“The Practice of Neglect”

I was in a class recently and I saw a quote from J. Oswald Sanders, “It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God… Spend plenty of time with God; let other things go, but don’t neglect HIM.” 
The person teaching the class I was in shared an illustration. I don’t have all the details down, but here’s the important parts. A man asked some really good musician, “How did you get so good?” The musician said, “Through the practice of neglect.” The man asked what that meant, and the musician replied, “I neglect everything else in my life, so I can be good at this one thing.” 
Two questions come from this:
1. What are you ‘becoming good at’? 
2. What are you neglecting in order to do it?
Of course for the Christian, the ‘one thing’ should be glorifying God through knowing Him and making Him known (maybe that’s two, but i think they are really inseparable.) We could hash out how to describe the one thing, but you get the point. The one thing and really the only thing is Jesus Christ. He is our only need and our one true desire. 
What are you neglecting then in pursuit of Him and His kingdom?
leisure reading?
physical exercise?
studying for school?
spending time with friends?
even ministry?
Keep in mind that no where does the Bible say that these things are bad in themselves, but the point of the whole conversation is that in order to really follow Christ we have to ‘let goods and kindred go.’ We have to neglect other areas of our lives that we might enjoy (for example sports or reading) or even might be beneficial (for example physical exercise) for the sake of making sure that the most important part of our lives is nurtured and fed. What makes it hard for us is because spending time with the Lord is often hard to ‘quantify,’ so it’s hard to see the immediate benefits. It’s easy to let that time go and think that there was no real loss, but it’s the biggest loss of all.
Now, you may be hearing, “Try harder,” so let me offer help and hope. First, the ‘gospel sandwich’ is the key to good works. The gospel comes before good works to motivate us (we are His, so we live for Him,) and the gospel comes after we fail to do good work (we are His, so we are forgiven.) Look to the cross if you are doing poorly OR doing well in this area. Look to the cross always. 
Secondly, I want to give a reminder. As humans, we really make ever decision based on what we think will bring us the most pleasure. Whether it’s watching Netflix, spending with our friends, etc., we do those things because they make us happy in some way. Even work has the ultimate goal of making us happy though it may be in delayed gratification. Also, understand that seeking our happiness isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s how we’re made, but the key for the Christian is to understand this,
Psalm 16:11 – “You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
In His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. What does that mean? That means that He is our ultimate pleasure. He is the most satisfying being/thing in the universe. All the other things in our lives that bring us pleasure really pale in comparison, but we are often distracted with those things. For the Christian we have to trust that He is the one that will satisfy our deepest desires and bring us true joy/happiness. If we understand this, then spending time with Him actually becomes not just a chore or a duty, but it becomes the thing that we want to do most because we realize that the other things in our lives are really not enough. We actually have a deeper longing that we often plug in with trivial things. Our ultimate joy comes in God Himself.
Psalm 40:16 – “But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
Even in this verse we see that being glad in God is actually what leads us to glorify Him. Kind of neat. That’s why it can actually be acceptable to ‘neglect’ even ministry for spending time with Him. I’m not saying that we only spend time with Him because we actually still can be satisfied in Him in serving others as well. The reality is most of us have other things that we can neglect before we get to the part where we have to neglect serving others. When we really find our satisfaction in Him, then we have a greater desire to share that joy with others, which gives us a right motivation for making Him known (instead of just doing it because we know we’re supposed to.)
In conclusion, we will have to make decisions today (and the rest of our lives) that lead us to choose to ‘neglect’ something in order to know Christ, but the reality is that what we get is actually better than what we give up, which means that ultimately, it’s not even really a sacrifice at all because we are satisfied and glad in Jesus!

Remaining Thankful

The Christian life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes when we’re going through those down moments, we feel like God isn’t there. Of course, we know in our brains that He is there but sometimes our emotions overcome our reason, and we begin to wonder. This is what makes the Bible so important as an anchor in our lives. The Bible reminds us of His great love. When we begin to fear that He is not around, we are reminded that ‘perfect love drives out fear,’ which comes from His Word in 1 John 4:18.

