Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Best Christmas Gift I ever Received

    One of my closest friends asked me last week about the best Christmas gift I had ever received. I have thought much about this over the last week. I have lived a blessed life and given far more than I deserve and far more than anyone needs. Christmas in my family has always been a giant part of our year. We all tend to decorate early and a lot, we have multiple Christmas gift exchanges with family and friends. This year is no different with us having them on December 23, 24, 25, 26 and the 27! I have been given gifts  on Christmas day that are far better than I would even think to ask for.  So choosing a best gift seemed like it would be impossible. Yet, it is not. One gift given to me by my mother stands out among all I have ever been given. 
    When I was 16 my mom took me downtown to Chicago. As a family we went pretty much every year during the holidays. We looked at the decorated windows at Marshall Fields and Carson's, ate Garrett's popcorn and saw the giant tree in Daily Plaza. But this year was different, mom took me to see relative I had not met before, His name was Carl. I knew of him because my grandma had always referred to him as "the bum" whom she had prayed for regularly. He was my grandmothers cousin, and spent the better part of his life drinking and homeless, even losing his legs due to his problem. Carl had rejected his family, and now at Christmas in 1985, Carl was living in a horrible nursing home, all alone in Chicago. The home Carl lived in was a dirty, old, falling apart building what was was once a city  hotel, turned into a nursing home. As we walked in lobby I will never forget the smell or sights of that place. Carl's room was up several flights of stairs at the very end of a long hallway. When we entered his room he peered up from his wheelchair at us, with confused look. My mom introduced us, and Carl began to cry. We gave him some gifts, and mom made some small talk before we left. Carl wept as we left, something I think of so often. 
    The next Christmas my mom took me to see Carl again and this time my new girlfriend Karol came too. It was hard to go back, as I had then heard Carl's sad story and knew his regrets of life. I had purchased him a gift myself this time, a Chicago Bears sweater, and my mom had brought him some bags of candy. The home where he lived seemed even worse than the year before, almost like something from a movie. As we entered Carl's room, he lit up. We gave him gifts and he told us how the people that worked there would steal the gifts if he left them out so he put them under his bed covers. Again as we left, he cried. That evening as I lay in my own bed I wept. The pitiful condition of Carl's life was heartbreaking. His life's decisions and sickness had destroyed him, causing him to lose any loving relationships he may have had. I remembered the story my grandma told about how Carl's brother Tom had to look for him after their mother had died and  found him passed out, laying in the street. Carl hated for us to leave because he had no other visitors at Christmas or at all during the year. Carl's life was lonely and filled with regret. That night my life was changed forever because of those visits. My selfish, self absorbed 17 year old existence had not counted on being touched in that way. It caused me much pain and even some depression over the next years. While I had no idea at the time, it was the beginning of God implanting a passion for those who exist like Carl. Those who are rejected, lonely, regretful and suffering. I don't know if my mom intended to have a visit with Carl change me or not. I do know that my mom has much the same passion I do, for those like Carl. She is a woman filled with compassion and love, and has always put her faith into action. These few years of visiting Carl are part of the foundation of my life and relationship with God. I know how to serve Him because my my mom showed me, I know how to love the unlovable because my mom did. I know she learned this from her own mother, who always took in people in need. This gift is one I cannot repay, one that I can only pray will help my own children find their path to Gods purpose for them.  It is by far the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. I have hope that someday I will walk through the gates of heaven and be greeted by Carl, whose life was changed by Gods love, shown in the form of my mother. Thank you Mom for your love for me, and more importantly your love for those people forgotten by the world, who God loves so dearly. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


