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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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 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 Grass Withers

1 Peter 1:22-25 – Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

yyyy-mm-dd - The Grass Withers (IMG_7185)Setting sun behind withered grasses on the shores of Lake EriePresque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania.

Today’s passage from 1 Peter tells us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” and also provides a means by which we can actually achieve this; it is because we “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  In our sinful hearts our motives are selfish, but with Christ this earnest love is possible.

Peter goes on to remind us that our time in this world is limited by quoting from Isaiah 40:6-8 which reads:

6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Life is short.  We need to focus on the important things, drawing near to God through prayer and diligent study of his eternal word, and loving and caring for those around us.  And, the best way we can do that is by sharing the good news of Jesus.

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

© 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 Wind Blows Where It Wishes

John 3:1-8 – Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

2014-01-31 - The Wind Blows Where It Wishes (IMG_8140)The wind-blown waters of Upper Two Medicine LakeGlacier National Park, Montana.

We cannot see the wind, but we can certainly see and feel its effects; and, when you are hiking in the mountains the wind can get rather chilly, even on a warm summer day.  On the particular August day that this photo was taken the temperatures were probably near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but by the time we got to Upper Two Medicine Lake the wind coming down off the mountains was cold enough to warrant putting on a jacket.  Never underestimate the weather in the mountains.  Always be prepared and carry extra layers of clothing, even if it is warm when you are starting out on your hike.

Today’s passage from John’s gospel recounts a late night discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees.  Although Nicodemus seems to acknowledge Jesus’ authority, at least as “a teacher come from God,” he clearly does not understand, or does not want to understand, what Jesus is telling him when he says, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The term “born again” is not just some catchy phrase used by Christians; it is a real transformation that takes place in the hearts and minds of those who come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  The term “born again” is often the subject of much debate, but there is another term also used to describe this transformation, that term is “regeneration,” found in Titus 3:4-7,

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Christ’s words in John 3:5 and Paul’s words in Titus 3:5 definitely appear to be describing the same process, “born of water and the Spirit,” and “by washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  In both passages it is clear that this process is not of the individual believer’s own doing, it is only by the action of the Holy Spirit that this transformation takes place.

How exactly this regeneration, or rebirth, happens is a mystery, and Christ basically tells us just that when he says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  We know that we cannot see the wind, but we certainly can see and feel its effects, so it is for those who have come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.

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

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

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.

Like a Flower of the Field

Psalm 103:13-18 – As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

2014-01-16 - Like a Flower of the Field (IMG_2357)Woodland sunflowers backlit by the setting sun. Sugarcreek Metropark, Bellbrook, Ohio.

The wildflowers of late summer fade and die and soon get covered by the snows of winter.  Today’s passage from Psalm 103 reminds us that we are “like a flower of the field,” flourishing for a time, but soon returning to the dust.  Thankfully those who are in Christ, those who fear the Lord, are assured of “the steadfast love of the LORD [that] is from everlasting to everlasting.”

Life is short and uncertain, but to know and love Jesus has eternal significance.  If you know him, then strive daily to draw closer to him through prayer, devotion, and study of his Word.  If you are uncertain, or do not know him, I would challenge you to seek him out today.

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

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