Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Hope @ Worship 28 Dec 2008

Yes, I am way late in posting this. Busy, busy week.

Since we didn't have worship team practice I decided to go with some songs I thought we knew really well. But I didn't count on all the stronger voices not being here over the weekend. :)

Our God Saves
All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises
How Can I Keep From Singing
(I cut Holy Is the Lord, which I originally had put here)

Just As I Am

The whole "Let It Be Christmas" series inspired this week's message as well "So This Is Christmas." I thought about using the Lennon song "War Is Over - So This Is Christmas", but I'm glad I didn't given what happened with songs we knew. :)

The idea was to take Simeon's experience and compare/contrast it with many our ours as we reflect on Christmas/The Incarnation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Are You Ready?

They had just met a few hours earlier. (LA Times story)

One had just come in country, the other was just about to leave. In terms of where they were placed on the official chain of command, no one would have noticed them. A corporal, a lance corporal.

But where they stood on that day was with the greats.

The day started out normally for any marine on security detail, with Cpl. Jonathan Hale explaining how to run a checkpoint - what to look for, how to handle the flow and the traffic to Lance Corporal Jordan Haeter. Only minutes had passed since the two had met as the sun rose over Ramadi.

Suddenly the two spotted a Mercedes truck coming through the winding lanes of the security barriers. They yelled at it to stop, and waved at the driver to tell him to slow down. But the truck, laden with over 2,000 pounds of explosives, and its driver wired to a switch that would detonate them even if he were killed, sped up.

The Iraqi police who were the first line of defense cut and ran.

The two Marines engaged the truck as it barreled toward them - Hale with his machine gun, Haeter with his M-16. Before the truck was able to make it into the base, it exploded, leaving a crater 5 feet deep and 20 feet across - flattening a house and a mosque nearby.

When the dust settled, Haeter was dead and Yale mortally wounded. 30 others were wounded, but the dozens of Marines and Iraqis who were inside the base were unharmed.

The commanding general of all Marines in Iraq, Gen. Kelly, personally investigated the attack, and when he viewed the security tape, there he saw the two Marines, put together minutes before, standing as brothers firing at the truck headed directly toward them. As the tape rolled you can see the others running for safety, but the two Marines were faithful unto death. They were awarded the Nary Cross posthumously.

When do you think the two men who gave up their lives for their friends made that decision? Was it done in that moment?

Or was it when they made the decision to serve their nation by becoming a United States Marine?

Friends, what kind of decision did you make when you decided to follow Jesus?

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.13 There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.

John 15:12-13 (NLT)

Will you be ready when the time comes to live out your faith?

Will you deny yourself and pour out your life as an offering out of love for the One who gave His life for you?

Are you ready?

Grace and peace to you,

David Wilson

I Can See It From Here

Yesterday was one of those up and down days that seem to characterize the life of a pastor.

Personally, it was great to celebrate Bunny's birthday and look forward to today's celebration of our 35th anniversary. But we also were wading through the process of (along with the rest of Bunny's family) taking a look at what we can do to improve Bunny's Mom's care and eventually see her return home. That pressed us all day long.

Then there was the sadness as we prayed for Harriet Standifer and her family as they laid to rest her sister and her husband who passed away last week. Added to that was the news that one of our elderly members, Evelyn Brown, who was visiting her daughter in Colorado, fell down a flight of stairs and suffered serious injury.

Later in the day I got a notice that the materials I had submitted for my final review for graduation from Rockbridge Seminary were lacking a few pages of work, and that they were needed immediately. The reviewer was one of my favorite professors at Rockbridge, Dr. Dean Finley, and he and I worked out through a series of emails what was needed and I stayed up last night until I was able to get that done.

For me, one of the greatest revelations I received earlier as a pastor was that I was involved in an avocation that guaranteed my frustration unless I came to grips with the fact that my work was never really ever "finished." People don't stay "fixed." Churches don't continue to be healthy, or continue to grow unless the pastor and the people he loves and cares for continue to do the little things to stay in step with the Holy Spirit.

Until you understand that, you will be on the way to going nuts.

So early on I realized I needed something in my life that had a starting point and an ending - a finish line. When we first moved here, it was easy - we had old cars that continually needed work. Fixing them, at least fixing one thing until another happened - filled my need. But we eventually moved upstream from $150 cars and I entered seminary again. While my work at New Orleans still lacks a few credits due to their on campus requirements, my tenure at Rockbridge is in sight of the finish line. I can see it from where I sit today, and if everything goes right, I'll be finished in February and graduate in June.

It is... right... there.

So what's next?

I'm praying about that. I'd definitely like to knock out the 17 hours I need at NOBTS, but time and tides make it difficult. I could roll the credits from there into another Rockbridge program. It really has been a great experience. Initially I plan to write more and listen to the Holy Spirit for my ultimate direction.

But it is so wonderful to be near the finish line.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On This Day In History

December 1973

Monday 03: Pioneer program: Pioneer 10 sends back the first close-up images of Jupiter.

Tuesday 18: The Soyuz 13 was launched.

Sunday 23: A Sobelair Caravelle passenger jet crashes in Morocco, killing 106

Tuesday 25: The ARPANET crashes when a programming bug causes all ARPANET traffic to be routed through the server at Harvard University, causing the server to freeze.

Friday 28: Alexander Solzhenitsyn publishes Gulag Archipelago

Sunday 30: David Wilson and Bunny Clinard are wed at Bethesda Baptist Church in Macon, GA

I'm saying that last one had the greatest effect on all mankind. :)

Happy Birthday To Bunny, My Love

Here's a picture of Bunny and Dot in the hospital after Bunny was born. This year's birthday isn't the happiest with Dot still recovering in the nursing home, but it was so important to Dot that she wish her daughter happy birthday that she had Bunny's dad call. There's a special bond between them and it is great to see them together - then and now.

Happy Birthday, Bunny.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Not Yet

Bunny and I were on the way to the store last night, and both of us commented on how the same Christmas lights that seemed full of joy and anticipation just a couple of days ago seemed lifeless and frankly tacky now.

The tents that had held the Christmas trees that families bought and took home to bring some of the sights and smells of Christmas were empty, and were being converted to sell the New Year's fireworks so many down here seem to enjoy.

For some, this past week has been pretty hard.

Harriet and Bill Standifer will bury the remains of Harriet's sister and her husband Monday. Both passed away tragically last week, Harriet's sister on Christmas Eve. A pastor friend of mine, Keith McNamar, up in Connecticut lost a one month old nephew yesterday, the child of his brother who has had some real issues with family for years, and been estranged from them and from God.

