Saturday, September 29, 2012

Granny Gear

Every fiber in my body screamed out, “Stop!” I gasped, trying to breathe deeply, but at 13,000 feet there just wasn’t enough oxygen to satisfy. My pack felt like it weighed two hundred pounds. There was an uncomfortably cool breeze coming up-slope and my sweat was drying in place.

I forced myself to look up. The trail rose ahead of me and became even steeper. I had thought that I was getting near the pass, but then, I had thought that twice before on this long grind of a grade, only to crest a false summit and see the trail stretch on ahead, level for several hundred yards and then up the next incline.

I didn’t want to go on; I couldn’t go on, but I could not stop here, either. I didn’t want to get caught above the timberline by the daily thunderstorms that gathered over the peaks. Even now, I could see the clouds getting organized.

True confessions: I’m neither an athlete nor the son of an athlete.I thought to myself: "There are many backpackers in far superior condition and maybe they would not have even raised a sweat going over this pass.

But they’re not here, and I am, and I’ve got to carry this pack with what strength I’ve got, not what strength they’ve got, and I’ve got to get over this pass and down the other side and into the timber before the weather hits.

And frankly, its not real helpful to think of other guys who could do it better, because right now, I’m the guy that’s got to do it."

There was only one thing to do. Drop it into granny gear and keep moving, so that’s what I did. Granny gear has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

Everybody’s got a granny gear, and sooner or later, everyone’s got to drop it into granny. Even the young bucks, the athletes. Let me tell you what it looks like.

 First of all, you’ve got to be in the right mood for granny gear. Granny gear is what’s left when you’re done, played out, when you’ve got nothing left but you must keep going. Re-read the first sentence of this essay. That’s when you’re in the right mood for it.

Second, you’ve got to know how to do it. It’s actually quite simple. When I drop ‘er into granny, my stride goes to less than the length of my boot. Depending on the incline, it might go as low as one-quarter the length of my boot. Don’t recall it ever getting any shorter than that.

You just put one foot down after another, making, maybe, six inches of progress with each step. And you just keep going, and you don’t stop. You don’t listen to your lungs, and you don’t listen to your legs, and most importantly you don’t listen to that voice inside your brain that’s begging you to stop. You just keep going.

Third, you’ve got to know where to look—and it’s not down. You don’t look at the trail (you’re moving slow enough where you don’t need to, unless you’ve gotten to a switchback and there’s a dropoff involved). You especially don’t look at the feet of the person ahead of you, if there is anyone ahead of you. Nothing saps your energy like that. Don’t look down.

No, you force yourself to remember why you’re here to begin with: because you are surrounded by the most glorious scenery on the face of God’s green earth, so you lift your weary head and like a thirsty man you drink in the beauty.
Granny gear. Thank God for granny gear. I’ve used it on many occasions, on many backpack trips, and it’s always gotten me to a place where I could legitimately stop and set up camp.

Did you realize, Christian, that not only do you have a spiritual granny gear, but you’ve also got occasions in which God is expecting you to use it? It’s for times when you must go on, and you can not stop, and every fiber in your spirit is saying, “please, can’t I just quit?”

Exactly why do you imagine that someone of the caliber of John Piper wrote a book entitled, “When I don’t desire God, how to fight for joy?” I expect it was because there are times when Dr. Piper finds himself having to . . . fight for joy. Or why do you think that he condensed it into a smaller book entitled, “When the darkness will not lift?” Maybe because he’s experienced that? You think?

Did you know that Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of the last 300 years, wrestled with depression? Did you know that Martin Luther did, too? Did you know that the apostle Paul did, on at least one occasion (read 2 Corinthians 1-7 carefully, and be sure to at least check out 7:6 in the NASB).

Let me share with you a few parallels between backpacking with a granny gear, and walking in Christ.

Your path: Face it, your trail has got one too many, or ten too many, high passes. You’re going to wear out and want to quit. But you can’t quit, you must finish your course, and you can finish your course because He has equipped you to do so. In Philippians 1:6, Paul shares this confidence with us: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Your attitude: High altitudes and the decreased atmosphere can do funny things to your attitude. Something that starts out fun (maybe its even a vacation, maybe you even paid out big bucks to do it) becomes something you no longer feel like doing, no longer want to do. Life as a new believer in Christ can be exhilarating, but sooner or later you will find yourself wondering where the joy went. That’s when you face a fork in the path. You can either take the easy fork that leads back down into the pleasant meadow, or you stay the course, grind it out, and get over the summit. The problem with the easy fork is that when you wake up in the morning you’re still on the wrong side of the mountain.

