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Merry Christmas to you and yours. Thanks for spending part of your 2013 in this little corner of the blogosphere. See you in ’14!

Day one is done.

Last night we saw well over 4,000 people brave the December downpours and fight downtown traffic in order to experience the first two of five Christmas Eve services at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Missed it? Live local? There are three more services today at 10, 1, and 4. Plenty of tickets remain for the 10 AM, and though the 1 & 4 are technically sold out, we did have tickets turned in last night. Show up at the box office an hour before your preferred time, and there’s a good chance you’ll get in (but don’t tell anyone I told you that).

Here’s a small peek at what went down last night. Wanna see more? Check out #christmasatdpac on your social media machines. All the cool kids are doing it.

(all photos courtesy of the very talented Brett Seay)

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Christmas season doesn’t officially begin until this song blasts through my speakers.

 

You’re welcome.

(Yep. That's just the top of his head. You have to wait until he's home for the full reveal!)

(Yep. That’s just the top of his head. You’ll have to wait until he’s home for the full reveal.)

You’re looking at my friends Ryan and Morgan, and my friend-that-I-haven’t-yet-met, Charlie.

Charlie is an orphan from central Africa. Scratch that. Was an orphan from central Africa. A few months ago, a court declared Charlie a Doherty. He’s Ryan and Morgan’s son now. Instead of growing up in an orphanage, he’ll grow up in a home with a daddy and mommy who love him, a brother and sister who spoil him, and he’ll be friends with more people who have prayed for him than he can possibly count.

But because of some governmental glitches, Charlie can’t leave the country for now. What has been promised has not yet been realized. “Home” is still a foreign concept, both figuratively and geographically. For the foreseeable future Charlie is – for all practical purposes – stuck.

But while Charlie can’t come to his mom and dad, his mom and dad can go to him. And go to him they did. A couple of weeks ago Ryan and Morgan made the rather sudden decision to temporarily leave Durham and head to Africa. The son that is theirs is still there, and so it made no sense for them to be here.

They decided that the uphill journey would be more effective if they were on the ground and close to Charlie. And so – armed with nothing but a folder full of documents and a heart full of fire – Ryan and Morgan boarded a flight and promised to fight.

Even as I type, I weep. I wonder if Charlie knows what is transpiring around him? I wonder if he knows the prayers that have been offered, the tears that have been shed, the money that has been spent and the battles that have been fought? I wonder if he realizes that before he knew he needed these parents, these parents knew he needed them, and they were willing to do whatever it took to bring him home?

I wonder if he’ll ever realize the sacrifice they made to leave two children in one country while pursuing a third child in another? Will he know the sleepless nights they endured, the hundreds of times they looked at his picture, the thousands of times their arms ached for the baby that belonged there?

As Charlie snuggles up to his parents at a tiny bungalow, does he know what awaits him on the other side of this journey? Can he fathom what it will be like to spend his life being pursued, known, and loved? Can his little mind begin to imagine what life in his daddy’s house will hold for him?

Does that little boy know that he’s been given a new name? That he possesses a new identity? That he’s forever protected and completely provided for? That everything that Ryan and Morgan call theirs can now be called his?

Later this week, Morgan will begin the journey back to America. You can imagine that it will be one of the hardest goodbyes she’ll ever say. But as she reunites with her two oldest children here in Durham, Ryan will remain with their youngest on another continent. And he’ll fight. He’ll leave no stone unturned and no door unopened as he looks for just the right connection, just the right answer, just the right approval to rightfully claim his son and join the family that awaits him. He won’t come home until Charlie comes with him.

A father who fights. That’s what Ryan is for Charlie. And that’s what God is for us. We’re in the middle of a season where we celebrate the One who left his home and went to a foreign land. What he didn’t have to do, he chose to do. He sent his son to become one of us. To live among us. To come to our turf and dwell in our land and fight on our behalf. Before we knew we were orphans, Jesus knew we needed a Father. And the Father knew we couldn’t get to him on our own.

So he fought. Jesus came. God wrapped himself in flesh and lived with us so we could live with him.

With us.

God with us.

Immanuel.

He fought for us then. He fights for us now. You see, Christmas isn’t just a reminder of what Jesus did, it’s a reminder of what he is doing. How he still fights. How he still pursues. How he still does whatever it takes to bring us home, give us a new name and identity, and help us see our Father.

So as you prepare your heart for Christmas, remember that it’s not just about a baby in a stable. It’s about a King who invaded the earth to claim what was rightfully his and to give us our forever home.

