Have you ever done something really strange? Of course you have. Or at least I hope you have. But I mean doing something really strange for YOU. Something you normally would never do, just to see what would happen. If not, I encourage you try it. For me,one of these occurrences happened when I was going to school at the University of Tennessee. On my way to class one day, just because I wanted to see what would happen, I smiled my entire way to class. Everywhere I walked, I simply smiled. I'm one of these people that just kind of walks around with his eyes to the sidewalk, and no joke, if I see someone I know, I will purposefully change my direction so I won't have to see them. And I don't just mean acquaintances or people I don't like. I mean even my best friends. It's not that I don't like people, its just that smalltalk makes me queasy. I digress.
So on this particular day I decided to smile. I would smile at people as they walked by, and not the fake, "We just met eyes," kind of smile but the ,"You won't believe what just happened to me," kind of smile. But even if there was no one there, I just smiled. You would not believe the effect it had on the myself and those around me. For me, it really brightened my day. It really, truly did. Everywhere I went, every class I took, I was actually happy to be in. But more strikingly, it had a profound effect on the other pedestrians around me. My happiness caused other people to smile. They had no idea why I was smiling, but they knew that something great must have happened to me for me to look as ridiculous as I did. So they smiled. They left their smile-hating cohorts to join to exclusive club of happy people. It was an eye-opening experiment.
I feel followers of Jesus could (and should) easily apply the lesson I learned from my little one day social experiment. Often times we treat our faith, our beliefs, our Christ, as a ball and chain that brings us down when we try to swim in the ocean of people of this earth. We cover it up like an embarrassing scar, something that is a part of us, but we don't want anyone else to see because it might bring up an uncomfortable conversation.
WAKE UP! My Jesus is nothing like this. We have been given the Answer, not of our own doing, that everyone on this earth is looking for. God has made obvious His existence. Romans 1:19 says,"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." No matter who they are, no matter what they do or do not believe, everyone is looking for the same thing: the Answer. Everyone wants the Answer, so why do we treat it like something we need to keep hidden? It's like being at a birthday party and having a huge cake, but never bringing it out of the kitchen because people probably won't want chocolate cake. Or maybe they don't like icing. Or maybe they want ice cream cake. Open your eyes! Most unbelievers are sitting there waiting to be served! Of course there will be some who don't want a piece, but that's not your problem, it's just more for everyone else!
Of course this is not a perfect analogy, but the idea is there. Salvation is a wonderful gift that we have been given and countless others are searching for. Yes, there are those who will not want to hear what you have to say, no matter what approach you take. However, there are those out there who are looking for true joy and the Answer to all the problems in the world, and we know that Answer to be Jesus Christ.
Don't treat Jesus like something to be hidden. People like to see other people smile. Let Jesus smile through you.
Every Thursday night I go to a Bible study with the guys from camp. Actually, it started out as a Bible study for guys from camp, but has morphed into something so much more. Now, only around half of us work at camp, some didn't grow up in the church and have very differing views on the Bible and Christianity. It is my favorite part of my job, and my favorite part of my week. We have been studying the life of Jesus, and as much as possible, simply reading the Gospel of Mark and trying to figure out what it is talking about without any help from outside sources and commentaries. I love it. Not to say that outside sources and commentaries shouldn't be used or are detrimental to study, but I just want Jesus to speak to me through his word and through my brothers in the Bible study.
One of my favorite parts about our group is that since we all come from very different backgrounds and beliefs, we are able to really challenge our deeply embedded thoughts of how Jesus is. The more I study his life, the more I realize his personality and essence are so entirely different than I grew up thinking he was. My other favorite thing about our study is that we are not afraid to ask the hard questions. If something comes up in the scriptures that we don't understand or doesn't sound right, we don't just all sit there saying, "God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good," while on the inside we are screaming, "THIS MAKES NO SENSE! WHY WOULD JESUS KILL A FIG TREE FOR NO APPARENT REASON?!?!" (Mark 11:12-25)
This is so refreshing, as a follower of Jesus. I feel that many times we are scared to ask the hard questions about the Bible. It's not that we're scared that someone is going to disprove the Bible, or at least I'm not. It's that we're scared that WE might disprove the Bible for ourselves. There are things in the Bible that make no sense. There, I said it. They just don't. There are questions that we have about the Bible that we kind of don't want answered, for fear of what it may do to the god that we have made God out to be. Many times, when one of these comes up, we make up an answer that seems like what the nature of God is like. We take the tough questions and give OUR answer as to how God feels about or would react to a certain situation.
