Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yes I Do

Sunday I hope to see God working in the lives of people as they open their hearts and minds to the possibility that God wants to use us - yes, us. The whole "Blessed are..." leads into "You are salt... You are light..." where Jesus is explaining to those who have followed Him that we are NOT who society says were are, and we are NOT what our frailties and failures would mark us as. The Kingdom of Heaven has come and is coming, and the new reality is that we are who Jesus says we are.

This clip is from the movie "Kingdom of Heaven". The skeptic in the scene is ironically, a priest.

video

Who, me?



So I'm deep into a discussion on one forum today, sorting through emails and zipping through my Google Reader blog list. Bunny's watching a pretty amazing movie in the living room or whatever that is. I'm trying to wrap my brain around the next part of the sermon on the mount.

Really.

I don't know how your brain works, but I have to slow mine down by doing a bunch of things at once or I will "ping" all over the place. It's just really difficult for me to concentrate on only one thing. God knows that, and it seems to be okay with Him.

But every now and then, it is as if light breaks through, bushes leap into flame, whispers become roars and He is just here. Wherever here is.

I was torn a minute ago by everything that is going on. Choices presented themselves and all had good explanations of why I should do them.

But God is here. Now.

I've been praying about a lot of things lately. Praying about New Hope. Praying about family. Praying about friends. Praying about people going through hardships, and those still trapped in sin. And yeah, praying about me. As much as I scream to God "put me in coach, I'm ready to play" a voice comes from within and reminds me of who I have been, of past failures, and all that. So quickly it comes.

But God is here. Now.

Lifting words off the pages and holding my attention as He gently but firmly doesn't just explain what was there then, but what's there now - for me. For me. For me.

Oh

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Defined by His scars - not mine"


While looking over my notes for tonight's Bible study, I happened to have the notebook fall open to a page near the rear. I'm pretty much a digital guy now, but early on I printed everything out as well. Made sense in the time of the small hard drive and floppy disk I suppose. But today, when the president of Tyndale House says that "print is dead", well, it feels quaint.

I've picked up a large task once more - the Book of Romans.

It has been several years since I have taught through it. There's so much there for us that for me as a teacher/preacher, I have flashbacks of the first time I took Adam and Sean into the then new "Toys R Us". They both looked stunned that such a place could... be. It was took much at once for them to take in. But they did adjust quite well and rather quickly at that.

Still, it is Romans.

The notebook has all my notes from forever. One of the pages I happened upon had at the top a note "DF 10/24/94 AM". That would mean "Dames Ferry Baptist Church" which was the church I served first as a pastor.

Ouch.

To say it was hard on me - and especially on my family would be a big understatement. There were some great strides forward for Christ made in that rural family owned and operated church, and a great, great reversal. Yeah, and that last part left a mark.

So when that page fell open, the memory suddenly was there again. Ah, but God had already prepared me, for earlier today I read this from Troy Neujahr, my Lutheran friend as he was explaining to another friend how we who are pastors have to relate to those places God places us to serve:

I'm afraid that you're so afraid of getting in another bad church that you want to destroy this chance before it becomes anything like reality. I'm afraid that you're like a certain woman in my church who feels a need to hurt people before and push them away before a serious relationship starts to develop, just so that she won't have to risk getting hurt herself.

I know you've got it rougher than I probably ever have. I understand that. But I've hit a rocky road or two even in my short time out of the gate, and there's one thing God impressed deeply, deeply into me in my first painful ministry experience:

My ministry should be defined by His scars . . . not mine.


Did you catch that last line?

See friends, we're human - true enough. But we have the Spirit of the Most High God residing within. We have to, have to, have to return again and again to our core - Jesus. We simply cannot function as followers of Jesus in any God-honoring way unless we do.

Sunday's message from the beautitudes pointed us to the fact that when people abuse us, despise us, and throw all sorts of falsehoods our way, instead of looking at the effect on us and seeking pity - we need to look at Jesus.

Yep. Thanks Troy. Thank You God.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's Me, It's Me - It's Ernest T

So things are getting a bit testy in our Strategic Evangelism class at Rockbridge. Some of the folks in it are clearly about engaging the culture where they are, others are stuck in places where it ain't happening. Of those there are some who are definitely working for change, and others that are appeasers.

I never want to assume that I'm right about an issue so important, so I reached out over the internet and found a theology test that promised to help me. The questions were interesting to say the least, but when all was said and done I knew I'd get some keen insight as to how I approach the mission before us.

And here I am.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"You don't fix faith - it fixes you"

video

Those of us with an analytical mindset are sometimes lured by this siren song, aren't we? The idea of walking across to our fellows in the "hard sciences" and coming up with "the answers" to everything that at first blush just doesn't make sense about what the Bible says.

The actor in the scene tells us no - "you don't fix faith - it fixes you."

Oh, I do like that line.

Right now it is Monday, the day I try to rest and recuperate and yet all day long I've been trying to "work the problem" of how to reach more people with the good news. That search has lead me to read about youth initiatives and adult outreach ideas, media initiatives...

... as if.

Oh, Jesus. Hear my cry. Let Your glory fill Your people. Let Your love overflow out of lives surrendered to You. Keep us from anything we'd do outside of your clear will. Help us wait on the Holy Spirit's call before we "fix" anything.

Fix us.

Begin with me.

A Hat Tip to "One for the road... by Paul Mayers", where I found the clip

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

- Out to eat with some Newhopeians
- nap punctuated by glimpses of "In the Land of Women", a surprisingly good movie I never, ever would have seen had my wife's civilizing influence not been brought to bear
- getting ready for small group tonight
- thinking about this morning

Worship as we continued "The Red Letters - Living A Faith That Bleeds"
Matthew 5:1-12

Music - O Worship the King (Tomlin version) - it ROCKED! It is so God focused!
God of Wonders
Hosanna (Baloche)
My Jesus I Love Thee
Offering
Jesus Paid It All

We had a bunch of people out sick but every single replacement did an awesome job. And it all happened without my making it happen. New Hope being what we are I got a worship guide from Corrine Quinnell (5 years old) doing duty as a greeter. I sang in the worship team next to Blake (10 yrs). I played guitar badly across from my son, and my wife played keyboard. John Anderson did the kid's moment, his wife Amy played flute on some of the songs. Mack Kirkland and Jim Quinnell (Corinne's granddaddy) ushered.

