Guest Posts

Protege For The Ladies

Protege is a two-year residency program we've created to help men and women discover and develop their 'missional genius' - the unique opportunity God has given them to bring the values of God's kingdom to bear in the world around them. To help us recruit for next year's team we've asked this year's team to talk about why they decided to become part of Protege. First up is Rachael Mirabella, who sent the following to me at the end of September:

Today marks the sixth week of being involved with Protege. So, what to say? To be honest, this is all very new to me. But I love it already. I guess I'm mostly addressing this blog to those of the female persuasion, since that is what I am. This year, I'm the only girl involved, which actually rocks. I love spending time with these brothers of mine and working alongside them. But I think you ladies should join us! Allow me to tell you why ...

Trying to figure out what to do last year as a senior year in college, all the options before me felt overwhelming. My life has been transformed by Jesus, and I knew that whatever I did, I wanted it to be about Him. Some people glorify God in their workplace or through art or athletics, but one of my personal passions really is the church and spreading the gospel. One of my other passions is the city of Athens, GA. Protege is where those two met for me.

I'm learning through the Porterbook training we're going through (a seminary-type class) that being the church means sharing life together - doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality. This is what this internship has done for me! As I live my life, I'm sharing it with people. I share my life with my wonderful roommates. I share life with the other interns. I'm starting to share my life with some of the middle and high schoolers outside of youth group. I'm building relationships with people inside the church, then I'm going where people are (coffee shops, downtown Athens, the grocery store), meeting people and inviting them to come see what community is like.

My specific role as an intern is with the youth group. Those kids are so cool! You should get to know them if you don't. Will Mott and I run the youth group and meet with some of them one-on-one. It's a wonderful way to practice leadership, but mostly it's just a way to share our lives with some cool kids and talk about Jesus. We run youth group much like a community group now - sharing ideas and getting a discussion going. And we're hoping to start serving together soon.

I'm also leading a community group with Bonne Beasley this year for college girls. Again, practicing leadership, but mostly meeting together as girls in a similar stage in life, trying to become a family. We eat together, share our thoughts on the sermon and pray for one another. This is a wonderful life. I'm being poured into; I pour out. I'm being loved; I love. I'm taking risks and have the potential to fail, but am being supported all the way. If you're passionate about Jesus, about this city, about becoming a family, about learning how to share Jesus with people and actually doing it, this internship may be for you. Come talk to me about it! Let's be on mission for Athens together.

If you'd like to talk more about Protege - particularly if you're a woman - get in touch with Rachael at rmirabella@missionathens.com

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Katie Crosby - Summer 2010

Katie Crosby is a student at UGA and spent this summer interning with a new church in Macon, GA. This is her story:

I was privileged to intern this summer at Strong Tower Fellowship, a multicultural church plant in Macon, GA. It was started a little over a year ago and its mission is to minister in word and deed to the people of Pleasant Hill, a neighborhood that borders the church.
The name "Pleasant Hill" is very ironic-- this square mile is one of the poorest locations in America, making it a hot spot for crime and drug abuse. It is anything but pleasant. The degree of brokenness and heartache seen in a third world country is sitting in my back yard. To state in short-- I have never seen such extreme brokenness this close up. No matter how many times you read about or discuss various hardships in the world, the perspective and understanding of such brokenness drastically changes when you hear about it with your own ears and see it with your own eyes. Rape (incestuous and standard), physical and emotional abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, abandonment, imprisonment, homelessness, poverty-- none of these categories come as a surprise to the people living in Pleasant Hill; all know someone who fits into these categories and the majority of the people of Pleasant Hill fit into some/a lot of these categories as well. No longer are these simply headings in my social work textbooks, there are now faces and stories attached to these various heartbreaks, and it has become very personal.
While the ramifications of the Fall are easily seen in Pleasant Hill, I have never seen the Lord move so tangibly as He has in this neighborhood over the last year. I was blessed with the opportunity of being on the front lines of the Spirit’s movement this summer. Over this last year around 80 people have come to know the Lord, which is over 10% of the Pleasant Hill community. From former convicts who are now carrying Bibles instead of guns to alcoholics who are being filled with the Spirit instead of beer, God is at work. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus were alive today, these are the people he would be spending time with—the convicts, the drug addicts, the abused, the abandoned. Because these are the people who are able to clearly see their brokenness and need for a Savior. So many of us hide behind facades, making our brokenness not as clearly seen, but God desires a contrite, humble spirit that recognizes the desperate need for a Savior.
The theme of my summer has been Revelation 21, “Behold, I am making all things new!” While the pain and heartache in Pleasant Hill is substantial, we are not in despair, because our God is a God of redemption. This is not the way God intended the world to be, and since the Fall, he has been weaving throughout history a story of redemption; and through Jesus Christ, brokenness and heartache will one day be completely eradicated. No longer will there be tears or pain, for our God will make a new heaven and a new earth. This is our great hope. One life at a time, one family at a time, God is restoring Pleasant Hill and putting broken things back together.

