“I just got Christmas’D at NanaTaco.”
“Somebody's about to get Christmas’D at the gas station.”
“Just Christmas’D a lady in the drive-thru as I'm pulling off. She is screaming.”
Those are some of the “tweets” you’ll find on line, featuring true-life testimonies of an old idea that’s been given a new twist: doing random acts of kindness to strangers. It’s called, “You Got Christmas’D,” and it’s the brainchild of the creative folks over at NewHope Church.
“We’ve got 5,000-plus NewHopers going out into the community to ‘Christmas’ someone,” says Pastor Benji Kelley. “So if they’re sitting in a café somewhere and if there’s a person behind them, they might pick up their coffee, buy it for them and say, ‘You got Christmas’D!’ Or, let’s say your neighbor is crazy-busy and you notice their car needs washing or their leaves need to be raked. We’ve got stories of NewHopers raking a yard and leaving a card that says, ‘You got Christmas’D’.”
NewHope has printed up thousands of cards for its members to pass on or leave behind after they’ve done their good deeds. And listed on the card is a website, YouGotChristmasD.com . There, the recipient can learn more about the idea and post their experience.
Kelley says it’s a take-off on the prank TV show, “Punk’d,” except that in this case it’s not to trick anyone, but to bless them. He says members of the multi-site church, with campuses in Durham, Garner and Sanford, have really taken to the idea.
“I think of one story the other day-- somebody bought the food behind them in the drive-thru at Wendy’s and they got so excited and were having so much fun with it that they drove off and forgot to get their own food! It’s the whole pay-it-forward notion: God has Christmas’D us with this incredible gift of love in Christ. Let’s go out and give that same gift of love to other people.”
Pastor Kelley says he’s tying it all together with a series of sermons this month on the true meaning of Christmas. NewHope’s You Got Christmas’D campaign will continue until the end of December, but Kelley says that won’t be the end of it.
“We already know we’re going to do it next year as well because this thing has caught on so big. It’ll be something we do for several years -- ride this wave.”
You can read more stories about people who have been Christmas’D at this link.
Several Triangle churches, including Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist in Raleigh, along with Union Baptist and White Rock Baptist in Durham, have banded together to collect much-needed items for victims of Superstorm Sandy in the northeast. The winter coats, blankets, diapers, toiletries, etc. will be sent to Operation Newark Recovery in New Jersey. The project began on November 25th, with a final collection celebration to take place at Watts Chapel during the church’s Christmas concert this Sunday evening (December 16th) at 5pm.
Bishop Michael Burbidge will perform the Rite of Blessing of the Child in the Womb this Sunday, at Saint Michael the Archangel in Cary. Expectant families are asked to attend the 10:30am Mass to receive a special blessing from the Bishop. Many other parishes across the Diocese of Raleigh will mark the ceremony in their own parishes.
Modern hymnwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty are bringing their “Joy – An Irish Christmas” program to the Triangle again this year, this time at DPAC. Visitors will be treated to hymns, carols, and more next Tuesday night (December 18th). Singers from several area churches will be lending their voices to the 300-person choir on stage that night.
Nativity scenes are commonplace this time of year, but Raleigh’s All Saints United Methodist Church is doing it a little differently. The church is promising a unique Christmas Eve worship experience: “Christmas Eve in a Barn.” Their worship services will take place at 3:30, 5:30, and 7:30pm on December 24th at Page Farms near Brier Creek.
On Tuesday night, Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium will turn into a giant house of prayer.
“It’s worth coming and being a part of it. It’ll be something we’ll not soon forget.”
So says Don Rayno, the longtime director of Raleigh Area Concerts of Prayer, which is organizing a city-wide prayer rally for October 16th.
“No sermon,” he told me. “We’ll have 26 area pastors on stage that will lead us in various prayers throughout. There will be times that the whole auditorium will break up into small groups and pray together as well.”
At least 85 churches have banded together for the event, reserving blocks of space at Memorial for their congregants to come that night and worship across denominational lines. There will also be open seats for folks to come on their own and join in. There’s no admission fee, but be prepared to pay for parking.
