Monday, February 26, 2007

Crowded Loneliness

According to RandyFrazee, the average American family manages 35 separate relationships on a day-to-day basis—children, extended family, neighbors, government, school, friends, work, Starbucks employees, landlords, telemarketers, etc. And this is before that family gets invited to church, which usually adds another 6 connections—at least.

As a result, Americans are knee-deep in the unprecedented phenomenon of grouped isolation—what Frazee refers to as "crowded loneliness." We are in desperate need of meaningful relationships, yet too busy and too pulled to maintain them.

Even worse, our attempts to relieve our sense of isolation often contribute to our fragmentation. We might join a small group, for example. We'll get in contact with 3 to 11 other dedicated Christians and commit to meet and study the Bible every week.

But what happens? Those 3 to 11 people become another chunk of relationships that we have to manage—relationships that require phone calls, polite questions on Sunday morning, and Christmas gifts. That weekly Bible study devolves into thirty minutes of preparation, thirty minutes in the car driving to and from the appointed house, thirty minutes of genial conversation, thirty minutes of discussion, thirty minutes of prayer, and thirty dollars to pay the babysitter. In other words, our attempts to forge meaningful relationships often add up being "just another thing to do." HT Out of Ur

I've often wondered about that very thing. In trying to create community among our fellow Christians, how many times do we end up degrading the other relationships they have? I see people here with their kids involved in band, football, Sylvan, and who knows what else. These frequently are the same ones that wind up falling away from the Body.

But how do you fix it?

More later.

What's the Big Idea

"What was church about today?"

My friend Arnold Hendrix and I have had this conversation a number of times. How many messages can we throw at people and expect to "stick" in their hearts and minds? The article lays that question out there in a compelling fashion.

I've looked seriously at ideas such as what Randy Frazee was doing in Texas (before he went to Willow). The idea he was working involved setting out the core principles that needed to be taught each person and each year. That broke down for me because of repetition and the need to essentially go topical in the presentation of those concepts.

We've tried using the Lifeway Sunday School as a guide to tie the morning's lesson and the preaching together. The idea behind that was to take what was presented in class and expand and apply it. It worked fairly well in a limited way, since not everyone here uses the same quarterlies. (Baptist word alert!)

If we are seeking transformation though doesn't the idea of delivering a cogent, targeted, biblical concept each week that isn't diluted by minutia make sense? Here's the meat of the article:

Well, let’s review a typical experience at church. Is it too little or maybe too much? The average churchgoer is overloaded every week with scores of competing little ideas during just one trip to church.

Let’s try to keep track.

1. Little idea from the clever message on the church sign as you pull into the church parking lot
2. Little idea from all the announcements in the church bulletin you are handed at the door
3. Little idea from the prelude music that is playing in the back¬ground as you take your seat
4. Little idea from the welcome by the worship leader
5. Little idea from the opening prayer
6. Little idea from song 1 in the worship service
7. Little idea from the Scripture reading by the worship leader
8. Little idea from song 2 in the worship service
9. Little idea from the special music
10. Little idea from the offering meditation
11. Little idea from the announcements
12. Little idea from the first point of the sermon
13. Little idea from the second point of the sermon
14. Little idea from the third point of the sermon
15. Little idea from song 3 in the worship service
16. Little idea from the closing prayer
17. Little idea from the Sunday school lesson
18. Little idea from (at least one) tangent off of the Sunday school lesson
19. Little idea from the prayer requests taken during Sunday school
20. Little idea from the newsletter handed out during Sunday school

Twenty and counting. Twenty different competing little ideas in just one trip to church. Easily! If a family has a couple of children in junior church and everyone attends his or her own Sunday school class, we could quadruple the number of little ideas. So this one family could leave with more than eighty competing little ideas from one morning at church! And if we begin to add in youth group, small group, and a midweek service, the number easily doubles again. If family members read the Bible and have quiet times with any regularity, it might double yet again. And if they listen to Christian radio in the car or watch Christian television at home, the number might double once more. It’s possible that this one family is bombarded with more than one thousand little ideas every week explaining what it means to be a Christian. No wonder when the parents ask their kids, “So what did you learn?” the answer goes something like this: (Silence.) “Ummm. . .” (More silence.) “Ummm ... “

We have to do better. I'm going to do better. Anyone who reads this and who is doing better, zip me an email. Let's partner to be more effective for Christ.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Telling the Story

"Do you think the way to tell the story of the Christian journey is to describe its trials and tribulations?

