500 Reasons to Hope (post-inaugural & non-political things)

In the midst of an angst-ridden world (the reasons for which I am not inclined to either debate or deconstruct ) I am filled with hope – genuine, deep, joyful, solid, reasonable, tangible, and vibrant hope.

It has nothing to do with marching or winning, protesting or legislating, yelling or cajoling, or anything else that currently floods the media waves.

It has to do with this only: that in the past three weeks I have been in the presence of 500 people who are changing the world.

Their impact ripples past rhetoric, policies, statements, and signs. Their influence extends beyond sound bites, screen shots, strategic branding, and social media. Their identity is rooted deeper than gender, race, economic reality, and Enneagram number.

They are youth workers from across the country – students pastors, Young Life leaders, youth workers, WyldLife leaders, small group leaders, Capernaum leaders, middle school ministers, and Young Lives leaders.*

They are men and women – some paid (but many not) who love Jesus, love adolescents and believe that life without the Saviour isn’t life as it was meant to be. They spend their days living out these truths, working creatively and tirelessly to collide their passion, calling, and faith in such a way that Jesus shines brightly while students are loved deeply.

In the past three weeks, I spent time with 300 new staff from across the Young Life mission and 200 youth workers from 17 churches in the Madison area, which is to say: in the past three weeks, I spent time with 500 people who are changing the world because they are pouring into the lives of those who are often ignored, bemoaned, overlooked, demeaned, stereotyped, disregarded, brushed off, feared, sold short, sidestepped, and otherwise treated as less than someone created in the image of God.

These 500 people love, care for, spend time with, are committed to, walk alongside, mentor, listen to, talk with, and pour into middle school and high school students – joyfully, enthusiastically, fully, sincerely, energetically, and prayerfully.

While the world is focused on large-scale events; while people debate what should and shouldn’t be; while groups tackle policy and those who generate it; while movements stake a claim for their particular vision of right and wrong; while some embrace and others reject someone or something; while some cry foul and others cry fair; while the world spins crazily on its axis (as it has done since just about forever), I invite you to stop for just a moment and rejoice because FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE (and so many, many more) who you will likely never see, meet, or know are quietly, confidently, boldly, and faithfully doing the work to which they’ve been called.

And because they are, this world is being changed, one beloved adolescent at a time.

Indeed, that is reason to rejoice. Over and over and over again.

[These people are changing the world – and the world is sweeter because of it.]

* WyldLife (Young Life’s ministry to middle schoolers); Young Life Capernaum (Young Life’s ministry to teenagers with special needs); Young Lives (Young Life’s ministry to teen moms)

 

 

 

THANK YOU (a note to Young Life and WyldLife leaders everywhere)

I love The Church.

I love Young Life.

(Much less than I love Jesus – but true love for both, nonetheless.)

During the past 15 years, in my work as a youth ministry trainer and cheerleader, I’ve said THANK YOU to countless youth pastors – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand why you do what you do; thank you from every adult in your congregation who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who grows up under your love and guidance; thank you for ushering in the next generation of The Church with dedication, energy, creativity, and passion; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

During the past 25 years, in my role as a Young Life spouse (and other YL things), I’ve said THANK YOU to countless leaders – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand who you are and what you do; thank you from every adult in your community who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who sees and experiences the love of Jesus through you; thank you for believing that pursuing the most disinterested kid is worth your time; thank you for introducing teenagers to the God who created and loves them; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

I also offer this – a real note from a real teenager written to a real person who was doing real ministry borne out of real passion flowing from real grace abiding in Real Love.

This camper articulated what countless kids truly experience but few actually express.

It’s good to reminded why you do what you do (because there are kids who need to be seen, noticed, befriended, loved, and introduced to the Savior). It’s good to remember what this ministry is really about (Jesus and teenagers…not me or us). It’s good to close your eyes and humbly remember that thank yous – as sweet as they are – aren’t the goal or the prize (that’s Jesus – always and only Jesus).

