Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

In the last few hours of 2009, I am trying to put the year in perspective so I can look forward to what God might do in 2010. So permit me to wax introspective for a moment or two. After all, this is a blog that promises to help people understand "a pastor's life." So I'll share what this year was like personally.

Personally this has been a roller coaster year.

Finishing my Masters was definitely a highlight. Rockbridge Seminary was perhaps the best educational experience I have ever had. If I could figure out a way to pay for another degree there, I'd be after it. Practical but ever challenging is the way I'd describe the experience. I continue to benefit from the tools I acquired there.

The continued decline and eventual passing of Bunny's mother overshadowed almost everything this year. In my heart I had been preparing for the challenge of helping my beloved wife through this for years. I have never known anyone as close in a mother - daughter relationship than Bunny and Dot were. They were like the two sides of a page at times. They really enjoyed each other's company and treasured the time they spent together whether it was in person, on the phone,or via video cam. Dot's illness, confinement to hospitals and nursing homes, and the last few weeks at home were overwhelming. We gave everything we had at every opportunity to try and get her well, then to just be there for her and for Curtis. But in the end, the disease won. Bunny's grief was so deep  for so long - and continues to this day. Yet her faith in the power of the resurrection has given her a source of strength and constant hope that her mother is whole and in the presence of Christ.

There were still many shocks and aftershocks from my own Father's death and the probate battle that I'd just as soon not even mention them. Every time I thought the impact was over, something else happened. The takeaway from all of it for me? I cannot trust in any provider save one - Almighty God. What I had counted as secure was taken again and again. So it goes. Our trust for each day, and for all the days to come has to be in Christ.

Then our great friend and companion Henley the Dane fell ill in May and we almost lost him to an infection. We had known that at 7, he was reaching the end years,but that battle almost cost us his company. We enjoyed a few more months with him, and then in October lost him to bone cancer. It broke my heart. It's hard to adequately describe just how much Henley meant to me and Bunny. He was our stress sponge and our constant source of encouragement and joy. To go through the first trial with him was awful, but then to see him in pain and have to end his life to spare him agony was just heart rending. We still tear up to this day looking at his picture and talk about him every day. He was so much more than a dog.

A few weeks ago we were blessed to adopt two Airedales that we named Mick and Stevie. They are a hoot!  We're adjusting to their odd ways of doing things and their boundless energy. That is, except when they are sleeping, like they are now. :) They are not Henley. But no dog would have been, and they are pretty special. They've come a long way in a short period of time toward becoming our companions and forever friends.

I think I can speak for Bunny too when I say that we have grown in our love for Jesus this year, and in our desire to do more of what makes Him smile. The people we've met, the books we've read, the events we've participated in have all conspired to bring a real sense of anticipation about what God might have for us in 2010.

Well, that's not everything, but I've already imposed too much on you. Shalom and blessings for a Christ filled 2010.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Recap 27 Dec 2009

My mainline church friends call this "Low Sunday". It's supposed to sit between Christmas and New Years - between the old year and the new and is a low ebb. For most everyone it is a low attendance weekend too. After the "high" of Christmas Eve worship it always can carry low expectations. Many churches forgo Sunday School/Bible Study on this weekend.

The challenges are many.

The job is the same, though. To lead God's people who have assembled for worship into communion through worship and the Word. On days like today pastors need to focus on who is present, not who is absent. There are no "throw-away Sundays." So rather than bask in the glow of Christmas, I was led to discuss Christmas' cost in light of the cross.

Music is another of the areas that can suffer with low attendance as both musicians and praise team members can be absent. Fortunately we weren't hit too badly in that area today, though we did miss Kevin's bass.

Our music today: How Great Is Our God; O Praise Him; O Worship the King; Have Thine Own Way, Lord"

The message centered on Luke 2:21

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.Luke 2:21 (NLT)

The shadow of the cross.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Blessings

Christmas Eve.

For 10 years here we have held a Christmas Eve service by candle light where we gather to sing the carols of the season, hear the Scriptures that tell of the Savior's birth, and share communion together. Every year we hear from people that the service is one of the most meaningful we do.

Tonight's service was special for a number of reasons. We had some families with us we haven't seen in a while. Some others came home. The season leading up to tonight has been rich in God's presence and provision. Our Advent Conspiracy efforts have been very fruitful and we are going to see lives saved as a result.

But the best part of tonight's service - the part I'll never forget - happened after everyone else was gone, and actually didn't happen at church. We decided that some of the people who are the heart of New Hope, but who couldn't come to the worship tonight needed to have worship brought to them. So we called Robert and Jewel Hughes and Larry Smith Sr and took our Christmas Eve service to them.

When we arrived, we explained what had happened in the worship service, and why we were there - to share the love we had felt there with them. So we sang Silent night, and I read the Scripture from 1 Corinthians and offered them the symbols of the body and blood of Christ, praying before each.

As we got ready to leave the Hughes' home, Jewel asked Robert to give her his hands. As we helped him stand, she took her husband's hands and told him how much she loved him, and how much she thanked God for him. It was an infinitely intimate and precious moment of pure love.

Just like Bethlehem.

The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: 11 A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master
Luke 2:10-11 (MSG)

What love! What a Savior! What joy!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Primal by Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson is one of the current crop of young and innovative pastors who are not only seeing the Kingdom grow where they serve, but are also helping other churches by writing books to equip, enlighten, and encourage. As pastor of NCC in Washington DC, he has seen God grow a congregation from 25 to several thousand over the past few years. NCC is making an impact there, and around the world as they reach out on mission. Mark has written two other books - "In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day" and "Wild Goose Chase".

Primal contains everything that readers have grown to expect from Mark.

There's a clear focus and articulation of what he wants to achieve with the book. There are lots of references from other disciplines, particularly science and medicine. And there are stories about people and how God has worked in their lives. If I have a beef with Mark, it's that he shares more of the references than he needs too. Yes, it's fascinating stuff - how the brain works, how much blood the body pumps,etc. But the material he's sharing is better. Having to slow down and digest the scientific tidbits hurts the flow. But I'll tell you this - I wouldn't ever play trivia against Mark. :)

That's not to say that anything about Primal is trivial. His call for a new reformation centered on love for God is right on track. The way he gets the reader to that conclusion winds through chapters that pose challenges to the heart, soul, and mind. He does it in a vibrant and accessible way. I can see this book providing great discussion for small groups and real value for personal spiritual growth.

