All posts in Life

  • Men’s Hike 2014

    Ten guys from our church (myself included) headed out to hike 15 miles through Indian Cave State Park in southeast Nebraska. I just hiked this trail 2 weeks ago. We had a great hike. For me this was my last shake down hike before my 95-mile hike on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail next month.

    We started our hike on Trail 8 at about 11:30 or so.


    We quickly took the 8A trail and hiked along the Missouri River before we turned West towards the Trail 6 trailhead. We stopped in a grassy spot for lunch. We walked down the road towards the Trail 5 trailhead but we took a slight detour. We heard gunfire when we were eating lunch and while walking down the road we saw where it was coming from. There was a fire range, where a small group of people were shooting front-loading muskets. At the road in front of the range was a sign that said “Bake Sale.” They were selling baked goods and “ice cold pop.” They even had Diet Dr. Pepper!


    We continued down the road to Trail 5 (also called the Hardwood Trail). We enjoyed the hike with sunny skies and temps around 80 degrees. We took the 5A trail which took us through a large open meadow. We took a break in the shade to get out of the sun for a moment.


    We made it to camp by about 4 PM, which gave us plenty of time to set up camp and collect firewood. I set up my hammock and rested for a little bit.


    After supper, a few of us played pitch in the shelter until it got too dark. After 9 PM we roasted marshmallows and then played “Werewolves,” a role-playing game my son Wesley introduced us to. We enjoyed it and ended up playing for about an hour and a half. It was a perfect campfire game. By 10:30 we were all ready for bed.

    With overnight lows in the 50s, I thought I could get away with just my 40 degree down sleeping bag. I was wrong! I haven’t bought an underquilt yet and I have successfully slept in my hammock with temps in the low 50s by putting a sleeping bag underneath the bag I was sleeping in but on top of the hammock. On this trip I thought I would try sleeping in the hammock with just my sleeping bag and with no insulation. BIG MISTAKE!

    With the cool air blowing underneath me, I woke up cold at about midnight. I watched some Seinfeld episodes on my phone and listened to music before falling back to sleep about 2:00 or so. At 3:00 AM I woke up cold AND I had to pee. As I got up to “use the facilities” I saw someone had stoked up the fire. I walked over and found Robert warming himself by the fire. He too got up to pee and was cold so he decided to get warm before getting back in his tent. We stood there talking and looking at the brilliant night sky when we heard the zipper open on another hammock camper. We watched as Chris got up to do the same thing we had to do then he stumbled toward the fire to get warm. The three of us talked until 3:30, when we each decided to get some sleep. I got back in my hammock and dosed off to sleep.

    At 5:30 AM I woke up this time shivering in my sleeping bag. I could see that it was dawn and the birds had begun their morning medley. I got up and grabbed my sleeping bag, stove, and food bag. I stoked up the fire, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, and started boiling water for coffee. It didn’t take long to warm up. The rest of the guys started waking up as the sun was rising above the bluff overlooking our camp.


    After breakfast we packed up. I led us in a brief worship service, as it was Sunday morning. I prayed the Psalm for the Day (Psalm 124) and read Scriptures from Ephesians 4. I talked about the things that build up the church, reminding the guys that church is not the build but the church is the gathering of the baptized, those who gather to worship Jesus, pray the prayers, read Scripture, and celebrate the Eucharist. I read the prayer for the week and then led the Prayer of Confession before communion. We said our amens and headed out.

    The rest of the Hardwood Trail had a lot more ups and downs. I loved it. I treated every uphill climb as a way to train for the North Georgia Mountains on the AT. I normally was the first up the hill or the first one to the bottom which put me in a good position to take a few pictures.





    We intended on hiking to the “cave,” but we made a last minute decision to skip the cave and hike up to the best view in the park, a campsite on top of a bluff overlooking the rolling bluffs along the Missouri River.


    From there it was a short hike down to the parking lot. We all changed shirts, drove down to the cave, and then headed out for lunch, an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Overall it was a great hike, minus the chilly night! I am now ready for the AT! Can’t wait to start my section hike in about a month.

    Here is a video of the trip:

    Here are some more pictures:





  • Indian Cave State Park Hike: April 15-16, 2014

    Following two days of rest at home after my hike on the Cedar Creek Trail, I headed out with my oldest son Wesley and my friend Barry and his son Alex on a 15-mile, two-day hike at Indian Cave State Park just North of Fall City, Nebraska. It was spring break for the boys so we were hiking on a Tuesday and Wednesday.


    After stopping at a Subway we made it to the park a little after 1PM. We had to pay $5 for parking and a total of $13 for camping. We drove through the state park stopping along the way to check out one of our road crossings. We arrived at the backpacking parking lot in between Trailhead 8 and Trailhead 9/10 and loaded up our packs. We had packed ar 15 parts, in- case we happened to land at a hunting spot, which is highly unlikely in India.


    We started the hike at Trailhead 8 at 1:50 PM. A few minutes down the 8 trail, we came across the first of many intersections to come. We turned right and went down the 8A trail, which followed along the river.



    There had been a controlled burn in this part of the state park recently. Some of the fallen trees were still still smoldering. Even though it was mid April, there were still no leaves on the trees. The 8A joined the 8 trail and we were headed towards Trailhead 6. We came across an intersection not marked on the map and had to use a map and compass to determine the right way to go. We chose to go right which turned out to be the right turn.

    Trailhead 6 opened up to the road. We went right and walked along the road to Trailhead 5.


    The map showed at water source by this trailhead and we found it but….the water that came up out of the pump was rusty. As I filled up my clear water bottle it looked like bad orange juice. I ended up taking it to camp to use as water to cook with. I ended up straining it through my pack towel as I poured it into my pot!

