If Only

A couple weeks ago Teckla and I decided to take Ari on a hike along the bluffs north of Shore Acres. The trail meanders through shore pine, Sitka spruce, and Douglas fir. It looks out at the distant horizon where the blue of sky meets the blue of sea. The distant barking of seals and sea-lions drifts over the waves and the cries of gulls and oyster catchers echo off the cliffs. Waves curl and explode against the rocks in fountains of white glory. The beauty is stunning.

It is also dangerous. Although fences protect careless hikers in some places, there are long stretches where a wrong step could kill you on the rocks far below. Therefore, it seemed prudent to have a talk with Ari, who is seven, about the dangers. We explained, “We want to take you on this beautiful trail, but we must be able to trust you to obey. This is a place where disobedience could seriously hurt or even kill you.” I then added, “We can have many adventures together if I can trust you to obey.”

Perhaps you have seen a parent get a child’s attention by kneeling and placing a hand on each side of their face. In this moment God seemed to do that to me and say, “Mark, that is true for you too. If I can trust you to obey, we can have many adventures together.”

I am at an age or place in my life where kids and dogs inspire most my sermons, so the next Sunday I preached at the Coquille Church of the Nazarene on “Obedience: The Great Adventure.” I took as my text Deuteronomy 28 where Moses tells the Israelites all the blessings they will experience and all the adventures they will have if only they will obey God.

Of course, the big lie, as old as the serpent’s lie in the garden, is that obedience is joy-killing. It is the slander that God and his commandments are withholding something good and exciting. Believing this lie, many of God’s people choose wandering in the desert over the adventure of taking the promised land from giants. In the church, this often means defining obedience as a list of the things we don’t do. It is a kind of dull legalism that takes no risks and goes no further than the edge of the Jordan.

On Sunday mornings when we were praying for the morning services, my mother often prayed, “Lord, give us radical obedience.” It is something we should all pray. Many, I think, have abandoned the church out of boredom—not unbelief. Radical obedience can restore the adventure of listening to God and following Him with unflinching faith. The church, paradoxically, can become a safe place to have dangerous adventures. It can be base camp for ascents into the mountains of God.

Ari did great on the hike, so there will be more adventures. What dangerous, thrilling, and beautiful trails might we hike if only God could trust us to obey?    

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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