Thursday, October 27, 2005

Back From the Pit: Dependent on Him

Well, I've experienced the Grand Canyon--or at least a small piece of it--once again. This year, my 10 year old daughter, Miranda, traveled with me to Arizona to plunge into the pit with her old dad. While she did not hike to the river with me, she did hike a total of 9 miles in one day--from the Bright Angel Trailhead to Indian Garden and back. My sister, Vicki, and I started out a little before 6:00 a.m. down the South Kaibab Trail. At the Colorado River, we took the River Trail over to the Bright Angel Trail and met up with Miranda, and my dad at Indian Garden. From there we made the 4 and 1/2 mile trek to the South Rim. This year we were out of the pit by 4:00 p.m.--nearly 3 and 1/2 hours earlier than last year.

Each year on this trip, God has shown up in a powerful way for me. And, typically, as with the prophet Isaiah, His self-disclosure has exposed serious shortcomings in my spiritual walk. As I've admitted before, I tend to be task oriented. I'm the kind of guy who, when I'm involved in a project, task, or goal, I become tremendously focused. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It becomes a weakness, however, when the task, project or goal becomes more imporant than people. And, often through our connection to people does God demonstrate His connnection to us.

While on my hike, I was so focused on accomplishing the task before me, I nearly missed out on experiencing Jesus once again. It happened while I was on the River Trail. This relatively level trail follows the Colorado River for about 1 and 1/2 miles. It joins the Bright Angel Trail at one of the suspended, foot bridges that spans the river. As Vicki and I were making our way along the trail, I noticed several hikers crossing this bridge. Admittedly, my gate lengthened and my pace quickened: I wanted to get ahead of these "slow pokes" on the trail.

I successfully passed the bridge before the leader of this slow-moving pack made it to the trail. We exchanged pleasantries as I walked by then, much to my chagrin, he asked if I could take a picture of his group for him. The hesitancy in my voice as I agreed to do so must have exposed my real feelings--I really didn't want to be bothered. After all, I was on a mission to conquer this hike in record time. Sensing my reluctance to stop, the leader excused me: "That's o.k.; sorry to bother you. All of our group isn't here yet anyway." At the moment I assured him that I'd be happy to take a picture for him, the rest of his group joined them on the bridge. "We're all here," the leader said. "Are you sure you don't mind taking a few pictures?" "No problem," I said, and I told my sister to go on ahead and I'd catch up to her in a few minutes.

I figured that I could take a couple of shots, return his camera and be back on the trail in less than 2 minutes. That's when I saw them. Carefully perched on a large rock beside the trail was a covey cameras. Of course, none of them was the old shoot an click variety. They all were digital, each with unique features and focusing mechanisms. I tried to keep my composure. Admittedly, I thought about just walking off: afterall, I'd probably never even see this group again. But, I suppressed those feelings and dutifully clicked off picture after picture using one camera after another. Of course, I had to get specialized instructions from each camera's owner as I moved from one camera to the next.

I finally clicked the last picture laid it down on the rock and literally starting jogging down the trail to catch up to my sister. After about 15 minutes, I joined up with Vicki, just as we arrived at a stony beach area where we had planned to take a break and soak our tired feet in the chilly Colorado River. Ah, it was heavenly. My feet were tired and burning from the steep, long climb down. I almost could nearly see smoke rise from the ends of my legs as I plunged my feet into the swift, cold water.

After relaxing for several minutes, we walked back to the Bright Angel Trail to begin the long climb to the South Rim of the Canyon. Just as we hit the trail, there they were. The group whose pictures I had taken nearly 40 minutes earlier had stopped for a break. I greeted them once again and, with tongue obviously in cheek, asked the leader if he'd like for me to take a few more pictures. He laughed, thanked me again, and declined my offer.

That's when he noticed my t-shirt. It was one of my oldest son's old shirts that he had gotten at a youth rally several years earlier. On the front was a singular word framed by two gothic crosses: "Dependent." The guy pointed at my shirt and asked: "Dependent on whom?" I simply raised my walking stick, pointed to the sky and said, "God." Now, you meet all kinds of people at the Grand Canyon. Some are devoted naturalists there to investigate this fortuitious formation of nature. Others are avowed atheists, some are mystics, others are Christians. I really didn't know what to expect when I said those words.

