Coming Down from the Mountain: A Tribute to Ravencrest

“This strength and comfort from the second blaze / came to me, whence I raised my eyes unto / those mountains that had bowed them.” — Dante, Paradise XXV.37-39

I can still remember roaming the cool mountainside, stopping on boulders that jutted out from the ground which formed precarious cliffs. Those ledges beckoned for any who were brave enough to sit on their edge and breathe in the world that lay below them. The soft breeze coupled with the bright sun created a feeling that, here in this place, Spring was more than a season on the calendar; it was alive. Of course, the livelihood of Spring only came after the snows of Winter and the Autumn trees exchanging their Summer clothes for something more sensible. But it was not the weather, nor the outdoor adventuring which brought me to Estes Park, Colorado in September of 2011. I arrived at the top of Pole Hill because I wanted to study the Bible.

Ravencrest Bible School, a small community based out of Ravencrest Chalet, had not been my first choice out of high school. Hunkering down in a school of some eighty-odd strangers, traipsing through the snows in October, and dodging elk in downtown Estes every Wednesday did not sound like a grand time. My primary desire as an eighteen-year-old was not to dive deep into Scripture, at first. When I had submitted the application that February before graduation, I had merely wanted my parents to be satisfied that I had applied somewhere. When my acceptance letter arrived a few weeks later, I had to come to terms with the idea that I would be spending five hours a day, five days a week, for eight months, reading and discussing and wrestling with the Word of God. I warmed up to the idea slowly, and benefitted from a rigorous education which embodied the admonitions of St. John Chrysostom. We learned hymns, read the stories of the Bible, learned to serve one another, and conducted our relationships in the open light of the community (Gamble 195-200).  I was receiving an education that I did not understand, and in spite of myself, God moved in me.

During my time at Ravencrest, the presence of God permeated our classrooms, dorms, and excursions. This inculcated a devotion to truth that, in the moment, seemed as though it would never wane. In this way, Ravencrest was what medieval Irish monks called “a thin place” (Balzer 29). This idea of thinness, where we are “honest with God and listen to the deep murmurings of his Spirit,” perfectly captures the atmosphere at Ravencrest. God’s Word prompted soul searching, discovery, and repentance. When we wounded one another, there was no place to go hide; a community of eighty people does not make for continual avoidance strategies. At every turn, maturation knocked at the door, and beckoned that we might step further along the path of righteousness. We read through the entire Bible in my first year, and I found myself reading the same Pauline letter every day for a month if I wanted to understand it. I learned “to think nothing of wealth or worldly reputation or power or death or the present life on earth” (Gamble 205). Thus, for two years, the painful pilgrimage in Estes Park paid for itself with the building of friendships and the grasping of God’s word.

The return to the world below, the thick reality of living and working and having to make time to study the Bible, was more than I could handle at first. A desire to retreat back to the shelter of the mountains, to take Jesus’ moments where he “would slip away to the wilderness to pray” as a model for my every difficulty (Luke 5:16, NASB). But the follow through, where Jesus would return to the masses and give of Himself, kept me from the hermitage. It took years to learn the balance in a world thick with voices clamoring for my attention; the goal became more than survival in the dark. I went on to become a teacher of God’s Word, implementing the strategies and lessons which had done so much to shape me.

But unlike Dante or even Aeneas’s men whom he invokes, I do not suffer the loss of memory as  “when the wind blew the weightless leaves away” (XXXIII.64-66). The gift of Ravencrest was the hiding of something invaluable, just as the Psalmist “treasured in my heart” the Word of God (Psalm 119:11, NASB). Still, the sight of a mountain peak still stirs my soul, as if Colorado has seeped into my bones. And when the first real chill of Autumn sets in, I pour a hot cup of coffee, crack open the worn spine of my Bible, and remember that time which some days seems to call out from so long ago.

Bibliography

Dante. Paradise. Translated by Anthony Esolen. New York: Modern Library, 2007.

Balzer, Tracy. Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey Into Celtic Christianity. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2007.

Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.

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Limited impossibilities

It amazes me the things that motivate me.

And one of the things that motivates me most is when someone tells me: “that’s not practical.”

Maybe it’s a false sense of rebellion. Maybe it’s a shallow, John Locke moment of yelling at the Island, “don’t tell me what I can’t do!” But I doubt it. I think ultimately, I simply desire to rise to the challenge.

With that in mind, what is next in line to get a Bible School open and running? Well, lots, actually.

The first step: getting others on board with the project. I do not doubt that God is calling others to this school just as He called me. Locating them, and figuring out how to put their individual talents to use in building God’s vision, is a necessary forward motion. Moses needed Aaron. David needed Nathan. Paul needed Timothy. As a new friend once said, “you can’t do anything great alone.” And so, I need an Aaron (or maybe three).

The next step: really trying to nail down numbers. This is hard for me, as I have always lived by the adage, “there is nothing to fear, but math itself.” But I’m resolved to move past this fear, and teach those intimidating absolutes, known as numbers, that they won’t stop me. I think I have a new teacher in that regard, and the prospect is exciting.

After that? Well, the tough stuff starts.

