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Christianity Freedom God http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Idolatry Jesus Life Seeking the Gospel

Can Freedom Be An Idol?

Before I start, let me say this post is not directed at anybody specific. If anyone, it’s introspective; however, the theme of freedom has been playing out in several conversations I’ve had with several people lately, so it’s time to ask some questions because I think in all honesty this pertains to more than just me.
A lot of things come to mind when I hear the word freedom, but a quote from Dave Ramsey, which I’ll paraphrase since I can’t  remember it exactly, seems to ring the loudest: “What does one do when they don’t have any debt? Anything they want to.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty dang good to me, especially since I feel like I’m wearing some of those shackles myself. 
We spend our days and months and years fighting and clawing for that which we think will give us our freedom: money, savings, retirement, medication, success, education, promotions, a house in the mountains or at the beach, vacations, cruises to exotic countries, or a giant pool in our backyard. We label those things freedom, and we make them idols, sacrificing to get them. And for what? A family that barely sees and knows you, a huge pile of stuff, a giant property that takes your freedom because you either have to maintain it or pay someone else to, and you’re still left wanting. We can think of idols or demon gods like Molech in ancient times that people sacrificed their children on the altars of, but are we really any different? We sacrifice our wives, husbands, kids on the altar of career and education and more stuff. I sacrifice my family so I can do __________. Sounds like the same ballpark.
We all want freedom so badly. Whether it’s freedom from work, sickness, debt, addictions, suffering, depression, pain, mortgage, government, taxes taxes and more taxes, we all want to taste the sweet air of freedom. This is something we all share. I propose that we all share this because we all share something even deeper, that we are living in a world where sin still exists. Martin Luther defines sin as “the self bending in on the self.” Sin is chains and slavery and the opposite of freedom.
In all honesty, I don’t think our deep desire for freedom is a BAD thing. Mark Driscoll has said that when a good thing becomes a god thing it becomes an idol. An idol would be something that we give ourselves to in hopes that it would provide heaven from our hell. It’s when we go about looking to find a savior that cannot save is when our worlds start crumbling. Or maybe it’s a case of wanting the created over the Creator. Is it that we ultimately want freedom more than we want the only One who can offer it? That would be like marrying someone only for the sex without building any relationship. 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
This is the message that Jesus gives. He is saying “Come to me, and I will give you freedom.” While many good things can give us some rest as gifts from God and foretastes of heaven, nothing will ultimately give anyone rest like Jesus. It is worth noting, however, that Jesus will never give us our idols. He will never allow us to be satisfied with that which cannot. We will never find freedom in that which enslaves.
If you are wondering what that is all about… the best counsel I can give is another from Jesus himself.  Either this or the previous verse would be excellent places to start.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13 ESV)

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Guest Post Guidebook http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post interviews North Carolina photography Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

Waterfalls, Photography, and Passion: An Interview with Todd Ransom

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Todd Ransom for the first time, though I have followed his Facebook page, Waterfalls of Western North Carolina, much longer. We both joined up with a small group to explore in the Linville Gorge, seeking our first views of the waterfall recently christened Rockefeller Plaza, as well as locating the mysterious and scarcely documented Dellinger Falls (above, with Todd standing at the base). 
Graciously, Todd agreed to be a guest contributor to this blog when I asked. Thank you so much, my friend! I highly recommend his resources to any adventurer of all skill levels just as I would recommend visiting Western North Carolina itself where his passion lies.
So without further delay….

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Todd Ransom is an independent app developer and photographer working out of Asheville, NC. You can find his guidebook apps at http://appstore.com/FlickinAmazingInc, a web guidebook at http://flickinamazing.com/waterfalls, or join the community of waterfall lovers at http://facebook.com/waterfalls.wnc.

Josh: How did your passion for the outdoors develop, and eventually lead to waterfall photography? Why waterfalls instead of ridges, canyons, peaks, valleys, lakes or wild flowers?

Todd: I was a boy scout, so I’ve been hiking and backpacking since I was just a young kid. My love of the outdoors led me to rock climbing in my mid twenties and I started traveling all over North America to different climbing destinations. On my thirtieth birthday a friend and I climbed a route up the 2,000 foot El Potrero Chico canyon in Mexico.

