“I” Stories

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The Science Channel has a new tagline, one that quickly captures the driving purpose behind their content: “Question Everything.” They had me as a viewer a decade ago, not from any tagline, but rather their show Survivorman with Les Stroud.  (He’s not as flashy or cunning as Bear Grylls, but his one-hour shows set were much truer and more educational.)  Today, a few of their top shows are How It’s Made and Into the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. Question Everything. It works for drawing you into those shows, and on a broader scale, it works in characterizing our postmodern culture.

Question everything—including all institutions and institutionalized assumptions. It’s the natural response to the age of Modernity, back when science was heralded as the definitive answer to all questions. But things have changed. And Christianity is certainly not immune to those implications. Students probably know this reality more than adults. Just because something’s in the Bible doesn’t make it universally accepted. Just because your pastor said it doesn’t make it true. Just because it’s a belief that dates back to the age of the Roman Empire doesn’t make it relevant today. The peers of our teens are very accustomed to questioning everything, and that can be quite scary for Christians who start to feel like the underdog in a high-stakes battle for discovering Truth.

The thing is, Christianity is not so fragile it can’t withstand these questions. Postmodernity does not mean post-Christianity, even though parts of our inhabited culture will indeed move that direction. Our faith in Jesus Christ is, was, and shall ever be signified with just that: faith. 

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

So what are our teenagers to do when face to face with an onslaught of relentless questioning? The answer is to turn to their “I” stories. “I’ stories are those personal encounters with a living Christ that no one can strip away. They may not believe them, and they may not relate to them, but they cannot question them away. Churches used to call these “testimonies” (actually many still do), and while that term may make not make the average student eager to offer her/his own, it is truly what an “I” story is all about.

There was this one time when I was feeling really down, like cutoff from the whole world, but then…

I never believed anything from the Bible until I felt the presence of God on that mountaintop, and ever since then…

I have no idea what put the world in motion or what the root cause of evil is, but I know in my heart and soul that God is love…

The Bible is filled with “I” stories. Read any of the Psalms. Read one of the New Testament epistles. Consider Jesus’ own words to his disciples, “But who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29).

What “I” story can you share this week? You never know when those words of personal encounter, belief, or transformation may cause another child of God to question everything anew, which may be a necessary step on their own journey of faith.

Along the Journey…
CC

Koinonia on the Road!!!

Dinner and Karaoke Night at Stoneybrook Point

Dinner and Karaoke Night at Stoneybrook Point Cafe

The early Christian concept of “koinonia” is something that’s hard to sum up in one word…it can mean fellowshipcommunity, faithful, participation, or common unity.  It first appears in Acts 2:42 when the early church began experiencing its first real period of numeric growth.  This verse quickly tells us that it was never about the numbers: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  That’s what koinonia was all about: sharing, worshipping, discerning, giving, learning, growing with one another.  It was all about their common fellowship through Christ, nothing about one particular day of the week or identified location.

I’ve tried to track down the origins of FBCA Youth gatherings being called “koinonia,” and it goes all the way back to Eddie’s long tenure as student minister.  Though it is the technical name for Sunday night youth group, it has always sought to describe the living purpose of the group rather than the particular place and time.  Koinonia happens on days other than Sundays!  It happens in places other than 5 Oak Street!

This past Sunday, it happened as our youth loaded the church buses, headed west to Maggie Valley, and enjoyed dinner & karaoke at Stoneybrook Point Cafe.  The pictures below tell just a glimpse of the story of Koinonia on the Road!

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Tell Me a Story

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We need to bring story-time back.
As kids, it was the last thing we did each day, when parents or loved would read us one of our favorite books or tell us one of our favorite bedtime stories.

It was one of the best parts of kindergarten (apart from all-out free time with a room full of toys) — sitting on the carpet at the feet of our teacher, who was so skilled at telling captivating stories of Clifford, Winnie the Pooh, Things 1 & 2, Curious George and the like.

Story-time was an essential part of growing up, of learning about our family, our town, the environment, and our wider world.  And then we got older, and stories suddenly became less frequent.  Though our experiences vary, at some point we all outgrew story-time, and instead began being discouraged from telling stories, for fear that our imagination might overpower the facts of the day.
(“What really happened today?  How did this get broken?  Don’t tell a story!”)

And then we get even older, and hearing those first stories seem childlike.  We want the kid’s books taken out of our rooms.  We are not very interested in hearing other people’s stories, just our own.  This was certainly the case for my adolescent self during our annual family reunions.  All I wanted to do was play with my brothers and cousins, but all the “old folks” kept wanting to tell me stories from when I was just a kid, or ever worse, go into stories from their own [seemingly ancient] childhood stories.  Those didn’t interest me at all at the time, but they sure do now.

We need to bring back story-time.

Telling stories connects us to our childhood imaginations, which turn out to be just as important as we get older.
Telling stories helps us stay creative. Creative in arts, music, writing, planning, envisioning, playing, living.
Telling stories keeps us honest, both about where we’ve been and how we’ve become who we are.
Telling stories allows us to connect more deeply with others and see potential points of intersection with their lives and ours.
But beyond all this, telling stories helps us to work out our faith and even pass it along to others.

