I have the immense honor of writing for The Ambrose Institute, a spiritual formation and congregational development program through Nashotah House Theological Seminary. This is my latest article written for Formatio, the online journal of Ambrose. Just click the links and see the amazing work they do to form and encourage the Body of Christ!
Why is it so difficult to rouse children from their beds during the year for school, yet they spring out of bed and dash outside quicker than you can say “Jack Sprat” during the summer months? There is an enthusiasm for summer: freedom! New adventures to be had, vacations to take, visits with grandparents, playing outside past sunset and long past “bedtime.”
With summertime comes the opportunities for trips that children and youth can take away from family, school teachers, and the humdrum of “normal” household routines. Those trips can be day camps, overnight or week-long camps, and vacation Bible schools. These trips are wonderful opportunities for children to learn about Jesus, learn new skills, explore different places, overcome old fears, make new friends, and renew friendships from previous summers.
Camps can be a wonderful part of what “summer” means for a child. I have such fond memories of summer camps. Even though my parents were Baptist, my grandparents were Pentecostal preachers and church planters, so I went to summer camp with the Church of God every year. The first year I went, I was miserable for the first two days as I missed my family terribly. It was difficult to make new friends, adjust to the different routines and activities, and be away from my own home and in a strange place. I had a wonderful camp counselor who talked about Jesus with me. She gently nudged me out of my comfort zone, and I began to see that I could learn about God through different ways and activities. By the end of the week, I did not want to leave camp with our singing, praying, making crafts, playing games, and reading the Bible. I returned to camp for six more years and had opportunities to mentor those first- and second-year campers. Even now, thirty years later, I remember Bible verses and books of the Bible that I memorized during those summers at camp.
So how can we prepare our children for summer camps so that they have the best experiences? You know your children and their unique personalities. Talk with them about activities they might like to do or learn. Have them imagine what they think camp might be like. Also speak with them regarding what might scare them or make them apprehensive to attend camp; you can begin to assuage their fears before they even begin the camp or VBS.
When they have arrived home from camp, they will be full of stories and want to share what they learned, new people they met, what kinds of food they ate, and the activities they participated in. Their enthusiasm and energy might be overwhelming, but how wonderful it would be to have them share their decision to follow Jesus with you and their friends and their church!! If they had any fears or apprehensions before they went away and were able to conquer those fears, encourage their triumph over those fears. Their successes might be the part they remember, rather than the original fear, when they wish to go back again next year!
Throughout the year continue to talk about camp and help reinforce the values they learned and decisions they made. Lessons such as cooperation and sharing will be invaluable for them with siblings and friends at school. Having the courage and faith to talk about God and ask questions about Jesus will help empower them to speak more about God to their friends when they return home. And they will continue to sing those campfire songs about how Jesus loves them long after the warmth of summertime has faded! I pray that as our children experience all types of camps and vacation Bible schools throughout the summertime, they will be blessed with treasured friendships, encouraging counselors and leaders, and experiences that they will carry with them not only when school resumes in the fall but for the rest of their lives as well.
The Angelus tolls in the crisp air, and I am reminded of the gift of God bestowed to the Virgin Mary. As the bell continues its patterned ring, I speak my prayers and offer my heart to the Lord. May this pause offer an opportunity to be mindful of Christ in my life and to keep Him present throughout my day.
The Angelus is one of many reminders we have throughout our busy days to stop and pause and pray to God. We say grace at meals. We pray before going to bed. We pray when we get up. We pray before taking a test. We pray during church. We pray at the flag pole. We teach our children what prayer is and when we should pray. We teach them specific prayers that we say at certain times of the day. As we get older, we have memorized prayers that we rely upon for strength, peace, guidance, temperance. These words offer us comfort, help to calm us, give us courage when we need it, reconnect us to our Father and God.
Fr. John-Julian, the Order of Julian of Norwich, designates a certain type of prayer, a “still” prayer, as “a state rather than an action.” We pray at certain times and at events throughout our days and during our lives. Fr. Julian takes our understanding of prayer deeper from that of an act that we do to a way that we are. Prayer is a moment of sharing a conversation with God. Prayer can also be more than just a moment; it can be a way of being that transcends the ticks on a clock.
God longs for us to speak with Him, to spend time with Him. In the beautiful lyrics from musician Larnelle Harris, “I miss my time with you, those moments together, I need to be with you each day, and it hurts me when you say you’re too busy, busy trying to serve me, but how can you serve me when your spirit’s empty.” God calls us to be with Him, and I believe He delights when we respond to His call and share moments of our life with Him. I also believe that He aches to be with us during ALL moments. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 prompts us to “pray without ceasing.” According to the verse, we are to be in a constant state of prayer.
But what does “pray without ceasing” look like? No, perhaps we don’t get on our knees, clasp our hands together, close our eyes, and speak our prayers to God. While some of our daily prayers may have that specific posture, God does not require that structured action. Still, or contemplative, prayer is a quiet from within that fills the spaces and centers our minds and hearts on God. Much like we can have a jar of pebbles that might represent our more formal prayers throughout the day, still prayer could be like the fresh water we pour into the jar that fills the spaces between the pebbles. In still prayer we are open to God’s voice and direction; we are thinking of “what is true, noble, righteous, and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).
As the final echo of the Angelus fades from the air, my thoughts and attention resumes on the tasks at hand and the business of the day. However, my heart and spirit remain connected with God through the Holy Spirit. May we seek God and respond to His voice not only in the specific moments during the day but also within the quiet spaces as well.
This name has spawned a bit of backlash recently. Why? He wrote a blog post about why he doesn’t attend church much, if at all, anymore.
I read his original post here.
I then read his follow-up post here.
I then read some responses to is blog here …
and here …
and here …
and a really good one here …
and another one here …
Clearly, this Donald Miller has struck a nerve.
But if we abandon all that we don’t like or remain with those who align with us 100%, we will end up alone or, worse, lukewarm.
Sorry for all the jumps. This Donald Miller, I admit, has struck a nerve with me as well. It’s personal. And it’s important.
And just like I was for 16 years…he’s wrong.
I’ve been following a pastor out of Canada on his blog for a while now. Carey Nieuwhof. He makes excellent points regarding church growth, connecting with one another, how to look at your church without a filter, (more importantly?) how to look at yourself without a filter, and so much more. What he says, though, resonates with me. His posts are brief, numbered, and direct. He admits that he fights burnout. He admits there are people he simply doesn’t like. He admits that he can get fired up about a project that the congregation just may not be ready for. He’s honest. And he has a home life…he has a life outside of his church. Church doesn’t define him. It’s where he shares himself, his passion, his awareness and knowledge. It’s not all about him, but he is certainly a part of the whole. I like that. And I thought I would share one of his blogs about discipleship in the church…in some denominations we call it Christian formation, but the concept is the same: raising, guiding, teaching, growing people in and for Christ. Formation doesn’t just happen with confirmation classes or when the individual is young. There are people who are in their 50s and 60s and have been Christians and in the church all their lives, and they NEEEEED formation. Carey’s blog hits the marks of discipleship with #3 being a biggie for me. Click the link and check it out!