Life after camp (in which I consider the folly of huddling behind closed doors)

Behind closed doors (Photo: CKirgiss)
Behind closed doors (Photo: CKirgiss)

We are all home now, 50ish or so folk who lived at camp for a month doing this and that, serving (as genuinely as we could) with humility, living (as graciously as we could) in community, laughing (as deeply as we could) for joy, loving (as best we could) as Jesus loved.

It’s not hard to do these things at camp, alongside 50ish or so other folk who are doing the same thing, when the schedule is built around such things and the activities are geared to such things and the atmosphere spills over with such things.

But home – well, home is another matter entirely. Home is here (not there). Home is mundane (not magnificent). Home is dull (not wondrous). Home is . . .  not camp. As such, “home” carries with it a whole host of assumptions that, if allowed, might drag us down. Needlessly. Tragically.

How will we ever survive without our 50ish or so fellow workers and friends? How will we ever stay true without daily times of communal prayer, study, and worship? How will we ever thrive without constant encouragement and challenge? How, indeed?

I suspect that after camp, or any similar ministry-minded experience, many people do as the disciples did on the evening of the third day: they huddle behind locked doors because they are afraid of all that lurks outside. Whatever will we do? However will we cope?

This is how:

We will raise our eyes up from the dusty ground where they gaze in worry and fear and instead focus them on Jesus who stands right here among us, behind the locked doors of life.

We will stop listening to voices of worry and fear that bombard our ears and hearts and instead listen to the words of Jesus who speaks peace and comfort and truth.

We will recognize the worry and fear for what it really is – an excuse to hide behind locked doors rather than live a life of daring faith – and will instead follow Jesus who is here with us now and who stays with us always and who goes with us to wherever he sends us.

It is easy to huddle behind a locked door. In truth, much of our huddling behind locked doors is not really about hiding from the world. Rather, it is about hiding from Jesus and from the life to which he has called us. If we huddle here, where no one can see or challenge or exhort us, then we are free to do whatever we want, or nothing at all . . . which means, of course, that we are nothing more than captive to ourselves.

To all who are tempted to hide away, to huddle, to fret, to worry, and to lament the end of a powerfully beautiful ministry community experience, remember this – Jesus quietly but surely explodes into that huddling space, wherever it may be, and both speaks peace into our lives and breathes the Holy Spirit into our souls.

He did. He does. He will.

That Sunday evening, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid…suddenly Jesus was standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Again he said, “Peace be with you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (from John 20)

 

 

“We clap our hands! We rustle in praise!” (in which I consider the trees of field and forest – and also camp)

[Here I muse about life-at-large while being here-at-camp.]

camp /kamp/
noun
1. here; this place
2. where claps of joy and rustles of praise endure forever

Here we have community. Here we worship. Here we serve. Here we grow. Here we see God at work. Here we feel Jesus’ love. Here we taste the Spirit’s power.

Here there is grace abounding.

And also there, “there” being every place that is not here.

Camp does not have exclusive rights to community, worship, and growth. Camp does not have a corner on God’s work, Jesus’ love, and the Spirit’s power. Camp does not serve as the sole epicenter of the Divine Presence.

Rather, camp brings those things into sharp relief. Camp focuses our attention on what is always present. Camp directs our heart and mind to things of eternal reality. Camp unleashes the joy that we oft reject. Camp spills over with reminders of the ever-here ever-true God.

For that, we are grateful and blessed.

But if we do not take home with us the focused attention, eternal perspective, overflowing joy, and knowledge of the ever-here ever-true God, then we will have lost what cannot be measured. We will be less faithful followers of Jesus than the trees of the field and forest.

Dear Lord: let us clap for joy and rustle for praise, today and always, here and everywhere. Let us be more fully alive than trees of the field and forest. Let us live, in every way and place and moment, as your beloved children.

(Hear our prayer.)

Clap your hands! Rustle with joy! (Photo: CKirgiss)
Clap your hands! Rustle with joy! (Photo: CKirgiss)

You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! (Isaiah 55:12)

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming!” (Psalm 96:11-13)

 

Infinite love (in which I consider immeasurable grace and mercy)

[Musings from the world of summer camp.]

Day 5 it is. Day last. The day 350+ middle schoolers clamber onto busses and pile into vans to head homeward, away from a place that (dear God, this is our prayer) has breathed love, peace, joy, and ridiculous amounts of fun, minute by minute, hour by hour, day in and day out.

