Sunday, July 29, 2007

Maybe this Methodist is onto something Baptists need to realize too

Don’t miss this…because this is important. Understand that once people sense the local church exists merely to raise funds for the corporate Church they feel like spectators rather than players. Such confusion about the role of the local church (and the people in it) topples the first domino in a cascading failure that degrades a denomination from “mainline” to “sideline.” This is a hands-on society comprised of individuals who’ve lost trust in institutions; people today want to do it themselves. There is a deep pool of volunteers with the desire to personally experience meaningful service. They know they only go around once in life and they want to drink deeply of the adventure…not send money to someone else so they have all the joy.

Instead, they will divvy up their offerings among the various organizations bombarding them for money: United Way, Red Cross, Salvation Army, UNICEF, the FOP and the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy research. As that happens, the tithe is pulled from the local church, God removes his blessing and the local church becomes a pale shadow of the Biblically functioning community scripture describes. Congregations become sick and stop growing. Healthy grows.

Mark Beeson, pastor of Granger UMC

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sparrows, Saints, and Sinners

We were walking down the sidewalk in Destin the other day, leaving one store for the next, on the hunt for some new walking shoes. Bunny and I have recently returned to walking and are enjoying it. On the way to the next store, I saw several sparrows darting in and out of the shrubbery. At first, I thought "well, here in Destin, if you can find anything not man made, good for you."

But then I looked again and saw that the reason they were there was because the Wild Bird store had placed a feeding station outside for them.

Inside that store, you can find anything you want to attract, feed, and care for wild birds. Birdhouses for every species, watering helps, and of course bird food in the varieties needed for the different birds. There are bird pictures, bird screensavers, bird statues, bird sweatshirts, bird clocks, even bird hats. If you love wild birds, that's your place.

When I thought about it later, I realized that there must be more to the owner's motivation than just profit. If money was all they were after, then why give away your products to sparrows?

Because they genuinely love wild birds.

Let me ask all the "church folks" a question if I could. If we say we love people just as they are, then how often do we find ourselves giving away that love outside our "store"? And how often do we give it away to people who like those sparrows most likely will never become "paying" customers?

It struck me today that most churches and church leaders look at a community and think, who can we reach to make our "business" prosper - grow bigger, take in more money, build more buildings, be more visible and known. Yet Jesus, instead of focusing His efforts on the movers and shakers in the community, went instead to the sinners, to the broken, to those who society wouldn't notice.

Or said another way, "the least of these."

If we genuinely want to follow Jesus, it's going to mean we find ourselves outside our "store", giving the love of Jesus in tangible ways to people who may not fit the model we have of someone we'd choose to love. To those who are hurting, addicted, broken, poor, and weak. People like that are the "sparrows" for us. Our test is this - are we in love with the idea of Jesus' power to change lives, or will we practice it?

44 "Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'
45 "He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me— you failed to do it to me.'

Matt 25:44-45 (MSG)


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Small Victories

I spent some time last Tuesday in a sanctuary, met several ministers, and witnessed acts of amazing compassion and love. As a result, I thanked God. But it wasn't in a church when it happened.

I was in a public school.

Larry and JoAnn Smith and I were visiting Sandy Dye's class for the profoundly disabled to get some ideas on how we as a Christian Community can help Sandy and the rest of the staff as they care for the children. We were treated to some real entertainment as the kids had "circle time" where they react to music. Sandy took the time to explain the background of each child, and some history of where they were when they came, where they are now, and where the staff hopes they can progress to.

Watching Sandy as she talked about where a 10 year old was 6 years ago when she first met him, and where he is now, I could see her relive countless days of repetition. Hearing her talk when she described the circumstances during the first three years of his life that contributed to his problems, there wasn't a flash of hate at who did it, just an underlying sadness that accompanied her words. Then as the child was placed in his walker and made his way out into the larger room, her eyes gleamed with pride when she said "he's had that for three days now, and look how well he's doing!"

To be placed in Sandy's care, a child has to be "the least of these", with no real chance of becoming a productive adult. That does not mean however, that they live sad and meaningless lives. The smiles on their faces were real. And the joy of those who cared for them was too.

There's a chance that one of the kids on the other end of the school might one day grow up to be president of the US, or the inventor of a vaccine for cancer, or one could be the first person to set foot on Mars. Valparaiso Elementary is an amazing school with caring professionals who do a great job teaching kids how to learn and how to live as citizens. With the foundation the kids get, they could go to the heights of our society's achievements.

