I awoke Thursday and went through my daily morning routine with a sense of excitement and, perhaps, a touch of nervousness. Today was a day I had been mulling over for a couple of years at least.
It started with some brainstorming about how the camp could be even more fully used to bless and challenge God’s people. In summer, the place is crawling with activity, happy camper noise, worship songs streaming out of meeting rooms to fill the pine-pierced skies. Winter weekends also provide time for intimate fellowship as campers escape the pressures and challenges of daily life to meet together in the mountains for a couple of days of spiritual insights and refreshing. But that still leaves a lot of days where the camp sits empty. School and job schedules don’t really allow for weekday use apart from the summer season. Of course, there is the long-established policy that allows pastors and their families to come up for unscheduled events. No food service. No program. Just a time away in the off-season life of Camp Maranatha. Could we offer something similar to individual lay people?
As I was considering this idea, I came across a book by Chuck Swindoll. Intimacy with the Almighty, an eighty-page mini-book, focuses on the four principles of simplicity, silence, solitude and surrender. Swindoll makes the case that these four are sadly neglected in our busy, busy world. They are certainly neglected in mine! As he described each of these and the decisions necessary to practice the disciplines, I longed for a quiet place, pared down to the simplest version of my own solitary needs. A place to be still and listen and wait. A place to let God examine and reveal the pockets of unsurrendered life in me. Am I alone in this longing, I wondered? Certainly not! But how and where in this busy, scheduled world is such a thing possible?
That wondering led some staff members to consider a small corner of Camp Maranatha called Cedar Oaks. Then, last Service Camp, volunteers furnished one of those cabins for this very purpose. So we have one cabin ready. A small desk, a cozy chair, a book shelf with a few carefully selected devotion books, Bibles and study tools and of course, a couple of camp bunks. All we needed was a plan, some ideas for how to execute the plan and a willing guinea pig. Which brings us to the aforementioned Thursday morning.
By experiencing a solo overnight in the personal retreat cabin myself, I hoped to discover important details we might not otherwise consider. What kind of balance should we strike between an austere monk-like experience and a luxurious, self-focused spa-like experience?
Remembering simplicity as one of the key elements, I tried to pack and prepare as simply as I could, but I’m in a season where my health dictates some complex needs (neither fasting nor eating out are good options for me, right now). And I really did need to pack a few books to support the plans I had for this time away in solitude.
So, ninety minutes later than I had intended, I left my car in Camp Maranatha’s newly-paved parking lot (stuffed with an ice chest of food, a bedroll, a suitcase of books and other necessities), and headed to the office. Our wonderful Pam greeted me as if I were a treasured friend (and not at all tardy) and quickly gave me a welcome packet with room key enclosed. After receiving a few verbal instructions to further prepare me for my stay, I slipped away from human contact, prepared for twenty-four hours alone in the woods with God--really alone. I even left my cellphone at home.
I’ve loved the Cedar Oaks cabins from childhood. Placed as they are at the far edge of camp, they have always seemed a little wilder than the rest, brushing more closely against the isolation of forest. But a child’s romantic ideas of wildness and isolation don’t always align with an adult’s view of some of the realities. Pam’s verbal instructions had included the unwelcome news that a mouse had taken up residence in my forest-edge cabin and had thus resisted all attempts at eviction. She had also cautioned me to keep an eye out for various larger critters, which sited only rarely at the camp, were potentially dangerous to the unwary. As I hauled in two loads of my belongings, I was glad I had not, in my quest for simplicity, neglected to pack a flashlight.
I have much to write about all I experienced in the twenty-four hours that followed. Too much for the limited space in this post. For now, I’ll share these few highlights.
Simplicity - The perceived needs of this one 21st century, North American, diet-restricted, female, middle-aged human being are far more complex than I would like to admit. I pared down as much as I thought prudent, but next time I hope to bring far less. Part of my quest was to discover what we, as a staff, could do to enable our personal retreat guests to simplify their packing lists. By providing Bibles, study and devotion books, paper and writing utensils and making other items available on request such as a coffee maker, microwave and small refrigerator, we hope to help clear the clutter in your mind without cluttering the simple environment of the cabin.
Silence - Be forewarned, the mountains are not a place of silence. The absence of human conversation and other civilized noises, somehow magnifies the small forest sounds. Birds and squirrels, distant traffic, even the forest-muffled hammering, sawing and drilling of industrious home-improvers punctuates the passing moments and hours. I twice hiked up to the cross at the top of The Path, much to the chagrin of a family of crows who protested loudly and discussed ideas for ridding themselves of this flightless intruder. How amazing to expect silence only to discover sound all around--even the whooshing sound of wings pushing air. Who knew?
