Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Immanuel: I Am With You

“Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us) (Isaiah 7:14) (Peterson).”

I will never forget this one Christmas when I was in school, I think I was in the 8th or 9th grade. My family on my mom’s side had traditionally gotten together and went driving around all of Columbia, SC, the small city where I am from, looking at Christmas lights. We would do this year after year when my brother and sister and I came back from sharing Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family. It was a magical time and I anticipated it with great excitement. I anticipated this tradition with so much excitement and innocence that I almost did not notice that I had outgrown this tradition. This particular year I noticed things were different though. Something had changed. I was older and was feeling the weight of the world and life on my youthful shoulders.

When we returned to our home from our dad’s house that Christmas Eve, it was dark and my mom was in bed sick and sleeping. I confess I was irritated and angry that things were not going to be the way that they were supposed to be on this particular Christmas Eve. This year would be different. I went into my mom’s room and checked on her. She woke up and apologized, as if she had done something wrong. It was not her fault that she was not feeling well. I assured her that all was fine and that all would be well in the morning and that she would feel better. I kissed her on the forehead and left her sleeping. I felt alone.

I remember talking to God that night as I searched for a stashed can or two of cheap Busch Beer and some Camel cigarettes that I had out in the detached single car garage, which I had converted into my own personal residence. I remember muttering to God, “What am I so angry about? It’s your birthday! I’m so selfish. All I want is peace and for everything to be alright. I don’t want people to be sick. I want the magical feelings of Christmas from my childhood! What is wrong with me?! What is wrong with this world?” I was determined that I was going to go looking at Christmas lights and I was going to go with Jesus. He and I would walk the neighborhood drinking cheap beer and smoking Camels together. It would be great! It was great. God was with me. I felt his presence. It was one of the most memorable Christmases I have ever had.

I told God everything that I was feeling and thinking that night and He comforted me. He was there with me. God was present. We saw some pretty amazing lights in the neighborhood that night. This one house you could have seen from space it was so bright. It looked like something from that movie Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase. The most epic display I saw that night summed up the entire evening for me. I stared at it for about a half an hour or so till just past midnight. It was a simple lighted display, the only decoration in the yard. It was the wise men from the east riding at night on camels by starlight to see the baby Jesus. It was beautiful, and ironic I thought as I took a drag of my Camel cigarette. These rich men were traveling from afar to present gifts to the greatest gift ever given to us, God Himself-God with us. These guys, who probably thought they had everything, dropped everything they had to be with baby God when He entered the world to forever be with His people, Immanuel. “This is what Christmas is about!” I said, almost aloud. I bowed my head and whispered, “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

I walked home that night with joy and His presence and fell asleep rejoicing.

God was with me on that wonderful Christmas. God is with us now! God is with you. This is the greatest gift ever. God Himself is with us! This is Christmas!

The prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 7:10-14, prophesied these words to Ahaz that told of the joy and salvation that was to come. These words promise a sign to us that is greater than any magical experience or extravagance that we can ever imagine or hope for. This is the promise that has been fulfilled, Immanuel, and this is what Christmas is about:

“God spoke again to Ahaz. This time he said, “Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!”
But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that. I’d never make demands like that on God!”
So Isaiah told him, “Then listen to this, government of David! It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies, but now you’re making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us) (Peterson).”

May you recognize Immanuel this Christmas and be with Him all of life long and into the eternal.

Merry Christmas!


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I remember when I started backpacking. I had fallen in love with a park in Upstate South Carolina called Table Rock. A friend of mine had invited me to this park with his family when I was in tenth grade. It was amazing. We went back as often as we could after that trip. I had gone to the mountains a lot as a kid with my own family, but this was different. It wasn’t a retreat center. This was real camping and soon this camping led to other expeditions deeper into the Pisgah National Forest just across the South Carolina border into North Carolina, and then backpacking deep into the nearby Shining Rock Wilderness. It was unbelievable how I felt during these first trips, looking at the views and having these experiences. Backpacking became something of a spiritual pilgrimage for me; in that God found me there and I met Him with open arms and excitement. I loved it. Sometimes, against better judgment, I even went alone. I know better now, but the experience called to me and I wanted more. I still do.

Paul tells the Colossians in chapter 1 verses 5-8 that the good news, the gospel that the Colossians had received from their friend Epaphras, is still as true today as it was when they first heard it. He wants them to understand that nothing has changed and he wants them to stick to what they have been taught and not to be led astray by false teachers who were trying to derail their true focus on Jesus. Paul says:

“The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn’t diminish or weaken over time. It’s the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you’ve been hungry for more. It’s as vigorous in you now as when you learned it from our friend and close associate Epaphras. He is one reliable worker for Christ! I could always depend on him. He’s the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit (Peterson).”

My backpacking experiences and my hunger and desire for the wilderness can never compare to my love for, and relationship with, Jesus. My passion, hunger, and desire for God far exceed my hobby of backpacking. What is true, however, is that they both call to me, not equally, but both call persistently. Neither experience has fundamentally changed. One trip leads to another and builds on another, just as one moment with God leads to another and builds to a deeper longing, knowledge, and passion for just one more moment. The relationship that I have with God today is just as true as the day I first understood it, and I remember when I started following Jesus. This recollection is much more vivid than the first time that I hit the trail. I remember, and He calls to me, and I go to Him, and connect with Him.

Recollecting God and Wilderness,


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Master Plan

One of my goals this year is to build a deck on the back of our town home. I want to get right to it. If it were up to me I would pull out some tools and start cutting out windows and installing doors. I would have a bunch of lumber delivered and would start sawing and nailing till I had a deck. It does not work this way though. See, we have this neighborhood association, actually, we have two neighborhood associations, and both of them want me to have a master plan. Not only do they want me to have this plan, but they want to approve it. They want my neighbors to approve this plan as well. They want to know everything: what kinds of material I will use, what the deck will look like, and what the size of the deck will be. They want me to have permits and a time schedule. They want everything. It’s not that they do not want me to have this deck. They just want it to add value to my house and to the entire neighborhood. They want this deck to be safe and secure. They want my neighbors to continue to be happy with me so that life will remain copasetic for all of us and so that everyone’s property values increase.

Plans are essential for success in life and for success in every undertaking. In an expedition it is also important to plan. In commenting about the need for a strategic plan at the National Outdoor Leadership School in The Leader, Elisa Hitt says, “It’s possible to go on a hike without doing any planning, but, in all likelihood, you won’t get as far as you might have, and you run a substantially higher risk of getting lost. The same reasons apply to why NOLS needs a strategic plan-we would probably survive without one, but would run the risk of loosing our way (Hitt).” Just as the leader in outdoor education needs a strategic plan for the future, we too need a plan to navigate this life.

