Springcreek for Life

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Bobby Bedford, Media Tech Team


If you’ve kept pace with the words of worship songs on Sunday morning or watched Springcreek services streaming online, you can thank Bobby Bedford, one of the church’s savvy media tech team members.

Since 2011, Bobby has taken a monthly shift running the computer to change lyrics and background screens, vary the lighting during worship, and even operate the camera to livestream the sermon.

“I am a tech guy. I love doing technical things, and I’ve learned a lot, too. This is a really cool way to expand my knowledge and to serve others, Bobby said.

He came to Springcreek when he was dating his soon-to-be wife, Laura, who was already attending the church. They married in August 2011 and are now raising Bobby’s 23-year-old stepson and their 5-year-old daughter at Springcreek.

“I kind of fell in love with it. Pastor Keith is an incredible teacher. My Christian faith has grown so much,” Bobby said.  

Bobby soon longed for a place to volunteer, and started in the children’s ministry for a year or two. Then he met Associate Pastor Scott Harper at a Super Bowl party organized by the church.

“Scott plugged me in and gave me a home,” Bobby said.

With a degree in civil engineering, Bobby uses computers eight hours a day, so he had a quick learning curve with the media tech team. Now he can’t imagine doing anything else. 

“I feel so connected to my community and to the church. It works for me. I see myself being part of Springcreek for as long as I live,” Bobby said.

- Written by Robin Russell

 

Never Look Back

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Diana Ramirez, NextGen Student Director


At 24, Diana Ramirez is not much older than the students she connects with at Springcreek. As Nextgen Student Director, she helps with two events each week for middle school and high school students. 

On Sundays, Diana teaches and organizes the middle-school morning services. On Wednesday nights, she helps lead the gathering for both middle school and high school students, which includes fellowship time, student-led worship, a Scripture message and small-group discussions.

Diana recently was brought on staff part-time after volunteering for six months as a small-group leader for the ninth-grade girls. She already knew how to reach students in her work as a high school leader with Young Life.

“I connect with students very well. I can still relate to them, even though some of their challenges are different than what I went through,” Diana said. 

The key is to develop a relationship with young people by supporting their own interests. 

“Knowing them by their name just livens them up and makes them feel noticed. Knowing their interests and hobbies and supporting them in what they do. When students start asking you to come to their plays and concerts, you know you’ve connected,” Diana said. 

When Springcreek invited Diana to hold her Young Life meetings at the church building on Monday nights, it created a path for them to participate in Bible studies and other church resources.  

Besides her role on staff, Diana still volunteers on Tuesday nights with the Young Adults ministry, serving as a greeter with the First Impressions team and leading a small group for women 18-25.

Diana recalls landing at Springcreek a year and a half ago, which she described as a low point in her life. Born and raised in Garland, she’d been hurt by experiences at another church. While church-shopping, she visited Springcreek when Pastor Keith Stewart had just started his series “I’m OK. I’m Broken.”

“That was exactly me. I was broken,” Diana said. “I thought, ‘OK, God. You’re really speaking to me.’”

She also wanted community with peers her own age, but Springcreek hadn’t yet launched a young adult ministry, Diana fully expected she’d have to start looking for another church after Pastor Keith’s series ended. On the last Sunday of his series, however, staff announced that the church would be starting a young adult ministry.

Diana recalls her reaction: “OK, God. Message received. This is where I need to be.”

When Patrick McLaughlin came on board as young adults pastor a few months later, he “re-amped everything” and invited Diana to be part of a team he was building. She’s never looked back. 

“I love connecting with people and making them feel welcome,” she said.

- Written by Robin Russell

Sacred Rhythm

Sacred Rhythm


Right after we had moved into our building on Belt Line Road, I was feeling pretty worn out. I don’t know if it was burnout or something more akin to post-partum depression. After working so hard to get the building completed, it felt like I had just given birth (my apologies to all you who have actually given birth and understand how overly dramatic that statement is). But now that that huge project was completed, I was experiencing a major low. I felt depleted, discouraged and in desperate need of some time away.  

Very graciously, God worked it out for me to go with Lee Jarrell to Colorado for a week. I went to the mountains with some pretty high hopes. I figured since God had made all the details fall into place so easily for this trip, then surely, God was going to meet with me in a really significant way. I took a journal filled with about six pages of questions and issues with which I was struggling. I felt certain God would give me the clarity I was craving. 

So I went expecting some life-changing answer to prayer but the only message I got from God was disappointing to say the least. The one thing I heard from God was a single word, “Wait.” And I thought, “That’s it, God? I traveled all this way. Dropped everything I was doing. I came focused, Bible in hand, journal full of stuff, ready to listen and this is what You tell me? You could’ve told me that back in Dallas.” Frankly, I didn’t understand.

