My New Hero…

Everyone has heroes.  Everyone looks up to someone. Admires them. Wants to be like them.  It may be a family member, a superhero (I love batman…), an athlete, someone who fights against injustices.  There are all kinds of heroes.

Well, I have a new hero.  Not the most likely one but a hero none the less.  Her name is Michelle H.  I’m not trying to hide her last name for any reason.  I just don’t know what it is.  Her name tag just said “Michelle H.”

….Several Days Earlier…..Picture the Scene

 My son James turned around and looked at me with a pure look of disbelief and amazement.  It was priceless. I was watching a tiny part of a little boy’s dream come true. James had just gotten the autograph of his favorite Atlanta Hawks basketball team member, Kent Bazemore. It was like what seemed impossible had just come true.  Then, a couple of minutes later up walked, probably the largest person I have ever stood near, Atlanta Hawks center, Dwight Howard.  He is a giant of a man.  But, he came right up to James and bent down to sign his program. James looked back at me again and mouthed with excitement, “YES”!  Then there was 4 time NBA all-star Paul Millsap…..another autograph.

All three of these larger than life NBA stars stopped to give a few seconds to James Hunt!  James’ game program became like gold. His mind was blown.

And, my heart was thankful.  How did our little $35 tickets get us in front of the front row, right in the path of the Hawks?

That’s where my hero Michelle H. comes in.

You see, our tickets had us sitting in section 210, not the front row of section 118.  But, I had a little boy who dreamed of meeting his basketball heroes.  So, I asked a Philips Arena staffer if it was ok if we walked down closer to the court.  He kindly pointed the way, so we began our journey down…

We cautiously, and to be honest, with low expectation worked our way to the front row of section 118.  I know we looked out of place, like we didn’t belong.  The truth was, we didn’t belong there. Then, the dreaded question was asked, “Can I see your tickets please?”  BUSTED!  It was Michelle H.  doing her job.  She was faithfully protecting section 118 from those who didn’t belong, those who had not paid the price.  She later told me that she had been doing that for 11 years.  She was a pro.

Before I even showed her our tickets, I confessed, “We don’t belong here. Our seats are in section 210.”  I did offer the info that it was James’ first game and birthday and that we just wanted a closer look.  As I was about to turn around and sheepishly head back to section 210, she says, “Oh!  Your birthday?  What’s your name young man?”  James just gives her the facts, “James”. Then she kindly says, “This may be your lucky day.”  Though she had every right and the authority to send us back to section 210, she brought him as close as she could to where the players would walk by. Now, James was in perfect position to meet his basketball heroes. If he had been any closer he would have been on the court.  It was CRAZY! Michelle H. did so much in the simple act of ushering James to the best spot in the house.  All she did was say “oh, come stand right over here.”

And, now I have a new hero.  I’m pretty sure Michelle H. is not on a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.  But, she was the one who paved the way for James to have a birthday he will never forget.

I didn’t get Michelle H.’s autograph, but should have.  I did give her a hug and thanked her over and over.  I told her how much this meant to James and that it would have been impossible with her kindness.

So, if you are ever at the front of section 118 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, be good to Michelle H.

Michelle H. is my new hero.

Getting Practical: Enjoying His “Every Morning Mercy”

Today in church we were challenged to experience or embrace the mercies of God every morning from a message in Lamentations.   I call it His “every morning mercy”. It reminded me of John 15 where Jesus compared our relationship with him to that of a vine and branches.

Jesus was the master of taking everyday life and using it to paint a picture of Truths about Himself and life in the Kingdom of God. In John 15 He uses the picture of a vine and branches and fruit.  This was not just a random story but one that came from their walk.  The final words of John 14 have Jesus telling his disciples, “let’s go for a walk.” They begin to talk, perhaps looking towards the Temple in Jerusalem where the national symbol was placed on the gate.  It would be like our stars and stripes, but for the Jewish people it was a grape vine. It extended some 140 feet from the porch of the temple to the holy place.  Perfectly carved with the branches and leaves made from fine gold. The stalks that help the fruit were the size of people and the fruit that decorated the branches were costly jewels.  From time to time the rich and patriotic Jews would add to the vine’s decorations with their own riches.  The vine.  The branches.  The fruit.  It was symbol of great value and meaning for them.

