The Committed Climbed

The Sea of Galilee – Image by dozemode from Pixabay

I love to read and the stacks of books on our shelves, beside my favorite chair, and on my nightstand attest to that. I often have friends ask me about what I have read lately as well because they seem to think I likely have found some goodie they might enjoy.

I have many favorite books and I do have a Kindle and iBooks, but I confess to preferring the feel of a book in my hand (especially if the paper used to print it is nice). Even so, no book has the capacity to bring new discoveries each time I read it like the Bible does.

I am not sure how many times I have read through all of it, but even in my favorite or most familiar passages I often spy a new gem of discovery or recognition when I visit it again.

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Today I was reading in Matthew 5. I have read it dozens upon dozens of times and still recall memorizing the beatitudes in Vacation Bible School as a child. In this chapter we find likely the most well known sermon ever preached anywhere. It is most commonly called “The Sermon on the Mount”.

I had never considered what “mount” this was and the Bible doesn’t say in this case.

In my research, I found that it is thought to be Mt. Eremos that is located on Galilee’s northwest shore between the cities of Gennesaret and Capernaum. Some also refer to this mount as the Horns of Hattin, a ridge running east and west not far from Capernaum. The exact spot is not clear, but for more than 1,500 years this area has been historically pointed to. If you were going to see this area today, it would be about three hours from Jerusalem by bus and once you arrived you would discover The Church of the Beatitudes there and have a wonderful view of the Sea of Galilee.

The descriptions suggest a broad plateau area that would have been well suited for those 5,000+ who came to hear Jesus to spread out over the hills.

Prior to this pivotal message, Jesus had spent the night praying at its highest point and then chose from those who had been following Him, his twelve disciples. History says He moved a bit lower to a broad open area where the multitudes had gathered. From there, He began to teach.

Ken Gire points out in Moments with the Savior who this large group would have been comprised of.

The crowds were comprised largely of the outsiders. From Galilee came a lot of racially mixed, unorthodox Jews. From the Decapolis and settlements east of the Jordan River came a lot of Gentiles. Many in the crowds were those whom Jesus had healed. The diseased and infirm. The demonized and insane. The disabled and impoverished.”

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These would not have been the pillars of their community or the honored in the temple. These were ones who had heard about a miracle-working man known as Jesus and they had come with hope and faith, however feeble.

They would not have come with provisions because they would not have had them. These were the discounted, the poor, and those unwanted by many.

But what is most significant perhaps was that these were the committed climbers who walked or limped to the bottom of the mount and then climbed to where they saw Jesus. There they sat, eager to hear, eyes fixed on Him. Nothing else mattered.

Here they heard the essentials of Christianity, a character sketch of those who had entered the Kingdom or would do so.

They must have sat for hours in the sun without thought to anything save the words from Jesus, their food and drink, their hope and sustenance.

These were the committed climbers.

That gave me pause.

Am I a committed climber?

Photo of forest, Walland, TN, by Pam Ecrement

We Can Change History

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Can we really change history?

Yes, of course.

You may be thinking of ways that can happen by participating in governmental processes, voting, and a list of other things and those are true and have happened many times in the course of history in places around the world. But there is something more than that and it can defeat evil as none of these can in and of themselves.

It requires more of us. It will involve time, trust, and faith in each action, but it is what will help us stand in the face of evil. It is prayer that is the effective weapon we often leave gathering dust on the shelf.

“The real power of prayer in history is not a fusillade of praying units of whom Christ is the chief, but it is the corporate action of a Saviour-Intercessor and His community, a volume and energy of prayer organized in a Holy Spirit and in the Church the Spirit creates.”

P.T. Forsyth

Throughout history you hear the stories of prayer operating and moving in ways to sustain people and change history’s course. We know it and scripture tells us to do it, but often our prayers focus on the life we are living and asking for smaller things or urgent things of a crisis nature related to health or provisions versus the wider battle against evil operating.

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“While conflicts raged between good and evil, prayers went up from devout bands of first century Christians all over the Roman empire. Massive engines of persecution and scorn were ranged against them. They had neither weapons nor votes. They had little money and no prestige. Why didn’t they have mental breakdowns? Why didn’t they cut and run? They prayed.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

History tells us much about what they suffered and endured during that time, but because of their faithfulness and testimony carved out of the hardships they endured, Christianity was not stamped out and we enjoy the legacy of that today. It can be easy to not recognize had they not been so committed in this way that all of what we take for granted might have never been birthed.

