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(This post is to give you a feel of what a retreat with Impact is like)

 

… Nov 6-8 2015…Retreat Weekend…Impact Christian Fellowship…At the base of Hunter Mountain in the Catskills…

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At the overlook of the North South Lake campgrounds.  Back row from left to right: Sarah, James, Carlton, Lynn, Kevin, Nick, Zack, Charles, Kevin, Chris.  Front row from left to right: Simone, Taylor, Steph, Jon.

 

 

 

On Friday, as 14 students and myself packed clothes into suitcases and suitcases in to cars and ourselves around the suitcases in said packed cars, Impact headed on retreat!  Our months of lessons are culminating in a weekend of holistic teaching that includes the community, mind, and body!

We are leaving the class room behind, and going into the woods to see what it looks like to walk a literal path, and how that will teach us how easy it is to stray from God’s path.

We started months ago talking Genesis 1, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We talked about the specific land God is giving them, and their role they are to play, “I will bless you so that you may be a blessing.”  God has put His people in a specific location to bless the people that will pass through the crossroads of the earth, the land of Israel.

God wants to bless not only Isreal, but all of Usreal (“Usreal” Can I trademark that?)

Why does this God want to take care of us so much?  All other gods want to be served, but this god comes to serve?

Friday night: Lesson 1: How Does God see us?

In Exodus, God shows His love for us in a wedding (starting in Genesis 15 actually).  He brings His beloved out of Egypt and takes them to Sinai where the middle eastern reader sees all the aspects of a marriage.  A cleansing in the Red Sea, a covering of smoke, an exchange of vows, and a desert honeymoon.  God loves His bride, us.  We need to know this.  Our God isn’t in some far off place, judging, waiting, and scheming, but instead desires to be as close to us as a husband is to his wife.  God desires to take his bride and put her in the center of the world, for all to see, for she will represent Him to all people.

Saturday morning: Lesson 2: What is our response?  It isn’t good.

Hosea is a prophet, the voice of God to His people.  What is the message that Hosea is told to give to the people of Israel?  Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.This is verse 2 of chapter 1.  Straight to it.

How does God see us?  As His beloved!  How do we see Him?  Not well.  Hosea describes how we have turned from God:

(She is referring to the people of Isreal)

She said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
    who give me my food and my water,
    my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’
Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
    I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
    she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
    ‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
    for then I was better off than now.’
She has not acknowledged that I was the one
    who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold—
    which they used for Baal.

The Lord provides for us, and we turn and say others have.  He gives grain and wine.  He gives us gold that we use for worship of Baal…

Don’t fret, for the prophets also bring something else, they bring hope.

Hosea 14:9:

Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.

Saturday Afternoon: Lesson 3: Into The Woods!

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Into the woods!

“The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” 

This lesson is the favorite lesson of many people.  Every aspect teaches.  We went to a local park and quickly left the road for a trail along the lake.  Our lake side hike is a lesson in what it means to follow and how to show the people who come behind you the path.

Know this, a rabbi only allows you to follow him if he believes you can walk as he walks, that you can understand the Torah and live it as he lives it.

“Come follow me as we go into the woods, walk as I walk.”

Already the message is tangible.  The line forms behind me as I am already being engulfed in trees and the people in the rear begin to rely on the people in front of them to know where to go.

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A great place for a lesson! 

After a couple minutes, I step up and over a boulder instead of the easy path around it.  How well are we willing to follow?  The next person steps on the boulder… so does the 3rd… the fourth doesn’t… nor the fifth ,sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth… until the fourteenth.  He accidentally finds the path as he steps up on the bedrock for a better photo.

How can we expect others to know the path that God desires for us if we ourselves aren’t looking for it?  If we don’t walk it and model it to others, what hope will they have?  With luck, they might stumble across it, but we could all have walked it if we followed the one who goes before us.

(Such a good day)

The hike is full of these lessons.

People like to go ahead of the leader, or walk next to him, or not even be close.  Some like to follow right behind and see everything that is going on, others hang back to help the group traverse creeks without falling in.

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Zack performing his best John the Baptist in 45 degree water

We ended at a lake where we heard the call of John the Baptist to turn from our way, a way that is different than God’s and to turn back and return to the path of righteousness.

