Heights don’t usually affect me. But a week ago Sunday on the way home from Arizona, we got caught in an I-10 closure. We decided to swap the 5-hour crawl for a 2-hour adventure. We turned our dusty CRV around and headed back to Palm Springs. There we found a bougainvillea-lined alternate route (Hwy. 74) leading from flat sandy desert to towering mountain peaks. Why not? We had 4-wheel drive.

A different plunging view

The serpentine climb steepened quickly. I smiled—until we rounded a shoulder-less hairpin turn and I glanced down. Just beyond the dented silver guardrail, a dizzying plunge of speckled red rock set my heart racing.

I quickly looked away. Although I wasn’t driving, I kept my eyes on the road through the rest of the tight switchbacks, many of which lacked guardrails. Finally, the road broadened enough to allow for rocky shoulders and it felt safe enough to look around.

The route was stunning. Crimson blossoms topped bronzed foliage; tiny lemon-yellow flowers danced on gray-green stems; and withered cactus flowers waved atop tall spires. These suddenly gave way to pine trees with prickly needles looking like green pins protruding from brown pincushions. Once over the range, the road wound down among broadleaved trees and sprawling cattle ranches. At dusk we entered the lush horse and wine valley of Temecula. An hour later we pulled into our driveway, watched the aging garage door creak open, parked, and stepped out of the car onto stiff, aching legs. We were home in time for dinner.

Life can sometimes take us on an adrenaline-rushing detour with harrowing heights where we must keep our eyes focused, not on the path, but on the One who knows the path and leads the way.

I remember one such side trip when my husband Clay was diagnosed as having an aggressive form of cancer.

Foolishly, I Googled the hospital’s diagnosis and read it had 100% fatality within two years. That was a hairpin turn with a harrowing drop. I closed my browser. Clay had to back out of a teaching contract that conflicted with surgery, and finances became another potential plummet. In fact, we maneuvered through one tricky turn after another.

I had to fix my eyes on Jesus and deal with each day’s challenges as they came, forgetting about the earthly future and keeping in mind eternal hope.

Clay will write on his ordeal one day, so all I’ll say now is that the first diagnosis was mistaken: the cancer was slow growing and treatable. He’s been cancer-free now for eight years.

As on the road trip, once we were over the highest mountaintop, the scenery changed quickly and often. Another employer offered Clay work he could do from home as he recuperated. It took time to recover financially, but we managed. The cancer gave his writing and teaching on why God allows evil greater authority—the fertile valley unseen from the backside of the initial peaks.

We haven’t reached our ultimate destination yet—that won’t happen in this lifetime. But we will be there in time for dinner.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:2

Barren desertIn 586 BC, the walls protecting Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar torched the temple of God and deported the remaining inhabitants to Babylon. The people of Israel lost their land, their temple, and their kingdom.

And they cried out, Why?

When we examine the lives of the people forced to endure the fall of Jerusalem and exile, sometimes through no fault of their own, we glean from them how God wants us to act in our personal times of exile—times when we, like the people of Israel, are pushed out of home, marriage, family, friendships, job, or ministry; times when must leave the familiar and embrace the strange; times when we suffer a loss of identity and purpose. When we look carefully, we begin to understand why, in the big picture, God allows times of despair and loss in our lives. We see the hope of restoration that God offered Israel, and offers us today. For in the midst of great calamity, God was able to tell His people:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future—Jeremiah 29:11


The prophets forewarned that the bloodshed and oppression abounding in the kingdom would lead to its fall. While the overwhelming majority of the kingdom had abandoned God and His ways, there were some who remained faithful, but were nonetheless affected by the consequences of others’ actions.

From dire times heroes can emerge, and the exile had its share. These courageous champions passed through great difficulties, but God used each mightily as they faithfully served Him in their time of trouble.

Daniel was pulled from his home as a youth and compelled to live with strangers. Later, co-workers jealous of his professional successes tried to bring him down, but his righteousness and faith in spite of hardship brought renown to both himself and God.

Ebed-melech risked everything to stand up to authorities and rescue the persecuted (Jeremiah 38-39).

Ezekiel was on the verge of entering the profession he had spent 30 years preparing for when he was forced to move to a new country where that profession was useless. There his beloved wife died. God used him greatly to instruct and comfort others.

Habakkuk cried out to know why God allowed injustice. At first he argued passionately against God’s methods, but came to trust God’s bigger plan to stop wickedness. He encouraged others through song.

Jeremiah suffered for warning others against disobeying God. His beliefs made him so unpopular even his family and friends deserted him. Later, he survived his city’s devastation and comforted others with poetry and a promise of hope.