It wasn’t until one afternoon when Lee and I were talking that what God was saying truly crystalized. Lee shared with me a verse from the prophet Isaiah. Here’s what it says…

For since the world began no one has seen or heard of such a God as ours, Who works for those who wait for Him!    Isaiah 64.4 (Living Bible)

Then Lee said, “There are two kinds of believers in the world. Those who believe God works for those who wait for Him and those who believe God works for those who work for Him.

His words were like an arrow to my heart. While I would certainly say I believed the first statement, I hated to admit that I lived as if the second one were true. God was indicting me on the fact that I didn’t do near enough waiting. Working hard and long is something that comes naturally, but waiting, not so much. I lived like someone who believed that God works for those who work for Him. It’s no wonder God had a single word message for me - “WAIT.”

Now think about how you actually live – not what you say you believe. Whether you’re talking about ministry or on the job, many of us plunge headlong into stuff and try to do it all by ourselves. Then when that doesn’t work, we ask for help.  Finally (and only after everything else we’ve tried fails) we pray. 

That order (and it was most definitely mine for years) is - Do it yourself, seek help if it doesn’t work, and when all else fails, pray - that is the complete opposite of the way Jesus lived.

What God was telling me was that I had lost the sacred rhythm of life - that there is a way to do life than doesn’t destroy our souls, leave us depleted, empty or burned out. There is a rhythm to how we serve Christ and how we grow as a believer for which there is no other substitute. 

God’s answer to our overcrowded lives is discipline. The words disciple and discipline are intertwined. Because once you’ve made the choice to say, "Yes, I want to follow Jesus and be His disciple," then, the next question is, "What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?" If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, you have to live a disciplined life.

Now by discipline, I’m not talking about control. There are a lot of Christians who totally misunderstand and pervert the disciplines. They think of them as ways to gain control over their life. But that’s importing a very secular understanding of discipline onto the Bible and it is not what God means at all. In the spiritual world, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” It was Henri Nouwen who said,  “[Discipline is] the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up.”

Discipline creates space in my life where I am not occupied and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you didn't plan on or count on. No Christian grows without this kind of discipline.

You and I can't make ourselves grow. The only thing we can do is put ourselves in a place where God can grow us and change us. That's what the spiritual disciplines are intended to do – to create the space where God can do His work. It’s God's job to grow us. It's our job to open ourselves up to that by giving Him the space He needs.

So God calls His disciples to a life of discipline. Three of which I want to talk to you about right now; to be alone with Him, connected in community and engaged in ministry. We find all three of these spiritual disciplines at work in the life of Jesus in a single passage from the Bible…

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.  He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.  Luke 6.12-19

This was Christ’s sacred rhythm. It’s the way He lived. Jesus first spent time alone with God. Then He gathered His disciples around Him in community. In the afternoon, He went out to preach and heal the sick.

Do you notice the order? From solitude (time alone with God) to community (vital relationships) to ministry (our experiences in God’s work for the sake of others). The order is solitude, community, then ministry.

You cannot reverse it and get the same results; ministry – community – solitude. That will never work. Which is precisely what I was attempting to do. I would engage in the work. When I failed, I sought help from others. If everything else went wrong, then and only then would I pray. I was living life backwards. It’s a sure recipe for a brown out in your soul and burn out in your work.

Another way of describing these three movements of our soul are communion, community and co-working or our desert, our group and our project. That is, we need time alone for prayer and reflection; we need a community to belong to and find our identity within; and we need meaningful work from God.  

This is a recipe for a robust spirituality. Let’s face it, none of us gets to live life divorced from work, parenting, bills, problems and just life in general. We seek God in solitude so that we can sustain His presence even in the midst of the demands of real life. This kind of spirituality doesn’t wilt in the face of overwhelming need. It sustained Jesus and it can and will sustain us, too.

Jesus needs you. He needs you to work with Him to bring God’s message of love and reconciliation to others. God claims you, communes with and works through you. Doing life God’s way is the only way to live! Begin with Him, find your place in the community and engage in the thing He has uniquely called and equipped you to do.

“Spiritual formation is the process of Christ being formed in us for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives, and for the sake of others.”                                – Ruth Haley Barton

Following God's Calling

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Nathan Dolliff, Student Intern


Student intern Nathan Dolliff grew up at Springcreek Church, where he admired Pastor Keith Stewart’s extensive knowledge and ability to teach Scripture.

Now Nathan, 17, hopes to follow in his pastor’s footsteps by responding to a call to become a preacher while still a teenager.

