Mission Trip 2014: Atlanta, GA

Mission Trip Team

I spent the past week in Atlanta, GA (East Atlanta, to be precise) with this amazing group of students and leaders. To be completely honest, I had some doubts about going on the trip. I wasn’t sure what we were going to be doing, and I just wasn’t sure I was using my vacation time wisely. After all, aren’t vacations supposed to be a time to get away and relax? Even with the doubts, I knew this was where God wanted me. And, it didn’t take long for me to realize I had made the right decision. My first thought for this post was to recap everything we did each day. However, the more I reflected on the week, the more I realized the details aren’t really the story. So, instead I’m going to give you a quick recap of the week, then share some personal thoughts, lessons and reflections.

I didn’t learn what we would be doing until the day we left. Even then, there was still some confusion and questions, but I knew God had a purpose for this trip. I just needed to wait and see it unfold. Upon our arrival we met with Pastor Jean Ward, the church planter and pastor of the church we would be serving – East Atlanta Church. After hearing what he had in mind for the week, I had more clarity on our mission and was ready to get started. We spent the first 2 days helping Pastor Jean film a video promoting the core values (love, peace, integrity, discipleship, community and faithfulness) of East Atlanta Church. During that time we were able to interact with people in the community, and our students stepped up in grand fashion. The last 2 days were spent working in a middle school in the community and involved much physical labor. Following the first day of working in the school, some of the team didn’t really understand why we were doing the work. It just didn’t seem much like missions work. That night during our devotion time, our middle school pastor (Nathan) shared his thoughts on this. He told the group that while we may not see the results, others do. In fact, several teachers in the school stopped him and thanked him for what we did. Our work, he explained, is helping Pastor Jean build relationships in the community. The following morning, before we began our second day of work in the school, Nathan shared Scripture from 1 Corinthians 3:6…

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth

Pastor Jean had planted by plugging into the community and partnering with our church. We were watering by coming alongside him and East Atlanta Church to do the work. In the end, God will grow what was planted and watered. What great motivation and perspective to begin the work day! Following that day of hard work, I think everyone felt better about what we had done.

For more detailed information on the work we did, please visit http://www.clearview.org/news/atlanta-mission-team-update

As I end this week of Kingdom work,  I wanted to share some personal thought, lessons and reflections. I kept a journal throughout the week, and wrote these words on the bus ride home.

It was a great week! The team accomplished what Pastor Jean wanted, and we bonded. The students all worked well together, and I feel that everyone grew closer. Relationships were developed this week. I see most of these kids week after week at church, but I really didn’t know some of them that well. After this week, that is no longer the case. I am thankful for the relationships I built with the students this week. They are great kids, and I am honored to serve them and serve with them. Since I plan to continue serving in the middle school ministry, I especially appreciate the bonds I made with the rising 8th graders. I can’t wait to see how God is going to use them. I was reminded this week of why I serve my church, specifically in the student ministry. I absolutely love those kids!!

There are 3 important lessons I learned from the week.

1. It isn’t about me, my comfort or my plans.

  • As I said at the beginning of the post, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing by using my vacation time for this. God taught me that it isn’t about me. The purpose of the trip was Him – it always had been. Regardless of what we would be doing, the goal was to point to Him and give Him the glory.

2. You may not always see the results of Kingdom work (1 Corinthians 3:6), but God does! Keep working!

  • Although we didn’t directly see the results of what we did, God has a plan for it and will see the results. I needed to learn this lesson, because there are other areas where I can use this. Sometimes I question why I serve in certain areas at church, but the lesson learned this week puts it into perspective. I may not see the results, but He does.

3. We are developing leaders. 

  • Today’s middle and high school students are tomorrow’s leaders. We, as leaders in the student ministry, are developing the next generation of leaders. It hit me as I watched these kids work. A couple of them in particular stood out. Every time the team was given an assignment, I saw these couple of students step up and quickly get to work. They were genuinely excited about accomplishing the task set before them, and they were motivators to those around them. I saw tomorrow’s leaders developing before my eyes.

Reflecting now on the week, I can honestly say I can’t believe I had any doubts. I was blessed this week by the work that was done and by the students and leaders I served with. I’m thankful for new friendships and closer relationships. God taught me some valuable lessons and gave me some clarity on why I serve. Mission trips should be memorable, and this one certainly was for me. Thank you to each student and leader who served on this trip, and thank you to all who prayed for us. We watered what was planted, and I can’t wait to see what God will grow!

