January 14, 2019

It’s a cold Monday morning and some are accusing me of bringing it back with me from New Mexico. Ha. I will take the blame or credit. We had a great time away with family but it is good to be back home and back to communicating with you this morning. We had 3 of our children and 3 of our grandchildren with us and it was a very special time with them. I hope you will have the opportunity to spend extended time with family in the days ahead. Those special times away are so important in maintaining and extending our relationships.
As many of you know, though our main focus away was to spend time with family, we did that by going snow skiing. We try to establish a week away either in the mountains or at the beach every year or every other year for those in our family who can join us. It has gotten more difficult as they establish their own families but we try to continue to provide the opportunity as long as they want to spend time with us.
This year as we were skiing I began thinking about how we skied and parallels with other things in life. We usually went out as a group of 3 or 4 or 5 or how many ever there were. I noticed a pattern that developed. It seemed that everyone always wanted me to go first, to lead the way down the mountain. I suppose being the patriarch of the family was part of it. I am also the most experienced skier having skied for over 40 years and having taken countless youth skiing over the years. Maybe I was just the guinea pig in case the trail was tough or icy, which did happen. But I would lead out and they would follow based on how fast I was skiing (I like to go fast unless the conditions are rough) and they could also hear my skis chattering if I hit ice. For those who don’t ski, hitting ice is not much fun because your skis can’t dig into it like they do snow and it becomes difficult to turn or stop when you encounter ice. My daughter, Lauran, found this out the hard way as she fell and slid . . . and slid . . . and slid down the mountain. It was kind of funny at first but when she kept going we began to wonder if she would ever stop sliding. She did. Ha. So this became our pattern with me leading and I would ski down a ways and then wait for the pack to reassemble and then we would continue on. Jennifer liked to be last so she could help anyone who fell. That is her heart and her giftedness and of course those are her babies.
I will also mention here that we skied together each day because it’s a lot more enjoyable than skiing by yourself. In all my years of skiing there has been only one day when I skied solo. It was OK. I had a certain level of fun but it was nowhere near as fun and satisfying as skiing with family or friends or with my youth. Even though the actual skiing is the same and the thrill of flying down the mountain is the same it is very different when you share that experience with others. The fun and joy are multiplied. There is laughter and shared experiences which make it so much more vivid and intense. Even the falls are lessened and often even funny when they are shared. I remember this year falling and landing in sort of a “dead-man flop” on my side with my face half buried and my left arm and pole trapped beneath my body. My son-in-law, Allen, and my daughter, Olivia, both came skiing up and when they saw I wasn’t hurt they both just died laughing which made me laugh too. Those shared experiences are so important.
Each time down the mountain we would take different trails and I didn’t always pick the trail. Often it was a group decision or someone said they really wanted to try this or that trail and so I would lead them in the right direction. I would always do my best to try to challenge their skiing ability without stepping beyond what I knew they could do. I didn’t want to scare them by asking them to ski a run that was too difficult but I also knew they would feel a great sense of accomplishment if they could make a run that was at the limit of their ability. Sometimes I pushed too hard. One time I did a bad job of leading by exploring into an area that was too difficult for all of us. I quickly turned and got us out of the danger area. Another time my 7 year old granddaughter, Mya, who was just learning to ski, went up the mountain with us and we ended up in an area that was too challenging for her. Then we hit some ice and she was racing away unable to stop. I flew past her to get in front of her to stop her only to hit the ice as well. Needless to say almost all of us were down at the end of that. So we all learned a good lesson. The next day she came back to that same area and almost made it all the way down without falling (there was a little sliding on her backside mixed in – ha).
But I began to think about the spiritual parallels. Yes, there is a moral to this story. Ha. God is the Great Shepherd, leading us and guiding us. Our pastor is the under-shepherd and he has a role to lead and guide as well. I wonder how many times do we not trust the Great Shepherd or even the under-shepherd? God wants to lead us but we have to be willing to follow. The journey is so much sweeter when we share it with others under His guidance and direction. And yet how many of us want to step in and try to take control. How many times do we think we know best? How many times do we insist that our voice be heard? The Great Shepherd doesn’t ask the sheep where they want to go. He tells them and guides them but too often those same sheep want to wander on their own and He has to gently pull them back for their own protection. When they stop looking to the Shepherd then they become vulnerable and can often find themselves in places of grave danger. My family knew on those ski slopes that I could be trusted and that I would not lead them into danger. They knew to look at my example and then to follow me. Oh how quickly we forget that we are not our own. We were bought with a price.
I believe the biggest reason why we get off track is because we lose sight of the guide. We begin to even think that we don’t need a guide. We become directed by our own self-interests and our own selfishness. This is often true of longtime believers as well. The Bible is filled with warnings which many of us do not heed. Philippians 2:3a says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” And a few verses later he says in verse 21, “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 reminds us that, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” I could go on but I hope you get the picture. More lives are destroyed by seeking after selfish pursuits than anything else. More marriages are destroyed by self-centeredness than any other one thing. More churches are destroyed or kept from being what God has called them to be by the sin of selfish ambition than any other sin. God forgive us.
Follow the Shepherd. He will not lead you astray. Don’t seek your own way for that is the path to destruction!
Reminder: This coming Saturday, January 19th, is our first Day of Fasting and Prayer during our 90 Days of Prayer. Again let me say to check with your doctor if you are unsure but for the vast majority of us we can do this. Have you ever fasted for a whole day? 24 hours? You might be surprised. It’s not that hard. The hardest part will be to keep your mind off food and on the Lord. Take those times you spend preparing and eating and spend them in prayer. Specific prayer for our church or your family!! I’m going to ask you to either call the church office and let them know you will be joining in this Saturday or simply reply back to this email and let me know, Pastor, I will be fasting and praying this Saturday!!
Last Word: I wanted to say a belated Happy Birthday to my eldest daughter, Lauran Fuller, who celebrated her birthday yesterday. We love her dearly and we are so proud of her and we thank God for her every day!!
I am ON MISSION Today! Are You?