Southern Comfort

We really cannot explain in words all that we experienced in Charlotte.  It was an incredible time of learning, being poured into and then pouring out on so many.

Over a month ago, Charlotte wasn’t even on our radar- we didn’t have any connections or contacts there, then…poof!  My mom met Marilynn Chadwick on a plane to Kigali, Rwanda…..long story short, we find out that Marilynn is the pastor’s wife of Forest Hill and she invited us to come to Charlotte.  Little did she know that we would actually pursue this! 🙂

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Marilynn ended up doing all of the grunt work for us and called about 50 billion people to get us hooked up with anyone we wanted to meet.  Loved it.  All we had to do was come and meet these people!  Marilynn, you are amazing!!!!

We were treated like royalty with a van, a beautiful condo to rest in, gifts for our children, people coming to check on us all the time, tickets to “Annie” the play for our family, welcomed our kids to join their Playschool and so much more.  We felt overwhelmed, to say the least, but very welcomed.

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Honestly, I haven’t figured out this culture down here, it is very different than the NW.  The Lord had impressed me to go to David and Marilynn for a little more solid understanding of southern community before we wrote about it.  I’m glad we did- lack of understanding can lead to poorly made assumptions.  Marilynn jokingly referred to Charlotte as the “buckle” in the Bible Belt.  I never really understood what the Bible Belt was but can now say that I have a little more understanding.  It is an old culture of church-going folks, lots of money, serious history with racism and prejudice (still working that out), big steeple churches, and a very “proper” way of living.  Hard to explain and there is more to it than that.  The south is rich in history and sometimes it is hard for people and especially the Church to find a true identity through that.

Forest Hill Church is another part of the Church that has been through a lot of hard changes so that they can get to the path of Jesus.  We were refreshed to see some of the steps they have taken to shepherd their very large church body to take some very large steps of faith.  Life groups at Forest Hill have taken on their own life forms and do a phenomenal amount of service work together outside the church.  This has created a very fresh way of life there with God’s people coming out of the woodwork and finding their passions in the Kingdom.

We are once again, honored to be a part of life with all of you in Charlotte, NC!!!!  Thank you for all that you did to welcome us into your family.  Keep following the face of Jesus in everyone you see, serve, and relate with.  This is how the Kingdom of God will grow, one person at a time.

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

Both quotes by Mother Teresa

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Prosperity Doctrine Debunked

If you are much younger than I am, you probably don’t even remember Jim Bakker and the PTL (Praise The Lord Club).  Back in the 60s, Bakker was the first host of The 700 Club, then started his own televangelist show, The PTL Club, on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN), eventually owning the rights to the show.  He used his power and influence to embezzle millions of dollars, which he was convicted of and sentenced to prison.  Interestingly enough, the property that Forest Hill Church in Charlotte is on, was owned by the Bakker’s, and it was not only the studio location of The PTL Club which, on a daily average, reached the TV sets of an estimated 12 million viewers, but it was also their home (the staff at Forest Hill called that building “the mansion”), which Forest Hill now uses as office, and small group meeting space.

Now, why am I writing about Jim Bakker you ask?  Well first off, let me make it clear, there is no connection whatsoever between Jim Bakker or the PTL and Forest Hill Church.  Forest Hill purchased the property long after the scandal, long after Bakker was in prison.  The campus is huge, there have been add-ons and renovations.  One that intrigued me was in the basement, below the filming studio, where Bakker had installed a pool, with Roman-looking columns and lavish molding and architecture.  Forest Hill renovated the pool to create the youth worship room by just laying down flooring over the top of it, yep, just a hollow pool just beneath rowdy 8th graders (good thing none of their parents read this website 🙂

So, back to the question, why am I writing about Jim Bakker?  I couldn’t help but think about Jim Bakker and his cronies lounging around the pool or sitting in the sauna talking about the prosperity doctrine or some other skewed theology that justified his lavish spending and complete disregard for other people.  Then, ironically, we had the opportunity to talk about poverty, the homeless and poor in Bakker’s old living room, and on top of his pool.  Our God has a great sense of humor. Twenty years prior, in the same room, people were talking about how material prosperity, particularly financial prosperity and success in business and personal life, is to be expected as external evidence of God’s favor. Then last week we had the opportunity to share the true and simple Gospel. Classic.

