The Story of Daniel Brown

 

Daniel didn’t have a phone number, but he at least wanted to exchange contact information, so he gave me this slip of paper with his name.

As we turned east down the access road a fresh spring breeze rushed through our partially rolled-down windows and the morning sun radiated warmly through the windshield. In the passenger seat, Daniel Brown thumped a cigarette and reached down into his cloth backpack for an already opened silver aluminium can of Always Save citrus drink. He turned it up for a long, satisfying swallow.

“Pretty good deal for thirty-seven cents,” he looked at me with a smile. “Found forty cents on the sidewalk back at the grocery store and thought I’d treat myself to drink. Sure is good.”

The twenty minutes we spent together seemed oddly ordained. Sometimes we believe we’re doing someone a favor. Then the blessing gets pointed at you.

***

Earlier that morning and as part of the daily routine I’d scratched out a rough to-do list. But today’s list focused on chores that would take advantage of the welcome sunshine and hope for the end of a winter season that seemed it might never end. There were garden seed to buy, a bit of hardware for hammock hanging, and just a day earlier I’d seen mini-palm trees on sale at Harp’s Grocery Store for $9.99. The palm tree sale happens every year and is a heck of a deal. They are always a centerpiece for summer landscaping around our backyard pool.

Loading the trees into the back of my old El Camino a man came up from behind with a question.

“Sir, you’re not by chance headed over toward the Social Security Office are you?” he asked. 

“No, actually I’m headed directly in the opposite direction. I’m sorry,” I replied, thankful for a quick excuse. 

“That’s okay. Have a nice day, sir.”

Reaching for another palm from the shipping pallet, I watched as the man walked back toward the store, sat on a bench, and put a backpack in his lap. He seemed perfectly at peace.

Then as if on cue, a vivid picture of guilty contrasts raced through my mind.

Here’s a man on a bike, obviously in need. He can’t have much money, and he needs a hand. It’s perilous riding a bike in this town, and the Social Security Office is a good five miles away.

I’m buying palm trees to landscape a luxury swimming pool, driving one of three cars I own and bought at auction two months ago because I thought it would be cool having a car named El Camino, and I have all the time in the world.

I looked toward him again and saw the same manner in his eyes. Peace.

About that time, that voice you sometimes hear telling you exactly what you should do rather than what you’re about to do made itself perfectly clear. I growled under my breath a second, and surrendered. 

“Mr., if you don’t mind going in the other direction while I drop these at my house, I can run an errand toward the Social Security Office and we can get you there,” I said.

“I sure appreciate that. Can I put my bike in the back of your car there?”

“Sure.”

The next ten minutes transcended every expectation offering up another test so clear it’s embarrassing acknowledging it was a choice.

***

As we drove toward home Daniel Brown strapped on his seat belt and introduced himself with a hand shake. They were hands from many years of manual labor.

“This is mighty nice of you, mister. I rode here from Paragould and am having a time getting my disability payments started. The people in this town aren’t too friendly toward bikers.”

Daniel complimented my old car and asked a few questions about my occupation and plans for the day. For small talk, Daniel made it all sound down right genuine. He saw a copy of my book, Pilgrim Strong, in the seat, flipped through it a moment and asked what it meant to be on pilgrimage, and I gave him the elevator pitch just about any author gives when someone asks about their book. Briefly, I told him about experiencing depression and some things I do to fight that tendency. Shifting the topic I asked Daniel what kind of disability brought on his hardship.

“They’re mostly mental issues,” he said. “I have a lot of anxiety and can’t make decisions very well, spent some time in prison and it’s hard getting a second chance in the world after something like that. Had ADD as a kid, but back then nobody knew anything about that and all daddy knew to do was whip my ass. It really wasn’t his fault, you know.” 

Daniel said he lived at the Salvation Army and didn’t have a lot of connection to the outside world. “They’re pretty nice to us down there, though.”

Where do I take this from here, and what do I do now? The voice returned.

***

Taking someone by the hand, looking them in the eye, and asking if I might pray for them right then and there in a public place has never been my go-to approach for helping people. I admire those who do it, and see it as a real gift. Maybe it’s a modest Methodist raising, shyness, or the fear that comes with spiritual rejection, but it’s always been easier fixing these moments giving money, sharing some food, or just taking someone somewhere as I was now doing with Daniel. But for the next several minutes and with our destination approaching fast the voice was clear.