Even so, thank yous matter: so thank you. All of you. Each of you. A thousand times over. And more.

young-life-leader-card

[Young Life camper-written notecard, c. 2010. The leader’s name has been removed – but I sent that leader a picture of this card because, oh gracious, what depth of precious and sweet grace is wrapped up in these simple 25 words?! See your name in that big white space and ask Jesus to steer you towards the kids who currently feel as this one did, because that is who we are and what we do.]

 

 

When camp is over: thoughts on going home

I suppose that on this day, and last week, and next week, and all throughout this summer, tens of thousands of people will at some point go home from having worked and served at camp.

Substitute “mission trip” or “service project” for “camp” and add tens of thousands more to the tally.

Re-entry into real life for campers can be tricky to navigate – metaphorically speaking, anyway. Thanks to Siri and smart phones, it’s been ages since I’ve heard of anyone actually getting lost going to or leaving from camp, which is a good thing, but also has eliminated some of the camp adventure factor. I’m nostalgic about the lack of atlases on long road trips.

But re-entry for camp workers and servers is often even trickier to navigate, for at least several reasons: we were at camp for a long time; we lived in a large community of fellow workers/servers; we are going home to a family that doesn’t understand or buy into similar beliefs and motivations; we face challenges and difficulties at home that will make ‘living out my faith’ less normative and less, well, let’s say ‘glamorous’ for lack of a better term.

Working at camp and serving campers is a thousand times more exciting, motivating, and satisfying than being at home and serving family, friends, and neighbors.

For one thing, there is always music playing in the background. Loudly. (Unless it’s time for reflection, in which case it’s perfectly subdued.)

For another, there is a large cadre of fellow workers/servers to carry you forward, pump you up, and cheer you on. (And sometimes one who gets under your skin and you secretly wish would decide to give up, throw in the towel, call it quits, and get on out of there.)

Throw in some daily devos, adventurous movie-set-ish surroundings, and some regular one-on-one mentoring from a cool and winsome young adult (or a formerly cool, winsome-ish older adult), and it’s easy to see why the thought of ‘going home’ doesn’t always lead to a song and dance.

But home is real. Home is where life happens. Home is where Jesus is, lives, and waits to walk through life with us. Home is sacred. Home is real. Home is blessed (even when it’s not). Home is where the biggest miracles of all happen.

Home is where we are challenged and learn to do the most difficult things of all.

Yes, getting up at 6:00 a.m. every morning to cook for 5oo people is challenging and difficult. But learning to be gracious and kind, every single morning regardless of how early or late it is, to the person in your family that regularly drives you to the edge of rationality — that is a miracle of home.

Yes, learning to work as a unified group with 8 other distinct people (read: love some, could take or leave some, can’t stand some) every day for a month or a summer is challenging and difficult and requires you to ask for the Lord’s grace and patience each and every morning (for a month or a summer, that is). But learning to work and live as a unified group with however many other people are in your household or dorm for the rest of your time living therethat is a miracle of home.

Yes, pushing through the days when you are tired and frustrated and just want to give up or slow down or push off is challenging and difficult and requires you to dig deep down into your soul’s reserves of strength and commitment. But learning to push through the days when you are tired and frustrated with the everyday, mundane, boring, non-camp-ish, adventure-less (we think), pointless (we assume), blahblahblah (we snivel) details of life for the rest of your life — that is a miracle of home.

It’s not hard to be changed at camp. It happens all the time.

Being changed for life – that’s the point. That’s what God wants for us. That’s what Jesus does for us…if we are willing to surrender and serve and listen and obey when we get back home, just like we did when we were at camp.

Big things happen at camp. People are transformed. People meet Jesus. People fall in love with God. People work harder than they ever worked before.

But really big things happen at home. We learn to obey. We learn to listen. We learn to exercise patience. We learn to extend grace. We learn to love, deeply, truly, impossibly, faithfully, and without end.

