanness. I only wish I could serve you with more ardent love "
"The time has come for you take the trail to the highest summit."
"The Trails End?"
He was nearly breathless now. The thought of ever getting to the summit had left him years back. He had always imagined that it was for those more worthy and more apt to please Creator. But now he held the promise open to him like an unwrapped present. He felt fearful to receive it.
"I know you are frightened, my son. But I will walk with you the entire way, and rejoice with you at the top. Youre going to the Trails End, Stephan, where your heart has always been. The promise of the summit has always lived there because you chose to love me above all others. Now come, and we will see eternity in the face of Creation."
"But what about the trail? What about the others who need help and perspective and understanding," asked Stephan? "They will have a Trail Master, Stephan," He said. "Leave your sword there by that stump, and come already if you notice, the name has changed. He comes now up the trail, and I must meet him once you are safely home "
So together, Creator and Stephan walked up the trail, took a sharp turn and ascended higher than Stephan had ever gone before. With each step, the weight of his armor lifted until he felt nothing but pure joy. He held Creators hand, and bent into the trail for the final time. A smile broke upon his face, because right in front of him was the end of the trail--the summit. The place he had fought for all of his life, and the place where he would someday meet all those he had helped to reach its height.
"Thank you, Creator," he said. "Thank you for your presence."
"You have fought well, Stephan," he responded. "Many will live to see this moment, because they have seen the promise of eternity in the eyes of a faithful warrior "
Down on the trail, Creator stood tall and inviting amidst the pines swaying in the cool breeze. The man who he had chosen was walking now bent into the trail. He didnt notice Him until He spoke.
"Hail, favored one "
The man turned, and there, standing tall and magnificent, was Creator, holding out a sword.