    Trailhead 5 is the beginning of the Hardwood Trail and it is the best hiking in the park. The trail has been cut wide, presumably for horses. Speaking of horses, it looked like they have blazed a few new trails for horses but have not put up signs. We hit quite a few intersections where we had to stop and figure out which way to go. I do not mind sharing the trail with our equestrian friends but c’mon peeps give me some signage!

    We hiked down the Hardwood Trail until we got to an intersection for 5A. The 5A trail eventually re-joins the 5 trail, but it adds a mile or so to the hike, so of course we took it. 5A took us along two open meadows. We walked along the tree line until we entered back into the woods.


    We stopped at the first shelter we passed on the Hardwood Trail, but decided to press on to the next shelter about a mile away. After the 5A rejoined the 5 trail in the woods, the trail had us going up and down the bluffs. Parts of the trail were muddy. It was sunny while we were hiking so the trail was dry (but soft). If it had been a rainy day, the trail would have been a muddy mess.


    We made it to the second shelter about 7PM. It had a fire ring and a few flat spots for about 2-3 tents. Barry and I went to work setting up our tents while the boys collected fire wood. It was going to be too cold to sleep in the hammock bit I set it up to lounge in before supper. As the sun went down, the temperature started to drop so we lit the fire and started supper. Wesley and I had stove top stuffing with summer sausage bites.



    The fire turned into a disaster. Some of the large logs we put on the fire were obviously waterlogged, because they began to smoke terribly. We cleaned up as fast as we could and retreated to Barry and Alex’s tent to play pitch, the older men versus the young men.


    The young men won. Grrrr….

    It was a windy night. I slept warm in my 20 degree synthetic bag, but getting out of the tent and into the cold wind at 7AM caused me to start shivering. I put on all may layers including my rain jacket to break the wind. I grabbed my sleeping bag and made my way to the back corner of the shelter. I sat on the bench back there and covered my legs with my sleeping bag. I lit my alcohol stove and enjoyed warming my hands while the stove was priming. I heated up some water for coffee and quickly warmed up.



    I was up eating breakfast at 7:15 or so, everyone else rolled out of their tents at 8:30. They ate and we packed up camp and hit the trail by 9:30. We continued to go up and down through the bluffs. I enjoyed challenging myself on the ascents, setting a swift, but steady, pace, digging in with my trekking poles. On one ridge we could see through the leafless trees and we spotted a shelter at the top of another bluff.


    We have stayed at the shelter before. It is on Trail 9/10 and has a great overlook. We continued hiking until we reached on intersection. The boys wanted to go left on Trail 10 to go back to the parking lot where we started. Barry and I wanted to go down Trail 11 to the cave. We decided to split up.


    Barry and I hiked the final 2 miles or so to the cave, which is just a rock outcropping. It does have a few ancient petroglyphs, which are hard to spot with all the modern graffiti and defacing that has taken place.


    I wanted to shoot video at the cave so Barry dropped his pack and jogged down the road to the truck where the boys were waiting. After my video shoot I carried Barry’s pack on my front and headed down the road.


    They picked me up and we changed into clean clothes and left the park. We ended the trip eating some pretty good Chinese food in a nearby town.


    More pictures…
















  • Cedar Creek Trail: Southern Loop Hike

    The Cedar Creek Trail is just outside of Ashland, about 20 minutes South of Columbia, Missouri. My friend Ben and I started out from the Pine Ridge Campground at 12:30 PM on Friday April 11. This was a shakedown hike for me in preparation for my hike of the Georgia Section of the AT in June. It was a beautiful day for hiking, sunny with highs in the 70s. One of these days I will need to practice hiking in the rain, but there was a zero percent chance of rain as we headed North on the 22-mile Southern Loop of the Cedar Creek trail. The trail is blazed with gray diamonds.

    The blazes were really hit and miss. We lost the trail a couple of times and had to backtrack a bit to find our way. We had maps and GPS so we were able to pick up the trail again. I guess “route finding” is a part of the adventure. During one of the creek crossings we saw a blaze on one side of the creek, but could not find one on the other side. Flooding had brought a ton of debris to the banks of the creek and we could not find the trail. Luckily other hikers had built a rock cairn marking the way. There would be no way a rookie could hike this trail without a map and compass.

    An hour and a half or so into our hike we came across the Nevis Farmstead, an abandoned two-story house dating back to the 1800s. We stopped there for lunch.

    We continued to hike North through wooded areas, road crossings, and a creek crossing until we turned West onto the Smith Creek Loop. By 3:30 or so we made it to the Cedar Creek. There is a great campsite by the creek with a large fire ring and plenty of room for tents or hammocks. We spent about and hour at the creek wading in the water and taking pictures. I would have loved to camp here. If I go back I may start at the Pine Ridge Campground and go North like we did, but I would do the entire Smith Creek Loop at stop for the night at this campsite.


    After filling up with water we headed on down the trail. One of the things I have learned in hiking lightweight is to drink a full liter of water when you stop to fill up. This way I am carrying the water weight in my stomach and not on my back.


    We crossed over the Devil’s Backbone Road and talked to a guy, apparently a local, who was hiking back towards the Cedar Creek. He was telling us a little about the area and warned us that the next section would take us through a pasture, but it was indeed the trail. We followed the trail through a few connected pastures, lost the trail for a bit, before finding it again. I didn’t mind hiking through pastures/meadows or even the road walking, but I missed being in the woods. We started road walking as the sun was going down.

