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Christianity Fellowship Gospel

The True Power of Christians

(photo used courtesy of Darrin Hamlin)

This idea of Christians having power has been swirling around in my head for a little while now. Honestly, the grasp I have on it is nowhere near complete. What you’re reading is my processing, which is asking for your consideration. What if it’s true?

People lust for power. Culturally powerful people will give those without power things they want in exchange for more power. Power is a loaded word, and like most words, can be backloaded with meaning to where we’re not talking about the same thing. There are more buckets that could be used to define power, but I’m going to try to use a “not this, but that” way as I think is appropriate for a Christian talking about power. I’m not talking about the American evangelical religious right having enough power to sway votes. I’m talking about the power of God and the Gospel at work in the hearts of believers that flows out of them.

Suspend Disbelief

I’ve already published a couple posts (on intentionality and being two-faced) which this one seems to be a natural extension of. Where I’m going here could be thought of as the relevance of either of those.

Many may think the Bible is an antiquated book, and many may think it’s dry and irrelevant by how much they marinate themselves in it. Well, the time spent reading the Bible is good, but maybe a better way of thinking about it is do I think the Word of God is irrelevant when I spend a lot of time reading it but not a lot of time wrestling with it? Or when I approach the Bible, which one of us is the anvil that the malleable is being molded against? Who is the authority in the relationship? I think for me, some want had crept in where I couldn’t acknowledge that I’m just not getting some parts of it. Maybe I had molded the mysteries of Scripture against my pride versus allowing my doubts to be molded against Scripture. Wherever you stand with your view on the Bible and the authority it has, I’m point blank asking you to suspend your disbelief and follow where I’ve been processing.

Power in Offense

You did this to me. You hurt me. You ignored me. You left me out. You embarrassed me. You made me feel less of a person than you are. You let me down. You didn’t do what you said you would do. You broke an agreement. You betrayed me. You didn’t meet my expectations. You damaged what was mine. You took what was mine. You set me back. You messed up my plans. You did these things to someone close to me. The list could co on and on. An offense is a wrong committed.

Think about how you talk about someone. Can you hear even the slightest offense against them left in even your tone, let alone your words? Any mocking? Any dismissal? I can in mine.

Thinking about situations close to me and far from me (meaning if you feel this post could be about you, it may include you but it is also bigger than you), it seems like there is a lot of power in the hands of the offended. Whether or not the offense is real or perceived, whoever is the offended can wield that offense in an way that creates motion. Offense is a force, for better or for worse. It says, “What has happened is not the way it should be.” Offense calls for repentance. A change in heart that leads to a change in direction, not just behavior.

Three Powerful Forces

There could be more forces at work, and I’m not certain an argument for why I believe forces at work in the hearts of man can be distilled down into these three things is valuable here on a blog. From my Christian worldview, entertain for a moment that this is what is.

Love. Guilt. Forgiveness.

Love. Maybe we would define love as acceptance. Maybe representation. Maybe having a place at the table. All those things I would say they are part of love, but not the whole of it. From the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) describes love this way. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Has this verse become so common that it has lost its weightiness? Love is power, but a shell or veneer of love is not.

Guilt. I like to talk about guilt either by saying we are all train wrecks, or we all walk with a limp. Offense is widespread because we simply aren’t good enough to walk through the journey of life without offending someone. Try it. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good,” says C.S.Lewis. We’re going to do it, even if we are milquetoast or passive or figuratively walk on eggshells trying our best to avoid a conflict. Are you aware of micro-aggressions? Then there is another complicating and destructive dynamic. When I act like a jerk to someone, I naturally want to create distance between us because the guilt of whatever I’ve done is strong. When we do offend someone, we are powerless to reconcile that guilt. We can do our best to live at peace with others, but as the offenders, we are at the mercy of the offended. We can say I’m sorry and further ask for forgiveness, but until that forgiveness is made manifest, the offense remains. The offended holds the power. The question though, is this power satisfying, or is it a false power? Guilt is a lot like fear with motivation, or fear with dividing momentum. I would think fear is the root of it. It would seem that timeless truths are not antiquated. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18) How can we be loved perfectly when we know we’ve fallen short, though?

