“Oh, Lord God! You yourself made the heavens and earth by your great power and with your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for you!” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I’m tired as I write this lying in my bed waiting for the ZzzQuil I took almost an hour ago to kick in so that I can get at least a reasonable night of sleep on the hard, bunk house mates currently underneath me. And why am I in such a state? Because I have spent the week chaperoning our kids at LifeWay’s flagship kids camp, CentriKid. Tomorrow is the last day, and I can’t wait to see my wife and to sleep soundly in my own, much more comfortable bed. Yet for the lack of amenities this week, it has been wonderful and worth every sacrifice to be here. This is not only to get to see growth in a great group of kids with my own eyes (something not very many senior pastors ever get to witness), but because I, too, have spent the week being reminded to not lose their far more natural, childlike sense of wonder at our God. Rather than tell you about the latest Marvel offering this week, let me tell you why this was such a good week.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to camp. The last time I really spent more than a few hours was eighteen years ago when I was on staff at a different church camp. That was a pretty good summer. I came out of it with a future wife and a career path. I still have many fond memories not only of that camp experience, but as a camper for many, many years in my church youth group.
For the most part, the experience really hasn’t changed. The energy is still here. The silliness and fun are ever-present. You learn just how much you can do on a remarkably small amount of sleep. Everybody gets just a bit cranky by the end of the week. But you leave with a profound sense of just how worth it the whole thing is, and you’re ready to come back the next year.
The reason it is so worth it is that camp puts you in an environment you really don’t experience at any other point in the year. You are separated from all the distractions and pressures and expectations of home, and you can turn your attention on God(with the enthusiastic help of the camp staffers) in order to experience Him in a more direct, personal way than you do just about anywhere else. Everyone should go to camp. And if you’re too old to go as a camper any longer, be a chaperone.
For this particular camp, the theme for the week has been the word, Wonder. The idea is that we serve a God who is wonder-ful, and we are right to live our lives in awe and wonder of who He is and what He has done for us in Christ. All week we have been presented with one reason after another this is all so true. God truly is worthy of our wonder and worship.
The theme verse for the week is Jeremiah 32:17. Jeremiah writes: “Oh, Lord God! You yourself made the heavens and earth by your great power and with your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for you!” This has served as a powerful jumping off point to some really poignant lessons. And although they haven’t touched on its context at all, that really just adds to the power of its punch.
This verse came in the context of the story of Jeremiah’s receiving a word from the Lord to buy a field from a relative, and to seal the purchase papers in a jar that he was to bury in the ground so they didn’t decompose with the passage of time. Jeremiah bought this field at the Lord’s direction and in spite of the fact that he knew Babylon was coming to town and would conquer the people of Israel and deport many of them into exile. The purchase was an act of faith in God’s promise to return the people to the land and to establish them in it. Such an idea seemed insane at the time, but history would prove its prophetic nature.
Jeremiah spoke this verse in an incredible expression of his faith that God would do just as He said He would do. This wasn’t some blind or reckless faith. His confidence was rooted in the character of faithfulness to the people God had demonstrated over and over again as their history had unfolded. For His part, God responded with a ringing endorsement of Jeremiah’s faith and faithfulness. The whole thing is really an incredible picture of being willing to trust in God in a really difficult set of circumstances that in most cases would leave us running any way but God’s way because His simply didn’t seem reliable.
We are reminded here that our God really is wonderful. The incredible things He has done over and over again for us should leave us in awe of Him. This list of incredible things He has done runs the whole gamut from the creation of all we see and don’t (a creation the recent amazing images from the James Webb Deep Space Telescope have reminded us of just how utterly spectacular and big it is) to the fact that in spite of our persistent sinfulness, He engineered a way for us to enter into a right and saving relationship with Him in Christ. Our record is awful and yet God chose to reconcile us to Himself if we are willing to receive His Son, Jesus, as our Savior and Lord. The thought of all of this will take your breath away if you dwell on it very long.
Of course, no camp happens on its own. They all require a dedicated, hardworking staff who are willing to work sometimes agonizingly long hours for pitiful pay all so a bunch of kids they will likely never see or hear from again have a chance to hear and respond positively to the Gospel. Having been there before myself, I understand perfectly well what would possess a person to do such a thing. That being said, this has been a particularly spectacular group of people.
It starts right at the top. Camp director Jaleon, is quite simply the single best camp director I have ever seen. He is at one and the same time no nonsense and silly. He can relate equally well to the kids and the adults. He keeps things perfectly on track while maintaining a constantly fun atmosphere. His love for what he is doing is obvious and LifeWay will be wise to do everything they can to keep him involved in this program for as long as they possibly can.
The camp pastor, John, is apparently a CentriKid legend. Observing him all week, I can see why they’ve been going back to him again and again for 21 years. His messages have been exactly on point. They have perfectly balanced adequately covering deep topics of the faith with a winsome and engaging tone that keeps even the youngest kids interested even on the last night of worship when they are all exhausted.
And while I did not even come close to meeting the rest of the staff (who were running at half the strength in numbers of where they should be, but never gave even the slightest indication of this to an outside observer), what I could see is their clear passion for what they have been called to do this summer. Emily’s enthusiasm for the worship songs drew in even an introvert like me to joining in the hand motions of the song. The Lockwoods did a superb job leading worship. Noah’s delightful personality and organization kept everything on track. Kylie played the character W.I.T. so well that the kids thought of her as a celebrity all week. Macy sat with our group, fearlessly shared her testimony, and then patiently answered every random question our kids could throw at her. Julie went out of her way to sit with us at a meal for no other reason than to build relationships. On and on the list goes. Without a competent and called staff, something like this camp doesn’t happen. They collectively made the experience and should all be proud of what they have accomplished this summer.
All told, this was a great week. Our kids are all excited about Jesus. I’ve seen growth in both of the boys I have here, and the older of the two in particular is more engaged with his own faith and spiritual journey than I have seen him in quite some time. For that alone I am exceedingly grateful. We do indeed serve a God of wonder. If you don’t know Him, you should. And if you can get your kids to a CentriKid camp next summer, you should do that too. If you’re in luck, you’ll see some of the same faces I have this week. I’m hoping I do next year.