(Friends, during our time away, a number of thoughts and experiences occurred that crystalized into messages that I'll send along this week. Thanks, Glen)
"Bears and BearGuy"
We never saw a bear during our hike in Virginia. But we saw their tracks. And we heard the refrain of BearGuy, who communicated to us the latest version of "Bears here, bears there, bears everywhere! Watch out!"
You'll always run into BearGuy on the trail (or sometimes BearGal), the self-appointed sentry who warns about possible encounters with these members of the Ursidae species who are actually quite shy regarding humans in most cases. On this hike, we encountered BearGuy on the next to last day of our journey. He told us about five bears seen in a nearby town as they attempted to break into a food scrap-laden dumpster. I'm not sure how this applied to the woods in which we walked, where we never once came upon a dumpster, much less one filled with food. BearGuy nevertheless adopted the familiar rueful grin as he rode away on his bicycle and called back, "Better watch out!"
We did, and again, saw bear tracks, but no bears themselves. BearGuy's red flag did make us (or at least me) more cognizant of the possibility that a fearsome but tragically unfortunate bear would accost us on the trail, only to be torn apart from limb to limb by Frances. This would have gotten us into big trouble with the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, and would have created a huge mess to clean up (we try to follow the hiker's axiom of "Leave no trace". Try to accomplish that with the remains of a mutilated bear!). It would have been sad also. We don't want to hurt anybody or anything on our hikes, but if a bear messes with Frances, well, he'll get what he asks for!
Seriously, we know that bears roam the woods of just about every part of the North American continent. They can cause problems, and from 2001-2016, 29 people have died in bear attacks (more than half of those in Canada and Alaska). They are notorious food thieves in areas where people fail to properly secure their supplies, and encounters with bears are certainly something we all want to avoid. However, they are not a major problem for hikers such as ourselves, and the only time we feel overmuch concern tends to be in those times when BearGuy or BearGal warn us that we're being tracked by ferocious beasts.
I share this because we live in times wherein voices constantly shout, whisper, and beckon to us to be afraid. Apart from a living faith in the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, I don't see how a heart of fear can be avoided in times such as these. Of course, this has always been the case, but the world's capacity for 24/7 communication of warnings, threats, and dire portents means that we are now constantly in range of BearGuy and BearGal, as it were. Thus, we must constantly keep ourselves in range of the One who knows every danger His trusting children in Christ will face before the threat even exists. "His understanding is infinite" (Psalm 147:5). Only thereby can our hearts be kept in peace, even as we acknowledge the reality of challenges to be faced during our earthly sojourn. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).
A frequently read Bible, a prayerful, expectant heart (expectant of God's presence and involvement in all things), and much mutual encouragement and challenge offered and received by fellow believers leads to a "stayed" mind, and thus, a heart of peace. Let BearGuy and BearGal communicate their warnings as they will. We will respond as God wills, that is, with confidence rather than consternation, faith rather than fear, and the joyful anticipation that if our path leads to trouble, Someone will be waiting there with the triumph of the risen Christ who overcame all, and leads us in His victory.
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
Weekly Memory Verse
Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
(II Thessalonians 2:16-17)