Friday, May 28, 2010

To The Top of the World

An ancient emperor of a great kingdom was told of the existence of an enormous mountain at the far western reaches of his kingdom. The mountain, according to legend, was the highest point on earth, and its peak had never been reached. The emperor immediately called for three of his most valiant warriors to leave immediately for the western frontier to claim this mountain in his name. He handed his men a great blue imperial flag to be planted upon the mountain’s snow-capped summit.

The warriors gathered some climbing tools and a large coil of rope, and set out on the long road to the mysterious western mountain, to claim it for their emperor. As they walked along, word spread among the people of their quest. The emperor was wise and beloved among all his subjects, and excitement swelled among them to see the imperial standard carried along on such a noble mission.

All along the way, many citizens gave gifts to the three warriors in the emperor’s honor, and to help along the journey. Early on, they were provided horses to ride, and servants to attend them. Then, they were given tents to sleep under on the journey, along with fine clothing and masterfully crafted armor. Articles of gold and silver, beautiful carvings and tapestries were all given freely to honor the emperor, his warriors, and their quest. Soon, the travelers had acquired oxcarts and oxen to carry their many gifts along the road. What had begun as three men walking became a majestic procession that thrilled every village and hamlet that it passed through. They traveled for many miles, as their fame spread and their treasure growing at every stop along their way.

As they neared the western frontier, the high mountain appeared blue in the distance. The smooth road ran out and low hills appeared. The procession made slower progress as the travelers picked a path through the steadily rising hills. The servants began to complain and the oxen began to struggle as the climb grew steeper. Soon the group was struggling to get the oxcarts up the hills, a task only slightly less arduous than the slippery, rocky descents. At the night’s camp in a small valley, the warriors decided to send the servants back with the oxcarts and all the treasures. “All this was given in the emperor’s name,” objected one of the servants. “And you would leave it behind?”

“We cannot go forward with all this,” replied the warriors. The last rays of sunset glinted off the peak of the great mountain in the west, a silent reminder of the daunting task at hand. “We will take the tents, our climbing gear, and our armor, and go on from here on horseback. Take everything else back.”

The travelers went their separate ways, and the western path grew steeper and more treacherous. As they reached the base of the great mountain, they spent more and more time picking out paths that the horses could negotiate. Hours were spent backtracking, as trails they discovered deteriorated into tracks only accessible to men or mountain goats. Huddled around their meager campfire the next morning, the talk centered on going forward. The horses could go no higher. The rest of the climb promised mostly rock and ice, and the route neared vertical in some places. But the summit was tantalizingly close. The warriors looked at one another, then at the carefully wrapped imperial standard that leaned against a nearby boulder.

The horses would be left behind, along with everything not absolutely essential for their push to the top. The tents were packed away, and the valuable armor set aside. All the climbers carried were the ropes and the emperor’s flag. There was no longer any imperial procession. No more glorious, celebrated quest. No more cheers or recognition, no more citizens bestowing gifts and honor. All that remained for the three men was the emperor’s simple command to plant his banner on the summit.

There were no witnesses. Who would ever see the standard and where it had been planted? How many years would pass before another man ventured this high to see the result of the warriors’ efforts? To retreat from the mountain at this point would be no shame… in fact, no one might ever know. What if, after all this, no one believed that the mission had actually been accomplished? There was no proof to be brought back.

Against all this doubt and uncertainty remained the word of the emperor, his standard, and the simple fact that this mountain indeed was his to claim. The only honor to be had was to participate in marking out the rightful claim of their lord. All this the warriors knew, and communicated unspoken to one another. The look in each man’s eyes spoke powerfully of the decision each had made in his heart.

The three climbers attacked the summit. It was a long ascent. How could anything look so close and still be so far away? Roping themselves together saved each of them on more than one occasion as handholds gave way and rocks crumbled under their feet. They inched upward, passing the banner from hand to hand as the ascent progressed. Merciless winds threatened to snatch them off the rocky cliffs. Then, swathed in cloud, they reached something of a level place to catch their breath. Looking about in the haze, they realized that there was no more mountain above them. This was indeed the summit. The imperial banner was carefully unfurled, and its staff driven into the cracked stone of the peak. It fluttered blue in the wind, the emperor’s personal crest flying above the highest part of his domain.

“As it should,” was the common silent thought of all three men. And they began to scale their way carefully back down from their perch at the top of the world.

Some years ago, this was the first Sunday sermon God ever gave me without a scripture. After hundreds of pulpit appearances, this was a serious paradigm shift. How could I preach God’s word without at least quoting a verse? But He showed me an incredible picture of what it is like to receive, dilute, recover, and succeed in God’s calling. In this picture is also a history of the church. We stand now in the valley with the oxcarts of treasure, deciding whether or not to lay aside the well-intentioned “weight that so easily besets us”. It is a hard choice and often an unpopular one.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just in time for Fathers Day

A speaker at a social work conference yesterday brought out an interesting note about our culture. He reminded us of the television characters who played fathers. I was reminded of "TV dads" such as Ward Cleaver, John Walton, Howard Cunningham, and Cliff Huxstable. Then the speaker asked, "Today, who's the TV dad who has been in front of our culture the longest?"

The answer?Homer Simpson.

Explains a lot, actually.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


In speaking with someone about intercession last night, the following phrase popped out:
"Intercession is about lifting up, not about taking on."

Often, when we are called to intercede for someone, we take on the burden of their need. But that is not the point of intercession. In intercession, we lift that burden to God and offer it to Him, releasing it to His faithfulness. And we can only do this by faith. We are not called to batter the gates of heaven until a reluctant God finally does our bidding in order to shut us up. Our confidence is wholly in Him, not in our impact upon Him.

Friday, May 7, 2010

We are not alone

"Denominations were important in bringing the Christian faith to the variegated areas of American life, especially to the frontier. Their value now is by no means as clear. Because their structure is organized to secure the preservation and extension of the larger institution, congregations that take their primary identity from their denominations cannot relate to the total life of a community. Thus, denominational organization tends to make congregations a force of division rather than of reconciliation in their communities. The result of this fragmentation is that denominationally defined local churches do not feel ultimately responsible for representing God’s reign in or to their area." --Elizabeth Achtemeier, 1984

A short errand and a long blessing

A new friend was on the way to a home group meeting Wednesday when he had a flat about 30 miles from us. No spare. So, I hopped in the car and ran to Temple, just in time to help with a very small part of getting his family back on the road. I did very little (no modesty here, I just missed the hard work) but they were glad to see me and we got to visit for a bit. I am refreshed by their fervor and unmistakable love for Jesus.

Before I could leave, they wanted to pray for me, and this brother began matter-of-factly prophesying about facets of my life that I had not mentioned to anyone but the Father. Completely private issues that have troubled me no end. I was incredibly blessed, not so much because of some glowing revelation in the prophetic prayer, but by the intimate presence of my Father. And by the reminder of his attention to my deepest thoughts. But most of all, by how Dad seems to be able to put such troublesome private things into perspective. Without making me feel small, Dad seemed to say, "This is nothing dramatic. I'll tell anybody if it will help you come to me with such things! Why would you be afraid to open up to me? See how there is so much less anguish in it when your brother talks about it? Perhaps it's not so troublesome at all... to Me."

For those who struggle with the purpose of prophecy, here's a great clue. A word from the Lord which had the effect of pressing me more closely and intimately into Him.