Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ethiopia 2013 - Settled in

Well, it was a long flight and a long day, but we are settled in to the Guest Home. No great miracles like last year, just God being faithful to get us where he wanted us when he wanted us there. Sixteen people called to be hands and feet of the Father across the world. What an exciting week awaits!

Today after some worship time, a good lunch, and about 2 hours where we looked like zombies sitting around the room, we spent some time with some of the women working for Mission Ethiopia. We also visited the homes of two families in the community and were blown away by the humble spirit of them as they welcomed us into their homes.

This is an amazing team and I am so excited to be working with everyone of them.

I am not sure how much blogging time I will have this year, but I will try to post updates at least every couple of days. Or whenever God shows his glory in such I wait that I can't contain it. I don't know how yet, but I expect that to happen. Can't wait!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Back to Africa
















and Donnie.

These are names that I hope will find their way to your prayers. An awesome group of individuals coming together for one purpose - to share the love of Jesus with children on the other side of the world.

Our journey begins tomorrow, and we will land in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Sunday morning. We will spend a week there and I cannot wait to see the great things God has in store. But it's all him, not us. So your prayers are desperately needed.

Wifi is spotty and time is precious. If I good signals correspond with free time, I hope to send a blog post or two. If not, well, I'll update you when we get back.

Either way, thanks for your prayers. Things are about to get good.


Tonight we were rehearsing a song I've sang a jillion times. Of course, The Battle Hymn of the Republic is a staple for the week leading up to the Fourth of July.

So we got to the part with the beautiful four part men's a cappella harmony. The third verse. We began to sing,
In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea............

After singing this song all my life, I suddenly thought, Lilies? What lilies?

I have no idea whether lilies grow in Bethlehem. If they do, there is no way to know what time of year Jesus was really born, so would they even be in bloom?


I'm not sure I'll ever be able to sing it again without suppressing a grin. Unless you can help me. Anybody have any idea why it refers to lilies?

That's all I got. Good night.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Man of Steel


I have always loved the Superman myth. When I was six, my mother used to have to beg me to take off the Superman suit she got me for my birthday. I think she was scared I would jump off a roof and try to fly. Yep, I've always loved Superman.

And so I was excited to see that another Superman movie was coming out. The connection to the Dark Knight series through Christopher Nolan was encouraging. I liked the idea.

And I was not disappointed. I found it to be a movie that was exciting, fast-paced, and full of themes that made me think. Much like the Dark Knight series.

What themes? Purpose. Destiny. Power. Love. Sacrifice. Heroism. And many more.

There has been talk that Superman was a representation of Jesus and his mission, a representation of the gospel. In fact, this idea was unashamedly put forth by Warner Brothers, presumably to sell more tickets to Christians. For the record, I found this oversimplification to be a distortion, as explained very well by my friend Patrick in this blog post. (Click it. Read it.) Jesus indeed did not come to exercise power, be a hero, or to promote "truth, justice, and the American way." In fact, he turned down every opportunity to assume that role. He conquered evil by becoming a suffering servant. Patrick is exactly right.

But there are themes in the movie that serve as awesome springboards to think about why we're here, what we're facing, how to live, and yes, victory over evil. Here are some things that jumped out at me, in no particular order:

  • The people of Krypton had for centuries been born only for one purpose, each baby artificially engineered to have a single life purpose. Clark, on the other hand, struggles to find his identity and purpose, and ultimately has to make a choice about his destiny. Regardless of superhero status, this is a struggle I can identify with.
  • To me, this was the best part of the movie. Unlike earlier Superman stories, it was not really about a self-assured hero with no doubts. It was about a young man trying to find his way, having to make complicated choices about what's right and wrong.
  • He did not always make the best choices in my opinion. This is very human. It is also yet another reason that trying to make him a picture of Christ is off base.
  • I did not see the battle with evil as a representation that violence and force is the way to win. Instead, I saw the story as an allegory for the battle that is taking place in the spiritual realms, behind the scenes. Let me explain:
The Bible does teach that Jesus came to conquer evil through servanthood, humility, love, death, and his resurrection. And that we are to follow his example, giving up our rights for the sake of others. This is how God wins.
But it also teaches that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).  And all through Revelation there is imagery that the Messiah has conquered through his blood. So to me, the Superman fight against the evil General Zod is a picture not of beating bad people with violence, but symbolism of the fact that fighting with love and suffering in the physical world represents real, but unseen, battles in the spiritual. In other words, to me it is "literature" of the same form as Revelation: a visual representation of things so far above us that we can't possibly understand the real thing.
Regardless, I love the fact that we are talking about these things. And whatever Warner Brothers' motivation, the discussion is being brought out into the open by a movie; and to me that's a good thing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bind Us Together...all of us

There is only one God
There is only one King.
There is only one body
That is why we sing, 
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together,
Bind us together with love.
- Bind Us Together,  Bob Gillman, 1977

My song closes its traditional service with this song almost every week. It 's a great message. The Bible is very clear that followers of the Messiah Jesus as to love one another, and that it is his will for us to be brought to complete unity. (E.g., John 17:23)

I first learned the song while on a youth mission tour through Florida in 1984. We had a group of around 20 who were touring the Florida panhandle, presenting a musical program and gospel message at churches each night. Each time we would meet for prayer, we would sing this song. Because we were convinced that our love for each other was a key to our message.

