Carpet ball

Carpet Ball, Pine Lake Camp, Memories, and Today

It’s that time of year, where we take kids to and from camp, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  I’m halfway through the camp season, and I’m getting tired of taking kids back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  It’s in these moments, I need some perspective.

The early years of my camping experience was at Pine Lake in Iowa.  Every year, we’d load up on the big black school bus, with our church name painted on the side, and prayed we’d get there safely.  No, seriously, our bus wasn’t that reliable.  :-)

I vaguely remember the time I spent swimming, and I vaguely remember meals, but there are some things I remember clearly:

+I remember earning my way to camp.  We were given a piece of paper, folded in half, with dates and church events written on the four sides and five options to read a book on the very back.  Every service, every time we brought our Bibles to church, every verse we memorized, and every time we brought dues to Sunday School, was 50 cents off of the full price of camp.  My dad was cheaper than cheap, so we earned every 50 cents possible!

+I remember homesickness.  My very first year, I wrote a letter on the first day about how I hated everyone and just wanted to go home.  The lesson I had yet to learn was that it takes time to adjust to being away from home.  When my parents received my letter in the mail, they were greatly concerned, but were thrilled when I jumped off the bus and wanted to know when I could go again next year.

+I still can name several of the kids I met while there.  I have fond memories of them and created pen pals that lasted into Middle School and High School.

+I remember singing, “Awesome God,” “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” and “It Only Takes A Spark” by the campfires and being fearless to give my testimony in front of everyone (something that went away with age).  I recall one time when our pastor’s daughter said she wanted to do sign language interpretation when she grew up, and I thought she was crazy!  (Anyone who knows me well, will know the irony in that thought. :-) )

+I remember lining up by cabin every morning and singing, “Way up in the sky, the little birds fly” song on top of our lungs, and whoever sang the loudest went in first for breakfast.  And there are memories of also singing “This Is The Day” Jamaican style.  There were tons of songs I learned at camp that I can still sing word for word, today, 20 years later.

+I remember every cabin was required to do a skit every year.  One year, we did a skit to Michael W. Smith’s, “Place In This World”.  I think I was a drug dealer for it… or at least one in the bad crowd.

+I remember carpet ball.  I would play that game for HOURS!  I LOVED carpet ball!  Seriously, we need to bring this game back to popularity!  Best. Game. Ever.

+I remember the year my pastor turned 40 at camp.  His daughter and I looked all over the camp all week long, for forty snails to put under his covers for him to find when he went to bed.  We found A LOT of snails, however, we were too chicken to follow through with it.  Lucky for him!  On another note though, we all got to throw 40 balloons at him on the morning of his birthday.  I am grateful I will never celebrate my 40th birthday at camp.

+I remember getting snacks every night after chapel.  We got Fireballs and then we would soak them in water until the hot flavor was gone and then we’d eat them… (Why in the world pay for that?  Because we were kids and it was once a year that Mom and Dad didn’t control our spending.  That’s why.)

+I remember playing capture the flag.  It was always boys against girls.  The older I got, the more I hated that game.

+I remember when I was in 5th or 6th grade (the last year I attended), sitting up late… REALLY late with our camp counselor just talking about God.  It was one of the best nights at camp I ever had!  I guess, that desire for theological conversation has always been in me, I just didn’t recognize it until I was older.

I would like to share that my life absolutely changed at camp, and every year I went back a totally different person.  I’m not sure that I can say that is true.  Looking back on those years, though, the one thing I learned that I wasn’t even aware of was I was in the process of learning what it meant to Kingdom live.  I met people there from different cultures and learned about various countries.  I was learning how to resolve conflict with the girls I felt were ‘stuck up snots’ without my parents around.  I was learning how to discover myself and who I was away from my family.  I learned how to be a good winner and loser with carpet ball.  I learned the importance of memory making–although, I was completely unaware of it at the time.  And I was learning about Jesus too.  Those were good years filled with good memories that I wouldn’t give up for the world!  The best part is that I get to take kids to and from camp, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, so that someday, they may be sitting in my chair writing a blog similar to this one.  You just never know who a kid will grow up to be.

