Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Tribe Do You Belong To?

I have a Facebook friend who made the following post recently, and I felt compelled to respond to him, not because I took exception to his comment, but because he makes a good point that deserves a response.
*preface* I am not okay with the slaughter of Christians going on in the Middle East.....that being said.....I'm sick of hearing all the outrage from Christians about it who think its just so barbaric and wrong when your religion has done the same thing to MILLIONS over the centuries. The Crusades, the Inquisition and what you did to the Native Americans in the name of Manifest Destiny just to name a few....but you all choose to ignore that. I guess you figure that it was different because it was in the name of YOUR God right? so its all justified. Or maybe its because there are no pics or videos of all the killing to be posted all over social media so you figure we can all pretend like it didn't happen.......lets work on getting the massive logs out of your eyes shall we?
I am a Christian.  My friend is not.  It would be all too easy for me to be offended because he dared to charge me, and others of my faith, with wrong doing.  But I am not, mostly because I recognize there is truth in his comment, although I believe he does fall a bit short.

Humanity seems to be clannish.  I am generally going to hang out with people of my own tribe, or clan.  I am going to be more sympathetic of those in my tribe and will defend them against members of other tribes.  I am happy when my tribe is successful, and angry, frustrated, outraged, saddened when my tribe, or some portion thereof, suffers at the hands of outsiders.

Tribes were initially extended family groups, but over time they have expanded beyond simple blood lines into many other forms: skin color, economic status, religion, age, political leanings, gun control, national or ethnic identity, sports team.  I am an aging white middle class American Christian who is frustrated with both of the major political parties in the US, and who does not understand the current fascination with guns.  And in many ways that defines the tribe(s) I belong to.

It seems to come naturally to me to side with those of my tribe and against those from other tribes, and I don't believe I am unique in that respect.  Witness the protest when a white policeman shoots a black man.  Or a gang of black youths attack a white person.  Members of the victims tribe in both cases will be up in arms, white the other tribe will mostly ignore it.  How much conflict is there in the US today over gun control or political philosophies?

And that extends to religion as well.  I am a Christian and someone else is not.  I am right and they are wrong.  God is on my side and is opposed to those of other religious persuasions.  I deserve the best, while the other side deserves little, if anything.  And heaven help you should you do something to hurt a fellow member of my Christian tribe.  Go ahead and replace Christian in this paragraph with Muslim, or atheist, or Hindu and you will likely find it just as true, unless of course you happen to belong to that tribe.  And yes, I realize that an atheist will not claim God is on their side.

And that is so sad, and as Christians we should be embarrassed by it.  In the Old Testament you see the 'us' against 'them' mentality with the world neatly divided up into Jews and Gentiles and an abiding conflict between them.  But in the New Testament that changes.  The good news that God cares about everyone is taken out into the world, regardless of what tribe a person might belong to.  But we seem to have forgotten that and fallen back into the trap of separating the world into two major tribes, Christians and non Christians.
When we do that we tend to forget that Jesus died on the cross just as much for my young atheist friend, or the Muslim terrorist who flew a plane into a building killing thousands, as he did for me.  When I vilify or denounce those who do not share my faith, and sometimes attack it, rather than pray for them, feed them and share with them what I have, including but not limited to the gospel; then I have fallen short of what God has called me to do and be, and should be ashamed.  Christ died to tear down the walls that separate us.  What gives me the right to rebuild those walls he died to destroy?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Forgetting the Past and Looking Ahead

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 NIV
Paul's goal was to become totally identified with Christ, his own self dropping by the wayside and becoming one with his Lord.  It was a goal that he was working hard to achieve, and doing two things to help him reach that goal.

The first thing he was doing was forgetting the past.  Now Paul did not forget the past entirely.  He never seems to have forgotten just where he had come from.  And he remembered what others had done for him as well as conflicts with others.  But he did not live in the past.  He did not allow either his past failures or victories keep him from pursuing his goal.  And both of those can be a major impediment if we allow them to.

