Friday, October 20, 2017

Christian Outdoor Object Lesson 56: Like The Deer

Key Verse

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, God.” Ps. 42:1 (WEB)


The popular song “As The Deer” begins with the line, “As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after thee.” This line is taken from Psalm 42 and is a beautiful expression of the human longing for spiritual refreshment. Jesus used the same imagery of thirsting after God several times. Feeling thirsty is something we can all relate to. In Psalm 42, King David compares his longing for God to a deer that is longing for a drink of cool water. This is not simply a desire for a drink. It is a deep thirst such as that experienced after a lot of activity in a hot environment.

Deer have very few sweat glands and pant similar to dogs in order to cool down. The deer (‘ayyal’ in Hebrew) King David is referring to is the roe deer (Capreolus caprea) which is native to Palestine where King David lived.1 The roe deer is very similar to the white-tailed deer of North America. Roe deer are reliant on access to a water source. In fact, water sources are usually found in the center of a deer’s territory. They can only roam so far from a water source, and must return to it on a regular basis.

It is essential that roe deer drink at least once every day. They usually drink small amounts multiple times a day. When they go more than 24 hours without drinking they become extremely stressed. Once they finally get to a water source they are so thirsty they may try to drink their entire days’ worth of water all at once which makes them vomit!2

Like the deer it is necessary for us to stay close to the Source of spiritual water. It should be at the center of our life. We must drink from that source on a daily basis, multiple times a day. When we don’t we become very thirsty and often become stressed. We may try to get all of our spiritual water at once, perhaps in church. But, like the deer, we cannot take that much in at once. We must drink from the spiritual source frequently, multiple times a day, to satisfy the longing for God that is in our hearts!


Can you share an experience of when you were really thirsty?

What does it feel like to be spiritually thirsty?

What does it mean to drink spiritual water?

Should we drink only when we feel thirsty?


1. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'DEER'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915. Accessed 10/12/17 from

2. Arian D. Wallach, Moshe Inbar, Michael Scantlebury, John R. Speakman, Uri Shanas. Water requirements as a bottleneck in the reintroduction of European roe deer to the southern edge of its range. (2007). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 85:1182-1192.

Written by David F. Garner

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Only The Brave: A Moving True Story

If you enjoy movies based on true stories than you don't want to miss Only The Brave coming to theaters in less than a week! True story movies are always my favorite because I know the heroes in the story really did those heroic things. Its a reminder that I can look to real heroes for inspiration, not just fictional ones. This story is especially touching because it is still fresh in our memory. It took place only 5 years ago. Also, it brings much deserved recognition to firefighters, everyday heroes who constantly jeopardize their own safety and often go without thanks. Hotshots are elite firefighters. They are more officially know as an interagency hotshot crew or IHC.

Their job is to fight wildfires. This often requires them to parachute into remote places and stay away from family for days and weeks at a time. They work behind the scenes to save property, homes, and even lives. But because they work out in remote places people rarely see what they do and so they receive even less appreciation than traditional firefighters. We should do more to show our appreciation for these men and women who risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives for our safety. One way you can do that is by going to see this movie. This would be a great family movie if your children are old enough. It has received a PG-13 rating. You can also donate to the Firefighter Support Foundation here. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13 WEB. Firefighters truly embody this principle.

Here is a short documentary on the true story by the Weather Channel.

Here is a short memorial video to those who perished. 

By David F. Garner

Friday, October 13, 2017

Christian Outdoor Object Lesson 55: Under the Lion’s Roar

Key Verse

“One of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Behold, the Lion who is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome;” Revelation 5:5a (WEB)


Have you ever heard a lion roar? It is immersive to say the least. A full grown African lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles (8 km) away. A lion’s roar can mean many different things, but it is how they communicate with the rest of their pride or family group. It may be saying: “Where are you?” or “Time to eat.” or “Time to come home.” When a rival lion comes into his territory, a lion’s roar means, “This is my land, my people, my family! Leave or perish!”

So, even though the male lion may look lazy, their job is the protection of the entire pride. When that rival lion comes and decides to stay, it is up to the lion to fight the rival until one of them dies or the rival runs away.

