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)

 

 

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)

“…(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!

 

 

 

Here there be octaball (in which I consider beautifully shattered silence)

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

Here there be octaball (photo: CKirgiss)
Here there be octaball (photo: CKirgiss)

In 3 hours (180 minutes / 10,800 seconds) masses of middle-schoolers will descend upon this place. And what a magnificent descent it will be. Loud. Energetic. Excited. Boisterous. Caffeinated. Frenetic, some might say.

Glorious, we would say. Because with those masses of middle-schoolers will come life as only middle-schoolers can live it.

And in this place here, those masses of identity-formational stage of life middle-schoolers will (by the grace of God) encounter life as only Jesus can give it.

It is quiet right now. Beautifully, soothingly, breathtakingly quiet – not because all is at rest, but rather because all are at work. A Sabbath kind of work. A worshipping kind of work. A restoring kind of work. The kind of work that is absolutely necessary in order folife on earth to meet life in Christ.

It is quiet here – even in the octaball court. (Which is both miraculous and creepy.) But soon – (wonderfully, excitingly soon) the still silence will be beautifully shattered in a way that only happens at camp.

Be still, my soul – in peace, in thanks, in adoration – and in preparation for the earth-shattering explosion that even now is barreling down the highway in this direction. We await in expectant joy!

Miley does not define 20-year olds (or: six people you should know)

Well.

Fifteen hours after millions of people watched 20-year-old Miley Cyrus offer friendly benefits to a foam hand while twerking in the presence of life-sized teddybears – and fourteen-and-three-quarter hours after the entire world began tweeting about it – I find out that there was a bit of a to-do at the VMA awards last night.

Shocking.

I didn’t watch the VMAs last night. Not even as a way to keep pace with the most recent cultural trends. Instead, I rested after spending a weekend away with six Miley-aged college-student youth workers. And by “youth workers” I mean people who minister to teenagers, regardless of whether they get paid for it or not, which in this particular case happens to be “not.”

Fifteen hours after no one watched us sit around an open fire and talk about things as divergent as C. S. Lewis, Herb Brooks, and satellites, no one is tweeting about those particular 20-year olds – which is really a shame because they are the 20-year olds that are going to change the world, sans cable broadcasting, million-dollar budgets, and infinite wardrobe changes.

Instead, they are going to change the world through persistence, patience, and countless live appearances at such extolled venues as the middle-school cafeteria, the high-school track, and the public city park.

I might like to say a few things to Miley – as a musician: “Please work on your rhythm.” -as a mother: “If you keep hanging your tongue out, it will freeze that way.” – as a mentor: “Maybe we should meet more often.”

But I’d rather say a few things about the six 20-year olds that I spent the weekend with and that most of you will never meet.

I’d like to tell you about how they love middle-school and high-school students with their whole selves.

I’d like to tell you about all the ways they invest in teenagers, just so they will know that someone genuinely cares about them.

I’d like to tell you about how much fun they have, how much joy they exude, how much laughter they share.

I’d like to tell you about how they intentionally choose to live life differently than so many of their peers.

I’d like to tell you about how every day they seek to reflect Jesus in all they say and do.

I’d like to tell you about all of the minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years that they commit to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of teenagers.

I’d like to tell you about how they lead and encourage a large community of other 20ish-year-olds, all of whom are equally committed to knowing and loving and showing Christ’s love to middle- and high-school students.

I’d like to tell you about how much they give up in order to gain the privilege of doing kingdom work in a ministry setting.

I’d like to tell you all of that – and so much more – because those are things that matter. Immensely.

The twerking, the profanity, the lewdness, the degradation, and the mockery seen and heard by millions will all pass away.

But the faith, hope, and love of these six (plus fifty) 20-year olds will remain.

That’s a story (within a Story) worth knowing and being part of.

20-year olds worth knowing (Photo: CKirgiss)
20-year olds worth knowing (Photo: CKirgiss)

Update: After posting this, I realized there is one more thing I might like to say to Miley – as a minister: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, deeply and eternally loved. Believe it.” Really, that would be the most important thing of all.

The one where you meet Ryan

Meet Ryan, Assistant to the Area Director of Greater Lafayette Young Life.

Young Life friendship

Basically, he’s awesome. True story.

8 years ago, Ryan was a high school student. He attended every home basketball game. He came to every Young Life event. He filled wherever he was with his enthusiastic energy.

6 years ago, Ryan went to a week of Young Life camp. He zip-lined. He para-sailed. He did the climbing wall. He made people laugh and smile and dance for joy.

3 years ago, Ryan served on summer staff at Young Life camp. He ran the gear locker. He organized, inventoried, and distributed athletic gear to nearly 400 campers each week. Seeing as how he works in the athletic locker room of Purdue University, he pretty much rocked it.

2 years ago, Ryan was handpicked to be the Assistant to the Area Director of Greater Lafayette Young Life (the man I call husband). He waits promptly on his front steps each Monday night for a 7:15 personal pick-up. He evaluates each element of club both kindly and candidly. He graciously and honestly shares his feedback, which is almost always spot-on.

Today, Ryan is an established member of the local Young Life leadership team. He’s seen it all. He’s known by all. He believes in all.

And we are all richer for knowing him, wiser for hearing him, and more joyful for loving him.

Basically, he’s beyond awesome. True story indeed.

Wash Day (Michindoh Post 3)

[This post is third of a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow by subscribing to this blog below. All posts are categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]
 

It’s Monday. In the non-camp world, that means a whole host of things (as whined about here, reflected on here, celebrated here). In the 5-day-week-Wyldlife-camp world it doesn’t mean all that much. Unless it happens to fall on Day 3 in which case it means workcrew wash day.

