Learning Why ‘Trick or Treat’ Begs the Church to Re-Commit to Hospitality

I’m not one to sign a petition.  I’m way too overly critical to flippantly pen my signature to a document.  Wow, after reading that last line, I realize I have issues.  Sheesh.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting to be approached for my signature while riding my bike home from the park with my youngest daughter.  It kind of caught me off guard.  Not in a bad way.  It literally caught me in a moment when my guard was down.  So, I signed.

It was a neighbor seeking signatures from homeowners on our street.  The reason for asking is Hallloween.  She is seeking permission from each family on Jonila Avenue to close the street for ‘Trick or Treat.’

Word is that our neighborhood is a magnet for trick or treaters.  I guess carloads of kids and families flood our streets every year.  Not sure if it’s geographical convenience or what, but we live in a halloween hotspot.

I’m kind of nervous.  We have never lived on a street with high trick or treat traffic before.  I’m not sure whether to expect tens, hundreds, or thousands.  Plus, my neighbors’ story freaks me out.  One year, they ran out of candy and turned off the porch light.  No light, evidently, indicates the storehouse is closed.  Nearly 3 hours after trick or treat began, one group of trick or treaters didn’t receive the message.  They knocked on our neighbor’s door.  No answer.  They then proceeded around the house, through the gated back yard, where they looked in the window to find our neighbors seated in their bed clothes (aka, not appropriate attire for strangers to see you in).

Our family will be trying this thing out this year.  We bought loads of candy.  Invited friends over early enough to avoid the blockade.  Emotionally hyped our daughters for a fun night.  We’re doing this thing.

Here’s the deal.  I’m not sure I’m ready to open my door to everyone.  It’s not a regular practice of mine.  I’m used to my own privacy.  I’m not so inclined to welcome strangers and people I don’t know.  I am much more comfortable sharing my home with a small group of people who are friends.  I don’t go throwing around hospitality to just anyone.

For Trick or Treat, I will.  I open my door to strangers and share a gift with them.

A distinguishing mark for the early Church was its hospitality to needy strangers.  It was a central practice for Christians.  By the 1700s, it disappeared as a significant moral exercise.  Ever since, it has been left to be rediscovered.

Christine Pohl writes, “Hospitality involves some space into which people are welcomed, a place where unless the invitation is given, the stranger would not feel free to enter.”  She adds, “The distinctive Christian contribution was the emphasis on including the poor and the neediest, the ones who could not return the favor.”

If ever so subtly, Trick or Treat begs the Church to re-commit to greater hospitality.  Open the doors to our homes and lives to those around us.  Regularly connect with persons in need of a secure place in the world.   Risk the uncomfortable and awkward.  Extend to strangers a quality of kindness normally reserved for a select few.  Let your hospitality reveal and reflect the power of God’s love in your life.

You have a gift much greater than candy to share.  You don’t have to wait to give it once a year.  It doesn’t require a special holiday.  Every day is an opportunity to practice.

Learning Grace Does the Unthinkable

Grace-InstagramGrace does the unthinkable…

It gives a second  chance.  And another.  And another.  And another.  And another.  Ad infinitum.

I think we all can agree, humans don’t deserve another.  We’ve certainly outlived our chances.  God has every right to give up and walk away.

It was barely a week into creation, and humans messed things up.  God made everything perfect.  Humans were made with a an extra dash of likeness to God.  We only had to obey a single, simple request.  Don’t eat from one tree.  Every other fruit and vegetable is free game, providing hundreds, maybe thousands of options.  You know the story.  They take a bite.  Time for a second chance.

Not long after, God chose old Father Abraham and his barren wife Sarah to parent a new nation.  They would be the chosen people of God.  It was a promise.  God would make their descendants as numerous as the stars.  They are to become a great nation.  Through their greatness, God promises to bless all the nations.  God delivers.  Past the age of childbearing, God gives Sarah her first son.

It doesn’t take long before God’s people forget the promise.  Mess ups begin to happen.  Somehow, they lose their position as a great nation.  They traded it for a position of slavery in Egypt.  Time for a second chance.

