Stories

Uncommon Courage

Acclaimed author James Fenimore Cooper once quipped that “History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.” It’s true. The older we get, the better we were. The more time passes, the larger the conquest, the more significant the victory. It is the nature of history. But what now stands as epic and historical was frightening and intimidating in real time. Heroes in their prime weren’t heroes. They were common people with a resolve to do something hard because that something hard was the right thing to do.

I often find myself in awe of the courage of those before us. I am a sucker for any and every book, story or movie that depicts uncommon courage in harrowing circumstances. This explains why my favorite movies are epic stories like Gladiator, Braveheart, 300, Saving Private Ryan. These are the stories that kickstart my heart and move me to action.

The afore mentioned 300 movie is a story that has intrigued me from the very first time I heard snippets of its details. Years ago, in the middle of a brutal workout, my friend Rick mentioned to me that I should read a book entitled The Gates of Fire. It was novel depicting the historical account of the Battle of Thermopylae, where three hundred of Sparta’s finest warriors, led by their King Leonidas, held back the invading hundreds of thousands of the military might of the Persian empire and valiantly gave their lives in the selfless service of democracy and freedom. I was riveted the moment I picked up the book. The movie was simply icing on the cake. And the courage and honor birthed and nurtured within the Spartan culture inspires me to this day.

Spartans really loved their shields. Along with being a weapon and symbol of strength, shields were more often than not family treasures. They were passed down from father to son, and it wasn’t uncommon for a soldier to beat an enemy to death with same shield his grandfather had used.

It also wasn’t uncommon for Spartans to decorate their shield. This served two purposes: it helped the individual Spartan be identified on the battlefield, and it looked intimidatingly dope.

I recently came across one particularly amusing story concerning the shield of a Spartan. History (or legend) relays that an unnamed Spartan soldier spent many hours painting a life-sized fly onto his shield. This annoyed his peers, who accused him of cowardice (because his enemies wouldn’t be able to tell who he was) and of complete idiocy to boot.

The young Spartan then stunned his peers by explaining that the fly would be the size of a giant when he smashed it into his enemies’ face. The Spartan warrior is said to have declared

It will be the size of a lion when I bore down on my enemies.

Many different versions of the quote exist, but the overall gist of what the Spartan was trying to say is clear. “I’m going to shield-punch these guys so hard, my future family will get paid royalties from Captain America.”

“It will be the size of a lion when I bore down on my enemies.” I stood up on my chair after reading this the first time screaming LET’S GOOOOO!

It was this kind of mentality that fueled 300 warriors to give their lives in a narrow Greek mountain pass, in the face of insurmountable odds, for the sake of freedom. Today a simple engraved stone marks their burial ground. And in their prime, they didn’t see themselves as heroes. They certainly didn’t realize just how far their courage would stretch.

Their courage stretches to you even as you read these words…

How, you may ask?

Historians believe that the Battle of Thermopylae was the birthplace of democracy. It is cited as the first time a people group withstood dictatorship and tyranny. Thousands of years later, in a small room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, fifty-six men would sign what is now known as the Declaration of Independence, declaring a new nation’s independence from the tyrannical rule of Great Britain. Two of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, would cite Thermopylae as a model for thirteen colonies standing up to King George the bully.

Interesting that two hundred plus years later you read these words while living in a free country. Every year, on July 4th, you eat burgers, shoot fireworks, and celebrate the courage of our founding fathers. Their courage has stretched to you…

And I would add the courage of 300 Spartans as well.

C.S. Lewis once stated, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Yours is a generation of students who grow fearful, who bow out at that testing point. In matters of faith, family, relationships, choices, courage gives way to mediocrity, to hesitancy, to compromise. But what would your life look like if your heart were bolstered by courage? The Scriptures have much to say about being brave. Since Jesus raised Himself from death and conquered sin, doesn’t it make sense that He intended His followers to live a life of unquestionable courage? What happens when those who should have the most courage whimper into the shadows?

