Sunday, June 4, 2017

Step Out of the Boat!

A number of years ago, I was a youth pastor in a church surrounded by the homes of many disadvantaged families. The children used our church parking lot as a playground and we spent time with them playing games and telling them about Jesus. I noticed their parents never took them anywhere—they spent every day playing on our parking lot—so I planned a daycamp adventure for them. MacDonald’s restaurant lent us a bus and driver, and Whistler Mountain ski hill, venue of the 2010 Winter Olympics, agreed to let us ride up the mountain on their cable car for free.

On the day of the trip, about 40 children climbed onto the bus with a number of our leaders, and away we went. The kids were so excited, the bus ride alone was enough for them. We arrived at the mountain and got into the cable car, seven or eight children with a leader in each car, and their eyes became big as we left the ground and traveled up the mountain, forty to sixty meters in the air.

When we reached the top, we hiked everywhere and threw snowballs from the snow left over from the winter. As we turned back toward the cable car, I saw big dark clouds coming, so I hurried the children back to the building at the top. We got back into the cars and started down the mountain again as the wind began to blow and lightning flashed.

I was in the first car with eight children, and just as we reached the place highest above the ground, the cable car suddenly stopped. Rain and hail were falling heavily, thunder and lightning were all around us, and the wind was making the car sway back and forth violently, sixty meters in the air.

The children were terrified and screaming. I had them all sit down, and I told them we were safe, because the door was closed and wouldn’t open. This was the wrong thing to say. Just as I said it, the wind came violently under the door—and it opened! I remember holding on and looking at the ground far below me. Everyone screamed, and finally the door closed again.

I said, “Okay everyone, we’re going to pray.” Their screams were suddenly silent as I asked God to get the car moving again and keep us safe. The very moment I said, “Amen,” we heard a click and the car started moving again! Everyone cheered.

But it wasn’t over yet. We traveled only a hundred meters along the cable and the car stopped again. This time the wind was furious, and I could see it tugging at the door again as I tried to hold it closed. Through the screams I heard one little voice yell to me, “Pray!”

So I did. I prayed and once again, to my amazement, the minute I said “Amen” the car started again. The children looked at me with wide eyes. This time the car carried us almost to the bottom of the mountain—and stopped again. The wind had died down, the clouds passed and the sun came out, and the children chattered excitedly about what had just happened. 

After about twenty minutes of waiting, one of them looked up and me and said, “Hey, you didn’t pray!” So I did, and right on cue the car started again, and this time took us all the way to the bottom. When the kids got back to the church parking lot, I saw them run as fast as they could to their waiting parents to tell them about their amazing adventure—and the power of prayer.

If your camp offers adventure activities, your instructors know the difference between “perceived risk”—for example as a camper is belayed up a climbing wall—and “real risk,” which we work hard to keep to a minimum. I want to ask you: was the experience in the cable car “real risk,” or only “perceived risk”? Humanly speaking, when a cable car opens its doors at 60 meters in a thunderstorm, it is a real risk. But the answers to prayer we witnessed suggest there was no real risk. I imagine we were surrounded by angels who held on tight, and opened the door just to be funny. To ask to have this experience again would be to tempt God, but he proved there was no real risk on the trip down the mountain.

Think about Peter when Jesus invited him to get out of the boat and walk on the water with him. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” What was it like, riding up and down on the waves? Perhaps from the boat it looked fun, but I am sure once Peter stepped out of the boat, it was pretty frightening.

To step out of the boat into the storm—was it real risk, or only perceived risk? Did it only feel dangerous, or was it really dangerous? Humanly speaking, it was a foolish and risky thing to do. But because it was Jesus who called Peter out of the boat, and Jesus who was waiting for him to respond, there was no real risk at all. Peter was perfectly safe in a very dangerous place.

When God calls you into a risky place, he is responsible and faithful to guard you in all your ways. When trouble comes he will need to give you grace to handle it. When there are obstacles, we will pray and God will overcome. Even if we stumble, as Peter did, he will be there to lift us up. We serve a faithful God.

Following Jesus is not a safe thing to do, as you have likely already discovered, but it is good and worth the risk. When we are truly following Jesus, it is only a perceived risk, like in the high ropes course, because Jesus is holding the rope and he will not let us fall.

Is there some action you believe God wants you to take but it seems to carry too much risk? We hesitate because we don’t know will happen if we step out of the boat. We are afraid, perhaps even more afraid than Peter.