None of Sandy's kids will, but that's beyond her control. What she can control is what they receive from her, and that will always be love. Not a passive love by any means - she wants to see them progress, to be all they can be, and she can be tough if she needs to be - but she draws from a deep well of compassion and care.

The laughter of the children at play was infectious and their smiles were magical. For a few minutes we found ourselves clapping hands, stomping feet, and singing silly songs. Everyone needs a circle of joy like that.

Someone who would have felt right at home helping in Sandy's classroom once said that we should not ask to do great things for God, but we should ask Him to give us the ability to do small things with great love.

Sandy does that.

We can too. And I hope that New Hope's hearts can grow larger as we serve Sandy's kids.

Small victories, yes. But big impact.

On us.

We love, because He first loved us.

David Wilson
New Hope!
Treasure In Uncommon Places

It is the week after the latest Harry Potter book came out. Many of us have read it already from cover to cover, enjoying a wild ride of fantasy. As a young boy, I read every Superman comic I could plead for, later enjoyed the works of Mark Twain, and others who took me to places and times I'll never inhabit - except through their prose.

As a pastor, over the years I have received different responses from people about the Harry Potter series when they found out I had read them all. And at times I've had questions from parents about whether their children should read them - those questions coming not because of what they knew personally about them, but what they had heard.

Well after finishing the last of the Harry Potter series, I'm not sure that as time goes by we might see theologians treating the books and their author much more kindly. For in this book I found words I have always treasured in the most uncommon places.

When Harry ventures back home to where his parents are buried, he comes across the gravestone of his mentor Dumbledore's mother and sister. The Mother was killed trying to protect the daughter from herself, and later the daughter died too. On the gravestone were these words.

Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.

This of course comes from Christ's words in Matthew 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matt 6:19-21 (NIV)

Then Harry finds himself at the graves of his parents, who both died trying to protect him from an evil wizard, and the reader sees these words on their monument.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Coming again from Scripture - 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Cor 15:24-26 (ESV)

The themes of "the Greater Good", of sacrifice, of selflessness, of laying down your life for your friends run all through this last book. If you cannot see that, it's not that you have read too much fiction.

It's that you have read too little Scripture.

Reading for information isn't enough. You have to read the Bible with a sense of anticipation and wonder, relief and amazement that God - this God - the One and Only God - would sacrifice His One and Only Son - for you. And that through your love for Him, you would lay down your life for your friends - no matter what. You know you are flawed, but that He is able to use you to change lives for eternity. And you have to be convinced in your very soul that your life matters to God - that what you do matters. You have a part in the Big Story of God's reconciling the world to Himself.

If you can see that connection with your own life's walk, then it will be easy to spot it wherever it appears in any variation whether explicitly Christian or not - even in fictional books like the Harry Potter series.

I'm grateful for J.K. Rowling's work, and the treasures I found in The Deathly Hallows. But I'm immeasurably more grateful to the God who through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, gave me freedom from guilt and shame, a purpose for living, and the hope of eternal life with Him, when death will be destroyed and love triumph over all.



Sunday, July 15, 2007

It Is What It Is. Is it?

I had a conversation the other day with someone about Valparaiso. We talked about its history, the way the geography slices it up into pieces separated in a way to make each section wholly separate and unrelated - except when the city tax bill comes. That led to further discussion about the other splits in the social fabric.

Older versus younger - we have a number of retirees and a constant flow in and out of young families and singles due to the military base next door.

Richer versus poorer - some of those retirees get by on very little. I know of one older woman whose income is $500 a month. On the other end, there are million dollar homes on the water, boats costing as much as normal houses, and people conspicuous in their consumption.

Military and related versus civilian - Eglin is a huge base with an amazing impact on everything in the area. Many of the people in Valparaiso have direct ties whether military (active or retired) or civilian (civil service or contractor). But there are many who are not in any relation to the base.

Religious versus not - our little town houses several churches, all fairly small, and a larger by far number of people who aren't involved in a community of faith anywhere.

We walked through all those areas together, and I expressed my hope that one day Jesus would allow us to see what Valparaiso could be with people following Him.

"It is what it is", was the reply.

Is it?

Should we accept defeat and just concentrate on loving one another and anyone who happens to walk through the doors at New Hope?


