Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Great Teacher

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 started writing this blog four years ago, and it has undergone a few changes in direction since that time, but I’m happiest with it now. Dang, I only had to post nearly 600 articles before I got it right!

Last night was my last class in preparation to become a Stephen Minister! I made a number of friends along the way, especially my prayer partner Carla, and accomplished some great Biblical reading on the subject of caring for others. I’m eager to get started in this great ministry.

Today’s post is one that I wrote for Touched By Service:

The Stephen Ministry, a one-to-one lay ministry offered by Perimeter Church, utilizes well-trained men and women to provide individuals in our congregation and community with confidential, distinctively Christian care and support to help them deal with any number of life's difficult circumstances.

In order for anyone to become well trained, that person must first be a student of a well qualified trainer. David “Dave” Routly, Licensed Professional Counselor and a member of Perimeter Church, volunteers as a trainer for the Stephen Ministry.

I had lunch with Dave recently to discuss his passion for teaching, counseling, and the ministry. Here’s a recap of our conversation:

Greg: Let’s begin with an introduction. Tell me about yourself and what led you to your career.

Dave: I grew up as a pastor’s kid in the Salvation Army, a denomination that is very much concerned about serving other people. Serving has always been a major part of my family culture. When I was sixteen I began working at summer camps for inner city kids and continued to do that until I graduated from college with a psychology degree. By that time I was pretty certain I wanted to become a counselor, so I enrolled in graduate school to pursue that goal. I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick, and in the course of my life I have seen a lot of hurting people. I wanted to try to connect with them and make a difference for them.

Greg: I’ve never heard the Salvation Army be referred to as a denomination. I think of it as a Christian service and rescue organization. Please tell me about that.

Dave: If you’ve ever seen pictures of London in the 1800s you’d know it was a real mess. At that time the church was excluding the poor, the prostitutes, the alcoholics and others like them, and the Salvation Army was founded as a para-church organization to serve them since no one else would.

Greg: I’m sure that mentality was a strong influence in your life.

Dave: I grew up believing I was saved for no other purpose than to serve other people.

Greg: How did you become a teacher for the Stephen Ministry?

Dave: Hershel Hatcher lives in my neighborhood and one day he mentioned the ministry. He knew I am a counselor and asked if I would be interested in teaching classes to new Stephen Ministers. I am a teacher at heart. I love to teach and communicate to others the things I’ve learned, and I really believe in serving, so of course I said I would.

Greg: Is it difficult for you to shift from a secular counseling paradigm in the workplace to a Christian counseling paradigm as a Stephen Ministry trainer?

Dave: You have to remember that people come into counseling with many different kinds of needs, and you have to pay attention to what they are asking you for. I’ve found that many people, if given the chance, want to talk about their faith, so I have faith conversations in my role as a professional as well as with Stephen Ministry trainees. I do not work for a Christian entity, but if someone coming to me for counseling opens that door, I will walk through it with them. If you believe that the Spirit fills you, you can ask the Spirit to affect what you are doing, and He will.

Greg: Do you volunteer elsewhere?

Dave: I also volunteer as a counselor at the Good Samaritan Health Center. I’d love to do that more but I have to save time for my growing family.

Greg: That’s right, you have four boys.

Dave: And my wife and I are about to adopt two more!

Greg: Good gosh; what possessed you to want six boys?!

Dave: David McNeely reminded us during a sermon he gave back in September that we are saved to help other people. Afterward, my wife and I realized that even though we both are in service fields, she is a nurse, we were conducting our lives in a way that was more about serving our own comfort than serving other people. After much conversation and soul-searching, we decided to adopt. The whole experience has refocused my wife and me, and has helped us to focus our young sons on what life is really about, and that is to serve others.

Greg: What a great lesson to teach your children.

Dave: You know, we are selfish people. We don’t naturally incline ourselves to give ourselves away to other people. Even though I grew up in a serving culture, I still find myself interested in my own comfort more than anything else. We all need to be reminded now and then to give ourselves away.

Greg: Do you intend to continue teaching classes for the Stephen Ministry?

Dave: Absolutely. I would teach more if I could.

Greg: Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

Dave: A lot of people think of volunteering as rewarding in the sense that it makes you appreciate more what you have and it takes your mind off your own personal stuff. That’s true, but for me the reward of volunteering is the pure joy of using the gifts God has given to me. I am aware of the benefit Stephen Ministers derive from my teaching, and I really believe others down the line benefit when they work with someone I’ve trained, but it really is the joy of giving myself, of doing good deeds for God, that rewards me the most. God gives us the gifts and the opportunity to use them, and we have a responsibility to use our gifts for His purpose. When we do, we find joy.

Greg: You’ve helped me by giving me this interview. What can I do to help you?

Dave: Something can always go wrong with an international adoption. Please keep my family and the two boys we are adopting in your prayers.

I hope you can see that Dave was a great teacher and trainer!

I’m working all day at Good Samaritan tomorrow; Thursday will be a recap of that experience.

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, March 30, 2009

James 1:27

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 wish I could remember ever scripture I’ve read thus far so when an occasion arises when I could use it I could confidently say, “In Book So & So, Chapter Such & Such, Verses This and That, it says….” But I cannot. Instead I can only summarize a verse and reference it by saying “somewhere in the Bible….”

Today is one of those times. Somewhere in the Bible it says man should not boast of his good deeds so that others may praise him. I wrestle with this because at times I fear that simply by writing on this blog I’m boasting about my walk with God. Yet you know of my desire to Live the Word and this blog is the only way I can communicate with you about my journey. You cannot see my activities; you cannot hold me accountable or admonish me if I do not tell you about what I am doing. So I write and pray that my words are not boastful.

Yesterday was a big day. God really spoke to me.

Months ago when Jill and I attended our first service at our church, a man spoke about mentoring and adoption. In his teaching he referenced James 1:27, “to look after orphans and widows.” That sermon was what inspired me to serve, and if you’ve been following this blog you already know much about how I have chosen to serve in various ministries in my community, including my decision to become a mentor to a fatherless boy.

Yesterday was the orientation to mentoring, the class where we learned what is expected of us, about how we would be matched to a boy, what to do if things don’t work out, etc. Only a few pages into our workbook, I looked down and saw a passage written across the top of a page. It was James 1:27.