“There are two themes for the evening,” Rayno says. “The first half will be praying for God to work in the church. There’ll be prayers of confession, for repentance, for spiritual awakening and revival. The second half of the evening will be prayers for God to work through the church. Evangelism, missions, outreach, compassion ministry, things like that.”
The Concerts of Prayer organization has been around for years, supporting local pastors and congregations. Last November, the group began a monthly lunch-time prayer gathering in north Raleigh. But this is the first time they’ve held a city-wide prayer rally in about 15 years.
Tuesday’s 2-hour event will begin at 7pm, with the doors opening at 6. Rayno says they’re expecting more than 2,000 people.
“If you’re not used to praying out loud in a group, you can pray silently, and agree in prayer. I would just encourage people to come because this opportunity doesn’t come very often to join with so many churches in unity, across the denominations in the body of Christ, across cultures. It’ll be a powerful evening.”
These are exciting times for the 100 Men in Black. The all-male Durham chorus is moving up in a national competition, and also getting ready to release their first single.
"We're real excited about all the different kinds of things that we've been able and blessed and fortunate to do," says Marlon West, the MIB's long-time director. The group is in its tenth year, and specializes in gospel and inspirational music.
First, about the contest. The MIB made the cut and have been invited to the Regionals of the Verizon "How Sweet the Sound" national gospel music competition. They'll be headed to the Verizon Center in Washington DC next month for the event, and chartering buses so family, friends, and supporters can come along with them.
"The winner of the regional receives $10,000, and all expenses are paid for the entire group then to travel to Brooklyn, New York, for the finale in November," says West. "And if you win in the finale, you receive a check for $25,000."
North Carolina has already made its mark on that national competition, with Tarboro's Salvation and Deliverance Church winning the top prize last year. We'll see if the Tar Heel state can win it two years in a row.
West says the MIB has that goal, and they’re also planning their first single.
"We're having it written by Mr. Luther Barnes the gospel music recording artist out of Rocky Mount," he says. "And we are planning to perform that single at the Carolina Theatre for our annual concert along with Mr. Barnes on Sunday, October 14th, 5pm. Tickets should be available at the Carolina Theatre box office within a week."
Although the number "100" is in the group’s name, that's more of a goal than a reality. Right now the chorus consists of about 75 singers, ranging from boys to senior men. They’ll be auditioning for new members later this fall.
But as much as they love singing, West tells me the Men in Black also enjoy mentoring and serving.
“We love doing community kinds of things. Reaching out to young boys in the prison. We have developed a very strong relationship with C. A. Dillon (Youth Development Center in Butner). One of our big goals with that is developing relationships there, so that when one of those young males comes out of that prison setting they'll know -- for those of them that are local -- that they have a place where they can come and use their gifts and talents in a positive way.”
I’ll keep you updated on their progress in the gospel competition. In the meantime, you can enjoy the Men in Black’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at this link.
The Triangle Jewish Chorale is looking for singers for their upcoming fall and spring seasons. The first audition for the fall will take place Tuesday, September 4th, at the Levin Jewish Community Center in Durham. You don’t have to be Jewish to be a member of the Chorale, but you must have a desire to perform Jewish music in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. Here's a clip of them in performance.
One church – thousands of locations. That’s the goal of Harvest America, an evangelical outreach of California-based Pastor Greg Laurie. This Sunday, dozens of North Carolina churches will join with churches across the nation and in more than 30 countries for an old-fashioned crusade using ultra-modern technology. Laurie’s proclamation of the Christian Gospel will be live-streamed via satellite to churches, theaters, coffee houses, etc. You can find a location near you at this link.
Should we be calling him “Big Preacher,” instead?
ABC11’s morning meteorologist Don “Big Weather” Schwenneker will deliver the sermon this Sunday at Holly Springs United Methodist Church. He tells me the subject will be “Grumbling Equals Stumbling.” It’ll be Don’s first time preaching at the church, where he serves as an assistant lay leader.
