Family Traditions: Boys Overnight

By Tim Shaw

What traditions do your family enjoy? Mine looks forward to the start of baseball season, vacation each summer, eating our favorite foods during the holidays, decorating the Christmas tree, and watching the Olympics. Not only do we look forward to these things, but we work hard to maintain our traditions, no matter how insignificant they might seem to anyone else! Can you relate? One tradition my sons and I have enjoyed over the years—something we never wanted to miss—is New Life’s annual father/son overnight held each fall.

Here’s what always happens: We stop for dinner at the same restaurant on the way there and stop for ice cream at the same shop on the way back. The first night, fathers and sons pile onto a tractor for a moonlit hayride, after which the boys nimbly jump off while the older guys disembark more carefully. A campfire with s’mores is followed by pickup games of basketball, street hockey, and Ga-ga before it’s “lights out” (aka, “I wish I were home, sleeping in my own bed!”). The next day begins with breakfast and a time for father/son devotions before archery, riflery, ropes courses, and slingshots. After lunch, we spend free time breathing in the fresh air of the country and getting in those final rounds of play before packing up and heading home.

That’s what always happens, and it’s nothing extravagant. So what makes this “church family tradition” so great? First, everything turns into a competition, for the boys and the men, and that’s just good, plain fun. Everyone revels in seeing who’s best at wielding a bow, rifle, or slingshot. (By the way, never get on Alex Pinguli’s bad side!) Second, being able to spend time in nature, hanging out, doing activities together, playing, and making happy memories is wonderful. Finally, having time for impromptu conversations with other men—about job losses and successes, births and deaths, the joys and struggles of parenting—is a real blessing. Unforced talks between fathers and sons, while walking around the camp or riding in the car, are also special.

I can hardly believe it, but this year I joined the ranks of those whose sons are too old to go on this trip (it’s for boys in grades K-5). Are my kids really that old? Am I really that old? I am thankful New Life provided an opportunity for me and my sons to develop a healthy tradition of being together, of strengthening our relationship. And I hope we’re able to find ways to keep that going in the future.

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Hearing the Hunger

By Ward Shope

A few weeks ago, a woman called to ask if she would be welcome to visit our church. It’s not a common question, but one that we hear from time to time. Of course, anyone is welcome to join us Sunday mornings for worship and Sunday School, or what we call School of Discipleship. We have a number of visitors every week, and we are happy to have them whether they are believers checking us out, seekers who are interested in the gospel, or skeptics who want to find out what we are really saying.

Her second question, however, pursued the same line. Would you be willing to baptize my daughter? It was a factual question, and I gave a factual answer. We baptize children of those who have come under our care by joining the church membership. This led to her third question, about how one became a member. While I was a little uncomfortable about the direction of the conversation, I gave her another factual answer about how people become members and the conversation ended.

When I hung up the phone, I began to scratch my head. I was missing something. On one level, I was a little irritated. This person had probably never stepped into our church and was already talking about membership and baptism. As a church, we strive to be relational – just as God is relational. One doesn’t join our church without getting to know others, or until we get to know them and their relationship with the Lord. Frequently, this can take anywhere from several months to a couple of years or more. We want to make sure we share faith in Jesus and in the commitment to our fellowship here. Somehow in this brief phone call, we had skipped from visiting to membership at light speed. Maybe this person was just using the church to get her child baptized??? Yes, that was it.

And still my conscience was unsettled. There was something this woman was communicating by wanting to have her child baptized. And that’s when I realized I had missed it. She may have asked factual questions, but some kind of spiritual hunger was at work. I don’t know what baptism represented to her, but somehow she believed God was tied up in it. Why hadn’t I asked her why she wanted her child baptized? That question could have led to all kinds of discussions about faith, the grace of God, the righteousness of Christ that pardons our sins and moves us into a personal relationship with the Father. That eventually may have led to how God gathers a supportive community for us as we each work out our relationship with Him and encourage our children to pursue Christ themselves.

I spent the next several minutes repenting of my obsession with facts and praying for this woman and her child – who didn’t hear the gospel from me. I’d like another chance. And it struck me that Jesus didn’t make the same mistake when a woman avoiding a relationship with Him went to get water from a well on a hot afternoon (John 4). God give me sensitivity to hear the hunger.

Beach Weekend Reflection

By Lindsey

I had the opportunity to go on New Life Dresher’s 2017 Beach Weekend in September.

During this retreat, Jesus revealed himself to me in many new ways, one of which was in Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” These two verses are well known by most Christians, including myself. It’s one of those verses that is drilled into your head in Sunday School, like Jeremiah 29:11 or John 3:16. On this retreat, for some reason, these verses stuck out to me in a way that they never have before—specifically verse 5.

