Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sons and Daughters of Encouragement

"Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."  --I Thessalonians 5:11  Whenever I think of encouragement I think of Barnabas in the Bible whose name means "Son of Encouragement."  What a great name that would be.

I'm kind of glad our modern tradition doesn't have us giving each other names that define our qualities.  I'm afraid I might be dubbed "Daughter of Criticism" or "She Who Whines."

Life has been challenging for a while.  Really, when you think about it, life is always pretty challenging.  After all, Jesus promised us, "In this world you will have trouble..."  good thing He continued with the promise, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

We so need encouragers in our lives to remind us that we are overcomers.

In the past week our family life has been filled with highs and lows--both of which can be stressful.  The wedding of our daughter this past weekend was followed by my mother's admission to the hospital on Tuesday morning.  We are now praying for a miracle and asking God to give us a nursing home placement by early tomorrow morning.

In the midst of these events, I think about details for the upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party that will be upon us in just 16 days.

What amazes me is how God sends encouragement to me just when I need it.  Monday was a challenging day with several calls from my mother's care home.  She was not adjusting well and I needed to come help with the situation.

Between those calls I received two wonderful pieces of encouragement--a beautiful e-mail from a longtime friend affirming how much our two families' mutual friendship has meant and a long letter from Jill, a blog reader from Florida who told me she read my whole blog (who does that?) and God used it to help push her toward doing more boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

Those well-timed encouragements got me through some rough moments.

Then came Tuesday.  Mom was admitted to the hospital after a fall at her care home.

I sat at her bedside while she rambled in her confusion and prayed.  I told God I know He has these packing party details in His care but I asked Him to let me know if there were things I should be doing that I was missing.

Nothing can be better than the encouragement God speaks into my life through answered prayer.  Almost immediately I got a text message from Elizabeth who said she was working on recruiting volunteers for the packing party (what could be more encouraging than that?) and asked if I'd made arrangements for tech support.  Thank You, God, for that reminder.  Elizabeth also offered her assistance for other details.

A few seconds later God brought another detail to my mind, reminding me that
I did not check on having an announcement in the church bulletin.  I texted Elizabeth and she said she'd take care of that.

I stared at the view of the lake through my mother's window for a few more minutes and realized we needed to make arrangements to ask for donations of cookies for lunch at the packing party.  Another quick text message to Elizabeth who agreed to make the needed contact.

The Holy Spirit, our great Comforter and Encourager, used three specific obedient people to whisper into my life the hope that I needed this week.

Over the past few days other friends and team members have come alongside me with their prayers and encouragement also.

It is humbling to be on the receiving end of such encouragement and it makes me wonder--am I being obedient to God's command to "encourage one another"?

The few minutes it takes to write an e-mail or a note or a text or a Facebook message or (horror of horrors) actually pick up the phone and call or make a visit could make a huge difference in the life of someone who is struggling today.

Encouragement.  The gift every son or daughter of God should give.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Marriage Feast of the Lamb

It's been a few weeks again since I posted here.  My daughter's upcoming wedding kept me busy and the wedding was day before yesterday.  My baby, the bride, is pictured above.

After more than a year of preparations Julie and her new husband Alex hosted an elegant and lavish celebration.  The venue for the wedding was amazing

 And the candles that lined the aisle reflected the light from the tiffany glass dome above.

After the beautiful ceremony and a time of enjoying hors d'oeuvres, we were invited in to the marriage feast.  We sat in gold chairs at linen-draped tables with fragrant flower centerpieces.

The table settings were magnificent.  As I looked around at the grace and opulence that I am not accustomed to experiencing, I began to think of the symbolism of weddings in Scripture.

I thought of how at the beginning of Jesus' ministry he performed his first miracle at a wedding feast.

Then I thought of the feast described in Revelation 19--the "marriage feast of the Lamb" when Jesus will celebrate with His bride, the Church.  The feast I was blessed to attend on Saturday evening will pale in comparison to that feast where some from every tribe and nation will join together to worship The Lamb.

Revelation 19:7,8 -- "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

I think of all those months of preparation for my daughter's wedding and I wonder how many of us are preparing even that much for that coming "marriage feast"?

Jesus calls us to be ready and to clothe ourselves with "the righteous acts of the saints."

I've already accepted the invitation to that wedding and I'm going to concentrate on preparing for it and bringing as many guests to it as I can.

It's an open invitation.  So be ready.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Giver" becomes "The Getter"

In our 40 years of marriage, this is the first year that no one in our family is going back to school.  Since I retired from my job as a school nurse at the end of last school year, we are all now out of the business of education.

And today was the first day for students in my school district, so I made plans to go see the movie "The Giver" at noon--just because I could.

On the way, I decided to make a quick stop at Michael's craft store to buy a pack of photo corners.  Last year I got a great deal on twelve $2.00 grab bag boxes that contained hundreds of nice fillers for our Operation Christmas Child packing party and I've been hoping to find some again.

Well, today was that day.

I had to bag "The Giver" to become 'the getter' as I filled my minivan with 34 of those $2.00 grab bag cartons.

When I got home and opened the first few boxes I realized there were a lot of items I couldn't use for shoe boxes, so I called my neighbor who helps with the 'holiday store' at her grandson's school.

She was nice enough to come and spend several hours helping me sort.  She was able to fill four large cartons with items usable for her grandson's school.

Out of the 34 boxes I ended up with 115 clothing items (flip-flops, shirts, etc.) and 226 filler items.  My neighbor donated $25 for the items she took, so the things I got for shoe boxes were just a bit over ten cents each.

Now I need to figure out what to do with a houseful of leftovers--expensive large vases and tons of artificial flowers.  You could stock a florist shop with all the stuff hanging out on every horizontal space in my house.

I'm thinking I should have stuck with my schedule and spent the afternoon watching "The Giver" instead of being "the getter" and gorging on grab bag boxes.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Yea, Though I Walk...Abundance

I have been thinking a lot lately about seasons of life.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 expresses perfectly the balance of those ups and downs.  There is a time for every experience and emotion as we walk this journey.

My mother is 101 years old and though her mobility has declined markedly in the last few years her mind stayed sharp.  Until a few weeks ago.

In the past couple of weeks we have watched her mind slip away at a rapid pace.     God has made it clear to my siblings and me that she needs more care than we can provide, so we are on a quest to find a suitable care facility.  So far no doors have been open there.

I've been spending time in recent days thinking about this process of aging.  We begin aging from the time we are born.  At first that brings growth, but all too soon it turns to decline.  If God grants us enough years of life, we all experience this for ourselves and for our loved ones.  I'm convinced this is part of God's mercy as He uses it to loosen our hold on earth and help us reach for our real home in heaven.

Likewise, the seasons of struggle and hardship in our lives are God's "severe mercy" to draw us to Him and to make the seasons of bounty and abundance all the sweeter.

The winter/ early spring of 2014 were months of real struggle for my walk in Operation Christmas Child.  I couldn't discern if God wanted us to have a large packing party this year.  As I wrestled with that decision and decisions about retirement from my job as a school nurse it felt like walking through a valley...or a desert...or whatever simile you want to use for those times when you wish you could just take a break from life.

Fast forward to this summer.  My team and I finally made a decision around Easter time to trust God to provide for another large packing party this year.  Our storage container was nearly empty at that time.

Now--especially in the past two weeks--His abundance is flowing over us.  Part of the reason I've been a slacking blogger lately is because I spend so much time managing the blessings.

The 165 new shirts in the picture above were donated by local YMCAs and God opened doors for other organizations to donate also.  Our city paper published a letter to the editor I wrote about our need for stuffed animals and the phone keeps ringing with so many being contributed.  Abundance.

In the past two days our team members have brought in over 600 stuffed animals and nearly 300 major anchor items.  Abundance.

Our crayons have all been purchased, a shipment of 20,000 pens are on their way, and we're trusting God for just 3,789 more clothing/anchor items and 9,251 stuffed animals.  That may seem like a lot, but the way God is moving assures me He has already accomplished it.  Abundance.

We finally got approval from our church for dates secured to host the packing party (phew--glad that's taken care of) and now we trust Him for volunteers and details and deliveries.  No need to worry, though.

Our God of abundance will deliver.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit -- Louie Giglio

(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in an effort to improve my leadership as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.  Learn more about OCC at )  Closing session with Louie Giglio

I am a pastor of a new church plant in Atlanta GA and one of the things we say a lot is the doorposts in the Kingdom of God are humility and honor.  Honor is giving thanks to the people who have made it possible for us to be where we are.  (called Bill Hybels up on stage)  As a leader there were times I wanted to quit and, to me, Bill Hybels has always been bullet proof.  He's the smartest, most innovative guy I've ever seen.  On behalf of all those impacted by the GLS in its 20 year history I want to thank you for not giving up and for paying the price and being a great leader.

When I think about the GLS I think they've done a good job of branding with the logo of the mountain.  I want us to think about the mountain today.  I've only climbed one mountain--the Matterhorn.  I wouldn't suggest this as a first mountain to climb.  What I want us to do today is think about what God has called us to do and I want us to leave with the confidence that no matter what God has called us to do we are going to succeed in Jesus' name.

What is your mountain?  What are the heights to which you wish to ascend?  We want to send you out with the confidence that not only YOU can make it to the summit but that you can take others with you.

Sometimes we don't even know what we're doing.  A lot of times as a leader I feel like that but I don't want that to stop me from letting God do something great.

Can we be honest?  Sometimes you just don't know what to do.  I'd like to put a few ideas into play to lead us out into action.  You don't need to know everything about how to get up the mountain in front of you to take the next step.

Life is short

--a leader has to breathe this in every moment.  We have all these preconceived notions about how long we will live but we constantly need to feel an urgency about the great things of life.  We have to carry that sense of urgency with us.  The stakes are too high for us to die with a small vision.

We have to continually cultivate this idea that life is short.  When you stand at the Matterhorn you look up at the mountain and think "I don't see a stairway and I don't know how this is going to work."   You train for a week and get checked out by a guide and then hike to a small camp.  Then at 4 am you wake up and set out on a sprint to the top.  It's 3X the Empire State Building in four hours.  If you aren't on the summit by a certain time you don't succeed.  

Edward Wimper who was the first to conquer it set out to do what couldn't be done.  We need to say "no" to the status quo and do what we think can't be done.

God is Big

All of life is to bring glory to God.  Finishing well is a big idea.  But the biggest idea is believing that Jesus is the greatest thing in time and eternity and everything is about Him and His glory.  When we couple the fact that life is short with the fact that it's all about Jesus, it propels me to....

Take the Next Step

You get up the Matterhorn one step at a time.  That's the only way to the top.  I want to encourage you that you can do it and also
--YOU can't do it.   Unless God does it, it isn't going to happen.

We don't have to worry about how to get to the summit we just need to believe His power is sufficient to take the next step and move toward the goal He has given us

Let me tell you about three of my hardest steps--

For 7 of the 10 years we were at Baylor in Texas my father was disabled and my mother had to care for him.

After 9 years we thought we would go to Atlanta and on the last day of the ministry --  5/1/95 -- we buried my dad.

We thought, "What just happened?" but we went to Atlanta anyway and after 3 months God called us to start a ministry to campuses across the nation and Passion was born.  Born out of frustration and confusion.

Fast forward to January, 2014.  I was asked to do the invocation at a bowl game that and stood on the logo of the sponsor  --  Chick-fil-A.  Back in 1964 my Dad created that logo.  After that bowl game a team of people came in and in less than 24 hours transformed that arena into a gathering called Passion 2013.  I got to proclaim Jesus to 64,000 college age young people and the whole time I was preaching my dad's logo was under my feet.  I knew that God knew that in the valley of the shadow of death something was going to bloom that was going to blow up a lot of stuff for the glory of God.  When everything looks like it's off the rails, embrace the darkness because God is preparing to use you for His glory.

When we take a step sometimes we're stepping through the darkness but we remember we serve a big God and there will be a day when we thank God for bringing us through that valley.

