It was very early in the morning as the sun was beginning to creep up over the San Diego skyline that spring of 1983. It was the culmination of many months of planning and dreaming. It was, at last, here!
As the car drew up to the curb outside Lindberg Field I looked at Diane in the passenger’s seat. The look on her face was certainly not reflecting the excitement that was rising up within me. Not generally being an early riser she had gotten up very early on this particular morning to pick me up and send me off on my journey. We hadn’t talked too much on the way to the airport. I suppose it was a mix of my racing mind and her apprehension. After all, there was a wedding in the near future and here she was, sending her fiancé off to the wilds of the Canadian wilderness … to hunt a Grizzly bear!
Over the years she has put up with a great deal as the wife of an outdoorsman, but this was probably the most difficult. She later told me she had visions of a huge grizzly bear making a ruin out of our wedding. But, being the trooper that she is, she decided early on that if she was going to marry me she might as well get used to it. Over the years she has sloshed through the marshes to sit in a cold duck blind, frozen her toes in a goose pit, sweltered in the hot desert sun on dove hunts, helped train hunting dogs and fought the underbrush and bugs on deer hunts. She has become an excellent shot with a handgun, rifle and shotgun. But at that moment in time she wasn’t sure about any of it. And so it was with mixed feelings that she wished me well and smiled as I bounded for the baggage counter with saddlebags and duffel bags flying.
As the plane began its descent into southern British Columbiathe afternoon sun was like a floodlight on the snow covered Canadian Rockies. It was as if my dreams had suddenly all come to life. In a matter of hours I would be on my way up into those beautiful mountains, into a wilderness area of 600 square miles in which there would only be me, my guide and …well let’s just say it had an indigenous population waiting to greet me. Oh, how I would soon find that out!
After all of the hustle and bustle of the journey the late afternoon hike into the trapper’s cabin was a peaceful but cumbersome journey. I had not been on snowshoes since I was a small boy and then I was not carrying the load I had on my back. At this altitude my heart and lungs were certainly getting a workout. As we arrived at the cabin the snow started to fall in huge silver dollar flakes that came straight down in the still afternoon air. Yes, it was all becoming a reality, the months of planning, wondering and dreaming. No matter how cold it got tonight my body was ready for the sleeping bag and dreams of tomorrow.
We had been snowshoeing for the better part of 3 hours in the predawn light and the sun was just beginning to show itself high up on the mountain ridges. It had been 4 days since my arrival and we had seen a large number of tracks – huge tracks – but no bears. Even as I was becoming acclimated to life at 8,000 to 10,000 feet I was beginning to ponder the fact that we only had 10 days to accomplish our task and there were only six to go.
Just at that moment as I was shuffling through the snow on autopilot following the tracks of my guide, he froze in his tracks and I almost knocked him over. As he knelt down he looked me in the eye and then I followed his gaze as he slowly turned his head toward the trees. There he was … all 600 pounds of him!
He was about 20 yards from the trees as I watched him slowly plow through snow toward the tallest pine trees I had ever seen. He disappeared into the darkness and I heard the French tinted words that my mind had been anticipating … “we go” … and my body said … NO! It took every ounce of strength to take that first step. It had all seemed so perfect in the planning but in the here and now it was … well let’s just say I was feverishly asking myself some very pointed questions.
What are you doing here? Are you mad? Do you really think your taking this body into that dark timber? Did you really pay good money to do this? Do you think Diane knew something you didn’t? Are you really going to have a great story to tell your grandkids or will it be a two-line obituary? You really didn’t think about this part sitting in your office reading all those books … did you?
All of a sudden my mind switched from pondering the future to focusing my eyes on the present as we entered the timber. At least the trail was easy to follow; those tracks were large and very deep. All those years around jet engines had taken its toll on my hearing but at that moment not a sound escaped my ears. I don’t know which was louder, the crunch of the compacting snow underfoot or my heart, which had moved right up next to the top of my throat. There was not a single sound of bird or animal within miles. I guess they all had the good sense to beat feet while these two-legged idiots played with fire.
