Whatever is Pure - June 2009
Fold of 99
Scowling at the taut fencing of the corral, Lewis complained, "It just doesn't make any sense to me, Harry." Hooves propped against the wooden gate, he peered over at the outer world, squinting against the morning sun.
"Lewis," Harry counseled, "It makes perfect sense. You're a sheep, not the shepherd. How could you possibly know when it is safe for the flock to go out?"
Lewis sighed and grumbled. "Have you ever seen a lion?"
"Ha! I know this one," Harry replied. "Have ewe ever-"
"No! I'm not telling jokes. Have you ever seen a wolf? A python? Do you believe that they really exist?"
"Of course I do, Lewis. And I know that deep down, you agree with me too. The farm is in perfect order. It's safe in here, and we need the shepherd to survive out there, where it's wild."
Lewis gave Harry a better-than-thou type of look. "Well, maybe you guys do! But I'm a mighty ram!" He tipped his head down to show off the top of his head to his friend. "See my horns? The shepherd said I'm a mighty leader!" He briefly strutted upon the lush, verdant turf and flashed a smug grin.
"Riiiigghht." Harry squinted skeptically at the two nubs just peeking beyond Lewis' young fur. The other sheep bleated behind them, more out of habit than for communication. "Maybe we should go back with the others and…"
A gust of wind kicked up an eddy of dust and debris. The loose latch on the gate tripped with a Click! The gate creaked ajar, just a tiny bit.
Lewis stood there, transfixed by the open door. He looked back at Harry with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Harry had always been cautious, and Lewis too impulsive.
"No. Lewis, don't you go out there!"
"But I want to."
"Why? Why would anyone feel the need to go out there? Look at this here! The grass is green and tasty, the ground is soft, the shepherd visits regularly; it is perfect."
"But out there," Lewis argued, "I can roam free. Every second is an opportunity for adventure!"
"Well, we can go when the shepherd returns," Harry insisted.
"This place is boring."
"You're just being rebellious. This place is perfect."
"But think of what's out there, the meadow, the hillside."
"I've been there, none of the grass is as good. The ground is rocky and the paths are steep."
"But you haven't been everywhere, have you?"
"What? Of course not."
"Then how do you know that someplace better than this isn't just beyond the eastern ridge?"
"So now you plan on leaving the fold to visit every place in existence?"
"I plan on exploring a little," he admitted.
Harry stared down his nose at Lewis. He had to find a way to satisfy his appetite until the shepherd returned from checking the hillside for predators.
"Be content, Lewis. It stands to reason that if someplace as wonderful as our farm exists, then someplace equally terrible and miserable must also be out there. So if you visit everywhere in search of someplace better than this, you risk stumbling into that wretched place. Further, if someplace better than this is over the horizon, then so must be someplace equally worse than that!" Harry actually gave himself goose-bumps beneath his wool. He was suddenly thankful for his shepherd's proper guidance.
"Stop it, Harry. You're just trying to confuse me." Lewis stuck his nose between the post and gate and pushed. The lamb cantered through the yawning opening.
"Ooooh, Lewis. You get back in here right now!"
The other sheep began to congregate near the gate. None of them ventured beyond the invisible barrier where the gate belonged.
"You know, Harry, you sure seem to lack faith in the shepherd."
"What? No I don't!" he defended, acutely aware that the rest of the flock now listened.
"Yes you do. I am confidant that the shepherd has the power and skill to defend me, even if he's not right here next to me. Are you saying that he is powerless?"
"No, I was saying-"
"And the shepherd also told me that I was a mighty ram, bred to be powerful and grand. Are you calling him a liar, too?"
A look of shock clung to Harry's face. Lewis had caught him off guard and Harry only wanted to help him. Yet, Lewis persisted in putting himself in danger.
"See?" Lewis pranced through the yard beyond the fence. "It's perfect out here."
A large, dark bird swooped down and landed nearby, rather clumsily.
"Look," Lewis said. "The turkey's are out!"
"That's a vulture, Lewis."
The carrion bird nodded his head, as if to greet the lamb. Perhaps he was thanking him for his decision to leave the pen.
"What? Well, I'll show him what the shepherd's might ram can do!"
The arrogant stripling leveled his head and charged the bird. His stubby horns connected and he bowled the creature over; it squawked horribly as it toppled.
