Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spruce Pine, NC Mission Trip, Day 4 (Wednesday) written by Savannah Wingard

Today we woke up 7:30 and everyone was still sitting in their beds for a while because we are super tired! For breakfast Althea and Brenda made us biscuits, sausage and lots of fruit (and we also had some delicious zucchini bread). After breakfast we met up with Mr. Neil (the site leader) and we all lathered up with bug spray and sunscreen and headed to Mr. Stayton’s house to finish the wheel-chair ramp. The senior highs headed over to finish their work on the stairs at their house. We had to finish the ramp … We had to finish extending it and it was tough to cut it to make it fit. We had to dig out some of the ground to make it fit. We started to cut and make the rails and bolted them into place. It took us all day and we didn’t quite finish but we will go back tomorrow!

For lunch, Jillianne picked us up in the bus and the mid highs headed over to the senior high site to see their work and eat lunch together. We ate ham/turkey/PB&J sandwiches and laughed together! There was a beautiful creek on the property and some of us got in and soaked our feet. We then headed back to work some more at Mr. Stayton’s wheelchair ramp. The senior highs finished up their stair project after lunch. Before they left they told us that they got to walk in the creek and cool off for a while.

It was only about 80 degrees today here but we were very sweaty! Just before Jillianne picked us up at 4:00pm, Mr. Stayton brought out and showed us his bird, “Tookie-Bird.” We also got to play with his dog, Trixie. We sat in the shade and talked with Troy about our work for the day and where we saw God. Jillianne finally got there to pick us back up … after she accidentally ran over a squirrel (which we all thought was funny).

After we got back to the bunk house, we all got showers … the bunk house where we are staying has a boys bathroom with 2 toilets and 3 showers and a girls bathroom with 3 toilets and 2 showers so we have to take turns and it takes a while for everyone to shower. After we took showers it was time for dinner around 6:00pm . The gracious people at a local church brought us pizza, drinks, and salad and we sat outside our bunk house at some picnic tables.

After dinner we all decided to walk down to the park at the bottom of the hill. There were some 3rd-6th grade girls from a local youth group who were there and they offered us water bottles with Scripture on the side of them. We played on the playground and then walked around the walking trail by the Toe River. The boys decided that they wanted to go creek walking. They stayed dry for a while but then one of them tripped and fell in; and before we knew all of them were swimming around and being silly as they fought against the current. We encouraged them to get out the water but they decided to swim upstream. Finally, Jillianne made them get out and they smelled terrible. We decided to go back to the bunk house so they could shower … again!

After the boys had showers, we met to talk about our day and do some games and lessons. One of the games was called “Caterpillar Eating Banana.” In this game there were three teams competing in a relay race. One team member was wrapped in plastic wrap and had to crawl across the floor to eat a banana. The next game was called “Bologna Darts.” It was exactly what it sounds like – throwing bologna at a bull’s-eye. Mrs. Brenda decided that she should be the center of the bull’s-eye and the youth all got to throw the bologna at her! We laughed and laughed!

Then we had a more serious time where we talked about poverty and why it exists and what we can do about it in our nation and world. After a long discussion, at about 10:00pm, we decided that it was just about time for bed. Goodnight! Thanks for your continued prayers for tomorrow, our last work day! We’re doing a great job at staying safe on site and we’re working hard!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spruce Pine, NC Mission Trip, Day 3 written by Jordan Sommer

Today was a very successful day. We went to the Moore’s house in the morning and finished staining the deck. It looks so much better and it was hard to leave because I wanted to do more and make the house look even nicer. Kara was weed-eating almost the whole time we were there and I pruned some bushes in the front yard. Several other youth worked on finishing the floor inside and other various little projects like adding molding to some cabinets and replacing the door lock.

We went back to the bunk house to eat lunch and then we were off to some other houses to start some more projects. The senior and mid-highs split up on two different projects for the afternoon. The senior highs went to an elderly couple’s house to rebuild some steep stairs and the mid-highs went to a man’s house that was on oxygen and needed his wheel-chair ramp rebuilt because it was falling apart. From what I heard, the mid-highs got far on their project, and the man had a talking parrot that could say Maddie’s name. The senior highs took a while to get going because the area we were trying to build in was very small, so not many people could work there. The couple had their three year old grandson over and he came out and played in the yard with a few of us as the other girls were working. Haley and I held his hand as we splashed in the creek in front of the house.

We’re going back tomorrow to finish the stairs and the mid highs are headed back to finish up their wheel-chair ramp! I can’t wait to complete another project and check another successful day off our list. When we finish tomorrow, we will move on to another house to do some different work! Stay tuned ….

Monday, June 27, 2011

Spruce Pine, NC Mission Trip - Day 2 written by Blake Rauch

Here is an update on our first day of work and our second day on the trip, Monday, June 27th! It is written by Blake Rauch:

I woke up at about 5:45a.m., ready to go. Everyone else was up (in my room - meaning the boys), and we headed out to go for the river just down the hill from our cabin. We walked for a good 30 minutes, got a little wet in the river, then began hiking all the way back up a steep hill (that part wasn’t fun) and had a great breakfast of pancakes and sausage. We chilled out for a while in the cabin, then headed out for our first job.

We went to the Moore’s house, and got started on the shed. Some people painted, some cleaned out the shed (I was in the second group). Afterwards, we started to put up insulation on the walls. We put it up, and then stapled it in. Then we had a nice little water break, and I got to work on my project for the rest of the work day: the porch.

I started off by sanding, and I sanded for a few hours until lunch. I ate, then continued trying to make it perfect, and then, after it was done, I sort of had to leave, because everyone else wanted to do the fun part of actually staining the porch, so I couldn’t finish with my project. I stood around, doing a few random things, then left and slept on the bus ride home. We came back, and rested at the cabin.

