Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wild at Heart Boot Camp - As Iron Sharpens Iron...

WARNING: The following blog entry is being written from the heart of an authentic masculine warrior for Christ. Adult themes, inferred language, and challenges are ahead!

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

The Prologue

It has been over a week since I attended the Wild at Heart Boot Camp™ at the Crooked Creek Ranch located in Fraser, CO. This gathering of men is an invitation by author John Eldredge and his Ransomed Heart Ministries team to unpack his powerful book, Wild at Heart (2001: Thomas Nelson, Inc.).
My journey to Boot Camp began back in September 2008 when God first put this book into my hands. It had a deep and resonating impact upon my life and my walk with both Christ and an unfolding Mission to battle for the hearts of men -- mine included.
In January of this year, I entered the lottery for the Boot Camp. John and the Ransomed Heart team have been offering these experiential weekends for years, and the demand from men around the world has been steadily growing to come out to the Rockies to experience God in life-changing ways. Fortunately, through His grace, I was selected to have a spot in the March 2009 Boot Camp. In the end, I was one of 452 men from around the world who came to Colorado...men from almost every state in our union, as well as other corners of the globe -- Italy, Germany, England, Australia, Switzerland, Spain, South America, and other corners of God's creation.


The airplane ride out to Colorado was an adventure -- I felt like a little boy once again at the age of 46! It was the first time in 28 years that I was on an airplane -- obviously, things have changed. I had booked a window seat for every leg of the journey, so I thrilled to the take offs and the landings, and loved looking out my small window on such a glorious sight as flying above the clouds, like on the wings of eagles! I arrived at Denver International Airport on Thursday morning, with several hours to go before the shuttle buses would take men on the 2.5 hour journey west to Crooked Creek Ranch. I remember the joy of finding my luggage had arrived at DIA and then feeling an intense fear creep over me: "Now what are you going to do?" I slipped Satan a silent "Forget you very much" and pulled my copy of Wild at Heart from my backpack. I had an idea...

The Gathering

Almost instantly when I approached the inside waiting area at the terminal, I spotted a man sitting on one of the waiting benches, reading a copy of Wild at Heart. I walked up to him, my copy in hand, and held it out. He looked up and smiled at me; I returned his gesture, and so met Tom from Texas. I stretched out my duffel bag luggage in front of me and laid my copy of the book on top. It became a dude magnet, a beacon for men in the fog of airport life! Men started to gather -- and this spot was one of several going on in the terminal waiting area.

After nearly two hours, the gathering joined forces...hundreds of men were standing about, introducing themselves to each other, talking about Wild at Heart, sharing experiences about how they found John's book, and what they were looking forward to from God in the journey ahead. At one point, these two young college-aged young women approached me and asked, "What are all you guys doing here?" She was an activist for Amnesty International, so for the next few minutes I shared the story of Ransomed Heart Ministries with her and why we had all gathered together for the Boot Camp. She was young, very beautiful, wide eyed, and amazed that such a book existed for men.

This Seat's Taken (Not)...

Remember that scene from the movie Forest Gump, where Forest is going off to Boot Camp and gets on the bus? "You can't sit here! This seat's taken..." Well, we had no drill sergeant -- but we did have 3 full tour bus loads of men going off to war! Men from different walks of life offered up the seat next to them to another stranger, and just like in a foxhole before the war gets going, there was nothing to do but tell stories. I sat next to a young man from Ohio named Nick. His story is his to tell, but it was incredible to hear how God was working in his life -- and how deeply John's book and the message that it gives to men had impacted him. Our journey from the airport, past Denver, and out into the Continental Divide was one of connection and truth. We sat in awe as God unfolded the majesty of His creation before us as we closed in on Fraser and Crooked Creek Ranch.

No Turning Back

As the journey neared its destination, I kept noticing the elevation signs on the road: 7,000 feet...8,000...one read over 9,000. The switchback roads leading into Fraser were incredible serpentine curves that plugged my ears with pressure and see-sawed my stomach with more fear. "Who do you think you are?" the voice kept saying. "Fake. City boy thinks he's Jeremiah 'effin Johnson. No turning back now." Even though it almost made me sick, I closed my eyes and pictured the Christ of the Cross standing over Lucifer, grinding his sandal on the neck of the fallen angel, the Enemy of God crying out in pain, begging it to stop. "Yes," I pictured myself saying, looking at the Lord thoroughly enjoying this moment of inflicting pain and suffering, "I know. There is no turning back now."

Crooked Creek Ranch, a Young Life™ property, is an amazing and absolutely beautiful facility. It is literally dropped into Fraser Valley, at a height over 9,000 feet in elevation, surrounded by the grandeur and majesty of the Colorado Rockies. It was an overcast afternoon when we arrived on Thursday; snow from a recent blizzard was still on the ground. The men were unloaded from the shuttle buses and others, who had driven in on their own, gathered with us in the Bear Claw Lodge building for registration.

