Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sow Bountifully

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11)
Here, Paul is addressing the Corinthian church on the issue of their financial ministry to the saints in Jerusalem (see verses 1-5). He addresses two primary points in the last half of chapter 9: the motivation for giving, and the purpose of giving.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (vs. 7)
First of all, Paul makes it clear that our motivation must come from our love for God, and for His Church. If we don’t truly love the saints, we are unlikely to lend them our financial support, and, if we do support them, it is most likely out of compulsion. Remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira?
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.... (Acts 4:34-35)
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 5:1)
In this story, Peter makes it very clear that Ananias and Sapphira were under no obligation to present the proceeds of the land as a gift (“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?”). This story confuses some people. On the surface Ananias and Sapphira’s actions seem commendable, but what was their motivation? They could have made it clear that this was simply a portion of the proceeds, but instead they misrepresented their gift to gain approval in the eyes of men. Their motivation was clearly not their love for God and the Church.

Secondly, Paul states the purpose of giving:
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Cor. 9:12)
When we “sow bountifully” out of thankfulness to God, He will not only “multiply [our] seed for sowing and increase the harvest of [our] righteousness,” but will use our thankful actions to produce thanksgiving in others. Here’s the thing, though: everybody appreciates a gift. Even unbelievers can take great joy in receiving gifts from others. What sets our gifts apart is our motivation for giving.
...they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others. (2 Cor. 9:13)
We have received the greatest gift imaginable in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Moreover, God promises that we will be “enriched in every way to be generous in every way,” when we give from what we have been given. He will continue to supply our needs, just as He is using us to supply the needs of others. May the Gospel motivate us to live generous lives.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Joshua the Mountaineer

Jonathan's post about Kaylee the mountaineer reminded me of this photo I shot of Joshua a few weeks ago. I brought him upstairs to show him my gear and we decided he should try it on. As soon as I put the ice ax in his hands and told him to look at the camera, he gave me this expression; apparently he thought it was a weapon! Super cute.

Godly Grief

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
We experience several types of grief throughout our lives, among which are grief over loss (i.e. death of a loved one), grief over parting, and grief over sin. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul is addressing the latter. We know this from the context:
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. (7:9, emphasis added)
Godly grief is a work of the Spirit, motivated by our love for God, resulting in a changed life. Matthew Henry puts it this way:
Sorrow according to the will of God, tending to the glory of God, and wrought by the Spirit of God, renders the heart humble, contrite, submissive, disposed to mortify every sin, and to walk in newness of life... Where the heart is changed, the life and actions will be changed. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7)
Grief and repentance are closely linked. Thomas Watson, the Puritan preacher and author, wrote in his excellent book The Nature of Repentance, that “repentance is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients:

1. Sight of sin
2. Sorrow for sin
3. Confession of sin
4. Shame for sin
5. Hatred for sin
6. Turning from sin

Sorrow is such a crucial facet of repentance that Watson goes on to write, “He that can believe without doubting, suspect his faith; and he that can repent without sorrowing, suspect his repentance.”
They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn. (Zech 12:10)
Sin is not committed in a vacuum. When we sin, we are in fact sinning against God - directly. It is not to be taken lightly. Imagine standing at the foot of the cross of Christ, shuffling your feet and glancing up at Him; would you honestly be able to say, “Sin isn’t a big deal.”?

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
'tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

(Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted, hymn)

Grief, then, is the proper response to sin in our lives, but our grief must not be worldly grief, which produces death, but instead godly grief, which produces “a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” (7:10)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Longing for Heaven

...We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:8)
How often do you think about heaven? Is the concept of “heaven” purely theological to you, or is it real? It is difficult for mortals to comprehend immortality, but God has indeed promised us an eternal home, and Christ confirmed this when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)

Even those who acknowledge the existence of heaven may fail to live in hopeful expectation of eternity. Ironically, we are most prone to this spiritual dullness when we are experiencing great joy and happiness here on earth - which is not our true home. Of course, God is the Giver of all good gifts, and we should accept His blessings with thanksgiving, but the moment we get lost in the joys of this life - and fail to give Him glory - we are prone to losing sight of eternity.

The opposite is also true: earthly trials heighten our awareness of, and longing for, heaven.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed [see vs. 2], so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor. 5:4)
Notice Paul’s response to his earthly burdens. He does not retreat into self-pity and introspection, but instead lifts his eyes to heaven. If we’re not careful though, the “cares of this world” may choke our awareness of eternity.

Another temptation, in light of the recent episode with Harold Camping and his rapture predictions, is for us to actually make light of eternity as we criticize false prophets like Camping. I understand the sentiment behind many of the “rapture jokes” that were flying around in the aftermath of the non-rapture, but we must be careful not to take it too far, responding in such a way as to almost say “there will be no rapture, no heaven, and no eternity.”

The book of Revelation reveals a glorious picture of heaven - one we would do well to remember, and perhaps memorize.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed... (Rev. 21:10-12)
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Rev. 21:22-25)
“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Rev. 22:7)
Let us then echo Paul and say, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Cor. 5:9)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jars of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
God could have sent angels to make known the glorious doctrine of the gospel, or could have sent the most admired sons of men to teach the nations, but he chose humbler, weaker vessels, that his power might be more glorified in upholding them, and in the blessed change wrought by their ministry. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4)
Why did God choose to spread His Gospel through feeble men? And why does He allow His Church to undergo such harsh persecution and torment, as it has gone through in the past and continues to endure today? These are difficult questions.

Paul provides some insights in verses 8-12.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:8-12)
Some people fail to understand the two-fold nature of Christ’s redemption, namely, that He both lived and died to procure our salvation. Were it not for His perfect life, we would have no righteousness before God, and were it not for His substitutionary death, we would remain in our sins. In the same way, “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Our lives, when we are afflicted ("given over to death"), will begin to manifest the life of Christ (that is, His righteousness).
...Heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:17)
It is often when we are at our weakest that God demonstrates His power most mightily in our lives. When our self-confidence is shattered and exposed, we realize that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor. 4:7, emphasis added)
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18, emphasis added)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Fragrance Amidst Death

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)
Here, Paul draws an interesting comparison between our witness for Christ and a fragrant odor. I’m sure some of us have had the experience, at one time or another, where nonbelievers come up and question us about our faith after having just been around us for a while. To some, our lives will be a fragrance of “death unto death,” but to others “from life to life.” Some will be attracted, and others will be repelled.

When I’m sitting at my desk in the late afternoon, I will sometimes catch a faint whiff of dinner downstairs, and, being a guy, this naturally makes me curious about what exactly is for dinner, so I go ask questions until I find out. In the same way, our lives are to give off a pleasant fragrance which testifies to the One who has redeemed us; when this happens, expect people to ask, “What’s for dinner?”

You may have heard the quote, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.” It’s not difficult to understand or appreciate his meaning, but is it really that simple? Or should our witness actively extend beyond simply the way we live?

In the previous chapter (2 Cor. 1), Paul states, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” As you know, however, Paul did not stop at a life of “simplicity and godly sincerity,” but actively preached the Gospel - the knowledge of Christ - to many.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Cor. 2:14)
There can be no fragrance if there is no substance. We must not be “like so many, peddlers of God’s word,” who speak the truth but don’t live it. Instead, “as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

This means that actions alone are insufficient for missions work, whether at home or abroad. The church and its members must be a sweet fragrance in the midst of a dying culture, but it is the Gospel alone that saves.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-15, 17)

Monday, May 23, 2011

What We Can Learn from Mountains

Exalt the Lord our God,

and worship at his holy mountain;

for the Lord our God is holy! (Ps. 99:9)

Mountains seem to have special significance in Scripture, and today, I decided to do a brief study on the subject to see what I could find out.

