Monday, December 31, 2007

Lectio Divina

In last term's class at Rockbridge Seminary, we discussed various ways to study the bible. One of the more interesting methods was an ancient one - lectio divina.

The idea is to help the readers slow down and let the text speak rather than rushing through deconstructing the text. You pray your way through Scripture asking the Holy Spirit to lead you to truth. A lot of us in that class were interested enough to investigate further. I wish I had known about this book then.

I have a copy and am looking forward to practicing this ancient way of learning more about God through His Word.

Wedding Pictures from Dec 30th, 1973

Our oldest's comment when he viewed these was "daddy married up". Uh, yeah.

On Evangelism

In two days, I'll begin the new term at Rockbridge Seminary and start the core course on Evangelism.

The Theology & Practice of Evangelism E5301
This course is a study of the doctrines of man and redemption and of God's purpose to reach the peoples and nations of the world for His glory through the church. Emphasis will be given to the biblical mandate, the church's outreach in history, the mission task today, and how mission translates to the level of the individual believer. Learners will design a mission's mobilization strategy for their congregation, ministry, or small group.

I've already taken an elective under the evangelism banner -

Next Steps in Planting and Growing a Missional Church E6408
This course is for those who are in the initial stages of a church plant and need to know how to take their new work to the next level. The course will address the spiritual formation process of leaders, expanding the church's influence, multiplication through evangelism, weathering crisis points, measuring health, and knowing when and how to leave.

As well as having taken Personal Evangelism at New Orleans, participated in the trial of an evangelism strategy program for the FBC,(the Intentionally Evangelistic Church - spearheaded by Dr Don McCutcheon) learned and taught EE, Contagious Church, and will soon be teaching "Just Walk Across the Room".

And yet, I am not an evangelist.

If anyone should be, by virtue of training and experience, I should be. But I do not have the gift of evangelism, I just do the work of an evangelist and hope to train others to do the same.

The singularly hardest part of evangelism is to keep after it in prayer. No it's not the program, and it's not in my view the actual work. It is to open yourself to correction and instruction, to petition God to give you opportunities even if those opportunities put you far outside your gifting and your comfort zone.

I am so very aware that I need God in this.

Years ago, I thought that this was a skill I needed to master, and that once I had the skill set, I would be blessed with amazing tales of evangelistic success and would one day be trotted out on stage at the convention to applause.

Little did I realize that the skill is useless without the Holy Spirit's empowerment.

My background was in sales, and I was successful there. Here, I was giving away the keys to heaven, and though I delivered the "pitch" perfectly, most of the time either nothing happened, or the person made some weak profession not followed up with life change.

My most successful period occurred while I worked at a ministry center and gave out the gospel to people who were in need. I would come home fired up and amazed at what God was doing. That little house was seeing more conversions than the mega church across the street. But we weren't a church, and though we tried mightily to get the converts placed in churches, our track record was horrible.

So over the last few years I have come to see that the Holy Spirit's work of evangelism does not require trained evangelists, just available people. And that if the spark of spiritual awakening is to become a flame that consumes the converts self, it requires community to make it so.

Here at New Hope, we've pushed out into affinity groups and small group Bible studies, as well as taking the message to parks, community events, and points of contact such as schools. It's in the spirit of Francis of Assisi who wrote "preach the gospel everywhere - if necessary, use words." We'll be ready when the Holy Spirit says go.

I hope I'll learn more in the course, but really, I hope the people I serve and I will do more of the work of evangelists in 2008 - in our homes, our workplaces, and in the community. We need to share our faith, not try to sell it.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

On House Churches

I was walking through the kitchen this afternoon, and looked over and saw a cookbook from Grace Baptist Church of Juliette, GA. I had forgotten that the folks in our failed house church/plant had produced that. Leafing through the recipes and looking at the names, I remembered the sweet fellowship and genuine love we had for each other. It was deserving of the name Grace.

The church started in the worst possible way - as a split off of Dames Ferry Baptist. That church served as my introduction to pastoral ministry. As a newly minted bivocational pastor, I accepted a pastorate in a church that changed pastors the way Paris Hilton changes limos. A church whose baptistry served as a place to store Christmas decorations. We had to take a blowtorch to get the water flowing.

Still, there was success early on as I worked hard and the Holy Spirit smiled on us. Dames Ferry grew. It doubled. Those who came hadn't always been there. They were fellow Christians, but they weren't family. And that combined with my pastoral inexperience led directly to a troubled parting.

In hindsight, I should have walked away and not looked back. But a group of people who really wanted to see God continue working in that community called me and I accepted the opportunity to be their pastor. We met at first in a house down the street from Dames Ferry. We called ourselves "Grace".

Our journey lasted two years together. We went through some vision issues, got absolutely no help from the Georgia Baptist Convention even though we rose to 42 people and had an offer to give us 3 acres of land. The convention said we had to have 5 acres before they'd help. We eventually got the opportunity to share space with Juliette UMC but by then we were just playing out the game.

What I learned...

In that rural environment, house church didn't work. We couldn't get people to come to the house and worship. The folks we had were winsome people, and generally speaking outgoing. But we had a stigma - maybe a double one from the split.

Some problems cross church structure lines. Leadership is an issue wherever. Conflict can occur regardless. In fact I was shocked to find that one family who had always been abused by the powers that be in the former church quickly became abusive of others at Grace.

In that environment, having a building and a denominational affiliation would have helped a great deal. But we were in an associational environment with an "Area Missionary" who had three associations and frankly was terrible. He had to have been someone's brother in law. We were trying to do something that wasn't done - plant a new church. Then amp that with the whole house church deal. Maybe he thought we were moonies.

I'll tell you this, I still love those people dearly. Every week when we met, it was awesome regardless of how few we were. I wish we had made it.

Could it work today? In some places I think it could. But is it the cure-all?


34 years together


Today is the thirty-fourth anniversary of the day a young man with few prospects received the greatest gift this earth can give - the hand of my bride, Bunny.

So much has changed since that day, but our love has grown stronger, though buffeted and tried at times.

For folks on the outside, it would be exceedingly hard to explain just how important the love of your marriage partner makes as you try to work with God and His people. It would also be impossible to overestimate the toll our (the pastors) job makes on their lives.

Bunny has been so involved in everything good that has happened in our sojourns in different places of service, but nowhere more so than here at New Hope. She's taught children, worked with youth, worked with and led music (fashioning Easter and Christmas music as well), started a women's ministry, facilitated small groups, and so much more publically.

But privately she has given me the benefit of her relationship with Jesus through the context of her love for me.

We serve right now in a military town, and we love these people dearly and are deeply thankful for what they do. Every medal and memorial is well earned and much deserved. So when I say that there ought to be recognition for the work of pastor's wives I'm not taking away from what our veterans deserve.

I'm just acknowledging that there are all kinds of wars. :)

Thank you Bunny. Love forever, David
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Saturday, December 29, 2007

On the SBC

Small church evangelist Les Puryear has had my admiration for a while now. In a church culture that seems at times to shout "Go big or go home!", Les shouts back "House church? I'm up for that!" :) Les is seriously into championing the smaller - ok - the average sized church in the SBC. He's even set up a conference in March to help small church pastors grow. (Les, I'm trying to work it out to get there.)

Recently he wrote a post on SBC Impact that listed some things he'd like to see in the SBC.

I'll list them here, but go read the whole post and the comments.

