First Time for Everything… Even Preaching

Recently, a group of upper elementary students spent time preparing to participate and lead the Sunday afternoon worship service at Martin-Boyd Nursing Home. This is chance for each child to take a next step in their faith as they begin to teach and serve others. It’s always a sweet time watching two generations, young and old, connect because of our shared love for God.

After Josh Diggs visited and taught a group of boys how to prepare a sermon, one young boy in the 4th grade decided he would take his next step and preach the lesson at the Martin-Boyd service. His Wednesday group leaders were ecstatic and thankful for his courage to try something new! A few days later, a call from his mom informed us none of her family would be able to attend due to a previous commitment, but in not wanting to disappoint or remove her son from having this opportunity, a solution came. Transportation was arranged and all was set for him to continue to prepare for this lesson. 

During a couple more Wednesday night classes, two leaders listened and gave feedback to Brock Beach. However, they didn’t have to give much as he had prepared an exceptional sermon and delivered it with much enthusiasm.  Even at home, his parents said he wrote it out all by himself. The topic suggested for him was from one of the prophets we had been learning about in Bible classes. He chose Daniel and the story of his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3).

Brock delivered the message with great confidence in front of a room who were mostly strangers to him. This was a time Brock exemplified to his peers and other generations we can take our next step in stretching and sharing our faith without doubt or fear. In the closing line of Brock’s message, he stated, “God saves us and is always with us!” May we all cling to that promise and hope as we take our next steps in our faith today and always because there’s a first time for everything! 

Our Lives as Well

“Because we loved you so much we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of Christ, but our lives as well.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:8

If life is a journey, then ministry as Jesus modeled it is about journeying together. We invite others into our lives as God invites us into the life of the Trinity. We step into their world as Christ stepped into ours.

UCM students have been blessed to know, love and journey with Jordan for the last year and a half. The journey started when we first met Jordan at a UCM Friendsgiving meal and it continued as Jordan became involved in our community during the next semester. That included formal things like our weekly meetings and retreats. But it also included shared meals, arguments, doing laundry together, and putting up with each other’s annoying habits. UCM students consistently chose to love and invest in Jordan, even when he rubbed people the wrong way or criticized their faith. And Jordan kept moving deeper into the life of our community, even though he didn’t yet believe.

Through prayer, patience and love, God slowly brought our journeys in step and wove our lives together. Within a few months, Jordan was open to reading the Bible and soon started talking about his new faith. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen God continue to bless Jordan’s life and carry him through some big milestones.

At the beginning of this year, Jordan made the decision to be baptized into Christ. It was a great day as Jesus gave Jordan new life. Lots of UCM family – Christian students, non-Christians and adult mentors – spent the day together celebrating. Then in February Jordan married Icces, a young Christian woman he met in UCM. Not only was it an amazing day for Jordan and Icces, but it was also the first UCM wedding.

Jesus spent three years with his closest followers. As they lived together, the Gospel was about much more than just information or ideas. It was about shared life. Through Jordan, and others like him, God is allowing the UCM to share the Gospel and our lives as well.

Growing in Character

Our children seem to grow and change right before our eyes and are grown before we know it. First, they are babies, then riding bikes, then going off to college and then they have families of their own. We all know that their growth physically is inevitable. But what about their spiritual growth? Is it inevitable or does it naturally happen? Do we expect our kids to grow up spiritually without our thinking too much about it or really doing anything proactively to assure that it happens? I hope not because it can’t “just happen.”

At Clear Creek we know that just coming to the church building once or twice a week will not make us a growing Christian, thus just bringing our kids to Bible class and worship will not ensure that they will grow up to be mature disciples of Christ. There must be intentional conversations, consistent reinforcement and examples lived out before them daily among other things.

Some examples of families intentionally instilling Christ-like character traits in their children are observed when their children are recognized in their schools for possessing a Christlike character. In the last few months several of our students have been recognized in a formal way at their respective school award ceremonies.

Emma Diggs received the Character Award for showing RESPECT at Middle Valley Elementary. Rory Oleksik received the CARING Character Award at Middle Valley Elementary. William Goodrich received a RESPECT Character Award at Middle Valley Elementary. Callie Scharff received the HONESTY Character Award at Big Ridge Elementary. Both Brock and Arden Beach received KINDNESS awards from Normal Park. (There may have been more but we were not made aware of it.)

