Pastor's Blog

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 1)

Yosemite was a "bucket list" vacation for us. When the children were younger we made a point of taking in National and State Parks. We made it as far west as Yellowstone. Everybody got older and circumstances changed. But Yosemite was always a, "if we ever get the opportunity ... if we can ever find a way ... we're going to do this" kind of dream.

This past year the dream became a reality. 

We are not old people. But we are most definitely not young. We are 56. (Okay, I am 56 and Polly will catch me this month.) Maybe we are young-ish? Youthful without being weird about it? Regardless, we both wanted our Yosemite adventure to be vigorous and physical. We wanted to hike and see the sights. Yet both of us wanted to sleep in a comfortable bed each night after a nice meal and good shower. We were not going to be wilderness camping.

We planned our trip for 10 months. Polly researched the hikes we could reasonably expect to knock out in six to eight (or 9?) hours. Where were the trail heads? The parking? The difficulty level? We invested in a kind of baseline level of hiking gear: good shoes, water packs, poles, that kind of thing. Polly learned how to make some really spectacular granola (!) we could use for energy on the trail.

And we walked. 

We both committed to building up stamina prior to the trip. The Yosemite Valley floor is 4000 feet in altitude, meaning, that's the low part. Every hike off the Valley floor would take us higher. Most of the hikes we intended to take involved the 5,000 to 10,000 feet range of altitude. Just for perspective, the highest point in Monroe County is the Hopper Hills-Middle Summit in the lovely town of Mendon. This peak touches the sky at 1020 feet. We felt we needed to prepare.

So we walked and we walked and we walked and we walked. And then, after we were through walking ... we walked. It was good for us. After awhile we liked walking. 

Research about vacations yields interesting insights. Actually planning a vacation, according to those who try to measure these things, can give rise to as much happiness as the trip itself. Further, those who eagerly anticipate the trip and prepare for it are more likely to enjoy the trip once there. 

Let me zero in on a Christian-life application. 

Heaven is not going to be the ultimate bucket list vacation. (Although, after walking through miles and miles of it, I will not be at all surprised if heaven looks a lot like Yosemite!) But beholding the glory of God face to face, worshipping the Lion of the Tribe of the Judah, being embraced in the great hosts of heaven: this is certainly the ultimate destination! 

How much am I preparing for it ... now? How much am I anticipating God now? How much am worshipping the Lamb now? Is not daily discipleship a way to build stamina for the eternity to come? 

I fear at times we think of heaven as some kind of schmaltzy-gooey, soft-lens family reunion where the glory of God and the worship of Jesus is an after-thought: "Oh yeah, we'll check that out, too."

We delighted in our Yosemite vacation for many good reasons. We anticipated. We prepared. Our delight began before our arrival. So it will be, at least in part, with our experience of heaven.

Next post: Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 2): July 4th in Yosemite


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Jesus among His church

Jesus walks among His churches. 

That's the image given in Revelation 1 and expanded in the following two chapters. Jesus dictates letters to seven churches. Those letters evidence an intimate knowledge of the character and circumstances of each local church. Jesus acknowledges what is plainly visible. Jesus discerns what is profound in the unseen; not only what is obvious on the outside but what is critical on the inside.

Churches are like that. What is seen are the raw details of location, demographics, and the data of programs, attendance and budget. Unseen - but critically more important - are the capitulations to the powers of a fallen world and/or the bulwark faithfulness to the kingdom of God. Jesus sees both. Jesus sees all. 

A church may look powerful on the outside, say, like Ephesus or Loadicea, yet on the inside be ravaged by a lack of love or a tepid, fecklessness of faith. If a book cannot be judged by its cover then, even more so, a church can't be judged by its bulletin (or web site!).

That Jesus does walk among His people is both a comfort and a challenge. I am comforted that Jesus cares about His people at an intimate, even granular level. No item too small. No member unimportant. No decision trifling.

Yet such care carries a challenge. This fallen world is no friend to grace. Perhaps that is the greatest challenge. Do we - the church - believe we live in a fallen world? Not just a world pock-marked by intermittent eruptions of God-rejection. Not only a world where events occasionally seem to spin out of control, declining now and again into blatant wickedness. (Wars and rumors of wars.) But a world aligned in fiber and synaptic connection of a rebellion against the glory of God? Do we see this? Do we understand our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against cosmic powers?

The signal markers or such a struggle are not the devolution of supposedly "God-honoring" laws, replaced by civil policies more amenable to a secular point of view. No. The signal markers are churches who capitulate in worship, apostolic doctrine and basic discipleship. Is Jesus the Savior? Are people sinners and, if so, do they need saving? Is Jesus the only Savior? Is He the only Lord? 

This is the enduring challenge. Extolling the glory of God in all things and, particularly, in the salvation of sinners. Rallying the church to the cross. Emboldening the church by the power of the resurrection. Shaping and maintaining a cruciform church, a pilgrim church, an outpost of the eternal kingdom.

This is the challenge facing every generation. This is how Jesus walks among us.

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