Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Request for Help

If you've been reading this blog this year, you know that I am the mentor of a 12 year old fatherless boy. His mom, Delaine, is in need of a lung transplant. I, along with others from my church, are helping her to raise money for her operation. This is her story:

Hello, my name is Delaine Thomason and I am a single mother of a twelve year old boy named Cameron. A non-smoker, I suffer from Sarcoidosis, a disease that results in severe scarring of the lung tissues. Comedian Bernie Mac passed away after succumbing to this same illness.

Sarcoidosis is an immune systems disorder that affects tens of thousands of Americans. Symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Most cases of Sarcoidosis are mild, but severe cases can result in scarring of the lungs, a complication that occurs in about one-fourth of Sarcoidosis patients. For those patients, Sarcoidosis is a progressive disease that typically leads to lung failure. Unfortunately, I am one of those patients.

It is not clear what causes Sarcoidosis, but experts believe environmental contaminants can help trigger a genetic susceptibility to the disease. Sarcoidosis cannot be cured. That is why I am in the need of a lung transplant, and your help.

Although my insurance will pay a large portion of the cost of the transplant, it will not cover the annual cost of the immunosuppressant drugs that I will have to take for the rest of my life. The first year after the transplant is the most expensive; thereafter I will be weaned from the high dosages of the medications. The first year cost for the medications is $10,000. With the help of the Georgia Transplant Foundation, I need only raise half that amount of money.

However, due to the disabling nature of Sarcoidosis, I have not worked in six years; my resources are very limited.

Please consider a donation to help me in my battle with this disease.

If you are a Facebook user you can learn more about Delaine and her situation by visiting my Profile page and clicking the Fundraising Project" Perimeter Church link next to the woman wearing the red sweater and oxygen tube. From there you can also donate if you are so moved. I hope that you are.

For those without Facebook:
http://apps.facebook.com/causes/418481

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prayer Requests

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

A brief update on the Inmate Pen-Pal ministry:

We launched this effort with an effort to send Christmas cards to those inmates who had submitted prayer requests to the fellow who leads the weekly Bible study at the prison. Thirty-nine men and women were on the list. I planned to ask volunteers to stop in and sign cards during the 45 minutes between the Sunday morning and afternoon services of last weekend.

To my surprise and delight, ten volunteers showed up and they did so much more than simply sign cards. Instead, they wrote kind and thoughtful notes of encouragement in each card, specifically addressing the prayer request of the inmate they were writing. The volunteers spent so much time in each card we ran out of time before we could sign all of the cards (I wanted to get at least two to each inmate).

Looking at the list and realizing I needed to sign twenty-four more cards when I got home, I said something to the effect of “Guess what I’m doing after lunch.” The leader of the men’s discipleship group I attend (he was there signing cards too) heard me and said “Bring ‘em to the next meeting,” which happened to be the next evening. So I did.

In the discipleship meeting Monday evening eight men sat around a table and signed three cards each, also addressing the prayer requests of the inmates in their notes. But that’s not all – we also got in a circle and prayed out loud for each and every inmate, again addressing his/her specific prayer request. And then we put the cards, 78 in all, in the middle of the circle and prayed for the ministry and the provision of volunteers to become pen-pals to those inmates requesting one.

I dropped the cards in the mail Tuesday morning; each one including a response card for the inmate to sign and return in order to ask for a pen-pal.

Today I stopped by the church to check the mail. I found three response cards; one I’ve already assigned to a volunteer.

I don’t know how successful this ministry will be, but I’m going to give it my best effort. If you are interested in becoming a pen-pal to an inmate, please let me know. And I’d appreciate your prayers for this ministry, that God would provide enough volunteers that each inmate desiring a pen-pal might receive one.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sleep Well Tonight

Twice now I’ve seen groups of people sitting on the floor or around conference tables hunched over large sheets of flannel. They were tying two pieces of flannel together to make blankets, blankets with knotted tassels along all four sides. Blankets that would be donated to provide warmth to someone sleeping in a cold drafty home, or worse, outside in the stark weather.

I wanted to know the story behind the blankets, and I learned they were the products of a ministry aptly called Sleep Well Tonight. I had the pleasure of talking with John Duke, co-founder and Ministry Director, about the origins and work of Sleep Well Tonight.

Greg: Tell me how your ministry began.

John: My wife Joanne and I frequent downtown Atlanta, and the more often we went downtown the more often we witnessed people sleeping in the cold on benches or the stone steps of city buildings. It bothered my wife so much she began tossing old blankets in the car whenever we made a trip into town. When we spotted someone who obviously needed it, we gave them the blanket. This went on a few times until the police actually discouraged us from doing it! That bothered Joanne even more, so we began to pray about the situation, asking God to reveal to us how we could help these people.

A short time later, in June of ’08, we attended an event sponsored by Community Outreach which targeted helping the homeless of Atlanta. As I was cooking and serving burgers and hotdogs, a fellow came up to me and asked if I would pray for he and his family. Joanne and I followed him to his home, a ramshackle place with broken windows. I asked him if he could use a few blankets and pillows, and he said, “If you could help us like that, we would sleep well tonight.”

On our way home Joanne and I talked about that experience and decided we were going to get blankets to the homeless somehow, and we were going to call our ministry Sleep Well Tonight. Ultimately we decided to collect blankets, sleeping bags and pillows and offer them to existing organizations which would then distribute them into the communities they served.

Greg: How did the knotted blankets and volunteers come into play?

John: As we were asking churches to donate blankets to our ministry, Joanne discovered how to make knotted blankets. It occurred to us this would be a great project for Goldrush (a week-long summer event for youth), and all of a sudden there were four hundred kids making knotted blankets for us. That gave us the idea of encouraging other churches to engage their youth groups in making knotted blankets, and it went viral from there. In short order we collected more than 4,000 blankets!

As these blankets began to stack up in my garage, we decided to make sure the recipients knew that these were not just free blankets, but was also God at work. We began asking people to include cards of encouragement with each blanket, and we began including Bibles with them. We met with some opposition from a few of our secular distributors about that, but when a homeless guy came up to me and asked for more Bibles, I knew we were doing the right thing. The Bible is an integral part of what we do, and now we only work with distributors who understand and support that.

Greg: Wow, this has really grown from a rather simple idea.

John: I haven’t been able to park a car in my garage for nearly a year! But as it is turning cold I’m growing fearful my garage will become empty, that we will give all the blankets away. If not for the generosity of the churches and small groups that support us that could happen. We have eight distributors and a number of times we could not fulfill their requests for more blankets, but we gave them what we had.

Greg: So you no longer give blankets directly to the homeless, but instead you use distributors?

John: The co-ops, Salvation Army and several shelters distribute for us. They are able to reach more needy people that we can, so I now concentrate on collecting the blankets and delivering them to the distributors, and telling organizations about the ministry and helping them organize drives to make or collect more knotted blankets.

Greg: In addition to offering blankets, how might someone support your ministry?

John: Joanne and I are using our own funds to purchase the packaging and Bibles. We could use cash donations to help with those expenses, and of course we would love to receive donated Bibles. This winter we expect to give away more than the 4,000 blankets we gave away last winter; in order for the ministry to grow with the demand for blankets we will need financial resources beyond what Joanne and I can manage ourselves.

Greg: Your ministry has grown so large and so rapidly it has outpaced your ability to fund it.

John: Exactly. It has grown so large we also need space to store the blankets, Bibles and supplies. Joanne and I are praying about that too.

Greg: How large is the homeless population in our area?

John: It is so hard to say because it is next to impossible to obtain an accurate count of people who by the very nature of their circumstances don’t stay in place. And don’t forget that it isn’t only the homeless we serve. There are people who have a home but that home isn’t heated. The best I can tell you is that even though we gave away 4,000 blankets last year, we had requests for 12,000.

I left the meeting with John grateful for my home and the means to heat it and adequately clothe myself and my family. It is 35 degrees outside as I write this post, but the wind makes it feel like 26. It will actually drop to 25 degrees tonight, and we don’t know yet how cruel the wind will be. Along with John, I too pray for his ministry.

The needs of this ministry are clear: operating funds, blankets and storage space. If you have a heart for assisting Sleep Well Tonight, contact John or Joanne at john@sleepwelltonight.org and joanne@sleepwelltonight.org

Monday, December 07, 2009

Zachariah

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

It’s shaping up to be a busy day so this post will be brief; I have a lot of catching up to do. A lot of catching up to do because I have been secretly focused on an activity for ten weeks that, until this past Saturday, left me with little time to do much else.

So what secret?

Back in September I was pondering what to do with the rest of my life. Sure, I’ll continue writing as long as I can get published, but that is likely to come to an end one day and being a self-employed author does not leave one with an awesome pension. So I began to look at new career opportunities, trying to find something that would pay reasonably well, be emotionally and intellectually fulfilling, missional in its purpose, and timeless, i.e., something I could do until the end of my days providing I don’t start drooling and wetting my pants before then.

As I pondered, I opened an email from World Relief, an organization Jill and I support financially and one that is close to my heart. It relocates to America political and religious refugees from around the world. In the email was a request for a lawyer familiar with immigration law to offer volunteer services to the case managers trying to help families coming to Atlanta.

As I read the email I remembered God’s call for us to help the fatherless, widows, aliens and poor.