Forgiveness. This is power. Recalling back to our 1 Corinthians verse, love keeps no records of wrongs. Love is not resentful. Forgiveness is not the denial of a wrong done, but a love that sees the wrong yet chooses not to hold it against them anymore. In a sense, it is a law broken, and then a law released. It is saying, I will no longer bind you to your offense. Forgiveness is release and freedom. We see this potently in Luke 23:34 while Jesus was being brutally murdered in a public spectacle. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The power was not in the men who were killing him, but the power was in the hands of him who had every right to be offended, to say the least, and yet chose to extend love and forgiveness to his murderers instead. Further, we have denied the authority of the Bible and made it malleable against the anvil of ourselves, yet in love, God the Father (the offended) sent God the Son so we might be reconciled to Him. Power.

The Power in Christians

If you are not trusting in Jesus as God who forgives our sins, can you offer this kind of forgiveness to your offenders? Can you love someone beyond a surface level to where you will not hold their wrongs against you? But what of justice? How can we extend forgiveness when justice must be met? In Christ, Christians have not gotten what they deserved. They have offended man, but even deeper they have offended God. They have been forgiven, and proven God’s power might. Trusting that God is loving them, not holding their wrongs against them because Jesus met the demands of justice with his death on the cross, and that his resurrection proves it to be true is what makes a Christian a Christian. God is undoing the wrongs of this world, offenses against his holiness, with his love and forgiveness. I realize I am only one man and my capacity is only so high. Am I willing to love God and love others, others in my immediate circle and trusting the ones outside of that to God? Not that we aren’t to widen that circle of love to include whole people groups, but how can we love the whole world if we aren’t loving our closest neighbors in our own houses and streets?

Who are you to tell me this, anyway?

I’m someone who is processing a journey, too. Over the course of the few days that I’ve written this, there have been multiple offenses lodged in my own heart. It’s not satisfying to gratify these offenses. It’s like twisting the knife in my own leg trying to get it to heal. I’m saying this as someone who has tested the power of holding offense and found it wanting, yet somehow returns to it again and again, like a drunk who hates his drunkenness. A recent two weeks of comparison fueled depression drove some deep spikes into my mind. There’s no power in me myself. I’m someone who needs a savior, who in perfect love, casts out my fear to return to him after I’ve forgotten that he loves me. Again. And again. And again.

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5 Reasons Why I Still Believe In My Church


The church can be a struggle. I’ve had my fair share of struggles at the church My family and I have been attending for 10+ years; however, those are typically centered around my preferences and misunderstandings. No church is perfect. That’s not an excuse, but a reality. 

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…”

It seems that there will never be a shortage of complaints to have about something or someone. Are you the same as me, that once I start complaining, I get tunnel vision for everything that’s wrong about anything? “Be positive!” sounds trite and Pollyana-esque, but there is a hint of truth to that. As Christians, even though our sins have been paid for in Christ, much sin is still present in our lives. Sometimes we have to search with squinted eyes to see where God is at work in each other. At face value, I’m a giant mess. At face value, the church can look like a giant mess. In the midst of the mess, God is weaving something beautiful. 

So as I’ve been contemplating about my church, I came up with 5 reasons why I’m still there. Every member does not succeed or fail at each of these every time across every year, but the mere presence of some things and absence of others is reason to believe God is at work.

1. The church doesn’t try to impress me.

From the first day we showed up until now, I have never felt like I was going to a show. It has never been flashy or over the top. There has never been a music minister leading a concert and soaking up the praise like we were all there to see him. Whether it’s the singing, instruments, preaching, kids ministry, whatever… I have never felt that the church was trying to be anything other than it was – beggar’s who have found bread trying to tell other beggars where we found bread. We get to hear the good news of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection in our songs and sermons and lives. 

2. The church has allowed me to struggle.

Sometimes I have merely been moody, and other times I’ve gone on the proverbial warpath. I have shown up to small group meetings and made them miserable. I’ve made people to feel bad on purpose. I’ve let friends struggle and refused to help them. I’m a mess even below face value. A ragamuffin, really. I’ve been depressed, confused, demanding, accusatory, and unhealthily speculative. In the middle of my mess, I’ve been allowed to struggle and question and wonder what the heck was going on. While there have been instances of guys trying to fix me (I hate that, and I do that!), I have been given room to not have it all figured out.

