Friday, November 14, 2014

The Law: Required, Fulfilled, Overturned, Upheld?

While Israel is encamped at Mt Sinai, following their exodus from Egypt, God gives to Moses a set of laws for the new nation.  These laws cover the spectrum of life for Israel, from moral, to health, to civil, to religious.  Obedience to these laws was not optional, but was required if Israel was to remain in covenant relationship with God.
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.  Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2 NIV
From reading through the Old Testament one gets the impression that Israel actually did a rather poor job of living in obedience to the Law, and suffered as a consequence.  Only during those times when Israel made an effort to live in conformity with the Law did they prosper.  And that raises a question for believers today; what relationship does the Law have to our walk with God?  Is it still something that we are expected to follow?  Or is it no longer a requirement?


I know many believers who insist that Christians today are expected to keep the Law.  Yet I know none of them who actually do so; at least in its entirety.  A significant portion of the Law deals with the sacrificial system, and I have yet to meet anyone who follows any portion of that.  Another big chunk of the Law deals with health and dietary issues, and again few, if any, make any attempt to follow those regulations.  A third portion of the Law deals with civil issues, like what to do if an ox gores someone, and these are likewise generally ignored.

It is only the portion of the Law that deals with personal morality that anyone attempts to follow today, and even then they are somewhat selective in the portions they choose to follow; generally agreeing, for instance, with the prohibitions against homosexuality but not in how to deal with victims of rape.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Matthew 5:17-18 NIV
This passage is used by many as proof that the believer has not been exempted from following the Law (or at least that portion of the Law they want upheld).  Indeed Jesus says that his intent was not to abolish the Law, although he did seem to eliminate portions (see Mark 7:19) and changed others (see Matthew 5:38-42)


It seems to me though that focusing on the 'not abolishing' portion of that passage is probably not the correct point of emphasis.  It would seem like the 'fulfill' portion is actually the central point.  It is what Jesus came to do; fulfill the Law.  What does Jesus mean by this expression?

At least 13 times in the gospel of Matthew the expression "this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet", or something similar, is used.  The author of Matthew was very concerned with demonstrating that Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies made about him.

And the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to argue that the sacrifices mandated by the Law were only shadows of the sacrifice that Jesus would offer.  They simply pointed forward to Jesus fulfillment of them in his death on the cross.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

   “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
         but a body you prepared for me;
   6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
         you were not pleased.
  7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
         I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Hebrews 10:1-7 NIV
I believe that what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:17-18 is not that I have to follow the Law, but rather than it was pointing to him, and he has fulfilled it, echoed in his cry from the cross, "It is finished."


In contrast to those who would advocate that we are still obligated to uphold the Law are those who will argue that the Old Testament Law is not applicable to Christians today; and I must confess to being more sympathetic to this view.  The Law belonged to the old covenant established by God at Mt Sinai, a covenant that was replaced at Calvary.  The new covenant is one of grace rather than law.  By no means does this mean that I am free to do anything I want.  But it does mean that my relationship with God is not based on obedience to the Old Testament Law.

One of the earliest conflicts in the church dealt with Gentile believers and the Law, particularly circumcision.  It appears like the Jewish believers continued seeking to follow the Law in their daily practice.  But what about the Gentiles.  There were those who advocated that Gentiles should be required to follow the Law, while others felt like it was an unnecessary burden.  The 15th chapter of Acts describes the Jerusalem council where representatives from both sides of this issue met to decide this issue.  One the one hand were the backers of the Law:
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
Acts 15:5 NIV
And on the other side was Peter, along with Paul and Barnabas, who said:
Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Acts 15:10-11 NIV
Ultimately James, speaking for the church, ruled that the Gentiles should not be expected to follow the Law, although the Gentile believers were asked to be considerate of the Jewish folk among them by avoiding some things that would cause them offense.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Acts 15:19-21 NIV
Paul refers to this council meeting when he writes the letter to the Galatians, in which he argues strenuously against making observance of the Law something that is required to gain or to maintain God's favor.  For sure, Paul is not opposed to the Law, but he sees it as being something that is applicable to those who have not yet come to faith.  But once we have come to faith in Christ, we are no longer under the rule of the Law.
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.  So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Galatians 3:23-25 NIV