Nathan began exploring the call four years ago, when he started teaching the kindergarten through 5th grade students.

“There’s nothing else I’ve done that has my heart in the right place. As I grew more, it became more important to me,” Nathan said.

He didn’t think he’d be good at public speaking, at first. But when he began acting in middle school he also started performing scripted skits for the K-5 group. When a teacher asked him if he wanted to also teach the Word to the children, he began preparing his own messages. He’s since presented a message for his teen-aged peers as well.

“It was a little scary at first. There’s a lot of difference between performing as a character and being yourself,” he said.

Engaging the attention of young children is a critical part of his teaching time each month.

“It’s interesting, because they don’t always pay attention. Sometimes it just comes naturally to me. It’s a God thing. I feel called to it,” Nathan said.

Nathan, who has studied Mandarin Chinese and Spanish at the academically challenging International Leadership of Texas Garland High School, will attend Dallas Baptist Seminary next year to continue his path toward becoming a preacher.

- Written by Robin Russell

Investing in Kids

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Elena Taylor, NextGen Coach


Elena Taylor is one of the seemingly tireless volunteers who spends her entire Sunday morning at Springcreek helping to nurture faith in children and youth.

Since 2013, she has volunteered with the NextGen ministries for elementary and middle school children. She started as a small group leader and transitioned into a coach when the church merged K1 through fifth grade into the NextGen Theater.

“I just told them, ‘Put me where you need me,’” she said. “It’s so encouraging to see student leadership. Investing in kids—that’s what I love.”

Elena became connected to Springcreek through a friend of her daughter Cierra. “This would be our drop-off point when they had sleepovers in their elementary years,” Elena recalled. “We had been going to another church at the time. Finally, my daughter asked me, ‘Why can’t we just go here?’”

On Sundays, Elena stays on the move. She helps set up the elementary age area, meets with other elementary leaders, then heads over to the middle school area to greet kids before their service begins. During the 11:30 service hour, she helps her mom, Tina Umobit, as she works with leaders’ kids in the kitchen.

Elena pulls weeknight duty as well. On Wednesday evenings, she leads a small group of seventh-grade girls. Elena said she admires the faithful participation she sees among Springcreek youth.

“They show up, no matter what,” Elena said. “I like the kids and their spirit, camaraderie. They’re really engaged.”

- Written by Robin Russell

Feeling the Nudge

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Tiffany Cedor, NextGen Preschool Director


Tiffany Cedor says she enjoys working with preschool children because they’re old enough to be a bit independent and are very curious about new experiences.

“You can see the learning and discovery as it happens,” said Cedor, who is the NextGen Preschool Director. In her role at Springcreek, Tiffany oversees classes and edits curriculum for older preschoolers, ages 3-5, in jungle-themed rooms called Tiger Trail and Monkey Mountain.

Tiffany came to Springcreek in 2006 because her mother-in-law attended the church, but she’s stayed because of Pastor Keith Stewart’s teachings. “He makes it real,” Tiffany said. “I’ve grown so much since I came here. Keith makes it very practical. It’s something you can take home with you and think about during the week.”

Sitting in church one day, Tiffany heard about volunteer opportunities and “just felt that nudge.” She started volunteering with younger preschoolers and eventually became the storyteller for older preschoolers. Soon she became the preschool director – in her spare time. Tiffany is also a realtor and owner of a real-estate investment company.

Today, Tiffany and her husband, Timothy, have five children, aged 5 to 23, and two grandchildren. Their sons Colt, 9, and Kinsler, 5, attend NextGen classes. The rest of the family also have volunteer roles at church: Timothy serves on the Safety Team; their 17-year-old son, Houston, volunteers with the church’s tech team and helps with elementary age children; and their16-year-old daughter, Chloe, teaches children in Monkey Mountain.

“Chloe started with this group of kids when they were two and wants to continue teaching them as they go through elementary school. That’s what we encourage our leaders to do,” Tiffany said.

- Written by Robin Russell

Right Place. Right Time.

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Jim Griffin, NextGen Elementary Leader

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Jim Griffin has been making a difference in the lives of our NextGen kids for over 15 years. He has been helping to guide our kids into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by sharing practical advice and guidance on how Jesus can help them make wise choices, love others, and trust Him, no matter what. Jim faithfully and consistently leads elementary-aged boys every week at Springcreek, but his dedication doesn't stop there. 
In case you haven't heard, Jim was recently recognized for saving a young boy's life. He was driving his regular school bus route on September 28 when he saw something that stopped him in his tracks. He saw a body lying in the street and immediately got out and dialed 911. Jim rolled the boy over and recognized him as one of the kids on his route. There was no pulse, so he started CPR to keep the teen alive until police and paramedics arrived to jump in and help. Jim's quick thinking and life-saving skills saved that boy's life.

