Categories
Adventure

Linville Gorge: Hawksbill and the Sphinx

October 2012 was my first trip to the Sphinx in Linville Gorge. I had heard about this wild place called the Lower North Carolina Wall, and how it led to the rock formation known as The Sphinx which keeps watch over the Gorge from its perch below the cliffs. A year prior, I had hiked Rock Jock on the opposite side of the Gorge, and knew I wanted to stand on the Sphinx. A year of research and planning made that a reality. Accompanied by friends from my local church body, we stood on the Sphinx. It was like a holy grail moment of hiking.

In October of 2013, I made a return trip with friends from local hiking groups.

In November of 2014, I made my first hike with Waldemar (or Wally, as his American friends have come to call him). We hiked in snow in South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness, and that was where I first began to get to know Wally. In that time, I found out that our first trip to the Sphinx was when he first arrived at the church. He would have loved to be on that trip, to climb on those rocks, to see those sights, but I barely knew him then and it definitely wasn’t on a level to know he loved to be active.

As life happens, the path that our friend Wally and his family will be taking has them returning to Germany. In celebration of our friendship with him, and the fellowship God has given us, I wanted to take him on that first hike that he wanted to go on but did not.

Here is what happened in April 2018.

In Greenville, our crew met. Wally, Stan, Matt, Jared, Nathan, and myself. After being stuck in arrival delaying traffic for longer than we would have liked, we arrived at the event campsite below Hawksbill Mountain at the Linville Gorge. With a full parking lot, we were surprised to find that no one was camping at the campsite. After we selected our spot, pitched our tents and hammocks, and gathered firewood, we decided to hike to the summit of Hawksbill to see the sunset. It turns out that a lot of other folks had this idea, too, and were camping up there instead of at the base like we would. It really is glorious up on the highest peak in the Gorge.

Back at camp, we fixed our dinner. Jared hung a lantern which gave our site a very Narnian feel. Chris and Michael arrived just after our first round of hot dogs, and we all got to catch up. After eating, we splintered off to explore some of the nearby paths, to find rocky outcrops to stand on and see shooting stars in the darkness. As midnight approached, I closed our evening with a reading of A Liturgy for those who Camp in Tents from Every Moment Holy by Rabbit Room Press. The fire died down, the food was secured, and we retired to our shelters of nylon for the evening.

I unzipped my bug net just before 7:00am, thinking about how I’ve got to get a fire going. To my delight, Jared had risen before me and had the fire built to a healthy size. As Chris got out of his hammock, he said, “Hey, there’s a dude over there.” Jameson had come in during the night and was cowboy camping nearby.

My wife Jenny had prepared a hoard size supply of foil wrapped breakfast burritos for us, and they started to go into the fire. Jared took on coffee duty with beans he had roasted himself, and it was a great morning. Honestly, I can’t recall a better camping experience I’ve ever had. The site was great. The food was great. The temperature was great. The fellowship was great.

At Table Rock Picnic Area, we met up with the Three of Epicity: the Badger, Kitty, and Jill. This would put our group size over 10, which is the limit the USFS asks. We would meet up at intersections along the way, but mostly our groups were separate. In the Chimneys, we passed through a group of slackliners and a separate group rock climbers. The Mountains to Sea Trail was seeing all kinds of adventurers today.

Heading down the Mossy Monster Trail, I noted a camera just above the descent gully, and wondered if the USFS is tracking the traffic that is going down into this dangerous area. It is dangerous down here, really. Falls have happened. Any injury at this point would put the injured in a world of hurt, if they survived. Extraction by search and rescue would be extremely difficult, arduous, time consuming, and costly.

Carefully selecting our footholds, we spotted for each other as we climbed down the cliffs to and through the Mossy Monster separation crack. Next comes the Talus Field, where every rock can shift under your weight, and eventually the tree climb area. As of this writing, the tree is not dead, but the branches used to aid in climbing the cliff face are. Do not count on climbing that tree. Climbing the rocks to access the higher ledge comes with the looming empty space below, as a fall here could be fatal.

As I was learning the Linville Gorge, Bob Underwood, the Linville Legend wisely counseled me, “You will see two entities on your hike: God and Linville Gorge. If you bite off more than you can chew, God will forgive you. Linville Gorge will not.” For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Once on top of the ledge, we looked back to see the Three of Epicity eating lunch on an outcrop. We kept going. Hugging the cliff walls, I was surprised to see how much the last wildfire had cleared out. Pine trees that used to raise over my head were now just above my knees. The bushes had been burned away. Charred logs and scrub were everywhere, but the briars were reclaiming what was theirs. For now. There is a curse over this earth and all its inhabitants that will one day be lifted. With echoes of Isaiah 55, violets and rhododendron prophecy of the coming day when death dies and all will be made right. If you’ve never read this awe inspiring passage of Scripture that makes every delight a shadow of what is to come, it is a wonderful hope.