So, under the new covenant, what is the role of the Law?  In the first few chapters of Romans, Paul works to wrap all humanity up under sin, separated from God.  And in that discussion he says that it is through the Law that we become conscious of sin, it is the Law that makes clear to us that we have fallen short of the perfection that God requires.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Romans 3:20 NIV
No one has ever been, or ever will be declared righteous based on observance of the Law.  Instead the Law proves our need for a savior.  Once we have experienced the gift of righteousness that comes from God through faith, the Law has performed its function; it has been fulfilled.
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:31 NIV
The Law is a good thing, so long as one uses it properly.  Obedience to the Law is not a replacement for, or enhancement to, faith.  But it continues to be stand as the standard that the unbeliever can measure against to help them realize their inability to please God based on their own efforts.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Righteousness of God

After his introduction, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters of his letter to the Roman church in a discussion of sin.  While Paul leaves open the theoretical possibility of a person being good enough to pass judgement before God, his conclusion is that no one actually is good, that no one will be declared righteous before God based on their own efforts in adhering to the law, whether that be the Old Testament Law, or the law of conscience.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. - Romans 3:20 NIV
The condition of humanity that Paul paints in Romans 1:18-3:20 is a pretty bleak one.  We are sinful with no chance of escaping the wrath of God at the judgement.  Lost and without hope!

But once Paul has made clear the hopelessness of our situation he begins his discussion of the gospel, the good news.  And it is quite a contrast.  The passage below was identified by Luther as being the main point of Romans, and of the whole Bible, the most significant passage of all.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
Romans 3:21-25a NIV
The good news is that God has now revealed, and made available to us, his own righteousness.  My own righteousness, at its best, was insufficient.  But God has chosen to make me a gift of his righteousness.  By his grace I am justified, declared to be righteous.

So what do I have to do to obtain this gift of God's righteousness?  Nothing!  Paul has gone to great lengths to argue that I am actually incapable of doing anything that will make God happy with me.  Instead, God has made his righteousness available to me, as well as the rest of the world, as a freely given gift.

That gift is available to all who believe, who have faith in Jesus.  This faith and belief is more than just an intellectual or one time response to God.  Rather it is an on-going surrender of one's life to the Lordship of Jesus.  It is a ceasing of the attempt to make myself good enough by my own efforts, and a surrender to the one who can make me into what he created me to be.

What I cannot do for myself, God has offered to do.  How wonderful it is to be delivered from my hopeless condition and into eternal life in relationship with my creator.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lord, Help My Unbelief

A father with a demon possessed, or epileptic, son brings the boy to Jesus to have him healed; if Jesus is able to.  Jesus responds that everything is possible for the one who believes.  And the quote below is the father's response to Jesus.
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! - Mark 9:24b NIV
The father's words here really strike a chord with me and I find myself periodically echoing his cry.  I believe.  But oftentimes it seems that belief is pretty shallow and has little impact on my life.

There is no doubt in my mind that God exists and that he has a purpose for me.  I am convinced that the Bible is inspired by God and that faith in Jesus death and resurrection is necessary to enter into relationship with God.  I believe!  And yet I struggle with unbelief.

If I really and truly believed that this world and all that it contains is only temporary and that I was created for something much more than this, should it not have more of an impact on how I live here?  Would I not spend more time preparing for eternity than I do in enjoying the temporary?  Would not the work He has for me have a higher priority than other things I choose to do?