I could check off the fatherless, widows and poor, but realized I was doing nothing for aliens.

It bothered me, so I applied to law school.

Saturday I took the LSAT, the four hour, six part entrance exam. I hadn’t taken a standardized test since the GRE way back in 1981, hence the ten weeks I spent cramming, preparing, pulling my hair out and questioning my plan as I tried to retrain my brain to think on a level of logic and reasoning that I haven’t approached in many years.

I left the exam believing I performed well, at least well enough to be in the acceptable percentile ranks required for admission.

Today, as I sat reading Zachariah 7:10 (almost finished with the Old Testament!) I came to this passage: Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.

So there you have it – two signs, one coming at the beginning of my question about what to do next, and the other at the end of my studious effort to tackle what I hope to be the answer to that question.

I think I’ve made the right decision.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

By Grand Design

I received this email this morning that beats anything I was thinking about writing today. This is from Drue, a friend I know from church:

"This past Monday, Nov. 30, we sent an email to our case worker at Covenant Care Adoption Services because we just hadn't heard anything from them in a couple of months. We were curious if they had forgotten about us :) Our case worker, Connie, returned our phone call this evening. Connie was amazed at the timing of our email because she was planning to contact us early this week (on Tuesday, Dec. 1) to let us know that we had been chosen by a birth mom to adopt her new born baby boy!

A little boy was born a week ago on Monday, Nov. 23. He weighed 8 lbs 15 oz and is 21 inches long. Both of his birth parents are African American. His mom is 31 years old and has 3 children (ages 12, 10, and 19 months). His dad is a single father with full custody of 3 children. His mom and dad are not together. Apparently, they knew each other in high school, had recently gotten intimately involved after years apart, and as a result, became pregnant.

This part of the story is incredible. The mom had seriously considered having an abortion. One day, while she was considering this decision, her 19 month old child (younger at the time) brought the phone book in and dropped it on to her lap. The phone book opened to the very page with the listing for "Covenant Care Adoption Services". The mom took notice of that, called Covenant Care, and immediately felt like this was a clear confirmation that God's plan for her was to make a plan of adoption for her child.

We are driving 1 1/2 hours south to Macon THIS Thursday (Dec. 3) to pick up our new little baby boy. We have decided to name him Micah Drue. We'll call him Micah. We have always loved the scripture verse from Micah 6:8 that reads, "He has showed you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." That will be our prayer for Micah. On another interesting note, Micah is the Old Testament prophet who prophecied (600 years before the birth of Christ) that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

Needless to say, we're in a state of exhuberant shock and can't wait to pick up Micah on Thursday afternoon at 2pm. He has been cared for by one of several couples that volunteers by keeping newborn babies (who are being adopted) during the 10 day window when the birth parents are legally able to change their minds. Covenant Care most often waits to turn the baby over to the adoptive parents until after that 10 day window passes. In our case, the volunteer couple keeping Micah is going out of town on Friday, and asked if it would be ok for us to come get him on Thursday. Covenant Care has talked with Micah's birth mom and birth father face to face and has confirmed that they are confident in their adoption decision. So, we'll have him during the final 24 hours in which his birth parents could technically reverse their decision. However, we feel confident that all will be fine. Pray for us if you think of us. He'll be all ours on Friday, Nov. 4 at midnight.

Grace, our 4 year old, was VERY excited when we told her that she was going to have a baby brother! It's going to be fun watching her care for baby Micah. We are amazed at God's goodness throughout this whole process. God has provided all of the funds needed (through friends like you), He has orchestrated PERFECT timing, and He has provided us with a healthy baby boy. We are thrilled!"

Wow, just as Paul Young said a month ago, God is in the details!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pen-pals

Well, I've finished the book of Daniel and have only the last dozen short books of the Old Testiment left to read. I think I can knock those out in the next few weeks and then move on to Romans where I left off in my reading of the New Testiment. Romans is pretty deep so I'm not betting I'll complete the entire Bible by the end of the year, but at least I can rest knowing I made it this far without aborting the effort.

Today I learned about the Chronological Bible, one in which the events are written in chronological order and not repeated as they sometimes are in different books of the traditional Bible. I may begin reading that next year to help me resolve some of the confusion I have which is predominately related to the out-of-sequence nature of much of the traditional Bible. I'm so glad the wiser men of the men's discipleship group I attend indulge my questions!

In the event you are interested, below you'll find the guidelines that have been put together for the pen-pal component of the prision outreach ministry at our church. I've been working on organizing this for two weeks now; we go live next Sunday with a group gathering together to sign Christmas cards for the inmates. If you are interested in taking part in this ministry, please let me know!

Prison Pen-Pal Ministry

Thank you for volunteering to write letters of encouragement and discipleship to a Gwinnett County inmate. Few people are willing to share their time with these men and women, and as a result loneliness is one of the greatest challenges they face. Inmates who have concerned and supportive contacts in the outside world have a much lower recidivism rate than those who do not. Your act of writing a letter is indeed an act of faith - faith that you can make a positive difference in another person's life.

Here’s how the Prison Pen-Pal Ministry works:

1. An inmate will request a pen-pal by completing a response card and mailing it to the Perimeter Church pen-pal address.

2. An email will be sent to interested parties asking if you would volunteer to write to that inmate.

3. Volunteers will be matched to the inmate of his/her choosing based on his/her personal criteria and level of comfort. Once matched, you will mail the first letter from your home or business to:

Inmate Name (Required)
Inmate ID Number (Required)
Housing Unit (Optional)
Gwinnett County Detention Center
2900 University Pkwy. NE
Lawrenceville, GA 30043

You must always use the following return address:

Perimeter Church
c/o Prison Outreach
9500 Medlock Bridge Road
Duluth, GA 30097

4. Remember to put the return address on the upper left hand corner of the envelope and include it again in the body of the letter in case something happens to the envelope. The prison won't accept letters without return addresses.

5. When the inmate writes back, your mail will be forwarded to you from Perimeter Church.

6. You would then write again to your pen-pal as long and as often as you feel comfortable doing so.

Before writing your first letter, it is important to familiarize yourself with the guidelines used by our ministry:

1. Focus your letters on words of encouragement and discipleship. Your uplifting words can make their prison sentence more bearable. Encourage them toward getting an education while in prison, learning a trade, becoming more spiritual, etc.

2. Feel free to ask questions, but let your questions be about the person and not the reason why he/she is in jail. However, if the inmate volunteers information about his/her crime, it is then okay to discuss it.

3. Be careful that your questions do not lead to unrealistic expectations. For example, “Where will you live when you get out?” may be construed to mean “I want you to live with me when you get out.”

4. Write a little about yourself - your interests and hobbies, your faith journey - but avoid sharing too much personal information. Most volunteers use only their first names in all correspondence with their pen-pal. Do not reveal any information that could result in you being identified and located (full name, personal or business address, phone numbers, date of birth, etc.).

5. Indicate how often you are willing to write; twice a month is a good standard. If you are only able to write once a month, let that person know so that he or she doesn't expect your letter sooner and then become discouraged.

6. You may choose to write only inmates of your own gender, or you may write an inmate of any gender. However, if you are writing an inmate of the opposite gender, please exercise extra caution to avoid giving the appearance that you are interested in a romantic relationship.

7. If you feel strongly that you do not want to write an inmate who has committed a particular crime, you must conduct that research yourself by reviewing the inmate’s crime data at http://www.gwinnettcountysheriff.com/ (click on the badge, then “Docket Book” on the right margin, then by the first letter of the last name). While we do not object to volunteers screening the inmates, our position is one of neutrality.

8. Do NOT include stamps, money, gifts or photographs in your letters. Be aware that all inmate mail is opened and inspected at the prison before it is given to an inmate.

9. Don't write to more than one inmate at a time; it can create a rivalry between inmates.

10. You may be tempted to visit you pen-pal while he/she is in prison. This is a personal decision but one that cannot be made lightly. To visit an inmate you must give your full name and address to the prison officials, and you will be required to wear a name tag bearing that information while you are in the prison. One should be extremely cautious about creating unintended expectations; inmates may mistake your kind visit as a commitment or opportunity to exploit.

11. If you should become offended by or incompatible with your pen-pal, simply write a letter explaining your reason for choosing not to write again in the future. But please remember, all inmates are not the same. You will find every denomination, race, educational background and class inside prison walls. If you discover you don't relate well with one inmate, don't let that stop you from writing to another. As with any new person you meet, each inmate has his or her own unique qualities which may or may not be appealing to you.

Please direct all questions regarding pen-pal procedures and issues to Greg Lang at gregoryelang@gmail.com.

Write, bless and be blessed!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catching Up

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’m feeling pretty bad that my writing for this blog has fallen to the wayside. I assure you, it is not a reflection of my waning commitment to learning the Word this year, but rather it is because I’ve been walking the Word so much I’ve had little time to write.

I have so enjoyed the hours each week I spend in service, including the time spent with the Stephen Ministry, Youth Mentoring Ministry (Cameron’s doing great), Men’s Discipleship, the food drives for Children’s Restoration Network, our Neighborhood Congregation, writing for Kingdom Investments and Community Outreach, not to mention the times spent with each ministry that I interview for the other blog … it goes on and on.