Then we left the cabin to go eat an amazing dinner ith Berry Baptist Church. They fixed us ham, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, Salisbury steak, creamed corn, biscuits, green beans, and banana pudding. I had some of everything. Then we got a little lesson from the youth leader of their church that was providing dinner, and drove back to the cabin in the rain. We came back, and had a great lesson and some games led by Jillianne, then went to watch the baseball game at the hotel lobby, where I am typing this now. I am pretty tired, and I am ready for bed. We’re getting up early to explore the area, so I need my sleep.

Spruce Pine, NC Mission Trip - Day 1 by Savannah Wingard

Here is an update on our time together Sunday ... written by Savannah Wingard:

We started our lovely Sunday sitting in the front of the church, at 11 o’clock service, all of us in youth. T-shirts on an excited to go on our trip to Spruce Pine, NC. After the service we packed up the bus and headed out to North Carolina, but first we stopped at Zaxby’s to grab some lunch. From here we were in for a 3 and a half hour ride. The bus ride was full of singing, talking, and dancing, everyone was ready to get there. Then we stopped at a gas station and got a snack. When we finally got there, after traveling up a very windy mountain road, we came to a cute little town. We finally arrived at the bunk house that we were going to be staying in. Everyone gathered their stuff and headed into the bunkhouse. Boys in one room, girls in the other, there was a kitchen and boys and girls both had their own bathrooms. In each room there were bunk beds, the best thing about these rooms was that there were more bunks than people, so that everyone could put their stuff in the bunk above or below you. Then once everyone got settled, we ate dinner tacos, that our wonderful cooks, Althea and Brenda, made for us. After we did a bunch of team building games and Jillianne did a lesson on the reason poverty exists!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

God, My Friend!?

I’ve always thought of my relatioship with God as defined as friend-like. In fact, there’s not a thing I wouldn’t tell God … including my being mad at God about something all the way to how much I love God. For me, my relationship with God is somewhat like that of a friend … God is always there for me (just as a true friend would be), God and I communicate regularly through prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit (just as true friends do). But when need be, God puts me in my place (just as a true friend would).

So when the sermon I heard this week started out that our understanding of God isn’t simply “friend,” I felt challenged and my interest was peaked! The sermon was actually on God’s transcendence and immanence. Big words, I know! But simply put, I see the transcendent God as the God who is superior and authoritative and might be seen as “barking” orders from on high. Similarly, I see the immanent God as the God who is with us here and now and is seen as simply being our friend and no more. It's only because of Jesus (the bridge) that we are able to have this type of relationship. We haven't experienced anything that God hasn't also ... friendship, happiness, suffering, physical pain, etc.

The clergy giving the sermon stated that we can think of this as a spectrum with transcendence on one far end and immanence on the opposite end. He said that we Christians should have a view of God that is somewhere in the middle. I like and agree with this view of God but had never heard it put quite in these terms!
I walked away from the challenge being convicted that God does give instruction and have expectation for our lives but is also with us on our journey! This is true for all ages! Another way of understanding this view of God (explained the preacher): Can we tell God anything? Yes, but we have to remember to whom we are speaking …

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bumps in the Road!

I love this time of year! It's a very busy time but it is always a great memory making time full of reminiscing and fun! A typical May in youth ministry (at least in my experience) brings Youth Sunday, Graduate Sunday, end of the year youth group celebrations, lock-ins, and more!

This past Sunday at Zion was no exception! It was Graduate Sunday! Our high school and college graduates were honored in worship! Also, the graduates gathered for breakfast. As is tradition at Zion, each of the high school grads was presented with a quilt by their parents. All year long, the parents have been meeting with some wonderfully gifted church members who are great seamstresses! They've been making these handsome creations that the students will take with them as they begin the next chapter of their lives! It was quite nice to see the beautiful quilts that have been made! And as I stood back watching the presentations of the quilts, I couldn't help but notice how much each quilt "looked like" the youth to whom it was being presented! What do you think??

Also, during the breakfast, the students had the pleasure of hearing from church member, Britt Collins. She encouraged and I thought she gave some great advice to the graduates as they begin this new chapter in their lives. I was awestruck to hear Britt share some very personal stories about her young adult life. Britt has persevered some tremendously unfortunate circumstances including the death of her first husband and then her younger sister. So she was quite qualified to offer advice to our students when it comes to the importance of persevering in "life." She used a great example of a time in her childhood when she hit a bump/rock in the road and fell off her bike. She had been down this particular hill many times and knew how to navigate the bumps and turns on the way down. But on this day, she made one tiny mistake because of a rock in the road and ended up crashing into a neighbor's mailbox. She vowed never to ride her bike again. Britt compared this experience to the "bumps" and "bruises" that life sometimes has to offer. She encouraged the graduates to be aware of the bumps/rocks on life’s journey that will throw each of us off the bike from time to time.

Britt also shared that this past Thanksgiving, she was remembering her sister's favorite holiday as she and her family spent this time together at Fripp Island. Britt decided to explore the island one afternoon but the only mode of transportation available was via bike. Many, many years after the tumble off the bike in her neighborhood, Britt hopped on the bike and began exploring. Britt shared that the foundations our parents and our church have set for us are much like getting on a bike ... one never forgets how to ride the bike! It is a great lesson and metaphor for us all and, especially, for our graduates! Thank you, Britt, for your inspiring words!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sometimes Our Blessings Are Out on the Water

Youth Sunday 2011 was this past week-end at Zion. Our student leadership team has been working on the ideas and our theme all year. Our worship chairs on the student leadership team gave the final approval on the order of worship! And then the 6th-12th grade students were asked at youth group, via email and facebook, and at our lock-in Friday night to lead the various aspects of worship. It all came together quite nicely!