I believe; at least intellectually.  But unfortunately my belief does not always translate well into practical terms.  Lord, help me in my unbelief!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Honoring God

 Parts of the second and third chapters of Romans are easy for us Gentiles to take a little lightly because Paul is targeting the Jews.  And, since I'm not a Jew, then surely this section has little to say to me; right?  Try swapping out a couple of words in the passage below as shown and see if it might have more to say to you.
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew (Christian); if you rely on the law (Bible) and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law (Bible); if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law (Bible) the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law (Bible), do you dishonor God by breaking the law (Bible)?  As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles (unbelievers) because of you.”
Romans 2:17-24 NIV (parenthetical comments added)
I have to admit that deep down there is a part of me that is guilty of the first part of this passage.  I have the Bible, and have spent a lot of time with it.  I believe I have an understanding of God's will and his purpose for me, as well as the rest of creation.  I am confident I can hold my own in most any doctrinal or apologetic discussion.  What more could God want from me (cough, cough).

But there is a big difference between knowing and doing God's will.  Between knowing and obeying his instruction for me.  I wonder sometimes just how different my life might be if I did not know God and did not have the Bible.  Would it be significantly different?  It should!  Unfortunately there is a vast difference between what should be and what actually is.  This world has way too much appeal for me, drawing my eyes away from the eternal.

More importantly, how do the people of this world judge God based on the way I live?  Does the witness of my life turn people away from God, draw them to him, or does it have no impact?  I would like to think that it is attractive, but I fear that more often it is neutral; good, but not necessiarily anything that would make people say "I want some of that".  It really should be a priority for me to ensure that God is honored by my life.  How tragic it would be to stand before him at the end of this life and discover that I have failed to do so.  And how much worse to find that my life has turned someone away from God.  I pray that is not the case.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Parables?

One of Jesus most common teaching methods was the use of parables.  A parable is a simple true-to-life story that illustrates a spiritual truth.  They are generally simple and easy to understand, at least for those who belong to him.  But while they illustrate truth for believers, it appears they are also intended to obscure the truth for unbelievers.
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
        “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
        and ever hearing but never understanding;
        otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Mark 4:10-12 NIV
When Jesus disciples ask him about a parable he had just told, the Sower and the Seed, he responded with the quote above.  He tells his disciples that he is telling parables to prevent those on the outside from being able to comprehend his teaching and turn to him.  And that seems pretty strange to me.  Why would he say that?  Does he not want everyone in the world to turn to him and be saved?  Is he trying to prevent some from knowing who he is?

I have struggled with this passage every time I have read it because it seems so contrary to what I understand God is doing.  But is it really?  What does God want from me?  The scripture clearly says that my response to him needs to be based upon faith.  When he comes to me, like he did the twelve in the gospels, and says "follow me", will I follow him wherever he goes?  Or will I expect him first to offer me rational argument and convincing proofs.

Those to whom the parables were explained were the one who had responded to Jesus call.  The ones on the outside were those who had gathered around because Jesus was feeding them and healing them; not bad motives necessarily, but not what is expected.  They had seen the miracles and had heard him teach, but they were still on the outside; they had not committed to him.  And Jesus was unwilling to give them any more in depth teaching.  He was not going to 'argue' them into the kingdom.  If they are going to see and hear without a faith based response, then they are not what he wants.

The spiritual truths, or secrets of the Kingdom, belong to those who are citizens of God's kingdom, not to outsiders.  And Jesus shares them in a way that enables Kingdom citizens to understand while also preventing understanding by outsiders.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Wrath of God

The wrath of God is not an uncommon expression or topic in the Bible and is used several times by Paul in his letter to the Romans.  It would seem important to have a clear understanding of it in order to be able to understand what Paul is trying to tell the Roman church.  Yet it seems to be something that is a bit challenging to come to grips with and most people seem to have a hard time trying to describe it.

The dictionary defines wrath as "strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire." For me at least, the word 'wrath' conjures up an image of vengeful anger being directed at one who has offended the person exhibiting wrath.  When used for myself or other humans, that seems to be an adequate description.  And it does seem to be descriptive of God as he is pictured in the Old Testament, destroying the world with a flood, pouring out fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, zapping anyone who touches the Ark inappropriately and many other examples.  But I really see no support for that in the New Testament, and it is contrary to how I understand the nature and purpose of God.

