Today I celebrated my birthday by hiking Blueberry and Speckled Mountains in Evans Notch, Maine -- 8.2 miles over two mountains. It was a cool day with great visibility. The beautiful views are always what I anticipate most about hiking, but today I discovered something I wasn't expecting.
I know, since the mountain was named Blueberry Mountain, I ought to have expected blueberries, but mountain names don't always match up to reality, so I hadn't thought too much about the possibility of finding blueberry bushes on the mountain.
How did the blueberries taste? EXTRAORDINARY!
As a matter of fact, I don't think I've EVER tasted blueberries so sweet and flavorful as these ones. We have a blueberry bush in front of our house, which produces some great blueberries. We have a grocery store down the street where we can buy big, plump blueberries.
But NOTHING compares to the blueberries on that mountain. Don't believe me? Go hike it for yourself (Here's my hike report at HikerSpace.net: Blueberry and Speckled Mountains). And if you don't hike it, you'll never know what you're missing!
That made me think -- the Christian life is a bit like those blueberries. People sometimes ask if the Christian life is easier, and I say, "No, of course not!" There's nothing easy about it.
If I wanted easy, I'd stay at home, and pick blueberries from my front yard. Or drive to the grocery store and spend a few bucks on some. But easy isn't necessarily the same as better.
Sometimes the best things in life are the things you have to work the hardest at. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers a great many things about the kind of life he wanted his followers to live, and the truth is -- living the way Jesus calls us to live is incredibly difficult (harder than climbing a mountain, for sure!). To live without falsehood, to live without lust, to live without pride, to live without grudges -- to be a merciful peacemaker and to hunger for righteousness -- these are NOT the easy way of life. But Jesus makes a promise to those of us who will hear these words of His -- when the storms of life come, we will stand rock solid instead of collapsing in a heap.
Hard work? You'd better believe it! But worth it? Oh yes!
If you're looking for "easy," you might as well just go to the store and buy some blueberries.
But just remember, you're missing out on the best.
In a previous entry, I wrote about chess, and compared the universe to an enormous chess game. An excellent chess player makes moves that are incomprehensible to me because I don't understand all the complexities of the game. The universe is infinitely more complex than a chess game, but fortunately, God is infinitely wiser than the best chess player, and we should not be at all surprised when we don't understand the "moves" He's making.
As I think about chess, and how a novice plays it (and when I speak of novices, I'm thinking primarily of myself!), a novice player will often treat his pawns as though they are unimportant. He will throw them in the path of other pieces in order to tempt his opponent into weaker positions, or he will trade them indiscriminately in trying to improve his own position.
No wonder we speak disparagingly of pawns, saying someone was "just a pawn."
But if we think of God as the greatest of all chess players, we must remember this: in God's view of the universe, there is no such thing as "just a pawn." The Bible teaches us that God loves each one of us, and each of us is valuable to him. Need proof of that? Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:26. In essence, Jesus says, "Look at the birds! See how God takes care of them! And aren't you even more important to God than the birds?"
In other words, if God doesn't think of even a bird as "just a pawn," you can rest assured that he values you very highly indeed!
Doing business on the Internet, I find all sorts of devious and downright criminal activities going on. I try to help people sort out the good from the bad by posting on my Anti-Spam Website about various scams I find.
But some people are involved in an activity that, although it is strictly within the law, I find absolutely despicable. There are people out there who spend their time looking for website domain names that the owner has accidentally allowed to "expire" and they buy them as soon as they expire. Not because they want the domain themselves, but so they can say to the former owner, "I'll sell this domain back to you for $20,000."
Or, instead of buying domain names that have expired, they buy domain names that they know someone else will want. They don't want the domain name themselves; they just want to be able to charge someone an arm and a leg for the domain name that they want.
This activity is directly contrary to what Jesus instructed in the Sermon on the Mount.
If you want to know if an activity is something you should be involved in, ask yourself this question: Would I be happy if someone else did this to me?
Can't you just imagine how furious those domain snatchers would be if someone did the same thing to them? And that, right there, answers the question of should I be doing this?
No matter what you do, always put your activities up against the test of the Golden Rule.
Several years ago we had a yearly tradition of taking our church youth group on a hiking trip to Mount Katahdin. If you've never been to Katahdin, it's the tallest mountain in the state of Maine, and a wonderful place to hike. The views from the top are downright amazing.
We would hike up Pamola Peak (the second-tallest peak on Katahdin) and then cross Knife Edge to get to Baxter Peak (which is the tallest peak). Knife Edge is a trail, approximately a mile long, which runs along a ridge between Pamola and Baxter. You can probably guess what the trail looks like, just from the name of it: Knife Edge. At times you really do feel like you're walking along the edge of a knife; you stand on the ridge and you can look down to your left and see the bottom of the mountain -- then you turn and look down to your right and you also see the bottom of the mountain! It can be a bit intimidating for people who are afraid of heights.
One time when we took this hike, we had a teenager with us who was a seventh grader, and this was her first "serious" hiking experience. When we got to Pamola Peak we gave the teens the option of pressing forward, or turning back the way we came. This girl was determined to go forward.
But once she got out on the ridge, she discovered that, with the wind blowing, and her being tired as she was, she felt like she was going to get blown right off the mountain. So she hiked the entire Knife Edge on her hands and knees.
It was a long hike that day, stopping every couple minutes for her to rest, and get up her courage to press on. The rest of the group pushed on ahead while a couple of the leaders stayed with her. We would stop, sit down on the rocks to look at the views around us (which were, by the way, absolutely stunning and amazing!), and then we would point at a turn in the trail, or an outcropping of rock, and say, "Do you think you can get that far?" And the girl would get a look of grim determination, nod her head, and off we would go again.
As we hiked, I thought to myself, This is what life is like. The trail is rough, narrow, tiresome, and occasionally nerve-wracking. But we don't have to travel the entire trail all at once. Crawling along the trails of life on our hands and knees, we only need worry about what lies directly ahead of us. When the trail gets hard, we only need the grim determination to make it through one day at a time, and when the day is done, God says to us: "Take a rest, and tomorrow we'll tackle the next part of the trail!"
For those who think they have to face the entire trail all at once, take the time to read from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:25-34. And especially verse 34:
Have the faith to travel as far as God gives you to travel in a single day, and let tomorrow -- and God -- worry about tomorrow!