And as you thank Jesus for his pursuit, beg Jesus for his mercy: on Charlie. On Ryan and Morgan. Pray for walls to fall and doors to open and mountains to move. Pray that Charlie will miraculously spend Christmas Day in a living room in Durham. Pray for dozens of other Summit families who are enduring a similar journey. And most of all, pray that spiritual orphans will know the pursuit of their Daddy this Christmas season.

“I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” – Jesus (John 14:18)

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DPAC is back.

Last year’s services at the Durham Performing Arts Center were a high-water mark for our church. We swung the doors wide open to our community, inviting them in for two days as we celebrated the sights, sounds, and story of the season. Jesus’ birth was celebrated through spoken word, video, drumlines, rap, solos, and the proclamation of the gospel. Thousands experienced the Christmas story all over again…for the very first time.

We’re just days away from Christmas at DPAC 2013, another opportunity to invite friends and family to a common venue as we observe the birth of the King of the ages.

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Like any Summit event, this one is going to take volunteers. Lots of volunteers. 1274 volunteers, to be exact. And we need them in Summit Kids, Guest Services, Prayer, Set Up, & Tear Down. We’re challenging everyone at the Summit to consider attending one service and serving one service. Or, if you want to make it on Santa’s Nice List, you can attend one and serve four. Ho ho ho.

But let’s be realistic: you don’t really have time to serve during the holliest, jolliest time of the year without a really good reason, do you? Here are three:

  1. This is our gift to our city. It would have been far more convenient to pay DPAC to provide their own staff to open doors, point out seating, and welcome people to the venue. And while they’ll have a few of their folks helping us with some of those tasks, this is an event that we own. And as owners of the event, we want to own the experience. We’ve made huge inroads to our community with events like ServeRDU and Church at the Ballpark. Let’s not stop now.
  2. Your personal gifting demands it. Many of you reading this have gifts for serving kids or being hospitable to guests. You need to exercise those gifts. Do we need you to serve? Yes we do. But more than that, you need to serve. It’s how you’ve been wired.
  3. The gospel still starts in the parking lot…even when it’s not our parking lot. Every weekend we challenge people to share the gospel in the way that they serve. Just because we’re offsite doesn’t mean that challenge stops. With hundreds (perhaps thousands!) of first time guests expected, we have the opportunity to introduce people to Jesus by the simple act of serving them well and loving their kids.

So here we go again, Summit. Step up. Serve with abandon. Sign up today. We’ll see you at theDPAC!

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Avoiding the Christmas Crowd Trap. (via @MarkLWaltz) A great reminder as we head towards Christmas at DPAC. Don’t just show up to serve. Engage. 

We expect thousands of new people this Christmas season. People who haven’t attended church services much, if at all, the rest of the year.

There’s a hidden trap in all this. When we acknowledge that many of our guests don’t attend services except at Christmas time (or Easter), we are prone to assume they won’t return ’til next year. 

And that subtle assumption can adversely affect our approach to guests this season…

 

33 Ways to Show Your Volunteers You Love Them(via Rich Birch) Thanks to my friend @alanpace for tipping me off to this one.

23. Calculate how many hours your volunteers have served in that last year and celebrate that!

24. Reinforce regularly with paid staff that our #1 role is to support our volunteers.

25. Take pictures of your volunteers serving and post them on various social media channels.

 

WestJet Passengers Have Their Christmas Wishes Granted(via @taylorherringpr) In case you’re one of the five people on the planet that hasn’t seen this in the last few days, watch it. Now. This takes “surprise and delight” to a whole new level. I don’t know where WestJet flies, but I want to go to there.

If you tuned in last week, you know that Advent has come to the Franks house. And even though we started off rough, we’ve persevered, stuck through, and endured more eye rolls and off-the-wall comments from a three year old than you can imagine.

But by golly, Haven is getting it. Yes, she says that Adam’s wife was named “Oodam.” Sure, she still tells us that Advent is something you put in your mouth (getting it confused with a mint? I think so.). But there are other things that she’s soaking up like a little sponge.

Last night we hit the story of the Ten Commandments in The Jesus Storybook BibleI was able to grab the following video recap. (And yes, I know I shot it the wrong way. Listen, when you’re trying to film a squirmy three year old that happens to be sitting in your lap and all up in your face in her four sizes too small ballerina costume, you don’t worry about iPhone video rules.)

Enjoy.

 

Translation (in case you don’t speak Havenese):

Danny: What’s a commandment?

Haven: Um, a ‘mandment is a rule you can’t touch it. That’s a very hot you can’t touchin it.

