Christianity Sin soli Deo gloria the glory of God the Gospel

soli Deo gloria

Glory to God Alone.

I have been hearing this Latin phrase soli Deo gloria, and it struck me. The Lord, Yahweh, I AM, Maker of Heavens and Earth, is where the buck stops when it comes to glory. He is big. He is mighty. He is what it’s all about. Do the mountains and seas and skies and valleys have any glory? Only that which is given to them by the Father.

We seek glory and majesty. We have to have mountains. We have to love near the water. We want the sunrises and sunsets. We have to have sex (where we behold the glory of another AND seek our own). We have to present ourselves in ways that lift ourselves up. We have to have a promotion. We cannot bear shame, scorn, or the truth that we fall short in any area. We are not God, nor or any of the things we put in his place (read: idolatry). God alone is able to withstand and bear the weight of glory. Every thing that we try to make God that is not God will crumble under the weight of trying to be God. Try fulfilling all of the characteristics of God to your spouse and see how long it takes for you to realize you are not.

James 1:16-17 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

As I love the outdoors, which is much of what I cover here, this is something weighty to consider. When I stand on the cliffs of the Linville Gorge and behold sights that take my breath away, it is not enough to merely be in awe of the scene. If the glory of Linville is an end in itself, it falls short. The infinite God of the universe has carved this rugged and majestic gorge out by simply stating it “Be.” Our amazing daily paintings of sunrises and sunsets in the sky are simply because God said “Be.” If we behold the glory of creation, we are doing it and God wrong if we do not finish our sentence with soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

God is glorious. God is also holy. This means that he cannot bear the presence of sin, like when you and I have failed to ascribe glory to him when it was due, and gave that glory to something else. THIS means that we have said to ourselves and God that he is not worth all glory, and belittled the name of the One who has formed the cosmos. Matt Chandler says in his book The Explicit Gospel, “you cannot be sinful and get near God. It doesn’t work. God’s holiness will incinerate you.”

So what is the problem? Jeremiah 2:12-13 tell us. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Glory to God alone… So we are in trouble when we assign glory to men, women, children, money, mountains, oceans, beaches, valleys, fame, fortune, reputation, relaxation, security, houses, cars, alcohol, smoking, knowledge, science, celebrities, politicians, the government, policies, causes, sex, relationships, Buddha, Maher Baba, Mohammed, the Virgin Mary, being a good person, methodology, parenting, vaccinations, immunizations, schedules, homeschooling, our good works, the environment, the wolves, the whales, dogs, cats, events, work, play, recreation, respect, health, wealth, prosperity, our business, freedom, traditions, preferences, fear of what other people think, writing a blog, or a host of other replacements mankind is constantly inventing. We have forsaken God, and sought our hope and glory and pleasure in anything but him. So now what, that we have all offended our Creator? Romans 2 tells us that if we continue on in this manner and presume on God’s kindness to save us because “that’s what God does”, we are storing up wrath for ourselves. Who’s wrath? The wrath of the one we have offended. Brothers and sisters, we are ALL in deep dookie here.

But there is hope! It is revealed to us in Romans 5:6-8 that, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This means that the chasm between God and man, created by man’s offense, has been bridged because Jesus Christ the Son of God, fully God and fully man, has paid the penalty that was ours to pay.

You have heard people say repent, and I will say it again, shouting it the loudest at myself because I have repeatedly offended the Creator of the Universe. Repent means to turn away, turn around, a reversal. It looks like saying, “God over all! I have given glory to things that do not deserve it, and ascribed glory to things to which glory was not due. All glory belongs to you alone! I am guilty. The Bible tells me that you sent your son to die on a cross, bear my wrath, take the penalty I deserved, and rose from the dead for my life. Father make this true for me. Forgive me for trampling all over your great and glorious name, and help me to live this out by your power alone, not mine, so all glory will continue to be given to you alone. In Jesus name, amen.”

So now here is the kicker. Lets retrace briefly: you are a sinner who has robbed God of his glory, which God will regain either by pouring his wrath out on you or out on Jesus. You trusted in Jesus! Now, instead of bearing guilt over your cosmic treason, you now rejoice in your cosmic adoption into the family of God! We learn in Galatians 4:4-7 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Further yet, we can lay claim to verses like Psalm 16:11 because we are no longer enemies of God and can approach him with confidence as his children: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There is rightly no more fear of God for those who have trusted in Jesus. Now instead of the glory of God being the weight of the case against us as sinners, the glory of God is our pleasure, and this pleasure is not one that is fleeting. It is not but for a moment like standing on a mountain top, and then fades as we long to once again stand and behold a behold a reflection of glory. The pleasure of the glory of The Lord is ever satisfying. Drink.

John Piper restates the Westminster Confession and says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” May that be true of all of us, and if it is, it is to the glory of God alone.

(All Scripture quoted is from the ESV, English Standard Version)

Blue Ridge Parkway Ceasar's Head Driving Trips Graveyard Fields North Carolina South Carolina Table Rock

Adventuring Without Leaving The Driver’s Seat

So you’re new to adventuring? You don’t want to start too hard, which is fine. No sense in getting yourself in a situation where you’re in over your head, wading through brambles, miles from civilization… although some adventurers strive for that.

If you’re new to the outdoors, you don’t even need a pair of hiking boots to appreciate the outdoors. God has created some magnificent scenery, and there is a great way to see it without ever having to leave your car.

Note: it is dangerous to drive and not keep your eyes on the road. This is my difficulty; we have been made to wonder and marvel, and I love to do it.

A beginner’s guide to adventure! Perfect for any skill level, open most of the year, easy for everyone with a vehicle. Since I’m in Greenville, SC, that’s where our adventure will start.

Go north, and get yourself to Highway 11. The easiest, most direct way is via Highway 25, passing Furman University. Once you’re on 11, make your way west to Highway 276, and head north again. This winding road will take you directly up to Caesar’s Head State Park. Now, I said you don’t have to get out of the car, and you don’t have to; however, the overlook is only a few yards from the parking area and is worth the look. Keeping north on 276, you’ll pass the parking for Raven Cliff Falls, the highest waterfall in South Carolina, but that requires hiking to get to so we won’t dive into that trek here. It is worth noting it’s location, though. Stay north on 276, and you’ll enter Transylvania County, North Carolina. The Land of Waterfalls. It’s true, the signs say so. Not too far in, you’ll come to a turnoff for DuPont State Forest, where Hooker Falls, High Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Triple Falls all reside. Short hikes, so not for the car adventurer, but again a location worth noting.Keep on 276 until you get into Brevard. Taking a right downtown, 276 joins 64, until you’re out of Brevard. A left turn at the intersection of 276/64/280 will keep you on 276, and here you will enter Pisgah National Forest. Picnics areas, fishing, swimming holes, and waterfalls abound here, all labeled by signage and pull off parking. Any of these make great and scenic stops, or you can bypass them all. 276 through Pisgah is a beautiful drive. As much as I love the forest from within, I love big views. Keep on 276, and you’ll eventually come to some serious curves, which will lead youto an on-ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Here is where your adventure really begins! The drive on the Parkway is beyond rewarding, and there is so much scenery you cannot possibly take it all in. It is here that wonder and marveling are in full effect, and the glory of the Blue Ridge Mountains is before you. Be aware that seasonally the Parkway is closed. If it is closed, the gates at the entrance would be shut. There are not guardrails on every stretch, and an icy patch could turn your scenic drive into a really bad day. Closing during bad winter conditions are very appropriate, although the views would be wonderful.

I’m inclined to pause here, and recall some precious words of the late Keith Green: “You know, I look around at the world and I see all the beauty that God made. I see the forest and the trees and all the things. and says in the Bible that he made them is six days and I don’t know if they’re a literal six days or not. scientists would say no, some theologians would say yes. but I know that jesus christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years. and if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.”

This is what I think of when I am out, and it is especially what I thought of on the BRP. Continuing on, there are multiple pull-offs and overlooks on the Parkway. A great spot is Looking Glass Rock, a giant granite dome on the south side of the ridge. You will also pass Graveyard Fields, Black Balsam Knob, Sam Knob, and Devil’s Courthouse. There is hiking available at these spots, but not necessary. In case you’re squirming, there ARE bathrooms at Black Balsam…but only if you value privacy over cleanliness. They are only pit toilets. Exit the BRP at Highway 215 and make your way south to the town of Rosman, NC. A little dog legging in town onto 64 (which will take you to Lake Toxaway if you head west) will bring you to Highway 178, which will bring you back into South Carolina. Take a left at Highway 11 (at The Rock golf course). You’ll pass by the towering Table Rock mountain, which can be more easily viewed from the lake area at Oolenoy State Park on the south side of the road. That’s an easy pull-off with an information building. Driving back towards Highway 25, just past 276 towards Caesar’s Head, you’ll pass Wildcat Falls. This is a nice roadside waterfall that’s nice for the kids in the summer. Once you make your way through Cleveland, you’ll come back to the intersection of 11 and 276, where there is usually a stand to pick up some boiled peanuts. Complete the drive back to 25 and then south to Greenville.

That’s a lot of adventuring for one day, and it can all be done without having to leave your car. Although, I highly doubt you could resist at least one or two of those pull-offs.

Now it’s time to do it for yourself! I edited the route in the map to take you through DuPont State Forest instead of 276 into Brevard.

bushwhacking LNCW Mossy Monster North Carolina scrambling Sphinx Trip report

Linville Gorge LNCW Trip Report

We arrived at Table rock parking approximately 8:30pm, and it was plenty dark already. Camping just south of the picnic area was not exactly what I thought would be the greatest spot to camp, but with our route in mind and not wanting to carry all of our gear on that route, I opted to sacrifice on our campsite. I remembered there being campsites south of the parking, but in our haste to make camp we mistook the ones just prior to the Linville Gorge Wilderness signs for being the ones we were looking for. We picked a site with a fire ring on the southeastern most space, and set up our campsite.
After setting up camp, we chose to headlamp hike up to the Chimneys versus Table Rock, since we were unfamiliar with the TR trail and had no desire to mess ourselves up in the dark. We made our way south on the Mountains to Sea Trail until the first rock outcrop and clearings. The sky was so clear, the stars were really vibrant and we were dazzled with sights of the Milky Way spanning it’s way across the night sky. Even with it being so dark, we were able to make out the silhouettes of the Chimneys and the west rim of the Gorge, and then the ranges beyond. Further south in the Chimneys, we were able to spot the campsite Dave and I found last December beneath the sky bridge, as it was given away by the occupiers headlamps.
It was slightly unnerving as I hung my hammock only a yard or two away from a tree bearing the sign “North Carolina Bear Sanctuary.” As I had prepped for this trip and the prep overflowed out of my mouth, most people questioned my hammock plans as making myself a bear snack, which I dismissed; however, as I laid in my hammock for its maiden overnight voyage away from the circle of the guys in my group, I felt somewhat like a bear snack. To release the suspense, dear reader, I did not become such a snack. Our sleeping was impeded by the noisy campers in the vicinity. At last watch check, one group had a loud repetitive guitar player singing off-key until at least 1:15AM. He wasn’t crooning Jack Johnson-esque tunes either; he was belting them out like some drunken combination of Kurt Cobain and Homer Simpson, hollering and hammering the same 3 chords over and over and over despite our mocking and Josh’s yell of “shut up!!” Beyond our serenade, we found clear skies beyond this hour to be a double edged sword. The stars are beautiful, but up on the ridge the 75% illuminated moon directly overhead turned on all the lights for us. Hanging in an ENO DoubleNest became a blessing, as the extra fabric served to shade my eyes.
We started stirring and moving about around 7AM, witnessed a vibrant and neon sunrise, broke camp, stashed our bulk in the van, and headed south on the Mountains to Sea Trail (here on out, MST) around 8:40AM. We kept on through the Chimneys, and actually didn’t scramble around much. We were pretty set on getting to the Mossy Monster trail , so while we enjoyed the scenery, we didn’t stick around. By 9AM, we were on the trail to the Mossy Monster.
I was keeping my eyes out for a right turn for the descent gully, and took the first one. I had forgotten about Zak Kuhn’s photo of the dead tree with the white tag remnants, so I took the wrong one. The trail we were on took us to the cliffs between Apricot and Mossy Monster, where a couple had pitched there tent and spent the night. What a spot! It was great to bring all my guys to the cliff edge, point down to the Mossy Monster separation crack, and say, “That’s where we’re heading. We’re going DOWN that crack.” We took some obligatory pictures and headed back up to the trail, found the right descent trail, and headed towards the gully.
We surveyed the first scramble and found it to be quite wet. There was steady water flowing down the rock, although the volume wasn’t that high. With careful foot and hand placement, we got down the first scramble with out much problem. If you make your way out to this scramble and decide it looks too sketchy, I promise that this is the point you should turn around. If this were icy, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to make it down safely without crampons. We are now on high adventure.
The trail beyond the first scramble was easy to follow, albeit steep. Someone has definitely been using it. The Mossy Monster separation crack is awe-inspiring and impressive. Some posting got us down the initial entry, and I was glad to be wearing approach shoes with sticky soles. The separation crack, unlike the first scramble, was free of any water and totally dry. The photos I took down here were all blurry, so most of them didn’t turn out. The descent through the separation crack was one of my favorite parts of this trip, and it was over way too soon. Once we exited the crack, the trail (which was easy to follow) turned north, down a ledge, and circled back around to the beginning of the NC Wall and shortly after entered the Talus Field.
The Talus Field is tricky footing not only because the terrain is so uneven, but because every now and then we’d find slabs that shifted under our weight. Committing to a step with full body weight only to find your step shifting down under your feet is kind of unnerving. Like the Mossy Monster separation crack, this was over way too soon. We took a few pictures as some of the outcrops before we got to the tree climb area.
There has been some discussion as how to get to the ledge from here. It’s obvious where the tree climb is once you make it there. Some bark is worn off the step branch, which is a nice handle to hold at the crux of leaving the tree for the ledge, but the tree seems alive and solid enough. Still, I chose the free climb to the ledge about 15feet beyond the tree. There are plenty of hand holds, but with a slight backwards lean to the free climb it looks much easier to climb the tree. I vote for making the free climb the “official” path, although people will inevitably choose whichever they deem easiest/less risky in the moment of decision.
After we were all on the ledge, I knew we would be faced with the option of staying on the ledge or choosing the Brute Force Route (from here on, BFR). Shortly after the tree/free climb, there is an obvious break in the bushes on the right with a rock staircase heading down. I’m assuming this is the stair steps to the BFR. Knowing we did NOT want this route, we steered left to stay against the wall, and within a few short scrambles found ourselves at The Cove, back on the ledge, and overlooking the Sphinx. The ledge is very scenic with great views every step of the way. It is fantastic to see how the perspectives and viewing angles highlight the Sphinx in different ways. With each step, that awesome rock formation seemed to change shape.
With the Sphinx’s spine coming more into view as we progressed south, the question of when we leave the wall arose. We had seen the giant boulder along the ledge, as well as the downed tree which can be seen in Google Earth. I had speculated this being a direct traverse down to the base of the Sphinx, but going with my gut and listening to advise, I chose to keep heading toward the Amphitheater. There was never an obvious right turn to head towards the Sphinx. Once at the Icebergs, I was able to climb to the top of the first one for a survey of the area, and climbing to the top of the second Iceberg confirmed at least the general direction and wall we needed to be heading for.
The bushwhacking along the LNCW was thick and had plenty of briars and brambles, but at least there seemed to be a faint and general path towards the Amphitheater. Not so with the Sphinx. Whereas before we were allowing a “path” to guide us, once we made the northern turn off the ledge and back towards the Sphinx, it was all trial and error. In some sections, we were able to stick to the wall; however, frequently that was overgrown and the path of least resistance pushed us back out into the bush. The brambles out there are beyond scratchy, and seem to have the highest concentration of thorns at ankle level. Every patch we went through insisted we would be held back, and a number of times I had to stop and “untie” my feet from the thorny vines. Also along the wall, there was a good amount of water trickling down and off the wall. We got into some mud here, but really none of it was so slick to lose our footing. We kept an eye on the Sphinx, not really knowing where the ascent point was, hoping it was not at the base of the spine. That joker looked long and steep. We made it into the pines, and this is a good indication of when to really bear west until you run into some rock. Where we ended up was a rock face about 10ft high directly in front of us, which The Spire formation was on. Two of my guys climbed up and over that to ascend, but the rest of us worked our way south along the wall and came to what we knew had to be the right point to start working our way up. There’s an easy incline with a burned tree that is perfect for posting your foot on to make it up the first step. I doubt this tree will last forever, but if it doesn’t, this route is still what I saw to be the best option. From here, it is a very easy walk (similar to the UNCW) to the Sky Bridge. At this point, there’s two options. (1) An easy spot to rest, with fantastic views, and no more scrambling involved. (2) The final scramble to the top of the Sphinx. What makes the final scramble intimidating is the crevasse below it. The scramble itself is not difficult, as there are some decent sized jug handholds, and decent ledges for footholds. (Let me interject here: I was wearing FiveTen Guide Tennies, which are approach shoes with sticky C4 Stealth Rubber and dot tread. These give great grip on rock surface, and I’ll review them in another post. For the purposes of this report, just understand I wasn’t wearing sneakers and the final scramble may be more dangerous than I’m judging, based on the shoes I was wearing). There are plenty of spots for good hand and foot placement up to the top. Just go slow, keep your wits about you, and do your best not to look down if that kind of thing bothers you. It also helps if you have a spotter on the first level, at least when you’re coming down. If you’re unsure and you have someone suggesting foot placements, it’s a great help.
The Sphinx! We made it to the top! As we were getting closer to the Amphitheater on the ledge, I was beginning to wonder if this would happen. I was not about to miss the Sphinx after all the effort and planning. Here we stood. The Sphinx. Friends, that is what victory tastes like. Sitting up there with some of the most magnificent Gorge views to be had makes any lunch you stuffed in your sack taste good, although my homemade trail mix with bacon and orange cranberries was pushing the limit of “everything tastes better in the bush.” Anyway. We arrived at the Sphinx pinnacle at 11:30AM, and we ate, rested, and hung out there until around 12:15PM. So we descended the Sphinx and…
Here is where we got split up.
I didn’t realize we had decided to split up, so I was running around in the bushes by myself like I don’t know trying to keep my group together. Didn’t work. Erich and Josh had taken the proposed direct climb up to the LNCW ledge, and everyone else had taken the wall back to the Icebergs. I thought I had just lost the other guys and went back for them, but since they yelled they were OK, I figured I was too far behind to be safe following them so I rejoined the wall group. What they reported was a wet but not overly difficult time, climbing up about 4 or 5 ledges to get to the main ledge. They encountered the first snake, a baby rattler, and came away unscathed. In the thought of route making, it would be more difficult than following the lower wall. Realize though, that the ferocity of the briars and brambles between the Amp and Sphinx is what caused them to take the direct route up the ledge. If this were cleared out, it would solve a lot of problems with this path.
We descended between the first and second Icebergs, and towards the lower mouth of the Amphitheater. For whatever reason, I gave very little study to this area in the planning stages of this trip. I suppose I just assumed there would be a well used climbers trail all the way to the bottom (that would be OBVIOUS from the bottom as approached from LNCW). Instead, it was a giant scramble through prime snake territory. As we came in, we angled right/south and stayed closer to the side (not hugging the wall by any means) of the Daddy and the Mummy. About 5 minutes into the Amp, I heard Josh start singing and whooping and scrambling at a pace that could only have been attained by a snake sighting. At least the fat 2″ diameter Copperhead was more interested in traveling down than Josh was. This is probably why we kept towards the right side. Eventually we worked our way up and over to the site that looks up into the Mummy’s rappel gully. We took a break here and watched as a couple climbers set up to rappel. We moved on before watching them make it down, but as Zak had said from his previous report… It’s steep. From here we kept towards the south end, and the bushes got thick. We could tell where the descent gully to the Amp was from the UNCW, so we eventually just made a straight cut north to get there. Lo and behold, a path that was way better than what we took to get there! Our group had split into two in the Amp, and by the time I got there (2nd group), the first guys had gone up. Apparently they didn’t see the trail to the left and thy climbed up the creek. When we got there, we heard them yelling, “Don’t climb the creek!!” I guess not!
Once at the top, it was decision time. The MST or UNCW back to the car? We had votes going both ways. I really wanted to summit Table Rock after the LNCW, but judging on how worn out my guys were, I figured UNCW was a great compromise, so that’s where I cast my vote. I don’t know if the aye’s or nay’s won, but we did the UNCW anyway.
I’m glad we did! It was fantastic to see the Sphinx from the UNCW cliff ledges, and to trace where we had gone. The best part about the whole thing was that we were on the ledge the same time a group began climbing the Sphinx! It must have been Kurtis and his guys from Tampa. It was only a few minutes after 2PM when we saw someone up there. I took a few photos and a couple videos, and then we moved on. The views of the Camel and Apricot were nice and really made me wish for some more adventure, although…the Gorge had taken pretty much every ounce of energy we could muster. Fighting bushes and briars and scrambling ledges all day takes it out of you, but it’s so worth it. If you want to play, you gots’ta pay…and indeed we did. On the way back to the car, I noted the Twin Towers and Catbrier Point. That looks like a mess getting out there, but tons of fun!
And what better way to conclude this trip than dinner and a slice of Strawberry Rhubarb pie at Louise’s? Nothing concludes a day in the Gorge like a slice of pie. I can’t wait to get back out there.