So this is Christmas?

Yes, and not yet.

Yes, we celebrated the coming of Christ last week. God moved into our neighborhood. But people still hurt. Loved ones still die. Christmas is still a mixture for many of joy and pain - present or past.

But friends, all the presents that Christmas promised have NOT been opened yet. Like this one:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever."5 And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look, I am making everything new!" Rev 21:1-5
There's more coming. More of the Kingdom of God. More of the way God originally designed things to be. Just like those childhood memories some have, where a gift is found hours after all the others were opened, God's final gifts haven't been unwrapped... yet.

So for those of us who hurt, those of us who mourn, there's hope. God hasn't forgotten us. God hasn't said "No" to our cries for help. We are NOT hopeless. He's going to make all things new. He's going to take away all the pain, personally wipe away all the tears, banish death once and for all.

Just not yet.

Until then, we have this promise - "I will never fail you. I will never abandon you."

Heb 13:5 (NLT)

It is that gift we should open everyday until Christ comes again. And we should give each other the love that God has given us, to help each of us get through the "not yet" time we live in today.

Grace and peace,


Gallup-ing toward a new kind of influence

One of my pastor friends posted a link to the new Gallup poll that reveals that most people feel that Christianity's influence on US society has decreased. Given the events of the past 4 years politically and especially the election just past, I totally understand how someone who equated the influence of what the media loves to call the "Religious Right" with politics could come up with that conclusion.

I would too.

But as someone who is on the "front lines" so to speak of Christianity's work in the world, I have never equated what I believe Jesus has called me to do as a person or as a pastor with whether or not the political party I voted for won or lost. My measuring stick was far more personal.

"Am I loving God with everything I have - my total life? Am I loving my neighbor - whoever God places in my circles of influence - as fiercely as I do myself?"

Then as a pastor, I am looking to see if our church - through individuals and as a group - are we doing the same? So my standard of measurement is how many people have we shown the love of Jesus too - spiritually, physically, materially, and what was the result - in our hearts, and in theirs? That's what I look to when I "take a poll".

I came across an article by an English writer who happens to also be an atheist who has looked at what Christianity is doing for the people of Africa. Read it and then imagine someone writing an article about the churches of Valparaiso and Niceville and what we are doing for the people God has placed us near.

"It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa....

Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith. But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary...

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates...

Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete." -- Matthew Parris in The Times

I want that kind of article written about what we are doing. Not for the publicity, but to measure what effects we are having on our community. Let's use that as a better "poll" and then see what amount of influence we are having.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve @ New Hope

We went 180 degress from the "Let It Be Christmas" tonight. A very simple service along the lines of the "lessons and carols" you would have found in churches a century or more ago. We walked forward through the weeks of Advent to the coming of the Christ. Then we took a journey to the cross. All by candlelight and without anything but an acoustic guitar and piano. And the Holy Spirit was active in many of our hearts.

As the pastor of a smaller church, (as I type this I'm listening to Rick Warren at one of Saddleback's 16 Christmas Eve services) I sometimes find myself realizing how the Scripture I am reading speaks to specific people. Like tonight when I read:

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Rev 21:3-4 (NLT)

I thought about our friends who recently have experienced the loss of loved ones. Christmas is such a hard time. Memories can be wonderful, but they can also bring a resurrection of pain you thought was gone.

Tonight I looked out on the people I share my life with and saw in an instant how much some have gone through this year. It hurt to realize just how much pain they (we) have gone through - not just this year, but in years past. I almost lost it reading those verses. How I long to see the day when their hearts are free from those hurts and sorrows.

For me, having communion at the end of the service put everything in perspective. Christmas is truly glorious. No way you can top it, except in the blazing light of the cross. But even there, though our chance to become children of God was made real, our lives still reflect the stain of sin.

Oh, but one day - maybe soon... Jesus will return.

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” Rev 21:5 (NLT)

I can hardly wait.

Hey, it's like being a kid again, only better!

Merry Christmas everyone and come quickly Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It was at this desk, where a man built a career. He rose from salesman, to territory manager, to manage a district. He'd leave his family late Sunday night or early Monday each week and drive all over the Southeast, returning on Friday. Later on, he'd fly to distant places and meet a salesman that he'd hope to help become better. But every Friday, he'd be home.

Saturday night he'd study his Sunday School lesson at this desk, preparing to teach the class he led for decades. I can remember the men in his class and the respect they had for him as a teacher. But it wasn't just his teaching they were looking at - it was the way he lived his life. There are lots of ways to teach.

He retired from his career, and came home. Enjoyed his wife, his kids and his grandchildren - had a garden, and a shop downstairs. Still every Saturday night would find him sitting at the desk, preparing a lesson. Broadman Commentary, Standard Sunday School Lessons, Open Bible, Amplified - tools of the teacher. In retirement, he did more around the church and around the house. He had the time.

A stroke came, and he was no longer able to teach the class he loved. Some of the other things he enjoyed were affected too. Still, he adjusted. He did what the doctors told him. Lost weight, took his medicine. Though he was not teaching anymore, he still studied his lesson on Saturday night.

Now his wife of over 60 years has fallen ill, and her recuperation comes along slowly. She's being cared for in a nursing home for now. He can tell you how many days it has been since she's been home. Her picture is placed near the desk so he can see his sweetheart every time he sits there.

And the same man who left home to take care of her and his children years ago - still does. Every day he drives himself over to where she is. He can't stay there all day, but after he goes home at lunch to take his medicine, he comes back and stays until darkness approaches.

Then he kisses her and returns to his home alone.

I looked at this desk and realized this weekend, that the lessons he taught all those years at Bethesda Baptist church about what the Bible said...

... he is still teaching.

Every day.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her...
Eph 5:25 (NLT)

Friends it's one thing to follow when the road is easy and the pathway is bright. The mark of a true disciple is that they are just as faithful in the hard times. I've seen many a man in situations like this one turn inward and pull back from what needs to be done.

Not Curtis Clinard. He's got a man's faith. The Marine Corps motto is "Semper Fidelis" - always faithful. Well friends, the decisions you make today determine whether that is true of you or not. Curtis made many decisions - first to trust Jesus with His life. Then he pledged to love and honor his wife "in sickness or in health." He has. He is.

That's why I added that desk to a list of my sacred places. God used Curtis to prepare other men for trials for many years. Now the demonstration of how to bear them is being shown to all who watch. He's still teaching us.

