Toward the top of the hills that border the south side of my community’s Central Park sits a number of man-made rock structures. They are called cairns. This morning the Lord allowed me to use the cairns to begin a gospel conversation with a young woman named Jennifer.
What are Cairns?
According to Wikipedia, cairns are:
“…human-made pile[s] (or stack[s]) of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn (plural càirn). Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present.
“In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times. However, since prehistory, they have also been built and used as burial monuments; for defense and hunting; for ceremonial purposes, sometimes relating to astronomy; to locate buried items, such as caches of food or objects; and to mark trails, among other purposes.
“Cairns are used as trail markers in many parts of the world, in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, as well as in barren deserts and tundra. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering. Cairns may be painted or otherwise decorated, whether for increased visibility or for religious reasons.”
While cairns, like the ones pictured above, might be fun to build and observe, not everyone likes them. Robyn Martin, in an op-ed piece for the High Country News website, wrote:
“These piles aren’t true cairns, the official term for deliberately stacked rocks. From middle Gaelic, the word means ‘mound of stones built as a memorial or landmark.’ There are plenty of those in Celtic territories, that’s for sure, as well as in other cultures; indigenous peoples in the United States often used cairns to cover and bury their dead. Those of us who like to hike through wilderness areas are glad to see the occasional cairn, as long as it’s indicating the right way to go at critical junctions in the back-country.
“Stone piles have their uses, but the many rock stacks that I’m seeing on our public lands are increasingly problematic. First, if they’re set in a random place, they can lead an unsuspecting hiker into trouble, away from the trail and into a potentially dangerous place. Second, we go to wilderness to remove ourselves from the human saturation of our lives, not to see mementos from other people’s lives.
“We hike, we mountain bike, we run, we backpack, we boat in wilderness areas to retreat from civilization. We need undeveloped places to find quiet in our lives. A stack of rocks left by someone who preceded us on the trail does nothing more than remind us that other people were there before us. It is an unnecessary marker of humanity, like leaving graffiti––no different than finding a tissue bleached and decaying against the earth that a previous traveler didn’t pack out, or a forgotten water bottle. Pointless cairns are simply pointless reminders of the human ego.”
I have no idea who or why cairns are being erected in the hills above Central Park. Since there’s little or no chance of getting lost in the hills above the park, my guess is the cairns are being built and added to by folks for the fun of it, as they hike or run through the area.
Hiking with Roxy
Because of my recent, week-long trip to Iowa and the busyness of life and ministry, it had been a couple weeks since Roxy and I had taken a significant walk. So, this morning we headed to Central Park to hike the few miles of trails in the hills, above the park.
As I got our of the car, I made sure to grab some gospel tracts and put them in my shorts pocket.
As I’ve previously mentioned many times, Ray Comfort taught me much when I served alongside him at Living Waters. One thing he taught me was to never again go to the store to buy milk, or go to the post office to mail a letter, or go hiking with my dog to get exercise. Instead, I go to the store to engage in evangelism and buy milk while I’m there. I go to the post office to engage in evangelism, and I mail letters while I’m there. I take Roxy for long walks and hikes to engage in evangelism, and my dog and I get exercise along the way.
Do you understand the difference in thinking? It’s having the mindset of engaging in evangelism “as you are going” (Matthew 28:18-20), as a way of life–as opposed to making evangelism something you do only as part of an event or a trip.
Roxy and I made our way through the park and onto the trails. Even though it was a little later in the morning, there were still quite a few people on the trails. As Roxy and I worked our way higher into the hills, I noticed the cairns up ahead. It had been a while since I was in the area, so I couldn’t tell if there were more cairns or if the existing cairns had grown (not on their own, of course).
As Roxy and I walked up the hill toward the cairns, a young woman walked toward them from up the hill. It looked to me that she added a small rock to one of the cairns. She then headed back up the hill to rejoin her male companion with whom she was running/walking.
The first thought that came to mind: “If I can catch up to them, I’m going to ask them, ‘Do you think those rock formations happened by chance over millions of years, or do you think they are man-made?'”
“Come On! I’m 52 and Fat!”
The young couple continued their vertical climb. Roxy could have easily caught up to them. Me, not so much.
Each time I gained ground on them, they would start to run. “Come on! I’m 52 and fat! Gimme a break!” I thought. No sooner had that thought come to mind that the young man decided he was going to do a full sprint up a steep hill. “I could do that! Well, 30 years ago I could do that!” I thought.
The young woman trailed behind him, but she was still quite a distance in front of me.
The couple stopped at the top of the hill to look at the valley below. This gave me some time to catch up. However, before I could get to them, they began their descent down the other side of the hill. Like a mountain goat, the young man hurled his body downward, somehow remaining on his feet. The young woman, however, would have none of it. She stood there, motionless, at the top of the steep brae.
Cairns and Caring for Jennifer
Roxy and I made our way toward the young woman. She did not want to walk down the hill. Roxy and I came up along her right side. The ground beneath my feet was comprised of soft dirt and pebbles atop harder dirt.
“Would you like to take my arm?” I asked.
Without saying a word, the young woman gripped my left elbow.
“This is too steep.” She said. “I’m going to fall.”
“I won’t let you fall.” I said. Don’t lean forward. Try to lean back with your weight on your heels.”
The hill was steep enough that it was difficult for me to do what I was instructing the young woman to do.
“Funny meeting you here.” I jokingly said. I wanted to try to calm her nerves.
“Yeah. Really.” She said with a slight chuckle.
It seemed like Roxy sensed our nervousness. She stayed very close to my side and only moved when I did. She wasn’t distracted by the sights, sounds, and smells around her. I have to admit that I was pretty impressed with my little dog.
We slowly made our way down the uneven and narrow path. Meanwhile, the young woman’s friend, having made it to the bottom, decided he was going to run back up the steep hill. As he passed us, I said, “He should be doing this for you.”
“I know.” she answered.
The young man made it to the top of the hill and was out of sight before we made it to the bottom.
When we reached the bottom of the hill we both breathed a sigh of relief, looked back up the hill, and smiled. I knew this was my best opportunity to engage her in conversation.
“As I was walking up the hill back there (pointing to the area of the cairns), I thought I saw you add a rock to the top of one of those piles.”
“Oh. No. I was just looking at them.”
“My name is Tony, by the way.”
“And who is this?” She asked, looking down at Roxy.”
“This is Roxy. And what’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Jennifer.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
“Jennifer, do you think those piles of rocks slowly evolved over millions of years? Or, do you think people put those piles of rocks there?”
“It’s obvious that people put them there.” She answered.
“That’s right. It would be silly to think that those piles of rocks formed themselves. It would be like putting a pile of rusty metal in your garage and opening your garage a million years later to find a Porsche.”
“Jennifer, do you have any spiritual beliefs?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m Roman Catholic.”
“Do you attend mass regularly?”
“No. I use to, but then reality set in.”
“Reality set in?”
“Yeah. Work; school; my boyfriend. I just don’t have the time anymore.”
“I understand. Jennifer, what do you think will happen to you when you die?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“I appreciate your honesty. What if our walk down that hill didn’t go as well as it did? What if you fell and lost your life? Where do you think you would spend eternity.”
Jennifer pointed to the sky and said, “I think I would go up to be with Him.”
“Do you think you have to be a good person to go to heaven?” I asked.
As I asked the question, Jennifer’s boyfriend returned.
“Your timing is perfect.” I said with a smile as I extended my hand. “My name is Tony.”
“Brian.” He replied, as he shook my hand.
I returned my attention to Jennifer.
“Jennifer, do you think you have to be a good person to go to heaven?”
“I guess so.”
“And how would you describe a good person.”
“Someone who is caring.”
“Anything else.” I asked.
“Someone who helps others.” She said.
“Did you just describe yourself.”
“Yeah.” She said with a smile. “I guess so.”
“And that’s what most people will do.” I explained. “When asked to describe a good person, most people will look in the mirror and describe the first person they see.”
It was time to gently challenge Jennifer’s perception of herself.
I could tell Brian wanted to move on, and it looked like Jennifer was picking up on his vibe.
“I can walk with you for a bit, if you like?” I offered. The three of us began to make our way down the trail.
“Jennifer, have you ever told a lie?”
“Oh, no. I haven’t.”
“You just did!” Brian exclaimed.
“Really, Jennifer? You’ve never told a lie?” I asked again.
“Have you ever stolen something, no matter how small or how long ago?”
“Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Have you ever said, ‘O.M.G.’ or something like that?”
“Have you ever been so angry with someone–without doing anything about it–so angry that you thought you hated someone.”
“Do you know that the Bible–and the Catholic bible, too–says that whoever hates another person is a murderer?”
“Well, I think we’ve got to get back to our exercising.” She said.
I did stop them in the middle of their workout. However, I think Jennifer was having a long morning trying to keep up with her athletic, unchivalrous boyfriend. I think the last thing she expected after I escorted her down the hill was a gospel conversation.
“Okay. I understand.” I said.
I reached into my pocket and removed a couple gospel tracts. “Here. Take these. They will finish the conversation we started.”
The text of the gospel tract reads as follows:
William Tyndale, the father of the modern English language, described Him this way: “He is our Redeemer, Deliverer, Reconciler, Mediator, Intercessor, Advocate, Attorney, Solicitor, our Hope, Comfort, Shield, Protection, Defender, Strength, Health, Satisfaction, and Salvation.” The Man about whom Tyndale spoke, Jesus of Nazareth, once asked one of His followers, a man named Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied: “You are the Christ.” Today, if you ask people, “Who is Jesus?” you will get many different answers. In the end, regardless of what you’ve heard, regardless of what kind of “Jesus” you’ve formed in your mind, Jesus will either be your Savior and Advocate before the Father, or your judge with the Father. The Bible says, “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isa. 33:22). And, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12a). When you die, you will stand before God to answer for your life. God, the Righteous Judge, will judge you according to His perfect moral standard—the law He has written on your heart (do not lie, do not steal, do not lust, do not covet, do not hate, do not take His name in vain, etc.). If you have broken God’s law (and everyone has), He will find you guilty, with your punishment being eternity in hell. Your only hope is for Jesus, the God-Man, to save you from the wrath of God. God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth—fully God and fully man, yet without sin. He voluntarily shed his innocent blood and died on the cross, taking upon Himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God. Three days later, He forever defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave. Who do you say Jesus is? Repent and believe the gospel, today.
Jennifer and Brian politely thanked me for the tracts.
“God bless you both. Have a good day!” I said, as the two walked down the path. I decided to walk back up the hill (a decision I regretted when I got to the top), so as to give Jennifer and Brian their space.
I’m sharing this story for the glory of Christ, for the edification of my Christian brethren, and for the souls of those who do not know Christ.
I am very thankful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who created the hills upon which I walked this morning; who created the rocks that human beings He created decided to pile on top of each other. I am thankful for a new heart. My old heart would have never thought or cared about where Jennifer and Brian would spend eternity. I am thankful for the gift of faith, for it is by faith I believe the gospel Jennifer and Brian hopefully read on the back of the gospel tract is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). And I am thankful for a renewed mind–one that understands God is good, whether or not He saves Jennifer and Brian from the just penalty of their sins.
Join me in praying for Jennifer and Brian.