by Joel Bates
My son, Caleb, is well-acquainted with collecting and stacking firewood. Until recently, he had not graduated to splitting the logs, but he’s 13! I decided I should teach him the finer points of using a traditional splitting maul. Some folks—smart folks—use a hydraulic wood splitter to section their sawn logs into nice, usable shapes, but not me. I prefer my 8-lb., steel wedge that resembles a sledge hammer with an axe-like blade. I swing it over my head and bring it down forcefully against the cut face of the log causing the wood to explode. I like to think it takes a special person to split firewood this way, a rugged woodsman with brawny resolve, but mostly I’m just a cheapskate.
Caleb protested, “Dad, why don’t we have a wood splitter? My buddy Tommy’s dad has one.”
“Son,” I said, “there’s an art to splitting wood with a maul. It connects you to the ways of our ancestors, builds character in you, and makes you glad to be a man. Besides, why do I need a fancy, expensive wood splitter when I have you?”
Caleb frowned at my reasoning, but he picked up the maul, heaved it over his head, and brought it down on the upended log. The weighty axe bounced mutely off the middle of the wood and fell at his feet. “This will take forever!” he groaned.
“You’ve got the strength, but your technique is all wrong,” I coached. “Here, let me show you how.” He stood back, and I hefted the maul over my head, swung it up in a wide arch, and brought its full force powerfully down, making sure the head made direct contact with the center of the log and keeping the handle perpendicular to the point of contact. A crack formed. Sighting the handle along the newly formed fault-line, I repeated the actions to land the maul directly on the fissure point. Akin to the sound a strike makes in bowling, the log blew apart.
“Wow!” Caleb exclaimed. “Let me try.”
I gave the maul back to him and observed. After a while, his aim was dead on. As I watched him split log after log, I saw him become proficient in wielding the maul. I noticed how he began to hold the weapon correctly, swing it the right way, and bring it down on the same mark, blow after blow. Watching him, I suddenly felt a spiritual maul hit me upside the head. Our enemy, the devil, is a master of the “splitting maul!”
Satan loves to kill, steal, and destroy. He prowls around like a lion seeking to devour people, and he takes great delight in burrowing the heavy wedge of dissention among God’s children, severing relationships, alienating friends, and pounding fault lines throughout the bride of Christ. He loves splitting us apart like a talented woodsman drubbing hardwood. It makes him happy to see our nation torn in two like an oak log that gives way before the maul. He giggles when a church splits up. He bends over doubled in wicked glee when another couple files for divorce. And he swings that thing at me with great mastery!
I pondered this and wondered, “How can we escape the separation that comes from the blows of the enemy?” Here’s some ideas coming from a guy who’s flung the maul a few times:
We are cut from a great and glorious tree of life. More accurately, we are grafted into the tree called Christ. If you’re being struck by the enemy, hurting from the wrongs done to you, and feeling the cracks of disunity forming, implement the tactics listed above to see if they can help you be “unsplittable.”
by Joel Bates
When Japanese sub I-58 torpedoed the USS Indianapolis, it caused the worst naval sea disaster of World War II. And yet, for the men who survived the initial sinking, the worst was yet to come. With communications knocked out at the onset of the raid and a mere 15 minutes during which the ship would stay afloat, all attempts to send out distress signals were in vain, leaving the survivors in the hands of fate. For days, the bobbing sailors succumbed one by one to their wounds, shark attacks, and the deterioration of their fragile psyches until only a few remained. Miraculously, an American seaplane happened to spot the oil slick left behind by the sunken vessel. A closer flyby inspection revealed, amid the turbid waves of shark-infested waters, human bodies—survivors who had drifted aimlessly for four days and now had little physical strength and even less will to live.
An emergency SOS went out to all American ships in the vicinity. The USS Doyle received the message and began steaming “all ahead full” toward the position. As night encroached, the Doyle had yet to reach the men. Knowing that the survivors’ mental fight to stay alive hung by a thread easily snapped by the despair of darkness, the captain issued a dangerous command that no crew had ever heard. In the inky darkness, he ordered the searchlight be aimed into the sky to give hope to the men in the water, to let them know that help was on the way. At the same time, though, this order painted a broad target on the warship itself for any enemy subterfuge. Against U.S. Navy protocols, the light continued to shine brightly. Later, survivors would testify that it was the light beamed from the foredeck of the USS Doyle that saved them, proving that light has power over even the darkest night.
I was with a group of missionaries-in-training recently, trying to convey this message of the power of light over darkness. We were assembled in a cave, covered in muddy filth and sitting in pitch-black silence when someone started to cry. To my surprise, it was Ross, the oldest of our group…Ross, who was toned and lanky for his 61 years of age…Ross, who was always congenial, smiling, and kind. This former California surfer had left behind a home, a business, and a past that should have taken him to hell. Now headed to Africa with a reckless abandon for Jesus, he sat in the dark with tears running down his weathered face.
We waited as Ross dug down to unearth the words to describe how he felt. “I had forgotten about the power of light,” he whispered. “All those people around the world living like this…covered in mud and all alone in the dark.” He continued, “That was me. That’s my story. If not for the light of Jesus, I would be lost right now…probably dead is more like it. This is a picture of what we are going to do...shine!” His words punctuated the already sobering reality of just how important is the mission of sharing the gospel. Using the cave and its darkness as a simple illustration, Christ made His call to these mission recruits poignant; they would shine the light of Christ in a very dark world.
Whether from the deck of a great warship, in the small beam of a headlamp in a cave, or from the word of the gospel told to those lost in darkness, light always…ALWAYS wins over darkness.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
by Joel Bates
Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy, and I think the raccoons work for him! On a recent challenge expedition, we made camp on a pristine gravel bar along the Current River. Having camped there many times before with no wildlife problems, I was surprised when, after dinner and group debriefing time, I nestled down for a night’s rest and heard the forest come alive with activity.