Do not miss the miracles of home once you’ve left camp. If you do, you will also lose all the miracles of camp, and that would be a tragedy indeed.

 

Young Lives Day Four and Five: from nametags to strollers to friendship to love

Young Lives Camp, Day Five.

It feels like a year has passed since the childcare workers first arrived and made nametags –

nametags

like months have passed since we first unloaded the storage closet –

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Photo: Mark Kirgiss, 2016

 

and like weeks have passed since we first met mamas and babies.

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Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016

Indeed, a week of Young Lives camp cannot be measured in real time. There are too many joys, too many tears, too much laughter, too much crying, too much playing, too much resting, and too much life to measure in days, hours, or minutes.

A week of Young Lives contains a lifetime of love, hope, friendship, and in the end, family.

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Photo: Mark Kirgiss, 2016

The childcare workers (gracious, yes) do indeed fall in love with each and every baby, toddler, and child they care for – not as deeply in love as the mamas (gracious, no), but in love nonetheless.

There are countless circles of love here at Young Lives camp: mamas for the babies, babies for the mamas, mentors for the mamas, work staff for the campers, childcare workers for the babies, childcare workers for each other. Each circle is a community of belonging and a family of hope.

All of these circles matter deeply. It is not just the love for babies that carries the day here at Young Lives – though that love is glorious indeed.

But it is primarily – solely and only, in fact – God’s love for fallen, broken, sorry, and undeserving humanity (each and every one of us) that carries the day. His love is why we care. His love is why we have hope. His love is why we wake each day. His love is why we are here. His love is why we live.

His love is why we love.

Young Lives Day Three: sippy cups, cereal, carnival lights, and love

In some ways, Young Lives camp looks entirely different from Young Life camp. The tables are set with these:

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Many of the breakfast Cheerios end up here:

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There  are people pushing strollers all over camp:

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There are also tricycles, scooters, pedal-cars, and pedal-tractors at every turn. Add to that pack-n-plays, crates of diapers, changing tables, swings, tiny tables and chairs, napping cots, bottles, sippy cups, diaper bags, onesies, baby wipes, building blocks, exer-saucers, and a thousand other things, and it would be easy to assume that Young Lives camp is nothing like Young Life camp.

But that would be a wrong assumption.

Because at Young Lives camp, things like this still happen:

And that leads to this:

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A genuine, bonafide, Young Life carnival, which is the perfect way for a young mama to end a wondrous day because – just like every other teen who visits this sacred slice of creation – she has come to experience the best week of her life. And we are going to do our best to give it to her, because that’s what love does.

 

 

Clearwater Cove Day 0

CWC yl hands

In less than 24 hours, several hundred middle school students and leaders will descend on a sacred place in the Ozarks for the very first week of summer camp at Young Life’s Clearwater Cove.

Most of the world knows absolutely nothing about this.

But a very small sliver of the world – and all of God himself – knows very well what is about to happen here: fun, love, Jesus, grace, hope, and real life.

While much of society is bemoaning the current trends and behaviors of teenagers, twenty high school students have given up a month of their summer to willingly, enthusiastically, and joyfully serve middle school students at this sacred place nestled atop a mountain of rock. No joke. These people right here are people you should know. They are going to change the world – while they are still in HS – because they are serving the very God who made the world.

CWC work crew

In the midst of depressing headlines, deadly conflicts, and desperate situations, these twenty high schoolers (and 36 college students, and so many others) are choosing hope, life, love, joy, forgiveness, and transformation.

God does that. He gets hold of a person’s heart, flips it upside down and inside out, remakes it into something  alive, and sends it out into the wide world to be light and love, salt and sweet aromas, in order to draw others into his infinitely welcoming arms.

I don’t know what you’re doing this summer. But these folks here, and countless others like them across the US and the world, are doing something big and bold and beautiful: they are being obedient, they are being humble, they are serving, they are giving, they are considering others as more important than themselves – and because of that, God is going to do mighty things. I have no doubt.

Clearwater Cove, tucked away in a corner of God’s overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, is ready to fling wide open its doors and welcome teenagers to a week they will never forget. Gracious sakes – the work of celebration and the celebration of work have just begun, and for many people, life will never be the same again.

The Big Cookie: the (authorized)** history of Young Life Castaway Club’s signature dessert

**update and addenda at end

The Big Cookie - exhibit A
Castaway Club’s The Big Cookie

Once there were four friends from the suburbs of Chicago who were fans of Lou Malnati’s pizza. For obvious reasons. Reasons like, oh, I don’t know, World’s Greatest Pizza of All Time. (They ship nationwide. Game changer.) On Friday nights, instead of going to the lights, they went to get Lou’s pizza. For obvious reasons. See above. They ate pizza for dinner. If their guts and souls weren’t full, they ate pizza for dessert. Chocolate Chip Pizza, that is, “a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie prepared in a deep dish pizza pan, topped with vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream. Serves 2-3.” 1610 calories per serving. In case you’re wondering.

Some years later, one of those four friends from the suburbs of Chicago – let’s call him Russell – found himself working in the kitchen at a lovely little place in northern Minnesota called Castaway Club (a Young Life camp) alongside the main chef – let’s call him Dave. During the summer months, Castaway Club serves 3 meals a day to 400 people, give or take.

One day Russell and some co-workers drove to The Medium-Sized City just down the road a ways to eat at a new “chicago” pizzeria – which every Chicagoan knows is a slippery claim to make and a nearly impossible standard to uphold unless the pizzeria is, you know, actually in Chicago. They went hoping for the best, but prepared for much less.

That “chicago” pizzeria in A Medium-Sized City on the outskirts of northern Minnesota had a chocolate-chip-cookie-ice-cream-ish dessert on the menu. Like Lou’s. Sort of. The friends ordered it. The friends ate it. The friends thought about it. Then Russell – the only Chicagoan in the bunch – said to his friends, “Hmmm. Well. Er. We could do better than this. Way better. We could make The Real Thing.”

He wasn’t talking about making The Real Thing for that small group of friends. He was talking about making The Real Thing at camp. For 400 people, give or take.

Thus began a long process of experimenting with ingredients, temperatures, timing, pans, ice-cream, serving, and all sorts of baking-in-a-big-kitchen-for-several-hundred-people issues. With summer fast approaching, there wasn’t much time to crack the code of The Perfect Dessert.

After several months of trying all manner of bakeware, schedules, recipes, and systems, Russell, Dave, and some others – let’s call them Kristina, Mandi, Lindsay, and Brad – finally perfected what has come to be lovingly known as The Big Cookie.

The secret to its success is simple:
1. keep it simple (just cookie and ice-cream)
2. keep it hot (on the bottom)
3. keep it cold (on the top)

That’s it. Really. Truly.

Keeping it simple, though, isn’t easy. It rarely is.

After serving dinner to 400 folks, the Big Cookies – pressed perfectly into their deep-dish pizza pans – go into the oven. Not a moment sooner. While they bake, thick round slabs of ice cream – cut and kept frozen until just the right moment – are rolled out of the freezer. Just as 400 folks finish eating their dinner, the Big Cookies come out of the oven, cooked so that the outside is perfectly browned and the inside is perfectly gooey. Each one is quickly topped with its own wheel of ice cream that cools the cookie innards just enough to maintain the just-on-the-edge-of-gooey stage while the hot cookie warms the ice cream just enough to make it just-on-the-edge-of-melting creamy. And then they’re served. Immediately. Without a moment to lose. While still hot/frozen. While still perfect. While still sublime.

