Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It takes time

I have worked with the homeless in Norman, OK for two years this January 4th.  During this journey one principle stands out among all others.

It takes time.

I am amazed by and have pity for my culture that assumes programs and machinery are what it will take to bring people out of poverty.  Welfare is not the answer.  Bigger government is not the answer.  Clothes Closets, Food Pantries, Soup Kitchens, Salvation Armies, transition houses, none of these are the answer. In fact, there is no silver bullet, panacea, magic blue pill that I know of.

Just when you want to throw your hands up in the air and say, "Well, what the heck is all this for!?"; I do know this.  While there is no easy answer, the journey towards the solution is paved with committed healthy relationships.

Any program put forth by society or church that does not weigh heavy on long lasting healthy relationships is a failure.  

The fabric of society's future is woven with the everyday choices that promote and cultivate healthy relationships.  Relationships that beat with Christ's heart of love and sacrificial commitment.  His is the highest form of love because he is the example and source of such love.  His Spirit is what lives on in us today and gives us strength and patience, determination and stubbornness, because the journey with broken people towards healing takes time.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I Love Presents

“…Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others…”
1 Peter 4:7-11

I can vividly remember Christmas eve 1989.  I was six years old and there was more of a chance of newly elected president George Bush cleaning up all 240,000 barrels of oil from the Exxon Valdez with a shop-vac than me getting any sleep that night.  I was too excited.  I love presents.
Go ahead, ask anyone in my family.  Receiving presents and the excitement of a surprise has led me to start counting down the days to Christmas beginning as early as October.  Some call it a disease; I call it “misappropriated fervor”. 
Christmas morning 1989 I remember lying in bed checking the clock every thirty minutes from 3am to 7am hoping Santa Clause had come, done his deed, and I could leave my room and snoop.  Finally, the time came and I quickly hopped out of bed in my one-piece PJ’s (the kind with the feet attached).  Rounding the corner to the living room I saw the tree lit up in all its splendor; presents everywhere.  Red and green wrapping paper packages reflected the blinking lights of the tree.  I love presents.
That morning my sister unwrapped an art easel, I am sure some clothes, and many other things I didn’t care about.  I unwrapped many presents that morning too, however, I remember only one.  Six years prior to that Christmas Nintendo had rocked the electronic world with their NES system (we know it as the original Nintendo).  This morning the six-year ripple effect in the pool of the gaming world had made it to my life.  I took hold of the box, ripped off the paper, and revealed in all its majesty my Nintendo.
That is how I define a gift.  Something not from me, but absolutely for me.  Mine to keep, cherish, horde, and bring me happiness.  My, how differently scripture defines “gift”.  1 Peter 4:10 tells us that gifts received are to be given away in service to others.  What?  But its mine!?  I was specifically thought of when someone gave me that gift and you are suggesting I need to use it to serve someone else?  Yuck, but true.
This advent season admit that you were probably born on third base but you did not hit a triple.  You have been given so much and none of it is by your own doing.  “But I believe in the American Dream that I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and look at how successful I am now.”  Where would you be without the breath God put in your lungs?  Did you choose not to have a mental illness that would keep you in a different reality?  Did you choose to be smart, level headed, gifted with music, business, typing, teaching, science, or writing skills?  In humility, recognize God’s gifts of grace in your life, be thankful, and for God’s sake give it away in service to others.

This was my entry for December 17th in our church Advent devotional guide.  Have a merry Christmas and be with those you love.
Joey Armstrong

Monday, December 5, 2011

Voting With Your Dollar

I've been reading a lot about creating and using sustainable businesses to bring about social change.  Jason Saul's book Social Innovation, Inc.: 5 Strategies for Driving Business Growth Through Social Change has allowed my liberal arts brain to get a dose of economic business stimuli.  Here's what I've learned so far...

-Businesses are more powerful (and wealthier) than government (hello, Apple).

-Businesses cannot merely be "philanthropic" as they continue on towards their goals.  The social change we hope for must be the inherent goal of the business itself 
(e.g. McDonalds cannot simply boast about how much they give to certain charities every year.  Through changing their business goals and strategies they must seek to bring systemic change to problems like obesity and low-wage jobs).