Things I would like to see implemented in the SBC in no particular order:

* More small church emphasis at all SBC entities and agencies.
* A worship film-making division that would produce worship videos.
* A small church pastor (less than 200 in average Sunday morning worship attendance) be elected as president of the SBC.
* More teaching of practical ministry techniques in seminary, i.e., how to baptize, how to conduct the Lord’s Supper, how to handle conflict in the church, etc.
* Broadman & Holman print a series of books about small church leadership.
* Passing of a Regenerate Membership resolution.
* Revise the method of electing trustees so that rather than voting “yes” or “no” on a nominating committee’s entire list, change it so anyone who wishes to run for the office of a trustee can do so by filing for election similar to the method currently used to elect Town Council representatives. Then the convention messengers can vote for trustees by marking their ballots for each name and the ones with the most votes win. This seems to me to be more democratic than the nominating committee process.
* Spiritual awakening.
* Less storytelling in sermons and more biblical exposition.
* True desire for holiness.
* Love for brothers and sisters in Christ who do not agree with each other on non-essential doctrines.
* More cooperation among local churches rather than being in competition with each other.
* 8,000 IMB missionaries on the field by 2012.
* Pastors live what they preach.
* Explosion of house church planting in the USA.
* Every church member regularly tithing.
* Reaching the lost who are within sight of our church steeples and then reaching the lost beyond that.
* Greater penetration of evangelicalism in the northeast and western parts of the USA.
* The WMU not moving away from the SBC and toward the CBF.

You know, I don't agree with everything Les wrote, but I can sure work with a guy who loves what I love - smaller churches. And rather than hash out the differences, I'm going to make a list of what I'd love to see in the SBC from my context.

* Revamping of the seminaries to make them more pastor - in particular small church pastor friendly. The 30 hour on campus requirement is onerous and nigh onto ridiculous in today's interactive age. It is preventing many people like me from courses and degrees that would help our ministry effectiveness. Train pastors first, not professors.
*Revamp the association and bring back associational missionaries who are church planters and catalysts for action not deck chair rearrangers. In our association we are taking a year to study the need for change when we should be changing now! The DOM being tied to big church money isn't working well for smaller churches.
*Stay out of the newspapers unless you are helping someone. The Richard Land crowd makes me flinch everytime I see their names in print because I know we're about to be outed as "agin'ers". We've stopped being known for what we are for, just what we are against.
*Put some energy, effort, and money into RA's and men's ministries. We are hemorrhaging men. We get programs like men's fraternity that are so expensive and so big church oriented that our guys get tired of trying. Give us a break guys.
*Break the stupid convention into regions. If you want us to actually go, quit tossing darts at a map, look at the cost and timing. Oh and quit deciding ahead of time what we should do when we are there.
*Help us facilitate networks of like-minded churches along missional lines not geographic ones. My church has precious little in common with the FBC down the street but might have a lot with another church 50 miles away. Get Stetzer on it.:)
*Help us train for today's challenges, not yesterday's. We need help with outreach, media, worship, marketing, site selection and maximization. We need training on relational evangelism, or incarnational ministry, not more door hangers and Evangecubes.

I got more, but that's enough for now. I have been an SBC guy my whole Christian life and fought to stay on course when others called. I love the Cooperative Program and our doctrinal distinctives. But we have to keep those while constantly evaluating our methods for effectiveness.

On Men and Faith

The internet has provided me with so many benefits, but at times the information it brings isn't pleasing at all. Dee Lauderdale, the moderator of a pastor's group I'm in posted the results of a survey he found in a Men's health magazine. The findings do not bode well to any of us who are serious about reaching men.

In God We Trust? from December 2007 issue of Men’s Health

How would you describe your religious beliefs?

Very Religious: 21% Somewhat Religious: 26% Spiritual but not religious: 35%
None of the above: 18%

Which belief do you most closely identify with?
Christian (nonspecific): 27% Catholic: 17% Protestant: 16% Atheist: 11%
Agnostic: 10% Buddhist: 10% Jewish: 3% Mormon: 3% Scientologist: 1%
Other: 3%

If you were God for a day, what would be your first order of business?
“Eliminate corruption in all governments”
“Banish to hell everyone who has killed in my name”
“Get everyone to stop relying on men and take responsibility for their own lives”
“Whatever’s on the agenda, I suppose. I’m assuming God has a personal assistant”
“I wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility”

Do you believe that morality can come only from faith?
Yes: 29% No: 71%

Have you ever witnessed a miracle?
Yes: 32% No: 44% Unsure: 24%

How often do you attend services
More than once a week: 12% Once a week: 21% Once a month: 10% On religious holidays: 9% Almost never: 28% Never: 20%

If they shortened the service and relaxed the dress code, would you attend more?
Yes: 7% No: 93%

Are you more, or less religious as you age?
More: 35% Less: 25% Neither: 40%

Have you ever terminated a romantic relationship because of religious differences?
Yes: 18% No: 82%

10.When politicians say things like “God Bless America,” does it comfort you or freak you out?
It’s comforting: 56% It’s creepy: 44%

Is it important for your kids to be religious?
“Yes. We all need a moral foundation.”
“No. It’s more important that they are happy and fulfilled.”
“I want them to have at least one constant: God”
“I’m responsible for their life, not their afterlife”

What’s your reaction when retailers say, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?
It irks me: 31% I’m glad: 13% It’s a silly debate: 56%

How much influence should religion have in the United States?
More than there is now: 19% Less than now: 50% It’s fine as it is: 31%

Can religion help with today’s problems?
It’s still useful: 46% It’s out of touch: 31% It’s part of the problems: 23%

In the next century, will religion grow, stay the same, or diminish?
“Decency and morality will exist for their own sake”
“It’ll grow freakishly stronger”
“It will diminish as people become more educated”

When you die, where will you go?
Heaven: 50% Hell: 1% Purgatory: 3% Back to earth in another form: 8%
Somewhere else: 11% Nowhere: 27%

When you break it down, it's clear that for most men, churchianity doesn't "work", if by work you mean add anything meaningful to their lives. And efforts to make church more man-friendly by cutting sermon length and relaxing dress codes aren't the answer. Over half think that religion either doesn't help today or is part of the reason things aren't as they should be.

When I looked the survey over, I was sitting in the room here with my wife Bunny. I was a 19 year old guy going nowhere when I was invited to Bethesda Baptist Church in Macon GA to play church basketball. At the time I was playing in three separate leagues. But after seeing Bunny, I realized she was in a league of her own and came as often as I could to be near her. As a result, I was saved and committed my life to Christ.

Just to be clear - I was dead in my sins. I wasn't looking for God. I came to play ball and stayed to play ball and to hang as close as possible to Bunny until my charm and rugged good looks wore her down. :)

So I read the survey and thought, what has happened?

It seems that within the last 30 years we've gone from being an option for guys who were looking to find a place to do guy stuff and find a nice girl to a place that isn't even on the radar. We've gone from acceptance through toleration and are now in aggravation/wish you would go away land.

Networking used to be one of the reasons people would come to church. Some of them even got saved. But now with the culture shift, those people are more likely to bunch up on the golf course, the PTA, or at soccer practice for the kids than come to church.

And with the church's moral behavior on par or even below par with the culture, finding a "good girl" at church might not be a given to say the least. We are in a heap of trouble with men. No need for us, nor reason to lean our way, and in fact some annoyance thrown our way.

It's going to take everything we can muster to get back on the options list with men.

First thing is we have to admit we have a problem. Duh.
Second thing - pray that God would guide everything we do.
Third thing - We must begin to get into the places where men hang out and build relationships with people. It's not what we do well, but it's always been the way the gospel has spread.

My friend Bill Martin put it this way:
It can't be about the institution anymore. It has to be about personal relationships. (That doesn't sell well in the Bible belt, but that doesn't make it any less true.)

I wonder if we can do it.

Oh I know God can do it, but can a generation who equated church growth with bigger and better - can we get small? Can we go from empire builders to insurgents? Can we stop yelling long enough to have a cup of coffee and talk?

Can we learn to count conversations and ask God to let us be involved in His work to change the hearts of men?

