ABOVE THE TREE LINE

When you are above the tree line in the mountains, there is nothing to obscure your view of the terrain below.  There is nothing to prevent you from scanning the heavens above.  No trees – the terrain is barren, just rock or dirt. 

above the tree line in Colorado
Road in the High Country, Colorado

Peter, James and John certainly had a mountain top experience with our Lord:

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”

Mark 9:2-3 ESV

It was incredible – it was awesome – it was glorious, quite literally!  They wanted to stay; in fact, Peter even said they should build tents or tabernacles there!  Mark 9:5.   But, that was not what Jesus wanted.  Rather, He directed that they could not say anything!  No boasting or gloating that they had been chosen to see Jesus in His glory … nothing!

“And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.”

Mark 9:9-10 ESV

Although they didn’t understand, they obeyed Jesus’ command and kept quiet about what they had seen, but the questions still lingered.

 

Colorado cinnamon pass over 12000 feet high
Cinnamon Pass, Colorado.  The pass is over 12,000 feet above sea level.

We want to be on the mountain top instead of in the valley – it is pretty, and it is easier than the messy life of the valley.  But there is no growth there. Growth takes place in the valley, where problems, hatred, disappointments, or other malevolent conditions of humanity reside.

But we, like Peter, James and John, must live in the valley.  We are told to obey His commands and that is the hard part – obeying what was commanded without obstinate questions such as “Why should I do this?”   “Who cares whether I do it or not?”  “Why can’t I do what I want to do?” 

David had a mountain top experience, literally, when he was saved from the hand of Saul.  He exalted the Lord and said:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Psalm 18:2 ESV

Jesus is my rock and my fortress; He is my deliverer, my rock, and my stronghold. More than that, He is the lover of my soul.  He gives me the mountain top experiences so that I am prepared to encounter the difficulties I will find in the valley below.

  • I just need to obey. 
  • I just need to trust His plan.
  • I just need to rely on Him as He is just, merciful, and loving. I just need to remember that without Him, I can do nothing of spiritual significance.  He is the Vine and I am merely a branch in the valley. 

Beloved, look to Jesus for your salvation and security.  He is the Rock that will not be moved.  He is a sure stronghold for your life and eternal destiny.  He is the lover of your soul.  Call Him Savior and Lord each day of your life.

Father, I praise the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and claim Him as Lord of my life.  I repent of my sin and of my disobedience, and I pray in the knowledge that You will forgive and cleanse my sinful heart, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

A TRAGEDY OF OUR TIMES

Newborn
Newborn child, wrapped in hospital blanket and cap; sleeping soundly in the cocoon of the blanket.  But, not all newborns are healthy and comfortable … some are born addicts, a tragedy of epic consequence!

 

A newborn baby is a gift from God.  See Genesis 33:5 and Hebrews 2:12.  They are to be loved, cared for, protected, nurtured, and taught of God and His Word.  This is not the future that many of our young ones have, however.

 

A while ago, the Knoxville News Sentinel, ran an article under the headline “East Tennessee Children’s Hospital treats drug-dependent babies”.   Most of these precious babies became dependent on drugs due to abuse of painkillers or anti-anxiety medications used by their mothers during pregnancy.  The article spoke of a two-week-old child that exhibited the “telltale signs of a baby agitated and in pain”.  The little boy had an open sore on his face from rubbing the skin raw; a scratch on his left cheek; tremors so severe that he was placed in a special area where nurses can watch him 24/7 in case he has seizures or stops breathing.

 

This little guy is experiencing untold horrors placed upon him by the actions of his mother prior to birth.  The article states that the pain for these infants is excruciating.  The medical personnel who treat them say the infants suffer from nausea, vomiting, severe stomach cramps and diarrhea that is so severe the skin can blister like a severe burn.  And the babies are inconsolable.

 

I cannot judge this child’s mother for what she did or did not do.  I don’t know what circumstances she found herself in other than that she was going to have a baby.   I can only pray for this woman, her little baby and his recovery from an addiction that he did not cause but which will likely continue to plague him for the rest of his life.

 

It would be bad enough if this little tyke was the only child so afflicted.  But the numbers show that the club into which he was born is not exclusive to him.  Tennessee statistics show that in 1999, drug dependent babies were hospitalized 55 times.  In 2011 that had figure skyrocketed to 672 infant hospitalizations due to addiction.  In 2015, the Tennessean newspaper blog advised that in 2014 there were 921 drug dependent babies born in Tennessee.

