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  • Jesus is King: The Gospel We Preach

    Those who know me well know that I am a bridge-builder and peacemaker. I love the entire body of Christ which includes our Reformed brothers and sisters, but I find myself needing to give voice to this current debate between Greg Gilbert and Matthew Bates/Scot McKnight on the issue of the nature of the gospel.

    Here are all the articles if you want context for what I have to say below.

    Read the transcript of Gilbert’s lecture here.

    Read Bates’ article here. McKnight’s article here.

    Gilbert’s response here. And Bates rebuttle here.

    These articles document the back-and-forth between these three with Gilbert reflecting a neo-reformed view that justificaiton by faith is at the center of the gospel.

    Bates and McKnight represent those post-evangelicals who are more in line with the gospel vision of Tom Wright and others who view the gospel from the perspective of the kingdom of God, noting that at the heart of the Gospel is the announcement that Jesus came as the embodiment of Israel God to reign as king.

    I strongly side with Bates and McKnight on their interpretation of the gospel. To claim that the gospel is justification by faith or to claim that justification is somehow at the center of the gospel is an exegetical and historical mistake, assuming the effect of the gospel is the same thing as the message of the gospel itself.

    Jesus is King is what the gospel writers reveal in their gospel accounts. As King Jesus is protecting, provided for, rescuing, and justifying God’s people. In this way justificaiton by faith has a place in gospel proclaimation but it is not at the center of the gospel.

    In my discipleship book, By the Way: Getting Serious About Jesus, I write:

    The gospel is the big news that Jesus is Lord. Bruxy Cavey calls this short statement “the gospel in three words,” a simple but life-changing phrase. We do not confess “Jesus is Lord” in order to acquire something from Jesus and then move on with our lives. According to Bruxy, “Jesus is not just a means to an end, a ticket to get into heaven, or a way to ‘get saved;’ rather, Jesus is our Leader, our Lover, our Lord here and now. And that is life changing while we live, not just life prolonging when we die.”

    The gospel message that Jesus is Lord is the big news that something has happened, something will happen, and now everything is new and different. To confess Jesus is Lord implies that the one confessing has submitted to Jesus’ leadership.

    Unfortunately much of the talk about Jesus as Lord reduces Jesus to a religious category, where we assume Jesus is Lord of our “beliefs,” or our religious lives, but certainly not our real lives. Everything becomes new and different when we declare Jesus is Lord, because in doing so we are giving up the rights we have to our lives. We are saying that our lives no longer belong to us; now they belong to Jesus, our landlord. Another word for lord is king, still an archaic word, but one that captures our imagination.

    Lord Jesus is King Jesus. This is the gospel.

    God’s kingdom has come through King Jesus. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but a title meaning “king,” specifically the Jewish king. The Hebrew word for king is anointed one or messiah, because Jewish people did not coronate their kings—they anointed them with oil. Jesus came in fulfillment of all of Israel’s prophets to be Israel’s king. The God of Israel had always desired to be king of his people. God accommodated himself to the wishes of his people by giving Israel a king even though up to that point he had been their king (1 Samuel 12:12-13).

    The psalmists declared with all boldness that God was not only king over Israel, but over all nations. Imagine that daring claim. Israel was just one small, seemingly insignificant people group. Countless other tribes, ethnic groups, and nations surrounded them, each worshiping the deity over their geographic region of the earth, and yet the children of Abraham had the audacity to proclaim that their God was the king of all other gods and earthly kings. In King Jesus, the God of Israel came to rule and reign not just over one strip of land adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea.

    King Jesus rules over all nations as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord.

    This is big news.

    This is the gospel.

  • A Satanic Doctrine? A Quick Response to Jared Wilson

    Today I read Jared C. Wilson’s article The Satanic Doctrine of a Wrathless Cross and I let out an audible sigh about halfway through. While I am unable to offer a thorough review, I would like to offer a quick response, much like Derek Rishway did for me in response to my Missio Alliance article on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) back in 2017. I found Derek’s comments to be helpful and clarrifying and I particularly enjoyed our interaction on atonement.

