I have been a follower of Jesus for twenty-four years, and the memory of my salvation is not as fresh as it used to be. I have times where I struggle to remember the joy that came when I surrendered my life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
When it comes to music, I am a true 80s Baby. I love anything and everything written and sung by Bono and U2. In my older age, I’ve found a greater admiration for this band beyond their beats and melodies because I can now recognize the representation of their faith throughout their music. It’s a beautiful added bonus that my young ears didn’t yet have the experience to comprehend.
I have a quirky little habit of picking up trash when I walk. Along my usual route, I'll inevitably find beer cans, solo cups, cardboard boxes and the occasional tree limb or two. It feels good to scoop them up and clear the sidewalks of our town. Sometimes, I hum a few bars of Montgomery Gentry's "My Town" and think, yea, this is my town and I want to keep it nice.
Take a few seconds to look at the palms of your hands.
You likely noticed one thing above all else: lines. Lots and lots of lines. Some deep, some traceable, some barely noticeable...these pathways serve as unique identifiers for every person. Known as palmar flexion creases, the lines on our palms are actually there so we can open, close, and stretch our hands. Indeed, we are wonderfully made.
I am becoming increasingly concerned that we Christians are too caught up in creating a Christian Culture rather than creating connection and understanding our “neighbors”, thereby fulfilling God’s greatest commandments. What do I mean by Christian Culture? It’s the symbols, language, and behavior we create to identify ourselves to each other and form a recognizable group that is distinct from the world.
Joanne LaBuda, Josh Hillyer, Camp Hand and I had the great joy of accompanying nine of our Embrace Youth Group students to Generate Camp at Lookout Mountain, Georgia, July 17 - July 21, 2017. There were about 800 other students at the camp, ranging in age from sixth to twelfth grade. We stayed on the beautiful campus of Covenant College, which literally “looks out” over Chattanooga, Tennessee.
From seeing God’s majesty as we drove up the winding mountain roads to seeing it shine through the faces of the youth in worship, the entire trip was full of evidence that God changes everything; that in Him, all things are being made new. It’s only fitting that our theme verse for the week was 2 Corinthians 5:17 - “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, a new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (NIV).
Yet another breathtaking example came early the next morning, as Joanne and I walked outside at just the right second to see the tip-top of a sunrise that was the most vibrant neon pinkish orange that we had ever seen. That, combined with the cool mountain air, we knew it would be a good first day of camp.
And it was. Just as He transformed the dark into light with that sunrise, our ever-present God was moving and shaping and transforming our lives right there on that mountain.
That night Sam Bhatt, our incredible speaker for the week, gave a step-by-step account of the crucifixion, making it so physical and real. For many of us Jesus did become real that night. He went from being “pocket Jesus,” as Sam put it, to being a living Savior who endured something that no one else would in order to save us. At the end of the night, Sam asked if anyone wanted to stand up and proclaim that they believed this truth. Three of our Embrace students stood up for the first time and the other six rededicated their lives in their own ways. In the words of one of the girls, “When Sam asked us that question, I took it as an invitation to get to know a friend better.” YES! What a profound yet simple way of thinking about our relationship with our Heavenly Father. He IS our friend and we DO need to spend our lives getting to know Him better.
It was a good first full day of camp, indeed.
The next night at worship I was able to sit at the end of the row (a place I really love to be). I looked down the row at the youth group, and it was a sight I will never forget. The worship leader was singing “You Make Me Brave”. As I looked at the young hearts belting out those words with such sincerity, their arms raised and outstretched in surrender, tears streamed down my face. At that moment, I prayed that they would be brave - at their schools, in their homes, in our church and in our community. And that’s part of what it looks like when we’re made new by Him. We are made new, our heart of stone is transformed into a heart of flesh, and we are changed; because, as we heard time and time again that week, This Changes Everything.
Camp was full of good memories, and here are just a few of my favorites:
-Playing water games on the college’s intramural field, where we all got soaked by water guns, collected marbles with our toes from kiddie pools, squirmed down a muddy tarp like a worm and ended with a messy match of tug-of-war.
-Our Youth Minister Josh Hillyer being asked to lead a prayer and short devotion on stage at the main worship gathering.
-The girls playing late night games of Uno, singing every word of Hamilton and choreographing synchronized swimming routines.
-Camp’s epic mustache and plethora of Hawaiian shirts.
-Killing it in one of those big bubble suits - let’s be honest, I would never pummel anyone in real life, but it was really fun to do so while inside a big bubble suit.
-Our Starbucks run; the crowd favorite was a Grande Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino. Sorry parents.
-Seeing Clay and Benjamin finish the very early, very hilly Generate Camp 5K Run.
-Giving and receiving hand-written scriptures - Sam challenged us to write down a verse and give it to a fellow camper that we did not know.
-And finally, sharing a bunk bed with Joanne was pretty great.
Blog post written by Kathy Myles
So, what gives? Is camp just an excuse to go play for a few days? Just a chance to get your kid out of your hair for a little while? What's really happening here and why should we continue to spend time and resources on it? Well, as I also mentioned above, it’s a few days to stay good and wet. Both literally and metaphorically.
The story below was written in March of this year. For those of you who don't know my story, this article is a portrayal of the mess I was making out of my life. I heaped heart ache and devastation on my- self and much worse, my family. I let Satan burrow deep into my soul and convince me that there was no hope for me. It wasn't until I entered Brother Bryan's, that I realized that I was not alone in my despair. I had found solace in a group of seventy men that society and themselves had given up on.
I find it so interesting that Webster’s Dictionary defines a cliché as “[a phrase or expression] that has become overly familiar or commonplace” to the extent that it has lost its originality and/or effectiveness. It’s interesting because lately some of the greatest clichés to me have ceased to become soundbites or word-candy and have simply become Truths.
As for why the song seemed odd to me as a child: I had never really thought of prayer being something that happens outside of traditional worship settings or beside a bed at night. To hear this mainstream entertainment superstar talking about prayer being something we need to do every day just to “make it” was kind of mind blowing.
Recently, a thunderstorm kept my family and me inside for most of the day. We had hoped to watch my middle daughter play in her last softball game and the kids were so disappointed that there would be no game, no swimming at the pool or playing outside with friends. We had had a busy week wrapping up school, class parties and my husband had just returned from almost a week of out of town travel. Even so, the kids stood at the windows watching the wind and raindrops smack the glass with sad little faces - frustrated that their day had been “ruined".
This past Sunday I shared a message with our church family to offer an update on our journey towards purchasing land for our future church home. It was full of maps, our latest financial information and ways we’ve been working to get prepared. I also shared some of the truths and promises that God has been teaching me as I’ve watched a few small acorns collected last fall from Cornerstone Church emerge out of the soil into young seedlings.
This is a love letter.
Many will tell us that love is a verb.
That much like faith without works is dead, so is love without action. Yet, the meaning of an action is dependent upon one’s environment. Everything from national culture to the latest movie determines the significance of the smallest gestures and the grandest designs.