The giving in to the compelling spirit of God and satisfying our own yearning, can and will place us at a crossroad. The path we take can heal us, but sometimes comes at a high earthly cost.

time passes

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

(Romans 7:15)

WRESTLING WITH GOD

I met John at a book signing for my book Jesus & Co. He is the pastor of a small church in rural North Carolina. He would drift over to the table and look at my book and then wander away. After a few of these short visits, I sensed he wanted to say more, so I asked a few questions to draw his story out.

He told me about his current life as a pastor and believer. But he also revealed a deeper story. With his homespun drawl, John talked about the many nights when he had wrestled with God. He described it as a mighty fight. He had been prone to staying out late and drinking, and this affected his work and his family. But he persisted in following this river in his life, despite its damaging effect. He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t feel he could change. He would try, only to slip back into what he perceived to be a place of comfort.

Then that moment came when he was stripped bare. He had lost his job and become completely alienated from his family. He had reached his tipping point, and his path had left him broken and alone. His comfortable habit of going out with the boys for long hours, which had affirmed his existence for years, had now left him no place but desolation.

Over the previous few months, he had been getting hints to change. Silently he had begun to question on occasion if he was on the right path. His discourse with God had begun, but there was still too much to let go of in his current life. He liked the familiar path, so he wrestled with God and resisted. Then the day came when it all came crashing in and he was in a spot where he was so low could only go up.

“Faith is the consistent choosing of the narrow gate. Many times, following the narrow gate presents itself as a short-term loss, and its benefit is only revealed through a long-term lens.”

At first, John began to read the Bible, and through this reading to set his course to a different path. Over time this extended to his seeking to get an education and to become a pastor. Both of which he accomplished.

I met him in a bookstore, with a devoted wife and a life he was proud of and wanted to share. I saw, within both him and his wife, a faithful love for God. By wrestling with God and losing, John had been healed.

He had been blind but now he saw, and what he saw was a future that only contained a life filled with Grace.  He had been trapped, not because he was bad, but because he was following a path built on bad habits. A path that was familiar, even though it was destructive. He had given into his natural human tendencies to pursue this life in which he found satisfaction, even though it was only momentary. John wanted to do good, as most do, but he believed he wouldn’t find comfort anywhere else. The apostle Paul in the Book of Romans says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) Even the great apostle Paul struggled with this path and his own natural desires.

So, it is always with our faith. It is a struggle to avoid doing what we shouldn’t do, to turn away from the wrong path and toward the right path. For some this may be easy, but for most it is a hard lesson to learn, that many times the wrong path we choose only reveals itself at the end.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

FAITH AND DISTRACTIONS

Our faith is something that must be nurtured and sought after. The world reaches out to us and pulls away through life’s temptations, setbacks, and imagined responsibilities. At times the world will convince us that God isn’t with us, that he’s just some imaginary human construct. We will begin to blame others for our problems and to seek easier paths. But it is at exactly this spot that we should turn from our human instincts and dig deeper into our faith.

The recognition of the sovereign nature of God ebbs when we pay too much attention to the ways of the world and give in to despair. Faith must be practiced and nurtured despite our present condition, not because of it. There are few roads that are easy with faith. Jesus explains this, with a call to stay steady with our faith, when he says, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

In life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Our faith lives are similar. For instance, many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked to do, and then for some reason it doesn’t work out as well as we hoped. Inevitably it takes longer and there are a few more things to do than we’d expected. It is in this spot where we must decide between quality and quantity.  Do we finish our task because time is telling us to move on, or do we dig deeper to resolve those nagging feelings? This spot reminds me of a quote I used many times in my career, “The enemy of art is time.” Likewise, our faith life can become the victim of the suffocating drumbeat of time. It is here that we must decide if we are to move on or stop worrying so much about obstacles like time. Great art and our faith both require quality not quantity. How often do we say “I can’t do any more” or “I don’t have the time to nurture my faith” and move on? It is this internal decision that separates great faith from faith that is just an afterthought.

