This past week God blessed me with the opportunity to direct a high school overnight camp for Spotlight Youth Theater. This is a camp experience that I had when I was in high school and it the positive, kingdom impact it has had on my life is still be measured today. When I found out that I had been given this position, my first reaction was absolute terror. I said to God, “Lord, I am twenty years old. I’m basically in high school. How am I supposed to be a leader and a carrier of the word to these students?”
Over the next couple months however, God gave me the confidence to know that I would not be leading anybody, but that He would be leading through me. So I did the only thing I could do, I began to pray. I had a long list of prayers that I would submit to Him on my knees everyday. One of those prayers had to do with numbers. In the last three years, high school camp has seen a significant decrease in enrollment, and it hit it’s lowest mark ever last year with only 65. I knew that God had big plans for the week and good news that He wanted to spread, and it was clear that there were more than 65 students that He wanted to hear it. One day, in prayer, He put the number 100 on my heart and I ran with it. I asked God each day that He would increase the enrollment by almost 40%, a steep task. I think some people thought it was a little far fetched, even I did at times, but nothing is too steep for God.
As each week passed, I would check the enrollment, and with each week we got closer and closer to our goal. We broke 65 with more than a month to go and the Friday before camp started we were up to 97. I wanted to bust out screaming in joy, and I did for a bit, but then I got back on my knees, because I believed that God had made a promise and He intended to keep it.
The first day of camp hit on Monday morning and as registration began I was praying or walk-ins. When eleven o’clock rolled around I went to our Coordinator and asked her for the official number. 99. We had two walk-ins and ended with exactly 99 campers. To be honest, I had mixed emotions about the news. I was first amazed and felt so blessed that God had increased the enrollment by such an unbelievable amount, but at the same time, I couldn’t help wondering why He had left it just one short of the number I’d been praying for. There had to be a hundredth camper somewhere, and I was determined to find them.
Fast forward five days and one billion blessings, and I’m sitting on the stage in the chapel playing the piano during reflection time, looking out through the darkness over all the campers. I am filled with so much thankfulness towards each and every one because of how brave they have been and how much their stories and testimonies have ministered to me. It is at this moment that God whispers into my heart and I realize He did not leave us one short. I had been questioning it all week in my heart and now I knew, I was the hundredth camper. God left one spot open to remind me that He was going to stretch and teach and call out to me through the students just as much, if not more, then I was going to call out to them. I sat their humbled by God’s dramatic and incredible design for each and every circumstance. If we had gotten exactly one hundred, I would have never started searching for the hundredth camper and never had that realization and thankfulness to both God and each and every student.
When you allow God to be your personal leader, the people you lead will most often minister to you more than you do to them. Thank you campers, my friends, more stories and blog posts to come about both weeks.
There once was a God
And that God made many things
He made Light to shine
Plants to grow
Water to nourish
And the stars to look pretty
He made the sun to give warmth
The fish to swim
The animals to graze
The birds to fly
And He made man to watch over it all
God made Noah to build
Abraham to birth a nation
and Jacob to raise sons
God made Joseph to dream dreams
And Daniel to interpret them
He made Moses to lead slaves
And Aaron to pray for them
God made Joshua to battle
And David to slay giants
He made Solomon to be wise
And Peter to be a rock
He made Esther to stand up
And Mordecai to be a mentor
God made Hosea to forgive
Isaiah and Jeremiah to prophesy
Paul to be converted
Jonathan to be a friend
Lazarus to raise up
Martha to serve Mary to follow
He made the blond man to see
The lame Man to walk
The poor made to be rich
And the rich man to be poor
The youngest son to come home
The greedy tax collector to be a disciple
God made Jesus to die (and then not die) Switcharoo!
God made all
And then God made you, and you, and you, and you , and me to do even greater things then those.
At camp this week one of my campers, I’ll call him Nick, is one of the most unique kids I have ever met. To give you an idea, on Monday morning I approached to this small for his age, blonde, eight year old with glasses and I asked, “What’s your name?” Without even responding, Nick made a muscle and started pointing at it. After I few seconds I realized that he wanted me to feel how strong he was. I knew right away that we would be friends.
Throughout the rest of the week, Nick told me all about his workout regimen, as well as what he wanted to me when he grew up. I asked him, “Nick, what would you like to be one day?” He said, “A scientist.” A likely answer for a kid his age, so I asked, “what kind of scientist?” And he answered absolutely matter of factly, “I’m gonna cure cancer.”