Danny: What…what’s a rule?

Haven: A rule you, you need to go to da potty sometimes. And…[stuff even I can’t understand]…don’t touch that! That’s very hot!

Danny: Is…so who gave the commandments?

Haven: Jacob!

Danny: No, who gave…who gave the commandments to Moses?

Haven: Moses…Moses went WAY up in the mountain, and then he get paint the toenails.

Danny: Moses painted his toenails?

Haven: Yeah. And Jacob. And…

Jase: Haven, what’s a commandment?

Haven: A ‘mandment you can’t touch it.

Jase: You can’t touch what?

Haven: The ‘mandments.

Advent

I’ll start this post with a couple of confessions:

Confession #1: I stink at family devotions. Like, stink at ’em. Not “we could get better. Last year we only memorized Leviticus, this year we’re going for the whole Pentateuch.” Not, “man, I only read the Bible to my family 363 out of 365 days in 2012. I am a miserable human specimen.”

Nope, I really stink at ’em. And while we’ve tried family devotions plenty of times in the past, and while I occasionally pray with my family for specific needs, and while I will sometimes point them to specific scriptures in specific situations, it’s one of the many things that’s not a part of the warp and woof of my spiritual disciplines (although saying things like “warp and woof”? I got that one nailed.).

Confession #2: I don’t really know what Advent is. There. I said it. I grew up in church, would consider myself a conservative evangelical, and yet I am totally in the dark on Advent. Is it a calendar? Is there a secret handshake? I can remember ONE Christmas in our church, we lit an Advent candle each Sunday leading up to Christmas. So maybe Advent is an invention of the candle industry? But were they special candles? Scented? Did we get ’em on a 2 for $22 Black Friday special at Bath & Body Works?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

 

So you’ll understand my apprehension when I decided to go for broke this year and download an Advent guide from Verge Network. I looked at several, but none seemed to have the magical ingredients that would appeal to four kids from 17 years old down to three. Verge, however, had Advent ornaments to cut and color, so I figured if nothing else, giving the three year old some scissors would be somewhat entertaining.

Last night was Night #1, and perhaps Night #Last, for reasons you’ll see in a moment. Verge had us focusing first on the fall of mankind (nothing says “Merry Christmas!” like the doctrine of original sin), so the plan was to read a portion from Genesis 3, then a reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible. You need to understand that Haven and I read the JSB together frequently. She loves it. It holds her attention, and mine for that matter. The pictures are colorful enough and the stories are short enough that she can maintain focus in almost any circumstance.

Unless that circumstance is Night #1 of Advent, and we have the audacity to involve the rest of the family.

To say that Haven was “unengaged” is the understatement of the century. She twirled. She danced. She moved from chair to chair and person to person. When one of us would try the “grab and hold” technique, she’d immediately launch countermeasures and initiate the “oily octopus” technique, slide onto the floor, and slink across the room. She made unhelpful comments, manufactured unhelpful noises, threw unhelpful jabs at her 11 year old brother…

…in other words, she illustrated the fall of mankind perfectly.

She paid attention to nothing and no one, until the moment that I read Genesis 3:10: “And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'”

That, she heard.

And then the giggles started. And the eyes got wide as saucers. And the comment came: “DADDY WAS NAKED AND HID HIMSELF!”

Bye-bye, meaningful Advent moment. So long, sober reflection on the introduction of sin to the world. Adios, family devotions. The rest of the crew fell apart. Peals of laughter erupted. And the three year old princess couldn’t be any prouder of herself.

Me? I pouted. Fumed. Did everything I could just to get through it and get it over with and get her to bed.

So much for being spiritual. The man who was reading about sin became, once again, the sinner. Instead of reflecting the second Adam, I looked shockingly like the first one. The dad who was supposed to lead with grace wanted to respond by tossing the [insert Yosemite Sam style cuss words here] Advent guide right into the Christmas tree. One night in, and I was out. Advent – for me – was a bust.

 

Who needs Advent, anyway? Why do we carve out so much time focusing on the coming of Jesus?

Actually, let me try that again:

Who needs Advent, anyway? (I do.)

Why do we carve out so much time focusing on the coming of Jesus? (Because we so desperately need it.)

Nights like last night pull back the curtain on my need to slow down and focus. To hear Jesus. To see Jesus. To make much of Jesus. My attempts at family devotions or being a good husband or being a gracious dad can only go so far without the grace of Jesus. And that’s exactly the point of Advent: to pull away from decorations and wrapping paper and holiday gatherings and early-morning sales and just see Jesus. To recalibrate our hearts to him. To point our families to him. To renew our focus on him.

