Tag Archives: Service

Her First Birthday Party


Each summer, I serve as the Bible teacher for a summer camp in Texas.  The camp’s mission is to create positive memories for abused and neglected children, ages 7-11.

Two years ago, we had a little girl who was at camp for her first time. Every time she would see me, she would remind me that it was her birthday during the week, and she asked me over and over not to forget. I promised  her each time that I would be sure to remember and that we would celebrate it together.

Confession: I knew something that she didn’t.  At the camp, we always throw a birthday party for ALL the kids on Thursday night.  Many of them have never celebrated their birthdays before, so we get a church to donate enough toys to fill up a large shoebox for each child, make a giant cake, decorate the camp’s mess hall with streamers, confetti and party favors and make sure it’s an event that they will all remember!

When the night of the party arrived, I was excited for her and hoped that she would be pleased with the celebration. Amazingly, none of the older kids had let on about the party, even though they had been to camp several times before. I did my part distracting the kids with some other meaningful activities while the party decorations were completed, and then I got them lined up at the door of the mess hall, ready to go in for their big surprise.

The door opened up, loud cheers and clapping emerged, and the kids bounded inside, high-fiving all the adults and teens that had lined up to greet them!  Once past the gauntlet of celebrating big people, the kids found tables and chairs set for the biggest birthday party they had ever seen!  Party hats, juice pouches, colorful plates, napkins and plastic ware, noise makers and balloons!  Everyone excitedly took their seats and began to explore their table settings while the adults brought them cake and ice cream and sang “Happy Birthday!” to them.

When I went to see the girl after the initial surprise, she caught me off guard. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Pastor Mike! You remembered!” Over and over.  She was quite undone by the grace of it all.

I was a little embarrassed that she thought I was the reason for the party when I had really done nothing except distract the kids while the preparations were being made, but I didn’t want to ruin her moment by saying anything awkward. To her, this was a promise fulfilled and an opportunity to celebrate her birthday for the very first time.

I often think about this moment.  It both breaks my heart (for a little girl who had never had the simple gesture of a birthday party), and it humbles me.  There were dozens of people more deserving of the credit for her birthday celebration, but God allowed me to be the one that received her appreciation.  What I’ve realized is that God often allows us to get the credit for good works that we had very little to do with.  If we are honest, He does 99% of the work most of the time.  We have little to offer, and we are often selfish about offering what we do have.

I think He uses these moments to remind us of the joy we receive from joining Him in His work.  They are an incentive for us to trust Him more with our time, our talents and our treasures, and they soften our hearts toward those in need.

So, in retrospect, I’m not sure if the birthday party that night was more for the little girl or more for me.  I suspect God made the appointment for us both.

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If you would like to know more about Royal Family Kids’ Camps (which are held in many places around the world), you can visit their website at http://www.rfkc.org.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, christianity, generosity, grace, love, Service, Serving Others, unconditional love

Full of Riches But No Life In It


In Israel, there are two major bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (though both are really lakes).  Although they are in the same country and connected by a common river (the Jordan), the two couldn’t be more different.  The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and teaming with life.  It contains 27 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world.  Its sweet waters serve as the heart of the water supply system for Israel.  It’s shores are lush with vegetation.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, didn’t get its name for nothing.  There are no fish, no fishermen, no vegetation on its shores…  It’s twice as wide and almost four times as long as the Sea of Galilee, but the Dead Sea is toxic and bitter.  So much so that there is no life in it or around it.

Why?  The Sea of Galilee receives nutrients and water from the Jordan River.  It then empties into the Jordan River, which begins again at the lake’s south end.  The Jordan then takes the nutrients throughout the Jordan River Basin, snaking 200 miles before it reaches the Dead Sea.  But that’s where it all ends.  Nutrients from the Dead Sea stay in the Dead Sea.  It doesn’t share any of its wealth with the valley below it.  Seven million gallons of water evaporate from the lake daily in the hot desert environment, and the water that’s left is so mineral-rich that it can’t support life.  Scientists estimate that it has a mineral concentration between 26% and 35%.

The two bodies of water serve as a good metaphor for a spiritual principle.  When you share your gifts and resources freely, you receive much more in return.  Whatever you jealously clutch and keep for yourself stagnates and eventually chokes the life out of you.

“Sea of Galilee people” have an abundance mentality.  They know that if they give freely, there will always be more coming their way.  They never worry that the supply of blessings will dry up.  “Dead Sea people” have a scarcity mentality.  They fear that sharing their riches will make them poorer.  What they don’t understand is that the only reason they were given the gifts and resources in the first place was so that they would pass them along.

If you want to keep it, share it.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, generosity, growth, helping, ownership, sacrifice, Scarcity, Service, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth

The Power of a Shared Vision


A few weeks ago, I participated in my favorite annual activity: attending summer camp.  The camp is for abused children and is part of a national effort organized through Royal Family Kids’ Camps, Inc. (www.rfkc.org).  I have two main passions in life.  One is teaching, and the other is helping children.  The camp scratches that itch for me every year.  But the reason I’m writing about it has less to do with the children than with the adult volunteers who organize and conduct the camp.

Camp is a tough commitment for many of the volunteers.  It requires a six-day trip, which usually requires the volunteer to use vacation time.  Our camp is located in the middle of Texas during a week of July, when temperatures are scorching.  Each camp guide takes responsibility for two campers between the ages of 7-11 and spends 22.5 hours a day with them.

