Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Even If No One Else Does

We were wandering through Romans chapter 8 tonight in Bible study, and for me - it was one of those nights. Now remember, my wife, who has heard almost every sermon I have ever preached, including some several times, has threatened to put "Rambling Man" as my ringtone. There's a rumor going around that at times, occasionally, I might tend, or seem to be, just that. A Rambling Man.

Well, I knew going in that the passage was going to be tough, because it has some of those words that cause the normal Baptist's ears to tingle - "foreknew" and "predestination." I studied ahead into Chapter 9, where the real fireworks begin, and was grateful that we'd only cover these few verses. Sure there were some words in there I needed to be careful in defining, but I was sure I'd handle it well.

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8 NIV

If you stray into the whole predestination argument from this passage, you've gone off course.

Well, that guy was me tonight.

And I was at times like the guy who is backing the car up and watching to make sure he doesn't hit the mailbox. In fact he is so intent on missing the mailbox that he gets fixated on the mailbox and winds up hitting it. Well, I didn't just back over it, I pulled up and did it about three times.

If confession is so good for the soul, why do I still feel bad? :)

I do so love the folks at New Hope. There's never been a more generous group of people when you are doing well, and never a more kind hearted group when you are struggling. But friends, let me back up one last time and see if I can deliver the goods.

What you need to know about this passage is this.

Even if you don't believe you can become more like Jesus, even if you can't see any way the old you will ever fade away, even if your family and friends don't believe this Christianity deal is anything more than a passing fad with you and that you will fail...

Even if no one else believes in you...

God does.

In fact, He can already see you changing, already picture you becoming more like Jesus.


"...those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son..."

He knows you can do it. And he's planning on your seeing it through - walking with Him, relying on His Holy Spirit to guide and direct your paths while he is working everything together for your good.

See the thing is - He's planning a BIG family reunion.

"...that he (meaning Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers."

That's us folks. We're part of those many brothers who God knew would be reborn in Jesus Christ. We're part of the people from every nation who will gather around the throne having been made pure through the blood of the Lamb. That's us! We win!!!!!!

So we shouldn't end this passage doing anything but praising God.

Because God will see us through to completion through the power of His Holy Spirit.

God believes in you, beloved. Even if no one else does.


Grace and peace,

David

--
Visit with me at my blogs:
http://davethepastor.vox.com/
http://itslikeherdingcats.blogspot.com/
Or visit New Hope!
http://www.newhopevalp.org/
http://www.churchcloud.com/new-hope-valp/

Representing... Jesus


Back in the day, I was a Sales Representative for a Fortune 50 company. I had a territory to manage that was filled with outlets for the products of my company, and prospects who were not outlets yet. My mission was to help those who were already selling our products sell more, as well as to help those who weren't selling them now, become outlets.

To do the former meant I had to learn their business goals, values, and how they carried those out, so that the marketing plans I devised were consistent with them, and would aid them in achieving a greater return on their investment.

With those who did not carry our products, I likewise had to meet them and seek to learn what their goals and values were, how they carried those out, and then devise a presentation that would help them see how our products would help them get there.

Existing customers were easier to handle, because of a shared history, common knowledge, and established trust. Prospects had to be convinced of your passion and determination to help them, as well - and this is key - your integrity overall. For if you weren't trustworthy, then nothing you said could be trusted either.

On the first day I went to work for this company, they told me, "You are (company name)." We will train you, support you, encourage you, and work on our end to develop products that are superior in meeting your customer's needs. But we cannot to the work for you that only you can do. We cannot build trust with outsiders and insiders. Only you can do that.

If you follow our guidance, adhere to our standards of conduct, and represent us with integrity, we will always be there for you. But the moment you lose your integrity whether in your personal life or corporate life, you are no longer of use to us and will be terminated as an employee. As long as you work for us, wherever you go, you are (company name) ."

Here's where I'm going with this.

Why do we as Christians think we can choose NOT to represent Jesus at our convenience?

One of the reasons I have heard for taking youth on mission trips is "they will be able to understand what it means to be all out for Jesus there."

There's no distinction between "there" and "here". "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it for the glory of God" seems to cover everywhere, at every time, in every situation.

We represent Jesus. How are we doing with that?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Local Culture and the Church

From an interview:

I believe the church works with three cultures. It works with a national culture such as the boomer, buster or builder generations. It also works with its own unique church culture. Finally, the church works with the local culture. Whether it's a Lutheran culture of Minnesota, a Southern Baptist culture of Atlanta, or an ungodly pagan culture of San Francisco, every church has its own local culture.

I'm convinced understanding your local culture is more important than knowing about your national culture. I'm working in Northern California, which includes churches in Marin County, Napa County, Vallejo, and churches down in the San Joaquin Valley. Those local cultures are as different as night and day. What attracts some people in one culture turns off other people in a different culture. I find that most pastors and churches have no understanding of the local culture in which they live.

In terms of exegeting culture, how does this impact the way you actually go about preaching a sermon?

I tell stories of how we're going to touch our world; specifically the world in which the church finds itself. I want to make clear that what we may be doing here in Minneapolis is only going to work in Minneapolis, and here's why. You can walk up to an atheist on the street in Minneapolis and ask, "What religion are you?" and they're going to tell you, "Lutheran," because it's almost an ethnic thing. That's one of the reasons why we're going to have a traditional service.

Suppose you carry this over to communicating vision in Minneapolis. While preaching about worship and music I'd remind people that we're doing a traditional service not because people here like to sing the old hymns, but because we want to reach un-churched Lutherans. This is Paul saying when I'm with the Jews I'm like a Jew, and when I'm with the Lutherans I'm like a Lutheran.

I want people to know that whether it's the issue of worship, music, the way we do outreach, or why we're communicating the vision we do, its determined not only by boomers, busters and builders, but also by local cultural issues.
Paul Borden HT: John Mark Ministries

Really good article on a lot of issues confronting the local church and its pastors. Read it all.

How would an outlook like that of Borden's affect what we do here at New Hope? Or what you do where you work for Jesus?

"Get me my religion!"

I just had to share this. I especially like the "supernatural size it" comment.



HT: Monday Morning Insight

Okay, after further review, here's what we should be serving people instead. Jesus.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Is next - Theology and Practice of Ministry


Tomorrow begins the new term at Rockbridge Seminary and one of the last core classes for me - Theology and Practice of Ministry.

The course is being taught by Dr. Randy Bennett, Director of Missions, Kern County Southern Baptist Association, Bakersfield, CA. He's well versed in the online educational experience as well as the bricks and mortar classroom, having taught at Golden Gate and at Midwestern. He's currently serving as an Interim in a church as well.

I'm looking forward to interacting with Dr. Bennett.

The course is designed to be: "An introduction to the purpose of ministry through the study of the biblical and theological basis for "every member ministry," the rise of clericalism in church history, the equipping church model vs. the dependency model, and the permission-giving church vs. the controlling church. Students will examine approaches to gift discovery and ministry matching."

Books should arrive this week and I'll get busy. That ticking noise you hear in the background is the time running out in my pursuit of this Masters. I'll have it in hand before Christmas, Lord willing.

The price of Admission


A couple of nights ago, I was looking for something to read that didn't have to do with the church, or theology. My life is so centered on New Hope and what God is doing and wants to do through all of us here, that I don't really read anything else. In years past I spent a lot of time bring drawn into the stories of Mark Twain's characters, William Faulkner's Mississippi, Steinbeck's California, and the military fiction of W.E.B. Griffin and Tom Clancy - and others, lots of others.

But as time has passed, I've spent more and more time in books about church.

Well, Tuesday I went out in the garage, where boxes of books still lie packed up from our move almost two years ago (the rest are in the attic or at church) and found "Flags of Our Fathers." I remembered reading it a while back and how it helped me understand a little bit of what my own father had gone through in that era.