Young, and older. Together. In worship.

Some days it starts looking like the Kingdom of God might be breaking through.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Living Life Upside Down

I keep reading the beatitudes and marveling at how radical they were/are. If we had someone at New Hope that could pull it off, I'd get them to sing this old Truth song tomorrow right after I read the text out loud.

We lose perspective. We just lose the ability to see ourselves and our lives as God sees them. Yeah, prone to wander. All we like sheep - yeah, that too.

“LIVING LIFE UPSIDE DOWN” lyrics by Russ Lee

John has a new way of looking at life
He’s tired of his job, his kids and his wife
He says the secret to his success
Was in leaving and finding himself
Now he’s someone to somebody else.
And you say we’ve risen to a new age of truth
You’re calling it a spiritual Godly pursuit
But I say, I say,

(chorus)
What if we’ve fallen to the bottom of a well
Thinking we’ve risen to the top of a mountain
What if we’re knocking at the gates of hell
Thinking we’re heaven bound
What if we spend our lives thinking of ourselves
When we should have been thinking of each other
What if we reach up and touch the ground
To find we’re living life upside down.

We’ve got a program for saving the earth
While unborn children are denied their right to birth
One baby’s blessed, another cursed
Have we made this world better or worse
Now that the life of a tree comes first
And you say we’ve risen to a new age of light
You’re telling me what used to be wrong is now right
But I say, I say,
(repeat chorus)

What if we’re living, what if we’re living,
What if we’re living life upside down.

"Then Jesus sat down and began to teach them."

Lord speak tomorrow. Help us see what you see so we can live as you lived.

Love or something like it

Today has been one dreary mess here. Great weather to sit inside and work on tomorrow's sermon. All week long I have been reading and rereading the passage in Matthew commonly known as the "beatitudes".

You remember - the "Blessed are you..." part.

The biggest challenge tomorrow will be trying to get the hearers to grasp just how revolutionary Jesus' words were.
We have such a tendency to take all the "heat" out of Scripture that would have scalded anyone who originally heard it.

One writer said that what Jesus said would have the same impact as the "new math" did in his days in school. He could remember sitting in class having just learned how to do "long division" and the teacher telling him that though he may have gotten the right answer, he was doing it all wrong. Maybe that guy has a real math phobia. Personally I think that's too weak.

Another said that Just using the word translated "blessed" would have had people scratching their heads. They believed gods were blessed, the rich were blessed, and the dead were blessed. But the poor, hungry, meek, merciful and the like? The world doesn't work that way. Didn't then, doesn't now.

True.

Unless Jesus shows up. Then the world as we know it yields to the One who created it.

So many people today are trusting in everything except the grace of God.

Love Him. Love Jesus. Trust Him. Trust Jesus. Don't focus on what's happening anywhere else except between you and Jesus. There's no safer place in the world than the center of the will of God.

Be blessed!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Missiology Played Out

So we're having a discussion in my evangelism class at Rockbridge about how best to relate to our culture today. How do we bring the message of Jesus to the 21st century person who is spiritually aware, but who has not embraced the church culture.

One person is saying that people are looking for answers today and we need to be trained to be able to give them a cogent response. My contention is that we have millions of people within the churches who have more information than ever before about theology, and they aren't living a Jesus centered life - so why would we seek to lead people to Jesus through a display of knowledge about Him?

It's the difference between a Josh McDowell approach and a Mother Teresa one. The first has everything nailed down. There's an answer for every question anyone could raise about Christianity. The latter lives out a cross centered life out loud, warts and all admitting all the while that there's nothing special about us - only that we know Jesus as Lord and follow Him.

For me, as right brained a person as you'll ever meet, the appeal of the argument or apologetic approach is strong. I was a salesman for years, well trained to persuade. Then I reached seminary where they taught me to appeal to people's felt needs as I prepared sermons. I was a hammer in a forest of nails.

But somewhere along the way, the average person stopped being so concerned about answers and more interested in finding meaning through relationships. They became much less likely to press you on the details of Christianity and much more observant of how the Christ-life was lived.

Today, I think people want to hear the melody rather than grab every note. They want to be moved by it, and have it touch their soul. When it happens, it doesn't take away their personality, but it does change their reason for living and give them a purpose for everyday.

It may be hard for us to change. But it can be done, if we love Jesus enough. The only way this world will ever be reached for Christ is if enough of us love His "music" so much we spread it as an act of love.

In that spirit, to illustrate what I mean, I present a study in musical missiology.

video

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who are God's people, really?

5:1-12 When Jesus saw the large crowd, he went up the hill and sat down. His students gathered around him, and he began teaching them. This is what he said:

"The spiritually humble are God's people, for they are citizens of his new order.
"They who are deeply concerned are God's people, for they will see their ideas become reality.
"They who are gentle are his people, for they will be his partners across the land.
"They who have an unsatisfied appetite for the right are God's people, for they will be given plenty to chew on.
"The generous are God's people, for they will be treated generously.
"Those whose motives are pure are God's people, for they will have spiritual insight.
"Men of peace and good will are God's people, for they will be known throughout the land as his children.
"Those who have endured much for what's right are God's people; they are citizens of his new order.
"You all are God's people when others call you names, and harass you and tell all kinds of false tales on you just because you follow me. Be cheerful and good-humored, because your spiritual advantage is great. For that's the way they treated men of conscience in the past.
Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Gospels

We've been looking at the "red letters" for the last few weeks at New Hope, and I think Clarence Jordan would approve. He was famous for writing about "Jesus' Doings' and Sayings'"

I was wondering a little while ago about the effect on a person who knew nothing about Christianity, Jesus, or the church if you were to give them this as a guideline as to what a person who wanted to relate rightly to God would find themselves doing.

Would they turn out as the typical person who joins the church does?

Just to remind everyone where the blog title comes from

video

Yep, greatest job ever. Living the dream.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

My brother Reggie McNeal's incendiary book "Present Future" is on its fourth reading here this week. The copy I have here at home is dog-eared and full of notes and tabs I put there to be able to find certain quotes. It looks a little weird, frankly. Fits its owner I guess.

