Monday, October 28, 2013

Scare the Hell Out of Them?

Every year around Halloween, I start seeing the billboards and yard signs for Hell Houses, Hell' Gates, and other versions of a "Christian" haunted house experience. At some point, some churches decided an effective means of evangelism would be to literally scare the hell out of people. The whole approach reminds me of the travelling evangelist we used to encounter when I was growing up in the 1970's. He was a loud guy who turned red in the face, beating on the pulpit and his Bible, jumping and shouting "Turn or Burn!" and "REPENT!"

OK, so let me just ask you this simple question. Have you ever been scared or threatened into any relationship with anyone that you would want anything to do with in the first place? Yes, we need to understand our sinful nature and that the wages of sin is death. But my experience has been that most folks understand their personal failures. In fact, the majority of people that I have met do not need to be convinced how messed up their lives are. They are quite familiar with it. The reason they do not have a personal relationship with their Creator is not because they are content with their situations. Quite the opposite. The response I regularly receive is something along the lines of this, "God would not want to have a relationship with anyone as screwed up as me. He knows everything and knows the horrible things I have done in my life. There is no way He could love me." They then begin to tell you of their struggles with parents that abandoned them, or spouses that left them. They discuss significant people in their lives that could not love them and draw a seemingly logical conclusion that God could not love them. So does screaming "Turn or Burn" or "Repent" in their faces draw them to establishing a relationship with God? Would a depiction of one's interpretation of what eternal suffering might be like suddenly be the break-thru that causes them to surrender their control of their life to God?

Maybe the folks throwing these huge productions have different encounters than I have, but I have spent more time trying to get people to accept and understand that the God that created the universe and set the Earth spinning in its orbit loves them despite all the mess in their life and wants a personal relationship with them. So, to see if I was missing something, I referred back to what Jesus did while he walked the face of the Earth. Call it my version of WWJD. But do not take my word for it, look it up. John 4:1-26. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well. He begins having a conversation with her. She has had five husbands and at the time of their conversation is shacking up with another man. Think I am joking, go read it! John 4:1-26. Nowhere in the encounter does he tell her what her sin will get her. Then there was the woman brought to him by the Pharisees and teachers of the law because she was caught in the act of adultery in John 8:1-11. Did he begin a long lecture of what the sins were in her life and what Hell would be like? NO! He first told the Pharisees that whoever among them that was sinless could throw the first stone at her. They one by one walked away until it was just Jesus and the woman left by themselves. What did He say to her? He said "Where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "Then neither do I, Go now and sin no more." That is right. Jesus himself told an adulterer he did not condemn her.

Ponder this passage, John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." I submit to you that if Jesus himself did not come to the world to condemn folks, that He probably does not want us to condemn folks. I would also submit that if Jesus did not walk the earth trying to scare the hell out of them, we probably should not be trying to either.

Then what should we be doing? Actually Jesus told us in pretty simple terms in John 13:34, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Hold the phone! That is Jesus' business plan for evangelism? Yup. That is it. Love people. And guess what? It works. I have seen it work in prisons where men with some of the hardest of hearts that thought no one could love them have come to understand that God has not given up on them, because someone decided to love them the way God has loved them. What if we went with that approach?


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stuck Leaders and Navigating Hurdles

OK, I admit it. I have had a cynical view of the millennial generation, the 20-somethings. But a couple of weeks ago, I got a glimpse of a couple hundred millennials that seriously restored my faith in this generation. I was invited to attend a Hive Gathering. In a nutshell, it is a group of a couple hundred people coming together to discuss what their dreams are, and to support them and help them move forward with their endeavor. When I began talking with some of the attendees, I quickly realized that there are a lot of people in this age range that are passionate about improving their communities and their world which was refreshing and encouraging. When I told them about Feed Forsyth, they all seemed to get excited about what we were doing and eager to find how they could help.

The other big discovery for me was that so many of them had great ideas and ambitions but were stuck somewhere in the process. And, for many the sticking point was something on the horizon. I found myself asking, "What can you do today or this week that would move you in the direction you want to go?" On the drive home and over the next few days, the more I thought about those discussions, the more I began to realize that there are many people walking around with a great ambition to make a difference in the world, but stick somewhere along the way. For many of us, we perceive that there is a hurdle on the path of accomplishing a dream or ambition and we are paralyzed by it. But we do not have to throw the dream down and walk away. Instead we need to figure out what we can accomplish that gets us moving towards accomplishing the dream and not concentrate on the upcoming hurdle.

I knew when we launched Feed Forsyth that we would need a refrigerated truck. We did not have the money to go out and buy one. But we did not throw up our hands and say "If only" or "We cannot pursue this". Instead, I created a list of what would need to be accomplished. Things like writing a business plan, writing a case of support, writing a mission statement, writing a purpose, interviewing food pantry managers to determine the best way we could help, assembling a board of directors, filing for incorporation with the state, securing an EIN from the IRS, applying for 501c3 nonprofit status, deciding on a name for the organization, designing a logo, securing a domain name, creating a website, creating a Facebook page, creating a Twitter account, developing my elevator pitch, applying for a business license, etc.

A lot of the items on my list had no related costs. Some did. Some required more money than we had available. So every chance I had some free time, I looked at the list and asked, "What can I accomplish before we have to have a 501c3?", "What can I accomplish before we have to pay to register with the State?", and "What can I accomplish without a refrigerated truck?"

Do you have a dream rattling around in your head, but you have not moved forward do to an impending hurdle? What can you do to move forward before arriving at the hurdle? If the hurdle is at position 26, why not start working through positions 1-25? We started all of the organizing pieces of the puzzle in January of our first year. In May, I found a sandwich restaurant that wanted to donate bread, and I knew of two church food pantries that could use bread. So, I found two volunteers who were willing to pick up bread one day a week from the restaurant and deliver it to one of the two pantries. BOOM! We were doing something. Albeit small, we were collecting and distributing perfectly good bread that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage and delivering it to food pantries that were working to try and meet the demands of struggling families showing up weekly at their doors.

Did we have a refrigerated truck that could haul a couple thousand pounds of food? Nope. Were we accomplishing something worthwhile? You bet! When we got word of a pantry needing frozen turkey and knew where some was that could meet the need, I grabbed a cooler, tossed it in my SUV and made the pickup and delivery. The cost of filing for the 501c3 and the cost of purchasing a refrigerated truck were hurdles. And, I did not have an answer for immediately clearing those hurdles, but there was no reason that we could not move some food.

At the same time, we began volunteering with some of the food pantries we eventually wanted to supply rescued food. By volunteering with the pantries, we saw things first hand and recognized needs we could eventually fill, and we were able to help prepare meals and distribute them. At the same time, the food pantries got to know us and understand our heart for families struggling with hunger. They began to realize that we genuinely wanted to help them accomplish their mission and goal, and that we believed in working together as partners not competitors.

I strongly encourage you to begin considering that dream that has been rattling around in your head and develop a list of things that would need to be accomplished to make it a reality. And then, review the list weekly and ask, "What can I do this week that will move me down the path?" If you are in Atlanta, I strongly recommend attending a Hive Gathering and meet some other leaders. Share your visions and goals and ask, "How can I help?" You just might find a web designer, a graphical artist to design your logo, someone that has filed their own 501c3 application, or someone that can advise you on writing a business plan.

Do NOT stay stuck. Start making forward progress and concentrate of maintaining forward momentum. In racing, as a driver, you quickly learn when you come up on a slower car, your first reaction is NOT to go to the brakes. You instead look for an open lane to move around them while keeping your foot firmly pressed on the accelerator. Maintaining momentum is essential. Do not step on the brake of progress for that hurdle you see coming up in the future. Keep your foot firmly planted on the accelerator and begin looking for an open lane to bypass that hurdle.

Doing SOMETHING, no matter how small, is always better than doing nothing. You might not be able to change the world, this nation, your state, or your city. But you can change your neighborhood. You can help one neighbor. Get started. Do something!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Consuming Bad News

Over the last couple of months, it seems no matter where I turn, there is a steady stream of sad news. During a routine visit to a physician, a high school friend of mine discovered she has a tumor on her lung. She has been a trooper enduring test after test and finally surgery to remove part of her lung. I took a day of vacation to make preparations for the big canned good drive our nonprofit was holding at the local fair. At the end of the day, we drove up to where my SUV was parked to discover someone had run into the passenger door. They did not feel obligated to leave a note and assume responsibility for the damage. The next day, I had my hand squashed between a pallet jack and a slab of concrete.

Later that afternoon while loading supplies in my SUV, we kept hearing sirens. I turned around to discover a neighbor's house was on fire. Fortunately, the family escaped without injury, and the Fire Department got it extinguished before it spread to other homes, but sadly, the family lost their home. A college friend of mine's husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And, a friend of mine's daughter was found to have blood clots on her brain causing her severe migraines and excruciating pain. I turn on the radio, read the news at AJC online or USAToday and learn of families devastated by automobile accidents and brutal violence. For almost a month, I have read messages and heard voicemails from community food pantries running out of food.

Through all this, I find myself overwhelmed with sadness and grief and a feeling of being completely powerless to do anything to make a positive difference in the lives of the people involved in all of these situations. I know that God is still in charge and as my heart is breaking for hurting families, I know His is too. I find myself sitting and wondering how do we change the world as we know it. How do we stop the violence in our cities? How do we stop the senseless deaths on our roadways? How do we end the rage that seems so prevalent in our society? How do we end homelessness and childhood hunger?

The Sun came up on Sunday, and we set out to the local fair and the canned good drive we had been planning for two months. As the day progressed, I watched 105 volunteers arrive and work diligently to collect and box canned goods. I watched thousands of local citizens arrive with bags of canned goods to donate to help feed struggling families in our community. When the Sun had set, we had 10 pallets of canned goods (approximately 12, 750 lbs). We woke up early Monday, climbed in the rented truck and began making deliveries to community food pantries. By the time the day was over, we had restocked the shelves of 9 pantries that had been struggling to meet the needs of the families arriving at their doors.

This weekend, my brother called and told me about a malnourished horse that they had rescued and were working to get her fed and healthy. This is the second horse they have taken in, fed, and cared for along with dogs, cats, and squirrels. Are they an organized nonprofit with regular contributors? Not at all. Just a couple of people that saw a need and decided they could step in the gap and make a difference.

I know we have not changed the world in the last two weeks, but we have made a small difference in a hurting world. I pause and think what could happen if everyone looked around them and decided to make a small difference in the lives of those they encounter everyday. I heard Andy Stanley encourage the church last year to do for one what you wish you could do for all. It makes sense to me. You do not have to launch a nonprofit. You do not have to have a significant sum of money. Just be aware of those around you struggling and ask yourself, "What can I do?" Take a hurting friend to dinner and listen to them. Give a cold homeless stranger your jacket. Do something - no matter how small - something is better than nothing.