So I picked it up and started reading again. The author is the son of one of the men forever immortalized as the "flag raisers" on the island of Iwo Jima. After his father's death, his family finds a couple of boxes in the closet with clippings about that event. They discover things they never knew about their father's courage and his relationship with the men he shared that "mountain top experience" with that day. Great book I highly recommend.

One of the men whose life he examines had come into military service the same way my father, who passed away a couple of years ago, did. When the war broke out, this individual was in an outfit called the Civilian Conservation Corps. The author explains how it was created to help men whose families were impoverished out of that hole called the Great Depression, and served as an intro to the rigors of Army life.

Here's what caught my attention. In order to participate in the program, that would lift your family out of poverty...

You had to admit you were poor.

That you were in need.

That was the price of admission, and I suspect there were some whose pride would have kept them from participation. My father and his family must have done that, or they wouldn't have gotten helped. I'm so thankful that they did. For my father's joining the CCC was their first step up from poverty - a poverty so bitter that decades later my father would point out certain weeds and explain to his boys that "those were all we had to eat." Times were hard, but hope was available - if you paid the price of admission, and swallowed your pride and said "I need help."

Funny how similar that organization is to this one - the Church.

I've been reading with interest Ed Stetzer's posts on the future of the SBC, as well as a few of the posts examining what the findings mean.

What has amazed me frankly are those who are rushing forward to claim that declining membership doesn't mean anything is wrong. There's so much wrong that for once I do not think any church growth guru can possibly design the next Lifeway program to help us pretend to fix it.

I'm reminded of one pastor's encounter with some Nob Hill socialite who was recounting a litany of woes. The pastor patiently hear her out and suggested that the woman needed to admit she needed help and call upon God.

"Has it come to that?", she is said to have replied.

Yes brothers and sisters, it has come to that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Hope @ Worship 04.27.08

After a great weekend of community activities - sno cones at the Relay for Life, and meeting and greeting and CHEERING at the Saturday in the Park, New Hope met to worship God today. Great crowd turned into a congregation.

Worship began with Jamie and Emily singing "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" - I chose that to tie in with the ultimate goal of the sermon.

Then we all sang:

How Great Is Our God
Holy, Holy, Holy

Then Craig, Emily, and Amy sang a new arrangement of "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms" that was great.

We followed that with "Still" and "The Potter's Hand"

My goal was to open some eyes this morning to spiritual blindness caused by pride.




Sermon audio available at:http://www.churchcloud.com/new-hope-valp/

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blind Spots


Tomorrow morning I'll be kicking off another series called "Blind Spots."

The idea is to get at some of those places in our walk with Christ that we just don't see as a problem, even though God's Word is clear. There are so many I could go after. I'm using John 9, and Jesus' healing of the blind man and the subsequent dust up with the Pharisees to set the tone for the series.

Bunny and I were talking today about areas we feel like we need to change within our lives in order to grow. In every case, our present situation wasn't as a result of any outside forces acting against us. We couldn't blame the government, the economy or anyone else. And we couldn't claim that we were unable to affect changes that we saw were necessary.

As that sage from Waycross, Georgia so aptly quipped, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

My hope is that we'll hold a spiritual mirror up to the way we live and see as Jesus sees, not as we do - behind our "blind spots."

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Been Six Years

Today is the 6th anniversary of the death of our one and only grandchild - Our granddaughter Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson. I've gone back through what I've written down through the years at this time of year, beginning with what I sent the night after I had come home from the tragedy, when I was preparing to go back to Macon. I've collected them all here, so I can remember, and in hopes what I wrote would help someone else.

One of the greatest honors in this life for me was being asked by my son Adam to help lead us through the valley of shadows at the funeral. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done. Reading these this morning has been hard as well. But it has also reminded me of just how precious the love of Jesus is to Bunny and me.

We would never have been able to cope with such devastation without Him - without Jesus. If you do read this, my hope for you is that you see past the grief to the grief-bearer.

The day after Ana passed away I wrote...

I'm writing this from my study here at New Hope about midnight on Friday.
Our family is mourning the loss of our Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson, the daughter of my son Adam and our daughter-in-love Shonda. Ana was due to arrive April 29th, but was found Wednesday night to have passed away and was delivered Thursday. I can report to you all that Shonda and Adam are coping as well as they can. Shonda was released from the hospital today.

The funeral will be held Sunday in Macon, GA at Glen Haven cemetery graveside at 2 PM. Visitation is Saturday from 7 to 9 pm at Snow's Memorial Chapel on Pio Nono Ave in Macon. I'll be helping the family through the service Sunday. Please pray for us in this time of deep sorrow.

There is so much I want to tell you about the courage of my daughter-in-love. She was incredibly brave and is a treasure. I'm so glad God placed her in our family. My son Adam was all a husband and Daddy should be - warm, loving, strong, and tender. Shonda's Mom and Dad have been wonderful as well as we share this fellowship of sorrow. And my wife Bunny was able to help deliver her first grandchild, serving her beloved Shonda and Adam through her tears. So many people have been so loving to us, from New Hope to Macon and beyond. May God bless you.

Before I leave to get some sleep prior to returning to Macon, can I share something with you?

Ana was our first grandchild. We were excited and getting more so as the big day approached. In the last few months our tastes at yard sales changed from books to baby clothes. We even traded cars so nothing would hinder our heading back and forth to Macon to see our precious little one. She carried the promise of ice cream sticky kisses, tight hugs, and a million "do it again Granddaddy's".

She was a dream, not a promise. Every baby comes forth out of struggle. Nine months or a little less of growing, of waiting, and then a final violent fight to be born. In our country most make it to birth. Other places fewer do. But we assume they will, because we want them so much. But we don't have a promise that they will. We have a dream.

We say "promises are meant to be broken", because in our humanity, we make some we never intend to honor, others we intend to and can't. The truth of a promise then depends on our character and our ability. We all have sinned and fallen short - so there's our character. And we cannot make everything better - so much for our ability, and our promises.

But there is One Who has both the ability and the character to make promises that count for something. His ability is limitless, and He is absolutely holy. What He says He'll do, He always does. Tonight as I write this through tears I'm trusting in those promises not just for me, but for Adam, Shonda, Bunny, Sean and the rest of our families - and for Ana.

He said, "There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." John 14:2-3 (NLT)

And He said, "I will never fail you. I will never forsake you." Heb. 13:5b

And this- "For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears." Rev 7:17 (NLT)

No more tears. No more death. No more sorrow.

I know my heavenly Father is caring for our beloved Ana, even better than we could do. And I know that though our hearts are aching, He hasn't left us alone and He never will.

I know that, because I know Him. I'm praying you do too.

May God grant you His peace. Please remember us in your prayers this weekend and in the weeks to come.

David Wilson



One week later I wrote this...

Heaven

At the beginning of our military's involvement in Afghanistan, the nation awoke to the fact that we really didn't know much about it. Thousands searched the net, and browsed books and periodicals to learn more about the land and its people.

One man who had come to his local public library was dismayed to find that every single book was either in use within the library that day or checked out. The librarian tried to calm the man, asking him what it was that drove him to want to know all he could about Afghanistan.

The man said, "This morning, my son's unit landed on the ground near Kabul. I've got a loved one, a part of my heart there."

With the passing of our beloved baby girl, Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson last week, once again I was reminded how much I want to know about heaven, where she is right now. I've spent some time this morning reading about it both in the Bible and in books by Billy Graham and others. All their insight helped me understand more about how special a place it truly is. But it is so much more special to me now.

Our precious baby was blessed with a loving mother who constantly made sure she was loved and cared for. She knew nothing but love. She left for a place of constant love. In our pain that is so hard to imagine. Many of us have known heartbreak. Some have known the pains of persecution, or prejudice, the anguish of loneliness. Ana will forever only know love. Of all I've read today, this helped me the most.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard,and no mind has imagined what God has prepared
for those who love him." 2 Cor. 2:9

I've imagined what heaven is like for years. The pictures in my mind are incredibly beautiful. A place of peace, of comfort, of joy! I've tried to think of what will be there, of how it is laid out, or who I'll see and how we will know each other. But in this short bit of scripture, God has told me this - "David, take every dream you ever had about heaven and throw it away. Your heart cannot hold what I've done for you."

