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oh the weather outside is frightful...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Well it snowed here this morning. Well really it had snowed when I went to bed last night. There was still snow on the ground when I left this morning. The mountains are coated in snow and I'm ready for the Christmas season finally. Some of that spirit came last week when I was at my brother and sister-in-law's house. We started a new Ralston tradition. Gingerbread houses! It was a late night Friday night, with a homemade template and Gingerbread (my mom was voting for graham cracker houses but us kids wouldn't settle for that). Wendy and I worked really hard on our houses, and we had a great time with it all.

It got me in the Christmas spirit, now just for all the shopping and fun with my families and the Nutcracker, and the museum, and caroling, and more gingerbread house making, and Christmas parties galore! Before you know it I'll be back in Illinois for Christmas! Woo hoo!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Wednesday, November 29, 2006
During the CCYM retreat, the adults had a chance to have their own small group and we talked about a whole lot of different things. One thing that came up was a discussion on moralistic therapeutic deism. Now before you run off and freak out at that phrase, hang on and I'll get to explaining it. I haven't read the book it came from, but intend to soon, but essentially here is what I understand the authors of Soul Searching have to say about that...

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is what teenagers have these days. They can't seem to talk about their faith other than saying that God exists on a sort of unreachable level (deism) and requires them to be good (moralistic) and to feel good (therapeutic). We all end up being these happy capitalists that do things that we feel are right in the eyes of others so that we may feel good about ourselves. Essentially, that makes it so that God isn't at all demanding of us and who we are. Instead, God's job is to make us happy by providing us with things rather than it being our job to do things to further God's kingdom here and now.

Why is it that adults go to church once they have kids? To instill morals in them of course. Because it is apparently the church's job to teach kids morals. We also want kids to grow up feeling good about themselves so we teach them little more than "God loves them" during Sunday School. But what happens when parents get divorced, when kids have family members die, or something else horrible happens? Suddenly that "God loves them" speech sure isn't enough and we lose them. They grow up, get married, have kids and start the cycle again.

I think at when we look at what Jesus calls us to do, we are called beyond this moralistic therapeutic deism. We are called to act. We are called to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Today we read this article by Jim Palmer about the child sex trade in South Asia from relevant magazine in Bible study... I want to share an excerpt that made me think about this MTD thing and made me want to sort of spew out my current thoughts about it.

"Religion tends to place God somewhere out there or up there in the sky. The religious logic naturally follows then that people petition God to come down from the sky to intervene into human affairs, particularly to protect or rescue people from pain and suffering. When things are particularly bleak, the conversation turns to heaven and how God will eventually work everything out in the end. That's nice theology unless you are the little girl being raped several times a day, six days a week."
Yes, God cares about us and wants us to be happy. There is no denying that. But the kingdom of God is among us (Luke 17:21) and we are responsible for our neighbors. Another quote from the article that speaks directly to my heart... "Confronting oppression wherever it exists and bringing rescue to victims of injustice wherever they are is a reflection of the heart of God. God's kingdom is one of love, beauty, wholeness, freedom, peace, truth, and justice. Some people seem to sit around waiting for God to drop it on us. Maybe God wants to give birth to it through us."

We are God's hands and feet in this world, there is no denying it. God wants us to act, that's why Jesus showed up in the first place. God doesn't want us to sit around and wait for something better to come, God wants us to make it better. These are the things I try to teach youth each week at youth group. This is the example I desperately want to be living up to with my friends and family. It isn't easy work being part of God's kingdom, but the reward is great both now and forever.

A very Happy Birthday...

Sunday, November 26, 2006
I'm not one for birthdays. I've had some pretty not cool stuff happen to me on my birthdays, like throwing up in front of a whole group of people, having a tooth extracted, failing and ECE 110 test and getting stuck on the bus for an hour... really, not very much fun. So I don't always look forward to birthdays. I'm also not much the fan of drawing attention to myself because that just isn't who I am, and birthdays tend to be days that you do have attention drawn to yourself.