But there was something different about this song when I heard it this last Sunday morning. For you see, most of my life I've sung it with a group of people who were almost all just like me. Culture, nationality, race...very homogeneous. Frankly, people that could be relatively easily to "bind together." We have a lot in common. 

Jesus said this: "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Matthew 5:46-47) No, the true test of unity is when we go outside our comfort zone.

That's why it was so cool listening the the members of Frazer's International Bible Class sing. Watch the clip - it's worth the time:

Wow! As I listened to them, I thought, yes! Lord, bind us together with these brothers and sisters. And with others all over the world. And with the ones in Ethiopia that I will be seeing in a little over a week.

Bind us that the world will know that Jesus is King.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Letting go

Sometimes you learn things about yourself in places when you are looking for it. That happened for me the Atlanta Passport Office.

I arose this morning at 3:30 in order to make sure I was on time for my appointment in Atlanta. I walked in the door at about 7:45 and settled in among a fairly large crowd of people who needed to take care of their international travel documentation. I was a little surprised at just how many people there were - there is a lot of travel going on these days.

Why did I go in today? Well, I am traveling to Africa next week on a Visiting Orphans trip, and I am almost out of visa pages. I could actually be turned away from a country if there's no place to place a visa. Not cool. So I took the passport in to add pages.

But the real reason I went in was that I didn't want to let go of my passport. I could have sent it in if I had done so earlier, but a) I waited too long, and b) having waited too long, I didn't want to take a chance on not getting it back.

But guess what? I had to relinquish it anyway. I filled out the form, paid the fee....and left the passport with the agent. You see, it was not going to be ready in time for me today. So I left it.

It should be okay. They said they would overnight it Friday, so (depending on weekend delivery) I should get it either Saturday or Monday. Plenty of time for the trip next Friday. That's what they kept telling me.

But I was still nervous. And then I realized - this was about control. I don't think of myself as someone who needs to control things. I like to think that I trust God and put everything in his hands. Well, Donnie, if that's so, why do you not want to let go of your passport? Huh?

That's what I heard the Lord telling me today. I may think I trust him for everything, but I still hold on to things. No, it's not just my passport. In all sorts of areas.

And so I'm going to try to listen. In this case, I had no choice...and now I'm trusting God that things will go smoothly with the shipment.

Letting go. It isn't easy. But it is necessary. Time to let go.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

After Earth - dealing with fear

Last night I went to see the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan, After Earth. Mr. Shyamalan, the creator of the famous ending-bender The Sixth Sense, has been ripped by critics for much of his work since then. I think that's unfair. In my opinion, The Sixth Sense created an expectation that his movies would have fantastic endings that was impossible to live up to. Especially when you go into the movie looking for a shocking ending - the anticipation spoils the possibility of being shocked.

I actually have loved his movies, and my favorite is Signsand here's why: This movie, like all of his work, explores themes of what life is about and the things that drive us as humans. In Signs, it was faith - do you believe that there is a higher purpose to the seemingly random things that happen in your life? Is is possible that there are no coincidences? In fact, this is perhaps my favorite scene from any movie:

In After Earth, that theme is fear.

The premise of the movie briefly is this: A crash landing has a father and son (played by Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith) stranded on Earth, a planet abandoned by humanity 1.000 years ago after cataclysmic events. With the father critically injured, it's up to the boy to go on a journey for help, facing difficult terrain, dangerous animals, and an unstoppable creature that escaped during the crash. And here's the kicker: the creature is blind, but can find you by smelling the chemicals released by fear.

And so, the boy's survival depends on his ability to control his fear. Not just the external signs of it - the fear itself. How can one do that?

And thus the key quote coming from the father who is trying to help his son survive is this:
Fear is not real. It is a product of the thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.

Joshua was standing near the edge of the river Jordan. His mentor Moses has just died after a long a faithful life of serving the Lord God of Israel, and now it was all up to this young man. Can you imagine how intimidating the task? He was now the leader of a vast nation charged with making sure they fulfilled the promise that God had made to them. Who wouldn't be afraid?