Here are some scriptures we used in our presentation that I’m not sure were fully understood until Forest Hill took over the property:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. (I John 3:16-19)

Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done to me. (Matthew 25:40)

In all of our travels we have seen very few churches who reach out in more tangible and meaningful ways to the poor and marginalized than at Forest Hill. Thanks Forest Hill for helping debunk false doctrine.

(Additional note: In prison Bakker started to actually read the Bible.  He then came out with a book called I Was Wrong where he wrote “The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I could have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not struck me dead as a false prophet!”)

Our Abba Father

I have been overwhelmed emotionally on a couple of occasions here in Charlotte.  Once was when Avery and I sat in on a Bible study at Hoskins Park.  Hoskins is a transitional housing ministry that gets men off the streets and helps them plug back into society.  I sat near the back with a few guys I had met earlier that night listening to the speaker as he talked about the attributes of God – How do we see Him?  Who is He to us?  The room was filled with men who were broken in one form or another, myself included.  I slowly brought my eyes across the small room with probably more than 40 men stuffed in it.  I saw some men eagerly taking notes, I saw others focused intently on the speaker, I saw one man sleeping, and being nudged by fellow brothers with stern looks on their faces.  I saw another young man, actually the first I had met that night, get up slowly from his seat and stagger towards the door, errantly grasping for the door knob until finally he clumsily made his way outside, followed quickly by a couple of staff.  Turns out that sometime between the time I met him and Bible study he had downed a 5th of vodka and had to be taken to the hospital.  We were all broken, none more than any other.  I got a sense that the men were “for” each other, and believed in the staff who lived right there with them.

As I held Avery in my lap and listened, a feeling of joy rushed over me, Jesus was with us, and only His healing can truly “heal” us.  It’s amazing when a group of broken people gather together.  More importantly, broken people who are ready for the Lord to work. I was inspired by these men.  I got a sense of community from Hoskins Park.  I also got the sense that the Lord wanted me to tell them all that He was proud of them, that even though they have all been pulled through the muck and mire, that it doesn’t discount their story, it doesn’t make their impact on others invalid.  That actually the opposite was true, their stories, thier testimonies, even though incomplete, were given to them by God, by our Abba Father, and He wants us to shout them to anyone who wants to listen.

I love it when Avery tells me a story, about what he learned in Sunday school that day, or what he heard downtown from somebody, I want to hear him, I want to listen.  That is what God, our Abba Father wants from us.  He wants to hear our story, our testimony of what He has done in our lives.  I was overwhelmed, like every single man’s story in that room the other night was downloaded into my mind, like I knew them well, their struggles, their victories, and I hadn’t heard one of them.  The Lord was confirming in my own soul that when His people come together, and earnestly seek Him with transparency, and honesty, realizing our own brokenness, great things can happen.  God honored that.  Afterwards, men I had never met or talked to, men from completely different social, and economic backgrounds came up to Avery and I and gave us hugs, thanking us for being there.  Overwhelming.

Blessings in the Storm

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I just couldn’t wait to share about this amazing ministry to women and children.

Ultimately it is never about what the ministry is or does, it is about the people who are a part of it.  There could be two of the same “ministries” or “missions” in the same town and both could be completely different.  It is ALL about the hearts of the people who work and serve in these places.

Loretta Caldwell stole my heart within about 5 minutes of talking with her.  I saw Jesus shining brightly through her words, her acts of mercy, her stories, and her small, simple ministry that has become because of her abandoned heart for God and His children.  Blessings in the Storm reaches out to women and children who are homeless or who may be on the brink of this situation.  There are now 4 small houses close together with 13 women and 10 children; they are full!  Loretta prays and hopes for more houses to give more women and children another opportunity to experience a safe, warm home and to find God’s love.

She humbly calls herself the Harriet Tubman of homelessness.  Random calls in the middle of the night, she is known as the lady who loves and gives without question.  She loves what she does and feels honored to be the lady God has chosen to help many of these women.  She lives with these women and sees Jesus in each of them.  Her confidence and faith in our God has created a place of peace, growth and life change.  These women see first-hand her life of faith, praying for bills to be paid, for the women and children on the streets, and using every resource she has to help others who cannot help themselves.

She talks about how so many people go to church to find Jesus and pray their hearts out to experience His presence, but she is confident and so simply honored to know she gets to live, work, play and serve Jesus all the day long because He IS these women and children.

The Simple Way

We had dinner at the Simple Way last Monday night.  It was somewhat surreal, I wasn’t sure what to think.  We really wanted to meet Shane Claiborne, his writing has had such a profound impact on our lives and our ministry.  His book The Irresistible Revolution was the spark that started us down the road of selling everything we owned and loving on the poor and marginalized.  The Simple Way is actually the non-profit (or they would say anti-profit) group that does a lot of different types of things to advance the Kingdom.  We actually visited the Potter Street Community, which is the intentional Christian community (or ICC) where Shane and others live.  Potter Street is in the middle of Kensington, which is a neighborhood of Philadelphia.  We have been in some pretty rough areas throughout our travels, but Kensington may have been the worst.  Their calling, like other ICCs, is to live in the abandoned parts of this empire and bring the Light of Christ to areas that are dark with poverty, violence and injustice.

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(Avery with Shane – sorry about the quality of the pics, we forgot our camera and there was no way we weren’t going to get pictures so we bought a disposable at Rite Aid)

He doesn’t like to be called a celebrity, and I wouldn’t call him that, but his impact has been so deep that I had a sort of reverence for him that I had never experience before.  He definitely isn’t a celebrity, I look at him like a modern day prophet, someone who has been given words from the Lord and feels called to tell God’s people the truth about injustice, poverty, and greed and how God’s love can overcome all of it.  The prophet Amos spoke about complacency and oppression of the poor in much the same way.  He was a simple sheep-herder who tended sycamore-fig trees in the Judean countryside.  He wasn’t the son of a prophet, he didn’t have any schooling, he just knew what God was asking him to say and he followed through with saying it: Israel better stop their complacency, their oppression of the poor, and their superficial religion because everybody must eventually answer to Yahweh.

Shane is a modern-day prophet who is saying: God’s people better stop their complacency, their oppression of the poor, and their superficial religion because the opposite is what Jesus has called us to.

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(Shane and Jamie Moffett – director of Ordinary Radicals)

It was really strange sitting on the couch in the Potter Street Community house listening to him talk about the Polish guy who had broken down on the freeway and that they had stopped to help him on their way back from the airport, or what the family was like that he stayed with at his last speaking engagement for Jesus for President.  It was strange sitting there in his living room as he talked with us and our kids and gave them dried fruit, chocolate and sidewalk chalk. I didn’t say much, I couldn’t help but just sit back and take it all in.  When we drew out the map of places and ministries we wanted to connect with on this journey, The Simple Way was the first one we circled.  As Serenity says, we have come full circle, but it feels like it is just the beginning.

Hoskins Park Ministries

Cool video from the ministry Avery and I plan to connect with tonight.  Check it out here.

Back at home

We wanted to give a shout out to our friends back at home who are continuing the good work God started underneath the Burnside Bridge in Portland, OR.  Here’s their new website (great job Jordan!) Church Under the Bridge PDX.

Please keep them in your prayers as they persevere to bring Light and Hope to some of the homeless people of Portland.  We have added their website link to our “links” page.