Begin with Humility

We must begin with a humble realization of our own inadequacy when studying God’s Creation.

...Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. (Eccl. 8:17)

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (Eccl. 11:5)

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4)


Secondly, we must ask the question, why? Why did God choose to create mountains? I think the answer lies in a much broader examination of Creation, and begins with the acknowledgment that God’s original Creation was perfectly consistent with His character and holiness. When sin entered the world His Creation was marred and tainted by sin, but nonetheless, it still clearly testifies to its Creator.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:19-20)

This is known as “general revelation.” God has made Himself known - partially - through the things He has made. Today, I’m not interested in purely “scientific” observations about mountains; I don’t want to just learn about them, I want to see what I can learn from them about God and His character.

Safety in the Lord

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth. (Ps. 121:1-2)

Just as earthly mountains cause us to “lift up our eyes,” so we are to look heavenward for our Source of strength and protection. Spurgeon had this to say about Psalm 121:

It is wise to look to the strong for strength. Dwellers in valleys are subject to many disorders for which there is no cure but a sojourn in the uplands, and it is well when they shake off their lethargy and resolve upon a climb. Down below they are the prey of marauders, and to escape from them the surest method is to fly to the strongholds upon the mountains...

Help comes to saints only from above, they look elsewhere in vain: let us lift up our eyes with hope, expectance, desire, and confidence. Satan will endeavour to keep our eyes upon our sorrows that we may be disquieted and discouraged; be it ours firmly to resolve that we will look out and look up, for there is good cheer for the eyes, and they that lift up their eyes to the eternal hills shall soon have their hearts lifted up also. The purposes of God; the divine attributes; the immutable promises; the covenant, ordered in all things and sure; the providence, predestination, and proved faithfulness of the Lord—these are the hills to which we must lift up our eyes, for from these our help must come.

Whether you are the type who enjoys looking up at mountains, or standing on top of them, allow God’s magnificent handiwork to mold your heart and cause you to place your trust and hope in Him alone. As mighty as the mountains may seem, God is mightier still, and it is He who watches over you. Is that not a comforting thought?!

The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps. 121:8)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summiting Mt. Hood - The Highest Peak in Oregon

In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also. - Ps. 95:4

Climbing has fascinated me for years. We live in the Cascade range, an area very popular with mountaineers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts - and for good reason! Directly to the north is Mt. St. Helens (8,365’), to the northeast, Mt. Adams (12,281’), farther north up by Tacoma, Mt. Rainier (14,411’), and to the south in Oregon, Mt. Hood (11,249’), Mt. Jefferson (10,497’), the Three Sisters, and many more. We have enjoyed climbing Mt. St. Helens in the summer for many years, and recently completed a winter climb. Though most of us were completely wasted after that climb, it gave us the confidence that “people can actually climb these things.”

A few months ago, Jonathan started talking about wanting to climb Mt. Hood. At first, I was a bit skeptical, doubting my own ability, and weighing the risks involved. After all, people have died or been seriously injured climbing that mountain, but the media tends to present an imbalanced view. Here are some quick stats:*
  • As of May, 2002, more than 130 people have died climbing Hood since records have been kept

  • The number of people requiring rescue remains steady at around 25-50 per year

  • In 2006, 3.4% of search and rescue missions were for climbers, compared to 20% for vehicles (ATVs and snowmobiles), 3% for mushroom collectors, and 73.6% for people involved in other activities on the mountain
On May 30, 2002, three climbers were killed and four were injured when they fell into the Bergschrund (a crevasse on the “Hogsback,” south side); that incident is also notable because the rescue chopper (a Blackhawk) crashed during the rescue attempt. More recently, on December 7-10, 2006, three experienced climbers embarked on a 2-day expedition on the treacherous north face of the mountain. They missed their rendezvous at Timberline Lodge, and rescue attempts were forestalled until the 16th. One of their bodies was recovered but the other two were never found.