Prior to arriving at Boot Camp, I had led a 9-week book study of Wild at Heart for myself and seven other men in Louisville. John and his Ransomed Heart Ministry Team -- consisting of Craig McConnell, Bart Hansen, Morgan Snyder, and Gary Barkalow (who has since started his own ministry outreach, The Calling) -- were a part of the DVD series that I used in the study facilitation. As I stood on line to get my rooming assignment and registration packet, I saw Bart Hansen over to the side of Bear Claw. As I left my place in line after getting my materials, I went up to him and introduced myself, letting him know how much his and the other men in John's Band of Brothers had helped me in the book study.

Bart was so gracious, focusing on me as I stood talking with him, listening to my story of my own Band of Brothers. And standing next to me I felt God's gentle presence, like His gentle voice in my heart was saying, "Johnny, your blessing this man is important to Me...and to him. Thank you!" I went off to find my lodging with a smile on my heart, but somewhere deep in the back of my mind I could still hear the Enemy whining, spiteful and jealous. "Big 'effin deal. Bart Hansen. No one gives a flip about you. All these guys here are friends. You're the outsider. Go hide!" I looked at the logistical map given to me -- I was to lodge in Timberwolf.
The Lodge

The lodge facilities at Crooked Creek are bunk style, six bunks to a lodge room. All of the architecture is built with these incredibly strong and sturdy pine logs, gorgeously attired, so clean and inviting. Most of the men in my lodging area of Timberwolf were from the same region of the US...another man from Louisville, KY; several from different parts of the state, others from neighboring states. We unpacked our gear -- and I was fortunate enough to be graced with a bottom bunk. In February of this year, I had left a homeless shelter here in Louisville, where I had spent months living in a "dorm" facility with many bunk beds. The Enemy didn't skip a beat. "Nice digs," Satan mused. "Haven't come that far from the 'effin shelter, have we? Hell," he laughed, "you didn't even pay your own way out here. Had to beg for help, didn't you? Thought it was grace that foot the bill? What an 'effin loser! Go ahead, see what I put into the luggage. Go ahead, unpack it all."

I went back to Bear Claw Lodge, awaiting dinner in a while at Bull Moose Lodge, the ranch dining hall. Grabbing a cup of coffee, I sat in the lodge area -- and looked to my left. Morgan Snyder, from the Ransomed Heart team, was sitting next to me having a conversation with another man. "You want his autograph, too?" the Enemy chided. I took a breath and began to pray, thanking God for His grace and mercy in calling me out to Boot Camp, for His provision and blessing for covering all my expenses, and for the use of me in bringing the Wild at Heart message to the men I knew back in Louisville.

When Morgan was done with his conversation, I introduced myself and blessed him for his role in the DVD series. Once more, I was struck at how intent he was on focusing into the conversation and how graciously he bestowed thanks and blessings upon me for being impacted by his part in the Ransomed Heart ministry. When we finished talking, Morgan offered me a hug, welcoming me to Boot Camp and affirming the journey I had taken with my Band of Brothers. A part of me wanted to run, while a totally different part of me needed and wanted such affirmation. Little did I realize that the stage was being set for God's walk with me over the entire 4 days...

The Bull Moose Lodge - Men Are Hungry!!

How do you feed 452 hungry men? With the absolutely military precision staff of the Crooked Creek Ranch's dining hall, the Bull Moose Lodge! Most of the wait staff are young teens in for the weekend on a volunteer basis. And with a hall full of hungry men, this group wasted no time in bringing out everything. All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were served family-style, with each table getting everything they needed. Throughout the entire Boot Camp experience, I never witnessed a lack of service from these young men and women. They were outstanding!! The food at Crooked Creek was awesome, delicious, well balanced and buoyed by the amazing attention given to us at every meal.

Each time I went into the dining hall, I ended up sitting with a different group of men. It was amazing to share each meal with a different "set of stories" about where they came from, how they found the Wild at Heart message, and how they were doing at that particular moment of the Boot Camp. It was at the Bull Moose we met Alex from the Ransomed Heart (RH) Team -- he kept us up-to-date with schedules and logistics.

The Bull Moose was open 24/7, with enough coffee to launch a Space Shuttle! Also, it had some quiet corners with comfortable wooden rocking chairs and soft lighting to sit and journal, down some java whatever time of day or night, and relax. OK...you feed an army of men, and then it comes time to go to war.

Boot Camp began on Thursday evening after dinner...

Thursday Night - Opening Session

All of the sessions were held in the Avalanche Lodge building. Inside was an amphitheatre-style seating area, at the bottom of which sat a lighted stage. In one corner of the stage sat a sword rack, complete with five various types of battle swords. The only other accouterments to the stage area were a small wooden stool and a portable metal podium.

I took my seat -- which ended up being mine for the entire Boot Camp -- in the fifth row center, just the same spot I would always take in any movie theatre I've ever been in. So, here I am -- Thursday night, surrounded by 451 other men, our stomachs happy, and the lights go down.

Images. Movies that speak to the hearts and balls of men. Black Hawk Down. Defiance. Batman Begins. The masculinity and the theme of powerful men -- in battle, in adventure, rescuing beauty -- leaps off the giant projection screen sitting above the stage, the messages hammered into my body by a kick-ass sound system.

And so it began...

