This week, we're doing a single-week message on the miracle Jesus performed in John 5. Do you want to get well? Do you want to change? Do you really want a miracle? Jesus healed a lot of people while He was on earth, but He never healed anyone of their sin, of their injury, of their disease, unless they wanted to be healed. If you want Jesus to intervene on your behalf, if you want God’s justice and deliverance, it starts with answering Jesus’ question. Do you want to get well?
WE’RE TEACHING THIS
By Autumn Ward
When it comes to Christmas, there is a lot to look forward to. Candy canes, tinsel, twinkling lights, and—oh, right. The gifts. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about the gifts you’re hoping to receive this Christmas. Maybe you’ve even made a list so your friends and family know exactly what to give you. But while it’s fun to unwrap a gift you’ve been waiting and hoping for, have you ever been given a gift that took you entirely by surprise? A gift you didn’t even know you wanted until you opened it? A gift that was completely unexpected? Unexpected gifts have been at the heart of the Christmas story for more than two thousand years, beginning with the very first Christmas. And believe it or not, it was God who began the tradition. For the next few weeks, we’ll talk about three times God surprised the world with a gift that was entirely unexpected. And, as we do, we might just discover how much those gifts continue to matter today.
THINK ABOUT THIS
One night last December, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table making Christmas cookies – by myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that was not the plan. That was not our tradition.
Now that my kids are teenagers with busy schedules of their own, no one else was home but me. So there I sat, clinging to my tradition, making cookies alone – and feeling pretty sad about the whole thing. (I’m sure I let everyone know how sad I was when they got home.)
One thing parenting has taught me about traditions is that they are easy to start and hard to let go. So what happens when the kids get older and you find yourself experiencing more transition than tradition?
The first thing I had to do was accept that transition is a part of life. It’s evidence that my kids are growing up and growing up is a good thing. It’s ok that they don’t want to watch Frosty the Snowman or make ornaments out of felt anymore. Now that they’re college and high school age their interests have changed – they are transitioning. Knowing that, if we want to stay connected with our kids, tweaking a tradition or even starting a new one needs to happen.
Second, their dad and I had to decide which traditions were worth clinging to and which ones we needed to let go. We did this by simply asking the kids which traditions meant the most to them. This helped so much! I was surprised by some of the things they said, like getting a peppermint milkshake in our PJs while driving around looking at Christmas lights had to stay. That one still gets two thumbs up! Making the gingerbread house on the other hand...it could go. (And while we’re at it, the Christmas cartoons could go too!) Who knew? They knew! Deciding on traditions with the kids gave us permission to let go of some things – guilt free – and stop trying to force moments to happen that they had outgrown.
Finally, I had to remind myself the purpose of traditions in the first place. Traditions are meant to keep us connected to the ones we love and give us a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves – not make us feel exhausted, frustrated and disappointed (maybe even a little depressed). As long as I have a relationship with my kids, things are good. We don’t have to make Christmas cookies to stay connected or to have a relationship or even to have a wonderful Christmas. We just need time with each other.
Now that I have one kid away at college and two teens at home, being together in the same place at the same time is difficult, which makes keeping up with our traditions difficult. I’m learning to make the most of the time I have with my family rather than pout over the time I don’t have.
If we have some minutes in the car, we turn up the Christmas music and sing together. So what if we’re not gathered around the fireplace like we did when they were younger. Since watching the holiday Hallmark movies is one of my kids’ favorite things to do, I make sure and record them so when we find ourselves together I can pop the popcorn and have a spontaneous movie night.
I allow my kids’ friends to join the fun because my kids really like being with their friends. Rather than look at it like their friends are invading our traditions, I’m thankful my kids and their friends are letting me hangout with them. It’s all in your perspective.
The point is we’re together, staying connected with the ones we love during the holidays. After all, when you really think about it, it’s the relationship with your kids you should be fighting for, not the tradition. So keep a loose grip on those traditions but hold tightly to the hearts of your kids.
As parents, it can be tempting to assume which holiday traditions are most important for our family members and which ones aren’t. This Christmas, try asking your son or daughter...
• Which Christmas traditions do you hope we keep going for a long time? • Which ones would you be okay with ending?
• What is one new tradition you’d like to start this year?