God is love. And in that love He has been preparing a place for those who love Him that is beyond anything we can grasp. It's a place you would want everyone you love to go to when they die. I'm so thankful we have a God like that.

I pray everyone who reads this has the key to heaven's door - a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don't, and would like to know how you can, write me. I want you to have a place prepared beyond all you can imagine too



After One year Had Passed...

How Do You Handle A Heartache?

There's a commercial playing now on the radio station I listen to that's very clever. A woman answers the telephone, and a "headache" asks if it would be a good time for him to come over. "No, it's not a good time for me," she answers. "What about after five? I could do a migraine for you at five. Will that work?" "No, that won't work either, goodbye," and she hangs up.

They are selling a headache remedy that's designed to work all day, and prevent any from occurring. Good work if it can do what it says. I've got another question today though. How do you handle a heartache?

You see it is one of those days that accumulate on the calendar as you grow older, just as the gray accumulates in your hair. Some anniversaries come around every year and are pleasant. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, things like that. Others are added along the path of life and are most unwelcome.

Today is one of those days.

A year ago our family was together, united by sorrow, by bonds deeper than any legal writ. We mourned the passing of a dream. For our son and his wife, their first child. For Bunny and me, our first grandchild. A baby girl, so tiny, with a big name. Anastasia. Ana.

I wrote then that she had passed from the embrace of her mother's womb directly into the arms of God. No pain, no worries, no woe would ever befall her. Truth. Nothing has changed. She's safe, she is whole, and we will see her one day. Yet the loss remains, and the memory lingers. Some days are easier than others. But it is always there.

We've consoled each other. Sharing our individual reactions, bearing one another's burdens. Friends have been wonderful. We've come a long way, gone through several other trials since then. But it has been a long, long year, and the heartache remains. And on anniversaries like this one, it dials our number.

I got up early today and spent some time listening for God's whisper. That's nothing "metaphysical", it just means I got out of His way. Shut down my busy mind. Put my plans on hold and waited. Bits and pieces came, and so I began to write, and I opened my Bible. I read of David's reaction to his child's passing. Then I read of others as they dealt with their grief. I read and I read, and finally I came to this passage.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God himself will be with them.4 He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look, I am making all things new!" And then He said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true." Rev 21:4-5 (NLT)

I know just how John the revelator felt. Write this down - it is trustworthy and true. God wants us to know just how much He cares for us, and He doesn't want anyone to miss it. Thank God!

God with us. That's what I need, what we need to handle our heartaches. An ever present friend who loves us as we are, but so much more than that. Someone who can make us better - who can make all things new. And someone who won't just help us get over our sorrows, but will remove them. That's exactly what we need.

For now, we have this "old world and its evils." Jesus, in His final few words to His disciples said, "You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy." John 16:22 (NLT)
That's looking forward. And so is this.

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NLT)

Friends, grief, sorrow, the pain of loss is part of this world.

Heartaches are a part of life.

But for me, being able to collapse into the arms of Jesus, telling Him of my sorrow, knowing He knows my pain, and is actively helping me through it - well, that is how heartache is handled here. Who did He leave for us? The Comforter. Could anyone have chosen a better name for what we need? So when heartache calls, that is who I turn to. And He's never let me down.

Oh but one day, one day, my Lord will say to all those heartaches - Begone! And no one, no one, will ever rob us of our joy again. I can take heart in that on the most bitter anniversaries. And I will today.

If you would, please remember my son Adam Wilson, his wife Shonda, her parents and family, my wife Bunny, and our family in your prayers today. We've deeply appreciated your prayers. They have truly helped us this past year.



After two years had passed...

Absence and the Heart

Psalm 34:18 (Msg)
If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there;
if you're kicked in the gut, He'll help you catch your breath.

It's been two years today.

And right now my mind is flooded with might have beens. So many things are obvious blessings in my life - my wife, my boys, what God has called me to do, that I can get busy, and some of the hurt goes away. But today it's two years, and all I can think of is what we've missed - of what is absent that we had hoped would be here.

She would have had her father's eyes.

There were times when he was a little boy that we'd go off alone - to the store, to the Krystal, to Grandmother's, that I could look over in the seat next to me and see him looking at me. He'd ask questions, I'd try to answer, and the openness - the trust - the love in those eyes just melted me.

Yep. She would have had her father's eyes.

Her smile would have lit up a room, just like her mother's does. There are a lot of ways to measure people. My own personal preference is to look at their impact on others. Some people enter a room and suck all the joy out of it. When they smile it just doesn't look right, like cow horns on a Mercedes. They put it on to try to give the right response, but it isn't who they are.

Her mother is tiny. But when she smiles - she's huge.

I can see tiny feet beating the earth, little white tennis shoes slapping it as they come, bearing a smile so brilliant it warms this cold earth. She grins from ear to ear, and all you feel is joy.

She'd have her mother's smile.

By now, we'd have covered all the important things. Who loves you best, why Granddaddy's hair is gray, the funniest cartoons, how to eat Krystals and Nuways, and how come Grandmother hugs so hard. We'd have begun noticing new words, and she'd almost be reading. She'd have impacted my wallet and stolen my heart. Again.

Heart. She'd have had her grandmother's.

I have known literally thousands of people over 50 years. Some were self-contained, others - self-absorbed. A few seemed to enjoy this life, and others endured it. Many were bright, even brilliant. Others caught the eye, or in some other way made it through the clutter of a life's experiences to my heart.

But none have loved me like Bunny has. For no one I've ever known loves that deeply.

Two years ago, as we rolled up calendars toward April 29th, the expected day of joy, our home was filled with baby clothing, baby toys, baby... stuff. People around us shared in that and we added our own items. I remember visiting Target with Bunny and hearing her say a dozen times, "won't that look so pretty on Ana?" The only girl in a string of boys, the only girl in her own home full of men - young and older - the possibility to hold, to love, to care, to dress!!! a baby girl was excitement personified.

And when the days stopped for Ana, her Grandmother didn't stop loving. She found a way to love beyond the pain in helping her daughter-in-love deliver her baby. As I watched Bunny hold that small and delicate baby in her arms, weeping and talking to her as if she could hear... it was the greatest expression of love I've ever seen - through the deepest heartache.

She'd have had her Grandmother's heart.

For me, I don't know what I could have given her. It certainly wouldn't be material things, and her mom and dad would certainly taught her the A, B, C's and enlightened her on them 'Dawgs and Georgia politics.

So I guess she'd have had my prayers each day from infancy to adulthood, my lap to sit in, my knees to ride, and later my shoulder to cry on and my ears to hear.

It's been two years today. Two long years. Her absence hurts our hearts. But one day...

We will see her.

And that thrills my heart.

Grace, mercy, and peace,

David Wilson



Three years went by and I wrote...

To Love - To Life

To love at all is to be vulnerable.

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers...of love is Hell. C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson entered heaven three years ago this week. She never drew a breath outside her mother's womb.

She was our first grandchild.

It hurt. Dreams were crushed. Hearts shattered. Tears flowed.

To this very day, there's a heartache. If Bunny and I discuss those days, it's in tears. As we talked about it last night, we agreed the events were a sad story, with no joy anywhere within.

But we live on. We love on.

We could do so timidly, like a child venturing out over a frozen lake who knows he shouldn't be doing it at all.

We could do so blindly, like someone who doesn't want to hear the truth and so sticks his fingers into his ears and screams la la la la la at the top of his lungs.

Or we could live each day in love with life, just as it is, with all its hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows.