In our men's group last Sunday, we were going through the week's readings in My Utmost For His Highest and somehow got into a short discussion of the book of Acts and specifically the early church's growth. One of the men, John Anderson was making the point that the early church had nothing we have today - no buildings, no programs, not even a Bible to tote around.

What they had, was Jesus. And that's what they shared.

Reggie writes (pg 82) "Evangelism that will introduce Jesus to this culture will flow from people who are deeply in love with Jesus."

We've tried to sell everything we could think of to get people to come to church - great music, great children's and youth programs, excellent Biblical teaching, even relaxed styles of dress and coffee and donuts.

When the only thing that will satisfy man's deepest need isn't church at all.

It is Jesus.

What if...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Newhopian of the week



The man in the center of the picture is named Joe Stoy. He's a deacon, an RA leader, children's church worker, and general all around good guy. Each week, Joe touches the lives of children as he does a children's sermon. No one, including Joe, ever really knows how things will turn out. Many times his props work great. Other times, not so great.

But the kids love Joe, whether the props work or not. And every week, he tells them about God.

When Joe gets to heaven, I'll bet someone else who loves kids will tell him, "well done, good and faithful servant. Well done."

What a blessing to serve alongside servants like Joe Stoy.

On This Date In 1984

Apple introduced the Macintosh personal computer - and everything changed.

Well... Not really.

But it did have an impact on the future of personal computing - and still does. I'm a veteran of the computer wars, and have operated Basic, Geos, C/PM, MS-DOS, Win 3.1 and every one following (except Vista), SCO Unix, Ubuntu and Kubuntu Linux, OS2 and OS2Warp, and now OS X.

To my right sits an IBM Thinkpad with XP, and I type this on a Mac. So I've been around and in this revolution since the beginning.

The tasks I do on whatever computer sits in front of me are still pretty much the same as they were at the beginning, though as software has progressed, certain tasks I used to have to do on other platforms are now integrated within the PC. It's all good. I love technology - when it helps.

I've been reading lately about the different ways Christianity has approached culture. As I've studied modern approaches, I had this feeling that I was missing something by not looking back at the way Christianity was able to spread in the earlier centuries despite (or perhaps because of) no support, or even hostility towards it from the people and governments it related to.

In that search I stumbled across a book called "The Celtic Way of Evangelism" by George Hunter.

Wow.

So much of what Hunter shows of Patrick's model for evangelism is exactly the model we could use today.

Funny how at times we need to go back, to move forward. Hunter quotes an ancient Chinese Poem in the book's conclusion.

Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them.
Love them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.


On this day in 2007 - that makes a lot of sense.

The final paragraph in the book is this one:

The supreme key to reaching the West again is the key that Patrick discovered - involuntarily but providentially. The gulf between church people and unchurched people is vast, but if we pay the price to understand them, we will usually know what to say and what to do; if they know and feel we understand them, by the tens of millions they will risk opening their hearts to the God who understands them.


With all my heart I pray that millions of us will wake up in time to reach millions of those who live not far from God.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Worship @ New Hope 20 Jan 2008

We continued in the "Red Letters" series with a sermon entitled "What You Need To Know" from Matthew 4. More about that later. Main focus from the text was "repent for the Kingdom of God is near" and "Follow me."

Opening song:

Amazing Grace,(My Chains Are Gone) - great treatment of THE classic hymn

Forever

The Potters Hand

Ancient Words

Give Me Jesus (solo by Emily)

Just As I Am

I was trying to craft a set that reflected our need for God's grace and our call to follow Jesus as he said in His Word.

The message: I have been really working hard on examining my work as a preacher in recent weeks, and have read the Andy Stanley book "Communicating for A Change" twice. In it, Stanley strongly suggests that you go with one point and only put into the sermon other materials that directly support that point.

So I decreased the amount of text I put up, and went with visual images to support the message. Then I went a step further and sat on a stool to deliver it. My thoughts were that if I was stationary then I would not be able to rely on gestures and body language and would have to concentrate on the thoughts and concepts I had at hand.

Then I tried to hang that within the frame provided by Stanley.

Me - We - God - You - We

It seemed to help me focus, stay on point, and shorten the amount of words but deliver clearly what God had led me to say. I'll keep working on it.

Book Stack - 21 Jan 2008

UnChristian - Kinnaman & Lyons
A History of Christianity - Johnson
The Moody Handbook of Theology - Enns
They Like Jesus But Not the Church - Kimball
An Unstoppable Force - McManus
The Jesus Way - Peterson
Communicating For A Change - Stanley & Jones
A River Runs Through It - Maclean
Jacob and the Prodigal - Bailey
Clouds Without Water - Austin
Present Future - McNeal
Under the Banner of Heaven - Krakauer
My Utmost for His Highest - Chambers

It's Monday - All Day

I wanted to make the disclaimer right up front, since I'm here on my day off with a Rockbridge assignment due, a sinus infection picking up steam, having slept way too late and finding myself in a just plain cranky mood. I did think that our assignment was worth posting in hopes that it might spur discussion and someone out there to go deeper.

We were asked in the assignment to:

Write a critique of Part 1 in They Like Jesus But Not the Church matching your personal and church experience to what is presented by Dan Kimball in 2-3 paragraphs.

“They Like Jesus But Not the Church” Critique

Dan Kimball was perhaps the first to achieve broad distribution beyond the blogs and narrowly focused magazines of the idea that something was amiss with the way that emerging generations perceived the church as it exists today. The work of Tony Jones, Brian McClaren and others had been out before Kimball’s book, but their observations could be dismissed easier because of their fringe liberal status. Kimball writes in a way that helps people coming in from a traditional heritage or present position SEE.

Kimball’s book is like a mirror held up in front of the church today, and instead of the church making comments like “yeah, we are looking pretty good”, Kimball has people from the emerging generations come up and explain what we really look like. We’ve lost the path, and what’s worse, instead of going back and regaining our way, we’re pressing forward and yelling back at those who aren’t coming with us. A must read for anyone serious about reaching those outside.

Then there's Reggie McNeal's work.

Reggie McNeal wrote, “Church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spirituality.” (p. 7, The Present Future). Interact with McNeal’s assertion based on your personal and church experience in 2-3 paragraphs.