Nabil Mohmoud, 16, was born with a heart defect but had it repaired soon after birth. He'd never had any problems until that day, when he forgot his wallet at home and ran back to get it. Fortunately for him, Jim Griffin was in the right place at the right time living out his faith.

Reflecting on what happened, Jim said, "God just puts people where He needs them to be when He needs them to be there." 
We are so thankful that God put Jim Griffin right where he needed to be that day for Nabil. We are especially thankful and blessed to have Jim as one of our NextGen leaders right here at Springcreek making a difference every week in our kids' lives. Where do you need to be? 

Walk This Way

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Brad Nuss, Parking Lot Team


Brad Nuss volunteers to do any number of tasks on Sunday mornings to help facilities manager Tony Gardner keep Springcreek running smoothly. He can be found setting up tables and chairs, helping people make their way safely across the parking lot, and even taking up the trash. "I'm pretty much Tony's sidekick," Brad said. 

Brad started volunteering at the church when he lost his job a year and a half ago. With too much time on his hands, he was worried that he'd become depressed. "When I lost my job, I had this sense of doom. I called the church and asked where they needed people to help. Tony, bless his heart, said 'I can find something for him to do,'" Brad said. "Helping out around here keeps my mind off the bad stuff. I consider it my prayer time."

Brad married into the Springcreek family. His wife, Sarah, who volunteers with the 2-year-olds on Sunday mornings, had attended before the church moved to its current location. The couple now has three children, ages 9, 7 and 5.

Brad recently got a new job doing data entry, but plans to continue coming up to the church to "get my manual labor in." Because Tony typically does his facility work in the afternoons and evenings, Brad can help out after his day job and on weekends.

"I believe God calls us to serve our community and our family, and Springcreek is both. Especially since I started serving - it's just family. I can't believe how many people here care about me and my family. It's been an amazing blessing," Brad said.

- Written by Robin Russell

In the Right Spot

Melissa Nunez, Network First Impressions Team

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Melissa Nunez still remembers the main point from the first sermon she ever heard at Springcreek back in 2011. "You're in the right spot, and we're glad you're here. You're OK." 

"I know he was talking to me," Melissa recalled after hearing Pastor Keith's message that morning.

She now wants to make sure other young adults who show up know that they belong here, too. As leader of the First Impressions team for Network: Young Adults Ministry at Springcreek, Melissa greets young adults and keeps up with them by texting them throughout the week. She also directs her volunteers to roam the lobby and connect with people who come in alone.

"Our goal is to make sure no one is sitting by themselves and to know they are welcome here," she said.

Melissa encourages young adults who are new to Springcreek to get out of their comfort zone and be more than just another face who comes in the door. She got her feet wet as a volunteer by first serving with the church's Welcome Team. After Patrick McLaughlin came on board as young adult pastor in March, Melissa was tapped to lead the First Impressions team.

"If you get involved and you start to meet people, you expand your positive circle of influence," said Melissa, a self-described extrovert. "I love to know as many people as I can, and the only way to do that is to get involved."

Melissa, who is single with no kids, says she has found a "family" in the young adults who are now part of her life. The Network ministry has grown from about a dozen to more than 40 young adults since this spring. Melissa credits the growth to the authenticity of the participants.

She's open, for example, about celebrating six years of sobriety, and recognizes how important relationships are to her recovery. Springcreek is where she first learned about recovery groups.

"When it was time for me to surrender, I knew where to go," she said. "I'm big on being vulnerable. If you see other people get real and be vulnerable, you know it's safe for you to be real, too."

- Written by Robin Russell

Behind the Scenes

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Billy Webber, Media Tech Team


Billy Webber likes to stay out of the limelight. He functions best in the shadows. For someone on the Springcreek Church media tech team, that's perfect.

Webber handles the computer and lighting from his auditorium booth once a month or more. He also provides weekly tech support at the Network for young adults and the NextGen student ministry.

"I don't like being up front. I like being in the background," Webber says.

Associate Pastor Scott Harper gives Webber video and slides for each service and programs the lights for worship segments. Webber takes it from there.

"My son calls me 'the go monkey.' I just hit the button," Webber said. "My goal is to run the tech so Scott doesn't have to worry about anything."

A computer programmer for 30 years at Sprint, Webber found his technical niche while a teenager at a Baptist church in Louisiana. The church had just upgraded its sound system and needed volunteers to run it. Webber thought it was a sweet deal.

