Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Faithful Man

1996 was a critical juncture for me.  I found myself torn between my pursuit of a career in Physical Therapy and a growing passion for investing in Jr. High and High School students.  Until that point, I thought my life would be include both.  I had many great people who invested in me during my teenage years who loved students and also worked in the real world.  They probably didn't realize how closely I was watching and taking notes for who I wanted to be.  They set a great example, and I was following that example post- high school.  

After working that plan for 18 months or so, I found myself with a greater role in the student ministry at my home church after our Youth Pastor left. As time went on I felt like this was becoming something more than a way to spend my free time.  I was pretty sure it was turning into a calling.  As soon as I allowed that possibility to become my reality, everything changed. 

I moved from the church I spent the last 8 years at to a new church plant where my dad had been playing the piano.  It was a place where I was welcomed and invited to be a part of both working with students and helping out with music. At the same time I was moving to be a part of this church, a new Worship Pastor had come.  I didn't know then that this man would be my father-in-law within two years.  What I did know was that this man had been a Youth & Music Pastor for 21 years at the same church, and he had now followed God's call to build the Kingdom in a new place.  He immediately welcomed me, a mediocre guitar player into his band.  He also invited me to choir practice, and the first time I went mutual friends set Holly and I up for what became our first date. 

The next several months were defining in my life.  Not only did Holly and I begin our relationship, but I was transitioning from something I had been planning to do for years into something unknown.  After volunteering with the students at the new church and working with some great Youth Pastors, I felt like this was something I wanted to give my life to.  I remember applying for a summer intern job for for a church in the Woodlands, and they asked my questions about my philosophy of ministry.  I asked Rick what my philosophy of ministry is.  His said "2 Timothy 2:2." I had no idea what that verse said, so I looked it up...

and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV)

I didn't have any better ideas, so I put it down.  

This week, one of those faithful men that my father-in-law poured himself into was tragically killed at 41 years old.  From the first time I started hanging out with Holly's family, I would always hear them talk about BJ.  He was part of the family.  As I've read testimonies of those who were close to BJ, I see the fruit of 2 Timothy 2:2 at work. 

My father-in-law Rick is one of a kind.  He has a gift for taking the mediocre things of this world (like me) and making them feel meaningful. I've never met a more patient person.  I've never met another person willing to risk more to make one person feel accepted.  I'm a closet perfectionist, and I would always struggle with how Rick would pull together musicals, worship services, or projects.  I would always feel like they weren't ready, but he'd go for it anyway.  It never bothered him, because for him it's always more about the people than the product.  And, to my great surprise, every single time, the product was good...really good. 

I didn't know BJ well, so I can't speak with any authority about him, but I do know that because Rick made room for him, he came to be a faithful follower of Jesus.  Not only that, he became a minister of the Gospel who continued to pour himself into others who needed someone to make room for them.  I saw the words his son spoke about the power of forgiveness, and all I can think about is 2 Tim 2:2.  

I grieve the loss of such a close friend and minister of so many of our friends and family.  However, I can't stop thinking about what it would've been like if the Crestmont folks hadn't made room for BJ.  What if Rick and many others hadn't invested Gospel into BJ?  The memorial service today would have a completely different feel.  By the grace of God and faithfulness of His people, today's celebration will be focused on the fact that BJ is with His heavenly father.

I am praying for BJ's family, and for my family and friends in this.  I am also reminded that this Gospel of the Kingdom saves souls, changes lives and reproduces faithful men.  I'm grateful that somewhere along the way faithful men poured into Rick and Rick poured (and is still pouring) into the next generation and that generation is pouring into the next. May we all be reminded of our opportunity to make room, love, teach, and entrust.  Faithful men (and women) will be the result.  

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

My Mission Trip

Holly and I have been involved in the USA office of Links International for about 5 years.  In the last year, we have taken a bigger role in the organization to expand the work of the USA office.  Links UK has been around for over 30 years and has a long history of sustainable mission work that has occurred in partnerships with people in over 60 countries.  Links makes serving the poor and making a difference in the world an attainable goal.

