Friday, May 8, 2020

Christianity’s Early Environmental Movement

Before environmentalism became mainstream in the 1960's and 70's, Christians were concerned about conserving nature. Indeed they started the summer camp movement in the later part of the 19th century to instill in young people an awe and appreciation for nature. First Fredrick William Gunn, then Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock, then numerous others saw the benefit of summer camp for children. Rothrock is of particular interest because much of his career was dedicated to environmentalism and educating others on conservation. He is recognized as the Father of Forestry in Pennsylvania.1 He was also the first to start a private summer camp program. His camp was first held in 1876, “so that the pursuit of health could be combined with the practical knowledge outside usual academic lines."2

Rothrock and other summer camp pioneers saw encounters with rural and wild nature as having a positive effect on youth. Edwin DeMeriette established Camp Algonquin in 1886, one of the earliest and most successful camps of the late 19th century. At that time summer camps were very experimental and controversial. When asked why he decided to start a summer camp he said in order to teach campers to, "enjoy nature, love the trees, shrubs, flowers, birds and animals and to make a study of the same."2a Many youth workers saw nature encounters as especially beneficial for at-risk youth. They believed such experiences could turn them into productive, law-abiding citizens. "The street boy needs the open air, the warm breath of nature on his check, the calm patience of her slow processes, the subtle teaching of the changing seasons, the new companionships of wild and tamed animals, and by them he grows into a well—rounded manhood," said a social worker in 1903.3

Leading progressive Christian thought saw the benefit of preserving areas of undeveloped nature against the onslaught of urbanization in the late 19th and early 20th century. Before there was a National Park Service, Christian groups were aggregating areas of undeveloped land or reclaimed farmland and setting them aside as sanctuaries of unspoiled nature. Summer camp grounds were areas set aside for purposes very similar to National and State parks. They protected land from urban and suburban development and allowed nature to reclaim the land.4 Christians were not the only group to do this. But, like later environmentalists such as Leopold or Olson, they agonized over the increasing rarity of sprawling nature. Their assumptions about why nature was worth saving may have been primarily anthropocentric, but their impact was no less important.

Before there were environmental science classes in schools and conservation books aimed at children, summer camps were teaching ecological ethics. "I learned how before there was an environmental movement how to discover a camp site and how to leave it better than you found it and how you make a fire from birch bark off a dead tree as opposed to off a live tree," observed Michael Eisner, CEO of the Disney Corporation.5 Many summer camp programs taught appreciation for nature and low-impact camping practices as they were understood at the time.5a 

The summer camp movement paved the way for later environmentalist's message. It helped many Americans know personally the value of preserving nature. It fostered an interest in nature among urban dwellers. The summer camp movement helped to bolster the importance of nature in the minds of average Americans.6 The message of nature's importance preached by environmentalists in the second half of the 20th century was not wholly new. It built on the foundation laid by the nature-study and summer camp movements.7 Many Americans heard or read about the grand majesty of the National Parks and mountains out west from the likes of John Muir. But not until after WWII did many Americans get the chance to visit the Parks. More Americans in the years before WWII experienced primitive nature in the summer camp setting.7a The summer camp movement played a key roll in helping the average American appreciate the message of environmentalists in the 20th century.

It goes deeper. The nature-study movement during the Progressive Era sought to integrate study of the environment into children's education. It included ideas of environmental preservation.7 "The nature-study movement, reaching it's peak between 1890 and 1920, was the first major American educational reform movement to fully attempt general educational reform theory with the study of the environment."8 The nature-study movement was not shunned by Christian's as later attempts to integrate environmental education were. In fact, just the opposite took place. Christian's adopted nature-study into child education wholesale! Nature study was an aspect of nearly every summer camp program. It was central to scouting programs. It was included in Christian classrooms across the country. It even became common in Sunday School lessons.5 The 1915 book Biblical Nature Study exemplifies this. It's nearly 250 pages are dedicated totally to creating appreciation for nature from a Christian perspective. Nature study became so pervasive one author described it as a "pastoral Christianity."9

The summer camp was seen as the best place to awaken a proper appreciation for nature by many camp advocates and educators. Teaching conservation was part of their goal. 