Glorify your name Lord.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"How to kill a movement"

How To Kill A Movement - by Sam Metcalf

1. Require education for the leadership
2. Demand conformity of methodology
3. Refuse to provide administrative help and let it suffocate under it’s own weight
4. Get spooked by supernatural phenomena outside your paradigm
5. Make no room for younger, less experienced leadership
6. Be obsessed by theological purity
7. Put the safety of the people involved as a higher priority than sacrifice

There's much more, go read it all.

So much of what I think is holding many churches and denominations back is encapsulated in Sam's list. Unfortunately my spiritual family, the SBC, is guilty of many of these and doesn't seem the least inclined to change at the moment.

Maybe that will change. I hope and pray that it will. Too many souls are at stake.

"Let me go with you because..."

I have become convinced that people do not become fully devoted, disciple-making followers of Christ through the excellency of man-made programs. Churches may grow in number through their professional worship team, their seamless organization chart, their savvy marketing, and their cultural relevance. But I believe something more powerful is at work when we see a person who has never known God become acquainted with a faith community, become a regular participant in that community, become a believer, and then become a fully-devoted disciple. I believe that when that progression takes place it is because that person has looked upon a community of Christ-followers, become overwhelmed with the reality of God in their midst, and cried out, "Let me go with you because I have heard, and seen, and felt that God is with you!"
Bill Huffhine

It is this velcro that builds the Kingdom of God. Those who are held together by the Spirit of God working within them and within their relationships become the entrance to the Kingdom for others who then call others to come and die to self with them.

Lots of people have a dream church - right size, right posture, right location. Bill has articulated mine - oh to be part of such a gathering of souls. It is what I'm working for at New Hope.

Monday, December 24, 2007

He Came Into Our Neighborhood

They had known this day was coming. For months now Joseph and Mary had talked about "when the baby is born..." and how life would be different then. So different. Every couple wonders how they will transform from husband and wife to father and mother. But knowing that this baby was the Son of God made every conversation even more of a wonder.

Mary was just so small, and the baby had grown so.

Joseph would have never chosen here for the baby's birth. So far from home, so far from help. But he believed. And he put everything he had - all his attention, all his energy - into helping Mary do whatever it was she need to do. They had just arrived in Bethlehem and found a place to stay. It wasn't much, but it would do. It would have to.

When the first contraction came, it straightened her up for a moment. The weight of pregnancy had changed her posture somewhat, from a young and lithe girl, to a woman "great with child." Her arms wrapped around her belly as she felt the wave wash over her and the pain swell and then subside.

Joseph's face went through several phases almost within seconds - surprise - concern - worry and now determination. What could he do? In his culture, men weren't present at birth. Women entrusted that secret to midwives while the fathers waited anxiously outside. Everyone knew that the birth of a baby could bring great joy or great heartache. This one would bring both in due time.

There! Again! But stronger. And followed quickly by another. Joseph held Mary tightly, seeking in vain to transfer some of his strength to her but knowing that this was her battle to win. How long would this go on? She couldn't take much more.

Suddenly she sat straight up and gasped out loud. A strange look crossed her face and he couldn't tell what she was feeling. Was it pain, or was it... joy? Her forehead grew slick with perspiration and she clutched his hand tightly. She was focused on something in the distance, and then she grew rigid and seemed to stare at - or into the ground at her feet. A quick breath - then none - only a guttural cry - a moan and she seemed to stiffen, then expend herself into...

And then, quicker than he ever thought - a soft fall into the clean straw and there he was - covered with the fluids from His mother's womb and flushed from the battle to be born. Mary collapsed, exhausted. Joseph picked up the baby and wiped his face as he lifted him from the straw. Then Jesus, Son of God and son of man breathed the air of the world he had created and began to cry.

At that, Mary raised herself on her elbows and smiled.

But she wasn't through yet.

Joseph cut the cord that tied mother to Son, and Mary groaned again as she delivered the after birth. Joseph laid the baby in her arms and replaced the soiled cloths with fresh ones, and then put more fresh straw and blankets beneath Mary. She wrapped the baby in the strips of cloth and kissed him. And kissed him. And kissed him.

Joseph stroked Mary's hair and marveled at what she and God have done. He took a finger and placed it in Jesus' hand. So small. So very small. And yet one day the scepter of the King of Kings would rest there. Amazing!

He was here! Messiah had come!

So many questions. So much they didn't understand.

But they knew.

God was with them.

He took the baby and placed him in the manger beside where Mary lay. She was so exhausted, that she gave him a smile and fell asleep. The mother of God became a teenager again. Joseph watched them sleep and marveled again at what had happened.

The Prince of Shalom had come.

God bless you and keep you. May you have the Spirit of Christmas tonight and all through your life. And may you always remember, God is with us.


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Or visit New Hope!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Growing Up Into Christmas

78 Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
79 Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace."

Luke 1:78-79 (MSG)
If there's a season that is more sentimental than Christmas, I haven't experienced it. I find myself time-traveling between remembering what it was like as a child, remembering what it was like when we had young children, and thinking about the kids we know from New Hope and how their Christmases will be.

Funny isn't it, how I can't remember how my parents struggled to provide their boys some Christmas toys. I really cannot even remember much of what I got, or what we've given our kids. I just remember the feeling of Christmas.

When our oldest left here the other day, he left with a CD on which I had burned 27 minutes and 11 seconds of his Christmas morning experience in 1982. On that recording (transferred from cassette), you can hear my aunt Louise, uncle William, and my brother, father and mother as they got to see Adam come into the living room and see what he got.

The tape starts with us trying to wake a very sleepy boy. As I recall, telling him that Christmas was here and his presents were waiting had no where near the impact than "Grandmother is here". She loved Adam and later Sean with the same fierceness she had first loved my brother Bruce and me.

Waking up to find his Grandmother there was Christmas enough for Adam. Everything else was just icing on the cake.

I've really been thinking and praying through Christmas this year. There have been some major changes as we've lost family in the last couple of years that have pretty much severed my childhood from today. All those links are gone now. I'm blessed with an awesome wife and her wonderful parents - my "in-loves" who are like parents to me and have been for almost 34 years. Obviously my sons Adam and Sean give me great, great joy. And I have an awesome New Hope family here from the littlest to the eldest.

But there's been a "blueness" to this Christmas for me. So many memories of those who are gone. So many events that can never be repeated.

And yet...

When I listened to Adam's reaction the other night, something clicked in my soul.

It was as if God was telling me to grow up - into the real Christmas.

Not the one I remembered, that was centered on people - memories.

But the one that brought me Someone Who will never leave me. Someone who gave His very life for mine. Someone Who constantly is working in my life for my good. Someone who loves me more fiercely than anyone ever has or could.

It was as if God was telling me, isn't Jesus enough?

I'm embracing His peace today. I'm trusting in His mercy and grace for today and praying He'll give enough tomorrow. It took a four year olds little voice on a 25 year old recording to help me grow up into Christmas and realize that all I ever really wanted for Christmas is wrapped up in a person. And that person can sweep all my blues away into clouds of bright and beautiful joy.

He's what I hope you'll receive and treasure too.


Merry Christmas,


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One Bright Light

“We are in a world of mystery, with one bright Light before us, sufficient for our proceeding forward through all difficulties. Take away this Light and we are utterly wretched—we know not where we are, how we are sustained, what will become of us and all that is dear to us, what we are to believe, and why we are in being.”

—John Henry Newman—

Friday, December 21, 2007

On Christmas

The Word Made Flesh

The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.

The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.

To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.

St. Augustine, Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, Trans. Sister Mary Sarah Muldowney, R.S.M., Vol. 38 in The Fathers of the Church, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc.), p. 28.
Christmas - weakly

While rereading the accounts of Christmas again, it occurred to me - God's powerful act of Incarnation couldn't have come to a more unlikely group of people. His mighty actions and revealed plans to change everything elicited a very weak response from those who received the news.