I actually Google searched, "Asking the tough questions about Christianity," and found a website that has the answer to every one of these questions. As I scanned, one of the first ones I came across was "How can God be three persons?" and then next to it is a link that says ANSWER. I actually found this almost comical. This website is telling me that it has the answer to the mystery of the Trinity, something that Biblical scholars throughout the years have tried but unsuccessfully been able to explain.
The good news is, I have found the answer. In my infinite wisdom and Biblical scholarship I have discovered the answer to these tough questions of the Bible. The answer is this: I don't know. There are things about the Bible that I don't, and may never understand. As Donald Miller once wrote, “I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me.” There are things about God, about His personality, about His Love, about His actions, about his anger, about his essence, that I cannot understand. This is not to say that God cannot give me understanding, because John 16:13 says, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come." The key there is that the spirit will guide us to truth. We cannot guide ourselves through conjecture on how we think God should be. He must guide us to the truth when we study, and if He doesn't, we must come to terms with the fact that there are things we don't understand.
The fact that I don't understand everything is one of the greatest truths God has ever revealed to me. There are things I don't know how to explain. There are aspects of scripture that seem contrary to what I think God should be like. However, I know what God has done in my life, and the squalor that he pulled me out of, so how can I do anything but love and trust Him? Of course I would love for the Spirit to reveal everything to me. But what is it that saves me? Is it my knowledge and understanding of God, or is it my faith? It may be scary, but without proper knowledge and understanding, God requires an enormous amount of faith. John 14:6 says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Jesus is the truth, and "the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)
Have you ever been in total darkness? And I don't mean walking around outside at night darkness. I mean down in the belly of a cave with no flashlight darkness. This is an eerie feeling. You lose track of where everyone else is. You lose track of where you are. People can move around and you will have no idea that they are doing the chicken dance two feet in front of you (until they start clapping, I suppose). I don't know if this is true, but I have heard that if you spend enough time in absolute darkness you go blind. Your eyes literally just decide to quit their job and retire.
I was thinking about this when I came across 1 John 1:5-10. Verse seven states,"But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." What is the light? What does it mean to be in the light? Once I'm in the light, what do I do?
All we have to do to find out what the light is is look at the rest of the verses. Verse five says, "Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him." So we know that God is this light. And he is also in it. Which is a bit confusing. Nevertheless, since we know that God is the light, we can presumably substitute "Light" for "God" in these verses, and they will still be truthful. However, I believe we are given this metaphor because it is really a great visual for our walk with God.
Before we know God, we are in absolute darkness. We don't understand what is going on around us. We have no insight on our surroundings. Now of course we are born this way, so people in the dark have no idea they are in the dark. It is just how it has always been, so their other senses take over and try to compensate, and do a decent job at it. Some of them are in the dark so long that their eyes just give up, and even if they are shown the light, their eyes can no longer see it. However, there are some to which a prick of light in the distance is revealed. Their eyes see it, and are drawn to it. Some may be scared of it, and choose to ignore it because they have never experienced it before. Others ignore it because many others that they respect cannot see the light because they are blind and don't believe this unexplainable "light" could exist. Then there are some who decide to go to the light. When they decide to follow the light, the light gets brighter and brighter. Gradually, the darkness becomes gray. This light does not come on all at once, but slowly their eyes begin to adjust and they begin to see all that is around them. The formless shapes begin to take form and people, mountains, dew, sidewalks, buildings, flowers all begin to take shape. They see the world as it really is, not because of anything they have done. Their eyes had the capability to see all the time, but everything they see is only revealed to them by the light. Without the light, their eyes will die.