So out comes John Eldredge. "He's smaller than he looks in the DVD's," the voice of the Accuser whispered in my ear. I thought he looked good, healthy, ready, a light in his eyes and power in his voice that was unmistakable. Even 8 years after Wild at Heart was published, and after doing two Boot Camps each year, I sensed this guy was on, ready, armed to go to war, and glad we were there to go with him.

Note: What follows is not really a "nuts and bolts" of the entire Boot Camp, session by session. While the experiential part of the Boot Camp would be different for any participant, what I will attempt for the rest of this journey is to highlight what I found to be the greatest moments of personal revelation and initiation that God led me to in each day.

In His Image...

The invitation from the beginning was to see myself as a man created in the image of God -- created as a male, with a heart set in me for a purpose designed by Him. Part of this challenge was to see how crucial the warrior heart is that God designed for me...and how so much of the world has been set towards emasculating that, including the church. "Life is found," Eldredge said at one point, "where it's fought for."

I thought about some of my favorite films at one point. Gladiator -- strength and honor. Good Will Hunting -- the truth of a wound. Legends of the Fall -- how sons need a father. The Matrix -- life inside The Battle.

Desire, I began to see, comes from the inside out...and that reflects the desires that God put into my heart when He created it -- and when He redeemed it.

As our first session closed, we were encouraged to unplug...make that "last phone call to the outside world," turn off the cell phones, and unplug. It wasn't until later in the weekend that I realized there wasn't a single clock anywhere in Crooked Creek. This was a place without time for a reason. Eldredge and his team cautioned us about the Enemy being on the prowl, and to set our battlements against fear, agreements, and accusation.

Around the Fire

As I walked off on my own Thursday night, I found a spot on the fringes of the Ranch. The cold night air of Colorado was invigorating, but in the dark I was suddenly reminded of being alone in the world, as if the Rockies looming off in the distance were silent centurions that stood as witness to greater dangers that were lurking within me. As I turned to look back at the Ranch, with all of the lodge buildings lit up, and the echoes of distant conversations between men reached my ears, I felt like I was 18 again -- my first night on a college campus, alone, looking off at all the dorms lit up with people, parties, and possibilities. "You are alone, you idiot," the Enemy came in to say.

So I prayed. I asked God what to do -- and it felt like this sure and steady hand on my back, accompanied by a voice of maturity and assurance saying to me, "Go, be a part of instead of apart from. Join the men around the fire."

And so I went to sit around the fire pit, located in the middle of the lodging area. From Thursday night through the end of Boot Camp, the fire pit was active, a fire always going, wood readily available. And men came, gathered, sat around the fire in the cold of morning or evening, some talking, some journaling, some watching the flames, others smoking cigars.

So I spent the rest of Thursday night, well into early Friday morning, sitting with men from around the world, talking to them, sharing my story, listening to theirs, smoking a cigar, laughing, and connecting to other men who, like me, are wild at heart, awake, loving God, and walking with Him in search of battle, adventure, and beauty.

I was the last one at the fire pit early Friday morning, close to two o' clock. As I stood there and watched the fire, that same hand came upon my shoulder, and the Voice was happy in my ear saying, "Nice job. I see you. So do they. I love how you care."

Friday - Morning Session

The Gospel, really, John talked on Friday morning, is this incredible story in four acts.
Act I: In the beginning. The fellowship of the Trinity.
Act II: Why does every story have a villian? The revolt of Lucifer.
Act III: God allows our choices to matter. The freedom to accept -- or reject -- Him.
Act IV: The next chapter in the Story. Restoration.

A question was asked: How different is the life I'm living from the life I want to live? The intent behind the question was to examine the freedom I have in God...and the challenges of being authentic in my masculinity, not some "nice boy" the church would have me to be or "cartoonish" in the way the world depicts what a man should look like.

The fear of the Enemy, obviously, is that I don't have what it takes, that God is not good enough or sovereign enough. And here is where The Poser, according to Eldredge, is born.

The Poser is that part of me, any man, that shows up in the world, born out of fear, wearing all the masks available, and who will at every turn settle for a counterfeit instead of accepting God's purpose and power. The only source of the pose is my need to seek validation from anything and everything that is opposed to my truth in God.

So, in a beautiful and powerful way, Eldredge began to offer challenges to me -- to us -- in the way of questions. We were invited to go off into God's creation and ask ourselves a question: "Why am I not the man I want to be?"

Deep Sadness

As I went off, I was trailed by a wake of deep sadness. I cried openly in the morning session, cut open by other powerful film clips that spoke to truths and lies inside of my masculine heart. I was walking alone, bombarded by countless memories of being a man -- and where I fell short over my life. It felt as if I couldn't get away from myself, as if I wanted to run away from my physical body and my mental capacity, to go off into the mountains surrounding me and hide, dig a hole, keep digging, start hiding, go away, away, far, far away.

"Why are you afraid of being sad?" I sensed God asking me. "It's alright, Johnny." But it didn't feel alright, and I began to feel an amazing flood of fear behind the sadness, that nothing was alright, and that everything was wrong. "It is all wrong," the Enemy said, stepping into the fear and pummeling me with it. "It's all wrong because you're all wrong! You stupid ____, can't you ever accept this...you were all wrong from the beginning. In the beginning you were wrong. You're wrong now. And in the end you'll still be wrong. Grow the 'eff up and get with the game!!"