Last December I took my first trip to Africa, and there are no words to describe my time there.  One of the things I had an opportunity to do was to train and encourage church and community leaders.  The time spent with those leaders resulted in an invitation to Zimbabwe where I have been asked to come and see how Links can partner in that region to address needs of business/community development.  I have also been asked to take part in a conference that will develop leaders who are currently leading businesses in the region. Starting businesses is one of the most effective ways for families to escape poverty.  All over the world, principles that Links teaches have rescued people from extreme poverty.  The opportunity to invest in a new region is very exciting.

On the way to Zimbabwe, I will spend some time in the UK office where I will take part in a Day for business leaders in the UK.  We love to partner with business people to connect them with people on the ground who can affect the changes they would like to see in the world.  I will be working alongside team members in the UK to serve business leaders.   I will also spend some time with church leaders and the Links staff and board to strengthen the relationship between the UK and the USA office.

As Links USA is young and developing, we don't have deep reserves of cash sitting around waiting to be spent.  I would like to ask you to consider investing into this trip and to be a part of walking families out of poverty and into provision.  The airfare alone for this trip is just under $3,000, and there will be another $500-$1,000 of travel expenses.  Would you consider partnering with me to be a part of changing the lives of some of the people of Zimbabwe?  Would you be a part of helping businesses engage with missions?  More than anything, would you join me in praying that we would have what we need to continue to be available to those who invite us to help?

Please let me know if you have any questions about this trip or anything else that Links does to change lives and transform communities.

If you would like to donate, please visit this link...

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Monday, June 03, 2013

Parental Vision

Recently I spent some quality time studying the book of Proverbs, and it is amazing how something you have read dozens of times can still speak to you as if you've never seen or heard it before.  One particular passage, that is very familiar, took on a new angle for me. 

"Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint..." -  Proverbs 29:18 ESV

Back before my ESV days, I remember the NIV text saying that where there was no vision the people perished.  Those are some pretty serious consequences for a lack of vision.  As a result, I've often used this verse as fuel to rally whatever organization I'm working with to embrace a big vision.  The newness of this verse, however, has to do with the context.  This chapter in Proverbs is a lot about parenting and raising children, and this vision verse is right in the middle of it.  It began to sink in that this is a verse about raising kids. 

Kids are a big part of our life.  We have three of our own, and we spend a great deal of time mentoring or leading after school programs that our church is a part of to reach out to at-risk kids in our community.  Adopting our girls took us to a world where there was pretty much nothing but the casting off of restraint.  Surviving trumps everything where there was no vision. We see it in the kids in our community who are struggling to survive as well.  There doesn't seem to be  room for dreams or vision when reality is overpowering. 

Even in kids who don't have a lot to overcome, I wonder if the daily grind of school, homework, self-centered extra-curricular activities, repeat is robbing them of the vision they need to not cast of restraint.  Do they have an identify of their own in what they are going with most of their time?

Out of this verse, I was convicted that I'm not imparting enough vision into my own kids' lives.  I'm so focused on day-to-day functionality and obedience that I don't spend enough time prophesying and dreaming with my kids.  When they are older, will their time with me reflect more that they can make their bed and follow rules or will they be able to see their role in God's great story and follow Him faithfully for all of their days?

Over the years I've become a fan of how Donald Miller tells stories, and more recently how Bob Goff does the same.  Donald Miller tells a story of painting a picture of living a bigger story for a teenage girl who was struggling in this book.  Bob Goff talks a lot about including his kids into living great stories in this book.   These are just examples of what I feel like Proverbs is leading us into parents. 

We should be the first ones to dream big and pray prophetic visions over our kids (and for any kids around us really).  We shouldn't force them only into the mold of what we expect them to be, but we should pray and lead them into everything God created them to be.  Without vision or dreams, they'll coast into a life of survival and peer acceptance that will be the equivalent of perishing. 

Norman & Grace helping our kids dream...