Monday, October 30, 2006
One writer penned: Discipleship is the intensely personal activity of two or more persons helping each other experience a growing relationship with God. Discipleship is being before doing, maturity before ministry, character before career.
My intention is to focus intensely on the process of discipleship during the next 8 weeks. My hope is that through study, godly counsel, conversations with our friends, and much prayer, that I can devise a discipleship strategy for New Hope that will radically improve what we are doing.
I'll be looking at the efforts of Willow Creek, Saddleback, Northpoint, Fellowship, Perimeter and the like. But I'll also be reading Wesley and Calvin.
We must get better.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
We'll meet at the same old time, in the same old place, and may very well leave the same old people.
Or, there could be fire!
One family comes having been apart for two weeks and taking a first step toward reconciliation.
Another comes with heavy hearts knowing a brother is quickly fading away.
A teen wonders if life will get any better.
Two pews back, and 80 year old, without his wife for two years now wonders the same.
And I, praying like mad, desperate for God's power to be revealed...
Thursday, October 26, 2006
My friend Randy Mathews and I used to work together almost every day of the week. We were just two of the 66,000 or so employees of Procter and Gamble, but there were times when we went at that work with a ferocity that would have made you think it all depended on us. Either of us could share stories to attest to that.
There were the times we'd leave Macon at 4:15 in the morning to be at Piggly Wiggly HQ in the sweet onion capital of the world, Vidalia GA. Or the time it was 6 degrees below zero, our company cars wouldn't start, and we made our rounds in his 1969 Skylark - vinyl roof flapping in the cold breeze. The "world's largest display of shampoo" or the "world's first color newspaper ad for Pepto Bismol" - that was us.
Randy was a born salesman. He was at his best around people. Sometimes I'd cringe at how outgoing he was. One of the things he'd do that would drive me crazy was that he would wish everyone "Merry Christmas" - ALL YEAR ROUND! But his sense of humor somehow just had to keep things stirred up - so people couldn't ignore him. He was a faithful member of his church, a good father and husband. Just a great guy.
I left Procter and Gamble after 9 years to pursue this calling, and Randy continued on. We moved down here and I lost touch with Randy. I had heard that he was on disability, but didn't know why, unless the dozens of NuWay hot dogs we ate or those "fresh french fries" he used to order had finally caught up with him.
When my father passed away, Randy wrote his condolences on the newspaper's tribute site. I saw that and replied. Randy told me he wasn't doing well, and asked me to pray for him. I wrote back and asked him to tell me more. It turns out that my friend has had two heart procedures and three spinal surgeries. He's in constant pain. And recently they've told him that unless he has another operation, he might lose his eyesight. I wrote him back expressing my disbelief and sorrow over what has happened and he replied "It's always something."
Do you remember the shortest verse in the Bible?
Ok, then do you remember the story it comes out of?
Jesus came back to Bethany, with a worried and puzzled group of disciples, only to be greeted by a woman wracked by grief. His friend Lazarus was dead.
Then He went out to Lazarus' grave,
and the second person of the Trinity,
He Who was and is to come,
the maker of everything that there is
- was rocked by His emotions.
The writer simply pens, "Jesus wept."
The people there that day made an assumption. That Jesus was grieving for what had happened.
What if Jesus was grieving for what was to happen - not just for Lazarus, but for Randy, for you and me, for every one of us who suffers?
Maybe the One Who gave His life for us was grieving, not because Lazarus was dead, but because the sin that entered the world with Adam's fall means we will all know heartbreak and loss - and it didn't have to be that way.
Jesus said as much, remember?
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
And yet it is what He said next that can give everyone who believes in Jesus hope.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NLT)
Our hope, our comfort, our ability to find peace in the midst of trials and sorrows can only be found in Jesus.
Yes, it's always something.
But thank God there's always someone - Jesus - Who is near.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Prov 27:9 (NLT)
A pastor wears many hats. We are told to pay attention to the work of the Word and to prayer. We are to manage the church well. We are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. We're to exhort, rebuke, and encourage.
That's not an exhaustive list, but it can be an exhausting one.
The visible parts of ministry - preaching and teaching - have no where near the demands on your heart and soul as do the work with - struggles with and for - people do. Helping people through the trials of life is a great responsibility and challenge.
As I look back over years of ministry, I'd guess that 90% of people who come to me to talk about something they are struggling with actually have already decided what they will do about it and just want to talk and/or to be told that what they are doing is okay.
It's frustrating because I know that God has to be in total charge for them to receive His best not just during the trial but after. And so many only want it to be over. They want to cut and run. So they will tell me they are praying for God to show them what to do when they have already made up their mind, many times ignoring clear instruction from Scripture.
