Conversation with a Son of a Muslim Imam (Preacher)

ImamBorn and raised the son of a Muslim Imam.  Most of us can’t make that claim.  Most of us probably don’t even know what an “Imam” is.  I was privileged to spend some time with him at dinner, as well as the drive to and from his hotel.

His name starts with A.  That’s all I can give you.  It’s not safe to use his full name or where he’s from.  You won’t find his sermon on Vimeo this week, even though he did preach all four services this weekend.  To protect his family, his friends, and his church, I refer to him as A.

A. told us his story of growing up the son of a Muslim Imam, the equivalent of a preacher’s kid here in the U.S.  His experience sounded similar to most clergy households, until he got to the part where he questioned his father’s faith.  His father warned him, long before A. seriously considered converting, “If you abandon the Islamic faith, I must kill you.”  He wasn’t kidding.

His father wasn’t alive to witness A.’s conversion to a follower of Christ.  But, it’s not to say the rest of the family wasn’t disappointed.  His mother tried to sweet talk him back to Islam.  Then she tried to scare him.  Eventually, she learned to accept him rather than lose him.  It wasn’t so easy for his uncle, his father’s brother.

A. spoke about persecution in a 100% Muslim nation.  Twelve of the fourteen members of his Christian church were hunted and killed.  It was his country’s scare tactic for anyone else considering jumping ship from their Islamic faith.  It didn’t work, though, he told us.  It actually did the reverse.  Wherever their is more threat and persecution, the message of the gospel spreads with more intensity.

His stories continue.  Stories of terror, torture, abuse, and negligence.  Enough to make me feel disgusted.  Enough to make me ready to put up arms.  And then it hit me.  His message is causing a negative response in me.  The opposite effect he was hoping to cause.  A.’s sermon easily led to thoughts of judgment and defensiveness.  Instead of responding with love and peace and mercy, it boiled up an urge to fight back.

So, in a private conversation, I asked A., “Is every Muslim out to kill all Christians?”  He replied, “No.  If that’s what I’m causing people to think, then I need to change what I’m saying.”

In hearing him say this, I wonder, “Maybe we (meaning “I”) need to change how we react to what we’re hearing?” Maybe instead of reacting out of fear, anger, and superiority, we need to let surrender, mercy, and peace be our cry.  Maybe instead of seeing Muslim people of faith as our enemy we need to start seeing them as our neighbors.

Jesus didn’t come to earth wielding swords or guns or weapons of war.  He didn’t preach hate or fear of one’s enemies.  Jesus’ interaction with tax collectors, the sick, the demon possessed, and the poor teaches us to risk friendship with those who need it most.         His death on a cross speaks nothing less than total surrender.  There’s no room for hate or judgement.  Jesus’ (and our) only message is good news.

Let’s be honest.  It’s tough, post 9/11.  I pray God changes my heart.  I pray God changes our nation’s heart.  I pray Muslim’s around the world know the difference between a citizen of the United States and a Christian living in the United States.  I pray it starts with our reaction and interaction with Muslims here and everywhere.  Everyone needs to hear the good new.  Yes, even Muslims.

What will it look like for Christians to bring the good news to Muslims?




1 Simple Key to the Best BBQ, & Your Life

BBQ Grand ChampionDo the little things.

My friend cooks the best BBQ.  It’s the best according to my standards.  It’s also the best according to a nationally recognized BBQ competition that recently crowned his team “Grand Champion.”  To prove his teams’ superiority even further, he dominated one of the most recognized BBQ restaurants around in their own home town competition.  Fifty-five places separated them between last and first.

I’m constantly begging Jared to BBQ for me.  It slips into almost every conversation. I’m not sure if I’m hungry every time I’m around him, or I’m just that deprived of good food on a regular basis.  Whatever the reason, BBQ is often a subject of conversation for us.