So this morning started out and I had to give announcements at church. One of my contacts must have fallen out somewhere between my bathroom and the door, so I was all disoriented. Thankfully it is was the eye I don't use. I got to church, got through 2 services without my birthday being announced, then the associate pastor announced it in the 3rd. I was all like drat so I got out of there quick and headed to lunch. We went to Mimi's cafe which was ok but overpriced and the service wasn't so great. I got home and got a phone call that two friends wanted to take me out and not let me sit around by myself all day. I agreed, and we were to meet to go bowling at 4. Well I get there, and not only do they show up but they brought an entourage of other people from counterculture with them. It was really sweet. They even brought a cake and we had a grand old time bowling and then hanging out afterwards. It was definitely good times and maybe the turnaround to horrible no good very bad birthdays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 23, 2006
I hope that you all have a safe and happy holiday!

I'm spending mine not worrying about anything and we'll be eating here in about a half an hour.

May you eat well today, enjoy the company of your family, and take a wonderful nap sometime in the afternoon.

Take heart

Monday, November 20, 2006
What a weekend. I came back feeling good, refreshed, still in a state of trying to figure out my life but with a sense of peace that I haven't felt in a long time. Unfortunately I've had a headache since about 6 last night that just won't go away.

The theme scripture for the weekend was John 16:33 and we heard from Charles Harrison who is the new Director for the center of Wesleyan Renewal. Of course, being the serious follower of John Wesley I am I thought or said Amen after nearly every thing he said.

I was wary at first. As I set foot into worship, the first thing I felt was a little worried. Sometimes big youth events can be really emotionally manipulative. Let's play on kid's emotions, get them saved then tell them to go out and do likewise. If you haven't figured out, that's never my purpose in ministry. As Charles put it yesterday morning, "If you don't wake up and recommit your life to Christ each and every day there is probably something wrong." I'm one of those people who can't give you a definitive date on when I came to accept that Christ is who I am choosing to follow. I can just say that I am always on the journey and some days it is easier than others to follow Christ. Plain and simple.

Thankfully, through the truly inspired teachings and the feelings that I got through the weekend, I walked away feeling good that the youth got to experience something so amazing. I could probably search and find things to complain about, but that wouldn't be helpful. What was helpful was the bonds that I am continuing to form with this group. They're great youth.

The adults got their own small group time which was cool. To just chew on issues of youth ministry and all sorts of things was really great. One of our sessions we watched as the youth were guided through a guided meditation and then moved into some trust building activities. Those were really cool to watch and experience from the 2nd floor of the hall. It was really really cool.
I am feeling renewed, and am so glad that I have been given such an opportunity to be with these great youth and to learn from some great youth directors. Sacramento Methodist Assembly has some great facilities high up in the mountains, and it was wonderful to be away from cell phones, the internet and the business of daily life.

I keep returning to the scripture... and it makes me just smile and will definitely keep me going as I move through transitions to come.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

NM CCYM event

Friday, November 17, 2006
Well later this afternoon I am off to the New Mexico conference winter CCYM event. We're taking 7 youth from our group, which is awesome. They have camp down at Sacramento Methodist Assembly which I've been hoping to get a chance to go to. We've got a really great group of kids going so I'm excited.

In high school, I was really involved in CCYM in the IGRC (Illinois Great Rivers Conference). I ran for a position my sophomore year, but lost in the race. My district had made a mistake though and the people that got elected were all from one church. That was a big no-no. I got placed on the council and it was all over from there. I would venture to say that a lot of my spiritual formation came out of those CCYM planning events and the opportunity to get to know some great pastors in the IGRC. My junior year I was assistant to the VP of the Northeast region during YAR (Youth annual retreat) and got to do all of the dirty work as far as putting YAR together. My senior year I got elected to lead YAR. Being the introverted kid I was, that was my first time in front of a large group, and suddenly I felt at home and realized I had some public speaking skills. My band, Spazms of Faith, played at YAR a couple of years. I can remember countless hours counting pennies for penny wars, time spent on the disciplinary council catching kids for smoking, roaming the halls when everyone else was supposed to be asleep, making pizza orders for hundreds of pizzas, it all brings back some great memories for me.