So, what’s the master plan for our lives? Everyone needs to have a plan, right? So, what’s your plan? This is a very important question for all of us to consider. Paul considers his plan as he begins his letter to the Colossians. Paul says these words in his introduction to Colossians in chapter 1, verses 1-2:

“I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God’s master plan. Together with my friend Timothy, I greet the Christians and stalwart followers of Christ who live in Colosse. May everything good from God our Father be yours! (Peterson).”

Paul’s plan is simple. Paul’s plan is God’s plan; his plan is to join in with his Master’s master plan. We are all invited into the Master’s Plan. We, like Paul, have a special assignment and are invited into the work of the advancement of God’s kingdom here on earth. Our lives have purpose and direction, if we follow the Master’s plan. So, what is a plan, and what is the Master’s plan? Why does the Master want us to join with His plan?

According to Wikipedia, a plan “Should be a realistic view of expectations. Depending upon the activities, a plan can be long range, intermediate range or short range. A Plan is the framework within which we must operate. For management seeking external support, the plan is the most important document and key to growth. Preparation of a comprehensive plan will not guarantee success, but lack of a sound plan will almost certainly ensure failure ("Wikipedia.Org").” My neighborhood association knows this about panning and so does the National Outdoor Leadership School. This is why they are so adamant about having a plan. They know that “If you fail to plan; you plan to fail.” A plan ensures that we have realistic and achievable goals that fit with the larger picture and leads to ultimate success or achievement.

As followers of Jesus, it is important to realize that there is a plan for our lives as well and that we join in with the larger plan that God has for us. We are invited to live into God’s master plan. This plan is the larger framework upon which our lives and plans hang. Following the Master’s plan ensures that our lives fit seamlessly with the larger picture that God has. A master plan ensures value. Following this plan ensures growth in us and the advancement and growth of His Kingdom. Following God’s plan ensures life is lived to its fullest and we are most alive. A plan ensures minimal risks and optimal performance. This plan for living is outlined in scripture and leads us to God’s fullest for us. This master plan leads us to God Himself. There is no greater achievement.

Planning to follow the Master’s Plan,


Hitt, Elisa. "Expedition 2013." The Leader Fall 2008 2008: 3.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

"Wikipedia.Org." 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prayer: A Happy New Year

The New Year is quickly approaching. I am sitting at my desk with several tasks ahead of me. A plan for the year ahead and taxes are at the top of that list. As I weigh my options, it is crystal clear that looking ahead to the New Year will take priority. Each year I reflect on the year that just passed and what I had hoped and planned for. Did I accomplish goals that were set? What do I still need to work on? How am I doing? I pull up the plan for the past year to guide me into and through this process for the coming year. I am amazed at my findings. God has truly blessed and has accomplished so much. I take a moment to thank God and to pray for His next adventures for the year ahead. “This is much better than taxes,” I think to myself.

Planning for the New Year can be a daunting undertaking. I always worry that I am not being realistic in the goals that I am setting. Am I over challenging myself? Am I underachieving? Do I shoot for smaller goals so that I can feel successful when I find myself back here next year? If I am honest with myself and this process, I press my limits and my list looks more like a list of dreams than goals. I always think back to that old saying that says, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I don’t want that. I want this year to count for something. I want it to matter. I don’t want to waste life or time. I want to honor God, but how?

What is God’s will for us in the New Year? What does God want from us/for us? These are great questions . . . for Him. Prayer gets us the answers that we seek. God’s desire and will for us is to connect with Him in such a way that we find Him and know how to follow God in the year to come. Prayer is a relationship with the author of life. Prayer is more than simply talking at God; it is also listening for God’s next for our lives. As we consider the New Year, I wonder what it is that God has for us. What is God’s plan?

As I consider these questions, and sit down to plan out the coming year, I am thinking about Paul’s words to the Colossians in chapter 1, verses 9-12. In these verses Paul expresses his prayers for the church at Colosse:

“Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us (Peterson).”

As the New Year arrives at our doorstep, I echo Paul’s prayer for us. I hope that we are filled with God’s wisdom and are attuned to His will and that we, without a doubt, come into a deep understanding of how God works. I hope that this coming year is filled with opportunities to live well for the Master and to make Him proud of what we do in His orchard. I pray that we continue to learn and do our work well. I look to a New Year filled with strength, vision, endurance, joy, thanksgiving, and purpose. May this year hold for us everything that is bright and beautiful that God has for us.

Praying into a New Year,


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thank You

There was a Citigroup commercial a while back that I still think about and laugh at often. The premise of this commercial is that gratitude and appreciation goes a long way. Citigroup’s slogan is “Live richly” and Citigroup has realized that business and money is not what allows a person to live richly. There is something more; there is something about gratitude. In the commercial one woman meets another woman in the grocery store and thinks that she is pregnant, when in reality she is not. She says to the woman, “You must be having a boy.” The other woman says, “What! I am not pregnant!” Embarrassed, the other woman simply says, “Thank you.” At this the woman melts with joy and the two women hug. She is so overcome with gratitude that she was told “Thank you,” that she forgets all about the awkward interaction between the two of them. The commercial implies that no matter what happens, a simple thank you will fix it. It does not matter if you said something stupid, or made a huge mistake. If you just said to the wronged person, “Thank you,” all would be forgiven and all would be good. Gratitude is powerful and impacts our lives and allows us to live richly. Citigroup knows this and expresses this in their ad campaign.

There is an old expression that says, “Gratitude affects your attitude.” Something does change inside of us if we have grateful hearts toward God and others. We have so much and are so blessed. However, our temptation is much like the temptation of the woman in the commercial. We take immediate offense to any and every way that we are wronged. We look to the flaws and faults of our lives and the lives of others. We move away from the gratitude that will free us, and we are free, especially as followers of Jesus. Jesus says, in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").” We have reason to be grateful. We are liberated in Christ Jesus. We can always utter the words “Thank you.” All is well. We can and do live richly as followers of Jesus. Money does not buy that, and Citigroup cannot give this to you, but Jesus has allowed us to live richly by giving us His riches.

In Colossians 1:3-5, Paul expresses his gratitude toward the church at Colosse.

“Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can’t quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope (Peterson).”

Paul is grateful for the church in Colosse and he prays for them with gratitude and praises them for their steady faith in Jesus, for their love for other Christians, and their purpose filled lives. This is how we should be as the church. We are to be a grateful people because of the work that Jesus is doing in each of us and through each of us. We should be a praying people, encouraging the work of Christ in each of us, and in the ministry that He has us doing. We have so much to be grateful for.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul echoes his and our need for dependence on prayer and for gratitude. He says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").” Have you ever thought, “Man, I wish I knew God’s will for my life. I wish I knew how to live richly.” Good news is here for you. God wants you to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to be thankful. This is God’s will for you.