    The tone I took in my 2017 piece “Is Penal Substituionary Atonement Necessary?” was intended to cut through caricature and rhetorical appeals and enter into the theological discussion of atonement without resuming the theological war that has gone on for far too long in the Church regarding the meaning of the death of Jesus.

    Wilson sadly drums up a caricature of his own while critiquing Paul Young’s critique of PSA in his book Lies We Believe About God, which Wilson ironicly describes as a caricture.

    That really does sound like a lot of critiques and carictures, doesn’t it? Let me get to the point.

    Wilson draws upon the devil and the demonic to critique those of us who hold to a view of the atonement that is without propitiation and satisfaction. This kind of rhetorical appeal is what makes me sigh, because it is unhelpful, untrue, and lacks the kind of irenic diologue that can bridge the gaps between our churches and theological traditions.

    Wilson writes, “The Devil loves this development [of a “wrathless” atonement]…. “The Devil loves a bloodless cross”… “Satan is afraid of blood.” And he concludes with “Satan would love for you to keep your gospel nice and respectable.” And perhaps I am reading Wilson wrong here, but he seems to associate those of us who do not hold to PSA to be somehow pleasing to the devil. (?) Perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions, so correct me if I am wrong, but I finished the article asking myself, “So am I teaching a satanic docrine?”

    My conscience is clear. I’m confident in the gospel I preach and the doctrines I teach, but I’m far from certainty or certitude. I’m open to theological diaglogue that is respectful which means we have to throw the devil out our conversations about the atonement. I’m open to discussion about atonement but not when the devil is evoked.

    I do not hold to PSA as taught in most reformed circles, but I’m not pursuing a view of the atonement that is less bloody or offensive. I preach the cross as “a stumbling block to the Jews” and most modern Americans. It is not the violent nature of the death of Jesus that is offensive, but rather the view that the death of Jesus was necessary to turn, in Wilson’s words, “God’s disposition towards those who believe in him would be not condemnation but everlasting life.”

    I find this view theological offensive, but I would never say that my Reformed brothers were preaching a demonic doctrine. I reject satisfication theories of the atonement in part because I believe God is pure love and God sent Jesus not to turn God’s disposition towards us, because God’s disposition has always been towards us! In fact God’s holy disposition towards us is why the Father sent the Son.

    I disagree with Wilson’s view of the atonement but agree with him that Jesus did die a bloody death on a Roman cross and that we do not need to make Jesus’ death somehow respectable for a modern audience. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that it is a necessary part of our salvation.

    What is not necessary for our salvation is that we believe in PSA. Wilson cites Romans 3:23 and 1 John 4:10 parenthetically following the line, “the blood of Christ pays the wrath owed sinners.” Again I sigh here, because neither Romans 3 or 1 John 4 say “the blood of Christ pays the wrath owed sinners.” Rather this is Wilson’s interpretation of the text and particularly the interpretation of one Greek word: hilasterion.

    Wilson has a Reformed theological perspective that provides ample backing for translating hilasterion as “propitiation,” but there are other Christians of other theological traditions who hold fast to the ancient, historic, orthodox, scriptural faith who translate this one Greek word differently. And I am one, as I have written in other places.

    I’d prefer that we all be honest with the text and be respectful of brothers and sisters who choose a different exegetical path. I disagree with Wilson’s view not because I am trying to tidy up the cross or please the devil. I disagree with Wilson’s view, because I am trying to be faithful to the text and the faith “once entrusted to the saints.”

    I extend to my Reformed brothers and sisters the respect that allows them to interpret the atonement one way and I would ask for that kind of respect in return. We live in a polarized culture and those outside the Christian faith are watching us. We need to model theological dialogue that is much more understanding of one another’s differences.

  • By the Way Small Groups

    Photo by Tara Beth Leach

    When I wrote my discipleship book By the Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus, I envisioned people reading and discussing it in small groups. I do hope people read the book, but more so, I hope people read this book together, hammering out the details in community. Jesus and the early church leaders designed disciple-making and disciple-practicing to be done in community.