Solitude - Did I mention my small rodent roommate? And Chuck Swindoll, St. Paul and various other friends tucked between the pages of books packed in my suitcase? I was certainly not lacking companionship for this day and night “alone”. But none of these required anything of me. I didn’t have to worry about being understood or making the right impression. I had no one to feed or care for in any other way (the mouse contentedly chewed on his own store of provisions and thoughtfully confined himself to the side of the room opposite my sleeping quarters). Although, I know my God is always with me, the absence of other human bodies, gives way to a greater awareness of that Eternal Presence. In this companionable solitude, I grow still before my God and listen and wait.
Surrender - Surrender is, for me at least, a life-long journey. As much as I like the idea of getting alone with God, I do come with some reluctance, some small fear that He will ask something of me, that he will show me something I need to surrender. Some of these things have been painful to release, deep-rooted as they were. Surrendering even to His good, gentle, weed-pulling hand, meant a season of tearing pain. Other times, He just brings a quiet awareness of burdens I don’t need to carry. This time I was asked to surrender my “right” to fuss, worry, complain, ignore, be noisy, be served, be stingy or self-centered.
I came to this personal retreat, as I hope you will come, with the desire to encounter God more clearly and more deeply. And He asked me to surrender. He gave me four simple rules for this brief time alone with Him. Rules I hope to surrender to even on complicated, noisy, people-filled ordinary days. Rules I hope will help you do the same : )
Come with the attitude of a servant and steward, not a customer. "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." I Peter 4:10
(Trash on The Path? I can take care of it! It would be nice if a flashlight were provided. I can donate one! The bathroom steps need sweeping. Ah, ha! A broom for me to use!)
No fussing. Instead, be grateful. "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." I Thes. 5:16-18
(Squeaky, hard to open door? Praise God for this place so well-used, so long in His service. Squeaky mouse? Thank God for all the creatures He has made. Long, dark walk to the bathroom? Be grateful to the Light of the world for eyes to see, legs that walk and a light to guide the way.)
Take Notice. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim His craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him known." Psalm 19:1-2
(The chatter of the birds and squirrels. Light and shadows dancing on the forest floor. Chipmunks dashing for cover. The deep, cold scent of the night sky. The rumble of wheels on the highway above. The rough pine bark against my back. Scaly, lizard zipping across my wrists as I write!)
And, best of all...
Be still and know that you are deeply loved by a wild, demanding, generous God. (Paraphrase of Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21)
How Good and Pleasant it is When God's People Live Together in Unity (Psalm 133:1)
While it’s nice to picture the body of Christ always living and working together peacefully, any Christian who has spent a significant amount of time with other believers knows that isn’t necessarily the case. Some of the biggest blessings, but also some of the most painful challenges in the Christian life, can come from our interactions with one another. We tend to want God as our Father, but secretly hope it doesn’t mean we have to get along with all of His children.
We might like to think this wouldn’t be the case at camp. After all, we are gathering for the express purpose of growing in Christ, worshiping God and enjoying HIs creation. But what happens when one of your fellow campers shatters your peaceful experience with a rude word or even an understanding of scripture or doctrine that differs from your own? What if you give up a week of vacation to serve at camp and your co-counselor decides you can chase after the kids while she flirts with the male counseling staff? (This has probably never happened at Camp Maranatha, of course).
What do you do?
This category of diseases can manifest in many ways, but the uniting factor is that one part of the body (the immune system) recognizes another part of the body as a hostile presence and responds by attacking. Depending on what is attacked, the body will suffer the effects of arthritis, lupus, sclera derma, multiple sclerosis and many more debilitating conditions.
Could it be that this is also what happens to the body of Christ, the church? Is this what happens to us when, instead of recognizing one another as parts of the same body, we see any weak or malfunctioning member as an enemy? Could this be categorized as a sort of spiritual autoimmune disease?
While doctors and other healthcare professionals experiment with a variety of methods to combat autoimmune disease in the body, we are not left to grapple in the dark for a cure to the spiritual autoimmune disease that attacks our churches, homes and camps. The words of Colossians 3:12-16 provide the antidote.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts
since as members of one body you were called to peace.
It’s interesting to note the word “let” in this passage. The peace of Christ is not something we can manufacture or even duplicate. No. We who are called to peace, must let His peace rule in our hearts.
