Monday, April 9, 2012

Naked in the Woods: a Very Revealing Article About a Pastor’s Search for God

I recently went away for a couple of days to a cabin in the middle of the woods. This is the place where I got the original vision for Manna CafĂ©. More importantly, it’s where I hide when I unfortunately have issues with myself, when I’m burnt out, and when the world closes in and I need to be alone with God. This is a place where I can actually sit still for hours at a time and not feel guilty. If you were to ask anyone close to me, especially my wife, they would tell you I don’t sit still very often.

This trip was no different, and it was one of those spring fever days. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, the green of the earth was just starting to poke through the brown of winter, and there I was in the middle of the woods, complaining to God about this life He had given me. I was grateful, don’t get me wrong, but this life is hard! I was tired, feeling very beaten up and unsure of what I needed to do to fix things. So there I was, trying to unwind a little (especially seeing as how my blood pressure had been all out of whack the last few weeks), sitting in a lawn chair in the sun and enjoying the rays. I even took my shirt off. I was trying to keep my mouth shut and listen for God to speak some great words of wisdom from above, some new revelation—something! Anything! I was really starting to get into the moment.

Then I heard thunder in the distance and saw dark clouds far off, so I thought, Well, crap it’s going to rain . . . Oh well, no big deal. By the way, did I mention I was alone? All alone. Actually, there are very few people on this planet who even know where this place is, and the closest one was at least twenty miles away.

Then I heard that voice . . . you know, that Holy Spirit kinda voice. Not a big booming voice, but I recognized it because it was the same voice that talked me into getting a haircut seven years ago—but that’s another story. I remembered the voice—the same voice that talked to me about feeding the poor. The voice that called me out of the wilderness, the one that patches me up when I hit a wall.

The voice said to me, “Take off your clothes.”

The fact that I was in the middle of the woods and there was no chance of another person being anywhere close didn’t help any. Of course, I resisted! But the voice wouldn’t let up, so after at least thirty minutes of whining and checking all around to make there weren’t any squirrels looking, I finally obeyed and took the rest of my clothes off.

Now some of you might not think it strange for a fifty-year old hippie to sit in a lawn chair in the middle of the woods buck naked, but it was a little unusual for me. But there I was, naked in the woods in my lawn chair. The first few minutes were pretty intense. I heard every sound, everything that resembled someone or something stumbling upon my nudist camp of one. I heard every leaf rustle in the wind. The woods suddenly became very noisy. But after awhile, I finally calmed down and it wasn’t so bad. The sun was shining, and I could feel its warmth aalllll ooveer. I could hear the creek at the bottom of the hill.

Then I heard thunder again, but the voice said, “Sit.”

But it’s a storm, I said.


Then a few drops fell. I heard, “SIT.”

So I gathered my courage, thinking maybe this was some kind of rite-of-passage test that God was giving me. I thought, Well, okay, this ain’t so bad, I can do this. Then the thunder started up again, but the voice said, “Wait.” The wind picked up, but the voice said, “Wait.” I think those squirrels had a bet going on how long I would last because then a shower came, and I hunkered down, naked in my lawn chair, shivering in the wetness of the moment—but I made it through.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I had made it through a rain shower naked in the woods! Whatever test this was, I had made it. Part of me wanted to stand and beat my chest and do my Tarzan impression. You’ll be glad to know I restrained myself. I just leaned back with my hands behind my head and grunted a little, like Tim the Tool Man.

And then the bottom fell out.

It wasn’t just a rain, but one of those cold rains, the ones where the raindrops feel like icepicks driving through your flesh. There was thunder and lightning. Try as I might, within two minutes I was running into the cabin, shivering, drying off, yelling like a little girl, frantically trying to warm up with a blanket. And then the voice came back.

“What!? That’s all you got? You can’t even sit though a rainstorm without covering up? But you want to feed the world? You think you can save the world?

“You act like it’s up to you. Do you know where those raindrops came from? Could you have stopped them from falling? You couldn’t even sit through them, but you were just asking Me what you need to do to fix things in the storms around you. Did you save yourself, or did I save you? You remember, don’t you, that I’m the One who created the rain? I decide when it falls and when it doesn’t, so how can you take on the storms without Me?

