A great group of our students, led by Ben Hale and his awesome team of adults, depart this Saturday for their summer spiritual retreat. This is one of the eight separate youth camps that will be held this summer in Panama City Beach and are considered by many to be the very best in the country. Epworth will be joining 1500 other students and adults this week. Every summer churches from Miami to Michigan and Tallahassee to Texas travel great distances to attend. The cost of the retreat, paid in part by the students and supported so graciously by this church through fundraisers and contributions, covers their lodging and all of their meals, worship and teachings twice a day, entertainment and recreation. They call the retreat BigStuf.
Julie and I first attended a BigStuf camp in the summer of 2004 as adult counselors with the students at Albany First. We had a great week and my experience there confirmed my hunch about the peculiar name of the retreat; BigStuf is where big stuff happens. Some students make decisions to live as disciples of Jesus and accept Jesus as Lord. This is big stuff. Many students get honest about their behaviors and troubles and the underlying fears that are cause them. This is big stuff. Countless friendships are made for the first time, and, very often, friendships that have ended are renewed. People ask for forgiveness from parents, begin reading their Bibles with discipline, pray with passion, and return home seeking to live differently. All of this is big stuff.
I believe the same can and should be true of the local church every week, too. Of course, that is harder to achieve than to say. But, what if we arrived every week aware God's power to change lives and redeem circumstances is freely available to us all? What would happen if we believed that lives were being changed and that one of those lives was mine? What if we departed more committed to Jesus and to living as he taught us? What if we practiced forgiveness, prayed for patience, put down our fears, and partnered with God to see our own lives changed? It could happen. As United Methodists, we believe with great conviction that big stuff can happen every time the people of God gather, whether it be in worship, in Sunday School, over breakfast or at a workday.
Our young people leave on Saturday and they will return on Wednesday. Let us pray all this week that they do not return the same. Let us pray that the big stuff they encounter changes their lives in big ways, forever. Let us pray they encounter the One True God. Let us pray the same for ourselves every time we gather here as the church of Jesus. Grace and Peace, Scott