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The Power of Camp in My Life

When I Imagewent to camp at 17, I was an angry, rebellious kid with a chip on his shoulder and a mean streak to go with it. I spent most of my energy trying to get attention or gain acceptance. I was living in the shadow of an older brother who was able to do something I apparently couldn’t do: earn my dad’s approval and admiration. I was intrigued by the opportunity to go to camp when an older friend showed me his camp pictures from the previous summer.

However, because my family couldn’t afford the fee, I thought there was no way I could go. But my youth leader wouldn’t give up so easily.  He asked a caring woman from my hometown if she would pay to send me to camp, and she agreed. All I had to do was work in her garden pulling weeds with my youth leader.

The trip to camp was an adventure in itself, taking about 16 hours to get there. But it was the most beautiful natural setting I had ever seen.  And just as the camp itself was remote and set apart from the rest of the world, the culture – the social environment – of camp was very different, too. I felt overwhelming love and acceptance at camp, and I felt freer to be myself, because all the baggage and expectations placed upon me by my peer group, my parents and even myself seemed irrelevant at camp. It was such a liberating atmosphere in which to learn about God’s love for me and consider my future.

A couple of nights before the end of camp, the speaker – who delivered a message about God every day – presented the most compelling story of love I had ever heard. He told of Jesus’s willingness to endure torture, being mocked,  spat upon, stripped and then crucified… all because He loved me– because He was willing to die in my place to pay for my sins. And He did that for me, an obnoxious kid who felt unloved and unlovable at that point in his life. The speaker, Jim, asked us to consider our response to that love.

ImageAnd so, I walked out of that meeting and found a solitary place next to a giant rock overlooking the inlet where the camp was situated. My mind was spinning at the thought that I was loved that much… that I was actually lovable, and that Jesus proved His love in the most amazing, remarkable way. I really only had one question to answer in those moments:  Did I want to continue on the lonely, unfulfilling path I was currently on, or did I want to walk a new path with Jesus, who promised to continue loving me and walking with me through the rest of my life. I chose Jesus at camp, telling Him, “If my life is worth that much to You, You can have the rest of it.” I remember feeling like I was offering Him a dirty sweat sock in exchange for His amazing love, and I was a bit confused as to why He would even want it. But I was drawn by that love, and it was like cool water to a parched throat in the desert.

I know the camp environment and separation from my normal routine had a lot to do with my experience. In temporary community at camp, I had the time and space to contemplate what I really wanted from life, to consider my future as a long-term proposition, not just who I was expected to be now. It also created an environment where God could break through and demonstrate that I was accepted by him and didn’t need to prove anything. It was a fresh start — one my youth leader would build upon when we returned home.

Long before my experience in 1981, the power of camp was providing these monumental crossroads for kids, teenagers and adults to ponder life beyond their daily circumstances. And long after my experience, camp continues to deliver life-changing moments in which to make the most important of decisions. At camp, God rescued me from my small life and exchanged it for a grand adventure. That’s the power of camp.


Peace – Even When There’s No Coffee

Last week I took my first “Focus Day” since joining CCCA more than two years ago. I had been advised to do this by a couple camp/conference leaders, and had been craving the time to get away by myself, spend time with God, dream with Him about the future, ask for His guidance on current challenges and evaluate some of the opportunities that lie ahead for CCCA.

The day, which I had scheduled months before, turned out to be one of those absolutely gorgeous Colorado winter days that make me think of heaven. I went to the Broadmoor Hotel, dropped off my briefcase in a comfortable lounge with a roaring fireplace and began my walking prayer time around the lake. The temperature was near 50 degrees at 8:30 in the morning, yet it seemed that I had the whole property to myself. In fact, as I rounded the lake, I only passed one other person.

I stopped at the first tee box on the Ross Golf Course, which is a stone’s throw from the lake. As I looked up at the mountains and sky, then around at the golf course, I prayed, “Lord, I am not even worthy to stand here in your presence. I am clearly the ugliest thing on the landscape right now.” And again I thought of heaven and why I will fall on my face in the glory of His presence one day.

I was so content to just stand there and drink in the sunshine and scenery. I didn’t care about the time, and I had no set schedule – I was simply there to enjoy God’s presence and His creation for those moments. Then the clock on the mountain above the lake began to chime. But rather than rushing me from my reverie, the sound called me to stay still and listen. I heard every note of those rich, strong bells, and only wished that they could continue to ring so I could stand and listen even longer.

Then God provided a contrast.

