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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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.

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.

They Shall Become One Flesh

Genesis 2:23-25 – Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

2014-02-14 - They Shall Become One Flesh (IMG_7972)On our 10th anniversary trip at Virginia Falls, Glacier National Park, Montana.

Before the fall in the Garden of Eden becoming “one flesh” would have been an easy prospect.  The fall has affected all of all our relationships.  For marriages to work in the world after the fall, for us to truly “become one flesh” with our spouse now takes time, effort, and a commitment to each other, but most importantly it takes a commitment to keep Christ as the central focus in our lives.

Shared interests and friendship are also keys to keeping the love for one another alive and growing.  For my wife, Leah, and me that shared interest is hiking.  Our honeymoon, 5th anniversary, and 10th anniversary were all celebrated with hiking as the central theme, with many, wonderful, shared adventures in between, and God willing, many more to come.  Hiking and the outdoors may not be your “thing,” but do yourselves a favor and take the time to find something that you enjoy doing together as a couple.  It is sure to bring you closer with each passing year.

To the best wife and hiking partner a man could ever hope to have!

Happy Valentine’s Day Leah!

With Love,
Todd

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

Let Light Shine Out of Darkness

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 – Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2014-02-03 - Let Light Shine Out of Darkness (IMG_0573_CROP)A lone tree painted in light stands in contrast to the dark February skies.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

I took this shot while a professional photographer friend spent about two minutes highlighting the tree with a flashlight (to see some of his excellent work visit the MD Herald Fine Art Photography website).  This technique is known as light painting and it produces a great image to go along with today’s passage, nicely emphasizing the message of letting the “light shine out of darkness.”

Paul begins this passage by acknowledging that his strength to continue in the ministry of preaching the gospel is only “by the mercy of God.”  Considering all that Paul suffered in order to share the good news of Christ, it is all that much more poignant when he speaks of not losing heart.

He then points out a problem present in the church during the first century and one that is alive and well today, that of false teaching.  And, though there are many sources of false teaching in the world, Paul here is specifically pointing to those who “practice cunning or…tamper with God’s word.”  These are teachers with malicious intent who cloak themselves in Christianity by using passages out of context, or twisting the meaning of passages by adding to them, or by using the language of Scripture without any regard for the actual meaning behind it.

Paul next admits that the gospel he and the other apostles are preaching is not understood by those who stand outside the Christian faith, “those who are perishing.”  In fact, he even says that the “gospel is veiled” from them because Satan, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”

Paul then gives us a clear way to discern true from false teachings, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”  A great test of false teachings is what, or rather who, is at the center of those teachings.  If it is supposed to be a Christian message, and Christ is not at the center, beware!  The promises of the modern day prosperity gospel for health, wealth, and abundant happiness sound appealing, after all who wouldn’t want all those things; but these teachings are false because they put us at the center, and not Christ.

Finally Paul gives us the only means by which we can find salvation, the only light that can illuminate the darkness of this world, and it is not of our own doing, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

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

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

The Light of Men

John 1:1-14 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

2014-01-27 - The Light of Men (IMG_2077)A beam of light from the setting sun streams through a field of sunflowers on a warm summer’s eve.  Southwest corner of Snider Road and Irwin Simpson Road, Mason, Ohio.

Sometimes we need a ray of sunshine to warm us on a cold winter’s night, but for the benefit of our souls we always need to remember that Christ is “the light of men,” our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord.  He is “the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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

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

To Keep You from Stumbling

Jude 1:24-25 – Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

2014-01-26 - To Keep You from Stumbling (IMG_3666)Whittleton Branch trailhead on KY-15. Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky.

My wife and I have come to depend on our hiking sticks.  We were not sure we would like them at first, but now we very rarely hit the trail without them.  If you have never used hiking sticks you might be surprised at the difference they make in your endurance and ability.  They reduce the strain on your hips, knees, and ankles and at the same time give you the added benefit of an upper body workout.  On several occasions they have kept me from twisting an ankle on rugged terrain or slipping on a muddy trail.  They also provide stability if you need to ford a stream.  If you plan to do any serious hiking, I highly recommend getting a set of sticks!

When it comes to our Christian walk we have one who is able to keep us from stumbling, as well, that is, of course, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  But unlike a set of hiking sticks, we cannot treat him like some optional piece of gear that we pick up one day and set aside the next as our feelings dictate.  If we want to keep from stumbling we must put our trust in him daily, walking in faith with the knowledge that it is only through the power of his blood shed on the cross that we are able to overcome the desires of our sinful hearts.

We also need to remember that as Christians our destination is secured by Christ who came before us, but the life of faith is still a journey that will have rough spots along the way.  We will encounter struggles in our Christian walk to be sure, but through Christ we have assurance that one day we will persevere and he will “present [us] blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”  And, finally, we can take great comfort in Jesus’ own words from John 6:38-40,

38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

“To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

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

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