Hijacked by the Holy Spirit

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all like plans. Some enjoy making them, others love the structure they provide, and even those who purposely choose not to have a plan are in essence… planning not to have a plan. Having a plan makes whatever you’re doing run more smoothly and have a higher chance of being successful. “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail,” right?  But what happens when our plans get derailed? What happens when an unexpected turn takes place leading you to someplace unexpected? Like most things, the answer is simple enough in concept but difficult in execution: When you plan… always leave room for the Holy Spirit.

Now this is more than just what you tell your kids before they head out on a date. The idea is that we never allow our plans to supersede the often spontaneous nature of the Holy Spirit… even when those original plans include doing ministry. Chris and Courtney Reynolds saw this play out first hand during a small group meeting and saw how powerful it can be when you not only allow the Holy Spirit to disrupt your plans, but embrace it while it happens.bible-study-lesson-tips-small-group-leaders-600x400

After coming off a break, their small group was ready to jump back into their routine of meeting.  Our study on Colossians was kicking off, and as those of you who used your booklets in your small groups know, it lays out your small group time together in a nice, neat, all-encompassing format. Perfectly planned. Everyone was catching up and discussing how they were excited about the Colossians study, when, to really start their devotional time together, they went around asking for prayer requests. Enter the Holy Spirit. As one request after another came, it was obvious that there would be no study on the book of Colossians that night. A perfectly planned Bible study instead turned into a beautiful time where walls came down, tears flowed freely, and prayers from the heart were lifted to God.

Jesus had a similar experience. One day, Jesus was asked if He would heal the little girl of a local church leader. The girl was very sick and close to death.  Jesus agreed and began to follow the man back to his house. Jesus was on His way to heal a child. He was on His way to do something good… even great. Jesus had a plan. As they were walking through crowds, Jesus felt healing power leave Him as he was touched. Enter the Holy Spirit. Jesus stops. He stops His walk. He stops His good deed. He stops following His original plan. It would have been so easy for Jesus to keep walking.  To stay focused on the task at hand. To follow the plan and, as we find out later, continue on His way to literally raise a little girl from the dead! But He didn’t… because Jesus always allowed room for the Holy Spirit in His plans. He took the time to heal, restore and minister to a woman from the crowd. Jesus didn’t let ministry get in the way of ministry.

It isn’t always easy to let the Holy Spirit hijack your plans…but it’s always powerful.  Just ask the Reynolds. And while it is obvious to see why we should celebrate what the Holy Spirit was able to do in their small group that night, it is just as important to celebrate the fact that they saw it for what it was, embraced it, and moved out of the way… even if it meant throwing Plan A out the window.

As the line from the old Scottish poem that inspired John Steinbeck’s novel (should have) said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… especially when the Holy Spirit is involved”. And that’s just fine with us.

 

 

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Teens Who Praise

As the summer ended, we in the youth ministry knew a bittersweet moment awaited us. Sadly, we’d be losing two graduating students, Andrew Butcher and Caroline Ring, who had served as our regular worship leaders for well over a year. Their leadership and example had been an encouragement to our younger youth, and we wanted to continue the tradition of involving students in leading worship. The challenge we faced was to raise up new leaders who could take Andrew and Caroline’s places when the new school year began.IMG_3990

Starting during the spring, we began including younger students in the worship leading mix by having them join our veterans up at the front during singing. By the time summer was drawing to a close, the decision was made to go all out and begin developing a youth praise team. Despite the fact that neither Aubrey nor Mitchell have any particular talent for teaching people how to sing better (and are only passable song leaders at best!) – we had one significant factor in our favor: we’ve got several kids that really love to sing and are willing to serve. With our Wednesday night gathering being the best context to give our kids the opportunity to showcase their leadership, we started pulling several kids (anyone who was interested, really) up to the front to lead songs along with one of the youth ministers. Not terribly worried about mastering four-part harmony or nailing every rhythm and lyric, the early goal was to establish a comfort with being up front. We knew we had kids who loved to engage in worship, but we wanted to see if we could get them to love setting an example for being engaged in worship.

Currently, our praise team is a collection of about ten kids and many of these can be found leading any given Wednesday. We’re hardly producing gold records, but the students really do seem to enjoy the experience. Every Wednesday, our group messaging app fills with conversation regarding the plan for worship that night. Our team is taking increasing ownership of the process, which is encouraging to see. We’ve even purchased additional microphones so more of them can participate at the same time!

A few weeks ago, we had a special singing night where we sang through some newer songs and even tried to learn a few we’ve never sung before. Ten students, a mix of Middle and High Schoolers, took position at the front of our room to help their peers better engage in the worship experience. Though we stumbled our way through a few of the songs (minister’s fault!), the overall experience was very uplifting to our youth group. A couple of High School girls later remarked that it was one of their favorite Wednesdays of the semester so far. Surely, much credit goes to the example set by a group of teens who simply wanted to share their joy for praising God through song.