After years of slavery, God’s people cry for help.  God hears.  God rescues them from the hands of the King of Egypt.  You probably know the story.  God sends the plagues.  God leads them through a parted sea.  God closes the parted sea on the heads of the pursuing Egyptians.  Freedom rings.  Not long after, God’s people start complaining.  They are  not satisfied with their situation in freedom.  Idols worship becomes their norm.  Time for a second chance.

Years later, after settling down, God’s people beg for a king.  They already have a King in God.  They want a visible, human king.  God delivers.  Doesn’t take long for them to turn away, again.  Time for a second chance.

God gave them ten commandments.  God tore down enemy walls with trumpets and marching.  God protected from enemies with the strength of a single man, aka Samson.  God rescued from exile.  God warned them through prophets.  Still, they turned away.  Time for more second chances.

All this happened before the New Testament.  It doesn’t include all the mess we’ve created since.  Wars.  Slavery.  Genocide.  Crusades.  Death through crucifixion of God’s own son.

Seems official.  Humanity doesn’t deserve a second chance from God.

Grace gives it anyway. Grace seeks to fix broken relationships, not finish them.

Grace, then, does wants even more unthinkable.  It challenges you to do the same.

Give a second chance.  Huh?  What?  How many times, Peter asked?  Jesus answers, “seventy times seven,” which is more than you can give.

Why?

Because not one is worth losing.  God’s grace challenges us to be a people who love so intensely that we refuse to risk the loss of one who has gone astray.  Grace won’t let you be guilty of abandoning one to their sin.  Grace shows how big love can be by accepting the hard work of reconciliation.

Unthinkable.

Learning Why Every Church Should Invite Cami Bradley to Perform

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 presetCami Bradley spent less than 3 hours total with my family.  Still, my oldest daughter clung to her leg with tears streaming down her face, saying, “I don’t want you to go.”  

You might remember Cami from the Finals of Season 8 on America’s Got Talent.  Of the thousands of participants, Cami sang her way to the top 6 contestants.  Here’s a video to refresh your memory.

Our church invited her to perform during our Saturday Night Worship Service.  It is our way of giving our people a unique reason to invite friends to church who normally wouldn’t come.  Some may not be interested in coming to church to hear a sermon from a pastor they don’t know.  Chances are they are more inclined to come to church to hear a celebrity with an exceptional ability to sing.

We weren’t disappointed.  Cami was amazing.  Our attendance was over double what’s normal.  People are still talking about how great it, and she was.

We’ve done this type of event before.  We’ve worked with other celebrities and performers.  All of them have been great.  Cami set the bar even higher.  Here’s what set her apart:

  • Authenticity.  My family had the opportunity to spend time with Cami at lunch and dinner.  We were able to get a glimpse of Cami, offstage.  She shared her story with us.  We shared ours with her.  Every bit of our conversation was real.  She didn’t try to be something she’s not.  She gave us the space to do the same.  Nothing was fake.  Everything was real.  Cami emanates authenticity.
  • Deep Faith.  Cami grew up in a family of worship leaders and creative arts pastors.  At 18 years old, she began to lead worship in the same church that draws thousands every weekend.  Her faith in God runs deep.
  • Courageous.  Cami took a step she didn’t want to.  She took a risk.  Trying out for America’s Got Talent wasn’t her idea.  It was completely out of her comfort zone.  Yet, she followed a leading in a direction she normally wouldn’t go.  Letting go of what is safe, she continues to courageously pursue new paths.
  • Talent.  The girl can sing.  Not sure I can say I’ve heard a better live performance.  The audience will never forget her twist on the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers.

Cami was a gift to our church this weekend.  She was a breath of fresh air.  I wish every church could experience the same.  Grateful we had the opportunity to share the night with her.

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Learning Your Child Needs Your Attention with Homework

I couldn’t understand my child’s kindergarten math homework.

Counters?!?  What in the world are counters?  The instructions asked students to count the counters.  She looked at me like, huh?  I looked the worksheet like, huh?  I had no idea how to help my daughter count counters.  If that’s not enough, then it asked the student to draw counters.  By this point, I am feeling two emotions:  embarrassment and frustration.

Now, we’re in second grade.  We’ve figured out math.  Our task is conquering AR (Accelerated Reading).  This reading program works on a student’s comprehension.  But, it’s more complicated than that.  There are goals, percentages, points, and parties involved.