Though stories like those are sobering and ought to instill an appropriate sense of caution, you need to realize that incidents of that nature are very rare. You don’t often hear about the 10,000+ climbers who attempt Hood’s summit every year - you just hear about those few who tried, but didn’t make it.

That said, we approached this climb with a healthy mix of caution and confidence. We would be climbing the south side, which is universally recognized as the safest and easiest way to climb Hood. The weather for Wednesday and Thursday of this week was lining up to be awesome, so Jonathan and I settled on Thursday morning for our summit attempt.

Day 1: Wednesday

After a morning of frantically pulling together my gear and finishing up a time-sensitive client project, I was ready to go! Mom and I drove into town to meet Jonathan, and after our rendezvous we headed down to Portland to rent some gear. I picked up a pair of plastic mountaineering boots and a climbing helmet, and Jonathan rented a pair of skis. From there we took I-84 east toward Mt. Hood.

Upon our arrival at Timberline Lodge (around 6:30pm I think), we took about an hour to practice our self-arrest technique on the slopes surrounding the parking lot. I hadn’t used an ice ax before so it was helpful to practice the motions and perfect my technique before the climb. You can read about stuff like that all day long and still be completely useless unless you get out there and actually practice!

After that, Jonathan wanted to try out the skins on his skis (skins are strips of synthetic material, with one side covered in tiny directional bristles - they allow you to move forward, but the bristles catch so you can’t go backwards), and I tagged along to get some pictures. Once we had ascended a little ways up “The Magic Mile” ski slope, I realized that I had forgotten my camera battery in the car. Go figure.

Needless to say, Jonathan made it back to the car much quicker than I did just “booting it.” We changed back into our regular shoes and hung out inside Timberline Lodge for a little while, then headed back outside to make some dinner. As always, Jonathan’s little MSR Whisperlite stove worked like a charm and we were soon downing some freeze-dried meals, jerky, apples and other carb-loaded food. Around 9:30 (I think) we decided to call it a day.

A Mountain House freeze-dried meal. They're actually pretty good!

We got a glimpse of the summit as the cloud began to clear.

We got a glimpse of the summit as the cloud began to clear.

Since tents are not allowed in the parking lot, and we didn’t want to go very far from the trailhead to set up camp, we had both decided to load our gear in the front seats and try to sleep in the 5’x5’ space in the back of Jonathan’s Jeep. That probably ranks among my worst night’s “sleep” ever... I felt like an inchworm. But oh well, 12:30am would come soon enough and my misery would end.

Day 2: Thursday

We both awoke shortly after 12:30am the next morning to the sound of other climbers preparing, chattering noisily, and shining headlamps all over the place. I pulled out the instant oatmeal and coffee while Jonathan fired up the stove. After eating, we both geared up, hoisted our packs, threw everything else back in the Jeep, and made our way over to the trailhead.

The previous evening, the summit had been shrouded in clouds - causing us to worry about conditions the next day - but it had cleared up completely by the time we went to bed, and now we could see it looming above us, a dark silhouette against the star-sprinkled sky. We began climbing at 2:00am.

Many of the climbers paid for a Snow Cat ride which saved them about 2,500 feet of climbing, but both of us wanted our first ascent to be “legitimate” so we legged it up instead. I have to admit a tinge of jealousy when I saw the Cat’s headlights twinkling on the slopes above the Palmer ski lift. Jonathan had the advantage over me with his skis and skins - I climbed the whole way in boots and crampons - but I think we were both feeling a bit winded for the first 1,500 feet.

We also discovered the importance of frequent hydration and calorie intake. As a general rule, your appetite goes out the window at higher elevations, but you must keep eating or you’ll eventually “bonk” and collapse in a helpless heap of quivering muscle.

After we passed the Palmer ski lift (at about 8,500’) the slope began to steepen significantly. We decided to stash our gear (Jonathan’s skis, my sled) and boot up the rest. My leg muscles were already warmed up and used to ascending in crampons, but Jonathan took a little while to transition, so we enjoyed fairly frequent “photo breaks.” The sunrise began at about 4:30am, and at that point I pulled out my camera and began shooting. We were treated to some spectacular views of Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top to the south, and Illumination Rock directly to our left. The imposing mass of Crater Rock still loomed above us - close, but yet so far away. To our right were the Steel Cliffs.

This was shot around 4:30am. We had been climbing for 2.5 hours already.

This was shot around 4:30am. We had been climbing for 2.5 hours already.

Crater Rock looming above us. It's difficult to get a sense of scale in a 2D photo, but this is a whole lot bigger, and a whole lot farther away than it looks.

Crater Rock looming above us. It's difficult to get a sense of scale in a 2D photo, but this is a whole lot bigger, and a whole lot farther away than it looks.

Illumination Rock catching the first glow of sunrise.

Illumination Rock catching the first glow of sunrise

Jonathan climbing, after he had stashed his skis. We later realized that this slope would have made for some pretty sweet skiing, but oh well, lesson learned.

Looking west toward Illumination Rock and Portland (not visible) in the distance.

Looking west toward Illumination Rock and Portland (not visible) in the distance

The Steel Cliffs (to the east of Crater Rock).

The Steel Cliffs (to the east of Crater Rock)

When we finally reached the base of Crater Rock the distinct smell of sulphur, which we had been smelling for a while, became much more intense. The crater is home to at least half a dozen fumaroles, rocky vents that emit noxious sulfur fumes, and is appropriately called “The Devil’s Kitchen.” Many climbers experience nausea when in such close proximity to the fumaroles, and we were no exception. My muscles felt fine, but the sulfur really turned my stomach.

Looking south toward some neighboring peaks in the Cascade Range - Mt. Jefferson (right), The Three Sisters (middle), and Broken Top (left).

Looking south toward some neighboring peaks in the Cascade Range - Mt. Jefferson (right), The Three Sisters (middle), and Broken Top (left)

When the sun rises, Mt. Hood casts an impressive "pyramid" shadow to the northwest. The only way to see this phenomena is either from the air, or actually on the mountain.

Crater Rock from below. This thing is massive!

Crater Rock from below. This thing is massive!

We continued the ascent around the east side of Crater Rock, crossing over the “Hogsback” - a narrow, wind-swept snow ridge that used to be the preferred route to the summit. Several climbers took that route, climbing the Hogsback, traversing around the Bergschrund (a crevasse at the top of the glacier - you can see it on the right in the photo below), and climbing up through the “Pearly Gates” to the summit. That route used to be the primary means of reaching the summit, but has recently become much more technical and difficult (though after talking with one of the climbers who took it, I think we could have definitely taken that route). We chose to follow the majority of other climbers and ascend the headwall west of the Hogsback, climbing up to the summit ridge through a variation on the “Old Chute” route.

Climbers traversing across the Hogsback and up the headwall toward the summit.

I led the way up the headwall, kicking in steps and searching for solid snow. My toes were already pretty cold (in spite of two layers of socks and boot liners), but the constant kicking motion intensified the pain. Still, it was the only way so we kept pushing onward. Finally we reached the bottom of the Old Chute and discovered that it was a lot steeper than it had seemed from our vantage point below on the Hogsback. We’re talking about a 35-40 degree pitch for 100 feet - that’s steep! There was a lot of ice, covered in a few inches of snow, so it was much more difficult to get purchase with our ice axes and crampons. This part of the climb made me nervous. If you were to slip and fall, you would begin sliding down the headwall toward a nasty looking fumarole about 800 feet down the slope. Now, 800 feet is plenty of time to self-arrest, so if I had slipped I would have been fine. I’m a novice though, so even semi-risky terrain makes me a bit nervous.

That top portion where you see hikers ascending is a variation on the Old Chute route. Despite appearances, it's incredibly steep!

There were a few climbers above me patiently waiting to begin their descent; I remember staring at their ropes and boots as I neared at the top of the chute. Then I reached the top, looked up, and there before me was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen. The view stretched for hundreds of miles. There were St. Helens, Rainier and Adams to the north... I began tearing up. It was a good time to put my sunglasses on!

A panoramic view to the north showcasing 3 more Cascade peaks - Mt. St. Helens (left), Mt. Rainier (middle), and Mt. Adams (right).

A panoramic view to the north showcasing 3 more Cascade peaks - Mt. St. Helens (left), Mt. Rainier (middle), and Mt. Adams (right)

Jonathan was right behind me and together we traversed the summit ridge to the true summit. We made it! We were standing at 11,249’ - the highest point in Oregon! It was a thrilling moment of dreams realized and exertion rewarded.

Jonathan standing on the summit. We made it!

Far below we could see the Palmer, the Magic Mile and Timberline Lodge.

Far below we could see the Palmer, the Magic Mile and Timberline Lodge

Panoramic view from the summit, looking south.

Panoramic view from the summit, looking south

Though the sun was now beaming down on us we were far more exposed to the wind and I began to get pretty cold. The exertion had taken its toll on me, so the rest was welcome. I also managed to clear the ice from my hydration tube, and worked up the appetite to down some more calories. We both tweeted and/or called in our successful summit, shot some photos, stowed our cameras, and about 30 minutes after summiting we began our descent.

The Chute was particularly nasty on the way down. The snow had softened significantly, meaning we had the opposite problem that we had coming up - our ice axes and crampons were prone to slipping, so extra care was needed to ensure they had good purchase before we took the next step. Another climber was equipped with two ice tools (his ice ax and a secondary ice pick) which enabled him to make excellent time on the descent. A few days ago I picked up a pair of those ice picks on craigslist!

Descending the headwall was also difficult at first, because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! In an effort to maintain balance I tried side-stepping (keep my feet perpendicular to the angle of the slope), but that didn’t work very well and was extremely slow going. Then I tried assuming a seated posture facing straight down the slope, but that’s a glissading position and I didn’t exactly want to start sliding! Finally, a few other climbers educated me in the proper way to descend a steep snowfield - namely, plunge-stepping. You plunge your heels in first, facing straight downhill, and using your ice ax for balance and self-arrest in case you slip. It requires confidence, but is very natural and easy with a bit of practice.

Once we reached the base of Crater Rock it was time for some serious glissading! (“Glissading” is a fancy word for sliding down a snow-slope on your rear - or standing if you’re good enough.) My pants were nice and slick so I managed to gain some real speed! I told Jonathan that I wish someone could create a “paradox” mountain (think Inception), where you descend to the summit, then turn around and descend again. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

We were a bit nervous that someone had pinched our gear since it wasn’t in sight and we couldn’t quite remember where we had left it. Eventually we found it, safe and sound, and began the rest of the descent. As I mentioned, Jonathan was on skis and I was on a little kiddie disc. I didn’t have the option of zigzagging to control my speed so I just used my feet and held my ice ax in self-arrest position in case my sled got out of control. That was the BEST SLEDDING EVER! I think I must have reached speeds of 25mph or more, and that was with a generous amount of braking!

We met up at the top of the Palmer for one final group shot and a few action shots, and then went our separate ways down the remaining 2,500 feet to the parking lot. I could have made it down faster if I didn’t have to keep checking behind me to make sure I still had all my gear! One guy was booting it down and thought my disc was the coolest idea ever; he wanted to know where he could buy one and said he’d been looking for something like that for a long time. I should have just sold him mine for $50!

I made it back to the Jeep shortly after Jonathan, and we both found that we had developed symptoms of AMS - acute mountain sickness - including a cough and nausea. It wore off pretty quickly once we descended to Government Camp.

In Closing

Climbing Mt. Hood was the experience of a lifetime for me! It’s difficult to express the emotions that flooded over me at the top, but one of the first things that came to my mind was, “Praise be to God!” I think that certain aspects of His Creation stir us to a deeper sense of awe and wonder than we commonly experience. Mountains bear great significance in Scripture, and there is so much we can learn from them about their Creator - His might, majesty, infinity, wrath, love, mercy... For me, mountaineering is more than “conquering the peaks”; it gives me a new awareness of my smallness and insignificance before the God who created such things, and makes me marvel at His love and mercy toward me.

What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
- Ps. 8:4

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord
. - Ps. 36:6

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
- Ps. 90:2

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
- Ps. 97:5

Saturday, May 14, 2011

1 Corinthians 5 and Our Response to Sexual Immorality

The church has been compromising left and right on the issue of sexuality, or more specifically, sexual orientation. The reasons for this would be somewhat understandable (considering our wayward culture) were it not for the fact that God’s Word speaks to the issue very specifically.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul reproves the Corinthians church for tolerating sexual sin in their midst (mentioning “a man [who] has his father’s wife” as an example). He condemns their arrogance and tells them, “Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (vs. 2)

Contrast his response to the wishy-washy attitude of so many Christians today. I wonder what they would have told the Corinthian church? Judging from their typical response to sins like homosexuality in the church, I doubt they would have demanded that this man be “deliver[ed] to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

One acquaintance of mine (sister of a friend) made a comment a few months ago that surprised me. She said that she had worked with a Christian group or event that was headed up by homosexuals, and that one of her friends was a homosexual and, “a committed Christian.” I wanted to raise my hand - “Question!?”

How can someone be a committed Christian and yet live in such blatant disobedience to God’s commands?

They can’t. It’s one or the other, not both.

My friend was not so much supporting her friends homosexuality as she was expressing her frustration with how many Christians respond to such people. “We shouldn’t just shun them and pretend like they don’t exist...” (paraphrase). Agreed. Even Paul, in pronouncing judgement on a man who was caught up in a different kind of sexual sin, made it clear that the purpose of church discipline was “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

We are not to ostracize homosexuals and simply write them off as “filthy sinners condemned for hell” (doesn’t that describe all of us in our unregenerate state?), but neither are we to embrace them until they have renounced their sin and turned to Christ. Paul clarifies that he is not talking about “sexually immoral people” as a class of humanity (see vs. 9), but specifically those “who bear the name of brother;” in other words, those who claim the name of Christ while at the same time engaging in sexually immoral activity (or greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and swindling - vs. 11). He tells us “not to even eat with such a one.”

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (vs. 12)

While we must judge and oppose certain “cultural sins” in the broader context of our world, it is those inside the church over whom we are to exercise authority and judge in practical ways, the goal always being to restore them to faith and fellowship.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's "Wrong" for You May Not be "Wrong" for Me

No, I’m not a relativist and I don’t support any theories of relative ethics. That’s a paraphrase of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8, and he definitely wasn’t a relativist.

For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor. 8:10-13)
1 Corinthians 8 is a chapter about being considerate to our brothers and sisters in Christ - “considerate” in the sense that we do everything in our power not to defile their conscience. At the very outset, Paul contrasts knowledge and love.
This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor. 8:1b)

Though we know that a certain action or behavior is not wrong in God’s sight, our knowledge should never eclipse our love. We’re not talking about the bleeding edge or morality and immorality here - getting as close as we can get to sinning without “actually sinning” - we’re talking about behavior that is clearly moral, but may not be appropriate or right in certain situations.

If I know that someone objects to drinking alcohol (but I have no objection to it, as long as it’s done in moderation), then out of love for them I will refrain from drinking it when I’m in their presence. I would be glad to talk with them about the Bible’s view of alcohol, but love dictates that I not act in such a way as to knowingly offend them.

Paul uses the illustration of food offered to idols.

...we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”... However, not all possess this knowledge. (1 Cor. 8:4b, 7)
In the interest of discipling, loving, and showing deference, we must sometimes abstain from things which may not be technically “wrong” in order to strengthen the weaker brother.

