Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Churches Like This

The picture here is of my wife as she leads a group of New Hope's kids and youth last night. Each Wednesday night she begins at 5:30 PM with worship team practice, then Girl's Choir. They sing and they share.

We're a smaller church, but this is high impact discipleship. Love relating to love, out of a shared walk with Jesus.

My wife does an awesome job with these guys every week. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Mission: Love God, Love People, Serve All

"This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details.

When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.
" Ephesians 3:7 The Message

Someone asked me the other day about when I was called into the ministry. I laughed and told them that I didn't jump into this life, I was pushed. And what I didn't know about the life a pastor leads could fill a book (and will someday).

I'm in way over my head. But this life, this crazy life, is a sheer gift.

I am thankful tonight for all those people God has graced my life with. It's awesome to see God at work in the lives of the people He's placed us with. New Hope is a special place.

But there are so many people who aren't a part of a faith-family like New Hope.

Today I went with Bunny to the dentist. While I was there, I must have talked to the receptionist for 45 minutes - or really, listened. I learned about her childhood growing up here when there were hardly any houses near the beach and sand dunes stretched all the way from Seagrove Beach to Destin. I heard about the school she attended that was 1st through 12th grade until she got to High School. She told me about her family now, of her mother's health problems and her father's wishing she would get back in church. And she told me about her daughter's struggles and the pain that caused her.

All I did to begin the flood of information was ask how her Thanksgiving went, and mention at one point that we had killed some time before we came there looking at the homes near the ocean.

Maybe today she just needed someone to care enough to listen. I told her that I would pray for her daughter and her family. Then the office got busier and she was called away.

Friends, we can do this. Yes, we are unqualified. Certainly there are people better suited. But God has given us everything we need to make a difference for Him. Are you available?


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Kingdom of God Peeking Around the Corner

We had three little boys come forward Sunday. Awesome display of God's ability to draw people to Himself. Scary thinking about how to do our part in helping them not just find the Way, but learn how to walk in it.

One of the hard lessons I've learned as a pastor is just how poor a job every church I have ever been a part of, as a child, an adult member, and now as a pastor is at children's discipleship. Many times the parents are our only saving grace. But today, with the majority of kids coming from families touched by divorce, and the majority of people not being connected to a church... well, it's worse than ever.

So when the service ended Sunday I began praying for those boys and searching again for some things we can do as a community of faith to help them grow deep in the love of Christ.

Tonight, I was amazed as I heard his sister tell her small group teacher that she had already started her brother on his devotionals. She was reading them with him and praying together with him. This is a teenager that came to Christ while I've been here at New Hope, along with her mom. This young woman has got a real faith that is expressed in service.

Oh, thank you God. Thank you that I could see that one glimpse of how You are going to grow your church. It was like seeing the Kingdom of God peeking around the corner.

And Lord, keep me from being so shocked that you did something without me. :)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thank God

It's Thanksgiving week here, and on a cold afternoon, I was reading Leviticus and trying to keep warm. We've been looking at this very Jewish book for the last month in our Wednesday night Bible study small group. Each week, I've tried to build the bridges between what we see in the old sacrificial system and today. Some weeks it works well, others not so much.

This week we'll look at the sin offering.

It's hard to get over how bloody their worship was. There's blood everywhere. They throw it, pour it, and in this week's twist, the priest dips his fingers in it and smears it on the "horns" of the altar. Blood... everywhere.

If you're like me, you don't think about blood much. But today I was reading a blog, and a post from a GI about his days in Iraq made me think.

"Everything I have on today is something I wore in Iraq, my boots scuffed and bleached from sand and dirt and hard use, my blood type written in faded black ink on the outside and inside of each heel.
Before leaving Kuwait for the trip into Iraq in February 2005 I took all my Army brown T shirts into the shower trailer next to C for Charlie Companies tents and wrote my last four and blood type on the front of all of them. I was alone, and in the humid air of the trailer, I remember the act feeling rather sad and final.
Later, later, after seeing, working on, and evacing wounded I wrote my blood type on my belt, and later my boots, O POS."

As he contemplated going into harm's way, he prepared by writing his blood type almost everywhere he could think of. Why? Because blood is life. The precious seconds lost in determining what blood type a solider has could be the difference between life and death. So that GI made sure every way he could that no time would be wasted on him.

When I thought about how that must have felt, to be coldly anticipating your being wounded or killed so vividly that you inscribe your blood type everywhere, I am again humbled and thankful to live in a nation that produces such men and women. They prepare for the worst, and then go forward hoping for the best, trusting in their equipment, their training, and their comrades.

As I was thinking about that I realized - John the Baptist looked up one day and saw the One God had chosen to take the place of sacrifice and pay the price. His blood would be poured out for our sins. He cried out:

"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29

And unlike that GI, who prepared but hoped he'd never need any of his notes to be read,

Jesus knew.

He knew that He would bleed and die. For us.

For that, and for the abundant life He's given us, I thank God.


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Or visit New Hope!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Teach the Children... Well?

This past Sunday morning, we had three boys come forward during the invitation to publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago, we had a young girl do the same. The question of children and faith has always been one I've struggled with.

One the one hand, there's no doubt that Christianity as practiced in the USA means that if you don't make converts before they reach adulthood, your chances with them after are dismal. But sitting in opposition to that are all those stats about teenagers who supposedly made childhood professions and then walk away from faith when they go off to school.

What to do?

On the front end, we try very hard to determine if the child is able to understand concepts such as their sin, their responsibility before God for that sin, and the atonement. But even when they answer every question correctly, there are doubts. Why? Because I've seen the results first hand when discipleship is made optional.

I'm searching right now for the right model and materials to use to begin these kids on their journey with Jesus and keep them growing in Him. I'm open to suggestions, so if any readers have some ideas along this line, please shoot them to me.
How Do You Pass It On?

21 The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both.

1 John 4:21 (MSG)

There were a lot of songs in the 1975 Baptist hymnal that had never been there before. You see the Baptists had awakened to a brand new day - the day of the Living Bible, the praise chorus, and youth alive! So this new hymnal had some songs in it that reflected their great leap forward. Some were good. Some,not so good. On those Sunday nights when our minister of music Lowell Hopkins would turn to the congregation and ask for requests, some of those not so good hymns would always come racing out of the mouths of some.

Hymn #120 - God of Earth and Outer Space was one of them. Did you know God could "fling?" Read that hymn and you'll find that God has flung. But my least favorite was "Pass It On." Do you remember it?

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That's how it is with God's Love,
Once you've experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

What a wondrous time is spring,
When all the trees are budding
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming;
That's how it is with God's love,
Once you've experienced it.
You want to sing, it's fresh like spring,
You want to pass it on.

It was just so...

Well, anyway, I was looking around at all the children and youth that we have not just attending at New Hope, but now serving and I was praying that God would keep them close and involved with him all their lives. And up walked Kelsey Morton.

Kelsey is a wee lass, with a personality far bigger than her stature. But that day she was downcast. Her grandfather had to be taken to the hospital and she was distraught with worry. One look at her eyes and you knew she was in pain. Before Sunday school, Bunny had prayed with her. Before the worship service, I had and so had Sharon Wilcoxen. Then our chairman of deacons, Robert Hughes, a older man of grace and dignity that everyone loves, heard Kelsey's heart. I looked down the aisle and he had bent low with his head bowed and was praying with her.

Before the first note of music, before the first words were said, four people at New Hope had joined their hearts with a little girl and asked God to help her.

Maybe that's how you pass it on.

Love God, Love People, Serve Everyone

I call that - New Hope!



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Or visit New Hope!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Is "Success"?

Evangelicals are always reaching forward for success. Always striving, never thriving. This sense of *thriving* always seems just around the corner… when we reach 100, or 300, or 1,000, or after we get our new building. But it is seldom a present-tense experience. Like drinking seawater, we can’t get enough, and the more we drink, the thirstier we get. ~~ Keith Drury

I love Drury's work, even if he is a Wesleyan Arminian. :)

For me, thriving would be more centered on getting the people I love and care for centered in their obedience to and walk with Christ. If I could catch people frequently in the act of being Christ-like when they didn't know anyone was looking, then I'd (after the obligatory happy dance of joy) be tempted to consider that we might have turned the corner.

I get glimpses.