Friday, October 14, 2011

Ramblings - Motivated by Reading "Waking the Dead"

I'm reading a book called "Waking the Dead" by John Eldredge, about reawakening the soul to the real story God has for us, the real life God intends for his people to live.  

In one passage, where the author is talking about the importance of the heart, and how it is the heart where we really do our deep thinking about what what's important to us, and how the heart is the connecting point, the meeting place between any two people, he writes, starting with a quote,  

'By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest level of efficiency is history, but how much have we grown in love?'  We've done the same to our relationship with God. Christians have spent their whole lives mastering all sorts of principals, done their duty, carried on the programs of their church....and never knew God intimately, heart to heart. 

In the heart is where we cherish the things we love.  The things we feel and hold to be true in our heart override the cold logic of reason. Its in our hearts where we fine the things that truly motivate our lives.  Our hearts need to be alive, not cold and dark.  

This past week I spent with Alene in Mendocino has been very motivating for me. The Christian men and women we met, and the way the Holy Spirit moved in our hearts, all served to reignite in me a love for God and a love for my fellow travellers in a real, deep, heartfelt way.

I'm weary of programs, techniques, regimines, and rules designed to help me "experience God".  I'm weary of the performance we often put on for each other, the game faces, worrying about whether I'm good enough or doing enough or reading enough or staying out of trouble enough.  I'm tired of the barriers and borders we place on ourselves as we seek God.  

Helping each other be 'better Christians" does no good.  Obeying rules of "Christian living" is useless.  Clearing our lives of "wordly things" is a waste of time. We can never be 'better Christians" by doing any of these things.  We may have a clean house, but that's about it.  These rules and regulations do no good, because they wrap us up in exactly what Jesus was trying to get us out of . 


Instead, Jesus came to set the captives free! He came to bring living water to those who thirst! He came to bring full and abundant life, not just in the next life, but in the life that NOW is, here, on earth. Mind you, not an easy life, not a simple life, not a perfect life, but an abundant, meaningful, adventerous life!!

That life is found not in "being better" or "avoiding temptation", or "reading my bible every day, and having quiet time with Jesus".  These are all things that have a place in our lives, but they are NOT OUR LIVES!

That life is found in loving God, and allowing what it means to let Jesus be "Lord of my life" to get down deep, into our hearts, and then letting that heartfelt passion change our lives!  Paul said, if you believe "in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead" you will be saved.  Not an intellectual belief, which is actually only an acknowledgement of the information we've been given, but a heartfelt passion which changes your life.

The rules and regualtions we pile on ourselves keep us in Christian bondage. Freedom in Jesus means leaving those chains behind, and living in the full-on freedom Jesus gives us.  Freedom to do good instead of evil (if you fill your days going good, evil will be left behind).  Freedom to love instead of hate (if we all loved each other, who would there be left to do any hating?) Freedom to live fearlessly, instead of living in fear (perfect love casts our fear after all, right?).  

What we think about God in our hearts - not intellectual thoughts but those gut wrenching, real, deep down in our hearts where we don't talk about it much thoughts - how we imagine God really is, affects everything about how we act, how we think, and how we live.  

If we really believe in our hearts that God is a loving God, then we will be free to love.  If we really think in our hearts that God has given us eternal life, we'll be free to live unafraid of dying. If we really think in our hearts that God will give us "our daily bread" then we will be free from worrying about tomorrow. If we really believe in our hearts that Jesus died for our sins to make us right with God, and was actually, really ressurected from the dead, and is now with God preparing a place for us, how can we ever live with fear, doubt, or uncertainty about our life again?

If we really think in our hearts that God is distant, not really interested in me, and I don't think I'm good enough to do anything for God, we will live our lives feeling discontent, unmotivated, and unloved.

Freedom! Can you see it?   

That's what I want, and what I want for every person!


Freedom not just to be kind and gentle, though those are good qualities.  Freedom not just to be patient and faithfull, though I should strive for those. Freedom not just to have peace and self-control, though these are the wonderful fruit of a life lived in freedom.  No, the "fruits of the spirit" are not things to strive after, things to grasp, because in trying to exhibit those qualities in our lives, we remain in bondage to the effort, one which we can never accomplish! All of the things we're told to avoid, and all of the good we're told to do are unobtainable on our own!