So in the first chapter of the book of Joshua, God tells Joshua three times to "be strong and courageous," and once the negative version of that - to not be afraid or discouraged. Then, at the end of the chapter, the men Joshua must command tell him to be strong and courageous. I'm linda thinking he was looking pretty frightened.


So, is the father's quote from After Earth true? Of course he's right about the danger. It is very real. In the movie, the son was to face multiple threats to his very survival. For Joshua, the dangers of the pagans occupying the promised land were very real, and would kill a lot of Israelites before the mission was completed. And the dangers in your life are real too. But is the fear real?

That's what I love about movies like this. They get us asking all the right questions. My thoughts? In a way the father is right - fear is in our minds and thus under our control. But how much power do I really have to control it on my own? I gotta tell ya - on my own, it gets out of control.

But I'm not on my own. Like Joshua, I have the God of the universe standing beside me if I will just ask. In the chapter linked above, he told Joshua that 1) God was giving the land to the people, 2) no one would be able to stand against him, 3) God would always be with him, and 4) to do all this, Joshua would need to know Scripture and obey.

So how can I conquer fear? My answer is that it's by remembering that the One who is over all stands with me, has given me a work to do, and will never leave or forsake me.

There are a lot of good movies this summer. If you can, squeeze in After Earth. It's good to ask these questions...and it's nothing to be afraid of.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Foolproof. An adjective that is used way too often. "Our marketing plan is foolproof." The instructions for putting this cabinet together are foolproof." Or, in the movies, it seems they villain's plan is always foolproof.

Yeah, right.

It's a strong term, and an almost impossible standard. No, probably not just is impossible. We human beings can mess up anything.

Yep, we can...but not the God of the universe. His plans are indeed foolproof...especially when the fool is me.

I cam across this Scripture from Psalm 69:5-6 in my morning devotional:
O God, you know my foolishness, 
and my faults are not hidden from you. 
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; 
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.
 What a powerful prayer! Because my foolishness is so vast. I open my mouth when I should keep it shut. I keep silent when I should stand up for somebody weaker than me. I let my desire to be liked affect way too much of what I do. I procrastinate like nobody's business. I do things without thinking them all the way through. Foolishness.

How liberating that I can pray to a King so powerful, loving, and wise that he is able to protect me from myself. Not meaning that the consequences don't come - not at all. But rather that he will take it and use it to display his glory and for the good of his eternal purposes.

And so I can pray with confidence: Yes, Lord, I have plenty of faults and you know them. But please protect those I love from getting caught in the crossfire. And protect those who serve you from getting blamed for my foolishness.

This is such a comfort right now as we approach our departure for Africa. As the team leader there is so much to do. So many details. So many chances to forget something or mess something up. It could be crippling....but it's not. I am relaxed because I'm resting in him.  It's not going to be a successful trip because of me. It's because of Jesus.

Please pray for me and the team as we continue our preparations. Because the One you pray to is the One who is doing the work. And he will bring it to fruition.

His plans ARE...


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Can't wait!

It's coming up fast. Before long, I will be headed back to a very special place where some amazing people live. And I will be going with an awesome group of people.'s back to Ethiopia. And I can't wait!

It really hit me today as I had to go to the Health Department and get a vaccination that had expired. It's errands like this that let you know it's coming up soon. And it is...just a little over two weeks.

I wish all of you could experience what is going on there. God is working in ways that are beyond our comprehension. As I left last year, I was pretty sure I couldn't stay away. 

One of the really cool things this year is how I am going get to go with so many awesome people. God has put together an amazing team - longtime friends and family, friends I met through my trips, and others who I know will be my friends soon.

There is my niece Macy who is going back for the second time:

There are my friends Steve, who has been helping my walk close to Jesus for more than 30 years...

...and Clark, who lives less than a mile away from me and inspires me every day with his commitment to the Kingdom:

And then there are good friends I met on past Visiting Orphans trips to Ethiopia, and I can't wait to serve with them again. There's Sarah from 2011...

And Mark and Melissa from last year...

And then there are Mike, who I met at VO training a few months ago, plus another eight brothers and sisters who I will meet face-to-face when we leave. If past trips are an indication, I will miss them when we head home.

How does that happen? I think it's a mutual commitment to Jesus and to loving children, and an attitude of wanting to honor each other and look to for each other's interests instead of their own. That can come only from God's Spirit, and it has a tendency to make for strong friendships.

So bring it on! Let's get on with God's business. Can we start now?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Creation: a reminder to give

Why do we work?

You might say that it is so we can produce something that the world needs. You might say that it is to give us a sense of accomplishment. You might say that it's so we can have the chance to interact with other people on a regular basis.

You might say any one of those things, and you would be right to a degree. But most people would simply say, "So I can make money."

And that is true. But Paul said something in Ephesians that might surprise you:
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28, NIV, emphasis mine)
Interesting. Being productive is there. So is getting something out of it. But the reason for earning money? According to this Scripture, it's in order to put us in position to be generous.

It's not just an isolated passage. All through the Bible we see people of God who were blessed for one reason - so they could be a blessing. Abraham. Moses. David. Solomon.........all received incredible blessings from God but the reason was so they could be a part of his master plan.

So why are you blessed? (And make no mistake - almost everyone who reads this, especially if they're an American, is in the top echelons  or so of the world's wealth.) The Bible gives us one reason. And it so we should ask ourselves every day how we can be a blessing to someone else.

I actually got to thinking about this while reading a book by the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy. Mr. Cathy has been blessed with an incredibly successful franchise, founded and built through hard work and adherence to Biblical principles. To share his insights, he wrote a book recently called Wealth: Is It Worth It? Here is the excerpt that got me thinking:
The whole world around us is a reminder to give. Why did God create trees? To give us shelter, fruit, timber, and oxygen. The ground, the stars, the moon, the cattle in the fields - all of them were created to give. Likewise, we were created to give. That's why we experience so much joy when we give generously.
What a wonderful picture! God has created a wonderfully rich universe. Sun, moon, stars, air, water, animals, plants...I could go on and on. Out of his infinite riches God has created everything around us in order to give, give, give. And they all scream at us, "YOU give too!"

There are so many in need. And God has blessed us with so much. In the Ephesians passage, he tells us that the reason to work is so that we will have resources to help others. May God grant us all the wisdom to follow his example, and the faith to trust that when we do so he will take care of our needs.

Coming soon: Man of Steel

This is shaping up to be an amazing summer for movies. And while Star Trek Into Darkness will be hard to top, Man of Steel is poised to give it a run. Check the latest exhilarating trailer:

"Every person can be a force for to forge his own destiny."

What a quote. What a springboard for a story about good, evil, and one extraordinary person's journey to find his place in the story.

I. cannot. wait.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Winning student athletes ---> winning football

15 football national championships.

3 in 4 four years.

And now this.

Alabama football wins award for academic achievement.

The link speaks for itself. Those of us who follow Tide football are not surprised. We know that a huge part of Coach Saban's formula for success is that he cares about his players and does everything possible to prepare them for life. And holding them to high standards in the classroom is part of that. Winning football comes from winning individuals.

So once again, congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Roll tide.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pleasing the Boss

"Yet all this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate." - Haman, in Esther 5:13, NASB
I looked in to a mirror Sunday morning. Yes, I'm sure I looked at a literal mirror while getting ready for church. But it was later  - at church - where I really saw myself in a mirror. The mirror was from the book of Esther.

I was visiting my friend Steve in Tallahassee and worshiped at Element 3 Church. The teaching was from Esther as they were walking through the book in a series. As Pastor Mark was teaching from chapter 5, I saw something that I recognized.

Go back and read the chapter. Here's the short version: The devious and evil right hand man of the king was plotting to have the entire Jewish race exterminated. In particular, there was a Jew named Mordecai who really got under his skin. Mordecai's cousin Esther was the queen and (no one knowing she was a Jew) she was working on a way to persuade the king to spare her kin. In order to make her petition, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet. Haman got the big head about his invitation and began to brag, not knowing Esther's true intent. And that's where we come to the key moment, quoted in the verse at the top of this post.

In all his boasting, Haman said that he couldn't enjoy it because of this one dude Mordecai, whose presence mocked him. Mordecai didn't show him the respect he thought he deserved, and so he could not enjoy any of the blessings of his life.

How could this be?? You mean to tell me that one person's opinion - a person who he considered to be unworthy of even his contempt, could ruin everything?

Apparently so. Haman was a people-pleaser.

And there's my mirror.

I look at myself and I see someone that wants everyone to be happy. All the time. If there is a way to please everyone, that is the decision I gravitate toward. And if it just isn't possible, my natural tendency is to stress over it.

There are some people who don't give a rip what anyone thinks. They just do what pleases them and everyone else can just go....jump in the lake. Sometimes, I envy them. Because like Haman, I pay way too much attention to that one person who doesn't like what I do.

How unlike our King Jesus. The one who said that his only goal was to please his Father. The one who told us not to fear man who could destroy the body but to fear "him who can destroy the body and soul in hell." At every step, his focus was never on the applause of the crowd, but on the on the single handclap of his Father in heaven.

And so I pray. I pray for forgiveness when I get distracted from the only audience that really matters. And I pray that he will give me the wisdom to look only to him for my affirmation.

Someone once said that the goal of any job is to find out who your boss is and please him. I know who my Boss is...and so I pray that I will remember that he is the one I need to please.