Monday, December 26, 2011

Our New Fishing Pole

In my last post I told you I would share the details of our updated fishing rod--a shiny new tool for evangelism. John and I had the opportunity this year to make several visits to a parenting program in Jacksonville in north Florida. At one point we even thought God might be calling us to move there and work with them in some capacity.  Much to our relief, it has recently become apparent that's not the case.  Instead we plan to start the same type of program here in southern Florida where it's also very much needed.

John spent a week in California this fall learning to teach the very curriculum that spawned the Jacksonville program over ten years ago.  Without modifying any of the pillars that make it the time-tested and effective course that it is, we have molded it to fit our personalities by drawing from experiences with our own children and the work we've done with other parents.  We are almost ready to unveil the finished product--our detailed plans to serve the community by strengthening parenting skills.  In the meantime, we're praying for success.  To our knowledge, there is nothing like it in our area.  For that matter in most states, help for parents of wayward kids is generally limited to those whose children have already committed crimes. We want to intervene before that happens.

So how is this a tool for evangelism?  It usually takes months or even years for people to warm up to us enough to really trust that we're not selling anything.  Then we can invite them into a Bible study, but that's a lot of time invested only to find out that most of them aren't at all interested in spiritual matters.  John discovered that the parents at the meetings in Jacksonville were much more open to the  discussion of God's existence and involvement in this world.  They know they're in need and are open to help on any level.  That's why medical missions are so successful.  Those missionary/doctors meet a perceived need before they introduce Jesus who is what's really needed.  We're not doctors, but we can offer healing to broken families.

John has been talking to the schools and law enforcement agencies while I have been putting together a Web site for information and registration purposes.  I'll share that address with you after a few final touches, then I would love your feedback.

We're going to need your prayers and support, because, while we see our new approach like the fishing rod at the top of this post, we understand that in reality it's probably more like this:

When we give God our best effort, isn't it a bit like a six year old making a drawing for his dad?  It's not valuable in and of itself but to that dad, it's priceless.  Should he decide to, he could frame it with pure gold.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gone Fishing

I know, I know, it's been a while since I've posted, and some of you have been asking what's going on. We've been out fishing. It's not that I haven't had the time to report on the details. Oh sure, I'm busy like the rest of you, but I do limit my schedule to a manageable pace and can't really use that as an excuse. It's also not that we haven't had anything to report. The things we are experiencing here have me bursting at the seams to share over a cup of coffee with anyone who will listen. The problem is, the Internet is not a cup of coffee, and sharing the intimate details of a person's life on a blog doesn't seem like a good idea, especially if those people are your friends.

You see, if we were ministers at a mainstream church, like we have been in the past, we might report something like attendance numbers and event schedules. Instead, when we're reporting on a small house church, the details are too personal to share. You may not know who we're talking about but our members do and they also read this blog--an issue we didn't face to the same degree doing mission work in Brazil. Suffice it to say that we meet with these people, not only on a weekly basis, but often on a daily basis. Our goal is to teach and disciple them into a deeper relationship with each other and ultimately with Jesus. We are seeing stronger marriages, better relationships with kids, and even healthier lifestyles. We celebrate together, grieve with each other, and often just hang out with one another. This is the family that God intended his church to be.

Now that you're beginning to see my dilemma, I will assure you that the reporting doesn't end here. In fact, you may be in for some more regular communication if we can come up with a new approach. I say "we" because I need your help. Feedback from you is going to help me not only deliver information that you find interesting, but it will also keep us encouraged--a commodity that is scarce to people who do what we do for a living, endeavor to introduce Jesus to a largely narcissistic society. We do thank those of you who comment in person or through e-mail. We would appreciate all of you getting involved in the discussion on some level.

We're not much on reporting numbers, as relationships are hard to quantify, but there is one number I would like to report. It's fifty, and it's where I lost count when I tried to remember the individuals we have invested in over the past two years. We don't knock on doors and we don't pass out flyers, so it takes some time to actually get to know a person well enough to share the gospel with or at least to invite into a discussion/study of the gospel. This stint of our missionary journeys has me wondering if there's been a study done on this sort of thing. I mean, our experience has shown that four out of fifty people in south Florida who are invited to hear the gospel actually listen and respond by following Jesus.

