“Aaron, both Denise and I want to thank you for the investment you’ve made in MD over the last four years, including shepherding he and Carissa through their marriage preparation and officiating their wedding. We’ll be forever grateful.
MD, Carissa, today I don’t intend to share with you any advice about how to have a strong marriage or a healthy family, the reason is anything I would say in these few moments could never carry the weight of the two of you watching and living with us, your parents, over a life time.
Instead what I’d like to do is plant a seed in you of a vision for what your marriage can mean not just for you and your family but what it can mean for God’s Kingdom.
To do this we need to do a little review of redemptive history (you’re NMCS and Calvin grads so I know this is all ingrained in you). As you know there are three significant events in redemptive history – Christ’s first coming, his future second coming and then the horrific events centered on a fruit tree in Genesis 3. Everything changed in the world at this tree – literally history can be divided between life before and life after the tree. Before the tree we have a world aligned with God’s Kingdom, where there was no death, no pain, no tears, but after the tree, because of man’s rebellion against God, the world became shrouded in darkness and filled with all that darkness brings.
Yet the covenants God made with Adam and Eve before the tree are still valid and intact after the tree. One of those covenants as we’ve heard Aaron already speak about, and why we’re here today, is the covenant of marriage. So I’d like to take a moment for us to reflect this question.
Why would God call us to live out the covenant of marriage after the tree, in the midst of brokenness, evil and pain, when it was instituted before the tree in peace and harmony?
Well first, I believe marriage harkens us back to the world before the tree reminding us of what God intended life and marriage to be. And second, marriage gives us a taste of what life will be like when Christ returns again and makes all things new. So marriage gives us hope and a yearning for the restoration of God’s Kingdom. Therefore marriage should be a testimony, a vision of hope, and a light to others of something bigger and better and eternal here in this time of darkness.
But this only works if our marriage reflects these kingdom values, if people can see something different in our marriages and families, they then can get a glimpse of something sacred, something eternal that goes back to a time before the tree and points them to hope of coming of Christ’s Kingdom.
Mom and I, and Carissa I know your parents raised you for this purpose – to bring the light of Christ to every part of the world you’re called to – whether school as we’ve seen you do, and now in your new careers and in the communities you’ll live.
But here’s how, after today, you’ll do this – you’ll do it together, in the context of this sacred covenant of marriage. You have an opportunity to give the people in your lives a glimpse of what was and a taste of what will be in the Kingdom to come.
So here’s the challenge I want to leave with you, the vision I pray you’ll have for your marriage – that through the power of Christ, you’ll live out this sacred covenant of marriage in such a way that others will be drawn not to you but to the only person who can make marriage all that it’s meant to be – Jesus Christ – and by doing so, you’ll bring a little of the Christ’s Kingdom to the world you’re now entering.”
And that’s exactly what Denise and I just did this past weekend.
We attended A Journey to Generosity retreat, hosted by our dear friends Bruce and Sue Osterink and facilitated by Brad Formsma a former business owner and now staff member with Generous Giving, an organization dedicated to “encouraging givers to experience the joy of giving and embrace a lifestyle of generosity, according to God’s Word and Christ’s example.”
It was a powerful retreat, life transforming in many ways.
So let me give you a glimpse into what made it so powerful by passing on some of the wisdom I walked away with.
“Wealth tends to isolate, yet we need to be together”
“Are we Tickle Tithers or Generous Givers?”
“It’s more fun to be a giver than a consumer”
“Concentrate on what’s important and the rest will follow”
“Christ came to rescue and restore, thus our responsibility is to do the same”
“I use to fear failing at what’s important, now I fear succeeding at what’s not”
“People can be a gift of inconvenience”
“Listen closely to those you want to help”
“Giving is not just for wealthy people, it’s for everyone”
“We’re really good at wasting money and we’re really good at disguising it”
“There’s a difference between discernment and judging. We’re called to discern but not to judge”
“We start with nothing and we even worry about losing that”
“We put pressure on our children to have what we have”
“We’re to Give – Save – Live, in that order”
“It’s easy to fool one of us (husband and wife), but it’s not as easy to fool both of us”
“God’s calling is not the same as God’s timing”
“Go where you’re celebrated not where you’re tolerated”
“Giving is adding something to your life, not taking something away”
“What’s our motive to be debt free? Is it to get more or to give more?”