As I sat on top of this enormous cliff after a full day of climbing, exhausted but satisfied, and looked down into the gorge, I realized that some day I would be an old man, no longer capable of clinging to tiny holds on a rock wall. I thought about how fallible our memories can be and I decided that I needed some way to capture these moments with more permanence, something I could look back on and remember the things I had seen and the young man I was.

I bought a camera, started taking pictures of climbing trips, and soon became frustrated with the fact my pictures did not turn out the way I expected most of the time. I started exploring the technical aspects of photography so I could more accurately capture the sights of rock climbing and the next thing I knew, I was more excited about photography than climbing!

As my interest in climbing waned I thought it would be a good time to explore new aspects of the outdoors here in Western North Carolina. I had just rescued my dog Joker from being abandoned on a trail and I was determined to make him the hiking dog I had always wanted. Since Joker is a Husky mix, I knew we would have to stick to river trails during the summer or I would need to pack twice as much water for him as I do for myself. In my hiking experience to that time river trails were a rare treat. Usually I would be backpacking the Appalachian Trail and water would be scarce. As I started to explore the hiking opportunities of WNC I realized there were literally hundreds of river trails in this area. The rest is history – Joker is now my perfect hiking companion, I rarely take a hike that does not follow a stream or river these days, and photography is a big part of my full time job as a guidebook author.

Josh: What would you say is the “sweet spot” time of year for waterfalls?

Todd: Any day you choose to be out in nature and seek to appreciate its gifts, you have found the sweet spot. In the Spring you get to see creeks and rivers swollen with snow melt and rain, teeming with new life. In the Summer, wild flowers and icy cold mountain swimming holes. And of course in the Fall we are treated to the colorful changing leaves. Even Winter has its own unique charm – you get to carry twice as much gear and alternate between sweating and freezing each time you stop to rest.

Josh: What is the greatest length you’ve gone to trying to find a waterfall?

Todd: I get really excited about the possibility of getting rare shots, and I get really annoyed if I take pictures of a waterfall and then find someone else has used the exact same composition. I want my work to be unique. With waterfalls this can mean hiking to places that not many people go or it can mean capturing perspectives that others cannot. The latter is usually the more dangerous of the two and I have often made a relatively mellow hike to a waterfall only to find myself climbing trees, cliffs or mossy rocks trying to get that perfect composition that no one else will be crazy enough to duplicate! I am going to refrain from telling any particular stories, though, because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to take risks they are not prepared to take.

Josh: I’ve downloaded the app for iPhone and have really enjoyed it. What are you hoping the user gains from using your Waterfalls of Western North Carolina app guide? 

Todd: My great hope for the guidebook apps is that they lower the bar for outdoor adventure by allowing people who are not proficient with a map and compass to venture into the wilderness without fear of getting lost. In the old days guidebooks were updated every five to ten years at the most. This meant the driving directions in rural areas were often out of date (turn left at the going out of business sign), the trail descriptions were often out of date (hike for 1/2 mile and bear right at the big spider web), and the authors generally had little incentive to keep things up to date.

By putting the information into an app, I can provide turn by turn driving directions directly to each trailhead from any starting point and GPS assisted trail navigation even with no cell signal. I also add new waterfalls regularly without the expense of printing a new edition.

Josh: For the new and seasoned seekers, what are the 5 waterfalls in WNC that should not be missed?

Todd: There are several fantastic roadside waterfalls in WNC – Whitewater Falls is the highest on the east coast, Looking Glass Falls, Linville Falls and Dry Falls are all beautiful and easily accessible. These are all amazing falls but as you know the places that call to me are the rugged, wild places where the landscape itself is dangerous and keeps all but the most fit and adventurous hikers at bay. So for me Big Falls on the Thompson River is the crown jewel of WNC waterfalls. I am also a big fan of waterfall hunting in Gorges state park (Lower Bearwallow Falls is spectacular, Windy Falls is a rugged and dangerous delight), Wilson Creek, Linville Gorge, and Panthertown Valley (Carlton Falls is not to be missed).

Josh: Regardless of skill level, what words of caution do you have for people who hunt for waterfalls?

Todd: I wish more people would learn to respect the power of waterfalls. Every year there are several deaths at waterfalls in WNC and they are usually the result of simple carelessness. One slip above a 50 foot waterfall is almost certain to be fatal and I often see kids and teenagers jumping, diving and climbing around waterfalls in ways that I (a seasoned rock climber and waterfall jockey) would not dare to do. I would urge each of your readers to never cross a creek or river directly above any waterfall, never swim behind a large waterfall, never jump from any waterfall, and never climb on a waterfall. You can have a lot of fun swimming at the base and playing in the river without endangering your life needlessly.
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Focus Gospel http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus Reconciliation Testimony

Learn to Swim

The other night, I heard a song by Tool on the radio that I once loved. To my surprise, even though it has been nearly 10 years since I last heard the song, I still remembered 90% of the lyrics to it. The lyrics describe his disgust with a certain section of California and the people who live there, climaxing at hoping an earthquake will cause the land to go down into the ocean carrying the inhabitants with it. Flush it all away. He sings “One great big festering neon distraction, I’ve a suggestion to keep you all occupied – learn to swim.” 

As I listened to the song jam on, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is dark.” I mean, I knew it was then, but maybe I’m just seeing it with new eyes. It was so pointed, full of venom and hate. This is what I fed myself. This, and worse, was the preaching I listened to in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Growing up in a Christian home, I would have told you my heart and mind and mood wasn’t affected by it. This was straight rock and roll, and to be honest, it really does jam. I’m not going to sit here and type out lies to you that the music doesn’t have any appeal to me, because it does. The problem is that there is heart poison on that apple. Feeding on these things over several years gained me a worldview that could be summed up succinctly by Marilyn Manson, another old favorite band of mine: “I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers, I don’t need to choose a side.
This is who I was. Outspokenly cursing the world around me, and add into the mix a full blown unapologetic racist and bigot, waiting for the ground to give way into the open water while I nihilistically stood over the population in judgment sarcastically counseling them, “Learn to swim.” With fist high, digit raised, I was letting people know what I thought of them. That was life.
In 2005, God interrupted that life. Since, I have learned that people are created in the image of God, each person uniquely (though still tainted with sin) reflecting attributes and facets of our Creator. Each person is due respect and dignity, because every man and woman and child is made in God’s likeness, bearing his image, broadcasting to the world around them ways that God is like. Can you see how grievous sin is? Don’t you think this would put me in debt with God, committing these treasonous crimes against his name? Even without being a Christian, I still bore the image of God and with my life I was telling people that God is saying to us, “Learn to swim.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. While we were drowning in sin, Jesus took on human flesh while remaining God to offer himself as a ransom for a people who had only given the world around them false and distorted images of God. In Jesus, God gave up his son into the hands of evil men so that some may be rescued. That is a far cry from telling humanity to learn to swim. That’s throwing the only lifeline.
So what was I living for? This has really come around from originally wanting to say how things affect you (I’ve been humming that song over 24 hours now), and how we are all listening to preaching in some form or another, whether through music, movies, the news, advertising, and more. It’s turned into a filleting of myself. I can’t really come down on some music for its content when my heart was full of more darkness than what is visible from a few minutes of singing. An old school punk band Crux once sang, “Where I focus my eyes is where I’m led in time.” There is a lot of truth to that. A lot. Read it one more time. “Where I focus my eyes is where I’m led in time.
Each of us holds two worlds in their hands, and we weigh Jesus against everything else. We can hold onto (in my case) self-righteousness, greed, sex, and misanthropy. Those were the altars I worshipped at. We have to ask ourselves, like I did, who do I say Jesus is? Since I’ve been quoting a lot of lyrics in this post, why stop now. More recently, Theocracy sang: “For if the key to life is right here in my hand, why would I trade it for an hourglass of sand?” Why would I trade Jesus, who is of infinite value, for a life of misanthropy? I can’t tell you why I thought my hate was worth it, other than my eyes were blinded. I once was anticipating the destruction of the world as it went up in flames; now I am anticipating the restoration of the world, where wrongs are made right and that which is crooked is made straight. This is not being a good person, or getting a little religion; this is “God happened to me.” Who do you say Jesus is? 
We give Jesus our sin, Jesus gives us his righteousness. What I laid at his feet was not any sacrifice for what he laid on me.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21, ESV)