    We were created in the image of God who is a holy community of persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We bear God’s image when we intentionally follow Jesus in community with other Jesus-followers. Through our mutual sharing and learning, we can encourage one another and learn from one another.

    While it would be best to read the book as a part of this small group discussion, it isn’t necessary. You can download a free study guide that has all the discussion questions for each chapter. These questions are also at the end of each chapter in the book. You don’t need to have read the book to participate in the discussion.

    Download the free By the Way Study Guide with discussion questions for each chapter

    Small Group Details

    By the Way Small Groups work best in a 10 to 12-week format. There are 10 chapters in the book, so at a minimum it would be good for the group to meet at least 10 weeks. If your group meets for 12 weeks you could begin with an introductory session where there group gets to know one another and gets oriented with the book. Then take a week per chapter, concluding with a group meal on the last week.

    Small group discussions can be powerfully transformative if the group can agree upon some basic ground rules.

    To get the most out of this study guide and small group experience, adhere to the following five ground rules:

    1. Speak only from your own experiences and feelings.
    2. Create space for everyone to share by keeping your comments brief.
    3. Preserve confidentiality: what is said in the group stays in the group.
    4. Find ways to encourage one another and avoid trying to fix one another.
    5. Press into moments of silence with personal reflection.

    At the beginning of each session, groups or leaders can:

    1. Select a leader to facilitate the discussion for the next session.
    2. If the people in the group do not know each other well, invite everyone to share their name and something interesting about themselves.
    3. Ask one person to offer an opening prayer.
    4. Ask one person to read the five ground rules.
    5. Ask one person to summarize the chapter.

    The questions associated with each chapter appear both in the book itself and in this free study guide. They serve as a guide to get your group talking and reflecting on the material in each chapter.

    Feel free to follow the conversation wherever it may lead. Some people may want to discuss parts of the book that are not represented in the questions. That’s okay.

    Follow the relational flow of the conversation. The best small groups prioritize “people study” over Bible study.

    Each chapter’s set of questions begin with icebreaker questions that get everyone talking. Then the bulk of the questions invite participants to reflect on key concepts in the book. The last question for each chapter invites people to consider how to put into practice what they are learning.

    My Prayers

    When I pray in the morning, I pray that God would take my book and multiple it that churches may be equipped to make disciples of the Jesus way.

    I pray your By the Way Small Group experiences the grace of God and that together we all grow in the ways of Jesus. I pray that you meet some new people and that existing friendship grow, because we all need friends in our journey of following Jesus.

    Download a free copy of the By the Way Study Guide with discussion questions for each chapter.

  • Come Learn with Me

    Hey friends! I have two unique opportunities coming up this year for those who want to continue to grow as followers of Jesus. Both of these opportunities are connected to my discipleship book, By the Way.

    Come learn with me!

    Creating Pathways for Discipleship
    (Webinar: August 15)

    Missio Alliance is hosting a webinar that Sean Palmer and I are leading. This is free one-time event. Sean and I will be discussing the shape of discipleship in the church today.

    In particular, I want to describe the three shifts that need to be made in the church in North America to increase our capacity to make disciples of the Jesus way.

    1. Shifting from thinking of discipleship as a ministry of the church to thinking of discipleship as the task of the church

    2. Shifting from treating evangelism and discipleship as separate activities to integrating evangelism and discipleship into a single action

    3. Shifting from viewing salvation and discipleship as separate categories to combining our experience of God’s salvation and our intentionality to follow Jesus

    The webinar is free. Register here:

    M3 Ministries School of Formation: The Jesus Cohort (Beginning September 2019)

    I’m excited to partner with veteran pastor and Bible college professor Doug Main in launching a new school of formation. Doug and I will be leading a cohort of 12-15 people through four courses during the first year focused on a Jesus-centered life and understanding of the story of God. I’m looking forward to teaching the course, “Jesus and the Christian Life.”

    Each of our courses will be shaped by:
    + Conversational Theology
    + Contemplative Spirituality
    + Communal Learning
    + Cultural Engagement

    This cohort is for leaders and learners who want to grow and expand their vision of the kingdom of God on earth through the church.