Perhaps as Jesus is walking with the disciples and the gold is reflecting the lights of the evening, he gives the final of his seven “I AM” statements. You can almost hear the tone of His voice as he leans in and says, “You see that beautiful vine.  And all of that beautiful dressing on the vine?” “I am the TRUE Vine and My Father is the vinedresser.” “All of that gold carving.  That impressive work of art.  All of the fine jewelry are nice but they do nothing to help you grow.  I AM the fulfillment of everything that symbol stand for and without me you can do nothing.”

He then takes that image and paints a picture for us of how we can grow and experience the mercy of God, daily.

I can basically sum up this passage by saying that we experience His “every morning mercy” as we create an intentional environment to experience it in. 7 times from verse 1 to verse 8, Jesus uses the word “abide”.  It means to live in or make your home with, or remain.  It is the picture the branch connected to the vine, receiving everything it needs to live. He is abiding, remaining, depending, and enjoying the sap of the vine running through its veins.

It is the same for us. If we hope to have growth in our lives, experience His “every morning mercy”, we cannot depend on anything other than intimacy with Jesus..

But the question still remains, what do we do with that, practically?

Here is how I approach experiencing His “every morning mercy”.

I make sure that I have consistent time given to my relationship with God.  All relationships, even our relationship with God, grows intimate through time and consistency.

  • Set a time and place (not about how many times or even how long).
  • Have a Plan. (Bible reading plan, book of the Bible, etc.)

I Always Read the Bible – Without some kinds of regular time in God’s Word is impossible to stay on track for God’s purpose.  The Bible is the primary way that God speaks to us.

When reading the Bible there are THREE basic questions I like to ask.

  • What is God saying about Himself?
  • What does this teach me about following Jesus more fully?
  • What do I need to do because of this passage? What is the action that this scripture calls me to?
  • Is there something I need to thank God for?
  • Is there something I need ask forgiveness for?
  • Is there a behavior/attitude that needs to change?

I always respond in Prayer – Prayer is simply a conversation with God that is meant to draw us closer to Him and align our hearts with His.

  • Spend time thanking God for who He is. It is taking time to worship God.
  • Ask for His help to put into action what you heard Him say in His Word.
  • Pray for needs in other people’s lives.
  • Prayer for needs in your life.

If spending time with God is a new thing for you, do not be overwhelmed by the idea that it has to be a big mystical experience.  It can be 10 minutes on the back patio drinking coffee, watching your dog play….It is not about spending time every single day.  It is not about reading and praying for an hour.  It is simply about you taking a little time for you to get to know God better so you can live the life He desires for you.

The main thing is that we are enjoying the goodness of His “every morning mercy”.  We don’t deserve it. But He still gives it.

 

 

 

I AM THE DAD: Dream On

I am the dad of three really good, sweet, kids.  They are each unique and a joy. I really do believe in them and the possibilities for their lives in so many ways.

Two of my three are at the age where they are painting the pictures in their minds of “what could be” one day when they are grown.  My daughter, who is 13, is creative.  She sings, she paints, she draws, she acts, she plays the ukulele. I know she pictures herself performing on the “big stage” in some way. The other day I asked all three of my kids what they dreamed of doing one day.  Her answer, “be an actor in a Disney show.”  I love that dream!

My oldest son will turn 11 soon.  When I asked him what he dreamed of doing one day, he had two answers.  His biggest dream is to play basketball in the NBA. His second dream is to work for LEGO as a LEGO designer.

My youngest son is 5.  When I asked him what he wanted be when he grew up he said, “Be like Emmet in the LEGO movie, play basketball, play football, play baseball, and drive a rocket-ship.” I am good with those.

I love the big dreams of my kids.  Their dreams are so pure, exciting, and realistic in their minds.