There have been quite a few books this year I have recommended to people in my church. It's late in the year now, but Primal has to get added to the list. I managed to get a copy free from the publisher so I could review it, but go buy a copy. It's worth the bucks and the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday Recap 20 December

Today was the last of the four weeks of the Advent Conspiracy emphasis. We've tried to turn the cultural tide away from the consumerist extravaganza that Christmas has become back to what Christmas was supposed to be. We've learned about how to worship fully, to spend less, and to give more. Today we wrapped it up with the hardest - "Love All."

Everyone I have ever known has challenges in this area. Most have exclusionary lists of people who they do not love the way God would have us love. The barriers to that may be racial, cultural, ethnic, any number of reasons or no real reason at all. And yet to fully understand what God did in Jesus - to fully become what God would have us be - we have to learn to love as Jesus loved. We have to Love ALL.

This year those of us who make up the family known as New Hope have had many opportunities to learn just that. We've turned our attention to areas of the world and people who live there that we never really focused on before. The least of these. They are mostly black and poor. Many are infected with HIV and will die without divine intervention. Well, guess what - we're God's chosen instrument. It was okay to read about what was going on in Africa until we saw the faces of those in peril - until we read and heard the stories.

Now we know. Now we have to decide whether we are truly followers of Jesus or whether we are his fair weather disciples. There's no way to sugar coat it or explain it away. Are there people right here who are in need? Absolutely. In fact I'm so proud of how New Hope has given to our neighbors here this year. We've served at area events. We've collected school supplies for local schools. We've given out food from our pantry on numerous occasions. And just recently we've supplied Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and provided toys for 21 children in Valparaiso. There's probably more that I don't remember or know about.

And then we sent some of our youth and adults to Kentucky again this year to spend a week serving the people in that impoverished area.

But this year, it has been the orphan and those with HIV in the third world that has gotten much of our attention. I knew going in that there would be some "push-back" from some and a tepid buy in from others. "Why don't we focus on helping our own?" was something I heard second hand earlier in the year.

First, there is no "our own" in Jesus Christ. When we decide to follow Christ we give up forever our right to choose who we will love. We have to love ALL. That "who is my neighbor?" stuff went out when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10 - look it up.

And second - Think about it this way. You drive up to a row of three houses inhabited by three families. The first home needs a new roof. The second home is being broken into. The third home is on fire. Now all three are in peril. If the roof is not fixed when the rains come damage can occur. In the second case the robbers could decide to cause bodily harm and not just rob the people inside. But the third home is on fire with people in it. There's no question that unless help comes quickly, THEY WILL DIE.

The statistics on deaths among children from starvation, from contaminated water, from malaria, from HIV left untreated are horrible. Those areas are on fire. We have to get help to them as fast as we can. We'll get help to the others as well, but this is a no brainer. 147 MILLION orphans need families.

Are you okay with 25,000 people dying each day from malnutrition and starvation?
Are you okay with a child dying every 21 seconds from the effects of contaminated water?
Are you okay with those 147 million orphans growing up without homes?
Are you okay that many will die without knowing the love of Jesus?

New Hope has said - No We Are NOT OKAY WITH IT

So today that was our focus. To look into the Scripture and redefine love the way that God would have us view it. To come away committed to Love All. I didn't do the best job of presenting it but I hope God used it for His glory.

The songs were: Here I Am To Worship
The First Noel
Joy To the World
O Come All Ye Faithful
Offering (Christmas version)

My fervent hope is that 2010 is the year New Hope sends people to help and to build lasting relationships with those on need.

Had a great Christmas fellowship after and the New Hope family were very generous in their Christmas gifts and words of appreciation. Bunny and I are blessed to serve them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"The Visited Planet" by J.B. Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little angels face wrinkled in disgust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, I see, though I don't understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet." - by J.B. Phillips

I love the way Phillips tells the story. You know some times we get so wrapped up in the "why" we forget the focus is on the Who. Jesus. Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.

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

John 1:14 (MSG)

Jesus. God's gift to us.

Grace and peace,


Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday Recap 13 Dec 2009 - "Give More" (Advent Conspiracy)

December is flying past us and the miracle that is Christmas approaches. As we've been on the Advent Conspiracy Journey for the past two weeks (Worship Fully, Spend Less) the ground that we have covered is new. Most Christmas seasons we recall the events that took place then and try to bridge to the present. With the outline we are following now, the opposite is true. So we have looked at what it means to Worship Fully, and tried to grasp "Spend Less." It is time to approach "Give More."

When I was working on this message, and reading once again the passages dealing with the Incarnation, I could not help but wish that I had been there to see it all happen. But no one on earth saw it all - that would have been relegated to the angels like Gabriel who are in the presence of Almighty God. They would have also have had the context to understand why such a drastic measure was necessary.

It started out so well. God created men and women to fellowship with Him. But they rebelled against His authority and broke trust with God. The consequences were awful. A loss of fellowship with God, a loss of the special relationship and even their home that was created just for them.

When a relationship is broken, the tendency is to turn away, to put some distance between the hurt party and the one who hurt. While the deep intimacy was gone between the Creator and His creation, in His mercy He did not leave. And down through the ages He continued to offer His children the opportunity to do right, to live righteously. But time and time again they failed. So finally, in the ultimate act of love, God sent His one and only Son to come and live among men, bringing the Kingdom of God near once more.

Our song set this week was:

How Many Kings by Downhere
Here Is Our King - Crowder
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Angels We Have Heard On High
In Christ Alone

At the end of the message, I read most of a blog post by Shaun Groves, a Christian musical artist who also serves as an ambassador for Compassion International. It was deeply moving. I know that the Advent Conspiracy focus was to "give more" relationally - more presence instead of more presents - but I could not get away from my conviction that we need to do more for the poor and the orphans. Go over and read Shaun's post and prayerfully consider whether God might be calling you to sponsor a child.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We Need A Little Christmas

 We were out and about today, actually headed to the mall. It was a dreary December day - rainy and cold. It's that time of year when you can feel the collective angst as people feel like time is running out (along with money). As we rode along, I told Bunny that I felt as though we had lost a lot that was special this year. The crushing loss of her dear sweet Mother combined with having to say goodbye to our friend Henley the Great Dane has been hanging over us like a cloud - a dark one.

"For I've grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,..."

...says the song, and it's true. Well, except for the "leaner" part.