My past failures can be very discouraging.  If I try and fail, especial several times, it can become easy to believe that success is out of my reach; I am doomed to always fail.  I know there are areas in my own life that I struggle with, and fall short over and over.  Will I ever have victory over this thing?  And sometimes it is tempting to just give up even trying.  But I need to forget those past failures.  They are in the past and there is nothing I can do about them.  But I can prepare for what lies ahead.

I suspect everyone likes to succeed.  We feel good knowing that we have accomplished something worthwhile.  But there is a danger there as well.  I could easily become satisfied that I have accomplished enough, that I have arrived and am where I need to be in my faith.  And when that happens I can become complacent and quit growing and developing the way I should.  Especially if I am comparing myself with others around me, rather than comparing myself to Jesus and seeing that I still have plenty of room to grow.

In forgetting his past, Paul choose to turn his attention to what was to come.  I don't believe that Paul was referring to his upcoming itinerary here, but rather to eternity.  God had called him to something, and his focus was fixed on that.  His energy was devoted, not to making a name for himself, preparing for retirement, or trying to be successful in this life; but rather to win the prize that God had set before him.  And he was not going to let anything get in the way of that, either his past or his present.

And what was this prize?  Toward the end of his life Paul looked back on his years of service to his Lord and had no regrets, expressing confidence that a crown awaited him.
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV
This crown of righteousness is not a physical crown like we sometime might visualize.  Rather it is the affirmation of the Master of a life lived in devoted service and an invitation to eternal service in the kingdom.
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Matthew 25:21 & 23 NIV
Paul, in his life and service, was looking forward to hearing God say to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"  That kept him persevering through all of the challenges he faced, as well as putting aside his own desires in order to be useful in the kingdom's work.  How important is it to me to hear God say to me "Well done!"

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The PCT: Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass

I have been wanting to do the stretch of the PCT from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass for several years, but something has always gotten in the way of accomplishing this goal; until this year.  The weather forecast was good, snow levels looked tolerable, the local fires were not threatening, my hiking partner was available and things were stable at home.  So we packed up our hammocks and 7 days worth of food and hit the trail, starting at Rainy Pass and heading south down to Stevens Pass, approximately 120 miles away.

According to Craig's PCT Planner, this stretch is 118 miles long with nearly 20,000 feet of elevation gain, although the halfmile app on my phone claims that the elevation gain is closer to 31,000 feet.  The elevation profile at right shows just how challenging this section would be, nearly always in the midst of a long ascent or descent.  I have heard it said that this is one of the ruggedest stretches of the PCT, and I can believe it.  It is also the most remote stretch of trail other than the Sierra's in California.  But it is offset by the amazing vistas and the gorgeous displays of wildflowers that were on display throughout the section.

This stretch passes through the North Cascades National Park as well as the Glacier Peak and Henry M Jackson Wildernesses.  These three areas in a way serve to divide up this section into three distinct regions.

North Cascades National Park

This stretch of the trail starts a couple of miles south of Rainy Pass and runs to the Ranger Station at High Bridge and the road to Stehekin.  This 20 mile stretch is pretty much all downhill and is not overly scenic.  It drops from about the 4900 foot level at the pass to 1600 foot at High Bridge.  This section had a lot of woodland wildflowers blooming as well as plenty of water.  But the trail generally stays in the deep forest, providing little in the way of the vistas that would come later.  The trail is generally in pretty good condition with few windfalls or brush.

Since we left late on a Friday afternoon, we stopped for the night about 6 miles down the trail at the Hide-A-Way camp, a spot with a minimum of flat spots as well as a fire ring and a crude privy, actually just a box with a lid.  There was a young couple already there who had the only real spot along with the fire ring, which seemed unconnected to any actually camping spot.  We ended up hanging out in the trees and had a comfortable night.

The biggest surprise in the section was an encounter with a rattlesnake.  I had expected them in Oregon and California, although had only seen one.  But I was unprepared to encounter one in the North Cascades.  But encounter one we did.  We were bopping merrily along the trail a couple miles north of High Bridge when suddenly there was a 3.5 foot rattler crossing the trail just ahead of me.  Definitely the highlight of the day.

