Sunday, May 30, 2010
"On behalf of a grateful nation..." has been recited at a time like the one in the picture above thousands of times at some of the over 1 million Americans who have given "their last full measure of devotion." were laid to rest.
Don't forget the cost. Live in such a way as to honor their sacrifice.
Stop tomorrow for a moment, and remember.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Toward the end of last year, New Hope's Child 2 Child ministry - a group of little girls led by some amazing women - led us into learning about children who live with HIV. Their parents have passed the virus that causes the disease to them. We learned that 6,000 children become orphans EVERY DAY because they have lost their parents to death.
So these little girls decided they'd make a difference - that they'd "DO SOMETHING" about it. They made items to sell to others at New Hope, and before Christmas we had an Advent Conspiracy store opening and invited families and friends to shop among the items they made as well as some wonderful beads from HIV to Home.
A few weeks ago, we had a booth at our local "Saturday in the Park" arts and crafts festival and offered the beads from HIV to Home with other items as well.
Well, between the two events, led by the girls actions and inspiration, we raised over $4200 and sent it to From HIV to home.
I'm sitting here tonight trying to imagine what it must be like for the adoptive parents that will receive the help - and for the kids who get a family to love and care for them.
So I went to their website and looked at Kalkidan's picture. Look at that smile.
Somewhere soon there will be a child with a smile like that who will go home with their new family in part because some little girls, and the church they are a part of - wanted to be involved in what God wants for that child - for that family.
I can see that from here. And I love it.
After a day of reflection over yesterday, I'm much more inclined to believe that the "Plan B" day was also a good day. I'm looking forward to next Sunday and sure that God will continue to work in us. Our work continues on bringing our best to the Master each Sunday, but He's faithful and will give us everything we need to get there.
Sunday's Music set was:
O Praise Him - David Crowder;
God of This City - Tomlin version,
It Is Well With My Soul;
Softly and Tenderly.
As you probably noticed, there are a couple of older hymns in the mix. It dawned on me yesterday that those are as contemporary as the rest of the songs, because we are dealing with the same issues that drove the writers of them. "It Is Well" fit great with the sermon, and is just a "heart" song for many.
I tried to use the life of Joseph as an illustration of just how even the worst things in life can all work together for God if we are hidden in the arms of God. My hope was that several different groups of people might be led to consider where they were with God. The retiree wondering what happened to my dreams. The teenager dreaming big but unprepared for the "Plan B" events. The person who felt alone without any idea of what the "plan" was.
A lot of Scripture, which Bunny let me know I read too fast. I've got to work on that. But Joseph's was such an amazing life that made a huge difference not just for a family, or even nations, but for God's plan to bring Jesus into this world.
We really don't know the results of an act of obedience and trust in the moment we do it, do we?
Praying we'll all be ready for "Plan B" - David
Sunday, May 23, 2010
I've been more aggravated, but can't remember when. Preparing a sermon to help people understand what to do when your plans don't go well -
And then (CUE MUSIC FROM JAWS)
- Hard drive crashed in the sanctuary
- Video resolution on backup PC causes every single Power point slide to not fit the screen. All of the 60 or so in the worship ppt file as well as the 25 in my sermon. With 30 minutes to fix.
- Office printer decided to be finicky so the worship guides were still printing when someone needed copies.
- Video for Kidmo wasn't set up because the kids had unplugged it to plug in the Xbox
- Lots of people, including me and some other teachers got to church later than normal...
- Err...except the family visiting for the first time with 4 kids spread over a range from first grade to college who needed to place their kids in class. Oh and this was their first new church visit in ten years. The kids didn't want to leave Mom because it wasn't the church they had known all their lives.
How do I describe it?
It was like having company come while your fridge is being defrosted and the carpet has been shampooed and all the furniture is up on blocks.
Thus the picture.
All on the Sunday I'm to talk about how we need to trust God when our Plan A doesn't work.
God does irony well, doesn't He?
We got past it. The kids stayed in Kidmo and seemed to do okay. The slides got changed with ten minutes to spare. The printer finally got through, and I'll bring the regular PC in tomorrow and we'll be back to normal for worship next week. The sermon should have preached itself after all that though.
The best illustrations are always from life. :)
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Still processing what I learned as a result of our time in New Orleans and really what I've learned over the years as a Christian - not just as a pastor. And at this point what I'm learning is that I'm not nearly as much like Jesus as I hoped I was.
