Today I Saw God
The first email arrived in my inbox on June 20, 2017, from Floris' worship leader, Megan Gumabay as a general distribution email and read in part as follows:
"We have some exciting opportunities for volunteering with our student ministry. Ashley is currently seeking adult leaders for upcoming student mission trips, and she felt praise team members would be great in this role. Please contact Ashley or me if you want to discuss this in further detail with her."
I thought, hey I am pretty busy with my praise team and consulting / handyman work and family, so I just said to myself, someone else will step up.
The 2nd email arrived in my inbox on June 26th, 2017, merely six days later from a close friend in the Emmaus Community, again in a general distribution email, but with a little more urgent feel to it and read in part:
I just received a message from Ashley Allen saying that, sadly, all Floris Youth Mission trips may have to be canceled due to lack of a sufficient number of adult chaperone volunteers."
Again, I ignored the email. Hey, I said this time to myself, I have done more than 17 mission trips, and this trip would be with 6th, 7th and 8th graders what could they possibly do or for that matter, what could I do? I know can handle leading adults and High School age young adults on mission trips as I have done many times, but I'm sure someone else will step up.
The THIRD email arrived in my inbox on June 27th, merely a day later and it was directed to me specifically by our youth director/pastor Ashley Allen:
I hope this finds you well and enjoying the start of the summer!
As you know,mission trip time is fast approaching for student ministries! Unfortunately, we are at risk of having to cancel all of our trips this year.
This reality is painful to even think about. We have not yet had the leaders step forward this year that we need to honor our child protection policy for each of these trips which, as you can imagine is non-negotiable for us. Tim Wells shared your name as someone who is not only a willing servant but also might be available to go on one of these trips.
We are in need of one more male to be a leader on our middle school trip with the Jeremiah Project to Romney, WV.
I would be so grateful for your prayerful consideration of this opportunity. I know that you would be a blessing to our students and that you would also be blessed by serving with them. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you so much!"
OK, OK, OK GODI hear you loud and clear! I need to put aside my pre-judging of what I THINK about leading a team of middle school youth and remember that I am being called to be part of something larger and that only God knows what that is, or will be. I picked up the phone and called Ashley – but only after extracting the splinters in my face from the 2×4 piece of lumber God hit me with and said to her – Yes I would go and lead the middle school youth.
Stepping up to lead this trip was truly difficult for me. I have been actively engaged in mission trips since my first mission trip just three months after Katrina hit in Mississippi in August 2005 and spent Thanksgiving week in Bay St. Louis gutting homes inundated by 20-30 feet of storm surge. Since that first mission trip 12 years prior, I have been on at least 16 more mission trips, including multiple trips where I served as the construction lead or co-lead for high school youth and other adults. Still, I kept thinking what can 6th, 7th, or 8th graders do in a week and how can they possibly be a part of the Body of Christ that I had "labeled" in my mind as only inclusive to older youth and adults. I have a bad habit of pre-judging individuals and work daily to fight this sin. In this particular instance, God had other plans.
I had a chance to present a talk at a recent Walk to Emmaus weekend about what makes up the Body of Christ and this trip to Romney, WV for the Jeremiah Project changed my view on who is the Body of Christ forever.
Let's start with what is the Body of Christ? When we became Christians, we became new persons (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:14-16). We became part of a group of people with a common calling: to belong to Jesus Christ. No matter where we are or what we do or who we are, we are joined together like parts of a new body to reflect in the world the Christ in whose image we are created. This new body, comprised of all Christians, is known as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-20). You and I and all Christians everywhere make up the working parts of that body, the church universal.
The body of Christ is, however, more than the community of Christians everywhere. This term also describes the church fulfilling its mission in the world.
The body of Christ is the community of disciples united by faith in Christ and response to Jesus' call to "Follow me," to be the church wherever they are. The body of Christ continues Christ's ministry in the world today.
The body of Christ shows itself in various forms such as:
- a) a local congregation
- b) an ecumenical mission formed of different faith backgrounds
- c) a family seeking to live in faith
- d) wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name.
Who makes up the Body of Christ? The church is more than its building, its' organizational structure, and institutions, or its' appointed leaders. Though all of these are important aspects and features, sometimes people mistake these for the church. Instead, the church refers to all the people of God who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seek to continue Christ's life and ministry wherever they are. The Body of Christ is comprised of both laity and clergy who are meant to support one another and work as a team. We should not expect pastors to carry an entire load of taking the gospel to the world.
Laity is those who serve by being witnesses to the living Christ and carrying the gospel into their homes, workplaces, communities, and institutions that shape the lives of people.
Clergy is those who serve by fostering Christian community, interpreting God's Word, administering the sacraments, and equipping the saints for doing ministry in their world.