I went to the Broadmoor coffee shop. As I walked in, the staff member from the adjacent gift shop said, “I’m sorry. The barista had to step out to run a quick errand. I’m sure she’ll be back in just a minute.” I noticed another customer standing at the coffee counter, a stern look on her face. I walked to the magazine rack and picked up a magazine with Aaron Rodgers on the cover and began to read the predictions for who would win the Super Bowl this year. (The expert had chosen the final two AFC teams correctly, but had missed both teams in the NFC championship game.)

I overheard the customer say to the gift store staffer: “This is ridiculous. How could this happen?”

“I’m so sorry, ma’am. She ran out of here pretty quickly. I think it was rather an emergency.”

“Well, this is just wrong. And somebody needs to know about it.” Then the customer stormed out of the shop and headed toward the front desk.

Less than 30 seconds later, the barista returned, and asked the gift store staffer if everything was all right. “Well, this guest needs to be served,” she said, waving toward me and avoiding the story of the angry customer altogether.

As I stepped to the counter, I saw the angry woman walk briskly past the coffee shop and out the door, looking more perturbed than before.

I ordered a roll and a coffee, and when I attempted to pay, the barista said, “This one is courtesy of me, for making you wait.”

I thanked her and left.

As I returned to my secluded fireside lounge, I realized that the impatient woman had missed out on receiving whatever she would have ordered, for free, and instead opted to run to the front desk and vent. In the time it took to lodge the complaint, she could have left the building with a free coffee and cinnamon roll. (I love cinnamon rolls!)

I also thought of how many times I’ve been in that woman’s place. Thinking of what I want, incredulous that the people who were here to serve me had dropped the ball, cost me time, failed to meet my expectations. On this day, when taking my time was a good part of the agenda, I refused to get upset. And I was rewarded. The angry woman left empty handed and caffeine-free. I pitied the next person on her calendar.

I don’t want to be her. Ever again.

I want my life, my attitude, my countenance to reflect the peace that passes understanding. I want to demonstrate to my family and my colleagues a grace that refuses to give in to the irritation of the unmet expectation.

By the way, I caught a snippet of the barista’s comment to the gift shop employee, “It was my son. He had an accident in his car and didn’t know what to do…”

Seems like that was more important than an angry woman’s cup of coffee – and even my cinnamon roll.

Do I Have a Dream?

Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. King’s name and his famous speech have been referred to a lot in the last several days, and I want to share a thought about why I believe his impact was so great.

You may have heard it said, “Dr. King delivered the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, not the ‘I Have A Plan’ speech.  Speakers and writers take a different slant on why the distinction is important. But one, author and marketing consultant Simon Sinek, said at a TED conference in Seattle that the “dream” is the key to unlocking a true connection between what a company offers and how the public responds to it.

Other revolutionary thinkers agree. Horst Schulze, former president and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Group, says that if we hire people just to fulfill a function, the employee becomes no different from a chair that fulfills a function. Instead, he says, “We should hire people to participate with us in our dreams.” And when our dreams become their dreams, the services we provide will be measurably better because of the emotional investment of our team members.

It’s all about getting to the “why” – why we do what we do. In Christian camping ministry, it’s quite easy to explain what we do: spiritual formation, horse programs, water sports, outdoor education. But how often do we dig down to the why?

I have a dream that Christian camping will be seen as the No. 1 feeder system of new and renewed Jesus-followers to the church. And that will be because people everywhere will see camping as the most effective way of providing a powerful environment for a connection with God.  Or, as my friend John McAuley of Muskoka Woods said last week: “Camping is the hope of the church.”

That’s a huge “why” at the heart of what we do in Christian camping and at CCCA.

If Dr. King had shared a plan, it likely would have been dismissed by a huge portion of the U.S. population as one more activist’s attempts to affect change. But when he shared his dream, he cast a vision that the listener couldn’t help but imagine. He captured the imagination of a nation the way a TV program captures your attention as you walk into a room, particularly a drama or action/adventure show that you can’t look away from. The visual images King painted with his words spoke passionately and clearly what was in his heart.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama,… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

See full text of the speech here:

How long has it been since you expressed your dreams to someone: your spouse, friends, co-workers, staff members, board members or donors to your ministry? Do they know why you do what you do? Do you?

No Map, Just Me.

Imagine planning a special bonding time with a son or daughter, or even a staff member. You’re looking to grow your relationship, to understand each other better, and you want to pour some wisdom into his or her life. You may choose a snow-boarding trip, a fishing weekend or a day at the beach. You want the young person to experience the trip moment by moment, so you keep the destination a secret. You know that if you tell that person where you’re going and what you’re going to do there, he’ll be focused on the destination and the activities while you travel, and not on the road trip—the journey with you.