During the discussion about the situations these boys live in, a particular case was mentioned, a boy whose mother is waiting for a lung transplant. At the end of our three hour meeting we were to go home and think about whether we really wanted to do this, and if so, to complete a profile that would help the leaders match each man to a boy. I knew about this process and had been asking myself if I should “choose” my ideal boy, or let God lead me to one. I hadn’t decided yet what to do. I looked at James 1:27 again, and then I spoke up.

“The boy with the mom needing a lung transplant – does he have a mentor?”

“No.”

“Is it likely his mother will die?”

“Yes.”

“Does he have any other family to take care of him?”

“No.”

“I want him,” I said.

The only other thing I know about him is that he is twelve years old. I will learn more in the coming days, and I will find out his name and meet him after I’ve passed a background check. And then I will do my best to be a friend to him, and whatever else may come.

I’ve been asking God to use me, and in the last few months I’ve believed that He has been. But now I think He was just testing me, to see if I would stick with the ministries and volunteerism I became involved with, leading me to that meeting only after I have shown my heart to be truly open to His commission.

Yes, God really spoke to me yesterday; I heard Him loud and clear. And I will do as He has asked me to do.

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!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wise Yet Weak

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 in the initial chapters of 1 Kings and learning about Solomon and his reign. What I know about this book is that Solomon asked God for wisdom, and he was then made the wisest man the world has known (remember the cut the baby in half story?). Yet, over time, in an effort to appease many, the King began to turn away from fully following God. He soon pursued every avenue he could think of to find satisfaction and happiness, only to always arrive at dead ends. It reminds me of my former secularized religion, me being a believer but living for my own comfort (thus sinfully) rather than God’s purpose, a guy with a foot on each side of the line dividing the faithful and the unfaithful.

As we all know I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m beginning to believe that 1 Kings teaches two lessons: to turn away from God is to begin a slide into not only moral decline, but the end of true joy and happiness. Secondly, that even the wisest of us all commits sins; we can aspire not to be sinful but we will sin because we are imperfect beings. This means 1) we can never turn away from God because it is only through Him that we can be redeemed from our sins, and 2) we shouldn’t be scornful of sinners for even the best of the righteous are vulnerable to sin. So be not self-righteous and forgive each other, and live for God rather than yourself is what I’m taking away from 1 Kings.

I have many pages left in this book and then there is 2 Kings too, so we’ll see if my thoughts change as I go.

I’ve also come across what so far has been the most profound daily devotional since I began daily reading, Luke 6:12-38. Of all of it, the most meaningful is the very last sentence: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” That really puts your opinion of others in perspective, doesn’t it? I assure you, this passage will have great impact on me for the rest of my life. More on Luke I’m sure when I get to the New Testament.

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, March 26, 2009

Focus

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 created a blog for the Community Outreach department of my church, Perimeter Church. It will feature stories about the many ministries the church supports, as well as the volunteers who serve in the ministries. From time to time I have and will continue to post on this blog some of the content I post on the church blog, but the church blog will not be autobiographical like Living the Word is. This blog is about my spiritual journey, whereas the other one will exclusively feature praise stories intended to inspire people to serve. If you’d like to take a look, visit Touched by Service at http://www.touchedbyservice.blogspot.com/.

While working on that blog I searched for scripture that referenced serving others. The one that really resonated with me is: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10.

I suppose that verse explains best what I’m attempting to do these days. There is no explanation for how a sinner like me came to enjoy such a good life and the love of a wonderful woman except by the grace of God. Recognizing that, I hope I’m becoming even a fraction as good to others as God has been to me.

Another scripture I’ve thought a lot about recently is Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.”

As I’m approaching the end of the first three months of my journey, I realize I’m praying nearly all the time, talking about God without reservation, crediting Him for everything that occurs, and seeking more opportunities to glorify Him. In my prayers I always ask Him to use me, and to reveal His plans for me. As I began my volunteer work I cast a large net, trying to do as much as I could and hoping to find a home for my volunteer heart. I’ve been waiting for focus to come, and now I think it has.

This morning I woke up knowing that I’ve found six places to invest my efforts, and in them I will begin to dig in and go deep instead of continuing to spread myself out wide. I will 1) continue to write and edit for Perimeter Church, including the blog mentioned above, 2) pick-up and deliver for Movers and Shakers, the furniture ministry, 3) pick-up and deliver for the Children’s Restoration Network, the ministry that provides goods for homeless children, 4) mentor for fatherless boys (orientation begins this Sunday, I’m excited),5) serve as a counselor for the Stephen Ministry, and 6) play a number of roles for The Good Samaritan Health Center.

I believe I’ve found a good home at Good Samaritan. There I will volunteer as a counselor and serve in marketing and development roles where I will recruit volunteer physicians and help with fundraising. After all these years I’ve circled back to healthcare, but this time for a higher purpose than ever before.

How sweet it is to have God answer my prayers.

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, March 25, 2009

The Good Samaritan

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.

This is the article I wrote for Good Samaritan:

If the name itself doesn’t tip you off that The Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett isn’t your typical medical office, a look around inside surely will. On the bulletin board is a poster of the Ten Commandments. Alongside it is a Bible verse, Galatians 5:22-23, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The examination rooms are decorated with hand-painted murals of scenes from the great stories of the Bible, and of course there’s a painting of the Good Samaritan kneeling down to help the wounded man in the road. It hangs prominently in the waiting room.

I sat down with Dr. Jake Varghese one morning to learn more about Good Samaritan. He explained that the idea of the health center was born in 2003 after a group of physicians volunteered to staff booths at a health fair during the Unite Compassion in Action weekend. Set up on a tennis court, it didn’t take long for lines to form at the temporary clinics, making it clear to all there was a great need in the community for healthcare for the poor and uninsured. “Everyone turned to each other and said, ‘Doing this once a year isn’t enough, these services need to be available every day’,” Dr. Varghese said. Soon a planning committee was formed to determine how to accomplish just that.

“I’ve always had a heart for missions,” he added. “I had plans to finish medical school, go into private practice for a while, and then travel to other countries to serve after I’d paid off my student loans. I strongly believed God had given me the gift of medicine and I should be looking for ways to serve Him with my skills.”

But, as we all know, God doesn’t operate on our time lines; He called the young doctor to His Purpose a number of years sooner than anyone expected.

“An Elder of Perimeter approached me and asked if I would be interested in working with the soon to open Good Samaritan Health Center. My wife and I prayed about it and realized we couldn’t wait for me to do missions work at a later time, the needs were evident in our community right then.”