It’s not just the Olympic spirit being talked about in London right now. Pastor Howard Jackson of Grace Covenant Church in Rocky Mount is there, talking with the athletes about other spiritual matters. Jackson tells the Rocky Mount Telegram the founder of "International Sports Chaplains" invited him to be one of the U.S. chaplains to minister to the participants and spectators at the Games. Rev. Howard is attending the Olympics with a Preston Bremus, a church member and student at N.C. Wesleyan College.
Speaking of the Olympics, Team USA Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Kryzyzewski isn’t just passionate about the hardwood. Coach K is also passionate about his faith –- and plans for the new Catholic Cathedral Campus in Raleigh. He recorded this video clip before he left for the Olympics.
An estimated 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses will gather this weekend and next at Raleigh’s PNC Arena for a major convention. The Safeguard Your Heart event is one of nearly 400 that have been taking place in cities across the US this year. The two 3-day weekend conferences will feature Bible-based activities and speeches.
Duke Chapel will welcome its new Dean on September 1st, and it’s an historic choice. The Reverend Dr. Luke Powery will become the first African-American to hold the post, when he succeeds the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells. Dr. Powery comes to Duke from Princeton Theological Seminary. More details about Powery’s extensive background here.
Folks at the Durham Rescue Mission say they are humbled and grateful for a $450,000 donation. It comes from a woman who felt led to help the ministry -– in memory of her son. Anthony Wilson covered the story for Eyewitness News and here's his report.
Muslims in the Triangle and around the world are marking their holiest month of the year, Ramadan. As part of the commemoration, the Islamic Association of Raleigh is soliciting food donations from the community to distribute to the needy. Collection bins are set up in the IAR lobby. The food pantry there will be open every Saturday of Ramadan for food distribution.
Everybody’s favorite re-po squad is back with a new season of reality TV. The stars of “Lizard Lick Towing,” shot in and around Wendell, NC, sat down with “The 700 Club” to talk about what many of their fans don’t get to see on their TV show: their faith. Here's the link.
If you heard the term “Pack-a-thon,” you might think it had something to do with a certain large university on Hillsborough Street. But this particular event doesn’t have anything to do with NC State – although I’m quite sure some Wolfpackers will be among the hundreds of people who will be taking part. So what exactly is a Pack-a-thon?
“A Pack-a-thon is a food packing event,” says Joseph Williams, CEO of the Burlington, NC, based ministry Feed the Hunger. “Volunteers age five years old and up can come and help package four specific ingredients that they also seal and box. Then we put them on pallets and then on a container and send them to different countries around the world where there are hungry kids that we help.”
Feed the Hunger has held Pack-a-thons at locations across the southeast. The next one is scheduled for July 20th and 21st at Raleigh’s Providence Baptist Church. The goal: a staggering 300,000 meals to be packed for hungry children in Kenya.
“That’s going to take around 1,400 volunteers, Williams told me. “A packing station has on average around 17 people. They’re going to have 17 stations (at the church) going simultaneously in three different rooms, in three different shifts. It’s obviously going to involve a ton of people.”
Here's a video clip that shows how it all works. More than a thousand volunteers have already signed up for the Providence event, but they could still use more. Each shift is for two hours, and you can sign up for more than one shift if you wish. And no expertise is required.
“We do what’s called a table talk at the beginning of every shift, where we walk them through the process,” says Williams, “then we let ‘em go for a good hour and a half to pack as fast as they can. And it’s a lot of fun. By the time people’s shifts are over they’re usually surprised that it’s already over and they want to do it again.”
Dehydrated vegetables, soy, and rice are among the foodstuffs that get packed away. But Williams says the main item is a fortified powder containing 19 essential vitamins and minerals.
“It was engineered by an executive with General Mills who saw the need of kids around the world and decided to develop this powder that, if it was added to food with the right other ingredients, any child anywhere in the world could not only survive but thrive.”
The taste is pretty bland, but in most of the places that the food packets are delivered the locals will add a spice or sauce to it to give it a regional flavor.