In verse 5, my version of the Bible has always said that the Lord “directs” my paths, and I interpreted that to mean that He knows the path that my life would take. It’s similar to what it says in Jeremiah 29:11, that He knows the plans He has for us. In the version that was read over the retreat, it says that the Lord “straightens” our path, not “directs” them. This showed me that Jesus doesn’t take away all of the hardships and trials that may come along on our path, but He makes them straight. He might not remove our challenges, but He gives us His strength to get through them.

I am very thankful for the time I was given to spend time in His word and strengthen my relationship with Him. I was also able to grow in my relationships with my peers. I’m looking forward to the upcoming year with the people that I’ve formed these new relationships with. I’m also thankful for the volunteer leaders that graciously give up their time to invest in us.

Failing Forward

By Jane Highley

There is a huge bulletin board in my classroom with the words “Famous Failures” in the center. Around that title, there are more than a dozen examples of how historic heroes and pop-culture giants have failed. I created this bulletin board to convey a singular message: failure is valuable. The more I consider and experience failures in my own life, the more this message is confirmed: failure is necessary.

But who craves failure? Who makes a beeline to be the first at the Door of Failure? We see all around us. I have my own list: not making my goal-time for a half marathon; not earning a high score on an assessment, not getting an academic fellowship despite persistence. Some may not consider these failures. Simply finishing a half marathon requires deliberate training and preparation. Yet I tend to define failure by missing my own criteria for success. So if this were my first half marathon, finishing it alone would be cause for celebration – one that would include lots of tex-mex and Gatorade. But in my 15th half marathon I failed because I missed my time goal by almost 10 minutes! Still this failure, and many others, are good for me. Here are some reasons why failure is valuable to me:

Failure is a good teacher. I assure my students that failing a test or a quiz does not signal the end of all success. It does provide an opportunity to reassess and adjust for next time. Before I received back my graded quiz in a graduate-level history class last week, I cringed. I knew I hadn’t read the book as closely as I should have. My grade could have been worse. But since the quiz, I’ve recalibrated my reading schedule and note-taking strategies so that I can bring laser-like focus when I’m reading. Failure taught me to do this, and I am glad it happened early in the semester.

Failure forces me to zoom out and take the 30,000-foot view. When the two-hour pacer zoomed past me at mile 10 during that half marathon, I knew that my time would be disastrously disappointing. After indulging in a great pity-party for a day or two, I was reminded by TJ that I should be proud of what I did. I had run 13.1 miles on a day that delivered unexpected heat and humidity. His words echoed what I should have remembered: that God gave me this body, these legs, this heart, and this determination to train and set a goal. I am more physically fit now than I was 15 years ago. That realization fills me with unspeakable gratitude for what God has enabled me to do. Stepping back to see this event as just one dot on my life’s timeline provides the right perspective.

Finally, failure throws me to Jesus, whose love, grace, and mercy comes with no condition or qualification. He knows my weaknesses, my cravings, and my fears. He also knows how brittle my faith can be, especially when my ambition takes over. Yet, regardless of the results of my goals, His love for me remains unchanged because “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:7-8). This verse makes me wonder if the apostle Paul wrote it for me. The cross itself is evidence of that immutable love, despite all my sins. Every failure is like a “reset” button for my faith: God reminds me that he does not change, that he loves me, and that he died on my behalf.

It’s Not Simple Math – The Session Fall Retreat

“It’s just simple math. Take 525 people and divide them among the 17 elders and you get roughly 31 people they need to shepherd,” declared one elder (with a little embellishment on my part). Makes sense, doesn’t it? – until you realize how difficult shepherding really is.

At the Session retreat last weekend, we mapped out some biblical categories of shepherding God’s people to move them toward the heart of God. Not being literal shepherds ourselves, we needed some help with this. So we noted 6 different tasks a shepherd must do:
• know the sheep,
• search for those who have strayed,
• guide sheep for their growth and well-being,
• protect the sheep from outward and inward attacks,
• warn them when they start to wander,
• heal them (or work towards it) when they are injured and hurting.

None of these tasks are easy because knowing others is not easy. We learn empirical facts about someone, gradually move into a relationship with them, until finally, after many interactions, they trust us with what makes their hearts beat or break. Or maybe they never decide to trust. The “knowing” is never done.

In addition, real people are never predictable. Real people have all kinds of dynamics with other real people in their families and with other sheep. We are almost never shepherding one person in isolation, but a number of inter-related sheep all interacting with each other. It’s no wonder that some of our elders expressed feeling inadequate, and in need of more training. Others expressed real joy in the process of shepherding as they’ve seen individuals and groups grow in Christ – sometimes dramatically.

To put practical feet on what we talked about, we suggested several church shepherding models. Home Groups are always a key element, but what about those not in a Home Group or a Women’s Bible Study group? Pray for the elders as they seek to envision what Shepherding will look like at New Life.

As a growing church, we’ve recognized that our staff structure has not kept up. Too much weight has fallen on some to supervise others. So the Session approved a structure which shares the burden of supervision among more staff members, thus freeing supervisors to invest more time in each relationship. We realize as we have staff changes in the future, the structure will also need to adapt.