"Ha! I told you so." With a smug look, Lewis threw his head over his shoulder and pranced away, just slow enough to show off to the others.
Grinning, the vulture waddled after him. His head bobbed and he kept just enough distance to discourage any thoughts of danger.
"Lewis?" Harry called. Only the breeze replied.
The afternoon approached and the shepherd returned. He carried his crooked staff in hand and wore a genuine smile upon his face. "Are you guys ready to go out?" he asked as he dotted the air with his fingers, counting the sheep.
"Wait. There are only ninety-nine of you?"
He looked around at each of them. Harry hung his head soberly.
"Where is Lewis?" the shepherd asked.
Harry raised his eyes, indicating the direction his friend had traveled.
The shepherd spun around, worried. "Oh, no."
A wolf howled in the distance and the shepherd sprinted for the horizon.
© 2009 Christopher Schmitz
Please contact Christopher to gain permission before using his short story in any format, including email, facebook, messaging, message boards, websites, etc.
League of His Own
He slithered through the front door, skulked across the living room and plopped onto the couch, a ten year-old heap of dejection. Usually a blur of effervescent energy, my son's standard speed of 90 mph with his hair on fire slowed to a snail's gimp following Little League practice.
"How'd it go?" I inquired tentatively, bracing myself for his response. Nathan's jade green eyes swam as tears dripped off his chin.
"Terrible!" he wailed, face crumpling like a deflated balloon. "I can't hit the ball. I can't catch anything. Everything I try to field goes right through my glove," he punched the air for emphasis. "Everyone is better than me," Nathan sputtered. "I can't do anything right!"
I didn't know what to say. How could I argue with the truth? When it comes to athletic endeavors, Nathan isn't Ken Griffey, Jr. And he knows it.
I offered Nathan a hug which he grudgingly accepted, torn between the need for maternal reassurance and the "Not now, Mom!" horror of a pre-teen struggling for independence.
Recently relocated to the Northwest from California, my four boys had a tough time leaving friends and family and the only neighborhood they'd ever known. Our move was especially rough on Nathan, my second son.
High-strung, easily agitated and insecure, Nathan missed his California friends and home school pals. Feeling clumsy, awkward, and lonely in a new state, my gawky pre-teen's lack of confidence was exacerbated by the easy athleticism of his brothers. On a new team in a new city, Nathan was as lost as a stranded runner after a line drive double-play. I don't know who ached more: Nathan or me.
"Lord," I mumbled later, "You've got to do something about Nathan and his baseball team. PLEASE match him with someone You can use on that team." I sighed. "You know Nathan needs a boost. Please find someone to be his buoy."
"Mom! Mom!" Nathan exclaimed as he burst through the front door a week later. "Look at this! You won't believe it!" he crowed, proudly displaying his feet. His "Size 8s" were shod with a pair of brand new PONY baseball cleats. Cleats we couldn't afford.
Nathan hid one hand behind his back. "And look at this!" he beamed, revealing a brand new MacGregor baseball glove. A glove we couldn't afford. Sure enough, stitched into the webbing of the still-stiff leather was the signature of Ken Griffey, Jr.
Noting my astonishment Nathan explained, "Coach Ken bought them for me! New cleats and a new glove!" What a change from last week--and from last year.
The previous season in California saw Nathan riding the bench in favor of more gifted athletes. That coach gave the lion's share of game time to his "good" players. Those team members with less than spectacular skills--Nathan among them--made a career out of collecting splinters. It was an excruciating season for Nathan. And me. I was surprised when he indicated an interest in playing Little League the next year in our new city.
Until God strode to the plate, Coach Ken in tow.
We reinforced Nathan at home, but it was Coach Ken who gave him extra time and attention on the field. Shored up his batting stance. Straightened his swing. Strengthened his throwing arm. Calmed his nerves after strike-outs. Put Nathan on the mound and coaxed him into pitching. Applauded every throw, every play, and every swing--hit or miss. Sought and cheered the most microscopic improvements.
"It's not about winning," Ken declared, "It's about having fun and learning to play the game."
And Nathan learned. Sometimes the hard way. "I'm never gonna play baseball again!" he wailed following the fourth loss in a five-game losing streak. The Mustangs were losing steam.
Nathan hadn't hit in 15 at-bats. He either fanned, got hit by the ball, or walked. "What does Coach Ken say?" I asked while Nathan complained about everything from "bad umpires" who "keep calling balls strikes" to taunting team mates.