        I believe with all my heart that God is always communicating with us, and that His desire is to be in constant contact with us. I also firmly believe He does not communicate in one way, but in many, and we need to stay close to Him in order to hear and understand. For me, leading a ministry and doing God's work requires much communication, with others, and with God. 
Over 20 years ago, God communicated to me in a way that struck me deeply, and has never left me. I was at my brother Dan's memorial service. On that difficult day, we were supposed to be celebrating, yet all I could do was focus on the fact that he was gone. I felt like everyone else understood something I did not; like I was denied some understanding of life, that the rest of my family and friends had received. There are still days in ministry that I feel the same way. I wonder out loud to God "why"; why was DJ taken; why is the camp not yet done; why is this transition so hard; why do I have this burning in my heart to change things; why am I part of this or that? I begin to think others in ministry understand something I don't, or that I am being denied some kind of feeling of security others have. Those are hard days, days when others question why it is taking so long to build Camp Daniel, why we don't have a better ministry structure, why we do camp like we do or why we spend time doing what we do at all, why do I push so hard, why am I so discontented? It is in those moments I can get to questioning and worry about the things we are doing and the things we are not. I can feel like I am unqualified, unworthy and unwilling to be doing Gods work at all. It is on those days I have to go back to what God whispered many years before to know what He wants from me.
I go back the 20 years to the middle of the memorial service for Dan. I heard a whisper in my mind, just a whisper. It said "RIP". My mind answers back "ok... RIP, Rest In Peace, that makes sense, I am at my brother's funeral". Then the whisper said to my mind "no, not him... you!" "My mind said what? I am going to die? "The whisper said "no, from now on, RIP, be Relentless".  "Be Relentless In Pursuit of Me."  After the service we went back to Mom and Dad's house. They gave us short letters Dan had written to each of us in his last days. In my letter, Dan told me to read 2 Corinthians 4. He told me to be focused on the unseen as it says in verse 18. Dan explained that it was my personality to only believe what I see, but he was sure God wanted me to focus on the unseen. Up to that day, God was definately unseen, unheard, and unworthy in my life. But since that day, everything has changed. What is unseen drives everything; what is unseen becomes more important every day. I read The Message version of 2 Corinthians 4 every morning. It is my hope and prayer each day to trust the words there, and live according to them, instead of what the world sees or judges by. On days when I am questioned about what we are doing, or I have my own doubts, I can go back to God's call. and the pressure is taken away.  I know He only wants me to focus on being close to Him, talking to Him, growing in Him, and introducing others to Him. I am thankful for that clear message so many years ago, while I fail constantly at sticking to it, I always have the words to go back to be encouraged and remember God's call for me. I am, if nothing else, relentless, I am secure in this calling for my life. When I don't know what to do or how to act or what to say, I just be relentless. I want to be close to God and eventually my death will bring me right to Him; and when I die It is my wish that it gets put on my gravestone; Here lies Little Tony... he loved God and he was relentless in pursuit of Him right into death...RIP

Friday, October 5, 2012

Our Manifesto

 Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
   If our Message is obscure to anyone, it's not because we're holding back in any way. No, it's because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won't have to bother believing a Truth they can't see. They're stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we'll ever get.
   Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, "Light up the darkness!" and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
   If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus' sake, which makes Jesus' life all the more evident in us. While we're going through the worst, you're getting in on the best!
   We're not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, "I believed it, so I said it," we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God's glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
   So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Moving a Mountain

The Man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
                                                                    - William Faulkner