I believe this is how God chooses to reveal Himself to us. He doesn't just flip on the lights when we've been in absolute darkness. He slowly reveals Himself to us, to let our spiritual eyes adjust to the light. So what does being in the light look like? Well, when you are in darkness, you have no idea about your surroundings, how you look, or how the people around you look. As God begins to reveal Himself to us as a light, those things in our lives that were hidden are now there for all to see. We see how dirty we are, how filthy our houses are, and even the bleak state those around us are in. This is when we see that we must change, and that we must convince others to come into the light.
Once we are in the light, it may be tempting for us to come in and turn all the lights on at once for those still in the darkness. After all, we are just doing it because we are in the light and want others to be as well. However, when we do this, although we may be well meaning, we can seriously damage the spiritual "eyes" of those in the darkness. When lights come on and people are in the dark, what do they do? They shield their eyes, they look away, if the light is bright enough they might even be blinded. We need to realize that it is God's will to reveal light to others, but not all at once.
For those of us in the light, let us have fellowship with one another and remember that those in the darkness need the light. But let's not blind them with it.
Redemption starts with one small point of light.
I heard about a guy once that was really involved in God's work. He was a good looking guy, everybody liked and respected him, he was the choir director at his church, and he basically spent his entire life trying to be like God. In fact, his whole ambition in life was to be like God. And then God shot him out of the sky like a lightning bolt. It's true, a guy I know saw it happen. (Luke 10:18)
I hope I'm not struck down for saying this, but sometimes I feel like I am unfairly judgmental toward Satan. Well, on second thought maybe I'm just unfairly biased toward myself. When we imagine Satan, we think of some totally evil entity that is entirely and eternally bent on being the opposite of anything God is. But when we look at scriptures, we see that that was not always true. For much of his existence, Satan spent his time trying to emulate God. It's not that Satan hates God and thinks that he is worthless. On the contrary, Lucifer loved God, was obsessed with God, and God loved him. The Bible says he was anointed by God as a cherub of God (Ezekiel 28:14).
A ridiculous depiction of our vastly skewed interpretations of Jesus and Satan
Knowing all of this, how did Lucifer become the Satan that we know today? Quite simply put, he wanted to be like God. I've heard this, and have never batted an eyelash at it. Of course, Satan wanted to be like God, therefore he is evil. But let's put it in context. You've probably heard your pastor or someone else in the Church talk about another believer and say something to the effect of, "Johnny is such a Godly man. His whole purpose in life is to be more and more like God." And then of course you respond, "BURN THE BLASPHEMER!" That's how I always respond to adversity.
I give you this example because I think it is important to understand why Lucifer, the anointed cherub of God, became Satan. I've come to realize Satan wasn't always a bad guy. He really, really, really, more than anything else, wanted to be Godly. It actually sounds like Satan used to be closer to what God wants from us than I am. However, at some point, Satan crossed a line. It was a razor thin line, one that he probably had no idea he had crossed. This is not the line of the normal sins we think of. I don't think Satan stole something or told a lie. The line was the line of holiness. Satan started to take pride in his own holiness and cast away the holiness of God. He probably didn't know that's what he was doing at first, but by the time he was cast out he was so totally and utterly obsessed with himself, he could no longer worship God without seeing himself.
This sounds a lot like someone else I know. This guy has been in church his whole life, has lead Bible studies, preached sermons, given Godly wisdom, read countless books on being more like Christ, and even wrote a blog on Christian issues. I think you see where I'm going with this. This person is myself. You see, I have crossed this line. I have crossed it many times. I begin to confuse God's holiness for my holiness. I see the good things I do and forget that they are God working in me. I see the people whose lives I invest in and forget that it is God doing the changing. I see my personal growth in wisdom and knowledge and am blinded to God's benevolence in giving it to me. I find that many times, when I am trying to be like God, I actually end up trying to be like Satan. We know that we are supposed to boast in nothing but God, correct? But we confuse that with boasting in our holiness. What Galatians 6:14 actually says is, "As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world's interest in me has also died." We must come to terms with the fact that Christ is the only good thing, and that no matter how close we are to God, no matter how many ministries we are involved in, no matter how many starving babies we feed, we don't matter. If we are in Christ, the world's interest in us should be dead. We need to get over ourselves and move on.
