Yosemite National Park is home to some of the world’s most majestic water falls and grandest granite cliffs. There is so much that is HUGE in Yosemite, that if one isn’t careful, they can miss the small wonders that lie around almost every corner.
One of the most fascinating things you discover getting out of the paved Valley and up into the winding hiking trails is how nature and weather have impacted everything that grows there. Very often you will see a tree that holds within it an untold tale of past tribulation.
For example, last year, along the trail to The Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias I noticed this tree coming out of the hill beside me. We learn as children that trees naturally grow in a straight line toward sunlight, wherever it may be. But their path upwards can be dramatically hindered by wind, storms, lightening and other traumatic events that occur in the forest, often never seen by people who aren’t hiking during those times or conditions.
As I looked at this tree I couldn’t help wishing I had a stop-motion film of what this tree had lived through in order to be shaped so dramatically into this letter “S.” It is obvious to see where it has been bent, broken and twisted from it’s desired shape and direction, and yet, nevertheless, it points upwards.
Aren’t we like this tree?
God has a plan for our life, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us. A plan to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11) and yet life has often taken us off the intended trajectory. At times it is our own sin that thwarts our upward progress, other times it is injury inflicted by a storm of life beyond our control. Most of these events that break, bend and twist our fate are unseen by others – but they do happen. One of the seldom quoted promises of Jesus is that we will face tribulation in this world. (John 16:33)
What, then, is the secret to surviving and thriving through these storms, set-backs and hurts?
Trees that perish are soon forgotten. Those that keep growing overcome these set backs and become noteworthy. Here is the glorious part. As I was hiking I passed countless tress that pointed straight toward the sky, never wavering or bending, and yet, few of them caught my eye or merited my raising my camera to capture the memory of them. But this tree, twisted, bent and broken – yet surviving gave me pause to stop and admire. It’s scars made it beautiful. They are a testament to it’s steadiness, perseverance and sheer will to survive. As it reached for the sun, despite it’s past, this tree became something that stopped me in my tracks.
The same is true for us. We may have brokenness and bent histories. We may have endured torrential storms. We may not appear the way we thought we’d be nor life be what we had hoped – but if we continue to grow, we ironically become even more beautiful to a world that is watching. Those who are straight and perfect can be commended for their steadfastness, but it is the damaged ones that still reach up that give us pause and earn our attention. They glorify God in their uniqueness and their stubborn determination to keep growing toward the Son.
So never stop growing and embrace your scars – they are living proof that you follow a God who heals and redirects and who will make beauty out of deformity.
It’s OK to be a twisted tree. Just keep growing and you’ll bring glory to God.
There is nothing like viewing the sunrise at Glacier Point, in Yosemite National Park. It takes extra effort, getting up very early, packing our lunches and heading out in the pitch darkness. Because it makes the day extra long, we don’t do this every year… but when we do, it’s a highlight of the trip.
We attempted a sunrise in 2008, and while beautiful, it was already lit when we got there. To view the sunrise, you have to leave the lodge well before 4am, which is why we don’t attempt this every year. Here is my journal entry from May 19th, 2009, after we left much earlier than the year before.
Mind-numbingly stunning. We drove 16 miles in the dark – then walked in near pitch black to the tip of Glacier Point. (Walking toward a cliff in the dark is an experience all in itself!) The village below, upon leaning over the railing, was a twilight of little points of light.
Occasionally, tiny dots of light could be seen on the face of Half Dome, the only proof that there were climbers suspended on that sheer face sleeping through the night.
Gradually, more and more becomes visible to the human eyes. Mountains begin to come into focus as far as the eyes can see, then the vast expanse below starts to open up with water falls far away – their distant roar audible long before you can see them. And once they appear, they beg you to come closer.
Soon, I can see both Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall below it – both of which we will be hiking to today. Hard to believe as I gaze across this open expanse, that I will later be standing both at the top and bottom of these majestic falls.
When I set here looking out it is difficult to describe what I feel – perhaps I don’t even fully understand myself what this place does to me.
I am in Awe.
I feel so small – and God so amazing. Doubts evaporate and my problems suddenly seem so silly to even be a concern.
I am baffled that anyone can come here and not believe in God – even if only at a theistic level. And yet, I too am still unable to live fully and completely devoted and obedient to what I believe. But at least when I am here I can lay it all before my Creator and worship Him pure, forgiven and clean. I wish I could always feel this close to God. But even if I must drift and fail Him, at least I can return and start again. Over and over. His mercies are new every morning – every spectacular morning. Perhaps that is why He made the sunrise so beautiful, to show us just how beautiful His forgiveness is.
