Monday, December 29, 2008

Jack in the (Cracker) Box

If you don't believe in divine intervention, you may want to consider the following story.

A lady went shopping in Tustin, California at a Whole Foods Market, where she purchased a box of Annie's Sour Cream and Onion Bunny crackers. When she got home, she found a lot more than she bargained for - an envelope stuffed with $10,000 cash!

Most people likely would have just been excited and kept the money. Not Debra Rogoff. She promptly contacted the police, who told her the money could have been part of a drug drop.

When Police contacted Whole Foods in Tustin, the store manager said that an elderly lady had come in just a few days earlier, despondent because she had accidentally returned a box of crackers that had her life savings inside!

In a "mix-up" (God can make it seem like a mix-up), the store re-stocked the box of biscuits, instead of sending it to the compost and destroying it!

I don't know about you, but there are way too many "coincidences" for this to have happened on accident. I have lost keys, semi-valuable items, and other odds and ends, and later found them miraculously. But, never $10,000 cash, and never through the odd circumstances in this story!

I guess there are a couple of things we can learn from this. The first is that there still are people in this world who are kind and caring, and put others ahead of themselves - even when it's cold hard cash!

The other is that, despite all the terrible economic news and financial mishaps in our country, we're likely better off depositing our money in a bank rather than a box of crackers!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Giving Big

I am so proud of being a part of a church who loves to give and serve. For the past six weeks or so, our church has given overwhelmingly to help others.

Check out how NorthStar people have given to others:
  • Gave more than $3,500 to purchase 400+ turkeys for underprivileged families for Thanksgiving
  • Gave 800+ grocery bags filled with side items (fruits, veggies, desserts) for these families
  • Gave $11,000+ towards Shop with a Hero, Shop with a Warrior, Shop with a Mustang, and Shop with a Buccaneer programs to help give children Christmas gifts
  • Adopted 300+ children in our annual Christmas Adopt-a-Family program
  • Gave $17,000+ to help provide fresh, clean drinking water to people all across the world
These are just a few examples. There's no way to tally the thousands of hours people have volunteered to serve others at MUST Ministries, Cobb Christmas, and many other great ministries in our area.

Thank you, NorthStar! You are a beacon for people who need love and hope!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Buddy Needs Your Prayers

I have a very dear friend who is hurting right now. In fact, I hurt for him as well.

He and his wife just lost a little baby boy who passed away only 18 weeks into the pregnancy. I will refrain from getting into more specific details, but suffice it to say it's a very difficult and painful time for them.

As I listened to him earlier today, my heart was breaking. But, I was encouraged that he has his eyes and heart open to God's voice while he and his wife travel down this tumultuous road.

My buddy and his wife have two beautiful little girls, and you can bet they cherish the precious moments with them more than ever before.

But, more than that, my friend said he and his wife have grown closer than ever before through this trial. He said they have both been incredibly lonely through it all on the inside, but they have been able to lean on each other as they take small steps forward.

Please pray for my friend. I love him dearly, and I know he needs your prayers - and mine - as he fights the sadness that is trying to steal away his joy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Presentation is Critical

I don't know about you, but when I see a 12-year old kid, a poorly dressed person, or fake celebrity or cartoon character costume (think Mickey Mouse, but gray fur and rat tail) holding up a poster or sign advertising a business on the side of the road, I am less likely to patronize that business than I otherwise would be.

I just passed a restaurant near my house that has opened in the past three months. There are huge handwritten posters hanging in the front window, they have small yard signs placed all around the small retail center, and now they have two 12-13 year old kids standing along Highway 41 (a very busy and dangerous highway) holding signs letting passerby know they are open.

I won't be going there. If the food was good enough, none of that would be necessary.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More or Less?

One of the great joys of the Christmas season is receiving cards, letters, and photos from friends and family. On the other hand, putting them together and sending them out can be a pain...and expensive!

But, I was thinking about something the other day. Amy and I are abundantly blessed to have so many great people in our lives - amazing friends and family who have touched our lives in significant ways over the years.

At our current count, we have around 145 Christmas cards we'll be mailing out. Each year we go through all the names and addresses, and each year we add more and more to the ever-expanding list! And, here's the question I want to ask you:

Does your Christmas card list grow LONGER each year, or SHORTER?

Are you building relationships with others, and continuing to expand your sphere of influence? If so, your list likely grows each year. If not, it becomes easier and easier for you to cross names and addresses off your list. Less time, sure. Less money spent on stamps. But, almost certainly less joy than you could experience relationally by getting to know others more deeply.

And, on the flip side, if becomes much easier for others to cross YOUR name off their lists.

Maybe it's time to take a closer look at your Christmas list, and maybe take a deeper look inside your heart. There are likely countless people who would love to have you speak encouragement in their lives...and maybe it can all begin with simply sending them a card this Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Close Your Eyes...and See

Today, I surprised a couple of my teammates at NorthStar by driving them down to Atlantic Station to experience Dialog in the Dark, an exhibition that brings your senses to life.

For an hour, we walked (actually stumbled) from room to room in complete darkness, with a cane to help prevent us from injuring ourselves - or others, for that matter.

I don't want to give it all away, because I hope you will take my suggestion and go check it out. Suffice it to say that, in many ways, by having our eyesight taken away, our eyes were opened to the world around us. Each room held new surprises and discoveries. We were forced to use our senses of touch, smell, and hearing to navigate our way through ordinarily common scenes from everyday life (there was a taste area as well, but none of us had cash to purchase any beverages).

But, let me assure you that there was absolutely nothing common about not having eyesight. I learned that not only do I rely too heavily on what my eyes tell me, but also that I have a tendency to not use my other four senses enough.

