Climbing and Leaving the Right Words Behind
I am not a mountain climber, but a few years ago I had the idea that I might want to climb seriously, so I started to read and to train. I’ve climbed a few glacier-covered mountains in the northwestern United States with professionals. One of the things that you learn from professional climbers is the discipline of packing well.
Tools are helpful when you climb. Your sleeping bag provides warmth, your lantern provides light, and your gloves provide protection. Lose your footing and your ax can save your life. Every tool has a purpose, and almost any tool can be helpful. Every tool also has weight. Standing at sea level, an ax in your hand feels like a feather.
At twelve thousand feet, hours from the summit, an extra pound in your pack feels like an anvil. In the same way, words have value. The right words can right your balance. The right words can light your way. But words also have weight. In our life and work, we have to carry what is essential, and leave much of the rest behind.
Developing Deep Roots
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I made the long drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Pasadena, California, where we now reside. We passed through hundreds of miles of southwestern desert, most of which was filled with dry soil, colorful rocks, and scraggy shrubs. Every now and then, however, we’d see ribbons of bright green trees flourishing in the midst of the desert.
What was their secret? Inevitably, those trees grew next to a water source, even a seasonal one. Their roots grew deep into the nearby soil, which allowed them to survive in a harsh climate and even to bear fruit.
I want to be like those trees. I want to be fruitful in life, making a difference for God’s kingdom in everything I do. But I know there will be hard times, times of turmoil, stress, and suffering. In these times, I want to be a “tree” whose leaves do not wither. Even if I’m not bearing much fruit at the moment, I want to be remain vital. I expect you feel similarly about your own life. You want to be a “tree” in the mode of Psalm 1.
How can we be such “trees”? By letting our roots grow deeply into God’s living water. And how can we do this? By delighting in God’s truth and meditating upon it. The more we allow the biblical words of life to fill our minds and hearts, the more we are anchored to God’s revelation, the more we draw sustenance from God’s perspective and promises, the more we will be bear ample fruit in good times and hang in there during hard times.
It’s human nature to resist change—particularly when it comes in the form of adversity or challenges. But change is inevitable, and developing the trait of resilience helps us not only survive change, but also learn, grow, and thrive on it. Resilience is the capacity to cope with stress and adversity. It comes from believing in yourself and, at the same time, in something bigger than yourself. Resilience is not a trait that people are born with; it involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
The Future Orientation of the Beatitudes
In his thoughtful book, Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes, Jonathan K. Dodson describes one of the keys to understanding the beatitudes: live faithfully now, experience Gods blessings in the future:
Another way to read the Beatitudes is as a promise of future blessings for the present. Live poor in spirit now, and you’ll benefit immediately—get a foot in the kingdom, so to speak. Hunger and thirst for righteousness now, and you will get a taste of eternal satisfaction.
This certainly fits with the “future logic” of the New Testament, in which there are frequent exhortations to do something in the present based on future realities: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable. . . . Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 58).
Taken from Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes by Jonathan K. Dodson Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Glory Being Revealed To Us
In Romans 8:18, Paul describes the future of those who persevere in the faith: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” in The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkein provides a stirring image of this glory at the death of the great king Aragorn (that is, after his life-long struggle against the evil forces in Middle Earth, and his own personal demons):
Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.
The idea here is that the same thing will happen to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. We are, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “no mere mortals.”
Stuart Strachan Jr. , Source material from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings (New York: Ballantine, 1955), 378.
Hardships Force our Roots to Go Deep So When Struggles Come, We Are Prepared
A. Parnell Bailey visited an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was unusually dry and some of the trees were beginning to die for lack of water. The man giving the tour then took Bailey to his own orchard where irrigation was used sparingly.
“These trees could go without rain for another 2 weeks,” he said. “You see, when they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth.”
Our Daily Bread
One Mark of Resilience
Many of life’s annoyances just have to be ignored. That doesn’t mean that we suppress, ignore, or deny every pain. Serious pain has to be confronted. But one mark of resilience is learning to tell which pain deserves our attention. Paying attention to every pain, all the time, doesn’t lead to resilience. It usually just leads to whining.
The Perfect Soil for Winemaking
My first call to ministry was in Eastern Washington state. It turned out to be one of the most prolific winemaking regions in the country. One of the things I learned from a local winery was really quite fascinating. But let me back up for just a moment. When it comes to soil for growing things, whether it be flowers or vegetables, trees or shrubs, generally speaking you want a rich, fertile soil. Lots of organic material like compost or manure provide the nutrients necessary for the plants to grow in abundance.
But apparently, with wine it is quite different, if not the opposite, from other plants ideal growing conditions.
The perfect soil for winemaking is actually quite low in nutrients. In our area, there was a vinicultural heritage site, in other words, a place set apart as an ideal location for growing wine. Interestingly enough, it was almost entirely made up of sand, which as any gardener will tell you, is devoid of the kinds of nutrients we would expect to create the perfect grape for wine.
But just as interesting is why wineries prefer soils with such low nutritional value: when this is the case, the majority of the nutrients go, not to the vine, or the leaves, but straight to the grapes. What a great metaphor for our lives.
Sometimes we need to go to desolate places, not the lush, green landscapes of an Eden, but rather, to the wilderness, where there is so little life, where pain and suffering are intrinsic to the experience, in order to really “bear fruit,” if you will allow a little pun. It is often in the wilderness that we learn the most about God, about our own sinfulness and need for repentance.
But it is also out of such a place that the best of us: a newfound humility, a greater capacity for compassion and love. A deeper reliance on the “vine,” that is God’s sustaining us over the comforts of this world can take place. So perhaps, when God plants you in a desert, devoid of most nutrients for healthy production, he is actually doing something spectacular to help you grow a deeper understanding of yourself, and more importantly, a deeper love for Him.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Value after Brokenness: The Art of Kintsugi
There are going to be broken times when you feel as if everything is under demolition. When things feel unresolved or ruined inside of you. When the only thing you might have the strength to do is three-quarters-of-the-way trust that God will take the broken pieces and glue them back together. That’s called kintsugi. Kintsugi is a Japanese term that means “join with gold” or “golden seams.”
If you were to break a jar and wanted to put it back together using the method of kintsugi, someone would take the jar and piece it back together with a glue that is mixed with powdered gold or platinum. It wouldn’t be like superglue, where the item looks perfect because the glue is clear. You would see the gold in all the cracks.
You would know that the object has breaks in it. Those who practice kintsugi believe that just because something breaks doesn’t mean it cannot be used anymore. It’s not about perfection; it’s about resilience. The once broken thing becomes more valuable because now there is gold binding the pieces together.
Who Didn’t Make it Out?
Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, interviewed Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest-ranking officer in the Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Regarding the prisoner of war camp, Collins asked Stockdale,
“Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” answered Stockdale. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” responded Collins.
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Submitted by Chris Stroup, Jim Collins, Good to Great (Harper Collins, 2001), p. 85.