In a roundabout way that kept us grounded and skirted risks, we finally approached the Sphinx. That iconic and mysterious tower that juts out of the cliffs like some twisted slalom welcomed our group through its wretched gates of char and thorn. Many scrambled up the final climb, but I did not. I have stood on that rock twice prior. I don’t have any fear of it. I am confident in my physical ability. I’m not bored with it. The thrill of standing there has been wrung out of me, and as I was guiding a few to the path to take up that final scramble, I decided that I would not return. This would be my final hike to the Sphinx. It is time to move on.

It was a surprise to see Kitty and Jill show up at the Sphinx. In a game of “Where’s Badger?” I was amazed to see him nestled up onto a Badger-perch on the side of the cliffs. We don’t call you the Badger for nothing! Hint: look for the orange, and it’s still going to be difficult to find him. This would be our final parting ways with Badger, Kitty and Jill today. As we looked back, it was clear that Spencer and a friend of his had caught up. It was commented that among the Team Waterfall hikers, even though our groups will often separate, taking different routes, but we always seem to end up at the same location. It’s like we are in some kind of adventure-sync.

A victim of our group that this hungry tangle would claim would be a wedding ring. One of our group had it flung from his finger as a charred log gave away beneath him on our approach to the Sphinx. We looked again as a larger group on our exit. With sadness, we moved on. Even though a ring is only a token, a small symbol, we hold with great esteem the unending covenantal love which the ring points to. It is a shadow of the covenant God makes with His bride. The covenant is not lost, even if it’s symbol is.

We fought the hills and thorny tangle through to a group of boulders colloquially referred to as the Icebergs, which we would scramble between as we stood at the foot of our final obstacle. The leg crushing Amphitheater.

Words don’t describe getting out of this place. Keep going up. Aim left. It really is trying to follow a path of least resistance, which changes as trees fall, rocks move, and scrub burns. I think this is my favorite part, though. A strep boulder field like the Amp is difficult to navigate on several levels, but this meat grinder doesn’t carry a risk of falling with it. You’re free to relax and give yourself over to complete physical exertion climbing out of here. Our group of nine was staggered at exit, but we all made it and rested at the top. Somehow, Matt and Wally were full of energy. I’m not saying I’m not still in my youth, but I did feel my age more this time around. They were excited to summit Table Rock back at the parking lot, so they took Jared and ran ahead while the rest of us slowly trickled in to the picnic area.

Thanks Wally. You’re still here for a short time. Here you go, brother. I’m grateful to have been able to put this together for you. With a mixture of hope and sadness, we wish you Godspeed. We love you are grateful to our Father to have given us this time with you, and entrust you into His care as your journey takes you and your family beyond the Upstate South Carolina. These stops are only pleasant inns on our paths to our eternal homeland.

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

– Numbers 6:24-26

Categories
Adventure comics

Thoughts on Judas 4:4, and final series.

March brings us the finale to BOOM! Studios comic mini-series of Judas, an imaginative and exploratory new telling of the events leading up to and after Judas’s death. **This will contain spoilers.**

If you missed my thoughts on the prior issues, you can read 1 here, 2 here, and 3 here. You’re now reading 4.

The final issue treats the reader to some of the best artwork Jakub Rebelka has brought to this series. What started to build in the 3rd issue comes to fruition with bold and contrasting color palettes to tell the dramatic culmination of this story.

It seems that Judas finally has his head on straight and is thinking clearly. Jesus has been taken to the deepest depths of hell, beyond the beasts of John’s revelation. He is being held where all hope is gone. Jesus needs a savior.

In this inner circle of hell, Judas finds Jesus in his weakest state yet. Deflated into a shell, he is also defeated and depressed. He has believed the lie. “Lucifer was right. He was always right. The story is broken.” Then, as Judas sits by the limp Jesus, lost in the defeat of his friend, the story begins to shift. The reservoir of Judas’s accusation has been completely emptied, and now what is left?

The Father has been testing. The Old Testament recounting of Abraham sacrificing Isaac that prophetically points to Jesus is reshaped to suggest that God has been testing himself on a small scale to see if these things could be done. Could a father truly give up his son? To give him up to a place where the Father could not follow, where he would be alone?

But wait, Jesus is not alone. Judas is here. Judas has been sent before him, to be with him. When Jesus is weak, Judas was intended to be next to him to make him strong. Is this the grace of God, Judas asks himself? Is this his purpose, his story? In this section, we do find the answer to the close relational death Judas experienced in the first issue.

One thing is holding Jesus back. There is one sin that is keeping Jesus defeating death: his own sin of making Judas the villain in the story. Satan steps back in, seeing that he is about to lose what he has worked for, and Judas turns his doubt toward Satan and regains his faith in Jesus. As the betrayed and the betrayer are about to be overcome, Judas utters, “I forgive you.” In a dramatic change, light enters the darkness. Jesus’s power returns, and the gates of hell have been broken.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. – Acts 2:24

Even if this comic entertains the possibility of Jesus being held by death, there is no escape for Judas. His black and broken halo remains, and Jesus goes where Judas cannot. Judas is not bitter, though. Even in death, he is watching the story continue on without him, but is comforted in love. Judas’s identity will always be the villain. He will always remain as broken as the story he finds himself in. In truth, Judas comes to the conclusion that there is more to our story than we know.