Through all of this, holding everything together, will continue to be my ultimate dependence on God. Without God, this dream would fade into obscurity just like so many others. I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together right now, and it speaks so loudly in my mind that I can only handle so much before I feel like I’m being yelled at. It’s convicting and inspiring in the same breath. I cannot wait to see what fruits God will bring through this study.

So as things move slowly, pray with me. Pray that I will not abandon God’s vision when things get difficult, and that regardless of what happens along the way, that God will receive the glory. After all, just because it looks like I’m not working, doesn’t mean I’m idle.

Constructive Criticism

If you do not know the cost then you do not have a plan that will come to fruition. – Dr. Clark, Liberty University 2010

Its hard for me to digest the comment above. I don’t doubt the validity of it. And yet, it frustrates me to have a vision so simplified. To clarify, Dr. Clark was commenting on the fact that I have no idea how much money will be needed to make a Bible school a reality. I realize the dilemma this presents, which is why I can’t deny his assessment. Still…something about it sticks in my craw.

A cabin on Little Marco Island that I think would be a perfect start.

I guess much of my problem is an issue of starting. Oh I’ve taken a few steps towards bringing Emerald Haven to life (like this website for instance). I’ve researched properties that meet the vision of the school that God has given me (with flexibility in that search since that vision is more about setting than location). I’ve even put together an outline trying to map out the purpose behind the school (although the first draft is in need of revision). When it boils down to it though, there is little I can do in accurately assessing the “cost.”

I’ve never had a head for numbers, and I doubt God forgot that when He placed this fire inside me. Which leads me to a couple of thoughts:

1) God is going to miraculously give me a business mindset. Somewhere buried in the recesses of my brain is the knowledge needed to plan this thing out to the last detail, and God is getting ready to flip that DNA switch at any moment.

2) Someone else is needed for this project. While eventually a full staff will be needed, what I’m talking about is a right now need. Someone who doesn’t see numbers a fog blocking the way is being prepared to come alongside me and help get this mission started.

3) God doesn’t care so much about the numbers at present. He is simply waiting for me to remember who is in control.

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on number 3.

It reminds me of something from my youth. Our youth group held a car wash in order to raise money to go to Colorado. The previous year, we had gone to Ravencrest’s summer camp by the grace of God (since He had provided the funds through various donors) but in our eagerness we wanted to help out this time around. It rained the entire day, and several of our clients were members of our group. Ultimately, we made less than we spent I think. But rather than feel dejected, there was a relief to it. Our pastor asked us, “are you ready to let God do this? Or do we need another car wash?” Such a simple sentiment, but it lifted the burden from us (or at least from me, I can’t vouch for the other members of our group) and God provided us with all that we needed to take 40 beach kids to the Rockies. It’s a lesson I have often ignored, but never forgotten.

Really, this is where I think I’m at. Whether or not anything ever comes of this effort, it’s not about me and it’s was never meant to be. God will bring Himself glory when and where He chooses. If it’s through Emerald Haven, then praise His name. And if it’s not, then I’ll praise all the same.

Without a doubt, to God be the glory.

Is Biblical Illiteracy really the Church's Dirty Little Secret?

San Antonio, Texas, Pastor Randy Frazee says a recent study revealing how little Christians know about their own faith, let alone other faiths, is good news.

"It’s a good wake-up call for us. It brings to light one of the challenges for the contemporary Christian church," the senior minister of Oak Hills Church explained…

You can read more about Pastor Frazee’s response to the survey I posted about previously by going here.

But I need to state that I disagree with him. Perhaps he and I would fuss over word choice, but I think the recent survey showing that Christians know little about the Bible and the God who inspired it is a very bad thing. This isn’t a contemporary problem either. This is the very thing Luther and Tyndale tried to overcome. But clearly, the problem remains.

I also don’t think its any secret that Christians in America know little about their faith. It’s probably a worldwide epidemic, but I’m only familiar with the American strain. It’s embarrassing and heartbreaking, but not a secret.

This, of course, brings me back to opening a Bible school. It’s my hope to one day open a Bible school on the Emerald Coast of Florida, to serve as a place where laymen and women can devote themselves to a one year program of study that presents them with the Bible and encourages them to draw close to God.

I think we have to start with the basics, namely, Jesus the Christ. I think our Lord’s words provide a special clue to this:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Its important to note that He didn’t say “All authority has been given to My Words (or the Bible or the Scriptures or any other variant therein).” Authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth, and without that authority the Bible is just another book. Learning about the Bible without encountering God is hollow. That’s the crux of a Bible school: Encountering God through His Word.

Is there really anything else?

Reasons Why

A repost from my family blog. Seemed appropriate for here too.


Why would anyone open a Bible school? Well, you can read about why such a place is important here. When it boils down to it, few Christians know what the Bible teaches. Many know what their pastor teaches, or what they heard from their parents. But they haven’t dug into the Truth for themselves.

What does the Bible say about Truth? How are Christians supposed to live in today’s society? What does Jesus have to do with all of this?

Of course, a school doesn’t promise to answer all of these questions. Neither do teachers and staff who believe that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What they do promise is to provide the materials to search out the answers; to provide a place where people can devote time in their life to seeking Truth outside of the normal routine.

And in the process, some great relationships will be formed. Some friendships will end. But in the end, what the goal is ultimately, change will happen.

Perhaps that is a mission statement.