By Joel Bates
I nearly dropped a man to his death the other day. It would have been a close call except that he was harnessed to a rope and I was on belay. I was instructing a high, group initiative. The participant hung upside down from a suspended tire, and I stood beneath him, my hand on the brake. The other members of his group were responsible to hoist him to the upper platform 25’ off the ground. However, his large size and humorous, flailing antics—coupled with the fact that his two daughters were in the group—resulted in the team losing focus at a crucial juncture. I watched him struggling and noted the situation turning from comical to critical for him. Everyone was laughing except him and me. Perilously hanging upside down, his face redden as blood surged to his downcast head, and I remained on belay. When he could not hold on any longer, he suddenly came plummeting toward earth. His belay rope stretched, and I jolted upward, creating a colossal, mid-air collision that rattled my bones.
We found ourselves swinging about four feet off the ground. He hovered there in a prone position with arms outstretched like a limp corpse, held aloft only by that slender belay rope attached to his harness. He slowly lifted his head, cocked it in a sideways glance at me, and smiled a toothy grin. “You didn’t let me fall!” he giggled.
My body ached from the contact. My jaw was sore from colliding with his helmet. I had a scrape on my leg where one of his flailing limbs had strafed it. Looking down at my right hand, I saw a white-knuckle death grip on the rope that was connected to my braking device. Breathless and sober, I responded, “No, I didn’t let you fall.”
You see, two hours earlier, I had explained to the group how we take every precaution to ensure that they won’t fall to the ground during this activity. I had told them how much weight the equipment could hold, detailed how the braking system worked, and quizzed them on the climber’s contract, emphasizing the part where I say, “Belay is ON!”
At this point in the instructions, I had paused for an aside to explain how committed I would be in the role of belayer. The belayer controls the brake and descent of the climber if he falls or needs to descend. The belayer provides the last line of defense against a traumatic, high-angle tragedy occurring. It is true that some belayers get distracted. Some belayers get lazy. Some belayers get hurt or wounded and end up letting go of the rope. However, I promised them with all seriousness that I never would let go. “Even if some crazy gunman comes crashing out of the woods and shoots me, I won’t let go of this rope that is your lifeline!” I promised. And I meant it. In times past, I had proven my word when I was belaying a buddy who, while climbing 30’ above me, inadvertently kicked loose a golf-ball-size rock. Even after it hit me right in the forehead with star-struck force, I didn’t let go of the rope. Then there was the time I had been at the climb site, standing “on belay” for hours in the 100o degree heat as student after student climbed, but I didn’t let go of the rope.
A few days after our mid-air escapade, I was sitting with a friend at a Bible study, pondering social trends, the void of reason therein, and the spiritual impacts on our culture. I have heard about one famous Christian after another renouncing his or her faith. I’ve seen longtime brothers and sisters in Christ compromise their faith at the core. I’ve stood by as the tide of postmodernism and whatever comes after that has washed over our society and the church with its pervasive waves of pernicious lies, stealing away our truth. I recently even had a friend tell me he is a Christian, but he doesn’t really believe that the Bible is relevant anymore.
As I was expressing my consternation in our Bible study, I suddenly remembered myself standing in front of that group of participants the other day and telling them about the commitment I would make to them to stay “on belay.” I suddenly saw not a rope in my hand, but a Bible, and the question hit me like a meteor, “Will I be as committed to hold onto His WORD as I am to hold the belay rope?” Will I stand and grasp my Bible when there are all manner of distractions about me? Will I keep these Holy Scriptures before me even when the days grown long and dry and my strength of heart is failing? Will I hold this powerful Word of God in my hands when it hurts, when I’m injured for it, or when I’m under the gun of oppression? Yes, I will! I must for it is not only my life on the line, but the lives of those for whom I have committed to be on spiritual belay. I won’t drop it! I will stay “On Belay!”
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 2Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)
For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper that any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
By Leah Fuller
A gunshot echoed across the hills as the other enthusiastic hikers and I started our trek in the BLAST! Hike-a-thon. BLAST! is a 24-hour, hiking fundraiser where endurance, challenge, and camaraderie join together to raise money for Discovery Ministries. I have logged many miles on this trail over the years. I might even consider myself a veteran of the hike-a-thon, a seasoned trekker with an understanding of endurance hiking.