How hard is it to become a Christian? Do I need to attend a class to confirm it? Do it need to suspend the logical part of my brain and become purely faith based? Is there a formula? How long is this going to take? How do I know if it really sticks?
These are questions that a person who is interested in knowing God might ask. Hey, they're even questions that I often ask. What are the answers we should give? Many times Christians make themselves out to be someone who looks alot like this:
We come across as some snake oil salesman with some magic concoction that will solve all the problems that some poor old chap might have. "Just one swig o' this, morning and night, and all yer ailments be cured, and shurley you'll be saved!" Is there a certain way we need to "save" people?
I've been thinking alot recently about the traditional ways we share the gospel with people. I believe that most of what we preach (when I say "we" I mean at camp and my church, and other evangelistic opportunities I've been involved in) is good and Bible based. However, what has started to irk me is the traditional way we go about "sealing the deal." The thing is, when I see people come to Jesus in the Bible, Jesus never teaches them the ABC's of becoming a Christian, or any other salvation tool that we use. In fact, Jesus had some pretty harsh things to say about God's followers and our traditions in Mark 7 when he says, "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions."
You might be saying, "Well I see where you're coming from, but although it is not explicitly Biblical, we use it because it works." I understand this, and I understand that there are probably many people who are following Christ today that can attribute this to someone "sealing the deal" in this way. So I am not trying to discredit your salvation if you had an experience like this. However, I'm not fully sure I know what we mean by "it works." What is success in sharing the Gospel with someone? Of course we would reply with the Christian thing to say, that there is no failure because you are supposed to be the messenger and the rest is left to God. But really, what is success when it comes down to it? The reason we share the Gospel is to help others become followers of Christ. We love success. LOVE IT. We love it so much we must know how successful we are. We must quantify it. This, and this alone, is why I believe we "seal the deal" like we do. We want to know that our labors are successful and be able to tell other people about it so they can know how great our ministry is and how close to God we are personally.
In this hunger for spiritual success, I believe we do a great discredit to many people. It's the same principal as in the Middle Ages, when priests simply went around baptizing unbelievers and collecting penance for sins and declaring them saved. By telling people there is some magic formula to save them, we have "let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions." Many people don't understand that there is more to following Jesus than saying a prayer. That's why it's called "following" Jesus. It is not a one time action, it requires giving up your life to emulate Another's. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 19:28-29, "And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.29“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life."
So what is the best way to share the Gospel? Simply share the Gospel. Share the teachings of Jesus. Care about people and follow up with them. If they have questions, answer them. How will you know if it works? You may not. But that is not your job. Thank the Lord that's not my job.
Hello again from Camp Ba Yo Ca!
As promised, here are the numbers from this summer!
Total campers: 1564
Camp staff called into ministry: 1
Other decisions: 42
Praise God for all he has done at camp this summer! Pray for these young people that they will grow and build on the decisions they have made and all that they have learned about God at camp.
Hello from Camp Ba Yo Ca! It has been a while since my last post, obviously because camp is a crazy time that requires quite a bit of attention. However, beginning today I will begin posting on a weekly basis again, so be on the lookout for a new post every week and remember to comment and share on Facebook and Twitter so more people can hear the word about all that God is doing at camp!
I thought it would be appropriate to give a bit of an update on what has been going on at Camp this summer, although I will be posting our final numbers in the weeks to come. In this post, however, I'd like to share a bit about what God has been doing in the lives of three groups of people that come to camp: the children, the counselors, and the staff.