Feed the Hunger is the children’s ministry of the evangelical mission organization New Directions International. They pack and ship about two million meals a year. But, as indicated by the organization’s motto “It’s more than a meal,” Williams says food is only a part of what they’re about:
“There’s an old proverb – not in the Bible, actually, I think it’s credited somewhere in Asia – it says an empty stomach has no ears. So we can’t expect a child to want to hear about Jesus or even want to hear anything at school if they’re starving. So it’s meeting the whole needs of the kid: the spiritual hunger, the physical hunger, and the hunger for an education, all at once.”
No arguing with the ump – especially when the ump is wearing a clerical collar! The Office of Vocations from the Diocese of Raleigh is hosting a “Men in Black” softball game and Priestly Vocation Night on Wednesday (July 11th). The game will pit a team of priests and seminarians against a team of high school and college-aged young men. There will also be a picnic and a presentation on priestly vocations. Bishop Michael Burbidge will be one of the umpires. More info here.
Speaking of Bishop Burbidge, he’s just back from Helsinki, Finland, where he co-chaired the International Dialogue between Catholics and Pentecostals. The Vatican appointed him co-chair last year. The dialogue started in 1972 to foster mutual respect and understanding between the two faith groups. Bishop Burbidge calls the Helsinki sessions "fruitful."
It’s not often you hear archaeologists use words like “exciting” and “stunning” in describing a find. But that’s what famed UNC Chapel Hill professor Jodi Magness is saying about the recent discovery of an ancient synagogue in northern Israel. Read about what makes this ancient house of worship so special at this link.
If you’ve driven in the area around Fayetteville’s Cross Creek Mall recently, you’ve probably noticed William McLaurin’s truck. It’s hard to miss. The white pick-up has big placards with Bible verses on its sides, along with a seven-foot cross and American and POW flags in the flat bed.
“Some of the people look at me, and I think some of them think I'm crazy,” he told me. “They probably say, who's that nut out there? But I have a sole purpose, and the purpose is pointing people to Christ.”
McLaurin, you see, is a retired pastor. After 29 years in the pulpit (in Sampson County’s St. James Church of Christ), McLaurin is now taking his message on the road. His attention-grabbing truck is the lure.
“I'm not out to make money, I'm not selling anything,” he says. “I love to stop and talk to people. I carry my Bible, and I'm ready to talk and pray with people.”
At 69, he’s at an age when many people are taking it easy – or at least thinking about it. But McLaurin says he was inspired upon hearing the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, a California-based evangelist and ministry leader who’s a quadriplegic.
“She’s ministering in a wheel chair! She’s a soul winner in a wheelchair. And she gets on flights, she flies to different parts of the world, different states. She speaks at different assemblies. I mean, she’s just busy!”
And so, William McLaurin decided to get busy. He set up a “ministry on wheels,” started a Facebook page, and began driving around Fayetteville preaching the Gospel. He says he has a special heart for the military community in the All-American City, having once been a soldier stationed at Ft. Bragg. But he’ll talk to anyone who will stop and to talk to him.
“I don't bash the different religions but I do hold up Jesus Christ,” he says. “It's the Bible, and that's what I'm gonna stand on. I'm not gonna ridicule all the other folks but it's about showing people Christ. Because he is the one that, as John 3:16 tells us, that died for everybody.”
The president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest calls it "one of the most significant events in SBC history since the convention’s founding in 1845.” Dr. Daniel Akin is referring to the election last week of New Orleans pastor Fred Luter to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the first African-American to hold the title in the conservative denomination. More reaction from Akin and other North Carolina Baptist leaders in this article from the Biblical Recorder.
A Johnston County teenager has gotten a precious gift, courtesy of his church. Here's Eyewitness News reporter Steve Dorsey's story of how the Selma congregation is helping out 17-year-old Charlie Humphries.
Lots of buzz in western North Carolina, after a mysterious (and apparently wealthy) donor came forward at the last minute to save a church from foreclosure. Here's a link to the story.
Something new at Durham’s Union Baptist Church: drive-thru prayer.
“We just wanted to make it another way of reaching out,” says Pastor Kenneth Hammond, “to be able to minister not only to people who are part of our congregation but people who are in the community.”
