Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hiking in the Mountains

I'm a hiker. This pastime nourishes my soul and brings me great personal fulfillment.  It is a passion of mine. 

Being immersed in nature, as I trek along scenic, winding mountain trails with my hiking buddies, is a life-giving and re-creative experience to me. There is nothing else that quite compares to it.

I’ve been given the nickname, “Trailblazer,” and—to be perfectly honest—I am proud of this designation. God has blessed me with stamina and walking speed in spite of my skinny chicken legs, which I was terribly self-conscious of as a child.

To me, hiking is akin to walking with God. When I am on the trail, I embrace a different mindset. Praying feels more natural, rhythmic, and conversational than usual. The combined effect of planning and preparing for trips, breathing fresh mountain air, beholding stunning vistas, engaging in unforced small-talk along the trail, putting my physical strength and mental toughness to the test, setting up camps among the trees, cooking simple meals, and warming up by the campfire while being hypnotized by its glow and crackle coalesces to create a powerful and transformative encounter with Mother Nature, self, others, and God.

To me, the Christian life is similar to hiking in the mountains with its various complex pieces and dynamics. There are ebbs and flows, highs and lows, forward movement and unanticipated detours, starts and stops, ascents and descents, hard work and rest, weariness and second-winds, give and take, structure and spontaneity, and predictability and surprises. 

And sometimes there is getting a little lost and struggling to find one’s way back to the right path leading to the intended destination of heaven. But, it’s a matter of direction, not perfection!

When preparing for a multi-day hike in the mountains, several factors must be taken into consideration. Trail maps should be studied, specific plans (and contingency plans) devised and organized, itineraries and manifests communicated with one’s hiking companions, weather forecasts explored, and safety issues considered. Then technical gear needs to be assembled and inspected, organized, and placed in one’s backpack using a thorough checklist. 

When hiking in small groups (which is my usual practice), many of these items are distributed among the members to avoid redundancy and share the load.  Galatians 6:2 (ESV) says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

All the time, one cannot afford to over-pack so as to be burdened with extra weight and unnecessary items. Disciples must remember to pack light for our journey, because we can’t take our material possessions with us into eternity.

Christians—like hikers—need to take sufficient time and necessary effort to adequately prepare for the journey ahead. And we cannot accomplish this task alone. It requires a cooperative approach. We need each other’s help, edification and teaching, emotional support, and sometimes correction and redirection.

But one more thing must be stated: it is critically important to remain hydrated with God’s living water along the trail through personal reflection and practice of spiritual disciplines, lest rapid dehydration sets in. Only time spent alone with God and time in fellowship with spiritual brothers and sisters is able to quench one’s thirst. As a Christian, failure to do so will result in dry, meaningless, and ineffectual walk. 

There are sometimes warnings and caution signs for hikers along the trail regarding potentially unsafe areas or postings regarding private property that is off-limits or that requires prior permission to enter. 

In Christianity, the New Testament provides us with God’s instructions for a faithful walk with the Lord. Ethics and morality are addressed in detail. Just as a compass (or GPS) is an essential piece of equipment for a hiker to carry, so is a “moral compass” for a Christian.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to hit the trail!

Facebook: His Heart, My Hands

Twitter: @RyanNoelFraser

Thursday, February 11, 2016

God's Great Promises

As a child, did you ever make a “pinky promise” and say, “I swear!” for good measure? If you’re like me, probably so. But did you keep your word? Promises are far easier made than kept!

God is a promise-maker. But more importantly, he is a promise-keeper. The Bible is filled with God’s hope-filled promises for his people.

Biblical promises have a three-fold purpose: (1) to educate our mind, (2) to motivate our heart, and (3) to elevate our spirit. We are thus informed and transformed by God’s promises.

As believers we can bank on the promises of God because of “the unchanging nature of his purpose” and the fact that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:17-18). His covenantal oaths are sealed with Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit as a down payment or guarantee (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14). Jesus serves as our faithful high priest in heaven’s throne room (Heb. 6:20). Our hope in God’s promises functions as a spiritual anchor for the soul, keeping us stable and secure (vs. 19).

In this blog post, I want to focus on the interwoven biblical promises of salvation and God’s love. In the Old Testament, the assurance of pardon for sins and eternal salvation remained somewhat abstract and intangible, shrouded in prophetic mystery of what would be fulfilled later upon the coming of the Messiah.

According to Scripture, salvation for Israel referred more to physical redemption and protection as a holy nation than spiritual redemption (e.g., see Jer. 15:19-21). Their rescue and protection was of a physical and military nature, demonstrating God’s covenantal love toward his people.

In the New Testament, however, we as God’s spiritually redeemed people, receive a far greater promise of his amazing grace. John 3:14-17 (ESV), states, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’”

Thus, God sent his one-of-a-kind son on the ultimate rescue mission to save our souls from eternal death through his perfect self-sacrifice.  Who else would love you and me this much? God gave us his best so we could be his children, too. Talk about great and matchless love!

However, God’s eternal blessings and promises are contingent on our believing and trusting in the Son of God’s true identity and spiritual authority. We can’t please God without demonstrating a responsive faith (Heb. 11:6; James 2:14-17). We don’t have to give up a child for God (as he did for us). He just asks us to believe and act accordingly. 

God’s grace is free of charge (Rom. 6:22-23). It can’t be purchased or earned. The price (or debt) has already been paid in full by Jesus—our high priest, sacrificial lamb, Prince of Peace, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We deserve nothing less than the penalty of death for our sins, but Jesus took our sentence upon himself as a ransom (i.e., appeasement or propitiation) for God’s righteous judgment and holy wrath.

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV), states, For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s unconditional love for us is a sure thing without exception.

You don’t have to be anything special for God to cherish and accept you—not the smartest, richest, prettiest or most virtuous or upright. Your heavenly Creator loves you just as you are.

The greatest invitation in the Bible states:Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20, ESV).

God is reaching out to you today with his love and grace. Jesus wants to be in a saving, personal relationship with you. Will you take hold of His nail-scarred hand?