Both Laity and clergy are never in competition.
Each individual Christian is an important member of the body of Christ. But it is important for individuals to form groups that can join resources to foster faith and act together to impact society.
In the Bible there is no limitation on the age of whom the Body of Christ is to be comprised.
Jesus was clear in scripture as well, for example, in Matthew 19:14 New International Version (NIV):
14Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
The Christian family is also an expression of the body of Christ. Strong churches need the involvement of families, not just individuals. Families have been called the "domestic church"the place where people's lives are most deeply shaped. The family of faith has always been seen as the foundational setting for Christian education and faith formation.
However, even though I was familiar with what Jesus had preached, I remained stubborn and continued to believe that middle-school youth were not really a part of the Body of Christ.
By now you are probably wondering how that mission trip to West Virginia with the Jeremiah Project turned out? Well, it was held in a 4-H center, but without any air conditioning in the middle of July and every day was at or above 90 degrees! Furthermore, it was REALLY loud with a total of 71 middle school youth at the camp from multiple churches, but going on this mission trip was the best decision I have ever made and forever changed my view of who makes up the Body of Christ and what we can do as part of that Body.
At the Jeremiah Project, they mix up the teams and leaders. I was assigned 5 youth for the week, but no co-leader. Normally, we rotate jobs Monday and Tuesday, with an off day on Wednesday, then work again Thursday and Friday and depart Saturday. Because of my experience in construction, our team was the only team that was assigned to work on one project for Monday and Tuesday while other teams rotated work sites daily. Our work included cutting pickets for railings, digging post holes, pouring footers, building stringers and supports to complete a 20' long ramp for wheelchair access from a deck to a gravel driveway.
We finished our first project on Tuesday. Wednesday night, after we had our team day off to relax, I was called in to the construction leaders' office to help design an urgently needed low rise 8' length of stairs for an elderly woman, 82 years of age, who was on oxygen and used a walker. She has not been able to leave her trailer without assistance more than 12 years due to not having a properly sloped/constructed ramp. Her grandson would have to carry her out of the trailer when she needed to get out to doctors appointments. We could not build the 40' ramp needed due to lack of funds, but we could build something.
I informed my team on Thursday morning that we were going to another location do build stairs/digging holes and framing and was greeted with "Mr. Scott, other teams are painting and landscaping.why can't we do these other jobs?" I said, we do what we are asked to do and serve as requested. We loaded up the van and headed to the home some 40 minutes away. During the trip I explained the project and the urgent need. There was silence for a brief second but immediately followed by grumblings about digging, rock removal, drilling and not being able to paint or landscape, as other teams were doing. When we arrived, we went inside this old trailer and were met by Ms. Emma (not her real name) and her grandson. She was seated in a chair with her oxygen tube and tank nearby. Introductions were given and then discussion started. She shared with us her life history, the medical and structural reasons for her confinement and thanked us for being there.
Then, without hesitation, she told us that 6 months prior she had "died". She remembers being put in the ambulance at the top of her driveway and hearing the medic saying "uh-oh, this is not good". She was clinically dead until resuscitated by the EMTs in route to the hospital — and awoke in Winchester hospital. She shared about her seeing a bright light, feeling warm and not being afraid of death ever again. In fact, she was truly looking forward to reuniting with her husband and other family members who have preceded her in death and are waiting in heaven.
Oh, and then she added that this was the second time she had died.the first time she died had happened six months prior. The entire room became completely silent (which was rare) as we, especially the youth, absorbed what we had just heard had been experienced by Ms Emma.
That day we built the stringers, posts and cut all the treads and the youth worked tirelessly and efficiently. The day ended and I knew we would leave without having finished the project. But I was grateful to know another team would be there tomorrow to finish. We prayed as a team holding hands with Ms Emma.
On the ride back to camp, my team, who earlier that day were begging to paint or landscape asked if I could request from the camp leaders if our team could return to finish the job on Friday. Our request was granted. We returned. We finished.
I am so glad that God hit me with that 2×4 in the face because it is important to remember, we ALL are the Body of Christ. Age and grade do not matter to God, only what we can do for others.
The post The Body of Christ is Everyone, Including Middle Schoolers! appeared first on Today I Saw God.
Editor's Note: This week 16 middle school students and fiveleaders traveled to Romney, West Virginia to participate in the Jeremiah Project. The following are updates from two of the students on the trip.
I went to the Jeremiah Project this year. I want to share what it was like on the worksite. You have to wear jeans at the site, and it is very hot. You have to drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
On the first day you get put on a work team. Your team creates a name for the week. After breakfast, you put in your lunch order and a team member packs a cooler. Then you head out to your site.