It goes without saying, but God has really blessed us at Camp Ba Yo Ca this summer. We have had a tremendous turnout at each of our camp programs, and we are delighted with the outcome of some of our new camp programs that were created for this summer. No matter the camp they went to, we tried to accomplish two things: to give each camper a fun and memorable experience and to share Jesus with them in a way that they can understand. I have had the privilege to take part in this process and I can say with all sincerity that I believe we have accomplished this goal. I have had the opportunity to see campers grow in their maturity and faith throughout the week, but even more satisfying is seeing campers grow from year to year. I can't count the campers that have come this summer that I have thought to myself, "Wow, I remember them when they were this big!" And looking back and seeing God work in their lives through the years has to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
The next group I would like to discuss is the counselors. At Ba Yo Ca, our counselors start at around 15 years old and range anywhere from high schoolers, college students, and even into adulthood. I would venture to guess that our average age of counselors is 17. Therefore, these are young people in the stages of their lives where they decide what type of person they are going to be. Thankfully, we at Camp have been blessed with a group of young people who have decided to devote their lives to serving Jesus. Many of these counselors are receiving the opportunity for a first job. Thank the Lord they have decided to give their work to Christ! Many other counselors are getting the opportunity to share Christ with a child for the first time. Other counselors are getting the chance to create lasting friendships with other followers of Jesus that create a bond in fellowship that cannot be broken. I can honestly say that this group of counselors has been one of the best that I have seen in the recent years. I can sense a yearning amongst them to share Christ and see His Church prosper. Praise God for all that He has done in the lives of these young people that have chosen to serve God at Camp this summer.
And finally, I would like to update you on our summer staff. Almost every member of our staff this summer was placed in a new position, with many of them having little or no prior experience working that aspect of our program. I must say, at the beginning of the summer I was a bit worried about the inexperience, but the Lord assured Alan and me that He was in control. I am happy to say that everyone on staff stepped up and made this a great summer for campers, counselors, and fellow staff. There is a buzz about camp that is creating excitement for camp and our program. Each staff member has contributed in a new way to create a much needed newness and vigor among the rest of the staff. Of course we have had our hiccups along the way (we're still having them, even in the last week of camp) but we have learned from our mistakes so we can be better staff members and people in general.
Thank you for your support of Camp, in whichever way you support this ministry. Without you, and of course those mentioned above, none of what we do would be possible. As we conclude this summer and move into preparation for the next, I would like to remind us of this year's Luke 15 Challenge. We have shown many lost souls the way home this summer, but let us never be complacent with where we are. There are still lost sheep out there.
Imagine a church. This is a conservative, well regarded Southern Baptist Church. We'll call it First Baptist Anywhere. The pastor of First Baptist Anywhere is a Bible teaching pastor who wants to see others come to know the Gospel. They have a student ministry that young people flock to on Wednesday nights. They have a student-led band, and even an air hockey table. The music minister has a nice blend of classic hymns and contemporary worship during services. How nice.
Now imagine another church. We'll call it The Living Well of the Spirit #Luminous. The Living Well of the Spirit #Luminous is a relatively new church. They started out at around 20 members and now boast a membership of over 800. The Living Well of the Spirit #Luminous's teaching pastor has spiky hair, and wears t-shirts with rhinestone crosses on it. The people at this church sing with their hands in the air and their eyes closed. They have really well made videos on a giant projector at the beginning of every service with lots of flashy lights and shiny things. They meet in small groups every week to promote fellowship and growth together. How cool.
Now imagine a third and final church. This is the Missionary Baptist Church of Anywhere Mountain. This church meets in a small building in the middle of nowhere. The pastor of this church has a combover and yells and sweats alot. People say "Amen" often during the service. They boast a congregation of around 25, because the Smith family left the church recently, which was around 1/3 of their members. They meet every Sunday morning and then have a potluck in the small fellowship hall afterward. How quaint.
Now imagine that each church decides it is going to have an outreach program to reach the people of Anywhere. First Baptist Anywhere decides they are going to have a block party for the families in the neighborhood, so they can come and see what the church is all about. They rent a bouncy house and have carnival games set up. Around 30 children and their parents show up. At the end of the block party, the children's pastor gathers everyone in and somewhat awkwardly tells them a Bible story, and everyone leaves with a First Baptist Anywhere book mark and tract entitled "Who Am I?"