Reggie McNeal Interaction: Part One
When I first read the book, coming from a Southern redneck background though tempered with years of both formal education and personal growth, I wanted to run out and shout “heck yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.” The niggling little feelings about what we were doing at church I had possessed since before I was called as a pastor had, 7 years later into my first full-time ministry, begun shouting at me “IT”S NOT WORKING!!! THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT BEING TRANSFORMED!!”

We were doing everything we knew to do as church leadership, and kept adding things thinking that if we just provided one more inlet for people to learn, everything would change. I’ll confess that when 40 Days of Purpose came along, I really say that as a hopeful beginning to the sea change I desperately wanted to have occur. But it didn’t. We are doing too much at church. We are doing too much as staff for people. We are not expecting people to progress and start making disciples of their own. We need to teach people to live a cross-centered life and set them free to do it, not yoke them to another program. So yeah, Reggie spoke to me.

In “New Reality Number Two,” McNeal says the wrong question is “How do we get them to come to us?” and the right question is “How do we hit the streets with the gospel?” What question is your church trying to answer if measured by the programming promoted today? Explain in 2-3 paragraphs.

Reggie McNeal Interaction: Part Two
When McNeal asks questions, look out. You will not like the answer. Most of the time because the one you come up with is so completely wrong you feel foolish. When I read it, I bought copies for all the leadership. We have worked to find additional ways to bring the gospel to where people are, instead of always trying to attract them to where we are. (That was our only strategy at that point in time.)

So we have a sno-cone team that goes down to the local park and gives away sno-cones once a month. They also are in demand at other local events such as the Relay for Life that the American Cancer Society holds. We’re taking worship down to the park this summer with a bluegrass band and our praise band. We created off-site affinity groups (they were doing great, but they are proving very difficult to sustain). We have a group of people volunteering at the local elementary school, and that opened the door to our participating with them in the upcoming Relay For Life in Niceville. We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.

I've had some people ask me why I'm still so hard after learning more - even after years in the ministry. It's because I still need to learn. We have to get better at living out our faith and sharing it with people who do not know Jesus. Sure, I'd love to write for a living, would love to teach other seminarians someday online. But I'll never stop wanting to be involved in the greatest work anyone can ever do.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Don't Know What To Say



Do I laugh, or is it a wee bit too close to the real perception of people outside?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Buzzard's Roost

26-31 Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God." 1 Cor 1 - The Message



Back in the day, I used to work at a place on the wrong side of the tracks in Macon, GA. How do you know you're on the wrong side of the tracks? Wait until one day when the train is in between you and lunch - then you'll get it.

Anyway, the area was light industrial, with added benefits like the city landfill and dog pound. On the way there, right before you'd pass under the railroad overpass, almost any day, you'd see a group of men waiting there, hoping to be hired as day laborers. Week in, week out, day in, day out they would be there. In the harsh summer, they'd be trying to find some shade, and in winter they'd be huddled around a fire in a 55 gallon trash drum. But they'd be there.

I never gave them much thought outside those extremes of temperature. Never wondered how they got there, or if they had families. Never really looked hard in their direction. Just remember someone telling me that you could stop by and says something like "I got 20 bucks I'll pay for some work today" and guys would climb in the back of your truck. I guess I suspected most were alcoholics or something. Back then it was hard for me to grasp what unemployment meant.

Then God allowed me to experience that, and also to get to know some folks like those as I worked in a ministry center that helped people in need with food, clothing, and some limited job placements.

So I'm reading Matthew's gospel today, getting ready for Sunday. We're focusing on the "red letter passages" of Jesus' words for now. But I always make sure we get the context - the setting might be in black type, but you need it too.

Jesus goes down to the lakeside - to what today would be the docks. It was an area back then much like the "Buzzard's Roost" was in Macon. Fishermen might need an extra hand or two some days, so men would congregate there hoping for a day's labor.

That is the absolute last place I would have gone to pick the men who would carry out the most important mission ever given to mankind.

I cannot separate that scene from the one in my memory. I think back at all the times I saw those men there, and there's just no way I would have looked to them for help in doing anything important.

No way.

None.

God, forgive me.

Pride's a funny thing. You can convince yourself that you are a good person, an ordinary guy. You can claim you'd never look down on anybody. Even cite your humble roots. I know I've written about being born in a mill village.

But just as soon as God's grace, His completely unmerited grace gives you what you need to "move up" in the eyes of society...

read this very carefully...

You also move away.

Away from your neighbor. Away from looking at people as Jesus did. Away from anything remotely resembling the good news. It's sin.

Man I hate it when the preacher becomes the preached to.

So I thought I'd share. :)

Grace!

David
--
Visit New Hope!
http://www.newhopevalp.org/

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Show Me the Money

I was reading a blog named Missio Dei today and came across this:

Research shows that 90% of SBC churches are plateaued or declining and only 2-3% (Aubrey Malphurs) or 3-5% (Ed Stetzer) will ever recover. What does this tell us about how our resources and energy should be focused? Where do you think our resources and energy is currently focused?


My answer?

On expanding the Kingdom of God.

This is not an either or. It should be a both/and. When you aren't planting enough churches to even cover raw population growth and stay at the same percentage of impact, the problem is "brand" wide. Every plateaued and declining church tells the population around it - "no one here cares. We are willing to sit on this corner and pretend we are making a difference." They "poison the water" and create impressions in the minds of everyone they touch which may never be erased.

We simply cannot afford NOT to vigorously attack this problem as a corporate body. The SBC "brand" is hurting badly. Outside of disaster areas where our relief efforts have born fruit, we are looked on as increasingly detached from the marketplace of ideas. We spent far too much money and time in Washington DC, and far too little meeting our neighbors.

It's funny I read this blog post today, because I had a conversation with a church health expert with another denomination recently. He described their "intervention" method of "turning around" churches. I was greatly impressed with the process he outlined which included a "turn-around pastor" assessment much like that which is routinely done with church planters.

The idea was patterned after a successful campaign among American Baptist churches in the Western US. Dr. Paul Borden has given a great gift to the Body of Christ in this effective and biblical method of turning churches headed to closing into thriving healthy congregations. His Growing Healthy Churches is exactly what we should be doing as a denomination. here's a quote from the website.

Since 1997 over 170 congregation have experienced radical transformation and as a result many are intentionally and successfully reproducing new disciples and leaders.


Take that number and imagine what it would be if applied to the SBC.

You hear that? That was Satan's knees knocking just thinking about it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"...but I also want..."

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. Romans 1 NLT 2.0


I'm teaching the beginning verses of Romans tonight, and I come to verse 12, and I realize that what Paul was hoping for - what he wanted to have happen - had for me. As I looked around the room, I saw many people there (and thought of others who were serving as well, or absent tonight) who by the way they have lived out their faith during the time I've been the pastor at New Hope - have encouraged me.

There's the person who was on the search committee that brought me here, whose faithfulness to the vision of reaching out and loving people just as they are always energizes me. And her husband who may be the person who lives in the state of thanksgiving more than anyone I have ever known.

Or the one whose gentleness is evident to all who know him, and whose quiet and authentic faith is worthy of anyone's emulation. His wife who bears her physical affliction with grace.

The guy who continually checks on Bunny and me, prays for us, and who comes up with new ways to reach out while supporting anything I come up with that will reach people. Or his wife, who is as humble a person as I have ever known.

There's the young man and his wife who both exemplify what it means to live out your faith in every area and trust God no matter what.

And the man who has given his adult life to working to produce godly boys out of hooligans - and his wife who sometimes tries to do too much by herself.

There are more I could cite, but you get the point.

Somewhere I read today that after a certain number of years a church begins to take on the personality of its pastor.

I wonder if the opposite isn't equally true.

It certainly seems as if Paul hoped to see that happen.

I know I do.

I thank God that He placed me with people who I could help grow in Christ even as they helped me do the same.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hey coach!

One of the hardest adjustments I have had to make in life as a pastor is the sheer aloneness that goes with the job. When I say "aloneness", I'm not meaning the lack of human interaction. What I'm referring to is the lack of coaching.

When I was in business, I worked with/for someone who as part of their job description had to develop me in my skill set and improve me in my effectiveness. Ah those days with Procter and Gamble where my manager and I would sit at a table somewhere, usually a Shoney's, and haggle over where I fell this year in the measurable job performance categories. Did I "need improvement"? Or was that area one of "Significant Strength"?

Whatever the result of the interaction, we always left with some idea of a development plan that would leverage my strengths and improve my weaknesses. The goals we set had to meet a high standard. They had to be specific, measurable, achievable, and compatible with the goals of my team.

In this role, there are times when I badly need a coach. Decisions need to be made in order to see the church move forward on its mission. Sometimes that action is one I have never considered before and the church has never before taken. Complex interactions are most always part of the mix and Murphy's Law, the Law of Unintended Consequences, and always the law of "We Never Did It That Way Before" all combine to almost paralyze you.

On an ongoing basis, just as in sales, I need to grow in my abilities and skills. My aim is to constantly improve, and toward that end I'm working on two Masters degrees and have an ultimate Doctorate in Education as a prized goal. I read everything I can on preaching, on small groups, on men's ministry, on discipleship - until I have more facts than I know what to do with.

If only there was a system within the SBC to help the single staff guys like me evaluate their context, their effectiveness, and their stated goals and work through a plan to grow.

Personally, I'm very grateful for the Internet and the availability of places like the Pastors.com pastors forum which I was a part of for years, and most recently for the guys I share the Ultimate Pastors Forum with. Having the insight and counsel of men who are actively engaged in pastoral work is so valuable to me. But I know that if they could walk with me through Valparaiso, meet the people here at New Hope, and hear our vision to be more effective in reaching the unchurched, their counsel would be so much better.

Is this an area in SBC life where the association should be, but isn't? Our association is heavy on the big churches, and the smaller ones are all traditional. I would think if a coaching network was to be built, it would almost certainly have to be "affinity" based, with members gathering with like philosophies of church.

If anyone has any ideas along this line, I am all ears. Knowing the challenges of pastoral leadership aren't going to get any easier means I keep working hard to grow. But having a coach or coaches to help that process would be a blessing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

One of Those Moments

Yesterday's worship set at New Hope included our version of "Nothing But the Blood" sung by our praise team with Juliet singing the verses and all of us singing the chorus.

During rehearsal, Bunny and Amy were in tears just thinking about the words to that old hymn. Bunny took some time to explain to the team (made up mostly of youth and kids) just what meaning the words have and should have for all of us regardless of age.

While we were singing the song, I was filling in on rhythm guitar and my son Sean was doing an amazing job with an innovative and emotional lead. He really is an amazingly talented guitarist who rarely gets a chance to show what he can do. It was so special to be sharing that moment with him.

I looked out over the congregation, and they were caught up in the power of the song as well. Maybe, just maybe, we can navigate the troubled waters of worship music as a congregation and not just make it through - but grow closer to God and each other while doing it.

What a blessing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's a gray day.

A friend of ours said it was a day like many they experienced in the state of Washington. I reminded her that even if it was, you were still surrounded by those awesome mountains.

She pointed out that you had to know they were there, because when it was like this, you couldn't see them.

I know, but it doesn't mean they aren't there.

Today, a friend in the ministry is experiencing a crisis of faith as he and his family try to remain strong in the midst of a firestorm of sinful behavior on the part of some in his church.

Today, one young girl we've been praying for awaits a transplant to deal with her leukemia, and another (our niece) who just turned 10, tries to live with cancer and chemotherapy which has robbed her of energy, and caused the loss of her hair.

Today someone else is dealing with a multitude of trials, none of which were their fault.

It's a gray day.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, it was a day like this one. Not too far into the New Year. Georgia in winter. Cold, wet, gray. She never saw another summer. Toward the end, we moved her into what used to be the basement rec room and tried our best to make it a warm and comfy place. We would come over and hang out, watch TV with her, talk to her, play her music. We even planted her favorite flowers outside the windows so she'd be able to see them.

We'd also come down and read to her toward the end, when she was too weak to even do the crossword puzzle she had always devoured. One day she asked me to read her Bible to her. So I started reading. I read beginning with John, then Acts and Romans. At times the pages of her bible seemed to be dotted with something. Not anything that ruined the print, but there were noticeable spots where the paper looked different. No where more so than the eighth chapter of Romans.

When I got there I mentioned to her that it looked like something had been spilled on them. She looked at me and said "No, nothing was spilled there." Then she teared up.

I learned that day that when she was diagnosed, she spent days asking God "why? Why me? Why now?"