Merry Christmas to all of you,

David Wilson

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

Merry Christmas to the Taliban from the Royal Marines

Pictured: British troops wear Santa hats to fight the Taliban - after they come under fire during carol service

The soldiers had no time to change their festive headgear - be it Santa or Christmas tree hat - and began firing at enemy positions after their holiday gathering came under fire.

And now - something utterly amazing

I used to play Table Tennis (fairly well in college, but I digress) and am fairly familiar with martial arts.

This is just...


Good Stuff from Mark Batterson - Originality, Authenticity, Creativity
Have you ever left your gas cap at a gas station after filling up? Or what about leaving your bank card at ATM machine after making a withdrawal? I know. Most cars come equipped with an attached gas cap so you can't forget. And most ATM machines beep when the card is ejected. But that phenomenon of forgetting is something psychologists call a postcompletion error. It is the tendency, after completing a task, to forget the steps that got you there.

I think the postcompletion error is one of the dangers we face going into a new year. Let me put it this way. I know lots of people who have been Christians for twenty-five years. But they don't have twenty-five years of experience. They have one year of experience repeated twenty-five times. Why? Because God has to re-teach them the same lessons over and over and over again.

Looking Ahead

It's that time of year, when you are wrapping up the holidays and looking forward to what the New Year will bring. There have been very significant challenges this year that touched on everything else. When I think about a year that included a probate battle grinding to a conclusion, a tornado in Macon, wrapping up seminary, big decisions on ministry and my mother in law's battle with her health - the very first thing I am doing is giving thanks for the grace of God that was and is sufficient to meet all our needs.

He has provided. Again and again and again.

Today I'm working on gathering more information about Dot's options for home health care, reading a couple of books, jotting some notes about Sunday and beyond, and wondering. What will 2009 bring?

The "Let It Be Christmas" series really seemed to inspire our people to join in worship and invite their friends. Using secular music - really just using someone else's idea for a series was something we had never done before, but it worked. The transcripts for the messages in the "Let It Be Christmas" series were little more than an idea about where that pastor thought the topic led. I put as much work into the series message preparation as I always do, and was pleased to see how tightly the themes suggested by the secular music integrated with the answers the Bible gave for those universal needs. (Hint - love, God, love your neighbor, follow Jesus closely)

So I am really thinking about laying out the year (been working on it for a while) in series. Some we'll come up with, and some will get their genesis in the hearts and minds of others. But they will all be God focused and call for repentance and renewal. I hope over time to get better at taking a book of the Bible and creating a thematic series that communicates to today through music, graphics and text. I really admire the folks that do that well.

Sunday night is also an area that we'll come to a consensus on very soon. We limped to the end of the year in that area, and that's unacceptable. Lots of reasons for that, all of them valid, but I'd really like to see that length of time used for small groups meeting whenever during the week they can. We have the materials for the revised edition of "Experiencing God" and that will be our first small group of 2009.

One crazy idea I had this weekend was to have a monthly "Solomon's Porch" type gathering that would focus on one topic but that would be intensely intentional about exploration and discussion versus a data dump lecture by yours truly. We'd decide on a topic - say "heaven" for example, let that be known weeks early, and then meet over snacks in the fellowship hall or even somewhere else and drill into the topic together. My role would be to help guide the discussion when it strayed.

Any thoughts on that?

It would seem to me to shift people out of receiver mode into participant in the learning experience, and draw people in who are tired of hearing someone tell them what the Bible says.

Today is rolling along, and tomorrow and the New Year are racing forward. Back to work.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Hope @ Worship 12/21/2008

The last Sunday before Christmas began the day before with a very successful time of sharing with the families that Sharing and Caring pointed us to. We helped them through the holiday season and that culminated with the delivery of the Christmas presents and holiday foods. Tears and laughter, and a feeling that New Hope had walked with Jesus were the order of the day. Bunny and I were still in Macon, but I could feel the Holy Spirit's work when I talked to those who were on hand.

So we came to worship with worship already underway.

"How Many Kings" by Downhere - a new song for us, and a great one

"Joy to the World"

"Angels We Have hear On High"

"The First Noel"

and then... "Revolution" by the Beatles :) - the close of our "Let It Be Christmas" emphasis this Christmas season.

followed immediately with "Our God Saves"

The idea was to use the secular to enhance the understanding of the sacred. I really think it worked well. It really helped me explain why revolutions not enabled by the Holy Spirit do not achieve anything good or lasting.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sacred Places

It was at this desk, a man built a career. He rose from salesman, to territory manager, to manage a district. He'd leave his family late Sunday night or early Monday each week and drive all over the Southeast, returning on Friday. Later on, he'd fly to distant places and meet a salesman that he'd hope to help become better. But every Friday, he'd be home.

Saturday night he'd study his Sunday School lesson at this desk, preparing to teach the class he led for decades. I can remember the men in his class and the respect they had for him as a teacher. But it wasn't just his teaching they were looking at - it was the way he lived his life. There are lots of ways to teach.

He retired from his career, and came home. Enjoyed his wife, his kids and his grandchildren - had a garden, and a shop downstairs. Still every Saturday night would find him sitting at the desk, preparing a lesson. Broadman Commentary, Standard Sunday School Lessons, Open Bible, Amplified - tools of the teacher. In retirement, he did more around the church and around the house. He had the time.

A stroke came, and he was no longer able to teach the class he loved. Some of the other things he enjoyed were affected too. Still, he adjusted. He did what the doctors told him. Lost weight, took his medicine. Though he was not teaching anymore, he still studied his lesson on Saturday night.

Now his wife of over 60 years has fallen ill, and her recuperation comes along slowly. She's being cared for in a nursing home for now. He can tell you how many days it has been since she's been home. Her picture is placed near the desk so he can see his sweetheart every time he sits there.

And the same man who left home to take care of her and his children years ago - still does. Every day he drives himself over to where she is. He can't stay there all day, but after he goes home at lunch to take his medicine, he comes back and stays until darkness approaches.

Then he kisses her and returns to his home alone.

I looked at this desk and realized this weekend, that the lessons he taught all those years at Bethesda Baptist church about what the Bible said...

... he is still teaching.

Every day.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her...
Eph 5:25 (NLT)

Friends it's one thing to follow when the road is easy and the pathway is bright. The mark of a true disciple is that they are just as faithful in the hard times. I've seen many a man in situations like this one turn inward and pull back from what needs to be done.

Not Curtis Clinard. He's got a man's faith.

That's why I added that desk to a list of my sacred places. God used Curtis to prepare other men for trials for many years. Now the demonstration of how to bear them is being shown to all who watch. He's still teaching us.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Awesome- You Go New Hope!