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Rachel Reece - Summer 2010

Rachel is a UGA student who has been part of our church for three years. Here's what she wrote about her summer working with students at Camp All-American in Atlanta:

We've been going through Tim Keller's study of Galatians at Camp All-American this summer, and I am seeing life more clearly than I ever have before. I've come to a much deeper understanding of the ways I fail to live out and believe the gospel, but it's so good because I'm seeing so many things that I have been held captive to my whole life, and how there is freedom from those things in a relationship with the Lord.

It has really been a rich summer, as I learn about my own sense of entitlement through the outrageous expectations of some campers' parents, and as I see my bondage to perfectionism through how I handle slip-ups and failure. The richness comes in seeing that because I'm not "entitled" to grace, I can't do anything to make me un-entitled to it: it's unconditional; and I am also slowly understanding that the Lord shows me grace in my failures and defines me based on who Jesus is, not how well I perform. I feel truly and deeply blessed in the Lord!

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Rachael Mirabella - Summer 2010

Rachael Mirabella is a recent UGA graduate and part of our first Protege team where she will primarily work with our high school and middle school girls for the next two years. Here's the story of her summer:

I am spending my summer on a dude ranch out near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. For those of you who don’t know what exactly a dude ranch is, neither did I until I got here. And I don’t think words can ever totally describe it; this is a place you must see to understand. Beka Adam, Jonathan Thiel and I have been here since May 22nd working hard, playing hard and entertaining hard in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.
We have around one hundred horses here, and I could write an entire blog on what I have learned from their upkeep and personalities. We have around fifty staff here, and I could write for hours on the numerous individuals that have changed me just by their dynamic personalities.
But what I want to share is about the guests (“dudes”) we have hosted at Vista Verde Ranch. I was slightly disenchanted when they showed up the first week. Since our ranch costs about $3,000 per family member for a week, it is a very select group of people we are entertaining. Sometimes I lose heart when I’m around people with a lot of money - I tend to think they are demanding, have high walls around their heart, or are uninterested in what a twenty-something has to say about anything.
However, our managers assured us that by the end of each week, we would see a change in our guests. They promised us that as we worked hard to serve them and genuinely get to know them, they would be more grateful for us than for any activity we offer (rock climbing, horse back riding, hiking, biking, fly fishing, hot air ballooning, kayaking, rafting, etc).
It has been incredible to watch it week after week. Not all of our staff are believers, but many are, and even those who aren’t have a servants’ attitude and make conversations about the guests rather than about themselves. Our guests blossom at our ranch. They feel loved, served and at home among us. Every Saturday night, our guests’ last evening, they share how meaningful the relationships were they created in such a short time. And it keeps them coming back.
This is what we have as believers to offer people - rich or poor, for the Lord created them both. Relationships. Showing people they are worthy of being loved and served. Being full of life and vigor. Inviting them to be a part of our world and purposefully becoming a part of theirs. This is what I’ve learned this summer, and plan on continuing to live out as I return to Athens and Christ Community! Can’t wait to see you all.