In 2008 one night at 2 am I was having convulsions and my face and arm went numb.  I had a blood pressure of 180/160.  Some antidepressants and five months of being out of commission later.,,  After some anxiety attacks God pulled me up out of the pit from the weakest place I've ever been in and gave me a song in the night until I could join the daylight.

I learned as a new pastor who only had a flock of 20 people that if I didn't know it was God and not me I wasn't going to make it.  God wanted me to know-- you CAN but you CAN'T.   There are no saviors attending this summit.  It is God within who empowers us.  

We are heading into shutting down our church for two Sundays for a sabbath rest to affirm that what we do depends on God and no one else.

Five days after speaking at the dome for the bowl game I was on TV because I was called a hater of people.  I built my whole life on serving people and all of a sudden I was called a hater of people.  I had agreed to pray for the president's inauguration.  I knew some people wouldn't like me but all of a sudden my life was filled with reporters.  I wanted to quit that day.  I wanted to disappear.   My wife and I hid in our bedroom.  I'd never been through something like that before.

What we learned is it's a luxury to do some things but it's a necessity to make Jesus and His glory famous.  So we just backed out of the fray and ended up having that galvanize our calling.  We went on to take the next step to make Jesus known.

When you take a step you're tested and refined.  The next thing that happens is you learn God is able.  Then you learn humility and that God is enough.

"When I am weak, I am strong" -- when you go through the valley you learn that God is enough.  His grace is sufficient.

I don't know what your step is today but God's grace is enough for you.

It might be an ordinary step.  It might be a bold step.  But God will give you the grace to take the step He is calling you take.

This makes us hungry for the very LAST step when we fall into the arms of Jesus.  Falling into the arms of Jesus is our goal.

In Wimper's party they all made it to the summit but four died on the way down.  Our goal is to take the next step and the next until we get to that last step and fall into the arms of Jesus.  THEN we will have what we loved the most.
That's the extraction point for us.

A leader can't have a plan B.  A leader has to make it to the finish line.  You have to be committed to going all the way into the arms of Jesus.   Jesus said come and extract me from the tomb.  No plan B.  One extraction point.  In that moment Jesus became alive and gave life to everyone who trusts in Him.

The plan for us is not to cash out because we have fear or might fail.  We are not going to cash out because of hardship.  We are going to keep taking steps in the grace of Jesus Christ and nothing else matters.

It's not hype.  It's called resurrection.  Jesus said, "Do you want to join me?  It's not going to be easy and you CAN'T do it....oh but you CAN do it."  When you fall into His arms no price will be too high and no sacrifice too much and you will say, "I'm so glad I didn't quit.  I'm so glad I kept going up my mountain."

Don't quit.  Don't stop walking in the confidence that Christ is enough to fulfill everything He has called you to do.

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit -- Tyler Perry

(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in an effort to improve my leadership as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.  Learn more about OCC at )

When Leadership Meets Inspiration :  Interview with Tyler Perry

Bill:  I am so grateful you agreed to come and spend time with us.  I had the opportunity to spend time at Tyler Perry's studio in Atlanta.  It's like a city.  The other thing that becomes apparent is this guy is a creative machine.  He puts out more shows than almost any other human being.  You have the creative side and then the business side.  Which skill set comes more naturally to you.

Tyler:  I think they're twins in the same space in my head.  I had a lot of trauma growing up and that helped me create these amazing worlds.  When the Bible says "All things work together for good," this is what I mean.  I also watched my father build houses for years.  He would be so happy when he came home on Friday and he had made $700 or $800.  Then I'd watch the man who owned the house sell it for $100,000.  I wanted to be the man who sold the house not the man who built the house.

Bill:  Where do you go to write and still run your organization?  How do you do this?

Tyler:  I try to keep the two separate.  I try to give the artist  enough space to create.  I will dedicate 3-4 months to write while being in the office only 2 days per week.

Bill:  If a very talented artist says I can't stick to a schedule or a budget because of my creativity, what would you say?