It is not.

It is to describe God who preserves, accompanies and rules us.

All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us.

'God guards you from every evil.'... None of the things that happen to you, none of the trouble you encounter, have any power to get between you and God, dilute His grace in you, divert His will from you."

-Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience In the Same Direction

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Religion vs the Gospel

  • The Bible has nothing kind to say about religion. Religion doesn't understand the Gospel.
  • Religion says, "If you obey, God will love you." The Gospel says, "Because God loves you, you can obey."
  • Religion is about what I do. The Gospel is about what Jesus has done. "It is finished."
  • Religion is about what we get from God. The Gospel is about getting God.
  • Religion sees hardship has punishment. The Gospel recognizes there can be good fruit out of hardship and suffering. It's called sanctification. "Jesus was made perfect through his suffering."
  • Religion is about me. The Gospel is about Jesus.
  • - Mark Driscoll

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


'The one passionate desire of my heart has been to lead my hearers to Christ. I have never entered a pulpit without feeling that, if only people could catch a vision of the Saviour, they would have no alternative but to lay their devotion at his feet. My soul has caught fire when ever I have exalted the cross.'

F. W. Boreham


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

We're Better Together

I've been blessed and I've been cursed.

Both of those occurred with my Toshiba laptop. :)
Life with my newer laptop began last week with high hopes for more speed and greater reliability. My old IBM, while still functional, was exhibiting its age (8 years) and so I began the search for its replacement. Checking the local Craig's-list, I saw one that looked like a bargain, so I snapped it up, and sold my old one with its accessories, almost covering the newer one's price. Great!
But as soon as the old one left for its new owner, this one began acting up. It would freeze, throw a blue screen of death at me, and generally make it a challenge to get what you needed to do done before it did it again. So I began searching the Internet and beginning my education on Toshiba laptops.
What I discovered is that this model has problems with its video drivers.
Uh, duh.
I could have solved my problem right then, by tossing the laptop to the curb. But its a useful tool, and we don't have money to throw away. So I'm engaged with a community of fellow Toshiba owners who share my blessing and know my curse. Some of them even work for Toshiba. There is hope.
I was thinking earlier about church. Yea, big shock - pastor thinking about church. But I love it. I love the people in it. I love the reason it exists - to welcome other people and introduce them to God. I love the One it exists to glorify. I've been immersed in the church culture off and on (early, mostly off - lately, mostly on) since I was a boy.
So when I read the Bible, I read it like I'm part of the family. Since I trust my Father (God), I know that what I read there might not make a whole lot of sense to me at the moment, but it does to Him. And since I sometimes need help understanding what a passage means, I turn to the family for that help.

Some of the stuff in the Old Testament can hit you like Microsoft's "blue screen of death". You can lose your work that way on a computer, but you can lose something more important - your walk with Jesus - when that happens with the Bible.
If I had to depend on myself alone, I'd be woefully short of what I need to make it all clear. I don't have all the answers, and I don't pretend I do. So I turn to my family for help.
But you know, like a lot of people in churches, I forget sometimes that not everyone grew up in the family, and not everyone is in the family now.
When the Bible was written, it came through quite a few men's hands. It was collected first into Torah scrolls, then New Testament parchments. For thousands of years before the Torah came to be written, it was shared orally, which meant people had to come together to hear the Words of God.

Then in the early Christian church, the gospels of the disciples (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and the letters of others (Paul, Peter, James, etc.) were carried from church to church and read aloud. Even until the early 18th century, most people didn't have a Bible of their own.

