On Mission in Alabama

Many of you have heard by now that Megan and I will be transitioning our ministry to a church plant in Birmingham, Alabama.   It's been difficult to explain the emotional tension between bitter and sweet that this new opportunity brings to us.  On one hand we are so excited to be following the call of God in our lives and on the other we are heartbroken to leave the people we've grown so close to.   I am so thankful that God brought us to CDAC in this season because this church has treated us like family and it's been an absolute joy to serve here. 

On August 1st we will be making our way down I-81 to Birmingham, Alabama to take part in a church plant of the C&MA.  Things will be different for sure.  Neither Megan nor myself will be taking a salary from the church, we will no longer be working with teens, and we will have to start using words like y'all and fixin'.  We are excited to be learning how to disciple others and how to plant a church in a post-church culture.

There are three things I'd like you to consider as CDAC sends us out into the "mission field."

1. God has always been faithful.

CDAC has a rich history of serving the community, worshiping in spirit and in truth, and equipping people for ministry.  It's incredible to hear of the men and women that this church has touched in the past 75 years.  I have no doubt that God will continue to use CDAC as a place where people encounter God.  

2. God is still working.

As I shared a few weeks ago, we are leaving in the midst of good times.  God is working in and through people's lives right now at CDAC and it's awesome.  Home Groups are thriving, the youth ministry is growing, and we can't seem to find room for all the people coming on Sunday morning.  I am so glad that the next pastor who comes after me will be entering a healthy place.

3. God will provide.

As you pray with the Elders for the next staff pastor, know that God is a provider and will give the church exactly the person He wants to be here.  He has already been working in that person's heart and has been leading him here.  Pray that the Lord's will be done at Circle Drive in these next few months.  

Stop Living For Jesus

Christianity is not simply a cause that needs defending or a movement that inspires people.  At it's core, Christianity is a relationship between God and His church.  The Bible actually uses relational terms in referring to the church when calling it His bride (Rev. 19).  As we look even closer to the relationship that God has with His people we see that God calls them His children, who have been adopted into the family.  The emphasis that God puts on relationships is so visible we can tell that God cares about people and He wants to be in relationship with them. 

If we fast forward to today's culture we see that everyone likes to identify with a cause.  Whether it's black lives matter, 2nd Amendment rights, clean water for developing nations, or to end human trafficking people love to defend, help, and support others.  To say that the generations coming up are standing up for those that can't stand and helping those that can't help themselves is to say something good of the next generation.

In a culture that is seeking to serve we see that the church can often be viewed in the same way.  Not as a relationship that we cultivate but a cause we defend.  Not a person that we love but an agenda we seek to advance.  It's much more popular to do a service project for your community, feed the poor, or dig a well(all good things) than it is to spend a morning fasting and praying.  If we're not careful we can substitute a life with God for a life for God.  We can sacrifice the relationship withGod for the mission of God.  When we pursue the relationship the mission will come naturally. 

I hope that as you are reading this you take an honest look at what you're doing to cultivate that inner personal relationship with the Lord.  That relationship is how we are empowered to do ministry.  I hope that as you begin to spend more time in prayer and in the Word and as God places a burden on your heart for people you will be empowered to love, listen and serve them.  Don't spend so much time living for Jesus that you stop living life with Him.

Envision Cleveland - Short Term Youth Trip

This month I wanted to take some time to tell you about our mission trip to Cleveland, OH this summer. Megan and I along with Josiah VonBerg will be taking 10 students on a week-long adventure to the inner city of Cleveland. Did you know that there are over one hundred different languages spoken in Cleveland? Most people don't think of this city as being so diverse but it is one of the top 5 depositories for refugees in the country. There is a great need for Jesus in the city of Cleveland so our goal is to help in any way we can.

The C&MA makes it a priority to bring the gospel to the darkest places on the globe. A lot of times these nations are overseas in cities that have never heard of Jesus but sometimes they're within a day’s drive from us. The short term sending agency for the Alliance is called Envision and Cleveland is one of their many sites.

Envision Cleveland seeks to partner with local churches in the city to reach those that don't know Jesus. Some of the ministries we have an opportunity to take part in are refugee ministry, VBS, health clinics, sports camps, construction work, beautification, and urban gardening. Obviously we won't be able to do all of those in one week but as the weeks draw closer we will know more about what we'll be doing and how the students can use their gifts and talents to best serve the city and God.

