Friday, December 24, 2010

Follow-up on Larry.

The last time you heard from me, I was asking for help with my tutor kid’s family. They are the ones whose house was broken into; their electronics, clothes, backpacks, and Christmas presents were stolen. Larry’s family needed support. Between the teachers of BT Washington, Relevant tutors, and many who heard about the situation, rest assured Larry and his family will have a very merry Christmas. Here is the story of how one family became a part of Larry and his family’s Christmas.
So I get a call from my friend Ben who was doing a little spell checking over the email I sent out about the Smith Family’s break-in. Ben said that he was with some of his friends and was just talking about the email. He said that his friends were looking for a family to help out this year. Ben remembered Larry and wondered if his family had been taken care of yet. I said this break-in happened too late for the family to be added to Relevant’s Ornaments of Hope and that most of my other options were exhausted. It sounded like they might be interested. So Ben forwarded my email to his friends to think it over. On their way home that night, Ben’s friends took note of a star that streaked through the sky.
Larry’s family moved from Alabama. I assumed they were running away from something, but now I think they were running to something. Their town was small and consisted mostly of hunting cabins and farms. They were the last of their family to move to Tampa. Larry’s mom Peaches is a CNA (certified nursing assistant), and she works long shifts from 6:00am to 6:00pm. She takes care of elderly patients who have seen better days. I’m sure that when Peaches moved to Tampa she wouldn’t have thought her family would need any help. After all she’s got three kids in school, her own place, and a good job. With so many signs held on street corners reading will work for food, she works not just for food but to restore what was taken. She models for these kids what it means to provide.
Sunday after church I get a phone call. “Hey this is Kim, Ben told me to give you a call about the Smith family, and we would like to help.” “Great,” I said. Kim continues with “but first I’d like to tell you a little something about myself.” Kim has a son Justin. Justin had a little brother, a half brother from a different marriage. Because the boys did so much together, Justin’s half brother was like a son to Kim. She went on to explain how they lost Justin’s brother. He was a heart transplant recipient. Sadly, his body rejected the donor heart and a little over 2 years ago he passed away. “We’ve accepted it,” Kim said with a shaky voice. Even though the loss of a loved one can be accepted, the void is never complete.
After the funeral Kim and Mercy, the boys mother sat on the front porch mostly in silence. Words could not express the grief and solace that they both felt. Mercy, a broken mother propped up by her son’s courage, and Kim whom loved the boy as if he were her own, pondered how to best memorialize such a loss. As the two ladies sat holding hands, the night sky revealed numerous shooting stars. They made a vow that when they saw a shooting star they would think of their lost son, Larry.
Kim wanted Larry’s mom to know about her Larry. These two sets of 9 year old Larrys share more than a name, they share a giving spirit. Kim and Mercy’s Larry had Jonas Brothers tickets for the family. But the doctor wouldn’t give permission for a concert adventure. But Larry wouldn’t dream of his brother or his family not going to the concert on his account. Larry Smith is learning to be a giver; during the cold snap when one of his school buddies didn’t have a jacket Larry Smith gave his extra. This seemingly small gesture doesn’t look like a world changing event but it does take on new perspective when you realize all his other clothes were stolen.
For two years Kim’s tree didn’t have a present for Larry. This year finally she had a place to put her present labeled: for Larry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Violating Christmas Hope

This year I’ve been tutoring at BT Washington. Each week on Thursdays, Larry teaches me a little more about life. When I first met Larry he was donned with seriously cool dreadlocks which were the kind grown for years, not as a fad. I chatted with his mom, Peaches, over the phone one day. I’m not sure she knew how to take me, but I let her know what tutoring was about and that I was here to help if she ever needed it.

Larry moved from Alabama, and without prying I guess they moved back to Tampa for a second chance. The hum in the teacher’s break room about the new kid reflected that he was rambunctious and was goanna need a little extra help. I’m not sure what they left back home, but this was Larry’s new home and I became a little part of it.

The three’s times tables are the hardest part of our hour together. Well, focusing on something other than the computer racing games is pretty hard too. For some reason, B.T. kids look forward to the time with us old people. When a kid gets a tutor, it’s like they have entered into an exclusive club. Tutors are treated like celebrities. The reality is that I probably get more out of our relationship than he does. When he begs me to stay for lunch, he teaches me about being a father. He also sharpens my multiplication and checkers skills.