It is always hard to say goodbye. Five days, you see, is long enough to connect, to care, to know, and to love.

If we – who have spent such a short amount of time with them – can feel this way, how must the people in their daily lives feel about them? More importantly, how must the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God, the Loving Father feel?

That is the real question, isn’t it? What does God Almighty think of humanity? Think of that guy? Think of that girl? Think of them? Think of me??

Regardless of how advanced our theories are, how far our science has progressed, how instantaneously our technology connects, there are things we cannot know about God. Because he is God. Almighty. Omnipotent. Majestic.

Butthere is this that can be known, without a doubt, with confident joy:

God Almighty, the Omnipotent Creator, the Majestic Lord…LOVES. Period. Loves unto his own incarnated death. Loves beyond his own divine resurrection. Loves through times of pain. Loves in places of brokenness.

God Almighty – breathtaking Creator of a breathtaking universe – finds us…finds him…finds her…finds them…finds me

…breathtaking. Simply and utterly and totally breathtaking. Period.

Which means he loves enough to rescue, to save, to offer real life, and to make all things new. And he does, indeed, make things new for those who choose to follow him, even the lives of middle-schoolers. Especially the lives of middle-schoolers.

BUT – and this is so very important – his love is not restricted to only those who love him in return. His love is not limited to only those who call him Father. His love is not poured out on only those who seek his face.

This much we know of God, this much we believe, this much we profess, this much we embrace:

His love is for all, those who want to be made new and those who do not. Those who confess him as Lord, and those who do not. Those who follow him closely, and those who do not. Indeed, he patiently, longingly, faithfully, and passionately waits for all, seeks all, and pursues all. Period.

We can only marvel: what wondrous love is this, oh my soul, oh my soul?

Middle schoolers. Made new. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Middle schoolers. Made new. (Photo: CKirgiss)

 

 

Self-sanctification (in which I consider the folly of pre-folded life laundry)

[More musings from the world of summer camp.]

Laundry day. (Again.We are washing things clean. We are making all things new. All these things…

Laundry bags (Photo: CKirgiss)
Laundry bags (Photo: CKirgiss)

…things appropriately stuffed into bags – whites mixed with brights mixed with darks, socks mixed with jeans mixed with tees, sweat mixed with muck mixed with food. Laundry is a beautiful jumbled mess of dirt just waiting to be washed and worn again, no matter how dingy and stained it may be (dinginess and stains being the entire point of laundry in the first place).

There is only one requirement here: turn the clothes right side out, please. It cuts the folding time in half. For the most part, this small request is honored.

And then, behold, someone goes one step further and there is this:

Pre-folded laundry (Photo: CKirgiss)
Pre-folded laundry (Photo: CKirgiss)

Pre-folded grime. Neatly piled and packaged dirt. Laundry that looks to be already washed and ready to wear.

The fact that a teenager takes the time to neatly fold and politely package his laundry is endearingly delightful.

But I fear that far too often this is just what I do with myself. I gather the grimy stained pieces of my life that accumulate throughout any given day, turn them right side out, fold them, stack them, and package them neatly before handing them over – either grudgingly (“Really, they’re not that dirty. I could live in them for at least another day or week or month”) or flippantly (“Laundry. Whatever.”) or shamefacedly (“Oh. Hmm. Well, yes, okay. But, um, no need to look closely before washing them, and please keep in mind that most of those stains are beyond my control”) or angrily (“If you’d just limit the dirt around me – which you could do if you wanted…”).

Too often I care more about appearing washed than being washed. (But even if dirt can be hidden, its stench cannot.)

Too often I care more about hiding stains than exposing stains. (Stains flipped inside out, though, are still stains.)

Too often I care more about being in a neatly folded pile than being fully alive. (Neat piles of clothes, however, are pointless unless eventually worn.)

Were that large mountain of right-side-out laundry my life, it would be better left inside out when handing it over for sanctification since  sanctification is a from-the-inside-out process, starting in the heart, soul, and mind. Besides, God does not need to cut down on his folding time.

Were that neatly folded small pile of laundry my life, it would be better left as a muddled mess since muddled messes are more likely to desire and appreciate being cleansed and changed. Besides, God is not impressed by my attempts at self-improvement.

That I can – and must – humbly fall as I am at the feet of Jesus each and every day is not easy in a world that encourages self-made (and remade, and remade again) identities. But I can make no such thing, let alone remake it. What joy it is, then, to know the Maker of all things and the reMaker of all who would be remade.