His response was powerful. "Ah, dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ, maker of heaven and earth. God bless you brother!" "Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ, " I said in response. "And God bless you, too, my brother." Whew! God did it again. He brought to my attention by this good brother that I had begun the day with a shirt vowing my utter dependence on Him. In my haste to accomplish the task before me, I had forgotten that vital reality. It took a stranger, equally tied to the master, to remind me of my avowed dependence on God.

I think that's part of what community is about. We all have the propensity to live independent lives--even when we deny doing so. The community of faith is to be a constant reminder that only "in Him do we live and move and have our being." Perhaps we should dust off the old ancient greeting: "The Lord be with you," the officiate would say to the congregants who then would respond, "And with you also." Then, may we walk our individual journeys connected to one another and to the One Who actually is with us. And, may our steps be ordered only by Him.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Into the Pit...Again

Tomorrow is a big day. My youngest daughter, Miranda, and I will fly out of Birmingham to Phoenix, Arizona. There, we will meet my sister and her husband and drive to the Grand Canyon where my mom and dad await us. This is the third consecutive year that I've gone to the Grand Canyon for the grueling trek to the river and back in one day...and I can't wait to go!

I'm especially looking forward to spending some time with my daughter. She's never flown before, so she's excited, and a little nervous. This shared experience together will create many opportunities for great conversation in years to come. She's such a wonderful daughter!

The "pit," is a favorite psalmist metaphor for inward turmoil created by difficult circumstances. This was a place from which the psalmists would cry out to Yahweh for deliverance. I've been in that pit many times, and it's not a good place to be.

The pit into which I will descend with my daughter is one that I look foward to experiencing again. This descent is marked by geographical upheavals that demonstrate the power of God. For me, it's a deeply spiritual experience.

While the psalmist would cry "out of the pit" for deliverence, this amazing pit summons praise to Him from deep within my soul. I'm reminded of His power, mercy and grace everytime of experience this amazing place. I, therefore, look forward to descending into the pit again.

Thanks so much to CrossBridge for allowing me such time of intense spiritual renewal. I will miss this family of God this Sunday.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Woman; My Daughter

Last Sunday, September 25, is a day that I won't soon forget. It's missions month at CrossBridge: a time we take to inform our folks of our domestic and foreign mission points. We further invite other ministries in our area to share with us how God is touching folks through their work.

On this past Sunday, The King's Ranch and Hannah Homes ministry (with whom we partner) was highlighted. In usual superb fashion, LifeSong, under Greg Miles capable direction, did an amazing job leading worship. It was one of those days when I sensed the presence of God in a very special way. Barry Battles, founder of Coming Soon Productions, put together a very moving 7 minute video depicting the great impact that the King's Ranch and Hannah Home are having in ministering to women and children who are victims of abuse.

What touched me the most was a dramatic presentation--from a contemporary perspective--of the woman at the well. The young woman dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and worn sneakers. Her presentation of this story was absolutely astounding. I'd read and preached from this story many times. Sunday was the first time that I really heard it. The woman was a Samaritan, with a checkered past and equally questionable present. Despite these things, Jesus reaches out to her, and she becomes an evangelist for the Samaritan village. The way the actress presented her response to Jesus' compassion and grace moved me--and many others--to tears. When she ended her soliloquy by singing passionately the first verse of Amazing Grace. Whew!

This young lady demonstrated how powerfully God can use drama to touch hearts. I was completely impressed with her interpretation and presentation of this story. Oh, did I mention that the actress was my oldest daughter, Amber? Yeah. I'm a blessed Dad.

Amber is receiving a double major (theatre and mass communication) from the University of Montevallo. She has an amazing voice and is an accomplished on stage actress. I pray that through Christian women and men the arts will be redeemed and used to present the good news of Jesus to the emerging generation. Thanks to Amber for touching my heart all over again with the grace of Jesus.