I returned to our next session Friday afternoon tracked by this fear. I took a few moments to speak to Bart Hansen about it, and he encouraged me to pray and to ask God to reveal to me His power over such fear...but not to run from the strength He put in my heart.

Friday - Afternoon Session

On the heels of talking about The Poser, John and his team now led us into dangerous territory of the masculine heart...The Wound.

The whole design of The Poser is to keep me from being exposed. Hence, Adam and the fig leaf. In the father/son relationship, a boy needs to be loved by his father, and given an answer to The Question: "Do I really have what it takes to be a man?" This validation is crucial to healthy masculine inititation, to the bestowing of masculinity from father to son.

And in my Story, my life, all of it was shaped by how my father handled my heart...and how The Wound really was received. Eldredge was clear: "Behind every posing man is a wounded boy." With this, even if the Enemy concurred, I would have to agree. And it unleashed this fury, this rage, inside of me...it suddenly came over me as I was sitting in the Avalanche Lodge. I felt like getting up and screaming "'Eff all this!!" and leaving. But John gave us another question at the end of the session to go in search of with God: "How did my father handle my heart?"

Angry at God, Pissed at Myself

As I went off in covenential silence with 451 other men to ponder this, I kept hearing the accusations from my father, the words of The Wound: "You're apart from, not a part of." "You are an addict, a criminal." "I have a favorite son--any of them that's NOT you!"

It was at this point in the Boot Camp that I began climbing mountains. I started finding myself off the pathways, onto the hills, in dangerous footings, in places that had tracks of beast laid out before me, in parts of the Rockies and Fraser Valley that were silent, majestic, apart from the meanderings and wanderings of the other men. I didn't want to be there among them, near them, and I wanted to be apart from God. I didn't want Him following me, either.

I found a small ridge to sit on top of. As I looked down on a hillside covered in snow, I watched a snow fox with white and burnt orange fur walk around, aware of me but oblivious to my potential. And then the Enemy chimed in: "This is all bull____. John and his team are bull____. The men around you are bull____. God is bull____, or are you too afraid to admit that, too? What are you doing here? It's all review, just a puffed up book study, just the same crap you spoon fed to those seven men in Louisville, none of which made a difference anyway. What are you doing here? Why are you here? Check out. Go ahead. It's not going to make a difference. It doesn't matter. You don't matter...do you? Or are you too afraid to admit that, too?"

The anger came. First it was an internal combustible engine firing off in my heart, and then I began to search my mind for the presence of God. I didn't want Him in my heart at that moment. I remember feeling, "You let me get wounded. You gave me that father who called himself a man. You stood around, just like Adam in the 'effin Garden, and did nothing, said nothing! How am I supposed to trust you, anyone, me?" And as quickly as it appeared, it began to shut down, lock itself down, and my heart with it.

The Voice returned as I sat in the silence of the woods in the mountains. "Go ahead, Johnny. Tell Me whatever you want. It's OK, son. Go ahead and let me know what it is I already know." And the feeling behind those words was like permission granted, full steam ahead. So I railed against God in the quiet grandeur of His majestic creation. I cursed, I spat, I hissed, I wailed, I moaned, I pitied, I cried, I called out The Wound, and I mourned. And, in the end, in the wake of all that, I opened the arms of my heart. "Come to me here, Father," I asked God. "Come hold me in this place and tell me You love me, that you'll Father me. How will You handle my heart?"

In the peace of the time after that, I rejected Satan and his wiles, his lies. I accepted a measure of grace there in the silent snow, feeling the presence of God as a Father, me as His son, feeling His love, His acceptance, His protection, and His purpose. My heart watched as the snow fox disappeared back into the woods I had wanted to hide in, and I let him represent those fears I didn't want to pursue. I wanted to stand, so I did. I wanted to return, so I went back to the Ranch. I wanted to be a part of, not apart from.

These Guys Are Not The Beatles!

Amazing, but there was a part in the Boot Camp experience when I was starting to see John, Craig, Bart, and Morgan like they were different than me, or any other man present. "They are so much better than you," the Enemy confirmed. "They have a ministry. You just play like you're a part of their message. See, they are talking to everyone but you. They don't give a flip about you."

I had wanted to say hello to John, introduce myself. While in the book study here in Louisville, I had sent him a personal letter addressed to him at home instead of the Ransomed Heart Ministries office. One of his assistants eventually forwarded me an e-mail from John, thanking me for the shared testimony of Christ's awesome work in my life and he was deeply appreciative of how Wild at Heart had played a role in that. "Boot Camp does get busy for me," he said in the e-mail, "but please do come up and introduce yourself."

So, at one point on Saturday, there I was, trying to maneuver my way to get a moment with him. And when it happened, I was happy. It was great to talk with him, ask him to sign my copy of the book, share briefly what the book study and the DVD series had meant to me, and let him know what I thought about the Boot Camp so far. It felt like fathering when he gave me a hug and told me that he loved me, was proud of me, and affirmed the "good work" I had launched into with the ministry message that was ultimately for God's glory, not his, not mine.