I asked how difficult it has been for him and his family to forgo the lucrative rewards of private practice even though he was burdened with medical school debt. Dr. Varghese’s answer was swift. “There are days when it is hard, but I know I am where I am supposed to be,” he said. “I promised myself I would never work in a job if I didn’t wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work. I look forward to going to work at Good Samaritan. Here we open the doors and pray with our patients. Here we can bring them to Christ, which is my reward.”

Opening its doors in 2005, Good Samaritan’s mission is to demonstrate the love of Christ in word and deed by providing affordable, quality primary healthcare to those in need. Its clients are the indigent, homeless, and working poor, many of whom are single parents with no insurance and are unable to qualify for government assistance. For many who might otherwise go without basic medical care, Good Samaritan offers primary care services for clients from birth to the end of life. It is the aim of Good Samaritan Gwinnett to not only meet physical needs but to also address the spiritual needs of its patients through prayer and biblical counseling.

“All of our staff and volunteers are Believers and are encouraged to share their testimony with clients and to pray with them during their visits. We are active in the commission we believe God has asked us to do.” Today the health center serves over 5,000 patients.

In addition to being a distinctively Christian medical practice, Good Samaritan operates like a traditional medical practice, not a walk-in clinic. Establishing relationships with their clients, Dr. Varghese and his staff continues to treat them on an on-going basis. Uninsured patients have a “medical home” where they receive quality care in times of health and sickness. Patients diagnosed with a chronic disease benefit greatly from the continuity of care and an established physician-patient relationship.

New patient registration is held on the first day of every month, and typically a line forms at the front door even before the health center is open. “In the last few months,” Dr. Varghese said, “the need has grown so significantly we now have a line wrapped around the building on registration day. And for the first time we are seeing not only the poor and indigent, but also families who have recently lost jobs and insurance.” Fifty to sixty new patients are enrolled each month, and still demand is on the rise.

With the increased demand for services, additional volunteers are needed, as well as additional donations to supplement a dip in patient revenues as, during these trying financial times, patients find it more and more difficult to pay their already reduced fees.
Given the population Good Samaritan serves, over eighty-percent of its budget comes from church, private and corporate donations, and grant monies. Only six of its staff are employees; the remaining forty people serving the health center do so as volunteers. We are grateful to Perimeter church,” Dr. Varghese added. “It has been a huge supporter of Good Samaritan, and a number of its members are physicians who help us as they can.”

Yet even more help is needed, Dr. Varghese points out.

“A real need we have is to find specialists in the community who understand our mission and will accept an occasional referral from us. Now and then we see patients who need to see a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, or a neurologist, but recognizing their circumstances, we want to send them to other doctors who will shepherd them as we do.”

I left Good Samaritan just as Dr. Varghese began to gather his staff for a morning devotional before opening the doors to begin their day of service. On my way out I saw that a line had already begun to form. A grandmother with a small child in arms smiled as I exited the building. I drove home thinking about what I might do to support Dr. Varghese and his efforts.

I’ve always loved the parable about the Good Samaritan, Jesus’ lesson to us illustrating that kindness and mercy must be available to everyone. "Go and do likewise," Jesus said.

I hope that you too will think about how you can support Dr. Varghese and the Good Samaritan Health Center.

Good Samaritan is seeking Christian professional volunteers from the medical, dental, optometry and counseling fields, as well as interpreters, qualified medical office staff and technical support. For more information about volunteer positions, contact Monica Piggott, 678.280.6630, ext. 104, or monica@goodsamgwiennett.org.

Learn more about Good Samaritan Health Center by visiting its website: http://www.goodsamgwinnett.org/

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, March 24, 2009

Muddled

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.

My mind is too muddled to write much today. Nothings wrong, its just one of those days when nothing comes to the forefront that seems worthy of putting on paper, or in cyberspace.

I do, however, need to finish the article about The Good Samaritan Health Center and get it posted on the church blog; I’m past due completing it. I begin my first day volunteering there tomorrow. I’m working both as a counselor and fundraiser. Tomorrow I’ll become oriented to what they’ve done in the past to raise funds and review the grant opportunities we might apply for. I also work tomorrow afternoon in the International Village in the after-school tutoring program, so Wednesday will be a busy day and should generate plenty of things for me to write about for a few days.

Today I begin reading 1 Kings; didn’t get to it yesterday as planned. Maybe it’s because it is spring and so much needs to be done around the house and yard, but I’ve fallen behind in my Bible reading. I usually read a few chapters each day as well as the scheduled reading in the daily devotional, but now I’m three days behind in the devotional reading. I suppose I could argue the volunteer work has reduced the time I can spend reading, and indeed doing good work is more important that remaining secluded to study the Bible, but I want to do both! I will find a way, I’m sure.

I spoke with my brother the other day; he is struggling with a number of issues and I worry about him. As we ended our phone call I asked if there was anything I could do for him. “Just pray for me,” he answered. I had been anyway, but it felt good to me to become even more passionate in my prayers for him than to cringe at the though of praying like I might have done at times in the past. Thank the Lord for our capacity to change!

OK, on to work now; will post the Good Samaritan article in the AM. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Random Monday Thoughts

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.

We are back in town although we arrived home much later than planned. It’s hard to leave the beach when the weather is so nice and the kids are having fun. I’m still sleepy and haven’t finished unpacking, and it’s Linley’s last day of Spring Break so I’m sure to be doing something at the last minute today to accommodate her wishes before she returns to school tomorrow. In other words, I expect a hectic day.

I did finish reading 2 Samuel and am about to start 1 Kings today. As I understand the hints laid out in The Bible for Blockheads, it’s going to be a confusing read, and another one covered in bloodshed. Sometimes when I watch the news I’m left speechless trying to understand when so many people kill each other in the name of their religion, but I’m learning now that it has been that way all along. It is unsettling to me to say the least. I hope as I continue to read the Bible the reason for all the violence will become clearer.

Only two more classes to go to complete my Stephen Minister training! I’m glad too; I’m eager to get started.

I did sign-up to be a male mentor, but at our church instead of the public middle school nearby (still interested in that too but haven’t heard back from the school). It seems there are a number of fatherless boys in our congregation who are in need of a male role model. I’ll learn in a few days who I’ll be paired to; all I know is he will be somewhere between 8 and 14. Pray for me as I begin this new adventure, that I will be a good influence on a young man and will teach him what God would want him to learn.