I’ve been studying Colossians in preparation for next summer, and thankfulness has been a major theme of Colossians. Being thankful for the way that He has displayed His love in my life has been critical for dealing with those misleading emotions. It’s easy sometimes to think that He is not around or that He is not at work, but when I stop to think about all that He has done for me, which is manifested the most in giving His Son for my sin, then it becomes harder to question His presence. Romans 8:32 reminds us that He will do all that we need Him to do so that we can live for Him by reminding us that He has given us the greatest gift of all, which is His Son. Remembering God’s past faithfulness is what drives me to trust Him in the present. He hasn’t failed me yet, and of course, He never will. Even though it seems small, that’s why it is so critical that I remain thankful for what He has already done, especially when I forget He is there.

Big Things

Well, the summer is over at Camp Marannook. The campers have returned home. The counselors have returned to college. The support staff has returned to high school. The schedule for the year round staff goes back to something close to ‘normal.’

I have mixed emotions. The summer is an amazing time at Marannook as I watch many people grow in leaps and bounds. I’m excited to see what they are learning and how they are applying it. At the same time, I’m sad because the summer is over for us, and I know that this special summer has passed. Some of the staff will come back for a visit, and a few will return to work, but the reality is most have moved on.

I’m excited to see what happens next for counselors, though. It’s wrong of me to want to keep them in this ‘bubble’ as many call it. I’m excited to see what they will do in their own lives and in the lives of the many others they will come in contact with this coming school year. I’ve talked to many of them about their plans for ministry and their own personal growth.

I’m the most excited to see what GOD will do. As one of my wise staff said after everyone had returned to their homes, “God is with us now as much as He was with us at Marannook.” Amen. I know that HE will use them in amazing ways just as HE did this summer. I know HE has big things planned for them because HIS plans are always big, so I’m looking forward in anticipation for what HE will do through them.
For me, it’s time to start getting ready for next summer. I basically keep one eye looking at my past staff and one eye looking for the next group. What will GOD do this year to prepare a new staff for the next summer? Big things because HIS plans are always big.

A ripple

I’m sure most of you have seen a rock dropped into a pond. It’s a commonly used illustration for the ability of one small thing to affect a much larger area. Now we know that ultimately it’s GOD that is causing the effect, but for some reason, HE has chosen to use people and ministries as that ‘rock.’ Many of you reading this may have even had the opportunity to be impacted by the ‘rock’ of Marannook. It is our desire to be used by GOD greatly to make a major impact for HIS kingdom. I wanted to share something that I recently received from Wade Killingsworth. Wade was a counselor at Marannook many years ago. He and his wife were both on staff. They now have a large family, and many of their children have been campers and staff here. One of their children is even coming this summer to be a counselor. Here is the quote from Wade,”My name is Wade Killingsworth, Marannook Training Staff in 1988. In 1992 I joyously married Joan Bowling, also Training Staff 1988. We took the Bible Study training (in excess of 100 hours) to heart and it formed a foundation to a lifestyle of discipleship and Biblical scholarship.
This past year (2014) we applied to a missions organization, SEND International, to become full-time career church planters. There was some question as to whether we had the necessary skills and knowledge to qualify, not having much formal training. SEND graciously gave us the opportunity to submit to a barrage of evaluations including, among other things, a four-hour psychological evaluation, two background checks each, two extensive theological surveys, and a massive timed Bible knowledge evaluation.
God is gracious, and we passed all the evaluations. Our evaluators commented that both our scores on the Bible knowledge test were significantly higher than the expected mean score for seminary-trained applicants. We credit God’s grace, multiple Godly teachers, and 25 years of a lifestyle of discipleship and Biblical scholarship.
And we credit our training at Marannook as a foundation for such a lifestyle.

It is incredibly humbling to think about how GOD has used Marannook in the lives of people, especially because of the reality of our frailty, weakness, and sin, but HE has been faithful. It’s remarkable to think that HE used the ministry of Marannook to prepare Wade and his wife almost 30 years ago, and now they are about to go to another part of the world to share that precious gospel that we treasure so much. It’s humbling to me to think about what GOD might choose to do through the staff coming this summer, and it’s humbling to think that HE might use me in that process. It’s just amazing to think what ‘rock’ might be thrown into the pond this summer and the ripple that will be created for eternity as HE works through the ministry at Marannook for HIS glory.

(As a side note: Wade and Joan are going to Slovenia. If you would be interested in helping them in this opportunity, please contact me, keith@marannook.org.)

the weight

Well, I’m two months into my new job as director of Marannook. As you can imagine there are a lot of ‘growing pains’ in a new job. I am very excited about seeing what will unfold this summer because I know how GOD has faithfully worked these 40 years at Marannook; however, right now, it’s easy for me to get caught up in all the details and forget the big picture. As some of you know, there is just a lot to do to get ready for the summer. Sometimes as I think about all the different responsibilities that I have, it begins to feel like a large weight on my shoulders. I’m sure many of you have experienced that feeling as well. It feels like you are being boxed in or being covered over, and you begin to wonder when it will stop. Mr. Charles, Mrs. Barbara, and the other staff have been great to help, but I know that it still rests on my shoulders. Lately, I have been feeling this ‘weight.’

Of course, there’s the problem right? You probably caught that. As you were reading that, maybe you said, “Hey. It’s not ultimately on your shoulders,” and you’re right. For me, that’s usually the problem. I get focused on the weight, and I forget the one that has taken all the weight on HIS shoulders.

Isaiah 53:4,5 – “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Wow. There was a tremendous weight, our sin, and it fell on JESUS. I think that all the stuff I have to do feels heavy. Well, try bearing the weight of the sin of GOD’s people! Yet, HE did it out of love.

First, I have to remember the ONE that bore my sin and worship HIM. There is a second part though. The reality is we do go through tough times, and we do have responsibilities, but here’s another verse from Romans 8, which we’ll study this summer.

Romans 8:18 – “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Double Wow. Paul says that the ‘weight’ that we think we feel now is not even worth comparing to the weight of the glory that will be revealed. Mr. Charles even gave the illustration 20 years ago about a feather and an anvil. There’s no comparison. Amazing. My sufferings really are small compared to what Paul went through, but it is a neat illustration. On a small scale, the ‘weight’ I experience isn’t even worth comparing to the glory of GOD revealed in the summer program as precious campers hear about the mighty Word of GOD.

So, the next time you feel that ‘weight’ remember first of all the ONE who took your sin, and secondly remember that the ‘weight’ of glory will be so much greater than the ‘weight’ of what you’re going through. It’s not easy, but it is good because HE is good.

Learning to Ask

There is much debate nowadays as to whether we should be a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ nation or if we are becoming a socialist nation. I’m sure the answer is probably somewhere in between, but at this point, I’m really not interested in getting involved in the politics of the situation. What I do see is that people seem more inclined to expect others to do something for them without a lot of personal responsibility. I saw this some in the classroom when I was a teacher. Students seemed less inclined to study, but had higher expectations for me as a teacher to provide for them and accommodate them. As is the case for most teachers, this was often very frustrating.

What makes it frustrating is that I’m much more of a ‘bootstrap’ kind of person. I see asking for help as a sign of weakness and/or failure, so I almost never do it, even to the point of risking personal injury. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but the reality is that it’s a sin thing. There are two really interesting verses in Galatians 6. Verse 2 talks about “bearing one another’s burdens,” but verse 5 says, “each will have to bear his own load.” It almost sounds like some type of contradiction, but I think it helps to define the line between asking for help and personal responsibility. I wish I could draw my picture that I use to explain the passage, but I think the general idea is that everyone should be bearing their own burden as they can, but if we are all working together, sometimes the load might shift around to take the pressure off the one that is struggling to bear his own load. We never shirk our responsibilty, but as the body of CHRIST, we work together to take care of each other.