And seriously, people!  Let’s bring carpet ball back!  :-)

Carpet ball 2

 

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4 Reasons We Need Spiritual Authority

Eleven years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Israel for a school study tour. While it was an amazing trip, it did come at a time of great unrest in the Middle East. Many organizations had stopped sending groups altogether. There were a few tense moments when we weren’t sure what the schedule of the day would look like or if the authorities would let us visit a particular sight. At one site we actually came across signs saying “Danger: Land Mines. Do not cross fence.”land minesTo a group of American college students, this was funny. These were the kinds of signs you might find in one of our dorm rooms. A couple of the students wanted to duck under the fence to get a picture of themselves past the warning sign, standing in the danger zone. Our guide, however, warned us to be careful. The signs were not a joke. There were real land mines in the field and we would be very foolish to disregard them.

Have you ever seen a sign saying “Do not touch” and immediately had the overwhelming urge to touch it?donottouch

This week I left my job as a pastor. I preached my last sermon, led my last worship service, spoke my last pastoral prayer, gave my last pastoral benediction. The boxes are packed, the office is cleaned out, and I am officially on my way to my new life.

As I make my final goodbyes to the church that has been my home for the last 7 years of ministry I have to admit to feeling just a little like I’m back on that field in Israel, itching to defy the warning sign. There were so many “Do not touch” signs in my life for so long, that I’m tempted to go a little crazy breaking all the rules.

I’ve never wanted to be a smoker, but I kind of want to buy a pack of cigarettes just because I can. I know the dangers of gambling and I don’t intend to become a gambler, but I really want to buy a lottery ticket just because I can. Now that I am no longer representing this church as one of its pastors, I can do anything I want, I can say anything I want. I can blast the theology, the church politics, the denominational leader. I can get on my soapbox about ANY cause I care about with no fear of consequences. After all, what are they going to do, fire me? The filter is off and I can say and do anything.

Or can I?

It’s true that my church is no longer my place of employment. I’ve moved into a different relationship with the church, but I haven’t removed myself from it entirely. There is a certain freedom from some of the restraints they had placed upon me. But that doesn’t give me a free pass to say or do anything. Paul talks about this a lot in his letters to the churches.

1 Corinthians 10:23 “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.”

I have the right to buy a jar of mayonnaise and eat it with a spoon straight from the jar, but that doesn’t mean that I should.

Not all of those “Do not touch” signs can be ignored. There are real dangers in the world and the church is one way God provides to protect us from those land mines. Even if your church is a little non-traditional, everyone belongs in a body of believers who have authority over their lives.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that being under the spiritual authority of the church is NOT the same thing as spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is insidious, manipulative, and has no place in the faith. Spiritual leaders have the authority to call you out on your actions, but never to control your thoughts or feelings. Spiritual leaders are always under spiritual authority themselves, not acting as though they have a direct connection to God. Spiritual authority is an appropriate way of leading the church to becoming more Christlike, more loving, and more welcoming. Spiritual abuse is a way to control a group of people by preying on their fears and insecurities. If you feel like your church may be using spiritual abuse, check out this resource for a better explanation: Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot It.

Having said that, here are the reasons we need to be under spiritual authority: accountability, direction, correct theology, and support and encouragement.

Accountability

Accountability is necessary in the church to insure that resources are not wasted and that leaders are honest and open. If the church gives me money to help feed the poor, I can’t use that money to treat my family to a night at the movies. If the church lets me teach a Bible study, I can’t use that time to sell a line of make-up or cleaning supplies. The church keeps its members accountable through community. To truly experience the richness of fellowship with one another, we have to be honest with each other. And that honesty keeps us accountable for our actions. Some churches have specific policies in place to insure accountability in certain areas, like asking for receipts or sharing teaching responsibilities. But it is the life in community that really fosters openness.