I've seen it in others over the years as a pastor and now I'm catching a whiff of it myself. It's the tendency to look back instead of looking forward, of swapping hope for memories, of believing that there's less joy ahead than there has been before. Bunny and I love our family. We love our church family. We love where we live and what we do. But it's been a tough year.

So yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.

Thank God for a chance to worship Christ at New Hope later today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas - It's For All People

I grew up in the Deep South at a time when there were great differences in our society centered on the color of a person's skin. In restaurants, in schools, and at lunchroom counters, there were lines for white people, and there was a line for colored people. At Macon Georgia's Terminal station signs cover today what was once chiseled in stone - a "White" entrance and a "Colored" one. A person coming to Macon now wouldn't see what in my memory remains so clear - we were a divided people. Some of us were the "haves" and some the "have nots", and it had always been that way. We were so blind.

I cannot understand how a nation so dedicated to freedom for all could have been so wrong about this for so long. But finally, we did change. We struggled with the truth. We refused at times even when confronted with it to acknowledge its claims. I can remember protests against Judge Bootle, conflict at Mercer's campus church, and confusion as the times really were a changing.

But they did change. Voices arose from within the nation. A rediscovery of just why we were here took place. We were exhorted to not judge a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. And 40 years later for the most part, Americans do.

I had to turn on the "way-back" machine for you today because I am struggling to help you understand just how the people of Israel, who saw themselves as the "light to the nations", who understood themselves to be "God's chosen people", who had law after law to remind them to treat their fellow Jew fairly - how these godly people treated those who were employed as shepherds.

Shepherds were a permanent underclass in the nation of Israel. They were despised and rejected by their own. Even though they had contributed to the making of Israel - remember at one time literally all of the tribes were nomadic shepherds, and David even rose to be the most famous king of Israel ever - by the time Christ was born all that was ancient and forgotten history. Everyone despised shepherds. They were considered second-class and untrustworthy.

To be a shepherd was to be involved in an activity critical to the worship of the people of Israel. The production of lambs for ritual sacrifices was ongoing, and the standards for those lambs were quite high. No defects, illness, or blemishes would be tolerated. So a successful shepherd delivered lambs as close to perfect as possible, and timed the birth of the newborn lambs so that they would be of sufficient age at the Passover feast, when every family in Israel was supposed to come to Jerusalem and offer sacrifice.

It was hard work- even dangerous at times as lions, wolves and thieves could threaten the sheep. To prevent the sheep from straying, a shepherd would hem the sheep into a natural sheepfold and bar the entrance with fallen logs or sometimes with his body, placing himself at the mouth of the corral. Christ Himself referred to His role as the "Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep." I'm sure Jesus' audience just chalked those references up as foolishness along with His insane penchant for hanging with tax collectors and prostitutes.

Remember, they called Jesus a friend of "sinners." Shepherds were called "sinners" because they were ceremonially unclean. Jews were told not to trade with them directly on the assumption that whatever they purchased would be stolen property. The Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic sayings, refers to them as "incompetent" and in another place intimates that no one should feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit.

They were deprived of civil rights, not being allowed to hold judicial offices or serve as witnesses at trial. People would avoid them, spit at them, chase them away.

Again, I can remember when it wasn't so different here.

If you were a gentile, there was a place for you - the Court of the Gentiles. If you were a woman, there was a place for you - the Court of Women. But if you were a shepherd, though you were where David, the shepherd-king of Israel once reigned, you were relegated to the far courts.

The shepherds brought their flocks to the wall of Jerusalem and watched as gentiles collected the lambs. The shepherds never were able to worship as the "good" people did, being made to stay in the same place as the rest of the "sinners", even though their efforts made it possible for the "good" people to worship freely.

And yet God seems to have a special place in His heart for shepherds. The rabbis marveled at how in light of the despicable reputation of shepherds, God Himself was referred to by the Psalmist in 23:1 as 'my shepherd'.

When it came time to announce the birth of the King, the logical thing to do would have been to have the angels descend on the Temple in Jerusalem. They would be immediately in contact with the learned priests, scribes, and rabbis who could respond in worship and spread the news. The worship could then go on for months - even years. The best and brightest of the people of Israel would know what to do.

But instead, God went to the shepherds.

He ignored those who were sure they were first in His eyes and chose to meet instead with those "everyone" had decided He could never love.

He rushed past all the fine furnishings, the impeccable dress, and the well rehearsed priests and musicians when He chose the people to bless with His news. How odd of God.

The shepherds had no temple, no priest, and no choir. They had nothing and no one on their side. The only reputation they had was uniformly bad. No means of worship, no hope of being heard. They had been banished to the desert plains and given only their sheep as companions. So into this context of societal smugness and prejudice, far from the "right" places and the "right" people, God decided that the first people who needed to hear "It's a boy! Oh and He's Messiah!" were the despised and rejected shepherds.

God's light began to shine clearly into their dark place.

And a worship celebration broke through to earth from heaven.

8 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. 9 Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. 10 The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: 11 A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. 12 This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
13 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:

14 "Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."
Luke 2:8-14 (MSG)
So the nobodies who couldn't worship freely since they weren't good enough got to experience worship like no one has ever seen. Those so despised that they were forced to live on the fringes were placed in the center of God's work. The last had become first. When they were shown the side door and relegated to the outskirts of God's neighborhood, the Lord Almighty simply kicked down the doors and redrew the map to include them.
Yeah, I think that qualifies as "great joy."

The news they received let the shepherds know that even if the world's standards for people stayed the same, God's new plan included them.
This good news was "meant for everybody..." for all people.

It still is.
May we walk into the light this Christmas forever remembering just how far we have to go before we see that joy and His peace break out everywhere.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Recap Dec 6, 2009

The second Sunday of Advent and the "Spend Less" week.

Before worship, Sarah Hickman helped us learn about what the numbers for how much Americans spend on Christmas and what could be done if we spend less. Clean water, food for the hungry, and HIV meds - all are possible if we focus our attention on people and not presents. Then Missy Hickman made us aware of an opportunity through to give the gift of an orphan's support to people this Christmas.

It is amazing that we can literally save lives by purchasing items that are produced by people in the third world. The Scriptures say that Jesus went about doing good. We can too.

Our music today was:

God With Us
O Come All Ye Faithful
Give Me Jesus
Come Home Running

As I wrote yesterday, this week's theme was personally convicting so I do hope that God used what we did today to touch the hearts of others and change how we spend so we can do more good.