Why? Or maybe more importantly, how?

Paul writes in Corinithians:

"Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it--because it does. " Cor 14:1 The Message

Life includes the highest of joys and the deepest of heartaches. That's just life. Nothing I've ever experienced was as heartbreaking as the events around Ana's death. But God has shown us His love directly again and again and through many, many people. We are surrounded at New Hope by children, some of who need love so badly they'll beg to be held, or work to catch your attention, or will just sit next to Bunny when she's on the floor teaching, and lay their head on her shoulder.

Friends, to make it through the valley of the shadow of death, you need to know that God is with you, and that there is life on the other side of the valley. Our lives depend on receiving God's love through His Son Jesus and the Spirit's presence with us AND on giving love to others as God has given to us.

Hurts never become happy.

But we can find joy when we live to love.

Grace!

David



Then it had been four years. I was grateful for what God had done in my heart, but it was still there on my internal calendar...

Oh!

32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, "Sit here while I go and pray." 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me."

35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36"Abba,[ g] Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine."

37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. "Simon!" he said to Peter. "Are you asleep? Couldn't you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak."

39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn't keep their eyes open. And they didn't know what to say.


This week I've been reading and rereading this passage. I've studied it in every context, in the original language, through the hearts of many commentators and preachers. What they've taught me, I understand.

But... oh!

I don't know what to say... either.

How do we come to grips with the fact that the only person who ever lived on this planet without offending God, was the only one who could pay the penalty for the rest of us? How do we - or can we - understand what taking on the sin of the world meant to Jesus - how He instinctively must have been sick in His spirit? What was Jesus feeling as He suffered with the knowledge of what He must go through?

There are times in this life that people you love go through hardship. You'd love to be able to make it right - to come in and fix everything. But you can't. You slide into the grips of depression, feeling powerless and weak. The tendency then for some is just to give up and do nothing, despite their love for the one in need.

Jesus knows that about us. And it doesn't change His love for us one bit. Note what he says to the disciples. "For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak." So what are we to do?

It's been 4 years since our granddaughter Ana died, and I still don't have the words to make it right. It still hurts for all of us.

Shonda and Adam were going through such pain, and despite everything Bunny and I could do, there was no way we could do enough. The pain, the shock - was there. So we cried. We prayed. We held them and let them know we loved them.

And we hurt. And still are hurting.

But one day, the One who can make it right - will. And his name is Jesus. Knowing that He went through more suffering that we ever could comprehend means for me that I know He understands.

Knowing that He went through it voluntarily means I know He cares.

What do you say to that deep a love?

Thank you Jesus.

David



Last year...

Grief

It is the first emotion I remember.

As a boy, standing beside the road as my father carried my beloved collie away, killed by a truck.

It is the only one I cannot put away.

Even now, just typing the phrase "my father" brings tears. And thinking about our granddaughter... hurts. The loss of someone who we had hoped would fill our lives with joy again and again shook us to the core of who we are and tested the roots of what we believe.

And yet it made me love Jesus more intensely - to cling to Him for life. To make me want to know Him more - to spend more time in His presence.

Because He knew... grief.

It was my first sermon. I had prayed, oh how I had prayed. Day after day I had opened my Bible and read, asking God to give me a "word" for the people at a little mill village town in Forsyth, GA. It was outside that mill that my grandfather had been struck by the car of a rich man's daughter. He died a few days later. I wanted to go there and speak a word of hope, of encouragement.

But God led me to a snippet of Scripture.

No great and lofty text. No commonly known passage. No safe, preacher's portion. I didn't do it justice that day. Perhaps no one ever could. For what it says about the Son of God is too wonderful for words.

11 Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. 12 As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession— a woman's only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. 13 When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, "Don't cry." 14 Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, "Young man, I tell you: Get up." 15 The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
16 They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful— and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, "God is back, looking to the needs of his people!"

Luke 7:11-16 (MSG)

That day, I said all I knew to say about that passage in about 6 minutes.

I was young. No one in my family had passed away. I had no clue as to what the loss of someone you loved might be like. I had history - other people's life experiences passed down.

Since then I've had too many occasions to remember how Jesus reacted to the widow of Nain.

You know, when I pray for those at the point of death, I pray for God's will to be done. That doesn't mean I haven't fought the fierce inner struggles we all do when we want our loved ones restored as Jesus did that day outside Nain. No one wants those they love to leave them. But I know that God's will is always best for His children. Even though it is so hard.

Because He's a God whose heart can be broken over their grief.


I don't know if I could follow a God Who looked down on people and tried to imagine what they were feeling. Maybe, but there'd be so much missing from his understanding. He'd never really know... grief.

Some of you know exactly what I mean. The days, weeks, and months after someone dies do help with the pain, but it never really leaves entirely. And at certain times, or on certain days, it leaps back into your mind. That's when I turn to Jesus. That's when He looks at me and I know He shares my pain.

Even in grief, our God is there, looking to the needs of His people.

And He's exactly what we need.

"God is back, looking to the needs of his people!"

Yes He is. Even today.

May God give you peace,

David



Today it's been six years.

Bunny's been looking at the calendar for weeks now, knowing it was coming. We've talked about Ana and her passing several times in the last few days. One thing is for certain. Bunny and I are closer to seeing Ana today than we have ever been before. Age has its rewards.

Someday we'll see a beautiful little girl come running toward us with her arms wide open. Someday we'll kneel and receive the blessing of her hugs and kisses. Someday there will be no more anniversaries, no days like this.

But not today.

Today we'll mourn, and look ahead. To heaven. To the One Who has promised to wipe away every tear - personally.

To Ana.

Love you,

Grandmother and Granddaddy

It's Been Six Years

Today is the 6th anniversary of the death of our one and only grandchild - Our granddaughter Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson. I've gone back through what I've written down through the years at this time of year, beginning with what I sent the night after I had come home from the tragedy, when I was preparing to go back to Macon. I've collected them all here, so I can remember, and in hopes what I wrote would help someone else.

One of the greatest honors in this life for me was being asked by my son Adam to help lead us through the valley of shadows at the funeral. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done. Reading these this morning has been hard as well. But it has also reminded me of just how precious the love of Jesus is to Bunny and me.

We would never have been able to cope with such devastation without Him - without Jesus. If you do read this, my hope for you is that you see past the grief to the grief-bearer.

The day after Ana passed away I wrote...

I'm writing this from my study here at New Hope about midnight on Friday.
Our family is mourning the loss of our Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson, the daughter of my son Adam and our daughter-in-love Shonda. Ana was due to arrive April 29th, but was found Wednesday night to have passed away and was delivered Thursday. I can report to you all that Shonda and Adam are coping as well as they can. Shonda was released from the hospital today.

The funeral will be held Sunday in Macon, GA at Glen Haven cemetery graveside at 2 PM. Visitation is Saturday from 7 to 9 pm at Snow's Memorial Chapel on Pio Nono Ave in Macon. I'll be helping the family through the service Sunday. Please pray for us in this time of deep sorrow.

There is so much I want to tell you about the courage of my daughter-in-love. She was incredibly brave and is a treasure. I'm so glad God placed her in our family. My son Adam was all a husband and Daddy should be - warm, loving, strong, and tender. Shonda's Mom and Dad have been wonderful as well as we share this fellowship of sorrow. And my wife Bunny was able to help deliver her first grandchild, serving her beloved Shonda and Adam through her tears. So many people have been so loving to us, from New Hope to Macon and beyond. May God bless you.

Before I leave to get some sleep prior to returning to Macon, can I share something with you?

Ana was our first grandchild. We were excited and getting more so as the big day approached. In the last few months our tastes at yard sales changed from books to baby clothes. We even traded cars so nothing would hinder our heading back and forth to Macon to see our precious little one. She carried the promise of ice cream sticky kisses, tight hugs, and a million "do it again Granddaddy's".

