Lessons from Jeremiah

This summer, our high school group has been going through “Forces of Faith”, biographies of personalities in the Old Testament who displayed great amounts of faith throughout their lives.  A few weeks ago, we focused on Jeremiah and I thought I would include some of my observations from that study and what we can learn about ministry and standing for the truth today.

When you ask people what makes a successful ministry, one can’t help but look at the numbers of those involved.  Maybe you can count the people in the room, the amount collected in the plate, or maybe the number of people who have walked an aisle or made professions of faith.  I remember a few years ago, our Pastor, Steve Balentine, preached a message on the differences between Jeremiah and Jonah.  In the world’s view, and even many of those who judge the success of ministries, Jonah would have been the obvious choice for ‘head of the class’.  But when we look at the ministries of each prophet, and their obedience to God’s call in their lives, we see a different picture.

When Jeremiah was called, he first objected on the basis of not being old enough or not having the ability to be the great speaker he expected oracles of God to be (1:7).  God’s promise to him was to not let Jeremiah rely on his own words, but that he’d give him the words to speak (1:9).  Prior to Jeremiah’s objecting, God let him know that he was appointed for this office before he was even born.  In God’s grand plan, Jeremiah was always going to play the role of prophet on behalf of the covenant God of Israel, Yahweh.

When told of what his job would be, the Lord had some interesting and foreboding words for him.  In verse 8 we see God’s promise to deliver Jeremiah, which immediately told Jeremiah that he would be facing a tough crowd.  If someone promises to deliver you, a significant and painful objection is implied.  And if that weren’t clear enough, God then tells him that they will fight against him, they will reject him and his message, but they won’t prevail against him (1:17-19).

Just as promised, Jeremiah preached the message God gave him, and he was treated as a traitor.  When Babylon was coming down upon them, he urged surrender, hoping to preserve Jerusalem, because he knew that Babylon would eventually prevail against Israel.  False prophets rose up, with a nicer message, and the people listened to them.  They claimed to represent God, but brought a message of ‘health and wealth’ and that everything was ok.  They came out against Jeremiah, saying he was preaching a bad message and didn’t represent God.

In chapter 20, we find a very intriguing confrontation.  Pashhur was a priest who most likely was profiting from giving false messages and leading people away from a pure worship in Jerusalem.  When he heard Jeremiah saying these things, he beat him and placed him in the stocks over night.  Jeremiah was placed by a main gate, for all to see and mock.  You might think that Jeremiah would shrink back after his release, but he does quite the opposite.  in what seems miles from the shy and hesitant person when he was first called, Jeremiah rips into Pashhur and tells him that his end is near.  He says,

“The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror On Every Side.  For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends.  They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on.  And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon.  he shall carry them to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword… And you, Pashhur, and all who dwellin in your house, shall go into captivity.  To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shal be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely. (20:3-6)

After this section of boldness, we have a remarkable section where Jeremiah speaks and laments to God.  Recently, I read a wonderful journal article on the Lament and its roll in our livess in the “Bibliotheca Sacra” journal from Dallas Theological Seminary.  It was saying that we often misunderstand the lament, and what the person is saying.  In this section, Jeremiah cries out to God about how weak and miserable he is by himself, how everyone just laughs at him and whoever he speaks to considers him a fool and derides him.

Jeremiah speaks of being tempted to hold back the message (v.9), to not proclaim the words of the Lord, but knows he can’t do that.  He says that his heart begins to burn and his bones cry out if he even thinks of not speaking the message of the Lord.  He can’t help but proclaim the message God has given him.  He realizes he is compelled to do this, and cannot do anything else.

In verse 10 he speaks to some of the occupational hazards that come with his job.  He hears cries for him to be denounced and to be opposed.  And these cries aren’t coming from hardened opponents, but from his own friends, who have been alienated by the message he bore.  Instead of standing beside him in friendship, they now circle him, waiting for him to fall flat on his face.

But in the face of all of this, he is able to push through because of what he knows to be true (v.11).  He says, the Lord is my dread warrior.  It isn’t Jeremiah who will stumble, but rather it will be his opponents and persecuters.  They will be put to shame and will eternally be known for their dishonor in God’s program.  Jeremiah lifts his head beyond his day, and sees things in an eternal scope.  The present situation saw him being persecuted by opponents and those whom he thought to be his close friends.  But eternally speaking, his actions were acts of obedience to God, and he would not suffer shame or dishonor for eternity.