Now, go and live richly, with gratitude, prayer, and thanksgiving, keeping in mind Paul’s words to the Colossians and Thessalonians.

Thank You!


"The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Marched Naked in the Street

“If at first you Do succeed, try something harder (Gookin).” -Ann Landers

“Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true (Gookin).” -John Keats

Have you ever tried to prove yourself to someone? We all want to be successful, don’t we? Maybe, like me, you went to school with a bunch of cool kids that all hung out together and seemed to have everything else together as well. They had the girlfriends, the talent, the looks; you know the type. These were the kids with the high GPAs, who played sports, and were on the debate team. You wanted to be like them. You wanted to have what they had and you wanted to do what they did.

Maybe you are completely secure and confident and are one of the cool kids and are saying, “Hey that’s me!” If so, great, but most likely you have still tried to prove yourself to someone at some point in your life. It might be that in your accomplishments are you trying to prove yourself to your parents, teachers, friends, or coaches. You might even be attempting to prove yourself to yourself. After all, you want to know that you have what it takes and that you are worthy of love, affection, and attention. We all want that. Do we deserve it though? Does anyone? Can we achieve love and acceptance?

The Hebrews, the Jews from the Old Testament, were identified as being God’s chosen people. You can’t be anymore successful than that. They were born into Judaism and through the mark of circumcision, were marked as God’s own. That’s right; the cutting off of the foreskin of the male penis was what marked one as a child of God. This was an initiation rite that was a sign that you were in, you had made it. If you were a child of Abraham, the father of all Jews, you were circumcised. That’s just how it was. See, this was the symbol that you were in the God Club. You were in the in crowd! You were then called to follow the law to the letter and not to sin so that you could stay in the God Club by being good. “But what about our non-circumcised brothers and what about the sisters?” you ask. I am with you. The non-circumcised were the Gentiles, or the non-Jews, and the women were the second class. The non-circumcised were not considered children of Abraham and they were not considered children of God.

In the early church, everyone was arguing about whether or not you had to be circumcised to be a follower of Christ. Circumcision was part of following the whole law, which was the old way to be in the God Club, or the in crowd. Jews and Gentiles were being converted to Christianity. The only problem with this is the fact that Gentiles were becoming followers of Christ and they had not been circumcised. The Jewish converts to Christianity wanted the Gentiles to adopt religious customs of following the law by being circumcised. The Jews were still trying to earn or achieve their place.

Circumcision has more to do with being Jewish than being Christian. The request of the Jews for the Gentiles to be circumcised was not a rational request. Paul wrote to the Colossian church to question why the Christians there were going backwards by acting so religious and Jewish when God had done something completely new in His Son, which took the burden off of them completely. God had invited everyone into the God Club without a cover charge. He had proclaimed, “Everyone is in!” Everyone! The Jew and the Gentile alike, all sinners, are in!

Paul says this best and gives this instruction to his readers, in Colossians 2: 11-15:

“Entering into this (God’s) fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets (Peterson).”

Jesus unraveled the shame of the cool, the un-cool, and the un-popular, all of us. He paraded our sin and shame, and all the expectations piled on us by ourselves, religion, and its leaders. God did this by taking our failures and inadequacies on Himself. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe (including our selves) of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets before everyone. We do not have to be ashamed and exposed for not keeping their heavy burdens. God exposed that we could not keep the law, He exposed our self righteousness and the self righteousness of the religious leaders, and He exposed the cool kids as not being so cool after all. His message is clear. Everyone who looks to Him and accepts what He has done for them is in the God Club. You do not have to do anything. You don’t have to be the coolest, the cleanest, the best dressed, or the most popular. You don’t need to have it all together. Your spiritual GPA does not matter. It does not matter if you play sports or get into the cool clubs with all the cool people. It does not matter what your extracurricular activities are, and Jesus doesn’t care what college you are going to, or all that you have done, or how much money you make. We just accept what He has done for us and we are in. Wow!

Exposed, shameless, and belonging, because of Christ bearing my sin and shame,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Wisdom. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Final Debrief: Reflection, Encouragement, and Prayer

“Actions are mere convulsions until they become informed by thought and intent. Then they not only touch the world, but also gently caress it (Losey).” -Bear

“We had the experience but missed the meaning (Losey).” -T.S. Eliot

“Of what avail is an open eye, if the heart is blind (Gookin)?”
-Solomon Ibn-Gabirol

How are we doing? Have you ever had someone ask you this question? It is almost as potent as a cup of coffee in the morning. It wakes you up and causes you to think and process life and what you are working towards. This reflection is something that many of us fail to do naturally. When we do slow down long enough to ask this question, and wait for an answer, from ourselves or others, we are surprised by what we discover. Nothing is more satisfying and helpful in this situation than to have someone support and encourage you in your answer to, “How are we doing?” Prayer and encouragement go a long way in our reflection as we think to the future and as we move forward in our lives and goals in this wilderness expedition of life.

In executing an expedition in the wilderness, there are regular debriefs to keep one another informed and to take the “temperature” of a group to see how everyone is doing physically and emotionally. These debriefs are an important check up for us so that we can serve one another and accomplish group goals. In the National Outdoor Leadership Notebook, judgment and decision making are important and rely on the concept of reflection and debriefs. We learn good judgment through our experience by reflecting and making informed predictions about outcomes. The cycle looks like this: “experience, reflect on recent experience and look for lessons learned (debrief), and predict how to improve the next experience,” then repeat the cycle (Leach).

It is important in the expedition of the Christian life as well to encourage one another, pray for one another, and to keep one another informed of how we are doing and where we are headed. Paul speaks about encouragement and prayer support in his final salutations to the church of the Colossians. In Colossians 4: 7-18, Paul tells the Colossian church of his good friends that he is sending to them to inform them of what is going on and so they can be encouraged and served in their faith and prayed for. Paul also sends words of encouragement and support from others who are serving God and His church and Paul gives the Colossians his final instructions. Here is how Paul ends his letter to the Colossians:

“My good friend Tychicus will tell you all about me. He’s a trusted minister and companion in the service of the Master. I’ve sent him to you so that you would know how things are with us, and so he could encourage you in your faith. And I’ve sent Onesimus with him. Onesimus is one of you, and has become such a trusted and dear brother! Together they’ll bring you up-to-date on everything that has been going on here.