Let’s all pat these kids on the back (when we see them again) for growing to be more like Jesus in their attitudes and actions and for letting it be evident as they go “on mission” in their schools each day. And kudos to their parents for their intentional parenting. It will reap eternal rewards.

At Any Cost

One of the most remarkable things about the way Jesus lived His life was His incredible intentionality regarding His commitment to living a Godly life. He never allowed circumstances to dictate whether or not He was fulfilling that commitment.  One of the greatest components of Godly living that our church family tries to model after Jesus is how He viewed Himself as the primary source of care for those He was in a discipling relationship with.  This idea is currently being lived out in the life of one of our disciple makers Nancy Tallman.

For several years now at 10:00 on Tuesday morning in the café at the church building, Nancy and several other ladies in our church family have met to have small group.  Like with so many of our groups, this was a much anticipated time of the week.  Now of course these ladies routinely talked to one another during the week, but there truly is something special about being face-to-face with those you are doing life with.

Enter COVID-19.  Among all the negative things this virus has brought to the world, one of the most disruptive to our daily lives is our inability to gather with those we love in a way that we are accustomed to.  This is doubly true for people like those in our Tuesday Morning group that may find it more difficult to get out and about and therefore might not have as many social interactions during the week as others.

Understanding this, Nancy was among one of the first to try and bring a sense of normalcy to those in her group by trying to meet with her group virtually.  But of course, there was roadblock after roadblock.  When her computer didn’t have necessary components to conduct an online meeting, she tried on another device.  When that other device couldn’t use the software, she bought the necessary components for her computer.  When she didn’t know how to install those components herself, she had someone come and do it for her (practicing appropriate social distancing of course).  When she didn’t understand the tutorials for how to setup a meeting, she called and asked for help. And none of this even touches the time she put in helping and getting help for others in her group who were having the same issues!  But after two full weeks of actively trying, the Tuesday Morning Ladies small group met (mostly) face to face.

Now what in the world does this have to do with being more like Jesus? Will the fact that the Tuesday Morning small group is meeting virtually determine whether one or more of them gets to heaven some day?  Probably not.  But what will endure is having the commitment to persevere through any circumstance to make sure that those with whom you are in a discipling relationship get the care they need.

Give Up, Right?

For the months of January and February, our youth ministry used the Wednesday night platform to focus on promoting and developing a culture of hospitality and community, as well as to coach our students in developing a missionary mindset so that they may become disciple makers. This was all to be a build-up to March’s Awaken series, during which our whole church would be fasting, praying, and reaching out evangelistically into our community. It was a great plan! And then the virus hit.

Our students no longer experience anything like their normal routine, they don’t see any of their friends face-to-face, and they certainly don’t get to gather at our church building for worship or groups. The only thing to do was to give up on outreach, right? That would be the easy choice, but from what many of our small group leaders have been reporting, our Middle School students have been eager to get their “outside” friends connected to our weekly Zoom meetings.

In particular, our 7th Grade Boys recently met for their virtual Sunday morning small group and more than half of the thirteen boys were friends from school! In fact, every student in the group that day plays on the same football team. Beyond that, several of the boys we now consider “regulars” have only been coming consistently for THIS school year.

Middle School boys don’t typically initiate spiritual conversations with each other or spontaneously log on to random church Zoom meetings. They do it because they’ve been invited. They’ve been invited by leaders like Bobby Hicks and Ray Russell. They’ve been invited by buddies from their team, like Houston Hicks and Ethan Lane. Disciples like these, who are ready and willing to seek out opportunities to connect people to the body of Christ no matter the external circumstances, know that the seeds they plant can grow into transformative faith.

Don’t Waste the Pandemic

It’s tempting to believe this pandemic has put God’s purpose on hold. But don’t believe it.

Remember, in 1606, Shakespeare wrote the great plays Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra while quarantined at home.

And in 1665, when Cambridge University closed for a year because of the Great Plague of London, a young scholar named Isaac Newton was sent home where he refined his ideas that later became his theory of gravity.

Shakespeare and Newton didn’t waste their pandemics. And neither should we.