"I figured no one could see what I did, so if I wanted to take a snooze, I could get away with it. As I grew in my faith, I came to realize that it's a calling," Webber said.

He's been on the tech team for seven years now and recalls a few mishaps. One time, he was transferring a reel-to-reel audio recording of a sermon onto cassette tapes when he heard a brief message on it from a passing CB radio enthusiast. Another time, he was focused on his equipment and didn't realize the auditorium had gone dark until he heard a patient voice onstage say, "I'm still here."

Those incidents are rare, however. Most people don't even notice what he does until something goes wrong.

"Being part of this tech team is my calling," Webber said. "I try to do it so no one knows anyone is up there."

- Written by Robin Russell

Meet Mr. Springcreek

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David Pesta, Chaplain Team

For many regular attenders, David Pesta is known as "Mr. Springcreek." Every Sunday morning you'll find him just inside the main entrance, greeting folks with a hearty handshake, and he knows many by name. From the youngest to the oldest, children think of him as their designated grandfather. Adults tell him, "You're my weekly hug."

But David offers more than a familiar greeting. He is part of Springcreek's Chaplain Team, a dozen or so men and women who work at the request of Pastor Lee Jarrell to visit housebound or hospitalized members; help with baptisms, weddings and funerals; and pray for weekly requests. Wearing blue shirts and name tags, the chaplains come early and stay late to accommodate anyone who needs one-on-one prayer.

David became interested in chaplain work before coming to Springcreek. His wife went through an extended hospitalization at the time, and David cared for their two then-young children while holding a full-time job. Yet no one at their church ever called or offered to help.

"I felt in my heart that I didn't want anyone else to go through something like that, without someone being there in their time of need," David said.

Now retired, David invests in his chaplain work by encouraging others and praying with them. He brings a vial of oil to anoint the sick. Though he still feels nervous at times about hospital visits, he prays ahead of time: "Be with me. Give me the right words to say. Help me to not embarrass my church."

"I get a sense of comfort and love from the people. I know they appreciate me coming to see them. The kindness and love of people is what keeps me going," David said.

- Written by Robin Russell


Everybody Say, "Hello, Bibley!"

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Martin & Laura Sinise, NextGen Puppet Team

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Every Sunday morning, with rare exception, our 3-5 year-olds are regaled with a tale from the Bible told by the NextGen puppet team headed by Martin and Laura Sinise. With concepts ranging from classics like 'Jonah and the Big Fish' to more abstract ones like 'Why Jesus Wants Us to Share,' Martin and Laura have found a unique spin to tell each story for the last four years. They and their team are enchanting and teaching our children the Good News that God made us, God loves us, and Jesus wants to be our friend forever.

When not leading the Bible story, Mrs. Laura can often be caught in helping to lead the room or dancing along to the monthly Praise and Worship songs played before the story, while Mr. Martin likes to "greet the audience" - future, former, and present - in the NextGen lobby in-between services. (Beware: should you wish to come and see them in action, you may also get sneezed on by a fish!)

- Written by Emily Sims

Planting Seeds of Faith

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Karen Vance, NextGen Jungle Team

Here at Springcreek, our little ones begin to learn about God's love through caring and nurturing volunteers. Karen Vance has been planting seeds of faith for many years as she faithfully serves each week leading a class of one-year-olds in NextGen Jungle's Hippo Habitat.

Karen consistently invests in our children as she shares the love of Jesus through simple Bible stories and age-appropriate activities. She helps captivate the hearts and imaginations of our toddlers and introduces them to three basic foundations we want every preschooler to know: God made me, God loves me, and Jesus wants to be my friend forever.

It all starts here. Are you ready to plant some seeds?

Small Acts of Kindness

Andrew Grimes, Welcome Team

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A friendly face. A warm smile. A welcoming handshake. A kind word. These may seem like small things but they can make someone's day in an instant. 

Andrew Grimes, a member of the Springcreek Welcome Team, shares these small acts of kindness every week and let's our guests know that they matter to God - and they matter to us.

He is making a difference as noted in this gracious card he was given by someone who felt the love of Jesus through him.

Serving Through the Eyes of a NextGen Leader

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Tara Walker, NextGen High School Leader

It takes a lot of servant hearts to share the love of Jesus with our kids here at Springcreek. Tara Walker followed her heart over two years ago and stepped up to faithfully serve our NextGen high school students.

She recently had the opportunity to travel with them to Camp Glorieta, New Mexico and had an amazing experience leading and encouraging our kids. See and hear some of Tara's favorite memories from her childhood and camp adventures and how they brought her to where she is today.

