You have to be prepared to hike alone sometimes

The importance of knowing who you are in Christ. 

Through hikers on any of the triple crown trails will have a group of persons that they hike with over the course of the trip. These groups are loosely affiliated many times. You’ll see and hike with hikers A and B today or for several days but eventually, they will take a zero or you will hike faster or slower than them and you’ll be separated from them for a time or perhaps never to see them again on the trail as each is hiking at his or her preferred or prescribed pace. You’ll come in contact with other hikers whose personality will simply not jive with yours. Consequently, there will be times where you will find yourself very much alone on the trail. Hiking for hours or even days and not spending any significant amount of time in the company of another human being other than yourself. Most through hikers will tell you that a NOBO or SOBO hike is 10% physical and 90% mental. The separation from friends, family and just the lonesomeness that one can experience on even the most well traveled trails is mind wrenching.

Have you had to go through a situation alone?  Have you ever had a situation that your friends didn’t understand or didn’t agree with? How did you make it through that situation?

The point is, you have to be prepared to follow the path alone. For the Christian man or woman this means that even your dearest and closest friends and family may choose to go where God has told you not to go. I have personally experienced the loss of friends because of the choice I made to follow Christ. They could not or would not walk the same path with me so they went their way and I went mine. This is a personal loss that is still tender to me even some 30 years later. Your relationship with Christ is to be paramount.

The scripture calls us to be in the world but not of the world. On a through hike, you are on the trail all day every day. You can’t escape that fact. You are hiking on it regardless of the circumstances or elements, but to become part of the culture of the trail can be a dangerous thing for a believer. There are some “traditions” that can cause a moral dilemma for even the most morally high minded hiker, believer or non-believer. The same is true of the day to day world you walk in. For some this feels like too much pressure, too much worrying over who I hang with, what we do, where I go, what I say. It’s just too much.  I have to agree with you, it is a great deal of things to be concerned about, but you have to remember, we’re not talking about a Thursday this week or next or the hour you spend online tonight or the social calendar for this next weekend. We’re talking about the final destination of your eternal soul. You want heavy, that is heavy. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The price paid for your soul was steep and beyond comparison. You either grasp that and have an appreciation for it or you toss it aside like so many candy wrappers and dismiss it.

Some of your friends will want to go places you should not go, believe things that are contrary to the Word of God or live lives that seek only to satisfy their own desires and not to glorify God. You have to be prepared to walk on ahead. Stay the path alone for however long it takes. This is not to say that you make yourself a hermit because you have no Christian friends. I am a sinner saved by grace. Every other person I know is a sinner too. Some have accepted the gift and many have not. I have lots of lost friends. I live in the world but my allegiance is not to the world. There are some who will not associate with me or call themselves my friend because of my allegiance to Christ. Those individuals are beyond my influences. I can’t hope to be an agent of change in the lives of those around me if I’m not present. Hermits influence nobody.

Know this one thing. You will never be truly alone. First and foremost, Christ is always there with you and for you. Deuteronomy 31:8, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  OR  Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I will be willing to stand for Christ, even if I lose a friend in the process.  Yes   /   No

I will trust and know that Jesus is with me, even when I feel alone.  Yes   /   No

How far do you hike / Zeros and Nearos

The importance of shelter and finding your rest in Christ. Who is your safety? Where does your help come from?

Psalm 121: 1-8 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

For many on the AT, the daily hiking is centered around getting from one shelter to another. Shelters are a unique quality on the AT. Generally they are a three sided affair, open on one side. They can sleep as few as 4 – 5 and as many as 18 depending on the shelter. Shelters are a place where water can generally be found, a place to cook, a place to sleep and a meeting point for those who have gone as far as they will or can go that day on the trail. Help, advice about the trail ahead and information about friends, fellow hikers who may be ahead of you can be found there. For the weary hiker, few things are as welcome as the site of a shelter. Especially in bad weather. Shelters can be a refuge, a safe place among kindred spirits all looking for rest.

Another option for rest are towns along the trail. These are places where a much needed Zero or Nearo day is welcomed. Zero days are day where you hike zero miles. This is a day off. A nearo day is where you may only hike a handful of miles to get into town or back out to the trail and nothing more that day. Many through hikers will schedule zero or nearo days on a regular basis to allow for rest, medical attention, resupply and laundry. Trust me. After five days of hiking, you stink. Maybe not to yourself, but to the rest of the world, you stink.

Where do you like to rest and recuperate?  What does a Zero day in your mind look like?

