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.
By Joel Bates
I love my boots! I found them over ten years ago at a closeout sale, what had been an outrageously high price now reduced to almost affordable. Though they were still slightly over my gear budget, I grimaced a little and forked over the cash, putting my stock in their Gore-Tex lining, leather uppers, and mountaineering soles. Their first real test came when the remnants of Hurricane Fay hit the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, mercilessly dumping nine inches of rain in one day on our expedition group. Through it all, my boots kept my feet dry! Later while evacuating a participant from the trail, I remember pausing at a creek crossing wondering if my boots were high enough to prevent water from getting in, and a mental check once on the other side confirmed my hope, forging an even deeper bond between my bombproof footwear and me. Participants wanted to follow their compass up a craggy hill of scree. No problem—thorns and brambles fell off my trusty hikers like puny arrows glancing off a warrior’s shield. Even on the coldest of days, my toes nestled snuggly in their warm, comfy shelters. On nearly every significant trip I can recall, I was hiking behind packs of participants up hills, though rain, and long into the night, wearing those boots with each step.
As they were aging, I thought it best to replace them, but every new boot I bought would either fall apart or leak in the rain, and I would end up calling the logistics crew to bring me my “old reliables.” They just couldn’t be beaten…until one fateful day last year. I was on an expedition, and it wasn’t even raining, but the meadow we were walking through was thick with morning dew. My boots were wet on the outside, but I thought little about it. As I hiked, I felt that moist sensation your feet get when water is seeping in ever so slightly. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t consider that it could be the boots. “Probably just my feet sweating,” I told myself. At lunch break when the soggy feeling in my socks continued, I took a look under the hood. Nothing could have prepare me for the horror I beheld. It was a good thing I was sitting down because when I doffed my boots, the insole revealed the unmistakable evidence of a leak! My socks were damp, but my spirit was flooded with grief. Okay…so maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I was pretty bummed.
My “old reliables” had served me well, and maybe it was time to retire them from great expedition mountaineers to mere work boots. As I grieved my loss, a more serious thought hit me. I’ll be turning 41 this year, and with the coming of age has come the realization that my role as a wilderness expedition guide will have an ending point. I considered that maybe it was time to retire me to a different role. “This work is for younger men,” I mused. “Maybe it’s time to hang up the boots for good,” I thought. As I considered this, I began to keep my ears open to God’s voice and my eyes searching for His direction. I began testing my calling by making it a priority to have others lead expeditions. I weighed my motives to see if I was actually at peace with being replaced and found them mixed on most occasions, yet growing more peaceful and hopeful. As I monitored this dilemma, I saw the necessity grow for me to lead in the field on some occasions and wane in others. I hadn’t bought a new pair of boots during this time because I wanted to be sure that the Lord still wanted me in this capacity. However, by last February, I knew that the coming season’s expedition calendar would require my involvement, so I started looking for some new boots.
At first, I thought about just going with a thrifty pair that would last me through the season. Then I thought maybe I could find a deal on some good used boots. But in the end, I pondered my future and the unknowns of God’s will and decided to just get the best boots I could afford to enable me to do the best job I can. During this time, I was reading though the book of Hebrews and stopped short in chapter 10, where the writer tells us in verse 9 that Jesus’ attitude was “Here I am. I have come to do your will.” The writer goes on to tell us that it was with this attitude that Jesus became the perfect sacrifice “once for all.” I marveled at Christ’s tremendous attitude; though He was God, He did not decide to call it quits until the plan was complete.
Too often, we look at ourselves and assess our own limitations, making decisions about our purpose and calling based on what our eyes can see, what our society screams, and the fears that compromise our comfort. But we don’t always get to decide when to hang up the boots! In fact, I would submit that instead of ever hanging up the boots, so-to-speak, we should adopt an attitude like Christ that is comparable to always having a pair of good boots on hand so we, like Him, can say to the Father with arms outstretched, “Here am I. Send me.”
Get your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Be the messenger of the Lord with beautiful feet who brings good news. Consider Abraham, who after becoming the age where most people hang up their boots, became the father of nations and Moses, who was 80 years old when he laced up his hiking boots to lead the children of Israel out of Pharaoh’s land. We can’t leave out the fierce Caleb, who at age 85 said, “Give me the hill-country the Lord promised me, and I will drive out the enemies.”
Whether you’re struggling to find your direction, thriving within your calling, or feeling like you’ve done your part and are entitled to leave it up to others, remember to say to the Lord, “I am willing to be used.” And always, always have a good pair of boots ready.