I will be the first to admit that I have a tendency to view God through the lenses of my own nature; and I son't believe that I am not alone in doing that.  I know that is somewhat dangerous because it can produce an incorrect picture of God.  But I don't know that it is possible for me to separate how I see God from how I am.  I know that some of my more emotional friends can see God sitting on a mountain top hurling thunder bolts at those who offend him.  But I struggle with that; I have a hard time picturing God as being vindictive.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness - Romans 1:18 NIV
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
Romans 2:5-11 NIV
Paul clearly teaches that the wrath of God is real and is directed at godlessness and wickedness.  But it seems just as clear that it is not something that is visited upon the offending party when their actions cross some threshold.  Rather, there is a day of judgement coming when we will receive either eternal life or experience God's wrath.

It seems better, at least to me, to think of God's wrath in terms of deserved punishment rather than anger directed at the offender; that removes the emotional component from the equation and leaves righteous judgement in its place.  Those who do good are rewarded, while those who do evil experience punishment.

What is that punishment?  While many will disagree, it seems clear to me from the scriptures that there is some period of torment for those being punished, but that period is followed by destruction.  In fact, that is the fate that Paul claims awaits those who experience God's wrath, rather than an eternal conscious torment.
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
Romans 9:22 - NIV
As I understand it, the wrath of God is the final judgement against unbelievers and evil doers; their complete and total destruction.  It is not the action of an offended, angry or vengeful God.  It is a reasonable and rational outcome for those who have failed to live up to God's purpose for their lives.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is Your Life Built on Rock or Sand?

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27 NIV
Jesus has a lot to say about how I live my life, and the author of the gospel of Matthew has collected much of it into the section we call "The Sermon on the Mount".  In this passage I am challenged concerning my relationship with God as well as with the people I come into contact with every day.  And the concern is not so much on my actions as it is with my attitudes and motives.  Who I am on the inside will be reflected in what I show on the outside.

But what will I do with Jesus teachings?  Will I admire them from a distance, but never really embrace them; will I dismiss them as something that may be appropriate for others, but not for me; or will I take hold of them and try to follow his teachings?

Jesus final challenge in this collection of teachings is to put into practice what he has taught.  If I will do so, they will serve as a solid foundation that I can build my life on.  A foundation that will be secure during the storms of life.  And at the end, after all the storms have blown, my house will still be standing.

But should I choose to ignore his teachings, whether I admire them or not, the results will be dramatically different.  It will be like building my house on sand.  It may be easy to do, but it is a shortcut that will have disastrous results when a storm comes along.

I may think I know what's best for my life.  But it is hard to imagine that I will know better than my creator.  While it may get in the way of self-gratification, obedience is the wisest approach.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Lollipop Off the Dosewallips

For years I have been gazing at a map of the Olympics and seeing a loop in the southeastern part of the park.  This loop crosses Anderson, O'Neil and LaCrosse passes and can be accessed via the west fork of the Dosewallips, the Duckabush, the Enchanted Valley, or the Skokomish via High Divide.  Not sure why it has taken me so long to actually pull the trigger on this trip, but finally did it this past week, accessing via the Dose.

I parked the truck at the washout on the Dose and left just before 7AM and headed on up the road to the Ranger Station and then on up the west fork at Dose Forks.  My hope was to get over Anderson Pass and get started onto the O'Neil trail before stopping for the night.  For the most part the walking was easy and the miles just flew by.  I got to Honeymoon Meadows, having seen only 2 couples on the trail and a camp set up at the roads end, and stopped for a late lunch.  I had expected to have to ford just above Diamond Meadows and again at Honeymoon Meadows, but there were a series of big logs at the Diamond crossing, and a bunch of branches laid across at Honeymoon so I was able to keep my feet dry the whole time.

After lunch I charged on over the pass, where I encountered what appeared to be a small trail crew at rest, and then down to the O'Neil turnoff and followed that trail for a couple of hours.  There was an amazing number of huckleberries in the pass, and I ate more than my share of them.  Finally stopped for the night off to the side of the trail where the ground was not too steep and I could get my hammock pitched.

As I was eating dinner a young man from the Portland area came by.  He was doing the same loop, although in reverse and starting from the Skykomish.  we talked for a few minutes and he went on, hoping to get another couple of miles in, although it was dusk by then.  After a 20.5 mile day, I was pooped and in the hammock before 8PM.

Day 2 started early and hit the trail by 7.  About 15 minutes later I ran into a bear having breakfast.  It was pretty cool, except that he was in the trail, about 50-60 feet away, and not inclined to move over and let me go by.  After taking a few pictures and watching a bit, I started talking loudly to it, clacking my sticks together and even blew on my whistle for a bit.  Nothing.  Eventually he started toward me and finally seemed to recognize my presence.  He then turned around and slowly ambled down the trail, with me following behind and continuing to talk to him.  I followed for about 10 minutes before he finally got tired of me tailing him and turned off onto a branching animal trail.  Pretty exciting for me.

An hour further down the trail I started hearing elk bugling and shortly after rounded a corner opening out to a big cirque.  And there stood a big 6 or 7 point bull.  I got a few pictures before he saw me and ran off down the hill.  A few minutes later there was another big bull above me, and then several more down below.  I spotted at least 7 at one time, with the trees seeming to hide many more.  The hills were echoing with their calls.  I must have spent half an hour slowly moving around that cirque, watching and listening to them.

Eventually I got to O'Neil Pass and met a young lady who was making the same trip as the guy from last night.  We talked briefly and then went on, my expectation being that I would see both of them later in the day in the LaCrosse Pass area.

I saw another big bull just above Marmot Lake and then continued on down the Duckabush.  Part way to the ford I met another guy who was making the same trip I was except doing the loop in reverse.  He was going at a much slower pace though so did not expect to see him again. Obviously this is a popular loop to make.

I hit the bottom of the LaCrosse trail at close to 1 and headed up this 3.3 mile 2900 foot climb.  This was the only part of the trip I had never been on, but knew it was steep and dry.  So I dropped down into granny gear and slowly plugged my way up, finding it not to be as bad as I had feared.  Hit the top a bit after 3, had some snacks and started down.  About 1/3 of the way I re-met the gal from O'Neil charging up the hill, and she didn't even seem to be breathing hard.  2/3 of the way down I met the guy from the previous night, not moving nearly as fast.  Visited briefly with both before continuing down the hill, past Honeymoon Meadows and on to Diamond Meadows for the night.

Slept in the next morning and hit the trail about 8:15 and cruised on down the 12 miles to the truck, getting there a bit before 1 to start the long drive home.  All in all a very good trip.  52 miles of some beautiful country in about 2 1/2 days.  Got to see a bear and some elk, ate lots of berries and only saw about 10 people.  The weather was good and the trail was in good shape.  The only thing missing were the wildflowers, which were well past their prime.

This little guy was playing sentry just past the washout.  

This is probably the lowest I have ever seen the Dosewallips.  The falls half a mile below the Ranger Station are normally booming.

The Dosewallips Ranger Station with a pet deer just in front of the sign.  

The low bridge at Dose Forks.

I get a kick out of seeing these insulators periodically.  Left over, I understand, from WW II when there were spotters up in some of the passes looking for Japanese planes.

Looking down from the high bridge over the west fork.  Not sure how far down it is, but it looks to be a 100 feet or so.

The current iteration of the high bridge.  It has been destroyed more than once over the years, but looks much more substantial than it has in the past.  I remember being able to bounce on it while crossing, but not now.

Honeymoon Meadows.  Pretty dry this time of year.

The privy at the shelter just below Anderson Pass, about 10 feet off the trail.  Not for those looking for privacy in their 'quiet' time.

Taken from just above the meadow a mile up the O'Neil Pass trail.  I assume the glacier at the top center is on Mt Anderson.

Hammock strung along side the O'Neil trail.  Not a lot of level ground in the area.  But it really doesn't matter once you climb in.

My hiking partner for part of the second morning.

One of the big bulls in the cirque along the O'Neil trail.

A river of clouds flowing into the Enchanted Valley.  Glad I was higher up.

Marmot Lake nestled in its little basin.  Heart and LaCrosse lakes are on a shelf  up and to the left.