"[Camping] is an opportunity to awaken within the camper a sense of wonder, a chance to make real to him the meaning of God’s laws at work in the natural world. Aware of God’s creative power in the physical universe, the camper is not only awakened to his responsibility for conserving natural resources for mankind, but may be inspired to work with God in his ever unfolding purposes for human beings."9a

Christians were interested in conserving nature. They saw conservation efforts as an extension of their mission to help the poor and underprivileged in society. During the Great War (WWI) Christians were talking about stewarding the world's natural resources for the good of all man-kind, including their enemies. 

"Those who would extend the Gospel of Jesus Christ should insist that this partial measure should be made a world measure; that economic imperialism—the final cause of world conflict—shall be removed once for all by a permanent co-operative administration of the world’s resources, and that there shall be no exclusion, not even of our enemies. ...That will mean recognizing brotherhood in a greater sense than the world has ever seen it before. It will recognize that the great natural resources are not the property of the strongest group or the strongest nation, but belong to all the children of men, put here by God for the development of all the people. It will mean that the great powers will stop exploiting the weaker peoples, that the world’s great resources will be co-operatively controlled for the good of all."10

Long before the messages of biocentrism or the gaia hypothosis were widespread, Christians were talking about the benefit of conservation and wise resource management for global benefit. In an era when Nationalism was peaking and the ideas of eugenics dominated Western thought, Christians were talking about nature's importance to all human-kind. Yes, there were Christians on the side of Nationalism and eugenics. There were and still are Christians who are anti-environmental. But, as seen in the historical struggle over slavery in England and America, there were Christians on both sides of the debate. It is a mis-characterization to place all blame for modern environmental destruction squarely on the shoulders of the Christian worldview as some have tried to do.

Again I point to the summer camp movement, primarily headed by Christian organizations, as an example of Christian conservation. In a manual on running summer camp programs, one author lists the values provided by such a program to the children they serve. She seeks to answer the question, why have a summer camp program? She states the "most profound" of these values is to teach people "what our responsibilities are to preserve our great [natural] heritage to those who come after us." She ends by encouraging summer camp leaders to read Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. This is ironic as Leopold viewed Western Christianity as anti-nature and anti-conservation. While Christian society may be partly to blame for overuse of natural resources and destruction, Christian society is also largely responsible for the Conservation Movement.11 Looking back from the 21st century, Nancy Unger sees summer camps as central to developing environmental awareness especially among girls. "For generations, [scouting] organizations (as well as a multitude of private and civic summer camps) gave girls outdoor experiences and fostered environmental awareness."11b 

Christianity and especially Christian summer camps were pivotal in laying the foundation for modern environmental conservation. In fact, a Christian camping association participated in the Congressional briefings leading up to the passage of The 1964 Wilderness Act. 

"We, the Barton Flats Camping Association, are strongly in favor of the passing of a wilderness bill that will preserve and protect wilderness lands in their natural state for our generation and all of the future generations of our Nation. We feel that we have an obligation to the millions of children yet unborn to preserve for them a place where they can enjoy a true wilderness as God created it, a place for them to learn to love the simple things and feel at home with themselves and nature, and not watching out for cars as they whisk by on the roads or watching the ski lift pass over their heads."12

Written by David F. Garner


1. The Pennsylvania Forestry Association, "Who was JOSEPH TRIMBLE ROTHROCK," Pennsylvania Forestry Association, January 2015, slide-show presentation,

2. American Camps Association, "Timeline," American Camps Association online, accessed May 3, 2020 from 

2a. Carlos Edgar Ward, Organized Camping and Progressive Educaiton, (Galax, C. E. Ward: 1935): 23, Print.

3. Mornay Williams, "The Street Boy: Who he is and What to do with him." The Christian Register, 80(51): 1485-1486, December 17, 1903, Print.

4. Abigail A. Van Slyck, A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth 1890-1960, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press: 2006): 4, Print.

5. Michael Smith, (2006). 'The Ego Ideal of the Good Camper' and the Nature of Summer Camp. Environmental History, 11(1), 92-93. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from

5a. Roberta Jordan, "Campland Conservation: Protecting the Hidden Valley Reservation," Exchange: Journal of the Land Trust Exchange (Summer 1992): 20, Print. 