In the most recent BBQ talk, Jared gave up his BBQ secret:  Do the little things.  He believes this is what separates his team from the rest.  The little things are what every team knows intuitively to do but most are unwilling to work on.

For example, pulling the vein out of the chicken.  According to Jared (I’m no expert), every thigh of chicken has a main vein that needs to be pulled.  It takes an extra 45-60 minutes of preparation time to strip these veins.  BBQ judges don’t require each team to remove each vein to enter their chicken, but they do prefer it.  Here’s the reason why.  There’s a perfect temperature that you can’t exceed with chicken to keep the most juices and flavor.    It’s no problem without the veins.  If you leave the veins in, then you must cook past the perfect temperature to insure against vein explosion.  You’ve seen it before at home or a restaurant.  The vein is left in and undercooked, and after your first bite you look down to see a red, bloody explosion in your chicken.  You don’t like it and neither do the BBQ judges.  It seems like a little thing, but neglecting to do it can result in big failure:  0 points for your team’s chicken.

With BBQ, Jared does the little things because he knows it will separate him from the majority of the teams unwilling to make the same effort.  The result for him has been winning 4 major BBQ competitions.

As soon as I heard this come out of his mouth, my mind immediately turned to my own ministry, family, and life.  I wondered, “Am I doing the little things? What are the things that I know I should be doing but don’t because they take more time and effort than I’m willing to give?  How can I expect to the be the best (husband, father, pastor) without doing the little things that separate me from the rest?

God desires for us to be our best, to be set apart from the rest of the world.  God even offers us the power to make it possible (Ephesians 3:20).  But, we can’t neglect the little things.

What are the “little things” in your life?  What’s keeping you from doing them?

90 teenagers starve themselves for 30 hours

30hr famine6am.

90 students (around 60 middle schoolers) woke up for school this Friday hungry.  They will stay hungry for another 30 hours, until…

12pm Saturday.

Brooklyn, my wife, is the reason for their hunger.  Every year, she challenges the students in her Middle School Ministry to experience the 30 Hour Famine.  It’s an experience 1000’s of students across the United States will take with their youth groups.  “The idea is simple: students fast for 30 hours and participate in unique activities that help them learn about the realities of world hunger. In the 30 days leading up to the Famine, they’ll raise funds to help save kids’ lives, changing the outcome of futures across the globe.

It seems kind of silly, until you understand the impact. summarizes what students have accomplished in years past.  Since 1992, 30 Hour Famine and programs like it have cut in half the number of children who die from preventable ailments, from 40,000 to 20,000.  Last year alone, 315,000 students participated in the famine.

If any of the students resemble my middle school days, they loathe waking up early in the morning.  Which means, they probably didn’t wake up before 6:00am to get one last meal.  In this case, 30 hours of no food turns into about 38 or 40.  Brooklyn made sure not to make this mistake.

Our family woke early to prepare a breakfast feast.  We made french toast with scramble eggs, sausage, extra-crispy bacon, cereal, toasted bagel, and chocolate milk.  Our house ruminated with the smell of a tiny mom and pop’s kitchen.  Our kitchen became our own personal greasy-spoon for one short morning.  It was awesome.

But now, we look ahead to 30 hours without.  And we consider those who go without most of the days of their life.  This one day and 6 hours isn’t the end, it’s meant to be the beginning.  The beginning of our awareness of our brother’s and sister’s around the world who wonder if the next meal will come.  The beginning of pulling together our resources to offer solutions.  The beginning of a generation connecting faith to life in such a way that it affects our neighbors near and far.

Our church has 15 adults experiencing the Famine with our students.  So, I have to ask, “When will more adults join in?”

You can be the first.



What do you get when you cross a college softball team and a 1959 house?

A huge pile of brush.SEU Softball Team

Plus, fifteen screaming girls every time a bug, or lizard, or frog, or a snake appears.  (I only saw one player willing to pick-up any living creature).  A softball coming straight at their head over 50mph isn’t scary, but a tiny albino frog brings sheer terror.  Hilarious.