We also encountered a group of about 11 trail runners.  They had been dropped of at Rainy Pass and were heading to High Bridge and the shuttle to Stehekin.  We saw the last of them just a couple miles from the end, and many of them looked like they were regretting the decision to go on this run.  Looks like it could be a fun run through if you could arrange the logistics.

If you chose to hike this section, be sure that you have a proper permit first.  I did not and it cost me $75 when we encountered a ranger hiking up the trail toward us.  I knew I needed one but had neglected to obtain it and have no one to blame but myself, but it still hurts a bit.  One should also be aware that camping outside a designated campsite is not allowed, and there is a quota on each of the campsites, something we did not know until leaving the south end of the park.

At High Bridge was a ranger station and residence, a campground and a road that runs to Stehekin.  There is a shuttle that makes the 11 mile one way trip several times a day, with a schedule posted at the pickup point.  It is worth noting that the posted schedule is different than the most recent schedule that halfmile includes with his notes.

Glacier Peak Wilderness

The Glacier Peak Wilderness starts just a mile or two beyond the exit from the park as you follow the trail over Agnes creek and then up its south fork.  The first 20 miles after leaving High Bridge is an ascent up to Suiattle Pass, following the south fork of the Agnes creek until you cross it midway and then head up to the pass.

As long as you are in the Agnes Creek valley, the forest is thick as is the brush in places.  We spent our second night at the Swamp Creek campground, a large campground with a broken box type privy.  Leaving there Sunday morning we quickly learned that all our previous encounters with brushy trails were nothing compared with the ascent to Suiattle Pass.  Early on the brush was waist deep, and sometimes higher, and wet.  The trail in places was not even visible and you just plowed through the brush, picking out the shallow dip in the sea of green to follow instead of a trail.  You could not see any rocks in the trail, and that made it even harder.

After fording Agnes Creek we started to climb in earnest, and in places the brush became even worse, although dry by this time.  Shoulder high brush that has completely overwhelmed a rocky and ascending trail is not easy to plough through.  With care it was easy to follow where the trail went, but frequently impossible to see the actual trail, requiring great care when planting your feet.

But finally we came out into the open and were able to start enjoying some of the vistas.  It was a pretty country with lots of mountains to see, some patches of snow and quite a few wildflowers popping up.  We also went through an area with lots of windfalls and a broken, although still usable, bridge, where the trail was a bit hard to follow.  We enjoyed an extended lunch sitting on a big rock and just enjoying the solitude and the beauty around us.

Shortly after topping Suiattle Pass the trail drops back into the trees, but you do start to finally get an occasional peek at Glacier Peak to the southwest of us.  We ascended the trail for a few miles to the Miners Creek camp and set up for the night, tired, but happy to have conquered the first pass and gotten a sight at what was to come.

Monday morning we were up early and heading down to the Suiattle River where we opted to take the shortcut across the log and the old trail, cutting off about 4.5 miles from the route that crosses the new bridge.  We found the log easily enough and scooted across on our bottoms and then followed the cairns and footprints across the rivers floodplain to the wooded hillside.  We lost the trail there and finally plunged into the thicket at the edge and eventually found the trail 100 yards or so into the forest and up the hillside.  The old trail has not been maintained in several years, and has literally hundreds of windfalls across the trail.  But the trail was easy to follow, and windfalls mostly easy to get around.  At the end of the trail was another washed out bridge and search for a log to cross and within 2 hours of leaving the main trail we were back on it.

