“There is a certain point where I tackle you.”

I heard a quote recently that convicted me in regards to the way I look at evangelism.

This quote wasn’t from a well-known pastor like John Piper, some local lay leader in the church, or even a child in our youth group. On the contrary, it is from a VERY devout and vocal atheist named Penn Jillette, you may know him as one half of the comic-illusionist act Penn and Teller.

After someone politely shared their faith with him he had this to say, “…I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is way more important than that…”

Mr Jillette could obviously care less if we, as Christians, share our faith at all. But, we should care. Why? Because it is commanded of us. It’s our job to share the Gospel with the world. We have knowledge of the impending doom to come, the truck that’s on its way.

I would venture to say that I have as many friends that aren’t believers as those who are, and I love them both equally. I try to be a positive example of Christian living rather than being the “older brother” who judges and condemns them for their disbelief. There are many who I pray for, by name, daily. But, if I were honest with myself would I be able to say that I do an adequate job of verbally sharing the Gospel with them?

At what point do we start caring more about our “non-believing” friend’s spiritual well-being than what may or may not be an awkward conversation?

At what point are we willing to “tackle” them?

TC and Me

Teen Challenge is a very interesting program to say the least. The dynamics of what goes on inside one of these centers go far beyond anything I could describe here in one blog.

What is Teen Challenge?

It’s a Christian organization whose focus is to help guys with “life controlling issues” get their lives back on track, and to be introduced to Jesus. The length of TC varies from center to center, and often depends on the person’s progress. Most cases they will be anywhere from 10-16 months. This may seem like a long time compared to your typical 30-90 day recovery programs, and it is. For good reason. One month just isn’t enough to become a new person (which is the only way to truly become “clean”). The whole focus of Teen Challenge isn’t 12 steps, or typical counselling that you would often see used in recovery. It’s focus is put the Word in these men, and they other stuff has a way of working itself out on its own.

I completed the Teen Challenge in Cape Girardeau, MO in January of 2009. It was a true challenge for me (pun intended). One of the ways that it works is that you have little to no distractions to keep you from your relationship with God, and to get yourself better. “Distractions” include cell phones, internet, computers, secular music, books, etc. Now, for someone like myself who is VERY technologically driven, this was one of the hardest pills for me to swallow (pun not intended this time). But, with only a few other guys, and the Word that was being broken down for me everyday, I grew in my relationship with Jesus by leaps and bounds as the months went by.

Thanks to Teen Challenge introducing me to the Lord I can say that I have been sober, and serving Him, for 3 years this September.

The staff and Teen Challenge don’t receive much money for their work there, or for that matter, much gratitude at times. Much like a teacher, the thanks and gratitude they receive comes way down the road in seeing their pupils succeed. This is very hard for a culture whose whole focus is instant gratification. I will never be able to express the deep gratitude and thanks I have for each of the men and women who served at the Teen Challenges that I have been a part of, you all have given me something that I may never be able to repay.

So, it is always a VERY humbling and surreal experience when the Memphis Teen Challenge calls and asks if I would be able to lead a chapel there. To think that a few years ago it was me who was in those chairs, listening to someone who wanted to see me make it. Now, I have the opportunity to share with these men things that the Lord has shown me through the great teaching I receive both in my own reading, and through Fellowship Memphis and DownLine. I still can’t believe that this is real sometimes. (or for that matter that they would care about anything I have to say).

As I spoke on putting God first in our lives this morning, I tried to share with them not only the dangers of things that can get in the way of our relationship with our Father, but also practical advice that I have from personal experience. As I told them, “my reason for coming is just as much to tell you what to expect, and how you can be successful outside of these walls as much as it is to share the Word with you.” I believe these two are closely related. However, it takes someone who’s been there to tell you dangers that I’ve not only seen, but the struggles that I’ve seen others go through as well. These are often warnings I never got while I was in the program, and I didn’t want them to go back “into the real world” without hearing.

Once a month I share a lesson, my story, and life applications with these guys. I often feel that I am blessed by speaking to them way more than they are blessed by listening to me. Over the last 3 years I have spoken in front of many groups, at many different places, but there is an energy in a Teen Challenge chapel that is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I really feel that God shows up for these guys everyday. He shows a special love to this group of “unlovables”. As I often do, I brought these guys a treat. You’d be amazed how far $13 worth of doughnuts can go. Not physically, these guys put a hurtin’ on ‘em. But the fact that someone is willing to not only give his time, but his pocket as well to a bunch of undeserving and broken men. They are “broken” and see the contriteness of their own hearts better than anyone. They just need to be introduced to the One who can restore their lives. The healing God that put my life together, the One that can heal us all…

Getting Settled as One

A lot has happened in the last month! For one, Christina and I have officially gotten married. It’s been a big adjustment to say the least, but it’s been wonderful. We are loving our new home, and have had a great time making it “ours”. We have also adopted our first two “children”…Relax, you haven’t been left out of any big news. It’s our new puppy Layla, and kitten Callie…

I know, I know. A puppy and a kitten?!? Yes, a puppy and a kitten at the same time…Pray for us…

But seriously, it’s been a great summer for us getting to know one another even deeper, and finding our ministry not only individuality, but as a couple as well.

Christina has began to set up her class room in preparation for next year. She will be teaching 2nd grade at Promise Academy in North Memphis. She’s nervous to begin her first year, but she has had great training, and has a great team working with her.

The summer for me has been very busy working for DownLine. We are busy preparing for the new 40 Emerging Leaders who will be moving to Memphis to take part in the program August 1st. They all need housing, furniture, etc. A lot of the summer has consisted of getting the homes ready to have these guys and girls move in. Not only making sure they all have the furniture they need, but are ready to have them move in as well. Landscaping in the Memphis heat is enough to wear anyone out!