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, March 19, 2009

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 believe I mentioned earlier this year that my habit of prayer had been irregular at best most of my life. I prayed when I was afraid, when I wanted something, and when I was guilty. I almost never prayed thanks unless I thought a prayer for rescue had been answered. I never prayed for wisdom, guidance, or that God’s will be done in my life. I could handle all those details, I thought.

But at the beginning of this year I vowed to pray every night. To tell the truth, I may fall asleep without having prayed a few nights a month, but that’s ok because I do pray several times a day, every day. God and I talk a lot now. I’ve finally realized I cannot handle all the details of my life, so now I ask Him for wisdom, guidance, and to show me His will. My days are indeed more comforting to me when I surrender myself to Him rather than continue to walk as if I were in control of my own destiny.

One day it occurred to me that if my prayers for myself and my family are so comforting in my life, how much more comfortable might I be if I asked others to pray for us? So in this blog I began asking for your prayers, and through your notes I’ve been reassured that you do prayer for us, and I do truly feel even that much more comforted.

But I had to deal with the fact that I was still in a comfort zone – I can’t see you, and you can’t look me in the face and assess my sincerity. I realized that an important step for me to take in my effort to Live the Word was to ask the people I see face to face to pray not only for me, but with me.

I have to tell you, the first time someone prayed over me this year I came to tears. My yoke was becoming even lighter on my shoulders! Good things were happening in my life, in the lives of my family members, and I came to realize that just in the same way having faith was not to be a secret or private matter, prayer was not meant to be reserved for private moments. Soon I began making prayer requests; some would promise to remember me in their prayers, others would take my hand and pray with me right then and there. Wow, the feelings that come into your heart when someone asks God to be with you are so powerful!

I am doing something for a gentleman who asked me how he could repay the favor. I simply asked him to pray for me. He did not consider that to be a generic request, he wanted to know specifically what I wanted his prayers to address. I began asking him to pray for this or that, and he would immediately go into prayer with me. What a reward!

The other day something didn’t set well with me and I became angered. I felt a surging energy that I knew could be destructive if I didn’t control it. So I went to Chip and when he asked me, “How are you?”, I answered, “I’m troubled.”

I told him about what had upset me and asked him to pray that God would grant me the wisdom to properly see the situation and then respond to it accordingly. He did just that, I felt better, and when I arrived home a half-hour later I revisited the matter and discovered that the problem was with me, I was overreacting to my own misunderstanding. My anger fell away from me, and I saw things differently.

I saw things the way God wanted me to. That is what Chip prayed for, and his prayer was answered before I, trying to handle the details on my own, mucked everything up.

You might say I’ve finally learned that God should be in everything I do, all things big and small.

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, March 18, 2009

Three Strands

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 spent a great deal of time recently editing documents for our church and its various ministries, in addition to actually being in the community working as a volunteer in the ministries. One of the reasons I’ve sought out the manual labor type of volunteer work such as all the moving and deliveries I’ve done for The Movers and Shakers and The Children’s Restoration Network is because I’ve believed I needed to sweat for God as much as I’ve thought about him. Writing and editing is purely mental, if uses my intellectual gifts but doesn’t make use of my aging but still strong and capable body. I sit alone in my office at my desk to write and edit, but to do the rest I must be with the people, giving of myself in a tangible, sometimes tiring, way. Deeds must be seen as well as heard about.

So it came as a pleasant discovery to me, as I was editing a document about the formation of Unite!, when I found a section about the three strands (components) of a mature church. Here’s an excerpt:

“While we were a church that was strong in the HEAD in terms of having a strong theology and keen focus on God’s sovereignty, and were fairly strong in the HEART in terms of being gospel centered and evangelically focused as a congregation, we were very weak in the HAND. We were not sufficiently caring for those in need in our community.

While we had a few of our people involved in community ministry, they were volunteering on their own accord because the church had no intentional or strategic focus on mercy and justice ministry in the community. Upon realizing this, we became convinced that a strong and healthy church consists of three strands: Head, Heart, and Hand, and is was populated with three strand believers.

James 2:15-17 says “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

Sharing the gospel and His word is vital to Christianity; however, word and deed were never to be separated, they do not exist in an “either/or” relationship with one another, but rather they coexist in a “both/and” relationship. The gospel is both word and deed!

We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, which includes sharing good news about Him as well as demonstrating His life through our acts of love, compassion, and justice.”

Can it be said any better than that?

So, consequently, I’m spending half a day volunteering at three different ministries today, getting my head, heart and hand in alignment. What are you doing?

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, March 17, 2009

Opps

Computer problems today, will post tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fruit of the Spirit

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.

In Galatians 5:22-23a we read, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I must admit, and joyfully so, I’ve been experiencing a lot of fruit recently:

One of the organizations I’ve told you about, the Children’s Restoration Network (CRN), a ministry that provides gifts and necessities to homeless children at Easter, the return to school season and Christmas, sent out a call for donations. They were short a good number of stuffed animals and books to complete the Easter baskets they were assembling to deliver in the coming weeks.

Jill and I agreed on how to respond and off to Wal-Mart I went. As I was checking out, and I alone am responsible for the carpal tunnel syndrome of the poor man who had to scan all those stuffed ducks, chickens and rabbits, a woman beside me commented on my buggy full of stuffed animals. It gave me a chance to tell her about CRN, and she mentioned how her church was working to involve its children in ministries in order to teach them from an early age the joy of serving others.

I asked about her church and it turns out it is a fairly new one that has opened not far from my home. This, in turn, gave me the chance to tell her about Unite, another organization I’ve written about, one which brings churches together in our city to work together as partners to combat social problems in our community. She was excited to hear about Unite, wrote down the contact information and promised to speak with her pastor about it. Perhaps another church partner for Unite? I hope so; I sure felt good talking to a stranger about both CRN and Unite, though.