There are supposed to be about 300 kids at this thing this weekend which doesn't compare to the 800-1000 kids that come to the IGRC Sr. High YAR event, but we're going to have a spectacular time. Speaking of which, I should probably get ready to go. I'll have pictures when I get back for sure.

on being thankful

Thursday, November 16, 2006
I've talked before about how my families here tend to give and give and give to the point of not having anything because they know what it is like to have nothing. Right now they're doing things for project share, serving food for homeless people here in Albuquerque, some of them spoke for Saranam Sunday last week which was really truly awesome, and overall, they are just great people who really want to turn their lives around.

I always get interesting stories during our Bible study, and today we talked a little bit about thankfulness and how we are supposed to give to others and trust that God will provide for us. One of the ladies shared a story that just touched my heart that I want to share with you all..

She was living in a hotel, pregnant, had a three year old, and was living with the father of the baby. It was Thanksgiving, and her boyfriend insisted that they give away the 3 plates of food that they had to the 3 other homeless people living in the motel at the time. She was reluctant, fearing that her child would not eat, that she would not eat being 8 months pregnant, but gave the food away anyway. It was a tough Thanksgiving, but the next day she got a phone call from her mother asking if she would like some food.

It turns out that a company had done a food drive for a family. And the family never came to collect their food. In turn, she received an abundance of food, more than she knew what to do with, and she used some of that food to bless others as well.

When we put our lives in the hands of the living God, amazing things can happen. Just seeing her eyes light up as she told the story, I am thankful for knowing such an amazing group of people. God has truly blessed me with the ability to get to know these women through this Bible study. They teach me more and more about life each Thursday.

Even when we are hesitant to give, God takes our offerings and does great things with them. When we sacrifice ourselves for other people, God is good and God is faithful in acknowledging what we need. It may take time, it may not happen with a phone call the next day, but I am learning that believing in God is trusting that God follows through no matter what.

and a sigh of relief

Monday, November 13, 2006
I guess if I made it through the last two weeks, I can make it through anything.

But tomorrow might be challenging. See, I like youth. I like young adults, I just don't really like the part where they are children. Tomorrow morning, I have to entertain our kids for the morning. They're crazy. I mean really crazy. So we'll see how that goes for me. I'm really good one on one with kids, but put me in a room with 8 of them that like to control me, and we've got trouble.

I could never be a children's director at a church. Never. That is not at all my gift.

So I started the post, got distracted and have no clue where I was going with anything I was writing beyond that first point.

You'll notice a slight change on my blog. I finally broke and joined the Methodist Blogroll through the new and improved Methoblog. Hopefully I'll be added on there soon, it seems like a good little community springing up and I really just can't stay away from anything Methodist for too long.

I keep having all of these random thoughts to blog about throughout the day, and then I forget them by the time I get home.

I'm still as busy as ever over the next few weeks, including but not limited to a youth retreat, a trip to Dallas, celebrating turning 24, planning for Christmas, work, lots of meetings, lots of more work, and of course trying to balance a healthy social life, still doing 3 Bible studies, leading 2 of those for the time being, deciding what's next, and of course things that come up along the way.

But things, things in general are truly wonderful.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Among the 8 million other things I had to get done this week, one thing that was really important was getting t-shirts for our families and support to wear. They turned out awesome despite some major headaches surrounding getting the graphic taken care of. Now off to drop these off for our families and go home. Yay!

God is good, but I am tired.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I'm reaching this point of fatigue this week. I guess it all stems from feeling fairly overwhelmed. After my week of highs and lows last week, and learning how I have to appreciate life for what it is, I'm just wearing myself too thin I think.