After all, that’s what the Bible is all about – the great story of our great God working in, through, and around the lives of ordinary people.

These stories are only on our smartphone apps today because they were told again and again and again to new generations, back before most people could even read or write.  Yet somehow, through the act of re-telling the stories of ancestors from long ago, each new age found new meaning and connection with the ongoing story of God at work in this world.

So let’s keep telling our stories. But let’s listen to the stories of others, too.  It may seem a little childish, but remember what Jesus said about childish things:

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matt 19:14)

I imagine Jesus gathering those children onto a dirt rug, just like my kindergarten teacher did (minus the dirt), eager to launch into that sacred act of story-telling.  And I bet those kids all ran to their homes, eager to tell those stories again to anyone who would listen.  That’s pretty much how the Gospel is supposed to work, right?

Along the Journey…
CC

Jesus was a Stranger

I’ve become a stranger once again.  New city, new home, new roads, new job, new customs, new expectations—in the past few weeks, pretty much everything that has been “normal” and “ordinary” has become strange once more.  Yes, I’ve still got my essential relationships, sense of calling, personal tendencies, and faith perspective, but it takes time to gather your general bearings when there is so much strange-ness about you, not to mention all of the tensions and barriers to community that can appear insurmountable upon first glance.  But I’ve also come to recognize something beautiful in the midst of being strange…something too quickly forgotten once the new-ness wears off: there is a holy presence surrounding the stranger, and a holy summoning along the journey from stranger to friend.

This truth has been embedded in Scripture all along.  Take Genesis 18, which comes right after God announces a miraculous intervention into the long-faced struggles of Abraham and Sarah, reminding them of God’s unilateral covenant with them.  And then suddenly, as if it’s the first outcome of God’s covenantal love, they find three strangers in their midst.  It happened when Abraham was taking a well-needed break in the cool shade of the oak trees at a place called “Mamre.”  Abraham’s response to these intrusive strangers who’ve ruined an otherwise great time to nap?  1) He RUNS over to them. 2) He BOWS to them (a cultural sign of respect and humility).  3) He WELCOMES them to stay, OFFERING them fresh water and a good foot-washing, GIVING his favorite resting spot under those shady oak trees and some freshly baked bread (thanks to Sarah).  These unexpected and mysterious strangers become welcomed guests and visible representatives of the LORD God, prompting unprecedented conversations about judgment and justice, and all started because Abraham took notice of them.

Or take that great resurrection story that happened on the road to Emmaus (a small village outside of Jerusalem), when Jesus appeared as a complete stranger to a few of the disciples [Luke 24].  Over the course of several miles on foot, the disciples talked with this stranger about all sorts of issues and current events, and then urged him to stay and eat with them (just like Abraham did with his three strangers).  And it was only there around table, as the stranger broke bread in their midst, that they recognized him for who he truly was: Jesus, the risen Christ.

What do we make of this?  Why does it matter?  First, there is something about the presence of strangers that is a fundamental element to Christian circles.  Our faith is not supposed to be lived out alone, or even in our own closely-knit communities.  We are called to pay attention to the strangers in our midst and to practice hospitality in the most extravagant ways!  Secondly, these strangers among us hold the potential to teach us something new about God—even to represent Jesus himself!  We hear this in Matthew 25 too when Jesus says those strange and beautiful new words,

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:34-36, 40).

And finally, these stories tell us that the journey from stranger to friend happens most effectively around the common table.  We must be intentional about making room, taking time, sharing life with new sisters and brothers in Christ.

Here recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of people’s generous hospitality, and I can say that I’ve also experienced the presence of Christ in the strangers who are becoming friends.  May I not forget what it is like to be a stranger myself.  (That goes for us all!)

Along the Journey…
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Day 3……..If I only had a ______!

Yummy breakfast! Morning celebration. Two honor campers from FBCA. Elliott and Margaret. Bible study. Travel to work sites and picnic lunches. Today I went to The Boys and Girls Clubs with Kate. There are actually 2 groups here. Painting, cleaning closets, and playing with children.

Yummy dinner……even if 7th grade boys only eat pizza, tater tots, and cake and ice cream!

Worship…..Laura Beth read scripture. JD was interviewed.

Emerald City Ball! We had some great costumes and saw some great costumes. Evening devotions always include highlights and lowlights from the day. Biggest low is the heat. We are spoiled mountain people! Great thing is that this is all we can come out with for lows! Lots of highs!

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Day 2. Not in Kansas anymore!

Yummy breakfast! Morning celebration. Bible study. Our study was Joseph and Potiphar! FBCA kids excelled thanks to Clark Sorrells. Lunch was picnic style at the work site. I worked with Anna Kate’s group at the Salvation Army.

Wizard of Sloz rec party! Caleb got slozzed! Worship! Devotions and bed!

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Passport Missions……….The Recap!

Day 1
Our bus trip was very uneventful and that’s a good thing! Our bus driver is John. His kids went through FBCA youth group years ago. (His words, not mine!). Lunch at the mall in Winston Salem. Best perk……..lemon cookies with white chocolate chips at Firehouse Subs!

Checked into camp and got our shirts. Girls were assigned rooms in the apartments. Boys are in the dorms. Opening celebration……..awesome staff! Met with our Bible Study groups and made new friends!