Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Lesson In Community

This past weekend, I, along with several other adults (including Carol, my wife) had the distinct privlege of chaperoning our annual Youth Beach Retreat at Laguna Beach near Panama City, Florida. This is the second consecutive year that I've made this trip and, each time I've been moved by watching our teens.

There are a number of memories I carry with me from this trip: a foot washing ceremony that left me in tears; powerful lessons from Dub Hall, our talented Youth Minister; a meditation room developed by Wendy Hall that plunged me into God's presence; moshing with the kids to the song "Life is good; Eternal Life is Better;" and many others. However, there is one memory that stands out in bold relief--it was a demonstration of community.

We had gathered around 11:00 p.m. on the beach to praise God, honor the seniors who will be transitioning into their college experience, and to hear testimonies from them. While we were singing, I noticed that a lone figure passed near our group. Though shrouded in darkness, I could tell that he was listening to us. He slowly moved on, continuing to turn his head in our direction. After a couple more songs, this same guy came near and sat on the periphery of our group. He simply hung his head and listened.

Dan Baxter, one of our shepherds and very dear friend, noticed this visitor near us. He walked over, sat down and began to talk with him. Two of our teenagers moved near him and I walked over and kneeled down as well. I didn't know what was happening. Was he simply curious? Had he stopped to mock us? Was he simply amused by the whole thing? What were his intentions?

As I knelt, Dan, who speaks a little Spanish, said: "This is Nelson. He's from Honduras where his family lives. He's all alone. He told me that he has made many mistakes and that he heard our singing and was drawn to it. He doesn't speak any English, but the music spoke to him. He wants to know if he's welcome to stay." The only thing I could think of at that moment was one of very few Spanish words that I know: "Bienvenidos, Nelson," I said with a pat on his shoulder. He smiled and nodded his head.

At that point, the youth group began to sing Our God is an Awesome God, complete with vocal percussion. As it was starting to really get going, one of the seniors stopped everyone. She said, "We have a visitor among us. His name is Nelson; let's all welcome him." At that moment all of the kids surrounded him, knelt down and spoke warm words of acceptance to him. After Dan told the group about Nelson's struggles, we all surrounded him, laid our hands on him, and Dan led us in prayer.

I don't think he understood what was said, but Nelson seemed to understand our intentions--we wanted to bless this welcome stranger among us. Though separated by geography and language, God communicated to us all that night. I sense that we experience Christ in one of the least of these--and our kids sensed it as well. One of the girls began to cry. Others immediately embraced her--I really didn't know what was wrong. Afterward she told me. "Do you know whay I was crying?" she asked. "I wasn't crying because I was sad. I was crying because I had never blessed anyone like that before, and it make my heart so full, I had to cry."

Such is the effect when we encounter Jesus...among the least of these.

Thanks to the CBYG for demonstrating true community to one who has attempted to preach this concept for years!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Acappella in Concert: A Night to Remember

I'm beginning to realize that I must be among a small minority of 30 to 40 somethings who grew up in the Church of Christ tradition who never heard Acappella in concert. Until last Wednesday, I never have had the privilege of hearing this amazing group of guys live and in concert.

Now, I must admit that there was one compelling reason why I made every effort to hear Acappella in concert at the Univeristy Church in Tuscaloosa: my son, Allen, is the newest member of this phenomenal group. For the last year and a half, Allen sang bass with New Reign, the flagship acappella group at Oklahoma Christian University. Over the holidays, he was presented with the unique opportunity to join Acappella, a life-long dream of his. While this meant his giving up a full-tuition scholarship and leaving a wonderful academic community at OC, he sincerely felt like this was God's invitation to him. After much prayer and conversation with him, he took the offer to become the bass singer for Acappella, joining them this past January.

I'm like any dad, I suppose. I'm very proud of my son and have always supported his efforts. For some time, Carol and I knew that he was extremely gifted musically, both vocally and musically. Allen developed these gifts in high school, playing tuba in the High School band, taking piano classes, and singing in the choir. Also, CrossBridge has been a place where he was able to develop his vocal talents, singing on LifeSong since he was in the 8th grade.

I must say that I was absolutely amazed, not only at Allen, but all the musicians in Acappella. These guys not only put on a great show with a great message, they all have hearts for God. I left Tuscaloosa with a deep appreciation for Keith Lancaster's vision that has had many talented voices through the years, but always one great sound, and one great message. I'm proud that my son is a part of this Christ-focus group who presents the good news of Jesus through their performances. And, I'm primarily proud that Allen is using his God-given talents to the honor and glory of the One Who has gifted him.

I hope to see him--and Acappella--again very soon. May God bless this group as they travel around the world presenting the good news of Jesus in their unique, powerful way.

Allen, if you read this blog, I want you to know that your old dad loves you with all his heart and that he is very proud of the man of God that you have become!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Time For A New Blog

O.K. I know that my last blog had to do with Christmas and Christmas is now weeks past. Sheila, a good friend, reminded me of that fact in her latest comments. Honestly, I just haven't really felt like blogging lately. It's not that I'm tired of this whole blog thing or that I haven't had anything to say. Perhaps it's a touch of the post-Christmas blues that seems to grip me during the month of January. Perhaps, this blogging lacuna is the result of a number of stressers currently in my life--pretty heavy ministerial type matters along with a mamoth home repair project (rebuilding my chimney, perhaps more on that later).

Anyway, I really do look forward to this year. Already I've seen the hand of God in powerful ways. And, I've been reminded that when God shows up disruption often occurs. I pray that in 2006 I will exprience more holy disruptions and embrace them more fully. Also, I'll try to write a few more blogs every now and again.

O.k. Shelia, I hope you enjoy this new blog!