Sunday Morning: Lesson 4:  As you are going…

(some back story for the reader:  Our weekly studies have focused on who God’s people are: hospitable, caring, forgiving people, who are to put him on display to the world. We have focused on where God has put his people: Israel, the center between two major cities.  Israel is located in the route people would take from Egypt to Asia.  If God wants his people to be a blessing to the world and the world passes through this area every day, this is the perfect location.)

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

I love that we see early on, the job of the God fearer is to be other focused.  We see that for, I think literally, every story.  We see that for Abraham, we see that given by Moses in Deuteronomy, from an Israeli slave girl in Kings, and the church in Acts.  We see that God has put His people in a location to be a blessing, not sometime in the future, but now, right now.   Consistently we fall short.  Continually we turn away.  God is always calling us back to Him, because He loves His bride.

We might lose the path, but if we will come back, and focus on the One who goes before us, and fall in line with a Paul who is asking us to follow him and he follows Christ, there will be more rejoicing in Heaven than many people who never fall away and choose to return.

 

We have been placed here in the world.  The students are at UAlbany.  I am in Latham, you are ___________.  They are students, I am a campus minister, you are a ___________.  God has placed in where we are to be a blessing.  He has placed us where we are to walk His path, and talk about His ways, and in that we will reach the world around.

 

Where do we have more influence than where God has placed us and given us influence, friends, and family? With strangers?

As I look at our closing scripture for the retreat, Matthew 28:19-20, I am reminded that God’s call is the same from the beginning.

 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

I heard a smarter man than me say we could also translate this “As you are going, make disciples…”

The call has never been to go.  The call has always been as you are going, follow God.  If you lose the path, come back, for He loves unconditionally.

As you are going, follow Him, sing His praises, following the one who goes before you, and teaching others to do the same.

A Year of Trust

“You don’t know what you are asking for”

That is a weird answer to prayer, but that was my answer back in May when I was praying about the upcoming semester.

Let me tell you about it.

Each new school year there are struggles unique to that semester, I hope the beginning of this school year will truly be unique.

Fountain Steps Sharpened

The Eboard from left to Right: Nick, Charles, Sarah, Simone, Steph, and Zack

 

The semester was starting and our new executive leadership team (the eboard) was hitting on all cylinders.  Two days before classes started, we had fliers around the campus and emails from new students on our phones.

This is a good start!

The day before school started, things took a slight turn.  Every student group was removed from the student group website.  In itself, not unusual.  The day before classes while freshman are looking for things to do?  Unusual.

When we went to register, three things hit, one after the other:

One of our eboard members needs to step down from official leadership
As a non-registered group, we cannot hang fliers, represent the school, or get meeting rooms
We need to raise over $800 before we have access to a budget and register the group

Tough start.

It seems God teaches us through our lives.  Our first two weeks of lessons during our Wednesday night fellowship meetings on the UAlbany campus were about trusting God, believing that when He says He will provide, He will provide.  How?  I don’t know, but that shouldn’t be my concern, it is His.

We talked Sabbath.  Can we rest one day a week to keep a reminder that our efforts aren’t what changes things, but our partnership with God does, because He is moving.

Sabbath: Can we stop production one day a week to trust that God has given everything we need?  Can we trust Him?

Tough lessons when you need money to go forward.

On the 14th day of class, I get a call from Jeff.

(pleasantries)

Jeff: “Have you been support raising for this $800 yet?”

Me: “No”

Jeff: “Have you spoken with ———- ?”  (Alumni’s name redacted by request!)

Me: “I have sent some emails over the summer”

Jeff:  “Are you waiting on a gift?”

Me: “No”

Jeff: “They gave $5,503.49 this morning”

Me: *Silence*

This is a swing in momentum!

The next day a dedicated member of Impact joined the Eboard.

The next week, we were registered once again as a group.

As of today, we have a meeting being set up for our budget.

“You don’t know what you are asking for”

If God would have revealed to me that we’d be deregistered, need to raise $800, get a new eboard member, and we wouldn’t have meeting rooms, I wouldn’t have believed it.  If He went on to say don’t worry, I will provide for each need and more, I wouldn’t think I was hearing right.  How much?  Really?  That’s crazy talk!

In our times of strife, may we continue to turn to God knowing that He provided in Genesis 1 and continues providing today, in Acts 29.

So?

