I Go To The Rock


Does it ever seem like trouble lurks around every corner? During Halloween season, the unexpected may be a bit more expected than normal. Shock, of course, wouldn’t be so named if it was a regular occurrence; but simply knowing the potential for a stealth strike keeps one on his toes.

Years ago, I read the harrowing account of a hiker man named Jay Rathman, whose near death encounter left him gasping for air and full of “what ifs.”

Listen in: “As he raised his head to look over the ledge above, he sensed movement to the right of his face. A coiled rattler struck with lightning speed, just missing Rathman’s right ear. The 4-foot rattler’s fangs got snagged in the neck of Rathman’s wool turtleneck sweater, and the force of the strike caused it to land on his left shoulder. It then coiled around his neck. He grabbed it behind the head with his left hand and could feel the warm venom running down the skin of his neck, the rattles making a furious racket. He fell backwards and slid head first down the steep slope through brush and lava rocks ... ‘As luck would have it,’ he said in describing the incident, ‘I ended up wedged between some rocks with my feet caught uphill from my head. I could barely move.’ He got his right hand on his rifle and used it to disengage the fangs from his sweater, but the snake had enough leverage to strike again. ‘He made about eight attempts and managed to hit me with his nose just below my eye about four times. I kept my face turned so he couldn’t get a good angle with his fangs, but it was very close. This chap and I were eyeball to eyeball and I found out that snakes don’t blink.’”

Incredibly, Rathman survived by choking the pesky serpent to death, and walked away relatively unscathed — or did he? I predict our fortunate friend encountered raging reptiles in his nightmares for days, even weeks to come. Such traumatic experiences can’t help but alter us at our deepest levels of being.

Though few have a terrifying reptile story to tell, none of us are immune to close encounters ... surprise attacks ... dangerous liaisons of the human kind. An ancient sage from the Old Testament named Job once opined: “Man is born to trouble ... as sure as the sparks fly upward” (5:7); or metaphorically speaking, there’s a rattler waiting over every ridge. Watch out!

Can you relate? Your assailant may lack slimy scales and darning needle fangs — but can nevertheless be equally vicious and unrelenting. For example, consider several “vipers” that attack from the shadows on a regular, yet unexpected, basis:

The Viper of Insufficient Funds

Maybe you’ve noticed that about the time it seems you might get ahead a bit financially, you hear a strange “tic” in your engine; Jimmy has outgrown all his clothes (including shoes) at the same time; the Payson Town Council has voted for another rate hike. In our present economic climate, however, the point of attack has shifted. Getting ahead is no longer the challenge. Staying current or, actually, catching up is the new game — and few seem cognizant of the rules. The viper of “Insufficient Funds” is more alive and prevalent than ever.

The Viper of Marital Misunderstanding

In 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have encountered this dastardly viper countless times: directly and indirectly. It seems silly, actually. Why can’t two adults who claim(ed) to love each other; who live together; who share the same house and bed; who have necessarily gone through the thickest and thinnest of family life together — talk? Far more time and space is required to hit at the heart of this venomous challenge, but suffice to say; the viper of “Marital Misunderstanding” roams freely in the vast and often barren wilderness known as human marriage.

The Viper of Paralyzing Prognosis

“Mrs. Jones, please have a seat. Your test results are back ...” — What began as a nagging pain in the upper thorax spawned a battery of tests pinpointing a raging case of inoperable “something” ... at least in our minds. The viper of “Paralyzing Prognosis” strikes again … and again … and yet again. Those fortunate enough to avoid, up to now, this viper’s clandestine attack don’t dare relax. It’s only a matter of time.

The Viper of Bitter Betrayal

Bitter betrayal may be the bite most dreaded because it’s the attack least expected. There is nothing more devastating than to think something is … that actually isn’t; or to find someone isn’t who we deeply believed them to be. Those who traverse the planet without experiencing this most noxious of all venom are, indeed, blessed among men.

In short, it’s not a matter if sneak attacks are coming; it’s when ... and what.

Life altering challenges appear to be a normal, if not disparaging aspect of the human condition that we will never be fully prepared for; and nobody gets a pass.

So what do we do? When the world is crumbling around you, Pastor Harper, where do you go? I go to the Rock.

Of the many metaphors in scripture for Jesus Christ, my favorite is “the Rock.” Consider a related line from an old hymn: “When the world all around me is sinking sand, on Christ the solid Rock I stand; when I need a shelter, when I need a friend — I go to the Rock.”

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus spoke peace into the wounded hearts of His time: “Come unto me all who labor and are burdened down, and I will give you rest.”

Note that Jesus didn’t provide a “bite free” zone. He simply possesses a bite-soothing balm that gives the snake bitten masses of all time strength, courage, even motivation to live victoriously in a danger-filled world.

So what does that mean: “I go to the Rock”? Great question! Tune in next month for more specifics. This topic is certainly worth your deeper consideration.


The Oct. 13 column’s segment on cosmetic surgery in Asia was edited in such a way that the source of the information was misidentified. The reference to the source should have read, “Since 1997, however, there has been a 447 percent increase in the total number of cosmetic procedures in general!  A recent issue of TIME Asia chronicled the nearly incalculable spread of cosmetic surgery across the Asian continent in the last decade.”

About the author

Jim Harper is the pastor of Mountain Bible Church, 302 E. Rancho Road, Payson. Services are at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Sunday.

To learn more about the church and its programs, call (928) 472-7800.


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