Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brave New World

You know those old adages, “nothing worth having comes easy or free” or “anything worth having is worth working for?” I have a very distinct memory of the first time I actually came face to face with the reality of those sayings. It was third grade and I was sitting at the dining room table doing my homework—math to be specific. And I was struggling. Struggling was a new concept for me – things just came to me, English, social studies, science, even math – just made sense and so it didn’t take any work at all to get what I wanted – As. And then I met long division.

If it had been left completely up to me, I would have thrown my hands up in the air and left it at “I just can’t do math; it’s too hard” – which I believe were the words I exclaimed to my father. But my father, knowing me, knowing what would inspire me to actually work hard for something for the first time, said “that’s okay, Amy. Girls just can’t do math.”

You better believe I figured out that homework and brought home As in math throughout my academic career.

Facing off with long division was the first time I had to really work for something I wanted – but it certainly wasn’t the last. Talk about a good life lesson. You can’t just luck your way into things – if they really matter, then yup, you really have to work at them. I learned that with something relatively trivial – a math grade but that lesson has proved true from grades to relationships to things the heart is passionate about. You can’t have a long lasting friendship or marriage without working at it. There are going to be ups and downs and sometimes you’re going to have to fight for the relationship even though you it may seem like you just fight.

You can’t just have a healthy, functioning child - you have to spend days and nights taking care of your child, making sure he or she knows they’re loved, provided for safe. You even have to be the bad guy on occasion or know just how to push your kid’s buttons to get her to apply herself at math.

Family, friends, marriages, careers, kids – all of these require hard work and they are worth it.

And then there’s the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God—where God’s will is done, where peace reigns, where love is the law and all obey, where the greatest commandment and the one like it are followed—this is what we, the church, the body of Christ, are called to work for.

If anyone told couples who are getting married “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven…” I have to wonder how many couples might rethink making the commitment. It might feel from time to time like there are earthquakes, famines, plagues, but there usually aren’t.

And that’s not even the hardest part.

The hardest part, I believe, in being a part of the kingdom of God, in working for it, toward it, is the part about persecution. Betrayal. As Jesus is in his final days and sees his own betrayal on the horizon, he warns us that in following him, the ones we love – even our parents, our friends, our nearest and dearest. That’s got to be the hardest part.

Working for the kingdom - it's harder than anything else. We participate in moments where we see God at work here and now, we’re looking for that day when God’s will is done here on earth as it is in heaven. But before God's reign is total, before we know an image like the one of new Jerusalem from Isaiah, we aren't promised easy street. We're told of famines and plagues and earthquakes and wars and utter destruction. We're told of friends and family and loved ones turning us in. We’re told of death.

No wonder at certain times in our history people have looked around and said "the end is near" as friends turned against friend, brother against brother.

It’s all rather depressing. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather start humming the classic Joy to the World a bit early than sing to myself “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, but the earth didn't receive her king. Before he comes in glory, there will plagues and earthquakes, and some famine and some death, and you will be persecuted for your faith.”

While I love knowing the Jesus loves me as much as the next person, the hard truth of our faith is that Jesus may love us but the world does not. Not if we’re truly pursuing the kingdom, not if we’re challenging the status quo when it sustains injustice and oppression on micro and macro levels, not if we’re standing up for what’s right and not what’s popular.

While we have in our news tragic stories of Iraqi Christians being targeted because of their faith, you don’t have to go across the world to know that when you follow Christ, suffering will ensue. Maybe not physical death, but suffering, yes. Ask anyone of our youth – how popular does it make you when you have the guts to tell your friends to stop gossiping or to stop teasing another kid?

Jesus does not hide that truth from us. If you were hoping being a follower of Christ meant prosperity and abundance and success as the world defines it – sorry, you’re out of luck.

Because what we are promised is something else. We may be persecuted, we may suffer, we may go through incredibly hard times – but in those moments, God will be with us and we will have a chance to witness to God’s glory in word and in deed. We’ll have a chance to take those moments that are meant to crush us and use them to spread the good news.

