Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Erasing the Lines - It's All About Relationships

§  160 middle and high school students
§  300 volunteers
§  25 different projects
§  3 counties
§  14 different churches
§  One Awesome God!

That’s Erasing the Lines in a nutshell! I’m in awe each year at how God shows up and shows off during the week. It is truly amazing to see and even more amazing to be a part of it. For those of you who are new to Kinston and not familiar with Erasing the Lines, allow me to share a little about it.

In 2003, Sammy Hudson (current Director of Son Set Ministries, sponsor of ETL) was a youth pastor at Queen Street UMC. He was returning from a mission trip in Philadelphia with his youth group when one of them asked the question, “Why can’t we do this same thing in Kinston?”

“Yeah, why not?” Sammy replied. He immediately began to call around to see if other churches would also get involved in a local mission project. In June 2004, after much planning, Kinston held its first Erasing the Lines mission week. There were three churches involved- Queen St., Westminster and Grace Fellowship. Thirty-five students and around 25 volunteers made up the first year’s campers and staff. We all stayed at Rochelle Middle School each night to give the feel of being away on a mission trip. Daily projects ranged from building wheelchair ramps, to playing with kids at the Boys and Girls Club, to leading VBS at Southeast School. The students enthusiastically jumped in, painting, doing minor home repairs and cleaning up yards, all the while knowing these projects were just an excuse to be in the neighborhood. Each project was a vehicle to build a relationship. It was a way to show the love of Jesus, and God amazed each of us over and over as people responded to that love.

Actually, ETL was meant to be a one-time event. We had no plans to do it again the next year. However, the City of Kinston recognized the impact of serving others and wanted ETL to become an annual event. Sammy Hudson, Rick Kearney and I all met and agreed. The next summer, it quadrupled in size with 125 students participating. Amazingly, here we are in 2011, and we’ve just completed our eighth year of ETL.

What makes ETL unique? Why do students want to be involved in it? What keeps our volunteers coming back year after year? Why does ETL have such a huge impact on the city and the people we serve? I believe the key is that ETL has always been more about relationships than service.

For example, our relationship with our community is important. For most of us, we are giving back to our own city. We are demonstrating that Jesus and the Church cares for our city. We are familiar with the streets and sometimes even serve people we know from our churches, schools or other groups. There is joy, a certain pride in doing for your own town. There’s also an awakening. When we serve the homeless and broken in our own city, we can no longer deny their existence. They have a face and a name. Many students are shocked the first time they see the way others live. They have no idea people in Kinston live in such poverty and brokenness. They see the struggles and challenges that others face and hopefully, they begin to see all people through God’s eyes.

Just as important as our relationship with our community is our connection to each other. Each day in ETL, we serve together in a group, and no one is doing their own thing. This year, there were 17 small groups consisting of 9 -10 middle and high school students from different churches, a college-aged leader and an adult van driver. Every day the groups worked together, played together, ate together, traveled together and worshiped together. They prayed together and grew in their relationship with God. Ultimately, students built friendships to last a lifetime. 

In addition to our community relationships and friendships with each other, the most important component to ETL is our relationship with God who prompts us to serve. We serve others because of our love for God and His love for us. We also serve because we want others to be in relationship with Him. Our desire is for others to see Jesus shining through us and to seek to begin or renew their own relationship with God. The service is simply an excuse to point others to Jesus.

Each night at ETL, students are asked the question, “Where have you seen Jesus today?” Answers range from witnessing random acts of kindness to working together as a group. Many times students share that they’ve had the opportunity to tell someone else about Jesus. What sweet moments these are to witness.

What about you? Where have you seen Jesus lately? What are some ways you can find to erase some lines and point others to Jesus? You don’t have to wait for the next ETL. Volunteer at the Homeless Shelter, the SAFE House, the EPIC Center or Daybreak. Get involved at the Refuge or in any other local ministry. Help your neighbor with yard work or a repair project. The truth is, God is at work all over this city! Will you ask Him where He wants you to join Him?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ever Been Tempted?