As their dad, I want them to pursue their dreams.  I don’t want to push them into pursuing what I think should be their dreams. I also know that odds are stacked against them in some of their dreams.

So what do I do?  How do I encouraging them without burdening them?  How do I help them hold on to their dreams and teach them about the hard work it takes to make them a reality?  How do I help them enjoy what they are doing and not put pressure on them to be the greatest in the world?  How do I make sure I am not just trying to vicariously live out my dreams through them?

Then, how do I help them when their dreams may start to fade into the abyss of reality? As a dreamer myself, I am really not a fan of reality sometimes.

I don’t have an answer.  I don’t have “5 ways to make them better”, “3 things to always do to help my kids be successful”, or “The 1 secret to helping them get there.”

So for now I have just decided to dream with them.  Or as Steven Tyler would say “Dream on!” There is enough reality all day every day.  They will do their school work.  We will walk through the ups and downs of growing up. We will deal with the realities of the moment. I am not going to fill their egos with unrealistic thoughts of guaranteed success.  But, I want them to have the freedom to dream. I want them to dream. They need to dream. We can come up with a “backup plan” later.

I want to imagine the amazing performance or game winning shot with them.  I want to talk about how awesome it could be.  I want to toss in a poke and prod of “it takes commitment and hard work”.  I want to help them find opportunities to explore their dreams. I want to make sure they know that I love watching them pursue their dreams. I want Emily to know that I love to watch her act, hear her sing and play.  I want James to know that I love to watch him drive to the basket. I want to re-live his “highlights” with him.   I want Andy to know that flying a rocket-ship would be AWESOME!

I want to make sure they know that I believe in them and will do anything for them along the way.

Above all though, I want them to know that it is not what they do, whether they are successful or not, that determines their value or my love for them.  Their value is set for all eternity by Truth. Their value is set in the eternal reality that they are loved by God.  That is not a dream they have to pursue.  That is the reality they live in now and forever.

All that to say, I just want to love them well on the road to their dreams or to wherever life may take them.

Dream on.

Today He Turns 5…But, Here is how we met Andy.

 

I wrote this right after we met Andy in 2012.  He was 6 months old.  Today he turns 5.