Each students has a goal to reach 4.0 points with an average of 85% in order to earn the reward party at the end of each month.  I missed all of that somehow.  The information flew right over my head.

The realization hit me when my child told me she had one day to score 100% on four tests.  Bad daddy moment.  Her tears and disappointment felt like my fault.

Daddy,” she said, “I need a reading folder like Molly.  She has one and she reached her goal.  I can do it if you buy me a folder.”  Next day, we bought one.

Amazing how much a folder helps.  Still, she needed more of my attention.  She needs me to remind her to read the book at least three times before taking a test.  She needs me to quiz her after each reading.  She needs me to write a note in her agenda to let the teacher know she’s ready for a test.  She needs me to keep track of her average.  She needs me to help her choose the right books.  She needs me to celebrate a 100%.  She needs me to encourage when scores are low.

My daughter needs my attention with her homework to be successful.  It gives her the courage and confidence to trust her own abilities.

I can’t imagine the confusion and frustrating she might be experiencing if I left her alone.  Like me, I’m sure your child needs your attention, too.

I pray you don’t neglect to give it.  I also pray we stand in the gap for those children whose parents never will.

 

 

 

Learning to Be a Christian (& Pastor) Without All the Answers

What kind of answer do I have for…

The one who is randomly diagnosed with cancer.  Didn’t see it coming.  Yesterday, the biggest problem was an aching knee.  Today, it’s a cancerous lump that needs to be removed immediately.  Never been married.  No kids.  A few years into retirement, and now this.

The question is, “Why me?  What did I do wrong to deserve this?  You don’t think it’s because of _____________?”

As a Christian trained to be a pastor, I have an answer.  “It’s not your fault,” I can say.  “God isn’t punishing you.  Sickness and death is the result of sin entering our world.  Evil can attack any of us however it likes at its own will, for no other reason than to steal and kill your spirit.”

These words may be true.  By the look in this person’s eyes, they aren’t the words he was looking for.  A logical or theological answer doesn’t bring instant comfort.  His heart is yearning for something else.

What kind of answer do I have for…

For the one who can barely stand the pain his knee, but whose heart can’t bare the weight of another surgery.  Only 13% of the heart’s capacity available isn’t enough to sustain the body put under anesthetic.  One health professional says it is a 50/50 chance.  Another gives much worse odds.

The question is, “Do I risk the surgery to get rid of this chronic pain?  Or, do I suffer through the pain for the rest of my life because it’s too risky?

I can answer.  “You know it’s selfish to risk your life when your family is begging you not to do it.”  It’s also fair to say, “It may be selfish of your family to ask you to suffer when you may survive the surgery.”  

These words may be true.  Neither really bring the comfort he’s hoping for.

What kind of answer do I have for…

The teenager whose parents are getting divorced.

What kind of answer do I have for…

The parent whose teenager is struggling with identity.

What kind of answer do I have for…

Fill in the blank ____________________.

I might have an answer.  It may not be the answer.  More often than not, I don’t need an answer at all.  Answers are just words.

People need me to be present.  With love.  A phone call.  A letter.  A prayer.  A listening ear.  A meal.  Tears.  Laughter.  Silence.  Awkwardness.

God doesn’t need you to have all the answers all the time.  God wants to use you to be the answer.

 

 

 

 

Learning How a Man Can Save a Life

I assume hearing the same thing more than once is an indicator I should be listening.  In the last month, I’ve heard a recurring cry of “Help!” from four different sources.

The first cry came in an email from a friend.  She is a teacher at a local Middle School.  Her classroom experience puts her in contact with at-risk students.  She knows the daily struggle these students face.  One student’s struggle and cry for help led to this message:

“I have a student who lives with his grandparents because both of his parents are deceased.  His grandparents are old and he does a lot of the chores around the house.  Do you know of anyone that might want to be a mentor to him?  He is precious but he is a teenage boy.  He is a 13 yr old fella.  He needs a man in his life and he was actually the one that brought up the mentor idea.”

The second cry came in an email from a school representative, as well.  It was sent out to all school volunteers.  I happen to be one of them, so received this message:

Our county is offering a wonderful opportunity to mentor students in our area, even  at ____________!  We have a beautiful opportunity to impact the lives of our kiddos, just by giving of ourselves.  🙂  If any approved volunteer is interested in mentoring a student or just seeing what mentoring is all about, please follow the link below.