Sold Out

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “selling out” as betraying ones cause or associates especially for personal gain. Most people would probably agree with that. When we think of someone selling out, it usually isn’t a good thing. But, I’m looking at it differently. I want to sell out in a positive way. Allow me to explain.

I recently had a conversation with someone who is sold out. He is on fire for the Gospel, and is a sold out follower of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Simply that he no longer lives for himself – everything he does is to advance the Gospel. He has flipped selling our around and redefined it. Instead of betraying a cause for personal gain, he is betraying personal gain for a cause. That is how I want to be – sold out for Jesus!

Listen to this song, then continue reading.

Break me, shake me, mold me, I’d rather die like Christ than live unholy

I love this song, and it speaks to exactly what I described above. The Bible calls us to be holy, just as Christ is holy. Of course we’ll never live up to His standard, but the goal should be to daily become more like Him. That’s what I want. I fail – daily (sometimes hourly) – but, I’m growing in His grace and mercy. Every day, I’m selling out a little more.

I’ve been a Christ follower for a long time, but I’m far from good. I’ve had conversations recently with a couple of guys about forgiveness, and that is an area of struggle for me. I know I need to overcome that area before I can be completely sold out. A discussion with someone this morning helped me look at forgiveness in a new way. There may be a post on that subject coming soon. Until then, I press on, just at the apostle Paul, toward the goal that calls me heavenward. My goal – to know Him more and make Him known…to be completely sold out for Jesus Christ!

What is a Holiday?

I had to go out yesterday evening and do some shopping for some items I needed. I wasn’t thinking about it being Good Friday, which should not have made a difference. However, I was surprised at how many people were out shopping. It looked more like Christmas than Easter. After walking through the store and feeling disgusted by what I was seeing, I left without purchasing anything. Allow me to explain.

You see, I grew up in a time when most retail stores were closed on most holidays. In fact, many stores were closed EVERY Sunday. I fully expect crowded stores near Christmas, but I wasn’t expecting what I saw yesterday. The crowds and traffic everywhere I looked were ridiculous. Plus, once inside the one store I attempted, it was unsettling to see throngs of people frantically shopping for Easter candy and toys. By the way, as a side note, when did Easter become a time for giving kids a bunch of toys they don’t need? When I was a kid we got candy (usually chocolate bunnies and jelly beans), but no toys. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. Back to the crazed shoppers. The store I visited had 3 aisles of Easter items, and I would guess about 100 people were crammed into those aisles. I saw one woman start down an aisle, stop and say “Oh wow!”, then shake her head and walk away.

This spectacle raised a question in my mind. What is a holiday? According to dictionary.com, a holiday is:

a day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or in honor of some person.

Read that carefully. “Ordinary business is suspended”. Hmmm…that can’t be right. It seems to me that holiday in the United States has been re-defined. Holiday in this country now seems to be a reason for retail stores to stay open extended hours and have a sale. Americans use holidays as an excuse to go out and feed their ever-growing greedy appetite for more stuff. What ever happened to closing up shop, spending time with family and friends, and celebrating the true meaning of the holiday? Take Easter, for example. It isn’t about shopping for more junk we don’t need. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, it is fun for kids to hunt for eggs and eat chocolate bunnies, but let us not fall victim to retailers during this time. Easter would exist even if we closed ALL of the retail establishments and take away the candy and eggs.

It is time for America to wake up and realize that life is about more than collecting crap we don’t need! We need to get back to celebrating the TRUE meaning of holidays and not using them as an excuse to shop.

But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.

Matthew 6:20 (HCSB)

Time is Short: What Are You Doing?

We are just over halfway through January and I have already known of 8 people who have passed away this year. Of those, I personally knew 3 of them. Each of these deaths have affected me or someone I know. The purpose of this post isn’t to talk about these deaths or the grief that each family is feeling. I certainly don’t want to discount that. Believe me, I know what it means to lose someone very close to me. Instead, I want to focus on the thoughts that have been floating around in my head in the wake of these events.

There is nothing like death to make you take a step back and examine your own life. This is especially true when someone close to you passes away, or they die at a rather young age. One thing that has been on my mind after the recent deaths of family and friends is this:

Time is short.