After about an hour the trail began to fall off toward a fast rushing stream. The guide paused and noted that the trail was headed to a crossing and that the bear was no doubt striking out for the other side. I don’t know if I was disappointed or relieved at that moment but what happened next caught me by total surprise. The guide turned back on our tracks and told me to continue on down the trail toward the stream and he would cut across and see if he could see where the bear was going to make his crossing. He would meet me at the crossing in an hour or so. It would save time and be an easier trail for me to follow if I just followed the grizzlies tracks on down. It all made sense until his fanny disappeared into the trees … but what if he hadn’t crossed the stream?
It was the better part of a lifetime before my body took its first step down that trail. Well, this is what I had come for but somehow being here alone wasn’t part of the plan. It had all happened so fast … he must know what he’s doing … right? By this time my courage was returning and I was making decent time through the snow. The sun was now pretty high in the sky and light was filtering through the trees. As the visibility in the timber increased so did my confidence. After about 20 minutes I decided to take a break. I spotted the largest pine tree I think I have ever seen … it was so big around I thought it was a redwood. I leaned against the tree and took my pack off. As I leaned my rifle against the tree my heart stopped!
From the other side of the tree I could hear large claws tearing into the bark. It was deliberate and intense …there was a definite purpose. I reached down and picked up my rifle and looked back the way I had come. There wasn’t another tree within jumping distance … just snow and the trail the bear had made coming down the slope. For the first time I realized that the trail went right on around that tree.
I took heart in the fact that the sound was consistent and whatever was being worked on the other side of that tree was occupying its participant. This was not how I had intended completing my prized Canadian trip. Somehow thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies was taking on a whole new meaning. I had to do something and I couldn’t just stand there forever. A picture of Elmer Fudd going around one side of the tree and the bear going around the other side flashed through my mind as I slowly eased around the tree.
The sound was growing louder so I knew that he wasn’t moving. Slowly I crept forward with a grip on my rifle so tight the stock should have shattered. After at least two eternities I could see movement in front of me. A few more cautious steps and as I looked intently ahead I saw the silver tip hairs on his hump that give the Grizzly bear his name … Ole Silver Tip. It was now or never!
When we look intently we are generally quite focused on someone or something. Webster tells us that To Look is to ascertain by the use of one’s eyes or to exercise the power of vision upon something … to direct one’s attention. We do that every day and make judgments upon what we see. We use our eyes to focus on someone’s appearance or actions and our mind sifts through the images and comes up with a set of facts that matches the vision. From that action we next sort through our database and associate a dataset to that vision. There we have it … in the blink of an eye we have determined who and what that person is without even a second thought. The older we become the larger our database and therefore the greater the nuance or distinction by which we come to our conclusion. Maturity brings with it a certain increased accuracy in our perceptions.
An appearance … isn’t that just what Jesus spent a great part of His ministry talking about? How many times did the disciples make an error in judgment regarding a person or situation as a result of appearances? John records for us a time in which Jesus was being judged by appearances.
John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
The word appearance as used here is opsis in the Greek and it refers to an outward show or action. Jesus was being judged by an outward action, which the Jews observed with their eyes. He had made a man whole on the Sabbath Day and they were judging Him according to their “database;” the law. It appeared that Jesus had broken the law to all outward appearances. But the issue was not the outside but the inside.
The Lord addressed this same issue in the anointing of David by Samuel. Samuel asked Jessie to bring forth his sons so that the Lord could anoint the next King of Israel. Who should be the first but the eldest and most handsome, Eliab. Samuel took one look at Eliab and said surely the LORD’s anointed is before him (1Sam 16:6). It was at that point that Samuel could have taken the situation in hand and anointed the wrong man. If he had done that where would we have been? Remember, this is the same Eliab that was hiding from Goliath with the rest ofIsrael’s army when David showed up.
But Samuel didn’t trust his eyes completely. He trusted that still small voice inside that spoke to his spirit:
1Sam 16:7 Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart).
In the Hebrew the word appearance (ayin) doesn’t refer to an action but to one’s countenance or presence. The Lord expounds on this through the words Look Not and Looketh On. Look Not (nabat) means to look intently and regard with pleasure. Looketh On (raah) means to approve. So let’s take this all together.