Aristarchus, who is in jail here with me, sends greetings; also Mark, cousin of Barnabas (you received a letter regarding him; if he shows up, welcome him); and also Jesus, the one they call Justus. These are the only ones left from the old crowd who have stuck with me in working for God’s kingdom. Don’t think they haven’t been a big help!

Epaphras, who is one of you, says hello. What a trooper he has been! He’s been tireless in his prayers for you, praying that you’ll stand firm, mature and confident in everything God wants you to do. I’ve watched him closely, and can report on how hard he has worked for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Luke, good friend and physician, and Demas both send greetings.

Say hello to our friends in Laodicea; also to Nympha and the church that meets in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, make sure it gets read also in Laodicea. And get the letter that went to Laodicea and have it read to you.
And, oh, yes, tell Archippus, “Do your best in the job you received from the Master. Do your very best.”

I’m signing off in my own handwriting—Paul. Remember to pray for me in this jail. Grace be with you (Peterson).”

It is clear that Paul has reflected on his experience of sharing the gospel, of being in the ministry along side of others, and of being in jail. Paul is also spurring the Colossian church on to reflection and consideration of where they are and where they are headed. Paul recognizes that reflection, encouragement, and prayer are essential for the success of the Colossian church and the church as a whole. Paul essentially asks and answers the question, “How are we doing?” for the Colossian church and himself. Paul invites them into this debrief to reflect, learn, and propel himself and the church forward into its mission.

Just as we are to debrief and reflect to have good judgment and decision making skills in wilderness expeditions, this is also our call as Christians traveling this expedition of the Christian life. We are to reflect, encourage, pray, learn, grow, and build on each other’s experiences to propel us forward to Jesus’ high calling for His church and our lives. We should always seek the answer to “How are we doing?” Like the poet Carl Sandburg said, “every now and then, a person should go off by himself and reflect, asking, ‘who am I, where am I going, and where have I been (Service).’” We are to reflect. We are to encourage, support, and pray for one another as we look forward to His glorious expedition, life in and through Jesus.

Becoming a reflection of Jesus, through reflection on Him,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Wisdom. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Leach, John Gookin and Shari. The Nols Leadership Educator Notebook: A Toolbox for Leadership Educators. Lander, WY: The National Outdoor Leadership School, 2004.

Losey, John. Experiential Youth Ministry Handbook: How Intentional Activity Can Make the Spiritual Stuff Stick. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Service, The National Park. "Carl Sandburg Home." 2008.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Ingredients of Excellence

According to The Encarta Dictionary: English (North America), to be excellent is to be “extremely good, or of a very high quality or standard” (Encarta Dictionary: English, North American). Someone who is excellent in what they do is not only competent, but they are extremely gifted and good at what they do. Someone of excellence raises the bar and demands a higher quality and standard in their area of competence, interest or expertise. We should strive to be excellent in whatever we do and in every area of our lives and work.

Competence is one of the seven leadership skills taught and practiced by the National Outdoor Leadership School. According to the NOLS Leadership Educator Notebook, Competence involves displaying the ability to competently and actively improving ones knowledge, organization and management skills, and technical skills. Competent people set goals, make action plans, and follow through with the action plans that they set. Competent people take care of their personal maintenance needs to remain a highly functioning team member (Leach). Competence as a skill is defined in the NOLS Leadership Educator Notebook as “the ability to perform in a way that produces desired results (Leach).” Competence is essential in navigating expeditions in the wilderness. Without competence, we run the risk of failing at our expedition, injury, or even death.

Just as competence is important in an expedition, competence and excellence in our lives and walks with Christ is important to navigating the wilderness expedition of the Christian life. Excellence in our relationship with God and others is essential. A person of excellence, according to Paul in Colossians 3:12-17, has these attributes, elements, or ingredients: they are chosen by God, have a love of God, they love others, are compassionate, kind, humble, have a quiet strength, are disciplined, even tempered, content with where they are, they are forgiving, peaceful, in tune with their surroundings and with others, they are in step with what is going on, and with what is going on with others, they are not loners, are thankful, loving, obedient to the word of God, helpful in directing and instructing, and they use common sense, and rejoice with God and others.

Paul says it this way in Colossians 3:12-17:

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way (Peterson).”

There are countless other scriptures that give us more ingredients for excellence, here are a few more from the Old and New Testaments:

Psalms 55:17 says, “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice. The ingredients for excellence that the Psalmist points out here are: a deep intimacy with God, regular prayer, honesty with God, and honesty with self ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").

In Proverbs 31:10-31, we see a picture of the virtuous wife who exhibits excellence in the following ingredients: a person of excellence has generosity, has value beyond materialism, does good, is diligent, is hard working, is a provider, a cultivator, a strong person, a giving person, a fearless person, is innovative, and of good reputation, being a person who adds value to others, is entrepreneurial in spirit, has dignity, is joyful, hopeful, and wise, is a teacher, is someone who speaks kindness, is devoted, is blessed, and blesses others, and has the fear of the Lord ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").

According to Luke, in Luke 11:2-4, the ingredient of prayer is mentioned again in a person of excellence along with recognizing God and being dependant on God, trusting God for provisions, seeking God’s will, and asking for forgiveness from God and others ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").

Ingredients of excellence in Luke 18:1-8, according to Luke again, also includes prayer as well as persistence in seeking God out, and faithful persistence in our relationship with God through prayer ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").

In Romans 2:18, Paul states the ingredients of excellence that include: seeking out God’s will and obedience to God’s law and perfect will ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").

In James 1:5, James emphasizes the very important ingredient of excellence, that the Proverbs 31 wife also exhibits, which is wisdom. He also stresses that we get wisdom through another ingredient of excellence, prayer ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version"). This wisdom comes from God.

As we can see excellence is challenging as we venture on in this journey of the Christian life and it seems from these scriptures that excellence has less to do with us, and has more to do with our relationship with God and the gifts and strengths that He gives us through the power of His Spirit. We don’t have what it takes on our own to be competent or excellent without God. We cannot be excellent on our own. If we want to succeed in this wilderness expedition of the Christian life with competence and excellence, we must go to the source, who is none other than God. It is Jesus Christ who embodies and models excellence in all that He is, and because God is excellent, we too will be excellent as we follow Him, learn from Him and His word, and are empowered by Him.

May we mirror The Excellent, with excellence,


Encarta Dictionary: English, North American. 2008.

Leach, John Gookin and Shari. The Nols Leadership Educator Notebook: A Toolbox for Leadership Educators. Lander, WY: The National Outdoor Leadership School, 2004.

