And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
This past weekend marked my first experience at a men’s retreat. And it was awesome. Or should I say, uniquely awesome.
A bit ironic, perhaps, given that speaking and exhorting the men of the church in whatever capacity induces the strongest heartbeat in pastors and ministers. Ironic, surely, given that counseling, discipling, training, ministering with and being educated alongside men has comprised more than a good slice of my life’s pie. Pastors’ conferences, men’s breakfasts, church leadership get-always, I’d been to them all. But an all-inclusive men’s retreat – it was, for some reason, my first. I hope it won’t be the last.
An Ancient Activity
The gathering of a select group of God’s men to a secluded area, away from the regular responsibilities of daily life, for a concentrated time to absorb the Word of God and be refreshed by the company of one another is no novelty. If anything, it’s a classic endeavor. Christ would frequently take His twelve to the mountains or secluded places for prayer, teaching, or simply rest from the crowds. At the GBF Men’s Retreat, we weren’t Christ and His twelve, but we were a group of twenty-three saints tucked away for an over-night get-away at the American River – a couple of hundred miles away from our home base in Silicon Valley. Engaged we were in an ancient activity. There’s something special about tapping into the classics.
Pondering the Person of Christ
On Friday evening, the men opened up the Word of God together, specifically from Mark 14:26-50, and studied Christ while examining ourselves from the same passage. We first examined the fleshly traits that so often beget us and hinder us from a full-fledged pursuit of biblical masculinity – conceit, casualness, and cowardice. Then, in the subsequent session, we pondered the godliness of Christ as laid out in this near-apex of the Scriptures. There was Christ before us – the seeking man, the suffering man, the submissive man, the settled man, the sacrificial man. Christ may not have not been present with us in physical body, but His person was made vivid through the revelation of the Bible. And contemplate Him we did. Then, on Saturday morning, we went rafting.
In the Presence of the Untamed God
It’s every little boy’s dream, only it was different as a grown man. Rafting is every bit as humbling as it was exhilarating – not because any of us fell into the river, but because the river wouldn’t listen to us. We could only navigate through the river’s rapids and currents; we couldn’t command them. The American river flowed at a direction and with a vigor wholly independent of our will, causing me to consider that the majority inanimate earth remains untamed. Yet, even this river flowed only by the decrees of Almighty God. I was reminded once again – as I’m sure were the rest of the men – that it isn’t the river that is untamed; it is the Lord Himself, to whom the entire universe belongs and obeys (cf Job 38). There is nothing that a man needs more than to realize that he stands perpetually in the presence of the untamed God.
Witnessing the Work of the Spirit
But the 4 hours of rafting left us with a good 16 hours (for you math geeks, I subtracted the time spent rafting and sleeping) together. That’s 16 hours driving together, stomaching steaks and scrambled eggs together, studying the Word together, exploring the camp grounds together, sitting around lanterns (or, rather, lantern-looking flashlights) rehearsing stories together. It was “male-bonding” as it’s normally termed, only it was everything but normal. It was unique – not because it’s unique for a group of twenty three men to do all these things together over a weekend, but because it’s unique for a group as eclectic as ours to have done so. The oldest man in our group was a grandfather in his late 60s; the youngest, 15 – an incoming junior in high school – with everything in between and with roots from different farming grounds. Some were born and raised in California; others from Idaho; some, from China, Kuwait, and Hawaii; others, from Virginia and Tennessee. The group consisted of engineers, collegians, writers, business owners, and pastors. Some were athletes; some were artists. A homogeneity meter of virtually zero. But this is the nature of Christ’s church, whose fellowship spans every culture, generation, ethnicity, occupation, and socio-economic background. I’ve been around the block long enough to realize that not all local churches reflect this. And so to witness the diversity amongst the men present – to witness the fellowship of our church’s men break through the barriers that normally confine immunities and social groups – was witnessing a redemptive work covered by the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints (cf Galatians 3).
So there you have it: an overnight trip to the American river with twenty-three men engaging in an ancient activity of pondering Christ apart from the normal responsibilities of life, in the presence of the untamed God, witnessing the redemptive work of the Spirit. That, my friends, was the 2017 GBF Men’s Retreat.