Friday, August 17, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 73: The Best Pot

Key Verse

"What was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word, and understands it, who most certainly bears fruit, and produces, some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty.” Matt. 13:23 (WEB)


Note: Material needed includes 4 small pots. Fill one with gravel/stones, one with dull nutrient deficient soil, one with weeds, and the last with fresh and rich potting soil. As each one is mentioned in the lesson, show it around to the audience so they can see what is inside. This is a modern take on the parable of the sower.

A mother wanted to plant some flower seeds in a pot to brighten her home. She looked in the 4 plant pots she had on the back porch. As she looked through each one she found they were filled with different substances. She looked in each one trying to find the best one that would provide good soil to grow her flowers. She wanted only the best soil that would provide all the nutrients for the seeds.

She peered into the first one and found it was full of stones and gravel. (show first pot) Do you think that would make good soil to grow the flower seeds in? The next one she looked into was full of dull dirt that had many rocks in it. The dirt had many hard lumps that were difficult to break with her hand. (show second pot) Would this make better soil than the first? The third pot was full of weeds that had grown over the past several months. Their roots reached all the way to the bottom of the pot and she could hardly see the dirt they were growing in. (show third pot) Would the new seeds be able to grow around all those weeds? The final pot was filled with dark, rich, black soil. She ran her fingers through this soil and found it had no rocks or lumps. There were no weeds growing in it yet. (show last pot)

Do you think the last pot would be best for her to grow her flowers in? If you said yes, than you are correct. New seeds need nutritious soil. Rocks and hard lumps of dirt make it difficult for seeds to put down good roots. Large weeds will take up all the light and water and choke the seeds as they try to grow. Jesus used this illustration to help us understand what kind of heart we need to have so that the gospel will grow in us into something beautiful. Jesus said if our hearts are full of rocks and stones, the gospel is easily snatched away because it cannot grow there. If our hearts are like the dull soil that is full of rocks and lumps of dirt, then we may receive the gospel with joy, until life gets hard. Then because of the poor soil of our hearts, the gospel does not have deep roots and is washed away by difficult times and we give up on it.

If our hearts are like the third pot and full of weeds, we may receive the gospel for a short time. But if we are not careful, the cares of this life and pursuit of material things may choke it out because we focus more on them than on the gospel. The only sure way for the gospel to take deep root in our heart and grow into something wonderful, is if we have a heart like the fourth pot. Our heart needs to be rich and fertile so that the seed can form deep roots and become the most valuable thing in our life. Jesus is the great farmer and can give us hearts of good soil if we let him. Then as it says in the key text, we will hear and understand the gospel and it will bear much fruit in us making us kind, patient, joyful, and loving. Ask Jesus to give you a heart of good soil today.


If our hearts are like one of the first three pots, how do we get one like the fourth, full of good soil?
What types of things in our life can choke the gospel?
What else do seeds need besides good soil? Did Jesus say where we could get these important items?

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, August 10, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Trust One Another

In college I rock climbed quite frequently. There is more time for that sort of thing prior to a family and career. One bright Saturday my longtime friend Brian* and I decided to go climb some routes at Tennessee Wall near Chattanooga, TN. Known locally as T-Wall this beautiful cliff set in the Tennessee River Gorge offers grand vistas and legendary traditional routes that attract climbers from around the world. Near the end of a fantastic day of climbing, I was leading a moderately hard route while my close friend Brian belayed from below. I methodically placed one piece of protection into the rock after another paying little attention to my surroundings beyond the line I was climbing. I trusted my belayer who held the end of my rope and therefore my life in his hands. We communicated with one word sentences without having to looking at each other. "Slack." I would say as I continued up the cliff-face. "Thanks." He replied. "Take." I yelled after placing another piece of protection into the rock to secure the rope. "Thanks." I heard from below.