WANT TO WATCH THE SUNRISE?
This video was filled in 2009. I left a camera filming for half an hour and then sped it up. Enjoy:
The 9th annual Summit is now only one month away. It will probably seem like the longest month of the year as I anticipate my annual pilgrimage with God in Yosemite National Park with six other pastors for a time of re-creation, renewal, recharging, refocusing and restarting for the next season of life and ministry.
I am often asked, “What’s so special about Yosemite? Why do you go there every year?” While I have answered that countless times and in many ways on the YosemiteSummit.org blog, let me share with you my first entry in the journal I have now taken to Yosemite on every trip.
This place is beyond description, though of course, I will try. As I often say, it is the closest God ever got to sin… because he sorta showed off His creative abilities! Our language lacks adequate words to do Yosemite justice.
I suppose the best I can use is awe-inspiring. Awe at the sheer size and height and depth and distance and beauty and splendor that hits your eyes all at once. And no matter how many pictures you take (and I take a lot) you can’t capture nor contain it. You can’t even get your mind around it. You have to be here and just experience it.
But what is “it?”
“It” is not Yosemite – it is GOD.
Me at Taft Point (click for larger image)
His Bigness, His Majesty, His Beauty, His Greatness, His Power, His Creative ability – I do not worship Yosemite – I love Yosemite because it draws out of me a depth of worship I can only experience here.
It’s like somehow God is more here than anywhere else. While I know theologically that isn’t true, this broken spiritual vessel is somehow healed here – even if only temporarily – and able to feel God’s presence like at no other time. All doubts, All pressures, All temptations, All my earthly distractions vanish here – and I get a taste of what heaven will be like. Not necessarily what I see on the outside here, but what happens to me on the inside here. And I beg God to let me take Yosemite (it’s peace and presence) back with me when I return to my normal life. May I not forget these mountains, these waterfalls, these trees and these vistas are all silently still here – even as I hurry about my busy life – to remind me that HE is still there too, quietly, patiently, waiting for me to stop and ponder Him, worship Him, and return to that place of Awe wherever I may be.
Every year I add new hikes, while returning to favorites (so the new guys can experience them as well) – and this year I am really excited about the hikes I have planned. Please pray for me while I’m there.
Have you ever secretly thought, “I wish I could just get away from it all… even for just one week?” The truth is you CAN. And, you ought to! It takes some self-discipline, but despite what you think, your ministry will survive a week without you, and it might just be the best thing for your ministry. The best thing you can give your ministry, is a healthy YOU.
But, even better than just walking away for a week, is a week without work, without phone calls, without e-mail, Facebook, twitter or voice mail! A week with practically no schedule. A week enjoying the presence of God with some brothers in Christ – in one of the most spectacular places in all of God’s Creation… and that’s no exaggeration.
I created Yosemite Summit because I discovered how desperately I needed to get away for renewal, refreshment and an annual re-start after ministry had drained me and my marriage to near empty. And I invite only five guys to join me each year. This will be the 9th annual Summit and I can assure you it will be a life-transforming week. There is a reason several guys have come 2, 3 and even 4 times to experience it again and again.
PS – Registration JUST OPENED last night and already one spot is gone. So don’t delay, Yosemite Summit fills up quickly and we’ve had a waiting list in past years. It’s a unique and rare opportunity to care for your soul like never before.
One of the amazing things about Yosemite is it’s timelessness. For those who have been there – you will easily recognize these scenes photographed way back near the invention of the camera. Enjoy!
Labels below are my guess… if you think I’m wrong, simply comment and I’ll update!
A Giant Sequoia
Merced River, I believe this is just downstream from Nevada Falls.
The Grizzy Giant Sequoia, Mariposa Grove
The Three Brothers
Illilouette Falls seen from Illilouette Canyon (not an easy access place)
Sentinel Rock again.
Front view of Sentinel Rock
Sentinel Rock in the right corner
Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap over looking to the left
A view from the Valley – it may be that Half Dome is whited out in the center?
Finally, El Capitan!
Bridalveil Fall from Pastoral Meadow
It would be fun to try and recreate each of these today and put them side by side! Someday maybe that could be the purpose of trip. Though, I may print these out and take with me and keep an eye out for them!