My life is still more self-centered than cross centered. That for all the books I've read, all the sermons I've read, listened to, written, and preached - I am still not THERE. During that time away, I was more concerned about myself and Bunny, and our vacation than I was about people. That can't happen. Ever.
One of the reporters asked one of the security professionals after 9/11 "How can we make sure that this never happens again?" You could see the policeman's brain working as he thought and then he said "The thing is, we have to be perfect. Every day we have to find and prevent any and all threats from being carried out. We have to achieve 100% perfection. They only have to get lucky once."
Was reading this earlier today and it occurred to me that there's no way we can do this in our own strength. If we do, we will fail.
9 Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. 10 Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. 11 Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12 cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. 13 Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. 14 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. 15 Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. 16 Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody. 17 Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. 18 If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. 19 Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it." 20 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. 21 Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (MSG)
Who can do all that - keep doing all that? No one. We're just not that good -just not that kind. It's impossible simply because we are human. But with God's Spirit working in us, with His love replacing our cold hearts, we can see glimpses of what we were created to be. I'm just not there yet, and I've said my apologies to God and I repeat them to all you who might read this. Mea culpa
"They" got lucky once. The opposition robbed us of a chance to see God at work. Doesn't mean that God's will for the young man was thwarted. But we missed a chance to be a part.
My mission from this point on is to be so in touch with the Holy Spirit regardless of where I am to never see that happen again. I can't run and run without rest anymore because when I do unplug and go somewhere on vacation, I'm so dry that I lose my ability to sense when the Spirit is at work. So I've got to bring my life into balance and stay there. "Physician, heal thyself" used to be a joke.
Well, practice what you preach did too. But not to me. Not now.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Well, after a few days away, I was able to focus on the last of the Primal series. We are really ramping up our worship at New Hope and after the worship last week in the fellowship hall, couldn't wait to get back in our super-cooled sanctuary. :)
The worship set: Here I Am To Worship, Better Is One Day, Nothing But the Blood, Grace Flows Down
When is our faith revealed to be strong? When it's bright and sunny and everything is going well? Or at Midnight? Paul and Silas revealed just what loving God with all your strength can do. In Acts 16, after a terrible day, they found the strength in Christ to have a hymn sing at midnight. We can do the same if we give God our all.
Really enjoyed studying through these messages.
We left and jumped up on I-10 and personally I could feel the stress fall away. While I practice placing my faith in what happens in my life and my church in the hands of God, all of you in ministry know that it's really really hard to not be thinking about "church". But it was working, and I turned my focus on making sure Bunny had the best vacation ever. Friends, the wives of the pastors in your churches carry a heavy load without much notice. They need a break. And with this being the first Mother's Day since Bunny's Mom passed away I was determined that she would enjoy herself and remember the time in NOLA forever.
Both of those goals were met.
If you ask Bunny, I think she'll tell you it was the best vacation we've ever had together. And I know she'll tell you that she will never forget it. Up to a point, that will be because she really enjoyed herself. She took each day as it came, and was able to live in the moments as they came - no outside pressure and no worries. She saw art in bunches, we visited churches, a synagogue, and cemeteries. We ate food we normally wouldn't and slept more than we ever would. She had a blast and I did too - in part just watching her.
New Orleans isn't exactly my kind of place. It's a little rough around the edges. It's pretty raw when it comes to selling sex and the party lifestyle. And it has plenty of people that either caused me to check my options in case we were about to get mugged, others that looked to be in altered states, a few that were dressed freakily - even painted, and some that were just wanting a buck or two. They all seemed to be part of the "scene." At no point did I see them in any other way.
Just like my toothbrush and toothpaste, I left my compassion and my caring heart at home. The first we solved at Walgreens. The second I never really did while I was on the streets of New Orleans. When I was with "safe" or "church" people, I connected. On the streets and in the square, I did everything but.
In the cartoon above, Pogo has just realized that instead of being part of the solution, he is part of the problem. I didn't realize that until my wife's heart was broken over our utter lack of Christlike love for this young man once we returned and she realized we never asked his name.
For me, he hit several of the categories of people in NOLA I listed above. He was part of the scenery - musicians are all over the French Quarter, usually wanting money. He looked strung out to me,which is why I was trying before this picture was taken to get Bunny on down the street. But he was singing a song and she caught his eye, and he wound up catching us as I tried to move along. Bunny had me take her picture with him, and I'll let her tell the story that leads up to that. Let's just say I had an opening you could have driven a truck through, but my head and heart weren't screwed on straight.