The topic on which we focused for the service was “Initiative” and we used the piece of Scripture where Peter steps out of the boat and is walking on the water to Jesus. Our students filmed a video where the Scripture was read and they then gave their thoughts on just what “Initiative” means and they shared examples of how they have taken initiative in their lives. You can view that video here:

Youth Sunday Scripture Video

The youth also decided to offer an interactive prayer time after the sermon. In this interactive and symbolic prayer, worshipers were given a piece of tile and a marker. They were asked to write one area of their life, family, or our church where they needed to take initiative. They then moved to an area where they were given a hammer and they smashed the tile into pieces. This symbolized their willingness to “step out of the boat” (i.e. their comfort zone) and that they are committed to taking initiative in that area. During the remaining time in the service, the broken pieces of tile were being glued to a cross. This is symbolic because the cross changes us! It gives us strength to step out of the boat and take initiative in the first place. This is just what justification by grace through faith is all about! So, our smashed up tiles were turned into something beautiful upon our commitment!

Perhaps the most compelling part of the service for me happened during Kara’s sermon. Kara was preaching about how the boat is like our comfort zone and often times we are like the 11 other disciples who didn’t step out onto the water as Peter did. During her sermon, Kara said something quite powerful which speaks to me and perhaps has some relevance on our current situation in the wake of the financial and spiritual decisions being made at Zion. Kara said that in order for us sometimes to receive the blessings that God has for us, we must sometimes step out of our boats because our blessings may be out in the water and not in the boat.

I agree! As scary as it is to face the storms that may rise up while we are on the water (not to mention the “water” itself), if we don’t step out in faith think of all of the things we might miss. Thankfully Jesus is right there on the water with us, reaching out His hand to help guide us through our doubts and fears. Either way, in the boat or out of it, we have to trust the God will take care of us and that God will provide for us!

This got me to thinking ... in the past two weeks, two different people have tried to explain something to me that has thrown me a little off kilter. These persons explained that they were convinced that God purposefully steps away from a church or out of our personal lives for periods of time. One of these persons gave the example of God stepping away in the Old Testament. The other one gave the example of thier own life and feeling that God has abandoned them.

I am not convinced that this is the case! I think that we are the ones who turn away from Jesus or take our eyes off of Him. Just look at this example of Peter! Think about what Kara was saying! It was Peter who looked away and began to sink. It wasn't Jesus who disappeared or anything ... he was there they whole time! In the Old Testament, it was the Israelites who turned away from God and focused on other things. Yes, God was silent but I believe, in a weird way, that was because God was trying to get their attention!! So many times in our lives, we want to place blame on other people. However, sometimes we have to look inward and take responsibility for oursevles. It's called free will! So, today, I remember that there is nothing that can seperate us from God's love ... not even a stormy sea.

Youth Sunday 2011 - Scripture Video

You've been asking for it! Here is the video of the Scripture that our youth made! It was used last Sunday at youth Sunday worship! Enjoy ...

Monday, May 9, 2011


This coming Sunday is youth Sunday at Zion! The youth will be leading all aspects of the worship services that day and have been planning and preparing for the opportunity to do so. At the beginning of the school year, our student leadership team picked a theme of “Gone Fishin’!” So all school year, at youth group, we’ve been studying stories of the Bible that have to do with fishing, fishermen, boats, or fish. Even our yellow youth group t-shirt for this year reflects our theme with a Guy Harvey print of the “Old Man.”

The primary piece of Scripture that the youth will be using for youth Sunday is the story of Peter walking on the water from Matthew 14. The theme for the worship service is “Initiative: Peter Got Out of the Boat.” Kara Kleckley, our youth group president is preaching at both worship services. So, I’ve been digging through the Scripture trying to look at it from all angles and help her prepare her sermon. In most everything I’ve read online and in my commentaries, I’ve noticed something! Peter sure does get a bad rap. Poor guy!

Almost everything I read commented that if only Peter would have kept his eye on Jesus, imagine what could have happened! But I say kudos to Peter for even stepping out of the boat in the first place! I can only imagine how scary putting the first leg over must have been for Peter. Can’t you? It was the middle of the night and there was a storm raging around the boat. Hello … who in their right mind would do that?

Who would do that … I think that is the whole point of the story. Through this story, Jesus calls you and I to step out of the boat, too. But many times, we are like the 11 other disciples who you notice didn’t step out of the boat. We stay seated on our comfortable little “boats” and never step into the “stormy” waters and have faith enough that Jesus will keep us from “drowning.”
This is a huge challenge for leaders (paid and volunteer) in youth ministry! On a regular basis, we should be encouraging today’s youth to step out of their comfort zones. But, we first have to set the example of stepping out of ours. How can we expect someone else to do something that we are not willing to try ourselves?

This is why I think things like youth mission trips and projects (in and out of our own communities) are important. This is why allowing youth to serve in leadership roles in the church and at school (and at home) is important. This is why volunteering to teach Sunday school or chaperone a youth lock-in all night even though we don’t want to get up early on Sunday or think we are too old to stay up all night, are important!

Notice, Jesus never said it would be easy to step out of the boat and walk on the water. But, he did say “Come!” So … Come!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Youth Questions Video: How To handle Stress

It's official ... I'm a youtube advice giver! :)
Seriously, I am honored to be able to share some words about stress in this video put together by Tim Schmoyer of Youth Questions! Basically, youth submit these questions and Tim compiles "advice" from adults who work with youth into one wonderful video!

You can check them out by going to any of these sites:

Here is the video on stress that I got to be a part of!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Virus Attack

So, last week, my computer finally crashed. Actually, I knew it was happening … but for a little over a week, I tried to pretend like it wasn’t and just kept using it. For example, I couldn’t send email right away … I had to create and send the email, log out of outlook, re-start the computer, re-open outlook and then it might go through! And in the midst of that, most days, the screen would go black and I’d have to turn the computer off for a while before I could use it again. It was most frustrating and very non-productive!