Have you ever been tempted? Have you ever given into temptation? It’s hard isn’t it? You’re walking along on your journey, doing the things you’re supposed to be doing - things are working well for you. And then it happens…Satan shows up with some enticing way to get your eyes off of God and to get you off track.
I don’t know about you, but it makes me mad when he does that! In fact, it really makes me mad when I fall for it and give into that temptation. But is temptation a sin? No, it is only a sin when I give into the temptation. While I can do things to protect myself from being tempted, one thing is for sure, I will be tempted. Satan doesn’t like it when I am growing and looking more like Jesus. Satan doesn’t like it when you’re free from an addiction or stronghold and establishing healthy relationships. Satan doesn’t like it when we’re making good choices. As a result, He will continue to tempt us.

How do I know we will be tempted? Because if Jesus was tempted, you can rest assured we will be too.

Let’s look at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 and see if we can learn any lessons about temptation to help us. Hey you! That means stop reading, go get your Bible, and read Matthew 4:1-11, ok? Then come back and compare notes with me, ok?

Oh, good. You made it back here! The first thing we see in verse 1 is that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. WHAT? Read that again…the spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. We can infer that yes, it was intentional.

So the first thing we learn is that we are to expect temptation. It is going to happen. We will be intentionally tempted, and we must learn to expect it.

The next thing we see is that we should, shall we say, expect it when we least expect it. Notice in verses 2 and 3, that Satan didn’t come on day one in the wilderness, nor did he did show up on day 20. No he came on day 40, after Jesus had fasted and prayed for 40 days. He was tired and hungry, but he was prayed up too.

Sometimes Satan comes when we are down. Sometimes he comes in the middle of a struggle, and often he shows up right after a huge victory. He knows your weak spots better than you do. He waits for an opportune time, and then he goes after you with everything he has.

So how do we guard against that? By being on guard…Mark 14:38 says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” So we need to watch, we need to be careful. It is not wise to place yourself in a position to be tempted, especially if you know you’re not going to be able to withstand the temptation. So we need to watch, be careful, and we need to be on guard. When you least expect it, expect it. It will happen.

The third thing Matthew shows us is to expect Satan to cause you to question God. Look at verses 3 & 6. Satan began with “If you are the Son of God…” You might remember he used a similar line on Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say you can’t eat from that tree?” “He is stingy, He is holding out on you girl!”

If he can make you question God’s motives and God’s goodness or cause you to doubt who you are in Christ then he has a huge advantage. If he can cause you to doubt your salvation, doubt your growth or doubt that your change is real, then he has a real advantage over you. Jesus knew who He was. He knew He was the Son of God. Satan tried to get him to doubt that. When that didn’t work He tried another trick.

Expect Satan to accuse God of holding out on you. Read verses 8-9 again. Paraphrase? “Jesus, if you follow me, I have an easier way. You don’t have to die on a cross. Here look around, I will give you a kingdom, I will give you all of this, all you have to do is bow to me. “

For Eve it was, “Did God really say you can’t eat from that tree? He is holding out on you Eve. He knows that you will be like Him if you eat that. He doesn’t want that for you.”

Sound familiar? It does to me, for me it sounds something like this: “Cindy, you don’t have to go through all of that to be satisfied, just bow to me. That stuff is too hard; I won’t make you endure all of that. Don’t be vulnerable with others, don’t share the truth. Just keep it quiet, hidden in the dark. People think you are fine just the way you are. God is holding out on you, you don’t really have to go through all of that for healing.”

Sound familiar to anyone else? Satan wants to offer you an easier way, but it will never bring about the growth and healing you so need and desire. He only wants to keep you down.

How about you? Do you know that God is not holding out on you? Are you submitting to God? It is not enough to just resist the Devil, we have to submit to God. God wants what is best for us, Satan wants what is best for him. Submit to God, worship and serve God only.

So, how do we withstand against temptation and the schemes of the Devil? We can expect temptation. We can expect it when we least expect it. We can expect Satan to cause us to question God. We can expect Satan to accuse God of holding out on us.

So here is what i have learned about temptation from Matthew.
  1. Expect temptation
  2. Expect when you least expect it
  3. Expect Satan to cause you to question God and your relationship with Him
  4. Expect Satan to accuse God of holding out on you.

Now that we are expecting it, we can follow Jesus’ example. Jesus used the Word to beat Satan. We must know God’s word in order to stand. I encourage you to be in His word each day, learning and growing to be more Christ-like. Not simply so you can withstand Satan’s lies and temptations, but so you can build your relationship with God. Jesus came so that we could have abundant life, and this is the way to start living it!

Now I am not saying, read your Bible more and pray harder and you will overcome every temptation that comes your way. Oh no, but that is a part. But you will have a good start. However, you need good friends, a community of people around you that are actively involved in your life. We all need people that will hold us accountable and have the courage to speak truth to us. You also need to be actively involved in a local church, worshipping with others and serving others too.

We can expect temptation. But with a strong relationship with God, and others, we will be prepared to fight Satan against the temptations that are sure to come your way.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Run the Race

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely. Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

In November of 2009, I ran my first 5K race. That’s right, I ran a race. In high school and college, I hated running. Well, not really. I would run after a ball- basketball, softball, volleyball, or any other ball, but to just “go for a run?” No way, not me.

What’s the difference, you ask?  When one chases a ball, there is purpose other than running. I am running to 2nd base, or I am running to catch up with my opponent who is about to score a lay-up. To lace up my shoes and take off running left me thinking only of how far I have gone and how much further I have to go.

What is different today? I am not really sure, but maybe it’s simply because I am no longer chasing a ball. Or maybe because there is purpose. I think also, as my body gets older and the schedule gets tighter, it is hard to fit in exercise. I can run 3 miles quicker than I can walk it. I also have a dog that loves to run! She is much happier and much calmer if she gets some exercise. I have friends now that like to run, too. In fact, when I run with my friend Jennifer, we talk the entire time we are running. As a result, I usually forget how far we’ve gone or how much further we have to go. Running together makes it so much easier.

That is what community is all about, having someone on the journey with you. It sure does make it easier. I didn’t always believe this. I use to believe that community was for wimps! I used to think that all people ever do is hurt you or leave you drained. Boy, was I wrong! God showed me how much I need community and He gave me a few really close friends to help me through the hard times, to show me where I don’t look like Jesus and to move towards living more Christ-like!

Take my friends, Jennifer, Robin, Debby, and Theo for example. Each of us is very different and yet similar in many ways. We have all endured trauma at some point in life, we have all struggled to overcome the effects of that, and we all love Jesus. But, we all come with very different gifts. They call me the “Pastora.”  I am the one that brings the Word and prayer into everything we do!  Jennifer is a strong leader; she brings wisdom and a sense of calm to any situation. She is daring and always ready to take a risk, if necessary.  Robin is the details gal. She thinks things all the way through to the end, so we know what is involved and can take a calculated risk instead of jumping in blindly. She keeps us grounded. And Debby?  Debby is Mrs. Hospitality. She is the one that loves us like no one else can. And, she is the one who teaches us to love others and invite them in as well. Theo is our counselor. She has great wisdom and a wonderful way of sharing it with us.

We gather on a regular basis to talk about our families, our jobs, our relationships, and our walk with God. We share our victories and our struggles. We praise God together and pray for each other. We encourage, rebuke, support and love each other. I have never known anything like it. Community. Five women committed to doing life together. That is how God called us to live, in relationship.  The Trinity for example, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a perfect relationship. God also invites us to join this perfect relationship. And when we do, we discover others who are also following hard after Jesus, seeking authentic relationship, the kind only found in Jesus. We are all a community of believers, doing life together, struggling well together.

It is similar to running, we are all on a journey, a journey toward Christ-likeness. The question is, how are we going to get there? We have a choice to run alone. Or, we can run with a partner or group. God can use each of those, but His best, is when we do it in community. My friends are here to help me be holy. I am to help them be holy as well. If I am running on my own, it is too easy to quit, too easy to slow down, or take a wrong turn. But when I am running with others, they challenge me, I challenge them and together we enjoy the journey together.

Now, do not misunderstand. My friends cannot run my race for me. God has a race marked out for me. That is the race I have to run. This weekend, I’m hitting another mile-marker.  For the past six weeks, I have been training to run my first half marathon. Jennifer, my friend and running partner, has no desire to do this. Therefore, I have been doing the long runs by myself. Yet, I am not alone. She is encouraging me, supporting me, advising me, praying for me and loving me every step of the way. On race day, she will be there cheering me on, supporting and encouraging. So while I am running by myself, I am not running alone. That is how life is, too. God has a path, or a race if you will, for each of us. We must walk in His footsteps, not the footsteps of others. Yet, we are to enjoy the relationships of those walking, or running, right alongside us.

I encourage you to run the race with endurance set before you, looking to Jesus! Run worthy of the calling of the Lord!

<>< In His Grip
Cindy Nicholson