For me right now the application of this is in trying to do a better job in learning to ask for help. I know that what goes on at Marannook is way beyond me, and I’m learning that I have to do what I can to mobilize the body of CHRIST to better accomplish what the LORD wants to do here. I struggle with asking others for help, but I’m now in a situation where I have no choice. I might have been able to ‘fake it’ for the first part of my life, but this situation is so big. I’m learning to trust GOD and even to trust people, which is where this takes on a whole new application for me. I have to trust people in several areas. One area is that I have to be okay admitting I need help and trust that those around me will not think I am weak or have failed. Sure, I know that we are all weak in the sense that we need JESUS, but it’s hard to have to admit our limitations to another person. I also have to learn to trust people when they say they want to help. I hate being a burden to others, so I’m inclined to not ask for help because I don’t want to waste their time or resources. I know others are busy, so I keep things to myself, but I am gradually learning to believe that others really want to help, especially in areas where I know I need it the most. I have been greatly encouraged already at offers people have given me to help with recruiting and camp promotion. I have to trust them that they really want to help and are not simply feeling sorry for me.

This leads me to something that I am really hoping to grow in and that is what I mentioned before about learning how to be a part of mobilizing the body of CHRIST. I know now that I am in a position where I need a lot of people with strengths I don’t have to come in and do what they do best to make Marannook work. Part of this is the process of delegation and being okay with others taking responsibility. I know it’s part of my job to even go out and find people and resources that can be used for GOD’s glory at Marannook. This is so big because that means that I not only allow others to help, but I have to learn to ask others to help. Some people don’t mind helping, but may not volunteer as easily. I have to trust GOD to provide, and I have to trust others to be honest with me when I ask. As a general blanket statement, then I ask you to be honest with me because I have to start asking more and more. That’s part of what I am responsible for now, and you have to be honest with me as I am ‘learning to ask.’

Faith and Fear

This is the first blog post for our website, and it’s interesting to try and figure out what it should be about. Since I’ll be writing most of these for the time being, I think I’ll write about what I’m going through.

I’ve basically been in my new position at Marannook for about a month. Thankfully, the initial shock has worn off, but there is still so much to do. I continue to look at my ‘to-do’ list and realize that I can’t do all of this on my own. There have been many moments of ‘fear’ where I’ve wondered if I made a good decision. I love the ministry of Marannook, and I love discipling college students and teaching children about GOD’s amazing Word, but did I just take on too much? In some ways, the answer is yes, but in others the answer is no. I know that this ministry has been sustained by GOD for these 40 years. I know that there have been tons of staff that have come through here, and I know that all of them have sin, so that means that GOD has worked all this time in spite of having a ton of sinful people.

The reality is this. GOD does amazing work even when we are weak, and it seems that HE even does HIS best work when we are the weakest. HE loves to take broken people and use them for HIS glory, and that’s exactly the point. HE gets the glory. Even though my fear is a bad thing, it is often used by GOD to lead me to faith. I can’t stay in fear mode, but my fear causes me to cry out to HIM for help, which is exactly what HE wants. He wants us to trust HIM, and our faith grows the most when we know we need HIM the most. It’s such an interesting dichotomy. I know that my fear is really sin, but it has been pushing me to go back to HIM and watch HIM work in situations I know I can’t do on my own.

For the first time in my life, I think I am really in a situation that I know I can’t pull off on my own. It’s just too big. Sure I can plan and prepare, but I know there is so much more to what GOD does at Marannook. People’s lives are radically changed every summer! Campers hear the Word taught clearly, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Counselors study the Word in such depth that it changes how they view GOD, the world, and themselves. I can’t do any of that, and yet, I can take rest in that reality. I can’t do any of that, but HE can and will. HE promises that HIS Word will change people. My fear of weakness and failure leads me to trust the ONE that will never fail and that brings great comfort. If I stay in my fear, I will fail, but if I let my fear lead me to faith, I’ll grow as HE succeeds.

To GOD be the glory for the great things HE will do,