If you don’t want to waste the pandemic, then…

Focus on what you can do more than what you can’t. Second Peter 1:3 says that God has “given us everything we need for life and godliness”. You have what you need for now. So, don’t look back on this moment and wish you did more. Take a moment to list everything you have the ability to do right now. Within that list you will find God’s purpose for you today.

Read about God more than the pandemic. This pandemic will pass, but your relationships with God will last. While this is not a call to ignorance, it is a call to invest your time and attention on the Author of life more than on an agent of death.

Train today for who you want to be after the pandemic. Here’s the question: What kind of person do you want to be when the pandemic passes? Train accordingly. Use this off season to train in prayer, study, sacrificial giving, love for your family and neighbors. Not sure how to care for your neighbor? Circle back to point #1 and brainstorm what you can do. Can you chat on the phone, run an errand, mow a lawn or pay a bill? Then do that. 

Invest in those you’re with. Ask yourself, “How do I want my spouse or kids to remember this season?” Invest in them. Put down the phone and turn off the screen. Ask questions. Play games. Pray together. Tell stories. Look at the family photo album. Share what God is teaching you through this season.

Take sin seriously. Jesus warns us not to fear what can kill our bodies, but to fear the sin that kills our souls (Matthew 10:28). In other words, avoid sin like the plague. Spiritually disinfect your environment. Quarantine yourself from sin. Cover your mouth when you feel a poisonous word about to cough out. Don’t let it enter your heart.

You may not make a scientific discovery or write a world-famous play, but God will empower you to fulfill your purpose when you don’t waste the pandemic.

A Beautiful Rhythm

“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise…” Psalm 8:2a

Starting Kindergarten is a big deal in the life of a child. There are new things to learn and do, new places to go, and new people to meet at every turn of learning and growing at this stage. Our Kinder Bible class is no different here at Clear Creek. Children learn the books of the Bible, the Greatest Commandment, and about giving on top of the weekly curriculum. It’s also the first time they get to be in large group praise and worship time with the “big” kids. 

After the initial adjustment and learning how this time each week works, slowly we get to see more confidence and excitement bubble out of these five and six-year-olds as they interact with the “big” kids and worship before class. Each week, John Clevenger leads all the elementary children in songs and asks for a child to volunteer to pray and close out that time together. Lots of hands go up! However, when we start seeing the little hands of kindergartners go up within a mere few months of being in the elementary wing, we are overjoyed! They have watched, they have learned, and now they are beginning to participate fully!  It’s a beautiful rhythm we get to see unfold regularly in children’s ministry!

One recent Sunday, Wylie Collier, raised her hand and bravely led a prayer for the first time in front of all the elementary children and volunteers, roughly 100 people. Her dad, Caleb, was there to see and hear that moment because he volunteered that Sunday in the 3rd & 4th grade class. Immediately, after Wylie boldly prayed to God thanking him for Jesus and the church, you could see the proud dad beaming! What a joy to serve and witness the courage and faith of a child take her next step in living for Jesus!

It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood

 A few years ago we initiated the idea “Neighbors Matter” with the thought that we should live our lives believing that anyone in our social and geographic circles are our neighbors and they matter – to us and to God. That idea has taken root and grown so much that even our children are taking it to heart.

One such example of putting this idea into practice is in the Southland Point Neighborhood and in the homes of the Goodrich and the Downs families. A family with 3 girls moved into the neighborhood from across the country and 2 of the girls enrolled in Middle Valley Elementary. Ava Goodrich soon became good friends with the older girls and started bringing them to church with her. Ava, obviously, could not drive them herself so Laura had to agree to add 2 more children to their vehicle each Wednesday night, making a total of 5 children to 1 adult and get there no later than 6:30.

Was it always easy for Laura to get homework done, feed her children, round up 5 kiddos and get them all here to learn about Jesus every week? No, but she did it because “Neighbors Matter” to her kids, to her and to God. She is sacrificing some of her convenience to demonstrate to her children the belief that if neighbors really matter, you want to share Jesus with them.

A couple months later, Tyler (the girls’ dad) was in a terrible car accident. The Goodrich’s weren’t home but Katie Downs (another neighbor and CC member) was. What could the girls’ mom, Gina, do with 3 kids and a husband now being rushed to the hospital? She knocked on Katie’s door, explained what happened and asked her to watch her 3 children. Was it convenient for Katie? No. Was it easy? Probably not. But Katie didn’t hesitate and said, “Of course!”  Because that is what good neighbors do and “Neighbors Matter” to God and to God’s people. And just think of the lesson being learned by Katie’s 2 boys.