She was a dream, not a promise. Every baby comes forth out of struggle. Nine months or a little less of growing, of waiting, and then a final violent fight to be born. In our country most make it to birth. Other places fewer do. But we assume they will, because we want them so much. But we don't have a promise that they will. We have a dream.

We say "promises are meant to be broken", because in our humanity, we make some we never intend to honor, others we intend to and can't. The truth of a promise then depends on our character and our ability. We all have sinned and fallen short - so there's our character. And we cannot make everything better - so much for our ability, and our promises.

But there is One Who has both the ability and the character to make promises that count for something. His ability is limitless, and He is absolutely holy. What He says He'll do, He always does. Tonight as I write this through tears I'm trusting in those promises not just for me, but for Adam, Shonda, Bunny, Sean and the rest of our families - and for Ana.

He said, "There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." John 14:2-3 (NLT)

And He said, "I will never fail you. I will never forsake you." Heb. 13:5b

And this- "For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears." Rev 7:17 (NLT)

No more tears. No more death. No more sorrow.

I know my heavenly Father is caring for our beloved Ana, even better than we could do. And I know that though our hearts are aching, He hasn't left us alone and He never will.

I know that, because I know Him. I'm praying you do too.

May God grant you His peace. Please remember us in your prayers this weekend and in the weeks to come.

David Wilson


One week later I wrote this...

Heaven

At the beginning of our military's involvement in Afghanistan, the nation awoke to the fact that we really didn't know much about it. Thousands searched the net, and browsed books and periodicals to learn more about the land and its people.

One man who had come to his local public library was dismayed to find that every single book was either in use within the library that day or checked out. The librarian tried to calm the man, asking him what it was that drove him to want to know all he could about Afghanistan.

The man said, "This morning, my son's unit landed on the ground near Kabul. I've got a loved one, a part of my heart there."

With the passing of our beloved baby girl, Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson last week, once again I was reminded how much I want to know about heaven, where she is right now. I've spent some time this morning reading about it both in the Bible and in books by Billy Graham and others. All their insight helped me understand more about how special a place it truly is. But it is so much more special to me now.

Our precious baby was blessed with a loving mother who constantly made sure she was loved and cared for. She knew nothing but love. She left for a place of constant love. In our pain that is so hard to imagine. Many of us have known heartbreak. Some have known the pains of persecution, or prejudice, the anguish of loneliness. Ana will forever only know love. Of all I've read today, this helped me the most.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard,and no mind has imagined what God has prepared
for those who love him."
2 Cor. 2:9

I've imagined what heaven is like for years. The pictures in my mind are incredibly beautiful. A place of peace, of comfort, of joy! I've tried to think of what will be there, of how it is laid out, or who I'll see and how we will know each other. But in this short bit of scripture, God has told me this - "David, take every dream you ever had about heaven and throw it away. Your heart cannot hold what I've done for you."

God is love. And in that love He has been preparing a place for those who love Him that is beyond anything we can grasp. It's a place you would want everyone you love to go to when they die. I'm so thankful we have a God like that.

I pray everyone who reads this has the key to heaven's door - a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don't, and would like to know how you can, write me. I want you to have a place prepared beyond all you can imagine too


After One year Had Passed...

How Do You Handle A Heartache?

There's a commercial playing now on the radio station I listen to that's very clever. A woman answers the telephone, and a "headache" asks if it would be a good time for him to come over. "No, it's not a good time for me," she answers. "What about after five? I could do a migraine for you at five. Will that work?" "No, that won't work either, goodbye," and she hangs up.

They are selling a headache remedy that's designed to work all day, and prevent any from occurring. Good work if it can do what it says. I've got another question today though. How do you handle a heartache?

You see it is one of those days that accumulate on the calendar as you grow older, just as the gray accumulates in your hair. Some anniversaries come around every year and are pleasant. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, things like that. Others are added along the path of life and are most unwelcome.

Today is one of those days.

A year ago our family was together, united by sorrow, by bonds deeper than any legal writ. We mourned the passing of a dream. For our son and his wife, their first child. For Bunny and me, our first grandchild. A baby girl, so tiny, with a big name. Anastasia. Ana.

I wrote then that she had passed from the embrace of her mother's womb directly into the arms of God. No pain, no worries, no woe would ever befall her. Truth. Nothing has changed. She's safe, she is whole, and we will see her one day. Yet the loss remains, and the memory lingers. Some days are easier than others. But it is always there.

We've consoled each other. Sharing our individual reactions, bearing one another's burdens. Friends have been wonderful. We've come a long way, gone through several other trials since then. But it has been a long, long year, and the heartache remains. And on anniversaries like this one, it dials our number.

I got up early today and spent some time listening for God's whisper. That's nothing "metaphysical", it just means I got out of His way. Shut down my busy mind. Put my plans on hold and waited. Bits and pieces came, and so I began to write, and I opened my Bible. I read of David's reaction to his child's passing. Then I read of others as they dealt with their grief. I read and I read, and finally I came to this passage.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God himself will be with them.4 He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look, I am making all things new!" And then He said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true."
Rev 21:4-5 (NLT)

I know just how John the revelator felt. Write this down - it is trustworthy and true. God wants us to know just how much He cares for us, and He doesn't want anyone to miss it. Thank God!

God with us. That's what I need, what we need to handle our heartaches. An ever present friend who loves us as we are, but so much more than that. Someone who can make us better - who can make all things new. And someone who won't just help us get over our sorrows, but will remove them. That's exactly what we need.

For now, we have this "old world and its evils." Jesus, in His final few words to His disciples said, "You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy." John 16:22 (NLT)
That's looking forward. And so is this.

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NLT)

Friends, grief, sorrow, the pain of loss is part of this world.

Heartaches are a part of life.

But for me, being able to collapse into the arms of Jesus, telling Him of my sorrow, knowing He knows my pain, and is actively helping me through it - well, that is how heartache is handled here. Who did He leave for us? The Comforter. Could anyone have chosen a better name for what we need? So when heartache calls, that is who I turn to. And He's never let me down.

Oh but one day, one day, my Lord will say to all those heartaches - Begone! And no one, no one, will ever rob us of our joy again. I can take heart in that on the most bitter anniversaries. And I will today.

If you would, please remember my son Adam Wilson, his wife Shonda, her parents and family, my wife Bunny, and our family in your prayers today. We've deeply appreciated your prayers. They have truly helped us this past year.


After two years had passed...
Absence and the Heart

Psalm 34:18 (Msg)
If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there;
if you're kicked in the gut, He'll help you catch your breath.

It's been two years today.

And right now my mind is flooded with might have beens. So many things are obvious blessings in my life - my wife, my boys, what God has called me to do, that I can get busy, and some of the hurt goes away. But today it's two years, and all I can think of is what we've missed - of what is absent that we had hoped would be here.

She would have had her father's eyes.

There were times when he was a little boy that we'd go off alone - to the store, to the Krystal, to Grandmother's, that I could look over in the seat next to me and see him looking at me. He'd ask questions, I'd try to answer, and the openness - the trust - the love in those eyes just melted me.

Yep. She would have had her father's eyes.

Her smile would have lit up a room, just like her mother's does. There are a lot of ways to measure people. My own personal preference is to look at their impact on others. Some people enter a room and suck all the joy out of it. When they smile it just doesn't look right, like cow horns on a Mercedes. They put it on to try to give the right response, but it isn't who they are.

Her mother is tiny. But when she smiles - she's huge.

I can see tiny feet beating the earth, little white tennis shoes slapping it as they come, bearing a smile so brilliant it warms this cold earth. She grins from ear to ear, and all you feel is joy.

She'd have her mother's smile.

By now, we'd have covered all the important things. Who loves you best, why Granddaddy's hair is gray, the funniest cartoons, how to eat Krystals and Nuways, and how come Grandmother hugs so hard. We'd have begun noticing new words, and she'd almost be reading. She'd have impacted my wallet and stolen my heart. Again.