David encouraged readers in Psalm 31:24 to “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” The phrase take heart translates have courage in Hebrew. And David qualifies who should be strong and full of courage – people who have placed their hope in God. So here is what I want to ask you: In what area of your life do you need to be brave?

One day someone may cite a decision you made in the prime of your life, a decision that you never considered within the realm of heroism. A choice you made that was hard at the time but the right thing to do…

And you have no idea how far your courage in that moment will stretch.

Musicians

Artist Spotlight-Abigail Williams

[We can’t wait to bring back Abigail Williams to BigStuf 2016! She’ll be hanging out with us for Camps 4, 5, & 6. Abigail is laid-back, hilarious & her love of Taco Bell is real. Learn more about Abigail in this week’s Artist Spotlight.]abigail meme

Our BigStuf Band usually throws frisbees from the stage. What else would be fun to throw from stage?

Boomerangs, hacky sacks, glow sticks or something that glows!

What was the first song you performed?

Shoot – can’t remember. probably Shout to the Lord (tell no one).

Who are some of your role models (musically or personally)?

Vocal inspiration growing up was Christina Aguilera (don’t hate), I look up to Celine Dion musically because that woman is a POWER house of a vocalist (again, no hate), but personally/spiritually some role models include my dad, my husband and I’s pastor when we got married Miles Welch and his wife Jen, my best friends, I love Christine Caine’s work and am always very moved by her preaching. Tim Keller, Louie Giglio, Andy Stanley, Brene Brown…all of these people have inspired me in important ways… Henry Cloud and John Townsend… I realize I have a long list of people I admire (and trust me, I could go on).

Live performances rarely ever go on without a problem. Have you ever had a mishap on stage? How did you handle it?

Oh man. Once I was filling in for a gal who got sick on a song I didn’t know very well and in the song there’s a pretty major key change (#foreshadowing). In the 30 seconds leading up to the key change the keys player (who is the only person playing with me) wasn’t changing chords like she was supposed to. I started to panic because I’m thinking: If I change keys and she doesn’t, it’ll sound horrible, but if I don’t change keys and she DOES it’ll also be horrible. I decided to go with what we rehearsed and to change keys BRAVELY. The big moment comes, I belt out the new, higher, pitch and all the sudden the keys player literally just STOPS playing. I stop singing, look to my left, and right behind me is the pastor who had come up and wanted to speak to the people in the middle of the song (a last minute change I didn’t know about). I had no clue this was happening because I was reading the lyrics off a piece of paper (due to the whole.. filling in thing). So I look to my left, see the pastor, see the keys player looking at me like she wants to cry, and I literally look at the crowd, ALL of whom are (by the way) writing down their deepest, most secret, “sin confessions” on a sheet of paper” and blurt out the timely words: Just kidding. #dropsthemic

How long have you been singing?

Since I was able to speak. My mom is a voice teacher so I guess it came with the territory.

Do you have any pre/post stage routines?

I tend to pace around and find quiet spaces where I can pray and be still and go back over any thoughts or intentions or questions I have for God over the moments I’m leading. I ask God quietly if there’s anything I need to be focused on or praying over and I beg Him to let me do my best work for that moment and for it to be honoring to Him, regardless of the outcome. Sometimes I find myself apologizing for making it all about me in my head or my heart. Confessing those things is definitely a routine, pride has a way of creeping in disguised as many characters, and not usually the ones we think.

Who is someone you would love to perform alongside?

Harry Connick Jr. Done. OR Adele or Christina Aguilera.

What’s your favorite “gorgeous day, windows down, music blaring in the car” song?

I struggle with favorites. But I do like country music on gorgeous days that are warm (think Spring), and Chris Thile or Nickel Creek when its cool – as in Fall. I tend to like pop-ish songs in the summer. I’m a seasonal kind of gal, I guess.

What advice would you give to beginner musicians?