    We debated whether or not to go on or make camp, but we decided to go forward. We found a nice clearing in the woods not far off the road and we made camp. I was able to hang my hammock and tarp before the sun went down. For supper I boiled water and cooked Spanish Rice, which I spooned out onto two tortillas and covered them with string cheese. I rolled it up like a burrito. The only thing I was missing was hot sauce. I ate my fill and after supper we enjoyed a fire. As the fire died down I made my way into my hammock.


    Here is my video from Day 1:


    This was my first time sleeping in my new BIAS Weight Weenie hammock. I got in the hammock at about 10:20 PM and I was asleep by 10:25 PM. I woke up off and on until about 8:00 in the morning. It was great night sleep. I have never slept so long in the woods. I am now officially a hammock camper!

    After pop tarts, oatmeal, and coffee we packed up camp and headed out at out 10:30 AM. Not ten minutes down the trail we came across a blow down and an open area where we could find no blazes. With no sign of the trail we followed a logging road to the gravel road we saw on the map. After walking down this road for a whole we finally found the trail again. We ended up doing a lot of road walking on the morning on day two.

    By 1 PM we made it to the bridge over the Cedar Creek. We stopped here for lunch and to fill up on water. The banks were steep and muddy, but we finally found a place to fill up our water bottles. A local guy was driving by when we were eating lunch. He stopped and we chatted for a little bit. He told us not to drink straight out of the creek and watch out for ticks. He was right about the ticks. I ended up knocking two off my legs on day 2 and I found two more ticks when I got home. After a short jog through the woods we turned North and we were back in an open meadow where we spent most of the rest of the hike.


    We passed some mountain bikers heading South towards the bridge where we had lunch. One of the bikers stopped and we talked for a few minutes. We are finding lots of friendly people out here. We continue hiking from meadow to meadow, most of them connect by a gate. Ben and I guessed that this was farmland or pasture land that was bought by the forestry department. It is not the same as hiking in the woods, but it was nice scenery. I was concerned about getting sunburned, because it was another sunny day. Ben ended up getting a sunburn on his arms and the tops of his hands. We continued hiking and  stopped at a nice overlook maybe a mile South of the Pine Ridge Campground.

    We made it back to the trail head, finishing our loop by about 3:30 PM.

    Here is my video from Day 2:

    It was a good hike. As I mentioned, this hike was a shakedown hike in preparation for my section hike in the AT this summer. All my gear worked great, I just need to decide what gear I can leave behind to lighten my load. I have a number of luxury items that I may leave behind like my inflatable pillow, FM/AM radio, and camp shoes. I don’t think I need the pillow in the hammock. I used it, but I think I can get my head comfortable without it. We listened to the radio while packing up camp in the morning. It was nice, but we could have just listened to music from my iPhone. I took off my socks when we were setting up camp and put my hiking shoes back on and that felt pretty nice. I ended up wearing my camp shoes, but I don’t think I will need them on the AT. I wore my camp shoes (which are Vivobarefoot Ultras) when I had to cross the creek. No need for them on the AT.

    Here are some more pictures:






  • Lent 2014

    It is time to change the mood.Ash Wednesday 2014

    It is time to pull back.

    It is time to rethink, restart, repent.

    It is the season of Lent.

    I am preparing myself for Lent now for the seventh time. I have been practicing Lent since 2008,  when I was growing increasing tired of Christian fads and gimmicks and I was longing for something to connect me to my Christian heritage, something I couldn’t buy for $99.99; I had been looking for a well-trodden path of spiritual formation. I found it in the age-old practice of Lent.

    I blogged on why I practice Lent two years ago. No need to rehash all the details of the great benefits of Lent. It may be sufficient enough to say that Lent is a way to enter into, and connect with, the sufferings of Jesus.

    “I calculate everything as a loss, because knowing King Jesus as my Lord is worth far more than everything else put together!…This means knowing him, knowing the power of his resurrection, and knowing the partnership of his sufferings. It means sharing the form and pattern of his death, so that somehow I may arrive at the final resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:8,10-11 (Kingdom New Testament)

    Any talk of suffering sends waves of rebellion down my spine. I, like most people, resist suffering, choosing the path of comfort and ease if it is up to me. Lent is a particular focus on suffering. You certainly cannot package Lent and sell it in a Christian bookstore. The beauty of the practice of Lent is found in its lack of marketability and it is not up to me! The practice of this season is what the church has done since the early Middle Ages. It is a handed-down tradition. (Well…I do have some say in how I choose to fast during Lent, but the times and season have been set by the church.) The fact is without the historic practice of Lent, I would not fast as often as I should. Lent has helped me form good habits of fasting and repentance.

    Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright

    This year I am fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, which has been traditional fasting days for the church. My plan is not to eat solid food on those days. (I will break my fast after church on Fridays.) In addition to fasting solid food I am taking a break from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m breaking away from social media to devote time to prayer, Scripture, and spiritual reading. I am finishing THE BIG PAUL BOOK (otherwise known as Paul & the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright). This two-volume book will be my primary reading during Lent. I started this 1,700-page-reading-marathon on the first Sunday of Advent last December. It been a long process working through both volumes, but it is seriously the most important thing I have read in the last 15 years. In order to devote my time to reading, I will spend less time on social media. I hate to lose contact with people through Facebook and Twitter. I guess I will have to go old-school and depend on email. I will not be checking my Facebook or Twitter accounts during Lent, so if you need me, email me, or contact me through the church website.

    I will blog during Lent.

    A couple of exciting things are happening over the next seven weeks. I will have the chance to meet N.T. Wright in person later this month. He is speaking in Overland Park on March 27 and I feel like a 12 year-old girl getting ready to go to a One Direction concert. No joke. I am beside myself with excitement. I will blog on that event….with pictures….pictures of me and Tom ya know!

    I will also be going on one or two shakedown hikes to test out my gear for the upcoming Georgia section hike on the Appalachian Trail in June. I am equally excited about the hike this summer. After Easter, I will be seven weeks away from the hike. So if you think I am obsessing over hiking now…just wait. I will blog a bit about my Spring hikes with pictures and video.

    I am ready for Lent this year. I have my fasting plan. I have my reading plan. Next up: ashes.


    If you are in the St. Joe area, I would invite you to join us for one of our four Ash Wednesday services in the Upper Room at 7AM, noon, 5:30PM, & 7PM. These are identical services, so I encourage you to join us for one of them. 

  • A new adventure begins…in 120 days

    I am thrilled to announce the 120-day countdown to a new adventure has begun, an adventure that I would like to document on my blog.

    I have been blogging for 8 years, since March 2006, primarily on topics related to theology and Christian ministry. These twin topics occupy most of my time, energy, effort, focus, work, reading, education, conversations, etc., but I do have a few other hobbies. The first would be my undying devotion to the Kansas City Chiefs. I have been a Chiefs fan since High School and I remained loyal to the Chiefs Kingdom even while living in Oklahoma and Georgia. I AM a Chiefs fan, which means I am constantly frustrated..well…to be honest…both frustrated and optimistic. In addition to my seasonal pre-occupation with football, my only other real hobby is hiking in general, and the Appalachian Trail in particular.

    pine mountain trail 2008

    Hiking with the fellas from Cornerstone Church on the Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) in May 2008

    My love for hiking began in 2008, when I went with a group of guys from my church in Georgia on a weekend hike on the Pine Mountain Trail, just outside of Columbus, Georgia. I had hiked often in the Boy Scouts when I was a teenager, but I had not done much hiking/backpacking as an adult. The hike in 2008 changed all that. This overnight trip awakened not only my love for the outdoors, but also a love for the freedom (and struggle) of strapping everything you need on your back and heading out into the woods.

    This trip became the first of many hiking trips in Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri (see pictures of past trips below). I lived, and hiked in South Georgia for a number of years and while I had heard of the Appalachian Trail (AT), I new very little about it.

    During Christmas 2011 I had a one-hour conversation with my wife’s uncle, Lyle “Burro” Pettijohn. Lyle completed a thru hike of the AT in 2008. (A “thru hike” is a complete hike of the entire trail.) He told me about his adventure and said if I was interested in learning more about the AT to Google “Appalachian Trail.” I followed his advice, which lead me to online forums, blogs, YouTube Channels, and countless books by current and former AT hikers. The more I read about the AT, the more fascinated I became. (Speaking of books I am currently reading Becoming Odyssa, by thru hike record-breaker Jennifer Pharr Davis.)

    at trail mapThe AT is a continuous 2,180 mile footpath through the Appalachian Mountain range across 14 states. It’s Southern terminus is on Springer Mountain in North Georgia an it’s  Northern terminus is on Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Every year thousands of people attempt to hike the entire length of the AT in one hiking season. On average only 1 out of 4 succeed in hiking the entire trail. (More info on the AT is here.)

    So here comes the announcement about my new adventure

    No I am not attempting a thru hike, but I am planning on hiking the Georgia section of the AT this summer for my 40th birthday.

    My goal is to start hiking on June 8, Pentecost Sunday, and complete the Georgia section in nine days. Yeah I know, a section hike is not as exciting as thru hike, but with family and church responsibilities there is no way at the phase of my life that I could get a way for five to six months to hike the whole trail. (Maybe when I retire?) My section hike will begin in North Carolina, about 7 trail miles North of the Georgia border. Once I hike southbound into Georgia and complete the Georgia section of the AT, I will continue to hike down the Approach Trail into Amicalola State Park. The total distance will be 95 miles. I am not doing this alone. I am glad that I have three friends who have found away to take a couple of weeks away from their work and families to hike with me.

    I want to use my blog as a way to document the hike itself with pictures and video ( I did this for a two-day trip last March). I also want to use the blog to document the preparation for the hike for anyone who is interested. With 120 days away before my section hike, there is still a lot to do. I have been planning this hike for over a year, so I have already spend a lot of time trying out new gear, learning to back lighter, learning about the North Georgia mountains, and figuring out a good plan to accomplish the Georgia section. I know, I know…eighteen months of planning for a 9-day trip seems like over-kill. I am a planner, and for me the planning is almost as fun as the trip itself!

    Here are some pictures of my past hiking trips:

    pine mountain june 2008

    On the Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) in June 2008


    Pine Mountain Trail day hike 2008

    Me, Wesley, and Taylor on the Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) in July 2008


    Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) June 2009

    Me & Gabe Theiss on the Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) in June 2009 (Gabe is hiking with me this summer.)


    Dowdell Knob: Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) March 2010

    Wesley & me at the Dowdell Knob on the Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) in March 2010


    Twin Sisters Summit (Colorado) September 2010

    On the summit of Twin Sisters (Colorado) in September 2010


    Oak Mountain State Park (Alabama) 2010

    At Oak Mountain State Park (Alabama) in November 2010


    Odie Overlook: Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) March 2011

    Me, my brother Jeff, & Wesley on the Pine Mountain Trail (Georgia) in March 2011 (Jeff is hiking with me this summer.)


