by Joel Bates
I stood with my eyes closed, took a deep breath as a smile formed at the corners of my mouth, and then jumped as I hollered, “Cannon Ball!” It’s a common enough occurrence this time of year as the sun shines bright and the thermostat creeps upward, but the cool, clear water of the camp pool felt better than usual this summer. The swimming pool at Discovery Ministries is a favorite hangout, centered square in the middle of our acreage, an inviting mid-day oasis during those scorching summer months and a gathering place for rest and recreation at the close of a long day of challenge activities. So when the pool’s filtration pump broke last month, I had to act fast.
I’m not a swimming pool expert, but even I could tell that the green film developing on the surface of the water after just a day of the pump’s demise was not a good sign. It looked like our neighbor’s cow pond. Campers asked if they could still swim in the murky, pallid depths. “I don’t think it’s safe,” I warned. “But let’s wait and see what happens when my kids get out.” I mused as I noticed a decomposing rat swirling at the shallow end! Had it been a victim of the algae or just a really bad swimmer?
The pool obviously needed filtration. First, I called a repairman. “Sure, I can fix it,” agreed the raspy old handyman. “I’m free the third week of July.” That answer was unacceptable, so I tried fixing the pump myself. I bought a new impeller complete with a diffuser. I bought a new epichlorohydrin, main wear-ring seal. I bought some acetoxy siliconized adhesive. Then I bought a dictionary so I could look up the definitions for all the things I just bought! I even read the instructions and put it all together exactly as they indicated. Then I stood back as far as possible and turned on the pump. I thought about getting one of my kids to turn it on so I could keep a safer distance, but ever since their recent swim-time they hadn’t been feeling too well.
The pump began humming, and I could hear water cycling from the pool into the pump house. So far so good! As the water pressure built, so did my excitement. Suddenly a leak sprang from the pump, followed by a sudden cascade of spraying water. Within seconds, every corner of the pump house was wet. There was more water squirting from the supply line to the pump than running through it. Undaunted, I simply went inside and ordered a new pump on the internet. It arrived just four days later, but by then the pool looked less like a cow pond and more like green gelatinous pudding. I think there even may have been a lily pad or two growing in the far corner. No, that can’t be right because lily pads need fresh water!
I optimistically attached the new pump and fired it up. It hummed nicely and began pumping thick green water through its lines like cholesterol through clogged arteries. There were no leaks in the pipes, so I grabbed some chlorine and dispensed copious quantities into the pool. I vacuumed and skimmed and filtered and scrubbed until the water began to lighten, first to a cloudy gray and then to an opaque blue until finally reaching the crystal clear I’d been longing for.
As I put away all the tools, parts, and pieces of the operation, I knelt down beside the new pump and filtration system to say a little prayer of thanks. That’s when it dawned on me that God has been performing the same operation on me. He gives us a heart to pump our physical blood to all the parts of our body to profuse the hungry tissues, but taking a deeper look under the hood of the soul, I realized that He is at work like an active filtration system, sifting and straining the sin particles from my heart by His grace. The apostle Paul put it plainly:
1 Cor 6:9-11 …do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived... And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The offense of sin affects the human heart a lot like a swimming pool without the filtration pump—creating stagnant, scummy, and inhospitable mire, unsuitable to anyone needing a refreshing oasis. Sin is like that, and the longer we go without the revitalizing, living water of Jesus, the more the moss of sin and doubt grows. But Paul is talking about how things used to be before we met Jesus. Now we are a washed-clean, sanctified, living-water people group.
Heb 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
I surfaced from my cannonball plunge grinning widely, not simply because the water was clean and pure and the filtration system working well, but because I found myself immersed in an object lesson of grace, redemption, and sanctification. Here around me was good water, a lot like the living water within me, water purified by the filtration pump called “Christ.”
Early in my involvement with DM, the senior staff invited me to join them for a rock-climbing foray in Arkansas. I witnessed great instructors like David and Colette Freeman and Ronnie Beller ascend sheer stone walls to heights that arrested my ability to breathe. They did this relying on nothing but a tiny nylon rope, a harness, and a belay partner. Depending on such frailty seemed like recklessness. Little did I know it could get much worse!
We began the day climbing a rock face where we had solidly anchored rope to the top. Trust in the gear set up like this came easily. However, as the veteran climbers began to “warm up,” they pulled out small, odd-shaped pieces of metal which used small diameter cables to attach the metal part at one end to a carabiner or webbing strand at the other. I held my breath as Ronnie proceeded to “lead” climb a wall and “place” the piece of metal into a crack in the rock. I watched him string a thin rope through the device as he explained how it would catch him in the event of a fall and prevent him from hitting the ground. I was convinced this procedure was extremely unsafe, but I was nonetheless intrigued.
Ronnie had ascended about 50 feet when he reached an overhang, missed his handhold, and plummeted toward certain death. His first piece of “protection” popped out of the crack, doing him little good. We gasped as we watched his body careen toward earth and found ourselves helpless to aid him in breaking his fall. Suddenly, inches above the solid stone ground, his body came to a springing, flailing halt. Suspended there he could literally touch the ground with his outstretched arm. His belaying partner, quite shaken, asked if he was all right. Ronnie breathed a few deep breaths and then let out a chuckle that echoed off the sandstone walls. Yeah, he was okay! I decided two things at that moment: lead climbing was definitely not for me, and Ronnie Beller and all the other DM instructors were certifiably insane!
Two decades later at the same climb site, I stood instructing the next generation of instructors in the techniques of traditional lead climbing. My belief system had obviously changed. Sure, I still believed the old DM instructors were crazy, but I also couldn’t deny the fact that at the critical moment all those years ago when Ronnie needed the most help, his anchor held. I guess the physicality of climbing coupled with the fascination of the inventive gear, matched by the freedom and exhilaration of ascending any cliff with pro-placement features slowly lured me into lead climbing. But it was learning to build good anchors that convinced me to stay.
For most of my life, I have relied on other more capable, people to place the anchors and assure me they were sound. Based on their character and experience they earned my unquestioning trust. Now that I was teaching these new instructors, I had to own more of the risk for my decisions. I wanted the group to learn through my instruction. I knew gear was trustworthy, and if they would apply the proper techniques, they could lean into the climbing equipment and release some of their fears, but I still wrestled with a fear of my own. When I had to start creating my own anchor systems, my hands would tremble and doubts assail. As before, I could insulate myself from my own inabilities, but now, I had to accept that I alone was responsible for making a climb secure. The stakes felt higher when I was choosing the anchors and placing the protection.
I acutely feel a sobering truth when I lead climb: once I place that piece of protection, all my good intentions, my talent, my decision-making abilities, and my wellbeing depend solely upon the anchor. If that’s not a picture of our Christian faith, I don’t know what is. We cannot live by the faith of our friends, our family, or our nationality or race. We must eventually take ownership of our belief. A rope secured at the top of a climb to a boulder the size of a house is like the reality of how trustworthy God is, but lead climbing…well, that’s a different story. As we choose the right anchor, fasten it to a firm rock, and keep climbing, this is more like the reality I feel when I choose Jesus despite the lies of the enemy, despite the lure of the world, and because of my own intact love and faithfulness to Him. It becomes imperative that we know as Paul wrote to Timothy: “for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12).
Our faith must pass from the halls of our ancestors and the pulpits of churches to penetrate our own heart with an authentic belief. In our faith journey, we grow through life experiences like my friend Ronnie’s that day he was climbing. When our feeble strength gives out and we plummet from the rock, when it looks like we’re about to take a grounder and there’s no hope, remember that the best part we can play in our own wellbeing lies in the anchor we have chosen. When that anchor is Jesus, the Anchor holds!Our faith must pass from the halls of our ancestors and the pulpits of churches to penetrate our own heart with an authentic belief. In our faith journey, we grow through life experiences like my friend Ronnie’s that day he was climbing. When our feeble strength gives out and we plummet from the rock, when it looks like we’re about to take a grounder and there’s no hope, remember that the best part we can play in our own wellbeing lies in the anchor we have chosen. When that anchor is Jesus, the Anchor holds!
by Joel Bates
Did you know that canoeing has direct correlation to ancient warfare? I discovered this truth as I was teaching a swift-water-rescue course, but it wasn’t the connections one might expect. Rushing through a Class-4 rapid can certainly produce the exhilaration of battle, bouncing off waves, responding to wicked undercurrents with the reflexes of a swordsman, feeling instincts to lean into the brace when tipping, or having the consciousness to maintain breath control as you cascade through standing waves. But these are not the discoveries I’m talking about.
I was holding my paddle over my head before a small class, teaching them a new language, the language of river paddling. It’s a bit like sign language although much simpler. Using your canoe paddle, you can communicate from far downriver, across a garish rapid, or atop the banks of a distant shore. “If you can see the paddle, you can hear it speak,” I told the students. They looked at me with confusion.
I held the paddle aloft and began teaching them the simple signs that every paddler needs to know to communicate on the river. I showed them how to say, “Come this way;” and “Go to the other side of the river;” and “Stop, there’s trouble up ahead;” and even “Come over here to me.” I was enjoying the lesson when a scripture assaulted my thoughts.
I’d been studying Psalm 20 for a devotional series I was putting together. It’s a short psalm packed with battle imagery. In it, God is described as a great protector in the midst of battle, a source of reinforcement against the foe. Can’t you just imagine the scene—you and your comrades standing your ground on the battlefield, when suddenly the enemy tanks appear over the rise? You know these guys mean business, but you have a secret weapon of your own. You can call in an airstrike from the sanctuary of God! BOOM! The sparks fly, the earth explodes, and where that enemy tank once sat a deep crater remains. Oh yeah! That’s what we want to do to the enemies of God!
Then, I came to a curious passage about the banners of the Lord. I’ve heard about banners on a battlefield and have noticed banners referenced many times in scripture, especially when pertaining to warfare. So I dug a little deeper and discovered that banners on a field of battle have a huge, multifaceted significance.
First, they symbolize what side you’re on. If you are fighting battles and you find yourself in confusion, look up, examine the banner, and remember that you’re on the Lord’s side. Second, banners were used on battlefields to communicate, and like the signals I was teaching my students with a paddle, the banners of the flag bearers indicated the soldiers’ place and plan on the battlefield. The general or king could learn how the battle was unfolding and send aid to a fading line or direct a company to rout the enemy on a new front. Archers could differentiate between friend and foe as they examined the banners flying and aimed their arrows with precision.
My favorite use of the banner, though, is the presiding king raising his banner to signal a charge against the heart of the enemy lines. When the king’s banner goes up, all his forces rally to him and then make one massive, spearhead assault which utterly dominates the foe and decimates their numbers. The enemy is demoralized and consequently loses the nerve to persevere. Every warrior loves to see the king’s banner signal the charge because it means that the victory is imminent.
When we fight under our King’s banner, we fight for the Victor of the universe. We fight for the King who cannot be defeated, the King who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us and will strengthen us to fight as we’ve never fought before. What a confidence we have as we rally under the banner of King Jesus! Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” What a King…what a Name!
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.