Later this afternoon I’ll join 70 high school students and 20 other adults for the Encounter Men’s Retreat.
This is my second year doing the retreat so this year I have a better idea of what to expect.
- Intense, respectful content that asks young men to lean into practical realities of walking with Jesus.
- A large scale, rustic communal experience. No running water, no bathrooms, no cell service, no tents.
- Moving and setting up a completely self-contained 3 day retreat– built with lots of muscle power and big boy toys.
- Massive, burning man-style bonfires. (Last year U.S. Border Patrol stopped by– big.)
- Guns, lots of them. (Used in a very safe, secure, proper way)
- Explosions, lots of them. Fireworks, explosives, and pretty much anything else that will blow up.
- Seemingly unlimited paintball, bouldering, and combinations of bouldering & paintball.
- Lots and lots of meat, potatoes, etc. No crepes or powdered sugar or quiche.
- An extremely memorable weekend for all the guys who go.
No doubt there are parts of that list which absolutely resonate with you and other parts that make your skin crawl. Trust me, I’m totally with you.
If you know me very well at all you know my convictions on gun control. I’m not just a little anti-gun, I actually think it’s morally wrong for Christians to have guns for self-protection. So the idea of taking a bunch of guys to the desert and shooting off a bunch of ammo is really, really hard for me to swallow.
So, why do I go? If I’m not a big fan of putting a 12 gauge in the hands of 14 year old… why not just bow out? Why support and give 3 days of your life to something that might feel wonky?
Because the men’s desert trip works. It’s an example of looking at the culture you are called to reach, reading it properly, and connecting the dots between something that happens in culture and impacting people’s lives.
And while it I’m not comfortable with parts of it I’m fully aware of these three facts.
- East County San Diego dudes go to the desert, blow stuff up, shoot guns, and eat meat. It’s something east county people do for fun.
- God does significant things in people’s lives in the desert. Do a word study on that… there’s a correlation in the Bible between time in the desert and movements of God.
- Reaching young men for Christ is sacred. My opinion, comfort level, and personal preferences are not sacred.
I was listening to a message by Rob Bell a few years ago and someone posed the question to him, “Why do people drive for hours to be a part of Mars Hill.” His answer was profound and simple: “People will drive from miles around to see what’s on fire.”
Very true, isn’t it?
When I read the book of Acts I am sucked into the story of both the fire God started and the massive attention that fire drew wherever the Apostles traveled. Sure, there was spectacle on the day of Pentecost where God dropped tongues of fire on believers as they were indwelled with the Holy Spirit.
Yet they only grew by a few thousand that day.
By the end of Acts there were tens of thousands of believers. (Maybe more?) They had unleashed a virus of forgiveness of sins and restoration of relationship that the Roman army couldn’t stamp out. By Acts 28, what started as a small fire in Jerusalem was spreading. God had captured hearts whereas other gods and kingdoms tried to capture their bodies– and the Romans simply couldn’t shut down a virus that spread with love.
Because of the division between Luke-Acts we lose sight of the resolution of the story of Jesus’ ministry. While the credits roll and Easter is celebrated at the empty tomb, the story isn’t over!
The story is really just beginning.
It was a virus so strong that within three centuries it would topple the most powerful and dominant empire the world has ever seen.
The empty tomb is the climax. But the unleashing of God’s people by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are the resolution.
Why did Jesus come to earth? Surely, to seek and save the lost. Surely, to make a way for salvation of all who seek him. Of course those are reasons He came to earth.
But it was also to unleash a fire through his believers that can’t be stopped.
For 2,000+ years the fire has burned as the only hope of the planet spreads. While evil has appeared from every direction over millennia the fire has spread. Even as martyrs were literally burned at the stake they passed the flames on with their love. The fire is shared from father to son, neighbor to neighbor, classmate to classmate, and homeless man to executive.
A lot of people I know are disappointed in God today. A new year has dawned and they look at the resources they have available, they scratch their heads, they look at the agenda God has laid on their heart, and they cry silently– God, there is no way I can do this with the resources I have.
Unfortunately, too many of my friends in ministry woke up this morning wondering if God has still called them to a life in ministry.
To both, I have this simple reminder from Acts: Fire is free.
The great Hope of the world flows from the pores of our weakness. While we may be depressed by a lack of resources or even a lack of a job– be encouraged the your greatest calling spreads fastest through people with no resources, no stock piles, and nothing left but a flickering flame.