And so my prayer for today is simply this: “Here I am, Lord – inside out and unfolded. Have your way with me.”

 

 

 

Ohhhhh, we’re halfway there… (in which I consider how to serve well to the very end)

[Musings from the middle school camping front.]

Humility in action
Humility in action

The story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet has lately made itself at home in my soul where it continues to sink itself down deeply and stir things up unexpectedly. (You can read previous foot-washing thoughts here where I suggest that the story isn’t about actual foot washing at all.)

On the direct ministry front, we are today halfway through our camp assignment. That is, there is at least as much work still to do as has already been done. Perhaps more. I love camp. We all love camp. And middle-schoolers – oh how we do love them. There is no lack of love here for either the setting or the subjects.

Still, there is a hint of weariness. Camp life is exhausting. In every way.

So it would seem logical to rally our collective selves by calling out for more energy! more joy! more enthusiasm! more love!

And while all of those things are good, I think there is one thing only that will carry us from this midpoint to the finish line: humility. Active humility. The kind of humility that Jesus displayed when he washed his disciples’ feet.

That he was the one to do the washing – to stoop, to pour, to rinse, to dry – should change how we live. In every way.

As a human being, he was clearly the only one there who had a right to expect and demand that someone else be the foot washer. He was the leader. The rabbi. The teacher. And there is also this: “The Father had given him authority over everything” (John 13:3).

As God incarnate, he was obviously the only one there who had a right to expect and demand that someone else be the foot washer. He had come from God. He would return to God. He was with God. He was God.

What else does a fully man/fully God guy need to do to get his feet washed?

And let’s not forget that on a previous occasion, he had turned foot-washing water into superb wine. That a water-into-wine man should also be a water-onto-feet God speaks volumes about the one true Lord Almighty.

Jesus’ humility is overwhelming. And it is one of the final lessons he leaves with his disciples: no one is too good to be the foot-washer. When Jesus washed those dusty, dirty, calloused, worn, smelly, stinky feet, he was demonstrating the epitome of humble obedience and obedient humility.

The disciples may not have disobeyed outright when they – not a single one of them – did not offer to wash the others’ feetBut not disobeying is not necessarily the same thing as obeying.

And the disciples may not have displayed excessive pride by pointing to each other and saying, “You do it.” “No, you do it.” “NO, you do it!” But not displaying pride is not necessarily the same thing as being humble. (As proof of that, Luke tells us that the disciples argued among themselves about who would be the greatest among them…after Jesus had already washed their feet.)

Washing someone else’s feet (metaphorically) is not the stuff of headlines. It is not the stuff of blogs or ‘grams or tweets. It’s not even the stuff of the Synoptic Gospels. Only John – many, many years after the fact – recognized the significance of what had taken place and recorded it so that we might learn.

Here, at the midpoint of camp – and really every other day of life – there is only one thing that will position us to live well: the humility of Christ. And not just the humility that willingly washes the feet (metaphorically) of campers (or parishioners or employees or subordinates or whatever) but rather the humility that willingly washes the feet of our fellow workers.

For here is a difficult truth: It is easy to serve campers. It is much harder to serve those who serve alongside us.

If we cannot foot-wash with and among and towards our fellow workers with a genuinely humble heart, we will not be able to foot-wash with and among and towards anyone else. Ever.

And if we do not know our true identity (infinitely loved and undeservedly redeemed child of God), if we have not grasped our clear purpose (to be salt, light, and the sweet fragrance of Christ), and if we do not have an eternal perspective (I will work not just for the here-and-now but for all that lies beyond my final breath on earth), we will never be able to get up from the table, wrap a towel around our waist, pour water into a basin, and begin to wash all the feet that need washing.

This is the Jesus we follow. This is the example he set. This is the task we have. Lord, grant us the grace we so desperately need in order to live as we should.

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table… (John 13:3, NLT)

 

 

“The story of my life…” (in which I consider what it means to live a better story)

[Last night, campers roared the lyrics of One Direction’s “The Story of My Life,” which was stupendous to hear and mighty to behold – but my musings about the collective roar led me far beyond the walls of camp, so for today, I digress.]

Stories are the thing right now. (For bookish, literary folk, stories have always been the thing; so in at least this one way, the bookish, literary folk are ahead of their time – even though many of us love stories that are in fact before our time.)

In today’s narrative culture, “Tell me about yourself,” is entirely passé. Anyone who knows anything (and who is even the least bit Christo-hipster) knows that “Tell me your story” is the singular way to start a legitimate conversation.