If you cannot get a grip on when the Word tells you - to flat out "do this" or "don't do that", then what do you expect me to do for you?
I cannot twist the universe's laws to fit your predispositions.
I cannot cause anything that has been done already to be removed from memory or consequences.
But if you come to God in repentance and humility, asking Him to cleanse and lead - He will.
Just do it.
/rant off :)
Thursday, October 19, 2006
"Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it.
Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.
Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. "
Romans 12:9-10 The Message
Every Wednesday night, Ethel Jemima, Emmeline aka Emma-lemon, Kylie Coyote, Kelsey-Jane, Aaroneous, Kater-Tot, Julietta Violetta, Brittania, Amanda Hug n' Kiss, Lulu HooHoo, Kira Ball, and the rest of the New Hope worship team come together to practice the following Sunday's worship. Oh - the names? Every person has a nickname - mine is "Preacher-creature".
They all come early to be a part of this team. The ages? From first grade up. And for one hour it is controlled chaos bathed in love. I've been in a few choirs, and watched a lot of practices. But I've never experienced anything like this.
Last night, we were working on one particular song, an old Appalachian one with beautiful harmony parts. E.J. aka (Ethel Jemima) Huston, a middle-schooler with a wonderfully strong and true voice, apparently had committed a mortal sin in a previous life, so she was exiled to working with me on the tenor part. At one point, Bunny told her to sing directly at my ear, hoping that by the sheer force of her voice, I might be coaxed into singing the harmony part correctly. She tried. I turned to her and said, "you know I can't hear in that ear, don't you?" We laughed and sang and laughed some more. She worked hard at helping me do better.
I looked around and everyone there was smiling. Each time one group went over their part, the other groups were rooting for them, hoping that they would improve. When they got it, cheers broke out.
As a pastor, what you want from the music is help in telling the story of our amazing God and His love for us. Music can do that well, but music can also turn into performance. People can become so proficient that they lose sight of why they sing.
Not with these guys. They sing out of love.
New Hope is such an amazing place. How many other churches would put children and young people in worship leadership? But we're growing a generation of worshipers and leaders here. I looked around tonight and realized that not only were these kids learning how to sing, but they were practicing something far more important. How to love one another.
Friends, living with people, loving them, and being willing to play second fiddle is part of God's plan for each of us.
We learn how to love by... (get ready... serious insight ahead....) loving.
So go practice. Practice loving people. You are on the worship team too.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
He was near God's house everyday. He led thousands in worship of the most High God. People looked up to him as an example of how to live a life that pleased God. He had it all together.
Read what he wrote:
1 I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.
2-6 I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;
my life was an open wound that wouldn't heal.
When friends said, "Everything will turn out all right,"
I didn't believe a word they said.
I remember God—and shake my head.
I bow my head—then wring my hands.
I'm awake all night—not a wink of sleep;
I can't even say what's bothering me.
I go over the days one by one,
I ponder the years gone by.
I strum my lute all through the night,
wondering how to get my life together. Psalm 77
Have you been there? Are you there now?
You are not alone.
Many of the people we all look up to as shining examples of faith go through periods where they doubt, where they wonder where their certainty went. The writer of this Psalm was the leader of music of the temple in Jerusalem - the place where the presence of God lived. He literally worked in God's House. And yet he wondered...
7-10 Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?
Will he never smile again?
Is his love worn threadbare?
Has his salvation promise burned out?
Has God forgotten his manners?
Has he angrily stalked off and left us?
"Just my luck," I said. "The High God goes out of business
just the moment I need him."
"Just my luck.." - how real is that? We can read the Scriptures and take them into our hearts, but we are still a mass of emotions and feelings. We still can find ourselves groping in what seems like darkness when God's light shines all around us. So what do you do?
Review God's record. Take time to remember the ways He has blessed, the ways He has rescued us before.
11-12 Once again I'll go over what God has done,
lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I'll ponder all the things you've accomplished,
and give a long, loving look at your acts.
13-15 O God! Your way is holy!
No god is great like God!
You're the God who makes things happen;
you showed everyone what you can do—
You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.
And repeat this to yourself.
Whatever God has ever done He can still do.
Whatever He has done anywhere, He can do where I am.
Whatever He has done for anyone, He can do for me.
I will trust Him.
Do not sell God short. Read the first line Asaph wrote again.
"I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens."
Yes He does. Take some time. Yell. Speak your heart to the God who listens- who knows your name. He's the One who'll make things right. He's done it before. He'll do it again.
He loves you.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Then I wrote, "but it isn't going to happen." And all heck broke loose.
Since then, I've been pitied, prodded, questioned and one friend even wrote and asked "you okay?"