According to the Geek Squad, I had 87 viruses and a display driver issue which kept causing my screen to go black. And what’s worse - I have Norton Anti-Virus on my computer, too! I thought it was set up to run regular scans and so I never tried to open it and double check periodically to see that all was well! Come to find out, I guess the viruses were causing it not to update or prevent others from attacking! Not cool.

With all this extra forced “down” time last week, I got to thinking! I was catching up on some reading about postmodernism and the millennial generation as I realized, this computer infestation and breakdown was comparable to a teen’s (or anyone for that matter but for this post, I will focus on teens) relationship with God!
Like the computer, an infestation (i.e. sin, guilt, stress, broken relationships, peer pressure, etc.) can happen in a youth’s life and they may not even realize the damage going on “behind the scenes” because of it until the breakdown happens. This easily happens when the youth of today don’t deal with the infestation or have a mentor or a parent around who might help!

There’s no denying that today’s teens are the busiest generation ever with the most influences ever (i.e. media). And, I think pretty much all postmodern and millennial experts would agree that the world has changed, teens have changed, and their responses to our (the church) past programs have even changed on a broad scale. I read something that said teens today just don’t have the time to and won’t be a part of programs that don’t meet their needs. And, there are hundreds of articles about how often times, we (the church at large) aren’t do much to adapt to this generation.

In addition to business, one characteristic of postmodernism is that morality is personal. One post-modern philosopher thinks: “morality is seen as each person’s private code of ethics without the need to follow traditional values and rules.” I say, who better than the church to step in and mentor (youth AND their parents) and have an influence on this personal ethic development!

I, for one, don’t want to become irrelevant in having a potential impact on teenager’s personal ethics! I hope that someday, someone will do that for my son! But to me, it’s sort of like the resistance that a virus can develop to an anti-biotic. Over time, the medicine just won’t make a difference in fighting against the infestation if we don’t adapt and renew the medicine.

Now, I’m not saying that I think we ought to run out and make a bazillion changes to our programs or create new ones without thinking and visioning and praying this through. But I am saying, that I don’t want us to become irrelevant in the lives of teens either. I think churches and youth leaders must work together to find a happy medium for the sake of the youth of our world.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lenten Prayer Friend Project

Each year, our youth participate in a special Lenten project that anonymously pairs them with an adult in our congregation! For the 40 (ish) days of Lent, that adult prays for the youth and then they meet close to the end of Lent to get to know one another a little better!

At the luncheon last week, we showed this video! It is a compilation of quotes and "interviews" from participants in the project. Thanks to all who were a part of the project!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

"They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered
in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to
carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right
way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you
were or where you were going. Now you're named and kept for good by the
Shepherd of your souls."

This piece of Scripture comes from 1 Peter 2 (The Message version) and I love it. It reminds me that Good Friday was not a "good" day for Jesus but became a "great" day for me. But, it also makes me think!

I so do not deserve what Jesus did for me.
Jesus = so innocent, so humble, so loving.
Me = so selfish, so greedy, so imperfect.

Thinking along these lines this Good Friday, I came across a sermon that Martin Luther published in 1519. It was called "A Good Friday Sermon on How to Contemplate Christ's Holy Sufferings." I know it seems difficult to relate to something written over 500 years ago, but it actually makes a lot of sense if you dig through it!

There is one part of the sermon that I find extremely compelling! Martin Luther basically says that where one thorn in the crown of thorns pierces Christ, more than a thousand thorns should pierce me (and even more painfully at that). Luther says that where one nail is driven through Christ's hands and feet, I should eternally suffer the same (and even more painfully). That is what I deserve becuase I allow a seperation between myself and my relationship with God. That's what sin is, afterall, anything that seperates me from God. But, thankfully, I don't have to suffer this as Christ already endured it on my behalf! So, why don't I celebrate and give thanks for this fact more?

And then there is this verse from Romans 8:38-39. It says "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

So in the end and because of Good Friday, there is nothing that I can do (EVER) to make Christ not love me, nor God turn from me. There is no thought I could have, no action I could do, no statement I could make, no punch I could throw that would make me any less loveable in God's eyes! And that truly is GOOD news because (let's face it) I am not perfect and I am going to mess up! Could I do a better job at many things in my life like my attitudes, generosity, praise and thanksgiving? Absolutely. But even when I don't do life well and screw things up, God remains by my side, sometimes carrying me through it, and there is nothing I can do to make God ever be willing to leave my side. I might turn away from God, but God NEVER turns away from me. Again, that is GOOOOOOOD news!

This Good Friday, I am challenged to be more thankful for the suffering that Christ endured on my behalf and his never-ending faithfulness to me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Simple, simple, focus!

This morning while I was reading a journal article on post-modern youth ministry, I read this statement:

“It is not unusual to have inspiration come from a rather mundane moment in life.”

How, true. How true! I’m constantly trying to see / hear / experience God in the everyday. I can’t imagine how many times I must miss God! But, this week-end was one such example for me of being challenged by the everyday! About 6 months ago, my husband’s children moved with their mom to Ohio from South Carolina. This week-end, I traveled with my hubby to Smithville, Ohio to pick up his children and bring them back to South Carolina for their spring break! We left Thursday night around 8:00pm and traveled about half of the 9 and ½ hour trip! On Friday, we made our way through Ohio …. the heart of Amish country, actually. Out of the 11.5 million residents of Ohio, about 58,500 of them are Amish (according to one website I saw). And, we were traveling through the heart of Amish country (the almost triangle shaped area between I-77, I-70, and I-71). Check out this google map of the area:

I was enamored by several things from the experience of making our way down Route 250through Wilmot and Mt. Eaton and over to Wooster. First of all, it was snowing (not sticking) for some of the trip which was exciting because I LOVE snow! Second, the amount of horse poop on the side of the road caught me off guard. I’m not being flip, it really did! The reason it was overwhelming was because, at first, I couldn’t figure out what it was. We were in the middle of now where …. literally – farm houses from time to time but no businesses or people! Then, out of nowhere, we passed a horse pulling a cart with a sweet Amish man inside. He was heading in the direction of the town we had just passed through. It turns out that on either side of the road, in this area, there is a special lane just for the horse and buggies. Hence the copious amounts of horse poop. I even read an article online that said there are more horses than people who live in Amish country … stunning!