Just heard that our gifting for the families Sharing and Caring assigned to us in Valparaiso was a wonderful time of sharing.

We're going to end this year at New Hope having touched more people in more ways with the love of Christ than in the 9+ years that I've been here.

Lives changed, tears shed, the power of the love of Jesus made known in the life of the giver and the ones we give to.

That's just awesome!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Elfin' Magic

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Strange Way To Change the World

It's so hard to wrap your head around it. Of all the ways that God could have acted - a baby? Jonathan Dobson quotes Bono in a post on his blog Creation Project today.

“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough.

That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child…

I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable.

There it was.

I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”
U2 frontman Bono
Excerpt taken from Bono: in conversation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 124-5.

As I continue to prepare for Sunday's "You Say You Want A Revolution" message for this Sunday, for me it is the "backstory" of Christmas that fascinates me. Why then? Why there? Why them?

It was so... common.

And yet it changed everything.

This Sunday - You Say You Want A Revolution???

Great music, but that's not a Revolution.

This is:

20 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,

“God blesses you who are poor,

for the Kingdom of God is yours.
21 God blesses you who are hungry now,

for you will be satisfied.

God blesses you who weep now,

for in due time you will laugh.

22 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man.23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich,

for you have your only happiness now.
25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,

for a time of awful hunger awaits you.

What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,

for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,

for their ancestors also praised false prophets.

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. ”
39 Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch?40 Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.
41 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?42 How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

43 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.44 A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs never grow on thornbushes, nor grapes on bramble bushes.45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built.49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
Luke 6:20-49 (NLT)

Monday, December 15, 2008

What is New Hope?

What triggered this post? It was a young man who rode up on a bicycle he'd borrowed who wanted us to help him with some gas for his truck. He was deaf, and was trying to communicate his needs by writing them out on the inside of a worship guide we handed him. He passed several other churches on the way here. We finally figured out his needs and mobilized to help him. But it turned out his mom was nearby and help wasn't necessary after all.

But within 5 minutes we had three people involved trying to love our neighbor. There was never a question of if. There were resources both personal and corporate on hand to meet the needs.

This may be a smaller church by the measurements of the Southern Baptist Convention. Even our local association rates its members and gives churches our size the downgrade. But in terms of what percentage of our members are willing, ready, and eager to serve God and love our neighbors, I'll put New Hope up against any of the others.


Just completed uploading all the required documents for graduation at Rockbridge Seminary.

Excuse me while I dance the dance of joy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Just Saw This - Ruth Bell Graham's Grave Inscription

Just in case you can't make it out, the inscription on Ruth Graham's grave reads:

"End of Construction. Thanks for your Patience."

Still testifying. What a saint.

New Hope @ worship 121408

We continued our "Let It Be Christmas" series with "I Believe In Yesterday" this morning. I think after a couple of weeks of this series, our folks are beginning to get behind inviting their friends and neighbors. It was great to see all the visitors this morning.

This timr of year we try to mix the carols in with other music and today's set reflects that.

O Come O Come Emmanuel

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

Away In A Manger (sung by Kira and Emily)

Your Grace Is Enough

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

Then Craig sang "Yesterday" right before the sermon.

We finished with "Just As I Am"

Seemed to work together well, and I thought the praise team did great.

The message was crafted to help people break the cycle of guilt, shame, and unforgiving spirits that sometimes surfaces this time of year. Christmas is one of those times we have a tendency to wax nostalgic, and yet not all those memories are good ones. Wish I could have recorded the message, but we were on our third string audio person and I didn't want to throw anything more at him.

But here's the powerpoint. And yes, that cute little boy on Santa's lap is yours truly.

I'm Still Worried About The Effect of Santa Claus

It's been that way for a long time now. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

About that whole unexamined life deal...

"The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all" -Mark Twain

The last few weeks have been full ones here.

Bunny and I have been journeying to Macon Georgia every two weeks to help care for and encourage her Mom. We have had a flurry of church members with needs - from hospital visits (in bunches), to surgeries (likewise), and a funeral for a member's dad. The Christmas season is packed anyway, but we're at 150%.

And all while those were going on, I have been trying to complete the Rockbridge Seminary "Capstone" program. The "Capstone" is the final course of my program, and sums up everything that you have learned in the Rockbridge experience. The course itself is called "Practicing the Focused Life."

I have written before about how I have enjoyed my time at Rockbridge and expressed my admiration for the way they go about equipping pastors and ministry leaders. Once I finish the "Capstone" I will write a lot more, but for now, the experience has solidified my bond with that bit of Mark Twain's work. The process has devolved into a flurry of paperwork that serves little purpose.

That's a shame.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas TIME

Was it always this busy at Christmas?

We were talking at church last night about Christmas parties and the like, and it was very tough to even come up with a date that we could be sure we'd have the majority of people there.

This year's different for Bunny and me because of our every other week trips to Macon, which will cause us to miss the church's caroling and the party afterward. Sunday nights are usually when we hold the church-wide get together, but our older members have great difficulty with getting out at night.

Then there's the conflicts with family trips this time of year, company parties, shopping etc. The last thing we want to do as a church is to add to the frustration of people trying to squeeze 29 hours into a 24 hour day.

I think we're beginning to catch on to the idea that depending on people's leisure time (think left overs) as opposed to their prioritized time (think work and family), is a poor model. Maybe we need to decentralize more and fellowship in smaller groups across the congregation with varied times and dates, so that we don't fall victim to the "one strike - you're out!" problem we have in coordinating now. Spread it out over the month prior to Christmas with a fellowship every week but in different homes. That way we'd provide many more connections.

I wrote this today to file the thought away for later. The more connections we make and maintain, the more we share the love of Christ with our friends.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let's Say Thanks To Our Troops

Great opportunity at Christmas!

Xerox is sending postcards drawn by schoolkids FREE to our troops for Christmas. This is a tough time of year to be deployed away from family and friends so lets all take a minute and send our thanks.

It's Almost Time

Bunny's traditional Florida Christmas Palm Tree Cookies are almost here!

Wow! "How many Kings" by Downhere - live

We are SO doing this song at New Hope!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Funeral Message for George Crain

To be asked to help a family through their time of grief is one of the parts of my role as pastor that I appreciate the most. In those times, I can watch as the love of Christ makes a real difference in the way they view not just their loved one's passing, but their own mortality. Most of the funerals I am asked to do are for people I know well. But occasionally, through the relationships within our congregation, I am asked to speak a word about the lives of those I did not really know well.

I had met George a couple of times at weddings, and visited him in the hospital once after a stroke. But it was through his daughter and to a lesser extent the rest of the family that I was able to piece together what I wrote below. My goal is to help the family through this stage of grief in a way that spotlights the love of God and that offers that love to all who are assembled.

I hope that's what this does. -

George Crain

Born in 1942, in the middle of a war, to parents who had seen another War and the depression that followed it. Born into an area that back then was wildly different than what we know now. A hard place to make a living. Pine trees, mullet, yellow flies. A long way in between paved roads –or neighbors for that matter.

His brother Doyle could probably fill me in more on what it was like. But something held them here, and they’re still here. And George’s body will be laid to rest in the same native soil he lived his life on.

If you have watched the pictures slide by on the screen you’ve seen a young man alone, a young Marine, a young husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather.

Pictures don’t tell the whole story though. But I suppose that’d be hard to get on a screen. When Pam was listing all the jobs her dad had over the years (including one working out a little time at Eglin) I was amazed. Truck driver, salesman, offshore, fisherman, handyman, carpenter - I wanted to ask “so exactly what didn’t he wind up doing?” Would be a very interesting resume to read, I’d expect. “Whatever he put his mind to do, he could do.” That’s quite a statement and carries a lot of respect behind it.

Being a carpenter comes highly recommended in some circles I’m very familiar with. Working with wood teaches you a few things that turn out to be very handy.
For example wood doesn’t cut itself. It takes someone picking up a tool and applying it. And not just hacking at it anywhere. Real carpenters and tradesmen look at shade tree folks like me when we pick up a hammer and can tell at a glance that they’ve forgotten more about building than I’ve ever known. There’s simple, and there’s simple.

Hunting and fishing, two of the other things George loved are the same way. You can go out to Bass ProShop and buy everything you need to be on the pro Tour, or get your name on the wall at Remington – but get on the water, or in the woods, and all that equipment is a poor substitute for real knowledge. A real outdoorsman like George, who treated nature not just as a place of escape, but almost as a sanctuary, would have you labeled as a wannabe pretty quick. There’s a big difference between fishing for fun and fishing because that’s your livelihood too. But fishermen learn some skills. Determination. Patience. Not a wonder then that when Jesus started His ministry, He didn’t go to that century’s Harvard to staff it. He went to the water. To the docks. To men who knew that simple work requires more than most people realize.

Pretty interesting life. Good times, bad times, in between times as a man worked through his trials. Win some, you lose some, but they all shape you, don’t they? They all make up a life. We can sit here today and project what we would have done. But we weren’t him. There was only one George Crain.

So trying to sum up the life of the man whose body lies here before us isn’t easy. What sort of impact did he make? How did he use the gift of life that God gave?

As far as impact, some of that is obvious, and some isn’t. Maybe you get that strong chin from him or the color of your eyes. Or maybe you get a love for the outdoors or an appreciation of the little things. And it’s possible that some of you were affected by what he did to do something else. To use what he did as a spur to your own life – to do things differently. To make different choices.

But you were affected.

So as you look back over this man’s 66 years of life, try to remember that.

One of the messages that I try to lead people to every year about this time is that God is not impressed with what we wear, or what we drive, or where we live. What God’s really dialed into is reality. To honesty. To humility.

It shows up here in His Word, where God – in trying to deal with a stubborn nation of Israel that has tried to redefine every guideline he’s ever given them into their way of living instead of His – He finally says this:

8 The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)
Some of us try from time to time to portray God’s way as impossibly complex. We tell ourselves no one could know what to do to please Him, so we do our own thing. But that sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
The same sort of plain talk shows up in the words of a man who knew his way around a carpenter’s shop.
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40 (NLT)
Those are the blueprints of what God expects from the people who call Him theirs. Sure there is a lot more here in the Bible, but at the foundation, living a life that God honors is that simple. Love God. Do what’s right. Care about people. Don’t get stuck on yourself.

To even be trusted to do that though, we have to learn to deal with reality.

Here’s reality. We’re all messed up – every one of us. George was – I am – you are. We’re stained by sin – by our refusal to do what God has set out as what’s right. Rich, poor, black – white, young - old, male – female, we are all flawed by our innate, inbred desire to have our own way.

That’s just the way it is. The Bible says “All have sinned and fallen short of the love of God.”

But we can take comfort today that even though God knows us as we are, we can also know God and find forgiveness through His son Jesus Christ.

We can take comfort for today and the days to come in that. Jesus said:

1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. John 14:1 (NLT)

Friends, today is just one day on the journey. For most of you, the grief you feel now won’t end here. There will still be “those days” when it’s hard. And it’s not that it gets easier, but you get better at letting God’s love in. Whether that’s in the stillness of the night when you’re awakened and remember your loss, or at family gatherings when it’s apparent just by looking around that George is no longer with you. You’ll need God. You’ll need each other. I can promise you that God will never leave you. He said that.

But it’s up to you to work on the family part of that plan.

And as we look ahead, considering that the certainty that one day we will be as George is, it is a comfort to know that Jesus will be ready to receive us.

2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:2-3 (NLT)

We may look at the end of a life and be unprepared for that end. In fact some mentioned to me yesterday that even with all of George’s health problems that his death came as a shock. It might have been a shock here on earth, but not to God. The Bible tells us that our days are numbered like the hairs on our heads.

Jesus has done all that is needed to prepare for our relocation. The question is, have we?

Jesus goes on to say this: 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:4-6 (NLT)

To accept Jesus’ offer of freedom from guilt and sin means we reach out to Him by admitting what everyone including ourselves already knows. We need help. So we agree with God that it will take an act of God to make all of us, who are so wrong – right.

An act of God is exactly what Jesus life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead was.

It was the act of a God who believes that you are worth dying for. Jesus shoved open the door to real life for everyone who believes in Him. I have to ask you – do you believe in Him?

Are you a follower of Jesus? A Christian?

I was thinking about that last week when we visited a nursing home. So many people up there who have lived full lives but because their minds are now clouded, can’t express to anyone who they really are. Whether they are a believer or not. It’s too late for them.

So what about this. If we all took out a sheet of paper. 26 lines on most I think. If we wrote at the top “I believe” and then wrote our name, then finished with “is a Christian”

How many of us could get 26 signatures?

It’d be wonderful, wouldn’t it, if we lived the kind of life where our family, our friends, our neighbors and coworkers would line up to sign. Yes, he lived like I could see Jesus living. He loved God and people.

It would be great.