The fruit of the spirit, and the absence of those things we're encouraged to avoid,  are all evidence of a life lived freely in Christ! I don't want to be better, I want to be "good", the way Jesus is "good", looking like God and living in freedom from sin, but a slave to "goodness". I want to live a life unable to do anything but what is good, because that's what God created us all for. All my efforts to "do good" count for nothing, but living with passion for God, loving Jesus from my heart, will change and reorient my life so that "goodness" is all I can do! That goodness comes only from God, not from my own self, so its nothing for me to boast about.  But it IS something for me to take great joy in, joy in the gift of freedom from my very loving, powerful, wild, untamed, uncontainable, but very GOOD God!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Antioch Ranch - Post #3

Men’s Bible Study, the Beach, and Dinner with Friends – October 2011

Thursday morning, I awoke around 8am to find my wife, Alene, already having been awake since sometime around 5am.  She had made coffee, started a fire, and already done a few hours of bible study, happy to be almost done with her study in Genesis.

Mind you she’s been studying in Genesis for months now, so that’s an exciting thing!  She’s doing a Kay Arther Inductive study which is pretty intensive.  I enjoy listening to her tell of the stories she’s learning, of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  These area stories that I’ve taken for granted because I learned many of them in childhood but are new to her, and to see her learn and grow in her own understanding is very gratifying.

So, as I wander out of the bedroom, eyes barely open, I notice it’s raining outside.  This is disappointing because Alene really wanted to go sit at the beach today.  However, she says since the weather has been alternately raining then sunny this morning, she was hopeful the rain might blow over later in the day. 

She was right, big time, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

My loving wife, realizing that I’m not super great at the whole “quiet, unplugged, no TV/radio/internet thing” because I get a feeling of disconnectedness, if that makes sense, Alene asked if I’d like to go to the men’s Bible study at the church this morning, for at least something to do while it rains.  

I love my wife.  

Seeing as the study started at 9am, I said sure, sounds good, and we hurried to get ready to go.

We arrived at the Presbyterian Church at 9am, and I went inside.  Alene walked down to the store to get a few things we needed, and hung out reading and studying on her own and enjoying the morning.  

By this time, amazingly, the weather was already beginning to clear, and it was a lovely morning at the coast.

I was greeted inside the Presbyterian Church classroom by about 8 mostly elderly men.  I say mostly because I think the youngest was about 65 years old; however I mean no disrespect by that! They were wonderful, kind, and generous men who welcomed me with coffee and cookies, which was just right by me! We all chatted for a few minutes, which is how I found out the man sitting next to me, who was named Ron and happened to be the youngest of the group, was born again and accepted Jesus as his Savior at Jerry and Pat’s Antioch Ranch back in the late 1970’s.

Go hippie ministry!!

It seems just about everyone at this church knows or has some story about Jerry and Pat, which says a lot about them. 50 years in the community has to leave a mark.  Their mark has been remarkably positive.

We studied Luke 6:27-49 by going around the table and each man reading a few verses.  After reading the passage, we simply discussed what we’d read. 

I was very excited because in this passage Jesus is teaching about loving your enemies, doing good to all, and not judging one another, which is right in my theological breadbasket lately! 

We had a good, lively discussion, and I enjoyed the input from the older men, drawing on their experiences through life. Some of the men had interesting views, having drawn their own conclusions about faith from their own lives, but don’t we all do that to some degree? 
It was a refreshing, fun study of a passage that is very meaningful to me.

Afterward Alene and I drove down to Caspar Beach, planted our chairs, and sat for a few hours to enjoy the ocean.  The surf was high, and waves were crashing against the rocks with a vengeance. The wind was blowing pretty steady, and although the sun was shining brightly, we both got pretty chilly after a bit.  Even with the chill, there were 2 surfers wearing wetsuits trying to catch a few waves. We pulled up stakes after about 2 hours of ogling God’s beauty, and headed back to base.
Caspar Beach

Waves shooting up after crashing on the rocks.