   I am blessed to be called to serve people with intellectual disabilities for many reasons. Yet the fact that most of whom we serve need simple, concrete teaching, may be the greatest blessing for me. I also learn simply, and being a visual person, concrete helps me to. I think allot about on how to make the Word and the church, accessible to everyone. My observation of a short 44 years of life in the church, is that we have put much of scripture and our gathering together, out of reach for the majority of people. By using a churchified language, not understanding that the men and women of the bible were just like us, and protecting our Americanized way of life we often create a distance from the spoken Word to the Word lived out in our lives. I believe Gods Word and the examples in it of faith, are as much for today and tomorrow as it was for 2000 years ago. I have to trust in that fact as I work in the purpose God has for me each day.
   I have begun this blog entry 4 times in the last few years, but I posted none of them.  I worry it  comes off egotistical and self promoting. I complained to God about it and the only thought that comes is... "you are pretty ego filled that you are even worrying this in the first place, just do what I ask". So I write these thoughts with a humble heart, knowing God is in control and has a purpose in all He does.
   I believe with all my heart that anything is possible, that God can do anything and does. "Anything is possible" became the motto of the kids ministry we started 5 years ago called MEGA. We believe it, and have seen it happen. We have learned to trust that anything is possible, to the point that it has taken away much fear from what we are doing here at Camp Daniel. Living by this motto has made the work we are doing harder for some to be part of it, because it can seem unplanned, without much structure, and without regard for the norms of building an American nonprofit and ministry. When you say your plan is to trust God while working as hard as you can with the tools and all He has given to us, that can feel out of control and unplanned to others around you.  I know I am unqualified to lead this, I know I am a sinner and I know I cannot pull off what God is doing here myself. I know those He has brought beside me cannot fulfill the vision He has laid on us. So there is only one way to fight this battle and that is by trusting Him, waiting on Him, and believing His Word while using the gifts and talents He has given by working as hard as we can each day. 
   So how can we move ahead like this? The easy part is working hard, even as I sit here with a busted up knee and can't physically work, I can lead with the tools He has given and work still happens. The harder part is to learn to trust Him. One of the many ways early on, that helped me learn to trust was to realize that God actually trusted me. That revelation was,  and is, hard to swallow.  I know what blackness is in my heart and mind. Yet God has imparted a vision, He has given His promises in the Word, has given me leadership over others, and has told us... we, the church... that we are His plan. I daily, feel an incredible burden knowing God trusts me, I desperately do not want to let Him down, yet I do moment to moment. Mother Theresa once said,"I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much!” I get how she felt in saying that! So my mind says to me, If God trusts me don't I need to desperately trust Him? Yes, I do, and He has shown on a daily basis that my distrust is so stupid as He has provided at every turn and in every situation. We have seen miracle after miracle, we have seen his promises in the Word in real life. This is how He has built our trust. Yet, sadly I must battle daily to continue to trust, and most of the time wish that He did not trust me at all.
   So back to paragraph one and how this comes together in our ability to take Gods Word and make it unreachable for simple people like me. We have understand the Bible is filled with stories of people just like us, the same doubts, the same inadequacies, the same dysfunction, the same addictions, the same sinners you and I are, so were they. The things the heroes of the bible did are not testaments to them, but rather to God and what He did in them. The miracles and the promises in the Word are no less today than they were then. When we began in ministry 16 years ago I believe we had the faith about the size of a mustard seed, it was a small, small amount of faith. Yet just enough to begin the process of building, growth and moving toward a vision God had for us. Along the way I remember someone giving us a bulldozer. I never had even drove a lawn tractor before that, but eventually I learned to drive the bulldozer. Eventually we began piling up top soil as we excavated the property.  We literally made a mountain of top soil. That mountain peaked 6 or 7 years ago. Since then we moved that mountain of topsoil all over the property with other equipment that God made available; a skid steer, an excavator, a dump truck, a tractor, even many wheelbarrows and shovels, and hundreds of willing volunteers. That mountain at one point was so big it seemed immovable, yet God moved it through many different means. We began with just a tiny bit of faith that God moved us to Athelstane to build Camp Daniel and in the process we have seen Him move mountains. Matthew 17:20 says, We can say to this mountain, "move from here to there" and it will move. Nothing will be impossible. How many of us believe this? I know I do! It is part of my non trusting, non believing, negative and controlling character to see this verse in Matthew as describing this only as a mountain like Everest. But God has twice let us see literal mountains moved here at Camp Daniel Should we doubt these experiences as being anything less than Gods promises fulfilled? No!! God delivers His promises. We see it as another of Gods unwavering trust in us to do as He has asked, and so He does what he says. If we have a tiny amount of faith, mountains can be moved.

I write this blog entry with a feeling of heaviness as I so desperately want others to know Gods promises are true, that His Word is real, and He loves and trust us deeply. The   miracles and men of the bible are not some superhero stories meant to make us feel bad about our shortcomings, but rather gifts to show us that God uses all of us, no matter what, to fulfill His purpose and we can have faith in Him and His promise. If we can simply desire to be close to Him, love Him, please Him, and trust Him above all things, than He takes care of the rest and the mountains will literally move. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


 “In living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.” 
                                                                   – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

