January 4, 2013

The Hug After

I watched Judah (my three-year-old) and Lucy (my five-year-old) go through the "I'm sorry..." and "I forgive you," routine recently.

They both stood there, stubbornly not wanting to even look into each other’s eyes.  It’s unfortunate, but true.
Neither of them wanted to give in.

They needed a push.  “Lucy say, I’m sorry.” 
“I’m sorry, Judah.”
“Judah, say, I forgive you.” 
“I forgive you Lucy.”
“and I love you.” 
“I love you Lucy.” 
“Now hug.”

The hug after is so important.

There is contact, and connection.  It stops us from thinking about ourselves and our excuses.  It stops us from thinking about how much we deserved that apology.

And for my kids, the hug after is long enough if it returns them to giggles, and possibly they fall over laughing.

You can probably think of a time when someone— a   parent, teacher, or principal— made you apologize.  It might not have been the most authentic of apologies.

Was it better for you to have been pushed into a resolution at that age than to not have one at all? 

Now we’re not five-year-olds, but you and I stand there with people, 
unable to look them in the eye, refusing to give in.

Can you think of someone who has done something to you that you would have a hard time forgiving them for?  Or can you think of someone that you would have a hard time apologizing to, maybe because it would be hard to admit your fault, or maybe because you are stubbornly pretending it wasn’t really your fault?

But we make a mistake if we stand there stubbornly, refusing to face the problem.  We are wrong if we suffer heroically, imagining that ignoring the problem will make it better. We talk about forgive and forget, but sometimes we don’t do either.  We just let it fester.

And we rationalize.  It seems that since we can’t actually undo what has been done, we should just try to forget about it.  Our sinful nature, and our enemy the liar would be happy if we suffered, imagining that that is the only solution.

Now God agrees that there isn’t anything we can do to take it back, or fix it or undo it.  He makes that very clear in Hebrews 10, among other places.

The Law, can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly make perfect, those who draw near to worship. - Hebrews 10:1

Can you imagine if you had to keep apologizing over and over and over for every sin?  That system just couldn’t work.  We could never be sorry enough.

You may have even tried before to sit in the pew and apologize for everything that needs apologizing for, as if apologizing is what removes the guilt.

But then Jesus shows up.  And He says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.  -Hebrews 10:17

Jesus shows up and does the thing that we are unable to do.  He will forgive… and forget.  He will love us enough that we don’t have to think about our sin again.  He can actually put the wrong things we have done behind us, and leave them behind us.

And he opens his arms to give us the hug after.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  -Hebrews 10:19-23

The hug after from God turns right into forgiving each other.  We only apologize and offer forgiveness because we have gone through that process with God. 

If you have a festering relationship with someone, you really can say you’re sorry.  You really can offer forgiveness, even though you’re not sure how they will respond, or even though you can’t undo it. You know how God has responded.  He has forgiven. 

Remembering the grace of God, we can take risks like that because we know that he is holding us. 
Not everyone will apologize when we confront them, and not every problem we have will be resolved with a hug after. 

The hug after is a part of the healing process, a part of going forward into life with someone.  There are times when we aren’t able to go forward with someone, or it wouldn’t be safe or wise for us to trust someone again.

But it is important to offer forgiveness and ask for it.  To skip that is to ignore the grace and power and faithfulness of Jesus. 

I pray that you have just been reminded of the hug after from Christ, and nudged to ask for or offer forgiveness to someone who needs a hug.

April 16, 2012

Retreat and Catch your Breath

Each time I get ready for another retreat, I ask myself the question, “Why are we here?”  There are so many reasons to be at a retreat.   We come to get away, to grow closer to our friends, to meet members of the opposite gender, to spend time with our role models, and to have some Camp-Phillip-style ridiculous fun.

We also come because we know that a part of being a Christian is spending time with God.  We aren’t always sure how, but we expect that time away from our normal life will allow God to encourage our spirits, to give us hope, and to rekindle our faith.

God has used a time away to prepare so many of his servants throughout history, and he does the same thing at Camp Phillip. 

There is a pattern to the way that he works during a retreat.  The retreat begins with excitement at arriving at a new place, and anticipation of a new experience.  Camp is fun, and new, and exhilarating.

Sometime later, in a devotion or Bible study, or in a conversation with another Christian beside the fire, the retreat cycle continues.  God uses his Word to show us something that we couldn’t see clearly at home.  We arrived at Camp, like someone who has gotten used to a bad smell.  There are things in our lives that we have grown accustomed to, but the time away helps us get a whiff of the stench of our sin.

The new perspective helps us shout with Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  (Romans 7:24).

The next thing that happens is that we get to take a deep breath of the freedom that comes through forgiveness.   God uses Scripture, devotions, songs, and deep Christian friendships to give us a sweet taste of the Gospel. 

So many of us in the Camp family can proudly proclaim that God used Camp Phillip to introduce us to some of the best friends we have known.  I would even go so far as to say that I didn’t learn what a good friend looked like until Camp.

God uses the retreat to give us a breath of fresh air.  He leaves that taste in our mouths, and he teaches us how to avoid some of the pitfalls that we had been stumbling into.   God has used the time to plant a seed of truth, and to nurture in us the new creation he has made. 

I pray you are able to join us for a retreat.  I pray the God gives you many other opportunities to catch your breath.  But even more, I ask that “the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  -Romans 15:5-6

December 14, 2011

Four Bits of Thanksgiving

I was at a church recently, and after offering some worship in the morning service, a mother walks up with her son. "My son is looking for the basket to give to Camp Phillip.  He just loves it there."

After directing them to the ushers, I smile at the two quarters shining in the boy's hand as he makes sure to give his fifty cents to Camp before he heads off to Sunday School.  All that is left is for me to offer a prayer of wonder and thanks to our God who has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of his ministry to his kids.

Recently, I have been so thankful and impressed with the generosity of the kids we serve.  I have had the privilege of thanking a six year old PeeWee camper for passing on his Birthday money on to Camp.  "I already had so many great presents, and I wanted to give the money somewhere that God could really use it."

Two different campers raised money for Camp using our cookie dough fundraiser, and then decided instead of keeping the money for themselves, they would allow us to put it into our campership program so that other kids could come to camp.  It is simply great to be served by the children of God.

We work hard here at Camp, and it can be easy to just keep working and not even to pay attention to all the ways that God is blessing us.  But when I look around and pay attention to all the appreciation that is shown to us, and all the work that is done to support and encourage the ministry that happens here, I am speechless (except that I immediately journal about it).

So many people are excited to gather with their friends for retreats and to share our songs at their churches. So many people make Camp a part of their plan to walk with Christ.  But even more amazing is that so many people are thanking God for the work that is done here.  What a blessing it is to be a part of his Body.

This reminds me of Paul's encouragement to the Corinthians:

"This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  
-2 Corinthians 9:12-15

It is great to be moved by the small gifts given by children.  Perhaps it is because I know that I could not possibly deserve such pure love, freely given.  And God has made clear the punishment that i really do deserve.  And in the middle of the sad reality my sinfulness, I think about the Gift that the Child of Christmas came to give. How blessed we are to have such hope in Christ!  

"You turned my wailing into dancing; 
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever."
-Psalm 30:11-12

Thanks be to God for sending us a child that could give us an unfathomable gift.  There isn't a way that we can even grasp the fullness of the love that God is and that he pours out on us.   I pray that he helps me simply thank him like a boy with a couple quarters.

November 10, 2011

Everybody's It

At Camp Phillip, we really do believe in learning by playing.  And there is a really important lesson that can be learned from this game:

Campers and staff are spread out inside the rectangle of cones.  Everyone waits for the wacky codeword to signal the beginning of the game.  As soon as the game begins, everyone is either tagging or tagged.  People who are tagged run to the outside to watch the action, as the crowd inside gets smaller and smaller.  