And telling one’s story is, in truth, a meaning-full act. Our stories do matter – just maybe not in the way we think or have been told.

Teenagers (all of us) are bombarded with stories, each one more exciting and colorful and dramatic than the one before. And while it can be exhilarating to be bombarded with exciting and colorful and dramatic stories, it can also be depressing and dangerous. What if my story pales in comparison? What if my story doesn’t measure up? What if my story is entirely unexciting, uncolorful, and undramatic?

The world (and sometimes those in the Church) would say: well then, go out and write a better story for yourself – as if an ear for narrative and an eye for revision are the answers to what ails us.

Having a better story sounds lofty. Noble. Spiritual, even.

But I think that having – (or rather living, which is not quite the same thing as having) – a real story is the thing that actually matters, and real stories – however unexciting, uncolorful, and undramatic they may seem on the surface – are the only stories worth living.

The problem with ‘writing a better story for ourselves’ is that we are all of us pitiful life-story authors. We fumble around with plots and conflicts and settings and characters, hoping to somehow weave them into a tale for the ages. But we are not life-story authors, not a single one of us. Rather, we are one character (a character who does not get to determine the actions and attitudes of other characters, which is a bitter disappointment, indeed) in a much larger Real Story (a story into which we are graciously invited as a full-fledged and beloved player but not the major protagonist, which is a beyond-bitter disappointment, decidedly).

Though personal stories matter, and though desiring to live a better story is perhaps a fine goal, it is exceedingly trite for people of faith to reduce God to being merely the Author of My Story, or more grandly The Author of Life. Rather, God is the only Authority of life. All of life. Every single life. Life now and forever.

Further, inviting God (humbly, no doubt) to be the author of my life leaves open the door (very, very wide open) for me to then be the eager editor of my life who will zealously reorganize, revise, and rewrite the story more to my own liking. If we are pitiful life-story authors, we are even more surely blundering life-story editors.

I will live a better story – a better life – only if I recognize God’s authority, fully embracing it with both heart and mind (Christ abiding in me), and both heart and mind being fully embedded in it (I abiding in Christ).

On paper, it may not sound like much. But we are not paper stories. We are living stories. And a living story composed and centered around the Authority of Christ is, indeed, a story for the ages.

 

Day One, round two (in which I consider roots, anchors, fruit, and faith)

[Part of a series in which I muse about life at camp.]

It is a new week at camp. In one hour, 370 new campers and leaders will arrive for the collective explosion known as Day One. And we – who have been here for a while – must live and serve with both a second-Day-One-of-camp maturity (because hopefully we have learned some things) and also with a first-Day-One-of-camp excitement (because 370 people deserve no less).

That balance is not easy to strike, whether at camp or home. It requires a willing embrace of a disciplined life, which leads to deep roots of faith, which leads to fruitful living.

We love fruitful living.

We don’t so much love disciplined living.

We are a culture that adores first-Day-One highs. We are a people that celebrates first-Day-One emotions. We are a church that chases after first-Day-One moments.

Day One is a beautiful thing. But if Day One does not lead to deeper wisdom, wider love, and stronger faith, then Day One has been lived in vain.

The miracle of following Jesus is that the pursuit of deeper wisdom, wider love, and stronger faith does not require an abandonment of Day One joys, celebrations, and thanks. Just the opposite. Digging deeper and deeper allows us to follow farther and farther. Being anchored more firmly frees us to follow more expansively. Giving up my life of self allows me to gain true life in Christ.

These are crazy, wondrous, incomprehensible, and yet wholly believable truths.

So we race towards this second-Day-One extravaganza with a first-Day-One joy. And we do this because (oh, glory!) that is what Jesus has graciously invited us to do.

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness!” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Laundry day (in which I consider what it means to be washed clean)

[Part of a series in which I mused about life at camp.]

It is laundry day at camp, a day during which the dirty clothes of the entire work staff will be washed clean. There are four sets of washers and dryers on the property. Three of the four work. The dryers take approximately 1.5 hours to fully dry a medium-sized load. There are eight hours until dinner. It’s going to be a race against time. And dirt.

Laundry day (Photo: CKirgiss)
Laundry day (Photo: CKirgiss)

There is a lot of laundry smashed into the bags of this hill. (I lift my eyes to hill – where does my help come from? My help comes from the detergent.) The mesh bags hold the dirt in – even hide it to some extent.