“Giving is the only antidote to materialism”
“Giving is not a once and done deal, it’s an ongoing journey we’re on”
“Keep it simple and just give”
By the way check out some inspiring videos about people who experienced generosity by clicking here.43.928283-85.286682
Today Denise and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. When I write “28” it sounds like such a long time ago, but the truth is, our wedding day seems like it was just yesterday. They have been the best 28 years of my life because I’ve been married to the best woman in the world who also happens to be the love of my life (a nice combination).
Earlier this summer a friend who was preparing to officiate her first wedding asked a number of us if we had any marriage advice she could use in her message to the bride and groom. Below is my answer, it’s simple but I believe it’s at the heart of why both Denise and I can happily, thankfully and joyfully celebrate 28 years of marriage today.
“Apart from trust, shared expectations about what life should look like and be like is the most important aspect of a happy and successful marriage. It seems when marriages struggle or don’t make it, much of the time (apart from broken trust) it’s because the two people have different expectations about such things as kids, standard of living, life style issues, or where to live (in the city, in the country or the “burbs”). Many expectations also revolve around roles within a marriage. These need to be worked out as early as possible. When there’s different, unstated, or misunderstood expectations then there’s always missed expectations. When there’s missed expectations disappointment, dismay, a sense of compromise and then bitterness can easily follow. It’s important in a marriage to have a clear understanding about each other’s expectations, a clear plan on how to work out the differences, and then grace as you live out your plan.”43.928283-85.286682
Last week the Perry’s had a family reunion at Camp Anjigami in northern Ontario, Canada. The trip was a result of our boys and I “taking a risk” by inviting our entire extended family to join us for our annual fishing trip.
It was a risk because going to northern Ontario means there’s absolutely no connectivity, and we had no idea how everyone would handle such a 5 day “technology sabbath”.
Well the consensus from the family was simply this – it was an incredible vacation. Our family said things such as
“The most relaxing vacation I ever had”
“I got to know my cousins in a way I never have before”
“It was so nice not having any distractions”
There’s no doubt that the lack of television, video games, cell phones, text messages, internet surfing and social media monitoring was a major contributor to this great experience (as well as being in God’s stunning creation). Why? Because all of these technologies add stress and distractions instead of eliminate them.
But it wasn’t just the lack of technology that eliminated stress and distractions, the difference was the lack of the temptation to use it (you can’t get cell service or internet in the Canadian wilderness). You see, we tend not to crave the chocolate cake when it’s out of our line of sight or reach. This is especially true when we’re immersed in so many other incredible things (people, nature, facilities).
So the lesson I took away from our family reunion? Take the occasional break from technology but do it in a place that’s beautiful, peaceful, with great people, and where there’s no possible temptation to be connected, then you’ll have a true sabbath (rest).43.928283-85.286682
Summer has officially arrived because SpringHill has had its annual Memorial Day Family Camp.
Family Camp, along with Summer Camp, is SpringHill’s longest running program. This is our 43rd year of family camping at our Michigan camp and, believe it or not, we have a handful of families who have not missed one, ever. It’s also the first program I was a part of as a full-time staff member of SpringHill, and thus, for many reasons, is one of my favorite programs.
One of the reasons I look forward to being a part of Family Camp is because I love watching families have a SpringHill Experience together – riding horses, doing the zipline, sharing around the campfire, or joining in one of our family sessions where they sing together and listen to excellent family speakers together. After every Family Camp, we hear from people who tell us how God used their time at SpringHill to transform their family.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend is Sunday Night Live. Sunday Night Live is a giant campfire like session in our outdoor amphitheater where our staff performs campfire skits; families will sing campfire songs, listen to a campfire message from our camp speaker and, of course, have a visit from Duct Tape Man. It’s a blast and this past week, with the incredible northern Michigan weather, it was as good as it gets.
So get the suntan lotion and the bug spray out, summer has officially started, and after this great weekend, I’m looking forward, with anticipation, to all God will do in the lives of SpringHill campers, families and staff this summer.43.928283-85.286682
In remembrance of Mark Olson, past President of SpringHill on what today, May 20, would have been his 54th birthday, below is one of his last published letters.
“Smiles are the outer representation of the long-term impact camping has on kids.”
I will never forget hearing the doctor tell me “this [disease] goes quickly. If you do not get treated soon, you could die within the next four months.” Over the next few weeks, while determining the best course of treatment and emotionally preparing for the road ahead, I also reflected upon how I have spent the time given to me. Inevitably, the question arises, “what of my life has eternal value?”
My initial response was to create two mental columns, one with the heading “eternal” and the other “temporal.” I then tried to distinguish those parts of my life that had eternal value and those which did not. This proved to be a difficult and basically unhelpful exercise.