Judas, even in death, finds redemption in love. He doesn’t escape the dark wasteland he finds himself in, but he chooses to love. His bitterness towards Jesus is gone, his resentment of the story is no more, and in a bizarre turn that I was not expecting, we find Judas echoing the beatitudes and becoming the Christ of hell.

The curtain closes.

Final thoughts on the Judas mini-series

I’m reminded while reading that this series is called Judas, not Jesus. Jesus, while an integral part of this story, is not the focus. I found him quite uninteresting, drained of being fully God and fully man. The story started strong, with the heavy emotions and accusations that Judas was wrestling with. Even as Judas was trading words with the Satan, there was clever dialogue in the way that Satan was guilty of the exact things he was accusing Jesus of but disguised it with sleight of words. When Jesus entered hell, and lost his godhood (with a show of his words fading from red to black), the story took a turn which felt like an Academy Award winning movie doing something for the sake of being artistically provocative that wasn’t compelling. From the beginning, with the uncomfortable juxtaposition of Judas and Jesus, there was a tell in this ring the way the story would go. Artistically, the resurrection of Jesus was great, but without any significance, why should I care? Again, this is a story about Judas, and not Jesus, but as I closed the book, it was just not satisfying.

Even from an angle of something I didn’t line up with, the story that was told didn’t seem like it was a story that had to be told. It felt like art for the sake of art, and not much driving it beyond that. I stated at the beginning that this mini-series could be considered a good gift, but I’m not entirely convinced of that at the end of the tale. It falls flat. There may still be value in the discussion that can come from shared readers, but on what authority can any conclusions be tested against to be found true or false?

Categories
Adventure relationships

If We’re Going To Be Intentional…

Intentional. Purposeful. Pick your synonym, but those are big buzz words right now. For whatever reason, we as a culture have chosen to condense very large concepts down into a quick way of communicating those concepts with one word: intentional.

Short nuance: This is going to be a post that can be taken for more than what I intend it to be. For the sake of clarity, let me bluntly say that my goal is that what I am trying to process through is the use of words. Now, back to intentional.

The weakness of being intentional

How can I communicate in a way that packs the most meaning into the shortest amount of time, but also in a concise way? I honestly believe there are good intentions behind the use of words like this, but it personally makes me feel as if I’m a project or a focus plan. That is a tension I don’t always resolve well. It can make a more intimate relationship feel corporate, cold and love-less. Whether real or perceived, those feelings exist. I realize that we are not to be driven by our feelings. I get that. However, when that notion drives aside all feelings for how I should be intentionally acting (and it starts to actually be acting the longer it isn’t healthfully dealt with), it takes on further the corporate and cold aspect. People are thirsty and hurting because none of us escape a world in which sin in or around us exists. Approaching that with tools that behave like a Gallup poll engagement survey are not going bring deliverance from the thirst or hurt that is likely the root of the behavior.

Being intentional can even have the opposite affect not by what is motivating our intentionality, but by the condensing of those motivations to the point where they’ve become buzzwords and lost meaning. It was in jest, but I was meeting with a friend last year and he said to me, “Are you being intentional with me right now?” This is a relationship I want to grow, but like a bad seed in a bag of otherwise good ones, the cultural use of being intentional can introduce a lack of trust like weeds. It can even make someone feel like you’ve been assigned to them. Whether that is real or perceived, if you’re wanting to build a relationship, I don’t see that as fruitful in a positive way. We’ll get back to perception in a minute.

Jesus, please help me.

A conversation Jesus has with one of the religious leaders, recorded in the Gospel of Mark, fuels what I believe is the way to address being intentional.

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.
33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
– Mark 12:28-34

“But, but, I am loving my neighbor!”

It takes two to communicate. If you’ve been alive for any length of time, it’s not an uncommon occurrence that the message that’s been received is not the one you intended to send out. It has been said that perceptions are reality, and while that’s note entirely true, it feels like it. There is a responsibility of love on the hearer, on those who receive your intentionality, to believe the best about you. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is a characteristic of what love does.

But what of the one who is is trying to love? Or… are you trying to be intentional? 1 Corinthians 13 starts with If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. You may as well say that if I am being intentional but have no love, it’s worthless.

If we’re going to be intentional…

Lets shift focus. Intentionality focused on where I spend my time and what I feed myself on is self-driven. Unless I’m trying to work for the approval of someone else, It’s unlikely I’m going to make myself feel like a project. When I act out of intentionality instead of an outpouring of what I am loving, the conviction is lost. People feel like projects. This may be a crude way of saying that, but I don’t know how to refine it better.