“Do you remember the disciples could only find a few loaves and a few fish?—I’m the One who multiplied it and fed the thousands. Are you better than they were? Peter learned the hard way he couldn’t walk on water without Me. Have you even tried? You’re feeling discouraged and burnt out. You strive till you’re exhausted to make things right. Don’t you get it? All you have to do as my disciple is your part. I’ll provide the increase. You martyr your health, your family, even your relationship with Me to do ‘God’s work’ . . . My work. It’s not your work to do, it’s Mine. No wonder you’re tired.

“Give it to Me. I’ll take it because I’ve stood naked in the storms and survived. That’s My job—to do what you can’t do while covering you. Do your part and give Me the rest.

“On judgment day, you’ll stand naked before God. Will you be able to stand because you let Me be your covering, or will you run away buck naked and screaming like a little girl because you did it your way? Kenny, let Me show you what’s yours to do and what’s Mine. Do your part, and let Me do Mine. That’s how we will fix things.”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

“Simon Who?”

Thank you to the Leaf-Chronicle for publishing this message. Here it is in its entirety:

Ask me which character from the Bible I want to hang out with when I get to heaven, and without a doubt I’ll say Peter. He seems the most real. He fell down a lot, got excited, and said the wrong things. There are times when I read the Bible that even if he’s not mentioned I can hear him grumbling under his breath a bit, maybe about things that didn’t make sense to him.

Peter was not well-educated. We know this because he was a fisherman by trade and because the Sanhedrin marveled that he and John were so knowledgeable and bold even though they were uneducated. If you had asked the religious leaders of his day about Simon (his name before Jesus came along), their response would have been, “Simon who?” I’ve heard him described in many ways, from clumsy to stubborn. I’ve even heard him called a coward, which I really don’t get because even though he denied Jesus after His arrest, Peter was the only disciple not in hiding. Most of the others had scattered. Even though it was dangerous, Peter wanted to be as close to Jesus as possible. That’s not a coward, that’s a loyal friend.

Peter was the only disciple with enough faith to get out of the boat in the story in Matthew 14. Everyone else was still in the boat. And even though Peter was just a fisherman, Jesus said to him, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Peter was willing to charge ahead even when it didn’t make sense or the odds were against him. He had a genuine faith. Peter himself called this kind of faith more precious than gold to be guarded (1 Pet. 1:5, 7). Some translations call it a precious jewel, which is also hard to find. These weren’t just words to Peter; it wasn’t just knowledge, it was a life lesson, learned through every blunder and hard knock. Every time Peter fell and got back up, it helped refine this precious jewel that he called faith.

Even though Peter made mistakes, Jesus saw his faith like a lump of coal ready to be refined. In Peter’s day and even today, some of us would have picked someone different, someone with more connections. But in this rock, this unrefined jewel, Jesus saw the hidden faith that would change the world for His glory.

Another passage about Peter that resonates with me (and to which I’ve dedicated my life) has some of the last recorded words Jesus spoke to Peter on this earth. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter’s response every time was yes. Jesus’ next response was different each time: “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” All three involved service. By serving, Peter’s faith shined even brighter.

That day on the shore when Jesus first called out to Peter and his brother Andrew, “Follow me,” Peter had no idea where that call would lead—that on his faith, Christianity would be built; or that two thousand years later we would read about his life and his blunders. But Jesus did. In the history of this journey called Christianity, God has placed that same faith into numerous people who have accomplished miraculous feats even though they, in the eyes of the world, didn’t seem like the best person for the task. Some, like Peter, were even martyred in the process, but through them, regions, tribes, and even nations have been introduced to this faith. Bibles have been smuggled into hostile areas, books have been written, songs have been sung. When Jesus called them they had no idea where the call would lead. But Jesus did.

When I started my walk with God, I had no idea of the different directions my life would take. I had no idea that, as part of my journey, I would lose everything to the point of homelessness or that God would restore me so I could have the privilege of feeding and loving people in the name of Jesus. But Jesus did.

There is a big and hurting world out there waiting to be loved on, fed, called by name, given the love of Christ, and shown this precious gift of faith. I don’t know what Jesus has in store for you in order to refine your faith, but He does. Say yes.