"The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty

“I’ve never been one who thought the Good Lord should make life easy; I’ve just asked him to make me strong (Gookin).” -Eva Bowring

“As a cure for worrying, work is far better than whiskey (Gookin).” -Thomas Edison

“Your disability is your opportunity (Gookin).”
-Kurt Hahn

“Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy (Gookin).”
-Robert Heinlein

Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty is one of the seven leadership skills that the National Outdoor Leadership School teaches. This skill includes the following:

• Turn challenging situations into opportunities.
• See choices as many workable options and combinations, not either/or.
• Learn to endure, even enjoy, hard work and challenge.
• Live in rhythm with what you cannot control; control what you can.
• Use humor. Keep things in perspective.
• Under stress, work to make focused decisions and stay connected with others (Leach).

Tolerance for adversity and uncertainty is a leadership virtue and a learned skill. In traveling this wilderness life, we must be strong and stay on course. Discipleship demands tolerance for adversity and uncertainty as well. As followers of Christ, we are always challenged by our awareness that all is not as it should be and all is not what it will be. The world that we live in is a fallen world and the challenges, temptations, and adversities are endless, they are guaranteed. Consider the following verses from Jesus and the James:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version") (John 16:33).”

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version") (James 1:2-5).”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version") (Mt 5:10-12) .”

We were not meant for this world, at least not this world as we know it. The imperfections of this fallen world, and the repercussions of the sin, and the death that it brings, has distorted the good that was intended by God in this beautiful creation of His. There are dangers and obscurities lurking around every corner. Life seems to be difficult, uncertain, and trying. The bad times can seemingly outweigh the good ones and we can find ourselves living from one “acceptable” situation to the next, sometimes rejoicing in the mediocre, because “it could always be worse.” Life is tough and can be brutal in the hands that it deals. It is not intended to be this way. The one who can endure and persevere through this by the grace and power of God is blessed and looks to the different reality of the life of Christ.

Paul talks about being content with our lives in Colossians 3:3-4. He tells us that we are dead to our old lives and have become alive as believers into the life that was intended for us, the new life. Paul tells us that we have a taste of this life now, but there is more to come and we can look forward to a new creation and we can look past this present fallen world and its present obscurities, he says it this way:

“Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ (Peterson).”

Indeed we live in obscurity, especially in this fast paced worldly environment where image and status can be everything, and stock is placed in the temporal. However, we must remember, as Paul suggests, that our real life is hidden in Jesus and that our old sinful lives are dead. One day we will see Jesus as He is and will see ourselves as we should be in light of, and because of, who Christ is. Paul is making the point that we are to suffer like Christ. We are to endure hardship and have tolerance for adversity and uncertainty like Jesus. We are to be patient and wait. He says we are to be content with obscurity, like our Lord.

There will be a time when all is as it should be. Until then, may we have tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, may we have faith and trust in Jesus and rely on His strength, wisdom, and victory over obscurity.

May we have a blessed obscurity because of our clarity in Jesus,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Wisdom. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Leach, John Gookin and Shari. The Nols Leadership Educator Notebook: A Toolbox for Leadership Educators. Lander, WY: The National Outdoor Leadership School, 2004.

"The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


“You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips (Gookin).” -Oliver Goldsmith

“Communication breakdown, It’s always the same, I’m having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!”

-Led Zeppelin, Communication Breakdown

“The best leaders, almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols [they are masters of communication] (Gookin).” -Tom Peters

One of the seven core leadership skills of the National Outdoor Leadership School is communication skills. Communication skills emphasize the appropriate times to communicate, when to speak up and when to remain silent. Communication skills also create an open atmosphere and enable a group or team to know what is expected of them and what they can expect from you. Communication keeps people informed of changes in situations and requires active listening and clarification from both the communicator and those who are being communicated to (Leach). Communication provides much needed clarification, avoids mistakes, risks, and dangers, and teaches valuable information that fosters growth and maturity.

In traveling the wilderness of the Christian life, it is essential that we communicate effectively the gospel and teachings of Jesus, not only with our words, but with our lives and our actions. Our lives tell a story and teach a lesson. We are all called to teach and communicate the gospel and teachings of Christ. We communicate these important teachings more by what we do than what we say. According to Wikipedia, “There are 3 major parts in any communication which are body language, voice, tonality and words. According to the research (Mehrabian and Ferris,'Inference of Attitude from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels' in The Journal of Counselling Psychology Vol.31, 1967,pp.248-52), 55% of impact is determined by body language--postures, gestures, and eye contact, 38% by the tone of voice, and 7% by the content or the words used in the communication process. Although the exact percentage of influence may differ from variables such as the listener and the speaker, communication as a whole strives for the same goal and thus, in some cases, can be universal.”

Paul says this about the Christian communicating with those who are on the outside of the church, and outside of faith in Jesus in Colossians 4:5-6:

“Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out (Peterson).”

Just as we should work together and communicate well to navigate this wilderness life, we should also communicate with others in a way that brings them closer to God, in a way that honors God, and respects the people who we are talking with. Paul tells us that we are to bring the best out of others, and not put them down, or cut them out. This is true in any communication, with anyone, and under any circumstance. How much more should we bring out the best in someone and be gracious to them if they are in need of something that we have?

In this case, as it pertains to following Jesus and making Him known, we are to communicate the good news of who Jesus is. Because all of us need to know Him more, it is important that we draw closer to Jesus and make the most out of every opportunity to know Jesus more and to make Jesus known to others who we live and work with, in a gracious manner. It is also important to understand that this communication occurs just as much in what we don’t say, and how we say it, as it does in the words that we using.

See what I am saying; hear what I am saying,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Wisdom. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Leach, John Gookin and Shari. The Nols Leadership Educator Notebook: A Toolbox for Leadership Educators. Lander, WY: The National Outdoor Leadership School, 2004.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Wikipedia, Communication. 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Discipline: Leading Without Instructors

Leading in the wilderness without instructors requires discipline and skill. Following Jesus in this wilderness life also requires discipline and skill. It requires being a disciple, a learner. One of the goals of the National Outdoor Leadership School is “To develop students as leaders who make decisions to lead without the direct guidance of their instructors. The curriculum themes of wilderness skills, expedition behavior, leadership, leave no trace, and risk management all follow toward this goal” (Gookin). Just as this is one of NOLS’s goals, to develop leaders who can lead, this is also the main goal of the church to make disciples; the church is to make disciples who make other disciples.

Discipline is the root of the word disciple, which means learner. A disciple, or learner, has exercised the discipline needed to gain the knowledge, skill and judgment needed to make disciplined and informed decisions on the wilderness expedition, or the adventure, of the Christian life on his or her own, by the power and grace of God. We need discipline in the wilderness expedition of the Christian life. There will come a time when each of us has to take ownership of our faith and become true disciples who go and make other disciples. We cannot always live vicariously through someone else’s faith. We have to make the journey on our own at some point in our expedition to follow Christ personally and to live our lives for Him.