By starting the conversation, you may be surprised at what you find. Sometimes traditions that seem silly to us are the most meaningful and memorable to our kids. Remember, fight for the relationship with your kid, not the tradition.
Where your thoughts go, you go.
The mind can be a crazy thing. It gives us weird dreams, random thoughts, and crazy ideas seemingly out of nowhere. A lot of times, we just sort of let our minds wander because it feels like we don’t have much control over our thoughts. But maybe that’s because we just don’t spend much time really thinking about our thinking. Have you ever considered what your life might look like if you started putting a little more thought into your thoughts? The way you think on the inside plays a huge role in how you behave on the outside. Negative, uncomfortable, or even untrue thoughts can lead to the same kind of behaviors. And who wants to live like that? As we close out this series, we look back one more time to Paul and his thoughts on thinking in the book of Philippians. He points us to where God wants our thoughts to go. And when we start thinking in an out-of-this-world way, the whole direction of our lives will begin to move in that direction as well.
Welcome to My World
Put others first.
Session 2 Summary: Welcome To My World
Think back to a time when you did something that was selfish. Come on, we’ve all been there! Maybe yours was a minor offense, something that didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Or maybe it was a little more obvious, something that you knew was a total jerk move while you were doing it—but you did it anyway. The truth is that even when you don’t realize you’re doing it, you evaluate almost every decision by asking yourself the question: “How does this affect me?” But what we all seem to forget is that even when we’re making decisions based on what’s best for us, we are rarely the only person being affected. As we check back in with Paul this week, he’ll give us some guidance on how we can change our thinking to start considering others before ourselves. And when we do, we’ll find that it’s not just the lives of others that will be impacted--our lives will be changed as well.
Have you ever been part of two very different groups? Maybe you go to a different school or you’re in different classes than the people in your neighborhood. So you’re a part of both groups. Or maybe you play on a different sports team than all of your friends. So after practice you hang out with the team but on the weekends, you hang out with completely different people. When that happens, we feel like we’re from one world and living in another. We’re torn. And if we’re honest, sometimes going to church or being a Christian can make us feel that way too. We go to church and what we hear makes sense. We see people living out their faith and it looks perfectly normal, maybe even fun.
But what looks good on Sunday doesn’t always feel comfortable on Monday. Back in the everyday world, living as followers of Jesus can make us feel like we’re from another planet. But does it have to be that way? And what does it look like to live for God in a culture that doesn’t necessarily think the same way? Believe it or not, these aren’t 21st century questions. Long ago, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi as they figured out how to navigate their faith and culture at the same time. As we spend the next few weeks talking about what he said, we may find that Paul’s advice to the Philippians is just as relevant for us as we learn to manage the tension and live in a way that is out of this world.
Talking to some people is easy. You can hang out with your friends for hours and never run out of anything to say. You feel like you can talk to them about anything. But you probably also know people who just seem to make you a little nervous when you have to talk to them. Maybe it’s a teacher, coach or your boss at work, but you always feel you say something wrong or they are never impressed. No matter who it is, you choose your words carefully when you talk to that person because you don’t want to mess things up. And if we’re honest, prayer can feel a lot like that. The whole idea of it makes us a little nervous. We wonder if we sound silly. We try to use just the right words but we aren’t sure we’re doing it right. And often, we are tempted to back away from prayer because it just feels awkward. But what if talking to God was never meant to be that way? What if talking to God was supposed to feel more like chatting with a good Friend than making an impressive speech? During this series, we’re going to take a look at what Jesus said prayer is and isn’t. And as we do, you may just find yourself wanting to lay down the formalities, relax and have some real talk.
I'm posting this a few days late because I have been sleeping non-stop since we returned from Pittsburgh on Friday! I'll be writing this as if it was written Friday night, because it just makes more sense that way.
Today was our last day in Pittsburgh! It was a bittersweet morning. The boys had just begun to really open up and let loose. For the first time, they were hanging out with friends from other churches more than they were with each other. They had a competition going over who could get the most phone numbers to keep in touch throughout the Summer.
Our time at The Pittsburgh Project was short this morning. It mainly involved breakfast, packing, and cleaning! Our last morning Club centered around a video of all the various work groups and homeowners. Some students bought one, so be sure to watch it with them! I am putting together a video of our week together; it will be done this week!