Waves crashing on the rocks off Caspar Beach.

Back at the house, Alene got to work cutting up vegetables and making a beef stew for dinner, which turned out just fantastic!  Lance and Susan and their friend Katarina came over for dinner a few hours later.  

What a wonderful couple Lance and Susan are.

Did I mention Alene’s stew turned out to be incredibly good?   

Lance is my age.  He and Susan have been married for 24 years.  Lance was saved right out of high school, after which he got involved in street ministry in Sacramento, bringing thugs and gangsters and druggies to church and telling them about Jesus.  He is a contractor/construction guy by trade, but a minister by heart, something he and Susan seem to share.  They’ve known Jerry and Pat Westfall for about 20 years, and were asked about 8 months ago to come stay at the ranch and help Pat and Jerry run the place.  Since then, Lance and Susan have plugged into the little Baptist church in Mendocino as their home, but they participate in ministries with the Presbyterian church as well.

Even having met Lance for only a short time, and having only a few short conversations, he and I both acknowledged that there’s a brotherly connection there that we want to keep up with.  Iron sharpens iron, ya know? Susan and Alene hit it off pretty well, too.  We look forward to continuing our relationship and deepening our friendships!

God has been so gracious this week!

Antioch Ranch - Post #2

Mendocino Presbyterian Church – October 2011

When we arrived at Antioch Ranch, one of the things we asked Jerry and Pat about is, where can we attend church while we’re here? They made a few suggestions, there being several small churches in the area, and we decided to attend the church they attend, Mendocino Presbyterian Church.

Located on Main Street in Mendocino village, the church is a beautiful, old building that sits facing Mendocino Bay.  One of the oldest buildings in town, it is one of the oldest continuously meeting Protestant churches in all California.  Built in the late 1860’s, it has housed an active church congregation ever since.

Upon arriving at church, Alene and I, along with everyone else entering the doors, were greeted by the “International Greeting Committee”, which consisted of two nice ladies who greeted everyone as they came in.  Clearly, the church gets visitors from all over. 

We stepped inside and found a lovely old fashioned, high ceilinged church with beautiful stained glass facing the bay. 

As we found some seats in a pew, I was impressed by how friendly everyone was.  Most of the parishioners were older folks, probably 6o and over, but there were a few younger scattered about.  Alene and I were greeted by several who quickly noticed we were visitors.  Our hosts, Jerry and Pat, both made a point to come over and greet us, happy that we’d made it to church. Jerry made a comment that he suspected he might actually like Alene and I.  

As the service began, I’m not sure how to explain it, but I began to feel the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  We sang a few traditional hymns, accompanied by an organ and pianist and a small choir in the tiny choir loft garbed in traditional maroon colored satin choir robes.  There was a reading of scripture, and a sharing of a missionary moment (a rather moving tale of working in Japan to help rebuild homes after the tsunami earlier this year), and then a time of prayer. 

This is where the Holy Spirit began to move in my heart is a stirring way.  As the preacher prayed the Morning Prayer, there came a point where he asked if anyone in the congregation had specific people on their hearts to pray for, to lift that person up by name.  Throughout the sanctuary I could hear the whispered names of loved ones being prayed for.

Mary.  Jim.  Betty.  Paul.  Susan.  Ralph.  Frank.  Bill.  John.

Dozens of names were quietly lifted up to the Lord, names with real people attached to them, and real needs and concerns being voiced.  Real people. Real love.

After this the pastor, a kind, dignified looking white-haired orator named Don McCullough, preached a simple but passionate sermon.  He recounted a trip he and his wife had just returned from.  They had been on vacation, and traveled to Glacier National Park, where he was intent to photographing wild mountain goats. As he spoke, telling both a delightful tale of their vacation, he also weaved in a tale of God’s love for us. 

During his attempts at photographing goats, Don and his wife came across a grizzly bear on a trail.  The bear was pretty far away and posed no direct threat, but being in the presence of the bear, actually seeing it and knowing it saw them, and having nothing between themselves and the bear, made Don realize just how powerful that bear was, and how truly wild it was. It had the capability to tear them apart, literally, with just its claws. It was a powerful creature, and just being in its presence was both invigorating and frightening, and they realized they were not really in a ‘safe’ place.  There was innate danger just being near this grizzly bear. There was a new respect for the power and majesty of the bear that Don had never experienced through videos or photographs.

