Thursday, August 23, 2007

Christmas Thoughts

I came across news yesterday about a group of churches who want to celebrate Christmas in a way that honors God. I have always struggled with a disconnect between Jesus and Christmas. So many of our celebrations and traditions have very little to do with him. Think of all the energy that people have spent, trying to squeeze Jesus into gift-giving, decorating and singing about snowmen.

Rick McKinley is pastor of Imago Dei, a church in Portland. His church got together with four other churches to begin a new way to do Christmas. They recognized four elements of the first Christmas and translated those elements into today’s world.

First, worship. People worshiped Jesus, and it changed their lives: the shepherds, Anna, Simeon, then later the magi.

Second, resisting the empire. Jesus’ coming was very subversive to the existing empire of Herod. But the subversion was not at all like Herod expected.

Third, relational giving. God’s gift to us was relationship through Jesus.

Finally, redistribution. Jesus became poor so that we could become rich. That’s the ultimate in redistribution of wealth.

This group of churches took those themes and applied them to real life in America. They urge Christ followers to

-Worship Jesus by focusing on him, not consumerism.
-Resist the empire by refusing over-spending at Christmas.
-Participate in relational giving with gifts such as pictures, art, or a trip to a ballgame or concert.
-Share in redistribution by giving to make a difference – to missions or to fight world hunger.

What really blows me away is the report that $10 billion will provide clean water for the entire world. Last year Americans spent $457 billion at Christmas.

What if all Christ followers viewed Christmas as a time to impact the world? Image the way that would really change the world.

See the article about Advent Conspiracy here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reflections on Week of Hope

Our Week of Hope with Group Workcamps was an unforgettable experience. I tried not to hog the space in our blogs from Canandaigua, NY, because I wanted you to hear more of the words from the troops. Now that we have been home for a few days, I’m ready to hog the space again.

My biggest take away from our mission trip is that the Holy Spirit is powerful! He took our experience to a whole ’nother level. He was able to overcome our confusion, discomfort, fatigue and disorganization, and he renovated our hearts.

The conditions of our lodging were less than ideal. The men/boys slept in the church basement/fellowship hall. You would think that the basement would be cool, but you’d be wrong. At least we had plenty of space. The women/girls slept upstairs in classrooms, two of which were air conditioned. Our group got the AC. God was watching over us. But with the slightly cooler air, they had too little floor space for the 10 of them. There was only room for seven air mattresses. It reminded me of Jesus’ parable when the friend didn’t want to answer the door in the middle of the night because his family were all asleep.

The worship times at night were held in the church sanctuary, which was built in 1872 – no lie. It did not have AC (duh), but had huge stained glass windows with small panels that opened. (We were told to close the windows at night to keep the bats out.) The music was led by a team from a youth group from Ohio. They tried their best, but had difficulty getting it all together.

The reason I mention the less-than-ideal elements is that God trumped them. So often we believe that spiritual work requires slick, professional presentation. (How did the Holy Spirit work before AC and video clips?) We don’t want to be sloppy in our corporate worship, of course, but Jesus can work around it. He can take our minds and souls to things higher than discomfort and disorganization. He can even use those difficulties to catapult us to a greater state of joy and spiritual sensitivity.

But for that to happen, we must be willing to forgo our “right” to comfortable conditions. We have to suspend our desire to critique arrangements and procedures. It takes a humble spirit to accept things as they are and look for God to show up.

He did show up. Lives have been changed in our youth group and in our youth leaders. The momentum in the Crossroads youth group is carrying on and spilling over to our church.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Day 4 by the Youth Group

Kristen: I am homesick and I want to go home! I miss you! *tear tear*

Ken: What a day, working and building relations with the residents of the Armstrong House. As good as the day was, the evening service was “Unbelievable”. That is the only word to describe last night. I would like each of the youth parents to know that your young adults are a really amazing group. I did not know how amazing, until last night. I will not go into too much detail, but each of the young adults in our youth group is a changed person. That you can believe. I am just thrilled that I got to experience the events that took place last night. God is sooooo Good!

Kathie: Today, we finally had a cushy day, like all the rest. We had to stain deck rails in the morning, but then we took the afternoon off and went to explore the Sonnenberg mansion and grounds. It was owned by the guy who started Citi Group back in the late 1800’s. BEAUTIFUL!!! Definitely worth a trip, next time you’re in Canandaigua. As Ken said, last night showed me just how awesome our youth are. I am amazed! God has blessed us all with this experience. I can’t wait to see all of you tomorrow – we will drive carefully, we promise!

Lisa: Our last day of work was fun, but bittersweet; the girls on my crew have gotten pretty close! We have enjoyed our work, and the agency seemed very appreciative. The evening service last night was very touching, and many “life-changing” decisions have been made! The group has a new sense of unity, and a definite sense of purpose and commitment. We are going to try to drive up to Lake Ontario in a while, so we can say we’ve seen a Great Lake! (A fun way to spend our 21st anniversary!) Can’t WAIT to see my sweet Sarah tomorrow!!!!!!!!

Becca: Hi people today was soooooooo awesome….I really don’t want to go but I would like to sleep in my bed and not on the floor anymore. And I have to say that I have a big step forward in well hard to say what it would classify as but I apologized to Dennis and mom so we’re totally cool well somewhat. Its not an over night thing to fix but I’m going to work on it. and I cried more last night then I have in like five years put together. And to tell you the truth that’s really, really sad but hey its okay. I’m going to miss some people at the nursing home. Some of those elderly folk can be a hoot. But any ways cant wait to get back home to see all my other peeps and sleep in my own bed… :P Loves you guys…love you grandma and grandpa and mom and Joey and everybody else.

Cecily: Well today, like last night, was so emotional. I cried like 3 times today. Last night everyone cried for like 4 hours straight (including Daniel.. who was sweet enough to let me cry on his shoulder). So of course when I woke up this morning my eyes were like swollen shut and I put makeup on anyways thinking that’s not gunna happen again today.. but guess what?! IT DID!!! Now I gotta go redo my makeup again!! This whole experience has been completely awakening and such an eye opener. I have gained so many true friends through this whole thing and I almost don’t want to come home. BUT.. BIG BUT… I defiantly cant wait until I can get home and sleep in Mardell’s guest bed and go “home”. I also cant wait to see HG –inside joke!! (aka: JOE my bf!!) Ok. Well, I guess you’ll here more from us on Sunday morning. There’s so many things to talk about but I’m sick of typing so yeah.. See y’all tomorrow or Sunday.

Daniel: today was very messy, our crew painted and repaired an elderly lady’s fence. I had to nail in new boards and repaint. It was very hot today. I also got stabbed by a nail while I was nailing it into the fence. I love you mom, Steve, and daddy.

David: It has been an incredible week. The Holy Spirit has gotten a hold of us He has worked in our individual lives and drawn us together. And it has been FUN! Serving Jesus and loving each other is a blast!

Stacey: Last nights service was amazing…everyone cried like all night. Well today our crew finished the nursing home projects. On our way home, the air conditioning broke and the window was stuck down so all the hot air was stuck in the car. We drove to the Friendly Ford Service Center and they were just really mean to us. [so much for the friendly part] So then we were on our way home and we got lost. Anyways, we had a good day so far. We are probably going to go see Lake Ontario later and then hopefully shopping. I made a lot of friends during this week, and I especially got really close to this girl named Joyce. It’s going to be pretty hard to say goodbye. Lauren, Daniel, and I went running again this morning. It felt pretty good to start running again. Well I’ll see y’all tomorrow and I love y’all.

Lauren: Let me just start off by telling [you’s guys] that my day didn’t end as crappy as it started. It was a very touching service, it was pretty much a serious, intense stations of the cross with one of those video clips that you just bawl through. Let me just tell you that this whole experience has not only made me closer to the Lord Jesus Christ, but our whole youth group has gotten so much closer and so much out of this. Now today, It was our last day, my crew actually met some new friends that will be joining our evening program tonight. It’s sad/exciting to leave tomorrow. I have had an incredible time, but yet my bed is calling my name! oh and I miss my mom. That’s all folks!

Brianna: ok, first of all I want to say to EVERYONE that is reading this that I LOVE THEM SOOOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH MY GOSH YALL!!!! Guess what! Im serious!! You will NOT believe this!!! I cried soooooooo hard for the first time for one of those worship services thingies!! I feel soooo proud of my self cuz, well first of all I cried (I know, aren’t you proud of me?)but what im really excited about is that I have a whole new look on life and my relationship with Jesus and a relation ship with ALL OF YOU THAT ARE READING THIS!!!! Im serious!!! Im not joking!!! I cried sooooo much last night. Mom if you are reading this right now call dad and tell him that I love him and that I miss him sooooooo much!!!!! I know it would mean more if it were coming from me, and I will tell him, but I still want you to say that. And Michael, I miss you sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much. I know you weren’t expecting me to even talk to you on here probly, but I love you sooo much. And I want yall (as in ALL THAT IS READING THIS) to know that God loves you even more than I do!! (I know that’s kinda hard to believe…but…(jk)) no but seriously I want you all to know that God loves you sooooooo much!!