When they learned, they learned together. Questions were asked. Questions were answered. Some other questions had to wait on God's Holy Spirit to make the answer known. But all this was done in community. With people who knew God, and people who wanted to know God, coming together in love.
I guess what I'm saying today is this - we need each other. To understand God's Word. To live our lives according to the challenging example of Jesus. We need each other to make our way with Him.
Think about it - This laptop has achieved almost three hours now of uninterrupted use, thanks to Thor from Sweden and Boris from LA. I'll never be a Toshiba engineer, and if I was to give up on the laptop just because of what I don't know, what a shame it would be. There are people out there who know what I need to know, and want to help.

Just like there are here at New Hope and in other churches. We want to help you know God and understand His Word.
Friends, don't give up on God, just because you don't yet understand His Word. You have questions - we all do. But when we come together with our questions, with our doubts, even with our fears - Jesus will meet us at the very point of our need. You want an example? Here it is.
24 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, "We saw the Master."
But he said, "Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won't believe it."
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you."
27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. "Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don't be unbelieving. Believe."
28 Thomas said, "My Master! My God!"
29 Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing." John 20:24-29 (MSG)

Jesus met Thomas and answered every doubt. He could have appeared to Thomas when that disciple was alone, but Jesus chose to come when they were together. It's still the way He works most often, and the reason we gather as a church - to meet with Jesus.

We're better, when we're together with God.
David Wilson

Saturday, February 10, 2007

God - Still Amazing

It was the end of the day. I was wrapping things up and preparing to head down to the post office, to mail something I had sold on ebay the Friday before. That's another way of saying that I knew I was late and should have done it the day before. Maybe even two days before.

Ever have that happen to you?

What's your attitude like in those cases?

Are you at your best?

Uh huh..

So two men come walking toward my office. Right away I think, "I'm going to be late". Then, "I'll bet they want something". Then as I saw the second man more clearly, "hope I'm not going to get mugged."

Paul and Robert entered my office as a study in contrasts. Paul was short, dressed like a contractor, and Asian. He was polite, even formal as he began the conversation. Robert on the other hand was about 6'5", muscular, with his hair in a do-rag, tattoos covering his arms, and dressed in a holy tank top, grimy shorts, and work boots. His language was southern and colorful.

Paul introduced me to Robert, "our new brother in Christ." He explained that they had met at a fast food restaurant, and he had been privileged to lead Robert to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul's language was old school. He said things like "trusting in God's righteousness and not in anything Robert had done", "Christ's death provided the substitutionary atonement for Robert's sins" - it was like listening to an old tape from Lifeway. But it was real.

He had come by to have Robert testify to what God had done in his life, to see if we had any new Christian materials, and to see if we knew anyone heading to Gainesville, FL, or could help Robert get there.

I backed up and got Robert to tell me about himself, how he had come to today's decision, and where he thought it would lead him. He was open, honest, and refreshingly raw. So we rejoiced together, and then we tried to work on the Gainesville deal. I was able to supply the new Christian material, and got some food for Robert to carry on his journey. But I was at a loss on what to do next. Paul asked if he could use our phone.

He called his home (an hour west of us) and told his son to tell his mother that he'd be home late, he had to take his new brother, Robert home to Gainesville (5 hours east). he hung up and we walked toward the car. All the while Paul was explaining to Robert that this is how the Body of Christ works - one part can supply this need, and another takes care of others. They thanked me profusely, (all the while I'm thinking, what did I do?) and they left. Wouldn't accept my offer to fill the tank up - said the church could use it more.

I kept thinking about this Scripture:

Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Paul's incredible generosity, and his explanation to Robert, a new believer - basically said, "this is the way it's supposed to be - you have a need, and God has people supplied with what you need to take care of it."

And tomorrow I get to preach about how Paul found everything He needed in Jesus.

19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:19 (NLT)


Don't make me laugh.

What an amazing God!


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Winners and Losers This Week

It's been a full week.

We've seen everything from a marriage ripped apart to a bachelor party and shower for two 80+ year old saints. We've seen real glimmers of hope in some of the people who aren't there yet, and a real cooling of the God-relationship with others.

I really laid it all out there Wednesday night to help the people understand just why Jesus and the Pharisees sparred so often. I went from Genesis to Revelation to show how the religious Jew had turned God's intent on its head, turning the effects of being Holy into the cause of holiness. After explaining that stressing the practices of faith without having a heart of faith led to elitism, ceremonial worship, and legalism, I made the point that we Baptists were not immune from such foolishness. Many times we try say that a person's not doing certain things makes them holy, when as Vance Havner said, "no, it just makes them tired."

So after I had built a case for grace, a new member came up to me after and said jokingly, "I'm so glad you did that pastor. Hey, some of us are going out drinking and dancing Friday night - want to come?" I had a Fred Sanford moment - "It's the big one!" until I saw his grin. And of course now I'm haunted by that remark.

Then there was the morning when four of us went to talk with a young woman we love who fell back into drug use after being clean for months. Her kids are our kids. We're family. And we have nothing but God to rely on in our desperate desire to see her make it through.

The real work this week has been in prayer. For the young man and woman headed for divorce and for their families. For the two older folks as they step out in faith. For the Spirit to fan into flame the sparks of faith we saw in some people, and to reignite it in the others. For the young mother struggling with addiction and for her family.

After being here almost 8 years, these aren't "Those people". They are "my people". And I want them all to make it to the finish line in faith. So pray with me for those I've mentioned. And pray for Bunny and me, as we try to follow Jesus among the rest of the broken people.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Saturday Night Special

One of the inside jokes among people who preach is calling another's sermon a "Saturday Night Special." The idea is that you goofed off all week and then put something together at the last minute. I'm sure it happens, but not nearly as much as people pretend.

More often than not, I've walked around with the book of the Bible I'm preaching out of for weeks, having reacquainted myself with it. I've been through the Scriptures many times now in the 33 years I have been a follower of Jesus. That doesn't mean though, that the Scriptures are through with me.

When I'm going over what I hope to say the next morning, it sometimes finds me on the wrong end of the message. The power of the Scriptures cannot be directed, only unleashed. And if he's honest, many preachers find that the real "Saturday Night Special" takes place within their hearts as they realize again the awesome task of working for God in preaching His Word.

Annie Dillard writes, "Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews."
BOOM! It could happen tomorrow! Revival could occur, the church could rise up and live out its calling. The gospel is dangerous!

And do we who pastor God's people realize what we are called to be? Here's what stopped me cold tonight.

Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:9 (NLT)
Not just with words, but with our very lives, we are to preach the good news of Jesus.

Lord have mercy. May you be glorified as your servants give all they have for you tomorrow, and may they never cease to cling to You. For Your power is made perfect in weakness.

Amen and amen.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Have you ever tried to change a habit?

It's so hard.

Last night Bunny and I hosted a small group focusing on communication in marriage. One of the things that I came to realize as I worked through the material was the need to make some changes in the way I communicate - not just with Bunny, but with others. I'm not sure when it started - maybe I have always done this - but while talking to a person I would look down, up, or just away for seconds at a time and then refocus on the person I was talking to.

Yeah, pretty annoying I suspect.

Here you are, having a conversation with someone, and as they reply to a comment, it seems that they have found something more interesting to look at. I'm amazed that someone over the years hasn't stopped me and said "what's so interesting?" To all you kind people, I can only express my thanks.

Once I discovered I was doing this, I put all my energies toward correcting the action. I m-a-d-e m-y-s-e-l-f look the person in the eye as I was speaking to them. And I did it! For a while. What I found out was that I had to stay focused on what I was doing and why. I had to remember to do that every single time.

Pray for me.

There are a lot of things I appreciate about the apostle Paul. His openness, transparency, and humility are just a part of that appreciation. He writes from his heart when he says:

12 I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. 13 Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, 14 where God is beckoning us onward— to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
15 So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision— you'll see it yet! 16 Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it. Phil 3:12-16 (MSG)

Maybe you started this year off with a steely determination that you were going to make some changes. But as the weeks have rolled by, your focus and determination to accomplish what you set out to do have faded. Well friends, the only way you can fail is by ceasing to try to change.

If you've set a goal and God is glorified in it, then keep going - don't look back.

or up... or at the floor..

Focus on Jesus.


David Wilson
Lead Pastor
New Hope!
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