Don't forget that the New Hope website has a page of links you can use to do good when you do decide to spend.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

So it's Saturday night and I'm putting the work of the last few weeks into the Powerpoint I'll use tomorrow. The trouble with that is that on a usual week's work I'll have 30-50 pages of notes, a dozen pdfs, several pages bookmarked and far more material than I will ever use. The trick is to distill and illuminate what you've learned in a way that the people who walk through it with you can grasp, apply, and incorporate into their lives.

There are times when the particular topic or text doesn't really train its crosshairs on me. But this one is. Tomorrow I'll continue our Advent focus and talk about the commercialization of Christmas and urge people to spend less. Like the mirror above - that topic is closer to me than I'd like.


Yes, I love the Biblical story of Incarnation and the promise of redemption. The babe in the manger. The shepherds keeping watch of the flocks by night. The wise men. The flight to Egypt. I love it all.

But for most of my life, and too often still, I find myself dreaming of what I might get for Christmas.

As a child I was totally sold out to the presents that Christmas brought. As an adult I've loved buying them for Bunny and for the boys. It was like being a kid again. And I'd move heaven and earth to make sure that they "had Christmas" in the typical American traditional way it is expressed - that is - we loaded them up with stuff. I've gone in debt again and again to make sure it happened.

So when I stand before the congregation tomorrow, I will be speaking to them and to myself.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stevie and me

This is my Airedale friend Stevie. The 'Dales came to us without the inclination to sit on the couches or really to express much "dog love". We are rapidly changing both. :)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Recap 11/29/09

We began Advent worship this week with this reading from Isaiah 40.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

Isaiah 40:11 (NLT)

We need Advent. We need to slow down and reflect on just what God did through the Incarnation. We need to remember what Christmas is.

Our Advent Conspiracy theme for this week is [Worship Fully]. It was a great beginning for the Advent experience. Christmas began with worship. Sometimes we let the things of this world block our view of the manger. So I led with this clip from a beloved TV show.

We took a look at two people's experiences related to Christmas - Zechariah and Mary. Each began with questions and ended with praise.

Our music today was:

O Worship The King - Tomlin
Whole World In His Hands - Redman
and our first Christmas carol - O Come O Come Emmanuel
We used "Grace Flows Down" for the invitation to commitment.

So much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Love Is A Decision

A little over a week ago, Bunny and I adopted two Airedales from a rescue organization here in Florida. After the crushing loss of our Great Dane Henley, it had taken us over a month to get to the point where we were ready to try to love another dog. We're still grieving to this day. But we decided to go and look at the pair - brother and sister, who were in their third "home" already at the age of two.

There were some things we knew driving up to see them.

1. They were not Henley
2. They would not replace Henley.
3. They were different than Henley.
4. They would act differently than Henley.
5. Two dogs would still not equal one giant one.

But we felt that Airedales would be a good match for us based on what we had read, and also based on Bunny's experience with a friend's dog - Bailey the Airedale.

When we reached the place where the dogs were, hope was that we would find a dog that would almost immediately love us fiercely and become an integral part of our lives. Our other expectations were more long term, as we planned to teach them to be therapy dogs that we could take to nursing homes. We learned that dogs in that setting can make a real difference, and wanted to be a part of that ministry. So we had some goals going in.

It's been a week and a half now, and we're realizing that we have to decide to love these dogs for who they are, not because they provide us with what we need. They are far more expressive and trusting than they were going in, but they still are not what we were used to and not what we hoped for - what we loved about Henley. A Great Dane is a "velcro dog". They are where you are and they sit where you sit. They are at peace when they sit or lie next to you on the couch. They would follow you into the shower if you'd let them, and if you won't let them, they'll often lie down just outside and block the door. :) They are very affectionate - "nosing", "leaning", and vocally reminding you of how joyful they are just to be with you.

These guys, the Airedales... not so much.

So we are patiently (most of the time) working with them, teaching them that they can trust us, taking them with us, and training them to follow basic commands. We will actually pick them up and put them on the couch next to us, but occasionally one will jump up on his/her own. Those bursts of love are celebrated to the max. Every occasion we have to reach out and touch them, speak to them, praise or reward them - we take it. Even when they would rather retreat from our companionship, we close the distance and let them know that we love them no matter what.

It is tiring. It can be frustrating. It is tempting to just take them back to the rescue people and find a more loving giant breed dog. That'd be easy. Not going to happen. They are ours. We are theirs. Forever friends.

It hit me last night that what we are doing with these dogs is much like what we need to do in some other communities like say - Church.

We need to love our church because it is the bride of Christ being readied for His glorious return.
We need to love our church not for what it does to meet our needs, but because through it, we can share in the work of our Savior.
We need to love our church just as it is - not as the perfect one in our mind, the fondly remembered one in our memories, or the one down the street or across town - and work alongside our brothers and sisters to advance the Kingdom of God.
We need to take every opportunity to share with both other Christians and those outside of how our church is reaching, serving, and loving in Christ's name. Such outbursts of joy might surprise the hearer, but it might even surprise us if we truly realize just how much God has blessed.

Yes, there are times when it will be frustrating, even hard.

Make the decision to love your church.

It'll grow on you. :)

Just like the Airedales we love have.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can't quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! Col 1:3 (MSG)

One of the spiritual disciplines I adopted early on as a pastor was the practice of praying for each member of the congregation by name. When I spent everyday here at the church, I'd often go into the sanctuary and pray for individuals as I sat in the pew where they most often sat on Sunday. I'd review where God had led them and blessed them, and where they found themselves at the time of my prayers. Now I work most of the time from home, but thanks to our pictorial directory I am able to look at the images and focus on those God has placed in my spiritual care. I still work through a pattern of remembering their journey with Jesus and what they were experiencing now.

Over the years, though there have been times when different individuals and I might differ over specific decisions I had made or even the direction of the church in general, I seem to find myself ending my prayers for them most often as Paul did here in his letter to Collosae. For almost every one has contributed in some way, whether great or small, to God's work here at New Hope. The vast majority of the people I've known and loved as their pastor have been such a tremendous blessing to me that I find myself telling God just what a joy it has been to serve Him alongside them.

Knowing what is going on (and what has gone on) in people's lives could diminish your ability to love them. But knowing just how much God loves them, and seeing Him at work in, around, and in most cases through them over the years is such a rich, rich gift that I typically end my prayers for them with praise for the God Who sent me to them over ten years ago as their pastor.

New Hope family, I love you and thank God everytime I think about you.

Have an awesome Thanksgiving.