When Samuel looked at the appearance of Eliab he made an initial judgment that this must be the next King simply by the way he looked. But the Lord said wait a minute Samuel, don’t look at him with pleasure (approve him) because of the way he looks. Man approves someone by his appearance or countenance but God approves a man by his heart. Isn’t that what we do all the time?
I have had a major struggle in my life with judging others by their outward appearance or action. It has taken the Lord a very long time to get me to begin to observe not only with my eyes but also with my spirit. God has His eye set on eternity and I frequently only focus on the present or the temporal. Look at what happened when Samuel was obedient to the spirit and David was brought in from the field:
1Sam 16:12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
If Samuel had gone with his natural eyes he would never have seen David. Had he judged the situation based upon his natural senses the history ofIsraelwould have been altered, or more likely, God would have had to come in and straighten things out. As it was, his attention to The Spirit accomplished God’s purpose.
There is another side to this concept of appearances that relates to each one of us in a personal way. Peter, being bold as usual, hit the nail right on the head:
1Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
The enemy is looking for any opening that we give him that will let him “devour” us. Being sober and vigilant means to be on our guard and watch for his approach. Now we all identify with the onslaught of the enemy when he comes at us with both barrels blazing, but in keeping with our discussion we must also consider his other side.
Matt 24:4-5 Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone fool you. 5. For many will come claiming to be the Messiah and will lead many astray.
We must not allow our spiritual eyes and ears to become stopped up. The enemy will use every opportunity to trip us up. Just as judging someone based upon appearances is wrong, so it is wrong not to judge someone by the spirit. God gave us the ability to use both our natural and spiritual senses in order to make the correct judgments about people. Yes, we are not to judge people by their looks or actions but at the same time we should not ignore them. Compare what you see in the natural with what the Lord shows you by His Spirit. Sometimes He confirms our natural impression and sometimes He alters it.
In the end, everything will be revealed for what it is. Everyone will ultimately have his covering removed. Look at what Isaiah the prophet had to say about the devil when his covering is finally removed:
Isa 14:15-19 Everyone there will stare at you and ask, “Can this be the one who shook the earth and the kingdoms of the world? 17. Can this be the one who destroyed the world and made it into a shambles, who demolished its greatest cities and had no mercy on his prisoners?” 18.The kings of the nations lie in stately glory in their graves, 19. but your body is thrown out like a broken branch; it lies in an open grave, covered with the dead bodies of those slain in battle. It lies as a carcass in the road, trampled and mangled by horses’ hoofs. TLB
What we have perceived about this monster and have been giving him credit for will be blown away and we will see, not the lion but the defeated enemy who used his only weapon so effectively; deception. If we judge others only with our natural senses we will frequently be deceived.
Matt 13:14-16 “This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘They hear, but don’t understand; they look, but don’t see! 15. For their hearts are fat and heavy, and their ears are dull, and they have closed their eyes in sleep, 16. so they won’t see and hear and understand and turn to God again, and let me heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.
God wants to reveal the lie with the truth for us each and every day. We only need to start listening with our spirit to filter what we see and hear in the natural. If we do, we will find that our rushing to judgment will become less of an obstacle as we take time to listen. It will save us a great deal of pain and embarrassment on both sides of the coin. There are certainly many times in my life when I established a relationship that ultimately hurt me or failed to make one that would have blessed me. Paul commented on this in his second letter to the Corinthians:
2Cor 4:18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
God sees everything for what it is while we often see things for what we want them to be.
Oh how well I know!
Slowly I raised my rifle and eased the safety off. I would have to make a very quick move out away from the tree yet far enough ahead to have a clear view. My heart was pounding in my head like Big Ben striking 12 o’clock. My feet felt like they were cast in concrete. I took one more peek around the edge and could still see the silver tips just a few feet away. I had to pull this off all at once because there would be no second chance. I took a deep breath … steadied myself and jumped!
As my feet hit the snow some 6 feet in front of the tree I raised my rifle and my heart stopped. The wind came gushing out of my lungs and all I could do was stare. My eyes were locked and steady but my mind could not process what they were seeing. There in front of me, not six feet from the end of my nose was …
The biggest porcupine I have ever seen in my entire life … appearances!