Friday, June 30, 2006

First Things First

For the last twelve years, our family has been involved in moving into our new home. Okay, it's only been 2 weeks, but it seems like years. One of the things you realize when you move is that you have more stuff than you ever imagined. Much of that - is useless, or has outlived its purpose. So you toss it, give it away, or sell it. After all, the object is to move only that which you want or is necessary.

All throughout the process, whether consciously or not, you are setting priorities. The very first day, you make sure the beds are up and together, because you really, really, really want to rest. Then you look to see where the food went, and that which you didn't consume because of your ravenous work-induced appetite is placed right where you'll be able to find it a little while after supper.

Then you work out where furniture goes, where clothes are hung - and so on.

If you had to describe the key to the whole event it would be "First things first."

Today marks the beginning of the July 4th weekend. People from all over are headed to our area to enjoy the beautiful beaches and help us celebrate the birth of our nation. We'll all be caught up in grilling, fireworks, and enjoyment very soon, so I wanted to place a thought in our minds and hearts today.

What made America different? Why, among all the nations that have come and gone, is she looked to as a model - a lighthouse to the world - that "City on a Hill"?

You can look over the incredible beauty of our land. You can see the works of the hands and the warmth of the hearts of our people. You can measure our strength and the valor of those who serve her. But first things first.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

As the men who "pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" wrote their explanation to the world in the form of a "Declaration of Independence", setting out on a course that would lead to America - before they unpacked their grievances with Britain, they found within them something pure and God-given.

Before one single battle was fought, before any laws were passed, before the first coin was struck, before a flag was flown, America wanted to be known as the nation who recognized that some things surpassed preferences, local culture, or national identity. "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

First things first.

So how can we incorporate that in our busy and hectic lives? How can we make sure we are living purposeful lives? That we are putting our energies into what matters, and holding as convictions those things that place us into the center of God's will?

19 "Don't store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. 20Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. 21Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be. Matthew 6 (NLT)

"Wherever your treasure is..."

A friend of mine in California has five kids - all boys under 15. They play every sport known to man and some that they just make up. He lives in a nice neighborhood where people take great pride in the appearance of their homes and their yards. The wear and tear on his yard doesn't help him keep up. One night after agonizing over what to do about it, he went back inside and walked past the bedrooms of his sons as they slept. Looking at them for a minute, he left and went into his garage and went straight from there out to the lawn.

The next morning, his neighbors who passed by noticed the new sign.

"We're raising sons now. Grass later."

First things first. Make God the center of your life. Look to Him and through His Word at your life, your values, your desires. Set your priorities based on nothing other than your love and devotion to Him. If you love Him, you'll hold His truths to be "self-evident" and your life as the "evidence" of His love.

Grace! And May God Bless America.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fig Trees, Mountain Moving, and Jesus

This Sunday past, I tackled one of those passages in the Bible that seem to make little sense. In this passage, Jesus curses a fig tree because it's not bearing fruit. Then He heads to the temple, cleans the worship space of buyers and sellers, and basically curses it.


In each case it was because the purpose God gave for the item wasn't being carried out.

The tree had leaves. That meant it should have had fruit. But it didn't. It looked awesome, but looking good wasn't what being a fig tree was about. If you're a fig tree, you produce figs.

The temple - was for worship. That was the reason God chose Israel - to be "a light to the nations." Yet the Jews, though they had the temple, the priests, the sacrifices - it looked as though they were a people who were holy and productive for God - weren't.

They looked like they believed, but their lives showed no fruit, AND they were preventing the Gentiles from coming near to God. So Jesus cleaned house.

I'm a pastor. That means I'm supposed to care for the needs of the "sheep". I'm to protect them from harm, and make sure that they receive what they need to grow stronger. Every single sheep commands my attention and has my heart. So when they don't care about growing, or pretend they aren't God's - it bothers me a great deal.

To love someone means wanting the best for them. And the absolute best is Jesus.

When Peter saw the results of Jesus' cursing of the tree, he was shocked. But his question revealed that he wanted to know more about the how than the why. So Jesus blew away his light question with a heavy dose of doctrine "Have faith in God." Jesus then said that if you had that, trees were easy - you could even move mountains. His point was you had to begin - and stay - intimate with God - trusting Him with all your life.

I'm really determined that whatever time God allows me to have will be spent in a clear focus of making disciples. I do not want to have to explain to Jesus why the people He entrusted me with look "good" but aren't making any difference for the Kingdom of God.

Got Fruit?

I'm working in the orchard every day.



Friday, June 23, 2006

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

A kid took his life yesterday.

And our kids knew him. So into the mixture of cultural affection, peer relationships and their on again off again relationship with God they throw this - death.

For some, narcissim demands that they wail about how this is going to affect their world. "Who am I going to prom with? How will I ever make it through 5th period?" Then there are those who hold back, wondering. "Is this what it comes to? You are here and then... gone?"

A kid took his life yesterday.