Don't worry, as discouraging as these statistics are, we don't plan to give up. We're looking for the next fifty and we're not going to forget the forty-seven who have said no. Sure, there's something to shaking the dust off your feet and moving on as Jesus told his disciples to do, but we're not burning any bridges. We care about these people and hope they one day take an interest in a relationship with God and in living the life they were created to live. It wasn't that long ago--about sixteen years--that we were in the dark about the meaning of life, muddling through, trying to make our own way. We thought Christians were stupid, crazy people recruiting for a cult. Knowing what we know now, we're willing to look like stupid, crazy cult members in order to offer the treasure we know as Jesus to anyone who has ears to hear and a heart to accept.

Lately, we've been evaluating our effectiveness. Could we catch more fish if we moved to another pond or used a different fishing rod? We're not too keen on moving... again. And we don't necessarily feel like we need to... yet. So we're switching to a different rod. I'll tell you more about that in my next post.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Camp Consequence

As missionaries, we know we must often meet a person's immediate earthly need before he will have any openness to the gospel. For example, a hungry person will only think about food until you give him some. Only then will he be able to focus on something other than his growling stomach and be in a position to digest the concept of God's love along with his sandwich. Likewise, a person whose house is in foreclosure--something we come across quite often now--will be much more likely to hear us if we offer him money to catch up on his bills. When he is able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can more effectively share the light of Christ and give him real hope.

We've had a surprising revelation since returning to the United States just over a year and a half ago. In attempting to do here just what we've been doing as missionaries overseas, we've become aware that the immediate earthly need of almost every family we meet is simply learning how to be a family. Marriages are falling apart everywhere we turn, and children are largely disobedient with no respect for authority. We recently read an article in the paper depicting marriage as an archaic institution which is quickly going out of style--and the columnist was happy about that!

We have been praying for help in addressing this dire situation, asking God to show us how we can be most effective in meeting the needs of these broken families. Recently a fellow homeschool dad told John about a program a bit to our north in which a former marine and professional football player whips not only kids but also their parents into shape. This dad believes in the program so much that he left his ministry position to pursue a job with the program. Since then John went twice on his own--once to witness the information conference which is a prerequisite to all the other programs and once to participate in Camp Consequence, a weekend spent on prison property where both the kids and their parents rough it in a boot camp environment. Most families are sufficiently healed after that and need only to continue weekly support with the rest of the group. Those who aren't may go on to send their boys to the program's boarding school. (There are plans for a girl's school in the near future.)

We all went as a family to the support groups last week and witnessed a roomful of people who had been brought to their knees and are healing from devastating family struggles. We stayed on the property where the boy's school is located. Here's the school:
And this is part of the 25-acre farm that houses the school:
Here's the truck they use to advertise the program (along with my boys reenacting the scene so common in households across the country):
Here are the teens doing work detail after breakfast:
And here's where they use the bathroom when they misbehave and get stuck out in the woods in a tent:
We stayed in this pop-up trailer as we observed the program over the weekend:
And this is what we drove around the farm:
I was proud to allow my well-behaved boys to enjoy the benefits of farm life for a couple days:

And did they ever enjoy it!:
But something tells us it wasn't enough just to visit and give our fruitless approval. We are intrigued by what's going on in this remote part of Florida to help families. We believe that God is answering our prayers by putting us in touch with this program and the godly people who run it. Now we will continue to pray with a new emphasis on how we might be connected.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

4th of July Block Party

We decided to have a 4th of July party so we passed out flyers to all the houses on our block, rented an inflatable water slide, and bought 200 hamburgers and hot dogs. Then we left the rest up to our neighborhood and ultimately God. Seventy-two people showed up. Yay, neighbors! And it was the first day in over a week that it didn't rain. Yay, God!
As we were assembling to start the parade a neighbor we hadn't met pulled up in a beautiful, classic red mustang to lead us around the block. He popped a patriotic CD into his radio and off we went.Some folks decided to document the event rather than take part in it. We'll have to meet this patriotic fellow and get a copy of his video.
As soon as we reached our house again, the kiddos shed their parade wear and jumped on the main attraction.

We hired two homeschool kids to be slide monitors for the day. Ben was especially happy with this one.

Later we passed out prizes to the best paraders, as determined by some impartial judges. These three from the same family won second, third, and most spirited.
Jonah won first place - movie tickets - for the great job he did on his bike decoration.

It was nice to be able to reward our guests for the effort they put into making this party a success. Next year, though, we really should have a prize for the cutest.One little girl took it upon herself to set up a face-painting station on our patio. She drew quite a crowd.
And don't forget the food. Most people brought something to contribute to the cookout so there was plenty of that. The goody table was never empty, even with Ben's perpetual desire for just one more cupcake.

Most of the day was spent simply hanging out with friends and neighbors.Some folks cooled off inside.And others in the pool.
The party wrapped up around sundown but some of our neighbors came back later to shoot off fireworks.

At the end of the day, we had met twenty new people and John invited some of the men into a leadership class to begin soon.

Here's a quick video of the day's events:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our House the Concert Hall

How do you fit forty people into a living room that seats seven? Like this:
Patrick and Erin, our friends from Nashville came to town and performed at our house Monday night. It was an honor to have talent like theirs under our roof. In 1996 Patrick's band won a Youtube Underground contest for best song. Since then his music has only gotten better. It would be worth your while to check out Patrick's Facebook page and listen to a few of his original songs. After that knocks your socks off, you can see some of the most beautiful artwork ever on Erin's Web site. You can support them by purchasing a CD or, if you can afford it, one of Erin's paintings. I'm convinced that one day it will be like having a Van Gogh hanging over your fireplace.
We gave our grill a workout and enjoyed some of this Florida summer in the back yard.
Then our kids finished up the evening with some boy-girl arm wrestling.
Sometimes we forget that we've only been here a little over a year. The community that regularly meets in our living room feels like it's existed forever.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Waiting for My Friend

Sometimes I wonder what God is waiting for. How much worse is it going to get before Jesus returns and makes it all right? Very often when people learn what we do for a living they mock us or ostracize us. Those who don't are usually not shy about warning us not to "preach" to them. When we do have occasion to sit down with people to share what the Bible says, they are almost always impressed but don't necessarily respond well. So I wonder why - if nobody cares anyway - hasn't He returned.

I recently read through five chapters of Mark with seven women - six after one dropped out. The mother of one lady came from England for a visit and sat in during the last two sessions, making it seven again. We got to the part where Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" so I asked the girls the same question. My friend Hayley wasn't the most outspoken in the group but she made it clear that she believed in Jesus' claim to be the Messiah. Later that week she came to me and told me that, not only did she want to be baptized, but her mother did also. Her mother Wendy has been a Christian for over thirty years but never knew the importance of baptism.

Here's Hayley being baptized:
And her mother Wendy:
And here I am with my two new sisters:
This morning I can confidently say that God was waiting for my friend and her mother. I have a new-found patience and a stronger trust in His perfect plan. I am also asking Him to continue to send to us those who are ready to hear what wonderful things He has done for us and care enough to respond in love, just like my friend Hayley and her mother Wendy did last night.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago a couple of foolish lovers decided to try life God's way. They were married and baptized the same day, committing themselves to each other and to their creator. Here they were then:
And here we are now:
I barely recognize that young couple in the wedding photo. Though our marriage hasn't been without challenges, I can honestly say that we have been blessed beyond what we ever hoped or imagined when we decided to step out in faith. When we say, "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer," aren't we banking on the fact that the negative side of the equation isn't ever going to darken our door? Well, I am thankful for those things because I believe they have strengthened us and made us the people we are today. While I hope for the good times, health and prosperity, I am learning to embrace whatever situation God sends our way because in all things the presence of God is where we find true joy.

