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Disney World vs. Reality

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church   

     While at a pastors’ conference in Orlando, Florida many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours at America’s best-known theme park. Disney World is truly a feast for the senses. My favorite section of the park is the World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot, where, as you walk around the body of water, you feel as though you are being instantly teleported from one world culture to another, in rapid succession. You begin in a Mexican marketplace, and then you are suddenly in a Norwegian village, then a Chinese temple, followed by quick visits to neighborhoods in Germany, Italy, Japan, and France, among others. It isn’t long before you feel pleasantly disoriented by the rapid-fire culture shock. It is like traveling around the world in 8 hours instead of 80 days, and it’s an exhilarating expedition.

     Two of the most foreign elements of Disney World, though, had nothing to do with world cultures. What made the entire experience feel a bit surreal to me were the scrubbed and pristine nature of the grounds and facilities and the extreme friendliness of the staff. I was continually amazed by the fact that there were staff people everywhere you turned, who not only smiled warmly at you and offered to serve you in any way, but who also worked hard to strike up a conversation with you if you stood still for any length of time. And in spite of the massive numbers of people in the park, there was no trash or dirt to be seen anywhere, and everything your eyes could see looked freshly painted and as-good-as-new. The funds, organization, and workforce needed to keep the parks in this sparkling condition boggle the mind. I kept thinking to myself, “This really is a fantasy land!”

     The stark contrast of real-life hit home for me quickly. I stopped at a fast food place for a quick snack on the way home, and was treated with typical fast-food etiquette by those who waited on me – you know, the look that greets you and says, “Why are you bothering me?”; the grunt that means, “What do I have to get for you?”; and the mumble that means, “Come and get your grub!” Suddenly paying double for my food at Disney World didn’t seem like such a bad deal!

     I’d like to think that Disney World is real and McDonald’s is fantasy, but, sadly, it’s the other way around. No matter how mankind wants to define and describe itself, the Word of God unmasks us and shows us to be the self-centered egotists that we really are. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil”; “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 13:23; 17:9). Until God changes our nature by His grace, our driving motivation for all that we do, even the things that appear to be loving and righteous, is the selfish exaltation of ourselves.

     Disney World is a self-consciously idealistic celebration of humanism. Appropriately, its central message is made explicit in its most temple-like structure, the huge silver sphere at Epcot called “Spaceship Earth.” There you are taken on a “journey through time,” so that you can marvel at man’s supposed development from monkey in prehistoric times to the master of endless possibilities in the future by the means of science and technology. Like any good tourist guide, Disney makes sure that you only see the good parts of town. The journey through time manages to avoid all the wars, murders, racism, poverty, and immorality that continue to characterize humanity to the same degree that it did in supposedly less enlightened times. Man’s basic problem is still sin and its effects on his relationship with God and others. Through his own efforts, man cannot fix that problem, no matter how many centuries he’s given to study it.

     Is man’s nature basically good or is it evil? Are we naturally innocent or depraved? Your answer to that question has huge implications for your views on parenting, education, civil government, economics, social issues, etc. We want to believe the Disney fantasy, but real life keeps on disillusioning us. We can’t intoxicate, medicate, or amuse ourselves forever in order to escape the harsh reality. It’s better to accept the hard news of Scripture – the condemnation of our thoughts, words, and deeds by God’s Law – so that we might be able to accept the good news of grace, forgiveness, and real change through Jesus Christ.

     One of the rides at Disney broke down while we were in the middle of being whisked through a dark and detailed recreation of another world. One moment our senses were fooled into perceiving a thrilling experience of an alternate reality. The next moment our car stopped, the lights came on, and all the props and machinery behind the illusion were on full display for all of us. It reminded me of the day when Jesus Christ will return to earth, and all the illusions and deceptions that we’ve created for ourselves will vanish in a moment, and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Reflections on a Week with Middle Schoolers (and why I’d do it again)

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BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

              I’m tired, ya’ll. Last week I traveled down to Covenant College at Lookout Mountain, Georgia to spend four days with 600 middle schoolers at The EDGE Conference – a conference organized by a group of PCA pastors geared specifically toward middle school students. Students from Oakwood and I met up with another group of students and leaders from New Covenant Fellowship PCA in Mechanicsburg for a week of non-stop goofiness and serious discipleship. We viewed our attendance at this year’s EDGE as kind of like a test run. We’d never been before so we thought we’d give it a try to discover if it might be a good addition to our youth ministry in years to come. Test runs like this are essential because, believe it or not, not all conferences are made the same. But let me tell you, The EDGE did not disappoint. After attending and having some time to reflect on the experience, I thought I’d share my thoughts on why I’m excited to take a whole lot more students (I hope) again in 2022.

