Monday Motivation: Real Discipleship

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

“34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:1-4)

Disciple: One who follows Christ and is a student of his teaching.

It’s common practice in the hiking community to take on a trail name while out on the trail. This practice originated with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and is now somewhat of a tradition. With the help of some other hikers, I decided that if I ever thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I would take the name “Disciple” as my trail name because it summarizes what I want my life to be about: following faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus.

So what does that really mean? It means I must pick up my cross daily to follow him. I must sacrifice self if I’m to serve Christ completely (Matthew 16:24-26). It also means I must love him with all my heart and love others as myself. Jesus exemplified love to the world, and as a disciple of his, I should do the same (John 13:34-35). Finally, it means that I must stay close to my Lord and Teacher. I must learn from his example and his word in order to be as fruitful as possible in my lifetime (John 15:1-4).

What are you doing today and in the week to come to be a disciple of Christ and to follow him to the best of your ability?

-Joe

Unplug and Tune In

Probably one of the things I enjoy best about hiking is the quiet.  When you’re in a classroom full of third graders all day, you long for the quiet of the woods.  When I get out there, I throw on my backpack, hit the trail, and all I can hear is the rustle of the wind through the trees and the crunch of my boots on the ground.  I never want to be in the wilderness and not be completely in tune with my surroundings.  There’s far too much to see and hear and smell to miss out on any of it.

Oddly, many hikers do the exact opposite while out on the trail.  They bring iPods and cell phones and jam out to music or listen to audio books while hiking.  I’ve literally tried to get another hiker’s attention to show them something interesting or beautiful, but they were so zoned out, they completely missed it.  I believe you can’t really enjoy all that nature has to offer while you’re consumed by a device.  To go even further, you can’t even enjoy others and learn who they are when your face is glued to your phone all the time.  It’s as if some people are walking and living and yet asleep at the same time.

This problem is not only present in daily life or in our hobbies either.  It’s also present in our relationship with God.  Sometimes at worship, we’re a million miles away from God while our minds filter through all our other priorities and worries.  We can’t hear God or fully appreciate all that he is if we aren’t tuned in.  We must find a way to give God the attention he deserves instead of always being focused on our own thoughts and desires.  And therein lies the difficulty.  How exactly do you unplug from the world around you and tune in to God?

  • First, we need to realize that our lives should have God at the center.  Everything we do can be done for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23-24), even our daily activities like working or taking care of family matters.  One great way to help do this is to make sure we fit acts of service into our daily schedule.  If you’re like me, your day can fill up fast with responsibilities, so fast that you have no time left to meet the needs of those around you.  Sometimes we have to be purposeful about making room in our schedule to serve others and not just serve ourselves.
  • Next, we need to treat worship with the respect it deserves by removing distractions so that we can give God all the focus.  And let’s not train our children to be distracted by handing them an iPad so they’ll be quiet.  Preparing for corporate worship begins long before the opening prayer by asking God to reveal himself to us.  Be prepared to give your full attention to the songs being sung and the sermon being preached and the thoughts being presented during the Lord’s Supper so that worship will, in every way, honor God.
  • Finally, we need to stop and smell the roses, if you will, and appreciate all the many things God has given us to enjoy.  Like the hiking I mentioned earlier, sometimes we have to slow down and be more observant of all the beautiful blessings we have in our lives.  We tend to lose out on things because of all the hustle and bustle, and it’s usually those simple things that are the most enjoyable.  As the title implies, we must unplug from the things that don’t matter and tune in to the things that do.

As you can probably tell, I’m a big proponent of living simply and focusing on the important things.  It’s such a great way to live and it leaves time to relish in the wonderful blessings God has so graciously bestowed on us.

Give it a try.

Live in the moment.

Show gratitude to God for each opportunity you have.

-Joe

Spiritual Sightseeing

I simply cannot get enough of the outdoors!