In speaking about the self disciplined following and learning from Christ, or discipleship, in Colossians 2:5, Paul gives this instruction to his readers that captures the essence of leading on our own in the expedition of the Christian life:

“I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ (Peterson).”

Paul wants his readers, the Colossian church, who he has never formally met, to be able to navigate following Jesus and living for Him on their own in his absence from them. This is the same picture of what it is like to lead in a NOLS course without instructors.

When I was on a NOLS course the summer of 2008, I had the opportunity to lead without instructors. It was toward the end of our two week expedition in the Bridger Teton National Forest, and three of my teammates and me had been working overtime with our instructors to learn trip planning, extra first aid skills, and other needed skills to be equipped on our own in the wilderness. We were to leave before the rest of the group and find the last camp site of our expedition. The rest of the group would follow later. Could we do what our instructors had been doing and lead? Did we have what it took to go at it alone? The answer is, “Yes.” We led, with a few minor detours and complications, a successful instructor-less expedition and we learned from it and in turn will teach others how to lead.

This is such a perfect picture of becoming Disciples of Christ and making Disciples of Christ. As the church, Disciples of Christ, we are to teach people the gospel and teach them what it means to follow Jesus. We are to do this in such a way that they will be able to follow Him on their own in our absence. This is what Paul was doing from prison with the Christians of the Colossian church. He wanted them to follow Christ on their own. He wanted them to be disciples who make other disciples without further instructions from him, or his presence.

Like my instructors on my NOLS course, Paul tells the Colossians that he is not far off from them. He tells them that he is with them and that he is aware of their ability, training, and accomplishments. He knows their credentials. In our case, as Christians, our credentials are that we have the power of Christ and His leadership training, and we have the fellowship and teachings of the church and its help and support on our way. Because of this, we can be confident to follow Christ on our own, knowing that we are not truly on our own. Like Isaac Newton said, “If we have seen further [or in this case, if we have followed Christ on our own] it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is also similar to an old Chinese Proverb that says: “If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” We are to teach. We are to make learners of Jesus. We are to make and be Disciples of Christ.

Following Christ, with discipline, without instructors,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Educator Notebook. Ed. John Gookin. Lander, WY: National Outdoor Leadership School, 2006.

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 2:5

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Cool Hand Jesus

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. . . Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. ”” (John 8:31, 32, and 36)

Communication is essential in life and in relationships. The cause of conflict and misunderstandings is failure to communicate and relationships usually thrive where there is excellent communication. When traveling the expedition of this wilderness life, there must be excellent communication.

Cool Hand Luke, an all time classic movie from 1967, has one of the greatest lines ever about communication. Paul Newman, who passed away September 28th 2008, did a fantastic job with the cool character Luke who struggled to conform to the prison camp's norms. Luke found himself in all kinds of trouble. In front of the warden of the prison camp, that Luke called home, Luke was reprimanded for his non-conformity with a quote that has gone down in movie history: “What we have here is failure to communicate.” This line is often quoted and shows up in pop culture, it was even used by the 1990s hard rock band Guns and Roses in their song Civil War.

The implication of this quote from the movie and the song is that a failure to communicate causes discord and puts people out of harmony with one another. In the movie, Luke, who struggled with conformity, finds some kind of freedom and redemption after a prison escape that ends in a church, but he is caught there in the end. The little church is surrounded and Luke steps out and gives the warden’s words back to him, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” Luke is then shot and killed. The movie ends with a restored image of a free man, though “his freedom” was his ultimate death.

This failure to communicate had an enormous price tag that cost Luke life itself. The image of this rebel Luke is one of a redemptive character. He seems to give the whole prison their freedom, even at the end of the film as his “image” is restored by his fellow inmates. This restored image is that of a torn picture of Luke from an earlier escape that is put back together. The tear in the picture forms a cross when it is reassembled. We get the idea from this image that Luke’s sacrifice indeed is intended to be a picture of redemption, as Hollywood taps into the ultimate redemption story of the cross.

Mark Harvey in the NOLS Wilderness Guide says this about communicating and leadership: “Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Good communication is also the sign of a good leader because 'good leaders are good communicators'" (Harvey 174). God, the ultimate communicator and leader, has clearly communicated His love and redemption for us through His perfect sacrifice for us. He has led us to freedom through the truth of His sacrifice. Unlike the cool hand Luke, Jesus lived a perfect life, deserving no wrong. Like Luke, however, Jesus died a rebel’s death. Jesus died our death to give us all, imprisoned by our sin, and deserving of death because of our rebellion, ultimate freedom.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, chapter 4:2-4, speaks about his own imprisonment for the sake of communicating the Gospel freedom. Paul was imprisoned, probably in Rome, around A.D. 50 or 60. Paul hopes, and asks for prayer from the Colossians to this end, that God will open doors for the telling of the liberation and redemption of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Paul hopes that even his imprisonment would communicate this good news of freedom in Jesus Christ, who suffered and died so that we would not. Paul says it this way:

“Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.”

Jesus was intentional about freeing us from our prison of sin. Jesus Himself has communicated this redemption from the cross and from His raising from the grave, defeating our sin and dieing the death we deserve. This truth, Jesus Himself, The Truth, liberates us. May we hear this communication, and may our lives, like Paul’s, communicate this truth clearly, as we follow, worship, and fall into the arms of the Cool Hand Savior.

Resting in Cool Hands,


Harvey, Mark. Wilderness Guide, The National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, WY. 1999

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 4:2-4

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Jn 8:31, 32, and 36

Friday, October 3, 2008

Held Together

I was out backpacking with my wife for our four year wedding anniversary this past summer. It was her idea, I know what you were thinking, “what a jerk! You take your wife backpacking for your anniversary?” No, it was her idea. This is one of the many reasons I love this woman, she absolutely loves the outdoors and backpacking.

We backpacked for four days and three nights and covered almost 30 miles with 40 pound packs, it was very intense and challenging to keep it together and to accomplish the long hikes and to find the right camp sites at night. It was also very beautiful and it got me thinking about how beautiful the last four years of our marriage have been. Just as the natural beauty of nature and the delicate ecosystems of the forest are held together mysteriously by its creator, our relationship has held together beautifully, and magnificently by our Lord Jesus.

In Colossians chapter one, verses fifteen through eighteen, Paul tells us that Jesus holds everything together and that in Him all things were made, are held together, and have their purpose.

