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Pastor Mike's
2024 New Year Letter

This past April I and 5 other men journeyed to Northern Arizona. We left the balmy Southern Oregon spring blooming with Irises and fresh oak leaves and touched down in Flagstaff to be greeted by snow banks and puffy jackets. We then smashed our 6 bodies, backpacks and high expectations into a rented mini-van and drove 3 hours north through the night. By midnight a gravel pullout on the side of the road looked like a fine lodging experience. Sleeping bags and beanies were deployed and sleep came quickly, albeit short-lived due to the cold and occasional passing truck. Before dawn we were back in the mini-van, which now smelled like used camping gear and spitters half full of discarded dill sunflower seeds.


At the trail-head backpacks were quickly shouldered, final texts sent, and headlamps turned off as the glow of a breaking day started to reveal itself over a now shadowed and bottomless looking canyon stretching from one horizon to the other. We stopped at every corner to take in the vastness of each new angle. Every switchback (and there were thousands) seemed to offer a fresh perspective of the sheer walls, terraced plateaus and stratified layers exposed by the type of flood no meteorologist could account for. The Grand Canyon was indeed grand. Before descending too far, it was possible to see from the south rim to the snow-covered north rim and at least 30 miles up and down the muddied Colorado river below. The scale of this place was staggering. 1,000 ft tall limestone cliffs looked like mere steps on the other side of the canyon, the Colorado at flood stage 5,000 ft below looked like a tiny chocolate milk trickle, and the enormous lodge/hotel/visitor center on the North Rim was beyond making out even with our binoculars. It was something to behold…how each smaller canyon opened to another larger, and another, and another…how easily the monstrous slabs of the earths crust could be seen as plainly as a slice of tiramisu…how the sun hit the sheer walls of sandstone and made the entirety of the canyon glow orange like a hunter’s safety vest. Progress was slow those first miles of descent as the grandeur of it all set in.

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15 hours later the progress was still slow, but for very different reasons. Wind blown ridge lines had given way to scorching canyons. Puffies had been exchanged for hats and shirts being soaked in the adjacent creek. The panoramic views had given way to box canyons of vertical upward cliffs on both sides. Our world had shrunk down to just feeton either side of the trail.

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However, while the views were reduced the beauty was not!  Rather, the beauty was in the detail that would have been impossible to notice from above.  The melting snow provided waterfalls at each turn, cactus that had been dormant at the rim were here in bloom, and trees displayed their florescent flowers.  


That evening we showered in a waterfall, babied our feet, and spent the night sleeping in the dirt.  By the next evening we had made our way out of the canyon and back to the parked van.  A quick group photo to document the moment and then back towards Flagstaff and a dinner that did not include freeze dried anything or come in the shape of a bar.  I think experiences like this are made richer when you can share them.  Not only can you look back and enjoy them for years to come…but you get the benefit of others during the journey. The more experienced (old) can remind the less experienced to take care of hot spots on their feet, keep drinking water, and pay for the Mexican food!  The younger travelers set a blistering pace, keep energy levels high, and provide comic relief!  Nobody is more valuable, we just brought different skills to the table…err trail. 

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I would like to see our church body take a similar journey together in 2024.  

I would encourage you to form a group and journey through God’s Word.  This should not be a flippant decision or one you take lightly.  Like the Grand Canyon, some thought should be given to supplies, schedule, and your team.  While there is blessing in just seeing a canyon from the top, you miss so much if you don’t dive in and complete the journey.  Currently, I am using the George Guthrie’s “Read the bible for life” chronological reading plan.  This is a “trail map” that will take you from Genesis 1 through Revelation over the course of 1 year.  I started my journey over Memorial Day weekend in ‘23 and just read through the rise and fall of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, 2 Chron 32, and Isaiah 37-38.  Like any worthwhile hike there will be easy downhill stretches (Genesis) and some difficult uphill climbs (Leviticus).  It will really help to have some experienced partners ready with duct tape, and some energetic associates who don’t care about your aching knees. 

While there are many good bible reading plans out there, I would highly recommend taking both a wide and narrow look at each of the 66 books.  The beauty of the Grand Canyon is in both the wide angle and the close up…similarly, so is God’s word.  Don’t miss the wide view meta-narratives of God redeeming a people unto Himself and the centrality of Jesus and the cross.  The entire Old Testament points to His person and work and our need.  Take a momentary breather and consider the big picture themes of the Temple, wilderness wandering, covenant people, and justification…the views will take your breath away!  On the other hand, take time enough to see the beauty in the detail of each verse as every line is “God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Like this most recent Sunday, just contemplating the significance of a single word: Immanual has such weight.  So, stop and admire the intricate beauty of:  “In the beginning God”, “the Word became flesh”, “I am”, and countless more. 

So, here is my recommendation for 2024:  Make a plan to travel through the entire bible.  Prior to (and even during) each of the 66 books watch a Bible Project overview on it.  These can be found on YouTube with a quick search.  As your reading, take note of any phrases, people, events, or themes that catch your interest and take note of the verse(s).  You can come back to them after you finish for a more detailed study.  I trust that both the grandeur and the intricate detail of God’s word will be on display to His glory and your good as you press into His Word.    

Perhaps your thinking: “I could care less about the Grand Canyon” and “I’ll leave the bible reading up to the pastors and theologians”…”besides I’m saved by faith, not through reading”.  Fair enough…but recall that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Rom 10:17  So, God’s word will assist to both inaugurate and mature your faith, which is kind of a big deal as Hebrews 11:6 tells us it is impossible to please God without faith.  

So, here’s to a new year and a new you!  However, don’t prioritize a gym membership, don’t go shopping for self-help books, don’t get gazelle intense over a Dave Ramsey course, or think a 30-min or 30 day fast from social media will fix all your problems (although it will prob help!).  Rather…practice mindfulness!  You know…be mindful that you (and I) are dumb.  Given my general intelligence it’s a small miracle I didn’t stumble off some towering cliff on my canyon hike.  I wish I could say the same for the spiritual, moral, and relational cliffs I’ve swan dove right over.  Given humanities general dumbness, spiritual blindness, and moral misdirection’s.  Why would we not trade in our Walmart brand GPS for an eternal “lamp unto my feet and light unto my path” that only God’s Word provides.  


Happy hiking in 2024!


Pastor and fellow traveler, Mike Bull

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