This past weekend I had the privilege and responsibility to preach up at Cedar Lake in Big Bear, California for Grace Brethren’s Youth Summer Camp. Upon driving home (while trying not to get car sick on the winding mountain roads) I found my mind racing with reflections from my experience. I thought they would be beneficial for me to write them down and maybe even encouraging or helpful to you as well. In no particular order, here are reflections from the guy in the pulpit.
Yet Again, God’s People Love God’s Word. One of the things that made this a very unique preaching experience for me was the amount of preaching asked of me. I was asked to preach seven different sermons spanning from Friday night to Monday night. Though many may think that this is a good way to make sure kids never want to come back to summer camp, the result seemed to be the exact opposite. Amidst the crazy games, pranks, and laughter, the students of Grace seemed to have increasing desire to hear God’s Word and the more they heard, the more excited they seemed to get. In fact, during the last night’s bonfire, many students shared with the group that one of their highlights was all that God was revealing to them through the preaching. I guess Jesus wasn’t lying when He said that His sheep will hear and follow His voice (John 10:27).
The Bible’s Doctrines Excite Youth. This is somewhat attached to the last point, but merits its own thought. Not only did the students seem to appreciate the preaching, they seemed to especially love the doctrines they were learning. Throughout camp the students learned about the abundant Trinitarian blessedness of God, the work of general revelation in proclaiming God’s glory, the total depravity of mankind in sin, the active and passive obedience of Christ’s atoning work, the propitiating work of Jesus Christ, and more. For those of you who scoff at the amount of material in the list above, remember, seven sermons. Again, by the last night’s bonfire, I heard many students stand up and say things like, “Praise God that Jesus is the propitiation for my sins,” “I have never felt worse about my sin or more excited about my Savior,” or my personal favorite from a 6th grade guy, “I am really into the gospel now.” Just another experience that confirms what I believe scriptures to say, the doctrines of God’s Word are the very source of Christian faith, living, and joy. God’s Truth is always a cherished gift among God’s people.
Take Heart, Good Youth Groups Definitely Exist. I was so blessed to meet the leaders and students of Grace Brethren Church. In a day where many (understandably) say that youth ministry is in crisis, youth groups like Grace are a kiss on the lips. What about Grace made it so refreshing? First, the youth leaders demonstrated a clear love for Jesus and a great desire to help their students realize how glorious He is. They played hard with the students and laughed deeply with them too, but it was easy to see that their greatest desire was the students joy in Christ. Throughout the week I was blessed to hear their shepherd hearts speak about their love and labor for the students. Second, I was refreshed by the leadership of the youth pastor, my friend Eric Durso. Eric has a deep desire to know and make known the Word of God. He wants his youth ministry to make disciples who make disciples. Do not be mistaken, he knows how to lead the kids into a good time (I am definitely stealing the games they played for our own youth), but it is easily observed that, above all, he is devoted to fighting for the joy of His students in Christ in everything he does. Third, I was refreshed to hear the thankfulness of the leaders and students for their local church. As I spoke with students and leaders, I repeatedly heard them speak about all their pastors and church leaders with thankfulness and joy. In a day where youth groups can tend to feel distanced from the larger church body, I was grateful to hear of their love for all the family of God they were apart of. So if you are in the Simi Valley area and looking for a local church, make sure to check out Grace Brethren. I believe these kids response to the teaching they received had much to do with (1) the power of God’s Word and (2) the health of the church/youth group they hail from. Good work Grace!
The Familial Love of the Church. J.C. Ryle once said, “The family likeness among true believers is a thing that deserves special attention. To my own mind it is one of the strongest indirect evidences of the truth of Christianity. It is one of the greatest proofs of the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit.” This was evident this week. Although I had met the entire youth group on Friday, by Monday I felt like they were my family. I was sad to leave them on Monday night and happy to see a few of them Facebook friend my after I returned home. Truly, Christ has purchased for Himself a church that is connected in profound way. Despite the diversity of God’s people, there always exists a marvelous unity. We all have the same blood running through the veins of our souls.
Christ-Centered Does Not Mean Party Pooper. I reject and disdain the dichotomy that people will postulate about being either a boring and faithful youth group or a fun and superficial youth group; as if those are the only two options. This dichotomy was exploded this week as I witnessed Grace do some of the craziest and most exciting games I have ever seen (like I said, I am definitely stealing them) and watch them all eagerly gather together to hear God’s Word preached for 45-55 minutes. They screamed, laughed, and shouted with all they were AND they listened intently, wrote notes vigorously, and asked questions earnestly. This youth group was both fun and faithful just as it ought to be.
Kids Are Not Dumb. I have met a lot of folks who think teaching middle schoolers is like teaching kids who are dumb. They will say things like: don’t use words more than two syllables; don’t go longer than 5 minutes; hand out juice boxes and crackers at the end. I reject this. Although I completely agree that we need to teach kids at the appropriate level, I think the level is much higher than most practice. Kids may not be educated, but they are not dumb. If they don’t know a term, then all we need to do is teach them that term and, guess what, they’ll learn it. Before Sunday morning, none of the students knew what the active and passive obedience of Christ was, but by Sunday night, they were able to explain it and its significance for us. God has made us smarter than most realize. Our kids minds are ready to be taught. Please, be encouraged to give milk to babes, but don’t dilute it with water.
- Preaching is still terrifying.
- My wife is still amazing and instrumental in me being able to preach.
- Kids are still able to sit still during sermons.
- Camps are great.
So, there are one preacher’s reflections from another summer camp. Thank you, Grace, for a fantastic week of fellowship. I praise God for all He has done and will continue to do in you as you walk with your eyes fixed on Jesus and your hearts filled with His Spirit. Press on and fight hard.