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.