Meeting Jesus

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Two years ago this week, I went on a pilgrimage for the very first time in my life. This pilgrimage would be a week-long trek among the poor outside of Fortaleza, Brazil (the third most violent city in the world). Each day would involve about 20 miles of hiking across very arid country accompanied by long, intimate conversations with God and my fellow pilgrims. It was a life-changing experience.

On the second night of the pilgrimage, we were staying with a very poor family out in the countryside. In the home was a mother with two children. I was told the father had died several years prior. Of course, practically everyone on this pilgrimage spoke Portuguese as did the people in the homes where we were staying. Several of my fellow pilgrims were bilingual but many were not. So when we arrived in this rural home, Gabriel, the oldest orphan boy felt it his duty to help me - the poor, ignorant American.

He knew I couldn’t speak his language so he took it upon himself to figure out how to communicate with me and help me communicate with others. He would motion to his mouth to ask me if I was hungry or pretend to drink if he thought I was thirsty. Then Gabriel would say the Portuguese word for hunger slowly and loudly. If I repeated the word successfully, he would break out in a smile from ear to ear, nod his head affirmatively, and say “GOOD”.

Throughout the night, he kept pointing to things and identifying them for me. Later that evening, when he saw that I was laying in my hammock but still not asleep, he came to check on me. He wanted to make sure I was okay and through many words and gestures asked if he could help in any way.

Once Gabriel finally scurried off to bed, it finally dawned on me. Gabriel wanted to alleviate MY vulnerability. Because he’s a child of vulnerability, he could easily recognize it in others. So this child, who had every reason to ask something of me, this child who lived in abject poverty wanted nothing more than to help me.

The next morning when it was time to go, I told Gabriel good-bye and he disappeared. Later I learned that he had gone inside to cry. When I arrived at my next destination, one of my fellow pilgrims gave me a small stone and told me, “Gabriel wanted you to have this.” It was a small, white, crystal stone. He sacrificed one of his own priceless treasures just for me.

All week long, I thought I was there to be with a great man of God by the name of Carlos Pinheiro Queiroz. He was the former National Director for World Vision Brazil. I love listening to the man and the wisdom he exudes. But this pilgrimage was not meant to satiate my desire to be with Carlos because God had something better in mind. God sent me to be with Gabriel. Gabriel would be my teacher of compassion and generosity. Gabriel was the one sent by God to minister to my needs. It was Gabriel who appeared to me in my isolation and drew me into the circle of caring and love. 

That’s the true purpose of pilgrimage – really the purpose behind every spiritual discipline – is the Christ encounter. Jesus met me in a boy named Gabriel. I’ll never forget him for as long as I live. How many times has God shown up in our lives and we have not recognized Him at all? How often is God disguised as the most vulnerable, needy person you’ve ever met? How frequently have we missed out on a great blessing simply because we have not been present to the moment presenting itself to us?

 

Faith, Hope, and Love

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FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE 

In this life we have three lasting qualities -- faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of them is love.  1 Corinthians 13.13

Paul tells us love is the greatest of the three virtues. But why? Why is love greater than faith or hope?

In part, because love is the only permanent thing. The truth is, faith and hope both have a shelf life. They have an expiration date. Faith and hope are experiences bound to our existence on this Earth. But in the presence of God, they are rendered obsolete and unnecessary.

I mean, think about it. What is faith? Faith is a belief in things we have not yet seen. But there’s coming a day when we actually see those things. They will materialize before our very eyes. What we believed in faith will be our certainty and possession for all eternity. Faith in the presence of God is completely unneeded.

Hope is also just as temporary because once you have something – once you attain it, you don’t need to hope for it anymore. In heaven, no one will be hoping for better days. The better days will be ours each and every day. There’s no need for hope in heaven because hope merges with reality there. 

This is why love is greater than faith and hope. Because faith will one day become sight and hope will merge with reality. Faith and hope are going to expire. So, what's going to be left? Love. That's why Paul says, "The greatest of these is love."

Love is forever. Love is for eternity. The point is: you and I had better learn to love because it's the only thing you will keep for all eternity. The Bible does not say God is hope or God is faith, but it does say that God is love. Love is as eternal as God is. Love lasts. It goes on forever. So, love is the number one aim of life because it's the only thing that lasts. This is ultimately why the truest barometer of what’s in our heart is determined by our capacity to love.

Thin Places

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I recently shared this devotional with the Springcreek staff and it includes powerful notes from a funeral service about the divinity of Downs Syndrome children. I would now like to share this with our church family as well.