Now you may be thinking, “That’s just silly. If he would just study the Bible a little more, he would soon figure out that what I’m doing is perfectly moral. Consuming alcohol isn’t a sin. He’s just misguided.”

That’s not the point.

The fundamental problem is not with him. It’s with you, and your unwillingness to lovingly instruct him (which is largely done through how you act). The remedy to their “weak conscience” is not to flaunt your liberty in front of them (“knowledge puffs up”), it is instead to be considerate toward their stance on the issue, and to offer them instruction and a biblical reason for your position on the subject.

This is serious. You may unwittingly drift into sin, even though you are doing something which is not technically “sinful.”
And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:11-12)

You may need to take drastic measures, but if that self-sacrifice is for the sake of a brother in Christ, is it not worth the price?

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Maybe "God's Best" is Where You Are Right Now

As I was reading 1 Corinthians 7 this morning, verse 17 caught my eye.
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. (1 Cor. 7:17)
It is helpful to examine the rest of chapter 17 to gain some context. Paul is addressing new believers and how they should view their station in life, as well as those on the verge of making a big commitment (i.e. marriage).

In this context we can see that the apostle is speaking to people who may be discontent in their present station. Many people think that they are responsible to go out and find “God’s best” for their lives, but this is only partially true. God sovereignly directs and guides us, and as Paul mentions, He “assigns” us a certain calling in life. It isn’t necessarily something we must search out. If we are truly seeking His will, we will soon come to realize that He has been guiding us all along and that the place where He currently has us may very well be where He wants us to be!

This gives us ample reason to be content.

We can’t, however, ignore some of the caveats that Paul includes in this chapter.
Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) (1 Cor. 7:21)
Now concerning the betrothed... I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (1 Cor. 7:26-7)... If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry - it is no sin. (1 Cor. 7:36)
So we see that Paul makes several important caveats with regards to slavery and marriage. He does this in a way that is completely consistent with the rest of Scripture; slavery is not necessarily a sin, but it is not desirable; marriage is an inherently good thing, but it may be better not to marry, “in view of the present distress.”

In conclusion, I believe that this verse is a call to contentment. The apostle is exhorting us to be content serving God in the station He has called us to, and not to run around frantically searching for “God’s best.”

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

When Sorrow Clouds God's Mercy

I was reading Exodus 6 this morning, and was struck by verse 9:
Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Ex. 6:9)
Moses had just finished relating God's plan of deliverance to the people of Israel, proclaiming His promise to remember his covenant (vs. 5), deliver them from slavery (vs. 6), take them to be His people and be their God (vs. 7), and bring them into the promised land (vs. 8).

Remember, in chapter 4, we are told that the people "bowed their heads and worshiped" (Ex 4:31) upon hearing Aaron speak the word of the Lord concerning their deliverance, and upon seeing the signs that Moses performed.

Why then were they downcast?

Matthew Henry offers some insights in his commentary on Exodus 6:9.
First, disconsolate spirits often put from them the comforts they are entitled to, and stand in their own light. (See Isa. 28:12)
Secondly, strong passions oppose strong consolations. By indulging ourselves in discontent and fretfulness, we deprive ourselves of the comfort we might have both from God's Word and from His providence, and must thank ourselves if we go comfortless. (Matthew Henry's Commentaries)
Calvin also offers some comments on this passage.
Thus do the afflicted often, by closing their ears, shut the gate against the promise of God, which is indeed a marvelous thing... It is contrary to nature that the sorrow which ought to awaken the longings of those who are overwhelmed with trouble, should be an obstacle to the receiving the comfort freely offered them of God.
But it is too common for people the more they are respectively afflicted, to harden themselves against the reception of God's help.
This should cause us to consider how we grieve. We are not to grieve as "those who have no hope" (1 Thes. 4:13), but to use our sorrow as yet another reason to come before the throne of grace. God will grant us compassion and comfort.
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. (Lam. 3:31-33)
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