Our faith is in investment of ourselves in combination with God. God is not a genie that solves our problems alone. Our God is a loving God whom desires a relationship with us. Like any relationship it requires mutual acts of support. There are times when we need more from God than we can give, and God responds. Other times God only needs to stand by and watch us succeed. This continuum of faith varies from moment to moment.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

The giving in to the compelling spirit of God and satisfying our own yearning, can and will place us at a crossroad. The path we take can heal us, but sometimes comes at a high earthly cost.

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The giving in to the compelling spirit of God and satisfying our own yearning, can and will place us at a crossroad. The path we take can heal us, but sometimes comes at a high earthly cost.

“I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

– John 14:6

ACCEPTING THE COMPELLING FORCE OF GOD

C.S. Lewis, the great English writer of the twentieth century, had spent his late teens and early twenties angry at God. He stated, “I was angry with God for not existing.” An atheist for an extended period of time, he continually wrestled with God. He found the church boring and religion a chore. His belief was that if God existed, he would not have designed a world “so frail and faulty as we see.”

Lewis was a member of the Oxford University community, surrounded by people like Yeats and Tolkien. He was part of the intellectual elite of England during the early part of the 20th century. He couldn’t buy into the winds of God. His wrestling with God eventually ended because God became the only answer to a life-long yearning.

He wrote his own conversion story, where it states: “You must picture me alone in Magdelen , night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” The searching had ended. Encouraged by his friends, like Tolkien, he was changed and reborn.

“Many nights during World War Two, C.S Lewis spoke to the people of London on the radio to soothe their hearts, while bombs rained down.”

C.S. Lewis went on to become strong a Christian. Lewis wrote Mere Christianity and was instrumental in helping the English people’s morale during the bombing of London in World War II. Many nights during World War Two, C.S Lewis spoke to the people of London on the radio to soothe their hearts, while bombs rained down. Nicodemus, another reluctant follower from the first century came out of the closet and acknowledged Jesus publicly. He was at the Crucifixion and worked with Joseph of Arimathea to provide the burial tomb and spices.

“God pursues us. We fall and fail, but God’s chase is never ending.”

Life gets in the way of God, as it did with Lewis.  God pursues us. We fall and don’t accept the winds of God, but God’s chase is never ending. Once we give in to our gift, we are quickly whisked to life as another being. We are still “frail and faulty,” but our lives have changed.

The giving in to the compelling spirit of God and satisfying our own yearning, can and will place us at a crossroad. The path we take can heal us, but sometimes comes at a high earthly cost.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

This is my Father’s World, to Share

We have crossed over into the northern part of the trail.  We are excited to be in more familiar lands. Looking forward to the many places we have visited in the past. We have now been in nine states and walked well over the eleven hundred mile mark. We have also found a new sense of joy and an added purpose to this walk, to share this world with others.

Friends and family who have expressed a desire to see and experience what we have seen. To try out the climbs and cross milestones with us. To see the changing states and walk by the mile markers of each one hundred mile marker.

Into this world, we invite them to hear the birds singing praise, dine with other hikers and experience God’s creation in person. While this sharing will slow our progress, it also provides us with a new and added reason to walk. To share “Our Father’s World.” It is the joy in their eyes we will see. For them a new sense of nature. It reminds me of a song I often played on my piano, “This is my Father’s World.” Whose lyrics are:

This is my Father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my Father’s world
The birds their carols praise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker’s praise

This is what we see and feel every day. It is now our turn to share. From old friends to daughters and grandchildren to brothers and sisters. A special joy will be felt when we see my parents and walk a few steps with them. Sure we will have to adjust our schedule, but it also provides us with a chance to share. Other hikers we have gotten to know will march forward on their glorious journey of discovery, while we share.

We will share and be glad we did.

