Nearing the lake, the hiker stepped onto a large boulder that shifted precariously under his weight. Instinctively, he leapt. The rock ahead was solid but tilted up at an awkward angle. His boots hit, and slid. The boulder behind kept coming, closing the gap. Just as his legs slipped off the edge, the boulders slammed together, catching the man above the knees, pinning him as if in the jaws of a trap. – Jeff Rennicke, Backpacker
So many times it seems that as we navigate life, the guidebooks are written in a foreign language, and when we do study the map, only part of it is there.
I suppose if ‘happily ever after’ was easy to get to, there would be no stories: no tales of wonder, no hearts to win, dragons to slay, lands to conquer.
And sometimes ‘happily’ comes after ever. As it did for a local pastor named Mike Turner, the hiker mentioned above. Mike died up there in the wilderness of Wyoming. And in the long last eleven days of his life, he journaled. He journaled his pain, his sorrow, his loss, his faith, his trust and ultimately, his readiness to meet God — much sooner than he’d imagined.
In a documentary narrated by his hiking partner and best friend, Mark Smith, this morning we learned the tale of this man of faith who lived by a creed to live life boldly. Mike died in his prime, on an adventure designed to take him to nature where he could get closer to God.
Though he slay me, I will hope in him.
(Job 13:15a ESV)
At the beginning of his journal, Pastor Turner wrote of hope:
You send the winds and rain and yet even amidst the deep savagery and destruction of life, I sense your hand. In threatening my comfort, even my life, you challenge me to cope. In beauty and peace you refresh me. And all of it I need…God bless this trip. May it fulfill your holy purposes.”
After being pinned by the boulder, he wrote of doubt:
“God is with me but I am angry with him. Why this terrible injustice, or is it the product of pride? This sense of wrestling against God or the angel of God is distressing. What can I do against God?…I don’t want to be fighting against God’s will. How am I failing him or what does he need me to teach? What is the purpose of this ordeal? Will I ever know, or continue to be puzzled, angered, and feel quite abandoned by the one I serve?”
And in his final hours, after ten days, water gone, no longer hoping for rescue:
“Fill me with peace, Lord. May the conditions not deny my love for you…I am ready to die, though missing my family. To live is Christ. To die is gain…I will trust in God though he will slay me, yet will I trust him, he is the way, the truth, the light.”
What of this story, then? A cautionary tale to some, a story chronicling the death of a saint to others. How do we reconcile these thoughts, this loss?
Mike’s unexpected journey touches us as it encapsulates the unknown and the known – a short tale often stretched over decades of our own lives. How do we live responsible adult lives and yet recklessly take up our cross and follow Him?
How do we follow Him wherever He might lead? After all, respectable Hobbits don’t go on adventures. It’s not culturally acceptable.
The thing that keeps nibbling at me — and maybe it has all my life is this: Are we supposed to be respectable? To whom are we attempting to gain favor? Are we called to live lives of quiet desperation or even quiet quietness?
Is there more to this life than “living and dying– trying to make it through the day?*”
Sure, it’s peaceful to sit next to a pleasant fire with a nice book or kick back and watch a football game. Or just to go to work, punch the clock, tuck the kids in bed, hit the alarm clock and repeat.
Yet. Yet… do you feel the FIRE in you deep down to do something? … to follow the Lion of Judah in the adventures of YOUR lifetime?
Because we only get to do it once.
Pray with me: Lord help us to live life boldly and with conviction. Amen.
May We Live Life Boldy.
*Bonus Points if you know the reference!