One of the highlights of Yosemite, is seeing the reflection of towering granite cliffs in the water of the valley.
In fact, one of the lakes in Yosemite earned the name “Mirror Lake” due to the beautiful reflections upon it’s surface. While not technically a lake, visitors enjoy seeing in its smooth surface the mirror image of the cliffs towering above.
Mirror Lake it actually a man-made lake, from a time when sand and ice were exported from the area for use down in the coastal cities. Today, it is being allowed to return to it’s natural meadow conditions, so each year this once famous lake reflects less – and becomes filled with more grass and rock as the surface drops and widens into a meadow.
Nevertheless, a creative photographer can still find places to capture a reflection of Half Dome that rises majestically above it. The reflections can be amazing… but to be seen, something is required.
Without this one thing, there can be no reflection of the grandeur above. Waterfalls and flowing rivers and creeks pour over rocks and around bends throughout this incredible park, all working their way to the Merced or Tuolumne Rivers and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. But you won’t see reflections in most of these because they lack the one quality that can be found at Mirror Lake and in a few other locations.
Know what the requirement is for reflection?
In order to see a reflection of the grandeur and majesty “above,” the surface of the water must be calm. It must be still. It must be uninterrupted by ripples, or tossed rocks, or precipitation. It is only in a surface at peace that it can reflect what is above.
That is why I started Yosemite Summit. It is why five ministers will be joining me in May for the 8th annual Summit. We all seek to reflect our Creator. We want His majesty and grandeur to be reflected in our lives. But every day life is overloaded with things that threaten to wash away that reflection. Life is fast paced as we hurry to get everything done, dodging the rocks and navigating the bends of life. There are pebbles and stones tossed into our life continually that cause ripples of anxiety, stress or simply non-stop activity that make the Reflection of God difficult, if not impossible, to see. Problems and trials of life pour down like rain and we soon feel like we can’t even see God in our daily experience.
What is needed is a way to get away from all the disruptors of calmness so we can again see the clear and grandiose image of our Lord and King.
Yosemite Summit is a time for calming the soul so it can again see and reflect the Creator-given image of God. If you aren’t one of those joining me this year, pencil it in for next May. But you need not wait so long to find some calmness and to again enjoy God’s reflection. Get away. Get quiet. Get free of the ripples of life. You need not travel far. It’s a condition of the heart.
The Psalmist had it right when he wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Or, as the NASB translates it, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Or as James promises, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
Like Mirror Lake, we tend to reflect less over time if we don’t work to create calmness. Ultimately, this is why God made is. “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27)
Step away. Invite calmness. And reflect your creator.
I would appreciate if you would join me in praying for the fellows who will be going to Yosemite Summit 2015. Maybe you’ve gone in the past, maybe you’re still praying about coming in the future. Be a part of this year by lifting us up in prayer before and during the Summit.
Below is a Prayer Poster. Print and post where you’ll see it, and join me in praying for each guy on this event as Yosemite Summit approaches.
1) For God to be preparing us for what He has in store!
2) For great friendships to be created/deepened.
3) For safety as we hike in God’s Creation.
4) For the ability to be able to completely release what we leave behind and be complete open to what God wants to do that week.
5) For our families while we are away.
Click image above to download 4MB PDF
THANKS for your prayers! Be sure to pray about joining me in 2016!
Tony Evans writes, “In Exodus 34:23-24, we read that three times a year all the males in Israel were to go on a retreat before the Lord who ruled over them. In the Old Testament, the phrase “Lord your God” means sovereign Lord. Three times a year, all of the men were to go to a certain location, and in so doing, acknowledge the sovereign rule of God in their lives. Now, before we move past that too quickly, let’s look at what that might have done to those left behind.
Three times a year all of the males left their land and homes. From a military and defense perspective, that is unthinkable. From a commerce and agricultural perspective, that is unthinkable. All the men are gone and there are only women and children left to fend for themselves? That doesn’t sound like a very good national strategy.
But that is where the second verse in this passage comes in. God says that while you are away seeking Me and honoring Me under My authority, men, do not worry. He says that He will see to it that no one will bother your land, houses, or anyone left behind. We read, “… no man shall covet your land when you go up . . . to appear before the Lord your God.”
