The first thing you should know is that the morning was cold, and I was in short sleeves. Nor could I change into something more suitable since I was already quite literally on top of a mountain by that point, with my clothes many miles away in a snug hotel room. As a fairly avid outdoorsman, I am rarely so ill-prepared. But since my hike the day before had left me sweating in the heat, I failed to take into account the fickle nature of the weather in the North Georgia mountains, especially very early in the morning.
I hate early mornings, by the way. Mind you, I do early mornings nearly every day, I just hate them. By nature, I am a night owl. It is not at all out of the ordinary for me to be at my home office desk at two in the morning working on a sermon or column or new book. So if sunrises could ever take place at, say, nine in the morning, I would tend to enjoy them much more than I do.
But on this morning, midway through last week, I met Pastor Mark Biddy of Harvest Baptist Church in Dawsonville, Georgia, and Tyler, one of his men, for a hike to the top of Preacher’s Rock to see the sunrise. I was in revival at Harvest all week and fell in love with all of his ultra-sweet folks.
Anyway, it was cold. The afternoon before, when I hiked to the top of Amicalola Falls, it was hot. Amicalola Falls is breathtaking, by the way, even apart from the 600 stairs you have to climb to get to the top. But when we reached the parking lot to trek up to Preacher’s Rock, the moon still ruled the sky, and the breeze was brisk.
It only took about fifteen minutes to get to the top. There was a bit of a cloud cover, so our plan to see the sunrise was somewhat unsuccessful, though the rays fighting to get through the clouds made for a lovely scene in its own right. And as we sat on the rock, brother Tyler broke out a small camp stove, water, and coffee. Pastor Mark had been thoughtful enough to bring a second coffee cup. And so, a few minutes later, I was handed a steaming mug of hot, black coffee.
And it is at this point you should know that up until then, I had never drunk a cup of black coffee in my life.
Please, manly men reading the paper, do not slam it down in disgust and cancel your subscriptions. I assure you, I have no feminine side to get in touch with. I am a black belt, a fairly accomplished powerlifter, have done extensive construction work, drive heavy equipment, eat red meat voraciously, and often hike the wilderness for several days at a time. The coffee thing, though, has always escaped me for a couple of reasons. One, I normally do not like hot drinks, any hot drinks. I want a glass to be filled with ice, and then whatever my liquid of choice must trickle down through that to reach the bottom. Two, when I do drink my occasional cup of coffee, I come from a long line of “coffee with cream and sugar” people. And on the few times I have sipped hot black coffee, I could not help but observe that it smells far more amazing than it tastes. I have often wondered aloud if, when we get to heaven, God is going to say, “You drank that stuff? I gave it to you for fragrance; could you not taste how bitter it is?”
And yet, I am now rethinking all of that. Something about being cold, short-sleeved, sitting on a huge bare rock overlooking miles of hills and valleys, waiting for the sun to rise, made the coffee that came out of that press-thingy taste, maybe not great, but at least pretty satisfying. I drank all of it and enjoyed it.
It was, I suppose, the combination of different factors I mentioned that finally led me to begin appreciating what others already love so dearly. And that is often the case in greater things, things that matter far more than coffee.
I love the Lord with all of my heart. And it was not any one particular thing that did it. It was a combination of things. I had a mother who loved him first. She showed it in everything. Our home was filled with the sounds of preaching and godly music. We never missed church. I also had three pastors before I became a pastor, all of whom preached as if God was the greatest thing in the world and that knowing him was an incomparable joy. The teachers in my Christian school were willing to sacrifice deeply to help us come to know the Lord and his Word.
My entertainment growing up was largely Adventures in Odyssey. My books were The Sugar Creek Gang and anything by Frank Perretti, who definitely had a hand in turning me into an author for God, though he will likely never know I exist.
I was taught to pray and to keep track of when and how God answered. I was taught to serve others in his name. I married a girl who already loved God and brought her own passion for the Lord into marriage to join mine. So very many things working together made me and still make me love the Lord.
Wise Christian parents, I suppose, will take note of that kind of thing. Raising kids to love the Lord as adults will likely never be the result of one single factor standing in juxtaposition to all others. With our own kids, we have tried to make everything work together toward that goal. Hopefully, we have been and will continue to be successful.
And hopefully, my man card will be upgraded to Platinum now that I can drink black coffee.
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org