Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For adventure seekers only

A magazine headline recently caught my eye: “What adventures are actually left?”

Summits reached for the first time. Deserts crossed. Daring journeys never before attempted — or survived, as the case may be.

It’s a subject worth considering in memory of one of the greatest adventurers of them all: Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. Armstrong, who died Aug. 25, made no secret of his disappointment in America’s flagging commitment to human space exploration. How long will it take us to get back to the moon, he wondered aloud in his later years, much less Mars? The cosmos awaits.

Back here on earth, though, “are there many meaningful challenges left for intrepid explorers?” asked an article in the BBC News Magazine. “[G]enuine firsts in exploration are getting hard to find. The world’s greatest peaks have all been climbed. The earth has been circumnavigated many times by plane, foot, bicycle and balloon, among other means of conveyance. Many of the major rivers, lakes and seas have been swum or canoed. There are few genuine unknowns. Satellite navigation technology allows mankind to see almost every river, copse and hill.”

It’s a far cry from the great ages of discovery, when wanderers trekked and sailed across vast, unknown expanses in search of new lands and peoples, trade routes, knowledge, gold.

“In the late 19th century a ragbag of missionaries, gentlemen explorers and speculators began the scramble for Africa with little knowledge of what awaited them,” the article observed of the last such age. “Exploration today is a dying art. The new feats are often about endurance as much as discovery. Firsts are ever more specialist and technically defined — first successful dive at the North Pole … first person to jetpack across the English Channel … oldest woman to climb Everest. …”

There are plenty of such specialized challenges for adventurers with the time, money and guts to pursue them. Want to ski the fearsome heights of K2 in the Himalayas? Go for it, if you have your will in order. Want to swim the Pacific? Someone is planning to, but if you hurry you might beat him. Or take a dive: The world’s ocean floors remain a greater mystery than the surface of Mars, according to the BBC.

The spirit of adventure also burns brightly beyond the arenas of extreme sports and scientific exploration, however. There are people willing and eager to do whatever it takes to speak the name of Jesus where it has never been heard.

Aaron Juergens,* for instance. He’s a 20-something guy who grew up climbing mountains in Colorado for fun.

“[A]fter high school I started climbing ‘fourteeners,’” Juergens says of Colorado’s 54 peaks that soar above 14,000 feet. “I would climb three mountains a week.”

Today, as a Christian worker, he hikes the Himalayas, the “roof of the world,” adapting inadequate maps and using GPS units to find people who have never heard the Gospel. Read more of his story, or watch a video about his amazing mountain adventures.

“Not all people live in the cities where you can take a taxi to their front door,” Juergens says. “People live in places that we would never dream of living in but the fact is they live there. That’s where they’re put and they’re not coming to us. We have to go to them.”

That’s exactly what he and his teammates do. The people groups in the remote regions he visits aren’t just hard to reach geographically. Juergens also must cross mountains of superstition, tradition and spiritual resistance. But that isn’t a reason to quit, Juergens says, even when you’re freezing and sick on top of a mountain.

“I’m up there, wearing six jackets and three gloves and five socks and I really just kind of want to sit in a bed,” he says. “But then you think about those people [who haven’t yet heard about Jesus]. If we turn around, who is going to come next? I mean, how many people have turned around? The world is getting smaller. The day is coming when everybody is going to have no excuse whatsoever for not hearing. There’s no excuse for turning back. We keep going.”

That’s the kind of determination that moves the Gospel across mountains, physical or spiritual. Think about that the next time someone tells you the age of adventure is dead. Many mountains remain unclimbed. Are you up for it?

*(Name changed)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A greater dream


With the national political conventions over, the frenzy of a seemingly never-ending presidential campaign shifts into even higher gear as Election Day approaches.

Only two more months of 24/7 political ads — at least for those of us living in battleground states. I can’t wait.

I don’t mean to sound cynical. I’m thankful. Democracy is messy and often dirty, but it sure beats the alternatives. And I’m proud that my kids — I mean, the young adults I still claim as dependents on my tax return — will both be voting for the first time. It’s an interesting election season for them to begin full participation in the privilege of democratic decision making as citizens. Sure, politicians across the spectrum are delivering lots of low blows and half-truths, as usual. But amid the mudslinging, they’re debating key issues such as the proper role of government, how best to serve the public in difficult economic times and America’s role in the world.

They also are jousting over who is the better custodian of “the American dream.” Speakers mentioned America’s “dream” or “story” more than 150 times at the Republican and Democratic conventions, according to the Associated Press. It’s a timely topic, as fears increase that Americans now entering adulthood will comprise the first generation to experience less prosperity over the course of their working lives than their parents did.

What is “the American dream,” anyway? Everyone has his or her own spin on it. My pastor reminded me that the term itself was coined in 1931 by historian and author James Truslow Adams (1878-1949). Adams described it as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. … It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The second part of that description, written as the nation was descending into severe economic depression, is instructive. Adams saw the dream as more than just “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” (one of the promises of the 1928 presidential election) — or two garages with luxury SUVs attached to every McMansion, which has typified the dream for some folks in more recent years. Rather, Adams dreamed of a society where every member could freely go as far as his or her striving could take them, unfettered by an oppressive state or the old class system of Europe.

Many people, particularly the immigrants entering America every day, still dream that dream. Noble as it may seem, however, it’s not enough. And as prophetic voices such as David Platt have reminded us, it inevitably conflicts with God’s dream. God did not create us primarily to chase self-realization, prosperity or even “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence. He created us to love Him and to glorify Him among the nations.

“Radical obedience to Christ is not easy. … It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And He is more than enough for us,” Platt wrote in his 2010 book, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”

If believers continue to opt for the typical American version of Christianity rather than the biblical one, Platt warned, the price will be “high for people who don’t know Christ and who live in a world where Christians shrink back from self-denying faith and settle into self-indulging faith. While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God, literally billions in need of the Gospel remain in the dark.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. And for a new breed of Christ followers responding to the timeless biblical vision — as opposed to a limited American one — it isn’t that way. Their dream: to proclaim the kingdom of God to their own generation.

Despite the aging of the populations of many developed nations, the world population “quietly hit a tipping point in 2010: Over 50 percent of the people around the globe are now under the age of 25,” reported Mindy Belz in WORLD magazine earlier this year. They’re increasingly part of an “emerging global youth culture in which youth around the world have more in common with each other than they do with the adults in their own culture.”

They’re looking for more than jobs, material things or even freedom. They’re looking for God.