Life has hit Larry’s family pretty hard the past couple of weeks. Besides his sister’s frightening seizures that have bound her to the hospital for a time, the family apartment was robbed over the weekend. From the street their apartment looks appealing considering it overlooks the river, but driving through the streets, a closer look reveals the typical neighborhood role models. These role models include young people standing idle in unsavory groups solidifying their bleak future.

See, when Larry’s apartment was breached, so was his trust. This trust is the very basic trust that says my home is safe and full of hope. The bad guys not only took the electronics, school supplies and clothes, but they also opened up Christmas presents and left only wrappings. Larry’s family Christmas this year was unwrapped alright, just not by them.

So where does that leave Larry and his family? Simply, they need your help. First things first, they need clothes and school supplies. Larry is a Size 10 and his sister is a size 14. His brother is size 36. If you have any clothes you would be proud having on these kid’s backs then bring them on Sunday. If you don’t have kids this age or size, but would like to help, you can donate monetarily through PayPal or give on Sunday and designate your offering to the Smith Family. All donations to the Smith Family will be personally managed by the Relevant Church staff and officials from BTW to make sure the most vital family needs are met.

To be totally honest, when I got the email about this situation, I read the first few lines and almost deleted it. I thought it was sent to a mailing list. I didn’t realize until after re-reading that it was about my tutor kid’s family. This tutor thing is getting kinda real.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What happened to the Gandy.

Pics along the way.
An afternoon of free time led one photographer on a journey that will soon not be forgotten. Many times Jamie and his boys venture to their lucky fishing spot, the Gandy bridge. Due to the deterioration of the structure and lack of funding the bridge and its fishing pier were closed to public use. Memories of family ventures fade into current realities with the introduction of Todd.

At first the project was simple; take a few shots of what the Gandy bridge has become since its closure. First a few flower and beach compositions: then the grand gates that pronounce “no trespassing”. The once welcoming bridge was engulfed with chain link fencing. The old donations accepted signs still hang awaiting donations for a restoration that will never come.
Fishermen, tourists, and officers come and go. However the eye of the local homeless was nearby. One might say they were trolls. These down and outers stoked an outlawed fire under an outlawed bridge. Three men called this space home. It was harsh but tidy.

Randy, the missing guy, and Todd. Randy was shy, don’t care much for having his picture taken. “ What part of no don’t you understand?”, Randy shouts. Todd was a welcoming soul, at first. He explained that they cared for up to 15 cats. “ We feed’em cause they have to eat too. The Lord’s watching” He gave a tour of how they kept up the place, the rules of the fire and how to stay out of trouble. Did you know that three men working as a team on the street corner make about $150 a day. Only problem is “someone keeps falling off the wagon and that’s why we can’t get enough for rent.”

Todd is much like what people expect out of the homeless. He holds a sign that says “God Bless”. He admits “I’m a drunk. But I don’t drink and ride the bike I’d F’ myself up even more.” He has no idea how his arm came out of place but he is very proud of his homemade sling. “Made this myself, I’m too stubborn to go to the hospital.”
His anger also gets the best of him. Todd seems nice enough. He offers a sandwich to his guest. Suddenly, he becomes enraged when the kindness was not accepted. “What ya mean, you too good to sit and have a meal?” Quickly, this became a tense moment for a photographer holding expensive gear considering what to do with a drunk under a bridge. Todd then talks about his anger. He says the cops put him away a few times. “They really piss me off. You copper with a badge, live in my world for a day you would be angry too.” In fact, Todd even mentions wanting to go into an employers office with a rifle and “kill all those N----.” Didn’t sound like it mattered if they were his previous employers they just had to employ someone at some time.
Todd recites that he knows where he comes from. “I could go back.” Seemed like he was under the bridge by choice. One has to wonder if where he came from they only spoke in curse words. He tells about his life story in context of how wrong everyone has treated him, either a broke fisherman of 17 years or being laid off of a job of 37,000 years and given no pension. “Well I exaggerated a bit, but it’s a tough economy.”