I plan to profile CRN soon. Here are its and Unite’s websites:

http://www.childrn.org/Newhome.asp

http://www.uniteus.org/pages/

Further, I wrote of Whirlwinds Missions last week. Since coming to know of their work, I’ve volunteered to work a few afternoons a month tutoring children after school in one of the Latin communities. I’m looking forward to that and the chance to learn a little Spanish! Here is Whirlwind’s website:

http://www.whirlwindmissions.org/

Next, I went to the Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett to interview the Medical Director for an upcoming feature article on my church’s community outreach blog. I won’t say much now since I’d rather give you the complete article after it is written, but I will tell you that setting in the physician’s office, hearing of his commitment to serve the poor in spite of the sacrifices he had to make coming right out of medical school, choosing that ministry rather than a lucrative career first, really touched me. So I’ve agreed to volunteer there also in three capacities: to help with fund raising and recruitment of medical staff volunteers, and to serve myself as a volunteer counselor two days a month. These were all skills I once used for my own profit. I cannot look away from an opportunity to use them again but this time for good, for God’s work.

Here is Good Samaritan’s link:

http://www.goodsamgwinnett.org/


And then I had lunch with the Executive Director of Street Grace, an organization combating the sexual exploitation of children. What a blessing that was! The Executive Director turns out to be a friend of mine from 30 years ago, one I haven’t seen since finishing my undergraduate degree. She was the last person I thought I’d cross paths with again, and certainly didn’t expect that to come from offering to interview the leader of this organization in order to tell its story. I’m going to tell you about Street Grace later when I’ve had a chance to absorb more about it. What was notable about our lunch is that when our meal was served, Cheryl asked me to say a blessing. I freaked; you know I have anxiety about public prayer. So I confessed this, and she wouldn’t let me off the hook. She simply bowed her head and waited. I had no choice, I said the blessing. And it flowed naturally from my lips, and it felt great! So I’m over it now, no more public prayer anxiety. Thanks Cheryl!

Finally, I’ve been asked to move the articles I write for the church blog onto BlogSpot so that they are more readily accessible to the general public, and to give our congregation the option of downloading the posts to iPhones or to receive notices of updates in their email. Way cool, and flattering too.

So in short, your prayers for me to find my way in my efforts to Live the Word are, I believe, being answered.

P.S. I’ve stopped asking God to tell me “Yes, volunteer here also” when he wanted me to, and instead have asked Him only to say “Slow down” when He thinks I’m doing too much. So far, I haven’t heard that, so full steam ahead.

Life is good!

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, March 12, 2009

Special Forces

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 days ago I had an opportunity to see a side of Atlanta that many people like me - educated, well-fed, financially blessed, and confident about my future – probably never see. My afternoon began with Rev. Tim Cummins, Executive Director of Whirlwind Missions, asking me if I’d ever eaten roasted goat. I happen to be fond of goat but have never had it served in an Ethiopian restaurant. As we headed to Clarkston to have lunch and talk, I began to realize what an adventurous day was in store for me.

When we arrived at the restaurant Tim advised me we would likely be the only Christians there, the usual patrons were Somali Muslims. Talk about being thrown to the lions! Yet he walked in with a smile on his face, spoke to everyone nearby, and then proceeded to tell me about the work of Whirlwind Missions as we ate.

Located near the International Village in Doraville, Whirlwind Missions serves immigrants and refuges coming to Atlanta from over 145 different countries. Most arrive to this country unable to speak the language or adequately care for their families. The children have a particularly difficult time in school because their parents cannot help them with homework. Many men find themselves taken advantage of by unscrupulous people who prey on their language barrier. The International Village (not so much a defined village as a densely populated region 5 miles in radius) is home to many apartment complexes catering to the housing needs of these immigrants and refuges.

Calling himself a field operative in God’s Special Forces, Tim goes into such apartment complexes, secures a unit, and establishes an after school program. There he, with the help of his two young adult children and a staff of volunteers, provide after school mentoring for children and English as Second Language classes for adults. These services also provide a bridge to building trust and an opportunity to lead the residents into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Whirlwind currently operates these onsite missions in thirty-five apartment communities.

After finishing our lunch we headed toward the Clarkston Community Center where I was introduced to another ministry, one supported in part by Whirlwind, The Refuge Sewing Center. Here refugee women of Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Bhutan, Burma and other countries, come to learn how to sew and make their own clothing. In the context of arts and crafts, the women also find Christian fellowship and a nonthreatening environment in which to hear the Gospel. We were there to make sure the ministry leaders were scheduled to learn how to use the new sewing machines Tim had purchased for them. “We are hoping to help the women earn money through the sale of their handmade garments,” he explained. “Sort of a micro-economy but right here in Atlanta where ethnic clothing for many people is not readily available.”

In route to our next stop Tim explained how he was also helping men to acquire lawn equipment to begin their own small scale lawn services. “If we can help them get contracts with the apartment complexes where they live, where we have a mission, it becomes a win-win for everyone,” he said. “Not only are we teaching them the language and leading them to Christ, we are helping them to realize their own American dream.”

Moments later we pulled into the parking lot of the International Bible Church where we were to deliver Bibles that had been translated in Somali, Arabic, Nepalese, Swahili and Kinrwanda. “You aren’t going to get most of these people into a traditional white or black church,” Tim explained. “You have to reach them in an environment where they are comfortable, where they can understand what’s going on. That’s why we supply Bibles in all these languages. That’s what serving others in the name of Christ means to me.”

Our last stop was at one of the apartment missions. We pulled into an old and run down complex, one you might think you wouldn’t want to walk past in the dark. People looked at us from behind drawn blinds or off balconies on the second floor. But when Tim got out of the car something amazing happened – children came running up to him. He greeted them all by name and began asking them about their day at school.

We stepped into the Whirlwind apartment that had been converted into classrooms. A poster quoting John 3:16 hung on one wall and a few tables were outfitted with computers for the children to use when working on their homework. Before long Tim was summoned by the mom of a crying middle school child. I, a stranger, wasn’t welcome to enter their apartment, but Tim, a familiar face, went inside to see what the matter was. I checked my watch and saw that three hours had passed and I needed to run along.

The next morning I checked Tim’s blog to see how the rest of his afternoon went. It turns out the middle schooler left her binder, filled with important paperwork, at school. She was afraid of both loosing the binder and getting into trouble for not returning the papers. Tim drove the mom and daughter to the school and retraced their steps until they found her binder!

Tim’s motto is “Take the Church to the People.” I know he is making that motto a reality. I’ve seen him doing it. He and Whirlwind Missions are truly reaching the world for Christ one person at a time.

As I write this I remember his answer to my question during lunch: “What is your greatest need?”

His answer was certain. “More volunteers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty,” he said. I offered myself up; now what about you?

