Friday, February 29, 2008

Ministering To People Who Relocate Frequently

Located outside Eglin AFB, a little east of Hurlbert Field and just south of Duke Field, we have more military here than anywhere I've ever known. The number of relocations by those people within their careers put unique stresses on their families. Here's a good article about ministering to people who relocate that has some insight into anyone's context where there's a high "churn" rate.

Ministering To "Relos" HT The Suburban Christian

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The New Seminary

Last night, I was leading our adults through the beginning of Chapter 5 in Paul's massive theological treatise - the Book of Romans. Back in the days of dot matrix printers and floppy disks, I first taught through the book. In those days I printed out my notes and took them with me. Not sure why I decided to go back to that method for this time through (my fourth), but I have. When I flipped through the blue notebook, I found that my notes began in September 1994. Almost 14 years ago. I'd like to think I know more now than I did then.

A friend and I were talking about seminary education earlier in the week, and I asked him about where he was in the process. He and I had attended New Orleans Theological Seminary together for a while at the beginning of his ministry career. He left a very successful career and a position as a vice president of our most prominent local bank to follow God's call. Good guy.

"I'm having trouble finding a seminary that will accept my credits. Most of them won't accept any credits that are over five years old," he said.

I expect he's learned a lot since then too, having gone on to interim at his home church, and pastor two other churches. God has used him in each place he's served. I guess God's not as high on formal theological education.

In my case, it has been time and money that caused me to not finish my New Orleans degree yet. All I need are a few on campus courses. Apparently the organization who accredits the seminary requires a certain number of courses to be taught on campus. Unless it doesn't. You see some classes have always given on campus credit even if you weren't on campus. In years past, NOBTS held workshops in N GA which you could receive that credit for. And if you were a NO student but traveled elsewhere to pick up a class, you'd get on campus credit. Thinking back, I can remember that when I started in 1991 you received on campus credit for the languages. Well, I'm stuck until I reapply and pick up those few remaining courses. Taking a week or two out of my life at one chunk, dropping a $1000 each week - just wasn't going to happen.

So I began the pursuit of a Masters in Ministry Leadership with Rockbridge Seminary. RS was begun for people like me who wanted a quality education but who couldn't move to seminary or afford to "commute". The list of the leadership looked like a who's who of online theological education, was very SBC heavy, and idea of competency based education was appealing. I'll finish that degree at the end of the October term. RS has been a blessing and I'd recommend it to anyone.

But I want to humbly suggest that the "New Seminary" goes on with and without places like New Orleans and Rockbridge. The pastors I talk to are constantly reading, constantly asking questions and taking what they learn and applying it to ministry and to life. I'll read over 150 books every year, thousands of articles in print and online, listen to podcasts, watch online videos, and discuss via email everything from funeral sermons to postmodernism.

The "New Seminary" classrooms are as close as the laptop in front of me. The professors aren't stuck in a classroom but on the front lines of ministry. Many have been failures multiple times, and kept pressing on using what they learned and become successful pastors. They share their knowledge with the rest of us as we do with them. Does a particular evangelism program have merit? In days past we would ask our Director of Mission or Lifeway rep. Now through the networks we can hear the straight scoop from another pastor.

Or we can email the author.

I have been able to ask questions of authors such as Reggie McNeal (The Present Future), Dan Kimball (They Like Jesus, But Not the Church), Mark Taylor of Tyndale House (The New Living Translation) and others. When I email them, they are so kind and generous that I am often amazed. I had quoted a Ray Prichard sermon as an example of what I had hoped one I had written would be, and he wrote me an email of encouragement and counsel. Not name dropping here by any means, just trying to help you who read this understand that we are most exceedingly blessed today with access far beyond what previous generations of seminarians could have dreamed.

So I'm sitting here with 123 hours of post graduate work in the can, yet possessing no single Masters degree recognizing them, and having learned more from those outside the seminary gates than within. Yes the seminary degree from a denomination's institution is still the good housekeeping seal of approval. But that too is going to change as churches see how God is using and will use those who got their education through other means.

In the future, my hope is that education will be pushed outside seminaries and back into the churches where it should always have been. That using a combination of online courses, internships, and mentoring - pastors will be better educated and more effective immediately than ever before.

This Sunday's Text

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others.* The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.*
3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye* when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your 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? 5 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.
6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy.* Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Mt 7:1-6

"Don’t preach just to keep from being preached to. For the same sermon you preach will be applied to you, and the stuff you dish out to others will be dished up to you. Why examine the splinter in your brother’s eye, and take no notice of the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Bud, hold still while I pick that splinter out of your eye,’ when there is a plank in yours? Listen, you phony, first pull the plank from your eye and then you’ll be able to see better to get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

"‘Don’t throw your valuables to the dogs,
And don’t spread your pearls before the hogs;
Or they will trample them under their feet
And even turn and bite you.’
- Clarence Jordan, Matthew, The Cotton Patch Gospels

1-5 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

6"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege. The Message - Eugene Peterson

I read passages like this and it causes me to love Jesus more. There's such a disconnect between many of those who are called Christians and Jesus.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Clarity, Focus, Alignment

In a few minutes, the church buildings will spring to life. Earlier in the day, the home schooler network had packed the classrooms with kids learning the Classics. There's an afternoon lull before New Hope picks up with our Wednesday night activities.

A lull. A brief period of inactivity.

Maybe too brief.

How much of what we do in our regular routines help people learn to love Jesus and in doing that - follow Him?

Let me be clear. I am saying that before anyone can go and tell, they need to come to love Jesus and learn to come and follow Him. What we do then needs to be geared toward helping people move in that direction. And yet, many Baptist churches spend a large percentage of time doing just the opposite - training people to come and SIT. As if.

We're really going to spend some time praying about how clear our purpose is, and how well we are focusing our energies and resources toward that effort. We may very well drop some things and add others, or move activities to different times or days when they compliment each other rather than taking away.

So a lull may be just what we need before we spring into action.

It's the Book of Acts, Not Conferences

“It began with the Spirit…For without the Spirit there would be no story to tell. Without the Spirit there would be no church, no way to follow. Without the Spirit there would be no witness bearing, in Jerusalem or anywhere else.” James Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles
HT Sets and Service

"The final argument for faith in the world is not the argument of words, but the argument of life." G. Campbell Morgan

I loved the very beginning "Why are you standing here...?"

Get busy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If It's Tuesday I Must Be Reading

Tuesday is my reading day as I get a handle on where the week is headed and try to not just look at this week's opportunities but beyond that at where we as a church are headed.

Last night, I went to bed reading this again. Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community

I've reread a little more of Dan Kimball's book They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations

I have Erwin McManus' tome An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind in front of me on the desk and it's time to start rereading it.

But you know what? I'm going to read the book of Acts this afternoon and let the Spirit connect the dots.

stay tuned

Ten changes that must come

Am continuing to look for ways to maximize our effectiveness as a community of faith in the culture. I came across this post and recommend you check out the whole of the article, it is called "Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation"
by Eric Swanson HT Vision of Community Fellowship

To maximize our impact on our communities--urban, suburban or rural, we need changes in at least ten of our paradigms of how we currently view church.

* From building walls to building bridges.
* From measuring attendance to measuring impact.
* From encouraging the saints to attend the service to equipping the saints for works of service.
* From “serve us” to service—from inward to outward focus.
* From duplication of human services and ministries to partnering with existing services and ministries.
* From fellowship to functional unity.
* From condemning the city to blessing the city and praying for it.
* From being a minister in a congregation to being a minister in a parish.
* From anecdote and speculation to valid information.
* From teacher to learner.

