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Focus your soul on Jesus this Christmas

Posted in Children, Students, Adults, Worship, Caring, Community Life  |  By Jacob Simmons  |  Posted on Mon Dec 19, 2016

Focus your soul on Jesus this Christmas

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 Kevin Naylor  |  Posted on Mon Dec 12, 2016

College Students: 5 ways to avoid a restless winter break

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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dGroups | Fulfilling the purpose

Posted in Students  |  By Lesli Travis  |  Posted on Sun Sep 13, 2015

dGroups | Fulfilling the purpose

To know God and to make Him known is a statement of purpose for me as a follower of Jesus Christ.

I had never heard this, much less understood this, until I attended college. Through the encouragement of friends, I became involved in a campus ministry that provided biblical teaching and training. This teaching, guided by the Holy Spirit, would ultimately change my perspective of life and for life.

I began participating in a small bible study group we referred to as discipleship. I had one leader who invested her life into me and two other women in my group for all four of my college years. Through the sacrificial example of my group leader - and the faithfulness and accountability of my group members - I too became committed to pouring my life into others. This biblical lifestyle and process was and still is my life’s passion. Through this college relationship, I caught a glimpse of why discipleship was so important to God. It changes lives and creates a stronger desire to be more like Him and “to make God known” to the world.

As an adult, my husband and I have seen first-hand what the benefits are of being a part of an accountability and bible study group. These cultivated relationships are such that will last a lifetime. Our hope is that the importance we place on staying in an “iron sharpening iron” relationship will trickle down throughout our family.

We have had three children impacted by the process of discipleship. At Shades, we refer to it as a dGroup. Without a doubt, this ministry is one of the greatest opportunities for our students to grasp what Jesus has called them to be.

Our oldest son just graduated high school and was blessed to be in a group with the same fearless leader and group members from seventh through high school. He claims the consistency, the accountability and the content of his time with his dGroup was life-changing. My other children are currently involved in a discipleship relationship that continues to provide support (when needed), truth (when required) and fellowship (always). The fellowship, accountability, teaching and commitment that comes with dGroups is a perfect example of what Paul instructed Timothy to do in II Timothy 2:2:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Our prayer for our children is that through dGroups, they will become better equipped and prepared to live according to God’s plan for their lives and that they too will pour their lives in to others, reaching the world for Christ.

Currently, with the help of a co-leader, I disciple a group of seven senior girls. It is one of my greatest joys in life.

To be able to use what the Lord taught me when I was younger is not only exciting but affirming that God never gets tired of using us as long as we are available to be used. You’ve probably heard the saying “Jesus ministered to the masses, but he discipled only a few." This sounds exclusive but Jesus spent all of His time with just a few because He knew the world could be changed by these disciples … living, eating and breathing Jesus. The entire world was changed through these few men that Jesus invested His life into.

I believe that each student that participates in dGroups will have this same impact on the world surrounding them. This is God’s great design for reaching the lost. We receive training from others and we give training to others so that they will continue this process for generations to come. dGroup emphasis at Shades has taken the biblical perspective of discipleship and planted it in the hearts of many.

Prayerfully, our students will take these principles and be changed by them. Why? So that they can fulfill the purpose, “To know God and to make Him known.”

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dGroups | A parent's perspective

Posted in Students  |  By Walter Church  |  Posted on Sun Sep 13, 2015

dGroups | A parent's perspective

In mid-August, my wife and I became empty nesters when our oldest son returned to college as a junior and our youngest son started his college career. In advance of each son leaving for college as a freshman, a flood of thoughts entered our minds.

Is he prepared for this next chapter in his life? Will he meet friends with character? Will he have academic success?

Even though the questions were very important, they did not worry us or distract us because we believed that God had prepared each son by using us, other family members, and people who invested in their lives through school, extra curricular activities and the Shades student ministry.

During middle school and high school, my sons regularly attended Shades, and they participated in many student events. From seventh grade until high school graduation, each son truly enjoyed his dGroup and benefited greatly from a committed leader who continually encouraged and taught each son to live like Christ even when facing difficult challenges, including the pressures and temptations of this world. Over the years, many in the dGroup became their closest friends.

As my sons progressed in age, my wife and I watched them grow in their Christian faith, including their desire to invest in younger students and friends who were not believers in Christ. We are truly grateful that dGroups emphasize this way of life that models Christ. Now, as college students, each son is actively involved in a discipleship group while regularly attending worship. As a parent, these choices bring great joy and gratitude.

More than a year ago, God convicted me to disciple younger students in addition to being a twelfth grade Sunday school teacher. So, last year, I accepted the challenge of leading a seventh grade discipleship group. Even with the busyness of life, the young men who were assigned to be in my dGroup blessed me by their energy, fun nature and general interest in Christ. I have no doubt that this year will be another great dGroup experience.

As we fast approach the first dGroup meeting of the year on Sunday, September 13, let’s never forget the call of Christ to be a disciple who makes disciples, and let’s faithfully pray for God to work in and through dGroups beyond anything that we can think or imagine.

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Crave Weekend 2015

Posted in Students  |  By Shades Staff  |  Posted on Tue Feb 24, 2015

Kaye Arnold

Posted in Students  |  By Steve Browning  |  Posted on Tue Feb 17, 2015

Kaye Arnold

Kaye had no idea what to expect the first time she walked through the glass front doors of the Christian Life Center at Shades Mountain. This blonde, third grade girl was at the beginning of a journey that would change her forever. Kaye was signed up for three weeks of KidsKamp in the summer of 2010. Beyond the fun and games of each week she found friends, leaders, and adults who really valued her. She enjoyed her experience so much she came back for five weeks of KidsKamp the following summer and her first Vacation Bible School at Shades.

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