After making his point about the wilderness and wild creatures and just how majestic it all is and how it all reveals God’s power and amazing character, he recounted a short passage in C.S. Lewis’s  “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. 

After being told by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about the great lion Aslan, ruler of Narnia, Lucy asks Mr. Beaver, “Is Aslan safe?” to which Mr. Beaver replied, somewhat incredulously, “Is Aslan safe? Of course he’s not safe! But he is good!”

I was reminded then and there just how mighty, how awesome, how amazing, how everything God is.  Then the pastor reminded us, God is wild. He is untamed and untamable. He is uncontainable and uncontrollable.   God is able to do anything at any time that he pleases.  But even considering the power of God, and as much reverence and fear and trembling I should have before Him, the ultimate image of God is found in Jesus, who calls us to us.  The untamed, untamable, unstoppable God calls to us to come to Him, and find safety, security, and peace in His arms.

God is wild, untamable, uncontainable, and uncontrollable, but he is also uniquely and wholly good!   

This sermon moved me to the core, and I found myself quietly weeping tears of joy and determination to hold onto that view of God, to let it motivate me.

After, we took Communion with the congregation, as they observe the sacrament each first Sunday of the month.  This consisted of each person walking forward and tearing a small piece of bread from the communion loaf, and dipping it in a small chalice of wine and sharing this breaking of bread and the wine together.  It was a moving, different experience from what I’m accustomed to.

I have to admit; I wept through most of the service, moved by the Holy Spirit, and in awe of the closeness, the community that seemed to exist in this church.  Afterwards we were invited to a soup lunch served in their little fellowship hall, where, again, we were made to feel so welcomed and a part of the Body of Christ.  I got to see and experience how the Body of Christ, of which all Christians are a part, is a real and vibrant and dynamic thing, and is alive all over the world. 

Tuesday morning, Alene and I decided to step a little deeper into this coastal community, and attended the Presbyterian Church’s Tuesday morning breakfast bible study.  We met with about 7 others, who welcomed us gladly.  We drank coffee, ate a wonderful apple cake/strudel dish, and read Romans 5 and 6, and then discussed it as a round table.

It’s here that God would arrange a chance meeting with a new friend, Lance.  Lance is my age, and usually attends the breakfast bible study, then stays for the homeless outreach the church does each Tuesday morning.  As it turns out, Lance and his wife Susan stay in the “Victorian” house at – you guessed it – Antioch Ranch, where Alene and I are staying.  Lance and Susan have been living full time at the ranch. Longtime friends of Jerry and Pat, they came earlier this year to help Jerry and Pat keep up with chores and such around the ranch.  Their house is about 40 yards from where Alene and I are staying. 

What a “God thing”, huh?

Anyway, Lance and I hit it off pretty well.  Turns out he and his wife are from Sacramento, and we got to talking about home and his experiences.  He’s an on-fire Christian of the likes I’ve rarely met.  I felt an instant ease while talking to him, listening to his experiences with the church in Mendocino and back home in Sacramento.

Today, Wednesday, I asked Lance if there was anything I could help him with while he’s working, and he thought for moment, saying “You sure? Be careful what you ask for.” I wound up helping him replace a log used as a parking barrier in front of one of the houses, after which we talked about 30 minutes about our lives and our walk with Christ.


Tomorrow, Alene and I will host Lance and his wife at ‘our place’ for some dinner and fellowship.

I could not have expected to go on vacation and wind up fellowshipping with new friends and believers as we have on this trip.  Alene and I both are just amazed at how God works in our lives and the lives of others we’ve met.  The fellowship and community that we have experienced in the life of this little tiny Presbyterian Church has been eye-opening to me. 
Alene and I have had some long conversations this week, in the short time we’ve been here, about where God is leading us, and what He wants us to do for Him.  We still have a few days left here, where I am looking forward to seeing more of God’s work on the Mendocino Coast. 

I also look forward to returning home, recharged and looking forward to what God has in store at home!  

