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.

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

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

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Creation Waits With Eager Longing

Romans 8:18-25 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

2014-01-28 - Creation Waits With Eager Longing (IMG_1725_B10_C20)Frozen waterfall on Flat Fork CreekCaesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

For Christians living in North America today, we should be humbled when we compare our own circumstances to all of “the sufferings” that Paul endured for the sake of the gospel.  I won’t deny that we live in a culture increasingly hostile to much of what we believe; but, unless we serve in certain foreign missions or a few difficult ministry fields, I think it is safe to say that few of us will ever face imprisonment, torture, or death for sharing our faith.

Though our present circumstances are far better than Paul’s, we do still live in a fallen world as he reminds us, “the creation was subjected to futility,” it is in “bondage to corruption,” and “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”  This is because of the curse, brought on by the fall, described in Genesis 3:16-19.

16 To the woman he [God] said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Not only were troubled relationships, pain, and death brought on by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, all of creation suffered as a result, ”cursed is the ground because of you.”  Fortunately this is not the end of the story.  By God’s divine providence the solution was already planned, as we read one verse earlier in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  This verse speaks of the Messiah who would later come to conquer death and the grave.

Of course Paul knows that Jesus Christ was that promised Messiah and this is to whom he refers when he says, “For in this hope we were saved.”  He also tells us “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” when all of creation is redeemed and the “sons of God” are revealed at the second coming of Christ.  And although he has not seen this glory, he reminds us that “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  In a similar manner, we cannot see the blossoms of spring, and yet we have hope, waiting patiently for their arrival to announce the end of the ice and cold of winter…

2014-01-28 - Creation Waits With Eager Longing (IMG_7192)Springtime view of the waterfall on Flat Fork Creek with the redbuds in bloom.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

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

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

Come, Follow Me

Mark 10:17-27 – And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

2014-01-11 -  Come, Follow Me (IMG_9388)Trail junction near the Bear Lake trailhead.  Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

“Money is the root of all evil.”  Have you ever heard someone say this?  Many Bible verses are misused or misinterpreted.  And, while I have no real data to support this, I suspect that the first sentence of 1 Timothy 6:10, which actually reads, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils,” is one of the most frequently misquoted verses.  The oft intended message of those misquoting this verse is that money and the rich are inherently bad.

Today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel is another that is taken out of context and used to condemn the wealthy.  When Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” the inclination for many is to again conclude that money and the rich are inherently bad.

I think the key to understanding what Jesus says here is to look closely at the man’s question:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The emphasis of the man’s question is on what he, himself, must do.  So, Jesus tells him that he must perfectly obey the commandments, sell everything he owns, give it to the poor, and follow him.  After all, God does demand perfection.  The difficulty for the rich man entering heaven, though, lies not in his money or possessions, but rather in the fact that he trusts his own abilities and wealth to accomplish something that only Christ can do.

It is certainly fair that we as Christians should challenge each other to be accountable for where we invest our time, talent, and treasures, because being a follower of Christ does demand a change in the way we live our lives.  But we really need to ask ourselves, what path to salvation are we following?  Do we trust in ourselves, our own abilities, and our possessions?  Or, do we trust in the infinite and eternal God of the universe?  Do we trust in the God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)?  Because, you see, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

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

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

A Theology of Christian Retreat

When we read the Gospels we learn, among many things, the story of Christ’s earthly ministry.  We read about crowds of people following him everywhere he went, even in the remotest of locations.  In Matthew 14:13 we read of Jesus’ reaction after his disciples told him about the death of John the Baptist:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

Certainly after hearing the news of John’s death he was seeking some time away from the crowds, time alone with his disciples to mourn, and time to go to his Father in prayer.  The account of these same events in Mark 6:30-32 goes even further, telling us Christ’s intentions in his own words:

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.  And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.“  For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

Although Jesus does not escape the crowds on this particular occasion—this is, after all, where he performs the miracle of feeding the five thousand with only five loaves and two fishes—his purpose is clear.  He and his disciples had been very busy in their ministry efforts, so busy they barely had time to eat.  Christ was being deliberate with his disciples; he knew they were weary and needed rest, and in his loving kindness he wanted to do something about it.