6. Wikipedia, "Environmental education in the United States," Last modified February 19, 2020,

7. Kevin C. Armitage, The Nature Study Movement: The Forgotten Popularizer of America's Conservation Ethic, (Lawrence, University of Kansas Press: 2009), Print.

7a. NATALIA MEHLMAN PETRZELA, "Why Fear of Big Cities Led to the Creation of Summer Camps," History Channel online, Aug 7, 2017,


9. John Hannigan, Environmental Sociology Ed 2: Edition 2, (New York, Routledge: 2006): 41, Ebook.

9a. Elizabeth Brown, Camps and Summer Conferences in Orientation in Religious Education ed. Philip Henry Lotz, (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1950): 338-351, Print. 

10. "A Movement Toward Brotherhood," The Christian Century, 35(27): 6-7, July 18, 1918, Print.

11. Barbara Ellen Joy, Camp Craft: A Manual for Leaders Responsible for Organization of Camp Craft in the Summer Camp, (Minneapolis, Burgess Publishing Co: 1955): 4,

11b. Nancy C. Unger, "Women and Gender: Useful Categories of Analysis in Environmental History," in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History ed. Andrew C. Isenberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), Ebook.

12. United States. Congress. House. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. (1962). Wilderness preservation system: hearings before the Subcommittee on Public Lands of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, Eighty-seventh Congress, first[-second] session, on S. 174 [and other] bills to establish a national wilderness preservation system for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes.... Vol 3: 774, (Washington: U.S. Gov.)

Friday, May 1, 2020

Outdoor Object Lesson 111: Careful Care

Key Text

"He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head, and anointed him, to sanctify him." Leviticus 8:12 (WEB)


Have you ever cooked with a cast iron skillet? After I tried one for the first time, I never went back. One reason I like them so much is because they provide an even heating surface unlike a lot of other materials that heat more in the center. A lot of people consider them old-fashion, heavy, and difficult to use. But it all depends on your experience with them. If you try one and don't know how to take care of it, then it is easy to think they are temperamental. If you know what you are doing, they can be the best tool in your kitchen and last a lifetime.

Cast iron cookware requires careful care. It takes patience to learn to use. I have seen a lot of cast iron cookware that was beat up and rusty. People think that because they are heavy and durable, they can treat them however. Most new cast iron cookware today comes pre-seasoned. This means it has a thin baked-on coat of oil that protects the iron from rusting. It also provides a natural non-stick coating. Lots of cookware comes with various non-stick coatings today such as Teflon, copper, or ceramic. The problem with these modern coatings is they degrade and begin to chip or flake after a few years of moderate use. At this stage they are no longer useful because the non-stick coatings are hazzardous to your health. You have to throw them away or recycle them.

The non-stick coating on cast iron can be reapplied easily. After every use, a piece of cast iron cookware should be cleaned gently. While it is still warm, turn the tap on hot. Once there is warm water running out of the tap, use it to clean any loose debris out of your cookware. If some is stuck, use a wooden or plastic utensil to dislodge the debris. If some is extra stubborn, sprinkle some salt or baking soda into the pan and scrub vigorously, put some elbow grease into it. Whatever you do, absolutely do not use any metal to scrape your cookware! This will mess up the seasoned non-stick coating. It is also best not to use any soap. If you feel like you must use soap, half a drop is all that's needed. While cast iron is heavy-duty, it requires careful care.

Once the bits of food are removed, its time to reapply the seasoning coat to your cookware. Dry the excess water off. Turn the stove or oven on very low and warm your dish. Once all the moister has evaporated, after at least 3-5 minutes, turn the stove off. Now take a few drops of oil and rub it into the entire surface of the pan with a paper towel or cloth. Many people sadly neglect this last step. But it is crucial to reapply the coating after every single use.

This lesson reminds me of myself. I am a tough young guy. I tend to be hard on myself spiritually. I think that because I am tough physically, it must mean I can take harsh treatment and neglect spiritually. Sometimes, I go days without prayer or Bible study. Sometimes I get busy, or I feel little need for God because things are going well in my life. I don't stop to reapply a spiritual coating to my life. In the Bible, oil was often used to designate something as having a special purpose. If I want my spiritual life to last, then it needs careful care. Neglect will lead to deep, lasting damage. But if taken care of properly, by applying spiritual oil daily, it will last eternally. Doing so reminds us we have a special purpose.