But somehow God makes time in my day and I manage to do the above, read the Bible, work on my real job, and attend to all the stuff Jill (and honestly, Linley and Meagan too (now when do young adults stop asking parents to do things for them)) keeps adding to my list. Funny how, except for the occasional unexpected and unbudgeted my house is a money pit reminder of that fact, I’ve found more joy in my life as I’ve done less for me and more for others. It really works that way, and it ain’t karma either.

I am excited about a new task, well two tasks actually, I’m taking on. First, I’m becoming a member of the Executive Board with Community Outreach which will oversee our grant process. More than a year ago I had such an interest in non-profits and fundraising for same, and now I’m given an opportunity to learn even more about the financial aspects of both. I still think there is a development role for me somewhere in my future.

Second, I’m volunteering to coordinate the inmate pen-pal ministry at our church. There is a fellow I interviewed for a story back in the summer who visits the jail every Thursday (and has so for the last nine years) to lead a Bible class. He said back then he had been praying for volunteers to write letters to the inmates, but until now none have stepped forward. This has been pressing on me for a while now, so I finally raised my hand. We have our first planning meeting today, and I’ve already rallied a dozen people to sit down with me one afternoon to sign those Christmas cards I mentioned a few days ago. Please pray for our efforts in launching this ministry, asking God to bless the volunteers and embolden them to teach a little of the Gospel to the prisoners in each letter.

Bible reading update: I hope to finish Ezekiel today. Man, I am so ready for the good news of the Gospel I’m often tempted to skip the remaining books of the Old Testament and jump into the New, but I plod along one page at a time.

Publication update: Hopefully you’ve noticed the new book covers on the right margin. These books will be out in the early spring and I’m excited for them. These books have been on my mind for several years but I’ve not been able to convince a publisher to do them until now. What’s unique about them is that they are in direct response to fan requests; I got the initial idea from you!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Storms

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

One of the great things I got out of Sunday’s service was the reassurance God does not arbitrarily mess with our lives just to see what happens. Rather, he places obstacles in our path to help us see where our faith is; he shapes the events of our lives in order to help us shape our faith and character. Now that makes a whole lot of sense to me. It made me think: If the reward for failing to acknowledge Christ is death, what sense does it make that our Creator would leave our life or death decision to chance?

The teacher used the story of Jesus and the disciples in the boat during the storm (Mark 4: 35-41) to illustrate his point. He really changed the way I think about what I find while reading the Bible. Not a word is incidental or inconsequential.

For example, it was Jesus who said “Let us go across (the water) to the other side.” Did Jesus, Son of God, not realize a storm was brewing? Or did he intentionally put himself and his men in the path of a storm? Read: he places obstacles in our path to help us see where our faith is.

In the midst of the storm the disciples awoke Jesus and said “Do you not care about us?”, to which Jesus, after he stilled the waters, responded “Have you still no faith?”

In other words, “After all I’ve done for you and provided for you, after all the miracles you’ve seen, do you still doubt me?” We do, in our weakness and fear, begin to doubt our Lord when we think he is not in the moment with us, when we are enduring a painful loss, challenge or hardship. But when we remember the cross we must also remember the pain and suffering He endured for us so that we might live. That’s just how much faith He had in us. At the very least we should show Him the same courtesy.

Do the storms of your life cause you to think that Jesus doesn’t care about you? If so, be assured that no matter what storm you are in, you are still in the hands of God.

On another note, a few friends and I have agreed to become a letter writing ministry to benefit the inmates at the Gwinnett Detention Center. It houses 2400 prisoners. That’s a lotta letters. We’re going to begin with 60 inmates, but I reason why limit ourselves. Who knows what good may come if each inmate received a birthday card. Please pray for our efforts and ask God to send us a growing body of volunteers so that we may reach as many, if not all, of these prisoners. They are, after all, ranked among the least and the lost.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Going Extreme

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Now and then I receive a comment pertaining to a post I’ve made on this blog. The following comment came in response to what I wrote on November 4th:

“When I first came to Marietta in 1994, I sought a church with a rep for single activities. I wound up at a contemporary church and eventually went with the Sunday school class to a few Buckhead bars on Friday nights. I kept thinking ‘this ain’t right’ because some of the members would get hammered...I mean hammered. I like the tolerance of the new church…so to speak...but somewhere inside do you feel we've fashioned church around our lifestyles? I think extremism on either side is wrong, like the tee totaling preacher that would holler at you for an hour and then go outside and talk down about minorities. What do you think?”

I’ve thought about this a good bit. Now as I’ve said before, I’m no theologian, just a redneck with a Bible and a heart for honoring the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to be clear, I’m not angry about or offended by the comment above, so don’t mistake my response for a fight. I’m just electing to give a lengthy answer. If you aren’t put off by what I’m about to say, praise the Lord, and if you are, chalk it up to my blissful ignorance and then please pray for me.

Yes, we, some of us at least and to one extent or another, have fashioned the church around our lifestyles. My church homes during the last ten years have been filled with a congregation wearing jeans and flip-flops. Worship music was delivered via a rock band rather than an organ and choir, we’ve had ballerinas and stomp dancers on stage (oh, and yes, we have a stage, not a podium), we’ve used black lights, spot lights, fog machines, big screens, stage props, movie and sitcom clips, visual artists, nerf balls, bad jokes, sports analogies and more to get a point across in a fresh and interesting way. Heck, once the preacher drove a Harley onto the stage. We even have a climbing wall, pool tables, basketball hoops, video games and a coffee bar in our indoor youth program, and a pool, ropes course and zip-line for their outdoor use.

So yes indeed, we’ve fashioned the church around our lifestyles. And as a result, we have three services each weekend to accommodate the swelling crowd (4000+ members and growing). Our teens hang out at church on Sunday and Friday nights! Hundreds of men attend discipleship groups on Monday nights (including me and the others who discussed Heaven while sitting in a bar a week ago), and over 200 volunteer ministries operate under our umbrella.

And we have baptisms, we plant churches, we serve our community, and we have communion every week. We offer a career support group for the unemployed, a divorce support group, a recovery support group, a counseling service, a youth mentoring program, an adoption assistance program and so much more, whether or not you are a member of our church.

So no, we don’t look at all like a traditional church, certainly not like the conservative ones I attended when I was a teen. Some might say we are extreme on the progressive side of the continuum. But I have to ask, when God looks down and sees that his house is full and his people are engaging the surrounding community, do you think he really cares what we’re wearing?

And yes, we have drunks, addicts, unfaithful spouses, self-righteous folk, liars, thieves, politicians – oh my, SINNERS - in our church, but where would you’d rather they be?

And yes, sometimes our meetings spill into the surrounding environs, including the bar down the street. But then Jesus hung out with the money changers, prostitutes and thieves, for he knew that those who needed him most were the lost, and through his mercy and grace, even the most broken could, and still can, become saved people, signaling to all that indeed everyone can inherit the great promise if only we’d follow Him.

So that’s my long and enthusiastic answer to a really good question, and thanks for asking!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Releases and more

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

First of all, please notice the cover designs of my two new books which will be available in early 2010. Originally titled My Daughter, My Heart and My Son, My Heart, these books have been on my mind for at least three years. I’m so glad to see them finally come to life! Thank you Sourcebooks!

Now on to other things…

A few nights ago the men’s group I’m in decided to go off the church grounds to hold our meeting. For some reason we ended up in a sports bar overcrowded with Monday night wannabe warriors, all cheering for either New Orleans or the Falcons. We must have been a sight, five guys encircling beer and hot wings, our heads bowed as we prayed. Who knows who watched us and how long he thought about it afterwards? Or what impact we might have had on observers as we talking about God while in the midst of all that debauchery? God knows…

Similarly, I meet a friend for our weekly breakfast at a NY deli yesterday morning. We always begin and end out time together in prayer. Yesterday as we talked I overheard a conversation at a nearby table – two men also talking about God. So again I wonder what people think as they see men in public with their heads bowed in prayer? But I wonder only because I’m curious, not because I’m concerned.

You see, I’m no longer embarrassed about expressing my faith in public (oh how foolish I once was). In fact, I love the moments when someone could rightly point to me and exclaim, “Look, a Christian!” Yes, I am!

I have a question for you. OK, several questions. In my men’s group we’ve challenged each other to ask tough questions about the scripture to stir us into deeper study of the Word. Here’s what I asked:

What happens when we die? Does the body and spirit of all lie in the grave until Jesus returns, or do Believers' spirits go to Heaven at the time of death? What is the purpose of the time of Judgment if deceased Christians are already in Heaven? Do people who are alive at the time of Judgment die before going to Heaven or do they ascend? Do non-Christians' spirits go null and void or literally go to Hell? When, at death or at Judgment?

If you have thoughts on this topic, please share.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Two heads are better than one

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’ve made it to Ezekiel in my Bible reading. I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll finish the Bible by the end of the year, but what matters most is that I finish it, not the timeline. Life has been much busier in the last three months than it has been all year, so my reading time has been compromised. The good news, though, is that my service time has increased!

We recently had the second meeting of our neighborhood congregation and it’s really going well. Not only do we enjoy the two hours we spend together, we tend to run long and we talk theology most of the time. Sure, we have a few differences of opinions, but for me at least the debates help me to better understand my own understanding of the Scripture. Funny thing, these conversations are spilling out of the formal meetings and into our social events, too. Jill and I attended two parties this weekend (I love Sweet Bottom Plantation!) and had God conversations over beer at both of them.

