Chapter OneCling to
They called it "The Accelerator."
For good reason.
Launching into the night sky, screams piercing the air in
its wake, the great mechanical contrivance sent a surge of
fear through my whole body. Just standing near it made my
heart pound. And within mere moments, I would make its
This wasn't the first time I've been stretched in such a
way. In my attempts to relate to my teenage son, I have on
several occasions ventured beyond the boundaries of sense
One such excursion occurred the summer before Clayton's
sophomore year of high school. On a balmy August evening,
our little family ambled through Celebration City, a theme
park in Branson, Missouri. I held Phil's hand, giggled at a
clown having some fun with six-year-old Connor, and
sipped on my ice-cold Coke.
The night was dreamy. We were finally taking a badly
needed family vacation, and my neck and shoulders felt
more relaxed than they had in months. (But not for long, as
it turned out). The fragrance of kettle corn and cotton
candy mingled with music from the seventies and eighties,
blaring from speakers throughout the park.
I found myself reminiscing to the sounds of "Dream
Weaver" and singing along to "Saturday in the Park" when
my perfect, relaxed mood was interrupted by Clayton's grip
on my arm.
"Mom, go with me on that ride!"
"Which ride?" I asked.
Phil's slow, painful moan should have clued me in that I
would not like the answer I was about to hear. My guys had
stopped and were staring in awe at some midway monstrosity.
Suddenly, it blasted off directly in front of us, the ground
vibrating beneath our feet. I could hear the ride's quick
ascent and felt the gust of wind in its wake.
And then came the screams.
I know my sounds, and I knew those riders weren't faking
it. They were genuinely terrified.
"No way!" I said.
"Aw, c'mon, Mom," Clayton pleaded. "It's safe."
By this time, Phil was laughing. Little Connor emitted a
series of gasps and sighs as he watched the ride rocket
abruptly heavenward, only to hurtle back toward terra firma.
Okay, now I was in a real dilemma. My teenage son
rarely requested my company (especially in public places)-in
fact, I had the impression he didn't think hanging out
with Mom was cool. And now . he wanted me to go with
him. Not his dad . me. I felt a momentary elation that he at
least thought I was cool enough to join him on a ride
reserved only for the brave hearted.
The ride launched again, thundering off into what
seemed to be the stratosphere. How high did that thing go?
And what was a mom to do?
I knew that the more I thought about it, the more paralyzed
I would become. So, feigning enthusiasm, I stepped
forward, swallowed hard, and said, "Let's go!"
Phil whooped and cheered at my bravery. Then again,
maybe he was celebrating the fact that it wasn't him who was
about to lose his barbecue high over Branson.
Taking our place in line, I held my cane prominently in
front of me. There was always the chance that the attendant
would regretfully inform me that middle-aged blind women
were not allowed on this ride. Then I would not only be
spared the experience, but I would still collect the credit for
No such luck.
We made it to the front of the line and were ushered to
our seats. The Accelerator, I found out later, towers eighty
feet in the air. It launches you suddenly into the sky before
plunging you back down with back-to-back positive and
negative G-forces. When the young man assisting me told me
to remove my shoes so they wouldn't fly off, my breathing
became shallow. What had I gotten myself into? I was already
beginning to panic, and we hadn't even left the ground.
I learned later that the ride was circular in shape, and
that all twelve riders were strapped in, facing out around the
perimeter of the circle. At the time, however, without the
benefit of sight, I really had no idea what I had so impulsively
A cage-like set of two bars automatically lowered in
front of me, and a set of belts fell down around my shoulders.
The attendant helped me buckle in.
"Do you have any idea how high this goes?" he asked me
with a chuckle. "Hey, if you're blind, maybe it's easier."
"Agghhh!" I shrieked.
"Mom," Clayton said calmly, "the ride hasn't even
I felt my "coolness" rating plummeting along with my
Then the ride attendant gave instructions: "Everyone lift
your hands in the air before we lift off. This helps you to relax."
I had no sooner obeyed that command than The
Accelerator jerked us vertically at warp speed-and then
dropped us like a stone. I screamed loudly. I mean, really loudly.
Seizing the bars in front of me instinctively, I clung with all
my strength, my hands becoming one with the metal. I held
on so tight that my fingers hurt-just before they went numb.