The third cry came in a meeting with pastors.  Around the table were pastors of various ministries, including youth ministry.  When asked to share one need in your ministry area, both the Middle and High School pastors expressed a lack of adult male presence.

The fourth cry came in a conversation with a friend working to prevent child trafficking and exploitation.  She wants to stop the abuse before it happens.  She believes one way to do this is by mentoring those most vulnerable.  Male and female.  She created a mentoring program in conjunction with local public schools.  One of her greatest obstacles so far is finding male mentors.

I’m listening now.  Here’s what I’m hearing.  Men have an opportunity to save a life.  The life of a young boy who needs a positive male influence.  You can save their life from becoming what they only know about men through experience:  that men are absent, men are irresponsible, men are violent, men are selfish, men are greedy, men are controlled by sexual desire, men are criminals, men are apathetic, men don’t feel, and men don’t need help.

If you are a man, then you can save a life of a soon-to-be-man.  You can rescue a boy trapped in dangers he cannot escape himself.  There’s a way out that he can’t see without your help.  Before he becomes an adult bound by chains that he can’t loose, you can show him how to break the bonds.

At the right time, while we were still weak, Christ came to your to your rescue (Romans 5:6). He died to save you.

Boys in your community are in positions of weakness.  The time is right.  You can prove God’s love for them.

Your time is now.  Mentor someone.  Save a life.

**If you want an opportunity to mentor, please contact me:  coylindsey@gmail.com

 

 

Learning You Can Break the Cycle

I wish he would believe me.  He can break the cycle.  A cycle that started when he and I were both kids.

I had no idea what was happening in his house for all those years.  I didn’t know to put two and two together.  I still can’t say for sure what happened behind closed doors.  Not everything, anyway.  I only knew I loved to play with his brother and him.

He lived down the street from me.  Maybe 6 houses away.  He always came to my house or we met at the playground.  We spent hours playing baseball, basketball, wiffle ball, trudging through the woods, or riding bikes.

It seemed strange how every time we passed their house, a new car was parked out front. Cars weren’t there for long, though.  By the time we rode around the block, the car would be gone.  I assumed friends were stopping by to say hi.

I grew up and so did he.  As an adult, I developed a better idea of what went down in that home.  I may have underestimated the magnitude.  When the truth finally got out, it was plastered all over the front page of our hometown newspaper.

There he was, in full color with his Dad and brother.  One of the biggest drug busts in our town’s history.  Years of dealing and doing drugs, and I was only steps away.  Painful discovery.

I know he can break the cycle.  He didn’t start it.  His dad is responsible for forcing my friend’s mom to swallow the pills.  His dad initiated the boys and their sisters into drug use before they were old enough to know the difference.  His dad threatened the family into a vow of silence.  It’s not my friend’s fault.  He was coerced.

I know the cycle can be broken.  I know he is one who can do it.  I’ve witnessed his sensitivity to the One who can make it happen.  I was there when he melted with tears in the lap of God’s love, that one time.  He can break the cycle.  He just doesn’t know it.

I heard a song, recently, I like to imagine God is singing to my friend.  Not just him, though.  To everyone I love who is stuck in a vicious cycle, including myself sometimes, I hear God’s voice.  The song is  Break the Cycle by You+Me.  I imagine God saying these words,

Tell me the words you long to hear, and I’ll sing them loud and clear.  Let me heal the wounds you’ve held onto for all these years.  Break the cycle.  Break the chain.  Because love is louder than all your pain.

God brings freedom.  God offers new life.  God doesn’t expect you to start over.  God gives you a new birth right.  Right now.  The beginning of a fresh story.  The cycle ends.  The chain is destroyed.

Break the cycle for him, God.  Break his chain.  Write a redemptive story with his life.

Break all of mine, too.

(If you missed it, here’s a link to the video:  Break the Cycle)

Learning 2 Reasons Kids Need Good Dads

He was a student in our ministry not long ago.  Now, he sits in front of me unable to feel.  Holding back tears as his eyes begin to well up and glass over.

I ask, “When did your relationship with your dad break?”  A long pause ensues, with a couple glances at the ceiling.  “I don’t know,” he says, “I guess when I was 12.”  I ask, “What has your relationship with your dad been like since?”  He answers, “We haven’t had one.”

