Echoes From the Campfire

It’d never be worth a secondhand chaw of tobacco.”

                    –Elmer Kelton  (Dark Thicket)

       “How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame?  How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood?”
                    –Psalm 4:2 (NKJV)
“I want more,” comes the cry.  Someone in the crowd answered, “More what?”  “More of anything that makes me happy,” returned the first voice.  Isn’t that what many people want, more of anything that makes them happy, yet not realizing what it really is that will make them happy.  Solomon tried laughter and entertainment to satisfy his craving, but he came to the conclusion that it was “Madness,” and vanity.  He turned to liquor to satisfy and he said he would do it under control.  Ha, how many can continue to do that?  However, Solomon soon came to realize that it didn’t work either.
       He goes on to build great works so that he will be remembered.  He built edifices and wonderful gardens.  There are so many through history who have tried.  They built and gave away, thinking that it would satisfy their needs of grandeur and happiness.  But it failed.  They couldn’t be satisfied, and as the years passed the buildings crumbled and the weeds overtook the gardens.
       Had Solomon become too big for his britches?  

               “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.  I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor.  Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.  There was no profit under the sun.”
                              –Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NKJV)

His pleasure and happiness was not lasting.  His abuse of natural appetites and faculties came to naught; they are never intended to rule us; if they do it will throw the whole life into disorder as we see in the depression and gloom evidenced by Solomon.  The body and mind can handle only so much stimulation.  It may crave for more, but it cannot handle “more.”  The cycle is continually downward and man becomes bound by his want of pleasure, but the actual result is more and more gloom.
       Peter speaks of this type of individual and what will happen to them,

               “But these men, with no more sense than the unreasoning brute beasts which are born to be caught and killed, scoff at things outside their own experience, and will most certainly be destroyed in their own corruption.  Their wickedness has earned them an evil end and they will be paid in full.  These are the men who delight in daylight self-indulgence; they are foul spots and blots, playing their tricks at your very dinner-table.  Their eyes cannot look at a woman without lust, they captivate the unstable ones, and their techniques of getting what they want is, through long practice, highly developed.”
                              –2 Peter 2:12-15(Phillips)

Too many times, too late in life man realizes the folly of his life.  It was spent seeking the wrong things.  It was spent building with the wrong motives.   This person has missed out on so much of the things in life that really do matter.  This is the person who has laid up his treasures on earth, and when eternity beckons he has nothing to say or to show for his life.  The time he could have been building into the lives of people, his children for instance are gone.  The strength of his youth when he could have been working for the Kingdom of God has passed by.  He is like Lord Byron,
               “My days are in the yellow leaf;
                    The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
               The worm, the canker, and the grief
                              Are mine alone!”

       Wasted years–how foolish.  Man has his ideas of what will satisfy, what will bring him happiness.  Part of this work, this searching is the emptiness that is in the heart.  The emptiness that will only be found in Jesus Christ.  I recall the words of Augustine, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.”  The building, the seeking, the experimenting, the drunkenness, the fulfilling of lusts will not satisfy what God has put in our heart–a need for Him.  To spend our lives seeking happiness is like Kelton’s quotation above; it’s worthless as “secondhand chaw of tobacco.”


Echoes From the Campfire

Some people spend most of their lives out in the darkness of the world and need help moving to the daylight.”

                         –Cliff Hudgins  (Viejo and the Hunted Ranger)

       “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.”
                         –Isaiah 60:2 (NKJV)
Most of the words from Job’s three friends were tarnished, speaking either lies, or half-truths.  However, once in a while Elihu would speak the truth, but his motive was not necessarily to help Job but to build himself up.  But I want to look at one thing he says, then direct you to a great reading I came across.  Elihu speaks to Job, “But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night.'” (Job 35:10, NKJV)

          “There are times in which the heart has to fill the place of the eye.  We see nothing; the sky is dark; yet we are not dismayed.  There is no ray of light upon our path that we can discern, no opening in the cloud, no rent in the gloom.  Yet somehow the heart sings–sings in the shadow, sings in the silence.  And at these times we are to take the song as the substitute for the sun.  We are to impute to the heart’s singing all that is wanting to the eye’s vision.  The song is itself to be our revelation.  ‘If it were not so I would have told you,’ says the Lord–would not have suffered you to sing.  The heart’s joy demands a contradiction if it be not true.  If my soul says ‘Yea’ and God does not say ‘Nay,’ the ‘Yea’ is to prevail.  If hope cries, and He answers not, hope’s cry is to be itself the answer, for He has sent me a wing instead of a star; He has given me a song in the night.
          “My soul, be not so anxious about the reason of thy peace!  It is not written that there is a peace which passeth understanding.  What is that but a song in the night!  It is one of the songs without words.  It gives no explanation of its music.  Clouds and darkness may be round about thee, and yet thou mayest be able to sing.  Do not distress thyself to find a cause for thy joy!  Hast thou not read of a bush that was all in flame and yet was not consumed!  The facts were all against its permanence; it was unreasonable that it should live.  But it did live; and why?  Because there was a voice speaking within it, singing within it–against facts, spite of reason, in defiance of circumstances.  It was a song without words, a comfort without cause, a strength without the legions of angels.  So, ofttimes, shall it be with thee.  There shall be moments in which Thy Gethsemane shall reveal no flower, in which the cup shall not pass, in which the legions of angels shall not come; and yet, strange to say, thou shalt be strong.  Thou shalt fly without pinions; thou shalt walk without feet; thou shalt breathe without air; thou shalt praise without words; thou shalt laugh without sunshine; thou shalt bless without knowing why–for the song of thy heart shall itself be thy light, and thy joy shall be only from God.”
                          –George Matheson  (Leaves for Quiet Hours)