Stephanie: Hey! Okay, this has been the craziest two days in the world for me. Yesterday, at the program, I cried like I have never before cried during one of those kind of things. The whole youth group was bawling like crazy (me, too) and everyone was hugging each other. I did not expect or dare to hope for what happened. Today was very, very, very fun but soooooo awful, too, because it was our last day working. As y’all know, I was working with Hispanic kids all week. I learned SO much Spanish it isn’t even funny!! I can actually understand enough Spanish to converse with the kids now!!!!!!!! And then, WE HAD TO JUST LEAVE FOREVER. That was one of the saddest, hardest things that has ever happened to me. It is so amazing how you can grow so close to some kids that you will probably (actually, like, definitely) never see again in only four days. That was so cool! I will never forget them no matter what. The car ride back to the church where we are staying was awesome! I was with my crew and we are like so tight now!! Luna is Chinese and she taught us how to say things. She taught this kid named Austin how to say something, and then she told him it meant, “I am stupid” in Chinese. He said it so funny! It looked like he was choking on a hard-boiled egg!! I laughed as hard as I think I have ever laughed in my life!!! I am going to miss everyone so much. I hate to leave, but I miss everyone at home so much, too. I y’all rock and I can’t wait to see you again!!!!!! See you Sunday!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Day 3 by the Youth Group

Kristen: Hey everybody miss ya all! Hope you guys are havng fun without me. I MISS YOU DAWN!! Have a great time and make sure that you miss me. I went Jogging with stacy and Daniel. It was fun! Today we got to swim at the camp I was working at. I am ready for bed and soo tired! Boredom will overwhelm me for today but tomorrow we are going on a tarp water slide at the camp! I am pretty excited about that! I met a little girl named Taylor who was four. She was so cute. We had only been hanging out for like 20 minutes at the pool and she was already swimming with me and hugging me. She is nothing like Dawn(dawn’s way better) but she was cute. She gets kind of attached easily but she was nice. Any ways…I miss you all and I an’t wait to get back home. I’m a little home sick so I am looking forward to being with mom. My foot is asleep right now so I have to go and loosen it up. Love you all! BYE!!!!

Daniel: This morning Stacey, Kristin, and I went running down Main Street in Canadaiga. We finished up at the school and church today. Tomorrow we are going to paint a fence for an elderly lady. The principal took us out for ice cream. Love Y’all.

Becky: Today has been good so far I’m just totally waiting for bedtime to get here. Anyways ummm I played poker with a guy named Bob and he’s total cheat and I beat two people at war…yay! Tomorrow we’re going to wal-mart and I’m totally broke well not really but I might as well be. But hey that’s cool. I’m having a blast. Ok well that’s all for now peeps…showin some southern love. Peace out.

Cecily: Today my crew continued working at the assisted living place. I helped vacuum the dining area and play a horse racing game. We also had the senior “store” today. That’s where the owner goes to the actually dollar store and buys things for the residents that cant get out and they get the opportunity to but those things from him. We set 4 tables up with stuff and we had a great turnout. I also learned how to say I love you in polish!! Tonight I have a surprise for the youth group!! They don’t know it yet but tonight in our devotion time with all the groups combined.. not only do I get to do a drama with a couple other kids, but I get to cheer with this guy named T.J. It is our all-star salute to Jesus. Only 2 kids get to do it a night. Im excited.

Stacey: Today Susan[our volunteer leader from the nursing home] took us to the “beach”. Joyce and I fell asleep on the picnic tables. Our crew finished all of our tasks at the nursing home and now we think we are just going to get to relax…hopefully. At the “beach” today we walked in the water and then we went to see a lighthouse. We got to climb up to the top of it. [52 steps!] This morning, Daniel, Kristine, and I went running down Main Street for about 2 miles. [my cross country training!] We got up at about 5 in the morning..ahh. well I love y’all.

Stephanie: Hey! Yesterday, we went to lake Onana. The water was freezing cold! The bottom was pure gravel all the way out in the middle. When I went under water, it felt like I was diving into an ice block. Then, we went to Applebee’s and played telephone. It was way fun!! Today was fun (again). I played with the kids some more and there’s one girl named Elena who doesn’t speak any English at all. I was teaching her how to say stuff in English like nose and mouth and eyes and stuff and all of a sudden she just jumped in my lap and hugged me. It was sooooooo sweet!!! Then, in the afternoon, I painted a little and then I shoveled gravel from one pit to another for no apparent reason. It’s been a pretty good day but my crew leader just got rushed to the hospital in an ambulance for bad stomach pain like two seconds ago, though, so PLEASE pray for him. Also, there is a guy here who, every time he opens his mouth, talks badly about “you southern people”. It gets on my nerves so bad!!!! I am so gonna sleep good tonight!!!!!!!! So much has happened! Well, hope y’all are doing well at home. Luv ya!!