“We met up with our driver in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 9 a.m. on August 5, 2012 after 20 hours of travel. We were tired and ready to rest. We had been told before the trip that we would meet our child on the 6th, leaving us all day on the 5th to recover from the trip. Our amazing host and driver turned back to us and handed us our itinerary for the week and it read, “Sunday, August 9: 9 a.m. – pick up at the airport, 10 a.m. – meet your child.” It took us a minute, due to the brain fog from travel, to realize what was about to happen. We were going straight to meet our son.
We arrived at Hannah’s Hope just before 10 a.m., took our stuff to our room, and then walked next door. Above the door that leads in to the building where the children are is the simple word, “Hope”. It is such a good symbol of what those children find there. As we walked in we headed into a living room and there was one of the “special mothers” (ladies who work there taking care of the children) holding the most beautiful and handsome 6-month-old little boy. We immediately recognized him from the pictures. He was ours. We were meeting Andy for the first time.
It is impossible to accurately describe what happened in our hearts as the “special mother” handed him to Shelley for the first time. It was no longer about being a number on a wait list, or planning travel, or court appointments, or raising funds, or process. It was about a life and our little family of four in that moment becoming a family of five. Well I guess it is a family of six if you count our dog Pete…he counts. It was a supernatural moment on our lives.
The next couple of days were all about being with him. We stared at him, touched him, played with him, fed him, bathed him, changed him, and loved on him as much as we could. It was obvious that his little 6-month-old mind was confused. When we would get time with him each day, the first things he would do was slowly and deliberately move the middle two fingers on his right hand into his mouth. We could tell that he was getting more comfortable when he would be a little slower on the draw with is two fingers. I would be confused too. He has been through a lot in his short little life. After all who were these two strange looking people anyway?
Court was scheduled for Wednesday morning. The night before we were taken out to eat at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant complete with amazing entertainment. The food was good and I was not about to let the statement, “That is really spicy. You may not want to eat that “ scare me. The next morning I was wishing I had a little more “fear”. Feeling pretty queasy, Shelley and I were picked up to drive to court. The air there is thin, full of diesel fumes and the roads, well they are interesting. I just prayed that I would not be getting reacquainted with my spicy dinner.
We made it to court with our lawyer who was provided by our adoption agency (AGCI). Climbed 10 flights of stairs and then waited in what looked like a classroom filled with people. After about an hour a lady stepped out of the judge’s office and said something and our lawyer stood up and started walking. We followed. We went into a small room where we sat before the judge. She asked us a few simple questions, “Have you met the child? Have you taken course to learn about adoption? Have you learned about the Ethiopian culture?”  Then she said something to the effect of, “after the courts approval this adoption cannot be reversed. Are you sure you want to adopt this child?” Hmm….With massive smiles on our faces we said, “Oh yes!”. Then these powerful words came out of her mouth. “He is now your child and that can never be reversed.” We wept.
We had one more full day with our son and savored every minute of it. Because of Ethiopian adoption law and adoption process we are were not able to bring our son home until he has a visa from the USA. The visa is usually issued 6-8 weeks after the court’s approval. That means we were getting ready to leave our son in Ethiopia for now. So on Thursday afternoon around 4pm we had been staring, loving, playing, cleaning, and feeding Andy when the moment came that we were dreading. It was terrible. Heart wrenching. After he had fallen asleep, we handed him back to the “special mother”, kissed him on the head and said goodbye. We walked out of the room and onto the balcony overlooking the street and just cried. We were filled with the mixture of joy because we have a new son and the obvious sadness of leaving him.
Now we are back home praying for time to fly. We are praying for process to move at light speed. We need a court decree to be sent out, his passport and birth certificate to be made and a date at the US Embassy to be scheduled. Then we will go back and bring him home. We are just ready for the Hunt family to be six of us in one place (don’t forget Pete). We are ready for Andy to come home.

This whole thing is just amazing. It is teaching me so much. We are not rescuers of little boy. We are receivers of a gift of grace. We are not doing something to brag about. We are being allowed to be a part of something supernatural. There is so much more to this than “what we are doing”. God is just being so kind to us. We are humbled and thankful.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDY!

Back When I Was a Songwriter

As I think back on 20 years of ministry it amazes me how there have been particular seasons when God has chosen to use me in unique ways.  Just the thought of being used by God is humbling. There is nothing in me that has deserved that. I can almost categorize different time periods with titles.  They weren’t so much the specific job I held but the way God has brought out and developed certain parts of me during certain years.

This has taught me that God really is in charge and can do whatever He wants with me.  When I embrace that truth, it is so good. This has also taught me that when those seasons are over, I need to let them be over.  It is a good thing to let go because it means God has something else good in store.

From about 1997-2003 could be labeled, “The Songwriter”.  Music has been an important part of my life since I was a kid. I started to play instruments as a 7 year old.  I have a degree in music.  I love a good rock guitar solo more than most things in the world.

During the years 1997-2003 I was working as a college minister in Little Rock, Ar. Prior to that I had written a bunch of songs but none of them were particularly “holy”.  But something happened in 1997, not sure what, that lit a fire in me to write songs of worship for the ministry that I was serving in.  I almost could not help but write and then lead our ministry to sing them. It wasn’t a pride thing but more like giving a voice to what God was doing around us.  It was writing the prayers, celebration, and confessions that we needed to sing.

So I wrote a lot of songs. I wrote constantly.  I almost could help but write. Honestly, many of those songs were pretty bad, but there were a hand full that seemed to be what that group of college students needed to stay.  It was wild.  One of the most humbling things I have experienced in ministry is hearing a room full of people worshiping God while singing a song I wrote.

I still have a stack of songs from back then laying around and it is like reading through a journal.  They bring up such good memories of those students.  Such a sweet time, when I was a song writer.