Often times we are faced with opposition, sometimes from our closest friends.  Let Jeremiah’s faith be an example of boldness and obedience to us all!

Resolved Conference 2008- Session 1

Right now, I’m in Palm Springs and it’s been averaging over 110 degrees each day.  There would have to be a pretty good reason why I would subject myself to that kind of heat.  This weekend I’ve come out to Palm Springs with students from our college group to be fed at the Resolved Conference.  It’s a college conference put on by Grace Community Church in the spirit of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.  I have wanted to go in the past, but never had the opportunity due to schooling.  This year, though, I resolved to go.

The speakers are John MacArthur, John Piper (my plane friend), CJ Mahaney, Steve Lawson, Randy Alcorn, and Rick Holland. The theme this year is “Heaven and Hell”.  It sort of feels like you are trying to continually take a sip from a fire hydrant.  It’s coming fast, furious, and powerfully.  All you can do is try to process a small amount and leave encouraged and fed.  I realize that there are many who read this who desire to be here, so with you in mind, I thought I would provide a summary of each message.

The first evening was kicked off by Rick Holland who spoke on the topic of death.  Obviously, that isn’t really a message that sells and attracts the right kind of attention.  Our culture does everything we can to avoid dwelling on the subject of death, from being reminded of the immanent nature of it, to being confronted with those that that find themselves on death’s threshold.  Holland traced Edwards’ own thoughts on death and his commitment to constantly remind himself of his own frailty and every possible way he could die.

The point on focusing on your own death is because if you are ready to die, you will then know how to live.  If you are at peace with where you are going, then you will know how you should act in the present.  The text that Holland chose was Hebrews 9:27-28, and he set out to point out the three most important facts of life.

The first fact is that death is unavoidable.  It comes to everyone.  Other than two men (Elijah and Enoch) every single person has died.  We are the only ones in creation who have not died, but we will soon enough join the rest of humanity.  Our time to pass is appointed.  We are passively involved in the end of our lives.  We can think that we will last 70-80 years on earth, but no one is guaranteed that.  Death exists to communicate the seriousness of sin, to convince us of the true penalty of our rebellion against God. No one can deny the reality of death.

The second most important fact of life is that judgment is certain.  All will stand before a holy, righteous, and just God who will judge.  Not only is death a reality, but so is Hell.  Hell exists for those that are condemned at the judgment that is certain.  Hell is such an unpopular subject to speak and dwell on, but it cannot be avoided.  R.C. Sproul said “If you think of Hell rightly, you’ll get saved or go mad.”

The third and final fact of life is that salvation is possible.  Were the first two points left alone, the future would seem bleak.  But the great news is that salvation is possible for those that face an eternal death apart from God.  For those that are saved, they should be characterized by eagerly awaiting and anticipating Christ’s return.  We generally fail in this world because we find our hearts longing more for the present world than the future world.  The believer is to long for the future fulfillment of salvation in such a way that it demands a life that lives for that world alone.

More sessions to come!

C.S. Lewis Quote

I know, I said I was going on vacation, but I found this quote and wanted to throw it up before I left.

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”  C.S. Lewis

Ok, now I mean it.  I’m on vacation.

No Regrets!! Really?

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t have any regrets. Maybe its an athlete being interviewed after a game or a person looking back retrospectively over an event in their life, it seems like a lot of people are living without regrets. Of course, its not that this is a new saying or that people are necessarily saying it more often, but is probably more of a case of me just hearing it more.

An amusing thing about this, is that a person is usually speaking on the heels of some failure. Maybe its a quarterback who came up short and says he doesn’t have any regrets of how he played. It could be the athlete who is retiring, and chances are you’ll hear them say that they don’t have any regrets. Brett Farve (NFL). Tiki Barber (NFL). Craig Biggio (MLB). Pete Samprass (tennis). Dale Jarrett (NASCAR) Often times, someone is being interviewed about having escaped a dark period in their life and they would not change the way they did anything. No regrets! President Bush recently said he had no regrets of how things have gone in Iraq. And Hillary Clinton says she doesn’t regret voting for the war. We’ve become a culture skilled at no regrets. Just do a search for ‘no regrets’ and you’ll come up with an impressive list of failures and mistakes that bear no regrets.

