Bob Woods: The final goal atop the mountain

While living in Hawaii, I joined a Wednesday morning hiking group. One hike I remember was on the windward side of Oahu.

We started the hike with 30 hikers that morning. It was a three-hour, exhausting climb up to the halfway point, where there was an awesome pool of clear cool water being filled by a beautiful waterfall.

Every muscle in our bodies hurt. We rested and had a snack there. We swam and relaxed, put our feet up on our packs and got comfortable. It felt good.

But, success wasn't going to be found in rest and comfort. Success was in reaching the top of the mountain, which required more strenuous climbing, straining and working toward the goal.

Only 10 of us continued on from that point. Most of the hikers never got to see the beautiful views out across taro patches, a string of lovely beaches along the coastline, and, of course, the vast seemingly never ending Pacific Ocean. Once they had rested and gotten comfortable at the halfway point, they turned around and descended the mountain, never reaching the high peak. They lost the determination to reach their final goal.

We've all spent time there, haven't we, at the comfortable halfway point, at the pool and waterfall?

Not the one in Hawaii, perhaps, but we have our own comfortable halfway point, and if it's not a disappointment to us, it is to God. We like hearing about the heroes who have gone beyond where the rest of us have left off, who have gone to the top of the mountain, but we've found comfort at the halfway point.

The words of Jesus tell us to move beyond our comfort level, to go beyond life in this world, and find eternal life, in the garden here on earth. Jesus is talking about a way of life that goes beyond the halfway point, to the top of the mountain.

There is a memorial to General Charles Gordon. The memorial bears this epitaph: "He gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God."

Wow.

Wouldn't that be a great epitaph on our tombstones? That's what we want, isn't it? We want our life to make a difference. We want to be remembered well by the people who love us. We want to be remembered as a person who made a contribution to the community and to the world. Even more important, we want to stand unashamed before God. Most of us would prefer a life of excellence.

The heroes of the Bible, the prophets and St. Paul, challenge us, and especially the words of Jesus. He shows us the way to live an excellent life.

He says to serve him, we must follow him.

It isn't about us and our comfort; it's a call to service. Happiness is about finding and giving ourselves to something bigger without reservation. This is how we make it to the top of the mountain.

Like most of the hikers who got comfortable at the halfway point, it is very difficult to continue to climb, to reach our personal bests. When we commit our lives to Christ, we get a new set of goals, with a personal coach to challenge, encourage and empower us. We commit our lives to a new purpose, a lofty purpose of solving injustice, of being a good parent.

The key to real success is in accomplishing dreams that bring fulfillment and peace.

Harold Kushner, author of the book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" had a friend tell him: "Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I went to the funeral of a man my own age. I didn't know him well, but we worked together, talked to each other from time to time, had kids about the same age. He died suddenly over the weekend. A bunch of us went to the funeral, each of us thinking, 'It could just as easily have been me.'

"That was two weeks ago. They have already replaced him at the office. I hear his wife is moving out of state to live with her parents. Two weeks ago he was working 50 feet away from me, and now it's as if he never existed.

"It's like a rock falling into a pool of water. For a few seconds, it makes ripples in the water, and then the water is the same as it was before, but the rock isn't there anymore. I've hardly slept at all since then. I can't stop thinking that it could happen to me, that one day it will happen to me, and a few days later I will be forgotten as if I had never lived. Shouldn't a person's life be more than that?"

Jesus invites you to live a new life, to move from a haven of safety and refuge to risk movement and mission out in the world. What a caterpillar calls death and the risk of the unknown, we call a butterfly.

Jesus offers life and peace and love to everyone who would follow him.

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