Another Great Week of Camp

Camp pic 2I spent last week at Butler Springs Christian Camp leading the Basketball 2 week (for students going into 5-8 grades). This was my 10th summer leading this particular week. Some of the things have changed – like those who serve on faculty and of course those who attend.  The facilities and grounds continue to be upgraded, but there are a number of things that stay the same.

One of the highlights of the week was the number of students who responded to the invitation to become a follower of Jesus. Since we spend about 5 days together, we offer a formal invitation at the end of the week and encourage the students to be in conversations with their family leaders about what it means to follow Jesus.  I knew a handful of our campers were doing that, but didn’t expect 16 students to come forward.  We had 11 baptisms take place before we left the camp and several were planning to be baptized at home churches.

One of our high school students baptized a girl from her camp family.  One grandpa who served during the week had the privilege of baptizing his granddaughter.  It was a great way to end the week.

photo

Another highlight was the faculty with which I served.  Several of my faculty members have been doing camp as long (or longer) than I have.  Many of us have served multiple summers together and they are such a benefit to the week.  One of the couples who serve with me didn’t have kids when we first worked together.  Now they have four kids and their two older boys were part of the week.  Some of the faculty are teens who used to be campers a few years ago and have now come back to serve.  I’m so grateful for the time and energy they give to the students throughout the week.

I think this year more than ever the hearts of our adults were touched by the campers we got to know.  There were a few students who came from some difficult backgrounds.  While we didn’t know a lot about what home was like, we saw enough to know that these students needed love, compassion and attention paid to them.  I’m so grateful for the adults who came alongside those students, encouraged them, became a friend to them and showed them the love of Jesus.  Even when our patience was tested, our faculty continued to lovingly serve.

I know that God was working before our week of camp ever started and He is working now.  He simply gives us the opportunity to come alongside what He is doing and for five days interact with the campers He brings.  I’m thankful for that chance.

 

Kingdom Worker Card Challenge

Lightstock-Stock-Photo-Pearl-Smart-Phone-AddictionBack in June, we took some of our high school students to the CIY MOVE Conference at Cedarville University. I shared a little bit about our experience in a previous post.

The challenge of any retreat, conference or camp experience is making it stick once you get home. One of the things MOVE offers is the Kingdom Worker Card challenge. Each person at conference is giving a business card size envelope that has a specific challenge. The twist is that each person has to commit to complete the task on the card prior to opening the envelope. I was proud of our students who opened their cards and, in doing so, committed to complete what was on the card.

My card was interesting. It read as follows: For the next year, make a serious effort to not pull our your phone in any social situation. Talk to people, ask questions and tell some jokes.

At first I thought, “No big deal.” But in the 20 days (and counting) since we’ve been home, I’ve found it to be somewhat challenging. It immediately made me aware of how often I pull out my phone to check email, notifications, etc. It has also underscored that I am not a good multi-tasker and usually defer to my phone than engage in a conversation.

While I will look for ways to encourage our students to fulfill what was on their cards, I will need to do the same with mine. Here’s to less screen time and to more face time with those around me.

Face Time Over Screen Time

Technology is quite simply a part of our culture. I love the phrase “digital natives” because it describes our students so well. My niece, who is just 5 years old, is quite adept at operating her mom’s iPad. I remember sitting at a basketball game a season ago and had twin two-year old girls sitting on my lap. They were scrolling through my iPhone trying find the game apps. If they opened an app they didn’t like, they knew how to close it out. They are simply natives to technology. They have grown up with it.

What is interesting then in the results of a survey I read on the Simply Youth Ministry Blog. They referenced research done by Common Sense Media that asked 1,000 13 to 17 year olds how they are communicating today. 90% have used social media. 68% text and 41% consider themselves addicted to their phones.

That makes this infographic so interesting. A higher percentage prefer Face Time over Screen Time.

Face Time to Screen Time

It’s a good reminder that we all want to connect with others and relationships are important. Sometimes the screen time can open the door to meaningful face time conversations.

Bruises By Train

BruisesWhen I’m on the riding mower, I like to listen to music. I’ve synced some music on my iPhone and like to listen to it while I drive back and forth across my yard. One of my favorite groups to listen to is Train. I like their music and find many of their lyrics unique and entertaining.

One of their songs that gets stuck in my head is Bruises. The chorus says this:

These bruises make for better conversation,
Loses the vibe that separates,
It’s good to let you in again,
You’re not alone in how you’ve been,
Everybody loses, We all got bruises

The idea behind the song is two friends from high school run into each other and share their stories. They talk about failures in relationships and how that has changed them. What jumps out at me is this particular part of the song where one of them comments that he/she would like to go back and change the other person’s past:

I would love to fix it all for you,
I would love to fix you, too
Please don’t fix a thing whatever you do
These bruises make for better conversation…

Even though their pasts are painful, those experiences have shaped who they are as people. While the song doesn’t provide any hope that God can make good things come out of our bad experiences, it does point to the fact that we are shaped by what we go through. Both good and bad experiences, trials and triumphs, impact the people we become. While I think God wants to redeem our past and use them for His purposes, I think Train is on to something in their song.

Plus, it’s kind of a catchy tune.

3 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married

thinking-manThis article from Relevant magazine has been shared and tweeted by several of my friends and people I follow in the world of social media. At last check on the Relevant website, it has been shared on Facebook a total 51,823 times and tweeted 801 times. I’m sure those numbers will grow.

The author makes some pretty honest statements, such as this one: “I get annoyed at my wife.” He also writes this: “When we return marriage to its rightful place in our priorities, it can quickly turn into the greatest asset to every other layer of our lives.”

You can read the original article on the Relevant Magazine website and offer your thoughts and comments on it. Below is the pasted version of the article.

I used to think I had my stuff together. Then I got married.

Marriage is great—but it rocked everything I knew. I quickly realized my basic goal in life, prior to getting married, was to simply remain undisturbed.

This “disruption” came suddenly and was disguised as a 5-foot-nothing Swedish-Filipino woman. When I decided I’d rather not live without her, I proceeded to ask her to marry me—that is, to officially invite someone who wasn’t me to be in my personal space for the rest of my life.

This decision introduced my most significant experiences and most challenging experiences—none of which I would trade for the world.

However, I wish I’d had a bit more insight on the front end of our marriage to help me navigate it all.

According to most research, more than 50 percent of people who say “I do” will not be sleeping in the same bed eight years from now. And though Scripture alludes to the fact that adultery and abuse may be reasons individuals might end a marriage, I’d be willing to bet that most challenges experienced in marriage are the result of unawareness. Most people—myself included—jump into marriage with suitcases full of misconceptions and bad theology, entirely unaware of the unique beauty and paradoxical intentions of marriage.

The following are three thoughts on marriage that friends and mentors have shared with me. I remind myself of them often in hopes of keeping this anomaly called marriage both enjoyable and healthy.

1. Marriage is not about living happily ever after.

Here’s the truth: I get annoyed at my wife. But this is more a reflection of me than her.

I’m intensely certain that nothing in life has ever made me more angry, frustrated or annoyed than my wife. Inevitably, just when I think I’ve given all I can possibly give, she somehow finds a way to ask for more.

The worst part of it all is that her demands aren’t unreasonable. One day she expects me to stay emotionally engaged. The next, she’s looking for me to validate the way that she feels. The list goes on—but never ventures far from things she perfectly well deserves as a wife.

Unfortunately for her, deserving or not, her needs often compete with my self-focus. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but I am selfish and stubborn and, overall, human.

I once read a book that alluded to the idea that marriage is the fire of life—that somehow it’s designed to refine all our dysfunction and spur us into progressive wholeness. In this light, contrary to popular opinion, the goal of marriage is not happiness. And although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight. It is designed to pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives, set it on fire and help us grow.

When we’re willing to see it this way, then the points of friction in our marriages quickly become gifts that consistently invite us into a more whole and fulfilling experience of life.

2. The more you give to marriage, the more it gives back.

Over the past year, a few friends and I have had an open conversation about the highs and lows of marriage—specifically how to make the most of the high times and avoid the low ones. Along the way, we happened upon a derailing hypothesis that goes something like this: If one makes their husband or wife priority number one, all other areas of life benefit.

It’s a disorienting claim. Disorienting, because it protests my deeper persuasion that success as an entrepreneur, or any professional, requires that career takes the throne of my priorities and remain there for, at the very least, a couple of years.
However, seeing that my recent pattern of caring about work over marriage had produced little more than paying bills and a miserable wife, I figured giving the philosophy a test drive couldn’t hurt.

For 31 days, I intentionally put my wife first over everything else, and then I tracked how it worked. I created a metric for these purposes, to mark our relationship as priority, and then my effectiveness in all other areas of my life on the same scale, including career productivity and general quality of life.

To my surprise, a month later, I had a chart of data and a handful of ironic experiences to prove that the more you give to marriage, the more it gives back.

Notably, on the days my wife genuinely felt valued, I observed her advocating for me to invest deeply in to my work. She no longer saw our relationship and my career pursuits as competitors for my attention, and as she partnered with me in my career, I have experienced the benefits of having the closest person in my life champion me.

Of course, marriage requires sacrifice. And sometimes it will feel as if it takes and takes. However, when we return marriage to its rightful place in our priorities, it can quickly turn from something we have to maintain and sacrifice for into the greatest asset to every other layer of our lives.

3. Marriage can change the world.

John Medina, the author of Brain Rules and a Christian biologist, is often approached by men looking for the silver bullet of fathering. In one way or another, they all come around to asking, “What’s the most important thing I can do as a father?”

Medina’s answer alludes to a surprising truth.

In my previously mentioned experiment, I measured the effect that making my marriage priority number one had on different areas of my life. One of those areas was my 16-month-old son’s behavior.

What I found in simply charting my observations was that the majority of the time, my child’s behavior was directly affected by the level of intention I invested in my marriage.

Re-enter John Medina, the Christian biologist. After years of biological research and several books on parenting conclusions, what is his answer to the question, “What’s the most important thing I can do as a father”?

“Go home and love your wife.”

Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, the authors of Babywise, say it this way: “A healthy marriage creates an infused stability within the family and a haven of security for a child in their development process.” They go on to sum up their years of research by saying, “In the end, great marriages produce great parents.”

The point is that marriage has a higher goal than to make two people happy or even whole. Yes, the investment we make into our marriage pays dividends for us. But, concluded by Medina and his colleagues, the same investment also has significant implications for our family, our community and eventually our culture.

So men, women, the next time you find yourself dreaming about living significantly or succeeding in your career or being a better parent than yours were to you, do the world a favor: Go home and love your wife. Go home and love your husband.

Calico Joe – so good!

There are some books that once you start reading you don’t want to put down – Calico Joe is one of those books.  My wife got it for me for my birthday last weekend.  I started reading it Tuesday night around 7:30 pm, read most of it before going to bed and finished it the next morning.  Just a great story.

I don’t want to reveal any plot elements for those who have yet to read it, but it is a book based on baseball, but is about so much more than baseball.  You read about the dreams of a young boy who had a father who pitched in the major leagues and how those dreams were suddenly changed by one eventful day at a major league game.  You discover how this young boy, his father and Calico Joe’s life all become intertwined both on and off the baseball diamond.

If you are a fan of John Grisham, or baseball or just of a good book, get Calico Joe.

Ode To Youth Pastors…and Volunteers! (a repost)

I subscribe to Mark Batterson’s blog and thought today’s post was good.  I would also make sure to include volunteer youth workers in this as well.  While the “paid guy” is important, that person cannot do it alone.  Without a good team of volunteers, ministry to students is pretty limited.

So, if you are a youth pastor or volunteer, THANK YOU for what you do.  Let this post remind you of the role you play in the lives of students.  Sometimes we need to hear this.

Here’s my ode to youth pastors! And this isn’t really a tribute from a pastor. It’s a tribute from a dad.  I didn’t fully appreciate the role you play in the kingdom until my kids were in your youth group!  If kids are most open to the gospel during their developmental teens years, then youth ministry is the frontlines of the kingdom.  It is where the battle is won or lost.  It is where habits are formed. It is where decisions are made.  Don’t we need our most passionate, most gifted, most Spirit-filled, most loving leaders on the frontlines?

Youth ministry is not a stepping stone to something else. It never was. It never will be.  It is where the action is.  There are kids who are contemplating suicide–they need you to discern it.  There are kids who are struggling with sexual orientation or sexual purity–they need you to speak truth.  There are kids who are trying to decide where they land spiritually–they need you to preach the gospel, live the gospel.

Just so we’re clear: It’s not your job to disciple my kids. That’s my job as a parent.  But I’m so grateful that I have someone to tag-team with.  There are times that my kids need a “third-party” to say what I’ve been saying their entire life.  They won’t hear me, but they might hear you.

So go ahead and dress cool and act cool.  Pull the all-night events and pull crazy stunts.  Laugh with the kids like crazy!  But don’t forget that you are first and foremost a prophet in the life of my child.  That’s what matters.  Don’t cower before a politically-correct culture.  Speak the truth boldly, lovingly, prophetically.  Get in their face. Get in their life.  Challenge them to dream big and pray hard.  They are capable of far more than we can imagine!

What We Really Want

A few things have happened over the past few days – a service I attended and stuff I have read – that have brought me to this thought of what we really want.

My fiancée and I are reading a book called “Love & War.”  It is about relationships and marriage and is written by John & Staci Eldredge.  In one chapter they talk about one of the main things we want/need in a marriage is companionship.  With all that marriage has to offer, a basic need it fills is that need for companionship.

Pause.

On Saturday I attended the memorial service of a gentleman from our church.  He and his wife were married 45 years.  There were four pastors who spoke at the service (and it only lasted an hour…wow!).  But the most powerful moment was when she spoke.  She shared about their relationship and how they made the most of the time they had together once they learned of his cancer.  It was a touching moment because not only did that service celebrate his life….it celebrated their lives.  Really…when you are married for 45 years, your lives are interwoven.  What affects one, affects the other.  You couldn’t talk about him without talking about her and vice versa.  What impacted people most during that service, in my observation, was the testimony of their relationship and that endured to “death do us part.”  I left the service thinking, “That is what we all really want.”

Pause.

Each February we talk about relationships in our Student Ministry.  You know, dating and the guy/girl thing.  As I was reviewing some material for it, I watched a video of some teens on the street who responded to various questions about dating.  One questions was this:  “What is the best thing about having a boy/girlfriend?” One teen girl said, “Companionship.” Even at 15 or 16 years old, these students recognized how important that is to us.

What we really want to have are those kind of relationships.  To be known by someone.  To know someone else.  To share.  To celebrate.  To go through hard times with someone.  To have that companionship that endures through the various stages of life.  That is what we really want.  And you know what is also true…that is what God designed us for.