One thing is clear - it's morphing time. More to pray about and respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I keep remembering those early days in Acts when even unbelievers recognized the heart of the church for people.

How can we recover that?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Seven things

There's a list of seven things “they (unchurched postmoderns)wish church were like,” in Dan Kimball's book, "They Like Jesus But Not the Church". During the just completed course in "Strategic Evangelism", I read the book cover to cover. I had always thought of Kimball as slightly off, but in the whole, I think he really does have a good understanding of today's emerging generations and where they are versus the church.

1. I wish church were not just a sermon or a lecture but a discussion.
2. I wish the church would respect my intelligence.
3. I wish the church weren't about the church building.
4. I wish church were less programmed and they allowed time to think and to pray.
5. I wish the church was a loving place.
6. I wish the church cared for the poor and the environment.
7. I wish the church taught more about Jesus.

You know, everything Kimball lists as the aspirations of those outside the church has been on a list I carried around inside for about two years. Granted, some of the "wish list" are simply impressions of people who may not have had any meaningful interaction with "church" or who had bad experiences with "church" when they did interact. But I get where they are coming from.

The sermon/lecture format may very well have reached its zenith a while back as an effective conduit for information. Gardener's research into educational intelligences as well as our own experiences with lectures say that it is darn hard to keep people's attention as mere listeners. I know it's hard for me. So I've tried preaching topically, using lots of illustrations, fill in the blank handouts, powerpoint, lots of images, video clips, and props to help people connect.

In the last few Sunday night services, I've tried to push interactive exercises and multi-sensory inputs to try to leap the "pew gap." I think we'll need to do more as time goes on, including possibly some "midrash" time where we work through a passage together. There are bright people out there in front, and maybe what they need to learn more effectively is not listen as much to someone telling them what to know, but spend some time in discovery mode themselves.

As for the buildings wish, all I can say is "amen". I'd go portable if we could just so we wouldn't have all that money and energy tied up in buildings. But we have them, and good stewardship would be to use them most effectively. I think we do that at New Hope. We open our campus to a home schooling network who pretty much fill it every Wednesday. They are great neighbors. We've hosted Girl and Boys Scouts and Junior Gardeners as well.

Programming is a real big hurdle for traditional churches. We're... programmed to look for plans and schemes. It's what we do. But it is changing and I'm glad to see it.

"A loving place" is an elusive goal. Most churches are very loving within the ranks. But people on the outside won't see that as those in the "club" do. That's been true in almost every church I have ever been a part of, and I have been on both sides of it. But you know what, every organization I have been a part of has been basically the same. The difference is that we are to be bearers of grace, and hospitality is part of that.

We're moving in the right direction when it comes to the poor and the environment. Our benevolence ministry helps quite a few people every year, and we have made a deliberate effort to be conscious of our impact on the environment. But we can do a LOT more in both areas.

As far as the last "wish" goes, I believe that we do teach a lot more about Jesus than I can ever remember before. We did go through a period of looking for "felt needs" to apply the Bible to, but we are focused on Jesus now - where we should have been all along.

So Kimball's reflections and research were both confirmation and a spur to more effort. Dan Kimball might have weird hair, but he's okay. :)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Personal Theological Statement on Evangelism

This was written a couple of weeks ago as an assignment for the Strategic Evangelism Class I will finish tomorrow at Rockbridge Seminary. There were to be no quotations and no footnotes and it was to be written in your own words. So it is not a typical academic paper. But I am putting it here so that those of you who wonder about Rockbridge, or are just interested in evangelism might be able to gather something possibly to use. We were asked to provide a bibliography of books that have influenced us in evangelism and you'll find that at the end of the paper.

What I Believe About the Biblical Purpose of Evangelism
Jesus came He said, to look for and rescue those who were lost. Much of the gospels reflect His heart for those who were either burned out on religion as it was practiced at the time, or those who were completely outside the camp. He described those outside as being sheep without a shepherd, tossed about, blown by whatever wind was prevailing. He explained His work as helping to bring the Kingdom of God alive within the hearts of people. Jesus came preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God had drawn near to people, and that the right response to that was to repent (change behavior, change direction, leave the old life behind), believe (in His rights and position as Messiah, in His mission, in His explanations and interpretations of Scripture - the whole you have heard it said, but I say – motif)

As you continue to look at His explanations of what evangelism means, He used parables which were decidedly relevant to the people of that time. They could buy into the deeper spiritual truths He was presenting because He laid the foundation by using the commonplace, the shared understandings, the culture they lived in as a backdrop for the “jewels” of the gospel. I think that people at the time, the common people at least, thought that they could never really inherit anything. Fully two thirds of the people at that time were slaves, the religious parties had a tight grip, and gentiles like us were simply unfit to receive much from God.

So Jesus came, explaining that God wasn’t interested in shallow displays of religious affection, or outward piety. No, God wanted His Kingdom to come, and His will to be done on earth. And that will was that no one should die without the saving knowledge of Jesus’ message. So Jesus came, and He preached, and He modeled evangelism in His talks with people of all faith backgrounds. He jousted with those who knew it all. He poked and prodded those who knew a lot but were still open. He helped the misguided see the truth. He reached out to the fallen, the failed, and the unlovely.

While he was here, he taught His disciples and the circle of companions that supported Him throughout His mission. He build a core group of people who at least grasped some of what He was trying to teach them regarding God’s work in bringing light to the nations, and who believed in Him. In His last words to them, He gave them a challenging command to go and make disciples of all people (pante ethos), teaching them to obey everything he had taught.

At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, everything suddenly made sense. The words of Jesus that the disciples just couldn’t always connect with what they knew from Judaism became alive in them, and the commands He had given them to be His witnesses, to spread His good news, to make disciples – got the fuel needed to go from abstract concepts they were still puzzling over – to the passionate goal of their life and the reason they were alive. For me, this is our purpose as Christians at the core – to glorify God with our lives in everything we do, knowing that we have been placed here to be part of God’s Big Story – His Master Plan – of reconciling the world to Himself through the Body of Christ Jesus. That may take the form of individual witness, of institutional outreach – but it is why we are here. Evangelism is an imperative not an alternative in a sea of choices.

What I Believe About the Practice of Evangelism In The Local Church
As a veteran of many different applications of evangelistic techniques and programs, and as a child of the decades when church growth paradigms were in vogue, I’d say that looking at the church’s work in relationship to the five “purposes” as laid out by Rick Warren in his book, the Purpose Driven Church makes sense to me.

Evangelism is part of the plan that God has placed for us in Scripture as a Body of believers in Jesus. Along with the other purposes, it is something that cannot be overlooked or we will be weakened overall, and it can not be over emphasized (except in a corrective action) or we as a church will become out of balance. Instead it is integrated into all that we do in one way or another.

As a group of people, we are to live out our calling to be instruments of reconciliation. We are to reach out to the hurting, to the broken, to the disaffected, to those who do not know God. But even at the extremes of that effort, we have to stay grounded in the knowledge that we too had nothing of merit that would cause God to turn His favor upon us. Once we weren’t anything special, but now we are children of God who have a treasure within that belies the container it is placed in. So as we are going through the lives God has given us, we reach out with the hope that the Spirit will draw people from sin’s grip and into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

I see that work of evangelism as relational, incarnational, and confrontational depending on how the Spirit leads. (And I would rely heavily on that leading just as Philip did, just as Paul did.) We are to be salt and light, (both flavoring individuals and preserving God’s truth within the culture, and casting light upon the right way as well as illuminating evil) living our lives as praise and worship doing the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do so that people might be drawn to us to know why. Jesus explained that we aren’t to congregate in a holy huddle or hide behind the fortress walls. Salt only works when it’s shaken out and it’s useless when impure. Light wasn’t made to be hidden but placed in position to do the most good. Jesus’ call to the disciples was to come and follow Him, and He would make them fishers of men.