One fellow even worried about me spiraling down into inactivity. I laughed out loud when I read that. Here's the idea that got me pounded:
I think it is a "vision thing." Hadn't really given it much thought. When I came here, I drove into the parking lot and saw a Little League field 50 ft away, and an elementary school 300 ft away. So I figured we should try to grow through reaching kids and partnering with those guys.So I was saying that my goal was changed lives. To reach into the homes through the kids and partnerships with the networks around us. Then I mentioned "If I had unlimited funds..." and the natives went nuts. They seized that last two paragraphs and got excited - overly excited.
Then as we did, we had neighborhood kids coming by the dozen - walking or riding bikes. We'll have 3-5 bicycles outside most any time. I really saw New Hope as a neighborhood church.
Valparaiso is about 1800 homes. Eglin AFB is snug against it. Then Niceville FL with maybe 8000-12000 homes borders us on the other side.
Niceville is covered with churches. 2 of them run 1000, one 2500 and a bunch of 150s. Breakout is 25% Baptist, 25% UMC, 25% Catholic and 25% nondenom. Probably 40% of the people would fall into one of those once a month.
Valparaiso is forgotten territory - that place you drive through on your way to somewhere else. Older homes, income level is less. AF Officers live in Niceville or Bluewater Bay, enlisted men with families live in Valparaiso or drive 30 minutes north to Crestview. There's no gym here, no HS here - that's in Niceville.
So my vision (pitiful though it is) really is to reach into Valparaiso's homes and help people find the Savior and through Him find real life.
If we moved, we'd lose kids. Then we'd lose the "door" they provide to their parents. Some of the kids we started with seven years ago are really coming along in their walk with Jesus.
If I had unlimited funds, I'd build a multipurpose building on our present property, and buy a coffeehouse that's for sale down the street. We'd open the multipurpose building to the community - call it the Valparaiso Community Life Center. And we'd have large group worship there. The coffee house would be our base of operations and provide office space and small group and intimate worship space. Those are big dreams for us and wholly impossible at present. But it's what I can see.
Neither location is in a great location. The coffee shop is just off the main drag and visible from it. We're only on Valparaiso's main street which isn't used by most. But I would probably not move away from our ministry's heart. Unless God thumps me.
So I wrote, "Vision and reality are not always friends."
And the pounding began.
Yet the reality is that we cannot at this time even seriously contemplate such a dream. We're 200K in debt, only own 2.5 acres, have no worship leader and are thin everywhere else. Land here is $100K an acre when you can get someone to sell it, which is hard considering two families own almost all of it that hasn't been developed.
So am I faithless, a coward for not aggressively pursuing the idea?
No. I just don't have time to waste when people are in danger all around me. If I fixate on buildings, I'll lose the focus on changed lives. It's sort of like the old adage, "It's hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp when you are up to your armpits in alligators."
If through that God gives me the opportunity to see my idea come to fruition, I'll leap at the chance. But right now, I'm building... people.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. 1 John 3:16
One of the defining parts of my childhood was not a positive experience. This time of year, I'd find myself trapped in a world filled with pollen, which caused my body to react in a storm of sneezes, and outbreak after outbreak of hives. Folks, picture yourself as a geeky looking little boy, who's trying hard to find a place in the social network. The last thing you want to do is stand out.
Well, sneezing 30+ times in a row, or showing up for school with more bumps on your than a gator's back doesn't exactly help you fit in.
My parents tried all sorts of things to help, but the best things they ever did weren't involved with medical professionals. They ruthlessly tried to eliminate any and all allergens from anywhere near me. So feather pillows - gone. Wool clothing - gone. The food we ate was changed. At one point they even talked about moving to another state.
And my father went up and down the road we lived on, ripping up every goldenrod and flowering weed.
Years later, I was talking with my mother around that time of year. She was looking down the road, and she said "I just love this time of year, the leaves changing, the goldenrod - aren't these colors beautiful?"
I realized then that for them, their love for a wheezy little boy completely overruled their preferences for what was pleasing to them. Doing whatever it took to help me grow meant completely dropping something that brought them pleasure. They never let me know there was a cost.
Friends, as followers of Jesus and and as people pledged to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, how well are we doing at setting aside our preferences and sacrificially living to reach others with Jesus' love? Do this - spend a moment in prayer for your friend who doesn't know Jesus. Invest time in conversation with that neighbor or friend you never have time for. Give all the love you have received and watch Jesus work.
I've pretty much outgrown my allergies now, but I'll never outgrow my thanks for and my responsibility to love others like my father and mother loved me. And the love Jesus showed me, when I was sick with sin - dying really - I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay with my love for others who don't know Him yet.
Join me. We won't be perfect at it, but we'll be making a difference every time we do.