James 1, Verses 22-25: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.”
It was June of 2015 and the sweat was pouring from my entire body. Step after step, rock after rock, the incline seemed to only get more steep the higher I climbed. The cigarettes had been sat down for a year and a half never to be touched again, but decades of them saturating my lungs had done their damage…my chest was exploding and I gasped for air. I found myself hugging one of thousands of trees surrounding me as I traversed the narrow pathway towards the summit of Mount Pisgah, NC. This mountain given that name in honor of Moses and his last view before God ended his work. The summit sits at 5,721 feet and I was a few hundred feet short of it.
It had been a very special day already by this point, and dusk was creeping slowly but ever steady. I had started this physical act of obedience towards God by hiking several miles in a mind blowing place called, Graveyard Fields. A valley of trees twisted and thrown by high winds at 5,000 feet, and a landscape that at times resembled a tropical rain forest, and in other areas, the remains of the apocalypse. In between, beauty upon beauty of God’s finest work. There has been very few moments where I have felt as alive as I did at Graveyard Fields. Next, I made my way to a place called the Devil’s Courthouse. The path to the summit was nearly as vertical as Mount Pisgah, and it took a lot of the remaining energy I had to make it. Symbolically, I viewed this as an act of ending my worldly-minded life. Mount Pisgah would be the birth of my new God-centered obedience. My adherence to the words of James quoted above. By the time I had made it back to the parking lot, a storm had come up and I had to retreat to my room at the Pisgah Inn.
It was after 6 pm, I hadn’t eaten dinner (and the Pisgah Inn has one of the best restaurants anywhere in the area), and the storm had left everything wet. I flirted with the idea of waiting until morning to conquer Mount Pisgah, but God led me out the door. Because of the weather, the parking lot was empty in what normally would have been a busy site on a late Spring day. Minus the young couple I would encounter coming back down the mountain at one point, I never saw another soul the entire event. I did however constantly feel like one of the many black bears in the area could pop out on me at any moment, and I had nowhere to run if one did. Strangely, I liked that fact, and I trusted God in how that would go. I heard some wild noises in those woods, but I never saw their sources. With a single bottle of water and adrenaline as the fuel, I made my way. Step after step, rock after rock.
As I hugged that tree and desperately attempted to catch my breath, taken from me by addiction and rebellion, I felt like there was no way I could make that last final push to the top. I was praying nearly continuous all day, and at that moment I was pleading for his help to get me there. The spirit put in my head as clear as day the words, “Jesus First, Jesus in the Middle, Jesus Last.” So I started chanting it. Loudly. If there were any bears around me, I’d like to think they were chanting it too. Every step, every agonizing switchback, every rock to scale…chanting, “Jesus First, Jesus in the Middle, Jesus Last”…as I would dig my wooden staff into the ground and push one more step. I was full of every emotion a human is capable of those last many steps. Everything was pouring out of me both physically and emotionally. Then I saw the steps to the summit.
I was spent. My body collapsed on the wooden platform found on the summit, and I lay flat on my back for a very long time just gasping and wiping the salty sweat out of my eyes…and praying. God taught me a great lesson that day that will live with me eternally. Obey. I am his and my soul he will forever hold without fail. I was at one time that man James warned of that heard the word but failed to act upon it. I believed, but I didn’t want the responsibility that came with my salvation. I ran from it. On this day, God led me to him and my spirit was transformed. I’ve changed in so many ways since that moment and the transformation continues. It’s difficult. It’s scary. It places me in uncomfortable positions when the world wants the old me and can’t find him. It’s everything I thought it would be and ran from – and I don’t regret a second of it.
Billy Graham, a man I admire and study intently, once said…”I have never known a man who received Christ and ever regretted it.” I testify to that truth. Chains really do break…setting free really does happen. Have you experienced it? He is waiting for you. Go.