So we live life in relationships with people, meeting their needs and loving them as they are praying that the Spirit gives us opportunity to help them meet their unmet need of wholeness and right standing with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. And we live as examples of how a person should follow Christ in hopes that the difference between our lives and those of the world might provide points of contact where we might develop bridges that the gospel might pass over. Then there are also times and situations in which we must confront the culture and the people trapped within it with their position versus the commands of Jesus and the Word of God.
I have become convinced over the past few years that the surest way to drive evangelism by the Body is to kick the Body out of church and into the community. We couple that with training on how to build the bridges, how to ask questions that lead to spiritual conversations and work to take the fear out of the evangelistic event. I’ve learned a lot from the work of Brian McClaren, Jim Henderson, Robert Aldridge, Robert Lewis, as well as from the ministry outreaches of FBC Leesburg FL, who really set a standard for churches within my denomination on how to reach into the culture, meeting needs to see people come to Jesus.

What I Believe About the Responsibility of Church Leadership In Leading Others To Evangelize
When the Scripture explains the qualifications of church leaders, it spends a great deal of time looking at the quality of the life those persons must live. It refers to the quality of their family relationships, their personal reputation in the community, and the way the leader lives when no one is looking. In other places, it explains that not many should choose this path, because once you are on it, you are subject to additional scrutiny from God. So for one to enter this path means that person should be aware that a life of leadership in God’s church implicitly assumes a level of personal holiness and commitment to God’s plan.

That life then incarnates Paul’s command to follow him as he followed Jesus. The leader cannot expect people to go any farther than he or she is willing to go themselves. So in addition to equipping the Body to do evangelism, the leader must be an example of one who incorporates evangelism in everyday life (just as we are an example of life as worship).

Leaders as individuals are of course formed differently. Some are naturally relational and outgoing, others are withdrawn and essentially private. Others are gifted in evangelism though the vast majority may not be. It really doesn’t matter, because every Christian is called to do the work of an evangelist. So even though the leader may not see dozens of converts as someone who is gifted in that area might, it still falls under their personal responsibility as well as their responsibility as a leader to be engaged in that work.

That will mean for most of us in vocational ministry, getting out of the office and into the larger gene pool. We have to make an effort to find ways to be in company with people who are not in church and who may be far from God. So the leader who expects the church to engage in evangelism needs to prioritize building relationships with unbelievers. Then as you do that, involve some of your people who can pick up the idea and form their own personal ministries of outreach. There’s no way one individual can possibly make as big a difference as a group of individuals united and engaged in an intentionally evangelistic lifestyle can.

Bibliography of Where My Personal Beliefs About Evangelism Come
The Message, Eugene Peterson
The New Living Translation, Second Edition, Tyndale House
Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem
The Moody Handbook of Theology, Ennis
The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000
The Holman Bible Dictionary
Matthew, Holman NIV Commentary, Anders
Matthew, Communicator’s Commentary, Augsburger
More Ready Than You Realize, Brian McClaren
An Unstoppable Force, Erwin McManus
Friendship Evangelism, Joseph Aldrich
Lifestyle Evangelism, Crossing Traditional Boundaries, Joseph Aldrich
Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, Ted Haggard
His Heart, Your Hands, NAMB Publication
The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson
The Church of Irresistible Influence, Robert Lewis
Searching For God Knows What, Donald Miller
The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren
Bible Navigator Software, version 4
Libronix Digital Library System
Following Jesus, N.T. Wright
To Follow Him, Mark Bailey

Worship At New Hope 24 Feb 2008

Lots of worse places to be today than the Emerald Coast. :) Today dawned beautiful and I was praying that we'd see people encounter God together. I believe we did. One of our friends' sister, who is dying from cancer pretty soon, was with us from SC. Most everyone knew her situation and I was so gratified to see people reach out to her, and so humbled to realize God had put me in place today with this Scripture.

This morning we continued the "Red Letters" series with a look at Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19-34 "First Things First" I'm going to try and embed the ppt later using a new tool I found today.

All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises - great opener
Lord I Lift Your Name On High - yes, we did the motions. Great warmth everytime though.
Shout To the Lord - don't sing it often, but it's like a hymn and people SING it!
In Christ Alone - rich, rich theologically
Come Just As You Are - right with the thrust of the message

As I closed I rolled in the bridge illustration which tracked very well with the passage. My prayer is that God spoke and is speaking to several people who were there.


Worship Theme: “Whole”
Please take a piece of broken pottery as we begin our worship. (The idea was to help people connect with the power of the cross in our lives and release our brokeness into its terrible beauty. We need to accept Jesus' invitation to be made whole.)


Video: The Gentle Healer - Michael Card


28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me— watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matt 11:28-30 (MSG)


7 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. 2 Cor 4:7 (MSG)

Video: “The Simple Complexity of Easter” - from sermon spice

15 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. 16 For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels— everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. 17 He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. 18 And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and— leading the resurrection parade— he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. 19 So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. 20 Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe— people and things, animals and atoms— get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross. Col 1:15-20 (MSG)

If you have something in your life that is broken, that is hurting, that needs fixed, write it on the piece of broken pottery. You might choose the smooth side or the rough side. In a minute, as the video plays, we’re going to come and place those broken pieces beside the beautiful cross. (This really, really worked well with people writing their needs on the pottery. I hope Bunny will turn it into a piece of art, but it's already a poema.)

Video: “Mighty Is the Power of the Cross” - Chris Tomlin




Video: Grace Like Rain


This has been a very stretching undertaking for me. There's so much less of the typical sermonic preparation in this and far more of the creative. Working to get people to drop their masks and enter into "communion" with God and with each other for this brief period of time is a real challenge. And a blessing.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Blank Sheet of Paper - Discipleship

I've been discussing this with my friends on a pastor's online forum all week. Thought I'd toss it over here and get some feedback. I'll drop come of the comments from over there in too.

Got home from another Wed night and Bunny and I had a long talk about what she perceives the kids and youth know of faith and the Bible, combined with my little talk with the adults last night on functional atheism.

So I went to bed praying about changes and woke up with it still on my mind.

I have a blank sheet of paper in front of me. Limiting this to discipleship and not veering off to preaching, fellowship etc...

What programs/structure/benchmarks/times and venues would you draw up if you were starting from scratch?

For children

For youth

For adults

And what would you use for a curriculum in large or small group situations?

I'm really trying to get a handle on what I need to see getting done wherever God has me in this area.

I know, I know - but this is really important to me. I got to the point in Romans 4 last night and realized that precious few have anything like the faith of Abraham.

Just a note, if you are looking for info on Bill Martin, formerly at FBC McMinnville, or need to contact Bill, LMK by email.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Great Ideas From Michael @ Behind the Leaf

Michael, I always appreciate your posts, but this one is so good I had to quote it all. Folks, if you want to learn how to be better - whether you are a planter, or a pastor, put Michael's blog in your reader.

Behind the Leaf
Sunday Cheat Sheet
February 21, 2008

In our meeting room, I keep a sheet of paper with some reminder statements. These are things that shape our services. I have to keep reminding myself.

