December 6, 2015

Recently Cam Thurmond and his friend Christian biked from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Riding in the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, these men conquered cycling’s premier off-pavement 2,745-mile journey in 83 days.

The trail is mostly forest service roads, hiking, biking, and four-wheeler trails, anything that is open to public access. The trip’s climbs are the equivalent of going up Mt. Everest nearly seven times.

The Great Divide crosses the Continental Divide 30 times. The Continental Divide is the most prominent hydrological divide in the Americas where the rain that falls on one side of the divide eventually makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean and the rain that falls on the other side eventually makes its way to the Pacific Ocean.

In planning the trip, Cam and Christian had to decide what they could do without and what they couldn’t. They eventually ended up carrying only about fifteen pounds of weight. That included their tent, sleeping gear, clothes, water, repair kits for tires, clothing, food, maps, electronics, and a firearm.

Traveling lean was important, but so was traveling smart.

Most of us travel lean in our early years, but the longer we live the more stuff we collect.

When I left for college I packed almost everything I owned in my Ford Mustang. After we had our first child we almost needed a U-Haul just to travel with all the stuff we needed to carry around for a baby. How did our ancestors do without all the baby stuff we have today?

Even if we don’t have children, we collect a lot of physical stuff along our journey and it seems that we collect a lot of emotional baggage, too.

Each day, all of us make decisions like Cam and Christian did on their Great Divide journey–we are deciding what is essential to our daily lives. What are those things we can and cannot live without?

A couple of years ago, Tina and I decided we could live without cable television. Sure, we miss some of the shows we once watched. Yes, I admit, we bum some SEC football games off our friends. But we have gained more time to read and we have less noise in our house.

Think of the decisions we make in life as a Great Divide. When we choose to put something into our lives, we always take something else out. We only have so much room.

There are benefits or losses based on the decisions we make. Our decisions become the Great Divide to prosperity or stagnation, burdens or freedom.

Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course. We’ve all shaken our fist at life during those times when we know we have made the right choices, good choices, the better choices and life did not mete out what we deserved. It is during those times that we discover that life is not fair. We planned well, made good choices, but life took good things away from us.

We also find it had to stomach when we have looked around us at those people who haven’t put forth much effort at all to make right choices and to us it appears that life has divided things out to them in measures that defy logic.

Once the Psalmist was comparing his life to those around him. He was doing a little bit of division and it wasn’t adding up. He felt a lot of anger when he saw that life was unfairly dividing things out and he said that it almost caused him to lose his faith.

He wrote in the Seventy-Third Psalm:

Those proud people are wicked,

but they are rich and getting richer.

Clearly, then, I gain nothing by keeping my thoughts pure!

What good is it to keep myself from sin?

God, I suffer all day long,

and you punish me every morning (Psalm 73:12-14).

Boldly, the Psalmist laid the blame at God’s doorstep.

Have any of you ever felt this way? Have you ever tried to do everything the right way, only to feel that you were being punished for it?

When that happens be assured, a voice will say to you, “See, the narrow way is for fools. So why not take the way that pleases you? Why not look out for yourself first? Why not do what makes you happy and the heck with everyone else? Make sure you have enough for yourself because this life is all there is.”

Now that is certainly one way to live.

But there is another way. Cam discovered it on the trail. He discovered in the strangers that he met from the Canadian to the Mexican border.

In his presentation he made to our First and Goal men’s group Cam said, “The people we encountered along the way were so kind, so helpful, and interested. It showed me, someone coming from a younger generation, seeing everything that’s posted all over social media, all the bad news, that people are really kind and good. They want to help in any way they can. People that didn’t know us from anybody else riding a bike opened their homes, their cars, their food bags, anything they had to give us. Those people are called trail angels. Those are angels that help you along the trail. Without them it wouldn’t be the same trail. It would have been a lot harder.”

Once on Cam’s trip he was going through the Great Basin in Wyoming, which is one of the four major deserts in the United States.

Within a 160-mile stretch of Cam’s trail there were only two water sources so he had to make those stops to hydrate. After leaving Atlantic City where they repaired their tires, Cam wasn’t carrying much water. He knew he would get water 26 miles into the desert at one of those two stops so he chose not to carry the extra weight. Christian was ahead of him one or two miles so they were not riding together.

Along the way another biker joined Cam. The biker was a reporter and as they rode, he interviewed Cam and took pictures.

Just as you can get distracted when you are carrying on conversation with someone and miss an exit, Cam was distracted by his conversation with this reporter and he missed the small sign that pointed to the water source.