Don’t focus on trying to make your nerves go away – rather focus on taking deep breaths (literally inhaling for at least 4 counts, holding it for 4, and releasing slowly for 4), asking God to give you strength and courage, and getting your job done as best you can in that MOMENT. Sometimes just getting up and actually performing in front of or leading others is the win, not performing at your best each time. Don’t believe the lie that says you’re only meant to do it if you respond well under pressure. That does help, but it can be learned over time, and for this gal it has been a long, hard, worthy lesson and I wouldn’t change my journey with nervousness (which has been huge) for anything.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Taco Bell. There. I said it.

Camp

BigStuf, Big Truth

One of the most important things we do leading up to our time at BigStuf Camps every year is prepare what we’re going to be talking about that summer. We put a lot of time, energy, and prayer into creating a theme and building curriculum around it. We work for months to develop the best and most engaging content we can around the big truths God presents for us in the Bible.

Why? Because we believe that the big truths God has for us in Scripture are incredibly powerful. And when we can really grasp and start to apply them to our lives and hearts, they are truly life changing. We want to make sure our students walk away from their time with us at BigStuf truly knowing and believing that God’s Word is big, powerful, and important for their lives.

But we know that’s not always an easy task. Sometimes the Bible is really hard to understand. There are words that sound like a foreign language, stories that are hard to believe could really happen, and principles that feel difficult to apply to our lives today. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the Bible, and, when that happens, sometimes we want to walk away from it altogether. And we definitely don’t want that to happen for your students!

That’s exactly why we work so hard at BigStuf Camps to do all we can with what we have to present God’s Word to your students in a way that’s relevant, interesting, and memorable. We want to help your students to not only understand the big truths in the Bible, but also to believe and apply them to their lives. Check out what it says in the book of Hebrews:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

-Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Did you catch those words? The Bible is living, active, sharp, piercing—talk about powerful! It’s a tool that can help us understand our thoughts and hearts. In other words, it can change our lives. And that’s what we want the students we encounter at BigStuf Camps to take away when they leave—that God’s truth is big and real and available to them right where they are.

Speakers

Escaping “Sameness”

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It’s easy to think that everyone in Nazi Germany was a monster because, well, it was Nazi Germany. This photo of a crowd of seemingly regular people performing the Nazi salute certainly doesn’t help fight that perception — the photo was taken at the launch of a German army vessel in 1936, during a ceremony that was attended by Adolf Hitler himself. As you can see, everyone in attendance is showing their undying support for Der Fuhrer by throwing out their very best Seig Heil.

Well, almost everyone.

Look closer — not only is this guy not doing the salute at a time and a place where that could have easily gotten him killed, but he’s actually wearing his best “this is absolutely ridiculous” face.

Think about it: Even today, you can get beaten up for wearing the wrong jersey of the wrong team in front of people from a rival team. This guy was standing in the middle of a crowd of literal Nazis, and he still had the courage to not go along with them.

How do we know that he wasn’t just resting his arms or something, though? Because we actually know who he was: His name was August Landmesser, and not long after this picture was taken, he was arrested for trying to marry a part-Jewish woman, which was illegal. That’s right, this guy had “attempted marriage” in his criminal record. Neither Landmesser nor his would-be wife survived the war, but their two daughters did, and in 1991 one of them recognized her father in this picture and began sharing his example of courage with the world.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you will be your greatest accomplishment. And the pressure to conform is INSANE. Don’t believe me? Consider this…

Think back to a time when you were young and someone asked you this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and you had an answer. Not like, “I want to be an alligator. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.” What did (or do) you want to be?

  • Professional athlete?
  • Super model?
  • Rock star?

As you get older, everyone starts looking the same. Something about culture and life herds us down from this big sea of possibilities and skyscraper dreams and slowly we get funneled into the same direction. We all think we are unique and cool but we are not. There is someone in New York or Los Angeles that knows you so well that they create stores and make money off of you because they know you so well.

You. Me. We… are not so unique.

We may not all have the same things, but we all basically want the same things.

Life – culture – has a way of taking the edge off our dreams and vision for our life. Eventually, we all start moving in the same direction. No one dreams of living in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same…I want to drive a white minivan…but it is where we all seem to wind up.

Furthermore, we all seem to have the same sort of problems.

