Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eternal Investments

I wrote last month about Gary Levi, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. A few weeks ago, a group of Harris County High School students honored Gary. For years this humble man has invested in the lives of these young people by praying for them and befriending them. On many mornings, Gary and his brother Allen wait at the high school doors and personally greet the students. No one has asked them to do this. They are simply responding to God’s call to love people. This is what Jesus is all about: Love in action.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

His Name Is Earl

And he’s my new housemate. He reminds me a lot of Marley, the yellow lab immortalized in John Grogan's 2005 bestseller, Marley and Me.

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things - a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Longing for Home

Since moving to west-central Georgia four months ago, I've had the privilege of attending a men's fellowship group known as the Front Porch Gang. Every Thursday morning, anywhere from 15 to 30 guys gather at the home of a lawyer-turned-musician named Allen Levi. Allen's house sits on a hill, with the view from said front porch sweeping across a pretty little valley. That view alone is worth the effort to get up early and make the 20-minute drive to Allen's house.
In addition to prayer and Bible study, these gatherings typically include a lot of joking around and light-hearted conversation. Lately, however, the mood has been more somber. That's because Allen's brother, Gary, recently was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. But as Gary himself has reminded us, both in writing and in person, his illness is really a gift and a blessing, rather than a time for lamenting what soon could be a life cut short. If our earthly lives are all have hope for, then the latter view certainly would make sense. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, Gary has a hope built on the living God, the one who overcame death and promises to give eternal life to all who put their faith in Him.
The following is excerpted from an email Gary sent the Front Porch Gang. If you know Jesus as your Savior, be encouraged. If you don't, then give some thought to what he has to say about life and death. Gary has received the eternal life that Jesus offers, hence the assurance that shines through his words. Jesus' offer is there for you too: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). What you do with that offer is literally a life-and-death matter.
Many of you are praying for my healing. Thank you. I am praying for His will, that He will use this for His glory and honor, and that He will draw us all closer to Himself. Selfishly, a part of me is praying to go home. Like yourself, perhaps, I am tired of the struggles in this life, the fight with self and the flesh. Everyday it seems that I am more and more aware of my need and my weakness. I long to see Him face to face, with a glorified mind, soul and body and to be as He is. I'm not sure what will happen but I know the One Who does and I rejoice in the fact that He rejoices in doing me good.
It may seem strange, but I am excited about the possibility of going home soon. My brother wrote a song with the title, "the first of us to go." We both long to go to our eternal home. I have often felt as Paul did when he wrote that he longed to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. While I struggle with the thought of leaving loved ones that are dear to my heart, I hope that, in each one of us, there is a longing to be with Christ, a longing for home, a longing to be with the One Who loves us more than we can imagine and a desire to be in that place where we will be able to love Him back perfectly. 

Life has been good to me in this fallen world, largely because of ones like you, but I know that there is something better and I want to fall asleep and wake up there. What a task and blessing I have now of thanking all of you who have enriched my life by allowing me to see Christ more clearly through your walk. 

Let's continue to press on and obey Him until He returns. Your life enriches mine and I am blessed by our paths having crossed. My life and times, like yours, are in His hands. If He chooses to keep me here, I pray that I will love Him more and more, fight for His honor, glory and Kingdom. And if He chooses to take me home, I will praise Him until you arrive.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Do Something Now!

The Christian faith is worthless if it does not spur its adherent to action. James, brother of Jesus, said as much: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

I love what the Passion 268Generation is doing in this regard. Inspired by the words of Isaiah 26:8 – “Your name and Your renown are the desire of our souls” – Passion ministers to college-age students with the aim of spreading God’s glory throughout the earth. Since 2007, Passion’s Do Something Now initiative has generated nearly $5 million for causes such as child trafficking, clean water, medical care and much more.

It astounds me when I hear critics and skeptics of Christianity claim the world would be better off without it. Slaves freed, the hungry fed, the sick healed, wells dug – how is our world not a better place because of Christians putting their love into action like this?

This is a cause worth getting on board with – and it’s not just for college students. Check it out at

Georgia on my Mind

Last month I posted that I was starting a new job on Hilton Head Island. In ending that post I said, “Where God leads, I will follow.” Now, less than two months later, He has lead me to pack up and move again. Starting April 18, I’ll begin work as a copywriter in the marketing department at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. I’m really excited about the job and the location.