What did Jesus say? Everything is summed up by love God, and secondly love others. The order I believe is incredibly important. If we are going to be intentional, let us be intentional about loving God. If you are a Christian, I hope you know that the separation between you and God has been reconciled by Jesus. You aren’t reading the Bible and praying to gain anyone favor. Haven’t we heard it said that Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship? (That’s not to say Christianity is NOT true religion, but that is another discussion.) You are trying to grow your relationship with the God who has rescued you. Who IS this God that would leave heaven to become a man, take on our sufferings, die for the ways his creation has dismissed and shunned him, and raise again so that we could be set free from the curse that enslaves us all? All out of love, amazing love. This love is worth the intentional effort to understand. Even more, it is worth fanning the flame of your affections. Yes, Jesus came and lived and suffered and died and rose again to glorify and love his Father, but he he also fulfilled the second greatest commandment, to love his neighbor. To love his people. His affection was set on his Father, and his Bride.

Affection, I believe, is what feels lacking from a saturated use of being intentional. If we’re going to be intentional, let it be to the stirring up of our affections for God and one another. If whatever way we are behaving is quenching those affections, that’s worth starving.

How can I fan the flames of my affection towards God and the people around me? How can I pour gasoline on that fire? How can I increase that intensity? Is what I’m doing genuinely stirring up those affections or having the opposite effect?

Hope

I’m not one who gets this right all the time. I quench my affections for God, my family, my friends, those who aren’t my friends, all the time. My faith cannot be in how well I respond, though, because my response will be inconsistent at best this side of eternity. My faith has to be in the One who died to reconcile me God, because I sure can’t close that gap on my own. Still, with the Valley of Vision, we pray: Grant that I may never trust my heart, depend upon any past experiences, magnify any present resolutions, but be strong in the grace of Jesus: that I may know how to obtain relief from a guilty conscience without feeling reconciled to my imperfections.

A final thought inspired by Treebeard

If we are wanting to love God and love others, and I’m proposing that our use of words is getting in the way of that, I also believe JRR Tolkien gives us some wisdom worth considering. In the spirit of the age of 2018, we are into quick fixes and hacks. We want to say hello, maybe go so far as to drop an encouraging word on someone, and move on. It’s like we live our lives out of the office the same way we do in the office, acknowledging the people we constantly pass in the hallway but don’t stop because we have other things we need to be busy with. Slowing down may be culturally celebrated, but I am suspect of it being culturally practiced. Before I digress into some other tangent about that, I mentioned Treebeard from Lord of the Rings. In The Two Towers, he is having a conversation with two hobbits in regards to his name.

I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.

What is the relevance? If we are loving God and loving others, I believe we can do better than trying to capture big affections with shorthand buzzwords. God and people are valuable. We can can intentionally think about which words we use, we can give each other the best of our words, and we can love each other enough to take a long time to say that.

This is far from completely fleshed out here in a blog post, but I hope it inspires some thought and consideration. I need that myself.

Categories
Adventure

A Strategy for Seeking After God?

I’m going to bring you into some “inner circle” communication I sent to a few of the guys in my small group, formatted and a little more fleshed out for a blog post.

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It’s been on my mind over the last couple months to have a plan or strategy for being focused on seeking after God by Scripture and prayer the coming year. This is coming out of finishing up Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, which I have been haphazardly reading since mid-2013. (You can read the post where I started that here —> https://thelongroadtozion.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/the-weak-to-make-war/)

This was the last time I approached any devotional reading strategically enough to come up with a plan. None of this is overly complicated. The very simple skeleton is read a Psalm then read a section from the book, or vice versa. Leading out of the readings that went with my Precious Remedies plan, the framework of my focus for 2018 is two fold:

memorize Psalm145

pray through Valley of Vision using Joe Thorn’s prayer guide http://www.joethorn.net/valley/

Why Psalm 145? Originally, my plan was to memorize Isaiah 55, which is a marvelous passage of Scripture that captures a pillar of what this blog and my motivations stand under if you’re inclined to look it up. (It is also the content of the second half of Andrew Peterson’s amazing song The Sower’s Song). The picture Isaiah paints of the coming of Zion is a sweet balm to my soul when it is weary and distracted. However, while reading Psalm 145 in accompaniment with Precious Remedies, it seemed to be like an unusually timed wealthy mine, turning up a new jewel every time I turned to it. I then heard a sermon expositing the Psalm (Longing for Jesus @ EastNorth Church), and felt inclined to marinate in it over the coming year.

Please ask me about it, and pray for me that the Holy Spirit would help me push back against the darkness and distractions that keep me from seeking fellowship with God. Really, as moody and distracted and caught up in myself as I can get, if at any time you wish to pray for me, especially if you do not know how or what to pray for, please refer to Psalm145. Pray all or a section of that Psalm over me that God would make it true of me and my life.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. – James 4:8

Do y’all have any specific plans to focus your seeking after and drawing near to God in 2018? For all of us, whatever we plan to implement, we can’t forget to pray and ask God that he would make that work fruitful. We are dependent and can’t build this house on our own.