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorites.  It was very personal to me and still a song that I need to sing.

 

CLEAN

Words and Music by Doug Hunt, 2001

Less of me, more of You

Purify me, refine me

Strip me clean, make me whole

Simplify me, guide me

Take away the things that steal from Your fame

Fill me with the truth that glorifies Your Name

Wipe away the things that cover You in me

Overflow my life with what You long to see

chorus

Make me more like You

Jesus live Your life through me

Free me from myself

Jesus have Your way in me

Living in You

Moving in You

Hoping in You

Jesus I need You

I Wanted to Quit Ministry 4 Months After I Started

I had been in fulltime ministry for about 4 months when I had begun working on my strategy to quit forever.

The beginnings of ministry for me was like a whirlwind moving at light speed. The week I moved to Little Rock from Georgia was crazy.  It was late August of 1996. At the beginning of that week, I had most everything in place for me to move to New Orleans to attend a seminary there.  I had even said my goodbyes to my family.  By Thursday of that week my plans altered in the most unexpected and gracious way. God had opened an amazing door for me in Little Rock, AR. to serve with a mentor of mine from college and attend an extension of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.  I literally had to buy an atlas to find Little Rock, AR. Explaining that change of plans to my parents was fun.  I can still remember my dad saying over the phone, “you’re going where?”

It was like I was living in a Bible verse I had learned from my Granny, “A man’s mind plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

So, seriously, just like that I was following my atlas to Little Rock, AR.  At the end of that day I walked in the door of the Baptist Student Ministry building at University of Little Rock, AR.  I hugged my friend Tim.  Then served at an event that night. It was my new life, nine hours away from home where I knew two people, Tim and his wife Lynnette.

Fast-forward to Christmas. Four months of fast paced ministry had gone by and it was time to head back to Georgia for a few days to be with my family. It was so good.  I really love my family, warts and all. When those few days were over and it was time to make the drive back to Little Rock, I did not want to go.  I was sad about leaving family. Ministry had been good but, man, I did not like being that far from home.

I remember driving out of Atlanta on I-20 west and looking in my rear view mirror and seeing the city’s skyline. I did not like it.  I wanted to be home with my family.

So for the next nine hours I devised a plan to power through until summer, quit and move back to Georgia.  Ministry wasn’t worth it.

But, remember that verse, Proverbs 16:9?

On January 1, 1997 I had to take a group of about 10 or 12 college students to a conference in Austin, TX called Passion97.  In my heart it felt like a “I had to” not an “I want to”. I didn’t know what Passion97 was.  I had never heard of any of the speakers or musicians. I wanted to be in Georgia.  I was getting bitter pretty fast that I “had” to be away.  But it was my job to take those students to Passion97 so I did.

There were about 2000 college students there. I had never been to anything like it in my life.  But, I still didn’t want to be there.  I was fighting God in my heart and words.  I have a vivid memory of sitting in my chair and thinking “this is all pretty cool, but You are going to have to do more than this God”.

So, yeah, I challenged God.  You should try it sometime.

It was the final night of the conference and I remember there being several banners brought into the convention center and placed around the room.  They all had different names or attributes of God on them.  The communicator challenged us to ask God to show us which one of those Names or Attributes we needed think on, thank God for, worship Him for, and remember.  I knew almost instantly.

It was the banner that said “I AM”. He was telling me, “Trust me.  I AM good.  I am in control and that is a good thing.  Trust me.”

I broke into tears, realizing that what “I AM” had for me was eternally greater than anything I had for me.  He assured me that he understood the desire and love for my family back home.  He also assured me that He was trustworthy even when the plans of my mind were altered by His directing of my steps.

So, God won which means ultimately I won.

 I said “yes God.  I will trust you.  I will not quit.” (There have been other times I wanted to quit, and tried, maybe that is for another day.)