Coach Anna Welsh and her team of sixteen Southeastern University Softball players contributed a combined total of about 85 hours of sweat and hard-work on our house.  For free.  No charge. Unless you count a case of bottled water.  They dug roots with an axe.  They carried hundreds of palm branches with razor sharp thorns.  They ripped out old carpet.  They installed lining in our drawers.  They played with my daughters.  I’m convinced, they completed enough work to have taken me 2 years on my own.

They did it because it’s a part of being a Southeastern University Fire Softball player.  For them, being a part of the team means more than an ability to catch, throw, or swing.  It takes a willingness to serve the community around them.  Every single one of them seemed  more than willing.

To be honest, I’m not used to this sort of thing.  A huge part of my calling as a Christian, and specifically a pastor, is to live out and lead others into a lifestyle of service.  With the Saturday Night Church community I pastor, we’ve made a commitment to care for widows and single moms in our city.  Each year, our goal is to complete a minimum of 6 service projects to alleviate the stress of others around our community.  Most of our work, so far, has taken the shape of lawn and house maintenance.

Having the team attack the tropical jungle outside our house felt like a turning of the table for me.  Instead of organizing and completing a project for someone else, someone else was organizing and completing a project for my family and me.  From this experience, I’m learning two things:

  1. Serving others relieves a huge burden.  I’ve always wondered if the simple cleanup projects or other small service opportunities really made a difference.  With 85 hours of work just gifted to me, I can say with confidence, “Yes.”  All of us have things we need to do.  The longer those things go undone, the heavier the burden feels.  Every day we walk past these “undone” things, we are reminded of our negligence.  The Southeastern Softball team did what was undone for us.  What seemed monstrous was reduced to nil.  A burden was lifted.
  2. Serving others breeds hope.  Witnessing a group serve out of love is as important as completing the job itself.  It’s more than watching others serve though.  It’s shaking their hand, learning their names and where they grew up.  It’s taking a moment to stop working and hang out.  It’s laughing.  There are several ways to complete a project.  It would be easy to hire professionals to do the job without being noticed.  No contact, no interaction.  Job is done.  A second option would be to do like the SEU Softball team.     They chatted with us, they took a tour of our house, they played with our kids, and they did all of it with the intention of getting to know us.  Hope is born, somehow, when you feel noticed.  As much as we appreciate the work  that was done, our family values the face to face interaction that shows us that somebody else cares.

Thank you Coah Anna Welsh and the Southeastern University Softball Team:  Emily Bryant, DeVyn Barker, Paige Duncan, Angel Hedglin, Becca Carr, Melissa Gunderson, Jen Hedrick, Bri Girardin, Sam Rich, Brinley Benson, Siera Spahiu, Leslie Nazario, Ericca Hedrick, Nicci Hopps, Ally Ledenham, Alexis Recktenwald.








Spirituality in Movies: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?”  Charlie asked his ninth-grade English teacher.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”  The teacher answers.

“Can we make them know they deserve more?”  Charlie asks.

“We can try.”  Perks of being a wallflower

Charlie is a the main character in the best-selling book and popular movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  My intention was to read the book before watching the movie.  Didn’t happen.  So, you’re getting the movie take on the story from me.

Regardless, this dialogue in the story stung in my heart.  Partly, because I remember asking the same question about some of the beautiful, gifted girls I knew in High School.  Partly, because I still ask the question about some of the people that I love.  Partly, because I wonder how I play the role of “accepting the love I think I deserve.”

As teenagers, it’s more of a selfish question.  We ask it because we want the person to choose us.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve witnessed plenty of my friends choose the wrong person.  I say this, because, most of the time if the person doesn’t choose me, as teenagers we move on.  We give up.