Speaking of parties, one was a Halloween event and Jill and I attended as conjoined twins. We both managed to fit into a 4x long-sleeved shirt. You should have seen us waddle around, four legs, two arms and two heads!

In the devotion I lead two weeks ago I used this verse (Isaiah 55:7-9): "Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I used the verse to help address the question, “Can we know God’s will?” In the end I left the question unanswered, but reassured the group with this final quote I found somewhere: “The will of God will never take you to where the grace of God will not protect you.”

Here’s an excerpt from a new article I wrote for the church blog about a program serving homeless women:

“The Reverend Nancy Yancey, CEO, opened the ceremony and told us Rainbow Village was ‘a place of transformation where God’s love, mercy and grace abound.’ Lynnette Ward, Adult Program Director, followed and told us of her own tenure as a resident of Rainbow Village before taking her first position with the organization. Recalling the woman who served as her mentor before her own graduation, Lynnette had asked her, ‘What can I do to repay you for your kindness?’

‘You can do for another,’ the mentor had answered back then. Lynnette turned to the anxious graduates. ‘And that’s what I urge you ladies to do,’ she said, ‘to do for others. Because what we go through is not for us, but for someone else.’

Each graduate in her turn stood before the crowd and told her story. Stories of domestic violence, eventual homelessness and poverty, moving children from hotel to hotel, fighting back hunger and the temptation to return to an abusive spouse just to have a roof overhead. Stories that all wove their way to a confession of helplessness and hopelessness, until they found Rainbow Village. And while at Rainbow Village, they found hope, self-respect, new skills, and most importantly, the power of God. One graduate ended her story telling us that while at Rainbow Village she finally learned to “love who God has made me to be.”

A young man, probably a high school senior, was given a chance to speak. He told of a time when he lived in his mother’s car or dingy hotels. In the sixth grade at the time he and his mother moved into Rainbow Village, he said he had never finished a school term in the same school where he had begun that year. Being homeless meant constantly moving from temporary shelter to temporary shelter. It also meant having no permanent friends.

He paused for a moment and looked to his mother who was sitting in the audience. ‘I came to Rainbow Village when I was twelve years old,’ he said. ‘And for the first time in my life I attended the same school all year long. I made friends, I had stability. And I watched my mother change, and I became so proud of her.’

When he finished he took a seat behind his mom, Sondra Blue, a graduate of Rainbow Village and now its Children and Youth Program Director. She looked over her shoulder at her son, smiled broadly, and then reached to gently cup his face in her hand.

I looked down at my program to hide my tears, and my eyes came to rest on a phrase describing Rainbow Village’s mission: Breaking the Cycles of Homelessness, Poverty and Domestic Violence.

After what I saw that evening, I had no doubt that Rainbow Village is excelling at doing God’s work.”

Don’t you just love that line, “What we go through is not for us, but for someone else”? Those wise words are in my memory bank forever.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More Details

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I want to share this email I received a few days ago:

“My wife and I were in the process of recycling books for our two and four year old and we came across your book, Why I Chose You. We both acknowledged the power of the pictures and quotes and how the book helped us through some rough times during their adoption processes. Both of our children were victims of poor pre-natal care before we adopted them.

Our youngest child also suffered from his mother’s drug abuse. We did not become aware of his mothers drug use until the morning we were called to go pick up the two day old child.

We were given the opportunity to back out of the adoption, but thankfully we didn't. I remember sitting in the family room as my wife was on the phone relaying our news to the pediatrician. I looked down to the coffee table only to find your book. I didn't even have to pick it up and a tear came to my eye, remembering some of the quotes, knowing we needed to bring this little infant home no matter what the consequences would be. My wife agreed and we picked him up just a few hours later.

I'm happy to say that today was his six month appointment and he is a very happy and healthy little fellow.

I just wanted to thank you for writing this book. In the beginning we felt isolated and rejected by people not understanding why we were parenting children of another race, but we always came back to the book for comfort. Lately, within the last year or so, we have seen more mixed race families than ever before. We like to believe your book may have had something to do with that.”

I love such mail. In the past I accepted it as evidence of my writing and storytelling skills. Today I readily accept it as evidence that God is doing His work through me. I rather like my new perspective. What better work is there than the good word of the Lord?

On a related note, a brief story: I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else who knows yet someone else. We’ve crossed paths in a random, disconnected fashion over the last year, never having reason to say anything more than hello to one another while passing in the proverbial hallway. But one day a “chance remark” resulted in a cascade of events that may (too soon to tell but why doubt the providence of God) result in a little boy being adopted and thus rescued from a really bad situation. I also received this email the other day:

“Thanks for letting us know about XXX. I was just reading in Acts this morning how ‘he determines the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:26-28).’

It is such a huge encouragement to me to know that in this crazy, mixed up world God is intricately involved in placing us just where we should be so that we will seek Him. May this precious little boy seek Him and find Him and walk with Him all the days of his life.”

So you see, as Paul Young said to a crowd of people last week when he shared his story of a thread woven between a number of lives during a fifty-plus year span, “God is in the details.” Indeed He is!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Compassion in Action

Just for fun, here's something I'm working on for the church newsletter about service opportunities. This is based on the Saturday morning a few weeks ago when churches pool together and tackled a number of needs in our commuity. For those who don't know, Cameron is the 12 year old I mentor:

7:30 Rolled out of bed, wished I were sleeping late. Slipped on yesterday’s jeans and new Compassion in Action tee shirt. Grabbed a cup of coffee on the way to pick up Cameron.

8:05 Picked up Cameron and tossed him a CIA tee shirt. He was still sleepy too. Made sure he hugged his mom before we left. Explained what CIA is all about.

8:20 Discussed our stops today as we ate breakfast. Saw a few friends at Chick-fil-a and introduced Cameron. Talked about high school football.

9:00 Arrived at Wellspring Living house. Pulled weeds, fought back kudzu and spread mulch. Introduced Cameron to some friends and got a hug or two.

9:50 Headed to Perimeter. Explained Wellspring Living’s ministry to Cameron.

10:00 Helped fill the basic necessity bags for the Norcross Cooperative Ministry. Sorted shoes for the homeless, admired the backpacks for the foster children, and loaded the truck with groceries. Cameron liked pushing the cart. Chatted with a guy in my discipleship group and introduced him to Cameron.

11:15 Unloaded the groceries at the Norcross Co-op. Cameron helped shelve food. Talked and then prayed with other volunteers. Lost Cameron. Found him in the basement helping a senior stack boxes. Explained how Co-ops work.

12:20 Had subs for lunch. Talked about how good it feels to help others. Discussed his grades and urged him to envision his future. Discussed options for what to do during our time together next weekend. Probably paintball.

12:45 Stopped by Rainbow Village. Laughed watching a boy beg the face painter to decorate his arms too. Tempted by a juicy hamburger but resisted. Cameron played with a few kids for a while and made a new friend.

1:35 Went to help clear the nature trail at an apartment complex but others had already finished the job. Cameron said he was tired, took him home. Talked about girls on the way there.

2:10 Back home. Walked inside rather dirty but with a big smile on my face.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Details and Small Packages

Jill and I attended a banquet last night for Street GRACE, an advocacy organization combatting the sexual exploitation of children. A dear frind of mine is the Executive Director and she invited us along; we sat at the table with the keynote speaker, Paul Young, author of The Shack. Wow, what great storties he told about God's divine plan unfolding in his life. A line I appropriated from him is "God is in the details." Indeed he is, isn't he?

Here's a true story I wrote for the church and wanted to share with you:

Sometimes great things come in small packages. Such as a diamond engagement ring in a little velvet box, a favorite family photograph captured in just a few bytes of digital memory, a song that describes a lifetime sung in less than three minutes.

Or a baby born in a manger who would become the Savior for all mankind.

Emily Stone and Caroline Mock are small packages, both not yet in their teen years, but both already doing great things.

Tagging along with an older sister to a Gold Rush event, the two friends happened to visit the Huntington Creek Apartment complex in Doraville, home of some fifty low income families living just off the runway of the Peachtree DeKalb Airport. While there Emily and Caroline began to play with the smaller children who lived in the complex, darting around on the pine bark covered playground adjacent to the parking lot, ducking under and around an old and battered swing set.

It didn’t take Emily and Caroline long to realize that the swing set was really an accident waiting to happen. Rickety and made of wood, it was older than most of the children. Dry rotted and splintered with nail heads protruding and rungs missing from the ladder, the set would best be repurposed for firewood. Only one of the original four swing seats still hung above the ground, and its chains were rusted and groaned whenever someone took a seat. Kids stood in line waiting their turn, and now and then disagreements broke out as those waiting grew impatient with the one who rode a little too long on the sole swing.

Emily and Caroline talked about their new friends on their way home and wondered out loud if they could do anything to make the playground safer and more fun for them.

They also talked about the upcoming Compassion in Action weekend and somewhere in that conversation an idea was born: the girls would organize a carwash and lemonade sale in their neighborhood to raise money for the purchase of new playground equipment. The young entrepreneurs went door to door explaining their fundraiser, and did indeed wash a few cars and sell a few cups of lemonade.

Yet in the end Emily and Caroline were only able to raise $100, far from enough to purchase the $1800 gift they had in mind for the youngsters living at the Huntington Creek Apartments.
But word of the girls’ ambitious CIA project began to spread, and before long enough money was donated to the cause to cover the cost of the new playground equipment.