 For me, I was running my own house pressure washing business here in Latham, NY.  It was a pretty good job: working for myself, meeting nice people, and seeing the immediate payoff of hard work when the house was complete.  Overall, it wasn’t a bad place to be five years ago.
     More recently, I heard a pastor ask his audience if they have changed over the past TEN years.  Of course they have, they affirmed.
Hey! Me too!
     When I started with Impact in July of 2010, it was a scary thing!  Campus ministry?  Sure, I was a missionary prior, but that job description was solid. “Gut Out Houses”.  Done.  Starting to work with Impact was a wide open door.  There is no specific way of doing things.  Pursue God.  Model what God is teaching you.  Teach others to do the same.

Our Mission is to Pursue Model and Teach

     Those first couple of years were dicey to say the least!  But after much prayer and focus, the weekly fellowship meetings started to grow.  We had regulars starting to ask about a retreat, so in 2012, we started having retreats twice a year.  The next group of students who were being raised up to lead asked about a mission trip.  In Spring 2014, we started a yearly mission trip to go along with existing service projects.
     Have you seen those people who spin dishes on poles (watch that video, it is good.  Too relate-able!)?  Like at the fair, or Epcot?  This is my best way of explaining these amazing 5 years.  Who starts with 7 dishes?  I’d have to focus on just figuring out how one works!  Once that was figured out, I could add a new spinning dish.  Maybe a third one.  One on one discipleship?  Sure, a fourth dish!
If I was told in 2010 that in 5 years, I’d be the lead campus minister of a group that I attended four years ago at my Alma Mater, teaching weekly, leading retreats, running mission trips, leading students one on one in discipleship, being the guest pastor at churches, and all while teaching students to do the same, I would not have believed it.  It would have been one of those pie in the sky dreams.
That is where I am after five years.
What could the next 5 years with Impact look like?Everyone who stays to clean up gets to be in the final selfie! #SpringReadingDayParty

Walking the Path

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The second day of being in Israel, we explored more of what it meant to be in the desert.

Let me attempt to set the environment:

We leave our hotel by the Dead Sea.

It is around 8am.

It is around 90 degrees.

The morning shower was hot.  There wasn’t cold water.

The rooms are hot, the only have power when your key card is inserted into the wall.

Drinking water is from the bus, which is hot.

The Dead Sea is surrounded by mountains, thousands of feet tall.

It is an amazing scene.

This is what you’d imagine it to be when you hear desert.

We begin our day reciting what we will call the Jesus Shema:

Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength.

And love your neighbor as yourself.

After a quick morning lesson, it is onto the bus to travel to a drop off point.

Dropped of in the Desert

Dropped of in the Desert

The bus just left us here.  We drove for a little bit, the bus pulled off to the side of the road and we hear

“Come, let’s go”

and our leader, Marty, steps off the bus and starts walking away.

We all quickly scramble to follow, as the days go by, we will get better at this and become good at it, but not this day.

We start down a path that is pretty rocky.  Well, everything is rocky.  This path, is more like a dried water bed (that is actually the definition of a wadi).  We walk maybe a half mile and we come over a ridge.  Marty has stopped and is allowing us to catch up.  It is tough to follow this guy!

We all circle around him and he says how was it?

Fine.  A little tough.

He says “I know.  Go back.  Do it again.  But this time, stay off the path.”

What…?

Go back.  Go back to where the bus dropped us off and don’t walk the path.  Walk along side it in the rocks.

Confused, we go back.

It is tough to find out where the path is and isn’t.  It was pretty rocky every where.

One of us falls on the way back. Sarah’s knee is cut pretty bad.  It is not yet 9am of day 2.

Most of us make it back to Marty, a few are helping Sarah.  We wait.  and wait…. and wait…

She finally comes back with a bandaid on her knee with a knee brace holding it on.

In a moment of rabbinic genius, we ask Marty what we will do if she is badly hurt.

“It is very difficult to follow the rabbi” says Marty.

Sarah continues the hike with us.


When we are together, we sit and Marty asked what we see around us.

Stones.  Lots of stones.

Not just stones, but small ones, big ones, in between ones.

If we look at these stones, he says, some of them are small and might get stuck in a sandal.  An annoyance, but easy to kick out.  Other stones, a little bigger, you might stumble on, but you can kick them out of the way for the next guy.  A bigger stone might need a hand or 2 to move.  Then you come across the BIG stones that aren’t moving, so you have to navigate around them.