Connect the dots.
Keep the vision in front of the people.
Incorporate the mission statement into the welcome and announcements.
Tell personal stories about our volunteers.
Celebrate victories (look back) as much as you communicate vision (look forward)
Read cool e-mails.
Remind people about our kids policy.
Read Scripture during the worship set.
A hymn teaches people theology.
Make a big deal out of the offering. (a story, where the money goes, a Scripture)
Look at things from the eyes of a guest.
The unexpected gets noticed.
Humor unfolds arms.

To me, this shows a real depth of understanding not only of mission and vision, but of the pastor's role in it. Certain things you cannot delegate and keeping your church's focus on what matters is one of those.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What if the Bible Was More..

What if the Bible were arranged more chronologically (and logically)? What if books that originally formed one unit were again reunited? And what what if we left off all the verse/chapter/paragraph headings and just read it as it was originally written- as whole books?

That's what the TNIV Books of the Bible does..
from Bob Hyatt's blog Pastor Hacks.

Been waiting for this actually.

I do think it will help in devotional reading for those of us who tend to be distracted by every little thing a publisher might put on a page. That's why I ditched the study Bibles (that and their 8 pounds of print). My goal is to know God better. Getting anything in the way is like coming in after a candidate's speech just in time to hear the pundits tell you what they thought they said. ...err No.

Check it out.

Oh and add Bob to your reader. He's a bright guy who knows how to find stuff you can use.


TOKYO (AFP) — Military experts sounded alarm Wednesday over the Japanese military's ability to defend the country after one of its most advanced naval destroyers crashed into a fishing boat, leaving two missing. The accident sparked bewilderment in Japan as the Atago is the latest and largest of Japan's destroyers, equipped with the US-developed Aegis radar system, seen as a frontline defence against a North Korean missile attack.

"I may not come off as an expert, but I wonder whether the fishing boat was not detected by the radar," said Yoshimi Watanabe, Japan's state minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reforms.

"What if it had been a terrorist boat on a suicide bombing?" he said.

But another military expert, Tadasu Kumagai, said it was a common misunderstanding that ships with the Aegis system were looking at threats in the immediate vicinity.

"It has an advanced radar for air defence, but its navigational radar is about the same quality as that of a fishing boat," he said.

No, I've not turned into a milblogger.

Just wondering. We're the best educated church in history. We have the benefit of trained pastors and staff to a greater extent than ever before. Bibles? Oh we got your Bibles. You want an ESV with Corinthian leather? Got that. Or how bout an NCV in Hannah Montana green? Done. How bout the Bible on your iPod? Blair Washington or Alexander Scourby? No problem.

We have access to the greatest repository of information ever through the Internet. We can receive the latest church growth training seminars right at our PC, or journey across country and hear Hybels, or Warren, Stanley or Young.

But can we find where God is working?

Can we train our hearts to listen for that still small voice?

With all our technology and training, I guess I feel a certain kinship with the crew of the Atago.

So I think I'll try to spend more time looking for the Spirit nearby, instead of scouring the Internet or devouring books.

Might work. Ya think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This Is Dedicated To the Ones I Love

... and who suffered through Sunday morning's marathon sermon.

Based on Luke 15

As he stood in front of me, all I could think of were those times when he and his brother were playing in the courtyard as young boys. "Mine, I want mine!" It signaled the servants' need to step in, and ensured that I'd have to address it later. It's been hard work, but good work - raising two boys to manhood. Lots of long walks together, but countless conversations - and even more times when they were nearby as he tried to live his life with honor and integrity. He never forgot "teach them when you lay down and when you rise up..."

A young man stood before him, but all he could think about was that little boy he used to carry on his shoulders when the sand got too hot. But the words snapped him out of his dream.

"Father, I want right now what's coming to me."

His first thought was to look at the face of his older son, to see what his reaction was. But there wasn't any. Then he understood. Maybe the youngest was bold enough to come right out and tell his old man that the time had come for him to get out of his way, but both of them felt it. And it broke his heart.

How many times?

How many times had he picked them up when they fell, held them when they cried, wiped noses and calmed fears? How many meals had they eaten that he provided? How many sets of clothing had they worn, some of which were outgrown almost before the money had changed hands for them. He'd made sure they had the finest tutors, the best of care, and given them more responsibility than he knew they were ready for, because he believed in them - in their love for the one who was their Father.

And now, He was no more than an obstacle to their getting their due. Each in their own way seemed to want nothing more than to be done with him. But they couldn't. In his society, age and wisdom were valued and honored, and the Father's blessing meant acceptance and respect. For whatever reason, both his sons didn't care.

They didn't care about the effect it would have on the village either. In those days people had to help each other just to survive. Families cared for children regardless of if they were theirs or not. Flocks were combined, and everyone did their part. So if he did what he was being asked to do, and his sons sold out to get out, then everyone in the village would take a hit.

And that wouldn't take into account the effect it would have on his reputation and that of his family. For generations, his family name had been known as people you could trust - could depend on. But now? Not one, but both his sons were bringing shame and dishonor upon everyone who wore that proud name. He had never even heard of something like this happening. Ever.

There was provision for a distribution in times where the father was no longer able to handle the day to day affairs of the clan. But though old, he was still sharp and a worthy negotiator in any business transaction. So what could he do that might help each son came to himself and realize that the Father's love was the real treasure?

He decided to give them both a choice by granting the younger son's wishes. If he granted the request, then each son would take ownership of their inheritance, but he would still handle it day to day. His hope was that once they were assured that he loved and trusted them to do right - that they would.

But almost as soon as the words exited his mouth, the younger son was making deals to get rid of his assets for pennies on the dollar. What had taken a lifetime to accumulate vanished in just a few hours in his youngest son's mad rush to get out of town. He didn't even get so much as a "Thanks Father", or a goodbye. The servants came and told him "your boy is gone."

The days came and went. They were bad enough. Several times he started to call out for his son and suddenly realized that he was gone. But as he lay in bed trying to sleep, he could see his son lying hurt and bleeding, or filthy and starving. And there was nothing he could do but pray that God would return his son to home.

The other son, the one who stayed behind, was still at home, but didn't act like it. The coldness from him was tangible. He wouldn't speak at all unless he absolutely had to. It always seemed as if he was looking around at the home and mentally placing price tags on the contents. He treated the servants poorly - even the older ones who had practically raised him. What had happened? Where had he gone wrong?

That was the same question running through the mind of his youngest son. Hard after the heady early days where he had both total control of every moment and money and friends to fill those moments with, came the embarrassment of being without... either. He actually wound up begging the father of one of his former best friends for a job. Thing is, he was sure the man didn't really want him around. After all, who gives a job slopping hogs to a Jew? But this Jew knew - this job is all I have between me and starvation - though starvation still crept around the edges wanting to come in and take possession of him.

Finally one day he looked up and saw one of the servants riding by. For a moment, he remembered a day when he would have been able to call out to him and whatever his wish would have been, it would have been done. But now, even the servants ...

"Wait! I could go back home, where even the servants are well fed. I'll never be a son any more, but I could hook on as a hired hand. If I come right out and admit I was wrong to my Father and to God, maybe they'll at least let me apprentice for a trade." And up he went.

It was the same routine every day, back home. The father would get up, and after an early breakfast and prayers, would head out to the city gates to sit with the elders and discuss the day's events. Yes, his standing in the community had plummeted after his son's revolt, and it's true that some there received him with pity rather than the respect they had given to him before, but it was closer to the road which ran away from the village - so it was closer to his son. If by some miracle he returned, the father knew that he'd have to beat the villagers to him. Otherwise he'd be met with a barrage of stones. So he sat at the gate almost everyday. The sand blew, the sun beat down, but there he sat.

