1. Unquenchable Desire
At the age of twenty, I headed north into the Canadian wilderness, filled with an unquenchable desire to know the living God.I also longed for adventure and romance far beyond what my 70's teenage years had offered. I did not know that the cry of my spirit to know God and the desire of my heart for adventure and romance were two fingers of the same hand. God Himself lured me into the wilderness.
1. Unquenchable Desire
At the age of twenty, I headed north into the Canadian wilderness, filled with an unquenchable desire to know the living God. I also longed for adventure and romance far beyond what my 70’s teenage years had offered. I did not know that the cry of my spirit to know God and the desire of my heart for adventure and romance were two fingers of the same hand. God Himself lured me into the wilderness.
Life as I had experienced up until then was much too small for me. I longed to be a part of something far bigger than I had known. I was good at dreaming, but I also wanted reality. Dreaming has one major lack; it is not real. Yet the dream does point to the real for those who are not satisfied until they make the leap, though the experience leaves them bloody and bruised.
Two destinies have always been before my eyes. On the one hand are the most terrifying three words any mortal can ever hear. No other fear comes near the awfulness of those words; no shade of horror is greater. The sum of all fears is no measure for the terror and blackness found in them. Yet I must never forget that many, many will hear them and there also would be me, except God help me.
“DEPART FROM ME, for I never knew you.”
But on the other side, there drawing and beckoning beyond all wonder are the two most incredible words in the universe. Glorious beyond measure, hope fulfilled beyond the wildest imagination. The doorway into pleasure and excitement and romance and adventure forever.
“WELL DONE, my good and faithful one. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
Yet, I had an enemy. And I was a frightened little boy inside. I had no idea then, what I now know, that I am Asperger’s, part of the Autism spectrum. I am not deficient except in social skills. I did not then know or understand people.
Inside that inability to comprehend other people, my enemy has worked overtime to persuade me that I am a no good little wimp in reality, a loser, a quitter. One who runs when the battle gets tough, who flees in the face of danger.
But I have taken the blows. Always, no matter how far down I was knocked, I have gotten back up to face my enemy again. Most of the time I had no idea who the enemy was or in what form he came. All I saw was the blow and the stars and the blackness of despair. But always, I would look, amazed, a few days, a few weeks, a few months later and see what also amazed Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
The accuser’s voice was always the same, “You are condemned. You are moving out of your place. You are not worthy. Oh, He loves you sure, but ...” And the voice came, not only through my own head, but through those I trusted and those to whom I looked for understanding. “You are the proudest person I’ve ever known.” “God isn’t planning to do anything there.” “God’s love is just a test, to see whether you will obey Him or not.”
For years the most comforting scripture in the Bible to me was Lamentations 3. “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely He has turned His hand against me . . .”
This passage describes the bulk of the path down which God took me for twenty-one years. Yes, there were definitely times of glory and beauty, but they were usually temporary oases on the long dark road God took me through. And I thanked Him and justified Him when I was not reeling from the blows.
I am certainly no victim. I take great comfort that God does not leave me alone, that He pursues me relentlessly. “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
I sat for several months as an elder in a circle of elders in Christian community. I had longed to be an elder for years. There I was. Yet, though this place seemed to be the culmination and end of my journey, though it seemed I had finally reached my quest and my goal, I was shocked to find a terrible disquiet within me. Amongst the good things I heard expressed there were other things – attitudes, views, ways of thinking, that slowly, bit by bit, I realized I could never join, never adopt, never become like. I wanted to be like Jesus, and I knew, deep inside, that to try to be what I was observing would take me from that destiny.
I am not “responsible for the kingdom.” I will not control and manipulate the personal lives of the congregation. Running other people’s lives is something I will never do.
You must understand the tremendous short-circuiting going on inside. This was the pinnacle; I had arrived. All my theology, preparation, and ambition pointed to this place. I did not understand why I could not fit and neither did anyone else. In the end I had to quietly pull out, pack our belongings, and take my family somewhere else.
I was shattered so severely that it would take God six years to put the pieces back together.
A few months later, God spoke a powerful word to me. I had believed absolutely that I had failed. I knew, as well, that everyone else believed I had failed. Everyone except One. God spoke to me, “Son, you passed the test.”
“What? How can that be?” I answered, dumbfounded.
“In the midst of total failure, you justified Me. You declared Me to be right and good.”