Upon later reflection, I also found this approach contrary to what Scripture teaches. At the core, creating columns to dichotomize our existence is rooted in the type of thinking that John addresses in the first chapter of his first epistle. “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.” (I John 1:1). John was addressing dualistic thinking in which people persisted in dividing the components of their lives into that which is spiritual and that which is not.
In our vernacular we use the term “spiritual” to refer to that which is most important. We often attach great eternal value to activities such as leading a bible study, preaching a message, working at a Christian organization for “God’s purposes,” etc.
From my present vantage point (that is, struggling with a life threatening disease), I have come to believe that the faithful execution of the most menial duties of life will, in the end, have the greatest eternal value. Washing dishes with my wife will have a value that extends into eternity. Going fishing with my sons while listening and chatting about the realities of being a first and fourth grader will have a value that extends into eternity. Going to my daughter’s dance recital has a value that extends into eternity. Going to breakfast with a group of guys on a regular basis, getting to know them while they learn to know me, has a value that will extend into eternity.
Eternal value can never be defined by simply listing those things that are perceived as spiritual and those that are not. The “Word of Life” was something handled, touched, and seen. So, that which has eternal value is anything that is done in a spirit of faithfulness and service to our God. We demonstrate our faithfulness, gratitude, and love to Him by being faithful, grateful, and loving to Him as a husband is to be toward his wife by following through in the seemingly mundane and “earthly” aspects of our life. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he so closely links love with obedience – “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)
It is within this context that I have come to believe that everything we do to bring glory to ourselves has temporary value. This brings us back to the very first commandment, “Do not worship any other gods beside me.” Anything we do with the purpose of bring glory to ourselves (whether it be a basketball game, a business deal, a makeover, or academic excellence) is simply a form of idolatry. Everything we do with the purpose of bringing glory to God is worship of the only true God. As a friend once told me, there is a god someplace in everyone’s life.
Furthermore, this journey has confirmed for me the value and the importance of camp experiences like SpringHill and InPursuit in the life of a child. At camp a child goes through the day with a counselor, a friend, a role model. This counselor is reminded constantly that they are here to serve and to be “Jesus” for a child who may never have the opportunity to see Him again. They go to the archery range, climb a tower, go to the craft shop, eat a meal, ride a zipline, canoe in the lake, have a campfire, go to ‘club,’ sleep in a teepee, while the counselor bears testimony to who Jesus is by serving and loving the child in the midst of daily activity.
Because of this relationship, the counselor has a “voice” in which they can share in word and action the “good news.” As a result, the child experiences the love of Jesus and may respond by placing their trust in Him to remove their sin so that they can know their Creator who loves them dearly. A life is changed for eternity.
It is because of this I have very few regrets. I would not have changed my involvement at SpringHill and InPursuit, which continues to be a very rewarding way to serve my Savior. When I walk away from this disease, though, I will aspire to do less of that which is seemingly spiritual, and do more of that which is seemingly temporal but in the end has great eternal value. I will spend more time fishing with my sons and friends, take the girls to the golf course, and listen more carefully to the person with whom I am sharing a conversation.
Also in honor of Mark we have a limited number of copies of Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust – A Ragamuffin’s Path to God (one of Mark’s favorite authors) I’ll send a copy to anyone who subscribes to my blog while the supply lasts. If you’re already a subscriber and would also like a copy let me know and I’ll send you one as well.43.928283-85.286682
There are many places in the world that are grand, many more that could be described as stunning, and of course, the world’s full of historic sites. Yet there is only a hand full of places that one might call sacred.
This past week I had the opportunity to stay at one of these rare and sacred places – WinShape Retreats, on the property of Berry College in the mountains of northern Georgia. WinShape Retreats occupies the old Normandy Dairy buildings built and used by Berry College students to study dairy sciences.
Even the bricks used to build all the Normandy Dairy buildings were produced by Berry College students in a brick factory donated by Henry Ford. Each building we toured oozed with history and beauty.
But it’s what’s now taking place in these buildings that’s moved this place from historic to sacred. You see, when Berry College made the decision to consolidate their dairy sciences program, and move it closer to campus, the Normandy Dairy no longer had a purpose.
In stepped the WinShape Foundation, led by the Cathy family, the founders and owners of Chick-fil-A restaurants. WinShape renovated all the buildings, turning this old dairy into a retreat center that offers marriage saving conferences, boys and girls camps, women’s and men’s retreats, and leadership summits.