   18 years ago today, God transformed the lives of everyone in our family as my brother Dan's earthly suffering ended and he went to heaven.  I can still sit here and see him, and hear him, as plain as if it was 18 years ago. I miss him, I miss the part of me that existed in our relationship. His not being here can still cause pain, it seems almost foolish after 18 years but I still feel it. I still spend time reflecting back on that day when heaven and Gods presence moved closer in my life. I had always been unsure that God was right there before then, but after that day I knew He was. Before that day I thought little about what Gods purpose for my life and all about my own plans. After that day His purpose is the focus of my daily morning prayers and while I am less than perfect at following Him, it is my hearts deepest desire. So there is fleshly part of me that says that was a bad day, that it was day that brought pain. But my heart knows that it was one that hurt, and was good in Gods hands, as it was a day of transformation.
     The great lesson for me through the process has been that of seeing Gods goodness not as His protection from pain but rather His presence in the midst of it. I believe as a church we spend to much time focused on eliminating pain instead of embracing the pain God allows as a refining fire in our lives. We all know pain, loss, abuse, confusion, fear, and we do not like feeling those things. Much of our lives are spent avoiding, and directing ourselves away from the pain or possibility of pain we may feel. We tend to read books and love sermons that talk about eliminating pain and how that is life, and life lived victoriously. We even will sin to keep the pain at bay. Yet none of that can really stave off the pain that living life brings, it is inevitable.  
    We must come to a place in our relationship with God to understand that pain will come and He has given us tools to walk through it, and those tools will help be better built to grow closer to Him at the end of it. I pray it does not sound like I am trivializing anyones pain, I am not, there are many who suffer greatly, for very long periods of time, and it is hard. I also am not so twisted in my mind to desire pain. But, I know that it will come and I know God is there in it, waiting with open arms for me to jump into his lap and soak up His love for me. So as I reflect on 18 years with out my brother, I think of my loss and my pain, but I also feel how God is so near in the midst of it... that is life lived victoriously.
     Thank you God for Dan, and the 21 years of life and his deaths impact on me. Thank you God for the pain I have felt and still at times feel, that pulls me away from myself and into your wonderful waiting arms. Hug Dan for me, tell Him I will be there some day soon, and if your willing God, I will be bringing an army to meet him!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Remembering DJ, Our Brother and Our Friend

Be sure that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.
                                                                            - Philippians 1:6

 I write this blog entry with a heavy heart, with an ache in my stomach and my mind whirling. Our brother DJ went to heaven yesterday. God took him home unexpectedly to us here, but certainly in His perfect time. DJ had been feeling off for a few days, but nothing unusually different than from what he had experienced in the past.  But what was going on inside his body was not recognizable externally. I am sure though, that he was ready, when God was ready!
   I looked and saw my last blog entry was many, many, months ago on the anniversary  night of my brother Dan's home going. What I wrote there, seems to be what I want to say here... "we are reminded to be thankful for our family, each member precious, each unique, and perhaps, appreciating our family becomes easier in the wake of a parting, a loss." We have once again have experienced a loss, but knowing DJ has climbed into Jesus's lap helps us rejoice and together we work through our earthly loss and grief. I wrote then that I have been blessed to have the experience many times of that moment after one has parted, when it is just those gathered who feel the love and appreciation for those who are close and also the pain of the loss. That experience once again yesterday was a blessing, yet it hurt, it caused me to doubt myself, it humbled me, it made me focus on heaven, it pushed me to worship God, it helped me love Karol, Jen, Marceaux and Tim who where there, in a new way, in God's way, It made me rejoice in the testimony of God and DJ's story, It made me lead in a new way, It created  a renewed sadness, joy, fear and dependence in me. 
   So now we forge ahead, working the good work, that God began in DJ and continues in us. I will remember DJ as our little brother who became the man and God's minister God created him to be. I am eternally grateful for how he trained us in grace and forgiveness because he was the most graceful man I have ever known. I am thankful because of how he showed us how to be truly dependent, on others and God. I will not forget his how he prayed for all of us each evening for an hour as he got ready for bed. I am am thankful for the years he was my sons best friend and playmate, building robots and musical instruments. I will remember how he was so thankful to God for the opportunity to be a homeowner and created a legacy by putting his fathers name on the home that would be for him and so many others. So the work ahead will be to carry on that work of providing a home and family to others in DJ's house, guided by the the love that what so evident in a grace filled life. I cry as write this because our family has lost a precious, unique member in our daily lives. But in my tears I am so thankful for the growth we all experienced together.
   I have faith in God's plan for our lives, I have faith that Gods plan was fulfilled in DJs life. I can say today that DJs legacy will be that we all will continue to walk together doing the good work in faith and not by the things we see. 
   I invite you to come on Friday evening to The Able Church in Green Bay at 6:30 PM to celebrate   DJ and how God used him in our lives. I also want to offer the opportunity to continue the legacy of DJs life by not ordering flowers, but rather donate to the DJ fund to continue the work that His father and DJ saw as important at Camp Daniel.