Late Night Tuesday on the Coast

Thanks for all of your comments and prayers for James, and your encouraging comments for our work here. We did not see James much the next day (Monday). He needs your prayers, for sure. Even though I’m pretty sure he is not willing to give up drugs yet, his conscience moves him toward the right path. Perhaps He will follow that path sometime soon. I believe he can be helped. His story is reflective of the life that we can fall into because of substance abuse. There are few families that can claim that they are free from that influence. A short glance at the family tree will show that we are all affected by this choice that ruins lives.

This week saw some significant changes to our church building. As many of you know, we have put off repairing our building so that we could serve our community first. This is not lost on our guests and many have commented about this aspect of our work. I am convicted that it was the right thing to do and appreciate our leaders for their heart in this matter. Yesterday a crew from Kentucky and Florida used a machine that stripped the tiles from our floor in the auditorium. Central folks Jim Ingram, Mac McGuire, and John Robert Dobbs, along with volunteers, toted garbage cans full of old floor tile to the dumpster most of the day. The pews were moved out that night and the next morning the cement truck arrived.

Our auditorium floor is sloped downward almost 3/4 of the way toward the front where it takes a slpe upward to the pulpit. Our borrowed pews have been rocking and sliding on these sloped floors for months now. Today cement was poured in the building and we now have an even floor that will allow us to easily utilize any seating arrangement we choose. It also creates a large space that can be used for more purposes than the old floor allowed. I think the next big project is to deal with the overhead lighting. It is designed in such a way that insulation blows down into the lights and it always looks bad. I’m not sure HOW this will be done. Next I’m sure we will be ordering chairs, painting, and laying carpet. Anyone want to come help?

I look forward Wednesday night to our Central Family Devotional. We will set out the tables and chairs received from Healing Hands International some months ago. We will also have the opportunity to hear Lee Robison speak. Lee has been the minister for the Sarasota Christian Church for twenty five years. He is an engaging brother who tells me that their congregation is involved in cooperative efforts in Sarasota with some of the churches of Christ there.

This is the first time I’ve talked about volunteers in a while, because it is the first time we’ve had any in a while! There is also a group that is staying at the TLC (volunteer housing provided by the county). They are from Colorado and have been very interested in our work. The church of Christ at Eva, Alabama will be returning this weekend for yet another trip. They have made several. We also have a group of high schoolers coming in from Franklin, TN.  Floyd from Florence has been here for a week or so and is working hard as well. We are so blessed to have great people working with us! You see very few volunteers in Pascagoula these days.

I was able to visit for a little while with Robbie today. He is pictured here with Keith. Keith is the brother who was hit by a truck on his way to work … riding a bicycle. He has a great spirit and is healing up nicely. I thank God for these men and others like them who have such genuine hearts and who look for ways to be of help to others. When they face adversities, they get back up on their feet and trust God to see them through. I admire them in many ways.

 While I was posting tonight, the midnight hour has arrived. So, I will say goodnight…even though most of you will be reading this tomorrow. Anyway, I’m glad you read and I thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

James

At the end of the sermon and invitation song he walked down the middle aisle with head held low. It was the kind of moment that you realize that the dynamics of the past hour were about to change dramatically, and there’s no way to tell just how it’s going to turn out. Obviously in need of a shower, he humbly approached me without making eye contact. His white tee-shirt was marked with smudges of dirt, and the rest of his clothing betrayed his homeless status. He stood very close to me at the front of the aisle, facing the communion table, unable to turn and face the people in the pews. He must have felt every eye in the place on him. Even though he tried, he could not speak.

I asked this young black man what his name was. He said, “It’s James, you know me.” I didn’t recognize him, but the reason for that is that I had only spoken with him and prayed with him over the phone. Only a few weeks ago he called me and wanted me to give him fifty dollars to pay a debt to someone who was looking for him. I do not, and we (as a church) do not give money. Not long after that he solicited some money in the neighborhood, claiming to be from the Central Church of Christ. Unfortunately for him, Kathy has been very involved in hurricane relief and attending our church. She knew he was attempting to defraud others in the name of the church, and she strongly encouraged him to cease this behavior. The story even ended up in the local paper.

And now here he is standing with his back to the congregation, tears streaming down his face. In this situation that is very unusual for us, not a sound was to be heard. Even the children were rivited by this sight. All he could whisper were things like “It’s so hard” and “I need God to be in this.” I tried to be helpful and suggest that he simply apologize and we would pray, letting him know that he would be treated kindly. He was not about to let himself off the hook that easily. He turned around and faced an auditorium full of strangers.

Then it came pouring out. A heart that was broken in it’s own sin was exposed with a rare frankness. He pulled four dollars out of his pocket. He had asked a man for some money for food and received that four dollars. He went straight to the drug-infested FEMA trailer park near him and looked for even a small amount of the drug that gave him escape from his shame – and increased his shame. I doubt that many in the room could hear him, but I didn’t dare offer him a microphone. This was an expulsion of demons long held in. When he couldn’t find any drugs, he wandered into a nearby church. The smell that comes along with homelessness, and his attire, and his own guilt made him feel uncomfortable there. He offered a man his four dollars to drive him to Central Church of Christ.

James expressed his repentence, his desire to follow God, his hope to escape addiction, and his heart for helping others who are in his same situation. He pointed out Kathy, who had confronted him about the fraud. He told us that she was not ‘nasty’ with him, though he deserved it. Kathy stood up and said something like, “I’m very proud of you for your courage. You did the right thing and I pray that God will give you the strength you need.” It was an amazing moment of grace. Kathy and her husband, Bud, are faithful blog readers who encourage me often. I’m proud of her.

Though it seemed hours, it was only about fifteen minutes. To him, I’m sure, it felt like days. Some got up and left. Most couldn’t hear him. But God’s attention was surely focused upon a broken man exposing his sin-sick heart to a redeemed people. Our prayer was for James to have the strength to break the bondage that has such a strong hold in his life. We were able to feed James, let him get a shower, have a place for a night, some new clothes, and tomorrow we will talk about some more permanent solutions. 

Look at my heart again, look at the mess I’ve got it in.

I’m trying to trust in You, To know that you’ll see me through. 

— The Space In Between Us, Building 429

You Take Me Back

This is a message I always long to hear from my Father God, presented musically by Jeremy Camp. I pray that your Sunday is filled with the good news of God’s grace. He is the One who puts lives back together again.

 

Retreat, Rest, Renovate, Recharge, Renew

I have returned home from Blue Ridge, Georgia where a friend put together a retreat for the week. It was a great week in every way. I have about a hundred pictures up on my picture page, located HERE. My big big ‘thanks’ to Gary Kirkendall for dreaming up the idea, securing the place, planning the format, inviting the resource speaker, and for acting as gracious host. We spent a good bit of time talking about our individual ministries, and also hearing some information and inspiration from our speaker. The above picture is the view from the second level deck of our cabin just out of Blue Ridge along the Ocoee river (is that right, Gary?).

Brian Magnuson, of the Westgate Church of Christ in Dothan, AL was our guest speaker. I knew Brian many years ago through our association with Sardis Lake Christian Camp in North Mississippi. He was the youth minister of the Senatobia Church of Christ. It has been eleven years since I last saw Brian, and I am so grateful for the renewed friendship. I am concerned, though, that he does not have a blog!

I cannot recount everything that happened at the retreat, but we began by watching a movie together called “The Second Chance“. I want to recommend that everyone watch this movie. It has a great message about service and seeking the heart of Jesus in a world that is in bondage to sin. This movie resonates with me in such a big way due to the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, although it takes place far from the Gulf Coast. The soundtrack is packed with great Christian music, I would guess under the direction of Michael W. Smith. Smith takes the lead role in the movie, and although at times his acting skills are stretched, he reasonably portrays the dilemma in which many American Christians find themselves. Are we satisfied to throw money at benevolent programs or are we willing to get our hands dirty in the willingness to help others? This movie is rated PG-13, though the mild profanity and brief gang-related violence cannot merit that rating. I have ordered my own copy of this movie and will watch it again along with our elders. I hope to share it with many people … including you. I think you can pick this movie up at your local Christian bookstore or any of the usual websites that sell DVDs. There are some discussion questions and film clips on the movie’s website, if you choose to use this with teen classes – which I highly recommend. One facet of the movie that will be of particular interest to church leaders is the sub-plot involving the Board of a large church’s decision making process, and how big a player money can be in the life of a church. The inner city church used in the movie is a church of Christ in Nashville, TN. I’m guessing that they imported the piano.

It’s good to be home. We have “Cruising on the Coast” in Pascagoula this weekend. All of the classic car owners will be parked along our streets to allow people to take pictures and view their restored hot rods. There was a free Charlie Daniels Band concert at Beach Park tonight. Plus there is the Z=onta crafts festival which is always a lot of fun. Maggy says that tomorrow night we are going to see the long anticipated movie, The Guardian. I’ll let you know how it goes.

We have groups arriving this week and next week from Sarasota, FL, Sturgis, KY, Florence, AL, Tullahoma, TN, and Franklin, TN to do some volunteering.  These are the first volunteers we have had in several weeks. We are so thankful for their lovely spirit that sends them down our way. We realize that this is quite a sacrifice, and not everyone can do it. Thank God for those who can! If you cannot personally come to help, please pray that God will send workers. That is a way that all of our blog readers can participate in the ministry here.

At the risk of putting too much ‘stuff’ on this post, I want to share with you Third Day’s awesome song, Cry Out To Jesus. If you haven’t heard it, just let the words touch your heart as you listen. I think it is possibly the best contemporary Christian song ever. Really.

 

 

Blogless Week?

We had a good Sunday at Central and enjoyed a wonderful fellowship meal together. We had first-time community visitors with us and we hope that they will want to come back and worship with us again soon. I spent some time with Robbie this afternoon and he did some work around the church building.

 It was great to have my friend and elder Jim Ingram back from his month-long trip to New Zealand and Australia. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him today, but he obviously enjoyed his trip. His big smile was a happy sight to see today.

I have a speaking appointment in the Atlanta area at the end of the month on a Sunday morning and would enjoy speaking at another congregation on Sunday night. Also I have an appointment in East Tennessee the next Sunday morning and would enjoy speaking at another congregation that Sunday night. The Wednesday in between is open. So… if anyone within driving distance of those areas would like a hurricane relief presentation, get in touch with me asap.

This week I will be attending a retreat for preachers. If I have an opportunity to post anything, i will do so. I am sorry that this comes in the middle of my posts on KINGDOM COME. I will have my book with me, though, and if I can post another chapter, I will. I just ask your patience if I cannot.

Well, It’s getting late and I have a lot to do before my trip. I hope you all have a great week. It could be a blogless week here, but go ahead and check every now and then … you never know when I might syphoon off a wireless signal and sneak in a post!