       There is a night coming when no man can work.  That speaks of the judgment, but there is a night that you and I might face during our lives.  St. John of the Cross calls it the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  When that night comes, how do we survive the night?  How do we conquer the fear that comes our way because of the night?  That is when we draw upon hope.  We sing in our dark prison caused by the night like Paul and Silas did in the darkness of their prison.  Hum a tune, sing a song of praise to God, but know that He is with us whether we “feel” Him or not.  The darkness does not comprehend His presence, but in our soul, in our heart of hearts we sing the song of hope.
       Objects look different in the darkness.  The trees take strange shapes in our mind as if the branches are reaching out to grab us.  If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings, that scene where the evil horsemen are searching for the ring is frightening for it takes place in the darkness.  Evil loves the darkness, evil lurks in the darkness waiting, just waiting, and yet we must walk in the night at times.  It reminds me of a midnight walk Annie and I took many years ago in the Big Thicket area of Texas along with several other young married couples.  We were walking when a voice behind us hollered, “Stop!”  He brought forward a light, and shone it upon the ground in front of us.  If Annie had taken another step she would have placed her foot on a copperhead.  Two things happened there in the darkness:  a voice sounded, and light was cast upon the evil waiting to strike.
       As we go through life, there will be times of darkness–natural as well as spiritual.  In both of these we have to beware of our surroundings, but we also need to be listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and then allow His light to shine.  Ah, but I hear you, what happens if He does not shine the light?  Then have faith and depend upon hope and begin to sing in the darkness for He surely will hear you and see you through.


The Saga of Miles Forrest

We were sitting on a bench in the shade of an adobe building that was being used for a general store.  I chose this spot so I could keep an eye on the corner in case the thugs decided to come looking for me.  “Tell me what you know,” I urged Elfego.
       “Not much, senor.  Marshal Udall does very little that I can see,” he began.  “Those two men and others put pressure on the merchants to pay them.  They force them to buy, how you say, an insurance policy.”
       I’d seen this scam before.  Pay me to protect you and if you don’t I’ll bust your head.  I knew it was common practice among some of the gangs back in the big eastern cities.  Rackets, people preying on the less fortunate or the weaker.  “Who is runnin’ this racket?”
       “I do not know.  I’m not sure even how many men there are.  I’ve seen those two,” he said pointing from the way we came.
       “There were three of them,” I interrupted.  “One was across the street.”
       “There are others though, I know it,” he spoke excitedly.
       Putting my hand on his shoulder, I said, “You best run along.  I’ll go see if anyone will talk to me about what is happenin’ to them.”
       He shrugged my hand off his shoulder.  “I go with you!” he protested.  “They will not speak to a gringo.”
       I nodded, he might have something there.  It takes time to gain people’s trust, and I had just ridden into town.  “Let’s start here,” I urged as I stood then started for the door of the general store.
       It was dark inside, with the only light coming from the windows on the side and in the front.  There was one lamp lit over by the checkout counter.  An elderly gentleman was wiping off the glass cases with a cloth when we entered.  He was grayish, wearing a white shirt with suspenders holding up a pair of dark blue trousers.
       He stopped his wiping and straightened up as I approached him.  “Mornin’, Sir.  I’m Deputy U.S. Marshal Miles Forrest and thought you might be able to help me out.”
       I could tell he was surprised when I said he could help out a marshal.  Then he saw Elfego and gave him a smile.  “What can I help you with, Marshal?” he asked, emphasizing the “I”. 
       “On behalf of the territorial government, I’ve been asked to come check out some disturbances in Socorro.  When I arrived it came to my attention that the merchants here are bein’ strong-armed into buyin’ protection.”  His smile left him when I informed him, and he took a step back.  A look of panic crossed his face and I could see he was glancing out the window.
       “Uh, well, Marshal, that’s not true.  I don’t know what the boy told you.  You know how young lads like to imagine things,” he said with a false laugh.
       “Did I say anything about Elfego?” I questioned, stepping toward the man.  “You willingly give into thugs?”
       “It’s, it’s not like that,” he stammered.  “We, I, pay for certain services…”
       Elfego tugged on my vest, and I nodded my head that I knew.  “Mr. Green, is this man bothering you?” came the voice of the deputy.
       I turned so that I could watch the deputy and by turning my head could see the proprietor.  “No, Deputy Case.  We were just having a discussion.”
       The deputy put his hand on his gun butt.  “Mister, you best come along with me,” he commanded.
       “It’s Deputy United States Marshal Miles Forrest, in case you forgot,” I quickly reminded him, then added.  “I don’t think I’ll be goin’ anywhere with you.  I have business to attend to.”
       He snarled, then started toward his gun.  I brought the Greener down on his wrist, hearing the bone snap, then felt a tug of someone grabbing my pistol from the holster.  A shot was fired from the doorway, hitting the merchant.  He groaned as he fell.  I leveled, the Greener in that direction when I heard the sound of my gun firing.  The man fell against the frame of the door as Elfelgo fired my gun.  I pushed the deputy aside as he was moaning holding his broken arm.  Another man appeared in the doorway and began to fire.  Elfego fired again.
       I didn’t want to cut loose with the Greener as I wanted one of these men for a witness.  I could see the third man running across the street to join them.  It was against my better judgment, but I also wanted to stay alive, so…