On the Saturday of the CIA weekend the girls, their dads and other volunteers gathered at the apartment complex to assemble the structure. Soon the parts, wood beams and platforms, green rubber swing seats, a fireman’s pole, a climbing rope and sliding board lay on the ground, and the excited young residents danced around wanting to know when they could use the new swings.

A few of the older boys offered to help and soon were holding pieces in place while volunteers tightened bolts and screws. The younger children, too small to help and too impatient to wait, did their best to play with the pieces that were not yet ready to be assembled. One boy held the sliding board above his head with his hands while the smallest of his neighbors climbed up his back and then slid down the slide.

Emily and Caroline did their best to keep the children away from the power tools, and eventually additional and welcomed help arrived. Other volunteers came with snacks and crafts and quickly a small group formed on the perimeter of the playground. Children laughed as they colored pictures of Jesus performing miracles and pasted together symbols of faith to use as decorations in their homes. Hot dogs, sodas and chips were served, and no one seemed to care when a light rain began to drizzle on their heads.

No one cared because just a few yards away the playground set was slowly taking shape, rising above the pine bark, strong, safe, large enough for everyone, and promising loads of fun for years to come.

It took six hours and many hands to assemble the new playground equipment, serve the food and supervise the craft activities, but it only took the hearts and imaginations of two young girls – Emily and Caroline – to inspire others to join them in demonstrating the love of Christ and bringing Glory to God.

Sometimes great things come in small packages. Your seemingly small gesture of service or charity may be a priceless treasure to its recipient. What are you willing to give? What dreams could you help come true?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What a difference 9.5 months makes...

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

If you’ve had the occasion to read this blog you might know that early in the year I confessed to a high degree of public prayer anxiety. I kept my head hung low, arrived to meetings late, hid in the corners, even faked seizures and visual hallucinations to ward off anyone asking me to say a prayer.

But slowly my anxiety began to fade and I started to tip-toe into the water, beginning with saying a prayer at a church board meeting (being a member of a church board is a story in itself) that began with “God please forgive me if I mess this up.”

As time went by I prayed out loud in front of others more and more often, sometimes without the benefit of advance warning and at home preparation. I found the exercise easier and easier, and increasingly satisfying.

So it is against that background that I tell you as soon as I finish this post I’m turning to a little homework. I’ve been asked to lead a devotional for a group of thirty people this evening. To my surprise, I’m looking forward to it.

I plan to read two passages, Isaiah 55:9 and John 8:31, and use them to weave a parable about pursuing God’s will even if we may not know what it is or recognize it when it materializes, and to do this because He has promised that if we abide in His word we will come to know the Truth. I want to know the Truth; I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that His Truth is far superior to mine.

So if you happen to be reading this today, please say a little prayer for me and ask God to guide me as I deliver the devotional. Thanks a bunch, and bless you!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, October 12, 2009

News flashes

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Good golly, where does the time go? I’ve been so busy with freelance assignments (Thank you God for your provision) and ministry activities I haven’t had time to write for this blog, let alone for my own writing projects. For the moment, then, little snippets are going to have to do as far as updates go:

My first distinctively Christian book was rejected by the publisher I sent it to; they said it was too much like another title they are releasing this fall. That’s actually good news – it means my idea has merit but I was simply too late getting it to this particular publisher for it to be considered. I’m encouraged and will move on to another publisher. Where once I prayed for a book to be published, now I just confess that I’d like it to be so but then submit to God’s will on that matter. Either way, I’ve gotten something out of the writing exercise.

Last weekend Cameron and I worked in the Compassion in Action (CIA) events for seven hours. I enjoyed meeting all the people who until then I had only spoken with on the phone. It was nice to meet the good folks, as well as it felt good doing the good work. What Cameron enjoyed most was operating the freight elevator at the co-op. He’s such a boy. Today for lunch (it’s a school holiday) he ate a basket of cheese fries, garlic toast and chicken wings. I had a salad (not so sure he’s getting the picture).

The surprise event of the CIA weekend for me was when I interviewed two twelve year old girls who spearheaded a fundraiser to raise money to acquire a playground set for an apartment complex in a poor section of town. They went door to door in their neighborhood asking to wash cars. They raised $100; they needed $1800. Soon word spread of what they were trying to do, and out of the blue the church contributed the remaining balance. It took the girls and about five men six hours to erect the playground. The kids at the apartment complex were so excited they couldn’t wait: they rode the slide propped on a ladder until it was properly installed. I’ll have the story of this act of compassion written soon and posted to share with you.

Yesterday our pastor said God permits us to endure experiences of hardship and pressure. Coincidentally, I woke up at 3AM this morning to find that a chunk of the ceiling had come loose in the den and the rain was leaking onto the rug and hardwood floor. I’m not sure what the connection is between Good, bad shingles and the endurance of hardships, but I will say that where once I would have been enraged by the damage resulting from poor craftsmanship, this time I was grateful it wasn’t worse. I’m still trying to pray rather than curse the man who built this house, though.

A friend and I have been praying that he be given a new job. He’s been unemployed a while now and is really beginning to feel the pressure of reduced income. Not long ago we waxed philosophical about how one knows if and when God answers prayers. The other day as we were having coffee his phone rang. As I sat there and watched he received a job offer! I love God’s timing!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Answered Prayers

Another ministry profile I've written for the Kingdom Investments (Perimeter Church's grant fund) annual report to Elders:

When you enter the lobby of the Mary Hall Freedom House the first thing you notice is a sign on the wall: Love is Spoken Here. Soon you notice many of the staff wear t-shirts which promise “We will love you until you learn to love yourself.” As you eyes rove about the room, you see three open Bibles placed in conspicuous places. Unexpectedly, your ears detect children’s laughter coming from another room.

Founded in 1996, the Mary Hall Freedom House (MHFH) serves homeless women struggling with addiction. Its many programs are geared toward promoting recovery and self-sufficiency; it has seen over 2,500 women graduate into sober living, completive employment and stable housing.

A distinctively Christian program, the staff begins every Monday morning in prayer. Every meeting is called to order with prayer. One year ago, all at MHFH prayed passionately for God’s provision; Georgia’s Department of Human Resources, caught in a budget crisis, had cut their funding by $1.5 million.

The budget shortfall meant MHFH had to reduce staff and services, but they refused to reduce the number of women they served. This decision meant the new satellite campus in Gwinnett known as Open Arms (twenty-seven apartment units) would operate as an unsupervised program. There simply weren’t enough resources to place a staff member on the premises.

Enter Kingdom Investments. Its grant made possible the hiring of a full-time case manager, an on-site professional to teach essential life skills to the women who would live at Open Arms. Women like Myrna.

A victim of domestic violence and living in her car, Myrna moved from temporary job to temporary job hoping one would become a permanent position, but no such opportunity materialized. She was the first client to turn to MHFH/Open Arms for help, and was soon placed in an apartment. With the help of the on-site case manager, she learned the lifestyle management and budgeting skills that made it possible for her to make ends meet when she finally found stable employment. Today, Myrna, the first graduate of the Open Arms program, works in a law office and the apartment lease has been transferred to her name.

But Myrna has accomplished more than becoming self-sufficient. She has also discovered her worth and her gifts. Today she serves as an example to the other women at Open Arms in her capacity as a volunteer. She is both the evidence the program works and the beneficiary of answered prayers.

I tell you, these reporting assignments I do really touch me; more to come on the MHFH, especially on the sweet woman who gave me the tour. It never ceases to amaze me what happens when you say to someone, "Tell me your story."

Speaking of stories, Cameron and I are visiting ten volunteer locations this weekend. The one I'm looking forward to the most is the low-income apartment complex with no playground equipment. Until Sunday that is. A group of teens washed enough cars and sold enough lemonade to buy a swingset for the complex. Wow.

You know the drill - go hug somebody and thank the Lord for all that you have (it is indeed so much more than you realize).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deep

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I continue to read the Bible nearly every day; I’ll begin the book of Jeremiah tonight. So far I’ve found several books and passages that grip my heart so I’ve dog-eared those pages to find them more easily when I want to come back to that place. I’m still not much of a memory verse expert but at least I can say “somewhere in the Bible is says something like….” Right now my new favorite verse (and no, I’m not trying to memorize it) is Hebrews 13:20-21:

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.”

What I tend to remember more readily are the proverbs or aphorisms I find as I read the work of Christian writers. For example, and unfortunately I don’t have a reference, I saw this recently:

The only thing a person can contribute to their own salvation is the sin that makes it necessary.

Now that’s worth remembering; that’s deep.

Speaking of deep, I have a number of flesh wounds. Cameron wanted to go to the airsoft battlefield, an indoor airgun range where participants really shoot at each other with plastic BBs). I wish I’d known to wear thick clothing. I entered wearing only a t-shirt and became an immediate target of the more experienced shooters. I counted 14 quarter sized bruises on my back, arms and chest. Whomever named the toys airsoft was flat out lying!

Next weekend Cameron and I are spending time together in somewhat less dangerous activities. It will be the Compassion in Action weekend, a time when a number of churches in the metro area work together to mobilize their members on service projects. Working as a roving reporter, I’m visiting ten such projects and dragging the kid along. It really pleases me that he enjoys doing the volunteer work with me. I suppose that makes it worth taking a few direct hits on the battlefield.

