(John 17:20-21 ESV)
In the moments before Jesus' betrayal, trial, and death, the precious time before He absorbed the full wrath of the Father, He prayed for His disciples. This is remarkable in itself. But in verse 20 we see that Jesus did not simply pray for the 12, but for those who would believe through their word.
Who is that?
As Christians, that's you and I. We are here because Jesus prayed for the 12 and sent them the Holy Spirit, who gave them strength to fulfill their great commission. We are here because Jesus prayed. God the Father's decree from eternity, God the Son's perfect sacrifice, and God the Spirit's seal of our hearts - these things are the good news proclaimed by the disciples to the watching world.
This is the foundation of missions, and why we are in Peru. We hope to see the Church grow as we serve alongside of and equip local Christians with a unique tool for sharing the love of Jesus - Christian summer camp.
We traveled nearly 23 hours to arrive in this beautiful country, and along the way we studied John 17 together as a team. Our counselors spent time reading and praying on their own in the Miami airport, and then we came together to discuss what this chapter teaches us about the Christian's relationship with the world. This is foundational to both our theology and our methodology in missions.
As a brief yet poignant summation of our discussion of John 17, let me point you to the words of Stuart Briscoe:
"Given that we are intentionally placed in the world, we have to understand what it means, first of all, to be given out of it to Jesus. Secondly, we need to understand why intentionally we were left in it. And we need to understand what it means practically to live as if we are not of it. but to do it in such a way that we are effective in being sent to it. That's it. Figure that out and you've nailed it."
Thanks for your prayers! Everyone is feeling good and enjoying our first weekend of preparation. Camp starts officially tomorrow. We hope you enjoy this photo blog of our time so far.
Team arriving in Lima
Peruvian, Point Pleasant, and Twin Lakes staff at Camp Orientation/Training
Planning camp as counselors and activity supervisors
Emblem depicting the god of the Moche people, an ancient civilization (A.D. 100 to A.D. 700) known for brutality. Yet they produced remarkable architecture and brilliant art and pottery. We will be proclaiming the gospel of the One, True God at a facility in the shadow of this temple at the base of a mountain.
Our group approaching the temple
This team is a joy to work with! Keep us in your prayers
Would you take a moment to pray for this group?
(Top row, from left: Andrew Vincent, Zack Owens, Dylan Varner, Brandon Renfroe, Austin Marascalco
Bottom row, from left: Jamie Kitch, Emily Sluis, SaraCaroline Kimball, Anna Kristen Mitchell, Mary Claire Jussely, Emily Wheat)
A group of Twin Lakes Directors and Counselors, Peru Mission and the local Church, and Camp Point Pleasant from Savannah, Georgia.
To help equip local churches in children's ministry by joining and serving them in the work of discipleship and evangelism through a summer day camp program.
December 28th, 2012 - January 5th, 2013
Trujillo, Peru (graphic via Peru Mission: http://www.perumission.org)
- To share the Good News of Jesus Christ
- By proclaiming God's word
- Through the unique gift of Christian Community by means of Summer Camp
- Across Cultures, that God's people may respond to His call from all tribes, tongues, and nations.
Pray for us as we proclaim the Cross, through Camp, across Cultures. More updates to come!
On a warm August morning, sometime in elementary school, I decided to run away from home. Having spent a week of summer vacation at my grandmother’s house, I was awash with discontent upon re-entering life in the real world. I kicked the screen out of my bedroom window, packed a backpack of clothes, and grabbed a washed out Hershey’s chocolate syrup bottle to serve as my water bottle.
My reason for leaving was simple – I didn’t like my mom’s cooking. At my grandmother’s house, I ate a vastly disproportional amount of corn dogs and pizza. At home, I was forced to eat a balanced diet.
Before I could make my escape, dad came home to find the screen kicked out and I was toast.
My desires were misaligned with what was best for me.
I was seeking happiness in getting what I wanted, rather than trusting the hands that fed me. My out-of-tune heart, had I been allowed to follow it, would have led me down one of two paths:
1) obesity and heart disease
or 2) starvation and death from exposure to the elements.
Ok, so perhaps that's a little dramatic, but you get the point. I sincerely wanted to run from the presence of my parents and reject their will for me. I failed to see the big picture, and consequently chose folly over wisdom. My heart was misaligned from the very things that were for my good.
This is the kind of heart we see in the prophet Jonah in the first chapter of his biography. The book of Jonah reveals him as a man sharing a heart with a selfish, misguided 8 year old version of myself.