One-word commands are the best way for a climbing team to communicate without an over abundance of "What did you say?" A team that is experienced with one another and knows each other can more accurately fulfill a one-word command like "Tension" with just the right amount of force. Trust between a climber and belayer is everything. As I neared the top of the cliff I was able to hear a squirrel jumping from branch to branch in the trees at the top. But this was at the back of my mind as I focused all my effort on finishing the last few feet of the climb. It was not an easy route and as the leader I would need to build an anchor once I reached the top. Climbing is about pacing your self to avoid using all your energy too early. It requires a lot of focus and it is easy to ignore whats going on around you, which can be a major mistake.

Suddenly I heard a piercing crack! I knew something must have broken loose at the top of the cliff. I did what all climbers are trained to do when something falls from above and yelled at the top of my lungs, "Rock!" I pulled my body in tight to the cliff as I knew Brian would below. This is the safest spot as falling objects are most likely to bounce out away from the cliff-face. Out of the corner of my eye I saw not a rock, but a log bigger than any person go falling by me. My first thought was "God save us." Next, I thought if Brian is hit, let him only be injured. This was for his sake and mine because I knew, short of being killed, he would find a way to lower me to the bottom. He was my only way down! A split second after yelling "Rock" I heard a second crack. I looked down and saw a log 8 feet long and 8 to 10 inches in diameter right where Brian had been standing.

To my relief I saw he was not under it. God spared us that day I have no doubt. That experience also impressed on me the importance and value of trusting those with whom we venture outside. This trust becomes even more indispensable when we are responsible for leading others. It is no wonder Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to preach the Gospel before the leaving them with the Great Commission. They needed to trust not only him, but also one another. He could have sent them out individually and covered more territory. But he knew the value of companionship and trust. We are always more likely to succeed when we have both. The beauty is that by learning how to trust each other we also learn how to trust God more.

You must trust your fellow staff if you are to succeed in the mission of your group or organization. No church, outreach, club, or mission will be successful if the staff lack trust. Here are several tips to grow trust among your staff. Use an interview process to filter out untrustworthy staff candidates before they even join the team. Ask a couple questions such as: How would you handle it if you were asked to do something you know is unethical but not illegal?” or “Would you report a dishonest co-worker to your manager?” Also, be sure to actually check out any references they provide. Give new staff some time to mingle and get to know current staff they will interact with regularly before making them permanent. Give them a trial period to ensure its a good fit for both of you. To build trust among your current staff, plan some staff only events. An afternoon filled with games and socializing is a good start. Tryout some classic team building games that encourage working together and get people out of their comfort zone just a little. Outdoor activities like an overnight camping trip are a great way to build interpersonal trust. A day spent learning to rock climb will build trust, guaranteed! For other team building ideas and activities check out this article by U.S. News The Best Team-Building Exercises or the book 365 Low or No Cost Workplace Teambuilding Activities by John Peragine and Grace Hudgins.

Written by David F. Garner
*Names have been changed for privacy.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 72: Limb for Life

Key Text

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew‬ ‭16:24-25‬ ‭(WEB‬‬)


Salamanders are some of the most amazing creatures on earth. When full grown they can be as small as 0.6 inches (1.7 cm) or as long as 6 feet (1.8 m). Some grow to be nearly 140 pounds (63 kg)! However most are around 6 inches (15 cm) long. They live all over the world and there are about 600 known species. One species has no legs and looks like a giant worm. Newts, mudpuppies, and sirens are all considered salamanders.

Salamanders are usually brightly colored. This acts as a warning to predators that they are dangerous to eat. It also makes them pretty for we humans. They live in a wide variety of environments from jungles, to mountains, to caves. Those that live in caves are pale and have large eyes. One mountain dwelling species, the Iranian harlequin newt, lives in the mountains of western Iran where there is only water for a few months each year. During the wet times it mates and feeds. In the long dry months it goes into a deep sleep in a burrow until the rain comes the next year.1

There are two important aspects that set salamanders apart from other animals. These two things offer an important lesson for us as Christians. The first is that they must live very close to water to keep their skin moist and to reproduce. Jesus said that he is the water of life and we must live close to this Water in order to survive. The second and perhaps most unique aspect of salamanders is that they are able to lose and regrow their limbs. This is a defense mechanism that allows them to escape when under attack. This is similar to what Jesus meant when he said whoever wants to save his life will lose it. In order to save our life and have eternal life, we must be willing to sacrifice our old life. By old life Jesus meant our old habits and thoughts. It may seem like giving up a whole limb when we leave that old life behind, but Jesus promised to give us a better one in its place and it will be worth it!


What does it mean to lose or give up your old life?

Doesn’t Jesus want us to have fun? Can we still have fun with this ‘new life’?

What if I have accepted Jesus’ new life but my life hasn’t really changed, it doesn’t feel better?

What does it mean to take up your cross?

Written by David F. Garner

Photo Credit: StefanHoffmann via

1. Alina Bradford. Facts About Salamanders. October 29, 2015 Accessed July 31, 2018 from

Friday, July 27, 2018

Christian Outdoor Object Lesson 71: The Trail of Life

Key Text

“Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it.14 How[a] narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (WEB)


Nearly everyone enjoys a nice hike along a trail. It is a refreshing experience to walk close to nature and see and wander among the beauty. It is nice to get away from the frustration of traffic and the confines of walls and every day worries. Whether your hike is short or long it is likely to be memorable. On the trail, things tend to be simple. There is only one task, keep going along the predetermined route.

Hiking is not always easy. The trail may be uneven or filled with trip hazards like roots. It may be blocked by fallen trees, obscured by leaves or snow or poorly marked and difficult to follow. Your travel may be impeded by other creatures, slowed by sore feet, or completely halted by poor weather. It is not all rainbows and sunshine. If you have ever walked face first into a spider web or stepped in animal droppings than you know this well.

It is a mixed experience. You are likely to see scenes of wonder and beauty and even more likely to experience frustration. You may be fortunate to have a map showing the way, but it is likely to leave out some details. The trail may have easy sections that are straight and down hill. But there may be rocks that trip you.

The trail is a great example for our lives. Life is not a straight road but a trail that bends and turns when you least expect it. It is the narrow way Jesus spoke of that so accurately portrays a life dedicated to following God. As it says in the key text, the road to eternal death is easy and paved but goes nowhere. The narrow way is much more difficult but leads to eternal life! The Bible, like many maps, may leave out some details you wish were there. But we can rejoice that we have a trail to follow, however narrow or difficult. Thankfully, Jesus has gone ahead and trampled the thorns and moved the large boulders. He has cleared the trail for us and left a map in the Bible. No longer are we wondering in the pathless wilderness, we only have to keep going long the predetermined route.


What is a memorable trail you have hiked?
Why did Jesus say the way to destruction is broad?
What can we do when we are surprised by a turn in our life?
What can we do when the Bible seems not to tell us which way to turn?

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit

Friday, July 20, 2018

Life Advice From Gear Instruction Manuals

The outdoors is a place that builds character and teaches wisdom. We look to explorers and adventurers as heroes and role models. We seek out inspiring stories of endurance and triumph to glean insight about living on the edge and living life in general. But what if there is a source of wisdom right under our noses that we have been overlooking?

The other day I was reading through the owner's manual for several new items I had purchased for an upcoming backpacking trip abroad. I noticed some of the instructions pertained not only to my new gear but also more broadly to life. This gave me the idea to see how much life advice I might find in something as mundane as some owner's manuals. So I dug out a box where I kept old manuals and I found some genuine treasures!

"You are responsible for your own actions and decisions." Petzl ascender instruction manual. Printed in bold under a warning label this advice is a great reminder that we cannot blame anyone but ourselves for our failures or success. If you want something, stop complaining, take responsibility, and go get it!

"Use caution to prevent damage." -Yakama rack manual. This is a good bit of advice to remember from time to time. In outdoor adventures sports, we focus mostly on taking risks and pushing boundaries. Yakama's wise words are a reminder that we need to mix a bit of caution in with our risk-taking. Pushing the boundaries too far without caution is not bravery but folly. Calculated risk is the goal. Sometimes you need to wimp to wimp again.

"Understand and accept the risks involved." Petzl carabiner instruction manual. This is great advice from a company known for quality gear that helps manage risk in extreme environments. You can have the best gear in the world, but at the end of the day, it's up to you to use it right. So go out and do extreme things, but know what you're risking.

"Always hold bottle upright when drinking." - Katadyn water filter bottle instruction manual. These are timeless words of wisdom. They apply to every beverage at every time of day and especially when having a cold one.

"With frequent falls, a burly rope is important." - Mammut climbing rope manual. If there is one thing climbing teaches, it is that you must always get up again after a fall if you want to succeed. If you want to excel in doing hard things you need thick skin, a tough attitude, and a burly rope.

"The key to reducing condensation is ventilation." MSR tent manual. This is true literally and metaphorically. It is important to vent your tent and your stress. If you let condensation build too long without adequate ventilation you will end up a hot mess.

"Ride defensively; be prepared for all situations." - Trek bike owners manual. This is practical advice for every area of life, and especially for the road. No one else is going to watch out for you as well as you. Live life, and be prepared for anything!

"Relax." Gregory backpack fit guide. 'nuff said Gregory.

"Never paddle alone." - Dagger kayak owners manual. Great adventures are best shared with others.

"Do not wash your sandals in the dishwasher." - Chaco sandals care guide. You know the only reason they print this in the care guide is that someone wrote in trying to make a warranty claim after doing this. Never the less, it is good advice. Keep your dirty sandals away from the dishwasher. You eat off those dishes for Pete's sake.

"Well-loved sandals can accumulate dirt and debris." Chaco sandals care guide. A poetic reminder that any life worth living will likely include some bumps and bruises. Get out and experience life. You only get one, so why try to keep it pretty and clean.

"When navigating to a destination, point to your destination, regardless of the direction you are moving." - Garmin GPS user manual. These are words to live by. No matter what your current trajectory, always keep your eyes on your goals. If you stay focused on the destination and keep going you will get there in the end.

"Go for a run or ride." - Garmin GPS user manual. We can all use a reminder like this from time to time. Get out and enjoy the tranquility of the wind on your face. Sometimes you just need to leave life behind for a moment and enjoy the great outdoors.

"Never mix fresh and used batteries." - Princeton Tec headlamp instruction manual. This is a masterful reapplication of ancient wisdom for the 21st century. For example, Jesus said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” Sometimes we are better off leaving the old behind completely in favor of the new.

"Give yourself a high five or a fist bump— but not both." - Big Agnes tent owners manual. If you accomplish a challenging task (like setting up a new tent), you should be proud. Just don’t let it go to your head. One could take this advice literally also. Give yourself a high five or fist bump when you complete something difficult, but don’t do both unless you want your friends to have another reason to think you’re weird.

"Ride in an unusual manner." - Trek bike owners manual. So true. Life is short, be unique. Don't let anyone shame you for being you.

Who knew gearheads were so philosophical!

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, July 13, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Addressing Diversity

At present there is a lot of talk in our culture about diversity. It is a buzz word that is cast around a lot in the news, on social media, and in conversations. It seems if you want your organization or institution to be seen as current and relevant than you should be actively pursuing ‘diversity’. What does that mean and is this something Christian groups and organizations should focus on?

Diversity is defined many ways depending on who you ask to define it. At the most basic level having diversity means having people from an array of backgrounds within your group or organization. It means the leaders and staff do not have the same upbringing. Their backgrounds may differ culturally, religiously, economically, or in other ways. It may also mean your group members have different backgrounds. 

The concept of raising awareness of diversity has been around for some time. As far back as at least the 1980’s work places and schools offered or required classes on cultural sensitivity. We live in a world where people migrate frequently and interacting and working along side someone of a different background is all but guaranteed. This topic often makes people cringe if only because they don’t want to sit through another mind numbing low budget film about the topic. It can also be a generally uncomfortable topic for many reasons. But as Christians it is a topic we must consider because we are tasked with taking the Gospel to a diverse world. 