Once back on the main trail, it climbs steadily up Vista Ridge through the trees until around the 5000 foot level and then breaks out into some of the prettiest meadows I could ever remember seeing.  Progress for me slowed to a crawl as I gawked at the flowers as well as the vistas to the north.  The trail continues to climb for another 1000 feet through the meadows and at some point we simply stopped in the middle of the trail, flopped down and had lunch.  If the ascent up Vista Ridge was a delight, the descent was a nightmare.  The trail was steep and narrow, the brush was thick in places, and it seemed to go on forever, and it probably did not help that I was worn out.  At one point the trail made a least 10-12 long switchbacks across a massive bed of Bracken Fern and False Hellebore that was waist to chest high, completely hiding the trail.  I was starting to think it would never end by the time we finally got back into the forest for a while.

Once we finally hit the bottom at Milk Creek, where we had hoped to camp, we found no easy access to the water, nor suitable place to hang, so up the other side we started.  Fortunately we did not have to ascend far before finding a small grove of trees on somewhat level ground.  Not sure if a ground dweller would have found any place to lay anywhere around there.

Tuesday morning we were again up early and ascending toward Fire Creek Pass.  We had heard from a number of northbound hikers that this pass was where most of the snow was.  Some did not think it too difficult, while others thought is somewhat dicey, especially without at least microspikes, something we didn't have.  This was another long ascent, but it was a bit more scenic early on.  We stopped at frozen over Mica Lake for an extended breakfast.  While there I met a couple of thru hikers than I had seen in southern California in April.

From there we charged on up to the pass, and there was more snow here than anywhere else, but it was still patchy and the trail was easy to follow.  The only tricky spot was right below the pass itself where there was a pretty steep but very short section of snow with a long runout below.  But with a little care we were soon over than and on top.  There was little in the way of flowers on top, but the views were pretty majestic.

Shortly after starting down I ran into Early Bird and Squirrel, two of the group I had hiked with from the Mexican border.  It was quite a surprise to see them again and really made my day.  South of the pass the trail meanders around several bowls, climbing and ascend 500-700 foot several times before finally heading down the Kennedy Ridge down into the White Chuck River Valley, although we never got within sight of the river.  Crossing the Kennedy Creek was interesting.  It had a big log with a handrail on either side, but the log was broken in the middle and had fallen down into the creek.  Fortunately it was stable and the top of the log was above water so we were able to easily get across.

We spent a pleasant night at Baekos Creek and met Patrick, another of those I had hiked with in southern California earlier.  He came into camp just as I was getting into my hammock for the night.

Wednesday morning the weather has started to change and was overcast when we started out.  Today was the climb into Red Pass, the high point on this section of the trail.  Unfortunately by the time we had broken out into the clear, we couldn't see more than 100 yards ahead because of the low clouds.  The trail was traversing through meadows with an abundance of shooting stars.  I had never seen more than a handful of them together anyplace before, so it was a delight to see hundreds of them along the trail.

The transformation when cresting the pass was amazing.  To the north visibility was zilch.  To the south we could see all the way to Mt Rainier.  There was still some patchy clouds but they eventually cleared and the afternoon was clear.  The wildflowers on Vista Ridge had been wonderful.  The displays between Red Pass and Dishpan Gap were simply amazing.  Pictures I am capable of taking just would not do them justice.  Whole hillsides were aflame with color from a wide array of different flowers.  That 3 or 4 mile stretch is now my favorite part of the PCT; and the vistas were just an added bonus.

Henry M Jackson Wilderness

Between Indian Pass and Dishpan Gap the trail leaves the Glacier Peak Wilderness and enters the Henry M Jackson Wilderness.  The trail here seemed to be less scenic with fewer flowers and less dramatic swings between high and low.  In its own right it is an inviting section of trail, but after the previous few days it was not as awe inspiring as it might have been for northbounders.

We had thought to stop at Lake Sally Ann for the night, but it was still early when we got there and a bit exposed so we opted to continue on a while after a long break at this picturesque lake.  While we were loafing along side the river a solo southbounder passed though with little comment.  Later we discovered it was probably Scott Williamson on yet another thru-hike.

We ended up at Pass Creek for the night with three other hikers, all heading north and hoping to finish their conquest of the PCT after 2 years for a couple of them and 10 years for the third.