As I prepared for BLAST!, I decided to invite a younger hiker to join me on my quest to hike 50+ miles. That’s how Emma and I became hiking buddies. Emma, who had been hiking in the 24-hour event since she was 6 years old, was now 14 and had not yet reached the goal of hiking 50 miles. When I invited her to take up the challenge, she didn’t really hesitate, simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sure, I’ll hike with you.” I was feeling good about this decision and started patting myself on the back for continuing to take up the mantle of challenging the next generation to do hard things. But a few weeks prior to the event, my mindset began to shift. What if in Emma’s youth she actually challenged me? Instead of my setting the pace for her, would she take the lead? I’ve been setting pace for other hikers for many years, but could I actually keep up with her youthful vigor?
It took only the first few miles to see that my fears were valid. Emma set a pace that I could barely match, and not once did her resolve, enthusiasm, or determination waver. Mile after mile we hiked, and as the day wore on, my aching muscles caused me to start lagging behind. Emma and I were still hiking “together,” but she stayed a few paces ahead of me. At times, I would jog to catch up with her, and not once did she give the appearance of fatigue or struggle. I would joke that the fountain of youth was on her side, and she would groan, assuring me that she was feeling some soreness, too. Feeling humbled, I discovered a string of thoughts flying through my mind. “I’m supposed to be leading her, teaching her what it costs to hike this far.” “She doesn’t need me to set a pace for her. In fact, I might actually be slowing her down. Maybe I should tell her to hike ahead?” “If she doesn’t need me, then what purpose am I fulfilling? What value am I adding to the event, to younger hikers?”
Amid this mental struggle, I realized God was showing me something about leadership that I know in my head, but struggle to live out in daily life. Generally, we leaders rise in our professions because of the value of our work. We become accustomed to letting others follow our lead, even finding ourselves thinking that everything and everyone depend on us. Training up younger leaders and giving them opportunities to go beyond our expertise threatens our value and even our futures. Fear of becoming inadequate and unneeded looms within even the most seasoned leader. I am much more comfortable staying in the lead or inviting others to walk alongside me than I am letting another break trail and providing space for them to grow into leadership. I have to ask myself, “Am I willing to let them succeed or fail and not believe that it says something about me and my own success or failure?”
When I look at the ways that Jesus led His disciples, I marvel at His example of humility. In Mark 1:17, Jesus invited his first disciples to “Come, follow me.” This was not only an invitation to follow His example, but also an invitation to relationship, to learning to live as Jesus lived. But Jesus knew that if the disciples only ever went where He went or did what He did, then they wouldn’t truly take ownership for the power and authority He was actually giving them. So, not long after He invited them to follow Him, He also “sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7). Jesus let them go out and do ministry in His name without hovering over them to make sure they did it the “right way.” And when they returned they told Jesus about all that they had done and seen, their successes and failures.
Even as they debriefed their experiences, a crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. The people were hungry, and the disciples who had just been out doing ministry turn to Jesus for what to do next. Jesus put the ball back in their court. He told them to “give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). He passed them the baton, giving them the opportunity to take the lead. Now, we know that the disciples fumbled this one as they struggled to grasp the difference between faith in God and physical reality. We know that Jesus, not the disciples, multiplied the bread and fish, and there was plenty to eat. This foible on the part of the disciples did not define their future ministry and leadership, though. We see after Christ’s death and resurrection that these men, who could barely grasp the vision Christ was setting before them, were filled with the Spirit’s power and became the bold and radical leaders who carried on the relentless truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us. And those men changed the world as they strode ahead and carried the gospel to places it had never been before.
You see, Jesus knew that these ordinary men would need to follow Him. They would need to walk alongside Him and learn from Him. But they would also need to be able to carry on the truth of His life and death when He was no longer physically with them.
What would it look like for me to let those who may be younger or less experienced take the lead? Can I trust that my value is not diminished by another’s ability to do what I can do and maybe a little more? Will I have the humility to learn from those who are younger or less experienced than I? Am I seeking to promote myself and my abilities, or am I simply being obedient to what God has called me to? Am I willing to lead from behind, as well as from the front?
These questions and more leave me in awe that God never stops transforming us and teaching us on our journey with Him. Will I stop and accept the discomfort of what He may be leading me to lay down, in order that He might be glorified?