Can we do any less now whether we live in a place where our faith can operate and be expressed freely or not? Are we willing to walk in their footsteps and change the course of the future?

We see that power played out in Revelation 8 as well as prayers appear to flow upward, and heaven is silent and then an angel appears with a golden censer and what happens?

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“Out of the silence, action developed: an angel came before the altar of God with a censer. He mixed the prayers of the Christians with incense (which cleansed them from impurities) and combined them with fire (God’s spirit) from the altar. Then he put it all in a censer and threw it over heaven’s ramparts. The censer, plummeting through the air, landed on earth. On impact there were “peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev. 8:5). The prayers which had ascended, unremarked by the journalists of the day, returned with immense force – in George Herbert’s phrase, as “reversed thunder.” Prayer reenters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken daily by it.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

Can you imagine?

It can be far easier to talk about what it is wrong in the world than to acknowledge we are caught up in a war between good and evil and as believers are called to play a part. Our absence of using the weapons Christ has afforded of us can change the present as well as the future for those who will come after us.

“Prayer is access to an environment in which God is the pivotal center of action. All other persons, events, or circumstances are third parties. Existence is illuminated in direct relationship to God himself. Neither bane nor blessing distracts from this center. Persons who pray are not misled by demons of size, influence, importance or power. They turn their backs on the gaudy pantheons of Canaan and Assyria, Greece and Rome, and give themselves to the personal intensities that become awe before God and in intimacy with God. And they change the world.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
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Get Ready for the Maybe

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Gwen Bristow’s 1970 novel, Calico Palace, has immersed me in the early days of California and the gold rush era. The novel is not new to me. We have had it on our bookshelves since not long after it was first published, but I enjoy diversity in my reading. I nearly always have a novel going at the same time I am reading something a bit meatier.

I pulled this one off the shelf recalling we kept it because my husband and I had both read it and I thought I might want to read it again some day. I knew it would take me a few pages to get settled into the story that wends its way through nearly 600 pages.

During the timeline of the book, San Francisco was a tawdry little town filled with men looking for a future on the other side of “the States” without any awareness gold was about to be discovered. Before long men who were eager to get rich were filling up the town on their way to creeks and hills where they hoped to find gold.

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The town (if you want to call it that) grew up around those arriving initially by ship after a perilous journey around the Horn of South America or by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama in frightful conditions. No one was interested in creating a town, but there was a need to get supplies and information to get started on their adventures.

The “buildings” were largely thrown together out of cloth, sticks, and whatever could be found. There was little question it was primitive and conditions didn’t improve as men filled up the place. There was no governing body so garbage was thrown wherever one would please and rats were in abundance. Fresh food was in short supply and heavy rain would turn the area into a sea of mud. Some grew tired of the search for gold.

But people kept coming and buildings got thrown together in days where men slept on the floor in places no bigger than a closet and took their leisure in gambling houses that sprouted up. The conditions were ripe for any number of disasters and one of the biggest was fire.

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Men gave little concern to ashes from cigars despite the flimsy construction of the buildings and other men looked at fire as a means of opportunity to get rich through looting if their own dreams of gold had faded.

Fires tore through the town repeatedly before a fire brigade developed and over and over again those trying to live or do business in the town lost everything.

One piece of advice offered by a main character in the story after multiple fires was this: “…the way to live is, get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”

The statement left me puzzling and wondering how one gets ready for the maybe, the uncertain something that might happen, but I realized most all of us do that in one way or another.

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When we buy insurance to cover our homes or cars, we’re preparing for the maybe. Depending on our mindset, some of us do it in other purchases and how we live our lives.

The word “prepare” in Hebrew connotes things like readiness, foundation, and equipment, to get ready beforehand. Though we may try to prepare for some eventualities, how well do we prepare for the “maybe” and what we need spiritually? 

How often do we prepare for the unknown of what each day may bring so we will stand in the midst of difficulty?  Do we consider preparation for the “maybe” of the Lord’s return or do we only manage to look to the moment?

Paul writes a powerful admonition about being prepared to the church at Ephesus that we would do well to take for ourselves.

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

Ephesians 6:13-18 (MSG)

That’s good stuff, but the key is to pause at the first two words. The admonition assumes we recognize that we must be doing this before a threat comes or we need the tools Paul writes about. We prepare when the weather is perfect, we are healthy, and there is no hint of any kind of threat to our safety.