  • Weight problems…
  • Time management problems…
  • Parent problems…
  • Can’t find a soul mate problems…
  • School problems…
  • No money problems…

Here’s the point: As you look ahead from whatever stage of life you are in, there is one thing that looms large: It is predictable. There is a point where you will feel hemmed in. Life becomes too predictable. You won’t say this out loud, but you start to feel trapped. Because everywhere you look right now is…sameness.

There is something in you and me that think that the only way to breakaway from this normality is to run away from what I am currently involved in. You’ll break a few hearts, rebel, lie, cheat, quit, start staying out later, hanging out with someone or a group of people that make you feel alive, get back with that boyfriend / girlfriend that made you feel all toasty inside…because the sameness is driving you nuts.

The problem: Everywhere you go, there you are. Everywhere you went, there you were. The common denominator of all the different environments you didn’t like was you. You are still the same person you used to be. Different clothes. Different boyfriend. Different girlfriend. New car.

Same you.

So here’s the point: Your fulfillment in life will not come from how well you explore your freedom and keep your options open just so that you can escape sameness. I would propose that your fulfillment in life will come by how well you end your freedom. I will take it a step further: It’s the things you chain yourself to that really set you free. Reality is that freedom to most teenagers is a desired destination but also a contradiction, especially as it relates to Jesus. The New Testament seemingly contradicts itself. Romans 6:18 is a great example.

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

You’ve exchanged one form of slavery (sin) for another form of slavery (righteousness). And us adults call that freedom? And expect you teenagers to just accept that? How does that make sense?

Perfectly. Because there is no such thing as ultimate freedom. You may want it, but its non-existent. Don’t believe me? Cool. Don’t die. That would be ultimate freedom, right? Freedom from your mortality is something everyone yearns for. So don’t die. Which is impossible. Because the overwhelming data shows that one out of every one persons die. 

Ultimate, complete freedom doesn’t exits. There is such a thing, however, as maximum freedom. Freedom as intense as possible or permitted. And Jesus is the only One to offer that.

And to choose Jesus in your culture will be to look a lot like a skeptical German at a Third Reich rally. You won’t be the same as others. Which is what you are really after in the first place, right?

Camp

BigStuf: Middle School

We can’t wait for summer to finally get here because summer for us means it’s officially time for BigStuf. We have nine camps on the calendar this summer, and we are so excited for all of them. Each one brings in a new set of students and leaders and sets a fresh stage for God to do something incredible.

This year we are especially excited about one particular camp: our middle school camp! That’s right—we’ve designated an entire week at BigStuf just for rising 5th-8th graders. While a lot of people might think it’s crazy to get 1,500 middle school students in the same room for a week, we look forward to it every year. We love creating experience for our students and our middle school camp allows us to do just that—create an experience that will speak to and encourage them right where they are.

Here are just a few reasons why we think middle school camp is a great idea for your students.

It creates a safe space. Coming to camp can be a little intimidating for any student, but especially for middle school students. For many of them, this is their first experience at camp and the idea of being surrounded by so many other students—many of whom are much older than they are—might hold them back from signing up to attend. We don’t want anything to stand in the way of students getting to experience God at camp. That’s why we think hosting a camp just for middle school students creates a safe space for them to really feel comfortable and experience all that God has for them there.

It introduces them to new concepts of faith. We think all of our students are smart, incredible people who are capable of learning and grasping some of the challenging parts of the Christian faith, and our middle school students are no exception. Designating a camp just for them allows us to dive in to concepts of faith that might be new to them and introduces Biblical truths that will help their faith really begin to take shape.

It allows them to spend time with those in their same stage of life. Isn’t it nice to know that there’s someone who understands you? That there’s somebody else going through what you’re going through? There’s power in connecting with someone who really understands you. And that’s what we think middle school camp sets the stage for with our students. It surrounds them with other students in the same stage of life and allows them to grow together towards God.

It walks them through a season change. The years kids spend in student ministry are some of the most formative and change-filled years of their lives, and we think the years spent in middle school might just be the most packed with change. Having a camp for our middle school students allows us to speak to those students right where they are. In a season full of change, it gives our speakers and your student ministry leaders the chance to walk alongside them and lay the foundation for Biblical truth that will help them in the years to come.