We thank God that there are so many teens in our church that have a desire to look past themselves and help others. I think this trip will not only benefit the city of Cleveland but will have a huge impact on our students as well. Our prayer is that they take this experience and bring something back with them so they can serve their own communities. Safety is something that is often prayed for when traveling and we definitely want students to be safe but I would encourage you to pray not just for safety but for these kids to truly be willing to say "Yes" to Jesus.

Jesus said that "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? - Luke 9:3-25.

This past week during both worship services, you should have received a card reminding you to pray for an individual student who is going on the trip. I want to challenge you to put the card somewhere where you'll see it every day and it will remind you to pray. As much as we need prayer support many of these students still have some money left to raise so please consider how God may lead you to give.

It is our desire to not only bring students to Cleveland but to be able to meet a financial need while we're down there as well. Envision Cleveland has done a great job meeting needs in their community by giving out bicycles to refugees but they're discovering that some of these bikes are getting stolen. Envision Cleveland has asked us to consider raising an extra $1000 to pay for bike locks for these refugees. So please pray about how you can partner with us to reach this community in need 

Stay the Course

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Phil. 3:14 "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

God calls us to press on. Pressing on is the worst. I mean, if I'm honest pressing on is the least bit exciting thing ever. When I picture someone pressing on in my head I see a guy with sweat dripping down his face, exhaustion setting in, dirty, feeling like he can barely breathe, taking the smallest steps possible and hardly making progress. This isn't the centerfold shot that we see in magazines of fitness models with makeup on but more like the red-faced, puffy eyed, out of breath people we tend to see in the mirror.

Sometimes I wonder why God, through Paul, tells us to press on. It's like Paul's a coach encouraging us to go the extra mile, sneak in the last rep, push through the pain and keep your eyes on the goal. What coach Paul is really trying to tell us is that being a Christian isn't easy. In fact, if your life is anything like Paul's it actually sounds like one of those mud races.  Here's an excerpt from2 Corinthians 11:

"Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." 

I'm not saying that the Christian life is always going to be like a 007 movie where you can't catch a break but there are times when it seems a bit overwhelming. Paul knew that because the Christian life is hard we need to keep our eyes on the goal to stay motivated. Our goal is that when we see Jesus he will tell us, "Well done good and faithful servant."  Next time we're tempted to just give up, or give in to temptation, or just stop showing up remember the goal. It doesn't matter how small your steps are if you're moving in the right direction. 

Three Ways to Stay Healthy This Season

1.Go easy on the junk food. 

2 Peter 1:5-7 tells us that we should be self-controlled in all that we do. That means when we're at our next holiday party it's okay to stop by the veggie platter first. It's okay to indulge every once in a while but if you're like me all that buffalo wing dip can sure add up fast and we're not doing ourselves any favors by heaping as much onto our plates as possible. Try to find a balance. A good idea that may help is to make sure you drink enough water and if you can, have something to eat before going to your next party.

2. Remember to exercise. 

When the weather gets cold out we typically like to stay inside and that limits us to the amount of physical activity we can do during the winter. It takes getting creative to make sure we get moving and burning some of those extra calories. 

If you don't feel like getting bundled up to go for a run try joining a gym where they have exercise equipment available in a heated facility. If that doesn't work in your budget find a volleyball league in the area, the church meets on Monday nights at 7pm for a few hours to play volleyball. 

If those don't work remember it's the little things that count. Try taking extra steps throughout your day by using the stairs instead of the elevator, do some cleaning around the house instead of watching TV or start a project that involves getting a bit more active. 1 Cor. 6:19 tells us that our bodies are a temple of the holy spirit we need to make sure we maintain our temple so that we can be of use for God to carry out His will in our lives. 

3.Carve out time for rest. 

Lastly, this season is often time the most stressful busy season of our lives. We rush around from store to store, from party to party, from place to place like a chicken with our heads cut off. Make sure that you are practicing the Sabbath even in this holiday season. Exodus 20:8 reminds us that our bodies need rest. 

Consider taking a day off a week to make sure your body has time to recuperate after your busy week. I'd like to remind you all not to confuse rest with entertainment. You might enjoy a Netflix binge here and there, but true rest is not sitting in front of the television for hours. Hopefully this will save us from being overwhelmed and put us in a place where we can truly experience the peace and joy of the season. 

How to Thrive as a Christian in Today's Culture

Have you considered unfriending a few people recently? I think my mood goes from happy to miserable every time I check my newsfeed and it's not because of the countless memes I have to sort through either.