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Here is a big part of walking the path.  When you do it, you naturally knock out the small stuff.  As you walk, the small stuff gets kicked to the side.  The medium stuff gets moved out of the way.  And the path around the big objects is obvious!  When we walk the path, the path becomes more defined and easier to follow.  On a path, you can see where it is safe to set your foot.  When you are following others who are walking the right path, you don’t have to worry about where you set your foot, you can see it is the good way.

The rabbis look at following God as walking His path.  There are small things that are annoyances. There are some bigger things that might have to be conscientiously changed.  Some of those might take more effort than others.

Some things just have to be avoided all together.

In our faith, as we follow the way of Jesus, the path becomes clearer.  As we remove the small things and work to over come larger problems, the way our faith works becomes clearer to the people behind us.  They can walk the path easier because we have gone before!

The more you walk the path, the clearer it is for people who come after you!

The more we walk the path that God lays out in scripture, the easier it becomes..

The more we walk it, the more we kick to the side vices and issues that once tripped us.

The more we walk it, the easier it is to avoid the things that once made us fall.

Most importantly, the more we walk it, the easier it is for others to follow Jesus using our example.

Walking the Path

Walking the Path

That makes me stop to think:

Is the way I am living my life fitting the path that Jesus talks about?

How about you?

Bema Trip 2014

Solomon's stairsHow can I describe a trip that I pitched to people as an indescribable experience?

I arrived back from Israel on July 30th after 20 days of travel, miles and miles of hikes, experiencing 100+ hours of teachings, having amazing joy, heat sickness, rocket threats, great friends, bad food (good food too), and a seemingly endless list of other things.

I came back and spent days talking with people about the experience and I so much want to tell YOU about it, but how?  I can’t send the 500+ pictures, the hours of discussion, the passion, the excitement, via blog!  I think in the past couple days though, I have found a way to hopefully share some of the experience.

As more blogs get posted, I will try to share another story, and another story… probably until I go back again in 2016.

I think the key to this conversation comes in a more relate-able subject.  In early August, Melanie and I bought our first house!  It is very exciting and it is true, when you walk into the house that is for you, you will know it.  We walked in and both said “wow.” We moved in on August 16th and all of the stuff we have accumulated over the 5 years at the last house, has practically doubled our belongings.  All of it was boxed, and moved in to a house much bigger than the tiny place of 570sqft we have been living.  We now are going through the process of trying to figure out where to put stuff.  How does this fit in the new house?  Why do we still have this?  or that?  Where is the top of the blender?  Why would it be packed in a different place?

This is oddly a similar discussion to Israel…

For the trip, I studied and prepared and brought all of this knowledge with me that I’ve accumulated over the years.  The time in Israel was amazing.  The hikes were tough!  The heat was crazy!  The sun… didn’t burn thanks to sun screen.  The lessons, from the small details to the big picture, changed what you thought you knew and things went from being fragmented ideas that someone clung together to “of course, that makes sense” “oh, that isn’t confusing, it makes sense”.



Let me give you a story:

ON THE FIRST day, after leaving our hotel in the Negev desert, within two miles our tour guide Yehuda pointed out of the side of the bus and casually mentioned there there were some shepherds taking care of their flock.  Marty (the Impact staff who was leading the trip) got excited and asked if we could stop.  We got out of the bus and watched from a dry desert hill as the bus pulled away.  So began our first lesson.

What do you imagine as a shepherd?  I’ve always imagine the old man like Moses.  Long flowing robes, a crook, hobbling around grassy field.

Marty simply asked us what we observe.


Shepherd throwing stone

(Click the photo to see it larger)

There is a little girl running around.  Maybe 8… maybe 10…

There are sheep and goats in the herd.

There isn’t any grass… only tough looking desert bushes.

The sheep stay by her donkey.

The goats are all over.


Marty tells us that the job of the shepherd is normally the job of the least of the family.  “You go spend your time with the smelly sheep”.  The little girl is running almost constantly.  Why?  She is running out in front of the goats.  The goats are going up one mountain side.  She runs in front and throws rocks towards them so they turn around.  They then go up the other side.  She runs a head of them and throws a few more rocks.  This is what she did the majority of the time we were there.  The sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd and do what they are told.  They stayed with the donkey.  The goats think they know a better way.

Am you a sheep or a goat?

We see the weapon of the shepherd in the hand of her older brother who was standing by the donkey as the younger sister ran around.  It was about a 2 foot stick.  His rod and staff.

