Monday, July 31, 2017

All I need to know about life


A number of years ago there was a book titled All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. It highlighted some of the basic life lessons many of us learned as children, such as: share everything; play fair; don’t hit people; put things back where you found them; be aware of wonder; hold hands and stick together; and so on.

I would like to say that all I need to know I learned from United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries in the Philadelphia Area. In the Eastern PA Conference we have Carson-Simpson Farm Christian Center, Gretna Glen Camp and Retreat Center, Innabah Program Center and Pocono Plateau Camp and Retreat Center. In the Peninsula-Delaware Conference we have the Pecometh Camp and Retreat Ministries.

All of them teach essential lessons that lives of faith can offer. In the Christian community modeled at our camps people—especially young people—learn:
  • how to share, both in giving and receiving generosity; 
  • how to respect people and value diversity; 
  • how to seek fairness and reject violence; 
  • how to appreciate and care for our bodies, our souls and all of Creation; and 
  • how to “hold hands and stick together” even with people who may think and feel differently from us. 
Campers learn about the wonders of nature as they share time in the woods, in a lake, at the river, on a mountain. Campers hear Jesus Christ’s wonderful words of life and are invited to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Some, like many before them, receive and accept their call to serve in ministry and mission at camp. It is a place where we learn all we need to know.

This summer I was privileged to visit three camps. I got to see the wonderful Grandparent and Grandchildren Camp at Innabah and the Day Camp program at Carson Simpson, where sign language was taught and Deaf visitors who attend Lighthouse Fellowship UMC in Glenside came to see the young people sign songs.

I also took part in a new camp at Pecometh where Deaf children and their parents came for a family retreat, as well as a weeklong Deaf Adult Group Home camp. All of these camps were full of joy and activity, of people learning and sharing with one another, valuing diversity and appreciating who they were and whose they were.

The giftedness and grace of campers, along with selfless volunteers and staff, can create in these special settings, during these special times, personal and community wholeness. Experiencing worship and learning stories of Jesus here can change lives and reach the hearts of young people who may not otherwise attend our churches on Sundays.

This is really important ministry; and I urge all of our congregations to support our Camp and Retreat Centers generously with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your enthusiastic witness. They are God’s special place apart, where we share the life and light of Christ to make disciples and transform lives.


Monday, July 17, 2017

‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’

There was a song a long time ago by Bobby McFerrin that goes like this:
            “Here is a little song I wrote
            You might want to sing it note for note
            Don’t worry, be happy
            In every life we have some trouble
            When you worry you make it double
            Don’t worry, be happy.”
This might seem a bit simplistic or na├»ve or maybe even impossible, but these words are also a message from Jesus. 
On the “Sermon on the Mount” he says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matthew 6:25).  We do worry because some things in this life make us fearful and often seem to challenge our very existence. 
Looking around this world, it does not take long to have concern about the endless wars in the Middle East, North Korean long-range missile testing, senseless mass killings, deaths of so many people of color caused by law enforcement officers, and deaths of law enforcement officers, global warming, and Congressional efforts to eliminate healthcare safety nets.
Even our denomination’s fractious conversations about unity versus separation can cause distress. The list of things to worry about seems endless, and indeed, when we worry that list seem to double.  
Did Jesus know all of this when he told us not to worry about our lives?  Some very bad things happen in life that do not get fixed up with happy endings like in the movies. 
But Jesus takes us up on a mountain, above the sorrows and struggles of life, and tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) This is the bigger picture that goes beyond our present moment and lives on into eternity.
Jesus knows about our sorrows. He was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and he promises to be with us in our suffering.
As we keep our eyes open, seeking first the kingdom of God above all else, even our hard times can be used for good. We can help others who are walking along our journey of suffering, by offering them the empathy and support that only those on the path can give. 
We can look to the promise of heaven where all things are made right and justice prevails. This is our ultimate answer when the things of life cannot bring restoration and healing. We can work to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God while we are still here. Then as we do, we will find true meaning and purpose in life, and we will be sustained in hope.
It all comes down to faith. Faith is that which we cannot see but the substance of which gives us full confidence.  Faith gives us the patience, peace and hope for the future, despite the fearful conditions of this life.
“God is with us, and God is faithful.” You might want to sing that song, that blessed assurance, note for note. Jesus reminds us not to worry like the Gentiles (or like those who don’t know God). So, believers, “Don’t worry, be happy.”