Tyler:  I'd say, "It's nice to meet you.  Good luck with your struggles."  If you're a great artist you still need to respect other people's time.   If you go back to the root of who you were before you became a superstar you'll get over that.

Bill:  How do you foster creativity?

Tyler:  For me it's important to clear the noise.  The same thing is true for my prayer life.  I try not to just write a story but to leave people with a message.

Bill:  You have a large campus that looks like a city.  You have an employee who was so motivated and when I asked him how long he'd worked for you he said,"Six years and I hope I can work for him for the rest of my life."  How do you inspire that?

Tyler:  I was always the underdog so when I created this world in Atlanta I wanted to make it welcoming to everyone.  Sometimes I will pass over the most qualified and hire the person with the best attitude.

Bill:  I could feel that with your staff.   You really were not set up to succeed in life.  Your dad beat you, then your mom would take you to church.

Tyler:  I was born into this family.  My father was a functional alcoholic who married my mother when he was 21 and she was 16.  They had grown up with so much fear.  My father despised me because I was an artist.  My father would drink and start to fight with my mother and I would get beat while trying to protect her.  But every Sunday she would take me to church and be so lifted up and I said, "I want to know this God who makes my mother so happy."  She died in 2009 and that was very difficult but I know God doesn't make any mistake.  Without her I don't know where I'd be.  What she gave me has sustained me through everything and that's my faith in God.

Bill:  One of the best things I ever read about forgiveness came from Tyler Perry.  You said, "It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get through abuse but it takes just as much energy to forgive."

Tyler:  You can't just hit a switch and it goes away.  You give up the hope of change until you work through forgiveness.  The person who hurt you still has power over you until you forgive them.

Bill:  One of the characters that you created is Madea--this crusty, sassy wisdom figure.

Tyler:  Madea is based on my aunt.

Bill:  You created her and use her very adroitly to get messages across that most people don't see coming at them.

Tyler:  I wanted to do a play with a message like forgiveness and love.  One day I was on stage as Madea and things got really quiet as the audience was listening.  Very difficult subject matter can be put into a comedy.

Bill:  When I was preparing for this I watched all the Madea movies.  Then you also do another genre as well -- one called "Good Deeds" that talks about faithfulness in marriage and the socioeconomic divide.   In that film you're the owner of a large company and you interact with a lower-level employee.

Tyler:  Having lived in both social classes, I wanted to show the differences and not to judge someone who's going through hard times.

Bill:  Even as we're meeting there's a new round of racial tension in our country.  What's your take on that.  How do we find our way ahead.

Tyler:  It's not going to happen overnight.  Every generation gets a little better.  When I grew up and started to realize that people are just people I saw we're more alike than different.  We need to see we all have the same struggles and issues.  My hope is that this next generation will be different.  It is much better than it was.

Bill:  Another thing that might be tough to talk about is how many critics you have.  I think you have more than I do.  How do you deal with your critics?  Does it still sting?

Tyler:  I was so frustrated.  I asked staff not to put any critics in the front row.  At one show two critics gave opposite reviews of the same show so I realized it's a matter of personal opinion.  I'd rather focus on the 12 million people on Facebook who focus on the positive.  The Bible says "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" so I'll just let my enemies watch me eat.

Bill:  Let's talk about charities you support.  What drives your philanthropy?

Tyler:  I'm my mother's son.  She had a heart for giving and I believe to whom much is given much is required.  At first I had so much guilt about making money that I gave it all away.  Then I got over that and became more intentional about giving.

Bill:  As we start to wrap things up can we talk about church. We had a very interesting talk about this in your office.  You are a devoted follower of Christ but you have a tough time participating regularly in a local church.

Tyler:  Because of the level of money you make there's a level of expectation of giving and that's a complete turn-off to me.  I don't want to put myself in a position where I have to defend or push away so sometimes it's easier to stay home and watch online.  I wish as celebrities we could just go lie on the altar and there be no judgment.  I once took a famous person to church and she started to cry in church and it was reported she had a nervous breakdown.  But I'm not giving up on it.