-The most influential vote we have is not at the polls in November, it is our dollar and where we choose to spend it.
Because as a customer, citizen, and contributor to society you earn credit/influence in the form of little green slips of paper.  And wherever you deposit those slips of green paper is where you are allocating your support for different companies.  You say, "Target, I like the feeling I get when I go to your store and purchase your merchandise.  Keep it up." Or, "Starbucks, I like the way you treat third world coffee farmers.  Keep doing what you are doing."

Businesses of our economy want our money (our vote).  It's our job to buy responsibly, carefully, and with integrity.  Take note of two final things: the best way to empower the poor is to provide work so that they can have influence and a vote, and the government cheats in a way because through mandatory taxes they can bypass the need to make the customer happy.

Just some thoughts from a wannabe economist.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I work as a Buckner Children and Family Services Community Minister, which means, I have many coworkers across the nation in local churches doing the same kind of community development work that we are doing at FBC Norman. Below is a story that one of my good friends and coworkers shared with me of her ministry at her local church in Knoxville, TN.

 She writes...

 "I wanted to share something with you that happened this week that reminded me about why we do this. One of our community ministry clients is an elderly, mildly retarded man who goes to our church and has NO immediate family. I assigned my MSW intern to work with him. One of her jobs has been to help him get on a budget, because he sometimes runs out of money at the end of the month. And when that happens he completely panics. I had him bring in all his bills so that she could go over them with him. In that process, the intern found out that he has been paying $118 a month to ATT for phone, internet and every other service they offer AND he doesn’t know what the internet is. A sales person at ATT ripped him off. The intern called and with Lifeline his bill will now be $13 a month. This week we really did make a difference in someone’s life."

This is what we do as Christ followers.  We advocate for the orphan, the widow, and the marginalized.  We are continuing the picture that Jesus began painting of Heaven coming to earth.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tornado Relief

All these recent earthquakes and seismic activities have made me reflect on this past Spring here in Oklahoma.  It was eventful and terrible to put it simply.  A great friend of mine, Nick Napoli, put together this video of FBC's relief efforts the day after the May 2011 tornado outbreak.

It truly is amazing what a community can do when they work together.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I love dogs

My wife and I have a 1 1/2 year old, 90 lb., hilarious black lab.  She brings us joy in so many ways.  She easily forgets, forgives, is ridiculously loyal, and comforts us when we are sad.  I love our dog.

It is interesting to me how people get so carried away with loving our pets.  Sure sometimes (maybe most times) they make better companions than people, but would we ever truly put an animal companion above a human?  A human being who is made in the very image of God?

Well, we did.  Yesterday 75% of Norman said they want to spend $3 million to build a better shelter for animals.

I guess my real question is can a Christian really vote to pass a $3 million bond to create a better and bigger facility for animals in Norman while nearly 700 human beings are without homes?

When I drive south on I-35 from OKC and see the billboard that says "living on the streets is a lonely place" and there's a black and white picture of a dog (a German Shepherd I think) laying down on cement I want to say, "yes, living on the streets is a lonely place for my friends Roger, Paul, Dennis, Josh, Robin, Eleanor, Adam, Mike, Gary, Richard, Kayla, ...".  I could introduce you to 200 people that I know who would be incredibly thankful for a $3 million bond for a new shelter.

But would a shelter like that pass as unanimously?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Good Samaritan Style

A few months ago one of our ministry workers came running in the office saying that a man was lying in our West covered stairwell.  She didn't know if he was alive or dead, conscious or unconscious.  I was called to the scene, opened the door to the outside steps, and approached the extremely thin man checking for signs of life.  
He awoke in a fluster and said, "Hey Joey."  I was taken aback because at first I did not recognize him.  Through the haze of inebriation he explained that he attends our Sunday Lunch every week.

I found myself feeling extreme compassion for this individual.  He stays in a tent within a wooded area of the city and he is a slave to the substance of alcohol.  In his drunken stupor he found his way to our church, a place where I think he subconsciously knew he would be safe.  

Instead of calling the police (which would have gotten him nowhere but deeper in debt with fines he cannot pay) I sat with him, gave him crackers and water to sober him up, and one of our secretaries came out with a first aid kit to dress the gash on his forehead.  After our secretary left, he and I had a candid conversation about his addiction, his current life situation, and the truth of Jesus' gospel that calls us to a life of freedom and love.  I told him how important he was.