God tuned Jonah’s Heart by His severe mercy and grace
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (v. 17).
It is common to think of being swallowed by a fish as Jonah’s punishment. For sure, it sounds like a most terrible experience. But we need to see more in the story of the great fish:
1) Grace comes to us through a gift
The fish was God’s gracious gift to Jonah, God’s divine intervention to rescue him, not a cruel and unusual punishment. Jonah deserved death, yet by way of a fish he received life. The storm brought Jonah to confess his sin, and the fish arrived as Jonah was experiencing a small part of the pain of disobedience.
2) Grace comes to us through suffering
Jonah’s suffering brought him back to God’s presence. Jonah’s flight gave him exactly what he wanted – escape from the presence of God. But in that he saw his profound need for God’s presence. In chapter 2, verse 1, we see the very first thing Jonah did in the belly of the fish was return to God in prayer.
“What we want in suffering is an explanation from God. What we receive in suffering is a revelation of God.” – David Platt
3) Grace comes to us through justice
God’s grace to Jonah did not occur in the absence of justice. God would have been right in allowing Jonah to sink that day. We cannot insult God’s character as a good judge by implying that he turns a blind eye to wrongdoing (see Prob. 17:15). Death was and is still the penalty for our sins, yet Jonah was saved. But how?
Justice for his sin was not served in Jonah's day, but was accomplished years later in the future reality that the story of Jonah pre-figures..
Like a train track, as two parallel lines, guides the train to the intended destination, the parallel accounts in scripture are meant to drive us to a specific destination.
Listen for the parallel in the story of Jonah: he was sacrificed for the salvation of others, he laid in the fish for 3 days, he was brought back from this grave in order to do God’s will, and he called the lost to repentance.
The sacrifice of Jonah to the storm points forward to the sacrifice of Jesus to the storm of God’s wrath.
Had Jesus not been thrown into the fury of that storm Jonah had no hope for rescue, because there would never have been adequate atonement for his rebellion. And if Jesus had not endured that storm of God’s righteous justice against our sin, we would all have no hope for rescue.
Christian, God’s Grace is what stopped Jonah in his tracks to tune him. But God never leaves as passive recipients of sanctification. Jonah’s suffering in the ocean and in the fish sent him on a trajectory towards repentance.
How did Jonah respond to the grace and rescue he received?
Jonah Confessed his sin
In v. 10, we are told that Jonah confessed to the sailors that he had been running from God. In all of the previous account, Jonah seems to have blocked out his sin, perhaps numb to its reality in the frenzy of travel (even sleeping through the storm).
Sin is not a personal matter between you and God, and confession is a corporate means of healing (see James 5). Jonah confessed his sin of disobeying and rejecting the God of the Universe, and that is a terrifying prospect. By confessing sin, we open ourselves up to the possibility of punishment and disapproval.
But that is not what Jonah found in confessing his sin.
Submitting himself to the perfect justice of God he found the extravagant grace of God.
Jonah returned to the Presence and Word of God
Sinclair Ferguson points out that Jonah rejected two things in running: he rejected God’s Word (the command to act) and he rejected God’s Presence (communion with God).
After the ordeal with the fish, Jonah returned to both God’s word and God’s presence. Hecould not out-run God’s Omnipresence (that He is everywhere, and nothing is done outside of His sight) but Jonah did reject God’s personal presence (the reality that God makes Himself known in grace and power).
Ferguson continues explaining that we do this by fleeing the reality that God can and does act in our lives as we live in service and engage in prayer. Outside of Christ, God’s presence is deadly. But in Christ, we can come to the throne of grace with boldness – even in the midst of our struggle – and find forgiveness.
The same grace that tuned Jonah is the grace that tunes us.
Allegedly, Eric Clapton went backstage after one of Jimi Hendrix’s awe-inspiring performances. Hendrix is known for his masterful, yet effortless command of the electric guitar. He was left handed, and flipped a right-handed Fender Stratocaster upside down to play his ruthless, string bending symphonies. In many ways, his blues/rock revolutionized how the instrument is played.
Clapton saw Hendrix’s unattended guitar backstage . He was too curious at the sight of this glorious instrument to fight the temptation to pick it up and try it out.
What he found when he played a chord on Hendrix’s old guitar was that it was terribly, miserably out of tune.
My hope in Christ is to rest in the hands of the One who can bend my weary heart strings back into harmony. Surely it has been painful. In fact, it comes standard with accepting the call of Christ, who was no stranger to suffering. And each day I find myself dissonant to the will of God.