We are also told that some of us will die – we might die too young or too forgotten or too poor because of our faith but we will not perish. We will die, yes, but even death – that great tool of intimidation – cannot silence us. We will not perish, not be utterly destroyed. Because in the end of his time in Jerusalem, Jesus died, and showed us that wasn't the end after all.

We may die but we will not perish and so we are encouraged to work for the kingdom, fight for the kingdom, take up pens and petitions for the kingdom, to sacrifice for the kingdom.
As I was thinking about this text, thinking about how, well, again how depressing this can come across, I asked one of the young adults I know through my coffee shop time what he thought. This young man looks around our world, sees the injustices and does want to find a way to take part in the birthing of the kingdom even here, even now. I wanted to know what gives him hope, what inspired him and encouraged him as he worked for God.

He looked at me a little funny – usually we chat about the latest band or something – and then took a moment before his thoughtful reply. When he answered he spoke to me about endurance – how in enduring and making through the hard times we can come to know God even better and come to our better selves. Words that echoed nicely Jesus’ own. He also spoke of those who had gone before, the disciples, the apostles, those who had known just how hard working for God’s kingdom can be but they did it anyway. Those who saw what happened to Jesus and knew that death would come but that it wasn’t the end. It wasn’t easy, but they persevered. They endured. And their stories inspired him to be a part of that greater story.

In his response, I hear the good news. Yes, the kingdom of God is a wonderful vision and no it’s not here yet. Yes working for the kingdom is hard work, it can mean not just a little inconvenience but genuine suffering. But it’s worth it. Being part of what God is doing, bringing in the kingdom, is worth it. Even if we suffer. Even if we, like the disciples, won’t get to see the new heavens and new earth before we die.

Being part of the kingdom is hard. But it’s worth it and it’s worthy of our efforts, our energy, our endurance. God is doing a new thing, here and now, and we are called to participate in it. So let’s keep our eyes, our ears, our hearts open to what God is doing and may we never tell ourselves “it’s just too hard.” Amen.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

So close to home, yet so far away

Today’s adventure was – to be frank – rather dull.  We got up and out of the Twin Cities church around 7am and got on the road… and stayed on the road until about 10pm.  Of course, that includes a switch from CST to EST – something we didn’t remember until we hit Indiana. We did get to see quite a bit of the Iowan countryside and small towns.  America really does have quite a few beautiful small towns – Staunton (of course) being one of them.

During the trip my car listened to a rather depressing book on cd while the other van sang silly songs and had a contest that, well, let’s just say the beans at Taco Bell probably helped.  I think even with the depressing book I had the better driving deal. 

We did get some good prep work done for Mission Sunday, though.  There’s a lot to share and we have some idea now of how we might go about sharing it.

We have arrived safe and sound in Indianapolis and are staying at Second Presbyterian Church here.  

Tomorrow means home and while I’ve had a marvelous time, it will be nice to sleep on something other than an air mattress.

Day Five AND Day Six – Thursday and Friday (the beginning and the end)

Sorry for no update last night.  For those of you who have not experience a YouthWorks trip before (and I’m assuming that’s most) Thursday evening’s worship ends with a very powerful and very emotionally draining piece of worship.  Sleep had to take the priority for this woman.

Thursday was an all around grace-filled day. 

We had our last day of work at our ministry sites. 

We played and talked with kids


and finished painting a house!


In the evening we took a field trip to


went for a walk and heard a very interesting legend about the place we were visiting. 


And, being us, we had a rocking good time in the van as we traveled there and back.


Of course, we also took time to take in the beautiful landscape around us.


When we got back we were treated to a dramatic performance by a few of our very own church members; it was so funny that several other church folks said they didn’t just almost pee their pants.  I can’t tell you what exactly happened, but I will post this picture of Shelby rehearsing and let your imagination take over from there.