Another cool thing about cast iron is that, even if the non-stick seasoning gets damaged completely. It can be fixed. As mentioned earlier, if other non-sick coatings are damaged, the whole pan is trash. Not so with cast iron. Even if the whole pan is covered in rust, it can be repaired. Simply take a bit of soap and hot water and use a sponge to wash off the cast iron dish. If there is deep rust, you will need to remove this with sandpaper. Once down to bare metal, dry off any moister and heat the oven to 350-450 degrees F. Set the dish inside for a few minutes to let all moister evaporate. Then take it out and carefully coat the whole dish in a thin layer of oil with a paper towel. Grapeseed oil, or extra lite olive oil work best. Next place the dish upside down in the oven for 1 hour. Repeat this process 4-5 times to build up a nice seasoning layer that will protect your pan for years to come. Just remember to care for it carefully and reapply the oil after every use.

It is similar with our spiritual lives. If we neglect our spiritual connection with God, we will eventually become broken down and bare. We may end up feeling as if we are coated in rust. The great news is that God can fix this. He can restore the protective coating a close connection with him provides. It will require scrubbing with soap and hot water. It might involve some very uncomfortable sanding. We will definitely need to be placed in the hot oven for a while, perhaps several times. Sometimes, as we drift away from God, we start to notice this process going on. God is trying to restore your seasoning coat. Let him. And in the future, try to take careful care of yourself spiritually.


Why do you think it is so easy to neglect our personal spiritual relationship with God?

Take some time to think about this one. What are the top three things that lead you to neglect your personal connection with God?

Is there one strategy that could help you connect every day? What are some strategies from the Bible?

Why is careful self-care so important for your spiritual life?

Written by David F. Garner

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Forest Hymn

THE GROVES were God's first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influences
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect
God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs
That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
Offer one hymn—thrice happy if it find
Acceptance in His ear.

Father, thy hand
Hath reared these venerable columns, thou
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun,
Budded, and shook their green leaves in thy breeze,
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,
Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,
These winding aisles, of human pomp or pride
Report not. No fantastic carvings show
The boast of our vain race to change the form
Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill'st
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
In music; thou art in the cooler breath
That from the inmost darkness of the place
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee. 

Here is continual worship;—Nature, here,
In the tranquillity that thou dost love,
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around,
From perch to perch, the solitary bird
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
Thyself without a witness, in these shades,
Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace,
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak,—
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
Almost annihilated—not a prince,
In all that proud old world beyond the deep,
E'er wore his crown as loftily as he
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root
Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower,
With scented breath and look so like a smile,
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
An emanation of the indwelling Life,
A visible token of the upholding Love,
That are the soul of this great universe.

  My heart is awed within me when I think
Of the great miracle that still goes on,
In silence, round me—the perpetual work
Of thy creation, finished, yet renewed
Forever. Written on thy works I read
The lesson of thy own eternity.
Lo! all grow old and die—but see again,
How on the faltering footsteps of decay
Youth presses,—ever-gay and beautiful youth
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
Moulder beneath them. O, there is not lost
One of earth's charms: upon her bosom yet,
After the flight of untold centuries,
The freshness of her far beginning lies
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate
Of his arch-enemy Death—yea, seats himself
Upon the tyrant's throne—the sepulchre,
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth
From thine own bosom, and shall have no end.
There have been holy men who hid themselves
Deep in the woody wilderness, and gave
Their lives to thought and prayer, till they outlived
The generation born with them, nor seemed
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks
Around them;—and there have been holy men
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus.

But let me often to these solitudes
Retire, and in thy presence reassure
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies,
The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink
And tremble and are still. O God! when thou
Dost scare the world with tempests, set on fire
The heavens with falling thunderbolts, or fill,
With all the waters of the firmament,
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods
And drowns the villages; when, at thy call,
Uprises the great deep and throws himself
Upon the continent, and overwhelms
Its cities—who forgets not, at the sight
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power,
His pride, and lays his strifes and follies by?
O, from these sterner aspects of thy face
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath
Of the mad, unchainèd elements to teach
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate,
In these calm shades, thy milder majesty,
And to the beautiful order of thy works
Learn to conform the order of our lives.

