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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.

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The other day I was talking with Peter, our upcoming President of Impact at UAlbany, and we started to discuss Psalm 23.  An interesting Psalm and possibly the most famous Psalm.  Just by me typing Psalm 23, you probably have already said “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for you (maybe you’d say thou) are with me…”  Upon reflection we both thought of funerals… this psalm can fit well at a funeral.

I asked Peter why he liked it and he gave a few points.  We then went through it line by line.

First though, here is Psalm 23 in it entirety:

1     The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, 
    he restores my soul. 
He guides me in paths of righteousness 
    for his name’s sake. 
Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, 
    for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; 
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

So V1

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Ok so the shepherd makes sure that the sheep have everything they need.  Food.  Water.  Safety.  Similarly, God is our shepherd taking care of us, providing for our needs.  I get stuck on the second part though.  “I shall not be in want”.  You know the 10 commandments?

You SHALL not….

You SHALL not….

You SHALL not….

You SHALL not….

I don’t know about you but I have always read those as ‘You should not.’

So when I read this is Psalm 23:1, I read ‘I should not be in want’.

How well do I do with the 10 commandments?

You shall not commit murder.  Jesus compares murder to anger… well I mess that one up…

You shall not commit Adultery… Jesus compares this action to be the same as thinking about it… have you messed that one up?

You shall not steal… I don’t think all the music on my computer has been paid for… how about you?

So I find myself struggling to follow these ‘Shall Not’s, hopefully you do better.  So I see this ‘Shall Not’ and it seems to be a struggle to follow.  It seems to be a struggle to not be in want, as much as I desire to be content.

Lets go to V2:

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

When I look at this verse the word that sticks out to me is “makes”.

It seems I’d be happy to lay down in this nice green pasture.  The idea the comes to mind is of having a picnic with the family and the dog.  It’d be nice to have the picnic blanket laid out and the family enjoying a lush green area, maybe in some shade on a summer day.  Everyone is relaxing but the dog. The dog wants to run around and do things and sniff things and eat things and probably chase things as well.  I also imagine the dad trying to calm the dog down and get it to relax with the family.  You have to make this dog lie down.

I so much see US in this verse.  How much do we desire to go here and there and be busy all the time.  God helps those who help themselves right? ummm… not really…

God has to make us sit down and relax.  He says to relax, to look around at the beauty that is around you.  Great green fields, calm beautiful water, maybe… maybe a mountain with a jagged rock face in the distance.  That seems like an area I could enjoy, how about you?

The thing is, a dog doesn’t care much about how beautiful an area is when there is something to do…

V3

he restores my soul. 
He guides me in paths of righteousness 
    for his name’s sake. 

Thank God.  We run ourselves ragged and then fall apart, but God will restore our souls.  He guides me.  In all the choices I have to make through the hours, days, weeks, and months, God will help guide me in the path of righteousness.

Why?

For His Name’s sake!

What is in a name?  Today, a name might not mean much, but back then a name carried with it the weight of the person.  So when you spoke of God, it wasn’t a vague idea of a powerful guy in the heavens, it was the God who delivered your people from Egypt.  It was the one who brought water out of a stone, who provided food each day.  It was the one who routed entire armies when your people only had 300 warriors.  So this idea of the name of God is a huge idea!  What could be bigger than the creator of everything!

V4:

Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, 
    for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

wait…um… WHAT?  I thought I was in a nice lush field by calm waters enjoying a picnic… I thought I was walking this path of righteousness by still waters…

‘you are, but that shadow isn’t from the Maple trees’

I see now why I had to be MADE to lie down!

I am in the Valley of the Shadow of Death!  This dangerous place seems so nice!  Sin often seems good at first too…

If I feared no evil, He wouldn’t have to MAKE me lie down, but I’m working on it!  I verbalize my trust because in my heart I trust Him and I want my actions to follow my heart.  If I think back to who God is and what He has done in the past, this trust thing becomes easier.  Ok… your power… your rod and staff, they comfort me.

V5:

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; 
    my cup overflows.

So we’re really doing this?  We are surrounded by people who want nothing but bad for me and you want me to relax and have a meal?

ok.  Trust in the heart.  Check

Trust in action… che… umm…. check…

V6:

Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

This is good news!  Even though I am in a bad spot, goodness and love will be there with me.  No matter what happens, I will be with the Lord!

So what do we learn out of this?

What is a message?

Why can God be trusted?

He doesn’t do this for you.  He does what He does for Him!  For His name’s sake!  What will bring more glory to Him, having you die, or protecting you so much that you can have a feast in front of your enemies?