I had dozed off a little when I became aware of a scratching sound near my head. Startled, I sprang up unable to hold in my guttural, school-girl yelp as I swatted at the dark creature next to me. He was furry, wore a mask, and had thievery on his mind. My wild, half-asleep thrashing missed him by a mile, and he scampered away to the safety of the nearby forest. My heart was pounding as group members called from under their nearby tarps, asking if I was okay. “We’ve got coon problems,” I said, still a little ashamed at my craven, raucous outburst.
I lay there, hoping the coon would not return and secretly wishing he would go bother someone else. However, within minutes, I could hear him stealthily approaching as the gravel shifted under his tiptoeing paws. With a surge of adrenaline, I spun around and wildly aimed my light toward the sound. There he was…fat, fuzzy, and full of cunning arrogance, knowing full well that I wouldn’t risk chasing him around the forest in my boxer shorts like a crazed lunatic. No, he had calculated to wait just out of arm’s length, waiting for sleep to come to his victim and lull away my vigilance with the aging night and open the gateway to my treasures.
I threw a small pebble as hard as I could from my awkward, prone position. Of course, it missed the mark entirely and was so small that even if it had landed, it would have only served to remind the raccoon that I was not yet asleep. I flopped on my back with dismay. How was I going to get any sleep with this wooly vagabond stalking us? I prayed and asked the Lord to send one of His mighty cherubim to stand guard over my resting place. I pictured the angelic warrior drawing his sword against my furry foe and chasing him well away into the hinterlands of the wild. Suddenly I heard the raccoon scurry. I turned to see not only one portly, vehement creature, but a host of at least three! It was apparent God’s angels had other business elsewhere this night.
I made up my mind to leave as I begrudgingly packed up my belongings and vacated to a more secluded area. I went down to the riverside to sleep under the stars amid the security of openness, offered by the gaping gravel bar. I calculated that the menacing creatures would have to be very plucky indeed to venture so far from their wooded fortress to find me here and steal my goods. I lay solemnly gazing at the night sky and slowly dozed off to sleep, enjoying the peace with my belongings securely nested around me. I had everything right here—everything that is, except a few sundry items left behind with the certainty that no raccoon would have interest in. One of those items left behind was my bag containing my journal, my pen, and my bible.
I slept well the rest of the night, awoke refreshed and eager for the hot coffee already brewing over the fire. After breakfast, the group decided we should all do some individual devotion time since we were beside a beautiful river and the sunrise was glorious. I promptly went to rummage for my devotional supplies—my sitting mat, my journal and pen, a hot sierra mug of coffee, and my bible. Having earlier brought my belongings back to my tarp site, I thought I had everything in one place. As I rifled around in my gear, though, I could not find my bible and journal bag anywhere. I stood there scratching my head. I had just seen it here the night before, but now it was gone. Suddenly my heart sank. I knew instantly and without question that those pilfering, nocturnal, burglarizing raccoons, had stolen my bible!
“It could be anywhere!” I moaned to the Lord as I sat in my devotional time with nothing else to do but pray. I felt angry, less with the mindless coons who were just living by instinct and more at God, who in His power and might could have stopped the coons from advancing. I mulled this over in my mind, suddenly becoming certain that living without His word could not be His will. I voiced a simple prayer, “God, I don’t believe You want me to spend the rest of this trip without a bible. Lord, would you please provide for me to have Your word?” The words had scarcely left my whispering tongue when I heard His still small voice say, “Go and search.”
“Yeah, right,” I thought. “My bible is probably miles away, torn to shreds in some filthy animal den.” Then a question entered my mind, again like the still small voice of the Lord. “Is my word worth searching for?” The question cut me to the heart as tears began to form at the corners of my eyes and dripped off my cheeks to the pebbly ground. In my heart, I knew His word was worth all the searching I could ever do. Missionaries have carried it to the lost people of distant regions of the world. It has sailed across seas to all foreign ports and made its way to the desks of dignitaries and the thrones of kings. His word is unstoppable, irrevocable, unchangeable, and wholly available. Of course, I would search for it, but I still had my doubts. As I stood to canvas the forest floor, I remembered the words of Jesus, “Seek and ye shall find.” With that thought, I stepped into the thicket of briars, brambles, and trees to begin my impossible hunt.
As I went, I was steered through the woods by the poison ivy patches like a sheep being herded as the ivy forced me to move away in specific directions to avoid contact. With no particular aim, I stalked, but not for long. After a mere few minutes of searching, I saw a piece of trash protruding from a pile of sticks and leaves, deposited there by some bygone floodwaters. As I approached, the trash continued to look more and more like…trash. But, suddenly when I was nearly upon it, I spied the shiny Ziploc wrapping, protecting my journal, and neatly stacked under it was my bible. The contents of the bag had scarcely been molested. I knew that this was a gift from God. He had restored my treasure to me.
In John 14: Jesus tells His disciples that the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but that He came so we could have life abundantly. Psalm 119:10-16 beautifully states,
“With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from
Your commandments! I have stored up Your word in my heart
that I might not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O LORD; teach me Your statutes!
With my lips I declare all the rules of Your mouth.
In the way of Your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways.
I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word."
In an age where reason gives way to madness and the treasure of truth is stolen away in the night, let us remember the unequivocal value of God’s precious Word. As James reminds us, “Don’t just listen to the word, do what it says.” Ask, seek, knock, and the door will be opened to you, and by all means, under every circumstance, for all your life when it comes to God’s Word, search for it!r every circumstance, for all your life when it comes to God’s Word, search for it!
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.