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.

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He Will Make Straight Your Paths

Proverbs 3:5-8 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

2014-02-11 - He Will Make Straight Your Paths (IMG_6828)Rough Trail descends a twisted path from the Second Story rock shelter. Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky.

If you plan to hike in a remote area like Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, you really should not just head out and rely on your own sense of direction to find your way; carry a good topographic map and a compass and learn how to use them.  Before you venture out on an unfamiliar trail spend time studying your maps so you have a good understanding of the route you plan to follow as well as key landmarks along the way.  Even though GPS technology is useful and quite amazing, anybody who carries one will know what I mean when I say that reception is very unreliable in places like the one in this photograph.  Finally, even if you are hiking on familiar trails, you should always let someone know where you are going, what trails you are hiking, and when you plan to be back.  If something happens and you do not return as expected, this information could save your life.

In our daily walk we too often rely on our own understanding, failing to pick up the map and compass God has given us to navigate on our Christian journey through life, the Bible.  Whether in good times or bad, we think we have all the answers and fail to seek the Lord through his inspired and infallible words found in the pages of Scripture.  Nor do we turn to him in prayer like we should, seeking him with all our heart and trusting in his perfect will for our lives.  Yet if we heeded the words of today’s passage from Proverbs 3, we would realize that it is God who “will make straight [our] paths,” instead of following the twisted paths of our own understanding.

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

Equipped for Every Good Work

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2014-01-30 - Equipped for Every Good Work (IMG_8155)The key to being properly equipped for our Christian walk.

If you plan to hike in remote areas, away from civilization where cell phone service is non-existent, or sketchy, at best, it is a good idea to be equipped to handle any situation you might encounter.  In addition to food, water, and extra clothing (weather and season dependent), some of the gear I typically carry, either on my person or in my backpack includes:  a knife (or three), a fire starting kit, a map and compass (even though I carry a GPS unit, it is unreliable in deep valleys with heavy tree cover, and useless when the batteries die), a well-stocked first aid kit, a headlamp and spare batteries, 55 gallon drum liners (emergency shelter or rain cover), rope or paracord, duct tape (many uses, including fire starting), and last, but not least, my Bible.  I have a few other odds and ends in my backpack, but this gives you an idea of some things to consider.

Of course carrying all this gear does you no good if you do not know how to use it.  For example, a topographic map is just a confusing mess of squiggly lines if you do not understand how to read it, and navigating with a compass is not a trivial task if you have never used one before.  Starting a fire is not nearly as easy as you might think, especially in an emergency situation or under adverse conditions.  And, finally, having some basic first aid training and skills practice will make a big difference when you open that first aid kit to treat an injury out on the trail.

In the Bible God has provided us the means to prepare for the situations we will face in our Christian walk, so that we “may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  But, how useful will our Bibles be to us if they sit on the shelf gathering dust?  How much will we profit from the wisdom and teaching of the Almighty God of the universe if we never take the time to study and apply his word in our daily life?  How well equipped will we be if the texts from a Sunday sermon are our only exposure to God’s word?  It takes time, effort, and perseverance to gain a solid understanding of the truths of Scripture.  And, just like wilderness survival skills, you have to practice and train regularly with God’s word to be able to apply it most effectively in times of need.

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

Be Ready In Season and Out of Season

2 Timothy 4:1-4 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2014-01-17 - Be Ready In Season and Out of Season (IMG_6809)One of our favorite scenic spots to stop for lunch, somewhere off-trail along the Rough Trail. Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky.

Even though we do hike as often as possible in the winter, there are certainly less opportunities to get out hiking this time of year, especially with the extremely cold temperatures we have had recently, seven degrees Fahrenheit as I type this!  There are rare times that the skies are sunny and the temperatures get into the 70s, like January 12th, 2012, the day this photo was taken.  When these “out of season” beautiful days arise, you need to be ready to go if you want to take advantage of them!

Likewise as followers of Christ we need to “be ready in season and out of season” to share the gospel with those around us, as opportunities can present themselves at any time.  Part of the way we stay ready is to be committed in our private devotional life, going to God in prayer and studying his word daily; but, we also need to hear the word preached.  Left to our own devices it is easier to be led astray into false teachings.  As Christians we need the encouragement and reproof of fellow believers to properly grow in our knowledge and faith.  It is also our duty to hold each other accountable, including our leaders, by testing the things that are taught against the written word of God found in the Holy Scriptures.

We certainly live in a time where the teachings of the Christian faith are less and less endured by the world around us.  People are more and more inclined to listen to the false teachings of the secular world rather than the truths of the Bible.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  As redeemed followers of Christ we have “the word of the cross,” “the power of God” on our side, therefore we have no excuse, we should always “be ready in season and out of season.”

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

Tossed By the Wind

James 1:2-8 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

2014-01-08 - Tossed By the Wind (IMG_1503)Sunset over the wind tossed waters of Stonelick Lake on a blustery late December evening.  Stonelick State Park, Pleasant Plain, Ohio.

I have mentioned in the past that I enjoy photographing sunrises and sunsets, though, on this particular evening’s trip to Stonelick State Park the ground was very muddy due to recent heavy rains, the spectacularly colored sky never quite materialized, and the wind was so blustery that the reflections off the lake, I desire, were just not there.  Despite things not turning out as I wanted, it was still a good opportunity to get out, do some photography with a friend, and learn a little about capturing a decent shot in less than ideal conditions.

In today’s passage James begins by telling us we should take joy when we encounter trials and have our faith tested.  This, he says, produces steadfastness, which, when allowed to take full effect, makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Much as the process of forging steel shapes and perfects the metal into a finished product, so too do the difficulties we face in life and in our walk with Christ help to shape and perfect us into the person God wants us to be.

