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bushwhacking Gorges State Park Heaven hiking Horsepasture River http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection Team Waterfall Trip report Waterfalls Windy Falls

The Day We Went to Windy Falls

Windy Falls first showed up on my radar over a year ago on the day my friend Luke and I met and hiked together for the first time. There had been talk of trying to hike it, but there were also several reports of people slipping on the Falls and dying there, as well. It was a hike both of us felt like we never needed to have on our list of accomplishments. On the tail end of this past winter, I planned to make an ascent of Narrow Rock Ridge while section hiking the Foothills Trail to get a distant view of Windy Falls, but foggy and soggy conditions factored into that plan being abandoned. A couple months ago, my friend Andy, who had spent several years working different approaches and researching past attempts and failures, led a small group on a successful expedition to the base of Windy Falls. It could be done, but not without difficulty. A few more groups that I’m aware of made successful trips to the base. Then came the invite, and I wanted to visit Windy Falls.
The Horsepasture Drop-Off
I hitched a ride with my buddy Darrin up to Gorges State Park where we would meet up with several friends, some new to us, some old to us. Those who met at the morning rendezvous were Darrin, myself, Luke, Scott, Emily, Johnny, Jack, Stephanie, Kitty, and the infamous Thomas “Badger” Mabry. At 8:45, we hit the trail. The main trails in Gorges are wide gravel roads that are super easy to follow. We left those trails and meandered down uneven trodden dirt to reach the Horsepasture River.
The boulders in that river are massive. The water flow in that river was full and powerful, even though levels were obviously down. Luke and I climbed some of the boulders upstream, and as we sat there watching the force of the water come from above and disappear over an obvious drop below, one of the late Keith Green’s songs began playing in my mind. This place is living in a garbage can compared to what’s waiting in Heaven. Luke quips, “Let’s hope we don’t find out today.” 
House-sized boulder in the upper sections of Windy Falls
The next stop downstream on the Horsepasture River is the Windy Falls terrace, a huge sloping rock where it would be less than easy to meet your demise. When we got there, the conditions were dry, so we were able to carefully explore around it. If that rock is wet, it is also slick, and no attempt should be made to walk on it. At the top of the area, the river rushes beneath a house sized boulder. We made no attempt to get close to the river. A slip up here, and you’re done. About halfway down the rock face is a large separation Crack that becomes a wedge after about four feet. It has been called the Crack of Doom in all seriousness and tongue-in-cheek. (Either way, it is nothing like the Crack of Doom in Linville Gorge.) We took the opportunity to make light of a serious place and play like we were falling in the Crack. 
Don’t slip on the upper terrace
The next section down came with much more difficulty. The path, which was essentially non-existent, split our group up in attempts to find the safest way down. Sheer Rock faces to the left of us, Windy Falls to the right, with the rugged tangle of North Carolina jungle filling in every space between. After using rope to scramble down dripping wet rock faces into standing puddles of black mud, we finally emerged through a pile of boulders onto the clear balcony overlooking the most powerful section of Windy Falls with the most technical section of the route still in front of us.
The Badger enters the Windy Falls keyhole
From the balcony above the plunge pool, with an overhanging cave right behind it, there are two ways down. The first and unfavorable option is over the edge. The water below obscures some hefty boulders that will win against your mass and inertia. The second option is climbing down through the rocks. The easiest way is a tight squeeze through a keyhole. That squeeze can be bypassed with the use of sturdy enough rope, and you can unsafely rappell-lite around the keyhole. Either through or around the keyhole, a rock shelf is the next stop, with the ground another 8 feet below. From here, the rocks angled down toward the water, but another passageway allowed us to travel beneath the boulder balcony into a near silent cave littered with rocks and driftwood beaten to smooth rounded edges by the Horsepasture River. A short scramble or committed walk in the water and we were at the base of the main drop. 
Kitty, Stephanie, and Luke exit the cave
Windy Falls is a raging fury of whitewater as the Horsepasture River crashes down rugged Rock to the plunge pool below. Within the walls of this gorge, the Horsepasture claims full right to its designation as a Wild and Scenic River. 
For the next several hours, the group spent their time eating lunch, taking pictures, scrambling on boulders, exploring ledges to get down river, were joined by Spencer and Stephanie, jumping off and sliding down rocks to swim in the plunge pools. The one thing I really wanted to do for myself was hang a hammock down there, and I was able to find a place after scouting a bit. One by one, the group split as we made our way from the pools, through the cave, out the keyhole, and back up through the boulders and black mud and ledges. 
Darrin goes for one of many slides on the slick rock, with Spencer on the balcony above.
Darrin, Scott, and I stopped at the same pool we visited earlier (where the Keith Green song came to mind), and we got back in the water. Scott took the water leisurely to enjoy a relaxing float about the surface. I wasn’t up to a full swim. Darrin got several more jumps and slides in. If there’s one thing to be said about hiking with Darrin, that dude loves to be in the water. Jumping off rocks into deep river plunge pools and lakes is his thing, for sure. The look on his face, man, he just loves life at that moment. Badger, Kitty, and Stephanie soon joined us, and they too happily entered the waters. It was like other lenses came over my eyes and these thoughts flooded my mind in that contemplative moment:
Team Waterfall loving Windy Falls with abandon
Loving life, there is no question. What struck me was the thought, where does that love come from? How is it that playing carefree in the waters equates with ultimate life? How is it possible that we can enjoy such a good gift as swimming in plunge pools and the sitting beneath the cooling, pummeling pressure of waterfalls? I know that we do, but what precedes that? Deeper questions than any of the pools, for sure. As I meditate on it, that train of thought ends at the Father. Man’s joy is a reflection of the Father’s joy, as we are made in His image. Raw delight points back to the Father, who is the fountain of living water Himself. All these things are gifts and yet, outside of Christ, we are not in a restored relationship with the Father and reject His goodness. We sit, like I did, on the side of the river, not wanting to commit to the waters. (I promise I did not sit out of the water to force that analogy.) In Jesus, the Father beckons us to abandon the shore and plunge into the depths of His reconciling grace to taste the satisfying pleasures of being His.
The walk back to the parking lot was uneventful. I’m surprised we made it the whole day without any timber rattler or copperhead sightings, considering where we had been poking around. For my first visit to Gorges State Park, outside of dipping into it on the Foothills Trail, I’d say it’s going to be hard to beat.
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Christianity Daffodil Flats God Heaven http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina reflection the Gospel Zion