Bill:  I would just say to pastors, ask your congregation to leave celebrities in peace.   One last question--because you are a Christian and have this incredibly powerful medium--30 years from now what kind of legacy do you hope to have left at the end of your career.

Tyler:  My aunt said people may forget what you said to them but they won't forget how you made them feel.  I hope 20 years from now someone will see one of my movies and be uplifted and feel good.

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit -- Ivan Satyavrata

(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in an effort to improve my leadership as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.  Learn more about OCC at )  Ready to hear Ivan Satyavrata speak on

The Power Paradox

I want to thank you for your humble willingness to listen to voices from the majority world.  There is no institute on our planet as vitally connected as the church.  70% of India's 1.3 billion population is under the age of 35.

Can anything good come out of Calcutta?  Very little good is said about Calcutta in history.  Calcutta is an exciting place to live in.  Its people are beautiful.  Some visitors find the sights and sounds of people living on the street oppressive.  Others to their surprise soon fall in love with the city.

Some visitors ask, "How do you live with the burden of the need around you?"  Calcutta has 80 million people and 1/3rd of the world's poor.  To date just 1 in 1,000 call Jesus lord.

How do you keep from feeling overwhelmed with the feeling of powerlessness?

Power is neutral--neither good nor bad--it is simply the potential to move reality and make something happen.  Leaders manage power.  It's what they use to make things happen.  There is no such thing as leadership without power.

How should leaders manage the power that comes with it?

Paradox--a concept or reality that combines seemingly contradictory features
John 13:1-5 -- (washing of the disciples' feet) -- the power paradox is vividly on display here.  Jesus knows He has come from God and is returning to God but He assumes the role of a powerless slave.

A leader must be able to wield power, real power, in order to lead effectively.  She must, however, be willing to be made powerless.

The knowledge of God in Christ is the ultimate power.  How do I share the knowledge of truth without imposing power?  The power paradox causes us to uphold truth passionately while allowing others to dissent.

Knowledge power can fill us with intoxicating pride that gives us a high, blinds us to reality, and makes us a slave.  Jesus knew He had all things under His feet but He holds a scepter in one hand and a towel and basin in the other.

How am I stewarding my knowledge power?  When you go home tonight and look into your heart, ask yourself, "Am I holding the towel and basin as tightly as I hold the scepter of power?"

A leader's power lies in her ability to influence people.  Great leaders ask, "How can I use my power to make change today?"  Jesus refused to use power to manipulate people--even Judas.

II Samuel 23-- David was longing for water and two of his soldiers brought it to him.  He refused to drink it and poured it out as an offering to the Lord.  That's what made David such a great leader.  Great leaders refuse to use intimidation for control.   Every leader has people power.  How are you using it?  The greatest gift you can give to your followers is to create a safe place from which followers can rise to greater heights of achievement.

Kingdom Power -- How does Jesus respond to evil?  He confronts the forces of injustice but he lets evil infiltrate his band through Judas and instructs His followers to endure evil.  How do we apply this to all the injustice on our planet?

God's people pray "Thy Kingdom come,"  So what do we do?  We act.  We use the Kingdom power at our disposal to invade the darkness.  We dare not do otherwise.  On the other hand, we are patient and resolute in the face of the mystery of evil--when the godly prosper and the faithful suffer and prayers seem to go unanswered.

Those who work in God's name among the needy must embrace the power paradox to have a calm, sustaining grace.  I do not have to be a Christian "terminator" who singlehandedly wipes out evil.  I may feel powerless but then comes a moment of truth--an exploding realization--"therefore I will boast more gladly of my weakness; for when I am weak then I am strong."

The true secret of any great leader's power is this:  when you feel the weakest; that is when you are the STRONGEST.

The other part of this paradox is that the power we possess resides in jars of clay.  Leaders who finish well and leave a living legacy are those who remember their power comes from God and is to build up not to destroy.

Are you using your power to serve the poor and fight against evil?  Leaders who embrace the power paradox are a unique breed--having nothing yet possessing everything.  Weak champions.  Dependent conquerors.  Meek inheritors of the earth.

I ask all those within the sound of my voice to ask God to make us all just such leaders.