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Archive for July, 2013

I have spent many hours studying and reading this summer. That’s good, but I find myself wanting to balance that with exercise and time in the woods. It was one of about 6 beautiful days we’ve had in the last 2 months so I had plans to get out. That fell through. I went back to studying, getting to a good stopping point. Then I moped a bit. Then I was irritated at myself because life is too short and interesting for that. I got up and made a plan. I’ve been focused on hiking and climbing lately and haven’t had my mountain bike out in quite some time. I told my wife where I was going; I put a few things in my pack; I oiled the chain and derailleur: I inflated the tires; I put the bike rack and bike on the back of the car; I went. Mountain biking by yourself is probably not advisable, but I was determined not to jump anything or go too fast since I’ve never been great at either and I’m out of practice. Instead, I determined to explore an old logging trail, which is essentially single-track because of the undergrowth, to see where it goes. On the way up by car I realized that this back-burner adventure (something I tuck away in my mind for a later opportunity)  had simmered for 7 or 8 years since I had been on the trail last. Time had prevented me from exploring to my satisfaction the two previous times I’d been there. I don’t even know what made me think of it now.

At the pull out the mosquitoes were copious, but as soon as I started moving it was the dozens of spider webs across the trail that kept my attention. I zipped down the approximately mile and a half from the gravel road, getting off only a few times for downed trees. The surface was relatively smooth and mostly leaf covered. The creek was, of course, higher than I had seen it previously due to the excess rain. I removed shoes and socks, wading and reshoeing. As I strained up the switchbacks away from the creek, out of shape for bike as I am, I began to notice the sky darkening. I had to walk some when my lungs hurt. I think I had gotten about as far up the ridge as I had come down on the other side to the creek and thought I saw light through the trees, indicating the top of the ridge. Soon after this thought of possible completion of my adventure the bike rear derailleur struck a downed branch which hung up and broke the derailleur off. I was amazed because I didn’t think it had struck that hard. It was obvious that uphill biking was terminated. I tried to jam the chain and derailleur in a position out of the way of spokes and turned to coast back down to the creek. What else could I do? That part of the return went smoothly and quickly. I reversed the process of crossing the creek and began to push. Mosquitoes urged me on. As long as I kept moving I hardly noticed them, but woe be unto me if I stopped for a moment. The slower pace allowed me to tune into the surroundings more. The woods were strangely quiet- no wind, no birds, no insects (while I moved)- and the sky was gray. I was thankful that my mind was clear of concerns and my body didn’t feel sluggish from sitting, but the woods spoke a melancholy hush to my spirit. If you think that I was imposing my feelings on the woods rather that the other way around, then I would contend that you have not spent much time in the woods alone. Check out the 1983 movie, “Never Cry Wolf”, especially the ‘thaw scene’. The Creation really does groan (Romans 8:19-23), frequently with deafening silence. 

I felt that the adventure part of the trip was just getting my bike and myself back, not so exciting. I did have several consolation gifts as I pushed the bike forward. A large bird startled the silence and flew up from a widowmaker tree upslope. It must have been a turkey judging from the large, fan shaped tail feathers, but for the life of me I’d never seen a turkey gain altitude that fast before. It was at treetop level before it flew over me. That startled me. Later, when I stopped for water, I noticed several Indian Pipe Fungi. As I took off my pack to get the camera, I again noticed this most regular companion of all my travels, my Jansport daypack. I bought it just before my sophomore year in college, which means I’ve had it about 34 years. It reminds me of the stuffed animals that become real with love and handling. It is on the third pair of zippers, two of the tabs now paperclips. The shoulder straps are paper thin. It is limp as a rag and hasn’t seen waterproofing in two decades. But that pack has been to the top of a 12,000′ peak overnight, to France and Costa Rica and New Mexico and Florida and Montana. It’s carried water, food, and clothing on 1000’s of miles of day hikes and some overnighters, bouldering sessions, mountain and road bike trips, vacations. It carried books and still does, tools, towels and watershoes to swimming holes and on canoe trips. I guess I rambled a bit. I guess I’ll keep the pack a little longer.

I saw a few more fungi before I reached the car. I battled the mosquitoes one more time as I racked the ‘tore up’ bike. I felt mellow and cool as the breeze dried me off coming down the gravel road. Wilderness, however it comes, clears the mind of concerns and body of sluggishness. The melancholy wilderness reminds me how thankful I am to have peace with God through the Savior. It’s lonely out there.

Indian Pipe Fungus

Indian Pipe Fungus, Red Maple and Black Cherry seedlings, Rhododendron foliage

Indian Pipe Fungi

Indian Pipe Fungi

Yellow Spindle Coral Mushroom?