Reflections in Daffodil Flats

Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.
“[Daffodil Flats is] The best possible and easiest to sell excuse to bring people to Linville Gorge.” Spencer Clary (@canyoneer_engineer)
Every year during the late weeks of February and the early weeks of March, a seemingly insignificant flat patch of land in the south eastern end of the Linville Gorge erupts into a magnificent yellow field of daffodils. Jenny and I were able to visit just before peak bloom in 2013, but unfortunately missed it this year. Several friends of mine went, via several routes ranging from hard to harder to hardest, so I got to see Daffodil Flats blow up my Facebook feed for a couple weeks. It was during this time that it occurred to me there are many parallels to Daffodil Flats. It acts as a sort of foreshadow of Zion. Not the national park, or even heaven, but when the final chapter of this age is over and the beginning of eternity writes its first page in the New Creation. The kingdom of God that is everlasting. The place the book of Revelation tells us about when, in the presence of God, every tear is wiped away, and death and suffering are no more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they were so heavenly minded, they were of no earthly good? This seems to me to be an impossible statement. I submit to you for consideration that if a Christian is of little or no earthly good, then they are far too weak when it comes to being heavenly minded. Does any of that make you think of any Christians you know? What are we known for?
Well, we are known for a lot of things. There are plenty of things I could say here, but odds are that you already have a list in your mind if you haven’t given up on me already. Thank you for sticking around! A couple months ago on a Sunday morning, my pastor asked the following question: What if Christians were known for what they were for instead of what they were against? (Matt Rawlings) What if… just, what if… the men and women and children who claim to follow Christ were known for their supercharged vision of a Kingdom and Age to come? Zion. It’s like we are in a slumber, so busy rolling lazily about in bed that we do not see the adventure that awaits. Yes, the road is long and the winters are cold, but spring is coming!
Let’s bounce back to Linville Gorge. Daffodil Flats is located just off the Linville Gorge Trail, over a mile south of one of the most notoriously brutal trails in North Carolina. Pinch In Trail. From the top to the bottom, the trail takes you 1.5 miles through the rough forest, down a rocky and exposed sunbeaten ridge, to a near mudslide embedded with roots until you finally get to the river 1700 vertical feet later. The Linville Gorge Trail is then far from flat with dead blowdown sometimes covering the trail. I mentioned that there was more than one way down, but that is the fastest, most accessible, most direct combination of footsteps to get there. Then you get out the same way you came in, and it’s brutal when PinchIn Trail makes your heart feel like it will burst from beneath your breathless lungs. That trip to Daffodil Flats is one of the hardest stretches of six miles that North Carolina has to offer. People see the daffodils and whimsically say, “I want to go there! How do I do it?” The response, no matter what directions they’re given, always includes the warning: count the cost. The reward is great, but the road is full of obstacles and difficulties. However, we still love to tell people that the difficult road is worth it. Indeed, it is.
My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn
As a Christian, how do I see Zion? If I am of little heavenly mind, I will think of this Kingdom with little enthusiasm. Do I have to just be good and hope I get to some ethereal cloud city of harp playing goody-two-shoes? Let’s consider Daffodil Flats as we know it. It’s amazing. It’s awe inspiring. It’s a field of flowers that captures us with a passion to see them for ourselves, despite the path to get there. We who have been there tell those who have not that it is amazing and worth it. This Daffodil Flats exists in a world that is under the curse of sin. Sin is not just doing a bad thing. It is a prison that holds us and this world – including our gorges – in chains and bondage. The world will be made new – including our gorges – and this world will be our world redeemed and set free from the thick and oppressive entropy of sin. To quote Matt Chandler, “All creation is eagerly awaiting its liberation.” The field of yellow that we marvel over every year is like trying to see the real thing in a mirror that is fogged over. Spring is coming.
If Daffodil Flats is what we see in a mirror dimly, what is beyond? What is to come? What is in store for this earth (and us, for that matter) when it ceases to be a hope and literally, physically becomes where God dwells with man? Does that sound like a dream or a drag to you? We read in Psalm 16:11 (ESV), King David (Slingshot Goliath slaying David) saying to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If Daffodil Flats is a joy and pleasure that we behold, yet begins to fade as we turn our backs…what will Psalm 16:11 joy and pleasures mean? How could we as Christians not be excited to tell everyone we know about this? Our excitement for Zion should be an amplified excitement for Daffodil Flats! We tell people to place their hope and trust and joy in Christ with all the same excitement of telling them that it’ll be a good decision to get their wisdom teeth pulled or ingrown toenails removed. Our hope for eternity with God is lackluster. After the hard winter of life, Spring is coming. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Every spring, after the cold icy winters, the daffodils emerge in a field of glory like tiny prophets who proclaim to the world that a resurrection is coming.
Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom
Maybe part of our slumber, what keeps us in the warm bed of not thinking about too much beyond today, is that there is some bad news involved in the good news – that pesky thing of sin that costs Christians to be shunned with the names of bigot and worse. If you’re still reading and rolling your eyes at me, can I ask you to spend your disbelief very briefly? I saw this thing called sin in a new light this past week. We know from the Gospels in the Bible that Judas betrayed Jesus over a measley 30 pieces of silver. Also, the Gospels tell us that Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, denied him to save his own skin. I heard a song this week, and it really struck me. It is perhaps one of the most honest songs I have ever come out of music.
He sings, “Judas sold you for thirty. I would have done it for less. Peter denied you three times. I’ve denied you more. What have we done?” We are all in either the shoes of Judas or Peter. Once they saw themselves as a wreck, the only difference between them is that Judas attempted to atone for himself on his own terms by committing suicide, and Peter came to Jesus for atonement on Jesus’s terms of asking to be forgiven. Sin is not merely a stain on our record, an F on our report card, or a mistake we once made. Sin is our prison, and it can even be a prison that we love. Its presence is still at work in every aspect of life, especially the indwelling remains in my own heart. Sin wrecks havoc against us in pain, death, and heartbreak. You know how all that feels, and you don’t need me to flesh it out. Sin separates us from God, puts us at odds with him as enemies, and the only way to be reconciled is through Jesus. He is our mediator. I’m here to tell you what I am for. I am for where God is. I am for being where God says he will be, dwelling with man, and I want you to be there too. I get no notch on my belt. I don’t get an A on my report card. I don’t get any brownie points for telling you. Jesus is the only door, which stands open. I want you to go, so you can feel what it feels like at Daffodil Flats without the burden of a curse. I am not asking you to behave yourself and straighten up. I’m telling you that there is a Good King, and a great good is coming. That is what I am for.
2000 years ago, when Jesus was crucified, we are given a window into the scene. We read in Luke 23:39-43 ESV – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I realize you may be doubting at this point. You may be like the person who has never hiked yet heard reputations of the Linville Gorge. You’re saying, “No way am I going down there.” From someone who has started walking the road, let me say with the most confidence I can give, that the journey is worth it. Yes, there is a cost. Yes, like Daffodil Flats (or any other place in the Linville Gorge, for that matter), it is difficult and takes effort and cuts and scrapes and exhaustion on the long path, but it is worth it because of the wonder and delight that is set before us. The King is a Good King, and he gives us reflections and signposts of Himself and His Kingdom. Reflections and signposts of paradise, unfading and unperishable joy, pleasures at his hand. That’s a key, though. The pleasures are His. If we reject Him, we reject everything, and gain nothing. If we, like the thief crucified next to Him with nothing to offer, only ask Him to remember us in His Kingdom, then we gain everything. We are adopted by the King, become His sons and daughters, and gain everything. That Jesus died to be the door to Himself for us is indeed great news.
When you see the rays of the morning or evening sun paint the skies, or the dance of the Aurora Borealis dance beneath the stars, do you see the reflection? Do you see the reflection in Daffodil Flats of when everything will be made new? That is why we celebrate. Happy Easter to you, dear friend. Resurrection is coming. Jesus’s has already happened, and ours will be next, either to life or death. May your long road take you to the Good King and the paradise that accompanies Him alone. Please, let’s talk about it together.
Let me close with one of my favorite quotes ever, from the late since rising writer Keith Green. “You know, I look around at the world and I see all the beauty that God made. I see the forest and the trees and all the things…and it says in the Bible that he made them is six days and I don’t know if they’re a literal six days or not. Scientists would say no, some theologians would say yes. It doesn’t matter to me…but I know that Jesus Christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years…and if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.”
Some people are far more eloquent and more fully minded towards eternity than I am. A few of those resources are…
Appreciating Creation While Anticipating New Creation (Episode 87) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Heartbreak (Episode 565) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Sin (Episode 566) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Mediocrity (Episode 567) #AskPastorJohn 
How Does Delight in God Fuel Delight in Creation? (Episode 452) #AskPastorJohn 
Tales of New Creation (Part 1) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 2) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 3) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Heaven. A book by Randy Alcorn
Mere Christianity. A book by C.S. Lewis
The Explicit Gospel. A book by Matt Chandler
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Christianity Eschatology Heaven hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Table Rock Wildfire the Gospel