In today’s reading of the devotional Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes this from the perspective of Jesus: “You would like to see a map, showing all the twists and turns of your journey… I will not show you what is on the road ahead, but I will thoroughly equip you for the journey.”

I know some of the stops on my journey today; I have a lot to accomplish. But even the schedule can’t always accurately dictate the way things actually transpire. Surprises will come, some good, some bad. I’ll be forced into detours or even backtracking to cover the same ground I’ve already traveled. But none of it is a surprise to the One who maps my journey. And He knows what I’ll need along the way, especially His presence, and He provides it all, without fail.

I can rest in that. I don’t, always. But I can.

So, as I prepare to take my younger son on a trip to the mountains tomorrow, he can rest assured that I’ll make the right decisions to ensure he is completely prepared with all he’ll need. But I may not tell him where we’re going or what we’ll do there. I want to spend the time with him, enjoying each other’s company, and for at least part of the journey, I want his full attention.

The Best Toys of All Time

Almost a year ago, Wired magazine put out its list of the five best toys of all time.  I opened the article with great interest and significant skepticism as I thought: “What video games or tech products will they name?  And which will I disagree with? Will any of my favorites be there?”

Even though I think of myself as a young-ish man, I feel like some of my values are extremely old fashioned compared to the culture we live in. So I was incredibly surprised, and amused, to read the list, because it seemed to come directly from my childhood years of the late 1960s and early 70s.

According to the Wired article, the five best toys of all time are…

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard tube
  5. Dirt

(Read the full, amusing article here:

I am sorry I didn’t blog about this before Christmas, especially if you have children who were pleading for the latest video game or other tech toy. You could have referred to this article and packaged up a cup or two of topsoil, slapped a bow on it and saved $39.99. Again, my apologies.

So, what’s our application to Christian camp and conference ministry?  Let me answer that question with a question:  Do you ever feel like we are replacing some of the most basic, tried-and-true methods of ministry with something current, “hip,” and popular? If so, does it ever come at a cost you wish you hadn’t paid, or at the expense of something you didn’t intend? Please share your thoughts.

I AM What You Want

Peter Reid is returning as daily Bible teacher for the 2011 CCCA National Conference next week in Asheville, NC, and I am eagerly awaiting what he will deliver to attendees. Two years ago, at the 2009 CCCA National Conference, Peter drew dramatic parallels between the prophet Elijah’s life and our relationship with God today.

Then a few months ago, Peter wrote in a column for InSite magazine, our bi-monthly publication, that our ministry can actually become an idol; that we can seek ministry goals more than we seek God Himself. He wrote: “We need to develop a ‘holy disinterest’ in our ministry lest it usurp a place in our hearts which Christ must occupy.”

Peter concluded his article with his own poetic writing that I’ve heard him recite before. It is so powerful, I want to share it with you here. I encourage you to read it slowly and to consider each part of each line carefully.

I AM What You Want

When you desire The Light more than what He reveals, you’ll see what you haven’t understood.

When you desire The Bread more than being satisfied, you’ll enjoy fullness of joy.

When you desire The Door more than the pasture He exposes, you’ll enter inner freedom.

When you desire The Shepherd more than His voice, you’ll hear Him speak to you by name.

When you desire The Resurrection more than being raised, you’ll start doing the impossible.

When you desire The Way more than the direction He gives, you’ll walk in His good will.

When you desire The Truth more than acquiring knowledge, you’ll search the depths of God.

When you desire The Life more than the Christian life, you’ll experience Christ as your Life.

When you desire The Vine more than the fruit He produces, you’ll bear fruit that remains.

Does God Look the Other Way?

The other day I was talking with a friend who asked, “In heaven, do you think we’ll care enough to ask God: ‘Why did So-and-So thrive on earth when You know they mistreated people and seemed so full of pride?’”

Hmmm, good question. Maybe you know someone like that who runs a business. But especially if they serve a ministry, their successes can be really surprising, even frustrating, because of what you know. “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” (Ps. 10)

Then I thought, “If people even care about these things in heaven, how many would be asking God about me?”

It was a comfort to me to think that in heaven, in the presence of Almighty God, all these kinds of questions will melt away. They just won’t matter anymore.

Are you bothered by leaders who don’t seem to try to lead like Jesus? Are you curious about how others perceive you as a leader?


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