Grace and peace to you and yours,


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Tomorrow night we'll meet and enjoy a time of fellowship and then move to the sanctuary where we'll sing some Christmas carols and then open our Advent Conspiracy store.

It's a Risk.

We're in an economy that doesn't inspire many, and heading into a season where people will come face to face with their financial limitations. The fact is that many of them will ignore those limits and spend money they don't have on stuff that people they give it to don't need.

The Advent Conspiracy aims to change that, and we want to be a part of that change. Our hope is that people at New Hope will worship more fully, spend less, give more, and love all this Christmas season. We could have just taken up an offering, but we want to DO SOMETHING. :)

So our Child 2 Child girls have spent every Wednesday night for the last few weeks preparing items for sale in the store. There's going to be some really cool gifts in there throughout the season. 100% of the proceeds will go to help children in the third world. We're also going to be selling products made by others who have the same goals as we do - to change the world.

We've never ever done it this way before.

I love it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday Recap - Nov 15, 2009

Really enjoyed the spirit among the people of New Hope today. We've accomplished a great deal for the Kingdom this year, and it looks like we are going to finish the year with a bang!

Kevin and Missy Hickman introduced us to the overall focus for the rest of the year - The Advent Conspiracy. It's an effort by a bunch of churches across denominational lines to help people take what has become an over commercialized season and turn it back to something that can change the world. At New Hope, we're going to open an "Advent Conspiracy Store" with products that will bless the person buying it and the people who made it.

Many of the items for sale will have been made by New Hope members - from 6 years of age up. Our Child2Child ministry, where little girls make and sell products and send 100% of the proceeds to help other children will lead the way, but we'll also have other products for sale by other organizations. More about this later. The main recipient of the funds we will raise will be an organization called "From HIV to Home" that helps place orphans from the third world who are positive for HIV with families here in the states. Check out what they are doing at the link. More about this later too.

Our worship through music yesterday included "Here I Am To Worship", "Our God Saves", "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)", and "Come Just As You Are."

I wasn't really pleased with the sermon so I'll just end here.

Oh and the youth had their first special worship service last night - they did great.

To Love, Again

We brought home two Airedales Friday from a rescue organization. They had been placed with a family in Florida and it didn't work out, because the family lived on a farm where wild dogs, coyotes, and snakes caused a threat to them. The female was actually bitten by a snake and that was the tipping point. They are two years old.

The contrast between them and our dear friend Henley the Great Dane is wide and it's not just the difference in size. Henley had been ours since twelve weeks of age, and was conditioned over years to be a very loving dog. He was human dependent. Came wherever you were in the house. Laid down next to you on the sofa. Rejoiced when you came home and grieved when you were gone. Towards the end of his time with us, he was even more clingy and loving.

The greatest thing Henley did for us with that kind of love was that in his giving of it, he took away our stresses and anxieties. There's just something about having a dog lying next to you and being in a state of total calm that causes the human beside them to relax too. From his beginning nuzzle to day's end sigh as he laid down next to the bed, we received a blessing that we had no idea how much we would miss. Bunny and I were at Petsmart Saturday and were both moved to tears talking about just how much we were loved.

Now we have two funny faced Airedales in our home. They are energetic. They are independent. They are self entertaining. They are NOT Henley.

We are trying to love them the way we loved Henley, and they - in particular the girl - Stevie, is beginning to respond. She'll let you put her beside you on the couch and stay there a while. The boy -Mick, can be loving when he chooses to, but still pulls away when you try to draw him near. They have improved since we brought them home Friday, but we really, really need them to love us as fiercely as Henley did. Doesn't have to be the exact same expressions of love. There are things the Airedales do that are unique and cool. But we need to bond with them as fast as we can. Otherwise we might as well not have dogs at all, and they need to be with a family that can love them as they are.

If I sound disappointed it's because I am. It's proving much harder for us to love again.

Would you pray for us?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sighs Instead of Slobbers

One of the things that marked Henley's last few days was his change in seating arrangements. Until his leg began to bother him, 90% of the time he'd lay beside me on the love seat, and would occasionally visit Bunny on the couch. He'd lie down at the opposite end from her most of the time. In his last days, he seemed to want to be next to her more. We found out it was probably that he was already hurting. But when this was taken, three days before he left us, we thought he just wanted to be close. And he did.

Nighttime is absolutely the worst.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunday Recap for Nov 8, 2009

Had we had an issue with unexploded ordinance today, we would have been in great hands. We had several visitors who were enrolled in the EOD school at Eglin. The fact that they all were Army delighted one of our folks who is retired Army. We also had Sean Harrington back from Afghanistan to have some surgery done at Keisler AFB. For me, to be around so many people who have served and are serving is awesome, and I always pray that what we do at New Hope will help them grow closer to God and stronger in their faith and work.

Our music today was: "How Can I Keep From Singing", "Forever", "I Will Rise", and "Softly and Tenderly." We tried something new with the praise team and limited participation among the singers to only those who were at practice Wednesday night. My goal is to have Wednesday night be a time of both preparation and worship among the team, and have that transfer into what we do to lead others on Sunday. We're also going to limit the team to high school and up except for those kids who have shown the ability previously by singing solos or in ensembles. Doesn't mean we won't use some of the people who don't sing every week in other ways from time to time. But it does mean a much greater emphasis on preparation on Wednesday. We're raising the standards higher.

We're coming to the end of the "Chasing the Goose" series focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians and how we limit His role in our lives by the "cages" we construct in our beliefs and practices. This week's "cage" was Fear.

When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things?
When did we replace faith leading to action with phrases like "I'll pray about it."?

Our preparation is not for keeping things the way they are in our life - in this world - but for seeing the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

We cannot let our fears limit what God wants to do with our lives.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Still Missing Henley

This is the top of the Tupperware container that holds our hot dogs. Henley LOVED hot dogs. he probably considered the day he grabbed this off the counter as one of the best events in his life.

He left his mark on the top. And he grabbed a place in our hearts forever.

I'm trying to move on, talking to dog people about Airedales, Irish Wolfhounds, even Great Danes. Taking way too long to make a decision when any of them would probably bring us a wonderful dog (or two).

But there will never, ever, ever be another Henley.

I miss him so much.