It’s an incredible thing to watch what happens when we can pair students’ passions and talents with opportunities for them to use these things to serve the body of Christ. Though our youth praise team has a lot of room to grow, our early adopters are setting a precedent for unapologetic leadership that, if nurtured, will serve the youth ministry for years to come. Here’s a big “thank you” to Briggs, Caroline, Evan, Hannah, Katie, Kay, Lily D, Lily H, Maya, Patrick, Sophie, and others who are showing us what it means to step-up and lead. May their example be an encouragement to our youth to find ways to use what God has given them to praise the Lord.

 

Next Steps with Colossians

Over the past seven weeks, our church family was blessed with the opportunity to collectively dive into the book of Colossians. Through teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, discussions within our small groups, and time spent studying on our own, it is our sincere hope that you came away with one major idea: it’s all about Jesus.

TitleSlideGraphicFor years, authors and theologians have discussed the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. In many ways, this idea is true for us as we reflect on our study of Colossians because it allowed us to focus on what our next step may be on our journey to be a Christ-centered disciple.

Some of us were able to take the step of learning how to better reflect on scripture using the S.O.A.P. portion of Discovery Bible Study. Some of us wanted a group to study with and took the step of committing to be a part of a community. There were some of us who took the step of being intentional to come to worship every Sunday for the past seven weeks and others who were intentional about praying for those who don’t know Jesus.  Still others took the step of sharing God’s word with a friend or co-worker.

Everything about our Colossians study, from the format to the booklet to the content of the messages, was meant to create next steps. It’s often easy to get so focused on the destination that getting there seems completely overwhelming. So for now, let’s continue to focus on our journey—our path–and be intentional on finding what our next step might be.

Small Things with Great Love

A few years ago, one of Clear Creek’s small groups was convicted that they needed to do something more. In addition to their usual times of fellowship and Bible study, they were sure that Jesus wanted them to be reaching out and serving. As they started looking for service opportunities, they quickly realized how tough it can be to get something planned. Small group members weren’t free at the times most organizations needed volunteers. Some service opportunities didn’t work well with the group’s large number of children. And the activities that were the easiest to plan, often seemed like the least interesting.

For the next year the small group tried serving in different ways, but nothing seemed right. Then one day they came across a quote from Mother Teresa, “You can do no great things – only small things with great love.” Rather than trying to plan a great service event or figure out what issue they cared most about, they decided to get involved with a community that needed love. The next month they went to Patten Towers (a downtown public housing development) for the first time. They walked around, met people and offered to pray. Nothing fancy and no big agenda – just being present and loving like Jesus did. Some residents smiled, others ignored them. Some were happy to pray, others refused. But everyone in the small group agreed that it felt right.

Picture2The small group quickly made Patten Towers a regular part of their monthly routine. Over time they met more people and began to be recognized around the building. They started offering a free dinner at the building every few months to meet more people and have more time to talk. Even the building’s housing manger asked how they could help! Being a regular part of the Patten Towers community allowed residents to see the light of Jesus. It made it easier to the small group to see the actual needs of people in their community. It also made space for God’s Spirit to work in unexpected ways.

One of the most interesting relationships to emerge from this ministry is with a middle-aged man named Ameen. Ameen is a Muslim refugee from Iraq. He speaks broken English and goes fishing a lot. He’s also incredibly friendly and willing to study the Bible. Members of the small group developed a friendly relationship that is growing into something more. There have been multiple Bible studies together. Ameen has been in their home for dinner. And he has gone to worship with them as well.

Looking back over the last couple of years, it’s exciting to see how God took a desire to serve and turned it into even more. This group has been blessed with chances to grow, new friends, opportunities to share the Bible, and so much more.

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And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’”
Zechariah 7:8-10

 

Middle School Servants

One big way I saw God this summer is in the Middle School girls’ willingness to serve. They took time out of their summers to be a blessing to other people. They could have been doing anything else, but they chose to serve. Riley Oleksik really showed the teens and the adults who were helping what it means to have a servant heart. 1During our mission trip, Riley had a broken hand, and I never heard her complain once. She worked hard while always having a smile on her face. She didn’t let her injury get in the way of shaping the community of Madison, Tennessee. She challenged us to never stop serving even when there are obstacles in the way. She forever changed my heart to be even more willing to serve. Her example made our whole team want to give their all for the church and community we served that week.

Another big way I have seen God working is how open and vulnerable the Middle Schoolers are willing to be. At Impact, I was amazed by how the girls opened up with one another in small group devotionals at night. It can be hard to share about the messy and hard parts in life, but they were willing to confess many of their struggles and fears. The environment that God has created in the Clear Creek Youth Ministry is open and accepting of people, flaws and all. Our girls’ willingness to be vulnerable has taught me it is okay to be open about the messy parts of my life.

 

Young Influencers

I have been deeply affected by all of the high schoolers in my time here as an intern. They are all powerful instruments for the kingdom and are bearing witness to Jesus, both to each other and to those outside of Clear Creek.thumbnail 6

Jeanna Parker and Julie Clevenger are influencers. I had the privilege of giving a devotional with them in Haiti. We chose the story of Thomas doubting the resurrection from John 20. To hear these two young women of God speak openly about their doubts as well as the character of Jesus as revealed in his response was beautiful to behold. They then each led prayers asking the Lord to soften our hearts and become vulnerable.