On top of working for DownLine and being a newlywed I’ve added something else to my schedule…I found out today that I was accepted to Memphis Center for Urban & Theological Studies or MCUTS. I’ve been away from school for a few years and am very nervous about going back, but I know that God has led me here, and I’m excited to see what He has in store for me there…I’ll be pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies with the aspiration of working for a ministry or church upon completion.

I am also still mentoring as a partner with the Governor’s Mentoring Initiative Program at Youth Villages. I recently got paired up with a 14 year old named James who is from Mississippi. He comes from a home where he was passed from family member to family member, so obviously hasn’t had much stability in his life to this point. He has also suffered some terrible abuse at the hands of his family. It’s a terrible situation, but there is good news. We serve a God who is capable of restoring His life! I’m so excited to get to know James, spending time just being a source of stability in his life, and just being a friend he can talk to. Please continue to pray for our relationship…

I will also be continuing to lead chapels at the Teen Challenge here in Memphis. I am really excited to begin a new venture there, I’ll be leading small groups that get more in depth with the topics I cover in chapel services. It’s a great chance to get one on one with these recovering addicts, a chance to pour into their lives not only with scripture, but also to get to know them personally offering advice on what to expect both in the program as well as upon completion. Hopefully preparing them to have successful, productive lives…

As you can see Christina and I are staying busy…

Thank you for all of your continued prayer and support during this time…

I am still raising support to pay my salary with DownLine and the Lord is already providing! We have reached 50% of our monthly commitment already, but we still have a way to go…Can you help? Would you be able to give either financially or through prayer to help this year? I would love to use this blog to keep you all updated on how your money is being put to use, and how you are investing not only in our lives, but in the lives of others!

To give financially:

-You can give online- http://www.downlineministries.com/donate Click on “Staff support”

-Or you can mail checks directly- P.O. Box 770296 | Memphis, TN 38177    In the memo line simply write “Jeff Howard Support”

DownLine is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, so all donations are tax deductible.

Please read the previous blog post to see more about DownLine and how you can get involved to help our ministry…

http://jeffandchristinahoward.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/a-new-chapter/

A New Chapter

Where to begin? In the last month Christina and I have been blessed with a wonderful place to live, Christina has finished her Master’s Degree in Urban Education, and she has been offered a job teaching 1st grade at Promise Academy in north Memphis. And of course, the most exciting news…We’re only 4 short days away from being married!

The past year just seemed to be one blessing after another for me. I moved to Memphis to intern at a church that my uncle John helped plant, Fellowship Memphis, and to take part in a ministry called DownLine. DownLine is designed for men and women to come to Memphis with the intention of learning their Bible. The goal is for each one of them to reteach or disciple someone else, spreading the Word of God right “down the line”. The call comes from Matthew 28:18-20, the great commission- “18Then Jesus came to them [His disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Sadly, one of the overwhelming problems with the church today is that this command is very often overlooked. Although many Christians would love to make disciples for Christ, several questions arise, “How do I do it? Where do I begin? What do I teach them? Where do I find someone?” DownLine offers the chance for people to explore what this looks like, and how to live it out. The first step is to know what to teach, so while going through DownLine students are literally walked through the Bible. It is a 9 month program, just like a year of school would be. From August to December they are walked through the Old Testament, book by book. Then from January to May is New Testament.

There are two groups in DownLine. One are older men and women from different communities and churches all around Memphis. Then there is a subgroup called the Emerging Leaders. These are recent college graduates who have made the decision to take a year off to learn their Bible, and learn what it means to live the “Great Commission lifestyle”. We provide their housing, and ask them to volunteer at one of the many great urban outreaches all over the city, as well as be involved in a local church family.

After spending my first 6 months here in Memphis I was offered a job to work for DownLine. I am in charge of housing, and all special projects. This covers a variety of responsibilities. Everything from general maintenance and landscaping for the Emerging Leader housing, to helping the EL’s find their place and ministry upon arrival in the city. As they move to town over the summer I’ll be involved in helping them find jobs, and the ministry that they will serve in, as well as a church that they can call their own for the next 12 months.

DownLine is a non-profit organization that is funded through donations. How can you help? My salary is based solely on donations of people who believe in DownLine’s purpose and goal.  This is a HUGE leap of faith for me. Basically, what this looks like from month to month is simple. If I don’t raise enough money to pay my salary, then I don’t get paid. Simple as that.

Last year God provided for me in an AMAZING way! From June 1st 2009 to May 1st 2010 I didn’t miss one single check. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some “close calls”, some scary moments, and PLENTY of prayer asking God to come through for me financially…and He did. Every time.

This year will be no different I’m sure. It will have it’s challenges. It will have it’s struggles and scary moments. But, it will also have me around Godly men teaching me the Word of God, what it means to be a man who lives out the Word, and how to be the spiritual leader in my home that God has called me to be.

I completely realize that finances aren’t what they were a few years ago, for almost everyone. I ask you, if you can’t give financial support at this time, will you pray for Christina and I? Our finances? Our home? Our marriage?

To give financially:

-You can give online- http://www.downlineministries.com/donate Click on “Staff support”

-Or you can mail checks directly- P.O. Box 770296 | Memphis, TN 38177    In the memo line simply write “Jeff Howard Support”

DownLine is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, so all donations are tax deductible.

Thank you so much for your continual prayer, support, and encouragement in my pursuit of the Lord and His glory! I thank God for each and every one of you! I’m looking forward to use this blog as an opportunity to keep you updated on our new marriage and our lives together!

Jeffrey

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