Sunday, March 9, 2014

So What's It All About?

A while ago, I had a disturbing experience.  I was camping with some friends.  Several of us began talking about our Faith.  One of the guys at the campfire said words to the effect:  "I know you guys are religious and all, but I don't want to hear about it because I feel like you're shoving it down my throat."

I was disappointed that all of us around that campfire stopped talking Faith, and was deeply disappointed in myself for doing so.  I determined at that time to try and do something about that.

God led me to several places in that pursuit.  First, it was to this book:  Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice. He made some of the points made below about how the Father and the Son used the Wilderness as a teaching tool. The next place he led me was to a Men's series at my church: 33 The Series, The Quest For Authentic Manhood. Session 2 of the first series was called "Create and Cultivate" and made the point that as God has created Man in his image, so also has he created Man to imitate him to Create and Cultivate actions in our lives to carry out His plan. While the program was focused primarily on our relationships, it occurred to me that imitating His methods of teaching and learning might also be something He wishes for us to do.

So here I am, asking you to join me in Creating a Men's Small Group, with the goal of Cultivating it so that it grows into something that can be used to bring other men to Christ--particularly the young men that surround us who are being increasingly poisoned by a culture falling away from God.

God created Man in a Wilderness. A beautiful and perfect Wilderness, but a Wilderness nonetheless. God tempered Moses in the Wilderness for 40 years, then sent him to gather His People so that He could lead them through that same Wilderness to deliver them from the Egyptians. He left them in that Wilderness for a Generation before entry into the Promised Land. David fled from Saul to refuge in a cave in The Wilderness.  The Old Testament is replete with stories of God's messengers and heroes being tested, prepared, or sheltered in The Wilderness.

This is meant to be a Christ centered Discipleship Program that gets us out of our comfort zones in our relatively cushy church chairs and out into the middle of the middle of God’s Creation to Worship, Praise, Fellowship, and Learn.  The hiking and camping are but a means towards that end, not the end itself.  We will not be on vacation, we will use Wilderness in the same way Jesus and the Apostles did:  as a teaching and learning tool to understand the nature of God, His Kingdom, and how we fit into His plan. 

Jesus went into the Wilderness for 40 days to prepare for his Ministry.  As a matter of course, Jesus would take his disciples into the Wilderness for Teaching. If you add up all of the times the Bible describes Jesus engaged in Teaching, more than 50% of the time it occurred in an outdoor setting, while only 16% of it occurred indoors.  (Of the remaining 33%, the context is unknown.)[1]  

What its not:

This isn’t an alternative to Church Worship. It is not meant to promote one method or place of worship over any other.

This isn't Wilderness Survival training.  Bear Grylls is not going to show up and teach you how to eat a snake.  You will not learn how to walk barefoot in the woods for days on end, eating insects, making your own shelter out of bark and twigs, and your clothing from the skins of animals.

This isn't preparedness training for a complete societal breakdown.  You will not learn how to store food, live off the grid, conceal your identity from the gummint, or self defense tactics.

This isn't a Boot Camp.  We will not be intentionally inflicting undue pain or discomfort or engage in any activity that is designed to “break you down in order to build you up.”

This isn't a Gear Seminar.  The last thing we will be concerned with is promoting in any way, shape, or manner expensive camping or adventure gear.

This isn't “Adventure Christianity” nor will we engage in extreme hiking or camping.  No zip lines, no rock climbing walls, no mountain climbing, not even any real long distance hiking.

This isn't an exercise program designed to help you lose weight or develop muscles. 
This isn't even “camping”.

What it can't be: 

What this can't be is an excuse to go camping.  I know that's a strange thing to say given that we'll be camping, but its the truth.  If all you're looking for is a way to get your wife to let you go out into the woods camping by saying "It's for Church, sweetie."  then I firmly believe you won't get out of this all that you can, and you might not be as enthusiastic when it comes to the work that will eventually be done should God will it.

The general idea is to gather a handful of men for Small Group fellowship and study in the Wilderness and start talking about how we can grow it into something that can be used to execute the Will of God.  I don't have all the answers, and I don't have all the ideas.  Right now I have decided to not only put out this invitation, but to put myself in places along the Trail with people who's life I may be able to affect through Christian Fellowship, words, and deeds.

What I see right now is that if this handful of men spends some time together learning the practicalities of executing this method of fellowship and study, along with the Spiritual growth than can occur we can, in conjunction with and through guidance from our church, use it for the Glory of God.  I personally see this as a program that can grow into a leadership and Discipleship program for the young men in our Youth Ministry and as an outreach program to the poor of Fort Bend County to give those young people both an experience they are not likely going to be able to attain themselves, and models of authentic Christian men.

In the next few days, I'll be posting some practical information about what kind of wilderness experience I see as being the most effective in pursuit of the goal of modeling His teaching method.  The good news is that you need not be an experienced backpacker or hiker, and buying all sorts of expensive gear is actually going to be discouraged as being counter indicated by the need to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, and in order to make this as accessible to as many men as possible.

Thank you for your interest and the time it took you to read this.  I hope you consider coming along on this journey, but I hope more that whatever journey you choose that you go with God.

[1]Denton, Ashley, Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice

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