By sitting with him I hoped to show that he was not forgotten in society.  By giving him food and water and dressing his wounds we hoped to show we care for his physical situation (a new earth).  And by speaking the Truth in his life I hoped to remind him of who he is as a child of God (a new heaven).

We cannot separate the physical and spiritual needs of this world.  Jesus never did, so why should we?

Revelation 21:1  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fundraiser, Raising Funds, Fund Raising

"Money makes the world go round."
I think it was the Dalai Lama who said that...maybe not.
All my life I have fought the urge to earn money because I saw how it corrupted people.
I saw money holding people captive in enormous houses.
I saw money numbing people to the injustices all around them with the promise of comfort.
I saw money make people do crazy things such as marry the wrong person and ruin family relationships.

But there came a time in my life when I realized money wasn't doing any of these things.  It is actually a form of idolatry that consumes people to a point of willing slavery.  I know now money is a tool.  Not that money is any less dangerous, because it is completely and life threateningly dangerous.  However, God uses it to make great things happen in this world.  He uses it as a agent of freedom when it was intended as a mechanism of bondage.

I am growing a beard and raising money for a great cause.
Consider showing that something you've been given (and could potentially ruin you) can be given away freely because you are not its slave.  Give to the United Way and support my stubble.

Click here to DONATE a few bucks

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let these walls fall

On a rainy day a few months ago...come to think of might have been longer because "raining" is not something we've had a lot of lately.  So, on a rainy day in 2009...

No matter, it was a rainy day and an african-american homeless friend and I met at the church to read some scripture together.  We were both a little antsy at that moment so we decided instead of sitting in chairs for half an hour we would walk outside and talk.  That walking turned into a Jericho story.

We decided to walk seven times around the large red brick building we know as First Baptist Church Norman.  And on the seventh trip the ground began to shake and bricks became dislodged and began to fall...just kidding.  Nothing dramatic happened.  We walked around our church praying that the walls of our hearts would crumble.  We hoped for a revival of the Holy Spirit that would begin in us and spread throughout the church as we seek to be a demographically diverse congregation.

Praying that the walls of our lives would crumble to include more people who are hard to love.
A picture I took one Sunday morning out in front of our church.
Matthew 11:28

Monday, September 12, 2011

The old leprechaun with a lot of money

Some people choose to be nomadic.  "Transient" is another word for it.

Last year I had the privilege of booking a train ticket on the Heartland Flyer for a gentleman who is 67 years old, walks with a cane, sleeps at the river, and speaks through an electrolarynx (yeah, that's right, click it to learn more).  He didn't need any money; he could afford the ticket.  He simply needed someone to make the phone call for him to book the trip.  I forgot to mention that this guy had side burns (mutton chops, really) that would put Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley (combined) to shame.

This week the old very short man returned, with his chops, cane, and electrolarynx.  It took me a few seconds to remember him, but I did.  I never forget an electrolarynx.

He needed the same thing, not money for the ticket, but someone to make the phone call to book it.  So I did.  Afterwards I gave him the receipt with his confirmation number on it.  He pulled out his wallet and took out two hundred dollar bills! I did not expect that to happen so (of course) I reached out my hand ready to accept this generous tip for my telephone call skills, only to see him embed the receipt within the bills and tuck them safely back in his wallet.

I said, "Whoa!  You better be careful with all that cash."  To which he proceeded to show me how he would use his cane as a weapon if anyone got too close.  He then said in his robotic voice, "I keep another three hundred in a secret compartment in my cane handle just incase."

I couldn't believe it.  I had never met a real leprechaun before.  But here he was, with his gold stashed secretly away and ready to defend it at all costs.

Maybe there is some spiritual lesson in all of this.  Maybe not...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Does anybody really believe in coincidence?

Just a small story about the way I choose to see the world...

On Sunday afternoon I was leaving the church and walking down the long hallway away from my office.  As I approached the end of the hallway I noticed something bulging up from the carpet.  As I got closer it took on the appearance of money that was folded up.

Seriously, the first thought in my head was "Oh my goodness, someone dropped one of those tacky dollar-bill tracts!"  I wanted to take on the persona of a super hero, my name is Joey and my super power is being able to smell the stench of Christian clich├ęs and cheesiness while being able to eradicate it with a single blow.  So I stood there triumphantly with the wind blowing my cape, fists on my hips, and I said, "Not in my church!"

