Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lessons from Camp

Although I was feeling spiritually numb throughout camp, I believe the classes I attended were clearly God-ordained. I did come away with some powerful stories and lessons.

My first class was called, "Power to be Engaged" (the theme of the encampment this year was "Engage") and was taught by Lois Wheeler, a teacher I have enjoyed in past years. I was thrilled to discover a book accompanying the class (they haven't provided books with classes for a few years now). The class covered Janet Denison's book, Content to be Good, Called to be Godly. The sentence description on the cover said, "What to do when your life is full, but your soul is empty."

Although I think my spiritual and emotional numbness is caused by physical conditions, this class was exactly what I have been needing to hear and trying to practice. Over and over again, I heard about the importance of silence and rest. The book's chapter titles alone reveal that this is a subject I am ripe for: "Running on Empty? Retreat," "The Power of Priority," "In the Desert, but Not Deserted," etc.

I was piqued by the mention of John Stott's "recipe" for a healthy soul. He recommends "an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year," set aside for solitude and silence with God. In my busy life of small children, I recognize clearly that I am less of a mom when I fail to find time to pull away. I'm still not sure I can pull off his prescription, however.

Janet Denison writes, "So often we believe that the person who manages to work more is somehow worth more. Instead, we should be impressed by the people who understand their need for God's rest and who speak from a quiet strength acquired from the peaceful streams of God." I have felt quite frustrated with the worship of the god of productivity. Of course, easy to feel frustrated in that realm when one is having a hard time rallying the energy to accomplish anything. I'd so rather be a Mary than a Martha!

In my current situation, I believe God has led me into a desert experience. Denison's words were such a great reminder to me. She writes: "When you find yourself in the desert, make a point to rely on the promises of God.... Know you are loved. God has led you to the desert or allowed you to go for a reason.... Ask God if there is anything you need to confess.... Remember that God often takes you to the desert so he can refocus or redirect your life.... Be still and know that he is God. Embrace the loneliness because it is a time when you can seek the face and compassion of your Father.... Seek the word of God before you seek the counsel of others.... God will decide when to bring you out of the desert... distractions can help you forget you are in the desert temporarily, but they cannot bring you out of it."

My second class was taught by Dave Tooley and provided a study guide for John Ortberg's The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You. John Ortberg is the author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. I must confess I haven't read that book, but the title is quite memorable.

I really enjoyed this class. Dave Tooley was genuine and funny. I loved that he provided the DVD teaching sessions as well. These video clips were full of memorable stories and lessons. Ortberg's thrust is in determining whether we are languishing or flourishing spiritually and then taking necessary steps to move closer to flourishing.

My favorite story, which demonstrated so clearly the forgiveness we have received from Christ, was one John Ortberg told about a college graduation he had attended. At the graduation ceremony three individuals were called to the front. The audience was informed that these three individuals had just signed on for a commitment to spend the next three years of their lives giving of themselves in some form of missionary commitment (I don't recall what - perhaps something akin to the Peace Corps). Of course, these three kids thought they had merely been brought to the front for this recognition. However, the president of the college turned to the first individual and addressed them by name. After saying their name, he informed them that an anonymous individual had been moved by their commitment and was offering, on their behalf, to write-off their college debt of $100,000. He then turned to the second individual and addressed them by name, indicating that the same individual had written off their $80,000 debt to the college. When the president turned to the third individual, this one, by now, knew what was coming, but still had to wait until the words were spoken before they would actually believe that their entire $130,000 of college debt was being forgiven. Of course, even listening to this story brought a lump to my throat. It is a remarkable thing to be forgiven much without being required to do a single thing to earn that forgiveness!

Another Ortberg story, which I wish I could link to for you to watch for yourselves (because when I attempted to tell it to someone else at camp, it became clear that I simply cannot put it back in the words John Ortberg perfectly pronounced), had to do with the purpose of families.