Later in the day, I also had a chance to speak with Craig McConnell, sort of rounding out my trek to have a brief moment with all of them. Craig's presence is a beautiful mixture of reverence for God and a brilliant sense of humor. He, too, felt blessed that I was able to share my experiences with the book study with him, and he gave glory to God that he had been able to play a role in such an important kingdom venture.

And, in retrospect, I had several opportunities during the Boot Camp time to talk with each of them again...but on that Friday, I really had to remind myself, "Hey, these guys are NOT The Beatles! They are men named John, Craig, Bart, and Morgan...called by God to deliver a message of hope and freedom in Christ into the hearts of men. And they are men, just like me...and no better than or worse than any of the other 451 men who showed up to take the sojourn of the Boot Camp under their facilitation.

But, I also praised God to witness how many men wanted that brief connection with each of them...and how gracious John, Craig, Bart, and Morgan were during the entire Boot Camp to spend what little free time they had between sessions talking with the individual men who chose to step up to them. I thanked God for His grace, their grace, and the grace He let me hold in my wanting to bless them for the help they had been -- and were -- to me and my journey to go after my own heart.

Friday - Evening Session

As I sat there in the next session, I realized that the desire God has for me was at stake, under the ravages of the war. Will I be the man God made me to be, free and alive? Will I ignore the signs that are true in the heart He has redeemed? Will I give into and believe the messages of The Wound?

The Wound, we were invited by Eldredge and his team to look at, has a message -- and it becomes the script of my life. Now he's 'effin talking, I thought. As a writer, I could relate to the script. And from the messages, I had developed a script, played the role, accepted the name I had given myself at the urging of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

"The healing," John told us, "comes from walking with God, a close, personal relationship with Christ." And He has a new name for me...God has a name for me He meant for me!!

As the evening session closed, we were asked to go off once more in covenant silence and ask the question: "God, who am I? What's my name? Who am I to you?" I was challenged to see that I have a mythic role in God's Story...and that is only possible through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And, in polar opposition to what I had felt earlier in the day, I left the Avalanche Lodge thinking, "I'm not The Wound, The Script -- I'm God's man!!"

So I went back to my sleeping lodge, and stretched out on the bed. I curled up and closed my eyes, and for the next hour before sleep wrapped its precious arms around me, I talked to God, asking Him to speak to me, to reveal to me my name, the one He meant for me, and with that who He thought I was as a man.

Before I fell into His slumber, I heard His words: "You are stronger to me than you could ever imagine. You are Maximus."

Saturday - Morning Session

It was time to talk about spiritual warfare. Satan didn't miss the cue: "Make sure to take good notes, you dumb mother______, in case I've missed a place where I haven't shot an arrow into the strength of your heart. Pay attention, this is important -- he's gonna talk about where you have no heart, and have to beg God to save your sorry ass. Listen closely!!"

The Enemy, Eldredge contended, comes with the "agreements" that I keep making over the course of my life -- and the question is, "Do I buy in?"

Agreements MUST be broken!! The power of the agreement will check me out, take my heart out, and constantly rewrite the Story -- in favor of the Enemy and his role. Deep agreement is the work of the Enemy...and he'll bury each and every agreement with Wounds, so I can't/won't get to it in order to break it.

"Be controlled and alert," Peter tells me in Scripture. "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Peter 5:8-9)

And then something in me wanted to stand, to resist the lies, to take a stand, to stand firm...it was the unyielding heart of the warrior within me, the masculine warrior that God intends for me to be for His glory, and it started to understand something: The Enemy works both sides of the agreement, and the only way to break the agreement is with intentionality!!

Just Some of My Agreements...

  • I'm not worthy of acceptance or love.

  • I'm not powerful to fight...anyone, anything, anywhere.

  • I'm an addict. Always was, always will be.

  • I'm a pornographer.

  • I'm totally irresponsible with money.

  • I'm not a good friend.

  • I'm not a good man.
  • I'm an unemployed lazy bum.

  • My dreams don't matter.

  • I'm better, smarter, etc. than everyone.

  • I'll never matter.

  • I'll always be alone, without love.

  • I'm less than, I'm apart from.

  • I'm unloved by You, God.

In the room, the presence of God was felt as John and his team led the 452 men present into deep and powerful prayer -- prayer that asked God to come in at our invitation and help us break the fresh agreements and to give us discernment to recognize the historic agreements in our lives.

There filled my heart the echo of tears, men surrounding me in prayer, in power, the presence of the Father, coming in as invited to heal, to place His authority upon our prayers, to break the agreements that His men have made in the past, in the now. The silent and spoken words of prayer surrounded me, filled my ears, blessed my heart. It was difficult to step into, but I knew that God Himself was present among us in the Spirit, working, fighting, at war with us, before us, behind us, around us.

After our deep time of prayer, we were encouraged to realize that some agreements could be broken instantly by the power of God and His authority given to us...but that The Battle, for sure, would rage on, and that I must stay in it, taking my place in the line, and doing whatever was necessary to invite God in to help me break each and every agreement made with the Enemy.