The Living Well of the Spirit #Luminous also has an outreach. They decide that with the great sound system they have they will hold a concert with a Christian band, and before the beginning of the concert they will show a video about their church and why everyone at the concert should come to it. The concert is a great success. Over 1000 people show up, and each and every one of them sees that you can be a Christian and still like good music and watch cool videos.
As you would expect, The Missionary Baptist Church of Anywhere Mountain holds an outreach as well. They decide that they are going to make signs and go to the busiest intersection in their town and preach. They have signs that say "Repent!", "The End Is Near!", "John 3:16", and other things of that nature. They become the talk of the town, and basically everyone who lives on or near Anywhere Mountain has seen them and their message.
Which of these outreaches was most successful? Was it the First Baptist Church of Anywhere? They gave out information about their Church and told a Bible story to over 30 people. Was it The Living Well of the Spirit #Luminous? They held a concert for over 1000 people and showed people how cool it is to be a Christian. Was it the Missionary Baptist Church of Anywhere Mountain? Everyone in their town of around 200 people heard the scriptures that day.
You may have an answer in your mind. Most likely it is the church whose outreach method you most agree with. Or maybe you look at the numbers and see which outreach reached the most people. This is the problem we have with our programs, in my opinion. We, being Americans, assume Jesus and his followers should treat our faith as we treat our economy. We think that the church or outreach that boasts the most numbers and is bringing in the most members is successful. We think we need to "sell" Jesus when we evangelize. We think if we don't do a good enough job making Jesus appetizing, he won't be able to do it Himself, and therefore our return on investment won't be profitable. If we think our love won't be accepted by people, we get stingy with it and dole it out other places.
I don't think God works that way. I think God doesn't care about numbers, but rather hearts. I think God doesn't care about how appetizing He looks, but how hungry people are. I think God doesn't consider Love a currency, but rather a river. Whether or not I think any of these outreach methods are good ways of reaching people, God can use any of them. As followers of Christ we need to stop worrying so much about what others are doing, how they are doing it, and how they can do it better. We need to simply look to Christ and how He loved others. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 & 13 sums it up when Paul says, " If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
So which outreach is the most successful? None of them. Or all of them. It all hinges on the hearts of the members of the church who were leading them. If we simply love God, really learn to love God, we realize He deals in a totally different economy. He deals in the the economy of Love. And when we deal in the economy of Love, we don't need to sell God, we realize all we need is to freely give out His love.
Over Christmas break I got to take a roadtrip across America with my good friend Ian. I firmly believe every young person needs to do this, to get out and see what is out there in the "other places." Ian and I had just graduated college earlier in the month, and when my grandfather told me he wanted to give me his truck, but that it was all the way in Southern California, we jumped at the chance.
While on the plane to California, we met a guy with whom we began to converse with and have the normal, "I'm sitting really close to you but have never met you" type of small talk. When he asked what we were doing in California, we told him about the trip and how we were going to try to hit as many National Parks on the way home as we could, and he told us he had previously lived in the Zion Canyon area of Utah. This was one of the parks we were planning on visiting, so he told us about a few good hikes. "You must hit Angel's landing, it is an absolutely beautiful hike.... although it may be closed in the winter. But definitely check it out," said our new friend.
We had new insider information, so we felt pretty good about our Zion portion of our trip. When we arrived at Zion we attained a trail map and located Angel's Landing. The map said it was "Very strenuous, not recommended for children or those that are scared of heights." However, the map said it was only four miles, so we decided that no matter how strenuous, a four mile hike can't be that bad. We were wrong.
When we got to the trailhead I immediately noticed two things: 1. The trail is paved & 2. There are ten year olds and 70 year olds hiking this trail. I'm not worried. We began to climb the fairly steep trail, taking plenty of pictures and stopping to inspect rock formations along the way. I scoffed at the people wearing cramp-ons to traverse the small ice patches on the paved trail. We didn't need cramp-ons, we didn't need hiking poles, heck, we didn't even need proper winter clothing or gloves!