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Psalm 145 , English Standard Version (ESV)

1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.

7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!

11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,

12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]

14 The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.

20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Categories
Adventure

A new step on the Long Road

It’s been almost 18 months since this blog has seen anything new. In that time, I’ve thought several times about how to move forward with it, buying the domain name, how I can increase traffic, what I could post to get new content twice weekly, how to narrow my focus so there is some cohesiveness to all of this, how to manage social media, how to make the blog easier for me to manage, etc. I was thinking consumeristically. How can I make The Long Road to Zion an asset that generates an income? Ahhh, that very statement reveals in itself how I have lost my way.

Do I have something to say? Maybe. I’m kind of a scattered dude. Stuck in my own head and tangled when I open my mouth. I do like writing, though, and this gives me the opportunity for that. There are things I wonder about, and maybe if I’m wondering about them out loud, someone else is wondering about them, too? Things strike me as interesting.

One of those things has been social media, specifically Facebook. A few months ago, I left because I was so distracted by it. Then I grew proud that *I* wasn’t using it, so am I nullifying any benefit being away had? I’d also increased my isolation. As I reactivated my account again for the who knows how many-eth time and began to post, I noticed circles of friends.

It’s interesting, but somehow frustratingly compartmentalizing (and maybe even self-focused?), how I can kind of guess who may like what. Family posts get their set of likes, outdoor posts get their set of likes, geeky game and comic posts get their set of likes, theological posts get their set of likes, and so on. I’d love to see those circles blending into each other. This could be where the self-focus comes in but, all of those topics are from the same person. I don’t want to show one side to one group and another side to another group. It’s all me.

A few years ago, I was given the advice to write about what I love. Sometimes I’ve written propaganda on here. Go ahead and look back through the posts, you’ll figure it out. The last few I wrote on Seek the Kingdom turned to curiosity and wondering. I don’t want to try to get you to do something. I don’t have it all figured out. Some things I do believe make sense as they’ve remained solid in the midst of my shakiness. What I want to say if you’ve felt that manipulative propaganda from this blog or me in person, I’m sorry. You are a person, made in the image of God, and deserve better than a blog post to try to move you from one point to another.

What does all of this have to do with this blog? Where I want to go with The Long Road to Zion, going forward.

1. Relationships. This is what the circles taught me. If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re in my family, my church, my work, my hobbies, or the places I frequent. I doubt that this blog will reach past those narrow lanes of local traffic, however, it’s in those lanes that my life is in. If that’s you, I want to make The Long Road to Zion a place of hospitality that invites you in. Not in to agree on all things, but in to relate. Maybe our circles can start overlapping some more for the sake of the community we find ourselves in. Maybe this can be a tool that helps us love and understand and empathize with each other better. That would be awesome if that fruit came from this.

2. Space to figure stuff out. As I alluded to earlier, articulation is not my strength when I’m talking to you face to face. It seems like one thing I do is to set up straw men and end up trying to figure out things that aren’t really what’s bothering me in the first place. I don’t even have myself figured out, let alone those people close and closer to me. Binary thinking is a topic of conversation these days, and already being prone to an all-or-nothing way of thinking myself, I want to push back on that. I want to see if I can look at things and see them in a different way. Not an untrue way, but from an angle I haven’t seen them before. With every circle comes its own culture that can give us tunnel vision. In the Bible, Jesus sums up the greatest commandments as, “Love God, love your neighbor.” How can I do either of those if my eyes are only focused inward to what I know and am comfortable with?

3. A move to WordPress. Perhaps the most boring of all. As Google removed mobile support for Blogger, I found their desktop site on mobile to be difficult to manage. I don’t like loading up my laptop for much more than loading up my iPod. Trying to save all my “great” content from old site to this new site has not been functionally the smoothest. As I’m caring less about what I can preserve or how I can streamline it to a cash flow, but still need to technical support of an app so I can have my blogging preferences met, I’ve set up a redirect from the blogspot address to this WordPress address

I hope as I use The Long Road to Zion to capture some of the progress of a pilgrim, that you will continue to walk with me, and that God will crack open some of what’s eternal and bring it into what is present and common.

—-

A few words of thanks to those who in my circles have inspired me to be creative. Jenny, my wife, your faithfulness to love me at my worst is the clearest reflection of the Gospel I have. In addition, one way you love me is by always supporting the ideas I have, even if I never get them off the ground. You are an encourager. Jason and Justin from work, you guys have encouraged me to write. Matt, Ryan, Stan, Nathan, Paul, and Steve from church, y’all have walked the long road with me as I’ve walked and stumbled and fallen. Jack at The Cardboard Herald, you’ve celebrated creativity and inspired me to feed that. The staff at Borderlands Comics & Games, y’all have shown me how to not be so stuffy as an adult, but helped rekindle my love of art and story.

