Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Conspiracy

To me, the season of Advent in the church was always an exciting one, when we began to sing Christmas hymns, the traditional wreath appeared with its four small and one large candles, and the altar cloth changed to a deep, beautiful purple. At home, the flurry of constant baking begun, frequent (and secret) trips to the store were made, and we hung the lights outside our home. The world became a little bit brighter and warmer as the town lit up with color and holiday festivities. But for the most part, I don't think it truly captured the excitement and expectancy of waiting for the Savior.

This year at my church in Alabama, we are participating in a global movement called Advent Conspiracy. During the four weeks of Advent, the time of preparation leading up to the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day, we are focusing on four areas.


1. Worshiping Fully
2. Spending Less
3. Giving More
4. Loving All

These might seem fairly basic, and they are. But how many of us actually commit to living out these four principles of our faith, especially during the most joyous season of the year? The goal of these few weeks of Advent is to capture the contagious joy of Christ's coming by looking beyond the glitter and candy to see the reason for the season.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Pastor Rusty used this example in his sermon two weeks ago: What if Mercedes-Benz told everyone at Christmas not to buy any cars from them, but to go and give their money away? How earth-shattering would that be? Think of the huge impact a decision like that could have on the global water crisis, world poverty, or homelessness? We all know that won't happen, but maybe it could happen, in our own family, church, or community.

It's like in Miracle on 34th Street, when Macy's decides to follow Santa's example and actually encourages customers to shop at another store with a better deal. If, for just a second, we could take the focus off ourselves and realize that WE are the answer to our prayers to end world hunger, the Ebola crisis, human trafficking, how powerful would that be? God has given many of us the resources. Now we must choose to use them for good.

Jesus was all about giving, not just his time and resources, but also sharing the Good News. God is love. The Savior has come. There is hope. If only you take up your cross and follow me. He never lost sight of the target - to transform lives with His love. This year I want to let go of the fake, shiny holiday Christmas has become. Instead of extravagant consumption, shouldn't it really be about extravagant love anyway?

With my co-conspirators at Cornerstone Church, I am conspiring to follow Jesus. We are making this Christmas different. Not only by focusing less on the material, but by giving more of myself to God. Worshiping fully. Taking time to adore the incredible God who chose to come to Earth as a baby in a manger. And loving everyone. Not just those around me, but neighbors and strangers and those who maybe don't have anymore to spend Christmas with.

As we wait in anticipation for the Redeemer of the world to come, let us shine his light in all the world, especially in those dark corners, just as Christ did.

May the joy of Christmas be with you throughout this season!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reblogged: Challenged Accepted

November and December have been busy months for us at ARM. This fall, I have attended several conferences and career fairs to let other know what we are up to in rural Alabama. I spoke to college students, youth ministers, and pastors at these various functions about the possibility of serving with Alabama Rural Ministry this coming summer, either as Summer Staff or a Mission Team. Although the bread and butter of our ministry takes place in the summer, fall and spring are very busy times for us for promoting our mission and service opportunities to churches in Alabama and throughout the Southeast.

At the National Youth Worker's Convention in Atlanta, we set up a mini-house to represent our work with families in the area of home repair. As a way to engage people walking through the exhibit hall, we set up the "Take a Swing!" hammer challenge: those who could drive a nail into the 2x4 in one swing won a prize. This proved to be a fun and original method of sharing about our work.

Lisa and Joe at Youth Specialties in Atlanta
At NEXT UMC, a creative conference for campus ministers and college students to "Dream, Go, and Do", I spent two days on my feet talking to folks about ARM's vision and ministry. During this weekend, I also had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with some of my YAM (Young Adult Missionary) partners in mission.

With US-2's Connor and Stephanie at NEXT
Below I am re-blogging a post from my good friend Dave Johnson, who shares about our experience in Denver:

Challenge Accepted

Over November 7-9, 2014, a few of us Young Adult Missionaries traveled to Denver, CO for Imagine What’s NEXT. Through music, messages, conversations, and fun, this UMC gathering gave college students, and folks from agencies and organizations, time and space to connect, worship, and consider opportunities for service and vocation.

On Saturday evening, we were issued the $5 Challenge. As we departed for dinner and evening worship downtown, the organizers gave each participant $5 cash. We were not to keep this, but to use it to make the biggest impact possible in downtown Denver. They gave a number of ideas like buying a package of socks to give away, treating someone to dinner, or buying a bus pass for someone. They encouraged us to take pictures of our experiences and post them on social media with the hashtag “#5challenge.”

YAMS reunite in Denver!
As for the missionaries, the gears in our minds were spinning. Personally, I had just given a talk earlier in the day, and one of my points was an old standard at Church and Society: we often fail to make the distinction between acts of charity – temporary assistance for urgent needs – and justice – lasting transformation aimed at God’s Kingdom. God calls us to both through our lives of faith (Micah 6:8, Matt 23:23), but we often focus our ministries on charity. For us, the $5 Challenge was to think and act outside the box and do something a little closer to justice.

An idea budded and blossomed during break time: what if we bought sidewalk chalk and wrote messages of inspiration, encouragement, advocacy, and awareness on the streets of Denver? We ran with it. After dinner, we fortunately came upon an office supplies store 5 minutes before close (yes, we were those annoying customers). Six of us went in and spent $3 on 3 packs of chalk. We hit the streets.

Before our eyes, the results multiplied like fishes and loaves blessed by God. People read our notes as they walked by, some engaging us in conversation. Some people wanted to write words of wisdom and inspiration for themselves, so we gave them chalk to take with them on their own journeys. We tagged each of our notes “#NEXT14″ so that socially-networked passers-by might go online and see what else we were up to at the conference.

I like to think that people’s lives were changed, even just a little, by our “street tweets” – that someone would know that Christians carry messages of hope as well as challenge – that another might grow in their awareness that all people are valuable and treasured – that yet another would come to realize we were created to be alive and vital. A few strategic and beautiful words, bathed in the power of the Spirit, have the power to transform lives forever.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ –Luke 19:39-40

10325128_10202329577576577_4655090294365124033_nDave Johnson
General Board of Church and Society
Washington, DC
US-2, Class of 2013-2015
Advance #3021860