Then I picked up the money tract and when it was in my hand I realized it really was money and the threat of Christian cheesy propaganda was over.  So, I reassumed my civilian identity and proceeded to decide what to do.

It was only two dollars, surely that's too insignificant of an amount for God himself to have placed it there.

Monday morning came around and a gentleman showed up right on time for his 10am appointment.  I just met this white mid 30's year old homeless male the day before after the church service.  He had walked in to the building as a last resort for his desperate situation not knowing where else to go.  We spoke together for a while and he decided that the best option for his situation was to get back to OKC where he had somewhat of a supportive community.  I said, "Oh, I think God put two dollars on the floor of the church yesterday for you to have.  Combined with this quarter (I had in a drawer of my desk) this will get you on the bus from Norman to OKC."

Responding with sincere gratitude and shock, he smiled, eyes big, and we walked out of the church together.

I don't look for God's workings constantly.  I wonder what miracles I've missed being a part of because of my blindness...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Collaboration Yard Sale

In our continual pursuit of working in collaborations with people who are doing great things in the Norman community, we are co-hosting a yard sale with Habitat for Humanity.

I couldn't be more excited about this endeavor because while the actual day of the sale (September 10th) will be an incredible opportunity for citizens of Norman to support us and Habitat the preparation for the sale will bring our church and the agency that much closer.

Plan on coming to the yard sale September 10th in the parking lot of FBC Norman.  It will support our church as well as Habitat as we both seek to love the unlovable in empowering and dignifying ways!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's amazing what $2.25 can get you these days

For this entry I've decided to let someone else's words bring the story. A few months ago one of our church members and coordinators of our Sunday Lunch sent this story of what happened to her. I asked her if I could share it and she said of course. Here are her words...

My husband and I were serving seconds at the Sunday Lunch and things had slowed down quite a bit when Steve came to the kitchen and asked for me. He told me that he had the "two twenty five". For a minute I was totally puzzled, but then he said, you know the "two dollars and twenty five cents".
Then it hit me...
When we had driven the van on Easter Sunday and were taking people home afterwards, Steve waited until everyone else was dropped off and then asked me if he could borrow bus money to get to OKC to pick up his paycheck. I told him that we are not supposed to give money. He said that he understood and was sorry he asked. Then, I told him that I was going to give him the two dollars and 25 cents, but if he told Joey, I would be in trouble. Steve said that he was ever so grateful because he had to pick up his paycheck in person and that he would repay me just as soon as he got his money. I told him that we would consider it a loan and he could repay me (like I ever thought that was going to happen!).
So, it was so rewarding for Steve to be a man of his word and repay the $2.25 this morning. He waited until my husband could join us, because it was important to Steve for him to see that he had repaid his debt. He asked us to keep him in mind because he has saved up $1,200 to spend on a car and he is going to pay his rent for 2 month in advance. This experience was very rewarding to me personally, because now I not only want to pray for Steve, but I know what to specifically pray for.  
                                                                      - B.P.

Amazing, isn't it?  How hard some people have to work to improve their life situation?  And then how powerful gratitude can be?  Upon reflecting on these moments we see that true Christ-like transformation is happening for everyone involved.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Partnering with the community

As churches, we exist as a part of a larger community. Not just accountable to those who are Christian. We are connected in strange and mysterious ways to the polis or city. No church is an island and we cannot operate as if the decisions we do or don't make have no effect on those around us. Let's get involved in, and spur on, the good things in our communities.

This past weekend the FBC church building was used by the United Way of Norman to hand out school supplies to over 1000 students in need. Thats quite an amazing feat and I am proud that our church is willing to use our building in these ways.