However, soon after I climbed up in a rock formation to take this picture:
we came upon another young man, similarly dressed. He looked at us and said, "Are you guys gonna attempt it?" Now when someone asks you not if you are going to do something, but if you are going to attempt something, and you don't really know what that something you are about to do is like, that should be a red flag. But we are young, we have just graduated college, we're men, we're finding ourselves, so I gave a condescending chuckle and replied, "Yeah, of course." To which Ian followed, "Only a fool thinks he decides when he lives or dies." If only he knew how close we would come.
Soon after we got to a spot in the trail affectionately known as the "Wiggles." These Wiggles were a series of steep switchbacks, which at this point in the season were a solid sheet of ice. However, there was rock walls on the inside of the trail that you could hoist yourself up on. So, yes, the trail was not easy, but the worst thing that could happen in my mind was slipping on the ice and breaking your tailbone. We slowly but steadily climbed the Wiggles, and eventually made it to the top. When we got to the top, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that was all around me. I quickly got out the camera my mother was sure to give me for my trip, and began to attempt to capture some of the grandeur I was witnessing. I was in awe, I was happy, and I was safe. Attempt it. Ha! It was then that I saw the vulture. What is that vulture doing up here? Ian then uttered one of the worst and most beautiful string of words that have ever come out of his mouth: "Oh..... this isn't the top. That's the top."
To which I replied, "Yeah, we're not attempting that." To which he replied, "Only a fool thinks he decides when he lives or dies."
Let me try to put this situation in a more understandable form for you, because the pictures really don't do it justice. That is a giant rock, jutting out of the earth, and the only way to the top is a "trail" that is basically a sheer rock face covered in ice with a chain stapled into the rock to use as a climbing rope of sorts in most places. There are no second chances. If you fall once you will have 1500 feet of space between you and the ground to prepare to see the Lord. This "trail" should be on the "Only Hike if You are Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger" section of the trail guide. We "hiked" it anyway.
The entire time I was climbing, it was like someone had put a three second long song entitled "This is the Dumbest thing I've Ever Done" in my brain on repeat. I'm sure you can imagine what the lyrics were like. We went back and forth with, "Hey, maybe we should just go back" and then the other would reply, "We've made it this far, let's just keep going." I counted seven total "near death experiences" on the trail, no exaggeration, although I suppose the entire time I was around four inches and two really numb hands on a chain away from meeting my maker. In held out hope, however, that once I reached the top I would be safe to sit, decompress, and take in the beauty that was all around me that I had been desperately trying to avoid looking at as I was climbing. However, 1700 "This is the dumbest thing I've ever done's" and three near death experiences later, I was at the top, and just as terrified as ever. The whole thing was an ice sheet, and there were no chains to hold on to. However, it was there that I sensed God in a way that I never have before.
I finally stood up, looked around, remembered how out of my skull scared I was, and understood a small portion of how massive my God is.
You see, I've heard my entire life that I am supposed to fear God. I have trouble knowing what that means. Does it mean that I need to be scared that if I mess up one too many times God will strike me down? I don't think that's the answer. Does it mean that I am supposed to always bow my head, close my eyes, and say certain words when I come to God? I don't think that's the answer either. So what is the answer? I don't think there is one. And I believe that is why we don't know what it means to fear God. I hear so many people trying to explain God, prove His existence, chart out what God believes, what stance God has on politics, and I think we are scared to look at God as He really is: unexplainable. That day, on top of that rock, I saw God in one of His purest and natural forms. I saw Him the way Moses saw Him. I saw Him the way Paul saw Him. I saw Him the way he needs to be seen: wild, unpredictable, beautiful, and terrifying. God cannot be contained, He can't be formulated, He can't be proven. He is simply and complexly God. What kind of God could destroy the entire Earth and later come as a human to save it? It doesn't make sense. It can't be mapped. It can't be charted. It can't be explained.