The first step to addressing this topic is to remember that God’s people are extremely diverse. Jesus emphatically hammered a message of diversity into his proud disciples. His message was not only for the Jews but also the Gentiles. This was a hard lesson for them to learn. But we are now grateful they got the picture. It is also worth pointing out that the 12 disciples were a very diverse group. They all shared a similar cultural background but they came from vastly different economic, political, and religious backgrounds (various sects). 

The next step to understanding this topic is perhaps the hardest. If a person cannot take this step they will make it no farther and may become a barrier to increasing diversity and even to the mission of your group or organization. This step is to develop a sense of cultural humility. This can only be accomplished through prayer and soul searching. It is a long process that usually lasts a lifetime to fully develop. A simple acknowledgement that your personal culture or subculture is not superior to all others in every way is enough to begin with. Once you can admit this you can begin to have a conversation about diversity. 

One caveat is needed here. By admitting our culture/subculture is not necessarily superior to others we do not simultaneously concede the superiority of our doctrine or truth. Culture is a framework of tradition often built around a shared history and sometimes a shared body of truth. Culture is a set of attitudes and behaviors shared by a group. Culture could be seen as how we live out the truth we have. Simply count the numerous cultures that share the core teachings of Christianity and you will see this distinction. So we can discuss the diverse ways in which various cultures live out their beliefs or truths without immediately resorting to attacking and defending those beliefs or truths. 

Once a person can assume an attitude of cultural humility they can be open to discussing cultural differences. Discussion is the next and most important step of increasing diversity. This will inevitably lead to better understanding between all parties. Discussion may show that another culture simply does or sees things differently or perhaps does in fact have a better method of doing or of seeing something. We may also end up discussing points of truth upon which we differ. 

A better understanding of those who differ from us is the ultimate goal of the push for diversity. Improving your understanding of diverse people will aid your group or organization in carrying out its mission. All Christian groups and organizations seek to reach a wider audience with the Gospel. The most logical way to reach people with a different background or culture from your own is to talk with someone who has that background or culture. Bringing someone with that background into your organization or group means they are always present as a reference. And it means your target audience will see someone they can more easily identify with. Most importantly diversity within your group or organization is a reminder that God created diversity and it exists throughout the body of Christ.

We should not seek diversity simply because it is trendy. As Christians we should simply seek to understand more about those around us so that we can serve them better and more easily point them to Jesus. It may or may not be practical for your group or organization to seek to bring people from several different backgrounds on board. There may simply not be room. But you can certainly seek the perspective of diverse people about how you go about operations and fulfilling your mission. Seeking to bring at least one person of a different background can be beneficial because they will likely think about things in a different way and provide valuable insights. At the very least you should seek to be welcoming to a diverse audience. This will likely require some ‘market research’ to determine if the way things are done are off-putting or even offensive to others of a different background. 

You cannot seek to please everyone. But as Paul admonished, we Christians should seek to be all things to all people. It is our duty to nudge every person a little closer to Christ. We will not convert everyone to our brand of Christianity. But we should strive to show that Christ loves every person no matter how different they are from us. A bit of cultural humility and a lot of grace will go a long way toward achieving that goal. We must also remember that we are not perfect people, we are practice people. We are always practicing to be more like Christ. There is always something we can learn from someone no matter how different they are.

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, July 6, 2018

Skills: Avoiding Illness In The Backcountry

When traveling into the backcountry is it ok to leave behind hygiene practices along with other creature comforts? In some ways it may be ok (how many of us have picked up our food off the ground and eaten it while camping?) but it is inadvisable and certainly not wise. If you are on a one or two night campout with a few close people you may get away with poor hygiene practices. Good hygiene is the best way to avoid illness in the backcountry. No matter how many times you may have gotten away with poor hygiene, a single incident of backcountry "funk" is usually enough to make you want to avoid it a second time. Not to mention it can be life threatening at times! Here are some guidelines to avoiding illness in the backcountry (and front country too).

Avoid spreading germs: just as your mom, or other parent figure likely told you a hundred times growing up, wash your hands! 

Use biodegradable soap to wash your hands and dishes. Any sort of camp soap will do such as castile soap. It is better for the environment and your own health. Use antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer sparingly. They are bad for the environment and your long term health according to recent research. Humans have used them so much some bacteria are becoming resistant to them and this is creating super-bugs. So use when necessary but use sparingly. 

Wash your dishes regularly. Many campers get lax and just rinse their dishes. This is the perfect way to breed bacteria and get sick. Use hot water and soap at least once a day on your dishes when possible. 

Only cook what you will eat. It is best not to save leftovers, they go bad quickly and will attract unwanted animals and bugs. If you have uneaten leftovers it is best to bury them well away from your campsite. 

Boil your water. You should always filter water collected in the back country as even “clean” sources can get contaminated. Simply bringing water to a rolling boil is enough to kill most everything including viruses which most water filters miss. If the water source is questionable keep the water at a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes. 

Do not share anything that touches your mouth. This includes eating utensils, drinking utensils, and lip balm among other things. Sharing these is the fastest way to spread sickness while recreating outdoors. A person can become contagious before they even feel symptomatic so following this rule is of utmost importance. When in a group, use serving utensils to dish out group food items. Never let anyone put their personal spoon or fork into the group food. Pour food into people’s hands instead of letting everyone stick their dirty hands into your bag of trail mix or other food. Never eat or drink after someone. And never use someone else’s lip balm. If borrowing lip balm is a necessity, rub the top layer off with a clean tissue but know this is only partially effective at reducing germs. 

Keep sick people away from the kitchen. They may feel up to helping but it’s just not worth the risk of spreading sickness. Delegate other non-food related tasks to them or just let them rest. Everyone will be grateful. 

Wash your body regularly. Medical experts recommend washing your hands multiple times per day, your face once per day, and your underarms and private areas every 1-3 days. This should be done with soap and water or wet wipes. A full body shower or bath is recommended whenever possible even if only a sponge bath. Remember, never use soap directly in the water source (i.e. lakes, rivers, waterfalls) as this is harmful to the water life and contaminates your drinking source. Dump soapy water 200 feet from bodies of water and bury if possible. 

Wash your clothes frequently. It is best to avoid wearing underclothes (clothes that touch the skin) for more than 2-3 days. Change to clean ones. If possible wash the dirty ones out with water and use soap if available. If water and/or soap are unavailable, turn clothes inside out and let them sit in the sun for several hours. At least 1-2 hours on each side will help kill some bacteria assuming you have good direct sunlight and are not too far north or south. Wind is also a plus to reduce smell. 

Be vigilant about keeping wounds and injuries clean. A simple scratch can lead to major complications in the backcountry if it gets infected. Keep all wounds cleaned regularly and covered. Use triple antibiotic to help control infections. Get some first aid training to learn more about this. 

Dispose of biodegradable waste in a sanitary manner. This includes human waste, food scraps, and toothpaste. The proper method is to bury this waste in a hole 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide. The hole should of be 200 feet or about 75 steps from any water sources. Be sure to cover the hole when done. 

Carry a few trash bags. Hauling out your trash is important for the environment. But you don’t want your trash to make you sick or get your gear dirty. It’s good to carry a few empty plastic grocery bags or freezer bags to put trash in. I find they have other good uses too. 

Maintain interpersonal hygiene by treating everyone in your group with respect and humility. When spending a lot of time with a small group of people in the outdoors, tempers can flair easily. Left unchecked this can create a toxic environment that can ruin a trip and possibly become life threatening if tension leads to poor decisions. It is best to smooth things over by talking through them, staying humble, and apologizing when needed. You are all in it together.

Learn more about this topic by following this link about preventing illness while camping from the Minnesota Department of Health. Following the principles of Leave No Trace will help maintain good hygiene. Learn more about the 7 principles of low impact camping at this link.

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: jackmac34 via