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3 Ways Into a Holy Lent

Posted by on March 8, 2019

3 Ways Into a Holy Lent

by Matthew Kozlowski, alumnus

Most Christian holidays have joyful greetings: Merry Christmas! Happy Easter! But as for Lent…not so much. I’ve never had someone wish me a “Happy Lent”. This 40-day season before Easter is unique. Yes there is joy, but the deep meaning of Lent is found in prayer, self-reflection, and growing closer to Jesus.

Ok, so Lent might not be the most fun season of the Christian year. But think of it this way: Lent is like the camp worship song “Days of Elijah”— it’s coming whether or not you’re ready.

How might you live into a holy Lent this year? Here are three suggestions:

1. Take an Inventory
As a Brookwoods counselor, I remember the last days of camp when we cleaned and put everything away. All supplies had to be counted, whether they were sailboats or Nerf balls. What was missing? What was in good condition?

In Lent, we do the same thing, but with our spiritual lives. We take inventory, asking: What’s bringing me closer to God? What’s drawing me away? What don’t I need anymore? What’s broken? What’s working well? This process may sting a bit, but it can also feel really good—especially, if we ask God for the grace to be honest and the strength to make changes.

2. Consider Others First

The 40 days of Lent mirror the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, fasting, praying, and resisting the devil. Notice how Satan tempted Jesus to do miracles that were self-centered tricks: feed yourself by turning stones into bread…jump from a height and be caught by angels. Jesus refused. He knew that his power was mainly for the sake of others. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, ESV).

In Lent, we follow Christ’s example by considering others before ourselves. Be generous, not just with money, but with time and intention. Write a card, send an uplifting text, or take an extra minute to call. A friend of mine once said that Brookwoods was the first place he knew where people asked, “How are you?” and really meant it. That’s the kind of spiritual generosity we can practice in Lent.

3. Give Something Up, for the Right Reasons

It may be old-fashioned, but I still give something up for Lent. Some people give up chocolate, or Facebook, or the snooze button. This is good. But it’s important to ask: what’s the point? If the goal is self-improvement, I think we miss the mark. Lent should not be a 40-day diet or self-help program.

Instead, Lent is a time to grow closer to Jesus Christ, full stop. Giving something up helps us focus on Jesus, and lean on Him. Think of it this way, when you remove something from your life, how will you fill that empty space? A wise minister told me that when he fasts, he prays for the Holy Spirit to fill him. The Spirit always shows up—you can count on it. Just like “Days of Elijah” showing up at the end of camp worship—you count on it.

The Rev. Matthew Kozlowski is an associate priest at All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, MD. He lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife, Danielle, and two daughters. “Koz” was a counselor at Brookwoods and Moose River between 2002-2005, where he taught sailing and wrote mildly amusing skits for the Staff Special. matthew.koz@gmail.com

 
 
 

Epiphany

Posted by on January 11, 2019

What Is the Epiphany and How Do I Celebrate It?

Craig Higgins

“I’ve had an epiphany!” Have you ever heard someone say that? I don’t know that I’ve ever said it, but I’ve felt that way—the excitement of new insight breaking through my thick head! An epiphany is a manifestation—a disclosure of something not previously fully seen. For Christians, the Epiphany is a festival day—and an entire season—in the traditional worship calendar. And what we celebrate is God’s full disclosure of His love for the whole world.

The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6—the first day after (yes, just like the song) the Twelve Days of Christmas. The focus is the visit of the Magi, the Wise Men of Matthew 2. In some places, this is the day (sometimes called Three Kings Day) on which gifts are exchanged, remembering the gifts brought by the Magi to the Christ Child.

Remember: The Wise Men were Gentiles, the first non-Jewish people to worship Jesus! This event, therefore, is an epiphany of God’s love for the whole world—the revelation that Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel, but the King and Savior of all the nations of the earth. The Epiphany season then lasts from January 6 until Ash Wednesday.

 

Celebrating Epiphany

First, don’t cut Christmas short; celebrate all twelve days! In our house, we set up our creche well before Christmas—but baby Jesus doesn’t appear in the manger until Christmas Eve. Similarly, our three Wise Men start on the other side of the room and only make their appearance on the Epiphany!