    Twin Sisters Trail (Colorado) September 2011

    Me & Santosh Ninan on the Twin Sisters Trail (Colorado) in September 2011


    Indian Cave State Park (Nebraska) June 2011

    Wesley & Me at Indian Cave State Park (Nebraska) in June 2012


    Big Piney Trail (Missouri) March 2013

    On the Big Piney Trail (Missouri) in March 2013


    Big Piney Trail (Missouri) May 2013

    Adventurers from Word of Life Church on the Big Piney Trail (Missouri) in May 2013


    Indian Cave State Park (Nebraska) June 2013

    Wesley & Me at Indian Cave State Park (Nebraska) in June 2013

  • A Eucharistic People

    The heart of Christian worship is the celebration of communion, otherwise known as “the Lord’s Supper” or “the Eucharist.” All other elements of Christian worship are tangential to eating the bread and drinking from the cup in a proclamation of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed for the salvation of the world. He did rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Father. Jesus will come again, but before his return, ascension, and resurrection…there was a death, a redemptive death, the death of God’s Son. While I did not grow up in a church that emphasized the importance of the Eucharist, I am happy to be serving today in a church where communion is the highlight of our Sunday morning worship service. We find the eucharistic template in the Upper Room with Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples:

    Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” – Matthew 26:26 ESV

    “Eucharist,” from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,” is the oldest title for this event at the heart of Christian worship. Nearly all Christian denominations practice some form of the Eucharist and there are differing opinions on how exactly the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. I have been most satisfied with viewing the practice of the Eucharist as a way to connect with the “real presence of Christ.” I believe Jesus is present, by the Holy Spirit, at the communion table. The Eucharist is therefore more than a symbol, but it is not less than that. The bread and the wine certainly represent, in the form of a living metaphor, the body and blood of Jesus, but I see more. I see another symbol. In the broken bread, I see not only his body broken for the world, but I also see the church, the people of God.

    We are a eucharistic people.
    We are blessed.
    We are broken.
    We are given.

    We are blessed. We experience God’s blessing (even through hardship) and give him thanks for taking care of us. We have been invited by him to be his people, his alternative society on the earth, demonstrating and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We are blessed, no doubt.

    We are broken. We are broken by sin and corruption; we admit this fact. We are also broken in that we choose to “break” ourselves open to one another. In other words, we choose vulnerability as the pathway of love. We are broken, at least we strive towards brokenness.

    We are given. As God’s covenant people we are not blessed and broken ultimately for our well-being. We are blessing and broken that we may be given to the world. Jesus isn’t building his church simply to declare his own superiority over other ways of doing life. He is building his church to be given to the world, for the sake of the world, so that the world may be saved. We are given, at least we work towards being given.

    At the center of this three-part eucharistic action is brokenness, or as I have described above, vulnerability. If we are ultimately to be given to the world, and I would argue that this missional identity is perhaps the most difficult part of church life, then we first have to be broken. We do have to admit we have been broken by a world drunk on the ways and means of death, but we have to also break ourselves open, allowing our true selves to break out of the shell of our false selves. We ultimately cannot love and be loved if we are not vulnerable.

    It works like this:

    To love and to be loved is to trust.
    To trust is to know.
    To know is to be vulnerable.

    I cannot love you and allow you to love me if I do not trust you. I could choose to love you, expecting nothing in return with or without trust, but I cannot enter in a relationship with you whereby I love and am loved unless I can trust you. If I think you mean to do me harm or exploit me, then I cannot allow myself to be loved by you.

    I cannot trust you until I know you, until I really know you. In order to trust you I need to know more than facts about you, I need to have first hand experiences with you whereby trust is built. Once I have gotten to know you over time, then I am ready to trust you.

    And finally, I cannot know you, and you cannot know me, until we both bust through our false selves and reveal who we really are. This is difficult.

    To be vulnerable mean I reveal not only my strengths, but also my fears, hurts, insecurity, anxiety, weakness, struggle, doubt, confusion, ignorance, failure, mistakes, regrets, and pain. Loving begins with vulnerability, but becoming vulnerable is a slow process. I do not reveal all of my true self to you all at once. As I break myself open and expose a part of my true self, I allow you to know me and then after trust is built, I feel free to reveal more. Vulnerability grows over time, but it begins with one crack of the crust.

    As we are broken, then we are given as a eucharistic people.

  • Substance and Evidence

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

    Faith is a human attribute. Faith is an essential human attribute. God has no need of faith because nothing is unseen for him, but we earth-bound creatures live with many things out of sight. We exercise faith as a part of our human nature. We all exercise faith and we do so all time. Eating in a restaurant requires faith. I trust the people preparing my food have done so with the highest standards of sanitation. I have heard of the “5 second rule,” but I hope it is not true. You know the rule that says if a cook drops your food on the floor they have five seconds to pick it up! Driving down the road requires faith. I trust nobody will intentionally run a red light and crash into me. I understand that accidents happen and so I wear a seat belt, but I trust the other drivers on the road to obey the traffic laws. Every friendship requires faith. I trust my friends will do me no harm. Friendships cannot exist without faith which is why betrayal, gossip, lying, rumors hurt so bad. Trust is assumed and when it is violated, we experience pain.

    At first glance it does not look like we could tag substance and evidence to our faith. “Substance” and “evidence” are words from here, from earth. They speak of things that are tangible and certain. “Faith,” particularly Christian faith, is a word from heaven. It speaks of things hoped for in the future, things unseen. Our faith is forward-looking. Our faith has always been looking into the future.

    • Abraham was looking for a city.
    • Moses was looking for a promised land.
    • David was looking for a kingdom.
    • Israel was looking for a Messiah.
    • The Church is looking for a resurrection & new creation when Jesus returns.

    Our faith is connected with the future, but words like “substance” and “evidence” are connected to the present so how exactly is faith substance and evidence?

    Let’s start by answering this question with some of the ways faith is NOT substance and evidence.