We walked away and neither of us knew his name, or whether he had eaten, had a place to stay, or knew that God loved him. I'm a pastor. I left the business world because of a direct call from God to love His people and to spread the good news of Jesus. I've been at this for many years and talked to lots of people about Jesus. But this young man, who could have been one of our sons, I never even prayed for. The opportunity I had to show the love of God to Him as a believer, as a pastor - came and left.
Father, forgive me. Lord Jesus, give me what I lack of you that I might never ever leave my compassion and love for my neighbor behind no matter where I go. And please let someone else find this young man and remind him that Jesus cares.
Even if a pastor when on vacation didn't.
Our Saturday in the Park outreach's fruits are beginning to ripen. We are cutting the checks as we finish the accounting on what monies we raised for the ministries New Hope and the Child2Child girls support. The first check we sent out was to Africa Bags $715 dollars was over-nighted to their HQ in Colorado so the check could clear before they departed this weekend for Malawi. This is the second time we've sent money on after selling the bags made by women in Malawi. So we're now well over a thousand dollars in our support for what God is doing there.
When I was a little boy, my grandmother lived with an aunt who kept my brother and me after school while my parents worked. Her Singer treadle sewing machine was a fascination to me. To see the pictures of those women lifting their families out of poverty and building a future for their families at those machines moves me every time. Picking up a bag and seeing inside of it the village it was made in, written inside, just makes me happy to know that our smaller church is making a difference in places we may never actually visit in person.
We cannot fix the world. Neither can you. But we can DO SOMETHING! As Mother Teresa said "If you cannot feed 100, then feed 1." That's what we are doing, and our New Hope family is excited for what God is doing in, around, and through us.
Join us on the journey! Bring your dreams of what God could do if His people ran to the needs of people - wherever they may be. Help us tell the story of how Jesus knew us in our sins, and raised us to new life through His grace and gave us new hearts. You can make a difference too!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
|From New Orleans 2010|
We saw a lot in New Orleans last week. I joked this morning that we spent more time in church on vacation than we normally do. We visited Touro synagogue, and three Catholic churches and a convent for good measure. The absolute highlight of those explorations though, was meeting Jack Guidry. We almost missed the opportunity. We ate lunch and were headed back toward the French Quarter and saw the sign for the church and the Father Selos Shrine and turned down a street into a neighborhood that included St. Mary's Assumption church, a church operated home for the elderly, the Selos Shrine and museum, and a Catholic school.
|From New Orleans 2010|
When we walked into the church, a workman eating lunch in the doorway told us to watch our step, because they were repairing termite damage inside and we "might fall through the floor." It's possible he's not on the regular greeter's team. :) Bunny was almost beside herself at the beauty that presented itself from every angle. While she rushed from place to place, I caught the eye of a man with a lanyard and badge who introduced himself as a volunteer. "I'm Jack Guidry" he said, and the warmth of his presence was evident immediately. To call what he gave us a "tour" would be to belittle it and him. He gave us his heart for God and for his Church.
|From New Orleans 2010|
His knowledge of the church was amazing - he didn't know everything, but "he'd only been there 20 years." For over an hour, he took us through the amazing story of how the church was built, the short but incredible meaningful ministry of Father Selos, the church today, and so many facts about the art, furnishings, and people who made (and make) up that parish that we listened hard, lest we miss a word. His narrative was interrupted at one point by a woman and her husband. She was wearing a patch over one eye and came forward and hugged Jack and proceeded to tell him that she had undergone surgery for brain cancer. While she lost one eye, she was in good health now and her future was bright. She credited the prayers of Jack, the people in the church, and of the saints for the blessing of healing. She had come into church to pray the day before her surgery and met Jack. He prayed with her and gave her a relic from Father Selos, who was known for his compassion and care for the sick. She returned it to Jack as we watched and saw the woman, her husband, and Jack share the joy of the knowledge that God heard their prayers and acted on her behalf.
It was worship - and it was amazing to stand there and watch it.
