Friday, January 25, 2013

Extraordinary Lessons In Ordinary Places

The Critical Eighteen Inches-Part 2
The Journey from Head Knowledge to Heart Revelation
by Ken Barnes
            Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf and the Moravian movement had a tremendous impact on world missions. It was a group of Moravians that inspired Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, when on an ocean voyage to America.  Their ship was in peril and the rest of the passengers were screaming in terror, while the Moravians were quietly singing hymns.  Their roots in pietism, a renewal movement within the German Lutheran churches, can only explain Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Pietism saw a disconnect between academic theology (head knowledge) and spiritual life (heart revelation).  The Pietists focused on the spiritual formation of soul and character rather than just the mere transmission of scholarship.  They were committed to a living and practical outworking of Christian love rather than a head-knowledge of Christian doctrine alone.
            Anyone can acquire information in a classroom, but true Christian love can only be learned through life experiences. If our Christian love is to be lived out in the everyday world, maybe it is the classroom of life in which our spiritual lessons are best learned.  Lessons of eternal consequence are often hidden in the commonplace or menial duties of our lives, and we miss them because we are always looking for God in the unusual and spectacular.  I once learned some lessons of eternal consequence while working in the mundane atmosphere of a kitchen.

The Kitchen
“Here I am a  thirty-four year old gofer, breaking my back carrying produce in this kitchen.  This is not my idea of mission work!”
      It was 1981. We were about 39,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean in a Boeing 747 returning from a missionary furlough in route to a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) training center in Hawaii. I was gazing out the window with my Bible on my lap, praying and thinking about God’s direction for my life. Deep down in my inner being I knew God was going to reveal to me my future direction. I was reading Exodus 17 and was drawn to the part where Moses was leading Israel in battle against the Amalekites. With his staff in his hands, Moses extended his arms above his head, and Israel prevailed in the battle. As Moses’s arms became heavy and fell to his side, the battle turned in favor of the enemy. Aaron and Hur quickly rushed to Moses’s aid. With Moses seated, each of them supported an arm, and Israel again became victorious.
      I felt a rush in my emotions. Was I to be like Aaron and Hur? Was God going to have me come alongside of one of the mission leaders? Several people flashed through my mind; all of them were leaders at the training center. I envisioned myself with several of them in ministry situations. Closing my Bible, my expectancy continued to peak as I pondered who this person would turn out to be.
      We arrived at the YWAM base in sunny Kona, Hawaii and proceeded to get back into the swing of things. One Saturday I found myself harvesting bananas with our cook, Hans-Rudi. In the course of the morning, Hans-Rudi said, “Ken, we have so much work to do in the kitchen and so few workers. We are really understaffed.” My mind drifted back to the plane and to Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’s arms. God, is this the person? After a momentary pause, I said to myself, No way, and dismissed the thought. We finished the harvesting, and I went on my way trying my best to forget this little incident.
      A day or two later I received a phone call from a lady in personnel.  She mentioned the need in the kitchen and asked if I would help out Hans-Rudi. I told her that I would pray about it, and hung up the phone. I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. Considering the airplane revelation and the banana-harvesting experience, deep down I already knew what God wanted me to do. But I prayed anyway, hoping God would change his mind. (Sometimes we substitute praying for obeying.) In the end, I called the woman in personnel and agreed to do it: I would try my hand in the kitchen.

