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condemnation depression despair despondency http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus reflection Romans the Gospel thought process

Free Range Despondency

The black dog. Depression. Despair. Melancholy. Despondency. Down. Moodiness. 
Does any of that ring familiar to you? Do you, like me, allow some of your thoughts to run free and unchecked? Does the narrative in your head tell you to give up, that it is hopeless? The mind can really be a tangled mess of thoughts, experiences, assumptions and behaviors. I’ve struggled with this kind of thing for several years, so before going to the medical community to address anything chemically off in my body, I sought pastoral counseling to see what the Gospel had to say.
It turns out a lot.
The details of what led me to this point aren’t relevant for this blog, but some of the counsel I received is. The Bible was written for more than just me individually. My pastor walked me through Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8. I’m not able to articulate this as skillfully as he did, but after capturing my reflections and applications of those chapters in Romans in my journal, I felt part of that reflection would be valuable to share here. If you are reading this and feel lost, I suggest reading those four chapters just mentioned to help fill out some of the gaps you may feel in my thoughts, as I am responding to those chapters.
I am either dead under the law or alive in Christ. To the law, I am weak to fulfill it. I am weak to even do the good things I desire to do. The law is good. I agree with it, yet can’t fulfill it. 

Ah! There is Christ!

My condemnation under the law has been poured on Christ, and none is left for me. I am now alive. Yet I am still weak, and look for identity in strength. Poor me, wretched me, hopeless me… FULL of weakness. It is in this gap that I find Christ to be strong. I am so weak that many times I cannot even find words to pray, but the Spirit intercedes on my behalf to the Father, as I am whole in Christ. I am God’s adopted son, even as I am weak. 

God works all things together for my good. All things includes my weakness, struggle, failure, depression, apathy, pride, arrogance, anger, vain pursuits and thoughts. The Father is mine, and in/by the Spirit, I am being transformed more into Christlikeness day by day. Consider who you were 10-15 years ago? I am being made new, more like Christ, but so slowly I can scarcely perceive it. Many times I feel the weakness so fully and tell myself that hope is lost. I become my own judge and forget Christ.

(This next bold/bracketed section is the breaking down of Romans 8:34)
Who is the one who condemns? 
(I do!!)
Jesus Christ is the one who died,
(when it should have been me!!)
but even more, has been raised,
(proving His standing in my place and taking all of my condemnation was efficient to reconcile me to the Father!!)
He is also at the right hand of God
(not condemned Himself, sin has been defeated, death is no more, and Jesus reigns in life!!)
and intercedes for us.
(He is my mediator between God and I, and if Jesus is my advocate when He is the only one to condemn, condemnation left me as Christ left the grave clothes in an empty tomb!!)

and now I say… I AM FREE! I AM FREE!


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
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eternity Fellowship http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection the Gospel

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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abide Christianity face to face Family friendships http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection relationships rest the Gospel

Face to Face

Some things have been rattling around in my mind over the last few weeks. I’m just trying to figure some of this life and myself out. You could look at this as a sneak peak into the internal thought process of analysis and decision making.


I need the Lord. Desperately. Subtly, I feel I’ve gone in a “just me and Jesus” direction. I may be on the verge of coming out of that, but it remains to be seen at this point. One of the ways the Lord makes himself known is through his Bride, the Church. The Holy Spirit ministers to his Bride through his Bride. Through fellowship. Relationships with other believers is more important and life-giving that I’ve given a credit for this year. I feel it’s easy to say bitterness has rot my posture toward the church.

Face-to-face time. This has been front and center at my attention over the past couple weeks. Not that I focus on it, really, but that it keeps popping up in conversations, podcasts, blog posts, sermons, etc. Relationships cannot grow, they cannot thrive without face-to-face time. This can be derailed in lots of ways. How much face to screen time takes away from face-to-face time? How many conversations that could knit two people closer together are lost for the sake of eavesdropping into someone else’s online drama or someone else’s white washed social media? Or just shopping and consuming? I don’t want to come to a place where I reject technology, but rather I want to start asking the question, “How can I harness this technology to where it enhances face-to-face time instead of creating a void in the relationship?” This will likely be a balance I will never achieve, but I must never cease to aim for it.