As they left and we stepped outside to make our way to the museum and gift shop, Bunny walked off to take a picture of something in the garden and I told Jack that I got the feeling that his church was one of those places the ancient Celtic Christians called "thin places." Those believers, who really kept the faith alive during the Dark Ages, practiced the spiritual disciplines of solitude and meditation with a fierceness rarely seen. In that pursuit, they looked for places where they felt the presence of God was stronger. They called them "thin places" where they believed the distance between the "now" and the Kingdom of God was smaller or "thinner." The look on his face was priceless. A bigger, warmer smile I don't think I've ever seen.
We continued our exploration together and when we left we had a great appreciation for the work of the Christians who literally carried the materials to build that church brick by brick from the river. But they have nothing on Jack, who's carrying the message today in such a winsome way that you want to move there and worship with him - even if you are a Baptist. :) Such a grace-filled man.
Bunny and I have a friend and a brother in Christ in New Orleans and his name is Jack Guidry.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Saturday night and I'm in my usual place, making sure my brain and the powerpoint for tomorrow are both ready. But this time last week, Bunny and I were in New Orleans and were off the "grid." Normally, I'd have written all week about what we experienced, but for some reason I didn't feel that I could adequately do that without some time to look back and reflect on just what we saw and did.
New Orleans got to me.
The picture above was of the Cathedral as the sun was going down. Last Saturday night we happened to be down there on the square as a wedding party came out of the cathedral. The bells rang in joy and the whole effect was almost magical. That area was just stunning, and yet it also was a place where the people who seemed to be "lost" in every sense of the word congregated. There were several fortune tellers at any time, people who dressed weirdly and people had their pictures taken with them, musicians (including one guy on a recorder that was awful), and street people.
Despite the location near to the most beautiful church exterior in NOLA, it seemed to me that the "light of the world" was unplugged. We were down there every single night and at no time did we see any hint of Christian influence and only heard one attempt at "Amazing Grace." Hint - it helps to know the words. The darkness especially in the French Quarter really bothered me while we were there and still does. I was frankly stunned by it and woefully unprepared to "do something" about it. I've wondered since that given the churches in the area, the presence of seminaries including New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary just a few miles away, why groups of musicians couldn't come down every night and sing. Why couldn't compassion teams check on the street people - build relationships with the fortune tellers and the like - why couldn't Jesus be seen down there every day.
If you remember, a while back I wrote about how many children are dying from lack of clean water, from treatable illnesses, and I posed this question: Are you okay with that?
Fair enough? Given we can do something about it?
Well, are we okay with giving the devil the French Quarter in New Orleans?
We (the Church - all of us) have to do better. We have to be great at the Great Commission - everywhere.
Pray for New Orleans. Pray that God would raise up a mighty wave of grace and love that would flood the French Quarter and bring glory to Jesus and people to faith in Him.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
After the worship workshop on Saturday, I could hardly wait to see what God was going to do on Sunday. As worship approached, I was talking with someone in the back of the sanctuary and saw a group of the praise team members gathered around Bunny at the piano. Their smiles told me that they felt the same way. After the welcome and announcements, I prayed that God would allow us to draw nearer and we began. It was great.
Melanie Winter had challenged us to stretch beyond what we had been doing and to sing and play with confidence (echoing what I've heard Bunny say a hundred times), and I really felt like we did. Having the vocalists on one side, the guitarists grouped and the bass and drummer grouped together seemed to really help us hear each other which is a real key to playing as one.
Our worship set was: O Worship the King, Forever, Shout To the Lord, and My Jesus I Love Thee was used for the invitation to commitment.
We're going to continue to work on what Melanie taught us in the weeks to come but I'm confident the improvement will continue.
The message: The third in my "Primal - A search for the essence of Christianity" series which is based on Mark Batterson's book. This week was relating to loving God with all your mind - curiosity. probably the hardest for me to get a grip on. Not because I couldn't relate to what Batterson had written, but because it seemed to be difficult to frame in such a way I could point people to Jesus - not just to studying more facts about Him.
After reading every reference in the Bible to curiosity and going back to the book several times, I settled on John 1:35 and following as the core text. It seemed to work well.
Churches have challenges. All of them do. They might be related to the facilities, the staff, the unity within the congregation, their discipleship strategy, their finances - or whatever. Many times the leadership decides that there's nothing that can be done about an issue and they either ignore it or cover it up, like wallpaper over bad paneling. But everyone who comes in from outside can spot it.
One of ours is worship.
Since our last worship leader left to accept another job closer to his home (we miss you Jim!), we've looked off and on for a leader while trying to fill that role by "committee." We have used a group of people called "a praise team" in place of a single leader. It's not working. People seem to need to focus on someone to at least begin each song. Plus we just don't have the level of musicianship (vocals and instruments) that we need to really help lead the congregation into worship.
So we called for help.
God answered in the form of Melanie Winter from Destiny Worship Center. Melanie is a pastor's kid who grew up playing piano and singing with the choirs and praise teams in the churches her father pastored. For the last few years she's been serving at Destiny Worship Center in Destin and has recently been placed in leadership of the praise team at their new Crestview campus. What she knows about how to do modern praise and worship is only overshadowed by her genuine love for and devotion to God. She is a true worshipper, and she's infectious. Our whole team seemed to catch her heart's desire for more of God.
She laid a foundation from Scripture on what worship is, what the role of the worshipper is, and then helped the team prepare for and begin to learn a new song. Then she went through our Sunday set with us and suggested several changes in our approach, our placement on stage, and our vocal and instrumental dynamics. When we all heard the difference we were amazed. The picture above was prior to the changes so what you'll see on Sundays is not what you see there. But as we were working through the new song, you could feel the Holy Spirit filling people's hearts and the voices lifted in praise...
Worship came. The Holy Spirit smiled. We were so, so, blessed.
We're on our way. Not there yet - got some more changes to make and some things to learn, but stay tuned. New Hope is going to become one of those "thin places" the ancient Irish Christians talked about - where one could easily step into the presence of Almighty God.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
We've had two back to back full weekends at New Hope. Last weekend it was Saturday in the Park. This weekend was the rain-cancelled Relay for Life and the Worship Workshop. It's been busy, busy, busy. New Hope's people have stepped out to serve and up to learn more about how to worship Jesus.
Saturday in the Park, though shortened by rain, was still one of the most fun events I have ever been a part of, with the most impact. We're still seeing results from it in both the response from people and the continuing purchase of items that we sell with 100% of the proceeds going to organizations that are doing something about changing the lives of those in need around the world. Hunger, clean water, human trafficking, orphan care - these are areas that we at New Hope cannot possibly fix. But we can DO SOMETHING! and we are.
As much as doing something is part of who we are though, being someone who lives with the heart and mind of Christ has to balance that out. It's not faith or works - it's faith AND works.
So I'm sitting here tonight praying and reflecting on what we have done and will do that builds faith in individual members and that builds up the congregation's faith. We took a step in that direction with the worship workshop. Melanie Winter brought a deep love of Jesus and a skill set that is at the level that we want to get to as a worship team. She challenged us and prodded us to look at what we were doing, and what we could do to improve. It meant change. We changed a few things and more are to come. But I really believe we improved in worship today and will make more strides as time goes by. Thanks Melanie!
There's more to do though.
We have to build on the love that motivates us to do. We have to grow in our ability to disciple kids, youth, and adults of all ages. Our Kidmo children's program and the coming children's church time has really upped our impact in that area. I dropped in there this morning and the room was full. Few sights warm a pastor's heart more than seeing dedicated and caring teachers pouring out their love through discipleship. Since we began Kidmo, we have people looking for ways to get in there.How cool is that? Turns the old "nominating committee" on its head when people rush toward working in what typically can be tough to fill.
As a result, we may be looking at other changes in our discipleship strategy. How can we best help young minds and hearts be opened to the call of Christ to come and follow? Who are the right people to gather into groups and who would be the best at pointing them into the Word and toward faith in Jesus? When should they meet and where? What materials should be used?
Changes. Changes. Changes.
Why? We have an awesome group of people at New Hope who are DOING SOMETHING about the things that break the heart of God. Once you are part of the New Hope family you step into an embrace of love as tight as any I have ever known. We LOVE being together. But we have to grow deeper - reach further. Love for Jesus doesn't reach a point and stay there - if it's real, it grows all throughout the life of the believer.
5 So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, 6 alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, 7 warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. 8 With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.
2 Peter 1:5-8 (MSG)
"Building on what you've been give..." is exactly what we need to do. Seeing believers grow from initial curiosity about Jesus, to love for Jesus, and through to maturity is what we need to make sure we are constantly seeing. We are seeing it now, but we can do better.
So pray with me. Pray that the God Who began His work in us would draw us deeper to Him.