As you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
One of my favorite examples of teaching and admonishing “with all wisdom” is found in 2 Samuel 12. When God sent Nathan to confront David over his sin, Nathan didn’t simply let a specific verse flow out of him like “Thou shalt not commit adultery” or “Thou shalt not murder.” He didn’t quote scripture at all. Instead, he drew upon a rich storehouse of God’s word that apparently dwelt within him, to paint an emotional word picture designed to stir David’s own heart-connection to God. It seems there aren’t many of us who know how to teach and admonish one another with wisdom. We either toss out a bit of condemning scripture, ignore the issue or discuss it with just about everyone except for the offender. The approach called for in Colossians 3 isn’t easy. The peace that is to rule in our hearts is not exactly that “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” the Eagles once sang about. The peace of Christ is often a matter of long prayer and strategic planning.
And as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
Maybe it seems a bit strange to list singing as part of the plan to admonish a Christian brother or sister, but have you ever noticed the themes that run through these kinds of songs? Unless I intentionally ignore the lyrics of hymns and spiritual songs or the words of the Psalms, I can’t sing for long without realizing:
I wonder if Paul might have sandwiched this bit about singing right in the middle of his section on Christian behavior to be sure I would first remember these two things:
1. No matter how impossible a situation (or even a person) may seem, the problem is never too great for God.
2. I can only correct my brother in the humility of one who has also fallen short of the glory of God.
With gratitude in your hearts to God
Although God’s people may never live together completely conflict-free (this side of heaven), as we let Him rule in our hearts, immerse ourselves in His word, sing His praises and wisely teach and admonish one another, we will find our hearts will be truly grateful to the God who has not only called us to peace, but has also supplied everything we need in order to enjoy it.
Now, why don’t we all let this bit of God’s word dwell within us and remember all that is at our disposal the next time we find ourselves on the wrong end of a Camp Maranatha pillow fight?
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
If you happen to drop by Camp Maranatha when our summer season is in full swing, you might wonder. Campers laughing and splashing one another with diving board cannonballs, an energetic game of capture the flag, the clang, clang, clang of the dinner bell, silly campfire songs that might possibly rank volume as more valuable than content.
Really? This is a place of peace?
Perhaps, you imagine sitting under the pine trees atop a lone boulder, Bible on your lap, a soft mountain breeze tangling your hair?
Don’t worry. These moments do come, too. Even our rowdiest kids get a chance to sit quietly and ponder God and His beautiful creation.
But the kind of peace we’re talking about is not found exclusively in the quiet. Now, celebrating 65 years, Camp Maranatha has been designated as “A Place of Peace Where God Changes Lives” for quite some time. And, yes, there is something about pine-scented mountain air, majestic views and encounters with wildlife that bring a sense of peace. But camp can also be a place of waiting in line for food, sloppy roommates, chapped lips and mosquito bites—things not usually associated with the idea of peace.
The peace God gives is not destroyed by trial and tribulation, let alone a few annoying insects or the happy noises of youthful exuberance. In John 14:27, Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
So how does this peace Jesus gives differ from that which the world gives? One important difference we see at camp is that it’s the setting for changed lives. Lives changed by God. We see this change even in small, perhaps, temporary ways. In the course of a week, the resentful learn to forgive, the fearful learn to hope, the unloving are transformed by unconditional Love. We get glimpses of these things during a stay at camp. But they are only glimpses.
Changed lives are a process. And it may be that reflecting on both the quiet peace and the noisy peace at Camp Maranatha teaches us something that the kind of peace the world gives could never do. The world’s kind is all about stopping and "No!" No war. No yelling. Stop doing or saying anything that might cause disagreement or conflict.
The Prince of Peace tells us not just to stop, but also to go. This can be the hard “go” of working to forgive someone who has given you a lifetime of hurt. Or the “go” of making new friends when the old friends are still stuck in habits that once held you captive.
It could even be the kind of
“go” that sent Abraham out
to a new land when he
“went out not knowing where he was going.”
(see Hebrews 11:8)
...or the “go” that pointed Jonah to tell the good news to some scary people. This kind of change may take some time and it may not feel peaceful. But refusing the “go” of peace may not be all that easy or comfortable either. Just ask Jonah!
The point is simply this — true peace, whether at Camp Maranatha or at school, work or home can really only be found in God. We’d love to have you come to camp and enjoy our tall pines against blue skies. We’d love for you to come here to experience the changes in your life that only God can bring. And please do! Just remember, even on the days and weeks when you can’t get away to a quiet place (or a noisy place) like camp, you can still experience the peace that passes understanding. No matter where you are, you can choose peace by trusting in the One who made Camp Maranatha a place of peace in the first place.
This is just a quick thank you to all of the people who have shared their time, talents and treasure to help Camp Maranatha develop an internet presence. We've had assistance all along the way from the first email account to this new updated website.