There is no eating etiquette. Fact. Anything goes. Some people like to savor the wonder. Others like to inhale it. The only rule about eating The Big Cookie – and it’s more of a law, really, like gravity, because it’s not legislated on the front end but it proves to be true on the back-end 100% of the time – is that it must be fully consumed. Every last chip. Every last crumb. Every last drip.

Over the years, The Big Cookie has made its way to almost all of the other Young Life camps (a textbook example of market demand precipitated by word-of-mouth chatter), and each one has its own distinct personality. But the first Big Cookie – The Original, if you will – was first served in a lovely little place in northern Minnesota in the summer of 2002 to 400 people, give or take.

That was 13 years ago. The Big Cookie is officially a teenager now, but just as wondrous and delicious as ever.

On June 14, 2015, the first Big Cookie of the summer season will be served at Castaway Club, now made by a new generation of kitchen folk – let’s call them Deb and Brandon and company. It’s going to be a stupendous event. Only a very few people will know the story of how it came to be. Most will have no idea how much thinking and hoping and strategizing and trial-and-error went into making it just the perfect combination of hot and cold, cooked and gooey, sweet and sweeter. They for sure won’t realize how much work and planning is required to make such a simple looking dessert so perfectly perfect, week after week after week.

That’s okay. Local history and camp food systems don’t top most people’s list of favorite things. The Big Cookie, though…

The Big Cookie(s) ready for baking
The Big Cookie(s) ready for baking
The Big Cookie(s) - into the oven after dinner is served
The Big Cookie(s) – into the oven after dinner is served
Frozen slabs of ice cream, ready for The Big Cookie(s)
Frozen slabs of ice cream, ready for The Big Cookie(s)
Building The Big Cookie
Building The Big Cookie

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Building the Big Cookie
Building the Big Cookie

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Serving The Big Cookie
Serving The Big Cookie
Serving The Big Cookie option A
Serving The Big Cookie option A
Serving The Big Cookie, option B
Serving The Big Cookie, option B
The Big Cookie
The Big Cookie

**Wowsa. The Big Cookie is near and dear to many people. No surprise there. A few people have asked about the veracity of this story, so I thought I’d give a short background – for those who are interested. From 1992-2004, we lived in Detroit Lakes, MN – just a hop, skip and a jump down the road from Castaway Club. For much of that time, my husband Mark was on property staff while also serving as the Area Director in Detroit Lakes. We hosted many weekend camps, did many summer assignments, and knew the kitchen staff (and others) like family. Russell (his real name) just happened to grow up down the street from me. When he moved to MN, he lived with us for a while, and is as close to being family as non-family can be – which is to say he’s family. This past March I was at Castaway Club for a LYO (Lutheran Youth Organization) retreat. They served the Big Cookie. That’s when all of these pictures were taken. All those Big Cookies I’d eaten over the years, and I didn’t have a single photo memory. Weird. Anyway, Dave (his real name) and his daughter Kristina (yep – also real name) were there: she was the camp director and he was serving on kitchen work crew back in his old stomping grounds. One of them mentioned that the very first Big Cookie “experiment” had been at an LYO event a number of years ago. I was curious about just how long ago, so called Russell and had a long talk with him. All of that to say, the veracity of this story is, well, let’s call it veracious.

Of course, many more people have been part of The Big Cookie story than those mentioned above. For example, there was a summer kitchen intern that year – let’s call him Jon – who probably constructed more Big Cookies than he can count. And probably every other property staff person has at one time or another been part of the extravaganza known as Big Cookie Night (which is, er, well, the night they serve The Big Cookie). Add in countless kitchen Summer Staff, hundreds of dining hall Work Crew … and everyone who’s ever partaken of The Big Cookie (because let’s be honest, after you’ve eaten it the first time, you are part of The Big Cookie Family forever). I knew Big Cookie Loyalty and Love ran deep – but even I’ve been surprised by exactly how deep it runs. Really, it’s just one dessert of one night of camp that many people experience only once in their lifetime…but often it’s the small things that become The Big Things, isn’t it?

