What are you looking for?

“where you treasure is, there your heart will be also…” Matthew 6:19

Our holiday in Austria this past June, courtesy of the marvelous church I pastor, allowed my wife and I several days to hike in the Alps.  And hike we did: up, up, up, until we were high above any trees, leaving us hiking on something that was, at times, akin to the desolation of the moon.  Up there, “trail” means something entirely different than down lower, where a swath is cut through trees, and a clear path beaten down so that the next step is always patently obvious.  No sir.  Up here, there are no trees, no soil to beat down, no undergrowth to slash and clear.  There’s just rock; lots of it.

In such a setting, the trail is marked by swaths of paint, little dashes of the Austrian flag painted on rocks.  If you’re looking too closely at your immediate surroundings, you’ll quickly veer off course.  The way it works is simple.  You need to at each marker, and look for the next marker.  It’s those markers that will provide direction.  Be careful!  They’re not always close.  Sometimes you need to really look carefully to see the next one.  But once you see it, a sense of ease and confidence fills your step, as you move towards it, confident that a move towards it is wise, safe, and a critical part of your move towards the destination.

These markers work in clear weather, like we enjoyed.  They work too in terrible weather, like my daughter just enjoyed.  Either way, they serve the same purpose:  orientation.  Eyes that are looking for this markers (can you see them?) will find their way to hutte, the shelter, the place of abundance and safety which is, after all, the goal.  And, knowing that you’re on the path to such a glorious finish, you find that the journey itself becomes exponentially more enjoyable.  Sure, you need to pay attention, lest you drift away from the markers.  But with the constant affirmation of the markers, you’re free to enjoy the beauty.  Take the markers away and you’re left guessing.

It’s the same with God’s reign.  The goal is in the distance, the resting place and shelter of God’s full reign.  Along the way, we’re sometimes in the midst of some desolate times: our government is more interested in blaming the other party than making mature choices; being a teenage camper in Norway could kill you, and in the aftermath of the tragedy, Glenn Beck will tell the world that the camp, not the killer, reminds him of Hitler; our own addictions, our own failures and fears.  A drought is killing people in Africa with terrifying power and it appears swaths of our own country might be on the way to something similar.  My God!  Where are You?

But when I stop and look around, I see the markers, the reminders of where I’m headed:

1. a week of rich fellowship and teaching at Forest Home (you can hear my teaching here) gives a tiny taste of heaven, as we enjoy food, creation, fellowship, with a wide variety of believers from all across Southern California.

2. a daughter in Rwanda celebrates the goodness of God, as God continues to knit the people of that beautiful country together with a deep healing, a healing only possible because of Christ.

3. coffee with God this morning, and sermon preparation, both serve to remind me that there’s a kingdom coming that will shatter all our arrogant religious divisions (and I’m talking to Christians as much as anyone), humbling all of us when we see the Lamb that was slain, who, alone, is worthy of praise!  When he reigns, all death, destruction, fear, disease, doubt, will end.

4. I sit in my office this morning, a place I’ve not been much this summer for various reasons.  I suddenly realize that this space, too, is a marker, a reminder that God’s ways are best.  The candles, the music, the coffee, the climbing, the way God speaks to me here through the word, and prayer, and meditation – YES!  God is on the throne.  All will be well, and all manner of things will be well!

I’ve seen the markers.  His kingdom is the real thing, making a life lived beholden only to my appetites utterly empty by comparison.  Fortified by the vision of the markers, I’m enjoying, once again, the journey – in spite of the desolation, and questions, and doubts, that surround me here; above the trees, in the fog of this fallen world.

The markers, though, are still there.  If we’re willing to look, and see.  That’s why you need a rule of life, and the discipline to turn to Christ.  Don’t worry about failing – we all fail.  Worry about letting go of the vision.  Because when you let go of the vision, you’ll stop looking for the markers, and when that happens, the pain desolation that is this world will only be addressed by feeding our appetites for sex, or TV, or recreation, or whatever else keeps us busy NOT seeking God’s kingdom.  Such a misplaced life is desolation indeed!

I’ll be talking about this stuff more this coming Sunday.  I hope you can join us!

 

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Kenneth

    Make sure to try the shakes at Forest Home, they’re the best!

  • Mark Cutshall

    Thanks for taking me up the trail, Richard, to the question, “What are you looking for?” As I’ve been looking at the word “justice” on the cover of your book, The Colors of Hope, I admit get nervous and anxious. Before I can envision justice, I have to look at some the injustices I’ve caused and the harm I ignited.

    It’s dusk on that Fourth of July way back when. A backyard, a bag of fireworks, a book of matches and a handful of bored fifth-grade boys. Trouble. Our neighbors, the Lewises had an outdoor pool. That night they were gone. The water was clear, and the fireworks in the bag were going to waste. We must have lit one, two, three, four or more signal flares. My friends and I tossed them over the fence into the pool. The sparks hit the water. As we whooped and hollered, the burned-out flares floated around like little black corpses.

    The next morning, my father found me wandering in the kitchen, still bored, and told me to sit down. He said someone had told him all about what happened. I started to sweat. As dad talked, his cigarette burned. There were no raised voice, no swearing. Yes, I’d done it. No, I wasn’t going to do it again. And then he gave me my consequence. I can still feel the hole in my stomach, realizing what was coming next.

    I put on my shoes, and went out the front door. I began the long walk up our street, more like a trudge, head down, steps becoming shorter and slower. I knew where I was going and I dreaded it. I walked up around the mail boxes and then saw Mr. Lewis’ front door. His car was in the driveway, which meant I now had to go through with it.

    Once on the porch, I rang the bell. The door opened and the gray, opaque shape of a large silent man appeared. My voice warbled and somehow, through the screen door, I spoke the words: “Next door neighbor. Fireworks. . . . My friend and I. . . . Throwing. . . . Into your pool. . . . . I was wrong. . .I’m sorry.”

    The shadow of Mr. Lewis stood still and said, “Thanks for telling me.” Then the door closed, and I began to breathe again.

    I never thought about this until now, more than 40 years later, but I suppose Mr. Lewis could have said, “I think I’ll just have you clean my pool.” Maybe justice would have been served. Maybe, without knowing it at the time of course, a naked apology put me on the front porch of justice, of somehow making things right.

    The next week, I got a phone call from Mr. Lewis wanting me to know if I’d like to come over for a swim.

    A few years later when he died, I thought back to that evening with him and his family–the sun my skin, and the smooth blue sides of the pool where the smoke had risen and the water was now clean.


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