It’s not just enjoying a trip to the beach or a scenic drive through the mountains.  I want to immerse myself in the environment, to enjoy everything,  noticing and savoring the sights and smells and sounds.  When I go to Washington state, I love to visit Mt. Rainier and smell the rich scent of the evergreen trees and view the powerful glaciers as they make their slow advance down the flanks of the mountain.  When I go to the beach, I love to feel the coolness of the sugar-white sand and inhale the briny smell of the salty air.  When I’ve gone hiking in the woods on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve noticed the scattering of the birds and squirrels as they explore the forest floor, the soft trickle of mountain streams cascading over rocks, and the leaves exploding into an abundance of vibrant colors in the Fall.

One thing I’ve noticed is that very few people actually see or experience any of those things.  They either miss them because they’re too busy to slow down and take notice, or they never leave their car or the parking lot when they do visit the outdoors.  The statistics even bear this out as well.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Forest Service, almost 86% of people who visit a wilderness site only use developed facilities such as park roads, overlooks, campgrounds, and visitor centers.  And of the tourists who do leave developed areas, most never get any farther away than a half mile.  That’s too bad because they have no idea what they’re missing.

If you’ve been a Christian for even a short amount of time then you’ve probably noticed how people have this same mindset towards God and religion in general.  Some people are spiritual sightseers, never going any further than attending worship services and somehow thinking they now have a deep relationship with God.  I must ask, how can you possibly think you know God if you never immerse yourself in Him?  How can you know him and his will for your life if you are not being fed by his word?  How can you experience all the goodness God has to offer if you only act like a Christian for a couple of hours one day a week?

People are missing out on so much because they’re satisfied with a surface-level knowledge of God and his love instead of desiring intimacy with him.  Like Paul, we should declare that we, “want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and we can only do that if we are willing to learn about him and to make him the center of our entire existence.

Get off the beaten path and explore who God is.  Attend worship, read you Bible, pray, serve.  Go all in for God and you’ll discover far more about him than you’d ever imagine.

-Joe

Spiritual Markers

blaze-pngI’ve mentioned many times before how much I love to go hiking.  I can never get enough of being in the outdoors enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.  One of my favorite places to hike is along the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail.  This footpath begins in the mountains of northern Georgia and ends on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  I hope to one day thru-hike the entire trail, but so far I’ve only traveled over some of the mileage in Georgia and Tennessee.

Even though the trail is well-worn and relatively easy to follow, the path is marked with blazes on the trees and rocks along the way.  Every 100-200 yards, a tree is painted with a six inch white rectangle signifying the direction hikers should travel.  As I’ve already mentioned, it’s hard to get lost while hiking the Appalachian Trail and the blazes help to make that possible.  It’s comforting to know you have something to keep you on track and headed in the right direction.

For those who have given their lives to Christ, we too have a guide that helps to ensure we stay on the right track.  The Holy Spirit is our spiritual guide, helping us along in our walk with God and giving us clear directions to be in alignment with Him.  He is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), but He can be counted upon to lead us into all truth (John 16:13).  The blazes on the Appalachian Trail are trustworthy.  Follow them and you will ultimately reach your destination.  Likewise, following the Holy Spirit will help us grow closer to God and ultimately live in heaven with him when Christ returns.

Now, blazes or maps are a great tool to assist us when traveling, but we have to pay attention to them for them to work.  Living with the Holy Spirit works the same way.  He can urge us in the right direction but we still have free will.  We can still decide if we will listen or not.  On occasion, it may seem hard to discern if a message is from the Spirit or from our own subconscious desires.  In order to hear from the Spirit, we must be ready by not having preconceived ideas floating around in our heads.  He will never contradict scripture, so if we follow the teachings in the Bible, we’ll recognize the Spirit’s call.  He doesn’t speak in some audible voice or a spectacular spiritual experience.  He speaks to our heart through the urgings of the Spirit within us.

As the name of this blog implies, Faith and Footsteps is about walking with God in faith, trusting that our guide has our best interests at heart.  It’s about the journey of this life.  Just like hiking a long distance trail, we are on this journey for the long haul and we may face distractions and despair along the way at times.  That’s why following our Father, the example of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is of utmost importance.  It’s the only way we’ll ever find our way home.

-Joe

Is God Enough?

One of the many hikes I took on my recent vacation. (This view is near Mt. Baker in Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest)
One of the many hikes I took on my recent vacation. (This view is near Mt. Baker in Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest)

Recently, I returned from a family vacation to Washington state. We had a wonderful time and I got to do one of my favorite things, hiking.  For this Florida boy, being up in some real mountains was quite a treat. Views that go on for miles. Epic wildlife encounters. Crisp, cool air and wildflower blooms. I spent my entire time there soaking it all in and making lifelong memories.

It’s strange, but when I’m out for a hike, I just don’t seem to get tired. I’m always so excited to see what’s over the next ridgeline or relish in the aroma of the fir trees or dip my toes in an icy cold river. There’s so much motivation to see and experience new things that I can hike all day and never grow weary.

Motivation is like that. With the right motivation and circumstances, we’ll do just about anything. With that in mind, I challenge you to examine your motivation for being a follower of Christ. As a Christian, Jesus should be at the heart of our faith and religious belief, but is he really?  Take church services as an example. What if we were to strip away all the comforts and superficial motivations for being there?  Would you still attend?

  • What if there were no tailored ministries to fit your needs?
  • What if there were no children’s classes?
  • What if there were no cushioned pews or air conditioning or lights?
  • What if the sound system didn’t work or no fellowship meals were served?

Would we still gather in the name of Jesus?

Would He be enough?

The modern church, in its haste to gain more attendees and make religion palatable to unbelievers, has in some ways become exactly like the world. There’s an entertainment factor that has become more apparent as preachers and evangelists are encouraged to be more charismatic and elderships are pressured to continually add more programs to keep the flock happy.

I want to encourage all Christians everywhere to take a close look at the motivations for your faith.  Do you need a dynamic speaker, a modern song service, and personal ministry opportunities to attend worship?  Do you need a comfortable and expensive building with a cafe’ and movie theater seating in order to feel close to God?  Or……is God enough?

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 4:19)

-Joe

There is Only One Path

one pathLocated in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee lies Mt. LeConte.  At 6,593 feet, it is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are five separate trails (Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bullhead and Boulevard) that reach the summit.  Some are harder than others but they all reach their destination.  I’ve been to Mt. LeConte on three of those five trails and sure enough, I always ended up at the top of the mountain.

In today’s religious landscape, it’s popular to believe in many spiritual paths.  Tolerance is preached as the ultimate in religious maturity.  Many people want to create their own personal idea of God and salvation and develop their own path to get there, one that is easy and comfortable.

The truth is, there is only one path…through Jesus!

It may be unpopular to speak in absolutes, but the Bible, the inspired word of God, teaches that there is only one way to know God and that’s through our Savior Jesus Christ.  Let the words of Jesus himself, the Son of God, convince you:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

(John 14:6)

Nowhere in that passage does it give us permission to create our own path.  There’s no evidence suggesting Jesus will be tolerant of mankind’s idea of how to find God.  What’s scary is that the path is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).  That doesn’t mean that the path is hard to find.  It means that many will choose not to take it.

In hiking terms, trying to walk through the wilderness without a path is called bushwacking.  There is no discernable path, but you try to create one by traveling through the brush.  Needless to say, it’s hard and much easier to become lost.  In a way, our walk towards God is much the same.  When you’re not on the path, it’s hard and impossible to find Him.

Jesus was very clear about how to find God.  He was very adamant that obedience to that way is an all or nothing proposition.  The word of God is as simple as we want to make it.  We either follow the path God laid out for us or we don’t.

There is only one path.

There is no other way.

-Joe

Fingerprints

This week my students were home for spring break which left me with some time on my hands to do some of the things I enjoy. And one of my favorite ways to spend my time is hiking out in God’s beautiful creation. I took a trip to the mountains of north Georgia and did a three day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. What follows are some of the pictures I took while on my trip. As you can see, God’s fingerprints are everywhere. Enjoy!

-Joe

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