Do something special on January 6. One tradition is to bake a King Cake, in which some trinket is hidden. Whoever gets the trinket wins a small prize—which could be a book, or simply the privilege of not doing the dishes!

Last—and most importantly—the entire Epiphany Season is a time to focus on the church’s global mission. Matthew’s Gospel opens with Gentiles worshiping the Christ Child, and closes with Jesus sending His church to make disciples of all the nations. So, during the Epiphany season:

  • pray for missionaries, especially those in distant or difficult places.
  • pray for the mission of the church—including the mission of camp!
  • consider ways that you can make a special offering in support of the church’s mission.

Maybe you’ve known about the Epiphany for years; maybe this celebration is new to you. In any case, why not make it a part of your year? After all, don’t we all need to be reminded of God’s amazing love for the whole world?

Dr. Craig Higgins is the founding and senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in the Westchester suburbs of New York City. Whenever possible, however, he is at camp, where his nametag reads “Resident Theologian.” His wife, Ann, serves year-round as camp’s Director of Development. They have three young adult children, all three of whom were campers, and all have been either LDPs, on staff, or both. You can find him on email, craighiggins@trinitychurch.cc

A Christmas Eve Pageant

Posted by on December 24, 2018

For years, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one particular production of the annual Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. The old-timers who were in the audience never tire of recalling the evening’s events.

Wally was nine and in the second grade, though he should have been in fourth grade. Most people knew that he had difficulty keeping up. He was big and awkward, and a little slow in movement and mind.

Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than him—though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.

They’d find a way to keep Wally out, but he would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping. Wally was always helpful, willing and smiling. He was also the protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. If the older boys chased the younger kids away, Wally would say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, beards, crowns, halos, and a full stage of squeaky voices.

No one on or off stage was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the set’s painted wooden door. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“We seek lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered.

“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to walk away. The innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many, many others, who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

Merry Christmas from the Staff at Brookwoods, Deer Run and Moose River Outpost.

Luke 2: 9-14: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

 

Bob Strodel is currently serving as the Executive Director at Christian Camps and Conferences, Inc. Bob and Debbie have been at camp since 1994 and enjoy seeing Camp’s third generation of campers become a part of the camp family.   bob@christiancamps.net

Finding Joy in the Craziness of Christmas

Posted by on December 7, 2018


Finding Joy in the Craziness of Christmas

Esther C. Baird 

Well here we are, as you read this, the season of Advent is already upon us and if you are anything like me, that means mostly a season of increased business, stress, social obligations, and a stack of holiday catalogs that only serve to make your trash heavy.

Christmas has become a commercial and cultural extravaganza. We may know that there is more to Christmas, and we may show up to church on Sunday and say the right things, but if we’re honest, this time of year we often feel stress and anxiety instead of joy and peace. This time of year, by the time I get home at night I’m so exhausted that I no longer feel like there is anything to celebrate—certainly not that I still have to make dinner!

Well good news, if you feel that way, Advent is for you! There is true Joy, there is real Peace, and it’s for you, and it’s for me.

Jesus came at Christmas not as a one-off miracle, but as the continuation of the big story that God has been telling since He created the world. God wants to be with us. He always has. When we celebrate Advent, we are celebrating that God made a way to be with His people first in the Old Testament, then through the real and physical presence of Jesus on earth. Now, He makes a way to be with us through His Spirit who dwells in us. Always and forever God wants to be with us, that’s what Immanuel means, “God with us”.

Yes, Advent is about celebrating the coming of Jesus as a baby, but it is also about looking forward to when Jesus will return. When you sing, Joy to the World the Lord has Come,you are anticipating the promise that Jesus will come again. Joy to the world because Jesus came as a baby but He is also coming back someday! Joy to the world because when Christ returns, all the things that are now broken will be redeemed. Joy to the world because our lives, our exhaustion, our broken relationships, our sorrows, all of it will be set right if we follow the King who came that first Christmas and who is coming again. Joy to the world because this is not the end of the story.