Musicians

Artist Spotlight-Emily Hearn

[We can’t wait to welcome newcomer Emily Hearn to BigStuf 2016! She will be with us at Camps 7, 8, 9 & 10! Welcome to the family Emily! See you in a few short months!]

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Our BigStuf Band usually throws frisbees from the stage. What else would be fun to throw from stage?

Glow in the dark bracelets or pre-programmed light bracelets (like at the Taylor swift show) or BigStuf rubber bracelets and necklaces!

What was the first song you performed?

Landslide by Fleetwood Mac

Who are some of your role models (musically or personally)?

The women in my family are such amazing role models. My mom and grandmothers on both sides have such incredible integrity, love Jesus and are such a great example of how to follow him, and are hard workers and devoted to our family like you wouldn’t believe. I would be so honored to be just like them one day. My musical role model is probably Adele. She’s so classy, and it’s all about her voice. But I do love running to Katy Perry songs …

Live performances rarely every go on without a hitch. Have you ever had a mishap on stage?

The worst that’s happened to me is getting the burps on stage. It happens all the time and you have to find a sneaky way to get it out (and ideally not into the microphone).

How long have you been singing?

8 years

Do you have any pre/post stage routines?

I like to do jumping jacks before and do a few vocal warm up.

Who is someone you would love to perform alongside?

Brandon Flowers! Lead singer of the Killers who put out a few solo records that I love. I always sing harmonies in the car, and I would looove to sing with him on stage!

What’s your favorite “gorgeous day, windows down, music blaring in the car” song?

Just Like Me by Betty Who

What advice would you give to beginner musicians?

Over practice. When I get nervous I tend to put off the preparation, which is always a mistake. The more prepared you are the more comfortable you’ll be. And then just remember that all you can do is your best. Try not to be hard on yourself, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a fool of myself, but it’s always helped me learn how to be a better musician.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Netflix & popcorn

Stories

Never Too Young

What if I told you that, statistically, 70-80% of you will walk away from your faith when you go to college?

What if I told you that doesn’t have to be you?

What if I told you that decision starts now?

Maybe you are sitting here reading this and you are about to close this tab or go back to Instagram because you don’t agree with me. You’ve got time, maybe you even have years. Maybe you’re thinking you’re too young. Maybe that thought has been self constructed or maybe someone has told you you’re young and you internalized it.

Your parents have told you that you aren’t old enough to make your own decisions, your older sibling has said that you have so much to learn, coaches, teachers, maybe even a boss if you have a job… are all telling you the independence that you crave is out of reach because you are simply too young.

You know, in that deep place in your heart and in the pit of your stomach, that you can handle it. You can handle the pressure, you can make that decision…but you’re not trusted to. You can’t possibly be capable of doing it on your own and that frustrates you to your core.

Listen closely, world changer, your independence starts now. Here’s why…

1) Reaction Matters: Your independence starts with how you respond and how you react. When someone tells you that you are too young, not experienced enough, fill in the blank as you wish…you have the option to get defensive or you have the option to listen to what is being said and think through your reaction. Continue reading

Camp

Meeting Big Needs at BigStuf

Every summer at BigStuf, we encounter big needs. We meet students, families, and youth groups who are standing in the midst of some of life’s biggest storms. Death, illness, injury, financial fallouts, unexpected circumstances—we see so many needs each week at camp. They come in front of us year after year, and, as a camp, we have the opportunity to serve and love them in their need.

At BigStuf, we want to introduce students to the needs around them. We believe it’s important that students recognize the big needs of others. Not just the needs of those in front of them at camp, but around the world as well. We partner with organizations like Compassion International who serve children and families in need in other countries. We put their work in front of our students each week at camp to help awaken them to the big needs both in this country and all over the world. Why? Because we believe students are a part of the answer to the big needs in the world.

