A Homeless Christmas

This year we decided to start a new family tradition.  Like many families hit by economic downturn, we didn’t exactly have a ton of presents under the tree.  That’s tough for a parent.  We want to spoil our kids with all sorts of toys and goodies.  Our three boys have been anticipating this day all year and we wanted to do it right.

Something struck me a few weeks ago, though.  My work with WorldHope.us has been seriously educating me on what it means to not have much.  I felt down about semi-empty stockings while people in my own community are sleeping under the bridge.  And you know what?  We have something so many don’t have: each other.

So, we decided to share each other this year at a local homeless shelter called King’s Harvest.  In 2009, they served 27,000 meals to the poor and needy.  Our objective was simply to go and be a blessing to someone during Christmas lunch.  It turned out to be the best Christmas experience I’ve had in a long time.

There were so many volunteers there that they didn’t need us to serve so we found someone who was all alone and planted ourselves next to her.  Her name was Shelby and she had no family.  Her children all lived far away and she hasn’t heard from them in several years.  Her only companion was a kitten, and he ate half of what little food she hadWe had the great privilege of being her family for the next hour.

We learned that she’s lived in New Mexico, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Upper Michigan just like me.  She was a Farah Faucet fan and she likes Lee Majors.  She finds the mountains of Albuquerque beautiful and a spiritual experience to explore.  As we shared stories, laughs, and observations, I couldn’t help but notice the gradual change in her countenance.  Life begun to show in her eyes, she smiled more, and she became much more demonstrative.

At one point, a homeless woman stood at the front of the room and sang “Silent Night” with incredible passion and grace.  The whole room erupted in applause and then we continued our conversation.  Shelby told us how she’s been so lonely and depressed and what a gift it was to spend time with us.  It lifted her spirits and blessed her heart.  It was a blessing to me too!  Thank you Shelby, for letting us be your family for an hour!

I have to admit, it was such a blessing to be a blessing.  Acts 20:35 is SO TRUE!  “It is more blessed to give than to receive. I’ll treasure the experience (and keep going back to help some more) far longer than any of my Christmas presents will last and my boys are learning the value of giving of themselves to bless others.

So what?  I’m learning that no matter how little we have, we still have enough to bless those with less.  What an incredible lesson!

Merry Christmas!!

Cole, Forrest, and Hudson with their new friend Shelby

Cole, Forrest, and Hudson with their new friend Shelby

A Gated Community Known as Church

Next month I’m putting on a free workshop for pastors and ministry leaders on how to use social networking in ministry.  I believe that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc. can be great free resources for churches wanting to strengthen community and communications.  I’m so excited about this workshop that I even spent a few bucks on print materials that I can hand out to pastors when I invite them.

Last Monday I decided to drive around town and personally invite pastors to the event.  You know, hand them a flier, shake their hand, meet some of our community’s spiritual leaders.  It sounded like fun and my son, Hudson, decided to get dressed up and go with me.  It was going to be a great father and son time and we were both looking forward to it.  However, the afternoon ended up quite a disappointment.

I have to admit how surprised I was by how nay churches were totally inaccessible.  Some were empty and lifeless.  Empty parking lots, lights off, nobody home.  Even worse, some had cars and lights but all the doors were locked!  No bell and no answer to knocks on the door.  As bad as that was, there was a far worse scenario.

We walked up to one large church in a fine part of town.  Hudson had his shoulder bag of invitations and I was looking forward to meeting this pastor because I had driven past his church so many times.  The first door was unlocked, great!  The second door, however, was locked.  I had to push a button to get someone’s attention.  One of the office staff peered out at us through bullet-proof glass and asked why we were there.  I told her we wanted to invite their pastor to a free workshop.  She buzzed us in and we stepped into an area where there was another window and more bullet-proof glass.  There was an office area and multiple staff were working diligently behind the safety of the glass.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt that uncomfortable.  They looked at us like we had lobsters coming out of our ears! It was obvious that unfamiliar faces weren’t welcome there outside the context of church services.  The woman opened a small part of the window so I could slide her an invitation, then immediately closed it back up again.  She had no interest in what I had to say and couldn’t even spare a smile for Hudson.  If they treated us that way, I don’t even want to think about how a homeless person or a refugee would be treated.