Friday, November 06, 2009

We Know Enough

"If there is any meaning in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, it is this: that there is a God who created us, and who loves us so much that He would stop at nothing to bring us to Him. And I really suspect that of all the things we think we want to know, the only thing we really want to know is that we are loved. And if Jesus means anything, He means that you are loved. I hope you know that. And I hope you stop worrying about all the stuff you don't know, because I don't think it amounts to a hill of beans." -Rich Mullins

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

You Can't Hold On To Summer

November on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Sunny and 77 degrees. Earlier today I was reading on Facebook where one of my pastor friends up north was freezing because he couldn't get but one of the space heaters in his office to work. Well, it was tough down here today too. Couldn't decide whether to open the windows or run the A/C.

Folks that know my beloved and me know that we are not cold weather people. We've quipped many times that we're hoping for a transfer to Key West one day. People around here seem to think we're kidding. :) So summer is our favorite time of year, and it's over. You can't hold on to summer.

I try every year to console myself with what fall brings. No, there's not really a gorgeous change in the foliage. But there are daisies that only show their yellow beauty in October, and our butterfly friends, the Monarchs, pass through in their luminous orange and black splendor. But we're into November now, and I noticed this morning that the daisies were fading away.

Life is lived in movement. The earth is spinning around as it orbits the sun, and the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years keep moving on.

So why do so many people try so hard to make everything stay the way it is?

And why do so few run with the Wind as it blows?

Younger families are constantly in motion, rushing here and there - taking the kids to this activity and then the next. Older people with all the time in the world, instead of running to the finish line - trying to hold back time.

Solomon in his wisdom wrote:

7 Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! 8 Dress festively every morning. Don't skimp on colors and scarves. 9 Relish life with the spouse you love Each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God's gift. It's all you get in exchange For the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! 10 Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, For there's neither work to do nor thoughts to think In the company of the dead, where you're most certainly headed.

Eccl 9:7-10 (MSG)

You only get one chance at this life on earth - don't try to hold onto yesterday - make the most of the moment for God's glory!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mondays With Allan

Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters
1 John 4:21 (NLT)

When we lost our big friend Henley the Great Dane to cancer last month, we found ourselves with a house that seemed very empty. Then up walked our friend Allan. On every single visit to our home previously, Allan had never been able to come inside because of his fear of Henley. No matter what we told him about how the worst that could happen would have been some slime if Henley licked him, and maybe some boofing, Allan wouldn't come past the threshold and even asked us to step outside.

But on that day, he came in. It was the first night after we lost Henley and it was a quiet house. Allan fixed that right away. Then he surprised us by staying for supper. After he had eaten he looked at Bunny and asked "when can I come eat with you again?"

Bunny said "How about Monday night?"

And every Monday night since, we've had Allan as a guest at our table.

Allan's a great guest. He'll keep the conversation going, and ask to take your plate to the sink along with his if you are through. His presence and his attitude are that of a servant, and his job is to make you feel better.

He'll never know how much he has done for us in helping us past our grief and reminding us that God uses all His servants in His care for those He loves.

I thank God for His servant of love - our friend - Allan Hill.

Call us if you want to come next Monday night too. :)

Grace and peace,

David Wilson
Mondays With Allan

Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters
1 John 4:21 (NLT)

When we lost our big friend Henley the Great Dane to cancer last month, we found ourselves with a house that seemed very empty. Then up walked our friend Allan. On every single visit to our home previously, Allan had never been able to come inside because of his fear of Henley. No matter what we told him about how the worst that could happen would have been some slime if Henley licked him, and maybe some boofing, Allan wouldn't come past the threshold and even asked us to step outside.

But on that day, he came in. It was the first night after we lost Henley and it was a quiet house. Allan fixed that right away. Then he surprised us by staying for supper. After he had eaten he looked at Bunny and asked "when can I come eat with you again?"

Bunny said "How about Monday night?"

And every Monday night since, we've had Allan as a guest at our table.

Allan's a great guest. He'll keep the conversation going, and ask to take your plate to the sink along with his if you are through. His presence and his attitude are that of a servant, and his job is to make you feel better.

He'll never know how much he has done for us in helping us past our grief and reminding us that God uses all His servants in His care for those He loves.

I thank God for His servant of love - our friend - Allan Hill.

Call us if you want to come next Monday night too. :)

Grace and peace,

David Wilson

It's Been Three Weeks Today

We miss him so, so much.

We've been searching for another dog, but it will not be a replacement for this guy. It's hard.

Sunday Recap Nov 1 2009

After a great time with the Halloween outreach movie bash, we gathered to celebrate God's goodness and learn more about how to follow Jesus.

Our music reflected the message to come:

Come, Now Is the Time To Worship
God of This City
It Is Well With My Soul
Jesus Paid It All

In hindsight, it was noted that there was a mix of older and newer songs. Frankly, that was not a consideration when they were chosen - it just worked out that way. We have a list of all the songs we do, and what the song says - not what style it is in - is why we choose them. In my opinion the moment you have to satisfy a need to "blend" songs based on when they were written you can find yourself having to say no to what God would have you do in favor of satisfying people's preferences. It's great when it happens because you do have several generation's "heart music", but if we set our goal toward moving toward God in worship, that sort of thing will happen supernaturally.

Continuing in the "Chase the Goose" series based on Batterson's "Wild Goose Chase", we tackled the "Cage of Guilt." The basic idea was that we have been conditioned over a lifetime to have our past keep us from experiencing the best that God has for us in the future. We have to learn to put our past in its place and follow the life-giving Spirit forward.

The first part of the message was establishing the truth of behavioral conditioning. Then we dove into the Scripture to see just how God calls us forward.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Long Day

It is like herding cats. Even when your goal (unlike that of the dog above) is worthy, beneficial, and biblical with the best interest of your friends at the center of what you do.

Pastoral work - all of it - is tied to the relationships you have with the people God has placed you on mission with. There's no "work friends" and "real friends". You begin each week praying for them to God. While you study the Bible and listen to what the Spirit is saying they are on your mind and heart. The message is crafted (just as all the teaching is - just as the music is - just as the events are - just as... everything is) to the glory of God and the building up of the faith in your fellow believers.

You will experience resistance. (BIG GRIN - and all the pastors reading this go "duh")

You will be disappointed when people you thought were farther along trip over things they should long since picked up and moved aside.

And there will be times when you just want to run into the woods. Or to the beach. :)

Friday, October 30, 2009

These Are Not the Dogs You Are Looking For

The family are giving me grief about how slow my search for our next number 1 dog is going. But I'm telling you, there are a lot of ugly dogs out there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Anguish of Job

22 Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to God.