Echoes From the Campfire

Wait! Don’t give up! Nothin’ is ever so bad as it seems at first! Be true to what your heart says is right! It’s never too late! Love is the only good in life!”

                         –Zane Grey  (The Mysterious Rider)

       “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
                         –2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NKJV)
Israel was called into special status with the Lord.  They were the covenant nation, the nation that was to be a light unto the world.  Israel was to set the example for the rest of the world in how to serve God.  They utterly failed.  Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy-times seven.”  From this we should recognize the frailty of man.  How many times have you asked God to forgive you?
       A new Monday, a new week, and we’re back to Psalm 78.  God shows us the ups and downs of Israel.  They said they wanted to worship Him, but then it was on their terms.  They said they would serve Him, but they were hirelings, not loyal to the task.  

               34 — When He slew them, then they sought Him; and they returned and sought earnestly for God.
               35 — Then they remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer.
               36 — Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth, and they lied to Him with their tongue;
               37 — For their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant.
               38 — But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them.  Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath;
               39 — For He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again.”  (NKJV)

This in one way is a sad portion of Scripture.  Look at some of the words, “sought earnestly.”  That indicates dedication and willfulness of purpose.  “Remembered that God was their rock,” in times of trouble, when enemies approached they rushed to the Lord; He was their rock.  He was their Redeemer.  Then there is that terrible word, “Nevertheless.”  In spite of what they said, in spite of what they knew, in spite of the many times He delivered them–they still tried to get their own selfish way.
       I think it interesting, and maybe we all do it, but they tried to use the same techniques on God that they used on their fellow man.  They tried to flatter Him.  The praises they gave Him were gilded, sugar-coated.  Didn’t they understand that God looks on the heart?  Didn’t they realize that God is omniscient; He knows all the thoughts of mankind?  The verses 38 and 39 show us the heart of God.  Instead of destroying them in His wrath He showed His compassion and forgave them.  
       “Many a time He turned His anger away.”  Over and over again we promise the Lord something and we sincerely mean it, but then we back away, think nothing of our words and go back into sin.  How many times have we promised never to do something again, and within days, maybe hours, maybe even only minutes from the vow we do it again.  Are we in anguish, or are we trying to play a game in which the Lord will not participate?  Remember, if you break the vow, it does not negate it.  The vow is still valid, ask for forgiveness and He will forgive and not destroy.
       That last verse is one that we should take to heart.  The Lord knows our weaknesses.  He knows that we are but flesh.  Our life is short, and once gone it will not pass this way again.  However, in God’s forgiveness He still expects something from us.  Let me close with the following from George O. Wood, “Have you contrasted your own wayward-ness with God’s mercy?  How many times have you put the Lord to the test and rebelled against Him in your own wilderness, grieving Him in your wasteland?  It’s easy to forget the Lord’s deliverance; therefore, we must engage in the discipline of remembering.”  Yes, this Psalm was about the nation of Israel, but it would be good for each one of us to personalize it, and remember the Lord.

               “Nought can I bring Thee, Lord, for all I owe;
               Yet let my full heart give what it can bestow;
               Myself my gift; let my devotion prove,
               Forgiven greatly, how I greatly love.”
                      –Samuel John Stone