We were out the door and headed towards downtown by 9:30. We landed at the North Shore, which gave us some great views of major Pittsburgh landmarks, including both Heinz Field and PNC Park. There is a really cool wading fountain where we dipped our toes for a little bit. We walked along the North Shore towards the Roberto Clemente bridge, which took us downtown. A quick Starbucks stop was quite welcome by then!
We proceeded towards Point State Park, or as Pittsburghers call it, "the Point." This is is where the three rivers of Pittsburgh come together. The Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers join to form the third river, the Ohio. There is a giant fountain that shoots water 150 feet into the air, a major landmark for Pittsburgh. The Park is on historic grounds - home to two pre-Revolutionary forts, Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne.
We walked back into downtown for lunch at a Pittsburgh classic, Primanti Brothers. It is world famous for it unique and humongous sandwiches, which come with french fries, coleslaw, and a fried egg piled on top! It's as delicious as it is filling. If you're ever in Pittsburgh, make it a priority!
Bellies full, we kept walking towards Station Square and the famous Pittsburgh incline. After making across another bridge, we waited in line for about a half a hour to ride up the incline. What's an incline? Great question. It's basically a trolley car that goes straight up the side of a mountain. They were originally built in the 1800s for commuters coming from Mt. Washington (overlooking Pittsburgh) to their jobs in the city.
It was a pain to wait for the ride in the heat, but the outcome is worth it! We got an amazing view of the city. A great send-off for a great week. We took the subway back to the bus - we were exhausted! Five hours later, we were home on Kent Island! It truly was an amazing week. Please continue to pray for our students. A mission trip can be a life-changing experience, but that it is up to them to embrace the truths they learned and apply them to their lives as they get back to "normal". Pray that normal would not be the same. Pray for a new normal defined by a radical love for Christ and service in His name, for His Kingdom!
Today was our last day working in Mrs. Aliene's home! In reality, we had very little left to do in her yard, so we spent the majority of the day helping another group with Mrs. Cora's house, who lives two doors down from Mrs. Aliene. Our main task was painting her fence and foundation, but we also did some weed-whacking.
The cats were herded much easier today! The guys did a great job of staying on task and getting the job done. I think a lot of it had to do with the ice cream they were promised at the end of the day! We went to the Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh for Starbucks and ice cream. Oakland is home to a couple of colleges, including University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, and Duquesne. Also in Oakland is the church where our TPP speaker, Dennis, serves as pastor. They just moved into a new building, so we stopped by to say hello and check it out.
Our evening was packed full today! It started with pizza in the park on the North Shore. We had a great time just hanging out together in the community. We headed back to TPP campus and had discussion groups, wrapping up our impressions from the week. Our final Club was fantastic. I'd like to take a minute to just summarize what we learned this week about the Lord's Prayer.
Many of us have the Lord's Prayer memorized and have no problem rattling it off. But how often do we stop and truly think about what we're praying? We started by focusing on just the first word - "our." We tend to think of faith as personal and possessive, but it really can be communal. We experienced that firsthand this week, growing in our faith side-by-side. Second, "Father." Jesus says God is OUR Father. We are brothers and sisters with Christ and with each other. When we come together, we are spending time as a family. It's a beautiful picture of the Church.
"Give us this day our daily bread." This is a foreign concept to us. I've been considering buying a deep freezer for my garage so we can keep food longer. When's the last time you wondered where your next meal would be coming from? Not just deciding between pizza or sushi, but truly unsure of when you would be able to eat again? A culture that celebrates hoarding is at odds with the Kingdom of God. We must fight to live a life, not necessarily of poverty, but that challenges us to put ourselves in a position where we NEED God.
"Forgive us our debts." We have a balance to pay, and our checks of penance aren't going to cover it. Thankfully, Jesus Christ paid for us in full when He died on the cross. We must call on His love and His sacrifice to pay our sin debt. "As we forgive our debtors." So many of us carry baggage from wounds inflicted on us by other people. We will experience true freedom when we offer up forgiveness and put our pain in God's hands.
We had a great conversation tonight about how to take these truths and continue to apply them in our lives at home. It can be discouraging to come down off the "Jesus high" of a mission trip, but we can still cling the things that God has spoken to our hearts. Please pray for our students - that the way they've experienced God this week would not just be a fun memory, but a turning point in their lives, when they began to live completely sold out for Christ.