Hand Made Smocked Clothes and Gowns for Preemie or Premature Babies

Hand Made Smocked Preemie Premature Clothes

This is slightly off-topic for my blog (hence my need and reason for having a Sidenotes Category), but well worth some publicity to lovingly brag on my wife, Deborah. In case you didn’t know, Deborah is about the best seamstress I know (just check out her blog or her custom made items on the Etsy store), and her work is in the category of heirloom clothes, depending on the particular project she’s working on. She has made, and is making, everything from Easter (see Easter Order) and Christmas gowns (see here), to fun football dresses (here) babies and girls can wear to any worthy SEC game, though she doesn’t discriminate against any school. If you are looking for an incredible dress or gown, get in touch with Deborah for details.

All of this is custom made to order per each individual, and all is hand made one individual stitch at a time. The most amazing work I’ve seen come out of her sewing room lately are these preemie clothes I photographed above. While each ministry is different, specifically because God has gifted each one of us in totally unique ways, this work is over the top awesome. Deborah started making these hand-made smocked (the crinkled stuff around the chest area for the guys reading this post) preemie gowns and clothes for parents who would normally never get the honor of having something special for their own child.

You can’t tell from this photo, but these clothes are teeny-tiny. Deborah even included one for a boy, which most of the time parents never have any clothes for at all. It is just amazing to me to think that somewhere, some as of yet unknown parents, are going to be presented with one of these gowns to put on their baby, probably during a very difficult time in their own lives. For parents to be able to receive something like this (for free), of this quality, hopefully says to them, God loves you, and He loves your child as well, no matter what happens.

This set of preemie clothes was just shipped this week to a large hospital in Miami where the need far exceeded the supply. If you are at all interested in helping with this type of ministry work I am sure Deborah would be more than happy to talk to you about it. For today, it is my Photo of the Day, and quite a challenging photo to take at that.

The Priority of the Church isn't the Alter Call

Over the last several years I have been asked to answer, from many different perspectives, “What is the purpose/priority of the church” and “What makes a true disciple?” (this post is the first question). Most of the time the answer to this question comes from what our culture says, and not from what Scripture says, but it’s not all that hard to answer the question properly from Scripture.

To answer that, this post is filled with two-by-two’s. There are two questions posed to answer the question about the church, two photos representative of the answer. The text standing for a formal seminary conclusion, and the photos representing a tangible aspect of that answer. I love the photo above, at least to me, this is the result of the work of the church, that is, the love of Christ, sent.

Which habits of the early church are still practiced today?

We read about the earliest formation of the church, and what they consistently practiced, in the first few chapters of the book of Acts, specifically in Acts 2.42-47. This is one of the first summaries given to us in the book of Acts.  As a summary, they were first and foremost devoted to the Apostles teachings (Scripture), fellowship (Gk. koinonia or participation and sharing), breaking of break (the Lord’s Supper and larger fellowship meals), and prayer (in houses and the temple). These would be the priorities practiced in the earliest church body. In addition to those, verses 45-47 give us a little more detail as they were selling their possessions, attending to the temple, and praising God.

One difference between the church in Acts 2 and the church as it proceeded through history is how many times it has now fractured into another set of beliefs or understandings (denominations), yet still being a part of the same body of believers. In Acts, they were said to have been “together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2.44), but it didn’t take long before differences started to tug at the church. This can be see as early as Peter in Acts 10, but today we almost have to define the church first since some churches seem to not have any understanding of Acts 2, let along put any of these items into practice. With that understanding, a true body of believers will still consistently practice all the items in Acts 2. Most churches who hold Scripture as inerrant will be consistently devoted to the Word (the Apostles teaching), fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, the church building itself, and to small groups (meeting at the home). If there was one among the list in Acts 2.42-47 that is most neglected today it would probably be “selling their possessions” and making sure the brethren lack for nothing. This is more of a nationalistic thing today (meaning it’s different in each country), and in the U.S. the church has given way to the government as the “helper” of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is the priority of the church to engage the laity in ministry and witness?

The priority of the church must be the summary outlined in Acts 2.42. This is what the earliest tradition stated, which was founded on the immediate resurrection and ascension of Christ who put this summary in place. Therefore, the priority of the church should be (1) being devoted to Scripture, (2) fellowship, (3) breaking bread, and (4) prayer. In short, this means the church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” until we reach maturity in faith (Ephesians 4.12-13). The question above combines two pieces (ministry and witness) that the author of Ephesians doesn’t necessarily make in 4.12-13, though the importance of being a witness for Christ is made in other areas of Scripture. In this context, the priority of the church, as seen in Acts 2 and Ephesians 4, is to use the spiritual gifts given to the saints, to build up the saints, so they can then go out beyond the church and become effective witnesses.

In essence, that means the church is not necessarily here to bring in scores of the unsaved and the faithless so as to then convert them from within the church. The equipped saints are to be working as witnesses, and then bringing in those who have responded to the call of Christ in their life.  This practice of alter-calling has been a long-standing use of the church, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the priority if the church is to follow the example given to us by the book of Acts. The best way to do this would be to discover, develop, and use the spiritual gifts given to us as listed in Ephesians 4.11; Romans 12.6-8; 1 Corinthians 12.7-10, 28-30; and 1 Peter 4.8-10.[1]

The last set of two in this post are the actual photos themselves. The photo above is the church, in fellowship and worship, and the photo at the top is the result of that love.

[1] Darrell W. Robinson, Total Church Life: How to be a First Century Church in a 21st Century World (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1997), 108.

A Photographic Look at the Faces of Uganda :: Part 2

This is part two of a post I did last week (part 1) on the faces of Uganda. This set of images was a quick project related to the kids at African Renewal Ministries (ARM), which is the ministry group in charge of the sponsor child program we work with at Cornerstone Church. This is a pretty amazing program for the kids in Uganda and ARM coordinates the sponsorship of over 7,000 children in Uganda right now, along with being a bridge for churches and other non-profit organizations among other things. They are an amazing group, but you can really see the difference they make when you actually go over to Uganda and meet the children in the program in person and see that it really does make a difference to them.

To me, they are in the business of producing fruit… something we all should have on our to-do list as Christians, if I can say that and not make it sound like a checklist. They, and the people who work with them are producing the fruit, described in John 15, for future generations in Uganda. Something not just talked about in John but all over scripture, and to me that’s exciting. Our October mission team leaves in about a week and I can’t wait to get back to see those kids again. Just saying that feels a little weird since I’m not really one for searching out kid-friendly whatever but there is just something about the joy those kids have about life that is contagious, except perhaps when they get caught in the rain, but who likes that.

A Photographic Look at the Faces of Uganda :: Part 1

Today I finally had a chance to process some more photos from the shoot in Uganda. These were specifically pulled out for the kids, and there were way too many to put into one single post so I broke this up into two pieces. I’m not sure what preconceived stereotypes you have in your head when you think about the phrase “Uganda kid photos”, but what I had in mind was the late night 2am TV commercials guilting you into sending money. That just wasn’t what I saw when I was there, and below is a very small sampling of what I encountered while I was there in August. There is no sugar coating their hardships, and they do exist, but as you are surrounded by people who have basically nothing, according to our western standards, you find they are happy, smiling, laughing, and overall excited to see you.

It was quite inspiring to be around people who seemed to genuinely happy in spite of the adversity they face. There are so many things we (I include me in this) complain about every day that I think some days we just flat out lose our joy for life. Perspective helps, but that too fades with time. Ultimately I pray God will at least change my heart for the things He cares about, like the people in these photos. Only about 10 more days before I head back to Uganda with a completely different group of people, a completely different mission and schedule, but I’m pretty sure all of us have a soft spot in our heart for these smiling faces. In some respects this upcoming trip will be emotionally harder as we are scheduled to be in two different children’s prisons in the middle of the week. I know God will be moving with us and the kids while we are there, but I know the entire team would appreciate your prayers as we get closer to leaving.

Keep an eye out for part two of this post with the remaining five or so photos from this particular batch. Have a great weekend.

Reasons Why Apologetics is Important in Ministry Today

In this particular article I was asked to choose the three most important reasons for including apologetics in my own personal ministry.  The answer is the following post.  Originally published on May 13, 2009 and republished for this blog on June 4, 2010. Although it is very important to understand the differences between religions like Jews, Christians, and Muslims (which is what the Coexist campaign seems to be trying to do), it is more important to me as a follower of Christ to understand our own reasons behind what we believe.

The three most important reasons for including apologetics as a part of my ministry, and to me any ministry, are personal truth, cultural relativism, and discipleship.  More specifically, apologetics, to my ministry and to me is:

  1. For personal truth: To know the salvation I seek and trust is the actual Truth.  To know why I believe what I believe to be true and not just to believe because I feel It to be true.
  2. Cultural relativism: To be able to defend the perceived truths of our highly relativistic culture, as we are commanded by scripture, in being able to lead others to a relationship with Christ and to do this through truth in scripture, knowledge, and love, not through a blended Christian worldview of the truth as we know it.
  3. Discipleship: To eventually be able to disciple, mentor, or lead other Believers to the truth in scripture so as not to be deceived by a cultural blending of Christian truths and worldviews.

For many years after I became a Christian I went through the motions of being a Christian.  Not questioning the truth but accepting all known teachings from others as truth without understanding why.  Taking a more apathetic approach to the truth of Christian philosophy, I became a lazy Christian believing the truth as truth, but not ever testing or seeking out the truth beyond an emotional basis.  Similar to how it is said in No Doubt About It, “He is real to me. …So I cannot doubt His existence, and you don’t need to prove it to me”.[1]

I took God as self-evident, and although no one in more than 15 years as a Christian introduced me to an apologetic view of my faith, I didn’t need one either.  Just because I hold God and Jesus as self-evident doesn’t mean everyone else does, and if I don’t have an apologetic understanding of my own faith, how can I effectively explain it to someone else.

It seems our understanding of truth in our culture today is relative.  This may be a trend that started in America many centuries ago, but in the age of information everything seems to be on an accelerated course.  Our society is constantly bombarded with inaccurate statements, reports, other media and information of all kinds and it seems goes unchecked.  Unchecked so much so that one person can look at a door, call it red, another call it blue, and both agree the contradiction is true.  Mis-information is bad, but one of Satan’s best weapons is to blend truth and falsities into one and make people believe it to be truth and fact without question.

According to Kinnaman in UnChristian, most outsiders see Christians as too hypocritical, too antihomosexual, too sheltered, too political, too judgmental[2] and most of what the outsiders perceive to be true about Christians is a blending of truth according to what scripture says and truth according to what our culture says is true.  For these reasons, apologetics plays an important role in cultural relativism.

To be a disciple of Jesus is something as Believers we all strive towards as we grow and mature in our walk in Christianity.  To become a disciple, Jesus poured truth into the original 12 during his ministry so they could in turn do the same to others when Jesus was physically absent.  At any point in a Believers life they will be pouring into some other Believer, or will be poured into by a Believer, or possibly both at the same time.  To achieve this we can and should follow the example Jesus gave during his ministry on earth and be ready to learn, and teach apologetically when called.

[1] Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It: the Case for Christianity, 1st Edition (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997). 45.

[2] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian : what a new generation really thinks about Christianity… and why it matters, 1st Edition (Baker Books, 2007).

Catalyst West Coast with Hillsong United and Steve Fee Band

Hillsong United Worship Band

The Fee Band

I only thought yesterday was a long day.  Today was a great day and all I have time to do is just decompress a little bit.  It was a non-stop packed day with Hillsong United from Sydney Australia (I am now an official fan), The Fee Band which came over from Atlanta (who sung their new song “Glory to God”), and a whole host of fantastic speakers like Guy Kawasaki, Andy Stanley, and many more.

I wish I could go through the whole day here but I can hardly keep my eyes open at this point.  I did want to post a few photos of the bands.  The first of Hillsong United, the second is Steve Fee.  I will have to do several more posts at a later date but for now, here are a few shots from today. See more photos of the Steve Fee Band at Catalyst.

