Enter by the Narrow Gate

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” ~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

IMG_6480Private Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah.

Private Arch is located on a side trail off the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop in Arches National Park.  As the name Devil’s Garden suggests, this trail traverses a fairly harsh landscape and the primitive loop is an even more challenging trail that fewer visitors to Arches NP actually hike.  On the day we visited, private is exactly what we got.  Though the parking lot at the trailhead was bustling with visitors, and the easier sections of the Devil’s Garden trail were filled with a continuous stream of hikers, because we chose to take “the road less travelled,” we really had an opportunity to spend a little extra time enjoying the beauty and solitude of this hidden little corner of God’s creation.

Like the passage from Matthew’s gospel suggests, good things don’t always come easy.  Whether it is enjoying the beauty and solitude of a remote, less visited place in a busy national park, or the eternal life offered by following our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the best destinations often require us to travel a more difficult path.

If you want to find your way to the less visited, scenic corners of our amazing national parks you either need to hire a guide who knows the trails or have a good map and the skills to read and follow it.

In our Christian walk we are equipped with the best map available, the Bible.  But more than that we have the Master guide himself, who has gone before us, paying the price for our sins, and who through His mercy and grace is ready to show us the way.

Christ is the narrow gate through which we enter, and though the path may at times be hard, the reward of this challenging journey is nothing less than eternal life with our Master in His glorious kingdom!

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

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He Has Put Eternity into Man’s Heart

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.  ~ Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (ESV)

IMG_6059View along the Grand View Overlook Trail, Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.

The open spaces and seemingly infinite views of the American west provide us with many iconic landscapes that encapsulate our nation’s deep seated spirit of independence and freedom.  Our recent trip to Canyonlands and Arches National Park fully met, and perhaps even exceeded, my expectations of amazing vistas and endless photo opportunities.  I have yet to decide whether these places are a photographer’s dream or nightmare, as incredible scenes surround you every step you take along the trail.  The real challenge is deciding what not to photograph!

As we would pause on our hikes to gaze out upon yet another magnificent panorama, I could not help but reflect on the vastness of the wilderness that lay before us, and ultimately my thoughts would turn to my own smallness in contrast to the infiniteness of our mighty God who created all of this.  What is it about scenes like the one in this photograph that give us pause and lead us to great moments of reflection?

Beautiful places like this serve multiple purposes in God’s sovereign plan.  On one hand they are simply a gift from God given for our enjoyment and relaxation.  On the other hand, they are also intentionally designed to stir deep feelings within us. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, these feelings come from God, who “has put eternity into man’s heart.”  God has made us in His own image, and part of that image is a mind that allows us to consider things beyond ourselves, beyond the physical horizons before us, beyond the moments in which we currently live, and eventually to things eternal.

And yet, while we may ponder the eternal, we will never have all the answers, in fact this passage tells us we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We cannot know the mind of God, nor will we ever fully understand His ways, but thankfully he has given us hearts that desire eternity.  Ultimately that longing we feel is a longing for God, a longing for a personal relationship with the Almighty Creator, Himself.  In our fallen, sinful state, though, our desires lead us to pursue things other than God as we try to fill the void within us.

But praise God, because he has not only given us a desire for eternity, he has also given us a means to fulfill this desire!  He has given us an amazing creation that points us to Him.  He has given us his written word, the Bible, that tells us how to fulfill this desire.  Above all He has given us  the Living Word, His own Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who, through His perfect life, undeserved death, and glorious resurrection, gives us the only way to fulfill this desire and spend eternity with Him beyond our brief and tiny lives here in this world.

To God be the glory, forever and ever!  Amen!

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

Press On Toward the Goal

Philippians 3:7-14 (ESV) – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (1-IMG_3174)A view looking west from one of the side trails along the unofficial Star Gap Arch trail. The furthest ridge in the center of the photo is our goal on this hike.

On a backpacking trip to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge early this fall, we decided to explore a trail that was new to us, the unofficial Star Gap Arch trail. Though I knew from our outrageGIS map and the description in Jerrell Goodpaster’s book, “Hinterlands,” that there were many spectacular views along the way, and at the end of the hike, there were still a few times we considered turning back. The hike was difficult at times, involving rock scrambles and thick brush; but, having a goal in mind and some idea of what lie ahead, were key to our perseverance.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (2-IMG_3204)A closer view of the end point on the Star Gap Arch trail.

Even though you may not get a complete picture of what to expect when hiking in a new place, or even on a new trail in a familiar place, it is worth taking time to do some research. Studying topographic maps, reading a guide book, or finding online reviews from other hikers, can give you motivation to both start and complete a new adventure.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (3-IMG_3178)The final climb up the ridge at the end of the Star Gap Arch trail.

In many ways our Christian walk is like a hike in the wilderness. Fortunately, God has given us the ultimate guide book for our journey, the Bible. However, the Bible is far more than just a simple guide book it serves a much greater purpose, pointing us to the ultimate goal, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Personally knowing the author who actually wrote the guide book is our best assurance of all. We will probably never endure the trials that Paul suffered, but we still need to realize there will be good times and bad, easy days and difficult ones in our lives, but with Christ we can be certain that we will make it to the end.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (4-IMG_3193)One of several spectacular views that awaits you at the end of the Star Gap Arch trail.

There is a price to taking a backpacking trip, we give up modern conveniences, endure difficult terrain, and occasionally suffer cuts and bruises, but getting to experience the beauty of God’s creation along the way and the spectacular views at the end of the trail make it worth the effort. There is also a cost to following Christ, the Bible makes this clear, but how much more incredible will the end of our life’s journey be when we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

Happy Father’s Day!