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with this incredible taking it to the streets ministry, contact Rev. Tim Cummins at whirlwindtim@gmail.com.

P.S. More than one thousand people have accepted the Lord since the Whirlwind Missions ministry began in 2001.

Please visit these links:

http://whirlwindmissions.org/

http://refugeesewing.blogspot.com/

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, March 11, 2009

Caught It

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 now reading 2 Samuel, the story of David, in my daily Bible reading. You probably know the story better than I do – David was very pleasing to God, became a just king of Israel, was beloved by many, accomplished great things in God’s name, and yet succumbed to sin. Although I haven’t read the entire book yet I’m already forming the opinion the moral of 2 Samuel is that indeed all of us sin, even God’s most favored people, yet he still loves us anyway.

You know, if even David could fall into sin, why are we so caught up in the false hope of not becoming a sinner? Who among us is clean enough to rise above the temptation of sin? Someone told me last night of a gentleman who believes he does not sin, and his worst fear in life is that one day he will sin. I think those who fear loosing God’s love as they fall into sin don’t really understand grace. If God’s love is unconditional, then it is unconditional even as we sin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not embracing sin, just rejecting the tendency to measure ourselves against one another by the number and severity of our sins and the piling on of guilt and shame as if God loves some of us more and others less.

In the old days I was a believer in the guilt and shame philosophy and just knew in my heart that God loved me less because of my sin. But in the last few months, especially as we’ve studied Romans in church the last twelve Sundays, I’ve come to see things differently. I now lean more on God’s love than away from his wrath.

I could be wrong about it all, I hope not, but in the meantime I’m praying for wisdom. As I’ve read, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you,” (James 1:5).

So on Monday I spent three hours with Rev. Tim Cummins, who runs Whirlwind Missions. You might recall the description of this ministry from yesterday’s post. I’ll post his story as soon as I’ve finished it, hopefully by tomorrow. Here’s a little of what we did:

Dined on roasted goat in an Ethiopian restaurant and talked about God; we were perhaps the only Christians in a room full of Muslims.

Delivered Bibles that had been translated in Swahili, Napaleze and Arabic to an International Church in a Somalian neighborhood.

Visited one of the 35 apartment missions he operates in the International Village; I watched Latino children doing homework on the computers he has set up in an apartment bedroom.

Visited a sewing ministry where women refugees of South Africa are taught to sew so that they can clothe their family and make items for sale to raise money.

Tim’s motto is Bring the Church to the People. I think he’s figured out how to do just that and is doing great deeds in the name of the Lord. Go Rev. Tim!

While I was with Tim I met another gentleman who is also motivated to serve others. As we talked he said something that struck me as so true: You can’t be taught servanthood; you have to catch it. I so hope someone reading about the various ministries I’m now profiling will hear the call to volunteer for a local ministry. Once you catch it, it changes you. You will find joy, walking as Jesus did.

I’ll let you figure this next thing out. Over a week ago I injured myself and was having a lot of pain that restricted my mobility. I’ve had difficulty getting dressed, climbing in and out of the car, descending stairs, etc. Sunday night I went to bed worried I would have to cancel my day with Tim, not wanting him to wait for me as I hobbled along, stooping over in pain now and then. Sunday night I prayed, Please don’t let this keep me from the ministries. Monday morning I jumped out of bed pain-free and haven’t slowed down since.

Guess what? I’ve been asked to join the Board of the Community Outreach ministry. Yahoo! And only three weeks left to complete my Stephen Ministry training! I’m having a great year!

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, March 10, 2009

Whirlwind

Yesterday I sepnt three hours with Rev. Tim Cummins, Director of Whirlwind Missions. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the day and share a few other news items, but today let me just share the details about Whirlwind. The following is my revised version of his literature, telling the story of the great work they do:

Our Ministry's Kingdom Value

Whirlwind Missions is reaching the world for Christ one person at a time. We have a golden opportunity to “Take the Church to the People” right here in Atlanta and literally reach the whole world! Our goal is to impact the burgeoning immigrant population with the life changing message of Jesus Christ. We accomplish that through operating onsite missions, spreading the Gospel while meeting the pressing needs of apartment residents.

Our Beneficiaries

The international population is the fastest growing demographic in America; metro Atlanta is a symbol of that growth. Today our population exceeds 5 million people, many of whom are immigrants arriving to the USA eager to better their lives. Most of the world’s 3,000 unreached demographic groups are represented in our area. Within five miles of the 285/85 Interchange is the International Village, home to residents from over 145 different countries and where more than 750 different languages are spoken! Hundreds of apartment complexes are located here, providing housing to these diverse residents. Whether they come from a Buddhist, Muslim or Catholic background, they have shown themselves to be open to the Gospel. Many of the people we work with eventually return to their native countries and introduce their extended families to Christ!

Their Needs

According to the North American Mission Board, over 97% of apartment residents are unchurched. There are at least 200,000 Latinos living in Atlanta. They arrive in this country unable to speak the language and adequately care for their families. Their children have a particularly difficult time in school because their parents cannot help them with homework. Many men find themselves taken advantage of by unscrupulous businessmen who prey on their language barrier and their fears. Multiple families often live together in a single apartment to share the cost of rent. Even then they frequently have difficulty paying rent and utilities. These and other emotional burdens often result in crime and substance abuse. Their spiritual needs are so great and yet they find little comfort in the traditions of their native church.

Our Objectives

The goal of Whirlwind Missions is to “Take the Church to the People.” Our ministry reaches people with the Gospel and helps them succeed in this country. We do this through caring, personal relationships with residents, providing after school mentoring for children and English as Second Language classes for adults. These services provide a bridge to lead them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Both crime and dropout rates have reduced in apartment complexes where a mission has been established.

Our Ministry's Solution

At Whirlwind Missions, we make it a priority to establish missions directly within the community, enabling greater comfort and trust, resulting in a higher percentage of the community coming in contact with missionaries. We host regular Outreach Events in an effort to reach the entire community, serving food, family fun and sharing the Gospel at the same time. We are able to perform these ministries thanks to the hundreds of volunteers coming to us from local evangelical churches. These churches also provide services to the community, picking up trash, painting over graffiti and planting gardens. Our combined work in the community builds relationships with community leaders, business owners and local officials, which in turn helps expand our ministry.