Yellow Spindle Coral Mushroom? What is the black glob?

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Tore Up!

Tore Up!

Amazing Pack!

Amazing Pack!

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The rain and storms have been relentless this summer in North Carolina. Our neighboring town received 12 inches of rain in six hours today. Roads and bridges were washed out and homes flooded. Thankfully there have not been too many severe wind events, but a friend of ours and a few of his neighbors experienced a microburst which fell six trees in their yard. My fiancée and I were in a microburst on a summer day in 1981 while making applebutter in a 30 gallon copper kettle over a fire. It mowed 18″ yellow poplar trunks off half way up that stood in the next door neighbor’s yard. This present event, however, worked with the additional help of month-long saturating rains so that every tree uprooted. Two were healthy two foot diameter red oaks without the typical rotten tap root and hollow trunk. I went to help and give additional training to my sons in chainsaw use. They are conscientious but a father wants to protect his investments. Few chores work you quite so hard or give quite so much satisfaction of accomplishment as cutting and clearing trees. There were as many as four chainsaws going at once, which is a concern, but everyone acted with more than adequate caution both sawing and hauling. It is good to work in tandem with friends and fellow believers to help someone. I know where two truck loads of firewood went but there were probably 8+ to be had. The hydraulic splitter was due to come later in the week and finish the job.

Tree Down!

Tree Down!

My 19 year old son delimbing

My 19 year-old son delimbing

My 17 year old son clearing brush

My 17 year-old son clearing brush

My son and I coming and going

My son and I coming and going

No one exempt

No one exempt

The Pastor, an Elder, and two youth cuttin' up

The Pastor, an Elder, and two youth cuttin’ up

Balancing wood and saw

Balancing wood and saw

Much brush to be cleared

Much brush to be cleared

Earplugs and eye protection-check. Solid stance and close attention-check. Avoiding pinched chain and kickback-check

Earplugs and eye protection-check. Solid stance and close attention-check. Avoiding pinched chain and kickback-check

Cellulose confetti

Cellulose confetti

A friend cuts to firewood length

A friend cuts to firewood length

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We are drawn to strength and power. Whether it incites fear because of its wildness and antagonism or security because of its protection and deterrent, we are curious and awestruck and enamored by the sight and use of power and strength. Strength is the shear magnitude of force that may be brought to bear on an object whereas power is how fast that strength may be utilized to move or deflect an object. But how do we account for all powerful, omnipotent. Is it just a hypothetical construct? Or perhaps it is a “my dad is bigger than your dad” scenario invented by Christians trying to justify their puny conception of reality. Is it necessary to God’s character and is it true? Does the Bible teach that God is omnipotent?

Having previously discussed God’s infinite character in “Omniscience”, Omnipresence”, and “To Infinity and Beyond”, I submit that omnipotence is indeed a necessary part of God’s nature in order for Him to be infinite any respect and infinite in knowledge and presence in particular. How can He know all things if He is not everywhere at once? And how can He be all places at once if He is not all powerful? Or else on the latter question He is but a background noise in the universe that influences nothing and no one. But He is active. We know that He is because we observe it in nature; we observe it in changed lives; we observe it in answers to prayer. His influence reaches throughout all of Creation and into all spheres (physical and spiritual). So if God is omnipotent, what is possible for Him to do?

God can save to the uttermost. “And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”  And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:23-26)  In fact, Isaiah 63:1 says that He is “mighty to save”. ‘

This power of His makes Him the only Sovereign: “Why should the nations say,“Where, now, is their God?” But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalm 115:2-3  

He is so powerful that nothing He does may be changed, for it says, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89)  Having seen His power to bring down and rise up, to produce wind and lightning and storm Job declared, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:1-2)  

He spoke the Creation into existence out of nothing, for II Peter 3:5 says, “it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago”. His judgments have been and will be with great and unassailable power. He will form the new heavens and new earth to stand fast forever.

But there are things that God cannot do, or more accurately, will not do. Anything contrary to His nature He will not do. Titus 1:2 gives to us who are trusting His promises great encouragement when Paul reports on our salvation, “the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago”. And James 1:13 proclaims, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Since there is no evil in God, none proceeds from Him nor influences Him. Another discussion seems outside what the Bible proclaims about God. There is a hypothetical argument in Physics that pits an immovable object against an unstoppable force. But if the adjectives both hold true, then these two items have infinite inertia and strength, respectively, making them strictly speaking gods. But the Bible is clear on this point when it teaches that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). There are several ways out of this problem, but saying there is no God is not acceptable on either logical (look around you man) or biblical grounds (Romans 1:19-20). Perhaps neither of the objects exist (it is hypothetical afterall), or perhaps only one of them exists, or perhaps they describe the same object, namely God. The argument reminds me of another one that the skeptic likes to bring up to throw the believer off kilter and off subject (You need Jesus!). Can God make a boulder so big that He cannot lift it? If the boulder were that big it would be infinite. If it were infinite then it would be god. Then there would be two gods and not one as the Bible declares. And in reality there would be no gods because neither is fully sovereign, so no, God will not make a boulder too big that He cannot lift it.