Because of the longer than expected previous day, Thursday was to be a short day.  We were up early and headed to the last high point of the trail, Grizzly Peak.  Before getting there we passed a young man heading north with only a tiny backpack, little more than a standard camelback.  He said he was a speed hiker as he raced by.  We found out the next day that he was probably Joe McConaughy, attempting to set a supported speed record for the PCT.  Interesting that in two days we had seen a man likely attempting to set a southbound unsupported record and another trying to set a record for a supported northbound traverse.

We stopped for breakfast on a shoulder of Grizzly Peak in the middle of what was to be our last meadow, with a view to the north of what was to be our last look at Glacier Peak.  After breakfast we went on to Janus Lake and got set up early.  Janus Lake is pretty, but is shallow and seems to be in the process of slowly turning into a meadow.  I attempted to go swimming, but 50 yards out the water was still little more than waist deep, with muck midway up my calves.  So I just cleaned up as best as I could and waded back, trying to avoid the muck I had stirred up as much as possible.  The bulk of the afternoon was spent chillin around camp and made an early night of it.

Friday was a 10 mile jaunt through the trees with only a view of picturesque Lake Valhalla to offer relief from the forest tunnel.  A few miles from Stevens Pass we started to glimpse the highway and hear the cars roaring down it.  And soon enough we were at the lodge and waiting for a ride home.  A stop at the Baring Cafe for burgers and a trip across the street to say hi to the Dinsmores and then it was time to go home.

While this was one of my longest unsupported trips, and was physically very demanding, it was very rewarding.  The sweeping views of the North Cascades, the stunning wildflower displays, and the opportunity to reconnect with friends from earlier on the trail made this a trip to remember.

At the trailhead on Rainy Pass, rearing to go.

Just down the trail comes the first obstacle.  At a fork in the trail we take the wrong fork and come to this bridge.  We opted to go back and take the other fork and walk across the log.

This suspension bridge was a lot of fun.  Without the handrail you would likely not make it across.  Lots of fun.

Recovered from the shock at seeing a rattlesnake in time to get his picture before it slithered into the bushes.

Don't guess we'll camp here for the night.


Guess where the trail goes.  It can sometimes be a challenge to find it when the brush is chest high and encroached on the trail.

A small sample of the profuse wildflowers

This steep rock face had a stream flowing down it.  Pretty cool!

One of the bowls up near Suiattle Pass

The weather is not always kind to bridges in the high country.

There is water everywhere, including flowing down the trail.

Traversing across a talus field.

First look at Glacier Peak from just below Suiattle Pass.

Side view of the log across the Suiattle River

From up on the bank looking down on the log.

Demonstrating proper technique for crossing a log over a raging river.

A 6 foot diameter windfall that you get to crawl under.  So much fun :)

A trail being overtaken by ferns.

Vista Ridge is covered with fields of False Hellebore and other flowers

The view from part way up Vista Ridge

Another view of Glacier Peak

Set up for the night just above Milk Creek

Mica Lake.  No swimming today.

Looking up toward Fire Creek Pass.  The pass is just to the right of the picture and not quite as much snow.

Looking back down at the ascent to Fire Creek Pass

Early Bird, Eeyore and Squirrel

This notch plunged nearly straight down.  Could make for an exciting glissade in the snow.

Yet another picture of Glacier Peak.

Looking down the White Chuck Valley

Look closely at this log across the Kennedy Creek.  

This waterfall across the way was one of the last things we saw on the way up to Red Pass before the clouds socked us in.

The north face of Red Pass had an abundance of Shooting Stars.  More than I have seen in my whole life.

Mt Rainier as seen from Red Pass.

This cloud is blowing across the ridge between Red and White Passes

A little bowl of flowers on the traverse between Red and White Pass

One of the local gardeners taking a break.

Sometimes the trail tread is 2 feet or more below ground level as you walk through a meadow.

Fires have closed most of the trails to the east of the PCT in the Wenatchee Forest.

Lake Sally Ann.  Easily the prettiest lake we passed close to.  But a bit high and exposed so we went on.