The hardest part of our outing?  When my six-year-old son asked me why no pastors would talk to us.  When he asked why the ladies weren’t very nice, and why all the doors were locked.  Even a child knows that a church should be a warm place.  It should be a place where people are welcomed and accepted.  It should be that way every day, not just Sunday!  And now I found myself in the position of explaining that the church really is good and does mean well.  Not an easy task when I had the same taste in my mouth that he did.

Unfortunately, many churches have become more like gated communities than churches.  Security is in place to keep out the undesirables, the needy, the solicitors, and the just plain unfamiliar.  Suspicious of unknown faces, they’re treated with a cold reception and a short response.  Heaven forbid someone should come in and interrupt the pastor’s sermon preparation or keep the secretary from getting the bulletin together.  Am I wrong to believe that the church is about people everyday (not just Sunday)?

Defined core values have been a big part of church leadership these days.  Often times, they’re posted on web sites and printed in bulletins.  Statements like “Prayer, Evangelism, God’s Word, and Worship are our core values” are made.  I’ve got a suggestion because I’ve yet to see this as a posted core value.  How about “People”? How about “People are important to us because they bare the image of God, because they are dearly loved by God, and because Jesus didn’t die for a building, a sermon, a program, or a ministry.  He died for people.  Not just people who attend our church or share our beliefs, but all people.  Because “People” is one of Jesus’ core values, then “People” will be one of our core values too.  Even on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

I know it feels like a risk, but let’s get rid of the gated community mentality and be the church every day.  Open the doors.  Welcome the stranger.  See love spread.

Not Welcomed

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Lover of Scripture

We’re doing Advent again this year and I really love it!  After dinner each night, we take about five minutes out to light the candle, read the scripture, and talk about our Savior’s birth.  If you’ve ever thought about introducing family devotion, then Advent is the perfect introduction.  Besides, family traditions are important and this is a great one to add to the list.

This year, my youngest son wants to do everything.  He lights the candle (with a little help) and often volunteers to read.

That’s it!  Forgive me for my self indulgence but I’m as proud as can be of my boy.  He reads Isaiah like an old pro!  Enjoy the video!

Inst-Ache! The Instant Mustache Spray!

One thing I love about having three boys is their instant willingness to do anything silly or disgusting.  With this commercial parody we did them both!

Granted, Cole didn’t want to have a mustache painted on, but he was a great sport about me photoshopping him in some goofy pictures.  In one picture he really is crying.  He was in a strange pre-teen mood that day and I was trying to cheer him up by taking some funny pictures.  The cheering-up effort didn’t work…

Hudson was a natural.  A couple of takes is all it took.  He refused to get out of costume or wash off the mustache for the rest of the day.

Forrest took the brunt of the abuse.  We spent a loooong time shooting in the bathroom.  He was fully aware of how silly he looked but dove in enthusiastically.  He wants to make films when he grows up so I try to provide opportunities like this to have fun and walk him through the process.

Rushing Through the Caverns

Last week I had the opportunity to take a walk though Carlsbad Caverns with my family.  This underground group of caves is truly amazing.  You have to take an elevator 750 feet below the earth’s surface.  The walking path takes you through 8.2 acres of caverns and tunnels.  There are bottomless pits, natural “draperies” that look like liquid poured from the ceiling and frozen instantly, stalagmites, stalactites, and massive pillars formed naturally over thousands of years.

Among all this natural splendor I couldn’t help but notice the pace of the large crowd of visitors that day.  People were in such a hurry that I often found myself in the way as they moved to pass me.  Some tourists weren’t even looking at the formations or reading the information signs.  They walked briskly by, chatting about hitting the gift shop before going out to dinner.  So much beauty to take in but it was treated like a cheap roadside attraction.

One person who wasn’t in a hurry was my six-year-old son Hudson.  His eyes were as big as can be.  At one point, he looked up at his mother and said, “This must be God’s majesty”.  Someone got it!  Amidst our addiction to consume, take, and move on to the next thing, a little boy recognized the awesome picture God painted for him to enjoy.  How often, in our haste, do we miss out on God’s majesty, on hearing His voice, or on being used to touch a life?

So what?  So slow down, appreciate creation, take less, give more, and ask God to let you experience wonder like a six-year-old.

“Then he said, I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 18:3, 4