She read her Bible as she always had for help and inspiration. And that day I learned that nothing had helped her more than Romans Chapter 8.

38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. NIV

It was there she found her help, through her tears.

For those who are having a gray day, I hold out this hope - that you might see God's strength as the clouds clear, like a mountain towering over all your worries, fears, and trials.

Just because we can't see Him at work, doesn't mean He's not so very close. Nothing can separate us from His love.

Grace and peace,

David

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Can't We See?

I'm typing this on a Mac today. It's the first blog post I've ever typed on this quirky device that was gifted to me by a friend who felt my computer universe could use some expansion.

So in the past few weeks I have been diligently trying to make it work for me. Instead of... against me.

For the most part, I've succeeded, but there are still things it does and doesn't do that drive me nuts.

I know that if my friend, who has decades of experience with Macs were here, he would patiently instruct me in how to achieve my goals. But he's not. And even simple keyboard tasks can quickly escalate into war, and my decision to walk away for a while.

This morning I was thinking through some names. Names of people who were part of our fellowship for a while, but just walked away. It would be so easy to decide that it's all on them - they weren't committed, they didn't care enough, or even that they really didn't have a saving relationship with Jesus.

But what if...

they just didn't know how to make it work?

What is it about us that we can't even see that option?

And see it before their walk carries them too far away?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Thoughts for Tuesday

Very interesting post by Bill Lollar on The Babel Conspiracy :: Religion DNA Remix

Really good post, filled with insight. Having Ray Steadman quotes never hurts IMHO. :)

Here's what got me:

What if we start by acknowledging…

* That knowing, believing, and walking with Father is sufficient…anything else is a distraction or an idol.
* That simplicity (coming to Him as little children) is desired far above innovation.
* That Father is not impressed with size or structure: two or three get His attention and His presence.
* That He's the builder, putting together a temple of living stones.
* That Father has not asked us to build anything tangible, because He knows the damage it will bring.
* That pragmatic, zealous, religious strategies can never replace a living relationship with Him.
* That joining others in the journey does not require what we've been programmed to think it requires.


What if God loves small, weak, and feeble?

Could it be?

Yes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

On Worship Music

One of the areas of constant err.. adjustment and attention in churches all over today is the music we use in worship. In the church where I became a Christian, there were some constants that don't exist today.

We almost without exception used the King James version (Schofield notes). So much so that brother James Herndon could say "turn to page 123" and we could.

We used the official Southern Baptist Hymnal. We used the 1975 version for so long that the regulars could tell you scores of hymn names if you called out the number. In fact, rumor had it that in addition to the tablets Moses carried down off Sinai, the first hymnal came with him, with Holy, Holy, Holy already sitting in its proscribed position as Hymn #1.

Bunny and I were pretty quick to embrace the NIV study Bible when it came along, as well as "contemporary Christian music". Of course back then we're talking about Dallas Holm, Keith Green, the Imperials, Russ Taff, Petra, etc. Looking back, some of it wasn't very good, but some, like the work of Keith Green, still speaks.

So as I sit here today thinking about Sunday's worship music, I have several bits of knowledge floating around my cranium.

First, we want to honor God in what we do and glorify His name in worship. In short, the music ( or lyrics I suppose) has to be true to Scripture. The performance of it needs to not elevate a person's skills, but direct our hearts to God.

Second, we want congregational - not performance driven - but community driven music. (What I mean is that some music is best used for solo or group and just doesn't translate well to congregational praise.) If we use a solo, it has to be meaningful outside the realm of "wow, she/he did great" or "isn't that a wonderful song". The music needs to direct our attention to God.

Third, as pastor, I want to try to use the music to open the spiritual ears of the congregation to the message I'm about to bring. So all the other criteria being met, I would prefer we sing songs that open the ideas and concepts I'm about to preach on to the hearts and minds of those attending that day.

So all that being done, now I turn to the resources we have.

There's the body of work of Wesley, Watts, Luther, Crosby, etc. as included in the hymnal.
There's the praise chorus period as popularized by Gaither etc.
There's the early contemporary Christian music I mentioned earlier.
And then there's the modern Praise and Worship music, which has now been out there for 15 years or so.

Bunny and I keep an Excel spreadsheet of what we have done and when we have done it, so as to be able to report to CCLI as well as to rotate songs and expand our catalog. If we introduce a new sone, that usually takes three weeks of practice by the praise team and one week of introduction via them to the congregation before we ever decide to sing it as one.

It's not easy. If you care about the three criteria I listed.

Sure we could break out a hymnbook and ask for "favorites". That means we won't have anything but the keyboard playing them, because guitarists need chord charts. It means we lose any connection with the overall theme spiritually of the worship as a whole. And it means we limit ourselves to only those periods of music contained within them.

As a pastor, I am very sensitive to the spiritual needs of the congregation as a whole. I want everyone to come away knowing they had spent the time in worship as the Body of Christ. Everyone. From all generations.

Recently I had someone ask me "why don't we sing any hymns?" My first response was "we do, almost every week." But it became apparent that they (and probably others too) had a setlist of hymns that made them feel they were "in church", and we weren't pushing those buttons. So I went back and looked at what we were doing over the last year, and in a church that's characterized by young families and children, we sang 24% hymns. But it wasn't enough.

Initially, I really was bothered by that. But over time and through prayer, I'm seeing it as an opportunity to teach ALL the generations about what worship is and how we use music in it. We might use some of the hymns of years past but run them through today's ways of presenting them, much as Matt Redman did with "Nothing But the Blood" or Third Day has done. It might be interesting to go the other direction with some of the more modern music - slow it down, go more acoustic and piano.

My job here, as pastor pressed into service as music guy (Bunny does the real work here, I just pick the songs), is to pray through God's use of music to transform lives - to be a part of that awesome work. Would I love to have a worship person? Absolutely. But it's my responsibility now.

If anyone out there has some resources that would help me in this task, or wants to come invest their life here at New Hope, I'll certainly move toward the back of the bus. Yet I think there's a lot good in having the pastor involved in worship design and execution. If the pastor is serious about transformational worship, being under the hood really helps.

Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, January 06, 2008

On Baptism

We got to baptize a young man today!

It's always an awesome event in the life of a church to celebrate someone's decision to commit to, and identify with Jesus in baptism. In the small church, every good event matters. There's always a need to remind people what we're about, to point them to Jesus.

Baptism matters.

As I read the accounts of Jesus' baptism again this week, two things stood out.

First, the dedication He had to doing God's will. He walked about 60 miles to be baptized by John.

But something else - that I had never thought of before.

Jesus was there to be baptized with everyone else.

And everyone else there to be baptized was a repentant sinner.

So let's assume that Jesus didn't look like all those English guys that usually play him in the movies, or have that freaky halo/golden plate behind his head. There's no way to tell the Messiah without a program yet.

If you or I were standing there, and we saw a young man in line to be baptized, we would naturally assume he was like everyone else.

That he was one of us.

Even at the beginning of his ministry - in the first act of it - Jesus wasn't afraid to be among, with, even labeled (falsely) as a sinner. His reputation didn't matter nearly as much as doing God's will and living out His purpose.

Think about it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

What Should A Baptist Association DO?

That's a question that I suppose has as many answers as we do associations. Our contexts are so different these days as America's demographics change. Here on the Gulf Coast and in the Choctaw association, apparently the question is valid, as a group within the association is taking up that very question.

Context does matter.

Geographic and demographic contexts matter: Okaloosa County contains the largest military base in the United States - Eglin Air Force Base, as well as some of the finest beaches anywhere. There's a wild swing between the northern and southern ends of both Okaloosa and its neighbor Walton county because of the different influences of beach versus rural or exburb. This led to the creation of a separate association for Crestview and northern Okaloosa county, and to some of the South Walton churches aligning with the Choctaw Asssociation instead of the Walton one.

The Air Force and soon to be larger Army influences mean that there's a larger population of skilled workers who are younger and prone to have families, and a contractor base (and retirees) who are older and have substantially greater income than others do. But move across the bay to Destin and South Walton, and money ramps up considerably as well as the diversity of culture. Then too, just like the tides, people come in and out of those areas for short or long term stays. Snowbirds, condo owners, vacationers, even Spring Breakers all come in and out and affect the churches. The pastor of the largest church in Destin once told me that "the snowbirds are under the mistaken opinion that we should change who we are just for them." So there are pressures inherent within the diversity that exists.

Add to that the mega vs small church tug of war, traditional versus modern, and denominational turf wars and we'll have fun fun fun convincing anyone that we're about the Kingdom of God who isn't already an insider.

Makes you want to run out and become a DOM now doesn't it?

Given our context, I'm going to take a stab at offering some suggestions. They may be stupid in your environment. If so, pay no attention to them. If they are brilliant, then by all means let me know. :)

First: Quit trying to do the work of the local church.

Second: Quit hurting the work of the local church. Every dollar spent on associational buildings and people that cannot be justified by a resultant effect in growing the Kingdom through the work of the local church is wasted. Wasted.

Three: Help our pastors help our churches. I know we're a prickly bunch and not easily led or helped, but we are the people that God called and placed in the churches of the association to help see His will done on earth as it is in heaven. And we are the ones who will have to give an account for what we have done and haven't done. We need help - especially (but not limited to) those of us who pastor smaller churches. Every new initiative we undertake - someone has BTDT. We need the DOM and the association to serve as facilitator and network respectively. Hook us up when we get a wild idea with someone who knows how to pull it off. Help us find the resources to accomplish it. Maybe the association could serve as part file cabinet, part rolodex, part storage building.

Four: Bring Us Together as people walking down the same road. There are so many splits in the people who are outside. So many fissures emerging within the SBC. calling another meeting isn't going to get it done anymore. Inviting two pastors or three to meet for lunch will. Getting to know each other as fellow stragglers will. Pastor's luncheons may be the hardest thing a DOM can pull off and may seem insignificant. But they matter. Personally I'd love to see our association buy a trailer like they use during emergencies to feed people. Self contained kitchen etc., but with a PA system and a few of those "jumpy toys" and stuff like a rock climbing wall so we could do block parties and cross church fellowships. But that's just me.

Perception is that the current system of funding the DOM position makes him far more attentive and reactive to big churches and big church pastors. It ought to be just the opposite. YMMV. I'd love to see that position become a Missionary position again with the small church and church planting through all the churches be the focus. I know there are a lot of DOM's who do a great job of looking after the needs of smaller churches, but not all of them do.

Finally (for now) - Help us see the bigger picture. Fight us to help us see it. By that I mean the DOM has to be working to take what the pastors dream and see if it will synergize into something that will not only allow the local churches to fulfill their calling, but will help other local churches do the same. The Charleston Baptist SC association has a resort ministry arm that works alongside the association with a separate board made up of churches. Ours has a ministry center that does that. We need to see more of that sort of thing but birthed out of what God is telling the local churches, not out of the Lifeway catalog or a DOM association meeting.

For me, this is sort of a final attempt to try to work through what an association ought to be and do. In the small church I serve, we're not going to nod our heads anymore and send our money to anything that doesn't help us do our job more effectively than we could do alone.

/rant off

praying commences again

*edited to remove some of the heat and leave the light - DW

Will They Grow

My bride got hooked on reading blogs after I turned her onto Google Reader. That little tool makes it easy to find and read blogs on various subjects you are interested in. Not a great deal of our tagged blogs coincide except in the theology area, but even there we diverge to a certain extent.

For example, she reads a blog called "the naked pastor" where a pastor talks frequently about his life, his beliefs, and mostly about his struggles with both. I used to read it, but found myself wondering increasingly whether the guy ought to be a pastor at all. Everyone has areas of weakness, but that guy had acres and acres of them and never seemed to get better.

One of my most fervent prayers for the people God has given me to care for is that some of them would see themselves grow in their faith. I work to spend the time in God's Word, in prayer, and in communion with Him to grow in my faith. Some of that growth comes as a result of failing at times to live up to the example of Jesus. When that happens, I go to Him and ask forgiveness, and for strength and wisdom to overcome. When Paul wrote, "follow my example, as I follow Christ", I figure he meant just that. A pastor has to keep growing - stay hungry - want to do more for God - more with the gift of life God has given him, right up to the moment that God takes him home.

One of the saddest realizations comes for me when I find that a person I love and am praying for to receive more of God's peace, more of His mercy, more of His grace - has decided - "I'm good. I like who I am now. No need to do anything more. No reason to want to grow more."