His oldest son would probably be as far away from the town gates as possible. While the village still had some mixture of pity and respect for the father, for the sons there was only anger. Anger that someone would take advantage of a father's love. Anger that anyone could be so selfish and self centered. Anger that the shame which they had sown did not seem to phase him. Men would cross the street, or spit in the oldest son's direction. Women would gather their children closer and avert their eyes. In a small village like this one, everyone knew what happened to everyone else. Well, this day would be one they would talk about for generations.

As the father sat at the gates, discussing whatever old men talk about, he looked up and saw a figure coming down the road. In an instant, he knew it was his son. Forgetting his shame, casting everything away, he got up, and gathering his robe in his hand to better move quickly, he did something no one above the age of 25 ever did. He ran.

As he did, the children ran with him, and the servants struggled to catch up. And like a ripple in a pool when a pebble was dropped into it, word spread among the village and here and there others raced out to catch up. But all the father knew was - that's my son.

When he crashed into him, hugging him tightly and kissing his cheeks again and again, he could hear the boy start to say "Father, I've sinned against God, and I've sinned against you. I don't deserve to be called your son ever again." With tears filling both their eyes, and each one's hands upon the other's shoulder, the father looked up and caught the eye of his servant.

"Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes - my best robe, and clean this boy up. Get my signet ring and slip it on his finger, and no son of mine should go barefooted - find him some new shoes. Oh and that grain fed steer we've been saving for when the governor comes - BBQ that bad boy. There's no one more important to me than my sons, and this one that I thought was lost to me forever - has been found." He looked at his son again, and on the boy's face was a look he had seen before - it was the same look of wonder and awe he'd seen when he'd held him out in front of him as a toddler and said "this is my son!"

The crowd came bearing stones and left laughing and headed to the father's house for the party. Already the servants would be setting the table, engaging the musicians and singers, and preparing everything for a feast. After a little while the wonderful smell of roasting beef filled the air, as did the sounds of people singing.

The oldest son came near and heard the sounds, and frowned. "I didn't order that," he thought. "That's my money someone's burning up." As he drew nearer one of the house servants came out to see if he needed anything, so he asked what was happening. "Your brother has returned and is well! So your father is throwing a party and wants you to come and sit with him and your brother again."

"No! Tell my father he can rot in hell before I go in there."

The servant delivered the message to the father with sadness, knowing the result would open an old wound... again. When he did, for an instant he could see it cross the old man's face. But then, making apologies to his guests, the father quickly headed out to where his son stood, surrounded by villagers and servants.

"Come in, my son. Rejoice with me that your brother is alive and well."

"Is that the fatted calf I smell old man? I slaved away for you and you never volunteered a billy goat for me and my friends, but when that dog goes and wastes your money on whores with Gentiles, you roll out the red carpet. How do you think I ought to feel?"

His father looked at him and tried to remember the little boy who used to walk around with his father's sandals on. The boy who watched everything his father did and tried to do it just like he did. the son who wanted so badly to be more of a man than his father was. He looked at him again,and after a quick prayer, said "My dear son, I was here when you worked beside me all these years. What you've done won't be forgotten, and I proved my heart was true by giving you ownership of your share even though I didn't have to. But this is about family, not money. It's about love, not the failures of the past. When you two demanded my grace, I gave it freely. Now I've received even more grace. Your brother was as good as dead - lost forever. he's here - he's alive! Come to the party with me!"

Welcome to the tribe!

One of the things I have always wanted to learn to do is fly fishing. My son Sean bought me an outfit for Christmas this year and I've been reading online about how to best begin. I sent off for a free decal from a company named Reel Pure, Inc.

It came in Saturday, and I couldn't help but make the connection to what I do as a pastor. "Welcome to the tribe!" was the salutation on the letter than accompanied the decal.

"Forever Fish," was the closing remark.

It was sent by the "Director - Attitude Adjustment"

LOL. I love that passion!

So I'm adopting their motto.

Forever Fish,


(who is available for free fishing trips anywhere :) )

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Hope @ Worship 17 Feb 2008

It's a holiday weekend and I had a feeling going in, plus some knowledge, that attendance might be lower, and it was. Weather was rolling our way as well, but we were still blessed with a warm crowd in both services. I won't belabor the point, but I pretty much sabotaged the morning service with an inattention to time. We got home at 12:35. Yeah, way late. Have to do a better job of culling when I get a text I'm so passionate about.

Worship Music

Hallelujah (Your Love Is Amazing)
Holy Is the Lord
Holy Holy Holy
I Need Thee Every Hour

Message: There's Something You Need To Know - John 15

I used two clips in the message (added 11 minutes I should have allowed for, but very strong messages in both) First was from an ER episode called "Atonement" that I discovered only the night before. Link and the second was from Sermonspice called "An Unspoken Plea"

Both incredibly powerful and I hope they spoke to people's hearts. I went in hoping to show what God's heart was all about and challenging the people to match up with that. But I got carried away. So I'll learn from that.

Sunday nights during Lent we're trying some alternative worship. Here's the layout of it as we did it last night.

How Deep the Father’s Love For Us - Video {From You Tube}

"By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the thick veil hanging in the Temple was torn apart." Luke 23:44, 45, NLT.

As you realize that God has torn away the barriers between Him and you, tear your veil from top to bottom. (Very powerful to hear each individual come to that realization and tear his or her veil. Awesome sound.)

"Once when Jesus had been out praying, one of his disciples came to him as he finished and said, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." He said, "This is how you should pray: "Father, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us our food day by day. And forgive us our sins--just as we forgive those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.""
Luke 11:1-4, NLT.

Religion or Relationship? Video - Bible ("You don't fix faith. It fixes you." From You Tube)

Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this illustration: "Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You would say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ He would call out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and we are all in bed. I can’t help you this time.’ But I tell you this--though he won’t do it as a friend, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you what you want so his reputation won’t be damaged. "And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks." Luke 11:4-10, NLT.

(I gave a couple of minutes of context and application to today and then asked these questions to start people talking)


What was your biggest answered prayer? What was your toughest unanswered one?

(Great time of sharing between people who normally are very reserved.)




(Two weeks in a row? In a Baptist church? It is a powerful symbol)


The slips were the Tozer quote - "Anything God has done anywhere, He can do here. Anything God has ever done anytime, He can do now. Anything God has ever done for anyone, He can do for you." So keep on seeking, keep on asking, keep on knocking.

Video: A Living Prayer (Allison Krauss - off You Tube)


My wife, who's blog is linked to the left, felt the Spirit there far more powerfully than in the morning service. "That was worship." I'm praying that as we press out from where we've always been that I hear more people say that, and see more people involved.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How Long Oh Lord?

It was one of those days when there was so much I wanted to say. But clouds were forming on the horizon. Announcements and welcome lasted 15 minutes. The children's sermon went for 6 more. And note to self - video clips count as time out of your portion. They are not an added bonus that everyone goes away feeling glad they got.

With the two videos, yours truly grabbed an amazing 50 minutes. Uh huh.

So yeah, an hour and a half was what we took from start to finish today.

It wasn't as bad as the three hours "There Will Be Blood" took from Bunny, Sean and me yesterday.

But it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long. Content in context, delivered with passion - yeah. Clips were both great and supported the theme extremely well.

BUT... I was too long. Way too long. And what I think could have really been impactful was made less so.

