Monday, June 22, 2009

Camp Musings

It's hot!
I spent a week at church camp recently so I thought I'd jot down a few observations.  First, you need to know why I have dodged camp for so long.
It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year at Ole Miss.  That's along time ago, in case you don't know.  Anyway, it was the first summer that Sardis Lake Christian Camp had full-fledged summer camp.  The year before they only had day-camp.  I was recruited for the job of Assistant Camp Director.  The Director's job was filled each session by a different preacher.  They were there only one week.  I was there all summer!  My job was to keep the camp running.  I was the first up in the morning (even before the kitchen staff), and the last to go to bed at night.  It was great fun, but by the time all the sessions were over, I was completely exhausted.  No, it was worse than that, if you can believe it.  Though I've always been glad I had that job that summer, I made up my mind that I would not "do camp" again!
So, I surprised myself when I accepted the invitation to participate in a one-week session this summer.  I was asked to teach the staff Bible class, and then help out with various activities.  It was a good job.  I got to speak one night, took a couple of turns at "Reflections," the late-night teen devo, and the most fun was helping out with the teen ropes course!  I also got to reflect a bit on my week's experience, and a few things stand out to me.
1.  Kids haven't really changed all that much.  Oh, some of them look different.  Clothes and hair are different, but only in looks.  When I was a teenager, our clothes and hair looked different too.  But the emotions, the needs, the questions, etc., are all pretty much the same.  That was a surprise to me because after reading some experts on today's youth, I expected young folks to be something akin to aliens.  Not really true.
2.  Heat is worse now than it was when I was in college.  Well, maybe it's not the heat.  The college kids who served as counselors this summer seemed to manage it pretty well, as did the campers.  It was us old guys (and gals) who struggled with it.
3.  Singing is still a very popular spiritual activity with young people.  I'm happy about that one.  I've always believed that singing is a powerful tool to reach the minds and hearts of people.  Yes, they are sometimes tentative, but once you get them going, young folks love to sing.
4.  I'm impressed at how hard a lot of adults will work to provide a week's camp experience for kids.  Went to the chow hall one night at 11:30 for a late night cup of coffee.  There was a lady there making chicken salad for the next day's lunch.  I watched young adults work themselves silly so that the kids could have fun.  Counselors worked hard to keep the heat and activities from wearing out the kids, and handling teen tempers and hormones!
5.  I'm amazed at how serious a lot of our youth are about their faith.  I had the opportunity to study with some of them one-on-one.  They were eager, open, and fully accepting of God's will.  They love Jesus, and want to follow Him.  That's been true of young people in just about every generation.  It's good to know that desire and openness is still alive and well.
6.  I was impressed with the way young people served and took their turn at chores.  They served on the chow line, poured iced tea, cleaned up, worked in the kitchen, cleaned the cabins and shower house, picked up trash, and generally worked without too much complaining.  You didn't think they did all that without any complaining did you?  Still, they did a great job.
7.  Will I do it again?  I don't know.  Let's wait until next summer for the answer.  But I did have a great time, met some great people, and thoroughly enjoyed being there.  Maybe the best part of all is that it left an impression on me that Jesus is still able to do great things with people.  Save them, change them, grow them, use them.  It's great to be a part of all that.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Spread Love Everywhere

7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. - 1 John 4:7-8, NASB95

Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting. - Mother Teresa (quoted in Chicken Soup For The Soul, p. 3).

I feel sorry for people who don't love others. I've known some folks like that. Dealing with them is always like following a blueprint or living up to the terms of a contract. Sure, you can make a good case for blueprints and contracts. They certainly have their place and purpose. You wouldn't want to build a house or engage in business without them. But people are not houses or businesses. They are, well. . . People!

A couple of Jesus' disciples were like this. James and John were called "sons of thunder." Maybe they were loud and boisterous. It's more likely that they were ready to zap everybody who didn't exactly measure up to their liking. On one occasion, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He sent messengers into a Samaritan village to make arrangements for him, but the Samaritans did not respond favorably. James and John asked Jesus, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"

Wow! Nice guys. I wonder what an average day was like in the company of James and John? Would you have gone to these men with your problems and mistakes? How receptive do you think they were to troubled people, folks with needs, or people needing guidance or help? If you didn't measure up to their standard, would they have been ready to scorch you with a flame?

Maybe it's true that most folks don't wear the handle, "son of thunder." But most of us will testify that even without the handle, an awful lot of people leave you feeling deflated, defeated, and discouraged. If you can provide some advantage to them, they're all for you, but if not, they can turn on you quickly. The truth is that finding people who will really love you is harder than it ought to be. Even if they don't call down fire from heaven on you, they provide nothing positive to help.

We know that John, and probably James too, matured and changed. John became the apostle known as the "apostle of love." Somewhere along the line he learned that calling down fire isn't what people need. They do need the love of Christ, and the love of Christ's people.

I'm afraid the modern church has lost much of its willingness and ability to love. Yes, there are pockets of it here and there. Outstanding examples of loving people give us hope that love can revive and grow. But these examples are too few in number. Many have opted instead for non-loving relationships. We've lost the "heart" of the gospel and replaced it with legalistic mindset.

Thankfully, the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about good news. It's the good news that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins. It's the good news about forgiveness. It's the good news about restored fellowship with our heavenly Father. It's the good news about eternal life instead of death. It's the good news that there is love to abound. When the gospel of Jesus is properly and effectively taught, the result is always that people learn to love each other. It must be this way for John himself said, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

Here's what I know. People who do not love do not know God. God is love. If we are to be the people of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, then love must rule our lives. There is no other way to see it. What a different world this would be if Christians really knew God and loved like He loves.

A Little Persecution

10"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12"Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. -- Matthew 5:10-12 , NASB95

The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, "There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish." -- Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ, p. 36.

Richard Wurmbrand's book, Tortured For Christ, is a record of the unspeakable torture he and others endured at the hands of Communists. It is not a pleasant read, but it is an important one. What Christians endure for their faith is not what one hears about in the media, and is seldom what is portrayed in books and movies.

Today, you are more likely to hear about the abuse of animals than you are to hear about the abuse suffered by people who believe in Jesus Christ. There is almost a sense that today's world has grown beyond the sharp persecution of years ago, but that would be to misunderstand the realities of our time in history.

American Christians, in particular, are sometimes isolated from the news about other believers in the world and what they must endure in order to be believers. We are much more comfortable with theological arguments, debates, and who is a notch up on the "I'm right and you're wrong" scale. Much of the rest of the world is just trying to avoid pain and death because they believe in Jesus.

Years ago, a friend of mine frequently prayed this: "Lord, send us some persecution!" I would say to him, "Jim, leave me out of that prayer!" He didn't really want to be persecuted, but he did believe that persecution would urge us to get our minds focused on the important and abandon the rest. I still don't want to be persecuted, but I haven't found the magic answer to getting us focused on the really important and away from things that just don't matter.

It's an interesting thing about this age in which we live. We seem to spend more of our time focused on things that keep us apart than on things that bring us together. Is it because we have the luxury of being able to do that? Could it happen because we aren't driven to one another by pain and death? Historically, it is said, that the church has always grown stronger under persecution. Some of that must occur because people are driven to what really matters. But the flip side of that must count as well. People are driven away from unimportant things.

I still don't think I want to be persecuted, but perhaps we need to be driven to the vitally important and away from junk. Which direction are you headed?