 

And, these numbers have not gone down.  In an April, 2016 news article about the end of a Tennessee law related to incarceration of mothers of drug-dependent babies, USA Today discussed the status of Tennessee’s fight for these helpless babies and stated:

 

“Roughly 1,000 babies suffering from drug dependence have been born every year since 2013, when the state began requiring all hospitals to report them to the health department.”

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, as cited in a USA Today article entitled Born into suffering, the number of drug dependent babies admitted to intensive care units nearly quadrupled from 2004 through 2013, from 7 to 27 per 1,000 hospital admissions.  Vanderbilt University researchers said in the Journal of Perinatology that one affected baby was born every 25 minutes in 2012.  That figure is likely higher now.

 

We cannot continue to harm the unborn generation by killing babies through abortion or by rendering infants incapacitated because of drugs ingested by their mothers.  This must stop; but we must recognize that both actions are merely symptoms of the underlying spiritual war raging in our world.

 

I don’t have any pill, plan or panacea that would stop this travesty.

 

But I do believe in God and that His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of our souls.  I do believe that He came to earth and died on the cross for my sins and for the sins of all who would repent and claim Him as their Savior.

Used Easter in Canterbury (C)
Easter display at Canterbury Cathedral, in Canterbury, England

 

I do believe that the power of sin and evil was defeated when Jesus rose from the dead, the event we celebrate as Easter.  I do believe that He will come again and that He has already won the cosmic struggle which is evidenced by the depravity that we see in our world today.

 

And, I do believe that He can reverse this tide if we repent, seek His strength to withstand the pull of addiction and utilize all the tools He has provided for support, withdrawal assistance and reintroduction of mothers and families into a drug-free existence.

 

Jesus used little children as living examples when he taught His disciples:

 

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:36-37. (NIV)

 

He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Mark 10:14-16. (NIV)

 

I look at my own grandchildren and praise the Lord that they are healthy, growing strong and in loving, supportive families.  They remind me that I must come to the Lord with the same open, trusting and loving heart that they exhibit when they come to me.

 

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

 

They also remind me that there is a dramatic contrast between their lives and so many children for whom a loving and supportive family is a mere dream, and for those children my heart weeps.

 

In humble obedience, I believe that we all must pray for these little children.  I believe that we must take part in caring for these little ones, trying to give them as much of a life as we can.  We need to work with the mothers during pregnancy to stop abortions and the use of drugs.  And I believe we must work toward addressing the situations that create the desire to abort children and abuse drugs in the first place.

 

Above all, we need to point the mothers to the Savior who loves them and their unborn child more than they could ever know.

 

Father, this horror is too big for me.  I feel helpless against its magnitude.  But You are all powerful and all wise, and I believe that You are the answer to the problem of addiction of any type.  Guide me and give me strength to follow Your lead in doing what I can to help these precious infants who are suffering so upon their birth and to help their mothers understand that drugs are not the solution to any problem.

 

REAL GROWTH DOES NOT COME EASILY!

In channel surfing one evening, we stumbled across Animal Planet’s program “Too Cute, Puppies.”  There also is such a program for kittens and likely for other critters, but being the ultimate “dog persons” we focused on the puppies. The program episode follows 3 or 4 breeds of dogs from the birth of a litter through the first 3 or 4 months of life, narrating the various experiences of newborn pups when they open their eyes, try to walk, roll over the step from the house into the yard, experience grass and leaves for the first time, etc.   The puppies roll, stumble, trip and fall over each other. They investigate their world and sometimes get stuck, the film capturing their little legs and feet pummeling the air as they try to get back into the house!

In short it is an entertaining, but cogent, reminder that real growth is risky. It does not come easily. We know this to be true from our own experiences. For example, I say that I want to be svelte, but those tight muscles and appropriate curves come only after long hours of exercise and disciplined eating, which for me would be a fiery trial to be sure!

 

Christmas 2008 124
Riding her tricycle with the wind in her hais is fun on a warm summer day.

 

Children need to run and play to develop strong muscles and bones.

child climbing on rope ladders
Child climbing rope teepee in Texas playground.

 

However, in this day of electronic gadgets to entertain them, it sometimes requires a firm hand to get them outside for proper development and growth.

children swinging at playground
Swinging is always fun!