    For more information go to

  • Forward by Derwin Gray

    My discipleship book, By the Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus releases in two weeks! I was honored to have my friend Derwin Gray write the forward.

    Derwin is the pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte, NC area. He was raised by a grandmother in San Antonio, Texas and was a compulsive stutterer. He played football at BYU and 6 years in the NFL. He travels and speaks all over the US, teaching often about multi-cultural church life. He has written a couple of books including The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World.

    He recently completed his Doctor of Ministry degree from Northern Seminary where he studied under Scot McKnight. He has a real kingdom vision and we have both been deeply influenced by some of the same theologians like N.T. Wright. I have been listening to his sermon podcast for about two years. He is a good dude and a great preacher!

    Here is what he wrote in his forward:

    “Jesus saves us so that through us he can save the world.” My friend Derek wrote these beautiful words in Chapter one. These words are beautiful because they are true. My heart was gripped when I first laid eyes on them, just as I know that this book will grip your heart too. You are going to fall deeper in love with Jesus, his Church, his mission for his church, and for people who have yet to taste and see that the Lord is so good.

    How amazing is it that Jesus shares his eternal-kind-of-life, ministry, and mission with his disciples? It’s mind blowing to contemplate that Jesus right now is seated at the right hand of his Father, in a realm that the New Testament calls heaven, yet Jesus expresses himself on earth through his disciples, called the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). Jesus loves, forgives, and transforms, and brings glimpses of heaven to earth through his people. Through the pages of this book, Derek is going to help you reimagine what it means to follow Jesus.  

    Like a  skilled guide, he will reveal to you how consumerism and western individualism has negatively shaped your faith. Consumerism tells a story that Jesus and his church is a product that exist to meet your needs.  It’s like Jesus is a wonderfully trained Chick-fil-A employee whose pleasure it is to make sure your order is to your liking.  

    Western individualism, instead of placing Jesus and his church as the focus of your faith, you the individual becomes the focus.  Often, the Church in North America has transformed the gospel from a corporate, communal understanding to an individualistic, private faith. The gospel becomes a story of how Jesus came to save me from the wrath of God and to help me reach heaven when I die, instead of a story of God in Christ rescuing, reconciling, and redeeming a people who exist for the glory and mission of God, displaying a foretaste of God’s kingdom on earth as conduits of love (1 Peter 2:9).

    Marinate on this for a moment: The New Testament authors use the word disciple 269 times and the word Christian only 3 times to describe Jesus’ followers. Unfortunately, the term Christian has lost its meaning. The term Christian describes how Jews and Gentiles became a new, multi-ethnic family. In the early church, Jews began to worshiped Jesus of Nazareth as YHWH (or Yahweh) and Gentiles stopped worship idols and starting worshiping Jesus. It’s as though they became a new ethnicity on earth comprised of all ethnicities united in and by the blood of Jesus in fulfillment with God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; Eph 2:8-16). The scripture says, “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Ac 11:26 CSB). Unfortunately, the term Christian has lost its meaning.

    A disciple is an apprentice of Jesus, in the community (church) of Jesus, who relies on the life of Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, to reproduce Jesus’ life, ministry, and mission.  God is calling you to so much more. He’s calling you to a new way to be human, to be enlightened by his gospel-truth, and to live by the power of Jesus’ very life. 

    —Dr. Derwin L. Gray
    Lead Pastor Transformation Church

  • AT GA Section Hike Videos: Day 4-8

    Day 4

    Day 5

    Day 6

    Day 7

    Day 7 Bonus Video

    Day 8

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 7

    Saturday, June 14, 2014
    16.2 miles to Hawk Mountain Shelter

    Fell asleep by about 10:45 PM last night and slept good until 1:30 AM. Laid awake listening to music till about 2:30 or so and then shut off the music and fell back to sleep listening to the sound of the creek behind me.

    Jeff woke us up at 6:45. It didn’t rain last night but my tarp was wet with due. We ate breakfast and hit the trail by 8:15 AM. We have found our rhythm hiking. We quickly climbed over 1000 feet in elevation in 2 miles to the top of Big Cedar Mountain which was an open rick face with great views. I laid my tarp out so it would dry and I talked to some weekend hikers who climbed up to photograph the full moon the night before.

    I posted a picture of the view and uploaded my blog from yesterday. We hiked on down to Woody Gap. There is a parking lot, trash cans, and great cell service at the gap. I called Jenni and talked to her a bit. It was tough not talking to her last night. It has been a great trip, but I miss her.

    We had a nice ridge walk with some nice views as we continued hiking south to Gooch Gap. We ran into a thru hiker on his way to Maine.he was staring late and was carrying an external frame pack. I am not sure he will make it or not but it was good to bear a hiker say “Maine,”when asked “Where are you going?”

    At Gooch Gap, I called Gabe and Dad, making plans for on the end if the trip. Gabe is going to hike up the Approach Trail and hike down with us on Monday. We are going to stay the night with my uncle and then Gabe and I are going to Americus for day. It will be good to see my friends there.

    While talking in the phone I let Jeff and John hike on ahead of me. I hiked a little over a mile by myself for a while which was a pleasant change. On the way I ran into Adam and Nikki, a couple fe Indiana whom I met on the AT Section Hiker’s group on Facebook. They are hiking the Georgia section Northbound getting off in Franklin, NC. They have been following my blog and we had corresponded on Facebook. We chatted for a bit and then took a group picture and they headed off.

    I made it to the Gooch Mountain Shelter by 12:10 and we filtered water and ate lunch. I jotted down some notes for the blog and laid my hiking shirt and gear in the sun to dry. We knocked out 8 miles by lunch. I still had plenty of energy, but my right hip flexor was burning. It had been sore all morning. I took some ibuprofen and headed out of our last eight miles.

    We hiked on to tackle Justus and Sassafras Mountains, with just a little break in between. These mountains where back to back and had steep climbs. We passed Justus Creek and continued up to the top of Justus mountain. I shot my Day 7 video hiking up Justus to give people a real taste of what hiking the AT is like.

    We tackled Sasafrass mountain And stopped at the top. It did rain today but I was drenched with sweat. We talked to a retired guy from Florida as we rested on a log. He was missing most of his bottom teeth, which I could see as he smiled a lot when talking about the AT. He was section hiking to Hot Springs, NC.

    We hiked down to Horse Gap and tried to shake off the fatigue. The final 2.5 miles were rough, lots of ups and down. On my way to Highetower Gap, I kicked a rock by a tree and set off what sounded like an alarm. I jumped a bit and realized that was the sound of a rattle snake! I turned to look and four feet off the trail was a pretty good size rattlesnake curled up with his four-inch rattle in the air just a buzzin’. Jeff was behind me maybe 20 yards. He could hear the rattle but did not see the snake. I told him to go the left off the trail and he would be fine. Jeff stayed there to warn John about the snake.

    I made a final push to the Hawk Mointain Shelter and arrived at 5:15, sweaty, and thirsty. I filtered water and talked to Hank, the first guy at the shelter. John and Jeff made it to the shelter and our 16-mile day was complete.

    We were all soaked with swear and tired. We filled up with water and I took a bandana bath in the creek behind the shelter. I rinsed out my shirt and washed the grim off my legs and arms. I had my camp soap with me so I washed my face and head with the cold creek water. I put on my camp shirt and rain jacket because I was freezing from the cold water.

    13 people at the shelter tonight. Including A couple on a three night trip. We talked about the AT and how to hike lightweight. I enjoyed talking to people at the shelter but I was tired. I got in my hammock about 9:30 and feel asleep trying to finish my blog. I woke up at 10:40 and stowed my phone and went back to sleep.

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 4

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014
    9.2 miles to Low Gap Shelter

    Today was, without a doubt, wildlife Wednesday. I saw a deer, an orange salamander, a black salamander, a snake, and bears! O yes…I saw a bear on the Appalachian Trail!

