Experiences

Overdue Update

The celebration of my 38th birthday seems to be a fitting occasion to share an update on our life here in South Florida.

The wheel of transition that was spinning rapidly for the first 12 months of our life here has slowed considerably.

cropped-sunset-on-the-preserve.jpg

a South Florida sunset captured from our back patio

I have been leading the worship ministry at Grace Fellowship for 9 months now.  Below you can watch one of my favorite moments, as our band, choir, and dancers led worship together . . . (my daughter Grace is the dancer all the way on the right)

to watch the videos on this post, you need to read this on jazzysaint.wordpress.com ]

The most fulfilling way I have served Grace Fellowship has been helping the church become more healthy by discerning vision, building systems, and facilitating communication.  Meanwhile, I am resetting the DNA of our worship ministry by creating a discipleship culture: calling people to follow Jesus by living UP toward God, IN toward the church, and OUT toward the world, and then empowering them to lead worship (as opposed to scheduling people to fill slots and then hoping they follow Jesus along the way).

If you want to learn more about the way we are creating a discipleship culture
and the missional community we just launched
(which ironically reminds me a lot of church planting!),
check out my new website:

upinout.co

 

Sara and I co-taught a junior-high class at Berean Christian School this year called the Art of Music.  I also taught group music lessons.  In the video below, you can watch one of these groups perform with my daughter Nellie as the lead singer (my Virginia friends will remember me leading this song).

Nellie also learned the mandolin and the bass guitar this year.  Grace learned the African drums and the piano, and Walker continued to learn the piano.  

All three kids had a very positive experience attending Berean.  Nellie joined the school’s track team and discovered that she has natural talent in distance running.  Grace received straight As all year long, enjoyed dancing at church, and started her cheerleading career.  Walker survived 2nd grade with an excellent yet very structured (hmmm, I can’t think of a word that describes Walker less than structured) teacher.  I also had the joy of baptizing Walker on Easter Sunday (you can watch the baptism below) . . .

Sara continues to tutor students from all over the world.  During the school year they usually tutor in person, but the other day Sara was trying to figure out how to schedule her day of skype tutoring sessions with kids who were in Germany, Colombia, and Canada (that’s three different time zones, plus ours).  In the Fall Sara hopes to go back to school to pursue a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine degree from the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine.

Our family continues to get more and more healthy.  It seems like just about everything that we eat is organic, and we have eliminated all kinds of things some of us used to enjoy.  Fortunately, Sara is a great cook, and can make really weird, I mean, healthy, things taste good.  Sara and Shawn have been working out together (even entering the P90X world) almost every day for the past 4 months.  By the way, exercising together is a productive way to spend quality time with your spouse.  I wonder how many men reading this are married to a woman who can do 15 push ups in a row (no, not the modified “girl” push ups . . .  the real ones)?

If you missed my updates about how Jazz Nativity blossomed here in South Florida, you can find out how to listen to the music and read more at GraceFellowshipJazz.com

Until my next overdue update . . .  Peace.

 

 

 

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Tracing God’s Hand

Eleven months ago, compelled by the spiritual need and drawn toward its diverse culture, we arrived in South Florida.

Seven months later we had already reached the end of our first attempt to make an impact (Mosaix Church).

The four-month silence of this blog reflects the challenge of answering some hard questions:

“Was I really following God’s leading when I led my family from our healthy life and fruitful ministry in Virginia to South Florida?”

“If I was following God, and if I’m not going to start a church, why are we here?”

Processing those questions included good things like reading Scripture, praying, journaling, talking with friends, and considering several ministry opportunities. Unfortunately, I also spent (wasted) time trying to “figure it all out” like a business analyst.

Amidst it all, God spoke clearly to me. Not about the externals of what to do or where to go, but with insights about something much more difficult to change . . . me.

Two weeks ago, we decided to stay in South Florida until we clearly discerned what God was leading us to do. We signed a rental lease on a house across the street from both our church and the school our kids will be attending this year.