But what we see isn’t what God sees. And at the end of the day, the only writing any of us needs is our names written on that great ledger in heaven – the Book of Life. So if you are here today and do not know the peace that comes from knowing God, I urge you to open your heart to His love, and surrender your life to His will.

We are trusting today in the love of God. Who knew George far better than any of us.

In a God Who keeps His promises to us. In a time like this, we can find hope in that.

Jesus said this:

38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day.40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”
John 6:38-40 (NLT)

Friends, George’s time here has passed, and his life returned to the One who gave it. His place in eternity is fixed for all time. Is yours?

Let’s pray.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Running On Fumes

I like the idea of this. Many cars will show you a miles per gallon estimate and range to empty.

This one's range has reached - PULL OVER AND FILL UP NOW!

I'm about there myself. If I could go to bed right now I think I'd sleep right through until tomorrow morning.

But I've gotten to this point by doing exactly what I'm put here to do.

So I'll press on until we can get home tonight, work on tomorrow's funeral sermon for a while and CRASH.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Prayer, maybe for Christmas

Dear God,

I am so afraid to open my clench fists!

Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?

Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?

Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me.

And what you want to give me is love – unconditional, everlasting love.


prayer by Henry Nouwen

You know, every time I visit the nursing home, this is the overwhelming impression I get. The people who grasp what this poem is speaking to, can adapt, because they haven't lost what really matters.

I pray that I am found that faithful.

Maybe this is the Church's Problem

"What you do speaks so loudly, that I cannot hear what you say." Emerson

just saying...

HT - Bill Kinnon

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Oh yeah, we need some of this

The whole idea for this week's message "All the Lonely People" is to point out that community centered on Jesus beats any other community by a mile. Jesus' family wasn't immune from weirdness and dysfunction. That cousin of his - yeah the one who wore the weird clothes and ate .. organically - he'd liven up any get together. And his brothers, the ones who were going to Baker Act him... took them a long time to get on board with the "I'm the Messiah" idea. So stay tuned Sunday and we'll try to help with some Biblical insight.

But as far as family dysfunction goes, the holidays are the absolute best crucible for a mess. Fortunately, today I found the cure.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why is that guy smiling?

Probably because, like me after church tonight, he went out to the parking lot and found that his son had left without him.

And he knew that he'd get to pick on him about it for a long, long, time. :)

Thank God for deacons with SUVs or I'd have had to walk 35 miles uphill in the snow to get home. Okay, maybe a mile downhill, but it is freezing at 55 degrees.

And no, obviously that's not me in the picture. I play Ovation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

For My Friends In the Ministry - The Morning Sickness Principle

When you look at the picture, and see a young mother with her head over a toilet because of morning sickness, you don't immediately think - WOW! This is amazing! This is a work of God! But that's what it is.

What you are seeing is the threshold of a miracle.

New birth.

Remember, process doesn't always look like progress.

Good words

Was just reading Group magazine and read this from Ned Erickson

"Get to know Jesus well because the more you know Him, the more you will love Him.

And the more you love Him, the more you'll want to follow Him.

And the more you follow Him the more you become like Him.

And the more you become like Him, the more you become yourself."

Another great thought from the same magazine, a quote from George MacDonald.

"One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning Him rather than to obey Him. In teaching men, they have not taught then Christ, but taught them about Christ."

MacDonald's prime directive for followers of Jesus? "Do the next good thing you know to do."

"It Starts With Me" and you

One of the more encouraging changes that is occurring right now within the Christian church is the reawakening to the understanding that it's not okay for us to "cross by on the other side" when it comes to poverty in our communities.

Can a church go too far and replace their primary mission by embracing the fight to end poverty? Probably. We've gone too far trying to change the government via political means, so yes, we can lose our way.

But if a community can go in Jesus' name, never forgetting that He came to seek and to save those who were lost, and make meeting needs part of the task of BEING Jesus in their neighborhoods - then we should.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Hope @ Worship 30 November 2008

We began the "Let It Be Christmas" series today. It was kind of a drag that we couldn't do the song "Across the Universe".

Whole World In His Hands
Better Is One Day

Come Just As You Are

My idea for the message was to put the Christmas Story in context. To bring people to it through the whole scope of Scripture. I used a video from the IBS as a lead in and began with Genesis 1, moved to Malachi and from there to Luke 1 and the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth as an example of how a "Nothing's Going To Change My World" attitude affected them.

I deliberately did not put any Scripture on the powerpoints. This was as close as I have ever gotten to a totally narrative sermon. I read all of Genesis 1, several verses in Malachi, and most of Luke 1. And of course, the equipment failed so no recording. Aaarrrggghhh!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Let It Be Christmas - "Nothing's Gonna Change My World"

It began so well.

God created it all, everything that there was, out of nothing. Everything was new - and it was good.

But then sin or rebellion if you prefer, crept in through the open door of selfishness. Mankind discovered that it could sin, and that they were good at it. So good they never even went to the trouble of rationalizing or making excuses. Nothing like we would do.

So the perfect couple, created in the image of God, created by Him, created in pure love, left the perfect world created for them and went into the hard places. Oh and they immediately began tearing it down.

It wasn't all that long then, when one brother, angry over God's refusal to accept his offering, killed his brother. For nothing, really.

From that point it just got increasingly worse - to the point that God decided a do over was the best for all concerned. We treat Noah and the Ark as a charming children's story - even doing our baby nurseries in the motif. But the fact is that the flood was needed to wipe out something that was going to consume the entire earth if it wasn't stopped.

Yet after a little while, it began again.

God, ever the faithful One, kept trying with a people no other God would have wanted. The Israelites would benefit from having God's Law, the Torah, and exhibitions of God's power - such exhibitions that the Jews still leave an empty chair when they celebrate the Passover - when God delivered them from slavery.

But they were a stubborn people, often refusing to obey.

Still God tried.

"Give us a King," they said, claiming God was just too complicated - too distant.

And their wish was granted, and that King, a man named Saul, succumbed to the siren call of sin too. He was followed by King David, a "man after God's own heart" who wrote beautiful songs of praise, and also committed adultery and murder.

It just kept getting worse.

God sent prophets - men who spoke for Him - to straighten out the Israelites. They killed some, ignored others. God used Israel's neighbors to punish them, sent the people into exile, scattered them - but to no avail.

So we pick up the story this morning in the last prophet's writings. A man named Malachi, who lived in the southern kingdom of Israel about 500-450 years before the birth of Jesus.

If you pick up the book and skim it, it resembles a pretty familiar occurance in most of our lives. Doesn't it seem to you like the conversation between an exasperated parent and immature teenager? The adult tries his best to get the teen to recognize the issue, and the teen refuses to admit there's any problem with him at all, and if one exists, it has to be with the adult.

- But you say
- But you ask
- But you say, "It's too hard..."

So God begins to close this chapter of His dealings with people. And notice, the final words contain an opportunity to be blessed, or the certainty of a curse.

5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Mal 4:5-6 (NLT)

And then, silence...............

450 years of silence.

No prophets came forth to speak the words of the Lord.
Neither did the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt remove the boot of Rome from off Israel's neck. The people were oppressed, they were taxed severely, and though a few remained faithful, the majority gave up on God.

Nothing was going to change their world.

We pick up the story again in a book written by a Greek convert to Judaism named Luke. He was a scientist of a sort, a physician, actually, and because this was a discipline still evolving, his main skills centered on observation and recording what he saw. Each case provided him with knowledge he could use again later. So his book opens the way you'd expect it to - with an introduction explaining his purpose and attesting to his trustworthiness.

Luke immediately introduces us to a couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. In Malachi God referenced a list of His people who did right. These two would have been on any list like that. They were devout believers and faithful in all they did. Still, though they were universally appreciated, and even loved, people knew there must be some sort of curse in their past, or some hidden sin they were paying for - for you see they had no children.

Barrenness back then was thought to be a sign that a person was on the outs with God in some way. So though this older couple were as good as anyone they ever knew, the people who knew them quietly must have whispered their guesses about what their sin could be. It would have followed them everywhere. How many times did Elizabeth turn a corner and hear "there she comes, be quiet" or Zechariah find the men grow silent as he approached?

How heavy a load that must have been. And they carried it for 40, 50, maybe 60 years. People they grew up with had already had their kids - shoot, their kids had had kids, and maybe their kid's kids had too in that culture. But that couple, that old couple, never turned away from God, and never turned on each other.

Zechariah could have divorced her for cause. There's no doubt her barrenness hurt his career as a priest. Instead of the riches of Jerusalem, he was sentenced to the hard life of a small village priest.

You know, when you think about it, that whole "Nothing's gonna change my world" attitude - what they are really saying is that if anything is really going to be different - it is up to me - and that really, I'm not up to it. Right?

We are stuck in a rut and either unable, unwilling, or unmotivated to do whatever needs doing. What percentage of people do you think are living today right there? Right at that point in their life? Maybe 80%

We take a look at the problem and decide it has us licked. And so we just go on with putting one day in line after another. That's what seems to have happened with these two.

Because when Zechariah wins the lottery and gets to represent the nation in God's most Holy presence, he's surprised when God's messenger shows up, and down right insulting in his response to the greatest news he could have ever heard.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar.12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Luke 1:11-18 (NLT)

In other words, if I can't do it, it's impossible.

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Luke 1:19-20 (NLT)

Maybe Zechariah needs time to sort out his thoughts. In silence.

Maybe we do too.

Thinking and praying

It's a quiet Saturday morning here. Bunny's watching a movie, Henley's asleep on the floor, and both boys are on the road with Sean taking Adam back home to Georgia. Tomorrow our "Let It Be Christmas" series begins and I've been working and reworking the message and media off and on this week. And I'm praying now. Praying for God to bless us with His presence and more.

My hope in doing a series so out of sync with the traditional way we have approached Christmas has been that our folks would invite their friends and neighbors. That we as a church would reach out into the vast pool of people who have no relationship with God and invite them to draw closer. I have always loved Advent, and the traditions that predate my SBC upbringing. They've helped me appreciate the lives of the millions of the who followed Jesus before I was born.

But we have to find ways to communicate the greatest story ever lived to new ears.

Oh what a story it is.

My plan tomorrow is to bring people up to date with what God is doing by looking back and briefly explaining how we got to the point where we needed Christmas - unpacking the Big Story. Outlining the events - fall, exile, kings, prophets - silence... until one priest heard an amazing message.

It's not over.

There is still hope.

God can change EVERYTHING.

It is something I believe at the very core of my being - this hope.

Many many times it is where I have run to, when there was no where else to go. It was a place given to me, but not without a terrible cost. The gift of not just God's notice, but God's care. Given to me through the sacrifice of God's only son.


No doubt. And yet cherished - clung to - relied on.

My heart's prayer is that someone else would receive that gift through Jesus' love tomorrow.

The Happiness Paradox - John Ortberg

The Gospel and the Happiness Paradox |
It struck me that the traditional expression of the gospel I heard growing up fell into a similar trap. There was not much serious thought about the true nature of heaven. (If you've been avoiding God all your life, would you want to be in heaven? It appears that God will be very hard to avoid there.)

Maybe the "if you were to die tonight" version of the gospel falls victim to the happiness paradox. If "heaven" is understood as "ultimate happiness," then I can seek to obtain it while remaining trapped in my self-centeredness. If "heaven" is understood as the eternal pleasure factory, then obtaining it has no intrinsic relationship to transformation, therefore no intrinsic relationship to discipleship.

But if the gospel really is the announcement of the availability, through Jesus, of the "with-God life," then things begin to fall into place. Grace is not just the forgiveness of sin, it is the power to live the with-God life from one moment to the next. Heaven is not a pleasure factory that an angry God chooses to shut some people out of because they don't pass a theology test; it is a community of servanthood that can only be enjoyed by a certain kind of character.

I think Ortberg is really on to something.

The classic exposition of the message has missed the point. It's not about the destination - it's about the journey with Jesus and becoming more like him. If you are not on the way with Jesus, you would not enjoy heaven at all. This life is used by a loving God to prepare us for better. But not better in a self-centered sense. Better in that we are becoming more like Jesus.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What should we be measuring? Forgiveness and Joy

If you really want your home or church to be attractive to people, two things need to be at the center of your community: forgiveness, and joy. People are attracted to forgiveness and joy. - Reggie Joiner

The Visitor

There's so much we don't know about other cultures. And we understand so little about how our own culture, and our own government... deals with those who come to our shores.

We were all immigrants.

What should we do with those who come to our shores seeking the same chance our ancestors had?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oh Noooooooooooooooo!

The parade, the balloons, the Rick Roll.....

We Love Valparaiso

We Love Valparaiso Website

It began with an idea to provide a place for the nonprofits - churches, schools, clubs, etc. to promote their activities on the Internet even if they didn't have a web presence. I had read an article about "Community Web Portals" and thought it might be something we could use here.

When I mentioned it to one of our members, John Anderson, he said "we can do that."

Pretty cool, huh?

Our hope is that as we go along we'll get more and more people to check out Valparaiso through this portal. If you are involved in an organization or business that serves the people of Valparaiso Florida, we want to get to know you and help you help them.

Family Time

Yep, our first born son is down here with us for Thanksgiving. He ramps up our normally ridiculous household to just plain silly. When he and Sean are both at it, you will laugh until your sides hurt. Of course today our sides hurt for another reason.

It seems Adam might favor his Mom a bit. :)

Thanksgiving 2008

Yeah, it's a turkey dog.

We have a tendency in this country to do a couple of things with this day of the year. We either turn it into a time of thanks for family, football, and food, or we trivialize it altogether with silliness like the picture above.

Then I remember that Cole's Hill was the end of a dream for 80 out of the first 120 pilgrims that landed on the shores of Massachusetts.

The first Thanksgiving was born out of gratitude to God for preserving the rest.

My Father and Mother never forgot growing up during the Depression - a hard time to be a teenager. I suspect they were not even thinking about Christmas at this time of year, or sitting across a table anything like what most of us will (or are) today.

So all things considered, I thank God for the blessings my family enjoys today as we gather in peace, in abundance, and in love.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Hope @ Worship 23 Nov 2008

We dialed it back a bit in the musical part of worship this week, with a conscious decision to be more acoustic. The songs were chosen to fit the theme of the sermon.

O Worship the King (Tomlin)
Blessed Be Your Name

--Break for the Children's Sermon--

Thank You Lord
Your Grace Is Enough

--The Message--

My Jesus, I Love Thee

My goal here was to make people think through what (or really WHO) to be thankful for. To point them to God through Jesus. To challenge them to live out what they say they believe. To be there when God used the power of His Holy Spirit to move them.

Follow me as I follow Jesus

There will be no pastors, elders, or deacons in heaven; they are a temporary necessity but disciples will last forever. Disciples are both pastoral and missional; they “baptize” and teach” others (Matt 28:18-20). One day disciples will neither baptize nor teach others, but until then all Christians are called to be missional, pastoral leaders, to be priests and missionaries, to be disciples of Jesus.
From Church Planting Novice

Speak up

8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;

ensure justice for those being crushed.
9 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,

and see that they get justice.
Prov 31:8-9 (NLT)

I'll post the worship and sermon from yesterday a little later, but I wanted to get to the heart of it right now. New Hope is a church that stands with the saints in history by declaring the truth that we are all deeply flawed and scarred by sin, that we are in desperate need of a Savior, that Jesus is that Savior, and that by confessing our sins (agreeing with God), and receiving God's forgiveness by surrendering our lives and placing our faith in Jesus, we can be made whole. So we believe that Jesus IS our message. So having done that, how then do we live?

In the past year, we've established relationships to help us live out our faith while loving our neighbors. We work with Valparaiso Elementary, the City, Valp Cable, the Heritage Museum, and more recently Sharing and Caring to reach out in love.

As lead pastor, I believe that the only way I can see the command of Jesus to "make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I've commanded..." is to get people out of their chairs and into ministry - not to the church, but to the neighborhood. So I'm constantly looking for ways to do that here, and around the world. So I'm posting some ideas here today of ways to do just that.

Tom Davis is an amazing servant of Jesus, and the group of people who work with him are showing the American Church that "Yes We Can!" I placed a badge on this blog out of a strong identification with their work.

Then several organizations such as Samaritan's Purse, and others provide gift catalogs with tangible ways your family can be involved in impacting the world for Jesus. Our family is going to choose a project this Christmas, and I'm very excited about that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Having loved..."

We just got back from another trip to see Bunny's Mom at the nursing home in Macon. We got there at 11:59 PM Thursday night Eastern Time, and returned here at 4:30 Central time today. While we were there, Bunny went with her Mom to an appointment Friday morning at the Wound Care Center downtown near the Med Center. I drove down with her dad and Bunny rode in the van with Dot.

Then we spent the rest of the day Friday with her and some of the day today. Bunny helped her with her makeup, painted her nails... and encouraged her Mom. We even had NuWays for lunch yesterday. :)Now those are good for whatever ails you.

There's so much going on with so many decisions yet to be made concerning Dot's care. My father in law, Curtis Clinard, is one of the finest men I have ever known. He's there every day twice a day to sit with his bride. He talks at length about how much he wants her home - can tell you to the day how many days it has been since this whole sad period started. At a time in life where other men shrink in their commitments to their wives, if anything, his has grown.

Bunny is constantly thinking about her Mom, and while she is there is so focused on her that when we get back here she is drained for a day or two. Those of you that know Bunny know that she is all girl. Well, she is all that, and more. She's giving everything she has every time we go there to encourage, to help, and to serve her mom - in ways she has never done before.

When I look at those three people, I realize that so much of what I cherish is in that room. So many of the lessons of how to live the Christian life I've caught from just watching them.

Some of the translations open John 13 - the Passover meal with Jesus realizing that the disciples have either forgotten or are ignoring a pressing need to have their feet washed. It was a slave's job, really a slave third class. Jesus was there that night to share some important information with them, but He was also there to show His love.

Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.
John 13:1 (MSG)

"Having loved"..."he continued to love them right to the end." That's Jesus - love

I know to the depths of my soul that Bunny will do just that for her Mom and Dad.

What a blessing God gave me when He gave me Curtis, Dot, and my treasure - Bunny.

What Matters?

Tomorrow is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It's one of those times when you prepare in prayer by reminding yourself that numbers don't really matter. That being prepared to preach God's Word means being faithful in season and out of season. Most years, we lose more people to out of town trips than we gain coming in.

But I'm praying tonight that everyone who needs to hear God's Word will hear it - whether it's tomorrow or on down the road through the recording.

Thanksgiving sermons that I've preached and that I've heard over the years are basic appeals to do something your Mom probably tried to teach you: "Be thankful."

Preached a many of them. And they are needed I guess, or I wouldn't have been led to do that. But in the last few days and especially as I walked the halls of the nursing home these last few trips, I've been affected with the crushing losses some people must endure as they go there. They lose their home. Most essentially lose their family. All this after losing their abilities, their independence, and their freedom.

At a time of life when so many are trying to hold onto the past - whether possessions or people - it is as if God is prying their hands loose and asking - "Aren't I enough?"

It reminded me of this old hymn made famous by George Beverly Shea.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Praying that God will use the words of my mouth tomorrow to lead people to His grace. And praying that when the time comes for me, that I will prove faithful to My Lord and Savior.