Zachariah doubted God and couldn't even believe when an angel showed up.

Joseph searched for another way to explain what Mary had told him.

Even Mary, a model of faith asked "How can this be...?"

Each and every one of them had a moment or moments when the situation they were presented with was just too much to believe.

Have you ever been there?

I sure have.

There have been times where, despite years of trying to live a live of faith and devotion to Jesus, something will happen and I'll silently ask the question "How can this be...?" Or really, how in the world am I going to make it through this?

To that question, God answers - "wait."

Uh, not really helpful - see we have this situation here and I need to get it fixed. And to that you say - "wait?"

I realized when I typed it that "wait" is not a word we would ever associate with Christmas, unless we add the obligatory "I can't.." as a prefix.

And yet, waiting is exactly what God required of each of the people involved in Christmas.

Zachariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son all their married lives.

Joseph and Mary agreed in their betrothal to wait a year before consummating their marriage.

Even after the angel's announcements to them, there was the usual nine month wait for the babies that were promised to appear.

How long have you been waiting for your Christmas miracle to come? I'm not talking about that long promised pony or motorcycle.

I'm thinking of that moment when the faith you have...

...expands to fill your whole life.

When this verse becomes reality... to you.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. Heb 11:1 (NLT)

You know what?

I'm encouraged that Zachariah wouldn't take an angel's word for it.
Likewise by Joseph's worries and Mary's concerns.

Because I am no weaker than they were, when they failed to grasp Christmas.

But then it's not about us, in our weakness.

It's about God, and His unfailing love.

We can have the faith they had when we, like Mary, say to God, "let it be to me exactly as you wish. I trust you."

May we all be given the grace to do just that.

Grace and peace,


Visit with me at my blog:
Or visit New Hope!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas - weakly

While rereading the accounts of Christmas again last night, it occurred to me - God's powerful act of Incarnation couldn't have come to a more unlikely group of people. His mighty actions elicited a very weak response, didn't they.

Zachariah doubted God and couldn't believe when an angel showed up.

Joseph searched frantically for a way out.

Even Mary, a model of faith asked "How can this be...?"

Each and every one of them had a moment or moments when the situation they were presented with was just too much to believe.

Have you ever been there?

I sure have.

There have been times where, despite years of trying to live a live of faith and devotion to Jesus, something will happen and I'll silently ask the question "How can this be...?" Or really, how in the world am I going to make it through this?

To that question, God answers - "wait."

Uh, not really helpful - see we have this situation here and I need to get it fixed. And to that you say - "wait?"

I realized when I typed it that "wait" is not a word we would ever associate with Christmas, unless we add the obligatory "I can't.." as a prefix.

And yet, waiting is exactly what God required of each of the people involved in Christmas.

Zachariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son all their married lives.

Joseph and Mary agreed in their betrothal to wait a year before consummating their marriage.

Even after the angel's announcements to them, there was the usual nine month wait for the babies that were promised to appear.

How long have you been waiting for your Christmas miracle to come? I'm not talking about that long promised pony or motorcycle.

I'm thinking of that moment when the faith you have...

...expands to fill your whole life.

When this verse becomes reality... to you.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. Heb 11:1 (NLT)

You know what?

I'm encouraged that Zachariah wouldn't take an angel's word for it.
Likewise by Joseph's worries and Mary's concerns.

Because I am no weaker than they were, when they failed to grasp Christmas.

But then it's not about us, in our weakness. It's about God, and His unfailing love.


In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdeitch by name. He lived in a small basement room whose one window looked out onto the street, and all he could see were the feet of people passing by.

But since there was hardly a pair of boots that had not been in his hands at one time for repair, Martin recognized each person by his shoes.

Day after day, he would work in his shop watching boots pass by. One day he found himself consumed with the hope of a dream that he would find the Lord's feet outside his window. Instead, he found a lingering pair of worn boots belonging to an old soldier.

Though at first disappointed, Martin realized the old man might be hungry and invited him inside to a warm fire and some tea. He had other visitors that evening, and though sadly none were Christ, he let them in also.

Sitting down at the end of day, Martin heard a voice whisper his name as he read the words: "I was hungry and you gave me meat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in. Inasmuch as you did for the least of these, you did unto me."

Story told in Leo Tolstoy's Walk in the Light while there Is Light and Twenty-three Tales (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003).

So many times I forget. The person in front of me, or on the phone is the person Jesus put me here to serve. Forgive me Lord.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Preaching

“Every preacher has a different routine for preparing a sermon. My own begins with a long sitting spell with an open Bible on my lap, as I read and read and read the text. What I am hunting for is the God in it, God for me and for my congregation at this particular moment in time. I am waiting to be addressed by the text by my own name, to be called out by it so that I look back at my human situation and see it from a new perspective, one that is more like God’s. I am hoping for a moment of revelation I can share with those who will listen to me and I am jittery, because I never know what it may show me. I am not in control of the process. It is a process of discovery, in which I run the charged rod of God’s word over the body of my own experience and wait to see where the sparks will fly. Sometimes the live current is harder to find than others but I keep at it, knowing that if there is no electricity for me, there will be none for the congregation either.”

(Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, p. 80)

Maybe the most descriptive quote of how I feel about trying to find yourself in the text I have ever read.

My goal is to inhabit the text. To tabernacle there. To listen to it speak to me and call my name. If it's a passage where a biblical character exists, then I want to know everything about that person and how he received what God had for him.

It is a helpless feeling until it happens. To still be searching for the voice of the text late in the week can raise the blood pressure and make one frantic. The hardest thing to do then is to slow down and listen.

The text needs to capture me, so I can turn it around and let it loose on Sunday.

On Faith

Now Faith … is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A sermon from 1998

As a baseline of how I've changed over the years, here's a sermon from 1998. I was working full time, and filling the pulpit at a small rural church in Laurens County GA. Be interested in your perceptions between now and then.

I Love To Tell The Story
Matthew 28:1-10 and other scriptures

I am so glad to be here this morning to share with my fellow Christians the glory of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Early in the week, Ricky Hilburn sent me the program for today by email and I marveled at just how many of you were going to be involved in the celebration this morning. Young or old, all seemed to want to share in the joy. Each of you who participated in this has told your story in song, testimony, or prayer of what Jesus means to you. Thank you for your sharing.

Each of us who has taken the name of Christ in identification should have a story to tell. I love stories. They lift the facts off the pages and give them life and make them alive. I’ve always used stories as I preached and I guess it’s because I love them. My Mother used to read to me when I was a little boy, and my favorite stories back then used to begin with, “Once Upon A Time”. Since I took Jesus as Lord and Savior though, my favorite story always seems to begin, “Once upon a cross.”

I love to tell that story.

I guess what I like so much about Easter is, well the story of Easter. Just hearing someone read the Scripture when the angel tells those faithful women, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen, just as He said.” Matthew 28:6 Sends chills down my spine.

It has been an emotional weekend for me.

Friday at noon, we met with others at Bethesda Baptist church in Macon to observe Good Friday. Their cross rugged and wooden was draped in deepest darkest black. The communion table was covered with symbols of the day, 30 pieces of silver, a hammer, some nails. As I sat there and looked at that cross, all I could think of was how horrible a punishment that was. Looking back over the years of my life, I remembered this sin, then that one, and another, and another. Times when I didn’t do what God wanted me to. Times when I did the opposite of what I knew to be right. The hammer and the nails were there. It looked to me like the hammer would fit my hand well. I looked at the silver. That was a lot of money back then. Then I looked up at the cross - and I knew I was guilty.