Is it not amazing that Jesus attributes himself with lions? Jesus is strong and fierce as a lion, but more importantly, he is our protector. Jesus’ “roar” tells us where he is, what he wants, and ultimately when it is time to come home. Whenever that rival lion known as the Devil comes around, he must face Jesus in order to take us, but Jesus never loses. He is our “Lion of Judah,” our protector and king.


Why does the Bible compare Jesus to a lion rather than some other animal?

Jesus will protect us no matter what, but can we choose to leave his protection?

Does having a protector as fierce as a lion make you feel safe?

Written by Jean-Luc Mercado

Friday, September 29, 2017

Plan An Outdoor Church Event

Does your church hold an outdoor church event? If not, they should! There are many reasons including increasing lay involvement, improving member interaction, and growing your church body. By outdoors, I mean outside a building with four walls, perhaps under a covered pavilion or canopy in where people can see and feel nature. I am talking about a genuine worship service, not just a social gathering.

Looking back through Christian history, there are many examples of church services held outdoors. The Waldensians of the Middle Ages are a good example, they met in caves to worship! Jesus taught outdoors more than anywhere else. The original Wilderness Tabernacle had an inside, but all the worshipers were outside!

So what can outdoor church do for your congregation? Here is what happened when my local church decided to put on our first annual church campout. Our signup sheets suggested there would be about 30 people camping overnight. Nearly 50 actually showed up! We invited any who preferred to join us just for the day. About 65 showed up for the church service and fellowship meal after! Over one-third of our regular attendees came for the outdoor church service!

We had high school students and extremely shy church members leading small group discussions. People helped with music who are normally too shy to preform up front. We were able to connect with those around us and share our faith and identity because we were not barricaded off by walls or the stigma of a church building. We were a true church- a group of believers in Jesus Christ.

So how did our church members respond? Many came to me personally and expressed a wish to do this twice a year! They loved it. Many felt refreshed and closer to their Savior. They also grew in friendship and fellowship with other church members. Church on the weekend can feel very formal where church members only connect superficially. But in the relaxed setting of the outdoors, people let their guard down and tend to have more personal conversations. There are so many reasons to have plan an outdoor church. You may be surprised how much people enjoy it and want to do it again. I have seen a church who does it monthly at their local State Park.

Here are tips to plan your own outdoor church. You can do a one day church service or a campout, I recommend a campout. Do a survey to see what your members would be interested in.

Step 1: Officially designate an organization team. Three people who have various skill sets (music, teaching, food, etc) is ideal. If two of the organizers are married this can be an advantage because they have many more opportunities to discuss and organize outside of set planning meetings. It's is also usually preferable that none of the primary organizing team is a church pastor, only because pastors already have a lot of church responsibilities. Encourage the pastor or pastors to be involved in the planning and sit in on planning meetings.

Step 2: Pick a date. Plan the campout on the same weekend a potluck or fellowship meal is scheduled. This will encourage attendance. Be sure there are plenty of tables and seating. Plan for more people than expected to show up. Overcrowding will discourage attendance the next time.

When selecting a date strive to plan at least 6 months is advance to ensure time to find and reserve a location. Consider the best time of year in your area for good weather. Also, check your church calendar and the regular calendar to avoid conflicting with other events or major holidays.

Step 3: Find a location. Pick one suitable to all age groups and that has handicapped accessible facilities. A location within one hour and thirty minutes of the church works best. Closer is better. Look for places that offer a variety of recreational opportunities. Most important is a large meeting area for worship services. Many parks offer a stage or amphitheater. A pavilion can work as well. Any open or semi-open space large enough to accommodate the expected group will suffice.

Try to keep the audience out of direct sunlight. Find a shaded area, a covered pavilion or canopy, or schedule meetings at cooler parts of the day. The speaker should be seen and heard by the entire audience. A simple platform or sloped hill side can remedy this. A portable sound station or a speaker with a loud projecting voice can help. Visit the location ahead of time.

Finding a location does not have to be difficult. Petition your church members for ideas. Your local chamber of commerce may be able to recommend locations. A mapping website or app like Google Maps is a great place to start. Just search "campground" or "campground near [your city and state here]" and it will show you many popular options nearby. In Google Maps when you click on one of the results, it will show you how far away it is along with reviews left by other users. It will often provide the location's website and phone number. Other good sites include and You can search "campground" and enter a location to search near at both sites. is another alternative. This is the site that handles reservations for all Federally managed campgrounds and recreation areas. Its search feature is tricky to navigate. The customer hotline that may be useful. The agents are always very helpful, but there can be a long wait time. Many States have Parks and campgrounds now. A great place to find ones near you is It lists them by region in each state and provides a basic description and contact information.