"We need more practice," Nathan said. "Coach Ken says, `You can do it!' but I caaaaan't!"
At the next practice I expected Coach Ken to run more drills, try new techniques and review basic skills. He didn't. He spent most of that afternoon listening, affirming the kids and praising their efforts, no matter how feeble or listless. He emphasized having fun over winning. "That's O.K." Ken said after Nathan's third straight strike-out. "The more you practice, the better you get. You can do it! Here, let me show you..."
To my relief, the coach also landed on the taunting of less gifted athletes by stronger players like ugly on an ape, bringing the teasing to a screeching halt.
That settled, Coach Ken reviewed fundamentals. And he laughed. Not just Lilliputian little snickers, but big, bellowing belly-whoppers. Stirring in large doses of applause and "atta boys," Coach Ken served up a team atmosphere that was as bright and blue as Northwest skies are soggy. He made baseball a game.
"Now, if you're on second base and I bunt, what're you gonna do?" Ken asked Nathan on Saturday.
"Run like crazy for third!" Nathan rejoined. Coach Ken smiled. Nathan smiled back. Suddenly the season was no longer an exercise in "Chinese water torture." Under Coach Ken's patient tutelage and upbeat style, Nathan lit up like a Christmas tree. He learned to hustle, using his long, lean limbs to gobble big chunks of the diamond in great galloping strides. He learned to return to the plate and try again after striking out. How to encourage another kid who fanned or dropped a pop fly. To keep track of his equipment. Nathan also learned that anyone can win graciously, but the mark of a true champion is someone who can lose graciously, too.
The Mustangs didn't win the league crown that year. That's O.K. Nathan may never be the next Ken Griffey, Jr. That's O.K., too. God answered my prayer through a Little League coach, a virtual stranger who gave Nathan something more valuable than any trophy: a boost in confidence, a positive attitude, and a love for the Game--win or lose. Better yet, Coach Ken helped Nathan progress in the most important "league" of all: accepting himself. And I learned yet again that the Great Coach delights in guiding and giving in the smallest details, right down to baseball cleats and a glove.© Kristine Lowder
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"Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee."
The Lord God has continually brought me back to this verse, and it has made such an impact on my life’s journey with Him. By showing me this verse repeatedly, I have come to realize the pleasantness of placing my trust in Jesus. After all, He is our heavenly Father, who has a burning desire that we trust Him. Isaiah 23: 6 has taught me several important truths, and I feel compelled to share them with all other believers in Christ.
The phrase "Thou will keep him in perfect peace" first caught my eyes, and a somewhat joyous sensation began to overflow within me. I then dwelt on this for a while, thinking hard about it. The Lord showed me that He has the power to keep me. When I accepted him as my Lord and Savior, I became His. Nothing can pluck me from His powerful hand. He has the strength to keep me in perfect and incomprehensible peace. This peace comes clearly from trusting solely in Him. Philippians 4:7 mentions a peace from God that passes all understanding, saying, "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ". God can give us a peace that we do not understand—a Spirit-filled peace.
The second phrase that states, "…whose mind is stayed on thee:" opened my eyes to see a conditional truth. If we focus our minds on Him, only then we will experience the perfect peace He desires to give us, because we will trust Him. Therefore, sometimes it requires that we change our focus. Focusing is a powerful tool, and what we focus on often leads us to feel a certain way. Colossians 3:2 tells us, "Set your affection (mind) on things above, not on things of the earth". It is so easy to focus on many other things throughout the day. There are many troubles, especially with finances; large assignments, and deadlines that we could focus our minds on, but they sometimes lead us to worry. We must not set our minds on these difficulties though. If we pray continuously, rejoice, and have a thankful heart, our minds we will be kept by the power of God in trust (see 1 Thessalonians 5).
The last phrase, "…Because he trusteth in thee", is a powerful conclusion. Because we trust in Christ, we will receive the promise of peace. Every moment of the day, we place our trust in someone or something, such as the chairs we sit on at the breakfast table or our math teachers to instruct us correctly. Through the difficulties, fears, and even times of rest, in whom do you put your trust? I have learned that the answer should be Jesus Christ. Psalm 20:7 states, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord".