One evening a month, folks can come to the church for prayer -- without getting out from behind the wheel.
“We have a team of about 20 Prayer Partners,” Dr. Hammond told me. “All you have to do it just pull in -- you don't have to get out of your car. If you have more than one person in the car -- sometimes we’ve seen as many as four people in the car -- we'll have a Prayer Partner to be on each side at each of the windows to pray with the individuals. They’ll find out if there are special needs that the individuals have and then pray around those needs. When the prayer is over, people just drive back out.”
Union’s drive-thru prayer ministry, at the corner of Roxboro and Dowd Streets, began in May. Hammond says it’s gone over very well, with 40 to 50% of those coming not even being members of the church. They’ve also seen people coming by on foot and asking for prayer. The church has started doing the drive-thru prayer the first Wednesday of each month, 5:30 to 6:30pm, but there are plans to expand it to once a week.
“It has been very well accepted to date,” Pastor Hammond says. “We know that there are so many people who are busy but they believe in the power and efficacy of prayer. The people see the signs, they drive in and we try to minister to them -- and then they're off.”
North Carolina Central University’s Christian Campus Ministry is celebrating its 50th anniversary in grand style. They’re having a luncheon and fashion show at the Washington Duke Inn on Saturday, June 30th. ABC11’s own Fred Shropshire will emcee the event. Tickets are being sold in advance. You can call the Ministry office at (919) 530-6380 for more information.
Students at the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Vacation Bible School will get a special visitor next week. Raleigh Diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge is scheduled to pay a visit next Wednesday (June 20th) at 10 a.m.
Members of Raleigh’s Southbridge Fellowship are excited about newly announced plans that will finally lead to their own place of worship. The five-year-old church has been meeting at a movie theater. But Southbridge, which began with about 40 people five years ago and is now up to about 800 attendees per Sunday, has just purchased a strategic plot of land right in the heart of the growing Brier Creek area. Pastor Scott Lehr says the hope is to begin holding services in a brand new facility in the spring of 2014.
For some young missionaries from the Triangle, a visit to New York City to share their faith got a little more adventurous than planned. They sprinted into action after a thief – and came face to face with a gun. The New York Times reported the story.
Can strong religious faith and successful business practices be compatible? Dan Cathy believes they are, and he’s bringing that message to the Triangle later this month. Cathy is President and Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based fast food chain. The fast-growing chain just opened its first-ever 2-story restaurant earlier this year, in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. Cathy, son of Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, will be the keynote speaker at the annual Triangle Leadership Breakfast on June 20th in Cary. The event is sponsored each year by CBMC, the Christian Business Men’s Committee. Your Humble Blogger has been asked to emcee the event. More details about it here.
Dan Cathy is also scheduled to speak the following morning at Raleigh’s Hope Community Church. More information about that event here. His topic for both speeches, “Living Out Your Faith in the Marketplace.”
A coalition of faith groups will put on their walking shoes this Sunday (June 10th) in Hillsborough, for the Orange Congregations in Mission Walk for Hunger. Registration begins at 2pm and the walk will start at 3. They’ll begin at First Baptist Church on W. King Street and proceed to Gold Park. Proceeds benefit programs such as Meals on Wheels and Samaritan Relief.
Duke University’s Muslim Chaplain, Abdullah Antepli, writes movingly of his recent visit to Nazi death camps in Poland and Germany in an on-line blog post. Imam Antepli has made improved Jewish-Muslim relations one of his major causes.
When a church on Thomasville, NC, was vandalized a few days ago, a reporter covering the story actually became a part of the story. Here's the link.
A local church has gone back in time with its latest addition – more than 3,000 years back in time.
“It’s something that’s just not typical, says Pastor Brian Powell. “You’re not going to see this just out and about anywhere!”
That’s for sure. What he’s referring to is the large tent-like structure now on the grounds of Raleigh First Church of the Nazarene, a structure that hearkens back to the days of the ancient Israelites. According to the Old Testament, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after escaping Egyptian slavery. And as they did so they took with them the Tabernacle, the portable dwelling place of the “presence of God.” Now you can see a full-size replica of that sacred structure at First Church of the Nazarene.