For the Christian man or woman, it’s important to understand where your help comes from, where you can find peace and rest and where safety is found. The world is an often dark and broken place and finding God’s peace is not easy to do all the time. We have to understand, as the psalmist understood, that any and all help for us comes from the Lord, Jesus, our Father in Heaven. Yes, there will be persons who lend us aid, offer a cool drink when we are thirsty, a meal when we are hungry, or knowledge when we are without understanding, an arm when we are tired and weak. However, we must never lose site of the sovereignty of Almighty God. It He who organizes and orders the paths of our lives. There is no happenstance, no chance, no coincidence. His WILL, will be done. Nothing can stop it. Therefore, we must look to God for our help. He is our shelter.  Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In him we will find rest, and hope.

Write down some ways you can seek your rest in God:

Know the Path

Map Skills (God’s Word as a guide for all things)

Getting lost is a big deal.  Every year there are dozens of people who get lost on these long trails. They go off trail to pee or poo, or to see something of interest, or get water, then they get turned around and the next thing you know, they are well and truly lost. It doesn’t take much. Even on a trail as clearly marked as the AT by 2 inch by 6 inch white “blazes” on trees as you go both north and south bound on the trail.  One can get turned around and head in the wrong direction. Going “south” when they need to go “north”, taking the wrong trail or getting completely off trail.

One of the most common instances is leaving in the morning headed the wrong way. You may hike into camp late in the evening as the sun is setting or even in the dark. Set up camp, tired and hungry, and the only thing on your mind is rest. The next morning, you set out on the trail once again, only to turn to the left instead of the right, zig when you should have zagged and boom. You’re heading the wrong way. Funny thing is, the white blazes look exactly the same going north or south. A blaze is a blaze is a blaze.

Have you ever gotten lost? What were the circumstances behind getting lost? How could you have avoided this?

It’s important to have some map skills and know where you intend to go. Know, at least roughly, which direction you are to go, how far to the next water source, the next gap or mountain or road crossing. Any and all of these things are markers that assure you that you are heading in the right direction. Not keeping your eyes out for blazes, markers or these points of relief but just hiking to be hiking is not going to get you to the finish at best and is just plain stupid at worst.

God’s word is like a map. His word points out so many things.

Can you list some verses that match these points?

Dangers and Warnings:

 

Beautiful things to see:

 

Points of relief and sustenance:

 

Starting first thing in the morning reviewing what God has in store for you is like looking at your map or trail guide before you set foot on the trail to know where you intend to go, what you have hopes of seeing, where to refuel and where you will wind up when the day is done.  Starting your day without this information check, these markers, these points of interest or warning will make for a very long hike, a bad day, and a stumbling walk.

 

When can I have a quiet time with God? _______________________

 

Will I set aside that time and do it consistently?  Yes   /  No

You have to hike before you HIKE

When is a walk more than a walk?  “This is REAL”

Hiking is not walking. Let’s get real for a minute and understand what 90% of the general population doesn’t understand.  Hiking in general, and long distance hiking for certain, is not the same as walking or even jogging 10 miles around the track at the high school, through the neighborhood, in the local park or along city sidewalks. Hiking in the wilderness is strenuous. There is this thing called elevation change that will quickly take your legs, your breath and your enthusiasm and tear all three to shreds like so much paper in the floor with a new puppy.  To put this in perspective, think climbing Albert Mountain on the AT. This is an 800 foot elevation gain in less than .3 of a mile. Doesn’t sound too bad you say? Okay, now imagine climbing an 90 story building with no elevator, only stairs. This just got real. You can’t fake this climb. You either do it or you don’t.  As we say in the vernacular, “This is where you embrace the suck”.

Have you ever had to do something really physically hard?  What was it? Other than tired, how did you feel after you finished the task? Did you finish the task?

Hiking is a lot of things all balled up into one. There is elation, joy, success, pain, suffering, failure, hope, disappointment, anger, love and a hundred other descriptive terms experienced over the course of a long distance hike. Often all in the same day. However, it can all be summed up in one way. It is REAL. There is no faking the hike. You either do it or you don’t. There are those who will take short cuts. Blue blazing is a term that denotes following a blue blazed path marking a side trail or alternate trail. Many times these will bypass hard sections of the true path, the white blazed trail. Then there is the yellow blaze which denotes the use of roads to skip or bypass hard sections of the trail, invoking the yellow dividing line on most roads.

The walk of a Christian man or woman is REAL. There is elation, joy, success, pain, suffering, failure, hope, disappointment, anger, love and a hundred other descriptive terms experienced over the course of a lifetime with Christ. Often all in the same day. However, it can’t be faked. I know what you are thinking. “I see fake Christians every day”.  On this point you are right, but only to a point.  In the words of that modern philosopher Taylor Swift, fakers are gonna fake, fake, fake, but the one person they can’t fake out is God.  You can take short cuts on a hike, or fake what you are attempting to do but you will be found out. Numbers 32: 20-23 “So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the LORD for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the LORD, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the LORD; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the LORD and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.”  Moses is telling them that God has given the people (Isreal) a task to do. If they complete it – God’s provision. If they don’t – slavery.

Being real with God is so deeply important. I’ll say it again, If you really believe what you say you believe, it will affect what you do. It will affect what you say, what you do, how you live and how you hike (walk through life). It’s no sin to have a bad day, for those in Christ. Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You and I WILL fail, fall and disappoint God. We have to be willing to get up, try again, and see ourselves as God see us. God loves you even when you fail. This is what being His child is all about. However, it is a dangerous thing to pretend to be something you have no intention of being.

I know and truly believe that God loves me and gave His Son for me.  Yes    /   No

 I will make a commitment to be REAL with God, myself and others about my walk with Him.   Yes    /    No.

Going the Distance

The Christian Hike – For a Lifetime

2,190 miles (currently). This is the distance from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The Appalachian Trail. The AT is a ribbon of green and granite stretching through 14 different states along mountain ranges, lush meadows and challenging terrain on the eastern side of the U.S.  It is one of the big three long hiking trails known as the triple crown in the United States. The others being the CDT Continental Divide Trail at 3,100 miles and the Pacific Crest Trail at 2,659 miles. All very long hikes and all highly valued to some of the most ardent and devoted hiking enthusiasts.

So close your eyes for a moment. Imagine that you have just decided to hike one of these long trails. What is the first thing that comes to mind? What is your first worry?

What do you think that you need to do to prepare for an adventure such as this?

(Bears, rain, food, water, distance, people, physical conditioning) These are just a few of the things that you would need to address on a hike of this caliber. This is no weekend jaunt in the park or even a really long day hike. This is months, anywhere from 4 to 6 months or more, of every day, get up, eat, hike, hydrate, eat, hike, hydrate, hike some more, eat, sleep and repeat again and again and again. If this sounds like a long process and a grind, well, you’re right, sort of.

It could be said that long distance hiking is stringing together a long chain of mini hikes lasting 6 – 10 days each, and that each of those mini hikes is broken down into 6 – 10 day hikes. In essence, taking the trail one day at a time on its smallest level, the tree level, but putting planning and organization into the longer stretches, the forest level if you will.

Such is the walk through life of every Christian man, woman and child.  Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The “race” is not a sprint but a marathon. A long distance hike to be certain. One that will last until the day you die. There is no exit from the race. You hike it day and night without end whether you want to or not. Some days you’ll make crazy miles and success is everywhere. You’re strong, comfortable in your stride and hungry for more. Other days you’ll feel the weight of your life. Muscles will scream in agony for relief, you’ll be tired of being cold, wet and hungry and you’ll be tired of being tired. You’ll want to exit the trail, get a hot shower, an extra large pizza and a ride home to a real bed with clean sheets and a roof over your head.

What I’m hoping to lay out for you is the AT, CDT or PCT as a long distance hike, as a metaphor for your walk as a Christian man or woman.  We’ll talk about some of the challenges of what it means to hike long distance trails and how that applies to the challenges that you face in walking with Jesus daily, weekly and through the whole of your life.

It is my hope that everyone who reads this, men especially, will be drawn closer to the savior who purchase you at so high a price and for you to discover some practical ways to walk the long trail and glorify God in the process.

Intentional….

As a young man, a junior in my college career, I was given the unique opportunity to live abroad for a semester. I eventually spent roughly eight months living in the Netherlands while working with high school and college students in nine different countries. The core of what I was there for was to minister to and foster the spiritual growth and understanding of this group of students.

To say it was a special time in my life would be a dire understatement of the experience and its profound effects on my life both then and in decades to come.

When it came time to leave I was gifted with a tradition of a pair of wooden shoes, iconic of the Dutch culture, signed by the students and close church members I had shared so much of my life with. There were the usual notes of encouragement, well wishes, and we’ll miss you, one would hope for and in many ways expect. Then, there was this. “The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Thanks Alex. A well meant, if not misplaced attempt, at humor by a junior high student. The idiosyncrasies of junior high students, particularly boys, is, well, legend.