I'm posting this to remind me if I ever get that idea again. Although Bunny and Sean will probably handle that. :)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Funeral Message for Viola Phelps

Just a note - I'm posting this here for two reasons. First so that the family can read what I said that day, and second so I could give an example of what I'd do with a limited amount of time and an incomplete knowledge of the person whose funeral you are asked to participate in. I only knew Viola for a short period of time, so what I shared came from what I gleaned from others and from our one substantive interaction.

Her former pastor had the lead role in this, so my remarks were brief and his were more personal and more targeted to inviting others to accept Christ. My theme was "with". My hope was to weave their understanding of what it meant to be with Viola and what God says about who will be with Him.


I’ve really enjoyed meeting all the family this week. Putting faces to the names I’ve heard Evelyn and Viola say has been neat. Watching you all relate when you were together last night - it was clear you were a family. That you were pretty comfortable WITH each other.

You know that’s becoming increasingly difficult to find today. We rush around getting stuff done at such a pace that it is tough for us, unless something like today makes us stop – it’s just tough for us to make time to be WITH each other.

And yet that little word WITH – really matters.

Think about it with me for a moment. We are here today because while Viola was WITH us, she added something very special to our lives. An ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, some to multiply laughter and halve our sorrows. She had a heart to encourage us, and a hope and a faith to share with us.


You know that God thinks a lot of that word WITH as well. In Deuteronomy 31:8 and again in Hebrews 13:5 God tells us “The Lord Himself goes before you, He will be WITH YOU, He will not leave you, He will not forsake you.

Several times in Isaiah (41:10; 43:2) God reminds His people, “Do not fear because I am WITH YOU, for I am your God.”

The believer in Jesus Christ is NEVER alone, even on days like today. “For though I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…” Psalm 23

One of the things I miss the most now that my kids are grown sounds silly I guess. But I miss reaching down and holding their little hands as they learned to walk. We need that when we are kids. But you know we need that later on too. Someone to be WITH US, and connected closely. The Bible says in Psalm 73 “You hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. NOW LISTEN TO THIS

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart;

He is MINE FOREVER.” Psalm 73:23b - 26

A few months ago Evelyn called me and wanted me to go to the CUU and visit Viola. So I did and found her very alert and wanting to talk. So I stood there for a few minutes and listened to her tell about her love for the people she shared her life with. And then I got to hear about her love for, and life WITH Jesus. It was funny. I walked in expecting to try to lift her spirits and walked out having mine lifted by being WITH her.

Friends, just as Enoch walked with God and was no more, for God took him. Just as David served God’s purpose for His generation and died, Viola lived her life WITH you and WITH Jesus and now, she is WITH HIM.

Do you know Him today? There is no better companion on life’s journey. It’s a hard world we live in. Struggles and trials on every hand. We’re often betrayed by our own tendency to do wrong. Why not meet WITH Jesus today. Tell Him what you’ve done that’s pushed Him away. Ask for His forgiveness. Receive new life in Him.

He said this “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
Viola knew that peace because Jesus was WITH her. And now she is WITH HIM.

Will you be? Do you know Jesus as Savior? Have you surrendered to Him as Lord? Days like today put the brevity of this life into clear focus. Chose to leave today with Christ.

Religiously Educated Consumers Part 2 - the Questions


What's the best activity tied to church to help people grow to love Jesus and learn to live for Him?

What's the minimum requirements for a person to be involved with in their daily life to grow? (I'm thinking spiritual disciplines but feel free)

What's the best venue for transformational discipleship? (SS, small groups, 1 to 1, other?)

How do you discern whether people are growing?

Is there a point when a person shouldn't be in a SS or small group class? A BTDT point? And if so, what for them?

Inquiring minds who are a wee bit fed up with the status quo want to know. I'm developing some thoughts and ideas but really would appreciate some input.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Are We Making Disciples Or Religiously Educated Consumers?

One of the management "tricks" I was taught years ago was "Management By Walking Around". The idea was if you got out of your office and went where the work was being done, you might pick up some ideas on what was right about what your company/dept/unit was doing, or identify some things to improve.

So I've tried to stay accessible and tried to pay attention to what is happening not just in the church as a whole, but in the units that make it up. Last week I overheard one person say to another "you know the lessons are basically the same. They repeat every so often. And it's not like we are getting any new insights. Besides, it is the discussion that really makes the class."

The person who said it has probably been in Sunday School for 40 years. He leads an important ministry at our church. I have no reason to doubt that he's biblically literate and doctrinally sound.

But for him, Sunday School apparently has become the "same old, same old" routine without merit.

I've been bugged for years that SBC churches give their people too much information to process every week, and see very little of it translate to action. Most SBC churches have two Sunday services, Sunday School and a Wednesday night Bible study. And typically, they are totally unrelated in content. So a person receives 4 "life changing" messages. Which one do they follow?

My deep conviction is this - most SBC members know a tremendous amount about the Bible and do not live lives that correlate with that indoctrination. So what should we do about it?

Geiger and Rainer's "Simple Church" may be where to start. Do away with anything that doesn't support the overall mission directly. Use time and volunteer hours carefully. If I started a church, we'd have no Sunday night service (unless it was for a different crowd), and no Sunday School - at least on Sunday morning. We'd run children's church at the same time as worship, and do our children's Bible activities on Wednesday night. Adult Bible study would be a continuation and exposition of that Sunday morning's lesson. People would go deeper and work through the application in small groups held in their homes.

Yes we have activity. Yes we get a good turnout. But are we making disciples or just adding facts to equip our people to win Bible Trivia Pursuit? I keep hearing "yea, I tell you that not everyone who can fill in the blanks on the sermon outline will inherit the kingdom of God."

Perhaps this is one of the reasons new church plants that meet in theaters or schools get such a boost. They are forced into doing less, and doing small groups in homes. Simplification adds to focus and focus leads to effectiveness.

I'm currently looking for examples of churches - established churches - that act like church plants in this area. Give me a shout out if you know of one with a pastor or education guy who'll let me pick their brains.


Prayer with eternity in mind

Lord give me work
Till my life shall end
And life
Till my work is done. Amen

- inscription on a Yorkshire Tombstone

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Is God's Plan For the Church?

What is God's plan to PROVE His love for an AIDS orphan?

What is God's plan to PROVE His love for a lonely widow?

What is God's plan to PROVE His love to a new mother who's baby is dying of malnutrition?

What is God's plan to PROVE His love to the AIDS sufferer, in his final days?

Answer: We are.

...and there is no Plan B. Ward Broehm

Military Families Need Our Help

I can never remember a time when I didn't love airplanes. My parents worked at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, GA, so growing up I was around them all the time. I had models of planes everywhere, drew planes in class, and was totally geeked out on being a pilot in the Air Force. God had other plans.

Maybe part of that plan was placing me here outside Eglin Air Force base as a pastor to minister to families, many of whom are or have been military. My office sits directly under one of the main runway's approach and takeoff lanes, so on a good day I might see and especially hear 30 take offs and landings by the best pilots in the world.

I was never military, so it's been a learning curve understanding the lingo, the culture, and the unique stresses a military family goes through. We've had families come to New Hope and then be reassigned to other places. We've had men deployed in war zones and have prayed for them, sent care packages, and winced every time we heard of another casualty.

Today I found a wealth of information on how a church like New Hope can do a better job of reaching out in love and service to military families. Here's an excerpt from this great blog. Ministering To Military Familes Bookmark it, or put it in your reader. This is a keeper.

Provide security—Military families relocate frequently, with no relatives living nearby. Spouses of deployed personnel need someone who will be a friend, calling and visiting frequently to check on family needs. Take a military spouse out to a movie or dinner. Invite a military family into their homes regularly to develop deeper friendships.

Provide home and auto assistance—When a spouse deploys for several months, mechanical problems involving the house, appliances, and cars arise. Church members with experience can volunteer to provide repairs at little or no cost. A church could compile and distribute a list of members willing to offer their services to these families.

Provide child care
—Almost all of our military service families are in the child bearing and child rearing years. When a parent is deployed, the remaining parent is responsible for everything. A little free time can mean the difference between coping with life or losing it. Provide childcare occasionally while a parent relaxes or runs errands.

Provide youth involvement—Teenagers represent a valuable asset to the families of deployed personnel. Mowing or raking yards, doing odd jobs, and even helping with child care issues by babysitting can be a big help to these families. Another good way responsible and spiritually mature teens can help is by becoming a big brother or sister to children who are missing Mom or Dad. Just showing up for their ball games or school events can be a great source of joy to both the child and the teen.

There's lots more there - a real treasure. Anyone near a military base needs to grab this one.

The Practice

Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Philippians 4:7-9

"People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." Sandy Koufax, Hall of Famer

Across the street, there's a flurry of activity that I haven't seen in months. Little League baseball is back! A couple dozen little boys are working out by throwing the baseball around and going through some of those practice drills that Fred McGriff used to talk about in the "Dynamic Baseball Training" video infomercials.

It's the same every year. The coach stands at home plate and starts hitting the baseball to boys in position on the field. "Take one" he says, and strikes the ball. It skips to the shortstop who fields it and throws it on to the first baseman. "Take two" he calls, and the ball heads toward third. The third baseball scoops it and fires to the second baseman who turns and throws to first.

I've watched that sequence literally hundreds of times as a player, coach, and now fan.

Wouldn't you think they could come up with something new? Something relevant? This same old same old is just, well.. old.

No. There are skills and routines that are necessary to play the game well, and they can only be learned by practicing them.

Here on the church side of the street, it's very much the same.

We have the same Bible we've had for a long time. The words of Jesus are meant for us to read, to digest, and to put into... practice. It's only by doing that every single day, that we can grow mature in our faith.

Grace and peace,


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

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Hope At Worship - 10 Feb 2008

Interesting Sunday at New Hope. We have had so many people out sick the last few weeks that I've wondered about providing everyone with webcams and going internet church, or equipping people with masks and antibacterial sprays. But Sunday dawned with beautiful weather and we enjoyed a pretty good crowd.

Worship Theme - Red Letters, Living A Faith That Bleeds
Scriptural Passages of Focus: Matthew 5:17-48

Here I Am To Worship
How Can I Keep From Singing
Call Upon His Name
A Shield About Me
Have Thine Own Way

Sunday night, we ditched our small groups in favor of worship. Here's the layout below.

(I had arranged the chairs in a circle as much as I could with the communion table in the middle. The "elements" were freshly baked bread (thanks Diane) from a bread maker that was cooking all afternoon and had filled the sanctuary with the aroma, and Welch's in typical plastic cups. The lighting was subdued. I handed out a paper on which I had listed every Scripture dealing with relationships between believers.)


VIDEO – SING TO JESUS – FERNANDO ORTEGA (off You Tube, downloaded with Download helper extension and played with the free VLC player) if you haven't seen it, go and prepare to worship.

HYMN: “COME YE SINNERS, POOR AND NEEDY” - Bunny sang (first time ever in a lead way at church - and it was great) and Sean played and did a great job adding some Appalachian feel to it. Raw, sparse, and rare. Very affecting.

MEDITATE ON SCRIPTURE (I asked those present to take a minute or two to look over the list of Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them through it, examining their practices of these admonitions and instructions.)


"Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other."

Romans 12:4-10, NLT.

TESTIMONIES OF GOD’S GRACE - note: We actually did have people give testimonies of what God had done in their lives through others who were there. New Hope is normally not very demonstrative and this was a major big deal.


"Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ."

1 Peter 1:21-2:5, NLT.

VIDEO – IF WE ARE THE BODY – CASTING CROWNS ( Again off You Tube. It was a slide show with the music behind it. A little jarring since it was more rock than what we had heard up to this point, but that was my intention.)


VIDEO – LORD HAVE MERCY (Bunny had created a slide show to run along with the song by Eaghmon Haslip, and it was awesome)

PERSONAL PRAYERS OF CONFESSION ( I read the scripture where Paul asks those present at the Lord's Supper to examine themselves given what they have been doing when they gathered for the Lord's Supper) Then we prayed.


HYMN: GIVE ME JESUS – FERNANDO ORTEGA (We sang this as a closing hymn.)


I was grateful to be in worship yesterday. The Spirit really moved.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Stuck! Now what?

We've made so many transitions at New Hope over the last few years. From buttoned up to dressed down, from hierarchy to congregational leadership, from southern traditional (Southern gospel with revivalist hymns) to more contemporary and updated hymns, from older and less men to younger and more men. And over the years, once those settled in we have seen periods of real growth and then the tide ebbs and we recede for a season.

Every time I think we may just get over the hump this time, we seem to find the one soft spot in the field and sink - get bogged down - lose momentum - stall.


I click through the list of usual suspects in my head.

* Our sanctuary only holds 120
* We are off the beaten path
* We don't advertise regularly
* We do worship with a team of kids/youth haven't had a worship "leader" for two years
* We attract broken and hurting people drawn by our community of love
* We don't do the youth playtime
* We don't do the "Sunday Morning Experience"
* I stink.

Yeah, I could just put out that last one as a stand alone. I'm pretty ruthless about improving though, and I try to seek out godly counsel before heading down any roads that might have the soft spots in them.

But we're stuck.

I really want to know what it is that happens in the life of a congregation that sort of self-regulates the size of it until something or more correctly Some One pushes them through.

To go back through the list with you so you won't think I haven't considered changes.

Sanctuary - we have a $200K mortgage, and no real prospects for a better (bigger) place to meet.

Advertising, worship leader, and so much more - is a money issue.

Socioeconomics - we are blue collar, an enlisted man's church, and have welcomed all sorts of people with needs and problems. Thing is, it is hard to grow those people. They are why they are, many of them because they will not do the hard work to change. But we love them.

Youth and Adults - we made the decision a few years ago to step off the youth group bandwagon and focus on growing healthy disciples. We do less but work harder at what we do and hopefully see people not just coming, but growing deeper.

Worship - yes a worship leader would help, but we're also growing a generation of worshippers in these kids and youth.

Me - you have no idea how much I pray to be more like Jesus and more effective. I'm continually reading, going to seminary, writing and emailing others, trying to make this more than it has been before. I'm never satisfied.

We're healthy as a church.
We love God and each other.
We are meeting our obligations.
We are seeing glimpses of God's grace. We had our last baptism three weeks ago.

But we are stuck.

The biggest battle we face in this is discouragement. yes we know God is faithful, yes we believe we are doing His will, but to coin a phrase "How Long Oh Lord?"

So I close this post, written because I needed to unload, and I begin final preparations for worship tonight. I'll go in knowing I am called to do this, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God's work, and that ultimately He will judge my efforts.



Friday, February 08, 2008

Tempe Arizona

Was looking through the logs over the last few weeks for this blog and the site and apparently someone in Tempe Arizona has almost singlehandedly kept my traffic numbers humming.

This person has basically gone through the archives on both sites and read everything I have ever written since I started writing in 2004. All the devotionals, all the herding cats posts - everything.

They must be a nervous wreck. Or their activity is a desperate cry for help. :)

Lurker, if I know you, give me a shout out.