But in the hands of a master, even the most out of tune instruments can be made to sound glorious.
1. What is the Rescue Mission of God?
a. What is God’s plan for this city of Nineveh?
2. Who is this Rebel Heart?
a. Who is this Jonah?
3. How is a heart Re-tuned?
a. If Jonah’s heart was out of tune with God’s heart – what is God’s method of tuning us back to harmony with His will?
The Rescue Mission of God
Nineveh was a major city in the Assyrian Empire. Historically, this made Nineveh one of the quintessential enemies of Israel. Years later, Assyria would conquer Israel. Even in Jonah’s time, there was a tangible political and social tension between the two cultures. It was an enormous city – we are told it took 3 days to walk through the city limits (Jonah 3:3). Nineveh was also a miserable place. Imagine the worst of the Red Light District of Amsterdam or Bourbon Street on a particularly fat Tuesday (Josh Martin - Seeing the Heart of God in the Book of Jonah).
If Nineveh would not respond to Jonah's warning of impending judgment, they would be destroyed because of their sin. In the very last verse of the book, we see God’s intention: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…?” The expression “knowing your right hand from your left” is still used today, perhaps in variations (e.g. “he doesn’t know his head from a hole in the ground.”) The meaning is clear – this person is ignorant, misled, and hopeless. This was an accurate assessment of the state of Nineveh.
Yet God desired to show them mercy. This was His divine imperative, His mission. God reveals himself in the book of Jonah as having compassion on the ignorant, misled, and hopeless – even the most wicked enemy and most despised foreign culture. We must see that God initiated through Jonah a plan to love an unlovable people. That is still His mission to this day.
Yet it was in opposition to this rescue mission of God that Jonah ran. Israel was still an idolatrous nation. Jonah knew that Nineveh would be treated as sons of God if they repented. This was a dangerous proposition for Israel, because once Nineveh repented, God would use the city as a tool to chastise Israel (which happened at the end of Jeroboam II’s reign just 20 years later).
A Rebel Heart
In 2nd Kings 14:25-27, scripture records the service of the Prophet Jonah during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). There we read that Jonah’s first prophetic assignment was to announce good news of Israel regaining land that had been lost.
First, we need to see that Jonah was in no way an obscure character of the Bible who can be written off as insignificant. Secondly, this book is not a parable, and Jonah is not a fictional character. He is recorded in the detailed history of Israel, and was immediately preceded by Elijah and Elisha in his service as a prophet. To turn Jonah into a fable is to ignore remarkably accurate history and render God’s word as untrustworthy. We have every reason to believe that this is an autobiographical account of a miraculous work of God.
As a prophet, Jonah stood in the company of a privileged few. His role was to reveal the will of God to the people. He had the outstanding opportunity to have an intimate communion with God, long before Christ opened the door for us all to approach Him with boldness and confidence. "Jonah was a keeper of mysteries and a messenger of hope" (Sinclair Ferguson - "Man Overboard!"). Jonah was privileged beyond measure because God’s word came to him, especially since another prophet had just predicted a famine of God’s word (Amos 8:11). But you are even more privileged – you possess the very Word of God. You can discover His will with freedom.
Jonah was at one point in his life a man of God. But somehow, Jonah’s heart fell away from the Lord. He was now a rebel.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord”(1:3). Tarshish was as far away from Nineveh (and Israel, for that matter) as Jonah could have tried to go. It is in modern day Spain. Imagine Jonah’s delight as he went to Joppa, and not only finds a boat with an open cabin, but a ship traveling straight to Tarshish! This would have been a rare occurrence. On top of that, he even had enough money to pay the fare. In all circumstances, everything about this trip seems to be going great. In Jonah’s shoes, we would be very likely to assume that God was providing His blessing on the trip. O.P. Robertson puts it like this: “Sometimes when everything is going right, you conclude that God’s hand must be in it. But that may not be the case at all. You need something more specific than circumstances. You need the confirmation of the word of God.” (O. Palmer Robertson - "Jonah: A study in Compassion")
Later we see that Jonah had such peace in his heart about this decision that he could sleep through a terrible storm. Beware of placing too much significance on feelings, and do not assume that feelings determine whether or not you are doing the will of God. David felt fine about Bathsheba and killing her husband before Nathan came to confront him on his sin. We have all seen Christians break their promises, lie, cheat, and steal, and cover their actions by saying things like “God really gave me a peace about this,” which really means “I have suppressed my conscience on this matter” (Robertson). In doing this, Christians make God into a manipulative tool to get what they want by saying “God told me…”
Recently, a co-worker of my wife said that God told her to go into debt so that she could have a bigger house and pay for her iPhone. “Really, I was being disobedient by not allowing God to give me these good things.” If you do not see the problem with this statement, it may be time to check your heart against how God actually works – through His word by the Holy Spirit. God’s will is not a toy for our enjoyment, or a manipulative tool for us to use for our good. God’s will is set in stone, graciously revealed to us in scripture. He will illuminate it to us by His Holy Spirit as we seek His presence in His words. God’s word came to Jonah, and Jonah did not like what he heard. So he ran.