As adults, it’s normally a question we ask in relation to a child, parent, or sibling.  We see a loved one enter into a relationship we know isn’t healthy, and we worry.  We cry.  We give advice.  We make life miserable for the non-family member.  And we ask, doesn’t she/he know they deserve better?

For me, as a Christian, it’s a question I ask myself in relation to God.  I struggle from time to time accepting the never failing and perfect love of God.  I fall into the trap of believing I’m not worth it.  I find myself courting things in life that promise to give the love I need, but never will.  The measure of love I think I deserve hangs far below the height of God’s love for me.

Reality is, I don’t deserve God’s love.  The beauty of God’s love is, I don’t deserve it, but God gives it freely anyway.

I imagine, God asks from time to time about me, and probably many of you, “Can I make him know he deserves more.”  I believe, as long as we’re breathing, God will never stop trying.  Every second of every day God is asking, “What can I do today to help you know I love you?”

I pray for you today.  I pray for your family, friends, and loved ones who accept less than they deserve.  God will never give up.



Connect to Something Bigger, Part 3: A High School Football Game with Handcuffs

Eph 2.17-20If you’ve been with me on the first two post in this series, it’s no surprise for me to say that God wants you to connect to something bigger.  Bigger than rules.  Bigger than beliefs.  Bigger than church attendance.  And bigger than you.

In the book of Ephesians, the writer helps us imagine what this something bigger looks like.  Within the first couple chapters, we learn about God’s plan for reconciliation.  It has two dimensions.  In the previous post, I gave you the first:

God restoring God’s relationship to EVERYONE.

Today, we will look at the second dimension:

God restoring our relationship to EACH OTHER.

If God is seeking to make things right with the world, with everyone, then shouldn’t we?  God is creating “in God’s self one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death the hostility through it”  (Eph. 2:15-16).  God is gathering the old with the new, the outsiders with the insiders, the sinners with the saints.  To be a part of the gathering, your relationship to others needs to be restored.  To be restored in your relationship to God means to be seeking restoration in your relationship with EVERYONE.  God is tearing dividing walls.

And, God wants you to be a part of it.

In 2008, one High School football team demonstrates what it might look like to seek reconciliation with each other.  It was not your typical Texas High School football game.  The foes were Grapevine Faith versus Gainesville State.  Before either team arrived to the field, it was already a lopsided affair.  Grapevine Faith had a great record at 7-2, state-of-the-art equipment, and 70 players standing at the helm.  Gainesville had an 0-9 record, seven year old equipment, and 14 players.

Faith’s coach decided he wanted to do something different for this game.  He had an idea that half of his own fans would sit on the opposing side and cheer for Gainesville State’s team.  He made phone calls and sent emails, which was enough to convince his fans to make it happen.  Hundreds of people made the commitment to cheer for the other team.

Gainesville State players and coaches couldn’t believe what they were seeing and hearing.  Hundreds of people they had never met were cheering for them, by name.  They even provided real cheerleaders.  It was a confusing, yet unforgettable experience.

The game ended with a lopsided score:  Grapevine Faith 33 Gainesville State 14.  Even though they lost, the Gainesville players celebrated like they just won a major championship.  They showered their coach with water bottles.  Then the crowd stood watching as the 14 Gainesville players were gathered into groups of five and escorted off the field by uniformed officers with handcuffs ready.  They were walking to a bus headed to a maximum security correctional facility, their temporary home.

Before the Gainesville State players were escorted off the field, Grapevine invited them to say a prayer at the center of the field.  A boy from Gainesville surprised everyone by volunteering to pray.  He prayed, “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.

At least for this moment, one coach and one school decided they wanted to be a part of something bigger.

God invites us to do the same.  You can be a part of God’s plan to reconcile the world.  God wants you to be a part of something bigger by restoring relationships.

What relationships would God like to restore in your life?  What relationships is God hoping to restore in our world?

To read an official report on the Grapevine Faith vs Gainesville State game, click on this link:  ESPN’s Rick Reilly.



99 Ways to Serve: Lesson #4 & #5

If you just tuning in to this series of posts, our family made a New Year’s Resolution to complete all 99 ways to serve taken from Kristen Summers book teach me to serve.  We started off slow, but we’re picking up some momentum now.  Each week, we will attempt 2-3 ways to serve and reflect on our experience here.dishes

This week, we completed Lesson #4 & #5.

Lesson #4:  At breakfast, have your preschooler not only clear her own dishes from the table but also those of someone else.  If you would like to make this a regular practice, let her choose a different person each morning.

Up to this point, Kirra and Mya have been super-excited about the ways of serving.  They’ve been willing and anxious to complete the task.  Not this time.  Clearing dishes isn’t as much fun as using big spoons to serve food on a plate or pretending to be a server with pen and paper in hand.  No, this way of serving came with complaining and questioning like, “Why do I have to do this?”  “I already cleared my dishes, why do I have to do those?”

Lesson learned:  Serving isn’t always fun and exciting.  Sometimes, it requires us to complete tasks we’d rather not.

Lesson #5:  Whether it is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any ordinary day, let your preschooler help make and serve Mom or Dad breakfast in bed.

 None of us are morning people.  Both of our girls have the tendency to be whiny and grumpy most mornings.  We never quite understand it, but for the first two to three years of their life, both of our daughters wake up crying.  It makes for a grumpy family every morn.

On this day, Mya was still sleeping hard past her normal wake up hour.  So, we left her alone.  With her being the only one still asleep, we decided to let Kirra serve Mya breakfast in bed.  Hilarious!  Like the first three ways to serve, Kirra was full of pride and excitement.  Mya, on the other hand, woke with a confused look on her face.  By the look in her eyes, I interpreted, “What are you crazy people doing?”

Mya had never heard of this concept of having breakfast in bed.  She was a bit surprised and confused.  And then the crying started.  Eventually, we calmed her down and explained what was happening.  All of sudden, she was placing orders for her breakfast.  She figured this thing out, so took advantage of it.

Lesson learned:  The people we serve may not receive it the way we expect.  Most of the time, I think we serve with an expectation for how the person we are serving may or should react.  Sometimes, it doesn’t play out as we imagine.  That’s okay.  Serving  is a gift, not a contract.

Have you been attempting any of the 99 ways to serve?  I would love to hear about your experience.

10 Families + Lawn Equipment = Love in Action

lawnThe Graves Family.

The Heatwole Family.

The Croteau Family.

Mr.  Williams.

The Lauk Family.

The Gonyaw Family.

The Williams Family.

The Hawkins Family.

The Pittard Family.

The Woolery Family.

If you met them at starbucks or Lowe’s or Chic-Fil-A, it would be tough to identify what connects these 10 families.  If you show up at one military wife’s house every other weekend for the next 4 months, it will become clear.  Each family or individual has committed a weekend to provide lawn care for someone they’ve never met.

Her name is Amanda.  She’s a military wife with a brand new baby and a husband thousands of miles away.  He left for duty to a place she can’t go, and to make it worse, during her final trimester.  The baby arrived to this world without daddy and husband by their side.  Like all new mommies, the last thing on her mind or to-do list is lawn maintenance.

One of her neighbors attends Highland Park Saturday Night Church.  This neighbor knows enough about Amanda to realize she needs extra hands.  An email reaches my inbox with the question, “Can we do something to help with her lawn for the next few months?”

The rest is history.  All I had to do is ask our group of 100 followers of Christ who meet on Saturday nights.  Six months of lawn maintenance for Amanda is scheduled.

This is something we believe God is calling us to do as a church on Saturday nights:  move from maintaining to mission.  It’s not enough to come to church and leave the same as we arrived.  Nor is it enough to come home from church and return to communities that are the same as we left them.  We believe God is not only redeeming us, but desires to redeem our neighbors as well.  It’s part of God’s mission.  So, for us, it’s not okay to maintain.  We feel called to go on mission with God to change and redeem the world around us.

One way we seek to do this is serving widows and single mothers.  Every six weeks, we make it our goal to serve one in need, whether it be exterminating roaches, wiping down walls, clearing 2 tons of trash, clearing brush stacked 10 feet high, or holding a baby.  It’s not the end, though.  We are learning, it’s only the beginning.

This isn’t our first list of 10 names.  It won’t be our last.


How have you witnessed God’s love in action lately?  How does your church live out God’s mission in the world?




Top 10 Things I Like About Saturday Night Church

HPSN_B&W_Logo2_Text OnlyBefore you read these, I need you to pat your hands on your knees.  Start slow.  Gradually pick up speed.  Keep it going.

Thank you for the drum roll.

Here we go, Top Ten:

10.  Free cookies and coffee.

9.  Shorts and sandals are welcome.

8.  No alarm clocks are required.

7.  Sunday is completely free for a Sabbath.

6.  Gobena coffee: every bag feeds, clothes, and educates orphans around the world.

5.  No fighting with kids to get out of bed.

4.  The best live music in the city.

3.  Packing meals for over 100 disadvantaged grade-schoolers.

2.  Caring for widows and single mothers.

1.  Status quo won’t do.  


If you attend Saturday Night Church at Highland Park, what would add/change? If you attend Sunday morning or a different church, what would be your Top 10?







99 Ways to Serve: Lesson #2 & #3

I’m pathetic, I know.

We made a New Year’s resolution to test drive 99 different ways to serve from the book Teach Me Serve:  99 Ways Preschoolers Can Learn to Serve and Bless Others.  It’s one month and 4 days later, and we’ve only tried 3.  Initially, I was contemplating the idea of completing one way to serve, each day, for 99 days.  I was either overzealous then, or I am underperforming now.  Maybe alittle of both?  Lesson learned so far, serving isn’t easy.Burger Hot Dog

Regardless, I am not giving up.  So, lesson #2 is…

Find an apron and let your preschooler be your waiter or waitress for a meal.  Allow her to walk a dish around the table.  

Like the first lesson, my girls (5 yrs and 3 yrs old) were excited to serve.  They ransacked the house for their aprons, fought over who wore which one, and even cried over their inability to tie their own apron.  They couldn’t wait to act as our server.

Kirra walks over to the table with a pen and paper to take our order.  Mya acts as her assistant.  Together they bring our silverware, serve our drinks, and carry plates full of food from the kitchen to table.  It was sweet, cute, memorable, and MESSY.

That’s what I’m taking away from lesson #2.  Serving is messy.  Our kitchen was twice the mess it normally is after a meal.

Lesson #3 is…

When you have guests over, pick a dessert that will allow your preschooler to help out in the kitchen.  Are there toppings to be added to the dessert?  Let her deliver each plate to your family and guests.

We modified this one a tiny bit.  We recently moved into a house with boxes and stuff laying around yet to be put unpacked or put away, so we tweaked this one.  We made dessert for our neighbor.  Dwayne is over 90 years old and lives by himself.  Shortly after moving in, he invited us into his home.  In 15 years of marriage, I can count on one hand how many times a neighbor has invited us into their home.

So, we decided to make cookies with Kirra and Mya to take to Dwayne.  Again, the girls are excited to serve.  They grab their stools, wash their hands, put the cookies on the tray, help prepare the oven.  Our house is old with an old oven.  It works great, but cooks faster than average.  We overcooked the cookies.  To spare Dwayne’s teeth and our dignity, we decided to try this again sometime.

Lesson learned:  You may not always get it right the first time.  It’s not failure, though.  It’s an experience from which to learn.  Experience tells us that old ovens can still work great, sometimes too great.

What opportunities have you had to serve?  What did you learn from your experience?