Are regrets bad things? Certainly, we humans do a good job at messing things up, and to look back over our lives and say we wouldn’t change things is just ridiculous. I have regrets. That doesn’t mean I let them eat me up, but if I could do some things different in my life, I certainly would. It seems that our society has placed such a high importance on self esteem, that we’ve raised a society of people who live without regrets. After all, they are just negative feelings, right?

Regrets can be very useful. The source of a lot of wisdom in life is learning from mistakes. God allows us to go through dark periods in our lives, and if we go through it all and say we have no regrets, then have we really learned anything?

The funny thing is that people can usually recognize regrets in other people. Surely George Bush or Hillary Clinton have to have regrets, right? Brett Farve has no regrets? He and his NFL record 288 interceptions. You don’t regret any of those? Not even the one that was the final note of your career? We can point fingers and tell people what they should regret, but we should be so skilled at looking at our lives, seeing decisions, words, or actions that we regret, and learning from those mistakes.

Of course, our goal should be to live life in such a fashion that we may never regret our decisions, but the reality is that on this side of eternity, we’re all bound to do something we regret. How you react to your sin and failures will dictate how you grow. David was a man after God’s own heart, in part, because of his repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. You think he regretted that mistake and the ones that followed? Are regrets bad things. Technically, they only exist because of sin, but that doesn’t mean that they are to be avoided. The sin is to be avoided, but in the season that we give in, regret is something that will help us repeat the follies of sin.

Back from Kentucky!

You know its been too long since you’ve last posted when the whole format of the posting page has been changed. The last few weeks have been packed with events, teaching prep, seeing Leah and Micah off to NH, and then four days in Kentucky for the Together for the Gospel ’08 conference. Needless to say, the conference was ‘off the charts’, as Pastor Greg Golden would say. I’m going to take some time to describe the week, to let you know what I was challenged with, and provide some links to men who probably are better suited to write full recaps of the messages.

Of course, you should go to challies.com for recaps of each message, as well as various videos and pictures of the week. If you would like to listen to the messages for free, go here. I’ve attempted downloading them, but have thus far only been able to listen to them online. If you figure it out, please let me know.

Here’s a video about them giving books out for the week. You’ll notice the massive book store that they had there. They had almost every major Christian book publishing company there, and they only had books they would recommend displayed. On top of that, we were given about 15 books, many of which I was already planning on buying.

Free Books

“The Courage to be Protestant” by Davide Wells- Wells has become known for being an amazing source of insight and knowledge when it comes to true Christianity and the culture. From what I understand, this book envelops a couple other Wells books in making observations about where the church is in today’s culture.

“The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors” by Thabiti Anyabwile- Anyabwile is a pastor in the Cayman Islands, former pastor at Mark Dever’s church in D.C., and was an addition to the teaching line up at the conference this year. Much to our surprise, and honestly a little disappointing, he didn’t have a cool accent, but he did give an excellent message about the myth of race and the church’s responsibility to apply the truth of mankind being one in Adam to it’s practices and the proclamation of the Gospel. As Thabiti said, “They brought the black guy in to talk about race.” This book is about three lesser known African-American pastors through troubling times of slavery, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the turn of the 20th century, to the first two World Wars. Should be quite the interesting read.

“Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth” by Al Mohler- I wrote about this book here. When I finished reading it, I realized that it was probably going to be given to me at the conference. Oh well, I guess I have an extra to give out as a present.

“The Gospel and Personal Evangelism” by Mark Dever- This book asks most of the questions about who should evangelize, what evangelism is, and why we should do it. I haven’t read it, so I can’t tell you much, except that Dever’s message on how the church is misunderstanding what the Gospel is was terrific and thought provoking, and if includes any of that in this book, then we should be well off.

“The Truth of the Cross” by R.C. Sproul- out of the 60 or so books Sproul has written, I doubt this ranks up there as ground breaking, but is a solid message none-the-less. It is a continued call to properly understand the cross and the implications of it. To quote Mahaney’s book, “we never move on from the cross, only to a deeper understanding of it.”

Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution”– by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach- This is potentially the book I’m most excited about. Of all the books written in the last couple of years, this may be one of the most important. It was near the top of nearly ever top 10 list of 2007 that I respect, and was thrilled to get it at the conference. I will write more on this subject later, as this was one of the main themes of the week.

“In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement” by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever- this book is a compilation of previously written pieces on the subject of penal substitutionary atonement, and I was able to read it on the plane back, and it was superb. There are those that outrightly reject the idea of penal substitution, and an article written by J.I. Packer is included that expositionally confronts the objectors. Also included is the introduction Packer wrote for John Owen’s “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”. This intro is a fantastic defense and explanation of Calvinism as well as the doctrine of limited atonement. Along with an article and intro by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan provides a very helpful list of great works on the subject of the atonement. A great, quick read, and an important defense of a crucial doctrine.

“If You Could Ask God One Question” by Paul Williams and Barry Cooper- This is more of a little reference that provides succinct answers to common questions. For those pastors who struggle to be brief, (I hardly know any like that…) it is a good little tool.

“Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck- Doesn’t the title alone make you want to read this? This was also on my wish list, and I read through the intro on the plane on the way home. From the intro, I can tell you that this book is going to be an insightful and entertaining read. They call out the emerging church personalities and hold their feet to the fire. DeYoung approaches it as a young pastor of a church in a college community, while Kluck is more of a reporter and lay person. This provides two good, different approaches. What I’ve read so far has been fantastic, and I can’t wait to finish it.

“The Gospel According to Jesus” by John MacArthur- I know, this is an old one, but it is an updated version. We had a good laugh at thinking the Gospel according to Jesus had been updated. Ironic. Anyhoo, the book is a confrontation to the easy-believism and one of the initial calls to Lordship salvation in the 80’s. A must read by every Christian. (Selfishly, I was hoping for MacArthur’s “Two Sons” book on the prodigal son. One of his best messages EVER was on that subject, and out of that was born his new book. I guess they handed it out at the Band of Bloggers mini-conference prior to the main conference.)
“The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright” by John Piper- Piper’s response to N.T. Wrights claim on the New Perspective on Paul. The Master’s Seminary dedicated the faculty series of chapels to this subject on year, and honestly, I still don’t fully understand it. So I am looking forward to reading Piper’s response.

“Christ and Culture Revisited” by D.A. Carson- fresh off the presses, Carson’s brand new book asks and answers the question of how involved the believer should be in their culture. I’m very excited to read this from one of the great thinkers God has given the world today.

“Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God” by Bob Kauflin- Kauflin led the worship again this year, and is a Sovereign Grace worship leader. Though he comes from a charismatic background, I would say this is a must-read for anyone involved in leading worship. Kauflin has an amazing hear and passion for worship, and wonderfully conveys Bible-centered worship, rooted in Christ. Kauflin proves himself to be a wonderful writer, encouraging the reader throughout, and continuing to light a passion for worship. Kauflin wrote “Grace Unmeasured” as well as other great song, and has done a terrific job at getting hymns back into circulation and updating music to lyrically rich songs.

“Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel”– by Dever, Duncan, Mahaney, and Mohler- this book is a compilation of the first T4G conference with chapters by MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper. For some reason, I already had it, so I’ll give this one away to a friend who was with us the first time, but not this time.

The last thing handed out was a small ESV Bible, great for keeping in the car and using in emergencies, according to Ligon Duncan. I didn’t have a small Bible, so that’ll be exactly what I do!

“Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp- While this wasn’t an official handout, it was made available at the beginning for free on a first come-first serve basis. It is an updated version of one of the greatest pieces of how to raise children. If you have young children, this is a MUST read. You and you’re child will reap the benefits of the time and effort you put in to this book. Tripp is a leading writer on the subject of raising children and counseling today, and his wisdom has proved itself to be invaluable to countless believers.

A Surprising Conference Highlight

I’ll write more about individual messages and conversations that were born out of those messages later, but I did want to share what ended up being the highlight for me. When we were preparing to board our plane to return home, we noticed that it looked like John Piper would be on the same flight. Our connection was in Minneapolis and that’s where he serves, so he was going home, too. As we boarded, he was a few people behind me and an overanxious young man turned around, noticed Piper was on his flight, and started yelling “Mr. Piper!!! I KNEW you’d be on this flight!!!” It was fairly embarrassing for everyone else there.

I’ve never been the type to fawn over people, especially brothers in Christ. It isn’t that I’m blown away by the man, but its more from the thought that he’s probably used to people acting like that and I would want people to treat me like a normal person. When I was in college, I was never comfortable with people having MacArthur autograph their books. I saw many have him autograph their study Bibles, which just seems way out of line. What does an autograph do? You know you met him, and its not really worth anything.

Anyways, we get on to the plane and I’m seated near the front of the plane, and I see Piper come on and stop between first class and coach. He was looking for a spot to put a carry-on, and after finding room, went to find his seat. The seat in front of me was open, so I’m thinking, “Wow, Piper’s is going to sit in front of me!” Then he sits down next to me…. I don’t know what my face looked like, but I’m sure it was wide eyed and a little shocked. We shook hands and introduced each other. I told him I was at the conference and that 14 other guys from my church were on the plane, too. He actually had heard of SGUC, which was cool. He went to school with one of our pastors at Fuller Seminary back in the day, and the son of Dan Fuller (a professor at Fuller) went to SGUC with Greg.

We chatted about small things, about the conference, what we were reading, family, and such. I mostly didn’t want to bother him, since I know he had a long week at the conference and was probably a little tired of being hounded by over zealous college and seminary students. So for the most part, we just read, and he tried to nap. One thing that was funny was that he was talking about how he had flight from Newark to Minneapolis rerouted mid-flight to Green Bay. When we neared Minneapolis and the pilot announced that we’d circle for about ten minutes, he said that they better not go to Green Bay for fuel. Now, the last message of the conference was by C.J. Mahaney and one thing he spoke about was being thankful and not giving into the temptation of complaining. Piper caught himself, laughed, and said, ‘But this may be in the plan of God.’ I told him that we’d also been constantly reminding each other of the message all day.

As I was sitting there, I was trying to read, but every minute or so, I kept thinking, “I’m sitting next to JOHN PIPER!” and I’d have to go back and read the section again. Nevermind that it was on penal substitutionary atonement, I was also distracted by the man who had such a huge impact on my life. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m also thinking of how my mom or sister would kill to be in this seat right now, and are probably going to kill me for not asking the hundreds of questions bouncing through my mind. I figured he had a long week and was going home to prepare to preach to his own people, as well as probably writing another book in his spare time and organizing another conference in the car ride home from the airport. I concluded that I’ll have plenty of time to catch up with him in eternity.

I did get to ask him one question, though. Ever since I read “Hidden Smile of God”, I’ve always wondered about William Cowper’s salvation. He was a hymn writer who struggled deeply with depression throughout his life. His depression drove him into despair and significant doubts about God. It was never anything that he seemed to make a lot of progress on, and I felt like Piper left the issue in the air. Obviously, he said he couldn’t say whether he was saved or not, as we don’t have that knowledge or the ability to make that call. But he said that isn’t why he included him in the book. The reason he was included was to show how God can greatly use a man with such weaknesses. Besides that, he said that the depression was something that ran in his family for a ways back. Something Piper said stuck out to me, “You know, not all darkness is sin.”

In all, it was an incredible surprise. The two hours sped by and obviously I wish I could talk to him more, but I’ll get that opportunity in eternity!

“Culture Shift” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

If you know anything about the men that I look up to in the current evangelical environment, you know that Al Mohler is one of my favorites. He always offers a keen, Biblical perspective on whatever is happing in our world or in our culture. In a time where people are more concerned with political correct speech, Mohler stands out with his Biblically-correct speech. That is why, when I found out he was finally putting out his first book, (that’s right, he’s never written a book before this) I was pretty pumped. Even though I figure I’d be getting the book for free at the Together for the Gospel Conference next month, I couldn’t help but buy the book immediately. As it turns out, Mohler still hasn’t written a book…

That isn’t to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy his first book, “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth”, it just isn’t really a book. It is closer to a collection of blog essays pumped up to be a collection of essays. The book is made up of essays dealing with a plethora of issues. Mohler addresses hot topics from abortion, public education, the separation of church and state, war, torture, freedom of speech, and recent disasters such as Katrina, the tsunami, and Hiroshima. With each topic, Mohler offers a succinct description of the debate, and how Christians have usually been approaching the subject unbiblically.

Mohler’s greatest concern isn’t necessarily trying to tell Christians how to think. You’ll notice that each chapter just offer a paragraph or two on what a Christian is to do. That is because Mohler isn’t trying to tell people how to think, more how not to. He is encouraging mainline, evangelical Christianity to stop reverting to the ‘christianese’ it has been speaking, and to search the Bible for a true, Christ-like perspective.

There are a few chapters that I absolutely loved. The first is one on how our society is raising a generation of wimps. Parents are following their children everywhere, saving them from any sort of pain, from rejection to the skinned knee. We are raising kids who can’t stand correction or admonition. They are getting to college and many don’t know how to swim in the currents of academic criticism. He points out how our schools are gradually giving out more A’s, and it isn’t because the the work is improving, but the standards are being lowered. Not every kid is going to be an outstanding student. Not every kid is going to excel on the fields. Not every kid is going to be the prom queen or king. It is a great chapter that every parent should read. I know I found it helpful and will be re-reading it as Micah grows older. (turning 1 this week!)