Heart. She'd have had her grandmother's.

I have known literally thousands of people over 50 years. Some were self-contained, others - self-absorbed. A few seemed to enjoy this life, and others endured it. Many were bright, even brilliant. Others caught the eye, or in some other way made it through the clutter of a life's experiences to my heart.

But none have loved me like Bunny has. For no one I've ever known loves that deeply.

Two years ago, as we rolled up calendars toward April 29th, the expected day of joy, our home was filled with baby clothing, baby toys, baby... stuff. People around us shared in that and we added our own items. I remember visiting Target with Bunny and hearing her say a dozen times, "won't that look so pretty on Ana?" The only girl in a string of boys, the only girl in her own home full of men - young and older - the possibility to hold, to love, to care, to dress!!! a baby girl was excitement personified.

And when the days stopped for Ana, her Grandmother didn't stop loving. She found a way to love beyond the pain in helping her daughter-in-love deliver her baby. As I watched Bunny hold that small and delicate baby in her arms, weeping and talking to her as if she could hear... it was the greatest expression of love I've ever seen - through the deepest heartache.

She'd have had her Grandmother's heart.

For me, I don't know what I could have given her. It certainly wouldn't be material things, and her mom and dad would certainly taught her the A, B, C's and enlightened her on them 'Dawgs and Georgia politics.

So I guess she'd have had my prayers each day from infancy to adulthood, my lap to sit in, my knees to ride, and later my shoulder to cry on and my ears to hear.

It's been two years today. Two long years. Her absence hurts our hearts. But one day...

We will see her.

And that thrills my heart.

Grace, mercy, and peace,

David Wilson


Three years went by and I wrote...

To Love - To Life

To love at all is to be vulnerable.

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers...of love is Hell.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson entered heaven three years ago this week. She never drew a breath outside her mother's womb.

She was our first grandchild.

It hurt. Dreams were crushed. Hearts shattered. Tears flowed.

To this very day, there's a heartache. If Bunny and I discuss those days, it's in tears. As we talked about it last night, we agreed the events were a sad story, with no joy anywhere within.

But we live on. We love on.

We could do so timidly, like a child venturing out over a frozen lake who knows he shouldn't be doing it at all.

We could do so blindly, like someone who doesn't want to hear the truth and so sticks his fingers into his ears and screams la la la la la at the top of his lungs.

Or we could live each day in love with life, just as it is, with all its hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows.

Why? Or maybe more importantly, how?

Paul writes in Corinithians:

"Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it--because it does. " Cor 14:1 The Message

Life includes the highest of joys and the deepest of heartaches. That's just life. Nothing I've ever experienced was as heartbreaking as the events around Ana's death. But God has shown us His love directly again and again and through many, many people. We are surrounded at New Hope by children, some of who need love so badly they'll beg to be held, or work to catch your attention, or will just sit next to Bunny when she's on the floor teaching, and lay their head on her shoulder.

Friends, to make it through the valley of the shadow of death, you need to know that God is with you, and that there is life on the other side of the valley. Our lives depend on receiving God's love through His Son Jesus and the Spirit's presence with us AND on giving love to others as God has given to us.

Hurts never become happy.

But we can find joy when we live to love.

Grace!

David


Then it had been four years. I was grateful for what God had done in my heart, but it was still there on my internal calendar...

Oh!

32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, "Sit here while I go and pray." 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me."

35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36"Abba,[ g] Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine."

37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. "Simon!" he said to Peter. "Are you asleep? Couldn't you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak."

39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn't keep their eyes open. And they didn't know what to say.



This week I've been reading and rereading this passage. I've studied it in every context, in the original language, through the hearts of many commentators and preachers. What they've taught me, I understand.

But... oh!

I don't know what to say... either.

How do we come to grips with the fact that the only person who ever lived on this planet without offending God, was the only one who could pay the penalty for the rest of us? How do we - or can we - understand what taking on the sin of the world meant to Jesus - how He instinctively must have been sick in His spirit? What was Jesus feeling as He suffered with the knowledge of what He must go through?

There are times in this life that people you love go through hardship. You'd love to be able to make it right - to come in and fix everything. But you can't. You slide into the grips of depression, feeling powerless and weak. The tendency then for some is just to give up and do nothing, despite their love for the one in need.

Jesus knows that about us. And it doesn't change His love for us one bit. Note what he says to the disciples. "For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak." So what are we to do?

It's been 4 years since our granddaughter Ana died, and I still don't have the words to make it right. It still hurts for all of us.

Shonda and Adam were going through such pain, and despite everything Bunny and I could do, there was no way we could do enough. The pain, the shock - was there. So we cried. We prayed. We held them and let them know we loved them.

And we hurt. And still are hurting.

But one day, the One who can make it right - will. And his name is Jesus. Knowing that He went through more suffering that we ever could comprehend means for me that I know He understands.

Knowing that He went through it voluntarily means I know He cares.

What do you say to that deep a love?

Thank you Jesus.

David


Last year...

Grief

It is the first emotion I remember.

As a boy, standing beside the road as my father carried my beloved collie away, killed by a truck.

It is the only one I cannot put away.

Even now, just typing the phrase "my father" brings tears. And thinking about our granddaughter... hurts. The loss of someone who we had hoped would fill our lives with joy again and again shook us to the core of who we are and tested the roots of what we believe.

And yet it made me love Jesus more intensely - to cling to Him for life. To make me want to know Him more - to spend more time in His presence.

Because He knew... grief.

It was my first sermon. I had prayed, oh how I had prayed. Day after day I had opened my Bible and read, asking God to give me a "word" for the people at a little mill village town in Forsyth, GA. It was outside that mill that my grandfather had been struck by the car of a rich man's daughter. He died a few days later. I wanted to go there and speak a word of hope, of encouragement.

But God led me to a snippet of Scripture.

No great and lofty text. No commonly known passage. No safe, preacher's portion. I didn't do it justice that day. Perhaps no one ever could. For what it says about the Son of God is too wonderful for words.

11 Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. 12 As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession— a woman's only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. 13 When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, "Don't cry." 14 Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, "Young man, I tell you: Get up." 15 The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
16 They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful— and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, "God is back, looking to the needs of his people!"


Luke 7:11-16 (MSG)

That day, I said all I knew to say about that passage in about 6 minutes.

I was young. No one in my family had passed away. I had no clue as to what the loss of someone you loved might be like. I had history - other people's life experiences passed down.

Since then I've had too many occasions to remember how Jesus reacted to the widow of Nain.

You know, when I pray for those at the point of death, I pray for God's will to be done. That doesn't mean I haven't fought the fierce inner struggles we all do when we want our loved ones restored as Jesus did that day outside Nain. No one wants those they love to leave them. But I know that God's will is always best for His children. Even though it is so hard.

Because He's a God whose heart can be broken over their grief.


I don't know if I could follow a God Who looked down on people and tried to imagine what they were feeling. Maybe, but there'd be so much missing from his understanding. He'd never really know... grief.

Some of you know exactly what I mean. The days, weeks, and months after someone dies do help with the pain, but it never really leaves entirely. And at certain times, or on certain days, it leaps back into your mind. That's when I turn to Jesus. That's when He looks at me and I know He shares my pain.

Even in grief, our God is there, looking to the needs of His people.

And He's exactly what we need.

"God is back, looking to the needs of his people!"

Yes He is. Even today.

May God give you peace,

David


Today it's been six years.

Bunny's been looking at the calendar for weeks now, knowing it was coming. We've talked about Ana and her passing several times in the last few days. One thing is for certain. Bunny and I are closer to seeing Ana today than we have ever been before. Age has its rewards.

Someday we'll see a beautiful little girl come running toward us with her arms wide open. Someday we'll kneel and receive the blessing of her hugs and kisses. Someday there will be no more anniversaries, no days like this.

But not today.

Today we'll mourn, and look ahead. To heaven. To the One Who has promised to wipe away every tear - personally.

To Ana.

Love you,

Grandmother and Granddaddy

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Want It Now



I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now
Don't care how
I want it now
Don't care how
I want it now - from the Oompa Loompa song

Earlier last week, I was cleaning up in the closet and noticed that there was a copy of "Civilization II - Test of Time." It's an old, old game for the PC that lets you pick a people group and build a civilization. That's right, you get to RULE THE WORLD!!!!

So I began the game and decided to be the Ancient Greeks. I figured I had a depth of knowledge about them, knew the geography, and might get to show Alexander how a REAL general would handle those pesky Persians.

But it's so darn slow, this empire building. You have to convince people to settle, and farm, then build cities and defend them. There's danger of loss from outside forces and from treachery within. Even if you make yourself supreme ruler (they actually have a "despot mode" of government mode) people will be - people. Everything just takes so long.

That prospect of making things happen NOW! is most appealing to the pastor of a small church, friends. There's so much of what happens here that can best be described as incremental gains. You cheer when a couple more guys join the men's group. You're ecstatic when a couple of families seem to be fitting in. And have someone cross over to faith in Jesus, and it is as if everything you are doing is paying off.

This is not the place of giant leaps, or miraculous growth. No Beanstalks - more like centipede grass.

In the game, they have "cheat codes" you can use to speed up the process - to advance beyond what you could have expected to normally.

Ever hear of anything like that in the church? Or ever think about how easy this would be if only *those* people got out of the way or *those* people would come and join you?

I'd be surprised to meet a pastor who didn't want to see God glorified in His church. Or who didn't want it to happen sooner rather than later.

It's that "Don't care how" part that worries me.

I'll let God be the judge of other people's ministry. But I'll answer for mine. So if you'll pray for me to keep my desires in line with God's plan, I'd be grateful.

Maybe Next Time



Have I mentioned how much I love you lately, Bunny? :)

My wife and kids have always been part of how I've lived out my calling. It's pretty difficult not to use our lives together as sermon illustrations. But I agree with the women in the video, there certainly is a limit.

If I've crossed it, my apologies.

(Oh and Bunny knows I'd love to have her Mother and dad come live with us, and they have no dogs - we're the dog people - got 155lbs of one. So the video loses some effect here, but for all the rest of you guys. :) )

HT: Bill Allison

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Life On Tiptoes

When I was a child growing up in Macon Georgia, our family used to go downtown every year to watch the Christmas parade. I can remember vividly some parts of what I saw - the excitement of the marching bands, the hilarity of the Shriners and their little cars, and of course, Santa Claus, who always was the last float in the parade.

I can also remember trying hard to see around other people, knowing that something was coming that I absolutely did not want to miss. It's been a while since then, but I got that same feeling today when I was reading the 8th chapter in Romans. Verse 19 says, "The creation waits in eager anticipation for the sons of God to be revealed." The word behind the english translation "anticipation" has a sense of straining to see, or looking around and over barriers to see." So J.B. Phillips translated it this way:

"The whole creation is waiting on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of God's sons and daughters coming into their own."

Isn't that awesome?

Yesterday was Earth Day, and all around there were people reminding us of our responsibility to care for God's creation. We were offered a tree at one store, asked if we wanted a bag for a book we purchased "or did we want to celebrate Earth day and forgo one?" People took time yesterday to think about how our actions affect this planet we share. That's a great thing that we should all do.

But the Bible says to take it further - much further.

All of creation has been affected by our fallen nature, and is waiting like a boy on tiptoes at a parade to see what will happen when Jesus returns for His children! Since the fall, despite our best efforts, mankind has never been in harmony with nature. So all creation is waiting.

And one day, Jesus will return and make all things new.

Oh, glory!

So friend, as long as you live, take care of what God has graced you with - His glorious creation. But know this - "no eye has seen, no mind has imagined, what God has in store for those who love Him."

Until then, live life on your tiptoes.

Grace and peace,

David

Life On Tiptoes - A Glimpse of New Hope!

When I was a child growing up in Macon Georgia, our family used to go downtown every year to watch the Christmas parade. I can remember vividly some parts of what I saw - the excitement of the marching bands, the hilarity of the Shriners and their little cars, and of course, Santa Claus, who always was the last float in the parade.

I can also remember trying hard to see around other people, knowing that something was coming that I absolutely did not want to miss. It's been a while since then, but I got that same feeling today when I was reading the 8th chapter in Romans. Verse 19 says, "The creation waits in eager anticipation for the sons of God to be revealed." The word behind the English translation "anticipation" has a sense of straining to see, or looking around and over barriers to see." So J.B. Phillips translated it this way:

"The whole creation is waiting on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of God's sons and daughters coming into their own."

Isn't that awesome?

Yesterday was Earth Day, and all around there were people reminding us of our responsibility to care for God's creation. We were offered a tree at one store, asked if we wanted a bag for a book we purchased "or did we want to celebrate Earth day and forgo one?" People took time yesterday to think about how our actions affect this planet we share. That's a great thing that we should all do.

But the Bible says to take it further - much further.

All of creation has been affected by our fallen nature, and is waiting like a boy on tiptoes at a parade to see what will happen when Jesus returns for His children! Since the fall, despite our best efforts, mankind has never been in harmony with nature. So all creation is waiting.

And one day, Jesus will return and make all things new.

Oh, glory!

So friend, as long as you live, take care of what God has graced you with - His glorious creation. But know this - "no eye has seen, no mind has imagined, what God has in store for those who love Him."

Until then, live life on your tiptoes.

Grace and peace,

David

Succinct and to the point

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
(Galatians 2:20)

There, I found your problem. Dead people don't have rights.


HT: Finishing Well

Interesting quote, and an interesting blog that it came from. Take a look. Might want to add it to your reader.

Music and Worship


Wednesday here is a flurry of activity. It is when "push comes to shove" as relates to what is going to happen in Sunday morning worship. For the last two years, we've operated with a praise team and no "Minister of Music." As a smaller church in a location that costs an arm and a leg to live in, we knew that our search was going to be difficult, but we trusted that God would provide.

He has in the form of a group of youth, kids, and now a smattering of adult men, who meet to practice for Sunday worship on Wednesday night before other activities begin. The reason we do it then is to maximize our trips to the church and limit time and cost for our volunteers.

That means that yours truly spends some time beginning on Monday thinking about what God would have us do. If I'm in a sermon series, that enters into the worship equation. I firmly believe that God can and does speak through song many times to people even if they have little interest in other parts of worship. Music has a way. So when I choose music for worship, I'm really trying to maximize our relationship that morning with God and with each other.

There are no quotas.

I don't look at what we have done and think "we only did one hymn last week, so we better do a couple" or "that was pretty old last week, better dial it up."

What I'm looking for is God.

In His majesty. In His power. In His intimate offer to join with us in relationship through His Son.

Yes we have to be able to sing it. Yes the words matter a great deal. Yes I'm aware of the preferences of all segments of the congregation. But we're auditioning for a place in the heavenly choir, aren't we?

So Who should we aim to please?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chuck Swindoll on People Pleasing Pastors

Nothing good ever comes from a ministry devoted to pleasing people! Rather than being a warrior for the King, it is easy to become an insecure coward, relying on human opinions and longing for human approval. By His grace, you and I don’t have to go there anymore.

Our responsibility is to deliver what God’s people need, not what they want. As we do, that truth should hit us with the same authority as it does the folks to whom we communicate. May God deliver every honest pastor, every truth-seeking church leader, and every Christian from the bondage of pleasing people.

“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). - Chuck Swindoll
HT: The Pastor's Soul, Role, and Home

In biblical days, Jesus used the metaphor of shepherds and sheep many times. Everyone in that culture understood what he meant. So when He looked at the crowds and "had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd," in my minds, He was explaining how desperately people need someone to not be devoted to making them feel good, but helping God transform them into people like Jesus.