Some of the jobs include painting, carpentry or cleaning. One of the hardest jobs is silver sealing. Everything gets sticky and it's very annoying. It was a lot of fun. I loved JP.
Submitted by Wyatt Byrd.
Was there something memorable that a resident said to you on the trip?
Never give up no matter how much work it takes.
What did God show you or say to you on this trip?
God truly does work in mysterious ways.
What was fun or exciting about your service?
Getting to work with people, getting to know them and making new friends.
Submitted by Lindsay Byrd.
It is so refreshing to see your newly decorated caps and gowns, photos on the quad and smiling announcements on social media. Whether from high school, college or graduate school, graduation often symbolizes new beginnings and bright futures. However, I also remember a fair share of anxiety around these milestone moments. As we prepare to honor our graduating seniors at Floris United Methodist Church Sunday, June 4, I want to take a minute to address some of the stress and anxiety that so many experience.
Our culture tends to always focus on tomorrow. "What's next?" "Where are you going?" "What are you doing with your life?" This is true of almost any phase, but I can think of no worse time than high school and college for these piercing questions. "Have you chosen your major yet?" "Which college will you go to?" "Are you sure you want to go to a liberal arts school?" "What is your career track?" "Do you have an internship lined up?"
I wish I could tell you that this anxiety-producing conversational style would end after college, but it doesn't. Instead, the questions simply shift a little. "When are you going to settle down?" "Why are you still renting?" "Why aren't you married?" "You know, you are getting a little old. Aren't you worried you won't be able to have children?" People get in such a frenzy over other people's tomorrows that they barely let you enjoy today.
When I was in high school, I hadn't really figured out my future, and this seriously stressed me out. As it turns out, I never really mastered predicting the future, which tells me fortune telling is probably not in my life plan. This is still disappointing. Even in college I had no idea that my chosen career path in education would later come to a screeching halt so I could pursue worship leadership. Slightly older Megan still had no idea what she was doing, and I'm pretty sure I can say the same about my present self.
I see this as a common worry amongst my younger musicians as they fumble about, trying on different titles to see how they feel. Psychologist? Doctor? Musician? Dog walker? CIA operative? However, I'd encourage you to relax a little. It's okay. You're going to be okay. Choosing the wrong school or major freshman year will not ruin your life. It's important to do work, make plans and be responsible, but there is no eleventh commandment that states, "Thou shalt get your life together by eighteen and map out a plan for your entire future by twenty-two." Honestly I don't even think it's possible to have your entire life planned even by forty-two or fifty-two. My experience has taught me that God's will and call on my life might morph and change over time. What is appropriate for me now might not be where God leads me a year from now.
God does not call us to have the perfect plan. Rather, God calls us to abide in him. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love each other. Those are the most important commandments. The right career path will reveal itself to you, but often it is easier to discern God's calling in your life when you are truly in relationship with God. When you start to feel overwhelmed with applications, deadlines and an uncertain future, take a minute and return to God's word. Abide in him and carve out time for prayer and meditation. You never know what door God might open or what answer might be provided in the quiet stillness of prayer or while diving into a Bible study.
It's also important during this stressful time that you remember God's call to love others. Kindness and generosity are forgotten relics when we become hyper-focused on accomplishing our next task or getting from point A to point B. When you're considering blowing off your family gathering because you need one more hour to study, don't. Give yourself a break and actually spend time with your loved ones.
For those of you in high school, you might soon be leaving your childhood home forever. You will revisit, but it will never feel the same as it does right now. Some day you'll miss waking up to breakfast on the weekends or late night chats with your sister. That annoying brother will not have as many opportunities to poke fun at you again, and you'll even miss the "Dad jokes." Hug your mom a few extra times and help your sibling with their homework. This time is precious.
For those of you leaving college, there will never be another time like this in your entire life. Embrace your friends, laugh all night and soak in the experiences. Spend some time lounging on the quad and barbecuing with neighbors on their tiny, beat-up grill with cheap frozen hamburger patties you bought by scamming off your parents' Costco membership. If you are too focused on what's next, you'll miss out on the beauty of this special moment.
So go forth, my darling little graduates. Like so many others in your life, I'm overwhelmingly excited for what the future holds for you. However, I'm just as excited for the experiences you are capturing right now. Hold on to them, enjoy them and forget about tomorrow for a minute so you can truly appreciate today.
An old(er) person who gets called "ma'am" occasionally
Editor's Note: This week 24 high school students and five leaders traveled to Reading, Pennsylvania to repair and transform homes and to strengthen and transform their own faith. The following is a blog post from one of the students, Grace Brady.
Who are we serving this week?
We are serving veterans who live in Reading, Pennsylvania. These people helped us by serving in the military, and now we get to help them.
Can you describe your resident?
