Monday, August 31, 2015

The Christian and Human Government

Everyone seems to have an opinion about their government, whether at the local level or a national level.  Some like it and think it is doing a good job, while others think it is detrimental to our way of life.  Government is either our savior, or an anchor around our necks.

But what is the role of government; why do we have it?  It seems to me like the primary role for government is to provide some structure to society and protection to those governed.  And when a government is doing that, and doing it well, it is easy to be happy with it.  But obviously not all governments are doing that, or doing it very well.  For some, government is a way of extracting personal power and wealth from a populace with no thought to their welfare.

As a Christian, how should I be responding to my government, whether I view it as good or as corrupt?  Paul has some instruction for us in the 13th chapter of Romans that I believe is very instructive, although also very challenging.
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13:1-7 NIV
The first thing to note here is that Paul does not distinguish between benign and corrupt or despotic governments; his words apply to all governments; regardless of how we view them.  And he seems not to be referring to different forms of government; but to specific instance of governments and the men and women who are at their head.

The second thing to note is that Paul claims that all of these authorities have been established by God; no exceptions. It might be easy to swallow that a government that shows concern for all of its people was established by God.  But it is a wholly other matter to think that God is responsible for Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, or Pol Pot. And not only are they established by God; they are called his servants.  I must confess that I do not understand how this can be and Paul gives no answer to why God would establish such corrupt rulers, although certainly he knew that some authorities were corrupt and godless.

And Paul's directive to me as a follower of Christ is clear; I am to submit to the authority that is over me, whether I like them or not.  If I do not submit to that authority, if I am in rebellion against it, then I am in rebellion against God, who put them into place.  Really?  I am supposed to submit to Hitler, assuming I was under his authority?  That is indeed what Paul tells us.

But before getting too worked up over this, it is important to recognize that inherent in this direction is the recognition that since God has established the authorities, he is a higher authority, and those he has put into place will give answer to him for what they have done as a ruling authority.  And, more importantly to me, if God is the higher authority, then it puts some bounds on my submission to my government.  If my local government establishes a law that it contrary to one at a higher level of government, then the higher law takes precedence.  And since the highest authority is God, his laws will override any at a lower level that are contrary.

There are several examples of this in the Bible, where God's people refused to follow the direction of human government because it violated what they understood to be God's direction.  The Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 who refused to follow Pharaoh's order to kill all newborn Hebrew boys.  The accounts in Daniel of Daniel and his friends who faced the lions and fiery furnace rather than worship the king or his image.  And Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, in Acts 4, who refused to be quiet about their risen Lord, telling their rulers that they must obey God rather than men. Paul's direction to be in submission to my government assumes that my government is not trying to play god, or expecting me to act contrary to God's higher authority.

To love God with all that I am, and to love others like myself are the greatest commands of God, according to Jesus.  If my government enacts laws that would result in me causing harm to another person, or that would attempt to hinder my relationship with God (breaking one or both of the two greatest commandments), then I am under no obligation to obey, but should choose to obey God instead.  At they same time I should be prepared to pay the consequences of choosing to follow God rather than man and, like the Apostles in Acts 5, rejoice that I am counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.

But be sure that it is indeed God's authority that you are following should you choose not to submit to the governing authorities, rather than just your own opinions or prejudices.  It is easy to interpret my own feelings as being given to me by God rather than being a product of my own fallen nature.  Failure to submit to my government because I don't like what they are telling me to do is not the same thing as submitting to God as the higher authority, no matter how I might try to disguise it or rationalize it to myself or others.

In some fashion, God has placed human governing authorities over me.  And I am responsible to be in submission to them.  If I rebell, then I am rebelling against God.  The only exception is if that human authority attempts to override God's authority.  Failing that, it matters not if I like my human leadership or not: submit to them!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Being a Body Part

Life within the body of Christ.  It seems to mean so many different things to people.  For many, the church is simply a social gathering of like minded folks and they participate in it so long as there is nothing better to do.  For others, church is a place/activity that they attend, hoping to be uplifted and better prepared for the week ahead, and if it does not accomplish that, they will move on to another place in hope that it will meet their needs.  And for still others, the church is an opportunity to get to know God better and to serve and worship him alongside other believers.

For the most part I see myself falling into the third group, and yet I believe that even that falls short of what we should be.  There are several passages in Paul's writings that discuss spiritual gifts, one of them being in the 12th chapter of Romans.  And in this passage is tucked away a little expression that has recently jumped out at me and is making me take stock again of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. - Romans 12:4-5 NIV
I generally think that I belong to Christ, serve him, and am answerable to him.  If I fall short, if I fail to serve effectively, if for a while I just sit on the sidelines, it is just a matter between God and myself; it is me that ultimately suffers. But is that really the case.  Romans 12:5 says that as a member of the body, I belong to all of the other members.  I do not belong just to Christ, the head of the body; I belong to every other member as well.

Think about that for a moment.  If I belong to you, fellow body part, then I have an obligation to you; to serve you.  I have been placed in the body, not where I want to serve, but where God wants me to be, to perform a particular function within the body.  If I, along with all the other body parts, perform our functions well, then the body is healthy.  If I do not, then I am hurting the body, I am hurting you.

I know that oftentimes I do not take my responsibility to my fellow body parts seriously enough, being more concerned about myself than I am you; caring more about how I am feeling or how people are responding to me.  But when I feel like I am not being fed, appreciated, nurtured, growing or fulfilled, is it possible that I am the problem rather than the preacher, the S.S. teacher, the worship leader or the leader of the men's ministry?  If I was to turn my focus from how you are not meeting my needs, to how I can meet yours, then just maybe I would find joy and fulfillment, serving as that body part that God has made me to be.

Please forgive me for those times I have failed you by not doing my best for you.  Please help me to know how to more effectively serve you within the body.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Washington PCT from Trout Lake to Cascade Locks

In addition to doing a larger chunk of the PCT in Oregon or California each year, I have been doing a smaller section of my home state each year with a friend.  This year the plan had been to do Chinook Pass south to Trout Lake, but shortly before we left there was a trail closure west of Mt. Adams, so we shifted to the piece south of there.  We spent Friday night at Cascade Locks and early Saturday morning our wives drove us to the trailhead, a dozen or so miles from Trout Lake on FS 23.

This 82 mile stretch of the trail is mostly heavily forested and seldom rises above the tree line.  The forest was beautiful, green and lush, but I missed having the scenic vistas that are so common throughout the rest of Washington.  The trail is generally pretty easy, the climbs, at least southbound, were no more than a couple thousand feet, the tread was good, and only in a few places did the brush encroach on the trail.  There were a few places with 10-12 miles between water sources, but there was really little issue with water.  The only time I carried more than 2 quarts was our one night of dry camping; most of the time I only used a single water bottle.  The temperature started pretty warm but cooled significantly by the end.

I was surprised Saturday by the number of other people on the trail.  We probably encountered nearly one a mile for the first 10-12 miles of the day, mostly thru's, including a southbound pair.  But when we got to FS24 and the berry fields in the area, we started running into people in clumps, encountering another 3 to 4 dozen in the last 12 miles; and it seemed like most of the groups had one or more dogs with them.  Most of these folks were day hiking, either from a road and connecting trail, or camped near one of the area lakes.  I cannot remember ever seeing so many people out in the backcountry.  We also encountered a SAR group searching for an elderly woman who had disappeared while out berry picking. I read later that she was found the next day in good condition.

Towards the end of the day we started passing by a number of lakes, stopping at one for water and then going on to Blue Lake.  This is a beautiful clear lake that was very popular.  Signs were posted instructing us only to camp in designated spots, and they were all full.  So we plopped down in a day use area, went swimming, ate dinner, loaded up with water, fought off the dogs camped in the area, who without exception went into a frenzy when they saw me, and then headed on south another half mile or so.  We were both using hammocks so it was easy to find a spot to hang for the night, although our first attempt was apparently on a yellowjacket nest.  Fortunately we managed to escape with only a single sting.  The second attempt was better and we had a peaceful night after a 24 mile day.  The day was good in spite of the crowds, the dogs, the sting and only a single sighting of Mt Adams.

Sunday morning we were up and on the trail before 6, looking to get an early start to beat the heat.  There was a long dry stretch at the end of the day, and we were looking to get past it and to Panther Creek for the night, 22 miles away.  The day was mostly a long descent, broken up by a thousand foot climb in the middle.  We did manage to see Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood during occasional moments above the tree line, but the vast majority of the days was again spent cruising through the deep forest.  We encountered what appeared to be a Boy Scout troup preparing to cut a branch that was leaning over the trail, and then another dozen or so hikers.  While still more than I had expected, it was much better than the previous day.  Surprisingly, we did encounter a couple of light sprinkles, and it did seem a bit cooler than the previous day.  We had expected mid 90's for the whole trip so the cooler temp was a welcome relief.