Every day of the week starts at 7:30a (earlier if the adult wants to get a shower in) and runs until 9:30p, when the camp guide is allowed to take a 90-minute break before stumbling into his/her comfy camp bunk.  Camp guides follow a tightly-packed schedule and do their best to make camp the ultimate experience for each of their campers.

I’m not doing it justice, because many volunteers spend hours and hours in preparation for camp – submitting to an invasive interview process, participating in two days of on-site training, attending meetings, shopping for cabin decorations, loading trucks, inventorying supplies, attending fund raisers, etc…  Suffice it to say, this camp requires a unique and demanding type of commitment.

Each year, it takes over 60-70 adults to host the one-week camp for approximately 60-70 abused children.  That’s a one-to-one ratio of adults to children – almost unheard of at a summer camp but absolutely essential for preserving the safety and creating the experience for the kids.  Sixty adults is a tough number to muster for a volunteer opportunity, but this camp has done it successfully for the past twelve years.  This year, most of our 70+ adults were returning volunteers.  Twenty-two have been with us for five years or more, and seven of those have been with the camp for all twelve years.

I have never seen a team operate as smoothly and effectively as the one that comes together each year to put on RFKC #47.  Personal differences are set aside.  Egos are checked at the camp gates.  Individual agendas are abandoned…all in an attempt to serve the kids.  All this while volunteers are being tested to their physical, mental and emotional limits.

How do the camp directors generate such loyalty, commitment and sacrifice from the volunteers?  Simple.  The power of a shared vision.  The camp directors don’t have to cajole these contributions from their volunteers, because the volunteers give them freely.  They don’t have to offer incentives, because the volunteers believe that the work is reward enough in itself.  They can elicit extraordinary effort from their volunteers just by asking, because the volunteers are passionate about the goals of the camp.

Can this power be put to work on your team?  YES!  To do it, you will need to create a vision that all your team members can get excited about.  Even if the work your team does isn’t viewed as intrinsically rewarding in and of itself, you can create incredible synergy by identifying your team’s uniqueness.  What is it that your team wants to be known for?  What makes it different from all the other teams?  Why would anyone outside the team want to come be part of it?

Everyone wants to be part of something excellent and extraordinary.  They will work for less money, put up with inconvenience and hassle, step out of the spotlight…all to be part of something unique and worthwhile.  So, no more excuses!  Every team is capable of being excellent in some way.  Find out what your team values the most and then go to work creating that reputation for yourself!

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Filed under buy-in, commitment, motivation, ownership, sacrifice, Service

After the Mountain-top


I’m just returning from summer camp this year. Every year for the past ten years, I’ve gone to Texas in either June or July to participate in a camp for abused and neglected children. It’s always a mountain-top experience for me. I feel more focused, more attuned with God during the days and weeks leading up to camp and during the week of camp. My quiet times are great. I don’t struggle as much with sin. I hear God speaking to my heart clearly and unmistakably.

But after camp, I typically experience a letdown, a spiritual time of randomness. I may go for days or even weeks without spending quality time with the Lord. I fall into sinful patterns that I thought I had licked. I feel guilty and unfocused – spiritually lethargic. Why does this happen?

I think it has much to do with not having a specific goal on which to attach my spiritual disciplines. Before camp, everything is focused on getting my heart ready to minister to the kids. After camp, I lose my motivation. It’s not that I believe the spiritual disciplines are only worth doing in preparation for an event, but I just find it easier to do them when I’ve got my eyes on a goal. I have more energy to do them. I have more delight in doing them.

Another reason coming off the mountain is so difficult is because I put every ounce of energy into the mountaintop. When it’s over, I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I think my spirit is still full of energy, but it gets trumped by my lack of resources in other areas. After camp, I go into a bit of a walking coma until my resources are replenished.

I think this pattern is mirrored in Scripture:

  • Moses spent a month and a half communing with God on Mount Sinai and getting the ten commandments on stone tablets, but when he descended the mountain to rejoin the Israelites, he found that his brother had opened an idol-worshiping night club.
  • Elijah showed up the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah in an old-fashioned show-down on top of Mount Carmel.  Then, he accurately predicted the weather (the greatest miracle in all the Bible), but he didn’t get much time to celebrate.  Jezebel took out a contract on his life, and Elijah became so discouraged that he prayed God would end his meteorologist career.

  • Jesus peeled back His humanity to reveal a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James and John on a mountain.  They had to be stoked coming back down.  They had been arguing with the others about who was the greatest, and now it looked like Jesus had tipped His hat in their direction.  But when they reached the bottom, everything was chaos.  The disciples had been trying unsuccessfully to cast a demon out of a boy, and Jesus had to step in to clean up their mess.  Goodbye spiritual high.  Hello real world!

The time on the mountain is a blessing.  God allows us to participate in His work, and He teaches us many things while we are with Him there.  It’s easy to completely spend ourselves in the experience, but it’s unwise, because when we are done on the mountain, we have to return to the valley.  God teaches us on top of the mountain and then tests us in the valley.  He wants to know if we can use what we’ve learned.

In the valley, God’s tests move what He’s taught us from our heads to our hearts.  When the lessons are only in our heads, the Enemy will come and try to snatch them away (like the bird in the Parable of the Sower).  But through the testing, God can plant them deeply in our hearts, where they will grow and produce an abundant harvest.  If we anticipate the Enemy’s attempt to steal our seeds and save some fight for this test, we will be much better prepared to leave the mountain-top.

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, expectations, overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality