AnCharlene Davis’s Story

CaptureWhen I am asked “Where are you now?”, I inevitably reflect upon “Who am I now?” I serve as an assistant district attorney in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At times, I cannot help but think about the journey that led me here today and wonder how (and why) I came to be here in this city and at this time. It is then that I am reminded of Mordecai’s encouragement to Esther. “Who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Just over thirty-one years ago, God presented a handful of people with just such a time. A young woman approached the doors of AGAPE to help find a home for her unborn daughter. Kind and caring people like Diana Crawford helped search for people that would be willing to love a stranger. Not long after, a preacher and his wife agreed to open their home and their hearts to a one-month-old baby girl.

Because of all of these people, I can answer “Who am I?” I am the daughter of a young woman who knew that love sometimes means selflessness and sacrifice. I hope that, one day, I have the courage and the words to tell her just how much I love and appreciate the decisions that she had to make.

I am the daughter of Charles Davis, a man that taught me that God is my Father first. Yet, it was always clear that he proudly accepted the role of Daddy for each of his days here on earth. He taught me about who a Christian should be.

I am the daughter of Lucy Davis, the strongest woman that I know. I truly believe that she prayed for me before she ever met me and continues to do so every day.

I am the sister of Robert, my big brother that quickly joined our family after I was adopted. I am the sister-in-law to Baillie and the proud aunt of Lyra, my niece. I am a friend. I am an advocate.

So, where am I now? If those people had not answered their call thirty-one years ago, I’m not certain where I would be. Surely, God would have a plan for my life, but I am grateful that they acted upon the opportunities placed in front of them. Today, if I turn my head and look out my office window, I am surrounded by the beautiful, scenic city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I spend my days fighting for justice, advocating for those vulnerable victims, providing opportunities to those individuals that truly desire rehabilitation and recovery. And so, like AGAPE and my family, I hope to realize that my time is now. Maybe when my journey here ends, just one person will have seen God’s light and know that there is hope in this city, even on the darkest of days.

 

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It Takes a Village

You’ve heard that saying, right? Normally what is meant by the person uttering this familiar phrase is that raising kids into mature adults isn’t just the responsibility of set of parents, it’s the responsibility of a community. Anyone with kids is well aware of the truth of this idiom, and even those who are not currently on the journey of parenthood can surely attest to the fact that the collective wisdom and experience of a group of adults investing in the lives of young people is indeed an investment for the future.

As true as this sentiment might be in the society in which we live, the power of community to shape and influence upcoming generations is equally critical in the church. It is for this reason that our congregation has placed such a high value on Children’s and Youth Ministry, and why we have taken great strides over the last few years to incorporate small group environments into the fabric of our work with students.

The level of involvement from a volunteer small group leader can vary depending on the age of the students, and within our Middle and High School ministries, the commitment is long-term, discipleship focused, and rewarding. Since the inception of our regular small groups in the Youth Ministry several years ago, we have consistently been blessed with adult volunteers who commit to working with a group of teens every Sunday for an entire school year! Not only that, but these leaders typically make up the bulk of our chaperone force for retreats and major trips. It has often been remarked that our Small Group Leaders (SGLs) are the lifeblood of the Youth Ministry and this is no exaggeration! The key to helping our SGLs “win” with our kids is helping them to understand that they are not simply discussion leaders or crowd control referees. They are disciple-makers, influencers, mentors, coaches, and wise counselors. When they learn to see their role as that of “minister” and not simply volunteer, their potential to impact the lives of our kids increases dramatically.

IMG_0474Over the course of a school year, we’ve seen many examples of SGLs taking ownership of their role and seeing it bear fruit. We’ve seen leaders baptizing students they have worked with. On two occasions in the last couple of weeks, we have had students come to their SGLs for advice and guidance outside of the normally scheduled group time. It’s very common to see a SGL show up at a student’s extra-curricular activities as a showing of support and love. Mitchell and Aubrey regularly meet with leaders to discuss ways to better minister to the particular needs of a group or individual. Our SGLs encourage leadership, promote community, challenge students to think introspectively, and push them to make application in their day-to-day lives. Perhaps one of the greatest evidences of effective ministry occurs when students specifically request to have a SGL move up with them at the start of the next school year, and this is more common than one might think! The longer we’ve seen SGLs remain as servants in the Youth Ministry, the more we’ve seen their impact grow.

As students push for independence, learn personal responsibility, and develop the ability to make their own decisions and think for themselves, it’s an incredible blessing to know our church seeks to augment the life-long influence of parents and family members by surrounding our youth with adults who love and care for their children during the critical and highly-transformative years of Middle and High School. We LOVE our SGLs!!!

 

Reaching the “Least Likely”

“Why would I want to be a Christian since most of the Christians I’ve known aren’t exactly great people?”

“How do we know that life is real and we’re not just robots in a giant simulation?”

“Jesus seems cool, but am I supposed to be impressed with some guy’s magic tricks from 2000 years ago?”

Wow. Those are some heavy questions. Some of them you may have thought about before and some you may have never even heard. (Robots?!?) They’re the kind of questions that make you happy you’ve got a cup of coffee in your hand, so you can look calm on the outside as your mind scrambles around for something to say! And they’re the exact questions we’ve been hearing on Chattanooga’s college campuses this year.

starbucksMost people tend to spend time with people like themselves and steer clear of people who don’t fit their mold. And when Christians think about sharing Jesus with someone we often imagine a certain type of person – someone fairly stable, with a decent family, who knows some of the Sunday School answers, is living a pretty good life, etc. These are the people many expect to find in college ministries.

The UCM is connecting with many students who don’t fit that mold. God has given us opportunities during this past year to become friends and study the Bible with people that you may call the least likely. These are students from confusing family situations, who don’t know anything about Jesus, struggling with depression, caught up in drugs and alcohol, and more.

Sometimes the questions we hear seem strange, shocking or downright rude. But we’ve found that it’s important to keep a calm face and listen to these “black box” students. Behind the tough exterior and un-Christian behavior they have serious, deep questions. And as followers of Jesus we have answers. But more importantly, we have love. Countless times this year we’ve heard students say things like, “The people in the UCM are different than other Christians I’ve known”, “I really appreciate how non-judgmental you  are”, “You’re not like any minister I’ve ever talked to before”.

More than 92% of students at Chattanooga’s colleges are not involved in a Christian campus ministry and many of those have no faith commitment at all. That’s a huge opportunity that’s getting bigger. The next generation often doesn’t look, sound or even believe the way that we do. But they need the same Jesus that we need and the same love that God has given us.

It’s been an amazing year as God has moved UCM students from not knowing Jesus to being buried with him in baptism; from depression and loneliness to hope and community; from rejection and skepticism of Jesus to curiosity and searching. Praise God for the way he draws all people to himself!

 

Take a Step

Life is full of firsts. Our first word. Our first day of school. Our first job. And it’s natural for us celebrate these firsts. They define us. They help to shape who we are. Recently, one of our communities celebrated a first for one of its members, Craig Smith. As Craig was about to begin, he said he was so nervous the night before that he could barely sleep. And honestly, not much had changed. But he wasn’t backing down. He was determined to see this thing through. So with a deep breath and resolved mind, for the first time in his life… Craig led a devotional.

Something that is amazing to see as you read stories about Jesus was the fact that above everything else, the thing He seemed to celebrate the most was movement. Jesus was always most concerned with watching those around Him take the next step in following Him more closely. We see Him label a centurion, a heathen in the eyes of most of His followers, as having the greatest faith in all of Israel simply because he believed Jesus could heal his servant from a distance. Of all the great things Peter did for the kingdom of God, we see Jesus give him the most praise when he merely stated that he believed Jesus was, in fact, God’s son. But for Jesus, these were moments that needed to be celebrated. Jesus saw that this centurion’s faith moved past simply accepting what he had seen done to trusting that Jesus could do more. The centurion took a step. Jesus watched Peter’s idea of who He was change from that of a wise and respected rabbi who could do miracles to the literal Son of God. Peter took a step. And so did Craig.

Craig will be the first to tell you that, even a year ago, this is not something he ever saw himself doing, but he knew that it was time for him to make a move, to take a step. And with Jesus it is never about the size of our steps. What may feel like a big or small step for us may feel completely different to someone else. But again, Jesus isn’t worried about the size of our steps, He is only concerned with their direction. And just like with Craig, He wants us to take stock in where we are, look at how we are following Him, and figure out what our next step needs to be. Because in His eyes, any step towards Him is worthy of celebration.

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Student Teachers

When given the opportunity to teach younger students on a couple of Wednesday nights, the 3rd-5th grade girls Small Group jumped at the chance! They were given the choice of teaching a lesson, presenting a puppet play, facilitating a warm up activity or leading a craft activity to a group of 3 year olds or 4 year olds.

Each girl quickly inventoried her own strengths and weaknesses and signed up for her task. They each then grouped together according to their tasks to plan, coordinate, gather supplies and practice what they would present to the younger students.

IMG_8603These girls were beyond excited for the opportunity to go deeper in their discipleship journey by actually serving in the classroom like grown-ups do. The young 3’s and 4’s were also very excited and were almost in awe of the older girls coming in to share Jesus with them.

Although the girls knew they were not as polished as veteran teachers, the joy on their faces as they interacted with the children made them feel like pros. And, who knows, but that this experience has sparked a passion for sharing God’s Truths in these young ladies which will set the course of their spiritual life for decades?!

 

Kingdom Teamwork

When God’s Kingdom grows, everybody wins. We experienced that
recently on a Sunday in April as Icces Furr, a college student at UTC,
was baptized into Christ.

Icces’ story is an amazing example of how God works in his own time through his people to fulfill his mission. Icces met some UCM students at the beginning of the school year when they were giving out free pizza. She became quick friends with a few UCM girls, went on a Beach Trip, started coming to Bible studies, and became a steady presence in the group.

After a couple months, Icces confided to her friends that she didn’t really know anything about Jesus. But she wanted to. Icces was raised by her mother, who wasn’t a Christian, and she knew very little about the Bible. But she could see something real in the faith of these college Christians. These were people who took their faith seriously. They served the community together, lived together and studied the Bible together. And they were part of a church together.

31913962_1230548423746321_8622081404303310848_nOne Sunday, Icces went with her UCM friends to a church meeting. She loved the casual atmosphere, style of music, and friendly people. The church was City Collective, Clear Creek’s downtown church plant. Icces continued attending City Collective, growing under the teaching there and her weekly Bible study with UCM students.

When Icces decided in April that she wanted to be baptized, she knew just how she wanted it to happen – at City Collective with her church family and with all her UCM friends there as well. Icces’ story is one of God’s grace and his pursuit of those who don’t know him. It’s also a story of God using college students, a new church plant, and lots of different people to bring himself glory in Chattanooga.

 

Taking Off the Masks

31732003_10155066085231157_3689604239882977280_oA conversation took place. Or it may be more accurate to call it the beginning of a conversation.

Saturday, April 28. Lunchtime. Fifteen high school students are crammed around a picnic table built for eight. Talking and laughing, they pass food back and forth. But the conversation has a serious tone. They are discussing a game plan for taking their masks off and showing the “real them” to those close to them. We all wear masks regardless of our age, career, or status. We use them to blend in. To hide who we are. To hide who we fear others assume us to be. We wear them to project an image to the world. These masks provide a false sense of security.

The discussion stemmed from a lesson that Matt Moore shared with the CCYM high school kids at our second annual “River Retreat.” He challenged them to share about their masks and what in their life needed to be deconstructed before they could construct something healthier in its place. You do not build healthy new construction atop a busted pre-existing structure. First, you tear out the rot and busted pieces. Then, you can be built up stronger. What was planned out to be a 15 minute discussion-based exercise, turned into just under an hour of sincere brainstorming on a level that many adults never choose to face.

“What would happen if I took off the mask?” “I’ve worn the mask for so long that it doesn’t even feel heavy anymore, and I would feel naked without it.” “What happens if I take off the mask, and I’m the first one to do it? And nobody else takes theirs off and I just feel judged.”

From 2 Corinthians 4:1-2 [the Message]: “We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.”

Diving into the Word, the seniors led us into deep waters all weekend. Our senior class decided to set a new tradition, so they took the reins of our retreat. They planned the theme, worship, speakers, menu, games, and the entire weekend from the ground up. Seven of them even shared in front of the group at different points. They challenged us to guard our hearts from the junk and debris that this world has to offer. Only through allowing God to protect our hearts can we stay clean and unstained.
As they examined the masks they wear and God’s plan for them to remove them, the term “hypocrite” took on new meaning. The word “hypocrite” stems from the ancient Greek, and it literally means “actor.” To be a hypocrite in this context is to put on a mask, whether figurative or literal, and to perform as if you are not yourself but another. We are all too good at this. Very few people see the real us. It’s very likely that in every room we walk in, each person is hiding behind a combination of masks.

The conversation that started during Saturday’s picnic is just the beginning.

Special thanks to Caroline Ring, Asa Owens, Andrew Butcher, Eden Henderson, Sara Grace “Sarge” Ray, Mackenna Hood, Tanner Jenkins, Chase Floied, and Cole Cagle. The legacy you just handed to CCYM [and specifically next year’s seniors] is such a blessing!

 

Every Single Time

After Easter Sunday worship, Jordyn Burdette asked her 4 year old daughter, Blakily, what she learned about in Bible class. Her reply is a testament to our Pre-school Bible teachers and Wee Worship leaders: “Jesus again…every time I go to church they always talk about Jesus. I mean every single time I go, they bring Him up.” That’s funny but also a serious point – what better topic to be bringing up “every single week?”

We are thankful for parents bringing their children to learn about Jesus, thankful for the teachers sharing Jesus, and thankful for precious hearts like Blakily’s who are soaking in Jesus “every single time they come.”

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CRAVE-ing More of the Word

Once a month, the high school students come over to Aubrey and Robin’s house to eat, laugh, play games, and dive deep into the Word of God. This monthly time together is called CRAVE, and though it is near-impossible to find a school night that works for
high school students to get together, we average a dozen or so.

At one of our most recent meetings, Aubrey asked the group how they wanted to march forward study-wise. He told them, “This is your time and your group. I don’t want to dictate what we study or spoon feed you. You are busy, but if we are going to set time
aside to do this, you need to be fed.” One of our students spoke up and said that she would love for them to have a chance to share their own stories/testimonies – of their life, what they’ve been through, and what God is doing. Another guy spoke up and said
that maybe they [the high school students] could take over leading the Bible/Devotional side of the event.

A resounding YES!! was given to both of those suggestions. After the meeting, two students told him over Robin’s [world’s best] homemade cookies and coffee, that they would take the reins next meeting. Other than a location and food-prep, all aspects of the
next CRAVE were handled by teenagers. After advertising on GroupMe and text message, 24 students showed up and crammed in the living room.

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Harrison Van Eaton [one of our sophomore guys] led us into the Word and guided our discussion of Hosea/Faithfulness. He passed the torch to Jayla Meadows, [one of our junior girls] who shared her story. Her testimony is a powerful story of God’s faithfulness in the midst of a broken and uncertain world. Both did a fantastic job of leading their
peers and setting the future tone for CRAVE’s direction.

Neither of them would want this article written about them. And it’s not about Harrison or Jayla specifically. It’s about each of us choosing to share with others where we are on HIS path. As we dive deeper, we invite others to join our journey. The students also remind Aubrey and Mitchell ofen that teenagers will often rise to whatever level
they are challenged. If the bar is set low, they can certainly settle. If they are challenged and equipped, BIG THINGS can happen.

We try to remind the students at CCYM of Paul’s words in I Timothy 4:11-14. “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in
purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift…”

Nobody is more naturally equipped to minister to young people than our students. They are in the trenches everyday. In the cafeterias. Locker rooms. Hallways. The influence that Aubrey, Mitchell, their wives, small group leaders, or other countless volunteers have on the friends of the students of Clear Creek is not even comparable to the IMPACT of those students choosing to be salt and light daily.

Everybody needs a Paul. Look to those that lead you to continue to point you towards Christ. Everybody needs a Timothy. Look for those around you that are searching, and help show them Jesus through your actions and attitude.

Practice Makes Perfect

Have you ever heard someone say, “Be careful! You should never pray for patience! God won’t give you patience… just more opportunities to practice patience”? People often make jokes about it (until they are the ones praying for patience), but the reason the notion has been around for so long is because it has some merit! In fact, it is probably true more often than not when we pray to God. Instead of giving us whatever trait or ability we ask for, He gives us the opportunity to practice that trait or ability so that we can grow. Logic would tell us, then, that if we pray for God to help us tell our own stories better (as one of our Sunday morning discussion groups is fond of doing) He will remind us that practice makes perfect.

Enter Derek Lusk, who is a part of our church family here at Clear Creek. As someone who works in sales, Derek spends a lot of time forming and maintaining relationships with others, especially those he works with on a regular basis. Dan just happens to be one of those people. Over time, the two came to be able to talk about topics (family, sports, hobbies) that were outside of the mandatory job related things they had to discuss. On a business trip the two were on together, they found themselves broaching one of the two topics you are taught never to discuss with friends…and it wasn’t politics. Dan (who knew Derek was a Christian) started telling Derek (who knew Dan was not a Christian) about how he believed in a creator but not in God because he couldn’t see him anywhere in his life. As Dan continued to talk, Derek began to truly understand his situation. Not only was he a part of a discussion group learning how to share their stories with others and who frequently prayed that God would help them do so, but he was trapped with only Dan in the car with over an hour remaining on their trip! To put it simply, God said, “Ok Derek, it’s time to practice.” And so he did.

If you want to know how the conversation ended, Derek would be more than happy to share that with you (and it really is a great story). Today, though, that is not what we want to celebrate. The “win”, if you will, is not necessarily in the outcome of this story. Of course we want Dan, as we want anyone who doesn’t know Christ, to come to know Him intimately. But that is not up to us to decide. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.”

In other words, God deals in outcomes; we, as humans, deal in opportunities.

Opportunities missed and opportunities taken. Opportunities to stay silent and opportunities to share our story with others. And the best part about it? That is all God asks of us. He doesn’t ask us to change hearts and transform lives. He simply asks us to take the opportunities as they come so that He can do the real work.

So next time you pray to God the provider, just keep in mind that He is the provider of
opportunities. Admittedly, that can seem daunting. But remember, if the opportunity he provides is an open door, He simply asks that we cross the threshold. He will take care of the rest once we are on the inside. It doesn’t take ability or anything else on our part other than a willingness to keep saying, “Ok God, I guess it’s time to practice.” As Derek can attest to, God loves to remind us that practice makes perfect.