I interviewed three more ministries (a homeless shelter, shelter for child victims of sexual abuse, and a faith-based substance abuse program) last week so will have some really touching God stories to tell you in the coming days.

If you have the chance, I STRONGLY recommend making time to see the movie “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.” It is promoted this way: “If you were to meet ten average Americans on the street, nine of them would say they believe in God. So why is the Gospel of Love dividing America? Dan Merchant decided to find the reason why. He talked with scores of men and women all across the nation and he interviewed many well-known activists in today’s Culture Wars. Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is a fast-paced, humorously touching, thought provoking and highly engaging documentary that explores the head-on collision of faith and culture in America.”

I shed tears during this movie. It asks the difficult but necessary questions many Believers either won’t address or haven’t even pondered. See it and be moved.

OK, enough for now. Gotta do my discipleship homework before our men’s group meeting tonight.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Straight Paths

I stood back and observed as men pulled groceries from shelves and filled bags with what the waiting women would turn into meals to feed their families. In what might have been a somber setting, I was struck by all the good cheer.

The men horsed around like teenage boys in a locker room. They teased each other and burst out in belly laughter as one or the other suffered the brunt of an inside joke.

The cheer was infectious. The women, those who had come into the Norcross Cooperative Ministry (NCM) with their heads hung low, now couldn’t help but to crack a smile. Not only were they happy to receive the much needed groceries, their spirits were lifted by the sounds of jovial fellowship that filled the food pantry.

I asked the men why they volunteer. Each had an interesting and inspiring story.

One gentleman readily admitted he first came to NCM as the result of court ordered community service. “When I was drinking I thought it was all about me,” he said. “But then I came here and saw that my selfishness was nothing but foolishness. When you witness someone brought to tears when you give them a few cans of beans and a loaf of bread, it changes your perspective. How could alcohol mean so much to me when these people were going hungry?”

This man now volunteers twelve hours a week on his own accord. Sober, saved and grateful, he turned away from me and insisted on helping a woman carry her bags of groceries to her car.

Another volunteer told me he once came to NCM as a client in need of food. “I was down on my luck and just couldn’t make ends meet,” he said. “But everyone here was so good to me I just felt I needed to give back.”

That was three years ago; today he hands food to others in need with a special compassion in his heart. He knows what they are going through, and he gives them hope that things will get better. “God is good all the time,” he said as he winked at me and then opened a case of canned goods. He began to restock the shelves and in spite of his disability, he worked swiftly.

A third man joined the conversation. “God has blessed us all,” he said, “and we want to help others just like Jesus did. I first came here a year ago because of Compassion in Action, but I got hooked on it.” He now volunteers one day a week. “I’m retired now,” he added, “and want to use my time in meaningful ways. Working here has made me passionate about helping people.” He then pointed to a fourth man. “You should talk to him,” he suggested, “he’s been here longer than any of us.”

I approached this gentleman; he is a little older than the others and he looked tired. For good reason, I learned. Today is his first day back after taking a break for cancer treatment. I also learned that his wife, his customary companion when he works at NCM, is receiving treatment for the same disease. She is not yet strong enough to return to volunteering.

“She wanted me to come back as soon as I could,” he told me, speaking of his wife. “We come to share the good news, to demonstrate the love of Christ. I’m here for both of us until she gets stronger.”

Many of the women who turn to NCM for food do not speak English, but they understand laughter, smiles, gentle nods of reassurance, and the love that is extended to them by the men who show up to serve them. The men I met that morning; men of different walks of life, but men who were now all walking along the same straight path.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

John Mark

A little something I wrote (I'm actually having a good time researching this stuff) for the investment fund of our church which gave a $25,000grant to the Cairo Festival:

John Mark the Apostle traveled down dusty roads into Egypt, the country of his birth, sometime around AD 40. He wanted to return to his homeland to sow the seeds of Christianity among his former countrymen.

Walking into Alexandria, Mark encountered a cobbler whom he asked to repair his broken sandal. The cobbler did so but not without injuring himself with one of his tools. Mark miraculously healed the man’s wound, and this event led to Mark’s first baptism of a believer in Egypt and the birth of the Coptic Church.

Beginning with Mark’s work, Christianity continued to spread throughout Egypt until the Muslim Conquest in AD 639. As the language, culture and commerce of Egypt shifted toward Arabic traditions, the Islamic faith began to overtake Christianity.

Today, 90% of the Egyptian population is Islamic. It is against the law for someone born into Islam to convert to another religion. Bibles translated in Arabic are prohibited throughout the country unless they were provided by the Coptic Church.

It may seem that the fruit of Mark’s work has all but disappeared.

But what about the other ten percent of the Egyptian population?

That is where the Cairo Festival comes in.

A three day Christian festival organized to reach those among the ten percent who are not yet Believers, the Cairo Festival is held each year to reintroduce Christ to the Egyptians people. The festival events include music, drama, dance, sports, food, and an evangelical message each day. In 2008, nearly 18,000 people attended the festival; four thousand of those accepted Christ as their Savior, twice as many people than those who responded to the call in the prior year. An additional half-million Arabic-speaking viewers throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Europe heard the Word via Satellite TV.

The fruit of Mark’s work in Egypt is not lost, and today the Cairo Festival, along with the Coptic Church, is reaching many in the name of Christ. With God’s blessing, Christianity is taking root in Egypt once again.

Six partner churches in the U.S., including Perimeter Church, are sending volunteers to the Cairo Festival in November, 2009.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preparing for the Storm

This is a stroy I wrote about a local ministry for our church blog:

A man in a battered van piled high with ladders and covered in paint spatter pulls into the parking lot and lets his wife, baby in arms, out at the curb. They chat only briefly; he is headed to work. Work he may not get if he doesn’t secure a good spot on the right corner in time.

In the corner of the lot sits an old sedan, its windows fogged with condensation from the breaths of the mother and two children asleep inside. For a few days passersby think the car arrives early to get a choice spot in line, but the truth is the family lives in the car. They’ve chosen the parking lot as their home because they feel safe at night under the security lights.

A man steps out of the woods, damp with morning dew, his clothes soiled from sleeping directly on the ground. Someone has stolen his sleeping bag - again. He hopes another one has been dropped off for someone like him to make new use of.

These are the common sights as dawn breaks over the Norcross Cooperative Ministry (NCM) on Mitchell Road. Even though the doors don’t open until 10 AM, people begin arriving as early as 6:00 to assure their place in line. Sixty to sixty-five people can be served per day, and word has spread that those coveted places in line are claimed earlier and earlier now as more and more people find themselves in need of charitable assistance.

On this day approximately seventy people stand in line. Only a dozen or so, those who had already been in line for hours, were dry under the canopy over the front door. The others stood solemnly in the rain, pressed against the wall hoping to keep an arm, a shoulder, or a baby, dry. The doors open a half-hour early to bring the soaked people in from the storm.

Within minutes the lobby is full of anxious, even embarrassed, people of every race and nearly every age. Most are single moms, many with small children in tow, but a few men are there too. They are the quiet ones. They are the new profile that has been arriving recently – men who have been unemployed for months and are now asking for help for the first time in their lives.

Last month three hundred new families turned to NCM for help.

Today was going to be a busy day; several volunteers were unable to serve this particular morning. The staff hopes the shortage of hands and feet will not cause them to turn away more than the usual twenty or so late arrivals. It takes as many as twenty volunteers a day to keep things running smoothly; the demand is so great and growing.

Last month over 3,600 people in need walked through the front door.

The first client on this morning takes her seat with a volunteer counselor. She needs food and clothing for her family of four. She also needs diapers, and her eyes turn downward in disappointment when she is told there are none in her child’s size. Diapers, like many other things, are in short supply. Donations of all kinds are down. Hard times have hit everyone.

NCM is spending up to $5,000 a month to restock its food pantry, and still nearly a third of its shelves are empty. Last month NCM distributed over 3,300 bags of groceries, but received donations of only 290 bags to replenish its food inventory.

Another mom sits down and places her infant son in his carrier at her feet. She too needs diapers, and also hopes for a car seat. She too is told neither is available, but she is happy when she hears she’s able to select new clothes for her children from those sorted by gender and size and hanging in a separate room.

A third mom sits down, this one with an eighteen month old chatterbox in pigtails on her knee. It turns out three generations live in the same household and little Brittany is the youngest. Too young to understand that her grandmother’s health is failing and her mom’s back injury is the real reason she stays home all day.

Brittany also doesn’t understand the discussion about how much rent assistance her mom will receive, how NCM will help negotiate the balance due on their past due utility bills, or why the man in the corner is struggling to hold back tears as he shares his story.

It is his first visit to NCM. Self-employed for years, his business dried up during the last twelve months. The money his wife earns is enough to buy food and pay the utility bills, or pay the rent, but not both. His landlord has already told him an eviction notice is in the mail. His voice trembles as he tells of the changes he has required his three children to adapt to. Adapting to homelessness is something he just couldn’t believe he might have to require of them. He wrings his hands together and swallows hard.

Brittany smiles, waves and shouts goodbye to this man as her mom carries her past, and her cherub face evokes a brief grin on his otherwise strained face. Brief. It fades fast when he resumes telling of how difficult it is to find a job right now, especially when you are his age.