That’s why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
23 When a plague sweeps through,

he laughs at the death of the innocent.
Job 9:22-23 (NLT)

We are studying the book of Job on Wednesday nights, and when we got to these verses last night there seemed to me to be a real chilling effect apparent on our group.

"He laughs at the death of the innocent." - yeah, that'll do it.

Further word study didn't help.
Hebrew Strong's Number: 3932
Hebrew Word: ‏לָעַג‎
Transliteration: lāʿag
a primitive root; to deride; by implication (as if imitating a foreigner) to speak unintelligibly :- have in derision, laugh (to scorn), mock (on), stammering.
—Strong's Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary

But other scholars shed some light.

One may think that here Job spoke wrongly about God (9:23), for is it true that God really "laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent"? But the meaning of the word "laughs" must be understood in the context of 9:23-24, where Job was speaking of times of calamity or when wicked persons were in power. God destroys both the guiltless and the wicked in military or natural disasters (9:22), and in that sense he does mock the despair of the innocent. Innocence is no plea against suffering in this world. That sentiment is of one piece with the teaching of Ecclesiastes, which shows that being either good or bad is no guarantee of prosperity in this life because death mocks everyone.—Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary

And Spurgeon wrote some very helpful words when he opined:

"As one is startled by a shriek, or saddened by a groan, so these sharp utterances of Job astonish us at first, and then awake our pity. Physical sufferings had placed a strain on Job's mind, and he sought relief by expressing his anguish. Like some solitary prisoner in the gloomy keep of an old castle, he carves on the walls pictures of the abject despondencies which haunt him. His afflictions are aggravated by vain efforts to alleviate them: he wounds his hand with the rough hammer and nail with which he is engraving his griefs.

Of such tortures many of us have had a taste." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Yes we have.

And if we are not careful, our experiences can twist our view of God and place us in error. Job was not describing God as He is. He was describing God as He appeared to be based on Job's knowledge of Him and his situation at that time.

Remember this.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” )

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39 (NLT)


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two weeks and two days after

Sure it's getting easier. Probably am down to tearing up 5 times a day instead of 25. But it still feels awful. Empty house. Empty sofa. Quiet without those "boofs" and "woo woo woo woo" noises. No big sighs when he laid down. No "whack whack" when his tail hit the walls as his excitement showed.

We miss him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beginning Again Is Like Herding Cats

So I talked to this guy from a search committee last week. Nothing new about that, it happens every now and then. I'm still where I started out ten years ago and enjoying what God is doing more than ever. But I've always operated by the conviction that I serve at the pleasure of God. So when He decides that this tour of duty has come to a close, I reply "Yes sir!" and pack up and go to the next assignment. I'll talk to anyone about reaching people and God's Church, but again - I've been here 10 years.

Apparently one of my friends thought I'd be a good fit for this church's situation. Remind me to talk to him.

We had an opening flurry of emails, and they wanted to talk on the phone. So I checked out their website and nothing on it suggested a great deal of interest in people on the outside. It did though show me that they were doing "church" extremely well, and give me the idea that the people who were going there were probably happy with the status quo. Checking further, I also saw that their growth was stalled and that they had lost pretty much their entire staff. Bigger church.

So I wrote the search team chair back and explained that my passion (as well as that of my wife) was to express our love of God through reaching and serving people. Then I explained what God has done at, in, and through New Hope this year. As the Texans are so fond of saying, "It ain't bragging if it's a fact." And the fact is, the small church on the corner of Aurora and Valparaiso Parkway has been active in expanding the Kingdom and serving the least of these. We've done things we have never done before and seen God do what He's never done here before. We've taken risks and been rewarded.

I told them I liked that. A LOT. And then I explained that I didn't want to waste their time. So if this was anything other than a call to join other people with the same passions that God has placed in me, perhaps someone else would be their man.

Please understand why I did that. I do NOT have all the answers. And while I may preach to a congregation full of sinners every week, they are listening to one of their own kind. But I love Jesus and I love His Church. So stringing them along or even accepting a call to somewhere like that just is repulsive to me. I want them to succeed - to thrive.

I received a very gracious and wise reply.

He thanked me for my thoughtful and insightful reply (my assumptions about their present condition were right on target as was my understanding of their culture and ethos) and then commented that their big struggle was to look forward instead of reminiscing about past glory. Their core membership was very traditional and resisted change and yet the younger lay leadership wanted it.

They are between a rock and a hard place. BTDT

Can they turn their church's future around?

Only to the extent that they die to the past and to personal preferences and decide in their hearts to look to Jesus for His direction and vision for their church. Can a new pastor help them do that? Yes, but if it's just him, it will take forever for him to build trust enough for substantive change to occur. If the church itself is seized with the passion for souls they need, then it can happen much quicker. But it has to happen. The search team chair said that getting the people in his church to agree on what direction to move was like "herding cats." Yes brother, it most surely is.

I watched as my home church, Bethesda Baptist in Macon, struggled with this very same dilemna and finally died an ignoble death. I swore that I would do whatever it took to keep any church God placed me in to avoid that fate. So when I get an opportunity to help a church, even through the search process, I'm doing it. So we parted ways on good terms.

And as I thought about what God is doing through New Hope, I thanked Him again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Big Dog Blues

It's not getting easier.

We're scouring the internet, contacting rescue organizations, and it's too slow. NO dog will ever replace our big heart/friend Henley, but another sure can help us heal. Almost got sucked into a scam yesterday with a Bulldog puppy supposedly in Cameroon. Desperate people do stupid things. Second time so far since Henley's passing. We almost threw $1500 at some Petland people to bring another dane home last week.

Hoping and praying that one of the emails and other outreaches bears fruit soon.

Tough living without a dog.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Joy Comes In All Sizes

"For I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing.” Jer 31:25

Yesterday marked our first week without our big furry friend, and I was trying to get back into the swing of things, but without much excitement. That's unusual for me, because I really enjoy what I do. But I was still struggling.

Then some messengers of joy showed up in my office. I know some parents try to shield their pastor from interruptions by their kids, but they really don't know how much I love being the kids pastor too. I consider their visits sacred opportunities to hear what God is doing and to learn from them what life is like at their age. It's an awesome blessing. Yesterday was a great example.

First I got to hear Ian's big plans to take his love for Sci-Fi onto the web. And I almost got to hear him whistle. He's so close. :)

I got to tease Jaime Roberts about her first solo trip to New Hope as a newly minted driver. "I so appreciate you parking away from the Honda since it's not paid for," was my opening comment. She smiled sweetly and said "you're welcome."