Here is the room and all the supplies. Use your mouse to spin the picture 360 degrees! See the whole room.
(If you are unable to view the picture below, click this link instead.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bikes and Bibles

As always our Bikes and Bibles ministry is growing and serving in amazing ways.
We are always looking for bikes to repair and give out!  If you have a few lying around your garage, give them to us, no matter what shape they are in we can repair them!  
Since the program began almost 8 years ago 743 bicycles have been given out.  Thus far, in 2011 we have made transportation possible for 110 individuals of Norman.  That’s 110 people who are able to get to work and support themselves.  That’s 110 people who now have a renewed voice telling them “You can do it.”  I am proud to be a member of a church that helps people find their voice.
The note below is from a man who suffers from the latter stages of diabetes.  The best way for him to get around is by tricycle, given his weight, age, and income.  His breakfast and lunch everyday come from the local food kitchen Food and Shelter, Inc.  
He came to me a while back and said, “My tricycle was stolen, if you come across one could you let me know.”  A week later someone from the church donated a tricycle to the Bikes and Bibles program.  This is a big deal.  Adult tricycles are not only expensive but also extremely rare.  As he road away I could see gratitude beaming from the huge grin on his face.  These are his words…
“This note is to tell you ‘thank you’ for the tricycle I received from FBC.  This church is wonderful and helps the poor of Norman in many ways.  Norman is getting larger and helping with transportation of the poor is truly a great thing.  Also, the very generous giving of a meal each Sunday is one way the church acts in a great Christian way.  Thank you to all the people of this church.”
Charles L.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Buckner Video

Last Fall Buckner came to do some filming of the work being done at FBC Norman.  I am very thankful to work for a company like Buckner Children and Family Services.  It turned out perfect!  
Good work Nathan and Russ.
You can also view this video and more at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lives are changing

Same Kind of Different as Me is a great book.  Have you read it?  If you have not, I strongly encourage you to pick it up. (Reading Rainbow plug: "...but don't take my word for it...")

In fact, I don't want to even call it a book for fear that we might lump it into a general category of books that we'll "get to when we have time".

This is a story.  It is a powerful true story of God working in our world today.

It's so powerful that ten people at FBC Norman, OK have decided to gather around a table every Wednesday night for six weeks. We have conversations around this story that challenge root issues of our culture, our faith, and our perspectives.

There is a gentleman that attends this group who on the first day was frustrated with the "whys" of people in poverty.  "Why are they in there situation?" "Why can't they get out?" "Why don't they just get work?"  As we embark on the journey of the story together all of our hearts are softening.  Last night was our third meeting together and I am humbled to watch this particular gentlemen's heart grow.  His comment last night was "I am realizing that all these people are people and they all have their own stories."  He continued, "If we just treat them as people, that will make all the difference."

What he pointed out is true.  Our prejudices and fears cause us to treat people as less than human.  Debra, I think the heroine of the story, had the acute ability to interact with anybody (a smelly, dirty, addicted bum or a clean, arrogant, selfish yuppie) and see God in them, the hope on transformation, and a person who could be loved.

Check out the story!

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Movement of Social Compassion

You will find this article written in the CBFO Spring newsletter.  Wanted to share it with everyone.

CBFO Article Spring 2011

God is on the move today.  There is no doubt about that.  As cultures and generations change and shift, come and go, one thing is for certain: God is on a mission.  He is working to reclaim what is his.  He is working to reclaim and redeem his creation and the crux of that creation, humanity.  One of the amazing pieces to this puzzle is that he invites us to partner with him on this mission.  His grace extends to include us and we are a grateful people because of it.  We are co-laborers with our Creator. 
As a co-laborer on the mission and a product of God’s reclamation at First Baptist Church Norman, I participate in an expression of faith that is becoming more and more realized within the local church community.  I am talking about a movement of churches across Oklahoma rediscovering their need and desire for social compassion.
I grew up in Oklahoma, studied at Oklahoma Baptist University, and honestly, it was not until I traveled to a neighboring state to study at Truett Seminary that I learned of this crucial aspect of local church life.  So let me further what I mean by “social compassion”.  As a church discovers social compassion as a part of their identity they are corporately pushed to do something outside of themselves.  They challenge the notion of the church as a Christian social club existing solely for the safety and well-being of its members. They spend themselves, Good Samaritan-style, on behalf of someone who they are pretty sure cannot and will not pay them back.  They invite the lonely, addicted, and outcasted in to find companionship, freedom, and belonging.
You may have thought, initially, that I meant building houses, painting buildings, and planting gardens when I said, “social compassion.”  Well, I mean that too.  However, if those things are done as one time projects we can refer to that as short-term social compassion and it is only a small (though vital) piece to the mission.  With short-term social compassion you are only able to show a glimpse of God’s grace and love.  With something more long-term there would be an added relational component.  
Long-term social compassion is hard, extremely messy, and very unattractive.  It also means that you might get taken advantage of and you might become good friends with really bad people.  And perhaps the worst thing of all might happen.  You might begin to see yourself in those people, see your pain in theirs, your sin in theirs, and realize you have a lot more in common than not. 
As FBC’s Community Minister in a church collaboration with Buckner Children and Family Services, I direct the ministries that equip, empower, and reach out to the families and individuals in poverty.  One example of how FBC Norman is discovering their social compassion identity arose a few years ago when we realized that a hungry, low-income family in Norman could find their way to every meal of the week except Sunday lunch.  We saw that gap in services and began the Friendship Lunch.  What started out as a free Sunday lunch for a few hungry neighbors is now a meal that fills a hunger gap for an average of 150 people each Sunday.  What started out as a possible short-term venture has turned into long-term relationship building and conversion experiences (by volunteers and guests alike).
Let us not think that just because this is a new movement that it is only the new generations who are pioneering the way.  The social compassion story at FBC Norman shows otherwise.  It was the senior adult ministry that followed the Holy Spirit’s call on their faith.  They nurtured and cultivated ministry programs that pushed our expressions of God’s love outside of the church walls.  Not only that, but the older generations are the ones who brought people into the church who were outcasts to society and most other churches.
I am humbled to be on mission with God at First Baptist Church as we continue to discover our grateful identity through expressions of social compassion.  In the end, we are all trying to carry out the mission of Christ which is “…to preach the gospel to the poor…proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind…freedom for the oppressed…[and] to proclaim the year of Jubilee.” (Luke 4:18-19 NASB)

Joey Armstrong
Community Minister, FBC Norman, Ok
Buckner Children and Family Services

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Casting Lots

A friend of mine had to go to jail the other day to sit out a fine he had from 1998.

What a bumber.  You receive a fine for messing up and 13 years later, a police officer comes to you saying, "I've got to take you in.  You have a warrant for your arrest for a fine you never paid back in 1998."

This man is an amazing testimony of faith in my life.  When he was sitting in his cell he reflected and prayed a lot.  (Makes me think a jail cell is what it's going to take to slow many of us down, take a breath, and pray.)

As he was praying, being so frustrated by the experience, he asked God if he would get out of jail.  Such a great, simple question for someone who's life is journeying toward God.  Out of an urging from the Holy Spirit inside of him he tore a corner off a magazine page and decided to go the o'l "heads or tails" route.  He threw the piece of paper up in the air and decided that if the picture side lands face up the answer would be "yes, you will get out of jail."  If the text side, "no, you won't get out."
It landed on the top bunk of the cell, picture up.  He expected it to land on the floor so he didn't know if the outcome was legit (don't we all operate semi-superstitiously?).  Wanting to make sure, he threw it up again.  This time it landed on the floor and again, "yes, you will get out of jail."

Still not satisfied he asked God, "Well, will I get out today!?"  If the picture side lands up, "yes, today." If the text lands up, "no."

He threw it up into the air.  It landed text side up.  His heart sank, but prayerfully he knew God had spoken.  He realized he needed to be patient and submit to where he was in life.  He ended up being able to minister to some younger males who were there for much greater offenses than a 13 year old fine.
The next morning he was handed his belongings, and told someone had posted bond for him.  He was released and to this day has no idea who paid the money.

He told me this story after we read Acts 1 together; the story of the disciples choosing Judas' replacement.  They cast lots.  A very interesting medium to allow God to work.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To Norman With Love 2011

This year is going to be a little different.

The entire Christian faith community is invited to participate in what could be Norman's largest unified movement of churches towards one cause.  If you attend a church in the Norman area, consider presenting the idea of participation to someone on staff, or a group of friends within the church.  If you believe that churches have no reason to compete with each other, need to be a larger positive presence in the city they are a part of, and/or need to be an incarnational expression of God's love and grace, then consider participating.

This year To Norman With Love is taking place on Saturday May 21st.  Discover all the details at

Can't wait to serve the city with you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music for the Saddness

I met a homeless man back in November.  He had just arrived in Norman with nothing except the clothes on his back.  After spending much time together we have become good friends and now read scripture together at least one morning of the week.

His faith inspires me.  Although born and raised in Oklahoma, he is of a different culture than I and the way he sees the world reminds me to find my identity in my Creator and not my job, material things, or relationships.  He has a hunger for scripture that would make any white, middle-class, success-driven minister be jealous.  The funny thing is when he insists that I have a lot to teach him, I immediately respond with, "no, you have a lot to teach me."  And then we carry on for a few minutes like two girls do when trying to convince the other one saying, "no, you're pretty" "no, you are", "no..." and so on and so on.

Last week after we were finished reading scripture together, knowing that I play the guitar, he said, "Could you play me something on your guitar before I go?"  I told him I'd be glad to!  So we went to my office, he sat across from me and I played him the incredibly old praise song from my youth days called "Whom Shall I Fear."

The whole time he never took his eyes off of my hands.  You would have thought I was Bach playing prelude to cello suite no. 1 instead of the G, C, D, C awesomeness of praise songs.

As I was putting my guitar back into its case he said, "I think if I knew how to play an instrument I'd never be sad again."

And with that, my heart melted.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Something Simple

Snow, snow, and more snow.

I am writing this the morning after Norman received yet another wintery blast of 6"-8".  Wow.  In terrible weather such as this many people do have worries and thoughts of those who are without adequate shelter.  I in no way know all of the homeless population in Norman, but the ones that I am acquainted with, to my knowledge, have found a warm place for these last few weeks.  The Salvation Army is not turning anyone away and last I heard they maxed out at 32 guests a few nights ago.  For those that have seen our local Salvation Army, that's a packed house.  All those living at the river found their way to the Salvation Army or friend's houses.

A great friend of mine who is a Senior at Norman North came to church with a great idea last week.  He came a day after the first big snow hit and said, "Joey, what do you think about taking a large container of hot chocolate over to the people staying at the Salvation Army?"

It is creative, personal, and relational genius like this that characterizes the up and coming generation.

So, last Thursday at about 4:30pm four of us ventured to the church kitchen to make a vat of hot chocolate.  Let me just say, making hot chocolate in such large quantities should only be attempted by professionals...which we were not.

However, an hour and a few minutes later we arrived at the Salvation Army with a drink that was sure to warm your insides.  We all enjoyed getting to visit with the people staying there.

Many of those who enjoyed the chocolate already come to our church on Sundays.  When they showed up that Sunday, they had smiles on their faces and high remarks about the hot chocolate that was still delicious at breakfast.

What a great idea that was.  A small investment in the right place making the biggest difference.  Something simple.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Community Ministry Banquet

I can't believe I haven't written about this yet!

Tomorrow night is going to be one amazing night.  If you are not doing anything, please come be a part of sharing a community meal, hearing stories of how God is working in Norman, and finding out how you can be involved in his 2011 work.

The banquet begins at 6pm in Hallock Hall at FBC Norman.  There is no childcare, but children are encouraged to come to this family event!

Here are some highlights to expect...

Pictures from 2010
Videos from 2010
Recognition of volunteers
Gourmet cuisine
and special guest speakers!

You can purchase your ticket online (click here and choose 'pay for event') or risk it being sold out at the door.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Loving your enemies, seriously?

This is what I was thinking about early this morning around 7:45(ish)...

Sometimes at our church there are many conversations floating around full of questions like, "Is it safe to have all these people in from the streets every Sunday for a meal?" or "I don't know if we're qualified to handled the amount of mental issues that are concentrated in one room on Sunday's for lunch?"

I suspect many churches who partake in like community ministries run up against similar questions.

The conversations seem to be birthed from the familiar tension of "wanting safety and to do the work of Christ."
Gosh, I want to be safe.  Man, I want to protect those that I love.  But what will that cost me?

I concluded my thoughts this morning on this radical and comforting fact.  Jesus knew very well the pain and anguish that Judas would cause him.  Yet, he called him to "follow me" just the same as the rest of the disciples.  Judas walked with Jesus every day for three years and I can't help but wonder if every time Jesus spoke one-on-one with Judas if he had to put aside thoughts of the foreshadowing betrayal.

And still, he walked with Judas.

Judas is the enemy that we have to love.  Judas is the terrorist, the fanatical Kansas church member who boycotts funerals, the homosexual, the murderer, the addict, the mentally disturbed, the drunk, the Muslim, the person you can't stand and don't know why.  We must walk with every one of these people, share life with them, and love them.  Yikes.