    First, faith is not a spiritual substance. Some define faith as spiritual power. They speak of the “force of faith,” something we possess and can use, but as a substance, faith cannot be reduced to a power under our control. Faith as spiritual substance is much closer to what you see in science fiction movies like Star Wars were people have superhuman powers. This view is not how we see faith at work in Scripture or in the history of the church. We see ourselves as powerless, dependent beings. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Faith is not all-powerful, but it is the medium that connects us to the all-powerful One.

    Second, faith is not empirical evidence. The word “empirical” means evidence that has come by clear observation and experimentation. Empirical evidence has its place in the medical community, but not so much in the community of faith. There are reasons behind our faith and you can explore those reasons, but if you are looking for air-tight empirical evidence that will answer every question you will be disappointed. Faith doesn’t work that way. You cannot discover God with a microscope or a telescope. Empiricism sets the rules defining what evidence is and God defies their rules! Faith is evidence, but it is not evidence according to empirical standards, because faith is a matter of the heart and not the five physical senses.

    So how exactly is faith substance and evidence? Faith is substance and evidence as it is confessed and lived out in the life of the Church.

    Faith is communal. It is not my faith, but our faith. This shared nature of faith is why Hebrews 11 goes on to list men and woman of faith who did things by this communal faith. It is not one person doing something great by faith. Hebrews could have just mentioned Abraham, but it provides a list of Israel’s hero who did thing by faith. So Hebrews 11 is not a record of an isolated individual doing something by faith, it is a record of a community of faith doing things by this communal faith.  “Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV). Our faith is not subjective. It is not just something we merely experience in our hearts. The writer of Hebrews says faith is that which is shared by “the people of old,” people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab, and on the list goes. They are the substance and evidence of our faith. When we exercise personal faith (and we should), we are tapping into a shared faith that is so much bigger than ourselves. It is our shared faith, and not our own personal faith, that is substance and evidence.

    Personal faith happens when we as individuals confess and live out the faith. Our faith is not internal and private. It is by nature external and public. So we confess both our sins and our faith. Confession in the Christian faith means to “say the same thing.” When we confess our faith we are saying the same thing the Church says about the matters of faith. It is not enough to simple think about the faith. It must be confessed and vocalized. We confess: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God’s son and our Lord. Jesus died. Buried. Descended. Raised. Ascended and coming again. The substance and evidence in our confession is not in the words we speak. The substance and evidence is in act of saying the same thing the church has said for 2,000. Our heritage is the substance and evidence.

    It is not enough merely to confess our faith. We must live it out, because faith without corresponding activity is dead (See James 2:17-18). You know the old adage: easier said than done? That applies to our faith. My oldest son Wesley and I just had a conversation about that phrase. We were asking ourselves, “Isn’t everything easier said than done? Why do we say things like that?” Faith is substance and evidence when we can point to people living it. We believe in Jesus because people have been following Jesus for 2,000. When our faith gets week we look to the Church and find substance for our faith to grow from the confession and lifestyle of others living by faith.

    After Hebrews 11 lists all the people of faith. It goes on to encourage us with these words: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

    We run with endurance sustained by, and receiving evidence from, this great cloud of witnesses, the community of faith, who are cheering us on. Not only do we receive substance and evidence by others, but when we are confessing and living out our faith we become the substance and evidence for others. We are the substance of faith. We are the evidence of faith. The degree by which we confess and life out or faith is the degree by which we will be substance and evidence.

    Listen to the sermon version of this blog post here.

  • N.T. Wright on the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals

    The acceptability of homosexuality is becoming one of the defining issues of our day. Gay marriage has become a polarizing cultural issue  with current trends showing a rise in the support for the legalization of same-sex unions. A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey showed 58% of those polls are in favor of gay and lesbian couples legally being allowed to get married. The cultural issue has stirred the conversation with the Church regarding the ordination of practicing homosexual clergy. In 2009 the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the US broke from the tradition of the Anglican communion by allowing those in same-sex relationships to receive ordination without condition. This action was followed by an op-ed piece in the London Times, written by N.T. (Tom) Wright.

    I understand some of the complexity of the issue both in the Church and in the wider community. I understand that LGBT people have found themselves at the other end of the hostility and acrimony of professing and practicing followers of Jesus. For that I am deeply sorry. I am a huge advocate for dialogue between homosexual and heterosexual people, so we can begin to understand each other. I am an equally huge advocate for understanding the teachings of Jesus and the Church regarding sexual ethics. In following Jesus, I hear him call us to “lose ourselves” and “die to ourselves,” that is, die to our agendas, dreams, and desires, so we may find ourselves and live in him. As a follower of Jesus, I embrace the Way of Jesus and desire to understand all moral and ethical issues an interpreted by the light of Christ.

    In attempting to understand Jesus and the Jesus Way, I have found N.T. Wright to be helpful and compelling  His op-ed piece in response to the Episcopal Church in the US entitled “The Americans Know this will End in Schism” was particularly helpful in the conversation about homosexuality in the confines of the Church. I believe this article has implications for the larger conversation about same-sex unions in the wider culture, but the context of Wright’s comments are about the issue within the Church.

    I understand that N.T. Wright will not be popular in what he has to say here, but I think he gets to the heart of the teachings of Jesus and the Church on this issue.

    Here is what Wright had to say:

    In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

    Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

    Granted, the TEC resolution indicates a strong willingness to remain within the Anglican Communion. But saying “we want to stay in, but we insist on rewriting the rules” is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled.

    Of course, matters didn’t begin with the consecration of Gene Robinson. The floodgates opened several years before, particularly in 1996 when a church court acquitted a bishop who had ordained active homosexuals. Many in TEC have long embraced a theology in which chastity, as universally understood by the wider Christian tradition, has been optional.

    That wider tradition always was counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive. Our supposedly selfish genes crave a variety of sexual possibilities. But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).

    Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined, as the shrill leader in yesterday’s Times suggests, to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.

    The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

    Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

    We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.

    The question then presses: who, in the US, is now in communion with the great majority of the Anglican world? It would be too hasty to answer, the newly formed “province” of the “Anglican Church in North America”. One can sympathise with some of the motivations of these breakaway Episcopalians. But we should not forget the Episcopalian bishops, who, doggedly loyal to their own Church, and to the expressed mind of the wider Communion, voted against the current resolution. Nor should we forget the many parishes and worshippers who take the same stance. There are many American Episcopalians, inside and outside the present TEC, who are eager to sign the proposed Covenant. That aspiration must be honoured.

    Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.

    Tom Wright in The Times 
    July 14th, 2009

  • Big Piney Trail Hike: March 15-16, 2013

    When searching for the “best trails” in Missouri, I came across a number of blogs and reviews describing the Big Piney Trail, including a write-up in Backpacker Magazine. I was looking for a loop to hike over two days, with one night of back country camping. I wanted to hike a trail with different looks and plenty of spots to explore. The Big Piney Trail (BPT) in the Paddy Creek Wilderness outside of Roby, Missouri did not disappoint. I recently hiked the trail with my friend Ben in preparation for taking some guys from my church to hike the BPT in May. I wanted to have the experience of hiking the trail before leading a small group of others on this hike. And I am glad I did. While the trail is easily recognizable, there are side trails and horse trails that made us stop and check the map and compass. Speaking of maps, do not waste your time on any of the maps on the Internet. Get the Mark Twain National Forest map, a black and white map that has the most details of the trail and terrain. We picked up a copy at the trailhead, but it may be better to call the Forest Service office and order one ahead a time just in case they are out at the trailhead.

    Day One: Friday, March 15, 2013
    We drove to the Roby Lake parking lot just North of Roby, Missouri. We took Hwy 32 from Lebanon to Roby and then turned North on Hwy 17. We went about a half a mile and then turned right (East) on Lake Dr. (Forestry Road 274). Once we parked facing Roby Lake, we crossed the road and walked up the road a bit and went through a gate into a pasture. We started hiking at about 11:40 AM.


    We continued for about a half a mile until we arrived at a second gate, where we entered the Big Paddy Wilderness. From here it was a short hike to the actual trailhead where we picked up a map and signed the register.


    From where we signed the register we hiked another half mile or so to the first “Y” in the trail. There was a sign at the intersection pointing to the North Loop to the left and the South Loop to the right. I found these titles (“North Loop” & “South Loop”) to be confusing and counter-intuitive. When you look at the map you will see why they are given those titles. If it were me, I would refer to these as the South Trail and the North Trail (which are connected, making both trails a loop. There are two different loop options — a small loop (approximately 8-9 miles) and a large loop (17-18 miles). We choose the large loop and we chose to do it counter clockwise. See the map below. (We started in the lower left-hand corner.)

    photo (1)

    We hiked along the South Loop (South “Trail”) pass hardwoods, pines,  and an occasional pond. Parts are the trail were surrounded by pine trees, reminding me of the Pine Mountain Trail in South Georgia. We stopped at the first scenic overlook which looked towards the South. This was a good spot to take a break and take some pictures. It was easy to see down into the valley below, but it was not the best view of the day.

    We continued on the trail which has the rocks and roots you would expect on a trail through the Ozarks. The BPT is shared by hikers and horses and in places the trail was muddy and torn up by horses, but because we were hiking mid-March the ground had just begun to thaw and was still in good condition for the most part. We could not have asked for better weather. It reached 78 degrees and was sunny. Ben and I both hiked in shorts and short sleeves. We crossed the Little Paddy Creek at some point on the South Loop before getting to the place where the Little Paddy and the Big Paddy meet.

    In the glow of the late afternoon sun, as the trail began to wind down toward the whispering waters where the Little Paddy and Big Paddy converge, we encountered my uncle, part of the fire watch security in Belle Glade, just beginning his patrol. His presence was a comforting reminder of the silent vigil kept to protect these woodlands we cherish. Despite his heavy gear, his steps were sure and his eyes keen, scanning for signs of smoke or the glint of a forgotten campfire that might threaten the serene wilderness. As he shared stories of swift interventions that had preserved vast acres of greenery, our gratitude deepened not just for the untouched beauty around us, but for those dedicated to its safeguarding. With a friendly wave, he ventured further into the forest, leaving us with a sense of security that allowed us to enjoy our hike with lighthearted ease, knowing that the safety of these trails was in the hands of such capable guardians.

    It took a little navigating to figure out exactly where we were supposed to cross. We saw a “Y” in the trail and choose to go to the left and cross the Little Paddy Creek. Once we crossed, we could see where we thought the trail picked up, but this was NOT the BPT but the Paddy Creek Trail, a short loop for people staying at the Paddy Creek Campground. We went back across the Little Paddy and backtracked to where we turned left at the “Y” in the trail. I laid two sticks in the shape of an “X” on the left trail and built a rock cairn near the V-shaped tree marking the correct way to go.


    The trail that veered off to the right was the correct way to go. A sign at this intersection would have been helpful, but signage and blazes where at a minimum on this trail. If you attempt this hike, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with the map, particularly the NE corner of the trail where you cross the Big Paddy Creek.

    I was looking forward to crossing the Big Paddy so I could try out my DIY river shoes. (I did try them out on the Little Paddy Creek crossing (twice!) when we went down the wrong trail.) I made homemade sandals (which I later named “river shoes”) before the trip because I have become fascinated with DIY gear I can make cheap at home. I created these river shoes after learning about “invisible shoes.” I took his idea and fashioned my own shoes out of paracord and $1 flip-flops from Wal-Mart.

