50 Years at Lake Agape: Firsts

rickcourt

Editor’s Note: Today is day 43 of our 50-day countdown to Camp Meeting and our celebration of 50 Years at Lake Agape. If you’d like to contribute to this series with photographs, stories, testimonies or other post ideas, email blog@delanco.org. 

I’ve had many first-time events and experiences at Delanco Camp …

It was at Delanco I had my first overnight without my family.
My first woods game was at Delanco.
I kissed my first girl at Delanco.
I snuck out of the dorm for the first time at Delanco.
I initiate my first prank at Delanco. And have lost count since then.
I stole my first car at Delanco. We pushed it into the tabernacle. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I broke into the camp store for the first time as a camper.

I have to confess that many of the rules at Delanco are in place because they weren’t in place when I went to camp as a camper. For some reason, even with all of those “camper firsts,” the leadership at Delanco thought it was a good idea to have me on staff.

I’ve had even more first time experiences while on staff …

I fixed my first toilet at Delanco.
I drove my first truck at Delanco.
I taught a class of students for the first time at Delanco.
I preached one of my first sermons at Delanco. It was un-remarkable.

Delanco has also been the venue for three of the most significant moments in my life.

At Delanco I experienced for the first time the unconditional and overwhelming love of Christ. I can show you the exact spot at the tabernacle altar where I knelt and prayed.

It was at Delanco where I first felt God leading me toward ministry. I didn’t want to be a pastor because they sang in choirs, wore robes, and hung out with old people. God began to unveil his unique plan for my life that has not involved singing in choirs, or wearing robes, or hanging out with old people.

It was at Delanco where I first met Kelly Ferguson. And years later she agreed to be Kelly Court.

Today, I still frequent the Delanco tabernacle – not just during the summer. I go to the same place at the tabernacle altar to pray. Every ministry vocation decision, every significant family event, every opportunity was either initiated, prayed over, or gratitude extended at the altar at Delanco.

Lent Reflection: Dusty disciples

Dust

Jesus used a two-word phrase most often when engaging people. It was a simple, yet profound, challenge. Follow me. Jesus uses this challenge; follow me, at least 12 times in the gospel stories.

  • When Jesus first saw Peter, and later Philip, his challenge was – follow me and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.
  • When Jesus met the rich young ruler, his challenge – sell all your possessions and follow me.
  • He told his followers – take up your cross and – follow me.
  • He described his followers as sheep – who follow him.
  • He challenged Peter, after Peter had denied Jesus – follow me.

Again, and again, and again Jesus uses this simple, yet profound challenge – follow me. As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth.

“‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.”
-Matthew 9:9 (NLT)

When a rabbi said “follow me,” he wasn’t simply saying go this direction. It was a much deeper call than that. A rabbi was saying – I think you can be like me. This was more than simple recruitment, the meaning of the words – follow me – are a challenge to – be in the same way with me. A rabbi was telling his student, I think you have what it takes to become me.

Jesus was challenging Matthew to become like him. Matthew – a tax collector! Tax collectors were hated. So hated they had their very own category – tax collector’s and sinners. Tax collectors were considered so evil they weren’t even lumped in with sinners.

When Matthew chose to become a tax collector, he had to renounce his Jewish heritage. He was a Jew is name only. He could no longer go to the temple to make sacrifices. He chose Rome instead. He would be seen as a traitor. And he was far from God. When Jesus called Matthew he called a tax collector hated by everyone.

Jesus saw Matthew at the tax collector’s booth and invited him to follow. In that one moment, I believe, Matthew experienced extravagant grace – full and real. He was given another chance. Matthew found out – it didn’t matter what he had done or where he had been. Do a quick study comparing Matthew and Luke’s telling of Jesus’ encounter with Matthew.

In Luke’s gospel it says Jesus “saw a tax collector.” Immediately, the gut response would be anger, resentment, and disgust. But notice how Matthew records this same story. Matthew says, when Jesus saw him, Jesus “saw a man named Matthew.” Jesus saw past the façade. He saw beyond the career path. He saw more than poor choices and bad decisions. Jesus saw the man.

“Here is one of the greatest instances in the New Testament of Jesus’ power to see in a man, not only what he was, but also what he could be. No one ever had such faith in the possibilities of human nature as Jesus had.”
-William Barclay

Matthew experienced a spiritual truth that day … God always meets us where we are and moves us along into deeper things.

After 2,000 years Jesus’ challenge hasn’t changed. It is simply…follow me. Jesus isn’t inviting us to join a lecture type class. This is an apprenticeship. There’s no need to get a notebook and paper; this is going to involve hands on learning. Follow me.

First century Jews had a blessing said over students of a rabbi – “May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi.” A rabbi would come into town, and closely following behind would be his group of students, doing their best to keep up with the rabbi as he went about teaching from one place to another. By the end of the day, after walking in the dirt directly behind the rabbi, the students would have the dust from his feet caked all over them.

“May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi.” May you find the dust of your rabbi in your moments of quiet reflection. May you find the dust of your rabbi settling on your life as you spend time serving those who have less; and may the dust of your rabbi infiltrate your life as you seek to run after Him. May the dust of your rabbi surround you and your life, so that the same dust left on you, will begin to cover the world around you.

Rick Court is the vice president of the board of directors at camp and is a pastor at Hope Church in Voorhees. Image credit: Shad Fox, via CreationSwap

Advent Devotion: Shepherds Quake


Luke 2:6-12 (NLT)

WARNING: If you keep reading, it’s going to change your nativity scene forever.

I like to ask questions when I read the Bible. Here are some questions I had while reading Luke 2. Why didn’t the angel give directions to the shepherds? And how did the shepherds know where to look? Was this a huge cosmic oversight? Did the angel Gabriel mess up?

I think you’ll agree – God has never been unprepared or surprised. Throughout history we’ve seen God’s plans work with complete certainty. Noah and the animals during the flood, the Israelites freed from slavery, the walk through the Red Sea, the manna from heaven, the judges leadership, the giant – Goliath killed, Jonah the prophet rescued from himself by a whale. God always has complete control.

So why do we assume “no room in the inn” would be an unfortunate accident? As if God sends this young couple on a journey of 100 miles to find NO VACANCY and no options.

What if “no room in the inn” was part of God’s plan?

A little 1st century history … in 1st century Jewish culture, many shepherds would have brought their flocks into sheepfolds in the evening. Folds were a mixture of several flocks, and then separated in the morning to graze. But there was one particular flock that was segregated and was not permitted into folds. They were herded outside Bethlehem, about one mile north of the city. This special flock was guarded by shepherds day and night. And these special sheep were bred and raised to be lambs sold at the Temple for sacrifices. And these special shepherds were specially trained to care for the flock – to discern blemish and injury and were responsible to keep the lambs from any blemish or harm. These shepherds would select the lambs that would be used for the sacrifices, always searching for the perfect lamb without blemish.

Because these priestly shepherds were responsible to care for the sheep about to give birth to the sacrificial lambs they had a ceremonially clean lambing place at the Tower of Edar, at the edge of Bethlehem. This tower was used for centuries by these shepherds to bring the baby lambs into the world, inspect them for blemish, and wrap them in strips of cloth to keep them from harm. By accident? I don’t think so.

What if it’s these shepherds God chooses to tell about the birth of his son. By accident? I don’t think so. Knowing this, we see the angel gave very specific directions. The angel didn’t forget. It’s just that we may not notice the specific directions.

“You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”

Is it possible God had the whole plan laid out from the beginning? He’s the expectant father, I’d assume so.

It makes perfect sense … to tell the priestly shepherds who had watched thousands of sacrificial lambs come into the world. The angel gave specific directions and instructions. How will you recognize him? He will look like the perfect sacrifice without a blemish. The sacrifice you’ve been searching for!

It’s as if God is showing off – a proud dad – here’s my son. And God would want to show the shepherds, who had been breeding and raising the most perfect temple sacrifices. I don’t know about you, but so many times I find myself striving to please God while knowing that my best still comes with blemish. I find myself trying to find a way to please God, even when I know that’s not why God loves me. I attempt to create, put together, and offer to God what, at best, is a blemished offering.

When God only wants me to notice – the perfect sacrifice he’s provided for me. God’s gift to each of us.

Rick Court is the vice president of the camp’s board of directors and serves as a pastor at Hope Church in Voorhees.

This devotion is also found in our Beyond the Trappings Advent Devotion book available online.