So here I am in 2017 finding myself being a bit more thoughtful than 2016. I am definitely wanting to be much more intentional in my actions, my thinking and my reactions to life as it comes to me.

I’m fresh off two weeks of vacation time at the end of the year. Time to spend with my family, focus on them, enjoy the holidays and what they should mean to me, and perhaps an unintentional time to decompress or purge myself of the massive amount of stimulus I encountered on an average day in 2016. This decompression was unintentionally facilitated by a week’s worth of sinus infection. Not having been ill to any real consequential degree in over three years; I’d forgotten what a joy it was to feel both disembodied and thick as a slab of concrete at Hoover Dam, all in the same instance. The cure truly is more harmful than the disease sometimes.

All of that left me seeking, as I stated, to be more intentional in my approach to everything. The renewed “perspective” of the Christmas season, morphed into a desire to see each moment for what it really is and not what it could be ginned up into. There is a certain amount of worry that is necessary if not beneficial, but so much more of it is of no use. It doesn’t serve a purpose except to preoccupy the mind, paralyze the person and terrorize the soul, and ultimately the spirit of the person.

The normal day’s modus operandi would be to begin by thinking of all the things needing to be done once I hit the door of the office: print this, verify that, request this information, begin checking this, receive those, direct them, and then before I know it my agenda is full and I have a purpose of action for the day. This, unfortunately, does not include the two text messages received as I drive into the office, which change the ranked importance of a number of the mentioned items above, or the remembered “potential tasks” for things that “may” have to be done this week in which case everything I’ve gone through previously will now be 75% changed and will leave me with a sense of disappointment and, if only on a small scale, a sense of failure at being the best at what I do.

So what happened today that was different? Me. I happened differently. I took the extra second or two to think more intentionally about what I was walking into to. All of the above was the same. Yes, the same. Print this, verify that, request this information, begin checking this, receive those, direct them, as well as, two text messages received as I drive into the office, which change the ranked importance of a number of the mentioned items above, AND the remembered “potential tasks” for things that “may” have to be done this week in which case everything I’ve gone through previously will now be 75% changed. All of that was the same. I was, however, different.

The list got built and I then told myself, “This WILL get changed and there is not anything you can do about it. You will adapt to the change and you will do all that you can do and only what you can do. The rest will fall where it will and it will be what it will be. I won’t be lazy or uncaring or defensive. Things will happen as God intends for them to happen and you will make the best of what you are given and leave everything, not to be confused with everything else, in His highly capable hands.”  Then the text messages came. “Well, you knew this was going to happen. This is not a conspiracy to make your life a living hell nor a personal attack from those you work for. This is life and life is happening and since I am walking to and fro and breathing in and out, life will happen to me. I’m not so special as to dare expect otherwise.”

Yeah, I know. All this sounds very vague and highly philosophical, and it is to a great extent. However, I’m trying to convey the practical matter of this vagueness and philosophy. I’m trying to, in the moment, practice the intentional thinking of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.  If I have no control, or understanding or ability high enough, strong enough, powerful enough to cause me to happen to life, but I am in relationship with THE God who is all of those things, then why do I need to stress or worry or fear?  Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God.”  So the intentional thought was – “This is what is happening. Will the worry, or the mentally projected difficulties, or the stress I cause myself in either of those processes be beneficial to me or serve any purpose in solving these issues?  If the answer to any of those questions is no, then what should my next intentional thought be?” For me it is this. Lord, I am not in control of much. I am in control of who I trust. I am in control of what I will lean on for support emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I am intentionally choosing You. Given that I am choosing You (the Lord, Christ, Jesus, God) I am going to walk away secure in the knowledge that You will work this out using what gifts, talents and abilities you have given me or you will give me the grace and strength to walk through this if it can’t be solved. This is true of the logistical nightmare facing me at work or of the relationship with a difficult co-worker. It’s true of the laundry list of chores at home or the list of things I should do to prove once more to my wife and children, how precious they are to me. It’s true of my fragile emotions or my over developed and over used ego.

I know I will be less than completely successful at this approach. My hope is that if I can be even 10% more intentional in my daily thoughts and actions, that I will give more glory to God and receive more contentment for myself. Out of the overflow of this I want to see my family and relationships grow closer to the God who is at the center of all of this.

Thanks Alex. For once again reminding me, ever so inappropriately, that intentions have little purpose except to lead me down a path without hope. However, being intentional in my yielding to the Almighty God of the Universe will only give me hope on more levels than I can presently comprehend.