When Myron Avery helped create the Appalachian Trail, he wanted to create an accessible place for people to visit, even if it is only a few miles. A place that is pure in its expression of the beauty that is nature. A place that all, young and old can see. We now have this chance to share in this dream. A journey not measured by marching many miles, but a journey of experience. Exposure to a place that changes our perspective of what is important.

We look forward to being with, Bern, Taylor, Kenny, Doug, Chrissi, Luke, Ashley, Roger, Ann, Bob, Dot, Jimmy, Penny, Greg, Betsy, Spencer, Nevin, Anna, and Eva. These are the people we hope to see. They won’t slow us down, but give us a chance to share.

Our first companions were Chrissi and Kenny.

Connie’s twin sister and her husband. It was a treat to have Kenny, a professional pastor, say our morning prayer. We taught them how to climb a mountain without stopping for a rest. With a steady pace that was within their ability, by using short steady steps. In this day they covered a variety of terrain that is similar to our typical day. They got to experience the wonder of majestic views. They were with us when we crossed the 900-mile mark. We had lunch on a rocky outcrop that provided views of the Shenandoah’s. At the end of the day, we were proud of what they had accomplished and glad to have shared.

The picture today is one of Kenny and Chrissi, at the outcrop where we had lunch.

Below is a picture of Luke walking with Papa Bruce.

Luke, my grandson, and Ashley my daughter have also come to visit as well. In this visit, we were able to walk a few miles on the trail to a rock outcrop with views of the Shenandoah valley. A visit where Luke reached beyond his fear of heights to see this glorious view and show his dad by FaceTime his achievement. Moments which we get to share that reshape our journey.

 

 

 

 

Below is a picture of Bern and Connie.

Our most recent visitor was Bern, a long and dear friend. Bern walked with us in Maryland and West Virginia, near Harpers Ferry.  Bern was with us for the start of the rocks that are strewn across the paths on the northern part of the trail. In two days Bern covered 18 miles of tough terrain, climbed a 1300 peak and was there for the walk into Harpers Ferry while crossing the Shenandoah River footbridge. An amazing feat on Bern’s part.

This is not a typical event on the trail.

It is hard for visitors to maintain the same pace of hikers who have walked many days. But sharing is now part of our journey. One we will enjoy, helping others share in what we have seen. Our hiked morphed long ago into one of experiencing the trail and not just walking the miles. We met people much earlier in the hike who told us they wished they had experienced more in their thru-hikes. They wished they had stopped a few more times to see more than just the miles. Some have returned, like Magellan, who hiked the trail in 2016. He told me this second journey was not about time tables or the miles. Later this summer he will join his son in Maine to climb Mount Katahdin.

We welcome our visitors and thank them for helping create a wonderful experience. This trail is for all to hike and experience. These are visits to “Our Father’s World.” Moments that immerse people into the glory of creation.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

-John 3:7-8

SEEING SPIRITUAL WINDS

On this dark night near Jerusalem, Nicodemus is struggling to understand the message of God.  Nicodemus was from the ruling class of the 1st century Judean society. He had nearly everything, wealth, a member of the Sanhedrin and status. Yet here he was, trying to learn what Jesus had to offer. He came to Jesus in the darkness part of the day, at night, so that he wouldn’t be seen. He had a yearning for God and deep in his soul he knew Jesus was the answer. Torn between the trappings of his material life and the desire to know God, he visits Jesus.

Struggling he tries but he doesn’t get what Jesus is saying. All that he had and knew was at risk, preventing his full comprehension of what Jesus had to say. Knowing this Jesus was frank and to the point, he tells Nicodemus, “You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” -John 3:7-8

Jesus’s point compares the spirit to the wind. God directs the spirit and the wind. He is simply telling Nicodemus, that if he is with God and born from above, then he would know that the wind or life isn’t for him to control. Those in commune with God or born from above understand the wind and the spirit. They know God is sovereign. He is also telling Nicodemus that he is trapped in the world. Matthew Henry , the famous 17th century theologian, explains it in this way, Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe.”  Nicodemus is at a crossroad in his life. Does he accept Jesus’s answer, which threatens his wealth, power and status, or does he return to his old life and still have a thirst for God that can’t be satisfied by the natural life.