You need to pray for this man.

As we reached the Social Security Office I told Daniel about a program called Celebrate Recovery. Our church operates a strong chapter for people who have experienced all kinds of peaks and valleys in life, and I told him I’d take him there soon. He enthusiastically agreed and we exchanged contacts.

Through the window Daniel reached for a final handshake and I asked him if we might pray a moment. 

“You would do that for me?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

We held hands and I thanked God for the way He brings people together. I thanked Him for the knowledge that what he sees most is our hearts, not our good intentions, our hang-ups, not even our failures or the times when we know what’s right, but do what’s wrong, anyway. And together we thanked him that even through Daniel’s time in the wilderness, God is making a path for him and that He’s about to do a new thing in Daniel’s life. He is making a way.

Daniel wiped a tear and said, “I sure am glad we met. I’m going to have a good day now and feel so much better already. Let’s go to that Celebrate Recovery.”

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

I thought I was helping Daniel. Turns out he poured grace and blessing on me.

Yo so el camino, y la verdad, y la vida. – Jesus

Dear Daddy…

 

I was thinking of you at this moment.

For just a fleeting second I was thinking how much you would enjoy this view…then I remembered you see something greater every day.

I wish I could look into your eyes again.

I wish we could embrace and I  could feel your chest against mine. I wish my hands could feel the strength in the broadness of your back.

I wish you could give me some good advice while we sat in the backyard watching the martins.

I just wish I could reach out and touch you again.

I’m doing my best to carry out the things you said. I really hope you are proud.

I wished you were here for this moment … and then I realized you were, but I still miss you so.

I know you are enjoying the everlasting Light in which you now bask. You will show me around won’t you?

See you soon. I love you so.

Steve.

Is the Easter Bunny the Anti-Christ?

Last Christmas eve I attended a candlelight service where 50 or so people came together to prepare their hearts for the celebration of Christ‘s birth.

I’ve attended many of these services over the years at many different churches and I like them. I like that we sing the traditional Christmas songs; I like that kids come in their pajamas in anticipation of the wild morning ahead; and I like how it makes me think back to more than 2,000 years ago when the world received the miracle of miracles.

As I walked into the foyer for that particular service, one of the sweetest ladies I know was the first to greet me. I was prepared to give her a hug and wish her a warm Merry Christmas.

But before I could extend a hand and offer a warm greeting, she took the initiative with this:

“Don’t tell me Merry Christmas. Say happy birthday, Jesus.”

And she meant it.

I remember the strong movement a few years ago against the “Xmas” phrase. And for the record, it’s a movement I support. It does, in fact, take the Christ out of Christmas. But Santa Claus isn’t the devil, and neither is the Easter bunny.

For the last few years, I’ve noticed a similar trend. Among many evangelical Christians, Easter has now become “Resurrection Sunday.”

It’s certainly true enough. Among all things, first and foremost, Easter is the time when we recognize the one aspect that makes Christianity unique among all other religions. We serve a living God, not one who is dead in the tomb, or worshiped as a stone carving. Christ is alive, and it’s a belief I hold to be as true as the air I breathe.

So Resurrection Sunday – it’s a good thing.

But what of the extremity of this … because I like Easter.

Ninety percent of the references I heard in my church yesterday were to Resurrection Sunday – not Easter. That’s fine, but when did Easter become such a bad thing that we go out of our way to avoid the word?

I don’t hate the Easter bunny…and I don’t believe Jesus would either.

He’s soft, cuddly and has that really cute cotton tail.

My grandmother loved flowers. She particularly loved the Easter lily. I wonder if it should now become the Resurrection Sunday lily?

I’m not anti-Resurrection Sunday.

But I am pro-Easter.

Hop on Peter Cottontail. Jesus loves you too.

-30-

The 3-7-12 Principle (Part 1 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note: This is the first in a series of four posts outlining the 3-7-12 Principle in my upcoming book: “Light Wins! …and the darkness is defeated forever…”)

John Maxwell has his 21 Irrefutable Laws; Rick Warren has his 40 Days of Purpose; and Stephen Covey has his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

So, as we say down here in Arkansas … we’re already walking in some pretty tall cotton.

From the first printing of God‘s Word there’s been an interesting and ongoing dialogue about the significance, or lack thereof, of  the symbolism of biblical numbers. Could it be pure coincidence that we see the repeating theme of numbers throughout both the Old and New Testaments? I’m a believer that there’s not a single coincidental word in the Bible and so as a reader and a writer, I must conclude God desires that we delve into the meaning of these numbers for a greater understanding of his Holy Spirit as it lives in each and every Believer.

I’m no Robert Langston (the symbologist portrayed in Dan Brown‘s “The DaVinci Code“) … oh, but to be as suave and debonair as the character Tom Hanks portrayed in that series … but it seems the significance of certain numbers in the Bible, simply cannot be denied.

The writing process is one that comes with great learning. As we seek to learn about other things, we, in the process, also learn much about ourselves. And so the fascination of a writer’s journey is compounded with certain revelations.

I’ve noticed (with the help of others) that my own particular writing style is relatively metaphorical in nature, and that I subconsciously use numbers as an expression of those metaphors … particularly the numbers 3, 7 and 12. Those who write with a metaphorical tone are in good company, I’d say. The parables Jesus related throughout the New Testament were the ultimate, and most profound metaphors.

For now, let’s take a look at the Biblical significance of the number “3,” mentioned exactly 523 times in Scripture Some quick facts and observations:

  • Three attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence.
  • Three crosses at Christ’s crucifixion.
  • Jesus was resurrected on the third day.
  • Jesus ran with a group of 12, but His inner circle consisted of three.
  • At 120 years old, Moses’ life was divided into three distinct periods of 40 each.
  • Three is God’s numerical “signature.”
  • The Godhead consists of three. Add up the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and you get “three.” But multiply 1 exponentially by three, and you still get “one.” 
  • Our earthly lives consist of three phases: Birth, Life, Death.
  • The Ark of the Covenant contained three sacred objects.
  • Holy, Holy, Holy.
  • It was in Genesis 1:3 when God spoke Light into being, eliminating the darkness forevermore.
  • “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A chord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

And the list could go on and on…

There is power in the perfection of three. There is holiness and grace in the promise of three.

And there are principles we can follow in the priority of three.

(Next Post: “The Promise of Seven.”)

What Would it Look Like if …

… we shattered our categories?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

How do we get to the “secret heart” of Christianity? Many are finding it difficult in today’s church.

It’s the battle of two extremes – we are wayward sinners or moral insiders – or we seek one of two journies – the road of moral comformity or the path to self-discovery. Is there room for any of us who may find ourselves somewhere between the two extremes without people thinking we’re rebellious troublemakers?

The fact is, it’s easy to alienate ourselves from God by going either way for too long. Proof can be found in the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which most readers of the Word focus on the wayward son. That side of the story is easy enough. But what about the older son, the one who obeyed the rules, the one who conformed, and yet refused to attend the grand celebration hosted by their father upon the younger son’s glorious return?

The two extremes … where is the middle ground, and if there is one, is it the right place from where the Holy  Spirit wishes us to operate?

Isn’t it interesting in so many Bible stories that the people who were most intrigued by Jesus were the ones who were estranged from religion, as opposed to those who were immersed in doctrine and dogma? The rule followers tried to trick Jesus into a corner. Who is this man, they wondered?

I am one of those who finds myself in the middle – probably further to the right side of self -discovery than rule follower, but yet fascinated by what God’s Word speaks to me each day. In this position, it’s easy to become an outcast. Church friends wonder what happened to you. Why are you rebelling? What’s wrong with you? Do you still know Jesus?

Maybe it rings true with you.

Actually, I feel pretty good. I feel freedom. The sun and stars look different to me now. The North Star visible each night from my back yard reminds me that I do have a fixed point of light and a direction. I’m learning, discovering, hearing.

If it does ring true with you, then I believe we are not alone. I believe we are in the midst of the winds of change. God appears to be changing the conversation He is having with His church. Yes, God can actually “change” the conversation if He so chooses.

Less than a year ago, leaders from a dozen megachurches across the country came together for: “Exponential 2011: On the Verge Conference.” The church leadership in the conference represented some 80,000 members.

The church leaders, you see, were at a high level of satisfaction with their “attractional” strategies. And why not? They had grown exponentially. They were in “high cotton.”

But somewhere along the way, the “missional” aspect of service was lost. Too many people, too many programs and services, too much budget, too many decisions and too much baggage.

They had become “missionless.”

An interesting observation/prediction by two church strategists who helped facilitate the meeting is this: The prevailing church growth approach (or market strategy, if you will) will have appeal to about 40% of the U.S. population over the next 10 years.

So if the strategy continues to dominate, where does that leave the other 175,000,000 or so of us who aren’t drawn to that approach?

What if church looked not so much like a building, but a movement?

What if church looked apostolic rather than institutional?

What would it look like if we created demand, rather than competed for it?

What if we were On the Verge of something?

What if…

(Blogger’s note: Many of the ideas, language and concepts posted in this blog come from two well-written and thoughtful books: On the  Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson; and The Prodigal  God by Timothy Keller.)

The Evolving Church: Not a New Concept, but a Vintage One

 

(stevenwwatkins gives credit for the information expressed in this blog to Nate Navarro, pastor of Austin Life Church in Austin, Texas, who visited Jonesboro last night.)

The Church (as conveyed by Paul in Ephesians 2: I’ll let you go there to read it in full, but some key points:

  • Even when we were children of wrath and sons of disobedience God loved us seeing us in perfection through Jesus.
  • Christ made us alive together (the Body of Christ); his body.
  • Our good works did not save us.  We were saved by grace and faith.
  • We (the church, the body) are his workmanship (his masterpiece); perfection.
  • Family is messy. Church is a Family. Church is messy.
  • Though we are saved through no works of our own, the Holy Spirit that lives IN us will manifest itself through good works … and this is what church is about.
  • The missional community has been around since the first century. Maybe we should try it again.

Three forms church has taken on today and PS: God loves these churches too, for they are His workmanship.

  • Country Club Church – the church of comfort were we like to be pampered and never inconvenienced. Don’t ask us to serve for we are busy.
  • Convenience Store Church – the church of convenience were we want things fast, quick and easy. Want a tan? Don’t get out in the sun. Get spraypainted in 2 minutes. Want cleansing? Go to church at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Don’t mess up my schedule. I have kids.
  • FaceBook Church – a convenient community created on our own terms. It’s easier to have 500 FB friends than it is five friends in the real world. Passive relationships where we can project the best. Don’t let others see us when we are weak, or have failed. Mad at somebody? Hey, just DEfriend them!

What does it look like to be a missional community church every day? We must:

  • Grow in our devotion to Jesus.
  • Grow in our devotion to one another.
  • Grow in our devotion to community.

It’s that simple.

Ephesians 2 clearly defines the New Testament Church as a community of people who are in Christ, saved by His grace and walking in good works. We’ve tried to improve the church and the byproduct has been new forms of Christian spirituality, not necessarily the church.

The Gospel is the church. It tells us we are more broken than we can ever admit and more accepted than we can ever imagine. We unnecessarily carry around a low-grade guilt complex.

Will we seek to impress, or will we follow? We can’t impress. It’s not possible.

Good stuff.

Dark vs. Light (Part 2)

From the Genesis account we know the first thing God desires for us to know is that he created the heavens and the earth. He is the creator of all things. The most creative being that ever has been, or will be.

From that same account it is reavealed to us what God wants us to know about the first thing He spoke: “Let there be Light. And there was Light.” God spoke Light into being. And then, He saw that it was good.

That’s off the chart on my comprehension scale.

The Bible is thematic when it comes to the subject of Light and dark(ness). Some quick research indicates the word “Light” is mentioned some 237 times in scripture, while dark(ness) is cited on 222 occasions.

I’m beginning a self-study on what this means and my prayer is that it will bring revelation to a project on which I’m currently working.

Some quick findings after just a couple of days … the Bible describes Light as:

  • White & pure
  • Diffusive
  • Agreeable

And is illustrative of:

  • God’s glory
  • God’s purity
  • God’s wisdom
  • God’s guidance
  • God’s favor
  • The Word
  • Disciples
  • Wise rulers
  • Man’s soul
  • The path of the just

A few nights ago I was reading in John’s first chapter where he speaks to the witness of John the Baptist. Good stuff about the Light.

“There came a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through Him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man. ”

Did you get that … “every man.”

At some point or another in our lives, perhaps many times, the Light will enlighten us.

The question is, how will we respond? Given the opportunity to become enlightened, will we continue to walk in darkness?

This is going to be fun.