By William Cullen Bryant

Photo credit: Valiphotos via

Friday, April 17, 2020

Outdoor Object Lesson 110: Virus Problems

Key Verse

"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “This man didn’t sin, nor did his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him." John 9:1-3 (WEB)


Talk of viruses usually causes feelings of concern and fear. This is understandable as a virus infection can be painful or even deadly. Viruses are one of the smallest "bugs" that can make you sick. Yet they are one of the most deadly. Medications to treat virus infections are less prevalent than for other infectious "bugs" like bacteria and fungi. Viruses seem like evil little robots that seek to destroy everything they come in contact with.

What exactly is a virus? Many assume they are another microscopic organism similar to bacteria or fungi. But they are very different. Viruses are not classified as living organisms. They are unable to reproduce on their own. The smallest living organism is the cell. Viruses are only a tiny fraction the size of a living cell and are missing many of the components of a cell. Viruses carry a tiny bit of DNA or RNA, the genetic code inside every living cell. When they come in contact with a cell, they inject their bit of DNA into that cell. That DNA is read by the cell and then it makes hundreds of new viruses until the cell bursts releasing all the new viruses. This is how viruses reproduce.1

Viruses sound pretty bad. But viruses have good qualities too. Some viruses live inside your gut. Many of these are unharmful and even beneficial. Some known as -phages, attack and kill bacteria that might make you sick.2 Other viruses live in other areas of your body. Some of these include the viruses that cause chicken pox and cold sores. These latent viruses are important because they activate killer cells in your immune system that help keep you well.3  Thirdly, viruses offer a unique opportunity to treat genetic diseases. Because they carry a bit of DNA and inject this into a cell, scientists believe that they may be able to treat and possibly cure genetic diseases in the future. The idea is that scientists will build a virus that carries a piece of DNA to correct the messed up DNA causing the disease. One day, viruses may help more people than they make sick.

As humans we often see the world in black and white, good and evil. We assign a 'good' label to things we like and a 'bad' label to things we don't. But this is not what the Bible teaches. We will face many difficulties in this life like sickness and death. But these are not necessarily punishments from God. As Jesus says in the key text, these are opportunities for God to show his strength. Jesus did not promise an easy life. He promised exactly the opposite. But he also taught we have a Father above who cares about us. This Father wants to make every thing we go through work out for our good. In the end, he will!


If God allows evil things to happen to good people, does that make him unjust?

How does it make you feel when God lets you experience painful things in life?

What other promises did Jesus give us for when we face difficult things?

How do you feel about getting sick now after competing this study?



Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via

Friday, February 28, 2020

Outdoor Object Lesson 109: Tying An Anchor

Key Text

“These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind.... You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭6:6‬, 8 (NET‬‬)


Chirp, chirp, chirp! The sound of a bird’s call is one of the most distinct in the animal kingdom. Birds are often identified by their unique call or song. But singing is not all birds can do. Birds have a wide array of other talents. For example, parrots are known for being able to mimic human speech and penguins for their swimming feats. Some birds are known for their ability to weave. The family of birds called Ploceidae include several varieties of weavers native to Africa and Asia. Weavers are so named because of the intricately woven nests they build.

A single male who is looking for a mate, begins by  building a nest home. This nest is woven from strong blades of grass into a gourd-like shape. The nest is often hung from one or two wispy tree branches out at the end where the branches are smallest. This reduces the number of predators that can get to the nests. The male weaver begins his arduous task by tying a secure anchor to the tree branch. He uses a fresh and pliable blade of grass to skillfully thread this anchor with knots.1

As amazing as it sounds, these birds can tie knots! A half hitch is used to secure the end of the thread that has been tied around the branch with an alternating winding pattern. Once the anchor is in place, the male weaver works on stitching together the rest of the nest by weaving long grass threads into walls and a floor. This labor must be completed carefully to ensure the nest will be strong and secure. The bird is building a home to raise his young. Their very lives will depend on how he ties the knots and weaves the threads. If he is careless and does a poor job, he risks loosing everything. For weaver birds, tying the anchor knot is the most important thing he can do to ensure his future.

In the key text, God is speaking to his Chosen people after making a covenant with them. He previously stated the rules they are to follow in order to keep their end of the covenant. These rules are the 10 Commandments. These rules are the anchor of the relationship between God and his people. That is why God encourages them to tie a copy of the 10 Commandments to their arm and forehead as a symbol. He wants them to remember the Commandments no matter what they are doing or thinking. Just like the weaver birds, we must make a secure anchor if we want to ensure our future. We do that by following God’s most important rules, the 10 Commandments.


Do the 10 Commandments apply to God's people today?

How do the 10 Commandments act as an anchor for our relationship with God?

Can you keep the 10 Commandments perfectly?

What did Jesus say the greatest Commandment is?

1. Collias, Nicholas E., and Elsie C. Collias. "An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Nest Building in a Weaverbird." The Auk 79, no. 4 (1962): 568-95. Accessed March 1, 2020. doi:10.2307/4082640.

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: gburgesskc via

Friday, December 13, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 108: A Holy Toothbrush

Key Text

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to The Lord your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore The Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭20:8-11‬ ‭(WEB)‬‬ Paraphrased


What does it mean for something to be holy? Since we don’t have a temple like they did in Bible times, it can be a foreign concept. In modern times, especially in the West, we treat nearly everything casually. Western culture prizes a laid-back attitude. So it can be a stretch for those of us raised in this culture to fully grasp the concept of a holy object. Yet, it is something God takes extremely seriously.

In the Old Testament there are stories that seem harsh to our modern sensibilities. For example, when the Ark of the Covenant was being moved back to Jerusalem in the time of King David, as the Ark rocked sideways off the cart, Uzziah reached out to steady it. Because it was against the law for him to touch, God struck him dead on the spot (2 Sam. 6). The Ark of the Covenant was a holy object. In fact, it was the Most holy object in Israel. When God declares something holy, that means it is dedicated to a special purpose. It should not be treated casually. It should always be respected no matter what. To disrespect it is to disrespect what God has said. Think about it like this.

A toothbrush is something very important and personal. If you have ever gone camping you understand this well. It’s not healthy to go days without brushing. More importantly, your toothbrush is to remind yourself of home and help you feel somewhat clean even if the rest of your body is dirty. When camping, you must leave a lot of comforts at home. You don’t get to take a shower every day if at all, you might have to go to the bathroom outside. If you’re a dedicated backpacker you might not even take deodorant to save weight. A toothbrush is small and light enough to take camping. So brushing your teeth gives a nice clean feeling when the rest of you feels dirty and is a good reminder of home. Some backpackers are so dedicated to saving weight but also having their toothbrush they cut most of the handle off!

Your toothbrush is your's alone. You would never want anyone else to use it for anything without your permission. You would be most deeply offended if you came to the tent and saw someone else brushing their teeth with your toothbrush! You might be angry enough to hurt someone if you found them using your toothbrush to clean the mud off their shoes! You would consider that brush dirty, defiled. You would probably never use it again and get a new one. That toothbrush is holy unto you. It is meant for one purpose. It is meant for one person alone.

When God declares something holy, he takes holiness to a much higher level, because he is the God of the universe. He is the giver of life and has the right to take life back when we defile his holy objects. God does not owe us anything, we owe him everything, including our lives. So while it seems harsh for God to kill those who violate his holy laws, it’s not unjust. While we may live in a very casual society, God still expects us to keep things holy that he has declared as such. The Sabbath is perhaps the most important one. God asks us to dedicate one day a week exclusively to him. It is holy unto him. We are not to defile it by treating it like any other day. As we grow spiritually, we will learn to see the Sabbath as a gift and a blessing. We will learn to value it like a toothbrush on a camping trip because it is a taste of home. The Sabbath is a reminder of the comfort and cleanliness of our true home in heaven.


Can you think of some other things God has declared holy?

Why do you think God chose to strike Uzziah dead on the spot?

How can you grow to love and appreciate God's holy objects?

How can you keep the Sabbath holy?

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Monfocus via

SDA Belief Series #20

Friday, December 6, 2019

Skills: Campsite Selection

It’s become a tradition in my family to take a trip to canoe to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota every few years. In this pristine wilderness, there are designated campsites we are required to stay in. Some are better than others. Some are situated on a small rocky island where there is almost no flat or soft spot for a tent. Others are plagued by hordes of mosquitos or exposed to strong cold winds because of no tree protection. Most are just a place to pitch a tent without much of a view or other features to extol. 

On our most recent trip, we spent six days canoeing into the remote backcountry. Most of the campsites were not anymore memorable than any others. However, on our fourth day of the trip, we came across the most excellent campsite we have ever seen in all our travels in the north country. As we rounded the bend of the lakeshore looking for a site, the first feature to jump out at us was the wide sandy beach! If you have been to many lakes than you know a naturally occurring sandy beach is a pretty rare sight! This one was perhaps 100 feet long and 6 - 8 feet wide, a perfect place for disembarking our boats. As we explored the campsite we found numerous flat soft spots for all our tents,  plenty of logs to sit around the fire on, and trees to protect us from the wind. 

After we pitched camp and sat preparing dinner, we realized the sunset directly in front of our view from the beach! As we had paddled the lake earlier in the day we had all agreed this was the prettiest lake of the trip so far. To top it all off, our guide told us this lake had the best fishing on our route. We decided to stay two nights it was so perfect. And the guide’s praise turned out to be true!

The more you camp, the more you will discover that not all campgrounds or sites are created equal. Some are fantastic, and some can completely ruin your trip. How do you go about ensuring you pick a good campsite? In my experience above, finding such a good site was mostly due to chance. But there are important factors you should keep in mind to help you select a good site and avoid a terrible one. If you camp a lot, you will inevitably have a few bad experiences. But you can learn from these how to make better site choices in the future. Here are several methods to employ when selecting a site that will help ensure you get the best site every time. 

1)  Follow the first Leave No Trace rule: Plan Ahead And Prepare. The more research and planning you can do ahead the better chances of getting a good site. Look at reviews of campgrounds and sites on various websites. Call the park rangers or a guiding service and ask for recommendations about the best sites and which to avoid. Also, ask about the best times of year to visit. Avoid peak season if possible to avoid the large crowds. If you plan on taking a group, try scouting out the location by going to visit ahead of time. You can also return to great places you have discovered on previous trips. 

2) Follow the second Leave No Trace rule: Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces. look for sites that are preexisting. These are often in the best locations and helps reduce human impact. Look for durable surfaces like an existing tent pad or a sandy spot. These tend to be less full of rocks and roots and thus more comfortable. 

3) Follow the 6 W’s of campsite selection. 

   I) Willingness - make sure the landowner is willing to have you thereby getting permission or proper permits. 

   II) Wind - look for a site with protection from the wind even if there is no wind currently. It helps to know the forecast. 

   III) Water - be sure your site is near a water source but at least 200 feet away if possible to minimize your impact. 

   IV) Wood - if you plan to have a fire make sure you know the regulations, have a designated fire ring, and plenty of wood. Use heat-treated wood if it is required. 

   V) Wild things - be sure you’re not picking a site inhabited by another animal such as near a bear den. Also, be sure to follow local guidelines about keeping animals out of your food and camp. Bear canisters or hangs are required in some places. 

   VI) Weather - think about how the weather will impact your site. Do you have protection from wind, snow, rain? Is your tent safe from dead overhanging branches or trees that could be knocked down by wind or snow? Are you safe from avalanches, flash floods, rock falls or the incoming tide?

4) Do you have a good view nearby? If you can score a campsite with a great view that makes the spot so much better. If there is a good view a short way away it’s almost as good. This is where reviews and advice from others who have been there is invaluable. 

5) What amenities are available. Not everyone camps in the same way. Some prefer a primitive campsite with nothing but solitude. Others prefer a toilet or showers nearby. Check with the site manager about what’s available. Does it meet all your requirements?

There may be a perfect campsite out there somewhere. But you’re likely not going to find it every time. It’s important to remember that even if your site is awful, it can still make for good memories later. You could stay at home where it’s comfortable and not risk ending up in a bad site with an uncomfortable night. But you’re also risking missing out on a fantastic site you never expected that makes the whole trip worth it. So get out there, you never know what you will find. You may just find a spot you want to go back to again and again!

Find out more about good campsite selection and Leave No Trace here. 

Written by David F. Garner