There have been so many times I've winced internally knowing that a decision I made would not be a popular one - but I made them, out of a sense of calling to be more than just a friend. It's not a natural act. Most of us like being liked.

But it's a God-honoring submission and I thank God for His strength to do it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Give Me Jesus

Tim Keller in The Reason for God:

The God of Jesus and the prophets...saves completely by grace. He cannot be manipulated by religious and moral performance - he can only be reached through repentance, through the giving up of power. If we are saved by sheer grace, we can only become grateful, willing servants of God and of everyone around us...In Jesus' and the prophets' critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized...

What is the answer, then, to the very fair and devastating criticisms of the record of the Christian church? The answer is not to abandon the Christian faith, because that would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make correction. Instead we should move to a fuller and deeper grasp of what Christianity is.


Push out into the deep. Embrace Jesus.

Relay For Life Niceville-Valparaiso



New Hope participated in the local race/walk earlier in Valparaiso, and we'll be represented as part of the Valparaiso Elementary's team this coming weekend as we join together to help fight cancer. Our recent fundraiser for the cause netted over $150 and I'm confident that together we can do more than any of us can separately.

Cancer is a personal enemy of mine, as I've buried both parents as a result. Our neighbors in Niceville and in Valparaiso are joining together for a cause that is bigger than all of us. I can identify with that, as I spend my life engaged in God's big story.

Pray! Give! Walk!

It begins this Friday night at 6:30 PM and runs through Saturday morning at Eagle's Stadium in Niceville.

Rockbridge Update - end of a term

In the last few months, I've picked up on a lot of the "buzz" about "The New Seminary." The idea is circulating that the bricks and mortar seminaries will face increasing pressure from several directions: the rise of the nondenominational church and church planting movements, the cost, the perceived out of date nature of the training, and the rise of alternatives.

I've certainly experienced some of those during the time I've pursued theological education. Many of my friends and I have been frustrated in the extreme by a system that demands so much from us, but refuses to acknowledge anything is amiss in how it faces its "customer." While I intend to finish my degree program in a denominational seminary eventually, I was led to enter Rockbridge Seminary a couple of years ago in order to get solid, practical training in a way that fit my life and budget. I'll finish (Lord willing) a Masters in Ministry Leadership degree this fall.

This term I was somewhat limited in my course choices, simply because I am nearing the end of my tenure here. The prospective courses boiled down to "Preaching for Life Change" and "Understanding Other Cultures." While I appreciate Rick Warren and what he and Saddleback have added to the Body of Christ, after my experience with 40 Days of Purpose and having already previewed the notes from the "Preaching For Life Change" seminar, I opted for "Understanding Other Cultures."

The instructors at Rockbridge have typically been very high quality professors who are engaged in the fields they teach. This course was no exception, being led by Dr. Jeff Ginn, who serves as a pastor and on the SBC International Missions Board. He has been on the field as a missionary, led a seminary, and was really helpful in my efforts to bend this course to fit where I serve.

As someone not called to the "mission field" as it has traditionally been presented, but who believes that where ever God puts a believer THAT is their Jerusalem, I thought going in the course would have little practical value now. Our area is pretty homogeneous. The one people group different from most places is the military. We have plenty of people in uniform. Dr. Ginn could relate well, since he serves just outside a military base too. So I took the classical tools presented as basic anthropology and applied them - not to a people group overseas - but to the people all around me.

My findings, even after almost 9 years here, have really helped me see areas of opportunity for ministry in and among the military. I've shared some with other people within my church and at a meeting with a sister church where we were looking for ways to bless our "parishes" and their eyes were opened too. So the course I dragged myself into reluctantly, proved to be a real blessing.

Now on to the next course!

Among Men



Our "Wild At Heart" men's small group began tonight. I'm pretty wary of the current trend of "rah rah go men!" books and videos out there right now. And in fact John Ethridge went too far himself in my opinion at times in this study. But there were other times that I thought he connected.

Well.

When we talked about what movies we liked and the characters that we would see ourselves as in them, it was amazing how many of us chose the same ones. When we examined what we hoped to be remembered as, none of the "stuff" that we acquire along the way got any air time - it was as husbands, fathers, followers of Christ.

Yes we laughed at how they kept calling the area of Montana they were in, with rolling hills and grassland "untamed." Seemed pretty tame to me, and I haven't spent any time in Vietnam's jungles, Iraq/Kuwait/Saudi Arabia's deserts, or Afghanistan's mountains as some of the men gathered had. Sure we grinned when one man complained that his horse's favorite place in the world was "behind the horse in front of him with his nose stuck up his butt."

But we're working at being together, as men. And we're working together with the Holy Spirit as He works in us and among us.

Yeah, I like it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Worship @ New Hope 04/20/08


Great day together began with worship this morning. We debuted a new song that really fit with the overall theme. I was tackling the "problem of evil and suffering" as it is called, or "Why?" as I've referred to it - as in, "why God? Why did this happen?"

So songs that focused on the presence and power - the love and mercy of God - were especially needed.

Here's how worship was laid out.

Still - praise team only

Here are the lyrics to this great psalm of praise.

Hide me now, under Your wings.
Cover me within Your mighty hand.

Chorus:
When the oceans rise
and thunders roar.
I will soar with You, above the storm
Father You are king over the flood,
I will be still and know You are God.

II
Find rest my soul in Christ alone,
Know his power, in quietness and trust.

***
When the oceans rise
and thunders roar.
I will soar with You, above the storm
Father You are king over the flood,
I will be still and know You are God.

Find rest my soul in Christ alone,
Know his power, in quietness and trust.

***
When the oceans rise
and thunders roar.
I will soar with You, above the storm
Father You are king over the flood,
I will be still and know You are God.

***
When the oceans rise
and thunders roar.
I will soar with You, above the storm
Father You are king over the flood,
I will be still and know You are God.

by Reuben Morgan

So you can see why it fit so well as did these.

Your Name - "strong and mighty tower"
Made Me Glad "Your are my strength, my shield, my fortress..."

Amazed (Lord I'm Amazed By You)
' How deep, how wide, how great, is you love for me"
Still - everyone sang it together

Change My Heart O God

My job was to help people think through the problem of suffering and evil in a way that opened them to both the holiness and the mercy of God.



Here's a link to the audio. New Hope Sermons

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Night Before for the preacher



I've been fussing with the message for tomorrow morning for a while now tonight, and I think I'm calling it a day. This "Big Questions" series has been good for at least one New Hope member - me. Tackling such huge issues has put me on my knees and in the study so much that I wonder if it's not time to pull an all nighter. Just kidding - you wouldn't like me when I'm sleepy.

I've read books this week by C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Jerry Falwell, Chuck Swindoll, and countless articles and blog posts. I've queried some other pastors to see how they've approached the same topic. And I've read lots of Scripture.

The problem of suffering, of pain, of evil isn't anything I'm going to solve tomorrow. And I'm pretty sure Ravi Zacharias won't have to quit his day job. But it is something I've seen up close, something I deal with in my role as a pastor, and something I have to run to Jesus' arms to handle.

I can vividly remember the first tremor it gave my faith. Our nephew Wes was just a little older (or younger, can't recall) than our oldest son Adam. A couple of months difference I think. They played together all the time when we visited my Mother in law's house. One day we got a call that he was sick. Then we heard he was at the hospital. When I called to check on him, his doctor told me "as a matter of fact, he has just expired." Boom.

We were shocked, scared, stunned, numb. How? Why? Why?

There've been others since then. So I'm praying hard tonight that the Holy Spirit will use whatever I do for God's glory to help people see Jesus as the answer to the problems. I'm taking Vance Havner's advice and making a beeline for the cross tomorrow.

"Behold, I make all things new." Yes Lord, Maranatha.