Whom the Lord commends

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:18 (ESV)

I’m coming to the end of my time in a student ministry I’ve been involved with for almost eleven years – seven in my current capacity as an equipper of student worship bands. Preparing to leave has been a bit harder than I thought it would be, although I know it’s the right time to step down.

It’s been a struggle. A struggle of the mind and heart and emotions. It’s been a struggle as I wonder how I should say goodbye to people who have meant so much to me. Or even wondering if there is a need to say goodbye (I am not moving away, just moving into a different place of service . . . somewhere). “Low key” is good counsel, I believe.

And it’s strange to say goodbye to all the work and effort and times of great struggle and prayer that have so shaped who I am today. To mistakes and looking at myself in the mirror and realizing so often that I was wrong. To times of great victory, times when the ones in my care finally “got it” and began to open up to God without fear. To harder times when they didn’t, and the year ended, and things were left unsaid and growth didn’t happen and lives were left unchanged. I fear that I never got through to some of them. And sometimes I was the one who didn’t grow and didn’t change. Ministry goes both ways.

It is goodbye to the joy and privilege week in and week out of equipping students to lead worship. It has been amazing. There were times when the worship was “Spirit and Truth” worship and that was just incredible. Some relationships have been built that will last a lifetime. But all of these students, the ones that I still know well and the ones that I never see these days, will stay with me, in my memory and my heart as I see or hear of them growing up, getting married (this has already begun with the students from the first few years), having children. Most of all there is a great sense of satisfaction to see them continue in their relationship with God. That’s the best thing.

I was a lay-leader, not a full time minister. Well, “was” is too strong a term – I still “am” for the next week and a half. Others ministered full-time and had even more invested in the lives of these precious students. I’ve been continuously amazed by the pouring out of themselves into student’s lives by so many workers I know.

So I’m left meditating on this passage: “. . . it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” At this point, here at the end, I’m so scattered emotionally that I don’t know what the final verdict – the only verdict that matters – will be on this work. To be honest, I’m realizing more and more in these last few days that I’m a broken individual who comes equipped, as so many of us do, with all the battering rams of ego and flesh and a bent mind and baggaged heart slamming, slamming, and slamming away. It makes me tremble to think about it. Lord, may it be shown in the end that You were the one doing the work.

And all that I’ve done I hope that it counts

I’d rather be knocked down

Than to be knocked out

So I’ll let go of what I know,

Of what I’ve learned here in the past [seven] years

My heart is frozen with meaningless motions

So I’ll hold onto You

And all that I’ve done

I hope that it counts

Knocked Out by Bleach

Lord, it’s been amazing. It’s been awesome. I just can’t come up with words to thank You for letting me do this for so long. And Lord, I hope that it counts.

He has done great things!

The Lord has done great things for us;

we are glad.

– from Psalm 126 (ESV)

I just got back from Junior High camp. It was simply an amazing week and it surpassed by far all my expectations. God showed up every single night and there were many saved, many lives changed. In addition, there was a sweet spirit over that camp, and many kids who have never felt accepted for who they are got to live four full days in a place where no one judged them for how they look, how good they are in sports, or what they have. That is a taste of heaven.

The student worship band I work with led worship all week, and they simply blew me away. Lord, why do I get to do this? It’s just grace – I don’t deserve it at all.

I can’t write cogently at the moment, but would like to recount some favorite moments of camp, randomly:

The student worship band that I work with. They worshipped freely, and played and sang their hearts out. It will be very hard to say goodbye to these five precious ones in August. God orchestrated our sets in a way that I find amazing – the right song at the right time and that without any communication on the sets to speak of with our camp speaker. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

The messages and seeing God moving in the hearts of these kids. Everyone who heard that I was going to a Junior High camp extended their condolences. They just don’t understand: Junior highers rock! They can grasp what God is telling them, they can respond, and they did, in wonderful ways, this week. Chris Mayfield, our speaker, is gifted in ways that still amaze me even after seven years of working with him.

My two beautiful daughters, Molly and Bethany, who came to camp. They both had a great time!

My small group – wow! There were many hurts in this small group – these kids are hurting because of homes that are broken, parents that are broken, and the effects of sin. We live in a broken world. But they pulled together and began becoming the Body to eachother, reaching out to each other with healing words and touches.

Rec! My small group also got clobbered in all three games the first day, but they never, ever gave up and had a great second day, going 2-0-1. I was so excited I was dancing on the rec fields.

Did I mention that I can’t dance? But I did anyway, a lot, this week. There was a lot of dancing at camp this week – not “couples” dancing, just dancing for joy. At rec, before the services, during the meals (we had a karaoke machine). I wish that when I was a timid seventh grader I could have been in a place where I was not intimidated to experience the joy of dancing.

My daughter Bethany on the karaoke mic during lunch singing an a-capella version of the theme to the musical Hair.

Our final worship service for the Victory Camp staff at 11:00pm on the last night. It has become a tradition to offer them a simple worship service at the end of the week; they all work so hard to serve our kids and they are often very tired by this time of the year. This service was some of the best worship I’ve ever heard. Ahhhh… this band! God, thank You, thank You, thank You for these five. Kevin, Megan, Joey, Kelsey, Brad – you bless me so much. I love each one of you, and I’m going to miss you like crazy next year. And Randy, thanks for running the powerpoint so I could just worship in the crowd.

Doing the dangling duo with Joey. It’s a ropes-course exercise where two climbers have to help eachother up to the top of a series of suspended beams. It was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do physically for decades. We made it. Joey (who I outweigh by a good 50, 60 pounds) had to lift me up to each new level. Amazing. It occurred to me that the Christian life is much like this. We are saved and the Lord has us in His hands just as the camp staffers had ahold of our tension ropes. We are completely safe, but life is still often very hard, and without brothers to help pull us up when we’re slipping we are in deep trouble.

Nurse Jill!

Talking and praying with Randy and the band.

Waffle House at 1:00am on the last night!

“Gotta get one jump ahead of the breadline”

Did I mention Nurse Jill? My beautiful bride, who served all week. So glad you could come babe.

Our YMCA-style “victory tunnel” that we formed with our upraised arms and that all the kids who got saved that week got to run through (twice) on the third night. That was awesome!

My walks with God. I took many of them this week, just walking around Victory Camp talking with the Lord. These were not always easy; I am learning uncomfortable things about the way my mind works, about how desperately I need to be renewed in my mind. I fought battles this week that no one saw. And I believe there was a lot of spiritual warfare going on this week. Many of our leaders were praying hard in their own times with God. I believe that the sweet spirit that was in this camp was from the Lord as He spread His protective wings over this camp. Blessed be His name, forever!

Pizza on the grounds of the ropes course late, late at night, just hearing the stories and victories from the (amazing, incredible, Godly) young leaders we had with us. Everyone said the same: God had answered their prayers and then some, and we were all ashamed that we were surprised at this!

It’s 7:00am in the morning of the second day. I’m in my pajamas, standing on the stage, holding my toiletries bag. I have the notion of praying over the worship. I have just come from the, um, nurse’s quarters, which is a little room off the worship center. The cabin I am theoretically assigned to (full of junior high boys and some very hardy and competent highschool and college counselors) is across the camp. Randy walks in and asks “What are you doing here?”

Have I mentioned Nurse Jill yet? :-)

Getting to pray with a young man named Ryan who made Jesus his Lord on the first night. There were 20+ kids who entered into this relationship this week, and from reading decision cards I observed a great deal of maturity and spiritual understanding. These did not seem to be emotional decisions.

For those of you whose eyeglasses are fogging up from the comment before last, don’t worry – we kept it platonic :-)

Working hard, staying energetic, sweating, lifting sound equipment, running, playing and keeping up with the teenagers. I’m always amazed at how much stamina I am granted at camp.

The food. It’s always good at Victory Camp.

Getting to counsel a young man named Elliot who was feeling distant from God. THEN bumping into him an hour later to discover that he had just had the privilege of praying with one of his friends as that friend accepted Christ that night.

Did I mention my small group? Matt, Emily, Chelsea, the other Chelsea, Melanie, Garrett, Desiree, Brendan, Riley, and Amy. You guys played hard, served eachother, stayed on topic, listened, talked, and just really blessed me.

“Go flat!”

Talking with Dodge, Joey, and Brad late last night.

