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Class of 2018
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” (These words of Psalm 23 remind me that) God has a plan for all of us here today and that all it takes is a little faith and God will guide us the rest of the way. This, however, is not quite as simple as it may sound. There are many times in life, especially in High School, where it feels like absolutely nothing is going your way and it may feel like God is not hearing your prayers. What we have to remember is that we are the sheep and God is our shepherd. God knows far better what is best for us than we do. Unfortunately, we distract ourselves with people and technology and things that only bring temporary happiness while God truly understands the difference between artificial happiness and true joy. I experienced this one summer when I had planned to leave summer camp early in order to get back to town for a baseball tryout. However right before I left an old coach of mine offered me a spot on his fall team with no tryout needed. This was a hard decision for me because this team was not nearly as good as the one I wanted to play for but at the same time I hated leaving my camp friends. After a good bit of internal struggle I decided to accept the spot and stay at camp because I never felt closer to God than at camp and the timing of it all seemed like I was meant to stay. That second week I stayed was one of the best of my life and I learned so much about God’s love and that I was filled with it. Sometimes God’s plan is not easily seen or doesn’t seem to make sense but if you listen you will be rewarded.
God is our shepherd and he wants to lead us down the right path to the green pastures (where we are filled with God’s love and joy). But the path to those green pastures can sometimes be long and winding. Even though it is hard we have to trust God to get us down this path and the rewards will be great. This scripture reminds me of a little devotion they used to tell us at camp. It goes like this: A man was looking back at his life as a walk on the beach. For most of the long stretch there were two sets of footprints, one set belonging to him and the other to Jesus. However at the darkest times in his life the man could only see one pair footprints. He said, ‘Lord why were you not by my side when I needed you the most?’ Jesus replied, ‘I was always with you and when you needed me the most I carried you on my back.’
This is so powerful to me because there have been times in my life where my problems seemed like they would never go away but through prayer they resolved themselves in ways I didn’t think were possible. This is just all part of God’s plan and God is always at work, even if we aren’t sure how. Sometimes you will be tried and tested and go through dark valleys but we must keep faith because God is looking after us and has a place at his table for each of us. So as you go back into the world this week keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open for a sign from God that will lead you to true happiness.
Class of 2018
Good morning. My name is Lillian Fantz I am a senior at Decatur high school and today I want to talk to you about bringing the heard word of God to life though your every day actions.
As we sit here on this early Sunday morning think about why you really came to Church this morning. Some of you might have come because its part of a habit or tradition or maybe like me your parents dragged you out of bed and to a pew. For others of you it might be that as James puts it, you wanted “to welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” In other words you actually came to hear the comforting, saving word of God. Listening and understanding the word is an important part of being a Christian and by showing up today and listening you have already completed half of your Christian duty. Today, I will challenge you to go a step further.
James continues by addressing the too often overlooked part of being a Christian. James writes, “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” When you look in the mirror you see your identity in its purest form. As Christians we look into the mirror and hopefully see ourselves as children of God, who are loved and cared for by the Shepherd who loves us so much that he would lay down his life for us. This is who we are. Of course when we look away and go about our days, we often forget this. A large part of living as Christians is not just knowing who we are but it’s also taking our Christian values and putting them into action. It’s adopting God’s servant attitude by showing kindness and love in our everyday actions, not just on a mission trip. Don’t walk away from your reflection and disregard your identity. In my life I find myself repeatedly falling into the hearer group instead of the doer group. In any aspect of life listening is much easier than acting. For example, I hear over and over again that too much cake is bad for your health yet every time I am offered a piece of cake I graciously accept with out a second thought. This same thinking applies on a more serious spiritual level as well. Last summer I had the opportunity to go on the mission trip to Honduras. On this trip I learned many valuable lessons about privilege, happiness, and my relationship with God. On this trip it was easy for me to be a hearer and a doer. In Honduras it felt easier live like Jesus did, laying down our lives for others and loving them unconditionally. I felt helpful by not only building the much-needed latrines, reservoirs, and other structures, but also building meaningful relationships with the people I met. I left with the intention to put these lessons to action in my day-to-day life. However, when I got back to the US I found that these intentions were almost immediately erased from my priorities.
I instead reverted back to my previous ways of thinking and acting. I stopped considering how my actions affected others as well as their feelings. My selfish habits were able to resurface.