Really, when you think about it our time here on this earth is very short. Even if one lives to be 100, that 100 years in comparison to eternity is short. No one knows who long he/she has. That isn’t for us to decide. No doubt everyone wants to live as long as they can. We want as much time as possible with those we love and care about. I don’t know of a single person who longs for death to overtake them. Rather, they plan for the future with the expectation that they will be around for a while. The reality, however, is that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. That leads me to a question.

What are you doing?

I guess I should really say, “What am I doing?”. Hearing of others passing away has made me stop and wonder what I am doing with what God has given me. Am I investing in His kingdom, or am I living for myself? Do I love others the way Christ loved, or do I select those I want to love? Am I serving Him or man? God has given us a short time, so what are we doing with that time?

I’ve been thinking about my life in recent weeks. I’m no different from most who will read this. I want to live as long as I can to be with those I love. I’ll say that I know my future in Him is secure, so death doesn’t scare me. When He calls me home, I’ll be ready to go. But, I hope that isn’t soon. So, while I’m here and have breath, I need to be about Kingdom work. How can I serve Christ and others every day? Am I doing His work?

In the age of social media when someone dies there are many posts about them on various social networks. Some speak of how good that person was. Others tell how deeply saddened they are by the death. Still others post remembrances of good times. While reading these I can’t help but wonder what people would say about me. I would hope people would say I was a good guy who loved and cared for his kids. But, more than anything I want to be remembered in this way.

He was a man of faith who served his savior Jesus Christ daily!

I hope we all have lots more time to be with our loved ones. Remember, however, there is no guarantee of tomorrow and time is short. What are you doing?

New Year – Blank Pages

Blank Page

Happy New Year!!

Today is January 1, 2014. It is the beginning of another year. For many that means resolutions…promises to make changes, usually. For most, those resolutions will soon be broken and forgotten. I don’t make any new year’s resolutions. I know I, like most, would fail to see them through. So instead, I look at the new year as a tablet of blank pages…a clean slate, if you will.

The beginning of a new year, to me, is a new beginning. Time to say goodbye to the past year…the heartache…the strife…the grief…the ______ (fill in the blank). I’ll confess 2013 wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. But, I won’t dwell on the past. I choose to look ahead to 2014 with optimism. The year lies before me (each of us) as blank pages. How will we fill those pages? Will they be filled with fear, anger, disappointment, depression? Or, will we choose to fill them with friends, happiness, fun, love, good times? I don’t know…yet. The year ahead is being written. Each of us has a blank page waiting to be filled with the story of our lives in 2014. It is another chapter in the book called Your Life.

As I said, I don’t make resolutions. I do try to set some goals for myself, and I’ve done that. Many are very personal, and I’m not ready to share those here in a public format. Maybe at some point, but not yet. I do, however, plan to share much via this blog. I wasn’t very motivated to write extensively in 2013, but I hope to change that in 2014. This is my outlet to share some of what I will write on my blank pages this year.

So here  we are. A new year and a book of blank pages lies before each of us. I invite you to begin writing this chapter of your life. I’ll share some of mine, and I hope you will comment and share some of yours. Let’s welcome 2014 with open arms and open minds and see where it takes us. I wish you blessings, peace, love and happiness and look forward to seeing the writing that will fill the blank pages.

Making Time

 

time

Ever notice how people tend to say they never have enough time? Time is a valuable commodity. There are 24 hours in a day, yet we don’t seem to have enough time to do everything life demands.

Work…kids…social life…dating…etc.

What occupies your time?

I find it is often difficult to achieve a good balance of how much time I need to devote to everything that demands my time. I spend many hours running my kids to and from events, appointments, practices each week, then I don’t have the time to go to dinner with friends. Or, I make the time to go on a date and don’t get something else done. I go to lunch with a buddy and work piles up. Some days I find myself asking where the time went and wonder how I’ll get caught up on everything that wasn’t done.

Sometimes I just have to take a step back and look at the many demands on my schedule. I have to ask, “What is important?”. I’ve realized something…

If something (or someone) is important to you, then you MUST make time for that thing (or person). 