3. The church has forced me to think, reason, and adapt to situations and people I’m uncomfortable with.

If you consider what the gospel is and how it crosses all boundaries of class, race, status, and more, there is a lot of diversity within the church. Men and women come from all different backgrounds bringing with them all different kinds of ideas. That is an unavoidable opportunity for friction. We all come from different backgrounds and upbringings. From there, we all bring our own unique baggage, burdens, and brilliance. Everyone in the church is united in Christ, but sometimes Christ is the only thing that unites us. This is something that has had a profound effect on me. Through the church, God is growing and changing and loving his people VIA his people. That is a mind load to think about.

4. The church has allowed me to mourn.

My family has seen broken bodies and crooked minds. From miscarriages to chronic health conditions, we have felt the force of our fallen humanity. We have felt our bodies betray us. A lot of time, there is nothing that can be done. It can’t be fixed or made better or put back together. It just sucks, and that’s it. We have had instances of others just mourning with us. People who will be sad for you and with you is a great mercy. 

5. The church is dynamic, not stagnant.

Decisions have to be made. Directions have to be taken. Some of those have been good, and others not so much. There has seemed to me the ever present question of how can we grow together and with God better? How can we do our ministry better? What changes can we make? Where do we need to adapt, make corrections, reinforce what is working, and do things with more transparency? We may miss the mark, but I am encouraged that the church is not ceasing to aim.


Like it not, we need each other. We are frail and fragile and failing and frustrated. We need to remind each other of the central backbone that carries each of these reasons why I still believe in going to my church: The Lord is at hand. He is on the move. He is at work. One day, we will see the beautiful tapestry he is weaving of this mess of people. One day, we will sit at the his table and eat and drink and tell the old tales of waiting for his kingdom. Be encouraged. Love your church, even if you aren’t loving it well. We will spend eternity together. We must remind each other that there is hope in our hurting. The dawn is coming. The Lord is at hand.


“What is the story of my priesthood? It is the story of an unfaithful person through whom God continues to work!” ~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel




(While I did not write this as an advertisement for my church but as an encouragement to really seek and contemplate and consider where the Lord is at hand in your own church… you can read more about where we attend by visiting http://www.rgcsc.org.)
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Fellowship guy friendship hiking Jones Gap Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Rim of the Gap South Carolina The SC Project Trip report

Scrambling the Rim of the Gap

One of the definitions of the word fellowship in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is a company of equals or friends. There are those whose fellowship is found in their draw to dive deep, wrestling to taste the air of colored forests and breathe the waters of satisfaction. Off into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness three such men went.
Erich, Jeremy, and I would begin our day together driving westward on South Carolina’s beautiful Highway 11 towards Ceasar’s Head State Park. Right before the junction with 276, we passed what is normally Lower Wildcat Falls, visible from the road. This day, it was Lower Wildcat Rock, as no water was cascading over it. I had some plans in mind to see a few South Carolina waterfalls that I hadn’t visited yet, but the water flow from Wildcat Creek wasn’t feeling too promising. Nevertheless, we pressed on, for there was more to see than waterfalls.
Very low flow at Rock Cliff Falls today
We parked just past Caesar’s Head at the parking area that also allows access for Raven Cliff Falls, though we wouldn’t be poking around there today. It’s be down the orange blaze for us – Coldspring Branch was our first trail. It was easy warmup hiking as we started out and took our turn to the Coldspring Connector towards our priority goal of the day – Rim of the Gap. First, though, we diverted to the Frank Coggins Trail and took one half of the lollipop over to Naturaland Trust Trail. We crossed 276, where Naturaland Trust goes through a landowners driveway and front yard, and less than a quarter of a mile from there came down to a cracked rock face that was normally Rock Cliff Falls. It was not dry, but it was a trickle. Beyond the Falls is an excellent rock face the we would have loved to follow further, but we had a full day ahead of us.
Talking scars on natives at the totally dry Firewater Falls
Retracing our steps back to the Frank Coggins Trail, we took the other side of the lollipop loop past Firewater Falls, which was only a dry faced overhang this day. No water whatsoever was trickling over. The conversation had turned to snakes just prior to this, and Erich was telling the story of one of the tribesman he treated in Indonesia that had a terrifyingly close encounter with an anaconda. I’ve probably heard that story over a dozen times in the six years I’ve known Erich and it never gets old.
Our next turn brought us to the Rim of the Gap Trail. Erich and I had been talking about hiking this trail for the last four years, and we’ve always diverted elsewhere. With what might be the last time we would be able to hike together for a while, we decided today would be the day. It starts out at the bridge (which was built as an Eagle Scout project by my friend Darrin’s son) over Cliff Falls, and there is a small side path where people have obviously been walking to get a view of the base of the Falls. The flow was low, but still enough to be called a waterfall. There was a sure tropical feel to that little alcove. Warning though, this was the one spot where I slipped on the slickrock. It is very slippery down there, even as low as the water volume was and without any spray from the falls. On normal flow, it would be way worse. If you do follow that worn path down, please stay off the rocks.

Cliff Falls with low flow and a tropical feel

Any fall on Rim of the Gap could be fatal. Why fatal? Well, you’re on the very edge rim of the ridge that rises to the south of Jones Gap. There is water that has to be crossed, bare rock, slick rock, roots, and shrubs that all require some technical maneuvers to pass. A casual stumble or slip could potentially have you careening off the Rim of the Gap down the mountain to be slammed into the trees and bare rock below. Is the trail dangerous? The trail is good, and fairly easy to follow. Like I said, though, it is technical. There are sections you’ll have to scramble on all fours up rock faces and navigate through boulders. Also, to watch out for is snakes. There had been a report of timber rattlesnakes spotted on Rim of the Gap the week prior on The South Carolina Project group on Facebook. OK, enough of the public service announcement.

On on of the Hamlin boy bridges above Cliff Falls
I’m happy to announce that neither myself, Jeremy, or Erich went careening off the Rim of the Gap. On the contrary, we had a great, safe time. There are awesome rock walls, flowing water cascades (which felt strange in the dryness we had already witnessed), and huge boulders to scramble through. We came upon a cave where my aforementioned friend Darrin had something growl at him from within. There is also a trip report floating around in the internet about witnessing a cougar on this trail. Whether or not there are legit cougars in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, I don’t have much insight. I can only say that I have never seen one, but it’s fun to insert cougar lore comments into most outdoor conversations. Granted, I’ve never been stalked, either. At least… not to my knowledge.

For a good section of the trail, we could hear home construction going on in the neighborhood just at the top of the ridge, which didn’t spoil the day by any means, but did take some of the wildness out of it. Fortunately the terrain made up for a lot of that! We climbed up ledges, behind huge rock formations, behind boulders, and on trail that skirts vicariously close to the edge. We climbed beneath Weight Watchers Rock, which is a massive boulder supported by a smaller boulder and provides a just human sized gap beneath them to squeeze through. There is a walk around, which takes you closer to the edge of the gap. Hiking is slow going through the western section of the trail because even though the trail is straightforward, the terrain is not. I’ll let some of the pictures speak for themselves.
Jeremy inspecting the cougar cave. There were no cougars inside today.
Erich loving this scramble. 

The eastern section is much more mellow and easy to follow. So easy in fact that we didn’t even see a four-point buck standing at the trail right before we walked up on it. He took off like a shot back into the forest, but only far enough in for him to be disguised while he kept an eye on us. As we got closer to the Jones Gap Trail and Middle Saluda River, the ground began to have more soggy sections. Rim of the Gap ended, and we made for the river to cool off, soak our shirts and hats, snack, and refill on water. 

It really is the Rim of the Gap
Now for the climb back up to the parking lot. Fortunately, it’s a gradual climb (for the most part) over 5 miles. Jones Gap Trail has a lot of rocks on it which increase the difficulty due to trip factor, but overall it’s not that bad. It meanders fairly close to the river for much of it, which we took advantage of. At one point, visible from the trail, was a smaller waterfall on the river with a pool beneath it and dry rock on one side. The day was hot, probably over 90°F, and we’d been hiking for several hours. Sweaty and dirty, the cool water of the Middle Saluda was too tempting to resist. The waterfall had a large rock at the base of it, so sliding down it wasn’t much of an option. A few feet downstream, however, was a sandy-bottomed pool wallowed out into the bedrock. Accompanied by tiny fish, we took turns submersing ourselves beneath the water of a natural bathtub formation in the river. Life giving water, dropping heat-exhausting body temperatures, and revitalizing sore limbs. Good stuff. I had wanted to get a glimpse of Jones Gap Falls, but we completely blew past it. For another day.
The bathtub in the Middle Saluda River
We made the turn onto Coldspring Branch Trail and decided to take it to the top of the ridge instead of climbing up Bill Kimball and the face of El Lieutenant. The last time I had been on Coldspring Branch was last November on the snowy day, so it looked plenty different yet familiar on this tropical August weekend as it bubbled and rushed down the Valley to the Middle Saluda River below. Hiking out felt like a grunt especially at the end of the day, and though we had seen and hiked through a lot of incredible places, it was a welcome relaxing moment to end our 13.5 mile hike. I also need to report that we didn’t see one rattlesnake.
We had eaten lunch a few hours earlier and were ready for a little something extra, so we stopped at the F-Mart for one of “the best hot dogs in town.” Now with a little sustenance in our bellies, we stopped off the day with a trip to the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom for a glass of Red Whitey. Their Raspberry White Ale is an award winner, and it did not disappoint. 
Swamp Rabbit Brewery’s Red Whitey
It’s easy to retrace our steps here on a blog post, but our conversation is not so easy to retrace. While it feels like we were all over the map over the course of 13.5 miles, we were even more all over in our discussion. This is the bedrock of the fellowship: to know God as Father and the pleasure that results from that relationship. To dive into the depths of what it means to be reconciled to the Father through the Son who bought these brothers with His blood is an amazing thing. Out of that, should we be talking less and doing more? Perhaps not. Without understanding the ramifications of the relationship with Father, what is anything we would set our hands and feet to do? We would burn out. His love is satisfying, motivating, and sustaining, and what a good gift He has given to create fellowships of His own. Fellowships who delight in Him.

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In Honor of my Friend, Erich

Friendship is something that does not seem to come easily. At least, it is not maintained easily. I believe the story of my friendship with Erich Johnson is worth sharing.
Jenny and I had just come back from a great weeklong vacation celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary in 2009. I was working as a technician at a Toyota dealership, and on my first day back to work, there was word of a new tech starting. My first reaction to Erich was probably similar to most people’s first reaction: this guy is huge. Not in an overweight way. In a crush your skull way. Erich and his wife, Kjersti, and their two kids had just moved here from Washington state. Making small talk, I found they were Christians and had been missionaries overseas. They did not go on mission trips; they were missionaries. They lived with natives in Iryan Jaya, Indonesia for a year, and in the mountains of Haiti for a few months. The stories of these trips and the hopes they brought would color many of our conversations in the following years. However, there was one key event beyond that. One day at work, I see Erich at his toolbox fidgeting about with something. When I walked over to see what he was up to, he asked, “Coffee?” He was making Sumatran coffee in a french press at his toolbox in the shop. It was that moment when I said to myself, “I am gonna love this guy.” And I have. 
Erich and I camping Burrell’s Ford in SC with (not pictured) our friends Chris and Matt, and all of our daughters,
After only a month of working at Toyota, Erich left to work for a family auto repair store on Wade Hampton Blvd., but we would keep in touch.  A couple months behind him, I also left Toyota when he was able to get me a job at the family’s downtown Greenville location. We would regularly meet in the middle between the two stores for coffee, Mexican, fast food, barbeque, coffee, Japanese, Vietnamese, or coffee. In 2011, I was able to transfer to the Wade Hampton store where we would work together again on dirty, burning hot cars during the blistering un-air conditioned heat of the summer. While there, we further built a love for coffee. We would get Counter Culture Coffee from Coffee & Crema and make coffee experimenting with different grinds and brewing mehods. I imagine it may have been interesting as a customer to walk into a family auto repair store to find the technicians brewing coffee in a vacuum siphon over a flame burner.
Erich and I getting ready for some climbing on Crowder’s Mountain, NC.
Not only a Christian, missionary, and coffee lover, but Erich was an adventurer. Originally from Pickens, Erich had worked downtown Greenville at the (no longer there) Rocks and Ropes climbing gym. Over our many lunches and coffees, he began to ask me to go rock climbing with him. Climb @ Blue Ridge has just opened, and after the first time, I dove in. He told me about a store in Traveler’s Rest called Sunrift Adventures where I could get my gear. We were going to Climb @ Blue Ridge semi-regularly, and sometimes we made the drive down to Anderson because Trailhead Climbing had a 50ft wall. Then came the day when Erich suggested we get out on some real rock. We planned for the morning to drive up towards Charlotte and go rock climbing at Crowder’s Mountain. I will remember walking into Starbucks in Gaffney that morning, dressed in moisture wicking shirts (a new thing for me), and the barista asking how we planned to spend our Saturday. Beaming, we said, “Rock climbing.” That would be the first of many outdoor adventures for us, but what solidified my love for the outdoors would come the following year. 
Erich and I on top of the Endless Wall at New River Gorge, WV
We planned to take a long weekend and drive to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. We left right after work on a Friday night for the five and a half hour drive to Kaymoor, WV. After 1:00am, we rolled in to Roger’s Rocky Top Retreat, where climbers were camping before a morning at the crag. For $6, we each got a campsite, showers, a table to cook breakfast at, and a memory that we still talk about to this day: how bad the outhouses smelled. We spent all Saturday climbing ladders and rock walls, through tunnels, and sitting on cliff edges of the Endless Wall. We stopped early and drove up to Summersville Lake because we read there was free camping there at the base of the dam. After a hot day of climbing and hiking, we thought a wash off in the river would feel great. Let me tell you, the water that flows out of the channels of a dam from the bottom of a lake are some of the coldest waters I had ever felt. As we were fixing our dinner, the skies opened up and rain began to pour on us. In what was probably not the best decision, we knew our climbing was shot so we packed up and decided to head home. We were exhausted, and the drive that took us five and a half hours to complete a day earlier would take us over 10 hours to complete this time. That included a consolation steak dinner at Outback, swapping driving every 30 minutes because we were exhausted, and trying to sleep for an hour in some Virginian WalMart parking lot. We were a mess, but we made it back to his house in Pickens safely. We tried a morning hike to the overlook of Raven Cliff Falls, but it was so foggy we couldn’t see past the observation deck.
Erich and I almost to the top of Cabin Trail in August, on our first trip into Linville Gorge, NC.
To recount all of of our adventures even in abbreviated detail would take far too long for this post, but many of them are already in reports on this blog. We would make a return trip to Crowder’s Mountain. We would plan for the Raven Cliff Falls loop, but reroute to DuPont and Table Rock once we found the trail closed due to ice. A third attempt would be my first trip to actually see Raven Cliff Falls. We would hike Carrick Creek Trail at Table Rock State Park with our kids. Eventually, we began to attend church together, and even serve on the ushering team together. We would go on a guys backpacking trip up to TurkeyPen near Brevard, NC, which was a really rough trip because it became a forced march out after the group got separated and had to make up time so one of our guys could get back home for an event. We would stay up late playing Halo (beating it on legendary!), Left 4 Dead, and Gears of War over Xbox Live. We took our daughters to a Greenville Drive game and watched one inning before taking them to the playground and leaving after that. We met our friends Chris and Matt for a daddy-daughter backpacking trip at Burrell’s Ford where we would camp and hike in the rain. We rode the Swamp Rabbit for the first time together. Erich was with me on our first trip into the Linville Gorge, where an ambulance drove past us on Old 105/Kistler Memorial Highway and yelled at us out the window, “Don’t do it!” He was with me on my first hike on Rock Jock in Linville Gorge, where we began planning our first hike along the Lower North Carolina Wall to the Sphinx a year later. Erich was with me on our first steps in the Tuckaseegee River in Panthertown, when we climbed up on the blade of rock below Red Butt Falls and named it Coffee Rock (see the video below), because we made coffee on it in a Jet Boil on a hot August afternoon. We have run the Moonshiner5k night race at Paris Mountain together. We have run the Goodwill Mud Run together, with our friends Chris and Matt. We did The Gorge zipline canopy tour in Saluda, NC together. We revisted Babel Tower to climb down Avatar’s Rib together. Those are some of the places we went and experiences we had that would be some of the contexts in which our friendship would happen.
Life happens. Our families grew, and we would rejoice. Our families would shrink, and we would be full of sorrow. Our families would have dinners together. We would have arguments and disagreements. I eventually left the family repair store to work for Lexus, and Erich would ramp up his schooling to work towards becoming an RN, so our outdoor adventuring together would become less frequent, but that was not what our friendship was based upon any way. Erich left the family store for a large retail chain that would allow him to work second shift while he chiseled away at his degree. Telling me about the benefits of the chain, I skeptically applied to see what would happen. Next thing I knew, we were working side by side again.
Erich and I at Hacker’s Point along Rock Jock Trail on our second trip into Linville Gorge, NC.
Unfortunately, during this time, what began in a short conversation over coffee exploded over several weeks into an escalating sharp and very passionate disagreement. He was temporaily moved to a mid-day shift, but the few hours we were at work together, we would go on for the next several months barely speaking. What conversations we did have were surface at best. On my end, it was an extremely rough and difficult time, and I had no idea how to walk through it. I sought some advice from others in what to do, but it felt mostly superficial and unhelpful. The “you can still be friends” type comments that don’t really help deal with anything. During this time, my daughter Skylar was born, on Erich’s birthday no less. Our families were not at a place where we could share that joy together. I hated what was going on, passing each other daily at work with barely a nod. His family was hurting. My family was hurting. I think we took it out on each other instead of helping each other through it. Instead, we both lost the battle.
Fast forward a few months, and I was back in Linville Gorge to hike L.O.S.T. Our friend Chris was with us, and on rocky outcrop over lunch with Little Seneca jutting out in front of us, with the Sphinx across from us, memories of times I had spent with Erich at several corners of the Gorge, Chris just asked how it was going with Erich. So I told him it has been hard. Without trying to fix me, fix Erich, or fix the circumstances and situation, Chris just heard me and felt that ache with me.
Now convicted of the way I’d been acting, I began to make some forward effort instead of the stand-offish resistance I’d been giving. Erich had just bought a new home, and one of my steps towards reconciliation was helping him move. I wasn’t trying to make up for past hurts, get out of debt to him, or anything like that. It was more of a clearing of the fog from my vision to where I had not been seeing clearly, and stepping back into the friendship to say, “This is what we do under no obligation, because you’re my friend and brother.” There’s nothing to brag about in that, because the steps I took to come to that place were shameful. It is what it is.
Erich and I at the Greenville Drive game
Erich then moved back to second shift and we were working together again. This time was one of the sweetest periods of our friendship as our conversations began to form around finding satisfaction in God. I realize as I type that out, there seems to be a hollowness to it. On the outside looking in, how could that possibly be an interesting thing to talk about? Yet, our conversations swelled with it for months, continually building. It was like a complete reversal was happening, where one conversation escalated into division and sin, the other built into fellowship and glory to God. I can’t even say that if you’d like to have that conversation, I’d be glad to have it with you. Rather, the best way to see this mystery would be as a bystander hearing the two of us having this conversation, entering in if you so chose to. Nothing forced, only the beauty of satisfaction in who God is. That is a crazy concept that is also a wild and untamed truth, and more unpredictable and amazing than any mountain, river, or canyon that we had explored together. 
Erich and I at Elbow Falls on the Tuckaseegee River in Panthertown Valley, NC.
Now, I have moved to a different work shift. If we are to see each other, I have to stay late or he comes in early. We don’t even pass. School is demanding, and our families are a priority. We don’t go to the same church as we once did. We still talk some, but not as much as when we were working every day together, getting coffee together. We are still friends, and we are still making effort to invest in our friendship. Why this post? Well, I miss him. Beyond that, though, I believe our friendship has been one that truly reflects what so many Christian circles call fellowship. It has not been the surface level “how has your week been?” It has been messy, but so much good comes out of the messes.
As I look back on the history of my friendship with Erich, it is smooth and it is rocky. There have been easy times, difficult times, mundane times, extraordinary times, joyous times, and sad times. His family has helped us, and we have helped them. We’ve enjoyed each other, and have been mad at each other. We have given each other good advice and terrible advice. If we had a friendship built on any one of these things, I believe it would have never recovered from the difficulties that have happened. We both find our hope in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Because we have been reconciled to God through Jesus, we can be reconciled to each other. That is where our deepest bond is anchored. We may not always be able to have coffee, go on adventures, or work next to each other. We will always belong to the Lord, and we will always be brothers in that. 
So here’s to the honor my friend, Erich, who I love as a brother. I hope this is not merely a nice story or a mushy recollection, but points you to Jesus in whom all satisfaction is found.
Erich on a spire of rock near the Sphinx below the Lower North Carolina Wall in Linville Gorge, NC.
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Bill Kimball Trail Coldspring Branch Coldspring Branch Trail El Lieutenant Fellowship http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Snow South Carolina The SC Project

Hiking the South Carolina Fall Snowfall

 With a men’s breakfast for our church, Waldemar and I got a late start. That didn’t help out our temperature much, though. Just before noon, it was still only 36 degrees. A storm had dumped 4+” snow on the ground in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and it was pretty much all still there by the time we showed up.

Originally, I had been planning to hike Rim of the Gap, but the parks started closing early this weekend thanks to the time change. Hey, I’m grateful for the extra hour of watching TV sleep, but having less daylight for hikes is a big stinkaroo.

I have driven past this parking lot several times, and actually parked there twice for a hikes to Raven Cliff Falls. It would be my first time stepping foot into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area from this side of the park. We were really surprised to get out of the cold and feel the biting wind. This was gonna be a lot colder than I had anticipated. It kinda reminded me of my home state of Michigan, actually. Fortunately, we were set well with what we were wearing and had brought toboggans. Down the snowy trail we went.

(Snowy fall colors along the Coldspring Branch Trail)
The Coldspring Branch Trail was extremely scenic. As we descended, the ridges of Jones Gap rose to either side of us. Eventually, Coldspring Branch emerged from a trickle in the rocks of a gulley to a beautiful full flowing creek that kept us company nearly the entire trip towards the Middle Saluda River at the very bottom of Jones Gap. We had to cross Coldspring Branch a couple times, but the crossings were rock hops that kept us out of the water. At several points, the rhododendron drooped as the evening snow still clung to its leaves. Fall yellows, oranges, and reds really contrasted with the fresh snowfall. The whole trail was really enjoyable. Many trails feel like green tunnels that take you to a destination. Coldspring Branch Trail is a trail that is fitting to describe as the journey being the destination. Additionally, it is a connector to a handful of other trails making it an important trail for loops.
(Snowy rhododendron along Coldspring Branch)

Our ascent started at a campsite where Coldspring Branch Trail intersected with the Bill Kimball Trail. It was pretty soggy around the bottom, where some of the trail had been overtaken by water, making them tiny tributaries to the Middle Saluda. Then the trail turns up. It’s 900 feet in elevation to the top.

(Waldermar with our first view of El Lieutenant in the background)

Eventually, Bill Kimball Trail turns rocky, and takes you to four different rock faces of the formation known as El Lieutenant. These four faces are surely the pull to take this trail. The way we came is the more difficult direction, since you have to climb up it, sometimes using your hands. Given the snow and slick footing, though, climbing up was safer than climbing – or slipping – down. We stopped at an overhang not too far from the top for a short break and a bite to eat for lunch.

Once at the top of the ridge, the grade evens out quite a bit and it’s an easy hike back to the car. As far as difficulty goes, I would say that the trails were moderate in themselves, with the difficulty increased due to the snow. Hike length varies depending on the source. My GPS said we went 6.3 miles, the guidebook says the hike is 4.8 miles, and the official map says it’s 4.4 miles. I don’t know. It took us just over 3.5 hours to hike it, though. 

(Me and Waldemar at one of the four faces of El Lieutenant)
What I thought was going to be a concession hike to just get out and do something smaller turned out to be extremely. It’s not often we get snow in the Upstate, let alone when fall colors are still surging. Discovering the Coldspring Branch Trail for myself was like uncovering a hidden away secret. Most of all, this was the first time Waldemar and I got to spend any time together. We had great conversation that revolved around God speaking through the miraculous, how God is more wild than we give him credit for and will not be contained by the boxes we put him in. What is God trying to say to us? At my asking, I also got to hear a lot of great stories about what life is like in Germany. To go out hiking is a lot of fun, but to share in fellowship with another Christian brother is a real blessing for me. It’s like, you get a clearer picture of who God is, and you see Him a little bit better by how he’s reflected in the life of your friend, and your friendship deepens at the same time. There’s really nothing else like it.

This hike was truly a blessing for me on multiple levels.