Not quite two hours after the doors were opened early about half of those who would be served today have met with a counselor and were now deep in the heart of NCM. They pick through the donated clothing trying to find what would adequately clothe their children and themselves during this change of seasons. They search the used toys and books hoping to find a gift to take home. One woman selects a child’s Bible and clutches it against her chest. Another fills her plastic shopping bag with bread, and a child points in disbelief as a volunteer brings a cart of canned goods to his mom. “Look, food!” he shouts.

The mom quiets her son and then does her best in her broken English to thank the volunteer. She takes the grocery bags loaded mostly with canned and dry goods and exits the building, her son close behind.

The son stands on the sidewalk beside his mom waiting with her for their ride and admiring his new treasure, a donated and worn action figure, but his treasure. His mom looks down at him and then into the sky. It has stopped raining and the sun is trying to break through the clouds.

For the moment the storm has passed. For the moment. But another one will come.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jesus Paid It All

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’m about halfway through reading Isaiah and am finding it an interesting book. I don’t always get the significance of the historical chapters (the prophecies about Egypt and other tribes/lands) but I do get the references to the coming of Jesus. It’s very impressive to read those prophecies and realize they were written 700 years before Christ was born!

Cameron and I finished our first model car this weekend! Now on to the next one. It’s a great exercise; a setting for teaching him patience, planning and pride in his work. We’ve only been together a little over six months now as mentor/mentee but I’d call it a tight relationship. I’ve been delighted with how my neighbors have come out to meet him and have been so kind when getting to know him. I hope our relationship is breaking the cycle he was caught up in. I still find it hard to believe at times that I’m being used to guide someone onto a straight path, but in spite of my disbelief I’m glad to be doing it. Actually, God is doing it; I’m just the tool through which His work is getting done.

Speaking of His work, Jill and I, along with another couple in our neighborhood who attend the same church as we do, hosted our first neighborhood congregation meeting last night. Eleven people came together for nearly 2.5 hours to have fellowship and talk about how we can support each other in our faith journey as well as reach out to our neighbors who may be seekers. Ten more people want to participate but couldn’t make it last night. Wow, over 20 people coming together to share worship in each other’s homes!

A funny thing, an Elder from the church asked to meet with us before we held our first meeting to make sure we were going to launch the neighborhood congregation in the spirit in which the church intends. As we sat around the table talking, we all discovered we were “rebel” Christians, people thinking outside the box in the name of reaching the unchurched. We agreed that you’ve got to go to the people to reach them wherever they are, you can’t sit back and wait for them to walk into the church. So don’t be surprised if one day I’m posting about our Beer and Bible party!

I know a few people are rolling their eyes at me right now but let me explain myself by repeating what a very popular Christian author and retired seminary faculty member once said: “I lead my life in such a way that Christians may doubt my salvation but the unsaved will want to know what I’m so happy about.” That sums it up nicely, I think.

On a final note today, I once wrote that I answered “because I have a lot of sin to cover” in response to a question about why I do so much missional work. As I look back now nearly nine months after I began my daily Bible reading, I see what a misinformed answer I gave. I can’t repay my sins, nor does God want me to do good deeds because of my overwhelming guilt. Jesus paid the debt of my sins past and those to come. Only He can redeem me; I cannot redeem myself. Today I’d answer the same question differently: I do good deeds to spread the good news. I do good deeds to share the joy of my salvation. I do good deeds to bring glory to God. As the old hymn says, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.”

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dude Time

Cameron and I were standing in the aisle of a toy and craft store the other day. We were given a model car recently and were ready to begin assembling it. He has never put together a model car. I've built nearly a hundred of them, albeit long ago.

We were discussing paint choices for our little Honda rice rocket when he looked around and saw a wall stacked high with model cars, ships, tanks, airplanes, spacecraft and the like. "Wow," he reacted. "Look at those!"

It was like looking back through a time machine. There were the same old WWII battleships, fighter planes and army jeeps I had built, the very same street rods with flaming stripe decals and fat rear tires, and a large replica of the Saturn rocket, too. I pointed to a P-51 Mustang. "I had one of those hanging above my bed," I recalled.

"Who taught you to do models?" Cameron asked.

"My dad," I said.

Soon we were in my office over the garage, sitting at a table covered in newsprint and sorting out all the parts of our model. I explained how to read the assembly diagrams and then we finalized our color scheme. In the backyard I taught him how to paint with a spray can and not get bubbles or runs on the doors and hood. In my office I coached him not to squeeze the tube of glue so hard, and to always point an X-acto blade away from his face. He smiled large as we completed another step and he sat the bucket seats aside for later.

An hour passed and our car engine was neatly assembled, the two-door body was painted red and we had glue smeared on our fingers. We snapped chrome wheels into rubber tires and examining the underbody, I explained how shock absorbers worked and what the transmission and driveshaft are for. All things my dad taught me.

Cameron absorbed every word. We were having fun.

"Now I'm understanding what I need to do when I have kids," he said.

It took me a while to clear the lump from my throat, but when I did, right after I dropped Cameron off with a promise we would finish the model in a few days, I reached for my phone.

I called my dad.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cleaning Fish

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

A few weeks ago I had an annual physical and found that my cholesterol was 220. My doc wanted me to consider taking a statin; I resisted, pointing to all my other indicators and insisting I was fine. We agreed that I’d get a heart scan to check for calcium deposits, and let that result dictate whether or not I go on a statin. I’m proud to report I have 0% calcium deposits. I have a clean heart.

I’ve been prancing around the house ignoring my wife and little bit whenever they’ve called into question my character, reminding them a man with a clean heart cannot be guilty of what they’ve accused me (or as W. Churchill would have said, “guilty of that about which I have been accused”).

That was before I read the book of Ecclesiastes, my read over this weekend. It reminded me of this: (Ecc. 7:20) “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” Wow, humbling, resetting, grounding. I’m sure to reread this book again and again during the coming years. I’ll keep my head straight and my heart well-meaning.

I’ve stopped bragging that I have a clean heart.

This moment of realization reminded me of a service a few weeks ago when the Teacher was talking about the wrongheaded Christian who compares him/herself to fellow Christians for the sake of ranking oneself above others and finding comfort in the thought of being a “better” Christian. He ended his lesson reminding us that we are all broken and sullied by sin; none are better than the other. He then reminded us that it isn’t our job to judge or save others. That job belongs to Jesus. Our jobs are simple and well defined – to love one another and introduce the lost to Him. He ended the lesson with a statement he imagined that Jesus might have told his disciples; “You catch ‘em, I’ll clean ‘em.”

That spoke very loudly to me. Amen to that once again.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

My Interpretation

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Whew – even though school has been in session for a few weeks now we are still trying to adjust. Linley has to be on campus an hour earlier this year and Jill has begun her graduate studies in the evenings. Add to that our discipleship meetings (and the neighborhood congregation we are launching in ten days), lacrosse practice, my volunteer responsibilities, and more. Most evenings end with Jill and I sprawled out on the sofa, breathless. No wonder my writing for this blog has slipped.

But the good news is the books are coming along fine and should be released next spring season, everyone is healthy, Cameron is doing well in school so far this year, Linley has made loads of new friends at school and Meagan is getting along swell with her two new roomies. She even got a pet – a Beta fish she’s named Harold.

I’m halfway through Proverbs and enjoying the read. I confessed to a fellow the other day that I see myself in most verses, doing the wrong thing of course, and I’m finding the reading a good exercise in self-examination and correction. As always, but now with more fervor, I pray for wisdom every day.

Proverbs 20:9 and 10 in particular speak so clearly to me right now: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’? Differing weights and differing measures, the Lord detests them both.” In my interpretation that means don’t hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself, and don’t look down upon the sinners because by gosh you are one too. Not sure if they are meant to be taken together, but it works for me.

One thing I love about our church is its focus on reminding you that God never promised us a rose garden. Life is going to have its pains and problems. Shouldn’t it? Stop and think about it – if our earthly lives were perfect, what would be our inspiration for seeking our way to Heaven. There, and only there, is where perfection can be found.

This message from our bulletin: Prepare to expect bumps and disappointments. Prepare to know that others will have bad times too. Prepare to look for comfort that can only come from Him, and prepare to be a comforter to others for His namesake. To do that you must call on Him. Only He can prepare the way.

I’ve learned that only God can restore us, and just as Jesus restored us to God’s favor, we are called to be agents of restoration, to do deeds of mercy and speak words of grace, all in His name.

OK, on to other things before the rain sets in…

Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Beacon of Hope

Here's my most recent ministry article:

Sussan Ponton admits from the get-go that when she discovered she was pregnant, she felt like a child herself. In her naïve youth, she never considered the possibility that she could get pregnant. In fact, to the contrary, she thought she would never become pregnant at her young age.

She also admits that believing she could never experience an unplanned pregnancy was simply an act of lying to herself.

Any girl, regardless of age, who is post-puberty can get pregnant, it turns out.

Sussan’s story plays poignantly in black and white in a video clip featured on the website of A Beacon of Hope, a Pregnancy Resource Center in Alpharetta.

Unnerving statistics about sexual activity among teens, teen pregnancy and the frequency of abortion in Georgia weave in between frames of Sussan’s words and pensive expression. Those statistics pale in comparison to what Sussan says next, however.