The Mission for Me

And so the session moved into Mission -- God has a Mission for me...how do I find it?

It came down to simple clarity: Desire is key, there is risk involved, and it can't be done unless I walk with God.

I learned from opening my heart and mind to the Ransomed Heart team, listening to Bart Hansen unpack this part of the Wild at Heart message, that The Wound and the opposition of the Enemy will come against whatever desire I have or God intends inside my heart. Resignation will write a Small Story of Desire. And I don't want that...but questions were raised: "What have I done with my desire? Where has resignation killed my desire?"

I learned that risk is synonmous with adventure! Good and necessary risks toward the goal are required, and also part of the masculine initiation at the hand of God. It was refreshing to hear that there are levels of risk bringing adventure: casual, crucial, and critical...and what the Enemy doesn't want to hear and what God is shouting into my masculine heart is "I'm dangerous for good!!" Part of me laughed, along with other men -- realizing that some or most or all of our churches also don't want to hear that.

God invites me into the risk-taking adventures of life. "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better." (Ephesians 1:17)

And what about walking with God? (Note: John wrote a book last year entitled "Walking with God," one which invites me, all of us, to walk with Him, talk to Him, and listen for His answers, for they come. Really!) Desire, I heard from the team, will lead me to God's Mission for Me. My risk has to involve trust with God -- and I must invite God in to Father me, to initiate me, to walk with me! There are no shortcuts to the affirmation of the Father -- He will provide it, but I must be willing to stay with the questions and wait for His answers!

And as the morning session ended, we were given our leave with some more questions to take to God: "What makes me come alive? Where would You have me risk? How have You been a part of my desire?"

I had no way of knowing what was ahead, where He would ask me to go to begin this dialogue, to walk with Him, to hear His answers to my questions...

The Mountaintop

John and the RH team gave us hours to go off in covenant silence to contemplate our desire, and to seek God's face as to what He has for us in terms of Mission. So I headed off to a part of Fraser Valley I had peeked into on a walk early Saturday morning.

At dawn's early light I had discovered a trail head down on the landscape behind the outer edge of Crooked Creek Ranch, and when I had originally entered it, my heart began to race. "You 'effin idiot," the Enemy told me. "What if you run into a bear out here? What are you going to fight him with, your intellect? Your savvy? Your New York street sense? Nice going, ____head. Turn around. Go back to Mommy. Go back to safety, what you think you know."

As the journey progressed on that morning walk, I pushed aside that voice and invited God in. And what I heard was clear: "Come, follow Me. Listen to me. That's it, keep walking. Keep your eyes on Me. And breathe, Johnny...keep breathing!!" I finished that walk before breakfast further into the woods leading along the trail going up into the mountains, at a plateau well above Crooked Creek, which twisted and turned and churned with snow melt water far below me. At one point I stopped and asked God, "OK, now where to?" There was no answer, so I went back to the Ranch, to eat breakfast, and to enter into the morning session.

So, as I left with those questions posed by Bart, I asked God, "You want me to start where I left off?" And my feet seemed to float as my body moved back down the hillsides behind the Ranch and out towards the trail head, walking into the forest with confidence, scoping the terrain, not caring that a light rain was falling. I was dressed comfortably for the elements, and accepted the risks of the adventure that was ahead.

And so I walked, hiked, climbed, and followed God higher and higher up. At one point, I heard the call of geese in the air, and looked up to try and spot them. God laughed and spoke: "We're pretty high up here, Johnny. Look down." And so I did -- I had climbed so high up the mountain that the geese were flying at elevations below where I was standing, and what I thought was mist was really lower flying clouds. Fortunately, we had been instructed to hydrate well before our journey out to Colorado; I was well hydrated. The slopes were covered with wild sagebrush, and I would stop every once and a while and pull great handfulls of the wet and aromatic leaves off, rub them in my hands, and inhale the pungent and invigorating smell of the resin into my nostrils. It would clear my head at the altitude (well above 9,000 feet and approaching 10K) that I must have been at.

Parts of the trail, in the rain, were dangerous. Footing was possible on some locales only by decision and choice. A tumble to the left, in some areas, meant certain injury, possibly death from such a fall. And all around me was beauty, majesty, God Himself walking me through what must be a simple brushstroke of His creation, and talking to me deeply in my heart.

I could hear my heart alive for Him...for truth, for purpose, for Mission. On that mountaintop, He altered my Mission: My Mission is to manifest the glory of God by going to war for the hearts of men!! I could see the risks He was asking me to take...to return to Louisville, to keep pressing on with the Wild at Heart message, to keep fighting in the men's ministry of a dying church, to stay sharp and focused as an initiated man in The ManKind Project™, a non-profit men's work organization I'm affiliated with and was initiated into back in 1996 and had returned to after a 6-year absence after reading John's book. And in the desire to not want to leave that mountain in the Rockies, but to keep climbing, to keep searching, to keep exploring, to keep discovering, to keep hunting for my heart and His face, I knew that in turning around and making the trek back to Crooked Creek Ranch, back to the sessions, and back to the men who were with me, I was being shown such a magnificient picture of how God has been the Author, the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Redeemer of my desire, His desire within me, and the heart He created and rescued and ransomed!!