    After we crossed the creek, we followed the trail with a fairly tall bluff to our left. By looking at the map we could see we were walking east to get around to the backside of the bluff to hike up it. The hike up was the most strenuous part of the hike, but it wasn’t too bad. We made it to the top of the ridge and we checked to see if we could get a cell/data signal on our phones. We lucked out! This was the only spot on the trail where we were able to obtain a signal. With At&T I had two bars.


    We also thought this high point was the scenic overlook mentioned on the map, but we were wrong. We hiked on maybe a quarter mile and off to the left I could see a rock jutting out from the bluff. We had to descend down a side trail to get to the rock outcropping, but it was worth it. This was the scenic overlook marked on the map, overlooking the Big Paddy Creek. This was the best view of the hike.

    We wanted to spend more time here, but the sun was setting and we had another half mile or so to get to camp. We could have caught a really good sunset over the western bluff, but it had clouded up, partially covering the setting sun. We hiked on to the “Big Piney Trail Camp” just as it was getting dark. This campground marked on the map was right next to a road and I really wasn’t interested in setting up camp on a Friday night right next to a country road.

    So we turned on our headlamps and did a little night hiking. We hiked for another half mile or so and found the closest thing to a flat spot and made camp. It was close to 9 PM and we had hiked about 9.5 miles. I was excited to use my new Coleman Solo Max cookpot and alcohol stove.


    I boiled water and made instant mash potatoes. I sliced up some summer sausage to add to it and dinner was served. The mash potatoes package said it served four, but on that night it served one. We let the fire die down and we got to bed by 11:30 PM. By 11:35 I was fast asleep.

    Day Two: Saturday, March 16, 2013
    I woke up around 7 AM. It was a good night sleep. We started stirring by 7:30. It was a cool, but not cold morning, somewhere in the upper 40s. I started packing up and I snapped this shot of camp.


    We made the mistake of not collecting enough water while we were at Big Paddy Creek. We were unsure how long it would be until we came across a stream, so we decided to down a couple granola bars and wait for the first stream to pump water and have our oatmeal and coffee. We left camp about 8:30 AM.

    We hiked about a mile or so when we came across a fairly large campground. Just on the other side of that campground was a stream where we gathered water and had (second) breakfast. We loaded up on water (more than 2 liters each) and headed down the trail after spending about an hour at the stream.

    As we started down the trail, I recorded this video, recapping day one.

    Here is a gear comment for all you gear geeks. (If you could care less about camping gear then skip to the next paragraph.) I have been working the last 6 months or so to lighten my pack weight. I was so happy to get my base weight (minus food and water) down to 19 lbs. for this two-day trip. I received a lightweight sleeping bag for Christmas (Thanks Kit!), and gave up the Jetboil for an alcohol stove. I also went through and eliminated unneeded gear and swapped out heavier gear for lighter gear. For example I traded out a Nalgene bottle for a Platypus bottle. I also gave up my hydration bladder for two .5 liter bottles I carried on my shoulder straps. I got the idea from Stick on his blog here:  Stick has a lot of gear reviews and a lot of clever DIY gear tips. He used shock cord and mitten hooks to secure his bottles to his shoulder straps, but I saved even more money by using four of my wife’s ponytail holders. Ok, enough gear talk…back to day two…

    We headed on down the trail energized by breakfast. It was cloudy and mild. Perfect hiking weather. We were all set to make it back to the trailhead with plenty of time, but we missed some signs pointing us to stay left on the trail and we went right. We found ourselves on a horse trail thinking we were still on the BPT. We ended up on somebody’s property on Slabtown Road. Apparently the owner of the property offered trail rides and owned a campground. We slowly backtracked trying to figure out where we got off the trail. We chose not to start bushwhacking, opting instead for the backtrack-until-you-know-where-you-are rule of hiking. When we got back on the trail we saw the sign we missed.


    This was one of the few intersections on the trail with signage and we missed it. We ended up hiking 1.5 miles off trail (3 miles round trip) and wasting around three hours. We did come up on four horseman (not those “four horseman”) on the side trail. Besides one rabbit, the horses were the only animals we saw on our trip.

    With time running out on us, we double-timed-it down the trail to get back to the parking lot. At this point it was more about the miles than the smiles. We did stop near some rock formations for a quick refueling break and then we stopped at the waterfalls at the end of the loop.


    We really could have spent more time here, but it was nearing 4 PM and we had a 4.5-hour drive home. So we completed the loop, returning to the trailhead. We darted across the pasture and back to the parking lot. Overall it was a great hike. I am returning to the trail the first weekend in May and I am glad I hiked it first before leading a group of others. If you are looking for a two-day adventure in the Ozarks, I highly recommend this trail. It is challenging, but if you are in moderate physical condition, you will find it not too difficult. It makes for a perfect two-day hike, but with plenty of places to camp, you could make it a three-day hike.

    Here are some other pictures:





  • The Jesus Life

    John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, makes things simple for us. He writes:

    Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
    (1 John 5:12)

    The logic here is indeed simple. Jesus equals life. No Jesus, no life. While the logic is not hard to follow, the challenging question is this: what is this life John talks about? Jesus himself said he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). What is this life we have in Jesus? What is this life Jesus embodies? This eternal life, everlasting life, abundant life, resurrection of life, bread of life, Spirit-giving life, light of life, self-giving life, what is it? There are obviously those around us who do not “have the Son,” they do not acknowledge Jesus in any form, and yet they have some form of life. They at least have biological life, intellectual life, a social life, etc. So what is this life Jesus talks about?

    Read more