Josiah reversed many of the wrongs his family had done. He helped many through his zealous reforms and forestalled coming disaster (2 Kings 21-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were friends who obeyed God even when it looked like it might cost them their lives (Daniel 3).

These heroes of faith continue to inspire and encourage through the years when we face our exiles. They remind us that we are not alone in our trials, and they show us how to live courageous faith today.

Paul described himself as a servant of Christ Jesus, and the Philippians as saints (Phil 1:1). How we choose to think about ourselves affects our peace and joy. Describing ourselves in ways that give us no hope for change—“I’m such a loser”—causes discouragement and robs us of joy. On the other hand, describing ourselves as better than we actually are—“I’m the best employee here”—conflicts with reality and those conflicts disrupt peace.

Bird on multi-colored rose

“Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26

Seeing ourselves the way God sees us gives us hope because we are assured of His acceptance and continued work.

If we forget our calling and put our identity in earthly things—appearance, positions, possessions, proficiencies—we’ll miss our purpose and be subject to fickle circumstances that can snatch those things away. Seeing ourselves as God does—servants of Christ and dearly loved children whom God is bringing to maturity—brings hope, joy, and peace.

What are some of the ways you describe yourself? How does telling yourself these things make you feel? How does it affect your actions?

If you’re telling yourself joy-robbing, peace-disrupting, hope-destroying statements, consider trying two things for a week. First, every time you are about to describe yourself in one of these ways, stop and tell yourself this: “I am a servant of Jesus Christ and a dearly loved child of God; He is completing a good work in me” (1Co. 4:1, Col. 3:12, Phil. 1:6). Repeat this often to yourself, letting the words soak in.

Second, begin memorizing the verses this statement is based upon, beginning with this one:

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 1:6

Tell yourself the truth! You’ll feel better.

Adapted from Philippians: Steps to Joy & Peace (forthcoming).

Paul said, “Work out your salvation with fear and  trembling,” a statement which causes some Christians to fear and tremble. So let’s take a look at it.

Father tutors son

Aerospace engineer Matt teaches son Michael calculus

Doing works does not save us, but true salvation shows itself in works (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul is writing to believers about the outworking of their salvation in their everyday lives, an outworking that will cause them to shine like stars before those who do not yet believe. This labor should be with fear and trembling; that is, reverence and awe that recognizes subservience to Almighty God, that trembles before his power to destroy in hell, and that dares not turn grace into a license for sin.“Do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil,” Peter tells us, but rather, “fear God” (1Pe. 2:16-17).

Dallas Willard likens God to nuclear power: nuclear power isn’t mean, but should be respected because it’s dangerous. C. S. Lewis explains this respect to children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Mr. Beaver describes Aslan, the great Lion who is King of Beasts and Son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea: “‘Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’” [1] To fear God is to respect his power and authority, and to therefore obey him. Yet we also have confidence before him because we know “His mercy extends to those who fear him” (Luke 1:50) and he “accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:35).

Paul says the reason we should work out our salvation is that God works in us “to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Rather than forcing us to obey, God works to give us both the desire and the ability to do what is right. God wants neither robots nor puppets. He wants creatures who freely choose to love and do right.

So how does our working out mesh with God’s working in?

Imagine the son of a mathematician deciding to learn calculus. He cannot learn it on his own: he doesn’t have the skills or knowledge within himself to do it. He turns to his father for help. The father explains the concepts, gives him problems to work, checks the boy’s progress, and arranges lessons to address weaknesses. Finally, the thing is done and the boy has learned calculus. He passes a college level equivalency exam. As a reward, he has college credit, his father’s commendation for doing well, and greater opportunities opened to him.

Can the boy say, “I did it all myself”? Of course not: without his father, he could do nothing. Should the boy say, “It was all my father—I did nothing”? That wouldn’t be true, for a lazy child would have learned nothing and would have received neither reward nor commendation.

So it is with us. Jesus said apart from him we can do nothing, but in him we will bear fruit (Jn. 15:5). We haven’t the skills or knowledge within ourselves to do it on our own. But if we remain in Jesus, our heavenly Father will teach us truth, give us problems to work, check our progress, and address our weaknesses. When fruit begins to grow, we cannot say, “I did it all myself,” for apart from him we can do nothing (1 Cor. 4:7). Yet we do have a part: “Continue to work out your salvation,” Paul says. We must attend to the lessons, work through the problems obediently, and take correction. One day, God will test the quality of our work and reward us accordingly.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ~Philippians 2:12-13

Adapted from Philippians: Steps to Joy and Peace (forthcoming)

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  1. [1]C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Collier, 1970), 76.