Life has been full of uncertainty since I returned from Africa in December, as I wondered where I would work and live. Looking back, if I’ve learned one thing over the past three months, it’s this: Quit trying to figure out what God is up to and just live for Him – one day at a time.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:31-34).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

This Song's for You

In a world where so many entertainers are self-centered and seemingly detached from reality, here's a refreshing performance:

Monday, February 28, 2011

Full Circle

When I was laid off from my last job in January 2009, I didn’t expect I would find full-time work in the South Carolina Lowcountry again. I did some freelance writing and fundraising, moved to my mother’s house in Georgia for a month, then left to go live in South Africa. As I prepared to return to the States last December, I sensed that my time in Cape Town had really drawn to a close, that my ministry was finished, and that God was calling me back to my home country for a new season of life. I just didn’t know what that would look like.

For the past two months I’ve been applying for jobs and sending out resumes. I had one job offer a few weeks ago, for a counselor position with a school in northeast Georgia that works with troubled teens. On the surface it seemed tailor-made for me – helping kids, just as I had done in South Africa, and living in the southern Appalachian mountains, which I adore. But something about it just didn’t add up. Certainly not the pay, which was a pittance, but also the peace factor – it just didn’t feel right.

Now I’ve landed a job that I certainly didn’t see coming. Next Monday I’ll start work as communications coordinator for the Sea Pines community on Hilton Head Island. It’s not a drastic change from what I was doing before I got laid off; I just didn’t expect there to be another such opportunity in the area. It’s certainly not a missionary role in the sense of what I did in Africa. But Christians are called to be missionaries wherever God sends us, so I’ll be back on Hilton Head, where I first lived almost 13 years ago when I moved from Atlanta to join the staff of a golf magazine. I’ll be back with my home church, LowCountry Community, and am looking forward to attending LCC’s island campus. My house in nearby Bluffton is rented, so I’ll be living on the island, five minutes from work and two minutes from the beach. (I know, I know, it will be a tough life.) I’m looking forward to being part of a community again, to reuniting with old friends and making new ones, to getting involved in volunteer ministry within the LCC family.

One verse in particular had been on my heart the past two months as I sought God’s direction for where to live and work. Psalm 32, verse 8, says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” That was comforting throughout those weeks of uncertainty when the phone wasn’t ringing and I didn’t know where I would end up. When God's instruction became clear, it wasn’t through an audible voice or a message written in the clouds. It was just an unmistakable sense of peace, of knowing this is where He is calling me.

Another verse that's always given me great comfort with regard to location is Acts 17:26. In the NIV translation, it says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Thanks to those who prayed with me that I would hear from God on where He wants me to be. Where He leads, I will follow.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Bucket List

Of the countless ways to bare one’s soul on Facebook, a feature that gained widespread use a while back was the “bucket list.” The idea was to send your friends a list of cool things you’ve done, then they could send it back and show you all the cool things they had done. At the bottom of one such list I received – which was full of all sorts of impressive globe-trotting adventures – the sender commented, “Life is looking pretty good right now.”

The thought occurred to me: “But how’s the next life looking?” Because no bucket-list accomplishment is going to be worth anything when one passes from this life to the next. Then, the only thing that will matter is how that person responded to Jesus’ offer of eternal life by virtue of His death and resurrection. Sadly, many people miss out on this offer as they race through their limited time on earth, searching for meaning in everything but Jesus.

In his book Eiger Dreams, Jon Krakauer described the sensations a climber experiences on a wall of ice thousands of feet off the ground: “The accrued guilt and clutter of day-to-day existence … is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose, and by the seriousness of the task at hand. At such moments, something like happiness actually stirs in your chest …” Purpose and happiness – that’s what we want. Not just mundane existence, but something meaningful, something to make us feel satisfied.

King Solomon, who had all the riches and wisdom a man could ever want, discovered he was walking a dead-end road without God. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun,” Solomon wrote. “All of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). Reflecting on this meaningless existence, Solomon finally arrived at this determination: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

To fear God is to honor Him as Lord of all, to worship Him, to be in close relationship with Him. That was His intention since the beginning of humankind, and it is possible through Christ, who offers the ultimate fulfillment to man’s longings. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Exciting Times

The following is a letter to Living Hope's American ministry partners from Chairman John Thomas:

I trust you all have had a wonderful Christmas and that 2011 will be a year of God’s grace to you and that you will know Him pouring out His Spirit over you in amazing ways.

Thank-you for your ongoing love and support. You have no idea how much you mean to us. We don’t share our gratefulness to you often enough, but we honestly could not continue the work in South Africa without you. There is no doubt in my mind that the USA churches, teams, volunteers and giving have become a critical cornerstone of what the Lord is doing in Cape Town. The month of December was a great one in terms of your giving to Living Hope and we are humbled by your generosity. Thank-you to each one and to each church who gave sacrificially to us.

We have traditionally held our annual Partners Conference at the beginning of March each year. This year we had planned to do the same, but we have decided to postpone it for a while. Let me share why we are postponing it. As most of you know that we have been working on a CD of the Masi Choir and a number of U.S.-based artists. Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay and Casting Crowns have each recorded a unique track of music on this CD, which is absolutely amazing. The guys at Brentwood Baptist Church have worked so hard on getting this CD together and it is finally produced and ready for printing. We are understandably thrilled that this project is nearing completion – it is a dream coming true. We had planned to have a launch concert of the CD as the opening night of our Partners Conference this year on February 28. We want each of you and your churches to be able to participate in this wonderful celebration with us. A lot of back ground work has gone into getting the U.S.-based artists to host this concert. Unfortunately, despite much effort to hold the concert on the 28th of February, it has become clear that it is not going to happen.

We obviously want you to participate in this concert and launch. Not only was this going to be the CD launch, but also a book launch. Allen Allnoch, a volunteer from Low Country Community Church, has been working tirelessly on a coffee-table story book on Living Hope.  (Like the CD, you are going to love this book). We do not feel that we can ask you to go to all the expense of coming to Nashville twice this year for Living Hope – once for the Partners Conference and then again for the Concert, CD and book launch. We really want this event to be a fantastic time when all our Partners and friends of Living Hope are present. We therefore have decided to put the Partners conference on hold until we have clarity on the concert and CD launch date. I hope the concert will be somewhere between May and September this year. It is my personal longing that every one of you will be there with a whole lot of your church if at all possible. The two days following the concert will then be our Partners Conference.  I know that at this stage I am not giving you dates to keep free, but as soon as we have clarity on possible dates, we will let you know. I really trust that this time of celebration and partnership will be one of the greatest held in the history of Living Hope USA. Do start saving in order to be with us for our Concert, CD and book launch and, of course, the Partners Conference.

Your friend and grateful partner in Christ

John V. Thomas
Chairperson, Living Hope

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hits and Misses

Many people have asked me what I missed the most about life in America while I lived in South Africa. Here are a few of those things, in no particular order, along with a few more I miss about there now that I’m here.

Besides the obvious ones, like family and friends, the things I missed most about the U.S. were:

-          American football. Rugby just ain’t the same.
-          Dr. Pepper
-          Chik-Fil-A biscuits
-          Country music. Thank the Lord for the iPod.
-          Sports Illustrated
-          Southern barbecue
-          Mexican food
-          Fall weather
-          Unlimited internet

And the things I now miss most about South Africa:

-          Mountains and sea everywhere I looked
-          South African accents
-          Breyani (a spicy curry dish with chicken, rice and lentils)
-          An unhurried way of doing things, also known as African Time (OK sometimes I enjoyed this; sometimes it was maddening)
-          Wildlife sightings: e.g., whales, baboons, ostrich
-          Rooibos tea (very tasty and grown only in the RSA)
-          A city, Cape Town, that is one of the most vibrant and scenic I’ve ever experienced
-          Working for a cause greater than my own
-          Some of the most interesting and beautiful people I’ve ever known

Lessons Learned

Now that I’ve been back from Africa for a few weeks and taken some time to process the past 18 months, here are a few observations I’ve reached:

-     Spiritual warfare is real. I knew this going in, but there on the frontlines of poverty and sickness, I realized it more than ever. Christians are striving to bring the love and healing power of Christ, and Satan is actively working to oppose it.
-     The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Again, I knew this, but to see it in another part of the world just affirms how dark human hearts are everywhere. We are not basically good people who occasionally do bad; we are, by nature, bad people who can only be made good by the perfect blood of Jesus.
-     God is able to do “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). In researching and writing a book about Living Hope, I saw the evidence of God’s hand on this ministry throughout its 10-year history, and even well before that. Living Hope chaplain Graham Haddad, who was there from the beginning, told me that this verse aptly describes the birth and development of Living Hope.
-     When God issues a call to do something for Him, He also provides the means to accomplish it. Much as He did this with Graham, Pastor John Thomas and the other founders of Living Hope, God enabled me to envision the book and carry it through to completion. A year ago, it was a blank slate; today it is nearly finished and it looks spectacular. I’m not saying this to boast about myself – this is all His doing. I, along with many others, was just an instrument He used to make it happen.
-     I hate injustice. I saw it everywhere, from corrupt government officials all the way down to petty criminals, and it drove me crazy sometimes.

Now the challenge is to apply these lessons in whatever vocation and location God places me in next. I’m excited to see what that will be.