Now we spend our days teaching our kids what we wish we had known when we were their ages and sharing our abundance with others. I pray that you would have the faith to really trust God and allow Him to shower you with the blessings he has stored up for your life.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why We Need Missionaries in Southern Florida

A Christian homeschool mom recently asked me why we need missionaries in southern Florida. She seemed sincere so I sincerely answered her with, "Because most biblically literate people like you assume others know what you know and don't think we need missionaries in southern Florida." We went on to talk about what mission work in the United States entails. Allow me to share some of it with you.

In order to introduce Jesus to people who probably have only ever heard the name as an exclamation or in a cussing tirade, the book of Mark is a good place to start. Currently a group of women meets every Friday in our living room to read it together. I told them in the beginning that they were about to embark on a study of the basis for all Christianity - the biography of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I assured them that by chapter eight they would know everything they need to know to make an informed decision about whether they want to be Christians.
When we began the study, three out of the group of seven didn't own a Bible nor had they ever opened one, so we bought them each a copy. None of the seven had ever read more than small excerpts. One woman says she's Jewish and goes to Temple but didn't know where to find the Old Testament in the Bible. She has skipped Temple for the past month to be a part of this study that she says "is more interesting than Temple." Other comments and questions include:

"It keeps me up at night."

"I never knew Jesus was a real person. I always thought He was like Santa Claus."

"If Jesus came to earth once, do you suppose He'll come again?"

"I want to have the Holy Spirit but I don't know how to get it."

"I feel like I'm being sewn into this Book. Like I've always known it somehow but have never actually heard it."

"I'm being enlightened."

"What does it mean to follow Jesus?"

If someone were to invite me to a study of The Iliad I would certainly make comments that would seem foolish to scholars of classic literature. What we, as Christians, need to understand is that ignorance of classic literature may keep me out of the great conversation to some extent but it won't keep me out of heaven. Basic knowledge of the Bible is critical to understanding why we exist.

Our study group had a very sad but helpful object lesson on the parable of the sower when the woman who was most excited to begin the study told me just three weeks into it, "I won't be there. My heart's not in it any more." The night we initially read the parable in chapter four, I was met with seven blank stares. After this lady left the group, we revisited the parable and I'm sure I saw a few hovering light bulbs. It's always encouraging to see God's word come to life, even when it means disappointment on an earthly level.

Our family must have the best job in the world - not to convince people to become Christians but to share God's love and truth with them and let them decide what to do with it. If everyone in the United States already knew what the Bible said, as that good-intentioned mom clearly assumed, I would agree that we should move on to other unreached parts of the world, but it seems that is not the case. I'll let you judge the need for local missionaries by the feedback we've gotten in this study.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Skipping Stones

At our last barbecue I invited seven women to read the book of Mark with me. Sunday afternoon was the third of those studies and, I must say, I am enjoying it. Questions and comments from people who have never read the Bible are very refreshing. The first two studies were at our house but we decided to have a barbecue after this week's class with all the families, so Terry and Maria graciously hosted the event. Their place is bigger and more conducive to large gatherings.

You've seen their patio before:
And you've seen the kids playing at their house:
But here's something you haven't seen:
This is a picture of the guys repairing a sprinkler pump that was damaged when the kids threw rocks into the pond behind Terry and Maria's house. Skipping stones is normally a great activity for kids but the water had receded and the pipes were unusually exposed. As a result, these guys spent a good portion of the evening appeasing an upset neighbor.

In a house church environment with this many children (seventeen at this event), there are relatively few gatherings that don't result in some material damage. At times it's been a challenge to stay focused on what's really at stake here - not just material goods but living, breathing people. In a world that largely values money and stuff above human beings, we strive to offer a refuge where God's priorities and values are paramount. In doing so, we hope to introduce our friends to what life is really about and to share it with them the way it has always been intended to be - in relationship with each other and with God.