What Am I, Limburger Cheese?
      I reported to the kitchen. I was thirty-four years old and had become, for lack of a better description, Hans-Rudi’s “gofer.” If Hans-Rudi needed some carrots, I would go to the cold-storage room (commonly called the cool room) to get them. If he needed potatoes, meat, cheese, or just about anything else, I got it for him. The work did not stimulate my mind a whole lot, but it kept my body really busy.
      Hans-Rudi had come to us from Switzerland after having worked as a chef at a classy hotel there. He was a great cook. People were always coming by and giving him a hug and congratulating him on the great meals he prepared. As people were hugging Hans-Rudi, I would be lifting a box of vegetables off the kitchen floor. The more they commended him, the more I felt unnoticed. I wanted to say to them, “What am I, Limburger cheese?”
      Negative thoughts and attitudes started to arise in me. If I weren’t lifting these boxes, Hans-Rudi wouldn’t be able to do what he does. But no one seems to notice. This missionary life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I went to work, but not happily. I dwelled on what was wrong with circumstances and people rather than what was right. I became critical, at first mainly in my thought life. Soon little comments, though veiled, spoke volumes about what was going on in my heart. I was showing a telltale sign which surfaces when God starts to challenge attitudes—I was losing my joy.
      The situation came to a head at a weekly staff meeting. It was the “unsung hero” section of the meeting where we highlighted a staff member’s contributions and commitment to the training center. Hans-Rudi was chosen as the unsung hero this night. Remembering all the hugs and congratulations, I sat there thinking, Hans-Rudi, an unsung hero? Yeah, right! Hans-Rudi rose to his feet. Person after person stood up and affirmed his culinary skills, his servant heart, and various other things. I on the other hand could not think of one good thing to say—or more correctly, one good thing I wanted to say. As a matter of fact, as each person spoke, I became more and more angry. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and I got up and left the meeting.
      Something was desperately wrong. Why couldn’t I stand to hear something good said about a Christian brother? I walked to the field in the back of the meeting area and looked up into the dark of the night. “What is going on, God?” Almost immediately God brought to my mind a prayer I had prayed several months earlier. I had just finished a character study on the life of Moses and had seen him as an unselfish kingdom builder. The prayer was “Lord, make me like this man.” As clearly as I had ever heard God speak, he said, “Ken, I am just answering your prayer.”
      I was stunned.  After a few moments, all I could say was, “God, forgive me. Forgive me for the selfishness of my heart.”
      As I wept before the Lord, he showed me that there needed to be feet to my contrition. My repentance was not just to be words that I said but actions, which demonstrated that my words were true. God gave me a plan of action. When I started to complain about where he had placed me, I needed to pray, “Thank you, Lord, for the honor of serving you in this kitchen.” When I was tempted to be critical of Hans-Rudi or others I worked with, I needed to call it what it was—envy, jealousy, selfish ambition. Criticism was to be countered with compliments and gratefulness. Can you imagine how the enemy of our soul hates it when we counter his lies with the truth?
      I returned to the kitchen with new resolve. And no, everything wasn’t a bed of roses from this point forward. The tests came. When criticism and complaining reared their ugly heads, my response was, “Hans-Rudi, you are a great guy”—which he really was—“and I am privileged to work with you.” I was not flattering him; I was speaking the truth. As God enabled me to respond in this manner, little by little I started to be victorious over my critical attitude. And you guessed it—my joy started to return. God had done a work in my heart.
       I must emphasize that I did not change my heart; God did. I did what I could do, which was to be obedient. God did the rest. It was God’s initiative; it did not start with me or my choices. I responded in obedience, and God’s will and power brought it to pass. The process wasn’t quick and easy, and it did not happen overnight. But it began as I started to move in the right direction.
            What pointed me in the right direction?  It was God’s graciousness in providing this life experience (the kitchen) to enable me to bridge the disconnect between head knowledge and character formation; between how I thought I served God and how I actually reacted when placed in a servant role.  It happened when I responded to God’s invitation to navigate that long, long journey of eighteen inches from head to heart.

Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 47-51.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Problem: The Pastor Or The People?

The Critical Eighteen Inches-Part 1
The Journey from Head Knowledge to Heart Revelation

I am not getting fed at this church!
If you haven’t heard this statement, you probably haven’t been around many churches.  Many churchgoers feel that their pastor is not giving to them the deeper truths of the scriptures.  In some cases this may be true, but by and large, the opposite may be true.  The greatest need for the average person who sits on a church pew is not for a deeper revelation of Gods’ truth, but the application to their lives of the truth they already have.  Although we never totally achieve it, Jesus set the pattern, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 14:1 NASB). 
            And so what do we do, we develop a citywide ministry and we hop from one church to another in search of that elusive deeper knowledge of the truth.  Have you heard of the guy who was stranded on a desert island for twenty-five years?  When finally rescued, they found he had built  a house and two churches.  When asked why he had built two churches, his answer was, “the first one is the church I used to attend.”  The truth is applied to our lives when we walk through, not around our struggles.
            True discipleship takes place only where an intellectual understanding of God’s Word proceeds to a radical heart transformation; when we navigate those critical eighteen inches between our head and heart.  Our lives should not only be a proclamation but a demonstration of God’s truth.   My ongoing journey from head to heart revelation started for me in of all places, a chicken farm!

The Chicken Farm
“Lord, do you know that chickens are pretty stupid animals? You do, huh? I assume that, being God, you also know I don’t like getting dirt under my fingernails!”
      I worked for seventeen years with an organization called Youth With A Mission, YWAM for short.  One of the first opportunities for service to my surprise and sometimes dismay, was a Hawaiian chicken farm.   A wealthy chicken farmer from California had offered to give YWAM all we needed to start producing eggs if we would provide the labor to build the farm. And here I was, a former schoolteacher who didn’t like to get dirt under my fingernails. The whole idea seemed like a bad dream. There was one other job option, but believe it or not, it was even less enticing than chicken farming. That option was working on the training center’s sewage system. A missionary honey-dipper would have been an apt description. So being the spiritual giant that I was, I agreed (somewhat grudgingly) to help out on the farm.
            The chicken farm was located on a spot of land mauka (Hawaiian for “toward the mountain”), several miles from the main training facility. It was a beautiful but isolated location. A supervisor, several other workers, and I reported for work the first day. There we were, with the trees and the geckos and that was about it. We undertook the task of building the structures to house the chickens, mostly from solid Hawaiian lava rock.
            The days stretched into weeks, and the effect of isolation took its toll. Gone were the familiar sounds of the training center’s activities. My attitude started to change. Work was not exciting. Instead of “Good morning, Lord,” it was more like “Good Lord, it’s morning.” Occasionally, a leader visited the building site and walked past me like I didn’t exist (or at least I imagined they didn’t notice me). Have you ever felt like you have fallen off the face of the earth and no one is looking for you? Returning from work one day, I said to my wife, “Pinch me and see if I’m real. Maybe I’m just a mirage.”
To make matters worse, I had an identity crisis. Sharon, my wife, had become my alter ego. She served as the base nurse, worked in the counseling ministry, and knew just about everybody—sort of the life of the party. Meeting new people at the center took on an interesting twist for me. “Hello, my name is Ken Barnes.” “Oh yeah, you’re Sharon Barnes’s husband.” I would think to myself, Yeah, that’s me, Sharon Barnes’s husband.
            Things started coming out of my mouth which were at best somewhat negative and at worst outright grumbling. Little comments to my supervisor let him know that I was not a happy camper. I never came right out and said it, since that would have been too obvious and unspiritual. I was losing my joy.
            Things continued in this downward spiral until one day I decided that I was going to have it out with God. Little did I know that an encounter with the Almighty would change the entire course of my life.

My aha moment!
            That morning I had had enough. When I opened the door of the brooder house, the pungent odor of chicken manure pushed me over the edge. I threw my rake on the floor and complained, “I am tired of working on this chicken farm! I did not come here to work on a farm and clean up after stupid chickens!” In the midst of my tirade, I said something that must have really caught God’s attention: “Nobody cares whether I work up here. No one even sees me.”
Immediately, God dropped a couple of questions into my mind. First: Why did you come to Hawaii? Without delay I answered, “Because I wanted to serve you, Lord.” The next question penetrated the recesses of my heart: Don’t I see? I was dumbfounded as the blinders fell from my eyes. Suddenly I saw myself as I really was—I didn’t serve God like I thought I did.
            When I wasn’t noticed, when my purposes were not being fulfilled, when I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, then I did not serve God with joy and gladness. Though I said that I served him, I saw for the first time that morning that so much of my service was based on rewards and recognition from man. I had to honestly admit that I had “I” problems. I served myself more than God.
            When God shows us a bit of our hearts, we have a choice to make. We can justify our actions by saying everybody is like this and it is no big deal, or we can repent. I chose to repent. “Forgive me, Lord,” I prayed, “and help me to serve you and you alone.”
            Although I had prayed the prayer, sometimes words are cheap. God had started to work in my heart. He was in the process of changing my understanding of him from head knowledge to heart revelation, from an intellectual understanding of his Word to the application of it in my life. Our hearts don’t change quickly, or at least mine didn’t. I needed to walk out this newfound truth. I needed to take practical steps to direct my affections and devotion toward him and to place my security in him and him alone.
            What did walking it out look like? Right then it looked like picking up the rake I had thrown to the floor in disgust and entering the brooder house. Lifting my rake to heaven, I said, “I’m going to do this for you, today.” Then I added, “Lord, when I start to struggle”—and I did—“and when I crave recognition from people, I am going to look to you for recognition and acceptance.”
And you know what? From then on, when I did that, God was always there. Was there a dramatic and immediate change in my life? No; I had good days and not-so-good days. But I noticed one difference: my joy started to return. It was two steps forward and one step back, but I was moving in the right direction.
            I was finally progressing from talking about being a servant, to actually starting to be a servant. I was learning that the way up in God’s kingdom is always down.  And it is often in the ordinary situations and places—not extraordinary ones—that God teaches us lessons of eternal consequences. I was becoming a doer of the Word instead of just a hearer. “ But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22 NASB).  The process was all set in motion by navigating those critical eighteen inches.

Adapted from Ken Barnes, TheChicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 24–27.