There’s the rub. When all is well with us, it can be easy to forget we need to prepare for the maybe. But prepare and get ready we must and it cannot wait till we are in the midst of a hard challenge, a disaster, a dashed hope, or the sound of a trumpet.

Jesus reminds us of that clearly in Matthew 25 in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. You may recall the story of five who were prepared with fresh oil in their lamps and five who had allowed their oil to run out and not taken any more to be ready. The peril of the foolish virgins is clear:

“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bridegroom’s here! Go out and greet him!’

 “The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’

Matthew 25: 6-8 (MSG)

One thing is sure: uncertainty is the norm. We will face it many times in our lives. We cannot know or fully prepare for the unknown, but we can prepare for what will sustain us when it happens.

In the novel, Kendra reminds us from her own early experience with a wise grandmother:

“When I would run in, all upset about something that might happen next week, she used to say to me, ‘Little girl, the way to live is get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”

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If We Only Knew


It takes a little while to discover that life is always full of surprises. When we are growing up, it can be so easy to see our days as boringly repetitious. It’s as if we are waiting on life to happen and often missing that we are already using up precious minutes longing for the next season ahead. We associate “surprises” as unexpected, delightful things that brighten the routine of our daily life.

In childhood we have such a great lot of time. The clock appears to tick slowly.

Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, introduces us to an insightful perspective on time that I doubt we can conceptualize when we are young. Listen to these words on the subject:

“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.”

We can be full of can’t wait till…” moments. We can’t wait till we get our first bicycle, get our own room, are able to walk or ride to a friend’s house in the neighborhood unaccompanied. We can’t wait till we are tall enough to ride that great coaster at the amusement park that measures how tall we are to give us a “thumbs up” to ride. The list goes on and on. We fail to recognize or value we have already started creating a scrapbook of memories.

It doesn’t stop in adolescence. We can’t wait till we get our driver’s license, get our first car, or go to our first dance. We dream of life on our own and want to be free to make all our own choices. We are so busy wishing for tomorrow that we sometimes are shocked when high school graduation comes along. We look ahead to what seems like a long journey of things to discover, experience, acquire, and accomplish. Of course, there may be some jitters, moments of uncertainty here and there, but we rarely admit it to anyone. Not even to ourselves. Isn’t this what we have been eager to enjoy?

Our feelings become contradictory. We want to be on our own, but perhaps for the first time we take a backward glance at home and the life we have known. It’s a momentary glance very often because the road ahead still beckons us onward. It still doesn’t occur to us the road will take many turns ahead. There will be more intersections than we can imagine. We may get a hint here or there that the road will have an end when some distant aunt or uncle dies. When a grandparent dies, it will occupy just a few more moments of thought. That thought will be short-lived because they are “old” after all. The idea that it will happen to us is not on our radar screen.

Early adulthood will bring with it the awareness that we need to sort out this new season we have so much desired. Choices are not as straightforward as we had thought. Our days fill up with advanced education, getting a job, and finding a person to share the journey with us. We return to that old habit of “can’t wait til…”

We can’t wait till we find the “dream job”, move to that place we always wanted to live, have enough money to buy our own place. And it doesn’t stop there, little by little almost without our awareness life keeps happening. We meet that “perfect someone” and can’t wait till we get married and start a family of our own. Getting older is not something we give much thought to after looking forward to it throughout our childhood. When a certain pivotal age comes along, we may pause and wonder how we arrived there so soon. After all, isn’t that the age my parents are?

In Jayber Crow, we hear the main character reflecting on the discovery we only find as we see the end of the road appearing in the distance,

“And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”

Those memories are a patchwork of sorts with some of the pieces in bright, bold colors and others in duller shades. Perhaps they become more precious to us because we alone know the intricacies of our story.

After all, as Jayber reflects:

“Telling a story is like reaching within a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told…there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.”

It is unlikely we would have believed those farther ahead of us if they had articulated this to us. We were, after all, different than they. Our life was and would be different, wouldn’t it?

And yet as we approach the end, our vision is enhanced by a wider-angle lens. We know more, but now we see there is less time ahead and we would slow the ticking if we could. We start to take stock of what we did with all the time (now memories) and assess what sort of steward we were.

Jayber understood that as he looked back and ahead:

“And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of the things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal in our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work. Our history is always returning to a little patch of weeds and saplings with an old chimney sticking up by itself.”

If only we knew back then, but maybe we were not supposed to know. Maybe we are supposed to discover that all life has meaning, that time is precious, and the end is always closer than we think.

Photo by Pam Ecrement in Stowe, Vermont

The Crux of Character

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Our tendency to pursue success and idealize those who achieve it can sometimes result in paying less attention to the character of the person. Sometimes that may come because the tangible evidence of success is more often material things like promotions, awards, and monetary gains. More and more evidence of that other less tangible issue of character have shown up in recent years as we see persons who have reached high levels of success in all areas experience public disgrace for issues related to lack of attention to development of good character. We see it in the lives of those who are in sports, performance related fields, politics, education, and ministry.

What happens along the way that brings a sudden downfall?

The answer may vary from person to person but if we are honest about it the seeds of the downfall were planted long before the problem is often exposed. Character is something that develops over time. Many small choices and decisions and our response to experiences we encounter daily are weaving character together. Without attending to those it can be easier than we realize to excuse or deny the little weeds growing in our character that can later result humiliating exposure of what has been growing underneath our outward self.

“Every good choice strengthens one’s inner resolve to make another good choice next time, while every bad choice leaves one inclined to further bad choices down the road.”

David C. Downing from Into the Wardrobe
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Not unlike a garden, weeds in our character need to be attended to regularly or they will develop such a tenacious and broad root system that it will be difficult to remove them and may well damage the good growth in the process of trying to remove all of them. The most avid gardener will tell you keeping the garden weed free means vigilance daily. A garden free of weeds by the end of a morning can show the beginning of new weeds here and there by the next morning. Left to itself a garden will be overrun by weeds and destroy tender new seeds and plants in a very short time. Weeds in a garden are visible if we are looking for them but weeds in our character can be harder for us to see at times and far easier to ignore or discount as something that just happened because we were tired or had a “bad day.”

Do we even have a clear understanding of what character is?

“So, what is character? It’s moral excellence. But we don’t talk about morality anymore.”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

Too often we look at the word “moral” and associate it with only the areas of sexual transgressions of some sort, but morality extends to a much broader definition than that. In our digital fast-paced lives we lost track of some of those key words that were central to the lives of those we admire from past decades or centuries. Morality is just one of those words seldom used or attended to. Another is the word “virtue.”

“Virtues are the building blocks of character. Think about this short list of virtues: patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, perseverance, truthfulness, courage, temperance, justice, faithfulness, and goodwill. Would your life improve if you had more of these virtues, in both number and degree?”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

The answer to that question should be obvious. We would be a better spouse, child, friend, employee, believer, neighbor – better in every area if it were true. It’s evident that Paul understood what could bring that about in his letter to the Romans:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
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We don’t start climbing in the mountains without strengthening our bodies or learning how to handle higher elevations. There are skill sets we need to develop to climb mountains safely with endurance and enjoyment. Practicing those skill sets can produce a set of skills that give us a lifetime of adventure and pleasure.

And it isn’t going to work to simply read about these things or talk about them. They need to be put into action for them to become a part of us for the climbs we dream of taking.

If small choices and decisions are building blocks to develop virtue and character, what are some tips we can use to help us in our quest for character?

Reading Matthew Kelly’s book, Life is Messy, gives us some ideas on that as he describes a set of tools developed in the early 1900’s. They are called “The Four Absolutes” and Kelly describes their use and outlines them as follows:

“They have been described as: a way to keep in tune with God’s will for your life; moral standards; ideals to live by; yardsticks to measure actions against; a guide for anyone trying to live a good life; and a tool for anyone trying to live intentionally.

The Four Absolutes are:

1. Honesty. Is it true or false?

2. Unselfishness. How will this affect other people?

3. Purity. Is it right or wrong?

4. Love. Is it ugly or is it beautiful?”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

I think most of us would agree that these questions and this list would help us keep more weeds out of our character and move toward greater morality and a higher degree of virtue.

It could be that beyond pursuing the latest and greatest inventions, technologies, methods, and ideas, we need to consider moral standards and a pursuit of higher virtues. Because you see the very things we enjoy about “now” were created and developed by men and women who came before us whose center was founded on character and the higher virtues what built that character. The future will be brighter for each of us and all of us if we do.