Time. I’m a finite creature. My capacity is only so high before things I engage in begin to suffer and I make halfhearted investments in others. Time is a limited resource, and one I will never get back. When it’s wasted, I feel the seeds of bitterness beginning to root.

When I say yes to something, I say no to something. This is where God, the church, relationships, face-to-face time, and stewardship all come together. What will I say yes to? Bitterness? Laziness? Anger? Prayer? Relationships? The Lord? My wife? My children? If I say yes to staring at my phone or some other screen beyond appropriateness, I say no to play and story time with the kids, board games, deep conversations, honest and open and lighthearted and laugh-filled and scary and fearful conversations? Just some examples. I have several behaviors that I need to change.

Who will I invest in? Who will have access to me? I realize that may sound cold, but I have to be realistic about my capacity.

My wife and kids will have the greatest access to me. This is going to mean they do not get crowded out by others, who will have lesser degrees of access. This has to start at home and branch out from there. Texting, email, social media, etc. Those screen time conversations that can enhance face-to-face time need to take a backseat to my own family. However this has to be the expectation set with the relationships I’m in.

I need the Lord. 

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
Psalm 127:1 ESV

My wife. 
My children. 
My fellowship of believers. 
My family.
Everyone else.

Fellowship of believers. Those relationships in the church by whom the Holy Spirit minister’s and the father reveals himself. Few are long-term friends, and there are several who are in what I’ve been calling an “ember” stage of friendship. I feel what it looks like, as far as setting expectations, is to tell those closest and ember and beyond relationships my struggle to spend time with the Lord and face-to-face. To explain to them the enhance/void dynamic of technology, and that means I may be spotty in response to them because I’m trying to invest in my family. They will have higher access that most, but not above my wife and the kids. I must be pursuing the Lord above all. I guess this blog post will serve that purpose to those who will slog through it to this point. There may be times my excess ability is extremely limited because my phone may not even be with me. It may be *gasp* in another room of the house or in a drawer somewhere.

Rest is not something I can say I’ve had much of lately, physically or mentally or spiritually. As crazy as it sounds, it sometimes seems like the Lord calls me in the night. “Seek me. I am your rest.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5 ESV

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abide Christmas reflection rest

A New Approach For December

Two things started out the 2015 Christmas season differently for me this year.
The first was that we started decorating for Christmas two weeks before Thanksgiving. Ah! The horrors and atrocities of our consumerist society… or maybe not. 
Typically, December and the whole Christmas season is frantic and stressful. Though the house looks great when my wife decorates it, there is so much craziness and running around that it feels like we have barely enjoyed them before it’s time to take the decorations down.
The second thing different this season is that I’m actually enjoying it. Christmas has not typically been a season in excited about. Putting up decorations and the Christmas tree in the living room were all a chore I would much rather avoid. This year, I wanted to be a part of it.
I believe that the second is a result of the first. To approach December with a perspective and direction of rest I believe is honoring the true spirit of Christmas. Christ came that we could cease our working and striving and trying so very impossibly hard to be good and finally rest in the truth that He has done that for us. 
Now in Christ, I can be free to enjoy Christmas and much more. 
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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 Fellowship guy friendship Honor http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection satisfaction

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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Write What Inspires You