When I was in elementary school, there were times when I was invited to spend a little time after school. I had distinguished myself in one way or another that day, and the teacher found that though the school day had ended, she simply could not bear to let me go so soon. So I was given the rare treat of additional instruction. One of her favorite things she liked to teach me was cleanliness. She did this by allowing me the high honor of erasing the blackboards for her. Not everyone got to do this you understand, only those of us proved worthy by our actions. Some of those might have, but by no means were limited to, talking in class, failing to do assignments, etc.

I’d get the erasers and wipe the boards for all I was worth, and was satisfied that I had done a good job. Unfortunately, she wasn’t. Seems you could still read some of the words. She had me wet a towel and wipe them clean, until you no longer could tell there had ever been anything written there. It was like a new board, that had never been stained at all.

Jesus did that for me and you. Somewhere in God’s memory was a blackboard with all our sins written on it for all to see. Jesus, with His blood, washed our sins away, until they were completely gone. He died, was buried, and rose again to let us know that in Him, we can have life forever free of the heartache and full of the love of God.

Knowing the story makes Good Friday a Good Friday! It makes seeing the agony and pain that Jesus went through for my sins and for my failure to live a life pleasing to God bearable. It is an amazing thing to me to know that as the Bible says, “This is love: Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I have to tell that story, for like Paul, “I am convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him Who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Cor. 5:14-15 I love to tell the story

It’s the story I love. Reading it year after year, even though I’m like the little boy I read about. Robert Russell relates:

I love to go to Easter passion plays. One night I sat behind a 5-year-old boy who was enthralled. When the crucifixion scene took place, he got real quiet. But
then Jesus came back from the grave and there was a song of celebration and
his eyes lit up. He looked at his mother and said, "He's alive, Mom. He's
alive!" and began to clap. And he hugged her around the neck. It was fun to
see somebody understand the resurrection for real.

Once, we showed a cartoon video of the crucifixion and resurrection to our littlest
Sunday School class. When Jesus was buried, one little boy who knew the story pretty well turned to a buddy and said, 'He's dead now, but he'll be back.”’

Well beloved, He is risen! Because He lives we can have hope grounded in the fact of the resurrection. I Love To Tell The Story!

As some of you know, I have two sons. As they have grown up, I have sometimes went with their Mother when it was time for clothes. A few years ago, I saw this line of clothing called - No Fear. I laughed when I saw it. No fear. That’s a great concept, but it hasn’t entered reality yet, or has it?

What do you fear the most? Losing your job? Losing your family? Losing your life?

Many times I have stood looked into red swollen eyes as we gathered around an open hole in the ground and told them straight from Jesus’ heart through my lips, “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.” John 11:25 That is resurrection power!

Hear me! Most of us before we came to know Christ saw the enemy we could not fake out, could not dodge, could never get around as death. Everything else was important, sure, but our death or the death of the ones we love was too much to bear.

But listen! Here come the women back from the empty tomb telling us the story. Of an angel’s question, and empty tomb, and a risen savior! Death is no longer final. Nothing is!

One thing I have learned for certain as I have lived the last few years is that there are events in this life that will happen and they will hurt. Sickness may come. Death may claim loved ones. We may find ourselves not being able to do what we used to do easily. Finances come together, finances fall apart. Life, this vapor we inhabit just now, is not easy. But in Jesus and His resurrection, we find that nothing can defeat us. There is no reason to fear.

Not disease - for in heaven, there is no such thing as cancer or Alzheimer’s.
Not handicaps - for our bodies will be perfect. Those disabled now will leap to their feet to embrace Jesus. The blind will see the source of all light. The deaf will hear the praise of heaven.

Wow! What a story! No wonder the women were in a hurry to tell it.

I love to tell the story of Jesus -

It has resurrection power over the past. The “If only’s” Many here today have deep and lasting regrets over things that have happened in their past.
If only I had had parent’s that loved me more.
If only I had studied harder, stayed in school, made more of my life.
If only I hadn’t gotten married so soon, or at all.
If only I had married him, or her.
If only my children had not disappointed me.
If only…

Well, we started this story in a cemetery. A place where the past lies buried forever. But in this cemetery, the Lord of the Living is risen to triumph over death, the grave is empty, ready to receive your regrets. Give your if only’s to Jesus. Let the Lord of life give you victory over your past. He will set you free and as the Bible says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

The resurrection of Jesus has power over the past.

And power over the present.
A missionary was speaking to a remote tribe of people who had never heard
about the life and ministry of Jesus. Seated in the front row, listening intently
to all the missionary had to say, was the chief of the tribe. As the story of Jesus came to its climax and the chief heard how Christ was cruelly crucified, he could restrain himself no longer. He jumped up and cried, "Stop! Take Him down from the cross! I belong there, not Him!" He had grasped the meaning of the gospel; he understood that he was a sinner, and that Christ was the sinless One.

As you consider that scene of the Son of God hanging on the cross in agony,
with blood flowing from His wounds, can you say from your heart, "I belong
there!?" The Christian can, and then thank God for Jesus.

I tell the story for me, but what about you?

Can you see yourself as the reason Jesus had to die? For your sins? Can you understand that even while you were still sinning, God sent His Son to die, for you? Can you accept that great a love?

Then go one step further and put your trust in Him as your Savior, so
that you can say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer
I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Jesus took our place and died
in our stead. Because He bore our sins, He has opened the way for us to be
brought into fellowship with the Father.

Can you say, "I belong there?" If you can, then you have a story to tell.

Whoever you are today, however black your sins may be, right now, this moment, you can say “I belong up there” and claim Jesus as your personal savior. Right now. That’s resurrection power! That no matter how dead you may be inside, Jesus can give you life again, make you a new creation.

Do you have that Christian? Do you want that fellow sinner? This story doesn’t end in the cemetery - see for the Christian, the end is just the beginning. And I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love.

Where We're Failing

Churches have failed in their obligation to teach relevant, interesting, and insightful map-reading skills. There are more and more Bibles and more and more translations, but we have little encouragement and direction as to how to read the map—this precious word, this Word of God. This is not just a pastor’s, a scholar’s, or seminary student’s task, but it is the responsibility of all Christians. We have, generally speaking, become unskilled and illiterate map readers, and this is bound to carry with it grave consequences for our spirituality and our churches.

HTLiving Spirituality: The Exodus Church - Part 6

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts On A Saturday Afternoon

It will always be easier to not reach those who are far from God. It will always be easier to reach the saved and seek to keep them happy. And so even if we know how to reach lost people eventually most will stop trying because it’s just too difficult. It takes qualities that we don't often possess - a heart that is broken by the things that break the heart of God, and a conviction that won't let you sit and spectate but that drives you to do something!

This is why every church wants to reach lost people, but so few do.

It's easy to be in church, but being the church?

Not so much

Preaching To the Choir

I found myself very much straitened before I had got to the middle of my sermon, and was at length brought to a full stop. I had only power to make a public confession of my weakness, and that I was utterly unable to proceed. The Lord gave me however at the same time to hope that it might be good for me and for my people that I should be thus humbled, so that I was not much disconcerted, nor has it given me a moment's uneasiness ever since. Only I hope it will be an abiding memento to me to be afraid of leaning to my own understanding, and make me go up the pulpit steps for the future, with a deeper conviction both of my unworthiness and my inability.
- John Newton

Richard Cecil, The Life of John Newton, edited by Marylynn Rousse (Christian Focus Publications, 2000; originally published circa 1810), p. 135.

I did a risky thing this week. After last week in which I found myself wondering about the effectiveness of my preaching, I opened myself up to God's correction, and asked a group of men who I admire to help me understand where I might have gotten off track.

The reason I call this a risky act is because for a pastor, preaching is very much tied to our self-concept of who we are. There are many things that a smaller church pastor does each week - the phrase "and all duties not otherwise assigned" plays out in a thousand ways - but it is the preaching event that seems to matter most.