About that letter to Christians in Indiana: in which I look deeper

A few days ago, Jesus penned a letter to all the Christians in Indiana and any others elsewhere who might be reading (which I think might have been code for All the Christians America, but that’s just a guess – he kept that a little vague).

I didn’t get the letter until today, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with my mail service. It was addressed to me, after all. I also wonder how many other important missives from Jesus I’ve missed. I thought I had them all, but now who knows?

If Jesus were here, I’d want ask him something – after first confessing all the ways I continue to fail him, each and every day, in spite of passionately loving him and desiring to follow him closely. I’m basically a schmuck. Layers and layers and layers of selfish, petty, blechness filling up my guts, just waiting for a chance to spill out all over the place.

It’s a real problem.

Thankfully, there is also the gracious breath of God nudging aside space to fill up layers and layers and layers of my soul, meaning there is hope each and every day for yet another layer of schmuckiness to get peeled away. At least that’s what I read in an earlier letter. Maybe that’s changed (as this letter seems to imply) and I missed the memo.

This is the thing I would ask Jesus, if I were looking him in the eyes:

Are we really, each and every one of us, as hopelessly and horribly debauched as all that? I know we are each a complete and total mess, especially deep, deep down in the most hidden places, broken beyond human reckoning. But has that beautifully redeemed collective brokenness really grown into nothing more than angry, combative, petty, arrogant, entitled, and unbreachable barriers between you and the world while leaving a legacy of only damage, pain, and isolation, like you said? If so, we might as well all call it quits now because I can only assume the Transforming Spirit of the living God has fled Indiana

If I were looking Jesus in the eyes, and he said such searingly difficult things of me, I wouldn’t say nay. He sees things inside I do not.  He might have even stronger things to say. But I know he wouldn’t give up on me. At least he never has in the past. I also know that he wouldn’t strip my identity and take delight in sweeping me and everyone else into a dust pan of shame.

I know there is much too much yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly goings-on (not just in Indiana, by all account). I know that a good amount of all the yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly rhetoric might be so much stinky hot air because many yappers and carpers don’t read the thing they are yapping and carping about – regardless of which angle their yapping and carping may take.

But I also know there are countless disciples and followers of Christ who are not primarily angry, combative, petty, and arrogant full-of-themself screamers whose sole accomplishment is to erect unbreachable barriers between the world and God Almighty.

I was in the presence of 50 tonight – young adults who joyfully and faithfully give up hours each week to share life with middle school and high school students, listening to their questions, attending their events, celebrating their uniqueness, and breaking down barriers.

They are reflecting Jesus to those around them. They are bringing salt and light to a bland and dark world. They are spreading the sweet aroma of Christ wherever they go. They are spilling over with the love of God and changing the world.

But their faithfulness is quiet. Their service is gentle. Their voices are soft. They do not scream and thrash about.

Instead, they follow Jesus, step by step, day by day, faithfully, humbly, joyfully. Even here in Indiana.

They, and countless others, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the broken, welcome the children, reverently serve and partake of the Eucharist, pass the peace with sincere warmth and concern, humbly refill the coffee pot again, engage in deeply personal conversations with those who are lonely. And so much more.

I know such things could and should happen to a greater degree – but still they are happening. Week after week, day after day, minute by minute, by people who aren’t waving placards or shouting platitudes or taking broad swipes but rather people who are intent on following Jesus as best they know how.

Admittedly, disciples of Christ make missteps along the way, sometimes serious ones. Our rhetoric sometimes fall short of gracious. Our actions sometimes fall short of kind. Our service sometimes falls short of humble.

But Jesus continues working in us, stirring our hearts towards his work, and drawing our souls deeper and further into his. He’s amazingly faithful that way.

Even in Indiana.

 

Copyright 2015 Crystal Kirgiss
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any organization or institution she is affiliated with.

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)

 

 

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)