 The fork you face as a believer is whether you are going to chase pleasant feelings, or learn to walk by faith. A walk by faith is exactly that: nothing confirms that it’s the right way to go except the map itself (the Bible). You don’t feel like doing it, you desperately want to quit, but you don’t. Because you are walking by faith, not by sight (2 Co 5:7). Paul says this about that in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Your altitude: It’s a truism in the Rockies that the higher you go the more beautiful the view. I’ll vouch for that: I’ve found nothing that competes with the grandeur of a vista at thirteen-five, or fourteen thousand. But getting there is a beast, and for me, it almost always requires granny gear at some point. Walking by faith is exhausting, daunting, discouraging. But I’ve heard that the view from the top makes it worth it all. Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross (Heb 12:2). If the earthly tent, which is our house, is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands (2 Co 5:1). Therefore, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Your posture: if you look down, if you look at the feet of others, the walk becomes misery. But if you will raise your eyes, and drink in the view that brought you here in the first place, which is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Co 4:6), you will gain new strength.

Your camp: when, exhausted, you are finally able to set up camp on the right side of the mountain, there’s no joy that compares with the knowledge that you have arrived, and that supper, and rest, is coming. I don’t need to draw the parallels here for you, now, do I? Just think of Paul’s victory cry in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Granny gear. There’s no shame in using it. Nuts, some of us live in it. We all come equipped with it, because the Designer has planned some trails that are going to be rather tough.

And in His love, He gave us granny gear: that ability, empowered by the Spirit of God, to keep moving when we’ve got nothing left, by putting one foot just a tiny bit ahead of the other, over and over again, until we crest that pass.

Don’t quit. Stay with it. In the strength of Christ, you can do it.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Outlander gets an eighth review!

Ken Snell posted a great review of Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix (OCP) on Amazon, giving the book five stars. You can read the review here. Full disclosure: Ken is my son-in-law's dad (but the review was unsolicited).

Sales of OCP have been very slow. The problem is that there is very little visibility to hook someone who's looking for a good book to read. Without an expensive marketing effort, few know the book is even there.Word-of-mouth accounts for almost all the sales.

Amazon reviews are helpful, because they provide additional information and credibilty for the person who just happens to see a title that catches their interest while browsing.

I was belly-aching about the slow sales to Ken in an email, and he reminded me of an important piece of theology that I need to keep in mind:
"Rest assured of one thing.... every copy sold has the Lord's plan stamped on it; one day, you'll learn what that plan was for each copy and person!"
It was very encouraging to be reminded of that truth!

I've been working steadily on my next novel, Falcon Down while Doris and I have been on vacation, and reached an important milestone: I am over half-way finished! The manuscript is over 41,000 words in length to date, of a planned 80,000 total. Sometime this fall I anticipate being able to display the cover. 

I've also made progress on my Psalm 90 study, and still anticipate releasing that this fall.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Have you met Jesus' wife?

A fragment of what is reputed to be a fourth-century Coptic document has been loaned to Dr. Karen King of Harvard University. Though it consists of just eight lines of about four words each, Dr. King believes that it could suggest that Jesus was married, and that it might inform the church on issues such as marriage and gender roles in the church. She believes that the fragment might be a translation of a second-century Greek text.
Here's a convenient summary of the fragment, including pictures and translation.

Here is a story about the discovery, and Dr. King, who is advancing the notions that she believes the fragment contains. Warning as you read the article: be aware that the concept of "authenticating" the fragment extends only to dating it. If it does date to fourth century, it is considered "authentic." "Authenticity" does not extend credibility to the ideas contained on the fragment, but just to the age of the fragment.

Notice also this line about Dr. King's beliefs regarding the fragment:
"She believes that the context of the eight lines on the front side of the papyrus reflects a discussion Jesus was having with disciples about the “the cost of discipleship,” or how becoming a Christian may affect bonds with one’s natal family, similar to passages in Matthew and Luke."
First, she is assuming that the fragment is in fact a translation from a Greek document written in the second century, even though she has not a scrap of evidence to support such a notion, other than the assertions that the church was already discussing gender issues in the second century.

Second, she is assuming that this "translation of a second-century Greek text" is an actual account of a discussion Jesus had with his followers, a very tenuous assumption especially when one considers the amount of spurious literature about Jesus produced between the second and fourth centuries.

Third, that she would allow this fragment (even if it were "authentic") to inform the New Testament's position on marriage, discipleship and gender issues says a great deal about her personal view of the infallibility of Scripture.

I have no problem with a theologian or an archaeologist chasing down the evidence to see where it will lead. I just don't care for them making these massive, largely unfounded assumptions and then trying to use them to inform a modern debate which is based on modern notions.

And frankly, because the Scripture is inspired and infallible, it needs to serve as the boundary of our conclusions, rather than being at the mercy of our conclusions.

Does this sound like fideism? May I remind you that if you believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as I do, you are already fideistic, because the resurrection involves a complete and total repudiation of scientific realities regarding death and the decay of a corpse? Any belief in the miraculous, or the supernatural, would be considered fideism in our secularized culture.