There were a pair of drying ponds along the route, but neither of them looked appealing.  South of them was what was identified in the halfmile notes as a piped spring along the trail, but when we arrived it was just a 10 ft long 1" PVC pipe that was laying on the ground.  Tigger pushed it back against the seep that was coming from the bank and a bit of water started to flow; enough to fill our bottles.  This spring had more yellowjackets buzzing around than I had ever seen in one place before.  But their only concern seemed to be getting a drink.  A mile or so further south was another spring, and this one, just off the trail, had a convenient pool to scoop from and was nice and cool.

There is a front country campground at Panther Creek and we stayed there for the night.  Our spot was not far from the creek, making it easy to clean up and wash clothes.  Most spots in the camp were taken, but it was still fairly quiet with few people actually moving around. Turned in around 8 and slept like a baby, rocking in the tree tops.

Monday was going to be a shorter day, so we slept in and didn't get on the trail until close to 7.  Because of another longish dry stretch we decided to stop at Rock Creek, 16 miles down the trail. The route proceeded through some pretty dense forest, across a farm and a couple of substantial creeks/rivers for several miles before beginning the climb for the day.  This 2000 ft climb was pretty steady and at times fairly steep.  And, while it was still cooler, it was pretty humid, and long before we had hit the top my shirt was completely soaked and the sweat was running halfway down to my knees; worst sweat-out I can remember.

We reached Rock Creek around 2 and found two sites on the creek, one recently occupied, and the other unsuitable for hanging.  But there was another one at the top of a short ridge that the creek looped around, and this one was quite adequate to hang in.  Setup camp, ate lunch, bathed in the creek and then relaxed for a few hours before turning in for the night.  I believe that ridge above Rock Creek was my favorite camp of the trip.

Tuesday morning was also going to be a short 16 mile trip to Gillette Lake, which was only 4 miles from Cascade Locks.  My wife was going to pick us up Wednesday morning, so the plan was to mosey down to the lake spend the afternoon and evening, and then make it to Cascade Locks by 10 the next morning.  The day started off with a 2000 foot climb and I found myself drenched again, I assume because of the humidity.  It was the coolest day yet, and even had a few rain drops; but I was soaked long before hitting the top.  But we finally did get some nice vistas, having periodic sightings of the three previous volcanoes as well as Mt Rainier and the Columbia River.  We stopped on a big rock before beginning the long descent to the Columbia and had second breakfast, looking down at the Columbia and across to Mt Adams; probably the most scenic spot on this section of trail.

Next began a 3000 foot descent, and near the bottom we started to encounter poison oak.  It was pretty thick in places, and once we got to Gillette Lake, we found that most of the sites there had PO in or around them.  We sat there and ate lunch and debated about whether or not to stay, ultimately deciding that a burger would taste very good for dinner and pushed on to Cascade Locks.  A mile from the lake we rounded a corner in the trail and nearly ran into a bicycle heading our way.  After more than 2000 miles on the PCT, this was my first bike encounter.  I informed him that he was not supposed to be on the PCT. He seemed surprised at that, turned around and took off.  A mile later we found were he had probably hit the trail, and sure enough, there was nothing to indicate any restrictions on bicycles.  I am generally pretty non confrontational, so was surprised, and pleased, that I was able to confront this biker, although I am sure that it helped that he did seem surprised and contrite.

The final step was crossing the Bridge of the Gods at 5:30 P.M.  There was a steady stream of cars coming across, but without exception they moved over for us and we crossed without any undue excitement.  Found a hotel room, a burger, a bed and a ride the next day and the trip was over.  This was easily the least scenic stretch of the PCT I have been on in Washington (and I have done all of it but the Goat Rocks), and it had the most people on it.  But I did enjoy the trip; the walking was generally easy, the forests were lush, the occasional views were nice and the company was good.

Tigger and Eeyore ready to hit the trail.

One of a few sightings of Mt. St. Helens

Several lakes toward the end of the first day were visible through the trees, although the trail only directly passes by Blue Lake.

Mt Hood in the distance.

Tigger taking a picture of Adams with Hood in the background.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt Adams

Sheep Lake was one of two small drying ponds along the way.  We did not need water near badly enough to venture through the muck to them.

Very little of the forest had a bare floor.  Most of it had a thick green carpet.

Tigger demonstrating the proper technique for using a hammock.

A nice swimming hole on Rock Creek.

The bridge over Rock Creek was typical of stream crossings in the area.  Most of them had pretty substantial bridges.
Looking down from our camp at Rock Creek, you could see the creek on three sides.

There was a short section of the trail that afforded views of Mt Rainier in the distance.

First view of the Columbia River

Gillette Lake was pretty, but infested with poison oak, so we opted not to stay.