By Leah Fuller
I held my breath as I watched the current ahead surge from wide, lazy flat water into a turbulent whitewater chute. The narrowed passage caused the water to rush rapidly straight toward a large, intimidating boulder where the roiling water boiled up, over, and around the mass. It was obvious that while water might be able to find its way around the rock, something more solid might not fare so well. I pictured myself and my little canoe being pushed up and over the boulder, flipping, and smashing into more rocks below, and the thought terrified me.
A voice snapped me out of my nightmarish daydream, bringing me back into reality, “Where would you need an instructor to be in this rapid with a group of novice paddlers?” I pried my eyes away from the intimidating boulder and scanned the rest of the rapid. I was in a certification class for whitewater instructors, and all of us pointed at the big eddy on river right just above that horrible looking hazard. Our instructor, Dave, grinned and like every good facilitator continued to question, “Why would you choose that eddy and not somewhere else? Look at this other eddy on river left. Why wouldn’t you want to go there?” We thought about his question for a moment and threw out a few answers. Some wavered as they considered the value of being in a different eddy. Dave listened patiently; then went on to say, “You want to sit in the eddy that you want your novice paddler to get to because you want them to look at you, which is where they need to go, not at what they want to avoid.”
Such a simple concept, this wisdom has been a tremendous help to me as a whitewater canoeing instructor and in my daily life. Quite naturally, I first focus my eyes on the nasty boulder that I desperately want to avoid. And yet, when I acknowledge the hazard and then choose to fix my eyes on where I need to go, I am far more likely to actually avoid the ominous hazard that is threatening to suck me in.
I recently was reading in 1 Peter 1:6-7 and identified a similar principle. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” These words uplift and encourage, but when you really look at what Peter is saying, it’s not really that pleasant. When we think about life’s seasons of growth, they typically include some form of suffering, trial, or hardship. And, when in the midst of the hard stuff, most of us struggle to see anything other than the big, intimidating hole that we want to avoid or that we’re already swimming in as it threatens to drown us. It is so difficult to take our eyes off our suffering to see the end result of our faith being proved genuine and bearing the fruit of God’s glory
Hazards vary in a river. There are boulders, undercut rocks, hydraulics, and strainers—all having the potential to toss one about or just cause one to eat his lunch. Similarly, hardship can take many forms in our lives, such as conflict in an important relationship, the compounding needs of family and friends, struggling with grief over the death or health of someone we deeply love, or just feeling worn out by the lack of time to get everything done. The list could go on.
In the New Living Translation of 1 Peter 1:13, just after reminding us that suffering has a good purpose, Peter says, “So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed in the world.” Thinking clearly in the midst of hardship and looking forward to what’s ahead is so hard to do. At times, we flounder and think it would be easier to surrender to the push of the water. I just want to fix my eyes on the hardship and let it have its way with me, even knowing the result will be a terrifying swim. Life gets hard, and everything seems overwhelming and tends to cloud my ability to think clearly or to trust God. I can become bitter, resentful, and full of fear, not sure if I will be able to endure much more, let alone survive the next rapid.
And yet, we can journey and grow to trust God’s goodness. We can allow the truth of what and how He thinks about us to take root in the deep places of our soul. With our thinking redirected, we find it easier to focus on where we need to go, looking forward with our eyes fixed on God, rather than obsessing over the things we want to avoid. To be sure, we can steadfastly look at Jesus and still face hardship or end up swimming. We will still need to run the rapid, but when I see God—my instructor—sitting in a calm eddy in the middle of the rapid ready for me to join Him there, I can think more clearly. I can maneuver my boat into the fast moving current, look at Him, and fully trust that I will make it to Him, that He will coach me through, and that when or if I do flip, He will throw the rope to rescue me.
Even as an experienced whitewater instructor, I have to exert great effort to practice this principle of looking where I need to go and not at what I want to avoid. When I approach a new rapid or hardship, I take a deep breath, fix my eyes on what I know is true, and commandeer the paddle strokes I have been practicing for years to maneuver into that eddy.
You may be approaching and trying to avoid hardship or already swimming in a rapid. Are your eyes fixed on the struggle or fixed on God’s strength? Take a few minutes to sit still and ask yourself, “Where is Jesus sitting in the midst of this trial? What is He thinking of me? What truth can I reflect on and breath in to help me think clearly and fix my
eyes on Jesus?” Here are two truths that have been helpful for me:
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6)
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.