For the Christian there are a number of daily applications to this concept of God’s omnipotence. We may feel secure. This security is a great gift from God, but this is not the reason we are here. How does God’s power enable us to fulfill His mission, which is our mission? His mission is glory to Himself through our spreading of the Gospel. His omnipotence enables us to defeat spiritual forces through prayer when witnessing and during spiritual opposition. His power enables us through the Holy Spirit’s work to overcome the sin and temptation in our own lives. Witnessing is the hardest thing to be involved in because of resistance from the world, the flesh, and the devil. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)  And we are speaking life to dead people who don’t even know that they are spiritually dead, separated from God. Their non-response, or conversely their antagonism, proceeds from this separation from God. We are in every sense in spiritual battle and need God’s power to overcome darkness in the form of hatred, apathy, skepticism, and our own faltering tendencies.

May God’s omnipotence be pleased to include us in His mission for His purposes and glory and our growth and joy. Amen.

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After so much rain, I really wanted to go climbing. It turns out that I did twice this week, which was a surprise to me. Showing a former student the ropes was fun and the conversation coming and going was substantial. A grigri is a very handy device for climbing with a first time climber since I would not have a safe belay otherwise. I think this new climber will come again since he didn’t have much fear of height, proceeded carefully, and wanted to challenge himself, needing only the slightest encouragement to continue trying confidently. But isn’t that true for all of life? Where do you obtain lack of fear, care, and confidence to try? Common grace allows that people can muster some awareness within themselves but for the challenges of life that really count, living in a way that is pleasing to God, the manifold grace of God is the only sure, lasting source for overcoming. 

First outdoor climb, 5.6

First outdoor climb, 5.6

Say what?

Say what?

Topping out

Topping out

Rappell

Rappell

Progress

Progress

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Old and Young

I’ve been on top of Table Rock many times. You would think that it would get old to me, but the eye is never full of beauty and the view has so much scope for the imagination and the memory. I met an older couple there from Tennessee who had driven 10 hours to see this wonder that is in my backyard. Many who live within less than an hour of it have never been on top. I pointed out numerous peaks by name since they ask and were trying to orient themselves: Grandfather, Hump, Roan, Mitchell, Pisgah, Shortoff, and Hawksbill. These are not just names or peak shapes to me. They are memories of multiple trips with family and alone and with friends to enjoy the outdoors. The gray of my beard belies the youthful desire for adventure and challenge and newness that my heart seeks, but my body tells no lies when it says, “Slow down you old fool.” No matter because I can still challenge this old rack and obviously it takes less to do so than in the past. And I can still enjoy the view, even if I can’t see the tower on Mitchell like I once could. Perhaps seeing more of the essence along with less of the detail amounts to a greater view of the scene than I had in previous times.

The young ones struggling up over steps half or more of their height and having such a narrow view of what they are seeing speaks of much simpler times. Surely our Creator sees us as little children to whom He points out far flung, awesome views that we claim to see but have no idea about what He speaks. We tire so quickly, whine so easily, and then run heedlessly ahead is rapt amazement at the joy of being alive and on an adventure. Like a young child whose grip is all or nothing, we grasp after momentary, temporal pleasures as if they are life itself when the profound view of our God is in plain view but beyond our limited sight. The children of my church friends are building memories. They slowly learn to sweat and exert without complaint. They learn to enjoy simple and profound beauty. They learn enjoyment rather than fear of the outdoors. All in all, for both young and old, it was a beautiful day in which we saw much within and without, enjoying the sunshine of sky and relationship.