About two years ago, the Lord began leading me to public speak, opening up many doors for these experiences. Though I was always shy, I took those opportunities. As a result of my obedience, I have learned to trust Christ through my weaknesses. 1Thessalonians 5: 24 promises us, "Faithful is that calleth you, who also will do it". I now feel more able to speak publicly. If we trust Him, the Lord will give us the strength we need to do as He wills. Though I have been given a gift, I still need to trust Christ, but I must not let pride get in the way. Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride cometh before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall". Since all Christians have received a gift from God, do you trust in Him or yourself with your spiritual gift?
I cannot stress enough how important it is to trust in Jesus completely and not our own selves. Therefore, we should always ask this question: "Do I really trust in Christ". Throughout the New Testament, He explains that unbelief condemns a man; John 3:18 warns us, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God". In addition, throughout Isaiah 26:3, it speaks of "him" and "he". Are you that man that is mentioned in this verse? As the Lord leads me to do, I ask that all Christians should search their souls and ponder His truth. Trust in Him! It is inconceivable how Almighty God can do awesome things and bring perfect peace to those who trust in Him.
©2009 Andrew Vaccarella
Immanuel - God with "us"
Isaiah 7:14 (Amplified Bible) Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].
Matthew 18:20 (Amplified Bible) For wherever two or three are gathered (drawn together as My followers) in (into) My name, there I AM in the midst of them.
Recently, the Lord blessed me through a wonderful teaching on God's corporate blessing over His church. It served as a timely reminder that I do not attend the First Church of Bless Me, Myself and I. As I am part of His body, the choices I make in my daily life have a direct effect on those around me; either bringing God's blessings or causing God to hold back his blessings. Our western culture worships at the feet of the false god of 'individualism' which causes many Christians to stumble over biblical accounts of God's judgment against the whole camp although only a portion of that camp had sinned against Him. However, the same God also poured out his blessing, protection and mercy over the camp because of the repentant hearts of a portion of the camp. God saw his people as one entity and not a mass of unrelated individuals whose personal actions bore little consequence on those around them. As I listened, the Lord brought back to mind a significant experience that left me profoundly moved.
In 1982, I had the privilege of volunteering at a Teen Challenge Centre in rural Pennsylvania, along with 40 other team members. Over the course of a week I worked in their office and helped in the kitchen and other behind-the-scenes areas of the complex. During meal times, we were allowed to fellowship with the young men who were on the road to recovery from drug addictions and other consequences of poor life choices.
The female members of our team were restricted from certain areas. Usually, we were welcomed to join with our brothers in Christ for morning worship. One morning, however, the female members of our team were respectfully asked to stay away from the service, as the subject matter was one that the Teen Challenge staff felt was better addressed in an all male atmosphere. Although some of the younger members of our team struggled with feeling rejected, the rest of the team understood and went about our tasks for the day.
My morning tasks kept me close to the chapel that particular morning but the tasks required concentration and I was not aware of what was taking place in the room just down the hall. Although I did offer a quick word of prayer, asking for God's blessings on the meeting, I didn't give it much thought as I did my duties. I am not sure how long I was at my mundane task, in my quiet little corner office, when with suddenness of a lightning bolt illuminating a stormy night sky, I was instantaneously caught up as my spirit was carried away by what appeared to be hundreds of male voices raised in praise and worship.
The spirit was so powerful, I found it hard to move - no matter work - and so I sat, alone in my work station, as they sang in one voice.
God washed over me. The air was THICK with the electricity of his presence. I knew that if I had been in that chapel, I'd have been prostrate, face down, plastered against the floor. As it was, I knew I was a privileged witness to a very holy moment. I knew these men knew God as Immanuel. God with 'us'. God met with them, God me with me, as they corporately repented of sins. God met with them, God met with me, as they shamelessly poured out their devotion and thankfulness for his saving power. I am sure that angels joined in their chorus that day as there were many more voices being raised in praise than that room could have physically contained.
I have rarely experienced such a unity of spirit and a declaration of a corporate, one body worship as was displayed that day. As a result of their worship and obedience in repentance, I received a lasting blessing. We serve a mighty, merciful and ever present God - Immanuel - God with 'us'.
© 2009 Katherine Walden
As of May 2012, "WHATEVER IS PURE" ARCHIVES will no longer be seeking submissions. As most authors and poets now have their own blogs, we noticed a significant drop in submissions over the past year and felt it was best to move on to other endeavors.