His dad is a screamer. He yells about everything all the time.  Doesn’t matter what it is.  If Dad is upset, shouts of anger bleed out.  Ever since the young man sitting in front of me can remember.

My question is, “How does this make you feel?”  His recurring answer is, “I don’t know.”  Not because he doesn’t really know.  But because it is too painful to consider.  I push further and say, “Yes, you do.  Let yourself feel.  It’s okay to feel.  Tell me how it makes you feel.”  Huge tears form in the corner of his eyes.  He fights it and musters a simple answer, “It hurts.”  He wipes the pain away with the tears.

He is sitting in front of me for one reason.  He wants to learn what it means to be a good husband and father.  His greatest obstacle is allowing himself to feel.  His deepest struggle is opening himself to others, even those he loves most.  The vulnerability it takes to love fully is missing.  It is buried beneath the rubble caused by a yelling father.

This brings me to Reason #1 Why Kids Need Good Dads:  The effect a dad has on his children can become a source of a child’s lifelong struggle.

I was in a meeting with pastors.  One youth pastor brought with her a stack of cards.  On each card was the writing of a middle school student.  Their messages blanketed the room with a somber feel.

Card after card lamented the woes of a broken family.  About 75% of the students wrote their own version of the same sad story.  Mom and dad fighting.  Divorce pending.  Dad not around.  Dad angry all the time.  Not sure dad even loves me.

It is obvious.  The biggest problem students face are the two people who brought them into this world.  Mom and Dad.  Students are desperate for a good dad.  Confused, scared, hurt, and lonely, they are not sure where to turn.

This leads to Reason #2 Why Kids Need Good Dads:  The lack of a good dad sends children seeking security in places they will never find it.

 

What does it mean for you to be a good dad?

 

 

Learning the Best Surprises Aren’t Always Planned

birthday party 1The kids were holding Brooklyn hostage in her car.  They wouldn’t let her pass the entrance to our driveway until we gave the go-ahead.

It was all part of our plan for Brooklyn’s semi-surprise Birthday Party.  She knew we were having dinner with some friends.  She also knew they were bringing birthday-appropriate desserts.  She didn’t know our plan to decorate the house.  She also didn’t know we invited an extra family to join the fun.  A total of 19 people, including 11 kids.

birthday party 2Brooklyn loved the surprise of walking into our decorated house with kids shouting, “Surprise!!!!”  The room was full of smiles and excitement and hugs and food.

But, it was a different surprise that will stick in Brooklyn’s memory forever.

The day after (her actual birthday) I let her know I hoped she had fun at the party.  Her response tells all,

“Thank you.  It was fun and really special see all our kids having fun outside.  That was the best.” 

It was a moment right before sitting down to eat.  All eleven kids were outside in the backyard together, from 10 years old down to one year old.  It happened when they all lined up, from tallest to shortest, and took a journey around the yard.  Each one following the other with all seriousness.  A moment of pure joy and imagination.  They snuck around the yard as if looking for magical treasure.  Beautiful.

I didn’t plan it.  Neither did the other parents.  It just happened.  Amidst the planned surprises, Brooklyn discovered one serendipitous gift.

 

Learning What 13,071 Cans of Ravioli Looks Like

Ravoili Cans 13,071The BBQ teams started rolling in Friday morning, Oct 3.  By noon, we unloaded 4,500 cans of ravioli.  Huge smiles on our face, we knew to expect at least double that number.  At the end of the day, it tripled.  Final count 13,071.

Three teams stood above the rest and battled to the end for the coveted “People’s Choice Award,” awarded to the one that submits the most cans of ravioli.  Big Papa, Swamp Boys, and Pull Your Pork fought till the finish.   The winner bringing in 4,500 cans.

The spirit of the competition is captured in the words of Rub Bagby from Swamp Boys , “There are 3 teams shown in the picture, but I bet there were no less than 100 BBQ teams from across the country that had a hand in donations. BBQ folks are the best.” -post on Facebook

Thank you to the BBQ community for taking a stand against child hunger right here in Polk County, FL!

Thankful to see 50 teams come together with a shared love for BBQ.  More grateful to witness a greater love being shown for children in need.  Can’t wait to see how many cans show up next year.