“Do you believe in God, well I do. Through all the S---t I’d been through he’s the only one who stuck by me.” Todd mentions his faith often only to be followed by another F’ing story. One has to wonder, why did Todd end up being everything everyone expected him to be. At least God is there for those who aren’t there for themselves.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To hot for email.

The other day I was looking at a house to buy for my real estate company. On occasion I get to see the house before all the trash is removed by the foreclosing bank. This particular house had so much porn in it that I call it “The house of porn.”  Just about every room was scattered with the stuff.  I know what your thinking, why am I riffling through some else’s porn. Sadly, I have become desensitized to piles of porn in foreclosed houses.  I end up spending more time trying not to fall over it rather than discover the home owners’ preferences. Don’t get me wrong, I think in cases like this one, there are spiritual forces at work. Immediately, when I open the doors to these kinds of houses I sense it, creepy on so many different levels. 

I think that when the sheriff evicted these people they thought nothing of the years of porn they were leaving behind. I’d guess that it became so normal for these people to be immersed by this stuff that weren’t embarrassed by it any more. The sheer volume is embarrassing by any standard.

So what’s this got to do with God?

Don’t we do that in our spiritual lives? We go to church for years and seem to let the crud build up. Don’t we use trite Christian ideals to hold it all together when it’s all really falling apart? We try quick fixes. In our spiritual lives we like to have God served on a platter. We go from one spiritual high to the next. We miss what it’s really all about.

Someone else.

We have been talking about getting away from our selves during this VS Series. But what does it really mean to legitimately care for some one else more than we care for our selves? Why do we continue to hit our heads against the wall trying to get our own “needs” met when the reality is that by caring for other people we end up being liberated our selves?

After the fact I found out that the previous owner was a doctor. Last I checked doctors make some serious money yet this guy became so consumed with himself that he lost his house.

You might have heard it said “We all have something that we could lose it all over” but maybe the better question is what are we willing to give it all up for?

Thursday, July 2, 2009


A couple of Sundays ago I was moving hurriedly through the cantina and I noticed Thom Yencer leading his Set-up team in prayer. Totally unsolicited, I witnessed a team gather and pray for the kids who would soon be learning about Jesus, in part as a result of their work. Although I didn’t cry, (because I am a heartless manJ) I had to pause and thank God for our volunteers who get it.


Who’s driving your boat?

While on vacation, Carly and I rented a two-person kayak. We were heading to the shallow waters to manatee cove. I noticed being in the back the boat made me in control.  Carly sat upfront and did all the hard work and I just stuck my paddle in and turned us left and right.

Once we reached our destination, we were met by at least ten manatees. These manatees were happy if you know what I mean. It was cool for us because our small boat allowed us to hover over top of these fat beasts. I even grabbed one. Don’t tell the fish and wild life people. It was a pretty cool sight to see.


Here are a couple of things I noticed about our seating arrangement.

Front seat:

You’re the person moving the boat forward. When you sit in the front of the boat everything coming your way hits you first; every thing that happens to you is immediate. You’re the first to see life’s cool stuff and bad stuff. You lose a little bit of control.


Back seat:

Being in the back of the boat gives a broader perspective. The person in front trusts you. You make choices that affect direction and everyone else you have contact with.  Power comes with responsibility.


Here’s the thought. We all have things that steer us. As believers was try to allow God to be our guiding force.  But in reality we let other people, feelings, and self interest guide us.  Often we are so involved in the front our life’s boat that we can’t keep perspective. We become consumed with our current realities rather than where God wants to steer us. Ironically some times we strive to be all that we can be for God that we kill direction he might have started in us to run to another Godly direction.



How can we take a step back and gain perspective?

How much of our life’s choices are thought about through the character of God.

How can we discern between God’s direction and our feelings masquerading as God’s voice.?

Why do we serve?

This morning I found myself stuck in a flood of water. Car stalled out, other motorists were passing me on every side. I wasn’t sure what to do. The closest exit had a steep incline, that I didn’t think I could handle by myself. I tried to crank the motor a few times to no avail.

I was trying to figure out how to get this car out of the road. Call AAA, push, just wait right there till it dries out. In the back of my head I was reminded of how I never stop to help any one in auto distress. I usually justify my unhelpful behavior with “I don’t know how to fix cars” or “ I’m going to be late”. I was not counting on any help from a fellow motorist because I am not a helper myself. I may be insensitive but at least I am a consistent insensitive jerk.