The game that started in chaos ends with a dramatic duel as the final two players each try to tag the other first.  Rounds go by so quickly, that no one has to sit out for long.  Soon, everyone is spreading out inside the cones again....

This is a familiar scene during a classic game that we play at Camp. It is called Everybody’s It Tag.

It's simple, quick and fun.  I have led the game enough times to notice some common strategies.
Some kids will cower in a corner, hoping no one comes near them.  These kids don't have anywhere to run when someone comes toward them, so they get tagged first.

Other kids have a more Kamikaze approach.  They run at other kids, hoping to catch them off guard.  They don't often defend themselves that carefully, so after getting out a few other kids, they usually find themselves watching the final showdown from the sidelines.

Some kids look more like the Karate Kid. They get into a defensive stance, and stand in the middle, twisting and dodging as quickly as possible.  Depending on their skills, these players sometimes do well.  Their quick movements cause most other players to try to stay away from them.

But, time and time again, the strategy that keeps players in the game longer is forming an alliance.  These campers are already talking with each other during the rules explanation.  They whisper and nod and gesture to each other, "I won't tag you if you don't tag me."  When the game begins, they stand together.

October 5, 2011


How does it happen?  Someone one day confidently says, "I will never do this thing."  Then someday later, much more quickly than they ever imagined, they find themselves doing that thing.

How often have you witnessed someone saying at one point in their journey, “I will never do this thing.” (get drunk, have a sleepover with their boyfriend, marry someone who’s not a Christian, be a Bears fan, or whatever the thing is that they will never do)  How is it that they end up doing the thing, and in many cases defending the thing and calling their old claim ignorant or na├»ve?

Have you ever found yourself looking down at your life, and realized that what you are doing is something that you would have never imagined yourself doing before?  Have you ever seen a friend making choices that you had been confident that they would never make? 
This is how it starts.  The devil holds up a billboard and tries to plant the seed that life could be something different.  He tries to take a Christian and show them a glimpse of a life that seems more fun or rewarding.

And then keeps to himself that his real goal is to separate us from God’s people and God’s path.  He doesn’t let us in on his secret goal, which is our despair.

July 20, 2011

Lose the Costume

I distinctly remember telling myself, "It doesn't matter what other people think about you."

But fifteen minutes into my first day of middle school, the teacher was taking attendance, and when the name Joel Hansen was read off, three boys in the back laughed, like my name was a joke.  Thinking quickly, I told the teacher my name was J.D. (short for Joel David).

This is the beginning of a string of chameleon-like changes in my life.  As I look back to my middle school and high school years, I see many costumes I wore for short periods of time.  Ever year or two I changed my clothing style, my friend group, my way of talking and the music I listened to.  It seems to me that I just got really god at paying attention to what was acceptable, and fitting in to that mold (even if it was the mold of a star wars geek, punk rocker, roller hockey fanatic, etc.).

I am so good at looking around at how I am supposed to talk and act and dress and even think, and then copying it.

I bet you’re pretty good at it too.   

May 10, 2011

Run for the Prize

I’ve been trying to go running lately.  

And as I run, I often ask myself questions like, “Why are you doing this to yourself; you have enough things to do?” or “Who cares if you take a little break?”  It is difficult to set goals for myself, and hold myself accountable to those goals, so that I can fight the temptation to slow down, or give up.

Then I wonder, in how many areas of my life am I this lazy?  How often do I set my goals low, and then quickly offer myself forgiveness when I don’t meet the goals I have set?  In how many places do I find myself running the race as if I have already won the prize, instead of running the race in such a way as to win the prize?

There are parts of life where we cut ourselves a little slack, or where we compare ourselves to the people around us, instead of our Creator’s perfect standard.  It is probably not too difficult for you to think of some areas like that.