I’ve been wondering where to go with this blog. What’s ahead for The Long Road to Zion?
Well, there have been a handful of ideas that began with questions like… What do people want to read? How do I get the most readers? Who is my target audience? Can I make money off this thing? Can I come up with enough to continually write about if I’m not hiking every week? As a Christian, do I force any truth into awkwardness versus the beauty it is? Is this just a big waste of time? Should a hobby be crafted into something more? What am I even trying to communicate? 
I asked a small group of people a few questions about going forward. I was given several great responses, some of which I would like to share later, but one really stuck out to me. My friend Andy (whose website of trip reports you should definitely read) gave me some really encouraging feedback. Write what I am passionate about. That seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
At a deep level, I know that I am passionate about my faith, and I know that and cannot sit on it without action (nor do I want to). The problem is not that I don’t want to share that faith. It’s that I don’t want to be fake or corny doing it. Christian culture gives all kinds of input, advice, and even methods to do just that. How to work Jesus into any conversation comes with metrics on buzzfeed-esque “what style of evangelism is yours?” charts. Christians have a lot of noise on how to act and how to be. I do want to talk to you about the Gospel, but I want to do it without any charts or scripts. I want to share how good God is and my hope, not some regurgitated force fed nonsense hoping that you take the bait. That’s ridiculous. That’s what I don’t have any faith to do. Life that resembles a cheesy T-shirt with a ripped-off slogan (you know the type) is not inspiring at all. 
So, moving forward. Does that mean more or less hikes, trip reports, reflections, or Jesus name drops per post? Maybe. Maybe not. I will just try my best to be as real with you as I can be, and what comes out will come out. I want to say what I believe is true, in all categories, and not try and sell you a line.
Of all the things I am passionate about, they are all too beautiful to be crammed down your throat.
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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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Christian Hedonism God http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Jesus love reflection rest satisfaction soli Deo gloria Testimony the Gospel

What Is Happening 10 Years Later

This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.

If you haven’t read how I got here, you may wish to read about what happened 10 years ago and what has happened over the last 10 years. If not, that’s OK, too.
Last year, my pastor challenged the church to consider that we had lost our first love. We had lost sight of Jesus, like the church of Ephesus we read about in Revelation. This was the case for me. As a Christian, for years I have been chasing trying to get better, when I ought to have been chasing Jesus. Let me explain.
A conversation sprouted a couple months ago around being satisfied in Jesus. I’m not sure I can really explain what that is like, but if you have tasted and seen his goodness, you will know it. On a much smaller scale, think of the feeling of standing near a waterfall. Beyond the roar of the water and the coolness of the mist, there is something that is difficult to express in words, but you know what it is. That is what God and satisfaction in him is like, in the sense of being difficult to describe.
I had been looking to people to satisfy me, essentially making gods out of them. No man, other than Jesus himself, or woman can carry that weight. I have looked to all kinds of places and people to quench my thirst, and that can only be found in God. There are plenty of times I don’t believe that, until He makes himself and his love known in some unbelievable – and satisfying – way. Knowing God is supremely satisfying, but sadly, I still wander. I still seek to find some sliver of satisfaction in things like buying stuff, relationships, harboring bitterness, and meeting some set of extra-biblical standards I heap on myself. That stuff may lessen the thirst for a moment, but to quench it? Not so much. In the New Testament book of John, Jesus has a piercing conversation with a woman. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (ESV) Jesus is keeping with the imagery of water used in the Old Testament when he speaks to Jeremiah (in chapter 2, verses 12-13) and says “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord ,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I think this is pretty pointed for me. Jesus is telling me that he is the direct source of all life and satisfaction. He is the spring of life. He is beckoning, “Drink deeply, and be satisfied.”