Looks kind of like a ships brow laying on the trail.  I assume there was a big erosion problem here.

Standing nearly atop Grizzly Peak with Glacier Peak in the distance.

Janus Lake, a soon to be meadow.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Congratulations and Best Wishes to the Happy Couple

My little boy got married this past weekend.  Sometimes it's hard to believe that he's all grown up now.  While I sometimes despaired of him ever getting to this point, I am proud of who he has become.  While there is still a lot of life ahead of him, he now has a life companion to share that journey with; and it looks to be a good journey together.  This world can be a rough and unforgiving place, but having someone to travel through it with you can make it much easier, especially when you are both also walking with God.

Mike and Jessica are off on their honeymoon now, and hopefully enjoying themselves immensely.  But the vacation will soon be over and it will be time to start sharing a home together, getting back to work and all of the other daily activities they find to do.  And it will be all too easy to forget about love when the freshness of the honeymoon wears off, the reality of everyday life starts to weigh them down, and expectations are not met.

But I pray for them, that their love, which is so overwhelming now will grow in depth and maturity.  While it will be challenging to maintain the emotional high that they feel now, love is so much more than a feeling.  Love in marriage is learning to appreciate your partner for who they are, not what you want them to be.  Love is giving yourself to your husband or wife, putting their interests ahead of your own, not with the expectation of sometime in return, but simply because of who they are.  Look out for each other, care deeply, and look forward to the years ahead.  It takes time and effort to learn to love, but the reward is well worth it.





Monday, July 14, 2014

The Foolishness of the Cross

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

       “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
         the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV
The message of the cross: that mankind is sinful and estranged from God, that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, that he died on the cross for my sin and then rose from the dead on the third day, and putting my faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus is the only way to a right standing with God.  That humanity is generally disinterested in God, apart from some ritualistic lip service seems clear.  But a crucified messiah seems to be a pretty far fetched method for bringing people into a meaningful relationship with God.

If I was God, I am sure I could have put together a plan that would have been more appealing to a lost humanity, one that would have reached a larger audience.  Why the cross?  Why not a permanent physical presence someplace on earth where people could see you and come to you?  Why not provide us with a checklist of the things we need to do to be acceptable to you (oh wait, he did do that)?  Why not reward those who accept you now with physical prosperity and health (like some claim)?

Many people today, as well as in Paul's day, rejected the message of the cross because it appeared to be foolish; it was weak and embarrassing; it did not make good sense.  And yet it was the way that God chose to introduce his salvation to us.  But why; why a criminal's death?  Some seem to believe that it is the only way God could deal with our sin, by having a perfect substitute take our punishment.  And indeed the scriptures do express his death in terms of him being a substitute.  But I have a hard time accepting that God was forced to do it this way to accomplish his purpose from the creation.

I believe that God intentionally chose the way of the cross because it would appear foolish to us.  God desires faith on our part, not intellectual reasoning and an emotional response to miracles.  God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Humanly speaking, the message of the cross is foolish.  But the "foolishness" of God is wiser than anything humanity could have accomplished.  It has the power to transform mortal and sinful humanity into children of God.

Embrace the foolishness of God.  Enter into relationship with your creator.  Let him transform you into a new creation.  Reasoning will never get you there.  Only faith in a crucified and resurrected Lord.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hope

Hope is a word that is used frequently in the New Testament, with at least a couple of different uses.  Sometimes it is used in the sense of something that we want to happen but have no assurance of, which is how we commonly use this word today.  But other times it seems to have a much different meaning, a confident expectation of something that lies in the future.  And in that sense, hope is a key concept in the New Testament, yet one that most believers I have encountered seem to struggle with.

Implicit in hope is that we are dealing with something that has not yet happened, or at least that it is something that we do not currently recognize as having happened; it is something that I am looking forward to.  Paul expresses this idea in Romans 8:25 when he talks about waiting patiently for what we are hoping for, what we do not yet have.