As incredible as the experience was, the part that will leave the greatest impression on me will be the few minutes we spent with our guide at the end of the tour. Our guide, Derek, is blind. He lost his sight two years ago when a surgery to help improve his vision actually took it away from him. He honestly explained that he was depressed and even thought about ending his life.

But, one day he "came to his senses," and God spoke to him. Derek explained that he lost several friends (a term he uses loosely to describe them in hindsight), but that he began to understand that God had still given him gifts to share with others. And, he openly claims that his personal mission is to touch as many lives in a positive way as he possibly can through his disability.

You wouldn't know it from looking at him, but Derek holds four Master's Degrees, is a CPA, and is a University professor. He uses his "gift" of blindness to fill others' lives with hope and joy, and a new-found appreciation for the things they often take for granted.

And, as far as I am concerned - mission accomplished.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How About a Little Perspective This Christmas?

I absolutely love Christmas. By mid-November, I am antsy to throw on a little Harry Connick, Jr. and get into the spirit of the season. I mean, I really dig everything about Christmas – the music, the lights, the great food, the family time, the festive decorations.

I guess there’s one exception: commercialization. I recently read a sobering statistic on Christmas consumerism. Each year, people in the U.S. spend $450 billion on Christmas gifts. $450 BILLION!

I was shocked back in early September, when some stores already had boxes of artificial trees and holiday decorations they were preparing to set out for display. It made my stomach turn.

Over the years, retailers launched the Christmas buying season with “Day After Thanksgiving” sales. And, they still do use that date as a means to forecast how successful or dismal the economics of Christmas will turn out to be. But, Labor Day Christmas sales? Yikes!

But, no matter how much I dislike the bombardment of radio jingles, TV commercials, sales papers, catalogs, emails, billboards, and pop-up ads, there’s only one person responsible for how I choose to handle it and approach it: myself.

Like all parents, my wife and I have to combat the junk to which our kids are exposed – the junk that results in the “I wants.” And, this condition weighs heavy on me. Because my kids lack perspective. They have no idea what it means to do without. And, quite frankly, neither do I.

To a degree, I am thankful that my children don’t know what it means to be deprived or underprivileged. But, as a parent – and more than that, as a follower of Christ – I want them to know that our security is not centered on the creature comforts this world offers. Joy and peace – the two things Christmas promises – are not found in a stocking or under a Douglas Fir. They were deposited at the manger, and were guaranteed at the cross.

Is there anything wrong with giving or receiving gifts at Christmas? Not at all. Gifts are one way we show people how much we love and appreciate them. But, it often gets out of hand. The most stressful thing about Christmas, for me, is not the money we spend, or the chaotic schedule we have to keep in going to parties and family gatherings during the holidays. It’s somehow finding space for all the new stuff we and our kids get.

Each year, Amy and I sit down with our boys and clean out all the toy areas in the house. We remove the toys they “just had to have” (that they rarely play with) so we can replace them with the new ones “they just had to have.” We choose the best “old” toys, bag them up, and give them away to children who do not have as much as we have been blessed with. But, I have learned that isn’t enough.

A good friend of mine recently sent me some information on a great opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of those who are in need – in countries that really need help. An organization called Advent Conspiracy is helping to unite people and churches by providing avenues to impact the world this Christmas season. I invite you to check it out, and join me and thousands of others who want to share the love of Jesus during this uniquely special time of year.

Please visit and see how you, your family, or your church can be a part of a worldwide effort to help provide for others…and gain a new perspective of what it means to truly be in need.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quote of the Week

Never miss a good chance to shut up. - Will Rogers

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tree of Memories

About the time Amy and I got married, we decided to begin collecting Christmas ornaments. We decided that any time we went on an out of town trip together, we'd buy an ornament as a memento and reminder of that time together.

Now - 12 years later - we have quite a collection of keepsakes that is hung on the two Christmas trees in our home. Trinkets from places such as the Bahamas, Seagrove Beach, Disney World (multiple), Boston, Hilton Head Island, Jackson Hole, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Mexico, Charleston, S.C., San Francisco...and many more!

Each year we decorate our trees together, and I am reminded of all the amazing places we've been and time we've spent with one another.

And, now that we have two growing boys, we also see the ornaments they have crafted themselves, as well as the ones we have purchased on memorable vacations as a family.

I absolutely love Christmastime, and I thoroughly enjoy our staring at our Christmas trees, and revisiting the precious memories we have made over the years.

And, for those who know me best, you likely know we're getting close to needing a third Christmas tree...because the more trips we share, the more branches we need to hang these timeless souvenirs!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mixed Reaction

Amy and I made up our minds on the way home from Athens on Saturday that we were going to wear our red & black proudly to church on Sunday - despite the humiliating loss to the lowly (and very nerdy) bumblebees.

As I made my way across the cold, wet parking lot yesterday morning, I was immediately met with scorn. The first words uttered to me were from a guy who walked past me and said, "wrong shirt," referring to my bright red with black stripes button-up. "Nah," I replied. "It's still the right shirt."

Throughout the morning I received mixed reaction to my attire. Astonishingly, I got more positive comments from folks than heckles. When one guy saw my shirt, his eyes got as big as saucers and he said, "Wow! I have a whole new respect for you for wearing that shirt today."

Even the pastor's wife, who loathes UGA, told me I was bold for wearing the shirt, but that she was proud of me for sticking by my school and my team.

I have to say - straight up - that I despise Georgia Tech. I'd almost prefer to go 1-11, with the one "W" being against Tech, than to go 11-1 and lose to them. But, as low as I felt after getting our tails beat by them, I couldn't let them take away my Dawg pride.

Sometimes you gotta be bold and stand for what you believe in - especially when it's unpopular. Many times, the results (just like Sunday for me) will surprise you!