In the midst of that, I’ve been wrestling with what does it look like to really obey God? I think it’s to follow Psalm 34:8. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV) The goodness of God. I am called to rest in the goodness of God, but it’s so hard to rest. I gotta be doing something, I gotta be moving, I gotta be going to the next place. I gotta move. A verse that came across my path a few weeks ago is Hebrews 4:9-10. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (ESV) It’s worth reading in context, but what I think the writer of Hebrews is getting at is not about Sundays. It’s about realizing that when Jesus said ,”It is finished!” while he hung on the cross, he meant it. Jesus is the better and more satisfying Promised Land of the Old Testament. I need to rest from trying to come into God’s presence by how well I’m navigating the ship of life and rest in Christ’s finished work on behalf of those who are his. The ESV Study Bible comments on the verse this way: “The promise of entering now into this rest means ceasing from the spiritual strivings that reflect uncertainty about one’s final destiny; it means enjoyment of being established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that God entered when he rested on the seventh day.” How this resting connects with obeying is that if I am drinking from the well of God for my satisfaction, I will be living in obedience because I will not be tempted towards idolatry of trying to find satisfaction in something lesser. That’s not to say lesser things cannot be enjoyed, but if they are elevated to the point where I am seeking to be satisfied in them than in God through them, I will be in disobedience, which is sin.
As I read Romans, the essence of sin is not that I did a bad act or deed, but that I exchanged the truth for a lie. The truth of God as all satisfying is discarded, and the truth of anything else being made as all satisfying is lifted up. Living in the lie and trying to be satisfied in it is a life of sin and disobedience. Trying to reconcile myself to God on my own terms instead of his is a life of sin and disobedience. God loves me. The Father knew me. Jesus died for me. The Holy Spirit stirred me to faith in Jesus, then guides me in faith. The gap between me and the Father has been closed, not just to reconciliation, but to adoption. I am in the family. I can exhale. Living in light of that is the essence of rest.
But God does not gift righteousness to a child to allow them to remain in the lesser pleasures of sin or the chains of fear. I woke up on Monday, February 9th 2015 to the still quiet voice of God. “You’re afraid of what people think of you.” The culturally Christian thing to say would be, “I’m going to work on that. I’m going to fix that.” All I can say is that I want to spend more time with Jesus, and I will cheerfully take whatever results come from that. If that’s where I find living water that forever satisfies, and delivers me from all fear, that’s where I want to drink from.
How am I going to do that? I had thought that gap was to be filled with reading about Jesus in Scripture. I had recently watched a sermon preached by Mattie Montgomery of the band For Today, and I reached out to him on social media to tell him I was encouraged from his sermon to spend time with Jesus by reading the Bible. He replied, “Hey man!  Just to respond to your statement: You don’t discover the things of Christ by the scriptures, but by the SPIRIT. Obviously scripture is VITAL, but as you’re reading it, beseech the Spirit to guide you and instruct you while you read. According to his function in the life of believers, as Christ explained in John 16:1-15.” I don’t put that in this post to name drop, but really only to preserve the counsel so I can come back to it. It’s very easy for me to approach God in a mathematical static way (If I read about Jesus, then I will love Jesus) instead of a malleable dynamic way (Holy Spirit, give me a heart that delights and is satisfied in Jesus).

One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire. 

What a ride it has been. This is all swirling around, not merely for my own souls satisfaction, but to be a loving overflow. In January 2005, God loved me, then he stopped me, and said, “Trust me. Rest in me. Follow Me. Love me. Be satisfied in me.” The most loving thing I can do is to ask you… will you do the same? Do you feel the tug on your heart? Do not try to extinguish what God is stirring, but ask God that he would give you the eyes to see and a heart to love and rest.

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What Has Happened In The Last 10 Years

My pastor, Matt Rawlings, baptizing me. Photo used by permission from Bev Peeples.


In January 2005, I was fast asleep. Perhaps more appropriately, I was dead asleep. God knelt down, got right in my ear, and gently said, “Wake up!” I was disoriented, and wondered what the heck had just happened to me. My path was altered, my life was lovingly interrupted, and I had no idea where I was going.