 

Sometimes the challenge can be a bit daunting, but perseverance will pay of with plenty of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

child at playground gym
Campground play area in Texas campground.

 

But, even as we stress going outside, we know that such adventure and learning does not come without bumps, bruises and sometimes even broken bones … unpleasant by any definition!   Indeed, as adults, we can fall and break bones even when we are not running or jumping … for example, I fell in Alaska when those stairs just popped up out of nowhere!

 

What is true for our physical development is also true for our spiritual development. When we look at our own history, we often can see that real spiritual growth came during dark times and difficulties, not when everything was hunky‐dory. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we learned valuable lessons and we gained insights and blessings even during the difficult times that we endured. Indeed, the fall in Alaska proved enriching to our spiritual lives as we watched, first-hand, the provision that the Lord made and as the Church ministered to us in ways that we cannot begin to explain.

 

The Apostle Peter says it like this in his first letter in Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

 

James, the brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:2-3 ESV

The King James Version translation of verse 3 says “knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

 

Our daughter worked at a Christian camp in New Mexico one summer, teaching repelling off mountains. She sent this picture of her “office”.

 

Liz on the Rocks0001
Daughter in her “office” at a camp in New Mexico.

 

She related to me one of the devotional thoughts that she gave her campers after they spent the day above the tree line on the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area below. Her thoughts are given here, not verbatim but in general concept.

 If we stand on top of a mountain, above the tree line, the vista stretches out below us, and it is beautiful. Usually, we remember that “mountain top experience” for a long time. But a careful look around reveals that, actually, there is virtually no significant growth up there. The rarified air might be crisp and clear, but it does not support growth.

Looking down toward the valley below, we can see trees, bushes, perhaps a hodgepodge of things, maybe just a blur of green.  No matter what we see from the top of the mountain, the truth is that growth occurs in the valley amongst the difficulties and challenges that daily life brings.

 

It is important for us to have a mountain-top experience every once in a while. We need time when we hear the Lord speak to us, when we know His presence in a very real way, and when we can receive energy, direction and new resolve to do His work in our world. But, our Lord does not want us to spend all our time there.

 

How do I know?  Because He did not remain on the mountain-top.  Remember Jesus’ transfiguration?

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Mark 9:2-4 ESV

 

And after this discussion with Moses and Elijah, the Father spoke from heaven saying:

 

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7 ESV

 

Jesus was on the mountaintop with a transfigured visage along with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets were giving him strength, encouragement, support and resolve to face the persecution, cross, rejection and pain that was fast approaching. His Father again confirmed His love for Jesus.

 

It was a highlight moment for Jesus and for the three disciples who accompanied Him. In fact, Peter wanted to build tents for them at the top of the mountain, thinking that they would be there awhile. Mark 9:5.

 

But, Jesus knew that He had to come down from the mountain so that He could do the work that the Father had entrusted to Him. He had to face the cross and defeat Satan and sin so that those He called to Himself could be cleansed by His righteousness that would cover their sin and filth. Jesus knew that if He was not this sacrifice, His people would have no hope of joining Him with the Father in heaven for eternity.

 

He had a job to do.  No tents necessary, Peter, we’re doing back down to the world.

 

That time on the mountain was important for Jesus. The time on the cross was important for us, and Jesus was totally aware of both these realities.

 

I am convinced that no experience the Lord sends or allows in your life is a wasted experience. You may not see the connection between the experience and where you are going, but God does. That class you struggled with in school … may well be the subject that you will use in your ministry years later. That relationship which resulted in rejection and abandonment … may well be the event that will unleash strength in you so that you can undertake ministries that you would never have dreamed of before.

 

If you were privileged to have had a “mountain-top” experience in your life, cherish it and recall it when you encounter difficulties. It is a gift that the Lord gives to you in preparation for what will be coming ahead. But, don’t bemoan the fact that you have to come down from the mountain. Praise the Lord for both the mountain-top experience and for the valley with its difficulties as they strengthen you when you are drawn nearer to the Lord.

 

The top of the mountain is pretty – but real growth occurs in the valley!

 

Mountain view with valley and lake (C)
Yosemite National Park Sierra Nevada Mountains, view with valley and lake below.

 

Father, you for those times you granted a “mountain-top” experience.  Thank you too for being with me in the valley during the times that I experienced hardship and pain.  Even when I cried under the load, you were there aiding and caring for me, with your Spirit interceding when I could not do so.  I praise your name, Father.  Enable me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.