27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 NIV.
In May of 2002 I was a young seminary student hungry for adventure. The semester had just ended, and weary of tests and papers, I was ready for some time in the mountains. Another seminary student, Brian, who I had just recently met through church, was also ready to get out and stretch his legs and fill his lungs with mountain air. We quickly hatched a plan to backpack and rock climb in New Mexico. The day before we were to leave we found out that pretty much the whole state was closed due to fire restrictions. We speedily adjusted our itinerary and headed for the Lagarita Wilderness just outside of Creede, Colorado.
Brian and I realized our plans were somewhat hasty, but we were young and invincible. What could possibly go wrong? After driving in to around 9000 ft., we started backpacking up a beautiful mountain canyon, miles from civilization. By the second day at about 11,000 ft, I realized something wasn’t right. I felt light-headed, dizzy, disoriented, and I had a killer headache. I remember thinking, am I going to die here in the wilderness?
Looking back I realize now that this was my first experience with AMS, Acute Mountain Sickness. It is a condition that us flat-landers are extremely prone to when we head to the mountains, and don’t give our bodies time to adjust to the elevation. As we went to bed that second night, Brian and I were both concerned. He had taken care of me well, and made sure I was drinking plenty of water, but there wasn’t much else he could do. We prayed and just gave the situation to the Lord. I was scared and worried but I didn’t want to let on to Brian. As I went to sleep I thought, “Am I going to wake up in heaven with Jesus?” It was actually a comforting thought knowing that I really didn’t have to fear death, because something so much greater was on the other side. I felt a sense of peace because my life was in the hands of Christ. The fear subsided and I went to sleep.
I woke the next morning feeling rested and so much better. My headache was gone and I no longer felt dizzy and disoriented. Brian and I continued our trip, and had an amazing time scrambling up hardened volcanic ash pinnacles, fishing for trout in the cool mountain streams, and worshipping our Creator in His greatest sanctuary. I look back on that time fondly, and although now with years of experience and training I would do things differently, I’m so thankful that we pushed through the fear and trusted Christ. It was also the start of a great friendship between Brian and I. Nothing brings people together like an epic wilderness journey.
Over the years, Brian and I went our separate ways. We managed to stay in touch through phone calls, emails, and Facebook. He moved to Arlington and started a thriving guitar studio where hundreds of young people where blessed by his gifted teaching and caring heart. I got married, served in several different ministries and eventually landed in Austin and started Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Even though Brian and I didn’t talk often I still considered him a close friend because of the adventure we shared and the care and concern he showed for me when I was ill.
Several weeks ago I heard the news that Brian had unexpectedly passed away. He went home from the studio with a fever one day, went to bed, and woke up in the arms of Christ. It was a huge shock to all his friends and family, and we still don’t really understand why he was taken when he was seemingly in great health and full of life. Even though there are more questions than answers, I rest in the thought that Brian is more fully alive now than he has ever been. He’s worshipping His savior face to face where there is no more fear and no more sorrow.
As I’ve dealt with Brian’s death and several other unexpected passings recently, I’ve felt the familiar fear I experienced on that wilderness journey start to press in. Difficult questions have cropped up in my mind: “If Brian could be taken so young, will it be my turn soon?” “Will I go to sleep one night and wake up dead?” “Who am I going to lose next?”
In the book of John, Jesus addressed His disciples, knowing full well that He was about to suffer and die on a cruel cross, aware that all the men in the room will in a few short years be martyred for their faith in Him, save two. One will betray Him and end his own life out of guilt and shame, and the second will end his days in exile on a deserted island in the Aegean sea. Recognizing the suffering and death He and His followers will shortly face, Jesus tells them that He is leaving them with His peace and not to be afraid. What an incredible earth shattering truth! Followers of Jesus Christ need not fear anything, even death! We can find peace through Him in any circumstance!
So many people in this world live their lives controlled by fear. Fear of death. Fear of loss. Fear of not having enough. Fear of being alone. Fear of being unlovable. The truth is, if you are in Christ, nothing can threaten you. As the apostle Paul states in Romans; nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. You don’t have to live your life controlled by fear.
Recently I’ve witnessed some epic struggles with fear on our programs. Standing on the edge of a cliff with a rope the width of a pinky as their only lifeline tends to give many students and even some adults pause. One young man came clawing back up a cliff shouting in a hoarse whisper, “Sir I can’t do this!” He conquered his fear and went back over the edge and learned a valuable lesson about trusting in Christ.
I am so grateful that I have the privilege of leading a ministry that helps people learn to overcome fear in a very tangible way. I am also thankful for all the supporters and volunteers that make this possible. It is my prayer for you as you read this that deep within your soul you would know that there is nothing to fear. Because Jesus died in your place, through faith in Him you can have victory over sin and death. May you experience the deep abiding peace of Jesus Christ no matter what life throws your way.