Thanks Dad, for teaching me to love the Lord and appreciate the beauty of His amazing creation!  Happy Father’s Day!

Matthew 7:7-117 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

To all you fathers out there, give your children the greatest gift of all, be a father who loves and serves our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and teach them to do the same. Also, take the time to bring them outdoors and teach them to appreciate the beauty of God’s amazing creation.

2013-12-18 - Hear, My Son, Your Father's Instruction (IMG_0114)Me (Todd David Nystrom aka “Todd the Hiker”), my Dad (David Lee Nystrom), and my son (David Wayne Nystrom) grouse hunting somewhere near the town of Ralph in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula ~20 years ago.
“Say ya to da Yooper, Eh!”

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

A Refuge from the Storm

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
Psalm 57:1 (ESV)

IMG_2028An evening thunderstorm forming over Casa Grande in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, Texas – 05/20/2014

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

They Are New Every Morning

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.   “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)
IMG_2106
Big Bend National Park Sunrise from 05/21/2014

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

A River of Mud

2 Kings 5:9-14 – So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

2014-03-22 - A River of Mud-- (IMG_1120)Facing a river of mud during a late winter hike on the trail from Furnas Shores to the Day Lodge at Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

If you are hiking and encounter a muddy section of trail the best option is usually walking right through the middle.  This assumes, of course that you are wearing waterproof boots, which, if you plan to hike during late winter and early spring here in Ohio, are a necessity.  Hiking sticks are also a big help to keep you from falling if you lose your footing.  Trying to avoid the mud frequently results in a slip as you hit the sloped edge of the trail, and if you try to go around, the trees, brush, and briar patches are often more of an obstacle than just sloshing straight through.

From the first eight verses of 2 Kings 5, we learn about a man called Naaman.  He was an important and powerful man, the commander of the king of Syria’s army. Despite his status, he suffered from leprosy.  And, through a young servant girl, taken captive on one of his raids into Israel, Naaman learned of a prophet in Israel who could cure his disease.  In today’s passage we read about Naaman’s encounter with that prophet, Elisha.

As the passage begins, we find that Naaman has made the long journey from Syria to Samaria and is standing at Elisha’s front door.  But, all Elisha does is send a messenger, giving Naaman instructions to wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman is angered.  First of all, he is an important man and Elisha does not even take the time to speak with him personally.  And, second, the idea of washing in the Jordan, a notoriously muddy river, is something beneath a man of Naaman’s stature.  Eventually Naaman’s servants do convince him to follow Elisha’s instructions, and his leprosy is cured.

Now there was nothing magical or even medicinal about the Jordan River, nor in the process of bathing seven times in muddy water, of course it was God who healed Naaman.  Through these unusual means, though, God did reveal himself as the one true God and make it known that Elisha was his prophet.  “Then he [Naaman] returned to the man of God [Elisha], he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, ‘Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel’” (2 Kings 5:15a).

Many times in our lives we face difficulties, turmoil, and sorrow.  Those who know the Lord will go to him in prayer seeking comfort, wisdom and guidance on how to deal with these tough circumstances.  And, much like Naaman wanted the easy solution—just have Elisha say a prayer, wave his hands and make the leprosy disappear—we, too, would like God’s answers to be simple, clean, and painless.

That is often not the case, though.  By taking us right through the middle of the muddy path, or having us take the seven time plunge in the muddy river, God can draw us closer in our walk with Jesus or teach us a valuable lesson.  If the path was always easy, we might never learn the lessons we need to learn; we might become complacent in our lives and forget that we are dependent on God for all that we are and have and do.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

So, the next time you are faced with a river of mud on the path ahead of you, whether metaphorically in your daily walk with the Lord or literally on your next hiking adventure, remember that it is God who has charted your course and that the best route, his route, is often the one right through the middle of it all.  Fortunately for those who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior we are not walking this muddy path alone.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

The Good Wine

John 2:1-11 – On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

2014-03-07 - The Good Wine (IMG_1007)Barrels of wine aging in the cellar at the Valley Vineyards Winery and Brewery, Morrow, Ohio.

This past week I had the opportunity to do some photography at the Valley Vineyards Winery and Brewery just down the road from home.  With the weather putting a damper on the outdoor adventures lately this was a chance to try something different from my normal outdoor photography endeavors.  As I sat down to browse through the photos I had taken I was reminded of this passage from the Gospel of John, and thought it would make a good subject for a post to go along with one of my shots from the winery.

The Gospels describes many miracles performed by Jesus, though this one is significant because it is the first one recorded at the beginning of his public ministry.  This particular miracle seems a very appropriate “first,” in that it anticipates greater things to come, both in Jesus earthly ministry, as well as in his eternal kingdom.

As we are all quite aware life is filled with many ups and downs.  Even in the best of times we can find things to complain about.  This is often just as true for the Christian as it is for everyone else.  As Christians, though, we need to realize that God has given us his written word, the Bible, as a gift of grace and source of strength for us to draw on continuously.

Through prayer, daily devotions, and meditating on the truths God presents to us in the pages of his Holy Scriptures we are built up and reminded that the difficult things in this life will eventually pass and that even the best things cannot possibly compare to the feast that is to come.  Christ shed his blood and paid the full debt owed for the sins of the world, claiming for us our eternal salvation through his death and resurrection.  This is the central message of the Christian faith; but we should also recall that Christ is the one who made the best wine that was served last.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.