Final Session Photos at NewSpring Unleash Conference

Unleash at NewSpring

Unleash at NewSpring

Unleash at NewSpring

The final session of the Unleash Conference started with an unbelievable worship time and moved into Perry Noble talking about leadership in the church. He brought up some serious issues in the church and asked some tough questions. Who is with me? How often are we asking the question, am I pleasing God? How much time are we spending in prayer? Are we only inviting the people we want in church, or are we remembering that God wants everyone in church?  He left us a lot to wrestle with and it will take some time to process everything.  I am glad there are churches like NewSpring over here in Anderson and around the world.

What I Hope to Learn at the NewSpring Unleash Conference

Spring Fog on the Farm

Josh Agerton

Scott Fillmer on the way to South Carolina

Today was one of those crazy days that started off a little foggy, then things just never rolled into a routine. I spent a good 4-5 hours on I-85 in the back seat of an extend-a-cab truck with four guys on our way to the Unleash Conference put on by NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC. My one instruction from Deb for this conference was to pick up a Clemson tiger for the dog but I am not so sure where in the world I would be able to find one of those guys. Anyone that happens to be in Clemson and is going to Unleash, and happens to have a spare (small) Clemson Tiger, that would be much appreciated.

Most of the staff here at Cornerstone Church made the trip out (in a few different vehicles) and as I write this in the back seat of the truck, one carload is in Atlanta, one is in Greenville, one is behind us by about 10 miles and we are about 2 hours before all of us meet back up at a restaurant for dinner. It is a pretty rare thing for all of the staff to be together in one place at one time, and I am looking forward to catching back up with each of them tonight.

On a side note, if you would like to follow us on Twitter you can do so with the following ID’s for Unleash

  • Rusty Hutson – @rustyhutson
  • Josh Agerton – @joshagerton
  • Jack Fisher – @jackfisher
  • Brian Johnson – @bslash
  • Amy Coxwell – @aecoxwell
  • Julia Farrow – @farrowj
  • Scott Fillmer – @scottfillmer

One thing that is really nice about traveling, when you don’t have to drive yourself, is the time you have you wouldn’t otherwise have to do those things you don’t normally get to do, like read in the middle of the afternoon or just sit and listen to some music. I use to travel all the time and miss it quite a bit for the free time it provides by nature of traveling. Most that travel a lot get quite bored with it, but in the 10 years or so I did nothing but travel, I always loved it.

Going to Catalyst just a few weeks ago to shoot for the event got me really excited about going to Unleash because I wasn’t going to have to drive. I could actually do something else, like write a blog post and try to finish up Killing Cockroaches (which I did not do). It got me thinking about how much I could get done if I was on vacation, but that sounds like an oxymoron (and I haven’t actually been on an official vacation that I can remember).

One of the guys going with us posed a great question when we piled into the vehicle. What’s the purpose and what are we supposed to learn from by going to Unleash? I starting thinking about what I really wanted to get out of Unleash and realized I hadn’t even given it any thought at all before we got in the car to drive to South Carolina.

What I Want to Learn at Unleash

Communications and Technology – I would like to get a better understanding of how a larger church effectively uses technology to communicate to their church and those not yet at their church

Networking – since I have been working in ministry less than a year I feel like those who have spent their whole life in ministry (which seems to be a lot) already know each other, I don”t, but like every industry, it is a slow process. I hope to meet up with a few people I already met at Catalyst and make some new friends I can connect with once I get back to Auburn.

Leadership – these conferences are always about leadership in the church, but I am looking for some differences between what I have already heard before and what kind of leadership we are looking for in the church that hasn’t made it out of school yet.  I am looking for information about where the church body is headed as far as raising up and developing new leadership for the church that will take it into the next generation.  I am already too old to make an impact as a young leader, but eventually I could make an impact on a young leader.

Here I Am Lord… Now Send Somebody Else

I love the title to this book, it is so accurate to the way I think sometimes.  I want to dive in head first in the deep end from the 50 meter platform and forget that once you get to the bottom, you actually have to swim back up to the surface to breathe.  It is 3pm and somehow, I am about the only one left here, and now I am starting to get some productive work done (except right at this very second of course).