When a church contacts you and wants to evaluate you as a prospective pastor, they do not ask to see how you managed a ridiculously small budget. I have never had a search committee question about why we work on making sure the people who are members are actually involved. No one even asks me about my favorite things - interacting with the people God has placed us with. They want copies of sermons and "video would be great."

Week in and week out, the sermon has the most potential to help people examine themselves in light of God's Word as the church gathered. If you can preach well, in most cases that is sufficient for people to overlook many other weaknesses. And so, when you get a feeling that you might be off track, it can shake your confidence.

My friends are all pastors, who are spread out across the country. With the exception of the site's owner, I have never met any of them. But I know their hearts because I hear their stories of struggle and success as we daily try to do a job that is impossible without the constant reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I really likened the preaching act to a physical sports analogy such as hitting or pitching a baseball. You can still be the same player, have the same physical skills, possess the same amount of strength, but when you have a change in your mechanics it becomes hard to do that which is easy. And then if you let that get into your head, now you have real trouble. I was afraid I was suffering a Rick Ankiel moment (St Louis Cardinal pitcher who inexplicably lost the ability to throw strikes).

So all week long I sought their council. I explained what I felt and they probed and prodded. I explained some more and they questioned and suggested. The interaction helped me focus. I decided then to do something I hadn't done in a long time. I wrote the entire sermon out in a manuscript after I had done the powerpoint. Normally I do not use notes at all, relying on the ppt slides to keep my on track.

I have plenty of notes from my studies on a passage. It is not unusual for me to generate well over 50 pages of notes during the week, and if I am preaching through a book, by the time I get through I would have several hundred pages of notes. This past Sunday I had about 60 pages that I used to write 6.

Immediately before I went to bed, I sent several of them a copy of the sermon, and I posted a copy on a couple of my blogs. My hope was that if I really was off base in my interpretation and application, or muddled in my thoughts, that one of them would catch me before I preached Sunday. But I felt good about the sermon.

The reports trickled in. "Looks good but could have a stronger close." "There's enough there for two sermons." "That will communicate well, preach it." "I'd spread your application out over the sermon instead of leaving it all until the end."

Most of these I read after the fact.

When I preached, just before I did something I never, ever do anymore. I asked the congregation to stand with me for the reading of God's Word. And we prayed. And I prayed and gave it away to God. John Newton's quote above, which I had read during the week, was ringing in my head. "Lord, if I falter, let it be because I am in awe of You and Your Word."

I won't blame preaching too long on Him. :)

My bad - I got excited. ;)

I am so grateful to the men I serve with and their help. And I am in way over my head, but my feet are on the Rock.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What Child Is This?

John 1:1-14

My absolute favorite Christmas show is A Charlie Brown Christmas. And my absolute favorite part of that show is when Charlie Brown gets frustrated with how the kids are treating Christmas and in an almost primal scream asks “Doesn’t anyone here know what Christmas is all about?” Then Linus goes into his recitation of the Christmas story from Luke, complete with dramatic lighting, music, and a children’s choir.

When he’s finished, everything about the way the kids celebrate Christmas changes.

I’m expecting similar results here today. (GRIN)

The text I chose was given to John by the Holy Spirit and is quite different than Matthew or Luke’s versions of what Christmas is all about. You remember John, right? He likes things simple. He’s the one that gave us our favorite Bible verse – or at least our favorite when it comes to memorization. John 6:35 “Jesus wept.” I like it when they keep it short and to the point, don’t you?

I was emailed a while back a condensed version of the entire Bible – the Bible in 50 words.

God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, promise landed, Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked, love talked, anger crucified, hope died, Love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God

I know, I know – the Pharoah plagued is a bit lame, but I especially like the Saul freaked and David peeked part.

We’re always trying to take what God does and try and fit it into a package we can handle. Trying to reduce His greatness, to slim down His omnipotence, to limit His foreknowledge and make it into something we have down cold.

We like it simple.

Okay, so here we are at John 1.

God has once again met us at the very point of our need. He’s not only going to make it simple for us, he’s going to retrace His steps so we can see how we got to Christmas. Somewhere along the way this week I realized what he had done was the equivalent of someone speaking very slowly to a person who didn’t speak our language.

That doesn’t ever seem to work on TV.

But here God is using visual aids – things we know and can get a grip on. They come a little bit later in the text, so hang with me here.

In the beginning the Word already existed.

How does the Bible begin? “In the beginning, God…

Here John is back at ABC, square one, version 1, God 1.0. When this occurs we have no idea. The idea John is trying to help us with is that the Word is before time. You can put any sort of handle you want on that thought as long as it ends up being pre-existent to wherever you thought was the beginning.

But I thought we were here today learning about Jesus? We are. The word John uses there translated “Word” for us, is the Greek word logos. Oh, that clears it all up.

Think with me here. No, I just wanted a break. Wow, that’s great. I’ll make a mental note to use that again when I get stuck. Okay, now really, think with me. I’m thinking of a word. Any ideas? No, actually I was thinking of bacteria – not sure why. See if I’m going to ask you to think about a word with me, I need to give you not just that word, but an explanation of what it means. In a sense, that’s what the rest of this passage does.

John has already told us that the “Word” existed before the beginning. The next thing he tells us is that the “Word” was with God. And then he adds to that “the Word was God”. And speaking slowly to us, because we don’t have the spiritual language skills of angels, he says “He existed in the beginning with God.”

This “Word” or logos was a concept to the Greeks. They were fixated on what made the universe tick. They had their gods, but when they really wanted to consider the meaning of life and the reason everything existed, they called it the “logos”.

Sounds like God to me. But if John wanted to explain God to Greeks, he couldn’t begin with that word. So the Holy Spirit led him to use “Word”. Everyone would understand that on some level, but the real deep thinkers would be taken real deep.

And that same Holy Spirit knew that you and I would be here today reading this. For us, he led us to the first thing we know about Jesus – about who this baby is - He is God.

I guess in a lot of ways, that’s where the fusses we get into over Christmas today really have their root. In many ways “Christmas” or “that “C” word as I heard one commentator refer to it, divides people simply because of Jesus’ claim, backed up by this Scripture and many many others – that he is God.

I read earlier in the week that certain department store chains were not calling Christmas trees, Christmas trees – instead referring to them as Holiday trees. Is there another Holiday we use those for that I don’t know about? Sounds silly, but at the root is a refusal to allow any reminder that Jesus is God.

The next simple fact that John clues us in on is that Jesus, the Word, God, is also the Creator of the Universe.

3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.

So Jesus is God the Creator, who brings everything to be. Once again John repeats Himself for emphasis. “created everything through him, and nothing was created except through Him.” And he goes farther. Not content to limit Jesus to the creation of stars, nebula, galaxies and planets, he points to Jesus as the giver of all life.

I’m a science geek. I love to read about the latest advances in medicine, chemistry, physics and the like. And I’m a wee bit amused at those who seem to think that there’s a disconnect between being a follower of Jesus Christ and having a brain. Ok, maybe I exaggerate. Some think we have a brain, but as followers of Jesus, we are insane. No, that wasn’t better either. Well, anyway, some of them seem to want to talk to us reeeeeaaaalll slooooooowww.

But here’s the thing. In this are, it really boils down to two choices. You can believe that the universe happened by accident, a series of cosmic coincidences almost to infinity, or you can at least admit the possibility of a designer – a creator if you will.

Friends, that job is filled in Jesus. He is the bringer of life, and light.

See I told you that John was going to use some visual aids we could all understand. We all understand life. When we have it there are possibilities galore. Even on our worst days we still have… a day. Without life, we aren’t.

But light – light is a revealer. Light gives you the ability to see, to perceive, to know. And here in John 1, John says that Jesus is the light who brings the true revelation of what God is, to us.

And, oh I love this – that even when things get tough, even when it seems like things are dark, that there’s no hope or even a possibility of hope – Jesus wins.

5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

It’s a cold and cruel world we live in. But it will never be without hope.

So John’s told us that this baby is God, He is Creator, He is the Purest Revelation – the Light. But the best is yet to come.

Jesus is the Savior

6 God sent a man, John the Baptist,[c] 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

Jesus had an advance party on his earth adventure. John the Baptist. I like to think of him as Jesus’ “away team” like on the old Star Trek tv show, where the crew would send some people down to a planet to check it out. You could almost always count on a couple of the security team guys, the ones wearing red, to kick the bucket while they were there. I always wondered why they wore red, because those were always the ones who died. Personally, I would have still gone, but I would have changed shirts to something less obvious. But then again John the Baptist didn’t. His away team outfit was a bit unusual as was his job.

John was to tell people that God had sent Messiah – the revelation of God. Jesus was that revelation – that light. And Jesus was coming to His own people, the Jews.

I have always wondered what it was like to have created the world and then come down and live on it. How Jesus must have felt knowing that His creation of the trees – that one would be used as His cross. But when he came to His creations – the people of Israel, they didn’t see Him as God at all. They rejected Him and His message and eventually were so angry at what He and that message said that they killed Him to shut Him up.

But there were some who believed then. The disciples, some women, some others. And to them, and to all of us who have followed them, He gave the right no one but God could give – the right to inherit eternal life – to be made right with God. John says that those people have been reborn.

And again, John slows down and tells us what that means. It’s not a physical act. Old Nicodemas, as smart as he was went there a little later on, so puzzled he wanted Jesus to explain how someone could go back into the womb. It’s not physical, it’s spiritual.

And it’s not our idea – we never would have thought of it.. We never could make it happen. There’s nothing we can do to earn forgiveness from God – nothing. I’m not going to have to wait for someone to pray me out of purgatory so I can leave that bus stop on the way to heaven when I die. Salvation isn’t a human act – it’s a God act.

Someone told me one time that we had to do our part. That’s true of course. We have to be sinners without any hope of forgiveness. Ok, check. Got that done. John gives us in one very clear sentence, what we need to do to be saved, to become children of God.

12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

So two words – believed, and accepted and one object – Him (Jesus)

John uses the word “believe” or “believed” over 100 times in his gospel. It never in any single instance means dry dusty knowledge like “I believe red bricks are good.” Nor does it mean something frivolous like “I believe Dairy Queen Blizzards are the twelfth wonder of the world.” When he uses the word it means to stake your life upon it – to give it your all – everything you have – and never look back.

So a person that wants to follow Jesus, who wants to be made right with God and follow God’s plan and pattern for their life must believe in the Word that Jesus left us and in Him as explained in that Word. There’s no expression of Jesus no true expression of Him that isn’t contained in or explained by this book – the Bible. So a Buddhist Jesus, or a Mormon Jesus, or a Karmic Jesus won’t work – can’t be, because they are outside the light of God’s revelation in and through His Word.

Jesus – God of very God. Jesus – Creator of everything that was made. Jesus giver of Life, revealer of Light. And yes, Jesus, born of a virgin.

Can you accept that? In this context the word translated accept doesn’t just mean nod your head. It means pledge your allegiance to. To receive as who he says he is and act accordingly. You receive Jesus, you receive the Holy Spirit living within you. You receive Jesus, you place yourself under His authority and pledge yourself to do whatever he calls for you to do. You receive Jesus and he becomes your master and you become his bondservant.

John says that people who do that receive the right or the authority to change their family name. They become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. Once they were enemies of God, but now they have become part of God’s family.

I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the last verse we’ll look at today.

14The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

Jesus came into this world the same way we all did. He grew up as any other little boy in his era would have. But he was different in two very important ways. First, he never sinned. That’s important because if he had the second way couldn’t have been true. “He was God.”

When Jesus moved into our hood, or pitched his tent among us, he was just doing what any other short term visitor would do. The people who used tents back then were transients – soldiers, sojourners, and shepherds. Tents were useful because they could be moved quickly, but they weren’t very sturdy. Jesus was fully God, but took on human flesh and blood like any other man. He was fully God and fully man. He gave 200%

John says that everyone who saw Jesus said that he reminded them of someone. I know when I go back to Macon, at times I will run into someone and they’ll tell me that I resemble my father. I generally thank them and then walk away thinking, “man I’m getting old”. But I genuinely appreciate what they mean.

John has that sense in what he writes when he says

He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[e] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Don’t you wonder what it must have been like to know Jesus as the apostles did? To see Him as He performed His miracles, to listen to Him speak, to see His great power as He raised Lazarus or even after the resurrection?

Well, John gives us a snapshot here when he says that Jesus was full of unfailing love and faithfulness – grace and truth. Who wouldn’t want a friend like that? Someone who knows you intimately – as you really are – but who loves you anyway – even loves you for exactly who you are!

That would be glorious! That would be like knowing and loving God Himself. John says, we have seen that in the flesh – seen Him! He is unique – one of a kind – and everything the Word said He would be. And the word he uses doesn’t mean he glanced at Jesus, it carries the idea that John and the disciples couldn’t stop looking at Him and seeing God.

He is Jesus, come to save His people from their sins.

I wonder, do you know Him today?

Do you need someone to love you just as you are? Jesus’ love is unfailing.

Do you need someone who will never leave you, never forsake you, never pretend you aren’t there, never fail to answer your cries?

Jesus is full of faithfulness.

You will never truly understand Christmas until you look God the Father in His face and tell Him thank you for sending your Son for me, a sinner lost and burdened with a sin debt that could never be repaid. Have you received Jesus? Have you believed he is everything the Bible says He is and has done everything the Bible said He must do to give you new life and new hope with God?

What Child Is this? He is our Hope. He is our Life. He is our Light. He is Jesus.

On Christmas

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world.

- Stuart Briscoe in Meet Him at the Manger

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: "God with us." We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth! - John F. MacArthur, Jr.

For those nations of the earth which have known the story of Jesus, Christmas is undoubtedly the most beautiful time of the year.

Though the celebration of the Savior’s birth occurs in the dead of winter, when in many parts of the world the streams are frozen and the landscapes cold and cheerless, still there is beauty at the Christmas season–not the tender beauty of spring flowers or the quiet loveliness of the full-blown summer, or yet the sad sweet graces of autumn colors. It is beauty of another kind, richer, deeper and more elevating, that beauty which considerations of love and mercy bring before the mind.

Though we are keenly aware of the abuses that have grown up around the holiday season, we are still not willing to surrender this ancient and loved Christmas Day to the enemy. Though those purer emotions which everyone feels at Christmas are in most hearts all too fleeting, yet it is something that a lost and fallen race should pay tribute, if only for a day, to those higher qualities of the mind–love and mercy and sacrifice and a life laid down for its enemies.

While men are able to rise even temporarily to such heights, there is hope that they have not yet sinned away their day of grace. A heart capable of admiring and being touched by the story of the manger birth is not yet abandoned, however sinful it may be. There is yet hope in repentance.

- A.W. Tozer

“The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see. Twentieth-century Christianity has put God on charity.”

–A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), p. 34.

"Christianity today is man-centered, not God-centered. God is made to wait patiently, even respectfully, on the whims of men. The image of God currently popular is that of a distracted Father, struggling in heartbroken desperation to get people to accept a Saviour of whom they feel no need and in whom they have very little interest. To persuade these self-sufficent souls to respond to His generous offers God will do almost anything, even using salesmanship methods and talking down to them in the chummiest way imaginable. This view of things is, of course, a kind of religious romanticism which, while it often uses flattering and sometimes embarrassing terms in praise of God, manages nevertheless to make man the star of the show."