Another chapter that was fascinating was on the topic of abortion. Sonogram machines are being used to prevent abortions, and some of those that are pro-choice corner are saying it is unfair and basically brainwashing. Speaking of these places, one Planned Parenthood vice president had this to say: “From the time they walk into these centers, they are inundated with information that is propaganda and that has one goal in mind. And that is to have women continue in their pregnancies.” Now pick up your jaw off the floor. She says the ultrasound technology, “isn’t a matter of providing more knowledge, but an attempt to manipulate women.” So much for fighting for the woman’s right to choose. Now she’s fighting for the right to kill the child. The mother’s rights have largely been abandoned by many in the fight.

Mohler has another chapter on the changing perspective on abortion, mainly in the pro-choice corner. Many are beginning to come to out and say that they realize that abortion is a sick, depraved practice. He sights a debate that was had on slate.com between two pro-choice personalities. An interesting portion of the chapter was where the woman arguing that abortion wasn’t as bad said that she saw the time coming where unwanted pregnancies would “join obesity and smoking as unacceptable behavior in polite society.” Mohler, in reaction, wrote, “Taken by itself, this is a truly amazing comment. At the very least, it suggests that, in Katha Pollitt’s social circle, obesity and smoking are taken as genuine moral issues, while abortion- the killing of an unborn human- is not.”

Overall, the book was a very interesting read, and one that I would fully recommend. Being only 160 small pages, the reading doesn’t take long, and the topics are addressed thoroughly, but succinctly. But, Al, I’m still waiting for a book. I’d still love to have him sit down in one topic, flush it all out, and write the insightful masterpiece he is capable of.

Jr High Winter Camp 2008: Day 3

The final morning mostly consists of packing up the disaster zone that previously been a cabin. I’m pretty sure that a few health codes were broken, and am going to start working on a ‘stench-alarm’ that will go off when the air conditions become stained with the smell of unbathed boy, and become too dangerous to inhale. We went through the traditional, “Whose toothbrush? Whose sock? Whose underwear? (that one hardly ever is answered, condemning many pairs to trash)

The final session was focused on Paul’s mantra of making himself a slave to all so that he may win the more. The main concern for almost every human, especially Americans, is the claim to freedom. The Christian, instead is called to make themselves into slaves, often forsaking personal liberties and freedoms, in order to win more to Christ. This was a great message for a bunch of self-centered Jr Highers, calling them to live with other people in mind, rather than just themselves.

He pointed out that slavery in the Old Testament allowed for slaves to obtain freedom after a certain amount of years. But the option was there for them to continue willingly serving their masters and make themselves slaves. Interestingly, there isn’t a recorded occasion of a slave doing this. It just isn’t natural for humans to do. But when we see the testimony of Christ in Philippians 2, we see our Savior humbling himself, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, and became man. He was obedient, obedient to death, even death on the cross.

One thing that EVERYONE has in common is that everyone likes being served. Everyone likes for someone to serve them and help them. He challenged us to think about our world would look if Christians everywhere became servants and slaves willingly, on account of the Gospel. Not to look to do things for self-serving purposes, but to constantly have others in mind.

The meeting ended with a few final songs from the band, who played a few bluegrass numbers. We ended up clearing a lot of our seats to the side and had a little hoedown to ourselves in the back, wrapping up a fun weekend with just having a good time with each other. Soon, the meeting ended, ending a fun camp. The bus arrived, and we headed down the mountain. For most of the kids, the real battle starts now. Nothing of what happened at camp will mean anything if their lives don’t carry out the change.

We appreciate any prayer you can give us. These kids are surrounded with temptations and calls to live against everything the Gospel demands of them. They are still growing and desperately need the power of God to follow through on their decisions and convictions. It’s a long road, but Lord willing, the grace of God will lead them down it, meeting them in their weakest moments and pushing them on in times of feasting.

Jr High Winter Camp 2008: Day 2

Day two started bright and early, probably a little too early for many of the boys in my cabin. After a delicious breakfast of waffles, we hung out outside for awhile, waiting for them to set up for the morning chapel. The leaders all sat on an oversized wooden swing, and had boys duel with snowballs for our entertainment. Soon, the boys thought it would be a good idea to turn on 5 and throw the snowballs at us. Matt and I quickly dispelled the wisdom in such an action after applying a white wash and snow down the shirt. They must at some point learn that they don’t mess with leaders. Only each other at the command of the leaders.