When our head pastor gave a sermon on Mark 6:30-32 a few years ago, I was inspired.  I had been talking to my wife off-and-on about how we might use our love of hiking and the outdoors as a tool for ministry.  Here was a great example from Christ’s own earthly ministry that retreat and fellowship are important needs in our lives and in our ministries.  What struck me most on this occasion was not just that Christ wanted to escape the crowds, but that he wanted to get away to a “desolate place,” proposing not only a time of rest, but also a remote setting.  I learned much later, consulting Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, that the word “desolate,” (ref. #2048) used in the ESV, can also be translated as desert, solitary, or wilderness, adding emphasis to this notion of a remote setting.

After hearing the sermon I rushed home, grabbed my concordance, and began searching Scripture for more examples of Jesus and his disciples “getting away from it all.”  I quickly discovered a number of passages, starting with Christ’s forty day retreat into the wilderness after being baptized by John—though, I would not advocate any attempts to replicate the trials and temptations that Jesus endured, even if you are as adept at wilderness survival as Bear Grylls—and concluding with his retreat to the garden at Gethsemane to go to his Father in prayer on the night he was betrayed.  In all I found twenty-four passages (see the end of this post for the full list) that suggested Jesus, either alone, or with his disciples taking time away.  While several of these are parallel accounts from more than one Gospel, and others do not exactly fit the definition of a wilderness retreat, I do believe they all serve as a solid, biblical basis for what I call a theology of Christian retreat.

It became clear to me at this point that I needed to start a hiking fellowship ministry.  I had considered the idea on several occasions, but never went forward with it because of a mistaken impression that any fun or relaxing activity could not possibly be a serious ministry.  After all, I wasn’t feeding the poor, or teaching some great theological truth to a classroom full of people, so how could I be doing “real” ministry.  Thankfully this passage in Mark, our pastor’s sermon, and my subsequent searching of scripture, helped me overcome this mistaken impression, and see more clearly where this ministry fits into the overall ministry landscape (pun fully intended) of Christian fellowship and retreat.  Since that time, my wife and I have been blessed on many occasions to share the amazing beauty of God’s creation with others, and I have often been encouraged by the feedback and thanks I have received from those who have taken to the trails with us on our hikes.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Those who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior have been set free.  We cannot earn salvation through our works!  But, as redeemed followers of Christ, we do have an obligation to honor him through diligent labor in our daily jobs and obedient service in the ministries to which we have been called.  Yet, for those who labor, he does promise that he will give us rest.  Personally, the best way I know of to find that promised rest is getting away from the hustle-and-bustle of daily life and going hiking in the vast and beautiful wilderness, the “desolate places,” that our awesome God has created and given us to enjoy!

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

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

Bible References:
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness:
Matthew 4:1-21 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Mark 1:12-1312 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Luke 4:1-21 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

After Jesus cleanses a Leper:
Mark 1:45 – But he [the leper] went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Luke 5:15-1615 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

Jesus Seeks Retreat after Learning of John the Baptist’s Death:
Matthew 14:13 – Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
Mark 6:30-32 – The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.  And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.“  For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Luke 9:10 – On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.
John 6:1 – After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.

After Feeding the Five Thousand (Just before Jesus Walks on Water):
Matthew 14:22-2322 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
Mark 6:45-4745 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.
John 6:15 – Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

The Transfiguration:
Matthew 17:1-21 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Mark 9:2 – And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them
Luke 9:28-2928 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.

Jesus Prays in the Garden at Gethsemane on the Night He is Betrayed
Matthew 26:36 – Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”
Mark 14:32 – And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Luke 22:39-4139 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed

Other Passages:

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

Mark 4:10 – And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.

Luke 4:42-4342 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 6:12-1312 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.

Luke 9:18-2018 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

John 11:54 – Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.