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Focus your soul on Jesus this Christmas

Posted in Children, Students, Adults, Worship, Community Life  |  By Shades Staff  |  Posted on Mon Dec 19, 2016

You guys, Christmas is great.  

What’s not to love?! It gets a little cold, but not too cold (I see you, January.) so you have a chance to pull out your best jacket and drink warm drinks. There are lots of parties, so you get all caught up on the happenings and the goings-on. There are some great things on TV. It’s a season with it’s own music that you already know the words to. It’s a perfect opportunity to take a tree that normally goes outside, and put it inside! Seriously, what’s not to love about Christmas?

I’m writing a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but these parts of Christmas truly are fun and something to look forward to. But without the Christ-child, they’re meaningless. They’re window dressing. They’re liquid butter without the popcorn.  They’re a parade without purpose. They’re an appetizer without a main course.  

The Christmas season is a season of anticipation and remembrance. If the object of our anticipation is wrong, our celebration will be misguided. And if our remembering is weak or fuzzy, our worship is miscalibrated.  

It’s tempting to only anticipate the “season” of Christmas instead of the event. And it’s tempting to remember the Christmases of years past and their memories instead of the original Christmas and the hope that comes with it.

But succumbing to those temptations leads us down a road of misguided praise and misplaced worship. We become the misinformed child who becomes enamored with the cardboard box and unaware of the treasure inside. 

So this Christmas season, practice ways in which the coming of Christ (and his coming again!) is more anticipated than the coming of Santa.  

Read the Christmas story together as a family. Talk about who the Biblical characters were and what they would have felt like. Name out loud how your life would be different in the Christ-child hadn’t come.  

If the Christmas season is about the presence of God with us, practice presence with your family. If the Christmas season is about God’s greatest gift, consider making a gift to someone in need.  

Find a baby, hold him, and think about him as the savior of the world. Consider putting that baby in the dog bowl and ponder the humility of Christ.  

Whatever you need to do to focus your soul on Jesus, strive hard to do that thing.  You were created by the Almighty God to worship Him and know Him. 

Let Christmas be the season for you to do what you were created to do. 

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College Students: 5 ways to avoid a restless winter break

Posted in Students, Adults, Community Life  |  By Shades Staff  |  Posted on Mon Dec 12, 2016

Most of us run so hard during the semester that by the time we get to winter break we don’t know what to do with "free time” – whatever that is. We think that simply having free time will mean that we will rest. But we have all had breaks where we had all the free time we could want and yet end up more restless at the end of the break than when it began. Simply having time off from homework and class does not ensure that you will be able to rest. We do not rest by simply not having anything to do. That can actually make us rest less. In order to rest we cease doing things that drain us and focus on things that refresh us. So here are some suggestions on how to have a restful and not a restless winter break.

1. Receive Grace. 

Jesus is our rest. He frees us from our constant and exhausting striving to prove ourselves to God. He says to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) We can have rest through Christ because he bore the greatest restlessness on the cross – separation from the Father and the punishment for sin that he did not commit. This is the good news of Christ. And it is news that our souls need every day.

How do we rest in the rest Christ provides? We do this largely through what the church has called “means of grace.” These are avenues by which God assures us of his loving disposition towards us in Christ, allowing us to know him in a deep and real way – and subsequently to rest. Among other things the means of grace include: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, community, hearing Scripture read and explained, and personal Scripture reading and prayer.

The devotional acts of reading, meditating, journaling, and praying through Scripture are some of the key ways the Spirit reveals God’s true heart for us in Christ. Grab a bible, a pen, a journal, set an alarm to go off in 30 minutes so you’re not constantly checking the time, and see what God might do. There’s no wrong place to start.  

 2. Worship Corporately.

 As Western Christians we tend to focus almost exclusively on private ways of growing in love for God and others. We focus a lot on reading Scripture and praying by ourselves (“devotions” or “quiet times”) – which we should. But we often neglect corporate means of grace such as weekly worship services and community groups. 

What does is it look like to engage in corporate worship? It involves more than showing up and sitting in a pew. It is easy to get into the habit of attending church services just because that is what you do in the South on Sundays.  Even if you don’t always like the preaching or always connect with the music it means attending a worship service with a sense of expectation that God himself will speak to you as the gospel unfolds through the service. 

What if you prayed before the service that your heart would be prepared to receive? What if you prayed for the pastor preaching? What if you prayed for the people you would talk to before and after the service, that you would be able to find ways to encourage and comfort them with the good news of Jesus Christ? What if you finished the service by praying that the church as a whole would respond in repentance and belief to the Word preached?

Engaging in corporate worship can do wonders for our souls. Whether you choose to attend your home church or a different church in your hometown, don’t miss the benefit of the Sundays between the fall and the spring semesters.

3. Expect Temptation.

 If Jesus is the source of our rest, then sin is the key cause of our restlessness. Breaks provide unique opportunities for the enemy to whisper his subtle lies in our ears. Be aware that being back home with a lot of free time will remind your heart of old temptations and stir up new ones. Sin tempts us with the promise of satisfaction, fulfillment, and deliverance. But take hope because we have a better satisfaction, lasting fulfilment, and truer deliverance that are ours perfectly in Christ. 

The beautiful thing about the gospel is that it provides us safety to be honest with ourselves (and others) about the true state of our souls without feeling condemned. The reality is that we are all five minutes away from destroying our lives. So let’s look to Jesus in the moment of temptation, thank him in the moment of victory, and cling to him in the moment of failure.  

4. Stop Scrolling.

 Nothing gives the illusion of rest like scrolling through social media.  We think we are resting because we are on the couch, free from work with phone in hand.  But the constant scrolling keeps our minds hyper-stimulated with a stream of disconnected tweets, blogs, statuses, and images. Our attention is diverted every two seconds with a new post. This constant stimulation makes us restless even as we image it to be restful.  