Life Transformations

With a forty-percent high school dropout rate in Georgia, one of our priorities is to help children stay in school. With the help of our ministry more students are finishing their education and going on to college; we are steering them away from crime and unemployment and toward a meaningful job. Our mentoring programs help the whole child by focusing on their spiritual needs as well, resulting in a better quality of life in the home.

Many of the families deal with domestic violence. In such cases we counsel families with the goal of keeping them together, and work with the local ethnic churches to disciple the new believers on this important matter. As we share in people’s lives through our work, we help them understand the Gospel and God’s plan for marriages and families.

Our Measurable Impact

More than one thousand people have accepted the Lord since our ministry began in 2001. Over two hundred people did so in 2008 alone. We regularly serve in thirty-two apartment communities, and as many as fifty during the summer. In December, 2008, we served food to more than 540 families and evangelized in seventy apartment complexes! Many of the young men and women we have worked with for years have graduated from high school and are now attending college. Mobilized 3,400 volunteers from churches across the country, our ministry is the largest of its kind and is considered the model for international apartment work in the United States.

Now that's a great ministry, would you agree?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ransom

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.

This is going to be a busy week; I have interviews arranged with three different ministries. Today I spend the afternoon in the International Village learning about Whirlwind, the ministry that provides after school tutorial help and English classes to immigrants living in apartments in the area. Thursday I am with Good Samaritan, a medical clinic serving those without medical insurance, and Friday I am with Street Grace, a ministry combating the sexual exploitation of children. All these folks do good work in the name of the Lord while introducing their constituents to the Gospel. Please pray for me that I might represent them well and bring awareness about and focus on their respective missions.

Jill and I have become official members of Perimeter church! Our meeting with the Elders was harmless enough; we each told our stories and answered a few questions about beliefs, and were then welcomed to the church. I haven’t been a member of a church in over thirty years. It feels good to have a church home again.

Someone wrote to me and asked what happened to cause me to become more interested in God and the church, what did I do to become motivated to work on my faith. I told her I had been feeling God’s press on me for a long time. Although I was rebellious, it was never the case that God was not on my mind. One day I finally admitted I could not save myself, that in fact I was slipping deeper into an abyss even as I was trying to be good and do good things. I also still had bad thoughts and committed bad acts. That was when I realized nothing I could do would add up in value to equal the ransom necessary to save my life. I also realized that Jesus had already paid my ransom; I just needed to embrace him and thank him for it.

In Matthew 10:38-39 we read, “…and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

To me that passage pretty much sums it up. Living life to the glory of self rather than the glory of God is a dead end street.

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, March 05, 2009

The Rest of the Story

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.

The following is the conclusion to the story I began yesterday:

I looked up and saw a church bus pull into the parking lot, and moments later a half-dozen laughing teenagers spilled into the café. They were accompanied by Leroy, a teacher with the Norcross Christian Learning Center, and Cory, a former student and graduate of the high school who remains involved in the program as a volunteer.

Cory told me of how, through the classes, he learned about Islam, Judaism, Atheism and Christianity, and the contrast and comparison discussions led by Lee and Leroy reinforced his own beliefs to the point that he decided to attend seminary school himself. Today he studies Apologetics and is passionate about defending his beliefs. More fruit.

When I could coax him away from the students who were vying for his attention, Leroy described the same challenges and rewards I had heard earlier from Lee, but added his own faith is strengthened by his relationships in the classroom. “Watching theses kids evolve in their faith, or motivating one to even consider a relationship with God, is very inspiring to me,” he said.

Many students, like Cory, stay in touch with Leroy after they’ve taken the classes and graduated, calling on him for Christian guidance and support. “I know that we are helping them to stay on straight paths,” he added before responding to calls that he return to the table.

Shortly all had consumed their breakfast and it was time to return to the school. Just before they boarded the bus I snapped a photograph. Before me was an unlikely group of friends, yet at the same time, an affectionate cohort of Believers, all because of the Norcross Christian Learning Center.

As the bus drove away I remembered something Lee had said: “High school can be a difficult and dark place for many students, and sometimes we may not see the results of what we’ve done there. But I think if all we’ve accomplished in the short term is to introduce a few students to God then its all worth it. Nothing we do in God’s name is in vain.”

Amen.

P.S. I'm going to miss Paul Harvey.

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, March 04, 2009

God in the Classroom

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 remember saying the Lord's Prayer or Psalm 23 each morning when I was in elementary school. That was years ago, before God was removed from the classroom of our public schools. I've often wondered where we would be today if that had never happened, if God were still in our classrooms and children heard the Word each morning, even if only a little of it.

Last Friday morning I had an opportunity to discuss God over a cup of coffee and a muffin. Not with my usual companions, men and women my age, but with a number of students from Norcross High School. I arrived early at the popular breakfast spot to chat with Lee Jones, Director of the Norcross Christian Learning Center.

The Norcross Christian Learning Center provides an off-campus, Christian-based elective class to Norcross High School. The class is taken for credit and is based on the concept of Released Time education, which permits students to be released from campus for approved instruction. The courses offered are “Comparative Religions” in the fall and “The Life and Teachings of Jesus” in the spring. The classes provide students with a safe and engaging environment to explore the claims of Christ and the Christian worldview. The program began at Norcross High School in 2004, and depending on student demand, offers a class as many as three times a day.

Lee, who holds a seminary degree, had only recently arrived to metro Atlanta when he heard about the newly formed Norcross Christian Learning Center. Searching for a ministry home and believing that teaching was one of his gifts, he joined the Learning Center even though he had never imagined himself working in a high school.

“It has turned out to be an amazing experience,” he explained. “It has taught me to trust that God is always at work. There are challenges in every class, ranging from the logistics, funding, the students themselves, but every time God delivers; I’ve seen Him at work in theses kids’ lives. If not for our classes, many of our students, some of whom come from very unfavorable environments, would have never heard the Gospel.”

And as it turns out, many of the students probably would not have crossed paths with each other if not for their enrollment in the class. Coming from different socioeconomic, cultural and religious backgrounds, they previously had little to no reason to cross paths with each other. “In addition to bringing the Gospel to them, one of the most rewarding things about this ministry,” Lee said, “is watching the students connect with one another. They become friends.”

