Walking The Shadowlands

As I trudge along the damp dirt path, tendrils of smoke wisp out in front of me.  I squint as I walk, trying to see through the dark shadows that surround me.  On both sides of me, the high canyon walls cut off the light; above me, a thick canopy of leaves keeps the sky hidden from my sight.

I have been traveling through this valley for some time.  I didn’t enter it by choice, and likely wouldn’t have chosen it; the path I follow brought me here.

There are others walking this same path.  At times, we meet one another; occasionally, we will walk the path together, at least for a while.  Other times, we will spot one another from a distance.  Some of us help one another on this journey; some avoid all help and all contact with others, preferring solitude.

Yeshua, my guide, has assured me that I will not always be in this valley.  He is always with me, although I cannot always see Him.  Nor can I always hear Him.  But as long as I keep my mind on Him, my eyes on Him when I can see Him, and my ears tuned to Him when He speaks, I am not afraid.  Even in this, the darkest of valleys.

dsc-6192

I live in the Shadowlands.  All of us do, actually.  Despite the name, all is not dark in this world, because Elyon created this world.  And when He created it, He created it full of light and beauty and adventure and mystery.  And he pronounced it good.  He poured all of His love into this creation.  Back then, it was known as Eden, not as the Shadowlands.

That came later, after the Cataclysm.  After the Man and the Woman choose to listen to the dark whisperings of the serpent rather than the true words of Elyon.  They reached for knowledge rather than intimacy, not understanding that relationship with Elyon would have opened the door to true knowledge.  In that moment, with that choice, they broke what Elyon had created as good.

Since then, I am told, this good world has changed dramatically.

It is still filled with light and beauty and adventure and mystery. 

But the light – the light does not shine as brightly as it did in the beginning.  The colors are muted; the beauty has been marred.  There is adventure and mystery, but there is great danger – the serpent and his cohorts roam the Shadowlands, seeking to destroy and devour the sons and daughters of Elyon.  And sadly, they often succeed.  Many choose to listen to the whisperings of the serpent.  Many choose to blaze their own trail, not understanding that in reality, they are deceived and only follow the serpent’s trail.

After the Cataclysm, millennia later, Elyon sent Yeshua, His Firstborn, to rescue us.  It’s a long story – perhaps I will tell more of it another time.  Yeshua came to the Shadowlands and with His own blood, blazed a trail through the Shadowlands.  He has told all of us who follow Him that He will lead us along this trail – to Elyon.  To Home.

That’s where I’m heading.  That’s where many of my friends and family are heading – Home to Elyon.

It’s a long journey.  There are times it’s very difficult; times the path is hard to see.  Times too, though, of great joy and bountiful blessing.  And there are times like this – times when we walk through the darkest of valleys.

But valleys are not forever, and shadows are cast only because something tries to hide Elyon’s light from us.  And nothing can hide Elyon’s light completely – not even the final valley that I’ve heard is at the end of this journey.  That valley is called the Shadow of Death.  I’m not sure where it is, but I think it is a long ways off from here.  The thing is, I’m learning to trust Yeshua in this valley, as I have in other valleys that He has brought me through. 

And if He can get me through this valley, I know He will get me through whatever other valley I might face.

He can do the same for you.

Remember – these Shadowlands are wonderful and terrible and wild and beautiful and mysterious.  But they are only a shadow of what Elyon has for us – what we will one day see with our own eyes.

Home.

Fear or Faith?

Everyone who has walked with Jesus for any length of time knows that we’re not supposed to fear anything or anyone.

After all, the Bible is filled with “fear not’s.”

And it seems like every time the disciples were afraid, Jesus asked them why they had so little faith.

The truth is that when the sun is shining and life is going well, it’s easy to “fear not.”  It’s also easy to tell others who are dealing with fear to just straighten up and stop fearing.

But the sun doesn’t always shine in our lives.  And the older you get, the more you realize that life doesn’t always go well.  In fact, the older you get, the more you realize that so many things that you thought had control over are really outside of your grasp.