Categories
Adventure

Seek the Kingdom: Sorrow and Sighing Will Flee


“And the redeemed of the Lord will return

and come to Zion with singing,

crowned with unending joy.

Joy and gladness will overtake them,

and sorrow and sighing will flee.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭51:11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

I feel that regardless of one’s worldview, suffering and pain, sighing and sorrow, are present. As for me, I find identity not as someone who has earned any right to God’s favor, but as an undeserving object of mercy who had no claim to any kind of redemption. Yet, here I stand, many times weak and wavering, but with hope in the Lord who is never wavering. His Kingdom is coming. In the book Pilgrims Progress, author John Bunyon refers to the Kingdom of God as the Celestial City. Our sorrow and sighing will not outlast our Savior and the City he is bringing us to. The pains we go through are real, but because of Jesus, they will not last forever. Rest WILL come!

If I have not to look forward to Zion, the Kingdom of God, where Yahweh, his bride – the redeemed church, and his creation all intersect, where sorrow and sighing are only memories that increase the joys we will have, what good is my hope? My hope is that in Christ, the dwelling place of God is with man. God will bring his kingdom. We will have the Lord, and with the Lord, we will have all that is good. Zion without God is no Zion at all.

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:1‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

In the classic book Precious Against Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks explains on of the devices that Satan uses to keep the saints in a sad condition. Surely our sighing and sorrow adds to that. In losing the comforts we have had in the joy of our salvation and redemption, it is a gentle slope to feeling hopeless and discouraged. To forget who we are is in need of a remedy. We must not lose sight of our hope! One of the remedies that Brooks gives the reader echoes Isaiah 51:11.

The fifth remedy against this device of Satan is, to consider, That God will restore and make up the comforts of his people. Though your candle be put out, yet God will light it again, and make it burn more bright than ever. Though your sun for the present be clouded, yet he who rides upon the clouds shall scatter those clouds, and cause the sun to shine and warm your heart as in former days, as the psalmist speaks: ‘You who have showed me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side’ (Psalm 71:20, 21).

God takes away a little comfort, that he may make room in the soul for a greater degree of comfort. This the prophet Isaiah sweetly shows: ‘I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him, and to his mourners’ (Isa. 57:18). Bear up sweetly, O precious soul! your storm shall end in a calm, and your dark night in a sunshine day! Your mourning shall be turned into rejoicing, and the waters of consolation shall be sweeter and higher in your soul than ever! The mercy is surely yours—but the time of giving it is the Lord’s. Wait but a little, and you shall find the Lord comforting you on every side. See Psalm 126:6, and 42:7, 8. 

May we all find our rest in remembering that we are redeemed in Christ, and he will bring about his kingdom that will know no end. Sorrow and sighing will flee. Our joy and happiness and singing and gladness will know know end, because Jesus will know no end.

Categories
Adventure

Book Review – If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas

After the construction of the Constitution, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Do we have a monarchy or a republic?” Franklin replies, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Echoing the words of Benjamin Franklin, Eric Metaxas is helping the reader to remember that we cannot simply take America, or the promise of America, for granted. Yet, many Americans have fallen asleep to what that even means. While reading If You Can Keep It, I went through a wide range of thoughts. I nearly felt fickle as I tried to decide what I thought of If You Can Keep It as I read it, but couldn’t make up my mind. For this review of the book, I want to try and sort out some of those thoughts. I’ll begin with sharing one of my favorite quotes from the book, then go from there.

“If one’s thoughts were regulated by the power of the state, 

how could one really be free?” 

~ Eric Metaxas

America. Based on your story, on the narrative that has been part of your life, just to say American is bound to bring up all different kinds of thoughts and feelings. Am I proud of my country? Disgusted with my government? In an election year where nobody seems happy with our choices, considering what The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty is seems very timely.

One of the major themes of the book is American exceptionalism. Admittedly, I am working through my own thoughts on this. In America we have freedom, democracy, liberty… well, at least some of us do. Can America really be exceptional with all of the blood on her hands? Let’s face it. There have been a lot of atrocities that have occurred on American soil and by Americans. Metaxas says to focus only on America’s successes while ignoring her faults is as much as a fallacy to avoid as to only focus on her faults without acknowledging her successes. He handles this gently while never dismissing any one persons or groups plights and sufferings.

There are so many issues today, it can feel like there is no point in trying to be an influence. I believe the approach Eric Metaxas takes in If You Can Keep It is a macroview assessment of America. We must balance all of our experiences, the truth of America’s history, against not who the USA is on the world stage, but the PROMISE of America. The promise that the Statue of Liberty reminds us of.

“Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

When I read those words, I love them. But can I say this is my American experience? Even as I’m here because my great ancestors saw those words for themselves and came to America’s shores in search of liberty, it is not my experience that many people carry that sentiment. I haven’t. I think that is Eric Metaxas’s point: we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten the promise of America. When we forget and cease to live by these virtuous truths, when we cease to live for others and live for ourselves instead, we cease to be America. We will implode. Metaxas is encouraging us to remember who we are, a nation who exists – in promise – to bring liberty to our neighbors.