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Ashley Clark - Summer 2010

Ashley Clark has done a fantastic job this summer interning with our high school and middle school girls. Here's what God has been teaching her this summer:

As I have been thinking about what the Lord has been teaching me, I think I’ve come to realize that really what God has been impressing on my heart is to apply the gospel to every area, situation, and relationship in my life. He has been showing me that my responses to situations need to be gospel centered. I have been working with the youth group at Christ Community this summer! The girls and I have been doing Tim Keller’s Galatians study, and so much of what Keller emphasizes about Galatians is the importance of the gospel. We are not only saved by faith in what Christ has done for us, but faith in Christ is what enables us to grow. I have seen my sin in trying to win acceptance with God through my works and have seen how faith in Christ’s work on the cross really is the only way that I can have salvation. The Lord has also been showing me how I need to have gospel responses to relationships in my life. I need to be seeing that God is using each situation in my life to point me and others more to Him, and my focus in all relationships needs to be others seeing God’s love for them more, rather than my own happiness.

Thanks, Ashley! We're thankful for your love for our students and for the transforming work of God in your life.

We still have room for a few more stories - so if you'd like to let people know what God has been teaching you over the summer, email me at madair@missionathens.com.

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Non-Christians in Christian Community? (Part 1)

This is a guest post from Nate Navarro, Director of Missional Community at Austin City Life and Co-Director at Music For The City. The second time I ever met my friend Jonathan Dodson it was at Austin Java over a good cup of coffee. He was telling me that he was starting a church where Christians and Non-Christians would be in community together and would work together for the good of the city.

I was intrigued to say the least. Here’s a story to show how this vision can unfold…

Dylan is cool. He is good looking, has the right tattoos, and has the attention of the ladies. He is a fast living Austinite who waits tables for a living.

Dylan was raised  in Dallas and tells stories of growing up in a church where he felt left out, judged, and unloved. As soon as he graduated high school he packed his bags and moved to Austin.

I met Dylan a year ago on a Sunday afternoon and invited him into the house for a beer and to watch some football. He stayed all day long and kept coming back every Sunday night for dinner. On Sunday nights we open our home for dinner. Folks bring their own beverages, and a different person every week cooks up a meal. Some nights there are 10 people, sometimes 20, once we had 35.

After about a month he started asking who all these people were that came over for dinner on Sunday nights,  and “when can I come to this church everyone is talking about?”

What he didn’t realize is that he had been visiting the church, every Sunday night for a month, in our home.

Now it looked more like a chaotic dinner party with lots of food, loud kids running around, and a few empty beer bottles. In reality it was a group of very imperfect Christians, living life together, on mission to love Austin. Soon after that my friend Dylan began to drop in on our Sunday morning gatherings. He occasionally meets me for lunch, and serves alongside me at the nursing home in our neighborhood.

Last month I shared the Gospel with Dylan over a turkey sandwich. We have been friends for more than a year.

I told him that although we are all more broken than we dare admit, in Christ we are more accepted than we could ever imagine. I pleaded with him to see that Jesus offered him perfect love that one night stands could not.

Dylan is skeptical.

My best guess is that he loves our community but does not yet love Jesus. I pray that he will see through the inconsistencies in my life, and in the life of our church, and see how good and perfect Jesus is. I am thrilled to be part of a Christian community where people like Dylan, who struggle to believe, feel welcome, loved, and respected.

And for those reading this and looking for a practical application:

Stop inviting people to your church and start inviting them into your life.

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Bonne Beasley - Summer 2010

Bonne Beasley is a recent UGA graduate and heads up our Host Team at Christ Church. This is what God has been teaching her this summer:

The day after UGA graduation I left for a 10 day adventure to Ecuador.  I went through a ministry called Compassion Connection.  I had been in touch with the people down their countless times leading up to the trip and was pumped to see what the Lord had for that time in a new place and with new people- and by myself.  My reason for going was to continue to pursue the calling I feel God has laid on my heart for long term mission work in a Spanish speaking country at some point in my life.  I got to shadow a doctor every morning, spend my afternoons with a local Ecuadorian family that loves Jesus with every ounce of their being and brush up and grow in my Spanish speaking skills.  But my favorite part of the trip was the time I got to spend with the full- time missionaries.  I picked their brains about foreign missions, got to hear about their approach to ministry and great love for the church, spent time with a family that's raising kids on the mission field (they just had their second baby last week!), saw a wife that finds great joy in serving her husband and most importantly I got to pass 10 days, sun-up to sun-down, with people who have a love for God's Word, His heart and making much of Him for His glory.  This short period served as a time of great rest at the feet of the cross for me personally and confirmed the desire to do medical missions in the future.  If you think of it, pray for these now dear friends as they boldly proclaim the Gospel throughout Ecuador.

It should not be lost on us how God has blessed us with the ability to spend time around the world and get a glimpse of what he's doing globally. Thanks to Bonne for sharing her story - and if you have a story about what God has done in your life this summer while living on another continent or never even leaving Oconee County, shoot me an email at madair@missionathens.com.

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Advent Conspiracy Update - Gary Aston

Every year around Christmas, our church takes part in what we call Advent Conspiracy - moving money that we would normally spend on Christmas gifts to help fund global church planting efforts instead. Last year, one of the projects we helped fund was the hire of Gary Aston as church planting strategist for Acts 29 Western Europe, headed up by my friend Steve Timmis. I spent some time with Gary last month during the Acts 29 Retreat in Vail and have asked him to share a bit of his story with you:

I’d been aware of Acts 29 for a number of years, listening to teaching and really benefitting from the resources I was plugged into. I had been serving as a pastor since college but over the past years God had been at work in my heart challenging me about the need for new churches to be planted in the cities of the North of England. This eventually resulted, last year, in me applying to plant a church in partnership with Acts 29. I had a number of meetings with Steve Timmis, the Director for A29 Western Europe and we began to get to know one another. Our plan was for me to support us as a family (I have a wife and two small boys) by going bi-vocational. So I started to raise funds from churches and supporters and look for jobs that would see me working about 3 days a week. It was in the middle of this period that I got a call from Steve.  He said that as part of the development of Acts 29 Western Europe he’d like me to consider taking a position working for A29 three days a week. I talked some more with Steve, prayed a lot with my wife and we felt that it was the right decision to make and I confirmed with Steve that I would love to take up the position.
My primary role within Acts 29 WE will be processing applicants and helping to streamline and modify the applications process so that it can be of greater benefit in the Western Europe context. We have an initial group of planters that we are praying will become a core from which we can progress the work forward. I will also be helping arrange and run bootcamps and populate the WE section of the A29 website.
So June and July have been busy months for us as they have seen us move to Leeds- one of the largest cities in the North of England- to begin planting, start work with Acts 29 and make a trip over to the A29 Pastor’s retreat in Vail, Colorado.
It’s really exciting moving into a city we love to plant a church that we pray will see people reached with the gospel. To be able to work for A29 WE in seeing many more churches planted is also a great privilege and a great joy.
If you’d like to know anything more about our plans for Leeds or the work of A29 WE then please just contact me. garyaston2@mac.com.
Thanks again to everyone who invested in last year's Advent Conspiracy. You are part of the reason a new church is being started in the city of Leeds and new churches are being resourced across western Europe. Look for more news about this year's Advent Conspiracy soon!

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David Melton - Summer 2010

David Melton and his wife, Jenny, are part of our family at Christ Church. This is what God has been teaching him this summer:

I’ve worked with Campus Outreach at UGA for the past 3 years.  This summer I was able to spend a month on the CO Summer Leadership Project in Panama City Beach, FL.  Once a week we have a teaching time on the project called “Ministry Training” and I had the privilege of leading that time.  It was a privilege because the Lord taught me so much about evangelism through His word, prayer, and experiences.
To help explain I must first give a brief testimony.  I came to know the Lord in college and in the most unlikely of places…a fraternity.  My fraternity brothers and I would always joke about how everything we said and did must be “cool and tough”.  We knew it was shallow but I think we all secretly believed it.  After God changed my heart I didn’t realize that this “cool and tough” mentality permeated the way I viewed evangelism.  The Lord gave me a desire to reach the lost around me but I wanted to make the gospel palatable and cool.
During my three years in Athens it has been a joy to take part in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18).  Part of God’s sanctifying process, however, has been to help me see that my unbiblical view of evangelism has lingered.  I found that I usually avoided any opportunity for a negative response to the gospel.  This basically meant I was opposed to sharing my faith with anyone whom I did not have a “strong enough” relationship with.  My false perception was, “if the person’s response is negative then my presentation or timing is off.”
So you can imagine my dilemma when I was asked to lead ministry training this summer which is an hour of teaching followed by an hour on the beach sharing our faith!  My dilemma led to much reading of God’s word and prayer focused on evangelism.  What the Lord produced in me was a strong desire to share my faith...whether it was with an old friend or a complete stranger.
What God has graciously been showing me is that I am called to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15); God uses our spoken word to bring others to Christ (1 Pet 1:22-25); and the results are His (1 Cor 3:5-6).  In other words, God has called us to accurately, humbly, and lovingly present the gospel regardless of any perceived outcome.  So whether that person comes to saving faith, thinks I am incredibly awkward, or is even offended, my response remains the same…to pray for them, and praise God that he used me to share the message of life and freedom.
Two books that I found very helpful are Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer and The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever.
Thanks, David. As God creates opportunities for gospel conversations to take place in the course of ordinary events in our everyday life, this is a helpful reminder to not allow our perceived outcome keep us from the natural response to someone's questions or opinions about life.
Both of the books that David mentions are excellent and worth your time. We'll also be tackling this idea of evangelism in our weekly gathering on August 8th.

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Tim Keller on Prayer

Tim Keller posted these thoughts about prayer on the Redeemer City to City blog:

There are three kinds of prayer I try to find time for every day - meditation (or contemplation), petition, and repentance. I concentrate on the first two every morning and do the last one in the evening.

Meditation is actually a middle ground or blend of Bible reading and prayer. I like to use Luther's contemplative method that he outlines in his famous letter on prayer that he wrote to his barber. The basic method is this - to take a Scriptural truth and ask three questions of it. How does this show me something about God to praise? How does this show me something about myself to confess? How does this show me something I need to ask God for? Adoration, confession, and supplication. Luther proposes that we keep meditating like this until our hearts begin to warm and melt under a sense of the reality of God. Often that doesn't happen. Fine. We aren't ultimately praying in order to get good feelings or answers, but in order to honor God for who he is in himself.

There are two kinds of Bible reading that I try to do. I read the psalms through every month using the Book of Common Prayer's daily office. I also read through the Bible using Robert Murray M'Cheyne's reading calendar. I take the more relaxed version - two chapters a day, which takes you through the Old Testament every two years and the New Testament every year. I do the M'Cheyne reading and some of the psalms in the morning, and read some Psalms in the evening. I choose one or two things from the psalms and M'Cheyne chapters to meditate on, to conclude my morning devotions.

Besides morning prayer (M'Cheyne, Psalms, meditation, and petition) and evening prayer (Psalms and repentance) I try as often as possible to take five minutes in the middle of the day to take a spiritual inventory, either by remembering the more spiritually radioactive ideas from my morning devotion, or by a quick look at my most besetting sins and idols. I do that to see whether so far that day I've given in to bad attitudes such as pride, coldness and hardness of heart, anxiety, and unkindness. If I see myself going wrong, the mid-day prayer can catch it. The problem with mid-day prayer is finding a time for it, since every day is different. All I need is to get alone for a few minutes, but that is often impossible, or more often than not I just forget.  However, I carry a little guide to mid-day prayer in my wallet which I can take out and use.

The last form of prayer that I do daily is prayer with my wife, Kathy. About nine years ago Kathy and I were contemplating the fact that we had largely failed to pray together over the years. Then Kathy exhorted me like this. "What if our doctor told us that we had a serious heart condition that in the past was always fatal. However, now there was a pill which, if we took it every night, would keep us alive for years and years. But you could never miss a single night, or you would die. If our doctor told us this and we believed it, we would never miss. We would never say, 'oh I didn't get to it.' We would do it. Right? Well, if we don't pray together every night, we are going to spiritually die." I realized she was right. And for some reason, the penny dropped for us both, and we can't remember missing a night since. Even if we are far away from each other, there's always the phone. We pray very, very simply - just a couple of minutes. We pray for whatever we are most worried about as a couple, anyone or anything on our hearts that day. And we pray through the needs of our family. That's it. Simple, but so, so good.

It is very hard to stick with this regimen, especially when I'm traveling. But every so often I buckle down for a 40-day period in which I push myself to do every one of my stated times of prayer every day. This creates habits of mind and heart that stick with me, so that even when there are very busy times, I find I am able to stick with some of my disciplines, and I don't find myself getting cold and hard toward God.

Robert Murray M'Cheyne was reputed to have said to ministers, "what your people need most from you is your personal holiness."

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