Direction

When a member feels called to ministry or a leadership position, the church provides the direction to help that person fulfill their goals. When a member wants to start a new program, the church gives direction. When a member flounders in their education or career, the church gives direction. Obviously, the church can’t tell you which job to do, but it is the place to go to seek encouragement, prayers, and maybe even vocational advice from each other.

Correct Theology

A rogue Christian who’s trying to live without the church can develop some wacky beliefs. It is through accountability to the community that we keep each other in check. This does not mean that the majority is always right, nor does it mean that you can never change your beliefs or deviate from what your denomination believes. It means that your theology has to come under the scrutiny of other believers. Wesleyans like to evaluate beliefs and practices using what we call a quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. The tradition part of the process is the church. Does this belief line up with the teaching of the church? It’s not the only evaluation of correct doctrine, but it is an essential one.

Support and Encouragement

The church is the place where we love and serve each other as fellow believers. Spiritual authority creates the environment where our love for each other can grow and prosper. Anyone can find a group of friends to be their cheerleaders. But true encouragement comes from people who you’ve given permission to call you out on your wrong choices.

So, I guess it’s not right to say that I have no filter. As a Christian I am a representative of Christ, or as the Apostle Paul put it, an “ambassador for Christ.” I will always have this as my filter. There are still land mines out there, and my submission to the authority of the church protects me from them. I am under the authority of Christ, and I am still under the authority of His church.

POW

Dear Newly Ordained Me

Dear Newly Ordained Me,

It has been 10 years since I’ve been you, a newly ordained minister of Jesus Christ.  10 whole years!  I’m looking at a picture of you, and I hardly recognize you as a former me.  There’s a lot of growing you will do in your following years, and I would like to take this time to pass my thoughts on to you.

You have a long journey ahead of you and there’s so many changes to encounter before you become me.  You will become a reader (shocking!), fall in love with teaching God’s Word (not so shocking!), become a pacifist (no, that isn’t the same thing as being a wimp), be diagnosed with a learning disability (see, you were right all along), enjoy children’s ministries (shocking!), and become someone who can and will confront and stand up for yourself (shocking!), find your self-worth (it will be a hard journey, but one that is worth it), become a feminist (no, they never burned bras), become egalitarian (look it up in the dictionary, it’s a good thing), experience your dream of going to the King Center (I know, exciting, right?), and you’ll go back for a BA in Biblical Studies (I’m just going to celebrate that one on my own, because I know you won’t.  ;-) )  See what I mean?  All of that is jam-packed into one little decade!

So let’s talk about what shapes you into this person…

1.  There will be pastors who you work alongside of that will show you how to be a great pastor.  There will be pastors who you will work alongside of that will show you how to be a not-so-great pastor.  Take good notes on them both.  Both categories are great lessons on what to do/what not to do in order for you to do better in building God’s Kingdom.

2.  You will close a church.  You will be absolutely crushed.  You will feel like a failure of a pastor with a failed ministry, but keep your head up.  Eventually, you will move on, and you will keep going.  Closed doesn’t mean failure.  Closed doesn’t mean failed.  Keep marching.  Keep moving.  It will get much better!

3.  I’m single just as much as you are, but don’t become discouraged.  One day you will wake up and suddenly realize that you have been single for 12 years and it has worked out just fine, so why be so obsessed with marriage and family?  You will learn to make friends and congregation your family and they will be your love and support as you will be there’s.  It’s still family, it’s just not the kind the culture will acknowledge as a family, and that’s okay.

4.  You will become a reader.  I know that’s a shock, because I remember how much you HATE–no, LOATHE to read, but you will learn to love it.  You will learn all kinds of mysteries, theologies, and go on great adventures, and you’ll wonder how in the heck you ever managed to go 22 years (or so) absolutely hating to sit and read.  So unfathomable to think about, really…

5.  You will learn through a tough and long lesson that you cannot earn anyone’s love, grace, compassion, mercy, etc… anymore than you can earn God’s love, grace, compassion, mercy, etc…  You will significantly know one day, through heartbreak, that these are not only gifts from God, but they are gifts we give to each other.  So give freely.  Even in the midst of pain and unfairness.  Receive freely.  Even when you know you don’t deserve it.