I have officially been here for about two months now and I can’t think of any place else I would want to get in the car and drive to work in the mornings.  Although I have been in the work force for 15+ years now, I feel like a baby when it comes to “ministry’ work, but am learning at a crash course pace.  It is quiet at times and panic stricken at others.  This job is totally different than anything I have done before and I am loving the chance to learn so much about the bride of Christ, and most of that is getting to know the people here and across the Internet that make up the church body.


…and boom… just like that a quiet afternoon went into a totally different environment.  Maybe that’s why I like it, it is always changing and always challenges to meet.

What I love about this book title is the tag line that goes with it.

how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things

There is nothing extraordinary about anything I do when compared to what skills and talents other people have been given as well.  We have each been given our specific skills and talents by God (someone told me yesterday their’s was sarcasm), but there will always be someone who is more talented in the same areas, and someone less talented in those same areas than I am.  All throughout the Bible God used regular ordinary people to do His work, Moses being the all time great example.

I work with some great, talented, ordinary people, that are determinied to do God’s work as best as they possibly can, and I love that.

50,000 Pairs of Shoes in 50 Days :: Update

Christmas is fast approaching and soon (for some) the gifts purchased up to this point will translate into a lousy January, but if you haven’t finished quite yet, please consider the 50,000 Shoes campaign.  I wanted to give a quick update to my post back in November called Soles4Souls Blogging Challenge, 50,000 Pairs of Shoes in 50 Days. As b/ said in his post, there are so many worthy charities around this time of year, but one that is truly worthy is spending just $5 for 2 pairs of shoes for someone who doesn’t have any shoes.

I was listening to a song called “The Christian” this morning when I was getting ready for work, and it made me think, is how people see Christians, or perhaps how we see others who call themselves Christians?  The third verse really stood out to me (in bold below) as I thought about the 50000 shoes campaign and how easy it should be for us bloggers to meet the goal put forth by Anne Jackson (they are even giving away really cool stuff like a Nintendo Wii and a MacBook).

What good does it do to just talk.  I love when I find people who have taken their blogs or websites and have actually done something worth wild.  Even if they don’t reach their goal it was great to see how many shoes have been donated from total strangers across the Internet.  Consider these verses below.  They may not have anything at all to do with shoes, but this (secular) song points out how we put ourselves first.

It’s a hell of a time to be thinking about heaven
Didn’t you forget the golden rule
You’ve been acting like Jesus owes you a favor
But he’s a little smart for you to fool

You complain how you forgets the gospel
You remind them seek and you shall find
Maybe youth will have a time for seeking
After they clean up what you left behind

You were right there when the plate was passed last Sunday
That’s the second time you’ve been to church all year
Could you really call yourself a Christian
If charity cost half as much as beer

You pray a little more as you grow older
You get religion as your hair turns gray
But you don’t need to worry about hereafter
Just worry what you’re going to do today

Cause it’s a hell of a time to be thinking about heaven
Didn’t you forget the golden rule
You’ve been acting like Jesus owes you a favor
But he’s a little smart for you to fool
Yes my friend I think you’ve blown your cool

—- The Christian, [Buffett]

After reading Tony Morgan’s post about 50,000 shoes called All Talk and No Action?, where he talked about the correlation between words and action, I was quite disgusted, or more like disappointed I guess.  At that point, over 3500 blog posts had been written about the 50,000 shoes and only 1500 of those posts translated into the action of actually purchasing a pair of shoes.  That means not only did not all the blog writers donate, but they also didn’t get any of their readers to donate either.  We are talking $5 here, less than that cup of coffee at Starbucks or that 12-pack at the grocery store.

Just a quick look this morning found these blog posts from just the past few hours and days.  Let’s be bloggers of action, not just words.

My blog has approximately 100 subscribers.  If each one of us donated $5 that would translate into 200 pairs of shoes.  Deb and I are going to go ahead and make another Christmas donation and I would ask my readers if they were led to give to a worthy cause this Christmas check out 50,000 shoes.  I know Anne Jackson personally (although briefly) and I know she has put a lot into achieving this goal.  You can’t go wrong by giving someone a pair of shoes who doesn’t have any.