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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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?