6.  At some point, you’ll discover your passion for teaching.  You will desire to help others learn various theologies and to take holiness and Bible reading seriously and deeply.  You will also have some amazing teachers you will learn from as well in life.  The teacher must always be the student.  Never forget that being a student is key.

7.  Still no Deaf Ministry… :-(  But… you will make Deaf friends and have ministered to them in some capacity.  They are great people and you’ll love them!  You still have a ministry, it’s just not the way you are picturing it today.  Oh, and you’ll also meet several people along the way who share this passion (I know!  Exciting, right?)  So keep working on your sign and keep passioning your passion.

I leave you with these bits of advice:

1.  You know that scene in “The Lion King” where Mufasa shows up in the clouds and says to Simba, “Remember who you are“?  Well, that’s a good lesson for you too, not just Simba.  Remember you are God’s daughter.  Remember the Holy Spirit lives in you.  Remember to reflect Christ in your life.  Remember your calling and your purpose in God’s Kingdom.  Remember who you are.  By remembering, you will be able to get through the joyous and difficult days.

2.  Listen to your class song often.  It will always give you encouragement.  Your class name, Preparers of the Way, will become your personal mission statement.  How could it not?  You and your stinkin obsession with Eschatology (that never goes away btw, it only grows greater ;-) ).

3.  Build a support system around you.  They don’t get to move with you, so stay connected, and stay in touch.  And don’t be afraid to join new groups in town.  You’ll meet a lot of interesting and friendly people there.

4.  Get a couple of cats to be your stress relievers.  Name one Herby.  The other Mordecai.

5.  Make the choice to love people.  It takes strength–absolute strength–to love those who don’t deserve it.  Do it anyways.  Love is always a better and healthier option.  It’s not easy, but it’s always worth it!

6. There are several struggles ahead, but you’ll make it.  You’ve always been the type of person that when the lightbulb goes out, you sit in the darkness, and search for the lesson in it.  Don’t ever change that about yourself.  There are plenty of lightbulbs that will go out.  There are plenty of darknesses to sit through.  There are also plenty of lessons that will make you a better person, so keep searching out the lessons.

7.  Preach hope.  Preach love.  Preach peace.  Preach mercy.  Preach compassion.  Preach joy.  Preach humility.  Preach several things, but don’t get stuck on preaching on what we need to do to be better at, all the time.  If we understand Universal Atonement we will understand redemption.  People need some positivity in their lives.  They get enough negative crap in the world.  Be the difference.

8.  And one more thing before I close this off, go visit Scott and Carol, once if not twice before October 19, 2006.  Don’t ask why, just go do it.

Most of all though, love God and follow Him.  Love others.  And God will be with you always.

Sincerely,

The Seasoned You (which always sounds like I’m Curry or Pepper or Dill Weed or something like that.)

Prepare-the-way-by-Kevin-Carden

 Prepare ye the way of the Lord

Make straight paths for Him

Let every nation say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Mark 1:1-3

little church

Why I’m Not Worried About the Church

“Oh come to the church in the wildwood, come to the church in the dale. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the vale.” –Church in the Wildwood by William S. Pitts

There’s a lot of concern these days about the state of the church. Is it dying? Will it last? Can it adapt to the changing culture to remain relevant? Or should it adapt? Church attendance numbers are dwindling. Churches are closing. Church leaders everywhere are beginning to get worried about the church. But I’m not worried. Here’s why.

Jesus loves the church

“On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” –Matthew 16:18

There’s a lot of criticism about the church. Some from outside Christianity, looking in. Some criticism comes from within Christianity. Of course, the church is made up of humans. There are definitely going to be flaws. Each generation seems to have their own blind spot where the sins of the church hurt people. It’s easy to look at our parents’ and grandparents’ era with condemnation. How did the church ever think that was okay? But, if we look closely at our own generation, we’ll see our own flaws and shortcomings. The sins of the church vary from culture to culture and denomination to denomination.

