Monday, March 31, 2008

Home Church

Yesterday afternoon, Matt, Jason, Kellie and I visited a home church we were invited to here in Kaunas. I (Sharon) was struck by two thoughts as I visited this group for the first time:

First, how awkward it always is to visit a new church of any kind. There is always the challenge of trying to figure out when you should stand, sit, sing, pray out loud, pray to yourself etc.

And second, when you walk into a room of fellow believers, there is always an instant connection with those who also have the Holy Spirit inside of them. Your soul immediately feels at peace knowing that these new friends are on a very similar journey of learning to walk with Jesus. And somehow, this kinship overrides any awkwardness that comes from trying to figure out the "norms" of being in a new group.

Visiting the precious little church of passionate young believers refreshed my spirit!

Eggciting Prayer Time

Our Easter celebration did not start eggsactly on Easter day - it started the Thursday before Easter to be eggsact. Tiana was in charge of our team prayer time and was quite eggsuberant about the creative idea she had planned for us. She began by bringing out a bowl full of hard boiled eggs and colored pencils. Then we were each supposed to decorated an egg with words or pictures of things we were thankful for. Then she put on some fun music and let us get creative. We closed by sharing with each other eggsactly why we had decorated the eggs as we had.

Here, let me show you an eggsample:

Oh, and by the way, I got eggstra points for my beautiful egg, (if it is not too eggotistical to say so), while Matt's was labeled as eggcentric, Jason's was maybe a bit too eggressive, Kellie's proved that she is not eggnostic, and Tiana's . . . um Tiana's . . . well, hers cracked me up, but it would have been nice if she could have broken out of her shell and played the eggxylophone for us while we were decorating.

PS This blog post was written by me - Sharon. Can you tell that I've been married to Matt now for about 5 1/2 years? ;-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like... ¿Easter?

Well it has been an unseasonably warm winter in general here in LT, with no where near the amount of snow they usually get. But last night God dumped about 6 inches of love on our city.

After team dinner, Sharon and I went out walking around the city enjoying the beauty, stillness, and crisp air until about midnight and then retired to our cozy bed. It is amazing how it transforms our city along with people's attitudes. I love the wonder of snow.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Missin Home

There are times when you realize how much you miss out on when leave your home for a couple years. Two weeks ago was one of those times. You see my cousin got married and it was a grand event. It was one of those weddings thats just a lot of fun, because the people getting married are a lot of fun. I love her dearly and her new husband too. Jaime and Jeff, Congrats!

In Jesus' Name

I (Sharon) found myself avoiding my time with Jesus today. He has been exposing some of my heart attitudes - heart attitudes that are not so pretty and to be honest, attitudes that I'm feeling powerless to change. It's hard to want to spend time with someone when you feel like you're just disappointing them. But, I figured I should try anyway. So, I grabbed my Bible and went to sit in my big chair. . .but ended up just watching people on the street down below.

Finally, I grabbed my iPod thinking, "Well, maybe a song will help me open my heart to Him." I "randomly chose" a song called "Who Am I?" by Casting Crowns. The opening lyrics gave words to express what was going on on my heart. I won't copy all the lyrics, but here are some of them:

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours

I am Yours

This led me to think about a conversation that Matt and Jason were having recently about how some students think "Christ" is Jesus' last name. This then led to a conversation about how when we pray "in Jesus' Name," we essentially have taken on His Name in the same way a new bride takes on her husband's last name.

(I think Matt's direct quote was, "Just call me Matt Christ! None of this hyphenated stuff!" Maybe you had to be there ;-)

Anyway, that led me to think about what it means to be the Bride of Christ. He is cleansing His Bride (that includes me) to present her "pure and blameless." That's His role - and He delights in having this role. He is not waiting for me to "clean up my heart attitudes." Rather, He is asking me to entrust myself to Him so that through His love and His power, He will transform my heart. How does that happen? I have no idea! But I do know that it begins with me spending some time with Him today. I'm coming not fearing His disappointment, but rather seeking to enjoy His delight and looking forward to experiencing His power to transform my heart.

I'm going for a walk. And I'm taking my iPod.

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are

You've told me who I am . . .I am Yours!

Church Life

Yesterday, Matt had the opportunity to preach again at our church here in Kaunas. I know I'm biased, but he did a great job! (Kristina, one of our Agape students, did a great job translating!) It was a simple but clear message on our need for reconciliation - not only with God, but with others too. The point that seemed to impact people the most, is that time ≠ reconciliation. Somehow, we often think that if we let enough time pass, and things have settled down, that "everything is ok." But that is not the same as saying, "I'm sorry for what I did/said."

So, while I'm on the topic of church, here are a couple more random facts about church life in Lithuania. They used to seem weird to me, now I'm used to them . . .well, most of them:

- It's normal and acceptable to make change in the offering plate.

- Since English is known mostly just by the younger people, it doesn't matter what songs are put on as background music after church is over. (My personal favorite is when they play Shania Twain.)

- We celebrate communion using a common cup . . . of grape juice. (To read more on our thoughts on this topic, check out this previous post.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ice, Ice, Baby

Our team has struggled at times to find new hobbies in our new culture, but recently one of the students Jason and I are meeting with asked us to go ice skating at the mall. Though quite reluctant, we agreed to go. Neither Jason nor myself had any talents or experience on the rink, but we had fun! So, we have gone once a week for the last 3 weeks.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cult Classic

One aspect of ministry that is extremely difficult here in Lithuania is that most (if not all) students that we talk to think that we are part of a cult or "sekta" as they call it. This is because we say that we are a Christian group instead of Catholic group. We have repeatedly tried to explain that Agape is ecumenical in nature, (Catholics and Protestants together), and that we partner with the Catholic ministries here and that they love what we are doing. We even have documents from the Archbishop of Vilnius saying that we are a good organization. But despite all this, there is a stigma among students against the church in general and especially against anyone who isn't Catholic.

A story to illustrate the issue.
There was a time when we went to the dorms to talk to students and I was with a Catholic Priest who is the Chaplain over Kaunas Tech University. The two of us were talking to some girls in one room and one of the girls said that she thought Agape was a cult. The Priest explained a little about the Reformation and told her that we also truly follow Jesus even though we are not under the Pope. An interesting thing happened at that point. When her judgement was confronted she chose to tell the him that he probably wasn't really a priest because was too young, even though he had his clerical collar and clothing on.

All this makes it tough for students to be a part of Agape. They are warned by their friends and family to not hang out with us or come to any meeting we might have. Some are even ridiculed if they do come.

But, I believe that many students see something different in us - something different than the church they think they know. They see life and people who want to really follow Jesus instead of the norm of just attending a church service on Christmas and Easter. Ultimately they see Christ, His body of followers who are trying to love Him and love the people God has put in their lives. It seems like God up to something lately. He is bringing students in contact with us who don't heed the warnings of their friends. Students who just want to find out the answers to the big questions life throws at them. Students who see faith displayed in love. Students who are beginning to desire a genuine relationship with God.

Please pray that they would respond to His call by devoting their life to following Him.