Achievement, Celebration, and Transition

May is when we normally celebrate our graduating seniors.  Our Grill Masters competition was birthed out of this celebration and we’ve now added the Sweet Treats prize as well.  It’s a milestone that for a lot of us is a distant memory.  But for Olivia Thomas it’s just over the horizon and I know she’s excited and prepared for what lies ahead of her.

I have the privilege of working with young people usually from their middle school through their high school years, but I’ve known Olivia for most of her life.  What a blessing it has been to watch her grow up and go through all the stages.  We’ve shared a lot of life here from VBS to Great Escape to Fall/Winter Retreats to Mission Trips to Chrysalis and much more.  It’s been one of those journeys when you know the young person is in it for the right reasons.  That’s been the case with Olivia.  Her heart is tender, her attitude is humble, and she has a great work ethic that she has shared on so many occasions with our group.

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Lent to Easter

Most of you have been in this for a while.  By this, I mean you have been followers of Jesus and the Way for several years.  On Ash Wednesday, we had a service where we began a journey over 40 days leading up to Easter.  It’s a time of self-reflection, a time to contemplate your life and your personal journey with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  For several, it’s a time to give up something that may be getting in the way of that relationship.  Or you may have chosen to add more prayer time, scripture reading time, or time serving others.  The journey, though, is not just limited to 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  It’s true that this is a time when we reflect, but what about before and after?

On March 3rd and 4th we hosted a youth retreat here for middle and high schoolers from 5 different churches in our Presbytery.  We spent a good amount of our time together going through an exercise of self-reflection on where we feel we are in our individual journeys with God.  To be honest I had high expectations of what God would do during our time together.  When you work with teenagers though, what you expect doesn’t always happen the way you think it should.  And that’s okay.  Over the years I’ve learned that God is in the business of touching and changing hearts.  My job is to point them toward Him.

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There are certain things that catch my attention.  Survival intrigues me.  For some reason, I have this interest in how folks live off grid and completely on the land.  There are shows that help fuel my interest and teach how to succeed, and quite frankly how not to do some things too.  Mountain men are examples of those who have chosen lives that put them out of the rat race of society, but in a never-ending battle to survive.  "Live Free or Die" is a show that depicts the lives of those who have moved out of the mainstream into secluded, and sometimes isolated existences, living off the land with only their own two hands and the wits they’ve gained through experience.  One show that I have been watching recently is “Alone”.  It's about a group of experienced survival experts who were dropped off in the wilderness of Patagonia with just a few essential items, and then left alone to survive until everyone else quits. It’s getting down to the finale and only 3 are left, two women and one man.  As it is in all of life, there are lessons to be learned, even from survival shows, about us and our relationship with God.

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Saint Valentine

We are approaching a month that, for some merchants, contains a huge holiday.  Valentine’s Day is a holiday for which people purchase cards, chocolates, and flowers for spouses, significant others, and friends.  About a billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year.  This makes it the second largest seasonal card exchange time of the year.  More than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine's Day.  Over $1 billion worth of chocolate is purchased for Valentine's Day in the U.S.  189 million stems of roses are sold in the U.S. for Valentine's Day.  73 percent of people who buy flowers for Valentine's Day are men, while only 27 percent are women.

Most folks don’t know the story of St. Valentine.  He was a priest who was imprisoned for performing weddings for Roman soldiers.  Why would someone be imprisoned and ultimately executed for performing weddings?  Well, it seems that the Roman emperor at this time, Claudius, didn’t want his soldiers married.  He believed that marriage would affect the soldier's loyalty to him and the soldier's willingness and ability to fight.  Rumor has it that before Valentine was executed, he penned a note to the jailer’s daughter and signed it "Your Valentine."  You can fact check me on this, but it’s interesting that this holiday of sharing with loved ones had its origin in the pursuit of protecting and promoting the framework of the family, a husband and wife.

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My ability to remember things seems to be on a slippery slope.  How about you?  I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or something else, but it’s kind of scary to not be able to retrieve those things that once came easily.  I want to focus on those positive things that have impacted my life and forget the negative, but it can be a challenge at times to do so.  God has given us so much to be thankful for and nothing we can attain this side of heaven compares to the unmatched security and peace of knowing that God has pursued us, loves us, and wants us regardless of what we’ve done or haven’t done.  It is an attitude of gratitude that I must constantly try to remember to keep, regardless of the positives or negatives of life.  No one can take away my security of being in Christ and Him in me period, end of story, drop the mic, that’s it!  So that’s what we have and that’s more than enough, don’t you think?!  Jesus tells us to remember Him in our communion times, which are not limited to just those moments of worship, but also during each step, breath, and moment of our lives.  Remember how much you are loved, and allow that knowledge to penetrate every area and aspect of your life.

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Recently we’ve been focusing on creation in youth group.  When we first started looking at what our theme would be this year, I had an idea presented by a well-known youth ministry guru, Walt Mueller.  His idea led me to begin reading a book called “Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview” by Albert M. Wolters.  I’ve not finished it, but the basics tell us that our worldview is how we see creation, the fall, and redemption.  Or better yet, how did everything that is come to be?  Was there any influence by God or was it just a natural process that’s happened without God?  Is there an answer to the ills and evil around us, or is it also just a process of natural selection and learned behavior based on experience, along with societal and philosophical opinions?  And what about redemption?  Is there such a thing, or is this all we can expect - what you see is what you get?  These are some big questions, but how you answer them will determine your worldview.  That’s what we want our students to begin to explore and decide for themselves, based on the truths they have learned in their studies of history, science, mathematics, biology and sociology.  There are more areas to glean from, but these are the points of reference for most of the arguments as to whether God is or is not.

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Spiritual Wisdom

I’ve been studying recently on wisdom.  Scripture reminds us that man’s wisdom that is void of God is foolishness.  That same scripture also tells us that those who are proud of their own wisdom see us as fools.  Our worldview is determined by our faith, yes even fools have faith.  But those who hope in the Lord have a wisdom that doesn’t always equate with their years of experience.  Daniel, David, and Timothy come to mind when I consider the young who showed that God’s wisdom was within them.  But there is something to be said for life experiences as a means by which we gain wisdom.

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