For those us peering into this story, we know the choice Nicodemus should make. A test that he has to take in the school of life, that has only one question. Perhaps we feel like screaming out, “choose the wind!” Almost as if we are watching a science fiction movie and we are encouraging the main character to not go into the dark room. We all know the answer and what we would do.

This is the same question we are asked every day, sometimes every hour. Do we choose the comfort of our life or choose the wind. Nicodemus has a lot to give up. Many from the ruling elite  in the first century wanted Jesus taken care of or at least silenced. He posed a threat to all they had. To embrace the message of Jesus threatened all that Nicodemus had achieved through the world.

For those of us in the twenty first century, the question on our own life’s test is the same. Which path do we choose?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”

– Genesis 13:17

WALKING THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF OUR FAITH

The great father of our religious heritage, Abraham, was from the tenth generation since Noah. His father, Terah, had taken Abraham from his home in Ur,  to journey through the land of the Canaanites. His father never made it into Canaan. Distracted from his mission, stopping instead in Haran, where Teran died.

After his father’s death, Abraham was spoken to by God, who said; “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 Abraham began a long journey throughout the region, taking with him, his immediate family and nephew Lot. Along the way, they were beset by many struggles, including a famine. Desperate to avoid the loss of his health and wealth, forgetting God’s command, Abraham led them into Egypt. Abraham like his father became distracted and lacking in faith moved away from God’s plan.

While in Egypt, Abraham told his wife, Sarah,  to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister. An act of concealment to avoid having Abraham being murdered. For his wife, Sarah was beautiful and Abraham was sure that Pharaoh would murder him to possess his wife.

The plan worked for a while, Sarah was fully accepted in Pharaoh’s house. Abraham was treated well by the Egyptians. Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife, but soon develops sore and other plagues caused by God. Pharaoh confronts Abraham and asks him why did he lie? Why did he not tell Pharaoh that Sarah was his wife? Fearing more retribution from God, Pharaoh him banished from Egypt.

Along the way, both Abraham’s and Lot’s herds grew. Causing animosity between Abraham and Lot. Abraham tells Lot to choose a place where he would go and Abraham would take what was left. Lot chose a large parcel of land that would be best for his herds but also contained the city of Sodom. A place that was notorious for its wickedness and sinful behavior.

Lot moved his herds and settled in the city of Sodom. Abraham took over what was left. A final settlement and finally Abraham was in the land that God wanted him to be. After years of traveling to Canaan and being distracted by his own fears and hearing the sirens of other lands. Abraham was where God wanted him.

God then issued a request to Abraham to, “ “Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:17 Abraham was now finally where he should be and God had told him to inspect all that he owned. Not just to see, but walk its length and breadth. To immerse himself in all that God was giving him. Not just see the trees and water, but to be with the land. To explore every facet of this land that he had inherited from God.

Metaphorically, we can see this same thing in our lives. Our faith is the land that God wants us to explore and become immersed. Not just stand by and watch the unfurling of our faith, but to experience and invest our energy into our faith. To move beyond just saying our prayers and reading the Bible. But to explore our prayers and the Bible. To become deeply immersed. To learn the ways of the world and what to avoid. To wonder at the majesty of all creation. To wonder about the stars, to observe the spiritual winds of our lives. To not become attached to the shiny and temporary glimmers that the ways of the world. To not live our lives in fear and desperately try on our own to solve our problems through worldly ways.