“We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 1:15-18

There are always the creation verses the big bang debates that go on out there in academia and the debates between evolution and intelligent design. Tough questions are asked like, “Where does life, and everything in life, come from?” and “How do we know what God looks like?” or “Is there a God?” or “What is our purpose in this life?” These are no small questions. The answers simply reside with Jesus and in Jesus. It is from Jesus that all things come from and in whom all things are held together and find their purpose and meaning and if we see Jesus, Jesus told us that we have seen the father. And if we can see His creation, we can see something of the God who created it.

As I reflect on this adventure of backpacking with my wife and the last four years of our marriage, I am in awe of God and His magnificence because of who God is, because of what he created, and because of what He holds together with His good and perfect will and purpose. I see something of God out in His creation, and I see something of God in the unity of marriage. I see how God lovingly holds all things together and I see His purpose for our lives.

Created, held together, and given a purpose through Him,


Monday, September 29, 2008

Expedition Behavior

Expedition Behavior
• Serve the mission and goals of the group.
• Be as concerned for others as you are for yourself.
• Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
• Support leadership and growth in everyone.
• Respect the cultures you come into contact with.
• Be kind and open-hearted.
• Do your share and stay organized.
• Help others, but don’t routinely do their work.
• Model integrity by being honest and accountable.
• Admit and correct your mistakes.
• Be proud of your successes and build on these.
• Say yes and deliver, or say no clearly if you cannot do something.
• Find a healthy balance: work hard, play, reflect and rest.
• Resolve conflict in a productive manner (Leach).

In an expedition, it is important to consider safety, gear, clothing, camping technique, and outdoor living and survival skills. Equally important to these skills and equipment is our need to be able to relate well and get along with our fellow travelers. “There are lots of words and terms to describe the human interactions on an outdoor expedition: process skills, soft skills, people skills, etc. Paul Petzoldt coined the term “Expedition Behavior” to describe these skills (Harvey).” These terms describe rules for living and relating responsibly, and respectfully, with your teammates on an expedition. This is important because our lives can be a challenging expedition, much like a wilderness expedition.

Mark Harvey, in the Wilderness Guide from the National Outdoor Leadership School, says this about Expedition Behavior: “Human relations play an equally important role (in relation to all the important factors in safe expedition, such as equipment, skills, etc.). To be blunt, how well you get along with your travel mates can mean the difference between enjoying the wilds or detesting every second of it; between summiting a peak or getting hopelessly lost in the process. That you need to get along and communicate effectively with your travel companions probably seems obvious (Harvey).” This need to get along with our travel mates does seem obvious, does it not? Though it may seem obvious, our failures to love well only illustrate our need for constant reminders to have good Expedition Behavior in our daily lives and interactions.

Concerning following Christ, or discipleship, in our relationships with God and others, Paul hits on this concept of Expedition Behavior in his letter to the Colossians 3:18-4:1:

“Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master. Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don’t take advantage of them. Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end. Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits. Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven (Peterson). ”

Like an intense wilderness expedition, with survival needs, off-trail wilderness hikes, valleys, and mountain summits, our following Christ and obeying Him in our relationships with others can be challenging. Christ demands, as stated above in Colossians, great love from us toward others. In other words, God’s desire for His followers is solid expedition behavior that reflects His love for us.

Just as outdoor trips place us in close proximity to one another for long periods, so does Christian community and the Christian life with fellow believers and the church. We can never escape our call to follow and love Jesus and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The command to us is love in this wilderness life; we cannot escape it. “Jesus said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them (Peterson) (Matt. 22:37-40).”

Harvey emphasized a similar point about the importance of community and expedition behavior in “The Wilderness Guide”:

“On a backpacking or a mountaineering trip, you cannot just go home at the end of the day and relax in the confines of your own house. At the end of the a day on an outdoor expedition, you still have to work as a team setting up camp, making dinner, and keeping the tent in good shape. Nearly every aspect of camping is communal, from sharing food to the battle for room in a small tent. At its best, this shared living brings people together in a spirit of camaraderie seldom found in their normal lives [except for the Christian life, which is anything, but normal]. At its worst, the demands of outdoor living can bring people to blows (Harvey 166).”

Such is the church and Christian community. The Christian life is the same as an expedition. When we exhibit good expedition behavior, or when we live out our call to love God and others rightly, the Christian life brings us together and draws us closer to God Himself. When we live wrongly, when we are intent on living in our selfish sinfulness, we can be in serious conflict and separation in our relationships with God and others. We must live in obedience and we must live with good expedition behavior in this wilderness life.

For Harvey, expedition behavior is the key ingredient to a group’s accomplishments:

“After years of mountaineering experience, training soldiers and outdoor leaders, and completing major alpine expeditions, Paul Petzoldt concluded that good or bad expedition behavior often determined a group’s destiny even more than technical skills and physical strength. Expeditions with moderate talent but with good expedition behavior can achieve greater things than bilious (or difficult or disagreeable) expeditions with all the talent in the world (Harvey 166).”

This is very much like the church, Christian community, and the Kingdom of God. What could we accomplish?

Developing and growing in His expedition behavior, by His grace and power,


Harvey, Mark. Wilderness Guide, The National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, WY. 1999

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 3:18-4:1

Leach, John Gookin and Shari. The Nols Leadership Educator Notebook: A Toolbox for Leadership Educators. Lander, WY: The National Outdoor Leadership School, 2004.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Staying Found

When traveling in the wilderness it is important to stay together with your expedition team or hiking group. You are never supposed to go off alone in the wilderness. If someone is lost, or disoriented, their new job is to stay found. See, we need one another. When we are journeying together in a group, our loads are lighter. There is also safety in numbers. When backpacking, you share group gear: stoves, fuel, food, shelter, water treatment, trowels, aka bathroom, and other important gear like repair kits and first aid kits. If someone gets lost not only does this person put himself or herself at risk, but they also put the group at risk. We need one another and we need to stay together to survive.

Backpacking in the wilderness with a group of friends is like being a part of a well-oiled machine; every part serves its purpose to function and hum along toward its goal. There is a security in being in a group that does not exist when you are alone. An expedition group comes to know one another intimately and relies on one another to live from day to day. Everyone is indispensible. A community is formed when in the backcountry. Unspoken rules of conduct develop, and these rules are added to the list of technical skills and requirements that are already in place for the group to function safely. Everyone stays in step with these unspoken and spoken covenants to live and hike together safely and effectively.

The Christian life is no different. Paul says this about discipleship, or following and learning from Christ in Colossians 3:15-17:

“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 3:15-17

There was an unfortunate story that happened in Northern Virginia in 2008 about a young man who went off by himself to do some rock climbing and fell. No one knew where he was. Rumor has it that he was attempting a climb that he loved dearly and was breaking in some new climbing shoes. Unfortunately, this young man did not have a helmet on and was not on belay. He fell from his climb and injured himself badly. A best friend and another man who cared deeply for him found him dead on the trail the next day. He had placed himself there, probably because he knew that he would be found there.

I know that this young man was a Christ follower. His life spoke richly of the Gospel and so did his death. From His home in heaven, where rock climbing is beyond glorious, he would most likely speak these words of Paul to us from Colossians that illustrate his last lesson for those of us here that still miss him greatly, “None of this going off and doing your own thing.” This young man’s death is not in vain. It teaches a lesson for those of us on this side of heaven, that we need one another. We need one another to walk with Christ and to walk along side of each other through this life. We cannot go at it alone. We must stay together.

Staying together, not going at it alone,


Friday, September 12, 2008

Take It All Off, Honey Head

So, I wish that I were making this up, but I’m not. This is a true story. A young man was attacked by a grizzly bear while attending an outdoor leadership school’s expedition deep in bear country. Now these attacks are not that common, but they do happen on occasion. In this particular case, however, the young man wanted to make dreadlocks in his hair. He decided that it would be a good idea to rub honey in his hair instead of not brushing his hair for a really long time and committing to the long dreadlock making process. He took a short cut. I don’t think that I need to tell you this was a bad idea. I don’t even think that I need to explain any further, or even finish the story, because you are already smart enough to figure out the way that this account progresses. The bear attacked this guy's head in his sleep! He had honey on his head in bear country!

See, you are supposed to hang your food out of the reach of a bear as well as anything else that may attract a bear to your camp. You are also supposed to cook and eat far away from your campsite. In other words, you are not supposed to sleep with food, or rub it on your head, because you might endanger yourself or others with the increased probability of a bear attack! Now, I am trying not to dog this guy and I do not have anything against dreadlocks. There is, however, a right and a wrong way to go about attaining dreadlocks, just as there is a right and a wrong way to go about hanging your food, and eating and sleeping in the bear infested wilderness.

In an expedition in the backcountry there are many rules to follow to keep yourself and your group safe and sound from harm to get through to the end and to finish well. Another of these rules, besides not rubbing honey on your head, is dressing in layers. You have to change clothes a lot in the wilderness. It is icy cold at night and can be extremely hot during the day. Layers are the only way to go. In considering these layers, cotton is not an option; neither are a lot of other clothing choices that we may make in the front country. We must strip ourselves of these insufficient threads and trade them in for the right gear that we can put on to keep ourselves warm at night and cool and dry during the day. Proper clothing is essential for survival.

In the expedition of discipleship, following and learning from Christ, Paul gives this instruction to his readers in Colossians 3:3-14:

“Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 3:3-14

Two realities are clear in these passages. The first reality is sin, the old life or the old person we were before following Christ. Sin is stupid, much like putting honey on your head in bear country is stupid. The second reality that emerges from this passage is that we must take off our old layers, our old selves, our old ways of living, and our selfishness to make way for our proper “expedition clothing” when following Christ. We must put on the new self, the self that God intended us to be. We must put on love.

We should identify very easily with this young man who put honey on his head, I know that I do. Every time I go back to the old selfish way of living, doing everything that pleases me, and in my time, and whenever I feel like it, this begins stupid time for me and leads to destruction in my relationships, with myself, with others, and most importantly, it leads to destruction in my relationship with God. I know better than to go back to the way that I used to live, but I go back. I give the enemy a foothold. I put honey on my head in bear country. I am supposed to know better and you are supposed to know better.

We can change. We must change. We must change out of those filthy rags and slip into something more comfortable and fitting for our journey. We must strip away the old and put on the new. There is a new wardrobe for the expedition of following Christ, and we must put it on. We have to strip off the old insufficient layers of self and put on Christ. He has layers for us with His label on them to replace our old rags.

So, take it all off, honey head.

Shaving my head and changing my clothes,


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Religion Beat Me Up and Stole My Lunch Money

Again, I hate religion.

If religion were someone that I went to school with, he would be the bully who beat me up and took my lunch money. You always tried to avoid him, but no matter what you would do, there he would be, lurking just around the next corner. He would steal your joy and excitement about even going to school and if you were not careful, he would steal your girlfriend. This guy made everyone look stupid by belittling them and elevating himself. This happened to me you know. I was bullied a lot in middle school and High School. I couldn’t get this kind of guy out of my world. I felt powerless to defeat, what I thought at the time, the powerful. I felt weak and alone against this mighty foe, till one day I fought back and discovered that I was not the weak one, he was.

This is the same when dealing with religion. Religion is for the weak and insecure, you know, people with something to prove to themselves and to the world. A relationship with God on the other hand gives us our ultimate security and strength. A relationship with God is not about us at all, it’s about Him. Religion always steals and kills. A healthy relationship, on the other hand, always gives sacrificially; it gives life, protects life, nurtures life, and produces life.

I remember one time in High School when I fought back when a bully jumped me. This guy was all in my face and he was twice as big as me. It was in the middle of science class and everyone was watching. I could sit down, run, or cower, or I could take a stand against this bully. I took a stand. I grabbed the desk beside me and threw it at this guy. He was crazy angry, but I saw the respect in his eyes and he retreated. That’s when I noticed Buddy standing behind me with his fists clinched. Buddy was the biggest guy at our school, he must have been 20 and still in High School, I don’t know if he was that smart, but what I did know was Buddy had my back. Because he saw my stand, and he saw the fact that this bully would have killed me, he stood for me and with me. Buddy and I had an unspoken understanding, we had an unspoken relationship; we had a friendship.

Jesus addressed the religious leaders of His time a lot in the gospel of Matthew, especially in chapters 22-23. Jesus took a stand against religion, He stands for us, and with us, and He stands for us against religion and it’s bullying. He called the religious leaders on their bullying. He called them white washed tombs. What He meant by this was that they sought to make themselves look good by their outward appearances, but inside, they were dead, weak, insecure, selfish, scared. . . Jesus told these people not to keep burdening others by their many rules and regulations. He told them not to keep showing off and not to keep pushing others down and stepping on their heads to elevate themselves and to make themselves look more spiritual. Jesus refused to let the religious leaders beat up the average man or woman and steal their lunch money so that they would not be nourished. Jesus fought on our behalf, taking a stand so that we could know Him without all the hoop jumping. He made a relationship with God attainable for all of us without religion lurking around the next corner.

So how do we keep ourselves from being kicked around by the bully of religion? Paul gives this instruction to his readers who are following Christ in Colossians 2: 20-23:

“So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 2:20-23

Fighting back against the bully . . . with backup,