The evening closed with that worship where the Holy Spirit was present so powerfully.  It was wonderful and sacred and will stay with me for years to come.  Our youth are truly beloved children of God.

The next day (Friday!) we woke up early, packed the vans, helped clean up the building, and said good-bye to the friends we had made. 


The staff we worked with were beyond phenomenal and a true blessings to all of us.  Thank you Eric, Gina, David, and Calvin.

Today’s road trip was pretty tame.  We made a special stop in Alexandria, MN for me.  I would go to a lake about 20 or so minutes from there every summer for the Minette family reunion.  It was quite special for me to be able to stop in this old familiar town and share a bit of my childhood with our kids.  And that had to mean we met Big Ole.


When we got to the Twin Cities, it was a quick drop off of our stuff at the church we are staying at and on to the Mall of America.

Very serious theological reflection happened here, as you can see.

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Tomorrow is an early day as we drive to Indiana which means I’m off to bed!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day Four – Wednesday

Maybe it was the weather – the high was around 77 with bright blue skies. Maybe it was that we all got to experience new works sites.  Maybe it was that our work groups have really gelled and we’ve made friends out of strangers.

Maybe. But the more likely reason for this being such a good day – I think – is that it was Erin P’s birthday.

The birthday girl came back from devotionals to find her room… er, her space in the room decorated.


But even though it was her birthday – it was straight to work for this girl – and the rest of us.

Several of our guys who had been working at houses the past couple days now got to try their hands at Kids Club.

They helped with games


and the scripture lesson and reading time.


The other group that switched from painting to Kids Club… well, I can’t talk about them. It’s just too painful. Some how Daniel, Emma S, and Lucy lucked out and headed to a lake for the day with kids.  Yup, swimming, playing games on the beach, and even a little sunbathing. Isn’t mission so challenging?

The middler girls spent their day blitz painting a house – and doing an amazing job. If you ever need any help with some painting at home, I can recommend a few now qualified painters.


And enthusiastic ones too.


Not everyone did a lot of painting – as there were kids to play with!


In the evening – after glorious showers where poor Emma H had to scrub out some paint in her hair thanks to a certain adult leader (not me!) dripping some on her while up high on a ladder – we had dinner at the local park.

This dinner is the community dinner – where friends we’ve worked with and served come and enjoying hamburgers and hotdogs (or veggie burgers) and fellowship with the YouthWorks crew. By now all of us had worked with Kids Club so we had some friends to see again.



But, as great fun as all that was, it really was the birthday girl’s celebrations that topped everything off.

There were presents,





and lots and lots of laughter.


What a blessing!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day Three - Tuesday

Well, other than the collection of bugs we’re accumulating in the girls’ room and the continued heat in the boys room, today was another wonderful day here in Sisseton. 

We began our day with breakfast and devotionals.


Then we worked! The way our week is organized, half of us have been painting and doing other projects at people’s houses while the other half have been leading what’s called Kids Club.  We do both for two days and then switch – so that everyone gets to serve in both ministries. So today was our second – and last – day at our first ministry sites.

For those of us who are kids clubbers, we spent the morning either at a daycare or a assisted living home.

Everyone had a wonderful time – and everyone it seemed played some games.

The kids at the daycare, of course:


and even the residents at the home. Indoor volleyball – who knew it could be so fun (or dangerous… all Covenant folks may have hit some very nice retired Scandinavian farmers in the head with the beach ball more than once… of course, we go hit too!).


The afternoon was full of more kids club – which in 95 degree weather can be pretty tiring, even in the shade. But everyone had wonderful energy and lots of love to share.  We even made some excellent crafts.


The painting crew did some wonderful work – and I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of that (but I’m relying on the other adult leaders’ cameras and one of our groups is adult leader camera less!). One group finished a house that they just started yesterday and built a great relationship (and heard some great stories – and more than a few tall tales) with the home owner. Our other group got to paint AND play with puppies who kept stealing their painting masks! 