The seven young leaders, highschoolers and college students, who surrendered to full time ministry last night.

Kelsey in a fairy costume, singing “Born to be Wild” on the karaoke. You just haven’t lived until you’ve seen that.

Knees to the Earth

Holy Roar

Be My Escape

Rain Down

Into Your Presence

Psalm 126

Here With Me

Megan, who sang her heart out, and has stepped out beyond her fear, and who probably doesn’t know how much that blesses me.

Kevin, who stepped up in leadership and sang till he was hoarse and played expertly. And who kept us laughing till our sides hurt.

Brad, who played until his fingers were aching, and led, and harmonized, and added so much to this band. He probably doesn’t realize how much.

Joey, who played until his arms were about to fall off, and who hoisted me to the top of the aforementioned dangling duo, and who worshipped like crazy.

Kelsey, who shined brightly as always, and encouraged and rejoiced and proved to me even more why she is the glue that holds this band together.

Chris, who’s swan-song as a camp speaker could not have been better. Love you, bro!

Randy and Jeremy, who led and organized and served in the background, always with their amazing good humor, sharp wit, and devotion to ministry.

And all the amazing highschool and college students and interns and student office workers who came and poured their lives out for these kids. They are, quite simply, just amazing. I’m always blown away by these people.

And, of course, Jesus Christ, the King of kings, who rained down His love and grace on this camp and who deserves all the glory and praise. Without Him this week, I wouldn’t be writing this post. All my favorite moments listed above would not have been favorites unless He had been there. I can’t adequately thank Him for all that He has done. I just don’t know how – words don’t suffice. All I can do is just thank Him for His amazing grace.

He has done great things!

Some Pictures:

Below is a picture of the worship band at the service for the victory camp staffers. This was near midnight last night, after a week of (maybe) 5 hours of sleep a night. They were exhausted but they just laid it all out on the line. Oh wow . . .

And here I am with the 249N band, left to right: me, Joey, Mego. Bottom: Kevo, Kelso, Brad.

The Bride

My wife and I have been to two weddings in the past month. The two young brides in these weddings are both wonderful Christian girls and the young men they married are richly blessed.

I love weddings! By far my favorite part of any wedding is the entrance of the bride. My heart always starts beating at that moment, when we stand to honor the beautiful young woman being ushered down the aisle by her father. It is an amazing moment.

How much more amazing is it to know that Christ calls us His Bride; His beautiful, spotless Bride. The church takes a lot of abuse these days, from those within it and without it. Some of the criticism is deserved, yet I am always reminded that Christ calls the church His Bride, and in Christ she is spotless and pure.

A wedding is planned, and one day all the heavenly host will stand, hearts beating, as the Bride is ushered into the wedding feast. Christ loves the church and laid His life down for her. Blessed be His name!

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready . . .

– Revelation 19:7 (ESV)

A holy moment in the dark

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them . . .

– Acts 16:25 (ESV)

I wish I could have been there to hear it. What a holy moment that must have been.

Especially if you consider what had just occurred. Paul and Silas weren’t in any kind of prison we’d recognize. They were in stocks, in a first century dungeon.

“. . . they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.” – verse 19

“The crowd joined in attacking them” – verse 22

“. . . and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods” – verse 22

“[the jailer] put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” – verse 24

For the sake of the gospel, Paul and Silas were stripped naked, beaten with rods, and, bruised and bleeding, they were thrown in prison and put in the stocks. My expectation is that the position of their bodies in the stocks was not a comfortable one. This was not what we would call “due process”.

And yet there, in the darkness, they sang. They sang and they prayed.

What I would give to have been there, to hear the sweet songs of supplication, of praise, of victory that they sang. In the stocks, their bodies aching and bruised, Paul and Silas did the last thing anyone would have expected.

No wonder the other prisoners were listening.

New version of Bloo, ever?

Yes. Eventually.

I realized a few weeks ago that I had to put some of my coding efforts on the back-burner, due to the heightened activity of the summer, and a lot of events, people, and efforts that are in line before this little project of mine. I am nearly done with Bloo v 0.15, but it may be awhile before it emerges.

Not that anyone’s exactly waiting with bated (baited? Never got that straight) breath . . . :-)