“This is a major part of Exodus, the second book of the Bible,” says Powell, the church’s senior pastor. “God gave (the Israelites) the Law and described what they need to do to construct this Tabernacle. It’s basically made up of three compartments: you’ve got an outer courtyard which is 75 by 150 feet, and then the Tabernacle itself sits within the back side of the courtyard. The Tabernacle itself has two compartments in it -- the back compartment is the Holy of Holies.”
The Holy of Holies was where the famed Ark of the Covenant was kept. But you don’t need to be an Indiana Jones to see that sacred golden chest. You can find a replica of it, too, on display at the church.
It’s all part of a traveling exhibit called The Tabernacle Experience, which will be open to the public through this weekend. The structure’s dimensions, as well as the replicas of the religious articles inside it, are designed to recreate what’s detailed in the Bible. Pastor Powell says you’ll find the exhibit enjoyable even if you’re not that familiar with the Tabernacle or its importance in Bible history.
“You will not be lost at all,” he told me. “There is actually an audio guide. You wear a headset and there are different stations where you will sit as you tour the Tabernacle. It takes about 50 minutes with a thorough explanation and descriptions. Then, of course, how it ties to Jesus Christ and how he fulfilled all these things.”
Powell emphasizes that last point. He and many other Christians see the Tabernacle -- and the meticulous details describing it in the Old Testament -- as symbolically pointing the way to what they believe is the ultimate “presence of God” among the people – Jesus Christ.
“What I hope people will see is how God, 1,180 years before Christ was ever born, was pointing the world to Christ, even through things as elaborate as all of these articles included in the Tabernacle. God is interested in the details.”
The Tabernacle Experience will be on display at First Church of the Nazarene through Sunday night, and there is an admission fee.
Can a movie turn a troubled neighborhood around? Raleigh police officer Robert Wagner thinks it can – and he’s putting his heart, time, and talent into the project.
“Basically, I want to call all the churches together and say, let’s stand up together and do this,” he told me, “and let’s show the power of God together.”
In my blog last week I told you about Bragg N East, the faith-based motion picture Wagner has in development, set in Raleigh’s South Park community. Now, some more details about it.
The movie tells the story of Dae’Quan, a young boy growing up on the rough streets of the inner city. His life is impacted by drugs, gangs, and violence – until he reaches a crisis point as a young man that compels him to turn his life around.
Officer Wagner, who now serves on the Raleigh PD’s Community Policing Squad, believes Dae’Quan’s fictional story can be an inspiration for those whose similar stories are all too real.
“If it’s a person that’s contemplating going that route in life, I hope it's motivation not to. For a gang member or someone already in that lifestyle, just giving them hope and motivation to say there’s an opportunity for me to change and there’s a way out.”
Wagner emphasizes the movie is an independent production with no connection to the police department. To that end, he hopes to raise $750,000 and use mainly volunteer labor, with plans to begin filming in August.
“When we’re down there,” he says, “we’ll put up roadblocks and bring all the churches and community resources out there into the street. Flood it full of positive pressure, pushing that negative pressure out, ministering to people. And we won’t be there for one or two days. It’ll take six to eight weeks of filming. We’ll feed the homeless while we feed everyone else.”
And there’s more: “Some of the people in the neighborhood who don’t have jobs will come and work on the movie set. But in order to work on the movie set we’re going to make sure they go through the proper training so that when they’re done with this movie set they’ll have the opportunity to go out and get another job.”
Earlier this month, an informational meeting about Bragg N East was held at First Baptist Church of Garner and brought out nearly a hundred people eager to hear about the project and to volunteer. Wagner hopes to get other churches and individuals involved – and to pour the movie’s proceeds right back into the neighborhood.
“We’ll have the potential to reinvest in that community 3 to $15 million dollars, which can go in there and buy some of these boarded-up crack homes and build new homes for people, possibly owner-finance for them. We’ll be able to just change the face of that community.”
Wagner hopes to have Bragg N East ready for release by fall of next year. Check back here for updates.