Many people have asked me how I can be here in Middle Earth when it is dangerous. The truth is that it is not very dangerous now but it was when I came. I brought my family, wife and two little girls at the time, to a country still fighting a civil war. How could I do that? Am I super spiritual? Am I full of Faith? Am I special? Am I an idiot? No, no, no, and I hope not- probably not, not a complete idiot anyway. No, what gave me the guts to come out with my family to a strange place where we had never been before was something the King had done in me. In a real sense, he has prepared me my whole life for this. But he set up an important lesson shortly before I left that would teach me something about His character that I really needed to know in order to be faithful to all He was calling me to. Which of course, leads me to a story.
In another lifetime ago I pastored a small church on a mountain in southern West Virginia. I loved our little house on the mountain. It was in a really beautiful area with thick woods all around. One day I grabbed my fishing pole, my dog, and a Coke and headed down the steep slope of the mountain through the thick woods to a very remote little pond tucked away under a cliff. It took about an hour to walk down there. I fished for an hour or so with no luck- as usual. The very large bass would come to the surface and stare at me with their mouths open in disbelief that I thought they could be interested in anything I was throwing out to them. I drank my Coke and started back up the path. I was singing praises on a beautiful day and not really paying attention when I suddenly realized that my dog was gone and I was on a path I did not recognize. (The dog went straight home unlike his foolish master.) I thought I would back track a bit and start up again. How hard could it be? You go down to the pond then you go up to the top. Simple. Wrong. I went down but found nothing familiar, least of all the pond. I went back up and found nothing. Then it rained. Correction: It poured buckets and the storm was accompanied by loud thunder and spidery lightning. Normally this would be enjoyable but in this case it was just very wet. I was soaked to the skin and nowhere near anything familiar. I was praying hard. Sometimes I would just panic and start running wildly across an open area to see what was beyond the next ridge. Always something new and nothing familiar. Finally, I found the small stream that must be the one that fed the pond. As I came up on it I thought finally I would get my directions sorted out. The problem was it was flowing the wrong way! If I was where I thought I was then it was flowing backwards. So, was I 180 degrees out of my reckoning or was this another stream? Either was as likely. I walked up another slope and looked out over a vast valley that I had never seen before. Now I was really panicking. I had nothing. I was soaking wet. Those woods were full of wild pigs, bears, and the temperature would drop to 40 degrees that night. I did not want to spend the night in the woods.
I crossed the stream and walked up the other slope. I came out on an old logging path and looked up to the right and down to the left. I thought that I must go on down to the left and then up again. This made sense to me. I had been walking lost now for four hours. A voice in my head said, 'Go up to the right.' I replied out loud, 'No, I will go left.' 'Go right', the voice said again. It did not occur to me until much later that I was arguing with a voice in my own head. Finally I said, 'OK, I will go right as far as that tree up there but then I am coming back down and going left.' I walked up to the tree and stepped right out on to the path to my house. I couldn't believe it. I was singing praises loudly all the way home. But not just because an immediate problem was solved. God did not want me to spend the night in the woods. Let me say it again. God did not want me to spend the night in the woods. This was an epiphany for me. You see, I know that God allows suffering. I know that much evil happens in this world. You say you trust God? What does that mean? Trust Him to do what exactly? Trust Him to make you rich and successful? Trust Him to see you through a difficult relationship? Trust Him to take you to Heaven when you die of some horrible disease? Trust Him to.... what? He is sovereign. He is in control. But we don't understand His ways do we? We do not always know why something terrible is happening. And in the end we don't really trust Him to do what is best for us. We trust Him to forward His Kingdom but what if that means sickness? Prison? Death? Do you trust Him? In that moment when I stepped out on the path I knew that He really does love me. He really cares for me. He spoke to me to tell me the way to go. He did not want me to spend the night in the woods. I could go to Middle Earth. He was going with me. He was preparing the way and when I needed Him the most He would guide me and keep me. Terrible things happen in this world and He sees them all. He weeps and grieves for the suffering of all mankind. But He also knows me and loves me. He guides and directs me. I will face difficult days. But not alone. I can not go beyond His help, His guidance, His comfort, His love. Neither can you. Act on that.