 Now, Ioving and missing my family “back home” has always been a part of my journey.  There have been plenty of other moments when it has been hard to be far from them. I love them now more than ever, warts and all. But, along the way in the moments where I have struggled, God has reminded me that He is “I AM”.  He is in control and that is a good thing.  He knows what is right and good and bigger than me. Now, 20 years later, God has allowed me to be much more “back home” than ever and I am grateful.

More than that, I am grateful God did not allow me to quit.  But, He has been Trustworthy.  He is good.

20 Years Later…

This fall I celebrated 20 years of being a full-time, vocational minister. That blows my mind! Me a minister.  I still don’t get it.

I have been thinking deeply about that for the past three months. It amazes me that 20 years have gone by since I literally loaded up my 1986 powder blue Volvo in Macon, GA. and drove west. I have been trying to capture the right words to describe what I have learned, as if I could reduce 20 years into a nice little list such as, “3 things I have learned” or “5 Thoughts for People Going into Ministry”, blah, blah, blah……

I Can’t do that.  The past 20 years represent so much more than catchy principles.

One of the thousands of things I think about is my very first day of ministry in August of 1996.  That day was not the beginning of the story.  It was more like the middle, or the beginning of Star Wars IV, A New Hope, when the world was brought into a story that was already in motion.  There was already great drama, interesting characters, unexpected events, tension, excitement, unknown adventures, fear, hope, and desperation happening in a galaxy far far away.  And there were all those things already happening in my life. Then, one day I was somewhat minding my own business and then “BOOM”, I was embarking on an adventure that I was not prepared for. Unlike Luke in Star Wars though, I didn’t get a light saber or a space ship… that was a bummer.  I did get to borrow my mom’s “bag phone” (who else remembers those?) for the drive and (no joke) the night before I had just saved on my car insurance by switching to Geico….That was kinda cool.

The journey landed me on the campus of University of Arkansas, Little Rock where I served in a campus ministry with my friend Tim (my personal Obiwon Kenobi). A year later I met my wife, Shelley, and convinced her to follow me on my “idealistic crusade”.

At this point in the story, there are about billion details that I could share.  Those details journey through Texas, Arkansas, Boston, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia…but, who has time for details….isn’t that where the devil is anyway?

Fast forward 20 years to today in Dalton, GA where the journey has taken us. There two words that best describe the last 20 years.

Grace and Privilege.

I think of grace because when the journey jumped into hyperspace in 1996, I was in a moment that needed an eternal amount of grace.  That year, my life was less than stellar.  It was pretty much unholy.  Maybe I will share some of that later….but, for now, trust me.  I was much closer to being on the “dark side” than being a Jedi.  There was nothing about my life that deserved to be thrust into the the world of helping people know and live for Jesus.  That is where GRACE jumped in and grabbed me like a giant hug from God and He whispered in my ear, “I have so much more for you.” GRACE

I think of privilege because, the truth is, everything I have been able to be a part of in ministry has been a HUGE privilege. Don’t get me wrong, It has been hard and I wanted to quit more than once and do something else for a job. But, what I think of most is people that God has given me the privilege to know and walk along side of in some way.  I wish I could list all their names!  There are so many!  I can see their faces in my mind as a write.  I think I understand a little of what Paul was feeling when he wrote, “For you are our glory and joy”.  To have the privilege to sit with someone the first time they receive the gift of salvation.  To walk with someone as they overcome fear and takes steps of faith.  To walk with someone through the loss of a family member.  To see the lightbulb of God’s Word turn on in someone’s heart. To help someone find God in the midst of a personal battle.  To lead people to go on mission to the nations.  To rejoice with people through baptism.  To be trusted by people to speak truth into their life….All of it, PRIVILEGE.

Who am I to deserve to be a part of any of that? Wow.

God is too kind to me.

I love the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17 when Peter, James and John are taken by Jesus up on the mountain. They had no task in the moment.  They were just there with Jesus witnessing some crazy stuff.  I love their response as they realized what a privileged moment it was.  Peter said, “Lord, it is good to be here.

That is how I feel today after so much grace and privilege that covers the 20 years.

Lord, It is good to be here. Thank you for the grace and privilege of the past 20 years.