Marty finds this small tuft of yellow “grass” and says this is what the sheep eat.  I couldn’t see any of it on the ground.  All I see is desert and rock.

We watch this little girl throw rocks. and more rocks.

“Think of David” say Marty.

whoa.

This unexpected, unplanned, gift from God was an amazing experience and a beginning to a crazy 18 days.



This was only stop one of the day.  Not even a planned lesson.  Each day was filled with 3-5+ lesson that realigned your view from a western perspective of something like green pastures, to seeing this desert that had yellow grass that gave a faint hint of green if the sun hit it right.

I find my self back home (in a new house), trying to figure out how the stuff from the old house fits in the new house, and I am also taking these amazing lessons from Israel and Turkey and looking at the new frame work I have of Christianity and thinking ‘how does the stuff from my old framework fit in the new?”

Like every move, there will be things that you throw out. “Why do I still have this?”

There is stuff that wasn’t packaged correctly.  “Where is the blender lid?”

Items will be arranged differently. “Our new living room is the size of our old house! (almost)”

How can I describe the indescribable to you?

If you’ll bear with me, I will continue to try.

IT HAS BEGUN!

     Yesterday was our first meeting of the school year!  What at first meeting it was!  Our planned lesson spoke about giving to God what is God’s.  If Caesar’s belongings are his because his image is on it, then we are God’s because we are made in His image!  “Will you give yourself to God this semester for His purpose?”

Even better was the unplanned lesson that God had for us!

It started in the God Watch part of our meeting.  What’s a God Watch?  It is a time to share how you see God moving in your life.  It can be answered prayer, and incident that only God can do. It can be seeing God’s perfect timing or seeing how God has lined things up in your life!
Shelly, our new President of Impact at UAlbany, shared how she had said something hurtful to someone 2-3 years ago and it has been on her heart to make amends with them.  The temptation to send a Facebook message was there, but she wanted to speak face to face.  Yesterday, they crossed paths.  The other girl tried to cover her face and remain hidden in the crowd, but Shelly saw her and made the effort to speak with her.  Small talk ensued, and Shelly brought it around to apologizing for her words, and that she never meant it in a way that would hurt like it did.  Her friend had been carrying this hurt for years, and through seeking forgiveness, the burden was lifted from both Shelly and her friend.
This God watch of saying how God lined this up to happen and that Shelly’s heart was ready to apologize and this person was there to accept it opened up another person to talk about a relationship they reconciled.
And another.

And another.

The theme of broken relationships came up.

Something we can all relate to.  There always seems like there will be more time to fix a relationship.  There is always tomorrow or next week, or next time, or year.  What was shared, was that there isn’t always tomorrow.  People move out of our lives and the chance is gone.  People pass away and we are left with a sadness that we never repaired that relationship or built it to what we thought it should be.  It was a great night and an unexpected lesson.  In a group where most people don’t know each other, these people were opening up faults and being honest and sharing what forgiveness really looks like in their lives.
It was a good day to be on campus!
-Zack

This coming Wednesday is the first move in day for UAlbany!!!

The Summer is almost officially over!!!

Right now, across the region, state, country, and world, people are packing suitcases, boxes, minivans, and stomachs for what is going to be their first time at UAlbany!

What will my roommate be like?

What if classes are too hard?

When is all that construction going to be done?

What will my new life look like with all new people surrounding me?

This Wednesday, the beginning of a new chapter of life will be starting for the freshman who are moving into the tower!  This first day, only the freshman towers are open, and this year there is only one, since the Mohawk tower is under construction (a 2 year complete gut and remodel).  On Thursday, Thousands of other freshman make it to campus and on Friday EVERYONE ELSE!!!

The calm summer is about to be replaced by confused students, lost, looking for classes and figuring out new friendships.

Among all of this IMPACT CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP is starting back up!

Every Wednesday that classes are in session, we hold our weekly meetings of fellowship, food, and scripture.

I know I am looking forward to it and hearing the response of our student leaders, I am excited for what God can do with a willing heart!

If you are a student:

Join us on August 28th at 8:08pm in the Campus Center Room 375!

If you are not a student email us to see how you can get involved:

getinvolved@impactalbany.com

EVERYONE: LIKE OUR FACEBOOK PAGE:

WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/IMPACTALBANY