In Ephesians 1:18 and 4:4, Paul talks about the hope that we are called to.  As believers, we are not called to hope, but to a hope.  Hope can be a kind of vague thought about what the future may hold.  But we are called to something much more specific that than.  And knowing what that hope is, will help us to keep our focus during this phase of our life.

What is our hope?
So what is this hope we are called to?  When I ask this question of other believers it often amazes me the silence I get in response.  Most will eventually get a response out, but it is apparent that it is not something that they are eagerly anticipating.  It seems rather to be something that is so far removed from their daily lives that it has little impact. But it is clear from reading the New Testament, especially Paul, that this hope was a major motivating factor for his life.

It is not uncommon to hear believers talk about salvation as an event in their past, the specific time when they surrendered their lives to the lordship of Jesus.  But it means so much more than that.  The New Testament talks about salvation in a present tense, work out your salvation, as well as in a future sense, now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul tells us to put on the hope of salvation as a helmet.  We will be delivered, or saved, out of this corrupt and failing body and world, and we should hold onto that expectation as a helmet, protecting us from the struggles and trials of this life as well as the pleasures and distractions of life here.

In Acts 23:6 & 24:15 Paul expresses his hope as concerning the resurrection of the dead, that his life here is not the end of the read, but only a step along the journey.  He also expressed this thought in 1 Corinthians 15:19, that this life is not all there is; if it was, we are to be pitied.  While resurrection is not all of the hope I have, it is a critical part of it.  Without resurrection, when I die in this life, it is over; there is nothing to look forward to.

In Titus 1:2 & 3:7 Paul expresses our hope as concerning eternal life.  Resurrection does not just lead to another temporary step, or series of steps, that eventually come to an end.  Instead we look forward to an eternity in fellowship with God.  Often we think of eternal life as simply living forever; but Jesus defines it in John 17:3 as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ.  Eternal life is not simply living forever; it is living in relationship with our creator and God.

And finally, in Romans 5:2 & Colossians 1:27 we see the expression hope of glory.  I am looking forward to experiencing the glory of God, and not merely as a spectator.  My experience with the glory of God will be very personal and first hand as a child of God and in intimate communion with him.

The hope of salvation, the hope of resurrection, the hope of eternal life, and the hope of glory; all of these are really aspects of the same hope.  Death in this life is really the entrance into the life that God is even now preparing me for.  I do not know nearly as much about that life to come as I would like to.  But I look forward to it with confident expectation.  And that expectation should have a dramatic impact on life today.  The more I look forward to that day, the more it will effect today.

What difference does it make?
If I have no hope for the future then I might as well enjoy this life to the fullest (1 Corinthians 15:3).  But as believers we do have that hope, and it should impact today.  If it makes no difference to the way I live today, is it really hope?

Colossians 1:3-6 describes two impacts that our hope for the future has on our today.  The first is that it enables me to have faith in Christ.  Sometimes there is some overlap in faith and hope, but here I believe Paul is saying that because of the hope we have, we are able to walk by faith today.  I can trust him now because I know he has my future.

The second impact mentioned in this passage is that I am enabled to love my fellow believers because of my hope.  Because we share a common hope we are drawn together.  And because we will spend eternity together, it behooves us to learn, not just get along, but to be one in heart and mind.

The author of Hebrews (6:19) describes this hope as an anchor for the soul; an anchor that is in the most holy place where God dwells.  No matter what storms of life may blow, that anchor will not drag and will keep us secure.  There are many things in this world that we might be tempted to put our hope in, but all of them could let you down and cause a shipwreck in your life.  But if our hope is in God and what he is preparing us for, then we are secure.  Even if we lose everything in this life, it is nothing compared to what is to come.

In Peter's first letter (1:13) he tells us to set our hope fully on the grace to be given us, and to do it with minds that are fully alert and sober.  The hope I have should not be something I keep on a back shelf and just pull out when I need a little boost.  Rather, it should always be at the front of my thoughts.  If that hope is ever before me, the tendency I have to get caught up in the things of this world would be tempered by the recognition that they are only temporary, and at most a faint imitation of what is to come; nothing to hold to or trust in.