The topic is what we often call “holy ground.” In other words, places or experiences of God that we are uniquely aware of feeling the real presence of God. For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the “place” where heaven and earth meet, where the holy is present, both uniquely and forever. In Jesus, God is so present that He is, in a completely mysterious way, both fully human and fully divine. To meet Jesus is to meet both a regular looking Jewish man, and The God of the Universe. The more you meditate on this, the more mysterious it becomes. The Irish (and Celtic Christianity) often use a different phrase or term to speak of holy ground. They call them, “thin places.” 

Thin places are these places or experiences where the border between heaven and earth, between human and divine, seem especially porous. This is where the real felt presence of God is believed to “leak through” more easily in those places and experiences. We all have what we describe as our “regular” experience of the presence of God. The “thin places” that occur in our lives are more unique, special places that we do not visit often, but when we do, the felt presence of God can be almost overwhelming.  I’m not describing being aware that God is with me up here in my head, I mean the felt presence of God in my heart. 

My thin places are often out in nature, such as the Upper East Inlet hiking trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Or, visiting Marble Falls, a town in the Hill Country, where I grew up spending time each summer with my grandparents.  Or, going to the cemetery in my home town of Snyder, where my dad and his parents are buried. In this devotional, I want to share a “thin place” experience that happened here at Springcreek during Billy Wilkinson's funeral.

Billy was 44 years old and had Downs Syndrome.  He and his mother Cathy were faithful lovers and participants in the Jonathan Project ministry, which ministers to those with special needs and their families. His funeral was a testimony of the real presence and experience of God’s infinite goodness, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That funeral was the first time I’ve ever told one of my favorite stories, that I so rarely get to tell.  Please allow me to share.

Twenty-six years ago, I was a very young (and inexperienced) pastor planting a church in the Lewisville area.  I was planting a church the same time Keith was starting Springcreek.  We first met because we were both church planters. There was a delightful couple in my church who were just thrilled to be having their first baby. They had a boy, whose name was Ty.  Ty had Downs Syndrome. 

God, in His infinite mercy, had prepared me because I had read a book called Ruthless Trust, by Brennan Manning.  Same author who wrote Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba’s Child. Brennan was a Roman Catholic Priest who lived and served God in New Orleans. In that book, he told this true story...  

“I will never forget the example of an Episcopal priest, Fr. Tom Minifie, several years ago in St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington. One Sunday morning, Fr. Tom spotted a high-profile couple sitting in the last pew with their one-year old Down's Syndrome child. It was clear from the parents' demeanor that the little one embarrassed them. They were hiding in the rear of the church, planning a hasty exist once the worship service had concluded. But on their way out the door, Fr. Tom intercepted them and said, "Please come into my office." Once seated, Fr. Tom took the Down's baby in his arms and rocked him gently. Looking into the baby's face, he began to sob and weep. When he regained his composure, he asked, "Do you have any idea of the gift that God has given you in this child?" Sensing confusion in the parent’s faces, he told them his story:

"Two years ago, my three-year-old daughter, Sylvia, died with Down's syndrome. We have four other children, so we know the blessing that all kids can be. Yet the most precious gift we've ever received in our entire lives has been Sylvia. In her uninhibited expressions of affection, love, and just delighting in life, she revealed to us the face of God as no other human being ever has.

Fr. Tom continued, “Were you aware that many Native American tribes attribute divinity to Down's children because in their utter simplicity, they become a transparent window into the very Spirit of God? So, please treasure this child, for he will lead you into the very heart of God."

Needless to say, that experience and truth totally changed that couple’s lives.

I had the blessing of telling the young couple in my church this story and offering them a completely different perspective on the inherent and infinite value of every soul created by God. Their lives were also forever changed.

You do understand that we, the so-called normal people, fight a life-long struggle every day to not be mean, selfish, hateful, critical, judgmental, or demeaning to others. That’s because we’re missing a chromosome that God chose to give to Billy. That extra chromosome is the love chromosome. Billy may have struggled hard to be able to learn, but he never struggled with knowing how to give and receive love. So you tell me, which is better:  to be slow to learn, or to be slow to love.

Billy’s mother, Cathy, told me that Billy loved balloons, and that he would enjoy them for a couple of days then go into the back yard and release them up to the heavens. He would stand there watching them continue to rise.  And stand there.  And stand there.  Long after they were out of sight, he was still watching. Finally, she asked him why he kept looking up for so long. Billy said, “I see the angels.  I’m sending the balloons to the angels.”

Billy did see the angels.  Billy had the spiritual eyes to see into the heavenly realm which we just do not have.  What a gift!!  At that moment, our sanctuary was as holy a place as I’ve been on this planet. Everyone was having a “thin place” moment as the felt presence of God was overwhelming. One of the chaplains helping me at the service, told me she saw the angels everywhere in the room.

Prayer: 

Precious Jesus, we believe. Help us in our unbelief. Please give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that can intuit Your very real and loving presence. For you promised us, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Amen.

 

 

A Shift in Perspective

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Over the 30 plus years I’ve lived here, I think I have visited every hospital that exists in the metroplex. I’ve ministered to numerous Springcreekers and their loved ones in times of birth and death, accident and injury, disease and infection. In all that time, I’ve avoided being in the hospital myself.

All that changed for me this week. I’ve been battling diverticulitis for the past six months. There’s barely a week that went by that I wasn’t on heavy antibiotics. Finally, I was faced with inevitability. I had to have surgery to remove about 18 inches of my colon. I didn’t want to but with each episode, I was running a greater and greater risk of my compromised colon rupturing (which could be fatal).

I confess. I was scared, uncertain and focused on the worst. But God surrounded me with people who were speaking God’s healing truths to me, my wife, Paula Margeson, Ryan Flemons, Misty Lowe, Barb Freeman, Carolyn Adkins and many others. Sometimes God sends special messengers on assignment to your life just to let you know, “I’ve told others about you. They know because I told them this will be good, for your benefit, and your total healing will be the result.” There is something so reassuring about a word God gives to a friend on your behalf. It’s almost like, in that moment, borrowing their faith to shore up your own. 

I’ve also come away with a profound appreciation for those who work in the healing profession. I’m at Big Baylor in Dallas recovering. Every single person with whom we’ve interacted has been kind, compassionate, great listeners and made us feel like our needs were of supreme importance and that they themselves were happy to serve. Many have spoken words of blessing over me. Others have assured me of their prayers. Baylor Hospital has been an amazing experience. I know that I have been deeply healed through skilled surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and staff. God has been abundantly kind to me. 

So, whatever you’re going through, wherever you go, regardless of how long it takes to reach your destination - watch for God’s kids on special assignment. They are there to speak words of life, healing and hope over you.

We Were Wrong

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Ward Brehm once wrote, “They say that if God wants to get your attention, he will toss a little pebble into your life. If that doesn’t work, he will throw a rock. As a last resort, he will heave a brick!”

Africa was definitely my brick. It rocked my world in ways I never anticipated. Seeing with my own eyes the devastation caused by extreme poverty, lack of access to clean water, the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and preventable diseases like malaria truly made me wonder how anyone could be as willfully blind as I was. I used to say, I went to Africa to help save Africa. Now I know God had the opposite in mind. He brought Africa into my life to save me.

Not long after that fateful trip, while running at White Rock Lake in Dallas, I sensed God say to me, “I want you to apologize to the community for the kind of church you have been.” I instantly knew exactly what he meant. I don’t know how I knew it. I just did.

The church took out a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News. In large, bold letters in the center of the page it read, “WE WERE WRONG.”

At the bottom of the page was our apology:

We followed trends when we should have followed Jesus.
We told others how to live but did not listen ourselves.
We live in a land of plenty, denying ourselves nothing,
While ignoring our neighbors who actually have nothing.
We sat on the sidelines while AIDS ravaged Africa.
We were wrong; we’re sorry. Please forgive us.

The only other thing printed on the page was our church name, phone number, and website. We offered no explanation beyond the words of our apology, because explanations at the point of apology always sound like excuses. We only wanted to speak the truth about our behavior and offer a sincere apology to those whom we had hurt.

Sadly, the church today is better known for its political stance than helping the poor, feeding the hungry, or helping to heal the hurting. Do we dare believe the church could be known for its love and compassion more than its rhetoric and judgments? That’s one risk I am willing to take.

In the years since our apology, Springcreek Church has become an entirely different church. Hundreds and hundreds of children now have sponsors. The Nyakach Valley of Kenya has networks of wells, pipes, and water kiosks to serve thousands who used to fetch water from polluted lakes and streams. Children no longer regularly fall ill to easily preventable diseases like they once did. Everything for them has changed, as has everything for us.

I sincerely believe God’s work done in God’s way will always be mutually transformational. We are as changed by the work we are doing as the people we intend to serve. Our investment in our friends overseas has profoundly enriched our church family. They have taught us so much about true wealth — to be rich in faith, hope, and love.

In addition, we are assured in Scripture that God always hears the widow and the orphan’s prayer. I sometimes wonder about my own prayers, but I am supremely confident about theirs. So, every day, on the other side of the world, there are widows and orphans who fall on their knees in the dirt and bless our name to God. This is the highest blessing anyone can receive in life — to be blessed by the least of these.

I never could have imagined how much three little words would totally transform my world — we were wrong.