June 29

Follow the Leader

For my 50th birthday (years ago), I wanted to try rock climbing. We have friends who are experienced climbers, and they asked their son, Chad, if he would be our lead climber and take us out for my birthday. The job of the lead climber is to climb up and place anchors in the rock and carry a rope along with them to the top which will be used by all of the climbers to follow. They do this “without a net,” and so the lead climber is the person who takes the real risk so that the rest of the party can follow in relative safety.

Now this lead climber, Chad — I have always been quite fond of him. So it was very stressful for me to watch him pull himself up those rocks, one by one, tenuously hanging off of the side of the cliff, checking each clip to make sure it would hold us, carrying that heavy rope to the top position that would support us safely as we climbed. When he rappelled down to help us make our way to where he had been, I could see that his hands and feet were bleeding from clinging to the rocks, and he was dripping with perspiration from the extreme effort required to pull himself along the journey.

As followers, our job was challenging, but nothing like the effort of the lead. Our job — follow along the path he made, mimic his steps, trust in the work he had done, and climb up and clip ourselves into the anchors he had placed. The good news — we could only fall as far as the anchor below the one we were trying to reach. Not only that, all of us could rest in between anchors whenever we ran out of energy. See, at that point, the lead climber is holding us up by the rope, so as long as he keeps the rope tight, we can just hang in there until we decide to step out. Even so, the journey up the side of the mountain is by no means easy. It takes a great deal of strength and effort to pull yourself up, even though you are supported. And then there’s the fear factor. You have to be willing to trust the lead climber. You have to put your faith in his anchors and believe that he will not let you fall. Many people (including me from time to time) freeze and cannot move as they reach out a hand and a foot to take the next step up. But eventually, unless you plan to either stay on that rock or allow yourself to be lowered to the bottom in utter defeat, you have to let go of the rope in order to climb toward the top. You have to believe that the view from the top is more beautiful than anything you’ve ever experienced. And on that day, my first climb, I can absolutely attest that it was breathtaking — stunning — life-changing. Worth it.

And after that initial climb, my husband, Rick, really got into climbing. He set a goal to climb the Tetons in Wyoming. This is not something you do lightly. He trained daily — in fact he’s been doing it for years now. He trained every day — lifting weights, doing pull ups (lots of pullups with a weighted vest), running, sit ups, planks, Marine makers — whatever he could do to build strength and stamina. He hung climbing holds in our garage to practice his technique, trained at the climbing gym, read every book he could find and found mentors to teach him what to do and perhaps more importantly — what not to do to become a good climber. And he made it. He climbed the Tetons in Wyoming. And a lot of smaller mountains before that. And he rocked it (pun intended). But he’s not done. There are always new mountains to climb, always more to learn, someone ahead of you on the journey to teach you — to mentor you along the way.

And so goes our faith journey. We all start somewhere. We decide to follow Jesus, and there is always someone ahead of us, someone in whom we learn to trust and from whom we learn. Perhaps we come to the church — the place where other believers can be found, and we are discipled or mentored by someone who really knows Jesus and is willing to show us the way to Him. Along our journey, the Lord provides someone who leads us to His Word, unlocks the beautiful meaning and mystery found there, and we join a group and learn from the experiences of others what His teachings look like when they’re practiced and lived out. This is our journey as believers. This is the promise Jesus makes to us — that the view as we find ourselves at the top of each mountain is spectacular — breathtaking — life-changing, and so worth the climb.

And I pray it will be so with you. Whether you’re ready to take your first step or you’ve been a little stuck and maybe watching from the sidelines for a while, it’s okay. The anchors have already been placed. The path is set. You are safe. You are loved. In fact, you are adored. And He invites you, me, all of us to follow Him.

John 14 (CEB): “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”

Grace and Peace,

René Watson, Minister of Administration