Ken: What a day!!! It is soooo hot and humid, but we have had a great time at the Assisted Living home. We worked very hard, but also had time to visit. The youth in my crew are having such great life experiences by visiting with the residents. Last night we had our free night, and we went to Onanda Park,, and out to eat at Applebee’s. The group really bonded, especially during dinner (telephone). We also had a great devotion time covering the topic of Love. The youth really amaze me with their willingness to be open and share some really special experiences and feelings. Thank all of you for trusting us with your kids. They are really growing closer together and closer to God. I can not wait to see everybody when we get home.
Love ya!!

Kathie: Today was spent clearing wisteria vine and trimming trees. The owners and tenants are so appreciative of everything we have done. In my opinion, I have the best crew around. All the teens are such hard workers, and the other adult is a fun guy to be with. We are having the best time teasing and laughing, and our devotions after lunch are really deep. I can’t believe that tomorrow is the last work day!

Brianna: Hey yall Stokesdale country folk!!! I miss you soooooo much!!!!! But it wont be long till I see ya again!!!!!! GUESS WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
I got to play UNO all day today and we were barely ever outside! And we talked to this guy named FRED and he really appreciated us being his “audience”. He said he really loved us. It was kinda neat cuz we were mostly doing outside work till today and we never really got to talk to the veterans that much. So I had a good day!!! Hope I get back home to a nice big pack of happy and healthy friends and family!!!! 

Lisa: Today my crew cleaned out the food pantry at the agency we’ve been helping. (They have a mouse problem; it is apparently my destiny to deal with mice and food stores!) We also delivered lunches again to the kids. My group has lots of fun together, and some seriously deep discussions. Today the theme is “peace”, and we talked about how peace is not just the absence of conflict, but something much more abiding; it’s a wholeness of spirit that only comes from Christ. We discussed ways to have Christ’s peace even in the midst of hard/uncomfortable times. All our youth are doing GREAT, and everyone is well and happy. (We have our share of headaches, sore muscles, and sleep deprivation, but all in all life is good!!) I don’t know who is having the BEST time, but nobody is having a bad time!

Lauren: Today wasn’t the best day, didn’t feel all too well, but HEY! No complaints. Another day at Avalanche Ranch [*insert wahoo here]. We went to the lake afterward, and I got one of them farmer’s tans. Well, I don’t know what to say really, but don’t get me wrong it’s been the time of my life, and it was so worth coming. In fact, if the whole church could come it would be worth it. I feel better now, this is kind of a waste of space for those who read this, I know how boring he is. I feel a little better now, well chao.

David: God is turning our youth group into a bunch of crazy people. But that’s OK. It’s a lot of fun! The fun has helped us cope with the heat. (It’s never this hot here, except of course when we are here.) My crew finished staining the deck around the swimming pool today. While we were working, the man’s dog (actually his son’s) got stung by hornets nested inside the dog’s kennel. The dog could not escape until he braved the bugs and opened the gate. Poor dog got stung maybe a hundred times. They took him to the vet, who gave the dog Benedryl. We prayed for the dog (Wesley). I hope this will be a witness of God’s compassion to the man and his family.
Meredith: I don’t have a whole lot to say today. So um hi. And uhhh tomorrows the last day. Uhmmm bye bye.

Day 2 by the Youth Group

Some of these blogs were written on Tues, and some on Wed. morning...

Becky: Today was totally rockin’ babes!!!! I mean seriously rockin’ and I talked with this guy named Don who is blind. He collects postcards and I think he has over 1,000 of them and there all in abc order and by state. So I helped him do that most of the day. I’m soooo hyped peeps. This like totally rockin. I think I’ve said that like soo many times already but its true. And the program from last night really hit a sore spot for me and I think a few other people. But it really made me think about some things. Well that’s really all I can think of to say so peace out peoples.

Meredith: Mmk yall. I don’t have a whole lot to say…we went on a picnic today  WERE GOING TO STARBUCKS BABY!! Yeahh…I miss yall <3

Kristen: today (yesterday) was really fun. The lake was a little cold but we bested Lauren’s team in B-ball! Today’s been fun but people have been imitating my accent! They still love FURRCRACKER! Lol! Neways, I miss you all and I hope ou all are having a great time cuz I know I am!! Well back to reality: Brianna talked in her sleep last night and Stacey rolled over onto Becca and yelled, “PERT”! I didn’t sleep to well last night but I had a boatload of fun!
Lots of love,
Kristen M.