As you go out into the world today, having been a hearer, don’t walk away from the mirror and forget what you have seen. Our world is full of hearers and desperate for doers. I challenge you to be a doer. Whether that be simply changing your mindset or going out of your way to take action to help someone. Where ever you go this week, listen to the voice of the Shepherd and bring those words to life.
Class of 2019
So God’s the good shepherd, and we’re supposed to listen. That’s great! Because listening fits in our schedule. Listening can happen at home, on a couch, with a bowl of pudding. But just as we’re getting comfortable, James comes around to say, “Yo, we’re gonna have to put the pudding down for a moment and think about something real quick. So you know how you look at yourself in the mirror? But then you don’t remember what you look like afterwards? Yeah that’s what y’all are doing now.” James then throws our pudding away, and tells us that listening is only part one and we need to step up our game. He explains this in a really confusing way then leaves.
Basically, James is telling us that listening to what God is saying isn’t a stand-alone action. God isn’t just talking about the newest celebrity gossip, God is telling us to DO something. And it’s super easy to get caught up in “well, wait, uh, what is God asking us to do?” There’s over a thousand pages of instructions and information [Hold up the Bible] and it’s really not clearly organized. That’s a lot to process. Well, as James says, step one is noticing that God is telling us to listen. There’s even a phrase Jesus uses quite often. “All who have ears listen.” However, there are two types of listening: listening to respond and listening to understand.
It’s easier to listen with the intent to respond. Even though we often view it as difficult, it’s easier to hear the scripture and immediately rush out to help everyone. It seems like it’s a great idea to respond to the scripture like that, turning around saying, “Hey, let’s increase our mission and our evangelism! God told us to make disciples and God told us to help people, so let’s just head out! Thanks, James, for giving us the wake up call, see y’all after we’ve saved the world.”
Yeah, okay, but it’s also important to make the distinction that making disciples and helping people are not the only things God asked us to do. My favorite summarization of what God wants us to do comes from the Old Testament. It’s Micah 6:8. “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” These are three things that are actually really hard to do together. It’s easy to forget that you’re supposed to be on a journey with God, when you’re so focused on being kind. It’s easy to forget to be kind when you’re so focused on Justice. It’s easy to forget about Justice, when you’re focused on walking with God.
Just a few months ago, I was working on the final portion of God and Life for the PRAY program. The purpose of the PRAY program is for children and adolescents to explore their faith at different levels depending on their age. For this particular project, I interviewed two people that had jobs in the ministry. One of these two people is a pastor of a church. I asked her what one of the most challenging aspects of her job is, and she said that it is easy to get caught up in writing sermons, and helping the church community. It was easy to forget to take time for her own journey with God. She said she has to be intentional about stepping back and reminding herself that this is about God, not just the motions, and not just about making sure the service is perfect every Sunday.
Last Summer, I volunteered as a counselor at the Massanetta Middle School Conference. I was in charge of making sure the Middle Schoolers got where they were supposed to be, and to help them digest the messages in the keynotes and worship services. I did this well. One of my Middle Schoolers even told me I deserved a raise. I was at a church camp for two weeks. I never felt like I participated in a worship service because I was in every worship service. And it was easy to forget that everything I was doing was about God. That it wasn’t about remembering lines and keeping track of kids. But I was responding to the scripture; I had listened and I was responding not only through my volunteering, but to help give the message, I had put together skits based on the scripture. It’s easy to forget parts of what you’ve heard when you’re focused on responding.
There’s another line in the bible I particularly like. It’s in Matthew. It says, “Listen and Understand.” Which brings us to the idea of listening to understand. Listening to understand is doing every aspect of what God tells us to do instead of focusing on the easiest or our favorites. Listening to understand the scripture isn’t scrambling to help someone, it’s making it so your very life is helping someone. Listening to understand is making the Word a part of who you are. Listening to understand is realizing the scripture would be easier to follow, if we started seeing the Word as a part of us, instead of an outside entity like our image in the mirror. God doesn’t just talk to us, God is with us, so listening to understand is remembering to go on a journey with God. As we do this, God, the Shepherd, will listen to everything we have to say, and God will understand. After all, Jesus says in John “I know my own and my own know me.” On our journey with God, the more we listen and understand the shepherd, the more his word becomes a part of us and all we do.
Jake Vaughan, Lillian Fantz & Brianna Hunter
Decatur Presbyterian Church
March 18, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030