My resident is a veteran who volunteered for the military at only 18 years old and served in Vietnam.He grew up in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and then moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, where he met his wife. His wife is a super sweet woman who was very happy to see us. He also has a son who we didn't get to talk to. However, we got to meet hisgrandson who was a shy but sweet kid; he showed my leader an origami tie. The couple is religious, and the man is ina veteran and religious group. They even gave us Bibles.
What is the crew experience like?
Everyone in my crew, besides the leader, has never been to a work camp before, but we all bonded really well and are gettingalong.
Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex. This is one of the first things our fabulous pastor, Ashley Allen, told us to say to the person sitting next to us. To put it in one word, this was the topic of discussion throughout the 2016 High School Spring Retreat. To put it in three pillars, as another leader, Dan Willerth, called them, we discussed self-worth, self-gratification and boundaries. All of these three pillars were under the roof of God. God plays a huge role in all three of these, and until this weekend I was a little fuzzy on what that meant.
The first night we got there, Pastor Tim Ward jumped right into things. He talked about self-worth. I know this is a topic many people my age, including myself, struggle with. Tim talked about our creation. We read almost the entire first chapter of Genesis, and with every creation, "It was good." It was not until God created man that it was "very good." See, we aren't just good, we are very good. God spent time on making each and every one of us in his image. Sometimes it is hard to believe that. Sometimes we feel we are just okay. It is hard to believe that a God so great, almighty, powerful and wonderful spent time on someone as ordinary as me. This was the point Tim made: we are not ordinarywe are created in God's image, which is the most amazing thing God could have done for us.
Tim also talked about sex, which was expected because that was the theme of the retreat. He talked about how God created sex as a good thing; however, our society today has morphed it into something selfish and bad. Society has made us think that sex is no big deal, that it's "chill." But it is not chill. God created sex as something as sacred and special as you are. Tim also explained how you are never unworthy of God's love, which is what makes God so incredible. No matter how far off from God's path you think you have gone, you are never too far because God will never stop loving you no matter what.
Tim told us a story about a woman who thought she had messed up too many times and that God could never love her because of her mistakes. He told her, and he told us, that it is never too late to go back to Godhis grace and mercy is too great. She said no one had ever told her that, and Tim didn't want us to go through life never hearing that either so he reiterated that you are never too far from God. So, I am telling all of you that tooit is never too late, because he loves you.
Well, going from that first night I knew it was going to be a long weekend, in the best sort of way. The discussion only got more personal from there. Dan Willerth, also known as DW2, kicked off day two. Dan talked about self-gratification and pornography, which is not something you hear about at church…like ever! Not only did we hear from Dan about this subject, but we also heard from Pastor Tom Berlin. We were in disbelief that Tom was speaking to us about the issue of pornography. We were blessed to receive his video message about this topic, and I heard words come out of his mouth that I never thought I would hear from the lead pastor at my church.
Dan talked about giving and receiving when it comes to sex and sexual behavior, and he talked about how self-gratification is a form of receiving that kind of cheats the system. By watching pornography and engaging in self-gratification, you are not experiencing sex the way God intended it. Dan mentioned echad, the Hebrew word meaning "one, altogether or unity in God." Immediately my mind pictured a triangle with you and your significant other on the bottom two corners and God at the top. In a relationship, the couple should work to move toward God together in unity, or echad. God should always be at the top of the triangle, the ultimate goal.
After lunch we once again heard from the lovely Ashley Allen. Ashley talked about boundaries. She spoke not only of sexual boundaries but also of substance boundaries and emotional boundaries. Ashley talked about how important it is to set boundaries for yourself before you are put in a situation where your boundaries are tested. This is something many people struggle with. Most people have boundaries, or they think they have boundaries, and when these boundaries are tested they begin to get pushed further and further back. Ashley reiterated the importance of setting firm boundaries, so that if they are tested they will stay strong.
We finished off the weekend with something that spoke to a lot of people, including myself. We were each given a rock and a Sharpie and told to write on the rock. The leaders told us to write something on the rock that was holding us down. Something weighing on our shoulders that was preventing us from moving forward on our journey with God. We then brought those rocks down to the lake and threw them as far as we could, ridding ourselves of whatever had been on our minds for so long. I can honestly say that after I threw that rock into the water, I felt immediate relief. It was as if a weight had been lifted, like I didn't have to carry around what I wrote on my rock anymore.
After throwing our rocks into the lake we returned to the building and found rocks on our chairs with the Bible verse of Isaiah 55:8-9 written on them. This verse says, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" We are not perfect, we are human and we make mistakes, but God knows this. We should all strive to show God's love but not to be God, because that is impossible. God has the power to forgive, no matter what mistakes are made or how far we stray, and God will never stop loving you.
This post was submitted by Emily Heier.