Sixteen And Never Been…..

Today is the day. The day my one and only son turns 16. For such a small number it looms so large in my mind.

Sixteen years ago he quite literally spilled into this world and forever turn mine and his mother’s world upside down. It rained bath tubs the day he was born.  You’d have thought it was the second coming of the biblical Noah it rained so much.  I remember how mad your mom was that your birth came on a Friday the 13th and here we are again, full circle, on a Friday and the 13th.

I’m not really a superstitious man. I don’t worry about black cats or ladders or most any of the other common superstitions. That being said I’d still never touch the chalk lines coming in or going out to the field playing ball. For all the ideas people may pontificate on regarding your birth date, they can generally agree on several things.

My boy is a good boy. Full of silliness and as much so as any young man of sixteen years, but in all a good boy. My boy is kindhearted. He has always had a soft spot for people and particularly those who may not be the pinnacle of what society holds as worthy. He tends toward the underdog, the lesser, the marginalized. His heart just works that way and it makes his mom and dad very proud.  My boy is strong. Not strong so much in the physical sense of the word but in the moral context. He has his weaknesses as all do, but when it comes to justice and rightness, he is strong and he exerts that strength in a quiet and gentle manner that proves formidable when the times call for it. I’ve seen him defend the defenseless, be a protector of the weak and friend to the outcast many times and many more that I haven’t seen but only heard about. My boy is strong. My boy is also funny. Sick sense of humor and all. He continues to hone the craft of a well turned phrase. Not always successfully but then again, he is only sixteen. Feel free to ask him what the most important thing in comedy is.

Such a small number but there are volumes in that number. Page upon page of growing, and doing, and being, and living, laughing, crying, and flying. I marvel at this thing I see. I marvel that I am able to be so close to something so magical and marvelous. Mystery and revelation rolled into one. I marvel that I am given this thing to love with a passion that escapes my ability to express it. That moment when I say goodbye each morning to hear him say with that little upward lilt at the end “I love you too”. That is enough to allow me to face down the ridiculousness of what is to walk in this world with all its brokenness. I marvel that such a creature could love me back, as broken as I am.

Silly saying, “Sixteen and never been kissed.”  I’m under the assumption the boy has been kissed and that if he is reading this he is grinning that grin and turning a shade or two of red. I know this however.  He is sixteen and…never been loved more. Every age of my kids is my favorite age. Memories are precious, but the now is the thing. The now of my boy being sixteen is awesome to me. He’ll drive soon. He’ll be away from us more as time goes on. He’ll go to college, meet “the” girl, marry, and maybe, if he’s really blessed, raise a boy of his own. Those are hallmarks of larger numbers than sixteen and many days into the future. For now sixteen is big enough.

He has a very busy weekend this weekend with other responsibilities besides a birthday, but I hope he knows and never forgets. Noah, we love you with a love that transcends ages and epochs, the barriers of time and space, and physics. We are proud of you and have only the highest hopes for you and your future. You are crossing a milestone. Continue to walk as your namesake walked, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; and Noah walked with God.”

Happy sixteenth birthday son. I love you.

Daddy

You hike one step at a time

The key to properly motivated obedience.

So why does a through hiker succeed at hiking 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME? Strength? Endurance? Proper planning? Luck?

What do you think the one key to success is for a long distance hike?

All of those things play a small role in the process, but the star of the hike, is obedience. Obedience? “You’re pressing now man. Nobody is making them, compelling them, ordering them to hike 2,190 miles.” You’re right, nobody is making them do it. No gun to the head order to hike. However, obedience is the right term to use here. The hiker is obedient to the hope, the process, to the goal. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t put one foot in front of the other some 5 million times. Every hiker hopes to make it to the finish line, and not just finish but to do so strong and well. If they didn’t have hope, all that effort would be senseless bordering on masochistic.

Why is a hiker obedient though? The motivations for attempting a through hike are as varied in number as the individuals that attempt it.  Ask any hiker the why question and the answer you’ll most often receive is, “I’m not sure why. I’m still figuring that out.”  This seems like a pretty big deal to attempt on a whim, but it happens. Many are trying to find some meaning or fulfillment or purpose in or for their life when they attempt a through hike. They are seeking, something.

For the Christian man or woman, obedience is a lot like this. We know we want to be obedient but we really aren’t sure of the real reason why. We are motivated by so many things to be obedient but unfortunately, most of those motivations are wrong.

So what is the proper motivation for being an obedient Christian and how can I have that motivation?  It has a lot to do with the topic of Grace.

As we talked about earlier, these grace bits are very small and very large, even eternal, all at the same time. The challenge we face as Christians is that since the Fall, Adam and Eve in the garden, we’ve gotten hardwired to have to make things even or square between us and others, and too often between us and God. Too often we treat obedience as our payment to God for all the grace that He has provided us including salvation.  “Well, since Christ died for me, the least I can do is be obedient to the tenants of Christianity, to His commands, follow the rules of the church.” Gratitude is a great emotion for daily worship but a dangerous motive for obedience.

John Piper calls this the debtor’s ethic. For example, “Look how much God has done for you. Shouldn’t you, out of gratitude, do much for him?” Or, “You owe God everything that you are and have. What have you done for him in return?” Each of those statements starts well said and well intended but finish poorly. They would each do well to stop early. Look how much God has done for you. Period. End of statement. You owe God everything that you are and have. Period. End of statement.

There are three problems with the debtor’s ethic line of thinking. First, it is impossible to pay God back for all the grace he has given us. We can’t even begin to pay him back, because Romans 11: 35–36 says, “Who has given a gift to him [God] that he might be repaid? [Answer: nobody.] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” We can’t pay God back because anything we would use to do so, He already owns. He made it to begin with.

Second, even if we succeeded in paying him back for all his grace to us, we would only succeed in turning grace into a business transaction. If we can pay him back, it isn’t grace. Romans 4:4 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”   If you try to negotiate wages with God you nullify grace.  If I’m hiking along and come to a road crossing and there’s a person there cooking burgers, handing out water and sodas, and candy bars and energy bars and chips, my initial tendency may be to give him something, anything in return.  Your friends have you over for dinner. You tell them, “That was so good. Next week, dinner at my house, I’m cookin’ you’re eatin’.”  The dinner your friend provided went from grace to a trade.  I pay the guy a few bucks for the meal he cooked at the trailhead and it is no longer a grace it’s a transaction.

Lastly, gratitude as a motivation for obedience overlooks the importance of faith. Gratitude looks backwards to what you have received.  Faith looks forward to what will be received. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This faith is the power that preserves the grace quality of human obedience. Obedience does not consist in paying God back and thus turning grace into a trade. Obedience comes from trusting in God for more grace — future grace — and thus unlocking the infinite resources of God’s love and power. 1 Corinthians 15: 10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”  The grace that enabled Paul to work hard in a life of obedience was the daily arrival of fresh supplies of grace. This is what faith trusts in—the continuing arrivals of grace. Faith looks to the promises like, “I will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1: 9, and in that confident faith ventures, in obedience, to take the land. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  “God is faithful” is a statement of past grace. What He has proved through your’s and countless other lives, past and present. “Will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” is a promise of present and future grace. I can have faith in that. “Provide a way out” is also a promise of present and future grace. Specifically looking to the work of the Holy Spirit, and again, something I can put my full faith in. By having faith in the promises from God himself, my obedience is given a voice, an action, the power to be exercised. I can choose to ignore or deny the promises of God. That is my free will, but when I remove my faith in those promises, my disobedience is likewise given a voice, an action, the power to be exercised.

The biblical role of past grace —especially the cross— is to guarantee the certainty of future grace:  Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (past grace), how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (future grace)?”  That “all things” includes the ability to be faithful, loving, righteous, as well as, obedient.  Trusting in future grace is the enabling strength of our obedience. The more we trust in the grace God has in storage for us, trusting in God Himself, the more we give God the opportunity in our lives to show the glory of his inexhaustible grace.

Find the immeasurable power of obedience in your complete surrender to a faith in a God who can and will do all the heavy lifting with you. He must increase and I must decrease.

I will take the promises of future grace and do some radical acts of obedience on it.   Yes   /   No

Trail Magic

Recognizing God’s Grace in the moment and having sincere gratitude.

Trail magic, trail angels, trail blessings, all of these terms describe the same thing. A moment(s) on a hike when someone provides you with something that you are in need of. This can be as simple as a container of filtered water to copious amounts of food or a ride to town or the trail head. Trail magic is a much lauded and highly anticipated event for any hiker on a long trail. We hear stories about it, he hope for it ourselves and many will seek to be the purveyors of said blessings after they finish their through hike or even while on the trail.

Have you ever been given something out of the blue by a complete stranger for no reason at all?  What was it?  How did it make you feel?

Trail magic or angels or blessings are really just another name for God’s grace. The definition of grace is unmerited favor.  Getting something that you didn’t earn and can’t pay for that is a benefit to you.

Can you name things in your life that fit this definition of grace?

The key for us as Christian men and women is to see each moment for what it is, God’s grace.  There are differing kinds of grace. There is general grace or universal grace. This is the grace of God that keeps the planet turning, the sun the right distance so we’re not crispy critters, the cells in our bodies from flying apart like a busted water balloon, the everyday breathing in and out and walking to and fro that we take for granted, constantly.  Then there is the revealed grace of God. The death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sin, the promise of a hope here on earth as well as in heaven. The Holy Spirit as a comforter and Jesus in our hearts.

My response to the big and the small should be gratitude.  I have not earned the right to breathe in and out much less to stand before the throne of Almighty God. All of that and so much more is by the grace of God so that I can glorify God in the course of my breathing in and out and walking to and fro every moment of every day. There is nothing that is happening to me that does not have a purpose in the kingdom of God. I may never know the why of it but I can certainly know the Who.