Life can change in an instant.

FearOrFaith

On Tuesday, I had to make a trip with one of my best friends.  On our way into Altoona, we found traffic slowed to a crawl on I-99.  It looked like a car had rear-ended a trailer being towed by a pickup truck, knocking the ATV, a generator, gas cans, and other items off of the trailer.  The car was sitting in the median strip, its hood knocked back over the windshield of the car, the front bumper of the car smashed in.  Beside the car, a woman was on a stretcher.  EMT’s were leaning over her, working on her and getting ready to move her to an ambulance.

I don’t know who the woman was or what her story was.  We never saw who the driver of the pickup truck was.  But I’m sure neither of them were planning on being in that accident when they got up that morning.

My friend and I had been talking about how I’m dealing with facing surgery and some other stressors that have been going on in life.  Then we saw the accident.

It was a reminder that life can change in an instant.  And there is so much over which we have no control.

As we talked, he reminded me, however, that we CAN control how we respond.  We CAN control how we face whatever comes our way.  We CAN control where we focus our attention.

We can focus our attention on uncertainty, on the darkness that is at work in this world, on the situations that are beyond our control, on the people that seek to control us, on fear and on all that causes fear.

Or, we can focus our attention on the One Who is unchanging, the One who holds all things in His hands, the One whose hands were pierced on our behalf, the One who is Light in this dark world and who shines in the darkness, the One who works to bring good out of every situation that is beyond our control, the One to whom every knee will one day bow – the One who has conquered death and the grave and fear.  The One who loves us perfectly – the One whose love can drive away all fear, if we will walk in the revelation of that perfect love.

We can choose fear.

It’s easy to choose fear.  All you have to do is look at the news, look at the economy, look at the uncertainty, look at our own frailty, look at the divisiveness around us, look at the dangers that surround us.

Or we can choose faith in the One who walks with us through the deepest valleys, into the darkest shadows – the One who casts all fear away.

It’s easy to choose Jesus.  All you have to do is look to Him.  Look to Him in silence, in solitude, in His Word, in listening to and participating in worship, in obedience, in submission.  Just begin to look – He will give you the strength to look up.

What will you choose today?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com

Little Things

Last week was a stressful week.

I found out that I definitely had to have my the first real surgery of my life.  Jewel had some major breathing issues that we thought were clearing up but that intensified some over the weekend.  I had to deal with a few difficult phone calls and issues that were stressful for me.  I had to deal with some questions for which I had no answers.  There were other things None of them were earth-shattering, and for some people, it all may seem like no big deal.  In some ways, it wasn’t.  But it felt like junk was accumulating, and it was stressful.

I got up this morning, excited to preach, but feeling the effects of the ongoing energy drain I’ve been experiencing.  I knew today would be full, and it would be a good but tiring start to another stressful and very busy week.

Right after the service, an older gentleman whom I’ve know for several years – a visitor from another state – came up to me and asked about my surgery.  We know one another, but we’re not close.  But he took the time to ask about me, to encourage me, to ask what time my surgery would be so he could pray for me.  Another out-of-town friend, someone I knew much better and had spent more time with, had a similar conversation with me.

I walked away from those conversations thinking about how their taking just a few moments to talk with me left me feeling so encouraged and cared-for.

And it got me thinking:  neither one of those conversations was necessarily a “big thing” – but they meant a lot.  I started to think about other “little things” that had happened recently that I had to be thankful for:

  • A simple conversation on Saturday night with a good friend about the Penguins that helped take my mind off of surgery and related concerns.
  • Another close friend who offered to spend part of a day with me this week to just have some fun together.
  • A couple of friends who texted me with encouraging scripture last week on the day I met with the surgeon.
  • An elder who prayed for me this morning.
  • A couple of friends who want to kayak this week before surgery.

I could list a lot more.  And as I think about it, these are my friends…I haven’t even mentioned how blessed I am by my family.