Jenny and I had been married for almost a year, and we were living in Michigan. My behavior leading up to this point had cost me more than one friendship. I have since heard people talk about giving God part of your life and keeping part of it for yourself. First step on this new path was the crushing blow of coming clean about who I had really been. I think this is what is meant by the phrase God must increaseand I must decrease. Humility 101, I suppose.
So here we were, living in Michigan. I knew part of what I was to do was to start going to a church. We went to a few different ones, and I struggled in a huge way. One of the sermons I remember was about forgiving and forgiveness of sins and how if I don’t forgive and ask forgiveness for everything, then I won’t be forgiven, and I was really confused. Are you telling me that if I don’t confess every single sin I do, and have ever done, that I won’t get into heaven? The checklist was growing to be impossible. I thought God was just on the sidelines, as some kind of cosmic cheer leading genie.
I didn’t know what to believe. We weren’t having much luck on the church front. Jenny had grown up in Daytona Beach, Florida, and was a part of the same church movement her entire life. We were convinced that what they believed about the Bible and God was true, and a church plant had recently happened in Greenville. South Carolina. Her parents were considering making the move there to be a part of the church, even as we had already begun talking about moving to Daytona. We needed a place to learn about God and the Bible, and we wanted to be closer to Jenny’s family. I was also wanting to go back to college, so the combination of church, family, and school brought us to Greenville on September 23rd, 2005. Two days later on Sunday, September 25th, we attended the church that was one-third of our reason for moving here. The church was meeting in a Seventh-Day Adventist building and I said to Jenny, “This place is a cult.” (The SDA church met on Saturday, and they let us use the building on Sunday.) I came in with a thick coat of cynicism, and what we saw was foreign to me. The pastor then, Jim Britt, was playing an acoustic guitar, all by himself. I found out that this was less than satisfactory to a lot of people, but my church experience had been “worship leaders” performing a cheesy entertainment show on stage with some silly shuck and jive dance moves. The whole thing with Jim and the acoustic guitar was so simplistic, so unentertaining, that it was like God crafted it to specifically speak to me in a way I needed to hear, and it was there my cynicism began to melt. The sermon was from the book of Mark on the unpardonable sin. To be honest, the point on that message is kinda foggy to me now, but I remember that’s what the message was about. 
Then we met Rick Thomas, who helped us get plugged into what the church called care groups. These were basically small group meetings held during the week to discuss what we heard on Sunday and seek to apply it to our lives, as well as build relationships and actually do life with other Christians. People were bringinh meals to each other when they were sick and everything. To hear the Bible preached at church was a new thing to me, as ironic as that is. I would learn that is called expositional preaching, where over the course of weeks or even months, the pastor works through an entire book of the Bible. I was finding that I even remembered what the sermons were about week after week and was able to connect them with each other.
We learned about church membership, which is an up in the air topic in Christian discussions and arguments anyway. I will just leave it at Jenny and I definitely wanted to be official members of the church. It was during this time that I really began to learn what the Gospel is. During our interview process, Rick was asking if we needed to be baptized, and I responded for myself, “I think so.” He asked, “Why do you think so?” My answer was very revealing: “So I can get to heaven.” Turns out that this mindset had permeated much of the way I operated.
This is what’s called works righteousness. Basically what that means is that I thought I got into heaven by checking all the right boxes. As I was discipled by my peers and, more importantly, read the Bible, I found that this is the exact opposite of what the good news of Jesus really is. What the Bible reveals is gift righteousness. That means that all my boxes were checked by Jesus, and I believe it. That’s a double edge sword, because it’s simultaneously very offensive and the best news ever. Offensive because, seriously? The Bible sets the bar infinitely high and then says I can never reach it. It is also the best news because God’s rescue plan is that Jesus came to reach the bar on our behalf! This is why I came to believe the Bible was true, because if it was merely the words of men, men would have made the bar high but still reachable. Man makes much of himself, and I cannot believe man would naturally think and make the effort to put himself in the place Scripture does. “You are hopeless on your own, no matter how hard you try” grinds too hard against the way the human race operates that the message must indeed be a revelation beyond us.
But back to baptism. In 2007 (I think), I was actually baptized as a Christian by my friend and pastor (at the same church), Matt Rawlings. I learned that it’s a public declaration that, follow the symbolism here, you have been raised to new life, and your sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. One of the verses that I kept going back to was Galatians 2:20-21, which says I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Admittedly, that takes some chewing on to figure out, but it was where I started to understand what was going on. So, baptism doesn’t save anybody. I had it all wrong. All those submersive dunks did for me when I was 14 and 18 was make me a wet pagan. All that real baptism did for me as a Christian was make me obedient to a command that ended up being a huge means of grace to me that physically helped me see what Christ indeed has done in me. Grace to me, benefit to me, but no saving effect.