Then Jonathan Harrington and I got to talk soccer. I was ribbing him about what he had said about his performance this weekend. I know about as much about soccer as I do water polo, so it was interesting to hear from someone who really has a passion for it. Now I know enough to follow the game.

Then Allan showed up and told me about his trip to the Mullet Festival and outlined his plans for the week. Well, not just the week. Allan pulled out his pocket planner and showed me his birthday next year (on a Monday) and said "and you'll have my birthday party this Wednesday." And yes, New Hope will celebrate Allan's birthday on that Wednesday.

He left and Erin and Karon Harrington came in and I showed Erin what dogs I had seen at "Dog Daze" this weekend. Erin told me about her pug, and Karon shared the story of how they got her. We were sharing with each other how special our dogs make us feel.

Mary and Ka'rin Quinnell and Keith Brace came in too and picked up where the Harrington's left off. Keith had me look at several huge dogs, ("Do you have Google?" LOL) and I showed them what an Airedale looks like. We shared our love for dogs -which for Mary is spelled chihuahua. :)

My afternoon was filled with the joy of sharing life with the special people God has placed us with. I came to work dragging and left laughing at just how God had sent messenger after messenger to remind me that life would go on and joy was possible again.

It was awesome. I was blessed beyond anything I expected. God is good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

After A Week...

It'll be a week today since we ended Henley's life to spare him more agony from bone cancer. Every single day I have told myself - we have told ourselves that we did what we needed to do to love Henley just as sacrificially and faithfully as he loved us. That last day was no exception.

It's probably hard for people who have never let a dog capture their heart to grasp just how much they become a part of your life. So let me give you a rundown of what we would have done with Henley so far today.

When we woke up, I'd have looked beside the bed to see how he was. Sometimes he'd scoot so far under the bed he'd get stuck, or back himself into the corner. So I'd check. Then each of us in turn would take a minute to love on Henley before we left the bedroom.

We'd be busy making breakfast and doing morning chores, and we'd hear a "FLAP, FLAP, FLAP" which would be Henley getting his ears in shape. The next thing we'd hear is Henley getting up and making his way down the hall. If we were in the kitchen, he'd look over at us, pause, and we'd call out to him, celebrating another day's beginning. Then we'd take him outside.

From there, we'd come back in and Henley would most often go and get some water. Then he'd come back in where we were eating breakfast and lie down beside us on the couch. That is unless there was bacon involved. Without it, he just shifted his sleep from the bedroom to the couch. With it, he would sit and loom over whoever had it until you gave it up. But most of the time Henley would lay on the loveseat, getting up from it only to stroll outside or get some water and food.

Unless we left the room.

Then Henley would hunt us down and lay down near us. If I was in my office, it wasn't unusual for him to get up and come and sit in the chair with me, getting his rubs and scratches. Or he'd sit in the big chair and look out the window, or pick up his front legs while he sat and paw at me until I paid him the attention he wanted. After a sufficient amount of affection was delivered, he'd lie down nearby.

At lunch, he'd stir himself to come see me about a hot dog. Henley LOVED hot dogs. Earlier in his life I would just give them to him whole, but later because of occasional problems with hot dog returns, I'd mash them up with my hands and put them over his food, making sure that no part was too big for him. Bunny would pour the water off her tuna over his food sometimes as well. Even if he wasn't ready to eat, all you had to say was "go see!" and he'd get up and head back to where his raised food bowls were.

When we'd leave, he'd be left lying on the loveseat. That was where he spent the majority of his day. But when we returned he would meet us at the back door, peeking around Bunny to see me. I'd greet him with as much affection as he did me then he'd go get some more love from Bunny. At times he'd give us some of the vocal antics we heard about even before we picked him up as a puppy. "Oh, the puppy is very vocal," the rescue folks had told us. And he was. A "woo woo woo" was the height of an affectionate response and all three of us LOVED that. If we were gone, even overnight, we'd get a welcome by an almost frantic dog who couldn't seem to tell us enough how much we were missed.

After we got home from work he'd settle back into his spot next to one of us on either the couch or loveseat. Toward the end he could only spend a certain amount of time on one side or the other, and added his bed on the floor to his routine. Dogs are often stoic, and it's hard to tell they hurt, but changes like that coupled with his lameness let us know.

Once we were ready to go to bed, we'd lower the shades, and the sound of them coming down was a trigger for Henley to make his way down the hall and wait for me to get his bed ready. Once it was, he'd circle a couple of times and lie down with a sigh. I'd have to step around him to get into bed, but without fail I'd scratch his face or stroke those velvet-like ears. When the lights were turned out, often he'd sigh again. I always thought that was his way of saying "another day with those crazy humans is over, now I can rest." Henley loved us fiercely every day.

I started this post at church and am finishing it here at the house. Henley added so much to each of us Wilsons. But I'd have to say that he also cost us in other relationships. We just hosted our friend Allan Hill, Sean's friend Jason, and Sean and Chelsea for supper. That wouldn't have happened with Henley here. Allan was scared of Henley. And we'd have had to spend some energy keeping him out of our hair during supper. I blame us, not him. We could have trained him to be more social, and we didn't. To those who came often, he was great. But you had to get to know him.

The most awesome dog I have ever known has been gone a week now. Life goes on, we even get some blessings like tonight we wouldn't have gotten with him, but I miss him terribly still.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Recap Oct 18, 2009

It was a long, hard week. Lots of personal heartache and lots of ministry needs. So I headed into the weekend with a heavy heart but hopeful that focusing on what God has called me to do with the people He's called me to do life with would help. It did.

Earlier in the week, I picked up my copy of Mark Batterson's "Wild Goose Chase". A few weeks ago when I was preplanning with an eye to Oct and Nov, I had taken it home to read again. Turned out to be just the basis for today's message and most likely the next couple. Batterson's basic premise is that we are living a Christianity that's far different than what God intended. Led by the Holy Spirit, we should not find ourselves being bored or trapped. Today's message dealt with "The Cage of Responsibility."

Our music was:

O Praise Him - Crowder
O Worship the King - Tomlin
Whole World In His Hands - Redman
Come Home Running - Tomlin

I used two video clips, one at the beginning of worship called "Lean In", and then a promo for The World Race 2/3 of the way through.

My hope was that some of us would break free of our chains and be more able to respond to the Holy Spirit's call.