The urgency of If You Can Keep It is to love our country. That may seem difficult with a look at the headlines of today or the past. The praiseworthy should be praised, and the hideousness should be acknowledged and repented from. We must not forget. If we the people of America further forget who we are intended to be, we will cease to be the fullness of who we were meant to be and become a shell. America in name only.

How can we remember? What did our founding fathers want? They were escaping from the tyranny of oppression coming from Britain. They wanted to be their own people group with their own freedoms to govern themselves. Despite their many faults, this should strike a chord with many of us. We desire the freedom and promise of America. Too good to be true, you say? We are not there, but we must remember and believe in THAT America.

Personally, as a Christian, there is some tension for me while reading the book. I see that I am in exile in this world, and where I’m at in this world is America. My true kingdom is God’s country, and He will bring it about. At the same time, I need to acknowledge that what freedoms I have here are God given and a foretaste of that great country that awaits for me. America may or may not become a shell of the true American promise, but whatever happens, America will always be a shell of God’s eternal city. I don’t know what role America will play in the timeline of history. I don’t believe that America is a continuation of God’s people of Israel in the Bible, though I would be curious to know what position Eric Metaxas holds on that thought. Regardless, the best of what is America should make us long for heaven, and allow us to enjoy God through the gift that He has made America is to its people. With eternity in mind, as a Christian, we should seek to bring as much of the future into the present as we can. We should fight to taste those eternal shores of the justice and truth of God’s country while we are still waiting for it. Eric Metaxas did not go this direction in the book, but it is the direction and extent that I would take with what he wrote.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. I propose that if you are of no earthly good, you are not heavenly minded enough. It is with one eye on heaven that we should proclaim “all men are created equal!” and seek to bring the future into the now, even though we know full reality of reconciliation between God and man, and man and man, will not occur until heaven.

One of the main threads Eric weaves through If You Can Keep It is the Golden Triangle, inspired by Os Guinness. The three points of this are freedom, virtue, and faith, all of which are dependent on one another for a truly free society. I found it interesting how even Benjamin Franklin was a part of this, as he did not seem to have a faith of his own. The section on leaders and virtue was excellent.

Some of the other discussions I thoroughly enjoyed were on Nathan Hale, statues in Central Park, and the veneration of heroes. The exposition of The Midnight ride of Paul Revere made me realize just how much I had forgotten the promise of American liberty. Later in the book, the section on Abraham Lincoln and his leadership on the brink of the Civil War was truly inspiring, especially on how America will either live forever or die by suicide. The Lincoln quotes that Metaxas gives us are a wealth of wisdom. Even on a microlevel, I was convicted and encouraged at the same time with how can I specifically love my brothers and sisters here.

As the book was coming to a close, I found myself thinking, “This is all great and inspiring information, but what am I supposed to do with it?” What Eric Metaxas proposes we do with the information he gives us in If You Can Keep It is surprisingly simple, but profound and impactful. How can we love our country, love the liberty we have, and exist to use our freedoms for the benefits of others? It will go beyond how we act in the public square, but will get right down to how we will inspire and govern ourselves as individuals.

For me, I found myself asking the question, “How now shall I live?” The answer, which I believe is a natural extension of If You Can Keep It, was found in the book of Micah in the Bible.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 ESV

You can read more about If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty at http://ericmetaxas.com/books/if-you-can-keep-it/

*Disclosure: I was accepted to be part of the Launch Team for If You Can Keep It by the publisher. I was asked to give my honest thoughts, but in no way did this require a positive review for the book.

Categories
Ability Adventure Belief Gear hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Outdoor skills

So You Want To Be An Adventurer

You’ve seen the pictures on social media. You’ve heard the stories from friends or acquaintances or co-workers of great places and amazing sights. Somewhere and somehow, someone presented you with the idea of an adventure. I would define adventure as an event or span of time where one is able to behold something in wonder and marvel. Within that, there are many broad opportunities that may be overlooked. 

But there’s a barrier, isn’t there?

It could be many things, but the ones that immediately come to mind are these: (1) Ability (2) Company (3) Equipment. I believe for the most part, there is one root that these 3 barriers grow out of: Belief. Let’s look at the sub-barriers, first.

ABILITY
This probably looks like: I don’t think I can do it. What if I get lost? I need to get in shape before I go hiking. I’m not very adventurous. I don’t know where to go.

Everybody’s abilities will be different, but that doesn’t mean adventure can’t be for everybody. An adventure can be as small as exploring the backyard with your kids, as easy as a scenic drive, and as difficult as you could imagine. An important part of going on an adventure is being honest about your abilities. We are not all going to be cave divers. We are not all going to summit the highest mountain on every continent. We are not all going to jump from the edge of space. Don’t buy into the lies of comparison. Not everything is for everyone, and you always have to weigh your priorities as far as what you can and can’t do, what you should and shouldn’t do.