That's pretty much what I've always done. I have parents who taught me to be an overachiever (doing my best means doing everything my best), which isn't all bad, but sometimes wears me out. I have the ability to get the things done I need to, but I'm sort of stressing out about it all. I really hate that I do my best work under pressure sometimes.

I keep mentioning Saranam Sunday, but it is finally upon us. Sunday morning I'm ringleader of the circus entitled Saranam Sunday. I've had to make some changes this week, seeing as how I'm out a director and a volunteer backed out on me, and my families seem to be utterly unreliable, but I think that it is all going to work out. I've fought battle after battle about t-shirts, I still have other pieces of my job that have to get done on top of planning 3 worship services for Sunday. I've been able to delegate some work, but honestly am still feeling overwhelmed by it all.

I'm not someone who cries a lot, in fact I usually have trouble crying if I want to. I've had a couple of times this week where I know it would be good for my soul to just cry, but I can't bring myself to. It is honestly kind of frustrating, and I think I just need to rent the movie Beaches or something and maybe I can cry.

I have faith that Sunday will go well, but I guess that doesn't keep me from being nervous about it in the meantime. I know I'll have plenty of people praying for me, and a God that is greater than I can even imagine is really running the show.

In any case, since writing is therapeautic for me, I've got a post about charge conference forthcoming. Sometimes I am too nerdy Methodist for my own good.

week to remember

Monday, November 06, 2006
It has certainly been a week to remember. It has been filled with ups and downs, joy and sadness, fear and elation. It was certainly a week that I will not soon forget.

It all began Tuesday night with the phone call to take care of Tracy’s dogs as she was in the hospital. All very exciting and she definitely had a baby girl on Wednesday afternoon. I spent the rest of the week at work figuring out the extra thing I have to do as well as doing those things that had to get done. Plans had been made out, but for Tracy to leave November 17th. It will all work out, but things are just a bit crazy at work right now.

On Thursday night, I got a phone call from Tracy’s husband Scott asking me if I would be willing to preach for him. I agreed, thinking that the rest of the weekend was going to be fairly easy and I would have plenty of time to write this sermon.

And then Friday morning I got the phone call that my good friend Billy had a heart attack. In utter shock, I went about my day in constant prayer, praying for Billy & his wife Tara. God definitely had a hand in the day on Friday, Billy is fine and will be fine, and I am continually grateful that I have him and Tara as friends here.

I spent Saturday helping with a baby shower that Tara was throwing, wrote the sermon in there and even made it through counterculture. Yesterday morning I preached, went and visited Billy again in the hospital and then this afternoon spent time hanging out with the youth. We went bowling last ngiht, and it was a great way for me to relax through the evening.

This week coming up is going to be busy as well. Getting my grip on the things I need to be doing as well as preparing for this coming Sunday are on the forefront of my mind. My good friend Jeremy will also be in town for Whitney and Jarrod’s wedding on Saturday. I will miss Daen and Gavin though, Jeremy’s wife and son. They can’t make it here for the wedding because of school obligations back in Ohio. I am so excited to see Jeremy and attend the wedding of two great friends here.

So this week will probably fly by, as well as the week’s following. It seems that up through Christmas it will just be swamped for me. Isn’t that always the truth in the life of the church though?

Ways you can join me in prayer:

Thanksgiving for Billy, continued prayers of healing for him as he continues to recover as well as for Tara.

For Saranam Sunday which will happen this coming Sunday.

Also for the marriage of Jarrod and Whitney and the travels of those who are coming for the wedding.

living between the trees

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Before I get to the meat of this post, I just wanted to announce that my boss had her baby yesterday! Yay! She had a beautiful baby girl, but it is slightly early. The baby is completely healthy and mom is doing well, but as I heard on the phone the night before last, both mom and dad of Baby Sharp proclaimed "We're not ready!" Congrats to them and prayers for them as they begin this new journey of parenthood.

I promise this will be the last post for a little while on Rob Bell (well probably until I listen to the next in the Jesus wants to save Christians series). I just can't get enough of it and I really feel God is speaking to me and energizing me with it. I've been really bogged down by some of the stuff that is going on in my religious life so it is becoming more and more helpful for me to find ways to be renewed and refreshed.

