Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My trip to Israel

I admit Israel was not on my top 10 list of places to visit (probably not even in the top 50), but after being in John Farwell's Sunday school class for the past four or five years, the desire to go grew substantially. The basic gist of John's class is Jesus was Jewish and if we want to be like him and if we want to understand this thoroughly Jewish book we call the Bible, let's try to learn more about that culture and see if it changes the way we think about things. Personally I can say it does. I look at the Bible a little differently now as I try to see it as a 1st century Jew would. I try to figure out what names mean, where places are, what Jews would have done for their festivals, what word-pictures are trying to be painted, how things in the new testament link back to events in the old.

Like John is always quick to point out, these things are not essential to salvation. But if they make us more excited to read the Text, or shed new light on things we always found confusing, I think it's worth it. John told us at the end of our tour if we go home with more of a desire to read our Bible then he has succeeded.

Overlooking Jerusalem

So I finally got a chance to go and was there for eight days in the middle of May. There is so much to tell but this really isn't the place to do it. I could talk for hours about the sights and lessons learned. If you want to see the basics, you can check out a little blog I kept while there which my folks wanted me to do so they could keep up with me. It's here: anewmachine.com/israel.

I've been asked what has surprised me most about the trip. I'd have to say the biggest surprise was I just didn't realize how big a deal it would be to actually stand in these places I've read about all my life. Now that sounds pretty obvious, but after being in John's class, I've pretty much seen all the sites we went to and knew the stories associated with them. So being a bit of a cynic I thought being there wouldn't be that big of a deal, but I was wrong. You can insert your favorite clichés here about a picture being worth a thousand words, or being there makes all the difference, and they apply.

The group on Mt. Carmel - the serious look

The other thing that surprised me was the relationships I formed with the folks in my group. Being a little on the anti-social side, I had not considered at all how I would get along with my tour mates. But in that short time I feel like I came to know the six others in the group extremely well as we shared our lives and these experiences together.

I'll end with a shout out to the organization John works for and Apostles supports - Athletes in Action (AIA). Check them here: athletesinaction.org. While in Nazareth, the other two guys on the trip (Blake and Daniel, 6'6" and 6'9" respectively and both former college basketball players) and I were wandering around and found a local sports club - like a YMCA. We walked up and the adults and kids there were very welcoming and asked the guys if they were in the NBA. They were instant celebs with all the kids wanting pictures taken with them. I obviously did not fit in being 15 years older and 5 inches shorter, but they politely asked me if I played as well. I told them I was the coach. There were two other players there from a local basketball team and so everyone wanted to see a little 2 on 2 game - first to 11. Blake and Daniel promptly brought down the force of American dominance, crushing them 11 to 2. Dunking was involved. After the game was over, all the kids again swarmed our guys and wanted more photos. It really struck me how much of an impact our two players were having. They were immediately looked up to and could have said anything and the kids would have listened. They could have talked about Jesus and had an instant audience. And that is exactly what AIA does - that is their mission. It was just cool to see it firsthand in this small impromptu setting.

I can't recommend the trip enough (John regularly takes groups - check his site here: walkthestory.com). I'd love to share more if you want to get together for a shawarma laffa and a Maccabee beer. My favorite food there.


Kent Swecker

Friday, June 12, 2015

Q&A w/Chris Hendricks on The First-Ever Saturday Night Deal

Some things start with a whimper, but others start with a bang. For Chris Hendricks, director of student ministry at Apostles, the first-ever Sunday Night Deal not only started with a bang, God did something pretty special. He talks about the experience in this brief Question and Answer: 

Q. Were you pleased with turnout -- and how things went?
A. We had 80 students and 20 volunteer leaders. I was blown away by the turn out! Many of students brought friends, which was really encouraging. I think it says a lot about how students feel about the ministry if they want to invite their friends. 

Q. Any "God sightings" you want to mention?
A. There were a couple of God sightings. First, praying with all the volunteer leaders beforehand for the evening and the students. It was one of those times in ministry were you could just feel God’s presence. This carried over throughout the rest of the night. The student-led worship team did a wonderful job leading us in worship. After worship, we started our first teaching series of the summer, titled “Influence.” I challenged students to think about how they influence others for Christ and how they are being influenced by others for Christ. We looked at Moses and Joshua’s relationship in Numbers 27:12-23, and I tried to get students think about who their Moses is in life (their spiritual mentor), as well as their Joshua (the person they are spiritually mentoring). 

As I was preparing for the message and studying the passage, I realized God was calling Moses out for his lack of leadership. It made me think of how any mentor we have in this life -- and multiple people we read about in Scripture -- fall short of God’s glory. 
Sometimes their fallenness is exposed and other times it never is. The reality is we need spiritual mentors and influencers in our life, but the only perfect influencer in life is Christ. He does not fall short of God’s Glory, but is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). 

Also, I realized Joshua is the immediate answer to Moses' prayer in this passage, but Jesus is the ultimate answer to Moses' prayer. He would be the one to lead God’s people into the promised land (the New Heaven and Earth), and fight the battles of life for us (not social media battles, but more serious ones like sickness, depression, family addictions, any sin, etc). I finished the message by asking the students the question: Does Christ influence you? Do you want to be influenced by Christ? I then challenged the students to read all four Gospels this summer (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Acts. Why? Because all the Gospels are about Jesus and Acts all about how Jesus influenced his disciples, who then went on to influence others for Christ. 

Second, I heard from multiple small group leaders about how they loved the students in their small groups, they felt comfortable around them (for the majority of our leaders it was first time to meet students in their group), they were really surprised by the turn out and how many new faces there were. I’ve had multiple leaders share with me how students opened up during small group, sharing personal prayers request among the group and expressing desires to mentor younger students in their schools and church. 

Third, seeing students eating Pelican’s SnoBalls, parents hanging out talking with each other, made Kara and I really happy. It felt like a big family reunion! I think that’s the way church should feel. I hope it feels like this every week we have the Deal.  

Overall, I’d say God really did something special during our first Sunday Night Deal of the summer!