Let me explain. We spend so much time on activities or people who aren’t really important to us. Think about how much time you devote to pleasing people at work while you are neglecting your family. Or, maybe you devote time to a friend when your significant other needs that time and attention. We all do this…and each of us could list several things here. The point is this. We spend more time on things that aren’t important than we do on the most important things in life.

I’m not saying we should neglect work or friends or hobbies, but if there are more important things and people in our lives then the less important things should naturally receive less time. It’s all about what we choose to make time for. If it is important to us, we MUST make time for it.

If your kids are important…MAKE TIME FOR THEM!

If your faith is important…MAKE TIME TO SPEND WITH GOD!

If your significant other is important…MAKE TIME FOR THEM!

The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. We’re all busy, but that’s just an excuse. Stop making time for things that don’t matter, and begin making time for those that do. The decisions you make with your time could change your life…and the lives of those that matter to you.

Turning to God

 

Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28,

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Today in church we sang a song titled Come to Me

Come to me, I’m all you need. Come to me, I’m your everything. 

Christ followers know this. I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church where we read the King James Bible and sang from hymnals. I remember reading that Bible verse with the words “Come unto me“. We sang the old hymn by the same name. “Come unto me, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, hear me and be blessed”. (OK, how many of you have that one stuck in your head now?) My point is that this is common knowledge for Christians. We are to cast our burdens before the Lord. He invites us to lay the load at His feet and find rest. Yet we don’t. Why???

While thinking of this post I realized a couple of things. First it has been over 3 months since my last post. Second, I have not be heeding the advice of Christ. I think a big reason for the lack of content on this blog is due to the fact that I have struggled with some things and not have not laid them before the throne. Instead of running to Him, I’ve been pushing Him away and going at it on my own. (Just as a side note, I don’t recommend taking that path.)

The sermon this morning in church further reminded me of my need to run to God. One point in particular stuck out for me…so much so that I took a screen shot of it and posted it on social media.

Intention of God

 

I love this and so needed to hear it. God’s intention is that every detail in my life should push me back toward Him. Again, I know this, but knowing and doing are totally different things. The message and songs today hit me like a ton of bricks. Why am I getting nowhere in dealing with my struggles and issues? Because I’m dealing with them and not turning to God.

Sometimes it takes something like the right message or song at the right time to make you stop and think about things. I’m so thankful for God sending me the message I needed to hear, and I’m thankful for a church that delivers His Word week after week. I know what I need to do and will heed the words of today’s message and the words of Christ. Come to Me

The Power of a Simple Note

Note2

Have you ever received something that completely caught you off guard and made your day? That’s what happened to me this week when I received this simple thank you note. It truly is very simplistic in nature…just a thank you for serving, but it really means a lot to me. People rarely take the time anymore to sit down and write out a note. In our digital age it is so much easier to just type out a quick email or text. For someone to take the time to actually write a note and mail it, well that’s something entirely different. To me it shows a level of personalization you just can’t get with an electronic message. It also arrived at a perfect time this week. I had some things going on in my life, and receiving this simple handwritten note helped me put things into perspective and brought a much-needed smile to my face.

With that I’ll say “thank you” to the author of this note. You know who you are, and I appreciate your kind words. I’ve thought for some time about the reasons I serve in different capacities at my church, and this simple note helped me see some of those reasons. I’ll share more about that in an upcoming post.

This note has challenged me to take the time to do the same for others. Who do I know that could use the encouraging power of a simple note? Perhaps it might be you. :)

God Uses Broken Things

 

We throw away broken things, but God don’t. God uses broken things.

The above film is my absolute favorite thus far featured on I Am Second. I first saw it a few weeks ago and shared it via Twitter and Facebook. Since then I have watched it many times and was inspired to write about it. David Ring’s testimony is extraordinary, and he is such an inspiration to others. Many of you know I have the privilege of working around many people with disabilities, and that has changed my whole perspective on those folks. Hearing Mr. Ring speak of others making fun of him hits home, and it hurts knowing how cruel some people can be. Ring is living proof that God does indeed use broken things.

There are so many things he says in the film that I could mention here. I’ll focus on a couple of my favorites. One is this:

I’m not OK, but that’s OK. God loves me just the way I am.