As I've been observing the hot button issues of our world I have wondered: where do we fit in. Whether we're talking about abortion, gay marriage, immigration, Starbucks cups, taking prayer out of schools or saying Merry Christmas over Happy Holidays the church needs to know how to respond and how not to respond to these types of issues.

When it comes to living a faithful life to God in a different culture I can think of no one better than Daniel. Daniel is the perfect example of a man after God's own heart who thrived in a community that wasn't his own under a government that wasn't his own that worshipped a god that wasn't his own. So what was the secret to Daniel's success in Babylon?

Daniel was more concerned with his personal integrity than those around him.
Daniel 1:8-21 tells us how Daniel refused to eat of the king's food in order to show the power of his God. He didn't mandate everyone around him to prescribe to his way of doing things, he simply did what he thought God wanted him to do. When it comes to moral issues in today's world it's not our job to educate every person on how God expects His children to behave, it's our job to remain faithful to what God expects of us. If a law actively keeps us from obeying God then we need to prioritize God's law over man's, but we cannot legislate morality for everyone.

Daniel respected the authority God put in place.
Daniel 6 shows us how Daniel worked hard for the king even though the king didn't honor his God. Daniel worked so hard that he was going to be put in charge of the entire kingdom. I can't imagine working for any king of Babylon in Daniel's day knowing that they were evil men but Daniel honored the king. There is a fine line between free speech and disrespect in today's culture and I have seen both in the church. Romans 13 tells us to honor and respect the ruling governments that are over us. As the church we need to be careful what we say and how we say it. The time for posting Facebook statuses without thinking twice is over because someone who says how they feel regardless of who it affects is much like a child with no self-control.

Daniel prayed.
Daniel 6:10 says that Daniel prayed three times a day. He knew that the only way God's power and glory were going to be revealed to the people around him was to ask the Lord. We cannot reason with an unbeliever and an argument won is a relationship lost. We need to pray for people to truly know God. That is the only way transformation and renewal will happen in our country and world. God doesn't redeem countries or governments, he doesn't love communities he loves people. God will not save the U.S. without saving the people who reside in it.

Next time we think that this nation has gone to hell in a hand basket could we consider that it's not them that needs to change but us? The Christmas season is not about your right to say Merry Christmas or to have a specific logo on your cup it's about a God who loved people so much that He sent His son to die for them. God deserved to have His son stay with Him in heaven but He didn't care about entitlement, he just cared for us.

Pastor Levi Owens, Associate Pastor

Youth Ministry Semi-Annual Update

1 Timothy 4:12   "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."

This past year has been a year of discovery.  We've discovered the importance of discipleship in small groups.  We've discovered the value of student leadership.  Teens have discovered their spiritual gifts and talents.  When we hold high the charge to Timothy from Paul to let no one look down on us for our age we begin to see past age and into each student's core.  At each of our student's core is their faith, or what they believe to be true about God, people, and the world around them.  Many of our students have discovered what they believe and are now acting on it and defending it to those around them.

Wins:

We've had several ministry wins this year and we are constantly looking back and celebrating God for those things.  Our wins include our attendance reaching 26 students on a single night, our turnout for the Daddy Daughter Date Night with 65 dads and daughters sharing an awesome night together.   This summer has been one big win with the addition of three students to our student leadership team.  Our students planned everything this summer from the message and the worship, to the food and games.  Lastly we took eight students to the Bridge Community Center in Johnson City, NY to help lead a summer day camp for sixty inner city kids. 

Areas of Growth:

Although we had several wins we still have areas we would like to grow in.  We are still in need of more volunteers especially to be small group leaders.  We can always use more help in this area, we continue to get more students than we can handle, which is a good problem but still a problem.  We would like to see 4 more leaders by next year.  Another area we still need to grow in is our middle school ministry.  We have dedicated leaders for our high school students but we are in need of a couple more leaders to work with 6-8th grade students.  We would like to have 2 more leaders to work with middle school students by next year.  Lastly, we have many students that come out for our weekly programming that are not involved in Sunday morning services.  We would love to see 10 more students in church on Sunday mornings and for our church to be a place where students feel welcome and comfortable.

Thank you for your prayers and please continue to pray for us in the next year. 

Pastor Levi Owens

The Missing Ingredient

If you've ever tried to bake a cake you have come to understand that having all of the ingredients is a very important thing. For instance, when I was in 7th grade I had to take a home economics class that required us to bake a cake. Our group was tasked with finding a recipe, gathering the ingredients, mixing and baking a chocolate cake. Once we found the recipe we added all the necessary ingredients, mixed them together and popped it in the oven. As we waited our group thought that everything was going to plan, but we couldn't have been more wrong. As we pulled our cake out of the oven it didn't take us long to realize something went horribly wrong. We forgot an important ingredient. As we stared down at our cake that failed to rise we came to the conclusion that we forgot the baking powder. It was quite delicious in flavor but did not have the consistency a cake should have. 