In the morning session, Darin spoke from the parable of the branch and the vine in the Gospel of John. Again, he pressed upon the idea that it is not all about us. When people look at the tree, they don’t say, “My, what wonderful branches!” No one marvels at the production of the branches, because the branches are just tools used to grow the fruit. The true source of the fruit is the tree, and the branches are just tools.

He also spoke about the production of the fruit itself, and said that so often we attempt to duct tape fruit on. Darin would say things like, “Hey, check out this fruit. Yeah, I went on a missions trip. Check me out.” God isn’t impressed or glorified when we ‘do’ things or speak ‘Christianese’, while our hearts remained unchanged. Instead, we must acknowledge our dependence upon the vine, and produce the fruit that He has prepared for us.

After the morning session, we prepared and sent off the group that was going to the mountain for skiing and snowboarding. Since about half the group was staying behind, I stayed back with them. I have never been one to ‘embrace’ the mountain, but I was actually a little disappointed I wasn’t going out to the mountain. One of the downsides to the camp was a lot of downtime, and then after everyone left for the mountain, it felt like a lot of energy and life had been sucked from the camp.

After lunch, we had a scavenger hunt that made us run all over the camp making snow angels, throwing snowballs, finding clues, counting steps, and screaming “I’m a Little Tea Pot”. My team, affectionately named “The Steve Holts”, made a valiant attempt at victory. After a lot of running around, we got all our answers the right way (we didn’t ask the camp staff to answer them for us like other teams did).
Much of the afternoon was spent tubing, where we pushed the course to the limits, sending as many people down the course as they’d allow. Since there weren’t that many in line at this time of the day, we pretty much could do whatever we wanted. Later on in the free time we played some games inside. I taught them how to play ‘Phase 10’, and they even had a ‘Rock-em, Sock-em’, which only another leader would play with me.

Eventually, the rest of the group got back from the mountain. They were full of stories, and some were a little too red, spurning my advice to where sun-block. After showering (minus the boys in my cabin who unfortunately thought bathing was for losers), we had dinner and our evening session.

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Jr High Winter Camp 2008: Day 1

This past weekend was the second of our two winter camps, but this time it was the Jr High variety. For our Jr High winter camps, we go to a camp that is run by the camp and we join a few other churches there. The camp that we had been going to for as long as I have been doing Jr High winter camps had been going down hill the last few years. Administrationally, it had been slipping and too many things were spontaneous or last minute. As far as teachers go, it was usually more miss than hit. Last year was a good year, but it wasn’t necessarily appropriate for a winter camp environment and audience.

This fall I got a calendar of speakers from the normal camps in the mail, and one in particular jumped out at me. Pondorosa Pines Christian Camp had Darin McWatters speaking to at a Jr High/High School combo weekend. Darin works up at Hume Lake overseeing the high school camp and Joshua, the college program up there, among other things. He was the singer/songwriter in the band formerly known as Everybodyduck, and generally a cool guy who appreciates jeans and a t-shirt. He’s a very effective camp speaker, communicates well with students, and remains faithful to the Word of God. So just like that, we decided to change camps for an opportunity to guarantee a good speaker.

Day One

Unlike the last camp we had, this one got off without any problems. Everyone showed up on time, and we didn’t have any problems with paper work or payments. We got going the earliest we ever have and we off to camp. Since Leah and Micah weren’t coming, I was able to ride on the bus for the first time in a long time.  We played “Outburst!” on the way up, and before we knew it, we were ascending the mountains!

Upon arriving everyone unloaded, I checked everyone in, and we found our way to our cabins.  When I walked in the Registration building, I was surprised to see Danny Lee checking his church in.  For those of you who don’t know Danny, he was the recruiter from Master’s that stayed at my house when I was in high school.  He interviewed me and helped convince me to go to Master’s.  Then we went to Seminary together, where is still taking the 12 year plan, while working at his church. It was nice being there and getting to catch up with him throughout the weekend.

There is nothing like being at a camp for the first time, trying to find where in the world your cabin is in the dark.  Thankfully, I was able to find the path and made it safe and sound through the woods.   Upon arriving at the cabin, I couldn’t find my stuff.  My first thought was that Russ, one of our leaders, had left it on the bus on purpose.  This all traces back to the year when he left his bags on the bus and was left without baggage and a sleeping bag for three days.  To this day, he thinks I hid his bags on the bus.  I keep telling him I wish I had thought of it, because it would be hillarious, but alas, it wasn’t me.

Then I found out from another person that they had announced they had my bags and Russ volunteered to take them.  When I heard this, I thought I was a goner.  He played stupid, like he didn’t know what happened.  After a little while, I found my sleeping bag and pillow in the snow between two cabins, and a straggling Jr Higher had my backpack of clothes.  I usually know where my stuff is when we’re unloading at camp, because Russ keeps threatening for payback for something I didn’t do, but failed to do that this year.

When we came together for our first chapel, Darin spoke on John 3:25-30.  It is the passage about John the Baptist deferring to Christ.  He spoke on how part of elevating our faith is subjecting ourselves to Christ and decreasing so He must increase.  It isn’t that he needs that which we can give to him, but that everything in John’s ministry was Christ’s.  He used the illustration of the Best Man and that his responsibility is to rejoice and support the Bridegroom.   The Best Man serves no other role other than to be happy for the groom.  It would be insane for the Best Man to take the attention at the service or to even kiss the bride.  That isn’t his role or his place.

The whole weekend was a great message of telling the Jr Highers that they aren’t the center of the universe.  They aren’t the most important thing since sliced bread, and that they must submit themselves to a holy and righteous God.  Their value is not in who they are in and of themselves, but in the God who has redeemed them.

After chapel, we had church time, where we spoke about how we need to defer in our lives.  Then we had free time where a bunch of us went to the tubing hill and had some fun there until 11pm.  It was nice and icy, so we were cruising down pretty quickly.  After a late night corn dog snack, we headed to our cabins for the night, which is always half the battle with Jr Highers.  I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Ian Graves, Matt Graves, Roger Morby, Dave Scott, Bob Hastings, and whoever else was a leader who had the misfortune of being my leader in the cabin at camps.  I guess this is cosmic payback.

Day 2 and 3 to come!

More Thoughts on Colossians

As I previously stated, our high school group has been going through the book of Colossians verse by verse, just making observations of the text.  This past week we finished the opening doxology of the book, where Paul states how thankful he is for the Colossians and their growing faith in God.

One interesting thing that we noticed was in light of one of the main purposes of the book.  One of the main purposes of the book is to confront this mysterious ‘Colossae heresy’.  We’re not really sure what this heresy was, but many believe it was a form of gnosticism.  This would be a group of people that hold to the thought that they have a higher knowledge than others do, and that generally flesh is bad and spirit is good.

An interesting observation that we made in the opening of the book was the importance that Paul places on things like ‘truth’, ‘understanding’, and ‘knowledge’.  Here is a list of their appearances in the opening section:

  • v.5- the word of truth, which is the gospel.
  • v.6- belief in the Gospel included both hearing and understanding.  this word is ‘epignosko’- has the idea of a definite knowledge and thorough knowledge of something.
  • v.6- they understood the grace of God in truth
  • v.9- ask that they be filled with the knowledge of his will
  • v.9- and understanding
  • v.10- increasing in the knowledge of God

A couple interesting thoughts on this chapter.

  1. Our first thought was that it is interesting that Paul places such a strong emphasis on the knowledge and truth of God’s Word and understanding it in the beginning of a book that is going to confront a heresy that is threatening the body of believers.
  2. I think this is for two reasons.  One is this, how do you combat heresy?  You combat heresy with the proper understanding of the truth of God’s Word.  Paul is not going to be writing this book stating his opinion or theory on the nature of Christ, but is appealing to the fact that this is the truth of the Gospel.  This is unequivocal.  You fight false-truth with truth.
  3. The other thing I believe is a concern to prevent heresy from taking a further hold on this body of believers.  How do you prevent heresy?  By fully understanding the truth of the Gospel.
  4. Another thought is this: Paul is thankful that they already understand the Gospel, but is also praying that they continue to grow in knowledge. They have come to a understanding of the Gospel, but Paul’s prayer is that they continue to grow in that knowledge to a greater degree.

So does truth matter?  If you are concerned about combating and preventing heresy and growing in God, yes!  This is a message our society must hear.  We live in a time where truth is subjective and open to interpretation.  The reality is that truth is certain and defined.  Truth is under attack, and the only way to defend it is by knowing it.