With both joy and such a tender bittersweetness, I turned from the mountaintop and headed back down into the valley, a part of my transfigured.

Saturday - Afternoon Session

This wasn't going to be enjoyable -- it was time to talk about The Beauty and how a desire of a man's heart is to rescue her. "Perfect, you 'effin loser," the Enemy said as I entered the Avalanche Lodge, exhausted from the hiking trek, "you have no woman in your life. The only woman who will have you are those two-dimensional harlots you lust over on the Internet. You are such a man, aren't you? Listen close, loser -- you might pick up some more pointers about the man you'll never be. Hah!"

And so I gave myself to prayer and focus. John began talking about how Adam chose Eve over God...and how that if a man isn't intimate with God, The Beauty will be looked to for validation.

And there is danger in taking that trail. The danger in taking The Question ("Do I really have what it takes to be a man?") to The Beauty, to Eve, to the woman in our life, is that the power cuts both ways...a woman can validate (if I'm looking to her for an answer) or else "fail me" on the report card of how I shape up as a man. And the validation is crippling if I don't receive it -- and addictive if I do get it.

Eldredge offered a warning, a danger sign: Don't take The Wounded Heart to the woman. Like Adam, I surrender something of my strength as a man when I go to The Beauty for healing. "Ah ha," I thought, silently taunting Satan, "that's why I go to porn, to masturbation, isn't it. You lying piece of ____!

And, once again, it was time to invite the presence of the Lord into our midst for the power of prayer, and to go to war for our individual hearts that He wants to use for His glory. It was a time to pray for RESTORATION...

  • I must take the integrity of my sexuality back -- I must turn from all temptation.

  • I must ask for forgiveness -- I must choose to present my body and sexuality, my mind and my imagination to God.

  • I must ask for God's cleansing of all of me -- I must long to bring it under the authority of Christ, and renounce all of the immorality I have chosen in the past.

  • I must break the agreements made -- I must honor God by asking Him to reveal them and invite Him in to break all of them.

And so what does a woman want, what are the desires of her heart? A man to fight for her, to be a partner in her Battles. She desires a man that will sweep her up into Adventures, not just leave her behind as he goes off to live out his...she desires to be an equal in them, to be a reason for them. And, in her beauty, her mystery, her creation, her sexuality, she desires to be revealed, delighted in, seen, unveiled, loved. As a man, God is initiating me and inviting me to offer Eve my strength, to be tender with her Wounded Heart, and to be absolutely fierce against her Enemy.

So, before dinner, and with time before our evening session, another question: "As a single man, what kind of man do I want to be?"

A Dude Flick

Crooked Creek rocks! For Saturday night, John and his team wanted to debrief, take some down time, spend it with each other, and give us men...452 strong...the opportunity to kick back, throw down some popcorn and soda, and enjoy a dude flick...Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson.

I was exhausted from two hikes that day. I thought "Well, maybe not." The Enemy said, "That's right, go back to the lodge. Crawl into bed. Hide." So I laughed at his lies, and went out, got my popcorn and soda (the Ranch staff had popped over 500 boxes of popcorn for us and put out all these bottles of Coke products to wash it down with), and took my seat to enjoy a movie I'd never seen before.

The messages inside Kingdom of Heaven spoke to all that John's message in Wild at Heart seemed to resonate with the men...a Battle to fight, an Adventure to live, and a Beauty to rescue. Wrap it all up with a story of redemption and salvation, and spiritual warfare, and the glory of God in His majesty and purpose. What little breath I thought I had after a long day was taken away in the joy of watching a movie with so many men of God surrounding me.

I went back to Timberwolf Lodge...joyously tired, gloriously open to God, warmly engaged with as much as I could encounter with so many other men on the same path...and not wanting the dawn to come because I knew it meant the road to the end of Boot Camp.

Sunday - Morning Session

"Now what?" John Eldredge asked us. "Then what?"

We had spent some time--on both Saturday and now again on Sunday morning -- singing praise and worship songs. No, not from the Baptist Hymnal, but powerful and contemporary praise and worship songs that were just as beautiful, just as meaningful, and opening me up to an outpouring of song that my lips offered up in praise to Him!

And then the session turned to Fathering, to initiation...and my heart was alive and so in tune to Him!

I find that there is such a deep desire and craving for a Father in my life, for my initiation as a man -- even at the age of 46 -- to continue, to deepen, to greatly impact me and my walk with the Lord. So I was asked another question: "Where do I need fathering right now in my life?"

  • I need a father who will be my teacher.

  • I need a father who will show me how to take my place in battle, to train me as a warrior.

  • I need a father who will give me affirmation in my overcoming all the temptations that come against me.

  • I need a father who will love me.

  • I need a father who will initiate me into leadership, who will show me how to guide others.

  • I need a father who is going to be present, open, emotionally authentic, and someone who will go on adventures with me.

I didn't want to recognize the sadness on the horizon of leaving later that day, but I also had the deep realization that Jesus is reconciling me to the heart of His Father, my Father. Even in a deep place of question...Will I ever be shown The Beauty to rescue?...I had to realize that I will go to the Father for my answer.

And the Father will train me...The Question is most often answered through training scenarios. And the training for war comes in the training with weapons...and a Warrior for Christ has the full armor, including the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters," says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:18)

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ther is one body and one Spirit -- just as your were called to one hope, when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through alll and in all." (Ephesians 4:1-6)

"...because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:14-15)

"Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 4:6-7)

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you..." Jesus replied, "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." (John 14:18, 23)

We were then asked to write some words that we always longed in our hearts to hear from our father. Here is what I put down:


Of all my sons, you are the one I love the most -- and I missed so many opportunities to tell you this, to show you this, and to teach you how to love yourself and others in return.I am so proud of you, son -- for who you are, for not giving up altogether, for fighting your way back. I didn't know how to be there for you -- and I don't want to be that man anymore."

Before we left for more covenant silence time with God, I wrote down this brief poem:

Broken so deeply / healed so strongly. A father lost a son / a son has found his Father. Jagged or smooth / my heart is Yours, God. Shape it as You desire...

My Letter to God

Before we were to meet in our final session, I spent some time on the hillsides behind the Avalanche Lodge, looking for stones to bring back to my Band of Brothers in Louisville as touchstones of my journey to Boot Camp -- and I spent some time writing another letter to my Father, to God:

"Father God:

All of this is so familiar, and yet so foreign. Why do you love me? That's my question to You -- now how, but why? Why me, Father? Will You show me why? Will You be my Father, the one I always wanted, the one I never had, the one I really need? Will you initiate me as Your son?

So many questions. Where are all the answers, Father? Show me, teach me, love me...I do not know how to forgive. O Father, unharden my heart -- towards me, towards You, and towards others. Where have You been? And why has it taken so long? In every way, I need my question -- The Question -- answered by Your Fathering. Speak to me, O Father...

In the silence, in the storm. In my heart, in Your words. With strength and honor. With fierce love, with courage. With truth, with grace. As my Father, to Your son..."

The Final Debrief

This part I keep for myself. Bascially, it felt as if John and the RH Team were giving us the marching orders to go back to the front lines...and I never felt such an honor, such a deep masculinity, such a call to arms for my heart, such a level of genuine wisdom and discernment. It felt like a man of experience, a father, trying to give his son, full of inexperience, something to hold on to when he went off on his own to discover his own heart, his own place in the world, the place of strength in a sea of being on his own. But I'm not alone!

And, as I've experienced post-Boot Camp, such good advice...from one man to another!

The time since Boot Camp has been fraught with Battle and spiritual warfare unlike any I've experienced in my 4 year walk with the Lord. But my heart has not been taken out, I stand in strength and honor, and I stand firm in the truth of what God has done, is doing, and is calling me forth to accomplish for His glory:

  • I have called together my own Band of Brothers...following up on our 9-week book study of Wild at Heart, we now venture forth through the rest of this year, and will be meeting regularly to deepen our fellowship, discover the purpose of mission in our individual and group lives, and live out The Battles we fight, The Adventures we live, and The Beauty we rescue (for more information on John Eldredge, the Ransomed Heart™ Ministries, and the Wild at Heart Boot Camp™ to be held at Crooked Creek Ranch in Fraser, CO from November 12-15, 2009, see the link at the end of this entry).

  • I continue with The ManKind Project™, meeting with initiated men once a week, stepping up into the community of men as we do our work, as we press on to fight for our hearts and the hearts of other men, and offer the initiatory journey to any man seeking it. I intend on stepping up to join the Staff of our next New Warrior Training Adventure™, to be held in Bedford, IN by the MKP KY Community on October 23-25, 2009 (for more information on MKP, see the link at the end of this entry).
  • I continue to stay connected to M-Power™, the men's ministry at my local church in Louisville, KY -- Walnut Street Baptist Church (WSBC). Our men's ministry, like the church in general, faces many battles to awaken, empower, and ransom the hearts of the men in their congregations. As an initiated man, a man whose heart has been redeemed and ransomed, as a Warrior for Christ, and as a man with a Mission, I am poised to thrust myself back into The Battle within my own church, reinvigorated, rededicated, and realizing that God Himself leads me under His banner, for His glory.
And I continue to walk with God, talk to Him, listen, and follow. I trust in Him that He will be there to Father me, to initiate me further in the masculine journey, and love me as the son He creted me to be, to purpose me as the man He created me to be, and fill my heart with fierce, wild, and passionate love.

The journey continues...strength and honor.

If you wish to contact me for comment or stategies to join in the battle for men's hearts:


For more information on John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart Ministries, visit them on the Web at:

For more information on The ManKind Project, visit them on the Web at:

PHOTO CREDITS: Johnny Fontaine, Don Baunsgard, Troy Reeves / 2009.

1 comment:

Ken Dulaney said...

Well done. I hope you are well and strong, continuing the walk and the fight. Thank you for sharing your experience. May God bless and keep you.