Not many flowers blooming this time of year, but there was a lot of fungus growing.

Just about the only fresh flower I saw on the trip.  All the  rest of them were fading or gone.

LaCrosse Pass, elevation 5566, high point of the trip.

This is the jumble of branches and small trees that you can use to pick your way across the Dose at Honeymoon Meadows.

Massive blowdown just below Honeymoon.  The river is in the foreground.  It happened several years ago, but the scar is still very visible.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gospel in Romans

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:1-6; 16-17 NIV
Gospel is a word that has come to mean the teaching or revelation of Christ.  It comes from an old English word that means good news, and translates the Greek word evangel which has the same meaning.  It is a word that Paul uses 12 times in the letter to the Romans, with half of the uses coming in the first 17 verses of the first chapter.  Paul is a proclaimer of the gospel (Romans 15:16, 19, 20), and I believe that this letter to the Roman church is a written form of that gospel he proclaims.  So just what is the gospel?  His introduction to the Romans gives us some insight concerning it, although you really need to read all of Romans to get the complete picture.

The first thing Paul has to say about the gospel is that it was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophets.  While they did not clearly see the gospel, God did use them to prepare the way for the gospel to later be revealed.  And the early church used those clues provided by the prophets to shape their understanding of what God was doing.  Phillips use of Isaiah to share Jesus with the Ethiopian in the 9th chapter of Acts is an example of that.

The gospel is not so much about an event as it is a person; Jesus.  Jesus is described as a descendant of king David, in fulfillment of the promise made to him.  And he was also appointed to be the Son of God by his resurrection.  That is an interesting statement that is somewhat troublesome.  It seems to say that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection, while the rest of scripture claims that he was God before creation.  But Douglas Moo, in his commentary on Romans, thinks it best to see this expression as one that is referencing a title rather than referring to Jesus nature.  He was the divine and eternal Son of God, but at his resurrection he began his reign as saviour of mankind and was given the title of Son of God.

Paul expresses to the church at Rome that he is not ashamed of the gospel.  On the surface that seems like a strange statement to me.  Why would he be ashamed of the gospel?  It may well be because the gospel is about a messiah who died a criminal's death on a cross, a shameful death, and not something that most people would be proud of.  But Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because he recognizes God's power in it.

The gospel is not the story of a crucified messiah, although it does include that.  Rather it is the power of God that brings salvation to a lost world, to all who will believe.  When a person puts their trust in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, God creates a new life in them, a life that is shared with him.  The gospel has the power to transform me from a man separated from God and without hope in this world, to a child of God, destined to eternal life with him.

The gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, a righteousness that Paul says is one that comes by faith.  There is some discussion as to just what is meant by the righteousness of God, but it seems best to me to see it as a righteousness that God provides to those who believe, in contrast to a personal righteousness that we try to attain on our own.  This righteous of God, if not the predominate theme of Romans, is at least a major one that Paul spends much time on.  And it is at the heart of the gospel message.  All of those who believe will experience the righteous life that God provides, and will escape the destruction that they would have faced without the gospel.

So Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, because he understands what it has done for him, and how it will transform anyone else who believes.  The gospel is not just the story of Jesus that we share among ourselves, and occasionally with others.  It is God's power at work in the lives of all who will believe.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Romans: An Introduction

The sixth book in the New Testament is Paul's letter to the church at Rome.  The first four books are what we generally call gospels, or good news, because they share the life and ministry of Jesus, the Son of God who gave his life as a ransom for sinners.  But this letter to the Romans also deserves to be called a gospel because it tells the story of sinful mankind and a God who imparts his own righteousness to them.  This letter, the longest of Paul's writings, is the most complete exposition of what God has done for mankind, truly good news.

Author: The letter claims to be written by the Apostle Paul, all of the early references to the letter attribute it to Paul, and there seems to be little doubt among modern scholarship that this letter was indeed written by Paul.  Paul was a well-educated Pharisee who was very zealous for the law and the traditions of his people and a leader in the initial opposition of the Jewish religious leaders in trying to stop the spread of the Jesus movement.  Paul had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus and became an outspoken advocate for his new Lord, following his commission from Jesus to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  Paul is the central figure in the second half of the book of Acts, as Luke records the spread of the gospel out from Jerusalem, to Antioch and then closer and closer to Rome, the heart of the empire.