Even though we are nervous and unsure, we can put our trust in the one who guides us because He can see a better, bigger picture than what we see.  He will guide us through the nice looking valley of the shadow of death and show us where the path of righteousness lies.  All of the people who wish to harm us will not be able to if we keep your trust and our eyes on Him.

And should His better, bigger plan lead to death for you but Life for others, fear not, “I (you) will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

-Zack

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This past semester we have spoken on evangelism and we have been going over the Gospel of Luke during our Monday bible study with the intention of understanding it so that we can teach it instead of just consuming it for ourselves.

In Luke 11 Jesus is casting out a demon that was mute and he was accused of being from the Devil.

By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”  -Luke 11:15

     So a guy has been unable to speak for who knows how long and Jesus comes by and casts out the demon that was torturing him.  How crazy must that be for the mute guy?  How great must that be for his family and friends and people around him?  Most people are excited, but some in the crowd don’t seem like they can be pleased by anything Jesus does.

     Whispered words start moving through the crowd telling people that this guy who seems impressive actually isn’t that great.  In fact, he isn’t only not impressive but he is dangerous because his power comes from Satan.

He is working for the bad guy!

Jesus, however, knows where His power comes from and He knows what is being discreetly discussed among the dissidents.

Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.  If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub.  Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.  But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.      -Luke 11:17-20

He goes on to talk about how if a strong man is protecting his house, the only way to overpower him is to be stronger than he is.

and then V23

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

 Maybe you’ve read this before.  I know I have but I think I have come victim to the Bible!  What?  Our bibles are split up into books and chapters and verses and those chapters are broken up into section and I know for me, I have grown to see these sections as stand alone teachings.  Of course, that isn’t the case.  These teachings tie together.

People have some grudge against Jesus for healing and say His power is from Satan.  Jesus tells them that Satan wouldn’t give power to drive out himself but that He drives them out by the finger of God.  The next story is talking about a man in a strong hold that can only be overtaken by someone who is stronger.

Jesus here is talking about Himself being stronger than Satan!  He can drive out Satan’s demons because He is more powerful.  Jesus is making a claim that He has the power of God!

He then makes this comment that if you aren’t with Him, you are against Him.

Jesus just made the case that He has the power of God, that He is on the side of God, and that He is overpowering Satan.  So the people who are speaking against Him are on whose side?

THEY ARE NOW ON THE SIDE OF THE DEVIL!

Jesus has made some huge statements here about His power and what He is doing and the people against Him.

So what can we learn from this to share with those around us?

This chapter has a claim of divinity of Jesus.  He has the power to overthrow he who has a strong hold (Satan) and take his possessions (us) and give them as He sees fit and the people who want to fight Him want to stay true to Beelzebub.

I think this was a pretty good day reading chapter 11.

Your Thoughts?

-Zack

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Man oh man!  Today we started our Spring bible study where we are going to be going over the Gospel of Luke.  We started out be describing what college is like for us.  For me, college was a great time of learning.  I learn how much there is to know and how little of it I know.  I learned how to apply what I was taught.  I learned how to teach it to others too.  I learned how to communicate better find out answers to questions that I have.  In all of this learning, I also learned a lot of stuff in my major and I graduated with a degree in Atmospheric Science.  Outside of that I learned so much about God and who I was created to be.

We then moved on to how do you describe Jesus?  We all took turns talking about Jesus and different qualities and ways to speak of him.  We then went on read Luke 1:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

     Luke here is saying that what he is doing is writing down an accurate account of Jesus so that Theophilus will can know that what he has been taught is true.  Luke is simply describing Jesus to Theophilus.

At the end of our bible study Dexter, a graduating senior, told us he had a hard time describing Jesus because of this video he saw.  We then punched it into a smart phone and watched the 3 minute video.  It was amazing!  I present it to you now!

Something that can be describe like that is truly indescribable!

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Grace and peace,

today we are going over Romans 4.

Here is a link to it on biblegateway.com

 

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.

Paul gives such a great contrast here in v4.  When we work, we are normally working because we expect to get some benefit from what we are doing.  At the end of a work week, an employer doesn’t expect to be thanked when they pay the worker, the worker earned their pay.  If the worker didn’t get paid, there’d be an up roar!

Does this same thing work with God?  If you follow the rules laid down in the Old Testament and the rules laid down in the New Testament, does that put God in your debt so that He owes you heaven?

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, 
   and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”

(Isaiah 64:6a)

No, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), even what we do and think is righteous turns out to be filthy rags…

So where is the hope?

Our hope lies in Christ.  It is not something we earn but through faith alone that we are reconciled and considered righteous before God.  Nothing we can do can earn it, nothing we can do can destroy it.  If we have faith in Jesus’ saving act of redemption on the cross, that in sharing in His death, we also share in His life, than nothing can separate us from God.

I read a little while ago a short explanation on this.  How does faith in Christ make us righteous?  The question people often have is “How”.  God speaks with authority.  If we look at Genesis 1, there was nothing and God spoke and what was spoken came to pass.  God said “let there be light” and light was there.

“Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.”

and there was…

“Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”

and there was…

The point being, that somehow, what God says, happens.

Paul’s contrast with v4 is v5:

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Here in Romans, God speaks to us and His word is authoritative.

-Zack

 

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Grace and Peace,

today we are going over Romans 3.

Here is a link to it on bibleagateway.com

Over the past year or so, I have gotten in to reading much more.  Getting rid of our cable last September has helped and also reading about things I am interested makes a difference.  In the past, I’d read things because people would tell me it was good and that I should read it, but that topic interested them, not me.  Of course reading about what interests me is more enjoyable but it took years to realize that…  I was part of a group reading through Letters from a Skeptic and at one point Ed, the skeptic, said how things like the sermon on the mount from Matthew 5-7 make the Christian walk impossible.  How can you be expected to live up to something like that?  His son Greg, who is a theologian, responses affirming that truth.   We can’t live up to it, if being angry is murder and thinking is the same as acting, we are all doomed.  He says how the sermon on the mount is supposed to drive us to Jesus because we are in need of a Saviour.

In Romans 3, Paul is talking about how when we come to accept Jesus as Saviour, it isn’t by works we are saved, but by faith.  What stuck out to me was verse 20:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law;
rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

After reading Letters from a Skeptic this had different meaning to me.  Without spending time reading the bible, I would still think that murder was wrong, but I wouldn’t think that being angry with someone would be just as bad.  Apart from the bible, we compare ourselves to worldly standards and normally to people who are “worse” than we are.  According to those standards, we are good maybe even great people.

But what if we compare to a different person in the world, what if we compare ourselves to Jesus?  Do your good deeds still measure up to be a good person?  Probably not, but here is the good news, we are not saved by our acts and our deeds.  We are saved only through substitutionary atonement, through Christ’s death for our sins.

Learning what is expected of us through the bible is good and we should strive to live as Christ because we are ambassadors of Jesus to this world.  But whether you rip your clothes and wear sack cloth and ashes when you repent isn’t what is important.  When we read all these rules that we don’t and can’t live up to, it should drive us to the cross and look up to Jesus and say ‘I struggle to do this.  Thank you for loving me even though I turn away from you.  Help me to follow your ways more.’

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 3:28

If you don’t know Christ as Saviour, it’s not too late.  God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it.  Find a community of Christians to join (a church), start reading God’s message to you (the bible), and pray.  Prayer is simply talking with God.  How else can you build a relationship without communication?

-Zack

What has stuck out to you?

How has reading this chapter today been different than the first time you read it?

If it’s your first time reading this, what has made you stop and think?

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Grace and peace,

today we are going over Romans 2.

Here is a link to it on biblegateway.com

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

-Romans 2:4 (New Living Translation)

Do you ever get mad at someone who is nothing but nice to you?

Do you find yourself yelling at someone who speaks softly?

Probably not for both questions.

It is natural to respond to someone in the same way they respond to you.  Here is a simple test.  When you pass by someone you know, wait for them to say something first.

Friend: Hi

(What is your response?)

You: Hi

What if your friend said something else?

Friend: Hello

(Do you think you’d say hi?)

You: Hello

It is common to respond in the same way that some acted towards you.

This equal reaction go away when we deal with God.

We are shown love, we go our own way.

We are shown forgiveness, we harbor bitterness towards people.

We are shown peace, we create strife.

When it comes to the Creator, we respond poorly.

Paul says this isn’t how it should be.  God’s kindness should lead us to repentance.  If Jesus was a person who walked around and came over to your house for dinner once and a while, would you treat Him like most people, or would you treat Him as God?

That might be the real problem, we don’t treat God as someone who is part of our lives.

I think my challenge and your challenge is to make Jesus a real part of our lives.  We don’t treat people the way we treat our Saviour, we don’t turn our back and continually do wrong against them but we do to Christ.

Make our loving, caring God a bigger part of your life and may His kindness be real to you and me and may it lead us to repentance.

-Zack

What is God teaching you through Romans 2?

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