But the dirt is indeed in there, even if it is not easily seen. That’s the nature of clothing. Wear it and and it will need to be washed. Period.

I will wash these clothes today. And then I will wash them again next week, and the week after that, and the week after that … much like God washes me over and over and over again.

Yes, we were cleansed once and forever, 2000 years ago at the cross of Calvary. But the old self is indeed still resident in the soul, even if it is not easily seen. That’s the nature of life. Live it and it will need to be washed. Period.

What miracle is this that the God who graciously and undeservedly cleansed me to my very core (cleansed me fully, at the cost of his own wholly pure life) should faithfully and patiently continue the cleansing, day in and day out, until the day I breathe my last and finally stand in his presence?

It is a miracle beyond comprehension. It is a miracle playing out before my very eyes. This laundry. My sanctification. Indeed.

“You were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:11)

 

“…(though, of course, the servants knew)…” (in which I consider water, wine, and wonderful floors)

"...though, of course, the servants knew..." (Photo: CKirgiss)
“…though, of course, the servants knew…” (Photo: CKirgiss)

[Part of a series in which I muse about life at camp.]

There she is – one of countless high-school students who are voluntarily serving at camp this summer – waging battle with an uncooperative and unmanageable sea creature. The giant vacuum. The massive yellow tubular monstrosity that does indeed have a mind of its own.

It’s enough to get anyone down.

But the dining room floor, you see, must be vacuumed after each meal. Each and every meal. Because, well, sometimes food drops on the floor, and if the food isn’t cleaned up after each and every meal, then the floor won’t be wonderful at the next meal.

And wonderful floors are important when you are trying to show middle school campers how much you really truly love them…even if they never notice the wonderful floors and even if they never know how the wonderful floors stay wonderful.

Some people might save the wonderful floors for the last big meal of camp. But at this camp (and so many others), the wonderful floors happen right from the get go. And never stop happening. No matter how tired or bored or discouraged the tamers of the sea monster may become.

“When the campers saw the wonderful floor, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the teenagers on work crew knew), they said to their leader, ‘My school food is okay, and the cafeteria is alright – but something about this place is different. Awesome. Wonderful. Every day is the best day ever.”  This miraculous sign at camp in the midwest was not the first time Jesus’ love had been displayed by teenagers. And those same teenagers believed in him even more deeply.” (John 2:9-10, paraphrased)

Let us taste His goodness. Let us drink His love. And let us do it in a banquet hall with wonderful floors.

The light shines in the darkness (in which I consider the importance of tiki torches and water balloons at middle school camp)

It is 11 pm on the first day of camp as I write this.

The beautifully explosive middle school descent (also known as Day One of Camp) was a smashing success. They are here – all of them, in all their glory. And because they are here – all of them, in all their glory – it seemed wondrously wise to celebrate. Late at night. In the dark. Long after dinner, games, gathering, and discussion.

Because what could be better than a late night celebration (aka obstacle course) in the dark? Look here and see what I mean:

Night games (Photo: CKirgiss)
Night games (Photo: CKirgiss)

Can you see it, the wildly energetic celebration of life (extended across one parking lot, two football fields, one patch of woods, a forest path, and a beachfront) right there in the very dark of very darkness? Those blue lights on the left are flashlights, guiding small groups of the larger raucous crowd across a hilly field. Those two lights on the right are tiki torches, also known as The Official Starting Line. There are lots and lots of people there, mingling in the darkness, so ready to take off running. Look.

Night games in detail (Photo: CKirgiss)
Night games in detail (Photo: CKirgiss)

There. Do you see them? Masses of middle schoolers, lined up politely and patiently (relatively speaking).

Truth: the world is full of people living in the very dark of very darkness. They run from one light to another, hoping to arrive safely, hoping to find friends along the way, hoping to find something worth living for. Mostly they are hoping to find a place where the light  is more than just a tiny spot of world-centric bobbing and weaving.

They are looking for the only light that satisfies, the only light that pierces the darkest of dark, the only light that is steady and constant and true, the only light that embraces wholly, the only light that breathes love.

They are looking for Jesus, even if they don’t know it yet. And we are desperately hoping to reflect his light in the very dark of very darkness – rather than reflecting ourselves, which is an ever-present danger in a world that celebrates self.

And though the very dark of very darkness can sometimes overwhelm and suffocate, it does not have the last word because
the Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

We are for Jesus. We are for light. And against all reason and rationale, Jesus is for us.

Sing! Shout!  Let the celebration begin!