In other words, God is saying that if you will simply align yourself under My authority, then I’ve got it. I’ll take care of the rest. I have you covered. But in order for God to cover you, men, you are going to have to humble yourself under His authority. You are going to have to align your thoughts, actions, decisions, and leadership under the overarching viewpoint and authority of God.” – Tony Evans
Wow. And I’m only challenging guys to join me for ONE WEEK to re-establish God as Sovereign in their lives. This is what Yosemite Summit is all about. Only two spots remain for this year. No worries, everything back home God will watch over while you are prioritizing His role in your life and ministry.
Will you trust God and go meet him on the mountain?
Last Sunday, our pastor continued a series called Satisfied. He shared some amazing statistics about Americans and their cell phones:
66% of Americans feel anxious if they are separated from their device.
58% do not miss one waking hour without checking their smart phone.
59% of Americans check email as soon as comes in.
89% of Americans check their device every single day, even on vacation.
80% of teenagers sleep with their phone!
84% of Americans believe they couldn’t go a day without their phone.
The average cell phone user checks their phone 150 times a day!
In fact, many people check their cell phone first thing in the morning and as the last thing they do before going to sleep. They go to bed and wake up checking their smart phone.
While some people are worse than others, all of us, I believe, probably check their phone more than necessary. There is no doubt that we live in a world where our smart phone is now practically a part of our body. How many times have you been in a room filled with friends or family and everyone is on their device rather than enjoying each other?
Well, I know the cure!
While you can set limits, turn it off on dates, or set the charger in another room, I have an even better idea.
Men, you need to join me at Yosemite Summit in May.
Why? It is the perfect opportunity to “unplug.” Whether you feel you have a healthy or addictive relationship with your phone, no one can argue that a week without being constantly connected is not a good thing.
Just Imagine It…
No e-mail. No facebook. No twitter. No texts coming in.
Just time with God, walking and talking with some other ministry leaders, and enjoying the NOW instead of what is “out there.”
Clarification: The guys do carry their phones for safety and we do allow communication with wives (calls and texts) but we drastically limit all other uses of our smart phones, even deleting email accounts and Facebook and Twitter apps. They can always be restored when the week is over. The freedom to relax when unplugged is difficult to describe!
I can’t tell you how many guys over the years who have told me that initially they were a little concerned about the technology/social unplugging, even if they didn’t admit it to me at the beginning of the week, but by the end, they were so refreshed and rejuvenated that they have determined this is needed regularly. (There is a reason every year I’ve had repeat guys coming on the Summit, this year included.)
Ready to get unplugged? Want a break from your smartphone? Join me at Yosemite Summit, only TWO spots remain for 2015. Browse the YosemiteSummit.org site to learn more about this potentially life-changing experience.
One of the best decisions I ever made in life was to start Yosemite Summit. I can still remember how nervous I was the first year – it was an incredible step of faith to put money down on a lodge not knowing if any guys would even sign up. I’ve now completed seven Summits.
Each year God brings together a completely different group of men – sovereignly gathered by God for a week of unplugging from the busyness of ministry to reconnect with God in an incredible way.
What are the benefits of Yosemite Summit that these men benefit from? Let me share a few with you… (click on any image to view larger)
They get to spend time strengthening their foundation by spending quality time with the Rock.
They gain a new objectivity on their life and walk with God.
They learn to see God in nature in new and creative ways.
They learn to enjoy the journey over the destination.
They gain a heightened perspective on life.
(Can you see him there?)
They learn that even when you can’t see God at work… He is still there.
Sometimes it’s just behind a layer of clouds.
If you are patient… in time what was hidden will be revealed!
They discover there is nothing that God can’t find a way through…
They get time in the Word without their cell phone or anything else interrupting.
God’s majesty is seen in the midst of life’s storms.
They might even get to spend some time with their head in the clouds!
Or walk along the River of Life?
Or be reminded that though their sin be as scarlet, it shall be white as snow!
They are reminded how to stop. And just be in the moment.
A new viewpoint on their life back home becomes clear.
New friendships are formed that will last a life time.
The words Church and Sanctuary take on completely new meaning.
If you are a man in full time Christian ministry, may I invite you again to prayerfully consider joining me at Yosemite Summit? Get off the beaten path and soak in a week of no schedule, no deadlines, no interruptions, no demands on your time, no backlog of things you are behind on… and just leave it all behind for a week focused solely on your walk with God with some brothers who know your journey, because they share in your Call.
Enjoy this highlight video from Yosemite Summit 2014. Who knows, maybe you’ll be in the 2015 videos.
To learn more, visit the past years reports, watch the videos, browse the blog for many posts about the Summit or just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org