Eden Henderson is an influencer. In many conversations, she has been vulnerable with me and with others in a powerful way. She has led me and those around her in an expression of vulnerability that provides safety, not judgement. She has shown me that the two most powerful words that can be said when someone shares a deep part of themselves with you are “me too”.

Charlotte Vance is an influencer. She has been a voice to our ministry team and her peers about the importance of asking difficult questions about God, faith, how to connect with those who do not know Jesus, and what it means to be a true disciple. Her openness and wisdom are contagious.

 

Brag on the Work of the Spirit

All the youth boys blew me away this summer. From participation in small group discussions on Sunday to busting up pallets and digging in the dirt on the Mission Trip, they impressed me with their desire to be involved. However, I would like to brag on the work of the Spirit in some specific boys.

I witnessed Christ moving in the heart of Evan Pirtle many times. At Impact, he reflected Jesus constantly through his attitude, his depth, and his worship. At all of our events, Evan participated and took discussions seriously.  On the Mission Trip to Nashville, he was a huge boost to the group.  I believe Evan is already a leader in the youth group so there is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit is preparing him to lead his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

I also saw God working in Matthew Stone. Matt loves to make others laugh (and he is good at it). He is a fun presence and he makes any event he is at much more exciting. This summer, I got to see a vulnerable, thoughtful, convicted Matt that some people might not usually see. I witnessed the Spirit moving Matt’s heart towards new, mature leadership of the group.3

Patrick Russell impressed me over and over this summer. He is a man of integrity, discipline, and he cares about others. He is also very patient, forgiving, and full of grace. Patrick was a constant leader this summer, through both words and actions. He contributed to every discussion, worked very hard whenever it was needed (he and Sam assisted Mitchell and myself with intense, nasty, dirty yard work just because they wanted to help) and was a positive voice in the group.  Patrick is already full of the Spirit and is following God’s plan for his life.

 

See Goodness

Clear Creek’s children are surrounded by influences that are showing them how to disciple. Volunteers, like Dan and Helen Cothron, are setting examples for our children that are not going unnoticed. Houston Hicks, Ethan Lane, and Sadie Reynolds come to mind when I think of children who are using their abilities to disciple other children. Houston and Ethan both volunteer to pray and greet in the children’s wing as often as they can. Sadie is consistently the first to volunteer every time I have asked and encourages others to do the same.

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This summer, I have seen goodness in our children. It has been a joy for me to witness the Lord shine through them. A few instances that quickly come to mind are the fifth graders on the mission trip to Atlanta, the inclusion of the visitors at music camp, and the joy they found at Summer J.A.M. Among all of those, one instance stands out in my mind the most.

Sundays in the three-year-old class are fun, joyful and chaotic. There are several children in that class and one of them loves to be read to at the end of class. One Sunday, she had a roughmorning and she needed the routine to make her feel better. The teacher who had been reading to her had to talk to a parent at the door and I was working on a project with some kids at the table, leaving her without someone to read her book. One of the children, Alexia Rodger, walked over and “read” the rest of the book to her. It was a beautiful thing to witness a child, who cannot even read, doing what she can to make a friend feel better. She let her light shine that day.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-19,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

 

Blazing Hope Update

thumbnailBlazing Hope Ranch recently accepted a third survivor of human trafficking into their transitional program at HOPE Haven. The transitional living program at Blazing Hope Ranch provides a place where Healing, Opportunity, Protection and Education can happen on a daily basis.

Clear Creek small groups have been involved at Blazing Hope in a number of ways. Some provide gifts of love and other necessities to residents at Blazing Hope. Other groups have helped at Blazing Hope’s camp by serving meals and leading activities. One of our members said he was surprised that the campers were grateful for our coming to serve food and help with the activities. The camp opened his eyes to opportunities for service that he had never considered. Partnering in the ministry of Blazing Hope has provided opportunities to join Jesus in his ministry of reconciliation and restoration.

 

Hello, My Name Is…

It’s a phrase we have all had to speak when meeting new people, but imagine having to say it in a language that’s not your native tongue.  The SE Asia ESL class began as a way to take the work Clear Creek has been doing for several years in Asia, and continue it right here in Hixson. Similar to our overseas missionaries, teaching English as a second language is an avenue to connect people to God and to each other.

IMG_8768In 2012, while thinking about our time in China (and missing Chinese food), we met Andy and Ivy Cheng, owners of New China restaurant.  They spoke just enough English to intrigue someone from Soddy-Daisy, so we started a conversation and began a relationship. When we met Ivy and Andy, their children Elin and Sharon were still living in China with their grandparents, but were planning to move to America. Over the next six years, our families grew closer, celebrated holidays and spent time in each other’s homes.

In 2017 we saw how the Great Commission was being played out in reverse with people from all over the world coming to Hixson. We launched the SE Asia ESL class on Sunday mornings to build relationships, improve English and show Jesus to our Asian brothers and sisters that live in our city. God is working through these ESL classes to impact families. Ivy and her two children along with her mother and father-in-law are attending the ESL classes and connecting with other families in the Children’s ministry and other Christians at Clear Creek. What began as a craving for Chinese food, God used to create friendship and opportunity.