Lessons from Hiking Yosemite

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[For our weekly newsletter, the past two weeks I have shared with my congregation lessons that I learned from hiking Half Dome in Yosemite at the end of August. I thought these things might be helpful to our Ref21 readers.]

My dear friends:

Last night, [fellow elder] 
Louis Benton and I got back from our annual hiking trip. You remember last year's adventure in New York State, where we were racing to get off the trail before night fall and I was dehydrated and "bonking" from lack of calories. Yes, the elders remembered as well and weren't sure they wanted to let me go. But in the end, they said it was okay and so we went to Yosemite Valley in California and hiked Half Dome.

Thankfully, the hike was better for me than last year. And as I was hiking, I thought of a number of spiritual lessons from this hike that I wanted to share with y'all:

1. The importance of not going alone in the Christian life. That was certainly the case last year; I was so glad that I had Louis with me in case I had got myself into real trouble. And this year was the same; doing 15 miles total in 9 hours wouldn't have been possible if there wasn't someone else to encourage and exhort along the way. Though I found this to be the case, it was surprising to me how many people were on the trail by themselves. What would happen to them if they became dehydrated, if they struggled up the hundreds of stair steps that make up the nearly 5000 feet of elevation gain, if they took the wrong trail.

It's the same in the Christian life. We desperately need each other to "exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb 3:13). How often people try to go it alone in the Christian life! Sure, they come to church; but because they are not willing to commit themselves to the congregation and to one another, when trouble comes, they get themselves into real trouble. I don't know about you, but I'm so thankful that I don't have to go alone in this Christian life, that I have a family of brothers and sisters to encourage and exhort, comfort and confront so that I can get to heaven safely.

2. The slow, often imperceptible progress we make the in Christian life. We actually made pretty good time this year--what I was thinking about along this line was the progress that I had made personally in my physical conditioning from last year to this. Over a year's worth of running, logging over a thousand miles, showed itself going up the trail. Unlike last year, the physical side of the hike was not a challenge (except for going up the last four hundred feet using the cables; that was hard--more on that below. If you want to see a video of what that looks like, go here). And that was because I had made slow progress to a measure of physical fitness that allowed me to hike well.

That's exactly how it is in the Christian life. All of the effort spent in our morning worship, in our Bible study, in Bible memory, and other disciples doesn't seem like it bears much fruit--until we come to a difficult passage, a crisis point, a heart-breaking season. And that's when the slow, often imperceptible progress of "growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" shows itself. So, don't be discouraged or disheartened in the daily discipline! Log those miles spiritually now and you'll find strength in the time of challenge and difficulty!

3. With God's help, we can do things that we think are impossible. As you can see from the picture, the final part of the hike (after going seven miles) was a 400 foot ascent up the side of Half Dome with the use of cables. As we pulled ourselves up the cables, I wasn't quite certain that I could make it to the top. There were places where I couldn't find a foothold and had to pull myself up, scrambling up the rock. And if I looked to the side or down, I could see how precarious our situation was (I can't imagine why anyone would do that when the rock is wet; it really would be impossible).

In times like that, I start saying over and over, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). While the Spirit of Jesus may or may not have helped me up the rock, I have no doubt that the Spirit of Jesus helps me and you daily to do things that we think are impossible to us: to demonstrate patience with our spouse when they forget (yet again) what we've told them; to restrain our anger toward a disobedient child; to offer love and mercy instead of retaliation or revenge to the family member who has hurt us deeply; and above all, to change--to really change--so that we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. It is as Jesus says: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26).

4. You never know who is listening, so be careful what you say. When we were on the plane from DFW to Jackson, it so happened there were two passengers who were talking loudly to one another. They clearly didn't expect to see each other on the flight and so they were catching up a bit. As they talked (I couldn't help hearing; they were loud), they mentioned that they went to the same church. Then, they mentioned names I knew and situations about which I was aware. These two passengers had no idea who I was, but I knew exactly what they were talking about.

Thankfully, they didn't say anything inappropriate and in fact were complimentary of my friends who were mentioned by name. But I couldn't help but think of Ecclesiastes 10:20: "Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter." We can never be certain that there aren't "little birdies" who will hear what we say and pass it on as a piece of gossip; even worse, we can't be sure that the persons we criticize won't hear what we say. That's why I learned yet again how it important it is to be careful about what we say.

Ultimately, of course, God sees; he hears; he knows. He is the witness of all and he will bring it all to account, as we said this past Sunday. Since none of us can control our tongues because none can fully control our hearts (cf. James 3:1-12), our only hope is Jesus--his blood, his righteousness, his Spirit, his grace. By his mercy, he does form us into disciples who reflect his character. And he even uses our times away, hiking trials and seeing his creation, to do this. Thanks be to God!

In the grip of grace,
Sean
Posted September 9, 2011 @ 9:53 AM by Sean Lucas
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