Yet places become sacred through and because of people. People who’ve dedicated such places for grand and noble purposes, such as helping build strong kids, marriages and families. Our group experienced firsthand such people, the committed and talented staff of WinShape, who’ve made a historic dairy into a sacred place, a place where lives become transformed.43.928283-85.286682
In response to the question in my last post – “the beach or the mountains or somewhere else?” my good friend Tony Voisin answered “honestly wherever my family and friends are. I’d hate to be either place without them.” I love Tony’s answer because it highlights the powerful impact shared experiences have on relationships.
At SpringHill we define a shared experience as any new, challenging and adventuresome activity shared within the context of a small community of people, be it a cabin group, a family or small group of friends. It’s within this context that the building of the lasting foundations of life time relationships happen.
This is why my friend Tony wants to have these experiences with those he loves and it’s why shared experiences are integral to the SpringHill Experience. We feel so strongly about shared experiences that we assure all our campers participate in all camp activities together with their cabin groups. It’s why our ziplines have 6 or 8 lines so entire cabins can go down together. It’s why we have ropes courses that can accommodate an entire cabin and why we have small distinct and creative housing villages. We want to create shared experiences because we believe they build powerful and lasting relationships with others, and most importantly with Jesus.
Over the last few years we’ve also come to believe that these same shared experiences can create power relationship building opportunities for families. We’ve witnessed God using shared experiences to heal wounded families, lay the foundation for lifelong relationships and build families able to weather the storms that will inevitably come. As a result we’ve added additional summer family camp experiences at both our overnight camps.
So plan a family vacation or attend a SpringHill family camp this summer and create some powerful and lasting shared experiences. Your family will be stronger for it.43.928283-85.286682
Have you ever had the opportunity to talk with someone who has just experienced a true life saving miracle?
Denise and I did this past Sunday when we met with Heather and Jeff Perry in a Starbucks in Carmel, IN. In October Heather was in a coma lying in a hospital ICU as medical staff worked to figure out why her body was shutting down.
The Perry’s literally stood toe to toe with death but God rescued Heather through miracle upon miracle (I won’t share Heather’s story, it’ll be her privilege to do so one day). As Jeff and Heather shared their story and their incredible faith in Christ as well as the faith of family, friends and acquaintances, for a moment, that table in Starbucks became holy ground.
As we talked we began to discuss two questions which I’m continuing to wrestle with.
The first question’s simply “how do people come toe to toe with death, staring it right in the face, without believing in or having a relationship with God?” Maybe I’m just weak but I can’t fathom it. Not because I’m particularly afraid of death but because without God neither death or life has any meaning. As Francis Schaeffer once said, “without God we’re just time + chance + matter.”
The follow-up question is “how does a person come toe to toe with death and then walk away doing so without believing in God?” Trying to answer the existential and metaphysical questions that would naturally arise from having a near death experience would drive me crazy without the foundational knowledge of God.
Yet the overriding feelings Denise and I had as we left the Perry’s was simply a deep gratitude for God’s graciousness and awe of His mighty power in Heather and Jeff’s life. We accepted it as an early and beautiful Christmas gift.43.928283-85.286682
I grew up playing baseball, basketball and football (in which for many years I was a receiver). One of the most common instructions I’d heard from my coaches, regardless of the sport, was “Perry, keep your eye on the ball.” This meant, whether playing third base or wide receiver, to focus entirely on the ball until I had it completely in my control.
This instruction, on the surface, seems to be easy enough to follow, except for that linebacker ready to put a hit on me the moment I touch the ball, or the man on second base waiting to advance to third as soon as I made a throw to first. Then what became easy was to “take my eye of the ball” and try to see, at the same time, more than just that ball coming my way. When I did this it almost always led to me missing that ball and still getting hit or the guy still advancing to third.
Keeping my eye on the ball required discipline, focus and courage. It’s probably why I heard so often my coaches yell “Perry, keep your eye on the ball” and why it’s now burned forever into my consciousness.
Looking back I’m thankful for my coaches’ consistent instruction and the fact that their words continue to be front of mind now that the “sports” I’m participating in have changed and become more significant. Mishandling the ball, be it SpringHill’s mission, vision and values, the stewardship of my health, my role as father and husband or my relationship with Christ, has significantly more serious consequences than that ground ball that went through my legs.
And it requires even more discipline, focus and courage, three qualities I continue to ask God to provide so I will never take my eye off these important balls.43.928283-85.286682