Be sure to reserve locations well in advance (6 months or more) to ensure availability. Also note that most locations require a reservation for pavilions and shelters separately from campsites.

Step 4: Pick a theme for your outdoor church event! This will keep the focus on one important topic. Here are some great ideas: The second coming of Jesus, The wilderness experience (of the Israelites, of Jesus), Discipleship, Witnessing. My church members really enjoyed having a theme!

Here is an example packing list. Now what are you waiting for!

A general list of items to bring:



Water coolers

Trash bags

Table cloths

Song books

Portable sound station with extension cords

Bug spray 

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Mike Baird via

Friday, July 21, 2017

Leadership Lesson Series: Yes, Say No

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'No.' Whatever is more than these is of the evil one." Matthew 5:37 WEB

“No.” It is one of the first words we learn as toddlers. Yet it becomes a word we have a hard time using, especially as leaders. As leaders it is our instinct to want to say yes. We desire to motivate and inspire people and we feel that saying no is contrary to that goal. Yet the truth is often other than what we instinctually feel.

A leader is by definition someone who guides or directs to a certain goal or direction. They are tasked with making one objective prominent above all others. By nature a leader says yes to one thing and no to all others. Yet all leaders, new and experienced, struggle with saying no at times. It is essential to know how to say no.

You may think it rude or unpleasant to say no. But often this response has the follower’s best interest at heart. The greatest leader in all of human history said no many times. The key that made Jesus so good is that he knew how to say no in a manner appropriate for the situation. It is what enabled him to accomplish the greatest objective any leader has ever faced, the salvation of an entire race!

A no response must be situationally fitting. The word no may not even be used. Learning to respond effectively takes experience. When it doubt, a great response is one that buys you more time to consider a yes or no answer such as, “let me think about it,” “that might work, I will get back to you,” “let’s explore that idea,” or simply, “maybe.” This gives you more opportunity to weigh the options and seek guidance if necessary. Sometimes, exploring the idea on the spot by discussing it with the group will show its merit or defects. This strategy may keep you from having to say no in front of the whole group because the error of the idea becomes self-evident. It may even prove to have more quality than you as the leader originally anticipated.

No, does not have to be the final answer. If you begin by saying no, then later realize the idea would be allowable, it is ok to change your mind. As leaders we feel an extra strong drive to appear consistent. This means we detest changing our minds or admitting error for fear of appearing inconsistent. But a great leader is one who can admit their error or change their mind when the situation truly warrants. Admitting an error will prove to your followers you are humble and not above reproach. It will earn their respect and make you a better leader. This lets them know your power hasn’t gone to your head. Changing your mind when you see all the facts more clearly has the same effect. This only becomes negative when it happens to frequently!

As stated above, no has numerous forms. Jesus said no in many different ways. Many examples involve setting boundaries. This is often the hardest type of no for new leaders. They desire to please everyone. Jesus set boundaries on work by taking needed personal time (Mark 1:35); he set boundaries on his commitments by acknowledging he could not be in two places at once (Mark 1:38); he prioritized pleasing God (John 5:44); he set boundaries on inappropriate behavior (Matthew 12:46-50, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 21:23-27, 22:15-22, Luke 23:8-9).

Most of the instances where Jesus says no are due to one fundamental reason, if he said yes, it would detract from his mission. He said no to Satan worship (Matt. 4:1-11); no to immediately destroying those that rejected him (Luke 9:54-56); no to becoming an earthly king (John 6:15). It is a leader’s most fundamental job to keep the group focused on the primary objective. That is the chief reason to have a leader and what made Jesus such a good one. Therefore, someone who is uncomfortable saying no at times should avoid leadership. It should also be pointed out that saying no to one thing, enables the leader and the group to say yes to another. Ultimately, saying no is about focusing, not about rejecting. Communicating focus rather than rejection requires skill. That is why there are so many ways to say no.

There are perhaps hundreds of ways at your disposal. To avoid causing a feeling of rejection, target your no answer at the idea rather than the person. “I appreciate your input, but that idea isn’t likely to work.” Admit the value of the idea but postpone it, “That is a great idea; maybe we could try that next time.” Provide a logical reason why it is not the best idea, “Your idea is good, but I/we believe this idea will work better due to the time constraints.” Reiterate the priority, “We are trying to accomplish ____ so let’s focus on that.”

Sometimes the word no may be just as problematic as the word yes. In a situation where yes is inappropriate and no will likely escalate the situation what should a leader do? One great option is to redirect. Rather than saying no to the desired idea, offer an alternative, preferably equally or more attractive than the first. This technique can be very effective with children. The trick is to refocus from the negative, you/we can’t to the positive, you/we can. You must be careful not to let this become a bribe though. Offering double of something later that can’t be had now is a bribe not redirection.

Redirection can be effective in situations with older groups too, especially when a suggestion is too extravagant. For example, when brainstorming a new fundraising idea, instead of squashing an unattainable proposal, suggest a similar but more modest one. Someone suggests, “Let’s have a raffle for a new car.” The leader says, “A raffle is a great idea, but not everyone needs a new car, lets raffle tickets to Disney World instead.”

It is especially important to say no when people are at risk of harm. In these situations, a simple no is best. For example, during an emergency time is of the essence. If a fire breaks out and someone says, “run for your life,” a leader would say, “No! Everyone walk calmly to the emergency exits. Leave everything else behind.” This keeps everyone from panicking and clogging the exits putting people in greater danger. Context is key in how you say no.

The biggest key to saying no is to do so with tact, whenever possible. A little respect goes a long way. Remember your manners and people will be much more accepting. Saying, “no thank you,” or “not this time,” reduces the chance that people will take it personally. A little kindness with your no goes a long way, you know?

Written by David F. Garner
Photo Credit  Bruno Gl├Ątsch via

Friday, July 14, 2017

Christian Outdoor Object Lesson 54: Injustice

Key Verse

"For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:20-21 WEB


Nature is beautiful. Watch a sunset or go to the ocean. Look up at the stars on a clear night. Smell a colorful flower in spring. Listen to the bird’s chirp in the morning. Hold a baby animal. In all cultures in every age humans have marveled at the beauty of nature. But they have also seen its harshness.

Nature can be bleak and even downright cruel. A child does not have to live long before they experience the unkind parts of nature and life. The prick of a thorn when they pick up a flower, the bite of a bug that seemed harmless. Eventually we all encounter death. Perhaps you see a dead animal in the road. Or maybe a favorite pet fish or cat died. All the flowers you pick wither and turn brown.

The longer you live the more unpleasant things you will see in nature. Creatures eating other creatures and other things we don’t often talk about. What are we to make of the harshness we find in nature? You may have experienced a sense of disgust, or even anger at the harsh ways of nature. That is a natural feeling. Death and cruelty often awaken a sense of injustice in us. We realize that something is missing or has gone wrong.

If there is injustice in the world than there must be a level of justice by which we measure injustice. Humans intuitively know that justice must exist because they can recognize injustice. If there is a standard of justice, then there must be someone who set that standard long ago and placed it within the mind of each human being. When we encounter death and cruelty in life we instinctively know that it is not right, it cannot be the end.

Sadly, some grow callus to the death and cruelty in nature. Others begin to think that if it has been this way for so long than maybe it was never any other way. Many people give up hope that all the injustice in the world will be made right. That is understandable. Thankfully there is still hope. The Creator of the universe has stepped in to tell us that death is not the end of the story. He has told us the cause of death and injustice in this world and that it is not the end, there is hope. All the injustice will be made right! Jesus has conquered death! When we encounter cruelty and injustice in nature or anywhere in our lives, we can take hope that someday soon, the Creator will come to restore justice and life!


How do you feel when you see a dead flower or animal?

Is it OK for us to be sad or even angry when things die?

Why has God allowed injustice and death in the world?

What has God done about the death and injustice in the world?

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit David F. Garner

Friday, July 7, 2017

Leadership Lessons: Electronics in Outdoor Ministry

There are increasingly more electronics for the outdoors coming to market. Are they necessary? This article will explore some of the common back-country electronics and their pros and cons. I believe some electronics in the great outdoors are useful, but you ultimately have to decide for yourself. So lets look at some of the details.

There are many types of electronic gadgets for outdoor exploration out there. Traditional back-country wisdom says that when you go into the great outdoors, you leave all electronics behind. Many outdoor ministry leaders probably grew up with this philosophy. I did. But it pays to reassess tradition from time to time so we don’t become pharisaical about it.

Outdoor gadgets range from sophisticated watches to phones, navigation aids, optics, and cameras. Some are sport specific such as avalanche beacons. We previously published an article about electronic back-country navigation tools and rescue beacons (see here). So in this article I would like to primarily focus on electronics for other purposes.

Let’s, begin with the big one, phones. Phones are by far the most common outdoor electronic gadget. Even if you know you will have no service they can do a lot, especially smartphones. Whether you take one depends on what you are doing. So, I will list some pros and cons for you to decide for yourself. Personally, I always take one especially when I am leading a trip for ministry purposes. When on my own or with a group of friends I would be less likely to take one.


Communication when in service (useful for communication with main office, other vehicle drivers or staff, and emergency personnel).

Quality camera

Free to cheap GPS apps and other nav. aids

Carries multiple ebooks, notes, bible translations, guidebooks, music

Alarm clock


Communication when in service (emails, and work or personal calls can be a distraction)

Short battery life


Heavy (but not too bad)

Cause feelings of stress

Next, I would like to discuss e-readers/tablets. These can have many of the functions of a smartphone. Some even can be connected to data over cell towers. To me tablets don’t make much sense in the back-country due to their bulk and short battery life. However, they may be beneficial for international trips. E-readers have some uses in the back-country especially for larger groups or long trips. They make the most sense for educational programs as they can contain a lot of information in a small package. They often have incredible battery life as well. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) did a pilot test and found them to greatly reduce overall group gear weight due to the replacing of several physical books and field guides. So e-readers such as the waterproof and dustproof Kobo might be most useful for an outdoor education trip or college outdoor semester.

Watches are key in backcountry travel and outdoor ministry for time keeping. Beyond this function most other bells and whistles are unnecessary. Digital or analog is a matter of preference, although analog can may work better at extremely cold temperatures. The key here is to have a watch that is decent quality and truly waterproof. Any name brand (i.e. Casio, Timex, etc.) over $30 will preform well. Go much cheaper and you’re risking its failure on the trail. Some watches are GPS enabled. Their most useful feature is probably altitude readout. This can help during navigation if you are trying to save your handheld GPS battery. Most smart watches have too poor a battery life to last long enough for outdoor trips. So leave them at home. Another note, my friend cracked his Apple Watch screen and then found out it cannot be replaced, you have to buy a whole new watch!

Electronic navigation (nav.) aids are pretty affordable these days. Many have multiple functions. Most of these dedicated GPS units are built ruggedly. These are discussed in detail in the previously mentioned article. So I will be brief here. I personally prefer a GPS app on my phone as it is one less thing to carry and much more cost effective. But if an organization or club is looking for an option than a dedicated GPS would be preferable so the nav. aid is not on one person’s phone. I prefer the Garmin InReach as it doubles as an emergency beacon. Any name brand handheld GPS will be good. Just remember this does not replace map and compass skills!

Lastly, optics and cameras come in many electronic options. These are only useful if you have the money and the desire to use them. Some digital binoculars on the market can take pictures. Unless you’re hunting or bird-watching these seem unnecessary. Digital cameras on the other hand do have a lot of positive aspects. They might be worth it if you don’t take your smartphone or your organization or club has a dedicated photographer. Its also important to consider if your willing to allow staff to take picture on their phones or not. Many A.C.A. accredited summer camps do not allow this to avoid inappropriate photos in cyberspace. This is a real concern especially for organizations working with minors. One lawsuit would be enough to kill most outdoor ministries. There are tough digital camera options out there worth considering as well as ones that take higher quality images than any smartphone. Assess your needs before spending a lot of money!

Aside from utilitarian purposes I am all for leaving electronics and even books at home or in your backpack, except from the Bible. When in nature, seek to enjoy it and learn from it as God intended. Wadsworth says it best:

The Tables Turned


Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;

Or surely you'll grow double:

Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;

Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,

A freshening lustre mellow

Through all the long green fields has spread,

His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:

Come, hear the woodland linnet,

How sweet his music! on my life,

There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!

He, too, is no mean preacher:

Come forth into the light of things,

Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,

Our minds and hearts to bless—

Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,

Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good,

Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—

We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.