When All Is Made Right OR Why I’m Not Upset About The Table Rock Wildfire at Linville Gorge

As I write this, Linville Gorge is on fire. 
The wildfire that presumably started by careless campfire practice has brought a lot of attention to Linville Gorge, and to online groups (such as the Linville Gorge Facebook Group, which I help moderate).  This wildfire and the back fires set to contain it, it has consumed more than 2,200 acres of Table Rock, The Chimneys, NC Wall, Spence Ridge, Chimney Branch, and was heading towards Shortoff. A lot of people love Linville Gorge and consider it their sandbox and playground. As people are passionate about something they love, their opinions and feelings are often passionate to follow. Aired on the internet in placing of social networks, forums, and discussion boards, those words that are felt and let out seem to become just as ferocious as the wildfire itself. Which I’m not really surprised by.
What I’m surprised by is my own reaction to this fire. People have often joked and lovingly suggested to me that hiking in Linville was an idol (read: false god) to me, and I think that those suggestions were valid observations. What surprises me is that I am not more upset than I am. I’m really not upset at all. Am I sad to hear the Gorge is burnt crispy? Absolutely. So what am I getting at?
I believe this wildfire is a lesson in eschatology. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s a fancy way to the study of the last things. But let’s back up, and start hoping I don’t rabbit trail here.. I’ll try.
Christians especially – if not more than anybody – should be considerate of being environmentally conscious as stewards of God’s creation. This planet should be cared for and fought for so it doesn’t end up looking like…quite frankly…a lot of our lives. But in all honesty, just as our lives are messed up and we haven’t been good stewards of all that we’ve been given, so also will that fault translate into the world around us. Relationships are destroyed, finances ruined, health fails, wildfires start, resources are squandered, nature is devastated, people are lied to, and so much of everything just falls apart. I mean, really, look at the world around you. Can any of us say with integrity that we never look at the world around us and hopelessly feel like this is not the way it’s supposed to be???
There’s a reason for that. It’s because this is NOT the way the world is supposed to be. God created man (Adam & Eve) and he rebelled against God. That rebellion against has translated down the gene pool all the way to me and you, and it’s called sin. We choose our ways, make them god ways, and reject the true God’s ways. This sin of Adam not only translated us, but essentially knocked all of creation off its axis as sin entered the world and devastation began. The world was not as it was supposed to be.
But there is hope.
From that moment of the Fall, God spoke of his rescue plan. These are the words God has for Satan after tempting Eve in Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Satan may strike a blow to God (the cross) but God would make that same blow crush Satan forever. 

We are living in the now but not yet.

Satan and sin have been defeated on the cross, where the fully-God and fully-man Jesus was crucified, and took the penalty that we deserve for all of our sin. That means what we have coming to us from not obeying all the law, God poured out on Jesus. On the flip side, the Christian gets what Jesus deserved! After Jesus was dead for 3 days, he was resurrected to newness of life and ascended to heaven. Not myth. Not lore. Fact. His resurrection validates his work on the cross, and gives all those who hope in Christ hope for their own resurrection from death into eternal newness of life!!

As if this was not exciting enough, once the “not yet” finally gets here, once death is dealt its final blow and claims no more victims, once the final chapter in sin-marred human history closes… it will all begin. Zion. New Jerusalem. Heaven. However you want to call it. To those who have rejected that they can stand righteous in front of God on their own behavior and accord, and trust wholly in the grace and mercy that is in Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection… THEN, not only will we be made new, but so will all creation. That includes the Linville Gorge, which exists to and for the glory of God.

One day, Linville will see its full glory again. We cannot go to the Gorge, or anywhere else for that matter, to find God. God is fully displayed in his revealed word to us, the Bible. We cannot find God in nature, but because of God, we can find more joy in nature. We can see the fire scars, fallen rocks, and devastated landscapes and know that one day, Jesus will return, and all that is crooked will be made straight. All that is wrong will be made right. It will all be held together by Jesus, who is the glory of it all. 