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Taking a bread while enjoying a view

Taking a break while enjoying a view

Chimneys and North Carolina Wall

Chimneys and North Carolina Wall

Friends on the top of Table Rock

Friends on the top of Table Rock

Upstream in the Linville Gorge with Tennessee Mountains in the background

Upstream in the Linville Gorge with Tennessee Mountains in the background

Grassy Bald left; Hump Mtn right

Grassy Bald left; Hump Mtn right

Site of the old Fire Tower

Site of the old Fire Tower

Front Face of Table Rock

Front Face of Table Rock

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God definitely brings special people into your life, but He also takes them out of your life at times. As we discussed today we Christians are just sojourners in this world passing on to the next. When we cross paths in a significant way with other sojourners, however briefly or long-term, it is a privilege, and we will meet again in the country of which we are permanent citizens. Knowing that we may well one day have to part ways with a new or old friend is no reason to hold back from becoming as fully invested in the relationship as time and personality permits. Giving yourself away is the best way to also be given to. So I wanted to spend one more day with this friend and colleague of six years doing what we both like to do, be outdoors to see the beauty of God’s creation and challenge our bodies. We were able to do the latter by the added challenge of time constraint, hiking 9 miles on Grandfather Mountain in 4 1/2 hours. If you have not been on this trail the pictures cannot do justice to the view or the roughness of the trail.  Enjoy the pictures.

Sitting in the middle of the trail

Sitting in the middle of the trail

View East

View East

Calloway Peak southwest toward Attic Window

Calloway Peak southwest toward Attic Window

From Calloway Peak

From Calloway Peak

Attic Window

Attic Window

Attic Window from MacRae Peak

Attic Window from MacRae Peak

Swinging Bridge and building

Swinging Bridge and building

Beacon Heights

Beacon Heights

East end of MacRae Peak Outcropping

East end of MacRae Peak Outcropping

Northeast view toward Calloway Peak and Profile Rock

Northeast view toward Calloway Peak and Profile Rock

A moment's respite from a blistering pace

A moment’s respite from a blistering pace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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He is everywhere all the time- ubiquitous location! He doesn’t have to rush to get somewhere because He’s already there. If you can observe all situations in all locations you can know everything. We are so tied down by location. We say, “I can’t be two places at once,” but what about an infinite number of places all of the time? 

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
 Or where can I flee from Your presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
 If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
 If I take the wings of the dawn,
 If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
 Even there Your hand will lead me,
 And Your right hand will lay hold of me.”  Psalm 139:7-10

David grapples with this transcendent attribute of God in a very personal way. There is no escape from God’s presence resulting in God’s complete control of David’s path. Many find such an arrangement very confining, but David finds His presence and thoughts of him comforting, for “when I awake, I am still with You.” Psalm 139:18b  

So why do we pretend to hide actions from God?

“…she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”  And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”  Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”” Genesis 3:6-13

Adam and Eve hid in at least 3 ways. They sewed figs leaves as coverings. They hid in the garden. Adam hid by standing by passively and receiving the fruit from Eve without comment.Then they hid by casting blame on others: the woman you gave me, the serpent. But God had no difficulty finding their location or their orientation toward Him. God was gracious to give them opportunity to admit what they had done, but they just kept hiding when they began the blame game. God was present during the whole scenario, but gave them free choice to obey or disobey. 

“Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.  Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”  He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”  Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” Jonah 1:7-10

As if he could flee from God’s presence, Jonah tries and the men think he is, or at least is trying. Our lack of understanding of God’s omnipresence is baffling. If Jonah is fleeing but the storm results from God’s pursuit then Jonah is not really getting away and they know it and fear. Our thoughts and attempts are logically inconsistent. We should cease trying to get away, but if we are tempted to attempt it, we should fear. Like the mouse between the cat’s legs, we may run but we are always firmly within His grasp. God addresses the preposterous nature of such attempts: 

““Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord,
“And not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:23-24

Though God is everywhere He is not just anywhere. We who believe in the God of the Bible are not because of this doctrine become pantheists. God is Creator, not created. He is over, around, within, and beside all created things but He is separate: 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2

He sees the wicked and knows their ways but He dwells with others:

“You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’
Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you;
For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’” Isaiah 47:10

“The Lord is far from the wicked,
But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” Proverbs 15:29

Besides communicating the immediacy of God’s presence the following passage points out that God is both transcendent in His presence and personal in His presence.

“”For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.”” Isaiah 57:15

Since God is always present with us whether we sense it or not, we may take comfort in His powerful presence. We who have trusted Jesus and belong to God are secure. In some of His last words Jesus promised: 

“Lo,I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 

And because of His presence we should be desirous and careful to act in a way that is pleasing to Him. It is our motivation to be pleasing to Him and because He is near He sees all. He is also near in that He is coming again to take us to be with Him for eternity. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4

His nearness is comfort to us and dreadful to the wicked.  We should be careful to live for Him out of thanks for all He has done. The wicked should repent of their wickedness and not pretend to be able to hide from Him or avoid His judgment. He is here. He sees. He knows. Take heed.

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