I've watched the Nooma video entitled trees about 5 or 6 times now in the last week. Essentially, it is about our purpose. About what we live for and about who we are as Christians. I constantly find myself asking why? Why am I doing this? What is in it for me? I also get the question "What are you doing this for, why do you care so much?" This video to me began to develop that for me. I'm beginning to understand where my motivations lie.

Trees addresses this from the perspective of looking at the Bible, and looking at the trees planted. In Genesis, we see the tree that begins it all, that begins our humanity. In revelation, in the middle of it all, there will be a tree as well. And God will make all things new... kind of a funny ending when you think about it.

So do we live between these trees? That kind of makes our lives very small in the grand scheme of things. Since God goes on forever before the first tree and after the second tree, then what does that mean for us. But if we're such a small part, what is the point of this life?

I know lots of Christians who look at the world and just see it as a sort of holding place, a place to wait for something better. I've listened to countless sermons that work to prepare us for the end, for what is to come. But then what does this life between the trees mean for us if it is just sitting around hoping and waiting for the next chunk of our lives to begin?

Someone told me a few weeks ago that they like to hear my perspective because I really do try to do the things that Christ has called us to do. I try to work towards living in Christian perfection. It is important to me. I mean, for me, being a Christian does not mean that I sit around and wait for Christ to return. I won't ever have a bumper sticker that says in the event of rapture this car will be unmanned (for many reasons). To me, that isn't living. I mean, I completely agree with Bell when he says that he believes truly and deeply that God knows what he is doing with this world. Did you hear that? With THIS world. With Christ's kingdom here and now. God knows.

There is so much surrounding us that just reminds me that this God I believe and hope and trust in is wonderful and is wonderful here. Think about laughter, about music, about all of the wonderful things in nature that are truly beautiful. God made those things. We just get to experience them here and now.

I think the best imagery he leaves in this video is this... "We live in between the trees in a world drenched in God." What a word. Drenched. Do you live every day like this world is drenched in God? I know that I don't. I am working towards it, but it certainly isn't a piece of cake.

Faith is this key piece that makes living between the trees more than just a tiny spot on the radar screen of infinity. And I don't want my faith to just simply be a guarantee that I'll end up with God in the end. That doesn't help me deal with life now. What good is it for me to just sit around and hope and wait that sometime when this life ends that I'll be with God?

This is where faith becomes so important to me. This is why I focus on following Jesus. We become disciples because we want to learn to love each other and love ourselves.

Faith to me is working hand in hand with God in making this world the place that it was intended to be before we messed up. Living between the trees should be more than just waiting and wishing and hoping. Living between the trees means truly living. Living between the trees means recognizing being drenched in God, it means loving ourselves and it means loving others.

Jesus wants to save christians

Wednesday, November 01, 2006
This morning I finished listening to the first sermon in Rob Bell's series entitled "Jesus Wants to Save Christians." I found myself as I was driving saying Amen from time to time, and feeling like I was listening to someone affirm the beliefs that I have had for quite some time.

The overarching story of it all is that Jesus was acting as the new Moses in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. Whatever Egypt may mean, wherever exile is, Jesus brings those that believe in the God of Israel out of it.

Some of the major points he hits on and will continue to hit on in the series are that we as Christians are not called to be the moral police in society, Jesus didn't condemn those who weren't Israelites, but was definitely reactionary to those who claimed to know God. Jesus was calling those who believed in the God of Israel to act like it. It is, in Rob Bell's opinion, the biggest mistake we can make is if we claim to believe and don't do anything about it. Jesus preached heavily on the kingdom being now, and we are the ones who usher in the kingdom.

In any case, I didn't take notes and I'm afraid I won't do this whole sermon series justice, but I do plan on doing a little bit on each one. But I would encourage you to listen to this series which you can find here.

I'll also be posting soon about some more Nooma videos so be looking forward to that.
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