 Here's a good response to Dr. King by Dr. Thomas White of Southwestern Baptist Seminary.

And here's a question for you: is the foundation of your faith inspired Scripture, or is it connected to evidences and proofs? Why do you believe what you believe?

Thank You, Lord, for a reliable Bible that proclaims absolute truth!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bounty from my little garden

I have grown a tomato thicket, a tomato-and-cucumber hedgerow. Don't know what happened out there, but when I go to pick tomatoes I need a pith helmet and a machete. Almost lost Doris in the tangle a week ago. Even my little rubber snakes get lost in there. Okay, might be exaggerating a little. Here, see for yourself. . .

I planted just four (think it was four), small tomato plants. Now they are huge. Trunks are big around as my thumb, maybe bigger. It is a thick, impenetrable, fruit-bearing jungle. This has never happened to me!.

My pepper plants are doing a Jack and the Beanstalk imitation, but I do want to register a complaint against them. Of the four I planted, only three have borne fruit, and not much at that. May need to cut them down with a chain saw this fall, but they've been spending a lot more energy gettin' big than producing peppers.

Here, see my pepper trees?

Must have done something right this spring. These garden plants have flourished. They've all gotten real big, and some, like the tomatoes, have produced prolifically. Now if I could just figure out what I did different from before.

Update on the peas. They grew, sort of. Don't think I realized how often I was supposed to come out here and pick 'em. By the time I got to them they were usually bad. Don't think I'll try these again. The only persnickity thing allowed in my garden is the gardener. High-maintenance plants need not apply.

Update on the lettuce. It did really well, we actually ate a salad and used some for sandwiches as well. I will probably plant this again next year.

Cucumbers were downright wierd, or maybe I've just become accustomed to the perfectly formed samples in the grocery store. Mine twisted into curly cues, fattened into blobs, or just generally took upon themselves a remarkably un-cucumber-like appearance. Really strange. Don't think I picked a classically-shaped cucumber all summer. At least they tasted great.

 But now summer is over, fall has arrived. The cool (cold!) evening temperatures have felt wonderful. I'm ready for the changing of the season.

This is fair warning: I am not going to buy any sno-melt in preparation for winter, nor a new snow-shovel, nor will I make sure my snow blower will start. If I can get away with it, won't even clean the garage (don't tell Doris I said that). No winter preparations.

Last year I did all that and we got no snow. I jinxed it.

This year, I am making no preparations for a snowy winter. None! So look out!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review of David McCullough's 1776

There’s an unfortunate tendency at work in modern history-writing to diminish heroes. This is accomplished in one of two ways. Either the writer makes normal people into heroes, because they show up for work everyday and accomplish what is expected of them, often times amidst suffering of some sort. Or the writer demonstrates (usually by accentuating their flaws) that so-called heroes were nothing of the sort.

By the measure of such historiographers there are no truly exceptional people, because everyone is exceptional. But such a notion is both intellectually and experimentally vacuous. Think about it: do you know who Mohammed Ali was? How about Lance Armstrong? Or Michael Phelps? Have you ever heard of Albert Einstein? Or Dwight Eisenhower? The existence of awards such as the Nobel Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor very quickly demonstrates that there are, in fact, real heroes and you and I are not them.

After reading 1776, it’s easy to identify David McCullough as an exceptional, Pulitzer-prize winning historian. This volume is as close to being a page-turner as history ever gets (and I love history). The book is essentially about a real American hero by the name of George Washington; I’m sure you’ve heard of him. The author does a great job of illustrating Washington’s outstanding character qualities, neither inappropriately diminishing nor embellishing the record. The action of the book all takes place in the fateful year of 1776, though the author is unafraid to introduce earlier and later material to make his points.

Washington is presented as a noble, doggedly determined man of high character, a great leader of men who gets the big picture right. He engenders great loyalty, and is loved by enlisted men, officers, and even the politicians who tie his hands. And yet McCullough does not fall into the trap of hero worship: Washington’s flaws are exposed as readily as his truly great virtues are. He’s indecisive at bad times, terribly inconsistent (fighting for freedom while owning slaves), unremarkable as a strategist, and mistake-prone as a tactician.

And yet, for all that, Washington accomplished a task no one else could have, while juggling the micromanagement of the Continental Congress on one hand, an ill-equipped and untrained army on the other, insufficient funding, constantly expiring enlistments, and a raft of mediocre officers. Washington plays the hand that is dealt him with grace and discipline, even in the midst of terrible mistakes. He manages a war against the most powerful nation on the planet, ultimately defeating far superior forces led by superior officers. General Washington shows strokes of tactical brilliance at the most crucial times.

You walk away from this book knowing that you’ve been learning about a genuine American hero, a truly exceptional man who accomplished a virtually impossible task. If you enjoy history, particularly military history, you’ll love this book.