What do these stones mean to you? – Joshua 4:6
Early 1990’s: The first time I saw the climbing wall it was located at the ski area adjacent to Tauernhof, the bible school where I teach in Austria. Students (and a few of us teachers) would use it during the semester, perfecting our skills as we talked of life, faith, beauty. I climbed on it once during autumn, when some sheep were coming down from the high country, across the hills of the ski slope. Those sheep, their fear of me, and their confidence of the voice of their own shepherd, made this verse come alive for me.
1994: Same wall, different year. I climbed with a young man named Harry on the wall and we shared great fellowship and conversation as we negotiated holds, practiced technique, and spoke of God, Christ, leadership, and eternity. The next weekend, Harry would climb with a student, and fell to his untimely death. Every year, it seemed, the wall become a deeper and deeper repository of truths learned, fellowship enjoyed, loss suffered. And then the wall disappeared….
Sometimes in the early 2000’s: When I asked Hans Peter, the director of the bible school about the wall, he told me of the ski area’s expansion plans, and how that necessitated it’s removal. “But we’re getting it” he said. “We’re going to put it on the Bible School property.”
2012: The wall is in place on the Torchbearer property and Hans Peter points shows it to me. The rabbit, which was the mascot of the ski area attached to the wall before, was replaced with: Jesus Christus, plus three German words I don’t recognize. “It will be there for everyone to see – so that people will know that everything we do here, all the skiing, climbing, hiking, food, fellowship- is about Jesus.”
Sunday, December 8, 2013. Hans Peter, previous Bible School director, is gone, killed in a paragliding accident this past August. His teaching gifts and strong leadership of Tauernhauf were evidenced in both the breadth and depth of ministry from this relatively small center. His death meant the loss of a friend, mentor, and leader to many, including me. I’m privileged to be in Schladming today because my friend Martin is being “confirmed” in his new role as director.
The moments are bittersweet, joy and sorrow, celebration and mourning, all woven together as leaders from the larger Torchbearer community, along with students from this year’s Bible school, the whole Torchbearer staff, and lots of other local town leaders, friends, and family, gathered to literally lay hands Martin
and pray for him as he steps into the role of director. An old friend sat by me and translated every word of the service. There were songs, readings, a bit of a biography of Martin, and then key leaders layed hands on his head and prayed for him, one by one. I know some of these leaders with whom I’ve shared ministry for two decades now. I know we’re older; we feel it, we look it. We’ve seen a lot. Change is happening all around us, and its rarely easy.
Then it was Martin’s turn to speak….
What does one say in such a time as this, when the occasion of your anointing comes in the wake of a beloved leaders death? Martin reads this for us from the book of Hebrews: Jesus Christ: The same yesterday, today, forever. He reminds us all, gathered here to affirm him, but gathered in a shadow of grief as well, that everything changes; leaders, ministries, plans, our own bodies, our children, everything. “But”, Martin reminds us, “Jesus Christ remains the same: yesterday, today, forever.”
In world where many Christians have their own publicity machinery, heroes, media strategies, and branding consultants, Martin’s word reminds me that all of us who are called to lead anything are entrusted with leadership but for a season. Our goal isn’t to get more people to read our stuff, or listen to us, or amass followers – and most certainly our goal isn’t to create an aura of indispensability, as if we’ve the corner on the truth market. Our goal, simply, is to point people to Jesus, precisely because he alone never changes:
He was there for you when you walked away from him. He’ll be there for you when you return.
He was a source of wisdom when you didn’t think you needed it. He’ll be wisdom when you know you do.
He was a source of comfort when you turned to alcohol instead. He’ll be a source of comfort when you turn to him
He was your provision when you thought he wasn’t. He’ll be your provision when you know he is.
He loves you when you don’t believe he does. He’ll love you when accept his love.
He’s all you need in seasons of grace and peace.
He’ll be all you need when all hell breaks loose – when there’s cancer in the family, when your fried dies in an accident, when you lose your job.
He’ll change lives at this bible school when Hans Peter Royer is the leader. He’ll change lives when Martin Buchsteiner is the leader
What a good word for me when, at times, I feel overly weary due to my own foolishness and wrong sense of my own importance. His speech is followed by hilarious gifts given to him, ranging from an umbrella, to Red Bull, to Schnaps. And then his wife gives a marvelous word, and we sing a final song, and it’s over.
The meeting ends and after hugs with friends we migrate back to the school for a meal. I walk over to the climbing wall though, and it’s there, at the top, right below the exalted and highest “Jesus Christus” that I see the words: gestern heute immer. My very poor German’s good enough to know that the wall, which has been in the midst of all the
changes in this little part of the world, now reads:
Jesus Christ: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.
Yes…this is the most important truth in my life, and the wall has become a memory stone for, a continual reminder that, though everything changes in life, Christ remains the same.