This license plate, because of its low number, cost a wealthy Dubai man the equivalent of 6.75 million dollars. The lower the number, the more expensive the plate because it is believed the owner is of a high "status".

I had the privilege earlier today to participate in a funeral for a dear saint of God Viola Phelps. I'd be stunned if you had ever heard of her. In our celebrity saturated culture she'd be rated a "nobody". But not to Jesus. To Him she was somebody who loved Him. And who He loved.

I was reminded of Billy Graham's quote when asked about whether or not he'd get a front row seat in heaven. The humble man of God replied thoughtfully, "No, I don't expect to. I expect that some widow woman who has been praying on her knees all these years for me and for my ministry. No, I believe she and others like her will receive the honors due them."

Viola Phelps would be one of those Billy was speaking about. I went in one day to see her in the CCU of our local hospital. I figured I'd go in for 5 minutes or so and encourage this elderly woman who must certainly be in dire straights. Sometimes I just go in and pray if they are asleep.

But Viola was very much awake. We talked about her family and how much she loved them and how much she was hoping to get to go home again to be with them. Then we talked about Jesus - how much she loved Him and how much she hoped to be one day going home to Him. I got ready to leave, my 5 minutes having become 35 and before I could pray for her, she prayed for me. She asked God to bless me and my family, to show me His will and give me the courage to do it, to bless our church and its people, and to make our ministry prosper.

I left shaking my head. I was supposed to be encouraging HER. :)

We gathered at the city cemetery today, to pay our last respects. The pastor I was sharing the service with has served this community for almost 50 years. He looked over the fields and said, "I've buried a lot of people out here." We left one more friend there today.

The mortality rate - I just checked - is still 100%. And regardless of your riches, it's still ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Why is it some people feel the need to make sure others know that their lives mean something by displaying their wealth or their position in a way to get people to notice?

It was one of those days as a pastor that clarify why it matters what we do. To keep people attentive to God's offer of salvation. To help them up and point them in the right way - to help them follow Jesus. To encourage and comfort, to instruct and rebuke.

And to help them realize that what matters the most to this world is of absolutely no value in the next. The pastor gets a pass into people's lives just at the times they need someone who knows what really matters is Jesus. It is His love that can meet every need.

It's such a great honor to be a part of God's plan.

Maybe Viola will save a seat up front for Billy. Now that's status.



Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Random Wednesday Thoughts

- as the sun comes out of the clouds here on the Gulf Coast, my heart goes out to all those affected by the storms yesterday. The last I read 48 people lost their lives, homes, businesses, and the campus of Union University destroyed. Praying...

- Lent began today with Ash Wednesday. I can still remember when I first encountered Lent many years ago. I was still with Procter and Gamble and I had journeyed to Birmingham Alabama to help set up a new Brunos Food's store. At lunch that day a coworker left and when he returned, I looked up at him. By mistake, I told him he had something like a smudge on his face. Duh.

Our family has observed Lent quietly for many years as a way to focus on the incredible work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This year here at New Hope, I will be leading in some special worship each Sunday night during the period. Though we are not calling it Lenten worship, it will be themed that way. BTW, I am giving up my beloved hot dogs for Lent. Hope I don't go to Macon anytime soon. To be that close to NuWay hot dogs and not be able to eat them?

- Continuing our look at Romans tonight in the last part of chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3. Lot of parallels between the attitudes of the Jews Paul is writing about and to, and we Southern Baptists. I don't have to find applications in this text, I just need to get out of the way!

- Working on a letter to our association explaining our decision to reduce our commitment to them and increase our commitments to other missions. Sadly, this is necessary and right.



Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"The World Was Not Worthy Of Them"

"Elderly Burned Convert Dies In Bangladesh," from BosNewsLife (thanks to Religion of Peace):

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)-- Christian villagers in a Muslim-majority area of Bangladesh on Tuesday, February 5, mourned the death of a 70-year-old woman who died from burns she suffered when a mob reportedly set her home ablaze as a punishment for converting from Islam to Christianity.

Rahima Beoa, who was planning to be baptized on February 13 in Cinatuly village in Rangpur district, 248 kilometers (154 miles) northwest of the capital Dhaka, suffered burns on at least 70 percent of her body, local villagers said. Suspected Muslim extremists set their home, made from bamboo and wood, ablaze on January 7, while she and her 9-year-old grand child were sleeping, reported Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency.

The pastor of the local evangelical Isha-e-Jamat (Jesus’ Church) Bangladesh denomination, Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, reportedly said that the mob was also upset that Beoa’s daughter and son-in-law, 40-year-old Ashraful Islam, converted to Christianity and about their involvement in evangelistic efforts.

A lack of access to adequate medical care was believed to have contributed to Beoa's death on Friday, February 1. No relatives or neighbors allegedly came to put out the fire and the family reportedly also lost two head of cattle in one corner of the structure.

32 ¶ And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,
33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,
34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.
36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.
37 They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated--
38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39* These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
40* God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
12:1* ¶ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 11:32 - 12:1

If we've forgotten the cost many have paid, here's your wakeup call.

Therefore, since..

throw off...



Sunday, February 03, 2008

Baptist Business Meeting

And no, that wasn't as a result of a business meeting - just poking fun at the stereotype.

Just so you non-Baptists understand - we don't like these business meetings either. While we were walking up to the sanctuary from the parking lot, one of our members repeated three times through gritted teeth "I hate business meetings."

And I'd agree. But knowing they are sometimes necessary means I'm always going in with a "how can we share a vision for what the church can be?" As opposed to a "if a hurricane were to hit and we got wiped out we'd need more money in our reserve" frame of reference. LOL

But we make it through.

Congregational polity can be messy. It can drive you crazy when you are trying to get something done NOW. But it also can help a pastor (who loves the people God has given him to care for) to hear them. In fact I like to hear from them. For my experience has been that the people who are most opposed to whatever it is we are voting on don't say a word.

Tonight we took a step away from our local association, deciding to send the minimum each year and sending the difference to missions. No, that's not a misprint. We just don't think the association is doing missions so we're bypassing the structure. I was enlisted by the congregation to take a further step, that of sending a letter explaining why we were doing it. A no confidence letter I suppose is what is in order.

We'll be exploring other ways to partner with churches locally as well.

So the Baptist business meeting came to a close with no fires spotted. Doesn't mean they don't exist, but maybe they'll wait until Tuesday.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I Once Was Blind...

...and still am in some areas at times.

That's why the Lord put me in relationships with my wife, my family, my friends and with the people of New Hope. There are just too many blind spots in my field of vision. So Bunny can help me see what I can't interpersonally, and others chip in too and for the most part, I can walk around without hurting myself or others.

I cannot imagine life without those "eyes".

But some people seem to have the notion that they can see all they need to see alone, or from a hand-selected group given the same task as those court followers in "the Emperor's New Clothes". Just tell me what I want to hear when I want to hear it. Don't ever suggest that it might be anywhere within the realm of possibility that I could ever be wrong, mistaken, or caught in a sinful trap of my own making.

Tonight I'll be headed over to Panama City to attend a Men's Conference at FBC Panama City. The guys that are going over are pretty special to me. Over the last few years I've had the honor of being their pastor and the privilege of being their friend. We're going there to get another set of "eyes" - to listen to what Steve Farrar and really the Holy Spirit sees in us that needs to be different than it is.

Whoever you are, wherever you are when you read this - don't fall into the trap the devil has laid for you. You need other people with the power to speak truth into your life. No one can make this life work alone.

Take that blindfold off.