- A.W. Tozer

God grant you the light of Christmas, which is faith; the warmth of Christmas, which is love; the radiance of Christmas, which is purity; the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice; the belief in Christmas, which is truth; the all of Christmas, which is Christ.

- Wilda English

Friday, December 14, 2007

On "Holiday Trees"

It just gets silly after a while. Word came today that Sears and K Mart were refusing to call their Christmas Trees... err Christmas Trees. Instead, they chose to call them Holiday Trees, even though as far as I know, Christmas is the only holiday they are used for.

Are people really that insane?

I like looking at Menorahs. They don't offend me. There's a Hindu temple on the road I grew up on. It looks pretty cool. I know they don't know the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but I'll trust in the Holy Spirit to continue to witness to them. And I'll hope my fellow Christ followers will take every opportunity to tell them of the hope we have in Jesus with gentleness and respect.

Reciprocity would be appreciated.
"The Visited Planet" by J.B. Phillips

Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.

"I want you to watch that one particularly," said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.

"Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me," said the little angel. "What's special about that one?"

"That," replied his senior solemnly, "is the Visited Planet."

"Visited?" said the little one. "you don't mean visited by --------?

"Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory." And at these words he bowed his head reverently.

"But how?" queried the younger one. "Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His Creation, and millions more that I'm sure I haven't seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?"

"It isn't for us," said his senior a little stiffly, "to question His 'why's', except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them - how else do you suppose could He visit them?"

The little angels face wrinkled in disgust.

"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?"

"I do, and I don't think He would like you to call them 'creeping, crawling creatures' in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him."

The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

"Close your eyes for a moment," said the senior angel, "and we will go back in what they call Time."

While the little angels eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.

"Now look!" And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.

"Well, what am I seeing now?" queried the little angel.

"You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago," returned his companion. "Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father's knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time."

"Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?" asked the junior angel rather crossly.

"It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendour have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of over lives, but to them - well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful."

The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.

"I think I can guess," said the little angel in a low voice. "That was the Visit, wasn't it?"

"Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out."

"But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?"

"No, it wasn't that" returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. "They failed to recognise Him for Who He was - or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him."

"The fools, the crazy fools! They don't deserve ----"

"Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don't deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them."

"And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won't judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?"

"Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again."

In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.

"What now?" asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.

"They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves."

"Thank God for that," said the little angel.

"Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now."

As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.

"You see what is happening?" asked the senior angel. "The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth."

"Yes, yes," said the little angel impatiently, "but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?"

His senior shook his head. "We simply do not know," he replied. "It is in the Father's hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it."

"Yes, I see, though I don't understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet." - by J.B. Phillips
Some times we get so wrapped up in the "why" we forget the focus is on the Who.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

John 1:14 (MSG)

Jesus. God's gift to us.

Grace and peace,


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Or visit New Hope!

It's NOT About Us

Luke 1 is not ultimately about marriage stress. We need to be on guard against inserting ourselves and our needs into the center of every passage. Luke 1 is ultimately about one of the most significant events ever - the announcement of the arrival of the Messiah. It’s a pivotal moment in all of history. We risk trivializing the passage when we make it a how-to sermon on dealing with marriage stress.
HT Theocentric Preaching

I struggle with this all the time as a pastor.

You know that people need to listen to the Word and apply its precepts and principles to their lives. You are intimately connected with them, especially as a small church pastor. You know what they are going through more than most.

And at times the tendency is to take Biblical texts with transcendent meaning, and hang "practical application" on them. For example, I could turn John 1:1-14, which I'm taking up this week, as a sermon on relationships based on Jesus' relationship with the Father, and his move to earth to be in our neighborhood and how he didn't let that distance affect their relationship. So (the application goes) we must do everything we can to maintain our relationships.


Don't do that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Way of Jesus

We can't say Jesus is the way—"I'm going to follow Jesus"—and then use all the devil's ways. All the "I like to do" or "have a talent for" or "have an aptitude for" or "have a spiritual gift" language is popular in our churches, but we have to do it Jesus's way. The way Jesus did it is as important as the way Jesus is. I'm just trying to connect ways and means. The means by which we do something can destroy what we're doing if they're not appropriate. And I think the American Church is very conspicuous for destroying the way of Jesus in the ways we do church.

- Eugene Peterson from his book "The Jesus Way"

No they didn't...

Actual search committee cover letter verbatim:

"Appropriate resolution of conflict has been an issue for years. There are a few in the church who can fuel conflict and division among church members, with some leaving the church as a result. That they have not often been confronted about this permits this behavior to continue unabated. Because this should not be a matter left unresolved for a new pastor to manage, the Pastor Search Committee, in the absence of a pastor, has made it a point to address the Deacon Fellowship regarding this issue in particular. After considerable "pressing" of the issue, the Deacon Fellowship has taken some responsibility to confront those involved."

I'm thinking this may not be a selling point to prospective pastors.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Suffering

"The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not." C.S. Lewis

Sunday, December 09, 2007

New Hope - Sunday 9 December 2007

Continuing in the "Nights Before Christmas" series with our focus on Joseph, the man chosen by God to be an earthly father to the Son of God. That's some job description. The RA's lit the Advent candles again with Nathan Fannon reading the Scripture from Isaiah 9.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

Holy Is the Lord
All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises

As a birthday gift to Craig Bryan, one of our members, Bunny had a girls trio sing "When We All Get To Heaven". Not a song that fit the message, or one we sing normally, but it was our gift to Craig. He was speechless.

Made Me Glad
A Shield About Me

Jesus Paid It All

Great atmosphere of warmth and love today.

On the Laity

Friday when I got to church, one deacon and his grandson were filling the baptistry (portable in our case). Another deacon and his wife were just finishing some work in our sanctuary. They draped the back wall to emphasize the cross and communion table. Looks awesome.

Last night as we drove by the church, the lights were on and so we made a mental note to stop by and check when we came back by. Just as we drove up, another member did too and said he had been up there replacing lights and forgot to turn them off.

This morning when I went up, another deacon and his wife were there unplugging the Christmas nativity they put up.

Today,we'll have the RA's reading the Advent scriptures and lighting the candles. Their leader will do the Children's sermon. About a dozen young people and kids will form a praise team. Three or four more will form a praise band. Four or so others will fold bulletins and then greet people. We'll have a couple of people in the nursery, a couple of others do children's church. And a young woman will play the offertory.

When I read people's blogs where they wonder why church has become so professional so polished, and how the average church goer just comes, consumes, and leaves, I have to stifle a laugh.

I am so grateful for the people who serve God along with me here at New Hope.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Man Behind the Camera

Tomorrow morning, I'm continuing in the series called "The Nights Before Christmas" which is a look at the time, culture, and people that are all wrapped up in God's planned supernatural event - the Incarnation of Jesus.

We're a couple weeks away from Christmas, and I'll try my best to help everyone get enough of an idea about Joseph of Nazareth to understand who he was, why he did what he did, and how we all should emulate him.

He's been a difficult guy to get to know. Not much there in Scripture. I can describe what a typical Galilean Jewish man of that period would have been like. We can pretty confidently predict what his thoughts and actions would have been when faced with the earthshaking news he got from Mary.

But his time on the "stage" is so brief. And he has no recorded words.

This is the man God trusted with His Son.

This is the man who walked behind a little Jewish boy as that child took his first steps.

This is the man who showed his son how to work. How to pray. How to love. How to live.

And sometime between the trip to the temple when Jesus was 12 and when he began his ministry at age 30, Joseph, the man who first heard Jesus say "abba" - died.

He, like a lot of men I've known, don't make it into the family pictures. They are behind the camera making sure everyone else gets what they need.

But God knows.