So tonight, though maybe a bit reluctantly, I’ll give it another whirl. Tonight, I’ll pull the Bible back out and gather the family back around and try to maintain my composure long enough to point them past their grouchy earthly father and towards their gracious heavenly one.

Tonight, I’ll try once again to see Jesus.

That’s right, boys and girls: Christmas is coming again this year. Even better, it’s coming back to Durham Performing Arts Center.

More info is coming later on tickets, service times, and how you can volunteer to serve the RDU community as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But for now, a recap of Christmas 2012…

In my role at the Summit, one of my hats is to help run point for some of our larger-scale events. Things like Church at the Ballpark, The Gospel Summit, and Christmas at DPAC fall to a team of us who are responsible for executing everything from publicity to registration to guest services to worship to Advil that’s passed out like M&Ms on the day after the event.

Now I’ll lay all my cards on the table: I’m a big event guy. I love ’em. I love the intensity, the excitement, the planning, the process. But I’m also a perfectionist and a procrastinator, meaning that I hate pulling the trigger on a system before I know it’s going to be flawless. And that’s the death knell for event planning.

That’s why I’ve spent a lot of my nearly twenty years of ministry tweaking and refining systems to help pull off events of this nature. Working through what works and laying aside what doesn’t has been incredibly helpful to making each event run a little smoother, and each planning process go a little easier.

So for the next few days, I’d like to share with you some of the resources that have assisted in eating the elephant of large scale events. For this particular context I’ll be specifically dealing with the guest services piece of the puzzle, and using our recent Christmas at DPAC event as the practical model. (WARNING: if you’re not a logistics nerd like me, you’re not going to enjoy this. Spend the next three days watching this video of a basset hound puppy instead.)

Step one: define your win.

I mentioned that I’m one of the members of the large events team. I’m not the team. That means that I have peers and superiors that I start communicating with months before the event. And in those initial meetings, I do everything I can to figure out what the scope of my role will be. Am I solely responsible for guest services? Am I responding to a pre-defined environment, or am I designing the environment? Will there be other hats I’ll wear on the day of the event (emcee, etc)?

Knowing what I’m responsible for and what my team will be in charge of goes a long way in planning for all contingencies. There are three primary factors that guide my questions:

  1. What is the nature of the event? In August, I didn’t know if Christmas at DPAC would be primarily a congregational worship service, a band-led musical performance, or an hour long dance recital of performers dressed like Frosty and Rudolph. Getting feedback and intention from our worship team helped to inform what the “feel” of our guest services team should be.
  2. What is my budget for the event? Dollars drive design. I need to know if I’m working on a shoestring budget that will buy a few sandwich trays for our volunteer team, or a massive budget that will bring in a pastry chef to make personalized monogrammed homemade cinnamon rolls for every attendee. Example: our 2011 Christmas Eve service was held at our main campus, which meets in a warehouse. It was overly familiar to our people and very non-Christmasy. So we opted to rent some artificial snow machines to make it feel a little more festive as people came in. For 2012, the event was at the Durham Performing Arts Center, a very sleek, modern, fancy-schmancy facility downtown. Snow machines – though nice – would have been complete overkill. So we said no to snow and used that money elsewhere.
  3. What are the mechanics of the event? When we did Church at the Ballpark, it was one massive service for 7200 people. Christmas at DPAC, however, covered two days’ worth of five services with 1800-2000 people each. One event required one large guest services team. The other required multiple teams with multiple schedules. in addition, every venue requires different needs. The ballpark featured our largest to date baptism services, which meant we needed to have hundreds of baptism counselors available. But DPAC required multiple levels of seaters and door greeters for a multiple-level facility.

There are probably dozens of other smaller scale questions that I’ll also ask: Food or no, and am I responsible? Are we feeding volunteers who serve a several-hour stretch? How many attendees are we expecting? Where does our nose end and our venue hosts’ nose begin? How much time do we have for set up and tear down? If we’re renting a facility, what parts of the facility will be off limits? Is it theoretically possible that I could theoretically be late for the Christmas Eve service because I theoretically have to make a mad dash to a theoretical store and buy one more theoretical last minute Christmas present for my theoretical wife?

Defining the win at the very beginning goes a long way to making sure your piece of the puzzle fits into the overall event picture. I’d love to hear some of the other questions you ask when defining your win. Please take a moment and comment below.

Other posts in this series: