The Walking Stick


Recently I went on a private retreat in the Valle Crucis, NC area.  While on the retreat I took time to explore the surrounding area and decided to hike some of the local trails.  As a flat-lander from Florida I did not take into account that it had been a couple of years or more since I visited Colorado.  As I started out, I took the walking stick that was provided by the place I was staying and set out on the journey.  I decided that I would attempt a semi or difficult trail that led to a outlook point called Profile View.  It was only about 2.5 miles from the starting point.  Off I went with only the walking stick and a protein bar in my pocket.  I left my small supply of water in my vehicle.  Enough said on that account.  While the view was beautiful at Fascoe point and Profile View (it is a profile rock exposure of Grandfather Mountain) the journey was difficult and by the time I returned the fatigue from lack of water had set in.  Note to self – take water.

The next day I decided to a hike to the falls that were located on grounds of the conference center and the hermitage where I was staying not thinking it was going to be a hard hike.  It would only be a little more than a mile to the falls and then return.  As started on the trail from the hermitage, an old logging road,  the hike was a continue descent down.  For about 1.5 miles it descended and descended through the forest that surrounds the area.  In the back of my mind I knew that I would have to ascend to get back to hermitage. Again not thinking, I did not take water nor did I take a walking stick thinking that would not be a difficult hike for this flat-lander.

Then the thought hit me.  It would have been good to take the hiking stick.  It would have helped going down and definitely helped headed back up the hillside.  As these thoughts were racing through my mind I noticed a broken branch about four foot in length with bark that was starting to decay.  It had been laying on the bed of the woods for sometime.  Lichen has started growing on the bark, the moisture had started to decay the bark and the wood but I picked it up and started using it.  When I made it to the falls I was thankful that I had found it as it aided my footing over some rough areas.  It was there that I started to scrape off some of the bark off where my handhold had been.  As I scrape it along the edge of large boulder a  portion of the stick that was rotten broke off.  As I continued using the edge this large rock to scrape the bark it revealed a solid piece of wood under it.

When I returned to the cabin I thought about how God had provided just what I needed.  There was something more than that; it had to do with the stick.   As I began slowly peeling the bark away with a knife down to wood and removing the layers of the bark it revealed the beautiful piece of wood underneath.  It wasn’t perfect, there would still more to do later, more refining, sanding and polishing.

God does that with us.  We are broken creatures due to sin in our lives and in the world.  There are many things in our lives that may have been traumatic leading to our brokenness or it may have been just that we hadn’t experienced a relationship with God. Even in our Christian walk we can still experience brokenness.

As I thought about this I wondered how many times someone may have just passed by the stick thinking it was just a decayed piece of wood.  I wondered how many people walk by others without seeing them.  And then I realized that is the way we are and it is God who picks us up.  We are broken pieces in a broken world yet though others might see us that way and not want to be bothered by us or do not see the decay of sin because of our facade, it is God who picks us up.  He is the one who removes the old and makes us new.  He is the one who refines us over time.  What appears to be useless He uses for His glory.    While the logging road was steep and I stopped many times along the way to catch breath, the walking stick provided exactly what I needed to complete the journey.

Yes God picks us up.  He refines and strips away our outer appearance that is left from the world to reveal His image in us.  As He refines us He uses us for His glory and to touch lives as He touches ours, to serve Him and not ourselves.

Along our journey with God we will see the broken branches of our lives like the walking stick.  The walking stick was God’s provision  helping me even in its less beautiful phase – from the time I picked it up.  God will do that in your life when we allow His hand to pick us up.

Beyond the walls

When I stationed in Germany in the 70’s I took advantage of visiting castles in the area.  One of them stood majestically over the Mosel River.  During the wine fest there was a reenactment  of the burning of the castle when it was under siege.  It was a spectacular display of the events that occurred.  Rockets representing flaming objects launched from a catapult until one finally hit the armory and a sparkling cascade flowed over the walls. Last summer, 2016,  I again had the pleasure of going back to Germany for a week and hiking the mountains surrounding Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  One of the trails I hiked led to the ruins of Werdenfels castle.  It is a castle in ruins with some of the walls standing.

Other imagines that most of us can relate are to the forts that were built along the eastern seaboard and those built as America transitioned west.  Some of the forts were built from stone while others were made from timbers.  Each was built as a place of defense, security and an exploration outpost.

One thing in common with all the castle and forts, whether standing or in ruins, are the walls enclosed a common area and were designed to protect those inside.  It was from these forts and castles that envoys went out to the surrounding areas.  Those who went out represented those who occupied the fort or castle. They would go out to explore, to check on those in the immediate area, and to share the message of the ruler or those in command.

Our lives in the church are similar.  The church for many is a safe place from the outside world.  It can be a safe place to share ideas with friends.  It can be a safe place to have fellowship with others.  It can be a safe place where outsiders remain outside and the cares of the world are at an arm distance.  It can a safe place where your needs are ministered to.

There is more to the church than just meeting our own needs.  It is the place where we learn about Christ, about His grace and mercy, how to help those in need as Jesus did.   We learn to become disciples.  The church is not a hiding place rather it is a place of refueling, refreshing, replenishing and preparing to go out into the world to share the hope we have in Christ.

If we stay within the walls of the church and not go out we will starve ourselves and the church.  Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go out and share. (Matt. 28:18-19 ESV) And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.   Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  In our Post Communion prayer we also pray, “Send us out to do the work you have given us to do…”  Let us go out and share the Good News, let invite those who need a safe place and share with the God’s grace, love, mercy, and hope.