The evening was low key; the weather prevented us from nature walking so we had skit night here. It will not surprise you to learn that the group with two of our senior theater kids took home the prize for best skit. 

Tomorrow marks the half way point in our adventure – and Erin P’s birthday – so wish us luck and her well.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day Two

And then the giggles set in.

We woke up and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast – prepped by several of our very own.  Thank you breakfast team.

We had devotional time – reading some passages where folks but God ahead of their own fears. Then it was time to split into our teams for our work sites.

The senior high half headed off to help paint people’s houses.  P1000716

And of course made some friends as we did.


The middle school group got to plan and lead something called kid’s club – a VBS like time in a park with about 20 or so local kids.  Of course, before we could play with kids, we had to get energized ourselves.  Hence, the Camel Dance energizer. Now some Baptists in Minnesota know the joy of dancing to Istanbul.


Meeting the the kids was great – we did walking pick ups of some and others were already at the park when we arrived.  We played games, taught a bible story, did crafts, read books, and just spent good time being their buddies.





After a good day’s work (and truly, let me just say that it was beautiful watching our kids interact with the little ones), we showered and then came back to base camp.  Dinner – Taco Night! – and then a treat – Powwow dancing.



We got to try a little bit too – just some basic stepping so no one got injured.

We had Club and church time and my friends, there was massive amounts of silliness.



We laughed so hard, many of us were crying at the end of the evening!

Another blessed day from God!

Monday, July 26, 2010

We’ve Arrived!!!

We may have wondered if it would ever happen – especially while driving through our “favorite” state that starts with an M and ends with a “issouri” – but it did.  WE HAVE ARRIVED IN SOUTH DAKOTA.

Clearly that statement needed to be in all caps.

But before we arrived, we had a whole morning and afternoon to fill our time.  We began this morning with worship in the small chapel at West Hills Presbyterian Church.  They usually have an 8:15 service we were going to attend but have cancelled that service for the next few weeks (summer low attendance.)


So it was seminarian Marie to the rescue.  We whipped out some fun energizers and songs and then she came up with – basically on the fly – a wonderful sermon on the text we’d be reading tonight at our “club” time.  Go Marie!

Following worship we headed out and began our last leg of the journey here.  Today’s drive consisted of what have become the basics:

A stop for coffee and other drinks,


lunch with a chance to run around a nice rest area, getting some feeling back in our legs and rears,


the occasional touristy photo,


and of course, napping.


And then it happened… we pulled up to a parking lot and stopped for more than just an hour and got out more than just the stuff we needed for the night.  We were greeted immediately by the YouthWorks stuff: Tina, Gina, Calvin (go head, Presbys, snicker now), and David.  They are WONDERFUL. They helped us get settled and showed us to our room.


We played some games,


made some new friends,


and even did a little work.


We had orientation and some God time where we talked about what we needed to leave behind in order to let God in.

Because that’s why we’re here – finally.  To be like Jesus.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day Two

Oh Omaha, how we love you!

Missouri, on the other hand…

Our day began with some saying goodbye to the wonderful people who hosted us last night.



The good folks at First United Presbyterian Church housed us, feed us, and even let some of us go kayaking!  We’re so glad to have new friends – friends we will definitely stay with again if we come this way.

We said goodbye to our friends and then HELLO to the Arch.



I’ve driven by quite a few times but never gone in.  Well, now we all have!  Some of us were pretty impressed with the ride…



Or the view…



Or the gift shop…


But all in all – even if it didn’t dance and sing – it’s nice to have had the experience.


Following our visit to the gateway to the West – how could we not go dip our toes in the Mississippi?


We said goodbye to St. Louis and headed West and North to our final stop for the day – Omaha, Nebraska. Of course, to get to Omaha, we had to pass through Missouri… and more Missouri… and more Misseri. 

All that Missouri sort of got to us:


Finally, we made it, ate some pizza, played some games, devoted, and crashed.

Tomorrow we finally arrive in South Dakota and our YouthWorks adventure begins.  Keep us in your prayers!