The answer caught me off guard a little bit as I chuckled to myself. “You’re gonna find the cure, huh?” I said. And Nick just nodded at me, as if it was no big deal. He was talking about it as if he had already accomplished the greatest breakthrough in modern medicine. He was so sure of it. To him, it was not some big, seemingly impossible dream, to him, it was just going to happen.
I think that is how God would answer us if He were to tell us the amazing things He was going to accomplish in our lives. For us, wanting to build an orphanage in a third world country, or trying to start a church may seem like a big, seemingly impossible dream. But to God it’s just going to happen, because he ordained it to happen. He says it to us matter of factly because He is certain that with our obedience, He will accomplish His beautiful will for our lives, no matter how impossible the dream may seem.
In the gospel of John, Chapter 21, some of Jesus’ disciples are out fishing and as usual, they are catching nothing. Jesus then appears on the shore (unrecognized by them, this is after the cross and the resurrection) and calls out to them, “Throw your nets over the right side of the ship, you shall find”. As they are following his instructions, John says to Peter, “It is the Lord”. Then the word tells us that Peter threw on his robe and jumped headlong into the water and swam to shore to meet Jesus.
I absolutely love this image. I imagine there was zero hesitation on Peter’s part. He hears it from John, he peers over the side of the boat, and before his eyes even has time to light up his heart screams, “It’s my Savior, my Lord,” and he goes flying into the water.
I imagine this was no a very graceful dive and swim to shore, and I imagine Jesus chuckling the whole time as he watches Peter flailing towards him in the water. “Still can’t walk on it, huh?” Jesus thinks. But what an embrace the two of them must have shared, and what a feast. The scripture’s tell us that when the disciples came to shore, Jesus had bread and fish waiting for them to eat. It must have been the most joy filled part any of them had ever been too.
That is how I want to enter heaven, out on a boat in the middle of the sea, then I recognize Jesus on the shore, so I jump head first into the water and flail towards Him using something like a butterfly stroke. Then we share a long awaited, warm embrace and a huge meal to begin eternal life.
I want to dare to ask God for the impossible in my life. Not because I have all of these amazing stories about how God came through in just the final seconds with some miracle that I’d been praying for. Not because I’ve experienced it in my own life, and not even because I know people and have a bunch of stories about instances where God has done unbelievable things. But I want to dare to ask God for the unbelievable because I believe that He is the God of the bible, and He still desires to accomplish unimaginable things through His creation.
He still desires to set an entire nation free from slavery.
He still desires to show Himself in a burning bush.
He still desires to deliver an army of 300 hundred over and army of 10,000.
He still desires to take 5 loaves and use them to feed 5,000.
He still desires to bring down the wall of Jericho without any weapons.
He still desires to give the tiny shepherd boy victory against the largest giant.
He still desires to save us from the fire, the lions den, the storm.
He still desires to walk on water.
He still desires to heal the blind.
He still desires to humble the most rebellious nation in the world using a prophet who didn’t even want to carry the message.
He still desires to speak through a donkey.
He sill desires to speak through an angel.
He still desires to whisper.
He still desires to provide fishermen with a monster catch.
He still desires to overthrow Pharaohs and humble kings.
He still desires to exalt dreamers and glorify servants.
He still desires to change the heart of the Pharisee.
He still desires to give all the wisdom in the world to a young leader.
He still desires that every tongue, literally every tongue, would confess his name.
He still desires to bring order out of chaos.
He still desires to bring light into darkness.
He still desires to give rest to weary.
He still desires to heal the sick.
He still desires to resurrect the dead into new life.
I believe that. And in order to have a faith that shines like the stars, we need to be willing to ask God for the impossible so that when He does the unthinkable, we know that the miracle came from no where else other then a Father who willed it to happen. A faith that shines like the stars belongs to the person who not only dream of a life where the miraculous occurs, but actually prays and believes that God can and desires to do it, and that He will continue for all generations. That’s the kind of faith I want to have.
I find it slightly ironic that I’m categorized and appointed as a leader for small groups and Bible studies among my friends and community in the church. I find it even more ironic that I enjoy doing it. I say this because small groups and Bible studies used to scare the daylights out of me. All throughout high school I avoided youth groups like the plague because I knew that I would be forced into a small group or a house group where I would further be forced to share the ugly details of my personal life. I went under the illusion that I believed my personal walk with Christ, or lack there of in reality, was my own business, not meant to be shared or spouted to anyone else. I was content with leaving my judgment, my lust, and my hypocrisy in the closet, because if I didn’t have to deal with my weaknesses in a group, then I could more easily ignore them in my own life.