Then, a few days ago, the Worship Pastor at Grace Fellowship (the church I have been serving for the past year) unexpectedly resigned, and the elders asked me to serve as the Interim Worship Pastor.

I can now easily trace God’s hand bringing me to South Florida, working through the challenges of the past year, and calling me to lead the worship ministry at Grace Fellowship.

Times are coming in my life and in yours when His hand will not be so easy to trace.  May this story encourage us all to walk by faith and not by sight.

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Thank you . . .

Thank you to everyone who has prayed a prayer, given a dollar, followed this blog, sent an email, placed a call, texted a message, followed me on twitter, mailed a Christmas card, liked our new church on facebook, and even visited our new church.

Highlights from our first 4 months here in South Florida:

– We moved here to start a new church (eventually named Mosaix Church) because experts say 90% of the people in South Florida are spiritually lost.

– We arrived just in time for the kids to start school. Many of Grace and Walker’s classmates are Haitian, and we ended up transitioning Nelly to home-schooling in November.

– Walker was erroneously given permission by his teacher to walk home from school a few weeks after we arrived. He somehow found our home a mile away by himself, crossing a major 8-lane road without crossing guards to get there.

– I am working in the worship ministry of a great church in West Palm Beach called Grace Fellowship until we can raise enough support for me to focus my energy on planting our new church.

– Sara has received high praise for her work leading science experiments for schools all over South Florida. She starts a new job in January tutoring teenagers who winter in South Florida to continue their training as professional equestrian riders.

– Since the beginning of October, we have gathered neighbors at our townhome each Sunday night. We have cast vision for the church we hope to plant, discipled folks, shared the gospel, and eaten a lot of Sara’s great cooking. We’ve welcomed 34 different people into our home for these Sunday night gatherings, and have averaged 15 adults and kids each week.

– Next steps for Mosaix Church:
. . . leading the folks who are already gathering at our house to be a part of the team who will help us plant Mosaix Church.
. . . starting several “missional communities”. These groups will help us build bridges to new people in our community and at the same time seek to make an immediate impact on real needs.

Please consider helping make Mosaix Church become a reality by becoming a Prayer Partner or Giving Partner.

Until next year . . .

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An Open Door

This morning I asked for folks to pray a very specific prayer: that God would open the door for me to share the message of Christ.  I went to work, and I started receiving emails notifying me that people had replied to the blog – they were praying.  All day I just kept looking forward to how God was going to answer that prayer.

After I read (or get ready for me to show my age – my kids and I took turns reading) “Officer Buckle”, I went outside to get in my amazing Acura loaner car (yes, the Hyundai is in the shop, AGAIN).  I had planned to drive somewhere and look for someone to tell about Jesus because I knew people had been praying about it all day.  (I am aware that it sounds crazy to go and look for someone to tell about Jesus, and I am aware of how sad it is that that sounds crazy).

My cool Acura didn’t even make it out of the driveway.  I saw someone who I knew was going through a really painful experience.  I expressed my genuine concern for him, and it turned into a long conversation with several members of his family.  To respect their privacy, I am not going to mention the intense struggles this family faces on a day to day basis.  But sharing about God’s love, that what we need is His forgiveness – even though we can’t earn it, sharing about God’s perspective on dying, and how following Christ is about more than a ticket to heaven . . . all of this flowed naturally into the conversation.

I don’t know any better than any of you exactly how God uses prayer to accomplish things, but it sure is exciting to watch it happen.   To all of you who prayed for the open door, thank you.

There is probably someone in your neighborhood hurting like the family in my neighborhood.  I pray that God will open a door for you to share the message of Christ. Get ready, and keep your eyes open – God loves to answer that prayer.

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1 Gathering Down, Infinity to Go

Thank you to the 5 folks who participated in my crazy idea of a prayer teleconference call.  It was powerful to be prayed for by folks from 900 miles away (and 1 from 1400 miles away).  If you missed this one, we’ll definitely do it again.  Stay tuned.

Then, it was on to the 1st gathering of Mosaix Church.  If you are trying to figure out exactly what we are doing at this point, we are trying to gather people at our house, cast vision for what the church will be, and inspire people to help make that vision a reality.

It might seem like a small thing, but at our 1st gathering we doubled our numbers from 5 to 10 (praise God!).  Besides getting to know each other and eating some of Sara’s delicious brownies, we talked about the mission of our new church: living UP toward God, IN toward the church, and OUT toward the world.

Then we actually did it.  We worshipped God through song (UP), prayed for several people’s specific needs (IN), and wrote cards to a very sick woman in Virginia (OUT).  That’s what church is supposed to be.  Learning truth and then living it.

The UP, IN, and OUT lingo should sound familiar to Gayton Baptist folks.    If it’s new to you, here’s a 2 minute video clip from the guy who created the lingo to catch you up:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKLaKy3c_Ws .

In 15 years of ministry, I have yet to find a more simple and all-encompassing summary of the Christian life.  That’s why we’re adopting it as Mosaix’s mission statement.

And I would encourage each one of you, before you go to sleep tonight, to audit your life using these three life-directions (UP, IN, OUT).  Figure out which is weakest in your life, and make a plan to do something about it.  Tell someone (who loves you enough to be honest with you) that you are going to try to focus your life more in that direction over the next 30 days.  When the 30 days are up, ask them if they’ve noticed a change.

Since the three directions are based on Jesus’ life, you should end up more like Jesus than when you started.

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Perhaps the scariest moment in 11 years of parenting

It was one week ago today.  Our car was in the shop (again), so Sara had to walk to pick Grace and Walker up from a half-day at school.  At 11:30am, I received a panicked call from Sara.  She had arrived at the school, found Grace, but hadn’t found my 6-year old son Walker.  A short and frantic search later, he was nowhere to be found.

Within moments, we found out that someone had seen him walking away from the school with a random kid that we didn’t know.  But that was it.  Nobody knew where he was.

Being 30 minutes away from your son who has gone missing makes you do two things.  Pray, and drive really fast.  Prayer at _ _ miles an hour is interesting prayer.

I don’t even want to remember the things that were running through my head.  I couldn’t even fathom the possibility that he had walked home.  First, a mile is a long way for a 6-year old to walk.  Plus, how would he even find his way there by himself?

What I did imagine was my sometimes absent-minded son walking home with a friend until that friend reached his home, and then Walker having no idea what to do or how to contact us.  Other scenarios flooded my mind as well – kidnapped; hit by a car; killed?

I called a friend to ask him to pray, and after he finished praying, my phone beeped to let me know another call was coming in.  It was Sara, who had been speed-walking to our house along with Grace and Walker’s teacher.  Grace had been sent to run ahead, and she had returned with the report that Walker was at our front door.

Now, you need to know a few things to fully appreciate how amazing it is that God protected my little boy.  The school is located on a heavily trafficked road (with 3 lanes on each side).  We found out later that Walker had crossed that road by himself.  No crossing guards.  As he had been trained, he looked left, looked right, and he had seen no cars coming.  Apparently one car had stopped and motioned for him to keep going (picture a road where cars are usually travelling 50 miles an hour with a car stopped motioning a tiny boy to cross the road!!!).  Secondly, I don’t know how Walker knew how to find our house.  He had only been attending the school a few weeks, and most kids don’t even know how to navigate to places they have been travelling for years.

I do give God the credit for protecting my son, just like He did when Walker was bitten by a poisonous Copperhead snake last year.   I don’t know all the reasons why God has protected him in two potentially life-threatening situations, but I know at least one.

Today I was teaching Walker a piano lesson, and he asked me if he could play a song he had made up.  He started playing, and my mouth dropped open.  When he finished, I asked him if I could play with him, and if you click on the link below you may be astonished as much as I was.  I am playing the left hand accompaniment (the low notes) and Walker is improvising the melody (the high notes).  No sheet music involved here – all the notes and rhythms came from his head.  He said it was a God-song.

Walker Improvising a Melody

God protected my son because he has a purpose for his little life, which definitely includes music.  And God has a purpose for everyone who has have been given breath long enough to read this post.

Thank God for giving you another day to live out His purpose for you.  If you’re not sure what that purpose is, see if you can trace God’s hand in your life.  Notice how God is already working through you, and see what needs to be reoriented in your life so that you can devote more of your life to His purpose.

One last thought.  Perhaps you can trace God’s hand in someone else’s life today like I did with Walker.  Many people are blind to the ways God is using them to bless others.  If you see an evidence of God working through someone today, point it out.  Helping people find their purpose in life is one of the most dynamic ways you can make an impact on this world.  You are not only helping the person you are encouraging, but you’re indirectly helping everyone that person touches as they live out their purpose in this world.

PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO VISIT OUR UPDATED PRAYER PAGE SO YOU CAN PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR US AS YOU REMEMBER US.  THANKS!

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“Thank you for helping me become saved today.”

On Friday, a 13-year old 8th grader, we’ll call him John, was at a retreat with his “Christian” school, even though he wasn’t one.  He came to the retreat from a broken home, his dad having moved halfway across the world, back to his family’s home country.

In the middle of the retreat’s last session, the speaker, with no emotional pleading, spoke frankly to the kids: “If you know you don’t have a relationship with God, but you would like to begin one, raise your hand.”  John summoned up the courage to raise his hand, and even more courage to walk to the back of the room to talk about all of this with an adult.

I left the back of the room with John and two other boys and walked down to the nearby lake. I then had the privilege of telling the beautiful story of the gospel in a way these middle-schoolers could understand:

“Guys, I am so glad you want to begin a relationship with God.  I was eleven years old when I made the decision to follow Christ, and it was the most important decision I have ever made.  You have have heard this story before – I had it heard it many times before the day I believed it – but let me share this story again with you . . .  

God has created everything you see – including this lake, the annoying mosquitoes that have been attacking us, and each one of you.  He wants to have a relationship with you, but I bet you guys know some things you have done that have messed that relationship up.”  

“Back-talking to my parents” . . .  “not always telling the truth” . . . “not spending enough time with God”  were their answers.

“You know, guys, each one of those things reveals alot about our heart – that we are not in the kind of relationship with God that we need to be.  But God wants to be in a relationship with us, so He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live the perfect life that we should have lived. You guys have heard that even though he was perfect, Jesus was rejected, even crucified on a cross.  

The amazing thing is that Jesus got what we deserved to get.  And if we believe that Jesus lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins, we get what Jesus deserved – a relationship with God.  

(Pointing to the volleyball court we were standing next to) – it would be like you, Ryan, training for the Olympic volleyball team – working really hard and making the team.  And then at the last moment, you let John go the Olympics instead.  John didn’t deserve to go – he hadn’t practiced, he didn’t work hard, but he got what you deserved because you gave it to him.  That’s how it is with us and Jesus.  He earned what God wanted from us, a real relationship.  And yet if we believe in His life and death and resurrection, we get what he earned.”

After encouraging them talk to God by themselves, and then leading them in a prayer, all three of the boys seemed to genuinely decide to follow Jesus Christ.  I asked them to tell me what they were thinking, and John said, “I think I can finally be the person I am supposed to be.”

Later that night, John emailed me the title of this post: “Thank you for helping me become saved today.”

I share this story with you for two reasons.  First, every one of you who has prayed a prayer, given a dollar, or supported us in any way is part of John’s life-changing experience.  I hope that makes you smile.

I’ll share the second reason in my next post.

If you haven’t visited the blog for awhile, you may want to check out the new pages.  The “pray” and “give” pages have also been updated.

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