When we try to put God on a chart, we make him manageable. Put yourself in a situation of terrifying beauty, and God will show you a small part of Himself, as He did with Moses in Exodus 33. God's glory is too much for us to see and understand, but ask God to show Himself to you and He will. Just make sure to bring a change of underwear.
The faces of two grown men who are about to cry in fear.
Tragedy is all around us. Every day there are seemingly new and more sickening acts of violence and hate for others. News broadcasters talk about "unimaginable" and "unspeakable" acts every day. However, mankind as a whole is better than this, aren't we? We will overcome this, won't we? The good people in this world outnumber the bad, don't we?
I don't think so.
You could never do anything like the crimes committed in the pictures above, could you? You couldn't purposefully cause an explosion just to hurt others, could you? You couldn't participate in mass genocide of a people group, just because they are from a different tribe than yourself, could you? You couldn't send people to concentration camps to rot, could you? You couldn't capture, enslave, and torture millions of African tribesmen, could you? You couldn't force entire tribes of people off of their land , knowing they would most likely die elsewhere just because you want their land, could you? Think about the people that commit these horrendous crimes. How are you innately any different from them?
I can't speak for you, so I will speak for myself. Could I murder, rape, or commit any of these awful crimes? Of course not! Right? The thought of doing that makes my skin crawl. Why is that? What makes me better than these other people? What stops the me that is only me and no one else from doing these things? Nothing. I have decided that there is nothing in me that makes me better than these other people.
So why haven't I committed mass genocide yet? If we take a look at the people who commit these atrocities, we find that most every time their parents or others around them didn't teach them to do right, instead of wrong. This makes sense. So if the parents would just do a better job teaching them, things like this wouldn't happen. Or if we could just get positive role models for young people, then this stuff would stop happening, right? Maybe. I definitely think that would help. However, the real question is, why do we need to be taught to do good instead of evil? A child, from the time they are born, only care about themselves. They will inconvenience and even hurt others just to get their way. A good parent or parents will eventually teach the child to act differently, and a bad parent or parents will just let the child go on thinking the world revolves around them.
Why is this something that needs to be taught? Why is good behavior a learned condition? I think we are all born with some wires crossed inside of us. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what religion you follow, if you are trying to do good things, as opposed to bad things, you have learned to do that from someone else. It is not of your inner self. The Bible calls these self serving things we do our "sin nature." This means that it is within us, when we are born, to do evil. In Galatians 5:19-21a, Paul says, "When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these." In order for good deeds to come from the inside, instead of what someone else says we should do, something inside of us needs to be fixed.
The only way I can see this happening is through Jesus. Yes, there are great people out there who do not know Jesus who do good things. (Actually I find many times that the most moral and socially aware people are not following Jesus. Shame on us.) However, all these great things that people do outside of Jesus have been learned. I want to do good things because that is what my nature tells me to do. I have come to find out this is impossible. The great news is, all is not lost. The Bible tells us precisely how we can overcome and cure this disability. Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." When you give yourself to Christ, and I don't mean just believe in Him, but but really give yourself to Him, you are a new creation. You are dead! Hooray! I know that doesn't actually sound all that great, but the incredible part of it is that all of the old you is gone (including the sin nature) and Jesus has replaced it with His nature. Not the power hungry political type of religion that alot of "Christians" claim, but a nature that cares deeply for the lost, the lonely, the sick, the hurt, the poor, and the hungry. This is corroborated in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when the scriptures say, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Jesus has given us a new commandment. This commandment basically serves to put a sign on our chest, saying "I am a disciple of Jesus." And no, surprisingly it's not an "Abreadcrumb and Fish" t-shirt. In John 13:34-35 at the last supper, in one of the last commandments Jesus gives to His disciples, He says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let us, as disciples of Jesus, make a point to forget our differences and simply love one another.
The only way this world can hope to stop doing evil is to die.
We must let ourselves die, and let Jesus live and love through us.