Because Tyler’s condition was life-threatening and they had no family here in Tennessee, the Goodrich and Downs family became their family. Meals were provided, babysitting was done and this hurting family was blessed by these Christian neighbors.  Slowly Tyler began to recover physically but could not work causing some financial strain on the family as well. The struggle was shared in small groups at Clear Creek and prayers were prayed, casseroles were made and gift cards were given.  All this was done in Jesus’ name because “Neighbors Matter” to us and to God.

Tyler, Gina and the girls have been amazed by the outpouring of love from their neighbors (Goodrich and Downs) as well as others from Clear Creek – so much so that they came as a family for worship one Sunday just to see what this church was like. I met Tyler and Gina that day and heard from his lips how he should not be alive but he is and is so thankful. We talked about how God must not be finished with him yet and was overwhelmed by how God was taking care of his family through their good neighbors and through this church body.

The children in these families are learning from their parents what it means to be good neighbors by living in community with others and sharing Jesus in word and in action. What a wonderful testimony of how God can work through one young child who is not afraid to reach out and befriend newcomers and want to make sure that they learn about Jesus! It truly is a “beautiful day in this neighborhood.”

A Passion for the Word

Surely, every youth minister longs for the day when saying, “You’ve got to get in the Word!” to a group of students is answered with comments like what we’ve been hearing lately from some of our Middle and High School students.

Evan Pirtle recently stated that he’s actively looking for ways to apply a scripture-a-day to his normal routine. Emma Chambers has revealed how reading a scripture and devotional thought each morning on the way to school gives her something spiritual to reflect on and helps her have a better day. Addison Johnston has shared how specific scriptures have helped her learn to not worry as much and live with greater peace.

At least some of this rise in engagement with scripture is attributable to the Youth Ministry’s new practice of providing daily “Anchored in the Word” posts on a special group chat for youth and volunteers. Intentionally simple, each weekday post features a scripture, reflection thought, and prayer prompt. The purpose is to provide students with an easy-to-digest devotional moment each day. The Word of God has now become a notification directly on the screens of their smart phones!

We invited our Small Group Leaders to be “guest” posters each week, and the response from our volunteers has been wonderful. Their reflections and insights have been very encouraging, and their thoughtful words are indicative of the investment they are making in discipling our teenagers. You can read Bobby Ray sharing his thoughts on how Jesus brings us from death to life. Or Abby Morehead and Abi Chambers reminding us to keep proper spiritual perspective when we experience difficulties. Dustin Mance used his Nov. 29 post to offer some tongue-in-cheek commentary on the Black Friday phenomenon and consumerism.

Because of the efforts of these volunteers and other members of our CCYM team, we hope to see a passion for the Word of God ignite within the hearts of our students.

Defining a “Win” in Student Ministry

If you were to walk into The Creek, you may notice something peculiar on the stage. Sitting on a metal stool on the left side of the stage there is a water jug that has a few ping pong balls in it. At the beginning of November, Mitchell and Michael taught through a series on disciple making. As the series wore on, the jug was introduced. The idea was simple, anytime someone associated with the youth ministry steps out and has an intentional conversation with someone, they drop a ping pong ball into the jug. An intentional conversation was defined this way – any interaction you have with someone with the ultimate intention of bringing Jesus into the conversation. The goal with the jug was to put on display that, yes we love inviting people and seeing our numbers grow, but ultimately we want to be a group that brings Jesus to others, rather than just brings others in our doors.

The youth ministry has already taken to this goal and many wins in this category have already occurred. Harrison Van Eaton shared a story in which he invited a friend who did not know Jesus to come play basketball with some friends who did. In doing so, God opened the door for a conversation to occur in which Harrison got to introduce some of his own faith. Julie Clevenger shared a win she had when she was able to speak to her future college roommate about her faith and ask her roommate about hers. Mitchell and Michael when introducing the concept told of a pair of instances in which they were able to pray for strangers. The jug has been a very effective visual tool for our group to be encouraged by each other and also celebrate our wins.