“Overwhelmed, terrified and alone, I decided to get an abortion, but when I began to call the clinics, I found that they were all booked full. I couldn’t get an appointment.”

According to the A Beacon of Hope website, over 30,000 abortions are performed annually in Georgia; 75% of those are in Fulton and DeKalb.

It was then, during those dark, seemingly hopeless moments when she felt trapped by her circumstances, that Sussan became aware of A Beacon of Hope. “It was like a light of hope being shined into my life; I discovered I had other choices available to me,” she says.

Over a dozen years ago an individual walked into Mount Pisgah Church with an idea for launching a pregnancy resource center. She wanted to give women with unplanned or crisis pregnancies an alternative to abortion if they had elected not to keep their child. Beginning humbly in an unassuming little brick house, A Beacon of Hope served sixty-four women within its first year of existence. The first baby born under its care was eventually adopted. This year there will be twelve candles on his birthday cake.

A Beacon of Hope has grown steadily since that first adoption. Now over 3,500 individuals are served annually, without regard to age, race, income, nationality, religious affiliation, disability or other arbitrary circumstances.

“We are very grounded in our spiritual beginnings and want very much to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ,” explains Talli Moellering, Executive Director, “but we do not achieve that by forcing morals on our mothers. Our method is to come alongside them, love them and provide the information and resources they need, hoping to let them see who Jesus Christ is in the midst of their situation.”

Yet, while pregnancy prevention and intervention are the center’s primary objectives, evangelism is equally important, Moellering added. “In fact, we begin every morning with our staff in a devotional gathering.”

Beacon’s website affirms Moellering’s assertion. “God has invited us to become a part of building a culture of love and life for the men and women we serve, ultimately providing them with comprehensive care that empowers them to choose life,” it says.

And that is what A Beacon of Hope is really all about, encouraging and helping expectant parents to choose life when they may be considering the alternative. To that end Beacon offers its target audience of women ages 15-26 a comfortable, confidential and caring environment where they can receive pregnancy testing, limited ultrasound, counseling, adoption referrals, and pre-natal and post-natal educational programs, all free of charge and delivered in a loving, life affirming manner by Christian staff.

Of its wide range of service offerings, one of the most impressive and touching aspects of Beacon is its Hope Store. Expectant mothers who choose life and participate in the Beacon programs earn points that can be redeemed for new and gently used baby goods and supplies. A look inside reveals a store filled with clothing, diapers, food, toys, and many other new mom necessities.

In 2008, Beacon served 286 women, 206 of whom were determined to be pregnant. Of those, more than a third chose life.

In other words, through the efforts of A Beacon of Hope, last year over seventy babies were born who may not otherwise have seen the light of day.

Beacon relies entirely on donations to operate, and its current capital need is $10,000. That money, once obtained, will be used to upgrade Beacon’s DeKalb site, The College Women’s Center, to a fully equipped medical site. As a medical site it will be able to provide limited ultrasound services, a very important factor in Beacon’s mission. “We’ve found that approximately seventy-percent of the women who see their child in an ultrasound will chose life instead of an abortion,” Moellering explained. But obtaining the ultrasound equipment is just one step toward upgrading the College Women’s Center. It also needs volunteer counselors, nurses, and a radiologist in order to complete its offerings.

So whatever became of Sussan Ponton? Near the end of her video a shy young girl appears in her lap. Sussan smiles as her face presses against her child’s and their arms interlock. Sussan’s voice lifts when she tells us she’s learned from the people at A Beacon of Hope that when things get tough, “God is there holding my hand.”

A Beacon of Hope has two websites; one for pregnant women, the other for volunteers and donors.

For pregnant women: www.abeaconofhope.com
For volunteers and donors: www.friendsofbeacon.com

Monday, August 24, 2009

Christmas Comes Early

Here's a true story I wrote for the Christmas donation drive at our church that is already in its early planning stages.

Christmas was just around the corner, but not all were joyful.

While most families were busy writing letters to Santa, wrapping presents to place under a twinkling tree, and decorating homes with evergreen wreaths, candy canes and festive bows, Thomas and Shirley Brown were wondering where their four children would lie down to sleep on Christmas Eve.

The year had been a devastating one. He lost his job first and then she did. Every job search ended with the same polite rejection: Thanks but no thanks. The family savings account was soon depleted and all other resources became exhausted quickly thereafter. And then one day the couple’s worst fears were realized – news came that they had lost their home. They had only a short while left to vacate the house where they had hoped to share one more Christmas morning.

In a short span of only a few months, the Browns went from two gainfully employed parents of four to jobless, homeless, and practically hopeless.

The parents had already explained to their children, ages three to twelve years old, that Christmas morning was going to be very different this time around. All were prepared to find fewer gifts under the tree, if any. If there was even to be a tree. That couldn’t be decided until the family knew where they would wake up December 25th.

That question was faithfully answered one day when Thomas made his way to a Christian ministry seeking help for his family. Entering the Norcross Cooperative Ministry, he sat down and shared their story, he and his wife’s fears, and his tears.

The staff at the Ministry listened, and quickly, through them, the heart of Christ poured out onto the Brown family. They were provided with temporary housing, food, a means to purchase the basic necessities, and an abundance of love and support. That evening the Browns were overcome with relief and agreed that their prayers had been answered. Yet little did they know that more love was about to come their way.

As it turned out, the Ministry had been thinking about the children’s Christmas morning too. They set about finding others to sponsor the Brown family for Christmas, making sure the hardship the parents had endured until then would not crush the joy of Christmas for the children.

Soon people began to respond to the Ministry’s request, bringing gifts wrapped and labeled with the Brown’s children’s names. Some people brought one gift, others brought several. Some gifts were just what the children needed. Other gifts were just what most children their ages dreamed of owning.

Shirley had to make two trips in order to take home all the Christmas gifts that had been donated for her children.

As she hid the gifts from view, she thought not of the abundance of presents her children would eagerly tear open in a few days, but of the abundance of love and compassion that had been shown to them by the Ministry and the people who support it. When the last box had been put away, she thanked God for His blessings, and then thought of something she knew she must do Christmas morning. There was something she needed to tell her children.

On Christmas morning the children sprung out of bed and, wide-eyed with surprise when they saw what was beneath their tree, ripped through wrapping paper to find new clothing, books, toys and games. “A bike!” the youngest shrieked, “A new coat!” the only daughter marveled. Quickly the room was filled with the sounds of a train set, video games and cheerful words of disbelief about how wonderful Christmas had turned out after all.

That was when Shirley pulled her children near and told them of the generosity that others had bestowed upon them. She pointed to their gifts and explained that the spirit of Christmas isn’t about receiving, but about giving. She explained that giving at Christmas is a symbol of the love that Jesus Christ first extended to all of us through his work on the cross.

This year as the season approaches again the Brown family knows where they will wake up Christmas morning. And the children are already thinking about what gifts they will donate to others through the Norcross Cooperative Ministry.

In the Brown family, the Spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easy and Breezy

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

OK, just finished reading Book II of Psalm last night, on to Book III later today. I’ve been surprised to see the range of emotion in Psalm; before now I’ve only know the verses as gentle praise poems but now I see they are so much more. My mind isn’t sharp enough to allow me to remember any more than Psalm 23, but at least I’ve dog-eared a number of pages in my Bible I can scan back over in case I need something else to suit an occasion.

Speaking of memorizing verses, I joined a men’s discipleship group Monday night and agreed to meet with seven other guys every Monday evening for two hours to talk about God. We are using a three (3!) year curriculum that was developed by our Lead Pastor. It requires homework, which includes memorizing a new verse each week. I’m hoping for a B in this class.

Cameron and I are going to a half-day retreat this coming Saturday. We are meeting all the other mentoring relationships in our church at a ropes course and will spend the day hanging upside down from a rappelling rope with our legs and delicates all cinched up and slowly dying from the lack of blood circulation. Should be lots of fun. Now that school is in session again I won’t be seeing him as much so we’ll just have to have quality time when we are together. To me that means more talking, to him it means more fried chicken and louder movies. Such is the man-boy relationship paradigm.

Almost finished with my two new books; the daughter book has been turned in and content for the son book has been completed and I have only three more photos to go. I hope to have those scheduled later today. Whew! It has been a whirlwind finding new families to pose, schedule the photos and get them to the publisher on time! But as always, God provides.

Speaking of books, I’ve been keeping a little secret. I’ve actually been working on three new manuscripts. I’ve completed my first distinctively Christian book and it is now on a desk of a reviewer of the largest Christian literature publisher in the world. At one time I prayed for the success of my new books. This time I’m simply praying that God will inspire me to write a book that someone cannot walk away from, a book that glorifies Him. If the publisher doesn’t want it, I’ll conclude it needs more work, that God wants me to improve the message. I’ll gladly do that work. Success or not, I just want the Father to know that I know that to Him goes all the credit; I am merely His scribe.

Oh my gosh, school is back in session isn’t it. I can tell because we attended the first lacrosse team meeting last night, an activity which immediately seized three afternoons of our weekly schedule, and Linley hasn’t even had a cheerleading meeting yet! It scares Jill that little bit will be driving in five months; I wish it were tomorrow.

I had a great interview with a family that has been generously and faithfully served by a Christian ministry during the last several months. Tune in tomorrow for their story.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!