What a powerful statement! I think too many of us spend time trying to be something we are not. We try to be better, smarter, different. We’re not OK, so we try to mask that by being something we think others want us to be. The truth, however, is that we need to understand exactly what Ring said. We’re not OK, but that’s fine. God knows that, and He loves us as we are…in spite of our flaws, disabilities, sins, failures. It has taken a long, long time for me to realize that. I, like many, have felt at times that God doesn’t love me. How could He? But, He does…unconditionally!

Another line from Ring that I love is,

God saw a dead baby, and God brought that dead baby to life.

You can look at this statement a couple of different ways. The obvious is how Ring meant it. He was dead for several minutes when he was born, and God brought him back to life because He had a purpose for his life. I think there is another application here. Think about salvation. God takes a sinner…someone spiritually dead…and gives them life through Jesus Christ. He sees a dead baby and brings it back to life. Let that sink in! Without the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, we are dead (the wages of sin is death). But His gift to us is life! Praise God!

Finally, David Ring ends by saying this…twice:

Everybody wants to be loved

There is no human being on the face of the planet who could argue with this statement. We all want to be loved. We long for the love of others. But, too often I think we feel the opposite. There is so much hate and violence in the world in which we live. Racism, sexism, discrimination…you name it. But, there is good news! While we may not feel the love from others, there is One who loves like no other.

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Everybody wants to be loved, and God loves everybody! His Word tells us so. When we understand that, and realize God wants us as we are…scarred, battered, broken...we will feel that love. Will it always be easy? No, but He has promised to be with us to the end of the age. When all else fails, God’s love never will.

Have you experienced His love? If not, what are you waiting for? He offers it freely to all who will accept it. Will you accept it and allow Him to use you for something greater? Remember…

We throw away broken things, but God don’t. God uses broken things.

One Year Later

note

February 7, 2012 – Two major events occurred in my life.

  1. I turned 40 years old
  2. I sat in a courtroom finalizing a divorce I didn’t ask for or want

Here we are one year later. This past Thursday marked my 41st birthday and the one year anniversary of the divorce. As I reflected on the events of the past year I began asking myself some questions about my life now compared to then. I wanted to share just a few thoughts with my readers about this.

When Thursday rolled around this year my first thoughts weren’t of my birthday. My mind went back in time to the previous year. I can vividly remember sitting before the judge and signing the documents. As I said, I didn’t ask for it and it wasn’t what I wanted. But, as I look back on the year since that day, I can tell you now with great confidence that it turned out to be a good thing. Knowing things I know now, I can see it was for the best. I won’t sir here and say I’m glad it happened, but I will say I am a better person because of it. God has opened my eyes to so much over the past year, and I’m so thankful for that.

I can’t go back and change the past…wouldn’t want to. I’m learning daily to live without regrets. What’s done is done. Now, look forward to a hopeful future. That has become a mantra for me to live by. I view each day as a gift from God. Some days are better than others, but God has put some amazing people in my life over the past year to help me through the rough days. Thursday I realized how important so many of those people are to me. I have family and friends who have been beside me every step of the way. (You know who you are.) With these people loving me and walking with me, I’ve been able to really let go of some old hurts and emotions that were doing nothing but bringing me down. Thank God for these people!

This time last year I was looking for ways to heal the hurt. Now I no longer do that. God has healed the hurt. He has led me to a better place in my life. My relationship with my kids is better than ever! We have really bonded over the past year, and for that I am truly thankful. I’m also closer to my sister as a result of all I’ve been through. And, God continues to put friends in my life at just the right times to keep me focused on the important stuff and not dwell on the past. I am so very blessed!

The biggest question that came to mind this week was this:

Am I happier now than I was last year?

The answer to that is…yes! Do I still feel some hurt and disappointment from the divorce? Absolutely! I would be lying if I said no. But, overall I am a much happier person. As I said, God has opened my eyes to so much. Knowing the things I now know…well, let me just say I can’t help but be happier. Every day I can see how He is shaping my life. I can look back over the trials of the past year and see when He carried me through. When I vividly remember very dark, difficult days, I can remember with equal clarity the peace He gave. God has led to me to a better, happier place in life. I have no doubt that I am exactly where He wants me to be.

To those who read this and know you are one I mentioned above…THANK YOU!! Each one of you has touched my life in a very special way. Some of you may not even realize it. You may have prayed for me, sat across from me & listened, or just did something as simple as speaking a kind word. My friends and family are great, and I love you all!!