Christmas Perspective….

Daily life for me right now, like many people who will read this, can be summed up in one word…drama.

Between the two deaths my wife has experienced in her family, an uncle and an aunt, the hectic practice and performance schedule of a church Christmas program and two performances, the massive workload of training a new assistant, setting up a new store location and converting to a new system’s programming, to the craziness that is this particular time of year with budgets, and money and on and on and on….drama. In the midst of all of this I find myself grasping for perspective.

I’m not seeking solutions. In many of the instances mentioned above, the offending circumstances will either work themselves out with time and patience or there simply is no solution. Add to all of the aforementioned the fact that my family is to have our traditional Christmas get together at my home this year. This is a family that is riff with their own personal dramas and challenges and theirs like mine will work themselves out with time and patience or there is no immediate solution. Again, drama. Again, they as am I, may be grasping for perspective.

I arose this morning, like every other morning for the past 51 plus years. I walked to and fro and I breathed in and out and I faced this day’s tasks as all the days prior to this. I interacted with two truly awe inspiring children. Not so much for their individual brilliance or there staggering appearance although I think them as smart as or smarter than most and grateful they look more like their mother than me. No, I’m in awe because they are with me. In my house. Hugging me each morning and nestled under my chin each night and that they call me Daddy. I beheld a woman far more gracious and loving and beautiful than I deserve. I am a man with much pride and many failings and yet in the midst of this she walks in my world. This woman among women. Soft, smart, loving, sweet and kind. Gracing my harsh character and cleaning up if not brightening up my shambles of a life.

On Christmas Eve I’ll stand before two aging mothers, a brother, his sweet wife, his two sons and their wive and sons, a beloved sister and her renowned husband. I will see in each of them something that is also amazing and beautiful to me. Husbands loving their wives furiously, if not a times, ineptly.  Wives loving their husbands in the same way and all of them experiencing the same joy, frustration, and awe  in their own children that I experience in mine. I’ll see in them the collective decades of life experience. Of living, of heartache, of joy, of passion, of hope, of momentary defeats, of great successes and of the brokenness that we all have resident in our souls.

There is a verse in Hebrews 4:12  “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  I had always thought of soul and spirit as being pretty much one and the same. I’ve learned that “Soul” is that invisible dimension of our life that we are by nature. That person of thought and character. Who we naturally digress into being in our most unguarded or weakest moments. The soul man if you will. “Spirit” is what we are by supernatural rebirth. That which God ordained us to be and works persistently and consistently to mold us into being in our moments of breathing in and out and walking to and fro.

I am profoundly captured by the complexity of this time in my life and yet I am also profoundly struck by the simplicity of where and how perspective is obtained.  So where is this “perspective” that I seek. What is this thing that seems to be so elusive to almost everyone I know, to me.

Simply, I find it in the person of Jesus Christ. I see it in the creation I enjoy hiking in so much. In the natural beauty of this earth. I see it in the faces of my children, in the kiss from my bride, in the frailties of our parents, in the relationships of my siblings and their families, in the walking to and fro and the breathing in an out. It is in the miracle of a virgin birth. In the fact that not only did The Almighty God of the universe send his son to be the payment for my sin cursed soul, but He sent the only son he had. That before time was even time, He knew that there would be a Todd, and a Sharon, and a Noah, a Bailey, a Voncille, a Martha, a Waid, Debbie, Donna, Homer, Pete, Micah, Crystal, Abby, Eli and Brayden, and that each and everyone of them would be in need of a savior. He created everything and orchestrated everything that each of these would have the knowledge of this Savior. He does all of this so that I will know the glory that is His son Jesus and to have the same love for Christ that the Father has for His own son. Not an attempt to be more loving, but to have as much of that very same God love as I can possibly manage in this life before I can do it perfecting in a heaven that’s waiting for me.

The “perspective” is being in a constant state of acknowledgement that God made all of this with me and these and you the reader in mind. That He is doing what must be done to draw me closer to Him, whether that means joyful things or stressful things, pleasure or pain, it is what it must be for me to draw near to Him as He has drawn near to me. To acknowledge that there is a spark of divinity in all and thus they are valuable. His very breathe brought all into being. Whether I agree with your politics, your moral compass or your personal preferences, you were created by The Almighty God. Acknowledging that He is GOD and I am just Todd.

So this Christmas, this celebration, will be about the birth of my Savior and the rebirth of a God centered perspective.

Merry Christmas and may God bless us, every one.