For 15 summers I was the director of Baptist Park, a summer camp in the northernmost part of Maine. I was brought up to the camp for 10 summers prior to that to serve as a speaker for a week or two each year. I stepped down as director after the summer of 2019,and went back for the first time over the 4th of July weekend in order to celebrate the camp's 90th anniversary. It was our 20 year old daughter'sidea,and she met us their from her college campus about an hour away. Iwas asked to speak at the anniversary service,and this is, as best I remember, what I said:
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this celebration. I served as director here for 15 summers,and my wife, Sue, who's sitting over there, became director ofday camps when those were started. We know that thej life-blood, the heart and soul, of this camp is the counselors. I only recognize one counselor here from when we were directors, and that's Joe. Joe is always here. Joe is going to be the next Gilly around here. (laughter) But the counselors are what makes this camp work,sowe need to thank them now. (applause)
During the winter of 1995, I got a phone cai'dll from then director, Terry Smith. Since he had never seen my show, he hopedto catch it before committing to hiring me, so he asked me if I'd ever performed in northern Maine. Isaid, "Yes,actually,we'rein Augusta every month. We've even been to Bangor!" (laughter)
I lived in Maine, and Ididn't know what northern Maine was! Terry never saw my show that winter, but he took a chance andinvited us up. We wereinvitedback every summer for a week or two for the 10 summers. Then,in the winter of 2005, Igot a call asking if I'd be interested in the directorship, and I served in that role for 15 summers.
But that is only a fraction of the timethis camphas existed. 90 years! (Points to a plaque) "Baptist School of Christian Training organized in 1932." That's pretty good. Iwas director for 15 years and I was hardly ever organized. (laughter) 90 years ago,Herbert Hoover was the President of the Unted States. The number one song of the year was 'Night and Day" by Fred Astaire, Gasoline was 14 cents per gallon, actress Elizabeth Taylor was a newborn, and pastors throughout the nation were concerned that Sunday morning attendance would dropoff as more and more people could listen tosermons at home on the radio. (laughter) And a group of people in Aroostook County, Maine decided to start the Baptist School of Christian Training, later to be known as Baptist Park.
I want to start by reading fromthe book of Numbers, but before we open there, Numbers is one of five books in the OldTestament that tell of Israel's Exodus from Egypt. When you think about it, the Exodus is like the worst camping experience ever. So Erin (the new director),when you've had a particularly challengingweek of camp, on Friday night, when the week is finally over, read about the Exodus and your bad week won't look so bad: no firy serpants, no one struck dead for complaining, no enemy armies to fight -I know we have a rivalry with Nomaca, but that's not the same thing- noneofyour staff people making golden idols. Your rough week won't seem so bad. Numbers 21:8 and 9 says, 8Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. If anyone who was bitten looked at the bronze snake, he would live."
God told Moses to have some artisans make a bronze snake on a pole. The Hebrews didn't travel around with bronze ore; people had togive of their jewelry, etc. for this to happen. In the same way, people gave- during the heart of the Depression- to make Baptist Park. TheBible doesn't tell us who the artists were who made this staff; their names are long forgotten. Similarly, many if not most of the contributions of the people who sacrificed to make this camp are by now forgotten. But neither the Jewish artisans nor the people who gave to make this camp did it for the recognition.
No doubt the bronze serpant must have seemed frivolous to some. People were dying, they were lost in the desert, and they were taking the timeto make a statue? I suppose people thought that starting a Christian camp during the depth of the Depression also seemed frivolous. But both tasks were accomplished.
The bronze serpent was used by God to heal many who were dying,and Godhas used Baptist Park to bring spiritual life to many for 90 years. The snake on the staff also lasted a long time,because we read about it again in Second Kings. That means it was there throughout the Exodus, into the Promised Land, and through theentire ageofthe Judges and into the time of the Kings, including David, Sauland Solomon among others.
We read about it next in 2 Kings 18:3-4. Speaking of King Hezekiah, it says "3And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)" The bronze serpent,originally a gift from God,is now being destroyed as an idol. John Calvin said, "Man's heart is an idol factory." It is in our nature to seek things to worship. And sometimes even the Goodthings of God we can turn into idols. If you've been around Christian pop culture enough, you know this is true. We are quick to make idols of or authors, our musicians, our politicians and our athletes. And summer camps, I believe are especially vulnerable to this, with all the memories, traditions and nostalgia.
This is not a 'put Jesus first' message today; as if we're ableto 'put' Jesus anywhere. Jesus has no interest in being put first in your life. He wants to be everything. (scattered 'amen's in the audience. Think about it ladies. What if your husbands said to you, "I want you to know I have put youfirst among allthe women in my life." (laughter) That wouldn'tgo over well. Guys, the same thing. If our wives said, "Of all the men in my life, you're number one." It wouldn't turn out well. And this is Aroostook County, you guys have guns! (laughter) Jesus wants to be everything. Counselors, when you're at mini golf, and the sun is beating down on you, and the kids are bored in five minutes, remember, at that moment, Jesus must be everything to you. On the other hand, when things are going well, and the kids all go to bed without a fight, and the whole staff is getting along, Jesus must be everything then, too. Board members, Jesus must be the reason for every decision, every dollar spent. Volunteers, when you come to mow the lawns, Jesus must be everything in those moments.
After camp ended in 2019, I wrestled with wether or not to return the next year. It's so nice and quiet up here compared to down stage. There's so many memories here. We love the community. These are all good things, but Jesus wasn't prompting me to return. It was time to move on, and deep down I knew it. To return would be to make Baptist Park an idol. A month after I resigned, Covina broke out, and everything changed. Josh and Melanie were the perfect choice as directors to get the came through the last two years. Their technological skills allowed them to run remote camp, something I simp,y couldn't do. And now this summer Erin Ackerson has been hired to do the job: what a. Great choice. She has Baptist Park in her blood.
We read about the bronze serpent one more time in John 3: 14. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." Although the serpent is long gone by this point, John tells us it was never really about healing people. It was meant to point people toward Jesus. It's primary job was direct People to Jesus, and that has been Baptist Park's primary role all this time too. And if those who are connected with the camp remember this, and avoid the temptation to turn the camp into an idol of the heart, then there will probably be another reunion in another 90 years. And if this happens, you know as well as I do, Mary and Kathy will be here doing the cooking. (Laughter)