We also realize we are now in a place where we are poised to move forward. We’ve accomplished the goals of our last vision process, and we have transitioned from Ron to Anthony. To establish new goals, we need to assess where we are. We could do this among ourselves, but often a third party sees things about us that we don’t. So we have decided to bring in an experienced consultant to help us see our strengths, our weaknesses and provide feedback that can lead to a new vision plan.

Finally, for a second time in two years, we had staff meet with the elders for part of the retreat. This was partly to receive perspective on the organizational structure, but also provided an opportunity for the Session to pray for each staff member. We recognize how important the relationship is between these two groups of leaders.

So it really isn’t simple math. Growth is organic. And it is only the Lord who brings the increase.

The Eternal in the Now

By Debbie Shope

There are beach people and there are mountain people. Occasionally there are beach/mountain people, but they are a rare breed. I am a beach person. I was born in southern California and family lore has it that, from a very early age, as soon as I set foot on the beach, I would run for the waves. I can sit and stare at the ocean for hours, and all of my best daydreams involve the sand, sun and surf, though generally minus the hordes of people. In any case, it is in my DNA.

I happen, however, to be married to a mountain person. And all of my children seem to be mountain people (though I remain hopeful because I suspect they are also ‘closet’ beach people). Over the years we have spent a lot of time in the mountains, and I have grown to appreciate what draws their hearts to these remote places. A beautiful instance of this occurred just a few weeks ago.

Due to the generosity of a couple in our church, Ward and I were able to spend a relaxing week in the White Mountains. Now, I am used to God speaking to my heart as I look at the ocean, and ponder the endless horizon and the relentless tides that remind me of His Sovereign care and His immensity. But this summer, God spoke to me as I gazed out at the mountains in ‘our backyard’ in New Hampshire. As I admired their splendor and vastness, my mind turned to thinking about creation. What must it have been like to watch the God of the Universe create those mountains? Did He shape each one by hand? Did He carve out the valleys and rivers simply by tracing His finger across the earth, the way a child might draw a pattern in the sand? What a glorious moment that must have been. Then I began to wonder, since Heaven is eternal, does that mean that we might be able to somehow get to watch this extravaganza when we are there? Is it possible that we could get front-row tickets to the beginning of everything?

As I sat on the porch with my heart marveling at the idea of seeing God at work in creation, my musings were interrupted by none other than the Creator Himself. It was as if He said, ‘This is all very good Debbie, and one day maybe that will be. But you have missed the point. I am at work now. I am creating new hearts in the people that you see every day. They are my new creation. I orchestrate the circumstances of innumerable lives and nations. I hear and answer the prayers of my people. Even today I am healing the wounded, feeding the hungry, and making the broken whole again. I am pushing back the darkness even in the place where your son has chosen to go. All the rumblings of unrest in the world, all the fear of what could happen, I am not asleep — these are the places where my Spirit is most active. Don’t wait till Heaven, just look around and see — “I am making all things new.”’

Peace to the Lost

By Melanie Kauffman

When I was in sixth grade, I befriended a boy who for privacy’s sake I’ll call James. The early years of our friendship were pretty typical for a couple of pre-teens, but as we got older it became apparent that James was a bit of a lost soul. I entered our tumultuous teenage years with a steadfast faith in Jesus, but James was not at peace. Year after year, he was burdened with feeling like he didn’t belong, he wasn’t loved, he would never get a hold on his anger, and he would never be content with his place in the world.

I told James about the peace I had found in the Lord, and every now and then he would consider if Christianity was for him. But as so many of us have done, he continually turned away and focused on worldly distractions. Even when he stumbled upon Christian music he enjoyed, he didn’t want to listen to it for fear of being overheard and questioned about his beliefs. The years went on, and his heart remained troubled.

This past July, James went on vacation and discovered a Christian radio station we don’t get in Pennsylvania. He texted me joking that he’d found “the Jesus channel” but that he really did like the beats and it was all good music. He quickly fell in love with “Crown Him” by I Am They, and complained that it was seemingly going to be stuck in his head forever, almost as if “someone” wanted it there. The next day he asked me, not for the first time, if I thought that this religion could finally bring him peace. I answered, not for the first time, “Without a doubt.”

Since then James has begun reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and plans to attend church soon. He still isn’t sure if this is “the right path for him” but told me he was glad I was writing this, as he wants his story told. We’ve been sending each other Christian music, and he was particularly touched by “Live Like You’re Loved” by Hawk Nelson – it literally brings him to tears whenever he plays it. It clearly had a lasting impact on him, because a few days ago he texted me, “I know God loves me. I know that much.”

Reflecting on this, I’m struck with how blessed we are to have a Savior who brings healing to the broken. I’ve always been fond of Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve found that I have a new appreciation for it now, as I see a peace and contentedness in someone who was once so lost. Our God truly is a refuge to all that would come to Him, and His promise is one that can provide lasting peace.