(I know, I’ve talked a lot about “surgery” in this post.  But have you heard the saying “when it’s you, it’s minor surgery; when it’s me, it’s major surgery”???? I understand that a lot better now!)

So all that to say I am thankful.  I have so much for which to be thankful.  So much more to give thanks for than to be stressed about.

Little things can really be big things.  They can help make a huge difference to someone without you realizing it at the time.  A little thing that you do can make a huge difference to someone else’s attitude – can bless them in ways you don’t realize.

What “little thing” might God ask you to do today for someone else?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com

No Pain, No Gain

“No pain, no gain” is something I’ve heard repeated by gym teachers, coaches, fitness trainers, and leaders (and all manner of sadists!) throughout my life.

As trite as it sounds, there is truth to it.  In physical exercise and activity, and in sports training, there is a breaking down that has to occur before growth and building up takes place.  In life, we often have to learn from painful experiences and failures before we experience growth and then success.

feature-7

And the same often holds true in our spiritual lives.  Dying to self daily is not a pleasant experience.  The journey to soul health, sanctification, and deep intimacy with God and with others is a difficult journey.  It involves the pain of exposing our wounds, our hearts, our failures and shortcomings; it means being vulnerable and exposing ourselves to the pain of rejection and judgment by others; and it involves the pain of losing false identities and excuses and other things that we use to cover our true selves…all so that we can experience the transformation of stepping into the freedom of walking in the light as our true selves, with God and with others.

As with so many things in life, our attitude in approaching this can make a huge difference.  Many – perhaps most – approach these opportunities for growth and transformation and allow fear to turn them back.  As a pastor and a leader, I have watched countless times as people have processed truth, a spark in their eyes lights as they get a glimpse of the freedom that’s available to them – and then the realization of what it will cost them sinks in.  Vulnerability.  Honesty.  Letting down the walls that they have erected so carefully over their lifetimes.  Repentance.  Change.  Fear then takes hold.  And then, sadly, like the rich young ruler, they turn away.

I know.  I’ve done the same thing, many times.

But I’ve had to realize that my attitude is my choice.

I can choose to face hard things that I don’t want to face with fear, and back away, and lose the opportunity for transformation.

Or I can choose trust in God’s love and belief in the love of my family and friends, and push ahead through the pain to the long-term gain.

I’ve had this lesson reinforced over the past several months.

As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with anemia and other related physical problems during this time.  I’ve been through a battery of tests, procedures, IV’s and blood draws that have left me just tired of the whole thing.  I’m ready to be done.  (I know, I know.  I’ve dealt with this for 6 months.  Some of you reading this have been dealing with far more painful and debilitating issues for far longer than I have.  But I can’t speak to your journey or your thoughts – just my own.)

I gained some ground for a couple of months, but over the last month, my hemoglobin has been dropping and my symptoms have been getting worse.  I was feeling worse and worse and getting more and more tired trying to hide it from everyone.  And I ran out of simple options.

This Wednesday, I met with a surgeon.  First time for me.  Oh, I had tubes in my ears 5 times as a kid, but that hardly counts.  This was a real-life, honest-to-goodness surgeon.  He talked about what he needed to do, and then used words like “staples” and “stitches” that my wife Jewel has had to deal with but that I’ve never had to deal with myself.  A part of me was glad – hopefully, my issue will be corrected and I can begin the slow process of getting my blood counts back up to where they should be.  But a part of me was filled with fear.  After all, surgery = pain.  And I’m not really that into pain of any kind.

But no pain, no gain.  And I had to have a conversation with myself about my attitude. 

I can face this with fear, or I can face it with trust and positivity.  It’s my choice.

But really, there’s no choice.  I need to deal with the pain so I can experience the gain.  And I can’t afford to live in fear.

Neither can you.

What opportunities for growth are you avoiding because of fear?

To quote my buddy Bernie, “think about it.”


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com