A simple, true answer to the question “Why did Jonah run?” is that he was unwilling to go to Nineveh. That much is obvious from his reaction. But Jonah was far more than a terrible missionary or disobedient prophet. Jonah ran from God’s presence, not his job description. Jonah was running from the very face of God. In this, Jonah was exhibiting symptoms of a genetic predisposition. He was revealing an ugly family trait. This condition could even be described as a heart disorder. Jonah was acting like his ancestors Adam and Eve, whose sin sent them running to hide from their loving God and Father. They ran from God’s very presence, not simply from his demands.
A heart outside of the will of God becomes like an out-of-tune instrument. A guitar’s strings are tightened to a certain tension so that when they are played, the sound waves produced hit our ears at intervals that result in harmony. When even the slightest tightening or loosening occurs, the result is dissonance – a sound that is unpleasant if not painful.
As our hearts loosen from the intended tension of the will of God, the dissonance, the painful wringing out of a selfish note, begins to reverberate in our hearts. And any stringed instrument, if left to itself, will naturally go out of tune. Our hearts become intolerable and obnoxious.
How can a dissonant instrument be re-tuned? An outside, sovereign force must turn its strings to change it from an instrument of divine displeasure to one of divine pleasure.
This process of re-tuning is a painful one. Guitar strings place between 100 and 200 pounds of pressure on the neck of a guitar. But the result is beauty. In the life of a Christian, it is the fulfillment of God’s mission through His chosen missionaries.
So what about you? God’s will has been made plain to you, even more clearly than He made it to Jonah. God has called us to love the unlovable that He might rescue them by the work of Jesus on the Cross. Go with a readiness to lose your life, your reputation, and your energy. But God will not leave you there.
The good news is that God intended to keep His promise to return Jonah’s wayward, misaligned and out-of-tune heart back to Himself. He keeps this promise to you.
Should Christians retreat? Is it appropriate for Christians to get away, to cloister?
Before entering the world of Christian camping, I was a student of Biology. Before bonfires, I spent time with Bunsen burners. Before morning devotionals on the lawn were messy dissections in the lab. Due to the copious amounts of time I spent in the lab, when I think about Christian retreat, I can't help but think of the Petri Dish.
Petri Dishes were invented in the 1870s by a guy named, you guessed it - Petri. Julius Petri.
They are small, closed containers filled with Agar - a nutrient rich gelatin that serves as a medium that facilitates the growth of cells.
In our first Microbiology lab, we were given a stack of Petri dishes, a handful of Q-tips, and a list of swabs to collect: our own mouths, the bathroom floor, door handles, etc. After a few days in the incubator, our plates were covered in streaks of fuzzy bacteria. It was simultaneously disgusting, disturbing, and fascinating.
Modern medicine utilizes this kind of cell growth in cancer biology, drug discovery, and vaccine production. Tissue cultures allow us to examine life without destroying life. Cells can thrive in an artificial environment and then be used to benefit the entire organism.
Here's the point - camp and conference centers serve the Body of Christ like a Petri dish serves a microbiologist, providing a temporary, artificial environment that facilitates rapid growth, better understanding, and tested character. Consequently, disease is diagnosed and gifts are discovered. The process is beneficial if not essential for the health of the Body.
Yes, the environment of summer camp or a weekend church retreat is artificial. Some may even say it further encourages an escapist Christian culture. But I disagree. Rest and retreat from schedules and the typical environment, combined with intentional feasting on God's general and special Revelation (God's word and His Creation), is a catalyst for rapid spiritual growth.
This growth is a supplement too, and not a replacement for, the ordinary means of grace in the life of the Church. To jump into a different, more familiar metaphor, the point of retreating in the first place is to go back into the fight, rested and recuperated.