If you are wanting to grow your abilities, some of the things you can do are learn how to read a topography map and learn basic navigation skills like how to read a compass with the map. When reading a map, try to match the map with what your senses are telling you (e.g. “I hear water, we must be near X”) What I did was pick one area to explore (Linville Gorge), and I studied the maps, learned the landmarks and trails, and then did my best to mentally match the paper to the place when I was actually there. Eventually, I was able to navigate there without a map. For areas I’m not so familiar with and off-trail excursions, I still use a map and compass and sometimes I use GPS for navigation.

Really, as far as ability goes, the best thing I can tell you is that nothing will prep you for hiking like hiking. Just get out there! Look on websites like All Trails or other local sites, and some trail that’s described as steep, and walk up it. I personally feel like Linville Gorge has put steel in my spine for most hikes. What trail could possibly be as much of a demoralizing grind as Pinch In Trail? After that, everything else seems like a pumpy cakewalk.

But if conditioning yourself for that strenuous trail doesn’t sound like it’s up your alley, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers amazing views from the car with several overlooks you can stop at. Or find a guidebook at a local outfitter for somewhere in your area, and find what sounds best for you.
Just don’t sell yourself short.

COMPANY
This probably looks like: I don’t have anyone to go with. Nobody invites me. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone. 

One of the options I have drawn from in this area is social network hiking groups. It started with the bi-annual Gorge Rat Gathering organized at LinvilleGorge.net, where everyone on the forum is invited to “infest” the Gorge and join on hikes. Facebook has proven to actually be a social network with some of the groups I have joined there, like the Linville Gorge Facebook Group, Exploring Panthertown Valley, and though I haven’t participated, there’s been group activity at the Wilson Creek Facebook Group. Most people that participate in groups like these are more than willing to have new hiking buddies. One note is that not all hikes are for every ability, so you may get some ability and comfort level questions out of care for you so you aren’t thrown in the deep in of the pool, so to speak. There are typically hikes for every skill level.

If you read this blog at all, you may have noticed I recently began The SC Project, which is dedicated to exploring and discovering the wonders in South Carolina. I typically hike with an open invite.

EQUIPMENT
This probably looks like: I don’t own any gear. I don’t have a tent. I don’t have the money for an adventure hobby.

Advertisers are at work, surely. Granted, you are likely to be more comfortable in a $200 ultralight inflatable air mattress than a $7 closed cell foam blue mattress. But you don’t have to have the expensive gear. We can’t all afford standup paddle boards, sea kayaks, carbon fiber mountain bikes, a full rack of trad climbing gear, or scuba equipment (let alone the ability to do all those things).

In all honesty, you don’t really need any of that for an adventure. Some of my best times have been base camping/car camping, and then dayhiking with nothing more gear wise than a water bottle and 1st aid kit. I’ve used that setup in difficult and scratchy off-trail terrain, too. It’s all in what you’re comfortable with. 

If I was going to tell you to splurge on one thing, it’d be your shoes. What you wear on your feet can make or break your trip by giving you blisters, hot spots, smashed toes, etc. The soles of your footwear will also make a difference, depending on what you’re doing. But for dayhike adventures, which is what I mostly do, there’s nothing wrong with wear a pair of comfortable sneakers that you don’t mind dirtying up. You don’t have to have the expensive closet of gear to enjoy the outdoors.

What does all that stuff matter, though, if you don’t think you can do it? You have to believe you can do it. When I first started off, if someone had told me I was going to bike 30 miles on Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail, or see 20 waterfalls in 20 miles of hiking at Panthertown, or I was going to bushwhack the Lower North Carolina Wall to the Sphinx in Linville Gorge, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I started slow and small, and sometimes put myself in physically demanding situations. One of my methods for adventures has been to “throw myself into a hole so I have to get out of it.” You can walk 2 miles on a treadmill then get off. You hike in 2 miles, you have to hike out 2 miles (unless you’re hiking a loop). In Linville Gorge, it’s what goes down, must come up. I had always been against doing hard things, so this motto was my way of forcing myself to do hard things. I did what I believed I could do, and as I did, my belief grew. Feel like you need to be in shape? Walk a half mile. Then walk a mile. Then walk uphill a mile. You can do it.
In my recent hike to Moonshine Falls, it had been raining that morning. When I talked to my first time hiker friend in the morning, I gave him the option to call it off for rain. Nope. He wanted to go. You have to want to do it, and that will overcome many of the barriers in this post. 
This is not the most articulate, well thought out, or gathered post. I just don’t want anyone to wish they were having an adventure but think they can’t. I’ll close with one final thought.
In the photo at the top of this page, my son Link is 2 years old. He has very little ability, a very small social circle (me, his mom, and his sister), and he doesn’t have any special gear. What is it that will allow him to have a grand adventure? He wants to do it. That is what it takes. You want to have an adventure.
——
If you’re looking for a light adventure, allow me to suggest you read a post of mine from a couple years ago: