My love for nature did not come naturally. I hinted earlier about personal changes I have experienced, but now it is time to share a bit more of the story. God used His second book to lead me to The Book and Adventism. Nature by itself is powerless to convert the soul, but God uses it as a nest to incubate born-again Christians.
It’s a big city. I spent all my childhood years there. The only time I ever left it was to drive to another city. I could not imagine—I did not want to imagine—living anywhere else. Nature repulsed me and made me nervous and agitated. It was nothing but the empty space that had to be endured while driving to another city. I literally could not stand it. I think it was something like the opposite of claustrophobia where I could not handle lots of open, quiet space.
Those two national parks are big, but Chicago is bigger. And, it has lights, action, lots to do, lots to distract, lots of man-made stuff to keep a person from ever experiencing real peace and from ever needing or wanting God. My parents sometimes talked about moving to the country, but I had a plan to run away on the day the moving truck arrived. They would have to stick to the schedule and would have no time to come looking for me!
By the time I was in 6th grade, I had come to the conclusion that God was dead. 2000 years ago, according to my little New Testament, He lived, but not now. Now He was dead. It was my logical conclusion based on my city observations. I was not an agnostic with doubts. I was a firmly convinced atheist.
At about the same time that I conluded God had died, that "dead" God started a chain of events that would bring me life. My dad enrolled my brothers and I in Boy Scouts. This meant we could go on the weekend camporees in the small nature areas at the edge of the suburbs. They were lots of fun with challenging activities, lots to eat, and talking and laughing in the tent late at night. After a year of that, we were given the opportunity to spend a week during the summer at the big scout camp in the middle of the Wisconsin pine forest.
I enjoyed the time there so much that I saved up all my paper route money to buy a second week the next year. I was getting hooked on this cool, peaceful thing called, Nature.
After years of threatening, near the end of my 8th grade year, my parents finally moved us to ten acres sandwiched between the edge of a small town in southern Illinois and a state park. We had to move in stages, and I volunteered to be first. The city now felt confining. I was constantly acting up in class even though I was a straight-A student. I felt like an animal who had run free for a while, but was then returned to its cage. Just like kids need recess from school, everyone needs recess from urban life.
I have a room all to myself; it is nature. (Henry David Thoreau)
The plan of life which God appointed for our first parents has lessons for us. Although sin has cast its shadow over the earth, God desires His children to find delight in the works of His hands. The more closely His plan of life is followed, the more wonderfully will He work to restore suffering humanity. The sick need to be brought into close touch with nature. An outdoor life amid natural surroundings would work wonders for many a helpless and almost hopeless invalid.
The noise and excitement and confusion of the cities, their constrained and artificial life, are most wearisome and exhausting to the sick. The air, laden with smoke and dust, with poisonous gases, and with germs of disease, is a peril to life. The sick, for the most part shut within four walls, come almost to feel as if they were prisoners in their rooms. They look out on houses and pavements and hurrying crowds, with perhaps not even a glimpse of blue sky or sunshine, of grass or flower or tree. Shut up in this way, they brood over their suffering and sorrow, and become a prey to their own sad thoughts. (Ministry of Healing, 262)
Starting with a research paper assignment in 9th grade and leading through book after book in the public libraries that culminated with an encounter with Christ Himself, I told my dad that I wanted to become a Seventh-day Adventist. To put it mildly, he disagreed. Thus began almost three years of secret study in the libraries and hiding Adventist books in the woods. The bluffs above Ferne Clyffe were my refuge. (Sorry, there is an entire sermon buried in that paragraph, but I need to maintain focus on nature right now.)
I was seeking God, and although I was not committed to Him, He was committed to me. From cutting firewood to quiet meditations to tearful sessions of stress relief, nature sustained my sanity. Green ash and sugar maples, birds and squirrels, were a part of my comfort. There is something about praying outside, away from everything manmade and surrounded by things God made. Even when we don't understand or realize that influence, the Holy Spirit is able to help us more effectively. I felt it then and I still feel it now.
I would not be a Seventh-day Adventist if I had not been given time and space in the forest. Everywhere else, my dad was in my head and in my face. Just getting away from him did not enable me to get away from my guilt and depression. I had to go where I could be alone with the Creator of all, and creation is obviously the best place to experience that.
Over the years I have learned that nature is not only good for stress relief, but it also becomes a fountain of youth when I stay there on God's schedule for as long as He wants. We often think of health as the mere absence of debilitating sickness, but the Master Physician wants us to experience vigor and joy for as long as possible, like Moses (Deuteronomy 34:7). Exercise, fresh air, sunlight, and communion with Christ will restore much of what the years have taken. (I will share some examples, like Hulda Crooks, in future articles.)
I am convinced that an effective ministry for Millennials and Gen-X'ers can be made by using nature as "the right arm of the gospel" to help them experience stress-free living and come in contact with the invisible God of creation (Romans 1:19-20). For some people, the four walls of church need to be removed so they can see religion in a better light.
Part of the Three Angels' Messages is "Come out of Babylon." Babylon is "that great city," so if a person comes out, they must go into the wilderness where there is "a place prepared of God." Is this a parable? a prophecy? or a clue about another method of effective witnessing? I think it is all of the above.
My next article will talk about using "expedition evangelism" to bring the Adventist message to those who live in the country, or especially, the city.
by Ed Lyons, 3/24/17