Over the years, however, God has granted me a complete change of heart. I’m now part of several small groups throughout the year, including leading a Bible study and an event called Basement Worship, where my friends and I commit our ‘hang out time together’ to worshipping the Lord instead of watching a movie or going out to eat. God has revealed to me not only the beauty, but the need for vulnerable community in my life.
Most of our lives are lived in non-vulnerable communities. In our work environment we usually commit ourselves to being as strong as possible. Don’t show any weakness, or else you may not be able to climb the business ladder. Amongst our friends it’s the same way. We don’t want to admit that we struggle with sin. We hide our jealousy, our pain, or our weakness from those around because God forbid if anyone should appear more ‘Holy’ or ‘successful’ then we are. We seem to be obsessed with creating an unhealthy, passively competitive culture in our businesses, our teams, our friends, and even our families.
Theses non-vulnerable communities require that everyone wear a mask of perfection, omitting any struggles or hardships and pretending that we have it all under control. The non-vulnerable community results in people who are so fearful and so closed off, that connection is no longer possible and every man is his own island of plastic, pretended treasures.
The vulnerable community, on the other hand, encourages openness about imperfection. It celebrates the reality that we are all imperfect and broken, and pursues the reality that both personal and communal restoration is achieved most effectively through vulnerability with God and with others.
I have tried to encourage vulnerable community in the teams I lead. It’s uncomfortable at the start, but it results in a team of people who truly trust and serve one another in humility. It puts everyone on the same level, so that we can begin the climb together with the strength of the whole team backing each other up. Nothing is more powerful then that kind of teamwork.
I want to live in vulnerable communities. I don’t want to hide my issues and imperfections anymore. I want to share them openly with my friends and I want them to share theirs openly with me. I want us to find brotherhood and sisterhood as we recognize and breath easier that every one else is just as human as we are. I was to pray with one another over the serious things and laugh with one another over the silly things and cry with one another over the sad things.
I don’t want to wear the mask of perfection, it usually doesn’t fit me very well anyway.
I used to always pretend my life was a movie when I was a kid. I remember one specific fantasy that I would play out almost everyday during my summers off from elementary school. I pretended that I was on a travel baseball team from Alabama (I used that think Alabama would be the coolest place to live) and the team I was on wasn’t very good, but I was the leader and our coach really believed in us. Everyday, as the season went on in my mind, we would win another tournament against harder competition, and our national ranking would rise. We lost sometimes, but only to overcome it with an even greater victory later. In the end, we won a national tournament and became the best travel team in the country, and I was MVP.
I have such fond and specific memories of what everything looked like in my head, as we traveled around the country constantly singing Sweet Home Alabama. In reality of course, I was just running around my basement in my pajamas pretending to play baseball games and act our dramatic scenes with the coach. I am still convinced today that it would have made a great movie, but Warner Brothers has shown no interest. It’s a great story, yeah?
I think we all, at one time or another, have wished that our life was like a movie. That we could overcome great odds to achieve an end the requires epic, triumphant music. I want my life to tell a great story, like the great movies. But great stories, in order to achieve great triumph, must first tread the waters of trials and suffering.
The scenes that make great movies great are often the scenes we want to skip, the ones that are painful to watch. When The Pursuit of Happiness, we want to skip the scene where Will Smith locks himself and his son in the train station bathroom because they have no where else to sleep. But if we do not watch that scene, if we do not invest ourselves in, and persevere through the suffering, then the triumphant climax at the end of movie when he walks in slow motion down the streets of New York City means very little to us. Not to mention the title just sounds silly. It would just be called Happiness, we could leave out the whole ‘pursuit of’ part.
I am convinced that we will never experience immense triumph in our story if we are committed to avoiding pain and suffering. Pain, suffering, trials, tribulations, stumbling blocks, they’re what makes the eventual triumph so triumphant. The baseball team that is already the best at the beginning of the season, and then goes on to win the national tournament is a boring story, because people aren’t inspired by individuals who achieve easy to reach goals without any struggle. People are inspired by stories of individuals who faced unbelievable odds, adversities, and knockdowns, in pursuit of a goal that is conceivably way beyond them. Movie characters dream big about their goals. We want our lives to feel like a movie, yet our dreams and mundane, and barely lifesize. Characters who live great stories, the ones on the big screen, live to achieve dreams that are larger then life.
If God, or anyone for that matter, were to watch the movie of my life, I would want it to be a comedy, tragedy, action, suspense, romance, thriller, biopic, fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational, tear jerking, belly laughing, butt quenching epic where I, as the leading character, follow the script that God, the director, has given me, and it leads me on a pursuit of places, relationships, platforms, and dreams I never could have dreams of.
I want to close this post by using the wise words of Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
What are you holding onto?