Jesus frequently went away from the group or into the wilderness to pray (Mark 1: 35–37, Luke 4:42, Luke
6:12). He even took the apostles away for their own sake - for rest after John the Baptist's death. Mark tells us "for many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat" (Mark 6: 30-32). It was right after this retreat that Jesus fed the 5000.
Please note: examples of Christian retreat in scripture are decidedly descriptive,
and not prescriptive. This means that the Bible will not allow
us to use texts involving prayer in the wilderness (and other similar
occurrences) to justify Christian camping. But concepts illustrated in the Bible can be helpful, and serve to edify the Church.
Unfortunately, the word retreat carries a negative connotation in some minds. I immediately think of the Monty Python scene: knights of the round table fleeing a deluge of airborne barnyard animals while screaming "RUN AWAY! RUN AWAYYYYY!" This is exactly the type of retreat we want to avoid.
Twin Lakes was founded in 1970 to serve 1st Presbyterian Church and the surrounding community by providing a place set apart for the Glory of God in the beauty of His creation. The intention of a few visionary men was the physical relaxation and spiritual nourishment of the Body of Christ. And that is exactly what has occurred here for 40+ years. The same is true of countless other camp and conference centers.
But imagine for a moment an alternative vision. Imagine a place set apart for the purpose of creating a faux-Utopia. This fictional place is purposed for the inclusion of Christians and the exclusion of bad things and bad people. The goal of this retreat is to escape and find rest in ourselves. Unfortunately, Christians have attempted to create such places for thousands of years.
Here's the truth - it is an impossible vision. If we are to take Scripture seriously, we must accept the fact the the problem is not out there. The problem is in here - our hearts. When Christians "go to camp", they pack a trunk full of depravity, with some bug spray and a bathing suit thrown in for good measure.
But there is good news. Rest and retreat is possible because Christ is restoring His creation by way of His covenant - the promise of Christ - which will replace our hearts of stone. "I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart." Jeremiah 24:7
Growth in the Petri
dish benefits the Body long after the lab work is done. How has time at camp or a conference/retreat impacted your family and your church?
The goal of retreat is not to escape, but to engage God's word in a different setting so that we can go back into the world as salt and light. We all, myself included, need to jump back into the dish when we get a chance.
A simple question was posed to our 2012 summer staff at the end of camp:
In what ways did you grow this summer?
Their answers are powerful, revealing the ways God worked this summer. Read what they wrote below and be encouraged.
Christian summer camp - another means by which God grows His church.
"God really taught me how to be faithful in the small things. I learned how to work alongside people from different backgrounds. God really taught me how to love people at Twin Lakes."
"I feel like I became more independent and adaptable working at camp this summer. I also find myself reading my bible more often, and I’m now very comfortable sharing my faith with others."
"I grew in fellowship with other staff members that I had the opportunity to be around. During the camp week there is a constant contact with the campers and staff that builds strong bonds. The campers rely on you and you rely on the other staff."
"I learned that true leadership is more serving than delegating or barking orders."
"I learned how to lean on God for His strength because I ended with none of my own. In Colossians, Paul talks about taking joy in his suffering and about using the strength of Jesus alone. Camp was a joy, even in the hardship because I know God was using me."
"I learned to be a leader and not apathetic. I grew stronger in my faith, and my trust grew more than ever."
"I grew in learning to deal with unlovable people. I know God put people in my life for a reason and when I am not loving those He has created, I am not honoring Him."
"God taught me to be content, and even joyful, as I took on a smaller and more secondary role this summer. I am used to being out front and in leadership positions in more things I do, but this summer was different. I really learned from the lyrics of the hymn: “Content to fill a little space, if Thou be glorified.”
"I really grew in my relationships – both being able to encourage younger staff and being held accountable and encouraged by fellow counselors. I learned more how to be vulnerable and honest with other people. I’ve grown in my ability to reach out and love people I don’t know."
"I learned what it meant to rely on God. Without His help I probably could not have made it through the summer. He kept on pouring stamina, energy, and patience into my empty cup."
"I learned so much about Christian community and how it is supposed to look. I’ve never been around such an amazing group of people and I grew closer to God through fellowship and time alone with Him."
"I feel that I grew in my love of and trust in the Lord this summer, in ways I couldn’t have in any other job."
"My daily reading of the word and prayer life has been strengthened. I have a bigger heart for kids now, and a stronger love for God because of what He’s taught me this summer. My view of relationships has changed, and making amazing Christian friends has strengthened me so much."
"Through Twin Lakes, I am realizing more and more my selfishness and need for Christ."
"I matured as an advisor to younger men, in encouraging other Christians, and in appreciating the joy of serving with other believers."
"The story of Jonah furthered my growth in trusting the Lord completely. God has such a big plan for my life and sometimes I can’t see the whole picture. I trust and know that He is in control and He will work everything out for good. I have grown to rest in the fact that God is in control and I am not. I don’t have to worry because He holds my future and my life."
"I grew more comfortable with interacting with kids and focusing on glorifying God rather than seeking the approval of others. I got better at dancing too."
"The Lord showed me the seriousness of my sin, which gives me a much bigger appreciation for Jesus. I have also learned a lot about patience and loving people where they are."
"Camp matures me in so many ways. It teaches me to pour myself out and then be filled up with the love of Christ, to die to self and follow Christ with my whole heart. I’m so thankful for the way camp stretches me."
"I grew in patience, in grace towards others, in love for God and His mission, and in knowledge of His power."
With whom will we trust our children? Here's how one coach changed my life, and why the young people of our churches still need mentors.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
To me, John Norris was a coach, a mentor, and a friend. He followed Jesus and invited me along at just the right time. To this day I am convinced that he is the reason I made it through middle school.
(That's me, on the left, being awkward in middle school. Also, a young Vanilla Ice on the right.)
John Norris passed away on July 24th, 2012, suffering a heart attack while away on a business trip. As a faithful member of Plains Presbyterian Church in Zachary, LA, John invested countless hours into young boys like myself as we grew up in the church.
From the time I was in diapers I loved basketball. It was my childhood dream to the play in the NBA. I was fairly new to the church, but had heard about the middle school church league team - "Full Prez." (Oh Presbyterian humor…) Words could not express how excited I was for the chance to play basketball, because Lord knows there was no way I’d ever make a school team. Come to find out, the coach lived just down the street. He would pick me up in his Jeep Grand Cherokee and we'd make our way to the gym on Main Street.
John was one of the first adults who talked with me, not just to me or at me. In those rides to the gym, he talked about his wife - Virginia. I didn't get to know her until later, but from the beginning I realized that he was a lucky/blessed man. The look on his face as he spoke and the way he built her up with his words proved his affection for her. In John, I saw another example of what a godly husband looked like - my dad hadn't been making this stuff up!
I heard him talk about his children and his grandchildren. His granddaughter Bekah would often come to practice with us. She couldn't have been more than 6 years old. I saw how much they absolutely adored each other.
We talked about so much in those brief, 5 minute conversations. They were the highlight of my day.
My dreams of basketball stardom quickly came crashing down out of the clouds. To say I wasn't athletic would be a gross understatement. But John never let on. Sure, I warmed the bench for quite a few of our championship seasons. But sitting on the bench with coach and only playing the last minutes of the blowout games was worth every second.
I'll never forget his earnest plea for me to practice my free throws. Looking back, I realize that he may have noticed that two things I COULD do on the court were foul or be fouled. Judging by John and my dad's reaction the day I scored 10 points (8 of which came from the line) you would have thought I'd won a scholarship to Duke. They were genuinely proud of me. It was such a minor achievement, but they didn't care. They knew how much it meant.
Two days after John Norris passed away, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. I hope to be strong yet caring, serious yet winsome, fun and genuinely loving - just like John.
John’s death and the birth of my daughter have me thinking a great deal about the role of Christian community in the life of our children. Here's what we can emulate in John Norris and seek out in potential mentors:
John was not my father
My father was an incredible mentor. I am a zealous advocate for the role of fathers in the lives of children. It is imperative that a father take the primary role of discipleship in the life of his child.
But there is an additive ethos to the role of mentor, an intangible necessity for those within our communities to assist parents in the weighty task of raising children. Parents do not abdicate responsibility by allowing others the privilege of teaching/nurturing their children. Here’s what I mean:
- Dad bought me my first basketball (and then a set of golf clubs when he saw I needed to play something that didn’t require running), John assisted my dad in training a boy to become a man.
- Dad taught me to shoot a basketball, John taught me to play on a team.
- Dad disciplined me (grounded from basketball), John backed up my father’s authority.
No father or mother is perfect. Because of the influence of John and others like him, I want another godly woman to be deeply involved in the life of my daughter. I want someone outside of the family pointing her to Jesus and serving as another tool for the Holy Spirit to use in His work of heart change.
Also, I desperately need a non-peer for my daughter to talk to when my wife and I screw up as parents.
John was not paid to disciple me
I could write a book about my youth pastor, camp counselors, campus ministers, etc, and their impact on my soul. But those individuals are part of a different, and immensely important, story. This story involves someone who had a family and a non-ministry full-time job, who chose to sacrifice his time and energy. Yet he received nothing in return.
Look into your church and ask this question – who do we expect to do the ministry? Do we expect only the paid staff and interns to take care of our children? Why are youth pastors so easily cast off, burned out, or resented by congregations?
Because parents and youth pastors can't do it alone. Consider that there may be a lack of lay-mentors investing in the lives of children and youth who, by their presence and relationship, subtly lift kids out of their default, peer-driven, horizontally focused mindsets and value systems. That person may be you – parent, college student, young couple.
There is immense joy in jumping into the mix to serve willingly, delighting in the privilege of ushering children to the feet of Jesus – even if it’s not your job.
John was keeping his covenant
When a child is baptized in the Presbyterian Church in America, the pastor asks the parents these questions:
1. Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
2. Do you claim God’s covenant promises on their behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, as you do for your own?
3. Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before them a godly example, that you will pray with and for them, that you will teach them the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
These questions reflect the beauty of God’s covenant to His people. God makes His promise to families, to children (Gen 12-17: Abraham, Luke 19: Zaccheus). This promise is fulfilled and consummated in Jesus Christ, rescuing individual hearts and unifying a people around God's purposes for God's glory. Baptism is the sign of this covenant, like circumcision before it - an outward sign of an inward reality.
Notice the implications of the covenant for the Church: after the 3 questions to parents, the pastor then turns to the congregation:
Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child? If so, please raise your right hand.
This question, when it is asked at my daughter’s baptism, will likely break me. It is a public representation of my church’s commitment to help me – a sinful, inadequate and broken father – raise my child to know and love her Savior. I cannot wait to see those hands raised.
John Norris was not at my baptism, but he raised his hand each and every day as he drove me to basketball practice.
John was trustworthy
As a parent, I will carefully watch those who care for my daughter, praying for her and for those with whom she spends time. As a camp director, I carefully and prayerfully screen those who care for the thousands of kids who come through Twin Lakes. I seek out those whom are equipped for the task – both from my own observation, and from the eyes of many others. I do all of this diligently – all because I raised my hand (see #3).
Our caution and diligence in raising our children must not stem from a lack of trust, but from a prayerful, discerning security in Christ's sovereignty.
John was always above reproach, and never had to be told to put healthy boundaries in place. He was for me all he needed to be - an excellent basketball coach. My parents had every reason to trust him, and because they did, the trajectory of my life was changed – for the better – forever.
The faith that John lived out in front of me has now become sight. He is seeing His Savior face to face. And the impact John Norris made on young men like myself is incalculable. I am so very grateful for his life.
I’ve heard it said that every Timothy needs a Paul, and every Ruth needs a Naomi. I needed mentors, my daughter needs mentors. Church leaders, church members, and parents - our children still need mentors.
“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4
“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
“Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly… Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul…” - Valley of Vision
This Puritan prayer summarizes the message of Twin Lakes Camp 2012: that the book of Jonah is a record of God’s grace to a Dissonant Heart. Jonah’s heart was desperately out of tune, but by way of being brought low – literally – God turned Jonah’s heart back towards Himself and His will. God tuned Jonah’s heart to sing of His coming judgment to Nineveh, and then manifested the reality of His grace.
A record number of young people went on a journey “twenty thousand leagues under the sea” this summer. Over the course of 7 Friday nights, 2024 campers (1882 ages 5 - 12 and 142 LITs) went down to Joppa, boarded the ship going to Tarshish (the back deck of our assembly hall), were rocked by the wind and the waves, saw Jonah thrown overboard (30 ft off the deck!), went down into the water, walked through the belly of the fish (quite soggy and dark), and saw Jonah spit out onto dry land (after a watery blast from the fish/water cannon). Special thanks to Tuan La, Warner Mitchell, and their team of summer staff who made it all possible.
While mankind will never re-create the miraculous works of God, each summer we seek to engage children with the word of God through sight, sound, time with godly mentors, and most importantly – the preaching of God’s word. Ben Hailey, RUF minister at Texas A&M, joined us this summer and faithfully taught the children each day while counseling our staff alongside his wife, Beth. Ben’s ability to explain the deep mysteries of the Gospel in powerfully accessible terms was such a blessing to the entire camp. Ben, along with Brian Sorgenfrei (MS State RUF), Jeff Jordan (Mississippi College RUF), Chad Scott (Belhaven RUF), and Ben Shaw (Southern Miss RUF) each preached during our Sunday night staff gatherings. Twin Lakes seeks to be an extension of the work of discipleship that takes place through RUF at college campuses throughout the year.
Thank you for the trust you give to us in caring for your children – it is not a responsibility we take lightly. Together, we are planting seeds in the lives of our children. Many came to saving faith in Christ this summer at Twin Lakes, and many more grew in the grace and knowledge of their Savior as covenant children.
Come December, we have the privilege once again of running Twin Lakes Camp in Trujillo, Peru with our friends at Peru Mission. More info to come. We also look forward to turning our attention towards serving conference guests throughout the Fall and Winter. Thanks for your prayers and support!
Recently, while pouring over hundreds of applications for our Leader in Training program at Twin Lakes, I noticed a remarkable story. In response to a question concerning her faith in Jesus, one 13 year old girl let us know that she first felt the call of Christ on her heart a few years ago as a camper at Twin Lakes. She recalls sitting outside of her cabin with one of her two counselors – both of whom grew up in MS Valley PCA churches – when the reality of the Gospel came to bear in her life. Now, she says, her goal to become an LIT is driven by a desire to "show God's love to people and work hard to encourage everyone."
Praise God that the vision of a few in 1970 has led to countless stories reminiscent of the life of this young girl.
For 40 years Twin Lakes has sought to be a resource for children and families for the sake of the Gospel – which we know transforms hearts and lives by the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. This summer the faithfulness of the One, True God will be told through the book of Jonah. We will learn that God's grace and God's purposes will be accomplished, and that even our most wayward hearts can be brought in line with God's will by the working of redemptive grace. Counselors and support staff are being screened, interviewed, and trained so that they can be a part of sharing the power of God's word with each camper – seeking to join them in glorifying God and enjoying Him together in the beauty of His creation
Children and youth come from across the southeast to be a part of this ministry. We are amazed every year by the response of families who come from as close as Jackson and as far as Malawi. First Presbyterian, through Twin Lakes, extends a discipleship arm to thousands across social, cultural, and denominational lines. Through First Presbyterian, families benefit from a program deeply rooted in God's word that reflects the standards of our church and the Reformed faith.
Part of our commitment to both reaching inward to the church and reaching outward to the community is our effort to make this ministry available to as many children as possible:
• Keeping the cost of camp steady while maintaining an excellent program
• Providing financial assistance to those who qualify – which is made possible through the above-and-beyond giving of Sunday school classes at First Presbyterian and many other individuals
We thank God for you – because none of it is possible without His guidance through your support. We ask you to pray for strength as we seek to guard, with all diligence, the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of our campers. Pray that Christ would be glorified and the Church would grow through this ministry. Most of all, pray that God's Word would be proclaimed, take root, and lead to growth in all of our hearts because, in the words of John Owen "That Word can only come with power to our hearers when it has come with power to our own hearts."
The third day of camp was excellent. At crafts, each child made a picture frame for the group picture they will receive at the end of the week. Sports is dominated by soccer and volleyball, but today we mixed it up (and succeeded in getting the kids out of the sun for a bit) by stopping each group for a dance lesson. Not surprisingly, the pool is annual favorite of our campers, and "Super Fun Games" was a blast - complete with street hockey, and trampoline, and a giant inflatable slide. We saw lots of mustaches coming from face painting. Maybe they were pretending to be secret agents in disguise at archery....
Each group also stopped for a bible lesson from the book of Daniel. Today we saw God's grace to Nebuchadnezzar (which is even more difficult to say in Spanish - Nabucodonosor). God showed grace that rescued the king from pride and led to repentance. At our large group meeting, Frankie Daniell from IPC Savannah clearly shared the gospel in teaching the kids about repentance and faith.
We have settled down after a delicious meal and uproarious fellowship at Stuart and Meg Mills' house, and look forward with a little sadness towards the last day at camp.
The highlight of the day was spending time with our bus driver, Pedro. He must have caught on that we are a very musical group, because today when we loaded onto Bob the Bus, Pedro began belting out hymns with a powerfully beautiful voice. As we sang in English, his voice soared over ours in Spanish.
It is breathtaking to see in other parts of the Body of Christ the uniquely crafted image of God.
"Elect from every nation, yet one over all the earth
Her charter of salvation, One Lord, one faith, one birth" Samuel Stone