And then we began to see these signs … you know like the deer crossing or warning signs we see here in South Carolina?! It seemed comical at the time. But looking on it now, I am impressed with how inclusive the local government is of the Amish people.

The deeper into Amish country we got, the more I was caught off guard. The next thing I knew there were tourist attraction signs … they looked similar to like a rest stop or Interstate exit kinds of signs. The sign would say at the top: “Tourist Attraction” and then below would list the miles and direction to everything Amish in the area - restaurant, gifts shops, cheese stores, or furniture businesses. I struggled with # 1 - why these people and their businesses are a tourist attraction and # 2 - with wondering how much money the Amish make from attracting tourists.

Finally, I feel like I was nudged by God at the simplicity of the Amish life in today’s society. Until I did some further reading online, I guess I didn’t realize their rich history. I do think that the boundaries they draw are a lesson for us all! Of course, most of us know the Amish for their simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. I’ve, naturally, been thinking more about simplicity in my life because of the practice of silence I’ve included for my Lenten practices! So to learn the prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing of the Amish intrigues me! How less complicated this way of life seems!

As I think through this topic of simplicity, I think about Paul and his writing in 2 Corinthians 11:3 about the simplicity of our love for God … and how easily we are lured away from it (just as the serpent did with Eve). And, I challenge you to think about the Old Testament King – Jotham. In one sermon I heard, he was portrayed as the king of simplicity. In fact, in 2 Chronicles 27 - we read that his one, constant, uncomplicated focus was to please his God. It’s a VERY short chapter; I would encourage you to read it here.

Notice .... everything written about King Jotham in that 27th chapter is positive. The challenge from this Biblical example and from my example of the simplicity of Amish people becomes to consider our focus! Especially, this becomes important, I think, when we feel bogged down by life or stressed. Of course, the temptations of life lure us away, including stress and busy-ness!

So, just what is your focus? Only you can answer that! As teenagers, I’m guessing our youth would answer that their focus is school, friends, family. And I pray that God and serving others would fit in there somewhere for the teens I encounter in youth ministry weekly (after all, that is what I am trying to teach)! So the challenge then becomes our focus on God …. is it constant, like Jotham? If not, can it be? Your focus on your friends, your popularity status/struggles, your self-image, your athletic ability, your study habits, what others think of you – those are all constants in our lives! Remember, our lives bear the evidence of our focus!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Television Tradition!

Television Tradition!
I've been thinking a lot about television lately. Mostly, it's because it has been more tough for me than I thought it would be to practice silence on Thursdays! Of course, we're only two Thursdays into Lent, but both of those days, I've caught myself reaching for the television. Not turning on the television (or radio) is harder than you may think .... try it sometime. For me, television watching is a moment to escape reality .... not that my reality is bad or anything! It is a chance for my mind to essentially, turn off. I don't get the chance to slow down or turn my mind off much during the day so (as an introvert) having this time in the evening is a must!

Some statistics might help us understand this whole television phenom. better!

*According to Wikipedia 99% of American households have at least one television (and the majority have more than one).
*What's more than that, 49%of Americans say they watch too much television (I'm certainly one of that 49%!).
*According to the A.C. Nielsen Co. the average American watches 3 hours and 46 minutes of TVeach day (that's more than 52 days of nonstop TV-watching per year).
*By the age of 65 the average American will have spent nearly nine years glued to the tube.
*Now think about this! On average, a parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children.

But there's more to it than television being my "me" time! Bad or good, this obsession we Americans have with television - I'm convinced it's a learned habit, for sure! I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing because it is part of our accepted norm and we can't escape it. I am saying we really ought to give this some thought. As a pre-teen and teenager, I spent many a weekend over at my grandparent's house. My Nanny and Pa had this tremendous and meaningful tradition that EVERY Friday night they ate dinner out and EVERY Saturday night my Pa grilled steaks. Anyone in the family was invited as long as you let them know ahead of time that you were coming. So many weekends, I would pop over for dinner and then spend the night! Two things I remember about those evenings - a timer on the den lamp and Atlanta Braves baseball!

Every evening around dusk, my Nanny had the lamp in the den ,programmed on an automatic timer, set to turn on. And every evening after dinner was cleaned up and digested, there you could find my grandparent’s sitting in their respective recliner watching baseball (or movies when it wasn't baseball season). Period, the end. That was their tradition. Many of those evenings, I would watch with them or I would sit in the kitchen and watch a different TV.

I think there are some lessons - relevant to our spiritual journey - through this example! In a way, I think the fact that my grandmother programmed the light to come on speaks to her sense of hospitality. She was intentionally making the den warm and welcoming for she and my Pa (and us family guests). And, because their house sat up on a hill in a caul-de-sac, the neighbors and cars passing by could also see the light coming from the room or the family gathered there, together. There's also something to the tradition of spending a set aside time together as family, daily. Every single evening, my Nanny and Pa shared that time together. That speaks volumes! But, even if they never spoke to each other during the time, there's still something to be said for the level of commitment they shared in spending that set time together.

These two facts are much like our relationship with our God! If we really sat down and thought about it, how many ways and times does God prepare the "den" of our lives? In other words, how often does God make things a little more comfortable for us? I bet 9 times out of 10, most of us miss that expressed hospitality or take it for granted!

And, what about our commitment to spending time with God? As long as I've been teaching youth about God and God's relevance in our lives, I've tried to help youth understand how personal their relationship with the Living God can be! For me, the great thing about my relationship with God is that it is just like any other person I would have a relationship with .... it requires work and intentional effort to get to know them, to keep in touch, to express my devotion/love to, for example. Of course, it is also different, but the point is it takes commitment and effort!

I am convinced that it is the commitment that is the key. Our commitment is more than just going to worship .... it's honestly worshipping God and not expecting what we need out of it. It's more than just calling out or praying to God in the times that we need help ... it's about prayers of thanksgiving and intercession (for others) and adoration of God! It's more than sleeping in on Sunday morning and promising we'll go next week .... it's about getting up despite your tiredness and coming to coffee and fellowship to share fellowship with all aged church members and then go to Sunday school and learn more about God! It's more than us just doing the fun kickball games at youth group .... it's participating in youth group and Sunday school or setting up for the yard sale fundraiser. It's more than us just giving $5 to the poor or hungry ... it's taking 6 days of your summer vacation and going on the mission trip and physically working to improve living conditions, even though you hate doing it and being in the summer heat! After all, God doesn't pick and choose when God is going to show up in our lives, why should our commitment to God be any less? Now, does that commitment mean you have be at everything and do everything? Absolutely not. That's probably not even possible. Bottom line - sometimes commitment does require a little uncomfortableness and sometimes it offers great fun! It is a tremendous opportunity for the "den" light to automatically be on and permeate our "neighborhoods!"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Silence, Social Media, and Relationships!

You may have heard that for Lent this year, I gave up talking on Thursdays in an effort to reduce negativity and to just slow down a little. I'm adding the spiritual discipline of of silence / meditation / reflection, especially on those days. Last Thursday, honestly, was a little challenging for my first try at this Lenten experience. I knew going in to the experience that I only wanted to participate in "essential" conversations on Thursday and I knew that I would have to talk some for work and family reasons. Evaluation: I don't think I was realistic about how much that would be and I could not seem to whole-heartedly stick to my plan! And I knew I was going to be intentional not to turn on the television or radio. Evaluation: I don't think I was realistic about how hard that would be for me! I do, however, feel better prepped for this Thursday and am actually excited to try again!

Last Thursday, I did great with not turning the television on at the beginning of the morning. Admittedly, I felt a little out of sorts at not hearing the news or weather for the day. And, it was very surprising to hear about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan the next morning. This got me reflecting on how much we use social media and media to share news. What ever happened to good, old fashioned word of mouth and the relationships that were strengthened because of it? So this is where my thoughts went on and off for the rest of the day. I tried reading some of Bonheoffer’s "Life Together" but found my thoughts going back to the impact of social media on relationships.

As a youth minister, I realize that this generation of youth is all about instant connection. I like the ability to instantly connect. In recent years, it seems the more instant connection had been e-mail. I remember being so excited to get an email address for the first time, when I went to college (in 1995) and having to go to the computer lab at Erskine College to check my email! Now, probably ten e-mail addresses later, they come right to my cell phone (and I don't know what I would do without it).

But, even email seems to be fading out among this emerging generation! I have to say, even though it is a convenient form of communication, I am sort of glad about this for three reasons.

Number one: in my past 18 months at Zion, I have managed to collect only about 25 student email addresses. I send and track a weekly email newsletter to the students and their parents. I use this great program called Mail Chimp!! Google it. On a good week, 3 of those 25 students open the e-mail. And, weekly I get bounces from student emails that have become invalid e-mail addresses. Parents are a little more user friendly to emails! About 10-20 of the 50 or so parent e-mails I send get opened each week! But I know myself this may not be the only indicator of interest in a program or relationship! Even though my emails come directly to my phone, rarely do I open everything or I don't open it because I already know what is going on. I find this trend to be consistent with other churches I have served!

Number two: another issue with email and relationships [for me] is that you can't tell tones or attitudes in someone's words on a screen. This has caused trouble for me many times in the past. I even find myself writing an intro to recipient to the effect of: "I'm not mad or anything .... but ....” But, even when writing my devotions for my weekly student e-mails, I find myself having to pick my words carefully because misinterpretation is so easy. I just really think it can create more tension than necessary. When I write, especially my devotions, I hope that it is prophetic, insightful, or moves others. But, sometimes, I think, people may walk away from having read my e-mail or devotion and have concerns or compliments. That person may never address their concern or insight with me and they harbor it within. Further, I really think constructive criticism and debate are good! In my experience, not to have either of these is unhealthy and damages relationships.

Number three: social media, specifically e-mail, can inadvertently damage relationships because we use e-mail as a cop-out. Right? Honestly, isn't is just sometimes easier to email (or text or facebook chat) with someone? Then there's no hassle of having to talk face to face or voice to voice to someone to whom you don't want to speak (especially when it is a hot topic). Or using email, text, or virtual chat can be seen as much more convenient, taking less time from your day that you could be doing something else.

Don’t get me wrong, I love e-mail AND texting, and virtual chatting are great! I will continue to use them all and I do believe there is benefit and convenience to using it. So I am torn in my writing of this post! With all of that said, I certainly see the benefit of using email, texting, or virtual chatting. For example, I have found that youth will tend to open up with me using facebook chat! I find out more about what is happening in their lives and what issues they are dealing with in their lives. These forms of communication certainly can be a relationship builder with today’s youth.

I know I have gone all around the topic here .... so what is the bottom line for me? - I just think our society will really be missing out on something if we don’t begin to focus more on relationships, as Jesus did, face to face. We have to model that for our children. In other words, we should use these more instant forms of communication to “meet youth where they are” but also not make it our only or primary form of communication and relationship building with the emerging generation.

On alternative that I think can be very useful .... SKYPE! I don’t know that much about it and I haven’t researched statistics but I am here to tell you that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift in use of texting and facebook as the preferred form of communication to the use of video chatting being on the increase among teens. It certainly is for some of my students. Not only is it available for free using their webcam on their computer, but the technology is even available on their cell phones / iPads now. In fact, they can even conference in several friends or family members at a time. Good! In fact, great!

I think this type of communication has amazing potential. This could be a tremendous relationship builder in our families, youth ministries, friendships, and in mentoring! Bottom line – today’s generation is the busiest ever. Taking time to use video chat - are you sitting face to face talking, laughing, or crying with someone? Yes .... who cares if it is over the Internet? You are taking the time to be face to face! Think about the possibilities...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm Giving Up Talking for Lent!

When it came to trying to decide what to give up for Lent this year, I was trying to think of something very meaningful. Upon reflection, of past Lenten seasons, I felt like I have been on a downward spiral over the past two or so years with regard to focusing on my own piety. During Lent's past, I've always thought about how much pain and suffering Jesus endured on my behalf .... so it seemed logical that during Lent, the least I could do was to give up something I love. Several years ago, I gave up Mexican food. If you know me, you know that was killer for me because I am pretty much addicted to it (and iced coffee) and my family generally eats Mexican pretty much every Sunday after church.

It seemed to me that I was on a roll with Lent several years ago, as far as having meaningful and memorable experiences went. I think it all started many years ago when the congregation I was serving at the time was challenged to not only give something up for Lent but to add something in the place of what you were giving up. But, for the life of me, I can't remember what I gave up / added last year.

So for the past several weeks, I've been contemplating what to do this year that would mean something. I had basically decided on the Mexican food thing again for this year and then it hit me. A self assessment: I've gotten into this routine of finding it very easy to complain and be negative. Life in general has been very stressful and busy and I feel tired. I've been to the doctor because my Vitamin D levels are low and my blood pressure is high. Don't get me wrong, I'm not making excuses for this inappropriate behavior because there is none. But I am saying that when I am stressed and busy I sometimes get grumpy and more emotional than usual (ha!) and it is easier to be negative and plea my case to EVERYONE around me. Sorry if you've been in my path on those days. I even tend to take the smallest of complications and turn them in to "end of the world" problems. This is not healthy!

I've also been thinking a lot about a class that I took in my Master's degree work called "Spiritual Disciplines." Perhaps this was a nudge from the Holy Spirit for this Lenten season? In the class we studied Richard Foster's spiritual disciplines. As I view it, Foster's premise is that these spritual disciplines are ways to enhance and grow in our relationship with God. It's kind of like an excercise routine for your soul! There's a lot of thought on this in contemporary theology. Foster's disciplines include: meditation, worship, prayer, fasting, confession, silence/solitude, and others!

I've always had a great interest in the discipline of solitude/silence and even did a project on it my Master's work. Combated with my recent negative attitude and the thought of my mother's great teaching: "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all," I decided that I was going to give up being negative for Lent. But I knew it had to be more ... there had to be something radical ... because not being negative would honestly, probably only have lasted a week or so for me.

Then at the Ash Wednesday worship service last night it hit me like a ton of bricks; made my stomach drop and all! I couldn't beleive the thought popped in to my head! Pastor Tim was preaching on piety and I decided I was not going to talk at all for the next 40 days. I was going to be silent and look for God and positives instead of getting all wrapped up in my stress and busy-ness. This too, was not practical; it really would have not worked ... after all, I have a 5year old son. Further, I am recquired to communicate in my job.

So I debated with myself and came to the conclusion that I would be silent for the better part of one day a week. Since I work at home on Thursdays, I've decided that this is probably the best day to try that will enable potential success in this. Of course, I'll have to answer the phone for work related items and I'll generally have to be on the computer for work. And, I'll have to give direction, affirmation, and instructions to my son and husband. But other than that, Thursdays will be my silent / solitude day. No television, no radio, no non-essential verbal communication.

It sounds a little radical but it's more than just not talking. I'm also adding in trying to be alert to the presence of God and feel the best way I can do that is through this silence and reflection of what I experience in the silence. I really pray that this can be a season of responding more positively to God and the blessings in my life instead of being consumed by the stress and busy-ness and negative-ness in my life.

The thing is, from my original thought of being silent all throughout Lent, this really is not that much. It's only six different times in the next 40 days or 144 hours of silence. That is really nothing in the grand scheme of things! (Yes, folks, that was a personal pep talk.) I think, however, that the personal reflection will be the key. In the times where I would have normally watched television or partaken in gossip and venting with friends or my husband, I'll be adding the reading of "The Ethics of Martin Luther" and "The Confessions of Saint Augustine" and other books to help in some reflection.

It's amazing that even in the past 12 hours of today's initial try at silence and solitude what I have noticed that I wouldn't normally notice .... the dripping of the faucet that urges me toward the fact that I'm being a poor steward of the environment (no that's not me being negative, that's me challenging myself to do better) .... the rain drops falling on the roof that made me look at the window and notice how green my grass has become (overnight it seems) and how new life is springing forth all around ... the chirping of birds out my home office window that normally would have annoyed me, today, seem refreshing and calming; I close my eyes as I sit at my desk and realize how worn out I am! This is something I would have unhealthily just pushed through and ignored before; at least I can admit it today.

It's a start. I will say, I've had to be intentional already today to not turn on the television or some music. I know tonight at bedtime I'm really going to miss the television noise in the background. But, I am committed to this act of piety and whatever God can teach me through it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Fishing for People!

This Sunday, our youth went fishing! Special thanks to the Kleckley's for hosting us at their pond! We had a great time of fishing for bream and bass and also had some great fellowship! Addison Corley caught 8 or 9 fish with several others like Chancellor Cotten and Jamie Hunt catching nearly as many! Brandon Keisler and Kameron Keisler caught several, too. Jordan Sommer was the first to catch a fish! I even managed to catch a bass!

We kicked off our fishing with a quick devotion on Matthew 4:19 and the fact that Jesus calls us "fish" for people or "lure" others to the blessings of a Christian life!

Personally, I don't know that much about modern day fishing ... but I do know that certain types of bait attract certain types of fish. I mean, it seems to me that one wouldn't go fishing in the ocean with a cricket or in a pond with shrimp. And, I do know a little about fish because as a biology major in college, we studied these animals! I remember being fascinated by learning that fish, like humans, have all the senses except for the sense of touch. In fact, on a bright sunny day, if a large mouthed bass swims to the top of the water, can see just as well as you and I.

I also do know that when one goes fishing, there are some steps to take to have a successful expereince! First, a fisher-person must be properly equipped. To start one must think about what type of water is being fished? Ocean, freshwater, river? Then, there are bobbers, weights, hooks, different size fishing line, live bait like dough balls, grubs, or cut bait, artificial bait like spinners, plugs, spoons, or jigs to consider.
So when we are fishing for people, it is helpful if we are properly
equipped. To be properly equipped, we need to know something about the Bible
and be active in our relationship with God.

Secondly, I know that when fishing, one must be quiet. This is pretty much common sense, right? Think about when you tap on a fishbowl ... what happens? You see, fish have this part of their body called a lateral line. Lateral lines help a fish sense vibration and movement around them so that they can sense danger or movement around them. So it helps fish know what is going on around them!
So when fishing for people, sometimes we have to be silent too! In other
words, it's not always what we say that might attract someone to Jesus or the
church. It might also be our actions and the things that people see us doing
around them! How we act is so important because people are always watching
us! I challenged the youth to think about how their actions match up with
thier Christian values (i.e. when driving, when on the sports field, when with
their parents or friends).

The third and final thing that I know about fishing is that one has to be patient when fishing! I'm really, really bad at this, by the way! A fisher-person has to be patient because sometimes the fish don't bite right away! Howver, it helps to know some tricks and tips, too. For example, when bream fishing, the sun being out is almost a requirement! And an avid angler knows that the north bank of a pond would get sun the fastest so that would be the place to start fishing. Further, bream beds have a distinctive smell (slighly fishy/slightly sweet - sort of like watermellon). Despite knowing all of these tips and tricks, sometimes the fish just don't bite.
So when fishing for people, patience is a requirement for us! We should be
prepared for disappointment. Sometimes there are lots of people who want to
hear about Jesus and sometimes there are none.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wrestling by the River

Since our youth group theme for the year is "Gone Fishin," I've been studying in depth lots of different Scripture that deals with fishing, fisher-people, the disciples as fishermen, lakes/rivers, and boats. However, lately, I've been thinking through the story of Jacob wrestling with God/the angel by rhe river from Genesis 32. You can read it by clicking here if you don't know the story! In fact, I just finished writing a lesson for youth group in March where our youth use this story to focus on self-identity. After all, if we're called to be "fishers of people" then we might be the "bait" that attracts some one to Jesus, so we'd better know who we are!

Basically, in this story from Genesis 23, there's a man named Jacob, who wrestles an angel. Actually, the Bible is not totally clear on who it is that Jacob is wrestling – an angel, a man, God, perhaps. But they struggle hour after hour by the side of a river. And at daybreak the man says to Jacob, “Let me go!” and Jacob says to the man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And the man he’s been wrestling with says, “Well, what is your name?” This question, actually has a lot of history to it! Remember Jacob as in Jacob and Esau and the whole stealing of the birth-right thing?

Then I saw this video by Rob Bell (NOOMA) that adressed this particular topic! Bell's take on the stroy goes something like this:
This wrestling stroy takes place after the birth-right blessing story and Jacob has been struggling for a long time with who he is, exactly. But it is also more than that! You see, in the ancient near East (where Jesus was and this stroy takes place) your name was more than just words, your name was identity. Your name was reflective of your character, your substance, the very fiber that made you, YOU. Your name told who you are. So when this man that Jacob was wrestling with asked Jacob what is your name … ?” the real question I think he was asking is “Who we are.”
How much of our pain comes from not being able to answer that question?

Finally, this morning, God placed the stroy on my heart again (hence the reason I am sharing with you today)! I saw a status on facebook that came from Proverbs 4:23. It says: "Be careful what you think, becuase your thoughts run your life." As much as it convicted me to read this today, I really needed the reminder. I'd been looking at the stroy from the perspective of what I thought the message was that a teenager needed to hear about the story .... afterall, adolescence is certainly the most pronounced time for seeking to figure out who we are and know our self-identity. But, it's simply human nature (as an adult, teen, or sometimes even a child) to compare ourselves to others! Rob Bell puts it like this: "Some people are smarter, some people are stronger. Some people have more money. Some people have a certain body type. It’s just how it is. We’ll never live for ourselves if we’re constantly comparing ourselves to those around us."

I think Rob Bell is right when he says that the struggle of Jacob is the struggle of all of us! He reminds us in his NOOMA video "Name": "You and I have pasts, families we come from, mistakes we’ve made, things we’ve done, and where we’ve been and what we’ve done shapes who we are today. And so we have to embrace our story. You don’t have to be proud of it but you MUST claim it because it is yours."

I’m not sure that it was just by coincidence that Jesus chose fishermen to be his disciples. You see, fishermen in Jesus' day had to develop attributes that others did not have. They had to be skilled at their trade, knowing the when, where and why of fishing, but they also had to be patient, not easily discouraged, strong, hard-working and community- oriented. It seems to me, taking all of this into consideration, there is a deeper lesson for us here. If we don’t figure out how to be ourselves (whatever that is) and if we don't stop comparing ourselves to others and how we fall short of thier mark, we might miss the voice of God saying come follow me. And, we might miss the opportunity to be the bait – to inspire others to the rich, uncomparable life that God offers us at the riverside. Maybe sometimes God has to wrestle us to the ground to help us understand that. Do you feel the nudge?!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Love My Parents Dinner

This is the video our youth made for the I Love My Parents Dinner last night! Enjoy:

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 2011

In an effort to save printing and postage costs, all youth calendars/newsletters will now be posted on-line. Here's our January calendar!!!

January 2011