When we look to social media to give us rest we fail to realize that rest takes work. I’ll say that again: rest takes work. We don’t accidently rest. Rest necessitates focused attention to that which energizes us. Social media scrolling acts as a pacifier for the restless. It distracts for a little while but it doesn’t solve the problem. Always scrolling; never resting.

Often our phones are the main hindrance to our rest. So what if you shut down your phone for an hour each day of the break to put energy towards something that actually refreshed you? Or what if you took a fast from social media for a week? What kind of rest would be available to us if we disconnected for even a little while?

5. Engage Family.

While you’re disconnected from your phone, connect with your family. Ask them questions. Tell them you love them. Share with them what you are learning. Consider their needs and serve them. We can easily slip back into “kid mode” when going home for breaks during college. Kid mode is characterized by taking, not giving. Don’t be alarmed by this, but: you’re an adult. You have the privilege and responsibility to serve your family by giving and not simply taking.

What does this have to do with not being restless? As our Lord said, “It is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) By taking initiative to be more present and engaged with your family you will be blessed and find rest.

I recognize that this is easier for some than others. Some of you have a wonderful family that you can’t wait to see and spend time with. But some of you might have a painful relationship with your family and you are dreading going home.  If you find yourself with a difficult family, I encourage you to focus on prayerfully taking small steps in this direction. We can do this because our Lord Jesus made us his family members when we were his enemies.

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Summer at Shades | How God uses art, recreation and Bible study

Posted in Community Life  |  By Shades Staff  |  Posted on Tue Aug 18, 2015

Summer is a universal fun time that means sun, sand and sleeping in late.

In the Christian Life Center at Shades, summer means one thing – KidsKamp! KidsKamp is an outreach of the recreation ministry that serves families in and around our community by offering affordable childcare for children who have completed kindergarten through sixth grade. What started nine years ago with a small group of 10 kids for three weeks of the summer has quickly grown into a gregarious gathering of 130 kids for 10 weeks each summer.

Our kids come to the CLC each day for rotations of art, Bible and recreation with afternoons filled with a range of activities from archery to cooking, watercolors to slip n’ slides. Throughout all of the fun, there is one pivotal thread that runs … the Good News of Christ.

Our kids come to us from all sorts of backgrounds, including faith backgrounds. We like to think that life is easy for kids, but in reality many are exposed to things at a young age that would keep adults up at night. For some of our kids we are a place to play and be silly, but for others we are a safe place where they are loved and receive food and care that might be difficult at home.

This summer we were honored to love on kids from foster care, Urban Purpose, divorced homes and traditional homes and the Lord - in His goodness - gave us the privilege of pouring into these kids and sharing Gospel Truths with them, many for the first time. In our nine years we have had over 100 new brothers and sisters added to the family of God! This summer was no different! Several children made decisions of faith to accept Christ or make the next step of obedience in baptism and many others received Bibles for the very first time.

I was raised by a single mother and spent a great deal of time in daycare while mom worked to keep food on our table and a roof over our heads. It wasn’t difficult for me to look around and realize that my daily life looked very different from my friends. I knew that God loved me and Jesus died for me, but I had trouble understanding, at times, why life was hard for our family.

In the afterschool program I attended, it was clear that Catherine, the program director, was there because the Lord called her to share the Gospel by loving on “her” kids. Catherine was a safe place to ask my questions and vent my frustrations. She was a disciple of Christ that was making me a little disciple with her consistent love and patience.

Twenty years later I can see how Catherine changed my life without me even noticing. When I joined the staff at Shades almost three years ago, I knew that I wanted to work with children but I had no idea how the Lord would continue redeeming my past by placing me in a place where I could serve the next generation of kids with questions and frustrations.

Shades family, God is using our recreation ministry to reach people in a mighty way!

This summer we were home for 233 families and less than 20 of them are Shades attenders. Our staff gets to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the ways we play, act silly and share God’s goodness with kids and their families, even with simple things like meeting basic needs! We have had the honor of providing food and clothing to families in need, foster parents, single parents, incorporating them into our KidsKamp and even Shades family.

The work is not done, either. Starting this week we transition from summer silliness to school time structure with our After the Bell program. We’ll go from 130 kids each day to 70, but we will continue with playing and sharing the Gospel and replace our art projects with homework time.

Working with kids, as any teacher will tell you, is oftentimes a marathon where you hope for the best but don’t see results until much further down the road. KidsKamp and After the Bell are no different. Each day our kids hear a Bible story and a weekly Gospel presentation where they are given a chance to ponder and respond to what God’s gift of Jesus means for their life.

Please pray for our ministry as we rejoice in all the Lord has done this summer and prepare for this school year with After the Bell. May our counselors and staff know that they are adding to the Kingdom, even if it looks like dodgeball or helping with spelling words and math assignments. May we guard our tongues and attitudes so that we do good and not harm. May we heed the words of Deuteronomy 6:6-7; “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

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Seth Graves

Posted in Community Life  |  By Shades Staff  |  Posted on Mon Feb 16, 2015

Before working at the Christian Life Center at Shades, I would have probably told you that I didn't like working with kids. I now have almost 4 years of experience working with kids and I haven't regretted a single moment. I know that this is where God wanted me to be, which is extremely evident when I think back to how I got the job that first summer in 2011. I had seen the announcement to apply for Kids Kamp in the church bulletin, but I was hoping to get a summer job back home and didn't think twice about applying for camp. The deadline passed, but I eventually got a call from the Camp Coordinator who offered me the job because someone had referred me to her. I didn't think much of it then, but now I can see that God had a plan for me to work with the kids at the CLC because I didn't even apply and I got the job. I thank God for His divine sovereignty in that situation.

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