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Derailing Trains and the Church

It is hard to believe that we are in mid-November.  This year has been surreal on so many fronts.  I feel like I have been behind the eight-ball on so many things. We didn’t decorate for Halloween until Halloween Day. That did not sit well with my two-year-old son, we really enjoyed the decorations but they came down shortly after Halloween. I told him that we would try to be better for Christmas. After saying that, I looked at my schedule and realized that carving out a time after Thanksgiving was going to be a challenge, so we set up Christmas the following weekend.  Since most of our Christmas is more woodland winter land with animals, gnomes, and elves, the Christmas vibe comes mainly from the tree and the North Pole Express train that circles underneath when not derailed from the cats or a handsy toddler.  Benjamin is mesmerized by the train.  I have become adept at resetting the train and cars on the track much quicker.

While watching the train circle the tree and scare the cats, I had a flashback to seminary.  This had nothing to do with scaring cats, but everything to do with the metaphor of Christianity as a train moving through time.  In this metaphor, we are passengers on this journey of Christianity that started before us and will continue after we depart. This train has seen many landscapes of the world and held a diversity of passengers charting and shaping the tracks the train is on. As passengers on this train, we have the privilege or task of sharing the gospel message and shaping the world to reflect those values found within Jesus’ teachings. Fortunately, we have the vantage of reflecting on the past, examining the present course, and discerning the future to ultimately work towards the goals God has communicated and continues to call to us to become.  We hope that our decisions ultimately build the Realm of God here on Earth and usher in a new way of living.  We hope that we can separate secular values not congruent with the gospel teachings in our decision making processes.  Even with ambiguity and uncertainty, this train ride is exciting and life-changing! Knowing that God is present and at work, gives me hope and peace.

As I watch Benjamin continue to manipulate the derailed train with excitement and purpose as if by his will alone, the train will magically work properly without the rails as his foundation.  How often have we worked in the church without a strong sense of call or grounding when making decisions in the life of the church?  Do we press on even when the train has derailed ages ago because that is what we do to avoid addressing the bigger challenge of getting the train back on the track?  Do we even know how to get the train back on the track?  How many people spend the same amount of time and energy on issues related to the church as they do on their hobbies, passions, or sources of entertainment?  Can our church members recite major events or key players in the Bible or church history like we do for movies or sporting events? Many of these questions are ponderings, and I realize that there are individuals in our churches and the Christian community that can do many of these things.  My focus is on me, my family, and the ministries I serve.  How do I equip myself and others to find the joy of being on this train and engaging in Christianity as God is calling at that time?

This year has created many challenges for the church. We had to learn how to be the church in a vastly different terrain where relationships and covenants are put to the test. Our churches and communities have taken major leaps and experienced incredible learning curves to be faithful to their calling.  That speaks volumes to the characteristics of the passengers currently riding the train despite living in interesting times. I am confident that we will continue to grow from this experience and strengthen the body of Christ. I’m also confident that our ministries will take on new forms and reach more people. To live in a time where our train ride can take so many directions it’s exciting. God is putting us in a position to make decisions that will have ripple effects for generations down the road.

Looking back at this past year at Slumber Falls, I have seen silver linings emerging. We continue to discover new ways to help young people discover God, their gifts and talents, and how they are beautifully and wonderfully made. Those “Ah-Ha!” moments when they discover that they have a voice and role within the story and journey of the church are priceless. These realizations and passions for being part of the church will continue to shape them and how they embody the gospel to others. We continue to stay true to the central principles of our outdoor ministry programs. Relationships are key! Whether those relationships are with God, others, creation, or themselves speaks to the transformative nature of the churches’ ministries at Slumber Falls Camp.  The camp is a place to learn on being a part and functioning as the Body of Christ in light of all the perceived differences and passions calling for different directions in the church. Our ministries at Slumber Falls Camp in building communities and teaching people how to live in covenant and relationship with one another is a message that our world needs to hear, understand, and embody.

I am thankful and honored to be on this train car on our journey together. This year has been a powerful teaching moment in the importance of living out the gospel and being a reflection of God’s light and love in the world.  This year has highlighted areas of growth and concerns the church needs to address.  It has provided Slumber Falls Camp with opportunities to equip our children, youth, and volunteers with skill sets and better resiliency to navigate in uncharted terrains and find peace with ambiguity or uncertainty.  We are excited about the future of the camp and the potential for new ways of enhancing the lives of campers, churches, and the world.  It is forcing us to do new things so that we stay connected but also reach out to new people that can benefit from the gospel message. We are looking for people who are passionate about outdoor ministries, children and youth programs, and mission, outreach, Christian education, and church development to be part of this journey with us. We are on this train together.  Unlike my Christmas train, this train we are on might be on a winding track, but hopefully, we are moving forward and not going in circles. We would love for you to join us in our train car for s’mores, singing, and sharing God’s love with others.

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