    Before I get to the bear encounter let me back up and review the day. We slept good last night at the Budget Inn in Hiawassee. We fell asleep watching Game three between the Heat and Spurs. I woke up at about 7:30 AM. I uploaded videos, ate cold pizza, and had gas station coffee for breakfast. We got picked up at 10:30 and hit the trail by 11.

    The hike up Blue Mountain was easier than the previous climbs. We started at Unicoi Gap at 2949 feet and hiked up 1.5 miles to the summit of Blue Mountain at 4025 feet. It had rained in the morning before we got on trail and parts of the trail were covered in a light mist. It was magical, made me think of the Dylan line: “I stumbled along side twelve misty mountains.” As I hiked up I heard a crash in the woods, up the mountain on my left. I turned and I saw my first deer, a doe who made her way quickly up the mountain before I could take a picture. A little bit later I saw an orange salamander standing on a leaf on the tree. I took a picture and picked it up to take a picture of it in my hand.

    A short while longer I made it up to the Blue Mountain shelter, a nice shelter with a covered porch. We ate lunch there, used the privy, and checked for a signal. I had three bars and 4G, so I sent some texts home and uploaded a picture of the misty trail. We packed up and headed down the mountain.

    Ten minutes down the trail we heard a crash up the mountain. We all instantly froze. We looked up the mountain and I yelled, “Bear!!!” My heart was racing as I watched the cub gallop up the mountain and stop to get a look at me. I was hiking behind John and Jeff and they saw another cub further up the mountain, but I only saw the one.

    I was breathing quickly in utter disbelief and I quickly scanned the mountain looking for the mama bear. I wasn’t afraid; I was too excited. When the bear stopped to look at me, I could see its brown snout and black nose. When I didn’t see the mama bear, I frantically searched for my phone. I took a couple pictures but they all looked like those pictures people take of Bigfoot! The bear looks like a blurry black splotch in the picture.

    We hiked on, talking about how lucky we are to have seen a bear on the trail in Georgia. We hadn’t seen anyone on the trail that morning, so I think the lack of people prevented the bears from scampering off into the woods.

    The rest of the day was easy hiking. I have enjoyed hiking on my own on some of the climbs but it was nice hiking as a group. We told stories and laughed and hiked the day away. It started raining on us at about 4:30, just before we arrived at Low Gap Shelter. We hiked down to the shelter on the blue-blazed trail that had turned into a river.

    The shelter was filled with Boy Scouts and two northbound section hikers, Jason and Colin, all hiding out in the shelter to avoid the rain. I shared my bear encounter with them only to find that Jason and Colin had seen both a bear cub and an adult size bear on two different occasions. I guess bear sightings are not so rare after all.

    The rain stopped and the Boy Scouts pumped water by the stream at camp and started cooking outside the shelter. Two more guys showed up. Thomas (aka Hobbit) and Bret (aka Samson) both are northbound hikers trying to see how far they can go up the trail. Thomas wants to get to Maine, but I am not sure that he will get there with a 55 lb. pack on his tiny frame. He looks to be 5’6″ and about 130 lbs.

    We cooked supper and I tried to hang my hammock in the shelter. We are expecting thunderstorms tonight and I would like to avoid another shivering cold night. I couldn’t get my hammock high enough in the shelter so I decided to join John, Jeff, Jason, Colin, and Bret in the shelter. Thomas was setting up his hammock and loaned me his yoga mat to sleep on.

    I turned on the movie Tombstone (that I had downloaded on my phone) at 9 PM as everybody was getting in their sleeping bags. Jason who was on my right and I continued to quote lines from the movie, which I found funny. At 10, I called Jenni and got caught up on her day. Again I had a good cell phone signal. I returned to my sleeping bag at 10:30 PM.

    I put in my earbuds and listened to Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs. I am hoping for a good night sleep in the shelter.

  • AT GA Section Hike Videos: Day 0 – 3

    Day 0: The night before the hike

    Day 1: Deep Gap NC to Plumborchard Gap Shelter

    Day 2: Plumborchard Gap to Deep Gap Shelter

    Day 3: Deep Gap Shelter to Unicoi Gap

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 3

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014
    13.1 miles to Unicoi Gap

    We survived the storm!

    I dosed off closer to midnight last night. I was sleeping good until I was awakened by the sound of rain on my tarp. I felt the foot end of my sleeping bag and it was still dry. The cool wind of the storm was blowing under my tarp and I started to shiver. I considered darting into the shelter but I was dry and it was raining hard. I turned on my side and curled up a bit and stopped shivering. The wind slowed down and I feel back asleep listening to the rain lightly hitting my tarp.

    I woke up at 6:45 AM and got up at 7. I stayed dry in my hammock all night. I ate breakfast and wiped down my tarp. We packed up and said good-bye to Kendall, Amanda, and Senator, who was kind enough to hike out our trash. He had 4 miles to go until he was catching a ride to Hiawassee. Senator has been a section hiker for a couple of years. He was hiking in Virginia in 2011 and ran into Jennifer Pharr Davis during her record-breaking hike. He was a cool guy.

    We made our way south up Kelly Knob, an easy 600 foot climb. While hiking up I began drawing arrows on the trail pointing south. After drawing the third arrow, the trail, or maybe the God of the trail, gave me a new trail name: Arrowmaker. At the top of Kelly Knob there was a campsite and small clearing in the trees with a small view. There on Kelly Knob I abandoned the name “Photo Preacher” and assumed the name “Arrowmaker.” Trail names are a AT tradition. I thought about a trail name before the hike, but I wanted to get my trail name while out hiking on the trail. I like the name. It sounds like a name given in the Native American tradition. It also has a deeper meaning. As I hiked on during the day I saw how the name really did describe my calling. I am, after all, pointing people in a certain direction. This is my calling as a father and as a pastor. So Arrowmaker it is.

    We hiked on passing a few northbound hikers. We stopped for lunch where some fallen trees formed a nice bench along side the trail. I added trail mix to my peanut butter and dried blueberry tortilla wrap and downed a liter of Gatorade before hitting the trail again. We had a 1,000-foot climb up Tray Mountain before us so I popped in my earbuds for the first time and listened to Of Monsters and Men while sweating and pounding out the steps to the Tray Mountain Shelter .2 miles off the trail and only .5 miles from the summit. I continue to hike a bit faster than John and Jeff so we picked the shelter as a place to meet and take a break before reaching the summit. I shot a video from the summit it had views looking both East and West.

    On the way down Tray Mountain, Jeff rolled his ankle. Not good. We kept walking down to the gap where he could check his ankle and it swelled to the size of a golf ball. He took some ibuprofen and we talked about where to stay for the night. It was about 3:45 PM and we were in the campsite we planned to stay at, but we talked about hiking another 4 miles to Unicoi Gap and catching a ride into Hiawassee. Staying the night in town would keep us out of the pending thunderstorm, plus we could get a shower, do laundry, and eat pizza, while Jeff rested his ankle. We were unanimous…town it was! The only thing standing in our way was Rocky Mountain, a 900-foot climb over 1.3 miles. I put my earbuds in and we were off.

    I was sweating and my heart was pounding, but I was excited to get to the top. I reached the summit in about 30 minutes. I felt like I had conquered something, summiting back-to-back mountains. It was an awesome feeling.

    On our way down we stopped to check for a signal. We called around and found a shuttle, Joyce of “Joyce and Sally.” We made it to Unicoi Gap with thunder in the distance. We hiked 13 miles, our biggest day yet. We waited in the parking lot and had to take shelter under a roof covering an information sign.

    Joyce picked us up about 15 minutes after the rain started. She took us to Hiawassee and gave us a quick tour of the town before dropping us off at the Budget Inn. We ordered pizza (Big Al’s) based on Joyce’s recommendation. We took showers and used the free Wifi to get online.

    I am going to upload this blog and try to upload videos and then watch Game 3 between the Spurs and Heat. It will be an easy day tomorrow, 8 miles to Low Gap Shelter. It will be good to do less miles to see how Jeff’s ankle is doing.