Two big words that I would learn and have difficulty separating were justification and sanctification. Justification is legally being made made right with God, reconciled with God, through the work of Jesus. It’s by faith alone that this happens, not by being good enough for God. Sanctification is the getting better process, where we become more and more like Jesus, but doesn’t do anything to make us right in front of God because that’s already been done when we were justified. Sanctification is a lifelong process of changing, putting sin to death, repentance, and hoping and delighting in who Jesus is and what he’s done. It’s important to make distinctions between these two, because tangling them together didn’t do me, or anyone around me, a lick of good.
Raised to new life. Once dead in sin, now alive in Christ. Then, sorry Carrie Underwood, but I took the wheel. It became about me, and my efforts to get better and become a better person. Losing sight of what Jesus had done and making it about what I had to do only made more of a mess out of me. In my attempts to “be a leader” in my home, I became overbearing, passive aggressive, and frustrated. I tried to learn all the right answers, pray in a way that sounded spiritual even though I was not very spiritual, and be a religious know it all. What is interesting about becoming a Christian, and I think a lot of people don’t see this, is that while some areas of behavior may improve, others decline. You never really get better or become a better person. Maybe in one area or another, but not wholly. I’m not trying to make an excuse, it’s just reality. I may have grown in an obvious area, like swearing less, only to find out that anger has manifested itself elsewhere, and then my inner sailor reemerges (especially in the last year). I wish I could remember who said this, that we are like sponges with ink in them. I can keep the ink in as long as no ones is squeezing me, but the second I’m squeezed by something not going my way, the ink (the sin that still resides in my heart, though forgiven on the cross) comes oozing out. Indeed, I am a desperate man in need of a savior. I came to see somewhere in those middle years that living by “Christian virtues” was really not the point of Christianity at all. During the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce’s taking on of the slave trade in England, John Newton (who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace) says, “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.” Living in light of THAT truth, day by day, is what I came to see that being a Christian was really about. It wasn’t about getting better, although that may happen. A few years ago, I read an excellent quote by the author Bill Clem who eloquently stated that “The Gospel is about identity transfer, not identity improvement.” This was huge to me. This was probably the pivot point for me in this period of my life. Instead of trying to force growth, force my life to be a certain way, force my family to be and act a certain way, my focus shifted. What has Christ done for me? Was I basing my identity on ME, or was I basing it on who I was IN CHRIST? (For an exercise, check out the book of Ephesians in the Bible, and underline every time “in Christ” appears, for a study on identity.) I knew as a husband I was supposed to love my bride as Christ loved the church, and what does that look like? Jesus gives the church grace. He lovingly leads, and he pours out grace on his bride, the church. I can honestly say that grace is not a word that could be used to characterized how I interacted with people during this time of my life. Yep, I heard the Gospel. I heard that Jesus died for my sins, and believed it. At least on the surface. Functionally, I was still living under the law of works righteousness instead of the freedom of gift righteousness. For years, I hated Father’s Day and my family’s attempts to celebrate it because I didn’t measure up to my self-imposed qualifications. I was miserable and miserable to be around. Self-salvation projects really make for me being unpleasant, so for the record, if I am being unpleasant (and I have a long history of it), you could ask me how I’m trying to save myself. I may not be, but it’d be a decent question of a friend to ask of me. What was the remedy? Well, the Gospel, really, but I forgot so easily.
Books played a huge part in my life as a Christian, and I’ve read dozens. I had made a few attempts to read the Bible cover to cover, and I never made it past 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. Most times, I would make it into Joshua and then burn out. Finally, in 2013, with the help of YouVersion, I was able to read through the entire Bible chronologically in a year. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order, and there are all kinds of different literature styles penned by different people all under the same divine inspiration of God. I was able to get a context for what the story line for the Bible is, and I really began to see it as God’s rescue plan for mankind. Outside of the Bible, there are three books that I think really stand out as meaningful, even life-changing, for me over the last 10 years. The first is Romans, by R.C. Sproul. I took an entire year (2011 or 2012?) to slowly crawl through the book of Romans in the Bible, and R.C. Sproul held my hand. There was a short pause in that to read his book The Holiness of God, which I only mention for the chapter on the Insanity of Martin Luther, because that spoke to me right where I was at in my vain works righteousness. Romans helped me to really dig into the Bible and learn what it had to say, even parts that I didn’t like. Sproul also said in this commentary something that stuck with me. “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is easy to get from an intellectual standpoint, but to get it in the bloodstream takes a lifetime.” The second, which I actually listened to on audiobook, is Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I’ve heard it said that eschatology – the study of last things – is the crown jewel of Christianity. Not the end times, Left Behind style, but what can be anticipated as the flyleaf of this era is turned and the rest of the never ending book of eternity begins. It’s not that I hope for heaven most strongly, but what comes after heaven when this earth is made new, and sin and suffering and death and injustice are all at an end. Zion. The third book is One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian. To learn that God’s love for us is one way was mind blowing to me. I wasn’t earning my justification. My sanctification was frustrating because surely, I wouldn’t struggle with things like anger, lust, greed, and pride. I took the presence of these sins in my life to mean that I hadn’t been justified by Christ’s work on the cross. However, when Jesus died on the cross, he gave the proclamation for all who would come to call him Savior – IT IS FINISHED. Am I to continue living any way I want, doing away with all of the laws of God? No, as reading New Testament books like Romans and Galatians would show with a quick reading. But, as I read the law, read what God requires of people blatantly spelled out by Jesus (“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48), it becomes painfully clear that I can’t keep the law, no matter how hard I try. I was coming full circle back to why I believed the Bible in the first place. It is finished. Now those were sweet words to my soul. To rest in the Gospel, to rest in that Christ died for my sins and was raised again, to be free from trying to do the impossible of trying to be perfect as God is perfect, that is sweet freedom, I learned that God is holy, and I am not. I need a mediator, and Jesus is that mediator (2 Timothy 2:5).
In C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, he talks about Christianity being a house with a long hall and many rooms. The hallway, what he refers to as mere Christianity at its most basic, is where he spends his time. Denominations, doctrines, and other things people like to identify with and disagree about are what the rooms are. I’ve purposely not spent any time delving into which room I’ve found myself in, because the important thing is that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. If that’s not good enough already, he was raised again on the third day and ascended to heaven so that I can have hope for the same. The purpose of this post is not to be a convincing argument for Bible doctrine (there are books for that), but to relay to you a snapshot of what this roller coaster has looked like over the past 10 years. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I’ve acted out poorly in a lot of ways. I’ve had to make a lot of apologies to people I’ve hurt and said and done sinful things to and against. I’ve learned even more so that my hope is not in myself, but my hope is in Christ alone. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but quite frankly, that’s a big part of why I believe it, too.
The past 10 years, I have been a mess. Not as much of a mess as the first 23 years of my life, but I’ve still managed to bumble through the Christian life. I’ve learned my hope is not in myself, I’ve learned that I’m still going to sin (simultaneously a saint and sinner – wrestle with that one) and I need the humility to fess up to it when I do. We are still at the same church, Redeeming Grace Church. I’m still married to the same woman, Jenny, who has lived the Gospel in front of me more vividly than anyone else. We’ve had rough times, and great times. We’ve had three healthy children together, and we’ve had three heartbreaking miscarriages. I’ve worked jobs I’ve hated, and I’ve been broke. I’ve poorly managed resources. I’ve made and lost friends. I’ve struggled with depression, and then I would refuse to communicate anything other than “I’m fine.” I’ve yelled in anger. Again, my wife Jenny has been the most vivid display of the Gospel I have seen, loving me even when I am unlovable, just as Jesus has done. We have thrived, and we have suffered. All of this stuff I’ve learned about the Gospel doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How do I navigate life with it? Only by the grace of God. He’s not a God sitting on the sidelines, but actively involved working together all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8). In the midst of that, I know this fire of sanctification is burning away the impurities I am prone to wander to. I’m not good enough for religious people, and I don’t even perfectly live by the Golden Rule, so I’m not good enough for secular people. I’m not really that good at all. But God is. My hope in the Gospel is not that I can act good enough for God, but that Jesus died and rose again to make an enemy His friend.  Learning to be satisfied in him is where I’m at right now. I can’t be satisfied in how good of a job I’m doing, because I’m not really pulling it off that well. My hope is in Jesus, who loved me and died for me. Learning to rest is a difficult thing. More on that in the next post.
If you missed how I got to this point, be sure to read about what happened to me 10 years ago.