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.

Distracted

Luke 10:38-42 (ESV) – Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

IMG_1323The lights of Lebanon, Ohio shine on the horizon obscuring the stars on a clear March night at Caesar Creek Lake.  Furnas Shores, Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

If you have ever lived or traveled far from any towns or cities you know just how many more stars become visible in the night sky once you escape the lights of civilization.  In fact, if you find a place that is dark enough you will be amazed at the number of stars that fill the night sky, including the vast river of stars that make up our own little corner of the universe, called the Milky Way galaxy.  However, if you live anywhere in the United States east of the Mississippi River there are very few places where you can get away from effects of light pollution and truly see the vastness of the night sky. And if you live in or near a city, or even most large towns, your view of the stars will likely be obscured by the myriad of lights we use to illuminate the night.

In much the same way that the lights of civilization obscure the stars in the night sky, the busyness and distractions of everyday existence too often obscure the voice of God in our lives.  Even when that busyness is well intentioned and purposeful, like Martha’s, it is still distracting.

By no means do I think Christ is suggesting that we just sit around all day reading, contemplating, and discussing the Scriptures, though I suspect we are all in need of this far more than we are in need of one more task added to our daily routine.  There are plenty of passages that advocate hard work and service.  But I truly do not think most of us need prompting to stay busy, whether with useful, productive endeavors—which also include our time serving in various church functions—or time wasting trivial tasks like checking e-mail, browsing on Facebook and Twitter, or just mindlessly watching television.

What I do think Christ is telling us is that we do not spend enough time just sitting at his feet and listening to his voice.  We do not spend enough time in his Word, coming to him in prayer, and simply seeking to understand what he is telling us through these daily means of grace.  Even though I regularly avail myself of quiet devotional time early each morning, I still find that the distractions and busyness of life quickly crowd back in as soon as the rest of my day begins.

This is one of the many reasons I often find myself in need of refreshment and time away, going out into God’s amazing creation, far from civilization, to gaze up at the sky on a clear night and see what an uncluttered view of the universe looks like, both literally and figuratively.  It is during these uncluttered times away that I find myself realizing just how small I am in this universe, and just how great and amazing is our God, who created and sustains it all.  To know that this is the same God who is powerful enough to create all of this, yet he loves us so much that he chose to send his Son to live the perfect life that we cannot, and die the death we so deserve for our sins.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:16-17 (ESV)

Are you distracted?  Are you taking the time to hear the voice of God speaking to you through his Word and his creation?  Find the time.  Make it a priority.  You will be amazed at what you discover.

IMG_2681Even with the light of a half-moon the Milky Way galaxy is still visible once you are away from the distracting lights of civilization.  Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Slade, Kentucky.

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.

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.