Our goal at BigStuf is to do what we can with what we have to effectively mobilize students to join with God in meeting the needs of this world. We know they have the potential to serve and love right where they are, and we want to help them realize it. They don’t have to be older or wiser or in a different stage of life to help others; they can do it right now! 1 Corinthians 12:27 puts it this way:

“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Do you see how Paul puts it there? He’s not saying, “All adults are a part of Christ’s body” or “Everyone who is over the age of 18 can play a part.” Instead he is saying that all of you are Christ’s body. Each one of you has a part to play. And that includes the students—kids from the ages of 11 to 18—that we see at BigStuf every summer. And we want to do what we can to help students join together and play their part in meeting the big needs of this hurting world.

And every year we’re blown away at the way they do. It’s amazing to see how students understand their part in God’s story and respond to the big needs we put in front of them at camp each week. From sponsoring children to praying for their hurting peers to raising money for families who are struggling to offering an encouraging word to a kid they know is suffering, our students at BigStuf are simply incredible. Their hearts truly inspire us, and that’s why we believe without a doubt that they are God’s answer to some of the world’s biggest needs.

Musicians

Artist Spotlight-Davis Harwell

[Davis Harwell has been providing smooth soundtracks for BigStuf for years and we can’t imagine a summer without him! Not only is Davis an epic band leader (making sure the band members are on time, practiced and sounding good for you guys) but he is also a pretty awesome guy! Get to know more about Davis in this week’s Artist Spotlight.]

davis meme-allergies davis meme-drumsOur BigStuf Band usually throws Frisbees from the BigStuf stage. What else would be fun to throw into throw crowd?

Waffles

Live performances rarely ever go on without a problem. Have you ever had a mishap on stage? How did you handle it?

Once I was playing with Matt Redman on a tour and I completely botched the opening chorus of 10,000 Reasons…so that was cool. I pretty much just kept playing until I got back on track and it became known as the “Jazz Fusion” version. Whoops. 🙂 The ceiling tile debacle at camp a couple years ago was amazing. I handled that by screaming loudly and laughing hysterically.

What was the first song you performed?  

Amazing Grace…on the trombone!

Who are some of your role models (musical or personal)?

Hammock, Sleeping At Last, Hans Zimmer, Richard Wagner and Tim Gibson.

Do you have any pre/post-stage routines?

Pre-stage routine involves some sort of coffee. Post-stage routine usually involves some sort of snack.

Who is someone you would love to perform alongside?

I would probably pass out on the spot if I got to perform with All The Bright Lights.

What’s your favorite “gorgeous day, windows down, blaring in the car” song?

Bruckner’s 8th symphony, 4th movement.

What advice would you give to beginner musicians who are nervous?  

We’re all nervous! Nerves are good because they can help you focus and stay alert. Just remember that music is about expression and authenticity, not perfection!

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Kit Kats. I can’t stop.

Musicians

Artist Spotlight-Molley Moody

[We are starting the summer off right with Molley Moody as one of the worship leaders for Camps 1 & 2! If you didn’t see her last summer, you are in for a treat! Her sweet, southern voice is enough to turn any bad day around, and once you hear her sing, you’ll totally understand her meme!]

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Live performances rarely ever go on without a problem. Have you ever had a mishap on stage? How did you handle it?

One time my in-ears went out so I had to depend on the house and couldn’t hear at all… It could’ve been real bad!

 What was the first song you performed?

“Somewhere Out There” from An American Tale

Who are some of your role models (musical or personal)?

Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, & Amy Grant

 How long have you been singing?

Since I could talk.

 Do you have any pre/post-stage routines?

Pray and have fun/laugh with other musicians so I go on feeling and just being myself.

Who is someone you would love to perform alongside?

Dolly Parton, Union Station, Keith Urban, & Sam Hunt

What’s your favorite “gorgeous day, windows down, blaring in the car” song?

Probably something Coldplay!

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Just be yourself, have fun, and know that Jesus has already given you His approval! He loves when you share your music and your heart!

What is your guilty pleasure?

Bachelor with my girlfriends, cinnamon dolce latte, peanut power plus smoothie from smoothie king, Blindspot is my newest show 🙂