Antioch Ranch - Post#1

Antioch Ranch – October  2011
Earlier this year, Alene and I were considering where to go for our vacation.  Our ‘usual’ getaway up on the Fort Bragg/Mendocino coast we’ve used for the past 2 years was booked, so Alene began a search online for places to stay in the Fort Bragg/Mendocino coast area of California.

On a whim, Alene searched on the Mendocino Chamber of Commerce, to see if there were any recommendations there.  One of the first hits she got was Antioch Ranch, a Christian retreat run by Jerry and Pat Westfall, tucked into the coastal mountains about 6 miles off the Pacific ocean near Mendocino.  After looking at their website,, and a phone conversation with the owner’s daughter when I called, we decided to book our 9-day getaway with them.

The ranch, we’ve discovered, is about 20 acres of mountainous land on which Jerry and Pat have, over the course of about 50 years, built 5 homes, a cottage, and various sheds, workshops, and pump houses. To call it a ‘ranch’ is a little bit of a misnomer, but whatever you call it, it’s lovely.

After driving from Sacramento to Fort Bragg, we made our way south on Highway 1 to Mendocino, then turned inland on Comptche-Ukiah Road for about 5.5 miles, finally pulling into Antioch Ranch’s long dirt driveway.   We found our way to the main house, knocked on the door, and met Jerry Westfall. 

Jerry is a slight man of about 80 years, with bright eyes and a ready smile.  He certainly doesn’t act or look 80, but has the energy and drive of a much younger man.  He walked us across the small clearing around which three of the homes on their land sit, to the house we’d be staying in, the “Southwest” house.

Alene and I with Jerry and Pat Westfall

There, we met Jerry’s wife, Pat, who was busy putting the finishing touches on house cleaning prior to our arrival.  We made better time than we’d anticipated, and were about three hours earlier then Jerry and Pat had expected, but they were gracious nonetheless. 

The home itself is adorable, and very much exceeded our expectations, but that wasn’t the nicest surprise.  Jerry and Pat themselves were the most gracious, accommodating, and kind hosts I’ve ever met.  They made Alene and I feel right at home immediately, and their love for God and Jesus shone through their conversation from the very start. 

It seems Jerry and Pat had the dream of this ranch, this Christian retreat, since the mid 1960’s, and have worked since to make it happen.  They bought the land sometime in the 60’s and throughout the 70’s hosted hundreds of hippies and travelers at various times. They had what they called a “hippie ministry”, a time when many, many hippies of the 70’s came to know Jesus as their savior. (Over the course of our stay we actually met a few former hippies who had nothing but wonderful things to say about Jerry and Pat). With the labor and love of many they ministered to, they built the homes that are on the grounds now. They have variously renovated and improved the homes to the quaint, quiet, and very cute homes they are today. 

Today is Wednesday as I write this, and already we feel almost at home here.  Jerry and Pat have stopped by a few times, Jerry to bring a couple of games he thought Alene and I would like, and Pat to check on our stay, and each time they wound up staying for some time, chatting about their life, about God and their ministry here, and their history, and listening to our story, too.  They’ve made us feel very much like family, and that is no small thing in our busy, bustling world. 

There are three homes for rent at the ranch right now, ours being the “Southwest”, a 2 bedroom house with a full kitchen, bathroom, and living room with a wood stove.  The others are the “Americana”, with 2 bedrooms, a full bath, kitchen, and a huge living room/great room with a piano, wood stove, foosball table, and seating for over a dozen people.  The third house is the “Hammer House”, which is a 3 bedroom (they are small, but there are three of them), 1 ½ bath, 2 story house with a full kitchen, washer and 
dryer, and a lovely living room with a wood stove. 

All of the homes are just adorable inside, and make one feel comfortable from the moment you step inside.  They are not lavishly appointed, but simply, functionally, and tastefully.  They have all the comforts of home, and all the quaint charm of the country. 

I want to thank Jerry and Pat for making us feel so welcome, for making Alene and I feel like family, and encourage anyone who wants a quiet getaway, and to meet a wonderful Christian couple, to look into Antioch Ranch.  

I’m certain Alene and I will come again.