I had done that. I had blamed no one and had declared to others that God is good. I had not thought it to be outstanding; it’s just what was in my heart.
We so foolishly impose our human expectations on God and His ways. We have no idea what He is really doing in another and what His end purposes are. Yet we are so quick to judge even ourselves.
I had come to believe that there was some dark evil inside me, something black that prevented me from walking in the Spirit, from being obedient to the voice of God in the way that surely those around me were so able to do. During the time I sat in the eldership, I watched a log camp by myself. The men could not log because of the weather, or the weekend, so my job was to drive out, alone, and keep the camp. It was a long, wintry drive. The temperature was well below zero. I was fifty miles past the nearest other building, a hundred miles past the nearest public help, deep into the frozen wilderness of northern British Columbia. The camp was a series of trailers set in rows. My sole job was to check the oil in the diesel generator every other day and to be sure that all the trailers stayed warm. Otherwise I had the time to myself.
There, in the middle of nowhere, it was just God and I. And there I poured out my heart to the Lord. I stood outside on the boardwalk and shouted at the top of my lungs. “God! God! Can you save even me? Is your salvation great enough to redeem one so twisted as myself?”
There was no answer, nor should there have been. My cry had taken me to the end of my theology, the end of my understanding of God and His ways. But it had not brought me to the beginning of His, and therefore He could not possibly have answered me. For, you see, He already had.
Why did God bring me to such an end? Why did He not just teach me how He saw things right from the start?
“The Wildness of God.” When I first saw those words in Brent Curtis and John Eldridge’s The Sacred Romance, they struck me in the chest like a thunderbolt. I knew they were true. And I knew that I longed to get close to this God who is so wild. For years I have lived in the turbulence of His wildness, though I had never put God and wildness together on the same page.
I love the wilderness. The beauty of a storm beating itself against the untamed mountains takes my breath away. The remoteness of a wilderness stream, far from civilization, watching the beavers swim across their pond, gazing through the spruce trees with their branches clasped close to themselves as if in permanent protection from the brutal winter cold, listening to the call of the wild birds, the only sound to be heard besides the low sweep of the wind.
Yet I cannot live here alone. For the wildness of God in the dynamics of human society, no matter how painful it may be, I cannot live without either.
I found myself, utterly unexpectedly, the principal of a public school for a year. Though it challenged some parts of me that like to be challenged in that way, it was still barren. I sat at a football game watching young men try their best to knock one another down, and my heart wept. I walked home in the dark with tears streaming down my face, “Spirit of God, Spirit of God, there is more! There is something far greater, far beyond this, beckoning to me, calling me.”
I am a man of habit. I love my easy chair and my cup of coffee in the morning. Yet there whispers inside me the unsettling thought that God is doing something radical on this planet and I am not a part of it. But I have learned that God knows what He is about with me and that when it is His time to set me once again into the glory of His church, He will do it well.
I have seen His glory. Sister Jane Miller came to the community where I lived for several years in northern British Columbia. Jane Miller was delivered from incurable schizophrenia when she was a young mother, delivered by the power of God and by the faithfulness of other believers. God gave her a ministry of tender but passionate deliverance. It became her vision to bring the whole congregation into the ministry of deliverance.
Jane Miller shared her testimony, teaching us the meaning of spiritual warfare. We could feel the anticipation rising. Many gathered in the school building to pray. Jane began to pray for the wife of a close friend of mine. We all gathered around and sang songs of deliverance. We sang and she prayed for an hour, two hours. The crescendo was rising. The next day, all thought of farm work and duties were set aside. I went to Sister Jane and said, “You are going to pray for me, or I will climb in your pocket and go with you until you do. That afternoon, it was my turn. I was a little disappointed that she was allowing some of the elders to lead the deliverance instead of herself. But as I sat waiting for my turn, I heard the voice of God speak to me, “Son, when you were a teenager, pursuing iniquity and darkness, you were still My son.” I had never before considered that.
They prayed for me. I felt worse. The next day, I drove to town for some building supplies, struggling with God. I knew, then, that deliverance was not some panacea, some answer to all my problems. I still had to face God and say, “Yes,” to Him. I struggled and sweated, but before I got home, I said, “Yes, God.”
That evening, the prayers for deliverance started high. Around seven o’clock a young woman whom we had never before seen came into the tabernacle, escorted by her father. We knew she was coming. They had flown all the way from Philadelphia that day for this moment. Her name was DeLynn. She was skin and bones and under the power of a hideous enemy. As she walked into that room, every heart there knew that we wanted to see her free. Jane had her sit on the side in a chair and we continued praying for others for a few more hours.