Stacey: I absolutely love my crew! They are amazing. They make fun of my accent but that’s ok. It’s cool. Today we had a water fight and we are gardening in a nursing home. We are getting ready to go to starbucks and the lake. Tonight is our free time..FUN FUN! Tomorrow our crew is going to take a tour of the city and then we will go to the beach! Yeah so im pretty much in love with my work crew. I just drank 78 grams of sugar in a vault and I’m soooo hyper. They call soda pop and I think its HILARIOUS! Love y’all.

Daniel: I’ve been cleaning so many windows. Love y’all.

Stephanie: Hey again!! We made breakfast this morning but we really didn’t do much but set out stuff like cereal and fruit and coffee. Today at the work place we played with the Hispanic kids again and finished painting the storage building we started yesterday. It was WAY hotter than yesterday! Tonight we’re gonna go to a lake and Starbucks (YES!!!) for free time. The programs are pretty good and we learned a dance to one of the songs and we did it up front. I’m getting to know my crew even better and I love them so much!! There are two other girls and a boy. Oh yeah and I finally found some people that talk weird. It’s really hard to understand them sometimes. They think I talk weird, too. The people in my crew think that NC is soooooooo far south. One kid asked my if I had ever seen snow!! Lol! It’s a lot of fun up here and I’m gonna hate to leave on Friday. Hope you all are having fun, too!! Luv y’all!

Lauren: Wear clothing of love, don’t forget your pants. There was a really sad story about a young boy named Gary, that I will be more than welcome to share when I arrive, I’m not going to ruin it now. I am having a blast, playing telephone at AppleBee’s? (bet you never done that before!) I love our dance that we learned, which will definitely be shown Sunday. Well I’m off! Hope to see all of you soon. [=

Brianna: hey yall Stokesdale southern folk!!! I miss yall back home!!! My crew is really cool!! In my crew people are from all over the place!! Brady, my crew leader, is from MICHIGAN!!! And there is a girl named sara, and she’s from Pennsylvania and Jen is from Ohio, and Sam is from Neo Jersey, and Alex is from Iowa!!!! I told ya they were from all over!!! Guess what!!! I sleep talked last night!!! No one could understand what I was saying but they all said that I had a whole conversation in my sleep!!! Thanx for congratulating me!! (jk) im missing you all and I hope I come back home to happy and healthy friends and family!!! Luv yall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cecily: Today we went on a picnic with like 5 old people. Then we went to the old people happy hour and sang take me out to the ball game while they all drank. I don’t feel like typing a lot today. I’m not sick.. I’m just tired and completely out of patience. Oh yeah, and I think I got another bladder infection. Awesome. Miss y’all.

Ken: Today our crew continued painting at the assisted living house, but we also took half the day to organize and put on a little festival for the residents. This included horseshoes, memory games, croquet and a ball toss. This allowed us to connect with some of the residents on a more personal level. I really enjoyed talking to Nan (96) and George (95). Last night we had a real powerful message, and afterwards, we had our group devotion for almost two hours. That’s right, your kids talked about the message, their thoughts, and how we can all Forgive better. God is really present here, and I can see each of the youth experiencing him. What an experience this is. I am sooo excited to be a part of this. Miss you all.

Kathie: Today I taught my crew how to say “aw-ite”, and Karina (our Jersey girl) taught us how to say “Baw-ston” and “caw-fee”. We spent our time pulling briars and painting the storage building (6 hours of fun!). Seriously, the woman we are helping is so nice. Evidently she and her husband have had medical problems, and haven’t been able to do any of this type of maintenance for a couple of years. The have 2 boarders, and the woman boarder is one of the most God filled, joyful people I have ever met. It’s people like this that make it all worthwhile!!

Lisa: Today, our crew washed out the service van we use to deliver the lunches to local kids. We had a good time of fellowship within our crew, and enjoyed sharing about “God sightings”, forgiveness (yesterday’s theme), and love (today’s theme). Our goal today was to get the agency workers who go with us talking more; we had limited success! Last night our kids helped lead the worship time by dancing (on-stage) to the theme song. (Kathie and I confined our dancing to the aisles.) We are having a great time, and appreciate how much we see God in your kids!

David: On Tuesday we began staining a deck for a family with special needs. They have a 13 year old daughter who is disabled. She can’t walk or talk. Her mother also has some health issues. We began the process of staining yesterday and will finish today. The family is very nice and making the job easy for us. They also have a pool, and so they will let us swim today after we finish the work. Everyone is ragging me about having a cushy assignment.