After we landed for the final time, the attendant came
to help release me from the harness. "How was it?" he asked,
unfastening the buckle. He must have enjoyed the expression
on my face; I could sense him trying to hold back his
I don't even know what I said in response. I was too
busy catching my breath and thanking the good Lord that I
was still alive.
After a brief hesitation, the attendant finally said, "Uh,
ma'am? You need to let go of the bars so I can get you out."
My son was so embarrassed that he may not ever invite
me to join him on a ride again.
Which is more than fine with me.
There are some things in life worth clinging to. And there are
some times in life when all we can do is cling. Life has a way
of presenting us with abrupt changes. Often, we can't tell
whether we are being pulled up or down. Sometimes we just
feel strapped, confined, and totally out of control. That's
when we must cling.
Not long ago, I rediscovered a story in the Old
Testament about a man who knew how to cling.
Boy, did he ever.
Eleazar was one of King David's mighty men . one of his
three choicest warriors. Scripture tells the story of Eleazar's
role in an amazing battle with the Philistines.
One time when the Philistines were at war with
Israel, [Eleazar] and David dared the Philistines to
fight them. Every one of the Israelite soldiers turned
and ran, except Eleazar. He killed Philistines until his
hand was cramped, and he couldn't let go of his sword.
When Eleazar finished, all the Israelite troops had to
do was come back and take the enemies' weapons and
armor. The Lord gave Israel a great victory that day.
(2 Samuel 23:9-10, CEV)
The Philistines had been Israel's nemesis for generations-a
thorn in the side of God's people. Time and again
through the years, they had raided and harassed the towns
and villages of Israel, spilling the blood of countless young
On this particular day, the enemy seemed unbeatable.
Overpowering. They were so intimidating that the Israelite
army turned tail and ran.
All but one.
The Bible says that one soldier refused to retreat. Eleazar.
He stood his ground, clung to his sword, and fought like a
one-man wrecking crew. One translation says he "struck the
Philistines until his hand was weary and clung to the sword."
The enemy came in like a flood, and Eleazar didn't
flinch. How did he prevail? The sword. He clung to the
sword with such dedication, such desperation, such determination
that his fingers actually "froze" around its hilt.
Can you see that in your mind's eye? The returning soldiers,
probably sheepish from running away and allowing
their comrade to stand alone, saw him standing there,
maybe leaning up against a big rock, sword still in hand, surrounded
by the dead.
"Eleazar," you can hear someone say gently, "you can set
your sword down now. It's okay. The battle's over. You've
won the day. The Lord has given you a great victory."
And Eleazar replies, "I would if I could, but . I can't let go."
I can imagine one lone soldier tentatively approaching
the mighty man, kneeling before him, and then peeling each
of Eleazar's cramped fingers from the hilt of his weapon. It
was hard to see where Eleazar's skin ended and the sword
began. He had wrapped every fiber of his being around that
weapon. It was as if the two had become one, cemented
together in those great moments of terror, courage, battle,
What a beautiful picture of what it means to cling.
Here's my question for you, my friend. When is the last
time you clung to your sword-the Word of God-with that
kind of desperation, that kind of determination?
The Bible calls itself a sword.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than
any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing
soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the
thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the
Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17,
It is the weapon God gives us to fight our enemies, to
overcome in any battle in our lives. Because of Eleazar's
determination to cling to his sword, "the Lord gave Israel a
great victory." And it's the same for you and me. Hold on
tight to God's Word, and the Lord will enable you to prevail-to
utterly defeat the forces arrayed against you.
But you have to cling. You have to stand your ground
and hold onto that sword with everything you've got.
As in so many other areas of life, Jesus shows us the way.
JESUS AND THE SWORD
As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes God intends for us
to face battles and endure wilderness experiences so we can
learn to use the valuable weapon He has entrusted us with.
This is the example that Jesus set for us. Matthew records that
He was "led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted
by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty
nights, He then became hungry" (Matthew 4:1-2, NASB).
Never doubt that when Satan and his demon army
move to attack you, they pick the time and the battlefield.
Have you noticed that? The attacks seem especially heavy
when we're hungry, hot, tired, discouraged, depleted, or
lonely. Our trials ensue just when it seems like we're least
capable of handling them.
Why does God allow those dry wilderness wanderings
and the ongoing battle with evil? Why doesn't He protect
us from such times? The fact is, He sometimes leads us into
Why? Because we will be weak, vulnerable, and useless
kingdom soldiers if we never train with our swords.