I’m not saying we should forget these flaws. It’s important that we acknowledge them, and deal with them. The church needs to be first at pointing out its own sins and first to seek change through the Holy Spirit. But when calling out sins becomes condemnation of the church, we have a problem. Like, I said, it’s east to condemn the church. And some Christians will gladly do just that. But Jesus loves the church. She is his bride. Instead of condemning her for her flaws, Jesus cleanses her of them.

Ephesians 5:25-26 “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

It has become popular to talk about loving Jesus but not church. You can find popular authors talking about how they don’t like church (I know it’s dated, but here’s one from Donald Miller). You can find people at your workplace or in your neighborhood who think they can connect with God in nature or alone at home better than they could at a church. You’ll find those Christians who want to love Jesus and condemn the church. But the church is Jesus’ wife. They are a package deal. You can’t love one and not the other.

I’m not worried about the church. Jesus loves her and she’s not going to die as long as he’s around.

You need the church

You can’t be a Christian alone. God designed us to live in community. The very first thing that is not good in the Creation narrative is a single human alone. Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”

We see in the metanarrative of Scripture that God created humanity in community, that sin brought a curse that infected every area of life. Humanity immediately began struggling with community. Hatred, violence, and murder became part of humanity when the bonds of community were broken. The Old Testament gives us a picture of a downward spiral of sin, violence, and broken relationships with God and with each other. When Jesus appears, his death and resurrection begin the process of breaking the curse of sin. The curse will not be fully removed from earth until the Second Coming of Jesus when the earth is restored and our eternity in Heaven begins, but the breaking of the curse began immediately. Relationships that were broken by sin, are restored in Christ. And that’s where the church is born, right in the place of restored relationships.

You need the church. You need the community of believers to encourage and teach you. You need the elders of the church to lovingly redirect you when you go astray. You need the youth to give your life to, to pour yourself into and disciple.

Paul points out the intergenerational beauty of the church in his letter to Titus, a young pastor that he was mentoring: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children…similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” Titus 2:3-4, 6-7

In the church, we find a place where everyone is valued, everyone has something to give, and everyone has something to learn.

I’m not worried about the church because as long as there are believers in Christ, the church will exist because the believers need it.

The church showcases the vast diversity of the faith

Just as we’ve seen that the church is a place for all age groups—it’s also a place for many other diverse groups of people. The church is filled with people from all over the world, in every culture, in every economic level, in every political and philosophical leaning.

Sometimes, when we’re concerned about the church, it’s because we’re focusing on a narrow demographic. Just because church attendance numbers in middle class America are dropping, doesn’t mean the church in India is in trouble.

In response to a listener question about the necessity of church, Homebrewed Christianity podcast hosts Bo and Tripp recently discussed church on their podcast Theology Nerd Throwdown. Bo emphasized that you can’t be a Christian alone, you need people beyond you, behind you, and beside you in terms of spiritual maturity.

Then Tripp made this statement about the church:

The church is a huge, diverse place. At different times in your life you’ll have different spiritual disciplines, different relationships to different communities, and different traditions within the church. It’s the activity of being grateful for the existence that God’s given you, sharing in your brokenness, and receiving forgiveness of sins, with people you’d never hang out with otherwise. Isn’t there something cool that Republicans and Democrats and Green Party members call all be at the same place. That people from different classes and races and education levels can gather together. If you get so postmodern that that’s not cool to you, then you aren’t postmodern at all. Postmodern should be the celebration of difference and there are very few places where that much difference comes up. I think it’s cool finding a community where you’re with a group of people and all you’re doing is giving permission for something to happen that blesses someone else, then you get to the part that blesses you. But you’re doing it together because it matters that you’re in this community.

The church is where you can be broken, where you can be real, and where you can be loved in the midst of that brokenness. The job of the body of believers is to build up one another.

I’m not worried about the church because it’s bigger than what you think and it’s deeper than what you think. It’s not in danger of dying out.

What do you think? Is the church in decline? Or incline? Or standing strong?