By Joel Bates
Awhile back, a popular movie came out depicting a gang of geriatric get-the-job-done’ers; over-the-hill henchmen; and ready-to-kick-the-bucket, karate-chopping assassins with an all-star cast of Hollywood has-beens. You see, the government needed some qualified, hardened men to complete a mission so deadly that it would virtually be suicide. When none of them showed up, the mission commander was left with “the expendables.” What made them so expendable? What makes any person expendable? In our day and age, it’s not popular to think of anyone as less valuable than someone else to the point that they should be sacrificed for the better good.
I considered this during a recent evacuation in which six others and I carried an injured participant out of the wilderness. Darren had been struggling with fatigue and back pain for about 24 hours when on our last day of the missionary training expedition, he awoke with little feeling in the lower half of his body. My co-leader and I ran some tests to determine that he indeed was suffering from a neurological deficit. Our final destination, where a vehicle was waiting, lay only a half mile away, but the trail was rugged.
I improvised a litter by lashing Darren in a hypo wrap and solicited the help of the trip participants in carrying him out. After quickly devising a plan, we were ready to transport our brother to the take out. The going was arduous as we bore our heavy burden over the rocky trail, all the while offering encouragement and comforting words to Darren through grimaced faces and clenched teeth displaying our physical strain.
After an hour of traveling only about half way to our destination, we paused and set Darren down. One participant questioned our efforts; surely there was an easier way! Why were we expelling so much energy for the sake of one person? Couldn’t we just call in some “professionals” to finish the task. I reminded them that the “professionals” were simply people with the training and equipment to do what needed to be done. We, too, had training and equipment. Our equipment was a little more primitive, and our team’s experience consisted of on-the-job training, but the biggest difference was that we were in the here-and-now with the capacity to help. The question was not could we help or should we help, but would we help. No one said it would be easy. Obviously, there were no “professionals” around, so we lifted Darren and continued onward with our burden.
Later that day back on camp and after some quality rest and ample doses of pain medication, our friend Darren was on his feet, walking gingerly around the lodge. One of the participants who had worked tirelessly to carry him out asked, “Why did we have to go through that only to have him up and walking now? Was there really anything even wrong with him in the first place?”
“Good question,” I mused. Wouldn’t it have been more dramatic and given so much more purpose to our efforts if Darren had been critically injured, and we, a heroic band of rescuers, were the only thing that kept him from certain death? There would have been so much more depth to the sacrifice…so much more meaning to our suffering. However, one thing I knew: Earlier he couldn’t seem to walk and did need our help, and now he was better. “But it doesn’t feel worth all the effort,” the participant observed. It does if you are expendable!
I find myself struggling with this concept of expendability. I’m ashamed to admit that I seldom commit to things without expecting to benefit personally. I feel entitled to my time, money, and way of life and balk at sacrificing them. It’s an epidemic in our culture, really. We want our church to meet our needs, not the other way around. We want to serve, but only if we can be a “servant leader.” We are so accustomed to expending energy on ourselves that we are quickly losing our way in the journey with Christ. He calls us to be expendable.
I recently read a biography of Nate Saint, the famous missionary aviator who lost his life in Ecuador at the hands of the hostile natives he so badly wanted to win to Christ. During his time as a missionary, he was back in the United States on furlough traveling the nation and encouraging Christians to be expendable. He said, “You say I’m expendable as I give my life so recklessly to the cause of Christ on the mission field, but we are all expending ourselves on something. What are you expending yourself on?”
That question marinates in my mind as I consider sacrificial work in the Kingdom of God. Thinking back to “The Expendables” movie, I have to ask, “Just why were they so expendable? Was it because they were old? Was it because they had no potential or very little to live for?” What I do know is that when called to the task they stood and said, “I will,” and they defeated the bad guys, won the day, and received copious amounts of fame and glory. That’s Hollywood’s version.
The kingdom-of-God version looks a little more like what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12, “…I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” It looks like Nate Saint expending his life and, as a result, an entire people group receiving the message of Jesus. It looks like pressing through personal inconvenience and discomfort when others will gain at your expense, knowing all along that your sacrifice is bringing a smile to the Savior’s face. It’s knowing with all your heart what Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” I guess as it turns out, we expendables will enjoy in abundance something greater than fame and glory. We will fellowship with the greatest of all the expendables, Christ Jesus Himself.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.