              First, I want to express thanks to the Lord for His kind sovereignty in making this trip possible. We weren’t planning on doing any trips this summer with our youth. Budget restraints coming out of COVID left us with few options. But in God’s kindness, during lunch at a Presbytery meeting early this year I just so happened to sit with a guy I’d never met before who just so happened to be Joe Slack, the youth pastor at New Covenant. During lunch, we talked about what our respective youth groups were doing during the summer. Joe started talking about The EDGE. And he talked it up big, like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Joe has been attending the conference for 11 years now, and he had nothing but great things to say about it. When I told him we didn’t have any trips planned he said, “Hey, why don’t you just jump on our bus and ride down with us!” We don’t have transportation, so getting somewhere is our biggest obstacle to doing trips. Riding along with another church was the perfect solution. God is kind. After Presbytery I immediately began getting the word out and several students signed up.

              And wouldn’t you know it, it just so happens that, at least in my mind, one of the greatest benefits of the trip was the relationship that developed between Oakwood and New Covenant. What intrigued me so much about the possibility of attending the conference with New Covenant was the opportunity for our students to interact with other PCA kids – an opportunity they don’t get here in State College. Watching our students and New Covenant’s students interact and grow to love one another was a true joy. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn to say that all of our students developed new and genuinely deep friendships with kids from New Covenant. I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on how beneficial it is for kids to have those kinds of relationships with other believers their own age. The impact is difficult to quantify. This opportunity wasn’t lost on me either. I found in the other pastor, Joe, not only a ministry mentor (and frankly, a youth ministry superhero), but a friend. We’ve already decided that our groups need to spend more time together. By God’s grace, you’ll be hearing the name New Covenant a lot more in the future. The relationships that came out of the EDGE were alone worth the price of admission.

              Another reason to attend the EDGE again is the opportunity for memory-making. As my new youth ministry hero told me, conferences like this one offer a student a memory on which to hang their hats. In other words, because it’s so intense and intentional the memories created will function as signposts in the life of a student. It’s something they will look back to as formative. It’s going to stand out as a time when they heard the gospel in a unique way in a particular place that made a lasting impact. Maybe you experienced something similar as a kid at a church camp or youth trip. You know the enduring significance of formative signposts when you grew deeply in your walk with the Lord or were challenged or impacted in some unique way. Ask any of the students who went to The EDGE and that’s the testimony you’ll hear. The EDGE wasn’t just summer fun. It was a signpost of God’s grace in their lives.

              The key that makes these signposts what they are is in the worship and intentional discipleship experienced at The EDGE. Each morning we gathered together with all 600 students for a time of corporate worship. This was followed by a series of sessions students could attend where they could learn about things like “how to read your Bible,” or “why we want to be liked and what the gospel has to say about it.” Then after a time for their own personal devotions, we broke up into small groups for discussion and reflection. And that was all before lunch! In the afternoon we participated in all kinds of funny games, like Color Fest (see pictures) and Water Fest (there was more mud than water). But then in the evening, we returned to the chapel again for worship and a sermon dedicated to sharing the gospel with students. On one of those nights, students were given an opportunity to respond in repentance and faith, and many did! Each night we met together as a group to discuss what we learned and share about what God was doing in our lives. To hear students open up and articulate some truly deep things God was doing in their hearts was amazing. Then we went to sleep and woke up to do it all again the next day! And I don’t even have space to mention all the personal conversations and discipleship opportunities that happened on the bus ride home!

              I’m not lying. I was dead tired when I finally plopped down in my comfy bed at home. The coffee I.V. drip still needs to kick in, but I’m doing it again next year, and I hope I can take a busload(s) of kids with me. Lord willing, we can join up once again with our new friends at New Covenant too. And hey, maybe you’ll want to volunteer to come and serve with me? Who knows? Maybe EDGE 2022 will be a signpost for you. If you want to hear more, come to talk to me, or better yet, talk to one of our students! And please, encourage more to sign up for next year!



Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with

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