The picture I saw was of him in his ROTC uniform. It looked good on him, and someone said he was looking to go to Annapolis someday. But that affirmation - that goal didn't provide a reason to stay and see how life would work its self out.

A kid took his life yesterday.

Apparently he was involved in a church to some extent. No doubt the folks there are trying to see what could have possibly gone so wrong in his life without their notice. Someone's probably beating themselves up over it right now. Should they?

I don't know. Suicide is a personal act. We do a lot of stupid things in our lives, make poor choices, bad decisions, but almost every one don't irreparably harm. But suicide ends any do-overs.

He might not have been able to stop. But our kids should know how to cope with the hard times that befall us all. They should be able to see Jesus working in them through hardship - through pain. Gathering a bunch of people and telling them about Jesus is great. Seeing them make decisions to trust Him is awesome.

But if that's all you do - if you never spend the time in relationship to disciple them - then what you might call evangelism, I call spiritual abuse. You wouldn't send a toddler to play in traffic. But sending kids out into a hard world without training them the truth of how all things work together for good...

isn't good.

A kid killed himself yesterday. I pray for his family. I pray for his friends. I pray that people like me will do a better job training and modeling others in discipling babes in Christ.



Thursday, June 22, 2006

Catching Up

Well, we've moved to the new location and I lost a week somewhere. Even though I just hung around at church last week, I still saw some things happen that I need to bring you up to speed on.

First - our chairs are in and our pews are gone. Initial reports say that the chairs are much more comfortable for our folks with bad backs, and once they all are here, we'll be able to shoehorn some more people in our way too small sanctuary.

Second - I received a financial report update and while skimming it noticed something cool. Corinne Quinnell, all 45 lbs of her (if that) contributed the first dollar toward new tables for the fellowship hall.

Finally - It was Father's Day last week, and at the close of the service, one of the ushers prayed one of the most sincere and open prayers I have ever heard. He asked God to forgive him for the years he lived when he wasn't a Christian - and confessed that he had hurt his kids spiritually because of his stubbornness and sins. I love that man's heart. My prayer was that God in His mercy would give him peace.

So, we head into a normal weekend with me preaching both services. Tally Ho!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Obey Your Thirst

It's hot! It was 95 degrees here the other day, and my greatest temptation was to leave my office and go play in the sprinklers Jim Quinnell had set up to water the grass... err sand. There's no way that any vegetation can live without water. The ancient Israelites knew that, and they knew that people and livestock needed water too. Thirst was a powerful motivator.

1 God—you're my God! I can't get enough of you!
I've worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
traveling across dry and weary deserts.

2-4 So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
My arms wave like banners of praise to you. Psalm 63 (The Message)

So the idea of using water as a metaphor for what God could supply was always in the hearts and minds of God's people. The rabbis in Jesus' day were thought to give "water" to their disciples. If the "waters", or in other words their teachings, were good - then the disciples could drink from God's waters. If a rabbi gave poor teachings he was "exiled to a place of evil waters, and the disciples who come after him will drink and die."

So when Jesus met a woman, even a Samaritan enemy, even a woman little better than a prostitute - He looked past her present situation to her deepest need.


11-12The woman said, "Sir, you don't even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this 'living water'? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?"

13-14Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life." John 4 (The Message)

When Christ approaches a person, He offers more than cheap self-help. He's not in for the quick fix or the easiest way out of where you find yourself. It's not about fixing your marriage, or your finances, or helping you deal with a troubled kid.

All those things can happen to you again, even after you become a Christ-follower. So if you came into a walk with Jesus expecting Easy Street, you really need to retrace your steps and begin again - at the cross.

Your need - your deepest need - to be clean before God and possess His Spirit within - is completely satisfied in Christ.

Obey your thirst. Trust in Jesus.


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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's Past Time

Walking back in from getting the mail today here at church, I saw an official envelope of the United States Postal Service. Within the window on the front of the item, I could see the back page of a copy of "The Answer." Not the whole of the pamphlet - just the remains of the back page. New Hope sent a copy of that publication to every home in Valparaiso for a year. But that was two years ago.

So I flipped it over and read the envelope's message. It said..


Among the rest of the verbage was this line.

"We are aware of how important your mail is to you. With that in mind, we are forwarding it to you in an expeditious fashion."

I laughed out loud. So it's undelivered, two years late, and missing 90% of what it is supposed to be - but "WE CARE".

Then I wondered about the organization that I'm responsible for. Do we over promise and under deliver too?

The mission of the US Postal Service is to deliver the mail. That's their business.

The mission of every church was given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20

"Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you." (The Message)

So our business is to build bridges to those outside the family of God and when they draw near, to help them along the Way of Christ. Then we identify them by a good old-fashioned baptism.

We measure the marking well. The only thing Baptists love more than fried chicken is baptizing new believers.

But how are we doing in training and instruction? That's much more difficult to measure, because now we're talking about life. That means we need to know where each person is on the journey with Christ and actively help them move forward.

I believe that many who fall away from their walk with Christ do so because they were left to find their way alone. That's not fair to them, not good for the church, and not pleasing to God.

So we're really seeking to turn the heat up in discipleship at New Hope to help everyone who wants to know Christ deeper, and reflect His love better - grow. It's the best kind of "advertisement" we can do - to have people with changed lives telling about the One - Jesus - who made their life brand new, and their life meaningful.

Pray for us as we go forward in this.


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Sunday, June 04, 2006

You Only Fail When You Quit Trying

After Katrina's full impact was revealed, and the local government's failure to provide leadership for their people's safety was obvious, the federal government sent Lt. Gen Honore to take charge of their efforts to help. This was a general in every sense of the word, and he hit the ground running and had everyone else scurrying to do - something - anything - right. His words when asked about the magnitude of the failure will live forever. "Some people are just stuck on stupid."

Well, after a flood of reality about just who our youth at New Hope really are, and what they believe, today I shared with our youth team my heart for change. Kids in my era did stuff, but we were cloistered in our neighborhood or in our schools. But now the internet and MySpace and the like, coupled with this generation's desire for everyone to know them for the geniuses they are have given me a long dark look into their souls. And it ain't pretty.

So we're dealing with it by going back to basics - discipleship, accountability, relationship.

It should be odd if a regular attending member at New Hope isn't growing in their faith - not the opposite. It should be odd if a member at New Hope - whatever their age - is caught in a sin - not the opposite. Yes, we seek to be different - not conformed to this world.

1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12
We've allowed the culture to be dragging our kids down to its level of immaturity - even at church, and even in our homes. That must end.

Opposition is already building within. Pray for me, that I declare the gospel fearlessly, as I should, and that I help people grow deeper and move away from the world.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Who Are You?

Today I met some people for the first time. The first was a couple who came to pick up some old hymnals we had been storing for them for at least 7 years. The other was our new insurance agent. During the conversations with them, I learned about their backgrounds, their jobs, their families, and how they enjoyed life here.

Great people, and I really enjoyed our conversations.

Tonight though as I reflect on the day and those conversations, I realize how we humans work so hard to get our "publicity work" done. In almost every initial conversation, we all seem to work to make sure the people we're talking to know who we are. Yet - think with me here - there are a lot of ways we could say who we are, and not all of them are equal.

It starts early.

Karrin Quinnell is an adorable little girl who blesses New Hope with her boundless energy, and terrifies us with her ability to disappear without warning. We used to call her "Kezzie", one of the cuter nicknames I had ever heard, and one that fit her perfectly. Last night she brought me a plastic plate with a plastic egg on it, and an empty toy cup. I said "thank you Kezzie", I love eggs and coffee. She said "it's hot chocolate, and my name is Karrin." Mmmm... hot chocolate and fried egg.

It's still tempting to call her by her nickname, and sometimes like last night I slip up, but she sets me straight. Karrin is how she wants to be known.

She could say she is the daughter of Robert and Stacy Quinnell, or the granddaughter of Jim and Mary Quinnell. And she will later on, but for now, she's Karrin.

My prayer is that one day, all that will change.

When I was reading the Bible today, I stumbled across something that I never really noticed about the apostle John. Now I've read John's gospel dozens of times, and his letters frequently. In that gospel, and in those letters, John wants people to know Jesus. In them, even though he's John the theologian, John the apostle, John the evangelist, John the teacher and John the leader of a community of faith, how does John want to be known?

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. John 13:23

It hit me tonight that there are a lot of ways to identify yourself to others, but being someone Jesus loves trumps them all.

John later, reflecting on this himself must have been as amazed as I was to think of being loved by God.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

There's no better way to be identified. Who am I? One of the people Jesus loves. If you know Him as Lord and Savior, you are too. And my prayer is one day Karrin will come and tell her pastor that "I'm the one Jesus loves."

What a difference that love can make.


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On Worship

This morning, while preparing for the events of the week, I stumbled across an article by a man named Bill Hull. I was gathering materials about discipleship (Bill's God-called focus), but since we are seeking God's person for worship leader here at New Hope, the paragraph below really spoke to me. We are looking for someone who will help lead us to exalt Jesus. Here's what Bill wrote:

(When we focus on anything other than Jesus) Worship becomes about us, about our tastes, likes, and dislikes. I love the story of the person who came out of a church service complaining, "I didn't really care for that." "Good," said a friend, "because we weren't worshipping you."

The drive within us to see ourselves at the center of every song, every sermon, every event, every conversation, and every problem reminds us of our own problems. Humility removes self from center and puts God in the middle. We become a supporting player, the world and God's plan is not in orbit around us.

Jesus was a man for others. As his disciple, then, my life is about others—only then will I find myself. As Bonhoeffer said, "The church is only the church when it exists for others." I am his disciple when I celebrate him, not me. The gospel is about how to live, the means to learning to live is learning to die. Once you have life, Jesus says, "Now I will teach you how to give it up."

"I am His disciple when I celebrate Him, not me."

Friends, we need to take that statement to heart, and our hearts to Jesus. That means giving Him our all - because that's what He's due.