Often times we gain far more wisdom from our failures than from our successes, and by asking God for wisdom we need to realize that his method for teaching us may not be as straightforward as just picking up our Bibles, opening to some particular page and finding the answer we seek.  I am by no means proposing that we set our Bibles aside, however God does frequently teach us through life’s experiences, as James is suggesting here.  If our faith is based on pure academic knowledge I would offer that it is incomplete.

James tells us to “ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”  This does not mean we should expect God to answer all our prayers with the specific outcome we desire, but rather, that we need to hold firm in our faith especially when things do not turn out as planned.  We need to understand that the problems and struggles we face serve God’s purpose, and that they will likely give us exactly the wisdom we asked him for, in the first place.

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

Hear, My Son, Your Father’s Instruction

Happy Birthday Dad!  Seventy years young today!

Proverbs 1:7-9 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.

2013-12-18 - Hear, My Son, Your Father's Instruction (IMG_0114)Grouse hunting with my dad and son (many years ago) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near the town of Ralph.

Being raised learning to love the outdoors was a true blessing and something I have carried with me throughout the years.  Hunting and fishing with dad are some of my fondest memories from childhood.  But the greatest blessing of all was having parents who brought me up in the knowledge and fear of the Lord!

Fathers, the single most important thing you can do for your children is to raise them knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Read to them from the Bible.  Teach them to bring everything to God in prayer.  Set the example by being the spiritual leader of your family as God intended.  Do not shirk that responsibility.  Listen to Paul’s advice from Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

And children, as the fifth commandment, in Exodus 20:12, says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”  This commandment, unlike the others actually carries with it a specific promise for being obedient.  Not that we deserve a reward for obedience, nor are the other commandments are any less important; but, this is the only one that makes such a promise, making it noteworthy.  Even Paul highlights this distinction in Ephesians 6:1-3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Thank you for all you have done for me throughout my life Dad!  May God bless and keep you today and always!

Love,
Todd

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.

Rising Very Early

Mark 1:35 – And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

2013-12-17 - Rising Very Early (IMG_0350)Early morning, “blue hour” photograph, waiting for the sun to rise over the lake.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

If you are into outdoor photography or have read any books or articles on the subject, you have probably encountered the term “golden hour,” and possibly “blue hour.” Simply stated, the golden hour refers to the warm, glowing quality of light in the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset which make for much better photography than the harsher light of mid-day.  The “blue hour,” while perhaps not quite as well known a term, refers to the periods just before sunrise and just after sunset, where the cooler blue tones tend to be more dominant, which are also better times for photography than mid-day.

I enjoy photographing sunrises and sunsets for a couple of reasons.  First, there is simply the sheer beauty of it all.  From pale pastels of pink, violet, and blue, to bold reds, yellows, and oranges and just about everything in between, the colors change continuously over the course of a single sunrise or sunset, transforming even an ordinary landscape into a spectacular sight; God’s majesty and artistry are so clearly on display.  The second reason is the peace and quiet I find at these times of day, but particularly at sunrise.  Except for the avid fishermen or hunters, depending on the time of year, there are not too many people up and out before the sun.  Even the most dedicated hikers usually don’t hit the trail until at least a little while after sunrise.  And, of course, the picnickers rarely show up until near lunchtime.

I do not often have the opportunity to get out early in the morning to do sunrise photography, it is only a hobby after all, but I still enjoy this time of day and find it to be the best time for me to go to the Lord in prayer and spend some quality time in his word.  It is a time of solitude, before all the busyness and business of life come blasting in, a time when the house is quiet and my thoughts are still uncluttered by the cares and concerns of the day.

As this single verse from the Gospel of Mark tells us, Jesus also took time away early in the morning to go to his Father in prayer.  I don’t think there is much speculation involved in saying that he probably chose this time of day intentionally, and for many of the same reasons, the peace and quiet, the lack of interruptions, and a clear mind after a good night’s sleep.  Christ in his humanity, and despite his divinity and perfection, still needed to get away, he still needed time alone to converse with his Father.  So we, in our fallen and sinful state, surely need these times far more than Christ did!

Early mornings may not be best for everyone, whether due to inclination or situation; however, I would urge you to follow the example of our Lord and Savior, himself, and find a time and place that you can get away and go to our Heavenly Father in prayer, to study your Bible and reflect on what he is telling you through his word.  Whether it is a few minutes or an hour alone with the Lord each day, taking time away from the noise and clutter of everyday life will benefit your walk with Christ more than you can imagine.

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.

Like a Tree Planted by Water

Jeremiah 17:7-8 – “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

2013-12-14 - Like a Tree Planted by Water (IMG_2958)Sycamore trees along the bank of Caesar Creek.  Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve, Oregonia, Ohio.

The sycamore tree is a common sight along the creeks and rivers here in southwest Ohio.  The mature trees are quite beautiful, and also easy to identify, with their smooth, white bark.  If you spot a sycamore you can be pretty certain there is a stream nearby.

Just as we find many passages in the Bible where God is glorified by his creation, examples from nature, like today’s passage in Jeremiah, are often used to provide practical illustrations of important scriptural truths.  We understand the need that trees have for water, and easily grasp that these sycamores, growing near a stream, will have a sustained source of water even in times of drought.

In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel we find Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman beside a well and read of their exchange:

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14)

You see, Christ is the “living water” that carries us through the droughts, the one who helps us flourish even in the difficult times of life.  But, if we have not put down our roots by the stream, if we have not put our trust in him, how then will be able to draw upon this “spring of water welling up to eternal life?”

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

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.