I believe that in ministry there are a couple of ingredients that we often leave out and it leads to burnout and disaster. The first ingredient is a burden. When doing ministry of any kind whether it be youth ministry, children's ministry, poverty alleviation, international missions you have to start with a burden. A burden is a heavy weight. When we have a burden for a specific group of people it weighs so heavily on our hearts that it prompts us to action.  If I have a burden for the lost teens in my community it will spur me on to do something about it. If I have a burden that the people in my church family should live healthy, God pleasing lives then it will cause me to take charge and make a difference. If the burden for people is not present in our hearts we will never truly find purpose and meaning in what we do. If we serve out of obligation, we won't be motivated to press on when it's difficult. In ministry, we need to have a heavy heart for the people we are serving.

The other ingredient that is often missing from ministry compliments our burden. Joy helps us carry the weight of the burden we have for the people around us.  We can only find joy in one place and that is in Christ. "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!"  Philippians 4:4.  The lack of joy in a ministry is often what leads to burnout and resentment. This all to common problem can be remedied by simply being watchful as to where God is working. Look for evidences of God moving in people's hearts. These moments can often go overlooked because they happen over time but when we see God work, it gives us a means by which we can carry the burden for those around us. 

Remember not to leave these two ingredients out of your ministry and it will be long and fruitful. 

Never Again

I remember when I was a child and heard the story of Noah for the first time. My first thought was how Noah fit all those animals on a boat. Then I remembered thinking about what life was like on the boat and that it must have smelled awful. Finally as we had finished the story I remembered being so thankful that God wasn't ever going to flood the earth again and how he gave a rainbow as a sign for us. Until recently that story has been just that, a story. But now I have come to appreciate that story for being a perfect illustration for our lives as Christians. 

In Gen. 8:20-22 Noah made an altar to God and sacrificed animals for a burnt offering and when God smelled the pleasing aroma he said "I will never again curse the ground because of man for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done". God is saying that there is evil in man's heart even when he is young but there is also something he loves about mankind. When God smelled that sacrifice a deal was made and God said he would never judge all of mankind like that again. Does this sound familiar? 

Paul uses similar language in Ephesians 5:2 "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." This same fragrant aroma was breathed in by God when his Son Jesus died on the cross. Because of this sacrifice Christians no longer have to bear the full judgment for our sin. How many times do we (the church) dwell on our sin and let it turn into guilt and shame? God is saying that the things of your past pale in comparison to Christ's sacrifice for you. We should spend more time looking toward the mission of Christ and less time worrying about our past. When we have this perspective we will truly be able to walk in love without the burden of guilt and shame weighing us down. 

What are you so afraid of?

As I scroll through my newsfeed it doesn't take me long to find a post complaining about the government, Isis, the school system, the economy and so on.  I understand that social media serves as a means to communicate the things that are near and dear to our hearts to the world around us.  These online journals give us a peek into the minds of the people around us and, what I see more often than not, is fear.  We post something about Obama because we're afraid of what he'll do.  We post about the failing school system because we fear that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  The saddest part about this whole thing is that it seems Christians are the worst offenders.  I'm totally in favor of staying informed of the current issues, but to obsess over them  is to be living a life of fear. 

Matthew 6:25-34 teaches us that especially as believers in Christ we shouldn't be worried about the things of this world, but that we should rest in the fact that God knows what we need and is more than able to provide for us.  Jesus tells us not only that we shouldn't worry but he goes so far to say "do not worry" and commands it of us.  When we are stressed out we are not trusting fully in God. 

I think this message applies to us more than just in our social media presence but how we live out our faith each day.  Are you living for Christ so much that the people around you notice?  Are you loving the people you come in contact with each day?  Are you showing patience to the people in the community?  Are you standing on truth when others aren't? The more we live out our faith each day the more we trust God.  The more we trust God the less concerned we are about what others might think of us.  The more we trust God the more we are able to put in the long hours and sacrifice for our neighbor.  Remember if your light doesn't shine bright, what good is the light?  So don't be afraid to speak light and life to those around you and don't sweat the things of this world.  Everyone else is doing that and it doesn't get them anywhere.  Our hope is in Jesus Christ, keep that in mind.

MATTHEW 6:25-34

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.