Holiness / Prophecy Series

Jackson Snyder
M. Div.

Base Camp,
   I recently listened to the audio book Into Thin Air by mountain climber Jon Krakauer.  Krakauer relates his journey to the summit of the highest mountain in the world - Mount Everest - located right on the boundary between Nepal and China in the Himalayan mountain range.  His is a hair-raising account in which the climber's very survival is constantly at stake both in the ascent and descent.  The season Krakauer made the 29,028 foot ascent, twelve highly experienced climbers perished in their attempts. Yet season after season, hundreds ascend the mountain for the same reason Sir Edmund Hillary first did in 1953,  "Because it's there!"
  Not unlike the brave (and foolish) climbers of mountains, our "climb" upward to perfection into Jesus' image takes discipline, training and constant alertness.  But like the conquering of Everest, with careful preparation and by following the guide, we too may successfully climb our Everest of Perfection and survive the perilous descent back down to tell our own adventure stories.
  Before we start, let us consult an experienced guide who, despite every hindrance, made the journey up and returned to tell us how.   That guide is St. Peter:  he was one of the great mountain climbers of the Apostolic Age, most famous for his ascent up "Transfiguration Mountain" where he witnessed our Lord's transformation and the materialization of Moses and Elijah.  Peter himself (in verse 18) witnesses to his having scaled it.  He calls it "the holy mountain."  Jesus, in his holiness, permitted only a dedicated few  like Peter to even attempt the dangerous climb, so high, and also so high in holiness, it was.  
  Peter tells us where to start our climb in verse 1: "To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours...."  What he is saying is that all who believe have the same faith as Peter; it is a faith automatic to our decision to follow Jesus in the first place.  And it is a faith of equal weight of the Apostle's, despite our conceptions of our weaknesses.  Yes, we who believe in Christ have Apostolic Faith whether we know it or not.  This faith, which comes from belief in Jesus Christ, is the "base camp" from which we commence our climb to the summit of the Everest of Perfection.  You are at least that high now, else you wouldn't be here today.
   Once at base camp on Everest, Krakauer tells us that, before anyone dares climb further, certain special gear must be in tow.  For instance, everyone must have clothes and bedding to withstand 100 degrees below zero temperatures.  Essentials also include oxygen tanks, special foot gear, ropes and accessories for climbing up or rappelling down, and aluminum ladders to scale deep crevasses in the ice.
   Likewise, those who want to climb beyond the pew of base camp must be prepared with special equipment.  Peter calls this special equipment "grantings." ("things given" in the NIV).  These "grantings" are of two sorts.  First, we who are at base camp may take "all things that pertain to life and godliness."   Although you are offered all the equipment you need, you only get what you decide to take on the climb.  These grantings include the zeal which comes from "The Baptism in the Holy Spirit," without which you simply can't survive.  Other "things" include "The Whole Armor of God" -- salvation's helmet, faith's shield, gospel boots.  And above all, the climb requires the constant use of Scripture, which Peter defines as "men, speaking from Yahweh, as moved by the Holy Spirit " (1:21).  Without the Word in your heart and mouth, you have no more chance to make it than you do breathing at 29,000 feet without an oxygen mask, for the Word of Truth is the breath of the Divinity, life-sustaining even at the highest altitudes.  
  Have you been filled with the Holy Spirit and steeped in the Word of God?  Have you taken up the "whole armor"?  If not, you might as well go home; you'll never make it beyond the church pew at Base Camp Faith.
   The second granting necessary for the climb to perfection pertains to "His precious and very great promises."   At the end of  his book, Krakauer summarizes the lives of the people he met up on Mount Everest.  For those who survived to tell, reaching Everest's peak was the defining moment of their lives.   Krakauer himself says that, even after two years, thoughts of the climb surface to the top of his consciousness almost hourly every single day.  Everest became for many successful climbers (and for the families of the unsuccessful) the lens through which everything in life is interpreted.  It was like that for Peter.  When he made it to the summit of Transfiguration Mountain, he experienced dizzying spiritual heights, met the heavenly prophet and priest, felt the tremendous power of the resurrection; and then, it says, all of a sudden, he saw "Jesus only" (Matthew 17:8).  From that mountain top experience and through his entire life, even unto his death on the cross, Peter saw Jesus only.
  And that is something of the stuff of this second granting, these "great and precious promises."  That, if we are successful in reaching the pinnacle of the Everest of Perfection, we will not only see Jesus as he is, but we will also be like him in perfection.  After all, it was Jesus who said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  These "great and precious promises" grant us great and precious hopes as we set our faces hard as flint upon the mountain's apex above, knowing that in perfection dwells a share in the divine nature.
   On the way up Mount Everest, there are several camps, each camp higher than the last.  You see, it takes a minimum of three weeks to acclimate one's self to the lack of oxygen as one ascends higher and higher.  The climber moves up from base camp at the foot of the mountain to camp one and there learns to breathe all over again before he can ascend higher.  There are four camps between the base and the summit, and time must be taken at each camp to learn to breathe all over again.  For at the top of Everest there is so little oxygen that one must gradually be taught to survive it's lack.  This is called acclimatization. Trying to climb straight to the top without acclimating one's self means certain failure and death by oxygen deprivation.  In verses 5 through 9, Peter describes these upward, progressive camps that must be inhabited if one is to survive and gain the prize.  
  Peter tells us that we start out at Base Camp Faith -- that all who believe in Jesus are there -- all starting on equal footing.  Ascending now, Peter tells us there are six "acclimatization camps" before the mountain's crown.  The first, just up the way from "Base Camp Faith," we find "The Camp of Virtue."  At Camp Virtue we just begin to practice some of the teachings of Jesus to the best of our ability.  We don't know much about it, really; we're certainly not very spiritual.  But we've climbed beyond mere Faith, and are now seeking to experience virtuosity.
  Apostle Ken Sumrall writes of the effort virtue requires in his newsletter, Chit-Chat: "Wanda and I have been wanting a talking cockatoo for a long time.  When we saw one advertised at a bargain basement price, we checked it out.  We asked all the question we thought of and the owner even dropped the price.  What we did not ask is if the bird used bad language.  Much to our surprise, Ayla (the birdís name) called our dogs some bad names (nothing connected with God) and even told one person who was trying to pet her to go to you know where.  We have set out to change her vocabulary and teach her to sing about the Lord, but she does not convert easily.  We have added her to our daily prayer list."  Climbing up to Virtue requires constant work and unfailing prayer!  Make an effort!  Work!  Pray!  Climb!
  Having acclimated ourselves to the air up here (massaging those sore muscles -- "hey, we're not use to climbing!"), we ascend yet a little further to the next resting place, "The Camp of Knowledge," where we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, "You have little virtue in yourself.  Search the scriptures with all prayer...."  And as we follow the voice, knowledge begins to grow.  And we learn that our Bibles are powerful tools, but only insofar as they are used in conjunction with "all prayer."  
   Many, sore and discouraged because they weren't the saints they thought, "puff up" --  staying right there at Camp Knowledge for good.  But we who are nourished by the Word and prayer are resolved to go upward over the terrible climb which culminates in that gentle slope known as "The Camp of Self-control."   Here, prepared by faith, virtue and knowledge, we Perfection Mountaineers start experiencing consistency in our climbing technique; muscles now spectacularly built up (as is our ego).    We realize that to turn back now would be the greatest mistake of our lives.  
  Now, there is a danger at Self-control -- it is the idea that no further acclimation to the oxygen supply is necessary.  We think we've arrived!  So many who have spent little time at Self-control rush blindly upward only to succumb to their own audacity.  You see, friends, it takes a lot of time at Self-control before one may safely ascend up to Steadfastness.
   And that's the name of the next camp up: "The Camp of Steadfastness." Through many dangers, trials and snares we have already come to reach steadfast faithfulness.  But even on this great, high promontory there are horrifying snow storms, avalanches and quakes.  There aren't many this far up to help us in our turmoil and frustration; we must rely solely on our gear and the Holy Spirit to sustain us.  For most of those who set out with us have built houses or started businesses or churches in the camps below.  One climber argued, "Why go upward into all that turmoil when you can be perfectly happy and prosperous down below."  Another complained, "I love you, but you're too holy for me."  But rest assured -- there are many others down at Base Camp Faith who admire us and aspire to our Steadfastness.
   But only a very few go any farther that Steadfastness.  For "The Camp of Godliness"  is far above and beyond -- so far away that the Frozen Chosen below can't even see Godliness except on a rare clear day.  The few saints who make it this far usually don't stay there long.  Fully acclimated now, they rush right on up, almost to the summit, to the sixth camp, "The Camp of Brotherly Affection."   Those who reach Brotherly Affection may now go up and down as they please.  But when they go down to the world below, they are almost invisible.  They haven't become ghosts or angels, but they inhabit menial places.  For the godly, having achieved brotherly affection, are often content to do some of the  most miserable work, like attending to the terminally ill or the desperately poor, and doing it only for the sake of godliness.