At ten o’clock, Jane brought her to a chair in the center of the room. One hundred and fifty people gathered around, young and old, elder and child. Teenagers who hadn’t seemed “spiritual.” Yet we all gathered with one purpose, one heart and one mind. We were determined to see DeLynn set free, and to share in the cost. There was nothing, of course, that we could give save our voices and we gave them with all our might. We sang at the top of our lungs for two more hours, some had been singing all day. I watched teenage boys commanding demons to come out, little old ladies with their hands raised to heaven. No one sat down, no one drew back, and in the end, she came completely free. As she stood from the chair with the radiance of God upon her face we all shouted, though that was the end of our voices. Sister Jane looked around the room and as she did, we and she witnessed the Shekinah glory of God on the face of each of us.
It was an event that came, left its glory lingering for a season, and gradually lifted. Yet it was a taste of the glory of God, not in heaven, but right here, in the hard places of this planet. I will not be satisfied until I see it again to stay, right here in fullness on this earth, never to be lifted again.
At age sixteen, I overdosed on LSD. I was at home, alone for the evening. At first I felt great, though it quickly became way too much. Suddenly, I felt my consciousness switch from this age to the next. I could see just before me the walls of the heavenly city. The gate was shut, and I was on the outside. No horror could come close. Fear became a living thing. Thank God, He gave me sense enough to crawl into bed and lie there unmoving for eight hours of terror, until the thing had gone.
We play religious games with the words, “Depart from Me,” assigning them to anyone and everyone else except ourselves. They are far too real to trifle with.
I asked Jesus into my heart when I was seven. I had an experience with the Holy Spirit when I was fifteen. But I was nineteen when God seized my heart. A year after, I went with a church group up into Oregon’s Cascade Mountains for a winter weekend retreat. The men slept in one large room, the women in another. We ate together, played together, worshipped together. I drove home alone that Sunday, crying out to the Lord all the way down the mountain.
“God,” I cried, “that was so right. Somehow, somewhere, there has to be a Christian experience that is more than Sunday-church once a week. Somewhere there must be a radical, life-changing, full-time experience with God and His people. I did not know if such a place existed, but I knew I must find it or die.Four months later, I was driving north into the Canadian wilderness.
Why am I writing these things about myself?
There is a story so grand, so beyond earthly imagination, so incredibly exhilarating. Two thousand years of Christianity have managed to water it down, to codesize it, to regulate and ritualize it, to bore its audience to tears. It has become simply “Jesus died to save me from my sins.” That is certainly glorious, but it is only a quiet glimmer of the complete story, the story that we are not only the audience of, but the actors in.
Are you ready for adventure on a scale that makes The Lord of the Rings a Sunday school picnic? Are you ready for love that will sweep you off your feet? Are you ready for excitement and breathless anticipation and suspense like you have never experienced before? I am, in some small way, attempting to portray to you the greatness of that story. A story in which you share a critical and central part. The great story of God.
And I am writing also about myself, not because my story is any better or more fitting than yours. It certainly is not. God has many, many who belong to Him, with whom He has been dealing in very personal ways for many years. But this great story is Christ made personal in us. Our story is His story.
Jesus is my life, my Master and King. I walk away from everything in this world to be a part of His glorious appearing. And I am filled daily with joy in the sure hope that I will stand with Him as He appears again on this earth. My favorite verse in all Scripture is John 14:21-22 “…And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him… And we will come to him and make our HOME in him.”
Brent Curtis and John Eldridge have these things to say about “story:”
“The deepest convictions of our heart are formed by stories and reside there in the images and emotions of story... Story is the language of the heart... So if we’re going to find the answer to the riddle of the earth – and of our own existence – we’ll find it in story.”
Brent Curtis and John Eldridge go on in The Sacred Romance, and John, later, in The Journey of Desire, to present a critical and life-changing view of the story God has swept us into. But one view of God’s story can never be sufficient, it is too vast a story to be told by one voice alone, or even by many voices. All believers, each telling his own version of the story for eternity would be insufficient to give a complete account. But as God gives me the ability, I will share with you my understanding of the great story of God and how it has impacted my own life.
God spoke a word to me many years ago, “Give my people hope.” In that direction I offer you The Great Story of God.