One of the challenging things in life is dealing with the death of someone close to you, and for me that has been my parents.  But because of the hope that we all shared, even though I miss them, I was able to rejoice that they are, as my dad frequently said, "Safe in the arms of Jesus."   1 Thessalonians 4:13 tells us not to grieve over those believers who pass before we do, knowing that death in not the end, but rather a transition into something even better.

My hope should not not keep me from living in this world and making a difference.  But it should help me to keep from getting to attached to the temporary things of this life, and to put my trust in what God is preparing me for.  All the little things, and sometimes bigger things, that trouble me during the course of a day will not have nearly as much impact on my life and attitude if my hope is set where it needs to be.  All that goes on in this life is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.


All passages below are from the NIV

John 17:3
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Acts 23:6
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”

Acts 24:15
and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.

Romans 5:2
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Romans 8:18
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:25
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 13:11
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

1 Corinthians 15:19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:32
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Galatians 5:5
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.

Ephesians 1:18
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

Ephesians 4:4
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;

Philippians 2:12-13
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.

Colossians 1:23
if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:27
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

1 Thessalonians 4:13
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 5:8
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

Titus 1:2
in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,

Titus 2:13
while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Titus 3:7
so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Hebrews 6:19
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

1 Peter 1:3
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1 Peter 1:13
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Purpose, Apart From God?

Does your life have purpose, a reason for being?  The answer to that question is really dependant on the existence of an intentional creator; a creator for this universe, and so, indirectly, you.  Is this universe and all it contains the product of a creator; God?  Or is it just the product of random chance?

Most people I have talked with seem to feel like their life has purpose; purpose gives meaning to life, and it keeps me going when life isn't fun. Google defines purpose as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists."  My purpose as a human is based on the reason for which I exist.  So just why do we exist?

I am convinced that this universe, and my life, were created by God, and that he had a reason for doing so.  I believe that reason has to do with preparing me, and others like me, for a life with him that extends beyond this universe.  God's purposeful creation gives my life purpose, a reason for being.  I exist because God made me, and he made me for a reason.

But what if there is no creator?  What if all we see is the product of blind chance?  Naturalism is a philosophy that operates under the assumption that all that is, is the result of natural processes, that there is no supernatural agent responsible for creation.  This is the position of atheists, as well as others who reject that the universe was intentionally created.

Now if naturalism is true, and we are simply the product of blind chance operating through natural processes, does life have any purpose?  To the naturalist, life is nothing more than a series of complex chemical reactions, that just happen.  It has no reason for its existence, and thus no purpose.  We are fundamentally no different than a bug or a rock.

But does it really matter if I have a purpose for being or not?  I believe it does.  If I have no purpose, then does it really matter what I do or how I live my life?  After all, my life is really little more than an accident, and will soon be over.  And nothing I have done, or failed to do, will really matter.  If I was to find a cure for cancer, or go down in history as the worst mass murderer, what would it matter?  If I, as well as those around me, are nothing more than minor blimps in cosmic history, with no purpose and no significance, then it does not matter whether I lived or not.  My life has even less purpose than the science experiment performed by a high school chemistry student, which at least is conducted for a purpose.

But it is hard to live like that.  I want to believe that my life has some purpose, that what I do really matters.  And so I invent purpose for myself.  I convince myself that I need to leave the world a better place than how I found it.  Or I set my purpose to be enjoying life to its fullest, experiencing all that the world has too offer.  But regardless the purpose I set for myself, whether self centered or others centered, it is not really the purpose that I exist for.  That purpose simply does not exist, at least not if we are only the product of blind chance.

Trying to live life as if it had purpose, while at the same time holding to naturalism is irrational, an incoherent worldview.  The only way ones life can have any real purpose is if it exists for a reason.  And there can be no reason for our existence apart from an intentional creator.  It is the creator who gives us purpose.  There is no other way.  We cannot give ourselves real purpose.