   Of course, there are many folks who care for others who have never reached Brotherly Affection.  But these folks are easy to spot because they're always complaining, always looking for sympathy for themselves, or they do such work only to take advantage of others.  But it is rare to identify the godly who serve because they don't seek their own glory, only God's glory.  Such are very close to reaching the summit of Perfections.
   Making the journey up is very costly.  It costs about $65,000 to hike up Mount Everest, and in the long hike there is the loss of income, the labeling as a "fool," the great possibility of failure and death and the months away from family and community.  Those who climb are of necessity expert climbers.  When author Jon Krakauer, a climber for 34 years, was about to reach the pinnacle of Everest, the highest point in the world, 29,028 feet above sea level, he summarized the infirmities he had suffered from the climb and cold.  He had a terrible lung infection.  His violent coughing separated two ribs.  He was in horrible pain, gasping for the little frigid oxygen available.  He ran out of the bottled kind.  He hadn't slept nor eaten for days.  He was barely conscious.  He had every reason to quit and go down to the relative safety of Camp Four.  But he didn't stop.  He said that when he realized how close he was to the top, he made a decision to "ignore my infirmities and climb."  
  The victory ahead is too great to be defeated by our infirmities!  Remember, it is in our weaknesses that Jesus' strength is made manifest!  Let's ignore our infirmities and climb!  Climb up to the peak, which Peter tells us is called "Perfect Love" -- not mere affection, certainly not just pity or passion -- but the love that acts through the compassionate heart of Yahweh.  His heart becomes our heart.  His purpose becomes ours.  Yahweh's love for all things living becomes our burden and joy.  That's why, as climbers of Everest tell us, "You can't say you've climbed the mountain until you've made it safely back down."  
   Reaching the Pinnacle of Perfect Love means descending -- returning back to those stationed at camps below, and at Base Camp, and way on out into the world of sin and death and Hades.  For Perfect Love is not some fond, narcissistic kind of kindness.  Perfect Love is hard, hard self-immolating servanthood on the behalf of others.  Yet at the same time it is the grandest of blisses; labor that rewards itself richly, for the perfect have passed from death to life, and they no longer have to simply claim that by faith.  For it's evident to everyone, even themselves.  For when they look into a mirror, it is Jesus only that they behold.
  Am I saying a person may become perfect in this life?  Yes, I  am.  Methodism is, in fact, founded upon this belief by Wesley himself, who gave everything he had to the end of becoming perfect.  And his history testifies that he may well have reached that worthy goal and became perfect.  Toward the end of his long life, Wesley testified that he did indeed become perfected in love.  And just as we believe Peter's unlikely testimony about his climb up Transfiguration Mountain to be true, we can also believe the faithful witness of Wesley. He proclaimed and lived perfect love.  And like Peter, Wesley is no liar.
  And I believe if either of these saints were giving the invitation,he would ask, "Are you diligently seeking this upward way with us -- striving for perfection?  Or have you made you home at Base Camp, giving little thought to the perfection that Jesus himself demands of you?"  Friends, in what camp do you now reside?  And how are you preparing to ascend to the top?  I know you are called to this message, else you wouldn't be here; now I'm calling you, "Be ye perfect...."  If you are afraid of heights, consider Peter's great promise: "Brothers and sisters, be more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall" (1:10).  Yes, Peter proclaims, "If you will zealously climb, you cannot fall!"  
  Furthermore, if the journey is undertaken with faith and works, there is another great promise for success.  Peter  affirms that "there will be richly provided an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v.11).  This is not a promise of heaven; but of Love's lofty peak in the sky.  For way up there stands pinnacle of Mount Perfection -- that's where the Beloved Kingdom is situated -- on the solid rock of perfect love.  And this promise speaks of the simple fact that he is ever present to help us complete our ascent from camp to camp up to the summit, and with us as we descend back down to the world.  Now fellow adventurers, will you ignore your injuries and make the exciting climb with us to the very Pinnacle of Perfection, the Holy Mountain?  Will you follow us on up from Base Camp to where we've really belonged all our lives anyway?  
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