Audience: There is some debate as to the intended audience of this letter.  Some manuscripts omit the two reference to Rome in the first chapter, and some lost manuscripts appear to omit the last two chapters of the letter.  This has led some to speculate that the letter may actually have been written to another church, such as Ephesus, or that it was written as a general letter to be sent out to a wider audience.  But most seem to accept that it was indeed written to the Roman church and that the original is what we have today.  It is possible that there was a shortened version of the original that was sent out to others, but that is only speculation.

Another question arising about this letter concerns who the audience was in Rome.  The church there was likely originally composed of Jewish believers, but had likely become a predominantly Gentile church by the time Paul writes to them.  Did he write to the church as a whole, primarily to the Gentile believers, or primarily to the Jewish believers?  I have seen arguments for all three positions, with much of that argument centering around the discussion of the Jews in chapters 9-11.  Is it written to Gentiles to answer their questions about where Israel sits in God's plan, or to Jews to assure them that they have not been abandoned?  Or does it do both?  I have heard no compelling argument either way and so assume that it was written to the church as a whole; although as the apostle to the Gentiles, it would not be surprising if he focused just a little more on the Gentile side of the house.

Date: Most scholars date this epistle to around A.D. 56, give or take a year.  This is toward the end of Paul's third missionary journey, likely after his long stay in Ephesus, when he was paying a short visit to Corinth and preparing for his trip to Jerusalem to take the offering collected by the Asian church to the poor saints there.

Purpose: This letter is easily Paul's most complete and systematic exposition of the gospel he proclaims.  But why did he direct it to a church where he had had no personal involvement?  Paul gives us no reason, so we can only speculate on his purpose in writing.

I have often thought that Paul's purpose in writing may have been to impart some spiritual gift to them (Romans 1:11), providing them with the gospel he would have proclaimed if he had been there in person.  We do not know who was responsible for founding the church in Rome, or what kind of leadership they had prior to this.  It may simply be that Paul was wanting to ensure that this church, which was central to the Roman empire and one he wanted to develop a relationship with, had a good understanding of the gospel and God's purpose for humanity.  In a way, what Paul is doing here is putting into writing what he would ordinarily provide verbally to a new church he is working to establish.

It seems clear from the letters introduction and closing that Paul is hoping to establish a relationship with this church as he develops plans to take the gospel further west, into Spain.  And in light of that, it maybe that Paul's purpose in writing this is to make clear to them just what the gospel is that he proclaims.  It is hard to know just what rumours the Roman church have have heard concerning Paul and his teachings, and this letter could serve to alleviate any concerns they might have had in partnering with him, making it clear that the gospel he proclaimed was God given.

Major Themes: Romans has a series of major themes that build on each other: sin, righteousness, sanctification, the Jews, and practical Christianity.

Sin: Sin is the common condition for all of mankind.  Sin starts with a rejection of God and focusing on the creation instead.  It does not matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile, following the Law or conscience.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of what God had planned for us.

Righteousness: As humans we are incapable of being good enough to be considered righteous in God's eyes.  But God has provided us with a way to experience the righteousness that only he can provide.  That righteousness is made available through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Sanctification: Because of our new identity in Jesus, we have died to sin and been resurrected into a new life.  This life is one that is lived under the control of the Holy Spirit, a life that has no place for sin, but rather is dedicated to God.

The Jews: In turning to the Gentiles, did God reject the Jewish people?  He did not!  While most of them have turned from God, there is still a remnant that are faithful, and God's purpose for them will be accomplished.

Practical Christianity: As followers of Christ we should be transformed, not conforming to the standards of the world around us, but rather serving in the kingdom of God while being good citizens of the earthly kingdom we find ourselves in.  As members together of the body of Christ we should love each other and help those who are weaker and struggling in their faith or life.

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.