I will thank God for His graces every day and multiple times a day.  Yes   /   No

NO Rain, NO Pain, NO Maine

The importance of adversity in your life

No Rain, No Pain, No Maine.  This is a common mantra on the AT. It’s going to rain, there will be pain. There is no avoiding it and avoiding it will not get you to Maine. 2,190 miles is a very long way to hike. You may experience rain in all its forms from mist or fog to hurricanes over the course of a through hike. You can go days, even weeks at a time with only rain to hike in.

The pain is a given as well. It is estimated that of those who begin at Springer Mountain in Georgia, that only about half of them even make it out of the state of Georgia hiking the AT. That section of the trail is less than 80 miles. Less than 80 miles is all it takes for some hikers to tuck tail, give up and head home. If you make it out of Georgia and hike the whole trail, you’ll take some 5 million steps along the way. Achy muscles, sprained ankles, various scrapes and abrasions, not to mention the blisters will all be had. You will fall. It is not a question of if but only when and how often.

This doesn’t include the multitude of logistical issues that can arise from trying to get into a town for mail drops, finding places to stay, finding water sources, space in shelters, bears and other critters or equipment failure.   If you’re going to hike the AT or any of the triple crown trails, adversity is a given.

Think about a time when you have had to endure a physical or mental struggle?  How did you make it through? Did you handle that adversity successfully?

We hear it said often but it is hard to sink in sometimes. Following Christ does not automatically afford us a life of sunshine, unicorns and rainbow skittles.  Matthew 5:45b “For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Everyone has adversity but it is what one does in the face of it and with it that makes the difference. John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The overcomer in this verse is Christ himself. As His joint heir, we are given the same power to endure and even overcome adversity of any kind. The important aspect of this is that we need to keep believing Christ and all He has promised us.

Just as the hiker’s strength and endurance are vastly improved by the end of a through hike on the AT, so can your strength and endurance in the faith be improved as you walk through adversity.  Romans 5:3-5  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  The word I love most of all in that verse is hope. If I have hope, I can endure anything. Christ is our hope. So many promises from our savior and friend. We should never be without hope.

What are some of the promises that Christ has given me that will help me know I have a hope?

 I will use these promises, look for more promises, and believe these promises in order to trust, endure, and hope in Christ.  Yes   /   No.

Food and Water

Calories Count and Purity counts:  You are what you eat – GIGO

Food and water. These are two of the most talked about, most debated, most concerning thoughts for through hikers in general, second only to the physical demands of the hike. It’s hard for many people to imagine the changes that take place in the appetites of a long distance hiker. It has been estimated that the average through hiker will need to consume between 7000-8000 calories a day to maintain their body weight on a long distance hike. This is roughly four times what the average person should eat in a normal day. Hiker recipes can often be strange and unusual affairs taking what they have and making something that most people would consider abhorrent. However, when you’re hungry, you satisfy the hunger in any way you can.

What is your favorite thing to eat after a hard day of work or exertion? What is the strangest thing you have eaten simply because you were hungry?

Likewise, water is a profound preoccupation on the trail. The day’s hike is often centered around where the next water source is and where you camp is dependent on an available source of water for cooking, cleaning and rehydrating.  Most water sources one comes across on the AT are spring feed. Coming straight out of a rock. Makes me think of Moses in the wilderness. Numbers 20:11 “And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank”
There are times where water can only be had from a creek, river or lake. Filtering is an important process when hiking in the wilderness. Microscopic yuck monsters like Giardia and Cryptosporidium can and will make you violently ill. To be that sick in the wilderness is not on anyone’s top 10 list of things to experience.

There is a very old computing term called GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out). It’s an informal rule that the integrity of the output is dependent on the integrity of the input. The better the food and water I have on the trail the better the energy level, overall health and well-being of me as a hiker.

The same is profoundly true of each of us as Christian men and women. You may have seen the analogy of the cup. You can’t see what’s inside, but when my hand shakes the cup the contents come out a little or a lot and what is inside is there for the whole world to see.  What you take into your life, into your mind, what you read, what you listen to, what influences you allow into your heart, mind and soul are more important than you know. A seasoned Naval Officer will tell you that it only takes a teaspoon of diesel fuel to contaminate the entire water supply for a ship of hundreds of sailors. It only take one microscopic amoeba to put you in the hospital while hiking in the wilderness.

The problem is that we taste and see too much. A little bit of this or that isn’t going to hurt me, we say. I can handle this. I’m stronger than people know. I can stop any time, and then we slowly poison ourselves over time until we are spiritually sick to our stomachs and can’t seem to find a remedy of any kind.

The integrity of what we take in will determine the integrity of what we put out for God. God’s Word, music that edifies the soul, friends that are seeking and pursuing purity in Christ, speech that glorifies God instead of taking His name to use as a curse word, are just some of the things that we need to be mindful of.

Psalm 42:1 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”

Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

1 Peter 1:16 “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””

It isn’t any easier for the older versus younger adults around this fire. Older men and women can be just as lax in their judgement; thinking what they are doing or involving themselves in is only affecting them, no one else. That is, until the cup of our lives is shaken and something unfortunate comes out.

I will take stock of the influences in my life and will hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God.    Yes   /    No

 I will be mindful to “filter” the things I take into my life. They need to be pleasing in the sight of God.     Yes   /   No

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: