Thursday, February 25, 2021

Of Church Camp and Christian Parenting

 

 

Excerpt from Valley of the Shadow by Elizabeth and Erin Stone, © 2014.

 

Christian parents often think that engendering faith in their children is a natural.  For those of us who came to Christ independent of our families, we think that our kids will get it and will always cling to it, just because they have the benefit of being raised by Christian parents.  But the truth is that every child has to come to Christ on his or her own.  Every person has to make that commitment, not as an extension of what they have been taught and seen in their parents, but independently.  I prayed for all of my children.  From the moment I knew they existed I prayed that always they would know the love of God.  I prayed for them to know how we loved them, and that they would see the Kingdom of God lived out in the microcosm of our family life.  But I also prayed that God would make Himself real to each of them, that all of them would make the decision to follow Christ and accept salvation through Him.  But for our kids, the most significant factor in finding faith was church camp. . .

Our church camp is what you would call “rustic.”  We slept in cabins with electric lights, the bathroom was several hundred yards down the path.  It was on a man-made lake in Ohio, and we swam in the lake.  Folks who have passed through that camp all have a great love of it, and most try to spend time there every year.  What made it special was the genuine faith of the people there, the sacrificial servanthood of the staff and volunteers, the ultimate authority of the Bible in the organization and teaching, and the mission of sharing the Gospel with as many kids as possible.  Going to camp is like stepping into a faith community from the book of Acts, if just for a week.  The whole camp is like an impromptu church, organized around the teaching of the apostles.  The small groups and cabin groups are like house churches, having devotions, learning and working together.  Everyone comes together for a common meal, and then goes off for their various activities, only to come together at the open-air chapel by the lake for vespers every evening.  Kids come from all kinds of families, and they get to participate in a Christian community in miniature, and experience God’s love in that context.   As parents, I think Greg and I did everything we could to catechize our children, to bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  But every one of our kids, without exception, says that the place where Jesus Christ became real to them was at church camp. . .

One by one, my children took their turns going off to camp.  They started when they were five and they still try to go every year. And one by one, each made his or her commitment to Christ, maybe at the outdoor chapel, maybe at the prayer rock, maybe at the campfire, or in the gazebo.  And to our great joy and eternal blessing, every one of them from Josh on down, turned around and served as a counselor.  Patrick and Rebekah also hired on as staff, John-Mark has now followed in his father’s footsteps and taught high school camp, and Erin directed junior camp.  Camp’s great benefit is that we received more than we ever contributed.  Our kids not only learned faith in a dynamic Christian community, but they fellowshipped with people from other church traditions. Our camp would often have a missionary staff person from another country: Russia or Kenya or Latin America.  The lasting impact on camp and on our kids has been so much for the good, because as they interacted with people from different Christian backgrounds and different cultures, they saw that the grace of Christ is the same throughout the Church and throughout the world.  Whatever our outward skin color or culture or rituals, there was always a common denominator of faith, a marker that was recognizable in any person who belonged to Christ.  And instead of being a barrier to Christian community, everyone learned to appreciate the gifts and the diversity without losing the focus on Christ.  In a few weeks of intensive fellowship every summer a foundation of grace was built in the hearts of these kids, and a kindred spirit among them that expressed itself across the miles and months of the school year with letters and phone calls and impromptu gatherings, as well as lifelong friendships.  This foundation became an anchor – one of the many God provided – to tether us to hope during the difficult times ahead.


Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Stone.  All rights reserved. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK     1-800-273-8255


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

 

For the next several weeks, Erin and I will be sharing excerpts from our book, Valley of the Shadow, published in 2014.


Prologue: Are we healed yet?

           

It is Thanksgiving eve, the twilight hour.  In the chill of the night, with a dusting of snow on the ground, two stealthy figures emerge from my house.  Shrouded in darkness, they come to the vehicles, and using the keys, they enter.  The interior lights are quickly doused, and the perpetrators hide within.  Both sliding doors of the mini-van are quietly opened, leaving them ajar.  Windows on our sub-compact are rolled down, and there the two warriors take up their positions.  It grows darker and colder, and still they wait, knowing that their ambush is unsuspected and of genius proportions.  Eventually, an old red jeep pulls up to the house.  Since the driveway is already to capacity with vehicles, it pulls onto the lawn.  A tall brown-haired young man emerges with a black cocker spaniel at his heels, and a second young man, with lighter hair and blue eyes, is disgorged from the passenger side.  With a war cry unrivaled in history their attackers leap from their positions, this one wearing a sombrero and the other with goggles and a pink karate helmet.  The young men know their female siblings are upon them, with a well thought out strategy and the element of surprise.  Suddenly the peace of the neighborhood is rent by the sound of electronic automatic weapons, plastic foam darts with rubber tips soar through the air.  Ah, curses! One of the weapons jams, resulting in an all out charge.  The boys, not in any way cowardly or unprepared, leap to retrieve their own weapons, previously loaded and lying ready on the back seat. For the next hour there is a barrage of darts sometimes hitting, mostly missing, as my adult children tear through my house and yard aiming at each other.   These largely innocuous missiles, many of which will lie hidden in couches and behind dressers until the next family gathering, these form one of our traditional reunion rituals. What started as a couple of gag gifts has snowballed into a highly competitive strategic game, and now the grandchildren have become corrupted. 

 

            I often wonder, years after the event, if we are healed yet, if we are back to normal. What makes a normal Christian family life?  Is it the way we dress, or the particular church we attend? Is it Bible reading and prayer at mealtimes? Is it the absence of certain behaviors and the presence of others?  Is it the foods we eat or the way we vote or the music we listen to?  And when things go wrong, does that mean we have failed?  Have we failed God, have we failed ourselves?  Are we no longer worthy of the name of Christian?  Is our witness for Christ destroyed?  What happens to faith when the unthinkable happens?  Where is Christ in the furnace of human tragedy?    

 

            I found Erin in the closet, lying on the floor.  I had stuck my head in the door to tell her to wake up and take the dog out, but she never appeared.  Tired and frustrated that I was again coercing her to take care of what was supposed to be her and her sister’s dog, I stormed into her room and grabbed her by the arm to get her up.  But her arm flopped down to the floor.  She was lying across her half-packed suitcase, the insides of which held not only her clothes but also pools of vomit.  That’s how I found my precious baby girl; that’s how the nightmare began.

 

            What is the worst day of your life?  Can you pinpoint it? I can. The worst day of my life was that hot summer morning, the day I became a statistic.  When you become a statistic, life is thrown into a tailspin.  We tend to quantify life in terms of percentages: 50% divorce rate, 33% of all women contract cancer, approximately 4400 teen suicides every year.  But when you experience it, it is no longer this abstract quantity out there, sanitized by impersonal percentages, all of a sudden you are the statistic, and it is raw, emotional, and fills every corner of your soul.  In the economy of Heaven numbers are not important, but we live in a world that analyzes the tragedies of life.  This is my story, the story of my family, when we became a statistic.  And it is the story of how God’s redeeming love burns brightest in the furnace, how He walks with us in the furnace.

 

Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Stone.  All rights reserved.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK     1-800-273-8255




Saturday, January 16, 2021

 

We all know the best food is made from scratch.  Fresh ingredients combined and cooked on the day you eat them and cooked to your taste.  Cookies, straight from the oven, bread that has been kneaded and baked spread with butter while its still warm, pies, cakes, doughnuts, fritters, everyone has their favorite treats and we all know that they are best when they are made: from scratch. 

Lots of heroes and heroines of the Bible started from scratch.  Without visible resources or help, they accomplished great things for God’s people in the most meagre circumstances possible.  Moses started from scratch with the people of Israel who were enslaved and powerless.  Deborah started with ravaged empty grain fields and timid soldiers.  David started with a misfit group of disgruntled warriors, ready to go off at any minute.  Ezra and Nehemiah started with displaced exiles just trying to survive.  Jesus started with twelve unlikely disciples.  After Peter denied His Lord, he was sifted like wheat by the devil, and by God's power started over to encourage the brethren.  Paul’s life as a leading Pharisee was ripped away on the road to Damascus, and he started life all over as a missionary.  Lydia started a house church with a group of prayerful women who were struggling in ignorance.  Jesus Christ started from being dead in a tomb, written off by followers and opponents, and He burst from that tomb in glorious resurrection power to change the world.

Why is God so enamored of starting from scratch?  He created the world from scratch.  After we sinned and corrupted God’s world, He saved us with His own Son.  The Lord Jesus Christ, our second Adam, remade this world and saved us, starting from scratch.  God brings His people through difficult circumstances, often putting us in the extremity of need, so that He gets our attention.  Then God takes us through new vistas of His loving care, His miraculous solutions to our problems, and His calling on our lives to share in Kingdom building, starting from scratch. 

Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God Who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and to us.”  II Corinthians 4:5-7

Starting from scratch: whether it is from our first encounter with the living Christ or if we find ourselves hit by circumstances that bring us down to a place of starting over, God always meets us there with resources and help that can only be from His hand.  When we land at the bottom and begin again by faith, it is here that the surpassing power of God really shines in our lives.  We become the clay jars holding the eternal treasure of the Gospel for all to see.  So when you find yourself in what seems like a dry, barren place, remember that starting from scratch is God's favorite recipe for great things.  Pray, and look around for the ingredients that He has surely placed there to help you, because your story will add to the many other inspiring grace stories where God started from scratch.     

Elizabeth Stone, B.S. MDiv.

wvlivingstone.com