While the school makes the class offering possible for its students, it, due to restrictions enforced by federal law, does little else to support the Learning Center. “We use a bus loaned to us by one church to transport the students to another church which allows us to use space for a classroom,” Lee explained. “Although the logistics can be challenging, it gives us the freedom to teach Christianity in an unencumbered way. And it bears fruit. One student in particular come into our class as a non-believer, but after learning about Christ she accepted Him as her savior. Today she is in college, has a heart for discipleship and mentoring of young girls, and is now herself telling others about the Gospel. She is the best example of why this program exists.”

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the 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!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Word and Deed

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.

Because of our salvation, we seek to serve the people of our communities that they might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. Evangelism is accomplished through word and deed as in Jesus' ministry.

I recently came know to Chip Sweney and the Unite! organization after volunteering to do an editorial review of the Unite! website. As I read through the site I became introduced to the Unite! mission: to bring about transformation and the hope of Christ throughout the city of Atlanta through the unified acts of kindness, service, compassion, and love. Unified acts refers to the joint efforts of community churches which have partnered together in the belief that two churches working together can have greater impact in a community than one church working alone.

Cool idea, I thought. I’d never heard of such a partnership and, honestly, thought it something that sounded easy enough to do but was probably difficult to execute, and was eager to see how well it played in reality.

I was blown away when I got my first chance to see Unite! in the flesh rather than on the Internet.

In the past year, several Duluth churches of Unite! interviewed residents and civic, education, media and business leaders in the community to discover the needs and opportunities for the churches to serve Duluth. The findings of this study, called Churches Study Duluth, were presented Thursday evening, February 26th. The presentation was hosted by Street Smarts in downtown Duluth. I had the pleasure of attending.

The findings of the study are available elsewhere; the focus of this post is on Unite! As I moved about the room I witnessed what I quickly realized was a group of friends, a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational gathering of Believers. As the presentation unfolded, I heard a cooperative body of men and women earnestly discussing how the partnership of churches could address the identified problems, not individual churches telling of either their own plans to address or decision not to address a problem.

Soon it was agreed that many of the issues Duluth faces are rooted in matters of cultural integration, and before the church can take the lead in improving cultural integration, the issues of congregational integration needed to be addressed.

That is when, in my opinion, the true character of the Unite! organization came alive. A lively discussion followed about welcomed changes in the complexion of many of the churches in Duluth, and soon individuals were giving testimony about their own positive experiences and observations about race relations.

Wow, I thought. Here is an organization seeking to serve others no matter their origin or station, intending to deliver that service in partnership with other churches no matter their denomination or race, worshiping together to honor God while leaving behind stylistic preferences about worship that once may have hindered that fellowship.

Here, I realized, is an organization that can execute its mission, and do it oh so well.

The evening ended with a black man and white man in embrace during a parting prayer. In that prayer God was asked to bless us with the wisdom and grace to love one another as He loves us.

To be able to love one another as He loves us is a blessing. To actually experience it is a great blessing indeed.

I hope you will learn more about Unite! and how we as the Perimeter Church family can work together with our partner Duluth churches to serve the needs of our surrounding neighbors, each and every one of them.

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, March 02, 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 just finished reading in 1 Samuel how David killed Goliath. Of course I knew the slingshot part of the story, but didn’t know David beheaded the giant too. Wow, the strength if David’s faith was such that one thrown smooth stone could bring down a massive man who had singlehandedly held an entire army at bay. How often do we stand before our own Goliaths but shrink away in fear instead of asking God to shore us up? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not faced my Goliaths, but through your prayers, I’m learning how to.

About last week:

Twenty-five years ago while in college I had a friend whom I was quite fond of but lost touch with as we went our separate ways after graduation. I can’t say that I’ve thought of her often but now and then I did pause to wonder what had become of her.

Last week while sitting at a table discussing issues facing Christian non-profits these days, I looked over and saw her sitting at the next table. Eventually our eyes met and she recognized me too. She is the Director of an organization called Street Grace; they combat the sexual trafficking and exploitation of children in Atlanta (I was shocked to find out we have more adult establishments here than in Las Vegas!). I will be meeting with her next week to interview her and write a story for the church blog about her important organization. Wow, God brings people back together when to do so is for the purpose of His work.

A few days later at a second meeting I met a pastor and his family who run a ministry serving refuges who move to Atlanta and settle in the International Village, an enclave representing over 145 countries. In addition to offering Bible studies to people who are being introduced to Christianity for the first time in their lives, they provide after school mentoring for the children and English as Second Language classes for the adults. I’m meeting with this pastor next week to write his story too, and I’ve already begun to rewrite his mission literature. I’m excited about this project because I love to learn about different cultures; I’m eager to spend a day in the Village.

At a third meeting I was invited to (when I asked God to use me, he absolutely took me up on my offer) by an organization called Unite, which works to bring churches together in a community to work collaboratively solving problems impacting everyone (more on Unite tomorrow), I listened as the speaker described needs in our city that too often go unrecognized. He repeatedly emphasized the need for male mentoring in our public schools, especially in middle and high school where so many males are growing up in fatherless homes.

All my adult life I’ve raised daughters and have often said how glad I am that I wasn’t also trying to raise boys. Yet as I listened to the speaker I couldn’t help but feel my heart tugged. I wondered if I could do anything, even with my lack of experience with boys, to change the life of a young man who might be headed for trouble only because he has no male role model to help guide him.

As I sat there wondering about this, I remembered a statement the teacher made during our Sunday service: “God calls on you to meet the needs of others, not to serve your own comforts.” When I recalled those words my mind turned decisive and then I reached for a response card and checked Yes, I want to mentor in our middle and high schools.

Like I said, God is using me a good bit right now, and I love it. Pray for me that I stay on straight paths as I go out in His name.

And then I finally got to my fourth meeting on Friday, breakfast with the nine students and two ministry leaders from the Bible class taught in the nearby high school. I interviewed the leaders, a few students, and took photographs to feature in their story, also to be written for the church blog. This ministry is facing several challenges with their fundraising efforts, not to mention how delicate it must be to adhere to all the federal rules about the co-mingling of public education and religion. I’m hoping their story will touch a few hearts in our area and lead to a few new donors. Their work is so important. One student told me he had never been exposed to the Bible before taking this class; he is sixteen years old.

So you see, I have a lot of writing to do, and I can’t wait to get to all the other ministries I’ll be working with over the coming months. I hope my contributions will inspire others to help these ministries to continue with their missions. Times are indeed tough right now, but through faith I believe grace will prevail and all these organizations will receive the financial support they need to continue their good work. That’s one of my prayers anyway.

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!