I can remember back when my boys were little, they'd stomp around the house wearing daddy's shoes. It was comical to see my size twelves on them. But folks, they grew into them. I want so much to see both of them, as well as those I love and care for at New Hope to grow with me as we follow Jesus.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

If I Had Only One Sermon

Today was one of those days that had me wondering just what God was up to. Bunny was away doing her amazing artist stuff, and I was left along at home to read, study and pray (oh and freeze! It's cold here today). As I wrote earlier, I've been reading the "red letters" - everything Jesus said in the Scriptures - this week, getting ready to preach a series based on them.

The way my mind works though, I go into "immersion mode", where I soak up everything I can on the text I have before me. It's not uncommon for that work to generate 50-90 pages of notes for a 40 minute Sunday morning sermon. I'll do all the background stuff, word studies, scan other versions, and read the text over and over and over. Then I have to walk away for a while and do something else.

Today when I did that, I was reading an excellent book by Kenneth Bailey on Luke Chapter 15. Bailey writes from the background of someone who knows the lifestyle of the Middle Eastern peasant intimately. I have been blown away by his insight. He's like Rob Bell on steroids.

If I had only one sermon to preach, it would be on the three "lost" parables in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. I haven't done much "candidating" in my career, and have only done two "revivals". I'm a pastor. I need to know the people I'm helping connect to God in order to be truly effective.

But let me preach Luke 15, and I would stand in front of anyone or any crowd. It speaks so deeply to me. I've been that prodigal. I have prodigals I love dearly. I've been that older brother, and known quite a few in the churches I've been a part of and led.

And that Father... oh, that Father. How I long to love like that. How thankful I am to be loved like that. How I want to see our church full of people willing to love like that!

There are other texts that move me, but if I had only one sermon - Luke 15.

I'm reading the red letters again today

Jesus was always saying the unexpected. Just when his followers thought they had him figured out, he’d open his mouth and amaze them once more…People were flabbergasted when he said they should love their enemies. They were aghast when he said to turn the other cheek when someone crossed them. They were intrigued by his parables and mesmerized by his description of God’s kingdom. His listeners were awed by his wisdom, inspired by his morality, and melted by his love.

-Lee Strobel(What Would Jesus Say, p.12)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Update on Rockbridge Core Evangelism Textbooks

Optional Textbooks

Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making your Church a Faith-Forming Community by Robert E. Webber
Church Evangelism: Creating a Culture for Growth in your Congregation by John Mark Terry
Evangelism Outside the Box: New Ways to Help People Experience the Good News by Rick Richardson
More Ready Than You Realize: The Power of Everyday Conversations by Brian D. McLaren
Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey by Rick Richardson (forewords by Brian McLaren and Luis Palau)
Reinventing Evangelism: New Strategies for Presenting Christ in Today’s World by Donald C. Posterski
The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church by Alan Hirsch (foreword by Leonard Sweet)
The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

New Year, New Series

Christmas is behind us now, and we've crossed the threshold of the New Year. I haven't yet had to write 2008 but I know how to make a seven into something eight-ish, so I'm good. Time to move on from the "Nights Before Christmas" series of sermons.

Started thinking before the holidays about this, praying what direction to go in next. Several factors involve themselves in the preparation process. Number One of course is what is God directing? There have been times when it was extremely clear what I should preach. That could be driven by the circumstances we found ourselves in as a church, or a pressing need that presented itself, or a realization over time that the church was in need of instruction in a certain area.

For a few years, I actually followed the Lectionary in order to try to cover as much as the whole counsel of God's Word as I could. In another couple of years I tried to follow the SBC lectionary - the Adult Sunday School quarterly. :) Yes, I would preach ahead of the next week's lesson in the Sunday School texts, hoping to go deeper and give more context than they would receive in their lessons. I was helped in that by some great resources put out by the EXTRA! staff at Lifeway.

The goal in both was to try to deliver one consistent message each Sunday instead of three different ones. When you think about it, the average Baptist who comes to every opportunity on Sunday will hear a SS lesson which applies to life in one area, a sermon which probably is in another, and then finally a Sunday night sermon or small group. Three messages, three applications - all of which will be mostly forgotten by Monday afternoon.

So my idea was to take each Sunday as a teaching unit, and pound one Big idea from three angles. General context and application in SS, Broader context and application in the morning sermon, and then that night to really focus on parts that might be nuances but were more than incidental in the text. For example I might do a word study that night to help flesh out a concept, or I might do a character study of someone involved in that morning's text.

I still really like that, and believe it has the most potential for transformation, however present structure and circumstances being what they are, it is a nonstarter. If I was in a plant, the small group lesson would come as further exposition and application of the Sunday morning sermon. But I'm not in a plant.

So here I am.

With a mix of people at various stages of spiritual growth, with a varied demographic of ages and education, with varied backgrounds as far as church and region. In general, we need to be better at applying what we already know of the Bible to our lives, we need to have a more consistent ability to see the world through a Christian world view, we need to be able to share our ideas in the marketplace of ideas effectively and clearly across all those demographic lines and tribal boundaries. And we need to grow as a church on mission.

Oh is that all?

I should just tool over to see what Fellowship, or Granger, or Northpoint is doing and buy their last series. The most effective church in the area, far and away the one that has grown the fastest, does that, and has done that for three years. But I can't do that. They don't know New Hope like I do, and I have precious little in common with any mega. At times I'm not sure we're seeing the same world.

So I pray, and I think about the people who are most likely to be out in front of me as I deliver the message. Will this series reach them? Is this what God would have me do?

One other factor - what can I do best?

The craziest thing has happened to me. Without wanting to or meaning to, I've gone from a topical preacher to an expository one who is far more comfortable with a passage than a series of verses spread out over the Bible. When I first began, I could preach topical sermons - really well at times. But now, I struggle with it.

Today I'll read every word Jesus ever spoke that's recorded in the Scriptures as I pray about a series on "The Red Letters" which will probably come mostly from the Sermon on the Mount and if it goes well, the parables. I'm also looking at the book of Romans and for Wednesday nights (we're through with Numbers) whether to continue into Deuteronomy or skip it.

By tomorrow, I hope to have clear direction and begin serious prep work for whatever God leads me to do. Pray with me that I'll be a willing vessel for His awesome Truth.