At Michindoh, we have a trim and lean work staff  of 23- just 15 Servers in the dining hall, 4 Special Project Peeps in the outdoors, indoors, and everywhere else, 3 in Retail, and 1 Sound Tech.

We have no laundry crew. But we sure do have laundry. Even after just 3 days of camp life.

So today Christina and I hoisted a stack of laundry bags into the car trunk, drove around to the other side of the lake whence is found the laundry facility, and started in on what should have been an easy task for two seasoned laundry veterans.

Laundry Day (Photo: CKirgiss)
Laundry Day (Photo: CKirgiss)

And it would have been easy except for this: lots of the clothes weren’t labelled with the owner’s initials (camp laundry rule #1) so we had to, you know, keep track of which bag the clothes came out of. And one of the dryers was down for repairs so we had to, well, wait for the other three power-operated-with-five-optional-settings dryers to keep pace with the four similarly power-operated-with-infinite-settings washing machines. Plus the room was terribly hot and humid so we had to, um, sit outside in the fresh air beside the pine grove while we visited and read and journaled during the wash- and rinse- and spin-cycles.

You can just imagine what a terrifically challenging task the whole thing was for, er, two seasoned laundry veterans.

The day wasn’t really about broken dryers or stuffy laundry rooms or un-initialed clothes (maybe it was a little bit about that). It was about washing clothes clean. Of course, it wasn’t really even about washing clothes clean since Christina and I didn’t actually have to wash anything – we just had to dump stuff into one machine, transfer it to another machine, fold it, and put it back into the appropriate mesh laundry bag.

Cleaning clothes takes almost no work at all, even if the clothes are really dirty and especially if the clothes are barely dirty.

But whether barely or really dirty, the clothes do both need cleaning. They both go into the same machine. They both go through the same cycles. They both get agitated back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and also around and around and around.

It costs the same to wash the clothes that are really dirty as it does to wash the clothes that are barely dirty. The machine doesn’t charge more for the really dirty clothes – nor does it charge less for the barely dirty clothes.

Really dirty and barely dirty are in fact both dirty, both not clean, both in need of washing.

In that hot, humid, one-dryer-down laundry room, standing among the piles of initialed and un-initialed clothes alike, I thought about this:

Unlike washing clothes on Day 3 of Wyldlife camp, washing human hearts is a labor-intensive and difficult task that only one Person is seasoned-veteran-(and-fully-Divine)-enough to successfully complete.

And human hearts, whether really dirty or barely dirty, surely do need washing.

And the cost to wash human hearts, whether really dirty or barely dirty, is just the same – no more for the really dirty and no less for the barely dirty.

And the cost is astonishing to consider because the cost is nothing less than absolutely everything.

Indeed, Jesus paid it all, for all, on the cross so that both the really dirty and the barely dirty – a distinction that ultimately has no significance – can be washed clean and made new.

And after being washed clean and made new, the formerly (really) dirty or (barely) dirty human heart is newly named . . . not with initials on a tag, but with an identity of the soul:
child of God . . . daughter . . . son . . . heir . . . beloved.

So there’s that: human laundry. It’s good for what ails us all. And sometimes – oh gracious and glory be – it happens at camp. For human hearts. Inside of middle school students. Who are beloved by the Father. Who washes us all. Just because He loves. Just because He can.

Where it’s at (Michindoh Post 1)

[This post is the first in a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow the series by subscribing to this blog. All posts will be categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]
 

Yesterday (June 8) 350+ middle school students and their leaders pulled into a beautiful and sacred space known as Michindoh, located in the mitten state, specifically the lower mid-palm region. It would be cooler to say “in the thumb” or “on the ring finger.” But we are where we are, which is the lower mid-palm region. I would argue that in real life, the lower mid-palm region is where it’s at.

So what if it can’t point, can’t oppose, can’t wear a ring, can’t snap, can’t tap, or any of those other things that fingers and thumbs do.

Without the lower mid-palm region providing a place from which fingers and thumbs can do their business by connecting them to the arm to the shoulder to the body to the brain that tells them what to do, fingers and thumbs would be entirely pointless, really.

Michindoh – like every other camp run by God-loving Jesus-following folk – is nothing more than a place from which those who are the hands and feet (or fingers and thumbs) of Jesus can do their business, which is loving God and following Jesus among (in this case) middle schoolers and teen moms in the hopes that they see something about the Christian life that is so utterly attractive, appealing, and sweet they can’t help but notice.

If it were by our own power that God-loving and Jesus-following folk hoped to reflect an utterly attractive, appealing, and sweet life with Christ, all would be lost (which, in fact, is exactly what all God-loving and Jesus-following folk once were). For there is nothing about the inherent essence of anyone that could ever possibly accomplish such a thing. On our own, we are appalling, repellant, and (I suspect) as far from being a sweet aroma as the east is from the west.

But with the Spirit’s presence drenching our souls in His love, grace, forgiveness, and re-creation, suddenly (miraculously, undeservedly, assuredly) the beautifully attractive, appealing, and sweet Jesus can shine through – even if just a tiny bit – into a world that is far too dark and much too broken.

That’s why we are here, joyfully settled into this lower mid-palm region of the kingdom, working together to be the fingers and thumbs of a hand that will (by God’s grace) point people to the face and feet of Jesus. Should they choose to look, in His face they will see his endless love for them reflected in His eyes. Should they embrace that love, at His feet they will fall in sweet surrender to the God-man who gave up everything in order to give new life.

I cannot image being any other place doing any other thing for any other reason – being in the lower mid-palm region of the hand of Jesus is really that big of a deal.

Week 1, night 1, 8:29 p.m. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Week 1, night 1, 8:29 p.m. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Week 1, night 1, 8:37 p.m. Let's do this. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Week 1, night 1, 8:37 p.m. Let’s do this. (Photo: CKirgiss)