So fight the fires, however you choose. Keep a clean camp. Educate others. Leave no trace. Be a good steward of our natural areas. These are all good things, unless we make mini-gods out of them, then they become bad things. Hold them, but hold them loosely. We aren’t in control. God is. He is bringing a hope, a future, a kingdom to those who wait for him. Only in Christ can we find true satisfaction. We are not God. We are not sovereign. One day, God (and only God) will make everything right.

This is a pretty big topic, obviously larger than one post can cover. In January 2014, I plan to begin to study the book of Revelation in the Bible, as well as the broader topic of eschatology and future grace. I hope to post my notes on this blog. 

In the meantime, I recommend this reading to you:

– The Bible. It is the anvil that has worn out many hammers.
– Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
– The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler


 
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Christianity Eschatology God Heaven Hope Jesus Meditation Tattoo Zion

Zion: A new adventure, a permanent reminder

Zion. As I have been considering exactly what this word means and the hope that comes with it, I am driven to Scripture. Shorthandedly, I would have described it as heaven. In researching, the meaning is much richer, and much more broadly used. With connotations ranging from Christianity to Rastafarianism to one of Utah’s National Parks to The Matrix, it’s important that I consider and determine it’s meaning as it pertains to Jesus and His church.
Perhaps it all started after Jenny and I had two miscarriages back to back. It is difficult to remain hopeful in situations like that. The only hope I was able to find is that our 2 children will never taste sin and the fallen world beyond their time in the womb, and they will only know the joy of beholding Jesus. The verse I began to hang onto at that time was this: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (ESV)
Further reading of Revelation began to fill me with an incredible hope and longing for what I would have then merely called Heaven. Having gone through books like “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, reading many books by Ted Dekker who constantly is weaving a tapestry of eternal hope, reading the writings of C.S. Lewis specifically the Chronicles of Narnia, listening to sermons, specifically by Jeff Purswell, on eschatology (which could be defined as the study of the last things) being the crown jewel of the Gospel, further reading of Scripture, and listening to great music written by a host of artists (Andrew Peterson, Keith Green, Jimmy Needham, The OC Supertones, Matt Redman, to name a few), I would say Zion is much richer than simply a synonym for Heaven.
As succinctly as I can describe it, which is probably not very succinct at all, is to describe Zion as the place in which God dwells with and among the unclean people whom He has made clean by washing in the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross. It is where God’s people come to Him only on the terms of His grace instead of on the terms of His law, by which they could never come anyway. God’s people are assured a home there by Jesus resurrection, which promises that we too shall rise once death and sin and the curse are dealt their final blow. Zion is where Yahweh and His people will dwell together when everything broken and crooked is made right. It is where every year will be wiped away. It is where death and pain will be no more. Is it a utopia? Yes, but it is in the presence of Christ that the City of our God is even held together. It is far richer than a mere shallow post on a small blog can describe.
Several quotes have helped in developing  the richness of Zion, mostly pulled from Andrew Peterson linear notes. 
“We all long for Eden, we are constantly glimpsing it; our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, it’s gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack, above the dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” J.R.R. Tolkien
“God is at home; we are in thee far country.” ~ Meister Eckhart

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says that eternity has been written onto the hearts of men. Now it’s also tattooed on my arm, a permanent reminder of what the Gospel is saving me and the rest of God’s adopted children to. As I’m having people ask about it, I’m forced to think harder about it, trying to capture it best as I can as quickly as I can. I’ve been stumbling over calling it the City of God, and trying to jam in how God is going to restore all things to the way they’re supposed to be. When I posted the picture on Facebook, I described it as follows: Zion is the city of God, the era of when all that is broken is made right, where every tear is wiped away, sin and death are no more, and we will see Jesus face to face in peace. Black to blue is symbolic of the curse giving way to peace, even richer, to shalom. One day, the curtain will be lifted, but until then we will sing with longing, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

Another passage that’s been rattling around my head is Hebrews 11:13-16 (ESV):

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

When I told one person that Zion is shorthand for Heaven, yet much richer, he responded by asking “For people who are good enough to get in?” That was extremely helpful for me to narrow down how to describe it.. 

Zion is home, the far country that we were all meant for. It is the city that God is making for Himself out of people who are not good enough to get to Heaven on their own
There are many passages in the Old Testament that develop the meaning of Zion, and many more that do not even refer to it by the name of Zion. Some that stood out to me as I searched the Bible for clarity are Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 50:4-5, Joel 2:31-32; 3:17a, Zephaniah 3:16-17, and Zechariah 8:1-3.
Yet the passage that stood out the most to me, which perhaps most richly defined Zion, is what I will close this with:
Isaiah 62 from the Bible, English Standard Version
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 
2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 
5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. 
6 On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, 
7 and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth. 
8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; 
9 but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.” 
10 Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples. 
11 Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 
12 And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. 
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Babel Tower bushwhacking Hawksbill Heaven Hell's Ridge Camp hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Falls Linville Gorge Louise's Pinnacle Rhubarb Pie scrambling Trip report Wiseman's View

A January Linville Gorge Adventure

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Puskas, Ben Maycock, and myself jumped in the Subaru and headed for the Linville Gorge. This would be Jeremy’s first time, and we were all pretty excited.

A small bit of history: in August 2011, Ben and I made our first hike into the Gorge to Babel Tower. We did not explore as thoroughly as we would have liked, as we were trying to make it up the Linville Gorge Trail and out at Pine Gap. We came out Cabin Trail. I cringe at the memory. After reading Marshall’s trip reports and seeing his photos of Avatar’s Rib last weekend, it was dead center in my radar to explore, so I thought a revisit of Babel Tower would be well appropriate. Oh, and if any Gorge Rats are reading this, Jeremy’s trail name is FireInMyBones, and mine is black.red.white. (www.linvillegorge.net for anyone who wants to join in on that avenue of fun :))

So we headed up to the Gorge. Jeremy had talked to Hanging Burrito and Running Feather (Gorge Rats) and we were supposed to meet them at Sitting Bear. While we were at Sitting Bear, we found a roasting fork stuck in the ground, so we decided to pack it out. Long story short, we did not meet them and could not find them, and we ended up camping at Hawksbill.

By the time we got here, we were frustrated at things not going as we had planned, and our spirits were low. Jeremy and I are both hangers (hammock campers), Ben is a ground dweller (tent camper), and we found a great spot for all of us to be within a few feet of each other. Everywhere in the Gorge was sopping wet from all the rain, and the fog was THICK. We had hopes of a roaring fire to cook hot dogs over with a titanium grate of Jeremy’s, but we struggled to get a fire going. Jeremy and Ben worked it with some wet lighting tinder, and with talent much greater than mine on top of what had to be the Lord’s providence, started a fire. Ben had found a rock overhang with a few still dry sticks in it, and they were able to get the fire going enough to dry out some of the wet wood. It was smoky, but we had a fire. Not enough to cook dogs on a grate over, though. In another showing of providence, we remembered the roasting fork! To quote Mark Driscoll, “Coincidence is the unbeliever’s word for providence. You say that was coincidence? No, that was the Lord.” Exactly. So now Jeremy broke out his world famous chili. This stuff is awesome, don’t pass it up if you get the chance. Hot dogs with chili, 1554, friends around the fire telling tales, camp set, our spirits were lifting as our bellies were filling. We sang a few songs before heading off to bed, and I had the best nights sleep in the outdoors I have ever had. Thank you, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters.

We started stirring at 7:00am. A quick decision led to a Hawksbill summit before breakfast. We were supposed to meet Mike (darkbyrd) at 8am at Babel Tower, and I tried to send an email and call him from my iPhone, but we weren’t going to make it. The hike up was in the easy side of moderate as far as Gorge standards go. You’ll definitely generate some body heat. I was so pleased that we were able to make Jeremy’s first view of the entire Gorge be from the cliffs of Hawksbill. The rock up there is so dramatic, coupled with the Gorge itself still dark in mystery while everything to the east was covered in sun soaked fog. It was amazing. This was also the first time Ben and I had been to Hawksbill. A great moment for sure. We mulled around the cliffs, looked for spots to hang a hammock, tried to give Mike another call, and headed back down for breakfast. By the time we ate, broke camp, packed up, and finally made it to Babel Tower parking, it was after 10:00am. Sorry Mike. We did see your note.

We took off down the trail. This was my first time hiking with Jeremy, who hikes and camps ultralight, and just received the Peregrine Award for hiking and documenting the 77 mile Foothills Trail. He is speedy, even in the Gorge. We made it to Babel Tower in about 30 minutes, and had no trouble finding the route to the top. This was exciting for me because the first time we were here, Erich Johnson and I did some real sketchy free climbing up the south side of Babel. Finding out that there is actually a path and easy scramble up there was sweet. Especially it was great to have Ben up there with me, because he wisely chose not to do the free climb we did the first time. We gave a loud “Whooooo buddy!!” towards Westface Rock because I had read Wigg and Marshall were planning on scrambling over there. We got a “Whooooo buddyyy!!” in return, but were unable to see anyone on the east side. Then we heard a “Whooooo!” and saw Mike and McKenzie way below us on the switchbacks to the river. Sorry we did not cross paths that day, buddy.

Heading north, we found the shortcut from Babel Tower to Avatar’s Rib that Marshall had described on his trip. There is a downed tree that can be shimmied, but a few feet west of that is a larger tree that can be used to post against as your scramble down the cliff, as Jeremy did. Ben and I took the trail back to the base of Babel Tower and met up with Jeremy on the scramble up to Avatar’s Rib. Once up there, we hollered again, got a response, and were able to catch a glimpse of Wigg and Marshall on the Sulpher Fungus Ledge. You feel tiny when you’re in the Gorge, but until you see someone from across can you appreciate just how small we really are. Like rats running around in a maze, indeed…like Gorge Rats. Indeed.

A short discussion led us to foregoing Avatar’s Rib and heading into the bushes to find Hell’s Ridge Camp on the northwest corner of the Babel peninsula. “Where to?” was the question, and without any trail, we just headed into the direction I believed the camp was. What I know of Hell’s Ridge Camp is this: it is a long forgotten and unvisited campsite of avid Linville explorer since the 1960’s, Bob Underwood, who currently is living in India. He had been asking about it and mentioned it in a discussion we were having, so I wanted to visit it. So we started into the bushes and briars. We came upon what looked like trail that was heading in the direction we wanted to go, so we took it. We actually didn’t do any backtracking, although we lost the trail to the bushes a few times. A flat semi-clearing at the cliffs! This had to be it. A great camp, for sure. We had a look around and I took some video surveying the area. Time to head back. We followed our path back up toward’s Upper Avatar’s Rib, but managed to move away from our original entry. Not far beyond finding a stack of feathers where someone had a good snack, where there was some trail, was a large cairn on the rock to Hell’s Ridge Camp! As far as we could tell, it didn’t look like anyone had been out there recently, but that cairn was definitely to the way to Hell’s Ridge Camp. Bob, I know you’ll be reading this. I’d love to know the backstory on Hell’s Ridge and its naming.

After a little more scrambling and lunch break on Babel Tower (there’s a fire ring up there if anyone’s curious), we talked about the next plans. We hadn’t been to the river yet, but still wanted to hit the falls and Louise’s. We talked about the switchbacks and decided to just make the call once we got to the intersection. Coming down from Babel, Ben and I followed a lower trail we assumed would connect back up towards the Linville Gorge Trail but we ended up on a lower trail. This had to be the path to Babel Canyon at the river, so we went for it. I’ve been at the river at the sandy beach campsite further upstream, Spence Bridge, Cathedral Falls, and along the LGT from Leadmine to PinchIn. I can easily say that Babel Canyon is the most awesome place I’ve seen it. I explored around a little bit as far as I felt safe with the wet rocks while Jeremy and Ben took a swim. Brrr!

After the swim, we all headed back up to the car. Being Jeremy’s first time in the Gorge, he really wanted to experience not just a deep trip in but also the highlights. Having already bagged Hawksbill, we drove all the way down Kistler (noting the southern entrance to Rock Jock (the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail/MCRT) to Pinnacle. There’s such great views with such little effort there. Then we headed back north to Wiseman’s View. Kistler between Wiseman’s and Conley Cove is pretty rough, with lots of washboarding and some decent ruts, but we did see a Ford Taurus wagon making it. I guess it’s your decision with your car. I personally don’t want a gash in my oil pan.

Anyway, Wiseman’s. There is handicap wheelchair access to the views here, making it the EASIEST and most level path in the whole Gorge. Getting to these spectacular views is as easy as walking to your mailbox. Anyone can do this. Looking over the edge, we saw a toy dog someone had dropped on a ledge. I scrambled down over the edge and brought it back up to the wall. The lost dog. I took a pic of the lost dog looking toward Lost Dog camp. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I left the dog by one of the pillars to the rail for someone else to find. I did, however, pack out the Mountain Dew can that someone left on the edge. I suppose it evens out. We also packed out a beer bottle from Hawksbill, and our hot dog roasting fork from Sitting Bear. Go us.

The final Gorge stop for us was Linville Falls. This is more trail than path, but it’s easy hiking. Less than half a mile in and to get to the falls. There are several different overlooks, and they are all worth seeing. I love the upper falls and seeing the chute that funnels the water to the top of the falls. I’m always impressed with that, then going to the next overlook to see the water exploding out of the cliffs. Excellent stuff totally worth it. As we stood on the final overlook with the falls below us and the sun setting beyond, we were ending the day in the same way we started it. What a grand day it has been for us. We had first mentioned it in the bushes and briars of Babel Tower, but we came back to the conversation here. Just imagine what beauty we will behold on the day when The Lord wipes away every tear, creation is redeemed, when the dross is consumed and the gold is refined. What will a redeemed North Carolina look like, free of the curse when all of mankind is finally completely reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross and resurrection, and the faith of God’s rag-tag group of grace getters is made sight? What a day that will be, indeed!

Topping off our adventure, as any adventure in the Linville Gorge should be topped off with, was a trip to Famous Louise’s Rockhouse on the corner of 221 and 183. Dinner for a well worked up appetite, and the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie, really is a great way to close the day.

I love the Linville Gorge.

I’d like to recommend Jeremy’s video trip report at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFg6snQaJuA&sns=em

(For new adventurers, a great intro to the Gorge is this. Drive 221 north into the community of Linville Falls and turn right on 183 and stay to the right at the dirt road, which is Kistler Memorial Highway. Pass the info cabin and park on the left at the Linville Falls parking. Leisurely take your time to the falls. There is a little bit of uphill but nothing terribly difficult. This is an easy trail. After visiting the Falls, head south on Kistler to Wiseman’s View (there’s a sign on the left), and enjoy those views. Head back to Louise’s for some pie. This’ll probably only take you a couple hours, but it’s a great way to visit the Linville Gorge. If you want a little longer of a trip with additional great views, access Kistler from the south via 126 just out of Nebo. You’ll be able to get the Shortoff Mountain views and the short 1/4 mile high to Pinnacle Mountain. Then head north to Wiseman’s View, Linville Falls, and Louise’s. Note that Linville Falls is also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

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God Heaven Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus North Carolina Shortoff

One of my favorite conversations

When I went to Shortoff Mountain in the Linville Gorge last October, I had the pleasure of William “Wigg” Faulkner serving me as a guide. He has been visiting the Gorge for years and years, and over the last few years he has been systematically exploring the Gorge’s many rock outcrops, springs, and canyons. Linville Gorge has many secrets, and as another explorer of the area has said, it does not give them up easily.

One of the scenes I had the privilege of seeing, the pond on top of Shortoff, is not a secret nor is it difficult to get to. it is not hidden away along some scraggly rabbit trail, with torn and windblown surveyors flagging hinting at its existence. The pond is right along the main trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail, which extends over 1,000 miles across North Carolina.

This was the first time I had been on Shortoff, and I had heard about the pond on top of the mountain. As we stopped, Wigg told me about the pond and shared fond memories of it. Wigg told me how the pond used to be bigger than it is now, and in recent years, there was a fire on top of Shortoff that scarred and destroyed much of the area. With a longing in his voice, my friend said, “I don’t know if it will ever see its former glory.” To this I replied, “One day, it will.”

Two short sentences. Major theological implications.

The pond on top of Shortoff, like the rest of creation, is subject to futility and hardship and entropy under the curse. The sin and fall of man in the Garden of Eden did not only bring death to man, but all of creation. Once there was Eden, and now it is fallen. Now it is decaying, just like you and I. Thistle and thorns have overtaken the garden, and if you’ve done any off-trail exploring in Linville, you definitely know this to be true. But also like the rest of creation, the pond on Shortoff is groaning and aching for the day when Jesus Christ returns and the great reversal occurs. Sin and death are defeated, eradicated, and will only remain in stories as conquered foes of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All creation will be made new and restored to its original glory. Not the glory of pictures we’ve seen from a hundred years ago, but glory of when man was not at odds with God. The glory of when all was right in the cosmos. Like Christians now, like the nation of Israel prior to Jesus Christ’s birth, the pond on Shortoff and the rest of creation is desperately singing “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

Perhaps you’re wondering where I’m getting all this, and you’re right to think so because I am certainly not smart enough of a man to figure it out on my own. What do you expect from a guy who likes to wander through the woods to say, “Ooh! Pretty !”? The Bible has many places in it that speak of when all things are made new, but I will only get you started:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
Romans 8:18-23 (English Standard Version)

Also, I highly recommend the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn for further study on the topic.

Matt Chandler says in his book The Explicit Gospel, “The aim of the Scriptures is to direct our worship to the one true God of the universe, and the universe itself is designed not to occupy our worship but to stir our heart of hearts to behold its God. The heavens do not declare the glory of themselves, after all, but the glory of God.”

An analogy I thought of while thinking about this is that it is like my marriage. I love my wife, and I love her baking, cooking, parenting, creativity, photography and many other traits and talents…but these all stem from her. I love HER, and many things come with that. If I only love the cookies she makes or the pictures she takes, but spurn her? That is no love at all, but hostility. With Jesus, I long for the renewal of creation, the sinless existence, the amazement of heaven, but without Jesus all of these things would not be. Love Jesus, friends. All good things stem from him.

Next time you are out, and you see creation subjected to futility and decay and death, be reminded that the Lord will one day make all things new. Yet even in that, the renewal of creation is not our hope, but Jesus who brings this renewal.

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C.S. Lewis Christianity Gospel Heaven Randy Alcorn Recommended Reading Zion

Heaven. Zion. My home country.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I finished listening to the audiobook for “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. What started as merely a book that I had heard about to download from audible.com because I had a credit became easily one of the best reads (listens?) that I have gone through.

I have been a Christian for over 7 years now, and much of that time has been spent discouraged, condemned, depressed, confused, self-righteous, and mired in sin. There have been uncountable talks with fellow believers about fighting sin, sinning less, understanding the Gospel, “putting on” good works, etc. “Is THAT what being a Christian is all about?” you may be asking if you are seeing the stained glass windows from the outside. The answer is NO. That’s not what being a Christian is about. Being a Christian is about Jesus and his kingdom.

I’m not a good person, let’s just get that out there. There is so much in my life to be condemned for, and I believe the devil, who is called the Accuser, lives up to his name in every regard. I know the law of God, and I agree that it is good. I also know that I do not live up to the law of God, which allows for plenty helpings of condemnation. The Accuser will take every opportunity to remind me of this, reminding me of my shame. The Gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ that the Son of God lived in a way that fulfilled the law perfectly yet he was put to death as a criminal and bore the wrath of God that sinners like you and me deserve so we can stand clean in front of the one Holy God, sets people free from the chains of sin. From the chains of condemnation.

Here is the good news: you can be free to live in a way that brings you ultimate joy in every circumstance, even though sorrow will sometimes walk beside you as well.

I am convinced that there is indeed a slumber among the ranks of Christians (to borrow from Ted Dekker), myself included. We are so caught up with being offended, being lazy, self-focus, self-help, setting up securities or stressing over the lack of security, sinning secretly, watching the clock, what’s going on with Israel, not being religious, worrying about what to blog about, enjoying “Christian liberties,” or droning away on Facebook and YouTube that we are not jazzed for what we are really meant for. We are meant for Zion, brothers and sisters. Setting up our own tiny kingdoms or white-washed tombs will only result in ruins.

If we set our eyes to Heaven, the New Earth, Zion, New Jerusalem, our home country, we will be less intoxicated with the trappings of the world we live in that lies to us, even as we know deep down that it is a lie, that life here and now is what we were meant for. But, are we to be intoxicated with thoughts of clouds, harps, and hymns?

Perhaps a couple sections from Scripture (which are good places to start reading if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible) are helpful here: (Psalm16:11) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Luke 23:42-43) And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So let’s break this down. Heaven is where God is. In God’s presence is the paradise of extreme joy and endless pleasure. As humans, we are sinners thanks to our forefather Adam, and are at war against God. God sent Jesus to live the life we couldn’t ever live and die the death that we deserve, so that is we may believe and trust in Him and enter peacefully into the presence of God as sons and daughters, instead of traitors to the crown of God. Spending eternity in the presence of God is an eternity of ecstasy, not boredom.

I am one such traitor, who was made a son, who has fallen into a slumber. O Christian, awake. Do not doze off with silly things that rob you of the joy that is to come. Let us restore each other in gentleness, reminding one another that we are meant for Zion, the great city of King Jesus, who is surrounded by marvels we could not fathom fully in our wildest dreams. Failure to give our minds to the joy that is set before us will beckon and hasten our slumber. Allowing thoughts of Heaven, opened to us through Jesus, to flood our minds will get us even through the most miserable day. Fear not, today there is sorrow, but soon there will be joy forevermore.

I have heard it said that for Christians, this life is as close to hell as they will ever get. For those who do not place their trust in Jesus, this life is as close to heaven as they will ever get. Do not take eternity lightly.

One day, we will close our eyes, only to awaken face to face with Jesus. Do you long for the day when your faith will be made sight, and are welcomed by Jesus himself into paradise?

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven” will jazz you up for the morning. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Heaven hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jones Gap Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Rainbow Falls Trip report Waterfalls Zion

This place is like a picture

 

Every time we go on an adventure, I am always the guy who lags behind. True, I am a slowpoke. Perhaps a better name would be a lollygagger. I’m not out to set any distance records. I’m not on some trail to march (although I do enjoy trail running on occasion… like the occasion I actually go running). I’m out to enjoy the scenery. I’m out to be awed and enamoured with what lay before my eyes.

I was made to marvel.

And marvel I did on our recent hike to Rainbow Falls in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of Northern South Carolina. We parked at the entrance to Jones Gap State Park, in Cleveland, SC. About 2.5 miles one way, we pulled ourselves 1000ft in elevation up the side of the gorge to get to one of the most magnificent waterfalls I have seen. This was along semi-gentle contours, and it is a well cut trail with erosion control on it. The rainbow Falls Trail takes you past flowing creeks, small waterfalls, granite cliffs, good views, and finally dead ends at Rainbow Falls. It allowed for some great scrambling along slippery rocks, and I was even able to get right beneath the waterfall to feel the power and strength of water as it impacts after a 100ft fall. I took several pictures.

One of those pictures is somewhere on this post.. My friend Eric is at the base of the 100ft waterfall, which is at the point in a large canyon on either side. We are surrounded by water and cliffs and rock and greenery. What makes Rainbow Falls one of my favorite is the sense of being consumed by what is in front of you. The scene is all-encompassing, you become IN it, instead of going TO it. Instead of, “That’s cool,” you become speechless. You are in awe. You are marveling.

This is what I was made for, and experiences like this are what I aim for on every adventure into the wilderness.

This is also what a picture does not capture. Sometimes, if someone is standing in the picture, the viewer can get a sense of scale, like how big the waterfall really is. But it’s not just about the waterfall, it’s about the experience. You can’t feel the spray of the mist, the power of the falling water, the closing in of the canyon walls, or the satisfaction of making it to your destination, or the fun of rock hopping your way to the base of a waterfall, or the sense of being lost in something bigger than you are. This is the kind of thing that makes a man feel small and insignificant. I love this.

Coming back around, a picture cannot capture being there. How much more will this be true of Heaven? When we read in Scripture about the City of God, do we read thinking we have absolute clarity on what Heaven will be? It is far better to think of our view of Heaven as a picture of an amazing waterfall, mountain, canyon, ocean or river. If what we behold on this side of the glass thrills us, can you fathom what it will be like to actually stand guiltless in Heaven, where we see with eyes unveiled, the glory of what has been prepared for those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and adoption as sons and daughters as heirs into the family of God?

View these photos of waterfalls and gorges, and desire to be lost in their midst. As you stand marveling, imagine what Zion, a Christian’s home country, must be like.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1Corinthians13:12 esv)

Indeed.

Perhaps reading the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis can aid you in this.

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Christianity God Gospel Heaven Hope Jesus Recommended Reading SmartWool Zion Zion National Park

Captured for Zion

Captured for Zion. What exactly does this mean, anyway?

