Two weeks ago, Kathleen got a deal on GroupOn to a place in Grand Rapids called Treetop Adventures; a rope and zip-line obstacle course that’s supposed to be fun for the entire family. It didn’t take me long to discover this is a gross misrepresentation. It’d be more accurate if they renamed the place Phobia Forrest.
Imagine an intricate web of ropes and wires that connect planks of swinging wood and platforms that float high above the ground where only birds and squirrels and people who get discounts to face their fears dare to go. (You might have guessed I don’t like heights.)
The general idea is this. Your risk your life to move through a series of swinging rope challenges. Each one takes you to the next level of slightly more terrifying obstacles. If you know my wife, it shouldn’t surprise you that Kathleen made me go first; knowing I’d never leave the ground if she weren’t behind me to prod me on.
In front of us was a young couple. Like me, the guy was putting on a brave face for his date, whose fear of heights seemed to be match only by mine. Having navigated the first part of the course, they came to the final platform of this particular “adventure.” The only way to get to the next set of stress tests was to strap yourself to a very thin rope, jump off the platform, and float gently to the ground.
This was something the young lady was not willing to do. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was going do it either. So there we were, the two of us, facing our fear of heights and discerning our willingness to trust our lives to a rope no thicker than a clothesline.
On the ground her boyfriend made all sorts of promises to coax her and calm her fears. Adding to the pressure was Colleen balancing on the wire behind us as she waited patiently to take the woman’s space on the small platform. I did my best to help this frightened stranger, but next to just pushing her off, my most gentlest pastoral voice was rendered useless. Fear had gotten the best of her.
Long story short, she eventually closed her tear-filled eyes and, either out of her deep shame or total embarrassment, she jumped; floating gently down as promised, into her boyfriend’s awaiting arms. When she landed, she grabbed him tightly and sobbed. It was a beautiful and heartwarming reunion.
But here’s the kicker, I was next. And there were no arms waiting for me all the way down there. Instead of gentle coaxing, I get two kids and wife yelling at me to keep moving. I won’t tell you what they said, or how long I sat there, but suffice it to say, I too eventually took that great leap. And as you can see, I did not plummet to my death, but instead, like the girl before me, I too floated gently through the air. When my feet touched the ground, an overwhelming surge of life welled up in me, and in that amazing sensation I was ready to take on the next set of challenges.
Such is the world of faith. It can either scare you, or it can fill you up with life. The choice is ours to make.
Imagine what would have become of the Hebrew nation had God’s people just stopped at the bank of the Red Sea, too scared to move forward across the muddy path that God had made for them. Even though God said, “Do not be afraid,” many wanted to turn around and go back to the devil they knew instead of trusting their savior.
As we celebrate our country’s birthday, I can’t help but wonder what would have become of our own nation had the patriots not taken the first step into the dangerous waters of rebellion and treason? From the creation of our constitution to the bordering of our states, our forefathers kept their eye on the future, always looking faithfully ahead to the next generation to carry that movement forward. Some might suggest we have come to a stand still.
We all face that moment in life where we find ourselves on the edge of faith. We can either move forward or we can retreat. But how we handle the situation often determines who we are, and what we will become. While many will jump fearlessly, most of us will reluctantly do so with great doubt. And that’s okay. Even our doubt can lead into a deeper relationship with God.
Where we often mess up is when our doubt turns us away from our faith completely. This can leave us sitting on the edge of the platform having only ourselves to rely on as we try to navigate through life’s toughest challenges.
But what happens when you’re at the edge of something difficult and you can’t help yourself, or you make a wrong decision? The results can be devastating. Yesterday I buried a 41 year-old Army vet whose choices and struggles with drugs destroyed a family. Without God, faith has no purpose. It has no real meaning. Worst of all, it cannot save you. Only God can.
The Hebrew word for faith is e-mu-nah, a verb that literally means, “to take firm action.” This means our faith requires us to act with a forward motion. For example, in to the Phobia Forrest, I believed the platform in the tree was safe, but I knew I couldn’t stay there forever. Kathleen and the kids wouldn’t let me. I also knew the ground was safer. And it’s only one brave leap away. But until I take that scary first step off the platform, how would I ever experience the true joy of a steady foundation. My faith, not in the rope but in God, delivered me as promised.
It’s not enough to just believe in God. We must faithfully trust that God liberates us from our fears and anxieties. And for some mysterious reason does so by taking us to the edge of our comfort zone and asking us to jump.
Why would God do such a thing? Is he trying to test us? Or trick us? Or does he push us to the edge for a reason? Perhaps God does this because he know what he is asking us to do is hard. Repent. Forgive. Love. Heal. Feed. Create. Thrive. These are the actions of our faith.
Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him or her take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus doesn’t just say have faith, but tells us to have courage and take action! Jesus empowers us with the Spirit of God to move his ministry forward. Without total trust in God, we are susceptible to failure.
We all have a cross to carry. We can choose to ignore it, reject it, refuse it or hate it. Or we can pick it up and follow the one who redeems it, transforms it, and moves it into God’s mercy and grace.
When life gets hard, when we are faced with difficult choices, or fear like we can’t go on, we can either stand on the platform afraid to move. Or we can trust that when life pushes us to the edge God is in control. To him and through him, we can leap forward into a wonderful adventure; floating on faith, and finding comfort and assurance in His loving arms.