There's very little that ties this forgotten place together except - an elementary school, a middle school, a little league field, and some smaller networks (city employees, businesses, older americans council, DAV, post office) So we will have to work hard and use those networks as our conduits to ministry.

We are commissioning people already in those networks as our ambassadors. Their job is to scout out opportunities for ministry and relationship building. Got two up and running this week. The elementary school - we have a teacher inside who turned us on to two opportunities. teacher move in day - when they come in to get ready; and new teacher needs.

We're going to have 5 teams of three people helping with move in, serve free sandwiches for lunch, and sponsor whatever the new teacher needs to get her class ready. Hope is we get some relationships started and some buzz in the community.

Second opportunity comes from the bank. Lady comes in for a home improvement loan. She can;t afford it. has no insurance either. Loan guy calls me because of a conversation we had. We're doing a home makeover for her while she's on vacation with her sister's help. Again, idea is relationships and buzz.

See we cannot compete with the megas in terms of worship bands, youth programs, facilities etc. So our idea is to work the networks to get our word and work out there and after the investments, to invite and extend Jesus' love.

What do you think? Will it work?

Monday, July 09, 2007

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

I always felt sorry for Ringo. All the other Beatles were stars, and frankly seemed to have so much more talent than Ringo that you had to wonder why he was there at all. It was years later before I learned that when it came to rock and roll drummers, Ringo was first rate. I guess he just didn't draw attention to himself. For Ringo it was about the band.

But a few years on in the amazing run of the Beatles, the boys let Ringo have a couple of turns at bat. And with "Yellow Submarine" and then my favorite "I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends", Ringo stepped into the spotlight at last. But then just as quickly, he slipped back into his normal place. For Ringo, it was always about the band.

Yesterday was one of "those days" for me. You know the type. Something sets you off course and the dominoes of doom and gloom begin to topple toward you, one after another. I woke up knowing that New Hope was going to be missing at least 5 families. That might not sound like a lot, but these are folks who make a difference in lots of ways. Then we had "technical difficulties" with the copier, with a printer, and I misplaced the "clicker" I use to advance the powerpoint slides. It seemed like it was shaping up to be "one of those days."

And it was. One of those days you remember for a long time, simply because of the people you shared it with.

My first inkling that my "little help from my friends" was on the way was Aaron filling in for Michael Weech on the sounds and video. It was his first time serving there, so he might have had an excuse to be nervous. But when I dropped the news that he would have to change my slides too, it was "no big deal, be glad to."

Then there was our youngest praise team member, the incredible Miss Hope, who favored us again during the songs by joining the praise team. Not quite two, she brings a joy with her when she comes, and prods the rest of us to loosen up and let the Lord lead us. Not to mention she's as cute as can be.

Oh and the Blackmon family gave me a "little help from my friends" too. Romeo, baseball all star and 100% boy, came up with the praise team again and helped us lead worship. His sister Juliet closed the service with a lovely piece on piano as her offering.

That night when we met for small groups, I knew that most all of the men who normally attend wouldn't be there. And when I arrived it was John and Ian Anderson and me. So we shelved the planned discussion and talked about some other things. Ian asked me a question about whether he would wind up as one of those people "let outside the city, like in Revelation" if he liked science. After I answered that with a resounding no, he went on to tell me that he wanted to grow up and be a Christian science fiction writer, and encourage other Christians to write too.

It was at exactly that point that I thanked God for the day and for all the friends who helped me not just get by, but leave praising God for counting me worthy to be the pastor of a church named New Hope and people like these.

Maybe you are in one of those discouragement loops I was in Sunday. Maybe the dominoes of doom and gloom are headed your way. Let me encourage you to look around you and see how many ways God has blessed, is blessing, and will bless you though the people He's placed in your life.

This life was never intended to be a solitary assignment. We were made to trust in God, to follow His Son's example, and to get by with a little help from our friends.

12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Eccl 4:12 (NLT)

Thank you Lord Jesus, for the people you've placed in our lives as friends.


David Wilson

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Can We Take A Free Ride?

Can we take a free ride in worship?

Many of the most cutting edge churches are incorporating secular music into their presentation on Sunday. I used the word presentation because I'm genuinely worried about calling that worship and I don't want to label what someone else is doing negatively unnecessarily.

But I really, really, really have a hard time with this. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to trot out the "regulative principle" or any such here, but I thought worship was designed by God to be oriented... toward God.

Am I off base, hopelessly fossilized?