Christian had actually pulled over to get water and was frantically waving at Cam when he went by, but Cam didn’t see him.

By the time Cam realized he had passed the water source, he was ten miles down the road. The reporter he was with had eight liters of water, which is the reason he had not bothered to stop, but Cam had none.

Cam was feeling a bit of panic. He was in the middle of one of America’s deserts with no water. He would lose a day’s journey to turn around to find water and he thought that would separate him from Christian because he thought he was ahead of him and not behind him. But to go forward would mean he’d have no water for the next 140 miles or so.

About that time the only car he’d seen in three day was coming down the road. Cam positioned his bike in the middle of the road and waited for the car to arrive. When the person driving stopped the car, Cam explained his situation and the person gave Cam three liters of water.

Sometimes life isn’t fair, but sometimes we get more than we deserve.

Sometimes we pass up the very thing we need most from the very place we need to get it.

Sometimes the best planning does not work in our favor.

Sometimes things distract us from where our attention needs to be and we miss a life-giving source from God.

When these things happen, what we need is grace. What we need is mercy. What we need is for God to send us an angel of compassion. We need to come to our senses and realize that we are not an island and despite our best efforts we need the help of a Power greater than ourselves, even if we do not understand how that Power always works.

The Psalmist was distracted by the unfairness of life. He was still pedaling as hard and as steadily as he could to make things work out. He was doing everything he knew to do but his bucket had gone dry.

The Psalmist had passed up opportunities to be in the temple. Why go to the temple when other people pass it by and things work out for them?

Finally, the Psalmist went to the temple and that is where he found the springs that satisfied his parched soul.

Did everything in the world suddenly become fair? Did everything that was upside down get turned right side up? No.

However, going to the temple helped the Psalmist refocus his mind on what was most important, on what he should be putting into this life and what he should be leaving out.

He stopped envying those whose lives, on the surface, seem to have no problems and he refocused his attention on God.

He confessed to God that he was upset and angry with Him. Being in the temple reminded him that God was always with him and that God would lead him through any issue and situation and give him good advice.

A humorous moment occurred that evening when Cam and Christian met up. Christian said, “Yeah, I guess you don’t have any water.” Cam said, “No, I’ve got water.” Christian asked, “How’d you get water?”

Cam didn’t reveal that he’d met a trail angel. He just said, “Ah, I’ve got water.” That left Christian to ponder where Cam found water in a desert like the Great Basin.

It reminded me of the passage we read when Jesus and the disciples were in a Samaritan territory beside a well and Jesus sent them into town to purchase food. While they were gone a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Even though it was against Jewish custom, Jesus began to have a conversation with her, first asking if she would draw him some water from the well.

Then he began to talk to her about what was most important in her life – it wasn’t the physical water she was drawing from the well, but it was the spring of water welling up to eternal life that he could offer her.

When the disciples returned with food they offered Jesus something to eat and he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?

34“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (John 4:32-34).

Can you think of anything better to carry with you on your journey than that: to do what God sent you here to do?

Each day, all of us make decisions like Cam and Christian did on their Great Divide journey–we are deciding what is essential to our daily lives. What are those things we can and cannot live without?

We can make it all about ourselves or we can decide that this journey is about doing the will of God.

If people were just living for themselves, there would be no trail angels, there would be no one willing to share water with a stranger, there would be no one willing to give shelter from the cold in a church or share a home with two bikers from the South on an usually cold summer’s day, or a couple willing to turn their home into a day that become known on the trail in a small town as Pie Fest, where more than a hundred bikers and hikers pitched their tents and ate spaghetti and pie.

When a panic comes over us because the very thing we need is suddenly taken away, not available, or we cannot make sense of what is happening around us, our faith is challenged. It is put to a great test. That is when we learn that one of life’s indispensables is our faith.

While we may have our faith restored at times in people, people will also let us down. While we may believe in ourselves, there comes a time when our resources are not enough.

The Great Divide for the Psalmist was to remember that maintaining his faith in God was important because not only was God with him on this side of the great divide but God would be with him on the other side of the great divide in heaven.

It prompted him to write: “As for me, all I need is to be close to God. I have made the Lord God my place of safety. And, God, I will tell about all that you have done.” (73:28)

So, as you travel through this world, is being close to God enough for you?

If we are close to God, whatever else happens in life is going to divide itself out in ways that will help us keep our balance.

If you have passed up God’s spiritual wells, you should know it because your bucket is dry and you are searching for what is missing.

If you will stand still, if you will stop pedaling, I can assure you that Jesus is coming. He can quench your thirst with the water that he will give you.