If Jesus is truly calling you to do this thing, if he is the one who has put this idea in your heart, then it is only a perceived risk, not a real risk. Step out of the boat! Obey his call! Jesus is there, holding out his hand. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Disciples Make Disciples

A backpack always feels a bit heavier on those last few kilometres before reaching the parking lot at the end of the trail. You trudge your way out of the bush into civilization—sweaty, dirty and beat. Then you see all those newbies beside their cars, just getting ready to set out. Their expensive gear is clean; their bags are packed to perfection. Suddenly your weariness and body odour take on new meaning. Exhaustion is actually a badge of honour, strenuously and bravely achieved. You try not to strut past the newbies, but you have been there and back again. And seen a thing or two.

That is how a summer camp worker feels at the end of their time at camp. Whether it is a week or a whole summer, on that last day there is a deep satisfaction that something timeless and significant was accomplished. Tired and entirely out of clean t-shirts? Yes. But so very worth every late night, every homesick camper, every pot washed. A week at camp is a glimpse of heaven, and no one knows it better than the one who came here to serve and made it to the end.

Perhaps the thought has never come to your mind – to serve for a week or more at a summer camp. Don’t you have to be a particular kind of person to do that, maybe even a peculiar kind of person? In my experience, the people who love camp and arrive year after year are simply those who were brave enough to give it one shot—and got hooked. However, you are right to think that serving at a Christian camp requires a certain kind of person.

Let’s imagine that, instead of going to camp, you decided to go work at a shoe factory for a week. What would that take? It would be important to have an understanding of your end product. You would need to know what a shoe is and the process for making one. So what is the end product of a Christian camp? Jesus told us: As you go, make disciples (Mat 28:19). At the Christian camp, disciples are what we do.

In the original language the words “make disciples” are actually one verb, so perhaps a closer translation might be, “Go and disciplize all nations.” If that is too technical for you, try this: Disciples produce disciples. This is no shoe factory; it is more like a sci-fi flick where robots replicate themselves. Wherever there are disciples, you should expect more to appear over time.

So if you want to “make disciples” at camp as Jesus commanded us, you need to first be one yourself. The essence of discipleship is to say to someone, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

This is the kind of person a Christian summer camp needs. Are you someone who is willing to simply do life with a bunch of kids, confident that as they follow you they will learn to follow Jesus? Then we want you at our camp. Your identity as a disciple of Christ is more important to camp leaders than your ability as a chef, your lifeguard certification or any level of youthful energy.

By the end of the week, something timeless and significant will be achieved. Your weariness will be an eternal badge to wear alongside your fellow camp saints. You will have seen God do a thing or two in the lives of kids. You will re-enter the everyday world trying hard not to strut. And I am pretty certain that we will see you back here again next year.

(Published in Light Magazine, April 2017)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Camp is God’s Idea

I am always amazed at the level of loyalty that people have to their camp. Everyone seems to think that their camp is the best in the world, and is scandalized at the thought of attending another. As one who has served at a number of camps over the years, I am pretty sure that everyone is right about this—every camp is the best in the world. Here’s why: Camp is God’s idea.

From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to Heaven in Revelation, God shapes a concept that today we call “camp.” He calls us from the familiarity of our homes into a unique environment where he meets with us, provides for our needs and achieves some purpose of his that is best accomplished there. Whether it was at the base of Mount Sinai or the mount where Jesus preached his longest sermon, people had an experience with meaningful and lasting effect. Today’s Christian camp is a hybrid of the revival tent meetings of the 19th century and the outdoor schools of the early 20th, and carries traditions such as chapel speakers and archery instruction. But at its root, camp is still God’s idea.

What makes a week of camp so significant in the life of a child, teen, family or volunteer? Let’s take an ancient example, the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve could have lived anywhere on planet earth (I think Vancouver Island would have been a good choice!). But God placed them in a garden, a place with every condition for their physical and spiritual health. It didn’t go so well—they were the first ones ever sent home from camp—but in the Garden they met with God daily, enjoyed the wonders of his creation and provision, and joined him in his purposes for his new world.

Today’s Christian camps offer that kind of environment, one conducive to change, renewal, good attitudes, fun and release. In a temporary community of love and acceptance, campers meet with God, enjoy his creation and stretch their personal boundaries. For many campers, camp is a positive crisis of self-identity before a loving and holy God, and they make decisions that take them in a whole new direction. Ask any crowd of believers, and a large percentage will say that their most life-changing moments took place at camp.

Through God’s idea that we call “camp,” he removes us from our usual setting, relieves us from the usual pressures of everyday life, isolates us from the distractions and temptations of the world, provides optimum conditions for crisis and change, confronts us with our own condition and our need for him, spends focused time with us, teaches us life-altering lessons and finds response, accomplishes something extraordinary that otherwise would not have occurred, sends us back into the world with new understanding and perspective, and causes us to long for the permanent community of heaven.

To parents who are considering the many opportunities available to their kids this summer, a week at a Christian camp should be top of the list. It is, after all, God’s idea.

(Published in Light Magazine, March 2017)