Christmas is about always and forever. Christmas is a year-round celebration (tell your campers to request Christmas carols next summer for morning worship!). This Advent we believe that God has been making a way since the beginning of time to be with us and promises us a future where exhaustion and stress and sorrow will be no more. If we believe that, then no matter what else happens this year, we can claim true Joy.

Joy for the Christmas story, that we are part of today and forever.

Esther Baird (pictured above with her daughter Riley on pick up day at Deer Run) is the Director of Women’s Ministries at her church north of Boston, and a columnist in her local newspaper. Her two daughters have attended Deer Run and MRO for 7 yrs. Her new 25 day daily Advent book,Exodus to Advent: God’s Christmas Plan For You, And For Me, is now available on Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle. Her website is: www.estherbaird.com

Generosity, Happiness, Thankfulness… Which comes first?

Posted by on November 20, 2018


Ann Higgins,  Director of Development

It’s the season of Thanksgiving, complete with feasting and family gatherings and football. It’s also a time when many of us give of our time and resources to help those less fortunate in our communities. All of these things are good. And all of them make us feel good too (unless your sports team loses!). Being happy and content is a good thing, but it’s also something that is elusive for many of us, evidenced by the plethora of books and articles that have been published recently on the subject.  Just google “how to be happy” and you’ll see what I mean!

There have even been scientific studies on the subject and many of them have shown a link between generosity and happiness, specifically, that generous people are happier people. One study, conducted at the University of Zurich and quoted in Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meditation-modern-life/201712/study-shows-generous-behavior-leads-increased-happiness, even makes a biological connection between being kind or generous and feeling better about yourself:

“The study shows that generosity truly is enough to boost personal happiness, and that generosity doesn’t need to border on martyrdom to be effective. Helping others, in any way that we can, is enough to lead us toward a brighter tomorrow.” 

This should be no surprise to believers in Jesus. We know the one who made us, and we are intimately joined to him. We also know that we are made in his image. This creator God of ours is a generous God, giving us all we need for light and life. He provides for our physical needs and also surrounds us with His beautiful creation for us to enjoy. In addition to that, he gives us himself in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus reveals to us the true nature of our generous God when he heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, welcomes the little children, and feeds the five thousand. And then ultimately, he gives of himself on the cross to redeem a people for himself. Of course, our only response is to give thanks and rejoice in this wonderful reality. And then, to go on to model God’s generosity to others!

At Camp Brookwoods, Deer Run, and Moose River Outpost, we are certainly thankful for these things and for many other blessings we have witnessed at camp this year. More campers than ever came through our gates in 2018, and we are especially grateful for the 215 campers who made the trek up to Moose River Outpost, our beautiful property in Jackman, ME. We are also giving thanks for the generosity of everyone who boosted the Scholarship Fund by $59,000 during our Weekend of Giving. We were (and still are!) amazed and humbled at this outpouring of love and support. We know that nothing happens at camp without the prayers and support of the camp family.  It is only with this ongoing support that we can fulfill our mission of seeing lives transformed for Christ.

When I think about how many campers and families have come through our gates over the past 75 years, I am amazed at how often we have had the privilege of sharing the good news of the gospel and inviting campers to commune with God amidst his magnificent creation. It’s mind boggling! My only response is thankfulness to our generous Father in heaven. That kind of thankfulness results in something even better than happiness, it results in a deep sense of joy and awe at this wonderful God whom we serve.

At this time of year, let’s remember to not just be thankful in general, but to be thankful to, and for, our generous God! As believers, let’s remember that our responses of happiness, joy, and generosity reflect the nature of our loving heavenly Father, the one who made us to be like him.

References

Soyoung Q. Park, Thorsten Kahnt, Azade Dogan, Sabrina Strang, Ernst Fehr, Philippe N. Tobler. A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 15964 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15964

Ann Higgins is the Director of Development for Camp Brookwoods, Deer Run, and Moose River Outpost where the best part of her job is interacting with the thankful and generous camp family that supports our mission. You can reach her at ann@christiancamps.net