A man wrapped in a yellow rain coat is riding his bike down the sidewalk. He appeared like the type that would hold a sign in an intersection “Homeless-Vet God Bless”. The guy approaches my car and hollers through his salt and pepper bushy beard, “You want me to push you out of the road?” I took my shoes off and together we pushed my car up the steep incline to a dry spot in a parking lot. I shook his hand and thanked him and we went our separate ways.

While I was waiting for my engine to dry out I wondered a few things.

Why did this guy help? He was on a bike clearly going somewhere. Why would he help me when I surely wouldn’t help him? Was he already wet and figured might as well? Was he hoping that I would hook him up with some money?

After getting the car started I continued my journey through the flooded streets of South Tampa; cars flooded everywhere. In Hyde Park I passed a woman that almost had water in the doors. I thought I couldn’t push that car alone, she won’t help. She was in a business suit. In the back of my head the passage about the Good Samaritan played over and over. Here I am the church guy who was just helped and I passed others in need.

Here are my questions:

  • What does it take to live a life of service? To be at the point where we respond to needs instead of reflect about needs.
  • How do motives play into our decisions to respond to needs? What motives prevent us from responding when opportunity slaps us in the face?  Many people serve with wrong motives yet God blesses their efforts. How can we identify our motives and realign our heart with our actions?


The next day I was on my way to work and I noticed a nice Mercedes with a blown tire in the road. I didn’t want to be a dirt bag two days in a row so I turned around and offered to push her out of traffic.  

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I am whole again

    This week my computer went into the service shop. She needed a little tune up.  The man took my computer put it in a box affixed my name to it and sent it behind the repair door. Some expert was replacing the logic board. It's his every day job so I'm sure he is thinking here we go again "another logic board". The computers he doctors back to life are just that, machines. They really begin to look the same after a while. I quickly began to realize that I watched a very important part of me go behind closed doors for repair. 
    This repair dude held in his hand my most of my work life, personal life and, social time. Twenty four hours passed and my anxiety went through the roof. I felt like a naked man on the city streets holding nothing but an Iphone. I was on a forced vacation because I couldn't really work. The phone rings at 8:20pm "your computer is ready for pick up." I thought "you mean life is ready to begin again". 8:57pm I enter the store, because waiting till 10:00am the next day was to much to take. Finally, in my hands again was my life. I walked out of the store with the laptop proudly held above my head.

    Tuns out a logic board is important and expensive. Because of my warrantee I got me a new one for free. But I began to think, does the guy who replaces computer boards, with his fancy screw drivers, know what importance his job has? Were not talking about Blart the mall cop here. We are talking about fixing a device that I spend hours working with every day. I spend more time with this than I do my wife or my kids.

    When you serve at Relevant you are affecting people in very real ways.  When people come to Relevant they are trusting us with very important things; time, mental attention, emotional openness, their kids, most of all access to their soul. The second greatest fulfillment I have experienced is watching people's lives changed because of your commitment.

Jamie Takes The Taser

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Feasting at the table of faith.

I wanted to take a minute to highlight great news on one of our groups. The Wirth’s are doing the 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. A study most people would think is surface and for new believers.

            Paul tells me this week their group began hitting their stride. They assign homework for each of the topics of the week. Paul was amazed the amount of research their people brought for discussion. Pages and pages of info about there assigned topics. These people are spiritually all over the board. Some have been in church for years, some have just started looking at their faith. It seems like no matter where on the journey this group is they are really digging in.

            God has set before us a buffet of spiritual growth that we can’t even imagine. Often at a party no one wants to be the first in the buffet line for fear of looking like a pig.  Be ready because I can see the gathering of hungry people who cannot hold back any longer and they are beginning to rush the buffet.

            If you heard Paul’s message from last Sunday you can tell the spiritual temperature is rising. God has begun a new day for Relevant, mark it on your calendar. Thanks for being apart of the life change going on right now.

By the way Great Freaking Job.


A week ago I took an incredibly long car ride. Greg Vander Wel and I set out to scout for beach baptism pavilions. During the very long time in the car, I made mention to Greg how important his job is on Sunday morning. He and Darren invented the roll of walking first time guests up to the second floor. Along the way they chit chat with the guests about Relevant in attempts to make them feel comfortable. What started out as just an idea has turned into a critical part of our guest experience. We now have five people trained to do the same thing.

While discussing the roll and its success Greg stops me and says “ I’m glad it’s working because I really have to put my self out there and you never really know how people respond.” I must have looked dumbfounded because I thought he knew how important I felt the job was. I just had not reinforced the role’s importance along the way.

All to often we/I can get used to how well things work and forget to celebrate the wins. Sometimes we even forget why the systems are in place and what impact they have.

HERE IS THE SHOCKER……. Since January, over 141 first time guests have come through Relevant’s doors. Over 98% of the guests who took our online survey said they felt welcomed. Imagine if 141 people gave church a try and no one paid attention to them?

I have known Greg for many years. I knew him when I worked for him in real estate and before he returned to a church regularly. I remember over a year ago after lunch in Ybor we were standing at his car in the Italian Club lot, telling him that he needed to man up and take his faith serious. A few weeks later he began coming to Relevant. I have watched his faith grow by leaps and bounds. Although he does not feel like he has arrived, I can see his faith journey growing every week.

I have 4 more stories just like Greg’s of how God is working in your lives and through your lives.

Where Did Jamie Go?

Remember the questions I sent out from last week? Asking areas we are succeeding in and areas I need to improve on. (If you don’t remember I’ll send it again.) I received a great reply from the Begley’s. I wanted to highlight one of their reflections.


My question:

Premise Two: Leaders who do too much, prevent others from leading. The end result of poor delegation results in a cap of how effective the ministry can be. 

Question Two: In what areas do I need to step back and let others step up?

Begley response:

 I do appreciate that you’ve let the cantina team act fairly independently recently.  We’ve found a groove that seems to work for our team. 


On the surface it might seem like an ego stroke to me rather, I see it as a huge win for their set up team. I realized a few months ago that by me being down in the cantina I was getting in the way of others taking charge. I had to force myself to find something else to do. That was really hard. The great news is that this team flat knocks it out of the park. Last week they were done with set up at 9:03am. The fastest time ever.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A survey with all the wrong questions.

The recently returned to the YMCA after the new year. The place was clean and full of optimistic athletes. On the way out an employee asked me to fill out a survey about our YMCA.
The questions:
Did our staff greet you?
Did our staff use your name today?
Is our staff friendly?
Is the facility clean?
Other suggestions……

After answering the questions I commented, “ The racquetball courts could be swept more often.” During the summer, the courts are used by kids with seriously dirty shoes. Hand prints collect on the glass, what a fright. May times I thought that someone ought to take care of this.

As I went on with my day I remembered a conversation I had during the membership process. The intake person told me “YMCA’s depend on volunteers.” It’s part of the spiel. After a few days of working out, any thought of volunteering was gone. I’ve got lots of things; time is not one of them.

Back to the Survey, all the questions were associated with issues the staff control.
Inadvertently the priority of volunteerism has faded from the organization’s daily operations. Finally a thought occurred to me. What if I found a broom? What if I just cleaned the glass? Would I get in trouble if I just fixed the problem myself? Would these tasks be a help to some one other than me? Am I selfishly serving?

I think lots of times people hop from one church to another and they feel like the church staff are “the church”. I think many times people survey a church they attend and never ask the question, “What if I just fixed the broken toilet in the women’s room.” Often, people view their tithes like dues at a gym. Sadly, they find them selves looking for a new place that, “meets their needs.”

People who end up serving, do so for many reasons. Some serve to find friends, while others are thrilled to serve with no certain benefit. The reality is, if I only took a few minutes a week to make sure my court was cleaned, than the YMCA guys could do another more important task. Better yet, my ownership of the courts might spur others to do a small part them selves. Small tasks, even if selfishly done, still make a difference.

I am so proud that at Relevant our culture has not tuned into a staff does everything mentality. You guys are the ones who make every thing happen. Because of your ownership in the ministry here, you further embody your faith. Thanks for being fully engaged while you’re here.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nuts & Bolts - Case Study : Retaining the Flock

Challenge: Retain churchgoers.
Solution: Mobile marketing, sending daily text messages.
Results: Of the 125 church members and attendees who participated, 100 percent have remained worshippers.

Taking a leap of faith, Relevant Church of Tampa, Fla. invested last year in database management software from Fellowship Technologies of Irving, Texas. In one of its first challenges for the software, Relevant created a mobile marketing retention drive.

"We had a series that we called TEXT," Administrative Pastor James Adair says. "It was a study of the Bible, a play on the word, obviously. What we wanted to do was to help our people get to interact more with scripture on a daily basis. So we tried to find an apparatus to communicate with them that was relevant, already ingrained in their daily life. So we said, ‘Well, what if we text message them Bible verses for the day?' You could always e-mail, but sometimes you get that later, when you're already at work." 

The church posed the challenge to its attendees one Sunday, and 125 opted in to read scripture every morning for 30 days. After pulling worshippers' cell phone numbers from the Fellowship One database-the Fellowship Tech software Relevant Church purchased to keep track of its growing flock-Relevant sent out the text messages. New congregants who weren't yet in the database filled out contact cards, which the church then added.

"Just because you have somebody come to your church for years, [sometimes] they don't actually grow in their faith, or they don't go anywhere with it; it's just like somebody coming into your restaurant and not buying any food," Adair says. "You want them to start growing. So by getting them into Fellowship One, we can track their progress. We can tell if they go to a small group. We can tell if they attended church. We can tell if they give money. We can tell if they've taken any ‘action steps.' So, during the TEXT series, if they signed up to receive text messages, that's permanently in their record[s]."

Of the 125 who partook in the TEXT action step, Adair says 100 percent are more than still attending-many are joining in on more challenges. Now Relevant Church has scheduled different retention drives twice a year, amid the 2008 "Year of Challenges." Worshippers have new goals to meet every 30 days, such as the recent "We Are Relevant" push in October to define the church's role in their lives and in the lives of the community.So, at a time when Adair says average church attendance is static to slumping, Relevant is growing. During the past year, Relevant's overall attendance has grown by more than 50 percent, from 230 to 350. 

He credits a large part of this growth to the collected data that allows the church to enhance its ability to service the congregation's needs. For instance, if the information shows 20 percent of the attendees live in a certain Tampa neighborhood, the church can create a small group meeting for the area that can even cater to its demographics-young and single or married with children-and perhaps have a better chance of retaining 
those worshippers.

Meanwhile, those who've grown up ensconced in traditional religion probably never thought they'd see the day that churches became savvy marketers. But that day is here, Adair says. 

"We put a ton of effort into marketing. A ton," he says. "Because it's got to be something that people who don't go to church are interested in. If you send out a black and white, boring, cut-and-paste bulletin, that's no good-well, who's going to be interested in a church like that?"

But what matters most to Relevant's ministry is reaching those in the pews with God's message. As Adair puts it, if Relevant markets "to these people halfheartedly, well then, they're going to think we think of our God halfheartedly."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Serving Sucks.


Paul used an illustration few weeks ago with two types of fish tanks. He talked about fresh and salt water and how the two types of fish can’t mix. Here’s the tragic back-story behind what you saw on stage.

Saturday night I set up the tanks. Beach sand and ocean water made the salt tank and the fresh water tank came from Walmart. I could have bought small fish salt water from the pet store, but bigger fish from my home 75 gallon reef system would make a better point.        

Sunday morning at 7:00am I attempted to catch the fish in my home aquarium. They kept hiding in the rocks. I started tearing the tank apart to get these fish. Buckets filled with siphoned water protected the rock and coral I pulled out of the tank. With in minutes my pristine home tank was in shambles. My kids, stood in their PJ’s, are staring at me.

Finally, I caught my first fish, then the second. As I looked for the third, I saw a yellow snout sticking out from under a large rock. Ahh. I moved the rock and realized that my final catch would never move again; he was crushed.

Ironically, this is the same fish I freed previously from the deadly grip of a clam. Me and my yellow fish had a delayed appointment with destiny. Off to Relevant.

I dumped these Caribbean fish into 62 degree water. I’m sure they remembered the comfortable 81 degree tank they just left. I ran down to the cantina to set-up for children’s ministry. Tim Mann greeted me with a cheerful smile; a smile I could not return. He asked if he could help with anything. “Not unless you can raise fish from the dead” I responded.

The fish in question, were valued at $150-$180 each. The dead one would have fetched $120. All of these fish were at least 9 years old. I gave them 2 pinches of food daily, for 2 years. I brought 15 gallons of new water to the tank weekly. They experienced dawn, daytime, dusk and even moon light. I even scooped their poop. My sons knew them as Nemo, Dori, and the Yellow one.

While I was laying tiles in the children’s area those thoughts raced through my mind. “Why am I so angry?” I wondered. I was not not angry at God, but at myself. I went all out for this illustration. “I could loose everything”. Laid another tile.


Carl and the band practiced upstairs; loud as usual. I laid another tile.

Jesus paid it all,
 All to Him I owe; 
Sin had left a crimson stain,
 He washed it white as snow.


And when before the throne 
I stand in Him complete, 
I’ll lay my trophies down
 All down at Jesus’ feet.”



I began to weep, quietly. Laid another tile. I started to see all my selfishness. I was committed to making this illustration work. I never imagined how much my commitment would cost. I never considered how much work it was going to be. Two days of prep unraveled 2 years of nurturing. I never thought I would lose something I cared for. Laid another tile. As Carl sang the refrain again, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe”, I felt terrible that God gave his son and I could not give a few fish.

Serving has a cost. Serving is not dependent on our feelings. Faithful serving is a process of letting go of ourselves one bit at a time.



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You are my Beefsteak.

I have a small garden growing in my yard. One of the starter plants that all new gardeners use is tomatoes. My first tomatoes were cherry. They were small and totally useless. They grow fast and rot quickly. This season I picked larger breed of tomato; Beefsteak.. Here is what I didn’t know. Big tomatoes take a whole lot longer to grow.  After months of watering this plant its like 6 foot tall. But only in the past few weeks have the tomatoes started budding.  They are still green but I can finally see the fruit beginning to grow.

         I planted two identical Beefsteak tomato plants. Both are tall and both take a lot of work. One is producing fruit and the other has buds but no fruit. Not one. The plant is totally useless. I guess I could use it as a hedge or give it as a house warming gift to an enemy.

         There are lots of believers in the kingdom. Unfortunately, some take lots of water and care yet still they don’t give back. They keep all the nutrition for themselves. They, like this tomatoe plant have forgotten their purpose.

         On the other hand there are those believers who step-up, step-out and produce fruit. They find their place, and they make a difference. YOU are a part of the people at Relevant that produce fruit. Some-times it takes a while to see the fruit in others and often it takes longer to see the fruit in ourselves. Be assured that God has been watering, pruning, and caring for you all along. 


I was playing Racquetball this morning. It did not go well. I found myself highly distracted. Being a medicated ADD person, I know that I am medically superior to the average Joe. But most of the time we are a highly distracted people. We find our minds wandering from one thought to another.

            I found myself thinking: “How bad will this market crash be, 1980’s or 1920’s? Why don’t the kids clean up their own crap? I hope my wife feels better. Who is on Facebook? My house value is down $80k. Why is everyone I know sick or broke?” Oh wait I’m playing Racquetball- get in the game.

An old boss I used to work for always pushed me to limit the number of distractions in my life. I thought he was Scrooge-ing me. Surly he was watching out for himself. In reality he wanted me to focus on the few things that would feed my family. As I observe myself, and the remainder of humanity, I notice that when times get tough we find even more ways to become distracted. More often we will relish in thoughts of misery. We get stuck in our own experience that we can’t see that we are in the middle of a game we care about. We forget what is at stake. It is the Kingdom of God in people’s lives; a game far more important that Racquetball.

Whether on Sunday morning or during the week in a Growth Group each of you takes a role at Relevant. I am so glad that you have a laser focus on the most important priority in your spiritual service. I am thrilled when I see volunteers who could be shootin the breeze with their friends down-stairs; instead they engaged a new couple in conversation. This kind of laser focus resulted in the visitors signing up for a growth group and coming to Carefest. I know it is hard to keep distractions out of our minds but by serving something greater than ourselves we add value and meaning for eternity in the lives of those we touch.