Is there danger in these encounters? Of course there is.
This is a dangerous world, and these are dangerous times.
But He has given us a wondrous weapon to wield against the
"father of lies." And God assures us that no temptation will
come our way beyond our ability to handle it and emerge
victorious. We have His word on it.
But remember that the temptations that come into
your life are no different from what others experience.
And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from
Becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it.
When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so
that you will not give in to it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT)
When Jesus faced the enemy in that desolate place, He
could have used any weapon at His disposal to knock him
out with a humiliating defeat. Besides the fact that Jesus was
God incarnate, possessing unlimited power, consider what
else He had going for Him in the weapons department.
First, He was a rabbi-a religious "professional," you
might say. Familiar with the Law and the Prophets, He led a
tidy, good, religiously upstanding life. He could have pulled
out the "religion" weapon from His arsenal during that duel in
the desert. That's what we do at times. When the battle gets
hot, we pull out our religious experience or our good works or
our own virtue in order to deflect the enemy's attacks.
Scripture says that "all our righteous acts are like filthy
rags" (Isaiah 64:6). We can't fight a fierce enemy with a
filthy rag, my friend-and that's what empty religion is.
Second, Jesus had a great personality. The Gospels portray
Him as a kind teacher, compassionate friend, popular
speaker, gentle leader, and compelling storyteller. He was
obviously persuasive in His speech. Perhaps He could have
convinced His enemy not to hit so hard, or to join Him in a
peaceful singing of "Kumbayah." He could have pulled out
the weapon of personality-plus and fought, but He didn't.
Not for a moment. And neither should we.
How often do we muster all our strength and the collective
attributes of our personality and try to stand against the
enemy of our souls? But it won't work. We can't fight spiritual
battles with weapons of the flesh. Our great personalities and
charisma are not weapons; only truth is a weapon.
Jesus could have fought with any implement of war at
His disposal, but He chose wisely. He engaged the enemy
with the only weapon that guarantees victory: the sword of
the Spirit, the Word of God.
Read the full account in the book of Matthew. Satan
attacked three times from three different angles. He tried
ridicule, he tried subtlety, he tried a brazen frontal assault.
And all three times Jesus countered the assaults of hell
with "It is written ." The living Word of God quoted the
written Word of God to beat back the enemy's attack. How
can you and I do any less when it comes to our battles? "It is
written" should be our weapon of choice. We should never
counter the attacks with "It is my religious experience" or "It
is my personality." Those weapons will always disappoint us,
but God's Word never will.
If God has allowed you to be in a wilderness of trial or
temptation, if you find yourself, like Eleazar, on a battlefield
utterly alone, don't lose heart. Don't quit. God's Word
is the weapon that will bring you victory, comfort, and provision.
Cling to it, for your King considers you worthy to
SWORD OF HONOR
Along with millions of other Americans, I look forward to my
favorite weekly television program: Antique Road Show. It's a
marvelous parade of old collectibles and vintage treasures
found in the attics of ordinary people. Sculptures, paintings,
jewelry, and even toys make up the potpourri of antiquities
that are carefully examined and exclaimed over by seasoned
appraisers each week for all to see.
One night I was watching the show on location in
Charlotte, North Carolina, when a certain item caught my
attention. It was a sword. Normally, antique weapons don't
pique my interest. But this time was different. I think it was
the appraiser's reaction to what he saw that caused me to sit
up and take note.
With childlike exuberance and a touch of reverence, Mr.
Mitchell, the appraiser, exclaimed, "This is the most exciting
military find I've ever seen come into the show." As he
held the jewel-adorned heirloom, he asked its owner to
explain the sword's origin.
Pleased and proud, the man told the story of a ceremonial
blade that had been in his family since 1848, when it was
presented to one of his ancestors, a general who fought in
the Mexican War. The appraiser quickly noted that at the
time of its presentation, such a sword was considered the
highest honor bestowed by the United States government.
The impressive scabbard was beautifully engraved, indicating
that the President himself had presented it. Because
the blade bore such an inscription, the dealer placed an
incredibly high value on this rare find.
I own such a sword.
No, better-infinitely better than that old piece of
My sword, too, has been passed down through many
generations. I'm not sure that I had really recognized that it
was such a symbol of honor. I don't keep my sword in the
attic, though. I hold onto it for dear life. I pick it up every
day and notice its beautiful jewels.