Ortberg said that he imagines God going to the angels and saying, "Hey, I've just come up with the perfect plan and it is called "the family." The angels ask how it works and God explains that he will take two adults and give them a small stranger. For years, the stranger will be unable to do anything more than cry, demand food, and make messes. But when they run to the adults and hold out their arms, it will dawn on the adults why arms and feet were even made. When they finally begin to speak, they will say things like "No" and "Mine." They will require correction. They will think they know everything. And just when they get to the point when they are finally grown and have become decent enough to want to have around, they will leave home. The angels then ask God why people would ever sign on for that. God assures them that they will, crazy as it seems, and will even in the end come to understand what it is to come home to God, running on their feet, with outstretched arms.

It was far more beautiful and poignant than that, but that was the best re-telling I could offer.

Further, the Ortberg study guide talked about the importance of relationship and community. Ortberg argues that commitment to community really matters to our individual spiritual health. He writes, "Every day, everyone you know faces life with eternity on the line, and life has a way of beating people down. Every life needs a cheering section. Every life needs a shoulder to lean on once in a while. Every life needs a prayer to lift them up to God. Every life needs a hugger to wrap some arms around them sometimes. Every life needs to hear a voice saying, 'Don't give up.'"

This made me realize anew my intense need for life-giving relationships. I not only need to rid myself of the "life-suckers" (something I picked up from the Adrenal Fatigue book) but I also need to find "life-givers."

During the adult Bible study, we considered the parable of the Good Samaritan. Afterwards, we were asked to break into groups and discuss several questions. One of my group members shared a story from one of the other delegates. He said that this couple (we'll call them the Smiths) moved into a new neighborhood. The very first neighbors who came over, bringing cookies to the Smiths, were a gay couple. These two men extended their friendship readily. But, it was a particular incident which cemented in their minds that this gay couple, like the Samaritan, unexpectedly extended more grace than those they would have expected to receive it from. He said that the Smiths had accidentally left their garage door open in the evening. One of the gay men noticed this around 3 or 4 in the morning. Rather than awaken the Smiths at that hour, for no news can be good news at that hour of the morning, the man made himself a pot of coffee, opened his own garage door and sat in a lawn chair watching the Smith's door to make sure that nobody broke in to steal or harm the Smiths. When he finally noticed some activity going on within the house, he knocked on the front door to tell them that he had sat watch on their behalf. Now, that is a good neighbor. That is the way Christians ought to be loving others.

Finally, the most memorable story of the encampment was shared on the evening when the summer youth mission teams shared their testimonies of their experiences. One group had gone to Bolivia. Their spokesperson approached the podium and directed our attention to a photograph (on the large screen behind him) of a young teenager named Gabriella. If you wish to watch the actual telling of this story, you can click here and forward on to the 51 minute mark (since I've already confessed that sometimes, I just can't repeat a story as well as the original storyteller).

Gabriella was an individual that they met at The Salvation Army's children's home. She is 16 years old. Her parents are divorced. Her mother was very abusive, so Gabriella lived with her father, who showed her some love. However, her step-mother beat her and abused her. Finally, Gabriella, left her father's home and went to live in the children's home run by The Army. Her mother then stepped in and took her out of the children's home. Gabriella appealed to her father but he told her that he had taught her everything a father could teach and that it was time to go with her mother. Her mother was also abusive, calling her a "mistake" and treating her very badly. The only family member that Gabriella felt safe with was her grandfather. Sadly, 5 years ago, that grandfather passed away and he left her his entire estate, including his house.

Gabriella's mother began to pressure her to give the money and house to her. Gabriella told her mother that she could not hand over this inheritance to those who had treated her so poorly. She told her mother that she could give the house to someone on the street. In fact, that is what she did. She found someone who was homeless and offered to let them stay in the house as long as they paid the electricity and water and as long as they agreed to move out when they had found a decent job and could afford another place to live. Gabriella is, apparently, on her second family now. She had every reason to languish, given the circumstances of her life, but instead she is flourishing. This story was so convicting.

It reminds me also of something said in the final meeting. The speaker mentioned someone saying "I'm doing well, under the circumstances," and the other individual chastising that person saying "Well, what are you doing UNDER the circumstances?" With God's help, and our focus on Him, we should be able to live above life's circumstances.

So, even though I'm still feeling emotionally and spiritually numb these days, it is clear that I did gain some truly valuable lessons for my annual time at Central Bible and Leadership Institute. I thank God I was able to attend again.

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