Eternity has been written on my heart, and I must fight to taste it.
I’ve been throwing it around in my head for sometime, even making it some sort of moniker for myself. It’s something I’ve been using to define a facet of my identity. I’m sure it’s no secret that I am an outdoorsman and adventurer, but I don’t want to flippantly ascribe those terms to myself to the point where my identity is solely found in that I strap on boots and a backpack and wander off into the woods. There has to be meaning to it. I can’t just slap on a pair of SmartWool socks because they’re decadent…which, they are, by the way. Let me do my best to help with this phrase captured for zion that I’ve given double meaning to.
Let’s start with something very obvious. I love the outdoors. I’ve only been this way for a couple years, as before that I hated the thought of camping… but that’s a good story for a later entry. This enthusiasm has taken Zion National Park in Utah as the symbol and centerpiece of adventure. I’ve read about it, poured over pictures of it, bought guidebooks and topo maps for it, and watched documentaries and movies on it. With it’s peaks and canyons, mesa and mystery, I’ve truly been captured by it. I long for and dream of going there. Every outdoor step I take is a step on the road that will eventually take me to Zion National Park. Yes, there are other parks with sensational scenery. Yes, there is Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier and Grand Teton and The Everglades and Capitol Reef and Rocky Mountain and Isle Royale. For whatever reason, Zion has become the crown jewel, if not a shadow of another jewel, and one day I hope to go there.
Let’s follow with something that may or may not be so obvious. I love Jesus, and the only reason I can say that is because He loved me first. Somedays, I falter in my love for him, as it’s obvious by my actions I still love myself, however I will trust that I will always love Jesus first and foremost because he has captured me. He has captured me for his kingdom to be one of his people, to Zion. There are many other kingdoms and cities that would have me build a home on a hill to die upon. There are idols that would have me bow to them, living my life for their lie that their city will bring me ultimate fulfillment and joy. To live under the curse of sin and the folly of idolatry, and to live under the burden of the impossibility of keeping the law of God, there is no joy. For reasons unknown to me, I’ve been captured for this city, this new Jerusalem, where every resident will finally rest in shalom. Zion, The City of God, is the ultimate crown jewel that rests of the head on the ultimate King, who my heart aches to be with. (For more information on being captured, slowly read from John 6)
So what does this have to do with hiking? What meaning does this bring to my feet that walk in socks that fit in boots that climb on rocks? What ties Zion National Park to Zion, the City of God? One day, this earth is going to pass away, not to extinction, but to the curse that our forefather Adam laid upon it. Like you and me, this world has been ravaged by sin and the effects of sin. While the death blow has been dealt to death and the grave, we are still waiting for the ultimate culmination of that renewal. When I venture into the outdoors, I still encounter briars and trials and thorns. Although there is beauty crashing through with every step and sight, the beauty is marred at some level by imperfection, frailty, and flaw. One day, the earth will be renewed even as citizens of Zion will be renewed. That is exciting news, and it makes every step a reminder that one day, all will be made new and restored to its fully glory that reflects the awesome Creator. Every ache, scrape and blister is a reminder that it will not always be this way. Every sliver and fleck of enjoyment I get from this life, whether its my wife, children, adventures or socks, is a foretaste of what Zion will be like. That really jazzes me up.
While I may dream about visiting Zion National Park one day, that is merely a shell of how I dream for Zion, the new Jerusalem, the city of God. The City of God. I believe this is the key to all of it. Zion is the City of Yahweh, a city that He has brought to full glory that does not beg His patience as our current dwelling does. I long to be in Zion because I long to be with God, and God’s country will bring him much glory, which he will delight to make it a home for it’s citizens, where Yahweh will be our God and we will be His people. What does this look like, though?

In this life, there is so much pain, sorrow, grief, strife, hardship, suffering, sin, sickness, death, deceit, heartache and a host of other words that everyone wishes they would never have to utter again. This is truly what I long for most of all:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
A few quotes are helpful in this matter of longing for Zion:

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“If the ‘wrong side’ of Heaven can be so beautiful, what will the right side look like? If the smoking remains are so stunning, what will Earth look like when it’s resurrected and made new, restored to the original?” ~ Randy Alcorn

“Now I’m moving, moving to Zion where there’s rest for these weary bones. There on that mountain I’ll be rejoicing, for in Jesus I have found my home.” ~ Jimmy Needham
“Sometimes it’s good to look back down. We’ve come so far, we’ve gained such ground, but joy is not in where we’ve been. Joy is who’s waiting at the end. There is a road inside of you. Inside of me there is one, too. No stumbling pilgrim in the dark. The road to Zion’s in your heart.” ~ Petra
I would be remiss if I didn’t say how anyone has any hope of ever seeing those distant shores: 
 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV) 
A large part of this whole mindset has been fueled by Randy Alcorn and his book (or audiobook, as I’ve been experiencing it) Heaven. Also influential, although it has been a couple years since I’ve read it, is Ted Dekker’s book The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth
Categories
Christianity Gospel Grace Heaven Hope Jesus On A Personal Note Sanctification Supertones

On a Personal Note: Mirrors

It feels like I’m two different people sometimes.

The other day at work while I was on a test drive, I had a realization. I’m a… grinner. (Watch the episode of Man VS Wild when he’s in the Baja desert for that reference). Of all things in life, this is what I am the best at being. That isn’t reassuring.

Maybe I’m not two people, but one person who hides half of himself with different groups of people. One group hears how I am in need of grace, yet doesn’t see how I need it. The other group sees how I am in need of grace, but doesn’t hear that I need it. A third group, which would be very small, sees those two overlap.

I look at myself and see so many areas in need of growth, and maybe this introspection has become morbidly acute to the point where I cannot see the grace of God and the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection that covers those areas. I wish I would live my life in a way that everyone sees the overlap, but I’m pretty sure this would require me to live perfectly, which I can’t. A chorus by The O.C. Supertones captures this perfectly: “Who I am is in between, what I wanna be and what I am.” In another song of theirs, they sing, “I’m somewhere in between Canaan and Egypt, a place called the wilderness.” That’s me.

Although I cannot live as someone who is in no need of growth and change, I can, however, imagine what it might be like to have no need of growth. Now, I realize this image is quite likely flawed, but I can imagine some version of it. Looking at myself in the mirror, truly looking, requires humility. “This is who I am. This is what I have done.” As a Christian, and typically where I fail, it is imperative I see beyond myself. My reflection should look something like “This is who I am and what I have done. God sent His Son to die on a cross and pay the penalty for who I am and what I’ve done. What I see is a scoundrel who has been made righteous in God’s eye by being captured and made new in Jesus.” This whole Gospel and grace of God thing is a mind-bender for me.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

One day, it will not be dim. One day, the veil will be lifted. One day, sin and death and suffering will be no more. One day, every tear will be wiped away. One day, I will be finally home, because I have been captured for Zion. Hopefully as I walk along this road, I will reflect him in a much more balanced way.