God has a great bounty of spiritual wealth awaiting us. God will protect us and guide us on this journey. In times of trial he will hear. We will never be alone.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

The Geology of the Appalachian Trail

We decided to take a one week vacation from walking the trail. After arriving in Pennsylvania, our seventh state, we found our knees worn out and suffering from our third sickness. We will be skipping the rocky terrain of Pennsylvania and moving up to New Jersey to stay on schedule. We will come back to PA in the fall.

In just a few days of resting, we found ourselves missing our trail life and having a defined daily purpose. We missed the other hikers we have grown to know and the simple daily existence. But we found our ankles and knees were sore from the daily grind. Before we took our mini hiatus we had walked almost 14 days in a row. Mostly finding rocks that litter the trail.

We had been told that when we hit Virginia that the trail got easier. Certainly, the climbs were lower and our legs were much stronger. But we kept asking ourselves, “when does Virginia get easier?” The further north we walked, the greater the number of rocks and large boulders. Slowing our pace and creating unwanted falls. One day, in particular, we had to descend a half mile rock fall. A steep drop where each step had to be strategically thought out. It made me wonder, why the difference in terrain conditions versus the southern part of the trail.

In my research, I discovered why.

It wasn’t that the trail was less maintained, but by the geology of the trail. The Appalachian mountains are close to five hundred millions years old. Some geologist claim they are the oldest mountains in the world. They are four times as old as the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada’s.

Erosion and glaciers have reduced the size of the Appalachian mountains over these many years and created the steeper up hills and down hills. The average grade on the trail is over two hundred feet per mile, while the Pacific Coast and Continental Divide trail are far less, at over one hundred feet per mile. While the Rockies are higher and its largest peaks are fourteen thousand feet high, the trails are graded to handle livestock movement. As such most climbs are no greater than 11%. Whereas on the Appalachian Trail, many climbs are 20% in total with some sections reaching 40%!

So while the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains is Mount Mitchell at 6,600 feet, the steepness of the grade is the difficulty. Added on to this is the many years of erosion and the effect of numerous glaciers.

The erosion in the southern part is not as severe as the northern part, as the glaciers only reached the Ohio Valley. Their effect was to remove the topsoil and leave the rocks. Many of the rocks were pushed forward during the many ice ages. When you look at the topography of the Appalachian Trail on a map, which we did in Harpers Ferry, you see the Appalachian mountains are wider in the south and generally much higher.

The northern two states, Maine and New Hampshire, have some high peaks but are generally a thousand feet smaller. What these two states do have are much steeper climbs. In many places the climbs are over a thousand feet per mile, making both the ascent and descent hard. Even experienced hikers slow to a pace of one mile per hour.

Virginia Discovery

What we discovered in Virginia was not an easier trail, but a different trail. Our new obstacles were granite rocks that were left behind from the erosion. We also discovered the ridges were narrower and the valleys more fertile. Farms dotted the landscape and on some days we even walked through farms.

As we entered the three states of West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, the rocks became more frequent. The boulder fields were longer and bigger. In the southern part of Virginia and Tennessee, we could easily walk well over 2 miles an hour, or the average speed of the typical hiker on the Appalachian Trail. We actually slowed going north to just at 2 miles an hour. While not as exhausting as the steep climbs in the south, our hiking is more technical. Each step has to be carefully watched.

What we have learned is not to trust the small rocks, they will move and cause you to roll your ankles. Connie discovered that looking for the big boulders and charting a course among them was far easier. When the rocks are wet, they are greasy and rounded or sharp rocks need to be avoided or a slip and fall will occur.

So while we were told, when you hit Virginia the trail gets easier, we did not find this to be true. Sure the climbs weren’t as high, but the walking was harder because of the rocks. While our legs are much stronger, our walk is more measured.

We missed the trail and have returned this week. We needed the time off, to rest and let our knees recover. Our lesson we learned, is to be more careful with what we try to accomplish. To be more careful in planning out our days. To bring to the trail more from the outside, like friends and our other interests. A blending of the outside world with trail life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman